The Abattoir

© Kristine Simelda

There is a legendary creature native to Amerindian belief. It lives in the watery depths and has an appetite for human flesh and revenge.

Iola had always loved animals. She believed each one of God’s creatures had a special role to play in the world and deserved respect. As a child, she had taken in all sorts of strays and given them cute names. The starving cat with two mewling kittens was called Squeaky. The crippled dog was Sir Limpalot. The sick rabbit was named Pinko, and the orphaned goat was Miss Doudou. She had set her sights high, said she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up. But plans are one thing and fate is something else. Iola had to drop out of school when she got pregnant with Antoine at the age of sixteen. Now she was struggling with a two-year-old toddler, no job, and no man to help her out.

One day, while Iola was lamenting about her stagnant lifestyle, her mother spoke her mind. “Girl, it’s time for you to face up to your responsibility as a single parent. You tink life is a fairy tale and some handsome prince is gonna ride in on a white horse and rescue a poor black girl like you? You have to make your own way in the world, Iola, just like I did back in the day.” She paused. “Besides, we need the money.”

How could Iola argue with that? The abattoir was right down the road, and they were hiring locals at way above minimum wage. “Go and ask them for a job,” her mother said. “I can take care of the baby while you’re at work.”

Iola gritted her teeth. As a long-time vegetarian, the sight and smell of blood made her sick. But what else was she supposed to do? She had no means of transportation besides her bicycle, and she had no marketable skills. The only other choice was to apply for child welfare, but she was too proud for that. So she signed on at the slaughterhouse as a last resort. “I guess somebody has to bring home the bacon,” she said, shrugging. Even her mother knew it was a lame joke.

The construction of the abattoir had been the brainchild of foreign investors from the island’s nearest South American neighbour. Highly sought diplomatic passports were doled out in exchange for their investment, and Maymond, who was some honcho’s wayward nephew, was put in charge.  But the proper operation of the facility seemed to be the last thing on his mind. Iola felt sorry for the animals. Chickens, pigs, cows, and goats came in bawling, were carelessly slaughtered, and left with glassy-eyed stares on their bewildered faces. Worse yet, no one knew how to dispose of the leftovers.

Eventually, a dry well was dug out back, but it soon filled with water from the island’s many underground rivers. Iola’s unpleasant task was to throw the bloody guts, filthy feathers, and bones and horns alive with maggots into the pit. Never mind that springs and drinking water were polluted in the process.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” Maymond said, grinning like a shark.

Iola prayed the job was merely temporary. Something more appropriate was bound to come along. She hated Maymond. He was a chauvinist and a sexual predator who never missed a chance to ogle female workers’ breasts, murmur indecent innuendos in their ears, or touch their tempting backsides. But if she wanted to stay employed, she had to put up with him.

Late one afternoon, while she was pushing her wheelbarrow heavy with gore for disposal, Iola thought she heard a baby crying. When she paused to listen, it sounded like it was coming from the depths of the well. “Oh, my God!” she gasped. “It sounds just like a newborn! But it can’t be. How could a baby end up down in the well?”

She wondered if one of the girls from the village might have dropped it there to get rid of it. Humph. What kind of mother would do such a thing? “Best I investigate before the poor child drowns!”

Iola let go of the wheelbarrow’s handles, and its slimy contents spilled on the ground. She slipped several times in her haste, but when she reached the well, the crying had stopped. What if she was too late? She peered into the darkness. The usual stench rose up to meet her nose, but there was nothing to see but gloom. When she picked up a stone and dropped it into the pit, the sole sound she heard was the echo when it hit the water. Plop. Iola sat down on the edge of the cement ramp she used to empty her barrow and put her aching head in her hands. Antoine had kept her up most of the night before, and she was so exhausted that she was probably hallucinating. A baby in the well behind the abattoir? Her mother was right. She was living in a fairy tale. Bone tired, Iola plodded back to the slaughterhouse to get a shovel and a broom to clean up the mess she had made.

Unfortunately, Maymond was waiting for her by the tool closet. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her inside. Iola bit and kicked like a madwoman. “Let go of me!” she shrieked. “You stink like a manicou.” He released her and laughed when she threw her stained apron in his face. “See you tomorrow, sweetheart,” he sneered as she made her escape.

*  *

“How was your day?” her mother asked when she reached home.

Iola burst into tears. “My job is making me crazy,” she said. “My boss is impossible, and I imagined I heard a baby crying down inside the well. I thought it might have been Antoine.”

“Girl, you’ve been working too hard,” her mother said. “Look. Your baby is asleep right there in his playpen. Why don’t you take a nap before supper? It will do you good.”

Her daughter nodded. “Good idea, Ma. I’ll take Antoine with me. Wake us up in a little while, okay?”

Iola picked up the toddler and tiptoed to her bed. She fell asleep almost immediately, and dreamed about the creature she had heard crying in the well. In her dreams, it turned out to be an animal the size of a small dog. Its skin was smooth and black, almost as if it was made out of rubber. It had pink, pointed ears, a whiskered snout, and the long tail of a manicou. It was kind of cuddly, except for the sharp claws that protruded from the human-like hand at the end of its tail.

Iola tossed and turned in her bed while the mysterious thing introduced itself. “I am Ahuizotl,” the creature said. The language it spoke sounded more like sneezing than actual words.

“That’s a funny name,” she said.

But the creature was not amused. “I have swum up all the way from South America to seek revenge on someone who deserves to be punished,” it hissed. “When I reached your island, I traveled up its underground rivers until I found Maymond, the ultimate perpetrator.” Its eyes glowed in the dark. “Did he really think he could get away with how he burned down our forests, polluted our rivers, and ruined our homeland? No way!”

On one hand, Iola was terrified, on the other hand she was fascinated. “I agree,” she mumbled aloud in her sleep. “Maymond is a creep who needs to be punished. You have my blessing, but it’s hard for me to pronounce your name. Hmmm. I know! I will call you Maymocou because you speak with the same accent as he does, and you look a bit like a manicou. In fact, you’re kind of cute. ”

“Don’t play with me!” the maymocou snarled. “I’m nobody’s pet.” With that it grabbed Iola with its extra hand and pulled her into the well behind the abattoir. She felt as if she was suffocating as it wrapped its tail around her neck. Everything turned red, then yellow, then black. Panic-stricken, she woke up screaming, and soon Antoine was bawling too. “Hush, baby boy,” she whispered. “It was just a silly nightmare.” But in her heart of hearts, she had her doubts.

Even though it was payday, Iola skipped work the following day. “Call them and say I’m sick,” she begged her mother. How could she face Maymond after what had happened in the closet? How could she leave her baby alone after her frightening dream?

*  *

Iola armed herself with a penknife and a bottle of pepper spray when she returned to her job on Monday. She had brooded over the crying she heard coming from the well and her perplexing dream the entire weekend. She wanted to be prepared to defend herself if need be. But defend herself from what: A creature in a crazy nightmare with an unpronounceable name, or a walking, talking ginal like Maymond who was determined to make her life miserable?

Her first trip to the well was uneventful. She wheeled her barrow up the cement ramp and dumped its contents without incident. But on the second trip, she heard the strange whimpering drifting up from the pit again. Iola knew it was pointless to try to locate the source. The maymocou only existed in her dreams—it was simply a figment of her stressed-out imagination. Her mother was right. It was time for her to grow up.

Iola gathered her courage and forged ahead. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw a rubbery black hand rise above the rim of the well and wiggle its fingers in the air like a snake searching for the scent of its prey. The hand was attached to a long, slinky tail, and then the entire creature, the hideous maymocou, clawed its way over the edge.

For a moment, Iola was so frightened she couldn’t move. But when the maymocou lifted its tail and sprayed its territory with foul-smelling musk that burned her eyes and nose, she was forced to take a step back. The creature raised its ugly snout and hissed in her direction. Its eyes glowed red and drool dripped from its razor-like teeth. “I am Ahuizotl,” it growled, “and I’ve come to punish someone who deserves to feel pain.”

When Iola turned to run, she bounced straight into Maymond, who had been stalking her from behind. She squealed as he trapped her in his arms. “You look delicious this morning, my dear,” he said. His voice sounded just like the monster, but she couldn’t reach the knife or the pepper spray in her apron because of his fierce embrace. The most she could do was spin him around so that his back was to the well. They danced a kind of tango as she clumsily guided him toward the beast.

The maymocou’s eyes narrowed and its tail twitched as they drew closer. Then, quicker than a heartbeat, the creature grabbed Maymond with its vice-like extra hand. He struggled to get free, but its claws dug deep into the flesh of his ankles. Howling, Maymond reached out to Iola. “Help me!” he cried. She cringed as the monster strangled her nemesis with its powerful tail, but she stayed put. As it dragged him beneath the sludge, she ignored his screams. A round of violent splashing followed, and then everything was quiet.

By the time the rest of the abattoir’s employees arrived, it was all over. “What happened?” they asked Iola. “Where’s Maymond?”

Shaking, she pointed at the weapon that had fallen from her apron pocket onto the ground during the scuffle. “He came at me with a knife,” she said. “We struggled, and when I finally managed to push him away, he fell into the pit.”

There was an investigation. But when they pumped the muck out of the well, they found Maymond’s body more or less intact. His limbs were in place and his skin was smooth. Only his eyes, teeth and fingernails were missing.

*  *

The abattoir closed down shortly after Maymond’s death. Her mother took care of Antoine while Iola went back to high school and got her diploma. She did so well on her exams that she won a scholarship to the State College, where she studied biology. After graduation, she landed a job with the forestry division analysing the impact of invasive species on the native environment. Invasive species? Ha! Whatever that thing in the pit at the slaughterhouse was, it was the ultimate invader! As a hobby, she investigated Caribbean folk tales that described mythical creatures and decided that the maymocou was indeed the legendary Ahuizotl, swum up from South America, hell bent on revenge.

Antoine grew up happy and healthy in the interim. Sometimes Iola took him into the field to collect unwelcome animal migrants to observe: Puerto Rican anoles, Cuban frogs, and stripe-tailed iguanas. They brought them home and kept them in cages like pets while she did her research, until, unknown to Antoine, they were humanely destroyed. Time passed, but Iola didn’t see or hear from the maymocou again, except, of course, in her dreams.

One lovely summer’s day, Iola and Antoine decided to make a picnic and enjoy a swim in the Layou River, the island’s longest. As she unpacked the basket on the riverbank, Iola thought she heard a baby crying. Her stomach flipped. “Oh, no. Not again,” she whispered to herself. Parrots squawked overhead while she took up her binoculars and surveyed the scene. Her son was standing on top of a boulder that sat in the middle of a translucent green pool. “Ma! Watch me!” he yelled. Antoine’s gangly brown body gleamed in the sun. Rainbow droplets dripped from the tips of his dreadlocks, and a brilliant smile lit up his face. And then she saw it. A black whiskered snout with glowing red eyes poked its head above the surface of the water.

“Antoine! No!” she screeched. “Don’t jump!” But he couldn’t hear her above the rush of the river.

Time stood still while both Antoine and the creature contemplated their next move. The maymocou slapped its extra hand on the surface of the water in warning just as her son launched himself from the rock into the river. Iola held her breath while he stayed underwater for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he bobbed to the surface whooping with joy. “Ma! That was great!”

Iola gathered Antoine in her arms as he waded ashore. Naturally she was relieved; she had seen first hand what the creature was capable of. But her scientific mind told her there was no logical reason why the maymocou, or whatever it was called, would attack an innocent boy unless it was truly evil. Her knowledge of animal behavior told her that was extremely unlikely. The creature was simply doing what its nature required of it. Iola had observed how it had regarded Antoine before it slapped the surface of water with its extra hand. She had heard it sneeze, as if to signal farewell, and then she’d seen it dive into the watery depths. Having taken its revenge on Maymond all those years ago, she figured the maymocou had decided to return home.

Iola imagined it traveling along the underwater passageways that led back to its homeland, where it could resume its place in Amerindian mythology. Sure, it was a monster. But she would never forget how the beast had dealt out primordial justice when humans failed to stand up for what was right. Yet she never mentioned the maymocou to Antoine or anybody else. Some things were better left unsaid.