Abdul Lateef scanned the desert, looking for the ghoul; the demon devoured his wife, Wabuj. Shaitan’s daughter who ate his only son, Luqman for whom he had such high hopes. Now his hope rest in the scimitar that hung at his waist. The one thing left of his home. He’d allowed himself that one trinket, before setting his house ablaze.
He couldn’t allow the house to stand despite the memories that gave it life, made it a home. It had been touched by the darkness, defiled by the demon that now wore his wife’s flesh.
All he had to do was find her. One slice with his scimitar to the head would kill the demon. He remembered what he’d been told back when he thought ghouls were just myth to scare travelers away from the desert at night. Only hit her in the head once, twice would only bring her back to life.
As he walked through the cold of the desert night, he thought of his wife, Wabuj. The nights they’d spent together, the dark wash of her hair; the way the moonlight played over her caramel skin when he’d wake in the dead of night from some night terror. The way her belly had swollen with Luqman, and the same way his pride swelled with every passing day he saw her belly.
Shattered. All gone. They would never be back and the only way he could put their memory to rest was to kill the damnable beast that had consumed their flesh.
In the night, he heard the laughing cry that echoed over the dunes. It chilled his blood more than the cold of the night did. The moonlight glinted across the sand, shimmering like a second, paler sun that mocked the day and those that thrived in the light of the sun. The night belonged to beasts; the night belonged to the ghoul.
Jinni, Abdul thought. Ghouls were said to be jinni, ruled by the most powerful, darkest jinni, Shaitan. Would he meet this witch-woman and slay her, or did she possess secrets from the dark, underworld of Jahannam that would do him in?
In a way, Abdul hoped that the ghoul would kill him as well. Then he could be with Wabuj and Luqman. He couldn’t take his own life; not if he ever hoped to be reunited with his family in Allah’s everlasting kingdom of Jannah.
The laughing cry of the hyena sounded again, and Abdul stopped. His golden eyes scanned the swell of dunes and the valleys between. He had heard somewhere before that the ghoul often took the shape of a hyena.
Just then, out of the clear sky, lightning flared and struck the sand before him. The sound of thunder rolled through the heavens, rippling and crackling. Abdul shivered. He knew the power of Jahannam when he felt it, and now he felt it.
Evil was afoot. The sand before him, where the lightning had struck, crystallized into glass and shimmered in the silver light of the moon. The light within the glass eddied and whorled, and as it did the sound of crying drifted up from it.
Despite the cold of the night, Abdul Lateef shivered. His dark hair prickled and he felt a drop of sweat twist through his short beard. The crying increased, and he gripped at his scimitar. He knew the sound of the crying: it was Luqman’s.
“Abdul,” he heard Wabuj say behind him.
Abdul spun, his scimitar coming out of his belt with a hiss. There was no one there, just the glimmering desert sand. Off in the distance the lights of his hometown glimmered in the night.
“Abdul,” the voice called again. Again it was behind him, mingling with the crying of his infant son.
Abdul spun and there she stood, his wife.
Wabuj looked as lovely as the morning of her death. Her long black hair nearly glowed in the light of the full moon. Her caramel skin so vivid that he almost felt he could smell her favorite jasmine oil wafting toward him, as if carried on the cries of their son.
What cries? Abdul thought. Hadn’t there been crying before? He was certain there had been, but now it was gone. But he could remember the crying. All he could think about was his wife, naked as the night they’d wed, holding their infant son to her breast where he fed.
“Abdul Lateef,” Wabuj said, a smile curving her generous brown lips. “What are you doing in the desert at night?”
“I came to avenge you.” His voice heavy with unshed tears.
“But why are you avenging me?” She asked. “From what? I am here, you silly man.”
“But you aren’t,” he told her. “You’re dead. The jinni killed you, that witch-woman, that ghoul from Jahannam.”
“There’s no such thing as ghouls,” Wabuj told him, and she chuckled.
“But there is,” he said. “She came in the night, out of the desert and stole you from me.”
Wabuj came closer to him, the scent of jasmine oil rising higher in the night, intoxicating him with its fragrance with the promise of her warm flesh.
“Come to me, Abdul,” she said. Luqman whimpered in her arms. “We are cold. Won’t you warm us?”
“You’re not real,” he whispered, closing his eyes against the vision of his wife and his child. He knew he’d heard the laughing of the hyena before, and the crying. But now there was nothing in the night with him but his wife and his child. He couldn’t even feel the power of Jahannam like he had before, when the lightning struck.
His eyes fluttered open, and he scanned the ground, looking for where the lightning had met the sand but that, too, was gone.
“Whatever it is,” she said, “you’ve imagined it all.”
“But I didn’t,” he told her. But had he? There was no laughter now, and the only trace of a crying child was the cold whimper of his son.
“Just warm us for a while, and then we will head home,” Wabuj told him.
“But I’ve burned our home,” he said.
“It matters not, my love,” she said. “Just hold me.”
She inched closer, and as she did, the scimitar slipped from Abdul’s grasp to thud into the sand.
Abdul opened his jacket, welcoming into his embrace the soft, warm flesh of his wife. He cradled her in his arms, feeling the squirm of his infant child, Luqman, against his breast.
“That’s better,” she cooed.
He kissed her jasmine hair. Wabuj tilted her head back, and he looked into her brown eyes moments before her supple lips closed around his. He pulled her tighter, kissing her deeply. When they parted, she nuzzled back into his chest.
Her lips whispered against his neck. His flesh prickled, grew taught, and broke out with goose flesh.
As her teeth tore into his throat, the wailing laugh of a hyena could be heard echoing off the dunes.