Fiction by Rowan W. [part two]
“Asmara” [part two] [Go back to part one]
Oh, what a magical evening!
After what they had shared with each other, he was quite sure his feelings were reciprocated. He had almost given up hope of finding the right one, not for want of trying. Unlike Manis, he was an extroverted introvert and had no problem socializing with others. Having said that, due to his given name, most females expected over-the-top romantic declarations of love from him. Words of love were not his forte; he was more of an action-oriented creature.
He first saw her trying to inveigle her way out from a social gathering, which was arranged by the elders at least once a year. The sole purpose of such gatherings was for the younger ones to hook up and mate, all in the name of preserving the family lineage. Easier said than done. It was quite a stressful affair; he still had several scars from the last duel with another competitor to win the heart of a potential partner. Obviously, he did not emerge victorious. Everyone had to go through this rite of passage. For him, once was enough.
On that balmy evening, when Manis looked up at the moon and sighed, he could not help himself. Clearing his throat to announce his presence, he asked in his most seductive voice, “Would you like to dance?”
Startled by his sudden appearance, Manis clumsily fell into a muddy pool of water. In an attempt to extricate her from the mess, he found himself entangled with her. Before long, they were both tangoing, or rather, frolicking in the mud.
“That was fun.” She flashed a shy smile at him.
Unexpectedly, she led him to a secret termite nest and invited him to feast together. All this while he and his competitors had to outdo one another to impress the fairer sex. For the first time, he just had to relax and enjoy their tête-à-tête.
After spending the night together (which happened to be the most climactic moment of his adult life), he quietly left her at the break of dawn. There was no time to lose. He wanted to start preparing for their new home without any further delay. He had already earmarked a prime location near an endless supply of ant colonies. It was meant to be a surprise, so that he could welcome her to his humble abode to start their family. In his haste, he had assumed that she would wait for him.
Whilst completing the finishing touches, he chuckled to himself as he imagined her reaction when he invited her over. To say that he was flabbergasted when Manis appeared out of the blue at their new home was an understatement. He knew she could locate his scent with her superb olfactory sense. Could it be that she missed him as much as he missed her, or even more?
He would never know the answer.
Immediately upon hearing the foreboding sound of heavy footsteps, he sprang into action and tried to lure the intruders away from Manis.
No, spare her, take me instead! Don’t you dare touch her.
It was déjà vu all over again. Didn’t this happen to him years ago? Those bangsat humans. They were the ones who separated him from his family. Due to a strange twist of fate, kind Samaritans rescued him and released him back into the wild. That was how he ended up in Malaysia alone.
The humans’ hunting dog barked non-stop at Manis. He tried whistling to distract the dog. Using his long tail for support, he stood on his two feet and broke into a sprint. As complete mayhem broke out, he eventually lost sight of her. Two pairs of legs cornered him. Self-protection became his only option. He rolled himself into a ball and fervently hoped Manis managed to flee for her life. Cocooned in the darkness of his safe armour, he waited and waited.
Suddenly, a fierce squall of wind lifted him up. He was tossed around mid-air and then dropped onto the ground like a ball. An owl’s hoot pierced the quiet of the night. He mustered the courage to take a quick peek outside to check whether the coast was clear. By the time he returned to look for Manis, there was nothing left. His new home was destroyed, and his future wife had been captured.
Her life was in danger all because she came to look for him. Tears of fury blinded him as he wrestled with survivor’s guilt. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Raindrops fell on him, as if the skies were crying along with him. Misty dark purple aura permeated the air as his spirits sank to an all-time low. A bolt of lightning ripped open the skies, followed by a deep rumble of thunder. He froze as a human-sized shadow loomed atop him. His eyesight had always been poor, which was why he had to rely on his hearing and sense of smell.
“Moping around will not help,” whispered a sinister voice.
“Who the hell are you?” He trembled in shock as a pair of flapping wings vanished when the menacing shadow landed next to him.
“Such hostility and not a word of thanks. Is this how a pangolin treats his saviour?”
“Why did you save me? I don’t even know you.”
“If it helps, I am the Phantom of the Dark Forest.”
“Phantom of whatever. You should have saved her, not me!”
“Oh well, you were nearer to me. I am sorry for your loss. It is quite impossible to find her and the little one now. Unless perhaps hmm …,” the Phantom paused.
“What little one?”
“Oops, was it meant to be a secret? I thought you knew she is expecting.”
A baby? Manis and him, in just one night?
“Tell me what you know! How can I find her?” Desperation crept over Asmara.
“I know where they are heading to. You will never be able to catch up with them at your speed. But with my wings, I can fly you anywhere. You will need to decide now, time is of the essence.”
“What’s the catch?”
“In return for saving your beloved, you pledge your life to me. If I had not saved you, you’d be as good as gone anyway.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Let’s just say that I am recruiting a few volunteers for the greater good of our Kingdom. This is a full-fledged battle of us against the humans.”
Asmara hesitated for a fraction of a second. A glimmer of hope kindled within him. He must go all out to save Manis and their baby, even at the cost of his own life. He would teach those morons an unforgettable lesson. Let them know, hell hath no fury like a vengeful pangolin.
“Fine, just do it.”
“I will need your claw print on a non-disclosure and indemnity agreement confirming you participated in this arrangement out of your own free will. Do we have a deal?”
Asmara nodded in agreement.
“Excellent. Hop on to my back and hold on tight.” The Phantom stretched his arms wide, spreading his wings to their fullest width.
On and on they flew until Asmara almost fell asleep. “Are we there yet?”
“It’s a long journey, we have to stop for a break. Close your eyes if you don’t want to get vertigo.”
The Phantom started swooping down. Asmara followed the Phantom’s advice as he felt dizzy with the change in the altitude. Upon touching solid ground, the first thing he noticed after opening his eyes was that he was incarcerated behind bars in a cave!
“Did you trick me? You, you …,” Asmara was at a loss for words.
“It’s for your own safety. I have other guests here as well and some of them are, ahem, bigger than you. Here’s some sustenance for you. I would suggest you eat up and get some rest.”
With those parting words, the Phantom disappeared into the night.
Asmara eyed the ants and termites warily. He was tired and thirsty. If the Phantom had wanted to poison him, he would not have saved him, would he? He slurped some water, which tasted slightly tangy. In the end, his growling tummy made the decision for him.
To kill time, he tried to study his surroundings. Squint all he could, he was greeted only with bleak emptiness. Wait a minute, was that a bark or growl?
“Who’s there?” he murmured.
“Come on, I know you’re just next door.”
“I usually don’t talk much, what more with a stranger. But this place is driving me nuts.”
“Just shut up,” came the sullen reply.
“I’ll be leaving soon. Need to rescue my future wife and our child, you know. By the way, I am a pangolin, name’s Asmara.”
There was an audible sigh, followed by a reluctant, “Those who go with him, never return.”
“Of course, who would want to be stuck in this prison forever?”
His unfriendly neighbour snorted. “He’s no better than humans.”
“Clearly, the Phantom is no angel. I don’t care what he does, as long as I accomplish my mission. He’s a bit scary though, I’ve never met an omniscient creature like him.”
“Keep your voice low. You don’t want to antagonize Rimau over there.”
“Who?” Asmara was intrigued. Now that he concentrated harder, he could hear a sonorous snore deeper in the cave.
“Shhhh. Let sleeping tigers lie.”
“What, there’s a tiger here? Let me guess, are you a dog?”
Another exasperated sigh filled the air.
“Can’t blame you, it’s pitch-black in here. I’m a sun bear.”
Asmara knew bears were solitary creatures as well. No wonder it was so difficult to get this bear to talk. “You do have a name, don’t you?”
This bear evidently preferred one-word answers.
“Oh dear, a sun bear trapped here without sunlight. Must be tough for you, Bruno. I’ve always wondered why sun bears are named such.”
“Our unique chest patch resembles the sun, it’s like a birth mark. If we ever meet again, I’ll show it to you one day.”
Without any warning, the Phantom waltzed in with a swoosh of his flowing black cape.
“Getting all chummy, I see. Have you finished your meal, my dear pangolin?”
Despite the irritating drawl of the Phantom, Asmara replied with a meek, “Yes, thank you.”
“All right then, let’s go. We haven’t got all day.”
Asmara found himself whizzed off on the Phantom’s back. Selamat tinggal, Bruno.
Moonbeam poured from the heavens above, illuminating the path for their long voyage. In the faraway distance, twinkling stars littered the deep velvety sky. The nostalgic melody of Moonlight Sonata (the music that he and Manis had danced to) played in his head. He closed his eyes and reminisced about their first kiss. Although he was the one who made the first move, his sweet Manis was no docile creature. He loved just being with her. Which brought him back to an important task at hand. Oh yes, what should they name their baby?
Just then, the sun peeked from behind fluffy white clouds, bidding farewell to the moon. Radiant rays of sunlight bathed the vista of rolling hills below, signalling the dawn of a new day.
He lost track of time as they flew over serrated mountain tops and jewel-blue seas. Until the moment when terraced green paddy fields with patches of golden colour appeared at the periphery of his vision. As the Phantom began their slow descent, Asmara knew there was no turning back now.
The Phantom was adept at moving around surreptitiously and dodging places where there were crowds. Could it be that his bat-like cloak somehow rendered them invisible to humans? At long last, they reached a row of buildings about two storeys high. The Phantom led him to a hidden back door, straight to a cage where Manis was being held captive.
“Is that really you, Asmara?” Manis rubbed her eyes in disbelief.
“Manis, I’m sorry. Better late than never.” He waited for the Phantom to release the cage’s latch, which was too high up for him to reach.
Manis rushed out as soon as the gate to freedom was opened. She was wrong! Asmara had not betrayed her after all.
“Quick, let’s get out of here.” Asmara grabbed her and was about to leave when an unseen force pushed him into the cage.
“I forgot to mention, the plan is for you to take over her place. That’s how you will repay me.” The latch slid back into place with a resounding click.
“Run, Manis!” Asmara panicked at the thought of not being able to protect her anymore.
“No, I saw what they did to Yen and her babies. You need to get out of that cage, otherwise you will end up as grilled meat!” Manis shrieked.
“Ah, don’t even dream about getting back together. He has already been infected with a fatal toxin which will spread like wildfire within days. Soon, the tell-tale symptoms will appear. Most importantly, there is no known cure. Only I am immune to it.” The Phantom shook his head. “There’s no such thing as a free dinner in this world.”
At that very moment, Asmara was racked by coughing spasms.
“What on earth did you do to him?” Manis snarled at the Phantom.
“I’m afraid he’s the chosen one.” The Phantom turned his attention to Asmara. “Think about what happened to your family in Indonesia. And now, her. You must die in order for her and your baby to live. Infect the humans, make them cower in fear when they see a pangolin. It is the only way to stop them from hunting your kin to extinction.”
Memories of his beloved mother flashed before his eyes as the cough subsided. Asmara thought about his offspring, whether he or she would have a bright future ahead. He gave Manis a final look that brooked no argument: Go now, or else my sacrifice will be in vain.
“You will live until the day they kill you. With your last breath, spit at their faces. Every single one of them. Do not fail me. If it’s any consolation to you, not everybody gets the chance to die as a hero.” The Phantom bade his adieu without so much as a backward glance.
Too late, Asmara realized the Phantom had indeed poisoned him. In his short life, he had cheated Death twice. It was his destiny; their fates were intertwined such that he was meant to fall in love with Manis and save her and their baby. He had no regrets, come what may.
Duc was about to leave the washroom when he heard odd sounds from the basement. At first, he was hesitant to investigate further. However, curiosity got the better of him. If he bumped into anyone, he would behave like a normal restaurant guest who lost his way. As he made his way downstairs, below the wooden staircase, lo and behold, the pangolin that implored him to help was on the floor, looking forlorn.
He had only a split second to grab her and hide behind a door just when someone’s handphone rang, the ringtone reverberating throughout the corridor. In the small room, there was a partially opened window. Assessing the height of the ground from the window, he was fairly confident that she would pull through. For some reason, this pangolin trusted him and did not struggle as he lowered it gently out of the window. Once out there, whether the pangolin could survive or not depended on its luck and tenacity.
He could not save all the pangolins in the world, but he hoped saving just one could make a difference. Taking a deep breath, he returned to the enemy’s table to continue with his lifelong mission.
- Rowan W. was born and raised in Melaka, Malaysia. Her day job in Singapore involves communicating with aliens on Planet Earth mainly via e-mails. She has been on a Meat-Free-Monday diet for two years and hopes to be a flexitarian in the near future. Through her writing, she aspires to be a voice for the voiceless.
Copyright©2020 by Rowan W. All Rights Reserved. Artwork Copyright©2020 by BSR. All Rights Reserved.