Jul 06, 2020 News Comments Off on GUYANESE HORROR FICTION KAMARANG…Seeking help from the piaiman
By Michael Jordan
When Laura Jones was five years old, she had gone to the vat at the back of the house in Bartica to draw water for Mother. She was just about to switch on the tap when she heard a high-pitched, chirping sound. Her first thought was that one of the baby house-wrens had tumbled from the nest the mother bird had made in the roof. Excited, she put down Mother’s galvanized bucket and hurried to the clump of tall grass from which the sound was coming.
She had almost reached the spot when she saw the snake. It was about three feet long; thin and grey, with black stripes. To her childhood eyes it had seemed enormous. It looked like the type of snake that Brother Rudy called a horsewhip. He said that they weren’t poisonous, but that they could give you a stinging lash that made you sick for days.
And now she saw what was making the bird-like cries.
The snake had a small frog in its mouth; not the entire frog, just one of its back legs. The frog’s eyes were big with fright. It was trying to jump. Its mouth was wide open and from it came the birdlike sound
She had always feared snakes, and now she could feel her stomach churning as she stared at the horsewhip, its tail seeming to twitch with pleasure as it sucked on the frog. She held the bucket, caught between her fear of the snake and a need to save the poor frog. And she might have remained there all day if Mother hadn’t called out to ask her what was taking her so long.
She’d filled the bucked and hurried upstairs, the desperate, Peep! Peep! Peep! ringing in her ears.
Afterwards, she had sneaked back outside, but the snake and the frog had vanished. Guilt had wracked her the entire day at her failure to rescue the frog, and she kept imagining she was hearing those desperate shrieks…
Laura Jones had not heard that sound in over thirty years. But that was the sound that had woken her from a strange, mixed-up dream, and the sound was in her house. Now that she was fully awake, however, she realised that it wasn’t exactly the same sound. This was the sound of someone whimpering. It wasn’t her husband. He was in deep sleep. The whimpering was coming from Michael’s room.
She slipped out of bed, then headed for her son’s room. She stood outside, hearing him whimpering, hearing the frantic creak of bedsprings. As she stood by the door, she was suddenly gripped by an irrational fear; partly for her son, partly for herself.
She took a deep breath and pushed the door.
Michael lay on his back, stripped to his briefs, the sheet tossed aside. He was twisting on the bed, his hips arching and undulating in a disturbingly sexual way that she did not associate with her son. His hands flailed as he made that weak, whimpering sound. An image flashed briefly, intensely in her head—so intensely that she gave a cry of terror—of something straddling Michael; something with long, thick, tangled hair; something with sickly pale skin like a lizard’s soft belly; something that was now aware of her presence and was demanding that she be gone.
But then her maternal instinct took over and she switched on the light.
Even as light flooded the room, came an image in her head of something flitting from beneath the mosquito net, to the furthest corner of the room.
She glanced in the corner—was there a hint of shadow there? —then hurried over to her son, who was now slumped on the bed, still making that weak, whimpering sound.
She reached under the net, shook him.
He scrambled awake with a stifled shriek, hands upraised in defence, eyes wide.
“Michael,” she said.
Recognition came gradually into his eyes, though the hint of terror was still there. There was the heavy scent of sweat and now she became aware of the unmistakable rank of semen.
“Michael, what happen to you?”
His eyes shifted away, then back to hers. “Nuh…thing,” he said.
”You were groaning in your sleep.”
The dread she’d seen was back in his eyes. He averted his gaze.
“Nothing…” he mumbled. “Jus’ a dream,”
Again, she was struck at how thin he’d become. Was it her imagination, or did he look thinner than the day before?
She shook the thought away. “You woke me up, boy,” she said. “You feeling okay?”
“Yes,” he said, but even as he spoke, he was glancing across the room, glancing towards the corner where she thought she had seen a shadow-shape shift from his bed.
Her eyes followed his gaze, but there was nothing there, or course…
“I’m okay,” he said again, and now he was slyly pulling the sheet to cover himself.
No, you’re not okay. Something is bothering you. Something is making you ill. Something is very, very wrong.
“Michael, you mind if I put something under your pillow?”
Without waiting for him to answer, she returned to her room. Turing on the light, she opened her small vanity drawer. She removed a Bible. She stole a glance at her husband, but he was still asleep. He would be so mad at her…
But it was her son, too, and she knew what she felt and had sensed.
She opened the old book to The Twenty-Third Psalm, and returned to Michael’s room. He was still awake. She put the open Bible under his pillow. She remained until he eventually lapsed into sleep, then, leaving the light on, reluctantly left the room to return to her still-snoring, tired husband.
He left his sick leave form with a security guard at the Ministry’s front gate, then let the taxi driver take him to the Georgetown Hospital. He would have liked to have gone home and slept, even though he was afraid to sleep, afraid to dream.
He had to fix his sagging jeans as he climbed the long stairs to the Seaman’s Ward, the private wing to which the pork-knocker had been transferred. His heart was racing and he was blowing like an old man by the time he reached the top.
The door to Room Two was half-open and he could hear voices inside.
He took a deep breath … rapped.
Someone opened the door. He found himself staring at the same dark-skinned woman that he’d seen at the pork-knocker’s bedside. She looked at him, puzzled. He caught a faint whiff of Limacol. And he was wondering what explanation he would give when she said: “You’re the boy.”
A sudden flash of something—fear…anger…quickly gone.
“Come inside,” she said, keeping the door open, withdrawing into the room.
The room was hot despite the fan by the bed. The smell of Limacol was stronger, but it failed to quite cover the smell of something that reminded Michael of rotting meat.
Doctor Moto stood by the doorknocker’s bed. Three Amerindian men stood nearby; one tiny, stooped, wizened; another, who appeared to be in his sixties, in a white jersey; the third was a tall, lean but muscular man with a military haircut. They all glanced around as he entered.
“Is the boy,” the woman said again, and he saw the middle-aged man’s eyes narrow, saw him touch a string of beads around his throat.
Doctor Moto whispered something, and all four men came over to Michael.
“You are okay?” the doctor asked.
She was morning and I was night-time…
“You had the dreams last night?”
He nodded again.
Doctor Moto gestured towards the Amerindian man in the jersey. “This is Mr. Perez. I told him about you.”
Michael stared into a seamed face, into eyes that reflected a mixture of worry and resolve.
“Actually, it is Grandfather here who will look at you,” Perez said, gesturing towards the elderly, stooped man. “But first, we have to help Mr. Sealy.”
As if he had heard them, the pork-knocker emitted a groan, and Doctor Mootoo and the two men hurried over to his bed.
Sealey’s eyes were closed, but he was twisting his head from side to side. He was shirtless; and despite the fan, his body was soaked in perspiration. A saline tube was attached to his right arm. He was wearing a pair of pyjama trousers, the trouser leg on the left side cut away to expose the injured limb. Michael found his eyes drawn to the leg; black and bloated like some strange fruit rotting in the sun.
The woman took a bottle of Limacol from the small table nearby. She soaked a small rag and pressed it to the pork-knocker’s forehead.
He groaned softly. “Josephine…is you, Josephine?”
“Shhh, baby,” she said. “Is Brenda…”
“Josephine,” he said again. “We got to burn it down…burn it to the groundddd…”
“Yes baby,” Brenda said again.
The pork-knocker kept moaning for a few more minutes, then seemed to lapse into a semblance of sleep.
An awkward silence, then the woman, sitting on the bed, looked at Michael. “He been like this since he come in. High fever, delirious…” she shook her head in a gesture of helplessness.
Nearby, Doctor Mootoo cleared his throat and said, “You don’t want to wait another day?”
She shook her head. “Is five days he here already. Look at his foot, Doc! You really think a snake did that? They say that they try everything, and now they say that they might have to—”
She brushed at her eyes. “Anyway, I already sign the discharge papers.”
“We have to try our way, Doc,” Perez said. “Brenda is right. He’s not getting better and I think we can help. Give us one day. If we fail, we bring him back.”
Doctor Mootoo looked from the man, to Brenda, to the sleeping pork-knocker.
Perez nodded. “I know that this could put you in trouble. You shouldn’t come—”
“You know I got to be there, Tony.”
Michael glanced from the doctor, to the others in the room. What was going on?
Dr. Mootoo interrupted his thoughts. “I will go in my car.” He gave Brenda a brief hug, nodded at them, then stepped out of the room.
Silence again, broken by the Amerindian called Perez. “When you say the ambulance will be ready?”
“Another ten minutes,” Brenda said.
“Which hospital you taking him to?” The words slipped out before Michael knew what he was going to ask.
The woman looked at him.
“We not taking him to another hospital. We taking him home.”
“Miss Brenda is right,” Tony Perez said. “A snake didn’t bite Mr. Sealey. A snake would have four punctures. This one has six. Not snake. Not scorpion. Not anything that I know.”
He paused to fill a glass from a mug of iced water that Brenda had brought to the living room table, where they were all sitting after entering the pork-knocker’s Hadfield Street, Lodge home.
An elderly man who was leaning on a cane, and seemed to be recovering from a stroke, had opened the front door for them.
Doctor Mootoo was already seated inside when they arrived. Brenda had directed the hospital porters, bearing Sealey on a stretcher, to a bedroom close to the front door. Someone had placed an arch of woven troolie leaves above the bedroom doorway.
Immediately after the porters left, Perez, the silent one with the military haircut (Michael would later learn that he was an army sergeant, and Perez’s cousin), and the old Amerindian man had entered the room where the pork-knocker lay. They had spoken briefly, then came into the living room.
Waiting for Perez to continue, Michael now observed that both Perez and the old man that they called Grandfather had an array of fresh, tiny cuts on their arms.
The old man wore a beaded necklace with an oval pendant that was shaped into a frog with gleaming, crystals eyes. Both men smelt strongly of tobacco. He recalled that tobacco played a part in Amerindian rituals.
We are bringing him home…
There was a sense of something ominous to come—but no, it couldn’t be what he was thinking. This was nineteen seventy-eight. Doctor Mootoo was here. But it was this same Doctor Mootoo who seemed to believe that Lucille, with those soft, sweet lips, was some sort of—
Perez interrupted his thoughts.
“That thing that bit Mr. Sealey. We think that your woman sent it, and that she sent the same thing to a girl at Kamarang…”
Sent…he had never known that such a simple word could take on such sinister meaning.
“Like a-a bina … a—spell.” Perez said, saying it so easily, as if casting spells was akin to breathing.
In his mind he was seeing her; in her lamp-lit room, with her hair loose, standing naked before the mirror. It was easy to imagine that she had some sort of bewitching power…but this?
Perez was nodding at him. “So, you saw the dai dai…you saw it up close and you lived.”
Perez paused, as if to let the words sink in. “I know how hard it is to believe in these things. But the dai dai is real.”
Perez’s sinewy fingers tighten around the glass. “I need you to tell me everything about her. She gave you anything to eat…to drink?”
“Just some pepperpot and cassiri.”
Perez nodded. “But she not poisoning you, or you would have been dead by now. But I think she wants you dead.”
Again, he felt that shiver run through him.
Perez was staring at him, but his thoughts seemed far away. “The things that are attacking you are from our legends; the dai dai…and maybe the girl. Maybe especially the girl.”
He sighed. “We got to protect you, and save Mr. Sealey, and we got to stop her.”
He saw Perez’s eyes shift to a corner near the front door, then shift guiltily away, but not before Michael saw what he was looking at: a faded, patched duffel bag. The shining muzzles of two double-barrel shotguns protruded from it.
He stared into the old man’s eyes, saw guilt, mixed with fear and resolve.
He realised that he was shaking his head, unwilling to accept the thought that the shotguns conjured in his mind.
Perez didn’t answer.
“You mean… kill her?”
He looked around at the five adults in the room. He saw the same mingling of guilt, fear, and a firmness of purpose.
“You going to murder her because you believe that she is some sort of…” He shook his head again. He stared at Doctor Mootoo, seeking help. The doctor stared down at the floor. Benda’s eyes were bright with tears, but she said nothing.
An overwhelming sadness engulfed him; for himself, for the dying pork-knocker, for these adults who loved this pork-knocker so much that they had taken him out of a hospital to try some desperate, insane thing.
Most of all, he felt despair for Lucille, despite what they said she might be. With it came an image of Perez entering the Ritz, shotgun in hand, vengeance in his eyes, cornering the girl as she sat by the punch-box.
He scrambled up from his seat, half-blinded by tears, intent on heading for the doorway.
But Perez was blocking his path, staring imploringly at him. “No, young one. We need you to stay. We need your help.”
“To kill her?”
“To see…and understand.”
“Stay … stay, ‘till sundown.”
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