"Thirteen Moon," fractal art made for this story by Deeann D. Mathews
“Racism? It is an issue, but not on even ground, because if a man has to assume he is superior to my Black self, that of course means he is not, and he has just told me. You do not need to assume a position that actually belongs to you.”
So said Jean-Luc Dubois to Delford Drake III, his son Jean-Paul's mentee at the Stepforth Study Hall in Tinyville, VA. Young Dell thought of Monsieur Dubois as a big Black French grandpa, and Monsieur Dubois accepted him as another of his many extra grandsons.
“You know, Monsieur Dubois, that's deep,” Dell said. “You do not need to assume a position that actually belongs to you … wow.”
“I remember a story my great-grandfather told me, Dell. Old Monsieur Richelieux of Baton Rouge did not realize that his slaves had realized what I have told you. He had grown up never observing the times and the seasons, but hearing all the superstition about Black people and voodoo – it was also not long since the revolt of the slaves of Haiti and the eviction of the French from the island in 1804.
“There was great violence brought against the slaves in Louisiana to prevent there from being any such revolt, and upon that, Monsieur Richelieux comforted himself. His slaves were quiet and productive; their leaders awaited their time, watching the sky and preparing.
“It was December; the 12th full moon of the year had shown itself on November 29 and was still full on December 1. This meant that there was time for there to be another full moon before year-end – the Richelieuxes found out on their way home from an early Christmas party, at the edge of their own property. A wild figure, white as that 12th moon and shining in its light, wearing fantastical beads and bones as long strands, stopped their horses.
“Beware – beware, Francis Richelieux – the curse of the 13th voodoo moon is upon you, and if you should see its light, the moon of the wolf you shall not see in 1805!”
“Monsieur Richelieux had his gun and would have shot this figure, but the figure threw something into the air and drove the horses quite wild. The master and mistress scarcely escaped with their lives, and the figure vanished into thin air.
“Some of Monsieur Richelieux's slaves had seen what had happened, and they appeared as frightened as he was – by the time he made it to his house, the news had made it across the plantation and fear settled in like a shroud.
“Monsieur Richelieux had a slave mistress, Jeannette, and one night, seeing his growing terror, she said to him, 'Have no fear – de old curse an' de spirit of de thirteen-moon can be defeated 'fore he snatch your soul. If'n he cain't get in by de light of de moon for de three days of de full moon, he cain't get you. You come see how we keep him out, all de way.'
“So, the next day, Monsieur Richelieux noticed his slaves all fitting their old clothes and the quilts they often made from them to their windows.
“ 'Well, Monsieur, if you be cursed, we be cursed, 'cuz we all be yours,' his mistress explained. “But you can do better and be all safe; get you mirrors for your windows, and you be killin' de spirit puttin' his own power back on him. Keep white candles burnin' 'til de sun be way up in de sky.'
“Madame Richelieux hated Jeannette, but she asked her butler Lucien what the other slaves were doing, and he told her the same things and added a little more.
“De thirteen-moon got real strong magic to get what it want done. Slaves be goin' mad if dey not careful, and y'all be wise to take all your big treasures and papers and hide dem' out de house, just in case, 'cuz if you leave a crack, and any of y'all get hit by dat light, y'all gonna tear up things you be needin.' ”
“Madame Richelieux told her husband, and there was not a mirror in Baton Rouge for sale they did not buy. Monsieur Richelieux also took all his and his wife's jewels and their business papers, put them in a strong box, and had his slaves bury them well away from the house, just in case.
“Monsieur Richelieux told his slave master friends about the chance of slaves going mad, and they all organized their patrols to protect the big houses, all three nights of the 13th full moon.
“On December 29, the last night of the waxing gibbous moon, all the animals on six plantations went wild. This put more fear into the Richelieuxes and their friends – all of them had their remaining animals gathered into barns, and quilts put up on all the windows.
“Imagine, young Dell, watching the sun drop lower and lower in the sky on December 30. Imagine remembering that wild figure, pale as death, pronouncing the curse on you by name and threatening you with death. Imagine taking that on a conscience already weakened by holding slaves and knowing, deep, deep down, that any and all curses were deserved. Imagine that whole night in that house, candles burning everywhere, armed men at every door, sitting with your gun out with the wife whom you do not love and who does not love you, jumping at every sound as the clock slowly moves through the hours.
“Imagine, young Dell, the glory of the morning on December 31 – 9:00am or so, all danger passed, and to walk out into that sunrise and rejoice with your friends. And, imagine at about 9:30, when you realize that your slaves took their quilts down and walked off under the moonlight since all patrols were at the big houses and not out on the roads.”
Dell nearly jumped out of his chair.
“What?” he said.
“The lunar year is shorter than the solar year, so there are 13 moons in a year every two to three years,” Monsieur Dubois said. “Monsieur Richelieux's slaves knew he and his friends did not know that, and so tricked them all. Remember the strong box? Monsieur Richelieux's slaves took that too, and with it, all evidence that he had ever owned them. Lucien Dubois the butler and Jeannette Richelieux the mistress – who soon would be married – had planned it all!”
“And your name is Jean-Luc because … ?”
“Well,” Jean-Luc Dubois said, “it was Maman Jeannette's idea, because she knew how stupid and small and inferior Monsieur Richelieux really was. Like I said at the beginning, Dell, a man who assumes a superior position tells all those that know better that he is not superior! My family's freedom since 1805 is the proof. As for the curse, it surely fell anyway, since for the first time, Madame Richelieux had to cook, and Monsieur Richelieux had to eat the result for breakfast!”