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.”
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.