Houngan World
© by Gary L Morton

I give credit to Columbus 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 Ö 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 and void.

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 with ashes.

"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 of voodoo.

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 witch craft. 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 the houmfort.

"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 already awakened?

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 Ö 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 Ö 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 sink.

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 enemy.

I have worn many bodies, but as a man Iíve 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. Itís 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 greater.

Nothing needs to ascend from Earth, and even higher alien beings have been devoured by my kind. As Moduka I don't think Iíve 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 donít corrupt . . . so I'm not a devil; I'm an end of things.

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 Ö 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 heels.

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 dancers.

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 crystal.

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 be hatched 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.

 

   The End.