Separator

“Hurry, we must hurry. The sun will rise soon.”

She pulls me by the hand and we wade into the water. This is the lowest part of the cave, I’m thankful it’s March and the water’s only waist deep. During the rainy season, we would need to hold our breath to negotiate this stretch.

We stop while I shine the light around.

“We must prepare,” Liwayway continues tugging my hand urgently. Her eyes dart back and forth. “She comes soon.”

The cave is in Candaba Swamp in the Phillipines. The roof constantly drips and damp pervades everything, even during the dry season. The cave entrance is underwater for part of the year.

“Look over there, do you see the trunk?”

A gnarled mass of mossy roots, twisted and distorted, spreads out for meters over the cave floor. The unusual root system twists over and around other roots, rocks, and spots of yellowing ivory, shaped…

“Yes, they are skulls. She is quite old and very powerful, as I told you. These are the skulls and bones of her victims. She feeds on the unborn by preference, but she’ll also take the infants or smaller toddlers. The mothers she just kills, because they are too big to carry away.

“Bring the salt. There is only one way to kill her.”

Liwayway stepped into the root system and pulled me forward to the trunk.

Where the roots met, they twisted together and grew as a pair of leprous tree trunks for about half a meter. The scabrous bark gradually lightened in color and melded into a pair of very human thighs and lower torso.

The torso, in turn, ended abruptly a few inches above the navel. When I saw the raggedly torn flesh and viscera, my stomach churned. There were carmine threadlike worms and bloody red maggots crawling in and amongst the exposed intestines.

“We cannot allow the manananggal to rejoin with her lower body. It is nearly dawn. If we can prevent that happening until the sun comes up, she will die. Pour half the salt on the trunk, quickly.”

I swallowed to keep my lunch down, and tried keep my eyes mostly averted as I tore open the two-pound bag. I poured the salt over the torn flesh, ripped intestines, and whatever-the-hell that thing was. The worms tried to wriggle away and escape, I noticed, so I dosed them with more salt.

“Now quickly, back to the cave wall. Bring what’s left in the bag.”

Li’s urgency level was clearly on the rise, she shoved me bodily into a dark nook on the cave’s back wall.

“Pour the remaining salt in a circle around us. As long as the circle is unbroken, she will not be able to cross it.”

I heard the distinct flapping of wings, and my hands shook as I poured the last crystals from the bag. Li grabbed my hand. Her fingers crushed mine tightly as the manananggal glided into our dimly lit viewing range.

She has the upper half of a very human female, with some modifications. The most obvious of which are the enormous bat wings with almost four meters of wingspan. Her wingtips scrape the top of the cave; then she spies us, and turns in our direction.

Then there’s the tongue. She possesses several feet of elongated, prehensile tongue, ending in a bladed spur.

There’s also the bloody gore hanging from her raggedly separated torso, the bottom half of which is currently rooted across the cave. A steady, slow rain of maggots and threadworms falls under her flight path, whenever one of her resident symbionts wriggles free and falls to earth.

She screeches loudly and barrels at us, and slams into the cylinder of air directly above the circle of salt. Whatever mystic barrier Liwayway has set up using the ring of salt works very well. It does fail to block the debris that rains down, maggots and worms shaken loose by the collision.

Now the manananggal screams in obvious pain and tries to reconnect with her lower body. She cries out with impotent rage when another pile of salt blocks her goal.

When the sun rises, the manananggal explodes into flame.

“Back to hell with you, bitch,” Li hisses.

It’s another “happily ever after” ending. Monster destroyed, great job, and let’s go home. Right?

I just can’t stop wondering what Liwayway gained by gathering up those wiggling maggot symbionts in a sample jar.

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Inspired by the prompts for Mutant 750 (#55) at Grammar Ghoul Press.

© Jakub Krechowicz
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