“The smells of the night hit him as they stepped out of the car outside the Gaumont brothel. He saw a womaSn at the top of the brothel stairs. She stared vacantly past them, her mouth open in a soundless scream. Something like pus dripped from an open wound, where someone had sliced her from ear to ear.,,” – Kamarang Forest: 1942
By Michael Jordan
The hunter crouched, with his uncle’s shotgun, on the makeshift platform in the huge mora tree, above the forest floor. It had been a good night. Two labbas had already fallen to his uncanny aim, as they came to feed on the dropped fruit on the ground. With the luck he was having, he might be able to bag at least one more before the night ended.
The White man from the timber company in Georgetown would pay him well. He was only eighteen, but he was already a seasoned hunter. Old Grandfather didn’t like the idea of him hanging around Mr. Grovesnor. He was always lamenting that the White Man was making the Akawaio move away from the old ways.
In some ways, Old Grandfather was right. His sister, Martha, was attending the new Catholic school and was even attending church. She now wore a crucifix, and was questioning the Akawaio ways, like the binas that he wore while hunting, and the stories that Old Grandfather used to scare them with as children. Myths, she called them. “They’re just myths.” And her questions had planted seeds of doubt in his mind, too. Though he still wore his binas, he was starting to question some of the things Old Grandfather spoke about … all this time he’d been hunting at night he’d never encountered any of the things that Grandfather—
Below him, a twig snapped.
He peered in the darkness, trying to locate the animal. He heard the faintest of sounds, somewhere to his left, and then he saw the eyes, glowing yellow in the dark. The eyes were far from the ground and that told him that whatever was approaching was bigger than a labba.
The glowing eyes shifted downwards, as if the animal was bending its head.
Now it emitted a loud, sniffing sound, like no animal he knew. For some reason, the sound filled him with unease and he found himself touching the bina around his neck. He kept the sixteen-gauge shotgun at the ready, before switching on the torchlight Mr. Grovesnor had given him. He trained the beam down on the spot where he had seen the glowing eyes. What he saw made the hairs on his neck prickle, and sent an eerie thrill through his body:
A short, muscular, shaggy-haired creature that looked somewhat human, was squatted—hunched over one of the dead labbas. It had slashed open the dead animal’s stomach and was chewing on its entrails.
The creature looked up to the light, and the hunter realised it was more like a hairy man. Its glinting, jaguar-yellow-eyes stared back at him.
Trying to remain calm, he flashed his torchlight on and off three times, hoping that the man would speak. But the hairy stranger made no sound. It just snarled in malevolence, and instinctively, the hunter knew that he was in grave danger. And even as his mind registered this, he heard the snapping of twigs again and the man began to move towards his tree.
One moment the stranger was on the ground, the next moment he had leapt into the tree and the hunter was staring into those strange, gleaming eyes. Instinctively, he squeezed the trigger, and for the fifth time that night, the boom of his uncle’s shotgun echoed in the forest.
The man—the thing, let out a strange, sobbing scream. He heard the snapping of branches as the man—the thing was falling, and then a muffled thump as it hit the ground.
There was silence for a moment, then, amazingly, he heard that sobbing scream again, and the man—the thing, was fleeing—crashing through the forest.
The hunter waited awhile until the sounds had died away before scrambling down the tree. He ignored the labba carcasses on the ground, and ran straight home. When he got there, he lay panting in his hammock as he gripped the shotgun, while imagining he could hear stealthy footsteps outside. Whenever he nodded off, the sobbing screams rang in his ears, the image of the shaggy- headed figure with the glittering eyes kept leaping at him.
When dawn came, he went straight to Old Grandfather’s hut. The old man was already up, sitting on a tree stump and smoking his pipe. He spilled out everything to Old Grandfather, everything coming back with a terrifying clearness as he spoke.
“You know the spot?” Old Grandfather said at last.
He nodded, knowing what was coming next.
But first, the old man gave him a special bina—some crushed leaves to chew—before they headed back into the forest.
The young hunter got a whiff of the unpleasant rank odour he’d caught when the man was up close. The labbas lay where he’d left them. There was a large drying splotch of blood just below the tree. Other spots of blood led deeper into the jungle. And footprints that didn’t make sense to him, though they apparently did to Old Grandfather.
They followed the blood trail and footprints. It had to end soon, he thought; the buckshot he’d used would have stopped a bush-cow in its tracks. But the trail went on for about a mile, then it ended abruptly…
No more blood. No more footprints. … They circled the area. Nothing. After about an hour of searching they returned to the village.
Old Grandfather took him inside his hut and told him to sit. The old man stared at him for a moment then said, “You must not tell anyone about what happened.”
“But-but who was that man?—but was it a man?”
The old man paused … drew on his pipe, and said calmly, “I will tell you what he is…”
And the old man told Tony Perez about the dai dai.
He stopped hunting for Mr. Grovesner. Humbled by his experience, Tony found himself spending a lot of time with Old Grandfather, soaking up his knowledge of herbs, of his rituals, but most of all, questioning the old man about the stories that he and his sister had begun to dismiss.
Somehow he knew that he would have another encounter like this one, but one that would be far more testing.
He wanted to be ready when it came.
July 31, 1978
Old Grandfather was long dead, and here he was, waiting to confront the creature he had shot so long ago. Confronting it, not deep in the jungle, as he had always imagined it, dreamed of it; but in the bright lights of Georgetown.
And when the boy came, maybe he would get his first sight of the witch-girl that had caused them so much trouble. The piaiman had said that it was the boy who would have to kill her with that knife, after he, Perez, had shot her. But would the boy be up to it? Would he even show up?
He rubbed his hands…sweaty. He couldn’t afford to have sweaty hands when he pointed his shotgun at them. He flashed to himself as a boy, staring into those inhuman eyes. Was he up to it? Was he now too old? Maybe he should have asked Stephen, his cousin, with his hunting skills, with his army training, and youth on his side, to do this business instead. Stephen was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be in the hunt, but, once they were finished, they needed someone who could drive them away quickly.
If they survived this night.
That thought brought back the memory of those gleaming eyes. He licked his lips.
Maybe he didn’t have to go through with this business. If he left, just returned to Kamarang, lived out the rest of his old age in safety…
If he left now, then he would destroy what little chance there was to save Vibert Sealey, and the boy, and the boy’s mother. And who was to say that this thing wouldn’t follow him back home?
If he left now, there would be no revenge for his dead great-grandson, and he would live out the rest of his days in shame.
He forced himself to conjure up an image of his great-grandson’s mutilated body, and another image of his elder sister, who had migrated to England and married a White man; Martha, sneering at him for wearing a bina…
“Myths… Sister De Souza say they are just myths…”
If he killed the dai dai and its mistress; if he ended this curse, if he saved Vibert Sealey, the story of this hunt would be told for generations. He pictured himself dumping the creature’s carcass at his sister’s feet and saying, Here’s your myth!
His lips tightened into a grim smile. No, he was not too old.
Like a man suddenly realising that he’s drunk, Michal gradually became aware of the effects of the brew that Perez had given him. Perez had mixed it, at Mr. Sealey’s home, from the herb from Gram’da Hazel’s wardrobe. He’d told Michael of the initial vomiting and diarrhoea that he would experience. Perez had said that the piaimen used the brew to help them communicate with the spirits, and Michael would see them, too.
The brew tasted somewhat like the karila bitters his mother had often given him. The taste also brought back the memory of the brew he and his great-grandmother had sipped, so long ago, when he had sat one night with her on the front porch, and everything had appeared different. .
But it was only when Perez’s cousin had driven them to the Gaumont brothel, between High and Harel Street, that he became aware of the changes in himself. He could suddenly smell the fish sauce and bread Perez had eaten for breakfast; the oil from the shotguns the two men carried; the unknown herb that his cousin had rubbed in his hair. He could hear the loud beating of his own heart.
The smells of the night hit him as they stepped out of the car outside the Gaumont brothel. He saw a woman at the top of the brothel stairs. She stared vacantly past them, her mouth open in a soundless scream. Something like pus dripped from an open wound, where someone had sliced her from ear to ear.
As he stared, two young and drunken men exited the brothel. Laughing, they came down the stairs without even
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