N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Umami: The Trading Season

It is time to introduce a new segment to my blog-o-liciousness, called umami.

In case you don’t know, umami is one of the five basic tastes that denotes savoriness…and that’s just what I’d like you to do…savor this new segment.

Umami will be my serial story segment. Every two weeks (barring illness or ennui) I will be publishing another slice to this tale we begin today…”The Trading Season”.

“The Trading Season” is a prequel to the story I wrote for Chizine.com (“A Viper Among Us” – it will make its grand appearance May 30th), and follows some of those same characters (specifically Lisette, our heroine).

I hope you enjoy, and come back for another slice in a couple of weeks!

The Trading Season: Part 1: Another Town, Another Stage

The heat rose with the screech of the katydids and the lightening of the sky over the Bayou. The sound nearly drowned out the belching and rattling of the truck, but Lisette still had to resort to putting her hands over her ears for relief. She was hoping to sleep a bit more before they arrived at the next Flock, but she ended up praying.

“Please, Loa, please, I just want a home. I just want a family. I’m a good girl, I’ll work hard,” she whispered. She’d been riding along with the Traders for 30 days now, almost the complete trading season, and no one had chosen her. Not yet.

The Traders had always seemed so glamorous when she was a child. They would arrive in town, a caravan of trucks each filled with girls, and the whole town would turn out to see what matches were made.

Now, she just thought they were callous and smelly. The squeal of the tailgate interrupted her thoughts. Lisette’s head jerked up, she knew that sound. The latch had come loose.

“Look out,” she yelled, but there was no time. The tailgate flew open and the girls nearest it screamed in fear, they clawed at one another to keep from toppling out of the truck.

The smallest one, Anika, was overbalanced. Her mouth forming a scream without sound as she pinwheeled her arms to keep from falling out onto the hard ground.

Lisette didn’t think. She grabbed Anika’s arm and yanked. The girl sprawled at Lisette’s feet mewling and clawing at the rusting metal beneath her, driving flakes of brown under her nails.

“Thank-” Anika lifted her head, locked eyes with Lisette and shrank back. “Legba, protect me.”

Lisette watched in horror as the girl used the hem of her dress to scrub the skin Lisette had touched until her pale skin glowed bright red.

“Sit down!” The driver banged on the back window.

Lizette dropped down, making herself as small as possible. It wasn’t as if her birthmarks were catching, but she wouldn’t make the mistake of touching anyone in the truck again.

#

Lisette walked across the creaking wood, hoping someone would take her. She was tired of the traveling, tired of the stages, and tied of the stares. She wanted to be chosen, to settle down into a town that would become her home; as her mother said it should be. She felt her eyes filling with tears at the thought of her mother, but blinked them away. Her family had hoped for a good trade.

She looked above the crowd, uncomfortable watching them weigh her merits and flaws. She listened as the other girls were sold. Crops and seeds for the ugly ones, livestock and horses for the plain, and dogs for the prettiest. Lisette didn’t care what she sold for anymore, just that she sold.

It wasn’t like she was ugly, she wasn’t, or at least her mother had told her she wasn’t. It was the star-burst of dark freckles on her brown skin that drove people away. Black magic, they said. Cursed by the Loa, they said.

And now, here in the last town, she was the only one left and yet again no one had bid.

They pulled her from the stage, and pushed her into the back of the truck. The Traders job wasn’t done still all the girls were gone, and here she was, their problem once more. She watched with envy as the other girls were led away from the square.

She was alone with her tears for a long time.
Lisette was startled awake when the engine of the truck coughed to life once more. Without preamble, her driver gunned the engine and they drove, hell for leather, until well after dark. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since they’d left the last town, or even which direction they had gone. All she knew was that they were alone, the rest of the caravan having been left behind.

She couldn’t see much through the trees that pressed right up to the edge of the road, but she could hear the slosh of swamp water. She shivered. She’d never been this close to the home of the Shamblers, the Big Dead, before. She made herself as small as possible, watching the dark for movement even as they sped further and further into the marshy land.

When they stopped, it was sudden and alarming. Lisette looked around; there was no place to camp, not with the trees thick as soldiers on either side of the road. She didn’t have time to ponder further as the driver kicked his door open, and unfolded his large girth. He stretched and groaned. She didn’t have the courage to speak to him.

He lit a pipe, the flame from the match illuminating his profile. His pitted skin and scowl was not softened by the warm light. He puffed a few times, the red embers glowing brightly before he reached back into the cab for his rifle. He checked the bullets, then snapped it shut. The sound made her jump.

“Girl, git yourself down here,” he said, no mercy in his voice.

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