Authors: Mark Morris
Tags: #Horror, #Thriller, #Zombie
In his full ceremonial regalia, the witch doctor was a terrifying sight. His leathery body, bedecked with rattling beads, was painted in symbolic swirls of white and red. Over his shoulders was a cape of cured crocodile skin and his long, matted hair was entwined with twists of coloured cloth. He wore bracelets and anklets made of human bones, and on the belt around his waist, resting on his stomach, was a grinning human skull.
He led the procession uphill, on a winding path through the bamboo and the lansan trees, through riotously coloured clusters of plumbago and allamanda and the red, saw-toothed lobster claw. Here in the jungle the vegetation grew quickly, and often the young men had to dart in front of the witch doctor to slash a path through the undergrowth with their machetes.
The girl the witch doctor had referred to had ropes tied round her wrists and was being dragged along by two powerful men who wore nothing but loin cloths, and whose muscular bodies were painted in the same swirling ritualistic symbols as those displayed by the witch doctor. The girl, by contrast, though her skin was dark like that of the natives around her, wore western clothes – jeans and a thin white cotton shirt. The clothes were torn and dirtied, however, and her face was bruised and bloodied. Her fingernails were ragged from clawing and scrabbling in vain at the bodies of her attackers. She was weeping and begging for mercy, arms stretched out in front of her, stumbling along in bare feet.
In a straggling line behind the girl came the villagers, chanting and muttering the sacrificial incantations that had been passed down through generations. They swayed and jerked, their eyes glazed, as though they had been entranced or enchanted.
Finally, bringing up the rear, tied together at the necks and wrists and ankles, their mouths gagged with thick vines to stop them biting, came the
. There were sixteen of them and they shuffled and stumbled along, their eyes bleached of colour, their skin discoloured by death and blotched with green and white patches of rot. Four men, two at each side, lashed them with horse-hair whips to keep them in line and moving. The crack of the whips resounded through the air, mingling with the squawk of parrots overhead and the frogs calling somewhere off in the denser jungle in their clear, bell-like voices.
It took almost four hours to reach the burial site. It was situated halfway up a bare, jagged-peaked mountain, which rose from the thick green mass of the jungle, and was connected to a further range of mountains stretching into the distance. Up here the sun beat down mercilessly, and the girl, parched and exhausted, was almost out on her feet. For the last thirty minutes she had stumbled and fallen again and again, and her wrists were raw and slick with blood from being yanked continuously back to her feet by her captors.
The burial site itself was fronted by a vast stone mausoleum, constructed around the entrance to a cave which stretched deep into the mountain. The mausoleum had been built hundreds of years before, with stones that had been hacked from the living rock and then lovingly chiselled and hewn until the slabs fit snugly together like pieces of a three-dimensional jigsaw. Ancient symbols similar to those daubed on the witch doctor’s body had been carved into the walls of the mausoleum – symbols that were intended to protect the departed from evil spirits and ensure their souls a swift and safe journey to the afterlife.
Walking up to the mausoleum, the witch doctor placed his hands on the huge rock that had been rolled across its entrance. He muttered a few words, requesting ingress from the spirits of the dead, then he turned and raised his arms.
Instantly the chanting of the crowd subsided and the cracking of whips ceased. The only sound was the agitated shuffling and grunting of the shackled
captives and the soft trilling of insects in the dry and patchy undergrowth.
‘My friends,’ the witch doctor proclaimed in the centuries-old language of the Kuruni people, ‘we have come here today in order to lift the curse on our village.’ He pointed at the girl, who had dropped to her knees and whose head was slumped forward like a supplicant bowing before her god.
‘This one,’ he said contemptuously, ‘has brought shame and misery upon us. By her selfish and foolhardy actions, she has angered the spirits that watch over us all and has brought their wrath down upon us in the form of pestilence and plague and banishment from their divine realm. There is only one way we can appease the spirits and lift this curse.’ He paused dramatically. ‘We must offer her to them, body and soul, so they may enact their punishment upon her.’
The people cheered and clapped and chanted.
‘No,’ the girl muttered. ‘This is wrong. This is murder.’ Unheard, drowned out by the uproar, she shook her head slowly, her face hidden beneath the swaying curtains of her dark hair.
A couple of younger men stepped from the throng to take the ends of the ropes binding the girl’s wrists, while the two men who had dragged her through the jungle and up the mountain stepped forward to flank the witch doctor. At a nod from him, they reached out and began to push at the rock covering the entrance to the mausoleum. Sweat gleamed on their muscular bodies and thick veins stood out on their foreheads and biceps as they heaved with all their weight and strength. Finally, with a gritty grinding sound, the rock began to shift. At first it tilted and then, powered by its own momentum, rolled to one side.
The people fell silent again, as if half-expecting to see the spirits of the dead come swooping and curling from the depths of the mountain. Revealed behind the stone was the mausoleum’s arched entrance, beyond which only shadowy darkness could be seen.
‘Bring her forward,’ the witch doctor said, pointing at the girl. The two men who had pushed aside the rock lumbered forward, took the ends of the ropes from the young men who had momentarily been watching over her, and then wrenched savagely on the ropes, causing the girl to scream in pain and sprawl face-first on to the dusty ground.
‘Get to your feet,’ the witch doctor commanded, his voice rising above the girl’s sobs. ‘If you do not walk to your fate, we will simply drag you there.’
Still sobbing, the girl clambered awkwardly to her feet. Blood was running down her hands now, dripping from her fingers on to the ground. The two men gave another tug, and she stumbled forward a few steps. Beaten and bloody, but still clearly defiant, she raised her head, hair falling away from her face, and suddenly screamed, ‘This is barbaric! Can’t you see that? There are no spirits! There is no curse! All you are doing here today is committing
The people gasped, but the witch doctor merely grinned in savage triumph and raised his arms once again.
‘You see!’ he cried. ‘You see how the darkness within her tries to trick us even now?’
The people nodded and muttered. Her anger momentarily spent, the girl’s shoulders slumped, but she fixed the witch doctor with an accusatory glare. ‘How can you do this?’ she muttered. ‘You of all people?’
The witch doctor sneered at her, exposing teeth that had been filed into sharp points. ‘Do not talk to me, demon,’ he said. He looked at the two men and nodded towards the cave entrance. ‘Take her inside.’
Pleading for mercy, for her captors to see reason, the girl was dragged into the cave. The witch doctor followed, while the people waited outside, silent and expectant. After a minute the girl’s cries for mercy changed to screams of panic. As the sounds tore out of the cave entrance and echoed around the mountainside, the people looked at each other, nodding and murmuring in satisfaction. Eventually the girl’s screams became muffled, and a moment later the witch doctor and his companions emerged from the cave entrance.
‘It is done,’ the witch doctor said. As the men rolled the rock back into place, he raised his hands and spoke the ritualistic words of allegiance and devotion. He offered his hope that the spirits would accept their sacrifice as penance and release them from their terrible burden of suffering. When he had finished the incantation, the people muttered the words of response, before lapsing into silence. The witch doctor looked out over the throng for a moment, his face grim. Then suddenly he grinned and cried, ‘Let the feasting begin!’
The people cheered and turned as one, jostling for position in an effort to gain a good view of the ritual slaughter. The four men who had been herding the group of
tucked their whips into thick animal-hide belts around their waists and produced gleaming machetes, which they brandished in the air in acknowledgement of the crowd’s cheers. Then, with the practised skill of butchers or executioners, they stepped forward and began hacking at the
, severing their heads quickly and neatly from their shoulders. The people laughed as the
fell and the slaughterers’ faces and arms and chests were spattered with stinking black-red blood. The heads were collected up and passed through the crowd, to be placed in a row at the witch doctor’s feet. He nodded in approval as each head was propped on its dribbling stump of a neck before him. Finally sixteen heads were lined up, their eyes glazed and white, their slack mouths hanging open.
Now a child was pushed forward from the throng, a small boy of four or five years old. The people muttered encouragement as he walked shyly up to the witch doctor, carrying a cloth-wrapped bundle in his outstretched arms. The witch doctor thanked him solemnly and carefully unfolded the layers of cloth. Nestling within was a curved knife with symbols etched into the handle. The witch doctor took the knife and held it up. The people cheered.
Sitting cross-legged on the ground, the witch doctor picked up the first of the
heads and propped it between his knees. He then rammed the knife into the
’s temple, just above its eyes, and began to hack and saw at the dead meat and the bone beneath, cutting around the top of the skull. It took several minutes of vigorous work before he was finally able to lift the skull-cap aside. When he did, exposing the grey-black putrefying brain within, the villagers went into raptures.
Grinning, the witch doctor dug his long fingers into the
’s head and scooped out a porridge-like gobbet of brain matter. He held it out towards a little boy, who was still standing in front of him, wide-eyed with wonder. The boy looked at him uncertainly, but the witch doctor smiled and nodded. Encouraged by whispers from his mother, the child stepped forward, opened his mouth and sucked the glistening lump of brain from the witch doctor’s fingers.
A sigh of contentment ran through the crowd. ‘Eat!’ the witch doctor cried and dug his fingers into the
’s head once more. As the villagers queued up for their share of the feast, he offered another portion of this most sacred of delicacies to the second recipient.
‘Eat!’ he cried. ‘Eat! Eat!’ When the first head was empty he reached for the second.
Behind him, in the tomb, drowned by the excited clamour of the feast, the muffled screams of the girl went ignored.
me another of these, will ya?’
The guy with the short dark mohawk, both of his arms sleeved in tribal tattoos, leaned so far out of his seat that he almost tumbled into the aisle as he tried to grab the attention of the passing flight attendant. He reached out, and instead of grabbing her attention he accidentally grabbed her blue-skirted bottom as she bent over to talk to an elderly passenger who couldn’t get his headphones to work.
‘Whoa, sorry,’ sniggered mohawk guy, hauling himself back into his seat and holding up his hands innocently as the stewardess glared at him. ‘Didn’t mean to do that. Truly. Nice ass, though.’
Having dealt with the elderly passenger, the stewardess turned back to mohawk guy. ‘Is there something you need, sir?’ she asked flintily.
Immediately the guy’s smirk faded and his expression grew stony. ‘There are many things I need, sweetheart,’ he said, ‘and one of them is for you to remember who the paying fucking customers are here.’
Smiling sweetly, the stewardess said, ‘Oh, I do, sir. I remember that at all times.’
‘Yeah? Well maybe you should remember to leave your shitty attitude at home too.’
Still smiling, the stewardess said, ‘And maybe you should remember to keep your hands to yourself, sir. In this job molestation is still a crime, regardless of who’s paying.’
‘Hey, it was an accident, right?’ mohawk guy said, loud enough to turn heads. ‘I lost my balance.’
‘In that case I accept your apology,’ said the stewardess.
Mohawk guy scowled. ‘I ain’t apologizing to you. I got nothing to apologize
The passenger sitting next to him was a young, muscle-bound black man with a sculpted, neatly trimmed beard. He was dressed in baggy jeans, a skinny black T-shirt and a red bandanna. Although he had given all the indications of being asleep, he now opened his eyes and removed the headphones from his ears.