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Guardian Of The Fall (3)

 

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The Girls Of The Hill

The little girl stood outside the dusty brown bungalow with corrugated iron sheets and a banana tree framed front yard, her faded blue dress dancing around her ankles as the wind approached from the direction of the green forest surrounding the house. The small dog beside her began to bark, jumping up and down in excitement as the trees began their familiar whistle. The girl leaned down to touch the dog’s head.

 “Quiet,” she whispered, placing her hand over small mouth. “Mama will come and tell us to go back into the house.” She looked back at the open doorway with a blue curtain that touched the red earth covered threshold of the house. The dog’s barks reduced to small whimpering, but it continued to wag its tail in excitement, prancing up and down as it looked up the hill in expectation.

        Just as it had began, the whistling of the trees stopped completely. Girl and dog watched the figure in white dress descend from the hills with light skipping steps. A small smile began to spread over the girl’s face. The figure was a young woman with small waist and high rounded chest, topped by a brown face with knowing smiling eyes. The wind followed closely behind her, pushing her plain white head scarf over her eyes. The smile wavered on the little girl’s face when she saw that the figure approaching her was alone.

          “What are you doing outside Omom?” The figure in white asked when she got to where the girl and dog stood.

          The little girl looked behind her sister at the trees that waved their branches from side to side.

          “Where is the guardian Erom?” she asked with a small pout, her little face furrowed in a tight frown. “I heard it coming with you.”

          Erom bent to run her hand up and down the dog’s body. “You should not be outside at this time,” she said, ignoring her sister’s question. She straightened and around the compound of the small cement house with rusting zinc roof. The house was surrounded by the thick forest. Cut off from the rest of the village, the two bedroom bungalow was referred to as the house on the hill. The villagers avoided the area because of the mythical creature rumoured to be living in the forest, and shunned the inhabitants of the house for no other reason than their proximity to the hills. Apart from the juju man’s infrequent visits, the inhabitants of the house rarely received any visitors.

         “I don’t want to sleep now,” the little girl announced, sulking off to a plank supported by two severed wood trunks at the middle of the compound. The dog followed her and settled down beside the trunk bench.

         Erom stood in contemplative silence for some time. Then with a shrug, she walked inside the house, stooping a little at the low doorway. The curtain covered doorway moved and settled back in place as she entered the house.

         Standing beside the dying embers of the firewood from the open cooking spot beside her, the red glow from burning coals lighting up her face and the forbidding shadows in the trees around her, the little girl watched the forest intently, confident that the silent shadow of the guardian that had communicated with her family for generations was staring back at her from the trees.

                                          ******

The shapeless form watched from the trees, its unblinking eyes observing the two small forms sitting outside the house at the foot of the hill. The macabre expression on the face of the shapeless form resembled a smile. It began to move slowly through the trees, pausing every now and then when the girl’s drooping head snapped up and looked in its direction. The thing reached out, several twisted hands shooting from its body to touch the trees till their trembling stopped.

         When the dog’s tail stopped wagging and the girl’s chin settled into her chest, the thing began to move once again, releasing the trees to continue their swinging. The whistling began again as the thing moved with speed to the edge of the forest. The forest was silent when a tall woman with long plaited hair falling to her waist stepped out from the short bushes around the compound. The woman’s face was long and her skin shone with an unearthly glow. Her figure was perfect and the short sleeveless dress she wore exposed long legs that seemed to bounce off the ground the moment she touched it. Her eyes were wide and luminous and seldom blinked. Her lips were curved into a smile as she swooped on the sleeping little girl and dog. With a movement that appeared to be bending at her waist, she lifted the girl in her arm and walked into the house.

         A few seconds later, a man wearing shorts emerged from the house. A dark figure with huge muscles that rippled as he moved, the man stopped at the doorway and stretched his hand towards the dog before pointing his hand to the floor beside him. The dog suddenly appeared beside his feet, still sleeping peacefully. The man bent down and stroked the dog for a few minutes. Straightening to his full height, the man slowly walked to the forest, his feet barely touching the ground the way the same way it did earlier when he came to the compound as a woman.

          The forest parted like a curtain when the man walked through it. Soon he began to run, his feet pounding the earth and his form gradually becoming shapeless as it disappeared into the trees.

          Down at the village, children shivered under their threadbare wrappers as the whistling from the guardian continued into the night. Wall geckos scampered into the cracked openings of mud and cement houses and women clutched their rosary beads, chanting prayers in terrified whispers.

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