Excerpt: Selenophobia

- Jonel Abellanosa


From Chapter 7 of my Novel in Progress


The town’s rotunda park was bustling with activities when they arrived midmorning Sunday. Crispin asked the coachman to circle the park once before proceeding to the only limestone road in the municipality, where on the roadside his house stood. The circular park was rimmed with concrete, over which a wrought-iron fence formed the circumference. Most of the grounds were covered with Bermuda grass, trimmed shrubbery and flower patches like small landmarks. Concrete benches were occupied, children were running around, circling makeshift kiosks and display stalls with banana fritters and rice cakes. The sun had almost reached its climb’s zenith, bestowing the brightest colors, acacias providing cool shades, sunrays through interstices dappling the green grounds. Back in Luis’ old town, they had their version of family day, a Sunday gathering spent most of the time on the beach, with picnics and repeated dips in the aquamarine waters. Luis felt nostalgia’s pang again, the loss of one place irreplaceable no matter how beautiful the new place. He watched the boisterous children with resignation. He had centuries ago lost the love for childish plays. He tried to remember his times with his sister, Sophia, when they were children, and the sadness in his heart was like a sapling under the sun. He realized Crispin doesn’t know only his body had stopped growing. Intellectually, he was a grown man. He decided to let it remain that way. He wouldn’t divulge to his new parents that his mind had developed into its fullest potential; and aside his body, everything else in him belonged to an adult. He decided he’d give them the chance to love a child, the boy of their dreams, even if it meant pretension on his part. What is family life but role-playing? There are things you’d rather not do, but are forced to, because they push familial cooperation in the right directions. Luis realized this is one of the definitions of selflessness or self-sacrifice. You give up some things for others in the family to maintain their balance, and in return you’re rewarded with something from a hidden or restrained side of a loved one you never thought existed. And you learn some new things you’d never learn were you to insist on your ways. Differences shouldn’t be sources of tension, rather it should hone understanding that leads to unity and more love, Luis thought. Luis thought of families torn asunder by pride, by their refusal to acknowledge other points of view that remain valid as long as they’re still consistent with the spirit of cherished values. Role-playing is one of the ways family members come to know each other more intimately. He certainly wanted to meet that side of his new parents that loved children, that aspect of their personality that would make them vanguards of protectiveness and provision. His biological parents had many flaws, but they never failed to provide for his needs. They would even go beyond the basics of survival and give him the pleasures and added lifestyle bonuses as along as affordability wasn’t put into question. Luis promised himself he’d be the same loving son, as though his adoptive parents were his real parents. He’d reciprocate whatever love they showed and extended. He’d even take the first step in certain situations for love’s reaffirmations. He was surprised to realize he had been silently praying as he pondered, wishing, with God in a corner of his mind, to be blessed with strength and be more understanding. He realized he hadn’t prayed earnestly for a long time, for years perhaps, and now that he was plunged in a mindset that had made him aware of divine presence, he prayed deeply.      


They proceeded to the limestone road near the mountains, passing by uniformed houses on both sides, houses with sliding Capiz windows, with square windowpane oysters pearlescent in the midmorning brightness. The façades of the wooden houses were adorned with red, yellow, violet and bluish flowers in hanging baskets. It’s almost lunchtime, and as they lumbered along, the sharp, appetizing smell of fried dried fish filled the air. Luis could hear the hissing of oil from one house. He wondered again if his immortality had heightened his sense of smell. He remembered that more than two decades ago, while walking on the beach one Sunday midmorning when he and his family were having a weekend picnic, the smell of what he imagined as rotten flesh started burgeoning. He had entered a secluded part of the beach where waves pounded the craggy cliffs angrily, a place beachgoers avoided because of tales involving ghosts, apparitions, accidents and deaths.  He moved quicker forward, the shoreline to his left, nearing the first bedrocks, and the unpleasant smell gradually waned. So he stopped and turned (the sea now to his right), ran a few retracing steps, and stopped. As expected, the objectionable smell was back in its growing force. He looked to his left, and saw a thick congregation of coconut trees, on the sand countless browning coconuts reminding him of skulls. He could feel his heart pounding, a hot sensation on his forehead as if it were cloth being ironed, as he walked into the darkening denseness of the coconut grove. As he stepped on fronds and twigs, the smell became unbearable, and he thought he heard the buzzing of flies. He weaved through the boles like a meandering rivulet, which he thought he heard, adjusting his proximities to the smell by how it grew and waned. He must have been searching for at least ten minutes already. Fear almost grabbed him by the throat when he saw something reddish or pink on the ground, the view partially blocked by rocks, moss and lichen. Fear turned to courage and he ran towards it and saw at last the huge, bloodied carcass of a manta ray. It looked disemboweled, its spilled innards overrun by worms. Huge red ants swarmed its long, sharp tail. Luis covered his nose with his hands, his face wrinkled by the stench. As he walked back to the open he wondered how the cartilaginous fish got into that part of the woods. The manta ray obviously beached, but why would townsfolk drag it to where he found it, which was perhaps half a mile from the beachfront and deep into a woods that provided difficult obstacles considering the breadth of the fish’s spread pectoral fins? He had witnessed a number of times townspeople with knives racing to the shoreline, competing for chunks of meat from beached dolphins, whales or manta rays; but this one’s body looked intact but for its slashed belly and spilled intestines. Luis thought it was strange. As one who had become accustomed to observing and analyzing his thoughts and thought processes, he quickly realized the possibility of his innate olfactory prowess. Or he wasn’t born with the gift of smell; rather, he acquired it as one of his immortality’s consequences. That moment something seemed to have snapped in his brain that he started smelling with unusual vigor. A visual stimulus would trigger a certain smell, like for instance the glowing smell of porcelain when he saw the circus tiger in a cage, making him dizzy. Or the smell of sapodilla when after seeing a child stumble on the road he thought he heard the ground’s short grumble. Or the liquid smell of wood – which he experienced three times – while circling the town square before sunset and imagining his surroundings an emerald glade. The smell that had been recurring for decades was the impertinence of sour sop. He’d smell it after waking. He’d smell it if he hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours. He’d smell it inside the church. He’d smell it if he saw flying fish skim the sea’s surface. Another irritant was the unsteady smell of burnt wood – one moment bitter, the next bland – which recurred with intensifying consistency for 24 months during his 3rd decade. Certain smells were like grates to the ear, threatening to drive him crazy. He’d run and run, and inhale and inhale, hoping the bothersome phantom smell would leave him alone. He’d rub his forehead against the door until he felt the heat. Instead of making him cry, these evil smells made him rage and rage and rage. He’d drown his throat with glasses of water, and then he’d run and run and run again, his body expelling sweat like a torrential downpour. It was one of the techniques he developed to get rid of unwanted smells, smells that invaded his consciousness like hiveless swarms. There had been long periods of time when unwelcomed smells were a perennial problem. His bouts with these episodes brought out his stubbornness, which uncharacteristically took him long to notice. When it dawned on him like a late epiphany that instead of resisting he should have internalized the processes of acclimatization, he realized it was probably pride that spurred him to fight back. It could also be easily mistaken as pride, when in fact it could be overconfidence in his abilities of overcoming he must have believed he possessed. Endurance isn’t necessarily an expression of the fighting spirit whose sole goal is victory, he once thought. To be able to withstand also means to be able to accept the immutable, to become one with it, he told himself. Only when he decided to stop resisting the unwholesome smells, and learn to just be an observer or participant of its duration, had the olfactory assaults started to diminish, till one day they were no longer nuisances. By this time Luis had long been obsessed with deep rationalizations, analyzing events and his responses, analyzing his mind and its iterations, the depths of his understandings and insights – to a degree that would make most people question the healthiness of such mental exercises. Such rigorous self-investigation would border on masochistic pleasure, as he developed anxieties he seemed to welcome, panic attacks that left him in the throes of copious literary productions, particularly poetry. He began suspecting the poetic intellect works best under extreme pressure, and soon began creating situations that would expose his mind to excessive, excruciating tests.  He’d pit one friend against another, just to study human behavior. He’d start conversations that inevitably veered towards argument and eventually, violent confrontations, to study if responses and their progressions are anchored in certain norms or in what he called “universal parallels.” He began seeing patterns in what after several glances would still seem like unrelated events. By this time he’d long been honing his abilities to read minds, exercising his aptitudes in predicting responses.


The only limestone road in the municipality came into full view. It led to the mountains that provided townsfolk clay materials for pottery, and coal pits for Crispin and a few of his merchant-friends to exploit. Trees greened the mountains, a lushness that stilled Luis’ mind for a few moments.


Luis counted seven houses – four on the right, three on the left. The houses had front porches, reminding him of their house that was burned after his biological mother’s death. Some had lawns with manicured grasses and pots of flowers. Crispin pointed at the middle house on the left side of the road.


“That is your new home, Luis.”

The coachman pulled the two horses to a stop in front of Crispin’s house. The neighbors gathered round the carriage as they disembarked, as though they had expected Crispin and Aurora to return home with a newly adopted child. Crispin and Aurora exchanged greetings and pleasantries with three couples, shaking each other’s hands, the women kissing each other’s cheeks, the children extending hands and introducing themselves to Luis. It’s as if they had been talking about this moment long before they arrived. Their arrival seemed to fill the children with wonder. Luis felt the radiant liveliness of welcome. These people were his new neighbors, these children his new playmates. He wondered how he’d still be able to pretend like an 8-year-old in the presence of these children. He could feel his wry smile, which he instantly corrected. The children asked questions like:


            “Are you immortal?”


            “You don’t die?”


            “What’s your favorite color?”


            “How old are you?”

           

“How long have you lived?”


Dogs were barking from inside the second house across the road, and as its door opened, two dogs raced out to meet them – a Dalmatian and a black female mix-breed.

           

Luis bent his knees and the dogs neared him, still wagging their tails and sniffing at him. He petted them, and they quickly grew comfortable with him.


            “The Dalmatian is Dexter,” said Crispin, “and the black one is Nicola.”


The new family proceeded to their home with their dogs. When the door opened a strong smell assaulted Luis that made him wince. It was the smell of decades, the sort that clung to draperies and curtains and gave them a heavy feel. It’s the kind of smell that reminded of old pirate chests, a smell that spoke of the deep sea’s redolence, reminding Luis of the smells of brine.


The interior was dark even if it was lunchtime. Crispin lit votive candles on the low table in the living room, and those on the counter that divided the living room from the dining table, and light slowly spread like shoreline water during low tide. Luis saw the heavily-curtained windows, and surmised from the modest available light the curtains were maroon. They looked thickly woolen, strangely reminding Luis of coyotes and wolves and their furs. Luis remembered, from glances when they were still outside, that the windows were probably of the sliding variety, made of wood and adorned with Capiz shells, which was voguish on the island those days. Luis thought of asking Crispin to set the curtains aside and slide the windows open, to let sunlight in, to let the wind replace the musky smell with fragrances from the open; but he realized there must be a compelling reason why Crispin and Aurora would rather light votive candles when it was daylight outside. Even if he was their child now, he didn’t want to intrude. A person’s home is his inner sanctuary, he thought, and there are those who find solace in darkness, there are those who are buoyed into lightness by minimal light. Dexter the Dalmatian had climbed on the sofa and made himself comfortable, licking his paws. Nicola was wagging her tail as she looked up at Aurora who unloaded a basket of guavas, bananas and mangoes on the dining table. The door opened and Crispin entered again with two leather bags that Luis presumed contained clothing. Luis thought he had no other clothing except the ones he was wearing. All of his things went up in flames. He wondered if Crispin and Aurora would buy him new clothes. Of course they would, he thought. Luis had sat next to Dexter the Dalmatian on the sofa, patting the dog. He followed with his eyes Crispin carrying the leather bags to what was perhaps the couple’s room right side of the dining table. That was when he caught sight of the display cabinet made of glass and wood, illuminated with candlelight from the counter. In it were what looked like knives with intricately carved handles made from wood and bones, displayed with the apparentness of care and what seemed the urge to draw the observer’s eyes. Luis recalled Pepe teaching him and his batchmates during one of the summer camp workshops for immortal children that objects (in this case the glass-encased knives) contain in their form an emotion, or that they provoke an emotional response. He noticed strong feelings in him of what could be mild contrasts, which weren’t conflicting, that seemed to be influenced by way the knives were arranged in the glass enclosure, as if in its apparent efforts at visual aesthetics it seemed to reject the room’s ideation of an absent observer. Luis presumed that Crispin owned the collection of knives, and that he seemed interrogating himself with the aesthetics of arrangements – an acute acknowledgement of the artistic endeavor’s lonely pursuits. No one was meant to see it, but the way the knives were arranged in the glass compartments seemed to convey a deep longing for connection.


Crispin emerged from their room and called Luis, whom he led to the room on the left side of the dining table. Crispin opened the door.


            “This is your room, Luis.”


The window was slid open, and light streamed in to illuminate his bed and a table. In his room there was no doubt what time of day it was, and the brightness with which light assaulted his consciousness swept the last dark vestiges of uncertain time into clarity.


Luis spent most of his time in his room, with Dexter the Dalmatian who was fast becoming his best friend. To say that he was troubled would be an understatement. He had noticed, as soon as they entered the house, a certain mood shift from the couple that seemed to reinforce the house’s gloominess. Or it was the prominence of darkness, or the scarcity of light, that plunged them into a kind of despondency not pliable to misinterpretation.


They talked little while eating a lunch of scrambled eggs and garlic rice that Aurora cooked. Candlelight couldn’t hide the abject sadness disfiguring the couple’s ease with winsomeness that Luis presumed from the very beginning, as though the paucity of light pulled to the surface the knots that wrinkled their hearts, which their faces could no longer hide. And it troubled Luis, as it made him feel ill-equipped as an assessor of motivations. Crispin and Aurora seemed very good in hiding their true feelings publicly. But what if there was really a reason for what could be mistaken as pretension? What if they were hurting? Perhaps they had suffered for decades because of their inability to sire their own child. Luis thought that he should be fair, and reserve his judgments until such times when the truth would become clearer. He decided to give it a few more days. He’d observe them deeply and be slow in drawing his own conclusions. He thought that there are reasons people behave in unexpected ways. He should be kind with his judgments, rather than cruel in being quickly conclusive. They could really be hurting, and for whatever reasons he’s sure he’d find out eventually. That night he watched the gibbous moon slowly sail past the window of his room. Dexter the Dalmatian slept next to him. Nicola slept on the floor. He wondered about the new life facing him. It was impossible to push thoughts of his biological parents and sister out his mind. He wasn’t fully aware of it when a tide of feeling rose and flooded his eyes with tears. His sob quickly became a full-blown cry.


Crispin was out of town the next few days. Luis acquainted himself with house chores, helping Aurora. At the back of their house, in a patch of land that led to the woods, was the deep well the neighborhood used communally, round which ladies and child-helps would gather to wash dirty laundries. Aurora would bring their unwashed clothes there midmorning. Luis offered to clean the house while she was away washing the clothes. There was some hesitance on her part, but he assured her he was used to menial tasks. It was a lie. He and his sister, Sophia, lived like a prince and a princess, as there was never a dearth of slaves and househelp who assisted their biological mother for their house’s upkeep. He asked for unused clothing to use as rags. He drew  a bucket of water from the well.


Dust had overrun most of the house, with some corners near the windows dirt-encrusted. He realized how heavy the curtains were as he tried to set them aside. He pulled the sliding window to open it, and was shocked he couldn’t do it after several tries. He discovered the windows nailed shut. He felt a frisson rise from the base of his spine to his scruff, a short manifestation of coldness in his left shin. Why are the windows nailed shut? What are Crispin and Aurora trying to hide? As he scrubbed the floor with a coconut husk he tried to imagine reasons to alleviate his growing anxiety. Maybe Aurora suffered from dust allergies. Luis thought of dust from the limestone road. But he had never seen Aurora nursing itchy watery eyes, runny nose or nasal congestions. Perhaps she’s afraid of flying foxes. The other day, Luis, investigating the woody parts of the neighborhood, came across, to his wonderful delight, congregations of flying foxes on the grounds of the mango groves, like priesthoods of black feasting on fallen overripe fruits. Luis watched the fruit bats circle the trees in their neighborhood. Perhaps Crispin didn’t want a stray or two to enter the house, probably because Aurora hated them, or she was allergic to their presence. Luis wondered if the neighbors have been to their home. They probably have, he surmised. There seemed nothing in the house that Crispin and Aurora would hide from neighbors, and the welcome party Crispin and Aurora had planned to introduce him to the neighbors was perhaps meant to be indoors. But the more he tried justifying the unusual, the easier shadowy thoughts took over his mind. He began circling the husk under his foot without aim, as if shadows had blanked his awareness. He began analyzing his feelings, asking himself what he had gotten himself into, as though he were suddenly sure something sinister would be the likelier explanation. What if they didn’t want the neighbors to see their so-called interior lives? Everyone has their version of what privacy is, he thought, and he shouldn’t begrudge his new parents their definition of privacy. He took a deep breath and dipped a rag in the bucket of water. He squeezed it and began wiping the glass cabinet housing the collection of knives, but before he continued he put the rag down and took a votive candle and brought it closer to the display cabinet made of glass and wood. He noticed with more clarity the care with which the knives were arranged. The knives seemed equidistant to each other, grouped according to use: knives with curved blades that looked like a bird’s beak on the top shelf; sharp-pointed, narrow-bladed boning knives on the middle shelf; carving and butchering knives with stag handles on the lowest shelf. Luis thought he saw something, so he lowered the candle to be proximally closer to the third knife on the lowest shelf. It reminded him of the knife his mother would use to cut whole chunks of beef. The blade was rectangular and seemed colored all over with foreign material reminding him of soot. What caught his attention was the brownish, almost reddish smudge on the blade that looked like dried blood. All the other knives looked pristine. He wondered, if this particular knife that had caught his attention had been used, why was it not cleaned thoroughly? He returned the candle to the counter and resumed his cleaning chore.


That night, after dinner, Aurora sat on the front porch. Luis gained the courage to sit next to her. Her gaze seemed interrogating the moon, which seemed in the cusp of becoming full. A kind of sadness bloomed from her countenance like a night flower, as though she longed for something beyond her grasp. Or she longed for company, so Luis took her hand and gripped it gently. He could feel the tenderness, which from the grip of her response felt like a flower closing its petals. She didn’t take her eyes off the moon, and there was some sort of inching in her gaze that spoke of something arcane. The situation suddenly felt customary, as though she had projected to Luis her fear of what was to come.


            “Mama,” said Luis.


He saw a tear flow like a rivulet down her cheek. He felt the small tremor from her hand. The moon, almost full, had rested on the tree’s crown. The yellowish orb was like a sacramental wafer, raised in consecration. Luis was sure he saw something in Aurora’s eyes that terrified her, and whatever it was he knew he shared it its fruition.


            “Get inside, Luis. Go. Go to your room and lock the door.”


            “Mama…”


            “Go! Please go!”


Aurora cried, pushing his hand off her grip. Whatever it was, Luis wasn’t afraid of it anymore.


            “I’m staying, mama.”


            “Please, my son. Be obedient. Go to your room and lock the door.”


Luis refused. He took Aurora’s hand again and gripped it with assurance. He’d stay with her, and whatever she was afraid of, they’d face it together. Luis wished he could tell her he was no longer an 8-year-old intellectually. He wanted to tell her he’d try his best to protect her from whatever terrified her. Luis noticed that what he now felt for Aurora was love. Night became daylight. Aurora had fallen asleep on the bamboo bench, her head on Luis’ lap.


Crispin arrived the following morning, rushing to their room, to his wife, as though he had expected something, and seemed glad to find the contrary: Aurora sleeping on their bed peacefully. The door was ajar and Luis saw Crispin breaking into tears. It terrified Luis to see Aurora limp in Crispin’s embrace, her eyes closed, her sleep resembling death. Aurora spent all day in their room. Crispin would come out to cook meal, and bring food and water to his wife. Luis ate lunch with Crispin, the dining table full of fruits like jackfruits, durian and soursop, which Crispin brought home from his latest trip out of town. Crispin had fried chicken legs, giving Dexter and Nicola one piece each to go with their rice softened with heated chicken broth. They were silent throughout the meal, Luis watching the two dogs eating with gusto. The chicken leg was rubbed with salt before fried, but it tasted bland. Something in Luis had fallen silent, as if his body were a shell that had given up its mollusk. Empathy’s pains had assaulted him like flying foxes, whose augury was the moon that must be full this time someplace. The image of Aurora transfixed with the moon haunted him all afternoon, as lying on his bed he entertained his imagination. The tree his third eye saw was leafless, skeletal, and the flying foxes circling in the moon’s silvery light were like wraiths from hell. He didn’t eat dinner because he fell asleep. He dreamed of the four horsemen again, their horses sorrel, piebald, skewbald and palomino. They rushed along the shoreline, foams and sprays hitting his face as they raced up into the sky, where a dot slowly got bigger and bigger and bigger until it was a silvery disk with flickering lights. A beam shot from it and overwhelmed Luis, taking him up into the spaceship’s Hall of Mirrors. The being who called itself “Angel” smiled at Luis.


            “Are you the one called, ‘Angel’?”


The being nodded.


            “Why am I here?”


            “You’ve been chosen for the 525th time.”


            “Chosen for what?”


            “Hundreds of years from now you will cease to be an immortal, and you will do your best to save your planet from climate catastrophe.”


Luis was roused from sleep by what he thought was his sister, Sophia, screaming. The screams and wails seemed more terrifying, because they felt guttural, spewed from the deepest recess of the human psyche where hunger resides. Luis realized the capacity of the human voice to sound pestilential, by the extent to which it would carve itself into the listener’s terrified heart. He saw images of his sister during her last days on Earth – her disheveled, disoriented self that quickly spiraled into madness. He remembered the sharp words that accompanied her voice as if stretched on a rack as she screamed. But no sooner had he started recalling more of his sister’s last days than he realized something more sinister, something scarier: It was Aurora’s screaming voice that woke him. Luis carefully got out of his room, both dogs racing out, Dexter the Dalmatian leaping onto the sofa. The votive candles in their glass containers looked like gloomy churchgoers, Aurora’s screams like their macabre ritual’s homily. Luis sat on the floor and leaned on the wall next to the closed door. In between screams Aurora would wail, and it was a cry of the tortured. It’s like the last cry of the crucified Christ, Luis thought. And then he heard sobs, the voice of Crispin and his words of assurance. Luis felt something akin to a flicker that made him stand and tiptoe to the front porch. He pushed the door open but remained inside. Like he expected, the moon was at last full, and it rested on the tree’s crown like a crystal ball to a gazer. Dexter the Dalmatian and Nicola slipped out. They sniffed at foliage and bushes, Dexter the Dalmatian raising a leg to empty his bladder, Nicola bending her hindmost parts to do the same. Something then seemed to draw them to moonlight, and they found the spot on the ground that was grassless, where the view to the moon was unblocked. Both dogs howled in unison, and it was the first time Luis heard dogs howl. It terrified him. The frisson shot from the base of his spine to his head as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, and saw Crispin’s shadowed face, which was veiled in gloom. It was the first time he saw that manifestation of Crispin’s countenance – which was cold, with a marble stillness in his eyes.


            “Come to our room, son. I want to show you something.”


Crispin pushed the door to their room fully open. Something freezing claimed Luis’ body as he stepped into the room – which was windowless, whose four walls were heavily curtained – and as he saw the creature, chained to the bedpost from its neck. It was now silent, and he thought he could hear its heavy breathing, wheezy and sounding asthmatic. Its face was disfigured by protruding cheekbones, rectangular protuberances from its ribcage mutilating the flesh of its naked body. Luis saw Aurora’s torn pieces of clothing on the floor. He looked at the creature’s eyes, and it was bloodshot, it was red. Crispin sat next to it on the bed, and he embraced it, and it closed its eyes and rested its head on his chest. Crispin sobbed, and it also cried, its wailing voice terrible as the sounds of an earthquake.


            “Would you still love her, Luis?”


Luis was no longer afraid. He was heartbroken. He was sure what he felt wasn’t pity but compassion. As he slowly neared the bed he thought what he felt was really love. He sat next to the creature, and it seemed to shun him as it pressed itself deeper into Crispin’s embrace. Luis thought it was trying to protect him by pushing itself farther from him. It was then that Luis was sure what he felt was love.


Dexter the Dalmatian raced into the room and leapt onto the bed, sniffing at the creature, which disentangled itself from Crispin’s embrace to pet the tail-wagging Dalmatian. Luis patted Dexter the Dalmatian’s head, and he saw the creature’s “hand,” now clawed, its sharp nails like half-moons. The creature didn’t withdraw its “hand.” Luis felt the creature’s yearn for contact, so he touched it, and it felt bony and rough, and it aroused some kind of dread Luis tried to push under the surface of the unfamiliar. And he pressed his touch on it. Often we are afraid of what we don’t know, he thought, and most of the time intimate contact is all it takes to accept things as they are, accept things we cannot change. He felt a tide of feeling rise, an overwhelming sense of oneness with a creature that shouldn’t be defined by how frightening it looked. In a society marred by bigotry and ignorance, looks or appearance could be a death sentence. Luis now understood why their house was kept in the dark, no window allowed to proffer a view of what’s inside. He surmised the curtains were meant to keep the sounds of her screams confined. Luis realized this is the definition of unconditional love, a love that risked everything, an open-armed love that accepted everything. He deepened his touch, and the creature took his hand and folded its clawed tentativeness into something that was sure and reciprocal. It opened and closed its eyes as it watched Luis with a peacefulness that spoke of mountains and rivers, a serenity that broached the eternities of hills.


            “Mama”


The creature looked at Crispin, who was trying to stop sobbing like a child, wiping his eyes with a white kerchief.


            “Luis, your mother has to feed. You don’t have to see it.”


Luis looked at the huge bucket with what looked like raw meat.


            “She eats it raw?”


Crispin nodded.


Luis wanted to watch, but he honored his father’s wish for privacy, so he left the room. Instinctively, he approached the glass display cabinet with the collection of knives; and just as he had hunched, there was a much larger butchering knife he hadn’t seen before. He brought candlelight closer to it, and he saw drops and traces of water on the blade. It took him days to have the courage and risk sounding like an adult by asking Crispin:


            “Papa, please tell me the truth. Your out-of-town trips are really not for trade, are they? It is only incidental you trade during your out-of-town trips. You look for meat to feed mama – that’s the real reason you disappear for days or weeks supposedly for your buy-and-sell ventures.”


Instead of answering his question, Crispin revealed that an oracle from the 13th hill had told them to have their own child, even if from adoption, because it would be a cure to Aurora’s affliction. He asked for Luis’ forgiveness, and for his understanding that they had no choice. Crispin explained that Aurora is a good person, and that she never hurt anyone even as a monster, let alone claimed another person’s life. How Luis wished he could tell his new father he no longer thought like a child, that after more than fifty years on Earth, his intellect had matured to its fullest, and he’s capable of the deepest discernment, able to arrive at insights one might associate with wise, adult thinking. Luis understood that their efforts to have their own child, if only through adoption, suggested their willingness to change, their yearns for Aurora to live a normal life, and not be in constant fear of the lunar cycles that would unleash the monster. But why should she be called a monster, Luis asked himself. Because of how she looks? She never hurt anyone. A monster is an indiscriminate killer. A monster is one who claims the lives of children and the innocent. The governor-priest who is guilty of mass murder is the monster, Luis thought, is Satan himself personified on Earth. The willingness of Crispin and Aurora to take the risk of hurting a child they would adopt, with Aurora’s spiritual disease, suggested their desire to be well – in physical appearance and in spiritual upbringing. Thus it was easier to forgive. In the days to follow Luis would seriously asses if what he felt, as he sat next to the moon-metamorphosed Aurora and touched her disfigured hand, was really love.


Crispin pulled Luis and embraced him. He kissed Luis’s forehead. “You’re a good boy, Luis. Go to sleep now.”


Five days later Aurora was back to her human form. Luis found her in their room spent and exhausted, drenched with sweat, and exuding a soury but fruity smell that reminded him of tamarinds. He brought a wet towelette, which he folded into a rectangle and placed on his mother’s forehead, because she was feverish. Crispin was out of the house to buy chickens and vegetables. Luis utilized the care and loving kindness he had observed from his biological mother each time he fell ill with fever. He would assist Aurora to pull herself a little bit up so she could drink a glass of water. He helped her eat the boiled egg and garlic rice Crispin prepared. There seemed a flicker from her countenance that spoke of her reluctance to smile, but that reluctance seemed to come from regret, her remorse of having plunged him into the kind of life she might have thought he wouldn’t have wanted. Luis thought it was necessary to assure her with an honest smile, so he smiled the smile that blossomed from the heart like a sapling. It was then that she smiled in return – a kind of smile that was grateful, a kind of smile that sought refuge in mutuality. The dogs entered the room, Dexter the Dalmatian leaping onto the bed. She exerted every effort to sit up.


Luis heard the knocks on the front door.


            “Go, son, open the door and let them in.”


There were three couples waiting outside. After Luis opened the door, one of them asked:

            “How is your mother?”


Luis was surprised the neighbors knew about his mother’s affliction. He didn’t have to lead them to his parents’ room, as they seemed to know their way. Luis stood in the doorway as the three couples comforted Aurora, the women embracing her, the men with concerned looks in their eyes. He took a long reflection of the turn his life had taken, where it was proceeding, and how he should conduct himself along the way, in order to preserve and honor the humane values Pepe had tried inculcating during the summer camps for immortal children.


Luis would live with Crispin and Aurora for only seven years. One day, before daylight, soldiers and an angry mob with torches came shouting and knocking on their door. Luis bolted from sleep, and he went straight to his parents’ room, the dogs following him. He witnessed Crispin and Aurora very calm. Crispin was changing into more presentable clothing. They embraced each other, as though they knew what was happening. They looked at each other’s eyes for almost a minute, and then Crispin went to meet his accusers and arresters. They also came for Aurora, who was put in a cage mounted on a wagon.


Crispin was sentenced to death, and he was hanged in the public square. Countless individuals from different southern and northern towns came to witness the week-long trial and his public execution, after which it was proclaimed publicly that the missing-persons cases (involving more than 200 individuals that vanished without a trace in a span of more than a decade) were close.


Luis wouldn’t know what happened to Aurora. Nor where she was taken. Luis had known all along that something like this would happen, that he had been subliminally conditioned by his suspicions of Crispin’s out-of-town activities to be able to take what had happened without being shocked. It turned out that the oracle from the 13th hill was wrong, and Aurora was never cured of her afflictions after they adopted him, after they had their own child. Crispin’s love for his wife was one that crossed any and every red line. As a moon-transformed creature she had to feed in order to remain alive, and her diet as a nonhuman drove Crispin to violate all his cherished values as a human being. Luis understood that Crispin’s greatest fear was losing his wife, and he was ready to pay the ultimate price. The tragedy taught him many lessons, and seemed to illustrate why good people are sometimes driven to do horrifying things.


A previous contributor of Setu Magazine, Jonel Abellanosa resides in Cebu City, the Philippines. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Rattle, Poetry Kanto, McNeese Review, Mojave River Review and Star*Line . His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Dwarf Stars award. His fourth poetry collection, “Songs from My Mind’s Tree,” has been published in early 2018 by Clare Songbirds Publishing House (New York), which will also publish his collection, “Multiverse.” His poetry collection, “Sounds in Grasses Parting,” is forthcoming from Moran Press. His first speculative poetry collection, “Pan’s Saxophone,” is forthcoming from Weasel Press.

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