(Jolene McDonald is an admin of the Facebook group Jim Jones Cult Leader created in February 2018, and the creator of a blog – the Jim Jones Information Blog – to share some of the informative posts from the group. The posts from the blog also appear here. Her other writings for this year’s edition of the jonestown report are Morphine Messiah: My Own Holy Book and The Jonestown Dream Quartet (Part 2). Her collected works on this site are here. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Author’s note: This collection of short stories is based on a series of dreams I had over a few weeks in 2018. Each dream was a different death scenario for Jim and me in Jonestown. They are described in these stories.)
Trying to catch my breath, I sat on the ground, stunned by the scene I just witnessed. Nothing could erase Jim’s final speech or the sight and sound of nine hundred deaths.
He asked me how I wanted to die. I just shook my head. No words were coming out. When the nurse walked by and asked the same question a few moments later, I managed to answer. “The poison… I suppose.”
I turned to Jim. “How about you?”
He revealed a gun. A tiny smirk lit up his clammy face.
“You’re not drinking the potion at all?” I asked, already knowing he would not even touch it.
“No, honey… no.” He replied quietly. “That ain’t my way.”
The nurse handed me a cup of the purple poison. I almost thanked her for it, somehow forgetting there was no need for politeness now.
“Are you two gonna be alright?” She asked Jim.
“Yes, off you go,” he slurred impatiently.
With nothing left to say to us, she walked away. After a short while, a gunshot thundered through the air. I flinched, still staring at the cup in front of me. Jim was sitting on the floor with his bright red shirt damp with sweat, probably because he was anticipating what would happen next. We sat in an eerie silence. The only two left alive.
“You’ll die quicker than me.” I said eventually. “To die together, at the same moment, we need to time this perfectly.”
He said he would watch me drink the poison and wait for it to take hold. He would keep me still if I was convulsing, make me as comfortable as possible in those moments. Then just as he was sure I was dead, he would pull the trigger on himself. I accepted it, terrified.
“I’d be scared to use the gun, but I’m also scared to drink that stuff, I won’t lie.”
Jim nodded slowly. “It’s a mess, honey. I’ll take care of you. Make sure you’re gone.”
I closed my eyes. Took a small sip. The bitter taste overpowered me. Heaving, I managed to drink the whole cup. With a calm gesture, Jim moved me closer to him, and I waited.
Jim was laid back on a pillow, breathing fast with eyes glazed. His forehead was wet. Voice incoherent, beyond slurred. Was he attempting an overdose, the death becoming slow and prolonged because of his high resistance to drugs? He couldn’t speak clearly enough to let me know. In his distress, he motioned to the gun a couple of feet away, attempting to reach it with a weak movement of his fingers. The way he looked at me told me everything. The look of love and also urgency. He wanted me to help him in his final moments. I thought of the White Night when he said it would be an honour if I shot him. Tears formed in my eyes. I could only shoot him if it was a mercy killing, I had said. Seeing him now, so desperate, I realised this would indeed be a mercy killing. He had to be put out of his misery with the gun. I wasn’t strong enough to hold the pillow down on his face, and death by gunshot was something he desired anyway.
My hand was unsteady. I paused, frustrated because I felt I couldn’t do this for him. When he gave me that look of urgency again, I had to. I said I was sorry and held his hand. Pressing the gun behind his left ear, I struggled with the trigger. It was so hard, but the delay meant I could kiss him in the last moments. Still holding his hand and after one final struggle with the trigger, I shot him. My hand jarred backwards, ricocheting the lethal weapon away from us. Silence.
I couldn’t control my shaking hand. I opened my mouth in shock. It was hard to look at him lying there, but I had to end it formally. I opened his shirt and used the stethoscope to check for a heartbeat. He was definitely dead.
Without any more thoughts – but with real urgency – I retrieved the firearm, put it to the right side of my head and fired.
“It’s over, it’s over. Don’t worry.”
Those were Jim’s words to me in the dead silence.
I stepped over a body, walked towards him and held his shoulders forcefully. I felt like shaking him out of this nightmare. Instead, I embraced him.
“Jim. Jim… why…?” My voice became weak.
He removed his tinted shades slowly and held both my hands.
Cyanide was not an option for me. I wanted to die with Jim’s bullet. We had to position ourselves at the right angle and close enough, so when he shot himself, the single bullet would go straight through his head and mine as well. It was poignant, maybe ritualistic. After expressing concern about how it could go wrong, we decided it was a risk worth taking.
He reached for one last handful of pills before we positioned ourselves correctly on the floor. I had no idea when he was going to pull the trigger because I wanted him to surprise me with sudden death; no warning, no time to react.
I had a vision of the moment of our deaths from a third person point of view. The scene was slow motion and soundless as the shot fired. I knew the exact moment the bullet hit because the blood from Jim’s head began to pour down my face and neck. There was a short convulsion. My hand locked onto his as the bullet passed through.
I prepared for Jim’s final moments. I made the pillow more comfortable and pulled his unbuttoned shirt together because he felt cold. I asked if there was anything else he wanted me to do for him.
“I want you to go and tell the story. Tell the true story. I trust you.” He kept saying, over and over again.
“I’ll do you justice, okay. I’ll do it.” I said reassuringly, leaning over him. He whispered “Thank you” with a kiss and nodded, closing his eyes. He asked if I was proud of him. I told him he inspired me to do good in the world, despite his many bad actions.
“You will be proud of me.” He said, touching my face. “But it’s time now.”
He reached for the gun.
“No, wait a minute. Not yet.”
We talked and talked, giving each other comfort and reassurance. To be so close to him in those moments brought strength and overwhelming pride. No fear of where we were or what would happen. No doubts about what we were feeling.
Eventually the light in his eyes began to dim for the finale. Without saying goodbye, he slowly let go of my hand, turning slightly. He raised the gun to his head in an inverted position and moved it around carefully as if trying to find the ideal place. As he was about to take his life, I looked away out of fear, and respect. Deafened for several seconds by the gun blast, I was scared to open my eyes. When I did, I saw the pulsating flow of blood flooding from his temple. I turned his face towards me. Those vacant eyes. The red rivers running out if his nose and mouth. I held him, his head and shoulders. Blood soaked my arms and it was already pooling beneath him. I ran my fingers over the exit hole as the flow was slowing down, kissed the blood and wiped it over my lips. There was cleansing power in it, I told myself. I positioned him onto the pillow carefully and placed a blanket over him.
As I was ready to leave, I turned around to look at his blanket-covered body. The emperor should not be hidden in his own empire, I thought, so I removed it. The motion of the removal made his open shirt fall apart at each side, exposing him further. It is what he would have wanted, to be the centre of attention, even in death. It was a gory sight, but he looked peaceful in his bloody heaven. The expression on his face was relief. He looked happy to be gone, so that made me feel happiness in a bittersweet way.
There was no reason for me to stay any longer. I had to go on. I would leave and tell the world the true story. Share the connection, spread the facts, dispel any myths. My mission and legacy. I would do it for Jim. I smiled as I took one last look at his corpse because I knew this was not the end.
I had escaped the darkness of the deaths in Jonestown, only to be thrown into the darkness of the night. But I could just about see the first glimpse of sunrise as I ran away, through the endless jungle.