by R.T. Allenson
In the province, there’s an old river that snakes throughout the entire town like a vein. It is as part of our daily life sky and the earth, but its waters are not something we celebrate.
My people are a suspicious kind, and the river is as much part of our folklore as any monster or kin of the night that treads beneath the gaze of the moon. In other towns, parents would talk of kapres and tikbalangs that stalk the wooden groves and carry away maidens and children. Of changelings and baby-faced demons; women who split their bodies and fly into the night, and dark-haired creatures that prey on the unborn with their lashing tongues.
My country is full of superstition. Here, the old powers of the wood and the ancient gods of the earth still hold sway over the people. In other towns, these creatures and deities are what haunt the people’s dreams.
In our town, we warn what the river brings.
I was not like the rest of my people. I was raised in the city and knew little of the superstitions that the older folk pass around when the stars come out with their mother, the moon. When I visited our province, I was neither impressed nor threatened by what they say was the “demon river”. It was, after all, just an ordinary river. Its waters were still pristine, and there plenty of fish living in it.
Despite this, the townsfolk do not get anything from the river. The fishermen would travel to the port town a considerable distance from us just to get fish for food. I thought of it as stupid, and they repeatedly warned me to respect their beliefs and to fear the river.
I was young back then, and considerably naïve. I was an impetuous man who cared little for the words of others. I do not recall what inspired me to do what I did, but I remember that night as if it was yesterday.
I stood at the edge of the river, studying the waters and the fish living beneath it. The moon was waning at that time, and the distinct call of the cicada filled the air. It was almost the end of summer, and it would only be two days until I had to go back to the city.
As I said, I was an impetuous man, and I remember deciding on the thought of violating the river in some way as a show of transgression to any supposed power that inhabited it. I was about to do it when the noise of summer died down in complete silence. I saw the fish swim deeper into the waters, and overhead, the stars seemed to dim from their places in the sky.
Then there were the drums. Low and mournful, like the one you’d use for the dead. I remember it starting quite faintly until the beating of these damnable drums filled the air. Terror struck my heart the first time, and I scrambled to find shelter lest the drum-bearers find me standing in the banks of the river.
I hid inside a dilapidated house and stared out into the river. Although nothing came into view, the beating of the drums were growing stronger every second.
Then I saw it. That damnable sight that continues to haunt my dreams. I saw a procession of sorts; like the kind you see when someone from the family dies. They were mourners, treading the river in a ghastly march that was illuminated by the moon. The ones at the front of the line were carrying the drums, and their rhythmic beating was synchronized with their marching. The ones in the middle were the mourners themselves; women with veils on the top crowning their heads.
At the very end of that line were the pallbearers. They were four of them and they were unusually large. Each one of them was carrying the casket as if it was the world on their shoulders. It was difficult to tell, but I noticed that they too were weeping from the sounds that they were making.
Fear was replaced with curiosity, and I crept closer to get a better view of this unearthly procession. I managed to come just a few feet away from them when one of the mourners turned its veiled gaze towards me. The rest did not pay her any mind even though she was lagging behind considerably . For a while, she just stared at me as if she had seen something unnatural.
I was about to move in closer when she suddenly took of her veil, revealing a set of sharp, knife-like teeth set upon a long tapering snout. She regarded me for a second before, and then her surrounding, and then started howling like a wild animal. I ran for my life, away from the river and that damnable sight and although I had made my way to the very center of the town, I swear I could still feel the breathing and gasping of that wolf-headed mourner on the back of my neck.
I must have passed out, because I remember waking up and being tended by the local doctor in the clinic. I had bite marks all over, and a deep wound on the back of my neck that they said was done by no man nor animal known.
But the older folk knew what it was. They knew what gave me these marks, and what vision now haunts my nights. Perhaps it will go away in time, but it’s been ten years now, and I can still hear that damnable howling whenever the full moon hangs heavily in the air.