NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This excerpt was the original prologue to MY SOUL TO TAKE, although it has now been moved to Chapter Three. I chose this excerpt because it takes the readers full circle to my original story in MY SOUL TO KEEP, the 1997 novel that introduced a Miami newspaper reporter named Jessica and her husband, David, who is secretly an immortal.
My African Immortals series ponders the price of immortality, the price of power, and what it might be like to have blood that could heal any ailment. MY SOUL TO TAKE centers around Fana, an 18-year-old girl born with the Living Blood, who must stand against a supernatural plague that threatens the world population.
If you're not familiar with my novels, you might want to read MY SOUL TO KEEP, THE LIVING BLOOD and BLOOD COLONY before reading MY SOUL TO TAKE...but it is written as a stand-alone novel. (And any title similarities to a certain Wes Craven movie are purely coincidental.)
(Pub date: Sept. 6, 2011 / Washington Square Press)
A broad-shouldered man stands at Jessica Jacobs-Wolde’s kitchen counter, stirring a bowl with slow, careful strokes while he watches her out of the corner of his eye. He slumps across the counter on one elbow, his face hidden by a shadow escaping the light from the bright rows of jalousie windows.
Not her husband, David. She left David sleeping in their bed upstairs. Besides, this man has the wrong shoes. Wrong posture. Wrong smell…shoe polish. And Old Spice, a smell older than David’s. The man’s face turns slightly, and light cleaves to his dark skin. Jessica blinks three times, more weak-kneed with each blink.
The man is her father.
Jessica’s father died when she was eight, in 1978. But now he’s in the kitchen as if he belongs with her in 1997, stooped over as he stirs the cobalt blue bowl she and David bought in Key West. Nineteen years have passed, but she knows his wide shoulders, salt-and-pepper hair, the small gap between his front teeth.
Time and death haven’t changed her father a bit.
But his clothes aren’t right. At first, he was wearing his dusty work boots, and in the next breath he’s in his gray Sunday suit with shiny black shoes reeking of Kiwi shoe polish—his only church suit, the one he was wearing when they closed the gleaming rose colored casket and lowered him into a maw in the earth.
I’m dreaming, she thinks, a late realization. She has to be.
“Thought I’d make us some breakfast,” Daddy says.
How dare he just show up now, out of the air! What has taken him so long?
Before she speaks, she talks herself down from her anger. Hasn’t he always been near them when she and her daughter, Kira, climb down into the tiny burial cave at the foot of their front yard, near the mailbox? Don’t the neighbors talk about ghosts in the mossy live oak trees? Maybe it has taken him twenty years to find her.
“Daddy?” Her voice reverts to childhood, almost too soft to hear.
Her father stirs his wooden spoon. Pancakes and fried eggs were all her father knew how to cook. It’s Daddy, all right.
“’Mornin’, baby girl,” Daddy says.
“What are you doing here?” She can’t say Daddy a second time.
His clothes change again, melting. Then he’s wearing his brilliantly aqua blue Miami Dolphins jersey, number 72. Bob Greise. Daddy has gone to the Orange Bowl to see the Dolphins play all season long, sparking a fuss with her mother. The tiles on the kitchen counter turn powder blue, like the ones in their childhood home. When Jessica blinks, the tiles pale back to white.
Is Daddy trying to trick her? Daddy’s face isn’t quite in focus. She blinks again. Now, he looks like David.
“You’ve been gone a long time, Jess,” he says. Her father had never called her by David’s nickname for her. When he was alive, he told her and her sister, Alexis, to stop letting neighborhood boys call them Jess and Alex because it sounded too tomboyish.
“Come on back with me, before you can’t any more. We miss you, Jessica.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Jessica is surprised at how angry she sounds.
“You know who I mean, mi vida,” Daddy says patiently. He heats a skillet on the stove, and butter sizzles sweet in the air. She has never heard her father speak Spanish, but his accent is flawless. He sounds like he grew up in Spain. Daddy’s voice drops to a whisper. “Fana. Me. Alex. All of us.”
What’s he talking about? Her sister, Alex, isn’t dead!
“Alex isn’t with you, Daddy,” she says. “She’s still here. And who’s…?”
She already can’t remember the other name.
As if the stranger’s name broke the spell, Daddy is suddenly gone. The skillet sizzles without him, the butter turning brown. No Daddy. An echo of his bright jersey still plays behind her eyes, but his absence hangs in the room.
Jessica holds her breath, waiting for him to reappear, her mind raging with questions and regrets. She is exhausted from grief. She wants to go back to bed, but her nightmares would come if she tried to sleep now.
“Daddy?” she whispers to the empty room, trying the word on her tongue again.
“Lord, girl, you’re burning up the butter!” Bea says from the kitchen doorway. Her loose multi-colored batik tunic fans across her arm like a choir robe.
Her mother was in last night’s nightmare, Jessica suddenly remembers. Something about an airplane. Her heart. The memory fragments are sharp as glass, like physical pain.
Jessica clasps her mother’s warm hand, running her fingers across the soft, fleshy ridges of her knuckles, moistened with the Giorgio lotion Jessica gives her for Christmas every year. And the scent of Zest soap from her neck.
“Something just scared the crap out of me,” Jessica says. Already, holding her mother’s hand, she feels better. “Not you. It was…”
“Ommmmmm!” Kira hums, chiding her from behind Bea’s skirt. “You said a bad word, Mommy! Crap is a bad word.”
Jessica is surprised to see Kira up and already dressed for school—in her pink Flower Power T-shirt and slightly too-short blue jeans she wore because she loved the pink belt. The laces of her sneakers clash in bright orange.
Jessica feels sick to her stomach. A sour taste prods the back of her throat.
“Well, let’s see what Grandma can whip together,” Bea says, opening the kitchen cabinet.
“Kira has school, Mom. I’ll fix her cereal.”
“Hush,” Bea says. “We have all the time in the world.”
Kira gives Jessica her prettiest bright-eyed stare. “I love you, Mommy!” Kira says, and crushes herself against Jessica for a tight hug. “Forever.”
Jessica kneels to the kitchen linoleum on one knee to hug Kira and savor every part of her. The sure, steady fluttering of her heartbeat. Her tiny rib-cage. The sweet Crest toothpaste on her breath. The honey scent of her uncombed hair.
Honey? Bees. Her nightmare tries to surface, but Jessica fights it back.
“You need to let her go and give her to me, Jessica,” Bea says. “She’s my best helper.”
Kira cheers, flying to Bea’s side by the stove. Smoke rises from the skillet. In the smoke, Bea and Kira are hard to see.
“Jessica, go fetch me flour some from the cellar,” Bea’s voice says in the smoke.
The smoke is pluming, filling the kitchen, but Jessica sees the cellar door wide open in her path. Two steps, maybe three, and she’ll be inside the doorway. We don’t have a cellar, Jessica thinks, but there it is. A bright light shines, and a shadow moves against the wall.
Maybe it’s her father. Maybe this is where he wanted her to follow him.
Kira gives a small cough, and Jessica’s head whips around. All she sees is smoky profiles; one taller, one tiny. The kitchen smells like sweet-spicy incense.
“Mom…” Jessica begins. She had a thousand things to say. A thousand questions.
“Don’t worry about Kira,” Mom says. “I’ve got her, baby. You go on, now.”
“’Bye, Mommy!” Kira calls, and Jessica’s throat burns with pain.
The shadow in the cellar moves again. A disembodied arm beckons, or seems to. “Daddy?” Jessica says, and goes toward the open cellar door. The incense smell is stronger from downstairs. Bea and Kira giggle behind her.
Jessica takes her first step down the cellar stairs.
But it isn’t a cellar, just as she’d thought. It’s the burial cave at the end of their driveway with smooth dirt walls, built by the Tequestas to store arrow root; Kira’s outdoor playhouse. The most charming fixture of her yard. Jessica’s favorite place.
Jessica doesn’t remember a doorway from the house to the burial cave. But here she is.
In 1997, she reminds herself. Still here.
Jessica hunches over to walk down into the cave.
A man sits cross-legged against the packed dirt of the cave’s far wall. The cave is bigger than Jessica remembers it—as big as their bedroom. This time, the man isn’t her father. He is nude. His face is hidden in a bright light, but she knows his body.
“Why are you in here?” Jessica says.
“You know why,” her husband says. “For you, Jessica. To find you.”
His voice sets her soul afire.
“You haven’t lost me,” she says. “You’re right here.”
Slowly, he shakes his head. The light plays across the burnished skin of his face, unbridling his beauty. His face brings tears to her eyes.
“The man in the bed upstairs isn’t me,” he says. “He’s a memory, Jessica. A lie.”
When he says the word lie, the ground shakes beneath her, a rumble. Her stomach aches.
“It’s not a lie,” she says. “I taste it, touch it and feel it every day. I’m still here.”
“It’s a dream you made for yourself.”
Suddenly, she can’t remember her husband’s name. The cave is dimming around her. She feels sleepy, her eyes coaxed open by the light on her husband’s face.
“We live at 296 Tequesta Road,” she says. “I work for the Miami Sun-News. I’m a reporter. We have a five-year-old daughter named Kira. She’s right here. And so is Mom. My mother is cooking breakfast with Kira right now.”
Her husband’s jaw clenches with what looks like anger, but in the light she sees it’s pain. “We lost Kira, Jessica,” he says. “We lost your mother.”
“That's not true!” Jessica screams.
Tears water her husband’s cheeks. “I wish it weren’t, Jess. If I could make your dream real and step back into time, I would find a way to spare you all of it.” He swallows a sob. “I would change everything. But I cannot. We cannot. I dream of your memory, too. I wish we could travel back together.”
For the first time, Jessica remembers her husband’s true name: Dawit.
“You lied to me,” she says.
“You stole everything.”
“Yes.” A whisper.
And yet, she loves him. Her love for him is deeper, somehow, than her love when she had known him only as David. But their love was brighter then. Innocent.
“Then why shouldn’t I stay here?” she says. “Why shouldn’t we be happy?”
“We will be happy again, Jess,” he says. “We can.”
She can’t remember everything about her nightmares yet, but she is waking from her dream. Not the cave—somewhere else. An underground temple. Another child.
Not Kira. Her first daughter is dead.
Fana. Her second child’s name.
Fana is where Jessica’s nightmares begin.
© Copyright 2011 by Tananarive Due