Coal dropped Star off at her home without a word, collecting his ring from her. The sun was already peeking out of the shadows now, the air was moist but the sky was still dark. And she was tired. Star’s whole body ached for her bed. She yawned as Coal drove off, past a police car parked on the street.

She entered her apartment complex and her spirits were up, this evening she would have the answer. This evening, she would have her mother back. She imagined what her father’s face would look like when — she cancelled the thought. When she brought her mother back, they were leaving. There was nothing else about it. They would drive and just keep on driving until the apartment was just a dot behind the sidemirrors.

She was putting her key in the door when she heard raised voices from the other side. She furrowed her brows and leaned in to listen more. It was her father and three or four strange men. That was odd — he was hardly ever up this early. She opened the door quietly and stopped. Everyone in the living room stopped too and stared at her. The other three men were wearing police uniforms and in front of them was a map of Lagos. Her father rose first, his eyes a strange mix of relief and ungodly anger.

“Where were you?” He roared. He came towards her, his hands jittery. “God, I went into you room to ask if you wanted anything but there was nothing, you weren’t even there, Star. Where were you?”

His eyes were watering and Star was just there, standing, unable to say anything. What could she say? She never expected him to check up on her, he never did that. She was thinking of what to say when her train of thought was interrupted.

A deadly punch to the face is sure to do that.

Star was on the floor now, her hand to her face. The other policemen just stood there; it wasn’t their concern.

Her father took one more step towards her and she crawled back, her eyes wide. “Where were you?” He asked again, his roar reduced to a bellow.

Star stumbled on the wall and now she was crying.

God, she was crying.

This wasn’t the first time he had hit her, but it was the hardest and her jaw hurt, her head ached and her eye was swollen. She was sobbing and crying and everyone was staring at her. Then her father looked at his hands, and then her.

“I…I’m” he was beginning to say but Star didn’t care for what he had to say. She ran before anyone could stop her and locked her room door behind her.

***

He came at intervals during the day: sometimes he sounded apologetic, begging her to open the door so they could talk; other times he was angry, screaming at her to open her goddamn door unless he’d break it. At all times she was deathly scared. At some point, she heard the front door bang and let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

As if on cue, she got a text from Coal.

Outside. Ten minutes.

Star didn’t pack anything, she just left the room coldly, got out of the apartment and walked to Coal’s car with a deathly calm she didn’t understand herself.

She entered the car, put on her seatbelt and waited for Coal to drive.

“Your eye,” he said, staring at her, “what happened?”

“Let’s go,” she said, her eyes on the dashboard. “It’s not your business. You’re not my father.”

Coal looked at her for one more moment, shrugged and drove. Both of them on their way to what they thought destiny was.

***

Doreen inspected the satchel with the items inside and closed her eyes over it, breathing slowly.

“So,” she said quietly, “you did it. You really did it.” She was the only one in the coven that day and she sat on the table wearing a blue t-shirt and black sweatpants.

“We did,” Coal said. “There was some trouble with the Yezulu egg, though. I had to get a new one.” He looked at Star, expecting a reaction.

He got none.

Star looked at Doreen with her hands crossed. “What do I need to do to get my mother back?” She asked.

Doreen looked at Star as if for the first time. “You’re different,” she said simply. “What happened to your eye?”

“What, do I need to do to get my mother back,” repeated Star.

Doreen smiled at her. It was a sad smile. “Grief changes us,” she said, “but it doesn’t have to harden our hearts… Loss can make us kind, Star. It makes us remember what we have lost, but also what we have left.”

Star narrowed her eyes. “I never told you my name.”

Doreen gave another smile then spilled the ingredients on the table, muttering as she did so, her nails glowing faintly, her hands blazing with unholy blue fire.

She touched the table and the whole thing was ablaze and the blue fire circled and crossed the room with wind coming out of nowhere but just as soon as it began, it was done. And laying on the table was a simple dagger with blue and black cloth on the hilt.

Doreen held the dagger in the light, observed it for a moment and walked to Coal and Star handing the dagger by the blade to Star. “This is all you need to bring her back,” Doreen said, her voice hard.

“I…” Star was saying, taking a step backwards, “I don’t understand.”

“A life for a life, girl,” Doreen said. “There is a balance in the world, between day and night, good and evil — Love and hate. A soul cannot cross through without another one leaving. To bring back someone you love, you must kill someone you hate.”

Star barked a laugh that was devoid of humour. “That’s it? I just have to kill someone I hate?”

Doreen nodded.

Star laughed again. She was giggling now. “This is the easiest choice I’ll ever have to make,” she said.

Doreen used her hand and laid it on Star’s bruised eye and soft blue flames crossed the wound, healing it. It felt warm, Star noticed, and cold. “Don’t be so sure,” Doreen said quietly.

Star took the knife from Doreen and put it in her waistband without a word.

“The soul has to be taken by midnight today,” Doreen said, “or the spell won’t work. You must be singular of mind and spirit in your intention or you’ll damn yourself. Do you understand?”

Star nodded.

Coal coughed.

Doreen smiled as she went over to him.

“You’ve fulfilled your part of the bargain, child.” Doreen said.

“I’m not a child,” said Coal.

“I was alive before even the first of your family line drew breath on this land,” she said, “You’re a child to me, albeit a stubborn one.”

“The stone,” Coal said.

“Nobody is smiling today,” Doreen muttered. She gestured at Cole’s wrist. “I gave you a bracelet to wear weeks ago, to make sure you didn’t run away. Hold it out to me,” Coal did so and Doreen took it from him, muttering as blue flames burnt away the glamour, revealing a glowing red orb that pulsed like it had a heartbeat.

“It was with me the entire time?” Coal said, steel in his voice.

Doreen smile. “I thought it was funny,” she said.

“It’s not.”

“It’s a little funny,” she said with her thumb and index finger close together. As they talked a woman walked into the room, stopping at the doorway. She was the same witch, Star recognised, the only one who hadn’t laughed when Coal was thrown the first time they were here.

Doreen didn’t even look back. “She wants to talk to you,” she said.

“I don’t care,” replied Coal, putting the stone in his pocket.

The woman walked up to three of them and Coal bristled.

“Kolawole,” she said quietly. Like she had practiced saying it in the mirror many times.

“Don’t call me that,” Coal said, turning to leave.

“Please,” she said. “Forgive me.”

Coal continued walking.

“My son,” Lina called, her eyes brimmed with tears, “please.”

Coal stopped in his tracks; his fists clenched. “Your son,” he said, “died two years ago. I’m what’s left.” And then he left.

Doreen observed Star for a moment. “Remember,” she said, “you can rise above it. You don’t have to descend into the darkness.” Before Star could even think of something to say, Doreen gestured and the world turned around on its head

Up was down

Down was sideways

And she

Was

Falling

Through

It

Until the darkness claimed her.

As it usually does.

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Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.