ONE day two friends, Yoyong and Mente, were walking through a coconut grove. Night was falling and the countryside was growing dark. When their path led them near some low-hanging trees, they heard a loud cry.
“What’s that?” Yoyong whispered.
“It’s nothing,” replied Mente. “Just a baby in its mother’s arms. Maybe she is going home through the grove.”
Then they heard the baby’s cry again. It came from under the trees. The two friends stopped and looked at each other in silence.
“I wonder what a mother and her baby could be doing here so late in the day?” said Mente. “Let us find out.”
“There are no people living here, and it is getting dark,” said Yoyong. It was a cool evening but his face and neck were moist with sweat.
“You, a big boy, afraid of an infant!” laughed Mente. “Come, let’s look for the baby.”
Mente pulled Yoyong toward the trees. They walked to where the cries had come from, and soon under a big tree they saw a baby. He was kicking about and crying on a banana leaf spread on the ground.
“Poor baby!” said Mente, picking him up and kissing his cheeks. “He is very cold!”
“And he must be very hungry besides!” said Yoyong. “Where could his mother be?”
“I don’t believe he has a mother,” said Mente. “I’ll take him home and raise him. When he grows big and I’m a man he will be my servant. He will cook my dinner and serve me at the table and wash the dishes.”
“No, you give me the baby,” said Yoyong. “He is mine. I heard him cry first.”
“He is mine!” replied Mente. “You may have heard him first, but you were for running away. You would have run away too, if I did not force you to come with me and look for him.”
Yoyong claimed the baby but Mente said the baby was his, and they became angry with each other. Yoyong ran off to a bamboo fence and pulled out a stake to strike Mente with. Mente saw him and, putting down the baby, prepared to fight Yoyong.
But no sooner had he placed the baby on the ground than a very strange thing happened. In a twinkling the baby became an old man with an ugly, frightful face. He had a dirty beard that hung down to his chest, and his face was covered with thick hair. His eyes were bright and small; one of his legs was much longer than the other. He was a tianak.
When Mente saw the tianak he became so terrified that he turned to run away. But the tianak leaped after him and buried its sharp teeth in his arm. Mente screamed for help, and when Yoyong heard him and saw the tianak, he became very much frightened, too. So he started running away and exclaiming: “Susmariosep!” Susmariosep!”
No sooner were the words out of Yoyong’s mouth than the tianaklet go of Mente and vanished into the darkness.
Then Yoyong and Mente forgot their quarrel and ran away as fast as ever you please.
They reached home tired and breathing hard. Aling Nenang, Yoyong’s mother, put some medicine where the tianak had bitten Mente.
“It is very lucky that Yoyong said ‘Susmariosep’,” Aling Nenang said. “Only that word can drive the tianak away.”
“Please tell me more about the tianak,” said Mente.
“The tianak looks frightful,” she said. “But he does not harm you unless you harm him first, or unless he sees that you are afraid. Remember this when you see another tianak.”
“I hope I’ll never see one again,” said Yoyong.
“Why does the tianak turn himself into a baby, Aling Nenang?” asked Mente.
“So that you will go near him,” she replied. “When you are near enough, he changes himself into his ugly form to frighten you with his fearful looks. Then, if you become afraid, he will bite you.”
“Does the tianak eat people?” Yoyong asked.
“No,” she replied. The tianak likes to frighten people but I have never heard of anyone killed by a tianak.”
“We saw another strange thing about the tianak,” said Mente. “His legs.”
“Was one leg much longer than the other?” she asked.
“Well, the tianak’s right leg is always longer than his left,” said Aling Nenang. “It is so long that when he squats on the ground, his right knee is far above his head but his left knee reaches only up to his chest.”
“I don’t think the tianak would be much of a runner, then,” said Yoyong. “One of his legs is too short. If he tries to run he will stumble.”
“He is not much of a runner, to be sure,” admitted Aling Nenang. “But he can leap very far. He can leap very much farther than a man can. I tell you, boys,” she added, “you better keep away from the tianakif you can help it.”