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News & Features » April 2017 » “99 Obeah-men” by Karen Cavalli

“99 Obeah-men” by Karen Cavalli

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, Karen Cavalli takes us to a village where the supernatural thrives.

99 Obeah-men
by Karen Cavalli
Potters Village, Island of Antigua; Obeah-men 

I held a glass of champagne in my hand and stood alone under the dark night sky and the tree frogs whistling their love cries. My husband, John, turned away from me, talking with Grant, one of our butlers. The fairy lights strung from the two staked poles lit his profile—barrel torso and Roman nose–as he told Grant the story about running into Coach Tressel in Target. John’s hands held an imaginary box. When he dropped the box, Grant bent at the waist in laughter. John smiled, as though invisible hooks raised and lowered the corners of his mouth. Our other butler, Matthew, excused himself from talking with another couple, and came to stand at my side.

I scanned the sky in which the crescent moon cupped the lunar shadow. “Are there many sightings of UFOs on Antigua?” I asked Matthew. The fairy lights glanced off John’s spectacles.

Matthew, wearing a white, short-sleeved shirt, stuck his hands in the pockets of his black trousers and pondered. “We don’t look up much,” he said.

I dropped my gaze to the horizon where an oil tanker sat, as it had all day, off a jetty. Now its dark bulk melted into the night sky with only one solitary, green light to hint at its presence.

“We assume lights in the sky are planes,” Matthew continued. “They fly all the time between islands. Tourists, cargo—everything comes by plane.” He nodded at the oil tanker. “Or ship.”

A resort butler, one I didn’t know personally but had seen around—you get to know them as they make their circuits throughout the day and night—paused at my side. I lifted a glass of champagne from his offered tray, and he moved away before I could place my empty flute on it.

“Allow me,” said Matthew, and took the glass which was really plastic out of my hand and tucked it beneath his arm.

“Do you not believe in things like UFOs?” I asked. “The paranormal—ghosts, spirits?”

“Oh yes,” he said, smiling. “Anybody on the island that say they do not believe in spirits or do not believe in ghosts, I don’t think there’s one person would tell you that. Even the pastors in the church will tell you that. Grant will tell you. He’s from Potters Village, famous for its black magic.”

Grant looked over at us at the mention of his name. He joined our conversation as my husband faced the appetizers, pastry-lined ramekins topped with cheese, sausage and mushrooms.

“Potters Village has 99 Obeah-men,” Grant said, “and they have to maintain that. If their number is even one too many, one must go. Kitchen plates and pots fly off the counters in Potters Village as an every-day occurrence.”

“Obeah-men?” I asked.

“Black magic practitioners,” said Grant.

“They live in your village?”

“On the bad side,” Grant said. “I live on the good side.”

“I know people who will pay to hunt ghosts and poltergeists,” I said, “and here in Antigua, you just go home.”

Both Matthew and Grant laughed. Matthew said his goodbyes; he had host duties to attend to at the butler’s reception, and we had a dinner reservation.

Grant escorted my husband and me to Kimonos, the hibachi grill, John’s choice for that evening’s dinner. John hung back on the lit path, as though his feet were too heavy to lift, and Grant walked alongside me.

We reached the stairs of Kimono’s tiki hut.

“Will you tell me more of these stories about the Obeah-men?” I asked Grant.

“Of course,” he said with a little bow. “Some say the island has become too bright for Obeah-men to make their living.” He drew a spiral widdershins in the air, gesturing to the electrical lights surroundings us. “Their customers need the cover of darkness. Matthew can tell you about that too, and other things that go on in the island. Enjoy your dinner,” he said, and departed down the lit path, his white shirt glowing and lace-ups gleaming.

My husband took my elbow and guided me up the wooden stairs. At our table he sunk into himself, and my spirit followed him in. A weight like clay settled in my shoulders. John had these episodes where he disappeared for a time, usually about a week but it could stretch for two. We had been here at the resort for three days, and had three remaining.

I decided I would call Grant’s story, “Obeah-men on the edge of extinction.”


KAREN CAVALLI writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has won awards. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in Canada’s The Aquarian and the Minneapolis StarTribune.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Duppy Thursday flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—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 info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Apr 6, 2017

Category: Original Fiction, Duppy Thursday | Tags: , , , , , , ,