Belles Fleurs Plantation, 1936
The boy burst out of the back door of the house and ran for the row of azalea bushes that lined the backyard. Storm clouds rolled overhead and blocked the sun, covering the entire plantation in a dreary gray cloak. He slipped between the bushes and ran into the sugarcane fields, traversing the well-traveled path until he reached the tree line that indicated the end of the cane field and the beginning of the swamp.
He stepped into the canvas of thick brush and cypress trees, and everything went several shades darker as the cypress trees choked out what little light managed to push through the stormy skies. Bursts of pain shot through his right eye, and he could feel the skin tightening. It was already swelling and he knew it wouldn’t be long before the eye was completely shut. It wasn’t his first black eye, but if his plan worked, it would be his last.
The path through the swamp ended at an old slave quarters. His father had plenty of crop workers on the plantation, but they were paid now and all lived in newer quarters closer to the main house. This was the last of the buildings remaining from the old way of things, and the boy and his friends had helped it along by sneaking lumber from the plantation and keeping the structure upright.
He could see light streaming through cracks in the wall and was relieved to know his friends were there. With the storm moving in, he had been afraid they wouldn’t be able to come. And tonight was important. Everything depended on it. He pulled open the door and two boys looked up at him, the lantern on the floor illuminating the depressing room that had once served as a home for six people.
Both of the boys stared at his eye but neither questioned it. They didn’t have to. They already knew the answer. One of the boys still had yellowish splotches on his own face. Remnants of his own living conditions. The third boy’s father was traveling right now, so he’d been bruise-free for two weeks, but his father was due home in three days. The boys’ families were all part of the same social circle of the remaining rich plantation owners. They were educated at the same private schools and required to spend so many hours every week learning about the businesses they would inherit.
They’d bonded over the abuse.
At school, the other kids shied away from them. They heard the whispers behind their backs. They knew the other parents didn’t want their children visiting plantations that belonged to the fathers of the three. They didn’t want their children exposed to the kind of life the three lived every day at the hands of angry, bitter men who took their frustrations with the ups and downs of the sugarcane business out on the weak.
“Did you bring it?” one of the boys on the floor asked.
The boy with the black eye nodded and pulled the crumpled paper from his pocket. It contained a picture of an odd-looking star and a chant. The boy sank onto the floor next to his friends and pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket.
“We need to draw this on the floor,” he said. “Then we stand around it and I say the chant.”
The two other boys looked at each other, then cast doubtful looks back at him.
“Are you sure that will work?” one of the boys asked. “What if the spirit attacks us instead of your dad?”
“It can’t do that,” the boy with the black eye said, although he had no idea if what he said was true. But he needed the other two boys to make it work. The spell required at least three people. “The spirit has to listen to us if we bring it here.”
Neither of them looked convinced, but this was their last hope.
They were all at the verge—twelve years old—just approaching what their fathers considered manhood. When you were a man, the responsibilities got bigger and the beatings got worse. The boy with the black eye knew it better than any of them. He’d seen his father beat his older brother to death for breaking a plow. The boy wasn’t good with his hands, even when he tried to be really careful. He knew he’d make a mistake, and he knew the consequences when he did.
The police wouldn’t do anything. They had no power over those with all the money. They accepted any lie the men told and removed themselves from the situation before the men’s anger came down on them. No one on earth could help them. But something from hell could.
The boy drew the star on the floor with the chalk and gestured to the two other boys to stand. They rose from the floor, their fear so palpable it was almost visible. The boy lifted the piece of paper and started reading the words. They were in some foreign language, and the boy knew he was probably saying them all wrong, but surely that wouldn’t matter.
He was just about to start the second line when the door to the shack flew open and all three boys ran for the back wall, huddling together, certain they had been caught and this was the end. Instead, the son of one of the plantation workers stared at them.
He was older than they were, probably eighteen. His father had worked on the plantation as long as the boy could remember. The son started working the fields six years ago with his father. The son’s skin was as dark as the storm clouds swirling overhead, but his blue eyes were a perfect match for the boy’s, rather than his Haitian parents’ dark brown.
The Haitian looked at the star on the floor and let out a single laugh. “You think you can summon the devil?”
The boy was scared of his father, but he refused to be mocked by a worker’s son. “So what if I do?”
The Haitian boy stared at him for several seconds, then nodded. “I know why you want to, but this won’t work.”
“Why not?” the boy asked.
“Because you don’t have the skill. I do. My great-grandmother was a conjurer. I learned from her. This nonsense with chants and stars is the white man’s poor attempt at stealing the one thing he hasn’t taken from us.”
The boy frowned. He didn’t understand what the Haitian boy was saying, except for the word “conjurer.” He knew that word.
The Haitian boy narrowed his eyes. “I can help you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because then you’ll owe me something.”
The Haitian boy shook his head. “When the time comes, I’ll ask for it. All three of you. Do you want my help?”
The boy looked at his two friends, who’d remained silent the entire time. They were scared, but both nodded. “Okay,” the boy said. “What do we need to do?”
“Give me that chalk,” the Haitian boy said. “I’ll fix this and then I’ll call for the demon. Only I will be able to see or direct him. This is your last chance to change your mind. Once I call him and give him an order, he won’t stop until he’s done.”
The boy handed him the chalk.
The Haitian boy smiled. “Then let’s begin.”