She couldn’t sleep. So when the cry came, she heard it immediately.
“Help me! Please.”
A man’s voice. Calling from the road. “Auoi, ou te fia ola.” The Samoan’s universal cry for survival. I want to live.
Iva leapt up with her torch, raced down the stairs and peered out the window beside the front door.
A man stood outside the driveway. He shook at the padlocked gates, frantic and near incoherent. “Please, open the gate. Let me in. They’re coming. Please!” The gate clanked and rattled.
The dogs barked madly as they hunted for holes in the fence line so they could go out and get at the stranger who had dared to approach.
Behind Iva a sound. Lita and Star. Awakened by the cries, they had come downstairs.
“Auntie, who is it?” whispered Lita.
“I don’t recognize him,” Iva said. “He’s a stranger. Turn off your torch.”
“He’s scared,” said Star. “Can we let him inside?”
Iva wanted to say yes. Part of her wanted to throw open the door and go to open the gate. The naked unbridled fear in the man’s voice as he sobbed and pleaded was heartwrenching. But something held her back. If this were any other time or place she would be outside unlocking the padlock already.
But not now. Not this time. Something, some instinct told her no.
“Shhh, quiet,” Iva told the girls. “Get back. Away from the windows.”
The man’s screams intensified. He was trying to climb up the chain link, but one arm hung useless by his side. He was hurt. He kept looking over his shoulder, behind him at something coming. Something or someone.
Lita moved towards the front door. “We have to help him.”
“No.” Iva grabbed her arm. Tugged her back and shoved her behind her. “Get down and be quiet!”
She had never been physically rough with her nieces before and it shocked all three of them. Lita was outraged but before she could explode with it, there came another sound from outside on the road. Louder than the howling of the dogs, worse than the piteous sobs of the stranger.
Running feet. Snuffling, grunting, and snarling.
The next minute they came into view. A cluster of what Iva was beginning to call the Changed. Tagata Oti.
Are they still people? I don’t know. Is it better to call them animals? Monsters? Inhuman? Does that make it easier?
There were five of them.
The man saw them approaching and he screamed once more before they descended upon him. Mauling hands, trampling feet, biting jaws, scratching nails, the wet slopping sound of flesh and organs as they spilled onto the tar-seal road. And the dogs provided a cacophony of mad sound as they barked and howled.
It was all over so fast Iva barely had time to register it. She sensed rather than saw the girls come up beside her. They stared wide-eyed out the window, transfixed by the slaughter. Lita had seen her grandmother in this state but this was the first time for Star to see a person get attacked.
We should have let him inside. Given him refuge.
The Changed were hunched over shapes in the shadows, scrabbling for scraps, hissing at one another. The echo of the man’s cry was a lingering memory in the moonlit garden.
Auoi ou te fia ola.
The Changed had finished with the man. He was gone. A splattering of flesh and bones on the road.
We’ll never find out who he was. His blood stains the driveway but we’ll never know his name now.
MATA OTI. Releasing on August 30th. Pre-order now.