What a thrill to have Shahd Thani be back with us with a short horror story pertaining to one of the most common legends within the Emirati Community. We hope you enjoy her story titled “The Legend of Um Al Duwais”
The darkness was giving way to light and a lone figure walked across the shore. It was eerily silent as he made his way to the mosque.
He often heard early morning birds but today was not like any other day. He felt a fear thrumming in his blood.
It was just a woman walking before, he thought. The wind picked up and he caught a glimpse of a white calf and long black tresses before she quickly covered herself. The wind carried her scent, almost intoxicating him, but he turned away so as not to embarrass her. He had been raised well after all.
The scent of her filled him, familiar and otherworldly, making him feel an overwhelming need to turn back and talk to her. He hurried away as the call to Fajr prayer began. He could almost swear that her gaze burned the back of his neck. His feet were heavy as he walked away from her.
He found himself searching for her as he walked the same path during the day. Sometimes during the twilight hours, he would catch a glimpse of her like the haziest of memories, an almost forgotten dream.
He had taken to waking up earlier for Fajr prayers beating the sleepy tendrils of sunlight.
It began with exchanged “Salaam Alaykums”. He had the sense of a mischievous glint in her eye and the curve of a smile behind veils and shadows.
The next time he saw her, he heard her laugh at something he said. It was the most melodic sound he ever heart. It made his chest lighten and tighten at the same time.
“Why haven’t I ever seen you before this?” He asked her once.
“But I saw you” She whispered “all the time”
All his conversations with her were cryptic. Her answers left him with more questions but he couldn’t help asking. It was the way she lifted one shoulder nonchalantly instead of continuing sentences.
She entwined herself into his waking and sleeping thoughts. Some nights he could almost swear that he awoke to the smell of her, warm musk on skin, and he could almost feel her fingers in his hair. He heard the sound of her humming lulling him back to sleep.
His friends often told him love was a madness better left alone. He felt maddened and consumed.
It went on for some time. There were chance meetings and longer conversations where he tried to unearth the heart of her but whenever he left, he felt eviscerated, like his heart was physically in her hands.
His mother began to notice how listless he had become and finally sat him down.
“Son, you need to get married” she said. “I’ve found just the right girl for you. Her name is Wadha. She’s the daughter of our neighbors.”
Before he could wave her away, he heard the sound of cloven hooves and the candles flickered before blowing out.
“I don’t want to get married” He said.
Then there was silence and he stood up to light the candles. He promised his mother he would fix that window that let in all that gust of wind. As he got up to look out the window, he heard the sound of a knife being sharpened and the cloven hooves getting farther.
All night, he had the sensation of sleeping on a boat and being rocked to sleep. He heard humming and felt long digits massaging his hair.
When he woke up, the house was shrouded in sadness and his mother was crying as she was leaving the house.
“She went to sleep and never woke up” She sobbed “inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon”
“Wadha. May she rest in peace. She was such a solace to her parents. She was like the daughter I never had.” His mother dissolved into tears.
He held her in his arms comfortingly. There was something there. He just couldn’t put his fingers on it. He felt foggy, disoriented, and in the midst of tragedy all he wanted to do was see her.
The nights after that he could not sleep. When he would go out into the sea to fish, he would hear her siren song calling him back to shore.
He heard her hum when he was with his friends walking through dark alleys. Sometimes out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw her.
“I’ve been looking for you for days” he said when he saw her late that night.
She shrugged a shoulder at him, but he could see exhaustion weighing on her. There were lines in her face he had never seen before around her mouth.
He reached to lift her chin to see her better but her eyes flashed in rage. It took a moment for her to control herself and turn away letting shadows veil her.
“Everything has a price.” She told him sorrowfully. The pain in her voice shook the fear away from him. He almost reached for her needing to hold her and take it all away.
She kept very still and he remembered that he should keep a respectful distance.
“You’re so beautiful you make my heart hurt” He told her despite himself
“I wasn’t always this way” She said, “Moon light becomes me, perhaps.”
She kept to the shadows. He had the sense that she didn’t want him to see how tired she was.
“I don’t even know your name.” He said
“I no longer need one” but her words were a tired whisper and she kept herself away from him with a visible effort.
“Can I walk you home?” He asked worrying over how fragile she was.
“I can take care of myself” She smiled
He dreamt of her that night. He dreamt that they were married. They were ones that left him both sated and hungry. He could still smell her, the warm musk, that made him foggy.
He had missed the Fajr prayers but when he woke up he found a long black hair on his bedspread.
He felt weak and feverish.
His mother came to him after the Maghrib prayers carrying a Midkhan.
“I read Quraan into this alum” She said “I’m so worried about you. You’re not acting like your usual self. I think it must be an evil eye.”
He didn’t really believe in what she said, but he took it just to please her. The alum burned fast and bubbling. It surged towards his face then blew out.
“The coals died” He told her, disturbed, as he brushed the ashes off his clothes.
His mother’s face was pale and he leaned over to kiss her cheek before going back to the sanctuary of his bedspread. His body felt heavy, sinking deeper, into the ground. He had a pounding headache and he thought he would rather go deeper in dreams where she resided than face reality.
He woke up a few times a night to his mother standing in the doorway reciting Quran and instead of the humming he had gotten used to, he heard frustrated screams.
He felt energized during the night and woke up to find her. She was standing by the shore watching the waves lap at the sea. Her hair was loose and billowed in the wind. It covered her face.
“Why can’t I see you during the day?” He asked.
“Its safer this way.”
“I just want to know where you live.”
She shrugged but turned to him smiling. Her lips were full like a rose before it blossomed and too red as if she had eaten something spicy.
She was always new to him every time he saw her. There was always an aspect to her to discover.
“What’s your name?’ he asked
“I’m Ahmad’s lover and I live in his heart.” she laughed.
Her eyes met his. They were amber and doe-eyed. When she got angry, a fire burned within them.
“I never told you my name.”
“My Ahmad, I always knew you” She said, her voice was husky, almost rusty, as if she had just woken up from bed.
The possessive note in her voice warmed him.
“I want to know everything about you” He said.
Before he knew it, she had gone into the water with her Abaya and was splashing him.
“Its not good to swim in the dark.” Ahmad warned her “Say Bismellah”
She laughed and it echoed around him. He could feel her laughter against his ear but she kept going farther into the water, splashing him.
When he finally coaxed her out, she was trembling and he drew her into the circle of his arms. He tried to get a closer look at her face, but she dug her nails into his arm. Her eyes burned a hell fire.
She tore out of the circle of his arms and left him shivering. His arm bled but he didn’t feel it.
His arm bled for days and nothing he or his mother used to medicate it helped.
He had his arm wrapped in gauze but every now and then, the bleeding would begin again.
Ahmad was watching the shore when her shadow fell upon him. His heart pounded in fear, but her touch was gentle as she unwrapped the gauze and pressed her lips to the open wound.
The wounds closed up and she didn’t speak, but as she turned her face away from him, he saw a single tear run down her cheek and she wiped it away furiously.
Hadn’t they always said that from love’s source came destruction? The old crone had told her that if she chose this path, there would be a price.
She told her it would be worth it.
“What is it that you want?” the crone asked.
“I want to be irresistible to men. I want to be so beautiful it makes them cry with want.”
“You will have eternal beauty, a siren’s call, and you will have your heart’s desire” The crone told her “but watch that you don’t break your own heart.”
“How can I when I will be busy breaking other’s hearts?”
The crone gave her the potion of mermaid’s venom and she drank it down in one gulp.
“You never asked the price. ” the crone said
She was dying.
Her soul was flitting away from her.
It was gold and radiant.
It plunged back into her.
Black and syrupy.
When she came back to herself, she could hear the hearts of the men in the village. The pounded blood and she knew then the price the crone had talked about, she was hungry for souls. She had donkey hooves and a pair of sickles for hands.
She cried as she realized that she could inadvertently kill the one person she had desired the most.
She saw him in her mind’s eye as she sobbed.
She used to watch him as he made his way to the mosque. It was always only a few moments after the call to prayers began. He had consumed her without ever being aware of her. Ahmad. Her Ahmad
His kandoora rippled with the muscles underneath. He had tanned skin and perfect white teeth. It was his smile that held her. Smiles that were not meant for her.
She couldn’t sleep for the want of him.
That was before. It was when she knew how sunlight felt on her skin.
Now she only knew darkness, the curse she lived in, and him.
She had refrained from taking any souls since it happened. Every time she saw him, she could feel the brightness of his soul intoxicating her.
He was so heartbreakingly beautiful and innocent yet still she questioned his intentions.
She hated the women who had their eyes upon him. The girl next door who cleaned house for Ahmad’s mother and kept her company. As if she couldn’t see through a ploy to get married to her Ahmad.
Nobody could have what belonged to her.
She had come close to killing him when he tried to hold her. His scent had made her dizzy.
She was so hungry and getting weaker day by day but still she persevered.
He’s so young, so innocent, but he kept trying to see her face. She couldn’t let him see her age.
She preferred that he think he shrouded in mystery but worthy of love.
Of course she was worthy.
If he only knew how many times she came close to tugging his soul like a thread of a garment just to watch him unravel in her arms.
She wasn’t evil. She just hated the idea that he might belong to anyone but her.
There were only a few more hours till dawn came crawling determinedly. When she kissed his wounds, the scent of him was dizzying. He smelled of sunlight, innocence, and freshly washed cotton. He smelled of home.
She cried then and he held her against his heart.
His beating heart.
He was so alive.
She would just lean her head against him, she told herself.
His arms came around her.
She kissed him then, wildly, as he shriveled in her arms.
She was so hungry for him.
The taste of him.
She sucked his soul until she saw him age as she had.
She could see her reflection in his eyes. She was breathtakingly beautiful and yet she was numb. It meant nothing. He smiled slightly before the light in his eyes went out.
She screamed so loudly she lost her voice. There would be no more humming, no more singing, all her melodies had been for him.
She roamed the earth killing men but never found satisfaction. She hunted the sinners whose souls were black like hers.
Author: Shahd Thani,