Halloween Fun with Marlon Pierre-Antoine
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CHRISTINE PARKER'S JOURNAL
CHRISTINE PARKER'S JOURNAL
by Marlon Pierre-Antoine
October 2nd, 1932
It would be wrong to say that I had the dream again last night. Better to say that it came for me.
Just outside the Ormond Plantation house's porch where I stood the old oak tree seemed to stretch on to eternity. It wasn't the oak I saw in my waking hours, a degraded husk whose bare branches bore only the spindly gray webs of moss, no, this tree was lush with golden brown wood and a top rich with the verdant green array of springtime bloom.
In the dead of night that my dream manifested in, the tree was all that I could see: it was my world. A man stood strapped to the bark, body as black as evening, bare chest pressed against the tree trunk as lines of rope coiled around his back, legs and neck stretched and distorted his athletic form.
The loud whip-crack of leather tore through the air. A crowd stood around the bound man, obscured by darkness, laughing and howling with every lash that made contact with skin and muscle and sinew.
Just before the final whip came, the bound man turned his head to me, and through his yellowed, bloodshot eyes I saw something: not despair, not agony but...happiness.
Despite the distance between us and the soft tone he used, I heard his words as clearly as a lover's tender whisper in my ear. “J'arrive, mon cheri. J'arrive pour toi.”
I went to the doctor today – it took all the strength I had not to correct him when he called me “Miss” instead of “Mrs.”
But it would've been foolish to say anything. After all, he was right. I haven't been married for years.
Thus far in my sojourn in Louisiana I have come to the conclusion that Southerners believe in two things above all else: hokey and powerful medications of questionable legality. My doctor encapsulated both of these sacraments when he advised me once again to keep a diary, in order to calm my nerves and keep better hold of my emotions, and prescribed me a large bottle of coughing tussin just in case the first idea didn't mend my insomnia and bad dreams. I told him that I was resolutely opposed to keeping a diary, but, being a modern woman, I had undertaken a journal. He laughed and told me to carry on. I tried not to take the misogyny too personally.
Later in the day, dinner in the broad, empty dining room was lonely as usual. For all its elegant trappings and candle arrays meant to convey the impression of warmth, my surroundings were so desolate that every clank, every stirring of the spoon in my bowl assaulted my ears with the unholy racket of a fireworks display. When one of the house servants passed by, head tucked low in submission, I invited her to sit with me.
“Fleur, isn't it?” I asked the young Negro girl, about my age if not younger, and she nodded nervously. With her soft features and delicate manner, to me she really did appear as a flower.
“The gumbo is delectable,” I said when it became clear that Fleur was too afraid to carry the conversation, “you must give my compliments to the chef.”
The girl looked up at me and smiled sheepishly. “Merci, Miss Parker.”
I was in disbelief for a moment. All the kitchen staff were full-timers. Didn't a girl of her age belong in school? I decided not to question it.
“You speak French, Fleur?”
She laughed, candid for just a moment before class and habit reasserted themselves. “It's Louisiana, Miss Parker.”
So I asked her to translate for me, writing the words the bound man taunted me with in my dreams on a napkin scrap. When Fleur saw them, her eyes broadened, and suddenly her skin looked more pale than mine.
“This is an old house, Miss Parker. Too old. Too many stories floating around between these walls. Don't believe...don't believe anything you don't see for yourself, okay?”
She left after that, leaving me to finish my meal in silence.
October 6th, 1932
Fleur was right: Ormond Plantation held many stories within its concrete stones and sugar cane fields.
I spent days gathering all the rumors and old wives' tales I could about the place I now called my home: an old slave curse invoked after a failed uprising, tales of phantasmal figures walking through walls, the sound of gunshots in the night leading the plantation's occupants outside to find a bullet-riddled man hanging from the oak tree only to disappear before they could run out to attend to him, owners throughout the house's history summoned out to meet a letter-carrier and never to be seen or heard from again. I already knew the stories; they were the reason I was able to move here for mere pennies on the dollar, the reason why I moved to the Louisiana swamps rather than to a life of Parisian luxury that would deplete the coffers of my divorce settlement before the end of my thirtieth birthday. But I didn't believe any of it; I couldn't. I was never one to indulge in superstition, requiring neither the hand of God to guide me to do good nor the convenience of the Devil to blame when I did bad.
So many stories, so many legends...
Back home, in New York, they told stories about me, too. 'Red Christine', the fool who wrote checks to radicals and Communists who wanted nothing more than to take her wealth, and that of all the city's elite and cultured, away.
I made it a principle to take every rumor I heard with a grain of salt.
October 7th, 1932
I write these lines with a shaking hand and a heart that threatens to burst forth from my body and forsake me to flee for its own existence.
The dream came again-was it really still all it could be called? A dream? When it felt so real, so vivid, when I experienced such truth in it?
This time, the bound man and I were as one. This time, each lash that tore into his body tore into mine as well, the stings and burns singing like wasps' stings on my very flesh. I awoke to find my white silk gown tarnished...no, I cannot write this, I cannot admit it even to myself...
I awoke to find my gown tarnished in crimson and my backside rife with the long, thin gashes of a slave driver's vengeful whip.
Dreams fade, no matter what their intensity. So I must make note of this detail, before it becomes lost to me.
The bound man spoke again when our eyes connected. This time, I understood him perfectly.
“I'm here, Christine. I'm here for you.”
October 21st, 1932
Weeks passed without incident, and I thought it was all over, that perhaps I had merely imagined the entire ordeal, my psyche warped by stress and tussin and an ear open to too many folk tales.
Those were foolish thoughts.
Moments ago I was disturbed from my sleep, but not by the nightmare. As my conscious mind overtook the unconscious and I was carried from the world of rest to the world of the living, I sensed a presence in my chamber with me. My eyes opened, vision still hazy but clear enough to see the form kneeling at my bedside, umbrous and indistinct, a black silhouette seeming to look right into me even with a face made out of nothingness.
And I could almost-could I have been dreaming still?-I could almost feel it touching me.
October 23rd, 1932
I dismissed all of my staff after one of the gardeners was found hanging by his ankles on the oak tree. He was still alive, thankfully-but could I promise him safety next time? Could I promise any of them safety?
So I carried about the house alone, cooking my own meals, drawing my own baths, answering my own telephone.
Alone, but kept in company still.
Eventually I saw it again, and I put all sense and instincts of self-preservation aside to seek out the answers I needed.
I saw him from the second floor hallway, a man made of emptiness standing by the front door, a man of shade and mist in pure defiance of the luminous lamp fixtures arranged above him. I made a dash for the stairs and he faded out the door, but I pursued him still, a chase through the lawn and the old sugar cane field that set my somber mind to the utmost alertness and made my blood pulse and soar with the energy of an animal in mid-hunt.
But who was the hunter: the shadow, or I?
I chased him to the decrepit shack that was once, so many lifetimes ago, used as housing for Ormond Plantation's rather involuntary staff, re-purposed now to serve as a shelter for the winter wardrobe I found rather superfluous under the southern bayou Sun.
Entering the shack, I found that the shadow had taken form.
The bound man. Tall and proud and real, with a tight, muscular chest born to me peppered with scars and high-set cheekbones carrying the pride of African valor. He wiped a veil of sweat from his brow with his forearm, and stared at me with almond eyes that held untold volumes within them.
“Christine,” he said, with a voice too ephemeral to belong to this plane and too powerful to be an illusion, “I've come for you.”
“I know,” I told him. “To kill me.”
The bound man shook his head. “This house holds so many stories, but you can't believe them all. I killed the others because their hatred would have killed them anyway. But do you hate too, Christine? Or are some of the stories they tell of you true?”
“Some of them,” I admitted, and then the bound man drew closer to me.
October 24th, 1932
It's midnight, and it's time for me to leave.
I ask anyone who may stumble across this journal not to mourn for me. After all, since when has joy been an occasion for mourning? I have at last found someone real, someone to look past the rumor and see what lies inside. Someone to understand.
I would also ask that no would-be detective try to unearth the name of my beloved. Yes, he had names, once upon a time, but both were taken from him-one by the trader who robbed him of his life in a faraway land and one by the lash that robbed him of life in the mortal coil. In fact, I would ask you not to remember my name, either. My name is unimportant now, now that I'm going to live on in the wind and the oak tree and in the hearts of all those who burn with love or hate.
The bound man stoops forward now, stroking my collarbone with hands calloused from decades of labor and yet softer than any touch I have ever known before.