Monday, October 13, 2008

vignette: nightflier

“Oh my God, Tasyo,” Mateo said softly. “What have you done?”

At that moment, Poleng flew into the room, her face contorted in incoherent rage, held aloft by furiously beating wings, her mouth spewing unintelligible words. Her intestines trailed her grotesquely fluttering torso, polished by the rain into unwholesome whorls and knots of blue and gray.

“No, no,” Mateo whispered.

“Poleng!” Tasyo shouted beside him. “I’m here!”

With an inhuman shriek, Poleng cut through the air toward the two men.

As Mateo felt his body give way to the weakening power of terror, Tasyo pulled out his gun and shot at the nightflier. Thunder coincided with the shot’s report, serving to drown Poleng’s screams of pain. Mateo managed to raise his head in time to see the creature hovering only a few feet away, her face contorted in pain, her hands clutched to her left breast where blood blossomed against her chemise.

“Devilspawn,” Tasyo shouted, firing at the mannanggal again. “Murderer! Die, in the name of God!”

The second shot sent Poleng spinning across the room, close to window where her lower half stood unmoving. With monstrous determination she picked up her legs and took to the air, out of the window and into the rain toward the river before either man could move again.

Tasyo rushed to the window, gun still in hand.

“Tasyo,” Mateo said as he found his voice. “She’s, she’s—"

“That monster will not get away from me,” Tasyo said as he ran out of the room.

Mateo followed him down the steps, scattering the bewildered servants, out of the house.
As they ran in the downpour in the direction of the river, Mateo begged Tasyo to stop.

“Please,” Mateo shouted against the wind. “Please, let’s just go back. She’s no longer human, she’s--”

“No!”

The slight sliver of the moon and the feral storm rendered the land both dark and dangerous. Tiny rivulets crisscrossed the earth as the men followed the sound of the river for interminable minutes, both of them unaware that the tributary had long since broken free of its usual boundaries, forcefed by the storm.

At one exquisite moment, a stroke of lightning lit up the countryside, illuminating the monstrous form of Poleng, leatherlike wings flapping, fighting the pull of gravity and the thrust of rain-infused winds. Mateo and Tasyo stood at the edge of land newly claimed by the river as its own.

Tasyo fired wildly, once, twice, thrice, into the gloom, rewarded moments later by a scream and the sound of something falling into the water. Another fortuitous flash of lightning revealed the mannanggal clinging on to a rock, having lost of her lower half when she fell, her wings shredded and useless.

“I’m going to finish her,” Tasyo shouted as he rushed into the turbulent water.

“Tasyo, no!” Mateo pleaded, taking a step in the dark, finding himself suddenly in water up to his knees, his feet somehow managing to find purchase in the mud. “Just let her – Just let her go!”

In the dim light he saw Tasyo wading waist-high in the river, heading toward an outcropping of rock that Poleng held on to.

“Tasyo!” Mateo screamed against the storm as he struggled to keep his balance in the wild rapids of the swollen river. “Tasyo!”

“Tonight you die, monster!” Tasyo shouted at the hissing Poleng, raising his gun.

At that moment, a coffin, violently unearthed from the graveyard upstream by the confluence of riparian power and the relentless tempest, surged into the water, smashing the oblivious Tasyo squarely on the head, before turning sideways and coming to a temporary stop against the rock that the winged half of Poleng clung to for life. Tasyo’s limp body was swept away by the churning water as Mateo screamed his friend’s name over and over again.

Poleng started at the coffin as its lid sprung open at the moment of impact, revealing the lifeless corpse of Leandro. With tears that mingled with the rainwater, the mannanggal flung herself onto the cadaver, her bleeding arms and ineffectual wings embracing her lover as they rode the coffin to the distant sea.

It was in this way that Mateo witnessed a dead man achieve vengeance against his murderer and save the woman he once loved, if there was indeed salvation where the river ended and the sea began.

Mateo did not stop trembling until he was a tricycle, bus and airplane ride away the next day, ignoring the wailing of Mariella, the faces of the townspeople, and the ceaseless rain that followed him all the way back to Manila.

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