Anna Collide (The Morpediera)
Heat plays tricks with the mind, its tics. Grazing by the ferns, hiding, I was 17, my eyes assembling through a collage of green beyond the path this: two legs stood like poles at the end of flatland, the rest of the torso missing, covered in khaki trousers with the belt still on. Their feet in black shoes faced one way as I walked the other, taking in all that was new around me. l fell asleep cos of the afternoon heat, like I still do now. Anna was hiding from her family, who moved here when their province was uprooted for intersecting highways. ‘We’ll be closer to the city’ the governors would say through mother. It was true - the village lay by the basin of the valley, fourty minutes on wheels through the mouth into the metropolis.
Sound plays tricks with the mind. Mother would tell me things, secrets the village had bestowed onto her, just her hushed words and the bare bulb and the tics of the crickets in the dark beyond, working it all hours. How could I sleep with an open window after? So I saw the legs, thinking of the goatfucker, the boy who may have gassed himself by the cascade, the local pimp.
I never thought of the Morpediera, silly omens seen by silly villagers like these, a bundle of wings flapping past windows or struggling in your crops, Creatures like these appear to warn you off from a bad choice you’re about to make, in love or business, a reckless journey in the trees or a stranger’s crops you consider with a scythe in one hand. Where were these monsters for us, when the orders came through for our family? Any monsters are the ones we whisper about, if anywhere else.
‘Where were the Morp’ra for Albi?’ some of the village would wonder.
He didn’t even see any hanging from the treetops, but who sees bats in the afternoon? The heat couldn’t makes things worse, his body already dried out from within, wounds on his feet charred by the rainforest floor. One arm was wound in his green vest, crushed by a fall into rocks the night before, when the hunt began. He could only find tree sap to stem the gash on his forehead. I thought of honey in my hunger, tried to imagine it on my tongue.
Only him and crickets and lizards scaling the trees high into the blinding zone of light above, turning green into white. He kept taking turns to the left or right, never keeping straight, taking opportunity of any slopes that wound down into thicker clusters of thin, arched trunks. But still he was exposed in the light, still the only biped. Still the wounds hurt.
Sitting down with care, crossing one leg over the other with care.
They were waiting for him in the city, so here was safer than there or the flatlands around the village.
He thought of the first time he bathed his little sister, splashing with delight in the tub. He thought of raw coca scorching his wound as he snuffed out his butt into it.
Only in this state could he discern another sound in the languid jumble, carried in the air pressing him further into the baking earth. A drilling, a clinking.
Roaming again, he thought of Balencia, the villagers talking of his disappearance. He was now folklore, a cautionary tale - you should only grow for one group, never another even if the profit is higher.No, just don’t grow anything for anyone. But who’d tell the kids this, with his sister’s head being filled of the monstrous fauna outside the border, the savage tribes looking for child bones?
The metallic sounds were sounding stronger, coming towards him as he came closer.
Albi thought of a hole being dug though his body won’t be recovered, his mother and sisters to one side, the villagers looking to the floor, sheepish with their mouths shut to prove their lips never carried any messages of rumour or sighs, just condolences, reverence for the dead young man.
He thought of Fabio, who went missing before his birthday after an argument with his family, found later in his father’s car by the cascades. So many rumours passed around but still the truth never came out from years of tales. There was no lesson to be learnt from that.
But my sister will learn from this. Just don’t grow anything for anyone.
With the clinking gurgled a rush of water, and Albi knew he was near the bridge to the Santera province. He climbed down a slope to a clearing, laying one foot first then another with care, holding onto the earth with care, propping himself up with the trunks in all directions.
He peered at the source, crouching down by the stream. A dozen men and women were tending to something in the shadow of trees, an inorganic construction bedded on swampland. Another ten or so were nearby, drained from some effort, guns lying by their sides. They were civilians, older than Albi. What is it? The faceless dozen were tending to something with soldering irons, drills. It was a purple mound, a beached hunk of something unnatural, a blight to the earth, a blimp. A wreckage being retooled? But what for? It could only swallow the swamp, raze the trees. It was an ugly blotch, incongruous, an omen.
The heat plays tricks.
It slows you down.
As the sun set, the bridge became clearer in the distance. He waited until nightfall to step across it, a wooden structure above clusters of treetops, carrying you into the further dense patches of another valley.
He shuffled along with care, between the moon and the sky above Balencia, and the machine. He held onto the side with care. Nothing could be made out in the dark. There was silence, and animal chatter. Birds erupted from the highest clusters with a sprawling of wings. A rumble began to peter through the stillness. A faint light was flickering from the other end of the bridge. Albi froze and clenched the side-railing, wondered if he had the energy to retrace his steps with speed. It was a motorbike carrying a police officer in a black helmet and khaki, blue neckerchief weightless round his neck, obscuring the customary bronze star-badge. They’d found him. Albi only found time to walk backwards once, twice, when the the bike passed by with a few shots passing through him just as quickly, falling backwards onto the wood as the bike careered to a halt behind him, the driver disembarking with his helmet still in place, lifting his visor to look back at his quarry, another village boy like himself.
Mari... Albi lay thinking of his little sister.
I’m hiding again. I’m crouched down by the ferns lining the flatland. The legs - the legs aren’t there. I see Morpediera in their place, it’s swooped down, it’s swooping down, it’s in a state of unrest, at war with itself, screeching like a pterodactyl, hiding its head within the curtains of its wings. It’s a blur of black. It can feel me watching, daring to turn its head round to view me, slowly. I see its yellow globes for eyes, feline pupils, peeking above the veil of a wingspan. I don’t flinch, I’m numb.
The head changes, I don’t flinch. It now has human features, blinking dark eyes in time with the shuffling of his wings, a man not yet born, but I know him. We share the same soul, but different names, of a different family, land. So he changes, and now I’m staring at myself, and I’m staring at myself, twenty-three, in my blue sundress, but this girl’s shadow darkens the lime green under her feet - hers is a shadow of the bat.
She was being pulled away from her bed. It was after 7, as always still light. I struggle to escape the arms around me then see how frail they are. I see they’re lined with hairs and lines - mama. I turn my head round, ‘Mama?’ Her mother was inconsolable, shaking with tears, repeating Albi’s name. She hadn’t seen him for a few days in the village. He’s in trouble again I want to say. She begs Anna to talk to her husband, in the headscarf of her Mediterranean mothers and a blue moo moo. Still in the bed on her knees, Anna grasped her mother’s shoulders as she sobbed pleas into her chest, locked eyes with her sister Marita, who stood in the doorway watching, the mother of a schoolfriend having brought them here together. The same bowl cut when I was eight.
‘Wait outside Mari’ Anna asked.
Marita silently slipped away as ordered, in jeans and a bright yellow tee.
‘Mama, do you know what happened?’
‘Why should anything have happened...’ her mother sniffed, dabbing at her eyes. They were more bloodshot than usual.
‘He’s never harmed anyone. Have more faith. Why don’t you...’. The sentence trailed away into disappointed tears.
After six years, the monsters had finally found them.
Her mother waited outside the Santero police office with Marita as Anna searched for Thiago, barefoot in an ivory nightie.
‘I can’t go out there now’ said her husband, smoking in the yard outback. Two officers are staring at us, fat Diego and a skinny dark new face. ‘It’s gonna take a team to start a full search. Has anyone even reported this?’ Thiago scanned his wife through thick 60s throwback glasses, black as his widow peak hair wet with gel. ‘Couldn’t you get dressed...’
‘How long to get a team together?’
‘Half a day? And we need some reason to go out there Anny...’
‘Well you tell me where else he could be. Where else can you hide when the Saints are looking?’ I should keep it down.
Thiago tossed his cigarette and dragged Anna by the arm to the locker rooms. They were now alone.
‘Do you want everyone here to think me mixed up with fucking Saints? What passes through your head...’ But the Saints have hold here, he knows it... ‘This isn’t the cleanest station but I’m still trying to do my job-’
‘-To do my job and pay for you as you sleep around at home.’
‘And I can’t sleep now?’
‘No - sleep. Sleep and relax, please, and don’t come in here kicking and screaming. Aren’t you even thinking about your body?’ Chiagi pats my stomach, a little bigger today. ‘You want me to rush out there and not come back?’
‘Cha. Cha...’ I can’t say it without crying. ‘He’s my brother...’
‘I know.’ Finally holds me. ‘But he’s not a kid’.
‘...Can you finish early?’
‘...I’ll be back before ten, OK?’
I sit back in the front seat, shut the door. Marita’s behind me, mama to my left. Albi...
‘What can he do? asked Anna’s mother.
I say nothing.
‘What did he say?’
She remained silent. Minutes passed. Marita sighed with a flutter of her lips, biting her nails, lying down on the back seats.
‘I’m scared ma.’
Her mother sniffed.
‘What did he do...’ Anna mused.
The sun slowly set above kids playing b-ball in vests further up the sandy road.
‘At school they said Bibi sold stuff to Brother men.’
‘Mari?’ the mother said in a lost voice.
The group made of ex-paramilitary. I’m gonna go home, get the gun, then start.
Beats to dagger to blast from the empty car park. The teens are holding a contest, seeing which guy can get the most girls dancing to what they’re blasting from their souped-up rides. Guys edge up against the shaking women who are in fits of joy, holding bottles of sugary drink aloft in the court of the boys’ toys, parked in a ring by the fence. With envyI watch them, think of my grey youth, lost when we came to Balencia.
Thiago later drove past the same scene, the lone car passing through the Santero border into the forest, abandoned train carriages to one side behind chain-link fences. He thought back to six years ago, the first time Anna had run away, when he found her, the first time they met: head over heels with her freckled and olive face, frowning. A rash sort of beauty. They kissed in the flatlands, his walky chattering away for co-ordinates. Back then I didn’t need glasses. Later she wasn’t sure about marriage, him being five years older, but they both knew she was older than him by miles.
Twillight. He walked when the terrain turned too tough for wheels. He had flares, a gun, a torch, but still he felt dread in the dark of the endless canopy spreading over him. Growing up I got told ‘bout Talosa tribes with red eyes. Long lost velociraptors in the trees. The Morp’ra. Ghost kids, eaten by savages. You laugh, but when you’re actually in it out here - anything can happen, you feel it. Butit was OK as long as his walky chattered.
Anna was trailing to the east of her husband, coming down a dotted slope to a little settlement of old barracks where coca was kept for the Brothers. An old village friend who knew the group had told her of the place. She too had a torch, a gun, but no flares. She had nothing on but the ivory nightie, and nothing on her feet.
A few goats stirred in their cage, and then the dogs barked, chained up by a few motorbikes. This was her signal to freeze and wait for someone to solve the commotion. But nobody came.
Coming closer, Anna could see the dogs were bleeding from gashes in their legs, sides. They and the goats were the only living things left... A snarling motorbike tore ground in the distance, stirred into action by the barking. I run, hand on the gun in my satchel. Fuck, torch still on..! The bike gunned nearer, somewhere in the thick or above the slope.
An hour later Thiago called in the massacre at the barracks.
‘Professional executions...’ He asked for back-up before charging into the thick around the edges of the flatland.
Anna crawled in the dark on all fours, torch in her jaws. Being a biped would only bring trouble. The skies could launch anything to wrap around her head, snake or invertebrate. Bat cluster. Bullets.
A trickling of water hissed nearer. The bike howl’s are still ringing in my ears. I want to scream out my brother’s name, but I know he won’t answer. Only the bats. They’d stir and swarm out of the trees, amorphous smoke, screeching like hysterics. She was hysterical, quickening her crawl. I want to scream out for Chiagi.
She remembered wanting to scream once when he danced with an old flame in a street in Santero before they married and moved there. He didn’t have his glasses on, she’d taken them off, tucked them in her khaki blouse. I slow clapped to get his attention, and in her eyes I saw the woman cop think ‘you’re stupid, girl’ but I knew then how no-one else could have him - I loved him. I love him, he loves me, but I’m a stupid creature.
The stream was to his right as Thiago coursed through the wild, khaki uniform rolled at the sleeves, blue neckerchief swinging with the rush. The bowels of the forest were getting darker, the ground softer, thicker with swamp. He stopped to roll his trousers at the knees. My grandmother always told me about this giant skull in the river, always floating between the bed and the surface, swallowing everything in its jaws.
I have to get up. Her hands were cut, red, skin raw as if something gnawed into her palms. Standing up she was dizzy in the oppressive air, eyes still attuning to the dark. A mass of birds could be heard chirping within a clearing up ahead, but not in the trees. They were sitting as one big black mass on a metal bulk, a brash purple against the black of the ground. Where I was scared, I was now disturbed by this colour, the shape. But I kept walking, like in its pull. The birds flew up and revealed the metal monster in all its might beneath the canopy -
Thiago let loose a flare, a shade of red in the magnificent map of stars above.
Anna dared to touch the cold shell, twice her size. Her baby kicked. My girl.
She covered the beast with her hands like a blind man gauging by touch. It’s true, it was all true. The Saints built one. A submarine to carry drugs into Mexico. The Saints had won the war. The Brothers were dead. And Albi?
Her lips trembled, eyes blinking at the sight of the sickening burden.
The flare caught her eye. Felix stirred, popping down his visor from atop a steep curve.
She fired into the air, two shots. Thiago heard. Felix began revving up his bike.
Anna heard the engine sound, tried to judge its origin.
Thiago tripped over a root, felt his gash mix with the black soil. He could hear the engine too. Call her? But that would give them both away to the Saint.
Anna ran towards the direction of the flare, but realised the bike was coming from the same area, and now she could see the driver parking up by the mouth of the stream up ahead, a cop in a biker helmet, the bridge to Santero looming to the right of the above panorama.
I run back. Felix had disembarked, was now running to the clearing to catch up the witness, began firing. Anna screamed and ducked behind the tail-end of the sub as he sprung from the midst of the foliage bordering the clearing. Peering through space between the ground and the belly of the sub she saw his legs at a standstill before moving at a normal pace to walk round the abomination. Open the satchel, shoot at legs, run backwards ready to fire again. She was consumed by the shadow outside the space after doing so.
Felix scrambled back to standing position, bleeding from a stung ankle, his eyes still on Anna somewhere in the dark, helmet still squarely on top of his neck.. Thiago saw this shuffling figure and fired. Anna stumbled in shock as more shots fired, blind between the many thin trunks. Felix fell, but so did Thiago, gushing from the chest. I hear that slow clap.
‘No...’ Anna wailed, but it was too late. She looked up to see the cop trying to lift himself but it was impossible, he’d been shot in the arm and leg.
‘No no no no no...’ Darting her eyes around she found her gun out of arm’s reach, then crawled like a jackal to pick it up, scrambling up to stagger on two legs to approach the faceless assassin.
‘You killed him’ she rasped from a cut in her throat.
Anna roared and stabbed into the cop’s still tucked in khaki chest with the gun barrel. The figure smacked at her head, spurring Anna to jump onto his chest with both knees. She lifted up the visor, saw the cop’s green eyes.
‘You killed him’ she sobbed, aiming the gun past Felix’s nose, pressing it between his eyes. Felix stayed silent. ‘I’m going to shoot you...’ He still stayed silent, still.
Anna re-checked the barrel. Some bullets still left to spare. She placed the gun once again between the cop’s eyes, sobbing as her finger wrapped around the trigger.
And I hear a flapping of wings. I almost miss it, staring into his eyes. So cold. I slowly cock my head and there I am, in a blue sundress, standing by the edge of the clearing. I have the shadow of a bat and my face is a blur. I can’t be seeing this. He’s still looking up at me as I’m staring ahead... She stays there and I look down, hear the crackling of of wings, and look up. It’s gone.
I finger the trigger.
‘Why did you do this’ I moan. For the sub? ‘Fucking coca?’
I think of Albi. I want to pull it, be done with him.
I peer into his eyes, hear the beating of wings in the air, swooping down, beating and beating. I’m waiting, I’m thinking, thinking and thinking...
I believe in the Morpediera.
Eternity rests on this.