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by James Penha

Hidjrah found the dukun under the banyan where he was smoking a thick tobacco-and-clove cigarette. She folded her sarong beneath her and sat down next to him in the shade of the tree. The Sumatra afternoon was torrid, and her walk up the mountain from her home had been hard. She needed water but had a greater need to talk with the old magician.

“What do you want?” said the dukun, exhaling a sweet cloud of smoke.



Hidjrah extracted a string bag from between her breasts. She took a photograph from the bag and handed it to the dukun.

“Hmm. A young woman. Attractive. A rival?”

“She was, but my husband does not see her any longer.” The woman paused. “She wants revenge. She comes to me at night, threatening me. She comes as a civet cat.”

“Ah, that is powerful magic. She must have enlisted a very great dukun.” He studied the photograph once more. “Not me, though. I have never seen this girl.”

“No, we live in the valley.”

“What else did you bring?” Hidjrah took from the bag a gold ring embedded with a large, roughly-cut diamond. “Very good. Very good.” The dukun took and held the ring close to his eyes. “Are these specks of her blood?”

“That ring was mine. My husband gave it to her. I ripped it from her finger the last time I saw her. Either the ring or my own nails took blood along with it.”

“Excellent. More power. So we have a photograph, a ring, blood. Do you have her hair?”

“I thought blood would be enough.”

“Not for the charm you need. Bring me at least one strand of her hair. Can you do that?”

“It won’t be easy.”

“These things never are,” said the dukun and ferociously inhaled his cigarette.

Hidjrah returned the ring and photograph to the string bag and replaced it in her bosom. “How much shall I pay you?”

“Return with the hair, and we shall discuss my fee.”

* * *

By the time Hidjrah reached her cabin, it was dark. She could do nothing until morning. She lay on an old mattress but, tired as she was from her journey, fear kept her vigilant.

It was not long before the fragrance of pandan, the favored food of the civet cat, overwhelmed the night air, and Hidjrah heard an animal screeching and felt claws ripping her legs, her arms, her face although she saw no blood. Nor any beast. Calm came only with dawn when, exhausted, Hidjrah rose and left her cabin for the outhouse where pipes were rigged to borrow water from a nearby stream to feed a cistern for bathing and flushing.

Hidjrah kneeled down and removed all the tiles from the floor adjoining the cistern. She crawled over her husband’s corpse to get to the woman’s, whose remaining nine fingers were curled. From the woman’s head, she pulled a tuft of long black hair.

Copyright © 2020 by James Penha
Originally published in Stuck in the Middle,
David Bell & Molly McCaffrey, eds;
Charlotte, North Carolina:
Mint Hill Books, 2016, pp. 24-25.

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