Chapter 1: The Kingdom
The Eternal Democratic Kingdom was in a state of terror, but hardly anyone noticed. The only thing that the citizens of the Kingdom were thinking about was the centennial celebration of Beheadable Barbie, which luckily coincided with the Christmas toy sale at The Orange Store. Ysabel and her daughter Anna Lucia were there smack between two shelves—one area had screaming pink pretty princesses, kiddie kitchen sets, mini dishwashing sets, and pink washing machines; and the other side had sullen gray and combat green mass-murderer-in-the-making toys, intellectually stimulating science adventure boxes, roaring cars, and train sets. With her itty-bitty dark somber dress, and her teensy-weensy ballerina bun, Anna Lucia was a startling carbon copy of her mother, but the little girl had none of mother’s patience. She was stomping her pink legs, while her hazel eyes gave the demonstrator a piercing look. The depressions at the corner of her eyes quivered with resentment. The wait was too long. She wanted the spectacle to begin. Her impatience was punctured when everyone’s heads turned, and the Eternal Democratic President walked in with his golden M16 assault riffle. When he scratched his beer belly, his black barong and undershirt went up, revealing a yellow chrysanthemum tattoo, his favorite flower except when he is asked to spell it. Although the Eternal President’s belly was itchy, he was more irritated by the hairy mole on his left cheek. The memory of the manghuhula who was an expert in mole interpretation was hard to forget. Ay yan, ibig-sabihin swerte sa lahat, malas sa pag-ibig. The next day the manghuhula was killed. The section of the airport where the crime scene took place was shut down for a week. Investigations were derailed as unidentified hands mysteriously blocked the CCTV cameras during the estimated time of the murder. Many passengers were irritated because flights got delayed. The Eternal President shook his head. Stop thinking about annoying things, he said to himself. He passed by a mirror and saw his favorite gray knitted bonnet, his glorious black shades, and his dark-blue checkered scarf. He smiled. He looked at his epic entourage and smiled again. His Eternal Democratic Party (EDP) associates followed his fashion sense, tailed him wherever he went, and acquiesced to his every command.
“Okay guys! I’m finally ready,” the demonstrator said, internalizing her fake blond wig, lacy sweetheart top, and pink tutu miniskirt. “For those who still don’t know how to behead your Barbies properly, lil’ ol’ me’s gonnna help,” she made a pose, pouting her lips, one dainty finger pointing at her cheek.
Two hi-tech battery operated Barbie and Ken dolls were beside her, waiting to be switched on.
“To have a bloody time with Beheadable Barbie, push a red button on her chest,” the demonstrator said.
The Barbie started singing a heartfelt “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” The voice that came out of the doll wasn’t so loud, but it was annoyingly shrill. Parents and their children covered their ears. Really young kids started to cry.
“Don’t worry muscle man’s gonna rescue us,” she said, holding up a Ken doll, “Beheadable Barbie, comes with a free Terminator Ken! Isn’t that fab? Fab! Activate muscle man’s sensor by pushing a black button at the top of his hunky head. The sensor will pick up blondie’s sentimental cry. Sob. Sob. Whatevaah girl! Then muscle man will expertly track her down, with that sound, with that pound, pound, pound. His juicy biceps will help our hot terminator swing the plastic sword at her neck. Oooh! Hubba hubba! A switch with a twitch, that’s rich. I’m not a witch, but this plastic bi— Barbie must be beheaded like this. Oooh! Let’s watch! This is the good part.”
Barbie’s head soared a good three inches high, a fountain of red liquid gushed out from her neck as she shrieked in horror. A ten-second interval elapsed and Barbie’s screams died down. Ken robotically said, Peacemaker— terminated. People were about to smile, but they smelled something wrong.
“Sorry folks we didn’t use real blood for the demonstration, but you get the idea,” she said.
Cheap bastards, somebody whispered.
“And the fun doesn’t stop there!” the demonstrator continued. “Reattaching Barbie’s head is as easy as it is to behead her again! And again! And again! Thank you to everyone who watched! All our Barbies are on sale throughout the Christmas season, so buy one now!”
The crowd gave the demonstrator a round of applause. The Eternal President and the EDP gave their applause in a different way with their assault riffles in the air, waving those big guns up and down. Ysabel followed the parental mad rush towards the Barbie display, her daughter, Anna Lucia, feverishly following her lead. Ysabel pretended that she was interested in the toy, but she just wanted to get away from the Eternal President. Other young parents were excited, up until they heard a plump woman gasp. Blood sold separately? she said, shaking her ginormous head in great disapproval, Free terminator without free blood? This is completely unacceptable! Damn capitalists! They are nothing but scum! Customers hate it, but they know it. Blood always comes with a price.
“I want a Beheadable Barbie! I want it! I want it! I want it!” said the little tantrum package, which took the form of an eight-year-old girl named Anna Lucia. Barbie’s little helpers made her irresistible. Advertisements and low prices can charm customers, but persistent naggers and expert tantrum throwers effectively coerce.
“You can’t have a toy like that,” Ysabel said looking at her daughter.
Two pairs of dark hazel eyes looked at each other, both emanating defiance. “Why? Why can’t I? Everyone has one! Why can’t I have one, mama?”
“You can’t because…” Ysabel said, then she looked around. She saw that a bunch of parents were within earshot. She knew what she had to do. She had to think of an acceptable reason. “You can’t because…you’re not responsible enough to have a toy like that, Anna Lucia. You’ll just ruin all the furniture with blood stains.”
“But I want Barbie! I want it! I want it! I want it!”
“Stop crying, Anna Lucia. When I say no, I mean no.”
Anna Lucia cried some more, but her mother wouldn’t give in. As they passed by the swords section, the little girl saw the Eternal President blessing the store with a bottle of holy water, while carefully ensuring that none of the liquid particles splattered on his precious EDP. Another EDP member who just arrived at the celebration almost got a sprinkle it, but the holy water missed him by inches. He didn’t even notice this near holy experience because he was preoccupied. Behind his big black sunglasses, and the scrawl of his excessive facial hair, he held an expression of a man burdened with secrets. This made him prone to a disproportionate amount of hushed conversations like the one he was now having with the thin man in a pink pinstripe suit.
Anna Lucia ran to the EDP member, and tugged on his clothes. Ysabel ran after her daughter, but stopped and kept her distance when she saw the man in pink. He looked at her, his gaunt but white powdered face blotching up with contempt. The EDP member gave the man a let’s-talk-about-this-later look. The pink man nodded, and walked away with a satisfied expression on his face.
Looking highly amused, the EDP member bent down and listened to the Anna Lucia’s whispered request. When she was finished, he looked at her through his big dark shades, smiled, took a Beheadable Barbie from the rack, and gave it to her.
“Ben, you don’t have to give her that Barbie,” Ysabel said, “She has lots of toys already. You’re going to spoil her silly.”
“She deserves the best,” Ben said. “Why are you so against this toy?”
“Well, it’s messy,” Ysabel said. ”It can only bring trouble.”
“She is already of age. She can handle the toy.”
“She doesn’t act like her age.”
“People don’t know that. They just know she’s eight.”
Ysabel looked frightened; Anna Lucia looked hopeful.
“Trust me. There will be more trouble if you don’t have one,” he said.
He looked at her. Ysabel swallowed hard. Her whole body felt rigid, and she became painfully aware of her heartbeat.
“Enjoying the celebration?” he said, breaking the silence. “I’m glad you came.”
“When you invited me, let’s just say, I couldn’t say no.”
“I’m glad you couldn’t say no,” he said, “to your dear brother.”
“Don’t forget to buy her blood,” he said, and walked away.
“So does that mean I can keep Barbie?” Anna Lucia asked her mother.
“We can’t throw away your uncle’s gift. He’ll look for it. But you can’t play in my room. I don’t want you making a mess there. Is that understood?”
“Now,” Ysabel said, noticing that Ben was watching them, mouthing Get—Some—Blood, “Let’s get you some blood.”
Chapter 2: The Kids of the Blood Factory
Workers in gray uniforms were like an outbreak of strangers who knew the same dance routine. Machines provided the rhythm as these metal giants munched, crunched, swiveled, and shook. The little boy was there looking at the factory. He couldn’t believe that his father finally brought him there. The factory was bloody brilliant.
“Start over there, my dear son” the man said, as his outfit blushed a deep shade of red—red suit, red metallic tie, red sequined shirt.
They were standing on a continuous balcony and the boy’s little eyes could see everything. He held on the sturdy railings and peeked downwards. Several metal vats were full of red liquid.
“Those big critters hold the starch,” his father continued, pointing to transparent tubes that were gurgling out white powder into a vat filled with crimson, “A little bit of this and that will make the liquid good and lumpy. The other tube has the water. Then we add food coloring to make the liquid red.”
“Is that blood, Papa?”
“Not even close, my dear son,” he said, waving his finger knowingly, “But we get money from them because poor people don’t have enough to buy the real thing.” “That sucks.”
“Yes it does. We don’t like it, you know, manufacturing crappy products, but we have to, forced more like, by the market, by those who can’t afford to buy better things,” the man sighed, “Well, we gotta do what we gotta do. Artificial blood is bad blood, but we get some benefits.”
“Like what, Papa?”
“Artificial blood hooks people. The hook is the bottom product or cheapest product that gets you into the blood craze,” he said, “You experience it once, then you want more, more, and more! Then, not just more, but better and better!”
“What’s that one over there?” the boy said, his hungry gaze zeroed in on an assortment of bloody flesh being squeezed by workers in separate assembly lines. Jars came down the conveyor belts, and the liquid nestled into their lovely new homes.
“That’s animal blood, my dear son. Workers squeeze out some of the blood, and collect them in jars.”
Workers were extracting black or red veins sewing through a mesh of red bronchial tissue and others were strangling a dark purple and crimson tube that was vomiting blood like a faucet left open.
“To the next one, my dear son, let’s go, go, go.”
They walked to the end of the balcony where another door was waiting. Pushing the door with his hand, the door swung open. This time the boy had to press his face on a glass wall that separated the balcony from the rest of the factory. Like snow-white vultures searching for blood, nurses in winter coats were sticking needles into the arms of greasy individuals. In tattered clothes, these people shivered as they gave blood.
“Human blood is a very tricky thing, but it’s the best. We add different anti-coagulators like sodium citrate phosphate, dextrose, and adenine, so that they don’t harden up when you first open your blood jar” the father said, “The jars go to the freezer room, or what we call the blood library. It’s hard, very hard to get human blood, my dear son. Not a lot of people would sell their blood for cheap, and with the demand for blood so high, we can’t rely on donors to the blood factory.”
There was an arch doorway. They entered it. A stairway downwards. Another door. With a push, it swung open. They were at the ground floor of the factory. The frigid air was preserving the right amount of still. The glass shelves flashed before the little boy. He saw them all.
They were nothing more than heads, sitting on plates, placed in square compartments of the glass shelves. They could have been hunting relics, like many a deer, struck on a wall, displayed in a living room. There were more of them. Frozen heads traveled through conveyor belts. One had frozen snot dripping like an iced stalactite. Heads went into a black box that was labeled “Thawing Machine.” Heads came out of the machine with necks leaking red. A claw picks them up, so they can drip nicely into a vat.
His father had heads.
Heads in the factory.
“Of all the kinds of blood, the greatest of them all is the Peacemaker blood from Peacemaker heads. Do you like them factory, my dear son?”
The boy did not answer. He didn’t know what to say.
“Do you like it, my dear son, like it very much? Do you like it, Ben?”
The boy looked at his father’s eyes.
It was a great day.
“Where are we going?” Ysabel was already in her favorite black and white umbrella patterned pajamas, but she was not snuggled in bed. She was running after her brother, teddy bear clutched in her hands.
“Not that far. It’s great,” Ben said, excited.
Ysabel could see the door of the passageway connecting the house to the family’s blood factory.
“Papa said I’m not old enough to see the factory. I want papa to be the one to bring me inside. I don’t want you to spoil the tour,” Ysabel said.
“But you got to see it, you got to.”
“I’m your older brother, you know. I know better. You just have to follow.”
“We’ll just go to one part of the factory. We won’t look at everything. It’ll be dark so you’ll hardly see anything except what I’ll show you. So you’ll still enjoy papa’s tour when he does it. Come on, it’ll be fun.”
Ysabel didn’t want to, but she couldn’t tell her brother no. Ben rummaged through his pockets. A key was soon in his hands.
“How did you get that, Ben?”
“I have skills,” he said, giving her a wink.
He opened the door. Ben knew the corridor was there, but he couldn’t see a thing.
“Don’t worry, I have this,” Ben said, holding up a flashlight.
They entered a dark passage, the flashlight guiding their step. They closed the door behind them. Ysabel heard a distinct click. She prayed that her parents were fast asleep, unable to hear sounds in the stillness of the night.
“Last one’s a rotten egg,” Ben whispered.
He broke into a run, flashlight held hostage. Ysabel yelped. She ran after her brother, concentrating on the bouncing light. She could not lose her brother, nor the light. A door swung open. She kept running. Her brother glanced back at her every now and then, holding the flashlight to his chin and making faces. With her hands balled up, she ran faster. Her grip on her teddy bear’s ear could have made the toy yelp in pain. Another door swung open. The corridor seemed endless. She was running faster, but she could not catch up. Her brother dropped out of sight. A moment of panic ensued before she realized that he ran down a stairway. She wished she had big legs, so she could take three steps at a time. She wanted to scream to her brother, to ask him to stop running. She didn’t know if her parents would hear them if she screamed inside the factory, but she didn’t want to take the risk. Another door swung open. Ben stopped. He switched off the flashlight.
“Ben!” Ysabel said, frightened.
“Shhh! I’m right here. Just walk straight to me. I’m right here.”
Ysabel took some tentative steps. She felt like she was in one of those pirate movies, being asked to walk the plank. She put one foot right in front of the other to make sure that she walked a straight line. Something clogged up her sinuses. She coughed, hoping she could still breathe. She heard something. Blob. Blob. Blob. Small popping thick bubbles. Everything was cold. She finally bumped into her brother.
“Whe...where a...are w...we?” Ysabel asked, her lips chattering. She hugged her bear for warmth.
“Are you ready for the surprise?” Ben said.
Ysabel nodded forgetting they were in the dark. Ben could not see her, but he knew it was time. Ben felt the wall and turned on the switch. With everything illuminated, Ysabel saw her. Ysabel was about to say “Hello,” but the face was frozen.
Dark skinned with curly hair, shock and bewilderment etched on her face. A bright pink naked woman tattooed on her right earlobe.
A flat nose stretched shamelessly across pimple-ridden flesh. Her mouth shrunk, failing to complete into a scream.
The faces were encased in glass. Neck lined with frozen blood. Neck sitting on a wide silver basin, cushioned by packets of ice.
Ysabel screamed. She screamed. She screamed. She screamed. Ysabel screamed till all the factory lights opened.
There were more faces, and Ysabel’s screams threatened to shatter glass. Ben couldn’t calm her. She couldn’t hear her brother. All she could do was see.
Brown skin and small eyes, squinting, contorted, as though he was squeezing out his last tear.
Wrinkles of age gathered around his smoke-belched mouth. A frown, an expression of kind confusion, tired eyes, watering gray.
More lights were turned on, and then Ben saw them. Two red running figures, a frantic woman in a blood red nightgown, and a half-asleep man in a white strawberry patterned red robe. They were running. They were running mad toward their children.
Chapter 3: Buy Me Blood
“Two artificial blood please,” Ysabel said to the saleslady.
“Artificial blood?” she said, judgmentally eyeing the mother and the daughter who were both dressed in black, “We don’t usually carry a lot of unwanted products, but I’ll check the stocks,” she said, entering a door behind the counter.
“Unwanted? You’re going to buy me something unwanted? Mommy, don’t do this! Don’t buy cheap blood! My playmates will laugh at me! They’ll think I’m poor!”
“Well, we’re not.”
“You should buy me Peacemaker blood! I want Peacemaker blood! I want it! I want it! I want it!”
“Peacemaker blood smells bad.”
“At least buy me some animal blood or human blood or else I’ll tell Uncle Ben.”
“Don’t you dare,” Ysabel threatened, her eyes flashing a deep shade of contempt. She bent her knees, and now Ysabel and Anna Lucia’s identical dark hazel eyes were at the same level.
“You should never—” Ysabel said, her lip quivering with anger. “You should never play with life.”
Anna Lucia was frightened, but she didn’t understand why.
“Here’s your artificial blood,” said the saleslady, as she returned from the back room.
“Thank you,” Ysabel said.
Chapter 4: The Bloody Playground
It was recess time, and Anna Lucia was right outside the playground. Her hands were on the glass wall as though she was prisoner, but she was on the outside looking in. The children inside the playground glanced at each other and rolled their eyes as though saying here-she-goes-again-that-Anna-Lucia. They learned to ignore her, but were still irritated whenever she made appearance. They put up signs, two in exact, that plainly stated how unwelcome she was: BYOB (Bring your own blood), and No Blood, No Entry. Like all the kids her age, Anna Lucia was waiting for her eight birthday, so that she can finally enter the playground. Eight was a special age because this was the time toymakers figured that children were no longer prone to choking on detachable heads. Anna Lucia resented this age limit. She was seven, but she knew she wasn’t stupid enough to eat a detachable head. Being too young to be trusted with detachable heads meant that she was barred from knowing what it
was like to play with blood, and that made all the difference. No one was allowed to play with blood outside the playground, and everyone washed their bloody hands before leaving the said area, so Anna Lucia couldn’t even get a whiff of her coveted liquid. Stealing blood at home was useless because, besides the fact that her mother kept them in a secret place, all they had was artificial blood. Her stomach grumbled, but she stayed there, and just kept looking at the ultimate slide. Encased in glass, it was everybody’s dream—a slide that ended in a guillotine. Protected by a moat, the slide was surrounded by waters that were reddening every now and then as little plastic blond heads bobbed up and down. Little Kens stood on the banks making mechanical declarations to the amusement of their young owners. Anna Lucia dreamt about climbing the slide’s ladder, and slipping her Barbie’s head into the tiny hole at
the top of the slide’s glass encasement. The glass ensured that no one except Barbie could make a trip down the ultimate slide. The slide’s mouton and blade was designed as the head of a smiling Ken with razor sharp teeth. Once Barbie reaches the slide’s end, the tiny head will slip into the lunette, then Ken will drop down from above, and Barbie’s head will pop out as the little severed neck bleches out blood—lots and lots of blood.
Chapter 5: The Christmas Visit
A grown-up achoo and a mini achoo made the nearby flowers flutter. Candles flickered out of sight. Ysabel and Anna Lucia’s nasal concerto started when they bought red Poinsettias from the fat Santa Clause standing outside The Orange Store. Arranged in a wreath were little golden balls, evergreens, and blood red flowers.
“Mama, I wanna hold it,” Anna Lucia said, eagerly reaching out for the wreath. “I wanna give it to daddy.”
“Okay, Anna Lucia, here, take it,” Ysabel said, gently handing it over, but the little girl grabbed it.
“Ouch,” Ysabel said, as a thorny twig from the wreath stung her finger. Blood dripped on the evergreens and on her black eyelet dress.
“Sorry, mama. I did not mean to hurt you.”
“Just be careful next time. Come on, let’s go visit your father.”
The Carabao grass smoothened to Bermuda. Granite and marble stones littered the trimmed grass with images of doves and Jesus. A few paces more and they were at the black gate.
“Good afternoon, madam,” said the toothless caretaker. “I cleaned the whole place this morning.”
“Thank you,” Ysabel said, giving him a crisp P100 bill. “Come on, Anna Lucia. Let’s light some candles for your dad.”
Anna Lucia passed the marble angels standing guard at the entrance. She settled the wreath on top of a stone coffin. She did not notice that a few leaves and
twigs strayed onto her itty-bitty dark dress.
“How long do we have to do this before we see daddy again?” Anna Lucia asked.
“Say merry Christmas to your dad, Anna Lucia.”
“Merry Christmas, dad. I miss you,” she said, resting her head on the stone coffin.
“Merry Christmas, Carlos.”
Chapter 6: The First Slide Down
Swings and slides enveloped them. He was there, her father. He was there laughing. The village playground held Anna Lucia’s only clear memories of her
father. The other “memories” were stories her mother told her about how this one time, and that one time, she and her father had this funny moment or so. Those
stories did not feel real because she could not remember them.
The playground was where her father would talk about his adventures as a young pirate. His laughing face was an easy give away that those stories were fake,
but she loved hearing them anyway. Sometimes, she wanted the truth. She would ask
him constantly, “Tell me a real story, daddy.” He would start with a believable scene: he was brushing his teeth, he was walking inside the mall, he was watching a movie, but the stories would always take a turn, and he would end up on an island searching for treasure. She would feel frustrated, but the stories would become so interesting that she’d forget that they weren’t what she wanted. She wonders why he never told her something true.
“What’s wrong?” Carlos asked his five-year-old daughter. “Don’t you want to try the slide, little Annie? I know it’s your first time, but you can do it.”
Little Annie, no one called her that. Even her mother didn’t.
“Don’t be scared,” he said. “I’ll be here to catch you.”
Anna Lucia looked up. The slide was so near the sky.
“Do you want to try the slide?”
“Yes, daddy,” she lied.
She tried to skip and hop as they walked, but her heart kept thumping louder. The slide was getting bigger and bigger, or was she getting smaller? Was her
heart thumping her to pieces?
“This is it,” her father beamed.
Gripping the slide’s metal ladder, her knees began to shake.
“Little Annie’s special moment. Wait a second, let me get my camera,” he said, rummaging his backpack. He eventually found it, took it out, and hung its strap around his neck.
“Daddy, please watch me while I climb. Stay here, just stay here,” Anna Lucia pleaded.
“Okay, but once you’re seated on top, I’ll go in front, so I can take your picture, all right?”
Anna Lucia climbed cautiously. It was a short climb, but it felt like forever. She reached the top and sat there. Her father scampered towards the front. He was ready to take her picture. She was holding on. She was afraid.
“Okay, you can let go, little Annie.”
He meant just loosen up her hold, but she obeyed the command all too well. With her hands in the air, she slid down so fast. Her knees hit the ground, and they bled. Carlos rushed to his daughter. He hated blood. He did not want to touch her, but she was his daughter, and she needed help. Then, Carlos accidentally hit the camera’s
button. There was no flash, so Carlos did not realize that the camera had taken pictures of Anna Lucia and all the blood that came with her.
Chapter 7: The Eternal Show
The television screen flickered. Anna Lucia flew past it, her teensy-weensy ballerina bun bouncing up and down, her pink legs madly thumping on the stairs as though her new Barbie would vanish if she missed a second of play. Ben had won again. Ysabel tried hard to resist those toys, but now Anna Lucia had one. Sure they have some Barbies in the house for protection, but she never wanted Anna Lucia to start playing with them. When Carlos was on his deathbed, he told Ysabel a secret, and she never saw Barbie the same way again. She wished he hadn’t told her the truth. Ysabel sighed. She had broken her promise to Carlos. She felt guilty, but all she could do was hold the remote. Still in her black dress, she sat on the sofa and stared.
A seal with a sun and eight rays ate up the television screen. Slow dramatic music played as the words A dramatization of true fact flashed. The screen turned black. Based on the investigations of our top agents. Darkness again. Back during the ancient times...Black. Half an actress came into view. Her torso was supported by bat-like wings with large indigo veins. Her long unruly hair was flying everywhere, and a few bugs were trying to desperately hold on.
“I left the lower part of my body somewhere,” said the actress. “I will not tell you where because no one can defeat me unless they sprinkle salt or crush garlic on my lower half. Now to fly into the night and get my scrumptious fill.”
Flying over huts, she ignored them all until she heard the right noise. Thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump hump thump thump thum. She
looked at the camera and flashed her evil smize. A loud score of snoring was heard as a man and a pregnant woman were shown sleeping inside the hut. The half-actress perched on the roof, opened her mouth, and a tongue much like a snake’s came out. As her tongue slid through the cracks of the roof, the music heightened, conveying
that this was a very scary scene. The couple inside the hut snored some more. They were moving a bit, scratching their nose, mouth twitching, but their eyes remained closed. The snake tongue came back into focus. It was dripping with saliva. The anticipation was something she could not bear. The tongue moved slowly. She knew that if she extended her tongue too fast the slithering noise might wake the couple up, and they would bring out the garlic necklaces that she couldn’t stand. The tongue went inside the hut, inching towards the woman’s stomach. A scream pierced the night. The half-actress slurped her tongue back deliciously. Taking fill of the innocent made the stars shine until the light engulfed the screen. Another message flashed Beware of the ancient monster…The Eternal President came into view. He smiled.
“Thank you for tuning into our program. We all know the history of the creatures of the night. The ancient monster used to plague our cities, our lives. But something worse took their place. They are...” the Eternal President said and looked to the right where another camera was stationed. He pointed to the screen. A big red word art flashed, The Peacemakers. A horror-film scream erupted from the studio audience.
“Down with the Peacemakers! Down with the Peacemakers!” the Eternal President said.
The audience followed suit.
“And now the Peacemaker annihilation statistics,” he announced, and a drum roll was heard.
The camera swerved to the right. A man in a boring suit was standing with a card in his hand.
“I am pleased to announce that for the past month we have killed one thousand nine hundred and eighty four Peacemakers.”
“And the expose continues,” The Eternal President said.
The studio vanished. Another video was played. The actress was there. Her monstrous torso was securely attached to the rest of her slimy body. She knocked on a door of a hut. A young man opened the door. He looked shocked. The camera panned back to the girl, but she looked different now. She was a beauty.
“Isabella!” said the man. “I thought you went to the other mountain to visit your sick grandfather.”
“He isn’t sick anymore. I received a letter before I left,” she said, her deep sunken eyes looking sorrowful.
“I'm sorry to hear that. Come in, come in.”
She went inside. The door closed. The man’s mortifying howl was heard. Sounds ended in a hush.
“Just like the ancient monster, the Peacemakers learned the devious art of shape shifting,” The Eternal President said. “After learning the ancient monster’s ways, the insurgents killed those creatures. They took over the monsters’ ancient lair and used it as a base for their operations.”
The Eternal President said that the government was working hard to uncover the location of the lair, poring over books of myths and legends, and sending out spy missions to the mountains, but the problem never went away. Barbie helped the government’s fight against the Peacemakers. The Peacemakers absorbed the monster’s greatest weakness: the intolerance for things that are upside down. For the ancient monster, upside down broomsticks disturbed their sleep. Similarly, for Peacemakers, it was upside down bleeding beheaded Barbies.
“Rest assured that Barbie will always hang around to frighten the Peacemakers,” The Eternal President said.
Everyone laughed at how witty he was.
“I am not forcing you to buy these products. We are a democracy after all. But these are our talismans against the Peacemakers. It is our duty to protect our nation.” The studio audience cheered and all the other audiences across the country cheered. Ysabel wondered whether she was the only one who wasn’t joining in the high. Ben kept telling her to just do it, but she couldn’t. She didn’t have the energy to pretend. She knew that even though the Eternal President boasted about these high
numbers, Peacemaker bodies were never shown, and their names were never mentioned. Meanwhile, certain members of the population regularly and mysteriously disappeared. People weren’t troubled because everyone knew there was a simple explanation, and the Eternal President explained it all. He said that Peacemakers would emerge from the darkness, stealthily fly into the night using their no-noise helicopters, perch on the roof, and operate a long extension tube that was powerful enough to suck a sleeping human being. Peacemakers developed this technology from the ancient monsters. The insurgents learned the craft of sucking babies, and then they enhanced this strategy so that they can eat up whole adults. Don’t let her innocence get to you, Ysabel remembered the last words of her husband, as he bled his life out, they make the children that way, preying on their innocence, his tired sunken eyes fading into a stoic gray. Ysabel wanted to clear her mind, to follow what Ben said,
but ever since her husband died, there it was, back again—doubt. The Eternal President once said that there is no room for doubt in this country. Everyone needed faith. The people cheered, waving their rosaries like mad. All the members of the EDP cheered waving their armalites up and down. There is no doubt in a perfect world, and ours is a perfect world. Once you start doubting, that’s when you start seeing deficiencies, and that’s when your world starts crashing down. Never doubt, so you will never see something that’s less than perfect. In this society, everyone slept easy. It was a world that was safe because it was silent. A world that was in order, that
“If there is a person who develops trenches around their eyes, beware of that person,” said the Eternal Democratic President. “The trench is a mark of a traitor.”
Ysabel looked outside the window. Light came in the form of stars. She didn’t realize that she was sitting there for so long. She went to her room and saw Anna Lucia sleeping in her bed. Her daughter’s tiny hands were covered with flakes of dried blood. Ken, Barbie’s plastic body, and Barbie’s plastic head were on the floor. The toys were coated crimson. Ysabel shook her head. Didn’t I tell her not to play in my room? Ysabel thought. She considered waking her daughter, but Anna Lucia looked so calm, like an angel, that Ysabel couldn’t bring herself to disturb the kid’s peaceful sleep. Ysabel sighed. She stumbled through the house as she carried Anna Lucia in her arms. She would scold the child in the morning, but now it was time to sleep. She struggled as she opened the door to Anna Lucia’s room. Gently, she placed Anna Lucia on the little pink bed, and then she covered her daughter with a warm blanket. As she went back to her room, she remembered that she should hang the Barbies.
Chapter 8: Hanging Barbies
“You better sleep now,” Ysabel said, “I’ll hang the Barbies.”
She opened a book to a page with pink flowers that spelled How to Hang Your Beheadable Barbie. Ysabel knew what was on her husband’s mind. It was Camilla, but she was gone. She was definitely gone. Ysabel felt pity for Camilla’s father who cursed the Peacemakers for taking his daughter away. The bastards must have sucked her in the middle of the night, that’s why he heard strange noises, that’s why her body couldn’t be found. That’s what they all thought. Ysabel was glad that Ben was there to assure them that the government would do everything in their power to hunt and kill the Peacemakers. In the meantime, Ben advised everyone to tighten security measures. Hang every Barbie that you have, he said.
“Hanging Barbie is a simple task,” Ysabel read the instructions. “First, behead your Barbie (for instructions turn to page 36), then fill her with blood. Press the red button on her chest three times, so that a strainer-like stopper will form on the surface of her neck. This stopper will allow a tiny amount of blood to drop from the hanged Barbie. The trickle pace is one drop per five minutes, which lasts for six to eight hours depending on the viscosity of the blood. Beheadable Barbies are especially
equipped for hanging. Take Barbie by her pink high-heeled shoes, separate her thin plastic legs, place the legs on either side of a hook, and let Barbie’s shoes click together. Barbie will be securely hanged upside down because her high-heeled pink shoes are not made of plastic, but of magnets.”
Ysabel looked up from her book. “That seems simple enough,” she said.
“Do we have to do that, honey?” Carlos asked, while he was lying in bed. He closed a notebook with a cover that had a pattern of pictures. His four-year-old daughter had given it to him saying she found it once before under their sofa, and found it again when she was visiting her Uncle Ben. The little girl thought that it could cheer him up.
“Carlos,” Ysabel said, surprised, “You of all people should know that we need to protect ourselves against the Peacemakers. Especially with what happened to Camilla.”
There was a pause.
“Of course, yes, the Peacemakers,” Carlos said, tired.
“What are you reading?” asked Ysabel.
He placed the notebook inside the drawer of his bedside table. Click. With a key, he locked it in.
“Just something to make me sleep,” he said, “But I think it woke me up.”
She looked at him. His eyes looked weary. A chill ran through her spine.
“You have to sleep, honey,” Ysabel said, as she kissed her husband on the forehead. She was worried. She never saw her husband so…so…no. She couldn’t say it. She couldn’t think it.
“For the sake of our child, sleep, and sleep very soundly,” she said, kissing his tired eyes.
Chapter 9: The Pink Room
Killing a Peacemaker was the reason why Ben was waiting for the man in the pink pinstripe suit. Barbie’s centennial celebration was so successful that the after party refused to die. He wanted to join it, but he couldn’t. Instead, Ben passed the time trying to come up with a plan, the guitar case at his foot remained untouched. He was in one of the back rooms of The Orange Store where defective Barbies were melted and recycled into new ones. It was a cold night so he decided to sit beside the pink incinerator’s roaring fire. He remembered his young days where he worked there. Nothing changed that much. The brick walls were still painted with vintage portraits of Barbie. The pink incinerator spilled flesh colored molten plastic into a huge pink crucible. An equally pink worktable looked like a Barbie dissection class--
Barbie heads, legs, arms, and torsos. Then there were boxes labeled Pink Innards (electronic compartments to be placed inside Beheadable Barbies), Pink Shoes, and Pink Dresses.
“I’m sorry, sir, it took me so long to get here. There was an emergency in the make-up department. I hope you didn’t get too impatient,” said the man in the pink pinstripe suit, as he entered the room and closed the door behind him.
“I didn’t, actually. Been pretty preoccupied.”
“Yes, I know, the information I gave you is pretty disturbing.”
“You think you know what I’ve been wondering about?” Ben said, standing up, towering over the pasty man.
“I…I didn’t mean to be so—“ he gulped, confused as to what angered Ben.
“I’ve been sitting here wondering. Wondering, how the fuck will you die, Mr. Pink Man?”
“What?” his eyes flew open. “What do you mean, sir?” a tiny unsure smile played on his lips, hoping it was some bizarre joke.
“You see, if you knew who she was, you’d realize, it would be inconvenient if she got into trouble.”
“Why? Who is she? Why would it be inconvenient? It’s only right. She’s a Peacemaker! Look!” he said, holding up receipts with eye marks. Ben took the receipts and threw them into the incinerator.
“Only your big mouth will make her a Peacemaker,” he said.
“I…I…I…” he said, and fear spread like snow throughout the man’s skin, “I’d have to shut it then. Well, that’s understood. Goodbye now,” he said as he scampered towards the door. He easily twisted the doorknob, but the door wouldn’t open. He heard faint whispers. Ben’s men were outside, guarding the door.
“You see, I don’t trust. Especially people who wear lots of make-up.”
Sweat ran across the man’s white face, its path revealing uneven blotches of skin.
“Which finger do you want to lose first?” Ben said as he opened the guitar case, bringing out his favorite beheading weapon, “Which leg? Or will I hold you down and try for an ear first?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep you alive for as long as I can.”
Ben took a step to the left. The roaring incinerator was in full view. Ben was waiting. He knew he didn’t have to lift a finger.
“Please tell my wife I love her,” the man said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, and all your children too.”
The man started running. Running as fast as he could. Fast, so he need not feel. The fire was used to flesh, and it welcomed him. Ben was relieved. He never liked murdering people.
“Smart boy,” Ben said, “Good choice.”
Chapter 10: The Days of Red and Green
The chandelier tried to brighten up the room full of dignitaries. The White Palace’s Christmas party had begun, and everyone was ready to bore each other silly.
“Are you all right?” Ben said, as he took some caviar from the waiter.
“Well, I love the apple martini,” Ysabel said, taking another sip.
“You should be used to this by now.”
She wanted to complain, so she kept her mouth engaged in a tuna pesto tart. She owed a lot to her brother as he took care of her when their parents died. It was a heart attack domino effect; their father went first, their mother discovered him and followed suit. She wanted Ben to leave, and he did so when he spotted an old friend. She rolled her eyes as Ben walked away. Why does he even force her to accompany him when he’d abandon her anyway? She was going to spiral into a bad mood when a man caught her eye.
It was Carlos’ first time at The White Palace. He was supposed to be excited by his recent promotion, but he didn’t feel a thing. How did he know success could lead him down this very sad route of extreme boredom? That feeling ended when he saw a woman with dark hazel eyes. She was with one of the high-ranking EDP members, but they weren’t talking that much. This was dangerous territory, he thought, so he tried to keep her out of his mind. The man she was with walked away. Could it be that they weren’t together? She glanced toward his direction and their eyes met. He forced his eyes to look elsewhere and examined the carpet’s embroidery of beheaded Barbies and fountains of blood. He cannot be involved with someone’s girlfriend or wife, he said to himself, he couldn’t screw up his life.
It started out as a clumsy encounter. Actually, Ysabel was not that clumsy. She was shy, so she needed a compelling reason to talk to him. She strolled casually
toward him, changed the direction of her eyes, but made sure that her drink spilled on his suit. Carlos saw through her, but he waited for her to finish her act. She squealed so many ‘I’m sorry’ s,’ he almost burst out laughing. He smiled and said ‘Don’t worry about it.’ And there it was. The perfect excuse. The conversation started. The conversation went on, and the conversation went on and on and on.
It was Ysabel’s first time to spend Christmas with Carlos’ family. After years of being together, he finally suggested that it was time. Carlos was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he hummed to the song on the radio. Ysabel was nervous. She kept glancing at the hem of her skirt, as though expecting to find some traitorous loose thread hanging there. Carlos took a left turn and honked at a white gate. Security guards opened it, he drove inside, and parked beside one of the many cars in the garage. He squeezed Ysabel’s hand before they got out of the car and made their way to the front door.
“Are you okay?” Carlos asked.
Ysabel tried to move her lips. The door burst open. A mob of doting relatives swept over Carlos, dragging him inside with hugs and kisses. They didn’t even hear his pitiful attempts to direct their attention to Ysabel. She was there, standing by the doorway, unsure if she should enter.
“Come inside, and close the door. You’re letting the cold wind in.”
Ysabel jumped. An old man sitting on a rocking chair was looking at her.
“Thank you,” she said. She went inside and closed the door.
“The chaos will die down soon enough, and they’ll realize there’s a stranger in the house,” the old man said, as though these were comforting words.
Stranger. The word rang in Ysabel’s ears. She was going to talk to the man, but when she looked at him, he was already asleep. Maybe he was so old that he only had enough strength to utter a few words. The door burst open. A woman with blue and green painted nails was standing in the doorway. Ysabel thought she was the only non-family member to be invited, but she was wrong. She was relieved. Carlos’ best friend was there. She was sure it was his idea to bring a friendly face along.
“Ysabel, nice to see you again,” the woman said.
They hugged each other.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” Ysabel said as she tried to beam as brightly as the woman did, but she failed. The woman effortlessly outshone her.
“Oh, I come here all the time. I really don’t like my family."
“Oh well, I’m glad you’re here, Camilla.”
“Camilla!” a child shrieked, dropping a detachable head.
Another mob went past Ysabel and engulfed Camilla. One blatant truth hit Ysabel. She was the only stranger there. Camilla was family.
“Hey! That’s the guy who asked me out,” Camilla said, pointing to the television, which was showing images of last night’s events.
According to the reporter it was a prayer rally that was later broken up due to suspicions of Peacemaker infiltration. The specific image that caught Camilla’s attention was a guy who was sitting on a picnic mat. Sitting beside him was a woman. Her head was on his shoulder, a blanket wrapped around them both. They shivered as they prayed.
“What? Who asked you out?” Carlos said, breaking away from his conversation with Ysabel.
His relatives exchanged meaningful smiles. The kids tore their eyes from Ken who was a few seconds away from beheading Barbie. Carlos’ mother merrily hung another star on the Christmas tree. Ysabel shifted uncomfortably in her seat, rubbing her wedding ring, as though if she touched it, a genie will come out to rebuff all the negative wishes of Carlos’ relatives. Camilla sometimes gives her an encouraging smile, or was it a take-that-bitch-I’m-the-one-he-truly-wants smile? Ysabel wasn’t sure. Maybe when she gets pregnant they’ll finally accept that she is Carlos’ wife.
“That guy, that guy right there,” Camilla said, pointing to the screen, “Oh no, he’s gone, the camera shifted to another area.”
“So how was the date?” Carlos said, curious.
“Don’t ask me. He stood me up.”
“He stood you up?”
“Yeah. And now I know why,” she said, pouting at the screen, “He probably continued flirting with this girl at the prayer rally. Probably had a heavenly time with her after, and I don’t mean more prayers. While I was there, in the restaurant, looking like a fool, waiting, being stood up. They were probably saying a lot of ‘Oh God’s’ together. That asshole. What a lovely evening that was. Right before Christmas. Isn’t that great? Never agree to go on a date with a stranger near the holidays. If I knew that he would chuck me out, I wouldn’t have said yes.”
“I dunno. They look alike. Maybe the girl is his sister,” Ysabel said, helpfully. “You should call him.”
Camilla looked at her in disbelief.
“No way. Not after that,” Camilla said. “Sorry, dear, I’m not desperate.”
“Accepting a date with someone you hardly know before Christmas?” Carlos said, teasing. “Yeah, you don’t sound desperate.”
Camilla grabbed the nearest bowl of marshmallows and started pelting Carlos with these fluffy sweets.
“Take that! And that!” Camilla said, giggling.
He was trying his best to dodge the marshmallows, but Camilla was good. Carlos’ relatives were cheering them on. Some were for Camilla, others were for Carlos.
“Guys, stop that,” Ysabel said. “You’re wasting the food.”
No one paid attention to Ysabel. Everyone wanted to see what Carlos and Camilla were going to do next.
Camilla was about to light up when a bloody hand stopped her. She looked up. It was Carlos’ mother holding several little bleeding plastic heads.
“Dear, will you ever learn?” the woman said, an amused smile playing on her lips. “No smoking in the house.”
“Why do I have to learn? Can’t we just change the rules?” Camilla said, returning the smile.
“We don’t do that here. Go outside. The garden is lovely,” she said, and returned to picking up the rest of the bleeding heads that the kids had abandoned for Christmas cookies.
“All right, all right. I will,” Camilla said, giving up. She turned around and spotted Ysabel who was busy twiddling her thumbs.
“Yes Camilla?” Ysabel said, feeling her throat muscles loosen. Those were the first words she had uttered since an hour ago. On the scale to one to ten of all the awkward Christmases with Carlos’ relatives, being addressed directly and responding by uttering two words seemed like a promising break in the streak of extreme misery.
“Would you mind if you come with me to the garden to smoke? I can give you a stick.”
“Oh, I don’t smoke, but I can accompany you.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind? There will be fumes.”
“No, it’s ok. I’ll go with you.”
Ysabel did not really like smokers, but she was just itching to get away from Carlos’ cold family. She wished she had a son or a daughter, so she could talk to somebody during these sad Christmases. Carlos was preoccupied with all his nephews and nieces that it was impossible to talk to him. Carlos’ aunts and uncles had been harassing Camilla, so it was hard to talk to her too. The curious aunts and uncles were asking Camilla about her love life, and they kept telling her to get a husband. Some aunts were even audacious enough to whisper something about how compatible she and Carlos were. Ysabel felt her heart sink into a bottomless pit. The family had already fallen in love with Camilla. For that family, Ysabel, who just happened to be Carlos’ wife, was the other woman, but Carlos had chosen her, and she loved him. It was not her fault they fell in love. She was ready to get away from this unwelcoming environment that she was willing to breathe in all the toxic smoke that she could take.
“Want one?” Camilla said, offering the pack, as they sat down on the garden’s black wrought-iron bench. Ysabel saw Camilla’s nails. Each nail was painted alternately with a different color. Today was purple and dark blue.
“No thank you,” Ysabel said.
That is the thing about Camilla, she does not seem to hear your answers. She wants to do what she wants, and she will always try to do what she wants even if you
already told her ‘no’ a hundred times, a million times. Either she is extremely forgetful, or she does not understand the word ‘no.’
“You know,” Camilla said, puffing a large amount of smoke into the air. Ysabel was almost hit full in the face. Camilla did not wave the smoke away.
“Ysabel, you should not mind those people inside. They’re cold at first, but they’ll warm up to you. It will take a very long time, and I mean a very long time. Letting people in is hard for them.”
“How long till they warmed up to you?” Ysabel said. She was on the edge of her seat, afraid of the answer.
“Oh I was a special exemption. They liked me right away.”
“Oh,” Ysabel said, as her face fell.
“I’m kidding!” Camilla said, smiling, “It was like years. That’s the thing about this family. I mean they’re lovely once they like you, but when you are new, they hate
you. No matter how charming you are; they hate you. They don’t like people outside the family. They feel threatened, infiltrated. They do not see you for who you are. They only see a stranger. They were so mean to me that little Jeffrey threw chocolate pudding on my favorite dress. He tried to pass it off as an accident, but I knew it wasn’t. When I became friends with the kids, that little boy admitted that he did pour that pudding on me on purpose.”
“No kidding!” Camilla said, smiling.
Ysabel felt considerably better. If someone so loved like Camilla was once hated, there was still hope for her. She just had to wait. Was she patient enough?
“I think this is the second most traumatic thing that has happened in my life.” Ysabel said.
“Oh honey, it’s all right,” Camilla said, laughing.
Ysabel laughed too.
“So tell me,” Camilla said, curious, “What was the most traumatic?”
Ysabel hesitated for a moment, but Camilla was such a comfort to her that she decided to trust her. Ysabel began telling her about the time her brother brought her to the family’s blood factory. She told her about the faces and how she screamed, and how she could not calm down. She told her how she could remember every face, every detail. Camilla gasped when Ysabel was describing a bright pink naked female
tattoo on a woman’s right earlobe. Ysabel knew it was really scandalous, and she was glad that Camilla was equally mortified about the tattoo. Ysabel kept on talking. The words were crashing through like escaped convicts. She didn’t realize that Camilla was unusually silent. A darkness passed over Camilla’s face. There was something she remembered, something so raw and real. It finally all made sense.
Cleanliness wasn’t something that the kitchen had, but the little girl thought that it was beautiful. Little Camilla and her Beheadable Barbie were there in the kitchen watching her mother cook.
“This is going to be my best yet,” her mother said, scratching the bright pink funny tattoo on her right earlobe. It was a tattoo that no decent mother would get at the age of twenty-eight, but Camilla’s mother was proud of it. She took a metal saucer, put some oil in it, broke an egg into it, and threw it in the toaster. This was her version of frying an egg. Although her mother was deficient in cooking, Camilla felt that she was the best mother in the whole wide world. She did not know that the days of happily observing her mother’s peculiar ways were coming to an end. Camilla remembered how screams filled the house. She was in her room, and she did not go out because she was scared. She cried and prayed that the screaming would stop. It did, with a loud thud. Camilla did not know what to make of it. The tears she shed acted like a potent sleeping pill, and everything went black. She was not woken up by her mother but by her father. He tried to cook, and he was as horrible as her mother. She complained about it. He said he had an excuse, a biological exemption against cooking well—he was a man. Camilla asked her father where her mother was. He told her to shut up.
When people suddenly disappear from one’s life, there is always an explanation. Camilla tried to find it by asking her relatives. Whenever she would ask about her mother, they would either stare blankly at her as though it was the most stupid question anyone could ask, or they would say something mean so that she’d be cut up, crying, and too devastated to remember that she needed some answers.
“You want to know something about your mother?” her father would say. He would pick up her newest Barbie and forcibly take off the little head, “Now you know!” She would start crying, confused as to what provoked him to destroy her toy. Didn’t he know that you had to make Ken do the beheading or else the head can’t be
What made her stop asking was a letter. It came from her mother, and it said she ran off with another man, and she never wanted to see her daughter again. She cried so hard, and she stopped asking questions.
That night made things different. The peculiar conversation with Ysabel made the questions resurface in Camilla’s mind. What if her father wrote that letter? She really did not remember what made her think that the letter was genuine. Heck, she was eight. She could have believed anything. If she wanted to start searching for answers, and there was only one place to start.
“Is it still far?” Camilla said, brushing away the thick cobwebs. Something squeaked. She stepped on a rubber duck.
“Shh...please miss, don’t make such a racket,” whispered the caretaker who was holding a flashlight. “I am not allowed to let anyone inside. I only let you in
because you made a special request.”
Crisp bills that were once Camilla’s crunched in the caretaker’s back pocket as he took another careful step. They moved past several bedrooms and climbed the staircases until they reached the rooftop. At the end was a door. The caretaker fumbled with the keys until he found the right one. The opened door revealed darkness.
“This is the corridor that connects the house to the factory,” he said, using the flashlight to lead the way. Camilla nodded. They walked, walked, and walked. They went through another door which swung open, and another door, a stairway downward, and then another door. A chill shot through her.
“We’re here,” the guard cheerily announced. From the floor, he directed the flashlight upwards. The flashlight illuminated.
A face behind glass.
It was the man who stood her up last night for the prayer rally.
She shouldn’t have.
She should have been glad that for the last night of his life, he chose to pray.
Chapter 11: Barbie Smiles
The Barbies were smiling when Ysabel beheaded them and hung them up to bleed. The Christmas lights outside her window were supposed to be twinkling red and green, but the bulbs weren’t working anymore. Her window framed only darkness. That night, she was like a kid again—took a deep breath, flipped the switch of her bedroom lights, broke into a run toward her bed, got caught in her bed’s sheer curtains, fought her way through till the drapes parted, and, panting, dropped on her fluffy pillows. She turned around to lay on her back. The silhouettes of upside down beheaded Barbies were clearly outlined despite the veil of the curtains and the gloom of the night. She thought of her husband, then Camilla, how they were all dead, and how all of the awful Christmases have led to this cold and empty one. She looked up. The Barbies were there, headless, but Ysabel could still feel them smiling. There was something in the air that was different. She felt as though she was without gills inside a large fish tank. She touched her nose to try to understand what was wrong. She began breathing again. She took her hand away from her nose; she started heaving. She clutched her chest, frightened. She scampered out of bed. As she walked farther and farther, she felt that she could breathe freely again. She stopped. Carefully, she inched closer to her bed. She realized what it was. Blood. She always used artificial blood, but this time they smelled different. The blood factory came rushing back. She
could remember them all. The bloody faces. Worse than that, she could smell them all. The bloody faces. Kneeling down, Ysabel took a towel and scrubbed the last flakes of dried blood until the floor glowered at how much it wasn’t bleeding. She took a deep breath. The coughing did not come back. It worked.
Chapter 12: The Mosaic Covered Diary
“What are you writing?” the little girl asked. Camilla was there sitting in Carlos’ living room, looking at a four-year-old mini version of Ysabel. She wanted to talk to Carlos, to tell him what she saw in the factory, to ask him how to get past these sleepless nights, to know whether she was losing her mind, but he was engaged in a phone call. She could see Ysabel through the large open window, busy attacking the weeds in her garden.
“Oh, it’s nothing, Anna Lucia,” Camilla said, closing her diary. It was one of those diaries with a lock. Camilla was old fashioned that way, or, as Carlos interpreted, Camilla lacked trust.
“Why does your notebook have a lock?” Anna Lucia said.
“This is not just an ordinary notebook. This is a diary,” Camilla explained, showing it to Anna Lucia. The kid’s greedy fingers snatched it away.
“What’s a diary?” Anna Lucia asked, meticulously examining the cover’s mosaic of different paintings, running her hands over the embossed words ‘Dear Diary.’
“A diary is a notebook that—”
“See, I was right! It’s a notebook. You lied! You lied!” Anna Lucia said, pointing an accusing finger, her eyes squinted, her nose crinkled, her mouth bent into a frown.
“Wait, you didn’t let me finish,” Camilla said, holding up her hand.
“Okay, explain more! More!” Anna Lucia said, and she returned to examining the diary.
“A diary is not just any ordinary notebook. It is a special kind.”
“Why is it special?” Anna Lucia asked too quickly when Camilla made a slight pause.
Camilla pursed her lips. She tried to stop herself from retorting ‘If you just shut up, I’ll probably get to that.’ She had to take a deep breath, reminding herself that Anna Lucia was a curious kid, and kids were sadly, extremely, overly impatient creatures who have not learned the art of shutting up.
“Well?” Anna Lucia demanded.
“Well, it’s special because it’s where the owner spills all of his or her secrets.”
“Why do you need a lock?”
“So that your secrets will be safe.”
“So you hide your secrets?”
“You hide these secrets from everyone?” Anna Lucia said, shaking the diary and listening to it as though the secrets would be heard if she just tried to jiggle them hard enough.
“Ah…yes…that’s the plan.”
“Is there something bad about your thoughts?”
“When I hide things, I hide things from mommy because I know she will get mad at me if she found out. You’re not just hiding things from your mommy; you’re hiding things from everyone. I might be bad, but I do not hide things from everybody. You’re bad!”
Camilla did not want to explain. She thought she could get away with a classic grown up line.
“When you grow up, Anna Lucia—”
“No, don’t say that. Don’t say I will understand when I grow up. Explain it now! I want to know now!”
“You will not understand.”
“I want! Now! Now! Now!” Anna Lucia said and started to cry. The little girl was becoming hysterical. Camilla tried to comfort her, but she was also reeling from shock. Anna Lucia was on the floor thumping her fists, and Camilla was starting to get nervous.
“Oh my God! What happened?” Ysabel said, rushing in, her gardening gloves and her flowered apron covered in soil.
“I...I...I don’t know...I just...” Camilla said.
“Save it, Camilla. God, you spend one minute with a kid, and she is in a terrible fit,” Ysabel said, taking off her apron and gloves, and picking up Anna Lucia. The kid buried her head in her mother’s arms and sobbed.
“I’m sorry...I...” Camilla said, feeling really awful.
“What’s going on?” Carlos said, rushing out of the kitchen, cordless phone in hand.
“Oh thank God, Carlos. Here,” Ysabel said, giving him Anna Lucia, “Take her to her room and try to calm her. I have to talk to Camilla.”
Camilla gulped. Carlos looked at Camilla with an I-can’t-believe-you look on his face. Camilla’s cheeks burned. Carlos took Anna Lucia, and went out of the living room. This looks bad, Camilla knew it, but it was not her fault, the kid was such a whiny brat.
“I know what you are going to say but—” Camilla said.
“I can’t believe you!”
“Yes, that was it, and you did not want to hear my side, did you?”
Ysabel’s rant could not be stopped.
“What are you doing, trying to bully a little girl?”
“I was not bullying Anna Lucia.”
“Oh please, Camilla, you’re terrible with children.”
“I get along well with Carlos’ nephews and nieces.”
“Don’t talk about Carlos’ family!” Ysabel snapped, her eyes livid. Camilla had struck a chord, the wrong chord.
“Oh yeah. Carlos’ family, what a touchy subject. I wonder why? Oh yeah, it’s because they don’t like you.”
“This is it, isn’t it?”
“This is what?”
“Is this some sort of revenge? Some proof to make me miserable even in my own house?”
“What? Ysabel, listen to yourself.”
“Look, I have put up with you because you are important to Carlos.”
“Excuse me, put up with me? What do you mean by that?”
“But let me make this clear,” Ysabel said, as she braced herself, she was going to say it, to make it finally clear, “Carlos is mine.”
“What?” Camilla said, shocked. She was not trying to get Carlos from Ysabel. Ysabel won already. She won. She was his wife. She had his daughter. Camilla understood that. She wasn’t going to mess with that.
“Yes, Carlos is mine,” Ysabel continued. “You might be shocked by that, but he is mine, and we are going to have a great family, and Anna Lucia will grow up to be a good person, and you will not torture her to become anything less than that. I will not let you! Do you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you, but like your daughter, you never seem to hear me,” Camilla said and stormed out of the room.
The diary was forgotten. It lay on the floor and was eventually kicked under the sofa. It gathered dust, burying all of Camilla’s feelings.
Chapter 13: Wake Up, Wake Up, Make-Up
Dawn just broke and Ysabel wasn’t waking up; she was putting on make-up. A mirror was there to help her see her face, but her eyes were unfocused. Lining her lips, her mouth was soon dripping black. Her mistake was picking up the mascara as opposed to the lip liner. Numb and unable to tell the difference between a mascara’s ticklish brush and the smooth creamy surface of the lip liner, she just kept on lining
her lips black.
Back from her thoughts, she saw what she had done. Remedying the mistake, she washed off the mascara. She picked up the lip liner then dropped it. She remembered now. She had to concentrate on her eyes. Foundation, concealer, eyeliner, eyeliner again, mascara, concealer, eye shadow, concealer, eyeliner, concealer, eyeliner. Her eyes felt so heavy, she was afraid that they might droop under the weight of make-up. She had to make it look natural. She spent hours putting on make-up to make sure that no one will ever suspect that she has anything on.
Anna Lucia was in a classroom and each desk had a computer. A woman was sitting in one of the chairs facing the computer. The woman typed furiously as she glanced at a notebook that lay beside her keyboard.
“Hello? Who are you?” Anna Lucia said, as she inched closer to the woman.
The woman turned around.
“Aunt Camilla!” Anna Lucia said, shocked. “Aren’t you dead? Weren’t you abducted by the Peacemakers?”
“Of course not, Anna Lucia,” Camilla said. “What a silly thing to say. Peacemakers.” She chuckled.
“I’m so happy you’re alive, Auntie,” Anna Lucia said. She ran to Camilla and hugged her. They both started to cry.
“Anna Lucia, stop that!” said a mechanical girly voice that came out of nowhere.
Anna Lucia and Camilla broke apart, but they were still holding hands. Anna Lucia looked around. No one was there. She looked at her aunt, confused. Camilla squeezed her tiny hand and gave her a weak smile.
“Down here, little girl,” the voice said.
Anna Lucia looked down and saw Barbie walking towards them.
“Stay away from her, Anna Lucia,” said Barbie.
“She’s a Peacemaker.”
Anna Lucia looked at her hand. Camilla was holding her tightly, but her aunt was trembling.
“Off with her head! Off with her head!” Barbie screamed.
Anna Lucia didn’t know what to do. Camilla was crying silent tears, holding on to Anna Lucia as though her life depended on it.
“Off with her head! Off with her head!” Barbie’s screams grew louder and louder. Cracks were starting to form around Barbie’s neck. Blood spewed out of the cracks as though Barbie had too much blood.
“Off with her head! Off with her head!” Barbie said, her whole body shaking. The wait was eating her like someone watching a race, eager for the right horse to win.
“Off with her head! Off with her head!” Barbie was growing bigger and bigger with each scream. She really wanted what she really wanted. She really wanted what
she really wanted. She really wanted what she really wanted. She really wanted what she really wanted. She really wanted what she really wanted. She really wanted what
she really wanted. She really wanted what she really wanted. She really wanted what she really wanted. Anna Lucia let go of Camilla’s hand. The little girl heard a tear drop. She heard it splash. Just a tiny tear, but she heard it.
“Off with her head! Off with her head!”
Everything went black and Anna Lucia entered into another dream.
Chapter 14: The Dossier
Two men were in the office. Harsh light. There were no strangers around. They could hear a struggling ferry chugging down the river and crashing through several mini plastic icebergs with wide-eyed red bees smiling from the floating heap.
Carlos was shivering in his pajamas while pouring over papers. To think that just an hour ago he was nursing his insomnia with some balut. He was too lazy to change
out of his pajamas when he decided he wanted a midnight snack, so he walked a few blocks to the subdivision’s gate, walked a bit more until the posh surroundings suddenly turned into gaudy houses and slums made of discarded yero. He reached a sari-sari store and looked for the balut vendor. He was walking back to the subdivision, sprinkling salt into a little crack he made on top of the egg when a
group of men ambushed him and took him inside a white unmarked van. He immediately thought he was taken by the Peacemakers. Revenge was what they wanted. He served the government for many years, so he must pay for his loyal service. He knew that he should have felt proud. He was going to die for the country. Die a hero. He would never cooperate with those insurgents. But all he could think of was death. All he could feel was fear. How can heroes die so valiantly? Were they screaming their lungs out deep inside? Crying hysterically behind a courageous front? Wetting their pants in some secret alternate universe? His thoughts on heroes were cut
short when he saw The White Palace—an ivory mansion gleaming across the polluted river.
Ben was silent when he showed Carlos the papers. Carlos read through them as he shivered He was ever more silent; his pajamas ever more absurd.
“This is a matter of national security,” Ben said. “Top secret. We know it is difficult to digest, but you have to. If you want to serve the country, you know what to do.”
It was a simple command, but a harsh reality. The papers fell from his hands. Pictures—red lips, wide smiles, dark green and blue painted nails. Documents—black and white.
Black and white.
Black and white.
Black and white.
Why was he fooled? Who was this person? How could they look so alike yet be so different?
“I think you understand what we’re asking,” Ben said, giving him a beheaded Barbie. “Again, it’s a matter of national security.”
“Yes, Ben, I know,” Carlos said, taking the headless toy. “I appreciate this promotion. I won’t let you down.”
“Please,” Camilla begged, her eyes were swollen not because she was crying but from sleepless nights. Her visit to the old factory made the Barbies different. They haunted her in her sleep.
“Please,” she screamed. She was hysterical. “Please, you don’t understand. How can you even think that I—”
Carlos didn’t respond. This was the first time he’d get to kill a Peacemaker, and he was ready to prove that he could execute it efficiently. He was busy trying to get to her, swinging madly for her neck. It was a miracle that she could dodge his blows while she kept talking. They were dancing around the room—a determined beast and a whining victim. She was trapped. It was going to happen. Sooner or later.
“Please,” she cried again, “There’s something I want you to know.”
He was determined not to listen to her. He knew what she was. The dossier said so, and now, as he looked at her, he saw the markings.
“Please,” she used the electric fan to shield her. Fled to another corner as though she could fly.
Soon there will be no furniture, no shields. He wasn’t impatient.
“Give me one moment, please. Please listen to me!”
He put down his arms. He stopped. She stopped.
“What I wanted to say was—” she said.
Her head rolled on the floor, and stopped at his feet. Her sunken eyes started to deaden, but her lips fought to quiver.
“I love you,” she said.
He was afraid to look down, but her head rolled over, and he felt her lips pressing on the back of his shoe. He looked down. He was ready to kick the head away, but he saw her beautiful face. Blood flushed into his heart, and he couldn’t breathe. He knelt down. He cupped her face with his hands, closed his eyes, and realized that the only way to breathe was to kiss her cold cold lips.
“There are things that are brought about by fear, and we were no exception. There were two classes left for enlistment. We had different reasons to fear the first: Carlos, you feared the terror teacher who angrily showered his students with chalk and saliva; I feared the awkward moments with my ex-boyfriend which could range from angry spitting of saliva to relapsing into passionate exchanges of saliva. I thought I was safe. I did not know that I was falling into something more dangerous.
“We took our diplomas, posing together as cameras flashed before our smiles, sharing that special moment, our years of friendship glowing with that happy ending. I thought it would be a matter of time before you realized. I waited for you to come around. Years were passing by. I didn’t lose my patience. But I lost you. You met her at a party that you used to think was dumb, that I refused to attend because I knew that it was dumb, that she also thought was dumb, but she attended anyway. If only I made that sacrifice, you would have been too busy talking to me, and you would have never met her.
“There is no such thing as perfect, they say. They were wrong. They have not met Ysabel. Ysabel could stand there, and she would be perfect. Ms. Perfect, Ms. Little Perfect. Can I perfectly smile at you, then perfectly laugh at your joke, so you and I can perfectly stare into each other’s eyes perfectly mesmerized? No wonder you like her. You like her, that thought feels like a thousand bullets. I stopped and cried. I tried to stop crying. I took tissues. I soaked them all. I never thought I had it in me to be and feel this pathetic. I scolded myself. I was not a crybaby, and I will stop, but I did not. I kept crying till I could not scold myself anymore. I had no moral ascendancy to reprimand myself. I was pathetic.
“Months passed and you guys were still together. You told me there was something important you had to say. You hesitated, knowing that it was something big. You said ‘I love…her.’ Why was your last word ‘her’? Why wasn’t it ‘you’? Meaning me? Deep within my hardened core, a lovesick woman was waiting to cry her heart out. I used to laugh at romantic comedies’ let’s-tear-the-airport-apart-so-we-can-be-together scenes, but now the joke was on me.
“I was in the bathroom about to brush my teeth. I knew I had to calm down. I did, but in the middle of brushing, when my mouth was full of white toothpaste froth, I started crying. I cried so hard, I had to take in deep breaths, and so I choked on the froth. I had to spit out the rest of the toothpaste, coughing like someone who almost drowned.
“You married her. To think this should be enough for me to stop hoping. This was like a big red sign screaming, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ but my heart does not see the sign. Maybe I should have been kinder to those I rejected. They are people in love, and they hoped that I would fall in love with them. Sometimes I date them for pity. I wish you could pity me, for a day, for a second. No matter how much you show me that you do not love me, no matter how clear the signs are, some form of unusual kindness, a twinkle in your eye, or a perceived twinkle in your eye because I cannot know for sure that I did not imagine it, one touch of your hand even if it were unintentional, I would be overcome by a delusion that you meant to touch me, and that you want me in your life, that you desired me. It was not your intention to make me hope, but I am in such a predisposition to interpret every silly thing as something that can give me permission to hope. I wanted any excuse to validate my delusions, to live in a moment of happiness, to bask in fantasies of a happy ending.
“For someone who is in love, the worst thing is hope. It is resilient in the face of all doubt. I realized that rejection doesn’t stop the lovesick from hoping; they stop
hoping because they’ve stopped hoping, because they’ve moved on. I couldn’t. I was like a ghost who was cursed to follow, present but unseen, loving but unloved, wanting but unable to touch. Dead. Dead. Dead.
“Every two years or so I would get over you, then fall in love again in a matter of weeks. I would fall again when I think you’re falling, but it always turns out that
you’re not. My friends say that I should stop seeing you. Keeping you as a friend is slow, willful, self-inflicted torture. There have been many times that I wanted to leave
you, to fade from your life, but I am here. I want you to know that I will always be here, and I will always be waiting.
“Why am I so sure about you? Lots of women are unsure about the ones that they love. Why wasn’t I given the gift of uncertainty? There is only one way to cope. It was simple. I just need to, every now and then, to retreat and recuperate from being friends with you, because even if I know you don’t love me, I just can’t learn.”
He closed the notebook with the mosaic cover. The secrets slipped from Carlos’ hands, and the Barbies around him turned dark.
Chapter 15: The Bloody Questions
“Who are these people, Ben?” Ysabel said.
“Where is Carlos?” Ben said, surveying the house as though he thought that Carlos might slip away into the night. He also looked underneath the sofa to see if there were more treasures he could find, but there was nothing there except some empty jars of artificial blood. Maybe he should ask Anna Lucia. That five-year-old discovers everything. Four guys with assault riffles accompanied Ben. Their dumb faces gaped at Ysabel’s expensive furniture. Some of them were trying to think of ways to steal the porcelain figurines displayed on the table.
“Why are you here, Ben?” Ysabel asked.
“Where is he, Ysabel?”
“He jogs at night.”
“It’s midnight. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I know it’s midnight. He does not have a schedule for these things. He goes whenever he feels like it. There is no stopping him. There is no sense involved, just a feeling, a desire to be alone and to run.”
“Are you sure he is not bringing flowers to a grave that you don’t want to see?”
“You know what I mean. She is buried in the village cemetery, and it’s fairly near from your house.”
“Why would he hide that from me? Why wouldn’t he tell me? It is not as if he can cheat with a dead woman.”
“Just keep your eyes open, Ysabel. That’s all I’m saying.”
“I told you where he is. Now answer my question. Why are you here?”
“There is no easy way to say this, Ysabel, but we are relocating Carlos.”
Ysabel clutched her chest, her heart tightened. There was only one place to relocate people.
“We need to crush the insurgents. We need more competent people. We must have Carlos.”
“Why Carlos? Can’t you send somebody else?”
“We need the best. We need Carlos.”
“Why can’t you be the one to go?”
“I can’t. I am needed here.”
“Don’t tell me you can’t. You can’t because you don’t want to. Everybody knows that people who are sent there die. It’s a dangerous place. How can you do this to me, Ben? How can you do this to Carlos?”
“Carlos is part of the military. He knows what he signed up for. He is aware of the consequences. The consequences are knocking on his door.”
They looked at each other. She felt helpless.
“I am sorry, Ysabel. If there was a way to avoid this, I would have done it.”
Ysabel looked at Ben. Was he being honest? He looked at her. His face was calm and stoic. Ben never had feelings to express. A blank expression was what he
needed for his job. Ysabel shivered. She did not know what exactly Ben’s job was. He was in the government’s intelligence department, and he was tasked to find and capture the Peacemakers. How exactly he did this was something Ysabel did not know, but she had a feeling she did not want to.
“Why do you have to come here in the middle of the night?” Ysabel said.
“The task is very important. As soon as the military advisers devised a plan, and determined which individual needed to fill which post, we execute it. We cannot
wait. Maybe we should start looking for him. Men,” Ben said, “Circle the area. Find him. Tell him what we want. Bring him here, and let’s go.”
As fast as their brains were lethargically slow, the men moved out.
“How long will he be there?” Ysabel said as she went to kitchen.
“I can’t say. It all depends on the military advisers. Creating plans is not my job.”
“Don’t you question the plans?” Ysabel said, absentmindedly as she returned to the living room with tea and cookies.
“What?” Ben roared.
Crash. Everything Ysabel was carrying hit the floor.
“What did you say?” Ben said, edging closer to his sister, his aura ever more sinister, the skin on his face moved and curved to convey his anger, but the eyes under his sunglasses were hidden from view. They could have stayed lifeless, as though he was talking about the weather, and Ysabel would never know. Ysabel flew to the kitchen to get a towel.
“Come back here, Ysabel,” Ben said, following her.
“I’m going to clean up,” Ysabel said, avoiding his gaze. “What’s the big deal anyway? It was just a question.”
“It was a dangerous question, Ysabel. You know, I have told you many times that you have to get rid of this habit.”
“You see, Ben,” Ysabel said, locating the rag and walking back to the living room, “Unlike you, I don’t have this knack of knowing which question is dangerous.”
“Stop asking questions all together. Just stop.”
Ysabel was on the floor, rag in hand, trying to soak up all the tea.
“You do not know what can happen to you. We live in dangerous times, Ysabel. We should know because we grew up in a family that dealt with the government all the time. We grew up knowing reality, but you chose to be blinded from it. You chose to preserve a facade of innocence.”
“It is better to be innocent than to be covered in blood.”
“You’re already covered in blood,” Ben said, noticing that one of the shards cut through Ysabel’s delicate hand.
This was the last thing Ysabel remembered about that night. That night they took Carlos away. Everything after that was a blur. She just knew the feeling, the pain, the anxiety, the questions. Which one of them were dangerous?
Chapter 16: The Concealers
For the past week, Ysabel was able to scold Anna Lucia six times for bringing her new Beheadable Barbie inside the master’s bedroom. She hoped her daughter
learned her lesson. She couldn’t blame Anna Lucia for not knowing. She remembered the government’s slogan, The innocent are the best traitors. She shook her head. She shouldn’t think about her daughter because she had more pressing concerns to attend
to. When she was looking for her hairbrush, she saw her face in the mirror and realized that she needed a retouch. She rummaged through her cabinet, panicking and heart racing. They were all gone. She forgot to buy more. How could she be so stupid? There must be something here somewhere, Ysabel thought to herself as she opened every cabinet. She can’t let Ben know. She knows how it is when he gets angry. A chill ran through her spine, and to think there was a time her brother didn’t scare her.
It was recess. At least there’s still time, Ben thought. He made up some excuse, and Big Boy bought it. Ben was allowed to skip the preparations, but he was told that he had to be back to witness the event. Ben, his heart racing, combed the school grounds searching for his sister. Finally, beside a broken swing in the school’s playground, he saw Ysabel comforting a girl with frizzy hair.
“Don’t worry, Liz, those guys are a bunch of idiots,” Ysabel said.
“Ysabel, let’s talk. Now.” Ben said, announcing his presence.
“Okay, what is it?”
“Scram, frizzy!” Ben said.
The girl let out a frightened squeak and scampered away.
“Hey, come back! My brother won’t hurt you,” Ysabel called out.
“Oh yes I would.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“You can’t be friends with Ms. Frizzy anymore. Big Boy is out to get her. You better step out of the way.”
“If someone’s out to get my friend. I’ll stand by her.”
“Don’t be an idiot. Listen to me. I’m older than you. I know better. Do you want to get into trouble?”
“Then that’s settled. Stay away from that girl.”
Time flew past, and the lunch bell rang.
“What are you going to do to her?”
Ysabel and Liz were at the brink of a pool of black mud and green water. Ysabel had followed Big Boy when she saw him going towards the back of the school grounds. Now she was standing in front of Liz, hands outstretched to protect her friend.
“Get out of the way, Ysabel,” Ben said, emerging from the crowd.
“They can’t do this to her. She didn’t bring extra clothes, even for gym class”
“Get out of the way. Now.”
“I can’t. She’s my friend.”
“Maybe you should do the honors, Ben,” Big Boy said, scratching his belly absentmindedly, the little patch of skin that was revealed was a congealed yellow.
Ben’s cheeks froze. Then he made a small, swift, mechanical nod.
“What? You’re going to follow him? Ben, don’t do this, I’m your sister.”
“If you didn’t do it my way,” Ben said, “you don’t have the right to make me feel bad.”
Ysabel turned around. The door to her bedroom’s toilet creaked open and a muffled sound whispered through the night Peacemaker—terminated. She approached the door. Opened it and she saw. Saw a pool of blood in the bathtub, saw her daughter
innocently playing with Barbie, saw her eyes in the bathroom mirror, and saw Anna Lucia’s mouth fly open as her daughter said, “Mama, what happened to your eyes? There are black puffy circles around them!”
Barbie’s eyes flashed a deep shade of crimson. They heard, Ysabel knew, they heard.
“What’s going on, mommy? Why are you so pale?” Anna Lucia hung her head, confused, but not in the least frightened.
“We have to leave. Go to your room. Pack your bags. And don’t you dare bring that Barbie.”
Chapter 17: Bloody Carlos
“I’m six years old, daddy,” Anna Lucia said to her father, “How old are you?”
“Oh that’s a very big secret,” Carlos said with a playful smile, as he was lying in a hospital bed. Ysabel just left the room to buy some food, and he could now spend some quality time with his daughter.
“Why can’t I know?”
“Because...” Carlos tried to think of a reason that would not upset her, “If you do, things will be boring. Do you want that?”
“Then, I’ll do you a favor and not answer your question.”
“Thanks, daddy,” Anna Lucia said, beaming, really happy.
“Daddy, I want to have a Beheadable Barbie. Can I have one even if I’m not yet eight?”
“No, and I don’t think you should have one at all.”
“Why? Why can’t I?”
“Don’t argue with me, Anna Lucia. I’m pretty tired.”
Anna Lucia made a face, but her dad looked so exhausted, so she decided to not pick a fight.
“Did you see them, daddy? The Peacemakers?”
Carlos’ eyes were unfocused. He was staring at the ceiling. He looked like he didn’t know what to say. Carlos opened his mouth, but no sound came out, only a tongue that had given up to silence.
“Daddy, did you see the them? Did you see the Peacemakers? Daddy, please answer me, please.”
His love for his daughter brought him back. He was there. He was there with her.
“I never saw them. I thought I’d finally see them. I thought maybe I’d find Camilla’s mother, or if they’ve already killed her, maybe take revenge. Maybe Camilla was there held hostage, maybe she’s not the one that I...I had to...Ben told
me...I had to...It was a Peacemaker not her.”
“What are you saying, daddy?”
“I’m saying our car exploded even before we reached our destination.”
“Oh no! Daddy you got hurt!"
“Yes I did, but someone saved me.”
“Uncle Ben saved you, daddy?”
“Ben,” Carlos chuckled, “No. A farmer saved me. He called for help. Another military car came by. The general kept insisting I was dead. I couldn’t argue against him. I was weak, but I was breathing. The crowd was closing in. The general couldn’t make them leave. It had to be here, away from prying eyes, that he decided to finish the job.”
“The general tried to hurt you, daddy? Why did he try to hurt you?”
Because he was Ben, Carlos thought silently, because he was Ben.
“Daddy, where are you going? Mommy says I might never see you again.”
“I am going to a very nice place,” Carlos said, smiling at his daughter, and then he added ‘I hope’ in his mind.
“Can I go with you?”
“Eventually you and your mother will, but I have to go first.”
“Why can’t we all go together?”
“It’s not as fun if we all go together. Sometimes we need to miss each other, so that when we see each other again, it will be wonderful.”
“But it is already wonderful with you here. I miss you every time I go to school.”
“Do you remember what it feels like whenever you see me after school?”
“Yes, I feel very happy, daddy.”
“Imagine that feeling, but multiply it a hundred times. That’s what it will feel like when we see each other again. Won’t that be great?”
“I don’t know, daddy.”
“It will,” Carlos said, holding his daughter’s hand and squeezing it tight, “Trust me.”
“I love you, daddy.”
“I love you too, little Annie,” Carlos closed his eyes. His hand loosened its grip, and a long beeping sound filled the room. Carlos was still smiling. He was in a really nice place.
Goodbye, he said, goodbye to you. He was looking through a glass window and inside he could see the dead bodies of the morgue. He smiled goodbye.
“Ben,” said a voice behind him, “A successful disposal task, I trust?”
“Yes. That’s right,” Ben said, turning around, he saw an old man in an army suit.
“Why, I haven’t seen you this satisfied. A personal favorite? Was it? Care to share?”
“This man tortured my sister for such a long time. He loved another, but my sister couldn’t see it. I wanted to get rid of him. I wanted him to stop hurting my sister, but he was on our side, and I couldn’t do anything. I never thought he would develop the trenches, and that was my chance. Still, I had to go through a lot of trouble just so my sister won’t suspect that I let him die. Those trenches really do come out when you need to get rid of someone who deserves it. Like that girl with the lovely nails.”
“Yes, the trenches are always right.”
“Well, I have to attend to the body. It ain’t right if it’s not done properly.”
“But he is already dead, son. What else can you do?”
“He is dead, but he can’t keep his crown. He must be dethroned, if you know what I mean. Then, maybe I’ll also do a couple more.”
“Ok, I guess protocol needs to be served.”
Ben went inside the morgue. In an hour, heads of dead bodies were rolling on the floor. Ben smiled his widest smile. This was the right thing to do.
Chapter 18: Peacemaker Blood Smells Bad
Her mom was driving. Cars with horns that went Let there be peace on AAAHHHHH!!! started to lessen. Anna Lucia was bored to death. She didn’t know why they were there. The only thing that cheered her up was the thought that she was able to bring her Barbie despite her mother’s prohibitions. She wanted Barbie to come, and she wouldn’t let her mother stop her. She knew her mother would check her backpack, so she didn’t hide Barbie there. When her mother went to the kitchen, Anna Lucia decided to tape Barbie underneath the car.
Their car stopped in front of a house with a wall of big rocks and coconut trees. At the gate, an old lady greeted them and ushered them into a room.
“If you want to shine the floor, just use the floor wax and the coconut husk, and the floor will shine like crystal,” said the woman. “If you need to wash the dishes,
use this leaf.”
Ysabel remembered how she and her best friend Liz used to visit this place. Ysabel would tell her parents that she was in a grand hotel in Boracay, but in truth, she was running through the mud, playing in the rain, and singing about coconuts.
“Mommy, why are we here?” Anna Lucia asked as they unpacked their bags, “Where are we anyway? What are you doing?”
“Keep quiet!” Ysabel hissed as she surveyed the room, looking for hidden toys. Luckily there were none.
What was good about this place was that the Manila government’s influence never fully reached it. A perfect refuge for insurgents, Ysabel shuddered at the thought. It’s not that she did anything wrong. Ben told her not to, but she kept thinking about her husband’s death, and when she did, everything turned into a nightmare. The Barbies that hung, upside down, beheaded, dripping with blood,
did not make her feel safe anymore. Even without heads she could feel the bloody dolls staring at her.
“Okay, we’re safe. What were you saying?” Ysabel asked her daughter.
“Where are we mommy?”
Ysabel motioned for her daughter to come nearer. She whispered the answer into Anna Lucia’s ear. Little did Ysabel know that later that night, Anna Lucia took her Barbie from underneath the car, and then she played pretend, talking to her beloved Barbie, excitedly telling her inanimate playmate about the new adventures that her mom planned.
Three days later, Ben barged into their room. He even brought his friends with him, friends who also had guns, but he ordered them to stay outside.
“Be…Ben…How…did…you know?” Ysabel trembled, her face ashen white.
“Uncle Ben!” Anna Lucia said, as she ran to him and hugged him. Ben embraced his niece but only for a while.
“We heard Anna Lucia tell her Barbie about the great vacation you guys were planning, and I just couldn’t resist to visit you before you go.”
“You brought your Barbie? I told you not to bring it!” Ysabel screamed, her face red.
“Why do you hate Barbie so much?” Anna Lucia said, her forehead wrinkling in deep confusion, angry tears spilled from her innocent eyes.
“Now, now, Ysabel, don’t scold the little girl for playing. There, there, don’t feel upset, Anna Lucia,” Ben said, patting his niece on the back. “My dear child, let me talk to your mommy, so she won’t be so angry about this, okay? I’ll sort this out.”
“Okay, Uncle Ben” Anna Lucia said, then she went to Ysabel, “Please don’t be mad at me, mommy. Barbie won’t hurt you. Barbie loves you.”
Ysabel tried to fight back tears.
“Yes, yes, I know,” she said. She kissed her daughter’s forehead and hugged her so tight.
When they parted, Anna Lucia ran up to her room, closed the door, and started playing with her Barbie.
“I guess you’re here to take me away.”
“What were you thinking, Ysabel? Carelessly going to the Pink Lipsticks for concealers, attracting the suspicions of the man in the pink pinstripe suit—making my life so hard, and I thought I could, like always, to protect you. I never complained when I knew I had to destroy all the receipts and destroy more than that. But you just had to slip up again, and they heard! They heard! They heard Anna Lucia. I always knew there’d come a day when they will, but some foolish hope kept me deluded. They won’t hear as long as I tried to keep you right, but you weren’t trying to keep
yourself right. You just kept thinking, and thinking, and thinking, when I told you, I told you, you shouldn’t! What was it going to take to make you obey the rules? I was running out of ideas. You just kept on being reckless. As reckless as your husband.”
“Don’t you dare talk about my husband! If you cared, if you really cared, you could have saved him. You— let—him—die,” Ysabel said, her eyes filling with tears.
“We didn’t kill your husband,” Ben said, suddenly mechanical. “He died of blood loss. It wasn’t our fault.”
“Wasn’t your fault? Don’t give me that crap. I know what’s real. I pretend that I didn’t see it, but I do. I know everything. I tried to stop. I tried to stop for Anna Lucia because I knew it was dangerous.”
“Carlos was one of them, Ysabel!”
“One of what?”
“He was a Peacemaker!”
“How do you know? How do you know which one’s a Peacemaker? How do you know which one to kill?”
“He developed Peacemaker symptoms, trenches around his eyes. The man we eliminated wasn’t your husband. The man we eliminated was a Peacemaker.”
“He had trenches around his eyes? He was a Peacemaker? Look at my eyes,” she said, as she wiped off her make-up. “Am I not your sister? Ben, am I not your sister? Let me see your eyes, and I hope you’re not hiding something there,” Ysabel said, trying to take off Ben’s sunglasses.
“You can’t do that,” Ben said, catching her hand in midair.
“Why are you not allowed to show their eyes? Are you more disturbed than the Peacemakers are? More disturbed because you know more, see more, yet you choose to stay silent about whatever you have witnessed, whatever you have discovered. Or do your eyes not see anything under those shades? Does the Eternal President mandate you to not see anything at all?”
Ben looked at her. There was nothing to say.
“All you do is demonize,” Ysabel screamed, “Demonize wakefulness, creating mythical creatures, so that you can kill, kill, kill, and help other people kill.”
“Stop shouting,” he said, calmly, with indifference. “Anna Lucia might hear you.”
Anna Lucia did not hear. She was in her room busy playing with her Barbie.
“There are things we cannot change, Ysabel,” Ben sneered. “You should have followed my lead. I’m not doing this to you. You did this to yourself. You didn’t follow the rules. Now I have to make you pay for it.”
“I’m your sister! I’m your sister!”
“I know that.”
“Let me go, Ben. Let me go.”
“How can you even ask that?” Ben said, his own hands shaking. “How can you even make me feel guilty when you’re the one who didn’t follow the rules? You should have followed me. You should have followed the rules. You did this to yourself, not me. You’re the one who went against the system. I’m going to give you time to say goodbye, Ysabel. Say goodbye to your daughter.”
Ysabel went towards Ben until she was inches away from his face. Ben’s shades caught light. She could see withered skin, like a Martian road, tunneling and rising, a wall around his eyes—empty, dark, dark.
“I have a surprise for you,” Ben said. He returned the next day, bringing a container filled with blood. “That’s Peacemaker blood. I heard you always wanted some.”
Anna Lucia gladly took it. She rummaged through her bag to look for her Barbie.
“Would you like to have more Barbies and more blood?” Ben said.
“Yes, Uncle Ben,” Anna Lucia said, “But mommy doesn’t want me to have more blood.”
“If you lived with Uncle Ben, I’ll let you have all the blood that you want.”
“Really?” Anna Lucia said, her eyes lighting up, “But…how about mommy?”
“I sent your mommy to your daddy, so she’ll be happy.”
“You know how to get to daddy? Mommy said we couldn’t see him anymore, but you saw him! Can I go see him?”
“You can’t see him until you’re older. So what do you say? I’ll never buy you cheap blood.”
“But…I’ll miss mommy.”
“Your mommy will be happier if she’s with your daddy, and you’ll be happier if you have more blood. Do you want to go and see your new room? Come on, it will just be a peek. If you don’t like it, I’ll bring you to your mommy right away.”
“I’ll only look at my room, okay? To see if it’s nice. If I don’t like it, you’ll send me to mommy?”
“Yes, Anna Lucia. I will.”
“Can I play with Barbie first before I look at the room?” Anna Lucia said. “I want to try the new blood.”
“Okay. I guess we can stay. I’ll just watch some TV. You can call me when you’re done.”
Anna Lucia ran to her room. She sat on the floor, unscrewed Barbie’s head, and opened the blood container. Anna Lucia poured the blood cautiously into Barbie’s neck, careful not to spill, but it was impossible. Soon the floor was covered
in blood. She looked at the pool of blood and she saw her reflection, but something was different. Suddenly, she smelled the stench of blood—the smell of rope burning into skin and the metallic sheen of death severing one into silence. She looked closer until she could almost kiss the pool of blood. Then she saw it. She saw it in the red reflection. It was her mother staring disapprovingly at the mess she made.