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The Beast
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

The day after they killed the Beast, Juanita’s papa and Uncle Miguel cut off its head and stuck it up on the fence, to make sure everyone knew. Juanita’s mama decided to stay indoors – she refused even to look at the Beast’s head, because she said it would bring bad luck to the baby growing inside her. The men laughed at her, but even Juanita could see that this was one of the times her mama wouldn’t give way.

She also forbade the younger kids from looking at the Beast, but of course, they wouldn’t obey. Juanita’s older sisters – the two of them who weren’t married – usually did exactly as mama asked even though they had their own reasons, but they were visiting Aunt Conchita in the big city and were away. Her three younger brothers went along with the men, of course, chattering as excitedly as sparrows, and she went along too, to make sure they wouldn’t get run over in the street or something.

Juanita was thirteen or fourteen, her mama wasn’t quite sure which. She was cursed, though, her mama had told her many times – cursed with good looks. This was not desirable for a barrio girl, because of the undue attention it drew. So her mama yelled at her every day, kept her inside as much as possible, cut her hair herself, ragged and short, and gave her only old and patched dresses to wear, and no shoes. The family mostly couldn’t afford shoes anyway.

By the time they reached the fence, of course, there was quite a crowd, and some reporters from the papers as well, with their cameras flashing at Miguel and papa, and when Miguel held up the Beast’s head on a hook the cameras flashed most of all. The head hung on the hook, broken and defeated, the dead eyes white and milky, and Carlito – the eldest of Juanita's younger brothers – took a stick and poked it through the cheek of the Beast and held it away from the jaw so that the reporters could photograph the big sharp teeth. In the brilliant sunlight the Beast’s head looked very small and some of the people mocked at it. But Juanita remembered how they had been scared of it when it had walked the night, and she was silent.

After the Beast’s head hung on the fence, and the reporters had taken their photos, they came to talk to papa and Miguel. Juanita was close enough to hear what they were saying – papa described how the Beast had been trapped in a walled courtyard and they had isolated it there and killed it. And the reporters had nodded, half-listening (Juanita could tell by how they kept looking at their watches) and after that they had gone back to their cars and driven out of the barrio.

Afterwards, papa and Miguel had decided to get drunk. Juanita had seen how they were when they drank, so she tried to go away for a while, but mama put her to washing dishes and she was in the next room hearing them talk as they drank. By and by, as she had known would happen, the voices grew louder and the words slurred, and they began boasting about how they had killed the Beast. Each of them said nobody had the cojones to do what they had done, and they were heroes, and they deserved more respect.

“You should go to the church and confess your sin of pride to the padre,” mama said, bustling in and out, but the men paid no attention. At last Uncle Miguel got up and went away, next door, to his house and family, and mama sat down with a sigh, her belly swelling over her stick-thin legs. Papa sat at the table and drank.

“He went away because of you,” said Papa suddenly. “You don’t want me to talk to my friends.”

“You talk to him all the time.” Mama’s voice was as colourless as her face and eyes. “All the time of the day, you spend with your friends.”

“That’s my business, not yours.” Juanita was listening to all this from the kitchen. She knew it would only get worse, and began scrubbing the dishes with single-minded intensity.  

“Your business,” mama was saying, “would be to get a job. When did you last have a regular job?”

“It’s not my fault there’s no opening for truck drivers right now.”

“How do you know? Did you even try to look for an opening? All you’re good for is to drink the devil’s brew and get me with child. I can’t cope any more. Do you hear? I can’t cope any more.”

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:6.47 / 10
Rated By:29 users
Comments: 1 user
Total Hits:9607

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