The Disemboweler stroked the child’s head and smiled from under his severed mask. He had cut it in an arc under the cheeks to reveal his mouth and the tip of his nose. It obscured everything else but his eyes, which were black and soulless. Like a shark’s.
The mask was reptilian—once a crocodile or snake—but its painted green scales were dirty and scuffed at the ridges. Like its owner, it was disfigured beyond recognition. It was a horror strapped to the man’s head by a cracked and frayed leather belt.
“There, there,” he told the little girl.
Her white eyes shone up at him. Her skin was jet black. She clutched a striped short-haired cat.
“See? No need to be scared.” The big man squatted next to the pigtailed child. He held her arm with one hand and took the cat with the other. He lifted it and the two beasts stared at each other. “What’s his name?”
The girl didn’t answer. She was terrified, as were all the residents of Figtree Cove. They stared in silence from under the bagassa trees or fanned themselves under the equatorial sun. Only the insects chattered. Boraro the Disemboweler had earned his epithet thrice-over—at least—and no one dared challenge him, not even to spare an innocent.
Boraro, still squatting, stroked the cat and addressed the dozen or so members of his audience. “We are looking for Xana Jace.”
Everyone knew “we” meant Mama Enecio, almost certainly watching from behind the tinted glass of the Mercedes idling on the dirt road. Mama was a big woman and kept to air conditioning. Three more of her men stood around the car. They held machetes and stakes.
No one spoke.
Boraro smiled again at the child. His dark eyes danced under the mask as he stroked her best friend. “Do you know Xana?”
The child nodded.
“Do you know where she is?”
The girl shook her head. She stared at her purring pet and looked as though she were about to cry.
Boraro sneered. He disliked children. They were loud and unreasonable. Only good for one thing. And it wasn’t time for that.
He waved his hand for her to leave and she ran across the dirt and grass to her mother, who waited in front of their dilapidated shack. Of the seven so-called houses that rimmed the cove, two were leaning so heavily as to be uninhabitable. The water behind them filled a deep depression in the ground, runoff gathered from a tributary of the Demerara River. Figtree Cove was nearly dry for three months of the year, a muddy depression that fed flies and mosquitoes. The rest of the time it served as bath, fishing hole, and irrigation well for the tiny community.
Boraro stood tall in the sun still holding the lazy feline. The man’s dry, scaly brown skin was covered in fine black hairs. He wore a plain t-shirt and work pants. His long legs ended in mud-caked boots. His heavy arms sprouted from his shoulders and bulged like twisted-steel cables. His hands made fists like club heads.
“I have a message. I want you to give it to the freak Xana.” He rubbed his fingers back and forth over the cat’s ears. The animal closed its eyes. “Tell her I will face her tomorrow under the noon sun. One on one. In the junkyard by the Dutch market. Tell her, if she does not come . . .” He swept his hand across the scene. “We will burn every one of these houses to the ground.”
The crowd stayed silent.
“Tell her she cannot run. Tell her.” The Disemboweler grabbed the cat’s head and twisted. The animal squealed and went silent. The crowd gasped. The little girl hid her face in her mother’s faded dress. The woman put a hand on her daughter but said nothing.
Boraro ripped the cat’s skull from its body. Strips of torn skin stretched like taffy. He tipped the head over his open mouth as if drinking from a coconut. He swallowed blood. A dribble ran down his throat. He tossed the head to the dust and yanked the cat’s fur to reveal its muscle-covered ribcage. Boraro cracked it with bulging arms and pulled out the animal’s heart. It looked like a juicy plum in his fat fingers. He tossed the carcass to the ground and took a bite from the organ. Red liquid squirted and drained over his fingers like juice. Many in the crowd turned away.
The masked man chewed. His reptilian cowl moved up and down with each clench of his jaw. Then he motioned his men forward. They walked toward the closest shack and everyone saw. Those weren’t stakes in their hands. They were torches.
“No!” A skinny, shirtless man stepped forward.
One of Mama Enecio’s men knocked him down and kicked him as another lit a gasoline-soaked torch with his Zippo and tossed it into the closest shack.
The skinny man put his face in the dirt and covered his head to hide the sobs. Everyone else watched as flames rose and surrounded the door frame.
Boraro swallowed the last of the heart and wiped his hands back and forth on his pants. He watched the flames grow. Dry, sunbaked wood crackled and snapped. In moments, the shack was an inferno.
“Noon,” the Disemboweler repeated. “Or I will come back hungry.” He waved to the little girl. Then he turned with the others, walked to the car, and drove away.
selection from Episode Two of my superpowered sci-fi serial, THE MINUS FACTION.
cover image by Erikas Perl