St. John USVI Stories: The Spirit
In the 1960s getting high had been elevated to an art form. People were experimenting with marijuana and LSD, and the heavy hitters were trying whatever else they could get their hands on. In this regard my friend, Bob, was no slouch.
Bob had recently sailed to St. Thomas from the US mainland and had rented an apartment in Fortuna out on the western part of the island.
One afternoon I dropped by for a visit. Bob was bubbling over with excitement. He had just learned that there was a bush that grew wild in the Virgin Islands that could get you high. Moreover, it was free, legal and readily available.
We took a short walk, and he showed me the bush that he was talking about. I recognized it right away. Locals call it joy juice, which I think is a misnomer, because I never met anyone who described its effects as anything resembling joyful.
The botanical name for the bush is datura, a plant that contains the same potent and deadly psychoactive alkaloids as belladonna, henbane and mandrake. These plants have been used for centuries as medicines, poisons and intoxicants, and are often associated with witchcraft, sorcery, obeah, voodoo and shamanism.
I explained to Bob that joy juice was dangerous and toxic and that no one I knew who had taken it had ever wanted to repeat the experience. He ignored my warnings and went ahead and prepared a tea, which he promptly drank.
After about an hour, Bob, who was starting to look spaced-out and not all that happy, said that he needed to go out and get some air. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon.
I didn't see Bob again until late the next day, when he wandered into the house wrapped in only a towel, looking confused and disoriented. His face, arms and legs were badly scratched up.
"What happened to you?" I asked, "I've been looking all over for you. You look terrible!"
Bob pulled himself together, sat down on the couch and told me his story.
The first thing that he remembered after going outside was finding himself lost and alone in the thick bush below the road. It was pitch black. He was all scratched up and bleeding. He cried out for help. There was no answer. Desperately, he cried out again, and this time he heard an eerie voice coming out of the pitch-blackness of the forest. "Do you need help?"
"Oh yes, please help. Who are you?"
"I am a spirit, a jumbie, a guardian, a warrior of the past. I can lead you to the sea, but not as you are now. Your clothes offend me, you must remove them."
Bob took off his clothes.
"Follow me," whispered the spirit. Bob perceived a faint light, outlining a shadowy transparent figure.
"Follow me," the spirit repeated.
Bob followed the light and was thus able to pass through the thick bush as easily as if he were a cat or a mongoose. The moon rose shedding a ray of light through the trees. Bob looked up at the moon. When he looked back down, the spirit was gone.
Panicking, Bob dashed into the bush, and yelped in pain as he bumped into a large cactus.
"Help! Where are you? Bob screamed.
A hoarse whisper, from the darkness answered, "I cannot help you adorned as you are. It is offensive to me"
"What's wrong?" Bob asked, "I'm not wearing anything."
"What is that on your wrist?" asked the spirit.
"Take it off," commanded the spirit, or I cannot help you.
Reluctantly, Bob unclasped his Rolex and threw it into the bush. The shadowy spirit reappeared and Bob again followed it, moving silently and easily through the over the rugged terrain. With the first faint light of dawn the spirit spoke and said, "I must leave you now daylight is approaching and we have reached the sea."
Bob looked out and saw that he was standing on top of a low cliff about twenty feet above the rocky southern coastline. There were no roads, no houses, no boats and no people. The sea was choppy and forbidding.
The spirit was becoming more transparent and was hardly visible.
"What now?" Bob asked.
A voice that sounded like the wind answered back, "you must swim, my friend, swim."
Bob, who was not the greatest swimmer in the world, waded into the shallow water. He stepped on a sea urchin whose spines lodged in his foot and then fell and cut himself on some fire coral. When the water was deep enough, he began his swim upwind and up current to the east, towards the airport. The sun was already high in the sky, when Bob dragged himself ashore on the sands of Lindbergh Bay.
A West Indian family was picnicking on the beach. They took pity on the naked and bedraggled young white man, wrapped him in a towel and drove him home.
When he finished telling me his bizarre tale, he went off to his bedroom and slept for the rest of the day and throughout the following night. But before falling asleep, he quietly swore an oath to God that he would never, ever again, even go near another joy juice bush.
By Gerald Singer