We went under cover of night I was too dazed to remember where we went My body shook and my bones rattled in the back of the taxi as we manoeuvred a rutted track, somewhere in St. Mary.
A dim light bulb lit the compound, which sat on the lip of a low hill I shivered as a light wind danced over my skin Bottles of all shapes and sizes stood guard around the property, like inanimate soldiers The banana and mango trees lining the perimeter of the yard chilled my blood every time the leaves rustled I was sure evil beings lurked in the darkness shrouding the roots of the plants and trees
The racket from the rickety gate must have alerted the woman inside The door opened and a stooped figure stood silhouetted by the light “Come,” she said.
She led us down a dark passage, past several doors The corridor opened into a clustered room, where the air was stale She invited us to sit, before saying anything else
She made herself comfortable and I saw then how old she was At a guess, I’d say she was somewhere between seventy and a hundred, give or take Her gnarled hands rested in her lap, but her sharp eyes sucked in everything about us A glance at my mother, huddled next to me, confirmed that she was just as terrified.
The lack of teeth distorted the woman’s words “Why you come to see Miss Jewel?”
Fearful or not, my mother hadn’t lost her spunk “You is di obeah woman You must know why we come.”
Miss Jewel’s lips lifted in a horrible parody of a smile “What I know is dat di woman him married to won’t stop ‘til she kill him.”
Mummy slid me a sideways look that said she knew this all along and I was the foolish one I shrank in my seat, but composed myself when Miss Jewel stared at me out of eyes as black as naseberry seeds and continued to tell me things that made my testicles shrivel and crowd close to my body
I don’t recall much after she opened a square of cloth resembling the skin of some hapless animal, but eventually, she provided what she called a ‘never-fail’ potion and told me not to worry But the sly grin she gave me, combined with some hidden knowledge in her eyes, made me uneasy
That night, I outdid myself and convinced Miriam that I’d gone out for drinks and cricket talk with a few coworkers I’d conveniently left the mobile phone at work, so there was no way for her to track me.
After she backed down and went to our room, I had a shower and while she was engrossed in a soap opera, I puttered around the house, under the guise of locking-up
It was then I laid my own trap.
Somehow, that night, I gave Miriam a convincing conjugal performance to show her I was suitably sorry for staying out late In the morning, I brought her tea and toast in bed, not forgetting to spoon a generous dose of Miss Jewel’s potion into the hot liquid.
Nothing happened for a time, but our home felt as though we were at an impasse. Each day, I watched anxiously for any signs that meant I was in decline I only ate what Miriam prepared before my eyes, which meant making up different excuses for not having dinner at home
Three months after my visit to Miss Jewel, Miriam fell mysteriously ill Trips to the doctor’s office were fruitless; he found nothing wrong with her But I knew the nature of the problem Over the weeks, her energy declined to the point where she spent most days in bed While she lay there, her eyes followed me, as though she suspected I had something to do with her illness
When she had visits from her family, I refused to leave the room After what she did to me, why take the risk of having them give her anything to improve her health or finish the job she’d started on me?
One night she confronted me when I brought her more doctored tea. “Kyle, what in that tea?”
My hand jerked and tea sloshed over the rim of the cup I frowned at her. “What you mean?”
Her eyes dared me to lie “Every time you feed me, I feel like my insides burning up Like my veins goin’ explode.”
I raised my brows, then I felt her forehead “The fever mussi gone to yuh head.”
Breathing hard, she flung my hand away from her “I know yuh tryin’ to kill me What I ever do to yuh?”
I smiled “You think it easy to forget what you did to me? I never wanted to marry you, but you gave me no choice Well, it’s your turn to live with the choice you made.”
With hate-filled eyes, she surveyed me from the bed “Even when mi dead, yuh will never be free from me, so learn dat!”
I quivered, but held my ground I’d come too far to have Miriam pour doubt or regret down my throat With false bravado, I said “Yuh can say anything yuh want.”
I took her to the hospital when it was clear she wouldn’t survive much longer I stayed by her bedside, playing the devoted spouse When her breathing slowed and the air heaved and gurgled through her throat, she turned her head and called my name.
I leaned over her and she whispered “I’m only leaving you for a short time I’ll see you when you reach.”
Though her words turned my blood to ice, I whispered back “All I have to say to you is dat when yuh dig a pit, dig two.”
In return, she mumbled, “I hope yuh follow dat same advice.”
Smiling up at me, she breathed her last A host of goose bumps marched over my skin I attributed it to her spirit leaving her body, not to mention whatever else she’d been carrying around with her.
I gave her a funeral fitting for an upcoming professional and then did my best to forget about her.
It wasn’t long before a series of fevers and chills took root in my body Nothing I did quelled them once they started in, and our family doctor was puzzled by my symptoms
I’d moved house by then, but that didn’t stop the terror that gripped me when I started seeing moving shadows I’d peer into the corners of my bedroom, wondering if my eyes were fooling me and when I turned the lights off, my heart raced so I feared I would die from fright In the deepest part of the night, I’d wake, shivering as though cold water had been poured into my bed I couldn’t move my limbs, which were stuck to my sides I was smothered in an invisible, but unyielding cocoon I suspected Miriam was playing games with me But how could I tell anyone what I was going through without sounding as though I was losing my mind?
As the months passed, I started having convulsions and had to go into the hospital I spent weeks after that repeating a cycle of home-hospital-home-hospital, until I was sick of being in bed My place of residence soon became the hospital.
My mother prayed unceasingly, but I knew it was of no avail The shadows had materialized into Miriam’s shape and each night, she lingered at the door to my room, beckoning me Her beauty remained unmarred, but I wasn’t fooled Ugliness lurked below
Staff and visitors passed her going back and forth, but I was the only one aware of her ghoulish presence
She terrorized me for two weeks before I felt the tide shifting in her direction
As darkness fell, I rode a wave of pain in bed, suspecting it would be the last She drew ever closer
When the haze melted from my eyes, Miriam appeared beside me, a horrible caricature of herself Writhing worms replaced the locks she so loved in life Two glowing orbs reflected my terror Her mouth morphed into a gaping hole Icy arms squeezed me in a putrid embrace
The last thing I heard was my dreadful scream.
She swallowed it in the fiery abyss of her mouth.
About the writer:
J.L. Campbell lives in Jamaica and is always on the lookout for story-making material Her short stories and articles have been published in Bookends, the literary pages of the Sunday Observer When she isn’t plotting and researching new projects, she enjoys cake decorating, gardening, and reading. Her action/adventure/romance novel, Contraband, will be published in April 2010 Visit her at http://thejamaicanwriter.com