Mark of Child: Part 3
When Leticia opens the door to her place, everybody’s senses were immediately assaulted by the sweet smell of incense burning in her apartment.
“Just a old habit,” Leticia says, as she takes off her shoes and enters the dimly-lit unit. She snuffs out the powdery sticks burning away in a jar on the dining table. “My grandfather use to light these around the house every night, to keep away bad spirits.”
“I don’t think bad spirits in America would know that,” Matthew jokes as he and the girls cringe at the sickly sweet odor. Taking Leticia’s lead, they remove their footwear and place them into the shoe stand before following her into the house.
Taking in the interior, they can see Leticia’s heritage and beliefs marking their presence in every corner of the apartment. On the floor next to the door, there is a little altar with an offering of fruit in front of it. Next to it, a strange statue of a deity or humanoid creature stands guard over the door. It looks like a miniature big-headed human with claws drawn in a threatening stance.
Looking into the living room, two wooden carvings are on the walls, one is shaped crudely like the head of a tiger, while the other resembled a boar with tusks. They hang on either side of a larger altar, table-sized this time, ladened with offerings of meats, fruits and more incense. From the door, Joan can see an intricate octagonal box in the centre, and in front of everything lays a thickly bound journal.
“Is that the book,” Joan asks, walking up to touch it. Her hands are almost on it when Leticia suddenly snaps, “Don’t!”
Joan pulls her hands back immediately. Flushing, she quickly offers her apologies. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“That’s my grandfather’s altar,” Leticia explains, “We don’t remove anything from it until we ask him for permission. That’s how we show our respect to the dead.”
“Sorry,” Joan mumbles as she walks back to stand beside her scowling sister.
“Try not to touch anything else will ya.”
“Take a seat, I need to make ready first before I can get the book,” Leticia says, scrubbing her hands at the kitchen sink before toweling them dry.
“Do what?” Penny asks as the three of them settles down onto the sofa.
“Like I said, I need to ask for permission.”
An awkward silence fills the room as Leticia moves in front of the altar and starts chanting in another tongue.
Penny and Joan looks over at Matthew who only shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t look at me,” he whispers, “This is the first time she’s invited me over.”
The three of them look on with bated breath, listening as Leticia’s chanting grows louder. Her body quivers, swaying from side to side as she enters into a trance-like state before their eyes. Joan, frightened by the ominous chanting, squeezes herself next to Penny and holds on to her tightly.
Matthew rises from his seat, but Penny puts a firm hand on him and indicates with her eyes that he should sit down and let this play out. Minutes pass as the pungent cloy in the air starts to make everyone uncomfortable.
Joan breaks into a cold sweat as her eyes fixate on the swaying motion of Leticia, unable to blink or turn away. She is all but ready to bolt, when finally, the chanting stops. The air seems to clear as everyone starts to relax again, breathing easier.
“Leticia?” Penny asks in a soft voice.
The still body of Leticia does not respond. Her eyes, still closed, start to twitch. Suddenly, she speaks again, in the same language she used earlier. Not in a sing-song chant, but in conversation. From her speech, it is evident that Leticia is speaking to someone or something in this room. Questions, answers, a few replies that sound like yes, then she starts to giggle out loud.
A creeping chill went down Joan’s back. The ritual happening before her is just too too much for her young mind to take. “That’s it, I’m out,” she says, making for the door.
Penny hisses at her and tells her to sit down, “You wanted this remember?”
“I don’t care anymore,” Joan replies, acting impulsive out of fear. She runs to the door and pulls it open, ready to run home if need be.
“Where are you going Joan? Grandfather says yes.”
The hairs on Joan’s back starts to stand. Leticia is speaking to her directly. Turning around, she sees a smiling Leticia, book in hand, back to her normal self. “Oh my god Leticia, I’m so sorry, but you scared the shit out of me!” Joan exclaims, awash with relief and laughing at her own cowardly behavior.
“Not to worry Joan, I should have warned you all before I started,” Leticia says with a good-natured smile. “Believe me, I feel the same way when I hear some Christians shouting when they pray.”
“Joan, get back in here!” Penny snaps, staring crossly at her sister for making yet another scene.
“Relax Penny, it’s all cool,” Matthew says, turning to smile at Joan as he intercedes on her behalf. Sheepishly, she returns to her spot as the rest gathers around the living room table.
With everyone in place, Leticia kneels down onto the carpeted flooring in front of the sofa, and places her grandfather’s book in front of them. “I must warn you, this is a book about magic, life and death. Inside, you will find many disturbing things. Some will be familiar, like the drawing of body parts. Others will be alien to you. My advice is to focus only on what you need, and forget the rest of what you see.”
Matthew and Penny nod in unison, turning to look at Joan. Still feeling a little shaken, Joan swallows hard before nodding her head, remembering full well that she is the one who asked for this in the first place.
She stares at the book, and its simple unmarked binding that laid forbidden just moments ago. Now, it’s about to spill its secrets on a group of unsuspecting youths. Somewhere inside its worn pages, is a centuries-old formula that could turn back the clock and repair the damage that Joan had inflicted on herself. All they need to do now, is find it.
Leticia opens the cover of the books, flipping delicately through its thick fibrous pages. The book is written in the language of her people, a deviation of modern Malay that has been adopted widely by the city folk. Words start in one handwriting, and end in another, as countless generations of bomohs add to its collective knowledge.
Each page is filled with notes and little corrections as Leticia scans through them, trying to make sense of the scribbles. But for the rest, it is the pictures accompanying the words that give them pause.
Crudely inked drawings, some no more than scratches, depict creatures and demons in various forms. Bats, tigers, boars, and even the insects of the earth all seem to play a part in inspiring the drawings within.
But these are only the first. As Leticia’s hand flies through the pages, the monsters take on human forms. A head here, a hand there, twisted beings fill entire pages in morbid detail. Some are shambling beings with guts turned inside out, others have additional limbs extending from their rears. Naked horrors, with neither mouth nor genitals jump from the pages, filling their heads with grotesque images of sexless beings crawling silently towards them.
“Ah here we are, childbirth. This is the section. Keep an eye out for a symbol that looks like the the word Janin somewhere in here. J-A-N-I-N. It stands for fetus, which is what we are looking for.”
Why did she have to mention that, Joan shudders at the imagery of floating fetuses. She closes her eyes and sees them, little unformed babies trapped in translucent wombs red with blood. They stare at her with black unblinking eyes, waving webbed hands and crying out for her.
“Please… can we just stop for a moment, please… let me… let me… Oh god I can’t breathe.”
End of Part 3
Should be pretty obvious where I’m going with this now. Still I’m having a lot of fun with this story and have a lot more I want to write. Apologies about some quirks with the PoV of the story. I’ll get them sorted out next time. I still haven’t figured out whether I want to go from Joan purely, or try some other approach.