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‘Lena’ Excerpt

Momentarily, but no longer, the swamp was quiet before the voices of the birds returned and spoke of secret things in the cone-laden Bald Cypress and plum laden Ogeechee Tupelo branches beneath clouds carrying late afternoon storms. Spanish moss on the larger limbs fluttered like waking storm flags. Sheltered from the wind, scattered white and maroon dropwort flowers—Willie called it “cowbane”—rocked gently in their cradles of low scrubs and grasses.

I knew from my dream travels that two swamps existed together, one that stopped short of the Apalachicola River and one that lived and breathed westward past night and death until it touched the boundary of the afterlife that Eulalie called “the Pearly Gates.” I didn’t think my conjured woman had crossed the great river.

The gasoline-tainted water holding the trucks was foul, and that meant searching it quickly in spite the murky sediments Hoskins stirred up in his frantic thrashing about. I did not find Eulalie there. I followed the current into large mats of duckweed where progress was slower. By the time the rains came and chased me back to the road, I had found no conjure woman or gator bait traces there.

When the swamp grew dark, a limpkin screamed near the river like a child dying again and again. Tree frogs sang, basses, altos, trebles, and tenors. Eulalie once said nighttime frogs praised the good Lord with voices as pure as sacred harp singers standing in a hollow square. In the center of that square of voices and old trees, I could not sleep, but not for the singing. The events of the day weighed heavily on my heart. Without sleep, I was blind to what a dreamtime journey could show—whether my conjure woman had lived or died.

The Sixth Pentacle of Jupiter pendant was heavy around my neck; the doubled chain choked me. Eulalie should not have put it there. I could have jumped safely out of the truck without it. She could not. Having protected her against knives and bullets, the magical inscription in the brass would have summoned Seraph, Cherub, Ariel, and Tharsis from the four corners of the earth to protect her from Chief Gravely’s worst intentions.

The chief should die. I made that declaration while the limpkin cried and the tree frogs sang their praises to the heavens throughout the swamp.

Lena is the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series that begins with Conjure Woman’s Cat.

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