The alarm blared, denoting the time as 11:23pm, thirty-seven minutes before the start of the young woman’s shift.
Her sleepy dog stretched voraciously, unwilling to give up the comfy heater that was his owner. She scratched under his chin for a bit, giving him a kiss on the nose before swinging her legs over the side of the bed and climbing out.
She lurched down the stairs finding her feet less inclined to move than most evenings. She was sore from her earlier run. She ran some water on her face, chewed the leftover pizza on the stove, and packed her bag, slinging it over her shoulder before heading out the door.
It was a lovely night, but there was a shiver on the wind, an uneasiness, and she was more than a little curious at the slight red tinge of the moon.
“Odd,” she noted, hopping in her car, glad to find she had enough gas to get her to work and home again.
The floor was quiet; all of her men wrapped in their wool blankets, snoring on their mats. Every once in a while a quiet whisper would leak from someone’s mouth, giving small insight into their world of dreams. The young woman always felt honored in these moments. It isn’t often you get to peek inside the mind of others.
Though she had quite a bit of work to complete, she decided to take a moment to draw. Drawing had become a safe haven for her in the recent months, a place where she could see her own reflection. Tonight, after about half of the picture was complete, she realized she was drawing the goddess, Isis, her wings spread ready to launch.
She was just finishing a portion of the bodice, when a noise stirred her. The sound came from the bathroom, but all of the men were still asleep.
The young woman crept to the door, providing a single rapping of knuckles for politeness.
“Excuse me, is anyone in here?” she said into the empty restroom. Not a soul answered her, she was alone amongst the stalls.
The sound had stopped and so she rejoined her blooming piece or art, but it didn’t take even a second of sitting before she heard it again. This time she was certain someone was there.
“Odd,” she noted again, this time a bit more hesitant. She had seen with her own eyes, just moments before, that there was no one in the room.
Chalking it up to her imagination, the young woman went about her nightly business, finding need of herself in finishing the laundry.
The Doja Cat playing in the background was drowned out by the formulaic movement of folding towels. Connect two corners, connect four corners, cross, cross. The same pattern over and over, fifty towels later.
A shift in the air broke her concentration. The shadow passed by the door and lingered long enough for her to get a look. It was nothing, she thought. Just more of my imagination.
The young woman put down the fifty-first towel and stepped into the darkened hallway. While she was well practiced at seeing in the dark, she was unable to make out the figure before her. What she did notice was the quiet that had fallen over the floor; snores gone, breathing arrested, little snipes of dreams stolen.
“He..hello?” she brought the words to her lips. Trembling, terrified. What was this?
“Girl….” The darkness said in a shadowy tone. It stared at her without movement.
The young woman’s eyes went big, she could feel them pressing against the inside of her eyelids, threatening to fall to the ground.
“Girl…” it spoke again. “Why have you called me?” The voice was deep and untouched by light.
“C-called you? I haven’t…”
“You have called me!” The anger rose.
The young woman searched her mind. Perhaps she was dreaming; she had fallen asleep to the hum of the dryers. Or even, she had failed to wake up at all, allowing her dog to cozy her in, missing her shift altogether.
“Why have you asked me here?” The voice did not increase in volume, but seemed to take more shape than it originally had. The silence on the rest of the floor continued.
The young woman wasn’t sure she could answer the question. She wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. Though she had to admit, the day had not been entirely normal.
She pulled into the driveway and smelled the smoke. She had built a small fire with friends the night before, and put it out when the crew disassembled. Now, the flames seemed to have resurrected themselves, continuing to consume a large seared log.
The young woman thought to douse the flames again, however, something else pulled at her mind.
She had, a few months back, been reading about her African roots. The young woman had been seeking information on the previous rites and rituals of her ancestors and found an unusual piece of “magic”.
‘Blood is powerful, blood is rich, it will help you catch a snitch. It will help you grow your dough, seal your love, save frostbit toes. It will help you pay your dues, save your ass, walk in others’ shoes. It will kill you where you stand, whether on sea or on land. Be careful with this savage beast, for on your soul blood loves to feast. It will tell you all the lies, unless collected from your thighs.’
An old fable, not to be taken too seriously. The young woman didn’t believe it was true, but found the topic interesting enough.
She originally held the final portion of the riddle to be the location from which to poke or cut oneself. It took her awhile to realize it was referencing menstrual blood.
Once the young woman deciphered this part of the code, she immediately took to saving a bit of her next cycle; placing it in a vial to freeze for later use. Why not, she thought. Couldn’t hurt to try.
As the fire burned in her backyard, something told her it was time to cast a spell, time to see if the old rhymes were true.
She placed the glass piece, filled with frozen blood, against the burning log. As the fluid began to heat, it bubbled up and out of the vial, spilling onto the embers, cackling with each touch.
As though in a trance, the young woman began to walk clockwise around the fire’s circular pit. She couldn’t help but imagine herself stirring a large cauldron. She could almost feel the tornado spinning at its center, winds pushing her forward in pattern.
She couldn’t hear the words that were coming out of her mouth, but she could feel them. Even beyond the syllables and consonants was their vibration ringing from the back of her tongue. Her throat on fire as the smoke crept into her lungs, stung into her eyes.
The blood boiled, bubbling over the lip in a fluffy pile of desiccated plasma. It turned from bright red, to a hearty purple, to dull brown crumbling bits. Finally, with only ash left, the young woman stopped chanting. She stopped circling, and the fire stopped laughing. All was deadly calm.
After a few moments, her dog brought her back into life by barking at the new neighbor with feigned aggression.
“Enough,” she told him and herself alike. “Enough.”
“Why have you called me here?”
The unanswered question. The young woman shook. This can’t be… It just can’t be.
“Be not afraid child,’ the shadow continued. “I’ve not come wanting.”
The young woman gained whatever courage she could muster. She wanted to bring the figure into the light, she wanted to see the face that spoke to her.
“Would you mind stepping inside? It’s awfully difficult to see you out here in the hallway.”
The shadow did not budge, but continued looking onto the young woman as though ready to pounce.
“I do not prefer the light. I choose to stay hidden. I do not fear the darkness, just as you’ve no need to fear me.”
“Well then… what do you want?” The young woman asked, still unsure.
“You called me here child! Was it not your blood seeping into the wood? Was it not your essence, the one true deity of this realm? You have sacrificed life to bring me here, now what is it that you need?”
The figure was still widely veiled, but the bottom of her cloak was observable as a portion lay within the path of the laundry room light. The covering was thick with beautiful designs, symbols and icons of vast variety from flowers to moons and stars, planets, trees and mountains.
“Who are you?” the young woman inquired. If she was supposed to need something from the figure, best first understand who she’s asking.
The shadow, which was congealing more into stature by the minute, stood up straighter, her chest pressed out to show her humble confidence. She stood where she stood and there was no questioning that.
“I am that which you have offered, the sacred feminine. The connection between energy and Earth, blood and humans. I exist in everything and everything exists in and because of me. I take the lives you give. Absorb and realign. I am life, life as it is known by all and forgotten by many. The Black Madonna, ancient, wise, the two-in-one.”
The young woman tried to find her bearings. Still unsure as to whether or not she was dreaming, the woman determined the figure was not there to hurt her.
“The two-in-one… Black Madonna? What are these things?”
At this the figure became enraged. Her voice Thundered, swirling throughout the hallway, certain to wake everyone in its path, but no one moved, least of all the young woman.
“How dare you invoke me, without knowledge of me! You play with the unknown, you should have been burned.”
The Black Madonna’s fury scared the young woman and she knelt in humility.
“I’m sorry, please,” she begged, “I only wished to learn more.”
“And, why should that be my waiting?” The Madonna started to dissipate.
“No!” she yelled. “Please don’t leave.” The woman hung her head knowing she had wronged the spirit, defeated, shamed. “I really do want to understand this.”
“What brought you to the knowledge to call me?”
The young woman thought over the studying she had been doing the past few months, looking at some of her roots, her history. She had come across the idea of the blood and fire ritual when reading an old anthropology text from her college years. She found a tribe in East Africa who ritualized their cycles, tying them to the path of the moon.
The woman remembered her time in Cuba, seeing the ritual sacrifice of a pig. Watching the small animal drained onto an altar, then cooked for the community to share. The offering of one life for many others, a sacrifice that is necessary at its base.
She remembered stories of burning leeches in the flames, who had imbibed themselves on powerful people; remembered the words about the sacred abilities of blood and that it could be used to make wishes come true.
Something inside her remembered and she knew that she knew what to do.
“I can’t say for sure, but it just came to me.”
This seemed to jar the Madonna. The spirit had reformed enough to take mostly human shape, though the face waned in and out. The oscillating, smoky eyes shifted, but did not leave the young woman.
“I can feel your truth,” the Madonna said, unwavering. “I can feel the truth of your soul. Perhaps the question is not who am I, but who were you?”
At this the spirit’s hand reached out, grabbing the young woman. She rested her palm on the woman’s brow, squeezing her unearthly fingers into the crown of her head.
“Show me yourself: present, past, and future.”
The Madonna stepped forward into the light and the young woman looked finally into the eyes of the apparition. Her mouth agape in horror as the figure in front of her stared back with the young woman’s face. Like looking into a mirror, everything the young woman did, appeared on the Madonna.
“Are you…me?” The young woman squeaked out.
“I am all. You are one, I am two.”
How distorted, to see herself in mirror image, but speaking different words to her. She knew now that there was no dream she could have that would imagine this. She must have stumbled onto something very old and very real.
After what felt like several minutes, the Black Madonna removed her hand, retreating back into the dark and her foggy construction.
“I see why you have called me,” the Madonna spoke. “You are on the hero’s quest, you’ve lost your map, and a touch of your sanity.”
The Madonna began to fade away as she spoke.
“You need more time, not much, but more. To find yourself. To find who you were.”
“But if you saw my past, you must know who I was. Can’t you tell me now?” The young woman begged. The Madonna was right, she had been seeking out herself for years now, trying as many things as she could think to find the sacred combination; who she was and her purpose here in this world.
“To waste a wish on knowledge is to give up on the path. As soon as it is given to you, your path will change. Only you are allowed to give yourself this knowledge. What I can tell you is what you wished for in your conjuring of me. Think back to the fire.”
The young woman tried to focus all of her attention on those moments looking down at the flames, seeing the vial expand into the bloody cloud of her essence. In her mind, she retraced each step around the pit, and found herself back in the vortex of her slow meditative path. She fell into the rhythm and suddenly the words she spoke started coming back to her.
“I wish for the strength to continue, I wish for the sight to see, I wish for the fight for life, and to be in the places I need to be. I wish to have the power to know what is right from wrong, I wish for safety in the quest, and a companion to come along. I wish for the guidance of my ancestors, who have bred in me the way, I wish for their voice to know the things to say. I wish only for truth and completion in this task, and that I find the answers to the questions that I ask.”
The young woman teared as she heard the words repeated back to her. Lyrical, sweet, yet profound and guiding. How had she known these words? How had she developed such a complete rhyme without any thought at all? She looked to the Black Madonna with heavy liquid brims.
“I said all that? I made that wish?”
“Yes,” said the Madonna, “So granted.” And she vanished.
She was finally home. The sun was brightly welcoming a new day and all the young woman could think to do was to go to bed.
She wandered into the bathroom to clean up and pee one last time, and found herself stopped in front of the mirror, leering lovingly at her reflection. She thought back over the evening and the visitation that she had, and just as the Black Madonna crossed into the young woman’s mind, she appeared to take over the reflection.
“Whoa, I can call you whenever I want?”
“Yes, but you should only call when there is need,” returned the Madonna. “You now carry my energy. Frequent it with care.”
“I know you are still learning, so I want to make sure. You remembered to seal the gateway, yes?” The Madonna asked.
“The gateway? Like the fire?” The young woman flushed realizing that she had simply walked away from the flames in the pit, she did nothing to extinguish them, or as the Madonna said, seal the gateway.
The young woman, afraid to tell the truth, kept asking questions.
“What happens if you don’t seal your spells?”
The Madonna lowered her head. “Terrible things. You leave space for others to come through. How did the fire go out?”
The young woman thought on this for a moment. “I believe that it started to rain.”
“Rain? Good! A natural source of water would seal it. But, how long was it aflame?”
“I don’t know.” Again, the harsh embarrassment of getting caught not knowing what you’re doing plagued the woman.
Before leaving the Madonna looked her deeply in the eyes, she placed her etherial hands on the woman’s shoulders. “Seal your spells, and be careful of what might come.”
“What might come?”
“You left a gateway to the spiritual realm open and unattended. Yes, be careful. You could have released something far more terrifying than any of us yet know.”
And she vanished from the mirror.