Precious Mae

Mountains of Benguet, Baguio, Philippines. Image for the short story Precious Mae, exclusively on The Flash Fiction Ponder.

Mountains of Benguet, Baguio, Philippines. Image for the short story Precious Mae, exclusively on The Flash Fiction Ponder.

A Tale of Dramatic Horror.

By

Rico Lamoureux

 

All Rights Reserved.

 

The Igorots of Baguio. A people with a rich and long history. A people I did not know that much about until I myself moved to the mountainous region a decade ago.

I had heard there was work up north on a Hacienda just outside the city, so I set out to the Highlands of the Benguet province. Little did I know it would change my life forever.

The Zamora family were a small clan with big hearts. A few relatives led by Dona Agusta and Sir Federico. They paid their help well, and if someone ever needed an advance they were always understanding to the fact.

Just ten nights after my arrival the Zamora’s welcomed a baby girl into this world. Precious Mae. Light skin. Big beautiful eyes. A treasure in everyone’s eyes, including the half-dozen “uncles” who made sure the land she was born on was well kept.

The beauty of Precious Mae grew with each passing year along with our affection for her. From the time she could walk her contentment was found in the high crops of the land, each morning it beckoning out to her to come, play, run free and wild. After breakfast off she would go, oftentimes without any slippers despite the objections of her mother. When she did wear them out, more times than not they were never seen again.

“Going out to play with my friends, mama”, she would always say. “The Lolas.”

In her world the land was full of little grandmas who kept her company amongst the tall crops of the land. No one ever gave it much thought, for after all it was healthy for children to have active imaginations.

By the time Precious Mae was seven years old, Peter, a distant cousin, came to live with the family. He was not like them at all. Some people just have bad hearts, and he was one of them. The Zamora’s never treated us like we were beneath them, but to Peter, we were nothing more than peasants. Although most of the time he would treat us like the dirt below his feet when away from the eyes and ears of the Zamora’s, occasionally they would catch him in the act and reprimand him for his treatment of us. He was also a source of sorrow to Precious Mae, oftentimes teasing her to the point of tears. This would really upset us. It’s one thing to hurt those around you, but to hurt an innocent child is just incomprehensible.

Sometimes we would try to get back at him. A little pee in his beer, a maggot or two in his rice, but his real karma would come to him when we had nothing to do with it. Those times when he would be especially mean to Precious Mae. Afterwards, he would mysteriously get injured. At one time, he broke his arm. Another time, dislocated his shoulder. Once he even almost had his head cut off.

I’ve never been one who believed in ghosts. For me, it was always seeing is believing. But that all changed on Precious Mae’s eighth birthday.

It started off like any other morning, Peter starting off with his taunts. “Hey birthday girl, you should stay inside today. All your make-believe grandmas had heart attacks and died.”

“They’re not make-believe, they’re real,” she would yell, finishing up her breakfast and heading for the door. “You’re just jealous!” And off she went, barefoot as usual.

Every Friday afternoon Sir Federico would take the weekly earnings from the safe and go into town and deposit it into the bank. Sometimes I’d catch Peter eyeing him as he prepared the deposits. On this particular Friday some money was set aside for Mae’s special day so as to get some birthday goodies while in town.

As he walked out to his truck Sir Federico noticed a small car driving into the Hacienda. Being the hospitable gentleman he was known for he stood by his truck and waited there to greet the oncoming strangers.

“Good morning. What can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked as they exited their car. There were three of them, the biggest one approaching him first.

“Sir Federico?”

“Yes?” he warmly responded. The stranger came in closer, mere inches from him.

“We’re from the bank. We’ve come to pick up your deposit.”

A puzzled look came over Sir Federico face. “I don’t understand-“

Just as Sir finished his sentence the stranger stepped forward, plunging a knife into our beloved boss’s chest.

The stranger turned assailant grabbed the envelope of money from the already blood-covered hand of Federico as he and his two cohorts turned towards the house.

Precious Mae, who had come in for lunch, was the first to see them as they entered the kitchen.

“Mama” was the only thing that managed to escape her lips. Her eyes were wide open, fixated on the bad men.

Dona Augusta turned around from the kitchen counter and looked up at the men along with the intimidating weapons in their hands. The vegetables in her own hands dropped to the floor. She quickly ran over to her daughter.

“Where’s the workers?” the leader of the trio demanded.

“Out back by the shed.”

They all turned around to the sound of Peter’s voice, finding him standing there in the opposite doorway.

Peter walked into the kitchen and took the bloodstained knife from the leader. “You’re late.”

He then turned to Dona Augusta, grabbed her by the hair and put the knife to her throat.

“Peter, what are you doing?!” she cried out.

Peter looked over to the three armed men. “What are you waiting for? Go get them!”

There were four of us working that day. Perhaps we could have taken control of the situation if the invaders had not been armed, but since they were we didn’t want to jeopardize the lives of our employers. While being led into the house my heart sank as I saw poor Federico’s lifeless body in the driveway. I made a promise to him that if it came down to it, if I had a chance, I would give up my own life for the life of his wife and daughter.

Dona Augusta and Precious Mae were already being held up in the master bedroom when we were taken up there. When I saw that it was Peter behind all this a feeling of disgust came over me. After all the Zamora’s had done for him this is how you repaid them. We all knew he was not a kind man, but never imagined he would be capable of such darkness.

We were all put into a corner and told to drop to our knees. I looked over at Dona Augusta. She must’ve saw the sorrow in my face because her eyes started to gather tears. She knew her husband was no longer with us.

“Where’s the other safe?!” Peter barked to Dona. She didn’t answer, just tightly eld onto Precious Mae. Then without any warning Peter grabbed a gun from one of his accomplices and shot one of the land workers in the head. I felt like throwing up. If I had been the one closest to Peter, it probably would’ve been me.

Dona Augusta couldn’t control the shaking in her voice. “In Mae’s room, up in the closet.”

Peter ordered one of his henchmen to go look. Our wait seemed like an eternity, but finally a jolting yell from downstairs informed us “it’s locked.”

Without having to be asked Dona Augusta uttered the combination. It was Precious Mae’s date of birth. Peter yelled it down.

“You’re a mean man,” Precious Mae yelled to Peter. “You’re not my cousin!”

Peter walked over and slapped her across the face. Her mother yelled out a cry and held her close.

Something caught Peter’s eye. A light fog was beginning to seep in through the open window. The air started to grow cold, followed by a light breeze.

Precious Mae looked up towards the window, the breeze gently blowing her hair.

“They’re coming,” she whispered.

“Who?! Who’s coming?!” Peter demanded to know as he walked over towards the window and looked out. He saw something but couldn’t make it out.

Again whispering, Precious Mae responded. “The Lolas.”

“Nonsense!” Just as Peter yelled the word the window slammed shut.

The murderer who had taken Sir Federico’s life then began to choke, on his own blood. This placed every one of us in momentary shock, not understanding what was happening, where the tip of the blade protruding from the bad man’s throat had come from.

Finally he fell to his knees then dropped to the floor. Behind him stood a small pair of bare feet. Everyone in the room looked up to see who the feet belonged to. It was an elderly Igorot woman from long ago. In her right hand an ancient blade used for harvesting.

Appearing out of nowhere two other Igorot women grabbed hold of Peter’s other two accomplices. Before they had time to react the little old ladies disembowled them, immediately following that up by scalping them as they looked down in shock just in time to see their insides plopping down onto the hardwood floor beneath them.

Peter grabbed Precious Mae, yanking her away from her mother and placing his knife against her throat as he backed his way up against the wall.

“Stay away,” he screamed. “Stay away or I’ll slice her open right now!”

In his panic he failed to see another elder who appeared just outside his eye line. She went for his knife-wielding arm and snapped it in two, then grabbed him by the back of the neck and flung him to the wall. Her strength was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

The four Igorots surrounded Peter, the one who first showed herself in the doorway looking over to all of us as if to say, “leave now.”

Without hesitation we got up and hurried for the door. On our way out the elder gently ran her hand over Precious Mae’s head. They shared a smile.

On downstairs we all rushed, the bedroom door slamming shut behind us. As we exited the house Peter’s screams of horror began. The sound of blade chopping down into meat, similar to what you would hear in a buthcer’s shop. They were taking their time with him, one piece at a time.

When we got outside we beheld the most amazing sight. Surrounding the house, with more still coming out from the tall crops of the land, dozens and dozens of elderly female Igorots.

It goes without saying, on that fateful day all of our lives were changed forever. With this experience came the secrets of the past. The Hacienda had been the land of many generations of Igorots. From a young tender age to the age of elderly wisdom women of the past were keepers of the land. From the first breath of birth to the last breath which brought about death, and beyond, it was where they called home.

And it was where they would always keep watch over their Precious Mae.

~

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