BANISHED, the novel, Opening Chapters

copyright@Billie Sue Mosman 2012
 All excerpts on this site are covered by copyright 2012.  No party may reproduce or use any portion of this without permission.

"The Magician rearranges the Universe to make himself the center, the Mystic rearranges himself to find the center."

                THE LITTLE DEATH

She could barely breathe she was so hot.  She could hear the night birds call and the rustle of her mother’s palm grass skirt as she moved about the small hut.  She could see just the light from the flames of the fire in the center of the floor, but she could not make out anything beyond. 
    She closed her eyes to blessed darkness and wondered when she would die.  She knew she would never be well again, never stand and walk, never kiss her mother’s cheek, or feel the comfort of her mother’s loving embrace. She had not lived long, a handful of years, so there was not much to miss.  Yet she knew she must fight against death.  She must not let it take her willingly.
    A blanket of coolness slipped over her bare skin and it was not from the water her mother had been sponging onto her.  She tried to reopen her eyes to discover the cause, but her lids were too heavy.  She was so hot!  The coolness that temporarily enveloped her was not helping.  She wished they would carry her to the sea and float her in the waves.
    Dark grew darker.  Grew to pitch black.  Grew to a void.  She struggled to take a breath.  It would not come; her lungs would not obey.  She thought, Death has me.  Death has slipped his arms around me and holds me so tightly I cannot breathe.
    Faintly she heard her mother’s wails, but she couldn’t lift a hand for her to come near, nor could she whisper the compassion she felt for the loved one she was leaving behind.  She couldn’t even say goodbye.
    Take me to the sea, she begged of Death.  Take me from this heat and pain and let me float in the cool frothy waves.  I always loved…I always loved the sea.
    The heat grew like a malevolent cloud in the darkness until it filled the void.  She couldn’t feel her body.  She knew she was but a pinpoint of matter, a tiny bit of consciousness floating in the emptiness.  It seemed time had stopped or it was moving so slowly it would last forever and nothing for her would ever change.
    I’m not ready, the child complained.  I’m too young.
    And then she was swept off into the dark beyond where there was no more thought or heat or life.
    She was done with this world.


“Life.  A wriggling mass of cells blindly replicating, always in motion, endlessly in search of food.  Is that life?  They say it is.”

The girl lay dying.  Her week-long fever had put her into a coma and though her mother kept bathing her with cool water, her skin felt like hot coals.  Though fevered, her light coffee-colored skin shone smooth and beautiful as a river stone in the flickering firelight.
    In the little one-room shack made from date palm leaves the heat was stifling.  Not one stray breeze made its way through the open doorway.  Flies were so thick they congealed the air and had to be batted away constantly from the comatose child.
    The mother, frantic about losing her only child, knowing in her heart death stood close with a skeletal arm extended, ran from the hut crying to the night heaven.  She sped along the lone path through the jungle to the witch doctor’s hovel and stood outside wailing loud enough to wake the dead.
    In her native tongue she told the witch doctor about the dying child and begged for him to save her. 
    It seemed to take him forever to gather his special feathers, shells, rocks, and sticks tied in bundles with strings of dried pig skin.  As the mother raced back along the path to her baby, the witch doctor stayed at her side, pacing her, a pale sickle moon at their backs.
    Bursting into the hut where a small fire in the center of the floor burned, grotesque shadows swathed the little girl who lay against the back wall.  Both mother and witch doctor knew it was over and done with.
    The child’s arm lay limp off to one side, her head was turned toward them, her eyes open, glazed, and forever stilled.
    The mother turned to the witch doctor and in her grief made the ultimate request. She knew of the rumors.
    “They say you have raised the dead.  Raise her up!”
    “I have only raised a few animals,” he said.  “Never a human being.”
    “Raise her!”
    It was true he was renowned across the island as the most powerful witch doctor ever to have lived, but what the woman was asking he thought was surely beyond his powers.  He had brought a dead chicken back to life.  A dead dog.  And once, even a dead panther, just to see if he could.  But a human being?  He had not dared try.  He was not even sure that the gods would allow him that kind of power.
    “I will give you anything,” the mother cried.  She beat her chest and rolled her eyes. “Anything!  Anything!”  She was close to madness.
    The witch doctor’s countenance darkened, his eyes took on a glow.  His gaze left the mother and settled on the child.  He stepped closer, two steps.  Three.  He went to his haunches and studied the girl.  She was undeniably the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  Her skin was lighter than most islanders, as if it were lit from within by soft white flame.  Her nose and lips and eyes and brow were perfection, and the face was shaped like a heart.  Her long dark hair was smooth, shiny with whale oil, and it fell in curls like coiled snakes from her scalp.  He reached out and trailed his fingers along her cheek.  It was cold, so cold.  It was a shame she was dead.  It seemed to Mujai that the gods were intentionally cruel when children died.
    Suddenly, and without knowing how it happened, the witch doctor fell in love with the dead child.  If he hadn’t known better, he might have suspected he was under a spell not of his own making. His face softened, his lips parted, and he let out a little sigh.  He swiveled on his haunches to face the mother at the hut’s door opening.
    She was silhouetted in the firelight, a gaunt figure with clenched hands held before her breasts.  He could feel her grief as if it were an extra person in the hut.  It loomed over her, a dark, heavy figure bearing down on her thin shoulders.
    “You will give anything if I raise her up?  Anything?  You will even give up your child to me?”  He must make sure she meant it.
    A look of dawning understanding and then dismay filled the mother’s eyes.  She hung her head.  Her tears kept falling, drenching her sweaty naked breasts.  She had to decide.  Bury her child or see her rise up and walk again, alive and well, but belonging to someone else.  Belonging to…
    “Yes,” she said, jutting out her chin in defiance.  “Yes, I told you, yes.  Anything.  If you must take her, then take her, as long as she is alive again.”
    The witch doctor stood and came to the child’s mother.  “When I raise her, she will be mine.  You understand?  Forever mine.  I will take her from here and she will live with me.  One day, when she is old enough to wed, she will be my bride.  Tell me you understand.”
    Since the mother made no protest beyond the horror of what she was doing to her only child reflecting from her eyes, the pact was sealed.
    “If you break your promise, I will kill you,” he said.
    She turned aside, unable to look him in the face.
    He left through the low door and stood a moment staring up at the starry sky from whence he derived part of his power.  The sky, the earth, the sea, they all gave him just a particle of their powers, but it was enough.  Enough to raise a human being he did not know yet, but enough to hope to raise one.
    “I’ll be back as soon as I can.  Keep away the family, let no one see her, allow no ceremony for her spirit.  Tell no one, ever, of what happens here, good or bad, you understand?  And while I am gone keep the flies away too,” he added. “She must be kept clean and free of vermin.”
    He hurried off into the night, loping like a gazelle.  His talismans were left behind, discarded on the floor near the dead girl.  For this he would not need them, and in fact, they would play no part.  He required special plants that grew deep in the interior of the jungle, and water from the sea, and earth from the foot of the great sacred rock where all former witch doctors had been buried.  Three times he had raised the dead with the secret potion, but if he was successful this fourth time it would be such a great accomplishment he might think himself a king rather than a witch doctor.
    And the little girl would be his queen.
The island the witch doctor searched in the dark for his magic ingredients had no name for the people. Later in history it would be called Hispaniola. It was home to a few hundred aborigines who did not remember how any of them had come to be on the island and none of whom had ever tried to leave it.  The land was merely home, the place where they lived out their lives.  Centuries later the island would be conquered and ruled by the Spanish, who changed the name to Santo Domingo.  In 1697 a formal division of the island occurred changing the name again into Santo Domingo and Saint-Domingue.  Finally, it was changed to Haiti, what an ancient people used to call it.  From that period the island was ruled over by despots and dictators.
But in this time before time was kept, it was nothing more than a jungle-encrusted plot of land in the Atlantic, neglected and ignored, its people savage and superstitious and alone, so very alone.
    There were other witch doctors, and other small tribes, on various parts of the island, but Mujai knew he was the greatest of all.  He had learned well everything his father and his grandfather had taught him about the witch arts, until he surpassed them and discovered, really by chance, the potion that brought the dead back to life again. 
        His reputation had spread and, after it was known he raised up a panther, some even feared him so much they let themselves die of fevers and infections rather than call for him.  Others, however, knowing his value, came to his door and kept him rich with food and weapons for his prized wisdom. Perhaps, he thought, they were afraid, too, so they left him bribes.  They gave him feathers of the rare ni-ni bird that had tail feathers of royal purple and emerald green.  They brought beautiful shells taken by skilled divers from the sea floor, shells radiant with rainbow colors.  And every fruit and every fish and every varmint that walked the island had at one time or another been deposited before his door as a gift.
    He had never really wanted for anything or worked to feed himself. Yet there was one gift he had never been granted.   Mujai had never had a woman.  He was too feared.  He was not good marriage material, never even considered as a mate for a father’s daughters.  A man who could raise the dead was a fearful being indeed.  He expected to live a solitary existence and die old and alone.  Until tonight, with the little sleeping-dead girl who he knew, some way, some how, he would be able to raise up. She held a promise of the one thing he wanted and missed the most.
    It was true the chicken did not cluck after it was raised.  And the dog did not bark.  But the panther, yes, it had been almost as before, roaring, leaping, hunting prey.  But it had seemed to Mujai, following the dead-before-now-alive panther’s trail for several weeks out of curiosity, it had seemed the big cat had turned into quite a voracious beast.  Keeping well-hidden and down wind, Mujai watched it many times take it’s prey apart nearly on the very moment of impact, at the instant of its death from the panther’s vicious long teeth.  Flesh went flying skyward, to the right and to the left, and still the beast attacked, ripping and tearing in such a frenzy that its entire face and chest was slathered with blood from its victim.  It did not feed so much as battle and destroy.
    Mujai loped harder and tapped on his chest for protection, thinking of the beast he had raised and how dark the night still was, dawn some hours yet in the distance.  Where was that hungry beast now?  And was it on the prowl anywhere near by for the fearful master who had raised it from the dead?
    And what of the child, he wondered, suddenly, his lope faltering.  Mujai was not a stupid man, and could follow a line of logic as neatly as anyone.  What if when raised the little girl was changed?  Was vicious?  Was rapacious?  What if she became a beast who could not be satisfied?
    Again Majai tapped his chest for protection, for good luck, for help from the gods, for the heavens to favor him, as they had done all his life. He possessed but this one chance and he would take it, no matter what the outcome.
    He took up his running lope again, for he had to hurry.  Many of the plants he needed for the potion were scattered far and wide.  He had much work to do, much territory to cover.  And already the child was cold, so cold.
The breeze from the ocean wafted across his face, filling his nostrils until he could taste the brine on his tongue.  He could smell the fecund earth and his nostrils filled with the scent of various night-blooming flowers whose perfume was so strong it could dull a weaker man.  He concentrated so the spirit gods would lead him to the plants he needed. Once calm, it came again on the wind, the scent of the deep, mysterious sea.  He breathed in deeply and smiled.  This is my island, he boasted to himself.  I am king here.  I am a god here.  No one can do what I have done and what I am about to do.  I am afraid of nothing, nothing.  If I fail, no one will know.  If I succeed…
He went into a trot and then into a true all-out run.  He had to hurry, hurry, hurry.
He had a child bride to save.  He had a beautiful, innocent, perfectly proportioned queen to raise up from the dead and to make his very own.  She could not remain dead too long or even the potion would not work.
    Yet if it worked!  He would be alone no more.  He swore it.  Like his grandfather and father before him, he had found a woman he could take and make his own.  That she was so young did not matter.  He could teach her everything and be patient until she was a few years older.  He would spend those years tutoring her how to work for him, bathe him, fetch and cook and climb the trees for his honey.  He would teach her how to behave.  How to love him as her king, as her Giver of Life.  She would, after all, owe him everything, forever.  She would be his Child-Lover-Mother-Companion-Inspiration, his alone, forever.
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To buy the book: BANISHED

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