Sean Bracken: Sacrifice

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By Sean Bracken

Bullfrogs croaking out their love songs after last night’s thunderstorm disturbed the silence of the bayou. The heat of the morning sun awoke thousands of butterflies. They swarmed in multicoloured kaleidoscopes all around me, as my little dingy putt, putt, putted its way through the still water, shattering the reflection of tall Cypress trees swathed in Spanish Moss in its wake. 

After a lifetime of running away, I was coming home. Forty years ago I had abandoned this place. A place of mystery and legend, a place of Creole magic and superstition. I had escaped into the world. A world of science, a world of facts and reality.

The Gods of Creole and Voodoo, even the Christian God were gone. My God became the God of Science, the God of Fact, the God of Truth. I was a born again realist. I was converted.

Working two and sometimes three jobs, I graduated from CalTec with a degree in Astrophysics and earned my Ph. D. from a thesis on time/space distortion from Trinity College. 

My life was perfect. I was devoted to two things, my research, and my beautiful daughter Tasha.

Tasha was conceived after a once off, drunken, encounter at a campus party. Her mother wanted an abortion, but after many nights of argument, debate and many, many tears, she agreed to carry the baby to full term and allow me to adopt her. I suppose the generous donation I made to her bank account helped her to change her mind.

Last year during a routine visit to her doctor, Tasha discovered that she had breast cancer. A month short of her twenty-fifth birthday, all of her ambitions, her future, her life had been stolen away from her.

I kept my faith in my God of Science. I trusted Him. I believed in Him. I knew that my God would find a cure. My God was real.

Months passed. Months immersed in chemotherapy, radiation therapy, drugs, pain killers, morphine. My angel faded away from me. Her radiant mane of blonde hair became wisps of tumbleweed clinging to an emaciated skull. Her beautiful body reduced to a fragile, skeletal memory of who she once had been.

My God had abandoned me. I had devoted my life to Him. Now, when I needed Him most, He had no answers, no solutions, no salvation.

Just as He deserted me, I deserted Him. And so here I was, a desperate man, doing desperate things, coming home, back to the faith of my ancestors.

I was searching for Mama Doc Duprince, a mythical memory from my childhood.

Born and raised in a corrugated tin roof shack with five brothers and four sisters, life here had been harsh. Our shack stood in the middle of a wilderness of poverty, surrounded by a community of fierce independent swamp people. All eking out an existence from fishing and hunting, distilling moonshine, speaking French and playing Cajun music.

Hidden and isolated, these people, filled with mistrust of the outside world, believed in ancient Gods, ancient rituals and long-forgotten traditions and fables.

Abandoned by my God, perhaps the ancient Gods could save my Tasha. I had to find Mama Doc.

Some primeval instinct, an inner mental compass, guided me through the labyrinth of side waters and back channels. Other than the throb of my outboard there was nothing but silence and shadows, disturbed only by the occasional ripple of a gator looking for a meal and glimpses of Kingfishers perched on overhanging branches. 

The old dingy carried me through a narrow stretch of water; overhead the treetops merged into a solid green blanket, obscuring the sunlight, turning day to night. The channel arced gently to the left. Ahead, I could see flickers of light calling me forward. The boat burst out from the shadows into a broad expanse of crystal clear water. I had to shield my eyes from the intense sunlight. As my sight adjusted, I spotted an island rising up maybe a hundred feet above the water’s surface.

In all my years of living in the swamp, I had never seen an island like this. It looked as if it belonged in some tropical resort, not here in the bayou. It was covered in lush vegetation, with tall palm trees fringing a shingle shoreline.

I pushed on the throttle and raced my boat towards the shore. I beached my craft and secured it to a tree trunk. I knew that this was the place. The place where I’d find Mama Doc.

I followed a narrow trail up from the beach, through the forest. The farther I penetrated into the island the quieter it got. The sound of birdsong and chirping insects faded into the background. Before long I was walking in total silence.

The silence was broken by the sound of falling water. I followed the sound and stumbled into a small clearing. The clearing wrapped around a small lake, fed at one end by a fifty-foot-high waterfall. At the far end, the pond fed a small stream that meandered downhill towards the bayou.

My throat was dry and my lips were cracked from thirst. I greedily slurped down litres of the cool, fresh liquid, until my thirst was sated. Then leaving my clothes at the forest edge, I entered the water naked. It felt so good, to wash off the dirt and grime of days of exploration.

I swam towards the falls cascading down the cliff face. As I stepped into the falls, I realised that there was a gap behind the falling water. On the far side, there were rough-hewn steps carved into the cliff face and leading up to a cavern, about halfway from the top.

The ascent was wet and treacherous; one false step and I would surely fall to my death. I reached the top safely and stepped into the grotto. It was lit by hundreds of candles. At the far end of the cave, Mama Doc knelt before a low altar, carved from the cavern floor. I had expected an old crone, some wizened hag. Mama Doc was none of these. She was young and majestic. She stood at least six feet tall, her naked, athletic body lean and lithe. Her oiled ebony skin glistened and shimmered in the candlelight.

She called to me. “Jaques DuBois, welcome. Come sit before me.”

I approached her, acutely aware of my own nakedness, and taking in the exquisite beauty of her body. I became aroused and used my hands to cover my shame.

Mama Doc smiled at me and pulled my hands away.

“No need for shame here in this temple, Jaques. It is only you and I and all things natural.”

“How do you know my name?” I asked.

Come now, Jaques, I know all there is to know in the bayou. I know you deserted our ways many years ago, but now you are back looking for our help.”

“Can you help me, Mama Doc? Will you save my Tasha?”

“Yes, I will help you. But, be warned you will pay a very heavy price for this magic.”

Mama Doc ordered me to lie down on the altar. She then offered me a potion to drink.

“This is Ayahuasca. It will help you on your journey. Your body will reject it. Do not allow yourself to be sick. You must hold the Ayahuasca within you until it begins its magic.”

I swallowed the foul liquid in one gulp. My stomach reacted against it and I had an overwhelming urge to vomit. I fought the urge and forced myself to keep the potion down.

My head began to spin; the cave walls moved in and out. In an instant, I was sitting in a green meadow with Tasha. We had a picnic spread out on a blanket. Two golden horses grazed on the grass beside us. We mounted our ponies and began to gallop bareback across the meadow. I reached out my hand to Tasha and she took my hand in hers. Together we raced across fields and pastures. Hand in hand, the steady rhythm of our mounts was intoxicating. My spirit soared and carried Tasha with it, as the steady cadence of the horses carried us on into infinity.

I felt a pull on my soul and suddenly I was drawn back to the grotto. The rhythm of my horse was in fact the rhythm of Mama Doc as she sat astride me, moving as though to the beat of a distant drum that only she could hear. She moved faster and faster until her dance was over and she collapsed onto me.

“This is your first payment, Jaques. I now carry your baby, a girl. You will never see this child, you will never speak of this child. She will stay with me and in time will become the new Mama Doc. You have given a life to me. Now I must give a life to you, Tasha’s life. Return to her, embrace her, hold her hand, as you did in the dream. You will exchange spirits. Tasha will live, but you will take on her pain, you will suffer. In order to succeed, you must accept this burden with a willing heart. Do you accept, Jaques?”

“I do, with a willing and loving heart.”

Three days later, I was back at Tasha’s bedside. The doctors called it a miracle. Tasha went into full remission. I was overjoyed to see her body grow strong and healthy again. I have no fear or regrets. Day by day, as Tasha grows strong, I become weak. As she becomes healthy, I become sick. Before long I will become bedridden and, soon after that, I will say goodbye to this life. The price is worth what it is, a price I’m happy to pay.

The End

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