“Careful what you wish for” by Barbara Jenkins
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, Pepperpot contributor Barbara Jenkins tells us a story of life and death set in Trinidad. Next week, Montague Kobbé, author of The Night of the Rambler and the forthcoming On the Way Back, gives us a twist on a Venezuelan folktale.
Careful what you wish for
by Barbara Jenkins
Northern Range, Trinidad
When the First People found her sparse remains, Karinya’s body had already entered the Eternal Circle of Life, her spirit as free as the corbeaux circling overhead.
Wait. It’s chilly here. Let me get more comfortable. I’ll sidle over for more clothes. These garments rattle with the bones of their former inhabitants. A femur here, a humerus there. Ha ha.
Where was I? Karinya. She’d opened her arms, embracing the distant green softening to gray, the arc of a tentative rainbow, the roar of water below the gorge, the mustiness of disturbed leaf mold.
“This is our sacred land. You cannot build here.”
I’d pointed across the gorge. “A bridge spanning from here to there. My house on top of it.” I flicked up a photo on my phone. “Like this.”
“Falling Water. Stunning. Not allowed here.”
“The line between authority and power is blurred.”
Do I hear you thumping in agreement? ’Tis true. Shape-shifters both. When I insisted I would make my home here regardless, Karinya said, “Careful what you wish for.”
On the way back, along the sheer wall of the gorge, her foot missed the edge. Her hand caught one of my snake-proof boots. She clung there, suspended over the precipice, watching me. Her face shimmered with the silver dust of mountain ferns, and her fierce hair sparkled galaxies in trapped raindrops. But all I saw was the hand of Providence removing the obstacle to my heart’s desire. A keening plaint of longing and regret lingered in the void long after she was gone.
I had a long journey ahead. It was rapidly turning dark—you know I’m not fond of the dark. I haven’t seen sunlight in how long? Seems like years you and I have been here. I think my eyes have lost the power of sight. My skin feels moldy with the constant drip-drip-drip from above. Oh! Suits you, does it?
Listen. I was paying attention only to my need for haste when just beside my ear came a low guttural moan: “Whuh-whuh-whu-whu-whuuuuuu-uh-uh-uhuuuuuh.” My heart jumped into my throat. For long minutes I stood frozen in dread. In the most reproachful, most pained voice, it asked again, “Whuh-whuh-whu-whu-whuuuuuu-uh-uh-uhuuuuuh?” The cry, rising to a most pitiful crescendo, was taken up in all directions. When one voice was at its highest pitch, another joined in, starting low and rising. No stopping or starting—only one long continuous howl, the loudest, most melancholy sound I’ve ever heard, reverberating and amplifying across the gorge, an invisible convocation of solemn jurists exchanging grave news of what, how, and who, surrounding me, deliberating in awful judgement. Of me. I swear my hair turned white all at once. Before I could hear the verdict and have sentence pronounced on me, I fled, slipping and sliding through pitch blackness in such terror that I disregarded slitherings underfoot, peering red eyes, hoots and screeches, slime and thorns, venom, fangs, and claws all around me.
A line of silver light picked out the river. I would swim, safe from forest demons. As the valley narrowed, the channel deepened. The boot she’d clutched got wedged between rocks. I heard my leg snap. I was held fast, my head submerged in the swift current. I prayed I would not drown. At once something stirred in the murky depths, and what felt like a thick arm encircled my waist. I was tugged upward, gasping air, struggling to free from my rescuer, but the grasp tightened as the arms wrapping my body multiplied. Then they loosened, sliding down, twisting ’round my ankles like leg irons as I was dragged underwater, until my lungs were near exploding. Then, with a powerful lifting, almost like a kick, I was sent spinning, propeller-like, up into the air, only to crash down, plunging deep into the water. Again my crushed ankles were snared.
Again and again you toyed with me, Mama Dlo. Then you wrapped all of yourself around me, lover, prisoner, tightening and releasing in shuddering spasms. You slithered out. Your arms held mine as we faced each other beneath the surface. Your cheeks sparkled with silver dust. The wildness of your hair was as the currents of the river. Glittering green-and-gold skin, bright as newly minted coins, sheathed the twenty feet of pure muscle extending in tight coils from your torso. You sang me your song of regret and longing. Then you dragged me, trussed in your sloughed skin, here, to our eternal home.
BARBARA JENKINS was born in Trinidad, where she continues to live and work. She started writing in what she calls her third life, which began with The Cropper Foundation/UWI Creative Writing Residential Workshop, 2008. Her stories won the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, Caribbean Region 2010 and 2011, the Wasafiri New Writing Prize, Life Writing 2010, Small Axe Fiction 2011, The Caribbean Writer Fiction 2010, the CCN Film Review Prize, Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival 2012, and the Bocas Lit Fest Hollick-Arvon Award 2013. Her stories have appeared in many publications including the above-mentioned journals and in Pepperpot, Peekash Press, 2014. Her debut collection of short stories, Sic Transit Wagon, was published by Peepal Tree Press, Leeds, UK, 2013. She is currently working on a novel, with the working title De Rightest Place. Barbara spends her days reading, writing, swimming at Macqueripe Bay on Trinidad’s Caribbean coastline and spending time with her three globally dispersed children and growing number of grandchildren.
—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.
—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: Aug 20, 2015
Category: Duppy Thursday | Tags: Trinidad, Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago, Pepperpot, Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, flash fiction, short story, Caribbean Literature, short fiction, Duppy Thursday, Barbara Jenkins, Careful what you wish for, Northern Range
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