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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

THE BEAT OF THE DRUMS by Norman A. Rubin
July 27, 2007  Short stories   Tags:   

“The skin taut drums tattooed their rhythm through the morass of the jungle growth of the Antibone Valley of Haiti. The ‘hungans’ the voodoo priests called out to the void and summoned the ‘Loa’ the intermediaries between the natives and the spirit of the ‘Mokadi’. The ‘Loa’ answered and they gave the power over the living dead, the zombies, to the voodoo priests..

“‘Zombies arise from your grave, arise from the damp cold ground, listen to the drums of the Vodun calling you. Form your ranks and join the ‘tonton’ liberators of Dessalines and drive out the ‘Bondye’ Frenchies from this land of the spirits of ‘Iwa’ and ‘Loa’.

“The zombies, the ‘zuvembies’ heard the call of the ‘hungans’ and they rose from the graves, catacombs, swamps and bayous. Their bodies, with varying signs of dessication and rot, came in ragged file and marched with the ‘tonton’ liberators. They formed under the command of the voodoo priests in vast numbers.”

The booming drums were heard throughout the island land of Haiti, from from the Cul de Sac and Antibone valleys to the port of Le Cap at the northern tip. Its sound beat through the cactus and shrub in the deep valleys, through wild growth of lime, orange and avocado trees, and above the rosewood and cedar forest rising on the hills. Flamingos and wild pigeons took to their wings to the rhythm of its beat. And in the garrison at Cape Hajtien the last of the survivors of the dreadful slaughter of the ‘Bondye’ cowered in anticipation of its terrible message – the calling for the armies of the dead, the zombies.

As the voodo drums tapped in his mind, Colonel Pierre Descartes pictured the desperate French garrison at Cape Hajtien under his command, the last refuge of the ruling army of the Republic. The black slaves, with the aid of the zombies, came to the call of revolt under the banner of Jean-Jaques Dessalines; with machete and club they took revenge on their French masters. A hundred odd survivors remained alive from the massacre of the white rulers, slave owners and the soldiers at arms during the bloody days of the slave’s rebellion: It was an odd collection of brave soldiers, cowardly plantation owners, native servants and lackeys and a few frightened women.

Colonel Pierre Descartes, a decorated legionnaire in the service of the Republic gathered the remaining officers of the garrison for a report of the situation. The words heard at this nightly conference were fearful in their message as they told of casualties, mainly those carried off by the zombies at the last attack to be eaten to the very bones. The colonel knew from the tongues of his officers that the situation was hopeless as relief was not in sight due to the destruction of the fleet by the Anglais ships.

The brave officer had taken over the command after the last attack of the army of the dead had broken through the defenses and ravaged the defenders. “Mon Dieu, those devil zombies sunk their filthy fangs into the living flesh of the general and a few brave soldiers. Nothing could stop them as they obeyed the commands of the ‘hungans’, their
voodoo priests to drink the blood of the ‘Bondye’. Damn, nothing, not a thing could stop those devils until Lieutenant Henri charged at them with a flaming torch. Mon Dieu, it was horrible when the flames devoured their desiccated bodies.”

Suddenly the heavy beat of the ‘juju’ drums were heard again in a tatooed rhythm throughout the jungle. It penetrated the the very stones of the fort sending messages of fear to all the survivors. Colonel Jacques Descartes called an end to the gathering and ordered the officers and the men under their command to man their posts. The colonel looked over the ramparts of the forts and to his horror he saw the zombies gathering for another assault. Behind them the ‘tonton’, the rabble fighters of the dark-skinned revolutionaries waited to glean the remnants of the garrison.

The thoughts of Colonel Jacques Descartes were filled with a dreadful quotation as he looked upon the armies of the damned, “When there is no room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” Then eerie silence stilled the night air and fear increased amongst the soldiers and civilians in the fort. “The end is near,” was the thought in their tortured minds. A plantation owner was driven to near madness, grabbed a brace of loaded pistols and ended the life of his wife and himself in a fiery fusillade.

Colonel Jacques Descartes watched in horror and apprehension as the hungans and the mambo crones, painted in fearsome masks and dressed in the black of dress, shuffled in dance in front of the ‘zuvembie’. He heard their ‘juju’ chant and saw their trembling fingers pointing towards the garrison.

The beat of the drums deafened his ears as he saw the army of the dead climbing the walls and leaping upon the defenders. They were impervious to lead and shot, and the sharpened point of the bayonet; fire only destroyed a few. They were immune to pain and needed no fresh air to breathe. Decapitation of their legs or arms by the sword wasn’t able to incapacitate the bodies of the zuvembie horde, as the remainder of the grisly flesh continued to move foward.

The ragtag army of the revolutionaries followed the attack of the zombies and entered the confines of fort. Screams were heard as they took their revenge upon the ‘Bondye’. As suddenly as the attack began, silence once again reigned through the fort; only the crunching of flesh to the bone could be heard as the zombies enjoyed their
bountiful banquet.

Only a handful of captives were herded together by the army of the former slaves; little did they know that they were selected as the sacrificial lambs for the rites of fertility to the supreme god ‘Libanza’. A token offering to the diety for the renewal of life after their great victory.

Colonel Jacques Descartes was joined together with his aide-de-camp, a brave lieutenant and his lovely wife along with a handful of their servants into captivity. The colonel witnessed, through weary eyes, the looting of the garrison; and through open ears he heard the jubilant victorious cries of the revolutionary mob above the beat of the drums that thundered throughout the jungle.

Colonel Jaques Descartes saw the the last of the shattered fort as he with the other captives were marched through the jungle to the prodding of the sharpness of machetes. The march was long and tiresome; the young lieutenant aided his wife as she stumbled through the brush. Relief came when then were herded into a large ‘kraal’ fenced in by bamboo staves; only one large flaming torch in the center of the compound gave its light.

Thick ropes secured the colonel and the lieutenant to stakes driven in the ground near the flambeau. But the wife of the officer was stripped of all clothing to the erotic display of the white of her skin. Then, without a sign of mercy, her squirmy body was firmly held and she was staked spreadeagled to the red earth. The protesting screams of her husband were to no avail.

The dark-skinned servants, five in all, were taken to a clearing outside the ‘kraal’, fated to be an example of their traitorous existence to the cause. Colonel Jacques Descartes was fortunate in not seeing their cruel punishment. The five men were tied individually to bows of two taut branches pulled together and held by a slim piece of vine. Their struggle was was useless as heavy hands forced and tied them securely to the supple bows. The colonel only heard their screams as the vines were cut and bodies pulled apart to the chant of their guards. ‘Death to traitors’ were the words called to the mutilated flesh and bones.

The primitive drums tattooed their rhythm within the ‘kraal’. A small troop of proud Africans, swathed with animal skins around their waists jumped in a dance around the walls of the compound. They were followed by dark-skinned comely women clad only in embroidered aprons; their glistening breasts shook to the rhythm of the beat of their naked feet.

Slowly the men circled around the naked white woman on the ground and they called out to catch the spirit of life from ‘Libanza’ the god of life. Then, one by one, they removed their animal skins and covered the screaming women; they entered with their staffs into the sacred grounds of life and rebirth, trying to attain the magic powers of the ‘Kintu’, through the offering of their sacred seeds. Fifteen brave warriors entered into the spirit of ‘Libanza’ and sacrificed the white of their loins to the’ Kintu’. ‘Yah, yah Libanza,’ they cried in an ecstatic delirium. But the eyes of sacred body of the ‘Kintu’ fluttered weakly at the very end; they closed when she entered the sacred world of the ‘Libanza’.

The lieutenant watched in horror as one African after another mounted his wife; his screams and tears were useless during the sacred rites to the ‘Libanza’; and he watched her die slowly in agony. His head dropped to his chest as he heard the chanting to the finality of the rites of fertility.

But the young lieutenant’s anguish was not at an end. As he stared from his lifted eyes he saw a bevy of six comely maidens circling him; their ebony flesh glittering to the glow of the flaming torch. They shuffled in the rhythmic beat of their naked feet as they chanted to ‘Mukuku’, the bethroed of ‘Libanza’, the supreme being, ‘In the beginning ‘Mukuku’ took from the sacred body the ‘juju’ of life.’

Then, without a word, a sharp knife was in the hand of one of the comely maidens. She stepped forward, and slashed away the clothes of the horrified officer. Then she made a swift cut to the flesh under his navel. The white of his small intestine slowly unraveled from the open wound, snaking its way slowly.

Another maiden came forwards with a large bone and slowly wound the intestine around its white side. ‘Juju Mukuku,’ ‘Ng ai’, the creator of life’ were the last words he heard from the chanting women as he joined his wife in the world of ‘Libanza’.

The brave Colonel Jacques Descartes knew it was his turn in this orgiastic ritual to the pagan gods. True to his thoughts, the signal to his fate came to the beating of a large skin-taut drum.

The black warriors and the half naked women then opened their shuffling ranks to the queen of the zombies, followed by a troop of her zombie cohorts. The colonel noticed she was an aged hag; her wrinkled features were painted with a crazy patterns and her head topped with a small animal skull surrounded by feathers. Black was her garb and black was her presence.

The crone, to the heavy beat of the drum dragged herself to the sight of the colonel. She waved a decorative rattle at him and screamed out, ”lamba, slaka’, ‘lamba slaka’, the great god ‘Libanza’ through the guardian ‘Loa’ will give life to the juju zombies, the zuvembies through the flesh of this cursed Frenchie devil. Take him to the sacrifice of ‘Loa’ and of the consort ‘Iwa’ , ‘lamba slaka!.’.

The fetid smell of rotting flesh fouled the breath of Colonel Jacques Descartes when he was released from his bonds and grabbed by the zombies. They tore at his clothes as they dragged his tortured body to be sacrificed to the spirits of their gods for their feast of the sacred living flesh.

The officer kicked at them as they tried to sink their fangs into his flesh. One hefty kick by his leg severed the head from one of the zombies. But, the severed head continued to bite and torment his flesh. Struggle was useless and the colonel was forced to submit to the tortures of the living dead.

The beat of the drums tattooed the finality of the rites to ‘Libanza’, the god of the realm. Then silence reigned through the jungle; the birds were still stilled in their song; the animals rendered no cry. All was quiet, deadly quiet….


  1. Interesting historical feel–is it based on something?

    Comment by Max Smith on December 20, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  2. I’m not really into O.Z.s(original zombies) but this story was really good. I could picture your descriptions and I really enjoyed it. I must concur with Mr. Smith. I felt like I was reading a horrific documentary. It even had an almost unbiased feel, as some historical piece would. I didn’t know whether to feel bad for the French or not…who knows what they’d done to prompt the natives to go to such extremes for revenge. Great job!

    Comment by Cherry Darling on December 4, 2009 @ 9:55 am

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