Indigenous Speculative Thriller

As I slump into my seat, the cold plastic chair transforms into rich mahogany. The plastic utensils, without sharp edges – “to keep us safe” – melt into stainless-steel forks and knives. As I stare at my white paper cup, with my blue and white pills to keep it company, the cup slowly changes into a sparkling crystal glass, red wine swirling within.

“Anna,” the man across from me says, voice slicing through the silence. I jolt to attention and my knee hits the table, spilling red wine over the rim. It snakes down the side of the glass, spreading across the white tablecloth like blood, filling the room with its nauseating odor. I let the blood spread, watching it, ignoring the grating laughter in my ears, keeping my eyes on the table as the writer – at least I think he’s a writer – rolls his shoulders and clears his throat. I don’t look up. I can’t.

“Anna,” he says again, looking down at his clipboard. “It’s Thursday. And you know what that means.” The man smiles, pushing his oversized glasses closer to his nose, adjusting his stethoscope – no, not a stethoscope. It must be a scarf. Yes, he’s just adjusting his scarf. When I keep my gaze locked on the table and don’t respond, he shifts uncomfortably in his seat, the plastic – no, mahogany – chair already biting into his back. He continues, “Whenever you’re ready.”

I take a deep breath, eyes following the blood as it spreads, and spreads, and spreads–

I close my eyes and see hundreds of accusatory fingers pointed at me, mouths hanging open in vicious smiles or contorted into chilling grimaces. A pair of obsidian-blue eyes surrounded by chubby cheeks stands out, those stormy eyes staring daggers – at me. Clumsy Anna, always spilling her fruit punch, nervous Anna, always running from monsters, crazy Anna, always telling stories –

“Anna?” I latch onto the writer’s voice as it pulls me from a world of chalk-stained boards and swarming cafeterias, back to reality.

Heart racing, I open my eyes and look up, shaking my head to clear it. “I-I’ll just start at the beginning.

“My father was born in a small village in rural New Zealand. Years ago, the Maori, the indigenous people of the area, still had a voice. They ran the government, taught at the schools, and supervised the religious ceremonies. The town was small; everyone knew everyone’s third cousin. And it was poor. They farmed the land and sold their goods, barely surviving from one year to the next.

“One day, a merchant from India found his way to this small village. But the people soon realized he was no ordinary merchant. He wore gold bracelets, the finest silks, and carried around jars of exotic spices. People whispered that you could hear those bracelets crashing together across the Aoraki mountains and you could smell those spices, honey-gold saffron and smokey black cardamom, sailing across the Pacific breeze.”

The writer marks something down on his clipboard, nodding to himself, then meets my gaze, brow furrowed. “Why would this merchant want to visit such a poor country?” the writer asks, leaning forward.

“It was rumored that this man with the angry bracelets and magic spices, a prince from a faraway land, was looking to pave new trade routes with New Zealand.” I try to ignore the flickers in the corner of my vision, the tapping hand, the lifting glass. I keep my eyes locked on the golden sunlight spilling through the barred windows – no, they must be stained glass – as it cuts trails through the cobwebs decorating the chandelier overhead.

“And my father, after seeing the merchant’s luxury and wealth, grew resentful. He couldn’t understand how his people survived like this, trekking miles to collect their own water, living happily in wooden wharepuni, when the merchant told stories of three-story houses where water did not have to be boiled before bathing; it was already there, warm and waiting at the turn of a faucet. 

“So, my father made quick friends with the merchant: even when the snow-capped mountains vanished behind clouds of smog, even when the Maori traditions disappeared from the schoolbooks, even when the preferred presidential candidate was found dead. When the merchant decided to return to India, my father went with him.”

“What did your father’s family think about him leaving everything behind?” The writer asks, huffing a laugh. “I’m sure they weren’t very happy.”

I meet his eyes then and, seeing the growing blue fire in my own eyes, he averts his gaze. Don’t look at the other seats, don’t look at the other seats. Sweat begins to bead my forehead, trailing down my back. The voices ring in my ears, their chant on an endless loop: clumsy Anna, nervous Anna, crazy Anna, clumsy Anna, nervous Anna, crazy Anna…

Wiping my brow and sending a pointed look at the writer, I continue, “Of course, my father’s family wasn’t very happy, to say the least. As an only child, he was favored to take over his father’s position as village shaman. So, you can see how they might have been a little upset.

“But they weren’t just upset; they were devastated. The night before my father left, his father, the reigning shaman and my grandfather, cursed his only son.”

The writer leans towards me, eyes flashing. “Tell me about the curse.”

I take a deep breath and my eyes catch on the spilled wine, now black against the white tablecloth.

“It-it was in traditional Maori,” I say, voice trembling, “but it roughly translates to, ‘You leave your people, but you are blind. The wealth you search, you will never find.’

"And my father left, the curse his shadow. He lived with the Indian prince and became very wealthy. He sold spices and silks, sponsored searches of shipwrecks, and colonized lands, even if the native people resisted, even if they fought back and died. He always said that he knew what was best for them. At one point,” I lower my voice to a whisper, “he even owned his own people.”

My hands start to shake, and I quickly clasp them in my lap, out of sight. To my left, ice cubes slam into the glass walls of a cup that I already know contains whiskey. The sound of tapping fingernails becomes deafening. I squeeze my eyes shut. “But his-his shadow began to consume him. He began losing his vision, slowly at first, until he was pronounced legally blind exactly one year after leaving New Zealand,” I say, voice rising. “He was surrounded by wealth and luxury, but he couldn’t see any of it, from the chandeliers to the marble pillars to the crystal glasses. Nothing. He thought that the solution would be to find a wife, someone to fill the emptiness of a sightless life. But don’t you see?” Hysteria grips my voice. “Nothing can fill the void, it’s bottomless and endless and dark, so dark, it fills you, consumes you, and begins to seep from your skin, infecting everyone around you until–”

“Anna, we’ve been working on keeping you on track, remember? Please, continue the story. We are at the part about your father meeting your mother, the beauty queen.”

I blink a few times, trying to distance myself from that void, that interminable blackness.

“S-so,” I continue, “in India the following spring, he attended a beauty pageant. Knowing that he couldn’t trust his own vision, he made plans to meet the winner. My mother, Miss India, all long legs, raven hair, and honey skin, was amazed by my father’s mass of wealth and enchanted by his stories of ancient curses and magic princes; they were married that same night. He was forty-five. She was nineteen.”

I gasp as I feel nails pierce the skin of my hand from beneath the table, as bony hands wrap around my wrist. I try wrenching my hand back, and I meet the eyes of the owner of the tapping fingers for the first time. I hate that I can see her. I know she’s dead, I know–

My mother tightens her grip on my wrist.

Her black hair tumbles down transparent shoulders in frizzy waves, partially concealing her tattered Miss India sash, and her broken red nails continue tap, tap, tapping against the table as she looks at me, those transparent eyes staring into my soul, searching. I finally snatch my arm back, hands trembling. The writer looks between me and my mother, brow creased. I hate that I know exactly what he sees. Or what he doesn’t see.

I try to take a deep breath, but it rattles through my chest. I tear my eyes from my mother and continue, “Despite the age difference, they-they still had two kids, me and my…” I take a shaking breath, almost gasping for air. I know I can’t finish that sentence.

“My father grew richer and richer, but he could never fix his sight, and as a materialistic man, he could never appreciate his luxuries. A darkness settled over the entire family. And my father, lost in his own world of darkness, began to drink.”

A glass hits the table with a deafening crash, and I’m forced to look. In the seat to my left, I know exactly what I’ll see. My father will be there, whiskey clutched in his skeletal hand, his tan Maori skin turned ashen, his shoulders slumped, the smile lines around his mouth almost invisible through his thick beard. And sure enough, I see my father slam down his drink. After glaring at his wife, he turns his transparent eyes to me, the eyes that had once seen sunken treasure, rolling mountains, and conquered people, now sightless. Desolate.

“And-and my mother, a beauty queen married at only nineteen, wanted nothing more than freedom. But she was forced to stay home and raise us, as my father would disappear for weeks, even months at a time, searching for treatments for his vision.

“Each person was affected differently by this curse. Don’t you see?” My voice continues to rise as I try to control my growing panic. “When my father chose money over his family, he became blind. When my mother wanted freedom, she became trapped at home, raising us kids all by herself, until she was killed in an accident. And me,” I laugh, a dry, hoarse sound, “Well, that’s why I’m here with you, isn’t it? The curse has become its own beast. It realizes what you want most and does everything in its power to make sure you don’t get it.”

“And how do you feel about this, the fact that your family seems to be ‘cursed,’ for lack of a better word?” the writer asks.

“I want to escape this curse, to erase my past,” I say, fists clenching. “I want the memories gone – being the class freak at school, hearing the whisperings of teachers, seeing the looks from parents – I can’t take it anymore!” I slam my hands on the table, sending more wine spilling over the rim, watching as it coats my hands in its sticky warmth. “I’m ashamed of my parents and their mistakes. So, the curse will never let me forget. It haunts me.”

I lift my arms, sunlight glinting off heavy metal chains, the chains that snake from my wrists to the arms of my parents, the chains that link me to them and their ruined lives.

“My parents haunt me.”

The writer across the table blinks slowly at me, nodding to himself. “Good, that’s great progress Anna, really. You’re already doing much better than your father. He was really a challenge during his time here, with those, let’s just say ‘interesting’ stories of his.” As I blink, the writer’s scarf begins to change, shifting back into a stethoscope. A long, white lab coat replaces his brown tweed jacket. “I’m really impressed that you got through the entire story today. You seem much less distracted by the hallucinations.”

Another writer comes in from the hall. That’s strange – she has a stethoscope and white coat too. The two writers talk in hushed whispers, but I hear them. I can always hear them. 

“She only mentioned the school once,” the male writer says, checking his notes. “Maybe we can start getting her back, getting her acclimated to other kids her age–”

“Are you crazy?” The female writer whispers back, anger creeping into her voice. “After all these years? Don’t you remember why she’s here? What she did to him in the first place?”

I lift my hands, still covered in blood. The chain rattles. And I try to remember – the twelve-year-old boy with the stormy blue eyes that mirrored my own, ‘crazy Anna’ on his lips, rough hands gripping his shirt – my hands – unforgiving hands pushing him down, violent and angry against the pavement–

No, no, no. It’s just wine, not blood. Yes. Of course, it’s wine. That would be ridiculous.

Slowly, so slowly, the chandeliers above become harsh fluorescent lights, the baby blue walls melt into a sterile white, and the smooth mahogany table is replaced by one of plastic. I inspect my hands, now chain-less, my plastic cup of fruit punch on its side, those blue and white pills watching me. I run my hands over the table’s coarse surface, fingers tracing the letters that read, Christchurch, New Zealand Psychiatric Hospital.

When the writer – no, the doctor – turns to follow the female doctor, five black letters leap from his clipboard. I see SCHIZ dance across the page before he closes his folder. He smiles at me, one of those reassuring smiles that only doctors can manage.

He doesn’t know that the blue-eyed boy laughs through the bruises decorating his cheeks and neck, lifting his arm in a broken wave.

He doesn’t know that my mother weeps, mascara carving black lines down her ashen face. 

He doesn’t know that my father smiles, lifting his whiskey in a secret ‘cheers.’

My mother cries. My father drinks. I swallow my pills. 

And my brother disappears.

September 13, 2021 00:12

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