CHAPTER ONE: Saturday, May 27. Dawn, Archahaie, Haiti
Pierre Antoine awoke in a sweat.
Outside, a rooster announced the new day. The old man listened carefully to its crow, then sighed quietly. All week, there had been signs the evil would have its way. Strong signs; signs that he could not ignore. The evil had been building, and there had been absolutely nothing he could do to push it back.
This was the way it must be. There would be no compromises.
Someone was going to be hurt.
Someone — perhaps many someones, many innocents — would soon be dying.
Antoine moved his tired body off his straw mattress and stood facing a picture of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. In the soft pastels of early dawn, it seemed to glow, but there was no comfort from it, not this time. In another corner of the room was a small altar, and on the altar was an olive-oil lamp, clay jars of anisette and wine, a jug of water, a dish with dried corn, a plate of fresh banana, a dozen white beeswax candles, and a strangled chicken’s amputated feet.
He could feel it, yes he could. Today would be no better. In fact, the day still young, it already was worse. Far away, in a colder, more modern world, the worst kind of evil had broken through. For only the second time in his memory, and his memory was very long.
He could feel it, yes he could. Today would be no better.
In fact, the day still young, it already was worse. Far away, in a colder, more modern world, the worst kind of evil had broken through.
For only the second time in his memory, and his memory was very long.
The first was in Morgantown, a small community in the woods of Berkshire County, Massachusetts, which Antoine had never visited. Never left Haiti for anywhere, let alone America or one of its states.
There in Morgantown, The Evil — which, on that occasion, took the name of Hobbamock — had escaped a mountain called Thunder Rise and stolen the souls of innocent children, sickening them, dragging them toward death… until an uncommon shaman, more uncommon than even he, a Native American of the Quidneck tribe by the name of Charlie Moonlight, had saved them.
And Hobbamock had been vanquished, although not before its influence had poisoned an asylum for psychiatric patients and a summer place owned by an innocent family.
Antoine knew all this not through news reports, because there were none; what happened at Thunder Rise was explained by authorities as a rare case of mass hysteria, of phantom disease whose roots were psychological. Tragic and unfortunate, but nothing more. Similar explanations were offered for the asylum and the summer place. Those who knew the truth took it with them to the grave or kept that truth to themselves — some from fear, and others because they knew the world would never understand.
Nor did Antoine know this from dreams, the source of much of his deepest knowledge.
He knew this because one day, Charlie Moonlight knocked on his door. The Indian had met Antoine in one of his dreams and was compelled to visit. He wanted to thank the Haitian for his many good deeds, for his wisdom and strength, for the good souls he had saved… and the evil ones, similar to Hobbamock, though less powerful, that he had defeated.
He wanted to prepare him for that day, which was in the distant future back then but nonetheless preordained, when he would face his greatest challenge.
Antoine prayed to St. Patrick, but the feeling of evil could not be pushed away. This time, there would be no stopping it, not until the fire that made it burn had consumed itself, or someone with the proper knowledge and beliefs had snuffed it out.
He knew who that someone was.
It was him.
Not Charlie Moonlight, but him.
Charlie might assist him — he prayed that Charlie would assist him — the odds of success would increase with Charlie — but with or without the Native American, this was in his hands, and his hands only.
He spoke deliberately, and with only a trace of the fear that was wrapped around him like a burial shroud. It had been frightening, the weight of the awful dreams that rode him so heavily last night. Silently, he gave special thanks to Damballah, mightiest of the gods, for giving him another morning.
The voice came from the next room. It was the voice of his young housekeeper, who had been awakened long ago by his terrible tossing and turning.
“Two whites,” the old man said.
“Two. The one, I do not know,” Antoine said solemnly. “The other is the American who was with us not long ago.”
“Why is he a source of such distress?”
“Such silly questions you ask, Josephine. You should not allow your mouth to so freely move. It will only do you harm, you will find.
“Excuse me, monsieur. I am to be forgiven.”
“So young, Josephine. So naive. Still, I will tell you. The American is blessed — perhaps that is not the word — indeed, it is not the right word — cursed is the more accurate description — with the powers. It is that simple.”
Antoine moved away from the altar, and into the drawing room. The day was already hot, the humidity oppressive, and it did nothing to lift his soured spirits.
“The powers of the bocor?”
“The dark powers of the bocor.”
“Certainly, he does not have the key to unlock them?”
“Ah, but he does.”
“Then he was assisted in the housi-canzo.”
“Yes, but not by me.”
“How can it be, sir, that a white man from America can have the dark powers?”
“Do we know why the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west? Some things just are. Ah, but you ask too many questions, Josephine, and now you must desist. I am an old man, greatly troubled.”
Josephine retreated into another room and came back with wine. She placed it on a table next to where Antoine was sitting, and then withdrew without speaking. The old man was lost in his thoughts, and likely would be the remainder of the morning. She would busy herself with the wash, and the noon meal, and then, at two o’clock, she would begin to greet his visitors.
If he was accepting them today. Lately, he had been turning everyone away.
For decades, the villagers had agreed that he was a good man, a great man — a houngan of unmatchable knowledge and skills — with a reputation (and with fees to match, or so it was whispered) larger than their entire island. And she had seen this in the sick he healed, the cripples he made walk, the lovelorn he moved to romance, the crops he saved from drought.
And so it was to be expected that he would have his moods, and he would be entitled to them. Except Josephine had never seen a mood so black, never seen sleep so disturbed.
She was more than a little afraid.