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Authors: Diane Awerbuck,Louis Greenberg

The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories (7 page)

BOOK: The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
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Jayne stared pointedly at the steaming teacup next to Fred's. The teacup just sat there: didn't even ripple.

‘She says it's about unleashing your inner poltergeist.'

‘Oh. Good for her, I guess.'

Fred plopped his cup down, dabbed his tea-soaked moustache with his sleeve, and said: ‘Well, ma'am, I guess it's time for me and the Lady to get to work. Do you have the table all set up?'

‘Yes.'

‘Good. Let's get going, then.'

She followed him outside to the table waiting by the pool. Fred zipped open his duffel bag, procuring a bucket of KFC chicken, a bottle of Klipdrift, a two-litre Coke Light and a bottle of Vin de Constance. ‘For the Lady,' he winked as he took this last bottle from his bag. ‘Reminds her of the good old days, she says. Even if that frog, Bonaparte, spoiled it a bit for her by proclaiming it his favourite tipple.'

‘Oh.'

‘We'll need some glasses. And a plate for the Colonel.'

‘There's a colonel here too?'

‘No, ma'am', he chided her. Colonel Saunders. The Kentucky colonel. The chicken, ma'am. I'm talking about the chicken.'

‘I understand,' she said. But she wished that she didn't. This house, this Parow Arrow with his mangy moustache and his invisible friend, was becoming too much to handle. What she really needed was a hot bath and a bottle or two of Merlot. Maybe a tub of ice cream or a cupcake thrown in for good measure.

Instead, she went to the kitchen to find a plate, a tumbler and one of her most elegant long-stemmed wine glasses. She didn't want to be told that she didn't know how to entertain a famous dead English hostess. When she stepped back outside, Fred had lit an army of fat white candles and had arranged them in clumps around the pool. He sat at the table, where one remaining candle flickered furiously. She laid the table and he proceeded to mix brandy with Coke Light, then poured the wine and heaped chicken onto the plate.

‘Come, ma'am, grab a chair. We're ready to start. Have you ever been part of a ghost-eating ritual before?'

‘No.'

‘It's a centuries-old tradition. We've been performing it in my family for a long, long time. My father was a ghost-eater, see. And his father before him. And my father's father's father was a kaaskop ghost-eater all the way back in the Netherlands.

‘What I'm gonna do now is help the spooks move on from this place by transferring all their sins into my KFC and Klippies here. When I eat the chicken and drink my karate water, their sins will move down my digestive system and into my soul, and the spooks will be free to move into the light. Easy.

‘Some of them might not be so keen to leave, though; that's what the Lady is here for. She'll have a chat with the difficult customers, let them know that there's a whole world out there for spooks who don't want to move on, and there's no need to hang around your swimming pool for all eternity.'

‘And what if they don't listen to her?'

‘Not to worry. She can be quite persuasive, Lady Anne. Besides, most spooks prefer to move on after the ritual has been performed. Let's sommer begin now. It's getting quite dark already.'

With a solemn expression, Fred closed his eyes, dropped his chin and proceeded to chant: ‘I give easement and rest now to thee, my good spirits. Come not down the lanes or in our yards, homes and swimming pools. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. I give easement and rest now to thee, my good spirits. Come not down the lanes or in our yards, homes and swimming pools. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. I give easement …' One, two, seven, eight times he chanted the incantation and then dug into the chicken and brandy in a frenzy, sucking the bones clean and tossing them into the swimming pool. When the bones hit the pool, Jayne thought she could see little puffs of steam escaping from the water.

As he polished off the last of the chicken, an icy wind rose, sending ripples through the pool and animating the white tablecloth. Dropping the very last bone into the water, he thundered, ‘I demaaand that you leave this place!
Go into the light!
' and Jayne hoped to God her neighbours weren't home.

With that, he opened his eyes, downed the last of his Klippies, bowed his head and unceremoniously proclaimed: ‘It is finished.
Klaar. Will you be paying cash or by cheque?'

Mister A

Calvin Scholtz

 

We didn't know what to expect from Mr Arendse. Some of the older students had had a few classes with him already, and they said he was the coolest Accounting teacher they'd ever had: they called him Mr A. Well, Mr Bosman had been a cool Geography teacher, but he sucked as a cricket coach. Everyone knew that he preferred rugby (or ‘ruck-bee', as he pronounced it), and he was always too busy with his duties as vice-principal to give us his full attention.

Then there was Mr Hugo, last season. He was a real character, what with his neon-green tracksuit, aviator sunglasses, and a pipe that seldom left his mouth, even during lessons. At our first practice session, he watched us for ten minutes, made comments to a couple of the players and then wandered off, only to return two hours later. I didn't go to another practice after that: if the coach wasn't committed, why should I be?

However, I felt a lot more motivated this time around. The World Cup was going to be held in South Africa in a few months' time and Waheed, Jeremy and some of the other guys were already getting into the spirit of things by playing an informal game in the quad every morning before class. They would be on the team this summer, for sure, and I didn't want to be left out.

We waited at the nets in the corner of the field. I say ‘field', but it was more like a sandpit with thorns at the moment. The grass was sparse and burned yellow after a long, dry December. The sun beat down on us now as well and the sky was white with the heat. A slight breeze blew off the sea and gave us some relief. I was the only one wearing sunblock: I looked even paler than usual, but at least my father would be happy.

A middle-aged coloured man came walking down the steps towards us. This must be Mr Arendse. He was bald and had a hooked nose. He was wearing dark trousers and a yellow pullover, despite the heat. He gave a throaty cough, and when he said ‘Good afternoon', we could hear that he was a serious smoker. His hands had chalk dust on them. He stood over our team kitbag and looked inside: it was still full.

‘What are you all waiting for?' he said. ‘Three of you get some pads on and get in those nets. The rest line up to bowl at them. Come on!'

Three of the older guys jumped forward while the rest of us started measuring our run-ups. We found the practice balls and inspected their seams and looked for their shiny sides. While the batsmen were padding up, Mr Arendse's head moved like an owl's. Then he stopped and cocked an eyebrow at us. ‘Is this the under-sixteen side? Some of you look older, and some a lot younger.'

Waheed, my muscle-bound Muslim friend, spoke up: ‘We are all fifteen or older, sir. There are some under-seventeens here because there are not enough to make up a team.'

Mr Arendse hmphed but said nothing. Soon, the batsmen were ready and we started bowling at them. Most of us were fast- or medium-pacers, but I decided to try out some spin. Jeremy was our star bowler. He was a star at most athletic activities. He also played scrumhalf on the rugby team and striker on the soccer team. I once played a game of tennis with him when he picked up a racquet for the first time in his life and beat me in straight sets. He was just that kind of guy.

He was tall, something that was always good for a fast bowler, and delivered the ball from a height. He also put a lot of power into each delivery: the ball rocketed out of his hand and at the batsmen at a speed that must've been at around 130 kilometres per hour, if not more.

Our new coach stood alongside the nets and watched the batsmen for a while. One of them was Clinton, an under-seventeen who had the technique of a pro. He stood still and calm as he waited for the ball. When it arrived, he did not flinch, and moved like a panther to play it. He played shots that looked like they had been lifted straight out of a cricket textbook. The other two batsmen were just as competent.

This went on for about five or ten minutes, and then Mr Arendse put up a hand. ‘Well done, my sons,' he told the batsmen. ‘It's clear that you can play. Now I want to see some of the others: those who didn't volunteer when I asked for batsmen. You two,' he pointed. ‘And you, my son. What's your name?'

He meant me. ‘Andrew,' I said.

‘Come, Andrew. Pad up for us.'

I swallowed: I wasn't renowned for my batting skills. In fact, I wasn't renowned for much on the cricket field. I was the academically gifted one, the one everyone came to for help with their homework when they were too embarrassed to ask a teacher. I got my pads from Clinton, who looked pissed that his batting practice had been cut short. He also bowled spin, and he told me to watch out for his googly later.

I strapped the pads on, perhaps a little too tight. They were old, no longer white, and floppy. I hoped that they would protect my shins against Jeremy's yorkers. I put on everything I could find: gloves, thigh pad, arm brace, ball box and a helmet in the navy blue of our school. Padding up always made me think of a knight dressing for battle. I took my bat in my hands, sweating inside the gloves already, and made my way into one of the nets. I didn't look to see who else was batting on either side of me. I only looked ahead, at the bowler: at where that little leathery fireball would come from.

The first ball was flying at me before I knew it. I swung at it and missed. I heard the metal wicket fall behind me. I made to leave the net, but Mr Arendse shouted, ‘No, stay. This isn't a match.' He was standing where the umpire would usually be, his arms folded and one hand stroking his chin. I faced up to the next bowler: it was Jeremy. The ball hissed at me as the air moved over its seam. Like a snake, it went for my ankles. I managed to hold my bat out in front of me, but I think I closed my eyes, and I was struck on the pads. In a match, that would be out, too.

This went on for a while: one ball was aimed at my head and I managed to duck under it. Clinton's promised googly came and it befuddled me, as expected. Once, as I was sure I was going to make contact with one of the deliveries, a second ball flew across my vision and I panicked. There were holes in the nets separating the batsmen, and a ball had found its way through one of them.

At last, Mr Arendse marched into my net and asked me, ‘What shots are you trying, my son?' He said ‘my son' in such a soothing way, as I imagined Jesus had when he'd spoken with his disciples. ‘You've got to walk before you can run. The forward defensive is one of the most underrated shots in cricket. But when you do it right, you will never lose your wicket playing it. Here, let me show you.'

I gave him my bat and he made me stand to one side. ‘Come, Jeremy,' he called. ‘Give me your best one.' There our new coach stood, still fresh from the classroom, with no protection whatsoever. He thumped the bat on the ground in anticipation.

‘Sir, I can't,' said Jeremy. ‘I mean, are you sure?'

‘Ja, I'm sure. Come on.'

Jeremy bowled. The delivery was a little slower, but he blocked it. ‘Again,' he told Jeremy.

This time, Mr Arendse held his pose after striking the ball and showed me with one hand: ‘Front foot forward, bat straight against the pad, eyes over the ball. You can't be bowled, caught or called LBW.'

Jeremy bowled again, faster this time. ‘Don't be afraid of the bowler,' my coach told me. ‘Make him afraid of you. Say to yourself: Come on, you cunt! Is that the best you've got?' The other players turned to look. Had they really heard Mr Arendse swear? All doubt was removed when he drove the next ball back at the bowler. As he did so, he exhaled: ‘Play the poes!' He said it with relish.

This time, half the team packed up laughing. He turned to me and said, ‘No matter what the bowler throws at you, you play him. Play the poes!' He gave the bat back to me and returned to stand outside the nets. I blocked the next ball that Jeremy bowled at me. I thumped the bat as I'd seen Mr Arendse do, my feet moved on their own, and I played the ball with purpose. The bat reverberated in my hands when I made contact, but it gave me confidence. I did better after that, although I still missed one every now and then.

When I left the net, Mr A held me by the shoulder and said: ‘Your homework is to go home and play with yourself.' The other guys guffawed and I blushed. Our new coach went on: ‘Close your bedroom door, stand in front of a long mirror, take your bat in your hand, and play! Keep playing that forward defensive until you've got it down to a tee. Will you do that for me, my son?'

I nodded and smiled, ‘Yes, sir.'

‘And that goes for the rest of you as well,' he told the team. ‘Play with yourselves every evening, boys. It's good for you.'

I decided that I was going to enjoy cricket that season.

The Writing Class
Daniel Berti

 

I'm busy on Wednesday nights. I have a calendar I write on my calendar. I write lists I hate mosquitoes speed bumps domestic animals especially cats. Have you ever been on my website here kitty dot see oh dot zed ay I chose the name nice hey. Mister Ardin says I'm good with computers mister Ardin gave me his extra computer. I know my superintendent doesn't like me I pay the rent I pay the rent two days early every month I stay out of the way. I write it in my calendar I pay for my water lights phone my lights don't work.

Mommy phones to see how I'm doing on Thursdays good mommy mister Ardin says he's friends with mommy.

I'm a cat murglar I go undercover. Have you ever been on my website I murgle cats on my website. Just send me the address a photo I'll be there to murgle your cat free of charge buses cost money. There is honour in the medals Tarantino the black cat had the shiniest medal dog medals are bigger I keep my medals in the draw I wash off the blood. I have money from the government it's ok if you don't pay me the government pays me to murgle your cats.

BOOK: The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories
9.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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