“The Sweat Hut” by Alana Jules Jackman
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, Alana Jules Jackman shares a ghostly tale of seduction.
The Sweat Hut
by Alana Jules Jackman
Caroni Swamp, Trinidad and Tobago; Soucouyant
It used to be so. Playing dead to catch Corbeau alive. Every day started with the Our Father. Castor oil and sugar water. Chataigne beyney with saltfish and Bellyful. Then the tally stick. Unstitched, then the boys could take a shit. It was a pattern. The boys knew how to keep a secret. It was stuffed up so far it stretched around their front like a girdle. If you dared tell about the secrets of men it would surely mean misery, without mercy. The war would never be over. This was the rat you licked. The Mamatana said that they had the secret, but the men stole it. Hooked up and red-eyed, men were running out of time. Obeah was evil. Everyone knew it. It was popular because it seemed to work. So, they say. But it didn’t. Instead it controlled the minds of eight-year-old boys. It dangled on a rope around their necks, living dead centre in their chests. Shaped from the Mamatana’s stories. Swollen like a boil. Pus rich. A sharp crucifix inwardly clawing at their skin. The story goes.
It was the morning of the full moon. Half asleep, Saoul heard the hummingbirds in the bush. After the prayin,’ eatin’ and the shittin’ the boys played cricket. The Calypsonian sang: ‘Nastiness go cause your death.’ Then Tolo had a vision. It exploded out of him. He saw a dead man’s face float across Saoul’s caramel skin. A supernatural substance snaked its way through Saoul’s eyes, curled around his mouth, slipped and coiled in his chest. It chilled Tolo’s flesh in the unbearable heat. Saoul flicked his tongue over his lips. Tolo’s stomach tightened. He tasted a metallic residue then vomited. Saoul and Roman sat quietly, bemused. Tolo screamed then began to sob. The magic had begun. Roman mumbled something incomprehensible. Three days later Tolo disappeared. The Caroni Swamp had swallowed him whole. So, they say. They found his clothes scattered by the ole slave sweat hut. His flesh a bellyful for the goat-footed Sukinas. Tolo was dead. He had changed beyond blackness, beyond recognition. He had slowly unraveled after he had seen the ghost. Him-se. Larger than life. Standing over so, behind Saoul, ‘bleedin’ an’ holin’ a blud gutter.’ Him-se was crazy, crazy. Living in wretchedness, the depths of an animal’s consciousness was a moment as real as all the rest. Picong. So, they say.
Tolo knew. Something would have to be given in return for deliverance. That was the power of religious feeling. Roman said that Tolo was playin’ ole mas. He was always so full of stupid tricks. But Tolo’s eyes were so white and wide, wide, you could see right through to the jumble in his head. Tolo swore that he saw Him-se by the ole Sweat Hut. Tolo had tasted death. He thought of nothing else other than dyin’ and what lie beneath the surface. That’s the truth. Live by it and die for it. So, they say.
It used to be so. Hope had gone. Trust had gone. Him-se’s mind had been crushed by the smell of a woman which had left him stranded on the darkest of dead paths. A no-name man. Worthless. Other than as a breeding animal. His wounds may well be too deep, to forgive. A captive of the Frenchman’s sugar factory, rum, the white powder and the wet, wetness of sex. The Frenchman broke his wife’s neck for having wet, wet sex with a Black man. Pakoti inflamed the Frenchman. He cut out from his wife’s swollen belly the unborn child made before the Obeah wedding. It was honour. Sex was crawling all over her skin. He beat Him-se’s black skin off his white bones and hushed him up in the filth of The Sweat Hut. So, they say.
It used to be so. No miracles. Sitting naked on the stinking floor, Him-se counted time. One hundred again and again. It was a pattern. The flies swarmed around the blood and excrement. Him-se leveled his eyes with the pry holes and laughed until he couldn’t breathe. The pain of the whip imagined the beast into existence. Through the darkness, the Frenchman watched and waited. The Mamatana said that Him-se went beyond, beyond. The mocking arms of the Devil at Jumby Bay. Fucking was costly. Him-se’s return, stripped and scourged, and Tolo’s going the Mamatana told, was to lance the boil. Tick, tock. Him-se had wound up the clock. Honest to God. So, they say.
ALANA JULES JACKMAN was born in a rainforest to a nation of strong maternal forebears and oral histories. She grew up in Trinidad but now lives amidst the brutal concrete of London. She studied classical ballet at the Royal Academy and earned a BA Honors in the Classics and Medieval English Literature and an MA in the Philosophy and Psychology of Religion in addition to completing post-doctoral research in death and dying. She is a Buddhist in spirit and practices as a clinical psychologist assisting the departure of the terminally ill. She is also an artist, philosopher, and an academic researcher who is passionate about storytelling, horses, tennis and the mental, emotional, and sexual health of women. She is currently working on her first novel.
—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: Mar 16, 2017