Oct 04, 2015 News
(We celebrated Indigenous Heritage Month with the myths of our First People. Due to the enthusiastic response from our readers, we have decided to start a fiction page that will focus on all aspects of Guyanese folklore. This is a final excerpt from the supernatural novel, Kamarang, by Michael Jordan, to be published next year)
By Michael Jordan
Michael awoke from deep sleep, blinking from the sudden glare of the bedroom bulb. At first he thought that it was near dawn, and he stifled a groan at the thought of having to go to work. But yet he sensed that something wasn’t quite right. For one thing, his mosquito net wasn’t down, he seemed to be lying crossway on his bed, and what was his light doing on, anyway?
He propped himself up in bed. Now he heard music outside his bedroom. It was an instrumental version of My Favourite Things. And that too was strange because that was the theme song for the programme Music to Remember, and Music to Remember came over at—
He stretched towards the ledge by his bed for his watch. He squinted at the time in disbelief. Nine o’clock? Nine P.M? What—
And now some of his fuzziness cleared and he remembered.
It was nine P.M. He’d already worked for the day. But he had come home early because he’d felt so awfully tired… Now bits of the day came back to him. He had awoken this morning with the drained feeling that had bothered him last week; dragged up from deep sleep by his mother’s insistent rapping at his door. He had gone through the rest of the day in a fog of exhaustion. Had left work around three, caught a car home, bolted down his dinner, and tumbled into bed without bothering to change.
And had apparently slept for six whole hours.
Michael yawned, then smiled as he thought of his bitter sweet meeting with Lucille. It all seemed so unreal, as if it had happened to someone else. Had they really talked about a dead boy named Leon? Had she really wept on his shoulder? Made love to him in her lamp-lit room? He touched his chest, his fingers lingering over a spot where she had bitten him deep.
Now he realised that he was ravenous, too. He went downstairs to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He made four salami and cheese sandwiches, mixed a cup of Ovaltine, and was heading back to the bedroom when something on the kitchen table caught his attention. It was a copy of the Citizen. The large black headline at the top seemed to jump out at him.
SKELETONS OF MISSING WOMEN FOUND AT KAMARANG
He stared at the paper for a moment, then picked it up and returned to his room. He sat on the bed, reading as he ate. He read the story twice. His tiredness was gone. The story had a dreamy, sinister ring, an element of something vaguely familiar.
He thought of Lucille, sitting on her bed, eyes filled with tears.
I would never hurt you, Michael…
And despite his dread, he now felt a yearning to see her; whatever, whoever she might be. He’d seen her just the night before, but now he missed her awfully. The light was off in his parents’ room. So was the radio. He could hear his father’s soft, intermittent snores.
Just for an hour…
He threw himself on the bed in frustration. He couldn’t let this thing control him. He—
He caught a whiff of her scent on his pillow. He had brought this smell home with him last night on his fingers, on his clothes. He pressed his face to the pillow, inhaling the faint, tantalizing bit of Lucille that had invaded his parents’ house, and was now calling him into the night…
TONIGHT, THOUGH, AS HE STEPPED into the doorway, he was gripped by the feeling that something was different. It was so intense that he paused at the foot of the stairs, trying to figure out what was wrong.
Usually, he would hear the tinkling of glass, and the women’s shrill laughter from the stairs. Tonight, though, there was just a strange tension, and something in his heart told him he had made a mistake in coming.
Some of the stragglers glanced up as he entered the hallway, then looked away. He sensed an unfriendliness in their stares, and that, too, was different. Desmond the barman was passing a bowl of ice to the prostitute called Marilyn. He glanced up at Michael. For a moment he just stood there, holding the bowl and staring at Michael, with a pasted-on smile on his face. Then he passed the bowl to the prostitute.
She had been babbling away at the barman, but as she collected the bowl, she turned and saw Michael. He saw her eyes widen. The bowl shook in her hands and a chunk of ice fell and went skidding across the floor. She averted her eyes, then hurried over to a table near the punch-box.
What the heck is wrong with her? With everybody?
“Yuh visiting late tonight,” the barman said. Again, he sensed that the man was not pleased to see him.
“Just passing through,” he said. He ordered a beer, though he didn’t really feel like drinking. He stole a glance at the corner near the bar, wondering if she was there.
“She upstairs in she room,” the barman said. “Ain’t come down for the night.” He looked at Michael as if he wanted to say something more. Instead, he headed for the freezer, then returned with the beer. Michael waited for him to break into his usual banter. But the man just sat on his stool, sipping at a beer and scowling. The barman’s manner made him feel uncomfortable, so he shifted away and stood bracing the rail. He scanned the crowd, picking out a few familiar faces: a thin, middle-aged prostitute he’d seen a few times; a chubby, bearded man who was an ex-government Minister. There was no sign of the porknocker.
A drunk who had been slow-dancing by himself was now peering into the punch-box. He pressed a few buttons on the punch-box, then resumed dancing as Helen Shapiro’s husky voice filled the old brothel.
Somewhere, beyond the sea
Somewhere, waiting for me
My lover stands on golden sands
And watches the ships that go sailing…
Michael smiled, remembering that first time. She had gone over to the punch box and selected this song. Then she had returned and just sat there; that wistful, far-away look in her eyes, a half-smile at the edge of her lips….and why was he standing here when she was upstairs? He took one last sip at his beer, put the half-empty bottle down on the counter, and saw that the barman was staring at him.
“You really dig that woman, nuh?”
Michael stared at him, saying nothing, but the barman nodded in drunken understanding. “I know how yuh feel.” He glanced towards the corridor, then leaned forward, dropping his voice. “But buddy, take a tip from a old whore-monger: you need…to stop…coming…here.”
Staring at the barman, Michael felt an aura of malevolence around hm. It was so intense that he glanced around. He caught the prostitute Marilyn staring at him from her table. She averted her gaze and made a pretense of refilling her glass. He turned back to the bar.
“Why you telling me this?” He realized that he, too, was almost whispering.
“Because…” Again, that furtive glance towards the corridor. “Because something freaky going on here. And—don’t get vex, buddy—but I believe that yuh girlfriend know what going down…and the least I say is the better fuh everybody.”
“What things you talking about?”
But now the barman picked up a rag, and began to wipe the counter; keeping his eyes riveted there.
Michael looked at him, then, with a sigh of frustration, shifted away from the bar.
And though every instinct told him to leave, he found himself walking down the corridor that led to Lucille’s room, the barman’s warning and Helen Shapiro echoing in his head…
DESMOND THE BARMAN watched the boy disappear down the corridor. He really should have told the boy everything. About what they were saying about him and the girl and her freaky aunt. About the things he himself had seen. Maybe even about those dreams he was having…
And he should have told him about what had happened tonight.
At around eight-fifteen, the lights had brightened to an ugly red, the punch box had groaned and fallen silent, and then, above the cussing and the nervous laughter, they had heard a scream. It was like a wild animal’s scream, but with an edge of humanness in it. It seemed to come from beneath his feet. And just when he thought he had imagined it, he had heard it again. This time he knew that it had come from the top flat of the brothel.
And though he had not wanted to, he had gone up those dark, creaking stairs, his torchlight in his left hand and the chopper he kept in the bar in his right. And even before he reached her door he heard the sound of breathing.
It sounded like the deep, ragged breathing of a woman who was trying to cry without making a noise, or who was being well-fulfilled. It seemed to fill the air around him, and he was almost sure that it could be heard all the way downstairs. Mingling with that breathing was a thin, cracking voice, and he knew that he was hearing the woman with the twisted foot, and all the hairs on his body stood on end.
He could see a strip of light beneath the doorway. Like the lights downstairs, it too glowed a sickening red. But it wasn’t just glowing. It was glowing…then fading, and he had shaken his head to clear it of the whiskey because what he was seeing was impossible.
The light seemed to be glowing and fading in time to the breathing behind the door.
He was thinking to hell with this nonsense, and was turning to leave when he stepped on a loose board.
The breathing stopped. The glowing light steadied. The silence was more frightening so he had called out: “Everything alright in there?”
Then, after moments of silence, a voice that sounded nothing like the girl’s answered: “Everything…is…alright.”
He was no coward, but he was glad to leave it at that.
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