The stone-mail landed with a loud thud against the cabin door just when the Tango’s, or what was left of them, were finishing eating supper. It jarred their bones and turned their appetites.
It was the night Ma Tango became a real widow.
If the unusual and mysterious message had not landed in the front yard with the crude details of the death of Athanas Tango, perhaps Daniel Tango might never have made the drastic transition that brought him rapidly from the status of dependency on his father to a grown man.
It was as though there were two messages in the stone-mail—one declaring Daniel Tango the man of the home there and then after his father’s death, and the other one sealing the fate of the old man since the night he walked off into the darkness of the road. It was the same night they had found the crude cross on the fresh grave where the goat had been mysteriously buried.
The stone-mail had also brought two kinds of relief. For one, the family of Tango would now stop wondering what had become of the old man after he slaughtered the goat and walked away from home, and that he had actually been murdered and not died of excess drink.
They received all the answers that night in the brown envelope wrapped around a rock, sitting around the old hearth, looking into the fire silently like they always did when the family had to think or reflect upon difficult questions and strange experiences, and pondering the meanings of things and events in the homestead. It seemed they always thought better and more clearly when looking in to the embers or the flames.
Daniel Tango was going on nineteen the day it happened, and his brother seventeen. They were the only two children left in the family since a venomous udder had claimed their third and youngest brother.
The stone mail also began unraveling the mystery of who the dark Shadows were that haunted the villagers’ minds and souls with fear and horrendous terror. But for the disappearance of Old Man Tango, they might never have been able to predict the consequences theretofore or ever unveil the truth behind the night powers of the mysterious ghosts. It was as though Pa Tango had been sacrificed by the mysterious hand of an executioner in order that the truth of the shadows could be revealed, and the villagers could hence live in peace once again.
Before that, the farmers, their wives and daughters could never venture outside at night. Moonlight was not a beauty or symbolic of romance and peace but the eerie shroud of terror and death, an omen to be feared and avoided, for it was a sign of the impending philandering of the mysterious, dark powers.
Dan Tango made up his mind that the options for the family and their homestead were death and life. He was going to ransom his mother’s chance for a life or die trying, by buying them freedom with his father’s secret weapons. And that was the moment that also brought the village of Tagat a new lifeline.
The people of Tagat had surrendered to fate and the rule of terror that prowled in the moonlight, plucked their stocks, crops and left bones from their own animals strung meatless on trees, and black crosses planted in their front yards.
The law and the police had no answers or credible relief for the villagers. Who could catch a ghost? Who could chase or catch a black shadow? Could you prosecute a vain wraith that existed only in fluid, nocturnal vision? How could they personate or capture it? What evidence did they have as proof of existence of such powers as the villagers claimed? Had anyone ever actually spoken to a Shadow?
Up to the time that Daniel Tango gathered enough courage to spend a night out in the moonlight and issue stark challenges to the powers of defeat, the villagers had lost hope of life and home. Some had moved on out of the village, albeit for peace and hope of life elsewhere.
But it was not the fear in the villagers, nor anger at the shadowy powers that motivated Dan to gird up the courage and weapons his father had acquired for the same purpose. It was the destitute and desperate hopelessness that threatened to engulf his mother’s last prayer, last ounce of hope and the dream of a normal life.
Tagat was a scattering of small farms that surrounded a small two-street town that was the center of commerce, local government, farmers’ supplies, produce market, communication and trade. It straddled a main road that ran north to south, from which other smaller roads branched and snaked into the farm country and valleys beyond. A river ran parallel to the main road for a short distance, then deviated as the road curved southwest. The river snaked along the bottom of a low valley, bordering many small farms as it wove its way down south beyond the hills.
It was called the valley of the Black Shadows.