Kapre: A Love Story

kapre and girlThis is the tale of Kapre, who lived in ancient trees tangled in shadow. Massive, stubbed fingers the color of faded coffee, scrabbling at tree trunk and bark for sustenance. Irises the color of twin moons, mouth the redness of withered santan. He shinnied up mountains in the heat of day, made nests of dried bones and rain at night. He could see himself in the twisted gnarl of branches, found comfort in the rigidness of bamboo. Nestled in the thickness of wood, Kapre could pretend friendship with plants and soil. Birds found homes within the snarls of his beard. Bees sought honey in the yellows of his eyes.

From his perch he could see Aswang fly past, skirts billowed out behind as her wings extend, grasping at wayward breezes. Her dress would lift up to ride the winds, high enough that Kapre could see the hollows of her breasts, the grey ripples of her waist that tapered into stumps where hips and legs ought to be. Aswang’s mouth opened and closed, bloodied tongue flickering out to sample the lightness of air, savoring the freshest scent of newborn child or pregnant woman.

From his perch he could see Tikbalang down below, pawing at ground. The sound of hooves striking rock, of hands that constantly grasped and clenched at nothing, of the sharpness of teeth. The horse-man stood upright, preyed on unwary travelers and the lack of pavements. Kapre, Aswang, and Tikbalang shared body space in the forests of San Lorenzo, because choice was not a commodity.

Ironic, that the pickings grew slimmer with the explosion of humanity. Villages burst in size and mind. Fewer children were considerate enough to wander out alone; generations of warnings and superstitions passed down, whipped into their bloodstream. Strong men foraged together with heavy axes and stout cudgels, and even monsters learned to fear the beat of heavy footsteps, the flickers of torchfire. Centuries of living made them soft.

Kapre endured. There was a sweetness to berries and mushrooms that human flesh did not have. Aswang laughed at him, and Tikbalang mocked his sustenance, but nourishment was nourishment whether it grew on ground or came with blood and entrails. Aswang and Tikbalang retreated into the observance of convention and tradition, catching unlucky humans during luckier months. Kapre remained on treetrops, crunching nuts and small lizards by the light of the moon.

 

***

It was light that beckoned to him; a lone house growing out of thicket, a candle burning within. Curious, emboldened by hunger, Kapre crept closer. He was no longer familiar with the contours and shapes of houses, but the memories crept up on him, like morning coming into focus. The stout timber of walls, the dry thatch of ceilings, the rounded smoothness of glass under trembling fingers.

The window was open, the room empty. He feared candlelight, fire’s adopted child, but need drove him on. Something small at the very corner of that heated space wriggled and trembled, heavy with the smell of cotton and milk. Kapre approached the squirming bundle, expecting food and temporary appeasement.

Unlike other humans the baby showed no fear. From under the thick bed covers of abaca and cloth she peered up at him, brown eyes shining in the dim yellow glow. She neither cried nor laughed, but instead regarded him solemnly from where she lay. Aware of her own helplessness, of the strangeness of his face, yet making no sound but that of quiet scrutiny.

She was an easy meal. No horrors of fire burns, or flashing hatchets. He unfurled fingernails, moved in to feast.

The baby smiled back up at him, and Kapre hesitated.

She reached up only once. A tiny hand was no defense against claws that weathered through millenia of constant rending and tearing. The unformed fingers clasped around one of his, a contrast of nut brown on black.

Kapre looked down at the fragile, unprotected child, saw in one glance everything she was, and everything she could become. Her beauty seemed to flower and peak and fade all at once, and Kapre saw a young girl, a beautiful lady, an old woman, all juxtaposed into that tiny, heart-shaped face. Knew her future, knew what would become of her past. Knew that she would die one day.

Inside his chest something seemed to stir; a touch of gangrene on unused lung perhaps, or the decomposition of spleen.

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