“The Popobawa” by J.P. Roquard

“Where’ve you come from?”

“Up river.”

“Churchtown?”

“No.”

“Then where?”

“Past Churchtown.”

“Ain’t much past Churchtown.”

“Nope.”

The hunter considered this.

There were three of them, all squatting around the campfire. The hunter, his friend, and the stranger. The stranger from up river.

The firelight flickered, the stranger’s face half hidden behind a cup of stew. In the stew was a rabbit. The hunter had shot it, the friend had cooked it and they all ate it.

“So what you doin’ up there?”

“Hunting.”

“Ain’t nothin’ much to hunt up there, less you shootin’ crows. You bin shootin’ crows?”

“No.”

“Then what you huntin’?”

The stranger drained the last of his stew and placed the cup in the dirt. He didn’t look at the hunter, or his friend. He just stared into the fire.

“Outpost up there wrote and asked for guns. They offered money. Said there was something up there, some beast, messing with their livestock, messing with them. What they wrote in their bulletin didn’t really make much sense. Some claptrap about needing a fearless hunter to protect their souls. Sounded like a bunch of frightened goatherds to me, but I figured they’d at least feed me. Might even make some money shooting their beast too. So up I go.

“I get up there and, sure enough, it’s three families of herders. All living in shacks and lean-tos, goats sleeping right in there with them. Real frontier living. But they were spooked. Properly spooked. The first thing that happens when I get there is this man comes up to me and says ‘He got me. He got me and he had his way with me. Now I gotta tell you or else.’ I said ‘Who got you?’ but he just turns around and runs off.

“Next comes this woman. She comes up and says ‘I’m pregnant. He got me and I’m pregnant, and you gotta know about it mister, you gotta know’. I said ‘Who? Who got you pregnant?’, but she just runs off as well. And that’s how it was, the whole damn village. They each come up to me, one after another and told me about how he got them, how he cut them or had his way with them. Some even showed me scars. And as soon as they tell me they all run off and hide. It wasn’t until they’d all spoken that I finally heard its name. The Popobawa.”

“The Popobawa?” This was the friend. His voice was thin and high like a child.

“That’s what they called their beast, the Popobawa.”

“What the hell kinda stoopid name is that?” said the hunter.

“This old man up there, he’d traveled the world. Merchant navy I think. Said he heard about it in Africa. A beast like a bat that comes at night and attacks you. It’s as big as a man and it’s got one big huge bat eye. The worst thing is it knows when you’re weak and when you’re alone. It knows when you’re frightened or sick, and that’s when it comes and gets you. When nobody’s around to hear, or to help, that’s when it comes. Most say you never even see it. It attacks you, then it’s gone.”

“How’d they know what it looks like if they never even seen it?” asks the friend.

“I don’t know. That’s just what they told me.”

“What does it do? When it attacks I mean. What does it do to you?”

“Depends. It does what it feels like. Sometimes it cuts you up with its claws or its teeth, seems like it does that mostly. But other times it has its way with you. That’s what that first man was saying to me. It got him and it sodomized him.”

The hunter spat. “Why in hell would he go and tell you about somethin’ like that?”

“Well, that’s the thing about the Popobawa. If he gets you, you have to tell everyone you meet about it.”

“Why?”

“Or else he comes back and gets you again.”

The fire crackled, the three men watched it. The hunter and his friend contemplated what the stranger was telling them.

“So lemme git this straight. You git got. Then you gotta tell everyone you ever meet about it?”

“Yep.”

“For the rest of your life?”

“Yep.”

“That’s the dumbest fuckin’ thing I ever heard.”

“Well, it’s worse than that. Everyone you tell about it also gets attacked. That’s why the goatherds kept running away after they told me, they thought I’d be angry.”

“So did you ever see it, this popo monster?” asks the friend.

“Nope. I never saw it. I stayed there two weeks, ate a lot of goat, then I couldn’t stand it anymore. Those people were driving me nuts. So I came back down the river. And here I am.”

The hunter turned to spit again. He eyed the stranger.

“So it was bullshit? You never saw nothin’ and them herders were all just crazy?”

“They were crazy alright. Crazier than a cut snake. And it’s true, I never saw a thing. But it sure as hell saw me.”

The stranger stood as he said this. He untucked his shirt and lifted it to show his belly. Red and raw in the firelight were three long scars. They stretched across the stranger’s abdomen, disappearing around his flank. The angry skin glistened in the firelight.

“I’m sorry to do this after you shared your dinner, but I’ve got to tell you. I was attacked by the Popobawa.”

This author has not submitted a photo.

J. P. Roquard is a husband and father, based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of the Buckingham Green: An Emperor Donald Tale and believes that puns are the highest of all art forms. His flash fiction can be found in Mura, 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, and other places.