“Akimbo in Aripo” by Wenmimareba Klobah Collins
Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.
This week, Wenmimareba Klobah Collins takes us down a dangerous path in Trinidad.
Akimbo in Aripo
by Wenmimareba Klobah Collins
Aripo, Trinidad; Douens
At night you lie awake, kept up by the sounds of running feet and children’s eerie laughter. In the morning you go outside and see that left in the mud are tracks that lead into the forest, but not out. No one goes into that forest, you think.
Unborn children, changelings, Mr. D. Down Below’s minions, douens—you know, from stories your grandmother has told you, these damned children that charm with flower crowns, crib songs, and river games. You’re told that if you go into the forest, you’ll never come back, especially since you have not been baptized in the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
At night, you hear, “Why won’t you come play with us?” in their hissing voices. You do not respond, but they know how gullible you are. They know that soon, you will step out of your safe home, barefoot.
A fresh summer breeze, the kind that spreads premonitions, graces the night. You, in your silky jammies and thin overcoat, press one foot onto the humid grass and shiver—it’s cold. They have not come tonight. Perhaps they’ve lost interest.
So you, in your jammies, go to sit in the damp grass of your backyard and wonder what kind of life the unnamed have. It is easy for you to imagine your head cradled by flowers and your feet tucked in by river water. You do not notice that children peep out from the greenery.
“Come play and sing, and dance in the river with us!” they hiss invitingly. You stand up and intend to go back into the house, your throat dry, but your steps falter, and as if by some force not your own, you find yourself getting closer to them. Or, are they getting closer to you?
The difference is irrelevant, for you are holding hands with one of them, and it is clammy, moist, cold, and not warm like yours. You now notice something you had not before. Some of them, to obscure their eyes, wear large thatched hats, but those that do not, have dark, tired eyes. Their youthful faces sport button noses and sweet pink lips smelling of wild berries. You do not know yet that behind those lips are sharpened teeth used to bite into animal flesh and a persuasive tongue used to entice unbaptized children like you.
They’ve taken you, in the rolling melody of their steps and song, to the river Aripo inside the forest, and when they sit and beckon you to come join them, their feet, you notice, are not as they’re supposed to be. It’s a peculiar thing to miss, really, backwards feet. You sense that your own feet have been treading air when they come into contact once again with the marshy forest floor. You look back into the bush where you think you came from, and you want to go home.
You haven’t said anything, and yet they know, for they respond. They hold your arms and stroke them. “This is your home now. We don’t have any rules; you can sing and play all day. Don’t you like us? Why don’t you speak?” When they speak, it is a chorus of voices that is somehow melodious yet dissonant. You do not speak for fear that the strength in your voice will appear inferior to theirs, and you do try, ever so fiercely, to dislike their speckled cheeks, their tawny skin, their round noses, their chittering laugh, but you find you cannot. There is an attraction and a longing inside you that you simply cannot ignore. After all, you are only a child, and so far, these sprites have been kind to you. They are children like you, and they want the same things you do: to play, to sing, to be wild.
So they feed you crabs and small bird’s eggs until you cannot eat any more, and then they dance with you on the riverbank while others sing and laugh.
You do not notice the time pass; you do not care for time any longer. You do not care for “civilized” manners—you do not remember them. Soon morning arrives, and you are not home. You are not in your silk jammies, you are not tucked into bed, you do not get a kiss good morning from your parents, and you do not have breakfast.
They, your parents, find only tracks leading away from the forest that morning.
WENMIMAREBA KLOBAH COLLINS resides in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She writes stories and poems in English and Spanish. She is also a trumpet player and a visual artist who draws, makes linoleum-cut prints, and paints.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 7, 2016
Category: Duppy Thursday | Tags: Trinidad, Caribbean, flash fiction, short story, Caribbean Literature, short fiction, Duppy Thursday, Trinidad and Tobago, Akimbo in Aripo, Wenmimareba Klobah Collins, Aripo, Douens, Aripo River
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