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News & Features » September 2017 » “Papa Jumbie” by Joanne C. Hillhouse

“Papa Jumbie” by Joanne C. Hillhouse

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, a jumbie surfaces in Antiguan vernacular.

Papa Jumbie
by Joanne C. Hillhouse
Jumbie; Antigua

Photo by Emile Hill

 Just as Steadroy finish mek up he bed under de Big Head, smadee call he name. He freeze … “Papa?” … … … he shiver, looking up de nose-hole of the stone statue, before turning pan he side and resettling heself. De plastic flower an’ dem wha dem lay last Labour Day rustle when he shif’, but after dat, dead silence.

Smadee call he name again.

He tun back pan he back; stare hard pan Papa stone lip an’ dem, looking for even a quiver … … … he choops to heself. Only picknee believe in jumbie. Dead na speak an’ Papa dead long time. Besides, Papa jumbie woulda up Heroes Park not dung inna market.

“Rum ah wan bitch,” he mutter to heself.

“Shut up, bitch,” he grumble back.

Sleep edge ‘way from he; ah so de stone hard and cowl!

“You na shame ah you self.”

Dat ah nah Papa ghost; dat ah mammy … in he head, been there ever since. Sometimes he na mind de comp’ny. Other times, he cyaarn tek de hegging; de knowing dat he wasn’ nothing but a disappointment to she.

Now he yeye-dem wet and he lip ah tremble.

… an’ rum shop close.

He lay back dung pan de flowers by Papa finger-an-dem an’ stare up Papa nose-hole and pray for sleep; as if God up dem time o’ night!


He two yeye snap open wide-wide an’ he body freeze up. Ah Papa voice self: even the Pope ha fu guess the voice of God de Farda, but every smadee ya bout know Papa voice – “Father of the Nation” on a mosquito-speck island.

See he dey by de gate; tall laka Papa, imposing like God. Cyaarn mek out no face. Steadroy tumble, head first, off the statue; scramble back.

“Steady” … and de shadow come closer.

Steadroy flashback to when he use to come market wid mammy when he min likkle, an’ how fu keep he close she would remind he dat market use to be Eve burial groun’. He remember how rum mek he fuhget. Til de Big Head, in de Market, ‘cross from de rum shop come he favourite sleeping spot.

Mammy couldn’t pull he outta de bottle an’ now she na dey fu even try; nobody lef’ fu kay weddah he live or die. Oh Lord, he na ready fu dead!

Mammy does say, “God na bargain wid insect” an’ he know he nutten more than a cockroach …who had a talent …for something … ah time ago, but he couldn’t help heself.

“Papa, see mi ah wear you colour.” He point to the still plastic-fresh red shirt.  Even drunks get freebs come election time.


And he try, he really try fu steady heself. Deep breath ‘til de smell of he own rum-breath cause he fu cough, and cough and cough right inna Papa face. The face he still can’t quite mek out. But the shadow nuh flinch.

“Sorry, Papa, sorry,” he blurt. He han’ ah try touch fu wipe, but nutten dey fu touch. An’ before he could remember that ghost na hab body, he bawl murder, an’ tek off up Market Street like jumbie ah chase he.


Next morning, de man an’ dem stir from the step and gutter outside de rum shop fu find wan big pot ah porridge serving up under de Big Head. Dem line up quick.

“Who dem?” One hab de presence o’ mind fu ask.

“Politician, probably. None o’ dem nar buy mi vote though,” anudda say as he edge forward.

“You hab voter card?” A third ask.

“No matter. Dem raas still nar buy mi vote.”

“Ah nah no politics nutten, you nah see dah one dey hab on Parson clothes.”

“Lard pupa, he tall laka jack-o-lantern!”

“Jack-o-lantern nuh tall, yuh damn ass, dat ah long ghost or moco jumbie.”

“Me kay?”

“You nuh ha fu kay fu wrong.”

And dem shub and inch forward one by one, until one say, “Hey, where Steady?”


Steadroy same-time in a cell at the other end of Market Street drying out after he wake up de police from dem bed inside de station foreday morning, screaming bloody murder.  Now and again, de officer at de desk ‘cross from de cell, shout to he, “hey, shut yuh mudda scunt!”, but Steady heself na know when he quiet and when he ah cry fuh he mammy, when he calm nor when he dey ah mutter, like crazy tek he,




JOANNE C. HILLHOUSE is an Antiguan and Barbudan author (The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Burt Award finalist Musical Youth, With Grace, and forthcoming Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure).  Her fiction and/or poetry have been published in The Caribbean Writer, Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, and other journals and anthologies. She freelances as a writer, editor, writing coach, and workshop/course facilitator. She founded and coordinates the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. Links: wadadlipen.wordpress.com & jhohadli.wordpress.com


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: Sep 13, 2017

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