The Travails of Dr. Linh: Neglected Gardens

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.

As if.

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.

  9 comments for “The Travails of Dr. Linh: Neglected Gardens

  1. Raz
    December 24, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Excellent short, RG! I immediately like Dr. Linh and hope we get to see more of her. I’m always taken by how few words it takes you to create a deep sense of place sensory and sensual.

    • Deliriumtree
      December 25, 2016 at 1:04 am

      Wait…Dr. Linh was female? I was thinking male. Still, I loved this too. How can you not love anything that involves bats and rats. They’re adorable!

  2. December 24, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    This sort of storytelling is a favorite of mine—a sort of Aesopian fable with its own metaphor, archetype and closing moral. An experiment? And then this: “cloaking the ancient mango in a coat of living fur.” Just for an instant I thought you might be aiming to write a pour-quoi fable in the sense of explaining where the mango came from (the Ovidian transformation of the demon into an erotic(?) fruit perhaps). I was hoping you might go that direction, but that you didn’t isn’t a criticism.

    As it is, it seems on the cusp: a brief ‘demon’ story one might read at “hentai foundary” and an almost self-contained psychological fable. Will be interested to see if you write more of these.

  3. TFP
    December 25, 2016 at 1:05 am

    As usual you leave the reader with so many questions about the character unanswered. I eagerly await the next part in the series of Dr Lihn. There is more, there must be more…right?

    ~smiles

  4. December 25, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Loved it.

  5. Absinthene
    December 30, 2016 at 8:11 am

    It is quite a thrill to see you use the pontianak as a character! Looking forward to more adventures from Dr Linh.

  6. Leon Taylor
    February 5, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Excellent, as always. Just started $5 per month to ACLU.

  7. Lee
    February 11, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Always loved supernatural stories. x

  8. Nao
    April 2, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Wow! That was just amazing.

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