Ibrahim and the Polong: Wendig Challenge
This week’s Wendig challenge was a random image search using Flickr’s built-in randomizer according to an algorithm they call “interestingness.” I was not impressed at first, even though my friend Matt showed me a pretty cool image he got. I had to refresh mine 4 times before I got something that wasn’t a bird. That’s not an exaggeration. Each click popped up 9 photos in a grid. I got 27 straight birds. Birds aren’t that interesting, people. They really aren’t.
So eventually I ended up with this really cool image of a chicken satay street vendor in Jakarta, uploaded by photographer Alex Newman. At first I ran with that. Then, while browsing other pictures of Indonesia on Flickr, I ran across the image to the right. My character sketch of a lonely street vendor on a rainy day in Jakarta evolved into the story of a lecherous man who is coaxed into even greater evil by a demonic spirit. Story is after the break. Enjoy.
Ibrahim and the Polong
The street vendor looked up from his cart and stared out into the open-air market. He knew he’d heard his name shouted, but didn’t see anyone waving their arms or otherwise trying to catch his eye. Business today had been slow, but he’d at least broken even. What he really wanted to do was march over to the vendor across the alley and break her arms. She’d raked in a fortune today, but he knew his sate ayam was better. For one, he knew how good his spices were because his family grew some of them. But he’d seen her down the street buying old pepper and dusty cumin from that shady vendor Kuwat. He knew Kuwat trafficked in castoffs and refuse left behind by quality vendors at the end of the market day because more than once he’d sold Kuwat pepper he’d spilled into the gutter.
Then he heard his name again, this time whispered from right behind his right shoulder. At least, he thought it was behind him. As he turned his head, he noticed a small figure hovering just above his shirt sleeve.
“Ibrahim. Do it. Break her arms. Hah!” The figure laughed and did an aerial somersault as it did.
Ibrahim the street vendor gawked at the hovering figure, wondering how it had heard his inner thoughts. He felt quite sure this was insane, because demons were the work of storytellers cautioning children over moral issues. They weren’t real.
“Of course we’re real, Ibrahim. Remember two days ago when Siti refused, but you didn’t stop? I do. Hah!” The demon laughed and did another somersault. “I enjoyed it immensely, Ibrahim. Immensely. And I know you took pleasure in it as well.”
Ibrahim flashed back to that night. He’d felt angry at Siti’s refusal, almost as irate as he felt now looking over at the bitch across the alley. But when he’d finished, he felt sad and unworthy. His new wife hadn’t spoken to him since, but she did not resist his advances last night. She had learned, and that was good.
“Right, Ibrahim. Because we taught her. And we will teach that perempuan murahan to take our business away. You know it is because of her looks and not her food. Hah!”
Ibrahim had noticed she was attractive. What man would not? Her attire kept her covered, but from time to time he had noticed some skin round her ankles or wrists, and once even a flash of neck when her tudung brushed back for just a moment while men stood in line for their sate. Ibrahim was sure she’d done it on purpose, and was not at all surprised to see the line for her cart grow while his did not.
“Ibrahim, it is best to act soon. She is beginning to pack up. Show her what a real man is. Hurt her as she has hurt you. Break her as she is trying to break you. Hah!”
The demon jumped to Ibrahim’s left shoulder and continued. “You can use your cleaver. Hah!” It jumped back to the right and appeared to be playing a game, laughing each time Ibrahim turned his head to keep the creature in focus.
But didn’t the creature have a point? Was not his failure over the last week because of her new cart, because of the way she used her sex to lure in men to her inferior sate? It was disgusting, so slutty, so, so, so…American of her. Yes. That’s what he thought of her. She was an American, with their nakedness, their impious attitudes, their blasphemy. And she must be taught a lesson.
Ibrahim closed up his cart, but grabbed the cleaver before he locked the doors. He pulled the cart into line behind some of the other vendors, mentally tracking the woman’s progress as she locked her cart and joined the line behind him. The vendors all made their way from the side alley where they had purchased space, each stopping just before the main roadway to hand their rent to the street boss who controlled this section of the market.
Once out into the main street, each vendor wheeled their cart towards their homes, but Ibrahim slowed and checked his watch, feigning interest in the time so that he could see which direction the woman took. Luckily for him, her home was in the same direction as his own. He would hate to have a friend stop and ask why he wheeled his cart in the wrong direction. Come to think of it, would she know which direction he usually went and be suspicious?
“She is dumb, Ibrahim. She is American and sells her body to sell her sate. She does not notice anything other than money and the flash of flesh she gives to the men. Hah!”
Each time the demon spoke, it sounded more reasonable than it had the last time. Ibrahim did not know what to make of the little creature, but he no longer held doubts about its existence. Ibrahim did not laugh often, and never in the braying tone of a babi kutil’s mating grunt, so this demon must be real and not in his imagination. Besides, hadn’t he see the little boss cock his head to look at it as Ibrahim left the alley? No, the demon was real, and it was right. Her time was up.
She turned off the main road into another alleyway. Ibrahim slowly approached the entrance and left his cart just before the corner, hiding the knife behind his back and he peeked his head around to look. She was still moving away from him, oblivious to all that was around her. Ibrahim charged forward and grabbed her. She screamed but for a second as Ibrahim brought the knife around, blade to her throat, and carved off her head like a chicken.
It was over just like that.
The demon flitted down from Ibrahim’s shoulder and began to drink her quickly cooling blood. The creature grew larger as it lapped up her essence, and laughed its strange pig-laugh until at last it took the full size of a man. It stood and turned to look at Ibrahim.
Ibrahim looked into his own eyes. He felt the blade slide from his fingers as the demon laughed again. “Hah!”
Ibrahim fell to his knees and managed to beg Allah’s forgiveness for just a second before the demon stepped into Ibrahim’s body and took full control.
“You deserve no less, Ibrahim,” he heard from somewhere inside a deep well. “You are mine. Now let us go and find Siti. I still hunger, and you do not want to keep your polong hungry. Hah!”
Ibrahim wiped the blood from his hands onto the woman’s tudung, then kicked her head away where it came to rest against a wall, bits of her spinal cord still attached. She looked a bit like a Leak, the ghost women whose heads left their bodies, entrails dragging, to search for victims. “Hah!”
Ibrahim walked back to his cart and began to push it home. Siti would be waiting. And she had learned.