I was the only one linked by blood to Ou Balie Pickens, so Jeremiah called on me for hands-on assistance. It didn’t bother me, mainly because I wanted to support Gracie and Mary Margaret, but also because Jeremiah said my direct bloodline would make the process easier. “Rarely do we have real blood relations participating in such rituals,” he said. I saw he was ready to begin whatever it was they were planning to do. His eagerness was showing and so was mine.
“The timing has to be perfect,” he later said with a tone of reason. ‘‘The ‘dead time’ is at three in the morning for those who adhere to Christianity’s timeline. It is the time many believe the spirit world is most active and demons and ghosts are at their most powerful state. This is because 3:00 AM is considered the devil’s hour, as opposed to 3:00 PM, when Jesus was crucified. Jeremiah explained carefully about how the devil’s hour coincides with the Fajr, Islam’s first mandatory prayer time.
“In Arabic, ‘fajr’ means ‘dawn,’ and many who adhere to the Islamic faith believe this early morning prayer is God’s most favored prayer since only the most faithful believers are awake,” Jeremiah told me, and he made sure I listened carefully when he spoke.
I asked Jeremiah what time it would be in Kimberley, and he replied, “Four in the morning. And it must not begin one second late or last one second into the prayer time. You must be done before the 5:21 AM Fajr begins.”
“And we need the right kind of wood…struck by lightning or from a graveyard. We must have this wood two nights before the ritual.” Jeremiah calculated the days in his head. It was the Monday of Holy Week, so his next line made sense. “I will have to let the birds out on Wednesday, late afternoon. That will give us a nice thunderstorm and we’ll have time to find the right wood. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to walk down to the graveyard before midnight.”
When he said the word “graveyard,” I said a silent prayer for his birds to conjure up a nice thunderstorm, because I could not fathom going to the local cemetery with Jeremiah. He was scary enough, but in the dark, at midnight, in that dreadful place…I just couldn’t think about it.
I was still worried Wednesday evening when Gracie and I walked up to Jeremiah’s porch. There had been a terrible storm just after sunset, with heavy thunder and lightning strikes all over the sky. I was confident that a midnight walk to the cemetery would not be necessary. When we saw Jeremiah sitting on the front porch steps whittling something with a knife, my confidence was bolstered.
“What you got there, Mr. Jeremiah?” Gracie asked as we walked up to the gate but didn’t enter. “It’s a nice night for sitting outside, isn’t it?” she added. “That storm sure did cool off the place.”
“It’s a mighty nice night for whittling,” he looked up as he spoke and then returned to carving the strange-looking object. “I just got to have this old wooden doll finished by Friday, that’s all. But it won’t do you any harm. It’s just wood, good old lightning wood.”
“Is everything else okay, Mr. Jeremiah?” Gracie inquired further. I think she wanted to know, even more than I did, if he needed my assistance that night. When he remained quiet and kept working with his knife, we both felt it was safe to walk away. “Well, Mr. Jeremiah, I think we’ll be going on back home. You take care now.”
We’d walked about ten feet before he spoke again. “Actually, I do need some help with this doll. It needs a name.” We walked back to him.
The doll didn’t look like Ou Balie Pickens, but Jeremiah said it didn’t matter. “As long as we have something of his, we’ll be fine. Your blood will work,” he said to me as he made a small cut on the inner part of my right hand. Then he held my hand over the top of the doll, directly over the initials he’d carved there—TP. He wasn’t done until my blood covered every bit of the initials. I felt sick as I knew the deed was near. I felt resolve, too, as I knew a better life was coming in just a few more days.
When that was done, Jeremiah walked us to the gate. He told us to come back in two nights, just after sunset, and to bring Mary Margaret. Then he gave us our final instructions, and we knew to follow his directions without any change.
Gracie, Mary Margaret, and I went to church Friday afternoon, a tradition we would never miss on Good Friday. After the service, following our instructions, we stopped at Jeremiah’s shack just long enough to pick up the newly-carved doll. He was standing outside at the gate when we arrived. He had the wooden doll wrapped carefully in a kappa, or wool cloth, that Cape Malay Muslims often use in religious ceremonies.
“This cloth and the doll must be back here not a moment past the time allowed,” he said. “The cloth is blessed, so it must not be dirtied,” he added.
When I asked him whether he meant dirtied with blood, Jeremiah said, “Of course not. There will be no bloodshed.”
By the time we got home, Mary Margaret was fuming mad. Dutch Boer families held onto very few traditions from their homeland, but a tradition some in South Africa kept alive was that of having large outside fires on their private property. Depending on the supply of unused wood, the skies over the northern part of Kimberley, where most of the Dutch Boers lived, were either brightly lit by a mass of smaller fires or only a few larger ones appearing over the landscape.
Dark Friday, known by some as Good Friday, should be a day of somber grace and reflection on the Passion of Christ. However, some of the less learned took the opportunity to consume, carouse, and start early Easter fires. For some odd reason, Mary Margaret hated smoke, and that night she got plenty.
Once inside the house, we went into the kitchen, spread out the cloth, and held up the wooden doll. I looked again for a resemblance, but I still found none. The only thing I recognized were the carved letters “TP” that were now stained with dried blood. For a split second, a thought went through my head: “That is my blood on this wooden doll. It’s nothing but a hoodoo doll. What am I doing with a hoodoo doll?”
Then my questions faded and all I remember was looking at the clock and planning our next three hours. It was nine o’clock and Ou Balie Pickens would be back soon after ten. The dop shacks closed early for Good Friday, and I was sure he’d be extremely angry about that.
We used the next hour to follow precise steps with calculating skill. It was my job to place the wooden doll under his bed. I walked upstairs and into his bedroom quietly. I knew he wasn’t there, but I didn’t know what other monster might be hidden away in the dark. I placed the doll far under the bed, and then I pulled my hand out quickly because I feared the worst. Maybe even the doll would change sides and pull me under the bed to feast on.
Next, Gracie and I used a smudge stick downstairs to clean away any negative energy. Mary Margaret would have no part of it, and in fact, she stayed outside as we made our way around the rooms. Jeremiah had told us to use rosemary for the smoke. We had more than enough to go around and kept what was left in water in a vase on the kitchen table. After that, we’d been told to leave the door unlocked and leave the lights on outside the bedroom.
Then I remembered the scariest thing Jeremiah said to me, just as he handed the wooden doll to me. “It will take something of your pa’s, a neck chain, a watch…it has to be something he is attached to. It will take this and your pa’s body, nothing else. If it doesn’t take this item, it will not be able to control his soul. And we don’t want the wool cloth to be taken. That would be bad for everyone involved.”
Jeremiah told us to lock our bedroom doors and to keep the wool cloth with us. “Do not come out. I don’t care what you hear. Don’t be scared. It will not bother you unless it catches you wandering the house during the deed.” He didn’t have to give me these warnings. I was so scared, I could barely walk, and my hands trembled in anticipation.
I shivered in bed that night and nervously waited for the deed to begin. It started just about fifteen minutes after ten—when I heard the heavy footsteps on the front porch. Within seconds, I heard the door open—none of the usual wrestling with the door left unlocked; it simply swung open. Ou Balie Pickens must have been alarmed at first because it took some time before he finally stumbled inside.
If he were nervous, it certainly didn’t sound that way. I heard him singing, even from my bedroom. It was the sound I associated with his heavy drinking. The third time I heard the same song, I knew he was a slobbering dronkie. I continued to listen as he made his way upstairs and plopped down on the bed. Some mild snoring was followed by dead silence.
Voices coming from the other downstairs bedroom woke me deep in the night. They started as loud whispers, but then I heard a panic-stricken Gracie yell, “The boogieman! The boogieman! It’s at the door.”
This “it” was something I didn’t want to see or hear. I had all kinds of terrible visions; I visualized this horrendous “it,” looking first like the wooden dolls placed so carefully on the shelves at Jeremiah’s old shack or underneath Ou Balie Pickens’ bed. Then I imagined it shifting its shape into a sharp-toothed, long and dirty-nailed monster.
Mary Margaret shushed her. “We have to remember what Jeremiah told us. He said we’d be okay if we stayed in our rooms.” Then Mary Margaret called out for me. It seemed as though she were standing just outside the door; I heard her so clearly. “Anna, are you all right in there?”
When I answered, “Yes,” she repeated what she’d said to Gracie. “Just stay in your bedroom and you’ll be okay.” I remained quiet and listened as “it” walked up and down the hallway. The shadow showed clearly as it came to my door to test the lock. When it found the door locked, it stayed there a few minutes, maybe to think…or smell me out. The house grew quiet after that; I didn’t hear a sound from the other bedroom, the hallway, or upstairs. I think I heard the front door open just after the lights in the hallway went off. I looked at my watch and saw the time was 5:20. I never heard the door shut, so I stayed put in my room. The house was completely dark.
That next morning, the sun was brighter than I’d ever seen. Birds chirped outside my window, and bees and butterflies danced the daisies. I yelled out from my bed, “Gracie, Mary Margaret? Are you there? Are you okay?” But I didn’t hear a sound. I yelled out a second time and then a third time, but there was dead silence. Then my mind began to play games with me. “You’re all by yourself now,” I thought. It took them too. They’re gone. It is just your conscience left to take care of you…forever.”
Then I saw my bedroom doorknob move back and forth, ever so lightly. I cried out, “Who is that at my door? I want to know your name.” I felt relief when I heard the soft answer from Gracie. “It’s me and Mary Margaret. Unlock the door. Everything is okay. There’s no one else here.”
I left my room and joined Gracie and Mary Margaret. I guess we were all looking for signs—blood-stained walls, furniture thrown around, broken glass, body parts. But there was nothing to see, just the hallway, living room, and kitchen. Nothing had changed from the night before. Nothing changed except the still-open door that told us that whatever it was had gone, but it would come back if needed. It is eerie to see an open front door when you get up in the morning, almost as eerie as seeing one in the pitch black of the night.
The hairs on my arm stood straight up and stayed up as Mary Margaret outlined the clean-up duties. Again, we followed Jeremiah’s every instruction. “Anna, you were the one who put the wooden doll underneath the bed, and according to Jeremiah’s rule, you have to be the one to take it back.” Deep down, I’d hoped a miracle would happen and they’d be confused about this part of the clean-up. Or maybe the two would even forget it. But the miracle did not happen; everything seemed to be etched in their minds, just like mine. I glanced up those dark, wicked stairs and hoped—prayed—that Gracie or Mary Margaret would step up and do it for me. But that didn’t happen either. In fact, Gracie was the next to speak. “Anna, you will have to do this alone. Remember what Jeremiah told you. ‘You are the bloodline.’ You had to put it under the bed. You have to take it back.”
“But…” was all I could muster. What a weak response for someone who’d helped conjure a terrifying boogieman just hours before. I tried again to push my plea. “But I don’t like going upstairs. It’s scary up there. What if the boogieman is still up there? What if my pa is…?”
I know Gracie and Mary Margaret thought it odd that I would, out of nowhere, start calling him “Pa” again, but it felt right. I guess since he was no longer there, I thought I could call him whatever I wanted again. From that point on—now that I wouldn’t have to see him again—the respectful name “Pa” would work.
Gracie listened with absolute resolve, even though I saw the pain in her face as she pushed me towards that first step. “Anna, you have to go get it and take it back to Jeremiah alone. He told you this. You know you have to do it alone.” Then her motherly side came back for a few seconds, just enough to tell me the two of them would stay downstairs and wait. “Remember what Jeremiah said. You have to do this alone. We’ll be down here, at the bottom of the stairs. Nothing is going to happen. You’ll be fine.”
Knowing there was no hope, I made my way up the stairs. Mary Margaret told Gracie to go into my bedroom and get the wool cloth. Gracie made her way into my bedroom just as I entered my daddy’s room. We both neared the beds and reached under to take our prized possessions. I knew Gracie was thinking, “The only place she hides anything is under her bed.” She expected to see the wool cloth folded as nicely as she had left it on the kitchen table.
“You take the cloth, Anna, and put it away for the night,” she’d said. “It needs to be locked up and Mary Margaret’s scared to be around it.” I can imagine Gracie’s surprised look when she looked under the bed and discovered the wool cloth was not there. It was never there. I’d never put it there.
When I walked into my pa’s bedroom, it was so dark I could barely see. I opened the blinds to let some sun in, and then opened the windows to let air into the room. It smelled, not like death, but stale—as though the life had been sucked out of everything. As I slowly made my way to the bed, I looked around just as I’d done downstairs to check for some signal of a disturbance, some sign that my pa had put up an Afrikaner stand and fought until the end. There was none.
My mind was racing. “What am I going to find underneath the bed?” I wondered. But in some way, my mind was at ease. I remembered what Jeremiah had said. “The cloth must come back with the doll, and it must be on time. The cloth is blessed, so it must not be dirtied.” When I’d asked him whether he meant blood, Jeremiah had said, “Of course not. There will be no bloodshed.” That was all I needed to remember. As long as I didn’t see blood, I would be okay. A bloodless coup would be best for everyone. I checked anxiously and found the doll tucked under the bed, just as I had left it, except it was now drenched in blood, assumingly my daddy’s blood.
“There’s blood on my hands. There’s blood on my hands,” I yelled as I ran back downstairs. I had grabbed the bloody wooden doll before I knew what it was, before I knew what was happening. I remembered all the ritualistic requirements we had so carefully taken care of the night before. I remembered the instructions from Jeremiah and Gracie’s final order. “The cloth must come back with the doll on time. The cloth is blessed so it must not be dirtied. You take the cloth, Anna, and put it away for the night. It needs to be locked up and Mary Margaret’s scared to be around it. The cloth must come back with the doll on time. The cloth is blessed so it must not be dirtied. You take the cloth, Anna, and put it away for the night....”
When I made it to the bottom of the stairs, still yelling about the blood on my hands, Gracie was back from my bedroom, also yelling. “Where is the wool cloth, Anna? Where is the wool cloth?”
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