#7 – There Will Be Battle…

            Bokor stood on the beach at the edge of the rain forest   The wind had picked up again as the sun made its way down to other parts of the world.  Palm fronds scratched their nightly song.  Birds and animals chattered noisily – calling to each other for the last time that evening.  She watched as Zoya limped back toward the house, the parcel of paint supplies under her arm.  Suddenly there was a movement to Bokor’s left.  She turned.  Her eyes narrowed as the figure of Ralph came into view. 

            He had been following Zoya.  The dusk of the sunset combined with his unibrow to shade his eyes, making it hard to read the expression on his face.  Bokor glanced at Zoya.  The girl was just at the edge of the path to the house, so the older woman turned back and stepped out into Ralph’s path.

            “How’s that pretty girlfriend of yours, Ralph? Maggie is her name, right?” she said.

            Ralph was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt that showed off the well-toned muscles of his shoulders and back.  His posture was slumped – as if the muscles were not strong enough to hold themselves up.  At the sound of Bokor’s voice, the long, thin fingers of his hands clenched into fists.

            “What’s it to you?” he growled.

            Bokor puffed out her bottom lip.  Her eyes were steely, “Stay away from Zoya, Ralph.  Go back to your little friend.  When your group leaves in two days, Zoya will remain here with me.”

            Ralph’s body expanded as if he had just taken a huge breath.  “What makes you think she wants to stay here?”

            “What do you care?”  Bokor turned to leave.  She felt the air swoosh around her sounding like an airport train coming into the station. Before she could turn her head, Ralph’s hands were around her neck.

            “What have you done to her, Bokor?  It’s you – your fault that she’s changed – that I cannot get my mind off of her.  You have made her… my plans are ruined – you – you witch.”  He squeezed harder.

            Bokor would have laughed if she had been able to breathe in enough air.  She reached around and thrust her hand to the back of his neck.  Ralph howled in pain, let go of her neck and fell backward onto the sand.

            “Don’t mess with me, boy.  Or are you a boy?”

            His brown eyes looked yellow in the twilight.  His right hand covered the area where she had wounded him.  He started to stand up.  His left hand pushed against the ground and he was on his knees.  She kicked sand into his face.

            “I’ll ruin you, Bokor.

She looked at him.  It was dark, for sure, but she could still see pretty clearly.  There should have been blood dripping through his fingers.  He saw the expression on her face, got up quickly and bounded off.

But not before she had caught a glimpse of the wound she had inflicted.  Her mind raced.  She looked down at the little knife that she had used to attack him.  There was no blood – only a few course, grey hairs. 

           

            

#6 – Zoya in Town

            The store was dimly lit.  A short, portly woman bent over the sobbing figure of another woman who was sitting hunched over on a chair by the cash register.  The store’s owner, the portly woman’s husband, was pulling at his moustache.  His hand trembled.

            “You must be wrong, dear.”  Maria rubbed the crying woman’s back.

            “I’m not wrong!” Sofia sat up so quickly that she almost knocked Maria over.  “They are dead.  Not just dead – murdered.  Killed by –”

            “Don’t say it.” The man’s face was pale and more than just his hand was shaking now.  “Leave it alone.  There’s nothing we can do for them now.  Let them go in peace and ignore the rest.”

            His wife turned towards him, furious, “How can you say that Nestor?  We have to do something.  We must call the –”

            “Nestor is right Maria.  I was wrong to come here and tell you.”  Sofia’s slightly hooded, dark brown eyes were puffy and red-rimmed.  “Someone in the village must have done something to displease the gods.  Evil has been unleashed on us.  The only thing we can do now is wait for it to go away.”

            “If we do nothing, we will all be killed.”  The three of them jumped nervously.  Marilu had come in and was standing in front of them.

            “Marilu,” Maria acknowledged the newcomer’s presence.  None of them had heard the bell that was above the front door to announce customers. 

            “Sofia is right.  There is an evil presence in our village.  But she is wrong about ignoring it.  We must fight it.”

            “But we don’t even know what it is or who is behind it.  The elders were the only ones who knew how to deal with this.  And they are… they…”  Sofia started crying again.

            Marilu’s jaw clenched and she looked at the older couple.  They stared blankly back for a moment.  Marilu tilted her head at the man.  Nestor nodded so slightly that it could have been the result of his shaking body.  Marilu looked away. “No.  They were not the only ones.  And we can rebel against this and protect ourselves.  We just need to organize – band together.  Everyone from the village is here in town.  No one will spend the night in the village again until the devil is driven away.  Nestor, call all of the townspeople.  I will gather the villagers.  We will have a meeting tonight and I will speak to everyone.  I am sure that Bokor will help me.”

            The two older women were reassured by the younger one’s determination.  They began gathering up supplies that Sofia had originally come in for.  Maria had just grabbed a jar of pickled onions from a shelf when the bell rang.  She looked up and the jar crashed to the floor, releasing pearly white balls to roll down the aisle.  The sharp smell of vinegar permeated the air.

Maria pressed her body against the products on the shelf and tried to disappear into them.  The figure that had startled her was a girl who limped down the aisle, oblivious to the squishing of onions under her filthy bare feet.  Zoya had a mass of curly blonde hair which was unruly and full of sand.  Her face had a purplish hue under the faded tan.  Her eyes, a mix of green and hazel, showed no soul behind them.  She walked up to the counter.

“I need some oil paints, brushes and thick paper.”  Zoya croaked to Nestor who looked as though he were about to flee. 

“Of course,” He stuttered.  “Just like the ones you bought last week?”

She stared at the wall plaque above his head that read, “Life’s a Beach,” and ignored the question.

“Well… uh… well then… let me just go in the back and get you some things.”

He disappeared.

Sofia and Maria clutched each other, each of them murmuring prayers to their gods.  Marilu stood tall, her head up, not sure what to expect.  Zoya turned away from the counter and faced them.  Her empty eyes appeared to look through every solid object.  She raised her hand slowly until her closed fist was pointing towards Marilu.  She opened her hand and an object fell out of it onto the floor.  She kept her hand pointed toward the other girl.  The two older women looked at the object on the floor.  It was a gold necklace – a piece of jewelry that had belonged to the female elder.

Several people out on the street turned toward the general store as the screams from within got louder.  But no one went near the building.  The bell clanged as the door opened but its sound was drowned out by shrill wails of terror.  Zoya shuffled out the door, paint supplies in her bag, and turned toward the beach.

 

            

#5 – The Cleanup

            There was no wailing and beating of chests.  No crying or flailing of arms.  That might come later.  The villagers sat in a ragged semi-circle in front of the elders’ house.  They were all silent.  Most of them hugged their knees to their torsos in an upright fetal position.  Everyone’s eyes were wide open, barely blinking, and afraid to look anywhere but straight ahead.  Human silence allowed nature to sing quietly.

            There was a mess to clean up inside.  No one wanted to deal with it.  So they sat. Mosquitoes buzzed and birds called to each other.  Waves broke on the beach.  Trees rustled incessantly, a sound that had previously been soothing was now somehow ominous.  Bokor stood leaning on a sandbox tree behind everyone.  She also stared at the door of the elders’ house.  There was a pensive look on her face.

            “Marilu,” she called after a while.

            “Yes, Bokor,” Marilu responded with an apprehensive lilt to her voice.

            “I believe it is time we buried the bodies and cleaned the house.”

            “Yes.”

            But they sat for another twenty minutes before anyone made a sound.  They sat and stared.

            All of a sudden Beto jumped up.  The three villagers nearest to him, already skittish, shied away and murmured low exclamations to each other.  The rest of the people got up and started asking no one in particular what was happening.  The voices got louder and more hysterical.

            “Sit down.”  Bokor commanded.  Everyone sat.  “Beto, what happened?”

            He was rubbing his head.  He looked up and pointed.  A couple of monkeys chattered loudly back at him.  One of them had thrown a nut at his head.  Bokor looked up at the animals.  The villagers had been gone for a while after finding the bodies.  She looked thoughtfully at the door again.  The elders had been torn apart, but all of the pieces had still been there.  What would they find now?

            “Let’s go.” She said.  The sun was setting and it would be dark soon.  Everyone crowded around her as she went over to the door and slowly opened it.  Her hand recoiled.  There was rustling coming from inside.  Everyone backed away.  Marilu pushed her way to the front and threw a branch into the house.  The rustling got louder and most of the villagers ran away.

            Marilu and Bokor looked at each other.  They opened the door a bit more and a large, grey rat ran between their legs.  They both looked back at the runaway rodent – and the small bloody footprints it was leaving behind. 

            “Gabriela!” Marilu called.  “Go get some of the women and bring two mattresses.  Cover them with sheets and bring extra.  Jacky – go get hot water and mops.  Sebastian, organize the men.  We need a large bonfire and people to carry the elders to it.”

            She looked around.  The two women and the man were the only ones left besides her and Bokor.  The three of them stood there, their shadows growing long behind them. “Go.” She shouted.  They went.  Then she sighed and turned toward Bokor – but the other woman had disappeared.

 

            Zoya would have to go into town soon.  She needed more oils.  She would also sell the spider painting, the one of the elders, and this new one – a great bonfire with two skeletons visible between the flames, their jaws slack and the eye sockets dark.  In the background were caricatures of humans in various poses.  One woman held a mop and was pushing through a dark puddle.  A man carried some furniture toward the fire.  All of the people in the painting had enormous eyes ringed in blues and purples.

She was outside, at the point between the lawn and the beach, just within the reach of the floodlights from the house.  It was becoming increasingly stifling to be inside.  She felt eyes on her back.  But she did not turn around.  It could have been one of several people.  None of them interested her.  She sensed, rather than felt, the slight breeze of someone passing behind her and away. 

 

Next week:  Zoya in town – Ralph’s plight

#4 – Hosea

            The sugarcane stalks rustled dryly.  Zoya had disregarded Bokor’s mild command to get rest.  She stood at the crossing between a thin path and the main one back to the village.  All of the arteries of the labyrinth through the sugarcane field were narrow out of necessity.  The only way back to the village from the tourist area was through this enormous planting, and that had been done on purpose.  She stood staring at nothing. 

            Crunching of dead plants did little to draw her back to reality.  Her object was to be seen – not to see.  But when the figure appeared, it was so unexpected that she was forced to focus sharply on it.  A quizzical look appeared on her face and she cocked her head sideways – birdlike.  It was the boy from the house.  She knew him.  His name was Ralph.  He was Maggie’s boyfriend, but Zoya had smelled his desire for her after the change, and she had laughed to herself, scornful of his pitiful ignorance and impending doom.

What a fool.  Now he was following her?  She perked up her ears trying to gauge the villagers’ approach.  They were somewhere in the maze of stalks, but not too close.  Zoya reached out both arms at shoulder length to grab the boy – but froze as he drew nearer. 

He missed her statue-like figure at first and passed on.  Suddenly, nose in the air, he stopped – his back was toward her at first.  He turned and she saw his earnest face clearly in the moonlight.  He had thick eyebrows that met in the middle of the top of the bridge of his nose, and his ears were low on his head, but other than that, he was a very handsome boy.  She stepped back instinctively, pressing into the sugarcane.  His eyes bored a hole through her face.  There was something about him…  He stepped forward.  But they both heard the voices of the townspeople coming closer.  Ralph swiveled and loped off in the opposite direction.

The field of sugarcane had been Bokor’s idea.  The villagers planned the labyrinth carefully and planted the sugarcane right as the tourists began coming to this side of the island.  It had been a great success in keeping them away from the natives.  How Ralph had known to get this far was something Zoya would have to think about in the future.

            They all trudged along, following the elders’ oldest son, Hosea.  He turned a corner on the maze-like path, stopped suddenly and let out a yell of surprise.  There was no fear.  Yet.  Zoya stood there.  Her eyes were glazed over.  Her arms were crossed in front of her.  At the sound of Hosea’s voice she came back to earth slowly and stared at him.  She smiled, openmouthed, releasing a thin dribble of blood to travel down her chin. 

            The woman behind Hosea screeched.  Everyone behind her panicked and tried to run away.  Some fell under their fellow neighbors’ stampede, but got up again and soon everyone had disappeared – everyone except Zoya and Hosea – captor and captive.  The fleeing people heard a high pitched squeal, some thrashing and a thud.  They ran faster until they ran into another object in the path.  

            The first few recoiled, screaming, until Bokor shouted above the noise, “Calm down everyone.  What is the matter?”

            They all talked at once, gesturing wildly behind them.  Bokor pushed her way through them and walked until she found the body of Hosea.  Blood was absorbing into the soft ground of the bare path, but there was enough of it to still pool around his body.  His face had been torn off.  The only way Bokor knew it was Hosea was for the clothes that he had been wearing just a short time ago.

            The villagers ran.  This time, they ran through the stalks, flattening them out, until they could reach another stretch of path.  They fled toward the village. 

Bokor smirked and followed them.  She passed Zoya.  “Clean that up, will you dear?  Then go back and rest like I told you to.”

 

tomorrow: The Cleanup

#3 – Desire

            She walked twenty yards ahead of him along the beach.  Her progress was languid but he had to catch his breath to keep up with her.  His eyes were fixated on her firm, round, naked buttocks.  Every time she shifted her weight from one foot to the other the toned muscles under the skin of her backside tensed as if she were squeezing on purpose.  The fact that his breathing was labored was not due to the chase he was giving.

            Left, right, left, right, she walked along.  A glean of sweat down her back caught nebulous rays of the early morning sunlight.  He walked faster to catch up with her.  All he wanted was to touch her – and have her want to touch him too.  But as he fantasized about whether to bury his face in her hair or run the tips of his fingers down her back, he looked again at her back.  The sweat began flowing copiously down her legs.  He looked again.  It wasn’t sweat.  It was blood.  She turned around.  She had blood all over her hands and chest – the same blood that gushed down her legs.  There was something in her hands – something slimy and viscous… Her jaundiced eyes caught his and she smiled as she started walking toward him…

            He woke up in a puddle of sweat.  He looked around wildly, grasping the thin sheets to cover up his body’s obvious reaction to the nature of his dream – an unnecessary move since the moment before waking had cut off the throbbing circulation of his blood.  He wondered if he had cried out at all in his sleep.  He glanced over at his girlfriend Maggie.  She was still asleep in the bed three feet away. 

            He breathed deeply and turned away from her, flopping back on the damp bed.  He tried to go back to sleep but his mind raced furiously.  He had never noticed Zoya the painter before last night.  He was a musician and Maggie was an actor – both outgoing and loud.  Zoya had faded naturally into her canvasses.  But now he couldn’t get her out of his head.    

 

            It was rare that the villagers came to the vacation houses.  Bokor had been the contact person ever since tourists began visiting this part of the island.  But this was an unusual circumstance.

            Bokor could smell their fear as they crowded around the porch and looked up at her as a starving child might look at someone with food in their hand.  She looked like them, but had been born different.  This they knew.  So they turned to her in times of trouble – like when the city folks had come to build the vacation homes.  She had assured everyone that she would take care of the tourists.

            “Murdered…”

            “Blood everywhere…”

            “Vicious…”   

            “Inhuman…”

            “What if the killer comes back?”

            “Yes, Bokor, what do we do tonight?”      

            “Tonight – Oh my God – Bokor, help us!”

            The jumble of exclamations got louder.  She turned and looked behind her into the house.  She couldn’t hear anything above the panic of her people, but she knew that the students would be waking up soon.  They would hurry down the stairs ravenous for their first meal of the day – which would be lunch by now.

            “Go home.” she called sharply, “I’ll come to you in a couple of hours.”

            It was with reluctant hearts that they turned back toward the village.  They looked back at Bokor several times for reassurance.  She waved them away.  They also had a job to do.  And they needed to do it before dark.  They must go to the elders’ house and bury the dead.

 

            Zoya was finishing her painting.  She had put on a thin, white summer dress but wore nothing else.  When Bokor came in the room she looked up and stopped her work.  Bokor came around and looked.  Zoya had painted the elders as they had been before death.  They were looking into a mirror at their dead reflections.

            Bokor smirked.  “Get some rest tonight Zoya,”

 

Coming soon: The Cleanup

Be sure to catch: Zombie Birth and The Village