Sunlight, ch. 09: Gabriela Silva

Monitoring: Gabriela Silva
Rosario de la Frontera

4:20 p.m. Argentina Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
19:20 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Rewind—

Her fingers are still wrapped around his, and the vision of his deepest fear repeats itself in her mind’s eye without end, changing in the details but always retaining its essence.

“Mister Lopez,” she says, leaning across his desk, “this is not the time to challenge me…” She pauses less for effect than because the differences between Spanish and Portuguese still tripping her up on occasion. “I know what terrifies you. I have seen your nightmares: a needle being driven deep into your eye, pushed further and further until it skewers your brain. I can picture it in my mind right now. Do you know that you might not die from that? You could survive it. I remember reading about a man who survived after a railroad spike went through his skull. The needle could stay in your eye forever. Depending on where it was…placed, you might not even lose your vision, at least at first. Imagine it, being able to see the needle extending from your own eye, knowing how far it goes, knowing that it is stuck in your br—”

“W-What do you want?” he says, and Gabriela gives thanks to God in her thoughts. Lopez is much larger than her. He could have hurt her if this had gone wrong—she hasn’t had an opportunity to practice this type of intimidation very much, and some people break into hostility rather than compliance. Still, she didn’t have much of an option.

“I told you. I want to know about the thing that is haunting the Chaco Austral,” Gabriela says. She has been pursuing it for a couple of months now, beginning on a hunch that was finally confirmed when one of the survivors turned out to fear that thing more than anything else in the world.

Lopez’s story tells her much of what she already knows, requiring only a little more pressure to confess to the criminal aspects of his agricultural operation. He admits that there is something happening in the forest, but is unwilling to say that it is a ghost or demon, like his men are claiming. More likely, the people whose land he is trying to steal are simply being more persistent than usual.

Whatever he might think about it, Gabriela knows that his men are not too superstitious. She has seen it herself, or at least a version of it, translated through the experiences of the survivor that she had spoken with.

“Mister Lopez,” she finally says, “I would be very pleased if you would escort me to the Gran Chaco. I want to…see it for myself.”

“Why would I do t-that?”

“Because once I have taken it away, you will be free to conduct your business as usual,” she answers. It is only a partial lie: Gabriela has been accumulating evidence of this company’s activities—even the present conversation is being recorded—but they will still have a few days before that information reaches its many destinations (being unsure who can be trusted to act on the information, Gabriela has opted to send a packet to every news outlet and department of law enforcement in the region). “This thing is not what it appears to be, and neither am I. The sooner that I can finish this, the more quickly we will both be gone from your life.”

He needs only a little more encouragement after that.

They depart the next morning, and it takes them the better part of the day to get close to where the attacks have been occurring. It isn’t long before the roads turn bad and their drive becomes bumpy, but neither of them remark on it and they pass the time in silence.  

Once or twice, she asks another question, and Lopez is a little hesitant when she suggests that they go to the scene of the latest attack, but overall he is in good spirits. It’s impossible that he has forgotten the previous day, but it seems that he has put it out of mind in favor of looking forward to Gabriela’s promise that she will be ending the problem for him.

In the meantime, Gabriela concentrates on the little Portuguese-to-Spanish book that she purchased when she still riding the bus into Argentina. There are lots of similarities between the two languages, and she can understand it alright, but those similarities just make it harder to remember the idiosyncratic ways that they diverge from each other.

The car comes to a halt. “We are here,” Lopez announces, his voice a curious mix of apprehension and hopefulness.

“It happened here?” she asks, and he shakes his head.

“A little further on, but I can’t drive there. We’ll have to walk.”

Gabriela slides out of her seat, feet landing softly on the dirt road, and slams the door behind her. The sound seems to reverberate through the forest, and Lopez winces. “Do you think that it is still here?” she asks. She removes and folds away her sunglasses; the light is comfortable now, and there’s no reason to conceal her face here.

“I don’t know. Probably,” he says, and that’s good enough for her. They may have to wait a while but, unlike lightning, the creature is known to strike twice in the same place.

“Show me where it happened, please,” she asks, and they pass the next half hour in silence again. Now and then, he bites his lip or his eyes dart back to her, perhaps wary of both Gabriela and whatever is in the forest. A couple of times, he pulls nervously at his uniform, which makes it apparent to all the world exactly who he works for. Gabriela thanks God that his fear is still outweighed by his desire for all of this to end. Perhaps it is that his greed is stronger or maybe he fears someone else even more, but it is a blessing all the same.

Even before Lopez stops, Gabriela knows when their journey has come to a conclusion. She is put on alert to its nearness by the way that Lopez’s hand strays more and more often to the gun at his side, and their arrival is confirmed by the sound of the bullet casings that she steps on, scattered across the ground like so many seeds.

“What were they going to do here?” she asks, and Lopez shrugs. He has told her before that he doesn’t micromanage these affairs. They are hired for a purpose, to clear out the locals so that he can fell the trees and plant soybeans, and whether they do so by starting fires or persecuting the locals more directly, it matters little to him. Gabriela doesn’t know very much about guns, but judging by the number of casings there were either many people here or their guns could fire pretty quickly. Whichever is the case, it seems unlikely that they were intending just to start a fire.

A bird sings in the distance, but she can’t tell from which direction. The trees stand thick and tall, like great pillars in an overgrown temple, and their branches reach overhead to form a loose roof. The sounds of the forest echo off the trees, coming from anywhere and everywhere.

The day is late, and the light is growing dimmer, so Gabriela can make it out clearly when Lopez lights his cigarette, a tiny fire burning in the growing darkness. A moment later, he sets his backpack down and pulls out a lantern.

“Till tomorrow. Then I leave,” he says, now sitting on his backpack.

“Till tomorrow,” Gabriela agrees. She doesn’t need him here to meet the thing in the forest.

The night advances, and with it comes a cooler air. Inside her coat, Gabriela shivers.


The Gran Chaco

7:45 a.m. Argentina Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
10:45 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Fast forward—

“”It is tomorrow,” says Lopez, as he nudges Gabriela’s shoulder and awakens her. “It has not come. I am leaving,” he continues.

She notes the use of “it,” and wonders if she has made an “ignorant superstitious fool” out of him after all. What could not be done by the reports of his men has been accomplished, she supposes, by meeting someone who could speak of fears that he had never confided in another.

“Fair enough,” she says, and she tries to rub the grogginess out of her eyes. “You’re leaving the backpack, right?” It never hurts to double check, and it will make a better pillow than her arm.

“Yes, I told you,” he says, then he makes a weird noise, like a grunt or a gasp, something short and somehow watery. Gabriela is about to question him but she hears another sound after that, a slinking rattling sound that, in context, strikes her as quite ominous. As she prays once again that God will see her through, Gabriela keeps her hands pressed against her eyes, as if the only thing keeping her safe is that she can’t see what she has been looking for.

It takes no less than forever for Gabriela to work up the nerve to speak, and another long eternity to remember the right words in Spanish. “I-I’m here, I mean, I’m h-h-here to help, I’m your friend…” is all that she manages before her mouth refuses to keep working. Maybe she’s all wrong about this and it’s something else and now it’s going to eat her, or it’s someone else and they’re going to kill her or worse, or…

“Did he hurt you?” Gabriela hears, and she rejoices as she realizes that the voice belongs to a girl, like herself.

“N-No,” Gabriela answers, and she removes her hands from her eyes. There is something in front of her, filling most of her field of vision. It twitches and undulates, with a long, slender body with rough brown skin and countless limbs that sprout from either end. When she looks at the thing’s far end, she sees that the limbs there are covered with leaves and realizes that it is a tree. Both its roots and branches come together and untwine in strange motions, and a moment later she notices Lopez’s body, impaled on two long roots and hanging by his chest. Below him, other roots are digging up the soil, perhaps to make a place to bury him.

He was a bad man, she tells herself at the same time that she holds back the need to vomit. Angels sent me here, so this was done by someone like me, so this is the vengeance of God. People are dead because of him.

It is another minute before Gabriela is able to find her voice again. “I’m l-like you,” she says. Her eyes are averted from the tree-thing, but she hears something slide and hit the ground. Something touches her shoulder and Gabriela jumps and nearly screams before she realizes that it was a hand.

“My name is Agustina,” says the girl, and Gabriela swallows down her fears and turns her eyes back to the girl. Her clothes are dirty and torn, and her hair is messy. Buttons litter her jacket, too numerous and too diverse to not be some kind of customization. Behind Agustina, the tree-thing appears to be inert. Lopez still hangs from its root-limbs and blood stains his uniform, running down his body and dripping from his shoes.

“G-Gabriela,” she says in turn, and she extends a still shaking hand to Agustina, hoping that she is on the right path. “Let’s b-be friends.”

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