There’s a killer on the loose.
I woke up to the sound of clamor outside my home. My neighbors, as if anticipating the arrival of a storm, were on edge: the females wailed and held their children close, the males broke their resolve by pacing back and forth, and the others stood in the middle of the yard, waiting for the daylight to finally wash away the darkness lying at the heart of the morning. The ground had bled thickly last night. We all knew that the sun would not scare it away; it could only cast light on the burden we all shared, the thing that crept into our cots when the cicadas began their songs at night. We only offered each other blank stares. The sky was bright, but the coming of the night loomed above our heads.
It began a few weeks ago, maybe earlier, no one was certain. Our brothers and sisters began disappearing like raindrops seeping into the soil. We were left with nothing but the petrichor of their faces. And the mist of the rainfall lingered under our eyes and wet our cheeks. We woke up each day to find that our brothers and sisters had vanished from the face of our earth, only to gather pieces of them days later, which spoke only of horror: liver and intestines gutted out and feasted on by worms, a pair of staring eyes that had witnessed its own demise, a broken leg attached to nothing. And now there was only blood.
The first one taken was a young sister who mostly kept to herself. It took us two days before we finally learned that she was missing, when one of us noticed that she had not come with the group of plant gatherers. The elders were quickly informed and they sent the adult males to go and find her. She must’ve gotten lost in the woods, the hopeful amongst us thought out loud, and we listened to them while still carrying on with daily chores. By sundown, after the wild fruits were foraged and the shoots were nibbled, we exchanged stories by the low bushes. But the males came back at dusk with stricken faces. They saw guts being eaten by small rodents in the woods, but have not found the sister who was missing. Troubled but determined, they went as far as where the boulders were, close to where we used to live before the fall of the bamboos. They told us what was left over: a body without its head.
The abductions made us restless and we took it upon ourselves to sleep in shifts. Even then, a feeling of great vulnerability so overwhelmed us that most of us could not doze off. During one of those nights, some of us had seen what could have possibly taken our sister. It was swift like a feline but had the ability of a gecko to disappear into the night. We were too afraid to look at it in the dark and too tired to search for it at the first crack of dawn. We huddled close to each other, hoping that no one would be taken next. Later, we figured that it pounced during periods of weakness, which sprang from many nights without sleep.
It blended in with the shadows of the barks of strong trees, its figure as slender as the branches where young leaves sprout. We made our beds under trees, not believing that there was a beast who lived among us that would cause us so much misery. It knew that we had keen eyes for outsiders and that many of us slept very lightly. It came and went as it pleased, leaving only the faintest tracks of a footprint. It followed us as our shadows in the night did. This was why we called it Shadow.
Once, there was a grove of bamboos near our village that helped us stay hidden from the outsiders. It was so thick that we were nearly invisible to the outsiders, for they could not hear the sacred chants from our mouths that spoke only of peace. But the outsiders with long and sharpened sticks tore away the pillars of bamboo and marched among the fallen branches leading to our village. The first crackling of the wood brought a feeling we did not know we could summon. We moved further into the jungle, near the riverbanks, and discovered taller trees and greener bushes that could shelter us. We left everything behind and looked only ahead.
But now, the feeling is a resident among us. It keeps to itself in the recesses of our minds, lurking inside the caves at the edge of our village. I have only the vaguest memories before the fall of the bamboos, like waking up from a deep sleep and wondering if I had dreamt or was remembering a distant past.
The bamboos hid us, and without them, we were left exposed to elements not known to us. This was how the Shadow found us. It followed our trail from the forest to the riverbanks. And now we slept with nightmares to lull us.
Today, the scene was as nauseating as the first one. Deep, dark blood circled the heart of our village. A thick, dark liquid that nosed back to the forest was splashed on the soil. Its smell wafted around us and drained our heads that were once full of hope. This time, none of our brother’s parts were left behind. The Shadow’s hunger did not falter, and each time it craved for more. The belly of the beast grumbled from afar, and we had no choice but to listen to it as we stomped our feet on brittle soil. We held a funeral only in silence. Today, I realized that fear was also a way of mourning. We mourned with trembling feet.
The first ones on the scene were our young. They were grazing by the low bushes close to the caves where the elders usually slept, picking sweet fruits for breakfast and playing with each other. Two of them, enchanted by the sound of river water splashing against wild rocks, skipped to the riverbanks to watch the sparkle of the cold current under the waking sun. To get to the shores, they had to pass by the yard where the grass was short and the soil was home to twigs and rough weeds.
One of them caught sight of a crimson patch of meadow. The other smelled a tinge of sweet odor. Filled with interest, the children turned away from the path to the river and headed towards the odd-colored grass. Eventually, one of the mothers noticed that two younglings were missing from the merry brood, and remembering the disappearances from the previous days, quickly came to find the missing kids. She found them just as the younger one was about to lick blood from the ground.
When the trembling had ceased, the few of us who were brave inspected the line snaking to the forest. With the advice to keep each other close, we set forth to find where our brother might be, or better yet, where we could find his corpse, hoping that it would give us some semblance of closure. There was no great expectation—we knew he was dead the moment we discovered his blood on the rough patch of grass. We had no luck then. And we have less of it now.
We found footprints by the boulders, close to where the first sister was taken. It was not our brother’s for it was smaller and shallower. We figured it might be the Shadow’s. One of us remembered what he saw the morning of one of the disappearances. He had noticed marks like those behind one shrub that could be traced back to the dense forest. The mere sight of a footprint not ours was enough to keep us awake throughout the night.
It began to look like he was dragged to that place after he bled by the meadows. We imagined he did not put up a fight before he died. Maybe he died not knowing. Only drops of blood were seen close to the footmarks. No guts or teeth were left behind. This seemed enough for everyone who went with us. No further inspection was possible, as the males were weary and thirsty. As twilight approached, the rivers called us back.
As the group began walking away, I fell behind and walked at a slower pace. Disturbed and filled with worry, no one noticed that I was at a distance from them. I had to find more evidence. Bodies cannot keep disappearing and the bloodshed must come to a stop. I wiped the mist off my eyes as the stars began to twinkle faintly on the orange skies. I walked back to where the droplets of blood were and whispered a prayer to the gods to guide my brother in the afterlife, and a prayer for myself to guide me in my journey. In the fading daylight, I noticed something on the ground close to the drops of blood: there was a pattern of lines leading away from the boulders. The wind had made the markings shallower but I could still follow the tracks. I moved swiftly, and in no time, I was far away from the boulders and had reached the area with tall, slender trees.
That part of the forest was alive with noise: the footfalls and chattering of rodents and monkeys, the flapping wings of large birds and bats, the crisp sound of leaves being eaten, the clucking of lizards, my steps on the soft earth. Without daylight and now, alone, I felt like I was stepping into the Shadow’s territory. And in this darkness, I hoped to shed light on its monstrosity. I kept my eyes peeled to the ground, afraid that I might lose the pattern of lines.
When the night had finally settled, the cacophony of the jungle became more vibrant, as if it was coaxing me to go further and further. I did not feel alone for I carried the forest on my shoulders, and the cries of my brothers and sisters fueled the raging fire in my heart.
As the moon shone brightly, I reached a clearing at the edge of the tree lines. A dark, thin cloud blurred the night sky just as I found a more prominent pattern of lines engraved on the earth towards the clearing. I coughed, for the air had gotten thick, and my tongue went dry. I remained still for a moment and closed my eyes, remembering the river and its cool waters. I should have gone back home to alleviate my thirst, but it was too late to return with nothing but the possibility of finding the truth. I kept my breathing quiet and stayed close to the ground, then tiptoed towards the clearing.
And then I saw where the thin cloud of darkness came from, which smelled of burning wood and rocks and something I could not quite figure. There was a stack of tree trunks piled on top of each other a few steps from me. Inside it, aglow, a semblance of a weak sun or the eyes of a cave bat. I felt heat emanating from it. The tracks stopped in front of a large stone, although it was not like any stone I saw before. It seemed that it was etched to have edges and flat faces, and under it, there were round but softer stones. The tracks I followed came from these. The round stones had intricate carvings that left patterns on the earth. I moved closer to the stone and caught the pungent smell that had become all too familiar from the past days. The liquid was still dripping from the sides of the hard stone, black against the white light of the moon. The hair at the back of my neck rose in an instant.
As if in a trance, my feet led me to the stack of tree trunks. There was a small hole on one side of the pile where light seemed to be glowing brighter with every step taken towards it. The smell coming from inside it grew stronger, and the aroma made my stomach churn. Leaning on the wood was a stick drenched in the same thick liquid. I saw its sharp tip glimmer as the clouds cleared and made way for the shining of the moon. My head felt heavy. I peeked inside, careful not to make any sound, and expected to find the red eyes of the Shadow. I anticipated its long claws and towering figure waiting for me, ready to pounce and dismember me like it did with my fallen brothers and sisters. The jungle was far away and I could no longer hear the life it sings of at night.
I looked inside and my eyes searched for the Shadow, and there it was, its back to me, on two feet, short, and standing close to the low fire. It was eerily still, the creature’s head looking upward at a wall. Beside the creature laid a leg. It looked like it had been burned. This was where the aroma I caught outside came from. I felt my limbs go weak, as the creature tilted its head in reverence to the large, wide wall, where the heads and horns of my sisters and brothers hung. And their glassy eyes stared at mine.
 a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather; earthy scent