Happy Halloween, Samhain, All Souls Night, or whatever else you want to call it!
Undoubtedly my favorite time of the year normally, this year holds special meaning. Last year, on this day, was the first time a piece of my fiction had been published.
The publication was Lovecraftiana Magazine. And is still available here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/rogue-planet-press/lovecraftiana-volume-1-issue-3/paperback/product-22895528.html
The story was called,”The Chief in Yellow,” and is my West African spin on Chamber’s contribution to the Mythos.
This year, seeing as it’s been out for a year, I would like to share the story with you all for free.
So throw a log on the fire, grab a mug of something spicy, and follow Paul Boudreaux as he goes further into rural Africa than he should. Find out what happens to this adventurous hedonist when he steps through the veil that separates our world from the Hell that lies right on the other side. Enjoy!
The Chief in Yellow
By B. Michael Stevens
He checked his watch; twenty more minutes to go. The hot, tired, pressure in his temples was worse; he brought his hand up to feel for fever. Too hard to tell. I’m just tired. I feel like this every travel day. The truth was, he had been fevered for the last two days, ever since he saw the village across the black river, but Paul Boudreaux had never really been good at facing the truth of his situations. I’ll just close my eyes and rest for a minute. I will feel better soon. I’m just tired. Tired and thirsty. Suck it up buttercup. There is no way you are going to pussy out on this opportunity. NO WAY.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back in the flimsy, budget, hard as a rock seat and tried to relax as best he could. No one my size can rest on these puddle jumpers, at least not without some fucking Xanax. Hating to fly, but loving to travel was one of the many paradoxical quirks that helped give Paul what little character he possessed. Chocking up the growing fever and the discomfort it brought to fatigue and stress from work, Paul let his mind drift back to the last few amazing days, gliding through recollections as the Dash-8 glided through the blue skies above the Angolan coastline.
“Come on; it’ll be great!” He had pleaded to the table of men before him. “You can’t tell me that you flew all the way over here just to sit inside this prison, drink beer, play cards and watch TV?”
“Actually, I flew all the way over here for that tax money bro.” His colleague said through a Mephistophelian grin and pulled hard on what was left of his cigarette then deposited the spent stub in the dregs of his near-empty Cuca beer can.
“What about you man? Do you want to come? Let’s go see the real Africa!” Paul turned to another one of the poker playing expats that occupied the table in the Company Staff house’s rec room.
“I’m not really a walking type of guy. Now, I might go with you if you had wheels.” The co-worker, named Joe, glanced at his hand as he spoke, laid the cards face down on the table and reached for another mouth sized stack of Pringles.
“Dane?” Paul turned to the last of the three poker players.
“You crazy dude. You gonna get eaten by a lion or some shit. I call.” Dane tossed in three of the blue chips. Paul rolled his eyes.
“There are no lions here. Jeez. I for one don’t want to take this for granted. We have been locked away the whole time, ya know? We get off the plane, the Company rushes us into a bus, from there onto another plane, then another bus. We work every day in a fucking compound, then we get off work, and they stick us in another one. I don’t want to see Africa from behind the window of a bus, or behind these barbed wire fences.”
“Here we go.” Now it was Joe’s turn to roll his eyes.
“My visa expires in two weeks.” Paul continued. “I’m blue stamped, I ain’t coming back, and this might be my only opportunity to see Cabinda. The real Cabinda.”
“I’ve smelled the real Cabinda.” Dane laughed. “It stinks. Besides, the Saint’s game should be on this afternoon.”
“It’s not live Dane. You already know we won. It was all over Facebook.” Paul protested. Having grown up in Shreveport, he loved the Saints as much as the next guy, but he just didn’t understand the lack of enthusiasm when it came to adventure. On the surface, Paul was one of the guys. He liked Football and porno and Duck Dynasty and guns. He had worked in the oil patch ever since he had dropped out of high school. Started out fracking. Driving truck and pumping sand. He chewed, he drank, he bought hookers off craigslist, he went to the bars and played poker. But what set him apart from the others he worked with, was that was never enough. Nothing was ever enough.
“Well y’all are stupid. Enjoy huddling around each other in Malembo Detention Center (they had taken to calling the Man-Camp) I for one am going to go and see some cool shit. I am going to eat…”
“We know.” Dane interrupted him. “Eat everything, see everything, drink everything, fuck everything.” The table of guys laughed. Whatever.
He had gone back to his room and changed his clothes after first spilling his offshore bags contents onto his bed. And sorting through the limited wardrobe that he had. Rugged, effective, but not too touristy. He had pawed through the pile of laundry and eventually settled on a pair of moisture wicking boxer briefs, a pair of olive drab Under Armor tactical cargo pants and a T-shirt depicting a buxom blond carrying two overflowing pints of ale. He almost wore a safari ball cap, with a built-in neck-shade, but decided that was far too Safari-Jack and would likely draw unwanted attention. Without further ado, he stuffed some kwanza into the band of his sock, placed a condom in his wallet and took off, out of the camp and into Africa at large.
It was amazing. It was everything he had wanted it to be. Endless fields of golden straw-grasses spotted here and there with bare trees whose branches resembled river delta’s, stretched out to the horizons on both his left and right. Ahead and behind him, a black road of cheap asphalt. The azure sky above him, flecked with maybe no more than a dozen white cottony clouds. The sky was bright like a snow day, allowing his eyes to open wide like the aperture in a star photographers camera, not bright in an eye-squinting way.
I’m in Africa! He exclaimed to himself over and over again, as if were he not to ingrain this experience in his mind, it would fade from memory and become fictional, like so many of the experiences he sought out before had. The road continued in its straight line for what seemed like a half an hour at his relatively brisk pace. Paul had lost his athletic edge when he closed in on 40, and now, at 44, was office desk jockey soft. But still, the road was flat, and the thrill of being able to taste something new lifted him up like a pair of winged sandals.
Before long the road had curved to the left and sloped downhill. The sea of golden grass was replaced by a sudden thick wall of green that grew up on both sides of the road like skyscrapers in an urban downtown. My god. It’s too thick even to see through. Wow. He suddenly remembered that the Angolan flag bore a machete and now he knew why. He continued down the hill, marveling at the prolific vegetation, the primordial-ness of it, the alien-ness of it. At one point he glanced a termite hill, as large and as mushroom-shaped as any Japanese Gardens lawn pagoda.
He swatted insects without any hint of annoyance as he continued his stroll down the long hill. At one point 3 trucks, carrying a bevy of African women, all dressed alike and signing what he assumed were church hymns drove by. He raised his arms and waved at them as they passed. They all, to a one, waved back and cheered at him as if he were a rock star. Guess the local girls like the white boy. No one will believe this shit back home. So weird. So Africa.
After the trucks were long gone more African music drifted from places unknown and reached his ears. Curious, he kept walking. Before long Paul reached the bottom of the jungle-walled hill and the road curved to the right. The walls of tree and vine gave way to a breathtaking vista. Vibrant, rolling hills of green filled a verdant valley, calling to his mind paintings of ancient China one might find in an Asian curiosity shop. The music he noticed earlier was louder now and coming from a nearby hill to his right. A white stucco and a grey concrete cluster of three small buildings and some outlaying gazeebos squatted at the summit of the hill. A crooked path made visible only by the tire ruts in the flattened grass, lead from the main road up to them. Only in Africa.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. The attendant will be coming down the aisle to pick up any remaining items. Please make sure that your seat backs are in the fully up position as we will be landing in Luanda shortly.” The pre-recorded announcement snapped Paul out of his reverie, and he opened his eyes. The fever headache remained. His joints ached. Doesn’t matter. I’m going to go through with it. He lowered his left leg and then crossed the right over the left, trying in vain to find a small measure of comfort, like a restless sleeper, tossing and turning in an attempt to find the sweet spot that might mercifully bring sleep. He thought of the girl that waited for him back in Cabinda. Camellia…
As he recalled the local bartender from the staff house, his pulse quickened. Maybe I am crazy. No; this is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.
As he rationalized his plan, his eyes noticed the way the light from the window cast through the thick, double-walled Plexiglas and created an unusual shape on the wall in front of him. Although traveling at more than 300 miles per hour, the turbo-prop plane was on a straight path and hadn’t begun it’s decent yet. Making the splash of light and the Rorschachian symbol on the wall that he perceived unmovable as if it were actual graffiti on the bulkhead of the plane. His consciousness began to notice it, really notice it. There was a single dot of yellow light in the center, a moat of three small shapes encircled the dot, and then three large squiggles shot out, two turning into near question mark-like hooks, and one only half formed. It was as if a madman had taken LSD and attempted to draw the flux capacitor from Back to the Future. Paul found himself starring at the sunlight-made-symbol and wondered how the Plexiglas could create such a thing. He broke away from it (with some difficulty, as if trying to shake the cobwebs of interrupted R.E.M sleep from one’s conscious mind) and studied the window itself. There were no scratches on it. No marks of any kind. Must be some imperceptible flaw, some imperfection. Or perhaps a quality of the plastic itself. He felt drawn back to the bulkhead. The tri-crowned squiggle of yellow sunlight was still there, and he gazed at it the way a diver plunges into the waters below. An odd sense of discomfort came over him. A chill.
Just then he felt his stomach move in his chest cavity and was overcome with a sense of having to urinate. The Dash-8’s engines began to whine in protest as the captain worked the throttle back. The symbol disappeared entirely as the plane began it’s decent. The discomfort too was gone. Replaced by the urge to work one’s jaw and pop one’s ears. Paul did his duty, reached back and pulled on the seat to make sure it was ‘fully up,’ showed the perpetually annoyed flight attendant that he did, in fact, have his seat belt on and then prepared for the landing. His thoughts drifted back once more to the past Sunday.
The cluster of buildings that blared what he and his co-workers dubbed ‘jungle music’ over the green valley turned out to be a restaurant. It in no way resembled what Paul had come to think of like a restaurant in his 44 years of life, but he wouldn’t expect anything less from Africa. He reveled in the peculiarity of the place. This is EXACTLY what I wanted. I feel like a character in a Jimmy Buffet song. Rock around the rock! The line in that song about seeing hell through the cracks in the floorboards never crossed his mind. When one was adventuring one didn’t think about things like that, or food poising, or deadly snakes, or para-military revolutionaries. One JUST DID IT. He had never thought about the possibility of having a heart attack when he had tried cocaine. He had never thought about maybe catching the clap when he fucked hookers. He never thought about cancer when he smoked or dipped. No, Paul had an insatiable appetite, and there was no room in that belly from prudence, caution or yellow.
He ordered a few beers. It was as easy as showing the attendant a wad of crumpled kwanza and repeating the word, “Cuca” until the man smiled and nodded, echoing “Cuca” back at him. While he was polishing off his third can, a local man approached him. The smell of body odor and other pungent aromas hit Paul’s nose the way the humidity of Cabinda this time of year smacked one’s body when they first left the comfort of air conditioning.
“You. Give me kwanza.” The man said, expressionless.
Oh shit. Here we go. “Why am I giving you kwanza? N’yeah?” The liquid courage in him living up to its namesake.
“You. Give me kwanza.” The man repeated. Fuck me. Paul thought. Am I about to get rolled? But he couldn’t stop. “No, I don’t think so, pal. Not until you tell me why.” Paul smiled dumbly at the man. The force has a strong influence on the weak-minded. He laughed to himself and hoped for a pleasant outcome. The man nodded and made a mime of rolling and smoking a cigarette. Paul knew right away that the man was not referring to the common tobacco variety. What a surprise!
The man held up four fingers.
“Four thousand?” Paul asked. That was reasonable, as the going price was around 40 bucks back home for an eighth.
“Four hundred.” Paul’s eyes grew wide with delight upon hearing those two words.
The plane touched down roughly and bounced a little from side to side before straitening itself out and slowing down, forcing everyone to lurch forward. The locals on the plane all started clapping. People do that? Paul smiled wryly.
After showing his passport more times than he thought was possible in one airport, he soon collected his luggage and found the company rep waiting outside, holding the laminated sheet of paper with the Companies name and logo on it. A minute later and he was on the bus, headed towards the international airport. A passenger in a piece of metal and plastic driftwood that floated along with a thousand others in the swirling sea of chaos that was a Luanda highway. Back in crazy town. They crawled along at the pace of the African setting sun, barely missing the obnoxiously merging cars and weaving scooters as well as the countless pedestrian street vendors who peddled the most surreal goods, from bright, primary-colored plastic brooms to bootlegged CD’s, children’s toys, phone cards and shower nozzles complete with adjustable settings. The whole city was smothered by a miasma born from the trash that carpeted its streets, the crowds on those streets and the open sewage that ran between them. Paul had made this commute countless times before, this would be the last, and this time it would be different. Soon, the white noise of ‘crazy town’ hypnotized him back to last Sunday once more…
He had left the restaurant with a nice sized bag of local weed and smoked it with a book of matches and a napkin he had acquired from the restaurants ‘bar’. Fuck yeah. This is what I’m talking about! The buzz was good, even for how weak the weed was. And soon he was strolling through the green valley and beyond, taking in all the sights with a happy, Forest Gump-y, smile on his face.
After another hour or so he started to feel a little discomfort in his feet. That desk job is catching up with you Paul. Remember, you still have to walk all the way back. He looked at his watch. There is still time to go a little further. If I don’t keep pushing, I might miss the most amazing experience of them all. You never know.
Just then he heard the unmistakable sound of an automobile. The source of the sound was soon upon him, a dark, cherry-red Toyota Hilux occupied by what appeared to be a family. An elderly man and woman sat in the cramped back seats; the woman was dressed in pano-super-wax, decorated with traditional motifs, the man in a tattered and worn Disneyland t-shirt. In the front passenger seat sat a middle-aged, slightly plump woman also dressed in a modern rendition of traditional body wraps, a matching hair wrap held her tri-colored braids in place as well. She bounced a small child on her lap; Paul guessed female based on the pink Dora the Explorer shirt she had on and the rainbow-colored ties in her short, kinked hair. In the driver’s seat a man of darker skin tone than the others and wide, flat jaw, who mean mugged him as he slowed the truck to a halt while rolling down his window.
“What are you doing out here?” The man asked Paul in surprisingly good English with only a hint of the local Portuguese dialects accent.
“Just taking a walk.” Paul grinned back. He was not so much playing coy as he was stoned and buzzed.
“Pula!” The child in pink shouted and pointed at Paul with her short, skinny index finger. The woman which she sat on, presumably the mother, hushed the child and seemed to be scolding her in a tongue that sounded different than the Portuguese Paul had come to recognize.
The man ignored his daughter and wife and asked, “Aren’t you afraid?”
“No.” He exaggerated a look of amusement in false bravado.
The old man in the back began to speak to the driver of the truck in the same foreign tongue that the mother had. When he was finished the driver tilted his head back slightly and squinted his eyes at Paul some.
“You should be.” Was all he offered and then turned his attention back to the shifter and slowly began to drive off. Paul felt the eyes of everyone in the trucks, save the driver, on him until the truck turned around a forested corner and vanished from sight. Paul stood there until the sound of the cicadas in the surrounding bamboo trees grew louder than the fading truck engine and then swallowed it whole. Whatever. There is nothing to be afraid of. I don’t ever want to be so afraid that I’m scared to taste life. Fuck them.
Shortly after leaving the restaurant the asphalt has ended and become hard packed dirt. By now, however, the dirt road had become more of a motocross slalom, bends and bumps and ankle deep ruts made from daring trucks in the rainy season now dominated the ‘trail’ of a road. The African sun had lowered itself closer to the horizon, but his back was still wet from the afternoon’s sweat. He glanced at his watch again. Dammit. I am going to have to turn back soon. But I want more. More… His eyes shot from the timepiece on his wrist to the lowering sun, who’s yellow had darkened to orange and was now flirted with, almost kissing the tallest trees branches. No. I better turn back.
With defeat in his heart, but his mind already convincing himself that he saw some beautiful countryside, drank beer in weird places and even smoked some local jungle ganja, Paul turned around.
Then he saw it. He must have missed it just a moment ago as he walked. No, I see. It was obscured by that banana plant. Regardless, he could see it now, a trailhead. A slightly worn path leading from the road into the heart of the jungle. He stared at it, his adventurous ambitions and appetites once again had their flames kindled. It beckoned to him as strongly as any bag of white powder, or a night on the town or a woman on his bed with legs spread wide ever had. He needed to see where that trail went.
So he did.
Knowing that he was racing the sun for time and not wanting to be caught in the jungle once the light had put itself to bed for the night, he hurried. Too excited to worry about snakes or spiders Paul pressed on, bobbing and weaving the dripping vines and sail-like banana leafs that occasionally barred his progress. The thrill was in him, and he slogged forward like a young and selfish lover, only concerned with his orgasm at the end. And just like that simple, sloppy fuck, the pace of his walking increased and increased with growing anticipation of what wonder he would find, until it came to a sudden end.
The trail abruptly came to a halt on the top of a small cliff-like river bank. There was no evident way down to the slow-moving, polished obsidian looking river, which was about as wide as a semi-trucks cargo trailer was long. Paul might have thought how remarkable and unusual it was to find water as black as that river, had it not been for what was on the other side.
A village. A village, unlike anything he had ever seen, even from behind the window of a Company bus as it drove him through the rural and urban centers of Cabinda. Black stone and mud buildings and huts dotted the cleared field on the opposite side of the river. There were two poles, the purpose of which he could not begin to guess at, that reached high into the deepening gloom of the sky. Paul could see the rising moon on the horizon just beyond this black river and mysterious village. He stared at it and blinked in disbelief. One of the two poles that rose from the ‘center’ of the mud and stone village seemed to be behind the moon. How is that possible? Paul rubbed his eyes. It was growing darker. Perhaps that’s why the houses all look to be made of black stone. And why this muddy river looks black. And the pole? The moon? African weed Paul. Crazy African weed and crazy African beer. Remember how you read that China puts formaldehyde in their beer? Well, just imagine what Angolans do?
As the bus presently pulled up to the International airport, Paul reflected how that village had called to him. How he yearned for it. He had stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. He closed his eyes for a spilt-second and recalled the smell of exotic hardwoods burning in the stone and mud huts, their spicy smoke drifting across the ebony water and making him crave just to be there. To know what it’s like to live there, to taste something he had never tasted before. To feel something he never felt before. It had taken all the will he had to pull himself away from that vantage and not attempt to find a way to ford the river. His better judgement had won out eventually, and he made his bittersweet way back to the Company Staff House. The last hour of the journey had been in pitch black, with the Milky Way above him lighting the road just enough to where if he walked down the center of it, he could differentiate which shade of grey was the road from which shade of black was the screaming, chirping jungle. He remembered hoping that this contrast of darks would be enough for his eyes to pick out any potential snake that might cross his path.
He had gotten shit for sleep, bumbled through the day at the office, fighting fatigue for twelve hours, yet still managed to find himself back at the bar the next night. Before his colleagues could mock him and his walkabout he went right into the narrative. Telling them all about it. He mentioned the restaurant, the beer, he conveniently left out the bit about the weed, but when he got to the part about the village, he waxed as poetic as a drunk hipster at a coffee house slam.
No one got it. No one understood. How could they? They hadn’t seen it or smelled it. They hadn’t felt it calling. How could he describe the hunger he felt? Akin to a junkie’s fix? He dared not mention the way the village pole (whatever it was) seemed to be behind the rising moon. He couldn’t tell them he was stoned. Friends or no, the wrong person in the company caught wind of that little tidbit, and he would be out of a job; and he had worked long and hard to get this nice overseas assignment, with its big money and 28/28 days on/off rotation. No way. Fuck em. Maybe the locals would understand?
“Hey, Leumba,” Paul called out to the only male bartender. “How can I get to the village down that way across the river?” The man halted his rag drying of a recently washed beer glass and stared at Paul with worry on his face. Paul had continued to point in the direction of his walk and explain what he was talking about, but it soon became clear that Luemba was worried because he had no idea what Paul was talking about and didn’t want to disappoint him. Paul tried the three girls at the bar also. Each one shook her head no. One lived in Cabinda city and commuted to Malembo for work. The other two lived very close, one, Raquel lived in Landana, and the other, Camellia lived right down the road in Malembo village. Paul started to get excited but was soon deflated when they both told him, “No village there.”
“It’s about two-hour walk past the restaurant, right on the shores of a big black river! It has these two, really tall poles in the center, like flagpoles or something…” Paul insisted. Camellia’s eyes flashed a little at that, but she said, “No mister Paul. No river here.”
Frustrated with his inability to communicate what he had seen, coupled with a growing discomfort in his temples Paul gave up and reluctantly went to his room to get some sleep, leaving the bar girls to be harassed by drunken Scotsmen. Tomorrow was his last day in Angola, and thanks to the little blue stamp on his visa, he was most likely never coming back. He had just finished packing as was about to turn out for the night when a knock came at his door. Although he was dressed only in boxers, he answered it and found Camellia standing there. She was young, lithe, dressed in revealing, yet not trashy clothes. Her skin was the color of burnt caramel, and her hair was smooth and flat, treated in a popular Brazilian style. He felt his dick jump a little in his shorts, more at his exposure than simply her appearance.
“I know the place, mister Paul. Kaa-Ko-Saa.” She pronounced slowly, her accent thick with the mother tongue of rural Cabinda. “I take you there.”
Paul had spent the next hour of that night formulating a plan with Camellia for him to dupe the Company and experience Kaa-Ko-Saa. He would see the real Africa; on his terms, without the company restricting his groove.
“How many bags are you checking?” The Lufthansa ticket agent asked.
“Just the one.” Paul threw his stuffed offshore bag onto the belt and waited patiently for his ticket and bag tag.
“Have you seen the yellow sign?” She asked. Paul’s skin crawled inexplicably.
“I asked if you would like to use your miles to upgrade to business class?” The woman smiled through a furrowed brow. Paul half smiled back and wiped away a few drops of fevered sweat from his brow.
“Uh. Ok. Um, no thank you.”
Another five minutes and Paul was back outside, this time hailing a local taxi, using his own money, Kwanza he had acquired by selling thumb drives and cell phones to his local co-workers back in Malembo. He had checked into the flight out of the country, and as far as the Company knew, he was leaving. He grinned with self-satisfaction as a taxi stopped and asked him ‘where to?’
“Domestic Airport, por favor. I’m going back to Cabinda.”
“There it is!” Paul exclaimed with excitement and pointed at the trailhead he had found two days prior.
“Yes, mister Paul, but we take next one. To find Simou.” Paul had no idea who Simou was, but he nodded and said, “Lead the way beautiful.” And was soon following her into the jungle on a different, but similar trail. As he walked his eyes shifted back and forth from his footsteps to her denim-clad ass. He felt a stirring in his pants again. I’d sure like to scratch fucking a black girl off my bucket list.
Before long they were descending a short series of switchbacks that cut their way down from the bushy jungle to the shore of the black river. A young black man in faded athletic sweatpants and tank top waited for them. A small, wooden, hand-hewn dugout was half pulled up onto the river bank, and Simou (it could be assumed) proudly held a ten-foot pole, like some Zulu warrior would have held his spear.
“Pay him,” Camellia ordered. Everything is for sale in Cabinda. Thought Paul as he stuffed the smiling man’s hand with a couple of thousand kwanza.
Simou poled them across the river in his dugout with ease, although Paul was convinced the whole time they would tip over. Paul sat and couldn’t believe that both Camellia and Simou stood. He took it all in, the black water, the micro-insects that hovered on its polished surface, the smell of spice in the air, the dark clouds rolling in…Wasn’t it sunny just five minutes ago? Ah well, this is the life. Africa.
They reached the opposite shore and Paul was the first to leap out. He waited there for Camellia and offered his hand to help her out and then insisted that they see ‘what’s up.’ She pointed to a steep trail. He needed no further encouragement, though he hated to lose the view he had when he was following her, and began to scramble up the bank. He nearly had a heart attack when he looked up after the short climb and found himself nearly face to face with a villager.
“Whoa! Hey!” Paul stepped back as much as he could without tumbling backward and raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “You scared me, big guy.” He said, forcing a laugh.
The villager stared at him without speaking. The man was old. Older than the man in the back of the truck. His skin was wrinkled, spotted and near inky black. He wore a robe of canary yellow. A matching round hat crowned his head and covered the roots of his shoulder-length ashy dreadlocks. Jon couldn’t help but to stare back and notice with morbid curiosity how red the old man’s sclera was. Almost solid pink, with crooked and jagged bloodshot streams. The man smelled of cooking spice and tobacco. The silence was just beginning to make Paul uncomfortable when at last Camellia made it to the top. When she appeared, the old man’s eyes shifted, and he spoke to her slowly in a voice that reminded Paul of what a river toad would sound like if it had smoked for 60 years and was now a blues singer in a dive bar. She answered back in the mother tongue and then translated for Paul.
“This man is the chief of this village. He wants to know what it is you want.” Paul didn’t notice that Camellia’s English had dramatically improved; he only grinned in delight, thinking about how cool this was and wondered what was in store for him.
“Everything.” He answered and smiled at the Chief in Yellow.
The man uttered more strange words in his croaking voice.
“And so you shall have it,” Camellia said.
The chief led them into the village, through the dirt paths that wove themselves in and around the cubes of black stone and mud. No matter how far into the village they walked, the poles that reached into the sky always seemed far away. Any normal man would have been sick with unease, but Paul was downright giddy. Hell, any normal man would be back in camp watching football, or on a Lufthansa plane, halfway to America by now.
They approached the only round hut in the whole village, its roof, a cone of woven straw, it’s door, a dirty yellow blanket held aloft by simple hemp rope. The old man reached one bony, liver-spotted finger out and pointed. Paul nodded, looked back to Camellia and pulled the blanket aside, ducking his head as he dipped in.
He didn’t notice the four men sitting inside until his eyes adjusted to the dim glow provided by the red-hot coals that occupied a short cooking brazier made from a car rim. Camellia stepped in behind him just as one of the men, a strong looking specimen dressed in simple western fashion hand-me-downs, approached him with a cup of dark liquid. The man spoke in good English.
“You want to drink this Kaa-ko-saa drink, pula?” Fuck yes! Eat your heart out Anthony Bourdain!
“Yes, sir! Don’t mind if I do!” Paul took the offered cup gladly and drank deeply from it without a moment’s hesitation. It was strong, tasted of black licorice and its fumes made Pauls’ nose hairs curl up. Before he could thank the men, or ask what it was he just drank, he turned on.
It hit him harder than anything he had ever taken before, and quick, oh so quick. The cup tumbled from his hands to the dirt floor of the hut just as the buzzing in his ears began and his neck muscles tightened.
“What the fuck?” He managed to slur out and watched in growing concern as the other three men stood up, two of which produced machetes, the other, a sharp knife. Concern turned to fear. They were on him and Camellia as quick as the drug had entered his bloodstream. The blades dazzled, even in the dim light and the boys left tracers in his vison as they moved. Somewhere, Paul heard Camellia protest and screamed. He tried to turn and look but caught himself in a stumble and fought wave after wave of vertigo. He smelled the musky odor of one of the unwashed men near him, felt the man’s rank breath on his neck, and the cool metallic edge of a knife at his Adam’s apple.
Another boy appeared at his side and began to unbuckle Paul’s belt and pants, laughing and gibbering in his strange language. Paul wanted to protest but was frozen in fear; only his heart moved, beating so hard and fast that Paul thought for sure he would seize up and die. A wave of nausea hit him like a truck, and he fought to maintain. The man behind him gripped his shoulder and chest, reaching around behind him and tickled his throat with the knife as if to remind him of its presence.
Are they going to fucking rape me? Kill me? Paul wondered in needle panic. Then he watched the other two men drag Camellia naked before him. One of them, the taller and bigger of the two punched her hard in the stomach, and she dropped to the floor. He then sat her on legs and groin while the other knelt above her, pinning her arms to the ground with his mass. She screamed and shouted in words Paul couldn’t understand as the bigger man pulled the knife out from his belt and pants and began a sawing motion across the underside of her left breast while he gripped and yanked upwards on it with his other hand.
Paul vomited. He wanted to lurch forward and pull his eyes away, but the knife-wielding man held him in place. Still, he managed to close his eyes. The other man finished his fumbling and pulling away from Paul’s belt and fly and began to fondle Paul’s member with his cold, clammy hands, laughing the whole time. Soon, against his will, Paul was erect. The men shouted at each other in loud voices to overpower the sobbing and whimpering that came from the maimed Camellia on the floor.
“You. Fuck her now.” The man with the knife at his throat said.
“Fuck you.” Paul bravely managed, shaking with terror as he forced each word.
“Do it, or we kill you.”
And so he did.
The men laughed and manipulated his body, ‘helping’ him perform the act. Paul closed his eyes and wished, praying that he would wake up, that this was all a bad dream. Camellia was crying the whole time. Crying and bleeding out. Both of her breasts had been sawed off and were now being cooked over the hot coal-filled brazier. Paul could smell them. Despite the horror of it all, the sizzling breast meat smelled good. God save me, it smells good. He started to weep himself just as he climaxed and came inside the dying girl. The boys all laughed and cheered and then pulled him off of her. They threw him onto the dirt floor, leaving a small trail of fluid across the dust. Camellia’s cries had grown weaker and then suddenly stopped altogether. Paul dared his eyes to open and saw the big boy wiping the fresh blood off his knife as he stood up over the girl. He stepped over to Paul, leering, as the two with machetes began their savage task of chopping her up.
“You hungry for more? It’s time to eat.” Paul shivered and shook on the floor, vulnerable in his fear and nakedness. The big man stabbed one of the cooked breasts with his knife and lifted it from the grill. He brought it to Paul with eyes as crazy as any methed out tweaker during a peak experience.
“Do it, or we kill you.” The man repeated.
Oh God, save me.
Paul was just managing to swallow the first bite, holding back tears and fighting his gag reflex when the Chief in Yellow entered the hut. He glanced up at the old man and wondered, Why? Why? He heard a thump and turned sharply. One of the boys had thrown another hunk of girl meat (Thigh? Buttock?) onto the coals. Unable to fight it any longer, Paul began to weep in earnest. The Chief croaked something to the big boy with the knife.
“The chief says you should not feel bad for her. She fucked up by bringing you here. Kaa-ko-saa is no place for you. She had to be punished.”
A small, spark of hope, no bigger than one of the glowing coals that even now helped in the roasting of Camellia, grew inside him. Do I dare?
“Do…Do you mean…that I am not in trouble? That it’s not my fault?” Paul begged through his racking sobs. More croaking from the old man.
“Chief says no. You fucked up by following her.” The light from the coals reflected darkly in the flat metal of the boy’s machetes as they paused in their task of butchering the girl and slowly strolled over to Paul.
The Jeep carrying the Company security rep, the driver and the four armed policemen who rode, unbelted, in the back, pulled over.
“Hey old man.” The rep shouted across the driver to the villager who squatted on the side of the road. He wore tattered yellow robes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in a year and tended a small cooking stove with a stick. “Have you seen this man? We are looking for him.” The old man didn’t move or acknowledge the question in any way. The rep turned in his seat and addressed the police escort.
“Ask him if he has seen him!”
Two seconds and one eye roll later, one of the policemen climbed down from the back of the jeep and after having taken it from the annoying foreigner, showed the old man a picture of Paul Boudreaux. They conversed in the local language and then the policeman turned to the annoying foreigner.
“He says no, but we are welcome to share some of his BBQ.”