For this month's East African Friday Feature, I have been challenged every Friday, to write 1,000 words of a supernatural story. It can be an ongoing story, or bits and snippets but four times for the four Fridays of October. Now in honour of the release of my baby CHILD OF DESTINY on my birthday October 9th (So Y'all know what I want for a present...buy! buy! buy!) I'm going to do an outtake story that can be read on its own. As a nod to East Africa, I'm going to give the story of the ghost slaves in the wood - how they came to be there, and their hopes and dreams for the future. As a nod to my late father, my protagonist is named Bulitia. He's the slave ghost everyone from BDAH to The Swamp to COD keeps meeting and talking to.
“You are a medicine man are you not?” the woman said to him, “You know how to heal and how to…kill?”
Bulitia stared at her, wondering how she could possibly have come by that information. Nobody knew; not his fellow slaves, nor the slavers who caught him. He had been very careful not to give himself away. For his own sake and that of his wife and child at home: if he had any hope of seeing them again he could not become essential or important to these people. He had to fade into the background, be forgettable. Looked like that plan was out of the window though. This monster knew, and whatever she wanted from him, Bulitia knew it was not good.
“I…have some herb-craft”, he said, “But…semanya ta.”
“Oh but you do my reluctant witchdoctor. You ‘manya’ a lot”, she said. Bulitia felt his heart go cold and shrivel in his breast. Was she some kind of spirit? How had she come to know Bukusu? He knew it wasn’t commonly spoken here; most of his fellow slaves were from Hispaniola, St. Domingue, and from West Africa. They had strong juju there; and this…creature liked that. So why him when she was so spoiled for choice?
“It has to be you my young prince. And you will know why soon. For now, I need to transfer you to another part of my ranch. I need you to keep watch for me.”
“Keep watch on what mistress?” Bulitia asked wanting to say no with every fibre of his being. Wanting to stand up and fight and scream and rage. Wanting to escape this place and go home.
“My erstwhile neighbour…Sylvester B. Devereaux, he has a young boy; this boy isn’t very well behaved. Sometimes he wanders over the line to my side of the fence. I need you to keep watch for him. Make sure he doesn’t do that. Kill him if you have to.”
Bulitia kept his eyes on the ground, not sure he’d heard correctly. His master…wanted him to kill a young boy? A young white boy? Bulitia might be new to the continent but he already knew that shedding white blood was a death sentence. And though he was willing to die… not like this. Not with the blood of an innocent on his hands. The ancestors would never accept him. He would be thrown into the empty. No; there had to be another way. Bulitia resolved that very day to run. His first thought, to kill his mistress, was foiled by the fact that he did not know what she was; or if she could be killed.
Asha was cleaning the mistress’ bedroom when she came in and leaned on the doorway watching her. It always made Asha really nervous when her mistress watched her and she would literally do anything to make it stop. She turned around and curtsied prettily.
“Mama I did as you asked”, she said eyes cast down.
“Oh I know you did. And you did it well. I just might sell you to a brothel. You’re a natural”, she said proudly, “But that is not what I am here to discuss. I need to know; what is he holding on to? Why does he still resist?”
Asha bowed her head lower, heart speeding up with anxiety, “Mistress I do not know. I have tried to speak to him, draw him out…but he just turns away from me and goes to sleep. He won’t talk.”
“Perhaps you’re not trying hard enough Asha. Do you need to be motivated? Because I can motivate you. I am a wonderful mistress like that. Let’s see, I could cut that baby out of your belly and sell it to the shamans in New Orleans. They have so many uses for innocent blood you have no idea.” The mistress sauntered forward, running one long nailed finger down Asha’s abdomen. Her nails were sharp enough that Asha thought they could cut her open if they were so inclined. They seemed to grow longer and sharper the closer they got to her womb, where the baby she hadn’t known she was carrying lay vulnerable. Perhaps it would be better for the baby to be cut out while it was still growing. Allah knew this was no life for a child. Or for anyone really. But what of the child’s soul? Would it be trapped here if this creature got its hands on it; perhaps she would eat it. She looked like she fed on the souls of babies.
Something in her rejected completely the thought of giving up her baby to this monster. No, she would protect it to her last breath.
“I will try again mistress”, she said, “And this time, I will succeed.”
“Good girl, Asha. Now go; babies are hungry things and you have not eaten today.”
Asha hurried off, before the mistress could change her mind. The only advantage to being a house slave was the access to food. The mistress didn’t care what they ate; so long as she had food when she asked for it, and drink when she wanted it. So the house slaves were fairly well fed; her field slaves too. Still once in a while, one or two would disappear without explanation. They were not sold…Asha suspected that they were eaten. So did the others. They didn’t discuss it though, not even among themselves in their own languages. The mistress was all knowing – they all knew that. And they did not want to know what would happen to them if her red eye fell on one of them. So they kept their heads down and did as they were told.
“Asha”, Laila’s deep voice cut into her musings. She was a fat old woman who spent her days ordering the kitchen slaves about and grinding corn in her huge mortar and pestle.
“Yes mama?” she said.
Laila sighed, “This time, you have bit off more than you can chew”, she said sadly.
Asha looked at her, wanting to ask what she meant but fearing that Laila already knew what she had been sent to do. The thought filled her with shame. Her mother had taught her better. Still she was a slave; mother’s lessons meant less than nothing compared to what the mistress wanted.
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