Jack’s Lament

This story was originally published on Wily Writers.com in February 2009. You can still listen to the audio version there.

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 My journey home via Madagascar had taken longer than I’d expected. The slave markets in Zanzibar, Stone Town, were overcrowded and half the stock was diseased and wouldn’t last the journey back to Ile de France. We stopped in Madagascar to resupply and sort through the dead and dying cargo.

The Captain was in no hurry to return home and enjoyed the local hospitality, which resulted in a brawl and him being shot by one of Carosin’s men. At least he had the good sense to be shot by a French, rather than an English, pirate.

I couldn’t wait to see my wife and attempted, in vain, to hurry the scoundrel. She’d informed me of her pregnancy shortly before I left home. On my return to Ile de France she would be close to the time of her confinement. Too many months had passed since then. I would be a father soon.

My heart beat a happy tune as I disembarked from the ship in Port Louis. My coachman collected me at the end of the quay and drove me to my plantation, after I’d secured half my surviving stock in the market to be sold to other plantation owners on the island. The other half would be taken by my foreman, De Robillard, and deposited in the slave quarters.  After waiting a full hour for De Robillard to arrive, I left my slaves in the care of the harbour master. The foreman would receive a good whipping for his tardiness.  His behaviour was unacceptable.

My homecoming was not what I’d expected.

What awaited me was a nightmare.

I discovered why De Robillard had not arrived to collect our newest load of slaves: his naked, rotting corpse lay on my front steps and my home was but ashes.  My heart stopped when I saw my beautiful wife, Gabrielle. I fell to my knees and screamed. Why had they done that to her? Her blue eyes had been plucked out and her blonde hair was now black with dried blood. Her belly was swollen with our now dead and unborn child. My mind shattered. I stared as a raven perched itself on her shoulder and pecked another piece of her flesh. Her arms were outstretched. They’d nailed her to what was left of our front door.

I didn’t hear my coachman come up behind me. I didn’t feel the blow he struck to the back of my head. The darkness was a welcome reprieve from my nightmare.

I awoke to find my house-boy, Philip, sitting on his haunches across from me. My hands were bound behind my back and I was on my knees, the sight of my wife’s corpse still fresh in my mind.

“Hello, Master,” he said with his heavy West African accent. My wife had tried to teach him French but he wasn’t a very good student. He understood well enough and Gabrielle had believed that he would, in time, be able to speak our language. She’d been so patient with him. I couldn’t believe that the man she’d treated with such kindness would be responsible for the atrocity that had been committed in my absence.

“What has happened here?” I asked through a swollen lip. I must have been beaten whilst I was unconscious. I looked around the ruin that had once been our front parlour.

“That pig of yours, De Robillard, took my woman into his bed. She couldn’t live with the shame of what he did to her. She walked into the sea.” His French was better than I remembered. He must have been able to speak it before and played us for fools.

“But why hurt my wife? She was innocent.”

“Innocent?” he scoffed. “She was as evil as you are and deserved her fate. A fate which you will soon share, but you will walk this earth forever, bound to the living.”

“But we had nothing to do with what De Robillard did.”

“It is because of you that we are here. It is because of you that De Robillard thought he could violate my woman.”

There was no reasoning with this man. He felt the need to blame us for what had befallen him and I knew that nothing I could say would persuade him otherwise.

“Ah,” he shouted. “Your silence says that you accept your guilt in this.”

I remained silent and watched a large white snake slither around Philip’s feet. It was then I noticed the circle drawn, in what looked and smelled like blood, around me. I also noticed a strange pendant around my own neck. It was foul-smelling and looked to be made out of sundry animal parts.  Fear took an icy grip on my bowels. I’d heard rumours among the slaves that Philip was a powerful man in his village before he was captured by slavers and sold to me. They whispered that he was gifted in the ways of their ancestors, that he could heal their sick and curse those who’d committed crimes. The slaves preferred to see him when they were sick rather than a doctor from the village. I’d always left them to their strange ways. The other plantation owners thought I was foolish. They’d forced their workers to accept Christ as their saviour and to worship as we did: but how could I force others to believe what I could not?

He stood and walked over to me, carrying a cup. Taking a firm hold of my hair he pulled my head back.

“Drink,” he commanded.

I clamped my jaw shut and refused to drink his brew.

Holding my head down with his right forearm, he blocked my nose with his thumb and finger.

“Drink,” he commanded once again.

I opened my mouth to breathe and the liquid from the cup flowed into my mouth. I spluttered as I fought for air. The room spun around me and strange, shadowy figures appeared. They advanced towards me. I heard Philip chanting in a strange language. His voice rose higher and higher, louder and louder. Then silence. The figures were upon me. They flew into and through me all at once. It felt as though they ripped my flesh from my bones and took a part of my soul with them as they left. With each one that invaded me, the room disappeared more and more and eventually all I saw was a desolate landscape.

A desert lay before me. Philip had disappeared along with the ruins of what had once been my home. The pendant around my neck burst into flames, burning my skin, yet I felt no pain.  I felt nothing except an overwhelming rage. The shadowy figures stood around me once again. They were now clearly distinguishable as men. Nine in number. One of them came forward and stood in front of me. He had thee heads. One was that of a man, one of a cat and one of a toad.

“Am I in hell?” I asked

“Some may call it that, but it is a place far older than your Christian church or your god,” his voice was as old as time itself. “Welcome, Lowly One. We have much work for you to do.”

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