The village of Ghali was a rough pile of wooden houses stuck in the middle of a sickening marsh. In the sunny days, it surfaced from the dense sea of fog like an old wreckage, all crumbled and pointy. People used to say that Ghali was a stubborn place, because it just refused to die. Not that the odds didn’t try to eliminate it: Ghali survived plagues, fires, feuds with far settlements, and even a fiery storm every ten years or so. For some reason, there was always enough food in the swamp to feed the young, so the ruined stilt houses were never empty.
Ghali’s was isolated: for miles and miles around the village it was all about muddy puddles, quicksands, and crocodiles. Except some crazy man who lived alone in the marshland, there was no other sign of humankind nearby. Nobody had particular interest in trading with Ghali’s folks, so caravans were a rare sighting there. Weeks, months, or perhaps a year could pass before a merchant, fool enough to travel through that repugnant place, appeared. Even then, people there had few things to offer. Mostly pelts or spirits of distilled roots. And stories. Lotsa stories.
They often told a certain tale to strangers, a legend passed on since since the foundation of Ghali. There were many different variations of that story, as every villager had his or her own. Yet, they all agreed upon a point: it was no myth at all. It happened for real.
Once upon a time, they said, when there was no village yet, the marsh was ruled by a huge and dark flamingo. Like a scarecrow, it endlessly wandered through the pools with its long legs, an ominous figure feared by all the animals. That singular flamingo had an arched neck, a taste for leeches and glowing red eyes for breaching into the night. Its beak was a scythe made to reap life, black and shiny and sharp as hell.
When the first men and women arrived in the swamp, fugitives from healthier colonies, the bird was there to welcome them. For months it watched silently, as folks cut trees to make creaking planks for building their wretched homes. Whenever they recognized its shape standing out in the fog, they stopped working. Afraid. Paralyzed. Astonished.
They called it the Indigo Flamingo. Hoped it would never get close.
But it did, eventually. Oh, he did.
Right after Ghali was born, more people gathered there to escape justice and hide. The village became a dump for human garbage, a sweaty inferno where scum could live in peace. Not only adults: orphans and families with children also reached that sick place, that Mecca of decadence, looking for a better life.
Soon enough, however, those kids started to disappear. Both males and females, at least one per year, not older than thirteen. They vanished from their beds at night, went missing in the swamp, got lost under the bright sunshine. Mothers cried in despair, praying the old gods to bring back their little ones. Many men cursed, and searched the groves endlessly with scrawny hounds that barked in the shadows. Didn’t find a single track, nor a clue.
Until a very cold night of a very gruesome year.
It was the last day of October, when the whole village was celebrating and mourning their dead as it was their custom. Dimmer lights illuminated the marsh, timidly and morbid. The Indigo Flamingo, a tall figure between the rushes. Next to it, the missing children were a mute chorus of pale death. Their glares empty, their eyes blank. A danse macabre painted with faint ink on a ragged canvas. Some tried to catch them, in a fiery rush of vengeful instinct. They vanished in the groves and never came back again, unreachable. Untouchable.
Folks in Ghali still use to say that the ominous bird often comes to take away the life of a kid as a grim tribute for allowing them to stay on its territory. They tell their children to stay away from the marsh, keep close to the village.
Because you never know if the Indigo Flamingo is around.
Observing, silently, with its cruel crimson eyes.