N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Umami: The Trading Season, Part 4

The Dark of the Soul (Soundtrack:  Datsik & Flux Pavilion – Crunch)

The buyer showed Olive to a narrow room, with a matching bed and window.  She turned, sure it was a joke, but he had walked away.  His duty discharged he was surely off to another town, a bigger town, where he would make some other girl’s dreams come true.  Olive felt a flash of hate for that faceless girl.

The room was bland, unpainted, and small.  The only adornments were the tall pikes bolted to either side of the window.  They were a throwback to a time when every town had a wall and every room carried its own line of defense. She touched them, surprised to find the wood of their handles freshly oiled and free of splinters.

“This place is more backward than I thought if they think Shamblers are still treading the Big Death.”  She sighed, and flopped on the bed.  There were no springs, only narrow planks of wood and a sack stuffed with raw cotton.  She doubted she’d get any sleep at all.

In the late dawn light she was jolted awake by the sound of baying dogs.  Her heart pounded and she shook her head from side to side trying to remember where she was.  Then it hit her, a tidal wave of disappointment. The dogs bayed again, and this time she heard a knock on her door to accompany them.

Olive swung her legs off her bed, quickly smoothing down her hair and dress from the night before.  It would not be right to keep them waiting, but she was not going to give them the upper hand of finding her in bed after the sun was already up.

“Come in,” she said.

A young girl pushed open the door with an effort.  She had thick brown hair that curled softly around her face, and knobby knees that were exposed by the short tunic she wore.  Her feet were bare and dirty, but that was the only part of her in need of washing. “Momma Cree asked me to come fetch you.”


“The Mambo.  We all call her Momma.  She’s nice like that.”  The girl smiled, but did not wait.  She slipped out of the room.

“Wait.  Give me a moment to change.”

“No, Momma Cree asked me to fetch you.  That means now,” the bodiless voice said.

“Ok, ok.”  Olive followed the girl, pulling the door closed behind her.  The wood near the doorknob was soft and oily from use; many hands had stroked it prior to her arrival.  This town might be a backwater, but it was strong enough to survive.  Perhaps she was as well.


Olive sat, an untouched plate of food in front of her.  She felt like an imposter.   She’d spent the day shaking hands and kissing babies, presented to the town as the new initiate of the church, which had been fine enough, but now that the dancing had begun–

The circles of men and women, half hidden in twilight, moved to the music that left her cold.  They yelled and raised their hands, feeling the spirit moving among them.  Or she assumed they did, she honestly didn’t know.  She had never felt the Loa, never been ridden, and doubted she ever would.

She sighed, glancing at the large, dark-skinned woman sitting next to her.  The Mambo of the town–the high priestess, the keeper, the Mother, whatever you wanted to call her—nodded in time to the drums, smiling like this was the greatest event she had ever witnessed.  To Olive it was a puppet show, one she had witnessed most of her life, but had never felt the need to join.

Olive wondered what her parents were doing, if they were bedding the little ones yet, what stories were being told.  She sighed again, and wished the ritual done and over.

“You don’t find our party to your liking?”  The low rumble came from the Mambo.

Olive sat up straight, and plastered a thin smile on her lips, “It is not that, Mambo Cree-“


“Mo-Momma Cree.”  Olive fumbled over the word, “I am tired.  It has been a long day.”

“For them as well, and yet they celebrate your arrival.  You do not.”

Olive looked out at the dancers again.  They wailed and shook under the mantle of the spirits that inhabited them, and they did it for her.  All this was for her.  The town rejoicing in her presence, celebrating her arrival and all it left her was unmoved, tired even.

“This was not what I expected.”  The truth escaped her lips before she’d had a chance to soften it, a rare slip of her tongue. “I had though I would be working within the church today, getting to know it instead of the members.  I was unprepared, Momma Cree, it will not happen again.”

“You will find, working out here in the bayou, that there are many things that you cannot prepare for only recover from.” Momma Cree said, her head still nodding in time with the drums, but it was clear she was giving Olive only one chance to recover from being assigned to this Flock.

Olive wondered what would happen if she failed.

Out in the crowd someone wailed and called for rum.


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