There was definitely a commotion outside. The notion made her doubly nervous. Not only it was in the middle of the night, the oncoming noise, a crowd she guessed, were getting louder.
Old Victoria tried to adjust her failing vision in the darkness: she could be considered blind at night. Her legs reached the floor after a painful exertion to rise from the bed.
She was now sure. They were in front of her shack. The brightness outside from their lanterns seeped through the holes in the walls; it helped her negotiate the dark spaces to the door.
“Good evening,” Andres addressed her politely as she appeared, covering her face and a bit confused with the unusual visit.
Old Victoria wanted to reply but unable to. Her tongue still hurt.
Before coming over, Andres had already prepared his plan: all he needed to hear was a single word from her to remove her as their prime suspect. When she kept mum, he, along with the crowd stared at one another. They began to conclude it was her.
If the mob rule was to take over, the old woman would be clubbed to death without a trial. But Andres raised his hand to prevent any violence taking place. He could inspect the woman’s tongue as he suggested to Eddie and Cardo. He knew Old Victoria would not mind, if ever she was not who they looked for.
“You can’t speak?” he asked. “Why?”
The Hag nodded. She pointed to her mouth and opened it.
Andres took the opportunity and immediately approached her. What he saw convinced him that they were too harsh to pin the blame on the old woman: her tongue was still swollen but intact.
Before he could announce the revelation, a farmer from the outskirts of the village came rushing toward them. His face was ashen as if he saw a ghost. Almost breathless, his information could be vital to their search.
“Andres, I found a body!”
“What body? Where?”
“Come! Take a look! I think she is still alive!”
“Let’s go!” The crowd chanted. They saw Andres shook his head which meant The Hag was innocent.
Andres let the others go ahead. He needed to apologize to the old woman. It was the least he could do.
“I am sorry to have woken you up. I’ll come back tomorrow with some food.”
Old Victoria could not hold back her tears. She did not know what was going on but at least she got some attention, a pleasant one this time.
She nodded vigorously. She discovered how to smile.
– o –
Eddie saw his wife going out of their room, silently but walking briskly toward the comfort room behind the kitchen. He wished to confront her but Cardo prevented him by holding his arm when he tried to rise from the chair.
“Don’t,” Cardo warned. “Let her be. You don’t want more arguments. Leave the ‘peaceful’ settlement tomorrow.”
“I just want clarifications,” Eddie could not remove his eyes away from where his wife went. He was fighting the urge to get over there and clear things out.
“I know,” Cardo agreed. “Help me now. I promise I will do the same with you two.
There was a knock on the wall beside them. One of the guards outside wanted to get their attention quickly.
“What is it?” Eddie asked from a window.
“Andres sent a guy to ask for you. He said it’s urgent that you go there.”
“I am not sure. Follow him,” the guard pointed to the young messenger.
– o –
By now, Eddie would be on the way. Half an hour has passed since he sent one of the youngsters to fetch their leader.
Andres was mystified. His eyes could be playing strange illusions with his mind.. All the events the past few days could not be compared with anything from recent memory.
He personally took care of the body, covering it with the clothes that was left on the scene. One of the men took his raincoat off for additional protection to the woman’s almost naked body.
She was unconscious. Blood on her lacerations and deep scratches had dried up. Andres could conclude that she fought hard against someone stronger.
Only Eddie could decide what to do. Only he has authority what to do with her.
– o –
Cardo wished he could patch up Eddie and Martha’s marital tiff. He owed him, her, a lot for giving him and his wife a safe place to stay.
He looked out the window and thought out the events before all the mysterious happenings took place. Simple lives were everywhere. Little quarrels here and there were few but overall the village survived without any major incidents that could be considered life threatening to its people..
Cardo turned his head back when he noticed Martha came in from the kitchen. Without Eddie, he could initiate the talk with her. He could explain why her husband acted the way he did.
“Martha, can I talk to you?”
She stopped in front of the room where Sonia were, her bowed head remained, most probably due to her shame she endured earlier. She did not turn back.
Cardo approached her from the back.
“It’s Eddie,” Cardo began, “He …”
He had not finished his words when he felt the pain in his forehead. A hard object struck him with such force he fell down instantly.
Before he lost his vision, he saw Martha above him, holding a 2×2-inch hard wood, smaller the length of a baseball bat.
He heard himself asked, “Why?”
– o –
“Who is she?”
Eddie’s hair was drenched, perspiration dripped down his face. He had the quickest run in his life. Although his bulging belly was a liability, there was no stopping him coming fast.
“You won’t believe it!” Andres could not say the name.
Eddie did not plan to play the game of Guess Who. He walked toward the body and took out the cover to see the face. His reaction was no different to Andres.
“My God! This could not be!”
“Except for the farmer who found her, I was the only one who moved her. I told the others to keep their distance. Farther away. I thought …”
Eddie knelt beside the body. His instincts directed him to open her mouth.
“Fetch an ambulance! She needed assistance. Quick!”
Andres did as he was told. He commandeered someone’s motorcycle and drove as fast as he could.
Eddie sobbed like a child. No one came over to console him. They noticed him in the process of a breakdown. He could not entertain anyone without being violent. No one wanted to get hurt.
– o –
The door opened slightly.
Sonia was half asleep. She was resting while waiting for the next contraction to happen. When she heard the door opening, she hoped her husband would stay for the duration.
It was not him.
“Oh, it’s you!” Sonia was not surprise to see Martha came. Women understood one another better.
Martha looked around the room. Her nonchalant behavior did not register as odd to Sonia.
“Where is Cardo?” she inquired, smiling at her to illicit a similar reaction.
Martha came forward as if she heard nothing. She eyed Sonia with an unfriendly stare.
“You don’t look good,” Sonia commented nervously. Her right hand reached for something under the blanket.
Without warning, Martha jumped on the bed, her hands targeting Sonia’s neck. She maniacally pressed harder to give Sonia the sleeper hold.
– o –
The aging doctor took off his surgical mask upon seeing Eddie rushing over.
“She is out of danger. Her wounds are superficial. No broken bones. A lot of bruises all over her body. All in all, she needs a week’s rest. She can leave tomorrow afternoon.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I am relieved.”
Andres smiled after overhearing the good news.
“I asked two of my neighbors to stand guard.”
“Aren’t you staying?” Andres could not understand Eddie’s decision.
“Cardo needs us.”
– o –
Cardo’s consciousness came back. He palmed the spot on his head that took the blow. It slightly bled. Fortunately, not one of the sharp edges of the wood struck him.
He did not know why Martha did it but he had to find out.
Where is she?
Suddenly, he heard loud screams inside Sonia’s room.
Oh, God! It was her voice, gurgling as if she had difficulty breathing.
Cardo turned the knob but it was locked. He did it repeatedly but it would not budge.
The screaming went on.
With all his strength he used his shoulder to ram the door open. After the third time the lock broke, the door swung open.
Cardo was stunned at what he saw. Martha was atop Sonia on the bed. The struggle ended with a loss of life.
He rushed to his wife and saw her bloodied. She wept silently under the weight of the presumably dead body of Martha.
“She attacked me,” Sonia related in a scared voice. “She wanted my baby. I won’t give her my baby.”
“Ssssh! Calm down. Don’t worry.”
Cardo was grateful Sonia and the baby was all right. However, his problem was how to explain to Eddie what became of his wife. It could be the end of their friendship.
He pulled down Martha’s body to the floor. He was surprised to see his dagger pierced the woman’s chest, the blade struck the heart.
“You took it?” he looked up to Sonia, who nodded.
With a blanket, he wrapped the corpse and hauled it out of the room. Cardo did not want it discovered inside the house.
“I will be quick. I’ll let the guard downstairs to take the body outside.”
Sonia wiped the blood on her dress. The sight of it prolonged her trauma and the resulting perceived guilt.
– o –
On the way back home, Eddie and Andres were both nervous. They pitied Cardo’s predicament, hoping he did not run out of luck when it came to gut instinct.
“Drive faster!” he shouted on Andres right ear. His urgency could not be contained.
Andres responded by accelerating until the machine groaned to reach its maximum speed that would not lead to crashing.
In a few more minutes, they would be home. What they would witness could be a scene no one wished to see.
– o –
Cardo went back to his wife; she had calmed down a bit to provide answers to his inquiries.
“What really happened?”
“After she came in, I thought we would have the same small talk we had yesterday. She looked different.”
“What do you mean ‘different’?
“She did not talk. She kept nodding or just shaking her head.”
“She did the same silent treatment with Eddie hours ago.”
“Then, she jumped on the bed atop me. I was so frightened.”
“She choked me. I screamed.”
Sonia paused, still feeling the maniacal hold she endured.
“She was too strong. I had only one thing in mind, fight back.”
Sonia cried once more. Cardo embraced her.
“I did not mean to kill her. Wounding her to stop, yes. But, to kill her, I …”
“You do not need to feel guilty. You did the right thing!” Cardo would support his wife’s story. Even if she faced the court of law, he would fight to prove she acted in self-defense.
“I do not know what to say to Eddie. He is very kind to me.”
“Don’t think about it. Rest.”
A muffled call from the outside disturbed Cardo’s thoughts. It was probably Eddie and the others.
“I’m coming back,” he reassured her. “Everything will be all right.”
When he opened the door, Eddie’s stern face confronted him.
“How is she?”
“Who?” Cardo got confused with Eddie’s query.
“She’s okay,” Cardo recovered and added, “Eddie, I need to talk to you about your wife.”
“Let’s go downstairs.”
Eddie turned around and walked away. Cardo followed him with a heavy heart.
When they reached the front door, Eddie stopped. He turned to Cardo before opening the door.
“Eddie, your wife is …”
“in the hospital.” Eddie finished, walking toward the corpse.
“What are you talking about?” Cardo stammered. “She’s there.” He could not say the word ‘dead.’
“Come and take a look.”
Andres helped Eddie unwrapped the covering Cardo himself did.
There was discoloration in the features. Slowly, it mysteriously began to show a different person.
Eddie opened the dead’s mouth. They all saw that its tongue had been severed, its tip missing.
“Yes,” Eddie confirmed the unspoken realization Cardo showed in his much relieved face.
“She was not herself,” Eddie continued. “I was so dumb I did not realize it earlier.”
“She fooled all of us. She hit me with a wooden club and I still did not suspect she was not your wife.”
“I courted her before I married Martha,” Eddie confessed, gradually seeing the woman’s real image. “She and my wife did not get along. She chose the perfect person to copy.”
“What do we do with the body?” Andres, who was quietly listening. He asked the most important question.
The crowd milled around the corpse. They also want to witness its permanent demise.
“We burn it!” Eddie yelled.
All present affirmed the verdict. Unanimously, they believed it was the only way to prevent the body from ever coming back.
Cardo closed his eyes and raise his head to the heavens.
When he opened them back, he addressed everyone.
“I will be a father!”