David left the book in the hands of Ezra and rode his horse north of town, meaning to pay another visit to Tabitha. He reached the little house in the heat of noon. Silence was all that greeted him when he knocked on the door. He looked around the hollowed-out grove of trees, but found no evidence of the voodoo woman. Deciding that she must have left on some errand, or to meet with some group of slaves for guidance, David saddled up and made to depart.
He paused as he saw, a half-mile down the wide lane, a man sitting astride a horse wearing a wide-brimmed hat. As he watched, the figure turned and went north, quickly disappearing over a hill. David shook off the sense of unease by checking the cap on his musket. After a minute of watching the empty road, he put his musket back into the tied thong of his saddle and turned himself south.
He pushed the horse into a trot and pulled off his hat as he entered a low canopy of oaks, now in full leaf and sighing lightly. The spring breeze cooled his face, and found himself smiling.
David was pulled out of his thoughts and saw Ben laying down on a tussock under a twisted oak, his gap-tooth smile shining in the shade. Beside him was the blonde-headed Walter, another older boy David knew to be a do-nothing, though unlike Ben he didn’t have the excuse of a dead father to justify his delinquency. He had a cheap pipe stuck in his teeth and puffed on it quickly.
David nodded to them. “Ben. Walt. What’s the good word?”
“Ain’t no good word,” Ben said with a chuckle.
“What’s the bad word, then?”
“Shit of course,” Walter said.
“What you doing out this way?” Ben said.
“Nothing much,” David said. He considered lying, but figured that the worst of the village boys wouldn’t care about his errand. “I was looking for Tabitha. Either of you seen her?”
“Saw her yesterday,” Walter said. “Saw her all over.” Walter and Ben laughed. “You looking for a lay from a niggur, Davey?”
“Certainly not, this is strictly business,” David said. “As much as you can have business with a Black voodoo practitioner.”
“He’s gotta be looking for a lay,” Ben said to Walter. “He’s all about Ezzy, and she’s not gonna give our boy here so much as a peck and a peek.”
“Damnit, Ben! Do you know where she is?” David said.
Ben laughed, then straightened his face. “Haven’t seen her since yesterday, but we went home before dark. She was going out that way.” Ben pointed away to the southeast, where the path branched off where lay both the Smith plantation and the Piney Woods proper. “She wasn’t looking too happy. Like you. Stressed like. You need a nip?” Ben held up a jar of nearly clear whiskey.
“Don’t share the shine with a goody,” Walter said.
“Ain’t a goody if he needs a nip,” Ben said. “Ain’t a goody if he’s looking for Tabby, neither. Besides, he’s never done me no wrong.”
“Nor you me,” David said. “And don’t think I lack appreciate of that.” David reached in his pocket and tossed two pennies to Ben. “That’ll buy you another bit of tobacco. If you run into Tabitha, tell her David Smith has urgent matters. She’ll find a way to contact me, I’m sure.”
“Told you,” Walter said. He took a drink from the bottle.
David found Ezra behind the post, underneath a gnarled live oak, holding the tome that Michael had given him. She looked up at him as he approached, but he was disappointed to see her not smile.
“Where did you get this?” Ezra asked. A crease in her brow deepened as she flipped through the pages.
“Michael gave it to me,” David said. “Scratch that. It belonged to an uncle that passed on. He collected books like that.”
“Was he an occultist?”
“What does that mean?” David said.
Ezra sighed. She pushed her hair out of her face and leaned against her knees. “It means you search for hidden knowledge. Spells and magic. Demons. Things that are usually forbidden… because they are dangerous, or even evil. In short, don’t take this book to church.”
“Did you learn anything?” David said.
“I learned a lot about you and your brother,” Ezra said.
David felt a heat around his collar and knew he was blushing. “I was just… the dream was so real. Should we have done nothing?”
“You could have talked to a minister, but,” Ezra turned another page. “I think you would have just been back to these books. Look at this.” She pointed to a page that was blank except for a title in large printed font.
“A Manuel for Piercing the Lies of the Demiurge,” David read aloud. “What does that mean?”
“I think that’s the title page.”
“I thought it was called Black Sabbat. And that’s in the middle of the book.”
“There’s not much point to hidden knowledge if you print the real content on the front cover, now is there?” Ezra said. “Here’s what I think I’ve figured out. I think this is a book of technique, but of course each technique is incomplete as presented, and they are all out of order. I think if we figured out the pattern we could reconstruct what the techniques were.”
“Spells, maybe. Whoever wrote it used the word technique.” She flipped a few pages over and showed another page, printed in an old black-letter font that reminded David of one of the old bibles from the chapel.
“Looks like something actually,” David said. “Maybe that’s the forward, or introduction.”
“That’s what I think,” Ezra said. “Oh, there is also this.” She produced a mirror from her leather bag and flipped to a page that had backwards writing. “Read this.”
David re-positioned the book to see it better in the mirror. “What you see is not what is, and what is, is not seen. Interesting that such a bit would be readable with a mirror. The rest looks like Latin.”
“Yes, well, we’ll have to do a bit of learning to figure that bit out,” Ezra said.
“My mother knows Latin,” David said.
“So does my father,” Ezra said. “Should we take this to them?”
“I suppose not,” David said. “But I do have a textbook. At least, I would guess there is one somewhere at my house.”
Ezra sighed. “I don’t know if we should get any further into this book, David.”
“I don’t see the harm, honestly,” David said. “If it has spells, we just don’t have to say them, right? Don’t you have to actually do something to cast a spell.”
“I really don’t know,” Ezra said. “But I do think that nobody who was writing down something beneficent would do so backwards and in a dead language.”
David nodded, then gave a start as Ezra looked over his shoulder. Just past the post office two men rode up on horses. Both were dressed plainly, but one had the look of a half-indian, tall and bald, and the other was a scruffy young man with a heavy beard. David Pulled Ezra off the grass and behind some low oak branches.
“That’s them, then,” Ezra said.
“Are they from town?”
“Definitely not. I’d have seen them around before now.”
“Who are they, I wonder?”
“I don’t know, but we should get going,” Ezra said. She stood up and dusted herself off.
“Wait, I have an idea.”
Enjoying this story? Consider checking out my historical fiction novel, Muramasa: Blood Drinker, which is set in Feudal Japan and contains many supernatural elements.