“We floated above a bed. A woman and her baby were sleeping there. Isabella bent to the mother, who moaned something, and kept on sleeping. But the baby woke up….and —and—and Isabella put her mouth to its neck…”
By Michael Jordan
Part Three: Evil twin
She was standing by Wayne’s crib when Maxwell entered the room. Her body was half-turned to the door as if she had been listening for his footsteps.
“Yuh home early.”
He tried to read the expression on her face, but she had already turned back to the crib. “The big man turn in early tonight,” she said, fumbling with the mosquito net.
An image of the ailing girl at the hospital leaped at him and he felt a spasm of dread. Was Wayne really asleep? So soon?
His heart thumping in his chest, Maxwell walked over to the crib. The boy lay on his back, legs asprawl, mouth slightly open.
Sleeping…just sleeping…thank God.
He watched as Sandra reached into the crib to straighten the boy’s limbs. One of her breasts brushed his shoulder; the softness of her chasing some of the dread that had brought him home. He felt the tension draining from him, replaced now by guilt at his suspicions.
Damn…he hadn’t even kissed her goodnight. He turned to Sandra, who was still tucking the net in, and drew her close.
I would never let anything harm you or Wayne, he thought. Never.
“Everything alright, Max? Voice muffled against his shoulder.
He realized his bag was still slung on his shoulder. His shoes, usually discarded at the door, were still on.
“Yeah. Just had a roughish day at work. What about your headache?”
A momentary pause before she said: “It gone now.” She squeezed his shoulder. “Yuh dinner on the table.”
Maxwell washed his hands then headed for the small dining room. He felt the juices spring to his mouth as he looked at the macaroni and cheese in his plate. He reached across the table for the ketchup, and then uncorked the bottle. It felt surprisingly light. He upturned the bottle and shook it.
He stared at the bottle for awhile, just thinking. His hunger was gone; all his earlier fears flooding him again.
He knew he was being silly, but he could not shake the feeling that the empty bottle —its seal broken only yesterday; brought for him because Sandra hated ketchup—was a link in a chain of events relating to the ring.
An image of the thin child in ICU came to him again, and he covered his dinner and hurried back to the bedroom. Sandra was sitting on the bed putting in her curlers. He checked Wayne again, undressed, and went to bed.
But he could not sleep. He was too aware of Sandra near him; the intermittent, soft rattle as she removed the curlers from a shoebox on the bed.
His surreal, hushed conversation with Dr. Delon returned to him …
“She’s a very frightened little girl Her mother said she woke up screaming three nights in a row; staring at the bedroom window as if she was seeing something there. But there was no one there when her mother looked…”
But although she had seen nothing, Dr. Delon said the mother had claimed that she had felt as if someone was watching her.
He had learnt that the child lived at Beterverwagting, and that had triggered memories of his dream-woman in a country house, and how he had awoken to his neighbour’s baby crying…
He felt Sandra shift on the bed. He watched her stretch for the light switch, and now the room was in darkness. Maxwell felt himself tense as she lay next to him, but when she snuggled to him he held her close.
And now was as good a time to unburden himself to her to say…what?
Sandra, I know it sound crazy, but I believe that you are in danger….and maybe Wayne, too. I feel it in my guts. And it’s all because of that damned ring. I know I threw it away, but I believe that whatever was on it is still affecting you.
I believe you’re changing somehow. What happen to the ketchup, Sandra?
No. it was crazy. It made no sense upsetting Sandra with things he couldn’t prove or fully explain. If, as he sensed, something was going to happen tonight, the thing to do was watch.
He lay in bed, remembering those times, as a boy, when he had lain in bed stiff with fright after listening to his grandmother’s stories about night creatures. But he wasn’t a boy now. He—
His eyes fluttered open. Shucks…he’d fallen asleep! It was Sandra’s stirring that had awoken him. She had risen from the bed. She moved to the bedroom window. She stared outside for awhile; then, with a sigh, returned to bed.
“Yuh sleeping Max?” she whispered.
He did not answer.
He felt her shift closer to him. She caressed his face, then pressed her mouth to his. He felt the softness of her and felt himself responding; but then an awful tiredness like no tiredness he’d ever experienced consumed him, and he was dropping…dropping…dropping into blackness…
Floating now, in some country house. He knows somehow he’s been here before. Looking down at the two men dressed in suits of a long-past era as they restrained the writhing woman on the bed. He knows her name…Isabella. Her hair is loose, her eyes are red, red like the ruby in the ring glinting on her hand. Her voice is a whisper of pain.
“I can’t stop the fire…I can’t stop…”
Suddenly she breaks free, oozing from their grasp, floating out of the bedroom window.
But she does not fall. And from somewhere nearby, comes a scream and the baby’s cries…
Wayne! Wayne was in danger!
With an effort, Maxwell broke free from the dream. He felt groggy, as if he had taken a valium. He could hear a baby crying harshly somewhere nearby. Still feeling groggy, he switched on the light and stumbled over to the crib.
The boy was lying on his back, his stubby legs sprawled again. He was asleep, but something was amiss in the room. Maxwell turned to the bed and saw what it was.
Sandra was not there.
He was pondering his next move when he heard a muffed sound from the direction of the toilet. It came again, and this time he recognized it as the sound of someone retching. It was a sound he heard often enough at the hospital, but now it made his arms break out in goosebumps.
He stumbled outside, part of him still wondering about his dizziness.
A pause, then the retching again.
He hurried towards the washroom. The door was open. Sandra was bent over the toilet bowl, clutching her stomach. The floor was spattered with her digested meal, and with a reddish-blown liquid. She straightened up and stared at him. She seemed about to say something when they both heard the scream.
“Oh Gad!” Ohhhh Gad meh chile! Ohhhh Gaddd…”
The screams were coming from somewhere behind their apartment. Although distorted by grief, the voice was still recognizable.
He stared at Sandra, feeling a tightening in his throat.
“Something happen to Karen baby.”
She stared back at him, her face contorted with agony. “I know.” Then she slumped on Maxwell, sobbing.
“Oh God, Maxwell. Help me, help me…”
They placed Karen’s baby near the sick girl in ICU. It slept little, awakening every few minutes to cry feebly.
The naked terror in its eyes chilled Maxwell. He found it hard to believe that this shrunken child was the same chubby boy that he had tickled under the chin only the day before.
The baby was in Dr. Delon’s care, and it was to the Haitian specialist that Maxwell decided to unburden himself.
Because there was little doubt now that something was horribly wrong. He had spoken to both Karen and Sandra, and their stories appeared to be the final pieces of a macabre puzzle.
The baby was alright when Karen put him to bed. But that night, she had a strange dream. Full moon…and someone was chasing her on the seawalls. A fair-complexioned, red-eyed woman, whose feet did not touch the ground. Strange, but she felt that she had dreamed of the woman before…
She’d awoken to her baby crying; a choking sound, not his usual healthy bawling. She had thought that maybe he was suffocating in his blanket and had tried to turn to him. But she could not move. She could not scream. She could hear him threshing around near her.
She could not see…her eyes seemed pasted shut. And someone, she sensed, was standing near the bed watching her.
No…she didn’t think she had been dreaming. When her eyes had finally opened, something had shifted from the bed towards the bedroom window…
Maxwell had believed her, because Sandra had dreamed, too…
Sitting on the bed, hoarse from weeping, she had told him everything.
It was another ‘flying dream’, almost like the last one. She had flown over Alberttown, entering a house that tugged at her memory; feeling someone dragging her to a room; crying because she did not want to go.
But this time she knew who was with her, because, in a way, the person was her…
“My name was Isabella,” she said, and Maxwell felt himself grow cold at the sound of the familiar name.
“When Isabella’s grandmother was dying, she asked to see a priest. She told him…things about herself, but he thought she was mad. She begged them to bury her with her jewels. But Isabella stole the ring, and from then—” She broke off, shaking her head, before continuing her account of the dream…
“…we went into the room. We floated above a bed. A woman and her baby were sleeping there. Max, I knew them! Oh God, I feel like I going mad…”
“It was just a dream, Sandra…”
She sighed. “Max…Max…it was real! The stroller by the door. The pink sheet on the bed…”
He and a few neighbours had gone to Karen’s house after the commotion began. And a stroller was by the door. He couldn’t remember, but was the bed sheet pink?
“We moved nearer to the bed. Karen start to breathe fast. Her lips were moving, like she was trying to say something. But Isabella laughed. She bent to Karen, blow her breath in her face.
“Karen moaned something and kept on sleeping. But the baby woke up.
“It see us, Max! It eyes open big, then it start to cry. I wanted to pick him up, to comfort him. but then Isabella move to the baby. It start to hiccup—.” She was crying again.
“—and—and Isabella p-put her mouth to its neck—“
“And then she look at me. She look at me and I—oh God—“
At that point Sandra had fled to the washroom, and he heard that awful vomiting from the night before.
Later, she spoke of an earlier dream in which she had made a sort of pact with ‘Isabella’ not to harm Wayne. But yet it had almost happened the night before. She had awoken with this terrible thirst and had, in desperation, eventually drained the ketchup bottle of its contents.
All this he related to Dr. Delon, sitting with Sandra in the doctor’s Kingston apartment. She did not show skepticism about his story. She did not tell him he was mad. She merely nodded, as if she had known all along.
She remained silent for a moment, staring at them as if gathering her thoughts. Then:
“I want you to understand this, Sandra. You must not blame yourself. You are not doing these things. It is the thing inside you—”
He felt Sandra tense. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “What—thing?”
“Every culture has a different name for it, and about their origin. There are stories, for instance, about desperate slaves in ships, using the magic of their ancestors to try to fly back to Africa, but turning into these creatures instead…
“I believe that it was passed on to you through the talisman…the ring. I believe that in sleep, the ring-spirit takes over, and your soul, and whatever it is, wander in the night—”
“And we kill babies…oh God, what is this…”
“Not you, Sandra. It just uses your body. I believe that because Maxwell removed the ring, it doesn’t have as much a hold on you. Like a new transplant, you are rejecting it. And maybe because you are a good person.”
Now something like fear touched the regal features. “As I said, this thing is not you. But it could become you in time.” She stared at Maxwell. “You need to find someone who can help your wife.”
Maxwell stared back at the Haitian doctor, his vision blurred by sudden tears. “I don’t—I don’t know anybody. I thought—” He shook his head, unable to continue.
Dr. Delon sighed. “In the hospital at home, I have treated three children like the ones in ICU. But I have never helped the person who was —like your wife.”
She was silent again. Then suddenly she leaned forward and squeezed his hand. She nodded, and he sensed that she had come to a decision.
“Maxwell…Sandra, I think I may be able to help you.”
Sandra was weeping again.
“You can…help us now?”
“Tonight,” she replied.
Next week: Haitian magic
Michael Jordan is the author of the supernatural novel KAMARANG, which is on sale at Austin’s Book Store and also available on AMAZON (Kindle version)
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