Part Four: Haitian Magic
“She remembers the last time …her teeth sinking into that soft, little throat…
Isabella reads her thoughts. She laughs and whispers:
Sweeter than a first kiss,
A first lover’s caress,
Always as sweet as the first time,
Is the taste of a newborn’s blood…”
By Michael Jordan
He felt like a schoolboy waiting on his first date, wondering whether she would show; but Dr. Delon’s red Honda Fit was parked outside his apartment at the stroke of eight-thirty.
He had imagined that she would be dressed in some white ceremonial gown, like an elder in a spiritual church. Instead, somewhat disappointingly, she was wearing a jersey, faded denim jeans, and low-heeled sandals.
She nodded at him. She glanced quickly around the house; at Wayne asleep in his crib, which they had placed outside, and at Sandra, sitting nearby.
She smiled. Goodnight, Sandra.”
“Night.” The hostility in her voice startled Maxwell. He stole a glance at Sandra. She was hunched forward in the chair. She was looking—glaring actually—at Dr Delon, who was un-strapping her sandals.
He stifled a sigh. She had been restless all day, despite the valium he had given her on the doctor’s instructions. He had hoped that Dr. Delon’s arrival would have calmed her. Instead, it seemed to have had the opposite effect.
He moved over to Sandra. He put an arm around her shoulder. Abruptly, she said: “I think we should call it off.”
She shrugged off his arm. “I said—” Suddenly she rose. She ran towards the toilet, and even before she had reached he could hear her retching.
She was leaning over the toilet when he reached the washroom, but now she turned to him.
“What y’all trying to do to me, Max?”
He shook his head, puzzled. “Sandra, we trying to help you—“
“Yuh ain’t do enough, Max?” she asked tearfully, and he felt the guilt wash over him. “You—”
“Sandra,” said Dr. Delon, just behind him; her voice gentle but firm. Sandra’s gaze shifted to the Haitian. There was a difference in her…something in her lips and eyes, and for a second the thought hit him: this is not my wife.
“Sandra.” Again, that firm but gentle tone. “I am here to help you. I know that you want us to help.”
Abruptly, the hostility left Sandra. Her shoulders sagged; the appealing helplessness returning. “Yes, doctor, I want you to help me.”
Maxwell led her to the sink and later, under Dr. Delon’s coaxing, she took a cup of hot milk, sipping it as they sat in the living room.
“When—we going to start?” He sensed that she was still tense. She kept glancing towards Dr. Delon’s handbag on the floor.
“When you are sleeping, everything will happen. Remember…fight, even in your dreams.”
“I think I vomit out the valium.”
The Haitian smiled. “Don’t worry. I think it is still in your system. I just want you to sit here and relax…”
They sat in the living room, hardly speaking as the minutes ticked away. Outside, it had begun to rain heavily. He was glad. If anything happened tonight, the rain would muffle the sounds of their mad ritual from the neighbours.
Suddenly he realized that Sandra was slumping on his shoulder. She sat up quickly as he shifted. “Max…I think I ready to go to bed.”
They followed her to the room. She gave a tremulous half-smile as she lay on the bed. A wave of sadness—for her, for himself—overcame Maxwell, and he was bending to kiss her, to reassure her that everything would be —
“No Max!” She pushed him away suddenly, with a cry of warning and fear. Behind him, a sharp intake of breath from Dr. Delon.
Sandra was gripping the sheet. Her lips were clenched as if she was in pain. For the second time that night, he was struck by the feeling that she had somehow changed.
“Just…stay away…till I sleep…”
With a rush he recalled how Sandra had kissed him on the night Karen’s baby fell ill. Kissed him…and just like that, he had fallen into sweet, deep slumber…put to sleep with a kiss…
She lay there, breathing heavily for a few moments more. Then, like a mask dissolving, the harshness in her features vanished. Her eyelids drooped…closed; her chest rose with the regular breathing of someone asleep.
Maxwell sighed. “What…now?”
The Haitian went outside, returning with the shoulder-bag, which she unzipped. She rummaged inside, withdrew a few strips of cloth. She stared at him regretfully. “We have to tie her. You saw what happened just now.”
He nodded miserably.
“Now we wait,” she said, after binding Sandra’s limbs to the bed.
They stood, watching her sleep. Outside, the rain increased in frenzy.
He was just thinking that nothing would happen tonight, when he noticed that Sandra’s breathing had again changed.
Her fists clenched. She frowned in her sleep.
“No…no…” she whimpered. “No…”
Dear Father, he thought. It’s happening. He wanted to go to her, but restrained himself. A sudden gust of wind—it seemed to come from inside the room—rattled the bedroom window. In it, he seemed to hear a burst of harsh laughter. Simultaneously, a dog in the neighbourhood erupted in hysterical barking.
Dr. Delon touched his arm. “We begin.”
She bent to the bed again, removing two blue bed sheets. Quickly, she wrapped Sandra in one of the sheets, while, on her instructions, she used the other to wrap Wayne, still fast asleep in his crib in the living room.
Delving again in the bag, she removed a new manicole broom, a pack of incense sticks, and two sticks of chalk. He helped her shift the bed to the centre of the room, then watched as she used the chalk to draw a circle around the bed. She dipped into the handbag again, this time removing a tiny plastic bag tied with string.
A foul, pungent odour assailed him as she undid the bag and thrust a finger inside. The smell evoked a long-buried, childhood memory of his grandmother rubbing something in his scalp one night when he had awakened from a bad dream about something under his bed…
“Asafetida”, the Haitian said.
She parted Sandra’s hair, and carefully rubbed the ointment into the centre of Sandra’s scalp.
She did the same to Wayne, even as Maxwell found himself wondering what his God-fearing, dear departed parents would have thought of all this.
On the bed, Sandra moaned softly. Her hands balled into fists. He watched as Dr. Delon unclenched Sandra’s right hand and placed a plain black ring on one of her fingers. It dawned on him that it was the same finger that had carried the dead woman’s ring.As if sensing his puzzlement, the doctor said: “It is a Haitian talisman that I got from my grandmother. You wife’s soul and the entity she calls Isabella are wandering now. Sandra’s soul will return, but we will try to keep Isabella out.”
He recalled reading somewhere, long ago, that the spirit, linked to the body by some invisible cord, roamed about at night, and that these night-wanderings produced dreams. But there was something in Dr. Delon’s plan that aroused a dread in him…it was something that his long-dead grandmother had once told him…
But the thought slipped away as Sandra began to writhe on the bed like the woman in his dreams.
And will some poor young mother, he wondered, wake up tomorrow, screaming and clutching a half-dead child? What is she dreaming?
PART FIVE: FACING ISABELLA
She is floating on a cloudy night; her fingers linked with Isabella’s. She is laughing like a schoolgirl bent on some adolescent prank, but there is apprehension in her gut, because the prank will go awry. There’s a heavy drizzle, but the rain does not touch her. She feels a heady thrill at her own power. She’s flying! And now they circle a village on the East Coast—La Bonne Intention, Isabella says— and the thrill is mixed with sadness, because she knows that what they’re about to do is so terribly wrong, oh no, she cannot do it, but then Isabella tells her what lies so soft and so warm and ohhhhh soooo sweeeeet in one of those houses, and that blots out everything but her awful, all-consuming thirst…
They enter one of the houses and Isabella pulls her to the bedroom. But she does not want to go. She remembers the last time; Isabella’s lips on Karen’s baby…and afterwards…hers…her teeth sinking into that soft little throat…that taste! that taste! Oh God she had not meant to do it! This time she will not…
Isabella reads her thoughts. She laughs and whispers:
“Sweeter than a first kiss,
A first lover’s caress,
Always as sweet as the first time,
Is the taste of a newborn’s blood…”
She feels so thirsty! She can smell the baby inside. It is three days old, fresh and soft, and the thirst is so awful that she lets Isabella pull her to the room.
Yes…a baby is inside. He lies in the crook of his mother’s arm. Isabella tells her that the father’s a security guard; he’s on the night-shift. She sees a black dot on the baby’s forehead, placed there by a Hindu priest, but that cannot stop them! They hover near the bed. The mother, a girl really, frowns in her sleep as she senses their presence. Isabella leans to her. She purses her lips and blows in the sleeping girl’s face. The girl mutters, but sleeps on.
Isabella gives her that sly, malicious smile. There is raw hunger in those strange, red eyes, but Isabella says, “You go first, my sister…”
No! No! No! But she thinks of that very first time, when Isabella had tasted first, and had then stretched out a blood-stained finger out…and she, Sandra, instinctively, greedily, had leaned to that finger, her tongue darting out on its own volition, to taste the sweetest thing…
The juices spring to her mouth, she feels a hunger that heats her loins, and she leans nearer, and as if on their own accord, her lips open.
But she pauses, listening…
Someone is calling her…. someone who loves her. And she feels a loneliness and a yearning to go back to the people she loves.
She does not belong here. She tries to turn away, but Isobella’s bony hand digs into her shoulder.
You have to! You have to!
But the hunger is gone. She gets a glimpse of that face, hollow-cheeked and yellow, and wonders how he could have thought that face beautiful.
She breaks free and races through the night until she is floating by her front door. She does the secret movement that would allow her to enter the locked door, but nothing happens.
She cannot enter! She bangs at the door, but her fists make no sound. She flits around to the bedroom window, banging her fists there, but again she cannot enter; she sobs and besides her, Isabella is screaming in rage and fear…
Maxwell, watching her, sensed that something was going wrong. He had seen Sandra’s mouth open, and had thought she would speak, but instead, her lips had curled back, her teeth seeming sharp and feral.
Then Dr. Delong had said: “No Sandra, fight her,” and slowly, that distorted mask had closed and become Sandra’s features again. But now her hands were clenched. She was writhing on the bed again. Her harsh breathing filled the room.
She was straining against the strips of cloth that bound her hands; trying to bang her fists against the bed. Her lips moved again and he realized she was trying to speak. He bent to her…
“Let..me…in…Max…” A whisper of fear. “Let me in…oh God…I can’t come in…”
He shook her, terrified at the lost sound in her voice. “Wake up, Sandra, wake up, oh God…wake up…”
It came back to him now; that story that his grandmother had told him about a man who found out that his wife had the curse of feeding on babies. Old John Morris had tried to have her cured, but she had become weaker…weaker…and then died. There was no cure, grandmother had said, shaking her grey tresses sadly; …no cure. And now he saw clearly the flaw he had only sensed before in Dr. Delon’s plan.
If all this craziness was really happening, and Sandra was becoming like old John Morris’s wife, wouldn’t the barriers that they had erected to keep out Isabella, lock out Sandra, too?
What had that voice whispered to him in that dream in which he had tried to remove the ring from Sandra’s finger? “Till death do us part, Maxwell Lewis; like marriage…like marriage, till death do us part…”
With a groan, he grabbed Sandra’s hand. He heard Dr. Delon’s shout of dismay as he grasped the black talisman that she had placed on Sandra’s finger.
“What are you doing?”
“We got to stop this thing.” He was close to tears. “Oh God, we killing her…”
She slapped him; a stinging blow to the cheek. She dug her fingers into his shoulders. “Max, if we remove the talisman, the entity will return with her.”
“We have to help her to fight, or she will die”
The urgency in her voice made him turn back to the bed. Fear locked off his throat. Sandra now lay limply; he could scarcely discern her breathing. Her face had turned a sickening grey. He stared at her, watching her die.
Again, he felt Dr. Delon’s fingers dinning into his arm. “Help her, Maxwell!”
She leaned to Sandra. Loosening the straps, massaging Sandra’s arms, she whispered urgently: “Come back Sandra…come home…don’t be afraid…you can cross…come back to your husband…” She broke off to glare at Maxwell. “Help me, Max!”
He began to stroke Sandra’s sweat-dampened hair. “Come back Sandra…come home to me please…come back darling…”
“The light,” Sandra said suddenly, her voice filled with wonder, a half-smile on her lips. “The light…”
The Haitian gasped. “Mon dieu, we are losing her! …get your child.”
Maxwell stumbled outside to the crib. He snatched up Wayne, who whimpered in his sleep. Dr. Delon took the child, still wrapped in his blue sheet and placed him near Sandra.
“See you child, Sandra? See? Come back to him, come back to your man, come back to your child…”
A flicker of eyelids…white of eyes showing…closing…
“Come, Sandra!” they cried in unison.
Her eyes flickered open. She stared at them blankly, then she turned towards the window. She gave a whimper of fear.
And now, above the rain, he heard a muffled repeated thumping outside the window, as from a heavy breeze. The bedroom light above them dimmed…then brightened momentarily to a sickening red…then went out
The window began to shake as if someone was banging angrily from the outside.
For a moment, he seemed to see a red-eyed distorted face staring in at him.
The Haitian scrambled up from the bed. She grabbed the manicole broom that she had placed on the floor and strode over to the window. She began to beat at the window with the broom. “Let her go, Isabella.” Her voice was loud, authoritative. “Go back…back…back…” she broke into a string of unintelligible French.
Suddenly the thumping ceased. He heard a burst of harsh, familiar laughter… the sound of a breeze rushing away…followed by a silence that hurt his ears.
He realized that Sandra was sitting, hugging him and sobbing.
Dr. Delon stared at the window for a moment, then returned to the bed. She was trembling.
“It’s alright, Sandra,” she said. “It’s over.”
JULY 2021: FLORIDA, USA
Larry Malone always did three things when returned to Maine, Florida, after the customary two-week break from his strenuous South America job as an oil rig engineer.
He would take a long, hot shower to get the stink of crude oil and grime he imagined was still on him, make love to his wife, Megan, and give her some souvenir he had picked up.
The first two things completed, he now lay in bed, a hand on Megan’s stomach. He marveled at how flat it still was, despite the two-month fetus, growing inside. He wondered if the baby would be a boy, with a mop of the Malone clan’s carrot-coloured hair; or a girl, blonde like Megan.
He caressed her stomach. Megan sighed, snuggled closer. “So what did you bring me this time from Ghana?” she said.
“Guyana,” he corrected, teasingly.
“Guyana,” she repeated.
“Something quite unusual,” he said, though strange, was the word that came into his mind.
Because it was quite strange, that anyone would discard something like what he had accidentally found. And in a bottle, at that.
It had floated up a week ago near the rig. Of all the objects floating in that vast, brown wasteland, some strange instinct had made him spot it, bring it aboard— and why did the name Isabella just jump into his mind?
Megan nudged him back to the present. “Let me see it.”
He rose, took the gift from his duffel sack.
“Close your eyes,” he said.
He placed it on her finger, near her wedding ring. She emitted a shriek of delight, marveled at its beauty, gave him a long, passionate kiss, thanked him with an even more intense round of love-making.
That night, in Maine, Florida, Megan Malone dreamed of flying.
Copyright © 2019 Michael Jordan
(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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