Short Story
                                             The Sabbath
                                                                     By Cuong Phan


     Once upon a time, in a village, there was an apothecary. To be more specific, his ancestors were
apothecaries, not him. He was just a man inherited an ancient medical description from his father. His only
medical practice was to compound rat poison. And he was really good at this, a cunning talent on rat
poisoning.

     The familiar scenario of rat poisoning was that: The rat consumed the bane, pained, felt thirsty and
found water. People weren’t really sure why they have to drink; maybe they want to ease the pain. But
water could help nothing but to make their belly swell until they couldn’t bear it. And they died, finally.

     The way our man destroying the rat was abnormal. Under the magical toxic of the man, the poor rat
was somehow turned into a fragrant prey with others. Attracted by the charmed smell, other rats gathered
around their pity friend. They danced, some witnesses said that. Then the victim was torn apart, piece by
piece, swallowed by its cannibal congeners. In most of cases, every pieces of the poor rat were enjoyed.

     No, it was not finish. Now each member of the pack played their role to be the prey. They spread out,
attracted other rats and were eaten. Within several days, rats within a diameter of miles were disappeared
by that way.

     Our man’s toxic was not to kill, but to slaughter. The bane was named «the Sabbath», because people
believed that rats so enjoyed the bane that they crazily dancing before the craving party, with eyes turned
in to white, liked witches in a Sabbath.

     Until a day.

     It was a severe season when the crop was all destroyed by drought. No rain for months. The river
turned into an infinite dry snake crawling around the village, like a patient predator waiting for the moment
her starving preys kneeled down. The intense sunlight chased every living creature. The village now
became a hot pan fried hunger poor people inside.

     As usual, the dear accompany of drought came. Starvation. Hunger, the insisted enemy, played a fatal
game with the villagers, in which, who were able to suffer longer survived (or die later).

     Despite the outstanding success in his rat-killing job, our man couldn’t earn enough money to become
a man who had food.

The man was as hungry as other. His family, his wife, three children and him, had almost nothing to fill their
stomach for days. His talent in rat destroying helped nothing. Maybe people more interested in finding
food rather than thinking about killing rat. His field was soon destroyed by the drought as other farmers’.
He had to wander around to find food, but food was a fancy thing that only lucky man could have. He was
definitely not that man. Most of the time, he came back home with his empty dry hand and exhausted legs.

     - Anything?

     - No. He muttered.

     His wife always asked him that question whenever he came home even though she could see his
empty hand. He did not understand why his beloved wife insisted asking him such silly questions. It was an
implied insult, a blame on him as if he could do it better.

     - Anything?

     - No.

     The questions and answers were cruelly repeated day by day.

     Until a day.

     While he was dragging back home with the desire of food barking in his belly, he saw her cried. His
dear wife wasn’t just crying, she was almost howling. These days, crying was a taboo. Tears were only
permitted as a celebration of death. Nothing else was deserved to shed tears.

     - No, no!

     He sprinted into their house. What he had been afraid of turned into reality. Laying there was his
youngest child, stretch out, breathless. A six-year-old girl. She looked like sleeping there, peacefully, a little
bit pale, but there was absolutely no signal of death radiated from that angel face. She just had gone.

     They buried the girl near the house. No coffin. Only a torn cloth shrouded her small body. The grave
was as shallow as possible because digging made you hungrier. Thus, to dig a proper grave, you needed
to be fed well. There was almost no funeral except the continuous moan of the miserable family.

     The sorrow could not stop him to go out in the next day. There were other still hungry. And maybe the
spirit of the little girl would have some magical power to help her family survived. He hoped that.

     When he came back home, finishing the rite of answering his wife`s question, he smell it. Such smell
that our hungry man almost forgotten, the aroma of soup. And there was definitely meat in that soup. His
deep inside instinct told him that.

     - Where it come from?

     He wondered himself. Even though he didn’t ask, his wife could read the question from his face and
snarled:

     - The neighbour, seem that they have feast today. Damn lucky!

     The feast of someone could be a torture for other. The smell was so strong that it made the craving
inside them fiercely raised. His children crying out loud, his wife revealed an obvious evil. Even though no
one said a word, the burden became harder on his shoulder. He knew the responsibility of a man was to
feed his family. They had a long hard night with empty belly.

     The next morning, before engaging on the hopeless journey the man realized a creepy situation he had
to face: his daughter’s grave was empty.

     There was nothing there, where was supposed to be a dune of soil with the little girl buried below. It
was dug up in a clumsy and maybe hurry way. Soil was spread around, a dark and empty hole appeared.
The girl’s dead body was gone. Someone had stolen it.

     - Who did the immoral thing like this? Who could?

     The man felt a flame of anger burning in his head while looking into the hole.

     - The neighbour! Yes, the neighbour.

     He bitterly recalled the soup smell last night, fall into crazy with the imagination of his daughter, who
maybe chopped into pieces and poured in to hot water. The man could feel the eyes of the neighbour,
pictured the cozy atmosphere of the neighbours. The whole family enjoying the dinner together, right in the
middle of the starving storm. What a happy scenario!

     Then, the man remembered the lust of enjoying the meal that he had. His wife and children, they didn’t
say a word about that, but he could feel it clearly from their faces: the desire of enjoying that feast. They all
desired to eat that human soup. He almost threw up.

     When he came into his house with anger, he saw his wife had passed out. Tear soaked her face.

     They lost another child, a boy. An eleven-year-old boy. Unlike his sister, the boy was curled up, showed
a desperate tribulation he had to suffer.

     Now everything seemed to collapse. The man knew that they could never be happy again. Oh, no,
“happy” was something so far beyond the reach, they could not “survive”, that the word.

     He remember the human soup. A though sparkled inside him and was immediately stamped out:

     - No way! We’re not cannibal.

     Feeling guilty with such though, he made himself busy by wondering:

     - Should we bury the boy?

     - No, his body will be stolen and become a meal. No way. He answered himself.

     But he couldn’t keep him here. The boy would be soon rotten under such damn hot.

     Suddenly, the man had a sharp idea of revenge. He had the bait, the prey and the Sabbath. He could
do thing that he was the best. Poisoning.

     Poisoning the neighbours was a fantastic though. It wasn’t only to prevent the second grave to be dug
up, but also to satisfy the hate inside. They deserved to be punished, obviously.

     The man was neither sure the Sabbath worked on human or dead body. He had never tried it with
dead rat, but he hoped, desperately hoped that it worked. He tremblingly poured the Sabbath into the
mouth of the body. His youngest child, four year old, was too small to understand what happen, staring at
him.

     Then, he hardly dragged the body to the back yard, started another hole beside the old and ruined one.
It was very hard for the man to dig his son’s grave. His arms were heavy like something hanging on them.

     Then, he passed out before finishing the hole.

     By somehow, the man woke up. When he opened his eyes, his wife was sitting beside. She was alive,
and so did their only-left child.

     That smell he realized. The smell of human soup flooded their room. That was good, he caught the
prey. He caught the neighbour. They paid for what they did. That was fair.

     The sorrow was still on his wife’s face. His minor victory helped nothing to beat up the hunger. Before
he could totally awake, the wife spoon-fed him some food. It was hot and tasty. It was the best dish that he
had ever tried. He got up, snatched the bowl and wolfed down everything within a minute.

     The charming smell was still in his nose, flirting his sense. He wanted more. When he was about to ask
some more, he suddenly saw his wife stood up, started dancing.

     She had never danced before. He was with her long enough to know that. She couldn’t dance. And now
she was moving smoothly, turning gently like a flying bird.

     He suspected. A creepy though rang inside.

     He realized that her beautiful blue pupils were disappeared. The white empty color was overwhelmed
her eyes.

     She was slowly dancing forward the little child with fancy steps.

     She was moving around.

     He had been observed the dancing ritual of the rat. He was familiar with it. And here it was. Now, his
wife was dancing that dead dance.

     The man looked at the empty bowl and finally understood. What he wasn’t sure now was clear. The
Sabbath worked on both human and dead body.

     And he knew that he would very soon start dancing around his wife.


                                                                             The End
About Cuong Phan

My name is Hieu Chi Phan,
author of "Đại Nam dị
truyện" (translated as
"Dark story of Đại Nam), a
horror novel in
Vietnamese published in
2016, under the pen name
Cuồng Phan. I am on the
way of writing another
novel named "Dị Loạn
truyện" (translated as
"The dark rebel"). I have a
contract with Nhã Nam
Publisher for this second
novel.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.