“Guango River” by Tricia Allen
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, Tricia Allen gets caught breaking the rules.
The lunch bell begins to ring, so we say our prayers, chewing the words up in our mouths with half-open eyes as we watch our teacher, leather belt in hand:
For health an’ strength and daily food,
We praise thy name oh Lord. Amen.
Miss Roddington is the type of woman who looks twenty years past her time, a woman carrying the entire world on her back, along with her classroom of fifty kids.
“Children, it is utterly abhorrent to see greasy fingers soiling books and benches. Ensure you scrub your hands. Be punctual. And do not go to the river!” She slaps the leather belt across her desk for good measure. The entire classroom trembles.
Tash and I scurry through the door toward the school gate and purchase curry chicken back and fried dumplings from Miss Girly’s bamboo stall. Miss Girly, a woman with a smile broader than rainbows, wipes sweat from her brow before dropping our change into our hands. We then make our way to the playfield to watch the boys.
“We playing Mamma Lashy!” Timmy says as he careens around a corner, switch in hand. Ah bwoy, not another Miss Roddington, I think to myself.
“You coming?” he asks. I roll my eyes in disgust.
“We still eating, don’t you see?” We brush past him to the football field, settling under the breadfruit tree near the goalpost. Behind the goalpost and past the meandering footpath is a gully that leads to the Guango River, home to the River Mumma, some say. The trees skirting the football field grow so tall they look like giant beanstalks—a jungle of green—but no one goes beyond the gully except the boys that used to hang with Jamie, the boy who disappeared last month after skipping class for a swim.
“You still thinking ’bout him,” says Tash, her eyes probing mine.
I look away, watching the wind willowing through the branches, wondering if the rumors are true.
“Sometimes I wonder if I should go, you know—I wonder if—if it’s true what they say ’bout the River Mumma, bout Jamie. Maybe—”
Tash grips my hand. “You heard what Miss Roddington say—the river out of bounds! Plus, what you intend to do if you find out the River Mumma real for true? For what I hear, the River Mumma don’t ‘fraid fi’ drown you too.”
I bite my lips hard. Everything Tash says makes sense, but I can’t help feeling that I need to go to the river. When I stand up, Tash grabs my hand, tugs, but I pull away and cross the green footpath, my legs threading through knee-high bushes as Tash calls after me.
I walk until I am finally at the edge of the river—a shriveled-up thing that looks far less threatening than I expected. Curious, I dip my toes into the cool river water, scattering tiny tadpoles and a few crayfish. Then I’m taking off my shoes, my socks, walking barefoot along the river’s edge, breathing in the sun.
But the tranquility doesn’t last long. Just then I here a sound that sends shivers racing along my spine.
“Miss Smart, come out of the river right now.” It’s Miss Roddington, her leather belt in hand. Behind her are Tash, Timmy, and a gang of kids. Their wide eyes dart from me to Miss Roddington, then back to me again.
“Did you not hear what I just said?” She reaches me with only a few steps, grips my arm. My heart thuds wildly and I brace myself for the sound of the leather belt cutting air, kissing skin.
TRICIA ALLEN is a young Jamaican writer with a passion for children’s literature, fantasy stories, and poetry. Her work has appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner, The Observer, and the Susumba Book Bag. She is also the recipient of the 2014 JCDC Silver Award for her short story entitled “Anancy and the Three-legged Dog.”
—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: Nov 13, 2015
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