Note: 10-year-old Anita wrote this 15000-word novel for her Grade 5 Creative Writing project, inspired by her encounters and fantasies in charming white-washed Spanish seaside town Almuñecar, Spain. Leave a comment, share and cheer for her! :~) Enjoy!
“Bye, Dad!” I called through the gap of the doorway one last time.
“Goodbye, sweetheart!” he called back. I was about to close the door so that the gap in it would be sealed, and sighed, when someone suddenly jerked it open again from the inside, causing my fingers to slip away from the doorknob. My hot fingerprints slowly melted away on it.
“Hey!” I forced out, managing to grab the door back gently, but I didn’t put too much effort into it because I knew it was Dad again.
He yelled a big bear’s roar. His fingers were bent, posed above his head, like fangs. I giggled, like he always expected me to. He gave me a big bear hug that was warm and both bone-crushing at the same time. I hugged him back, my nose buried in the folds of his clothes.
“Have a good time at first-day-of-school, okay? You promise?”
“Pinky Swear,” I promised, holding out my little finger. He ruffled my hair.
“All right,” he sighed, standing up. “I gotta go help Mom tidy up the new house. Almost finished.” I beamed.
“See you after school, Dad.”
“You too, honey.”
“Adios!” I waved my hand and turned around. Just before my head swept toward the street, I thought I saw him wink in the dim streetlight on our new front porch. Before I walked out of our little street, something caught my eye, and it made my stomach churn. I turned around again to face our house. I thought I noticed something—and it was like a little shadow lingering on the front step. I narrowed my eyes, trying to see clearly, but then the little object followed Dad back into the house, hiding from my view as he shut the door before him. I shook my head. My eyes were starting to play tricks on me these days. I noticed that ever since we moved here I was starting to see weird things. I would probably have to pay a visit to the optical soon and start wearing glasses. I was sure that the little object wasn’t Dad’s shadow, because it seemed to have been circling around him. Maybe it was a bug? No, I couldn’t see a bug from this far away. Plus, there seemed to be a tinge of yellow to the little object swirling around Dad’s body, and it gave me an odd impression that someone was hiding something from me. Then I turned back around and walked out into the early morning sunshine.
I grinned to myself and shielded my eyes against the blinding sunshine. I wondered what could be waiting for me today at first-day-of-school in Spain.
My Dad, Korvian, was originally born in Spain. But when he was seven, his family immigrated to a small town on the southern tip of Italy, close to the sea. Then my Dad met this beautiful Italian girl, Katy. Shortly after their marriage I was born, and therefore my parents stayed in that little town. Gradually, my Dad’s parents and family went back to Spain. And now, my Dad also decided to come back to his hometown, Almuñecar, also, which he claimed looked a lot different from when he had left. My mother’s language is Italian, but since Italian is really similar to Spanish, my Dad usually speaks to me in Spanish, which has come in really useful.
I took the bus to my new school. There was almost nobody on the bus, no students in uniforms like me, only some gray-haired men who were wearing really expensive-looking suits. I noticed with a tinge of suspicion that there were small things circling around those people also, and I was starting to get worried. I sat on a priority seat. I pulled my headphones on and tried not to think about the little objects I had begun to see. I could tell I would be enjoying this little town, as my father had loved it. That is if nothing went wrong.
My eyes turned automatically to the bus window at my side. There was a huge shop selling North Face sports clothing and equipment. Next to it was a small, tiny, white, Ice Cream Shop whose paint was peeling and light was on. Six big letters and a fiftieth anniversary sign: “HELADO.”
The bus stopped suddenly and I would have crashed into the seat in front of me if I hadn’t been holding onto the safety bar at my side that was designed for the priority seat.
Was I really that old that I should be sitting in this seat? And then: Do the Spanish really have to stop like that when it’s a red light? Or maybe it was the same with Italy, and I just hadn’t noticed.
I shook my head and looked around. Everybody else on the bus was fine. I shook my head again. The Ice Cream Shop before had made me remember something, but the abrupt stop had distinguished it. I remembered the small Ice Cream Shop on the beach in Italy, which looked very similar to this.
Then everything clicked into place. Today I would get to see Jack. He had been assigned into the same Grade 5 class as I was in. Jack was one of my best friends in Italy. When we were little, when my parents had a Sunday off from work in their pizza shop, my Dad would ask Mia (Jack’s mother) if we could go to the beach and eat lunch together. The beach with that Ice Cream Shop. I always ordered deep fried mackerel at the restaurant. Then both families would help make a big sand castle, the big kind that could last a long time. But usually the ones we made only lasted a long time in photographs because Jack and I always ended up crushing the big castle under our feet for fun.
Before we moved, we’d sent a lot of letters to tell everyone we were moving to Spain because my Dad was missing home and my older sister was interested in the Madrid University. In reply, Mia had sent us an email stating that her husband, Sevastian, was currently on a business trip in Madrid now. His company had recently called to inform them that five very important workers had retired from the main headquarters in Madrid, and they needed someone new immediately. So instead, Sevastian had switched tracks and begun working as a low rank manager in Madrid. By the looks of the email, Mia was not very happy with the new decision. But the company was giving him extra money, which the family needed.
So Mia had decided to move with us to this small town, Almuñecar, and now Jack and I were in the same school, same class. I was seriously excited about seeing Jack. And now that we were together again, although in another town, I secretly wondered if we could do the same kind of gathering at the beach of this town.
I got off the bus at “Almuñecar School” and put my headphones away into my backpack. Then I took out a wooden-bead bracelet with blue crystals, which I was planning to give to Jack. I was wearing one on my wrist now, except mine had pink crystals.
I turned left onto the main road, where the school was. I guess I was kind of early for school, because there were no other kids on the street, but that was fine with me. I was an early bird, according to the Italians. Now I would have some more time with Jack.
Finally, I saw the flower carving-embroidered front gate to my new school. One half of the gate was open, and it led to a big gravel square. To the right of the square was the minimum expectation of a playground–one slide and one set of sagging monkey bars. It looked pretty unstable and rusted. I shrugged to myself and thought: maybe the Spanish don’t play that much in “playgrounds.”
I heard someone shuffle his feet next to the school wall. I peered around the gate.
A boy about my age was standing really straight next to the wall, like he’d been waiting for me. Once he saw me he smiled and said in accented fluent Italian, “Hey. I haven’t seen you for a long time.” I knew that voice.
I gasped once I realized who I was looking at. Jack was a lot taller than I’d imagined, probably half a head taller than me, and he was really so…big. His face was very tanned but perfect and both round and square at the same time, which I didn’t remember it being. His shiny, full, light blue eyes were still the same. I envied him. Although I would never admit it, I wished my eyes were blue like his, not the ebony black they were. His hair had grown long, but not as long as my auburn hair, and it was a pitch black, tied back in a messy bundle. His hands were in his jean pockets, but I didn’t see a backpack with him. A friendly grin began to spread on his face. I beamed back. “Jack!”
He shrugged nonchalantly and looked around.
“Like I said. I haven’t seen you in a long time, Carlizza. When exactly was the last time we went to the beach together in Italy?”
I scratched my head. “Um, probably when we were about seven, I think.” I frowned at my bad memory. I was really good at forgetting things when I was nervous. I was so happy inside to see Jack again that I even forgot I had something for him. He noticed it before I gave it to him.
“What’s that?” he asked, nodding at the blue crystal-beads glinting in the sunlight. It almost looked like the beautiful color of the crystals was reflecting back into his eyes. The color of the crystals perfectly matched his eyes, as I had intended them to.
“Oh! Um, it’s for you.” I blushed, embarrassed. “Here.” I gave it to him, which he took and wrapped it around his right wrist immediately. Like me, he was also a leftie.
“Cool. Thanks. It fits perfectly.”
“Yeah. You know, kind of like something to link us together…” I didn’t know if he was familiar with the concept of friendship bracelets. He nodded, and I was surprised, because his expression looked like he understood exactly what I was thinking about in my head.
“I made it by myself. It’s, umm… the beads here are completely made of natural cypress wood. And the crystals are”—I stopped suddenly, as another little object had appeared, and it was circling Jack. My eyes flitted back and forth, following the odd circles that the object was orbiting in. Whenever the object began circling Jack’s upper body, it turned blue, and whenever it went to his lower body, it turned pink. I watched in amazement, and it twinkled in the sunlight. I tried to grab it, but it seemed to shrink from my hand every time it got close to me.
“Uh…what’s wrong?” I looked up, and Jack was holding his arms up to give me space, because I was kneeling on the ground next to Jack’s right leg. The little object had turned purple now.
“I think I saw something,” I murmured. My hand flew out again, trying to catch the object.
“What is this?” I asked him.
“Can’t you see it? This thing. It keeps on changing colours.” Jack’s eyes were confused.
“Uh, no.” I looked into his eyes. Although they were confused, they also seemed to have a little understanding, like he knew exactly what I was talking about, except he was keeping it from me.
“Come on, I know you know,” I said. And to my amazement, the little object turned green.
“No, I don’t,” he said, and his eyes were honest. The object turned yellow. I narrowed my eyes.
“You know, I seem to be seeing weird things these days,” I said and stood up.
“Anyway,” I sighed. “Do you like the bracelet? It’s…blue, kind of like the color of your eyes.” He could tell that I envied the color of his eyes. But he always said my black ones were cooler when we were little. “I have one too.” I showed him my pink bracelet.
“Yeah. Thank you so much. I really like it.” A faint smile lingered on the edges of his lips. He really appreciated it. I chuckled gently, not bothering to hide that I’d spent a lot of time trying to make it perfect.
We exchanged a few more comments. It felt awkward being in front of him, especially when he was so much taller than me. I had been thinking about this moment every other day, ever since we’d received the email from Mia that Jack would be in my school. And now that he was finally here in front of me, it seemed like all those daydreams never ever existed, the effort wasted.
“I have something for you, too,” he said, looking at me straight in the eye. I was obliged to look back into his beautiful blue eyes. So he had a gift for me too.
“Oh, thanks!” I exclaimed as he held out a necklace, tied to it a golden locket. On the façade of the locket, there was a wooden carving of a four-legged creature that looked like a lion. The lion was so detailed that there were even tufts of fur on its ears and mane. I took the locket and examined it more closely. The lion’s eyes were blue. Interesting. I flipped the locket open from the lion-head latch, and there was a photo of Jack’s family with us at the beach. It was the photograph that a passerby had taken for us—Mia, Sevastian, Jack, Mom, Dad and me three years ago at our last beach gathering. The sea was there behind us too, and my little seven-year-old feet were resting on a squashed sand castle. I zeroed in on Sevastian, and was surprised to see he was much tanner and darker in this photo than I remembered he used to be. In fact, he even looked Asian.
I looked up and pointed to Sevastian in the photo. “Is he Asian? I’m just curious.”
“Yeah,” he replied. He pressed his lips into a tight line after that. I had an impression he was keeping something from me, because the little object (which I was trying not to think about) had turned purple again.
“Which country?” I pressed.
“Uh…well, I guess you didn’t know, but Sevastian is Indian. He…is from a special tribe.”
I blinked in surprise. Indian? I had been expecting something like Chinese or Philipino.
Just then the bell rang, an ear-splitting ring that sounded more like a waling siren.
A few students appeared through the gates. I snapped the locket shut and bent my head to put it on my neck.
“Thank you, Jack.” I smiled.
“Your welcome. You look good, actually.”
An old blond hair woman wearing pointed glasses, an old-fashion beige blouse and pale pink high-heels opened the double doors of the school building from the inside, heart earrings swaying gently by her ears. She took a brick and used it to block the door from closing, and called out, “Grado Cinco!” in a sharp voice.
All fifth graders, including us, who’d just entered the gates rushed to make a line in front of the lady. The woman took a board from under her arm, and the first student in the line walked up and said, “Jeff Galanto,” and the lady checked his name on the board. Then the boy walked into the school. The rest of the students did the same; said their names, then entered the school doors. Finally it came to us.
“Jack Moll,” he said. He acted like he knew exactly what to do. The lady scanned her board then looked Jack sharply in the eye, noting his accented Spanish.
“Nuevo?” she asked.
“Si, signora.” Jack replied. She nodded and handed an envelope to Jack. “You are to ask your teacher to sign the paper inside, Mr. Moll,” she instructed in Spanish.
“Si, signora,” he repeated and walked into the school through the double doors. I was the last in line so she already knew my name. “Carlizza Krussel?” she inquired. I nodded. She handed me another envelope and gave me the same instructions. I hurried forward.
Class started when Ms. Comer asked me to introduce myself. I tripped over myself and got laughed at on the way. When it was over, Jack was asked to introduce himself. I played mostly with my pencil, but I caught Jack saying his Dad was Indian. Interesting that I never realized that when I was little. Perhaps I had been too young to understand, so Mom and Dad didn’t even bother to tell me.
About two hours later, just when we’d finished mopping and cleaning the classroom as instructed, the bell rang again, the wailing siren. I sighed and leaned the broom on the wall. Everybody got ready for recess, when the girl sitting next to me with puffy, curly blond hair and a lot of freckles leaned over to me and asked what my name was.
“Carlizza,” I replied as I shrugged into my jacket.
“Oh. Well, my name is Michelle. It’s nice to meet you, Carlizza. I was just wondering if you wanted to play skip roping with me and my friends. We only have three people, so it would be nice if we could play with four.” My eyes lit up at the idea.
“Sure,” I replied. “Where do we play…Michelle?”
“C’mon,” she said, sensing I was eager. She led me out the classroom door just as the ringing bell entered its second round. She walked me out into the sea of students in the corridor outside, and followed the flow of students to the huge back door. I was surprised when I noticed the many playgrounds here outside, completely new unlike the rusted ones in the square. Most of the people were there, on the playground equipment, but there was a group of girls to the left, where there was a hopscotch grid, and a few people playing basketball. It looked pretty deserted there compared to the crowded playground. Michelle introduced me to the other two girls, who were named Annabeth and Amber. They looked like sisters.
I was surprised at the large number of games the girls knew how to play. I had a lot of fun and sweated a lot, but when it was my turn to swing the ropes, the bell rang again. The other two girls left to their class. Michelle started to stick to me, and we sat next to each other again in class. I was starting to like her.
When the day finally ended, Michelle volunteered to walk me home, claiming her house was near ours, and that she knew a shorter and more secret path back—instead of riding the bus as Dad had instructed me. Michelle crossed the main road once we were outside, then entered another shadowed small road, where there were a few three-story white houses, each with wooden window panels, and small balconies clad with pretty pink flowers.
A cat was stretching itself on the front step of one of the tallest houses, preparing for a sunbath. There was a woman with white hair, not very old-looking, watering her plants in the front yard, which was next to the small front gate that we were passing. Written on the stone wall next to the gate was the name of the house: “CASA MOLLE.” Interesting that this house belonged to residents with the same last name as Jack.
We walked through maze-like small paths, winding up and down the side of a mountain, with so many turns that I barely knew how Michelle knew the way. The houses around us were all white, with the same windows and balconies, cute plants and slanting tile roofs. Yet they were different at the same time, each with different plants, different color windowpanes, and different patterns dotting the doors and welcome signs.
Michelle cleared her throat, then asked, “Did you see those cats purring and stretching everywhere, Carlizza?”
I turned from my examination of the beautiful buildings to answer Michelle’s questions. “Um, yeah.” I was vaguely aware of the small, furry creatures climbing up and down the walls now and then.
“Well, here’s an interesting legend that most locals like to feed to the few tourists who come to this town,” she said. I nodded for her to continue, and I was eager for some reason. I noticed that the little object had appeared around Michelle, too, and it was blue.
“So…did you know that cats are the symbol of the aboriginal people of this town?”
I raised my eyebrows. I didn’t even know that Almuñecar had an aboriginal group.
“Well, they’re not really the aboriginals of this town, but we’re the closest to them. In fact, they’re not even Spanish! We just call them aboriginals because they’re some really cultural group of people and their mostly Indian,” she added quickly.
I perked up at the last word.
“Indian?” I narrowed my eyes. I rubbed the locket hanging on my neck, which held a photo with Jack’s Indian father.
“Yeah. They’re Indian and their tribe name is Mollanto. They believe in a weird religion where their god is a big yellow cat with blue eyes.”
I narrowed my eyes even harder until Michelle started giving me a worried look. Mollanto? It sounded like Jack’s last name, Moll.
“So, here’s the story. A long time ago, there was an old man living near here, who loved cats. Since he loved cats so much, he decided to make a small organization of his own, an organization that helped stray cats and wild cats in this town find owners. The mayor agreed, since stray cats have been a big problem in Almuñecar, because many of the cats have created big incidents in the past. The cats here were pretty big back then, especially the wild ones. Some even killed people as a result to their hunger. Of course nobody really believed that the old man would succeed in his wish, because the cats here were really hard to handle.
“He started looking for cats, stray cats, and whenever he found one he would bring it back home to feed and clean. Then he brought them out, and started getting people to donate for him so that he could take care of them better. He even believed he could train the cats in this town so they wouldn’t try to kill everyone once in a while. Some people still believed that the old man’s plan would work, so they donated. These people were the rich ones anyway, so they took this as an opportunity to show off. It was enough money for the old man to take care of the cats. So when the money in the charity box started to get hard to handle and a bit too much, he got a new idea. He went to look for volunteers who could help him take care of the cats, and in return he paid them. It worked, amazingly, although most of the people who offered to help lived in poverty, so he had to teach them how to train the cats. There were many poor people in Almuñecar back then, also, so they thought that the amount their boss paid them was more than enough. The old man got his wish of trying to make an organization, and slowly he grew very popular. He really helped the society with his kind heart.
“It happened that one of the people who offered to volunteer was an aboriginal, a Mollanto. The Mollantos were also very poor, and they were a small group. They needed money very badly. This young female Mollanto who wanted to help saw the harsh circumstances that her family and people lived under. She was very smart, and she compared her life to those who lived in town. At last, she could not bear her family’s poverty, so she had to help them somehow. One day, she saw a poster of the old man’s organization, and she ran back home and told her mother that she wanted to go work there, and help bring money back. Her mother agreed immediately, and another even better thing was that her daughter’s new work was to take care of cats. Cats were their gods, and they thought it might be even better to take care of their gods rather than just praying to them. So they prepared for her to go work. When she arrived at the building, the other volunteers were witnessing the death of one of the cats, who had not been taken care of well enough. It was the first time the Mollanto saw a cat die, and the sight of the cat’s blood spilling all over the floor triggered a gene that was buried very deep in the aboriginal’s body—a gene that hadn’t been activated in the Mollanto bloodline for a long time. She suddenly felt an unexplainable urge to stretch her hip out—it was an unbearable feeling to resist. She obeyed her body’s command, and the moment her spine was bent, her hands touched the ground and transformed into two big paws, along with her feet. She changed into a big, black-striped orange tiger, and the people around her were terrified. They say that the tiger had piercing blue eyes, an electric light blue.”
Michelle ended the story.
I gulped. The story made me feel uneasy.
“So…that’s it?” I asked. Michelle grinned.
“Yep. Unless you want more?” She pointed to a white cat that was licking its paws, nestled on the lap of a girl who was reading a book. Then her finger traced the air until it came to a black, shiny-fur cat who was scratching playfully at a pair of flip-flops. It didn’t exactly help.
As I entered our house, it had begun to drizzle slightly and it was getting dark. I had been constantly shivering in the strong winds outside, and I was eager to enter our warm house. I smiled in content as the smell of tomato sauce pizza drifted to the doorway. Mom and Dad were making their most popular product in their old pizza shop back in Italy—Margharita Pizza.
“Hey Dad, Mom!”
Dad turned from his position in front of the stove and grinned.
“Hello, hon. How was school today?” I grinned back.
“It was great, Dad. I met Jack and I made a few new friends.”
“The pizza’s burning, Korvian!” Mom interrupted.
“Oh! Sorry!” Dad turned back to cooking.
I sighed as I trudged up the stairs to my room to take a shower. When I came back down dinner was ready.
“Mmm…this is great, Dad. I think you should open another pizza shop here. The Spanish will be awed,” I commented through a huge bite of burning hot margharita pizza. The dough was still crisp. It was delicious.
“Yeah? You think so?”
We were quiet for a moment as we all enjoyed our homemade food. Mom was the first to break the silence.
“You know, the Molls called today and we arranged a lunch together at the beach tomorrow. We’re eating at an Indian restaurant that Sevastian likes.”
I almost choked on my food.
“We’re eating lunch with them tomorrow? And at the beach? O.M.G!”
“Mmm-hmm. It’s perfect time. Tomorrow’s Saturday, so you and Jack won’t have to go to school.”
“Cool! I am so excited! I thought Sevastian was still on the business trip!”
“Well, no. He’s on a two week holiday now. And…what’s that on your neck?” She asked suddenly.
“Oh. This is a locket that Jack gave me. There’s a photo of the Molls and us Krussels together in it.”
The next day I woke up early, powered by the excitement that we were going to eat lunch with the Molls today.
I stared out our car window at the glittering sea on the way to the restaurant. It wasn’t very far, but it was out of town, near La Herradurra where most of the Indians here lived.
As I alighted our car, I saw a big wooden cabin-like building, its front porch supported by lion shaped pillars. For some reason, the lions sent an uneasy shiver down my spine as an unfamiliar memory flashed back. They were the same lions as the one on my locket. It had blue eyes, and there was a menacing aura around it. I rubbed my locket nervously.
It was a two storey house, mostly wooden, and inside it was very dim. Everywhere I looked, there were carvings of odd animals I had never seen—blue-eyed lions, blue striped tigers, and orange cheetahs. But they were all very beautiful pieces of art, I could see how much effort the artists must of put in to make it so delicate.
A red hair girl came to greet us once we ere inside, and offered to take our jackets off for us. We hanged them and followed her to the marble set of stairs that led up to the second floor. There were blue-eyed lions on the stair railings also. There was a nice view of the sea from up here, as the whole western wall was replaced by glass. Jack was there, sitting on one of the wooden benches of a table that had the best view, grinning along with Mia and Sevastian.
“Hey, Jack!” I ran over to him and sat down just as Mom and Dad shook hands with Mia and Sevastian.
“Hello, Mrs. Moll, Mr. Moll,” I greeted them. Sevastian did look very tan and there were dark circles under his eyes, but his eyes were shiny and crinkling in his smile just like Jack. There was an electric feeling to his blue eyes, and when he stared at me while I shook his hand, it made me feel uncomfortable. I was eager to escape his gaze, but when I turned back to Jack, I saw the same aura in his eyes. I was surprised when I noticed that Mia’s eyes were not blue, they were a hazelnut brown. If both parents didn’t have matching eyes, then how could Jack have it?
I settled on Mia’s eyes, because they were more comforting, since they even matched the wooden atmosphere of the restaurant.
“Hi,” said Jack. I had to turn from Mia’s hazel eyes to Jack’s piercing blue ones to answer him.
“Hi,” I replied.
“So what do you think?” I thought he was talking about the restaurant, so I said, “There are so many sculptures of cats with blue eyes in here.”
He grimaced slightly, then corrected, “I mean that.” He was staring at the locket hanging on my neck.
“Oh,” I realized with a startled laugh. “Yeah, it’s nice. Why is there also a lion on here?” My fingers traced the delicate carving glued onto the cold metal locket.
“Uh…” Jack’s eyes seemed to flit to Sevastian then come back. “Well, it’s our family symbol, you know. Like…kinda what we worship and believe in.” I only heard the word worship. I didn’t hear anything else in his reply. Worship?
Just then the waitress came, and she asked us what we would like to order. Dad had already ordered for me, so I didn’t have to choose. She wrote our dishes down, then went back downstairs. A moment later the appetizers arrived, and we began to eat the onion rings. The onion rings made my fingers oily, so I plucked a tissue from the tissue holder. But I realized that the tissue holder was empty, they had run out. I was just about to volunteer to get some napkins when I saw the beautiful patterns embroidered onto the china tissue holder. It was a big yellow lion with blue eyes. I shook my head, trying to shoo the picture away as I stepped out and went to get some tissues. But I did not succeed in trying to do that, because once my eyes turned to the stairs, I saw another big yellow cat—this time not a statue, but a real one—limping up the marble stairs. It trailed behind the waitress, who had just come up with a large tray of food. Since the waitress had come up, I decided not to go back down to get the napkins anymore. I went back to the table and asked the waitress for some extra napkins. She agreed, and after serving food, she went back down. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the cat did not follow her this time; he sat and stared intently at my every move, since I was closest to him. Perhaps he was hungry? But the waitress acted like she didn’t know that the cat was there, and it was so obvious that it stood out from the brown background. Suddenly I had the urge to use the bathroom, and I couldn’t understand why I suddenly had to use it. Then the waitress came back up with some tissues, and I plucked one and wiped my mouth before going to the washroom. “I have to use the washroom.”
Dad nodded, his mouth full of food. Just as I stood up, Jack took a tissue from the china-fabricated tissue holder. But as I crossed the table in the direction of the washroom, my sweater accidently brushed the back of his hand, who was still halfway through plucking the tissue, and his hand wobbled slightly.
The wobble caused the china tissue holder to wobble in return, and, sooner than I knew it, the tissue holder fell off the edge of the table and smashed to the ground with an unmusical tinkling as it scattered around. I didn’t have time to catch it because I was already halfway to the washroom when it smashed to the wooden floor. I turned to see what was the damage, expecting that it would be okay. But I was surprised to see that the big yellow cat was still resting there; although it wasn’t string intently at my every move anymore—it was trying to writhe its way out of the sharp shards of china that was pinning itself down on the wooden floor. From this angle, I noticed with a sharp tang of worry that it was very skinny, more skinnier than the average cat at least. Its shoulder blades stuck out of the skin on its back, and I could see the bony ribs in its belly…it was weak. My stomach twisted as it digested the next fact—one of the china pieces had managed to pierce its tail.
All of that happened in less than five seconds, but even so the shriek came a bit late, and when it did, I heard two shrieks at the same time—a quieter soprano and a louder bass. Then the cat whimpered and collapsed, giving up trying to get out. I located the source of the low bass, which sounded more like a growl, and was shocked again to find it came from…Jack? I watched his blue eyes, and he growled again, a sound that rumbled out from his chest. It made the hairs on my back stand up, sending an unsafe feeling. There were no expressions on Jack’s face, except that his face was completely going pale. Then his eyes widened, and there was a terrific feeling to it, and a little bit understanding for what Jack was probably experiencing now flooded through me. It looked like he was imagining the whole world ending right now and here, like he was suffocating and couldn’t breathe. I almost felt the atmosphere tightening then around me as his mouth dropped and he gasped—an exasperated inhalation of air that sent me shivering uncontrollably like I was locked in Antarctica without any clothes on. I absently rubbed my locket and tried to soothe the goosebumps that had just popped up on my arms.
“Dear, what a poor cat. I wonder why he would be in this restaurant.” Mia was the first to speak. She seemed to be the only member of the Molls who didn’t look petrified and pale. Jack and Sevastian looked like they were going to vomit. I heard the sound of two people’s footsteps coming up from the stairs, and when they arrived there was a broom and a vacuum in their hands. “What happened?” asked the red head girl as the other Indian looking girl swept the china pieces up. Her tone was lightheaded.
“I accidently brushed the china tissue holder when I was on my way to the washroom, and it wobbled and fell to the ground. It…hurt this cat. I’m sorry,” I confessed.
Red head’s face turned slightly more serious, and she bent to examine the damage.
“Oh dear. Samantha, are you hurt?” I was surprised that the waitress even had a name for the cat. The cat whimpered.
And at the same time, Jack seemed to make another sound, and it was in between panic and calmness. It sounded like a…howl.
The waitress lifted the cat up gently and carried it downstairs. Jack groaned quietly and he probably slid an inch off of the bench. I was starting to realize that Jack seemed to be copying every one of the cat’s moves, except a bit more differently. The other girl finished sweeping, and began using the vacuum. I watched from my spot leaning on the bench that Dad was sitting on. I could almost feel the hot anger flaring out from his nostrils as he fumed. I was definitely going to have a “conversation” with him soon, because he would have to pay the fee for damaging the tissue holder, and probably even hurting the cat. Sure enough, a few moments later after I sat down next to Jack and took a few bites of my food due to the hunger, a man wearing an expensive suit walked up the stairs with a check board in his hands. He asked Mr. Moll to pay for the tissue holder.
“Jack?” I asked. He still looked a bit pale as his eyes followed his father’s act of giving the money. “Are you okay?”
It took a moment before he answered. “Yeah, just…I don’t like the smell of blood. I’m kind of sensitive to it. It smells like rust and salt.” He wrinkled his nose. I was startled by his answer, because I hadn’t even noticed that there was blood.
“The cat was bleeding?” My voice was a mixture of confusion.
“Yeah. Unless you didn’t see?” He grumbled. He suddenly seemed very grumpy. I eyed him and pretended not to hear him, going back to my food.
“Why would there be a cat in a restaurant anyway?” I asked.
“Well…it looked like the manager’s cat. He probably likes to keep him around, but he forgot to feed him,” he said. It almost sounded like he had blurted the words out, without thinking about it, because it all came out in a rush.
“That explains why it’s so skinny.” Suddenly, a dozen expressions flashed across Jack’s face. There was a lot I didn’t recognize, but I saw anger, pain, sarcasm, and jealousy.
When I’d finished using the washroom, everyone had finished eating, except for Jack, who was sitting next to Mia now, leaning on her shoulder. There was a slight tinge of green to his face, and he was clutching his right hip. He was getting on my nerves—what kind of attitude was this? Mia had started chatting with Mom again, so we ordered some dessert.
After dessert, we walked down the marble staircase to the first floor. On the way, Jack let go of Mia’s shoulder and walked over to me.
“Look, I’m really sorry, okay?” His eyes were pleading.
“What’s wrong? I’m supposed to be the one who’s sorry.”
“I probably won’t be going to school for a while the next few weeks.”
He probably saw the flash of pain that flew across my face, so he added, “And I can’t tell you why.”
“Oh. Then when are you coming back?”
“You can’t ask me that either because I’m not sure.”
“Oh, alright. Then, I guess I’ll see you…a few weeks later.”
We had reached the door now and I donned my jacket.
“Yeah, Bye,” he croaked.
“Bye.” Then I grinned. “Where’s your bracelet?”
“Oh…here.” He held up his right arm.
“Cool. Well, see you.”
Mom and Dad were shaking hands with Mia and Sevastian, and before I knew it our car was backing out onto the road, with the Molls waving at us. It felt a little out of place, having them waving at us.
For the next few days, when I went to school, Jack’s seat was empty, as he had promised. When I demanded Ms. Comer for an explanation, she said Jack was sick and he wouldn’t be coming back to school for a few days, just as he had foretold me, so I tried to ignore his absence and act like nothing had happened at the restaurant.
Every time I walked home with Michelle, I paused slightly in front of Casa Molle. Perhaps they really lived there. And another sign—the cat that always sat on the front porch had disappeared. Clues were starting to form in my head, and they bothered me very much. One thing was that I remembered Jack copying every one of that injured cat’s moves, and it reminded me of the Mollanto legend. Perhaps…he had a Mollanto heritage? It all fit.
Finally, a month had passed since our meal with the Molls, or in other words, the Mollantos.
So I went to Casa Molle one day.
It had happened that Michelle was sick today and she didn’t come to school, so I walked home by myself. When I passed the house, I stopped and stood there for a long time. It was the perfect opportunity to have a look and solve everything.
I wondered to myself, if the Molls lived here, what would I do? Ask them to tell me the truth? Or what if they didn’t live here? What if it was just another one of the hundreds of families that lived in this town? But I had a sudden urge. So I pressed the doorbell on the front gate.
I hadn’t been expecting someone to answer, and to my surprise, someone did. The old lady I had seen the first day I walked home with Michelle who had been watering her plants stepped out onto the front doorstep.
“Cómo puedo ayudarte?” she asked warily.
“Do the Molls live here, signora?”
“Si,” she answered. I wasn’t sure if that meant Jack was here.
“Then is Jack Moll from Italy here, signora?”
This time she replied with a very tense expression. “Si.”
“Can I see him?” I asked, this time in Italian.
“But he is with Mia and Sevastian,” she replied in fluent Italian.
“Oh, but that’s fine.”
“I’m not so sure…he is under…certain circumstances.”
“Oh…okay. But may I still come in?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you cannot.”
“Oh. Well, then, okay. Bye.” I didn’t want to push it too much, thinking about Jack’s warning last month on the marble staircase of the Indian restaurant. He said not to ask why.
She slammed the door behind her. I sighed. But at least I knew one thing for sure now, and I tried my best to cheer myself up with that thought, that Jack and the Molls lived here.
When I got back home, there was an odd cheery atmosphere to the house, and I noticed that Mom was almost dancing up and down while cooking. So when I hung my backpack and entered the kitchen for a cup of water, I asked her what was up. Her voice was a high ringing bell, filled with excitement.
“Well, Dad organized a camping trip for us on the weekend, and we’re going to drive to one of the mountains and camp in the woods near a very beautiful lake. It’s a small campground, so there will be a hot water shower, a bathroom, and picnic tables. Isn’t that wonderful?” Her voice was so cheery that she immediately brightened my mood. I nodded in content.
“When are we going?”
“The weekend, which is day after tomorrow,” she replied as she bounced to the stove and cracked three eggs.
“Wow, that’s so soon. So…we have to pack and get ready, right?”
“Exactly. Dad’s on the job now, in the basement.” She jerked a thumb over her back at the basement door while she flipped the sizzling eggs with her other hand.
“Wow, so soon. I’m gonna check out if I can help him.”
“Great idea.” She grinned. I set my cup down on the counter and went downstairs to our basement, where we parked our car. Dad was already loading our old four-person camping tent into the trunk, along with three basic sleeping bags.
“Hey, Dad. Can I help you?” He grunted in reply as he lifted a heavy bucket into the trunk that was filled with dishes and eating utensils.
“Sure. I’m just packing some basics here, so maybe when we’re finished with dinner you and Mom can help pack the clothes. Plus, Mom and I still have a whole day to get ready tomorrow,” he added as he slammed the trunk door shut and wiped his hands on his jeans.
“Oh, okay. So…I’ll just finish homework, then.”
“Yeah, great idea, hon. How was school today?”
“Same as normal.” When we both got up to the kitchen, I asked him, “How many days will we be out anyway?” He took a sip of water then said, “Two days. Just the weekend. We might be spending the first day driving, but you’ll enjoy the view. People say its beautiful. And the second day, we’re gonna take a hike to the lake near the area.”
“Yeah, you go on with your homework, sweet.”
After dinner I helped Mom pack some clothes, sleeping and bathroom essentials, et cetera. When we thought we’d covered pretty much all except for things such as food and shoes, it was time to go to bed.
I yawned and rolled over on my bed. I just had a very weird dream, but I couldn’t remember it any more. Then I sat up abruptly to the light filtering through the small gap in the curtains. It was Saturday morning, and we were going camping today!
Downstairs, Mom was packing some food and snacks for the car ride, and Dad was finishing breakfast with coffee. When he saw me come down, he greeted me good morning.
“Morning, Dad, Mom. We’re going camping today, right?”
“I’m so excited!”
A few hours later Mom was checking for the last time if we’d brought everything, and then Dad drove our car out onto the main road, where Mom and I hopped in.
Then we raced down the road and turned onto the highway. Before long, we were entering a green forest area. I rolled the window down and enjoyed the breeze. I could hear the birds chirping, and slowly, I was aware of the crickets, too. I watched the leaves being carried away as the constant winds blew them south. It was beautiful.
I was slightly aware that there was a big, gray, cloud rolling over the blue sky, and momentarily I had to look up. Perhaps there was an oncoming storm? That wouldn’t be very good.
We stopped a few times to take photos and everything, and when we found a good grass plain, we spread our picnic blanket and ate lunch in front of the mountains. I saw an eagle up ahead, spreading its wings now and then.
Finally, after almost a whole day of driving, we pulled into a campsite near the public bathroom and showers. As I got off the car and stretched, a small chipmunk came to greet me. I stroked his fur gently before he scampered up a tree.
The sun was setting, and I was hungry. Soon the campground owner came over and asked us to pay for the stay, then generously gave us some campfire wood. We eagerly started a fire with his help, and I sat in my own foldable chair. The owner asked what my name was.
“My name’s Carlizza,” I told him.
“What a beautiful name. Well, did you know, Carlizza, that this area is a sacred area of the aboriginal tribe Mollantos?” I straightened at the last word.
“Mollantos. Why is this area sacred?”
“Because this is where an old man in one of their legends used to live. The lake around here is said to be heavenly.”
“Wow.” I immediately flashed back to the legend Michelle had told me.
“Well, thanks for telling me, señor.”
We ate some packaged macaroni for dinner, which Mom warmed with our barbecue stove somehow. My package tasted a little weird, but I was too hungry to notice until afterwards.
Dad had finished setting camp, and after brushing my teeth in the little public bathroom, we settled for the night. I wrapped myself in my own sleeping bag and hugged my knees tightly to my chest. I tried to fall asleep, but constant gusts of wind kept on waking me just about when I was going to slip under, so for a long time I lay half-unconscious.
I don’t remember very clearly what exactly the feeling was when I had to move my bowels suddenly when it was getting near midnight. It felt so urgent, and I immediately sat up in my sleeping bag. The sudden movement caused the zipper to slide open, and cold air flooded into the bag. I shivered. I hadn’t noticed how cold it was getting outside. Nevertheless, I jammed my hand out and shook Mom’s shoulders, who was sleeping soundly next to me.
“Mom. I have to use the bathroom. Can you bring me?” I whispered. She groaned and rolled over. “Go by yourself,” she muttered. Other than that, no matter how hard I shook her shoulders or tried to wake her, that was all she said. Finally I gave up, and crossed my legs. Then I crawled over to Dad and used the same method, but all he did was snore even louder. He must have been dreaming, because unexpectedly he swatted me away with his big hand, and if I hadn’t ducked away, he would have hit my nose. I sighed angrily. I really had to go, and if I didn’t, I was afraid I would have to do my business in this tent, which wasn’t a very good idea.
“Okay, I’ll go by myself,” I muttered. Then I grabbed my jacket and unzipped the tent door. My teeth began to chatter slightly as a gust of wind brought coldness to me. I wrapped myself tightly in my jacket, and slid into my shoes, then grabbed a headlamp. Soon I was on the little dirt path to the washroom. I hoped I knew the way good enough to get there without getting lost.
I was wondering what would have made me want to use the bathroom so much, when I tripped. If I’d been concentrating, I wouldn’t have tripped, but I was thinking about the package of macaroni I had eaten for dinner, and I didn’t look at the date…then my left foot tripped over a rock that was bigger than any of the others, and then I fell. The only instinct that was put to action, of course, was to jam my hands forward to prevent my head from getting hurt, but that just made things worse. When I lifted my hands from their position, I saw a gash in the center of my palm, and small drips of blood slid down to the ground. The pain hadn’t come in yet, so I took the opportunity to get up again. I kept on thinking that when I got to the washroom I could wash my hand, then use something to bandage it, but then I tripped again. Stupid me.
By then it started to hurt, and I needed some help, at least. I looked up from my palm and scanned my surroundings frantically, like there would be any help. There were only a few campers in this campground, and I doubted there were any people staying next to the washroom. But I was mistaken; my flashlight shone on a tree on my left, and I caught something. I stopped. I thought I saw…a man? Standing in a little clearing that was surrounded by trees, and one of the trees was the one my light had caught. I looked back, but I didn’t have enough time. I gasped when I saw it—a creature on four legs, not a man. I heard a bloodcurdling scream echo off the woods as the creature lunged at me, but I didn’t have enough time to process that the scream was mine. The creature had blue eyes.
I leaned against a big tree at my back, and in helpless effort, put my arms over my head, trying to protect myself. I didn’t want to see this.
Then I heard a deafening crack and a loud, familiar growl.
I waited for it to get me, grab me and finish me, but it took an awful long time. Nothing came. I wondered what had happened, and I released my head. What I saw was two men in the clearing, and they seemed to be huddled against each other. I smelled the smell of…rust and salt? And something else that I didn’t recognize.
Then everything went black.
When I woke I felt someone’s hand on my wrist, and another on my forehead.
At first the voices were just a hum, but then Dad said my name.
“Carlizza? Are you okay?” His voice was layered with worry.
“What happened?” said another, and I was pretty sure it was Mom. Then I slowly grew aware that I was lying on a soft, cushioned, thing, and that there was something heavy resting on my collarbone. The locket? It took me a while to make sure what position I was in…standing or lying down? Then I remembered that there was something soft and cushiony under me, so I must have been lying down. But why?
“Maybe we should bandage her hand,” said a voice I didn’t recognize; it was loud and croaky.
“That’s a good idea,” said Mom. I heard the sound of rummaging and then a piece of paper pressed onto my hand. It was painful, but I decided it took too much effort to cry out.
“Can you get me that cloth?” said Dad. There was the sound of water, and then something cold and wet was laid on my forehead. It must have been the wet cloth. It helped me get things clear, and with a little bit effort, I found I could open my eyes just the tiniest crack. There was a small, bright light somewhere, and that pierced my vision, so I closed my eyes again. A moment later I tried again, and the light wasn’t so piercing. I was looking up at our tent ceiling.
“Carlizza!” Mom cried in apparent relief.
I looked for her head, and I found her. I tested my voice.
“Mom…” it wasn’t so good.
With a startled breath, memories suddenly flashed back into my head. I sat up abruptly, and something slid off my lap.
“Whoa. Careful, hon,” said Dad.
My words came out in a rush.
“He…I saw him, Dad. There were two men. It was a creature. It had blue eyes. It has to be him!” I threw the sleeping bag off my lap and got up. I used my hand to push myself up, but something hot and numb tore through it, and it made me sit back down.
“Ow! OW!” I looked at my hand, fully bandaged, but it hurt like flames.
“What is it? Don’t, Lizza! No. Relax, okay? Calm down. Take a deep breath,” said Mom. I obliged, and heaved a breath. I shut my eyes, and instantly calmness overtook me. Then they flew open again. “Mom. I’m cold. And hungry.” I shivered involuntarily.
“You’re cold? Lie back down.”
“No, that won’t help, Mom,” I protested. “I…want to get out and stretch.”
“Okay. We’ll get out and set a fire.” A cold hand grabbed my arm, and I realized the campground owner was here, too. He helped me up.
I stumbled out, and with a start, I realized it was still night. There was an owl hooting in the distance. I sat in a chair next to the now burning fire, and waited for it to warm me. Eventually, it did, and Mom brought me a mug of hot water. I drank it eagerly. Then she sat next to me and rubbed my lap.
“Okay, Lizza, now will you tell me everything that happened? I remember when you said you wanted to use the bathroom, so you can start from there.”
I stared at the flames for a moment, and a roaring lion appeared in it. I looked away and watched Mom’s face. It was pale. So I told her everything.
“…And instead there wasn’t a lion, there were two men huddled on the ground!” I finished. I looked up, and on her face there was total disbelief. It disappointed me.
When she didn’t answer for a long time, I said, “Well, now will you tell me what happened on your side when I was out?”
“I was still sleeping when Dad woke me up and told me you were gone. I didn’t believe him until I saw your empty mattress, and we were both very worried. All we remembered was that you wanted to use the washroom, so we decided to go look for you outside. We were dead worried. Then we heard your…scream, and we knew you were outside by then. We went out and found you…kind of lying on the trunk of a tree with a bleeding hand, and Dad called the campground owner over to help us carry you back to our tent. It was quite frightening, and we wondered what had happened to you. We tried to wake you up, and finally you did.”
Then she got up and walked over to the stove with my mug, and warmed another cup of hot water. I sat back in my chair and stared at the flames. The campground owner had gone back to his cabin, and Dad was in the tent.
I rubbed my locket absently as I stared into the flames, waiting for some explanation to come to me. What was all this about? Why would there be a creature with blue eyes in a forest, and two men? Plus, they had blue eyes…it had to be one of the Molls, as far as I knew. Then I remembered what the campground owner had said, that this was a sacred area of the Mollantos. Where the old man in the legend lived. Perhaps, out of my suspicions, the Molls were Mollantos, and they were here to…do something near the old-man-in-the-legend’s house?
My absent rubbing of the locket caused it to open, and without noticing, something fell to the ground. When I looked away from the flames, I noticed it, and it was a crumpled roll of paper. I bent to pick it up. Someone had stuffed this into my locket, and it was another piece of evidence. I unrolled it and read the scribbled note.
Come back to Almuñecar as soon as possible and visit me at my house. Plus, there’s an oncoming thunderstorm anyway.
I gasped, and I dropped the note. It fell into the flames. The creature that had lunged to me…was it Jack? Yes, it was! How stupid I was! Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier?
I looked up at the sky, and even if it was still dark, I could feel the heavy clouds ready to release something—a storm.
“Lizza, would you like some hot water?” Mom asked, walking over with another mug of hot water. It was getting cold again, so I agreed and drank it up.
“Mom, it looks like there’s gonna be a big storm,” I said, still looking up at the sky.
“How do you know?”
“Didn’t you see? On our drive over, there was a big cloud, and now, even when the sky is dark, can’t you feel a heavy presence up there?”
“I guess you’re right. Maybe we should go back to Almuñecar.”
I tried to hide my smile of smugness—going back to Almuñecar was just what I wanted at the moment, and not just because I was scared of the rainstorm, but because I was suddenly very eager to see what Jack was up to. I had finally caught up with him, and he would have to tell me everything, because if he didn’t I would just have to keep on wondering and bugging him. It was weird that nobody else had noticed the Molls’ odd attitude—staring at you with frightening blue eyes, always with a tension like they could read your mind. Or maybe it was because nobody ever spent any time with them at all, either because at first sight it already made you uncomfortable or you could tell that it wasn’t a very good idea to be friends with this guy. But sometimes I still wondered how I became friends with Jack, because I hadn’t noticed his odd attitude earlier when we were little. He seemed pretty normal back then. And now, it felt like he’d changed so much.
My eyelids began to feel heavier and after a while I told Mom I was ready to sleep again. I wasn’t sure if I would fall asleep at all, but at least I should get some rest. It felt weird walking around with a huge bandaged hand, but I was afraid to take it off because I was scared to see the deep gashes again.
To my surprise, when I opened my eyes again, it was morning, and I could tell it from the huge shadow resting on the tent ceiling—some kind of bird that had decided to rest on our ceiling for the night, and was almost ripping the nylon through its sharp claws by now. I realized I wasn’t lying on my mattress, I was on the tent cloth that separated the rocky ground from us. Mom and Dad’s mattresses and sleeping bags were already packed. The tweeting of little birds had begun again, and I felt refreshed. I sat up and stretched, and noticed that someone had bandaged my hand again, and it felt even worse. It was heavy and numb, and the bandage was so tight that I couldn’t even wriggle my fingers to get some feeling into it. Perhaps Mom and Dad had found the first-aid kit we had packed into a very deep part of our trunk, and cleansed my hand when I was still asleep so I wouldn’t feel the pain.
As I stepped out, I was greeted by bright sunshine and the smell of the sausages Mom was frying for breakfast. This was supposed to be a storm? When I looked up, the sun was out and the sky was blue—there wasn’t a cloud to spoil the view. But I saw that the big stormy cloud was just pushed to the side of the sky, and it was slowly edging towards us.
“’Morning, Mom. Isn’t there supposed to be a storm?” I gestured at the blue sky.
“Yeah, Dad got some internet this morning at the kind campground owner’s house, and he checked the weather forecast. The storm’s just delayed to later, so it’s hitting tonight. It’ll take us a whole day to drive back, but we can still check out the lake on the way. We won’t hike, though.” I nodded in reply.
“I’m probably not gonna be in good shape for hiking, anyway.” I pulled my right leg up just the tiniest bit, and it hurt.
“What time is it, by the way?”
“It’s almost ten,” she replied, and slid a plate of bacon and eggs over the picnic table.
“Ten! I’m so late!”
“Don’t worry, Lizza. Something bad happened to you last night, and it wasn’t good.”
Upon her words, last night’s memories flashed back, and I saw a blue-eyed lion and two men huddled on the ground. I shivered.
“Are you cold?”
“No, just…you know.” I shrugged.
“He’s having coffee at the campground owner’s house. His name is Fred, and he was really nice to us. Gotta pay him some respect and chat a bit, right? Dad’s gonna pick us up when we’re done packing; he drove the car over to their house,” she said as she closed the barbecue stove’s lid.
I wasn’t very hungry anymore, but I managed to finish everything, at least. She helped me wash my dish, then she went over to pack the tent and sleeping bags. I tried to help as much as I could, but packing sleeping bags wasn’t a very good idea when you have an injured hand. When I was stuffing a sleeping bag into one of its bags, my bandage ran loose, and the sleeping bag material brushed my gash. It wasn’t a feeling you would like to experience, and even worse was staying through the cleansing and bandage-wrapping.
Soon, Mom had managed to get everything packed up and ready to go, so she took out her smartphone and called Dad. I watched her take the phone out from her jean pocket, and watched her stare at the phone screen. It took me a while to realize that Mom was wearing a confused expression, and that she had had been staring at the screen for an unnecessarily long amount of time.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes at the screen for a moment, then looked up.
“Someone called. It’s not Dad, and it looks like it’s for you,” she replied sternly, and held the phone out for me. I watched her expression carefully before taking it with my good hand.
The caller’s number was one I didn’t recognize, but the name was. My mouth nearly fell open all the way as I read it. Underneath the number, it read: Jack Mollanto.
It was Jack, and his full last name was actually Mollanto. I scrolled down, and found that he had left a short message that contained only one word: Carlizza.
I looked at Mom, and asked her, “Should I reply now?”
“Probably not. Just answer his message, then let me call Dad.”
“Mmm-hmm.” It took me longer than usual to type my answer with only one hand, and I wrote, Coming, Jack. It was you last night, right? I knew it.
Then I handed the phone to Mom, and she dialed Dad’s number. I stared at the gravel ground as she talked, thinking about the possibilities of what Jack would want to tell me when we got back.
A few minutes later Dad drove our car over, and we loaded everything in.
“Morning, Dad. How was your coffee?”
“Fine, thank you very much. How’re you feeling?”
“Fine, thank you very much,” I copied him. We grinned at each other.
When we got to the lake, the clouds were starting to cover the sunlight, and it was getting very humid, I could feel. The lake was beautiful, with the mountains in the distance throwing perfectly symmetrical reflections on the water. Once in a while, the winds would blow a few leaves off of a tree, and the leaf would flutter onto the water, creating a beautiful ripple of water around it as it landed. We took a lot of photos and everything, but my mind wasn’t on it. My mind was on Mollantos at the moment.
By the end of the day, we finally pulled up into the basement, and we took everything upstairs. The rain was getting really heavy, and it was comforting in the house. I walked upstairs and dumped my luggage on my desk, then began to put all my clothes and belongings back into their places. I looked outside at the rain once in the while, hoping it would stop so I could go see Jack.
Well, if it didn’t stop, getting permission to go outside in this kind of weather was going to be very little, meaning the chances were slim. So maybe I should just wait till tomorrow after school. I hoped it would still be raining when school ended tomorrow, so I could sneak over to Casa Molle and make an excuse for coming back home late—the rain.
The next day when I woke up the rain was gone and the weather was replaced by a big, bright sun. Once again, as I walked to school in the wet puddles, the big cloud was just pushed to the edge of the sky, waiting for an opportunity to enclose upon us. I hoped that its opportunity would be when school ended.
And, amazingly, my wish came true; because by the time the day ended when I stared out the window it had begun raining again. I had purposefully tried not to bring an umbrella in the morning so that I could lie to Mom and Dad when I came back home and say I forgot my umbrella, so I couldn’t get back home before the rainstorm ended. I picked up a free umbrella in the principal’s office on the way out the school building. When I stepped out the door, I opened my umbrella and entered the rain, walking in the direction of Casa Molle. But once I stepped out, I realized that the small drops falling from the sky weren’t just raindrops—they were large, oversized hails. The hail pellets were so big that one managed to rip my new bad-quality umbrella, so I tried to hurry. This was odd weather for March—middle of spring and there was a hailstorm. Amazing.
I ran to Casa Molle, and soon I was standing in front of the gate. I stopped there for a long time, despite the heavy hail pellets that were raining down on me. Finally, I pressed the doorbell, and I saw that my hand was trembling. It took what seemed like decades till someone answered the door, and to my surprise, it was Jack.
He was calling something over his back in a language I didn’t recognize—it was neither Italian nor Spanish. And when he turned, his blue eyes greeted me once again.
I was shocked to see how much he’d grown—at least one foot taller in the last month. He was wearing cut-up shorts and a plain black T-shirt. His face was a grin when he turned around to greet his visitor, but his face fell immediately when he saw me.
“Lizza. It’s you. You came.”
“Yep. I thought you had something you wanted to tell me?” I pushed open the front gate, which creaked as it opened, and once I was under the shelter of the eaves of the door, I closed my umbrella, shaking the hail off.
“Bad weather for March,” I murmured.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Punishment.” I raised my eyebrow at the last word.
“Punishment?” Jack cleared his throat.
“I shouldn’t have told you that. Come in.” There was a tinge of reluctance in his voice. I eyed him speculatively before following him into the house.
Although I probably didn’t look too eager to go into the house from the outside, inside my heart was throbbing with excitement. It would have been embarrassing to show my feelings, but I had an impression that whenever Jack turned his back on me he was secretly laughing or something, because his shoulders kept on shaking. I put my umbrella in a small pot beside the doorway, and slid out of my shoes. The floor was freezing, even through my socks, and I wondered how Jack didn’t show the same reaction to the cold floor as me with his bare feet. I looked up, and I noticed something I hadn’t been expecting—everything inside here was wooden. Outside, the house looked cement, but in here, it was all wooden. The design was familiar to me, and it took me a while to recall it—there were similar sculptures of lions and everything in here as in the Indian restaurant we had eaten at last month.
Suddenly Jack turned, and I almost bumped into him.
“Look, Lizza, I’m not really supposed to be doing this. It’s kind of…against our law, and all this you’re seeing now is supposed to be a family secret. So, if you don’t mind, would you try not to ask all the questions you usually annoy me with?” He was smiling sadly.
“I annoy you? What law?”
“Look,” he began and took a deep breath. “Sevastian and me are actually part of a…special…aboriginal tribe. Well, you can’t really call us aboriginal, because we don’t have cultures and we’re not so native and everything, but we have a special gene that ties us to this bloodline forever.” He paused for a moment. I narrowed my eyes and looked at him confusingly.
“What tribe is it?” I asked eagerly, although I was sure I already knew the answer.
“I think you know. You’ve been mingling with us for so long, and I know you know we have something different from others.”
“Exactly.” He smiled with gratitude. I was surprised by his attitude. He seemed to know everything I was thinking about right now, like he had a secret telescope somewhere which he constantly looked through, and that telescope enable him to see other people’s minds.
“Exactly,” he repeated.
“I said exactly.”
Jack grinned. “You know that I know what you’re thinking right now, right? For example, you’re thinking there’s something wrong with me right now.” He sighed. “Which is true.” I glared at him in frustration. Why did he have to be so sneaky?
“So, let’s get this straight. You’re a Mollanto, and you have…a special telescope that can see through other people’s minds?”
Jack grinned again. “Good creativity. That’s exactly right.”
“Isn’t that kind of…impossible to exist? I mean, you can see other people’s minds?”
Jack smiled that same sad smile again. “Yeah, many people don’t believe in our abilities. It’s kind of like an instinctive feeling that we’re born with. We call it mind-sharing, and that’s our main gift that makes us special. It’s a bit like we have two selves, one spiritual”—he held up two fingers like a quotation mark—“and one that exists in being on Earth. Our spiritual self can travel into other people’s existing beings, as long as it’s living and it has a body. It’s a bit hard to explain, but mind-sharing also includes the ability to read minds, which is annoying sometimes. So, we’re not really supposed to share this with others, except for people with the gene also, Mollantos.”
I had been staring at him intently the whole time, and I was listening to him so deeply to pay attention to what was going on outside. There was a reason to everything.
“That’s what you are? A Mollanto who can read minds?”
He pursed his lips. “All Mollantos can read minds, Lizza. It just depends on how hard…you work on trying to hide the special ability. It’s almost like fighting the urge to take the telescope out, except a thousand times harder to resist. Mind-sharing used to be the key of survival in the old times for the Mollantos, Lizza. Since we can leave our existing being and live with our spiritual selves, we can occupy different forms. In fact, I could leave my body right now, which would probably look like I’m dead, and enter your body, as long as you allow me. Once I enter your mind, if your spirit self is weaker than mine, than I can take over your body, and then your body will be occupied by me, except in your form.”
“I have a spirit also?”
Jack sighed and put his head in his hands. “I thought I told you not to ask me anything.”
I let out an angry breath through my nostrils. “Then what am I here for?” I snorted.
“Just to listen to all this?”
“What? I just came here to listen to you? Why do you even want to tell me this? Isn’t this just against your law, as you told me?” The words all came out of me in a rush. None of this made sense.
I searched his eyes, and as I flicked back and forth I thought I saw them tighten with a tinge of frustration. I felt his body tense as his blue eyes stared at the wall behind me. I regretted saying what I just told him, and had a sudden urge to reach out and touch him, comfort him.
Then his eyes relaxed, and he looked back down at me. He took a deep breath and sighed. “Look, the whole reason I’m doing this now is because I need your help.” He held up a finger and closed his eyes for the fraction for a second when he saw me about to protest.
“You know, your thoughts vary from the original. They’re interesting.”
I waited for him to continue, crossing my arms. He finally let go of the position standing over me, releasing his left hand from the wall and leaving only the right hand supporting his leaning position on the wall.
“You give me a determination whenever I pull my telescope out, Lizza. It helps me control myself. See, in the legend that the other girl told you, the female changed into a lion because she saw a dead cat. When people are dead, it is easiest for us to trade bodies. But that was the first time that the Mollantos learned of their special gift, and that legend has been told for generations after that realization. The children of that female soon learned to mind-share and trade bodies also, and we began to trade bodies with humans also, not only animals. For a few generations, they lived fine with this practice, and many of the Mollantos became immortal, because the spiritual self can actually live longer than the existing being. So once the living being dies, the spiritual self can occupy another being’s self, and like this, changing bodies, you can assume yourself immortal, except that your outer form will always be different. But your inner self, your spiritual, will always be the same person as when you were born. But a few generations later, the Mollantos started having trouble with the humans, who were starting to suspect who they were because of the many personality changes that have happened over the years, which they thought was multiple personality disorder at first. Because the Mollantos had to preserve their gift a secret, they tried to abandon mind-sharing and body-trading. But it is very difficult to stop like that.
“So once the Mollantos grew sick of having to abandon mind-sharing, they went back to the stories. In the legend, the female traded bodies with a cat. Perhaps mind-sharing with animals wouldn’t be so attracting, and perhaps they could survive on this longer. So they copied what the female did—they mind-shared with animals. Most Mollantos are from Spain, living with the Spanish. So they walked into the forest one day, waiting for a living being with thoughts to come to them. Amazingly, the first animal they heard was one of a cat, and it was a wild mountain lion. Once the Mollanto entered the cat’s body, he felt very comfortable and snug in there, and it was like he opened his eyes for the first time. So each Mollanto found an animal to mind-share with frequently, and they noticed that the humans weren’t suspecting so much anymore. So they began worshipping the cat god, one that we still try to worship now, for good fortune, so that the humans won’t find out about us. It worked. Soon, each Mollanto began to spend at least half of their lifetime in the form of the cat they had chosen, and the cat began to think in the same way as the Mollanto. After a few years, some cats and Mollantos began to develop odd relationships, and the cats they had chosen began to be one with the Mollanto. Therefore, all the children of Mollantos from that time on were half cat. They began to avoid body-trading with humans, instead body-trading with the animal inside them. Nowadays, we can’t really call it body-trading anymore, because the cat is actually part of you once you use him a few times. Some Mollantos even have two names, one for the cat; the other for the being that was on two legs.”
After a while, he added, “I’m running out of my tabs.” I raised my eyebrows.
“Tab? What does that mean?”
“It’s…when a Mollanto gene is mixed with a human one, the child will be half Mollanto half human but with a new ability from the human parent that we call tabs. It’s the thing that helps us control ourselves, so that we don’t end up tearing our human parent to pieces. Mia’s a human, and I’m even starting to have trouble controlling myself in front of her. So, I think I’m running out of my tabs…perhaps I’ve been spending too long with humans. Wild Mollantos—real ones with two full Mollanto parents—cannot bear the resistance of trying not to enter of mind-share with humans, let alone eating up the human. That’s why humans think the Mollanto stories are only legend, that they’re not real anymore—because they’re hiding, staying far away from the humans.”
“Mmm.” I hadn’t really been paying much attention, because all I was thinking about was how Jack would look like in cat form.
“So how would I help?” I asked matter-of-factly. My legs were getting tired now, so I started walking around in the wide space.
“Sevastian says you are special, and in your thoughts I think you already are. He can sense that you have an ability to convince people somehow and even play with their emotions. You’re already doing it, Lizza, you’re making me feel so determined, and with that all you have to do is stay with me once in a while. It might run my tabs up.” He shrugged.
I blinked in surprise. So all I had to do was stay with him. That wasn’t so hard.
“I’m fine with doing this and everything, but I’m just wondering do I have to do this? What happens if I don’t?”
He tensed. Once again, I craved to reach out and touch him.
“I’ll end up running around slaughtering everyone in town,” he replied through gritted teeth. “And I’ll have to start from you. You’re already closest to me. That’s what happened to my brothers and sisters, anyway.”
I shivered. “You have brothers and sisters?”
“Yep. Older, ran out of their tabs. We had to send them out of town in Italy to live with the real Mollantos in Spain, to hide with them. But I don’t want that to happen to me. The actual main reason we moved here in the first place was because we were thinking that maybe it was time for me to move out to live with the real, wild, Mollantos also.”
“Oh. I paused to lift my bandaged hand and examine it.
“That’s what you wanted to say?”
He sighed impatiently.
“Yes. Unless you were expecting more?”
To be honest, I had been expecting more.
He snorted in reply.
“You want to see how I look like in cat form, right?” I stared at him with wide eyes, hoping to convey that I meant a yes.
He gave me a dirty look in reply.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to control myself. It’s too dangerous.”
“Uh…I can help you. If I know how. But I’ll try, and if I’m already doing it now…then, great!” I tried to sound cheerful.
He shook his head.
“That’s what we’ve been debating the last month, Lizza. Why I haven’t been visiting you.”
“Mmm-hmm. I entered that cat’s body last month at the restaurant, Lizza. I couldn’t resist. If it weren’t for you, I would have gone in and entered that cat’s mind. That’s pretty much all you have to do. You radiate a source of odd energy that helps control myself.”
As I listened, a plan was forming in my head. I furrowed my brow. I would make a deal with Jack. If he let me see how he looked like on four legs, then I would help him “run his tabs up.” I really wanted to see how he looked. I didn’t really care about helping him or not, because judging from his words, helping him was effortless. I was already doing it now, and I didn’t even have to think about it. The deal was simple and reasonable.
“Okay. Let’s make a deal.”
I listed the deal in my head and let him read. It took an awful long time.
“No. Why are you so stubborn, Lizza?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Why do you want my help so much, Jack?”
He stood up from his leaning position and looked up at the ceiling.
“I might have to ask Sevastian.” He said at last. I opened my mouth to reply, but he had already raced to the light at the end of a corridor. I decided not to follow him, whatever he was doing in there. I was fully confident that he would not hurt me, and I had to see him to believe that all this was true. I played with the bandage on my hand. A moment later I heard a growl issue from the corridor. My head snapped up.
I cocked my head to see. To my amazement, there was a small mountain lion walking down the corridor. I hadn’t expected Jack to agree to my deal so eagerly. He must be wanting my help a lot. The lion had blue eyes, as I had expected. It looked beautiful. It purred, and a moment later Jack was back on two legs. I was too amazed to speak.
“That was me. Deal?”
It took me a while to open my mouth properly. I had been playing with my bandage absently, and it was a mess now, showing my hurt hand. I nodded. Jack grinned.
He smiled. “Actually, you know what? Mia and Sevastian just called your parents. We told them that we’ll drive you back home in five minutes.
Leave a comment to cheer Anita for a sequel! Love and Adiós~~~~