THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF ZED MALENDER
By Paul Crask
Molly Clark and the soucouyans
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 …