Chapter 1, The Forest
Corinne La Mer’s heart beat like wild drums as she ran through the forest. Her bare feet stumbled over the dead leaves and protruding roots of the forest floor. She strained her eyes in the dappled sunlight to keep track of the small, furry agouti that scampered away from her. Occasionally, light glinted off the smooth rock tied to the animal’s hind leg. It called to Corinne like a beacon. When she got close enough, she pounced on the ’gouti and missed, grabbing only a handful of dirt. Corinne grunted and threw the dirt aside. The animal ran beneath a bush and Corinne squeezed down to the damp earth to crawl after it. Her skirt got caught on branches, but she ripped it away, determined to reach the animal. On the other side, the creature cowered against a rock and the roots of a large tree. In her eleven years of life, Corinne had learned that with nowhere to run, a wild animal might try to attack. She hung back.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you… so….” She moved with care toward the animal and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.
She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.
She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.
Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.
A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She had heard grownups tell stories about the terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backwards feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.
Corinne felt the wind at her left cheek. She followed it as her papa had taught her to do.
After a few minutes, the trees thinned out. There was a bit more sunlight filtering through the branches. Corinne breathed easier. Her heart slowed its pace. But she continued to hurry over the uneven ground, ducking beneath trees as she went. Then, behind her, the bushes rustled. She turned just in time to see something move in the shadows. Surely it was only an animal. But what if it was another kind of thing entirely? The kind of thing from the grownups’ stories?
The hairs on her arms stood on end. She gripped her mama’s necklace as she glanced behind her. From a curtain of shadow, the two large yellow eyes blinked. Corinne turned and ran as fast as she could. The thing snarled and rushed after her.
Corinne concentrated on the ground as she fled. She burst through the last line of trees onto the dirt road. A large pair of hands grabbed her. Corinne squeezed her eyes shut.
“What are you running from, Corinne?” a familiar voice asked.
She opened her eyes, relieved. “Nothing, Papa,” she said. Her breath came in fast sips and her body shook.
Pierre La Mer looked into her eyes. “Why were you in there?”
Corinne looked down the road. Near the dried-up well, two boys in tattered, dirty clothing stood watching them. The older one was smiling with mischief. He held a small frog in his hands over the top of the well. It was struggling, but he held it firm. Their next victim, Corinne thought. Corinne let the stone pendant dangle from her fingers. Its smooth surface gleamed. The smile slid off the boy’s face. The younger one looked surprised and then his face broke into a grin. His brother nudged him hard.
“Those filthy boys tied Mama’s necklace to a baby ’gouti and scared it into the forest. I had to get it back, didn’t I?”
“What boys?” Pierre looked around, but the boys had run away. “You actually chased an agouti into the forest and caught it?” He looked at Corinne from head to foot and pulled some of the twigs and leaves from her braids. Suddenly, he laughed. “I’ve raised a hunter!” He kissed both her cheeks, but then his face grew serious. “You should be old enough to know not to go running in the woods. There are wild animals in the bush, Corinne. There’s a reason you don’t see anyone else in there.”
Corinne looked back at the bushes and thought of those shining eyes and the thing that had run after her.
Her father swept her up into a tight hug. “Your heart is going quicker than a riptide. Did something frighten you? It wasn’t a jumbie was it?” he teased.
In her father’s arms, in the open air, Corinne laughed at her fear. She hugged him back and said, “No, Papa.”
“Of course not. Nothing frightens my girl, right?” He winked. Pierre wiped some mud off his daughter’s face. “The sun is going down. It’s time to go visit your mama. Are you ready?”
Corinne re-tied the necklace around her neck and felt the stone settle close to her heart. “Ready.”
Corinne and her father walked away as the sun slipped toward the horizon.
They did not see the pair of yellow eyes that brought a dim light to the edge of the forest. The darker it got, the brighter the eyes became. The eyes watched Corinne and Pierre as they went on the road until they disappeared around a bend. And once the sun descended beneath the tops of the trees and the forest shadows lengthened along the road, the jumbie emerged.
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste will be in stores April 2015.
Excerpt from THE JUMBIES copyright © 2015 by Tracey Baptiste. Reprinted with permission from Algonquin Young Readers.
Tracey Baptiste is the author of the young adult novel Angel’s Grace (Simon & Schuster), and the forthcoming middle grade novel The Jumbies (Algonquin YR) which will be available in Spring 2015. She has also written several nonfiction books for middle grade readers including biographies of some of her favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, and Jerry Spinelli. Tracey is also an editor at Rosen Publishing where she is proud to produce excellent nonfiction for children.
For more information, visit www.traceybaptiste.com, follow Tracey on Twitter @TraceyBaptiste, or connect with her on Facebook at Tracey Baptiste Writes.