“Pray for Us Sinners” by Breanne Mc Ivor
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, Breanne Mc Ivor has a haunting encounter in Diego Martin, Trinidad.
Pray for Us Sinners
by Breanne Mc Ivor
Diego Martin, Trinidad; Lagahoo
My son saw women peel their skin from their bones and burn their bodies out like cane fire before bed. He stood at our window and stared at next door’s silk cotton tree, which sprawled like a monstrous brain connected by the spinal cord of its trunk to the earth. Sometimes he called me to see the man whose lines bled and blurred into the darkness until his transformation shredded his clothes and his wolf-neck was weighed down by chains.
I would wake up and look into the midnight and say, “Baby, it’s nothing. That’s just Charles Lyon, the neighbor.”
I never saw Arthur’s bogeymen. After a night of his hallucinations, I would call my mother, who watched him after school, and ask her to stop reading him those poems where old women became balls of fire who quenched their thirst with baby’s blood and wolf-men lugged their own entrails behind them as they straddled the border between life and death. As a girl, I’d heard those poems too and slept with cold rosary beads between my fingers as I prayed, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners . . .”
I’d promised that Arthur would grow up without religion, so no bleeding God would judge him from a cross and so his rational mind would reject all monsters—the Devil, La Diablesse, the nameless nothing that threatened children who spent Sundays in cemeteries lighting candles for departed souls.
But science could not stand in the face of my mother’s stories. She read from the same books that had echoed through my childhood, and my son stayed awake, staring, seeing things that it had taken me years to unsee.
“Mummy, wake up! He’s in the house!”
I sat up, arm shooting out to wrap around Arthur’s chest, but of course he was by the window.
“Baby, that’s just—”
But a floorboard wheezed under the weight of a foot.
I sprang out of bed and made sure that both bolts of our bedroom door were wedged in. I thought of the couple two streets down who’d been robbed right after they’d redone their burglar proof in a brazen inside job. I thought of the lady higher up our hill who’d been knocked into eternal unconsciousness by the cricket bat she kept beside her bed, while the thieves picked through her panties to find the wads of money she’d squirreled away for years.
I pulled Arthur from the window and bundled him into our bed.
“Mummy,” Arthur called. Too loud.
“You have to stay quiet,” I hissed.
“But I can hear him dragging his chains . . .”
Despite myself, my ears strained for a sound I had not listened for since childhood. The night sounds of crickets crying and my own strangled breathing swelled in my ears. Just when I was about to repeat my promise (“Baby, it’s nothing“), metal rattled musically against metal.
I don’t know how long Arthur and I huddled there in silent acknowledgement of what we’d both heard. We waited with ears cocked, but there was nothing more.
The timelessness was broken when I heard a motorcycle screaming down the Diego Martin Main Road.
“Baby,” I whispered, “lock the door behind me.” I unwound Arthur’s fingers from mine.
I unsheathed my old cutlass and eased the bolts out of place. As I crept from the room, I saw the white crescents of Arthur’s eyes following me in the darkness.
“Shut the door!”
My every step was a Hail Mary.
I tried to pierce the murmurs of our old house—the rats scrabbling along the roof, the water dribbling through the toilet’s crack—and pinpoint an intruder. Then I heard it—metal slamming against metal. Not the chains of some folklore figure come to life, but the burglar proof banging in the wind, the padlock severed on the floor.
“Arthur, das you?” a voice called from the garden.
I couldn’t see the speaker. “Arthur, boy, I see a man cutting yuh padlock with a bolt cutter. I call de police, but no squad cars. I rip my pants climbing over de fence to help, but, like, he gone.”
The voice formed itself into meaning. “Charles?” my voice wobbled across the night.
“Aw haw. I thought you was Arthur!” my neighbour shouted.
I looked out. A shadow became a man.
Charles Lyon was standing in my garden, his skin glistening in a goose-pimpled wetness. I wasn’t sure whether it was sweat or blood darkening the clothes hanging in tatters around his body.
BREANNE MC IVOR is a Trinidadian writer who cofounded People’s Republic of Writing (PROW), a populist group created out of the belief that writing belongs to everyone. After earning degrees from the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, she returned home. In 2015, her story “Kristoff and Bonnie” won The Caribbean Writer‘s David Hough Literary Prize. Her work has appeared in Origami Journal, The Corvus Review, Rock Bottom Journal, The Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere.
—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: Jul 14, 2016
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