Scarlet Heat (Born to Darkness)(139)

By: Evangeline Anderson

Flipping off the light switch, she locked up the small museum and ran for her car, parked at the far end of the employee lot. The hot Florida sun beat down on her but Nina was used to it. She slid into her little hatchback, barely noticing that the interior was like an oven. The heat she could handle—it was the few cold days a year that got to her. Luckily, living in Tampa, those days were few and far between so she was generally pretty comfortable.

She went through the drive through and got a double cheeseburger for Mehoo-Jimmy and a chocolate shake for herself from the dollar menu. It was a small splurge since she was trying to save every penny to go back to school but after the particularly bad dream she’d had the night before, Nina decided she deserved it.

I just need to let the dreams go, she told herself as she sipped the shake and drove toward Mehoo-Jimmy’s little bungalow. Need to forget about them and just breathe.

Pulling up in front of the little green house, she saw that Mehoo-Jimmy was sitting out on the front porch, petting one of her many cats and probably humming to herself. Sure enough, when she got out of the car, Nina could hear the soft, wordless crooning that was surprisingly tuneful drifting through the air. It was this soft sound that had comforted her after the death of her mother, when Mehoo-Jimmy held her and whispered that all was not lost, that she would see her again some day on the other side.

Nina had only been twelve when her mother had died of breast cancer and Mehoo-Jimmy had taken her under her wing and protected her when Nina’s father was out trying to drown his grief in whiskey and gambling. In some ways, he had never gotten over her mother’s death—or at least that was the excuse he always gave when he came home drunk or lost his paycheck at the craps table.

But Nina didn’t want to think about her father now. She ran lightly up the path to the tiny pea green bungalow, the white paper sack with the cheeseburger crinkling cheerfully.

“Mehoo, how are you?” She took the porch steps in two bounds and bent to kiss the soft cheek, wrinkled with age. As always Mehoo-Jimmy smelled of baby powder and the herbs she grew in her garden out back.

“Hello, eecho.” The affectionate name meant “little deer” in Miccosukee, one of the Seminole dialects. The old woman gave her a wide smile, revealing teeth too white and even to be anything but false. “What you doing here? Don’t you have to be at that Greedy Massage place?”

“It’s Massage Envy and I have a few minutes. Thought I’d bring you lunch.” Nina handed her the bag and pulled up a wicker chair to sit beside her. “So how are things?”

“Not bad, not bad. Except…” The old woman frowned at her. “I got a worried feeling about you, eecho. Early this morning when I first woke. Are you all right?’

“I’m fine, Mehoo.” Nina shifted uncomfortably under her adopted grandmother’s ancient stare.

“Tell the truth to your mehoo.” The old woman spoke sternly though her eyes were gentle. “I can tell when something is on your mind.”

“I had another dream,” Nina said, looking down at her hands. “A dream about the man…the man whose face I couldn’t see.”

As she spoke the half-remembered dream came back with a force that left her feeling uneasy and anxious. Sometimes in the dreams, it seemed the man needed her help. Other times she felt he was coming for her for some dark and terrible reason. But in all the dreams he was so big and his face was always shadowed…

“A man who hides his face? Hmm…” Mehoo-Jimmy hummed thoughtfully as she unwrapped the burger Nina had brought her. “That’s not good child. He sounds like a bear.”

“He could be, I guess,” Nina admitted, frowning. “He’s huge—as big as a bear, anyway.”

“When a spirit animal comes to you in a dream, you need to listen. What does he want, this bear?”

“I don’t know.” Nina raised her hands helplessly. “He never speaks and I can never see his face—just these strange, glowing eyes like he’s hiding somehow.”

“Dreaming of a bear means fever coming,” Mehoo-Jimmy announced. “A fever you can’t put out with water alone.”

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