by Stephen L. Lopez
“Madam Kuwa will see you in a few minutes, please help yourself to anything you wish in the store while you wait.. It’s all free of charge for you of course. ” said the odd eyed girl from behind the counter . She wasn’t cross eyed or anything, it was just that each of her eyes was of a different color from one another. The left being blue while the right being bright yellow. She reminded me of a stray cat I once saw, staring through my bedroom window a couple of nights ago.
“Ok, thanks a lot” I answered. I then went around the grocery and picked up a bowl of 100% REAL Instant Bulalo and a pack of Sky-Flakes saltines from one of the racks. The place was prim and proper, almost sterile . Everything on the shelves and refrigerators all in accordance to the hidden manual of “how to arrange items in a mini mart 101″. After walking around a bit I returned to the counter to ask for some hot water for my instant soup
“Is there anything else you would like sir?” the girl asked me, a smile crossing itself on her lips. She took my cup noodles and filled it to the brim with boiling water.
“Well a pack of cigarettes would be nice, ya got any Luckies?”
The girl shook her head “Sorry sir we’ve run out of those, but we have some fancy apple flavored cigarettes if you’d like- really popular with the college kids.”
“Forget it…” I personally never liked the taste of fancy cigarettes, they always left an strange itch at the back of my throat.
The girl gave me my plastic bowl of soup and looked straight at me with her odd eyes. A strange feeling ran through the back of my head as if a hundred tiny insects were crawling on my scalp
“Sir can I ask you a favor?”
“Sure” I said nervously, wondering what it is she wanted. “What is it?”
“When you’re finished with your soup, could you not throw away the bowl…” She requested as she brushed back her brownish shoulder length hair “.. I would like to…. take a look at it after you eat”
“Oh.. sure ok. I guess I see no problem about it”
“Thank you very much”
The girl gave me a faint smile , her blue and yellow eyes narrowing. She was tan and a bit on the chubby side, not fat though just big boned. Must have been around 6ft tall plus heels, which made her a good 5 inches taller than me. She looked pretty in her white uniform shirt and crimson blazer.
“It’s nothing, don’t mention it” I said in parting
Balancing the hot bowl of soup between my hands I then proceeded to the table by the large glass window near the entrance , sat down and ate. Outside rain poured down endlessly from the night sky , silent lightning flashing overhead reflecting off the water droplets sliding on the glass panel.
“Rrrrrrsshhhh” the deluge sounded like the static hiss from a broken television- it was depressing.
There are some people out there who claim to like the rain saying it’s invigorating, ” it cleanses the soul and body” . Well I argue that it all depends on perspective. Rain once a week or twice is great during the summer. It kills the heat and prevents the air from getting too dusty. But with 3 days of nonstop rain you get all kinds of problems, your laundry doesn’t dry and begins to smell, the streets flood and you can’t get anywhere- then before you know it the inconveniences have piled up against you… you get the picture. I bit down into my last cracker and drank the remaining soup – it was incredibly salty…. Nothing like the real Bulalo I concluded, no corn or bone marrow, just some gummy mystery bits made to look like beef and vegetables flavored with powdered bullion. Maybe I should have just picked up something else. I then head back to the counter. The girl was at her post ,waiting for me patiently to give her the empty bowl.
“What you gonna do with that thing?.. Recycle it?” I said as I handed her the container
She shook her head from side to side her brownish hair flowing with her movements
“No..no.. I do Tasseology”
“You mean the thing with tea leaves.. divination?”
“Yes.. right you are sir!” She answered while still looking into the bottom of the empty bowl. “You see there are different kinds of Tasseology, some people use tea leaves others coffee but my preferred method is with instant noodle cups”
“A noodle soup prophet then…Cool!” I leaned onto the counter to get a better view “So, what do you see?”
She put the Styrofoam cup upon the countertop “Look here I’ll show you”
I peered down into the empty soup bowl, and saw nothing but left over noodles and the remaining sediments of un-dissolved flavoring, along with the occasional speck of rehydrated meat and vegetable
“Sorry but I don’t see anything but the remains of my soup” I said to the girl while shaking my head
The girl stared at me and frowned “Come on look again sir, just open your eyes”
Open your eyes geezz…I glance up unconvinced and peer again into the container
No surprise it was still the same as before, dull left over noodles and specks of moist flavoring …
“Hey nothing is happ…” My sentence is broken halfway, all of a sudden from the far corners of the bowl, the dark sediment of powdered spices began moving rapidly in a whirlpool like motion. The flavoring gathering toward the center of the container forming a strange spiral pattern. All the while the noodles, vegetables and meat assembled at the right side of the spiral forming what appeared to be a writhing worm. The noodle worm squirmed and thrashed as it moved about the cup, circling the spiral of spices that was in the middle. Finally the creature jumped into the center of the twirl causing it to break apart, its dark rings slowly melting and dissolving until nothing was left.
“What was that?” I asked the girl, who was still staring intently at the now empty cup.
“A snake sir.. a snake that devours the moon”
“Bakunawa?… the moon eater? The words roll right out of mouth
“Yes.. right you are again… I believe that’s what the ancient tribes called it” She said in a matter of fact manner.
“Well..what does a moon eating snake god have to do with my future?”
The girl looked over to her right while biting her lip, her odd eyes narrowing. “I’m sorry but I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question. I can only show you the images, it is up to you to interpret them”
” You sound more like a psychologist than a mystic to me.. do you know that?”
The girl let out a soft chuckle. “Well divination and psychology, are quite closely related if you think about it sir. Take for example dreams, the psychologist Jung once said that some dreams are designed to warn us about impending dangers in our lives that we fail to notice. The same way predictions and prophecies can warn us about future events”
“Sounds plausible… maybe the snake god wants to eat me for dinner eh”
The girl once again gives me a smile “Maybe..”
On the counter top the intercom began to ring, a tiny red light flashing upon its interface. The girl picked up the receiver and answered “Yes madam?….. ok I’ll send him right through… yes mam.”
“Madam Kuwa would like to see you now..” the girl said as she replaced the handset onto the intercom “I’m afraid we’ll have to continue our little conversation later…”
“It’s okay with me…” I fix the sleeves of my shirt and adjust my necktie, always look professional they say.
The girl points into a room right beside the counter. “The madam’s office is the first door to the right of the kitchenette, behind the entrance to the freezers”
“I know..” I say to her as I make my way past the counter into the room ” The layout of all your stores are pretty much the same around town”
“Well then… good luck at your meeting sir… I’ll be waiting for you here until you get back” The girl said while watching me from the door.
Without looking back I walked through the tiny kitchen until I reached a large wooden door with intricate engravings and a heavy brass lever over to its left side. The doors to madam Kuwa’s office always stood out like this and no matter what store I visited, they usually never seemed to fit with the entire convenience mart aesthetic of well… “convenient”. These things were bulky and overly constructed, something straight out of the 18’th or early 19’th century, an era when people had enough time to care about how their doors looked… well at least overly conscious rich people. Maybe the madam found this funny for some ironic reason. Whatever it was the humor was lost on me. I draw down on the lever and pull open the door which let out a loud wooden creak. I hear the rush of something mechanical like the chug of an engine or a generator. As I enter, I sense the odd feeling of movement beneath my feet. I quickly shifted my balance in order to avoid falling over. That’s when I finally realized I wasn’t in a room or office but rather a large first class train carriage moving at high speed.
“I guess I owe you an apology kid, forgot to tell you that I was taking the train today.” Madam Kuwa the crow lady hollered from across the cabin, her dead ink black eyes wide and glossy in the dim light.
“Didn’t know you nether folk were such fans of public transport.” I said as I walked through the center aisle. The madam was seated at the right hand side of the train behind an aptly sized dining table. Several small crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling above providing a warm diffuse glow in carriage. It was a pretty classy place not like the MRT or LRT that I was used to. No long lines, no people packed like sardines. This place had thick red curtains strung across the windows, crimson wallpaper with black abstract patterns, a fully carpeted floor and of course smooth jazz saxophone pouring from the speakers above. Could have passed as a luxury hotel room if not for the noise of the locomotive.
“Well.. you see.. we’ve been having some problems with the doors lately, might be because of the stormy weather I don’t know.. Care for some coffee kid?” The madam held up a glass pot with a gloved hand, her avian head tilting to the side.
“Sure, just plain black no cream or sugar” I answered as I took my seat in front of her.
She pours me some coffee into a white porcelain mug then slides it to my side of the table. I looked down and saw my own reflection in the black velvet of liquid, the steam rising toward my face.
“You look tired kid… is there anything bothering you?”
I take a small sip , it was strong and bitter- just the way I liked it. “Nah it’s nothing, it’s just this weather.. 3 days straight of rain can really mess with me sometimes ..”
“I share your sympathies there .. I hate the rain too, messes with my feathers you see. The madam stroked the side of her head, flattening the black fluff against it.
I smile at the bird’s attempt to empathize “Of course.. you didn’t call me to talk about my feelings or your feathers did you madam?”
“Hmph..No more time for small talk huh kid… all right then. Actually , to be honest it’s more of a favor I’m going to ask of you..” The crow lady leaned forward onto the table, bringing her gloved hands together. “You see, apart from my chain of convenience stores, I own a couple of small motels around Metro Manila . A booming business, since privacy is pretty hard to come by these days”
“Impressive, are you planning to hire me as a bell boy now?”
“Still got that dry sense of humor do ya?.. Anyway this is serious, I have a pest problem at my motels. Something has decided to turn my clientele into hors de oeuvre, using my facilities as their dining area. Very bad for commerce as you can deduce.. attracts a lot of unwanted attention.”
Using a gloved hand the madam handed me a long brown folder from across the table . It was thick with several documents stuffed inside.
“See for yourself, kid… 3 men dead in the span of 1 month, all from severe blood loss..”
I opened the folder and was greeted by a photo of a male cadaver- must have been in his mid 20’s. He lay splayed on a messy bed sheet butt naked, his skin a pale blue. The man’s face was contorted in a freeze frame of surprise and absolute terror- which would have been quite comical if he wasn’t dead. The other pictures were pretty much the same, lifeless men of different ages pale as pieces of week old steak.
“It could be just an Aswang” I say to the madam, while closing the folder.
“This isn’t the province kid, those bastard creatures you call Aswang have all run to the mountains long after world war 2, their numbers dwindling as we speak.”
“Easy.. I was just kidding ok .. you got any idea on what did this?” I had to apologize, the bird lady was never fond of the Aswang and she might have pecked at my head if I ever brought it up again.
The crow’s head twitched, her lifeless eyes studying me. It was like staring into a bottomless well.
“Have you ever heard of something called the Midnight Butterfly?”
I take a sip of coffee to wet my mouth “No I’m afraid not”
“No surprise here…..” The crow lady said disappointed . She then pulled out a glass case from beneath her feet, and in a smooth motion moved the coffee pot aside and placed the container right in the middle of the table.
“Take a look at this my child”.
Inside the case, pinned to a cork board was a large swallowtail butterfly about the size of grown man’s head. The wings seemed like they were made of smooth velvet in the color of a deep crimson, patterns on the edges resembling the eyes of a human being. For a second I felt like it was staring back at me, reading my thoughts and studying my movements. It was beautiful… to the point of being hypnotic
“Pretty isn’t it?” The madam declared , her avian head twitching with delight. “One of my employees picked it up in the room of a victim, said it was still trying to move its wings when she arrived”
“Impressive indeed.. so you’re saying a bunch killer insects are attacking your customers?”
“If you put that way.. then yes” Madam Kuwa affirmed, she then reached for a small silver tray at the side of the table, and removed its dome lid. Underneath were several slices of expensive looking cheese.
“You wouldn’t mind if I eat would you.. I haven’t had my dinner this evening, You can join me if you like.”
“Oh go ahead madam.. don’t worry about me. By the way how do you expect me to deal with this butterfly problem of yours. I think that if a can of insecticide were the solution you wouldn’t have asked me to be here”
The madam put a large slice of cheese through her beak and swallowed it whole, her whole body shivering with pleasure. “You should really try this fox cheese kid ,it’s amazing!”
“No thanks” I answered while waving a hand in front of my face. The cheese gave off a pungent odor making it hard to breathe.
“Suit yourself..” She snapped then promptly shoved another piece down her gullet. ” Anyway.. you can’t kill these insects in a technical sense, they operate on some kind of collective universal psyche- a hive mind just like ants in hill. Destroy one and a dozen more will take its place from the nest. So the only solution I can think of at the moment is to catch a couple and interrogate them to find their home.”
“So.. you want me to interrogate a group of insects.. How do you suppose I would do that?”
“Oh don’t worry kid, your job will only be to help catch a group of those things. One of my employees will assist you through the entire process.. so it shouldn’t be problem.”
“One of your employees?” I didn’t like where this conversation was going.
“I think you’ve already met her.. Mary the tall girl with the odd eyes..”
Great I thought to myself. Now I had to baby sit the Tasseologist on this trip.
The madam stared at me tilting her head once again in that twitchy avian way “What’s with that look kid?.. Don’t you worry.. She is quite capable of handling herself. Besides she’s the only one proficient enough to see through the butterfly’s disguises.”
“Oh I forgot to tell you, how uncouth of me!” Ms. Kuwa squaked ” You see kid these insects are capable of taking up any form they please. Very convenient for hunting human males.. If you know what I’m saying “
“Yeah.. I guess it would be pretty difficult to seduce someone if you were a giant butterfly.”
The madam let out a loud cackle which for a moment overcame the sound of the train’s engine.
“You really are a funny one for a human! That’s why I always hire you.'” she exclaimed as she recovered from her hysterics, bits of cheese falling from the side of her beak.
“Didn’t know I was so popular for my sense of humor.” I said smiling.
“Now now.. don’t get ahead of yourself you still have some chores to be done .” Ms. Kuwa said playfully while wiping the corners of her bill with a large red napkin “The girl will tell you the rest of the plan once you get back to the store”
“Then I guess I won’t be sticking around for dessert… Can I please be excused?”
“You may.. and good luck” The madam answered “
I made my way back through the center isle of the carriage towards the large wooden door at the end, when suddenly the crow lady called to me once again as if she had remembered some afterthought.
“One more thing kid before you leave…”
I glanced toward her , this time she looked deadly serious. I don’t know how I came up with the conclusion that she had a serious expression on her face- since her features were that of a bird. But I just knew it.. maybe it was just intuition- I’m not really sure.
“About the weather kid…. This rain. I have a bad feeling about it.. I don’t know.. just watch your back out there.”
“I’ll be fine”
“What a strange day this was”, I thought to myself. A chance meeting with a noodle soup Tasseologist, killer butterflies and finally a sympathetic crow goddess.
Mary the odd eyed girl was seated at her usual place by the counter when I got back. She was in the middle of replacing her heels with a pair of black low cut sneakers. I snatched a glimpse of her feet in the middle of the process. They were long and nicely shaped without any veins or imperfections, her nails clean and beautifully trimmed, tinted with glossy black polish.
“Oh, hello again sir, seems like I’ll be accompanying you today.” Mary said as I emerged out of the kitchen. I wondered for a second if she caught me staring at her feet.
“Well.. it’s better than working alone.. So what’s the plan?”
Mary finished tying up her laces and had begun searching for something in the cupboards below the countertop her voice echoing from the enclosed space “Hmmm.. first we’ll have to find the group of insects, but don’t worry about it mister just leave that part up to me. You’re job will be to help me catch them”.
“Ok.. I have a question though, if you can detect those things why not we just head straight for their lair and catch all of them there?”
“It isn’t that simple..” Mary explained still rummaging from under the counter. “..their nest is hidden to all, except for those part of their universal collective- in short it’s a blind spot for me”
“Fabulous” it looked like I wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight .
“So, sir we have to catch one alive, so I can speak to it!” the girl exclaimed eagerly.
I began to wonder what other powers she hid under her sleeves. I tried to list them down in an imaginary note pad inside my head: first there was divination, second clairvoyance, third insect talk- I had the feeling that the list would grow as the night went on.. women truly were, fascinating..
“Ah found it” She was now back on her feet from her search beneath the counter. In her hands was a long stick with something that looked like a red nylon sack at its end. For a few seconds I stood there staring at it, trying to figure out what its purpose was.
“Let me guess it’s for catching butterflies.” I said to the girl
“Of course it is mister, what else would it be for?”
“I don’t know .. for a moment I thought we were going fishing”
Mary smiled and let out a soft chuckle just like before . “Ever think of becoming a comedian?” she asked me.
“Nah, I’d rather stick to hunting insects for the meantime.. So how do we get to the pests?”
The girl’s bi-colored eyes narrowed mischievously
It was the worst ride I’ve ever had, and although I was no expert in the art of driving I had taken enough public transport in Manila- from jeeps, taxis to buses to know what reckless was. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m no misogynist and I have nothing against women drivers it’s just that in this circumstance Mary was a woman and she was a reckless driver.
Her words of encouragement weren’t of any help either: “Oh.. don’t ya worry sir! We have a lucky charm protecting the vehicle ( she was referring to a small stuffed toy moose stuck between the wind shield and dashboard) everything is going to be fine!- In fact our chances of getting into an accident are at .00001%.”
I personally felt that every corner we turned, we would run into that certain “.00001%” and adding to that the almost zero to nothing visibility caused by the endless rain- equals to the most terrifying journey by delivery truck I had to date.
With that pretext I was surprised that we and the store’s tiny Suzuki arrived unscathed at the parking lot of one of madam Kuwa’s motels.
“I can feel it, the insects are here..” the girl whispered as she parked the vehicle
I took a deep breath, my body was still trying to find its center of balance after the harrowing ride.
“You okay sir?” Mary asked me distressed. “Was it my driving?”
“Oh.. not at all.. ya drive just ok” I answered, while rubbing my temples . I knew from experience that insulting a woman’s driving was good as calling her “fat” or telling her that her cooking didn’t taste very nice. It was just something you didn’t say, lest you wanted to engage in a battle you had no chance of winning.
“Where exactly are they?” I ventured, trying to get Mary’s mind off the topic of driving.
For a while she kept silent staring blankly at the entry way that connected to the closed parking area of the motel. Her eyes wide and unblinking, reflecting the dull fluorescent light that filtered from the outside into the car. I started to wonder how her odd eyes worked, how she perceived things that I couldn’t…. blue and bright yellow… shiny….
She suddenly spoke, her gaze still transfixed into the distance, “There is one group of them somewhere on the 5th floor… not sure what room it is yet. They’ve taken the form of a… uhm.. human female. Seems like they’ve begun on their entree and are feeding on him…..”
This was just great I thought to myself.. despite our warp speed delivery truck the insects were already ahead of us. I tried not to imagine the madam’s expression if ever she found out that another one of her customer’s ended up as the butterflies’ dinner. Also to be honest I just hoped she wouldn’t cut it off from my paycheck… What a headache…
We took the elevator toward the 5th floor. At first the staff of the motel insisted on accompanying us, (maybe because of fear for the madam’s wrath in the chance that we broke anything during our bug hunt) but after a few words with Mary, the overzealous employees – strangely… just left us alone . They even had the courtesy to provide her with an all access key card, that would open almost all doors within the hotel.
As we headed up, I drew out my old rusted revolver from a holster underneath my shirt and checked it’s 6 shot cylinder. All were dirty and empty as usual- I never really needed to load my gun, and in itself the weapon didn’t need bullets to do what I wanted it to do.
Mary took notice of the revolver and was staring at it from her corner of the elevator “Strange weapon to be fighting butterflies with sir.” she said to me.
“This thing?, It’s more of a security object for me than a weapon.”
“It’s a pretty scary thing for a security object”
“What this made in china pea shooter? ” I said
“Nope.. the thing that’s inside it..” Mary answered.
I took a deep breath and let out a sigh “Nothing can escape those eyes of yours huh…?” I say with a smile, this woman was sharp among other things..
A bell sounded once we had arrived at our destination, the doors opening promptly revealing the tiny corridor of the 5th floor. A few potted plants were scattered here and there against the red and black background of the motel’s walls, and apart from a small number of unimpressive landscape paintings the place was pretty desolate. Somehow this reminded of the overlook hotel from the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson, and for a moment I was tempted to scream “HERE’S JOHNNY” while running down the hallway but I decided otherwise.
Mary led the way down the empty corridor butterfly net in hand, eyes staring dead ahead and focused. “The insects are at the room at the far end of this corridor..” she whispered
We continued in silence until we were right in front of the room, it’s door marked with the numbers “520” in cheap imitation gold. Mary handed me the key card and took her position by my side. She then lowered her head and whispered close to my ear, her breath moist and warm.”Anytime you’re ready mister”
In a single motion I flashed the card in front of the scanner at the top of the door knob. The lock promptly disengaged letting out a tiny metallic click. Did the butterflies hear that?…did they now know we were coming? I twisted the knob, opened the door and entered, pointing my gun ahead of me. Mary following behind closely like a cat..
We were greeted by the harsh aqua blue glow that saturated the entire room. Apparently this place in particular was designed with an “under the sea” theme in mind. Various forms of sea life were drawn on the walls and a recording of the sound of the ocean played from the speakers above on repeat. In the middle of the room was a large circular water bed, its bed sheets messed up and the pillows strewn about. Signs of a struggle maybe.. or a wild sexual romp? I had a feeling it was more of the former than the latter. Still no sign of the insects or victim though…
I look toward Mary puzzled, she just smiled and pointed to the bathroom from across the bed. Well if there was one place ever left to hide in this aqua fantasy it would have been the john. We crossed the quarters towards it’s plastic door. I turned it’s knob- LOCKED.
One way left to do this.. I back up a few steps raise my leg and kick the door in the middle of its frame. There was a sudden pain on my chest forcing all the air out of my lungs. Next thing I knew, I was weightless flying across the room, everything in a blue blur of motion. I then hit something soft.. the bed maybe I don’t know. A dead weight was on top of me, pinning me down. It was a woman naked, her face strange in the pale blue light as if portions of it were quivering like a cut up news paper put to the wind. Cold realization came over me, this was no human female and the quivering was no muscle spasm but a cluster of tiny wings and proboscis moving about. The woman was now lowering her head toward my face. I struggle to get her off me not wanting to know what would happen next. Suddenly a red blur passes the corner of my eye, sending the insect woman tumbling off of me and across the room. It was Mary , apparently she had kicked the creature, saving my life.
“Are you all right Mister?” she asked, a concerned look on her face
“I’m fine..” I cough out “.. now where’s the god damned thing so I can deal with it?”
“It ran out of the room, but don’t worry it won’t be getting very far”
I stood up from the bed, a sharp pain spreading throughout the right side of my chest- guess I might broken something there. On the floor beside the wrecked bathroom door was my gun, I pick it up and head out of the room.
As Mary had predicted, the butterfly lady had only made it half way down the corridor. It appeared to be injured. Hugging the wall as it struggled to move, leaving a trail of dead insects in its wake. The lady looked back toward me and raised one of her arms. A sudden explosion of insects began pouring out of her open palm, hundreds upon hundreds of crimson butterflies flying toward my direction in a windstorm of beauty and terror. I raise the revolver and squeeze the trigger.
What happens after.. well it’s pretty hard to describe, but I’ll try to do my best here.
We were in the corridor of the hotel and at the same time not in the corridor. Space and non-space, dream and reality begin to coexist, and due to the limitations of the senses and the conscious mind everything becomes a feverish delirium . A haze that blankets over what is real, distorts it then restores it to what it was before. Like multiple copies of the same painting with gradual differences that are subtle enough- you start believing that they were always part of the original.
Then she appears….
A manifestation of anger and hate in the form of a woman. The ghost out of the machine, or gun if you prefer that… She moves forward her bare feet silent against the carpeted walkway. Suddenly the wave of insects are stopped midflight, their tiny bodies drifting lifelessly in the air twirling around like leaves falling from a dead tree. An inhuman screech breaks the silence of the corridor, the spirit grabs the butterfly woman by her head crushing the multitude of insects that composed it like pieces of paper. Mary who had realized that things were starting to get out of hand rushed forward and enveloped the insect lady with her net.
Without its object of abhorrence the woman of the machine quickly vanished.
“Great work sir… but next time can you try to be a little more uh… subtle” Mary commended
“Sorry about that, I’ll try to remember next time..”
At the other end of the corridor the elevator doors opened and 2 uniformed employees disembarked. From where I was standing I could make out the distressed grimaces they had on their faces as they saw the hundreds upon hundreds of butterflies scattered upon the carpeted floors. Clean up wasn’t gonna be easy.
The delivery truck shook violently it’s suspension complaining in loud creaks with every jolt. I was seated in the passenger seat. Mary was at the back of the vehicle “speaking” to the insect lady.
“This will only be a few minutes sir.. So you can take it easy for now, while you wait.” She said to me after transferring the butterfly woman into what looked like a large glass jar the size of a refrigerator.
So with time to kill and nothing better to do I turned on the radio and cranked up the volume. It was tuned to a late night oldies station. The host although having the very Filipino name of Juan Cruz, spoke in English imbibed with a phony New-York style accent. He sounded like one of those gangsters in the movies popular during the 1950’s.
“Thonight we have something vehwy special for you fohlks, A rare 1958 lihve recording of the Chordettes classic Mr.Sandman.”
I closed my eyes and put my hands at the back of my head and tried to enjoy the music as the truck rocked back and forth. “…bum bum bum bum bum…. Mr. Sandman bring me a dream…” Somehow with my eyes shut, every shudder the vehicle made felt strangely in synch with the music.
“Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen…” CRASH BUMP CRASH CRASH
The shaking stopped right on cue when the song had finished. From the side mirror I saw Mary emerge from the back of the truck. She was stretching her legs and arms as if cooling down from a prolonged period of exercise. Mary then returned to the driver’s seat, took a deep breath and removed her blazer. Small beads of sweat had formed on her forehead and the sides of her cheek.
“So Chief, how did the grilling go?” I inquired as I did a mock salute to her.
She smiled at my attempt at humor. “Well it took longer than usual, but I got the information we need.”
“Good!.. so what did the insects tell ya?”
“I think you’ll be surprised to find out where their nest is sir.”
“Eh…Really now.. “
Mary gathered her hair to the back of her head and tied it into a straight pony tail
“Ever been to the port area at Manila bay?” she asked me
“The bay yes, but I’ve never been to the docks – stinks too much of dead fish and garbage there… Wait, that’s where their nest is?”
Mary puts the truck into reverse and as usual backs it up heedlessly pinning me to my seat. “Yepp.. strange huh insects camping by the sea side..”
I put on my seatbelt and grab onto the handle by the window. “Well I’d say it’s pretty smart of them, the sea is the last place you’d go looking for bugs”
“Well you make a good point there..” Mary said as she straightened out the truck, which now faced the entrance to the parking garage. Outside the rain continued to pour incessantly, large droplets slamming into the ground creating a fine mist. She then put the vehicle into gear and floored the accelerator sending us into the stormy night.
About 12 large container vans stood before us, bathed in the pale floodlights of the Manila docks. All were dirty, painted in rust red and from a distance I could already smell the putrid odor of rot that emanated from their insides. Mary had told me on our way to the port that the containers served as the butterflies nests and were trans-dimensional in origin. As for the exact coordinates of the dimension of hate they spawned from- she wasn’t so sure. All that mattered now was the fact that we had to get rid of a dozen containers that were all about the size of a bulky school bus.
“So Mary you got any bright ideas?” I asked looking up toward her. It was hard to speak in the middle of the rain and I had to raise my voice a few decibels than normal.
There was a prolonged silence. Mary held her hand upon her chin, droplets of water gathering at her wrist. Her eyes were transfixed upon the containers lost in deep thought.
Finally with a tone of defeat in her voice she said: “I don’t know what to do sir”
“How bout we send them back to their dimension” I suggested
Mary let out a sigh “Even if we could, we don’t know where exactly they came from… Far as we know they might even be some form of common pest in their dimension that got sorted along with the trash”
“Hmmm.. How bout we go in there guns blazing, I summon my ghost and you use your net to catch any stragglers”
The girl shook her head “That would be impossible , they’re too many of them and you two would easily be eaten. Besides the net only has room for one group of insects.. I doubt it would be able to handle a swarm.”
Another prolonged silence, it seemed to me that the rain was getting stronger. Its sound droning away in our minds washing away our thoughts and ideas. I looked up into the evening sky, no moon, no stars just the darkness of thick clouds. Had the Bakunawa swallowed the moon in the cover of the storm? I really wished I had a pack of cigarettes now. My chest still hurt…
Frustration was slowly creeping up from my feet and I started pacing around back and forth. CRUNCH I had stepped on an empty soft drink can, I wound back my leg and kicked it sending it flying into the darkness.
“Son of a bitch..wish we could just blow these things up” I mumbled to myself
” What? we could but we don’t have…. wait!” Mary exclaimed
“Huh what is it?”
“We could blow these things sky high!”
“With what?.. We don’t have any explosives” I asked confused
“That’s what I was getting at.. we can use the truck.”
“It’s too small Mary, and even if we somehow get to ignite the gas inside. It would only be enough to destroy one container.. leaving us 11 more to deal with! Besides I don’t think the madam would like the idea..”
The girl put her hands on her hips and leaned forward like a mother would do when scolding her child “But the truck doesn’t run on gas!”
“Oh ok.. What does it run on then magic?”
“Yepp.. highly unstable electrical magic” Mary answered defiantly
“And you didn’t tell me about it, when I agreed to ride your truck.”
“I’m sorry sir it just didn’t seem important at the time.. and I knew it would scare ya”
I took in a deep breath and exhaled. Being with this girl would kill me one day.. I just knew it.
“So, what’s your plan then?” I asked when I had calmed down.
“The secret lies in the stuffed moose on the windshield. remove it and the whole truck will implode upon itself creating a chain reaction that will destroy everything caught in the blast radius”
“Moose ex machina then huh… how convenient” I scoffed
I put the truck into gear and drove forward into the gate toward pier 15. Mary had already taken care of security for me and stood both as my look out and backup in case things went awry. All I had to do now was to drive the truck into the middle of the infested container vans, pull out the moose then book it before I was liquefied- sounded simple enough. To help ease the tension I turned on the radio. It was still tuned to the oldies station and the chorus of The Doors- Break on through to the other side began to play from the truck’s tiny speakers..
” Try to run, try to hide break on through to the other side!”
I then remembered at that moment Jim Morisson their lead vocalist died at age 27 of a heroin overdose. In fact many great musicians died at age 27, there was Kurt Cobain, Hendrix, Brian Jones from the Rolling stones to name a few. Many people were shocked by their sudden and early deaths… Would anybody be shocked if I died today?…. I lived alone so I guess nobody would if ever it came to that.. but I had a cat maybe she would be sad that no one would come to feed her. Would Mary be sad if I died?… she really had nice feet….
Fuck it this is stupid…
I wondered for a moment if it was normal to think of stupid things like this when one was facing the possibility of death.
Were stupid things the last thing I would be thinking about right before I bought it?. Maybe I wouldn’t have time to think about stupidity or anything at all..
I rounded the last corner passing by a large parked trailer. Outside the rain continued to pour, the wind billowing it against the windshield of my vehicle, it’s racket drowning out the sound of the radio. Up ahead through the blur of the water soaked glass I could see the outlines of the red container vans, all 12 of them neatly stacked in 4 rows with 3 containers each.
Seated in the passenger’s seat was the only thing stupid enough to accompany me on the journey (not that it had any choice in the matter anyway) – a large grey cinder block whom I named ROCKY. I grabbed ROCKY and rested him against the gas pedal effectively putting the vehicle on auto pilot. The truck quickly gained momentum due to ROCKY’s efforts. Halfway to the infested containers- when I was sure that even if the steering wheel turned by itself- the truck would still hit its target, I pulled off the stuffed moose from the windshield. A jolt of electricity arced from its point of contact with the glass. Then a strange scent filled the air, intense like the scent of burning metal.. my cue to bail!
This was it, the climax the point of no return… sorry ROCKY don’t worry your sacrifice will be remembered by all. Schools and roads shall be named after you!
I opened the door and jumped out of the vehicle, my body rolling around in the wet concrete. I stretched out my arms to break the momentum, finally stopping with my back against the asphalt, and my head facing toward the night sky. Raising myself up I felt a sharp pain swell through my limbs. Up ahead the truck speeded on, bolts of electricity arcing out of its small frame. It was now only a few meters away from its point of impact. The butterflies who had finally taken notice began pouring out of their metallic nests swarming the truck’s chassis in a crimson cloud. It was all too late for them- metal came into contact with metal at high velocity in a loud thunder clap. The tiny Suzuki was crushed like a can of corned beef against the thick frame of the container, smoke and other fragments billowing out from the aftermath. Suddenly another blue flash of electricity filled the air, this time much more intense blinding my eyes for a few seconds… the van was now going critical..
I forced myself to standup, fiery hurt spreading across the back of my right leg. It didn’t matter I had to run. Without looking back I booked it as fast as I could, large droplets of rainwater pattering against my face and into my eyes making it hard to see. Every step I took my body protested sending jolts of electricity into my nerve endings begging for me to stop. From behind, I could hear the sharp sizzle of electricity getting louder and louder, hard shadows filling the periphery of my vision…. I wasn’t going to make it….
At that moment I saw two bright lights converging in my direction, then I heard the loud mechanical moan of an engine.
It was a car!, a white car… a taxi cab!… Mary!.
The cab skidded sideways stopping just a few meters from where I was standing. On its side written in a large bold font was “KUWA’S TAXI SERVICE 24 HOURS”. Immediately the back door opened.
“GET IN SIR!” Mary hollered at me,
I jumped into the cab, and soon as I was inside the engine roared sending us zooming through the docks at top speed, everything lost in a blur of light and motion. When we had passed the gate a bright flash came from behind illuminating the stormy night with the intensity of the sun.
The sound of the hollow blast shook the metal frame of the car, causing the animal bobble head on its dashboard to vibrate rapidly. I imagined the insects all burning away their wings vaporized into ash by the flames…. My muscles relaxed, the pain now reduced to a bearable throbbing… It was over we got out alive.
It was about 5:30am when we got back to the convenience store. Without the speed of the magical Suzuki truck our trip was extended by 2 hours as we had to manually bypass several flooded roads and traffic jams. On the radio, were news reports about the explosion we caused at the port area. Thankfully no one was hurt by the blast and as usual the act was blamed on the many terrorist groups that menaced the Philippine government- meaning we were off the hook. To be honest I enjoyed our return journey, the slow pace was pleasant and relaxing with none of the vomit inducing turning and swerving Mary had done previously- maybe this is what it felt like to fly first class. Presently we were in the mini mart’s kitchen drying our hair and enjoying our cups of terrible 3 in 1 coffee.
“You did well sir..” Mary said from her place a top of the kitchen counter.
“Nah.. look at me, I’m bruised and can barely walk right now.. Without your help I would have died today.. Also forget the “Sir” will ya I’m just 27 you know”
“I know…” the girl said smiling “I just call you “Sir” cause I knew it would boost your self esteem”
“Oh.. ok then”
There was a short silence between us, we both sipped our coffees and glanced around as if looking for invisible bugs on the walls.
“Oh.. what is it?”
Mary put down her coffee cup and placed a hand at the side of her cheek thoughtfully “Have you figured out what the Bakunawa has to do with you?”
“Nope, I still have no clue” I answered honestly
“Hmmmm.. maybe it has to do with this strange weather we have..”
After some careful thinking I ventured a question toward Mary “You know there is one thing I figured out today..”
“Really.. what is it?”
I took a deep breath and let out a sigh, pain and exhaustion were setting in on me. “I was looking at your feet earlier this evening while you were changing your shoes”
“What about my feet? Is something wrong with them?” Mary asked her eyes beaming with interest.
“Nothing’s wrong.. You just have really pretty feet that’s all.. and uhm.. I think I have something for women’s feet”
“That’s what you discovered.. you have something for women’s feet?”
“Yup that was my epiphany today…” I said while nodding my head
Mary took a long sip from her coffee, all the while still staring at me like she was thinking something over. Finally she said “Would you like to see my feet again?”
I was taken aback by her question but it was a long day and we had been through a lot. So without hesitation I answered “Sure if you wouldn’t mind..”
The girl proceeded to take off both her shoes and socks and then raised both her legs to show me her bare feet. They were beautiful just as before sleek and clean, a perfect pair of feet.
“Can I touch them?” I ventured
The girl narrowed her odd eyes and rubbed the tip of her chin. “Hmmm.. O.K.”
Despite running around all day, Mary’s feet felt soft and smooth under my fingertips.. No rough areas or patches, just silky smooth skin.
“You know.. sir you’re the first person to ever compliment my feet.. most guys tell me I have interesting eyes, or nice breasts, or I’m tall”
“Well I guess different things are important for different people” I said still stroking her soles
“So feet are on top of the list for you then?..”
“If you put it that way then I’d say.. yes”
A wide cat like grin spread itself on Mary’s face “You really are a funny guy, aren’t you..“