Before the Frost, p.1Henning Mankell
Table of Contents
Also by Henning Mankell
PART I - the darkest hour
PART II - the void
PART III - the noose
PART IV - the thirteenth tower
Also by Henning Mankell
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Return of the Dancing Master
Jonestown, November 1978
His thoughts were like a shower of red-hot glowing needles, causing an almost unbearable pain. He tried desperately to remain calm, to think clearly. The worst thing was fear. The fear that Jim would unleash his dogs and hunt him down, like the terrified beast of prey he had become. Jim’s dogs: they were what he was most afraid of. All through that long night of November 18, when he had run until he was exhausted and taken shelter among the decomposing roots of an upturned tree, he imagined he could hear them closing in.
Jim never lets anyone escape, he thought. He seemed to be filled by an endless and divine source of love, but the man I have followed has turned out to be someone quite different. Unnoticed by us, he changed places with his shadow or with the devil, whom he was always warning us about. The devil of selfishness, who keeps us from serving God with obedience and submission. What appeared to be love turned into hate. I should have seen it earlier. Jim himself warned us about it time and time again. He gave us the truth, but not all at once. It came slowly, a creeping realization. But neither I nor anyone else wanted to hear it—the truth buried between the words. It was my own fault, because I didn’t want to see it. In his sermons and in all his teachings he didn’t just talk about the spiritual preparations we needed to undergo to ready ourselves for the Judgment Day ahead. He was also always telling us we had to be ready to die.
He interrupted his thoughts and listened. Wasn’t that the dogs barking? No, it was still only a sound inside of him, generated by his fear. He went back in his confused and terrified mind to the apocalyptic events in Jonestown. He needed to understand what had happened—Jim was their leader, shepherd, and pastor. They had followed him in the exodus from California when they could no longer stand persecution from the media and government authorities. In Guyana, they were going to realize their dreams of a life of peaceful coexistence with nature and one another in God. And at first they had experienced something very close to that. But then it changed. Could they have been as threatened here in Guyana as in California? Would they be safe anywhere? Perhaps it was only in death that they would find the kind of shelter they needed to construct the community they strove for. “I have seen far in my mind,” Jim said. “I have seen much farther than before. The Day of Judgment is near at hand, and if we are not to perish in that terrible maelstrom we have to be ready to die. Only through physical death will we survive.”
Suicide was the only answer. When Jim stood in the pulpit and mentioned it for the first time, there was nothing frightening about his words. First, parents were to give drinks laced with cyanide to their children, cyanide that Jim had stockpiled in plastic containers in a locked room at the back of his house. Then the adults would take the poison. Those who were overcome with doubt in the final moments would be assisted by Jim and his closest associates. If they ran out of poison, they had guns. Jim would make sure everyone was taken care of before he put the muzzle to his own head.
He lay under the tree, panting in the tropical heat. His ears strained to catch any sound of Jim’s dogs, those huge red-eyed monsters that had inspired fear in all of them. Jim had told them that everyone in his congregation, everyone who had chosen to follow his path and come to Guyana, had no choice but to continue on the path laid out by God. The path that James Warren Jones had decided was the right one.
It had sounded so comforting. No one else would have been able to make words like death, suicide, cyanide, and weapons sound so beautiful and soothing.
He shivered. Jim has walked around and inspected the dead, he thought. He knows I’m missing and he’s going to send the dogs after me. The thought clawed its way out of his mind: the dead. Tears began to run down his face. For the first time he took in the enormity of what had happened: Maria and the girl were dead, everyone was dead. But he did not want to believe it. Maria and he had talked about this in the small hours: Jim was no longer the same man they had once been drawn to, the one who promised them salvation and a meaningful life if they joined the People’s Temple. Maria was the one who put her finger on it: “Jim’s eyes have changed. He doesn’t see us now. He looks past us and his eyes are cold, as if he wants nothing more to do with any of us.”
They talked about running away together, but every morning they agreed that they couldn’t abandon the path they had chosen. Jim would become his old self again. He was suffering some kind of crisis and it would soon be over; he was stronger than all of them. And without him they would never have had this brief experience of what seemed to them like heaven on earth.
There was one memory that stood out more clearly than any other. It was from that time when the drugs, alcohol, and guilt about leaving his little daughter had brought him close to ending it all. He wanted to throw himself in front of a truck or train and then it would be over and no one would miss him. During one of those last meandering walks through town, when he was saying goodbye to all the people who didn’t care one way or another if he lived or died, he happened to pass by the People’s Temple. “It was God’s plan,” Jim said later. “He had already decided that you would be among the chosen, one of the few to experience His mercy.” He didn’t know what had made him walk up those steps and enter the building that looked nothing like a church. He still didn’t know what it was, even now as he lay among the roots of a tree waiting for Jim’s dogs to find him and tear him limb from limb.
He knew he should be making good his escape, but he did not leave his hiding place. He had abandoned one child already; he was not going to abandon another. Maria and the girl were still back there with the others.
What had really happened? They had gotten up as usual that morning and gathered outside Jim’s door. It remained closed, as it often had in the last days. They had therefore p
They had stopped dead in their tracks at the first sound of gunshots and thought they heard human screams mingled with the chatter of the birds. They had looked at each other and then run back down toward the colony. He had become separated from the other men on the way back—possibly they had decided to flee rather than return. When he emerged from the shady forest and climbed the fence to the fruit orchards, everything was silent. Too silent. No one was there picking fruit. No one was to be seen. He ran toward the houses, sure that something disastrous had occurred. Jim must have come out of his house this day with hate, not love, blazing from his eyes.
He had a cramp in his side and slowly shifted position, straining not to make any noise. What conclusion had Jim come to? As he ran through the fruit orchards, he tried to do what Jim had always taught them: to put his life in God’s hands. He prayed as he ran. Please, God, let Maria and the child be safe. But God had chosen not to hear him. In his desperation he started to believe that the shots he had heard from the ravine were the sounds of God and Jim taking aim at each other.
When he came rushing onto the dusty main street of Jonestown he half expected to catch the two of them in their duel. But God was nowhere to be seen. Jim Jones was there, the dogs barked like crazy in their cages, and there were bodies everywhere. He could see at once that they were all dead. It was as if they had been struck down by a giant fist from the sky. Jim Jones and the six brothers who were his personal assistants and bodyguards must have gone around and shot children trying to crawl away from their parents’ corpses. He ran around among the dead looking for Maria and the child, but without success.
It was when he shouted Maria’s name that he heard Jim calling him. He turned around and saw his pastor cocking a pistol at him. They were about twenty meters apart, and between them, outstretched on the burned brown earth, were the bodies of his friends, contorted in their death throes. Jim pulled the trigger, but missed. Before Jim had the chance to shoot again, he ran. He heard many shots being fired and he heard Jim roar in rage, but he had not been hit and he made his stumbling way across the bodies and kept running until it was dark. He didn’t know if he was the only survivor. Where were Maria and the girl? Why was he the only one who was safe? Could one person escape the Day of Judgment? He didn’t know, he only knew it was no dream. This was all too real.
At dawn, the heat began to rise like steam from the trees. That was when he finally realized that no dogs were coming. He crawled out from under the tree, shook his aching limbs, and stood up. He started back toward the colony. He was exhausted and extremely thirsty. Everything was still very quiet. The dogs are dead, he thought. Jim must have meant it when he said no one would escape judgment. Not even the dogs. He climbed over the fence and started to run. The first bodies he saw were those who had tried to escape. They had been shot in the back.
Then he stopped by the corpse of a familiar-looking man. Shaking, he turned the body face up. It was Jim. His gaze has finally softened, he thought. And he’s looking me straight in the eyes. He had a sudden impulse to hit Jim, to kick him in the face. But he quelled this urge for violence and stood up. He was the only living soul among these dead, and he would not rest until he found Maria and the girl.
Maria had tried to run; she had fallen forward when they shot her in the back. The girl was in her arms. He bent over and cried. Now there’s nothing left for me, he thought. Jim has turned our paradise into a hell.
He stayed with them until helicopters started circling over the area. He reminded himself of something Jim had told them shortly after they first came to Guyana, when life was still good: “The truth about a person can just as well be determined with the nose as with your eyes and ears,” he said. “The devil hides inside people and the devil smells of sulfur. Whenever you catch a whiff of sulfur, raise the cross for protection.”
He didn’t know what the future held, if anything. He didn’t want to think about it. He wondered if he would ever be able to fill the void that God and Jim Jones had left behind.
the darkest hour
The wind picked up shortly after nine o’clock on the evening of August 21, 2001. Small waves rippled across the surface of Marebo Lake, which lay in a valley to the south of the Rommele hills. The man waiting in the shadows next to the water stretched out his hand to determine the direction of the wind. Almost due south, he thought with satisfaction. He had chosen the right spot to put out food to attract the animals he would soon be sacrificing.
He sat down on the rock where he had spread out a sweater against the chill. It was a new moon, and no light penetrated the thick layer of clouds. Dark enough for catching eels, he thought. That’s what my Swedish playmate used to say when I was growing up. The eels start their migration in August. That’s when they bump into the fishermen’s traps and wander the length of the trap. And then the trap slams shut.
His ears, always alert, picked up the sound of a car passing by some distance away. Apart from that, there was nothing. He took out a flashlight and directed the beam over the shoreline and water. He could tell that they were approaching. He spotted at least two white patches against the dark water. Soon there would be more.
He turned off the light and tested his mind—exactingly trained—by thinking of the time. Three minutes past nine, he thought. Then he lifted his arm and checked the display. Three minutes past nine—he was right, of course. In another thirty minutes it would all be over. He had learned that humans were not alone in their need for regularity. Even wild animals could be trained to respect time. It had taken him three months to prepare these animals for tonight’s sacrifice. He had proceeded with patience and deliberation. He had made himself their friend.
He turned the flashlight back on. Now there were more white patches, and they were nearing the shore. He briefly illuminated the tempting meal of broken bread crusts that he had laid out on the ground, as well as the two gasoline containers. Then he turned the light off and waited.
When the time came he did exactly as he had planned. The swans had reached the shore and were pecking at the pieces of bread he had set out for them, either oblivious of his presence or simply used to him by now. He set the flashlight aside and put on his night-vision goggles. Altogether there were six swans, three couples. Two were lying down while the rest were cleaning their feathers or still combing the ground for bread.
Now. He got up, grabbed a can in each hand, and sprayed the swans with gasoline. Before they had a chance to fly away, he emptied what remained in each of the cans and set fire to a clump of dried grass among the swans. The burning gasoline caught one swan and immediately spread to the rest. In their agony they tried to fly away over the lake, but one by one plunged into the water like fireballs. He tried to fix the sight and sound of them in his memory: both the burning, screeching birds in the air and the image of hissing, smoking wings as they crashed into the lake. Their dying screams sound like broken trumpets, he thought. That’s how I will remember them.
The whole thing was over in less than a minute. He was very pleased. It had gone according to plan, an auspicious beginning for what lay ahead.
He threw the two gasoline containers into the lake, tucked his sweater into his backpack, and shone the flashlight around the place to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind. When he was convinced he had remembered everything he took a cell phone out of his coat pocket and dialed a number. He had bought the phone in Copenhagen a few days before.
When someone answered, he asked to be connected to the police. The conversation was brief. Then he threw the phone into the lake, put on his backpack, and w
The wind was blowing from the east now and was growing stronger.
It was the end of August and Linda Caroline Wallander was wondering if she took after her father in ways she hadn’t already thought of, even though she was almost thirty years old and should know who she was by now. She had asked her father, had even tried to press him on it, but he seemed genuinely puzzled by her questions and brushed them aside by saying that she was most like her grandfather. These “who-am-I-like” conversations, as she called them, sometimes ended in fierce argument. They kindled quickly but also died away almost at once. She forgot about most of them and assumed that he did too.
But there had been one argument this summer that she had not been able to forget. It had been nothing, really. They had been talking about their differing memories of a holiday they took to the island of Bornholm when she was a little girl. For Linda there was more than this episode at stake; it was as if by reclaiming this memory she was on the verge of gaining access to a much larger part of her early life. She had been six, maybe seven years old, and both Mona and her father had been there. The idiotic argument had started over whether or not it had been windy that day. Her father claimed she had been seasick and thrown up all over his jacket. But Linda remembered the sea as blue and perfectly calm. They had only ever taken this one trip to Bornholm, so it couldn’t have been a matter of mixing up several trips. Her mother had never liked boat rides and her father was surprised she had agreed to this one.
That evening, after the argument, Linda had had trouble falling asleep. She was due to start working at the Ystad police station in two months. She had graduated from the police academy in Stockholm and had actually wanted to start working right away, but here she had nothing to do all summer, and her father couldn’t keep her company, since he had used up most of his vacation time in May. That was when he thought he had bought a house and would need extra time for moving. He had the house under contract; it was in Svarte, just south of the highway, right next to the sea. But then the buyer changed her mind at the last minute. Perhaps it was because she couldn’t stand entrusting her carefully tended roses and rhododendron bushes to a man who only talked about where he was going to put the kennel—when he finally bought a dog. She broke the contract, and her father’s agent suggested he ask for compensation, but he chose not to. The whole episode was already over in his mind.
Before the Frost by Henning Mankell / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes