Author's note: This is my entry for RedNovaTyrant's "Cruel Fate" Writing Contest. Fate has dealt me the card #20, Judgement.
Life can be a paradise of naiveté or a living nightmare depending on where you live and what your status is. In some places it depends on what kind of family you are born into. In many places it depends on how much money you have. In all places it depends on the color of your skin.
My name is Tomas. I was born in Saint-Domingue in 1775. These two sentences have an aqueous quality that threatens to slip through my fingers. I keep them close like a totem, rotating them in my mind.
Yesterday I awoke with the sensation that there was something lodged in my throat. I tried to cough and a bit of something crumbled out between my numb lips. I tried to move my tongue around but it seemed to be missing. When I swallowed again, I felt a lump that wouldn’t go down. I opened my eyes and saw blackness. Bits of debris fell into them as I blinked.
I felt a surge of claustrophobia when I realized I couldn’t move my body under the weight of the blackness. I reminded myself to take deep breaths but I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t the lump that was stopping my breath from coming in, but rather, I had forgotten how to do it. There didn’t seem to be a need for breathing anymore.
I willed my arms to move. I focused all of my brain power, which in that moment was feeble at best, and tried to close the fingers of my right hand into a fist. After some time, and pardon me for using such a vague term but time has no real meaning anymore, I felt the trickling blackness move away from my fingers as they twitched. Awhile after that, why not call it an hour to give you some sense of time and space, I had all extremities doing a little dance.
I had concluded by then that the blackness was dirt. The consistency of it and the smell of it (yes I could still smell!) led me to my conclusion. “Ah, yes, I see,” I tried to say through a mouth and throat full of dirt. “Antere l 'vivan.” I started to laugh. It wasn’t an audible laugh, but I felt my chest heaving and moving and my mouth flapped open and shut and my eyes pinched tight over the thick, stinging dirt. Despite my situation, my body jerked and moved like a man who had just heard the funniest joke in the world.
You’d think I would be terrified but you do not know the hell that went on above ground. If you did you would understand that a soft bed of dirt below was much preferable. I, however, was not meant to rest peacefully for long.
Apparently, the bokor I hired wasn’t a joke after all. The last thing I remember before waking up underground was sitting down in an old wicker chair in his swampy backyard and drinking an ounce of grayish liquid from a glass bottle he handed me. I felt my eyes get heavy and then he was throwing salt at me. I remember wincing a few times and when it stopped, I was lying down and looking up at the sky. I couldn’t move.
His face was the last thing I saw. His eyes were all pupils; black and devouring. He smiled at me, showing two rows of perfect white teeth that glowed like neon in the darkness. His skin seemed to shine with an effervescence that rivaled the stars. He was beautiful and horrible, the youngest bokor our region had ever known. He had a natural ability that made him arrogant, but apparently his arrogance was justified.
“esklav nan mond sa a, esklav nan pwochen an,” he whispered.
And that was the end. And here I am on the other side.
My body is not my own, even after death. I only hoped that the bokor had the same vengeful intentions as I did.
My name is Tomas. I was born in Saint-Domingue in 1775.
Yesterday I clawed my way out of my grave of dirt and was born again unto the earth. Everything was on fire. The air was filled with thick smoke and screams. I tried to focus my eyes but I could only see cloudy shapes. There was red and orange burning in the distance. People were running past me towards it. I tried to speak but could only moan.
It was then that I remembered Selavi. My little sister was just ten? Eleven? My brain was closing windows on me. Just as I was approaching a memory: SLAM! The window would close and shut me out, leaving me with my nose pressed against the glass like a starving child at the shop window.
Selavi, named for C’est la vie, that’s life. And what a short life she lived.
“Selavi!” I tried, but only grunted.
In an instant there were hands with sharp fingernails clutching my shoulders. The nails pressed in and I arched my back, trying to buck them off.
“Shhhhh, esklav. Drink,” the syrupy voice of the bokor whispered. He pulled me down onto my back, tipped my head back, pulling my forehead with his palm and gripping my nostrils with his fingertips. The other hand poured a liquid down my throat. It felt like liquid fire and seemed to trickle right up into my brain. I could hear sizzling and popping. It was the sound of destruction; deteriorating tissue.
My name is Tomas. I was born in Saint-Domingue in 1775. Selavi, Selavi.
“Shhhhhhh, esklav. Your chores for me are not so far off from your own desires. Rann tet ou. Surrender,” the bokor coaxed while holding my mouth shut. The screams of people around us continued on; war cries. The screams in the distance were those of surrender. Rann tet ou. Selavi. One more memory of her bubbled up, maybe as a gift from the bokor.
Selavi, my beautiful little sister, so full of life despite it all, walked beside me. Her lovely dark hair was peeking out from beneath a ragged white kerchief. The sun was setting and we were walking home from the sugar cane fields.
She was telling me about the butterfly that followed her all day long and how she thought it was Grann paying a visit. She used her hands to mimic the butterfly softly floating on the breeze. Her small graceful hands flew along next to us as we walked. The shadow on the ground looked like a real butterfly to me and I complimented her on her skilled shadow puppetry. She giggled and pretended to talk to our long dead grandmother who dropped down from exhaustion in the fields one day and was hauled off in a wheelbarrow to be buried in a mass grave.
I noticed the marks on Selavi’s palms. The scabs looked new like they had been bleeding just a few hours before. I took one of her hands and stopped her. She tried to pull it away from me and hide it behind her back.
“Who did that?” I said.
“I dropped some of the shoots in the mud,” she said with downcast eyes.
“Who did it?” she wouldn’t look at me. The scene unfolded in my fevered brain as if I was living it all over again.
“It was my fault. My hands were numb and I didn’t hold the bundle tight enough when I was carrying it to the wheelbarrow,” she looked up at me with her lovely almond eyes brimming with tears. I knew who it was. The field master had taken an interest in Selavi. C’est la vie.
“Please can we just go home? Mama is making riz collé aux pois for everyone,” she pleaded. She threw her arms around my neck, being careful not to use her injured hands and pulled me towards her for a hug. I hugged her back. I tried to live there in that memory and hug her back forever. I would have gladly hugged her for all eternity, but the poison in my skull pulled the last window shut in my brain and I was again a slave, this time for a bokor rather than a white master.
I opened my eyes again, and there were the bokor’s eyes, staring back at me.
“Esklav,” he said sternly, “I am your master now. Today is La Révolution. Today we will take back what was taken from us and our people. Today we will avenge those who died in the fields to sweeten their coffee, to bring them wealth and luxury. Today we will disembowel our oppressors. Go now and avenge us all.”
“C’est la vie,” I croaked, no longer knowing its meaning. The bokor put his hands over my eyes and said, “See it.”
Suddenly I was back on the same road by the fields. A lump of cloth laid in the road in front of me. I walked up to it and looked at the crumpled thing. I pulled the cloth towards me and a small arm revealed itself. I knelt down and turned the thing completely over. It was Selavi. I could tell it was her despite the disfigured face. I looked up and saw the field master standing a few paces away with his rifle in hand. Blood dripped off the butt of it. He smiled and walked away.
I tried to scream and dirt tumbled out of my mouth. I screamed again, feeling my eyes straining to pop out of their sockets. A fat, dripping frog forced its way out of my mouth and I gagged and dropped to the ground. I was in the memory and not in the memory. I was holding her crumpled body and then she was gone. She was hope and love and brightness in a world of terror. I opened my eyes and was looking at the bokor again.
“Go,” he said and stepped away.
I looked through my distorted vision at the master’s burning house. Some of the former slaves were dancing in celebration. Some were weeping and hugging. Theon, an older man who I had seen beaten mercilessly by the field master on many occasions was shooting the white men and women with a rifle as they ran out of the house engulfed in flames. If you ask me, he should have let them burn.
That all brought me to my most important errand. I walked towards the field master’s house. I assure you he was not happy to see me when I ripped open the front door he had so carefully barricaded. He was hiding, like the coward he was, inside his house a mile from the main plantation house that was already in flames. I do not exaggerate when I say that he cowered behind his own children.
His little girl looked up at me and despite her white skin she reminded me of…but that’s as far as my burning brain would allow me to go. I could not grasp my memories but the bokor’s voice was as clear as a dinner bell in my head.
“KILL KILL KILL!” it bellowed. I grabbed the little girl first because she was closest. I hauled her up close to my face by the lacy collar of her dress. Her mother screamed. A shot rang out and I looked over her blonde little head to see the field master pointing a smoking rifle at me. The little girl touched my arm and looked back at me with big baleful eyes.
I looked down and saw a hole in my arm where he had shot me. The hole was about three inches from his daughter’s torso. Either the man had tremendous aim or he didn’t give a good goddamn about her safety.
I looked into her eyes and yes she did remind me, reminded me of someone……c’est la vie…
I growled and a new lump in my throat wiggled and writhed up towards my mouth. I gagged and an enormous swallow-tailed moth pushed its way out through my lips. I stuck my tongue out, still moaning in anger. The moth, balanced on my tongue, took a moment to primly clean the dirt off of its body, exposing vibrant yellow wings. Then, it took flight and floated out towards the window and up into the sky above the smoke. The little girl in my grip looked at me and smiled like I was a lovable magician and waved a tiny hand towards the moth as it escaped into the night.
I pursed my dirt-coated lips and kissed the top of her little blonde head and put her in one of the bedrooms where she couldn’t watch. The bokor tried to fight me on this. I could feel him in my head urging me to shed blood and kill kill kill them all, but the image of Selavi’s hands mimicking the butterfly was tattooed in my moldy brain for good. No harm would come to the innocent under my watch.
After depositing the little girl into her bedroom and showing her how to hold her hands over her ears to block out the sounds I walked back into the hallway in time to catch the rest of the family trying to escape. I let the little boy and his mother go. Someone else would probably catch them anyway. The field master, however, I promptly caught and dragged back into the kitchen of his house that was built with the blood of my people.
He tried to pummel me with his weak fists as I held him by the throat but I couldn’t feel any of it.
“Monster! Monster!” he gasped.
“Oui, un monstre,” I growled. My anger surged as I looked at his pink face turning red and then purple. The bokor’s face smiled in my head. He allowed one more memory.
I saw myself, face soaked in tears, stumbling through the jungle towards the bokor’s hut. I walked for miles to get to him. I cradled my sister’s body in my arms the whole way. I walked through the night and just as dawn kissed the sky, I reached his shack in the woods. He was standing outside waiting for me. He was one of the maroons who had escaped their masters to live in the wilderness, free to practice their religion, free to be alive on their own terms.
“Can you help her?” I pleaded. He looked at Selavi’s broken body and shook his head no. I sank down to the floor and wept, rocking her back and forth.
“I can, however, help you,” he said, touching my forehead gently. I looked up at him and without any explanation I knew he meant revenge. As I drank his poison I knew I was a pawn in some greater plan, but I didn’t care. The bokor’s vengeance was mine too. Selavi’s murder was one of many injustices in the hell we called life. I gladly laid down my life to become a servant of revenge. And I would do it again and again and again if it meant getting some small payment for the ones who were taken from us.
I squeezed the field master’s neck and it snapped between my fingers. His tongue lolled out of his mouth like a dead fish and his eyes rolled up into his head. No more orders would bark from his mouth. I had rendered those hateful eyes sightless forever, or maybe he would walk the plateau of the undead with the rest of us. Maybe we would make him our undead slave and whip him to a pulp every day for all eternity. That was not a judgement I could make, but I hoped death would not let him slip so peacefully to the other side. I dropped his limp body and walked outside and back towards the burning to join the others.
Outside the house, I heard a whimpering sound and turned to see the little blonde girl looking at me through the window. She pressed a little hand against the glass. I opened the window and she reached for me. I listened to the sounds of our uprising in the distance getting closer. I reached in and pulled her out. She clung to me, her little arms around my neck squeezing tightly as she sniffled and trembled. I couldn’t leave her for the others to find so I took her with me.
I walked with the little girl in my arms until we were far enough away from the plantation that I couldn’t hear the battle sounds anymore. I left her by a fallen tree near the water.
“Hide,” I managed to say, and put my hands up over my eyes to try to mime the words I was choking on.
She tried desperately to hang on to my neck but I managed to pull her off and set her on the ground. She was still crying weakly so I patted her head and turned to go. I looked back after a few paces and saw the top of her head peeking over the tree trunk. I mimed hiding behind my rotting hands again and her head dipped down like a little rabbit. I started my walk back towards the revolution.
As I walked through burning fields of sugar cane, I looked up at the sky with milky eyes that could still see stars. I smiled and felt my cracked lips tear at the corners with my joy. I walked until I could see the main house. It was a square of red heat pulsing in the night. I could smell smoke and the sweet and putrid scent of burning bodies. I walked towards it, hoping to do some more damage.
I took a step and a hand grabbed my leg. It startled me and I tried to pull away but was stuck fast. I was surprised that I could still feel fear bubbling up in my chest but there it was. I looked down and saw something pale and small wrapped around my ankle. I bent down and put my face right up close to it. It was bone! A bony hand was squeezing my leg. Something else shot out of the ground two feet away from the skeletal hand. It was another hand. It still had some flesh clinging to it. It was clawing its way out of the dirt. A head emerged and then a torso. Finally, the legs were out and the thing was standing. He was much taller than me and the sounds it made were muffled.
We put our faces close together until our noses touched. He put his heavy arms on my shoulders and then one hand (the one that still had flesh) touched my face gently. It looked as though someone had sewed his mouth shut. He took his hands off of me and lumbered towards the flames. I looked around and saw more people, more like me extracting themselves from their graves and reaching out towards the burning slave master’s house. The night was filled with the sounds of crackling fire and the screams of the dying and the already dead.
Our day has come.
Written by dgrady237