by Fox Spender
To save his boy from an illness Jack Wilson deals with Ol' Scratch at the Crossroads.
|I sit alone in my bedroom as I light up a cigarette. I hear hounds howling at the moon wanting, begging for some fresh meat. I know that the fresh meat they want is mine. I know because them hounds ain’t just your average hound dog. They’re hellhounds and they wanna collect a debt I owe. My life.
I never thought that I would ever be desperate enough to go through with any deal I were to make with Ol’ Scratch. It’s ironic that the people who think they’d never fall have a nasty tendency to fall the hardest. But I did get that desperate and now I’m one of those poor souls bound straight for Hell and as of right now I don’t regret it one bit. Fate sure does have a sardonic sense of humor.
See, it all started about ten years ago. I was at work. I play my raggedy old slide guitar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Now, there were a couple problems with this. Ten years ago in 1942 all the blues guitarists in the state were already going electric. So, ain’t nobody was interested in good old country blues like they used to be.
Even worse was that even less people were really appreciative of the fact that I’m a white man playing this here guitar. The other white people could never understand why I dug black people music. They wanted me to be some yodeling cowboy. And black people thought that I was playing out of mockery of them. This was the deep south after all.
That being the case it was hardly a way to support my little boy and me. I could barely get enough for groceries half the time. Even then somehow we found a way to survive and we kept moving along little by little. Besides I was able to be there for him in other ways and I was able be a loving father that was always around for Bobby. I know that counts for something, maybe not a whole hell of a lot, but some little thing.
But that one afternoon something was different. It was about two o’clock when I felt it in my gut. Every once in a while a soul will get one of them eerie premonitions you always hear about in ghost stories you hear around the campfire. Stupid me. As if it was nothing, I just shrugged it off thinking it was just my imagination. Not that it would really make much difference in the big scheme of things anyway.
Finally I looked at my watch. 4:52. I reckoned nobody would come along and dish big cash anymore by this time so I packed up my guitar and headed back to my little old shack. Wanted to make some red beans and rice for Bobby. Boy did he love that dish. He always said that I made the best beans in rice in the whole wide world. With that being said, I loved to make my son that dish. Gratitude is such a precious thing.
But as I took the bus to the outskirts of town that premonition I had only grew stronger and stronger.
I knew that when I got home something will be wrong. What it was going to be I did not have a clue. But that anxiety made a half hour bus ride seem like an eternity of misery. There ain’t no other way to explain it. I looked at all of the other people on that bus with them big fat blank faces on their faces that were completely oblivious to anything related to pain. Talk about feeling all alone.
As the bus ride kept dragging on I was praying to the good Lord that everything will be alright when I finally made it home that night. But I kept feeling weird, as if he was saying it don’t always work that way, Jack. I guess that killed me a bit right there.
Luckily the bus stopped right near my little house, not even a block away. I was able to run home so fast you would’ve done reckoned that Jack the Ripper was on my heels at the moment. I even rushed past the mailman to whom I always greet. I even have the occasional conversation with him. When he saw me run faster than a racehorse he done figured to leave me the hell alone.
But once I got to my property I could only stare at it. It was just some raggedy shack where this poor schmuck lived with his wonderful son. I always kept up the yard as best as I could. But even then it was in a decrepit part of town. The wood was rotting like a corpse in a coffin. Even then it was my home.
I just stood there in front of my little shack of mine fearful of what I might discover once I walk inside. It took me a minute or two just to light up a cigarette. After finishing the entire cigarette I walked slowly to the door to the place.
It’s funny how you can be so determined to find something out until you get to the point to where you get to actually find out. At that moment you get paralyzed with fear. I had my hand on that doorknob for what seemed like hours. Finally I turned the knob and walked in. I called for Bobby. After waiting a few moments expecting him to come running to his old man. But there wasn’t no response! No response whatsoever…
Something was wrong…
I immediately ran to my little boy’s room! Chills were running up and down my spine! I rushed inside to see my poor Bobby sleeping in his little bed. I sighed in relief as I stared at him. I lit up a cigarette and I went to sit on his bed just to watch him sleep. A tear rolled down my face in relief figuring that the premonition was just a crazy old cracker being paranoid.
Finally I decided to wake the kid up. I couldn’t take it. I was so relieved that my boy was alright that I wanted to hold that six year old Godsend. When I did wake him up I learned that my assumption that everything was right in the world was wrong. Dead wrong. It was when my worst nightmares came true.
When Bobby woke up he was weak. His eyes could barely open. My senses were more in sync with my surroundings. I was paying attention to them and my little boy was breathing too hard for his own good. I smiled a sad smile as I looked into his eyes. He could barely get out the words “Hi Papa,” out of his mouth. And if Bobby was anything it was talkative. The kid was sick.
“Hey Boy. How ya doing?” I asked. If I knew my own son like I assumed I did then that little boy was gonna give me a real understatement.
“Kinda heated up Papa,” he said. I gave the poor kid a small chuckle halfheartedly. I did indeed appreciate his whole attitude in dealing with the situation. Especially since I was too weak emotionally to have the same grit that Bobby did.
I took a drag of my cigarette and I felt my poor boy’s head. Before my hand even made contact I could feel the heat of a favor coming from him. I made the contact and my miserable boy’s temperature was hotter than hell. I can only stare at him. He ain’t never been sick in his life and we were to poor. I couldn’t afford no medicine for him.
I just watched my precious son lay down. As weak as he was he saw the concern in my eyes. He kept trying get me to tell him why I was so sad. But I just wanted to watch him. As he asked me for a third time, I noticed something.
I said, “Hush now. Everything’s sure to be alright, Boy.” As I said that, he was shaking with chills. I had to turn my eyes away. ‘Cause if you ever see somebody you love in that position it makes you feel like a voodoo doll being stabbed with needles in every direction.
“Lay yourself down, Child. I gotta make a quick phone call, ya hear?” I told Bobby. Weakly he nodded his head when I done told him.
Quickly I rushed on down to the kitchen. I had to call the doctor. My little boy was sick and I didn’t have no idea on how to proceed. As I got to the telephone I kept fumbling it because I was so panicky. Finally I got myself a firm grip on the damn thing and I was able to make the phone call.
The phone rang and rang and rang. When you’re in a panic like that seconds do indeed seem like eons. It is such a horrible feeling. After what seemed to have been ages the other line picked up. “Dr. Devaux’s office. How may I help you?” said this squeaky voiced lady.
“This is Jack Wilson! My little boy, he has pneumonia. Get Dr. Devaux down here right quick!” I done nearly hollered at the poor little lady. Even then she had heard the desperation in my voice.
“Hold on please while I get the doctor,” she said. Once spoken she put me on hold. The silence as I was waiting seemed to drag like a horse trying pull my little old shack. It was killing me every second I couldn’t be with my son.
Finally that mouse lady picked up the phone. “Sir? Did you say your name was Jack Wilson?”
“Well, I talked to Dr. Devaux and he said that he can stop by around 8:30 tonight,” she said.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” My tone was polite but so much less than cheerful. I put the phone back on the receiver and I finished up my cigarette. I stared at the door to Bobby’s room and once again I became paralyzed. I was paralyzed with worry and dread. I was praying to the lord Jesus that my baby boy would be healed from this horrible sickness.
I eventually made back into little Bobby’s room and I sat at the corner of the bed. He looked sad as he gazed into my eyes. “Why did run out Papa?” he asked weakly. I could only stare at him.
“Hush now,” I told. “I had to call that doctor. You don’t look too good there, Boy.”
“When is he coming?” he asked.
“I reckon any time now,” I’ve done told him as I hoped for sooner rather than later.
I got a warm wet rag and rinsed it out. As I was doing so I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. They were tears that dropped into the sink blurring with the rinsed water from the rag. This just couldn’t be happening.
Wiping away the tears from my eyes I headed back to my little boy and laid the rag on his forehead.
I looked down at my watch. It said “8:30.” The doctor should be here any minute. As I was thinking that I heard the doorbell ring. I quickly headed over there to greet the doctor. I got the door and waved the man inside with such desperation that not even he wanted to spend time with formalities.
“Thank you for coming, Dr. Devaux,” I said with all of the gratitude I could scrounge up at that moment. “Bobby’s come down with something and I reckon it’s pneumonia.”
“Where’s the boy now?” asked the doctor understanding how worried I was about my son.
“He’s in his room. He was sleeping ever since I got home,” I informed the good doctor. “I was barely able to greet him when I got in.”
“Wait here while I go figure out exactly what’s going on,” said Dr. Devaux nearly running to Bobby’s room.
As I waited in the living room I walked back and forth pacing with nervous anxiety. With every single sound my nerves were getting shot. I noticed everything.
It’s strange how the moments where you should mourn you can only fear the future. Them sounds just reinforced that strange idea like a Bela Lugosi film. The drip-drip dripping of the water faucet that can’t get shut off all way…
The tick-tock tocking of that rusty old clock that I have in my living room…
1The wind wailing like a banshee straight from Hell outside my rusty old shack…
See the reason why I was scared was because Bobby’s mother Clarice died two years before poor Bobby got infected with pneumonia. My darling Clarice… she was drinking hard and driving fast. I was raised an orphan and I ain’t never knew what a family was before I had met Clarice. Her and Bobby were my world. And there ain’t no way I could have survived without both of them.
Finally the doctor came out of Bobby’s room. My eyes bulged with the vague hope of good news. I rushed over to him grabbing him by his coat with desperation written all over my face. “Tell me some good news,” I said. “Anything. As long as there’s hope for Bobby, Dr. Devaux.”
He just shook his head in regret, as that man looked me straight in the eye. “I’m not gonna beat around the bush. Bobby has pneumonia and there’s nothing that I’m able to do, Jack. It’s too far already. I never knew it to be this damn quick.”
I heard that and I just about broke down. A few tears dropped down from my eyes. As he broke that horrifying news to me I feebly went to my pocket to get myself a smoke. I tried to light that damn thing with a match but every time I tried to bring the flame to the cancer stick I couldn’t hold my hand still enough to make contact. I was so shaky.
The doctor saw how I was struggling to light up so he politely held out his cigarette lighter. I nodded weakly with whatever gratitude I was able to muster up at that moment. He acknowledged my weak gesture. “I’m so sorry, Jack.”
“Yeah…” I said. I couldn’t even get a complete thought out of my mind. Other than that this wasn’t a natural sickness.
“What are you gonna do?” he asked. I ain’t never seen a doctor have such compassion for us poor folk. And I still ain’t if that time was any different.
“I reckon there ain’t much I can do,” I told the doctor. “I figure I’m not gonna get any more help. Ya know I ain’t got no insurance as it is.”
I was on the verge of a complete breakdown. I had already done lost my wife and now I was about to lose my son? I couldn’t see no point in living. There had to be some other way to keep my boy alive just to see him become a man. I would sell my soul to the devil himself if I have. I can’t bear to lose my entire family.
Then I started thinking about something. It was a legend I heard one time as a child in Mississippi. It was about a man who done sold his soul at the crossroads to the devil. I’ve done heard so many variations. Sometimes it wasn’t even a crossroads but rather an eerie old cemetery during the witching hour.
My eyes bulged out at the sinister revelation that I had. I turned towards Dr. Devaux with the crazed look of a mad man. As I stared at him with those eyes of insanity the poor doctor backed up a bit not really sure what he should do at this point.
“Whatcha got planned, Jack?” he asked. The way he asked that question it was easy to tell he was hesitant about hearing the answer.
“I’m goin’ to see Bones Ledet,” I told him with such authority he wasn’t going to be questioning the state of my mind no matter how crazy I seemed to him. “I’m gonna call my brother Ben come down right this second so I can go see Bones right now.”
“By this point Jack, you should even give some mojo a shot,” he done told me. “You do whatever you can for your little boy. Y’hear?”
I nodded as I went for my phone. God, I was hoping beyond hope that Ben would pick up.
The phone was immediately picked up by Ben. Ben’s a good Christian man. He loves the Lord Jesus with his very being. In fact I wish I was more like him. Especially after I’ve done put my foot down with that sinister decision I had made that horrible night.
“Yeah?” Ben said in a manner that was straight to the point. He may be a man of God but he’ll never take no crap from anybody.
“Ben? It’s Jack. You gotta get over here right quick,” I said.
“I can assure you that it’s an urgent matter.” I was talking so rapidly that my words were coming out faster than a cheetah.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It’s Bobby. He came down with pneumonia.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone line… One long pause. Oh Lord, please keep the talk alive. “Ben? You there?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m on my way.”
“Thank you ever so much!” I just about hollered to Ben on the other line. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had burst the poor man’s eardrums.
“Don’t mention it, Jack. You gonna be there too?” he asked.
Should I tell him what I was thinking?
Let’s see. I’m going to go to some conjure man to meet the devil at the crossroads so I can sell my soul to him? The truth can wait. “I’m gonna run down to the pharmacy when you get here,” I said. “I have to try something, don’t I?” I done said to him.
“You sure do, boy.”
“I’ll see you when you arrive,” I said.
With that we both hung up the telephone. I turned to the good doctor. I done told him “Right or wrong, I’m gonna see my little boy alive once again.
He nodded at my words knowing exactly what I was talking about. He was the one who told me that chilling tale about that man who sold his soul to the devil. And with such a strong peace coming from him I done figured that he was supportive of my decision.
“You go out there and you do what you need to do, Mr. Wilson,” he said to me.
“Thank you,” I replied. “I will call you when there’s any news with my boy.”
I shook his hand and he done excused himself from my humble little shack. Luckily the wait for my brother didn’t take nearly as much time as the time spent waiting for Dr. Devaux arrive. Seeing my brother at that moment I felt a love that he ain’t showed me in years.
I grabbed him and I hugged him, as brothers should. He looked into my eyes and saw how distraught I was becoming over the dire situation. He lit up his corncob pie and he sat down on the couch.
“How’s the kid?” he asked point blank.
“He has pneumonia bad,” I told him. “And it don’t look like there’s any coming out of it.”
“Wait here with him while I go get some medicine. I don’t know how long I’ll be so I reckon I’ll be a while,” I said as I took a seat myself. “I’ve done put him to bed already so you ain’t gotta worry about much in that department.”
“You’re heading to a conjure man ain’t you?” he asked. It was a point blank question. If somebody jumps around a subject I won’t volunteer any information. If someone asks me a point blank question I can’t lie to them.
“Yeah,” I done told him. “I wanna see if he knows the ritual to summon Papa Legba.”
“That sure is a dangerous situation you’re putting yourself in,” he warned. “Ain’t no reversing a deal like that. At least not that I’ve heard of.”
I looked him straight in the eye. I made sure to lean closer to him so he can hear me. “I will do anything short of pulling a trigger to see my little boy alive,” I told him. “You hear me?”
He stood up and pushed the strange idea aside with his gesture. “It’s a bunch of hogwash anyway,” he retorted. “You really think that some witch doctor’s gonna throw some juju hands to summon the devil?”
“Well,” I explained, “I can sure try. Because right now I’ll try anything. The doc said there wasn’t a chance in hell for Bobby to survive. It was so rapid that somebody crossed him. So if I have to call on Ol’ Scratch for some strong mojo, you can bet your life I will.”
“There ain’t no changing that mind in your thick skull is there?” he asked. I shook my head. “Well there ain’t much of a choice for me is there?”
“There’s always a choice,” I said. “I will take him to the hospital in the morning and run my errand after that. But I could really use your help, Ben.”
Ben took a few puffs on his pipe as he studied me. I could see how curious he was about my strange behavior towards the situation. But what I couldn’t figure out is what he saw in me in that moment. Was it the fear of losing Booby? The sorrow of his fatal illness? The rage of feeling helpless at not being able to count on anybody not supernatural?
As I look back on that strange night it was all those things and a lot more. He also saw a man willing to sacrifice the most personal gift of his soul to save his most precious son. Perhaps he admired that quality.
As I grabbed my raggedy old guitar that was lying near the front door I turned and pleaded with my brother by the use of my eyes. I put my hand on the doorknob for a few moments waiting to see what he was going to do but he didn’t do nothing. I started to turn the knob and waited some more. And finally he started to speak. “Well ya better git going,” he said. “Good Ol’ Scratch ain’t someone you wanna keep waiting.”
I gave him a slight smile as I swung the door open. I tipped my fedora to him as I said, “Thank you. Take care of my baby boy, y’hear?”
“You’re boy will be well taken care of. Now git,” he said with a warm smile. I waved and ran out the door. With my guitar in hand I headed towards the French Quarter. Now, I brought my strings because legend says that Papa Legba likes to hear the blues.
Turns out that it’s the truth.
Finally I got to Ge Rouge street. That’s where Bone Ledet’s little mojo shop was. It wasn’t the most interesting looking place on the outside. From there it seemed like Bones only sold herbs and spices. But whoever has even heard of the infamous Bones Ledet knew that those spices were for more than making tasty food.
I walked up to the door and lit a cigarette before entering. I was kind of nervous stepping inside an actual mojo shop.
When I was a little bitty boy I walked by a real old voodoo shop. I tugged my mama’s purse and asked her what it was. She picked me up and closed my eyes turning away from there. “It ain’t nothing good,” she said. “Ain’t nobody has any business messing around with that devil work.”
Ever since that moment I was terrified to go in any mojo store. However as terrified as I was I was also a very curious child. Even at that young age my mind wandered about all of the root work I would find. I guess I was expecting all of this demonic décor like horns and flames and the likes with a huge shrine dedicated to the horrible works of Lucifer and what not.
But it wasn’t quite like that. Now don’t you get me wrong here. Even though they didn’t have any signs that said, “Bow to Satan,” there was still a very strange sensation I had received from that place. It was like a feeling that warned me not to play with fire. The only problem I had with that feeling was that I was so desperate to save my son that for once I really didn’t care.
I took a drag of my cigarette and I went inside. There were indeed all of these strange decorations on the wall like a gator skull and fresh bones dangling on strings from the ceiling. I was as intrigued as I was frightful of going somewhere that I didn’t want to go. But then again when you’re desperate you really would go to any lengths.
There were all these strange African items that gave my soul hot and cold running chills such as all those mummified shrunken heads and voodoo dolls. The gruesome way they were presented can only be described as divinely decedent. Some eerie blues music echoed throughout the little shop.
The one thing I was thankful for when it comes to most voodoo shops were that they were open late at night. But this was the shop that belonged to Bones Ledet. Even people who don’t know nothing about laying some mojo know about him. They call him the Shadow Man. They say that he was a Creole root-worker who studied the black arts all around the world. Even knows a little something about oriental magic.
I heard some voices that weren’t very discreet about issues that should be extremely discreet. Apparently he had a female friend with him. I called for Monsieur Ledet and the two companions got up and straightened out their composure.
“Over here,” he said with a thick Creole accent. “I wasn’t expecting no one, Mon Ami.”
I headed towards the back from where the voice was coming from. As I got closer I smelt the odor of a Cuban cigar. And I finally saw the Shadow Man (didn’t pay much attention to the dame). He had the power of the devil in his eyes. With a raggedy gray tweed suit and a necklace of gator teeth, he done made up his face like a skeleton.
“What can I do for you, Monsieur Blanche?” he asked me as he blew smoke from his nostrils. A strange mischievous smile was appearing on his face with his stares.
“It’s my son,” I done told him. “He’s sick and it sure don’t look good.”
“Poor thing,” he said. “I pray for him. Now, if you please. Bon voyage. I have a lady with me.”
“But,” I pleaded, “I need your help. You’re the Shadow Man. I need some mojo. Your special mojo.”
The girl just started rolling her eyes. “I better get some extra dough for the time this cracker’s taking up.” She just kept staring at her client. In return Mr. Ledet was getting agitated at the prostitute.
“Shut up,” he said to her and he turned back towards me. “I am sure that you can find another mojo shop that can do what you ask.”
I wasn’t taking too kindly to his light brush offs. This was my entire livelihood. I was wondering if I still had my switchblade knife. I searched for it and I just gave those two a death glare. “I’m not leaving until I get some help.” I finally felt the handle to my weapon of choice.
But before I needed to pull out and threaten the broad he pushed her away, and he saw how serious I was. He shoved a twenty under the broad’s bra and told her to git.
She just stared at him. Boy, if looks could kill that poor guy would have been hacked up to a thousand little pieces. “I ain’t going nowhere,” she said. “Y’hear? Now maybe if you were to throw another twenty in my pocket I might be willing to move along.”
That’s when Bones turned and looked that snappy broad straight in the eyes. That mischievous smile that he had from earlier switched into the sinister cousin called malevolence. He himself pulled out a switchblade of his own and held it to her face as he grabbed her by the hair pushing her head back.
“Mon Cher,” he said sadistically. The fear in her eyes was so strong that I could hear her own heartbeat from the other side of the room. “Your pimp won’t like it none if anything were to happen to that pretty face of yours, will he?”
She shook her head with tears of terror. “No sir.”
“The beating you’d get would make you wish I would cut you again, Oui?” suggested Ledet. She nodded unable to speak she was so scared. “Well, why don’t you get outta here?”
All the poor broad could do was stare at Bones as she was paralyzed with fear. Finally due to the Shadow Man putting a good amount pressure under her chin with the blade she nodded weakly from the strong hold he had on her. Once he let go, the scared whore made sure to get out of their as fast as she could possibly go.
The moment she left Bones turned back toward face me, any smiles that were on his face a moment ago fading into a stern look. “So,” he said. “You really won’t leave, will you?”
“No sir,” I said. “I ain’t gonna leave this shop until I know my son’s gonna live.”
Taking a drag of his cigarette longer than a Catholic mass he looked me down real good studying how serious I was. And
finally he spoke up. “So what makes my mojo better than anybody else’s?”
I leaned in getting into his face with a sinister cool. It was a strange feeling. I was always either really hot headed or too shy to speak what’s on my mind. I’ve done gave the man a wry smile. “You are the great Bones Ledet,” I said. “It was you who had lead Robert Johnson to the Crossroads to meet Papa Legba. So now I need to meet him myself.”
“Now I ain’t heard that name since 1936,” he done said to me. “He was damn good guitar player, Mon Ami.”
“Now do we have a deal?”
“How much do you have on you?” he asked.
“I have a hundred on me,” I said to him. “And I will get you whatever you want, Monsieur Ledet.”
“How did you get that kind money this day in age, Blanche?” he asked. “You get all that playing that rusty old guitar you have with you?”
“Over two weeks’ worth of playing,” I said. “Ain’t no soul here likes a white boy playing no blues.”
“Touché,” he said. “That’d be plenty. You gonna need a photo of yourself. You have that in your wallet?”
“Yes Sir,” I said. “It’s of me and my boy.”
“Magnifiqué,” he said. “That works even better. Now if you excuse me, I have to bring out a few items for you.”
He went towards this door that I didn’t even see due to all of the clutter in that place. I waited in anticipation ecstatic about the items. I was going to see my little boy live! I couldn’t get the joyous thought out of my head. I didn’t want to get them out of there.
Finally he came out of the “hidden” door with a few and I was utterly intrigued by what he had in his hand. He was carrying a cutting board with a freshly dead chicken under one arm and a butcher knife in the other hand. He must have seen how curious I was about those strange items that he chuckled when he saw my face.
“Ol’ Scratch can’t be called without a chicken foot,” he explained. “In fact most of the more complicated hoodoo don’t work without it, Mon Ami. Anyway, if there ain’t no doctor that fix your boy you were probably crossed. Not your boy.” I nodded as I heard this information.
As he said explained that to me, he laid the cutting board on the counter and threw the bird on top of that. He held the bird down real good and hacked the foot off. I cringed.
“Did you really have to do that in front of me?” I inquired with a sour look on my face. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to know the answer to my question.
“No,” he said chuckling. “It’s just fun to see the look on my customers’ face when I do.” After finishing what I assumed to be a sadistic statement he burst out laughing. As he laughed I realized that I should not have asked M. Ledet.
Still chuckling he was scrounging around the back of the counter looking for some something. Not wanting to tempt my fate’s ability to sicken a man I didn’t bother to ask him what he was looking for, as I would usually do. So I just waited for him to turn towards me once more.
He found a red cloth bag that he put with the chicken leg. Then he went down to look through the shelves under the counter. While I waited for him I was paying attention to the blues song that he had playing in the background. It was a piece that sent chills up and down my spine. The narrator found his lover in bed with his brother.
Instead of shooting them down like a country song, he laid some mojo on them. Within a week they died through the sinister use of conjuring some dark magic. It described in detail the two victims coughing up needles and pins. I was sure glad that I wasn’t one of the victims. Even then the victims were so evil to the narrator that they deserved what they got.
Finally he got back up and threw your ever-loving dog a bone. A cat bone. And he gave me one mischievous smile as he made a similar comment.
“How good you play that thing, Blanche?” he asked as he pointed to my guitar.
“Well enough,” I replied.
“Well go down to a cross roads. It don’t matter which one. And you go bury these items and say a prayer to God,” he instructed. “Once you do that you play your heart out. You don’t stop until you see a tall man walking up to you. He’ll be using a cane because he limps.”
“Will that be Papa Legba?” I asked.
I looked around and then I turned to face him. I then slapped my one hundred dollars onto the counter. And so I looked into his eyes holding out my hand. He looked at me good and then he smiled taking my hand to shake it. “Thank you, M. Ledet. I have no clue how I am supposed to pay you back.”
He chuckled as he swiped the cash from the counter. He looked at the money and then back at me. “I have my money,” he said. “As long as I can survive.”
As I grabbed my new goodies along with my six string and bid farewell to the Shadow Man, a strange feeling had come over me.
It was a complete lack of peace.
Now I remember when I was a little tyke how my mama had always told me and my brother ben that if we ain’t got no peace about doing something that we shouldn’t even bother doing it. Now it was good advice. However, I must take after my mama more so than I do my father. I say this because as I grew up I realized that my mama always told me these things because she had a hard time with doing what’s right by our good Lord’s eyes herself.
Now I love my mama with all my heart but this was something that at the time I felt that I needed to do. I bet she was turning in her casket disappointed by my decision but I just couldn’t bear losing my child as well as my wife. So I went down to the crossroads.
Once I got there I looked around. It was sure a fitting place to bargain with a devil. On one of the eerie four corners there was a graveyard, a New Orleans graveyard. Now that means that the graves themselves are above ground. This is due to New Orleans being above the ocean or something like that. I never quite understood that myself. Across the chilling place of death was a bar. The cold wind and the fog didn’t help none either.
I done buried those items that I had received from the Shadow Man and I said my prayer. “Oh Lord,” I prayer. “Save me from my own evil that I have inside my heart. Amen.”
And I started playing my old six string. I played a lament I reckon the more musically educated people would have called it, because the more I played the harder it was avoiding balling my eyeballs out. I played and I played. I must have played for about an hour of lamenting blues riffs and I felt like an idiot.
I was even about to leave due to the rain that was starting to come in ready to wait it out in the bar. But I was sure glad I didn’t.
Almost instantly the light rain stopped. Now something like that don’t happen in the deep south. Hell, it don’t even stay light, but rather it gets heavier and heavier. When it rains in these region of the states it pour like it ain’t nobody’s business.
That’s when I knew that the mojo was good mojo. Because I saw a tall man walking towards me and he sure walked with a limp and a cane too. I saw some smoke coming out of a pipe as he moved closer and closer to my direction. I laid down my guitar and I lit myself a cigarette.
Finally I made it towards him and he smiled. “Now,” he said. “That was some mighty fine guitar playing I heard. Was that from you boy?” I nodded. “Now what could a respectful Jesus loving Churchgoer want with an old devil like me?”
“It’s about my little boy,” I explained. “He’s come down with pneumonia. He’s gonna die if I don’t do something. I’m pleading here Mr. Legba. I’ll do anything.”
“What do ya got?” He asked.
“I have a soul,” I threw on the table. “A God fearing soul like you just said.”
He gave me a smile as if he was amused by what I said. As if I told that creep some kind of joke. I wasn’t really sure if I liked this guy. I was getting kind of edgy by this point. So I threw my old guitar on the ground, crossed my arms and I stared into his cold gray eyes. “Now what’s so funny?”
“I ain’t Mephistopheles boy,” he laughed. “I ain’t in the soul business.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. This guy was one kook. He was making me agitated and confused.
“You ever hear of Robert Johnson?” he asked curiously. I nodded.
“Well, I was the one who made the deal with him. And he kept his soul well after he croaked.”
“Then what are you interested in? What was the deal with Johnson?”
“You see,” he started out. “I want to have the final word here on God’s beautiful green Earth. I have a favorite number. I don’t know why I like it. I just do. It’s the number 27. That’s how old he was when he kicked the can. And if you change your mind on going along with this deal you’ll see a few folks die at such a horribly young stage.”
“But I’m already 35,” I inquired. “How could that one number possibly have any effect on me?”
“I also have a another number I’m fond of,” he shared. “The number 10. I’ll give 10 more long and happy years with your boy.”
“After those ten years what will happen to me?” I asked.
He pondered how to break to me lightly but after a moment he decided to just spit it out and he had a sadistic smile on his face all the while. “Well,” he said. “I can’t decide whether you go to Heaven or Hell but I can definitely have a say on when you die. And if you accept the deal then you will have ten years until the very moment we seal the deal.”
I thought about this for a moment. Ultimately I’ll be putting the same thing on my boy that fate put on me. Will it really be worth it? Am I unwittingly doing all of this mumbo jumbo for my own selfish reasons? For those next ten years I would be living on borrowed time.
But I had to be honest with myself. I really didn’t care if I was being selfish. I was getting weary of all the crap that’s been fed to me and my little boy. I was growing tired and pessimistic about life in general. Besides I done summoned Old Scratch to see me already. Okay, Jack. There ain’t no turning back now. Time to go forward. But first things first.
“Before I go and seal the deal how will I die?” I asked.
“Hell hounds,” he answered. “Hell hounds will be on your trail sniffing for your debt, Boy.”
“Either way,” I pondered. “By that time I might as well be dead. How do we seal the deal?”
He smiled as he pulled out a switchblade knife and flicked it open. “See, this is my favorite part.” Upon saying that he held out his free hand in front of him. Papa Legba took the blade and slashed his palm open. He then handed the knife to me.
“Like a pact made by Blood Brothers?” I inquired and he nodded.
“Then we shake on it?” Another nod. “Well, here goes nothing.” I took that knife and I sliced my own palm open and I held it out towards Papa Legba and he took it. Boy, does that devil have one hell of a grip.
He laughed a sinister grip as he shook my hand. There was something extremely unsettling about that laugh of his. It was so unsettling that I couldn’t help but bring it up. That’s when he looked at me as if I messed up his poker game. “Boy! Don’t you get it?” he practically hollered that little statement at me.
“I may be a sneaky little Devil but I ain’t Lucifer. I ain’t no demon. Period. Hell, I ain’t even in league with any of them. Especially not Satan!”
I shrugged kind of confused about a devil not being a demon. “Um… okay…” I said not sure how to reply. “Anyway, are in accord?”
“Go home,” he said. “See your baby boy, Jack.”
I turned my head back towards my way home and then I went back to face Papa Legba. “My son will be alright, then?” I asked, almost pleaded. He nodded. “Then I reckon that I will be seeing you in ten years when all of them hell hounds come for my debt.”
“Good luck, Jackie Boy,” he said to me. Once he did I ran like a bat out of Hell to get back home. I was so nervous. I wanted to see my baby boy. I wanted to make sure that deal with Ol’ Scratch really did work. I was crying out to the good Lord hoping beyond hope that little Bobbie would be alright.
I called a cab immediately to take me straight to my house. The seconds seemed like minutes and the minutes seemed like hours. My nerves were so shook up that I was smoking like a chimney.
The waiting in anticipation was agony. I was dying to get home. No pun intended. I kept stomping my foot in impatience waiting for my ride I had just flagged. Finally after what seemed like hours that taxi finally came through. I done nearly ripped the door off the cab. I gave him my address. I had to repeat it a few times slowly I was talking so fast.
I ultimately made it home rather quickly. It took about 15 minutes but it utterly felt like an eternity. I rushed inside and I saw my brother Ben on the couch. He was passed out. Dead to the world. I looked at the clock. It was 12:30. I was pondering whether I should wake him or not. I decided not to. I was just too antsy. I had to check on my boy.
I went to his room and I saw the poor guy asleep. I was listening for trouble breathing while he was in his slumber. But there was none. Fearing what I might find I walked slowly over to where he lay and I knelt down. I just held my hands under my chin staring at him fearful that the deal was just a horrible sickening joke.
I lit up a cigarette, took a drag and held my hand over his forehead. I wanted so badly just to feel his forehead but at that second I dared not. I didn’t want this deal to be nothing more than a dream. But then again how in the world would I know if it worked or not?
Finally I couldn’t resist anymore. I just had to find out whether that deal I made was just a figment of my active imagination. I needed to know with certainty. I pressed the back of my hand against his forehead. It was warm but not hot. Okay so that was a good sign. I stared at his shoulders to see if there was any shivers. No. Another good sign. I decided to wake my kid up.
Slowly he awoke just as a sleepy Ben entered the room. I turned and smiled weakly at him and then we both turned toward my son. “Hey Pa,” he said. I wasn’t able to tell if it was just a sleepy voice or his sick voice.
“Hey,” I said. “You feeling any better, Boy?”
“Yes Sir,” he said. He was finally waking up. That’s when I knew Bobby was gonna be just fine. “Just sort of tired. What the doctor say?”
I chuckled slightly knowing full well that ain’t no doctor had nothing to do with this. “He said you’re gonna be just fine, Son.”
After that I just grabbed my son and held him tight. I never wanted to let him go. I had my baby boy back for good. Ben came in right then and it ended up being perhaps the longest group hug in recorded human history. Ain’t none of us wanted to leave that spot. I can’t recall a time when I personally felt such relief. Together we felt like we could make it through anything that comes our way…
And for ten whole long years it was exactly that way. But that was ten years ago and now it’s time for me to pay my vicious debt to Papa Legba. I hear them hell hounds wanting me. And they have every right to call upon me to clear my debt. I was the one who summoned Old Scratch. It wasn’t no doings of anybody else’s.
I hear the hounds howling at the moon waiting for my blood and I smirk. Bobby is out with his girlfriend. I was so relieved when I heard that he had one. Hopefully they would get married and have kids one day. Either way he has someone who could help him cope with whatever happens tonight besides his Uncle Ben.
The years I had with the boy were good but they went by a lot faster than I was expecting. So hearing all them hell hounds howling and growling I can’t help but feel that impending doom you always hear about in them creepy pulp magazines. Still I was the one who summoned that strange devil. I gotta pay him his dues.
Maybe whoever is reading this here yarn can find my other notebook and find out how I summoned Baron Samedi to help me get revenge on whoever crossed me. But either way, them hell hounds are close…
I hear scratching at my door…
There they are…
Everything is fading to black…