Authors: Aiden James,Michelle Wright
“Come to me,” I commanded.
She complied, even though she didn’t understand what I was saying, my outstretched hand was understood. Scurrying quickly to her feet with her head bowed, she remained a mute.
“I’m taking you away from here and giving you your freedom. I know a place where you’ll be safe, deep in the rain forest. No pirates or slave traders will find you there,” I assured her, hoping she could read my eyes.
She fearfully offered me her plate of salted meat. I declined and told her again we had to leave, wishing I could speak in her native tongue.
“Where’s de Captain Master?” she said in heavily accented English, surprising me since her first words were indecipherable. “I cannot leave… I will be punished if he catches me trying to escape. Please, Master, do not put me in troubles,”
“Captain Chivers is worse for alcohol and indisposed right now. He’s in no position to challenge my decision. Besides, your fate belongs to me, not him. Shall we go?”
But I was misguided in my assumption it would be a clean getaway. The door to the cabin flew open and there stood Chivers with blood dripping from his wound, pale in complexion and, firmly in my path. He wiped the sweat from the back of his neck as I prepared for a renewed threat. Instead, I was to be astonished by a crazy tirade.
“Rachel is the Devils’ cohort. She’s done something to my mind… because of her I’m doing crazy things. Why would I want to fight with you, Ortiz? And, I drink the best of everyone, so why did I topple after so little?”
“Rachel’s very skilled at making people crazy. I should know.”
“Where are you going with the slave girl?”
“Away, she’s mine to do with as I see fit,” I replied.
“Okay, but when you’re done, I need your expert help to lift the curse Rachel’s put on me. She’ll do the same to you. Mark my words, she’s a destroyer.”
“My dear captain, too much rum can do that to a fellow without a wench’s wiles. I agree, Rachel is difficult and maddening at times. Dangerous, she is not, on account of her having a small brain and too much mouth.” I said. “Let me find your first mate, to assist you further.”
“He’ll be in the Shipman Inn, where he always drinks. The boss is an old pirate who hung up his cutlass and hoisted down the flag,” he advised. “Tell him I sent you. Maybe he’ll buy the slave for his personal pleasures. He has money enough.”
What was the morally right thing to do with a slave girl I didn’t want? I bought her because of my impulsiveness coupled with a tinge of sympathy. I wasn’t an advocate of slavery, something as old as Biblical times. These days it was becoming more and more profitable with slaves being shipped from Africa to England and Europe in the thousands. It was also a growing business in the new world of America where eager and wealthy Southern plantation owners were queuing up to pay high prices for slaves brought by Dutch frigates. Deep down I knew it wasn’t for me. I made plenty of money with lucrative transactions, none of them involving human cargo. I smiled weakly at the thought this must mean somewhere underneath it all, I did have half a heart and a conscience after all.
I bound up the Captain’s hand the best I could, our altercation forgotten. Maybe I’d be throwing his weighted body overboard if I’d chosen to take it the limit. I hadn’t. He would sober up without knowing how close he came to his demise.
“Where are you taking me, Master?” Campala asked as we left the ship.
“To a God fearing friend, you’ll come to no harm. I never intended to have you enslaved. I could sell you in Madagascar for service to a respectful house where you’ll be treated fairly,” I replied. Business was business, and under normal circumstances, I would need to recover my investment. This time, I would settle for practically nothing in return.
“So I can’t go home, back to my family?”
I was sure she’d more than likely be picked up again by another band of pirates or slave catchers. Certain no one in her village would be able to protect her from being snatched again.
“No,” I replied. “It will be a waste of my time, and an extra expense for nothing. The moment I’m gone you’ll be taken again. The only option is to hide you until I can get you to someone who will not abuse you in their employment. ”
Nightfall had descended, bringing once more a change of behavior all around us. I searched madly for a ride with a worried Campala in tow. In spite of so few to choose from, I succeeded in securing one by making an offer the driver couldn’t refuse. We were fortunate, not many liked to make the journey into the forest at night where wild animals roamed in abundance. Monkeys often being the biggest threat. Even as we reached the outer rim, it took on a life of its own. Creatures were preparing for night, their strange calling sounds rustling through the vegetation. I had no clue of the path we were taking to John’s and, unlike previous drivers, this one wasn’t talkative.
“I presume you know the way?” I asked.
“Of course I do,” he snapped in his Malagasy dialect, a language I struggled with even though it had borrowed quite a lot from Arabic.
“Misaotra,” I replied, hoping he understood I was saying thank you. My senses heightened as monkey hoots and screeches became more frequent, rumors of kidnappings by night kept me on high alert and
wanting to be part of a ransom demand. Pirates, respectable sailors and visitors alike had mysteriously disappeared with some frequency.
“Driver, how much further to Doctor John?” I asked.
“We’ll be there soon… you have no patience,” he replied.
I was more concerned with the rain beginning to fall than I was of his arrogance. Insects feasted on us all as the rain poured down upon us, seemingly in buckets, relieving only the prevalent heat and stickiness
“Oh Master, I don’t like this, we need to shelter,” Campala lamented.
“Ignore the elements, my dear. John’s wife has potions to stop the swelling from any insect bites.”
I knew nothing about Campala. Where she’d come from, her family, and how she’d been captured. Even in the torrential rain, she was exotically beautiful, a temptation for any man, no matter how strong willed. I took a deep breath and kept my passions in check, but alone in the darkness with a driver in front who ignored us, I couldn’t help thinking about what
happen. A pleasant fantasy considering I hadn’t had a woman since Isabella, refusing to count Rachel as even a maybe.
It stopped raining as quickly as it began, causing the heat to rise even higher and armies of insects to invade in abundance. I was powerless to stop Campala from being bitten. Her discomfort obvious, she wildly scratched her arms and legs. Our journey’s end could not have come any sooner.
“I heard the sound of a cart and wondered who would be calling at this late hour. Thank goodness it’s you.” John had come out to greet us. Like me, the sight of Campala struck him.
“How is Juan?” I enquired anxiously.
“He’s much better. In fact, you’ll be surprised at the turn of events in only a matter of hours.”
“Really?” I prayed it wasn’t anything too extreme. “By the way, this is Campala; I bought her from Captain Chivers.”
“I’m shocked you brought a slave girl to my door. What are you expecting me to do, buy her? Let’s go inside and talk, shall we?”
I followed, smiling sheepishly. Campala tried to stay back, but I grabbed her hand and pulled her inside.
“Why did you purchase a slave?” he demanded.
“Because I wasn’t thinking clearly enough,” I said. “I saw her as a sound investment knowing how in demand she’d be. Look at her… she’s beautiful. I could sell her at profit with great speed, there’s not a man alive who wouldn’t pay double.”
“That’s where you’re wrong; there are many men who would balk at the idea. This poor girl needs to be sent home immediately!”
I didn’t reply. Instead, I had become the chastised son lectured by a judgmental father. My usual reaction would have been to argue fiercely back. But I had tremendous respect for John and his hospitality, so I restrained myself.
“What’s the point?” I replied in earnest. “She’ll be taken by slave traders again and shipped straight off to Europe, maybe even bound for America.”
Juan suddenly appeared, smiling and back to normal, with Rachel firmly attached to his arm. Fearing the worse, I looked into their love struck eyes. They were together.
“I’ve been gone one day, just enough time for you to get your hooks firmly in!” I said to Rachel. She ignored me, keeping her gaze locked on Juan. “You’re very good at getting what you want girl, but you won’t have Juan, I will make sure of it.”
“He’s a man with a mind of his own,” she said. “Besides, I’ve changed. Ask John.”
Before I could respond, Juan, who’d taken great offence at my remarks, hurtled toward me, pushing me hard down onto the floor.
“I’m stronger and smarter than you know. In fact, what
you know of me? Most of the time you’re too wrapped up in yourself to know anyone. Rachel and I are staying on in Madagascar and there’s nothing you can do about it!” he said, keeping one foot firmly on my chest.
I could have grabbed it and brought him down but decided not to. The last thing he needed was to lose face in front of a woman, especially Rachel.
“There’s nothing for us to go back to,” he continued, firmly. “Rachel and I have purchased a parcel of land from John to build a house on. You can go back to Europe alone. I can’t and won’t be swayed.”
There I was, not a moment earlier assuring the Captain that Rachel was harmless. How wrong could I have been? Juan released his foot and pulled me up, our friendship changed forever.
“It eats away, doesn’t it?” she slyly commented. “That you’re still convinced I stole the coin. I expect you’d be appeased if I had it and handed it over.”
“I’d be on my way, bothering you no more,” I replied.
“I don’t have it.”
Of course, I didn’t believe her. “If you desire not to be chased and hunted down for the rest of your life, Rachel, you’d… be wise to hand over my coin.”
I wanted to strangle Juan for his stupidity and with my patience gone, I dragged her out of John’s hut. “Let me go… my God Emmanuel… stop!” she screamed, as I took her with great force. Juan’s face was no more than a blur as his attempts to physically stop me failed. “I’ll curse you Judas, you won’t get away with treating me this way!” She kicked and struggled, but my strength far exceeded hers.
“I warn you,” Juan growled. “Let go of her or… I will challenge you.”
“Challenge me to what?” I retorted. “To a duel? We both would likely survive, but why chose to fight over this girl? If you do, then you’re more of an idiot than I thought!”
“Judas, stop!” he shouted
“No! Leave us be,” I rebuked him, angrily. “I need to get the truth from this evil bitch if it’s the last thing I do on earth. Stay here by the house. If you have any sense, you’ll think twice about following me.”
I hoped my dire warning registered long enough for me to get Rachel away. My plan? To put her in a horrible situation where she’d be forced to confess all. Ignoring her screams, and the pleas from John urging me to stop, I continued to take her further away from the house and into the forest.
“I want you to die and be condemned to a fiery hell!
I hate you!”
she screamed. “Do you think it was mere coincidence we met? No, you were guided to me by Jesus Christ Himself. He speaks to me through the stigmata. He wants you to suffer on and on. I
I continued to ignore her as we moved deeper into the forest. Bats flew overhead and the sound of singing insects was near deafening. Damp leaves slipped against my skin as Rachel continued to squirm within my grip. I was only slightly distracted by the faint sounds of Juan, who tried to follow and was calling out in anger. The air had become thick and stagnant, made warmer by the large leafed trees acting as a blanket and making conditions deceptive. I wiped the sweat from my brow, refusing to let go of Rachel’s sweat soaked arm. What I was doing and where I was taking her, I didn’t know… such was my rage.
Without warning and before I had a chance to react, we both fell into a deep mud filled swamp disguised by a blanket of leaves. Holding my breath, I came to the surface but the weight of the mud pressed hard against my body causing me to struggle. In the darkness, I called out to Rachel with a mouth full of mud and slime as I madly paddled to stay afloat. A full moon filtered through the vegetation, affording definitive shadows and a soft white light. It acted as a beacon, guiding me to a large branch hanging over the swamp. Rachel grabbed hard onto my shoulders from behind.
“Help me!” she gasped, grabbing at my hand, but slipping through my fingers.
It occurred to me, as I tried to grab her hand, that my efforts to get her to confess to where my coin was hidden were largely folly, continuing to fail and lead to more frustration.
“Don’t let go,” I told her, needing to find the physical strength for two as I ploughed through rotting vegetation and slime-ridden mud, determined to keep hold of the one branch within my reach. No matter what, I was going to pull myself up, hopefully with Rachel clinging on. I didn’t relish the thought of having to dive back into the gore find her. But my new mission was to have us both reach the bank safely. Hating her smug smile from earlier, I loathed being responsible for her possible death even more.
Leeches were sucking the blood from my face, frogs croaked loudly nearby, and bats swooped so low I could have touched them if my hands were free. Suddenly, I felt her hands grasp my breeches and then my waist. She was pulling on me to help herself climb up.
Regardless of personal feelings, I pulled her up, but then she slipped again from my grasp. This time she completely disappeared. Now desperate to save her, I submerged myself back into the slime. I couldn’t find her. Despite being sucked down into the disgusting muck, I knew I couldn’t perish. But my tolerance of such conditions was being put to the test.
I stayed under the mud long enough to know it would be impossible for a mortal to survive this long. Even so, I continued to search, while being sucked lower and lower until I came across what felt like a foot. I attempted to grab it, but it slipped from my grasp. Worse, I couldn’t find it again… or any other part of her body.