I first saw the girls on a Tuesday night about a week before the hurricane. I remember there was a new moon and a breeze that flicked cordgrass around my waist, but those details don't matter much. Tuesday is the important part. One of the hottest Augusts on record had slipped in, sticky sweet and thicker than Amaretto, but the morning humidity felt like walking through the cool swimming pool down at the community center. That is, until the sun set on its heavy path around ten.
In the latest part of evening, the day takes a few moments to fall asleep. I’ve heard that’s when the night things make the mad dash to join our world. It was in one of those few moments that Gavin and I crouched behind a clump of bushes, brown and limp from the south Louisiana heat. We’d heard a noise in the dark, and our young bravados pushed us outside of our tents. I saw girls dancing around the fire beside the river, and I almost dropped my flashlight. When it hit the ground, the light flickered and died.
‘Holy shit,’ Gavin whispered to me. ‘What are they doin’, do ya think?’ I shook my head and put a finger over my lips. We watched the girls undulate in the firelight’s trembling, their unclothed bodies swaying to music we couldn’t hear. If there was a rhythm to their footsteps, we couldn't find it. They weaved around the fire and one another, eyes closed and feet squishing into the soggy mud.
Gavin tugged on my shirttail. ‘Avit, I think we should go back,’ he said. I nodded, and we crept away from the bushes. When I turned back to look again, one of the girls stood apart from the rest and watched me. Our eyes locked for a moment before she lifted her arms above her head, her young body stretching upward. She twirled toward the firelight to rejoin the others.
Those modern witches, my mother told me. Dancin’ ‘round in naught but a hair clip. Outta be ashamed for bringin’ that hoodoo in their parents’ house. Don’t know when to leave well ‘nough alone. She was right, of course, but I went back to watch them anyway. Every evening, I pulled on a black T-shirt and pushed the screen away from my window. I waited for my eyes to adjust before slipping into the darkness and moving into the river marsh behind my neighborhood.
There were always the same six girls, and I started naming them on the fourth day. There was Aileen. She was the leader, the first girl to pull off her white shift dress. Aileen always lit the first of the candles that jutted from the mud at odd angles around the fire. Jara and Tara must have been twins. They had the same brown curls and tall frames, but Jara’s spine traced a silvery scar from tip to tailbone. I think Anya was the youngest, no more than sixteen, but her body moved more smoothly than the others’. She swayed like cattails. Emery was the only one who kept her eyes closed the entire time. The last one was Kyro. She carried the book, the one they chanted from the day before the wind carried me out of Louisiana.
On the day of the hurricane, my mother swished around the house, pausing once every few minutes to listen to the old radio crackle evacuation. The man’s voice claimed sixteen tornadoes spotted in our parish during the last hour. Offshoots of the hurricane. My mother piled blankets and clothes in my arms, and pushed me toward the door. ‘In the car,’ she said, and bustled toward the back bedrooms to pack other things.
The sky outside wasn’t the pea green that I hear about in school tornado drills. It was more of a mottled grey that swirled into a peachy marmalade on the corners. Big, fat raindrops plopped on the ground and in my hair. I watched the trees that whipped in the wind behind my house, and wondered if the girls would dance again tonight or if the storm would wash them away.
HANNAH WARREN is an MFA candidate at the University of Kansas, and her works have appeared recently or will soon appear in The Vignette Review, Mangrove, The Quaker, and Soundings East. She often writes about death, but hopes never to experience it. She rambles at hannahvwarren.wordpress.com