I give credit to
for discovering this island of Hispaniola, but I keep it in mind that I
have also discovered new worlds.
Let me take my hat off to the
Spanish, who killed one million Arawak Indians, leaving them dead in
clouds of flies … a feeding waterfall of flies of the flesh-ripping
variety. Then there were the fields of bones, shells, carapaces, skulls
of silver and jade, and history that is darkness, ashes, silence, hunger
Yes, human history is mostly a
dark, deformed shadow that is better forgotten, but history suited the
man I possessed. Moduka's emptiness of soul was natural, and he was at
home in the solitude of the sanctuary as he reached out for voodoo
manhood. It's an odd thing to want to find and worship a god when
immortality is only hunger. Yet I gave Moduka a god, filled his questing
breast, and made the creature fly over barren ground and desert. I
taught him the value of higher thoughts and dreams.
When I entered him, I felt the
power of my possession. Perspiration and spasms were softening my new
flesh and my jaw kept unhinging, snapping back like it wasn't part of my
body at all. There were blinding flashes and icy hands upon me to
control my leaping as I was dragged from the sanctuary.
“This is a Loa of power, one
next to Baron Samedi, our lord of the dead,” the mamba witch said in
Creole . . . and hearing her words, the others quickly whitened my face
“Here is the greatest of
houngans!” The proclamation boomed in my skull like an echo in a cave,
and then I found myself staring down at inscriptions in the sand. There
was some residue of memory; I knew of other worlds I had devoured and
destroyed, yet it was all very vague and dim as I'm a being who discards
yesterdays like excess baggage, keeping only the power.
Finally, they threw the asson at
my feet and the dry rattle of snake vertebrae in the gourd was a
transforming sound. I became Moduka, and a full-fledged houngan priest
My mind was a quickly shifting
dream. I was a son of the ever-changing spirits. The black skin I'd had
all my life suddenly seemed new and amazing. I was proud that my house
had a sleek tin roof, walls of healthy wood and a bed of banana leaves
that would always be kept fresh by my servants.
Moduka's future as a houngan had
been decided in the beginning when he climbed the treacherous faces of
the Ciboa Mountains without the help of man or Loa. To the people of the
villages he was as tall as those cliffs, and the women would fall to
their knees and embrace his hips, finding them more beautiful than the
blossoms of the bougainvillea vine. It was clear that even if events had
followed their natural course he would have been a man of great power.
Moduka was indeed a good choice for possession and of course, the voodoo
made it easy for me to enter without arousing suspicion.
Once initiated my reputation
grew so fast that I was barely established in my church when an agent of
the new ton-ton came to test my authority. I was resting on my porch
that day, sipping rum while the sun peeled the last of the paint off my
bleached railing. My rake-thin and cowardly servant, Hasely, dashed out
of the trees to warn me. “Run for your life, Moduka! This man Kapu wears
a fresh head on his belt!”
I didn't run. Instead, I struck
Hasely a jaw-cracking blow for daring to suggest cowardice.
Kapu was a tall sinewy man whose
natural expression was a zealous sneer. His eyes were bright and
reminded me of one of those altar skulls with tiny light bulbs behind
the sockets. He wore the head on a scarred and notched belt. It was the
head of white man who had probably been only a visitor in Haiti.
Kapu's sneer slid like oil into
a grin as he unclipped the shrunken head and dropped it at my feet.
“I am not impressed by this,” I said. “It is the head of
some girlish white boy you backstabbed in Port-au-Prince.”
The insult whitened his lips, as
his sneer grew murderous. “This is to show you how to kill,” he said.
“The head dried naturally. It is not shrunken through witchcraft. The
death was clean and no illegal black magic was used.”
“My ceremonies have a clean air
that your murders don't,” I said.
“Take me to your houmfort!” he
said, almost snarling.
I obeyed and found that my own
people had fled from me. We came off the path and passed through an
empty village. Only birdsong and the cross greeted us at the front of
“I know you don't believe,” I
said, “but that doesn't matter -- when you pass the cross you'll be in
the spirit land and in my power.”
Kapu spat and swore in native
Haitian. He gave the front of the houmfort, its magic drawings,
paintings of a cauldron, and crossed knives the fiercest stare. A stare
I found ridiculous. Then his eyes went to the palm-leaf roof and the mud
huts composing the surrounding sanctuaries. Without a doubt, he exuded a
vile form of strength, but I still felt that I could crush him with the
weight of my shadow alone.
“I feel generous today,” Kapu
said. “Otherwise I would go in and break down your altar.”
I said nothing, but it was clear
in the glances we exchanged that he was the one who was afraid.
“Don't imagine I'm here alone,”
Kapu continued. “I have fifty armed men nearby. So here is my command.
Hold no ceremonies of evil magic. If we hear the beat of the big
assators we'll break you and this village like we would a single drum.”
Again I said nothing and Kapu
walked away to where his anger could twine and grow behind the safe
breath of fifty armed men.
Night fell and
the moon shimmered
like the largest bubble in the sea. I sent a servant out, running ahead
of a zombie who wore a chain with a razor-sharp machete encased. The
message for the people was be at the houmfort or risk being found in the
dark by the zombie. They feared nothing in the world more than the
rattle of that chain and I found that amusing. If voodoo was their
nightmare what would they think if they knew of the Old Ones that could
at any time awaken? And what would they think of my true form, which had
Drums and dancing were my
preference for the opening of a large ceremony, but with the drummers
too frightened to be proper mediums I decided to loosen everyone up with
rum. After pouring the usual water at the bases of the assators and
spitting a spray of rum over the drummers, I passed out bottles to the
people. Once the liquor flowed things developed naturally into joyous
singing in Creole and native Haitian. Brightly colored scarves began to
flash as the dancing began, but my own pose remained stern and I did
nothing other than throw scented bark on the fire. No houngan ever
celebrates personally while there is an enemy to be slain.
As the assators thundered into
the first stage of possession, I went into the houmfort and sat
cross-legged by the central totem. In the flickering red altar light I
fashioned a voodoo doll out of grass, rags, and mud and black feathers.
When the likeness of Kapu was complete, I paused and listened to the
drums boom their way up to a second level of possession.
My flesh horse-shivering in the
heat, I went to the altar and took down a bottle marked with a big skull
and crossbones. I poured some of it in a calabash and lit the contents
with a wooden match. Heavy smoke coiled from it. I said an incantation
as I carried it back to the totem. There I fanned the smoke and saw
Kapu's face in the wisps. Pouring blood from a bottle I drenched the
doll. No sooner had I finished than I heard the ecstatic screams of the
celebrants transform to death cries.
I knew people were being cruelly
butchered, but I did nothing except listen as the beat of the assators
faltered and slowly died. Then I heard gunshots, the shouting of the
raiders, mad cries and singing. A minute later the heavy thock of
machine guns sounded and bullets cut through flesh and bone. The final
sound was of the remaining drums being smashed.
I felt a whirl of troubling
human emotions rising in my alien personality. Smoke shimmies blurred
skulls, chains … thunderstones and plastic flowers on the altar moved as
the endless desert of space rose in my mind. I was parched and starving
and the blood-soaked doll agitated my thirst -- but I have always
thirsted for blood, and I grinned as I rose and made my way to the door.
The door creaked open, feeling
stone-heavy, and I found the corpse of one of my servants spiked to it.
I walked out and as I expected, Kapu was waiting. He stood flanked by
two huge bodyguards, and he was smiling, taking much pleasure in the
pain he was sure I was hiding. As we faced off, possessed worshippers
continued their dance; some with wounded arms but still frenzied … they
were gore-speckled, shaking out small tongues of crimson and violet from
machete gashes. Their clothes were blood-drenched rags and like voodoo
in bright colors. The scene was tinged with a hellish magic and the
sight of the massacred dying in ecstasy did more to unnerve Kapu and his
men than it did me. Perhaps Kapu noticed something deeper in the
moonlight. Beads of blood bright as gems may have shaped a death mask
only he could see. Whatever it was, it caused Kapu's heart to visibly
I pulled up the voodoo doll like
a magician might pull up a rabbit from a hat, and the entire scene
momentarily froze, a tableau of death. Kapu's eyes came to life like
rays of moonlight reflecting on a turbulent sea. He gestured and a guard
to his right took aim at my head with a Russian assault rifle.
Kapu laughed hollowly. “A voodoo
doll can't save you.”
I let my face relax to its
normal serious expression and pulled a thorn from my hip pocket.
“Kill him!” Kapu commanded, and
the guard pulled the trigger just as I ripped the thorn into the front
of the doll.
The bullets knocked my head off
and it was mostly spattered and crusted around a hole blasted in the
door of the houmfort. Yet I remained standing with the torn doll in a
locked hand. Viscous black blood oozed up at my neck.
Kapu's grin became the gape of a
skull and the horrified eyes of his men went to him as he moaned. His
shirtfront split open and pale swelling appeared, it was like a mushroom
suddenly sprouting on a rotten tree, and it burst, sending a gush of
putrefied innards to the dirt.
Terror became as real as chaff
on the breeze. Kapu's men were so horrified they stumbled and even fell
and crawled as they fled. And flight didn't save them. A thick column of
flies bubbled up from the blood on my neck stump, and I remembered other
landscapes of death as I swooped in and ripped into the flesh of the
I have worn many
but as a man, I’ve never been more than an ordinary man. There is no
unordinary man. There is delusion, men believe themselves grand, but
humans are only flesh and blood. It’s amusing how every human believes
itself and the species must survive, and through collective effort reach
the stars and higher being. And be the species no more, but something
Nothing needs to ascend from
Earth, and even higher alien beings have been devoured by my kind. As
Moduka I don't think I’ve ever had any remorse about the end to come.
In voodoo, I would be called man
and his devil, an evil being. But on all worlds beings are social and
aim for an ideal order. Evil is the corruption of that order. I destroy
everything. I don’t corrupt . . . so I'm not a devil; I'm an end of
Time for most human beings is
the pulse of the drums, a linear trance with each new day filed in
neatly behind the last one. For me one day would be a million windows,
each with a scene of Moduka's life, and into them, something new would
slip, almost unnoticed. A startling occurrence might be a multiple
vision in the faceted eyes of a fly in my mind. I would dance in the
smoke of the fires while a wheel of the human world spun around me.
Haiti I saw through a jumble of perspectives.
I always see much more than the
immediate landscape; visions sliding at the edge of my awareness … the
red flowers of the flame tree, tides retreating and leaving a wake of
froth, flocks of scarlet ibis rising into the blazing sun, the matchbox
houses of Haiti from the eye of a hurricane, the possessed dancing on
hot coals, and lightning tearing across my boyhood in the Ciboa
mountains. Yet I still have the eyes of an Old One, and the only thing
absolutely real is the black void.
I became known as Calfou, ruler
of the crossroads, an ash-whitened face to be feared, and as my
reputation was now unchallenged I spent much time in the sanctuary. If I
emerged and burned a single candle in silence there would be a whole
night of flying shadows and drumming as the possessed danced off the
intoxication of that candle. It was said that if you looked into my eyes
in firelight you would see hell, and many came to see hell. It was at
the end of those tumbled-together days, at the end of roads alive with
madmen, that I found my own end and prepared a final ceremony.
Of all the madmen, there was a
voodoo king of madmen. His name was James, apparently because his
parents had been in colony with Christian missionaries. Corrupted
Christianity is a current along with African spiritualism in voodoo, but
the Christian cross and the voodoo cross are different things. James'
cross was pure African voodoo; he was a bokor magician who used coffins
and the souls of the dead. A huge man he had a thick build like a
Samoan, and a mocking grin filled with secrets. His thoughts were
black-magic madness, twisted as lightning and mandrake roots. His
jet-black skin was webbed with white scars from a time when he'd nearly
been crushed by the clawing bodies of the risen dead. As a boy in the
Ciboa Mountains, I'd known of him and feared him. Whenever he came to
mind, the first image would be of him standing on an outcropping of rock
raging at the approaching hurricane. I hadn't seen him since boyhood and
was still in awe of him.
It wasn't news to me when a
servant dashed out of the palms and collapsed at my feet to tell me that
the bokor James was on his way from the mountains, pulling a massive
coffin he had mounted on huge handmade wooden wheels. It wasn't news
because I had willed the day. With folded arms, I listened as the
servant shook with malarial fever and told how James was approaching
with Shango thunder preceding him and angry legions of dead souls at his
Before James arrived, an anxious
multitude had gathered around the houmfort. Sounds of weird thunder and
hoof beats set the crowd on edge, and when James appeared under the
darkened sky there was a calm-before-the-storm silence. James strained,
powerful as an ox against the harness and ropes, pulling the massive
coffin on as the people wilted out of his way like dying grass. It was
as if a corpse of stone was contained within, a soul as solid as the
core of the earth.
A possession of Loas began with
the banging of a single drum, and when James came to a halt before me,
the land was suddenly alive with frenzy and thundering drums.
No words were spoken as I
faced-off with James, and the celebration had become much too loud for
words. His eyes were as I remembered them. You could shriek all the way
down to the bottom of them. Turning, I led the way into the houmfort and
to the door of a special sanctuary. James followed, an ashen-faced
monster on my heels.
A statue-still zombie with hair
like a mat of rotted vines, and wearing a conch horn, guarded the door.
He stepped aside and we entered a room with walls of mystic paintings
and guttering candles. Numerous sealed pots containing the breath of
initiates and decorated with black-and-white crosses were spilled over
the earthen floor. A zombie entered carrying a smoking basket. Trance
came upon me and I saw my real body and the ruins of decadent
civilizations I had destroyed -- magnificent temples, blood red suns,
myriad beings involved in final copulation. A million cells like jeweled
facets opened my mind to visions of marvelous complexity. The chain of
my existence was a trail of microscopic spores, glittering in swirls
through the solar winds of the Milky Way.
I became lost in visions and
writhed on the floor, yet I was still aware of the resonant voice of the
bokor as he made his incantations to the dead. Earth appeared again, a
speck in my eye, and we were spirits moving outside among the people.
The many faces seemed doll-like and unreal in their twisted ecstasy. It
was a dance of painted marionettes, and the wicked screams and laughter
belonged to devils that couldn't die. Like flames, they had no choice
but to dance and celebrate the power of doom.
With the bokor I faced the
coffin, and it pulsed with the light of some tremendous burning.
Drumbeats were rumbling in the earth as James stepped up and unfastened
the latch. A radiance that stirred up emotions of sheer terror could be
seen at the crack of the lid, and it blazed on James' flesh, turning his
body to glistening ebony. Fire and light was a mask on his face and he
threw his arms wide to the people and laughed hard enough to shake a
house. Grinning wildly he seized the lid and threw it open, and then he
gave it a powerful shove and sent it rolling on its big wheels into the
It rolled like thunder, throwing
people out of its path in waves, and from the brilliant interior
darkness rose. It was a beast, a horned giant, and it roared like an
inferno and hissed like doused embers, then it exploded into clouds of
winged insects. They were like flies or grasshoppers, yet they were as
beautiful as jewels with breasts of brass and beaks of razor-sharp
My head swam in their beauty,
and my spirit was the shimmering cloud they made; knowing the time of
transcendence had arrived I tossed up powder from a gourd, made smoke
and became a shadow rising in the sky.
Time has passed
and now I look down at hills
of gathered bones and a buzzing glitter of insects. I am the spirit of
the houngan world, and I am the beast of old watching the winds
strengthen. Time flashes by, I see it as flesh ripped from the carcass.
The future is clear in the bleak sky. Tomorrow the sunrise will peak on
a volcano in Haiti, and more flies will hatch from the mountains of
corpses. Black as tons of ashes they'll ride the winds above the Ciboa
Mountains. And I will be them, the winged plague of the end.
. . . . . . . . . .