boiling lake

I’m walking to the boiling lake on Friday. Maybe I’ll see you on the trail. I’ll be the fella who’s 6-month-old Merrells are already falling apart, dammit.

boiling-lake

postscript

My shoes made it, just. They’re now falling apart on my porch. It was a nice walk, though rainy on the return journey. Bumped into a few very nice folks on the trail but no parrots or agouti today.

Zed Malender (1.3)

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF ZED MALENDER
By Paul Crask

Molly Clark and the soucouyans

continued …

I followed his lead and we shuffled, belly-down and as quietly as we could through the brush towards the lights. The voices grew louder and then we saw them, two tall shadows against a small fire in a clearing. A third emerged from a small shack that was half-hidden in the bushes. He carried a flashlight and two bottles which he handed to the other men. They laughed and sat down on makeshift stools around the small fire, drinking. We lay there watching them for a while, not really close enough to hear what they were saying, but from time to time we caught sight of their faces in the firelight. They were middle-aged and rough-looking. Dangerous. I didn’t recognize them as men from the village.

I looked at Zed. He was rubbing his beard, thinking. Presently he turned to me and whispered.

“Go back to Molly Clark’s house and tell her that the soucouyans are gone. Whatever you do, don’t tell her about these men. Make something up if you have to. It’s important. Then go home to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“What about you ?” I whispered, more confused than ever.

“I know one of these men,” said Zed. “I’ll take it from here, my friend.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to stay with him but I knew this wasn’t the time or the place for an argument.

“The track is that way, about twenty or thirty yards. Just go straight and you’ll find it. But don’t use your flashlight, okay ? Think you can manage ?”

“Sure,” I whispered.

“Good lad,” he smiled. “Don’t worry. It’s all good. And after all, there are no soucouyans to get you.”

*

Reluctantly I left Zed watching the men and stole away from the clearing, once more into the gloom. I felt guilty because I felt relief to be away from it all, but I had abandoned my new friend. Fatigue overwhelmed me but in no time, it seemed, I came to the trail, just as Zed had forecast, and staggered along it towards the dim lights of Molly Clark’s house. I knocked at her door and called out to her.

“Mrs Clark, it’s Shadrach. It’s safe to open.”

Molly Clark appeared in the doorway and looked beyond me into the gloom, searching the forest for signs of evil.

“It’s okay, Mrs Clark. There’s nothing to be afraid of any more. The soucouyans have gone.”

*

It was late when I awoke, in fact half the morning had escaped by the time I finally got up. The day was bright and sunny. In the yard my mother was hanging out washing and when she saw me emerge from the house she gave me a big smile then came over and kissed my forehead.

“There’s some fruit salad in the fridge,” she smiled. “I’ll make some fresh coffee.”

*

I sat by the garden gate eating fruit salad and drinking coffee. My mother kept looking over at me and smiling, I didn’t know why. Zed was in his garden, swinging a pick mattock at some overgrown ground that he was preparing for planting. He was completely engrossed in his work and only looked up when Molly Clark turned up at his gate, flushed and wobbly as ever. But this time clearly relaxed and no longer in a fretful state. The two of them stood talking in the garden for a little while. Zed was nodding politely and took something from her. When she had finished, she came down the track and stopped where I was sitting.

“May the good Lord bless you,” she said, and kissed the top of my head. It was turning out to be quite a morning for kisses.

I flushed a little when I saw my mother grinning. Molly let herself into our yard and accompanied my mother indoors.

I still felt sleepy. The stress and exertions of the previous night seemed to make my shoulders and legs ache. I felt good for nothing and, cradling a mug of coffee, slipped into my hammock. It was a hot day but there was a breeze that kept the humidity down. A lone malfini, a chicken hawk, circled the sky above and a pair of king birds flew occasional forays, pecking at it in flight, trying to shoo it away. Coffee finished, I set the mug on the ground and closed my eyes.

When I awoke, I felt worse, not better. My body seemed to ache even more and I felt sleepier than ever. Zed was still working his garden but, as if sensing my eyes, turned to look in my direction. He waved and I waved back. Then he beckoned me to come over. Creaking and groaning like an old man, I knew I really had to work on my fitness as I clambered out of the hammock and walked up the track to Zed’s garden.

“Molly Clark made a cake,” he said as I approached. “You want some ?”

‘Sounds good,” I replied, searching his face for answers. He grinned through his beard and moustache.

“Come.”

We sat on his porch and were joined by Ma Malender who brought a jug of fresh guava juice.

“Made it this morning,” she smiled. “Do you know it has more vitamin C than oranges ? I didn’t know that. I read it on the Internet. An amazing thing the Internet. Always knew it was good for you, though, but I never knew it was that good. Otherwise I’d have had more !” she giggled. “Come, have some. Here let me pour.”

Zed cut three slices of Molly Clark’s carrot cake and Ma Malender poured three tumblers of guava juice.

“So what happened ?” I asked, unable to control my curiosity any longer.

“I knew one them,” Zed replied.

“You said.”

“I knew him from back in the days. Of the troubles,” he continued. “All of we Dreads were being hunted by the police because they made no effort to distinguish the good ones from the bad ones. To them we were just all bad and they had the power to shoot to kill, no questions asked.”

“The Dread Act,” I nodded.

“Right. Clever boy,” said Ma Malender.

“So it was a confused time. Sometimes we didn’t even know who were the good ones and the bad. The situation kept changing,” Zed continued. “But at some point some of them got into guns and marijuana running. They got into stealing and eventually they got into killing. And it didn’t matter that there were some of us who just wanted to get away from the badness and live up in the bush until things passed over. We came under pressure from both sides. From the police who would shoot at any so called gathering of Dreads, and from the terrorists who said we must join forces with them and fight. Most of us were peaceful. It was really only a handful of fellas who went too far. Anyway, lots of bad things happened.” Zed paused. His mother patted him reassuringly on the arm.

“One of those fellas last night, he was one of the bad ones,” he continued. “One of the terrorists. I recognised the other two but they were too young for those times. I think they are troublemakers from town. So after you went I came out of the bush and stood before them. They all had guns and for a minute I thought they were going to shoot me. But I called this fella’s name and he recognized me.”

“What is his name ?” I asked.

“You don’t need to know that,” said Zed, seriously. “It’s better you don’t. Trust me on this thing.”

I nodded and let him continue.

“Anyway, he called me a few bad names. He didn’t like me much because I had never wanted to join him and his gang, but I don’t think he had the stomach to take me on back then. With two guys and me on my own, that was a different matter, of course, so he got confident. But I think my sudden appearance had confused him and he hesitated. All talk, weak nature.”

“So what were they up to last night ?” I interrupted.

“I was coming to that,” Zed smiled. “Last night and the night before, they were preparing a clearing where they would grow marijuana. It seems he is still into that business. Most growers around here usually have bigger plantations, almost like farms, but they are way deep in the bush. But if someone is growing this close to the village, people tend to have much smaller plots, hidden but accessible. One way to do this is to either find or make a clearing in the forest, somewhere out of the way, not on a hiking or a hunter trail. And that’s what they were doing up there. They burned the trees and the canopy so that sunlight would shine down into the clearing they made. The phosphate from the embers is good for the soil and, better than just chopping down trees, there’s not much mess to clear up. And there’s no sound from a chainsaw, of course. But they didn’t count on the fire being seen by Molly Clark. They were stupid. They were right to do it at night so no-one would see smoke, but they were too lazy to go deep enough into the bush so as not for the flames to be seen. Of course they don’t last long, but Molly saw them and that was that.”

“What was it you saw on the ground ?” I asked. “Matches ?”

“No, footprints. Boots. Trodden ground. And bush that had been recently chopped. The cuts were fresh and rough. I didn’t hear of soucouyans carrying cutlasses,” he smiled.

“You never know !” laughed Ma Malender.

“You never know,” smiled Zed.

“So what happened next ?” I asked.

“Well, I told them I wasn’t interested in their activities. They could grow as much marijuana as they like as far as I am concerned. It’s no worse than rum. Probably less harmful. And I would never report them to the police, who would no doubt assume I was also something to do with it. I told them they were lazy and stupid and that their fire had been seen. I didn’t tell them Molly had thought it was soucouyans, of course. That wouldn’t have helped, especially as they had been drinking. I know of another clearing, deeper in the bush, natural and along the side of a ravine, so I told them about it. After a while they agreed to grow their marijuana there, or maybe even somewhere else, instead. It would have been foolish for them to do continue, even though they are fools, but I don’t think they’re the murdering types. Not anymore.”

“And you think it’s best to let Molly Clark believe they were soucouyans ?”

“Unfortunately, yes, I think so. It wouldn’t be good for her to know the truth. As you know, she’s quite a gossip and I think she would find it impossible not to make a big fuss about it. And that would be dangerous to the men, to her, and maybe to me. So yes, that’s why I told you to go and tell her that the soucouyans were gone. Besides, it sounds much more exciting,” he smiled.

“And that’s why she and my mother gave me kisses on my head this morning,” I grinned.

“And why we can enjoy this delicious carrot cake,” laughed Ma Malender.

“Right,” Zed nodded. “So it is.”

The end

Zed Malender (1.2)

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF ZED MALENDER
By Paul Crask

Molly Clark and the soucouyans

continued …

Flames. The forest canopy was alight with several small fires that seemed to jump from tree to tree. “Bon dieu! Jesus save us !” screamed Molly again, now weeping and falling to her knees.

“Come on !” urged Zed, and we both ran at full pelt down the garden path. Zed leapt over the gate and I followed suit. He was already ahead of me, running fast, almost disappearing into the night. I felt for my flashlight and managed to pull it from my jacket pocket without stopping. I flicked it on and was able to see Zed just as he disappeared into the forest. I raced after him, struggling to keep up, terrified at being left behind and alone out here. He seemed fearless, rushing ahead towards the unknown, skipping through the undergrowth as if it were not there. I, on the other hand, seemed to crash into every branch and caught my head on several occasions. I didn’t know if the liquid running down my face was blood, sweat or tears. It could quite easily have been all three.

On we ran into the darkness, climbing the hillside, retracing the path we had taken earlier. There was no sign of fire yet, nor of any lights other than my own. Zed was far ahead but I could still see him. I forced myself to run harder, to have the same conviction and belief my friend seemed to have in bucket loads. I so desperately wanted to keep up. How could someone move so quickly through such dense bush ? It just didn’t seem possible, yet there he was, ahead of me, moving naturally, with ease, effortlessly.

I had to stop. My heart was beating so hard it threatened to burst from my chest and I could no longer catch my breath. Ahead of me I could see the glow of fire in the trees and the silhouette of Zed approaching the clearing. I forced myself onward and up the hill though of what use I would be in a fight with demons was highly dubious by this stage. Zed was standing on the edge of the clearing. Bent double and fighting for breath I arrived at his side, hardly daring to look up. Zed seemed completely rooted to the spot. When I did look, the spectacle before us was hellish indeed. The clearing was now wider, burned that way by trees that were still wildly aflame. The open ground was almost double in size and covered with glowing embers and burning stumps and branches. My eyes searched the blazing tree canopies. I saw plenty of fire but no flying monsters.

Zed entered the furnace and turned full circle to scan the trees. He looked at me and, just as I was about to speak, he rushed past, crashing through the brush.

“Come on!” he urged.

As soon as I began to chase him I could see them. Lights, three or four, flashing through the forest ahead of us. I hadn’t properly recovered from the running climb, nor from the shock of this nightmarish scene, so now I was finding it impossible to keep up with Zed who seemed to be disappearing very quickly into the gloom. I stopped to catch my breath. Both Zed and the lights were now out of sight and I was alone in the darkness of the forest with only the mountain slope to give me any sense of direction. There seemed little point in running without a target ahead of me, so I began walking downhill, trying to maintain a straight line. I turned off my flashlight, not wishing to draw the attention of whatever danger was out there.

My mind was racing and my heart still thumping hard against my chest. I tried to make sense of it all as I trudged downhill, occasionally bumping into trees or finding impassible areas of undergrowth which I negotiated as best I could.

The flames. Why the flames ? If they were soucouyans, what were they doing flying around in the same clearing, burning up the same trees ? If they were not soucouyans, what were they ? And then it struck me. They were men. Of course, they were men carrying flashlights just as I had been doing. Or boys. What if the whole thing was just a group of adolescents up to mischief in the forest ? With this theory taking root in my mind, my confidence grew. What had Zed been examining in the bushes and on the forest floor ? What could it have been ? Cutlass marks and matches ? Why not ? It was the simplest explanation. Had he known this all along ? If he had, why hadn’t he shared it ? Perhaps he hadn’t thought of it. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps they were soucouyans after all.

All of a sudden a large hand smothered my mouth and a strong arm pulled me down to the ground. I saw Zed’s face and he held his finger to his lips, letting me go. He turned to look downhill into the bush. Lights again. This time very close. And faint voices.

“Kids ?” I whispered. “Soucouyans ?”

He shook his head. “Worse, I think.”

to be continued …