by Cherie Ann Turpin
(30 Stories in 30 Days)
You are breaking the rules.
You find this squalid space while crawling your way through the remains of the old city not yet submerged into the seawater, desperate to escape the floating shantytown that surrounds the shiny new city like a rusty, filthy ring stuck on a finger too fat to let it slide off. It’s a fair analogy: the people who live in this shantytown come via ferry to work as cooks, servants, cleaners, and low-level office workers in New Manhattan, only to float by to makeshift squats, large floating structures made with scraps of metal, styrofoam, and melted plastic.
You are already aware that this building, formerly a factory turned into condos, has been condemned as a harbor for unsavory elements not seen by most humans. The empty rooms of one of the corner units are mostly empty, save for a mattress crusty with blood and other dried fluids, a chair, a set of drawers, and a beautiful Persian rug that seemed out-of-place. You find yourself wondering who would leave such a beautiful rug to rot away like that.
You hear whispering in one of the back rooms, telling you that you are not alone, and that if you want to squat here for more than just a night, you need to clean house. You begin the ritual, a series of chants, smudging, then silent sitting within a circle to draw out and carefully banish each unholy spirit. You have been told by the beggar-witch who sold you the ritual kit that under no circumstances are you to allow yourself to fall asleep while performing the Zari-koozhari banishing ritual. The one ritual you have been carefully instructed to follow to the letter in order to fully rid your squat of wretched haunts, spirits, demons, and listener-familiars loyal to the Phorzhicoa is the very same one that you are now breaking as you nod off to sleep in front of the makeshift altar space you just drew.
Your impatience and unwillingness to wait through the night till morning has borne foul fruit. The candles flicker as your sleeping body is surrounded by a merry band of evil-doers who see you as a gift of sorts, a gift of “food.” And like so many predators who come upon a tasty meal only to find their competitors there at the same time, these merry entities soon turn on each other, prepared to tear each other apart. You keep your eyes shut, waiting for the winner to emerge, waiting to banish the one strong enough to destroy the others, but not strong enough to defeat the Word.
You know by morning you are not meant to survive by following the rules. You start cleaning up the remains of the destroyed, and begin settling into your new home.