“Taking Care of Our Own” by Kelly Matsuura

“This isn’t the way…” Tears streaked my face and I couldn’t finish my words. This isn’t the way I want to say goodbye to my brother! If only I could scream it aloud. 

It was three-thirty a.m. and we had to be quiet. Our lives depended on it.

We were crossing the alleyway behind a Goldilocks bakery, with Danilo’s butchered corpse in four heavy trash bags. 

***

Earlier that night, we had finally caught him. We, being my sister Teresa, and my cousins, Manuel and Joma. 

Someone, something, had killed three children in our neighborhood; the poor little kids were found ripped apart and mauled on, their remains laying in pools of blood in the open streets.

Neighbors had seen it on many nights, dashing away from the headlights of the traffic and into the shadows of the parks and deserted buildings. Everyone feared this evil that had arrived in San Pablo. 

At first, we hadn’t connected Danilo’s running away with the child murders—he’d been gone a full week before the first one—but then, Joma swore that he had seen a rabid Danilo near a dumpster one night. And Joma’s hair, I kid you not, had turned completely white; evidence of true shock, whether real or imagined. 

Maybe he had seen an aswang, in human form, out hunting. But Danilo? No, I prayed he was just off partying in Manila with his seedy friends as he’d done before.  

My mother certainly believed Joma though and feared for the family. 

The day we told her was cool and rainy. Perfect she said, for preparing a protection spell. This spell begins with picking a fresh coconut at midnight and boiling the guts for its oil. Mother spent hours preparing the coconut just right: draining the oil, reciting the protective prayers, and finally, discarding the leftover coconut flesh and shell in a river, far from our home. She then hung the blessed coconut oil in a pouch by the front door. All just as folklore insisted that she do. If an aswang came by, the oil would boil by itself and warn us of the approaching danger, she insisted.

I didn’t believe it, none of us did, but the next night Danilo returned, and the coconut oil boiled over, like lava erupting from Mount Mayon. 

He stood in the front yard; a man’s form in Danilo’s ragged clothes, but he was not my brother. The eyes of a devil, this creature had. Sharp, gold swirls that cut right through you. How Danilo came to be that way we’ll never know, but we knew that night he was our responsibility. Our blood. 

Joma attacked the aswang with my dad’s old machete. The stabs and slices subdued it enough that we could pour the boiling oil over its body and then hack off its limbs and head. 

Mother prepared the trash bags. 

***

So, there we were in the early hours of the morning, in the alley, taking poor Danilo’s remains to the vet’s office where Manuel’s wife worked. They had an incinerator there for cremations—perfect for our task. We were all trying to be strong, but I wasn’t the only one with shaky legs and wet cheeks. 

No one said a word until we reached the small playground close by the clinic. 

“The girl was found there,” Teresa whispered. 

“Shut up!” Joma urged. “We have to get off the streets before the morning traffic starts.” 

We were lucky to be in a quiet, mostly abandoned neighborhood. We’d seen only a few cars drive by. 

Manuel, at the front of our procession, suddenly froze. 

“What’s wrong?” Teresa asked. 

I hurried to catch up and see what had spooked Manuel. 

“Oh God!” 

Another one! A woman, with the same fire-burning glare and snarl that Danilo had had. 

Joma still had his machete and rushed to protect our group. 

A rough fight broke out; the three of us dropped the trash bags and grabbed the nearest weapons we could find. For Teresa, a discarded hub cap; Manuel a rotting fence post from the park; and me—I hit the jackpot with a steel rod. It was rusted and bent but had one sharp edge. I would stick it straight through her eye.

The aswang hissed and snarled, snapped and scratched. We all got bruised, punched and scraped, but thankfully none of us received a deadly bite. We took that bitch down and stepped back to assess the damage. 

“We’re getting good at this,” Teresa joked. 

No one laughed. 

I wiped the warm blood from my face with the hem of my t-shirt and re-gripped my rod.

“Someone help me cut her into pieces,” I ordered. I wanted to get the hell out of there.

Joma looked around. “Where can we get more trash bags this time of morning?”


Kelly Matsuura writes diverse YA, fantasy, and literary fiction. She is the Creator of ‘The Insignia Series’ anthologies (Asian fantasy) and has had stories published with Ink & Locket Press, A Murder of Storytellers, Things in the WellBlack Hare Press and many more. Kelly lives in Nagoya, Japan with her geeky husband. She loves traveling, knitting, cooking, and of course, reading.

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