The huge red hand-print on little Angela’s right jaw stared accusingly at Marcia as she sat and listened to the child’s tale of being savagely slapped by an apparition. The fresh tear stains running down her ruddy cheeks spoke volumes about the very painful experience she had just endured. The five year-old’s feeble, stuttering account of what had happened said even more.
Marcia’s head was spinning like a top as she started her inquisition into the mysterious matter. She considered not proposing the unthinkable, but succumbed to the temptation to try and assuage the gradually rising fear inside her.
“Annie, yuh sure seh is a duppy box yuh? How yuh know seh a neva Erica a run joke wid yuh while yuh sleepin’ like she normally do?”
“A nuh Erica, Mommy! Erica would never hurt mi. Plus, she been sleeping since bout eight o’clock because har belly hurting har.”
More tears started to well up in her little eyes as she continued to recount her horrifying experience.
“Mi did a doze off when mi feel the sup’n lick mi inna mi face – and mi jump up! It still burning mi, Mommy.”
The tears began to flow freely now. The tiny rivulets quickly pooled and dripped like a broken faucet from the little one’s chubby chin.
Her mother’s mouth was agape as she listened. Her lips trembled almost imperceptible. She tried desperately to compose herself as the deep-seated fears caused a series of bulging knots to form in her stomach. The quivering became almost violent once Marcia started to speak again, fueled by a blind rage more common to a cornered animal anticipating its imminent demise.
“Yuh too lie! How much time mi tell yuh fi stop tell lie? Nuh worry, a gwine beat the lying out a yuh!”
She frantically groped around on the night table beside her bed for the heavy leather belt Marlon usually kept there.
The unexpected rebuke hit Angela like a ton of bricks, forcing her to slump to the floor as her young mind muddled through the process of trying to comprehend the surprise broadside. The shock etched on her face cast a shimmering reflection in her tear-filled eyes. Her gentle sobbing quickly inflected into a droning wail.
With each unsuccessful frenzied snatch, Marcia’s trembling hand nudged the little bedside lamp ever closer to the edge. It tottered precariously like a staggered boxer teetering under a barrage of brutal body blows. Then it crashed. The shrill splintering of glass pierced the veil that had covered her eyes. She immediately froze as if under the spell of an accomplished hypnotist.
Angela began to wail even louder. Her sustained bawling eventually caused her mother to snap out of her stupor. It also brought Erica stumbling down the dimly lit hallway to her parents’ matrimonial bedroom.
Marcia staggered over to her kneeling daughter with a hollow look inhabiting her big, almond-shaped eyes. In one fluid motion, she pulled the child to her feet and clutched her to her cold body with a vice-like embrace. Tighter. Tighter. Tighter. She squeezed until the child began gasping for air.
“Mommy, mi can’t breathe! Mommy!”
Angela struggled to ease herself out of the suffocating bear hug that Marcia had locked on to her. Her determined wriggling and writhing eventually allowed her to dribble out of her mother’s grasp.
Marcia was unresponsive. Her rigid body belied the presence of life. Even after Angela evaded her grasp, she just stood motionless. She soon fell stiffly on to the bed. Her body bounced thrice, before being peacefully overcome by stillness once more. Her eyelids snapped shut.
Angela lay gasping for air on the cold floor. As she laboured to breathe, the night’s disturbing events flashed through her mind sequentially. Strangely, the chilly tiles provided an unlikely source of comfort to her. They seemed to freeze the pain she felt inside, preventing it from surfacing as tears. Utterly exhausted by her evening’s exertions, she soon fell fast asleep.
All this time, Erica was propped up against the door jamb staring intently at the odd spectacle unfolding in front of her. Somewhere inside her being, a faint voice was echoing an urgent SOS. However, the fog produced by the medication she had taken hours earlier made rational thought nigh on impossible. The wooziness escorted her to a seat on the floor. Her eyes slowly closed with the silhouette of the twin prostrate bodies as their last vision.
Marcia sat on a stool in the kitchen slowly sipping a huge mug of mint tea. She had been at it for hours – ever since her husband Marlon had left for work and her daughters for school. The bizarre events of the previous night were haunting her. Her daughters were apparently trying to suppress the disturbing memories by pretending nothing had happened, while her husband of fifteen years was not buying her story that she and the girls had drifted off in the midst of a game of ludo. She anticipated the continuation of his inquest when he returned home from the fire station later that night. As he had told her, it defied logic that ludo could be played without a board and a die. At least he had chuckled afterwards, though. What was the next chapter in her story going to be?
Ever so often, she plucked a tough cracker from the pack in front of her, dipped it in the now tepid tea, and feebly chewed it. Her body was very much present, but her troubled mind was a million miles and many moons away. In that morose space, the hands of time wound backward to twenty-one years prior.
Two decades ago she was a much younger woman – a much younger and very attractive woman with the face of an angel and a body that was the envy of almost every other woman within her small district. The only exception was her favourite cousin Patricia. Patricia was everything that she wanted to be since both were little girls sitting in Sunday school in those cute little matching floral dresses that Aunty Mavis had sent down from England. Her unfortunate and untimely death had left a void in Marcia’s life that no one could fill.
Back when she was young and fresh, men were fawning and falling all over her. Hers was the kind of sweetness that induced the kind of weakness which made men meekly cede small fortunes and inheritances. With the vim, vigour and vitality of youth coursing heartily through her veins, she liberally lavished her love upon a generation of moribund male tourists who frequented the coastal district seeking one last earthly pleasure. It was a good living while it lasted, but nothing in this life lasts forever.
Everything changed when she first laid eyes on Marlon. Her body remained willing and untamed, but her heart was rendered an instant captive.
He was everything that all of the other men she had ever known were not. He wasn’t a penniless, romantic pauper like her father. He wasn’t a worthless, delusional drunk like her grandfather. Neither did he live a life subject to the vagaries of the ebbing tides like most of the futureless men within the community. He was ambitious. He was educated. He was principled. He also quickly became her reason for wanting to be a better person – much like Patricia once was.
Marlon’s arrival in town was the first pivot point in her life. The fireman from Kingston unknowingly saved her from a life of debauchery. She had fallen in love with him immediately after their initial conversation ended twenty-one years before. Like many of the other women in the district, she was drawn to his rugged good looks and chiseled body. She remembered herself spending many a night fantasizing about being lost in his husky arms as the intense heat radiating from his hard body lit a raging fire inside her. But the attraction went far beyond his obviously impressive physique.
He had a calm, reassuring spirit that made her feel safer than any other man had ever made her feel. His words inspired her to reach higher than any woman’s had. He was – simply – the best thing that ever happened to her.
As she wearily dunked and munched another cracker, a faint smile barely creased her chapped lips. However, it quickly faded when the next chapter of her reminiscing began. Her countenance darkened again when she recalled Marlon telling her that he only had eyes for Patricia. He had told her that much when she first poured her heart out to him. She could almost feel the searing pain she felt then rising in her chest once more.
She recalled feeling Marlon’s love for Patricia growing ever stronger as the days passed. Through jealous eyes she saw them drawing closer together – bonded by shared passions such as their love for God and others. On the other hand, her once warm relationship with Patricia slowly got more and more frigid. The gulf between them expanded each and every time she saw her once beloved cousin and the man she wanted to cleave to more than anyone else in the world together. But the fault was not Patricia’s.
A single tear streaked down her right cheek. It fell softly into the mug of tea below, triggering a restrained series of ripples.
No. Patricia remained the paragon she had always been. Despite everything, she never changed one bit from the thoughtful, considerate and sensitive younger cousin who graciously served as her oft troubled older cousin’s counselor and confidante during less emotionally turbulent times. She gave of her childlike innocence freely, but ultimately paid for her naivety dearly.
The tears started streaking down both of Marcia’s cheeks now.
Patricia’s death was the second pivot point in her life. For years, she was haunted by visions of her cousin’s once beautiful body lying in a mangled heap on the highway. She had not been able to digest the reality of the premature passing until weeks after the fact. The finality of death was only reinforced when she saw the coffin being lowered into the ground, deluged by dirt and entombed in its concrete sepulchre. For a while thereafter, the haunting stopped.
She and Marlon found mutual comfort in each other’s arms. Each helped the other to overcome the loss of the one person who had been such an important figure in both their lives. Marcia’s mastery of the art of mimicry soon sucked Marlon all the way in. She copied Patricia down to the most minute of mannerisms. He was particularly tickled when she giggled like a schoolgirl at his amateurish Big Boy jokes with the missing punch lines. In time, he came to accept her – and eventually love her – for being Patricia’s substitute.
After years of relative contentment, it dawned on Patricia’s spirit that her body’s demise was due to the schemes of someone within the world of the living. Discovering the betrayal wrung her soul of the last of its benevolence. Having loved and lost scattered the seeds of hatred where unconditional love was once nurtured. The hatred eventually grew stronger and stronger, nourished by a burning desire for vengeance. Then the gangrene-inducing festering began. Malevolent motives slowly seeped in to fill the space once reserved for unreserved love and goodwill. And Marcia was now the object of those sinister intentions.
The tears streamed down Marcia’s face now. She knew that her time of atonement was at hand. She knew that the fury of hell was slowly being unleashed on her life. Her murderous chickens were finally returning home to roost.
The arduous trek to Mumma’s little wattle and daub hut took Marcia just over an hour. By the time she finally got near there, the intense rays of the Caribbean sun were beating down punishingly upon her creamy caramel skin. However, she was as cold as the Arctic on the inside. A now familiar feeling of fear slowly crept over her as she began her final ascent.
Flirtatious wisps of smoke greeted her as she stepped under the leafy canopy that led to the clearing where the infamous obeah woman lived. As the hut came into sight, she paused suddenly. Was she in the right place? To her surprise, the hut was now partnered by a colourful wooden bungalow with an expansive verandah. Apparently business had been very good over the last eighteen years.
She tentatively approached the hut to honour her midday appointment.
The sweet smell of frankincense and myrrh playfully tickled Marcia’s nostrils as she entered the hut. Her rapidly squinting eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly enough to make out the figure of a woman seated around a small wooden table in the far corner of the lean-to. As Marcia edged closer, she recognized the piercing eyes which had peered into the depths of her soul the last time she was in this place. She also noticed that the owner of the spotlight-like orbs didn’t seem to have gotten a day older than she was when she first laid eyes on her nearly two decades ago.
“Mumma, once again a come to you with a problem a need yuh to help mi wid. A feel like me and mi family being…”
“Haunted by a duppy?
A cold shiver ran down Marcia’s spine as Mumma interjected. Her mouth suddenly became as dry as a chip in the midst of a desert.
The portents were definitely not good.
Mumma shifted ever so slightly in her chair. An invasive beam of light briefly illuminated her stringy arms as they snaked across the table to precisely place a small collection plate in front of the chair opposite.
“Yes…Mumma knows why you’ve come, child. Have a seat, please.”
She motioned Marcia to sit in the wooden chair across from her.
Marcia nervously took her seat on the creaky wooden chair. Her buttock muscles tensed as she planted them on the unyielding surface.
“What mi can do fi mek har stop haunting mi, Mumma?”
Once again, Mumma shifted slightly in her chair before she answered. A choir of bones cracked noisily as she executed what should have been a routine manoeuvre.
“The only way to appease the spirit is to offer it a sacrifice. The offering must be a sacrifice of blood. A vengeful spirit thirsts for blood. That is the only way to satisfy it.”
As Mumma’s words slowly registered in her consciousness, a paralyzing panic seized Marcia’s body. Rich, crimson blood slowly started trickling from her right nostril and her left ear.
“Lawd! Mumma, a what a happen to mi?”
Marcia’s manically mumbled question was almost drowned out as the blood now gushing from her nose streamed down into her mouth, filling it with putridity.
“Yuh feel the evil, right? Yuh can’t seh mi neva warn yuh! Shi neva deserve what shi get.”
“Mumma, please help mi! A beg yuh! Stop the bleeding, please!”
Marcia’s garbled pleas only prompted the seemingly ageless mystic to calmly motion toward the battered brass collection plate on which precious drops of her client’s blood were splashing.
With the flow of blood coming from her nose and ear getting ever heavier, Marcia somehow managed to fumble a crumpled and soiled thousand dollar bill into the waiting receptacle.
Spurred into action by the tribute, Mumma sprung to her feet athletically. Within the blink of an eye, her hips started rotating elastically like a hula dancer while her upper body swayed back and forth like a reed caught in the wind. The pulsating movements were soon accompanied by the shrill chanting of incantations. Shrill quickly modulated to husky as her body began to contort, as if violently wrung by some invisible force.
Marcia’s body suddenly fell into a comatose state. Her eyes rolled back in her head as if dead.
A splitting headache hammered away at Marcia’s skull as she stumbled down the hillside back out on to the main road. She had come to about an hour ago, but she was still in pretty bad shape. As per Mumma’s account, the nose bleed had been caused by the same evil spirit that had been stalking her and her family: Patricia.
Mumma’s chilling warning that only blood could atone for the sin of inducing the madness that led to the death of her closest cousin cruelly toyed with her mind as she limply stuck out her hand to stop a town-bound taxi. She shivered when she thought about the unfathomable depths of evil and hypocrisy that could so blind Mumma to her role in the whole sordid affair. Wasn’t it her hands that had compounded the hallucinatory concoction which had Patricia croaking like a frog just minutes before she dashed to her horrific death? Even as the tears welled up in her eyes once more, she prayed that the Devil would reserve an extra special place in hell for his proxy.
It was almost 3.30 in the afternoon now. She needed to make it back before Marlon got home from his10pm to 3pm shift at the fire station in the neighbouring town of Chesterly. She couldn’t afford to arouse anymore of his suspicions.
She stopped the taxi at the quaint little wrought iron gate that led to the family’s attractive two-bedroom house. Darn! The family’s black sedan was parked in the driveway. Marlon had beaten her home.
She sighed as she anticipated the inevitable questions he would ask. Her behaviour – admittedly – had been particularly off this past week. The situation was definitely not ideal, but it was nothing that a big plate of his favourite spicy curried chicken with flaky white rice couldn’t solve. A tall glass of carrot juice would seal the reconciliation.
A smile started breaking on her lips for the first time in quite a while as she slowly opened the faux antique gate. Finally, she was back at the one place where she could hope for any semblance of respite from the spiritual siege. Home, sweet home!
The front door was open. Typical. Marlon always left the front door open despite Marcia’s repeated protestations over the practice. As she walked through the void, she observed that the house was very quiet. Atypical. Marlon was never alone inside the house without the smooth strains of Gregory Isaacs or Ken Boothe to keep him company.
A flock of negative thoughts flew through her mind, but she quickly shooed them away. She was assured in the knowledge that her husband had never demonstrated any inclination to be that kind of man. Deep down, however, she knew that something was not quite right.
“Marlon! Marlon! Marlon!”
With each unanswered call, the anxiety inside her belly built up just a tad more. She was trembling nervously by the time she neared the bedroom door, which was ajar. She slowly eased it fully open, and tentatively placed a quivering right foot inside.
A bloodcurdling scream erupted from Marcia’s throat. She felt her intestines twisting and turning as her body immediately started to convulse in shock. The smell of death and stillborn dreams swiftly poisoned her sinuses. Her chest heaved violently as she struggled to breathe. She fell to the floor in a heavy heap as her hands clawed manically at her stomach.
“Woooooieee! Mi belly! Mi belly! Lawd Jesus, help mi! Woooooieee! Mi belly!
A pasty rivulet of blood meandered down to mingle with her white dress. It was tepid. Its warmth betrayed the fact that Marlon had only just been ripped from her arms. His naked, battered body hadn’t been lifeless and dangling from the rafters for very long.
She could also sense that the killer was still in the house.
She could feel the leering eyes peering deep into the sorrowful mass of flesh that now passed for her heart. She imagined the smug smile on that grotesque face that was now so disfigured by an all-consuming hatred.
Marcia, the freshly broken widow, demanded answers, but the guilty conspirator inside her knew that the questions were all rhetorical.
“Why yuh nuh just kill mi too, eh? Why? Kill mi too! Why yuh haffi tek mi baby?”
She got no response. Her mind raced around frantically as it sought to find the answer to the question that was burning a hole in her heart.
“Why yuh tek mi baby? Why?”
This time, a ghostly riposte materialized from the heavy, dead air. The spirit’s voice was almost unintelligibly croaky, but its undeniable familiarity with its victim spoke eloquently enough.
“A want you to suffer as much in life as I’m suffering in death, Munchie. Why? Why? Why? Munchie, why me? What did I do to deserve the fate that you caused to befall me? All I ever did was love and try to be there for you. Why me, Munchie? And why Marlon decide fi give him love to a dutty tramp like you?”
The apparition’s allusion to the whore she had been in her former life stung Marcia like a hive of angry bees. However, she quickly became unrepentant again. Life had given her a chance at love; and she had seized it with both hands. She would never make any apologies for that.
But Patricia had been afforded no such luxury.
Marcia slowly curled up in the foetal position as the tears flowed down to dilute the pool of blood in which she was floating. She gradually drifted away into emotional oblivion.
Marcia tossed restlessly as the orderly tried to restrain her for the nurse to administer her nightly dose of medication.
It had been five weeks since Marlon’s passing. Five weeks of twenty-hour days spent tethered to her bed in the psychiatric ward at the hospital in Falmouth. Five weeks of anger. Five weeks of pain. Five weeks of regret. Five weeks of torture. It had been five weeks of feeling lower than she had ever felt in her forty-plus years of life. She had totally lost the will to live.
As the lights went out on the ward, she earnestly prayed that the angel of death would visit her while she slept. After two hours of expectant waiting, she eventually fell asleep.
Marcia thrashed her arms wildly as she abruptly awoke from the nightmarish dream. As she swiftly sat upright in the king-sized bed, a feeling of relief rushed through her veins – like a tranquilizer – as she realized that she was not in restraints. It had all been a figment of her imagination. It had all just been a very bad dream.
She slowly wiped away the clustered beads of sweat that had congregated on her forehead. Whew!
She desperately yearned for her husband to come home and hold her, though. She really hungered for more of his time and attention. And so did his two daughters. Damn all the graveyard shifts he kept being given down at the station! She sighed heavily.
Just as she was about to get up to get a glass of water in the kitchen, her younger daughter stumbled into the room. The five year-old was sobbing softly. Her hollow eyes were stained by tears. She also had a huge red handprint on her right jaw.
Marcia’s eyes opened wide in horror.
Her nightmare was just beginning.
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