An old woman shouted into the dark for all to hear and went unheard that night as usual. Her granddaughter heard the shouting but she just shook her head at such nonsense and went about her work.
“Hey dere, Miz Jeenya. You heah me? Don’t know ‘bout you but dis dark tonight be so black-black it hurt mi eyeballs. I speck you be sitting dere in de black-black, tinking dere be someting bad, maybe someting evil. You tinking ‘bout de duppies out dere, Miz Jeenya? You tink dey be walking around, looking to do some mischief? You ‘fraid, Miz Jeenya? You scared? Dose who don’t believe in de duppies and all, we not afraid. You hear dat, Miz Jeenya? We NOT afraid.”
Jeenya Birdsong shivered. It wasn’t the cool air making Jeenya’s skin prickle, and it wasn’t the drums beating back in the woods. Deep in her bones, she sensed something terrible out there in the darkness, perhaps something truly evil.
Jeenya and her husband, Zeke, huddled together on the old porch swing. Zeke held one arm protectively around her shoulder as if to keep the chill away.
“You cold, honey?”
“I’m not cold, Zeke. Just one of those strange feelings I get. I sure wouldn’t want to be alone on a night like this.”
Elsewhere in Jamaica Lakes, others also felt uneasy. Later, some claimed to have had a premonition of evil, of something demonic lurking unseen, perhaps unseeable.
In most of Palm City and nearby towns along Florida’s Treasure Coast, bright streetlights and a constant flow of cars provided illumination. Here, there were no streetlights. By dinner time, most cars were parked in their driveways and most sensible people stayed home. It wasn’t the kind of night where people wanted to be out walking around.
Beyond the church, beyond the parsonage, beyond the small cemetery, there was a patch of woods and, coming from those woods, was the hypnotic rhythm of drums and the vigorous singing and shouting of the Revivalists. Rev. Wolff was out there preaching and shouting about fighting evil while his followers tramped ‘round counterclockwise in a circle, jerking their bodies back and forth, shouting and waiting for spirits to possess their bodies. Those sounds, though familiar, seemed louder that night.
In another part of the community, a tall man stood watching something in the distance. The pounding of the drums didn’t bother him. He sometimes said those drumbeats were a sign of life, like the beating of his heart. He smiled a little. Tonight, those drumbeats could be a sign of something else.
He cocked his head a little, as if alert to any sort of movement. His lips twitched, forming a momentary smile. When the door in a small building opened wide, he took a deep breath, held it, and slowly released the warm moist air.
Slowly, quietly, he walked through the darkness, pausing occasionally to listen. Finally, he slipped around the back of the small building. He heard voices and stopped, then stepped back, deeper in the shadows. He would have to wait a little longer.
Jeenya shivered again, this time violently. “You can’t feel it, can you?” she asked. “I’m not scared of the dark, Zeke. Never have been. But there’s something monstrously wicked out there tonight. Feels to me like the old devil hisself crawled up from hell and is walking down the streets, peering in windows, looking to do some sort of dreadful mischief.”
Zeke shook his head. “Jeenya, honey, I’ll never understand where you get these weird notions.”
Sounds of the Revivalists and their unending fight against evil continued as Zeke and Jeenya stood and felt their way through the darkness to the front door. The meeting in the woods would continue until at least one, maybe one-thirty in the morning.
When Jeenya turned out the small bedroom light, the darkness seemed to grow thicker. She tried to relax, thinking about the herbs in her garden. Tomorrow, she needed to cut lavender, rosemary, fever grass, and cerasse.
“Hoooo. Hoo hoo hooooo. Hooooooooo.”
Jeenya cringed. “Zeke, you hear that?”
“That’s just the old owl, honey. He’s up there in the mango tree right outside our window, just where he sits most every night.”
“He sounds different tonight, Zeke. Louder. Maybe more wavering, and something else I can’t explain. You couldn’t hear it, could you? The Patoo only cries like that when something awful is happening—like when someone is dying.”
“Now, Jeenya, we hear that old bird plenty of times. You don’t usually get all upset and nobody we know ever turns up dead. It’s the darkness making you nervous. Maybe that poor old owl is scared of the darkness too.”
“No need making light of it, Zeke. Granny taught me to listen to the Patoo. I can feel it in my bones. Growing up in Kingston, you never learned the old ways. You might not believe me, Zeke, but I’m thinking someone died tonight.”
“Last month,” Zeke said, “when Sissy Tomlinson died, you didn’t hear the owl, did you? Do owls only talk to you some of the time?”
“Sissy was ninety-four, God bless her soul. She’d been sick and was in a heap of pain. Death came as a blessing for her. This is different.”
Jeenya didn’t want to tell Zeke what she really thought. She had a dreadful feeling that this time it might be a person not expecting to die, not wanting to die—maybe it was even murder. But, if she said that, Zeke would think she really was crazy.
“Even if someone is dying,” Zeke said, “that owl didn’t tell you who is dying or where to find the body, did he now? You can’t call the police and tell them an owl told you someone was dead. The fact is, you can’t do a blessed thing. Go to sleep, Jeenya, my love. If somebody really is dead, I expect we’ll hear all about it in the morning.”
Jeenya sighed and pulled the blanket up to her chin. Zeke was right. There wasn’t a thing she could do. She closed her eyes and tried regular breathing, hoping it would help her relax, but it was a long time before she slept.
The great horned owl left the mango tree and flew powerfully, silently, his yellow eyes searching for prey. Near the few windows that still showed light, perhaps waiting for Revivalists to return home, it was a little easier for the owl to see what he was looking for. Suddenly he dove toward the earth, grabbing an unwary mouse. The owl’s sharp talons and powerful beak grasped the tiny squealing rodent, killing it quickly. Back in his perch high in one of the ancient live oaks, the owl gulped it down. Later, the owl would regurgitate the indigestible portions of his meal. He paid no attention to humans going about their business below.