It’s the start of summer vacation in the quiet little coastal municipality of Sto. Domingo, and thirteen-year-old Paul Pelegrino, a boy born with six limbs—four arms and two legs—can’t wait to enjoy waking up late and spending afternoons at the beach. His last day of school, unfortunately, is marred by a brawl with the local bully, which then leads to Paul’s puking of an inky black substance.
Things take an even greater turn for the bizarre when a series of dreams he has involving a mysterious squid-like being of ancient folklore known as a Kamdiri, coincides with a string of murders in which the crime scenes are caked with the same black goo. Paul, under suspicion by the police and rattled by revelations about what he believes are his own out-of-this-world origins, is then compelled to conduct his own investigation into the macabre happenings, and maybe even make sense of his unusual comeuppance.
Blending humor, horror, and folklore, Hexopus: The Six-Limbed Lad marks the beginning of Paul’s coming of age, in a deeply conservative Catholic town still firmly tethered to its precolonial past, and amid a tumultuous time marked by fear, uncertainty, and empowered law enforcement.
Chapters 6 and 7
“Paul!” His Ma’s head stuck out from the curtain leading into his bedroom. “Hurry up, we might be late!”
“Yes, Ma,” Paul replied with slight irritation. He was standing shirtless in front of the mirror, just about to dress up.
She withdrew her head to give the boy back his privacy.
As Paul gazed at his reflection through that gashed glass surface, he flexed his four arms in different directions and, like an almost-daily ritual, wondered, Why do I have four arms?
Had it not been for his extra pair of limbs, he would have looked pretty normal. His lean frame, dusty hair, sunburned skin, black eyes, and distinct cheekbones all made him look quite ordinary as far as he could tell. He drew his appendages back to his ribcage-sack of a torso, breathed a resigned sigh, and shook his head knowing that his additional two arms were his “cross to bear,” as some of the older folks in town would say.
He then picked up the nice blue shirt that his mom left out neatly folded for him on his mattress. He unfurled it and held it by the upper sleeves. Like all of his upper-body garments, this shirt—the one he always wore to mass because it was the least tattered—had been altered to have four sleeves. Customized just for him. Whenever he acquired a new shirt, Paul would always insist that he’d be okay if his mother simply punched two extra holes at the sides. But his parents were adamant that all his sleeved shirts have an extra pair of sleeves, even if it cost them a little extra time and money for the modification. “Now we don’t want you flaunting the muscles in your lower arms, do we?” his Pa would tease.
“Paul!” his mother called out louder, this time from outside the house.
“Coming, Ma!” He hurriedly put his shirt on. By the time he was out of the house, he was still pushing his head through the top hole.
* * *
Many Domingohanons often took for granted the fact that the town parish was one of the first churches in the province erected by the long-gone Spanish colonizers. Sto. Domingo Parish was built during the middle Spanish period upon orders from a certain Jesuit missionary named Padre Julio Castillan. Like many other churches of the time, Sto. Domingo was cruciform in shape, coral stone in exterior, and earthquake baroque in design.
Today, the place seemed to have lost some of its past splendor. Its facade, now reduced to a dull gray, was no longer as formidable or as impressive as it originally was meant to be. To the church’s left, the belfry still stood tall but no longer proud. With different species of plants and weeds studding its surface, the tower resembled more a crumpled old watchman than an ever-alert sentinel. The bell within was cracked and rusty, and the wooden stairs leading up to it had long since rotted away, rendering the highest floors accessible only to birds, bats, and maybe even the ghosts of the last acolytes to have rang it.
Although the parishioners donated religiously, the money collected was never really enough to maintain the entire structure. Instead, most of the donations went to the upkeep of the church’s interior, and it was evident that the previous priest did a splendid job of retaining the sacrosanct atmosphere of the church’s belly.
Paul gazed up at the ceiling. Hovering high above him was a recently painted fresco of cherubs resting on puffy clouds and seraphs wielding trumpets of gold. The bearded face of God, surrounded by streaks of yellow paint meant to be rays of light, was right in the middle of it all, looking down on the faithful below. Four evenly spaced bronze chandeliers dangled above the aisle off varnished beams, with the most elaborately crafted of these illuminating the crossing just before the dais. The young lad never got fed up with marveling at the artwork and architecture. There was something about the craftsmanship, or maybe even the oldness of it all, that made the edifice itself a good distraction from the usual sluggish pace of the Eucharistic celebration.
“Paul!” Rachel hissed at him. “You listen to the priest’s sermon. He’s just about to start.”
As if on cue, Fr. Cyrus Lazaro, the newly assigned parish priest who had arrived earlier in the week, bellowed “The Gospel of the Lord” before the congregation responded in unison “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” and sat down on the faded brown pews. He was a stout, pot-bellied fellow presumably in his late fifties. Bushy eyebrows, bald scalp, sharp nose. On the surface, he looked very much like any other old priest, albeit one with more mestizo features. But his deep voice sounded immediately captivating and resonated throughout the church’s interior. The content of his sermon and its delivery were equally impressive, bestowing upon him an almost-messianic aura.
Paul never listened so attentively to a homily. Most of the priests the diocese would dump in remote areas like Sto. Domingo were middle-aged dotards or younger, zealous conservatives who never tired of repeating the same old platitudes over and over again. He had to give this guy four thumbs up for keeping him awake.
A glimmer on the priest’s chest suddenly caught Paul’s eye.
What was that?
His mind briefly wandered from the sermon as he took notice of the small black stone embedded on the small cross hanging from the priest’s plump neck. To Paul, the tiny gemstone glistened, albeit just a split second, as if it had wanted to be seen.
Fr. Cyrus’s baritone cut through the momentary distraction, and Paul quickly drew himself back to the ceremony, his curiosity suppressed for the time being.
By the time the mass was over, everyone exiting the church couldn’t stop talking about how erudite and arresting the new priest seemed to be. “He’s quite different from what we’re used to,” uttered Ma’am Sandra, a curly-haired woman of Chinese descent. “Dear Lord, I think he’s even better than Father Vasquez,” muttered a stout lady walking alongside her. “Oh, but Father Vasquez was already very old, pity him,” intruded an usherette still sporting her pink vest. “This Father Cyrus fellow seems like only a few years younger, but he’s got so much charisma and energy in him.”
And just as the parishioners of today’s mass dispersed throughout the municipality, so too did Fr. Cyrus Lazaro’s fame.