(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
A high singing note penetrated my ear, bored through my sleep and pulled me into the vague light: the hour before dawn. Here they were again, after my blood. Even when I pulled the sheet completely over my head, they wouldn’t give up, whining around the shroud until I was forced to come out for lack of air.
They were even worse than the jinnoon, those lascivious sex-crazed spirits who had waged a tireless campaign to annoy my sleep ever since I was fool enough to invoke them. But the jinnoon only arrived sporadically, whereas the mosquitoes tormented me every night of summer except when the wind was high.
There was nothing to be done. The villa’s doors and windows had no screens, and to close them meant to suffocate in the heat. At least it was cooler here than down in the kasbah. During the summer months the wealthier Moroccans and white expatriates moved to higher ground, into the villas and compounds that dotted the tall hill they called “The Mountain.” From November to May, the raw winds from the North Atlantic blew in, battering the mountain, and the Mountain folk went downhill, so to speak, to their houses in town or back to Europe. I stayed.
I loved Tangier. I’d rented a gorgeous little walled villa from a friend I’d met at Sarah Lawrence. A luxurious life style in Morocco was still cheap by American standards, and my publisher’s generous advance easily covered the seven months’ rent until December, when I would have to leave.
Naíma continued to cook, shop, and clean for me. She was lonely on The Mountain and missed Marrakesh, finding it hard to adjust to the quiet and solitude I preferred, as well as my ascetic writing routine. In the mornings I would shut myself in the study to work on my novel; afternoons I took the bus into the kasbah to visit friends; nights I’d take a cup of soup into the study and write late into the night. I think she grew to hate the sound of typing.
Once in a while, her mother the witch visited from Khouribga. Naíma would turn over her salary to Fatima, and then I’d throw in some more money for her magic services, even though I didn’t need them. I felt safe here. My book was going well, and the jinnoon were obnoxious but manageable. Sorcery couldn’t help with the mosquitoes, since they probably hailed from hell in the first place. So I smiled indulgently as Fatima puttered about burning herbs in all the rooms; and I sat stifling yawns as she read my cards. She delivered the usual upbeat news: a rich handsome man was coming, I’d have lots of money, uh huh. The witch even cagily added that my book would be a great success.
I knew better than to be complacent about the spirits, however. I was by no means out of danger. Even though the pattern of their visits had become familiar, I still woke with the same terror and dread when they came; when, in the dawning light, I heard the faint hissing, like sliding sands, as the energy gathered into human form behind me, tightening its arms around me and laughing in my ear. A prayer might send them away, but I worried they could be the advance guard for something bigger.
That evil made its second appearance in Fez.
Hamadsha trance musicians
The occasion was a double wedding. Four friends of mine were tying the knot: Karla (from Idaho) and Mie (from Denmark) were marrying Mohammed and Majid, shopowners in Tangier. Moh and Majid were the eldest of fourteen children from a large mercantile family based in Fez.
Hundreds of guests had convened in Fez’s vieille ville for the weeklong celebration. Oddly, the festivities kicked off with a circumcision party. It was a matter of killing two birds with one stone: as long as guests, family and musicians were gathered for a wedding, why not snip off a foreskin for good measure? One of the youngest sons had just turned 7, the age when Moroccan boys turn away from the world of women and are deemed to be men, symbolized by the emergence of the unwrapped penis.
The operation was done in private; afterward the boy, tears running down his cheeks, holding his djellaba so it wouldn’t brush against the wounded member underneath, arrived to the ululations of the crowd. The players whipped out pipe, oboe, and drums, and then launched into a pounding, squalling, tangled mess of music. Everyone, including the Westerners who had smoked kif, got up to dance.
The dissonant sound was maddening. It invited you to lose it, or flee. Losing it, though, was the point.
Before joining in, Majid told me, “When I dance to this music, I lose control, I forget everything, I leave myself. I wake up after, and I feel like I’m new, I’m a baby just born.”
But I wouldn’t budge. I’d read about these musicians in a book I’d found at the villa: they were trance musicians, a pagan Berber version of the Sufis. In their rituals you danced to the point of ecstasy, then surrendered your mind and body to the jinnoon. You moved aside and the spirits took you over – similar to the loa riding Haitian voodoo dancers.
So I prudently held back, and watched everyone else go crazy. The last thing I needed was for the scuzzy spirits who tailgated me all over Morocco to take the wheel of my being. Demonic possession was not my idea of a party.
Later, back at my hotel room, I opened the doors and went out on the balcony to appreciate the full moon, the labyrinthine city below, and the distant yowling of cats, dogs, and musicians. I went to bed congratulating myself for staying out of trouble.
Just before dawn, when the moon lay low, a nearby mosque’s PA switched on. The call to prayer droned over the city: “La ilaha illa Allah, As-salatu – ” etc. The prayer got mixed up in whatever I was dreaming; it sounded like “Anyone seen Ally Harris?”…
And then I was awake. And instantly wished I was not.
(To be continued.)
- I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.