Clever people say you can never truly go home but, in my experience, it’s almost depressingly the opposite. Too often, you can’t escape it. Standing in the humid midnight, beneath an old mango tree, I looked up at the pontianak dangling from a branch. It was a young one, with long, tangled black hair, wearing a ridiculously diaphanous white shift. I thought of all the money my parents had wasted on my excellent Western education and sighed.
“Get the fuck out of this tree, bitch,” I called up.
The spirit hissed again and rubbed her thighs together seductively. Even amidst the cloying reek of decay, the scent of ripe cunt was pungent.
It’s not that I don’t like women. Personally, I prefer them to men. But I don’t go for the supernatural kind, especially ones with claws on their shoulders and an appetite for human blood.
“Ain’t gonna work on me, missy. Move along, now. You’re upsetting Mrs. Bui and you almost gave her husband a heart attack. Piss off back to the swamp.”
The pontianak’s thick, wicked talons tightened around the branch, scoring the living wood, making it creak. A cloud skittered across the moon, turning the shadows in the trash-strewn garden into darker, wetter places. I sighed again and rummaged in my pocket.
“You can go, or you can die. It’s really up to you.”
“Fuck you, witch. I like this place. The woman is old and ugly. I will take her husband’s seed, and this garden will be mine.” The voice was high and glasslike.
I shook my head. “No, you really won’t. Promise. But I’m offering you this one time deal to find somewhere else to hang out. Or else.”
“Or else what?” The demoness mocked. “Are you good at climbing trees, four eyes? Bet the boys don’t sniff around you much. Look at you!”
I hate it when they get personal like that. “Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I pulled the rice out of my pocket and sprinkled it around the base of the tree, chanting softly. Inviting the rats to come and savour it. Then, pulling a few sticks of incense out of my backpack, I stuck them in a crevice in the tree’s bark and lit them. This time, I chanted another summons, inviting the bats to feast on the ripe and succulent mangos weighing down the tree’s limbs. Of course it wasn’t the season for them yet, but the sweet, fruity scent of the incense would trick them into coming near.
Close by, the undergrowth began to rustle. Hundreds of tiny, pebble-bright eyes looked out from between leaves and from under the broken crockery, the rotting chicken cages, and the fallen masonry. Above my head, the soft fluttering of leathery wings, and the piercing calls began.
“What are you doing, witch?”
Ignoring the question, I stepped back just in time as a glistening brown carpet emerged from the shadows and encircled the base of the tree. Sharp white teeth snatched at the grains of rice, a thousand pairs of whiskers twitched, glistening little black noses rose up, scenting the tree’s obscene fruit.
“Come, little creatures of the dark. The Buddha in his mercy and generosity bids you eat your fill,” I whispered.
“No. No!” Screeched the pontianak.
If the clouds above my head had subdued the moon’s light, the thousands of black, furless wings almost eclipsed it completely. The fruit bats gyred around the tree in ever tightening circles, their cries painting the demoness with sound, honing in on the largest, juiciest thing in the tree. And the rats, all the rice devoured, rivered up the gnarled old trunk, in such numbers, cloaking the ancient mango in a coat of living fur.
I didn’t stay to watch her demise. I’d seen the trick work often enough. It wasn’t pretty. In the morning, Mrs. Bui would find a torn and bloodied shift at the mango’s base and I’d send my housekeeper, Lan, for my fee and the strong recommendation that she clean up the garden.
Evil thrives in abandonment and chaos.