Marina was furious at her husband for not repairing the back step and causing her to fall on her haunches, hurting her pride and her dignity. Especially so as their sexually attractive and appealing nosy neighbour was just passing the house. She had the audacity to approach her, feigning concern. She had all the men at her fingertips. At her beck and call. And the wives are all too proud to show their jealousy or disapproval. So when Mario, her husband of ten years, showed up after work with all the dirt from the landfill still stuck to his clothes it enraged her so much that she shouted at him.
With carving knife in upraised hand, about to chop the chicken for stewing, she stood transfixed glaring at him.
“Mario! Get back out there with those filthy boots!” She screamed.
“Honey? This box was outside the door. Looks like a gift.” He answered her calmly and unperturbed.
“I know. It doesn’t say who from, does it?”
“No. So you mean I….”
“Yes. I do mean. It could be a bomb. Take it back out. Now.”
Mario yielded to the temptation and as deftly and ably as he could loosened the string with his rough and callused hands, and sneaked a peek inside. There he saw a lovely white handkerchief. The whitest he’d ever seen. He always wanted a white handkerchief, but Marina insisted against it. Said it won’t keep white. And a dingy white is the most disgusting thing to look at.
Mario installed the box under the patio seat and the handkerchief he put in his pants pocket. He would not show it to Marina. Not for a few days.
She pays too much attention to the news. After all, it’s not like they’re living in a war zone. The terrorists are in lands too far away to matter. And he is just a garbage collector.
Still, he respected her feelings and her views on the issue. He admired and respected her concern for their welfare and safety. That was her first priority.
He strolled to the garden pipe where he stripped of his boots and washed his feet before again entering the house. Marina smiled sweetly when he entered with clean feet and a sheepish grin on his face. He kept his secret close to his chest.
“You’ve got a choice today Mario. Stewed chicken with pigeon peas and rice or curried chicken with dhal and rice?” She asked him.
“Curried chicken. We haven’t had that for a while.” He answered.
“How did things go today? Any problems?”
“No, just the usual. A funeral procession making it difficult to traverse the roadways. Don’t they have anything better to do but die? There’s a funeral procession every two days. That is a bother.”
“Well I don’t think it is possible to make an appointment with death. So we’ll just have to live with it.”
Mario laughed at the irony of that observation.
“Hello, Miss Marina.” The neighbours two boys aged eleven and thirteen came in. They are quite respectful and Mario and Marina didn’t mind that they visit from time to time.
“Oh hello Mike and Tommy. Where are you off to all dressed up nice nice so?” She asked them with a compliment.
“We came from the cemetery, Miss Marina. Mr Lawrence was buried today.” Tommy the elder answered.
Mike was a bit shy. Never talked too much. Even as a baby he didn’t cry much either. But their mother would be the first to say still waters run deep. Mike is not to be trusted. The dog that barks never bite. That would be Tommy.
She fixed a dish with some cakes and sweets for them to take to their home as was the custom.
“Those boys will make fine men some day. They’ll make their parents proud.”
“Yes. They are doing a grand job in raising them with respect and discipline. And they’re doing well in school too.”
“Why are you scratching so Mario? Didn’t you cover up yourself properly? You’ve been doing that since you finished dinner. And I know you’re not allergic to the food I cooked.”
“It’s a strange itch Marina. It’s kind of a sticking under the skin. Like tiny needles, but it doesn’t hurt. Just make me want to scratch. I’m not going to the doctor.”
“I know Mario. I know. We’ll monitor it and see what happens between now and morning. For the time being I’ll get you some cream.”
She was rubbing the cream when she felt a stinging sensation in the small of her back. “Ouch.” She said and arched so suddenly that the cream splattered all over Mario’s leg.
“There. You’ve gone and wasted good money.” Exclaimed Mario.
“Something stung my back. Felt like a Jack Spaniard.”
“Nonsense. A Jack Spaniard can’t sting through your clothes.”
“I said it felt like one. Not that it was one.”
Mike and Tommy heard the raised voices from their hiding spot within the hibiscus hedge. It was thick enough to conceal them both.
“That didn’t take long.” Said Tommy.
“Told you.” Mike replied. “Mr Lawrence was always one to move fast. Never waste a second, he used to say.”
“But he just got an itch. What so scary about that? You said we’d see some fireworks as soon as he touched the handkerchief.”
“Wait. You’ll see.”
They were both startled when a heart wrenching scream burst through the air and they fell backwards into the hedge causing such a commotion as to set the dogs barking.
They regained their position and on looking again to Marina and Mario, saw that Mario was hell bent on scratching away his flesh. Marina was holding her face in her hands and screaming. He was sitting on a chair while Marina was standing a few feet away from him. The screaming stopped as Mario suddenly stood up straight as a soldier standing at attention and he slowly dropped to the floor like all his joints did give way.
Mike and Tommy ran all the way home screaming at the top of their lungs for their mother, who heard them and came out running asking what’s the matter.
Breathless, and speaking together they recounted what was happening next door.
But Tommy blurted out what they’d done with the handkerchief. That resulted in a kick from his younger brother.
“What? You did what? Who told you about that?”
“The kids at school. They said there’d be fireworks when anyone touches something from the dead.”
“Fireworks? What kind of fireworks?”
“We didn’t ask.”
“You boys will be the death of me. Get in the house and stay there.” She shouted at them.
Mrs Headley practically ran to the phone and frantically dialled a number.
“Thank you. Then I’ll see you day after tomorrow, at ten in the morning.” She hung up and called out to her boys.
“You two will stay in the house for the rest of the week. No going outside. For no reason whatsoever. Is that clear?”
“But Mom! We have school.” They objected.
“For no reason. You’ve raised a hornets’ nest and now I have to clear it up. Get out of my sight. Go!”
Dejected, they went to their room grumbling.
Mrs Mackenzie was punctual and got to work immediately. She dressed herself in a long black gown with a hood, and set up candles in and around the house.
“We first have to protect your house before going to Mario’s.” She explained, while using the incense burner to smoke in and around the house. She was careful to include all crevices in her doings. When she was done she asked for some water in a clear glass.
“This is to ensure that the spirit does not enter. Because he already knows what we’re doing here, he will come. He knows who stole his handkerchief.” The incense burner fell from her hands as she clutched her chest, grimacing in pain.
“What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
“Pain. He’s here!” She whispered agonizingly.
“Boys?” She called out. “I’m going next door to get Miss Clothilde. Something’s wrong. Watch her.”
“Miss Faslady already knows what’s wrong. She’s always peeping.”
“Don’t say that. Mom says don’t. It’s not nice.”
“And I suppose I shouldn’t call her Miss Faslady?”
“You’re a pest. And always will be.”
“She’s always sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Everyone says so.”
Miss Clothilde, otherwise known as Miss Faslady had nothing to do with her time so she chose to be the unofficial watchdog for the community. Whatever is going on, she is sure to know.
At this particular moment she was recounting to her long suffering husband the doings of her neighbours children ergo messing with the dead.
“Do you know what those children did?” She asked him, though it was not really a question. “They sneaked the white handkerchief out from the pocket of the deceased while he was lying there in his coffin.”
Mr John dropped the newspaper and stood on his feet as though propelled by something invisible. “What?” He exclaimed. “They did what?”
“Yes. And they gift wrapped it and laid it at the door of Mario and Marina.”
“God Almighty! What on earth possessed those boys to do something like that?”
“You tell me. Their mother and everyone else are assured of their respect, discipline and moral values. If you ask me, I’d say they are deceitful and hypocritical. The younger one more so than the older. They are quite demonic, that’s what they are.”
“You read too much into everything wifey dear, But with the ever present danger now, I think we’ll need that inquisitive and downright disrespectful mind of yours.”
Clothilde wasn’t always a busybody like she is now. As a young girl she was kind and considerate of others, minding her own business and not interfering with others. Not until she was accused of slandering the name of a student, and she couldn’t prove her innocence. All and sundry went against her to the detriment of her health and that of her parents who went to an early grave. And to add insult to injury, only the priest and acolytes were present at the double funeral. Even the pallbearers refused to work on that day. Clothilde, an only child had to resort to hiring, practically begging men from outside the community to do the needful.
From that incident a conniving, scheming, calculating and utterly degenerate was born. And there was no turning back. She vowed to make them all pay for her sufferings. She didn’t even choose a husband from the community. She got one from far away, one who is just as inconsiderate as she is now and treats others with total disregard and contempt.
Mr John went into the bedroom to put on a shirt so he could at least show some respect for Mrs Headley when she called at the door as he knew she would. Presently the expected knock arrived with shouts of ‘Miss Clothilde,’ who answered, only too happy to refuse help of any kind. She was coughing terribly as she opened it, declining help due to ill health.
“Do you at least know who could counteract this spell put on Mario? It will affect everyone here. Mr Lawrence wasn’t a nice person. And as a ghost I think he’ll be worse.” Mrs Headley pleaded.
“God help us. Now he doesn’t have to hide to do his mischief. But I didn’t do him any harm. Did you?” Miss Clothilde’s unkind remark passed unnoticed due to the state of confusion and frustration in which Mrs Headley found herself.
“No. But it was my boys who took his handkerchief from his pocket while he was laying there in his coffin.” She volunteered.
“Wasn’t that Mrs McKenzie I saw at your house? She is quite capable of performing that kind of ritual. She’s been extremely successful so far. She did the job for the Phillips when their house was haunted.”
“Yes. She dropped like a leaf while performing the ritual. It wasn’t completed.”
“My goodness. Now we’re all in trouble!” She covered her face with her hands and her body shook unashamedly.
“What do you mean?” Hrs Headley asked, confused.
“Well. It’s the forces that killed her. They don’t want to be stopped. Now you’ll have to get someone stronger. More powerful. Your boys sure did it this time around.”
Mrs Headley brushed the hair from her face and in a daze she spun once and then a second time, not knowing what to do or where to turn. She stooped right there in front of Miss Clothilde who folded her arms and looked down on her with disdain and a satisfied smirk on her face. John, Clothide’s husband, was overcome with compassion at the sight of the dejected woman stooping there crying her heart out. He couldn’t help himself, he went and lifted her by the arms and hugged her not looking at his wife, whom he knew would be scowling at him. But for once in his life he decided to show some consideration for a fellow human being.
He hadn’t felt like this in ages. Not since his father left for work when he was ten and forgot to return. His mother finally caught up with him five years later living quite rich and comfortable with the siren from a neighbouring town. He didn’t have to work, but everything was provided for. His mother was devastated, but what made it worse, was when she told her best friend in confidence.
That sheep in wolf’s clothing unashamedly laughed in her face and told her it was all her fault. She was too high and mighty. And other stuff too disgusting to repeat or to remember. John was out of sight behind the fence repairing his broken bicycle and peeped at the sound of the laughter which he had never before heard. And then he saw his mother crying. Her shoulders were shaking so much and she slowly sank to the ground. As though from afar, he heard what was being said to his mother. He wanted to go to her but some inner voice was telling him it’s not the right thing to do. So he didn’t. Seeing Mrs Headley on the ground brought back those terrible memories of helplessness and despair. He did the only thing he could do, which was to lift her up and hug her. “Go on back home. I’ll make some calls. See if I could find someone for you. Okay?” He turned her around and with a gentle push sent her on her way. Marina turned up right then about her husband who had taken ill with some strange ailment. She explained to him what was happening.
“Don’t you worry. We’ll make it right. Or at least try. Maybe it’s not what you think. Isn’t it possible that your husband caught some bacteria or germ from the truck and this is a delayed reaction?”
“No. I’m sure it is the handkerchief.”
“Let’s not rule out anything, okay? Go get ready and I’ll come around with the car and we’ll go see the doctor.”
“The Health Office is closed now. And we don’t have money for a private doctor.”
“It’s on me. We’ll take him to my doctor.”
Clothilde scratched her head frowning at her husband. What on earth has gotten into him? He was always so cold to anyone’s problems which was the main reason she married him and stayed with him all these years. Suddenly he’s all compassionate and caring. He’s even offered to take the neighbours to his doctor and foot the bill. Clothilde slowly walked up to her front door and stood there looking in the direction of Mario and Marina’s house after her husband drove off. He didn’t even bathe and change clothes. He just slipped on his shoes, grabbed the car keys and left. Maybe the handkerchief is polluting his mind too.
The doctor prescribed some antibiotics to be applied on the affected areas twice per day. Marina didn’t appear to have any faith in the medicine insisting that medical doctors could only help when the problem is scientific, whereas her husband’s problem was otherwise.
She prayed and sang hymns all the way from the doctors office to her house. When she stopped singing John asked her about the strange language. She answered “Latin. We were told that prayers prayed in Latin is most powerful. So whenever we encounter an insurmountable problem we use Latin.”
John, with his strict Catholic upbringing knew enough Latin to recognize it, even if it’s pronounced incorrectly. And that was no Latin. He was wondering whether he was too quick in offering his help when he heard ‘Stop it! Don’t you dare do that’ coming from the Headley’s house. He turned in time to see Mike and Tommy rushing out from their house. Marina, in the midst of helping her husband out of the car dropped him. He was deteriorating so rapidly, that by this time he was incapacitated and as light as a feather.
“Oh my goodness. What now?” Marina exclaimed as she watched the two boys run pell-mell up the street with a cloud of blue smoke following them.
“Mr John. What’s happening? Things were fine when I woke this morning. Then I fell and hurt nothing but my pride and dignity. All because Miss Sexy was passing in the road at the time. Then a gift outside the front door, that stupid Mario brought into the house. Then Mr John, it’s been steadily going downhill. Look at my husband. He’s like a head of cabbage. Now there’s blue smoke following the Headley boys. What’s happening Mr John?”
“Either a spiritual force or an alien force is at work here. That’s all I can say Marina. I don’t know.” Said Mr John.
“What’s the difference?”
“Well now, I should say that spiritual, would be like uh.. lets say the devil at work, or some demon or entity. I think. And alien would be beings from outer space.”
“And you think the devils etc, and the beings from outer space have nothing better to do than harass us here in these backwoods? Heck, Mr John all the lights go out by ten o’clock!”
“Well. What do you think. Look at your husband! He’s just laying there on the ground. Can’t move an inch. And he was fine until he touched that gift. Do you know what it was?”
“No I told him to get rid of it. I assumed he did.”
“He didn’t. It was the white handkerchief that was in the deceased shirt pocket. Mike and Tommy stole it and placed it on your doorstep.”
Marina put her fist in her mouth to stifle the scream that was threatening to escape. “What?” She whispered. “So it’s the ghost of Mr Lawrence who’s hurting my husband?”
Marina took a long hard look at Mario still there on the ground beside them.
“Please help me get him into the house. Mr Lawrence was bedridden for a few months before he passed away, am I right?”
“Yes. And there was all this scratching too. I remember hearing the nurses say they were compelled to tie his hands for fear of him scratching away his flesh.” Mr John informed her.
“Just like Mario. So this is what it’s all about. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I know what to do. No one messes with my husband and get away with it. I’ll fix them good and proper.”
After ensuring that Mario and Marina were settled in, Mr John went to the Headley’s where he demanded to see the boys. He thought they were back home, but they weren’t. He instead had a chat with their mother.
“Do you know who told them about the handkerchief, what to do with it, and what would happen?” Mr John could be quite stern when necessary.
“No. I don’t.”
“Don’t you lie to me now.”
“I’m telling you the truth. I don’t know. I don’t even know where they are now. They ran out screaming ‘Don’t you dare’ and there was that blue smoke following them. They did tell me about the white handkerchief, but not in detail. I called Mrs Mackenzie right away. You know the rest. The police only just drove away with the body.” Mrs Headley was fidgeting so much, that what she was saying couldn’t be the whole truth.
“Okay. I’ll have to see what can be done.”
“Do you know of anyone who could fix this situation?”
“Yes. Me.” Replied Mr John and left with a determination in his step, that none had ever seen or heard before. Mrs Headley stared after him with her mouth hanging open. Mr John was thought of as a hen-pecked husband, who had a low level of intelligence. You never know with some people.
He returned with Mike and Tommy in tow. “Now you’re going to tell your mother what you told me.” He said to them after sitting them down.
“Start.” Mr John said.
“We overheard Miss Clothilde talking with someone behind the school.”
They were explaining when Mrs Headley interjected. “What is this Mr. John? You’re asking them to….”
“Wait and listen. We didn’t see who she was talking to. We didn’t hear them either. But she said if someone should take the handkerchief form the pocket of a dead man in his coffin and wipe his face with it he’d become possessed and really do some terrible things.”
“Okay boys, that’s enough. Now you know who. Go to your room.” He said to them. Mrs Headley was dumbfounded. “What does all this mean?”
“It was you who said all those hurtful things against that girl in school right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You claimed that Chloe was having an affair with the shopkeeper. A man old enough be her father. And you passed it on to Clothilde. You never came to her defence when she was accused of slander. And poor thing she couldn’t prove her innocence. No one would believe her over the daughter of the school principal. After all these years you still never owned up.
“We were kids. Just kids. I’m sorry.”
“Maybe so. But you are all grown up now. And what happened then has made my wife what she is now.”
“But how did you know?”
“I didn’t. Not until I saw that blue smoke following the boys. My father was a seer man. A medicine man if you will.”
“You mean he sees things like spirit and stuff?”
“Yes. He left when I was still a child. But that power is inherited. It can’t be taught. So I called up the smoke and had a chat. Found the boys and brought them back. What you and this entire community did to one of your own was unforgivable and inexcusable.”
“So this is revenge? But my children weren’t even born then. They had nothing to do with this! Will they be alright?”
“I don’t know. But I can tell you this. It is not the spirit of Mr Lawrence. That handkerchief did not belong to him. The owner is who killed Mrs Mackenzie. My wife intended one thing, but something else happened. And what she said was true. You’ll need someone really powerful to exorcise the community. Because it will torment everyone. Me? I am taking my wife away from here.”
“You can’t leave us like this!”
“I can and I will. We’ve been married and living here all these years and you, and I do mean you yourself have never ever stretched a hand out to her. Even knowing that you are solely responsible for her predicament. No. No no no. I have no sympathy for you. But I will give you a clue. It is not an entity. It is not a devil. It is a demon you are dealing with. May God have mercy on your souls. Goodbye.” Mr John tipped his hat and was gone.
In a quandary and not knowing which way to turn, Mrs Headley headed on over to Marina and Mario’s.
“Marina?” She shouted even before getting to the gate.
“Come in. Door’s open.”
Maria was mixing a concoction of some foul smelling stuff in an old galvanize bucket in the kitchen. Something else was bubbling on the stove.
“Yucch! What’s that smell?” She screwed her face. “Something died in here?”
“Didn’t you hear? Something came back from the cemetery and is about to torment all of us. I am going to do my utmost to defend and protect my family. Now it’s all man jack for himself. Look at my husband Mrs Headley. This morning he was a healthy happy go lucky energetic individual. Now he’s a fumbling idiot, can’t do a thing for himself. When he pee himself it stinks to high heaven.”
“But what exactly are you doing? That smell alone will get rid of us, before getting rid of whatever it is you want gone.” Mrs Headley covered her nose while trying to talk.
“What’s that noise?” Marina asked.
“That would be Mr John and his wife moving out.” Mrs Headley answered. Something in her voice told Marina not all is well.
“Out with it.” She said without missing a turn of the pot.
“He said it’s a demon come to torment us all so he’s taking his wife to safety.” She answered timidly with head bowed, not looking at Marina.
“What does that mean? I know he went after the smoke that was following your boys. It’s you who’s responsible for all this!” It suddenly dawned on Marina what exactly was going on. You did some harm to someone and now we all have to suffer for it? Oh no! I thought it was the spirit of Mr Lawrence sent by Clothilde. But no. It’s more than that. It is something to do with you. What is it?”
Mrs Headley had no choice but to recount the entire story from school days. She managed to do so without shedding a tear. “And he’s right Marina. May God have mercy on our souls. Because there’s no one to help us. Our parish priest is away on retreat for one month. Mrs Mackenzie is dead. My boys who were used, are scared all the time. They are locked up in their room afraid to come out. I am so sorry for that incident during our school days.”
“Yes we all hurt Clothilde. Well now we all have to take our punishment.”
A shrieking sound suddenly pierced the air and looking at each other they asked with one voice “What is that?”
The blue smoke appeared in the kitchen and slowly formed into a giant of a monster with two beautifully shaped horns and a long tail like that of a crocodile or an alligator. From it’s jaw dripped thick heavy mucus, and it’s hands that were reaching for them, had long tapered fingernails akin to knives. They screamed. The last sound they ever made.