Uncle yanked the machete away from Rayan’s skull, leaving the monster to wheeze through its final breath before falling backward.
The houses that surrounded them like trees felt darker, taller, even with the moon glittering above them. But everyone felt a tinge of hope when their three fighters gathered around the monsters they’d slain.
Uncle raised his fist unto the crowd—cursed the said crowd when no one wanted to cheer, and chose to dance around an imaginary fire to pay respect to Rayan’s dead body. Enteng kicked him, checking if he would spring from the ground so suddenly and kill them all with a taste of false hope, but George said otherwise and urged them to move on. Enteng picked him up from the ground, cupping the dirt that held his tiny roots together. He petted him with an affectionate smile and thanked the Gods that he’s still alive. It felt different. Tabu didn’t seem to smile. There was a level of doubt and confusion that weighed his heart, but that’s Tabu’s problem.
Everyone didn’t dare to celebrate.
Enang was the same.
She saw it. It was there. Someone else was watching. There were pairs of glowing green eyes that flickered in the distance, and no one seemed to notice but her.
Enteng led the way, with both his arms hanging from his shoulders, Uncle followed by limping beside him, and Joey returned, drenched with sweat but a bit relieved while frantically trying to zip his pants.
No one cheered.
Right. They shouldn’t, and she couldn’t face them this way.
Enang ran towards the bathroom and shut the door. No one seemed to notice her. That’s just fine. The room smelled like dried piss, but that’s fine too. She sniffed and covered her face with both hands as her legs dropped to the floor. Her breath felt short. Her cheeks burned, and what followed were beads of hot tears that stained her image.
It was not supposed to end like this.
They were dumb, anyways. One literally made friends with a cute little comfort cactus, fully believing that he, which he named George, existed. The other was a delusional fucker who thought that he could see and interact with a game-like user interface while internalizing that he’s an anime character. The last one was a pathetic piece of shit that couldn’t even stand up for himself but...
She didn’t want to admit it.
She grinned to force back the tears that her eyes begged to stop. She was glad that she touched Uncle’s head and cape. She was glad that she handed Enteng the machete herself. That time, this Enang mattered. This Enang was looked at by people who desired to protect her without asking for anything. She was happy to be included. She was glad that she was there to see their fight. George was safe, too—that didn’t sound right. He’s a cactus, not a person, but she wanted to hear herself say that again.
The thought of George being safe took off some weight on her back—the rest of them could just die in a ditch somewhere. Except for Enteng and Uncle. Joey would be nice. He stepped up, but he’s still a bitch.
Enteng was a bit too questionable back in her home. She still couldn’t wrap herself around him and his deal. She was about to cut his head off, but he sensed her even when he shouldn’t. That, and he couldn’t stop glancing at her kitchen. He’s still nice.
It hurt her that he cared for a little cute cactus more than her, but opening that can of worms would only make it hurt more. That motherfucker said that he was going to protect her, too. There was no pity in it. It didn’t feel conceited or dark, either.
It’s not like they would ask anything of her in exchange for their protection and help. They seemed like the kind of people not to do that… Maybe—
But in the end, she was just glad that they were...
“But you can’t say it, can you? Poor little girl couldn’t even finish the thought… Or, wait, maybe you could, after all.”
A suffocating voice rang, and a blindfolded face of a pale, beautiful woman with long hair oozed and materialized from the bathroom’s wall. Knowing that Enang’s attention was on her, she took out her red tongue and dangled it by her chin with a sinister smile. Enang’s gaze widened and hallowed as the frigid air seeped into her skin.
Enang faced the floor. “I can’t…”
“What’s wrong, kiddo? You aren’t sure about what you’re feeling?”
“The same way of me being sure that you’re just in my head.”
“How mean,” the face chuckled. “Your mysterious aunt did tell you that people are coming to kill all of you over a week ago. You could’ve prevented all these deaths, but look at what you did…” The face widened her grin. “You chose to do nothing.”
“Never lost anything, too… In fact, you were helped by it.”
“There’s nothing that I could’ve—”
“But at what cost?”
“There’s nothing that I could've done anyway!”
Enang bared her teeth, got on her knees, and punched the face on the wall. Nothing. Her hand went through the image, crashed into the wall, and shocked her entire body.
“See, this is why you’re cute.”
“I know I am.”
“Very much so… But hey…”
The bathroom blacked. The smell of piss wavered and was replaced by a ripping scent of sweat that violated her nose. It was closer. She felt it staining the air as though it just came right below her neck, grasping her throat, and shivering her legs to curve into a ball of trembling dread.
The darkness oozed, filling the corners, plastering the dim walls with a shade that glistened like paint. It began to glow, to bulge, and bubble—its tumors birthing the shape of fingers that twisted into a form that stretched, twitched, and wriggled as it grew the long dripping nails that snaked to touch her.
And it stopped. Enang hugged her own body, gritting her teeth with her eyes shut, trembling, laboring for her next breath.
“There’s nothing… that I could do… anyway…”
One wet hand patted her head, specifically where Uncle touched her.
“But I am more interested in the details behind it, so I’ll keep coming. I’ll be around, anyways. Apolaki might’ve bitched into the heart of that kid. Tabu might’ve claimed the freedom of that old man, but you’ll always be mine, and I’ve been waiting to see what you are…”
“You’re just a voice in my head.”
“Honey, you believe that a cactus that I never touched lives.” She scoffed. “It’s about time you get your shit together, no? But who knows, you might be right. But then again, you do need to trust the voice that’s telling you that there are two more groups you should be worried about. I already gave you the capability to fight through my blessings, so I wonder what you’ll do now that you know that this doesn’t end here…”
“I can’t do anything—”
“That’s right.” The being smiled and faded. “You would never do anything.”