Deep Soul Fall

By A. Taylor
 

My Dearest Emmaline,

Forgive me, for I do not wish to trouble your unsullied mind or place unspeakable images before you which would cloud your waking moments forever. But I fear I will never be free of the horrors I’ve witnessed this night unless I unburden my soul, what is left of it, to you, whom I trust with my whole being.

Though I write with nothing but by the faint flickering of candlelight, whose meager glimmer of warmth will hopefully guide my words and way forward, I endeavor to unfold the events of this day and night.

And yet, I hesitate, as what I am about to tell you wreaks of the fanciful and impossible, and even now makes me question my sanity. And I wonder, if only you were near, stable and sure, would nothing be out of place? Would the path be made clear before me, and I would know how to proceed?

No. Clinging to these sentimental digressions serves only as a means to avoid the unspeakable reality I witnessed this night, though it causes my very frame to shake with terrible awe and trepidation.

And so, since I am sane and in full command of my faculties, I will venture to unfold my nightmare from the beginning, in the hopes, that by doing so, I may absolve myself of any wrongdoing.

As you are aware, and as was previously arranged, I departed Liverpool on the 21st day of July, and after a fortnight’s time, arrived in Paradise, Haiti shortly before sundown on the 3rd day of August, in the year 1857 of our Lord and Master.

Though I left you in your mother’s good care, I felt some apprehension at leaving you for a month’s time in your current condition. And yet, besides some persistent nasty headwinds—which admittedly were so intense at times to make me experience a different kind of foreboding than worrying about your welfare, but rather a disquiet as to what might lay before me on this endeavor to uncover evidence of life after death—the journey from Liverpool to Port-au-Prince to Paradise was uneventful, and I arrived in good spirits.

Upon disembarking the Voyager’s Pleasure, and stepping with shaky sea-legs onto the lush green shores of Paradise, I was met by Henry Cavendish, my lifetime friend and colleague, whose friendly greeting calmed any further uncertainty I may have felt toward this quest.

“Welcome, James,” Henry said, giving me a bone-cracking embrace. “It is so good to see you. I trust your travels went well?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said, grateful for Henry’s jovial salutation, amid observations that he’d increased in stature since I’d last seen him nine months back in London. Since I could only assume the change in appearance had to do with his current lifestyle I added, “You look well. The Caribbean suits you?”

“Yes, indeed.” Henry lifted one brow and smiled faintly. Then clasping my forearm in a firm grip he said, in a most mysterious manner, “I dearly hope the same for you.”

I cocked my head to the side, sensing a cryptic meaning to Henry’s desire for my good health. And my mind was drawn back to the unearthly excitement I’d felt when I’d received Henry’s letter a few months back claiming he’d discovered singular evidence regarding the state of the soul after it left the mortal frame—a study to which he and I have pledged our souls to discovering all we could on the subject, no matter the cost. After further correspondence, it had been decided that I must join Henry in Paradise to deduce whether there was any truth to his claims—an endeavor which filled me with the greatest hopes I had ever yet experienced in all my research regarding our mutual ethereal passion.

“I look forward to seeing what you’ve discovered,” I said indifferently, knowing if I demanded Henry show me his discoveries immediately, he would delay, as he was known for the theatrical, and would want to reveal his evidence when I was caught off guard. But seeing nothing wrong with exposing a hint of curiosity, I said, “But, pray, tell me. When do we start?”

“All in good time,” Henry said, with a knowing smile that made me wonder if my thoughts were visible in my expressions. Then leading me from the shore into the trees nearby he added, “First, let’s get you acclimated to your new surroundings.”

Exchanging pleasantries, we made our way down a tree-covered path that led inland. “How is Emmaline,” Henry asked, guiding me along the shady path. “Is she in good health?”

Henry had enough good taste not to ask directly about your confinement. But as such, I told him as much as I thought proper.

“She is doing exceptionally well, thank you. Needless to say, we look forward to the Christmas season, which abounds with anticipation for all the hope which may arrive at that time.”

“Good, good,” Henry said, smiling knowingly. “Perhaps one day soon the both of you will be able to visit these parts and share in all that Paradise has to offer.”

Then, after a short period of exchanging even more civilities we eventually reached a small village. Haitians of all ages were tending to different tasks, lighting fires and such, preparing for the night. They were most welcoming and friendly including all of the young children who ran to us with outstretched hands, expectant of something in return.

I looked to Henry for guidance. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Was I supposed to bring something?” I trailed off, hoping Henry understood my dilemma.

“Please don’t apologize,” Henry said, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a handful of lemon drops, which he scattered on the ground, showering the heads and feet of the children around us with specks of yellow, which they scurried after, laughing happily. “They’ve become accustomed to receiving gifts.”

As I watched the Haitian children scramble on the ground grabbing the sweets, I couldn’t help noticing the way the rest of the villagers looked at Henry, as if in awe of being near his presence. It was then that my attention was drawn to a number of thin, pale looking men with smoky filmed eyes and creamed-coffee colored skin, who stood among the other villagers, but who barely interacted with anyone. They too looked at Henry with the same reverence, even though they stood at the edges of the village, almost in a stupor, as though uncertain as to what they should be doing or why they were there.

But as Henry guided me with a nudge of his hand, stepping around the lingering children, we passed by some of these most peculiar men, whereupon they bowed their heads, and said in deep raspy whispers, “Bokor,” almost in obeisance.

I did not know what to make of the strange behavior, especially as the timbre of their voices seemed to slink behind us menacingly.

“Is ‘Bokor’ the name of some special status you’ve acquired among the locals?” I said teasingly to dissipate my qualms of the weird behavior the entire village had shown Henry.

“Something like that,” Henry said evasively, motioning for me to enter the small hut we had reached. “Now, rest up. I’ll come for you in the morning.” With that, he left me to myself to settle and prepare for whatever he had planned for the morrow, which I very much looked forward to.

The hut I found myself in housed a small writing desk whereupon sat a lit lamp, some bread and fruit on a plate, and a full tankard of a sweet-smelling liquid. Along one side of the hut lay a long cot, which when my eyes fell upon, called to me, reminding me of the long journey I had just ended to arrive at my current location.

After supping, and feeling the weariness of the day, I prepared to sleep wondering about the villagers’ strange behavior amid anticipatory thoughts of what Henry could have possibly discovered in this small village of Paradise concerning the state of the soul after death. I longed for the morning to arrive so that I could press Henry more for the evidence he had promised. But my fatigue was unfeigned, and before long I fell into an exhausted sleep.

However, shortly after midnight, I awoke, certain that someone had called me from my dreams. Yet, looking around the small confines of my hut, and finding myself alone, I concentrated on the silence, breathing deeply, as though certain my heavy breaths would be the means of recapturing sleep. But as my hands, resting on my chest, rose and fell in time with my breathing, my ears caught hold of a crackling sound in the distance, and I sat up, swinging my legs over the edge of the cot, allowing my curiosity to pull me from bed.

I made my way to the open door of my hut and out into the quiet and still village. Then, with only the light of the moon, I crept past a myriad of calm and silent huts, which I assumed housed some of the Haitian families I had seen earlier, until I reached the furthest edge of the village where I found a path.

Looking back over my shoulder at the dark sleeping village, as though making certain no one witness my stealthy passage, I moved forward, letting the mystery of the noise which had pulled me from sleep, and the mystery of the empty path, guide me along.

As I moved forward the crackling became louder, as though calling me to find its source. And after a time, I noticed a slight glow in the trees ahead of me. The glow became larger as I neared until it became clear that it was a blazing fire in the distance.

As though suddenly becoming aware of how chilled my body had become from leaving the safety of my cot and hut, I felt a desire to feel the warmth of the fire upon my skin. Creeping ever near, I found myself at the edge of a large circle of trees wherein the center undulated and heaved a large bonfire, crackling and snapping, emitting the sound which had awoken me. As the size of the dancing flames almost entranced me I became aware of movement near the fire. A fair number of the pale, dead-looking men I’d seen earlier, were spread around the fire, as though encasing the flames within a circle of stale flesh.

Upon further observance, I realized that the circle the pale, dead-looking men made was no accident, as their bodies lined up perfectly next to large mounds of rectangular piles of dirt which decorated the ground surrounding the fire.

As I stared at the inexplicable scene in front of me, a prickle of warning, that I should creep back to my hut and let the night be, came upon me. But the dream-like images before me held me in a trance, making me incapable of rational thought. So, staying hidden in a copse of trees, I waited, full of anticipation as to what might occur next.

Without warning, a large figure emerged from the opposite side of the circle from which I hid. The figure’s face looked to have some kind of dark red substance upon it, slashed in three lines in a downward motion from the forehead to the bottom of the opposite side of the face. The figure was also bare-chested and moved with a grace and ease which caused the pale, dead-looking men to bow their heads as it passed. The figure continued forward only stopping when it reached a small area of earth right before the center of the flames, which was raised a few inches from the ground around it. As the light of the illuminated flames brought the figure’s face into focus, I realized with a start that it was Henry. I stared, part in awe and part in fear, as I took in the enormity of Henry’s frame and chest which was marked with small ridges and lines, as though covered in scars.

Unaware of my presence, Henry held both hands in the air, and commanded in a voice which seemed to shake the ground around me, “Uncover your dead.”

Then, using nothing but their hands, the dead-looking men, knelt down upon the ground and began to unearth the rectangular mounds of black dirt near them, flinging patches of earth in every direction. As the dead-looking men moved with remarkable speed and strength, my anxiety increased to see what was being unearthed. But my curiosity turned to disgust as the amount of dirt receded, revealing the shapes of dead bodies, varying in different stages of decay.

I struggled to hold back my cry of loathing as the smell of death reached out to me. But even then, I could not turn away, so caught was I in morbid fascination with the nightmare of death before me.

When the last body had been fully uncovered, Henry lifted his voice to the sky, and with the same earth-shaking tone said, “Though the earth has held captive the souls of these departed, I set them free and raise up brothers.”

Then, one by one, the pale, dead-looking men lifted one of the bodies from the ground and approached Henry, holding the deceased upright so the dead eyes met those of Henry.
            Addressing the dead, Henry commanded, “Release your soul.” Then, grasping a finger of bone from the deceased, Henry raised it to his chest and sliced, leaving a jagged line of dripping blood in the flesh of his chest.

The pale, dead-looking man holding the bone-riddled, deceased body, directed the deceased mouth to cover Henry’s wound, filling the dead’s mouth with blood and bits of ragged flesh, while Henry closed his eyes with a resplendent glow, as though taking some kind of psychotic pleasure in the pain.

I turned away quickly as my head swam with dizziness, being consumed with nausea and revulsion. And unable to hold back, with a heaving stomach, I pitched forward, emptying onto the ground the contents of the bread, fruit, and drink I’d consumed earlier. I then crouched in a ball next to the tree by which I hid, praying I would not be found, fearing my retching had been noticed. Yet as I stooped in dread, a monotone moan filled the air, masking any noises I made. My head snapped up, and I stood back upright, succumbing to searching for the source of the sound and the desire to turn back to the horrific nightmare I had just witnessed.

I stared in astonishment, realizing the moan came from the deceased’s mouth, full of blood and bits of Henry’s chest, as though it was slowly regaining a semblance of life.

Then, as the last wails of moan escaped the deceased’s mouth, it stood upright, with bones and sinews knitting themselves together, slowly taking on the stature and pallid taught skin of his reanimated brother assisting him.

With a force that made me recoil, Henry grasped the newly reanimated face, and demanded, “Your soul is mine.”

“Yes, Bokor,” the newly created, dead-looking man said, in a gravelly whisper.

It was then that I realized that the name “Bokor” had to have been the local word for some kind of being who summoned souls from the grave, almost like a sorcerer or necromancer, and I realized with aversion why the villagers had shown such homage towards Henry. They saw him as a sort of God, who was able, through some dark sorcery, to bring back their loved ones from the dead, regardless of state they returned. And the fact that Henry claimed this act of dark magic to be the scientific evidence of the life of the soul after death increased my abhorrence tenfold. If this was what he desired to share with me, I wanted no part of it.

Then as if in defiance of my abhorrent thoughts, Henry yelled to the heavens, “See what becomes of the soul after death,” igniting in me even further aversion to Henry’s methods.

Dearest Emmaline, then realizing there was nothing more for me to witness, and not knowing what else I could do, I ran back upon the path which I had come, as quickly as I could, away from Henry, his reanimated men, and any hopes and aspirations I might have held of discovering with him, our lifelong endeavors of the source of life beyond the mortal frame.

And as I neared the village, and the trails of terror and darkness still clung to me, I began to fear for my life, not knowing what the morrow would bring. And I questioned, “How could Henry have succumbed to such darkness? What could he possibly hope to accomplish? And what does he expect from me?”

Emmaline, even now, as I write this letter, these questions crash inside my muddled mind, and again, I am consumed with fear, feeling as though I’m drowning, my soul falling into the deep, for I do not know what will become of me. I believe it will be near impossible for me to leave this island without being forced to take part in the depths of evil to which I find Henry entrenched. My soul will be lost to your goodness and light forever.

If that be the case, please don’t ever reveal to our future son or daughter the evils their father had to witness, and perhaps take part in. If there is any memory of me that fills your life with meaning and happiness, let that guide you in raising and in sharing any part of me with our child. And please know, that if there was anything that was virtuous or whole that could help me escape the hell I’m in, it would be of you and our future, whose light and anticipation consume my every breath and last thoughts as I wait for the morrow to arrive.

With these sorrowful words we must part.

Eternally yours,

James