The following was written for an assignment in my Creative Writing: Intermediate Fiction college class. Photo credit goes to "Cryptid Wiki" user RUBENHC.
The douen sat against a tree as he sank his teeth into the mango again, not caring about the juice running down his chin. It had taken him forever to find it, as fruit as succulent as that were rare and prone to being stolen. As much as he didn’t want to, he knew that he had to eat his prize as quickly as possible. It was his food. No one else’s.
He had almost reached the seed when he felt a presence looking over his shoulder. He looked up (despite having no eyes) and saw the other one. He looked just like him, but he wore a brown hat instead of a tan one, and his stomach was slightly bigger. He might’ve been more muscle-y as well, but who was to say?
The douen hissed and scampered back, clutching his prize close to his chest. “Go away!” he ordered. “This is mine! Not yours!” The other one jumped down from the tree trunk he was latched on to and raised his hands defensively, his toothy smile stretching across his otherwise featureless face. “It’s okay! It’s okay! I just had a question for you. Is that okay, friend?” The douen paused, and thought it over for a moment. He supposed that he didn’t mind a question. It had been a while since he had anyone to talk to. He nodded to the other one, but didn’t get any closer. He had seen this boy before, and he knew that he was just waiting for an opening to hurt him or steal his food.
The other one lowered his hands and began slowly approaching, pointing behind him as he did so. “Do you hear the screaming, boy? Coming from deeper in the forest?” The douen listened closely. He had been hearing something, but he assumed that it was just some odd bird that he hadn’t seen before. He had seen weirder, like the girl who could shed her skin and turn into fire, or the man as tall as the forest trees who liked to come out and stare at the moon for hours at a time. “I think so,” the douen said. The other one smiled. “I saw something! A woman ran out here from the village! She was with her baby, but when she left, she left the baby behind. The baby’s been screaming for hours, boy, but that scream isn’t a baby’s scream.”
The douen wasn’t sure what to think about that. He wasn’t as focused on the scary baby as he was on the village. It was only a short walk away, and he could remember going there before. He didn’t remember much about it, though, and anytime he tried to, he ended up with a headache that left him angry and exhausted. He did remember how the villagers looked, though. He found them so odd, too. They were all much taller than he was, their skin was darker, and their feet were pointing the wrong way, with the toes in front of their bodies instead of behind them. It scared him a little, and he didn’t like being scared. Maybe the baby was scared, too. Maybe the baby was crying because she was sad and lonely.
The douen shook his head. “I… I think that I’m going to look for the baby.” The other one, now closer to him, looked confused. “Why? It’s not your baby. I told you about it because I wanted you to stay away from it. Something about the baby… it doesn’t seem right.” The douen shook his head again. “Hearing it crying makes me sad, and I don’t like feeling sad. I want to see if I can make her happy.” The other one stayed quiet for a moment, then smiled. “Okay then, boy.” Before the douen could respond, the other one shoved him back and took his half-eaten mango from his grasp. He giggled maniacally and leapt onto a nearby tree before scampering away across the branches with his stolen gains. The douen brushed himself off and tried to calm himself down, but he felt hurt and angry anyways. That was his food, and now it was gone! He wiped his mouth and decided to start running towards the screaming baby. Hopefully, making her happy would make him happy as well!
The douen scampered across the trees, heading towards the screaming. He felt so silly. He could’ve sworn that it was a bird. Faster and faster he moved, past other animals and creatures of the night, until finally, he saw it. It was definitely a baby, but it didn’t look anything like how he thought a baby should look. Its body was sleek, wet, and so black that the douen could barely notice her save for her wailing and her erratic jerking underneath a boulder of some sort. Its teeth and claws were as sharp as knives, and its long hair was draped across the ground. For just a moment, the douen felt a pang of fear. Was it going to eat him? Still, he knew what he came for. He wanted to make it happy, and by the look of things, getting the rock off of it would work just nicely.
The young creature slowly approached the demon child, still yelling and thrashing under the immense weight of the rock. He licked his lips out of nervousness and began talking. “Hello, there!” he said, trying to be as friendly as possible. The baby looked at him, but continued to cry. “Um…” the douen continued. “I don’t know who put you under the rock, or why they did it, but I could help you if you want! I’m strong enough to move the rock off of you, but I need you to promise me something, okay?”
The baby’s crying grew quieter, although it was still incredibly mad. The douen wondered if it could even understand him. Its eyes were so black the boy could only see them because of the glint in them from the moon above peering through the forest trees. He leaned in closer, trying to get a better look at its features before the baby tried to claw at him, sending him scampering back. As the hellish infant started crying again, the douen grew mad. He was trying to be nice. Why wasn’t the child being nice back?
“Stop that!” he yelled. “Stop trying to hurt me! Why are you mad at me? I didn’t do anything wrong!” The child’s wailing died down again as it looked at him, her pitch black eyes widening ever so slightly. Did it feel bad for what it did? The douen slowly approached again, this time with his hands in front of him in case the demon attacked again. “I want you to promise that, if I move this rock, you’re not going to hurt me. If you hurt me, I’m going to leave you here, and I won’t feel bad about it, okay?”
After that, something interesting happened. Whereas the demon baby was screaming before, now, it was actually crying. Streaks of murky tears ran down its face as its shrieks of agony were reduced to a low sob. It looked at the douen and nodded, giving him its trust. The boy nodded back and, after taking a breath, pushed the rock off of its victim. Immediately, the baby attempted to scramble to its feet, but slipped and fell back before clutching its sore stomach. The douen smiled a little. In a bizarre way, it was actually a little cute. It looked terrifying, but it was still just a baby, wasn’t it? He stuck his hand out and let the child use it to steady itself as it rose again.
“There you are,” he said, smiling wider. “Do you feel better?” The creature nodded excitedly, although it still wasn’t smiling. “I’m glad,” the douen responded. “Now, is there anywhere I could take you? Do you have any friends? I don’t want to leave you alone. You might get captured again!” The baby looked at him for a moment, seeming to think about what he asked. It snorted and scurried past him, heading towards the way that he originally came. “Wait!” he called, chasing after it as fast as he could. “Wait! Don’t go alone!”
The douen lost track of how much time he spent running. Trying to keep an eye on the runaway infant was taking up all of his attention. Because of how dark the creature was, he spent most of his pursuit focused more on the sounds of rustling leaves and low pitched grunts and cries to follow his supposed new friend. Finally, after what felt like forever, the boy found the baby sitting at the edge of the forest, not moving. The douen’s heart skipped a beat. He knew where they were. They were only a short while away from the same village that he had visited not too long before. Was that where the baby wanted to go? Why? If what he had heard from the other one was true, then the whole reason that the baby was out in the forest in the first place was because someone from the village had left her there.
The douen nervously approached the infant and tapped its shoulder, causing it to turn with a start. “Do you want to go… out there?” the douen asked. “Do you want to see the people out there? Why?” The baby didn’t answer, instead rising to its feet as it prepared to keep walking. The douen just sighed. He really didn’t want to go back to the village, and he didn’t quite know why. There was some sort of force inside of him that he felt when he got closer, the same sensation that gave him a headache whenever he thought too much about it. Still, he wanted to help his new friend, and if that meant leaving the safety of the forest, then he guessed that that was what he had to do. Taking a deep breath, he shakily followed his companion as they walked out into the open.
All of the humans seemed to be asleep, or at the very least, in their homes. There were a few lit windows here and there, but overall, everything felt empty and quiet. The dark blue sky, only lit by twinkling stars, overlooked houses of stone and straw, all connected by wooden pathways. The douen could hear the gentle chirping and cooing of the world’s nighttime birds. At least, he hoped they were birds. He didn’t want to imagine more evil demon babies lost in the forest. That would just be too sad. The monstrous infant began to pick up her pace as the approached the first row of houses, and the douen noticed that it left thin, oily footprints on the rocks and wood as she walked. Eventually, the thing started running on all fours, and the boy struggled to keep up until they finally reached the side of a house that the baby seemed to be particularly interested in. It started scratching right below a window, and its breath grew more labored. It really wanted to get inside of that house, and the douen wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. The baby was already hellish to look at, but now it seemed more like an animal than a child. Still, he did promise to help his new friend. He swallowed and jumped up into the window, extending his hand to pull the baby up. Its skin was far too cold and slick for comfort, making the douen feel shaky.
They both fell to the ground with a thud. The douen looked around and was amazed by what he saw. The walls were adorned with beautiful, multi-colored paintings, the biggest of which depicted a mother and father looking over a young girl. The room itself was lined with straw, and a stone furnace in the corner was still giving off heat despite not being alight. There was also the subtle smell of spice in the air. Someone had been cooking something, and it was making the douen’s mouth water. Before he could ask his friend if it could pick up the scent too, he heard screaming coming from a nearby room. He quickly turned to his side and realized that his friend was gone. Oh no, he thought. Oh no, oh no, oh no.
He rushed towards the bedroom and found the baby latched on to a woman’s stomach as they both yelled in pain and thrashed around the room. The woman’s stomach was stained with blood as the baby sank its claws into it, and the little demon’s yelling became slightly more coherent. It was yelling something, but the douen couldn’t make it out.
“I’m sorry!” the woman yelled, tears streaking down her face. “I’m so sorry! This wasn’t your fault, my love! Please don’t do this!” The baby kept wailing and calling out to someone, tears forming in its eyes, as well. The douen thought back to the painting he saw in the main room. The woman being attacked looked exactly like the woman shown there, with her dark black skin, black hair down to her waist, and thin face. The way she was talking to the evil baby… was it the same baby as the girl in the painting? The same one the woman was coddling?
Eventually, the woman managed to pry the baby off of her and pin her against a wall before wrapping her hands around her neck and squeezing tight. “I’m sorry,” she moaned through sobs. “I’m so sorry, my love…” The douen had seen enough. He fled the house as quickly as he could, trying his best to forget the image of both mother and daughter covered in each other’s blood while trying to kill each other. As he ran, he heard people stirring in other houses. Voices were picking up, and lamps were being turned on one by one. He had to get out of there.
Eventually, he made it back to the forest and scampered up a tree. The screaming had ended at some point, but the douen didn’t know why. He wanted to believe that the mother and daughter made up, that they somehow avoided hurting each other any further, but he doubted it. What had he done? He wanted to help a new friend, and now…
His head grew heavy with thoughts and feelings of guilt. He never should’ve gone back to the village. Nothing good ever comes from going there. He should’ve remembered that from the last time, when he visited his…
Wait… visited who?
Who was he visiting? Who were they? Was he there before? Question after question filled his already aching head, making him moan and whimper under the mental strain.
I was there before! I… Was I from there?
He saw images in his head. Images of a man and a woman standing over him smiling. Images of the same man and woman crying while watching him back into the forest. Images of his skin bleaching and his feet turning backwards…
The douen squeezed his head and screamed. His head was on fire and he didn’t know what to do. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. He wasn’t from here. He had people waiting for him. He had to go back. He had to go back to his-
The pain grew to be too much for the douen. He fell back from the branch he was sitting on and slammed against the forest floor.
After what felt like hours, he awoke to see the sun slowly begin rising, bathing the ground in a scattered orange glow. Everything was quiet, save for the sounds of the wild animals gently waking up to begin their day. The douen rubbed his head. There was some sort of dull pain rattling around in it, but it seemed to be getting better. He wasn’t sure what caused it, though. Beyond falling out of the tree, anyway. Why was he up there anyway? He couldn’t remember. Actually, he couldn’t remember much of anything. He knew he had met someone, and that they had gone… somewhere together. The nearby village, maybe?
The douen sighed. None of that mattered. What did matter was that he was hungry. He smiled, imagining the taste of the oh-so-sweet mangoes he adored. He leapt to his feet, his head and body feeling much healthier, and ran deeper into the forest, ready to start the day.
Writer's note: This story derives most of its influence from traditional Caribbean mythology. Douens are creatures from Trinidadian folklore that are well known for their featureless faces and backwards feet. They're said to be the souls of children who died before being baptized, and are highly mischievous beings that often lure children away from their parents and bring them deep into nearby forests. A raakhas is a being from East Indian mythology. A newborn baby corrupted by the misdeeds and negative karma of its mother and/or father, a raakhas has jet-black skin, inhumanly long fingernails, and sharp, animalistic teeth. Only capable of living for a few days, this being is single-mindedly devoted to murdering its parents during that time.
If this story entertained you, or if you're seeking to learn more about Caribbean mythology, I recommend reading "Island Tales: Caribbean Folklore Stories" by Amber Drappler. It's a collection of short stories, each one featuring a different character from folklore, and it's been a major inspiration for both this story and my fiction writing as a whole.