♠ Scroll 2
Dogs are barking in unison with the sound of a train thumping down the tracks. It is well past midnight,
the time that even plants and trees are gone to sleep. Like a sparkling eye, a flashlight is piercing
through the dark woods between the tracks and the river—searching back and forth and back again.
The searching stops and the light clicks off, and a sound of something jumping into the water.
A warm wind brushing past my face reminds me to breathe. I stay frozen in place for what seems like an hour, then start walking staggeringly towards the sound. My blood begins to circulate and a strange scene comes into view—a black dog with its hind legs in the river and front legs on the bank is tearing at a piece of meat. It takes a moment to realize that the meat is a human hand painted red.
The full moon reveals broken young trees trampled by an enormous animal, or something of the sort, all the way to the river bank. There is a small splash downstream, and I turn quickly to see what's going on. A young woman, her face and hands painted red, with red flowers in her hair, is washing off the blood from the neck of a water buffalo standing, mostly submerged, in the river. From where I am I can hear the woman singing, singing softly to herself - the song of allaying the anger of demons.
Her soft voice permeates the woods like moonlight, but the song itself is chilling. I stop in my tracks again, careful not to move a muscle, lest she senses me and starts searching for me. In fear of male, female, human, animal, dead, and not-yet dead there is nowhere to turn to. With certainty, the dog steps from the river, hand in mouth, and starts barking again forgetting the hand. Accidentally I must have killed my chance of getting away unnoticed.
The dog has sensed me and the flashlight is turned on. I give up my cover and start to run through the trees, heading back for the road. Running in the woods at night is like wading through a thick black fog. I feel like a child again—feet pounding, jumping, swerving, crashing through the brush. The dog is tearing behind me, gaining ground, and the young woman behind it. I give up fleeing and face her - she says apologetically, "They were going to kill my buffalo as a sacrifice—now, if you don't mind, I give them you instead."
(Photo by James C Hopkins: Sumatra)