They were back. At first, I was going to drive straight past the house, hoping that they didn’t notice the blue pick-up truck. But then, I saw what they were doing. The cow hanging, suspended, from the wooden arbor in a sling, it’s feet cut off, still mooing. The little girls grouped together in the yard. I couldn’t see my mother or father, but I knew they were in the house somewhere, with the rest of the family.
So I stopped the car, which I had used to buy supplies in town, and got out, careful not to slam the door. Silently—at least I hoped—I dropped to the ground, on my belly, right there on the asphalt road above the driveway. Underneath the body of the truck, I peered, trying to get a better sense of what was going on.
The first time the strange guests had come to the house, they sat at our kitchen table, and gazed at my mother. “Make us tsangari,” they demanded, their bodies slumped in the chairs. Casually.
And she did it, not because she had to, but because she knew that they were unreasonable. There were rumors of other women in other families that had refused them. They had been raped and sliced open. The strange guests had taken their intestines to their camps outside, where their own women waited, and cooked them on the fires. These were not men that respected the lives of women.
My mother was an educated woman, a professional. The night before the invasion, she was about to close a big deal. I worked with her, writing proposals, until first light. I was becoming an adult. Working together, my mother and I had found some of the affection for each other that had been lost in recent years. We had planned, as a celebration, to go to the beach that morning. Then the strange guests arrived, on foot, and our lives as we knew them were no more.
She had never been much of a cook, my mother, but she went in the kitchen, her hands shaking. In small movements, she tried to hide the fact that she had taken out a recipe book, and was using it. I wanted to go help her, but I knew that this was a test. If she passed it, they would eat. But any small provocation would give the strange guests a gleeful excuse to punish us. They put aside their humanity very easily.
The strange guests complained about how long my mother took to make the dishes. That she hadn’t cooked the phyllo dough to their liking. How she didn’t get the spices right. But they ate her meal, and then, around 11pm, left to go back to their camp.
This was during the days when we still lived in the big house alone. After that first incident, other members of our family started to join us. First my grandmother. Then, my sister, back from the city, where things weren’t so bad yet, but would inevitably get worse. Then some of my father’s sisters, with all of their children. Finally, those of my parents’ friends who had made it, some of whom were close enough to be family. At last counting, there was close to 70 of us. Eating together. Breeding. Growing things. Tending to animals. Through it all, my mother and I kept on working.
We spilled out into the many rooms of the medium-sized mansion. Into the carriage house, which was once a barn in the olden days, and was a barn again now. Onto the perfectly arranged rock waterfall in the courtyard behind the kitchen, which lent itself to bathing. Across the many, many rooms, which when the mansion was built, seemed modest for the town where it was located, but in times of desperation, could comfortably sleep entire families. At one time, the collective wealth of my parents had been enough to keep all of this cavernous space empty. With the strange guests roaming around, and life stripped to its basic elements, the thought of it seemed kind of silly.
I kept my own room on the very top floor, at the end of the hallway. I don’t know why. The darkness terrified me. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I crawled, in the darkness, to my closet. There, I curled, clutching on the string that closed the door from the inside, listening for steps on the creaky wooden floors.
Although the strange guests had never entered our home without permission—yet—in my mind, it was only a matter of time before they slaughtered us all while we lay sleeping.
The strange guests bragged, to our men, that they strictly followed their own set of manners regarding hospitality. One of which was that they didn’t enter without being asked. One of which is that they killed women who couldn’t cook for them, and ate their intestines.
Which is why, when I saw the cow hanging from its sling, feebly making noises of distress, and the young girls grouped together in the yard, I thought the absolute worst. They are going to eat them, I thought to myself. Because what other purpose could they serve, these tender young things?
I accepted that it was the end. If not of time, then at least of my family. My first thought was to save myself. To run into the house, and grab my computer, my life’s work, from its hiding spot underneath the upholstered chair right near the front door. To try, if I could, to sneak out my mother. To get in the blue pick-up truck, and drive as far as I could. Maybe the strange guests weren’t everywhere. Maybe they were only here. Maybe there was still pockets of order.
But the fear rising in my stomach kept me rooted to my hiding place. I watched as one of my smaller cousins, cherubic and blonde, maybe one day gorgeous, stood up obediently at the urging of a sickeningly thin strange guest. He pushed her forward, and I swear, she toddled, on her tiny legs, even though she was already 6-years-old.
A puppy they were using as some kind of bait appeared, from around the ridge of bushes. It obscured my view of the yard behind the house, where I imagined they were cooking the girls.
He jumped up on her leg, and licked her hand. In their innocence, the puppy and my cousin frolicked. From behind the ridge, one of the strange guests whistled. The dog ran in his direction, and my cousin, dressed up in a pink dress for the occasion, followed.
My breath caught in my chest. Without thinking, I jumped up, and ran after them. “No!” I screamed. But I was too late. As if in a dream, the girl rounded the corner. There, a group of strange guests sat on the hill behind the ersatz rock waterfall. The puppy ran up to one. My cousin, stumbling, followed.
“No!” I screamed again.
The strange guest held out his hand. The tiny girl grabbed it, lethargically. They must have drugged the children, or else my cousin wouldn’t have been so docile. To ease their resistance to the eventuality of their own deaths. Perhaps—and who really knew?—by torture.
The strange guest led her down the hill, towards a clearing in the woods behind the house. There, a circle of males stood. Around the circle sat their women, wordless, their tongues missing from their heads.
Into the center of the circle, my cousin was led. There, a wreath of flowers was placed around her head. The circle of men chanted a few words. When they fell silent, the strange guest leaned down, and kissed my cousin, six-years-old, square on the mouth.
“No!” I screamed again. Only this time, the strange guests heard me.
They saw me, standing out in the open, on the driveway. Disobeying some unspoken rule of hospitality. Within seconds, the strange guests closed in.
This is basically just a recount of the nightmare I had last night. Are you afraid of me now? I’m sorry.