The drums beat insistently, throbbing through the hot night. The muscular native pulled Laura away toward the door.
“Laura!” I couldn’t get through the packed dancers, so I leaned over the corner of the deck rail to see if I could climb down that way. Moonlight sifted through the leaves. Laura and her partner threaded a path away from the shack.
“She don stop now.” A high, slurred voice next to my ear.
The boy was thin and gangly, around fourteen. He was trying for cool, lids drooping over big dark eyes. “Dey goes secret place. My brother Dwayne.”
“He looks strong.”
“You bet he bad. No body mess wi’ Dwayne.”
“Does he always bring you here with him?”
“Nuh.” He spat. “Say too young. Huh!” He gave me a sly look. “I hears bout you, study on dem ol’ rock. Me, I knows some ting big. You come?”
He was already squirming down the side of the deck.
“Hold on!” I hurried to catch up, slithering down the bank below the deck, grabbing branches and shrubs. He didn’t slow down. Cursing, I stumbled in the dark across a steep rockslide, heading in the opposite direction from Laura and his brother. Ahead, the boy plunged into the deeper shadow of trees. I trailed his white T-shirt’s ghostly glimmer through the maze of trunks.
Breaking into an opening, he squirmed without pause up a nearly vertical rock face. He waved me up. It wasn’t as bad as it looked, volcanic rock giving a good grip for my running shoes.
I crawled over the lip, looking out through a gap in the trees. Silver light spilled down the steep fall of leaves, mirrored moon sailing the dark surface of the cove below. The breeze carried a flower scent.
The boy’s hushed voice, close to my ear, “Dis power spot way back. Look.”
I followed his pointing finger to the top of the rocky outcrop. “Oh!”
My guide crossed his arms over his chest.
I knelt to examine the worn carvings in the stone, tracing the grooves with a finger. Two figures, one like a peach with an inverted stem that branched into two circles within the larger circle. The second was almost effaced, a curve with wiggly lines raying.
“These are terrific. Thank you.” I looked up. “I don’t know your name.”
“Samuel.” He crouched beside me.
“What do they mean? Why do you call this a power spot?”
He shrugged, scraped at the rock with a twig.
“They’ve been here a long time, Samuel. Maybe a thousand years ago your African ancestors sailed their reed boats here and carved them. There’s power in that. Is that what you mean?”
He snorted. “Don’ know dat stuff.” His eyes glinted as he looked from the carvings to me. “You feels it. Old herb-lady, Granny, she say you hang ouanga-bag near dem rock, make strong med’cine.” He glanced around edgily, couldn’t resist showing off. “See.” He pulled a leather thong from under his loose T-shirt. A lumpy little cloth bag hung from it.
I reached out to touch it, but he yanked it away and stuffed it back inside his shirt. He looked around again. I could smell his sweat. He caught the tip of his tongue between his teeth and reached out to run his hand over my hair.
I moved back slightly. “That’s not what this place is for.”
He narrowed his eyes and tried to look tough. He was still holding the bag through his shirt. “Dis my secret place. I be strong like Dwayne, he say womans likes it.”
“The right one will.”
He gnawed his lip and shot me an appealing look. He started to speak, then froze. His eyes widened. Breath hissing sharply, he scrambled backwards, skidding down the rock. He bolted away into the dark.
I twisted around. Pale eyes burned in the night.
My heart lurched. Moonlight shimmered over the rock, and the figure on the stone glittered silver within sharply shadowed outlines. The eyes pinned me.
*sharp sweat, panting breaths as my/his thin dark arms launch us down the rock face, scrambling, fleeing through the night the trees our hand grips the ouanga-bag. “Mama Loa! Gimme guard, Granny,” we run but the eyes follow shadow beast howling gloating.
A knife slashes, crimson flood and his eyes go blank. The boy’s lifeless face turns to me, glassy eyes mirroring the moon. Limbs moving stiffly, puppet dance grotesque cemetery dance his arm jerks, finger points the way flesh melting to the bone, the skeletal hand points over the edge. I follow, staring into the abyss*
I crouched on the rock like a rabbit hypnotized in headlights, arms and legs gone stone, fused with the boulder. I stared into those cold, glowing eyes, atavistic power throbbing behind them, pulling me down to merge with the dark heart of the island.
Shadowy shapes inside the rock whispered seductive secrets, voices washing through me with contempt for mortal life. I stopped breathing. I didn’t need air any more. The voices drew me deeper, molten stone lapping over me, flowing into my lungs.
I choked and gasped, sucking in a harsh breath. Tearing my gaze from the carving, I forced my heavy arms to push, propel me slithering over the boulder into a heap at the bottom. Scrambling through the trees, I made it to the rockfall and picked my way across it.
Music throbbed on inside the party-house. Heaving myself up the bank onto the dirt yard, I saw Laura gesturing angrily at an evasive Samuel.
He shot me a guilty glance, stared at his shoes.
“It’s all right, Samuel.”
He melted into the night.
Laura turned on me. “Jesus, look at you! What did you do, crawl back? What the hell were you doing?”
I looked down at the dirt smeared over jeans and shirt, then produced a feeble smile. “Research.”
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