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The Hearing of Maria Juliana

by M.G. Maderazo 4 months ago in Horror

a tale of horror

Liliana came into the Capitan del barrio’s house to file a complaint against Maria Juliana. She insisted she had caught her creeping like theft under her ramshackle hut. She had terrified them.

“That was before twilight yesterday,” Liliana started. “I was preparing our dinner. I noticed a rustle under the floor. I thought it was just a cat. I stomped my foot to shoo it.”

Nenita, the Capitan del barrio’s secretary, paused typing. She widened her eyes at Liliana’s account.

Arturo exhaled thick smoke. It blocked Nenita’s view of Liliana. She coughed lightly. He put the tobacco down the varnished bamboo ashtray and gestured at Liliana to continue.

“The rustle didn’t go away. I got out to check what was under my hut.” Liliana lowered her voice. “When I hunkered down, I saw Maria Juliana.”

“What did you do then?” Arturo said.

“I called her name,” Liliana quavered. “Her face,” she broadened eyes, “was monstrous.”

Nenita stopped typing. Her eyes dilated again.

***

In the late afternoon of the next day Arturo and his board of peacemakers, Lando and Berting, summoned Maria Juliana and Liliana. They also called Liliana’s oldest daughter, Cielo, to testify. Liliana had four kids aged six, four, three, and two.

Maria Juliana came in late. She was wearing a black bandana, a black blouse, and a gray long skirt. Her wooden heels clanked against the concrete cement floor of the Capitan del barrio’s living room. She sat across Liliana and Ceilo. She did not take off the bandana. She gently set her hands on her lap.

“Maria Juliana, do you know why you are here today?” Arturo began the hearing. Maria Juliana shook her head. Her pale cheeks tightened. “Liliana and her daughter were here yesterday. They say that you were in their hut to terrify them. Is that true?”

Maria Juliana nodded twice, but did not look at him.

“You see?” Liliana chimed in.

Arturo cast a grin on Liliana. “Let her speak first.” He looked back at Maria Juliana. “What do you say?”

Maria Juliana was like a statue looking down at her hands as if conceding perpetration of a crime.

Arturo pulled out a rolled tobacco leaf from his table drawer. He pushed the drawer back, and they felt the table quaked. He ignited it with a match as he waited for her to respond.

“You do not understand,” Maria Juliana said.

“You admit it!” Liliana almost stood up to hit her. “You were there not just to terrify my children. You were there to eat them!”

“Calm down, Liliana.” Arturo got up. “I don’t want my villagers to go fighting.” He walked back and forth in front of them. “To have grievances against each other.” He stopped in the middle and faced them. “I want you to settle whatever problem you have. Now, Maria Juliana, you may explain your part.”

“You do not understand.”

“Then make us understand!” Liliana’s voice raised. Cielo’s face reddened.

“We can never resolve this if you do not tell us. Worst-case scenario, we will expel you from the village,” Arturo said.

Maria Juliana took a glance at Liliana and Ceilo and then looked back down. “I was not the one you saw, Liliana. It was not me.”

“Who was it, then?” Liliana said.

“It was the demon,” Maria Juliana whispered.

The sound of the last typebar of Nenita’s typewriter echoed against the silence.

“Tell me more about it.” Arturo broke the silence.

“The demon visits me before the evening comes,” Maria Juliana’s soft voice trembled. “I always try to resist him, but he is strong. Once he succeeds, I lose consciousness. And then, I do not know what happens next. The night Liliana saw me I didn’t know it until he left my body.”

Arturo sat down and flicked tobacco ash to the ashtray. He gave Maria Juliana a serious look. “You are saying that the demon possessed you?”

Maria Juliana bowed.

He turned to Liliana. “Can you describe her appearance that night?”

“Her hairs stood like copper wire threads. Her cheeks and forehead bloated as it would explode. Something from under the skin of her face spiraled like worms.” Liliana gagged. “Her teeth protruded like sharp knives. And thick saliva was falling to the ground. I thought she was about to attack me, so I said, ‘Maria Juliana, it’s me, Liliana. I beg you to go away.’ She stood there for a moment and ran away like a wolf.” Liliana stood up and pointed to Maria Juliana. “She is an aswang.”

“Sit down, Liliana,” Arturo said. “What do you say, Maria Juliana?”

Maria Juliana said nothing to defend herself.

Berting moved to the Capitan del barrio’s table. He took a glimpse of Maria Juliana’s young and innocent face. “Apparently, Maria Juliana did not hurt someone. Besides, have we received a single report of a human being eaten by aswang in barrio Cansa? Have we already lost a villager because of aswang? We haven’t, right?”

“The point here is that Maria Juliana scared Liliana and her children,” Lando spoke up.

“But according to her, it was not her doing. Therefore, Maria Juliana did not commit a grave offense but only trespassing,” Berting said.

“You both have a point,” Arturo said. “Now, we will come to an agreement that Maria Juliana will no longer pass Liliana’s hut. The fact that her hut is on the outskirts of the Cansa, it would be easy for her to follow the agreement. Is that clear to you, Maria Juliana?”

“But it was not me,” Maria Juliana opposed

“So what do you suggest, then?” Arturo slouched in his seat.

“Expel her from our village,” suggested Liliana. “We do not want the children to be afraid at night. With her appearance that night, she would surely kill and eat our children or anyone in the barrio.”

Berting crossed arms. “That is a mere assumption. Maria Juliana has been with the village for about six months now and we know she is an excellent help to watch over our village against doubtful strangers.”

“If Maria Juliana’s claim about the demon is true, then it is better to consult Mang Pedong on this matter,” Lando recommended.

Arturo called in Estanislao, his helper, to fetch Mang Pedong to the house. While they waited for Mang Pedong, Berting suggested they go out for some fresh air. Nenita and Maria Juliana remained inside; Nenita checking for typo errors in her typewriter; and Maria Juliana unstirred in her position.

Tangerine and dark blue sky danced over the horizon. The smell of starfish filled the air. They observed silhouettes of two people approaching from the seashore.

“Good evening, Cabeza!” Mang Pedong’s smiled, exposing big wrinkles across his face.

“Good evening, Pedong!” Arturo shook his hand. And then he put his sleek arm over the witch-doctor’s bony shoulder. “We have a situation here and we need your help.”

“What can I do?” Mang Pedong slurred.

“Maria Juliana claims a demon has possessed her.”

Mang Pedong took a back and looked into the Capitan del barrio’s deep-set eyes. “What’s made her say so?”

“Let us come inside.”

Maria Juliana was quiet. She had not moved since they went out. She did not look up to see the new guest.

Arturo offered a chair to Mang Pedong. Mang Pedong did not sit. He could hear Maria Juliana murmuring words in Latin. He felt his impending fight. “You all go out now!” he shouted at the top of his lungs

Maria Juliana fell down. Her body twitched. Her bones cracked under the skin. Thick greenish saliva seethed out from her mouth. Her blouse and skirt ripped apart as she grew bigger. The strap of her sandals snapped off as her feet grew like that of a werewolf. Mang Pedong could see her smooth pale face distended into something utterly gruesome. Her eyes became the eyes of a monster, sharp and red. Her hair sprung up like barbwires. Sharp teeth sprouted in her hungry mouth. She pawed her talons and growled a devil’s voice.

Mang Pedong brought out his amulet, a small gemstone wrapped in a red cloth. He wore it in the neck and pointed towards the monster. The monster bumped the wall down on her rampage. She sprinted off through the bushes. No one dared to follow her.

***

That night the villagers gathered around Arturo. They were holding bolos, improvised bamboo spears, and bamboo torches.

“The hearing has been adjourned,” Arturo announced. “And the board of peacemakers comes to an agreement. We pursue Maria Juliana and kill her.”

The tanods led by Mang Amador set up the hunt before midnight. They started going to Maria Juliana’s hut. She was not there. They searched around all the huts, inside them, under them, and over the roof made from coconut leaves. They searched along the narrow roads of the five sitios of Cansa. They secured all the villagers before they continued searching in the outskirts of the barrio.

The monster roared in despair, a sound you only hear in fiestas where the hosts slaughter carabaos to be served to the visitors. The tanods had rammed her with pointed bamboo spears. They slashed her reptilian back with sharp bolos. They threw bamboo torches to ignite her. She darted off across the clearing to the forest. She was like a cannonball fire rolling through the eucalyptus and paper trees. The villagers saw the lights vanished. And then they heard no more of the dying moan of pain.

“Check if she’s dead!” Arturo ordered the tanods.

The tanods entered the forest and traced the monster. The light of their torches danced like fireflies to the rhythm of cricket songs.

“Roberto, give me your torch,” Mang Amador whispered to the lad beside him. He turned to Mang Kanor who was gripping a large pinuti. “Kanor, follow me. All others stay put until you hear me shout.”

Dried leaves and twigs cracked under callous bare feet as Mang Amador, and Mang Kanor prowled. They caught a whip of burned meat. Ahead of them was a dead dalakit tree. As they got near it, they could hear Maria Juliana groaning in pain. Mang Kanor waved the torch and saw her reclined against a huge root.

“Have mercy on me,” Maria Juliana begged. Hadn’t it been the charred skin and the dry and thick blood that wrapped around her naked body, the two tanods would have fought for carnal desire. “It was not me,” she cried.

Mang Kanor moved in front of Maria Juliana and raised his pinuti. He waited for Mang Amador to react. Mang Amador shook his head.

“We have orders to kill her,” Mang Kanor said.

“Wait till the others are here.” Mang Amador turned toward the tanods. “Come over here! We’ve got her!” he hollered.

They feared to carry Maria Juliana back to the village to face judgment.

“Burn her here!” Arturo pointed to the exact spot where she’d been found. “Find a long log. Dig a hole. Erect it here. And tie her around it.” The tanods carried out the tasks as fast as they could. She pleaded for her life. She was persistent that it was not her, but the demon.

Before three in the morning, they gathered around Maria Juliana. They surrounded her with dried wood and twigs. The smell of kerosene permeated the air. Arturo felt a bit of pity, but the welfare of the village was his utmost priority. He nodded to Mang Amador. Then the tanod leader tossed the torch to her.

Maria Juliana squealed. “I curse all of you and your descendants. Whoever comes into this forest will die through a horrifying death!” she declared between heavy breaths.

The increasing crepitation of burning woods outdid Maria Juliana’s scream. Arturo and his tanods inhaled the acrid, burning flesh mixed with strong charcoal. “Let’s go back to the village!” Arturo said, and they all walked away.

Horror

M.G. Maderazo

M.G. Maderazo is a Filipino science fiction and fantasy writer. He's also a poet. He authored three fiction books.

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