About a month after I arrived in Jérémie, a rumor swept through town that a deadly zombie was on the loose. This zombie, it was said, could kill by touch alone. The story had enough authority that schools closed. The head of the local secret society responsible for the management of the zombie population was asked to investigate. Later that week, Monsieur Roswald Val, having conducted a presumably thorough inquiry, made an announcement on Radio Lambi: There was nothing to fear; all his zombies were accounted for.
Shortly after that incident, I started taking Creole lessons from a motorcycle-taxi driver named Lucner Delzor. Delzor was married with four children, but he kept a mistress on the other side of town. He told me that he had never so much as drunk a glass of water at his mistress’s house for fear she might lace his food with love powder. He loved his wife and children far too much to risk that.
One of my first complete sentences in Creole was “Gen vréman vre zonbi an Ayiti?” Or: “Are there really, truly zombies in Haiti?”
“Bien sûr,” Delzor said. He had even seen them: affectless men and women with a deathlike pallor, high nasal voices, and the characteristic drooping at the chin — men and women who he knew for a fact had died and been buried.
“Ayiti, se repiblik zonbi,” Delzor added. Haiti is the republic of zombies.
I was eager to meet a zombie for myself, and began making appropriate inquiries. Several weeks later, my wife came home from a judicial conference. Making small talk, a local judicial official mentioned the strange case of zombification that his courtroom had seen not several months before. The case was, he said, “un peu spectaculaire.”
I met Judge Isaac Etienne a week or so later at his unfinished concrete house in the village of Roseaux. Roseaux is on the sea, and the fishermen, their nets already in, were stretched out on the small grassy town square, drinking rum and playing dominoes under a dazzling midmorning sun. The judge was a boyish-looking man of 42, slender, wearing baggy surfer shorts, flip-flops, and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.
The dossier was, at bottom, a murder story, the judge said — but it was a murder story with the great oddity that the victim did not die.
If one accepts the author's theory, this might be an interesting example of a situation in which both practictioners and victims of "magic" believe that real sorcery is being performed, while there remains a natural (though weird) explanation for the whole thing. Or could could go to either positing real sorcery or writing the whole thing up to hysteria amoung a poor and uneducated population.