Art by Jojo Chansiri
AMULET ON THE ISLAND OF ISAN
Artem preferred to think that the amulet he had stolen from the Wise Woman of Isan was only borrowed since he planned on returning it, though he was not exactly sure when. With the help of the witch’s hair amulet in his pocket, he wasn’t sure how, but he was certain that with a little luck he could make the islanders like him.
It was easy to understand why they avoided him. He never offered to help when he was needed, never pitched in—not even to carry an injured islander to the healer’s shack. On this day, while everyone else was still clearing debris from the violent hurricane a week earlier that had devastated the island, sending trees flying, destroying dwellings, smashing cars, killing and injuring islanders, Artem was out walking along the beach.
He was not sure why but he walked several miles further than usual. Finally, up ahead, he saw something unfamiliar on the shore. Only when he was up close did he realize he was looking at a large battered suitcase that had probably fallen off a ship during the hurricane. He pried open the lock. When he looked inside he thought he was dreaming. Inside were gemstones! More gemstones than he could ever have imagined. Laughing, he thrust his hands into the suitcase, letting the precious stones wash over them. Amethysts, sapphires, opals, turquoise, jade, pearls, emeralds, amber, topaz, rubies, and other gems he could not name. Artem was sure that thanks to the amulet the islanders would at the very least begin to like him for sharing his precious find. Filling his pouch with as many gemstones as he could, he ran faster than he ever thought possible back to the village.
In the village square, excited, he shouted to everyone about the gemstones and emptied his pouch on the hardpacked earth. The others stopped their cleanup and although they were skeptical, came over to look. We could’ve used an extra pair of hands, one of the men said, hoping to make him feel guilty. But Artem was too engrossed in the precious stones to hear him. Only when the islander who knew about gemstones confirmed that they were real did the others begin to think that maybe Artem was not so bad after all.
Following him, a crowd ran towards the shore to find the suitcase and take it back to the village. After walking for some time, a few who could not keep up with the others stayed behind. At last Artem stopped and looked around. He was almost sure the suitcase had been in that spot. Maybe it’s further on, he said. Breathing hard in the dry heat, they continued along the shore, but Artem shook his head and said he had not walked as far as the Dragon Blood Tree which he remembered seeing in the distance. Is this some kind of joke? one of the angry islanders asked. Artem was understandably flustered.
Turning to face them, he said, It was here! I swear it was here!
The others said, We should have known!
Shamefaced, Artem headed back to the village with the crowd, trying not to hear their angry voices. We walked this far for nothing! one of the islanders said. All for nothing! the others chimed in. The angriest among them called him names.
Upon their arrival, the Wise Woman of Isan who had been waiting in the village square showed Artem the amulet he thought he had carried with him. That can’t be it, he said to her, thrusting his hand in his pocket. It was empty. As empty as the shore had been. Where is the suitcase? he asked. What suitcase? she replied. Even the gemstones he had left in the village square were gone.
AMULET ON THE ISLAND OF SELABI
The ruler on the island of Selabi was short, though he considered himself tall and trim, even handsome, which made his followers laugh behind his back. The ruler also considered himself whimsical. One of his favorite whims—as he called them—had been to spread the rumor throughout the island that something had poisoned the drinking water. Of course, the ruler did not spread the rumor himself. That was done by his followers. Were there solvents in the water? Pesticides? Bacteria? Viruses? Arsenic? the islanders asked. In truth, the drinking water was fine, which they found out after it was tested by an expert.
Clearly, the ruler’s whims were not whimsical.
His followers, lacking the ability to think for themselves and afraid to disobey, did whatever he wanted. The ruler was particularly irked by the dissidents and entrusted his followers with the task of throwing them to their deaths from the highest cliff. But no matter how many dissidents were disposed of in this manner, their numbers continued to grow. Every day the ruler lost a few followers who had finally summoned the courage to join the ranks of the dissidents. To the ruler, everyone looked alike so he was unable to identify the renegades and punish them.
At last, fearing for his life, the ruler asked his daughter, the High Priestess, for an amulet to protect him. She was not eager to help. You wouldn’t need an amulet, she said, if you treated the islanders with respect. But she knew her father would not listen. Reluctantly—because he was her father—she gave him a small oblong amulet which looked like a common gray stone.
The husband of the High Priestess was furious when she told him but he kept his rage to himself. Unbeknownst to the ruler and his daughter, her husband was a leading dissident who had powers of his own that could equal and even surpass the powers of the High Priestess if his rage was great enough.
On Selabi, it was customary for the couple to live in a smaller but stately residence on the grounds of the large, ornate, and tasteless palace of the ruler who surrounded himself with as many accoutrements of wealth as he could get his hands on. One night the husband stole into the ruler’s palace and made his way into the 24-karat-gold and marble bedroom. Feeling invincible, the ruler had nonchalantly left the amulet on his dresser before going to bed. As soon as the husband saw it, he knew that his rage would make jinxing his wife’s amulet easy. He had only to spit on it, releasing a poison of his own, and utter a few magical words which, of course, he did.
Next day, the ruler, turning the amulet over in his hands, marveled at this humble object with the power to save him from all harm. On one of his whims, he ordered his remaining followers to throw him off the highest cliff. A few of them had tears in their eyes—a surprise even to them.
AMULET ON THE ISLAND OF BUSAM
The boy was the only passenger on the boat to the island of Busam. No one from the island of Neobor, where he lived, had ever traveled to Busam. The boy wanted to be the first. As the boat approached a sliver of beach, he saw gleaming skyscrapers of steel, concrete, and glass, rise to great heights on the edge of a mile-high vertical cliff. On the way up in the narrow glass-floored elevator carrying him to the town, he saw whimsical houses over the sea cling to the steep rock wall.
Cold stares of islanders on broad streets of smooth stone made it clear he was not welcome but he did not care. One street in particular aroused his curiosity when three men blocked him from passing. After some deliberation, the three men decided that this scrawny boy would pose no threat, so they allowed him to continue on his way, even though they knew he would come to the vast mine they kept secret, from which they extracted a rare and valuable ore. On second thought, to play it safe, one of the men, the spell-maker of Busam, removed from the deep pocket of his robe, full of amulets, a small dinosaur bone that would induce forgetfulness in the boy—but this forgetfulness would not be ordinary forgetfulness.
Finally overwhelmed by the sights of Busam, the boy returned to the boat, eager to go home. But by the time he landed, he had forgotten everything he had seen. Excitedly, he described Busam as if it were Neobor, with a jumble of rickety tin-roofed shacks on uneven dirt streets so narrow he had to flatten himself against the walls of the dwellings to let anyone pass. Politely listening, the Neoborians wondered if Busam could possibly be that much like Neobor. Had he even been on Busam? Of course, had he been able, he would have told the Neoborians all about Busam but, of course, the spell-maker made sure he would not.
Spring / Summer 2023
Roberta Allen is the author of nine books, including three story collections, a novel, a novella, and a memoir. Her short fiction last appeared in the latest issue of Epoch and has previously appeared in Conjunctions, BOMB, the Brooklyn Rail, and Guernica, among many other journals. She is also a conceptual artist in the collections of the Met Museum and MoMA. Her art papers were recently acquired by the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
My name is Jojo Chansiri. I am a 16 year old Thai boy from Roi Et. I attended a Thai public school but never passed Mathayom 6. I taught myself about Roland Barthes and William Eggleston. I currently live in Hat Yai, Thailand. Thank you.