My phone blared a low-pitched tone that woke me up faster than reveille ever did when I was in the Army. The clock said three eleven a.m. I rubbed the sleep crust out of my eyes and made myself focus on my surroundings. Light from the full moon slipped through the cracks of the cheap plastic blinds and onto the dark green wool blanket in a tangle around my legs. I was alone.
A robot man voice replaced the tone. They never used robot lady voices for these messages. Someone once told me that male voices have more authority. I didn’t buy the argument. If they used a voice like my mother’s tobacco-ruined rumble, I’d be at full alert in a minute.
“This is the emergency broadcast channel. This is not a test. Please seek shelter immediately. Do not look outside, do not make noise, do not…” The transmission ended abruptly.
The Army trained me to take orders, but it had been years since my last salute. I threw on some clothes and boots, grabbed my gun and flung open the door of the cabin.
The freezing high desert air blasted the last bit of sleepiness out of my head. The scrubby little plants that grow like acne on the sandy soil threw huge shadows in the moonlight. At first glance, I thought she was my mother, summoned like Jumanji or Bloody Mary from purgatory or hell by my passing thought of her. She was a bony bird of a woman, hunched over so her head seemed to emerge out of her chest. She had long, stringy grey hair that slid over some kind of black judge’s gown that hid her feet.
When she was close enough to me that I could hear her bones creak, I pointed the gun at her chest and flipped the safety. She smiled the way my mother did, with no mirth or joy. More like someone was pulling the corners of her huge mouth upward with puppet string.
“The gun can’t help you,” she said. “I am Pontianak, from the spirit world. I am here for the Great Offering.”
I must be dreaming. I smacked my cheek hard with my left hand.
“You’re not asleep, my child,” she said, and I felt the dirt underneath my boots give way. I tried to move but some cosmic vacuum cleaner started sucking me into the earth.
Pontianak’s smile grew wider and wider until it reached her ears and revealed a full set of animal teeth glistening like old piano keys under the moon.
My feet were immovable, like they were dipped in cement. When the earth started shaking and rolling like the worst earthquake I’ve ever been in, I bobbed and flayed around like a child’s toy. The gun fell from my hand.
“Help me,” I said.
Out of that grotesque mouth emerged a thin, forked tongue that stretched to my throat and wrapped around it. Then blackness.