Coconut trees swayed in tune with infectious steel drums, whose smooth groove glided through the air, adding that authentic Caribbean flavour to such a fiery night.
Man, was it hot, just like everyone said it would be. The sand trapped the tropical heat during the day and released it at night, so I had to dress down to cargo shorts and bare feet if I wanted to stay cool.
I swear, everything had an extra zest down here. I can see why you came, why you made the mistake that I did.
Yes sir, miles and miles of sexual tension and sporadic energy; but I didn’t want any part of that so I got as far away as I could from the hotel and instead strolled to the beach-side umbrella bar, away from the crowd of people I landed on the island with.
I still wasn’t far enough, but it was as far as I was allowed to go; unless I could swim, which I couldn’t. No one told me that this excursion would be pleasure only. I swear I only came for business; to do some sort of beach clean up. But how could I when the trash wasn’t even on the shore?
The intricate beating of those lumpy pans was so foreign to my ears, so melodious, but so infectious that it triggered howling from those partying heathens, ruining the exotic vibe. It felt like a cannibal’s summoning ritual, awakening their primal energy.
I could still hear them from here; screaming as if it were their last breaths.
On my first evening away from the resort, I spread a blanket on the shore and spent the night counting stars and constellations I’d never seen on my side of the world before.
That’s when a ball of fire hurled across the beach and crashed into the wild around the resort, dimming the closer it came to the surface. It looked like a shooting star, so I closed my eyes and made a wish. I didn’t expect it to come through as quickly as it did.
I thought that I was the only loner on the resort, the only sane one here, until I met her; two weeks into the excursion, a week after everyone left the resort and never came back. She came out after sunset and stood on the little sand hill above the open umbrella bar, her hair bouncing and curling at her lower back when she strutted towards me, her pineapple-wine dress fluttering in the tropical night breeze. Her skin was Caramel-brown like the pelau and stewed chicken I had for lunch that gave me heartburn.
She said she was Indian, that her grandparents came to the island as indentured workers and settled here when their contracts expired. She gave great detail about how her ancestors were dragged from sea to sea to substitute for the emancipated slaves and promised riches, only to endure racism and cultural erasure that still ached even generations later.
Sampateeya. That was the only name she gave me.
Sam, for short.
“So what’s a local doing staying at a resort?” I asked the first time I met her.
She was anxiously fiddling with a room key in one hand and twirling a curious, black pendant around her neck with the other. She said it was an old coin, the last thing she had that was her father’s.
She didn’t talk like an island local. Maybe she felt intimidated by my accent, or maybe that was part of the erasure she was talking about, but I didn’t care about it at the moment, not after she broke down in tears when she remembered that her mother was dead.
She said that her family rented a room at the Barracuda Hotel to be closer to the cemetery that her mother was being buried in.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said, grabbing her muddy fingertips (the same mud that dangled from the coin around her neck) and caressing her slippery skin.
“Listen if you need any-”
“I blame myself. I thought I knew what I wanted,” she said, thrusting herself onto me, peering over my shoulders to see how lonely we really were.
All I felt in that moment when she hugged me was her boney spine, which was weird seeing how well built she was.
“Hey! All yuh see that Soucouyant flying through the sky just now?” I heard one local yell to the other while her grasp grew tighter, almost forcing me to eavesdrop on the old timers’ conversation.
“I-I have to go,” She said, finally releasing her grasp and dashing off into the bushes.
That’s when I turned around to get a better understanding about what those two old men were really talking about.
“A what?” I asked, having never once heard that word in my entire life. It sounded like something a heathen would say when casting a spell.
“Ah Soucouyant boy! Soo-koon-nyah! A blood-sucking, devil worshipping ‘oman that does peel off she skin and fly through the night like a ball of fire looking to steal some poor bastard soul!”
They couldn’t seriously be talking about that shooting star, could they? Believe me, I had my doubts too at first, but there was just something in the man’s eyes that told me he was telling the truth. Something deeply wedged behind the cataracts, something I could sense a mile away today more than I ever could have yesterday. Fear. There was fear in the man’s eyes.
“Peels off her skin? H-How does she do that? How does one become a soucouyant?”
“Well lemme tell ya boi! At midnight on a full moon, just like tonight, the devil ‘oman after selling she soul for a greater reward, does walk with a black penny in she hand to the cemetery and dig up a fresh grave so she could scoop out a dead man liver and make an oil that does let she slip out of she skin and fly through the night looking for some poor soul to drink out they blood. She does hide she skin in a mortar or sometimes she go hang it in the forest, on a branch so when she ready she could slide back on she flesh and nobody go know she is a soucouyant.”
I stopped and thought about the first time that I met her.
I was skeptical at first, but every night since I’ve seen the same ball fly over my head and into the bushes. Not long after she'd arrive on shore.
It had to be her. It just had to be.
The black penny, dead mother, muddy hands.
All the pieces were there.
She sold her soul.
I couldn’t just sit idly by. I had to do something, I had to get the hell out of there, right?
Isn’t that what any sensible person would do? Find help, before she came back, before she knew that I knew? You’d think so, but the length of time that I took to ponder my decisions was enough for her to return.
“Going somewhere?” she said so menacingly that I blurted out the lamest excuse ever.
“Sam! I was...just about to head back to the hotel.”
“Really? This early into the night?” She said with a new tone in her voice. She was on to me.
“Yeah, I have a long day ahead of me, tomorrow’s my last day.”
“No John,” she said. “Today’s your last. I can’t let you leave, not yet.”
I paused, terrified at what she might have in mind.
“Not until you see what I have planned.”
“W-What are you going to do with me?”
She began laughing uncontrollably, slightly amused by my terror.
“It took me a while to figure out why you weren’t up in the resort with the others that night. I thought you’d been here before, that you went through the process already. It was only when I came closer that the putrid stench of your blood began rushing to my nostrils. A rogue human on Sangrante Shore, while everyone else sold their souls and felt the burn of hell’s fiery pits worshipping their new master.”
She shook her head, before unhinging her twisted jaw. I remember her words like they were yesterday.
“The clean up’s a facade! A secret way to recruit new members. Can’t you see, we’re all the same now! All but you, but that won’t be for much longer,” she said pointing her crooked finger in the distance.
That’s when I saw the army of blackened elastic flesh, slipping off and sagging on the sand. Demons sprinting towards me like the living dead, salivating at the sight of my pulsating skin, my juicy blood.
They were everywhere, at every edge and corner of the shore, nearing in on me, grunting, foaming at the mouth.
I had no choice.
You have no choice, not anymore, not when they’re coming to get you too.
Welcome to the Caribbean.