|Oct/Nov 2017 Fiction|
Image excerpted from Bully and the Hate Mongers by Roe LiBretto
Momoy the building manager, the keeper of keys, worked as hard as a stomach. He was mowing the courtyard, at peace in the hum of blades keeping nature beneath his boots. It had not rained in days, but the black puddle in the middle of the courtyard was growing into a bubbling lake. Something was breathing beneath, surfacing. Momoy dabbed his forehead and wondered where he stored his rain boots. He was forgetting more and often. He knelt and grimaced at the familiar stench of low tide. He looked away from the puddle, around for a stick. When he looked back into the mirror, the eyes of a massive dog were red stars exploding towards him. The mongrel brandished flint for teeth and soot for fur.
Momoy jumped backwards. The creature ran across the puddle, grabbed Momoy's leg, shook it, and dragged him into the afterlife. He screamed and kicked the dodging beast. He pulled his leather-bound journal from his pocket and repeatedly smacked the monster. It snatched the journal and vanished in the sun's glare.
Momoy bled and limped into his apartment. He spilled alcohol on his wounds, screamed curses, and bandaged his leg. He stormed out with a revolver holstered on his hip, dragging a shovel behind him.
Halimaw kept the journal under claws and fangs, under the blue gazebo, on a pile of prizes: three ninja stars, a slingshot, a wheelchair's wheel, a left shoe, and a white cane. Halimaw sniffed and licked the journal. He growled when the wind snuck into his cubby and flipped the pages:
More often I imagine myself young. The ocean is rising. I'll find a tough woman to love. We'll have two sons. Chase sunsets. Take telescopes on Ferris wheels. Teach the boys math and music, how to hunt and grow food, forage and fight. Hose mud off of them. They'll keep the apartment standing, running, inherit the tenants.
Boys, know this building was how we ate. This was how we kept the lights on so you can see your clean clothes, the meat and vegetables on the table. Also know that when tenants broke lease, when they dined and ditched mid-month, they sometimes left pieces of silver and gold they hid from themselves. I filled up a treasure chest and buried it.
We are cursed. The men in our family are bulletproof. Hell, the Colt .45 was invented to stop us. They needed cannons. We are impervious to metal and fire, but our grave is water. Ever since your great-grandfather, we all drown. Your late uncles and cousins still get spoken of in bars. Sit still, listen, and let them speak. Hear them in your choices. You embody them. They're invested in your tomorrow. We always protect the next of us. Make sure they have more than you. If it's not safe for a pregnant woman, be cautious of it. If the smell, touch, or taste of it disrupts the chances of that baby, be above it.
I was a child when the curse began. One stormy night in the old country, someone pounded on the front door. Behind our house, beyond the beach, another typhoon raged our way, towards all seven thousand islands of the Philippines. The world was ending, and the end took the form of thunder and lightning and whirling rain. The door exploded open. In the doorway floated a lantern, and in the orange glow hovered the silhouette of Herasano, my grandfather. Lolo, where have you been? We were worried. Come in. When I looked at his muddy feet, I knew my life was in danger. The tips of his toes barely touched the floor.
Lolo was levitating, shuddering, arguing with himself. His eyes were full moons. He floated into the house, unsheathed his blade, and pounced on me. We fell with the lantern and rolled around. I always knew he would lose control of what lived inside his heart. We found him wandering the rice fields more and more.
Even the meanest packs of dogs ran away from lolo. Kasi kalahati siya. He was babaylan, a conjurer of storms, a person who dealt with spirits and demons, the gifted and cursed. Many were ghosts with messages for the living. Some possessed animals and people. They maimed and mauled, tormented and tortured, or killed. Some, like the manananggal, were inconspicuous neighbors. At night they hid in the jungle and sprouted great batwings out of their back. The manananggal separated from their waist and legs. They flew around to eat the babies in women. The only way to kill manananggal is to find the waist and legs and spill salt or garlic on the lower torso. They all cowered before Herasano.
Lolo pounced and stabbed me through the shoulder. The blade scraped across my collarbone, and through the floorboards. My blood spilled out under me. I was panting, screaming for my two brothers. My mom and dad had anticipated the storm's destruction. They had left to help the refugees at church. We were home alone.
We wrestled lolo and pinned him down. We pried the sword from his fingers, and we pulled it out of me. Kuya Adele, the oldest, tied lolo up. Kuya ran to the kitchen and heated the sword over a fire for what felt like hours. Then he burned my wounds closed.
Zaldi, the youngest, fastest, and wildest, ran out in the storm. Only another babaylan could help us. Weakened, I slept to replenish my blood, leaving kuya alone with lolo.
Zaldi returned with the oldest woman in the world. Dalisay was loose skin and swollen joints and white hair curling to her ankles. We led Dalisay to the bedroom but stopped at the door. We could hear lolo running around inside. You boys might need to hold him down again, Dalisay warned.
We gathered behind kuya Adele. He slowly, nearing forever, opened the door. Lolo was crawling on the ceiling, sniffing the air, giggling. So fresh and full of life, he said. It's hungry, Dalisay snarled. They screamed at each other in a language older and louder than anything outside. They flew and wrestled, bouncing against the walls, ceiling, and floor.
With one hand, Dalisay grabbed lolo's neck and pinned him to the ceiling. With the other hand, she smacked him and forced her arm down his throat. She pulled a black and squirming, lashing and screeching octopus out of his mouth. Get something to contain it, she pleaded. I ran to the kitchen, grabbed the largest fiesta pot, ran back, and slid under Dalisay. She threw lolo aside. He stayed asleep for seven days afterwards. Dalisay dove. The lid! I covered the pot. We all jumped and sat on it.
We couldn't let this power loose in the world without a body to set limits, but we didn't know what form it would take in another heart. Dalisay decided to drag the pot to the beach, in the middle of the typhoon, with us sitting on it. She pulled and pushed the rattling pot into the water. The ocean was smashing and scooping chunks of the island away. Stay ashore, Dalisay ordered. She was panting. She struggled but raised the pot above her head. She screamed and hurled the shrieking, boundless magic into the Pacific. It took the form of the typhoon. Since then, the ocean's been angry at our family. Since then, it rises above us and takes us one by one.
Boys, know who you're letting in. There are some desperate people out there, on the verge of summoning demons. They can't come in unless you invite them. Before tenants sign the lease, I try to find out what keeps them awake and going deep down.
Momoy heard a clatter under the gazebo. Gun drawn, shovel in hand, he summoned Halimaw. The massive dog emerged from his cave and bared the teeth of an insatiable stomach. Momoy's heart sprinted away. The gun he raised grew heavier and heavier. His arm trembled. He aimed and wondered if six bullets were enough for such a beast, but he had named Halimaw. He had seen too many animal shelter infomercials. Momoy saw nature's honesty in the dog's eyes and its indifference in his scars. He was scarred up and without family. Momoy had to take care of Halimaw. Nothing will harm him. "If you're hungry," Momoy lowered and holstered the gun, "come with me. If you come, you're getting a bath."
In the dark, Momoy sat up in bed and listened to distant waves of moans. The young couple across the courtyard, every night they celebrated the coming sunrise. Momoy reached for his journal on the nightstand and lit a cigarette. The smolder heated his face. He inhaled smoke, and the orange light brightened, scaling the wall behind him. Momoy held his breath and wrote in the light: "Boys, I hope you're not the biggest threat to our future." He sighed.
The massive Halimaw, with the capacity to stalk, hunt, and kill, growled and jumped onto the bed. He clawed the blanket, turned in circles, and snuggled against Momoy, close to his arteries. "Observe, learn, think, and test everything. Maybe be the first of us to live on Mars."
Momoy puffed and pondered, puffed and dove, "The gazebo was designed to attract birds. There was a tunnel under it, a cave where a demon once lived. There rests the chest of sorrows. Dig it up. Before the ice sheets melt, move to Denver."