By Michael Jordan
Sealey first saw the hunter with the crippled leg while they were going to the river next day. The boy was last up, still yawning and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and shivering in the light mist that hung around them. There was still a hint of the girl’s scent on him; but what they noticed most was the mass of scratches on his back.
Jerry Mentore gave a low whistle. “Christ…what you did making love to…a tiger?”
For a moment, Sealey thought he saw a shadow of some indecipherable emotion on Leon’s face. Then the boy smiled, rubbed his eyes, and walked on. They were heading down a slope leading to the river when, a few yards from them, a shadow broke the mist.
It was a slouching shadow; a squat, hulking, lurching shadow that broke the mist at the bottom of the slope. There was an unnatural width to the stranger’s shoulders, until Sealey realised that the man was fetching something. The stranger paused for a moment, as if scanning his surroundings, then continued towards them.
As the stranger neared, Sealey saw that he was shirtless, wide-shouldered, deep-chested. In the clear air, the rank smell of musk and blood came to them. The man had a wild boar hoisted across his shoulders. A few boys gawked at the hunter from a respectable distance. Sealey estimated the animal’s weight at well over a hundred pounds.
As the man came closer, Sealey saw two other things: There was a deep scar that looked, to Sealey, like an old bullet wound, just off the centre of his chest. The other thing was that the instep of his left leg was turned completely backwards. Looking at his strange limb, Sealey felt a stirring of unease. He wondered if the others felt it too. They had fallen silent since the hunter had come into view.
Now only a few yards separated them from the hunter and his burden. As he came closer, the stranger seemed to check his stride before continuing his stumbling walk. Sealey forced himself to transfer his gaze from the hunter’s leg to his burden. The boar’s tusks were at least five inches long. He knew they would be razor-sharp. The hunter had gutted the boar, but he carried no knife that Sealey could see. His hands were encrusted with blood. Splotches of blood were on his chest. His hair was long, dusty-brown, matted. His full, blank face showed no strain from his burden.
As they passed, almost within touching distance, the hunter glanced at Sealey. His eyes, black and tiny, held a mixture of aloofness and hostility that quelled any thought Sealey had of speaking. Sealey half-raised his hand in greeting, but the man just stared through him, heading in the direction from which the men had come.
They walked on in silence for a while, then Leon said: “I know him.”
There was something in the boy’s tone that made them turn to him.
“I see him by the girl last night. He was standing outside when I was leaving. Standing by a tree.”
“Ha, boy, like you got a rival,” Mentore said.
That broke the tension. Jerry Mentore and Bap Reggie erupted into braying laughter.
Sealey smiled, but yet he felt a trace of unease that the laughter didn’t quite dispel.
He learned a little more about the hunter at the Jaguar’s Den that night. They were sitting at a table close to the bar. Shirleen, high already, sat between Leon and Mentore. One of the force-ripe whores from the previous night had passed out at their table.
Leon kept glancing to the entrance, and Mentore was about to ask him, for the hundredth time, if his girl was coming, when there was that sudden husshh, and there she was, heading to the bar.
They were close enough to the bar for Sealey to hear the strange lilt in her voice, as she ordered a cider. She took the bottle, turned from the bar, and looked directly at him. It was a quick glance in which their eyes locked. Hers seemed to look deep into his, before he could pull the shutter down on his thoughts. He thought he saw the hint of a smile as she turned away.
But then her eyes shifted to Leon. Some silent communication seemed to pass between them. Then, as on the previous night, she headed to one of the tables outside.
Jerry Mentore chucked at Leon, who was staring stupidly at the girl. ”You still sitting hay, chap?”
Leon smiled shyly, glanced towards Sealey. Ah—”
Sealey nodded. “Is Okay. You got your blade?”
Leon showed him the old, bone dagger, that he said had belonged to his great-grandfather.
“Just watch yuh back, soldier.”
A feeling of déjà vu came over him as he watched Leon saunter over to the girl.
As he drank, he caught the tail-end of Shirleen’s conversation.
“…she had to rob some man to get all that money!”
Bap Reggie shook his head in mock sadness. “Envy, Shirleen. Envy—”
“What you taking ‘bout, Shirleen?” Sealey interrupted.
Shirleen turned to him. “She take over the whole of Miss Coreen bottom house.”
“But that is not where Ruth-Ann and Patricia staying?”
“Where Ruth Ann and Patricia was staying,” Shirleen said. “Coreen say that she wake up couple mornings ago and find the place empty. Them two whores clear out without paying the full rent.”
Mentore laughed. The two prostitutes were known for their disappearing acts, especially after fleecing some unfortunate miner.
“So now the girl got both rooms?”
“Both rooms. She staying there with a freaky man with a funny foot. See he chopping up a whole set of firewood this morning.”
“The hunter,” Mentore said.
Again, Sealey felt a stirring of apprehension. He glanced across at the girl’s table in time to see Leon and the prostitute walking away into the darkness. Again, as on the previous night, he felt a need to call the boy back; and again, he didn’t.
If Shirleen hadn’t gotten a sudden bout of diarrhoea, she would never have gone to the outhouse. But what drew her to the window afterwards, she couldn’t quite say.
She’d taken a short-time with Jerry Mentore, then returned to the Jaguar’s Den. There, a lonely-looking rasta miner asked her for a night-sleep, so she had taken him up to the one-bedroom house that her aunt had rented her. They had shared a ganja joint before getting down to business. The marijuana had relaxed her. She’d held an image of Leon in her head, when, out of the blue, an image of Leon’s girl had jumped at her.
Rastaman had clutched her tight for a moment, then turned on his side, and was snoring in no time.
She’d awoken to the chill of the Kamarang night with a griping in her stomach. She went over to the bedroom window and peered outside. In the mist, she could see the outhouse, some twenty yards away. For a moment, she thought of asking rastaman to accompany her, but he was still sprawled on her bed and sawing timber. With a sigh, she pushed her feet into a pair of slippers, grabbed a roll of tissue, and shuffled down the back steps.
The yard was bathed in moonlight. Jumbie moon, her grandmother Rhoda would have said. Grandma Rhoda was full of jumbie stories. On a night like this, they would come pouring out… The one that came to Shirleen was about a little girl who disobeyed her grandmother and went to empty the potty at night. But when she opened the outhouse door, a very fat and very white woman was squatting inside…
Shaking the thought away, Shirleen shuffled down the stairs and stepped down the path that led to the outhouse. At last she reached the latrine.
She open the latrine door, Granny Rhoda said, an’ there was this fat, naked white woman, squatting on the seat and staring at she…
Shirleen yanked the outhouse door open, relieved herself, and hurried back to her room. But for some reason, she found herself heading for the bedroom window. One moment she was looking outside, seeing nothing, and the next she was staring at a figure, which seemed to have stepped out of the hold-me-back bushes behind the outhouse. There was something familiar about the dumpy, square-shouldered figure, and then she recognised it as the man with the crippled leg.
He was practically naked, save for some sort of dark, loincloth-thing. He crouched, peering around. He clutched some long, coiled thing in his right hand. There was something wet and fleshy-looking about it that disturbed her. She watched him put the thing to his lips. She saw him bite down on it, and greedily suck an impossibly long portion into his mouth. She thought she saw him lick his lips. His mouth yawned open to bite on the coil-thing, when he suddenly paused, and swung around to face the bushes.
He began to sidle backwards. Leon’s girl stepped out of the bushes. The two stood, staring at each other for a moment. Then the man backed away, crouching almost to his knees. The rubbery-thing dangled in his hand. The girl shifted forward, so quickly that Shirleen wasn’t sure that she had seen her move. She stood over the man, her right hand upraised. Shirleen tensed, in anticipation of the blow. Instead, the girl touched the man’s head lightly. She said something, and the man rose, and began to follow her to the hold-me-back bushes.
They had reached the hedge when the girl suddenly stopped. She stared towards the latrine for a moment. Then she turned and looked up at the window. The bedroom light was off, and Shirleen was peering from behind the window blind, so she knew that there was no way that the girl could see her. But she felt as if the girl was staring into her eyes.
She felt naked, exposed.
Eventually, the girl turned away, and veered towards the bushes, the hunter following behind like a scolded child.
Sealey awoke around midnight, his skin pebbled by goose bumps. He sensed something different about the night. He lay in his hammock, hand on the long hunting knife in his belt, listening. Faint music…the chirp of insects…the dry pods from the old tree outside rattling in the breeze… the snores of a miner filtering through the thin logie wall … and then he heard it: An alien rustle of sound outside.
Sealey drew the hunting knife from his belt and edged towards the door. Keeping in the dark, he peered outside. Leon sat on an old tree-stump; hugging himself and shivering. His head was bent, his eyes were closed. Sealey was about to call out to the boy when something on the mist-shrouded airstrip behind Leon caught his eye.
The crippled hunter stood on the airstrip; a figure almost swathed in mist. He stood motionless, as if frozen still. He was staring at the boy. Then he began to move towards the logie. He moved with a strange, crablike motion —without a trace of a limp, his head thrust forward, hair streaming behind him, his eyes fixed on Leon. As the man moved closer, Sealey saw that he was naked, except for some dark, loincloth-thing. Sealey stood in the darkness, at first too surprised to move. Then he stepped out of the logie.
“What the hell happening out there?” Sealey challenged.
The hunter stopped. His head swivelled towards the logie. He stared at Sealey. Despite the distance and the gloom, Sealey thought that he could see those blank, yet hostile eyes, that had stared into his the day before. The hunter’s huge shoulders were hunched, and Sealey had the disquieting feeling that the man was about to leap across the distance and attack him. He knew he was tough and fit for his fifty years, but something about this strange man made him feel old and feeble. The hunting knife suddenly felt puny in his hand. He thought of his shotgun, lodged at the police outpost. He thought he caught a hint of a sneer on the man’s face. Sealey felt anger rising in his chest.
To hell with this nonsense. He took a step forward, holding the knife away from his body.
The man stared back at him. The sneer was gone.
They stood glaring at each other, for what seemed like an eternity.
Just as Sealey was thinking that the man would advance, the hunter made a loud, sniffing sound and turned away, contemptuously. He walked across the airstrip, limping now, heading towards the houses where the prostitutes slept.
Sealey breathed out—a long sigh. He fumbled the knife back into its leather sheath. Damn! …he was trembling. He turned again to Leon. The boy still sat on the stump; head bent; oblivious of the drama that had just played out. And now he saw that Leon’s clothes were damp…soaked, in fact. Droplets of water trickled from his head. He went over to the boy… touched him. “What the hell happen to you, chap?”
Leon raised his head. His face had the greyish hue of a man who had been in cold water for a long time. His half-open eyes found Sealey’s. “R-r-river.” The word was a mumble through chattering teeth.
“You went and swim in the river at midnight? With that girl? You crazy?”
The boy didn’t answer. His eyelids drooped and he swayed on the stump.
Midnight swim. With a freaky prostitute. With a jaguar or something out there. Of all the—
Sealey sighed. He’d talk to the boy in the morning. “You better get inside and change.”
Leon tried to rise from the stump, but his legs gave way.
Sealey grabbed him just in time. He caught the scent of cassiri and the girl’s odour. He could feel the boy’s heart thumping madly as Leon leaned on him. “You okay?”
“Tired.” The words were slurred.
“What that hunter-chap was doing here?”
He helped the boy into the logie.
Leon staggered towards a carton and sat, hugging himself.
Sealey bent to the liquor carton near his hammock and removed a bottle of brandy. He passed the bottle to Leon, who was now stripped to his shorts. The boy was half-asleep again, one leg still hooked in his trousers. The flambeau light flickered on an ugly array of love-bites on his chest. Sealey nudged him awake. The boy took the brandy bottle. He sipped, coughed, and put the bottle on the floor. The shot of brandy seemed to revive him somewhat, and he rose, hobbled out of his pants, put on a long-sleeved jersey, staggered into his hammock and was instantly asleep.
Vibert Sealey had considered giving the Jaguar’s Den the skip the following day, but then Ovid Kingston, a young miner, who had just arrived from the gold bush, came to the logie shouting for him. Sealey put aside the stack of old newspapers he was reading and followed Kingston and his rowdy crew to the Den. Kingston started off by ordering four cases of whisky.
Three young prostitutes came smiling and uninvited to their table. Later, Shirleen, and a prostitute they called Butterfly (because she would flit from table to table; a sip of whiskey here, a promise of a night-sleep there), joined them. Mentore and Bap Reggie, half-drunk already, came in around seven-thirty.
Shirleen, sitting between Kingston and Sealey, bawled above the din: “Where Leon?”
Mentore laughed. “He suffering from fatigue.”
Shirleen, glancing at the chairs outside said: “Well, like her majesty come looking for he.”
They all stared outside, in time to see the girl entering the disco.
She scanned the crowd, finding them at their table near the bar.
Sealey thought he caught a flash of disappointment on her face, but then she turned to the bar, collected her usual cider, and went back outside.
Bap Reggie laughed, shaking his head in admiration. “You could believe this? Poor Leon like a dead dog back in the logie, and she fresh and ready fuh round two an’ three.”
The girl looked around and found an empty table outside the disco. Almost immediately, a miner broke off from a group and sat next to her. She ignored him.
Ovid Kingston had one of the young prostitutes in his lap, but he was craning his neck to look at the girl. “Yes…my type o’ woman, boy. Long hair and red skin.”
Shirleen sucked her teeth. The prostitute in Ovid’s lap stretched her mouth sulkily.
“You could stare all yuh want, Ovid Kingston,” Bap Reggie said. “But she only sleeping with one man…from the Vibert Sealey crew.”
Ovid Kingston licked his lips. “How much he paying?”
“Not…one…damn…cent,” Bap Reggie said with a trace of pride.
Kingston laughed, shaking his head in disbelief. “A bush-whore? Sleeping with a man fuh free?”
“That bush-girl turn down the Bishop the other night. And he had diamonds.”
They stared at the girl again, the empty talk at the table drying up.
Unlike the first time, when she had sat aloof, Sealey sensed a restlessness in her tonight. She left her drink untouched. She kept staring at their table, completely ignoring the miner who was leaning to her and chattering away. Now she bowed her head. Sealey couldn’t be sure, but he thought that her eyes were closed. Her thighs were locked together.
The miner, smiling, put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. She turned to him. She said something. The man shifted back in his seat. She stared at him for a moment, then rose, leaving the miner sitting and gaping after her…
They teased him about getting soft and old when he rose to leave at around eight-thirty. Shirleen, half-drunk, rose at the same time. She followed Sealey out of the disco, and as he was about to head for the logie, said: “I want to talk to you.”
She held his hand and followed him to the back of the disco. There was the same tension he had sensed in her yesterday. She looked around quickly, then said: “You gotta watch out for Leon with that girl and that freaky chap who always hanging around. I believe they up to something.”
“Why you say that?”
”Because I see something strange the other night.” She was whispering, although they were alone. “I see both of them in auntie backyard. The man had on some sort of jockstrap. And he was eating something.” She shivered. “That man does give me the creeps.”
“Easy girl,” he said. “Shirleen, tell me exactly what this thing he was eating look like.”
She frowned. “I couldn’t see too good, but it was something long…lumpy…it looked slimy.” She frowned. “I think I know what it is, only I can’t place it—anyway , when he was eating, Leon girl suddenly appear from behind the hol’-me-back bush in the yard. She look really, really vex. When he see she, that big man go down on he knees and start to beg. Then they just walk away…right through the bush.”
He saw a flash of anger in the prostitute’s eyes. “Yes, I was a little high at the time. But I know what I see—”
“Alright Shirles,” he soothed.
“I check the yard when I went to hang out clothes the next day. I see streaks of blood on the grass…and slime.” Again that shudder.
A sudden thought struck him. “Shirleen…exactly when you see that chap in your yard?”
“Not last night. The night before.” She paused, then said: “Mr. Sealey, I believe that whore see me watching them. She was looking at the window, straight at me.”
Her fingers dug into his arm, and she looked earnestly at him. “Sealey—you believe in—in witchcraft?”
The question caught him by surprise. She was still staring at him, with no hint of her earlier semi-drunkenness.
“Why you asking me?”
She was silent, then said: “When I was a lil girl living in James Street, they had a crazy beggar-lady who used to pass every Friday. She use to dress in a white gown like what spiritual-church people wear, and she always had a lotta beads, and a heavy blue crucifix around she neck.
“My grandmother used to send me to the gate to give her a coin—‘give and you shall receive,’ granny would say. This woman would take the coin without a word, but she would look at me with those reddish eyes she had, and she would smile…this mad, evil smile. Sometimes she would grab at my hand. … I used to dream her every Friday night. I used to dream that she looking through my bedroom window, or hiding under my bed waiting to pull my foot, or hanging from the ceiling over my head. … I convinced, even today, that that beggar-woman was demon-possessed, or some sort of witch or something. She had what my grandmother would call a ‘heavy’ spirit…
“She used to make me feel frightened and—and small at the same time.” She sighed. “And that is how that man with the funny foot does make me feel.”
She pressed close to him. “I feel that you gotta be careful with that girl and Leon. I worried.”
The way she said it made him wonder if she was afraid for Leon or for herself…
(Taken from the Guyanese supernatural novel, KAMARANG by Michael Jordan. Cover design by Harold Bascom.)
KAMARANG IS NOW ON AMAZON.
You can also purchase a copy from Austin’s Book Store, or Gordon’s Copy Centre in New Amsterdam, Berbice.
You can also contact Michael Jordan for an autographed copy on +592 645 2447, or on email address [email protected]
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