Brother & Sister
By Dean Francis Alfar
When the old woman realized that there were two dead children alternately chewing at and spitting out parts of her smoke house, she resolved to do two things: first, she’d capture both to prevent more damage to her property and all the smoked and cured fish and hams within; and second, she’d find a way to restore them to life.
The first part was easy, for though the old woman had grown slow with age, the children were slower still. She readied the same traps she used to capture wild swine in the woods and lured the children toward them, with herself as moving bait. It was the young girl that resisted fiercely. The boy simply stood in the trap that held him. When she had worn the girl down and finally trapped her against a tree, the old woman took both children inside the squat cabin next to the smoke house where she chained the girl to a post near the stove and kept the boy in a cage under the table.
The second part proved more difficult, for though she was wise in the ways of the woods and the secret rituals of women, she had never attempted to return the dead to life before. She was convinced herself that the children she’d captured were merely very ill and unable to respond to her questions with words and made it a priority to nurse their battered bodies to health.
The brother and sister resisted the old woman’s attempts to fatten them up. Every savory piece of cured meat she forced upon them, they spat. Every other day, she’d beckon to the boy to extend a finder so she could gauge his fleshiness, and every time the boy complied by slipping his good index finger out of his cage. In the weeks that followed, the children failed to recover their plumpness and the old woman resigned herself to simply finding a cure for their condition. She recalled stories about evil vapors wreaking havoc on the healthy and decided she would expose the children to heat in a bid to dry the foul fumes that infested them.
She prepared a roaring fire and when the temperature was great enough to be unsafe even for her, she funneled the heat into the smoke house. She intended to expose the children for only a few moments at a time, beginning with the quiescent boy. She got on her haunches and began to drag the cage out of the cabin, facing the boy in case he suddenly took it in his head to bite her like the girl always attempted.
When the boy felt the heat emanating from the smoke house, a fear greater than hunger overtook him. He lunged at the bars of the cage and voiced a series of deep moans. When the girl heard her older brother’s cries for help, she summoned her last bit of strength and strained against the chain that held her by the leg. Her efforts were rewarded when the peg holding the chain in place pulled free, and she hobbled as fast as she could to her brother’s aid.
When she had worn the girl down and finally trapped her against a tree, the old woman took both children inside the squat cabin next to the smoke house where she chained the girl to a post near the stove and kept the boy in a cage under the table.
The old woman had opened the door to the smoke house and was preparing to place the boy in the cage within when the great heat forced her to close her eyes for moment. It was in that moment that the girl, powered by the inertia of loyalty, reached the old woman and pushed her into the smoke house, slamming the door shut. The boy moaned thrice, signaling his sister to take heed of the wooden latch that secured the smoke house door from the outside. Forcing herself to lift her arms, the girl succeeded in bringing the latch down, as the old woman, realizing what had just happened, began pounding at the door from the inside.
In the next few hours, the brother and sister focused their deteriorating attention on unlocking the cage that held the boy captive, oblivious to the weakening cries of the old woman. It was dark when the boy was freed, by which time the smoke house was silent and cold, the fire long since bereft of wooden fuel. The girl took the boy’s good hand and bit at a finger. He watched disappointment cross the remains of her face before he gently took his finger out of her mouth and caressed her tangled hair.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dean Francis Alfar is a multi-awarded Filipino playwright, novelist, writer and editor of speculative fiction. His latest book is A Field Guide to the Roads of Manila and Other Stories.