By RD Rivero
By RD Rivero
July 24, 2000
It began like a fine day when it seemed little could go wrong. WileyKat and
WileyKit's simple prank was to uproot what yams the old Lunatic had planted
on his farm. To make sure Alluro would not catch them the he had to be held
distracted in his shack. That was the dirty job Nayda's Thundercat friends had
given her. They promised not to take long but warned they would head back to
the lair without her if she was not coy enough at her end.
She approached the shack cold slowly. Trembling in fear for the Lunatic was
inside. Willa had told her to be careful when so far from the village. She knew
of the sorcery shrouded deep within the forest. She told her to beware of
Alluro and of the perverse, lustful powers of that unseen jungle that had
WileyKat and WileyKit were already hidden behind empty barrels that lay at
odd angles to the ground. She was squarely in their sight. A hot wind grazed
her cheek when she came as close to the door as she could without touching it.
Within, the shack was a crackling fire and, as if by design, the door was just
open enough for her to see hints of flinching flames and bright orange sparks
shoot up from the fire pit in the earth to the air to fade away forever.
Crickets and birds chirped in the distance. Trees rustled as a flood of sounds
spewed forth from a jungle awakening with life. Gray clouds overhung the sky.
Droplets of rain fell loudly to the earth. Dampness clung to the air. The breeze
grew cold and she shivered when she saw Alluro on the floor by the rim of the
fire's pit. Next to him was a pile of fur that passed for a sleeping dog. Nayda
wanted to turn back but she heard WileyKat whisper to her to get on with it.
Her arm stretched, her hand was ready to grab hold of the door's rotting wood
but then it swiftly thrust open.
Alluro stood before her, cloaked in murky shadows. “You are Willa’s sister?”
Nayda nodded, her eyes never left his stiff face. “Enter. It will rain hard soon. It
always rains hard here.”
“Yes, of course, sir.” She smiled. The exchange pleased Alluro.
“How much like your sister do you look.” He had donned on a robe in the
darkness, sometime after he had let Nayda in. Once the door shut the crackling
fire became so loud it drowned most every sound from outside. She was
uncomfortable and nervous but at least Alluro knew who she was. She
returned the cordiality since she was not being treated like a stranger.
“Thank you, sir.” She knew how to be respectful when she had to.
Alluro led the girl by the shoulder and sat her before the fire's pit to keep her
warm from the chilling air. A pot was boiling over the flame. The ancient
Lunatic swirled a long-stemmed spoon around the simmering stew. Then he
scooped up two yams and gave one to her. “My wife and I have already eaten,
but here, have this,” he said.
Nayda took it with another “Thank you, sir.”
Alluro was beaming. He turned to the resting dog, it had not moved at all and
when he threw the other yam at it the poor beast did not react. Not even a
whimper. As it lay flat on its side firm strands of dusty, matted, unkept fur
swayed and bent in the warm currents of that darkened room. The dog was
just too rigid and she wondered if it was even breathing.
Sensing Nayda's growing curiosity Alluro said: “He is old and rests now but
soon he will eat.” With that he undid his robe slightly enough to let him lie more
comfortably on his back with his face to the window away from Nayda. “What
brings you so far from the Treetop Kingdom?”
Nayda was about to answer when she saw that next to the dog was a small pile
of yams, old fly-covered clumps of meat and gnawed chicken bones. “I was
hiking with some of my friends but I got separated.” Perfectly formal -- and
then a soft breeze flapped back some of the dog's fur to reveal cob webbed
bones, organs decayed crisp and ants tearing apart the rest of the corpse from
within. Though she was stunned she managed to keep a cool head. “I was
wandering around and found your house here. I know how my sister speak of
“Does she still?” The Lunatic turned to face her. Nayda had her eyes fixed on
that face, far from the dog as if by not looking at it the corpse would go away.
She did not want Alluro to know that she knew the dog was dead. He turned
back to the window. “What does she say about me?”
“She has a slight crush on you.”
“Does she talk about my wife and children?”
“No, sir. I do not believe she knows about your family.”
“Good. Good. Have you finished the yam?”
“Rest a while. My sons will return from the fields shortly, with all this hard rain.
They are about your age. I will let you talk to them.” The same breeze that had
exposed the dog's innards blew the flap of fur back to cover the view.
Drops of rain entered through the window to hit a snoring Alluro. At last he
was asleep. That was Nayda's chance so she quietly stepped back into the
shadows near the door. She did not wander far from the Lunatic to keep and
eye on him in case he was only pretending to sleep.
She opened the door, anxious that the on rush of the down pour would alert her
intentions. Yet Alluro did not move but for the slow, pronounced rise and fall
of his chest. Nayda stuck her head out to look toward the barrels where
WileyKat and WileyKit had hid but they were not to be found. Footprints
dotting the wet earth led back into the jungle.
She knew. She knew. She had taken too long and they left without her as they
had said they would. Then more than ever she was afraid, it was raining too
hard, getting too dark to go home alone. She could hear them laughing at her,
even WileyKat, her WileyKat -- they had fixed her well but she would get them
back soon enough.
Meanwhile she had no choice but to stay in the house. Alluro was totally
soaked by the rain coming in from the window. He had removed his robe in the
short time Nayda had been outside.
They had tricked her, she was sure of it and just what sort of prank were they
up to? Uprooting his yams? While his sons were in the fields?
Nayda succumbed to sleep around when time could not have lagged any
slower. The darkened room faded in an unintelligible glob of mist. When she
suddenly awoke she had no idea how long she had been out. The fire was still
burring in its pit though it was brighter than it had been before. The dog lay next
to her leg. At first she thought Alluro must have moved her by the corpse but
no, it was the other way around. The small pile of yams and decayed meat was
where it had been unaltered. The Lunatic himself was no longer in the room.
The rain had stopped and for sure it was late, late at night. The whole room
was engulfed in a deadly silence. She walked to the window. She saw nothing
beyond the nearby bushes. The forest stood like a looming black monolith.
She was stuck in that shack until morning, there was no way she would be
going into that jungle alone and she knew no one would be foolish enough to
see her home. Her older sister was sure to give her heat.
Then she turned to take in the panorama of the room. The dampness and dew
was gone, replaced by an arcid dust that had settled throughout. Why had
Alluro moved the dog so close to her? Or had it been one of his sons?
Another joker like WileyKat and WileyKit.
Something had gone wrong, horribly wrong.
Nayda cautiously approached a barely lit, remote corner. Gray, wrinkled skin,
aged beyond the count of years, the corpse had been a young man once, before
an untimely death had struck. Wide, empty cob webbed eye sockets, nose
long since withered and jaw barely hung on its hinges. His teeth were smeared
with fresh meat and blood. On a hand that rested along his lap was a hot,
oddly shaped yam.
“No!” she let out and stepped back. When she turned her face away in disgust
she heard a squeaky arm rise, followed by a bite and soft chewing. When at
last she summoned the will to see what had happened she noticed the arm had
moved place, the jaw had shut tight and the yam, still steaming, had been bitten
nearly in half.
She was ready to scream and inadvertently stumbled over the dog's corpse --
by its own mechanism the dead dog had moved from where it had been when
Nayda had awoken.
She tried to run out the door but blindly entered a small chamber. A central fire
pit lit the scene. She was acutely aware of a rusty breathing. Alluro slumbered
on a straw mattress covered by a thin blanket. Nayda walked on eggshells not
to disturb the ancient Lunatic. Before she was free from that place she turned
for one last look.
An arm stood outstretched over Alluro. The corpse of a Lunatic woman --
familiar in a strange, distant way -- lay by him and with every blinking of her eye
the arm appeared to move by just the tiniest of fractions. She was trying to
awaken Alluro but it was Nayda who was aroused in fear and when she could
take no more she ran out, shrieking.
She hid behind the barrels outside and listened. To her relief the shack had no
perceptible activity within. No sound. No movement of any kind. Not even
the dog had winced.
“WileyKat. I knew you would not leave me.”
Nayda turned to see the face of the friend she thought had poked her from
behind but all she could make out through the murky shadows was a gray,
withered hand, covered with dust and roaming ants.
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