By: Noelle Marie Falcis
pono lay on the pineapple fiber mat on the floor of the hut, her feet pressed against the moist wood beneath her mat. She stared blankly at the low thatched ceiling unaware of the perspiration gathering at the base of her back and along her neckline. Thin lines of sunlight filtered through the holes between the nipa palm leaves above her. It was painful for her to look at. The light struck her like knives and she turned her head to the side, closing her eyes against the world. She was very ill with a ferocious ache that consumed her body and especially her skull. In her mind, the vague image of a fruit appeared out of the fog. It was circular like the earth and a bright, fiery orange like the sun just before it fell beneath the sea. Two sprouts of green leaves grew atop it like an umbrella against the heat.
"Oh...," she murmured quietly to herself. Apono had never had such a fruit. "An orange orb," she marveled, thinking of the time and distance between herself and the fruit. "I wish I had some of those delicate orange orbs of Adasen." Her spirits fell as she thought of Gawig-- that man would never allow for one fruit to leave his garden.
Apono did not realize that she voiced her longing out loud. Outside the home she shared with her husband, Aponito's ears perked up, attuned to the sounds and sighs of his wife's voice. He was in the spirit-house a few feet away when her words whispered across his skin. Getting up, he excused himself from the conversations he was having with his many ancestors. He stretched up towards the low thatched roof of the circular dome then stepped through the wooden door and into the bright light of the early morning. Their home was only a few steps away and quite quickly, he mounted and climbed the ladder he built, leading up to their hut.
"Apono," he addressed her. "What was that you asked for?"
Apono glanced up at him, realizing her error. She was well aware of her husband's tendencies and the greatness of his love. She feared to tell him the truth because she knew he would be willing to travel so far to Adasen to retrieve the small oranges for her.
"I...," she began. "I just wish I could have some fruit."
Aponito came to her and kneeled by the mat on which she lay. He gently put his hand to her cheek and smiled before turning to leave. Aponito stopped by the door and picked up a leather sack before disappearing out the door. Apono listened to the ladder squeak beneath the weight of his feet as he descended. Once he was gone, the house fell into silence and she kept her eyes closed knowing that he would soon return.
When he did, he came with the sack thrown behind his shoulder. It was filled to the brim with fruits of all kinds: the flushed pink skin of the papaya, the leathery texture of the mango, and the strong hide of the coconut.
"Apono," he said triumphantly.
She turned to look at him and smiled weakly. "Put it on the bamboo hanger above the fire, my love. When my head is better, I will eat."
Aponito did as he was told and placed the fruit on the sturdy hanger. The bamboo shifted and groaned with the added weight. The two looked at one another quietly, an exchange of love in their eyes, then Aponito left back to the spirit house to finish his conversation that had been interrupted. Later, when Apono finally sat up to eat the fruit, she picked a ripe mango from the sack and stared at the green, red skin. She ran her hands over the texture feeling along the ridges where it was so ripe her fingers could bruise it. Taking a knife, she cut it up and brought the fruit to her lips. Upon tasting the sweet tang, she gasped, dropping the fruit as her stomach began to reel. She threw the remaining half onto the floor.
Aponito rushed to the foot of the stairs and called up to her, "What is the matter?" Worry laced the gruffness in his voice.
She took two long, heaving breaths staring at the fruit on the floor.
"Nothing. I just dropped one." Apono glanced at the mess, but too tired, she shook her head and returned to her mat.
After a while, Apono murmured once more, "Oh how I wish I had some of Gawig's orange fruit in Adasen."
Aponito, who did not bother to leave the spirit-house this time, spoke to her in her mind.
"What was that?" his voice soothingly inquired.
"I wish I had some fish eggs," Apono said tiredly. She did not want him to know the truth.
Aponito's presence in her mind became fainter until he was entirely gone. Apono knew that he must have left to the river, determined to please her if it was possible. He caught multiple fish in his net and took out his knife to gut them through the stomach. He took out the golden pearls, their eggs. Aponito spat on the stomachs of the fish that he had cut and watched as the stomachs healed themselves. Gently placing the fish back into the stream, he gave a blessing and watched as the fish swam away.
Pleased, he carried the eggs to the house and gave them to Apono. She got up to roast them over the fire; he returned back to the conversations he had been interrupted in twice. Apono mixed the eggs with rice and attempted to eat them; however, the eggs did not taste good to her. She tossed them beneath the house whistling softly to call their dogs.
"Why are the dogs barking?" Aponito's voice rose. "What's the matter?"
"I dropped some of the eggs," Apono said apologetically. "The dogs rushed to eat some."
Apono lay back down and after some time had passed she found that the beautiful fruit were still on her mind. She couldn't sleep; instead, she rustled on the mat feverishly.
"Oh, how I wish I had some of Gawig’s orange fruit from Adasen."
Aponito appeared, asking what it was she desired and this time she responded quickly, "A deer's liver to eat."
Aponito left quickly to the mountains, whistling to their dogs to follow. They traversed the forested mountain trails until they had caught a young deer surprised at the stealth of this hunter and his hounds. Aponito slit the upper belly of the deer and pulled the warm liver swiftly out before its blood could fall. He spat upon the wound and released the deer, placing it steadily on the ground. Its hooves wobbled as it found its footing, then looked at him in wonder as if it did not know that it had just been killed. The deer trotted away until its mottled coat disappeared into the underbrush. Aponito watched, the warm liver carefully tucked in a pouch that hung from his hips.
Apono could not eat the liver anymore than she could the fruit or the fish eggs. When the dogs barked for a second time, Aponito became suspicious-- he knew that she had thrown the liver away. He halted his conversations, whispering to his elders and ancestors that he had business to attend to. He took his leave. Changing into a centipede, he made his way across the cleared dirt before their hut and climbed the wooden steps. He settled within a crack in the floor and calmly waited, watching his wife. In time, she once again murmured her wish for Gawig’s fruit.
As soon as the request came out, Aponito jumped out of his hiding place, transforming in a man once more.
"Why did you not tell me the truth, Apono?" he asked sadly.
She glanced up at him from her mat. Her chest was rising and falling steadily, beads of sweat rolling off her temples. She closed her eyes and took a few breaths in and out. "Because," she started, "No one who has gone to Adasen has ever come back and I do not want you to risk your life."
Aponito looked at her gravely, then endearingly. He stooped by her and asked her softly, "Is this what you really want?"
She stared into his eyes afraid, but no longer willing to lie. She nodded her head silently.
Immediately, Aponito began to prepare for his trip. Determined to go after the famous orange fruit, he ordered Apono to bring him rice straw. He walked to the fireplace and thrust his hand into the flames until the straw had caught on fire. Transferring the ashes to a bowl, he brought water and mixed the two. He began the ritual of washing his hair with liquid ash. Apono brought the coconut oil and rubbed it all along his scalp and hair then she left to gather what he would need: a dark clout, his inscribed belt, and a headband the color of blood. She baked a series of cakes and placed them all into his leather sack. Aponito, with his hair glistening as black as the raven's wing, walked through their garden decked in his warrior's garb. The blood red of his headband contrasted against the golden brown of his skin. It held back the long thick strands of his hair, which rolled down his back like the incoming waves of the sea. He studied the plants around him and finally settled on a vine, which he cut a long length off of. He planted the vine by the kitchen window where the sunlight was bright and called for Apono's attention.
"If these leaves wilt, then you will know that I am dead," he said.
They embraced until Aponito told her enough. He gathered his spear and head axe, tossing his leather sack of food across his back. Apono follow him down the ladder and stood in their garden, waving until his silhouette was no more. Taking a long breath, she moved back to the house where she would await news of her husband.
Aponito traveled easily, basking in the boundaries of their known world. The forests, the calls of the birds, and the dirt paths-- he knew them all. It was not until he reached the border of the Giantess that he knew that his real adventure was beginning. Her territory was marked by a large stone well in which she lived far far below in its darkest depths. A rock can be dropped down the well, and no sound would be heard for centuries. When it reaches the bottom, no one knows. The sound, having travelled centuries, goes unnoticed. Betelnut trees surrounded this well; each in kin with the Giantess. When Aponito approached, the trees knew that a warrior was among them. They bowed as he approached. Aware of the tale of the well, Aponito approached the rock bowl and stood by its edge. He heard a deathly low bellow that extended for ages. All of the world trembled.
How strange, Aponito thought. All the world shakes when this one woman shouts. He shook his head; there was no time. Aponito continued on his way.
He passed near the low shack of the old woman, Aloko. The shack was primitive and looked to be decrepit. The appearance was meant to give off a sense of abandonment and Aponito felt just that as the home came into focus. A small, brown pup came running out of the shack and raced towards Aponito. It launched itself at his leg where its mouth opened to reveal sharp, jagged teeth. The pup took a firm hold upon Aponito's leg.
Aloko came out of her hut. She was dressed in rags, multiple layers draped across her body like blankets. The heat was unbearably moist and humid. Her hair clung to her face, the dark grey masking itself along the folds of her rags. Aponito could not tell where her hair ended and her dress began. Aloko looked up at him with wise, sage eyes.
"Do not continue down this path," she said. "Only ill luck remains from here. If you go, you will not be coming home."
Aponito ignored her warning the same way he ignored Apono's concerns.
“Tell your dog to release me. I will continue,” he said.
He moved swiftly and soon he approached the home of the Lightning, which was high upon a large hill.
"Where are you going?" asked the Lightning.
His hand comfortable on the handle of his ax, Aponito raised his voice and answered, "I am going to Adasen to ask for some of Gawig's fruit."
The Lightning rumbled above him. "Go stand on that high rock so that I may see you. Let me see what sign you have."
Aponito did as he was told and he approached a large jagged rock that had been split in two. It already bared the aftermath of the Lightning's strength. The Lightning flashed quickly in a spontaneous fury that flew towards the split rock. Foreseeing the Lightning's intentions, Aponito leapt up and dodged the bolt that crashed into the rock once more. He looked up at the sky waiting for the Lightning to speak once more.
"Do not go," the Lightning spoke. "Your sign is one of trouble. You will never come back."
Aponito shook his head. "I cannot," he called loudly so that the sky may hear him. “This is for my wife.” His voice held utmost determination.
Very soon after the home of the Lightning, Aponito entered the territory of Silit, the loudest thunder. His home was past the large hill of Lightning and stood at the tallest mountain on their island. A voice resonated in the air around him, so deep he almost could not hear it. It became louder like a prolonged roar, so loud that Aponito had to clamp his hands tightly against his ears to keep them from bleeding. He waited patiently, gritting his teeth, for Silit to calm his voice.
It quieted. Then a voice appeared in his mind.
"Where are you going, Aponito?" Silit asked. As a demi-god, he knew all names.
"I am going to Adasen to retrieve some of Gawig's orange fruit."
The thunder commanded, "Stand on that high stone so that I can see whether you have a good sign."
Another rock appeared before Aponito. This one shot straight up into the sky like a needle of obsidian glass. Aponito slung his ax along his back with his long spear and placed one foot onto the rock. He reached forward for another ledge and began to climb towards the tallest point.
The thunder clapped as the loudest of noises and Aponito jumped. Silit grumbled amongst the clouds then advised him that he should not continue the journey.
Aponito ignored Silit the same way he ignored the Lightning, the old woman, and Apono. He heeded none of the warnings. As he came upon the beach strands that left nothing but ocean before him, he began to once more use his magical power. Pulling his head ax from around his back, he placed it into the water where it floated along the clear blue surface. He stepped upon his ax and it sailed away, carrying him far across the ocean to the other side.
He crossed leagues of ocean, adventuring farther than he had ever gone before. The world shifted in various hues of blue and green; it was water for as far as his eyes could see. The sun was beginning to dip and Aponito knew then that he had been travelling for almost one full day. When the faded ridges of land appeared along the horizon, Aponito picked up his speed. He sailed past the monstrous forms of the animals beneath the sea. He did not stop. Quickly approaching shallower depths, he prepared himself.
Leaping from his axe, he swiftly jumped onto sand and rolled towards a stop. Standing tall on his well-formed legs, he picked his axe from the ground and placed it once more along his back. Scanning the beach, Aponito walked forward where tufts of grass had begun to grow. It was more humid here yet the sun seemed to be blanketed behind a large screen of gray. Though he saw no rays of light, Aponito found that he had to squint when looking at the sky.
After a short walk forward, he came upon a spring where women were gathered around, each of them dipping their long black hair into the water. The women seemed to brightly glow, each portraying a unique beauty. He watched them for a few silent moments before calling out, "What is this spring?"
The women looked up unafraid though they did not know that a man was in their presence watching.
“This is the Spring of Gawig of Adasen," one called out, now standing. The water glistened off of her hair, wetting her sleeveless blouse and causing it to cling to her skin. "Who are you who dares to come here?" she asked.
Aponito glanced away as the water spread along her body. He thought of his wife Apono and her form laying on the mat weak and unable to rest. The sheen of sweat came to his mind and, once more, he was determined. The women in front of him did not have any more information that would be of use to him. He strode away from the spring knowing that he would soon find the village from where they must have came.
Eventually, in the distance, he saw the first signs of a settlement. It was no village but rather a town-- a prosperous one. The houses were not built of wood and woven palm, but rather were constructed from mortar and cement. The town was surrounded by a massive bank. The bank reached so far up that it seemed to meld with the sky. Aponito's heart sank. His magic could do nothing for the tall structure in front of him. His mind raced to and fro, creating different strategies and plans with which to climb it, but at the end, he found that he was stumped.
He stood there with his head bowed in defeat, his thoughts moving slower, knowing there was no fix. As he thought, the Chief of Spiders came up to him from the forest. She was a large lumbering widow with the blood red mark upon her back. Her legs extended equaled three times the length of Aponito's full height.
"What is this, Aponito?" the Spider asked. "Why are you so sorrowful and so far from home?"
Aponito looked up, gracious to see a friend in unfamiliar territory. "I am sad, friend Spider, because there is no way that I can scale this bank." He swept his hand up and the eight eyes of the Spider followed.
"I see," the Spider murmured. "Do not worry, Aponito."
Without any delay, the Spider began to climb the bank with her strong, sturdy eight legs. Up she scaled until she became a small speck to Aponito's eyes, as small as the houses that he could only just make out. Aponito assumed she must have reached the top because, suddenly, a glistening white thread appeared before him from the sky.
He did not pause in grabbing hold of the thread. Gritting his teeth, he began his climb and did not stop until he had reached the town.
During all Aponito's trials since reaching the new world, Gawig had been asleep in his spirit-house, having long drawn out conversations with his ancestors. When he woke to find Aponito sitting near him in his very own spirit-house, he bellowed in surprise and leapt up into action. His muscles tightened and coiled for an attack, he raced to his home to get his spear and head ax when Aponito appeared running just behind him.
"Cousin Gawig!" he called. "Do not worry. Please do not be angry. I've come only to buy some of your orange fruit for my wife."
Gawig stopped mid-pace and spun around to face Aponito. His face was flushed as his hands tightened into fists. The muscles along his arms were tight and sinewy. Shorter than Aponito, his body was formed to resemble the bull with his upper body wide and strong. His legs were stout and short, connecting him deeper with the earth. Where Aponito held his long hair back with a red tie, Gawig's head had been shaved as is the custom and difference between the two islands.
"So," Gawig said, calming down. He approached his cousin and inspected him for lies. "You wish for some of my sacred fruit." He smiled, his teeth sharpened into points. "I will give you some to take home to your wife, Aponito, if, and only if, you can eat all of the carabao of which I was planning to save for my own dinner."
"Your carabao?" Aponito asked, one eyebrow up.
Gawig led him to the stables where a massive bull stood trapped in a stall. It kicked against its walls and huffed, a hot stream of steam filling the stall.
Aponito grew very sorrowful. Both he and Gawig knew that he would not be able to eat all of the meat. While Gawig and his people feasted heavily, Aponito and his family sustained life with what they tilled from the earth and very few fish. Aponito's stomach would not be accustomed to hold such excess.
At just that moment, the Chief of the Ants and the Flies appeared by Aponito's ear and hid amongst his dark hair.
"What is wrong, Aponito?" the Fly asked.
Aponito told him silently and the Fly nodded. Once Gawig had stepped out, flies and ants of all shapes and species rushed into the stall where they feasted upon the great carabao. Aponito, greatly relieved, gave a thousand thanks to the ants and flies all of which turned the gratitude around and thanked him for providing food for their people-- they would not forget the favor.
Aponito nodded sagely at their words and after inspecting the stall, called out for Gawig.
"I have finished eating all of the food that you have provided me."
Gawig walked once more into the stall and his eyes widened in surprise.
"I see, Aponito," he said with wonder. "Very well then, let us go to my fabled gardens."
Gawig led the way out of the carabao stall and walked past his large, looming house. They walked through the gardens, passed through the various lakes and ponds until they came upon an open glade where there stood three decorous trees. A mixture of green and orange, the three trees were vibrant against the drop of the gray sky above them. Gawig lifted his hand toward the tree.
"Gather as much as you would like, Cousin."
Aponito approached the first tree before him and studied the bark. He noted that the branches were as sharp as knives and he glanced back at Gawig, who wore a smirk upon his lips that showed the cruelty that he hosted within his heart. Aponito ascended carefully, telling himself that he was there to pull fruit for his wife. He secured two when he took a misstep and slid across one of the branches of knives. He was cut.
Gawig bellowed below him in a large laugh that sounded like thunder. Aponito pulled his spear from around his back and pierced it through the hearts of the two orbs. Reaching back, he threw his spear with strength towards the sea and watched as the shaft flew straight away and disappeared. He knew it would find its way to their hometown and into his house. He closed his eyes then and thought of Apono.
Apono was getting sicker, yet now alone, had the job of caring for herself in her husband's absence. She was just climbing down the bamboo ladder to go to the village when she heard something loud drop heavily across the floor. Quickly, she climbed back up the ladder to look.
It was then that she found two perfectly circular orange orbs from Adasen. She stared at them, looking at the form. Clementines. Her mouth began to water because she had not eaten in days. Apono gave a shout of joy, rejoicing in the fact that her husband had safely made it to the other side of the world. She picked up the two pieces of foreign fruit and mused at the lack of bruising on the skin. She thought of Aponito and his strength with wonder, turning around the room in search for him.
"Aponito?" she called.
Suddenly, the two orbs began to vibrate and shake. They forced themselves out of Apono's hands and fell to the floor where they continued to stutter. They began to grow until they became twice their size. Now, larger, they became the basic orange.
She looked to the vine that he had planted by the kitchen window and saw how the leaves have wilted; the stalk had gone dry and brown. Immediately, she knew that her husband was dead. She wailed loudly in her grief because she had predicted such an ending.
Aponito did more than deliver the fruit to his wife. He also delivered his seeds and it was not soon after Apono ate the sad oranges that she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She called him Kanag, knowing that he would grow rapidly into a strong warrior. It was not long before he proved that he was the bravest of all his companions. One day, as he played out in the yard with his friends, they dueled against each other with a game of toss. With one toss, Kanag threw his top and watched as it flew towards a neighboring home. It struck the garbage pot of an old woman who peeked her head out of her home. She stared at the pot for a moment then looked towards Kanag furiously.
"If you are such a brave boy, Kanag, you would go to your father who Gawig has killed!"
Kanag stood in his yard and took in the old woman's words. His legs were gangly and the hair on his head was unruly. He had received his father's long hair and his mother's stubborn volume. His skin was golden brown, kissed by the sun. Contemplative, he ran towards his home, abandoning his friends.
"Mother!" he cried out. "What did that old woman mean?"
His mother was by the kitchen preparing fish for a stew. She calmly looked towards Kanag. "What did she say, my son?"
"She told me to go to my father who Gawig has killed."
His mother's eyes began to have a wistful look. She looked towards the kitchen window where the vine once grew and her memories flew towards the juicy orbs that changed before her eyes. The disappointing fruit to finalize the death of her lover. Finally, she nodded her head.
"This is the story of your father's death..." she began. She began the long tale, her chest beginning to droop as she felt the weight of his death on her shoulders. She knew the journey was dangerous and she did not want him to go. Also, she knew that he would go if he thought it would make her happy. She regretted the bitter need she felt when she thought of Gawig's fruit. She wished she never knew what they were.
Kanag sat along a wooden bench, entrenched in the story of his father, which he had never known because he had never before asked. He had always been too young. But now, now he was a warrior-- the strongest and bravest of his companions.
"I will find him," Kanag said.
His mother closed her eyes and her head fell side to side morosely. She knew she had no power to stop him either because he had the same spirit of her husband.
Kanag quickly gathered his belongings: a matching headband, his spear, and his head ax. Apono prepared for him a sack of bread and cakes. Departing through the gates of the town, villagers came out of their huts to watch their warrior leave. He pounded upon his shield and it sounded like a thousand warriors. If anyone were able to bring Aponito back, it would be his son. Spirits rose in the village as they hoped to have what was taken returned to them and their native land. They wished their blessings upon Kanag and the long travels ahead of him.
"How brave he is," the villagers murmured in reverence as he passed.
"Even braver than his father," another spoke.
"The very image of a young Aponito," others said.
Kanag marched out of the village, covering ground quickly. He arrived at the Well of the Giantess and listened to her bellow. The world shook at her voice and to match, he struck his shield once more and listened as her voice fell silent.
The Giantess spoke, "I believe someone is going to fight and he will have success."
Kanag reached the home of the old woman, Aloko, and she sensed his approach. She sent her dog after him and as the dog flew after him, Kanag whipped his head ax off of his back. With one blow, he cut the dog's head off. He never slowed his stride. Aloko appeared at the door of her hut when she heard the sharp, piercing bark of her dog's death.
"Where are you going?" she called after him.
"To retrieve my father!"
"Your father is dead. But you will find him for your sign is good."
Kanag never stopped to look back at her. She watched as his silhouette faded and blurred into the trees. Then she turned to the corpse of her beheaded dog. Gathering the head, she spit on its neck and watched as the dog came back to life.
"Come along then now," she said sweetly to her dog. "A dangerous battle is about to ensue and the thunder will warn of us it."
Kanag hurried along, determined. His lips were set in a grave, straight line. His mind had tunnel vision, he thought only of the absent father that did not exist as he grew. Kanag never knew the reasoning for such a thing but now that he knew that it was because he was detained and killed, he felt, for the first time, an intense anger and need for revenge-- to make things right.
Lightning flashed before him and asked, "Where are you going, little boy?"
"I am going to Adasen to retrieve my father," Kanag called out in a brave voice.
"Go stand on that high rock so that I may see what your sign is," the Lightning called.
Kanag was young, but he was not foolish. He wasted no time. He knew never to ignore the Gods. As commanded, he approached the same pronged rock that his father had stood upon fourteen years earlier and waited for the lightning's response.
He stared into the darkening sky, silent and waiting. A bright light flashed before his eyes; he did not turn away.
"Continue on, young one," the Lightning spoke. "Your sign is strong and well."
Kanag continued and when he came across the thunder, he followed the same instructions. When Silit boomed in his loudest voice and Kanag did not falter, he bade him to continue on. With all the signs looking strong and well, Kanag walked through the sand towards the water confidently. An edge of doubt lodged itself in his mind should he fail, but he pushed against that doubt until it all but disappeared. Pulling his ax once more from his back, he rode it all the way across the sea until he reached the fabled lands of Adasen.
The women were at the Spring of Gawig when Kanag arrived. As before, they lay about the water shores, resting and washing their hair, the sun warm against their skin. Kanag created much noise as he approached the foreign shores; his axe split the waters in two ways as he roared towards the beach. The women looked up to see Kanag approach because they were worried about the noise. They feared that a thousand warriors were marching upon them. They jumped to their feet, their wet hair dripping, unnoticed.
"Good morning, women who are dipping water," Kanag said, addressing them. His gaze did not falter though the women were beautiful. "Tell your master, Gawig, that he must prepare for a fight."
"A fight?" they whispered among themselves.
"Yes. A fight for I am coming for him," Kanag said once before resuming his stride once more.
Without a moment’s pause, the women leapt to their feet and began to run to their town. They magically climbed the bank and ran to the spirit-house where Gawig was sure to be found. They told him that a boy had appeared at the Spring from the sea and that he had come to fight.
Gawig did not move from his spot where he sat silently on the floor. He was in deep conversation with his ancestors. "Tell him that if he is truly brave, he will have to come into the town-- that is, if he can."
Kanag reached the bank outside of the town and looking up, he saw how it extended far into the sky. But his legs were well seasoned from catching game for his mother. He began to run and leapt towards the bank with a deep force, his two legs boring holes into the ground with the intensity of his energy. Like a flitting bird, he flew into the sky, the length of the bank blurring before him. He landed on the edge of the bank, the odd brick buildings of the town before him. Like a compass, his heart directed him straight to the spirit-house where Gawig sat.
The roof of the spirit-house shone brightly against the sun, small wisps of string floated up from the house with the small breeze. On closer inspection, Kanag realized that the roof was strung with human hair as were the roofs of town houses. Around the town, he faintly remembered seeing many severed heads placed upon spears and hung at various points.
"This is why my father did not return," Kanag murmured to himself. He stared at the spirit-house in wonder. "Gawig is a brave and strong man." Kanag approached the latched door. "But I will kill him."
Gawig heard the latch turn and felt the rays of light filter through the opened doorway. He sat cross-legged with his back towards the door. The spirit-house was much larger than Aponito's, and much darker. Gawig was barebacked. The heat of the lodge rose towards Kanag and settled onto his skin. He felt the perspiration gather on his body. Gawig himself was sitting with sweat trailing down his shaved head and down the length of his back. His eyes were closed in repose.
"How brave are you, little boy?" he asked. "Why did you come here?"
"I came to get my father," Kanag answered back. "You detained him when he came here to ask for fruit for my mother. You defeated him dishonestly. If you do not give him to me, I will kill you."
Gawig took a moment to take in the young boy that stood before him. The young one stood firm with his feet set apart. One hand gripped his shield while the other held his hand ax before him. He wore the same red band upon his forehead and along his upper forearm. His unruly hair was tied back with string. Gawig began to laugh heartily for the boy was just a boy and, while he was muscular, he was still so much smaller and younger.
"You are so small, little man, one of my fingers could fight and destroy you. But never mind that fact. Accept that you will never return home. For I am going to kill you and you will remain here just like your father."
"We shall see," Kanag said grimly. His brows were set in a determined line, all of his hair standing up along his skin. "Gather your arms and let us fight."
Gawig stood in disbelief, his head blowing up in a fit of rage. He did not believe the boy would attempt so bold a speech against him, disrespecting him on his own soil. Gawig roared and called his arms to him, his spear and ax flying towards him from his home. The spear was as long as four men placed atop one another and the head of the ax was as large as half the sky.
"Let us go, boy!" he roared.
But Kanag would not throw first. He wanted to prove himself; he wanted Gawig to address him by his name rather than by the epithet of boy.
Gawig took careful aim and let his ax fly from his arm, the large blade spinning in the air, glinting against the sun. The light was enough to blind any onlooker; fortunately, his people knew of the danger of battles-- each family had returned to their homes and locked their doors.
Kanag used the very same magical power that he had inherited from his parents. As the ax spun towards him, he whispered an incantation and thought of the ants as he did so. Quickly, his body morphed and he became the very small size on an ant. The ax flew past him and landed with a great, large thud into the earth. Gawig stared at the ax he threw. When he did not see Kanag, he thought that he had been killed. However, Kanag transformed once more, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Gawig’s mouth fell in astonishment. Filled with anger, he gripped his spear in his right hand and threw with all of his might. Once again, Kanag disappeared. Gawig did not understand. He stood, straining his eyes, looking for where Kanag might have disappeared to.
It was then Kanag's turn. He took his spear and effortlessly directed it towards Gawig's heart. He let it fly then immediately dug his heels into the ground. He sprang forward, running to match pace with his spear. The spear point hit true, landing directly into Gawig's heart. Kanag took his head ax and with a swift blow, cut off the head of Gawig. Another head grew in its place, and again, Kanag took his ax and sliced through the neck. Another appeared, and he repeated his process. Two more times, he chopped away at the neck. When the sixth head appeared, he left it alone because six was the end number that all warriors knew. Kanag gripped Gawig and his body by the neck.
“Take me to my father,” he demanded in the low voice one inherits once they have shed blood.
Gawig led him around the town and Kanag felt his flesh bristle. The hair on his arms stood on end; he felt the presence of his father all around him. Gawig had used the skin of his father for a drumhead. His hair was among the many that decorated the roof of Gawig’s home. His head, rotted and unrecognizable, was on display at the gate of the town. Kanag bitterly followed him, collecting all the parts of his father's body. When he had it all, he used his magic to bring him back to life.
Aponito opened his eyes towards the sky and took his first breath in fourteen years. He looked to Gawig and the young man before him.
"Who are you?" he asked. "How long have I slept?"
Kanag looked to him in awe, but after defeating the leader of another land, he was no longer a boy but a full-fledged warrior. He answered his father, "You were not asleep, but dead." He motioned to Gawig beside him with the fresh head, "Gawig has kept you for fourteen years and I have come to release you." Kanag took his sturdy head ax that was so much like his father's and handed it to him. "Take my ax and cut off his last head."
Aponito took the sturdy ax in hand and leapt up to his feet. "Who are you?" he asked once more, leveling the head ax with Kanag's heart.
Kanag looked at him with a calm face. "I am your son.”
Aponito, for only a moment, was stunned. Love blossomed in his chest, looking at this boy before him that he did know. His own features decorated Kanag's face. Aponito nodded at him, acknowledging that the boy had grown without him and that he was now a warrior. Deftly, Aponito took the ax and swung it towards Gawig's head. They watched as the head was severed and fell to the floor. The body shook and convulsed before them; faster then faster until it began to burn into a bright light. Only then, the two had to look away and when the bright light was gone, the most perfect orange orb lay upon the floor in Gawig's place. It was the perfect fruit-- the clementine. Aponito scooped the fruit up and held it in his palm, turning it this way and that, marveling at the intensity of its color and perfected shape of its arc.
He turned towards his son and stated, "For your mother."
Using their magic, Aponito and Kanag bewitched the spears and the head axes of the town. They made them come to life and fly, killing every person in the town. With the heads, the father and the son began their journey home.
Aponito was in their front yard when the bloody heads flew towards her home. She watched, at first horrified, but then with wonder. She ran towards their home and quickly climbed the ladder. In the kitchen by the open window, the vine that was once shriveled was green and growing larger. Quickly, she took it and brought it out of their home where it continued to grow. She placed it onto the ground and the vine sprang up into a forest. She knew then that her son was alive. Her eyes crinkled tightly in joy.
It was not long before Kanag appeared before her, walking through the newly sprouted trees. She ran to him and engulfed him in her arms. He had grown into a man while he was away. Hugging him, it was then that she saw a second silhouette approaching from the forest. Immediately, she recognized him. Covering her mouth with her hand, she tried not to cry and found that she could laugh.
Aponito appeared before her; husband and wife looking at each other dumbfounded. He came then, and wrapped his arms around her-- it was like coming home. He took in her smell and the hut behind her. After a moment, he let go and cupped her face in his hands. He reached into his leather sack and pulled out the perfect orange globe. He presented it before her.
She took it from his hand and held it between her two palms in wonder. Together, they stared at the vibrant orange, so bright it matched the scales of the healthiest koi. It brightened against the rich brown of her skin: a clementine, so small and delicate; worth the journey.BW
Noelle Marie Falcis received her BA in English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently at Antioch University completing her MFA.
Her fiction explores her heritage and the urban culture with which she grew up with. She uses fiction to better understand the diasporic, marginalized, and post-colonized life and how it has affected her as a second generation Filipino American. She has been published in Gingerbread House, Drunk Monkeys, and Bohemia Journal. Find out more about her at noellemariefalcis.squarespace.com.