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The Myrtles Plantation
By Frances Kermeen
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Frances Kermeen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe idea that I would one day be the owner of the house considered by many to be the most haunted house in the United States had never entered my mind-not in my wildest dreams, or darkest nightmares. We never sought out such a place. It was almost as if the house had somehow selected us.
Looking back now, I realize that my destiny, or fate, as you would have it, the road that would take me to the most memorable and frightening days and nights of my life, began on the captivating and mysterious island of Haiti.
I arrived in Cap Haitien, Haiti, with my boyfriend, Jim Meyers, aboard a pristine white cruise ship that sailed out of Miami. The mysterious land of voodoo, Haiti has always captivated me. Voodoo, the practice of worshiping spirits and placing curses, originated in West Africa, but in the eighteenth century it moved across the Atlantic with those of its unfortunate inhabitants who were sold in Haiti as slaves. "Haiti" is an Indian word that means "high lands," and the lush, mountainous island of Hispaniola is one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean.
Feelings of fun, adventure, and romance permeated the sea air as we prepared to dock in Haiti, the last port on our itinerary, having previously explored the exotic nightlife of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and ascended the Dunnes Waterfall in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, during our romantic seven-night cruise. We had scoured the shore tour offerings the night before we arrived and found the following offerings: 1) a tour of a famous Haitian rum factory that offered thirty flavors of rum (and free samples of all thirty!); 2) a shopping excursion down the main street of the quaint village, where one could become immersed in a world of wood carvings, straw crafts, colorful Haitian art, and brightly colored clothing; or 3) a burro ride deep into the Haitian jungles, to the Caribbean's most famous monument, the Citadelle, passing primitive voodoo tribes and exotic vegetation along the way. Perched high atop a steep mountain, this extraordinary fortress was built in the early 1800s to defend against any possible French invasion. Twenty thousand people were ordered to construct the massive, towering structure, and thousands of them died in the process. This third option was the one that captured our interest.
Once on shore in Haiti, Jim and I were led to a rickety old bus, where we were joined by a few other adventurous passengers who had chosen this exotic call of the wild over that of intoxication or shopping. The old coach chugged, burped, and backfired its way along the bumpy roads of town, barely missing a few of the locals, who quickly jumped or dived out of the way of the hell-bound vehicle. It veered off the main road, following a harrowing, twisted dirt road, finally depositing us at a small rustic camp. Waiting there was a motley group of burros, outfitted only with faded wool blankets and ropes. I looked over at Jim, wondering how I would ever manage not to fall off. Jim shrugged, and after three embarrassing attempts to hoist me aboard, finally managed to successfully situate me on an animal before mounting his own.
At last we were off, and I held on for dear life as our native guide led us, bouncing and swaying, down a dirt road. I was hardly a vision of my childhood idol, Annie Oakley, but my spirits still soared. Anyone could walk down the main street of town, trying on some silly big straw hat, but this was an adventure-something to remember.
As we traveled deeper into the jungle, we came upon a row of primitive huts made of mud, grass, and twigs. Inside, ebony women dressed in colorful print wraps were singing as they swept their dirt floors, or leaning in their open doorways to study our little group. Other women passed us on the road, balancing large grass baskets or clay jugs on their heads. Some of them paused as we passed, whispering and giggling among themselves, before sauntering off on their bare feet. They seemed friendly enough, but I could not help but detect looks of concern on some of their faces. Maybe they were afraid we would suffer sunstroke, or get lost in the jungle before returning to the safety of the large white vessel that brought us to their island.
I suddenly realized that I hadn't seen many men. Other than one old gentleman sporting a long white beard, sitting under a tree, smoking the nub of a well-used cigar, we had seen no men in this little tribal village. Perhaps they were off tending fields, stalking wild pigs, or enjoying lazy siestas in the deep cool of the forest. We were soon to find out.
As we continued deeper into the jungle the trees and knotted vines nearly consumed the path, and we began to hear voices drifting through the bushes-scary, garbled voices. I looked to our guide for assurance, and although he offered none, he didn't seem too worried. The voices grew louder and more intense as we came upon a clearing, where patches of sunlight fought through the thick canopy of vegetation to reveal about twenty-five scantily clad men stomping and dancing feverishly in a circle. They wore nothing but loincloths and heavy necklaces made of shells and bones, their bronze bodies glistening with sweat. Their faces were smeared with paint, making them look angry and scary, and they danced zealously round and round in a circle, some shaking primitive rattles made of unknown gris-gris, others waving long bones (animal bones, I hoped), chanting in a strange tongue. The longer it went on, the more wild and uninhibited they became.
Focused on their ritual, I was relieved that they did not seem to notice us.
"What you are observing is a sacred voodoo ceremony," the guide whispered. "It's something few outsiders ever witness."
I had a strange feeling we were seeing something not meant to be seen, and I began to wish that we were shopping back in the marketplace, or delightfully tipsy at the rum factory. The event was spellbinding, however, and wanting to capture the moment to show my friends, the "tourist" in me took control, and I reached for my camera. Big mistake!
As the camera's flash illuminated the festivities in harsh white light, the attention of the dancers was suddenly drawn to me, and all their heads turned my way in that instant. Suddenly they were all lunging toward me! My legs turned to jelly and I clung tightly to my burro as I quickly found myself surrounded by the manic performers. I sat frozen, paralyzed. Luckily, our guide, maintaining his composure, grabbed for my animal's rope and quickly led me away. The voodoo warriors followed, still shaking tightly clenched fists and shouting unfriendly, unrecognizable words until they finally dropped away behind us and disappeared back into the jungle.
My heart was pounding so hard I'm sure you could have seen it through my blouse. "You okay, honey?" Jim whispered.
I quickly nodded my head "yes." Jim was such a sweetheart. I knew he would rather be at the rum factory, but he had chosen to join me in the primordial jungle. We had been dating for three years, living together the last two. Although we were very different, with my interests leaning toward architecture, history, and antiques, and his toward beer and sports, we were very much in love. Jim was my Luke Spencer and I was his Laura. His resemblance to Anthony Geary was so remarkable that when Geary curled his straight blond hair, Jim followed suit. We rode a long way in silence before I dared to speak.
"What happened?" I asked the guide. "They put a curse on you," he answered. "Why?"
"Because you took their picture. According to their beliefs, you were stealing their souls."
When we arrived back at the camp, both my head and my fanny were throbbing. I quickly slipped the camera out of my pocket, took out the tainted film, pulled and twisted it into a ball, and quickly tossed it like a hot potato into the nearest trashcan.
Excerpted from The Myrtles Plantation by Frances Kermeen Copyright © 2005 by Frances Kermeen. Excerpted by permission.
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