By Michael Jordan
Vincent Samuels awoke to the chill of the Cuyuni night air. His hammock rocked crazily, threatening to spill him to the ground as he scrambled to a sitting position. He shivered, pulled his blanket up to his shoulders, and looked around him.
The camp was asleep. The man next to Vincent was snoring softly; just a vague shape beneath his mosquito net. Silence, save for the ticking of the alarm clock set to wake him at five, and the muted roar of a nearby dredge’s engine.
Everything seemed normal…except that, for the second time that night, he had awoken from a dream about a woman he didn’t know, and found his blanket pulled askew, his jersey hiked up, and had sensed that someone was standing near the trees to his right and staring at him.
He stared at the spot. Nothing…just moonlight and mist-shrouded trees that were part of the forest enclosing the camp.
He closed his eyes again. Now the woman’s features floated before him…slanting eyes, disturbingly white skin, and thick curly hair that hinted at Amerindian and African parentage.
He felt her hands pulling back his blanket…tugging at his jersey…her hair tickling his face. Her lips, so cold…so cold, touching his chest…
And something about blood…something about the forest…
He shivered involuntarily. Two similar dreams in one night. And they had seemed so real.
But now he smiled ruefully as he remembered how he’d shrugged off his friend Leon’s warning about what the bush, especially Cuyuni, would be like.
“I gun be cool,” he’d said. “You forget that I spend time in the bush before…in the National Service.”
“That was donkey years ago,” Leon had said, waving a dismissive arm. “Plus Cuyuni is a different ball game. Malaria…snakebite—and no hospital to run to. Men killing you fuh couple pennyweight to buy coke. And another thing. You going as a cook. That mean sometimes you gun be in camp alone..”
“If yuh new to the bush, the silence and the isolation could drive you mad. You start imagining all sorts of things. It happen to a lot of seasoned bush-men a’ready.”
Leon took a long drag on his cigarette, then added: “This camp you going to. The pay sound good, but that dredge boss De Abreu—”
“What about him?”
Leon shook his head. “Nothing. But fuh some reason, I just doan like that chap.”
Vincent understood what Leon meant. He had sensed an air of bullying arrogance in the dredge owner, Arthur De Abreu, when he had approached the man for a camp-cook job, after getting a tip that the man’s last cook had suddenly up and left without a word to his boss. To be honest, he’d also been intimidated by the man’s size…those huge shoulders and hands.
And he would never have taken the job if he hadn’t been so anxious to get out of Georgetown; away from the memory of his break-up with Karen, the mother of his three-year-old son.
And now here he was. They had entered the camp at around eight that night. They had eaten, and then De Abreu had shown him the kitchen supplies, and had escorted him to the back of the camp.
“This is where you gun sleep,” he’s said, pointing to an empty hammock. Then he’d added, as if as an after-thought. “I gun be on the dredge with the night-shift divers.”
Vincent had moved closer, touching the hammock and staring absently into the forest.
And that was when he’d felt it; a thrill of déjà vu, as if he’d been in this camp before. An unpleasant recollection hovered at the edge of his consciousness. But then the half-memory faded. He unpacked, changed, sprayed himself with insect repellant, and climbed into his hammock.
And dreamt of the white-faced woman…
He awoke to the ringing of the alarm clock, and, aided by a lamp, started the kitchen fire, heating up pots of tea and stew from the previous day. The rest of the camp awoke at six-thirty, and, minutes later, De Abreu and the rest of the night-shift crew came ashore. De Abreu, hugging a shotgun, nodded at Vincent, who was bracing himself for a ‘fresh’ in the mist-shrouded Cuyuni River.
“Everything okay Samuels?”
“Yes, Mr. De Abreu,” Vincent answered.
“How was yuh first night? Rest okay?”
The camp boss had placed his shotgun on a crate and was un-strapping his watch, but yet Vincent sensed that the man was studying him.
“Yes, I rest okay, boss,” he said.
De Abreu nodded again, then moved over to the radio-set. Fifteen minutes later, the day-shift crew was ready, and they, with De Abreu, left in the speedboat. Now he was alone, save for the sleeping night-shift crew. He thought of what Leon had said about men going crazy when left alone in camp. He shook his head. He’d beat the silence by staying busy. He’d prepare lunch now.
He opted for squash and beef stew, and, in a moment of inspiration, decided to make some bakes for dinner. He put the supplies on the table, and was already slicing the squash when it dawned on him that he should light the fire and put on water for the rice. But the two pots, empty of last night’s meal, were dirty. He found soap and steel wool and took the pots down to the river. Afterwards, he filled one with rainwater from a drum, lit the fire, and moved back to the table. And stared, dumbfounded.
The squash. Someone had scooped out some of the seeds. Had dumped them on the table in two tiny lumps.
For a moment, he stared at the lumps of squash seeds. Then he swiveled to the camp, staring at the sleeping men. They could have done it. A trick to scare the new chap. But there was no movement from the four occupied hammocks. The men might as well have been dead.
He stared at the forest enclosing the camp. Silence…but yet he felt that someone was nearby, staring at him. He glanced at the table again, and now he saw something else. Someone had spilled the basin of flour on the table, and had drawn…no—written something in it.
For a moment he just stared at the table, feeling goose bumps on his arms. Then he grabbed the kitchen knife he had placed near the squash and moved cautiously to the other side of the table. The letters in the flour were written crookedly. L-u-c…other letters he couldn’t discern.
Just letters? A name?
He swiveled away from the table and stared again at the sleeping men and at the forest. Just silence…
He almost cried with relief when he heard, hours later, the puttering of the speedboat engine and De Abreu and the boatman, carrying two small pots, came ashore.
The dredge boss, cradling his shotgun, nodded at Vincent. “Everything alright, Samuels?”
“Everything all right, Mr. De Abreu,” Vincent answered.
De Abreu nodded again. “Put aside some food for me and the crew,” he said, gesturing towards the pots the boatman had brought. He moved across to the radio set and then stopped, staring around him. His head was erect, nostrils dilated, and Vincent realized that he was sniffing the air. Then he spun to face the sleeping men.
Vincent watched as a gangling, curly-haired youth scrambled awake in his hammock.
“Yes Mr. De Abreu?”
“Harris,” De Abreu said slowly. “I ain gun talk to yall again ’bout bringing woman in this camp.”
The curly-haired youth blinked in puzzlement. “I ain know what woman you talking ’bout, boss—”
“No woman my foot! This place stink o’ perfume!”
Tentatively, Vincent moved closer to De Abreu. Amid the smell of stew and wood-smoke, lingered a musky, feminine scent…and although he couldn’t quite place it, he sensed that he’d smelt it somewhere before.
He watched De Abreu. The dredge boss’ shoulders were hunched. He held the shotgun tight. Vincent sensed that the man was staring beyond the camp; scanning the forest. And when he finally turned to Vincent, his eyes had a far-away look, as if his thoughts had been someplace else. He exhaled, and then moved over to Vincent.
“That is something I forget to tell you, Samuels. I don’t want any women sneaking into the camp. They got a few of them at the shops nearby. They would come in yuh camp begging fuh soap and food, and the next thing you know, half yuh stuff gone.”
That night, Vincent lay awake in the hammock for a long time. He stared at the tarpaulin roof; seeing again the lumps of squash and the crooked letters in the flour. Distant music—Helen Shapiro’s ‘Beyond the Sea’, came faintly to him from a nearby shop.
He thought of Karen, his estranged child-mother, and he fell asleep dreaming he was in bed with her. But then he felt a thrill of fear as he saw that the woman was not Karen, but a white-faced woman that he didn’t know, but yet seemed to recognize from some other time or dream.
She was twisting against him in a disturbing boneless way, and he thought of the long thin snake he’d seen swimming across the Cuyuni River on his way to the camp, and he wanted to push her away, yet he wanted to hold her close.
Suddenly he found himself standing, naked and bare-footed, and the woman was gripping his wrist and leading him into the moonlit Cuyuni forest. She led him through a gap in the trees, and now they were on a leafy path, which he recognized as being near the camp outhouse. Then the path ended abruptly, and they were standing near a humped, bald spot of ground. He stared at the soft, rectangular-shaped earth, watching the flies that buzzed and settled on it.
And now she was turning to him, and he saw the strange, ragged hole in her left temple; the blood oozing from it, staining her horribly white skin. He tried to step backwards, but she pulled him closer; her arms, her legs, her cold boneless self locked to him; her lips to his; sucking the life from him with her kiss…
Vincent’s own muffled cry awoke him. He scrambled up, almost tumbling from his hammock.
“Yuh alright partner?”
The voice came from the hammock closest to his. But Vincent was staring into the forest. He could almost swear that on awakening, he had seen a shadow-shape shift away from his hammock, seen something scurry into the forest. The shirt he wore above an old jersey to keep off the cold was unbuttoned…
“Yuh alright, chap?” the voice said again. Vincent turned to the man; recognized him as the curly-haired youth the dredge-boss had addressed as Harris. Vincent took a deep breath, then said: “Not…really. Nightmare. So real…this…woman…”
“Making love to you?”
Vincent started. “How—”
The man lit a cigarette.
“Common bush experience,” he said at last. “Happen in some spots plenty. Men dreaming of women making love to them, or just pressing them down.”
Pressing them down. Vincent shivered. He still seemed to feel that boneless thing fused to him. And he swore he could smell perfume somewhere close.
He almost missed his companion’s next words.
“Some say is spirits, or female demons called succubus or something like that. Some say is when a man in the bush too long and get homesick for a woman…”
Vincent thought of the lumps of squash on the table.
“Could happen to anybody,” Harris said. The man laughed suddenly. “Matter of fact, it happen to the boss-man couple nights back, though he know who he did dreaming about.”
“Yes.” The man looked around the camp, and added softly.” I wake to see he tossing in he hammock like he fighting off somebody. And he did groaning and saying: ‘No, no Lucille…’”
Vincent thought of the crooked letters in the flour. “Lucille,” he said.
“Yes, a young, really good-looking prostitute. Come in the bush about two, three weeks back. The type that the boss-man like make heself stupid over. Fus he start carrying she on the dredge. Then he start bringing she here. The man shrugged. “And that was the mistake.”
“What yuh mean?”
“From what the girls tell me, she did plan fuh he. Ah hear she get he drunk…then move couple pennyweight and cash and keep getting up.”
He shrugged again. “Guess she must be done blow it out in Bartica…or GT…”
Oh no she hadn’t, Vincent thought, suddenly feeling very cold. She wasn’t spending anybody’s money in Bartica…or GT…or anywhere.
He knew, as surely as if someone had whispered it to him, that Lucille—what was left of her—was somewhere in the Cuyuni jungle. Somewhere near De Abreu’s camp.
Harris lit another cigarette and Vincent shifted back into his hammock, not wanting the man’s lighter flare to reveal the dread on his face.
He seemed to hear that whispering in his head again.
She will come to the camp again at day-clean when the divers are asleep.
Then, when night falls, she will come to me.
She will not let me rest until I leave this camp or search for her bones.
What am I to do?
What am I to do?
Michael Jordan is the author of the supernatural novel KAMARANG, which is on sale at Austin’s Book Store and also available on AMAZON (Kindle version)
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