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author: celestine trinidad ([livejournal.com profile] luckychan)
e-mail: cmgtrinidad [ at ] gmail dot com


You need to get out once more. You need to see her.

You need to save her.

With a scream of pain and agony, she shed her legs and threw herself into the sky.

A half-moon shone down on her, casting its feeble light over the buildings that towered over the city. Maria fumbled at first, for it had been a long time since she had ever allowed herself to fly. She kept looking back at the wings that sprouted from her back, for they felt alien to her now, their movements strange and awkward, like the legs she walked on in daylight. She was so busy gawking at her wings that she forgot to look at where she was going, and almost flew straight into a tree, had she not changed her course at the last minute.

After a few more minutes of struggle, it all came back to her: the thrill of being close enough to touch the clouds, the rush of the wind through her hair, and the steady rhythm of the beating of her wings.

It was only then that she realized that she had missed this.

But she had exiled herself willingly, and denied herself the joy of flight for the rest of her life, knowing it was for Elena’s own good. Elena—her beautiful, fragile, little daughter. She had made that decision the night Gabriel had died—no, the night she had killed Gabriel.

Gabriel. She had been alone all her life, and had never known love until he came along. Her life had been the same for as long as she could remember: she slept during the day, and woke up in each evening to hunt, always moving from one place to another. She did not speak to anyone, to people of her kind or any human, and lived each day only to hunt and eat. It was not living, she knew now, it was existing, but it was good enough then.

The night they met was like any other. She had spotted another human to feed on, a man walking about in the middle of the forest, a good distance away from the town, so she knew no one would hear him scream. It was all very routine, and even the fact that he had a gun with him did not do much to deter her from feeding.

She had just finished swallowing the last of his intestines when she heard a moan from behind her, and realized that there was one other person with the man. He had a gash on his forehead, and his hands were bound, but the eyes that looked up at her were alert, and also strangely unafraid.

“Y-you saved my life,” he said. “That man was about to kill me, because I had opposed him and his crimes toward the town. But someone had to do it, even it meant my life—”

“I did not save you, human,” Maria said. “All I did was feed to live, nothing more.”

“No, you saved me,” the young man said. “Like—like an avenging angel from heaven.”

“You’re talking nonsense,” Maria said. “Do you not see what I am? That wound on your head is giving you all sorts of weird notions, that’s all.”
She flew over to him to untie him, and the moment his hands were free, he took her into his arms. “But still,” he said into her ear, “Thank you.”

And he smiled at her, and nothing was the same anymore after that.

She stayed in town with him, at first out of curiosity for this strange young human who did not seem to be afraid of her, and later, out of love. She found herself going against her very nature, and no longer ate human meat the day she realized she loved him. She no longer went hunting. When they got married, they moved back to the city with his sister. They reserved a room especially for her in the house, where she could transform in peace, and eat the raw animal meat he bought for her.

She thought eating the intestines of pigs and chickens would be enough. They didn’t taste the same, but she thought they sated the hunger. But she was wrong. It was never enough.


Her memories of that night were still unclear, or maybe her mind refused to make them any clearer, protecting her from the horror it would bring. She only remembered waking up beside him, staring back into his unseeing eyes.

She gasped and looked around her. She was in their kitchen, and it was night. Why was she not in her room, locked up and keeping her family safe from harm? That should not have happened. She shouldn’t be here.

When she finally could look at him, she saw that his abdomen lay open, what was left of his intestines spilling over to the floor, staining the wood a dark crimson. The taste of blood lingered in her mouth—his blood.

Her first thought then—and this was something that she never could forgive herself for—was: This is the most delicious meal I’ve had in ages.

She opened her mouth to scream, but Elena had beaten her to it. Her daughter, only barely a year old, was sitting on the floor, beside the corner of the kitchen, where her lower half stood. She was looking up, looking up at the space where her mother’s upper body should have been, but saw nothing.

Elena cried out again, and said her the first clear words to ever have come out of her mouth.

“Mama,” she bawled. “Mama.”

Maria crawled over to her daughter, and held her with bloodstained arms. “I’m here, baby,” she said. “Mama’s here.”

The neon blue letter “R” of the Richfield Condominium now shone brightly ahead, and she flapped her wings faster. I’ll be there soon, my baby, she whispered into the air. Don’t cry.

When she was close enough to the building, she descended, looking into the windows one by one. She saw so many other people inside the units, a man and a much younger woman having a midnight tryst; a female student sprawled asleep all over the thesis she was cramming; a couple asleep with their arms around each other, their son praying by their bed. The child looked at the window as she hovered there, and she smiled at him before she flew away, tears springing in her eyes.

And finally she found them. The window was covered with a black curtain, but she could see little snatches of the scene inside—a camera set up on a tripod in the corner, an old man typing furiously on a laptop, and a little girl of nine sitting on the bed, her arms around her naked body, a last attempt to shield herself from the cold and whatever else was coming for her.

The tears flowed down her cheeks now. My baby. My poor, poor baby.

When Gabriel’s sister Ruth arrived at the scene that night, her first act was to snatch Elena away from Maria.

“Monster,” Ruth had screamed. “Monster! You killed him!”

Maria reached out for her daughter, but Ruth only held her tighter. “Get away from us! You’re never hurting any member of my family again, if could help it!”

“But they’re my family too,” Maria pleaded. “I will never hurt my daughter. I promise--”

Ruth’s eyes fell on Maria’s lower body, still standing in the corner. And with a cry, she snatched up a packet of salt on the kitchen counter, then ran for Maria’s legs.

“No!” Maria flew over to Ruth, knocked the packet of salt from her hand, and grabbed her lower body away.

“Leave,” Ruth said as Maria flew away from her reach. “Don’t ever come back. If you ever do, I’m making sure you’re never laying eyes on anything, much less your daughter, ever again.” She grabbed the packet of salt again, eyes blazing.

And with that, Maria fled, fled from the horror of the crime she had committed, fled from the possibility that she could hurt her daughter too. She never attempted to see Elena again.

She flew far, far away, not knowing where she was going, and only stopped when the sun rose, to rejoin both halves of her body. She was in an old, abandoned lot, where the grass grew tall enough, so she thought no one else could see her. When she emerged from the grass, a little boy, maybe no older than ten years old, was waiting for her.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I am just like you.”

She looked into the boy’s eyes, and saw her reflection in them: she was upside down.

“I saw you flying last night,” the little boy went on. “Gave some of the people in our village quite a fright.”

“Don’t worry,” Maria said. “You’re never going to see me again.”

“Don’t, please,” the little boy said. “You’re the first of my kind I’ve actually seen here in the city, and actually talked to. It gets kind of lonely out here.”

“I never liked talking to any of my kind,” Maria said. “It’s fine, I don’t need--”

“Do you have a place to stay?” the little boy finally said. “It seems as if you’re running from something. But here it’s safe.”

“I can’t stay anywhere,” Maria said. “I would only hurt someone else--”

The little boy shrugged. “Of course you will,” he said. “Everyone hurts someone one way or the other. Even humans do. But that’s no reason not to stay.”

And so she went with him, although reluctantly, and she refused to speak to him or anyone else. The little boy lived in one of the small villages in the heart of the city, where the poor lived in hovels that the rich were very good at ignoring. Despite the small size of their shack, she managed to have a room all to herself, which she stayed in for all these years, never once stepping out of it. The little boy, who she later found out called himself Niño, brought her meals to her, raw animal meat she ate halfheartedly, eating only enough to survive. She no longer had the desire to fly. When the moon rose and the halving was done, she would only tuck her wings in, hiding in the shadows of her room.

This lasted for years. Niño told her it had been eight years since she had seen her daughter, but she had no notion of the passing of time, and only felt the permanence of loss. There were days when she wished she hadn’t stopped Ruth from pouring salt all over her lower body, so all this pain would go away.

Niño spoke to her only three times over the years, bringing news of her daughter and Gabriel’s sister. Niño was a shapeshifter, an aswang, and sometimes would sneak into Maria’s old house as a stray cat, where he could keep watch on her family. Maria didn’t know why he did this, but despite showing little interest in the news he brought, she was grateful.

“They’re not doing so well,” he said to her, that first time he spoke of it. “That Ruth and her husband has spent all of the money they had gotten out of her brother’s death, and they both can’t make enough, either, what with her obsession with things she cannot really afford and her husband’s gambling.”

He paused, and looked straight into her eyes. “I heard them talk about what they had done, and what little good it did to them. What that was exactly, I don’t know. But they were talking about letting you out of your room that night and making sure you fed on your husband, to get rid of him and getting his money—”

“And my daughter?” was all Maria could say, and care about.

“They pulled her out of school,” Niño said. “Said they couldn’t afford to anymore. And they’re teaching her to do the housework, because soon they won’t be able to afford any more servants either.”

“But are they taking care of her?”

Niño shrugged. “More or less, I guess.”

“Then she’s better off there.” She turned her back on him once more, and sank back into the shadows of her room.

Another time, Niño said, “She prays to you, sometimes, you know.”
“Why? Did they teach her that?”

“That woman?” Niño said with a snort. “No, I don’t think she believes in anything but herself and money. They only told her that you had died, along with her father, and for some reason that made her think that you had become an angel in heaven.”

Like her father. The thought brought a lump to her throat, which she swallowed away.

“What does she pray for?” she asked.

“That you and her father are happy, up there in heaven.”

“That child,” Maria said. She could have asked for so many other things.”

Niño nodded. “She could have asked that her aunt and uncle would stop treating her like a servant. She could have asked for the chance to go to school. She could have asked for warmer clothes and better food--”

“And yet she only asked for that,” Maria said. “Why only that?”

Niño shrugged. “It’s all she wants.”

She turned her back on him once more, and sank back into the shadows of her room. But in the darkness, she wept.

The third time he had spoken to her about, her daughter, he had barged into her room, kicking the door open.

“Maria!” It was the first time he had ever addressed her by name. “You need to get out once more, you need to see her--”

Maria marched over to him, and shook him. “What are you babbling about? Has anything happened to my daughter?”

“They needed to make more money,” Niño said. “So they gave her to him. I tried to save her, but he was too strong!” It was only then that she noticed that he was bleeding from a large wound on his forehead, and his left shoulder was sticking out in a very unnatural angle. “You have to save her!”

And when Niño had told her where they had brought her daughter, she turned her back on him and flew off into the night.

The old man finished typing, and he walked over to the little girl. “All set now. Be a good little girl, okay, and don’t scream, so I won’t hurt you.” He gestured toward the camera. “Everyone’s watching.”

And he grabbed her wrists and pinned her to the bed, then placed his tongue on her mouth—

Maria crashed through the window, and clawed at his face. He cried out and clutched at his face, but Maria only grabbed his neck, and squeezed hard.

“Don’t ever dare to lay hands on my daughter—”
The old man reached out for his laptop, and he hit Maria’s head with it. She dropped to the ground, and he hit her again, and again.

“Who do you think you are? This girl was sold to me, and she’s mine, mine—”

She grabbed the laptop before he could hit her again with it, and wrested it away from his grip. She threw it across the room.

That was everything hit her all at once: her guilt over killing the only other person she had ever loved, her despair over not being able to see her daughter, and most importantly of all, the hunger that she had endured after several years of eating just enough to keep from dying, but never fully satisfying her need.

She flew up into the ceiling, then dove down towards him, her teeth sinking into his stomach.

Minutes later, she swallowed down the last of his insides, and wiped the blood from her lips. This is the most delicious meal I’ve had in ages, she thought—and that made realization come crashing down on her, hard. She whirled around to look at the bed where her daughter still lay, where she had seen everything.

“Elena,” was all Maria could say, before her daughter leaped into her arms.

“Mama,” Elena said. “You’re here. You’re really here.”

Maria held her close. “My baby,” she said. “My dear, sweet baby. I’m here. Mama’s here.”

“I prayed so hard for you to come,” Elena said. “I knew you would come to save me.”

“I’m sorry,” Maria said, and she pulled away to look at her daughter’s eyes. “I know they told you I died—”

“You died and now you’re an angel,” Elena said. “Your wings, they’re so beautiful.” She buried her face in Maria’s chest. “Are you coming to take me to heaven now, Mama? Take me away from this place, please, I want to be with you and Papa—”

“No,” Maria said, and pulled away. She put her back down on the bed. “I can’t. I can’t. I didn’t come from heaven, Elena, and I can’t take you there with me, your life is only going to be full of sadness—”

“But that’s where I want to be,” Elena said firmly. “With you. It doesn’t matter where we’re going. Mama is an angel, and heaven is where Mama is.”

And she smiled, a smile that echoed her father’s, a smile that brought both a warmth and pain in Maria’s heart.

She took her daughter into her arms again, wrapping her wings around her. “All right,” she whispered.

That night, Ruth and her husband woke to a loud crash from outside their house. When they came running out towards the sound, they saw the old man they had sold Elena to, sprawled in front of their gate, his eyes wide open and unseeing, what was left of his insides spilling out onto the floor.
“Hurt my family again,” Maria said from above their heads. “And I’ll make sure you’re never laying eyes on anything, ever again.”

She held her daughter closer to her, and together, they flew off into the night.

When they got back to the same abandoned lot she had found herself in eight years ago, Niño was there, waiting. He nodded at them both, the relief evident on his face.

“Welcome back,” he said. “But I guess you’re only going to leave again soon.”

Maria shook her head. “No,” she said. “Looks like we’re going to be staying for a while.”

And Elena entwined her hand around hers. Maria was done running, and now she could finally stay, here. She and her daughter turned toward the rising sun, welcoming the beginning of a new day.
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