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Kalisa The Friend Part 1
I… uh… I think it’s time I told someone this story. It’s a crazy story, one you people won’t believe, but it’s one I have to tell for my own sake. The more memories you have that you’re the only one alive to remember, the lonelier you become, and this memory, well, it’s a doozy.
So, I’m gonna record me telling it here, put it on the worldwide internet web, and then maybe you can remember it with me, even if you don’t believe it.
It takes place a long time ago, 1961 or ‘62, on a little island, several miles off the coast of India. The island is mostly wilderness, but in the middle of that wilderness is a little village called Agrippina, named after the patron saint of those that suffer from leprosy.
It started on a blistering hot Wednesday morning on the porch of the medic house. The villagers were getting restless. Dr. Gettys was late, as usual, and it wasn’t often he had them huddle together so closely. I’d think it would probably be a health concern if the inhabitants didn’t all have leprosy already, but what the hell did I know. I didn’t have a medical degree, nor did I know a thing about medicine.
I was ordered there some weeks ago by the English government as a means of their own idea of time served. I knew it was an atypical punishment from the usual way they did things, but not much more than that. I could’ve either served the rest of a 15-year sentence (for trying to move cocaine back to the U.S.) in prison, or done six months working in an English occupied Indian leper village and do whatever Corporal Burke, a U.S. liaison and the commanding officer there, told me to do. I guess they thought I’d take the prison time.
Corporal Burke instructed me to assist Dr. Gettys, the one medical professional on the island, with whatever he needed as kind of a pseudo-nurse, and I’d done my best with that ever since I had arrived (giving shots, taking vitals, handing out meds etc.). With the proper equipment and sanitary precautions, it’s not as hard as it looks. It’s better than lockup, take my word on that.
He’d told the corporal to round up the villagers in front of the medic house, a small, stone building in the center of the village, and await his announcements. He told me to wait outside and stall them, whatever that meant. I just sat on the porch, playing with my cup-and-ball toy I’d found in Getty’s office, and glanced up at them occasionally, only to find them staring back at me. Leper colonies in the early 60’s didn’t have television, or Youtube, or Tiktok… they had cup-and-ball.
Very few of them spoke English, and none of them did particularly well. As we all waited there awkwardly, frying in the sun, all I could hear was them chattering with each other in their native tongue, punctuated every once in a while by the occasional coughing and jangling of the bells tied to their arms. The infected natives were all forced to wear bells, so they couldn’t get too close to someone not infected (namely us) without making themselves known.
At last, the doctor had emerged from the doorway, standing on the porch before the crowd. He looked like he could use a podium, nervously changing the position of his arms every few seconds as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands. He clearly wasn’t a born public speaker, but he gave it his best shot.
“Attention, attention, quiet please.” The doctor had an overall pleasant, unthreatening demeanor, though he made little effort to downplay his insufferably condescending, heightened RP English accent.
“Quiet, quiet please!” he continued. It wasn’t until the few bilingual villagers in the crowd began translating for the rest that the chatter silenced. I remember seeing one such native I didn’t recognize, no more than 8 years old, explaining the doctor’s words to her mother. Her left brow jutted out distortedly over her eye, and her skin, like many of the suffering islanders, sadly, was covered in lesions and blisters. I remember wondering how such a young child knew both languages so well. As the doctor went on, so did the impromptu translators.
“As most of you are aware, Shift Captain Douglas and I are long standing acquaintances. And once every month, the shift captain and I discuss the quality of your efforts and labor in the mines. You are all allotted generous compensation for your work, and may spend it as you choose,”
In reality there were only two things a leper in the village of Agrippina could spend money on for their work in the mines, food at the cookhouse, and meds. I guess you could call that a choice. Kind of.
“Along with a document that goes into a more intricate analysis of how hard you’ve worked, the Shift Captain sends to me a color-coded card that signifies a rating of your toil, he does this month to month. Red is the worst, then orange, then yellow, then blue. Green is the highest rating. I am happy to inform you all that the rating of your work this month, is… Green!”
The crowd was silent. I think Gettys expected them to jump in jubilation or clap or something.
“…So…then…you should all give yourself a rousing round of applause!” Dr. Gettys tried to get them started by clapping first. The translators clarified every word he’d said. No one clapped with him.
“Y-yes, well, that was the good news. I hope you all feel proud and enjoyed it somewhat, because I also have other news to share with you fine people. Due to shortages and issues with trade, there will be a rationing of Thiamine and Niacin, which means their prices will rise. However, the price of Vitamin L will stay the same. So—”
By the word “however” the crowd once again became unruly. If I needed these vitamins to stay alive, I’m sure I would’ve been pretty pissed too.
Gettys was smart enough to use the old con trick of pre-thanking them for their cooperation and understanding, even if they weren’t understanding. He tried his best to speak over the disgruntled crowd, who were prattling swears in their native tongue while unintentionally chiming their bells.
“I want to extend my sincerest apologies on behalf of myself and Corporal Burke, and my thanks for your compliance at this difficult time. Thank you!”
He waddled back into the medic house with the quickness of a chicken into its coop after spotting a fox across the farm. “Come Mr. Raughley.”
That was my cue. I could see the looks on their faces as I turned from the crowd back inside. Frustration. Anguish but not rage, more like they were woefully accustomed to this kind of treatment. The only one who wasn’t scowling was the girl, who seemed more unphased than upset. I didn’t know if she wasn’t aware of what she was hearing, or she just didn’t care. I was jealous of her optimism either way.
“Mister Raughley, if you please!”
As I walked inside, I turned to shut the door but remembered there wasn’t one, so instead I just took a seat at the conference table and, like Burke and Gettys, just tried to pretend I couldn’t feel the sea of frowns leering at us from the doorway outside. The crowd was taking painfully long to disperse.
“Ungrateful! That’s what they are, ungrateful savages! Why, did you see the way they looked at me!? Never! I Never!”
Burke didn’t seem rattled. “Stop gettin’ your britches in a twist, they’ll take the inflated price and they’ll like it. Do they have a choice?”
“Well- no, not exactly. But they do scare me sometimes. I consider myself a compassionate person, but a man has his limits. I mean, did you SEE them?”
“I saw you race in here with your asshole puckered, hehehe. Let me pour you a drink. Raughley, scotch?”
“Rum, if you have it.” I replied.
Corporal Burke was an asshole. I wish I could describe him more eloquently or with more specificity, but there really wasn’t much more to him. I’d hoped with his seniority and experience he’d be a wise, level-headed figure around here, but he was really just a child in an older man’s body. A kid with a big gun. He was a large man, broad, cut shoulders, buzzed hair and skin that glowed orange-tan from the sun. He carried scars on his face, one that crossed diagonally down across his long, angular nose. I knew he’d seen a lot of shit in combat, shit you’d hope would mature a man, but I’d seen him around the village, seen how he treated the villagers. I’d heard stories of him up at the mines standing guard, villagers would come back at the end of the day bruised and beaten for quote, “slacking”. When he wasn’t bullying them, well, that just left me and Gettys.
He handed us our drinks and sat.
“There doc, now drink that. When your pansy-ass regains consciousness, tell Raughley what you told me.”
Dr. Gettys took his time finishing his glass and cleared his throat.
“Yes, well, …Mr. Raughley, you’ve been here a for… refresh my memory?”
“Two-and-a-half months sir.”
“Two-and-a-half months, so then you haven’t been here long enough to—” he paused. “The corporal and I have been running our humanitarian efforts out here to help these people for a number of years now. Before we’d come, we’d heard all kinds of preposterous claims about this island and its inhabitants, rumors of cannibalism, kuru from cannibalism, rumors of human sacrifice, mysticism, gods that roam the island. I’ve discussed it back and forth with Douglas, he seems to think the isle is plagued by an air of supernature.”
“Douglas is a fuckin’ quack.” Burke cut in.
Dr. Gettys continued. “…Indeed. Well, Mr. Raughley, as your better senses might have guessed, neither Corporal Burke nor I have seen hide nor hair of any such hocus pocus. That is, until about a year ago. We were approached last August by one of the villagers, an elderly woman named Bimala. The woman told us that a friend close to her on the island was missing. Of course, we hadn’t thought anything of it. Ha-ha-I mean, the corporal and I would both be millionaires if we had a nickel for every deadly animal species that lives within a 7-mile radius of the village, ha-ha. She easily could’ve been ripped apart by crocodiles or eaten by a Bengal tiger or, well, I could go on.”
The doctor rifled for a cigar through his box of Dominicans, put one between his teeth, bit the end and lit it after nervously fumbling to light the match. He again went on, more relaxed than before but still with a stern expression.
“But this wasn’t an isolated occurrence, unfortunately. More reports came in of missing persons. No warnings, no bodies found, utterly inexplicable disappearances. There wasn’t even a pattern of quite which villagers were disappearing. They had no notable similarities; the only constant was that their disappearances were always after nightfall.” The doctor sighed.
“This stopped a number of months ago, before you arrived. Whatever dark, unexplainable… thing… was going on here, we were at its mercy. We couldn’t stop it or understand it. Needless to say, we welcomed it ceasing itself. …We all moved on.”
I could’ve probably guessed what the doctor was about to say. The truth was I already pretty much knew.
“Three days ago, a villager you may remember named Ishaan was scheduled for his weekly medications and a vitals check. You were supposed to give him those medications."
“I know, Ishaan never showed that day.” I noted gravely.
“Ishaan is nowhere to be found. He kept to himself primarily, but we’ve been looking for him. Someone would’ve seen him by now. No one knows where he is.”
The stout, mustachioed Englishman flicked the ash from his comically large cigar onto to the bare, wooden table and took another puff.
“I do so wish I could ignore this anomaly once again and wait for it to subside, but it’s clear that whatever is going on in this village has resumed and has no intention of ending permanently.”
The doctor had been glaring at me during his monologue and continued to do so moments after he’d finished. The silence was growing increasingly awkward, so I assumed it was my turn to speak.
“Forgive me Dr. Gettys, but… why are you telling me all this?”
Gettys and Burke gave each other a knowing look, then he rose from his chair and sauntered toward the window beside the doorway, cigar still in hand. The crowd had dissipated at this point, and the locals were back to their routine. The doctor gazed at them as they walked by.
“In our quest to locate the leper named Ishaan, I’d heard accounts from a few of the English-speaking villagers that there is a young girl, a local, that regularly wanders outside of Agrippina, westward, into the jungle on the uncharted parts of the island. The others say they keep their distance from this girl, she only interacts with anyone when they need her translations, she’s bilingual.”
I already had a hunch of which kid he was talking about.
“It’s quite disturbing actually.” Gettys did look disturbed. “I’ve been informed that the child claims she… has a friend… in the jungle.”
Gettys continued staring at me to gage my reaction.
“…A human friend, a woman …that she plays with …who lives IN the jungle,” he sighed again. “She says her friend’s name is Kalisa.”
“Forgive me doctor if I’m not following,” I spoke up again. “But what does this girl have to do with the disappearances?”
Gettys expression didn’t change. “I’ve yet to speak to the girl directly, but I have spoken with her mother, another afflicted. She told me her daughter’s spouted claims that she knows where our missing lepers are.”
At this point the doctor was again standing at the table, pouring Burke another drink, then himself, then resumed his slow pace around the room. “The child’s been saying that they went to... see, eh, Kalisa.”
The old doctor spoke with a subtle, scoffing inflection that made it seem like he was aware of how silly these claims were, which didn’t explain why he was entertaining them or why he was telling me.
“And what do you make of this ‘Kalisa’ business?” I asked.
Dr. Gettys returned to his seat across from mine, though he didn’t look at me. He swirled his scotch for a moment while staring out the doorway and was once more studying the villagers as they passed by. “You must think it practically insane to even take note of such a thing. Children make outlandish assertions all the time, it’s practically their profession, Ha-Ha.”
Corporal Burke, who at this point had graduated from using a glass and was just downing scotch straight from the bottle, finally broke his silence. “It’s also insane that a tenth of the island just up and fuckin’ vanished in the past year, we don’t have single reasonable lead. We can’t afford to turn our nose up at this one, even if it’s unreasonable. Personally, I could give a shit about these people. The way they live, crazy shit like this probably happens all the time on this island. But less able-bodied lepers means less workers for the mines and less money comin’ in for vitamins and pharmaceuticals. Plus, whatever’s out there picking these people off could come for us next, we don’t even know what this thing is. You want that, Raughley?”
I didn’t answer him or take notice of what he said at all. I never did.
“Dr. Gettys, what does all this have to do with me?” I asked with half an idea of where this was all going already.
“There could be someone escorting the quarantined villagers off the island for pay, though at this rate it surely would’ve caught Naval attention, the corporal believes an officer would’ve alerted him by now. It could be a mad serial killer on the island picking them off. We don’t know, all we have is this lead. Someone needs to follow this girl to wherever in blazes she goes and see what comes of it.”
“That’s where I come in, I guess?”
The doctor went on. “I’m far too old to be stumbling about through some untraveled, man-eating jungle off the coast of India and the Indochinese Peninsula, and I’m afraid Corporal Burke is too crucial to the goings-on here in the village, and he’s also getting up in age himself.”
“I can still kick your ass ya’ pissant sissy!”
“…As usual, your input is unnecessary Mr. Burke.”
“So, you want me to look into this because I’m… expendable?” I asked disgruntledly.
“Oh, please don’t look at it that way, dear boy,” Gettys pleaded in his best “good cop” voice. “You’ll be doing a great service; you’ll be saving lives! I’m sure you know that your sentenced served here on the island, as opposed to in prison, only counts if I write you a decent commendation to give to the courts. I’ll make sure to give you a glowing review.”
As he spoke, the doctor smiled an oily smile that oozed extortion. I still wasn’t convinced it was worth it to trail some girl through a perilous, Indian wilderness, just to most likely end up another one of the dozens of vanished people.
“I- I don’t know doctor, I still don’t see why I should have to do this. I have to think about it.”
The smile slowly bent into a disaffected grimace. The elderly Englishman panned his eyes toward Burke, giving him an unspoken permission to try convincing me his way. It was as if the good cop was tagging out and the bad cop was tagging in.
Without hesitation, Burke slammed his glass bottle on the table, just short of shattering it, stood from his chair and loomed over me. I still didn’t look at him, though he was close enough to blow his hot, liquor-soaked breath on me as he spoke.
“You should do it because we told you to. You should do it because you’re a sniveling shit who pushes dope and should be rotting in a prison cell the rest of his life if there was any decent sense of justice in this world! You should DO it BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T DO IT, WE’LL MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN THAT PRISON, CLEANING THE SHIT OUT OF EVERY TOILET ON YOUR BLOCK EVERY SINGLE GODDAMNED DAY ‘TIL YOU CHOKE ON YOUR OWN FUCKING VOMIT FROM THE STENCH LIKE THE FUCKING INSECT YOU ARE!!”
After taking a second to catch his breath, the corporal collected himself and sat back down in a relaxed position. “And you should do it because we asked you so nicely.”
As I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to dab the beads of saliva from my hair left over from Burke’s compelling speech, the doctor tagged back in.
“One of us must look into this, and you have the least to lose. It’s only fair. You believe in fairness, don’t you Mr. Raughley?”
I didn’t reply to that, nor did Gettys expect me to. He and Burke did expect me to agree to their proposition, however. They each lit another Dominican waiting for my response.
“…Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Splendid! Burke will point you in the direction of the girl’s hut. Speak with her mother if she’s not there, she knows a little English. She’ll let you know where she is. Off you go!”
At that, Dr. Gettys fixed himself another glass of scotch whiskey and shuffled through the loose papers on his desk, pretending to read them to avoid eye contact with me. Burke rose from his seat and motioned for me to do the same and to follow him.
We started down the dirt trail that led from the medic house, putting on our gloves and masks as we walked. At this point I’d become used to the sounds of children playing, and the moos and clucks coming from behind the cookhouse. These people had enough problems as it was, the fact that they were being picked off by this… whatever it was… was just too much.
“It’s pretty messed up, isn’t it?” I asked Burke as he was lifting his mask to take another hit of his cigar.
“Hm? Oh, uh, yeah. Sure it is, life’s hell. Listen, see that hut down there with the red and orange cloths draped over the fence? Make a left after you hit it, and the second one on the right is hers.”
I nodded. “You think I could get one of those Dominicans?”
His hand met my back with a forceful slap. “HAHAHAHAHA! …No, now don’t come back to the medic house ‘til you got something.”
He sauntered away, still puffing away with his mask stretched over his head.
I walked past the cookhouse on my way there. I could smell from inside Tinsky (the village “chef”, quote, unquote) cooking and preparing a lunch pot of slop for the village. I had to admit, Agrippina did have a strange, inexplicable quality to it. I wondered whether or not there really was a kind of magic to this island, and how a small handful of Navy men could just waltz into it and help themselves to the mines and anything else they wanted.
As I approached the door of the hut, I heard the singing of a child coming from the yard in back. I guessed that was her, but I thought it best to speak with the girl’s mother first. I knocked on the edge of the doorway (there, again, was no door), and waited for a response. There was none, but looking through the threshold into the dark, baron, little home, I saw a silhouetted figure, a woman, seated by a would-be window/hole in the wall, cigarette in hand.
“Uh, excuse me, mam?”
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, may I come in?”
Her voice was hoarse and monotoned. “Aap Yanha se chale jaiye.”
“…I’m …sorry mam, I don’t speak Hindi. I’m here because I needed to t—”
“—I know why you heere. She’s in backyard.” She took another drag. As she did so, I could see her face in the window’s light. It was badly coated with rugged, red patches.
At that, I said a quick “thank you” and went around back. I guessed I could understand her jaded disposition toward the Americans and British. I trusted Gettys as far as I could throw him, and Burke went without saying. I suppose I was in the same club as those two.
I could still hear that singing voice. Behind the back of the shambled hut was less a yard and more concrete and dirt surrounded by pockets of dandelions and crabgrass. In the center of one of those concrete slabs was the source of the artless voice. A heartbreakingly thin girl in a yellow shirt with an orange flower pattern and brown pants a couple sizes too big, held to her waist by a makeshift rope belt, was sitting with her back to the modest home. She was very short, save for her poofy, unkempt hair that seemed to give her another 5 or 6 inches in height. As I approached her, I noticed upon closer look her vehement focus on a drawing she was making with chalk on the ground.
My instinct told me the drawing would be of a dog, or a flower or whatever kids normally draw. Instead, what I saw was a woman, nude except for a skirt made of straw and a couple of colorful garlands around her neck. The woman was drawn with a gentle smile, but there was something definitely unsettling about her.
“Is this Kalisa?” I asked. “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that.”
The girl stopped singing and looked up briefly to acknowledge my presents, then returned her attention to her illustration.
“That’s ok strange man.” She said. “Yeah. She’s my friend.”
“I heard. …She looks blue, like a blueberry.”
She again looked up at me, then continued drawing. “And you’re red, like a tomato, but it doesn’t really bother me.”
“Haha! Yeah, I guess I am. It’s from the sun, I was white when I got here.”
“I know, I remember seeing you when you first arrived. I thought you were a ghost!”
While crouching down next to the kid, I noticed there were actually a few crude sketches in chalk of this “friend” all around the yard.
“Can I ask you your name?”
This time, she didn’t take her eyes off her drawing. “What’s yours?”
I guess it was pretty weird for a stranger to just walk up to this girl and start asking her questions about who she was. I don’t think I would’ve answered me either.
“It’s Louis.” I said. “Some people around here call me Raughley, but you can just call me Lou.”
She was silent for a moment before speaking up. “My name’s Veena.”
“Veena, huh. That’s a cool name.”
“Thanks, I think it is too.”
“Veena, I don’t know if you know who I am. I work at the medic house with the doctor, Dr. Gettys.”
“Mm-hm, I’ve seen you.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you there. Why don’t you ever go get checkups or medicine? Don’t you want to get better?”
She cut me a side-eyed look as if that was a stupid question. I didn’t know kids her age even did that.
“I used to. Kalisa said that Vitamin L doesn’t work though. She’s really smart.”
“She said Vitamin L doesn’t work? Is Kalisa a doctor?” I asked, thinking she wouldn’t have an answer.
“Are you?” she replied.
“Damn,” I thought to myself. “This kid’s good.”
“Veena, can I ask you something?”
She didn’t answer, but the way she’d been concentrating on her picture, it seemed like she didn’t care one way or the other.
“Someone had told me that, well… that you know where the missing people of the island have gone. …Is that true?”
She was silent again, this time opting out of replying entirely. I figured I wouldn’t wait for answer.
“Veena, …can I meet Kalisa?”
She snickered slightly at the question, an adult-like snicker. I, again, got the impression that this kid, who was definitely no more than 7 or 8 years old, was wise beyond the years of her short life.
“That’s funny.” She said. “Funny and weird. You’re funny and weird.”
“What’s so funny about that?” I asked her.
“Because, she said today was the day…”
“…Today is the day for what?”
She set down her chalk having finished her friend’s portrait and turned to me.
“Today she’s coming here, to the village. Kalisa said that I don’t have to worry anymore, that no one does. She told me she’d fix everything. She said she’d heal everyone… like she healed the others…”
At this moment in my head, I felt I should’ve had some kind of response for this young kid. There’s an instinct adults have to want to always know just the right words to say to a child, even if they don’t know what those right words are. I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t speak. All I could do was try to keep my heart from sinking into my stomach. Heal everyone like the others? What the hell does that even mean!? I didn’t know what in god’s name this “Kalisa” thing was, all I knew was it coming to the village was bad fucking news. Apparently in the job description of a pretend leprosy nurse you occasionally have to save the village from whatever the fuck a Kalisa is. Who knew?
I cleared my throat and pretended as best I could that what this girl just told me wasn’t as creepy as it was.
“Veena, I think you should take me to Kalisa before she comes to the village. Is that ok?”
She looked down to ponder the request. “I don’t know, I don’t think she’d like that. She doesn’t know you, she only knows me.”
I had to think of something.
“Veena, why does Kalisa only talk to you? Is she shy?”
The girl nodded.
“I thought so, maybe it’s best someone introduces her?”
“But… she has me to introduce her to everyone.”
“Do you know everybody here? I noticed you like to play by yourself, do you talk to any of the other kids in the village?”
After a brief hesitation she shook her head.
“I’ve never seen you at the medic house. Do you know the doctor? The corporal? I know most everyone here, I see them weekly to give them checkups. Maybe it’s best that I meet Kalisa first, then I can help her meet everyone else.”
The afflicted girl mulled over the offer once more.
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the cup-and-ball sticking from my left pocket.
“Oh, it’s a, cup-and-ball.”
“…Can I have it?”
I handed it to her, and she gave it a few swings while I stood there until she excitedly landed the ball into the cup.
“…Ok, I’ll take you there.”
“Great.” I said. “Which way does Kalisa live?”
She didn’t say anything. All she did was point across the village toward the western jungle. She started walking.
“Come on strange man. I’ll show you.”
I followed. “You know, you can call me Lou.”
We’d trudged through less than a hundred yards of mud and branches and ivy before feeling like I was in another dimension. The branches extending from the treetops obscured most of the sky. Sight of civilization was already gone, and any sounds of human voices were replaced with the songs of tropical birds and the screeching of monkeys. Except for the sparkle of fallen drops of rain, every bit of light there was throughout the forest had a greenish-blue tint, as if it were a dream. Every living thing in this place wanted to kill or eat me, and my only guide into and out of it stood less than 4 feet off the ground, less than that not counting her hair.
She didn’t seem worried, though. She passed through thorned bushes and bacteria-filled puddles as if walking through her living room. I didn’t know if I should’ve been comforted or disconcerted by that fact, but she’d walked through this tropical hell before and lived. She must’ve been doing something right.
“So, Kalisa lives here?” I asked, trying to make conversation to distract my own nerves.
“I don’t think she lives anywhere,” she answered while, again, trying to get the ball in the cup. “But this is our special, secret spot where we play and talk sometimes. I still don’t know if I should be taking you here, are you sure it’s better this way?”
I told her it was, but in reality, the further we marched into these undiscovered woodlands, the less I was sure of anything, what I was going to do when I confronted this person (or thing), how I ended up in this situation, who I even was. This jungle was surreal, like the further you ventured in, the more of yourself (your life, your identity) you left behind. It wasn’t natural, yet it was nature itself. I don’t think it’s possible to explain, I guess you just had to be there.
I’d stopped momentarily to lift my mask and catch my breath, and at the moment of resting it back into place I’d lost my breath again entirely. At my feet was what I’d at first thought was a striped vine… but vines don’t hiss.
It was a krait, one of the deadliest, most venomous snakes in the world. I was too close to run; I’d assuredly be bit before getting out of striking range. All I could do was futilely wait and think of a better idea. I tried, but instead my mind chose to flash through memories of my life rather than come up with a solution. How did I end up here? Why can’t I just function normally in society like a normal person? My childhood wasn’t that bad, how did I end up trafficking blow for a living?
The snake’s fangs snuck ever closer while my mind went adrift. I’d read a little about kraits in one Dr. Gettys’s books on local flora and fauna he’d kept on a bookshelf in the medic house. They usually only went after humans who were asleep. In that moment I was so still, I might as well had been.
In a split second, I could no longer feel its body moving on my foot. I’d assumed it had already bit me and moved on (the krait’s bite is notoriously painless), until I heard what sounded like the crack of leather on bark. I opened my eyes to find my 3-and-a-half-foot chaperone smacking the now-dead reptile against a tree like a lumberjack. She dropped its carcass at her feet and motioned her hand toward our destination as if to say, “Ready to keep going?”
“You… you saved my life.” I told her.
“Mmm, now that I think about it, if you’re going to keep spacing out like that, I might have to do it again before we get out of here. Do you have another mask with you, by chance?”
I checked my pockets.
“Uh, yeah I do, actually.”
Without skipping a beat, Veena grabbed the snake she’d just slayed and squeezed blood out onto her fingers from its wounds. She dropped it again and reached her not-bloody hand out to me, I gave her the extra mask, and, with the snake’s blood, drew a frowny face on it. She then fastened it to the back of her head instead of her face. I would’ve been more disgusted if I wasn’t so confused.
“Ok, now your mask.” She said plainly, reaching out her hand again.
“What… what are you do—”
“…Whu- I don’t understa—”
“Tigers. There are tigers in this jungle. They hunt by ambush, they attack you from behind when you aren’t looking. Wearing a face on the back of your head will make them think you’re always watching them.”
“Does… and this works?”
It didn’t really make sense to me, but I knew this girl knew more about this place than I did.
“I don’t think I should take off my mask. It’s nothing personnel, but when I’m around people infected…” For whatever reason, I found it hard to finish the sentence.
“Strange man, if you think I’m the most dangerous thing in this place, you’re not going to last very long.”
That DID make sense to me. I took off my mask and gave it to her, she gave it the same blood-frown treatment. I took it back and wore it, the same as she did, and two bloody frowns receded further into the endless jungle.
“We’re almost there.” she said after some time, breaking the silence.
“Good. I’m guessing whatever… Kalisa’s… plan is, we might not have much time before she decides to put it to action.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Veena,” I asked. “Why are the people of the village gone. What does it have to do with your friend? Did Kalisa do anything to them?”
She looked slightly offended. “No, Kalisa didn’t hurt anyone!”
“Then what happened to them?” I insisted. “I feel like I could help you better if you’d tell me.”
The look on her face suggested she was conflicted on what to say, but eventually told me what was happening.
“Kalisa visits them, but not in real life. In their dreams. She needs them so that she can help us. She tells them she needs their prana, their spirit, and then, PSSHH! Wakes them up.”
“And then what?” I asked.
“Then they go to her, of course.” She rolled her eyes again, as if it were another stupid question.
“Have you ever had one of these dreams?”
She shook her head. “No, but she told me. She tells me everything. We’re best friends! Remember?”
“…Right.” I decided not to ask any more questions until we got there. Every time I did, I just ended up having a lot more.
The jungle was dark as the night at this point, though it couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3pm in the afternoon. At least, I thought it was afternoon. All I could see were shades of black and green, and all I could hear was a cool, singing wind that blew through the forest, punctuated by the jingling of Veena’s bell and the crunching of leaves and twigs beneath our footsteps. I couldn’t even hear the animals anymore, just the wind.
“Kalisa!” Veena yelled. My heart jumped at her shout. I could see her run up ahead, but I couldn’t tell to what at first. Then I saw her...
Through bushes, and thickets and vines, stood a woman. Her hair was disheveled and so black it didn’t even look like individual strands, more like one, large shadow in the shape of a cloaking mane. Her skin was a royal blue, much like Veena’s picture. And, like Veena’s picture, she was naked, not including her garland and her skirt. But this garland wasn’t of flowers, it was a string necklace of shrunken human heads that bled from their eyes and mouth. And her skirt was not made of straw, it was made of gored, dismembered human arms.
I remember how much her smile was just like her picture, right down to the creepiness factor. I’d only seen such a smile on murals of Jesus Christ or on the Mona Lisa, but I’d never seen so much blood come with a smile like that, it only made her expression that much more disturbing. Her eyes blinked slow and seldom, and her leer passed through me like two spears to the head.
Veena hugged her—uhm, “friend”—and looked up at her. She spoke to the blue woman in Hindi, nothing I could understand. All I could do was stand there awkwardly while the girl talked. Kalisa never broke her smile, nor did she break eye contact with me while listening to Veena go on. I was petrified to look away from her for fear of what this woman, this thing, was or might do. For just a moment I did glance at her garland. The faces around her neck were unfamiliar to me, all except one, which looked a lot like the missing villager Ishaan.
Eventually, Veena finished her explanation for my being here. Again, all that could be heard was the wind. The woman didn’t say anything, she didn’t react at all. Her expression didn’t change, it never changed.
After a moment or two of what seemed like time frozen still, she walked toward me, quickly. I blinked, and in a second, the warm but eerie grin that was a stone’s throw away was at arm’s reach. She was nearly 7 feet tall. Her eyes were kind, but if the flesh that decorated her body was any indication, this—inhuman—before me, was not. She was a monster.
Her left arm clutched me by the throat and raised me off the ground without the slightest hint of strain, while her right pulled a scimitar-sword from its scabbard, strapped behind her back. She cocked back the blade as if readying her swing, and a freakishly long tongue unraveled out of her now open-mouthed grin.
I could faintly hear Veena shrieking in her native tongue from behind her in a way that sounded like she was begging her to stop. I couldn’t tell exactly what she was saying, even if I could speak Hindi I wouldn’t have understood. I couldn’t hear, smell or feel anything. My senses failed, and once again, time was still. I couldn’t even feel the fear of my impending death. All I could think about was the juxtaposition of the blue woman’s genial, loving gaze and her obvious lust for human offal. It was indescribable.
The next thing I knew, my back was hitting the dirt below. The awesome, beastly woman was standing over me. Veena was tugging on her skirt of arms, still pleading for her to stop. I could only assume she still wanted to kill me, but I couldn’t know for sure, because she just kept smiling that smile. That FUCKING smile.
As if in a horrible, off-key harmony, this creature called Kalisa, along with the heads that rested around her neck, spoke together in a sing-song unison, in both high and low pitches. The painful, collective sound of their voices nearly made blood bust from my ears, though they only spoke two words.
“SAMAPAN! UPCHARATMAK!!” They screamed as one.
With that, a white flash of light exploded throughout the forest like lightning, and drops of rain began falling through the treetops from the sky. She was gone, and I was left touching my chest and face, convincing myself that I was actually here, and that what just happened was real.
“Are you ok Lou?” said Veena.
“I… I don’t know.” I said, stuttering. “What was that? Veena, what did she say? What is going to happen!?”
The girl didn’t answer. She just stared back in the direction we’d come, then looked back at me. “We should go back to the Agrippina now.” She said solemnly.
Not wasting time, I clumsily got back on my feet, and we started back to the village.
'In My Own Time: A Portrait of Karen Dalton', Movie Hindi Review!
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