Deep in the night, a moving silhouette appeared on the wall in a couple’s bedroom. The husband stared from underneath the blankets with terrified eyes as he shook his wife awake. Together they stared, horrified, as the shadow quietly approached. It was all that they could stomach. They threw off the covers and ran into the streets screaming.

          Life is a journey. We spend our lives searching for something, but we don’t really know what it is until we find it.

A lone figure rode towards the one street town of Benea and folks quickly locked their doors and anxiously peered through the windows. There was a lot of skepticism in this town about the outside world and strangers were not common or welcome. The horse, a huge stallion approached cautiously, and all was quiet on the streets but for the pounding sound of the hoofs. The rider finally arrived in the middle of the town and peered from under the big cowboy hat.  Five men approached cautiously, rifles at ready: overhanging coats and cowboy hats.

          “What brings you here sir!” the big man in front asked.

          The rider didn’t reply but instead, slowly took off her hat and let loose her long red hair. The men gasped in surprise. It was a woman! The last thing they had expected.

          “You are a woman?” One man said stupidly. “What kind of a woman are you? These lands are haunted, the forest is dangerous!”

          She ignored the question. “I need a place to stay.” The red lips finally moved, the sound of an angel. “I have been travelling for a long time.”

          She was a thing of beauty. Late twenties: a flashed skin, blue eyes, full cheeks… a Mona Lisa. The men subconsciously lowered their guns.

          “You have a name?” It was a big man at the front.

          “Call me Vanessa. You got a name sir?” She motioned to the big man and he raised an eyebrow at the absurdity of being questioned by a woman. Women in this part of the world were submissive and passive.

          “Leboff is my name. We have a room at the salon if you need a bath and some food.” The man pointed at a nearby town house building.

          The lady shook her head. “I need something bigger and more private. I may be staying for a few days.”

          The men looked at each other slyly. They were all thinking the same thing and the thought seemed to amuse them.

          “We have just the right place for you ma’am, if you have money.” She did and she paid in full with a coin of gold.

The house was nice and big although it looked neglected. The weeds grew freely in the yard and climbing plants had found a home on the outside walls. The inside was a huge hallway with climbing stairs that led to two bedrooms upstairs. The house must have belonged to someone important, Vanessa concluded as she wondered as to the reason of its being neglected.

          She had other things on her mind though. A long bath and a quick nap topped the list of her priorities. Having done both, she tied her hair back in a simple ponytail and walked into the streets to try and familiarize herself with the environment.

The afternoon sun lit the town and birds sang melodiously from the surrounding trees. Folks stared strangely at her pink dress and how it brought the colors on her face. The men tripped over their chores in an effort to catch a glimpse, the innocent children fought to hold her hands. Vanessa looked like a little girl on her way home from school: innocent and naïve about the world outside her home. She bought bread from the bakery, fish and some grocery supplies.

          “Where’s the book store?” she asked. 

An old man pointed it out and she followed his direction. The shop was deserted but for an old man with a balding head, a book lover. Vanessa sifted through the undusted books until she found the one she was looking for. She never knew what book she wanted to buy until she saw it. She bought the book and returned to her house for a quiet afternoon. She would clean the house the following day after she was rested.

 

In the evening, Vanessa sat at the desk downstairs and worked on her lavender journals. Every page in the journal highlighted her travels around the world and described the beauty of the land and the strangeness of the people. Where she had been welcomed and where she had not: her narrow escapades with death, diseases, wild animals and intruders. She didn’t know why she wrote but she knew that she felt great after she did. Writing was like talking to someone and especially so after travelling for days on lonesome roads. There was a whole lot cold world out there and she had seen it.

          In the evening and bored out of her mind, Vanessa replaced the pink dress with a lustrous red gown. She pinned her hair above her head and held it with a clip: silver necklace glittered around her neck; matching bracelets softly caressed her hands. She took a long look at herself in the mirror. “You are beautiful and important,” she said aloud. It was something her mum used to say to her as a child. She stepped out and headed for the nearby salon. The smell of kerosene and burning wood drifted from the houses.

People in the salon turned as soon as Vanessa pushed through the swinging doors. She looked beautiful and she could tell by the look in the men’s eyes: some gawked while others subconsciously licked their lips. They knew about the gun in her purse, but they didn’t know about the shotgun in the small of her back underneath the fur jacket.

          Country music played from a box; smoke from cigars rose in the air and clouded the tiny room. Glasses clanked and folks threw surreptitious glances at her. The place was a bustle of conversation: an ambitious middle class exchanging stories and jokes over pints of beer.

          The women hosted the men at the various tables and it was the one place in a 19th century world where the power of a woman exceeded that of an aristocrat.

          “A cold beer,” Vanessa ordered and the barman wrinkled his brow when she gulped half the mug without pause.  It was unladylike. She turned and appraised the room, ignoring the men who tried too hard to catch her eye until she saw what she wanted: Leboff, the big man who had welcomed her into the village.

He sat alone in a corner staring at the table as though reading a book. She glided over and he looked up with recognition. She swung her waist seductively and took her time to get there… seemed at ease with the environment… a contrived creature of the night. Leboff stared at her mouth agape.

          “You dropped something,” she said as she sat down.

          “What?”

          “Your jaw.”

          He quickly covered his face with a mug of beer.

          She gave him a curious look. “All these women here and you sit alone?”

          “Its one of those nights. Too many minds.” He hesitated then asked in a shaky voice. “Can I buy you a drink?”

She didn’t reply but instead leaned forward and motioned for him to do the same. “Let me save you the trouble.” Her voice was ominous and seductive. “You will offer me a drink and I will accept and then we will giggle around in petty conversation and pretend to have fun. You will probably try to impress me by telling me about your great achievements in life and I will pretend to be in awe.” She leaned back and gave him a second look, choosing her words carefully. His wasn’t the kind of face that one could pick out from a lineup. The hat was gone to reveal long curly hair; a rugged beard covered his face. He wasn’t the best looking frog in the pond.

“You wonna get out of here?” she asked, and he gawked sheepishly. She stood up with an impassive expression and he followed her upstairs like a big dog. The women in the salon looked at her with disapproval, the men stared at him with envy.

          She slammed him against the wall with one hand and kicked the door shut with her foot. He was astounded by her strength but too consumed by desire to care. She was like a beast as she ripped the clothes from his body. He leaned forward for a kiss but she cupped his face with her right hand and shoved him onto the bed. Kisses were out of bound for her. She jumped on him and literary tore every piece of cloth from his body. Her eyes shone with lust, her fingers dug into his skin. He gasped and a scared look appeared in his eyes. It was the first time in his life that he was scared of a woman. She seemed to like it though: fed off it. His weakness aroused her and she took off her clothes in a hurry and pinned him underneath her. He thought she looked like a goddess: she thought he smelled like horseshit.

          An hour later, he was snoring.  She walked over to the window naked and lit a cigarette. She only smoked when she was stressed and this was one of those times.

          Ten years she hadn’t been home. A forlorn quest. Ten years she hadn’t seen her family and her childhood friends. It was a long time and she wondered whether her family missed her as much as she did them. Her little brother, was he married with kids? Her little sister, she must be fourteen years old now, just beginning to take notice of the boys around her. Vanessa exhaled. The solitude and nostalgia was closing in and strangling her.

She turned and looked at the frame of the sleeping man on the bed and she hated herself. It was the same thing for her in every town that she landed. The lonesome paths through the forests drove wild fantasies into her mind: made her yearn for sex and the warmth of a man … any man!  The sex calmed down her raging hormones and cleared her thoughts. She never slept with the same man twice and because of this, she had left a trail of broken hearts and homes in her wake. She wasn’t proud of herself but she couldn’t control her tremendous appetite for men.  

          The time was 3am as Vanessa dressed up and walked towards the door. A hand suddenly grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. It was Leboff, the big man. “Hey, pretty thing. Where do you think you are going? We are just getting started here.”

          She turned and saw him standing there, one hand holding a blanket to cover his nude. She moved and he never saw it coming. Her two fingers were anchored on each side of his windpipe, and there was a high chance that any neck movement on his part would end up fatal. The blanket fell from his hand.

          “I say we are done!” Vanessa said in a cold voice and the big man raised his hands and watched her with weary eyes.

          “Okay.” He grimaced. “I agree, we are done.”

          She released him and edged towards the door, her eyes never leaving his. She saw his fear turn into anger… the pain of humiliation… the anger of having his ass handed to him by a girl.  “You know I own this town?” he said in an effort to reassert himself. But she wasn’t ready for another conversation. The door slammed shut and she was gone.

          She had learned to fight the hard way and due to the disadvantage of her size, she had learned to fight dirty. It was the only rule that kept her alive… there was no such thing as a fair fight in her vocabulary.

          Vanessa staggered through the dark night crying. She didn’t know why she was crying but it had to do with how she felt, the impurity of her actions… she was far removed from the girl she used to be. It was the same feeling every time and after having sex with a stranger. And it didn’t matter how good or bad the sex was… the outcome was the same: a hollow feeling at the core of her heart.

          Her footsteps echoed the house as she walked through the rooms. She scanned the hallway and the bedrooms, the kitchen and study room. It was a habit born out of necessity and a need to stay alive. Everything in the house was as it was before. Almost. The pen on the table! It almost looked like somebody had used it then tried to place it back in the same position. She was good with details and the idea that somebody had been in the house made her shudder. She ran into her bedroom and locked the doors behind her. She quickly checked under the bed and inside the wardrobes to make sure that she was alone. She was. She pushed the huge chest drawer against the door. There wasn’t much else that she could do.

          The bedroom shower. She jumped into the shower and scrubbed herself so hard that she thought she would bleed. The thought of the man she had been with repelled her and she felt nothing but regret. She wouldn’t do it again, she promised. But that was what she had said the last time and the one before.

Finally satisfied that she couldn’t get any cleaner, she slipped between the sheets and passed out like a light.

          An hour later, a clandestine part of the wall slid open and a dark shadow stepped into the bedroom.

         

The clock on to wall read noon when Vanessa woke up. Sunlight beamed through the window and into the small room and she remembered the events of the previous night with distaste in her mouth. She barely knew who she was anymore.

          A thud on the front door. She hurriedly slipped into her white dress and the spiral staircase creaked as she walked down. The cold wood bit into her feet as she cut across the wooden floor and reached for the front door knob. She flung it open and saw a crowd of people waving pitches and folks on her doorstep, Leboff in the lead. She looked confused. She didn’t understand.

          “Seize her!” Leboff yelled and two men grabbed each side of her.

          “What’s the meaning of this?” she demanded.

          Leboff didn’t reply but instead turned to address the crowd. “Has anybody ever slept in this house?” he yelled.

          “No!” the crowd roared in frenzy. “The house is haunted!”

Leboff scoffed and pointed at Vanessa.

          “Look at her!” he continued. “What kind of a woman travels alone through dark forests unaccompanied and still survives. Look at her!”

          “She’s a witch!” someone yelled.

          Vanessa’s nostrils flared in anger and her eyes blazed like fire. She wanted to kill Leboff with her bare hands.

          “I say we kill the witch before she casts a spell on our village!” the crowd chanted.

Vanessa was surrounded and escorted into the town arena. She half turned and gave her house a last glance, wistfully thinking about the guns hidden in her bedroom. Old men in the crowd carrying religious crosses prayed loudly for her spirit and begged her to confess before it was too late.

          They tied her to a post and children gathered firewood at her feet while the old folks passed beer around. Leboff leaned into her face and she turned sideways exposing her ear to him. “I told you I run this town, didn’t I?”

          She snarled. He was within striking distance and she could have killed him in that instance if she wanted to. She could have killed them all! All she needed were her guns and sixty seconds, and they would all be dead. But Leboff wasn’t the threat, nor were the two gunmen on top of the buildings. The real threat was that of the invisible sniper. There was always a sniper in such situations and she hadn’t been in the village long enough to conduct a full surveillance. She cursed at her error.

Vanessa scanned the horizon and prayed for a miracle but she had been in enough rodeos to know that things weren’t looking good for her. A tiny knife suddenly appeared in the small of her palm and she started sawing away on the ropes, her movements ever so slight. The people danced and sang as they prepared to light her up.

          Death. The thought began to register in her mind. Funny how the thought of death always had a way of tripping the brain and sending it down memory lane. She had always had this image of dying back home in the presence of loved ones and friends. After wandering the lands for ten years, she wanted to see her parents one more time… hoped to see them again and assure them of her love. And now it was too late. All she could do was nurture her inner strength and numb her feelings.

          Suddenly, a noise in the distance. The singing and dancing stopped and the town grew very still as they stared towards the town entrance. The ground trembled and a cloud of dust rose into the sky. Folks looked scared.

          “The curse of the witch!”

          Vanessa furiously worked on the ropes. And then the dust came around the corner and the people watched as dozens of horses appeared on a full trot. Panic. Folks grabbed their kids and ran into the buildings. Two gunshots cut through the air and the two riflemen on top of the buildings fell.  Vanessa stood very still and counted the seconds. She was free, but she didn’t dare move. A few seconds passed and a third gunshot resounded: a man fell from the top of the town clock. Vanessa gasped. The sniper! She would never have guessed.

          “Grab the horse!” A deep voice yelled and she tracked it down to a black shiny stallion. A man dressed in black was dangling from the stomach of one of the horses, a black mask covering his face. Could it be? It wasn’t possible. Only two horses were saddled and she jumped on the nearest one and rode like hell for the village exit.

          “She’s getting away!” someone yelled. But the voice was lost amongst the commotion. Vanessa arched her body forward and rode hard, the sun in her face, and very much aware of the other horse behind her.

          “Head for the trees!” the man yelled and she obeyed.

They rode hard for an hour before he took the lead. She tried to catch a glimpse but the low hat shadowed his masked face. The black overcoat flew behind him like a flap. He rode like he was born to ride. Three hours later they stopped and dismounted under a huge tree.

          She fell on her knees and crawled to the base of the tree, then collapsed with her back against the trunk. She closed her eyes and pretended to labor in breathing. She heard his movements close by and suddenly her heart pounded in fear. He leaned forward to make her more comfortable. “Are you okay?” He asked. But before he could say anything else, she took out what looked like a sharp needle and stuck it in his neck. He cried out in pain, and then turned to look at her. But the black mask hid what must have been an astonished or confused expression. He staggered backwards and she sprung to her feet and caught him before he hit the ground.

          “Wh…y?” he asked as he lost conscious.

          “Shhhhh….” was her reply. “Go to sleep now.” She lay him gently on the ground and walked over to tie the horses and cover their tracks. When she finally settled to look at him, she was amazed at how big of a man he was: six three, two hundred and thirty pounds of muscle.

She took off his hat. His face and head were hidden by a black mask exposing nothing but holes for the eyes, mouth and nose. She touched the mask and gently toyed with it. She could hear him purr asleep like a cat.  She badly wanted to take the mask off but managed to restrain herself.  The sun sunk behind the hills and darkness consumed them.

          A groan. She sat by the fire and watched him stir awake.

“Why did you drug me Vanessa?” he asked.

She roasted a steak over the fire and ignored his question. He realized

that he was tied to the tree. “Really?” he asked and she grinned at him.

          “I can’t trust you Demaco. It took me ten years to find you. I’m not ready to loose you now.” A night breeze tagged at her dress.

          He chuckled at her. “Still stubborn and distrusting after ten years.”

          “I have seen a lot of cruel world.” She bit into some roast meat. “Want some?”

          He nodded and she threw some logs into the fire before joining him. She sat next to him and awkwardly shoved meat into his mouth. “You gonna help me take a piss too?” he asked.

          “The thought is tempting,” she replied. And then after a long pause. “You didn’t have to rescue me you know? I had it all under control.”

          “Is that right?”

“Yes.” They both knew the truth. She hadn’t done enough surveillance to pick out the sniper positions. They stopped eating and stared at each other. Once again, she yearned to see his face and read his expression. She slowly reached out with her right hand to touch the mask but he turned away.

          “No,” he said in a whisper. She frowned and pulled away.

          “Well, better get some rest because we have a long ride tomorrow.”

          “Are you going to untie me?” he asked.

          “Goodnight Demaco,” she replied and stared at the moonless sky.

 

Vanessa awoke to the sound of twigs breaking around her, light in her eyes.  She thought that she was dreaming but she wasn’t. She had overslept. The sun was high above. Something was wrong!

          “Don’t even think about it honey!” A cold voice said when she tried to crawl for her gun. She looked up and found herself staring into the muzzle of her own shotgun. Leboff, the big man from the village! She span around and saw Demaco still sat underneath the tree, two rifles pointed at each side of his head. There were five men in total from the village.

“I didn’t like the idea of you guys riding into the sunset after embarrassing us the way you did.” Leboff’s voice was one of sarcasm as he paced between the two captivates calculating his next move.

          He pointed the gun at Vanessa and pulled an imaginary trigger. “I still need you alive. We have some unfinished business.” He turned and looked at Demaco and she shuddered. “But first, I want to see the face of the beast that has been tormenting my town. Take his mask off!”

          The two men hesitated and looked at each other wearily. They could hear the heavy breathing of the masked man and it sounded like air blowing through a pipe. Demaco sat calmly and waited.

          “Let him be!” Vanessa yelled. “Leave him alone!” She struggled to free herself but the two men held her firmly. Her breathing stifled as she watched.

The first man finally threw caution to the wind and reached for the mask.

          A hollow voice arose from underneath the mask. “Allow me!”

Demaco’s hands suddenly appeared from behind, and the glitter of two blades sparkled in the morning light. Blood jetted into the air like sprinklers and the two men screamed and clutched at their throats. The masked man leaped to his feet and threw both knives at the men holding Vanessa. She had never seen anybody move so fast before. The air was filled with screams and thudding noises as bodies fell around her, all dead except for one.

A bullet tore through the tree trunk as Demaco swiftly ducked. The smoking shotgun trembled in Leboff’s hands as he tried to line up a kill shot. His hesitation to continuously pull the trigger was as a result of the mild state of shock that he was in after what he had just witnessed.  “Move and I blow your head!” he threatened in a shaky voice. Demaco kept walking towards him in small prudent steps.

          Suddenly, Vanessa made her move. She kicked the gun from Leboff’s hands, setting it off muzzle facing the air. Leboff followed the gun with his eyes and Vanessa span on 180 degrees and caught the man’s chin with the heel of her boot. The man dropped down cold, his head slamming against a rock as he landed. The big man would never wake up again. All was quiet. She didn’t know it, but she was shaking.

          “You alright?” It was Demaco.

          She turned on him with fury. “Don’t you dare play games with me!” She yelled at him. “You were free all night. You could have fled if you wanted to. Why didn’t you? Why?” After ten years of being strong, she had finally lost control and it made her feel vulnerable. He always had that effect on her.

          “You wanted me a prisoner and that’s what I gave you,” he simply replied. “What was the plan Vanessa? Hmmm. To drag me all the way to my hometown? How would you have done that?”

          “That wasn’t my plan,” she protested. “I wanted to talk to you and drive some sense into that thick skull of yours.” She threw her hands up in exasperation. “I have been looking for you for ten years Demaco.” Pause. “Ten years! Ten years of a life that I will never get back. I want you to come back home with me and be with the people who love you.”

          He recoiled. “I can’t go back.” His voice trembled for the first time. “I can’t let people see me like this… like a monster.” He pointed at his masked face. He was a persona non grata.

          “You are not a monster Demaco. If it wasn’t for you, I would be dead. You are the one who braved the fire and threw me through the window. A monster couldn’t do that! Your burns are a reminder of the love inside of you. Everybody in the village misses you. I miss you! I miss you a lot.”

          “They don’t miss me! They miss who I used to be. The handsome young man with a bright future.” He was stubborn.

It wasn’t going to be easy to persuade him she realized with a sigh. She understood his fear and pain and so she softened her voice. “You are not the only one who got hurt from the incident Demaco. I lost someone I loved and your parents and family are hurting because of your absence. Its not just about you.” She moved closer to him and said with finality. “I love you Demaco. You are the man for me. But I will not force you to come home with me. I have tried enough. I also have a responsibility to my family back home.” She took a step back and gave him one last look. “Farewell my love.” She would miss him, but she would have to move on and respect his wishes.

          She turned and loaded her things on the horse. His indecisive eyes followed her around. He had missed her… thought about her every day. He couldn’t imagine the thought of never seeing her again. Her presence had brought back the past in a blinding flash and he now remembered the sunny hills and the warmth of sitting around a fire to the sound of laughter. He was tired of living in the darkness and weary of his own shadow… fatigue… loneliness… Calvary.  

          “I will come with you,” he said and she ran over and hugged him. They held each other for a long time. After ten years, the protective wall around her came crashing down and she let him back into her heart. What followed… what she felt in her heart … she couldn’t explain it… it was very tangible though; something she had waiting to feel for ten years, the true love of a man.

          “You still love me?” he asked again.

          “Yes Demaco. I love you with all my heart.”

          He saw the tears and believed her. It had been a long time for him … to feel love… to be human. He raised his hands towards the mask and started to unclip it. She gasped, scared and worried for him. Quickly, she reached out and stopped him.

“No. Not now. When you are ready.”

News

Off to AFRICA

 

My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

Contact

 

mrobertto@yahoo.com

Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...