by J.E. Santos 06/09/2018
Chapter 6: Destruction and Creation
It was the evening of the tenth week—a Friday—that Karl Michael Cruz asked Guada to visit his humble abode. Given Guada’s age, Karl walked relatively slow, hence they reached the makeshift house near the river in an hour. For Karl, of course, who developed hard muscles on his legs and thick soles from traversing back and forth a two-kilometer path hurdled by mud, thick greeneries, uneven land, and sharp stones twice a week, twenty-minutes was slow, and an hour—he thought on their way—felt like forever.
When they reached the makeshift house, Guada, sweating profusely, panted and coughed. Karl offered a container of water taken from his remaining provisions. The cicadas sang, the river rustled; the cool air tickled their sweaty skins. And under the borrowed glow of the moon; under the glittering light distant stars, they sat on the grass. A small gas lamp was beside Guada. Container in hand, she spoke.
“How did you learn to live like this?”
“What? Like to see better in the dark? I got used to it.”
“No, smart mouth! I mean, this… Living here in solitude. Not missing what you have left. Not backing off in spite of certain unfavorable conditions.”
“I ask myself the same thing every once in a while. It’s like I’m a walking contradiction. Now that I think about it, like you, even without the merits and such, I had a comforting life. Mediocre but still comforting. But comfort just—it didn’t make me whole. If anything, it made me somewhat miserable. But now that I look miserable, now that I am not certain where my life is headed, now that I ponder upon a surprise knock of death every night, now that I go famished from time to time, now that I have no one to cuddle or have sex with, now that I have no particular purpose in life whatsoever—neither pre-given nor man-made, I feel whole. Now that I am not in control, I feel that I am in control.”
“You’re a strange man, Karl.”
“I know.” he chuckled. “Guada…” Karl called softly while looking at the stars.
“I haven’t asked if you and Emil had a child.”
“Yeah? Well, we didn’t.”
“Is it by choice or by default?”
“I don’t know how to begin answering that question. It’s a lot complicated than that. Can I at least give you an obscurely vague answer?”
“Sure. If that’ll be better.”
“We are slaves to the whims of our habits. When we realized that—Emil and I—it was rather too late. We already blurred the lines between what the heart wants and what it doesn’t. Do we want a child or otherwise?—we can’t tell.”
“Either way, there’s something to regret.” Karl let out a defeated sigh.
“That’s from Kierkegaard.” Guada responded with what seemed to be a smile of resignation. In the dimness generated by the night and the small light of the gas lamp, their facial expressions were ambiguous.
“What do you do every night?”
“To quote Mr. Cioran, I endure myself.”
“And is every night worth enduring?”
“Once you appreciate the pureness of existing, everything is worth enduring.”
“True.” Guada said softly. “You know, it’s odd that I like the way you think and live, Karl.”
“Yes. That’s why I can’t have a son like you.”
“I feel the same way. I can’t have a mother like you.”
And they laughed while looking up at the light distant stars which were either dead or alive. Both of them were neither oblivious of what tomorrow may bring nor absolutely aware.
Death knocked on Guada’s door and it succeeded; the emissary being the seven men who claimed to be a peaceful faction. Sitting beside Guada’s empty shell was the hairy and filthy Karl Michael Cruz who found it very difficult to generate tears even though countless worms were burrowing in his heart. It was five in the morning.
He borrowed the shovel again—that which he had used for digging the holes of his makeshift house’s foundation. Only this time, the shovel was used to bury the owner—Guada. Karl buried her near the river when the sun was high. In the afternoon, when it rained, Karl was in his house contemplating on what he had lost and what he was about to lose. The rusty roof on his head, virtually a scrap given by Guada, had several holes. Droplets of water came in, but Karl didn’t mind. He was lost in his limbo of emotions. Anger, fear, grief—all of which were thrown in a boiling pot. Beside him was the filthy shovel. He needed to think clearly, he needed to drown unnecessary noises so he went outside and had the downpour drown such noises.
And then, like a crack of lightning, it hit him. An unshaken resolve to end his struggle.
Unlike Guada who was surprised by death’s knock, Karl Michael was aware of when it would knock: three more nights. Escaping, he thought, would be a good option for the probability of him leaving Atsuete was good. Of course, getting lost and encountering some members of the peaceful faction were under the realm of probabilities. Getting lost would not be such a bad alternative for getting stabbed or hacked or shot. The problem was, either way, Karl Michael Cruz would be helpless. Sure, he could defend himself with the tools that he now took permanently from the deceased—shovel, hammer, kitchen knife, service knife, Swiss army knife, some screw drivers, and other small materials—but an intricate area with uneven land, sharp stones, and such would not be a good area for the fight or flight strategy. Besides, Karl was not a fighter. He may look the type now given his built, but he never had experienced one fistfight in his entire existence. And certainly not this. These men were out to butcher him. But he had one advantage, he thought. His makeshift house. He could stay there, thicken wooden walls, horde sharp objects, bide his time, and attack at the precise moment of conflict. But what were his chances of survival? Although the peaceful faction claimed that they had other guns—high powered as they claimed—they only showed one so far: the GLOCK 17. And their argument for bringing only one gun during their visit was flimsy. If I were part of the peaceful faction, I would bring a high powered gun for two reasons: (1) to intimidate people; (2) to claim that I would use the high powered gun to protect them. I won’t bring one if I don’t have one, Karl thought. Another thing, no victim including Guada, died from a gunshot. Victims were either hacked and stabbed or strangled. It was as if the gun only served as a symbol of intimidation. “One man with a gun can rule a hundred without one.” as Lenin puts it. But if I were wrong, then three nights from now, I could be riddled with bullets. It’s also possible that they deem it unnecessary to use such guns given that they could achieve the same effect with one. And if that is the case and following their logic, high powered guns are unnecessary for seven men who would target one unarmed man—one that they assume to be a harmless outsider whose function is to subsist on their resources. Also, they will assume that I won’t expect them. There is a chance that they’ll think killing me is a walk to the park. But I can prove them wrong. Even though I do not have any experience about fighting, most of all killing another man, I have the awareness of their intent. Three nights. That’s enough time for me to work up an escape plan or a plan to defend myself. I choose the latter. Karl, now possessing a fixed resolve, said to himself.
The routine of the peaceful faction, he also thought, had changed. This time, these men would try to wait for him in Guada’s house during the evening. They would be surprised though to find out that Guada’s body was missing, and it would be possible for them to pay Karl a visit in advance. So if they attacked a day or two early, he would have no time to prepare and execute his plan. Using the materials that he scavenged in Guada’s house and remembering a certain movie trope on a DIY alarm utilized in the woods, he lined up empty cans now carrying keys and other noisy metal trinkets with a long nylon string. He then tied the string from one tree to the next. When he ran out of cans, he used other available noise makers. His long DIY alarm was placed on several possible pathways. The thick grasses served as a camouflage for the intertwined network of strings. Next, he waited for the hard rain to stop. When there was only drizzle, he crossed the narrow and shallow part of the river to get to the other side. He would sleep on the other side under the cloak of the damp tall grasses and plants. If this evening his alarm sounded off, he would run and get lost on the other side; if, however, it didn’t, his plan for tomorrow would continue. He thought he could take his chance to explore this other part of the woods. But even if he didn’t encounter the peaceful faction here, he was uncertain of where it led and how long it would take him to get out. His provisions were only good for four days and he couldn’t risk it. The best way to deal with this, he kept saying to himself, is to face his hunters. Covered with greeneries on the other side, he didn’t sleep. Above him, there were no stars.
Two nights before the peaceful faction’s prospected attack, around four in the morning, when he was truly certain no one would come for him, he crossed the river and hastily went back to Guada’s place. When he arrived, he used the slits of the backdoor to view if there was someone in the house. The backdoor creaked when he entered. There was no sign that the peaceful faction visited. Everything was the way Karl exactly left it since yesterday, except for the missing corpse. He went to what seemed to be Guada’s small storage room. Sneaking, he then scavenged for anything that he could find useful: white paint, a marker, brush crude oil, gas lamp—he put them all in a small wheel barrow situated at the back of Guada’s house. He then started dismantling the shaky floor boards of the house, the bamboo sticks which constituted Guada’s bed on the second floor. Strings, ropes, tapes, scissors, gin, nails of different sizes; even a round mirror the size of his head—he took them all. Although hasty, Karl left no stones unturned. Finally, he looked under Guada’s cabinet and there he found a bolo and a small ax. He smiled. It was very difficult to navigate the wheel borrow given the rough and uneven terrain, things constantly fell off, but out of Karl Michael’s will to act, he made it.
Near the river, when the sun was high, he started working. Karl Michael Cruz drew, cut, punched out, chopped, tied, sharpened, broke, scattered, planted, dug, patched, placed, and doubled such and such materials and interiors. Outdoor, when he was hungry, he kindled a small fire and used the pot given by Guada so he could stew some tomatoes and vegetables. He drank from the river when he became thirsty. In the afternoon, after finishing the other tasks he had set for himself, he painted the front of his makeshift house white, and as he felt his will grow stronger and stronger and stronger, he used the marker to draw a large and visually accurate penis on the door. It was—for him—a strong man’s symbol. A sign that he was ready to stand his ground no matter what the odds. But strategically, he wasn’t quite ready. The modifications that he made inside the small makeshift house was not yet complete. He wanted to finish everything that evening so if ever the cans sounded off, he would go with the plan, but he was deprived of sleep and his body demanded rest. So once again, he crossed the river to get to the other side, looked for a good hiding and resting spot, and lay down. There were a lot of stars that night. The cicadas had lulled Karl Michael to sleep. And he had a long and dreamless sleep—everything was just soundless and pitch black. There was no pain, no smell; nothing. That must be what death feels like, he said to himself when he woke up and found out that the sun was high.
“If that is how death feels like, then it won’t be such a bad thing, wouldn’t it, Guada?” he said aloud in front of Guada’s grave. At the center, there was a large sharp stone. After eating a small portion of his provisions, he continued his work. He finished at noon. Having nothing else to do and thinking that this may be the last time he would be able to read, Karl Michael picked up one book from his stacks. It’s Camus’s The Outsider. It was his second read of the book. He opened it and began reading the third to the last chapter. It gave him a little comfort—the idea that the last book he read was about a man who made peace with himself before his inevitable demise and opened his heart to the “gentle indifference of the world”.
In the afternoon, after downing half of the gin, after covering his whole body black with crude oil, after he thought he had thought all there was to think about life, death, and himself, after exhausting all his dread by accepting the great possibility that he would die horrendously later, he felt a great urge to write a letter to his father. So he picked up a pen and a notebook, and started. But before he could finish the letter he dozed off.
This letter will only reach you if I survive the coming onslaught from seven people whom I know only through their aliases, and if I decide to return to you and to the people I have known and taken for granted. Generally, I have lived my life under your care which is both comforting and puzzling. The reason that I call it puzzling is that the more you extend your hand to help me be a better person, the more I feel inadequate. The more I feel miserable. You see, I tried so hard to be good; to be achieve even just a morsel of what you have accomplished. I thought, by doing so, I’d be happy. I was very wrong. To quote Saint Augustine, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” I know that now. Right now, as I await the predators at my door, I am in a state of tranquility. It must be because I have accepted that I’m going to die tonight or that having little sleep has disabled my ability to respond to danger properly. Listen, I have no regrets of leaving for because of this I have learned to—
The clanging of the metal trinkets of the cans woke him up. It was time.
“Tao po!” Karl Michael heard the call from outside. “Is anyone there?” muffled laughter then followed. Karl’s heart pounded strongly and rapidly. He tried to tame the seemingly uncontrollable shaking of his hands. He took a deep breath and reminded him of the fact that these hunters knew nothing of his awareness; of his preparation. Somewhat, he was able to tame the shaking. In the darkness, he lit up a gas light.
The gas light was now spotted by the seven men who seemed to take their time walking towards the small makeshift house. In front of them, Kardong Kana pointed his flashlight at the door. The light beamed accordingly. He uncontrollably laughed when he saw the drawing of a penis.
“Check this out!” he said. They could only hear the sound of their own voice. At first they assumed that the outsider went back to sleep as soon as he dismissed the sound of the trinkets in the cans; as soon as he lit the gas light. But as they got nearer the makeshift house, they thought the outsider was just pretending to sleep perhaps hoping they would go away. But they won’t.
And now, in front of the house, bolos on their waists, some knives, gun in the hand of Dirty Harry, Dong called out. A crack of lightning. There were no stars. It seemed that it would rain anytime soon.
“Care for a drink?” he said. The others chuckled. “We brought wine.” there was no response. “You must be Guada’s friend. We didn’t get your name. The old woman is rather secretive.” Dong then cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, was secretive. The old woman was secretive. Did you happen to—well—know where her body is at? Shovel’s missing at her place. Other things, too. You have them?”
There was no response.
And Dirty Harry, being known as a man who had little patience; who could not control his temper, took the safety off his GLOCK 17. Dong noticed this and just shrugged it off. “Just so you know, this night could end in two ways, friend. It could end favorably, well, for you and for us. We could just wind up knowing each other…” they laughed. “talking about how good it is to live under the care of nature and responsible diligent people in the commune.” Tulog checked if the door was locked. It was from the inside. Kardong Kana, who backed up a little to make room for Tulog and Ike, was still inspecting Karl’s drawing with his flashlight. That was the time he and Dirty harry noticed that there was a hole on the wooden wall near the door. It was easy to fit a person’s hand in. Perhaps, through there, they could unlock the door from the inside. He slowly slipped in his right hand. “Or! Or this night could end unfavorable for you and me. You think you’re safe in a wooden house, my friend? Don’t you know we could huff and puff and blow your house out?”
“Cut the crap, Dong!” Guapo intruded. He then pointed at what Dirty Harry was doing. Waiting for Dirty Harry to unlock the door on the inside and open it, some unsheathed their bolos.
Half naked and covered with crude oil all over, Karl Michael Cruz observed the right hand of a stranger slip in the hole he had deliberately created for this moment. He watched it locate the lock of the door. He then took a deep breath while unsheathing the bolo that he had acquired in Guada’s bedroom. And by convincing himself that the specifics of Hobbes’ contractarianism did not apply in this place for, he thought, everything was permitted in world outside the grasp of authorities such as this, all of a sudden, he gained the mindset. A swift and strong swing! A loud scream! Another swing! And another! And another! A crack of lightning. The arm of the stranger fell on the floor from the inside. Dirty Harry hysterically retreated, fell on the grass, and continuously screamed, “Putangina! Putangina!”He dropped the GLOCK 17 on the grass. Seeing this, without a moment’s thought, flashlight in hand; a bolo in the other, Kardong Kana backed off slowly, turned around, and ran away. The intricate webbings of the strings moved; the trinkets in the cans cluttered.
The initial blow from the outsider left them panic stricken. It was as if they were going to kill a cornered dog for fun and it turned out the dog was rabid. It bit one of them and it would soon bit them all. And that was the time they unthinkingly forced their way through which was what Karl Michael wanted. Cursing and shouting, Ike and Tulog started hacking the wooden door. But it was thick. It was reinforced from the inside. Guapo then went to Dirty Harry who was still screaming in agony. Without a word, he picked up Dirty Harry’s gun. He hastily approached the house.
“Tabi!” he said. Tulog and Ike stepped aside. One, two, three. He fired in rapid succession. This confirmed Karl Michael’s fear that the gun was indeed loaded. Carrying the gas light, he hastily took cover on a thick divider that he had built for this moment. The door was open.
“Fuck!” Ike screamed in pain for upon his entrance, he stepped on two three-inch concrete nails. His right foot was stuck. Seeing this, Tulog avoided the nails by hopping forward accordingly. His face then met the gas light. The glass shattered. From dim to dark. Following the gas light was a kitchen knife tied at the end of two long bamboo sticks. The knife was thrusted in his neck. A crack of lightning. In front of the door, he fell down. Henry and the others, then saw a black dodgy figure in the house holding another improvised spear. This time, it was a bamboo stick whose point could skewer a pig effortlessly. Given this, they hesitated to get in. They realized that before they could hack the outsider with their bolos, his improvised spear would tag them first.
“Step aside!” Guapo said. He pointed his gun at the dodgy figure. With great force, Karl plunged the spear into Ike’s chest and leaped out and took cover on his thick divider. One, two three, four, five shots. Karl Michael hid in a man-size hole on the right corner of the makeshift house. From the small hole, he crawled out outside.
They heard cluttering which signaled that the outsider was at the back of the house. Henry moved to the right side while Dong moved to the left. One of them screamed. It was Henry. He stepped on several concrete nails. Outbalanced, he dropped his bolo and fell on the ground. His right arm was scraped and pierced by several pieces of broken mirrors. Meanwhile, on the left side, Dong cautiously watched where he stepped. It was dark so he struggled in moving forward. He used his toe to feel any pointy objects placed on the ground. He kept his guard up, while doing so. Dong pointed his bolo forward.
“At the back!” he shouted. “There are sharp objects on the ground!” he warned. If only they had brought two or more flashlights, this could have been less difficult, he thought. Their primary source of light, Kardong Kana’s huge flashlight, was gone. So when things get out of hand, Kardong Kana runs away, he thought. That fucking coward! But it was not the time to think of Kardong Kana and his newly discovered nature. As soon as he reached the rear side of the house, a wheel barrow, with strong force coming from a good momentum, collided below his knee. The pain sent him down on the ground. A cracking sound before he could get up! And another! And another! And another! The black figure relentlessly pummeled his skull with a hammer. Dong was dead. Meanwhile, on the right side, almost in tears, Henry struggled to get up for his palms were filled with shards of broken glass. Going back on the left side, when Guapo discovered Dong’s lifeless body through the crack of a lightning, he went mad and started shooting every which way. One, two, three fires.
“Hayup!” Show yourself!” he screamed at the darkness. A crack of lightning. There was nobody there. He relied on the random charge of lightning to see his path. He was near the river. The sound of the rapid pounding of his heart overwhelmed the river’s.
“Help!” he heard Henry from the far right.
A cold and hard grip on his feet! Guapo was dragged into the shallow part of the river. It was Karl who dragged him. In the heat of the struggle, Guapo lost the gun. Karl tried to drown Guapo but the man was taller than him. Guapo realized this in an instant—that this outsider was not as strong as he thought he was considering all that he had done. He just had the right strategy and timing to hurt them direly, but didn’t have the strength to win a hand-to-hand combat. Guapo had a hunting knife on his waist, but he thought it was not worth the bother using it. He could drown the fucker now. Karl thrashed about, but it was all in vain. Guapo was holding his head tightly pushing him down the water. In Karl’s pocket was a Swiss army knife. In the water, hastily, he took it out, switch out a random blade, and thrusting upward, he pierced the right elbow of Guapo. The second he reacted to the pain, Karl grappled him. At this moment, Guapo, reached down to grab the hunting knife on his left belt. A crack of lightning.
Goya’s painting—Saturn Devouring His Son—flashed before the eyes of Karl Michael Cruz. The frenzied eyes of a monster eating up his son, starting with the head, for a little while disturbed his senses. Am I the crazed devourer or am I the devoured? He thought.
And there he was, realizing that in between his teeth was the severed left ear of Guapo. The man screamed in agony and terror. Karl’s right hand then found its way to Guapo’s right eye. He dug his thumb in his eye socket. This was followed by several aggressive biting and chewing on Guapo’s neck.
A crack of lightning. Blood mixed with the river, but it was rather unnoticeable in the darkness.
Karl Michael Cruz emerged from the river disoriented about what he had done. At first he crawled on the ground, he then slowly got up, approached a human-size lump of land; on its center were a sharp stone, a small flashlight, and a small ax. He grabbed the ax and flashlight. Without any control of the function of his body, he puked long and hard. A crack of lightning. It started to rain.
The rain overwhelmed the voice of Henry still asking for help. Beaming the small flashlight, when Karl found Henry at the right side of his house, he was a bloody mess. His hands and arms were cut and pierced by shards of broken glass and nails of different sizes. Of course, Karl Michael was now deaf to his plead of mercy and without a moment’s thought he lifted the small ax. Several times it was swung.
Finally, near the front of his house was a weak and pale Dirty Harry. He had lost a lot of blood; he had no strength left in him; not even the strength to plead for mercy. His eyes communicated that, but Karl couldn’t see it. The ax was swung several times.
The morning after the third night, at the crack of daylight, the people of Atsuete witnessed a man—covered in dirt, blood, and crude oil—approaching their commune. Holding the hairs, each hand carried three heads. Some heads’ eyes were open; some closed; one was missing an eye. And in front of the anxious crowd now gathering up and running towards him, but cautiously, he stopped and threw the heads on the ground.
The eighteenth week:
This letter will only reach you if I survive the coming onslaught from seven people whom I know only through their aliases, and if I decide to return to you and to the people I have known and taken for granted. Generally, I have lived my life under your care which is both comforting and puzzling. The reason that I call it puzzling is that the more you extend your hand to help me be a better person, the more I feel inadequate. The more I feel miserable. You see, I tried so hard to be good; to be achieve even just a morsel of what you have accomplished. I thought, by doing so, I’d be happy. I was very wrong. To quote Saint Augustine, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” I know that now. Right now, as I await the predators at my door, I am in a state of tranquility. It must be because I have accepted that I’m going to die tonight or that having little sleep has disabled my ability to respond to danger properly. Listen, I have no regrets of deciding to leave everything for because of this I have learned to make something of myself.
It seems that this letter will get to you after all. I have been through a lot. I have seen and done unimaginable things… terrible things. I believe I cannot talk about this to you personally so it is best—as I have thought of this through and through—that I express this vaguely in a letter. And I want you to know that in spite of the things that I have done, in spite of all the guilt that continuously devours my inner sense of peace, in spite of the nightmares and anxieties I have helped form, I have no regrets. I am what I create; I am what I destroy, and a man has to live with what he has created and destroyed.
I can’t say that I have become a better person now just because I have met new friends—the old and the not so old—and a highly probable chance of an intimate relationship in a place where you neither change for the better nor for the worse. I am not a better person now, but I can wholeheartedly say that I have filled my inadequacies with something I prefer not to share in details.
Father, in two weeks, I shall visit you so we can talk, so we can clarify certain things. I may stay with you for three to four weeks or more if you want. The thing is, after that, I’d return to this place—Atsuete. I believe the commune here, my friends, the woman I am dearly fond of, they need me here and I need them. It is necessary for me to continue what an old friend has started as well. I need to rebuild what they—no, we!—what we have lost.
And once you’re done reading this letter, I want you to burn it. Keep my words in your head, but let’s not talk about it while we’re together.
I have missed you, father, more that you will ever know. The thing I desire to have is to enjoy my time with you without having to think of the complications that I have caused during the times that we were together.
I’ll be home in two weeks.
– Photo Credit to Quantum Noise Album Cover Art, “Alpha Decay”