It wasn’t an urban myth at all and Frank couldn’t believe that he was the one to tell the truth to the whole world.
He had come a long way. Atty. Frank gave up his life of fancy cars, designer shoes and million-dollar lawsuits in exchange for vlogging. It didn’t matter that he lost all his money, he was prepared to starve for his chosen nomadic life. One day he finally struck gold with a handful of vlogs compiled into a jungle survival series which overnight went viral but success as always was addictive. He simply couldn’t get enough of it. Today he was putting everything he had on the line, including his own life if necessary for what promised to be his greatest adventure.
Before he embarked into his trek into the deepest jungle where it all started – the legend of the Lady of Sitio Kariktan somewhere in the Philippines – he shot this last video clip to his followers:
“I’m signing off for now, I’m about to take a hiatus from vlogging because I’m going to one of the most isolated places on earth – somewhere deep in the jungles of the Philippines where legends tell of the story of a mythical woman of unworldly beauty but with a dark past steeped in blood and tragedy. The place is so remote technology has not set foot on it. I’m not coming back until I bring the truth home with me. Wish me luck”.
Now, face to face with Bella, he felt a certain disappointment of how badly words could fail, their inability to give voice to the senses when the senses had something to say. The countless grueling recitations in law school taught Frank that no matter how well you come prepared, how confident you think that you are ready for anything, it all comes crashing down because of that one word, the one idea that he thought he knew but couldn’t quite say it right. It was the same thing with trying to describe how beautiful this woman was.
He was sure of one thing, though. She was worth all the hardships and the distance he travelled, which Frank tried to reconstruct in his mind now, the moss-covered paths, the snake-infested tributaries along the side of the seemingly endless river in the jungle trail that Maverick told him to follow, the blood-sucking parasites inhabiting that mystic river where the water was perpetually ice cold with so little sunlight penetrating the forest canopy, how he walked days and nights, crawled in between giant boulders at one point and tiptoed by the cliff’s edge to cross to the opposite side on a big fallen tree that served as bridge.
The fortysomething lawyer came too close to turning back during the most difficult parts of the journey but he somehow managed to soldier on, armed with a flashlight and a backpack full of survival provisions, and most of all, the mad obsession that consumed him the moment he heard the story.
“You’re still thinking about your trip, aren’t you?” She’s right. Bella could read his mind.
“Yes, I was just wondering…how come.”
“Well, that’s what they mean about urban legend.” She interrupted him, distracting her guest with an almost wicked smile. “You were expecting a shack in the middle of nowhere, right? Well, this is the middle of nowhere, all right, but I guess I make it a little bit homier, no?” She was teasing him again.
They must have spoken for hours. Bella’s family belonged to the old landed clans in the province, low-key billionaires who refused to announce their fortunes to the whole world, and they built this house, the fairy-tale inspired cabin that Frank thought ran on solar panels discretely installed throughout the property. She must have said several times that this house held so many secrets.
When Frank mentioned that his folks in New Hampshire were of German descent, he was completely unprepared for the shock at Belle’s reaction.
“Spreche Sie Deutsch?” A long pause for an answer by Frank…“What? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. All I’m asking is if you speak German, hahaha…”
“I’m sorry”, Frank blushed. “Well, I’m just shocked, really shocked. No one in the house speaks German now, my grandmother used to, but she died when I was in fifth grade.”
Frank never expected another shock bigger than the one he just had when Bella disappeared into the room upstairs and came back with a laptop in hand.
“I just remembered to say hi to my German friends.” She laughed and chatted with female voices in German, her face made more radiant against the gentle glare of the laptop screen.
“You have a laptop…an internet here?” Frank regretted that he asked, not because he did but because of the way he sounded stupid.
“Of course. You want to use it? I told you this house is full of secrets. Actually I also have cameras all over the place, so don’t you try to do something foolish. Hahaha…But I know you won’t, you’re a good man, Frank. I know.”
They had dinner by candle light, where Bella, after saying grace, made a dare that the food she would serve tonight would convert Frank into a vegetarian for life just like her and true enough, Frank had the most exquisite full-course fresh salad meal he had ever eaten in his entire life.
Bella reached for the wine in the cooler and what a sight she was to behold, Frank whispered to himself. He remembered earlier how the laptop screen illuminated her perfect face. Now, against the light emanating from the cooler, it was her body that radiated with overwhelming physicality. Her breast pressing against the soft fabric of her blouse under the light sent his imagination into a frenzy. She pretended not to notice him.
But Bella was actually sizing him up, meticulously noticing that he wasn’t hairy, not muscular at all but on the lean side, and that Frank was blushing again obviously from trying to suppress an erection. Perfect.
“I call this the blue wine, it’s actually some sort of liquor made from ginger tea but I really don’t know what’s in it or what makes it blue. The oldest shamans in this place prepared this, from a mixture of secret herbs and the roots of the oldest trees in the forest. If you drink this, they say they can pick your scent in the wind from miles and miles away and they can diagnose what illness you have and treat you.”
The wine, the food, the evening, in fact the totality of the experience of meeting Bella had this unworldly and surreal feel, it’s almost impossibly good.
She walked him to the door and Frank wondered if it was pushing his luck to expect a kiss. But Bella offered her cheek. He was right, she could read his mind. One gentle peck on the cheek and Frank was on fire, blushing furiously again.
He tried to take his mind off the long road ahead, the distance to civilization, the dangerous paths and the cold, lifeless, endless darkness along the way. He struggled to remain fixated on his unbelievable success and what kind of impact his story would bring to the cyberworld that just might crown him king.
Who would have thought he could make it this far? He knew he was up against insurmountable odds the very first time he found the story of the Lady of Sitio Kariktan posted on the internet by a secret chat group that gossiped about the most beautiful woman on earth and the men who desired her, all of whom supposedly died horrific violent deaths. But the chat group instead, of giving out leads, had nothing to show but dead ends.
Frank would log in and chat every single day until the fascination with the mystery lady started to wane. Members started leaving the chat room one by one. He was himself ready to give up when a private message from username Maverick tipped him on how to get there, what things to bring – strictly no cameras – and why it was important to arrive at Sitio Kariktan on the thirtieth full moon after the last one, which sent Frank scampering for the calendar. Maverick refused to entertain questions after that, and, all of a sudden, he disappeared from the chat room. It was a fake account to begin with, as anyone could tell. Maverick’s profile description says vlogging from Germany.
The flashlight suddenly went dead and when Frank reached into his backpack to get a replacement battery, a shiver ran down his spine to discover he had nothing but rocks inside the bag. In the pitch-black darkness, the only remaining light came from a full moon afloat on a peaceful cloudless sky.
From where Frank had left, the old woman was throwing up, hunched over the window of her ramshackle hut under the trees, vomiting buckets of slime. The show was over now and so with the illusion. This filthy house that stank of fecal matter and urine was where she spent practically her entire life. All of her ninety-one years.
She wasn’t designed by nature to feed on plants. On the contrary plants made her terribly sick and deliriously violent every time she ate them. All carnivore and part mythology, she was the last of her kind, the survivor of centuries of a cult-cleansing persecution since the dawn of time kept alive only by the sustenance of flesh and blood.
She ate only once after every thirtieth full moon which made her violently crazed and starving tonight. Her body was emaciated to the bones and dehydrated with just enough weight for her wings to carry, but the hungrier she was, the stronger she got. She was drooling now, licking her claws before flying out of the window to chase after the scent of ginger tea in the wind that led to her prey.
The lean living prey with the least bodily hair and prone to blushing a lot, that when fed with plants, had the tastiest meat of all.