OGRES AND DEMONS

Ogres.

Reina, whose true name was different, but her mother always called her that, and Peter, which was indeed his name, were on the cusp of adolescence. Like all youths their age, they yearned to be grown and, above all, longed to hunt, having been regaled since childhood with tales of their mother's hunting adventures. Everyone knew their mother was the tribe's finest hunter, far surpassing their father who, despite his constant efforts, seldom brought home food. Yet, it was their father who taught them the perils of straying from the tribe, especially in regions prowled by ogres, or worse, demons.

Peter was particularly fascinated by ogres. Some were giants, incredibly strong; others smaller and swift. Yet, despite their might, they invariably heeded the demons without question. His father had explained that ogres were rather simple-minded, and tribe members were usually invisible to them, only facing danger if unlucky enough to cross their path, as they would not hesitate to trample you to death. Sleeping ogres were harmless, even if one climbed atop them. But with demons, it was best to keep distance and stay unseen. If ogres respected them, there was a reason.

Reina's mother, keenly observant, had told her that demons were far more dangerous due to their intelligence and hunting prowess. It was well-known that they inexplicably captured tribe members, especially children, who then vanished without a trace. This was often a tale told by her mother when Reina and Peter strayed too far in play or caused mischief at home. Reina wasn't sure if it was a scare tactic or the truth.

The children were raised in the countryside, far from where demons, their ogres, and hounds resided. These hounds were also foolish. Not as much as ogres, but foolish compared to the wild animals in the distant mountains. In winter, these predators came closer, and everyone in the tribe knew that seeing them meant it was your last. The best strategy was to stay close to home. But it was summer, and such perils didn't occur during long days and easier living. So they took the chance to venture near the Valley of Demons, observing them from afar to learn their behavior, especially when they hunted, which posed danger.

The summer passed, and on a chilly rainy day, they woke to the sound of a nearby ogre. Their mother was away, and their father still slept, so the children cautiously rose, seizing a unique opportunity to observe the ogre up close. These creatures usually traveled with a controlling demon, but not this time, and the ogre was already in deep slumber, albeit reeking as usual.

"Shall we get a bit closer?" Peter asked.

"I don't think that's a good idea. We can see it from here," Reina replied.

"But you know when they sleep, unless a demon wakes them, they do nothing. Come on, let's see it up close."

Reina felt it wasn't a wise idea, yet temptation overcame her. After all, she aspired to be as skilled a huntress as her mother, and that meant understanding everything she might encounter in the wilderness.

"Alright. Let's get closer."

They cautiously approached, and indeed, the ogre paid them no mind. It was so large that they could fit between its legs.

"How disgusting. It stinks," Reina remarked, hoping the rain would wash away the odor.

Just as she said this, a downpour began, drenching them swiftly. Peter, now confident the ogre was oblivious, took shelter underneath.

"Come here! There's no rain!" he called.

Reina, beginning to shiver, joined him. It was indeed much better underneath. Peter wandered around, observing the ogre from below, but Reina stayed put, wary of the demon or the ogre awakening.

"Wow! Grandpa was right!" Peter exclaimed.

"About what?" she asked.

"When he said some ogres have warm bellies. I can feel it from here." And with a leap, he climbed onto the ogre's guts.

"Are you crazy?" Reina yelled. "Get down from there. We don't know what could happen."

"Come up. It's amazing. It feels like lying on a warm rock on a summer afternoon," Peter urged.

Reina edged closer and indeed felt the warmth emanating from the ogre's belly. Peter beckoned her to jump and grab onto the guts.

Taking his advice, she climbed up. The stench was horrendous, but the warmth was soothing. Soon, both siblings fell asleep.

They were jolted awake by the ogre's roaring. The shock nearly made them fall. The ogre was moving, and quickly. They didn't know what to do. Would the awake ogre realize their presence? Did the controlling demon know? Was this how demons hunted children?

"I'm scared!" Peter shouted over the ogre's rumbling.

"Me too, but it seems it doesn't know we're here! If we hold on tight and don't move, maybe it won't notice!"

"How could it not notice?" Peter argued. "I feel even a flea bite in the summer."

Reina was about to suggest that ogres only did as demons commanded when the ogre suddenly changed direction, nearly toppling her. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw Peter slipping and failing to hold on, tumbling down to the rapidly passing wet ground below.

"PETER!" she screamed, but her brother had vanished from sight.

Clutching tightly, Reina was about to give in to exhaustion when the ogre stopped and fell silent. In the quiet, she thought she heard Peter's distant shouts.

"Peter!" she cried repeatedly.

Suddenly, the ogre's belly trembled and split open. The demon, with just its claws, had torn the ogre in two and was staring at her. She tried to flee, but her body wouldn't respond. Exhausted and terrified, the demon swiftly struck, capturing her with a swift claw.

An unexpected encounter

Álvaro, having just dropped a friend off in Limpias after an afternoon of Dungeons and Dragons in Castro, was driving back when he came upon an old van chugging black diesel fumes ahead. He always wondered how such vehicles passed inspection. Past Agustina, towards Carasa, after the houses came the curves. As the van took a turn, Álvaro saw a light-colored object fall from it. On closer inspection, he realized it was a small white kitten. He slammed the brakes so hard that his car skidded for a moment. Glancing in the rearview mirror and seeing no one, he quickly got out, hoping he hadn't hit the kitten. Lying just inches from the wheels, the kitten was motionless.

Fearing the worst, Álvaro gently touched the small creature, relieved to feel its breath. He carefully wrapped it in his sweater, placing it on the passenger seat, and continued on his way. It was Sunday, and no one was at home, so he turned to Google for a veterinarian. After calling all the vets in Colindres and Laredo with no response, he remembered his parents took their cat Déjà Vu to a vet in Argoños. Finding the number on Google Maps, he dialed.

"Marta's Clinic, how can I help?" a woman's voice answered.

"You're open! Thank goodness. I have an emergency. What time do you close?" Álvaro blurted out.

"You're lucky; I was just checking on a patient I operated on yesterday. What's the emergency?"

Álvaro recounted the story while preparing Déjà Vu's travel box with a clean towel and the still-unconscious kitten.

"Bring him right over. It's likely a concussion. I'll be waiting," she instructed.

Álvaro took about twenty minutes to get there, and before he could ring the bell, the door was opened.

"Come in. You can wait there. Let me see how this little one is doing," said the young, friendly veterinarian, taking the carrier and pointing to a door on her left. The wait seemed eternal for Álvaro, but Marta eventually returned.

"He has a mild concussion. He's waking up, but I'd like to keep him overnight for observation. Are you willing to take responsibility, or should I call an animal shelter?"

"I'll take him," Álvaro decided after a moment. "I suspect the universe is testing me."

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Álvaro. And you?"

She looked at him, slightly puzzled. "I'm Marta. The vet."

"Ah, right. Sorry, I thought you were an assistant."

"I am, and a busy one at that. But I'm the only one here."

"Thanks for answering the phone and taking us in."

"Don't worry about it. Come back tomorrow morning to see how he's doing."

Returning mid-morning, Álvaro noticed the same old van from which the kitten had fallen parked nearby. "What a coincidence," he thought. Inside the clinic, he saw an older man talking to Marta.

"...it was when I got home from work. I got out of the van and heard a kitten crying desperately. I thought it was one of mine, but the cries were coming from under the van. I looked but saw nothing, then realized the cries were from the engine. So, I opened the hood, and there it was. A black and white kitten screaming as if it was the end of the world. I took it home, where my cats, being friendly with the little ones, invited it to eat and sleep with them."

Álvaro couldn't believe what he was hearing. He asked the man if the van outside was his and, upon confirmation, told Marta it was from where the kitten had fallen.

"Many climb into engines for warmth. Few survive, but these two were lucky. Your kitten is much better, Álvaro."

The man said to Marta, "You know I care for animals, especially cats, but I can't keep more. I brought this one to you, hoping you'll find a good home for it."

Marta took the little cat out of the carrier. "It's a girl," she said.

"Come with me; I think they know each other."

In another room with several cats, Marta put the two kittens on a metal table. They sniffed and circled each other, tails high, then paused, looking at each other. The little one purred as the female licked his face.

"Well," Álvaro said, "I guess I have two kittens now. These coincidences are too obvious to ignore. What an adventure they must have had."

"Thank you, Álvaro," Marta said.

Humans

"Peter!" Reina exclaimed, recognizing her brother whom she had feared lost.

"Reina? But how? I thought the demons had eaten you for dinner."

"I don't think they're demons. Last night, the demon... well, the two-legged creature, took me out of the ogre's belly and left me with a tribe. They were all very friendly. They told me those beings are called humans and that they are their friends. One, the oldest, even told me the human belonged to him, that's why he took care of them and fed them. But the grandmother told me not to listen, that with humans there was an agreement of mutual respect and love. If I was lucky, I might become part of one of their families." Reina began to groom her brother, who smelled quite strange. The two, happy to be reunited and to have survived their encounter with the demons... well, “humans.”.

My heartfelt thanks for all the support and first reading to Loreto Alonso-Alegre, and to Dolores Póliz for the editing that adds a touch of perfection to the original Spanish narrative.

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