FEATURED in The Writing.Com Newsletter - Short Stories: I'm Nobody! Who are you? - Editor's Picks, August 31, 2011
FIRST PLACE in the MEMORABLE STORIES CONTEST by Kayna-amy , December 2011-January 11, 2012 Winner, Prompt #1
FEATURED in The Writing.Com Newsletter - Short Stories: Modus Operandi - Editor's Picks, by Shannon
, January 31, 2012
The old and dirty gasoline station was located in the middle of nowhere and, as commonly said in Portuguese - onde o vento faz a curva - (where the wind makes its turn) meaning a place where no one wants to be. I was far from Pernambuco state and I thought, sometime during the drive, that I was lost or going to be completely lost soon. I had double checked my map and saw that I was on the right BR Interstate toward Brasilia-DF. Yet, I just needed to be sure. I wasn’t worried about time or because I was alone in my car. It was still daylight. I was worried because I was a woman driver in the middle of Brazil. Besides, the only other person I saw driving past me, was a big, weird looking truck driver that honked his horn when he saw a lonely woman behind the wheels.
I parked my Celta in front of the green and yellow Petrobras pump and got out of the car. The heat hit me like an atom bomb! It was so hot that I couldn’t breathe. It was also quiet and still. I wanted to go back to the security and protection of my air-conditioned red car but I felt an intense urge growing inside of me, and telling me to continue. These “things” happened to me once in a while and my instincts were never wrong. I needed some water, too. My forehead was throbbing and my upper lip was wet. I looked up at the sky. There were no clouds, no wind and, not even birds flying! The stillness was disturbing. There was only silence and the noise of my footsteps on the dry earth as I walked toward the snack bar located in front of the pumps. I asked the old man to fill up the tank even though I didn’t need gas. He wiped his forehead and told me that I was headed in the right direction. Good. I thanked him. He looked so tired. He was just as dry and old as the earth beneath him. He smiled back at me and I noticed that he had no more front teeth. I promised to myself to go to the dentist as soon as I got back to civilization.
The moment I sat down at one of the tables I observed a strange looking house on the hill, at the distance. I cleaned the dusty window with one of the white napkins and stared at the house. It looked oddly out of place on that hill. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t seen a hill since I had left Sergipe state the day before. I knew that these states were desert-like regions, called “Sertão” lands and where they are mostly flat, with very little vegetation, and if any, they were twisted little trees and dry little bushes with thorns that could cut deep into your skin. The soil is always open like a dry sandwich and there is no water anywhere. Each year, fewer people lived there, survived there and surely died there of famine or thirst - but not from determination because these poor peasants were hardworking people that could grow almost anything as long as they had water. But now, maybe they were all dead or gone to the big cities – like São Paulo. This particular area looked like a big, silent desert in the middle of the country.
I noticed that the house was empty, abandoned and surrounded by nothing, not even by the typical dry bushes. Nothing. There were entrances but no doors; there were windows but no glasses. The house was white but looked yellowish-white now because all the walls of the house had big, deep holes on them but the holes were mostly concentrated on the entrance door. It was as if the house had been fired at by machine guns that destroyed and penetrated the cement and the bricks and maybe even the people that once lived there. I got goose bumps and felt that sudden cold rush all over my body - something bad was happening. Something was very, very wrong up there. I often had these weird feelings when I went places, met people or entered homes but this place… it was somehow different. It was as if whatever was going on up there… had to happen. But why?
The friendly waitress finally came to my table, cleaned it with a wet towel and handed me the small menu. I didn’t have many options to choose from but I finally asked for my favorite pick: pão de queijo or Brazilian style cheese bread baked the very moment you ordered it and caldo de cana or freshly made sugarcane juice. She shouted the order to the cook in the kitchen and curiously looked at me. She looked exactly like Carmen Miranda. I swear she did! Her thin, bright red lips were driving me crazy. I hated bright red lipstick. She was neatly dressed in white and yellow and wore a spotless red apron. She seemed somehow surreal for a place like that. Maybe, if she had some bananas, apples and oranges on her head, inside a basket, she’d look better. The way she was so spotless and neatly dressed for such a forgotten place like that made her look like one of those Chinese dolls, so perfect, so pale, so clean yet, so oddly sad.
“Are you from around here?”
“No. I’m from Brasilia.”
“Aren’t you afraid, dear?”
“Why not? I’d be. This is no place for a woman to be driving all alone, you know. You are in the middle of nowhere in Brazil.”
“I’m okay, now.”
“What do you mean by now?”
“Well, after my divorce I’m… much better this way, now. I’m free.”
“Good girl! Are you alright?”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph will protect you. Forget the sadness.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“That white house on the hill.”
“What about it?”
“Why is it like that, so old looking, so abandoned and so curiously sad?”
“Because they --- hit it, that’s why!”
“What? Define they hit it.”
“They hit it! They - the “ghosts” hit it.”
“Yes. People from town avoid going up there, even I do. It’s haunted. Do you want to know why it’s haunted?”
“Look, that house used to belong to man called Arlindo. He was really funny looking. He was hairy. He was so hairy that people called him the Brazilian Big Foot. When he was younger they said that he was invited to work for the Orlando Orfei Circus. He lived in that house with his wife, Amparo and his 7 children: Antonio, Alvaro, Artur, Afonso, Angelo, Armando and Arlindo Macedo Junior. Mysteriously everyone died except for him. Months later, he came to town, really upset and told people that the house was being attacked by rocks and then by bigger and heavier ones that were all thrown at him by invisible hands! The stones came out from nowhere! He told them that ghosts threw them violently and directly at him. He asked people to come and help him. Some people went there. He pointed at the invisible hands and screamed for help but nobody saw the hands, obviously. Yet, believe it or not, right there on the spot, people saw rocks and stones come flashing toward the house --- out of thin air and rolling like big balls of fire --- smashing and hitting hard on the house’s walls, windows and doors. No hands, no arms, nobody. Nada. But, the worst of all…”
“None of the stones were from anywhere near or around the house! There was only dust and dry earth there. The plants, dry and dead. Only the sand and the desert. The sun and the sky. Nothing else. So, people asked one another where did those stones come from? Nobody knew the answer.”
“What happened to the old man?”
“He went crazy, of course. They found him, you know, dead and covered with stones, inside the house as if he was not allowed to come out. Weird, isn’t it? He was as if forced to stay inside the house and from coming out. He was found on the floor of the living room, looking at the entrance door, with one of his hands, outstretched and crooked, as if asking for somebody to stop or as if trying to protect himself. His face was all covered with blisters and blood. So was his body. He died a slow and painful death. He was hit to death by stones, the vet said.”
“No doctors around here, you know, only a vet but he is very good, though.”
“Yes. And, you know what else? The stones still hit the house today when, and if people walk near it. You can hear the noises of the stones hitting the house! Zssst! Zssst! Zssst! It’s a haunted house, for sure. Not even the priest goes there, can you believe it? He is afraid! He was requested, by a family member, to exorcise the house. He refused. Typical of priests… when time comes for them to act against unearthly forces. Well, the family member wanted to sell the house. Impossible! Who would want to live in a house constantly hit by stones? And also, visited by ghosts? I wouldn’t. Would you? So, nobody goes there anymore. It’s left all alone to its sad mystery and to its dark secrets.”
“What happened to the woman and to the boys?”
“Nobody knows. They suspect that he killed them, one by one and, buried them someplace around the house, somewhere. There used to be a big tree around there, but it’s gone too.”
“Why would he kill her, kill them?”
“It seems he thought she had a lover.”
“Ooh my. Did she?”
“What? Amparo? No! She couldn’t have! Look, she was short and thin --- typical of Nordestino women, you know, and illiterate, poor, humble but very kind and full of children. She worked like hell; she was a peasant, basically. But one thing was different in her: she was beautiful, my dear, so beautiful. But, betrayal? She? No! Where would she find the time? Besides, she loved the damn bastard. Everybody knew that. And, Arlindo? He was a brute, a monster, you know, short, chubby and mean and a true Brazilian Nordestino pig chauvinist macho man! Arlindo was obsessed with the thought that she had a lover! He followed her everywhere. One day he woke up and just like that, he decided that his sons weren’t his! He threatened to kill her; everyday. Maybe it was all that cachaça in his system. He was drinking too much cachaça. But you know, people think that she took off with her boys and left for good, forever! She got tired of all the threats. He had become violent. She must have caught a ride on one of those big trucks that go from North to South of Brazil. Maybe she’s in big and rich São Paulo now, living in a slum near a plush neighborhood and working as a maid for a classy family. Good for her! And with President Lula’s government plan, she certainly managed to get some government aid. She had 7 mouths to feed, you know. This is what we believe happened to them and this is the story of that white house up there on the hill.”
“I want to go there.”
“I have to. I am this way. I have these feeling. I must go check it out.”
“Be careful, alright?”
After I finished my snack I paid the bill. I tipped Carmen Miranda, thanked her and went to my car. I put on my sunglasses and locked the car. I was happy that I was wearing my Havaianas’ flip flops, bermudas and a light t-shirt because the yellowish-red sun was high up in the sky. And that sky, oh it was bluer than blue could ever be and there were no clouds, not even one. No place in this planet was hotter than in Brazil’s Northeast regions. Why was it this way here? Interestingly enough, if a person drove a couple of days inland he'd reach the Amazon jungle with all its colorful, damp beauty!
I walked toward the white house on the hill. I could hear my footsteps on the dry soil. How on earth could people live here? Also, the quietness… in the air, every single day. I heard a lonely eagle flying above me, looking for a hungry rat or a thin lizard. Slowly, I felt something deep in my heart. I wanted to cry. Then, I wanted to scream loudly, in anger. What was going on? What had happened in that house? The closer I got, the darker the house became but how can a white house become darkish-white in seconds? I noticed that this was happening because of the big holes on the walls! The house was white-yellowish now, and then it became grayish-white. The house was like a chameleon. It changed colors but, only to darker ones, sadder ones. It was as if the house was… hurt.
I looked at the house closely now. It was a nice house. Strong and well built. One could live there. The house only needed a fresh coat of paint. Ah, if only we could do this to ourselves.
Suddenly, I heard it. First, a deadly silence. Then, the noises of violent thrusting in the air! How to explain this? My heart froze and I searched all around for visions and for a logic explanation. There was nothing to see! But, I heard the noises again. Zssst!
“Who’s there? I can hear you.”
Silence. Not a word. Not a sound.
Then, again. Zssst! And, suddenly I saw… hands in the air - moving. They were all around me, moving up and down, collecting invisible-visible stones from the bare earth. Then, I saw the arms of the hands and then the bodies, a bigger one and... seven smaller ones. They were selecting and gathering stones out of nowhere and all around the house. The bodies were still invisible but I saw their ghostly shapes that had character and personality and that moved lightly in the air. They knew that I sensed them, and understood them.
They were all around me now; they meant no harm! They talked to one another and laughed but always keeping a close eye on the house. They were extremely happy to notice that I could hear and see them perfectly, all 8 of them --- mother and sons. They all smiled at me! They giggled with pleasure. The smaller ones waved hello. They talked to me inside my head. The mother slowly moved right next to me and touched me. She looked at me and smiled again, but it was such a bitter-sweet sad smile that broke my heart, completely.
She was wearing a transparent cloud-like dress and she had no... feet. She was so tired and sad that I only wanted to scream a deep cry full of sorrow and pain. I felt this in my chest. She had light, deep blue eyes and long black hair that softly blew in the hot wind. She was pale; lovely. She looked at me intensely. I wanted to learn with her about extraordinary adventures, life and mysteries, secrets and experiences however tiny ... or big they were, both human and spiritual. She handed me one of her stones, a really rough one; brown. Her hands were dry and dirty by the bright red earth. She delicately placed it in my hand, closed it and whispered inside of my head: “He killed all of us; you know, each one of us, each day, in one week. Now, we kill him everyday, this way. We play games --- who can throw harder, make deeper holes, and we are becoming better every day! He can never leave the house! He tortured us; he cut our flesh with sharp, cutting stones before he killed us. We bled to death. He killed my sons. His sons! He wanted a name but… there was no name! How foolish of him. What a dumb, stupid man!”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. We’re free now. He isn’t. He is locked up in his own dark past. We keep him there but I am so tired. It has been a long time, you know, when it all started. An endless time.”
“You need to leave and take them with you and go - now. Crossover. Please. Forget.”
“We can’t. We need to be sure that he won’t leave the house and follow us! Can you help us? Please, help us. Throw this heavier stone at him. Maybe your stone will hit him… harder. If you hit him, he’ll fall. He’ll stop. We throw the stones so he won’t follow us there, you know where. That’s why we keep throwing the stones! Help us! Stop him!”
“Alright. But promise me you’ll go!”
"Get them and go now!”
She stood up on her invisible toes and kissed me on my cheek. I felt her warmth and felt her respiration on my face. I wanted to hold her and take her away with me in my car. I’d raise her children. I’d be responsible for them but what was I thinking! She held my hand once more and turned around. The children were waiting for her and staring at the house, eagerly.
I stood right in front of the house holding the stone in my sweaty hand. I was trembling. My heart was beating so fast that it was nearly breaking my chest. I stared at the house. It stood there, mysterious. I saw the dirty walls and saw the inside rooms in their darkness. I sensed the frighteningly mystical aspect of the house and I heard floor boards creak. If I had gone inside would I feel the weight of my body and the age of the family’s torment? Ooh there was so much magic and fear in that house. Would it stop now if I reacted?
I aimed right at the door. I begged my Guardian Angel to help me. He always came; they always come when we call them. I asked my spiritual friend to help me stop… him from coming out of the house. I knew Arlindo was there. I could not see him but I could sense him, I felt his evilness and I could hear his heavy respiration. He was angry. He was impatient. He wanted to follow them. He had no business with me but he wanted to go after them like a madman. I had to do something right now. I knew inside of my heart that they were finally escaping, crossing over to freedom and hope. I had to stop him! I bit my lips and tried to be strong. A gust of wind hit the side of the house and rattled the open door. I stretched my arm behind my head as far as I could and I threw the stone as hard as I could against the house’s door. I heard a thud! I heard a cry… of pain! Then, silence. No more anger or pain or noise. A perfect emptiness and balance. The air had become lighter and so had my heart. I understood. I knew it was over. I knew something was different.
I closed my eyes, turned around and ran. I ran as fast as I could and left that somber place. I was crying and sorry for those lost souls craving for peace and for second chances. We are all entitled to it! I cried and ran. I smiled in relief. I begged the good spirits for their redemption and for their forgiveness. I felt as if I had done something good. Had I? Was it wrong to interfere with unearthly matters? I didn’t think so. I still don’t think so.
When I opened the car’s door --- crying, sweating and still upset about their uncertain fate, I saw - neatly lying on the passenger’s seat - a brown, rough but beautifully hand-carved stone in the shape of a heart.