Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
The blood-greedy gods of the jungle claimed Morris Street's black citizens for their own—until Doc Turner brewed a witch-poison stronger than their murder-lust...
WHEN the Great Pharmacist compounded the soul of Andrew Turner there was one ingredient He failed to include in the mixture. Courage He poured in full measure, and wisdom, and understanding such as He gives to but few men. He did not forget certain small vices without which the little man would have been more than human, or less. But the bottle labeled Fear must have been empty that morning, or its cork jammed, and the stork delivery to Morris Street poised for flight, so He left it out.
And yet the emotion that stirred within Doc Turner, one winter evening so many years later that his hair was a shock of pure white and his hands gnarled and old, was very like fear. He leaned those hands heavily on the cluttered sales-counter of his grimed drugstore, peered nearsightedly up at the thick-lipped, black face of the midnight customer and fought to keep a tremor out of his voice. "Yes," he asked. "Yes. What can I do for you?"
It was not that he was alone in the store and that the Negro loomed a foot above him, the tremendous bulk of his figure swathed in a black overcoat whose collar was turned up tightly about his neck and his broad-brimmed black hat jammed down close to bulging eyes that somehow glowed redly. It was not even that one ham-like hand of the stranger was clutched about the neck of a burlap bag that writhed weirdly to the twisting of something alive its rough fabric contained. There was an uncanny aura of menace about the man, an eerie threat in his very pose that was yet icily aloof. His skin seemed to swallow light, not reflect it with the genial warmth typical to his race. Even the lining of his flat nostrils was black, and there was a bluish tinge to the red of his protuberant mouth. He stood there, towering above the little druggist and he was cloaked in a heavy silence through which the tick of Doc's clock pounded with nerve-rasping loudness.
"Well," Turner spoke again, more sharply. "What do you wish?"
A slow smile moved the Negro's mouth, a smile that was humorless, that was a leer of incarnate evil. And at last he spoke. "Nawthin'," his great voice boomed. "Nawthin', 'cept tuh look at yuh."
"To look at me!" Quick anger flushed Doc's sunken cheeks. "What do you mean? Why should you want to look at me?"
"Yuh's de king o' Morris Street, isn't yuh?"
"The king...! What sort of tomfoolery is this? I'm no such thing!"
The other was obdurate. "Dey tell me yuh is. Dey tell me dey's a mark aroun' dis neighborhood what dey calls Doc Turner's deadline an' does anyone inside o' dat mark cross yuh, yuh puts de evil eye on him an' he dies."
TURNER'S bushy gray mustache quirked with sudden amusement. There was a modicum of truth in what the fellow had so crudely phrased. The people of the slum where he had kept his pharmacy for more years than he cared to think were so helpless, so utterly friendless, so easy a prey to the wolves that fatten on the helpless poor that his solicitude for them had led him into many strange adventures, in the course of which some of the said wolves had perished. But—King! That was new! "I'm afraid 'they', whoever 'they' are, have been kidding you."
"Kiddin'!" A muscle in the black cheek twitched, and the lurid eyes were baleful. "White man! No'un dass kid Jacmel," his rumble dropped a note, "no'un dat knows de dahk powehs dat serve Jacmel. An' dose dat don't, dey learns."
"That's interesting." In spite of himself Doc was impressed. The man's bearing somehow denied his queer utterances as being bombast or empty brag. There was something... "I take it you are Jacmel. And what are those dark powers of which you speak?"
Jacmel's visage hardened. "Does yuh want to fin' out, Misteh Turner, yuh pokes yuhr nose down on Treeber Place. F'om now on dat's outside youah deadline. Remembeh dat. Outside youah deadline. An' inside Jacmel's. Does youah heah me?"
Doc's eyes narrowed. "Yes," he said, and his tone was deceptively mild. "Yes, I heard you. And now, Mr. Jacmel, I have something to say to you."
"Just this. That you, and your dark powers, can go straight to hell. Now get out of here." Still low, there was no defying the command in the little druggist's voice. "Get—out!"
For a long minute their eyes clashed, the huge Negro's and the frail, white-haired little druggist's. And it was the bigger man's that finally slid away. Jacmel turned, strode stiff-legged out. The door that had opened to the vicious thrust of his hand slammed shut. But in the silence that followed, it was the memory of another sound that remained with Doc, a sound that had rippled his skin with an odd repugnance. A low hiss seemed still to remain in the redolent air of the shop. A hiss that had come from the burlap bag that had writhed. A hiss that only one thing could have made.
"Now what," the slow words dripped from the old pharmacist's lips, "could have been the meaning of that?" For a long time he remained motionless, staring with narrowed lids at the door out of which his strange visitor had gone.
In a year, Treeber Place, a tumbledown alley near the waterfront, had seen the change that is the ultimate in the slow degradation of a city neighborhood. Into a decrepit shack, long untenanted, a brown-skinned family had moved. Another had come, and another. There are levels even in lowliness, the inevitable had happened, and now Treeber Place was abandoned to the colored.
Yes, there are levels in lowliness. The halting-tongued, penniless aliens of Morris Street looked down on those who had invaded Treeber Place. But to Doc Turner they also were human and as such he served them too, with the same courtesy, the same kindly consideration as he served all others.
Very quickly, the dwellers on Treeber Place had learned to trust Doc, to bring to him their worries, their naive, childlike troubles. And he had grown to enjoy the flash of their white teeth in his grimy old store, their rolling eyes, and their rollicking, irrepressible laughter. But of late they had laughed no more; worry had lowered in their limpid eyes, and their answers to his questions had been evasive, non-committal.
THERE had been rumors, queer whispered rumors of strange deaths in the alley, and... Rattle of the doorknob brought Doc out of his haze of thought, his eyes focused again, and his brow creased as he watched a shambling, shabby figure enter.
William Williams—they were all William Williams or Andrew Johnson or George Washington—twisted his tattered cap as he sidled toward the druggist as if he were ready to bolt out at the first inimical move. His eyes were wide, but furtive with a strange fear, and his lips quivered a bit. He dipped a little to Turner's hearty, "Hello, Williams," and his voice was thin, wire-edged.
"Has you got verbeny root," he piped, "and ellum bahk?"
"Yes. Yes, I think I have. But what do you want those things for?" Verbena is used in certain feminine troubles; elm, for coughs. The combination was puzzling.
Doc's casual question had a startling effect. The little Negro's face grayed. "Nev' min'," he choked. "Nev' min'," and started at a trot for the door.
"Wait," Doc called, and was around the end of the counter in a flash. "Wait!" He had hold of Williams' arm, had whirled him around to face him. "What's the matter with you? What's got you so scared?"
"I kain't tell whut dey's foh," the other wailed. "He tol' me—Oh Gawd!" Williams broke off, his free hand went to his mouth, and stark terror convulsed him. "Now I done it!"
Doc Turner's fingers dug into the arm he held. There was a clue here, if he could dig it out. He took a chance, "Who sent you for those thing? Was it—Jacmel?"
"Ooooh!" It was a startled howl. "Lemme go!" Williams jerked convulsively, his arm ripped from Turner's clutch and he fairly flung himself out of the store. "Ooooh!" his howl faded down the street. Then he was gone.
But Doc's question was answered. Jacmel had sent Williams for the herbs. Jacmel, self-styled king of Treeber Place. Why?
"Elm and verbena, verbena and elm. What in the name of..." Muttering to himself, the old druggist walked musingly into his back room. "Verbena and elm." A small shelf over his paper-strewn desk held books; his hand reached out, took down one dog-eared volume: Drugs and Herbs in Folklore. Doc riffled pages. "Verbena and elm. Here they are." He stopped, read a line. Read further, growing excitement mirrored in his eyes whose blue was faded, but whose look was still keen, piercing. "So that's it," he mumbled.
Doc closed the book with a thump. "By God," he said, "If that's what's going on in Treeber Place, I'm going to stop it, Jacmel or no Jacmel." He was out in the front again, was taking a blue carton from a dusty shelf. The letter across the front of that carton spelled Nastin's Coughex, but no one had bought a bottle of the nostrum in ten years. Nevertheless, the old man carried it to the show-window and placed it carefully next to a pile of sponges. Then he made his way to the back-room once more and busied himself with some mysterious operation that involved much grinding of powders and mixing of liquids.
After a while, feet thudded outside. "Hey Doc!" a fresh young voice called. The curtain in the archway between prescription- room and store proper was thrust aside, and the grinning, carrot- topped face of a burly youth was framed in the aperture. "What's up now?" The carton in the window was a signal, and it was promptly answered.
"Hello Jack! Get your flivver around; we're paying a visit to Treeber Place soon as I close up."
THE entrance to the alley was a dark slit between two tall tenements. "Williams lives at number six," Doc whispered to Jack Ransom as the youth's battered car coasted silently to a halt. "I'm going in to take a look at what's going on there, but I want you to stay here and wait for me."
"Aw Doc!..." Jack started to protest.
"Aw nothing. There isn't going to be any trouble, and two of us will attract attention while one won't. You stay in the car till I come back—all I'm going to do is have a look. I don't even know that there's anything really wrong, except for the queer way these people have been acting."
Jack subsided, still grumbling. Behind the tenements, wooden shanties leaned crazily and the air was foul with the stench of rotting garbage and unwashed bodies. The only light was that from the glow in the sky that was never absent over the city, and shadows lay heavily in the narrow passage. Doc's slight form was almost indistinguishable from the other shadows, except that it moved furtively to reach the third house on the left, paused there a moment, and crept up its steps. He reached the paint- peeled door, paused. From somewhere inside came the rumble of voices, a low whining that was somehow eloquent of pain and despair. Doc pressed against the drab boards, pushed them inward so slowly, so cautiously that the rusted hinges rasped almost inaudibly.
He was in the noisome hall. The voices were louder now, seemed to come from somewhere beneath. But the whining was straight ahead where a thin, vertical line of yellow light showed. The druggist moved toward it; a floor board creaked loudly and he froze. There was no change in the tone of the hidden voices, no halt in the lugubrious thin crying. He moved again. He was at the door that was edged with light and he was peering through its crack.
A palette of dirt-gray rags was the only furnishing of the room within. And on it—Doc's skin crawled. A week ago Mollie Williams had been in his store. Then she had been plump, sleekly black. Now she was lying on those rags, and her arm was a withered pipe-stem thing as she plucked at something with fleshless fingers and whined in a tenuous, unending monotone. Her face was queerly greenish, hollow-cheeked; dull, lackluster eyes lay deep in their sunken sockets. If ever the mark of death lay on a human being, it lay on her. But there was nothing, no disease in all the old druggist's experience, that could have stripped her of flesh till she was a living corpse in seven short days. In Heaven's name, he thought, what could it be that had wasted her so?
His eyes slid to that with which she played. It was a tiny bag of red flannel, tied with a draw-string. Mollie plucked it open, pulled things out of it, laid them in a row on the bedraggled coverlet. There was a pinch of black earth; a small, translucent crescent that might have been the paring of a nail. There was a tiny curl of black, kinky hair, a gray pebble, and a broken bit of gold. Queer things to carry in a bag. But the old man knew what those things were. In the jungles of Africa, naked savages carry bags like that. In the black mountains of Haiti, bent hags mumble through toothless gums as they fashion them. But here in the city where civilization has found its fullest flowering—what was a voodoo ouango doing here?
DOC TURNER'S scalp was suddenly a tight cap, and his mouth dust-dry. He knew now what ailed the people of Treeber Place, what inspired the fear in their eyes.
Mollie gathered the objects and stuffed them back in the red flannel. She tightened the draw-string, let the bag slip from her flaccid fingers. Her gesture told volumes. What is the use? it said. The ouango is powerless against a greater magic that is killing me.
Turner's fingers trembled on the door edge. The magic that was killing the woman was in her own mind, planted there by one skilled in the power of suggestion. If he could convince her—but that was impossible. As well try to convince the brook to run up-hill. Jacmel had merely played on superstition planted in the very germ-plasm of the race. A white man's words would be less than empty wind against that.
His lips were a straight, thin gash as he turned away. There was only one thing to do, only one way to save Mollie and whatever others were convinced a death-charm was laid against them. He must find... The current of his thought was suddenly checked as his groping feet thudded against a soft, yielding bulk that lay across the doorway through which he had entered.
Doc's breath hissed sharply, and he bent to that which blocked his path. It was dark, so dark that he could not see the thing. But he put out a hand and felt it, felt rough cloth, clammy skin. Felt a warm liquid that was sticky to his touch. Felt a gaping wound in a slashed neck. And Doc Turner knew, without seeing, that William Williams lay there, his throat slashed because he had said one word too much!
"God!" Doc whispered. "Good God..." A shadow leaped on him; he sensed rather than saw it. A cloth dropped over him, a thick, black pall that choked his single startled cry, that shut off sound and air, that tangled his arms, and legs as he threshed futilely against the clogging folds. Hands fumbled at the struggling bundle he had suddenly become; a rope tightened, and he was trussed, helpless.
Somewhere near, a deep voice boomed, and Doc felt himself lifted high in the air; felt himself thrown over a hard shoulder. He was jarred as his bearer moved, and descended, step by step, to the depths whence the mysterious murmur of voices had come. And even through the thick cloth, Doc heard the angry hiss of the snake that had writhed in Jacmel's bag.
That hiss rose more virulent as the old druggist was set none too gently on his feet and the enfolding black cloth was jerked from him. He blinked to the sudden light, his vision cleared, and he saw that he was in a low-roofed chamber whose floor of broken concrete and whose stone walls were dripping with dank moisture.
But he was not alone. By the radiance of a fire of twigs that burned at his feet, he saw a mass of black faces, eye-whites gleaming banefully. That was the background. Nearer, three stark- naked Negroes squatted on their haunches behind wooden cylinders on whose sides lewd images were painted in vivid colors and over whose tops membranes were tautly stretched. Behind him a long board rested on a trestle. It was covered by a white cloth on which rested a cone-like mound of white flour, a wooden bowl, and a long, cruel-edged knife. There was something else on that table, something alive, something that coiled and hissed. Virulently green, its triangular head raised, its forked tongue darting, a snake peered at him with tiny eyes, black and malevolent.
And Jacmel stood there—a Jacmel transformed. A scarlet robe cloaked him, his head was covered by a voluminous, scarlet turban. And awe-inspiring as he had been hours before in Doc's store, he was manifold more awesome now as he towered above the little pharmacist and glowered down at him.
THE Negro's voice boomed in the confined space. "Yuh have defied the wahning ah gave you, white man. An' the dark powers have delivered yuh unto mah han's. Prepah to meet youah fate."
Doc straightened, and once again his eyes clashed with the gloating eyes of the black man. "Be careful," he said, "what you do. Your dark powers won't help you against the city police, and they won't stop the juice, either, in a certain chair up the river."
The voodoo priest's lip curled scornfully. "Yuh is beyont de aid o' youah police. Yuh is in de realm o' Damballa, god o' the snake, an' Jacmel, papaloi o' Damballa, is de only ruleh heah."
"All that flummery has no effect on me." The pharmacist's old veins were congealed with the icy flow in them, inwardly he was aquiver, but his thin voice was steady, calm as though he were behind a counter in his store instead of in front of a sacrificial altar of the obeah. "I am known to have come here. If I do not return in another five minutes, the police will be called to raid this place."
Slow words dripped from Jacmel. "The police will not be called. Damballa takes care o' his own. Look, white man." He gestured. There was a stir in the watching crowd, it parted. And Doc could not repress a gasp as he saw, lying on the concrete at the further wall, bound by a veritable cocoon of rope, the flaccid, wan-faced form of Jack Ransom.
"Good God!" Turner's exclamation of consternation was a silent ejaculation within his brain. Outwardly not a muscle moved in his face except for a curious crinkling of the fine lines at his eye corners that almost was a smile. The dark powers Jacmel claimed to serve might have whispered a warning to him of the menace that tiny crinkling portended. But they did not, or he ignored the omen, for a chuckle of grim triumph heaved from his great chest and blubbed through his porcine lips. "How yuh like dat, King?"
DOC shrugged. "It doesn't matter, except that it compels me to call upon other forces than the police." His voice dropped a note, was husky, awesome. "Other forces greater than you have ever dreamed of, forces to which your dark powers are as the breeze in the trees to the mighty hurricane, the rippling of a brook to the vast roar of the sea." He half-turned to those whom he really was addressing, the dupes of the papaloi lining the shadowed wall of the basement like wavering black shadows in whose eyes the orange flicker of the fire showed only a savage frenzy. "Forces that will blast everyone here to perdition!"
A murmur rumbled around the semicircle of Negroes; their faces grayed. The old pharmacist's voice dropped lower still, and somehow his lonely figure, erect and indomitable in this urban cellar that might have been a cave in the Mountains of the Moon, was invested with a strange majesty and an uncanny threat. He turned fully around to the watching, tense Negroes. "You know me. You know that I do not lie. If you would save yourselves from the doom I can call upon you, drive this petty servant of a petty god from your midst! Banish him and his evil doings from among you." His arm lifted slowly as he spoke, till it pointed straight at Jacmel. "Or else..."
"Mussy. Have mussy upon us," a shrill-voice screamed. Little whimperings came from them, little whimperings of fear in dark throats. Fear crawled in limpid eyes. The crowd swayed forward...
And were rigid as full-bellied laughter roared from the voodoo priest! "Hoh," Jacmel bellowed. "Yuh speaks big but dis is de black man's haumfort an' youah white gods has no poweh heah. Dey is a line about dis place, a chain fohged by Hogou Feraille in de fiahs o' Zo, dat youah white fohces kin not pass." Huge as he was, his scarlet robe and the dim, wavering light of the twig fire made him a gigantic, fearsome apparition, an avatar of weird menace. "An' even now Damballa comes, heralded by Heviyoso's thundah."
On the last word, sound exploded in the dim basement, a devastating blast that pounded its hearers flat with almost physical force. It died in a rolling diminuendo, faded to an ominous whisper like the hiss of the green sergeant. This, too, subsided. There was an infinitely long instant of silence in which was audible only someone's quivering gasp of terror, and then a dull pound began. Low at first, just above the lower threshold of hearing, the measured pud rose louder, louder, till its barbaric rhythm thudded in Doc's skull, in his veins, in his whole shaken body and it was minutes before he realized that black hands moved on the heads of the rada drums in time to that awful beat.
The eyes of the drummers rolled to the measure of their drumming, white balls glittering with frenzy, and the cellar was filled with sound that in itself was incarnate fear. The Negroes whom a moment before he had almost wrested from the dominance of the papaloi twitched and swayed in time to that awful pounding, and suddenly an odor overlay the stench of sweat and unwashed bodies, a cloying, sickening odor of fresh-spilled blood.
"De hand-maiden O' Damballa," Jacmel droned, "prepahs de way for him."
SOMEONE screamed from the shadows; there was a swirl of movement, and a scarlet form hurtled out of the shadows. The drum-rhythm rattled faster, the figure whirled into the open space, was a vermillion vortex that pulled Doc's gaze into it with a strange, mind-enthralling hypnosis. The sudden halt of the drum-pound was a thunder-clap of silence; the dervish-dancer was suddenly rigid, the slender figure of a young woman, rigidly erect. Her scarlet robe swirled around her, swirled back and fell open, revealing a naked, ivory body whose belly muscles were taut, quivering, and whose rounded, hard-nippled breasts heaved to a strange ecstasy.
Feathery wing-flap pulled Turner's gaze upward, past twitching red lips, past eyes rolled up under long-lashed lids so that only their glazed whites showed, up along slender arms raised in cataleptic paralysis to where a white rooster squirmed and beat white wings against yellowed fingers that clutched it and writhed slowly upward to its throat. The scream of the terrified bird was almost human as those fingers reached its outstretched neck, clamped tight...
A venomous hissing filled the room. The snake—no, it was not the snake! The cheeks of the enraptured girl were rounded, were puffing in and out, in and out, like a pulsating bladder, and that virulent hiss was coming from her lips! She it was who was hissing, and the red tip of her tongue flickered between her lips like the forked-tongue of a snake.
"Ayida Ouedda," Jacmel thundered. "Sprinkle the path foh Damballa!"
The drums were pounding again in frenzy, and the priestess was whirling again, so that she was a hazed cone of scarlet, a pointed vermillion flame at whose apex the white bird was a globe of blanched light. Someone shouted, all the assembled blacks shouted, screamed in a hysteric mad ecstasy, and the drums rolled thunder through their maddened jungle shouting. Then suddenly the hands holding the bird flashed in a flicker of movement, and brown fingers twisted. The rooster's head was gone; from its headless neck, red blood spurted like a fountain, and Doc felt the blood rain down upon him, felt it on his face, his hands.
"Papa Damballa come to us," Jacmel shouted above the lunatic pound of the drums, the crazed shrieks of his frenzied sycophants. "Come to us, Papa Damballa, thut we may worship thou!"
The drums beat, and the Negroes screamed, and the priestess whirled while the blood of the sacrificed bird still spattered down and its wings fluttered as though its headless body were still alive. "Come to us," wild voices shouted. "Come to us, Papa Damballa!" And the papaloi bellowed in a booming antiphony, "Come to us, Papa Damballa, thut we may look upon youah face." The long knife was in his hands now, and he towered above the little druggist, and Doc Turner's white hair was red with spilled blood, his face smeared with it, and his taut, frail frame quivering with a nameless dread.
And suddenly that dread was nameless no longer as Jacmel gestured with his long knife, and movement surged in the shadows, and a huge Negro, his lips snarled back in bestial ferocity heaved into the light with a bundle on his shoulder and flung it on the floor beside the looming voodoo priest. Doc stared at that which lay on the floor, and saw that it was Jack, bound helpless, gagged, but with terror staring from his eyes; terror and a wild, hopeless appeal.
"Papa Damballa calls foh de goat without horns! Shall we gib to him?"
"Give him the goat without horns! Give him the goat!" It was the dancer whose thin voice shrieked the awful demand, still now so that Doc could see that her arms were blood-bathed, her face gory, and that a rivulet of blood ran down her columnar neck and down the hollow between her breasts. "Papa Damballa will not come withouten the goat."
"GIB Damballa de goat," a mad chorus shrieked, and drum- roll was an impassioned clamor for sacrifice. The priestess stooped suddenly, and a gesture of her hands swept the dead rooster across Jack's face, and Jack's face was a red smear. "I have marked de goat with the mark of Damballa", she screamed, straightening. "Papaloi, give the hornless goat to your master."
"Hoh, king?" Jacmel taunted. "Wheah ah youah fohces now?" His laugh was a demoniac, horrible thing in that reeking cloister. "Watch, white king, an' see how de black man's dahk powehs strick dose who defy dem. Fust dis one an' den yuh." He bent, his knife poised above Jack's strained throat. "Papa Damballa, take dis hornless goat foah eahnest o' our wohship." The keen blade jerked up.
"Stop!" Doc screamed, and sprang forward. His old hand grasped the steel's sharp edge, it seared his palm and blood spurted, dripped from its point. "Stop! You cannot do that."
Jacmel's face twisted to him, leered into his, and the Negro's fetid breath was hot in his nostrils. "Take dis blasphemer away," he grunted. "Take him away 'foh Damballa strikes all us wid his wrath."
Doc slapped at the contorted, sweating face, and the smack of his blow brought a groan from the concourse. Then black figures gripped his arms, black fingers steel strong ripped him from Jack and the dark killer. The knife-blade slid through his grasp, slashing his palm once again, and he was hauled to his feet, his straining frame futile between two wiry blacks that held him. Jacmel grinned ferociously, his eyes red now with the fires of primordial hate, and his thick lips mouthed slow, malevolent words. "Yuh won't escape, white man. Damballa himself will take youah soul w'en he comes at de smell o' dis lesser victum's blood."
"Hurry," the mamaloi shrieked. "Hurry, priest. Ayida Ouedda whispers that Damballa is tired an' will wait no longer for the hornless goat."
Jacmel jerked to her, "Yuh...!" He caught himself. "Yahs, priestess. Yuh tell Ayida Ouedda dat I's ahurryin'." He twisted back to Jack, raised his knife...
But Doc had caught the flicker of conflict between those two, the momentary revelation of mundane strife. And his brain was released from horror, from the spell of jungle hypnosis that had swayed it from its usual cold, clear thinking. "Don't!" He screamed. "Wait. Don't blast them yet, forces. They aren't all blood-guilty. Let me warn them." He wasn't talking to Jacmel, he was looking above and behind him, at some appalling presence only he could see, and he contrived to put horror into his voice.
His shout stayed Jacmel's hand momentarily, gave Doc the chance to continue. "My forces have broken through, Jacmel. They are here, they are here in this room, and if you move they will blast you and every dark-skinned person in this place with the searing fires of damnation."
So much of threat, of mysterious warning, had he managed that fear flared into the papaloi's eyes, and he glanced fearfully around. "Wheah?" he grunted. "Wheah ah dey?"
"Nowhere, you fool," the ivory-tinted woman screamed, and threw herself at the black man. "He's faking! Don't you see he's faking?" She snatched the knife, drove it down...
Doc jerked loose from his captors. They snatched at him but his hands had darted into the side pockets of his jacket, had come out in a single motion. One arm flung out; a puff of yellow powder streaked through the murk straight across the fire and into the woman's face. Instantly the air was aflame, her visage was a mask of yellow flame and the knife clattered to the ground as she screamed and clapped her hands to her eyes.
Doc whirled, gestured again, and flame sheathed Jacmel. Another flashing movement of the little pharmacist—and the rumble of the other Negroes was a tumult of terror as the little fire flared up in a great leaping flame that was green, a ghastly, glaring green.
NOW the little druggist's cry rose triumphantly over the clamor. "Wait, forces! Wait one moment. Give them a chance." He twisted to the tossing circle of panic that suddenly the votaries of voodoo had become. "My forces will have pity on you if you repent even now, but it's your last chance. What do you say?"
"Mussy!"—"Yes, we repent!"—"We'll drive 'em out."—"Don't blast us, please, Misteh Turner, don't blast us!"
"All right, then." The diminutive little man was a heroic figure in the spectral iridescence that had made the cellar a place of redoubled horror. "Untie my friend and tie up those others and my forces will forgive you. But hurry! Hurry!" His quivering words lashed them on. "My forces don't trust words, they trust only actions!"
They surged forward, avidly, at his command, green light dancing on their dark skins in spectral sparkles. They swept forward with the avidity of pure terror, seeing a way for release, and in their haste, they did not see that the yellow flame was gone from Jacmel's face and the woman's, that they were unhurt...
They were unhurt only for that instant. The dark tide swept over them. Doc's face went sick with the horror he had unleashed, and his stomach retched. But he could not stop them, no force on earth could stop them now. He could only stand and watch, and sway as a giddiness overtook him. He could only start to fall...
Then he could feel Jack's strong arm slide around his shoulders to support him, hear Jack's shaken voice in his ear. "God, Doc, let's get out of here. Let's get out quick before we both go nuts."
Treeber Place was dark as the blood-spattered white men scurried through it, scurried away from horror. "I'll call the police and tell them we were kidnapped by Jacmel and his woman," Doc panted. "That Williams tried to help us and was stabbed for his pains, and that the other boys found us and rescued us. That will cover them, and there won't be any more trouble there."
"No," Ransom grunted. "There won't be any more trouble in Treeber Place. But, in the name of all that's holy, Doc, what did you do to them? I swear I'm scared of you myself. Are you a magician as well as a druggist?"
They reached the red-headed lad's flivver. "No," Andrew Turner said wearily as he scrambled in and sank into the torn leather of the car seat. "No. No magician. Only a druggist."
"But the way the flames spurted in the voodoo confidence- artists' faces—and the green fire that blazed up. How...?"
"I thought perhaps I might get a chance to fight fire with fire. The yellow powder was lycopodium. It's very light and highly inflammable. The way I threw it, some fell in the fire as the rest hit the woman's face and Jacmel's, and the whole business caught and blazed a little. But it couldn't have done any real damage, it was just a flash."
"And the green?"
"A handful of copper nitrate crystals and more lycopodium. Nothing to it!"
"No? That's what you say! Might as well say there's nothing to Maxie Baer's punch, or Dizzy Dean's pitching. I wish I had some of that 'nothing' of Doc Turner's. It's the stuff of champions!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.