The Witch Doctor By Sharif Khan
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The Witch Doctor
By Sharif Khan
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Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Clouds descended over Arizona . Before dawn, a light from a home pierced the blackness of a town on the outskirts of the desert. Jake Madsen was at his desk concentrating. Beads of sweat hung to his forehead as he sat staring into his computer screen; his calloused hands lumbering over the keyboard. Even after finishing his third glass of Wild Turkey, no words came to mind.
Jake was a hulking man of six foot four, and his muscular frame towered over his small bedroom desk. He scratched the coppery stubble on his face in deep thought as his forefinger caressed the rough indentations on his upper right cheek – a scar that looked like an inverted cross which he got during a routine drug raid. He cracked his knuckles and stretched his neck, quickly glancing over at Alice before turning back. The glow from the computer and the silvery moon rays illumined his smoky-grey, deep-set eyes.
A flash of blue lightning followed by a loud clap of thunder broke his reverie.
"Oh my God," whispered Alice , as she woke from her light sleep and sat up in bed looking out the window. The rain came pouring down. She slouched back into her pillow and turned to him. "Honey, come back to bed… Hold me," she pleaded, seductively stroking her curly blond hair. Her alluring, chartreuse eyes tried to meet his.
Jake kept his eyes on the screen.
"Why do you keep ignoring me? How long are you going to keep struggling with this? Maybe writing is not in your cards. We need to move on – look to the future," she said.
Jake said nothing.
"Honey, did you hear what I said?"
" Alice , I’m trying to concentrate," he mumbled.
"Concentrate? Concentrate on what? You do this every time and end up nowhere," she said.
" Alice , be patient," he said.
"I’ve been patient! You’ve been working on this damn dream of yours for years! Nothing has happened. You said you’d have a book out in two years and that we’d celebrate. Nothing has happened Jake! All you’ve got is your stupid notes and research, and nothing to show for," she said.
She got up out of bed and stood beside him, tightening the sash on her red silk kimono. He sat in silence.
"I can’t stand this anymore! I’m tired of living like this, Jake. All our savings are gone and I’ve been supporting you on my income for the past year," she said. "I married a cop for Christ’s sakes – not a writer!"
"What about the ten years I supported us?" he said gritting his teeth.
"This is not working out," she said.
"What are you saying?" he asked, standing up to face her.
"We’re not making any progress, Jake. You never take me out anywhere like you used to. You don’t buy me any special gifts anymore. You don’t give me the love and attention I need… I want more, Jake," she said.
Their eyes locked. He took his glass of whiskey and slowly rolled an ice cube in his mouth and began crushing it. She watched his full lips as he continued crushing. Her mouth parted for a second as he moved forward, but she retreated into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
"Honey, I promise, I’ll have something soon. Just give me a chance! Our luck’s about to change. I can feel it!" he said. He heard the shower go on and banged the door with his fist before turning away.
He went into the custom-built gym across the bedroom, put on his red boxing gloves, and began pounding the heavy bag.
After showering, Alice put on her make up, got dressed in her white nurse uniform, and headed out for work. She eyed Jake through the gym’s glass wall, in his boxer shorts punching away at the heavy bag. Streams of sweat poured down his brown locks and glistening muscles. His ferocity with the punching bag matched the fury of the red dragon tattooed around the length of his brawny forearm – leaving a groove in the punching bag the size of half a watermelon.
He saw her leaving and followed her to the door, soaking in sweat.
She lingered inside the front porch for a while and looked in at him. It was still dark and pouring rain outside and a flash of lightning briefly highlighted her beauty queen features. "Jake, I’m going to pack up when I get back and stay over my friend Suzanne’s place for a while. I, I – need some space."
"How long?" he asked.
"Maybe a few weeks, I don’t know. But when I return, I expect you to have made a decision," she said.
"Fine!" he said, and slammed the door in her face.
Jake showered and shaved, slapped on some musk cologne, and put on his favorite pair of dark denim jeans and a black t-shirt. He shoveled his breakfast, settled down at his desk with a black coffee, and began to brood.
He was an ex-cop who had seen too much. After serving ten years on the force and watching too many of his friends die in the line of duty, he quit. It wasn’t from the stress. He loved his job and the booze kept him from feeling the pain. But he wanted more.
For years he had dreamed of writing a bestselling novel. He wrote on the side and had some short stories published in reputable magazines. He had even written a memoir on his experiences as an undercover narcotics cop. But no publisher would take it because they couldn’t verify any of the facts and didn’t want to take the heat from potential lawsuits. He never told anyone about his memoir, not even Alice , and kept a pile of form rejection letters in his basement trunk.
Jake had made plans to fictionalize his memoir into a cop-thriller novel but couldn’t get himself to write anything of significance. Everything was stilted and clichéd. He had been working feverishly to come up with something original for over a year since he quit the force, but nothing came. Time was running out, and his dream was fading fast. The money he had secretly saved up would be gone soon. He had to do something drastic.
Jake took a sip of his coffee and looked up at the T.S. Elliot quote taped on the wall directly above his computer: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." Without risk there’s no reward he thought. He was going to find a way to break the dry spell if it killed him.
After shuffling through the pile of notes, research papers, and magazines strewn on his desk, Jake stumbled across an old newspaper clipping that drew his attention. A photo captured the haunting stare of Kambu, a tribal witch doctor from Tanzania . Standing behind him were the Tucson Police Department Chief of Police, the Commander of the Counter Narcotics Alliance Squad, along with some senior officers, and far off to the right was a grainy image of himself wearing metallic shades, arms folded, grimly looking off to the side. Kambu had single handedly led the police to the largest drug bust in its entire history.
Businessman Charles Bremer, of Bremer Exploration, had used the witch doctor’s services in successfully locating key producing gold mines in Tanzania . After selling off his interests, Bremer had brought Kambu back with him to Tucson , Arizona to help guide him with his stock picks and various investments. Then one day, Bremer mysteriously disappeared and was never heard from again. Suspicions in the community were aroused and an investigation was launched, but eventually the case was closed. Kambu had become too valuable to the police, and other concerns.
Jake stared into Kambu’s eyes piercing through the photo. The witch doctor had deep tribal scars on both sides of his cheeks and was wearing a hat of black and red feathers. He had braided hair with colorful wooden beads running down to his waist and was covered in animal fur and bone ornaments. Kambu’s eyes had an obsessed, fiery glare that cozened Jake’s brain.
The witch doctor was said to have magical healing powers. People came to see him from far and wide. He was more than a healer – he was a saint, a shaman, a high priest. Rumors had it that some world-renowned musicians, artists, and writers had come to see him to awaken their third eye and drink from the well-spring of divine creativity.
The eyes beckoned him. Kambu was his only hope. He would see the witch doctor!
He dialed the number jotted down in red marker on the back of the news clipping. The number had been disconnected. Shit! Then he remembered vividly in his mind driving the witch doctor back home after the raid a few years back. It was the most chilling experience of his life. For the whole two hour drive, Kambu had not said a word. He just sat staring out the window looking at the clouds. Jake knew where the witch doctor lived. It was still fresh in his memory.
Putting on his jean jacket and black leather boots, Jake rushed out the driveway in the rain, and got into his black Ford Explorer. He drove north towards the Catalina Mountains as lightning highlighted the dark desert landscape all around him. The rains quieted down eventually and he adjusted his windshield wipers as he drove through miles of winding road. Streams of gold light began breaking through the clouds as he slowed to a stop on the side of the road.
Reaching down, Jake carefully peeled off a white envelope taped to the bottom of his driver seat and stashed it in his jean jacket. In front of him was a sprawling white stucco Spanish villa with red-tiled roofing tucked in behind a towering canyon. A white Mercedes with tinted windows was parked in the cobblestone driveway.
Jake scanned the area for the decrepit, small, metal-shed home that the witch doctor had lived in but found no trace of it. He got out of his SUV and started looking around. Nothing. The shed had disappeared and in its place was this luxurious villa before him. He was puzzled. As a cop, his memory and sense of direction were highly developed, and he was absolutely sure he had come to the exact place the shed had been.
A chill went through his spine and his heart started pounding. A deep fear enveloped him as his gut instinct sensed a dark presence within the villa. Drenched in rain, Jake cautiously crossed the cobblestone driveway and knocked on the front door.
A tall and portly, white-gloved butler answered the door.
"Yes?" inquired the butler, showing neither concern nor interest. The golden streams of light shone from the dark clouds and refracted off his blue eyes, gently falling on his neatly combed thinning gray hair and pale silky skin, giving off a rather unusual warm sophisticated charm in sharp contrast to his indifference.
"Mr. Akki? Mr. Kambu Akki? Does he –" asked Jake.
"Do you have an appointment, Sir?" the butler interrupted.
"Well, I’m here because –"
"Let him in, Stanley ." A calm voice with a slight French accent rang-out over the intercom.
Jake was led across the vast coral stone floor to the living room, where he sat himself down on the black leather sofa.
"Mr. Akki will be with you shortly. Would you care for something to drink, Sir? Coffee, tea?" asked the butler.
"Coffee. Black," answered Jake.
"Very well, Sir" said the butler as he turned and disappeared into the hallway.
Jake looked out the tall glass windows and watched the panoramic view of the Catalina Mountains and the flowering desert with its tall Saguaro cacti. The bright Arizona sun shone gloriously triumphant as the dark clouds dissipated. A brilliant rainbow had formed over the ridge of the canyon.
The butler returned with coffee and left. Jake looked at the surroundings. Directly in front of him looked to be an original Picasso painting hanging above a Steinway piano. In the corner was a stacked stone fireplace and to his immediate left was a massive bookshelf. He glanced at the neatly stacked books and noticed the shelves were divided into a wide array of subjects: alchemy, chemistry, history, politics, literature, art, medicine, economics, biographies, and so on.
"Officer Madsen," the sepulchral voice reverberated through the crisp, clean air.
Jake turned to see a slender black man in a tailored white suit standing before him. He was holding a black titanium staff and his white suit accentuated the shining blackness of his tight, toned skin. Jake was taken aback for a moment as it quickly dawned on him that this was the reformed witch doctor. Gone were the feathers, ornaments, furs, and braids. His Afro was neatly cut close to the skin. All that remained were the deep, dark tribal scars on his cheeks. The fiery glare in the photo had been replaced with a fixed, stony _expression. He looked more like a cruel military dictator than a healer.
"You were expecting something more – primitive?" said the witch doctor.
Jake said nothing.
"Long gone are those circus days." The witch doctor smiled ominously, revealing a shining gold tooth amidst a row of broad white teeth. His resonant voice was wizened with age, even though he looked a youthful forty.
"I’m no longer with the force," said Jake.
"Is that so, Monsieur Madsen? Why are you here?"
"I need your help."
"You know I cannot help you."
Jake took out the envelope from his jean jacket and handed it to him. It was the last of his savings that he had hid from Alice . "Please – I need your help. It’s everything I have."
Kambu weighed the thick envelope in his hand without opening it, then placed it on the piano and sat down beside the large black dining table. Jake instinctively followed and sat down across from him. The table was bare except for a small Opuntia cactus plant that stood in a red, earthen pot of sand off to the side.
"I’m having trouble writing. I want to write a novel. Something supreme… Something, sacred!" Jake said. "But for years nothing has worked. I’ve hit a dry spell – a curse. My work lacks originality. I need, - I need…"
"Divine inspiration!" the witchdoctor’s eyes flashed. His well manicured hands were resting palms down on the table. On his right hand little finger was a large, black opal ring set in white gold. "Are you prepared and willing?"
The witch doctor lifted up his eyes and began whispering incantations. Only the whites of his eyes were showing as he fell into a trance. He put his warm trembling hands on Jake’s which were placed stiffly on the table. Jake immediately felt his hands become hot and a rush of energy enter into him. With this, the witch doctor released his hold and opened a small drawer underneath the table and pulled out a wooden handle knife. He grabbed Jake’s right hand tightly and brought it over the cactus. He then deftly cut a small gash on Jake’s thumb and drained the hot blood into the sand, taking great care not to get any blood on his immaculate white suit.
Jack watched in horror as Kambu buried his blood in the sand with the knife. The quick precision and suddenness of it all shocked him.
"You were expecting something more – elaborate?" asked the witch doctor.
Jake sat in stunned silence.
"I’ve dispensed with all extraneous formalities. Only the essential remains," said the witch doctor as he wiped the blade clean with a white linen handkerchief that he neatly folded and placed on the table.
"Now give me your ring," demanded Kambu looking at Jake’s black and gold University of Arizona class ring with a blue-zircon oval stone.
"But, that’s my – " Jake was interrupted by the witch doctor’s mercurial stare. Jake slowly took off his prized ring and handed it to the witch doctor who carefully placed it on the folded handkerchief.
The butler quietly glided into the room, placed an ornamental stone cup and a clear flask of oil on the table and left.
The witch doctor dipped his right thumb into the translucent oil and then gently laid both his hands on Jake’s head. Kambu closed his eyes and anointed Jake by ceremoniously tracing a cross on his forehead with his right thumb. After wiping his thumb on the handkerchief, he brought up his black titanium staff, revealing a small, bulbous gold skull handle. Kambu held the staff horizontally and turned the skull counter-clockwise. He skillfully twisted the skull over the stone cup as white powder softly poured from it onto the dark red liquid contained in the cup. The stench was overwhelming; it smelt like dead rats and roses. Kambu wrapped the white handkerchief around Jake’s ring, placed it inside the gold skull, and twisted the skull back onto the staff. He then slid the cup towards Jake.
"Drink!" he commanded.
Jake looked at the stone cup with fear and loathing. "What is it?" he asked.
"It is the elixir of life!" Kambu’s wild eyes shone. "What you Westerners call, the Holy Grail…The cup of Christ," he smiled. "Drink!"
Jake held his breath and downed the red concoction like a shot of whiskey. He felt an instant euphoric rush and his head began to spin. He felt his brain soften like mush. Everything became hazy and distorted. He saw Kambu drinking the remains and licking the cup dry; using his tongue to smear his teeth with the mystical red liquid.
The rhythmic sound of beating drums grew louder and louder in Jake’s head. The drum beats became faster and faster - reaching a crescendo of exquisite rapture and pain. Jake held his ears, trying to block the sounds, but the music grew louder, and he could hear everything.
He saw a blurry image of the witch doctor dancing with an African, bare breasted, tribal village woman; shaking and gyrating her hips through her Raffia grass skirting. Jake heard loud wailing screams and the clamor of heavy chains coming from the depths of the earth. Dark, screaming, ghostly apparitions with bloodied faces flew out of the Opuntia cactus plant and through the high ceiling walls above.
"You will tell great stories. You will mesmerize your readers. You will write brilliantly. Mighty and magnificent – like the Everest! Supremely sacred! You will give them something they’ve never seen before," boomed the voice of the witch doctor.
He leaned in closely to Jake and began laughing like a hyena. His blood-stained teeth glaring like a wolf. Everything became a hazy blur.
"You will write! Oh, yes, you will write!"
Then complete darkness.
When Jake returned home, Alice had already packed her stuff and gone. He sat at his desk and began typing at the computer. He wrote magnificently. All the notes and research crystallized in his mind like a perfect snowflake. He wrote for seven days straight, living on a diet of black coffee, eggs and ham, rare steak cooked in its blood, and whisky. His novel was complete. He read his double spaced manuscript and wept. Each word shone brilliantly like a carefully polished gem. Each sentence was true and complete. The story was majestic in its telling. It was supremely sacred.
Spurred on by an unrecognizable force within him, Jake descended into the basement, opened his trunk, and took out his voluminous pile of rejection letters from agents and publishers. Sorting through the massive pile, he took out the rejection slips from the top seven literary agents he had once approached. All of them were at the top of their game and well known in the publishing world. No more bullshit phone calls, emails, and query letters he thought. He simply faxed the first three pages of his manuscript with his contact information to all seven agents and waited.
Jake’s phone rang. He picked up the receiver and replied, "Hello, this is Jake." By then, he had received four other calls requesting a copy of his manuscript.
"Hello, this is Julia Winston, from Winston & Associates Literary Agency," she said with nervous anticipation. "I read your fax and was intrigued. Can you FedEx me your manuscript? If it’s as good as the first three pages, I’d like to represent you."
"I have had other offers," Jake said.
"I can have the top publishers in this country bidding for your book in the snap of a finger," she said matter of factly.
Jake gave her the contract. Within less than a week, Julia had the top six publishers in America bidding for his book like a pack of hungry wolves. At the end of the bloodletting, Jake walked away with a cool million dollar advance.
Savoring his usual mid-day glass of whisky, Jake was leaning by the stairway reveling in The Arizona Daily Saturday news coverage of the big advance he had gotten with Penguin. It was a hot spring day and the air-conditioning had gone out. As he read the paper, he heard a car pull up into the driveway, and familiar footsteps. In walked Alice like a fresh, cool breeze. She looked stunning in her fashionable big brimmed straw hat and flower print halterneck dress, revealing her ample bust. The scent of her sweet wildflower perfume wafted in.
"I read about it in the papers. This is so wonderful Jake!" she said, rushing towards him. She felt like embracing him but his rapacious, glaring eyes made her stop.
"Oh, honey, I’m so proud of you," she said, gently reaching to caress his hair.
Jake leaned away and took a swig of his whisky. He gave her a menacing look as he began crushing the ice-cube in his mouth. She stood still. He tore off her dress and grabbed her. She slapped him in the face and tried breaking free of his iron hold, but he was like an overpowering husky bear. He pushed her towards the dark-red mahogany dining table, smashing the table lamp out of the way. He then forced her onto the table and poured the amber colored whisky on her bare breasts and devoured them. She felt the cold, crushed ice on his tongue and moaned.
Ten million dollars later, Jake and Alice had bought a sprawling mansion on the rocks of the Catalina Mountains with an eight car garage and five private acres of land. Jake’s first novel had already become an international bestseller. Penguin had optioned his second book, which was already finished, and he was now working feverishly on a third.
Writing consumed his entire life. Creative ideas flowed through him like a burst dam. He wrote brilliantly – non-stop – for days at a time. But his blessing had turned into a curse. Jake could no longer derive any pleasure from writing; yet he could not stop writing. His obsession had become a prison – a noose around his neck. He was miserable and wretched.
His wife confronted him one day while he was typing away at his computer. "What’s happened to you, Jake?" she asked. "All you do is write, write, write! It’s like I’m not even here. When is it going to end? How much is enough, Jake?"
"What are you talking about, Alice ?" said Jake as he continued typing. "I take you out places, buy you nice things, spend time with you…"
"Look at me!" she cried. "You’ve become a zombie, Jake! You’re not here. You’re in some other world all the time. Your words are cold and empty. I don’t sense any feelings in you at all, Jake."
Jake said nothing and continued typing as Alice broke down in tears and stormed out of the house.
She called him the next day. "Jake. I want a divorce. My lawyer will send you the paperwork this week, and – "
Jake hung up the phone and went back to writing his book. He felt a pang of pain swell up inside him, but he shut it out – guzzling half a bottle of whisky. He then grabbed his Louisville Slugger bat, walked into the living room, and smashed Alice ’s china and crystal collection that was housed in an antique, glass curio cabinet. He smashed the Schonbek crystal chandelier that was hanging above. In a fit of fury, he went on a three hour rampage, smashing and destroying everything in sight.
When he had finished, Jake was tired and exhausted, but the drone of his computer beckoned him to write. He walked back to his desk, expressionless, with silent tears running down his face, and picked up where he had left off. After typing a couple paragraphs, his buried pain shot out like savage whale’s spray. He burst out in a violent war cry and slammed his fist into the computer screen. The screen shattered with a flash of light and smoke. Jake howled in pain as he pulled out his bloody fist.
He wrapped his fist in gauze and tore out the driveway in his Ford Explorer, smashing his parked red Ferrari as he headed for the witch doctor. When he arrived, he banged on the door and the butler answered, "Sir, do you have an appointment?" Jake punched him square in the jaw, knocking the old man unconscious, as he stormed into the hallway looking for the witch doctor.
"Monsieur Madsen," calmly greeted the witch doctor. "I hear your writing has been coming along – splendidly!" He was seated at the dining table where he had performed the ceremonial ritual, savoring a dish of Chateaubriand and a glass of 1947 Cap de Mourlin vintage red wine.
Jake tackled the witch doctor to the floor and grabbed his neck, raising his right hand ready to clobber him. The witch doctor was poised and composed but flinched when the red crimson blood from Jake’s fresh gauze dripped onto his white suit.
"What have you done to me? I’m going to kill you, mother fucker!" Jake screamed.
"Why don’t you? Go ahead – kill me! Rip out my heart and eat it raw!" said the witch doctor. His scarred face widened with a broad, menacing grin, exposing his gold tooth. "Can you hear my heart? It is afraid. It doesn’t belong in me. Rip it out!"
Jake felt powerless in his presence. "All I can do is write! It’s become a chain around my neck! A curse! Please, end this madness!" he pleaded. "I’ll do anything."
"Anything?" the witch doctor asked.
"Please," Jake begged, releasing his grip. "I’ll do anything. End this pain in my head!"
"The pain in your head," whispered the witch doctor. "There is no pain in your head."
"There is no pain in my head," said Jake.
"Only joy and happiness," stated the witch doctor.
"Only joy and happiness," repeated Jake.
And with that, Kambu led him to the empty fireplace. "Go now, my beloved sweetness. I will come to you when the black crow calls."
Jake crawled into the fireplace and fell a long ways down before landing in a dark dungeon lit with white candles. Before him stood a naked, shadowy figure chained to the wall. Jake looked up to behold an old, haggard man staring down at him with manic blue eyes, the features of his gaunt face illuminated with the eerie white glow from the candles. Jake recognized the face and his bones chilled. It was the businessman, Charles Bremer, who had brought the witch doctor from Tanzania .
"It’s not so bad, you know," murmured Bremer. "You’ll come to like it here, you will. He keeps his children happy. He protects his children. You’ll even grow to like him, you will. He’ll take good care of you. For you are big and strong – as I once was. And he likes young lions. You may even grow to love him, as I. I love the witch doctor!"
Peering beyond Bremer, Jake saw a room lit up by a flaming torch on the wall. Through the open door, he saw a pile of naked, writhing bodies lying on a large bed. The bodies were twisted and contorted in different shapes, breathing lightly and expressionless, as if drugged – but definitely alive!
"It’s our blood and flesh that he wants," continued Bremer. "Our blood, as a ritual sacrifice, which he gives as an elixir to heal the newly anointed."
With a sudden flash of realization, Jake turned white and vomited. He felt an immediate sense of release. That burning obsession to write, which was torturing his soul, was no longer present. Strangely, he felt at peace.
Sharif Khan (http://www.herosoul.com; email@example.com) is a professional speaker, freelance writer, coach, and author of "Psychology of the Hero Soul," an inspirational book on awakening the hero within and developing people’s leadership potential. To contact Sharif directly, call: (416) 417-1259.
Copyright © 2005 by Sharif Khan