“Come on! Blow out the flames.”
Cardo’s urgency to sleep was a mystery to Sonia. Her husband often kept her waiting till she was deep in her slumber. What was he up to?
“Tomorrow you have to fetch the midwife. She wanted to see me.”
“Sleep now, Rest.” Cardo denied his wife further conversation.
Sonia did not want an argument so she relented to his wishes.
– o –
The pigs in the sty were uneasy. Except for the mosquitoes that did not cease to bite, the animals sensed something unnatural to happen. Their cries undecipherable, no humans could understand their sounds of alarm.
A giant shadow abruptly blanketed the vicinity as if the evening’s darkness was not enough to conceal what was to take place.
After a few minutes of increased animal noises, silence took over. The cries were no more except for an animal’s heavy breathing outside the pen.
Four small hooves produced the unmistakable scratching sound of running on dry land. There was no soul around but the animal nevertheless made headway towards a house near the shore. On a determined mission, it did not stop to scrounge for food along the way.
– o –
His head fell forward, an indication that he already fell asleep during his watch.
Damn it! He slapped his face repeatedly to let pain remind him why he should not lose his concentration.
Cardo could not see the ceiling. As a precaution, he draped a thin white sheet over his wife’s belly. Anything that touch it would unleash his fury. With a long dagger on his waist, the sharpened bamboo pole was a backup.
He never doubted an attack was imminent.
– o –
From somewhere far away, an owl hooted twice, about half a minute apart. To the superstitious, the signal had been given for a strange occurrence to control reality.
Not to be left out in the event, dogs began to howl one after another. Succeeding in their roles of inducing terror to those awake, even the most courageous would think twice to wander out in the surreal surrounding.
The animal reached the edge of the fence of thorny vines, resting in the shadows while feeling the area for signs of danger. Failure the day earlier directed it to use another strategy.
Under the low bamboo-slat floor, it moved slowly to a halt. A human sound related to a snore hummed above.
– o –
Cardo lit the lantern an hour ago. Placing it on their make-shift altar where the small statue of Virgin Mary stood, the light shone toward the hall leading to the kitchen but it also shed slight illumination in the bedroom.
His snoring episodes were part of the ruse to lull his opponent into believing everyone inside was asleep. He repeated it without regularity to sound more believable.
The dagger left his waist, now held in his more decisive strong right hand. Within reach, if needed, the bamboo pole rested near his feet.
His senses could feel something was about to force him into action.
– o –
Its indistinguishable face looked up between the spaces in the floor. It could smell its target with accuracy.
It opened its mouth, saliva oozing out as if the rabid flavor alone could poison anything it infected. A black tongue stretched out: it slowly lengthened till it resembled a long thick thread. Its tip snaked upwards through the slits in the floor, creating an almost comparable appearance to an innocuous crawling worm.
Once it reached the edge of the blanket on the floor, it tried to go underneath the cloth towards the purpose of its malevolent intention.
– o –
Above, Cardo’s eyes saw the alien creature that came out the floor. It was the real thing, the same abomination that hang itself from the ceiling the day before.
Adrenaline flowed through him, anger and hatred combined for increased strength, he crouched near his wife’s feet like a tiger stalking its prey. He had to be precise to inflict the worst injury to whatever it was.
Dagger in hand, he jumped forward to surprise the slithering evil. With a single slashing strike, he cut a part of the thread on the floor. So hard was the blow that the floor vibrated loudly.
The severed part moved violently like a snake with its head cut off. The movement was so bizarre that Cardo thought that it had a mind of its own.
Encouraged by his small victory, he became bolder. He took the bamboo pole and struck it down the floor, the sharp end piercing through the slats, possibly hitting the creature below that surprisingly lost a part of its body.
Cardo heard a muffled cry though seconds later the scream of a wounded pig replaced the initial sound. His confusion was complete when he saw the animal running away in a strange fashion.
He picked up the severed part of the animal’s body and placed it on his left palm. To make sure it was dead, he crushed it inside his clenched fist. He then wrapped his hand with a towel.
Like a warrior after a combat, he raised the dagger with an outstretched arm and the spoil of his victory in the other, His spirits were too high that he appeared as a crazed fanatic, eyes red with the lack of sleep and lips chanting of pride.
His wife woke up exactly the right minute he stood in front of her. What her eyes saw was not the figure of sanity she called her husband.
– o –
It was a shriek of a woman they never heard before. A distressed call for help that meant only one thing: a grim event was taking place at the instant.
Andres jumped out of his bed. His ears picked up its origin that his feet moved instinctively to usher him out the house as quickly as possible.
After his eyes adjusted to the dark surrounding, he found out he was not alone. Neighbors further away was quicker to arrive They were armed with long knives, wooden clubs, metal pipes and bamboo lances.
“What happened?” Eddie asked him immediately.
“I don’t know,” Andres replied, “I just woke up.”
“Of all the people …” Eddie berated him, “you are the nearest.”
“I was afraid,” Andres said lamely. He was telling the truth.
Quiet murmurings in the crowd outside Cardo’s house failed to connect their common observation before arriving: an indistinct animal, looking more like a pig, skirted away into the shadows. It was in a hurry to disappear from view. Since they were all familiar with loose animals, they never suspected the sighting had any significance whatsoever.
“Cardo! Cardo! Cardo!”
Eddie’s hoarse shouts echoed.
Instead of his worker, the fearful face of a pregnant woman came out of the window. She was so terrified she could not say anything at all.
Before Eddie climbed up the few steps of the wooden stairs, he directed the crowd.
“Encircle the place! You know what to do.”
– o –
It was vulnerable to pain, that was a certainty, as it ran quickly away from the scene. Nothing was in its mind except to seek for cover. No amount of regrets for its error of judgment could correct its blunder. What’s done was done.
Come daytime, its problem would surface. The unraveling of the truth should not happen. Never.
– o –
Eddie and Andres watched Cardo in the bedroom’s corner, where he retreated after his wife screamed. No words came out of him. He stared at his wrapped right hand with the concentration of a sorcerer.
“I thought he was about to kill me,” sobbed Sonia uncontrollably. “He had a dagger in his hand. He stared at me like I was the devil.”
Andres consoled his best friend’s wife, whispering to her that none of what she thought would ever come true. She was the most precious being to Cardo.
Eddie, on the other hand, surveyed the area. When he noticed the sharpened bamboo, he recognized it immediately. Slowly, the clue to Cardo’s recent behavior pointed only to one thing: it’s back!
“How many pregnant women are there in the village?” he asked Andres.
“I believe I am the only one,” replied Sonia, a bit composed after considering Andres’ whispers. “Maria gave birth to her second child a week ago.”
“Take her to my house,” Eddie ordered Andres, “Tell Martha I will explain later. Ask the others to accompany you two. Tell them not to leave until Cardo and I arrive. Do you understand?”
Andres was about to protest but he saw something on Eddie’s face that what he ordered was the best for all concerned.
(to be continued)