All the others were asleep. She was lying on her back on top of the thin blanket her hands crossed over her chest. It had become a habit to sleep this way since the change. Suddenly her eyes popped open. She sat up. The light of the moon shone in so she was able to see herself in the cracked and somewhat smudgy mirror. Her skin was darker than before and her eyes had a yellowish gleam surrounding the green irises. A dark figure wafted past her door and down the hallway leaving just a slight scent of lavender in its wake. Zoya got up and followed. On the first floor the shadowy form seemed to fade into the house. So she continued on by herself out the door.
She walked with a limp. Somehow she couldn’t remember how that had started. But there it was – a part of her now. There was no pain, just the limp.
Once outside she sniffed the air warm, salty air. And that’s when it hit her – the reason she had woken up – the smell and the powerful desire inside her to find its source.
The beach house was located on a narrow, winding dirt road. Zoya limped up the road and turned east toward the village. Her right foot dragged a little behind her. The clomping of her left foot compensating for the right and the gravelly sound of dirt scratching under her right foot woke up a pair of monkeys who chirped at her. They scolded her loudly for being out in the middle of the night. She stopped briefly and looked up at them, her nose crinkling, assessing them carefully. But they were not her goal. She turned back and kept going.
The village was a series of huts in the dense foliage of the rainforest. It was at the edge of the same line of beach where Zoya’s house, the ramshackle one where she and a group of other students were staying on vacation for a couple of weeks, stood. Palm fronds made crackling sounds in the wind, obscuring but not completely hiding the noise that her feet made. A small dribble of saliva escaped the corner of her mouth as she continued toward the first house. Anticipation caused her to shuffle faster, and the wind was her friend – picking up and rustling the foliage to hide her approach.
The morning sun blasted in, waking Marilu. Reluctantly, she got out of bed, dressed and ate a banana for breakfast. Today was her day to check on the elders. As she walked toward the outskirts of town, her thin sandals crunched over an unusual line in the dirt on the path. Marilu frowned. What had made that rut in the ground? She had never seen an animal do that, or any of the carts that the villagers owned. A few neighbors called out morning greetings to her. She called back as she walked and gave up thinking about it for the moment.
The elders, a married couple that had begotten at least half of the village, had chosen to live out their old age at the edge of the village, as close to isolation as they dared. It wasn’t that they wanted to distance themselves from their family and friends. They simply wanted to be with each other rather than with the others.
Marilu’s first sign that something was wrong was the sharp tang of blood in the air. She was the youngest of the elders’ forty-three grandchildren. Most of the others were either fishermen or were away farming near the city. But she had always wanted more. She had wanted to study nursing and did, indeed, go to the city as a young woman to get her degree. For five years she had worked in the hospital in the city, but had returned home a few months ago and was working in conjunction with the medicine man of the village – her uncle – to care for the aging population of her birthplace.
With a frown on her face she walked faster. The smell got stronger as she got closer to her grandparents house. She ran inside.
Some men who had been working on fixing a donkey cart several yards away from the elders’ house came running at the sound of screaming from that direction. Marilu, her hair wild and her face contorted, was kneeling at the doorway of the elders’ house, her fingers grasping at her face like she wanted to tear it off. Her cries came in waves and it looked like she was about to choke. Her body convulsed. The men called out for help. When some women came to minister to Marilu the men went inside to see what had affected her so badly. Inside, the small one room hut and everything in it was covered with blood. The elders were both lying on the floor. The man had his hands to his throat as if he were choking himself. His stomach had been slashed open and the large intestine glistened in the bright light of the open doorway. The woman was off to the side by the wall lying in a pool of her own blood. She showed no outward sign of injury.
The men stifled their own screams and looked around wildly to see if the killer were still lurking somewhere in the small structure. The only thing they saw besides the massive amounts of blood and the two bodies was a line of diminutive footprints alongside a rut in the dirt by the door. Their own, now bloody too, had almost erased them, but the men stepped gingerly outside again and were able to see the footprint and rut continue around the front and down toward the beach.
Zoya lifted herself out of the wave, spit out salt water, and breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction. She made her way, naked back toward the house. Once inside, despite her limp, she tried to be quiet so as not to wake up the others. But the boy with the light brown buzz cut, having woken early to pee, caught a glimpse of her wet buttocks as she slipped into her room. He started after her and stepped in wetness. He looked down and saw water mixed with a diluted, red substance trickle into a crack in the wood floor. Recoiling hastily, he went to wash the water off his foot.
She sat on the bed mixing blue and yellow oils. Soon Bokor came in, an enigmatic smile on her face, looked affectionately at Zoya and said, “Breakfast is ready dear.”
Zoya looked at her for a second, and then continued painting.
Part three: next week