“Will you open your hand?”
Cardo’s mind seemed to have been frozen in time. Even after a forced sleep and a lot of requests for him to eat, he continued to hold on to the evidence.
Eddie had not surrendered asking the question. In fact, he devised a plan to wake Cardo up from his self-imposed silence.
His wife, Martha, secured Sonia in the bedroom, disallowing her to watch her husband in some state of mental limbo.
“How is she?”
“Crying, of course,” Martha confessed, giving her better half a pained look. “I think you should try harder to bring Cardo back to normalcy.”
“I need more time,” Eddie explained. “He needs more time.”
“Remember ‘it’ is still on the loose. Sonia will never be safe until it is caught.”
Eddie motioned his wife to go back to Sonia. He did not need to be reminded of what he and the others should do.
Andres came in to fill him in on recent news in the village.
“People are scared. You should see how empty the square is.”
Cardo groaned. He finally broke his silence.
“I cut off its tongue!”
Eddie and Andres looked at each other. Cardo’s first words were not only a sign of his recovery but a clue to whatever they needed to look for.
Cardo picked himself up and approached them. He opened his closed hand. What appeared a thick thread yesterday was now a severed tip of a human tongue. It was in the middle of a cake of dried blood.
– o –
Old Victoria could not utter a word. In one those extra-ordinary instances she found herself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Her current affliction was brought about by a rogue bee that eventually stung her tongue while she cleared dry leaves from her front yard. The swelling disabled her capacity to talk: the pain was excruciating.
She wanted to ask her landlady for some ointment but she never got far because the spinster motioned her from the second-floor window: no disturbance from anyone. That included her, naturally.
The drug salesman, who passed by a minute earlier was coughing loudly, covering his mouth with a surgical mask usually used to protect one from air pollution. He, too, evaded the house after he finished his business with her landlady.
There were others she saw nearby but she was more afraid of their usual taunting than the rejection she would certainly get if ever she asked for their assistance.
Old Victoria decided to go back inside her shack and waited for the swelling to subside. Calling someone’s attention to her plight would be useless. She was a reject.
– o –
“We should check everyone’s tongue,” suggested Andres after talking things over with Eddie and Cardo.
“We could tip ‘it’ off if we do such an inspection,” Eddie pointed out.
Cardo nodded. Deep in thought, he was mulling a different approach to find their target.
“It will be back. We wait.”
– o –
She writhed in pain for most part of the early morning. Her idea of supernatural abilities did not include defeat from a mere mortal, especially after incurring injury. It was a fluke of a defense she did not consider at all.
What consoled her was the quicker healing process even though the loss of her speech was unfortunately a permanent condition. She had to accept the reality that she would be a mute for a long time.
The hunger was insatiable. Her success would subtract years from her age. No amount of beauty products could accomplish that. Only the blood of an infant could provide her with eternal youth.
Old Victoria was a fool. When they were presented with the gift she accepted it instantly while Victoria vehemently objected to it. Now, she was a hag and she deserved it.
She had to get what she needed before the child came out from the womb. Otherwise the infant blood would lose its magic to prolong her youth.
Tonight would be her last chance. Failure to do so might as well be her death. There was only a short period given her to complete the ritual. That window of opportunity would be shut off if she failed.
She would be prepared for the added risks. The people would wait for her attack but she had the powers no one possessed. She had the advantage.
Two hours before dark, she had to come up with an idea. Moving out the house undetected would not be a problem. She could exit from the backyard through the forested area in her property. No one would miss her departure.
– o –
Martha went to the market to purchase food stuffs. The number of individuals added to her household tripled, with Cardo and Sonia under their protection and some of their neighbors camped outside. Many stayed longer than expected since they, too, remained to form the guard detail.
It was getting dark. She chastised herself for losing hours talking to vendors interviewing her about the rumors.
Eddie would be angry as hell. She would had been cooking supper at this time yet she was still negotiating the lonely road.
She heard the noise much earlier but she did not took it seriously. When she passed a darker portion of the road, where stooping bamboos blocked what was left of the sunset’s rays, her instincts warned her.
A female figure dashed out behind a tall, large shrub and stood still in the middle of the road.
The woman facing her did not show any emotion. She blocked Martha’s path.
Martha was taken aback. She had not seen her for a long time. What was she doing near the bamboo grove?
“What do you want?”
She walked to Martha without guile, moving her hands like a waving a magic wand. Her approach created a distraction which Martha failed to comprehend.
Without any explanation, she lunged at Martha like a lion going for the kill. Her arms ready to encircle Martha’s neck.
But, Martha was a fighter and she would not let her win.
They fell down together near the curb, grappling one another violently, each using combative strength to overcome her opponent into submission.
The battle ended until one lost consciousness.
– o –
“Have you seen my dagger?” Cardo asked Andres, who was busy sharpening one of the bamboos.
“Who could have taken it?” Cardo scratched his head, trying to remember where he last deposited it.
– o –
Eddie stood on the main door overlooking the wooden gate. His hands were on his waist, looking more like an overlord waiting for a slave to fall down before him and beg for dear life.
Put simply: he was pissed.
“Where have you been?”
Martha expected the hot-headed explosion her husband would give her. She had readied her ears for all the loud lectures she would hear upon her arrival. She would not even dare relate her fight with a woman her husband courted years before. That would add fuel to his outburst.
“You know we have a crisis here. Why did you not come home as quickly as possible? You were gone for five hours. Damn it!”
Eddie received no verbal reaction except for a harsh glance that meant only one thing: loathing.
His wife went straight to the kitchen and ignited the charcoal-fired stove. She took the job all by herself, not asking for assistance from any of the men around.
Not one offered help, either. They would not involve themselves in the marital quarrel.
“Ease up, Eddie,” Cardo reminded him. “She is in a lot of stress lately. Perhaps she needed the time to clear up her mind. I understand her completely.”
“Do you?” Eddie asked with a raised eyebrow. The tension around him made him more aggravating.
Cardo tapped him in the back, massaging his shoulder to lessen the burden somewhat.
“All right,” Eddie calmed down. “You’re right. I’ve been hard on her. I don’t know why but she should know better than to waste time in some other place.”
“She’s here. That’s the important thing.”
Eddie nodded after a while. He could not think straight after his wife made the situation more complex by throwing a tantrum in the middle of all the confusion.
Martha locked herself in the bedroom. She was in no mood to socialize after the embarrassment he received from his imperial husband.
An hour later, dinner was served. Martha was still a no show. Andres and Cardo did the serving.
“Pwew!” Eddie spat out the soup. “This tastes like shit!”
Everyone present felt the same way but they kept their silence. Eddie’s bad temper hit its worst level that adding their unfavorable comments about the food could make him a monster. One was enough opponent for the time being.
“She’s really asking for it!”
“Hey!” Cardo needed Eddie against ‘it’ so his problem with his wife had to wait another day. “We have work to do! Listen. I will ask one of the guys to look for food. We eat. Then, we wait.”
– o –
Sonia began to have birth pains. Cardo, by her side, watched her helplessly: he wanted to fetch the midwife but he did not want to leave her alone.
“I’ll ask Andres,” he suggested. “It will be faster.”
“No. Not yet.” Sonia knew it was a false alarm. The contractions were still hours apart.
“I’ll be out for a moment,”Cardo kissed her on the forehead. “No one can harm you. I promise.”
“Don’t worry too much. I can take care of myself.”
– o –
It was so quiet outside Eddie’s house that one could not guess there were hidden pairs separated in strategic locations.
Upstairs, in the main house, it was pitch dark.
“I’ve been wondering,” Andres whispered to Eddie. They shared the living room floor.
“You always daydream,” Eddie retorted, “I do not wonder.”
“Hey, this is serious, man!” Andres felt he was being taken for granted for so long, often seen as a simpleton. “I saw Old Victoria this morning.”
“So?” Eddie sat up immediately. No one said it but there were suspicions leading to the Hag being the attacker. “Tell me!”
“She usually greets me,” Andres narrated, “because I am kind to her. No one talk to her a lot so I make it a point to give her food once in a while.”
“Is this going to be long?” asked Eddie impatiently.
“This morning she didn’t,” Andres continued, not minding Eddie’s sarcasm. “She just closed her mouth as if she did not want to talk.”
“Are you sure?” Eddie tried to think. Stopping ‘it’ could end everything once and for all.
“What’s the matter?” Andres locked on to Eddie’s thought. “You think it’s her?”
“Leave two men here. Go with the rest. Question her. Be sure to check her tongue.”
(to be concluded)