“Scaredy cat” my brother teased me.
The look I gave him, could have drilled holes in the back of his head, but it was wasted in the setting sun as he could not see me. He constantly made fun of many of my fears both real and imagined, the kind of thing big brothers did, to seem fearless and know everything.
“What was that?” I squealed.
A soft rustling sound, had broken the twilight silence, in the bushes to our left.
“Relax” he reassured “That’s just a lizard, mostly harmless” As I was about to breathe in relief, he continued “Unless…” and posed dramatically.
“Unless what?” I asked, I could not help myself, my middle name might as well as have been Curiosity.
“Unless, it’s a monitor lizard, those are common in these parts, tricky lil bastards they can get quite big, deceptively fast too and they like to suck the milk dry from dairy cows until they bleed”
I protectively wrapped my hands over myself and continued walking after my brother, leaving the rustling mystery behind. You could tell that whatever was making the noise had feet and scurrying about in the bushes, at least it was not a snake, snakes were the worst. They bit people, and people died it was not an illogical fear, right?
The sun had set but it was not quite night yet, and we were taking a shortcut through the forest, in my head I called it The Evil Forest. My brother had insisted that going the long way round would take us hours and by the time we got to the village, it would be well after dark, yet the shortcut shaved it to about a quarter of an hour tops.
“ I am not afraid of imaginary ghosts and I have this” he had declared brandishing his catapult, he was very skilled with it. I was proud to admit, sometimes he hunted little birds and we would prepare them for dinner. He used to joke that had he been born in the old days he would have been a renowned hunter, never eating a meal without meat, meat for breakfast, meat for lunch, meat for supper and of course strips of cured biltong as an anytime snack.
“Gross” I used to say as I wrinkled up my nose, good thing we did not leave in the old days, we lived in the city and there night was never dark because of the streetlights. During the school holidays our parents would insist we go to the village, so we never forgot where we came from, our roots they called it.
And now here we were, we had lost track of time visiting family that it had gotten pretty late, we had to take a shortcut through a dense forest after sunset to get back to our grandparents house, who would probably be frantic by now.
The forest was rather dense, during the day one could easily get lost in it and the were stories of some parts being haunted by spirits I do not know if the spirits but I do know nothing good could ever come from an encounter with spirits. I had watched enough the scary movies, to know things like this. I was a horror movie aficionado mostly due to my big brother who taught me to laugh at all the silly makeup, fake blood and the poor acting in the B grade movies also in the real world how would they explain all that nonsense to the police who always conveniently arrived at the very very end…
It was after sunset but before dusk and we were in dark forest I had heard stories about. This was not a movie, this was real and it was happening.
My grandad told me that back in his youth he walked this forest at odd hours of the day coming from traditional drink ups with his peers until he walked with a stranger who asked him for a light, for a cigarette and then disappeared right before his very eyes, as granpa lit a match, he never walked at night again.
An uncle told us the story of how once he encountered a beautiful lady in the very same forest, she said her name was Molly and she had taken him home to her house, in the morning he woke up,.. in the graveyard, and the headstone read Molly. He too never stayed out late.
My aunt took the shortcut when she was pregnant and the contractions had come in the night, like a thief. A large ball of flame had followed her all through the forest, lighting up the way for her, she had prayed the entire time.
So you can imagine, my reluctance and my brother making fun of me for being scared, silly boys, I bet he was scared too but tried to look brave by joking about it…
“Did you hear that?” I asked
“There’s nothing there” he replied without even stopping to listen.
The sound came again, this time it was louder, clearer and coming from right in front of us, a wailing sound.
“Did you__” I started to ask but was immediately silenced.
He seemed to be shaking or maybe that was me ,shivering. I felt a crawling on my skin like a column of marching ants, as goosebumps appeared.
We were more than three quarters through the forest pass and so we kept moving, no words had been spoken, he had had simply looked back at me and nodded, I nodded back, in the fading twilight we could still make out each other’s profiles, I saw the outline of his catapult held casually in his left hand but ready to send a deadly projectile rocketing.
The wailing grew louder, with each step forward, until it became unmistakable, tiny lungs wailing in distress. Do ghosts have babies I wondered?
In front of us in a space between the roots of an ancient tree was a dark bundle where the wailing was coming from, I started to walk towards it and my brother turned and held my shoulder to restrain me, he shook his head at my clear lack of judgement.
“Ghosts don’t have babies and ghosts most certainly don’t cry, everybody knows that”
I said as I ran and picked up the bundle, with a tiny newborn swaddled in a fleece wrapper, she immediately stopped crying.
“What do we do with it?”
“It’s not an it, she is a girl… granma will know what to do”
And that is how Dusk became my sister.