Portent

The owls did it again.

I did not mention this the other day because I seem to remember that I published a post about the local bird of the night predicting (accurately) the departure of life from the body.

Since I changed my sleeping hours, later than usual, I began to hear the noises of midnight and the early morning. Startling and spooky, the owls hooted as if they were talking with one another, keeping track of the invisible to the human naked eye and providing hints of what would come to pass.

Yes, depending on their location and distance from my position, I could take a wild guess where the dead would be located. (It’s a discouraging prospect but it is what it is.)

True enough, or should I say bewildering, the owls maintained their percentage of accuracy to a high level. Supernatural? I could not put a word to describe it. Fantastic, perhaps?

“Did you hear them, too?” my kumpare asked the next day. “I was pissing outside when I thought they were just overhead. I had to hurry up to go inside and hide.”

“You’re exaggerating,” I remarked nervously. “As always.”

“He’s dead,” my kumpare mentioned the name of our neighbor. “The next day after the owls hooted.”

Right there and then, I began to keep a more open mind. I did not know what to say, nor would I want to confirm what my kumpare surmised, I only wished the birds would leave and move far away from our locality.

However, that would be easier to hope for than realized.

When I told my godsons that the aswang was not real, I was simply excluding them from the anxieties and fears of adults. Children should be exempted, while still young, from the ugliness and obscenities of this world and beyond.

Believe it or not, there are unnatural phenomena occurring hereabouts. People could not explain them other than joke around and pretend they were folk tales of old, handed down through generations with embellishments as years went by.

Right now, I could hear the dogs howling one after another. Should I be frightened?

No. I am sure.

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Vigil

Before the year ended, another godson, my constant chess opponent, presented me with an alternative to television. He loaned me the CD-ROM version of the HBO series Game of Thrones, all four seasons for my viewing pleasure.

“I have a lot of work,” I said plainly. “I’ll probably watch it later if I still possess the energy to open my eyes.”

“I have a lot of questions, Ninong,” he confided. “I am sure you could answer them when you’re finished with all the episodes.”

“You understand English, don’t you? What’s the matter?”

“Yes, but I have trouble following the dialogues.”

“I see.”  Nuances could be tricky.

I could tell that he was very interested. His enthusiasm showed on his boyish face.

“I will check it out during my break.”

Frankly, I was as ignorant as my neighbors about the series. Even though I was online most of the time I was not too keen to preview even the short clips on YouTube. I was more of a music video enthusiast.

I went back to the house to take a quick peek.

After screening the first episode of season one, I was glad I was spared watching the spoilers online. I felt a sense of heightened suspense, not knowing what would come next as the story unfolded. It was riveting.

Instantly, I decided to stop my field work. I had ten hours on my hands: everything went on hold. 🙂

I was not surprised why the series earned a large following. It possessed all the drama and mystique of a great legend.

I have not read the books yet. I am aware that most adaptations somewhat veered away from the original, with the author’s blessings, of course. Still, the core of the story was intact.

Like my godson, I have questions, certain matters that needed straightening out. For starters, in the first episode, how did one of the rangers escape the White Walker? My guess: cowardice could be the answer.

I am hooked so I am waiting for the fifth season installments. 🙂

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Matched

During my childhood the story told us was a simple fairy tale.

With a powerful sound track and a new version, the popular classic received a great boost.

At one point in the movie, though, I did expect Snow White showing her fangs. (laughs)

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Powerless

When you are in a relationship, like almost 24/7, parting is not so easy. There’s got to be a compelling reason to sever the bond, move on.

It was very unfortunate that this afternoon I found myself in a similar situation. Frankly, I was shocked to learn I was entirely to blame for the end.

I kept searching at first, then the realization dawned on me, I was left alone.

I traced my steps back to the house, wanting to believe that it was only my hunch, that what I suspected was a figment of my imagination.

Crossing a rice farm, I could feel the plants commiserating with my sadness: they probably knew why I walked the narrow paddies’ division. With bowed head, I finally accepted it was my fault.

Then, in an instant, my eyes confirmed what I feared. I almost shouted out loud to proclaim my regret for my unforgivable carelessness.

I knelt down, hoping everything would be okay, that for some miracle, I could salvage the situation, to bring back the hands of time.

Too late! Death was an undeniable conclusion, drowning the cause of my sorrow.

Goodbye, friend! You have been a loyal ally, a constant companion, the gatekeeper to the world of local telecommunications. I hate to see you go.

Tomorrow, another relationship has to be found. I would absolutely choose the cheapest kind so that when the time comes I would not feel too (financially) devastated during the next farewell.

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Recognition

He was a fast runner, I tell you. 🙂

I was not able to kick him in the butt for such a conceited proclamation. Who’s he kidding?

When people tell me things, I do not swallow everything at face value. I learned from experience, living in this place, that people stitched fact and fiction to suit the situation. Often, it was the tone of the delivery that gave away the story’s added spices.

I remember once I was told a revelation which seemed too realistic to be doubted as an invention. I was a newcomer back then so I did not have the faintest idea I was being conned. 🙂

Tell me what you think of this.

A escaped convict from a penal colony (there is one near the capital), about 70 kilometers from where I resided, was supposed to roam around at night. Many people claimed to have seen the guy who looked like Rambo minus the ammo and the muscles. More likely from their description, I could visualize him like a Japanese straggler from the last world war.

Fear was not the factor, for they claimed the man was harmless, hiding from sight at every possible instance. He simply needed his freedom from the daily chore he had been doing for several years while in custody: planting rice.

“Beware,” many warned. “Do not hang your laundry outside. He might steal them.”

I possessed few clothes so I took the warning seriously. If he stole mine, he would probably have more clothes than me in the end.

Days later, there was a report that he was apprehended. I wanted to check his face to see if I had met him without me knowing it. I had seen a lot of strangers which was natural because I knew fewer people by name then.

Passing a small sari-sari store, I observed a group of farmers taking their mid morning snack. They were killing time while the sun shone its brightest.

When they saw me approached, smiles formed in their faces. I recognized two of my neighbors so I titled my head downward as a silent greeting.

“They caught him last night.”

Such piece of news aroused my curiosity. I had to get closer to hear everything said.

“Where?” someone asked, after sipping from a bottle of soda.

“There!” the lead storyteller pointed to the place.

Horrors! It was a stone’s throw away from my house. I never imagined that the convict could have trespassed in my land but the information led me to believe I could have met him face to face if I went out at that particular hour.

“Have you seen him?” I interrupted, relieved the threat was over but at the same time still curious of the man’s identity.

They stared at once another, seriously considering if there was a need to tell me the whole story. One of my neighbors kept shaking his head: he would not look me in the eye.

“What’s the matter?” I inquired. “Is he dead?”

“Are you sure you want to know what he looks like?” their leader asked. “You might not like it.”

I waved my hand, signalling him I was prepared for any surprises.

The man approached the store owner and whispered to her. She was reluctant at first but was goaded into following the man’s request.

When she came back, a foot-square object covered with cloth was in her hands.

“Go ahead,” the leader said. “Take it.”

My right hand was steady. I removed the cloth with my left.

It was a mirror.

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Revealing

I could be imagining things but I believed people kept staring at me. Why?

For a second, I laughed at the remark the driver gave me earlier. Then, I realized he was talking about himself, how being handsome could scare people away. Or was being conceited his major problem?

Nope. I never considered myself handsome. If that was true, women would be knocking at my door. The only females who visited me were either ambulant vendors or those four-legged kinds.

I checked my pants if inadvertently I forgot to zip my fly. I had hilarious episodes before when such small detail became my undoing.

Grateful that my fear had no basis, I went on purchasing items I needed. Like-minded individuals roamed around, busy like myself, eager to finish their shopping before the dark clouds on the horizon decided to unleash the rains.

It was the mother and her children again. That was how small the town center was, people would bump to each other whether they liked it or not.

I needed to ask her what was the matter, why they left me in a state of confusion. Okay, I would not want to scare her even more. Following them around could be counterproductive: I did not want to be called a stalker.

I stopped in front of a store. The glass window could reveal something I might not have considered so far. I enumerated inside my head all the factors that bothered me ever since I rode the jeepney.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. Only an acquaintance would do that. Many people did not know it but I was a bit edgy in places far away from the safe confines of my home.

“Are you lost?” he asked, his eyebrows raised when I turned around to face him.

“Why did you say that?” I asked, noting he was the tricycle driver I used to hire when I needed a quick ride.

“Check your shirt, man.”

Horrors! He was right. In a hurry, I did not check myself in the mirror. I wore my shirt inside out. That was probably why people kept staring at me.

“Bad morning, eh?” he continued, his squinting eyes showed only humor.

“Are you going home?” I asked, arguing with myself if I would take off my shirt on the spot and correct my mistake. “I need a ride home.”

“Sorry, man. I am still third in line.”

Throwing all those modesty rules out in the window, I took my shirt off in one motion and wore it back as quickly as possible.

“Ma, he’s whiter!”

I was absolutely sure: the voice was owned by a small boy.

When I sought the origin of the remark, I saw them again: the three was transfixed at where they stood.

I did not know what has gotten into me but the only thing that crossed my mind was the simplest reason I could think of to erase whatever inference they had about me.

“I am a farmer, that’s why.”

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Cured

It was dark inside the living room. The silhouette of the tree outside formed a black image on the window pane. In a strange fashion, it seemed swaying back and forth, moved by the evening breeze.

Alice left her husband in bed, snoring excessively like a fat boar, either because of his heavy supper or the games they played afterwards.

“Boooo!”

Who came from behind her she did not expect.

At first, she imagined a burglar sneaked in from the kitchen, ready to cover her mouth so she could not scream for help. But, the creepy sound was delivered in such way she was involuntarily pushed forward, nearly felling her to the carpeted floor.

“Hiccup!”

She turned around immediately, fearing the assailant would pounce on her while she was most vulnerable. Instead, it looked like an apparition from the jungle or wherever it came from which almost frightened her to submission.

“Who the …? Hiccup.”

The gurgling laughter of her husband was unmistakable. He stood in front of her, draped in a blanket, the masquerade complete with a spooky mask of a gorilla which he removed slowly.

“Is it gone?” he curiously asked. “It worked!”

A second later, she proved him wrong.

“Hiccup.” She did not find his stunt hilarious. “God! Are you crazy? You nearly gave me a heart attack! Hiccup.”

“Damn! That didn’t work?” he asked himself, perplexed why the common belief was not effective.

“Hiccup. If you want to help me, go get me a glass of water.”

“Oh, you believe that crap?”

“Yes. Hiccup.” She motioned him to go quickly. “In fact, I do. Hiccup.”

Mark ran to kitchen, dropping his costume on the couch like a superhero changing into his casual identity.

“Seven small gulps of water and it would be gone.” She recalled her grandmother instilling the lesson when she was five.

“I don’t think that will remove the hiccups,” he said dismissively.

“Hiccup. Just wait. Hiccup. My grandmother is always right. Hiccup.”

“I doubt that.” Mark rolled his eyes, showing his disbelief.

Alice seemed to concentrate as if in a trance. It was important that she followed the exact timing in between gulps.

“Well?” he asked anxiously.

“Hiccup.” She frowned, shaking her head repeatedly. “Hiccup.”

“You know what my grandfather used to say.”

“Hiccup. Your grandpa was weird. Bless his soul. Hiccup.”

“You don’t believe his tales?”

“Hiccup. Did you?” she asked incredulously. “You did! Hiccup.”

Mark looked as if he did not hear her because he noticed something under the couch.

“What do we have here?” he trapped it with his palm, the movement under it ticklish. “I think I found a remedy. My grandfather told me about this.”

“Hiccup. What is it? Let me see. Hiccup.” Alice, too, wondered if the old guy was not all air.

Mark lifted it up, holding it by the tail: she screamed at the sight of it.

“Get that thing away from me!”

“Quick! Open your mouth!” he ordered, approaching her. “Swallow it!”

“Never!” she yelled, running up the stairs, straight to their room.

He doubled up laughing, seeing her contorted face almost grimacing with disdain, coughing out her obvious abhorrence for his vomit-inducing idea.

“Well, it works every time.”

Mark let the small lizard escaped: it crawled so fast it vanished under the couch in a flash.

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Kissed (1)

From the Collection of Short Stories titled, Scream At Will (Copyright)

Condensed Version

It was a heaven of a morning.

Noli sat outside and saw the sun’s rays finally penetrating the slowly dissipating clouds. Once in a while, he went inside via the kitchen door to check the casserole atop the firewood-fired stove.

The chicken tinola, a native delicacy with a colorless salty broth, slanted slices of immature papaya and young leaves of pepper plant, was almost ready. The delicious aroma permeated the air. Partnered with newly-cooked brown rice, the ensemble was the farmer’s breakfast.

Noli managed to check his hunger at bay. In a few more minutes, his stomach would be satiated. He had to make ready for a long hard day’s work.

While waiting, he surveyed the immediate surroundings. The backyard needed clearing: growth of tall grasses crept from the small creek ten feet away toward the hut’s bamboo-slats wall. During the past weeks, he wanted to cut them down but deferred every time. In a way, the grasses worked collectively as a natural protective barrier against thieves: no one in their right minds would enter from that side.

He was startled by the hard push of the front door. For sure, it was not a strong wind that blew it open. He ran around and investigated what the noise was about.

Reentering the kitchen, he was dismayed to discover the calamity before him.

The hulking figure of a manly beast, who notoriously possessed the worst manners in the village, owned the brute force that nearly wrecked the door. He was but menacing at all angles.

“That smells delicious,” Pato, whose alias was derived from the local word for duck, loudly mused, his greedy eyes were on the steaming dish. “I’m hungry!”

“I know,” Noli mumbled quietly.

There was no denying he loathed the invader from head to foot.

“Did you say something?” Pato’s tone was suspicious though he knew he was unwelcome. His aura of ferocity alienated him from almost everyone.

“I said I know you’re hungry because I saw you working early.” Noli did not want Pato angry: no one would ever try.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Pato beamed. If standing guard beside a grazing carabao could be called working, yes indeed, he was.

“Let’s eat,” Noli invited him halfheartedly, placing the plastic plates on the hardwood table.

He was on his way to wash his hands when he saw Pato grabbed the plate, took the serving spoon to scoop half the contents of the rice pot. The savage then handpicked the best meaty parts of the chicken into a deep bowl. With a tall glass in another hand, he dipped it into the casserole and filled it with steaming broth as if taking water from a deep well.

Noli could only watch the reckless behavior with horror. He entertained the idea that he could be better off being robbed by thieves than be visited daily by a famished duck.

Pato‘s dining antics were not unique at all though cannibals would look more civil compared to him.

Using both hands, which apparently he did not wash owing to the traces of dried mud visible on his wrists, his left held the meat while his right kept pushing rice to his mouth. Slurping the hot broth like a thirsty elephant, he was the perfect image of a glutton.

“Goodbye lunch,” Noli swore to himself, noting only several papaya slices swam with the chicken’s wings, head and feet.

No conversation was exchanged between them. Pato was too busy gorging his free meal without a tad of gratitude expressed toward the depressed cook.

Noli chewed his food like a boxer after a fight. Every action of his jaws was painful especially at the sight of the pig person in front of him. His hunger pangs left his system much earlier.

The ‘duck’ finished the ‘event’ with a long slurp of what was left of the broth in his bowl. Without leaving a word, he exited the hut, patting his pregnant stomach as if it would burst.

Noli could only follow him walking out with a murderous gaze.

– o –

(to be concluded)

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Blunder

“Thanks, Wilson!”

Absolutely baffled why Max was in ecstatic mood, he followed him downstairs to the kitchen. His younger brother whistled a local ditty, holding the shoes on both hands as if they were presents for a royalty.

“Did you not see him last night?” he asked, curious if Max experienced the similar nightmare he had.

His brother placed the shoes on the sink and began polishing them delicately with a cotton rag. He was oblivious of Wilson’s presence.

Wilson touched him on the shoulder.

“What’s that?” Max asked, taking off his earphones. “Did you say something?”

Wilson repeated his query, with more emphasis on the word ‘him’ to make his point clear.

“Can we not talk about that? You’re scaring me again.”

“I just want to know. You still have a chance.” he begged him to reconsider. “I am going to school in a few minutes.”

“Go then!” Max replied. “I’ll give you a call if there’s something wrong.”

– 0 –

Back to his former anonymity, without his ‘rare’ shoes, he was again at the bottom of the barrel. Even some of the girls who noticed him while he was still in the news were now allergic of him as if he was contagious with a deadly virus.

“The shoes changed my life for the best,” he mumbled to himself. “But it also made my life hell at home.”

Sonny, who was envious of his shoes earlier, was surrounded by his elite group, admiring his most recent possession he received from abroad.

Wilson passed them quietly, without the importance they showered him unlike when he wore his popular footwear. He felt rejected especially when Sonny increased the speaker’s volume of his sparkling new IPad.

“What did  I do to deserve this?”

He sat dejectedly on the last row, the place he detested all throughout his school life. It would seem he was destined to be forgotten like fleeting memories no one would care to remember.

– 0 –

At the football field, where he usually passed his time whenever he skipped classes, he walked toward the bunch of students, acquaintances from different classes. They were  having an animated discussion.

“What’s up, guys?” he asked, startling them because of his quiet entrance.

“Have you heard? They found the missing feet!”

Wilson was definitely interested. He lorded it over from that point onward.

“Did they find the shoes?” he asked, partially nervous for even asking.

“No! Everyone’s hunch was correct all along. Someone took them.”

“Do they have a suspect?” he asked, linking the pair who sold second hand shoes for a living.

“The police stopped the investigation. Those feet are more important to the relatives.”

Yeah, the spirit would be pissed, he thought. That left his brother as its target.

“Poor man!” Wilson sighed. “Already dead and yet robbed of his possession.”

Everyone looked at him with a puzzled look as if he said something insensitive.

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

They started kidding around, enjoying the moment, watching Wilson’s complete innocence.

“Are you dreaming or something? Who told you that the victim was a male?”

“I assumed,” he stuttered. “Riding a motorcycle? At night?”

“Well, you’re absolutely wrong!”

Wilson needed not hear the rest of the story. In an instant, he visualized his brother walking proudly with his shoes.

“Nooooooo!”

T H E   E N D

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Dared

“Where are they, Wilson?”

Max waited for him impatiently at the front door, unable to claim the shoes as he promised earlier.

Still in the hidden place where he left them, he was now torn between passing to his brother the shoes with the curse or just accepting his sibling’s howls of protest if he said he changed his mind.

He chose the latter.

“You can’t have them,” he passed through him in a rush, not wanting to elaborate why.

“It’s not fair!” Max followed him wherever he went, like a pesky mosquito attacking its host.”I’ll tell father!”

“Don’t!” Wilson stopped and turned around. “Leave him out of this!”

Instilled with fear, he decided not to tell Max what he learned earlier.

“What’s wrong? Why the sudden turnaround?”

“You won’t understand.”

“Let father be the judge of that!” Max said angrily, ready to call his ally.

Wilson held onto his arms, having no recourse but to relate to his brother the story about the shoes. Perhaps, the fear factor would be enough to dissuade him.

“Have you proof that they are the same shoes?” Max asked, unmoved from his decision of ownership.

“Max, I had a nightmare yesterday. You will have too if I let you have them. Possession, it seems, is part of the curse.”

Max studied him closely, figuring out if he invented the scenario to scare him.

“If you don’t want me to have them, what will you do?” he asked, disbelief was written all over him.

“I’ll sell them to someone at school,” Wilson revealed. “They’ll fight with one another just to buy them.”

“So, the buyer will inherit the curse.”

“That’s correct!”

However, Max would not let go quickly. His cynicism was strong.

“What if you’re wrong? What if there’s no curse?”

“Do you want the nightmare?” Wilson asked with the explicit challenge. “I’ll tell you the shoes are not worth it.”

“I’ll take my chances,” his younger brother decided. “I want them, curse or no curse!”

“It’s your choice!” Wilson tried but failed: his brother won.

“Where are they?”

– 0 –

After his uneventful supper, which was a contrast to his family’s cheerful exchange in front of the dining table, he lingered for a while in the living room. Max was the master of ceremonies, so to speak, holding the remote control as if it was a wizard’s wand.

“Change the channel,” his other siblings roared but Max seemed to be deaf to their cries.

“I want to see this before I go to sleep,” he announced. “Then, the remote is all yours.”

Wilson watched his brother dancing in delight: he wore the shoes.

– 0 –

Wilson could not sleep: the neighbors’ dogs howled one after the other. There was a full moon so that might explain their chilling noises.

Or, maybe the spirit was coming to take back what it rightfully owned.

The series of howling continued after a few pauses. The dogs could be warning humans of unfriendly spirits roaming around.

Then, there were scratching sounds on the roof. Cats usually ran around at night to hunt for rats that used the outstretched branch of the tree as a bridge to their house.

Or, they were not cats but the spirit that has arrived, preparing to scare the wits of the one who held the shoes.

Damn, he swore. The window was wide open. The night breeze disturbed the leaves of the trees, the rustling sound provoked spooky notions in his mind. His imagination ran wild.

Instead of getting out bed to close the window, Wilson covered himself with the blanket and waited for his brother to scream for his life.

(to be concluded)

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