I fumbled around the dark room, trying to find the light. Somewhere between my bed and the light switch, my shin found the corner of a box. I pursed my lips hard to keep from making any noise and rubbed my leg for a moment before proceeding more cautiously. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the sudden light after I flipped the switch. Nothing. Well, not what I thought I saw, at any rate. My husband groaned and mumbled something, but I knew hadn’t disturbed his sleep significantly.

I memorized the path to our bed before flipping off the light and carefully picking my way back. Something brushed my leg just as I pulled it under the covers. I felt sure I was the brushee, not the brusher, that time. I pursed my lips again. A moment later the noise that woke me restarted. It was a low gurgling noise coming from near the lower corner of my side of the bed. I swallowed hard and whispered to myself, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Probably just the local variety of vermin.” I racked my brain, trying to remember what animals Dr. Moore told us to expect in South Africa. The gurgling stopped before anything that might make such a sound came to mind. I drifted back to sleep.

I woke slowly the next morning. Tru was already getting dressed, grumbling and muttering to himself as he did so. I sat up in surprise. “Dr. Moore wasn’t serious that you have to start work today, was he?”

Tru held up three or four ties to see how well each coordinated with his shirt. “Part of the deal, Hon. If I start today, I get the job. If not, we wasted our money moving halfway ‘round the world.”

I wanted to protest: the time change was too much, the cultural divide to wide, the work too stressful, it wasn’t what we planned… I held my tongue instead. This meant too much to Tru. He walked over to me, probably guessing my thoughts, and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before asking, “Make me breakfast?” I smiled and shoved him playfully before following the maze of boxes from our new bedroom to our new kitchen. I hit a couple of dead ends along the way but eventually found the counter on which I placed our cooler.

I surveyed the contents for a minute before selecting a few cartons. I shuffled the various leftovers around to make a respectable breakfast. Two half cartons served as our plates and celery sticks made decent spoons. We ate silently in our room. Tru mentally rehearsed his first day on the job while I studied the boxes piled up around the room.  As soon as he finished eating, Tru kissed me gently on the forehead before tossing a “see ya” over his shoulder and heading off to start his new adventure. I looked around at mine. Unpacking. Oh goody.

After I found a bag to put our breakfast trash in, I started on the boxes. Tru walked in the door before I realized I never stopped to eat, or even use the bathroom. “I love what you’ve done with the place, Hon,” he teased. “It’s always nice to see a home with a floor.”

I laughed, but not too hard, “Utility first, dear. I’ll start decorating when I know I’ve got everything else where I want it.”

Thus went our first week. I stretched my culinary creativity further and further to make the leftovers last until I got to know the market. It helped that I ate very little during the day while Tru worked. The time change took a heavy toll on both of us. Tru pressed through the fatigue nobly; I pressed through with six cups of coffee a day. Despite replacing my blood with caffeine, I slept very soundly the whole week.

After I finished unpacking, I spent a lot of time with our new neighbor, Mrs. Mbeki. She took me shopping with her several times and taught me to make some of the simpler traditional dishes. I had great fun and the time I spent with her helped me ease into the local culture. Tru engaged himself wholeheartedly in his work and I settled down to two cups of coffee per day. We even learned a few words of Xhosa.

A few weeks after settling in, Tru came home with that strained expression I knew so well. I gave him space until we sat down to dinner. “So… things not too good today?”

He didn’t reply.

I knew full well what it meant when Tru wouldn’t even talk about his day so I prattled about mine. Tru never minded me talking his ear off if he had nothing much to say in the first place. It seemed to help on days like these so I continued my soliloquy until bed time, babbling until I was sick of my own voice. Once in bed, I took out a book and read to him until he fell asleep, hoping to infuse his dreams with the life-filled poetry and prevent any morbid nightmares. My throat felt sore and scratchy before I finally put the book down.

I switched off the light, settled myself comfortably with an arm around Tru’s waist, and let myself sink into sleep. Suddenly I found myself wide awake. My body trembled with the suddenness of being jerked out of deep sleep. And something else. I didn’t hear anything at the moment, but I knew what noise woke me. I snuggled closer to Tru and took several shaky, but deep, breaths, chanting in my mind, “don’t panic, don’t panic.” When I gained control over my diaphragm I slowed my breathing to mimic sleep. No way could I fall asleep again after that adrenalin surge, even if I wanted to. I laid awake all night, trying to sound asleep and listening for the gurgling noise. It never came. Only when the first rays of dawn peered through the window did I feel safe enough to close my eyes. Tru shook me awake 30 minutes later. I groaned something about a bad night so he made breakfast and let me sleep until it was ready.

About midday a package filled with all sorts of goodies from my Mom arrived. She included a package of my favorite chocolate chips so I decided to make some cookies for Mrs. Mbeki. An hour later I walked next door with two dozen cookies still warm and gooey from the oven. I held them out proudly to my friend when she opened the door. She screamed and slammed it in my face, nearly upsetting the plate of cookies.

I stood bewildered for a moment before putting the cookies down on the doorstep and knocking again. This time my neighbor did not open the door. “What do you want?” she asked through the door. I heard the bolt click into place.

“I just wanted to give you some cookies to thank you for showing me around. That’s all. Did I do something wrong?” I wondered if I violated some cultural taboo.

Mrs. Mbeki did not open the door but popped her head out of a window a moment later. “No, you have done nothing that I know of. You are a good neighbor and your husband is a good man. Perhaps that is why you carry death.”

“My husband is researching the new plague, yes, but he’s very careful. All the doctors are. There’s no need to be concerned about catching it from him.”

Mrs. Mbeki shook her head lightly. “You do not understand. I saw,” she lowered her voice to be barely above a whisper, “It go into your house last night. You and your husband will die. I do not want your curse on my home too. None of us do.”

There were very few houses on our street, our backyards were bordered by wilderness, but it was usually warm and welcoming. Quiet, but alive. I looked around and realized that every window was covered. I guessed every lock was tight as well. I bit my tongue to hold back the tears that welled up in my eyes, picked up my plate of cookies, and walked back to my house. It was so unfair. We interrupted our lives and moved thousands of miles so Tru could help find the cause, and hopefully a cure, for the new disease that threatened these people, but they ostracized us because of a superstitious belief that some vermin or another brought death.

Tru took his time about getting home that evening. When he finally walked in the door, he kissed me on the forehead and went straight to bed, leaving me alone with my hurt feelings and the unnecessarily large dinner I prepared to distract me from them. I let my tears fall as I cleaned up the kitchen. I worked slowly and the house was quite dark before I sat down at the table to stare at the plate of cookies. I pondered the pros and cons of eating them all by myself. I don’t know how long I sat there before I became aware of a noise in the corner of the room. It was that same low gurgling noise. The next thing that dawned on me was that it had been going on for several minutes, gathering intensity. I swallowed hard and tried to stand up slowly.

Something touched my ankle. I screamed and jumped-or-ran-or-flew to my kitchen cupboard, flung it open, and grabbed my cast iron pan. The Thing wrapped itself around my middle and my legs and dug sharp claws into my sides. I hit it as hard as I could again and again before it loosened its grip enough for me to move. As soon as it did I climbed on top of my counter and started throwing dishes down at it without letting go of my pan. I knew everything I threw hit the Thing but still it kept growling and clawing at my legs. Tru flipped on the light. Before he could assess anything the creature leaped at him. I hurled my pan at the creature. The pan hit home and the Thing faltered for a split second. Tru barely managed to leap aside before it was up.  I threw another heavy pan at it and it turned on me. Tru grabbed a handful of knives. The creature jabbed his claws into my calf. I screamed again. Tru plunged four or five knives into the creature. I grabbed another pan and hit it on the head. The Thing crumpled into a heap on the floor.

Tru lifted me gently off the counter and set me down in a chair at the table. I kept my eyes on the Thing. It still breathed. Tru tried the phone. “There’s no dial tone. I’ll get our cells.”

I didn’t want him to leave me alone with the Thing, but I sure wasn’t go to take my eyes off it, either. It seemed like forever before Tru got back with our phones, his face ghastly white. He held the phones out for me to see. They were both crushed. He followed the cord on the land line. It was cut.

The Thing stirred and groaned, then reached around itself and pulled out the knives. “Excellent sport,” it chuckled.

Tru and I looked at each other in amazement. “Excuse me?” Tru asked.

A blue lizard’s head turned to face us, grinning with yellow teeth. “Didn’t expect that, did you? Not from around here, are you?”

Tru and I shook our heads.  The scaly, ape-bodied monster ambled toward us. Tru stepped defensively in front of me. The Thing halted for a moment. “Oh, don’t worry.  I’ve decided not to kill you tonight.” It shuffled further forward. “Otherwise you’d already be dead.”

Tru remained between me and the creature. It looked him up and down and then peered around him to look at me. “You’d better let me take a look at her, you know. She’s bleeding to death.”

Tru spun to look me over and then dropped to one knee. He put pressure on the worst of the wounds. The adrenalin rush of the fight kept me from noticing much pain, but I went faint at the sight of so much blood. The creature stepped forward and waved a claw over me. The next instant every wound closed and healed, leaving only scars. “Sorry about those. You won’t mind them when you’re dead.”

It shuffled toward a window. Tru started examining me. The Thing had one claw on the windowsill when I called, “Wait!”

It waited. I hadn’t actually expected that. “What do you mean you won’t kill us tonight?”

It shuffled back and took a chair across the table from me. “Introductions first, I think.” He looked at me. “Perhaps you could arrange for some refreshments for us? After all, none of us has had our dinner tonight.”

I obeyed quickly, wishing to avoid offending our unwelcome guest. Tru helped and we soon set a pot of tea and a paper plate of peanut butter sandwiches next to the cookies. I poured out and the monster helped himself to a sandwich.  He munched thoughtfully for some time before speaking again. “I am Intulo. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

We shook our heads.

“I thought not. No one who has bothers to fight. I’ll have to attack more foreigners, I think.” He chuckled. “Wonderful good sport, you ignorant types.” Tru and I ignored the insult and waited while Intulo picked up a cookie and took a bite. “Hmm, decent, these.” He picked up another cookie. “I am the Death Bringer.” Munch. “When once I’ve decided someone must die,” munch, munch, “die they must.” He took another cookie. “The locals won’t even say my name for fear of me.”

“But why us?”

“Because,” munch, munch, munch, “you are trying to stop me.”

Tru understood before I did. “You mean the plague? It’s not a plague, is it? It’s you.”

Intulo smiled, “Well, it is a plague, but I made it.”

“But why?”

“Oh, for fun.”

I saw Tru’s temper gathering itself in preparation for a tirade. Before he could explode and guarantee us violent deaths before morning, I grabbed two cookies and shoved them both in his mouth. He glared at me but chewed silently. “Mr. Intulo, there are not many foreigners here. Why do you treat your own people this way? The plague is so… so…” I shuddered thinking of the terrible way its victims died.

Intulo grinned, “Creative?” I bit my lip and shoved a sandwich into Tru’s mouth. His eyes brimmed with tears of mixed rage and mourning. I brushed a few away from my own cheeks. Intulo ate several more cookies before adding, “Don’t bother reasoning with me. It’s been tried. Immortals do not reason like you fragile things. Your thinking is so temporary.”

I swallowed hard, “So, when you said you weren’t going to kill us tonight, you meant you were going to let us catch the plague like your people?”

“Strictly speaking, they are not my people. They are only the ones I live among. But no, you make such good sport that I shall look forward to attacking you personally. Although, I daresay you’ll be less apt to fight next time, but it can’t be helped. I’ll take what recreation I can get.” He picked up the last cookie. “These really are marvelous.”

An idea struck me. “You’ve never had chocolate chip cookies before, have you?”

“Not like these, at any rate.”

“Well, you won’t ever again if you kill us.” Tru looked at me like I was crazy but shoved another sandwich in his mouth before I had the chance. “It’s a family recipe and you can’t get the chocolate chips just anywhere.”

Intulo looked longingly at the now empty plate of cookies. “Couldn’t I have the recipe?”

“No. And don’t bother trying to find it in my cookbooks either. I have it memorized and I won’t be writing it down until I have a daughter.”

Intulo looked at my belly. “And you’re not expecting?”

I shook my head.

“Well, I had hoped to deal with you this year, but I suppose I can put it off. You two will have to get busy, though. I’ve got so many people to kill and there’s no telling how many boys you might have before you get a girl.”

“Even when I have a daughter, you still won’t be able to get the chocolate chips. They’re not sold in stores.”

Intulo looked at the plate again.

Tru caught my train of thought. “Don’t immortals like to make deals?”

Intulo smiled wickedly, “Notoriously.”

“Well, then, do you agree to lift the plague if there’s a plate of chocolate chip cookies waiting for you every full moon?”

Intulo chuckled, “It’s a deal, foolish mortal. But remember, the first full moon without cookies, the plague will start again.” With that, Intulo climbed out the window. We watched him as he scurried away.

“Did we do the right thing, Tru? Making a deal with a monster?”

Tru stared out the window and shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. If nothing else, it buys Dr. Moore and the rest of us some time to find a cure. In the meantime, you make sure everyone in the neighborhood memorizes that cookie recipe. And, as soon as we have new phones, call your mom and memorize the recipe for those chocolate chips, too.”

There aren't too many pictures of Intulo out there, unless you mean the rock band. I think this picture of Alice fighting the Jabberwocky by Sir john Tenniel fits this story pretty well, though.

There aren’t too many pictures of Intulo out there, unless you mean the rock band. I think this picture of Alice fighting the Jabberwocky by Sir john Tenniel fits this story pretty well, though.

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