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Creatures Who Smile
It was the eyes that attracted her to the boy, yes, the eyes. The eyes held the mysteries of the ancients. She and her husband have been searching for such a thing for a long time with no success. So it was here all this while. She looked at her husband and he looked back at her, there was understanding. It was sort of telepathic understanding. The one people couldn’t see but it existed in their minds – it was transcendental. This bond between them was born on the day they first celebrated ‘the passing of souls’ together. She beckoned on the fat woman standing at one end of the room. The woman walked faster than her legs could carry her. She whispered something to the fat woman and pointed to the boy. The smile on the fat woman’s face vanished as she laid her eyes on the boy. The fat woman tried to convince her to change her mind, but she won’t have any of it. She wanted the boy and that was the end of the matter. The fat woman turned and commanded the children to go back to their rooms and asked the boy to stay behind. There was a short gasp of surprise from some of the children when they realized the couple were interested in the boy and not them – well-mannered and cultured children they were.
Nobody seem to like him but the boy didn’t care. He was smarter than all of them. If not for that damn fire he wouldn’t be here. The couple was still looking at him as if he was a fine piece of china they were about to purchase. They seemed like regular folk that came to the orphanage from time to time to adopt children. None of the other couples that had visited the orphanage had ever considered adopting him. Who would? He was a weirdo. At least that is what the other kids called him. The name now struck him as he thought more about it, ‘weirdo hairdo’ they called out to him at every given opportunity they had. Is it wrong to keep one’s hair the way he did?
“People will always hate what they don’t understand.” A voice said. He looked up at the man, he was the person that just spoke. “Isn’t that right?” he added. The boy nodded. He didn’t feel like talking to these strangers. But he felt they understood his pain. He didn’t know how, but he felt it.
“What is your name?” The woman asked.
“James.” He replied.
“The other name is not important. If you adopt me, it will be gone. So no need of talking about what is not important.” The boy replied in a nonchalant tone. He didn’t have time for all these formal questions that were probably on the paper in front of them. They let silence reign for a couple of minutes.
The man picked up the paper and read it for a few minutes.
“It says here your family died in a fire accident. Did you watch them die?” The question was harmless on the surface and did not imply anything, but to the boy it churned in his heart. An avalanche of tragic memories flooded his brain. He was back home, he could still hear the screams, the dreadful cry from his younger sister as it split the hot air around her. He looked down at the scar on his hands, a sad reminder of that night. The tears were about to unleash themselves but he held them at bay by biting his lips. The pain from it brought him back to his senses.
The man was watching him diligently. The boy handled himself well. He was lost and with the right guidance he will find his way. The man vowed in his heart that he and his wife will help the boy discover his true potential.
Outside the small room the couple announced to the fat woman that they will adopt the boy. With a deep frown on her face she brought the adoption papers and that was how James came to have a new family.
She showed him to his room and advised him to rest. “I will give you a tour of the house later.” She said as she closed the door behind her. James went straight to the mattress and jumped on it. The mattress was better than the one he was conditioned to sleep on at the orphanage. He lay there face up, looking at the ceiling. They were strange markings on it. He had seen such markings before, but his mind was too tired to summon such a memory. “Better to think of other things” he said to himself. His new surname surfaced to his mind. He tried pronouncing it, “Aguta.” “James Aguta. The name isn’t that bad.” he pondered on the name - what it meant - why the family chose it as a name for themselves. James thought of the orphanage, he will not miss that place, he didn’t have any friends there - he didn’t have friends anywhere.
A few hours later he heard Mrs. Aguta call his name. At first he didn’t answer her calls, but thought better of it and went downstairs to meet her. She smiled as she watched him climb down the stairs. She put her hand round his shoulder and said “I hope you slept well?” He nodded and forced a smile to his face. “Food is ready, come to the table, let us have our first meal as a family.” Mr. Aguta said from the dining table. James joined him there and they ate in silence. He was starting to like his new family, they knew when to talk and when to keep their mouths closed.
He enjoyed the food. He hadn’t not eaten such a delicious food ever since his family’s demise. He complimented Mrs. Aguta on the delicious food and thanked the family once again for bringing him to their home. As he got up to leave, a question suddenly popped in his head.
“What is the meaning of your name, Aguta?” He asked. Letting curiosity get the better of him. The couple quickly exchanged glances. Mr. Aguta cleared his throat and said, “Gatherer of the dead.” James looked at him, patiently waiting for the moment he will laugh and say he was joking, then tell him the real meaning. No laughter came. “Weird name.” James said and walked upstairs to his room. Mr. Aguta turns to his wife and says, “We finally got the right one.”
“Yes, we got the right one.” She concurs. As the weeks rolled into months, James started going to a public school, but he still didn’t make any friends. He was a lonely eleven year old boy. Even the weirdest group at school avoided him. He was very tall for his age, so no bully dared look his way. He and Mr. Aguta now talked more, especially during dinners. Mr. Aguta told him about the Inuit Culture. His eyes lit up and his smile grew wilder each time he talked about the ancient traditions. His body was in this century but his mind and soul belonged to his ancestors. He was angry that the tradition was slowly dying off and only a few people knew about the old ways.
James thought of what life must have been in the ancient Inuit tribes. The tribal wars Mr. Aguta told him about was something he would have loved to be part of. James still couldn’t believe that life was that interesting in the Barrow. Barrow was at the edge of the world and people rarely came to these parts. Who in their right senses will come and live in Alaska, in Barrow? The weather was treacherous and could penetrate the barriers of clothes and bite the skin. James has lived in Barrow all his life, and he is still not used to the cold. He hated living in this city, and as soon as the opportunity presented itself, he will leave, never to return. There was so much out there for him to see.
The town experienced a beehive of activities during the annual Kivgiq – the Messenger Feast. Though the festival had lost its importance, you could still find free booze and have fun. The festival also attracted people from other places. “Barrow would come alive again” Mrs. Aguta said one day during dinner. Her husband and James nodded in agreement. This was something everybody agreed on. In the days leading to the festival, the couple frequented the basement a lot. They took some boxes out and replaced them with other boxes. James watched from a distance. He really didn’t care about what they were up to, and he didn’t bother asking.
One cold winter night, on the eve of the Kivgiq, James felt hands on his shoulders. The hands shook him softly in the bid to wake him from sleep. He opened his eyes and saw Mrs. Aguta standing over him with a wolfish smile on her face. “Follow me.” She commanded. James was used to such commands, so he followed her without objection. She walked down the stairs leading to the basement. James wondered what they were doing here at this time of the night. Mr. Aguta usually took him to places during the night to teach him the ways of the ancient tribes that used to occupy these lands. But none of those teachings occurred this late and not with Mrs. Aguta involved.
She opened a trapdoor on the floor and asked James to climb down the small ladder that led downwards. He didn’t know there was a trapdoor in the basement. “I guess there are a lot of things I don’t know about this house.” He thought. James climbed down and waited for her at the bottom. She followed and closed the trapdoor behind her. they walked through a passage that was dimly lighted. He had to walk carefully not trip and fall. Mrs. Aguta obviously knew her way, he could tell from the confidence in her gait. They arrived at a small room at the end of the passage. Mr. Aguta was standing there. He dressed differently. Surgical gloves covered his hands – glasses with big rims on his face – strange markings all over his body.
“Come my son.” He beckoned to James to move forward. James approached Mr. Aguta and stood in front of him. Mr. Aguta placed his left hand on his shoulder and said “It is time for you to discover your destiny.” He then moved out of the way to review a woman strapped to a surgical table. James’ eyes widened in surprise as he realized that she was a real human being and that she was naked. He looked up at Mr. Aguta, then back at Mrs. Aguta. They were both smiling.
“Who is she?” he finally managed to ask.
“She is the messenger.” Mr. Aguta replied. James still didn’t understand any of it.
“What is she doing here?” he managed another question.
“She is here to lead the dead to the other world.” This time Mrs. Aguta answered his question. Now realization dawned on him. The Agutas had told him stories of what happened in the Night of the Kivgiq. A messenger will be sent forth into the spirit world to open the door for the spirits of the dead trapped in this world. The messenger must be a virgin. Virgins are pure and cannot be harmed by the dead. It all made sense to him now. But how were they going to send the messenger to the spirit world?
“We will show you how.” Mr. Aguta said as if reading his mind. He made hand signals with his wife and she to one corner of the room to where a bowl of water stood and carried it. She brought it and dropped it on the floor, next to the unconscious lady. James looked down on the bowl, there was a sponge inside. He didn’t need any command from the couple, he understood what needed to be done. He picked the sponge and started cleaning the smudges on her body.
The next day, Mrs. Aguta led him to the basement and down the trapdoor, to the little room. The woman was still strapped to the surgical table, but this time around she was conscious. James could see the fear in her eyes. She frantically looked at the people standing above her. She pleaded with her eyes as they met with the boy’s. She could have pleaded with her mouth but it was muffled with duct tape.
Mrs. Aguta held a bowl in her hand, but it was not filled with water but with a black substance James could not recognize. She placed two fingers in it and drew strange markings on the woman’s shivering body. she mumbled something under her breath and returned the bowl to its original position. Mr. Aguta brought a tool box and started bringing out different tools from it. James watched as he brought out a surgical blade and examined it. He then made an incision just below the woman’s breast. He continued making cuts until he finally opened her chest to reveal the organs that lay beneath it. James remembered this part of the ritual. The heart is taken from the messenger so she will not be influenced by the evil spirits in the spirit world. “Who has no heart cannot conceive evil.” Mr. Aguta said in a loud voice and violently tore the heart from her chest. Her body became stiff and she was finally gone. Mrs. Aguta brought a tray and her husband placed the heart on it. James knew what to do next, he had been instructed on what role he would play in the ritual. His eyes searched round the room, and he found what he was looking for. He reached for the cup which had strange markings on it, and gave it to Mr. Aguta. After he collected the cup from James, he slit the corpse’s wrist and let the blood flow into the cup. He placed the cup on the tray. One last thing to do.
“So you mean you all eat from the victim’s heart and drink the blood?” she asked with a twinge of astonishment in her voice.
“Yes” he replied, lowering his head in shame. She could see that this was not an easy thing for him to admit. And moreover she had promised not to fret if he told her his deepest, darkest secrets. It still felt like a dream to her, she was dating a guy that was from a family of serial killers. The most notorious serial killers in this part of the world. Ever since she had enough sense to think for herself, she had become aware of the tale of ‘creatures who smile’. The serial killers who after taking the heart of their victim and draining them of their blood, then used a knife to draw a smiling face on the corpse. The federal agents that came to Barrow to investigate the murders concluded that the killings involved some sort of ancient rituals. And the killers were a group of fanatics who adhered to the gruesome practices of their beliefs. They have terrorized the city for as long as she can remember. Now, her boyfriend was telling her he was a serial killer. She could run to the police now, but that would mean James will go to jail along with his parents. She didn’t want him to go to jail. It was not his fault that he was adopted into such a family. She still loved him even after hearing what had just come out from his mouth.
“So what are you going to do about it?” she summoned the courage to ask him.
“I don’t know.” He replied honestly. She thought for a while, trying to come up with solutions.
She finally said, “You could run away." He looked at her in the eyes. Yes, he could run away. But to where? And where will he get the money for the trip? It was not like he could just drive out of town. The only way out of Barrow was from the sea or the air. And the ticket was expensive. He couldn’t think straight now. He needed time to come up with a plan.
“I am not feeling well; can we talk about this some other time?”
“Sure.” She understood what must be going through his mind now. James had a hard exterior, but if you get to know him, you’d find he was as soft as soft can go. That is why she loved him anyway. He gave her a kiss and walked out of the park heading home.
Mr. Aguta looked at the young girl’s file again. Then he looked at her sitting alone at the park bench. He had been watching the young couple discuss for hours from a distance. He could not be spotted from the position the car was parked. His son’s girlfriend will be the next messenger. He smiled at this thought.