“Outcasts” by Valjeanne Jeffers 3 of 3
Monique sat in bed beside her window, trying to keep her eyes open. Tomorrow during the chilly dawn, her jailers would drag her out of bed to put her in the cage. Yet instead of sleeping, one of her few refuges, she sat waiting. For what?
Just when she’d resolve to wrap up in a blanket and surrender to sleep, a soft cooing sound echoed outside her window. She knew the sound well. It was she and Angelique’s code signal, for whenever they decided to sneak away.
“Grab your bag and climb out!” Angelique hissed. “Do it! And hurry up!”
Monique snatched up her cloth bag and climbed out of the window. “Now what?”
Her wild-eyed friend grinned. “Now we fly!” Grabbing Monique’s hand before she could protest, she half-dragged, half-led her to the forest beyond her hut.
“Have gone insane?”
“Shh!” Angelique cautioned her again.
Through the forest hidden, under the brush, was an airship. The green balloon over it added to the camouflage. It was crudely built without the intricate carvings of Haitian ships, but looked to be in working order.
John’s mahogany face appeared at starboard side and waved them up.
“We can’t do this!” Monique protested. “If they catch us they’ll kill us!”
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life in a cage?” Angelique shot back. “Come on!” She clamored up the ladder with her friend at her heels.
“We can’t fly this thing!” Monique protested, all the while clambering the ladder onto the deck.
“Yes we can,” John said proudly. “I built her and Angelique can fly as well as I can!”
So she was telling the truth!
“I’m a ship captain! But I can’t marry the woman I love, because I have no money—and the color of my skin!” All the while he and Angelique were hoisting the sails.
Monique followed them inside to the helm, burning with excitement in spite of herself. She’d never actually walked inside an airship. In the center of the deck, was concentric hatch directly below the gathered edges of the balloon. Angelique opened the hatch to reveal a box of copper and brass, and another hole in its center, and depressions on either side.
She pumped the depressions and steam flowed from the box filling the balloon, while Monique and John began turning the cranks on the propellers and flaps. The ship began to rise, and Monique thought her heart would burst with joy.
“Here we go!” John shouted. The ships wings flapped, the propeller whirled, tearing and blowing the foliage and lifted from the ground.
The airship sputtered forward. “Give her more steam and turn the propellers faster!” The women grunted turning the propeller faster. “Angelique trade places with me!” Angelique took the helm, as he and Monique turned the propellers. The airship picked up speed.
The mulatto woman grinned. “My parents thought they could marry me off to an old man. Won’t they be surprised?”
“Where will we go?” Monique asked.
“There’s an island across the ocean, Santo Domingo,” said John. “Haiti’s armies freed the slaves there too.”
The glory of a parvenu life thrust upon her was slowly taking hold. She was free—free of her mother. Free of a lifetime of cages. Free to love who she chose. The Loa Erzulie had answered her prayers after all!
But Simone was still lost to her. A weight of sadness pressed against the walls of her new-found liberation. And there were other doubts as well. “What if they don’t want us there? How do we know it will be any better?”
A shadow crept from the helm, jerking Monique away from her objections—amber-colored ghosts that instantly became creatures with the head of a bat and four arms.
“It’s Madam Cecile’s sorcery!” John shouted. “We must have been spotted!”
More shades reared up at them, claws ready. They paused, clearly confused. The three friends were most certainly not French soldiers. The ghosts turned away and attacked the airship dash in earnest, ripping and tearing.
Another one zoomed over their heads and struck the helm and it exploded in flames. They screamed—trying to fight the creatures off and fly the ship at the same time. They began losing altitude. The ship was sinking.
Below them, a thick, wavering mist blocked their path. The friends eyes were drawn to it. . . they could see images dancing within the fog. . . dancing to the beat of drums that suddenly echoed in the night about them. A cooling breeze wafted toward them . . . One image came into focus. . .
The Loa, Erzulie.
Their terror vanished.
Without another thought they flew into the fog.
And out the other side.
The flames snuffed out and the turbulence of the airship dissipated out as they flew out of the nosedive. “Let’s land there!” Monique shouted, pointing to the beach below. As the three friends coasted into a smooth descent, their eyes widened. They recognized the Haitian shoreline.
“We never left home!” John exclaimed.
“Wait a minute,” Angelique said slowly. “When we left Haiti it was midnight. Look at the sky!” A bright noonday sun beamed downed on them.
They stared at the turquoise blue waters, as if the ocean held answers. “This cannot be,” John breathed. “Have we traveled backwards in time?”
“Non, c’est impossible. . .” Monique breathed. “The only thing we can do is start walking. Maybe when we find town we’ll find our answers.”
They covered the airship with seaweed and debris as best as they could. After their strange trip they were a little afraid of it. But the friends still thought it best to protect it in case they needed to escape.
When they reached town they discovered they’d left Haiti only to return. But to an alien Republic.
They didn’t recognize the township. What was even more incredible was that in this Haiti, the revolution had taken place a month ago. No one knew them here. So, they gave a vague descriptions of a small hamlet they’d traveled from, and no one they meet seemed to care much. Monique found a job cooking for a rich, elderly woman named Michelle. John and Angelique took a job working in the sugar fields she owned.
Later, Monique questioned her employer about the customs of her “new home” and found out that class discrimination did not exist in Haiti—informal or otherwise. There were no restrictions upon homosexuality either. Michelle was incredulous that any Republic would have such rules. “We were once slaves, n’est-ce pas? Why would we oppress one another?” The older woman sucked her teeth, and shook her head. “That must truly be a terrible place you came from. No wonder you ran away.”
Monique pressed her lips together and said no more. It was my home and I loved it dearly. Now Haiti is here, yet lost to me. Perhaps forever. . .I wonder what unpleasant truths this new world holds?
“We’re going to stay, Monique,” said Angelique. “John and I can be together here.”
“What about your mama and papa?”
Angelique looked away. “I love them and wish them happiness. But I love John more. Perhaps one day I’ll look for them.” She shrugged. “Perhaps not.”
“Both my parents are dead,” the young man added. “Angelique is all the family I have now.”
The three were sharing a meal in the tiny house she and John had rented together. The couple had married the same week they’d landed.
“You should stay too,” Angelique suggested.
Monique had saved a little coin and was determined to search the island until she found Simone. “No, I have to find her. I have to know if she’s happy.”
“What will you do, cherie, if you meet her and she is happy. . . with you,” asked John. “We still know so little about this strange world, n’est-ce pas?”
Monique smiled. “We will become the best of friends—the three of us. I will wish her well.”
“And I will be back.”
She left the next morning to find her destiny. In the days to come, some happy, others melancholy, she thought often of the airship they’d left behind on the beach. . .
And whatever became of it.
Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College, a member of the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, and the author of eight books.Valjeanne was featured in 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction. Her first novel, Immortal, is featured on the Invisible Universe Documentary time-line. Her stories have been published in Reflections Literary and Arts Magazine; Steamfunk!; Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology; Genesis Science Fiction Magazine; Griots II: Sisters of the Spear; Possibilities; and The City.Book I of The Switch II: Clockwork was nominated for the best ebook novella of 2013 (eFestival of Words); and her short story Awakening was published as a podcast by Far Fetched Fables. Preview or purchase Valjeanne’s novels at: Valjeanne Jeffers official site