by Michael Jordan
Michael’s unease returned as he climbed the stairs to Lucille’s room. He reached the second floor, and the light and sounds from the brothel were cut off abruptly.
Sometimes, he could catch a whiff of her perfume even before he reached her room. Tonight, though, there was nothing; just the musty smell of old boards and the silence and the darkness. Unbidden, the image of Lucille’s strange, silent aunt floated before him. The thought of bumping into her, hearing that strange, sniffing sound, caused goose bumps to break out on his skin.
A lamp-post in Harel Street threw weak light through an open window at the end of the corridor. He went to the door, meaning to rap, but saw that it was open. The room was in darkness. He felt for the switch near the door, and light filled the room.
She was naked, sprawled limply on the bed, her upper body shiny with sweat, the rest of her covered, but he could see the imprint of the rest of her through the bedsheet. Her eyes were closed, but he knew she wasn’t asleep.
“You’re late,” she said, stretching her lips in a half-smile, half-pout. Tiredness in her voice, and a strange hoarseness. The smell of her blotted out all thought. But then she raised a hand to brush the hair from her face, and the sheet slipped down, and he saw the bruise.
It was just above her left hip; a large, ugly purple bruise about the width of his palm. For some reason, the sight of it sent apprehension churning in his gut.
“What happen to you?”
The words were out almost before he knew he had spoken.
The girl’s eyes flickered open. The edges of her mouth curled downwards in a way that made her face seem hard and cruel. But he must have imagined it, because what he now saw was a tired, shame-faced smile.
“I nearly fell down the steps,” she said.
“About an hour ago. I…I was going to see if you were here.”
In an instant he was by her side. He ignored her protests and she allowed him to examine the bruise. It was the strangest bruise he had ever seen. It was as if a beaded pattern had been burned into the girl’s flesh. And part of him sensed that if she had never lied to him, she was lying now; but why she would lie about something like this he had no—
. “You came to look at my bruise, or at this?”
She guided his hand to her thighs.
Turn…off the light.”
The promise in her voice sent his thoughts spinning.
He switched the light off, then came back to her in the darkness…
He could feel her twisting against him.. He sensed that he had dozed off, but he couldn’t remember falling asleep. Had no sense of time. Didn’t care. Tiredness like a rock on his chest.
He sensed her shifting off the bed. Felt her return, and smelt the fermented odour of cassiri. She held his chin, and he tried to turn away, because he was so tired. But she clasped his chin and pulled his lower lip back. He felt the cold earthenware bottle touch his mouth. He coughed as the pungent wine trickled down his throat. He felt some of it trickle down the sides of his mouth and onto his chest. And still she kept the bottle to his lips. He gulped once…twice. Almost immediately, came the rush of blood. As he slipped back into the deep chasm of sleep, he felt her clamber onto him…
He was on a rocky expanse of land. Red rocks beneath his bare feet. Naked, except for a loincloth.. He saw a troolie hut, and a woman hanging out blankets, while her daughter stood over a huge, bubbling fireside pot. The smell of their cooking came to him. He knew the smell from somewhere and he felt water spring to his mouth. He was about to rush to them because he felt terribly ravenous, and these good bush folks would be glad to feed him, when the girl dipped her claw into the bubbling pot and pulled out the head of the man they had killed. She bit down on the skull, as if feeding on a large, juicy fruit. The sound of her teeth sinking into bone came clearly to him. The head cracked open like an egg, and brain-matter trickled onto her fingers. She licked it off
(“Soft and sweet like snot,” she fluted to herself)…
She lifted the head to her lips, sucking noisily at the cracked skull, while bits of brain matter trickled down the corners of her mouth.
And now he felt a stinging, numbing pain at the top of his own skull. He put his hand there, then stared at his fingers as they came away white and sticky. And, as he looked down again into the valley—no, not in a valley, he realised now, he was actually floating—he saw that the girl was staring at him, her mouth a half-smile as she sucked on the skull, while her mother hung out her brown blankets, not wet with creek –water, but with dripping blobs of blood, and now he knew that the blankets had come from that strange heap of white sticks by the fire, and the sticks were the bones of the man on whose skull the girl was feeding, and the head, its face blistered and contorted in agony, was his…
He woke with tears leaking from beneath his half-closed eyelids; his brain foggy, the forest and the hut and cannibals fading. He was in a room. It wasn’t his…the light was too dull, the bed felt strange. He smelt cassiri, and remembered.
He felt hazy…groggy… weak. He sensed that something had changed since he fell asleep, and he finally gathered what it was. The girl was not in bed. He was wondering where she was, when he heard whispering near the door.
The girl stood in front of the mirror. She was laughing softly to herself, then breaking off to burst into that dialect again. And then he realised that she was talking to someone. The other person came into view, and he saw that one of the creatures from his dream was in the room.
Its elongated mouth was filled with teeth that curved in like a piranha’s. From that mouth came a high, fluting sound like no speech he knew.
You’re dreaming, he thought. Wake up!
It came towards Lucille on backward-turned feet. It stretched out a hand to her, and he was screaming, but somehow making no sound, when she turned and smiled at it.
The creature touched her breasts, her face, her hair, fluting softly to her. The girl nodded as if in response and laughed silently, tracing a hand again down her stomach. She turned to the mirror, her shoulders shaking with her silent laughter, while the creature touched her back, lingering at the spot with the dimpled scar, only
now he could see no scar, what what what—
They turned towards Michael. And though he’d closed his eyes, he could feel the weight of their stares, knew that they had now stepped closer to the bed, because of the mingled smell of the girl, and the smell of meat that his mother had left too long in the fridge. But he kept his eyes shut and his breathing steady until a small, rough hand that wasn’t Lucille’s touched his stomach.
He gave a yelp and opened his eyes. He thought he saw something flit away from the bed, thought he saw the door close, but now there was no sign of the creature; just Lucille standing naked by the bed, shaking him, but be couldn’t stop screaming, and he tried to flinch away; he didn’t want her to touch him, she had let that thing touch her—
The sharpness of her voice broke through some of his hysteria. She was staring at him, looking puzzled and anxious.
“What is the matter, Michael?” “Suh-some…thing…in…room.”
She looked around the room, then turned back to him.
“Nobody else here, Michael.”
“Some-thing…was…in the…room. Touched… me…through…the…door…”
“Something went through the door?” Now
there as a hint of laughter in her voice. She smiled at him, shaking her head. “No, Michael. You were dreaming.”
Dreaming. When he had seen it…felt its touch. The smell of it was still on him…on her!
He thought of how that creature had touched her. The thought made him flinch away from her, and he felt a scream rising in him again.
For a moment, he saw a flash of anger in her eyes. But then she was staring anxiously at him again.
“I’m sorry I laughed at you. But you were dreaming.”
“I wasn’t dreaming,” he said, surprised to find that he was on the verge of tears. “I …”
(I saw it with you)
“The cassiri makes you imagine things, sometimes. I made it stronger tonight because I wanted you.” She bent her head. “I’m sorry.”
Now he saw that there was a bead of blood by one of her nostrils. He wondered if he had struck out at her in his fear. She held him, soothing him, telling him that it was just a dream, a dream, a dream, Michael, and what she was saying made so much more sense than what he was sure he’d seen, because such things only existed in dreams, and he really did feel strange and weak and disoriented, but if it was a dream, why was that smell on her, and that made him think of how she
had stood laughing as the dai dai touched her, and that small, claw-like hand on him, and all that he wanted to do was scream again and run from this place.
He shifted out of her arms. He groped for his clothes, thrown over the bedrail, shutting his eyes momentarily as a spell of dizziness hit him. Putting on his clothes was an effort. He did it sitting on the bed, fighting against the dizziness and an awful, draining weariness; so weary that he hardly heard her pleas to stay until the effects of the cassiri wore off; too weary to see the flash of contempt in her eyes.
He finally staggered to his feet, but his knees buckled. Lucille caught him.
She placed something under his nostrils. He sniffed it, and felt his strength returning momentarily.
She followed him outside, past the barman, who gave him an anxious glance, but said nothing. They went outside, where a black, shiny Morris Oxford waited. She followed him to the car, opened the back door for him. He heard her say something to the driver in the dialect she used with her aunt.
He entered, and that was when the weakness returned full force, and he knew he was going to collapse. Something, however, kept him from fainting, and that something was the persistent smell of the thing he had seen in the room, a smell that he thought should have been left behind, a smell that was just as strong in the car, even as
its silent driver put distance between him and the brothel. And even in his half-conscious state he wondered how the driver seemed to know the route to his home, though he could not recall telling him; and looking at the man’s shaggy head, a dread gripped him.
The car turned into his street, headed slowly down the unpaved road and stopped outside his home. He fumbled the door open, wanting to escape the smell, and just as he was exiting, the driver made a strange, familiar, sniffing sound, and he did not want to, but he turned and looked into the car, at the driver’s face, then at his feet.
He stared in disbelief, then staggered back and headed for his gate—feeling as if he was floating, his world spinning, the ground shifting beneath. He reached the gate and held onto it, as an even more intense bout of vertigo hit him. Through it he heard his dogs howling, heard the front door open, heard his mother…his father…he must not faint in front of them…he must not faint.
(Taken from the Guyanese supernatural novel Kamarang by Michael Jordan. Book design and illustrations by Harold Bascom.)
Copies of the illustrated edition of Kamarang are on sale at Austin’s Book Store, and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.
The author can also be contacted for autographed copies on +592 645 2447 or by email: [email protected])
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