A different take on Caribbean folklore.
A seemingly regular Trinidadian family become plagued by peculiar creatures who have their own agendas.
“If it’s too scary child, tell me now.” Granny said.
Thick plaits of black hair whipped at her cheek as Annie shook her head.
She wanted to know more.
Granny’s face gleamed of deviltry and said, “on the cusp of the village,” she dangled her fingers in front of Annie, Annie dressed back in response giggling,
“were some peculiar things…. some strange creatures…malignant forces. Not quite good but not all bad.”
Annie’s eyebrows knitted together thoughtfully, she crossed her legs at the ankles as she pondered the notion further.
“But Granny, if dey not good…and dey not bad, what dey really is?”
Granny smiled down at Annie then tucked a loose plait behind her small ear.
“Life is rarely that simple Anneilia,” Granny said. She leaned back on the bed and smoothed out the winkles in her old, blue dress. “For instance, if I ask you if you are good or bad, what will you say?”
Annie shot up, now sitting on her bended knees. “Good, of course.” She punctuated with a wide grin.
“Hmm,” Granny flicked her tongue back and forth, making a clocking. More giggles erupted from Annie at Granny’s hesitance to agree.
“So that time you break my ceramic dove and hide it in your book bag, that was good?”
The young girl buried her face in her grandmother’s dress. She shook her head no against the polyester.
“Exactly. None of us can claim to be good, there’s bad in all of us.” Granny said.
“Okay, okay, what about these creatures? What do they do Granny?”
Granny leaned in, feigned menacing eyes and said, “there’s one creature, Mama Glow,” she looked to her left and then her right then whispered, “if you do not dump garbage in the rivers and seas then you are safe.” She straightened up and said louder this time, “but, if you litter in her home-that is the rivers, lakes,
streams and the sea, she will pull you under and all they will ever say is that you merely drowned.”
Annie inhaled sharply, “How does she take you down Granny?”
“With the body of a snake and the head of a woman, she wraps her tail around you just like an anaconda, then down you go.”
Annie hid her face behind her palms to hide the look of complete terror on her face. Though her mouth went dry with fear, Annie was too curious to stop her grandmother.
“And she lives in Trinidad? Tell me more,” Annie encouraged, “what else can they do?”
Granny shrugged, “Many things, some say they can shed their skin and transform into a ball of fire,” Annie gasped, eyes growing to the size of a saucer.
“Ah ball of fire?”
Granny nodded with a chuckle. “Some say this ball of fire can even enter your dreams. There are other creatures that can turn into any animal it pleases.”
“Even ah lion,” Annie said.
“Even ah monkey,”
Granny slowly eased her way up from the bed. Knowing the precocious child, she would list the entire animal kingdom.
“Off to bed now Anneilia.”
Annie whined, protesting in moans and groans as if it were going to sway her grandmother.
“Make sure and say your prayers now girl, if you go straight to sleep, I will tell you about the creatures tomorrow.” Granny said as` she closed the door.
Annie pulled the light green sheet over her body. Sleeping alone had always unnerved her, tonight more than ever. Even as her eyes fluttered close, she longed for more of her grandmother’s story. On her descent into unconsciousness she recounted all the animals she would like to turn into if she could.
A wolf she decided. She learned in school that a wolf always moved with a pack.
In the biting cold of the night, something lurked; something not human. Not of this realm, but another. He weaved his way through the thick mass of overgrown
grass, that reached his hip, until he saw the large site of flattened trees and dying branches. The area had recently been plundered. Drying Gru-Gru leaves snapped under his large footsteps as he slowly made his way. The land was raped, possibly a site of a new home. Or more alarming, another site for a major corporation.
Surely, he could have changed to a furry creature to get him through the forest faster but he wanted to save his energy. He slowly eased down to the stump of a fallen tree. Such lost, he could feel it. Death lingered in the air.
Many years ago, this sight would have enraged him and he would seek reparations; but these days, destruction of the forest barely made his chest ache.
He remembered a time when such destruction was unheard of. He longed for that time again. He was strong then, feared, revered even. Now, he was a fragment of something that used to be whole. À shadow of something that used to be great.
A myth. And not even a popular one at that. He was always an old man but now he was an old, old man. Being of a different realm, age and mortality were abstract concepts. He figured he had lived amongst humans too long and now he was being afflicted by time just like they were. He was wasting away, he felt himself fading with each passing moment. The only thing that would stop it was if they answered his call. He hoped. He chuckled to himself, he might as well have been human.
There was nothing more human than hope.
He had blown his horn less than an hour ago. It was silent to all, except those that had been born in the other realm. They were scattered over Trinidad and probably even the Caribbean but he knew they would have heard it. And if they heard it, they would come.
Leaves rustled behind him, dry branches snapped from all around him but his reflexes didn’t allow him to turn his head in time. Not that seeing would protect him from anything willing to do him harm. Luckily, it was no threat but an old woman wobbling in on her cane. His oldest friend. Or at least she had been centuries ago. He rose to meet her, she slowly padded across the dead trees putting all the weight on the cane before she was able to take a small step. He grunted by way of greeting. She grunted back.
“You …old hag,” he finally spoke.
A thin line of yellowing teeth appeared and disappeared just as fast.
“Papa Bois,” she said, eyeing him over. “You’ve gotten old,”
He smiled solemnly and touched his forehead to hers. Both being shapeshifters, they knew they were only decrepit until they shifted; him to any animal of his choosing and her to a ball of fire.
“Tell me old friend, why did you summon me?”
“That’s exactly what I would like to know,” The Lugarhoo hid in the shadows behind a thicket of Senne branches.
“Come where I can see you Lugarhoo,” Papa Bois said.
Papa Bois assumed his old halfling friend was concealing some form of disfigurement, last time he had seen Lugarhoo, he had the pelvis of a goat. Once the creature stepped into the moonlight, Papa Bois realized it was the opposite. He looked no different than a regular man. He even wore a suit.
“What happened to you?” Papa Bois said. He found the human skin the man wore disgusting. He was so handsome. A sculpted face, wideset jaw and chiseled nose all covered in a seamless coat of dark chocolate skin.
“What happened?” Lugarhoo scoffed, “It’s been what? Hundred years of lurking in the shadows and hiding? I grew weary of the voyeurism. I wanted to live amongst them as one.”
Old hag’s eyelids dropped in shame. She had always had the advantage of looking like one of them. She was the Sukuya but she was also Victoria, Lugarhoo and Papa Bois didn’t have the luxury of a glamour.
“And please call me Lu,” he said.
Papa Bois was still disturbed. “But how?”
“A pretty penny to a witchdoctor. Now what is this about?” Lu said with urgency.
“Witchdoctor?” Papa Bois said, now intrigued.
Lu looked down at the gold time piece around his wrist with a clenched jaw, completely ignoring Papa Bois.
Papa Bois digressed with a tired sigh. “Soon, when the others get here.”
Lu gestured to the expanse of the clearing. “Look well, they are already here.”
Papa Bois spun around, the douens were there, five of them huddled closely behind their leader Dorian. And the wide brimmed hat of La Diablesse appeared to the left of him
“I’m glad you haven’t started the party without me.” she said. She bowed her head in greeting to them with all the civility of a proper lady.
Her façade was great, almost authentic but Papa Bois knew better than to fall to her charms. She had taken the name Syleste because she didn’t like what ‘devil woman’ implied about her manners.
Syleste smiled, “I see time has afflicted you all,” she said maliciously. This was the woman Papa Bois recognized. Only bound by duty but if given the chance would lead astray every man she met.
“Except you,” she pointed to Lu then lifted the brim of her hat. Black coals for eyes bore into his soul. “you look heavenly.”
Her parlor tricks could not affect him, he looked like a man, but he was all animal. Papa Bois interrupted before she could try again.
“And where is Churile?” Syleste said, “off stalking some pregnant woman, I’m sure?”
“She is a wandering spirit. I did not expect to see her.” Papa Bois said.
“Thank you all for coming,” he continued. “For answering the call.”
“Get on with it old man,” Syleste said. Papa Bois suspected that jab was intended to cause pain as her particular infliction allowed her youth and beauty as long as disloyal men roamed the earth. He reckoned that would be forever.
His gaze lingered on her nonchalant expression before he moved on.
“For too long we have neglected our purpose…look at yourselves-”
He pointed at Lu. “We’ve drifted from our purpose-”
“We?” Old Hag interrupted, “We have done nothing but try to protect their small meaningless lives. You know what we get in return?”
“Turned into myths-forgotten.” Lu answered. “They paint us to be monsters,”
“They ward us off with simple charms and wards.” Old Hag continued,
“Rice and salt, can you imagine?”
“They demonize us, like we only want to seduce and destroy.” Syleste said.
Lu was the first to scowl, anyone who knew Syleste knew she had indeed only longed to seduce and destroy. If not for the curse that forced them to protect, though, Lu figured she had found a way around it just as he had found a way around his appearance.
The creatures looked at Syleste moments longer than she liked.
“What?” she said, feigning innocence.
“What about the douens? Do you speak for all your brothers?” Papa Bois asked Dorian.
“I’m afraid we are all that is left of the douens.” Dorian said.
“See…we need to act now before we become extinct.” Papa Bois said.
“Impossible,” Syleste said.
“Is it? You would bet your life on that? Look around, where is Mama Dglo?“
A collective gasp sounded through the clearing.
The Old Hag raised a frail hand and covered her mouth. “Don’t tell me,”
“Faded away. Now only a memory.” Papa Bois sat down on the stump again, energy already depleted. “If we don’t protect them as we were told to do- we shall fade away as well.”
“We were supposed to protect the slaves Papa…or have you forgotten that slavery has been abolished.” Lu said.
“True, it has been abolished but when that African priestess summoned us all those years ago to protect the slaves she didn’t only mean from the master.
They were let go but they are not free.”
“You want us to venture out and protect them once more? They do not need a monster’s protection when they have become monsters themselves. They slaughter each other with grave weapons of destruction. They lie, they betray their brothers and sisters. They are corrupted to the very core. They are the true monsters. Not us.” Syleste said.
“You mean to tell me you will ignore an entire people based off the doings of some. What of the innocent?”
“Exactly that, what innocent?” Lu said.
“Children are still lost, they are taken and they are even killed. Brainwashed into killers.” He appealed to the douens. “They are swayed to their darkest desires by creatures that infiltrate their dreams.”
“And the men,” Papa Bois turned to Syleste. “They never get a chance for greatness.” Syleste rolled her dark eyes.
“I know of a family of pure intentions. Go, see for yourself. They are worthy of our protection. Test them if you have to.”
Syleste moved behind Papa Bois and then appeared in front of him suddenly.
“And you? Noble one, who preaches who is worthy to us. What have you done? They destroy your forest and kill your animals.”
“I am the first to admit I have not lived up to what was expected of me. I am an old man now I need some help.” His eyes fell on Lu.
“So, if this family is as good as you say, what then?” Dorian said.
“We find more like them and fulfil our duties.” Papa Bois reached out for Lu., “A word, please Lu.”
Syleste nodded and vanished into the forest. The douens followed leaving the Old Hag and Lu. Old Hag lingered, her gaze fell on Papa Bois and Lu speaking softly to the other. She stripped off her guise one layer at a time. The knitted sweater fell first.
“What aren’t you saying?” she asked. Kicking off her flat shoes.
Papa Bois hovered his head, saying nothing.
“I know you and your tendencies.” she said. She unbuttoned her blouse and crouched on all fours.
“You don’t have to say,” With a throaty groan the old woman shed her skin and emerged a ball of fire. “I will find out for myself.” A different voice sounded sonorously through the forest before flying away.
Papa Bois rose from the stump. He hoped for his sake and theirs, he was not wrong about them.