Blood Like Water
by Eve Shi
My friend Budi told me that Pak Eko saw the creature toward midnight. The retiree was watching a dangdut singing competition on TV when a faint thump came from his front porch. The second time he heard the sound, Pak Eko went to wake up his sleeping son. The young man, feeling entitled to a full rest after a day’s work at the sub-district civil office, only grunted.
Armed with a knife, Pak Eko carefully unlatched the front windows. The porch, its tiles dull and cracked under the fifteen-watt lamp bulb, seemed empty. Pak Eko caught a whiff of something rotten, and then it was gone. He was about to close the windows when the creature appeared on the left side of the porch.
Pak Eko’s terrified yell rang out in the cold night. Ten minutes later, his immediate neighbours
arrived at his house in trickles. By then Pak Eko was lying on his bed, eyes closed and taking one slow breath after another. His son, looking mildly embarrassed, sat by the bed and massaged his father’s temples with cajuput oil smeared fingers.
‘It smelled a bit like fish,’ the young man mumbled. ‘Very tall—all my dad could see was
its chest. That’s about it.’
Budi’s uncle had been among the neighbours who gathered outside Pak Eko’s room. Budi passed the story on to me while we were crouching beside a stream, a manila-paper windmill sticking out from its bank. We had been struggling to position the windmill just so, to make the water constantly slap at its sails and rotate them.
‘Sounds like an awesome night,’ I said. Uneven grass separated the stream from the village’s main street, a bumpy, potholed stretch of asphalt. Beyond the street lay fields of unharvested rice, the water glinting with reflections of the five o’clock sun. ‘The kids in my class talked about it all day long.’
‘That creature was a lelepah,’ Budi stated, with the confidence of someone who was well-versed in Central Javanese folktale. As if I, along with the other children in the village, hadn’t absorbed the same stories from our elders. ‘Don’t you agree, Wiya?’
‘Pak Eko must’ve had a pond on his porch, since those creatures only eat fish.’
Budi flapped his hand in a familiar gesture: Clever Wiya, resorting to sarcasm whenever she
can’t come up with a quality response. I briefly considered dunking him into the stream, and
instead kept my thin smile on.
‘Lelepah aren’t even from here,’ I added. ‘They live at Progo River, near Magelang. That’s far to the south.’
‘Maybe one of them got lost. Or, yeah, it could be something else!’
As we continued to fiddle with the windmill, Budi wondered aloud what else the night visitor might have been. A burglar? No, they come in groups and rarely work solo. Pocong, a living corpse? But it wasn’t wrapped from head to toe in a white cloth. Genderuwo, then? No, they usually stalked women and children. And Pak Eko saw no fangs or fur. Finally, Budi concluded that the creature had indeed been a lelepah.