Into the Zombie Underworld
Credit: Photograph by Ben Lowy

On the same day that Mano, Overne, and Madame Precieuse were arrested, rumor spread through the town of Roseaux that Nadathe's zombie was being transported from Carrefour Charles. Crowds milled about town and waited outside the home of an ambitious young sorcerer, Predieu Dorval. Then members of the local secret society came out on the streets and told the people to disperse. Still, Madame Zicot says witnesses told her that they saw Nadathe arrive at Dorval's house. They said she was wearing a white sheet, her hair long against her neck.

Dorval later told me that he was never in possession of Nadathe's zombie. He did admit, though, that he promised to return Nadathe to her mother and accepted from her 5,000 gourdes, or about $130 – what the average Haitian might make in three or four months – to effect various herbal and spiritual treatments intended to restore the young woman's right state of mind. Finally, after more than a week, Dorval told Madame Zicot that he lacked the unilateral authority to liberate Nadathe and called on Monsieur Roswald Val, the president of the largest secret society in the region, to organize a meeting at which Nadathe's fate would be decided.
Sorcerers from as far away as Port-au-Prince met on the Place Roseaux, the grassy town square overlooking the transparent green sea, a hundred meters or so from Judge Etienne's home. This was a gathering of presidents, emperors, and queens, each accompanied by their secretaries – 32 men and women in all. Normally such a meeting was a private affair, but this afternoon Ascqué Neville and his brother, Louis Jean, were allowed to attend, in deference to the pressing urgency of their claim. The brothers contributed three bottles of the best rum in Haiti, Barbancourt Cinq Étoiles, to a table laden with every kind of drink: beer, clairin, and Coca-Cola. Finally the drunken sorcerers brought to order the business of Nadathe. The Neville brothers had not realized the proposal to return her to her family would be so controversial. There was talk of the repercussions of such a decision: The society would lose its fearsome reputation; the zombies, knowing now that their condition was not final, might revolt.

Yet there were those sympathetic to Nadathe and her plight. This was the faction led by Monsieur Val. Nadathe had done nothing, he reminded the others, and neither had her family. At one point, the nervous Ascqué Neville was given the opportunity to speak. He said, "I need my wife so that I can marry her. I need her quickly," and began to cry.

His tears won over the majority, and although no conclusive decision was reached on Nadathe's fate that day, there were only muted objections when Monsieur Val asked Dorval his price to give Ascqué back his fiancée. According to the Neville brothers, Dorval later negotiated in private with them for Nadathe's return, agreeing that the family would pay another 5,000 gourdes – a claim Dorval denies.

Over and over again, according to Madame Zicot and Ascqué Neville, Dorval promised to give back the zombie, each promise sparking a renewed hope, followed inevitably by a crush of disappointment. They say that Dorval failed to attend meetings, invented excuses not to return Nadathe. Then Dorval simply refused to come out of his house altogether.

Madame Zicot then went to visit Monsieur Val, in Jérémie, where she sat with him in his study. But the powers of even the president of the society are limited. The societies are not strictly hierarchical, and Monsieur Val lacked the authority to command another member. Or perhaps he simply didn't want to. Whatever the case, Madame Zicot says he told her, "Madame, do not say yet that your child is lost. Go to the Parquet."
Madame Zicot followed that advice and visited the Parquet, or the higher judicial authority in Jérémie, again availing herself of the authority of the state. This decision would prove disastrous, for it gave that faction of the secret society who opposed Nadathe's release an overwhelming argument: Nadathe's release was only possible if done secretly, quietly, discreetly.

An official in the Parquet's office instructed Madame Zicot to return to Judge Etienne and ask him for her daughter's dossier – the transcript of Mano's and Overne's confessions. Madame Zicot did as instructed. But the once-helpful Judge Etienne was distinctly less helpful now. He refused to give her the dossier, would not entertain her pleas. He was abrupt: "The state knows nothing about the devil's business. I judge the day and not the night."

Madame Zicot now suffered the deepest panic a mother of a missing child can feel: She had no idea where to turn next.

She went back to Monsieur Val. His manner was grave. He told Madame Zicot that the society had held another meeting. The affair had been concluded. Another sorceress, a woman named Ti Soeur, had given a definitive veto to Madame Zicot's plea.

At that meeting, Ti Soeur said, "This business has too many echoes. Moun ki mouri mouri nét." The dead are dead for good.