Bookbed recommends: ‘Seedlings: A Short Story Collection’ by Maria Carlizza C. Pagaduan

by KB Meniado

To read the contents of somebody else’s journal is almost unforgivable but with Seedlings, a collection of tiny stories from the life of an author and artist better known to me as Arli Pagaduan, I didn’t feel any guilt at all. On the contrary, it was inviting and familiar—the pages like old friends waving at me, the stories sounding as if I had written them myself—and I sincerely enjoyed how each one brought me back to my past experiences and feelings. While a lot of themes are universally relatable, such as friendships, family, faith, frustrations and fears, each story maintains that feeling of something very personal still, with a pinch of pain and a bucket of hope in its touching prose and hand-drawn art. This book helped reawaken something in me, and I’m even happy to report that it has inspired me to create again. And so maybe, if you pick this up, it will help you grow, too.

Here are some of my favorites:

davdavdavdav

☁️

Get a copy and know more about Seedlings on Arli’s blog here.
Read our feature about Arli and her #100BookScenesProject here.

 

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Magic in Food, Magic in Words: Author Agay Llanera On Getting Writing Right

by Romy Peña Cruz
Agay Llanera - Bookbed

Follow her @agayskee and visit her blog here

Author Agay Llanera enjoys writing about food, and her readers are rewarded well for it. In her books like young adult novellas Choco Chip Hips and This Side of Sunny, she displays her talent for mixing topics of self acceptance, body image and family issues with scenes about baking confections and sampling Pinoy delicacies.

Mango Summer, her latest release—an adult contemporary romance, doesn’t delve too far away. In it, Agay once again adds a food (and fantasy!) element to the love story: (magical!) mangoes from our shores.

Mango Summer by Agay Llanera - Bookbed Magic is in the air… 

For the first time in a century, the fruit in San Antonio’s most famous mango farm all turned sour. Fiona, thirty-six and single, knows why. According to her family’s legend, the only way to keep the mangoes sweet is for the women who run the farm to be married and bear children. If Fiona doesn’t find anyone soon, the inheritance her family has been protecting for generations is in danger of rotting away. 

Greg used to have a massive crush on his older sister’s best friend. When he drops by Fiona’s farm to get his sister some of San Antonio’s sweetest mangoes, his quick visit turns into an extended vacation. As the days go by, his feelings for Fiona begin to take root and grow. At twenty-eight, how can he convince Fiona that he’s more than her friend’s kid brother? Get a copy: Amazon / Read reviews: Goodreads

“I guess it’s because I just love to eat,” she says about incorporating food into her writing. “You can put a lot of descriptives in [the story] and it can sound really delicious. It can sound poetic.”

Agay, who also had written for three food TV shows in the past, got the inspiration for Mango Summer from a fellow romance author, and visiting the beach at her father’s hometown in Zambales.

“Whenever we’d go to the beach in Pundaquit, we’d pass by a mango farm,” she recalls. “And I wanted to write something Laura Florand-ish. Laura Florand is a romance writer and she writes about chocolate: The Chocolate Thief, The Chocolate Kiss.

“It’s so sensual, the writing. So I wanted to write something like that that involves our local produce. And what else should I write about but our mangoes?” she goes on. “I also wanted an older character and something that’s set in the province.”

Out of all the books she’s written, Agay says Mango Summer took her the longest—two years.

“Not because it was a difficult story to write, but I wrote it when I became a new mom with my second son,” she says. “I would write while breastfeeding my baby and typing with one hand, so it took me a really, really long time. And since I was sleep-deprived most of the time, I think I was writing trash. So I had to revise it two times—no, three times, just so I could get it right.” (Related: “Writing Mango Summer on Agay’s blog.)

Having started as a children’s book author, it was a challenge transitioning from writing for children to writing for older readers. “It’s very different because the children’s books are very short,” Agay explains. “You have to think of them in a visual way before you even write them. But in novels, it’s the words that really speak for themselves.”

Being a member of the #romanceclass community helped her power through, according to Agay. It was in 2012 that she joined a class, which led her to self-publishing Vintage Love, a fashion-centered romance novella, and later on, a few more titles like the moving coming-out story of Another Word for Happy and volleyball themed Once upon a Player.

“It’s best to have support,” Agay says. “People who will cheer you on while you’re writing, people who will read your stuff, beta read for you, edit for you. And just the simple act of retweeting or reposting your post, helps a lot in promoting your book and giving you the writing energy to finish the book.” ☁️

Photo of the author from the author, posted with permission. Mango Summer is now available here.
Agay Llanera is part of the #romanceclass community. Visit them here.

#BookbedFictory 015: ‘Artifacts from the Parent’

by Joel Donato Jacob

Prompt: The cure for a new deadly epidemic is almost scarier than the disease.

Arvin C. Diesmos, Mae L. Diesmos and Rafe M. Brown

Abstract

The Philippine amphibian fauna introduced species of frogs: Bufo marinus (Linnaeus), Raba catasbeiana (Shaw), Hoplobatrachis chinensis (Osbeck), Rana erythraea (Sclegel), and Kaloula pulchra (Gray). Bufo marinus was introduced in the Philippines in the 1930s purportedly to control the explosive population of crop insects. The species in now found in numerous islands across the country through subsequent introductions both accidental and deliberate in nature…

… This paper reviews the status and distribution of alien invasive frogs known in the Philippines and summarizes updated ecological information on each species. We also provide management recommendations to help control the spread of these alien frogs and introduced organisms in the Philippines.

—from Journal of Environmental Science and Management Vol. 9 No. 2 (December 2006)

* * *

Dr. Charm Gonzaga-Manalo

Dermatologist

(from Sutla, the Philippine Journal on Medical Aesthetology, 29 September, 2018)

 

Hello Friends,

Lately, I have been getting a lot of queries about the new CRISPR-Cas9 skin whitening treatment. Some of them are just curious and few are very serious to take this therapy. Interestingly, they give references of Glutathione and chemical or mechanical dermabrasion. Before starting this article, I want to say that skin color is not to be considered as an integral part of your beauty. I would never strongly recommend glutathione therapy that affects your internal chemistry. I used to treat with time-tested therapies like medicines, chemical peels and some advanced therapies like laser toning.

What is CRISPR-Cas9 whitening gene therapy?

CRISPR-Cas9 is a process of gene editing. It has been successfully used for years to edit congenital birth defects in unborn children, and correct the programming of cancer patient’s cells. Basically, the CRISPR, a kind of a modified virus, is introduced to the system. It has been programmed to target specific defective gene sequences; in this case, it will target a patient’s skin cells reaction to sunlight. Unlike chemical peels, mechanical peels and Glutathione treatments, this does not just whiten your skin by removing pigmentation, your skin literally changes to become one that is naturally fair! No more hiding from the sun. You get to show off your alabaster complexion in the skimpiest of bathing suits in the busiest days of the beach season. Amazing!

But is CRISPR-Cas9 whitening gene therapy for me?

There are two considerations for this, maybe three.

The first is contraindications. Our dermatologists will screen all clients for any genetic defects that might adversely impact the procedure. Oddly enough, pigment-based skin disorders like vitiligo and albinism are not among the contraindications. Instead, the gene therapy specifically targets and corrects these conditions. However, a history of eczema and psoriasis might imply that certain reactants in the process might not be best for your skin type.

The second (and third) consideration, is price, and as a corollary, commitment. The entire gene therapy process will only set you back 800,000 to 1.2 million pesos depending on your health coverage. However, the gene therapy itself will take a little over six months between screening, so you will need to be able to access some time away from work for weekly sessions. Both of these factors might make those over the counter CRISPR-Cas9 treatments all the more tempting, but studies have shown that they have not been proven to provide any significant impact to a person’s melanin production. They may be charging you for similar ingredients, but the results you seem to get are little more than chemical whitening effects of the other components of the lotion or cream. Although the FDA cannot ban these products because they pose no threat, they mislead you from the real opportunity of a laboratory and clinically tested procedure of true gene editing technology…

* * *

MANILA, July 7—More than 1,000 Filipinos have been infected with the deadly leptospirosis, an animal-borne bacterial disease that is more common in the tropics like the Philippines, Health Secretary Ralf Lorenz Fonte said in a local radio interview on Saturday.

The Philippines has experienced severe rains especially since the onset of the wet season in June, which inundated many of Southern Luzon/Calabarzon’s garbage-clogged streets.

As previously experienced over the last few years, flooding and poor drainage has resulted in pandemics of several water borne diseases, the worst of which in recent times has been this mysterious train of mutant leptospirosis. Five regions in Central Luzon have been declared under the mutant leptospirosis outbreak.

The outbreak has also been declared in Caloocan City, Quezon City, Taguig, Pasig, Paranaque, Navotas, Mandaluyong and Malabon, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

Fonte said these areas are considered outbreaks because they have already breached the epidemic threshold, meaning that cases reported in these cities and villages have already gone past the number or the average number for the last five years.

At least 2,344 leptospirosis cases have been reported in Metro Manila since January this year, exponentially higher than 112 cases recorded in the same period last year, DOH data showed.

The same data presented that as of June 16, a total of 12,040 cases have been recorded nationwide, and 32 have reportedly died from the disease. Eighteen cases were from Calabarzon, according to the DOH.

Fonte said the DOH is closely monitoring the leptospirosis cases in the country and that the government is prepared to deal with the increasing cases in the country.

“Our hospitals are equipped to handle the cases of leptospirosis, and there are enough tools and medicines,” Fonte said.

The DOH has launched an information campaign to educate Filipinos on leptospirosis and other water-borne infectious illnesses like flu and dengue.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the bacterial zoonotic disease had varied manifestations.

“The early stages of the disease may include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, chills, redness in the eyes, abdominal pain, jaundice, hemorrhages in skin and mucous membranes including pulmonary bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea and a rash,” the WHO said. “The mutated version exhibits a toxic and infectious discharge from the sweat glands that cause numbing upon contact. Its nature is similar to the bufotoxins secreted by cane toads.”

Risk of infection is minimized by avoiding contact with animal urine, infected animals and people or a contaminated environment.

Despite weeks of denials of the allegations of certain groups, the BFAD has agreed to pull out certain skin whitening creams and lotions that contain CRISPR-Cas9 technology until further studies can conclusively state that the products do in fact make certain individuals more likely to contract leptospirosis.

* * *

FLASH SALE!

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This is your chance to buy the last few stocks of Libulan whitening cream. Naturally whiter and fairer skin for 999PhP. COD and free shipping within Metro Manila.

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Register. Login.

* * *

Panuto sa interbyuwer: Siguraduhing nakapagsuot ng kumpletong personal protection equipment (mask, gloves, goggles) bago magsagawa ng interbyu. Basahin ang bawat tanong sa Respondent. Huwag hayaang mahawakan ng respondent ang papel. Huwag hayaang makapagsalita ang respondent, utusan lamang siyang tumango kung oo o umiling kung hindi. Sa mga tanong na maraming pagpipilian, basahin ang bawat pagpipilian at bigyan ang respondent ng ilang sandali para makatango o makailing. 

 

Numero ng Talatanungan: 453

Petsa ng Interbyu: January 23, 2019

Pangngalan ng Interbyuwer: Donna Antalan

Pangngalan ng Pasyente(Mula sa records ng Outpatient Clinic o ng staff): Merlie Sabrosa

Tirahan ng pasyente

(Mula sa records ng Outpatient Clinic o ng staff): 42 Rizal Ave, Kalayaan, Laguna

 

Bahagi I: Mga Katangian ng Respondent

Tanong Sagot
1.1 Ilang taon ka na?

(Itala sa nakompletong taon)

52
1.2 Ano ang iyong kasarian ayon sa kapanganakan?
  1. Lalaki
  2. Babae
  3. Iba pa:____________
2
1.3 Ano ang iyong relihiyon?
  1. 1. Katoliko
  2. 2. Protestante
  3. 3. Muslim
  4. 4. Pentecostal
  5. 5. Iglesia ni Cristo
  6. 6. Iba pa: ______________
1
1.4 Ano ang iyong pinakamataas na antas ng edukasyon na nakamit?
  1. 1. Wala
  2. 2. Primarya (Grade 1-6)
  3. 3. Sekondarya (Year 1-4)
  4. 4. Kursong Bokasyonal  
  5. 5. Tersiyaryo/Unibersidad
  6. 6. Gradwado (Postgraduate)
5
1.5 Ano ang iyong estado sibil?
  1. 1. Wala pang asawa
  2. 2. Kasal

3. Biyudo/Biyuda

4. Diborsyado/Diborsyada/ Hiwalay

5. Nagsasama na hindi kasal

3
1.6 Ano ang iyong trabaho?
  1. 1. Agrikultura / Pagsasaka
  2. 2. Negosyo / Kalakalan
  3. 3. Maybahay/ Walang trabaho
  4. 4. Empleyado ng gobyerno
  5. 5. Iba pa: ______________
4
1.7 Ikaw ba ang puno ng iyong sambahayan?

(Kung Hindi ang sagot, tumuloy sa Tanong 1.8)

  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

1
1.8 Ano ang relasyon mo sa puno ng iyong sambahayan? 1. Asawa

2. Magulang  

3. Kapatid

4. Anak

5. Iba pang Kamag-anak

6. Hindi kaano-ano

n/a
1.9 Ilan ang taong regular na naninirahan sa sambahayang ito?

(Magbilang ng mabagal hanggang sa makatango ang respondent sa tamang bilang at isulat sa puwang sa kanan)

10+
1.10 Magkano ang karaniwang buwanang kita ng iyong sambahayan? 1. Wala pang PhP15,000.00

2. Mula PhP15,001 hanggang PhP29,999

3. Higit sa PhP30,000

2
1.11 Saan ka nakatira?

(Itanong ng Interbyuwer at tiyakin)

1. Rural area (lalawigan)

2. Semi-urban area (bayang ginawang lungsod)

3. Urban area (lungsod)

2
1.12 Ikaw ba ay napatataong makakita ng palaka sa pang-araw-araw na gawain?
(Kung OO, tumuloy sa tanong 1.13
Kung Hindi, rumuloy sa tanong 1.14)
  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

2
1.13 Paano ka nakakakita ng palaka?

(Markahan ang lahat ng naaangkop)

1. Sa bahay o karatig-bahay

2. Sa biyahe o paglalakad mula bahay papuntang trabaho

3. Sa pinagtatrabahuhan, halimbawa sa sakahan o palaisdaan

4. Iba pa: ______________

2
1.14 Nagkaroon ka na ba ng impeksiyon o sakit sa loob ng nakaraang anim na buwan?
  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

  1. 3. Hindi alam
3
1.15 Nagpasuri ka na ba kahit kailan para sa CRISPR-Bufo?
  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

2

 

Bahagi II: Mga pinagkunan ng impormasyon tungkol sa CRISPR-Bufo

Tanong Sagot
2.1 Narinig mo na ba ang tungkol sa CRISPR-Bufo?

Kung Oo, pumunta sa susunod na tanong 2.3

Kung Hindi, pumunta sa Bahagi III

  1. 1. Oo
  2. 2. Hindi
1
2.3 Saan mo narinig ang tungkol sa CRISPR-Bufo?

(SIYASATING MABUTI at markahan ang lahat ng naaangkop)

  1. Radyo
  2. Telebisyon
  3. Mga poster
  4. Heath center o hospital Kaibigan/kapamilya
  5. Diyaryo/magasin
  6. Paaralan
  7. Iba pa
  8. Hindi alam o maalaala
2

 

Bahagi III: Kaalaman tungkol sa CRISPR-Bufo at pagsusuri para dito

Tanong Sagot
3.1 Sa iyong palagay, makakatulong ba ang maagang pagkakatuklas sa CRISPR-Bufo? 1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

1
3.2 Sa iyong palagay, magagamot ba ang CRISPR-Bufo kapag maagang natuklasan? 1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

3
3.3 Maaari bang bakunahan laban sa CRISPR-Bufo?  

Kung HINDI ang sagot, pumunta sa Tanong 3.5

1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

3
3.4 Ano ang inirerekomendang edad para magpabakuna?

(Magbilang ng mabagal hanggang sa makatango ang respondent sa tamang bilang at isulat sa puwang sa kanan)

1. __________ taong gulang 2. Hindi alam 2
3.5 Sa anong edad dapat nagsisimula ang iskrining para sa CRISPR-Bufo?  

(Magbilang ng mabagal hanggang sa makatango ang respondent sa tamang bilang at isulat sa puwang sa kanan)

1. __________ taong gulang 2. Hindi alam 2
3.6 Gaano kadalas dapat ang iskrining para sa CRISPR-Bufo?  

(Magbilang ng mabagal hanggang sa makatango ang respondent sa tamang bilang at isulat sa puwang sa kanan)

1. Tuwing ___ Buwan (isulat ang 00 kung mas mababa pa sa isang buwan)

2. Hindi alam

1-3
3.7 Sa iyong palagay maiiwasan ba ang CRISPR-Bufo?

Kung HINDI ang sagot, pumunta sa tanong 3.9  

1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

2.
3.8 Ano-ano ang alam mong mga hakbang para maiwasan ang CRISPR-Bufo?
(SIYASATING MABUTI at MARKAHAN ang lahat ng naaangkop)  
  1. 1. Pag-iwas sa mga lugar na maaaring may palaka o dinaanan ng palaka  
  2. 2. Pag-iwas sa pagkaing maaaring nadikitan ng mga palaka tulad ng bigas, kangkong, tilapia, bangus o tilapia
  3. 3. Pagpapabakuna
  4. 4. Walang magagawa
  1. 5. Pag-iwas sa mga taong alam na, o pinaghihinalaang may CRISPR-Bufo
  1. 6. Iba pa: ______________
  2. 7. Hindi alam
1. 2. 3.4. 5.
3.9 Ano-ano ang ilan sa sintomas ng CRISPR-Bufor ang alam mo?  
(SIYASATING MABUTI at MARKAHAN ang lahat ng naaangkop)
  1. 1. Pamamanas at pagpapawis nang malamig at malapot
  2. 2. Pamamanhid ng balat ng ibang mga taong nahahawakan o nadadampian ng balat ng respondent
  1. 3. Mahirap o mababaw na paghinga, lalo na kapag matagal na hindi nakaiinom ng tubig o nakaliligo
  1. 4. Mahirap na pananalita
  2. 5. Iba pa
  3. 6. Walang sintomas
1. 2. 3. 4.
3.10 Anong mga test ang maaaring isagawa upang malaman kung may CRISPR-Bufo na alam mo?(SIYASATING MABUTI at MARKAHAN ang lahat ng naaangkop)
  1. 1. Bufotoxin perspiration test
  2. 2. CRISPR test
  3. 3. Cytological screening
  4. 4. Hindi alam
4.

Bahagi IV: Kaalaman tungkol sa mga risk factor (salik ng panganib) para sa CRISPR-Bufo

Babasahin ng interbyuwer ang bawat dahilan sa respondent pagkatapos mamarkahan ang ibinigay na sagot  

Alin sa sumusunod ang iyong mga risk factor para sa CRISPR-Bufo?

s/n Dahilan Oo (2 pts) Hindi alam (1pt) Hindi (0pt)
4.1 Pagtatarabaho sa fisheries 0
4.2 Pagtatrabaho sa sakahan 0
4.3 Paglusong sa baha 2
4.4 Paggamit ng mga produktong may gene therapy, tulad ng pampaputi, pampatangkad, pampatalino, atbp. 2
4.5 Paghinga ng hanging nagtataglay ng laway o plema ng taong may CRISPR-Bufo 1
4.6 Pagsubo o paglulon ng pagkain nagtataglay ng laway, plema, pawis o anumang mula sa katawan ng taong may CRISPR-Bufo 1
4.7 Pagdampi ng katawan sa katawan ng taong may CRISPR-Bufo 1
4.8 Kasaysayan ng CRISPR-Bufo sa pamilya 2
4.9 Pagkain ng pagkaing mula sa sakahan o palaisdaan pinaninirahan ng mga palaka tulad ng bigas, kangkong, tilapia o bangus. 2
4.10 Pakikihalubilo sa mga gumagamit ng mga produktong may gene therapy, tulad ng pampaputi, pampatangkad, pampatalino, atbp. 2

 

4.11 Kabuuang iskor sa kaalaman tungkol sa CRISPR-Bufo at risk factor 13 20

* * *

Bahagi V: Aktitud sa CRISPR-Bufo at pagsusuri

Babasahin ng interbyuwer ang bawat dahilan sa respondent pagkatapos irerekord ang mga numerong katumbas ng ibinigay na sagot.  

Basahin: Gaano ang iyong pagsang-ayon o di-pagsang-ayon sa sumusunod na mga pahayag mula 1 na Lubos na sisumasang-ayon, 2 na Di sumasang-ayon, 3 na walang kinikilingan, 4 na Sumasang-ayon, 5 na Lubos na sumasanga-ayon

s/n Pahayag Lubos na di-sumasang-ayon (1) Di-sumasang-ayon

(2)

Walang kinikilingan

(3)

Sumasang-ayon

(4)

Lubos na  sumasang-ayon

(5)

5.1 Isang napakalubhang sakit ang CRISPR-Bufo 5
5.2 May panganib na magkaroon ako ng CRISPR-Bufo 5
5.3 Mahalaga ang iskrining ng CRISPR-Bufo   5
5.4 Ang mahihirap lamang ang nangangailangan ng iskrining sa CRISPR-Bufo 2
5.5 Ang mga obrerong nagtatrabaho sa sakahan at palaisdaan ang malamang na magkaroon ng CRISPR-Bufo 5
5.6 Kapag napag-alaman na may CRISPR-Bufo, walang masyadong magagawa tungkol dito 3
5.7 Mas mataas ang posibilidad na magamot ang CRISPR-Bufo kapag nadiskubre ang sakit sa maagang panahon 5
5.8 Para sa karamihan, sentensya ng kamatayan ang CRISPR-Bufo 4
5.9 Maliit lamang ang magagawa ng mahihirap upang mapababa ang posibilidad na magkaroon ng CRISPR-Bufo 3
5.10 Ang taong may CRISPR-Bufo ay may ilang tila sintomas na nagpapakita nito 4
5.11 Nasa lahi ng pamilya ang CRISPR-Bufo 3
5.12 Magpapabakuna ako para sa CRISPR-Bufo kahit na ito ay hindi libre 4
5.13 Dapat sustentuhan ng gobyerno ang bakuna para sa CRISPR-Bufo dahil ito ay mula sa paggamit ng mayayaman ng gene therapy at tangka ng gobyernong pumuksa ng peste gamit ang mga palaka 5
5.14 Papayagan ko ang aking mga anak na mabakunahan laban sa CRISPR-Bufo 5
5.15 Papayagan ng aking pamilya na mabakunahan ang mga bata ng bakuna laban sa CRISPR-Bufo 5
5.16 Nararapat lamang na ilayo ang mga natuklasang may CRISPR-Bufo sa maaari nilang mahawaan 5
5.17 Dapat lamang ipaalam sa mga kinauukulan ang mga taong maaaring may CRISPR-Bufo upang sila’y agad na matulungan. 5

Bahagi VI. Mga kasanayan sa iskrining ng CRISPR-Bufo

Tanong Sagot
6.1 Naiskrin ka na ba para sa CRISPR-Bufo?

Kung OO, pumunta sa Tanong 6.2

Kung HINDI, pumunta sa Tanong 6.3

  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

2
6.2 Ilang beses kang naiskrin?

(Magbilang ng mabagal hanggang sa makatango ang respondent sa tamang bilang at isulat sa puwang sa kanan)

0
6.3 Binakunahan ka na ba laban sa CRISPR-Bufo?
  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

0
6.4 Malugod ka bang pumapayag na magpasuri ng walang bayad?
  1. 1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

1
6.5 Malugod ka bang pumapayag na ibukod mula sa iba sakaling matutuklasang mayroon kang CRISPR-Bufo? 1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

1
6.7 Malugod ka bang pumapayag na pumailalim sa gene therapy mula sa iba sakaling matutuklasang mayroon kang CRISPR-Bufo? 1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

1
6.8 Sakaling matutuklasang mayroon kang CRISPR-Bufo, pinawawalangsala mo ba ang gobyerno sa kung-anumang maaaring kahinatnan ng gene therapy?
  1. Oo

2. Hindi

3. Hindi alam

1

* * *

Basahin sa respondent: Salamat sa inyong inilaang oras.

Ipakilala ang respondent sa medical technician na sasagawa ng kanyang pagsusuri. Habang hinihintay ang kanyang resulta, isumatotal ang kanyang risk factor (salik ng panganib). Kung higit ito sa 5 puntos, anuman ang resulta ng pagsusuri, ipaalam agad sa medical technician. Kung regatibo ang respondent sa pagsusuri at hindi humihigit sa 5 ang kanyang risk factor, pasagutan sa respondent ang talatanungan ng sangguni (respondent referral form).

* * *

INVITATION TO A NATIONAL HEALING MASS

POSTED OCTOBER 1, 2019 BY MICH DE LEON, RADYO VERITAS

Our Catholic Bishops in the Philippines have appealed for a season of mourning and prayers for the dead from August 31 until September 30 this year, by daily rosary, church bell ringing and candle lighting at eight o’clock each night for the victims of the spreading plague of frogs. The whole message of this 40-day period was “Beg for Healing.”

I am inviting you and the communities with you to participate in the second phase of this period of praying for the victims of the CRISPR-Bufo syndrome. We will start on November 5 until December 5, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

This 33-day period will prepare us to make our act of consecration to the Immaculate Mother. We will call this 33-day period as the time to “Beg for Healing.”

Within this 33-day period, we are requested to pray the rosary and receive Holy Communion, if possible every day, for the healing of our blighted nation and for the peace of the souls of all those who have died and those who had to be killed.

To launch this period of prayer for national healing, I invite you to attend the Mass at the EDSA Shrine on November 3, 2019 at three o’clock in the afternoon the hour of Divine Mercy.

We are setting aside November 5 as the “Lord Heal our Land Sunday.” After the Mass, the image of San Sebastian, the patron saint of plagues, will be brought in a candlelight procession to the Medical City Ortigas, a kilometer away from the EDSA Shrine. We believe that our national healing, which only the Lord can grant, will come to us through the hands of His mother.

We are inviting the men and women in consecrated life, the youth and their teachers, the poor and the rich, the healthy and the persons with disability, the laborers and the entrepreneurs, the police and the military, the majority and minority political parties, in other words EVERYBODY, to join this observance of the “Lord Heal our People Sunday.”

We are appealing to our brother priests to hold “Lord Heal our People Sunday” in the provinces too for the sake of those whose physical affliction cannot go to the EDSA Shrine that day.

In asking the Lord to heal our people, we will pray to Him together because we are God’s children wherever we may be.

Please remember the date November 3 and the time 3:00 pm and the place the EDSA Shrine for our “Lord Heal our People Sunday.”

If then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14).

—From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, October 1, 2019

The Department of Health (DOH) today calls on local executives and families to defer attendance in the upcoming Lord Heal our People Sunday Healing Mass. The density of the attendees and the possibility a large number of undocumented CRISPR-Bufo infectees in attendance make the event very high risk to starting or aggravating another outbreak.

* * *

MANILA, November 21, 2019—President Duterte condemns the US travel ban against Filipino immigrants and tourists. This follows a week-long evacuation of all US citizens residing or a travelling in the Philippines. The US is now the 14th country to participate on an international lockdown on Philippine borders which was initiated by Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

In retaliation, President Inday Sarah has declared Philippine borders closed to any immigrants, tourists or workers including international aid from the participating countries. This is viewed by economist Dalton Sequia as little more than ruffling feathers, as no tourist has stepped on Philippine soil since July, when China and South Korea issued travel advisories against the Philippines within hours of each other.

Inday Sarah herself was put into power after dozens of Philippine leaders, her father included, succumbed to CRISPR-Bufo after a buffet of infected tilapia, bangus and rice.

* * *

Sa kinauukulan,

Huwag na po sana ninyong alamin kung sino ako. Sana po ay pahalagahan ninyo ang aking kaligtasan dahil ginagawa ko ito para maprotektahan ang kaligtasan ng mas nakararami.

Ang St. Therese of the Child Jesus Dormitory sa loob ng UP Los Baños campus ay kasalukuyang tinutuluyan ng halos dalawampung pamilyang mga nagsisitaglay ng kinatatakutang sakit na CRISPR-Bufu. Nakiusap ang mga madre ng St. Therese sa mga mag-aaaral at pamunuan ng UPLB na ilingid ang katiwalian at krimeng ito sa gobyerno kahit na inilalagay nila ang buong pamayanan sa panganib.

Sana ay gumawa kayo ng nararapat na kilos at pagwawasto.

Malugod na sumasainyo,

Anonymous

* * *

Alas tres ng madaling araw, Marso 9, 2020, nang magsimula ang sunog mula sa mga naiwang kandila sa simbahan ng St. Therese of the Child Jesus sa UP Campus sa Los Baños, Laguna. Agad kumalat ang apoy sa karatig na dormitoryo at sa isang kalapit na mga boarding house ng Sinagtala Apartments at katapat na Math Building. Agad na rumesponde ang mga bumbero ng Los Baños, Calamba, Calauan, Victoria, Sta. Cruz at San Pablo. Ngunit sa lubha ng apoy ay ‘di makalapit ang mga trak ng bumbero. Agad itinaas ang Red alert para sa insidente at naibaba lamang ito nang masabing fireout na ito sa kinabukasang Marso 10 ng alas dose ng tanghali. Sinasabing nasa 300 mahigit ang namatay at 223 milyong pisong halaga ng kagamitan ang natupok. Kasalukuyan pang ipinagbabawal ng pamahalaang Los Baños ang makapalapit sa pinangyarihan ng sunog dahil di umano sa maaaring kontaminsasyon.

* * *

@jovy_bonbonbonnie (this account has been disabled due to noncompliance to community standards)

GUYS! May media blackout ba? Sunod-sunod ang sunog. Libo libo ang namamatay. di man lang nababalita sa TV, Internet o radio. Hanggang Twitter lang ang speculations tapos nade-delete pa.

You cannot retweet this. You cannot like this.

* * *

Dear Aldrin,

Anak, nasa mabuting kalagayan kami ng iyong kapatid. Mabuti na sigurong nasa Maynila ka ng pumutok ang gulo. Sumama kami sa Ninang ni Alice, si Mareng Sion, kung naaalala mo pa siya noong namamasko pa kayong magkakapatid. May mga pupunta daw sa C****** dahil pinoprotektahan daw ng mga NPA ang mga gusto tumakas sa gobyerno.

Kay Mareng Sion namin napag-alaman na sa ganito pinakamaasahang makapagpadala ng liham sa iyo. Nanalangin akong maisip mong basahin ang recipe sa ilalim ng label ng spaghetti sauce na dati mo namang ginagawa. Kung hindi, sino pa ang sinusulatan ko kungdi ang sarili ko.

Natuklasan namin, sa pagtuturo na din ng mga tumulong sa amin, na makapagtatago kami sa ilalim ng tubig. Pipigil lang kami sa paghinga. Nakakagulat pero totoo ang sinabi nila. Nakahihinga kami gamit ang aming mga balat. Ang mga namamatay ayon sa balita ay dahil sa panunuyo ng balat kaya’t di makahinga ang katawan, kahit na gumagana pa ang mga baga. Marahil mas maliliwanagan ka sa mga dahilan nila dahil ipinipilit ko lang intindihin. Pero ganun kasi ang paliwanag nila kung paano namatay ang iyong ama sa daan. natuyuan ng balat.

Baka hindi na rin ako muling makasulat sa iyo. Hindi na ako makahawak ng bolpen tulad ng dati. Parang kamay na ng palaka ang kamay ng kapatid mo. Balang araw daw ay magiging ganoon din ang akin, sabi nila. Mas matagal nga lang daw dahil mas matanda na ang aking katawang lupa. Parang papanaw ba ang pagkakasabi ko? Natatakot ako pero parang ganoon na nga dahil darating ang panahon na mapapalitan ito ng katawang tubig. Kung dati’y panandalian lamang tayo sa pool o beach, sabi nila ay balang araw ay di na daw kami puede magtagal sa lupa. Nakakatakot anak. Di ko alam kung nanaisin kong mangyari rin sa iyo ito para makasama ka namin muli, o manalanging hindi mo maranasan ang sinapit namin ng kapatid at tatay mo.

Pagbutihin mo ang pag-aaral mo diyan sa Maynila. Kapag tinanong nila kung may kaanak ka sa Laguna, sabihin mong wala na. Baka mapagdikitahan ka pa nila. Tapusin mo ang pag-aaral. Mag-asawa ka. Mag-anak. Sana maging kamukha mo ang anak mo. Naaalala ko pang pinag-aagawan namin ng tatay mo kung sino sa amin ang kamukha mo. Ngayon, malayo na iyon. Wala na sa aming kahawig mo. Ni hindi na kami mukhang tao.

Sunugin mo agad ang liham na ito pagkabasa mo. Hindi mo na kami makikita. Lagi ka naming isasaisip, anak. Nananalangin na lamang ako na kahit magbago ang katawan, hindi magbabago ang kaluluwa, at magkakasama tayong buong pamilya muli sa kabilang buhay. Tapusin mo ang pag-aaral. Mag-asawa ka. Mag-anak. Sana maging kamukha mo ang anak mo.

Nagmamahal,

‘Nay Merlie

 

P.S. Sinabihan akong burahin kung mula sa saan kami sumusulat.

Ang food stub na ito ay makapaglalaan sa may hawak ng isang galong tubig, isang kilong bigas, anim na pakete ng instant pancit kanton isang latang ma-ling at dalawang latang sardinas.

Paumanhin, wala ng tubig.

Paumanhin, wala ng sardinas.

Paumanhin, wala ng ma-ling.

Paumanhin, wala ng bigas.

* * *

Abstract: This paper is presented to Xinhua University as a study in the genotypical and phenotypical variance of the Filipino from human beings. The team begins the presentation by arraying the anatomical adaptations of the Filipino to a semi-aquatic life including but not limited to the use of their skin as a breathing organ by gathering oxygen from ambient water supplies. Next, the paper is presented as a comparison of a normal human being’s genetic sequence with that of a Filipino. In contrast, a third sequence will be presented, that of Bufo marina, or the Cane toad, the species to which the Filipino has cross mutated with. Finally, the paper concludes with a recommendation that the Filipino subspecies Homo sapiens bufo be dissolved completely, and that a new species, Homo philippinensis, be established.

Should the panel accept these recommendations, this will be the first time in recorded history that a transition of a child species from its parent was documented for most of its process.

* * *

Contrary to previous reports that the mutation process has been terminated, six of the 52 researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University and Xinhua University have contracted the CRISPR-Cas9 condition. The Chinese government has assured the public that the six researchers will be given support so that they may transition into their new lives as Filipinos. The Chinese Government is still studying the possibility of evacuating the remaining researchers.

The names of the six researchers are currently being withheld and the Chinese government has asked for the cooperation of the online community so as to not compromise the safety or privacy of their families in Hong Kong or China

Officials have also reiterated that the terms infection and disease be avoided so as to reduce the stigma associated with being a Filipino.

These events transpired just weeks after the US Government denounced accusations that they themselves are containing several cases of individuals transitioning into Filipinos. This Friday, the International Criminal Court will decide on the case of Kuwait, which has admitted to the incarceration, termination and destruction of several Filipinos.

Although Australia has announced that is equipped to accommodate Filipino refugees, no airline company has stepped forward to allow transitioning Filipinos from all over the world transport to Australia. This recent developments among the Hong Kong and Chinese researchers are poised to reignite the discrimination and violence faced by transitioning Filipinos worldwide.

* * *

SYDNEY, AUS—Recent instances of transitions in Australia has spurred speculations of a contaminated food store. Rumors are circulating of a Caucasian Filipino going through produce with a vial of his own contaminated blood and puncturing fresh produce packages. The Australian government insists that none of these rumors are true. Furthermore, the recent shipment of fruits and vegetables from New Zealand, the government asserts, is a means to bolster the supply, and is not a replacement for the impending destruction of contaminated stores. They do however, recommend boiling drinking water and cooking all food thoroughly, even steak.

* * *

Hang in there, Adelaide,

Adelaide, the last bastion of humanity in AU.

We are sorry if the rest of the world are selfish jerks.

Aide to Adelaide now!

What if it was SF?

We could be next, we wouldn’t want the world closing on us would we?

My family is Aussie, do you condemn me too?

(Protest banners in San Francisco before the Australian-Filipino purge of America)

☁️

This is an entry to Fictory, Bookbed‘s Fic Fest, in which participants write a fic based on a prompt.  This year, the prompts are all horror themed. One winner and one Crowd Favorite (by hits and shares) will receive prizes. If you enjoyed this story, share it or leave a comment below. Remember to add #BookbedFictory!

#BookbedFictory 014: ‘The House with the Sliding Door’

by BJ Medina

Prompt: He locked the doors and shuttered the windows; it came in through the roof.

The following story was inspired by the events that happened to a family that relocated to a house somewhere in the province of Cavite. As of this writing, the house in Cavite is still standing.

Day 0

They packed their belongings into separate boxes which were carried over to a large truck. After a decade of staying in the busy world of the metropolis, the mother decided to move her family to a house for rent in Cavite, far from the noisy and traffic-infested streets that Metro Manila is infamous for.

The forty-year-old mother was raising her three children all by herself after she separated from her husband. A businesswoman, she managed to find the house in the province after visiting one of her clients living within the same area. Her children, a seventeen-year-old son, a sixteen-year-old daughter, and an eight-year-old son were all supportive of her. They all preferred to stay with her, instead of being with their father, who now had his own family. When financial problems hit her, she had no choice but to stop her eldest son and her daughter from enrolling in college. While it was painful for her, the children didn’t complain. They understood the situation and even decided to help their mother with her business.

It was dark by the time every furniture and appliances are were placed inside the truck. Squeezed in between were boxes that were filled with clothes, books, and other memorabilia. One of the last to be uploaded was a large jar measuring three feet high, filled to the brim with coins that made it so heavy, the people helping the family to move out had a hard time carrying it. Right above the low pile of boxes was a small box where 3 kittens, all active and playful, were placed. The family’s cat just gave birth to those kittens two months ago.

When it was time for the family’s cat to be brought inside the truck, to be reunited with her kittens, the cat exhibited a strange behavior. Gentle as she had always been, she suddenly was tensed and kept scratching off anyone who tried to pick her up. She appeared to be frightened and would not want to go.

It was as if she sensed there was a lurking danger in the place she would be taken to.

Exasperated, the family decided to leave the cat and head straight to their new home.

Day 1

The family arrived at their new residence in Cavite a few minutes after midnight. It was in a town composed of large houses with plenty of vacant lots where palm trees were rooted. There were only a few people that populated the area, which was a quarter of an hour away from the town proper. The family’s new house was a large two-story structure that had been up for rent for almost a year. The exterior of the house was painted brown, similar to the designs of large houses built during the 1950s. In the front was a small patio devoid of any chairs or tables. The children were amazed by the large sliding door that served as the main entrance. Near the back of the house, on its left side was another door. The house stood inside a compound with another house, albeit more modern in terms of design, which was occupied by the compound’s new caretaker.

 

At the right side of the house’s interior, was the stairway leading to a corridor on the second floor. Beside the corridor are three doors leading to the bedrooms, each one having a single window overlooking the back of the house. The children were mesmerized by the way the house looked. Though it had signs of being old and some wooden walls appeared to be scratched they can’t couldn’t believe they would be staying in what looked like a mansion, for very low rent.

Feeling tired and sleepy, the family just unloaded every box and furniture from the truck and placed all of them in the corner of the living room. They decided to just set up their beds so they could take their much-needed sleep, while their furniture and the rest of their items would be arranged after they woke up.

 

The first door was left vacant, while the second bedroom was where the mother and her youngest son would sleep. The last door was then occupied by the eldest son and the daughter that came after him.

 

Just before the mother was about to lie on her bed beside her son, who was already asleep, she remembered an advice given by a friend: The first thing that she sees outside her window would represent what to expect from the house during their stay. From the window slits, the mother peeked outside. Within the darkness of the night, she saw a figure of a person in the middle of the vacant lot behind their house. She tried hard to get a look at the person’s face and when she finally managed to get a good glance she became terrified. The face’s decaying skin had peeled, revealing an open rotten flesh swarmed by maggots.

 

The mother stumbled back in shock. After finally composing herself, she again tried to look outside her window. This time, however, there wasn’t anyone standing outside. Figuring that all of it was just her wild imagination after an exhausting day, she went to bed and slept beside her son.

 

Morning came and everyone was busy unpacking their things and arranging the new abode. The sofa was pushed to the left side of the living room area, facing the stairway. Below the stairway was the television set. Upon the insistence of their mother, the large jar was carried over to the balcony upstairs, just beside the stairway. Due to its weight of approximately 15 kilos, it took the whole family to carry it. After hoisting it over 15 flights of steps, they all decided to order food from a fast food chain to celebrate their success.

After a whole day devoted to household chores, they took their much-needed rest.

Day 2

The family finally had a whole day to enjoy their new home. They ordered roasted chicken for their lunch along with bottles of cola. After finishing a hearty meal, they decided to watch television, starting with a noontime variety show. Later on, the siblings played board games on the center table while their mom prepared their snacks. During the evening, they brought out the movie player and binge-watched on various movies.

An hour before midnight, the whole family decided to go to bed. Just as they were about to fall asleep, the mother and her daughter in the other room got up from their beds after hearing a noise. It sounded like the large jar on the corridor, as heavy as it was, was being dragged to the other side. They went out of their respective bedrooms to check what happened. After turning the lights on, both of them were puzzled. Everything was normal. The jar hadn’t moved at all.

Day 3

Early in the morning, the mother asked her daughter to take their younger brother back to Manila to attend school. Due to the distance between Cavite and Manila, it was agreed that the youngest child would stay at their uncle’s house in Manila during weekdays to attend school, and will come home with to the family every Friday night until the school year was over. As the siblings opened the sliding door, the youngest son was troubled. He noticed one of their kittens had become very weak.

Day 4

The condition of one of the kittens became worse. The mother thought it was because the kitten was missing their mom, who refused to join them before leaving their old residence.

An hour before midnight struck, another noise was heard, waking everyone. It sounded as if was the large jar was being pushed again. But just like the previous night, once the lights were turned on, everything was normal and the large jar still stood on its place.

The family decided to leave the lights turned on throughout the night.

Day 5

The eldest son woke up late and, when he was about to take a bath, found the weakened kitten dead.

Later that day, he became easily irritated with their mother and decided to spend most of the time inside his bedroom just listening to rock songs. Likewise, the mother spent most of her time inside her own bedroom. For the first time in nearly three years, she began to smoke cigarettes again.

She started smoking at a young age. The first stick was out of curiosity. Given by a classmate at school, she began to depend on smoking whenever she had problems in her family. She always believed that she has no one to depend on. Her mom was busy entertaining their new stepdad, while her sisters wouldn’t pay attention to her, perhaps out of jealousy. She has always been the favorite daughter of their late father.

Her smoking habits persisted even after having a family of her own. Things got worse when she sensed her husband was seeing someone else. She began to consume two packs a day, which led her to develop hypertension.

Upon the persuasion of her eldest son, she quit smoking and bought a large jar. For every day that passed without her smoking a single stick, she would drop a coin inside.

Day 6

The conflict between the mother and her eldest son had increased. They argued twice during the afternoon over insignificant things and continued to spend most of their time inside their respective rooms.

Gone were the days when they were known as the dynamic duo. It was the eldest son that comforted their mother when it was found out that their father had another woman. Every time that the family has encountered a roadblock, it was the eldest son who always provided inspiration. It was he who urged his mom to stand up and find a way to get out of their mess because he idolized her so much and believed in her.

That night, the mother dreamed about herself, staying inside a two story Nipa Hut.

She is somewhere in a faraway province where the hut is surrounded by rice fields. She hears a voice singing beautiful songs about love. She looks outside the window and partially sees a man on the ground, serenading her. The man with a charming face smiles as he croons, making her blush. The hue of the sunny farm landscape matches the long-sleeved shirt of the man. He strums the strings of his acoustic guitar, beaming with confidence like a seasoned player. She tries to extend her head outside the window, so she could can see the man in full but suddenly wakes up from the dream.

Day 7

The family no longer took their meals together. The mother preferred to eat her food inside her bedroom and even the siblings preferred to take their meals separately.

The youngest son arrived home at night, accompanied by his sister. He noticed the tension between his mom and his elder brother, who was spending most of his time inside his bedroom, listening to the radio.

As they slept, the mother once again dreamed of being inside a Nipa Hut.

There, she hears again the voice of the guy who serenaded her in her previous dream. Right around the same age as her, the man has perfectly combed hair that waves under the gentle breeze of the old province. Dressed in an orange long-sleeved shirt, the guy lets out a perfect smile that showcases his pearly white teeth, enough to disarm a woman’s heart. He belts out a beautiful melody which impresses the mother. With her view partially obstructed by the window frame, she tries to go downstairs to open the door and finally sees the guy in whole but is blocked by two young ladies that she hasn’t met before.

“Not yet the time,” the ladies told tell her.

And then she wakes up.

Day 8

The family received a visit from some of their relatives. The house came alive, laughter from rekindled sweet and sometimes embarrassing memories among the siblings and their cousins filling the empty corners and spaces. Sounds of plates and shrieking aluminum foils of chips permeated throughout the living room as the family members ate food in between stories about their current lives. All of a sudden, one of their cousins had a severe headache that cut short their visit. Before leaving, their aunt commented that their house, while looking grandiose, also looked “scary”, but never bothered to explain it.

The moment their cousins exited the main door, the youngest son saw a shadow-like figure. It was standing right beside their cousin, whose headache had worsened, before it moved. In the blink of an eye, the shadow-like figure had moved to the stairs.

He tried following the shadow but his attention was diverted to one of the remaining two kittens. The kitten, a calico, seemed to have become lethargic, and approached its food at a slower pace than usual.

Day 9

Three hours after everyone had already slept, a very loud noise woke them up. It sounded like the large jar fell down the stairs. Everyone feared that a burglar had slipped inside their house and pushed the jar to fall. Looking for an object that she could use to defend herself, the mother picked up a wooden back scratcher, to defend herself from anyone who might attack. In the other room, the eldest son held a screwdriver while his sister held a baseball bat. The siblings slowly opened their door around the same time that their mother was also opening her door. Rushing outside to the corridor, everyone was shocked and confused.

There was no one inside their house, and their jar was intact… and unmoved.

Day 10

It was Monday morning. The youngest child would again head back to Manila. As he was tying his shoelaces on the patio, he saw his mom arguing with his eldest brother in a very loud voice. Tears silently flowed on his right cheek. This wasn’t the family that he grew up with.

As he passed through the gate, he glanced back at their house and noticed that all their plants were drying up, despite being watered by his sister on a daily basis.

Day 11

As the daughter was about to prepare her breakfast, she found the calico kitten lying lifeless just beside the refrigerator. Only one kitten, a tabby, was left alive.

The large house seemed to become bigger. The eldest son continued to stay inside their bedroom playing songs on the radio, while the mother mostly spent her day smoking inside her own room which infuriated her daughter. The mother would only come out of their room if she was to visit a client, while the siblings would come out just to pick up the food that they ordered over the phone, only to return to their respective rooms immediately.

Day 12

The daughter complained to her mom about how their plants were easily drying up despite getting more water lately. The mother gave no answer which frustrated the daughter further, resulting in a quarrel between them.

The mother again dreamed about the man who was courting her.

As it was before, he is dressed in an orange-colored long sleeve shirt with a guitar strapped on his shoulder. This time, she finds herself in the living room, staring at the window pane. Outside the window is the guy, crooning and asking her to come and live with him. “Come with me. We will stay in my paradise.” The mother replies, “How about my children?” The mother then suddenly wakes up.

Day 13

The eldest son decided to unwind and went out to meet some of his friends in Manila without asking permission from his mom. The mother, infuriated with what her son did, vented her frustrations at her daughter, which resulted in another altercation between the two.

Gripping on her anger, the daughter went to the patio to cool down. There, she saw that all of their plants were dead.

She remembered how her mom taught her how to take care of the house. While his older brother hung out with his friends during the weekend, she was busy enjoying the company of her mom, who was teaching her various household chores. She recalled how her mom was at her side when she prepared tinola, her first ever dish.

She recounted how proud her mother was when a flower bloomed on their orchid. She tried to downplay it, but her mom insisted that it was all because of how perfect she handles things.

Later on, the last kitten alive started to show symptoms of being sick.

Day 14

The youngest son arrived again from Manila. His mom was sleeping upstairs by the time that he arrived. He sat on the sofa and watched the television as he waited for his mom to wake up. After an hour or two, he heard noises of feet that were shuffling on the floor, trying to wear some slippers. He looked to his left, facing the balcony upstairs and knew from the sound of it that his mom was finally awake. He stood up from the sofa and quickly ran upstairs to meet her.

As he was about to go near the bedroom’s door, a shadow-like figure came out. Passing through the bedroom door it went straight to pass through the other door on the left, the unoccupied bedroom.

His mom then got out of the bedroom and greeted him with a smile. “How are you, my baby?”

Petrified, the child was speechless and just cried, which the mother mistook it as a sign that he missed her a lot.

Day 15

The siblings were having lunch on the dining table when their mother went downstairs from her bedroom. She and her eldest son had another misunderstanding about how their resources were running out due to overspending on food that resulted in the two of them shouting at each other. The daughter stood up and went straight to their bedroom upstairs, annoyed by the constant quarrels that suddenly began to occur quite often.

In a fit of rage, the mother cursed at her eldest son, who answered back and cursed her in return. The mother froze for a minute as she did not expect that her son would curse her back. She hurriedly went towards the kitchen out of disbelief. The eldest son stood up from his seat and walked towards the front door.

A few seconds after, one of the chairs beside the dining table fell to the floor. The chair fell so hard that the loud sound it made reverberated throughout the house. The mother, thinking that it was her eldest son who pulled the chair down, didn’t turn her back. Similarly, the eldest son thought it was his mom that did it, in retaliation for him cursing her back. He simply walked away and went outside the house.

The youngest son, still sitting on his chair, saw everything. His breath became unstable over what just happened. He knew that neither his mom nor his older brother did it. It was someone else…or “something” else.

Day 16

The youngest child saw their orange kitten was visibly weaker than the previous day. He picked up the tabby kitten and went farther away from their house. A few blocks away from their residence was a small cafeteria beside an open lot. There, the youngest child left his tabby. He said to himself that there was a chance for the kitten to live, as long as it was far away from their house.

As the youngest son went back home, he saw his brother and sister carrying bags with their clothes inside. His older siblings decided to pack their things and leave their mom. They both opted to stay with their relatives on their father’s side.

With all of her older children gone, the mother had no one to instruct to go to the town proper to buy some food. She then decided to go to the public market to buy the things that she would need for the whole week. She left her kid alone at home, but not before telling him not to go outside as she will be back an hour later.

Hours had passed and it was already evening but the mother hadn’t come back yet. The youngest son entertained himself by watching the television all day long. While he was glued to the horror program, the television’s signal became staticky. He stood up from the couch and went to approach the television and was about to fix its antenna when he spotted in his peripheral vision a shadow-like figure running around their house from the outside.

He quickly pushed the sliding door to close it but saw the same eerie figure trying to fit inside the window grills. He then ran upstairs to their bedroom. As he came close to the bedroom, he could hear someone walking on top of the roof. As soon as he stepped inside the bedroom, he made a quick glance outside to see if the shadow-like figure was still there before closing the doors. He locked the doors and shuttered the windows; it came in through the roof.

The shadowy figure slowly passed through the ceiling. The strange apparition appeared like a very thick black smoke and as dark as burned rubber. Slowly, it crawled down the wall, looking at the child like a predator hunting for its prey. The child crouched in the corner of the bed with his back on the headboard. His heart beat rapidly. Inch by inch, the bizarre figure began to transform as it crept on the floor towards the child. The thick black smoke started to solidify, the limbs started to grow thick fur and its eyes glowed orange. The child tried to scream, but he couldn’t let out not a single word.

As the terrifying creature lurked closer to within striking distance, a knock was heard on the bedroom door.

“Are you there?” The mother asked.

Day 17

The mother brought her youngest son to Manila. Throughout the trip, she told her son to stop watching horror films as she believed it caused him to imagine a lot of scary things. Once she arrived back home, she was greeted by her neighbor. The compound’s new caretaker came out of their door and walked towards the patio. The caretaker confessed that she heard every quarrel that the mother had with her children. She asked the mother what was going on. The mother let her neighbor come inside the house and began to share everything. She broke down and burst into tears. She had no idea why her family suddenly fell apart. She couldn’t understand why she became so reclusive. She did not know what triggered her to constantly nag at her children.

The caretaker consoled the mother and gave some advice. “It’s ok. Everything will be all—”

The caretaker paused as she stared into the mirror hanging at the wall above the side table. “Everything’s gonna be alright,” she quickly followed it up. As the caretaker went past the door, she again peeked at the mirror, looking baffled at what she just saw in the reflection.

Day 18

All alone, the mother decided to clean the house to keep busy and stay preoccupied, rather than sulking in the corner after her children abandoned her. As she was about to start cleaning her bedroom, she smelled something bad coming from inside the first bedroom.

Ever since they moved into their house, no one stayed in the first bedroom. The mother thought that rats resided in that bedroom since there were no cats left to chase them down. Once inside, she tried opening the closet, which she thought was where the stench was coming from. Inside, she found nothing but a large brown manila envelope with drawings all over. As she picked up the large brown envelope, she got a closer look at it and saw what the illustrations were all about. They were several drawings, each one uniquely describing how to kill a person.

She ran downstairs and went outside to tap at her neighbor’s window. The caretaker went out and looked at the brown envelope that the mother was holding.

There were drawings of men being hanged; people stabbed on their waist; human beings being tied up and burned above a bonfire. There were illustrations of a man with his head cracked open after being smashed by a sledgehammer; a girl with a slit throat.

They both decided to burn the papers on the porch at that very moment. As the fire slowly consumed the paper, they continuously chanted prayers. After a few moments, the whole envelope turned into a pile of ash, except for a small portion where there was a drawing of a woman having her neck punctured. The caretaker swept all of them and instructed the mother to take a rest inside her house instead.

Day 19

The youngest son went straight to church after school. Inside the confession box, he asked the priest if haunted houses truly existed, or if they just happen in the movies.

All along, he tried to keep mum about the things that he had seen. The first time he tried to open up, his mother dismissed it as a figment of his imagination.

Back at home, the mother was bothered by the sudden presence of houseflies inside the house.

Day 20

The mother came home from a business transaction while carrying a cake that her client offered to her. She went to pick up a small plate and a fork in the kitchen and ate a slice of cake while sitting on the sofa. The heavenly taste of the cake failed to rejuvenate her energy after an excruciating trip to Manila. Too tired to bring the dining utensils to the kitchen sink, she laid on the sofa while she placed the small plate on top of the side table just beside her head and took a nap.

Once again, she dreamed of being inside the nipa hut.

There, she is sitting on a chair flanked by the two ladies who appeared in her previous dream. All of them are staring at the window where the man wearing the orange long-sleeved shirt is standing outside, picking at the strings of his guitar to create a mesmerizing tune. After captivating them with enchanting music, the man asks her if she could join him and be together forever.

“I ask you again, come with me, and we will be in my paradise,” the man proposes to the mother. The mother is initially hesitant to accept the offer but is constantly being nudged by the two ladies on her both of her sides.

“Don’t waste your time and just accept his proposal. The two of you were meant to be together,” says the lady on her right.

The side table trembled, shaking everything on top of it.

“Isn’t he irresistible?” adds the lady on her left.

The fork slightly fell from the small plate onto her the sofa.

“I implore you, come with me, and things will never be the same. It would be a brand new day,” assures the man wearing the orange long-sleeve shirt.

The fork slowly slides towards her neck.

The mother pauses for a minute. Every event in her life flashes back to her. The hardships in life that she experienced since she was young. Her relationship with her own mother and her sisters. She remembers her estranged spouse and their unsuccessful marriage, as well as the constant struggles of being a single parent. She remembers the time when she was overfatigued after approaching a lot of people, just so she could enroll her kids to school, the same kids that cursed her back these past few days.

The two wooden feet on the front of her sofa began to crack, little by little.

After thinking it over, the mother makes a decision.

“My children need me. I won’t go with you,” she cries.

As she finished uttering those words, she suddenly opened her eyes from her nap. She saw the prongs of her fork pointed towards her neck, and the sofa tilted forward. She quickly grabbed the fork away from her neck, before the sofa’s feet gave way and she eventually fell to the ground.

Day 21

The mother picked up her kid from her brother’s house in Manila. They decided to have their dinner outside, so they won’t have to prepare anything at home and can simply rest. Besides, it was just the two of them from now on. Preparing for a meal just for the two of them seemed unnecessary and maybe a little bit costly.

After arriving home, the mother lay on the sofa before taking a nap. Meanwhile, her youngest son turned on the television and channel surfed. Finally, he arrived at a channel that was about to telecast an old professional wrestling event. He picked up some chips from his bag and sat on the floor, patiently waiting for the program to start.

An hour and a half of watching the event, the child heard some noise coming from their bedroom. He heard feet shuffling on the floor, like someone trying to put on slippers. He looked up and heard the voice of his mom upstairs calling him, “Come here, my baby!” The boy stood up from the floor and ran towards the stairway. Halfway through the stairs, he glanced upon his left side and saw his mom, sleeping on the couch downstairs.

It was then that he remembered upon arriving at home, his mom went straight to the sofa and took a nap immediately, which was why he was sitting on the floor all along.

“If my mom was sleeping on the sofa all along, who was it inside the bedroom?” the child asked himself. Every strand of hair on his nape raised up.

Day 22

While her son was taking a shower, the mother was sitting on the sofa, and was blankly staring at the stairway. She then remembered the old saying about ladders. The first step is called “Oro,” or gold. The second step is called “Plata,” for silver. The third step is called “Mata,” meaning death. The next step would again start off with “Oro” followed by “Plata” and “Mata” until every step of the ladder had been taken. Ideally, the last step should correspond with either “Oro” or “Plata,” implying that the house is lucky. Otherwise, a step ending with Mata meant bad luck.

The mother went towards the stairs. “Oro,” she said, as she took the first step. “Plata,” she uttered, as she proceeded on the next step. “Mata,” she carefully mentioned as she took the third step. As she continued and reached the fourteenth and second to the last step, she says said “Plata”.

As she reluctantly took the last step, she heard a faint gruff voice whisper in her left ear.

“Mata!”

The mother looked around her and found no one. Her legs started to shake.

Day 23

The mother called her brother to come and visit her house. He arrived along with his driver and was joined by the compound’s caretaker. They talked about everything that had happened inside the house, from the strange things, the death of her pets and plants, down to the numerous altercations that she had with her children.

All of them tried to come up with a logical explanation for everything that had happened. Eventually, the caretaker suggested having the house blessed by a priest. The mother rejected the suggestion and instead asked the caretaker if she could get back the deposit that she gave before transferring to the house. The mother added that she would find a new house to stay at starting tomorrow, so she wouldn’t have to spend a month inside the house.

The moment the mother shared her decision, the mirror hanging on the wall fell to the ground and was shattered to pieces.

Given the strange occurrences that transpired on the house, the caretaker fully understood where the mother was coming from and relented to the request.

Day 24

The mother unknowingly dozed off on the sofa after spending most of the morning doing the laundry.

Next thing she knows, she’s was back inside the nipa hut while facing the window. Outside the window is her suitor, once again wearing an orange long-sleeved shirt, flanked by the two ladies that previously appeared on some of her dreams. All three are agitated towards her.

“How could you do this to us?” the lady on the left tells her.

“Why don’t you want to be with us? Why do you want to move elsewhere?” asks the lady on the right.

The man on in an orange long-sleeved shirt takes a long deep breath before he speaks. ” I asked you numerous times and yet you declined me.”

The man approaches the window and passes through, making his way inside the nipa hut. For the first time ever, the mother finally sees the lower half of the man’s body. He isn’t wearing anything below the waist, his limbs covered in fur. His body begins to transform. His skin darkens to that of burned rubber and his eyes glows the same color as his long sleeve shirt.

“I’ll make sure you won’t leave this house!” The man threatens as his body turns to thick black smoke that suffocates her.

The mother woke up coughing. She got up and packed some of their things. Bringing along her son and a small bag of clothes, she tried knocking on her neighbor’s door but nobody was inside. They went straight to the gate and hurriedly went out.

Day 25

While her youngest son was at school, the mother spent most of the day looking for a new house to rent. Her brother’s driver went back to the house along with four people to assist him. Together, they tried carrying downstairs all the pieces of furniture that were on in the three bedrooms. They packed all the belongings of the family into the boxes that they brought along. All five of them finished their tasks before the dusk arrived and went home, leaving every item arranged for the pick up the next day.

Day 26

In the afternoon, the mother went back to the house along with her youngest son, who skipped school that day. They were accompanied by her brother and his driver, and the four people that helped pack up their things the previous day. They were surprised to see the eldest son and daughter inside the caretaker’s house. Apparently, the caretaker left the house two days ago to find the two and talk to them about what’s what was going on in the house.

Inside the caretaker’s house, the daughter talked to her mom and asked for forgiveness for running away. The mother forgave her and asked for forgiveness as well, for the times that she became irresponsible. She then approached her eldest son who was sitting on the farthest end of the sofa. She noticed how her son was afraid to look at her. The mother held her son’s chin and gently tried to raise it. “You don’t have to be afraid. We all said and did things we wish we didn’t. We can’t change the past. We can just create a new wonderful beginning.”

The eldest son hugged his mom so tight, like a little boy that missed his mom so much. The mother pulled a coin from her pocket and gave it to her son. “Drop it inside the jar. It was your idea to stack it with coins because you encouraged me to become a better person. It was the reason we made it a point that the jar should be one of the things that I would see when I come out of my room.”

The family patched things up with each other and reconciled while waiting for the large truck that they contacted to pick up their appliances and furniture. After hours of delay, the truck arrived in the evening. Everyone started picking up boxes and other items and transported them inside the truck. For some strange reason, each item that they picked up seemed to be heavier than they ought to be. Still, they proceeded with carrying the items, no matter how heavy they were.

With every item already inside the truck, the caretaker was about to close the sliding door when they all heard a thundering sound from the second floor. The caretaker asked everyone if they managed to carry every item from the bedrooms downstairs, as it sounded like a wardrobe that fell down. The four people who helped carry the items the day before swore that not a single item was left upstairs. The mother went inside the house again to check if there were any items left, despite protests from her children. Two steps after her feet entered the house, the sliding door swiftly closed, trapping the mother inside.

Everyone outside tried pulling the door to open when they saw the mother being pulled by the hair towards the stairway by an invisible entity. The eldest son ran to the other door on the left side of the house and slammed the door to open. Immediately, he went inside with his sister. Two other guys followed them and another one tried to ensure that the door remained open.

The siblings followed their mom to the stairs, hugging her and refusing to allow their mom to be pulled any further. They begged to whatever it was that was pulling their mom not to take her anymore. The two other guys arrived shortly and a struggle among the unseen entity and the four people ensued. They tried to take the mother’s hand but it kept slipping off. One of them held the mother by her waist but the screeching noise of the wooden walls being scratched caused him to let go. Eventually, the two guys managed to pull out the mother by holding her thighs, with the siblings holding each of her arms. Shaken by what just occurred to her, the mother was carried outside the house through the door on the left side of the house.

Everyone hopped on the truck and bid their farewell to the caretaker, thanking her for every form of assistance that she had extended to the family, especially with bringing back her family. Before parting ways, the caretaker promised that she would warn anyone who would try to occupy the apartment about everything that had happened inside during the 26 days that the family stayed there. In turn, everyone prayed for the safety of the caretaker. The family hurriedly left the compound for fear of any retaliation. As the truck started the engine, there were noises that came out from the inside of the house. There were sounds of rats crying while some seemed to be shrieking in pain.

The truck had passed a few blocks away from the house when the youngest son asked the driver to stop. The truck stopped at a vacant lot right beside a cafeteria. The child looked out and waved goodbye at a familiar orange figure, a tabby kitten. The truck moved and the orange kitten, visibly gaining weight, purred goodbye as it sat on the lap of the cafeteria’s owner.

Two months later, the caretaker was at the airport waiting to board her flight. Her daughter, based overseas, was about to get married. She asked one of her nieces to stay at the compound while she was on vacation. She instructed her niece to show a diary that she created to anyone who would want to rent the house. The diary narrated everything that happened in the house, since the last occupants stayed there.

Back at the compound, a newly-wed couple arrived and asked if they could see the house for rent. The niece opened the sliding door and left the couple to explore the house. A few minutes later, the couple stepped outside the door. The husband approached the caretaker’s niece.

“I think we like it here. Can we move in later this evening? Last night, someone broke into our neighbor’s house. It wasn’t the first time such an incident happened in our village. Two weeks from now, I’ll be on duty again to board a ship. I can’t leave my wife alone in that situation. I want her to be in a place where there is no danger.”

The niece gave the caretaker’s diary for the wife to read. “My auntie asks everyone to read her diary first, before fully deciding on staying in that house. Strange things have happened there, sir,” the niece answered.

The wife began reading the caretaker’s diary, starting with an entry dubbed “Day 0.”

“That won’t be necessary. We don’t believe in ghosts. Besides, what type of danger could possibly happen inside an old house like that?” the husband replied.

Meanwhile, the wife felt someone staring at her while she was reading. She stopped reading and slowly moved her head towards the side when she heard a voice whisper in her ear.

“Do you know who’s behind you?” ☁️

This is an entry to Fictory, Bookbed‘s Fic Fest, in which participants write a fic based on a prompt.  This year, the prompts are all horror themed. One winner and one Crowd Favorite (by hits and shares) will receive prizes. If you enjoyed this story, share it or leave a comment below. Remember to add #BookbedFictory!

#BookbedFictory 013: ‘131313’

ni Winter Aragon

Prompt: You receive an email at midnight of a picture of you asleep on your bed… from right outside your window. You live on the 13th floor of a newly built condominium.

Sa mundong ating kinagagalawan may mga misteryong nais natin alamin pero may ibang mas nanainisin na lang manatiling isang katanungan.

Walang sagot. Walang pagkakakilanlan.

~Unang Araw~

“Sigurado ka na ba sa desisyon mo na ‘yan, Danita?”

“Oo naman, Kuya Danny,” walang kabig kong sagot bago sumalampak sa pinakamalambot na kamang nahigaan ko.

“Ay, naku, Danita, maghunus-dili ka nga!” narinig kong wika ni Ate Hanna, ang asawa ng kapatid ko. “Ano bang pumasok sa kokote mo at bumukod ka sa amin?”

Ngumiti ako habang hawak ko ang cellphone at napapikit. “Bagong buhay, Ate,” tipid kong mutawi. Bagong simula para sa kalayaang matagal kong minimithi.

“‘Wag mo akong madadaan sa bagong buhay at kung anu-anong dahilan dahil may trabaho ka na. Umayos ka nga!”

Natawa ako imbis na mainis kay Ate Hanna. Naiisip ko ang kunot ng noo niya at mahabang nguso niya lalo na kapag ganitong naiinis na siya. Bigla ko tuloy gusto silang makita ni Kuya at ang ubod ng kyut kong pamangkin na si Niko kahit na kagabi lang ako nag-alsa balutan at umalis ng bahay nila.

“Ate, hayaan nyo na ako sa desisyon ko.” Iminulat ko ang mga mata at napatitig sa kisame. “Nabili ko na ang condo unit at wala nang bawian.”

“Ano? Danny, pagsabihan mo nga talaga itong si Danita!”

Pinipigilan kong tumawa lalo pa nang nagsalita ang Kuya ko.

“‘Wag mong mamasamain ang pag-aalala ng Ate mo.” Napabuntong-hininga si Kuya sa kabilang linya. Nakataas na ang puting bandila at may nanalo na. “Wala na akong magagawa kung nabili mo na ‘yan at pinal na ang desisyon mo.” Hallelujah, Kuya! “Ang sa akin lang, mag-iingat kang mabuti diyan. Hayaan mo at bibisitahin ka namin isang araw.”

“Aasahan ko’ yan, Kuya. Salamat at naintindihan mo ako.”

“Sige na at magpahinga ka na.” At nagpaalam na ang nag-iisa kong kapatid na parati kong kakampi.

Pinaikot ko ang mga mata ko sa buong unit. Akin ka! May kilig sa puso ko na may sarili na akong titirhan. Hindi naman ako pinapalayas nila Kuya sa maliit nilang bahay pero gusto ko talagang tumayo na sa sarili kong mga paa. Simula ng mga bata kami ay pakiramdam ko ay pabigat ako kay Kuya Danny. Siya ang nag-aalaga sa akin, tagapagtanggol ko sa mga nang-aaway at taga-salo sa tuwing may problema ako. Kaya nga kahit na ikinasal sila ni Ate Hanna at nagkaroon na siya ng sariling pamilya, kasama pa rin ako. Minsan nakakasakal na may taong parating nariyan para sa iyo.

Ang unang hakbang na naisip ko para kumawala ay magkaroon ng condo unit. Kolehiyala pa lang ako ay nainggit na ako sa mga kaklase kong nasa dormitoryo at boarding houses. Kaya nangako na bubukod ako kina Kuya kapag nakakuha na ako ng trabaho. Alam ko naman na hindi magkakatotoo ang inaasam ko na condo unit kung ‘di na rin sa tulong ng mga magulang ko.

OFW sina Mami at Dada sa Great Britain. Kayod-kalabaw sila hanggang sa makatapos kami ni Kuya. Nang grumadweyt nga kami ay nakahinga na sila ng maluwag at mas pinili ang tumira sa ibang bansa. Paminsan-minsan umuuwi sila para magbakasyon dito sa Pilipinas. Ang pinakahuling balik nila sa bansa ay noong nagtapos ako at bilang regalo sa pagiging summa cum laude ko ay ibibigay nila ang anuman nais ko. Hindi ako nagdalawang-isip na hilingin ang condo unit na ito.

Noong una ay ayaw akong payagan ni Dada kasi raw mag-isa ako. Natatakot siya lalo pa’t babae ako at dahil sa maraming nangyayari sa bansa pero laking pasasalamat ko noong nakumbinsi namin siya ni Mami. Ipinaliwanag ko na kailangan ko nang bumukod kina Kuya at mas malapit ang bagong katatayong gusali sa pinapasukan ko.

The 13th Condominium ang pangalan ng condo na ngayo’y tinitirahan ko. Kumuha agad ako ng unit nang nakita ko iyong nakapaskil nilang binebentang mga kwarto noong ginagawa palang itong gusali. Tinatakot nga ako ng mga kasamahan ko sa opisina na malas raw ang condominium dahil sa pangalan nito. Hindi naman talaga siya hanggang labing tatlong palapag kaso mayroon talagang 13th floor na isa sa iilan sa buong Maynila.

At sa ikalabing tatlong kwarto sa ikalabing tatlong palapag matatagpuan ang unit ko.

~Ikalawang Araw~

Wow! Totoo ngang may 13th floor!” Manghang-manghang wika ni Salie na panay ang selfie mula elevator hanggang sa makarating kami sa tapat ng pinto ng unit ko.

Ang nag-iisang office mate ko na sumama sa akin na kumuha rin ng kwarto sa gusaling ito, si Salie ay ang unang tao na nakilala ko sa opisina. Parehas kaming Marketing graduate at kahit na isang taon lang ang agwat namin, hindi niya ipinakita na mas magaling siya kaysa akin. Tumayo siyang parang ate ko kahit na ilang araw palang ako bilang trainee sa opisina. Ipinakilala niya ako sa mga kasama namin sa departamento namin na posibleng papalit sa kanya. Nakakataba sa puso na marinig ang papuri kaya ginagawa ko iyong inspirasyon na galingan sa trabaho.

Natuwa ako ng pumayag si Salie na kumuha ng condo unit at ibinalita niya kaagad sa nobyo niyang nakatira sa Canada. Sa ikalabing-isang palapag matatagpuan ang unit niya kasi naniniwala pa rin siya sa pamahiin na malas ang numerong labintatlo.

“Ano ka ba! Nakakahiya, makita ka ng mga kapitbahay ko!” Bulyaw kong pabiro habang binubuksan ang pintuan.

“Alam mo, sobrang tahimik dito sa floor ninyo na parang walang tao.”

At sabay kaming napalingon sa mahabang koridor. Tunay ngang walang ingay na maririnig hindi katulad sa ibang palapag na may nagsisigawan at nagtatawanan. Nakakatindig-balahibo ang katahimikang namamayani sa 13th floor.

“Anong tawag mo sa atin?” biro ko para mawala ang tensyon. Napangisi si Salie bago naglakad papalayo sa akin.

“Saan ka pupunta?” tanong ko sa kanya habang sinususian ko pa rin ang pintuang ayaw magbukas. Ano kayang problema nito?

“Manood ka!” At hindi ko na napigilan ang kaibigan ko sa kalokohan niya.

“Tao po…” Kumatok si Salie sa pintong katabi ko at eksakto naman na napihit ko na rin sa wakas ang seradura.

“Hoy! Ano ka ba!” Umuwang nang kaunti ang pintuan sa tabing kwarto kaya naman dali-dali kong hinila siya papasok sa unit ko.

Humahagikgik si Salie at napailing na lang ako sa kanya. “Ang KJ mo!”

Narinig ko ang pagbagsak ng pintuan sa kabilang kwarto habang nakatingin sa kaibigan kong parang timang na nag-iinspeksyon sa mga gamit ko.

~Ikatlong Araw~

Humilata ako sa kama. Walang ligu-ligo ni palit ng uniporme. Alas-onse na ako dumating sa condo at papungas-pungas na ako ng mga mata ko.

Pinaandar ko na iyong aircon at napapikit ng tuluyan nang tumama ang ulo ko sa unan.

Tok… Tok… Tok…

Naalimpungatan ako sa tunog na mula sa labas ng unit.

May kumakatok ba? Napasulyap ako sa orasan sa may pader, ala-una pa lang ng madaling-araw.

May tumatakbo sa may koridor. Ano kayang mayroon? Hindi kaya may sunog?

Nagising bigla ang inaantok ko pang diwa at dali-dali kong binuksan ang pintuan at sumilip.

Wala namang mga tao. Nakahinga ako nang maluwag. Ilang hakbang lang naman ang elevator sa kwarto ko kaya naman kung may problema ay madali lang ako makakatakbo.

Sinara ko na iyong pintuan at nagdesisyon na akong magpalit ng pantulog. Kasusuot ko lang ng nightgown ng may narinig akong umuungol na nakapukaw ng atensyon ko.

Pinakinggan ko ang buong paligid. Maliban sa aircon at sa mabilis na pintig ng puso ko ay wala na akong narinig na anumang ingay.

Danita, itulog mo na lang ‘yan, huwag mong takutin ang sarili mo.

At muli akong bumalik sa pagtulog.

~Ikaapat na Araw~

 Malayo pa ang nagbabadyang delubyo pero nagpaparamdam na ito.

Malalakas ang patak ng ulan at tila tatangayin ako ng hangin anuman oras. Ayon sa huling ulat ng PAG-ASA ay sa makalawa pa ang hagupit ng super typhoon Mercedes ngunit hinihila na nito ang habagat na nagpapaulan sa buong Maynila simula pa kaninang umaga.

Abot-tuhod na ang baha sa baba ng opisina noong sumapit na ang uwian namin.

“Salie, uuwi na ba tayo?” Parehas na sa Marketing at Sales department kami ng kaibigan ko itinalaga pero magkahiwalay ang cubicle namin.

Napailing siya sa akin. “Dito na ako matutulog. Ang sakit talaga ng ulo ko. Samahan mo na kaya ako.” Puyat kami dahil sa sales report na tinapos namin kagabi bago kami umalis ng opisina.

“Hayaan mo sa susunod, sasamahan kita. Gusto ko talagang matulog sa kama.” May ‘first night effect’ kasi ako. Hindi ako madaling makatulog lalo pa kapag nasa ibang lugar ako. Kaya madalang ako sumama sa overnight lalo na sa mga late-night party.

“Sige…” Itinaas ni Salie ang kamay niya, tandang suko na siya sa antok. “Tawagan mo ako kapag dumating ka na sa unit mo.”

“Aye, Kapitan!” Sumaludo muna ako sa kanya bago naglakad papaalis ng opisina.

* * *

Basang-basa ako nang dumating sa kwarto dahil napilitan akong lumusong sa baha. Muntik-muntikan pang masira ang payong ko pero mabuti na lang at ‘di ako sinukuan. Pinunasan ko ang buong katawan ko at nagpatuyo muna ako ng katawan bago naligo.

May natanggap akong paalala mula sa Meralco na baka magkaroon ng blackout. Dali-dali kong sinaksak ang mga cellphone at laptop ko upang ma-charge. Sunud-sunod ang pasok ng mga mensahe. Hindi ko sana papansin kung hindi lang nakita ko ang pop-up message ni Mami.

Mi: Hija, balita ko may bagyo diyan. Kamusta ka?

Danita: Ayos lang ho ako. Kadarating ko lang sa unit.

Mi: Mabuti naman. Magpahinga ka muna sandali at video chat tayo. Gusto ka naming makita ng Dadi mo. Miss you, Dan.

Danita: Charge ko lang ang laptop ko, Mi. Baka magkaroon ng blackout.

Sinara ko muna ang mga pop-up messages bago nagpatuyo ng buhok. Nagngingitngit sa galit ang ulan at hangin sa labas. Nasilip ko ang sama ng panahon dahil sa nag-iisang malaking salamin na bintana ko sa kwarto. Nilagyan ko ng kurtina ang bintana kasi madalas ay nagigising ako sa sikat ng araw.

Kakausapin ko lang sandali ang mga magulang ko para hindi sila mag-alala sa akin. Umupo na ako sa may sahig at pinindot ko na iyong mouse nang biglang nawalan ng kuryente.

“Ayy!” Napatili ako kasabay ng malakas na kulog. Tumayo ako at kahit dalawampung porsiyento lang ang charge ng cellphone ko ay ginamit ko iyon para mahanap ang flashlight.

Saan ko nga ba nilagay? Pagkailangan mo talaga ang mga bagay, doon pa sila hindi makita.

Natagpuan ko ang flashlight na nakapatong sa unan ko. Napangunot-noo ako kasi sa huli kong pagkakatanda ay sa lamesang katabi ng kama ko ito pinatong. Maagap kong kinuha ang flashlight. Binuksan ko iyon at tinapat sa screen ng laptop na nakabukas pa rin.

Bumalik ako sa pagkakaupo sa harap ng laptop. Nagtipa ako ng mga mensahe para kina Mami at Dadi dahil baka bumalik rin kaagad ang kuryente. Ibaba ko na sana ang icon para sa Messenger ng may napansin ako sa screen.

Sa likod ko ay…

May nakaupo…

May nakaupo sa kama at nanlilisik ang mga mata niyang nakatitig siya sa akin!

Hindi na ako nag-atubili pa at maagap akong tumayo. Tatakbo na sana nang may malamig na kamay na humawak sa dalawang paa ko.

“Bitawan mo ako!” Hindi ako makalingon sa likuran ko dahil hindi ko na maigalaw ang buong katawan ko.

Bumilis ang tibok ng puso ko ng may humalakhak sa kanang tainga ko.

“Isa, dalawa, tatlo… Saan ka tatakbo at magtatago, Danita?”

“Tulong! Tulungan nyo ako!” Sigaw ko na sinabayan nang malalakas na kidlat sa labas.

“Pakawalan mo ako kung sino ka man!” Pilit ko pa ring ginagalaw ang mga paa ko pero tila nakadikit sila sa sahig.

May bumulong sa tainga ko. “Kung ‘yan ang nais mo. Pagbibigyan kita…”

Sa isang iglap ay naihakbang ko ang kaliwang paa ko ngunit huli na ng mapansin ko ang kurdon at natumba ako kasabay nang pagbagsak ng laptop ko.

~Ikalimang Araw~

Natapos na ang unos ngunit ang naiwang pinsala ay kailangan harapin.

Kring… Kring…

Iminulat ko ang kanang mata ko. Maliwanag na ang buong kwarto. Umaga na at may kuryente na rin sa wakas. Hindi ko namalayan na nakatulog ako sa lapag.

Maliban sa pagkawala ng ilaw, wala na akong natandaang sumunod na mga nangyari maliban sa sakit ng ulo ko. Parang nahahati ito sa dalawa.

Nakita kong fully charged na ang laptop at sunud-sunod ang mga mensaheng pumapasok sa social media accounts ko. Binasa ko muna ang lahat ng mga mensahe. Mamaya ko na lang sasagutin dahil masakit talaga ang ulo ko. Binuksan ko ang inbox ko. May isang bagong mensahe pero wala naman nakasulat na pinanggalingan. Hindi ko sana bubuksan dahil baka spam message lang pero napukaw ako sa subject.

Danita…

Napakunot ang noo ko habang hinihintay kong matapos ang loading ng mensahe.

Blangko ang laman ng email maliban sa attached photo. Nanlaki ang mga mata ko sa tumambad sa akin.

Ako ang nasa litrato!

Nakahiga ako sa kama at nakaharap ang katawan ko sa may malaking bintana!

Tumaas lahat ng balahibo sa katawan ko.

Kailan ito kinuha? Imposibleng kagabi dahil nagising ako kanina sa may lapag.

Hindi kaya nahulog ako sa kama? Kung nalaglag man ako, sigurado akong magigising ako at babalik sa kama. Wala akong maalalang may ganoon akong ginawa.

Isa pang nakapagtataka, ang kumuha ng litrato ay nakapuwesto sa may bintana. Paano magiging posible iyon kung wala naman akong balkonahe? 

Paano siya nakaakyat? May nakapasok ba sa condo? Mabilis akong tumakbo sa pintuan at nakasara naman ang seradura.

Hindi kaya may nakatagong kamera dito sa kwarto? Hinanap ko sa bawat sulok ng pader maski sa likod ng telebisyon at tokador ngunit wala akong nakita.

Halos mapatalon ako sa sunud-sunod na pagtunog ng cellphone ko na fully charged na rin. Nanginig ang kamay kong sinagot ang tawag habang nakatitig pa rin sa screen ng laptop.

“Danita! Buti naman sinagot mo na ang tawag ko!”

“Salie?” Tila hindi ko marinig ang sarili kong boses.

“Kanina pa kita tinatawag pero hindi mo man lang ako nilingon o pinansin.”

Nagtaka ako sa sinabi ng kaibigan ko. “Tinatawag? Ngayon ko lang sinagot ang mobile ko.”

“Bumalik ka na ba sa cubicle mo?”

Tuluyang napakunot ang noo ko. “Ha? Nasa condo pa ako. Hindi pa ako pumapasok.”

“Pinuntahan kita sa desk mo, wala ka naman. Nasaan ka ba?” Humahangos ang boses ni Salie sa kabilang linya at doon lang rumihestro sa akin ang lahat ng kinukwento niya.

Nakita ako ni Salie sa opisina! Paano nangyari iyon?

~Ikaanim na Araw~ 

Tila may sumusunod sa akin.

Naglalakad ako papunta sa may emergency stairs. Sira ang elevator kaya wala akong magagawa kundi ang lumakad pababa. Kung minamalas ka nga naman at nasa ikalabing tatlong palapag ka pa manggaling.

Alas-siyete na ng umaga pero madilim ang awra ng gusali dahil sa nagbabanta na naman sama ng panahon.

Nagdesisyon akong ‘di muna pumasok kahapon sa trabaho dahil hindi ako matahimik sa email na natanggap ko. Nagpadala ako ng email sa Boss ko at sinabihan ko na rin sa text si Salie na biglang sumama ang pakiramdam ko. Wala akong natanggap na sagot sa kanila dahil marahil ay abala sila sa opisina. Hindi ko muna ipinaalam sa kaibigan ko ang litrato sa email lalo pa’t maging ako ay naguguluhan sa sinasabi niyang nakita niya ako sa opisina.

May yabag akong naririnig pagkarating ko sa ika-siyam na palapag. Bahagya akong huminto at kumapit sa may hawakan ng hagdanan. Kunwari ay nagsintas ako ng sapatos pero sa totoo lang ay hinihintay kong bumaba ang ‘kasunod’ ko. Itinaas ko ang mukha ko at naglakas loob ng tumingin sa nadaanan ko nang hagdanan sa itaas.

Wala naman akong kasunod. Walang ako taong nasisilayan.

Danita, gumagana na naman ang imahinasyon mo.

Napailing ako at nagpatuloy ako sa pagbaba ng hagdanan. Tagaktak ang pawis ko pagkarating sa may lobby area kaya naman umupo muna ako sa sofa.

“Sir, hindi nga ho pwedeng paakyatin kayo ng walang permiso mula sa may-ari ng unit.” Hindi ko sana papansinin ang nasa reception nang nagsalita ang kausap ng guwardiya.

“Kapatid ko iyong nasa room 1313.”

Sandali, numero ng kwarto ko iyon!

Nakita ko ang likod ni Kuya Danny. Anong ginagawa rito ng kapatid ko? Pupuntahan ko na sana siya pero tila nanghina ang katawan ko.

“Tawagan nyo ho, Sir, ang kapatid ninyo para sunduin kayo.”

Napakamot ng ulo si Kuya sa inis. “Ang problema nga ‘di siya sumasagot sa mga tawag at text ko.”

Sinalat ko ang loob ng bag ko, walang cellphone. Kung minamalas nga naman… nakalimutan ko pa yata sa unit. Pero parang wala naman text messages o tawag akong natanggap mula kay Kuya Danny. May sira kaya ang telepono ko?

Sumakit bigla ang ulo ko at umikot ang paningin ko. “Kuya…” tinawag ko ang kapatid ko bago tuluyang dumilim ang lahat.

~Ikapitong Araw~

Sunud-sunod na katok ang gumising sa natutulog kong diwa. Anong oras na ba?

Madilim ang buong unit dahil nakatakip ang kurtina sa malaking bintana. Napasulyap ako sa orasan sa pader. Alas-tres? Hapon o madaling-araw?

“Danita!”

Si Kuya Danny! Nakapag-usap ba kami kahapon? Parang wala akong maalala.

“Hindi ba pwedeng wasakin na lang natin ang pinto?”

Bakit sisirain nila ang pintuan ko? Mabigat man ang katawan ko ay tumayo na ako at akmang hahawakan ko na ang seradura nang bumukas ito.

Bahagya akong napaatras sa pinto ng banyo at nakasisilaw na liwanag ang pumasok sa loob ng unit ko.

“Anong amoy iyon?” Naubo si Salie bago tinakpan ang ilong niya. Sumunod siya kina Kuya Danny at sa gwardiya na pumasok sa condo ko.

May umalingasaw ngang nakakasulaksok na amoy. Inamoy ko ang sarili ko, mabango naman ako ha.

“Kuya? Salie? Bakit kayo narito?”

Pinindot ng guwardiya ang light switch pero hindi ito nagbukas. Anong nangyari? Hindi naman ako nahuhuling magbayad lalo na sa mga kailangan bayaran. 

Naglakad sila at dahil siguro sa sobrang dilim ay ‘di nila ako napansin na nakatayo malapit lang sa kanila.

“Danita?” Huminto ang kapatid ko na ilang hakbang lang ang layo sa akin.

Sa wakas, napansin rin niya ako! “Kuya Danny!” Akmang yayakapin ko na ang kapatid ko pero nilagpasan niya lamang ako.

Dumiretso siya sa may kama at sinundan ko ng tingin.

“Danita! Danita!”

May nakahiga sa kama pero imposibleng ako. Nandito ako sa likuran nila. Sumilip ako at para akong binuhusan ng malamig na tubig.

Nakahiga ako sa ibabaw ng kama. May kurdon ang leeg ko, nakamulat ang dalawang mata ko at nakauwang ang bibig ko.

Lalo akong nagimbal nang may itim na usok na lumabas sa ilong ko!

“Patay ka na.”

* * *

“Sino ka?” Nanginginig kong tanong habang nakatitig sa humahagulgol kong kapatid at umiiling-iling na kaibigan. 

“Kaluluwang katulad mo.” Tila mula sa ilalim ng lupa ang boses na nagmumula sa itim na usok. Wala siyang pisikal na anyo kaya hindi ko alam kung anong hitsura niya. Wala rin akong ideya kung babae ba o lalaki siya.

“Hindi pa ako patay!” bulyaw ko sa kanya.

“Hangal! Isa kang hangal!” Isang malutong na halakhak ang pumuno sa kwarto bago padabog na nagsara ang pintuan sa banyo.

~Ikawalong Araw~

Ang katotohanan ay minsang mahirap tanggapin kahit na nasa harap mo na ang ebidensiya.

“Paano ako namatay?” May dilaw na tape ang pintuan ng kwarto ko, kinaumagahan.

Nakatulala ako kagabi nang inilabas nila ang katawan kong may balot na ng kumot. Para lang akong mahimbing na natutulog. Wala na ang kurdon sa leeg ko at nakasara na ang mga mata ko. Umiiyak pa rin sina Kuya at Salie habang naglalakad papunta sa elevator.

Gusto kong sundan kung saan nila dadalhin ang katawan ko pero tila may harang na pumipigil sa akin. Bumalik na lang ako sa harap ng condo unit ko at baka sakaling may kasagutan akong makuha.

“Psst!”

Hindi ko sana papansinin ang sumitsit sa akin dahil wala naman akong makitang tao sa buong palapag pero makulit siya.

“Psst… Psst… Psst!”

Hinanap ko kung saan iyon nanggaling, at umuwang ang pintuan ng katabing kwarto ko. Sa una ay hindi ko napansin ang usok na lumabas sa unit pero ‘di naglaon ay nabuo ang isang pigura.

Ngumiti sa akin ang isang lalaki. Wala siyang suot maliban sa trunks. Sino ba ito?

“Ako ang nag-iisa mong kapitbahay.” Sumaludo siya sa akin at sa isang iglap ay nasa harap ko na siya. “Vance nga pala,” pagpapakilala niya.

Hindi ko siya matignan nang diretso kaya tinanggap ko na lang ang inilahad niyang kamay.

“Nasusuya ka ba dahil wala akong saplot?” Sasagot sana ako ng oo pero nawala na siya sa paningin ko at padabog na nagsara ang pinto ng unit niya.

Bumalik ang atensyon ko sa condo ko. Paano ako papasok?

“Multo ka na. Awoo…”

Mabilis kong iginala ang mga mata ko. Nakahinga ako nang maluwag dahil walang tao maliban sa amin ng mokong na ito.

“Huwag kang mag-alala, walang makakarinig sa atin.” Kinindatan ako ni Vance na may suot nang pantalon at manipis na shirt. Naalala ko tuloy si Kuya Danny sa kanya.

“Mahirap talagang tanggapin ang kamatayan lalo na kung maaga at hindi man lang tayo nakapagpaalam sa pamilya natin.”

May ESP ba ang lalaking ito at nababasa niya ang nasa utak ko?

Bumuntung-hinga ako. “Ikaw at ako…”

“Patay na. Tigok. Kaluluwa na. Multo.”

Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala na wala na akong buhay. Madami pa akong nais abutin lalo pa’t kauumpisa ko palang kumawala sa poder ng kapatid ko at sa pangarap kong trabaho.

“Paano ako namatay?” Nanlumo akong napaupo sa sahig.

“Gusto mong malaman?”

Napaangat ako ng mukha at tumango kay Vance na nakatayo sa tabi ko.

“Pasok tayo sa loob ng condo mo at mag-imbestiga.”

“Ha? May tape at nakasara ang pintuan, paano tayo papasok?”

Dinaanan ng katawan niya ang dilaw na tape. “Ano pang ginagawa mo diyan? Tara!” At tuluyan na siyang pumasok sa unit ko.

~Ikasiyam na Araw~

Sa pagitan ng alas-dose hanggang alas-tres raw ng umaga ay malakas ang kapangyarihan ng mga sumakabilang-buhay. Pagala-gala lang sila habang nahihimbing ang mga buhay.

Totoo ngang patay na ako. Nakadaan ako nang matiwasay sa saradong pintuan na hindi ko man lang binuksan.

Wala nagbago sa hitsura ng kwarto ko. Ang laptop at cellphone ko ay naiwan sa puwestong huli kong nilagyan. Tanging ako lang ang nawala.

Si Vance ay nakatayo sa salaming bintana. Itinali nila Kuya ang kurtina kaya pumapasok ang liwanag ng malaking buwan sa loob ng unit.

“Malungkot lang?” Biro ko habang iginagala ko ang mga mata ko sa condo.

Napailing si Vance at seryosong lumingon sa akin. “Nagpakamatay ka rin ba?”

Natigalgal ako sa tanong niya. “Sa pagkakatanda ko ay hindi.” Isinalaysay ko sa kanya ang hitsura ng katawan ko ng makita nila Kuya Danny.

“May pumatay sa iyo at kinuhanan ka pa ng litrato?”

Napailing ako kay Vance. “Sa palagay ko ay kinuhanan muna ako ng litrato bago ako pinatay.”

Sino naman ang gumawa sa akin ng karumal-dumal na pagpatay?

“Baba tayo,” wika niya sabay tayo.

“Saan tayo pupunta?”

“Sa posibleng makakasagot sa tanong mo.”

At nawala siyang muli mula sa harap ko.

* * *

May mga nakadungaw sa bintana. Lima sila at mukhang isang pamilya. Dapat tumataas na ang balahibo ko pero dahil isa na akong kaluluwa, wala na akong nararamdaman na takot pero kung buhay ako ay tumili na siguro ako. Sunog ang mukha nila at blangko ang mga mata nilang nagmamatyag sa amin.

“Sino sila?” bulong ko kay Vance.

“Mga ligaw na kaluluwa at hindi sila tagarito sa condominium.”

Kumbinsido na ako na patay na ako pero ang mga impormasyon tungkol sa ‘buhay’ ng mga sumakabilang-buhay ay unti-unti palang rumirehistro sa akin.

“Bakit tayo narito sa CCTV room?”

Sa bawat palapag ay may CCTV camera, nakikita rito ang bawat tao at galaw sa koridor.

Itinuro ni Vance ang screen na kung saan may ikalabing tatlong palapag. Patay-sindi ang mga ilaw pero may itim na usok na nakukuha ang kamera.

Nakikita kong nahahati ang katawan ko habang dumadaan ang guwardiya. Nanginig ang manong nang umupo siya sa silya. Buti nga sa iyo!

“Hoy, anong gagawin mo sa kanya?” Susugurin ko sana iyong gwardiya pero hinarangan ako ni Vance.

Tinaas niya ang kanang kamay niya, sinenyasan niya ako na tumingin na mata sa mata. Lumapit siya sa guwardiya na nagsuot na ng jacket niya at may binulong.

Pinindot nang tuluy-tuloy ni Manong ang button sa screen. Huminto siya sa isang recorded video.

Hulyo 23, alas-siyete ng gabi

Limang araw na ang nakakaraan.

Ilang araw na pala akong patay bago nakita nila Kuya at Salie ang katawan ko. Nakaramdam ako ng awa sa sarili ko.

“Walang maitutulong ‘yan sa paghahanap mo ng sagot.”

Sa maikling salita, bawal ka magdrama, Danita. Sumimangot ako kay Vance. Bakit ba kasi niya binabasa ang nasa utak ko? Pakialamerong lalaki!

Ngumisi siya sa akin sabay nguso sa screen. Sumulpot ako sa kuha ng CCTV camera. Basang-basa ang hitsura ko at nagmamadaling nagbukas ng pintuan ng unit.

Ang huling kuha ng kamera ay ang pagpasok ko sa condo pero ‘di ako nag-iisa. May aninong nakasunod sa akin.

~Ikasampung Araw~

“Sino nga ‘yun?” Kagabi ko pa kinukulit si Vance na sagutin ang tanong ko.

Kasalukuyang kaming nasa loob ng dati niyang unit. Wala nang gamit sa loob.

“Ang taga-sundo…” Napagod na marahil siya sa pagtatanong ko kaya lumabas na rin sa bibig niya ang gusto kong malaman.

“Kaya ba siya sumunod sa akin dahil sinusundo na niya ako?”

“Posible,” tipid niyang sagot.

Napahawak ako sa beywang ko at inis na napatingin kay Vance.

“Ang KJ mo! Bakit ba hindi mo na lang sabihin sa akin ang alam mo tungkol sa—”

Tinakpan niya ang bibig ko at sumenyas na manahimik ako. Pinindot niya ang tainga ko, indikasyon na makinig ako sa paligid. Sinunod ko siya dahil narinig kong nagbukas nang pinto sa unit ko at yabag ng mga paa.

Maagap kong hinila si Vance at tumawid kami patungo sa kabilang pader.

Nasa kwarto ko sina Ate Hanna at Salie. Nakaupo si Ate Hanna sa kama at tinutupi niya ang mga damit ko. Tumutulo ang luha niya habang sinisilid sa bag ang mga gamit ko.

“Parang kailan lang kausap ko si Danita. Ang saya-saya niya…”

Napakagat-labi ako dahil ang huling pag-uusap namin ni Ate ay kinukumbinsi niya pa akong bumalik sa bahay nila. Kung sinunod ko sana siya, hindi sana ako namatay. Napailing na lang si Vance sa inisip ko.

“Ate, nagpakita sa akin si Danita.” Tinabihan ni Salie ang hipag ko at niyakap niya ito. “Hindi ko alam namamaalam na pala siya sa akin noong araw na iyon.”

Suminghot si Ate Hanna at nagulat ako ng tumutok ang mga mata niya sa kinatatayuan namin ni Vance.

“Nakikita niya tayo?”

Kibit-balikat ang sagot sa akin ni Vance. Sa kagustuhan kong malaman ang teoriya ko ay kumaway ako kay Ate Hanna.

Walang epekto dahil mukhang walang may third eye sa kanila.

“Sino kaya ang pumatay kay Danita?” Pabulong na tanong ni Ate Hanna na humiwalay na kay Salie.

Napasulyap sa may bintana si Salie. “Kung sino man siya, may matinding galit siya kay Danita.”

Malungkot na napatango si Ate Hanna. “Wala naman akong nababalitaan na kaaway ni Danita. Napakabait at masunurun niyang hipag.”

Tumayo na si Ate Hanna at nagtungo na sa may pintuan. “Dadalhin ko muna ang mga gamit ni Danita sa baba,” paalam niya sa kasama.

Inabot ni Salie ang cellphone sa hipag ko. “Ate, sa akin muna ang laptop ni Danita, may mga impormasyon na kukunin ako na kailangan sa opisina.”

Napangunot-noo ako dahil wala naman kahit anong tungkol sa trabaho ang nasa personal laptop ko. Anong gustong malaman ni Salie sa laptop?

“Alam mo ba ang password niya?”

Ngumiti si Salie at pinakita kay Ate Hanna ang pagbukas sa screen ng laptop ko. “Hindi uso ang password kay Danita. Ibabalik ko rin ito, Ate, huwag kayong mag-alala,” pangungumbinsi ng kaibigan ko.

Binitbit ni Ate Hanna ang maleta ko at lumabas na ng condo. Aalis na rin sana si Salie pero may tumawag sa cellphone niya.

“Hello… Oo… Sandali ‘di kita marinig, labas lang ako ng kwarto.”

Ipinatong ni Salie ang laptop sa kama at dali-daling kinausap sa may koridor ang nasa kabilang linya. Pagkasara niya ng pintuan ay binuksan ko ang inbox ko.

“Anong balak mong gawin? Maglalagay ka ba ng password?”

Napailing ako kay Vance at nagtipa sa keyboard. “Bantay ka muna sa may pintuan at may susubukan lang akong hanapin.”

Hindi ko na hinintay ang sagot niya at hinarap ko na ang laptop. Kahit naman kaluluwa na ako ay kaya ko pa rin magpagalaw ng mga bagay. Kayang manipulahan ng isang multo ang pag-iisip ng tao at makakalimutan nito ang kanyang ginawa. Ang epekto nga ay manghihina ng ilang oras ang kaluluwa.

“Bingo!” sigaw ko at mabilis na lumapit sa akin si Vance.

“Sabi ko doon ka muna sa pinto.” Bakit ba ang hirap pakiusapan ng lalaking ito?

Ngumisi siya sa akin. “Di ako basta-basta sumusunod sa utos.”

Inirapan ko na lang siya bago tinuro sa kanya ang email ko.

Humawak siya sa baba niya. “Tayong mga patay ay nagpapadala ng mensahe sa mga buhay.”

“Anong ibig mong sabihin?”

“Tignan mong mabuti ang litrato mo.”

Buong katawan ang kuha sa akin. Pinalaki ko ang litrato at pinindot ko ang mouse para sa zoom.

Noong nabasa ko ang ‘email’ na ito ay… “Nilagutan ka na ng hininga. Isa ka ng malamig na bangkay.”

Huminga muna ako nang malalim bago sumulyap kay Vance. “Gusto kong malaman kung paano ako namatay at kanino galing ang email na ito.”

* * *

Sherlock Holmes at Dr. Watson lang ang naging papel namin ni Vance pagpatak ng gabi.

Naghahanap siya ng ebidensiya sa labas ng 1313 at ako naman sa loob ng kwarto ko.

Tatlong impormasyon ang nakalap namin: una, walang spy camera na nakatago sa loob ng unit ko; pangalawa ay pader ang tapat ng maliit na bintana sa banyo kaya walang ibang pinasukan ang kumuha ng litrato kundi ang pintuan; at panghuli, ako lang ang nag-iisang nangungupahan noong araw na namatay ako.

Sabay kaming napasalampak sa paanan ng kama. Pagod at mauubos na ang enerhiya namin ni Vance.

“Sino sa palagay mo ang may galit sa iyo?”

Nagulat ako sa tanong ni Vance. “Wala akong ideya. Ako nga ang pinakapalakaibigan sa opisina at wala naman akong nakakaalitan.”

Pwede bang sumakit ang ulo ng isang multo? Parang sasabog yata ang ulo ko.

“Huwag ka rito magkalat ng lagim!” Natatawang tumayo si Vance na pumuwesto sa harap ng bintana.

Napapansin ko lang na paborito niya ang lugar na iyon lalo na kung may naiisip siya.

“Anong tumatakbo sa utak mo?” Tumayo na rin ako at sumilip ako sa may bintana, palaisipan pa rin sa akin kung paano ako kinuhanan ng litratro.

“Wala sa katinuan ang pumatay sa iyo.” Nagimbal ako sa narinig ko. “Posibleng sinapian siya.”

~Ikalabing-isang Araw~

Paparating na ang katapusan, handa ka na ba?

‘Bagong salta…’

‘Puti o itim?’

Umikot ang paningin ko sa makapal na usok sa mukha ko.

“Kailangan mo raw ng impormasyon kung sino ang pumatay sa iyo! May alam ako…” May sumulpot na naaagnas na mukha.

“Huwag kang maniwala diyan, pinglalaruan ka lang niya.” Isang putol na ulo naman ang lumutang-lutang sa ere.

“Manahimik kayo at tumabi nga kayo!” Nahawi ng dalawang kamay ni Vance ang maitim na usok.

Kahit na doble ang nakikita ko ay pinilit kong bumangon.

“Sino iyong mga narinig ko?”

Tuluyang nawala ang putol na ulo at naagnas na mukha kaya nakahinga na ako nang maluwag.

“Mga kaluluwang pinagpipiyestahan ka. Nalingat lang ako sandali para magtanong, nakikipagtawaran na sa iyo. “

Mabuti na lang pala at dumating si Vance dahil kung hindi baka napasunod ako ng mga ligaw na kaluluwa. “May nasagap kang impormasyon?”

“Nawalan ng kuryente noong oras na pinatay ka kaya hindi nahagilap ng CCTV camera kung sino ang posibleng pumatay sa iyo.”

* * *

Noong nabubuhay pa ako, wala naman akong kinalaban o nagalit man lang sa akin. Kilala ako bilang mahinahon na tao. Ako pa nga ang umaawat kung may nag-aaway sa mga kaibigan ko. Kaya nakapagtataka na may taong may sama ng loob pala sa akin at pinatay ako.

Sumulpot bigla sa tabi ko si Vance. “Paano kung ‘di mo naman kakilala?” 

Nasa rooftop ako ng condominium. Ngayon ko lang napuntahan ang lugar na ito. Maganda pala rito kasi makikita mo ang buong Maynila. Nagkikislapan ang ilaw ng buong siyudad. Maingay man sa baba ay tila malapit ka naman sa langit sa itaas. Sayang hindi ko man lang ito nakita noong nabubuhay pa ako.

“Sinasabi mo ba na may naligaw lang sa kwarto ko at pinatay lang ako ng walang dahilan.”

Umiling siya sa akin. “May punto ka naman. Marahil ay kakilala at malapit lang sa iyo ang pumatay sa iyo.”

Tama si Vance sa sinabi niya. Sino? Paano niya ako pinatay?

“Iyong kaibigan mo…”

“Si Salie? Bakit?”

“Kanina nang hinahanap kita, nakita ko siyang lumabas sa kwarto mo. Akala ko nga, ikaw.”

“Anong ginagawa niya? May kinuha ba siya? O nakalimutan kunin?” Sa pagkakatanda ko ay may ilang gamit pa na hindi nadala si Ate Hanna.

“Wala naman akong napansin na may dala siya maliban sa cellphone mo.”

“Nasa kanya ang cellphone ko? Hindi ba inabot niya kay Ate Hanna?”

Hinawakan ni Vance ang balikat ko. “Maaring mali ang nakita ko kaya kumalma ka. Kung may gusto kang malaman, puntahan mo ang kwarto ng kaibigan mo at ikaw mismo ang humanap ng katotohanan.

~Ikalabindalawang Araw~

Hindi umuwi si Salie kagabi dahil tumambay sa kwarto niya. Binalita sa amin na huling araw na ng lamay ko. Napilitan kami ni Vance na maging kaibigan iyong masungit na multong umaaligid-aligid sa guwardiya sa may reception area. Mabuti pa siya updated, ako na mismong dating may-ari ng katawan, wala man lang ideya.

“Umabot hanggang sa pinakamababang palapag ‘yang nguso mo.”

Ito na naman si Vance, parang kabute kung sumusulpot.

“Saan ka ba nagliwaliw tuwing gabi? Akala ko sasamahan mo ako sa kwarto ni Salie.”

“Sa tabi-tabi lang, nagtatanong pa rin.”

Sa halos mag-iisang linggo na kasama ko itong si Vance ay nalaman ko na nagpakamatay siya ilang araw lang matapos niyang lumipat sa 1312. Hindi na niya binigay ang detalye basta masalimuot raw ang dahilan kung bakit kinitil niya ang buhay niya. Dati siyang imbestigador kaya pala sineryoso niya ako nang sinabi kong gusto kong malaman kung sino ang pumatay sa akin.

“Nakabalik na ang kaibigan mo. Itinimbre na sa akin mula sa lobby area.”

Nabuhayan ako ng loob sa narinig kong balita kay Vance pero ‘di tulad niya na nawawala at sumusulpot na lang, wala pa akong kakayahan para gawin iyon kaya tumawid ako sa sahig papunta sa ikalabing-isang palapag.

* * *

Sabay kaming kumuha ng unit ni Salie. Ang kwarto niya na 1113 ang nag-iisang bakante sa labing-isang palapag. Dalawa dapat kaming ookupa sa kwarto pero dahil pangarap ko talaga ang magkaroon ng sarili kong condo unit, nagkanya-kanya kami. Ang katulong ni Salie na nagbabayad sa unit niya ay ang Canadian fiancé niya na balak na siyang kunin.

Akala ko ay mag-isa si Salie sa kwarto niya kaya naman nagulat ako nang makita kong may kasama siya. Hindi nga lang niya nakikita.

“Bakit narito ka?”

Ngumisi sa akin ang multo na itim na itim ang balat at mapupulang mga mata. Lumalabas ang dilaw na likido sa nakasara niyang bibig at nakakabahala ang matutulis niyang kuko.

Sino ba ito? Bakit wala rito si Vance para samahan ako?

Si Salie na nakatutok ang atensyon sa laptop na nasa harap niya ay wala kamalay-malay sa nagbabantang panganib.

Sumenyas ang itim na kaluluwa na manahimik ako pero hindi ko sinunod. “Binabalaan kita kapag sasaktan mo ang kaibigan ko, di ako matatakot na kalabanin ka.”

Humalakhak ang masamang espiritu bago may ibinulong kay Salie.

“Anong ginagawa mo? Lumayo ka sa kaibigan ko!” Susugod na sana ako pero pinigilan ko ang sarili ko.

Itinapat niya ang isa niyang kuko sa leeg ni Salie. “Isang maling galaw…”

Napahinto si Salie sa ginagawa niya. Napatulala siya sandali at nagulat akong itinuro niya ako. Lumingon siya sa eksaktong kinatatayuan ko. “Danita?”

“Nakikita mo ako, Salie?” Tuwa ang naramdaman ko dahil matutulungan ako ng kaibigan kong iparating ang nais kong sabihin.

Subalit kumuha si Salie ng kutsilyo.

“Huwag kang lalapit sa akin.” Tinutok niya sa akin ang hawak niya. “Patay ka na.”

“Salie… Bitawan mo ‘yan. Kailangan mo akong tulungan.” Nagmamakaawang wika ko sa kanya.

Ikaw na lang ang pag-asa para mabigyan ng katarungan ang pagpatay sa akin.

Parang ipo-ipo na dumaan sa harap namin ang masamang espiritu. “Hahaha! Isa ka talagang hangal! Mahinang kaluluwa!”

Hindi ko na inasahan ang sumunod nangyari. Tinusok ni Salie ang kutsilyo sa lumulutang kong katawan na bumagsak lang sa sahig at nagmamadaling lumabas ng kwarto. May sumunod sa kanyang itim na usok pero bago ko pa siya masundan ay may puwersang humagis sa akin.

“Sa akin na siya… Wala kang magagawa.”

Tila nagdidiwang na ang itim na usok na pumuno sa buong palapag.   

~Ikalabintatlong Araw~

Natakot lang si Salie…

Pagkukumbinsi ko sa sarili habang hinahanap ko ang kaibigan ko. Nagkita kami ni Vance sa may koridor at mabilis kong isinalaysay sa kanya ang lahat ng pangyayari.

Maristela ang pangalan ng itim na espiritu na namalagi na sa gusaling simula pa nang itayo ito. Siya raw ang kanang kamay ng tagasundo at ang inuutusan upang siguraduhin na mamatay ang nakatakdang mamaalam sa mundo. Walang duda na Maristela ang nakita ko na nasa likuran ko noong gabing pinatay ako.

Ang tagasundo ay isang nahulog na anghel na maaring magpalit ng anyo sa nais nito. Maaari itong maging usok, anino o ang maging espiritu mismo na gumagaya ng mukha ng tao. Pinapakita lamang nito ang kanyang totoong anyo kung susunduin na niya ang taong may masamang budhi.

Isa lang ang sigurado ko, hindi ko nasilayan ang tagasundo nang mamatay ako.

“Ikaw ang bahala kay Salie. Hahanapin ko naman si Maristela bago niya tawagin ang tagasundo,” utos ni Vance.

Naghiwalay kami sa pagitan ng exit stairs. Siya ang magbabantay mula sa ibaba hanggang ikalabing-isang palapag habang ako naman ang maghahanap kay Salie hanggang sa rooftop.

Madaling-araw na at ilang oras na lang ay manghihina na muli ang kapangyarihan namin. Nasaan ka na ba, Salie? Sinilip ko na lahat ng kwarto pero ni anino ng kaibigan ko ay wala akong nasilayan.

Iisa lang naisip na maaring puntahan niya. Sana lang wala siya doon.

* * *

“Sabi kong lumayo ka. Huwag na huwag kang lalapit!”

Naririnig ko ang boses ni Salie. Nakatayo ako sa bungad ng pintuan patungo sa rooftop.

May dalawang anino akong nakikita, ang isa ay ang tagasundo na may suot na kapa pero napapaligiran na itim na usok at katabi nito ay si Maristela na nagpanggap na ako!

Kitang-kita ko ang anyo ni Maristela na kamukhang-kamukha ko.

“Salie… Hindi kita sasaktan,” mahinahong wika ni Maristela.

Pati boses ko ay gayang-gaya niya!

Tumili si Salie at napaatras sa may dulo ng rooftop. Pagsilip doon ay ang ibaba na ng gusali ang makikita.

“Pinatay na kita…”

Napanting ang tainga ko sa sumunod na lumabas sa bibig ng kaibigan ko. Siya ang pumatay sa akin! Bakit Salie?

“Walang kuryente sa buong gusali kaya walang nakakita sa akin ng naglakad ako sa emergency stairs na nakakonekta malapit sa bintana ng kwarto mo. Hindi ako nahirapang buksan ang gilid ng bintana na bahagyang nakauwang. Umuungol ka, binabangungot ka yata pero hindi kita ginising. Tinali ko ang kurdon ng cellphone mo sa leeg bago ko tinakpan ang mukha mo ng unan at tuluyan ka nang nawalan ng hininga.” Nagagalit ang kalooban ko sa pinahayag ng dati kong kaibigan.

Tumingin siya kay Maristela. “Ako ang nagpadala nang email na may litrato ka para iligaw sila na nabangungot ka lang.” Walang kagatul-gatol niyang pahayag.

“Wala naman akong balak na patayin kita pero may naririnig akong boses.” Hinawakan ni Salie ang ulo niya at humagulgol siya bigla. “Patayin raw kita dahil ikaw ang magiging balakid sa pag-akyat ko sa mas mataas na posisyon. Nakikita ko nga na unti-unti mong nakukuha ang loob ng lahat at nauungusan mo na ako. Kung hindi ko gagawin iyon ay maaring ikaw raw ang pumatay sa akin,” pag-amin niya.

Pinaglaruan kami ni Maristela! Hindi dapat naniwala si Salie sa kanya!

“Hindi pa rin tama ang ginawa mo, Salie.”

“Tumigil ka na Maristela!” asik ko.

Napalingon sa akin si Maristela at isang makahulugang ngiti ang gumuhit sa labi niya. “Wala kang magagawa dahil walang makakapigil sa nakatakdang mangyari.”

Mabilis na lumapit si Maristela kay Salie na napatayo na at tuluyang sumampa sa harang.

“Tatalon ako rito,” banta ni Salie na nanginginig na ang boses.

“Huwag na huwag mong gagawin ‘yan, Salie. Mahalaga ang iyong buhay. Kung di ka naawa sa pagpatay sa akin, maawa ka sa buhay mo.”

Kung pwede lang bigyan ng karangalan sa galing sa pag-arte si Maristela ay ako mismo ang nag-abot nito sa kanya.

Umiling si Salie at bago ko pa siya napigilan sa balak niyang gawin ay tinulak siya ni Maristela.

“Salie!!!”

Kasabay ng pagsigaw ko ay may itim na usok na pumalibot sa katawan ni Salie. Ang tagasundo! Tinanggal ng tagasundo ang kapang nakasuot sa ulo niya at hindi ko inaasahan ang nakita ko.

Si Vance… Dinukot ni Vance ang kaluluwa ni Salie!

Mabilis na bumagsak si Salie sa isang nakaparadang kotse. Nakabuka ang mga mata niyang walang buhay at nagkalat ang lasug-lasog niyang katawan. ☁️

This is an entry to Fictory, Bookbed‘s Fic Fest, in which participants write a fic based on a prompt.  This year, the prompts are all horror themed. One winner and one Crowd Favorite (by hits and shares) will receive prizes. If you enjoyed this story, share it or leave a comment below. Remember to add #BookbedFictory!

#BookbedFictory 012: ‘Panginoon ng Mga Uwak’

ni Darwin Medallada

Prompt: A desperate farmer just wants to be able to feed his family through the dry season.

El Niño

Ako ang dahilan kaya namatay si Tatay. ‘Yon ang palagi kong naiisip sa tuwing binabalikan ang isang alaala ng gabi noong 1984.

Bitak-bitak na ang mga palayan sa Anislag. Katulad ng lupang ilang taon nang ginagawa noon para maging lansangan. Tuyo na ang dalawang balon na hinukay namin ni Tatay no’ng nakaraang taon. Unti-unti na ring natutuyo ang mga sapa at irigasyon na nagsusuplay ng tubig sa mga sakahan. Ilang kilometro pa ang layo ng bukal na pinagkukunan ng tubig. Ito ang taon ng napakaraming pangamba.

Nabalitaan ni Tatay ang nangyaring pagratrat ng mga PC sa mga magsasakang nagpunta ng Maynila. Kaya lahat kami, natatakot na sobrang magpagabi. Kahit si Tatay, takot ding mamatay. Palagi no’ng pinapaalala ni Nanay at Tatay na ‘wag daw magpaabot ng sobrang gabi sa labas dahil may mga gumagalang aswang. May balita kasi no’ng kumalat na may pinatay daw sa kabilang bayan.

Malagkit sa balat ang maalikabok na hangin. Nakakapaso na ang sinag ng araw kahit alas siyete pa lang ng umaga. Tanaw sa pintuan ng kubo namin ang palayan kung saan nakatirik ang panakot-uwak. Parang binabantayan ang buo naming pamilya. Hindi gumagalaw. Parang nakatitig sa akin kapag tinititigan ko. Ilang metro lang ang layo sa panakot, makikita ang isa pang maliit na kubo kung saan nagpapahinga si Tatay kapag panahon ng pagtatanim at pagsasaka. Katabi lang ng tatlong pandak na puno ng mangga.

Walang pasok dahil bakasyon. Kaya naman namumulot kami ng mga tuyong sanga ng kapatid kong si Carmencita. Kung anu-ano ang pinagkukwentuhan namin sa gitna ng pamumulot. Tinatanong pa niya minsan sa akin kung kabisado ko na raw ba ang Bagong Lipunan. Kakanta naman ako, pero mahina dahil nagagalit si Tatay kapag naririnig akong kumakanta. Hindi ko alam kung bakit siya no’n nagagalit.

Kapag pagod na sa mga kwentuhan at habulan, uuwi kami sa bahay ni Carmencita na dala-dala ang mga panggatong. Maiiwan siya sa bahay at kakalaruin si Lucas, ang bunso naming kapatid. Sasama ako kay Tatay para mag-igib.

“Ikaw Noy, lagi mong bantayan si Carmen,” minsang sinabi ni Tatay habang dala-dala namin ang mga container. “Ganoon din ang Nanay mo. Ikaw ang tatay kapag wala ako. Kaya dapat malakas ka.”

“Hindi naman po kayo mawawala, ‘Tay. Malakas pa kayo sa kalabaw, e.”

Tatapikin niya ako at guguluhin ang buhok. Magmamadali kami sa paglalakad habang pinagmamasdan ang pinaghalong kahel at lilang kulay ng langit.

Dinadaanan namin madalas ang maisan para tingnan kung pwede na bang makain ang mga bunga nito.

“Putot pa.” Hahawakan ni Tatay ang buhok ng mais. “Hindi pa tayo kayang busugin.”

Maliit lang naman na maisan ‘yon kung tutuusin pero nabanggit minsan ni Tatay na kung magpapatuloy ang tag-init posibleng mais daw ang makapagsasalba sa amin. Nalason daw kasi ang tanim naming kamote at tinuyo ng init ang mga talbos. Tuyo na rin daw kasi ang mga palayan na pwedeng pagkuhanan ng mga kuhol. Mahirap na rin makahuli ng palaka at dagang bukid dahil nawawala raw ito kapag ganito kainit ang panahon. Bago umalis sa maisan, tinatak ko na sa isip ko ang sinabi ni Tatay. Mais ang makapagsasalba sa gutom ng pamilya.

Aalis kami ng maisan. Makikita ko sa malaking mata ni Tatay ang lungkot kapag tinitingnan ang mga natuyong palayan. Walang pinatawad ang tag-init. Ilang araw pa, mamamatay ang mga hayop sa bukid tulad ng baka at mga kambing.

Sa mga sandaling tinitingnan ko si Tatay, ibabaling niya sa akin ang tingin na parang ako ang pag-asa sa gitna ng delubyo. Magmamadali kaming tahakin ang ma-amorsekong damuhan na papunta sa bukal. Hahatakin ako ni Tatay para magmadali ako sa paglalakad.

“Bilisan mo, baka gabihin tayo,” may pag-aalala sa boses niya. Lakad-takbo ang gagawin ng payat kong katawan.

Pupunuin namin ang tatlong container ng tubig. Magmamadaling bumalik pauwi. Makikita ko ulit sa mata ni Tatay ang pag-aalala kapag nagagawi ang tingin sa palayan. Hinihingal ako sa mabigat na binubuhat. Kumakalam ang sikmura at parang sinusundot-sundot ng karayom. Panay ang hawak ko sa tiyan.

“Magpahinga na muna tayo. Malapit na rin naman ang bahay.” Isang bagay na bihira naming gawin ni Tatay kapag nag-iigib. Pareho kasi kaming atat sa pag-uwi.

Sumundot-sundot pa ang karayom sa tiyan ko. Hindi na napigil sa pagkalam ang sikmura. Parang kulog kapag may paparating na malakas na ulan. Nakita ko sa mukha ng Tatay ko ang pagod sa maghapon. Pinatanda na ng pagsasaka ang itsura at kamay niya. Makapal na parang ilang tonelada ng lupa ang kumapit doon. Halata rin ang napakaraming gatla sa noo at ang mangilan-ngilang pilak na buhok.

“Nagugutom ka na?”

Tatango lang ako. Papahiran niya ang pawis ko gamit ang manggas ng damit. Pagkatapos sarili niya namang pawis ang papahiran. Bubuhusan ko ng tubig ang takip ng container at doon iinom ng ilang ulit. Umaasang maiibsan ang kirot ng tiyan.

“Lakaw na kita pauli?”

“Uli na kita, Tay.”

Kukunin niya sa akin ang container kahit dalawa na ang hawak niya. Palagi akong tumatanggi na ibigay ‘yon kay Tatay.

“Maghintay ka na lang dito kung di mo na kayang mag-lakaw.”

Ito ang palaging ayaw kong sinasabi sa akin ni Tatay kapag nag-iigib kami. Na maiiwan ako sa madilim na parte ng ma-amorsekong damuhan. Takot din naman ako sa dilim kahit laking probinsya ako. Pakiramdam ko, palaging may mga engkantong nakatingin sa akin kapag nag-iisa. Naghihintay lang na mawalan ako ng depensa bago sumalakay at kainin ang aking katawan. Minsan kahit magkasama na kami ni Tatay, hindi mawala-wala sa aking pag-iisip na merong nagmamasid sa amin. Nagtatago sa mga puno. Sa matataas na talahib. Sa mga bitak-bitak na lupa ng palayan. At sa panakot-uwak na palagi kong nakikita sa pag-alis at pag-uwi. Parang nagpapaalala na kailangan namin siyang balikan at siya ang palatandaan kung bakit kami nabubuhay.

Dali-dali kong bubuhatin ang container. Hahabulin ko ang mababagal na hakbang ni Tatay. Pero no’ng araw na ‘yon, kumalam nang kumalam nang kumalam ang aking sikmura dahil hindi kami nananghalian. Iniwan ni Tatay ang container niya at binuhat ang sa akin.

“Kaya mo pa?”

Tatango-tango lang ako. Pilit ang ngiti. Gusto kong sabihin kay Tatay na pakiramdam ko sa gutom ako mamamatay.

“Konting tiis na lang, Noy. Balay na kita.”

Buhat, lapag, buhat ang ginawa ni Tatay sa mga container namin. Hanggang sa makalapit kami sa kubo. Nahuhuli ako nang ilang hakbang nang lumingon siya. Namamaluktot ako sa sakit ng tiyan nang tumakbo si Tatay papunta sa akin. Niyakap niya ako. Naramdaman siguro ang nalalapit kong pagbagsak. Naramdaman ko sa yakap ni Tatay ang napakaraming emosyon. Ang panginginig na marahil dala ng gutom at galit sa sarili. Ang pagmamahal na parang sinasabing hindi niya kami pababayaan sa buong tag-init. May pumatak na maiinit na tubig sa bumbunan ko. Umiiyak si Tatay. Walang tinig ngunit may pag-aalsa. Parang may pinaparating sa akin ang mga luha.

“Anak, dili ko kayo hayaang mamatay sa gutom. Tiis-tiis lang muna, ha?”

Onse anyos lang ako no’n. Malabo ang alaala kung paano ako nakauwi no’ng hapon na ‘yon, siguro binuhat ako ni Tatay at kinalong sa bisig ang payat kong pangangatawan. O baka naman sinampa niya ako sa kaniyang likuran. Hindi ko na maalala. Natabunan na siguro ng bangungot na nangyari isang gabi.

Lugaw

Lugaw ang kinain namin pagsapit ng tanghalian. Walang kahit anong sahog. Ito ang sumasalba sa amin ilang araw na. Kapag ganitong tanghalian, sina Lucas at Carmencita ang pinapauna naming pakainin. Maliit naman daw kasi ang sikmura ng dalawa kong kapatid, madaling mabusog, pero bawal gutumin dahil mahihirapang magtiis. Ayos lang iyon sa akin. Kapag may natitirang lugaw, paghahatian naming tatlo ni Nanay at Tatay.

Pagkalipas ng tanghalian, nakita ko si Nanay na lumapit sa lata ng biskwit na pinaglalagyan namin ng bigas. Binuksan ang lata at pinasok ang kanang kamay sa bibig nito. Matagal bago niya muling inilabas ang kamay. Tinantsa siguro kung gaano karami pang palay ang natitira.

Pinagmasdan ko kung paano niya tiningnan si Tatay. Nakatayo lang ito sa harap ng pinto ng aming kubo. Pinagmamasdan na naman siguro ang bitak-bitak na palayan. May kung anong kilabot akong nakita sa mga mata ni Nanay bago siya nagsalita.

“Istong, parito ka nga,” tawag niya kay Tatay. “Paubos na ang bigas. Ano ang balak mong gawin?”

“Matagal ko nang iniisip mula nung dumating ang mga salot at tagtuyot, Ora.” Nakita ko kung paanong nagtinginan ang Nanay at Tatay. Matatalim pero mayroong pag-intindi sa isa’t isa. “Malalampasan natin ‘to. Dumaan na tayo sa ganito dati, mas mahirap lang ngayon dahil nagsabay-sabay ang problema.”

“Me naitabi pa naman akong pera. Kasya na siguro pagkatapos nitong huling babayuhin.” Hinawakan ni Nanay ang lata. “Makakabili pa ng tatlong kilong bigas.”

Nagkunwari akong tulog sa papag. Pinapakinggan ang kanilang pag-uusap. Naririnig kong naghahalakhakan si Lucas at Carmencita sa labas. Siguro, naghahabulan na naman, o baka naglalaro ng piko.

“Kung pwede lang ako manghiram ng pera, Ora,” mahina ang boses ni Tatay, “matagal ko nang ginawa.”

“Sino ba ang magpapautang sa atin? Pare-pareho lang naman tayong hirap.”

“Sinusubukan ko rin mamasukan kahit do’n sa hacienda sa Peñafrancia.”

“Ay, anong nangyari? Natanggap ka ba naman?”

“Hindi nga.” Nararamdaman kong unti-unti akong idinuduyan ng antok. “Marami rin daw silang tinanggal sa sakahan. Napeste rin ang hacienda. Mga yudiputa kasing balang ‘yan.”

Bigla nagising ang diwa ko. Sa buong buhay ko, iyon ang unang beses na narinig kong nagmura si Tatay. Mas lalo akong naging alerto sa pakikinig.

“Marinig ka ng mga bata.”

“Hayaan mo, nasa labas naman. Saka tulog si Noy.”

Nangangati na ako sa antok. Dinuduyan ng hangin na maalinsangan. Bago tuluyang mapapikit naisip ko kung may mga gagawin ba ako ngayong araw. Marami pa ang panggatong.

“Ibenta kaya natin iyong lupa?”

“Ora naman, alam mong hindi ko ibebenta ang lupa. Kahit magkapatayan na.”

May isa’t kalahati pang container ng tubig kaya hindi kami ngayon mag-iigib.

“Ay, ano nga ang balak mo?”

Naririnig ko pa rin ang matitinis na tawanan ng mga kapatid ko sa labas.

“Kakain ba kayo ng kahit ano?”

Narinig ko ang mahihinang yabag sa lupa. Si Nanay, papunta siguro ng kusina.

“Paanong kakain ng kahit ano?”

“Basta. Gagawa ako ng paraan.”

Nag-aagaw na ang malay at antok ko nang makarinig ako ng tatlong salita. Ibon. Bitag. Pagkain.

Pritong Sisiw

Madilim na nang magising ako. Umaawit na ang mga kuliglig sa labas. Himalang may parang niluluto ang Nanay sa kusina. Nakita kong binabayo ni Tatay ang palay na gagawing lugaw. Mahimbing na natutulog sa kawayang katre sina Lucas at Carmencita.

Lumabas ako sandali para magpahangin. Tumingala sa langit at tiningnan ang maliwanag at bilog na buwan. Pinapaliguan ng liwanag ang mga damo at puno sa paligid. Madaling nakikita ang mga bahay na naiilawan din ng gasera. Natakot akong tumingin kung saan-saan dahil baka may nakatingin sa akin. Mainit pa rin ang dampi ng hangin sa balat kahit gabi na. Nagsimula nang humuni ang mga kuliglig. Nagtatalo ang antok ko at pagsakit ng sikmura. Umupo ako sa labas at pinagmasdan ang nagliliparang alitaptap.

“Noy! Mag-kaon na raw sabe ni Ma at Pa!” Si Carmencita ang nagtawag.

Papabalik na ako nang mapansin kong may dalawang kahoy na nakatarak sa magkabilang parte ng panakot-uwak. Ilang metro rin ang layo. Kahoy na tinalian ng sanga? Parang mga krus sa campo santo. Bigla akong nakaramdam ng panlalamig sa kalamnan. Parang natuyot ang aking bibig. Nagpawis ng husto ang aking noo.

Nakita ko kasing tumatalon papalapit sa akin ang panakot-uwak. Nakasuot pa rin ito ng kulay abong damit na may mahaba at punit-punit na manggas. May mga dayami at buto ng taong nalalaglag sa damit ng panakot-uwak sa bawat pagtalon. Nang makalapit sa akin ang panakot, saka ko lang napansin na may bungo ito ng aso. Nabagsakan ako. At sa pagbagsak nito, nakita ko kung paano nagliparan ang sandamakmak na uwak. Galit na galit ang mga ibon. Papalapit sa akin.

Nagsimula nila akong tukain sa iba’t ibang parte ng katawan. Ramdam na ramdam ko ang sakit kung paano punitin ng mga tuka nila ang aking laman. Mainit na mainit ang dugong nagmumula sa akin. Hindi pa nakuntento ang mga uwak sa pagpilas sa kamay kong kumakawag. Sinunod nilang tukain ang mata ko. Nagtagumpay ang pinakamalaking uwak na makuha ang isa sa aking mga mata. Nakita ko ang mga tumatalsik na itim na balahibo. Nag-aaway-away ang mga uwak kung sino ang kakain sa aking dila. Doon lang ako naiyak at naluha. Hindi ako makasigaw at makahingi ng tulong. Bago pa tuluyang matanggal ang natitira kong mata nakita ko ang sariling nakahiga sa inuuod na lupa. Naamoy ko ang pagka-agnas ng sariling bangkay.

“Noy! Noy! Gising na! Mag-kaon na raw sabe ni Ma at Pa!” Si Carmencita ang gumising sa akin.

Nakatulog pala ako sa labas ng kubo.

“Nanaginip ka yata, Kuya.” 

Tumango-tango lang ako kay Carmencita. Bumalik siya sa loob.

Hinubad ko ang suot na T-shirt. Pinunas ko sa namamawis na kulay-kahoy na balat ang damit. Bago bumalik sa bahay tiningnan ko ulit ang panakot-uwak. Hindi gumagalaw. Nakahinga ako nang maluwag.

Sinaluhan ko sila sa kainan. Sa sahig na kawayan kaming lahat nakaupo. Nakapatong ang gasera na gawa sa naubos na garapon ng kape. Una naming pinakain si Lucas, ganadong-ganado dahil may sahog daw ang lugaw.

“Sarap lugaw ngayon, Kuya,” nakangiti habang panay ang subo ni Lucas. “Tapos karne pa. Sisiw. Sabi Taytay.”

Ganado rin kumain si Carmencita. Nakatatlong mangkok. Dalawa naman ang kay Lucas. Kami naman ang kumain pagkatapos nilang dalawa. Nginitian ako ni Tatay at tiningnan ang dalawang kapatid kong dumiretso sa parte ng kubo kung saan sila natutulog. Ginulo-gulo niya ang buhok ko.

“Noy, salamat kay ‘di mo sinabi sa mga igsoon mo kung ano ang ulam.”

Tama ang hinala ko. Iyon pala ang dahilan ng pagtatayo ng parang krus sa campo santo malapit sa panakot uwak.

“Istong, malaki naman na ‘yan si ‘Noy. Maintindihan niya na kung bakit kailangan natin ‘tong gawin.” Tumingin sa akin si Nanay. Naghahanap ng pagsang-ayon. Tutugon ako ng ngiti dahil naiintindihan ko ang kasalukuyan naming kalagayan.

“Tiis-tiis lang muna. Malay natin kidamlag, umuran ng isda.”

At sabay-sabay kaming kumain ng lugaw at naghimay ng pritong maya. Bago ko ligpitin ang mga hugasan, tinapik-tapik ako ni Tatay sa balikat.

“Salamat, ‘nak.” Buo ang ngiti niya at parang nabawasan ang pag-aalala.

Narinig kong bumukas ang pinto ng kubo.

“Alis na ako, Ora. Mamaya pa naman ang karpyu.”

“Mag-iingat ka. Delikado sa labas. Gumagala pa rin daw ang aswang.”

“Saan mo nabalitaan?”

“Do’n, me mga usapan kanila Ka Doreng.”

Tiningnan ko ang pagbalik ni Tatay sa loob. Kumuha ng itak. Nilamon ng dilim nang lumabas. Sinara ni Nanay ang pinto.

“’Noy, tapusin mo na ‘yang hugasan para makaturog ka na. Bukas manguha ulit kayo ng panggatong.”

“Opo.”

Papatapos na ako sa paghuhugas nang maramdaman kong may sumisilip sa amin mula sa pagitan ng mga dingding na sawali. Tumigil ako sa pagbabanlaw ng pinggan. Pinakinggan ko ang mga kaluskos. Walang tao. Sa pagliligpit ng mga pinggan at baso bigla kong naramdaman ang ‘di mabilang na gapang ng kilabot sa buong katawan.

Parang sabay-sabay na umalulong ang mga aso sa buong Baryo ng Anislag.

“Kapag umaalulong ang mga aso, may mamamatay.” Naalala kong kwento sa akin no’n ni Tatay. “Pwede rin namang may mga nakikita sila na hindi nakikita ng mga mata ng tao.”

“Tulad ng ano, Tay?”

“Multo. Engkanto? Sinabi lang din sa akin noon ng lolo mo.”

“Wala na hong iba pa?”

“Panganib. Siguro. Pero wag kang matakot ‘nak, hindi ka gagalawin ng mga bagay na hindi mo nakikita.”

“Paano po ‘pag sinaktan ako?” Maalala kong dito nagsimula ang takot ko sa dilim at mga hindi nakikita.

“Hindi ka nila sasaktan, anak. Hangga’t nandito ang Tatay.” Papatulugin ako ni Tatay sa ilalim ng kulambo. Titingnan kaming mga anak niya. Papatayin ang ilaw ng gasera. “Sabi nga ng lolo mo, mas dapat tayong matakot sa buhay kaysa mga guran na.”

Mabilis kong inayos ang mga nahugasan. Pinatay ko ang gasera at dumiretso sa papag kung saan ako nahihiga.

Bitag sa Ibon

Pagkatapos maghanap ng mga panggatong. Pumunta kami ni Tatay sa panakot-uwak para raw tingnan kung may nahuli na ang mga bitag. May tatlong ibon na kumagat. Dalawa sa kanan. Isa sa kaliwa. Narinig ko sa isip na parang humalakhak sa amin ang panakot-uwak.

“Kaunti pa lang ang huli.” Nakita ko ang ngitngit sa mukha ni Tatay. Ipinaypay niya ang sumbrerong buri. “Tumatalino ang mga ibon habang tumatagal. Napansin siguro nilang walang nakakabalik sa mga kasamahan.”

“Kunin mo na yung isa diyan, ‘Noy. Para malinis na rin natin mamaya para sa pananghalian.”

Ginawa ko ang iniutos niya. Tinanggal ko ang pandikit na kumapit sa pakpak. Muntik ko nang mapakawalan ang ibon na hawak nang muli kong marinig ang matinis na halakhak ng panakot.

“Tay, narinig mo ba ‘yun?”

“Alin? Yung mga kahulan ng aso?”

Nakaramdam ako ng kaba. Nagpapatuloy pa rin ang mga halakhak.

“May tumatawa po.”

“Guni-guni mo lang ‘yon.” Tumawa siya nang mahina. Parang kinakabahan din. Halos nagsabay ang tawa nila ng panakot-uwak.

“Bumalik na tayo at malamang gutom na ang mga igsoon mo.”

Ilang Gabi Rin

Kapag natatapos kaming kumain ng hapunan nagpapaalam lagi si Tatay na aalis. Napapaisip ako kung hindi ba siya natatakot sa mga sundalong gumagala at PC? Sa mga ahas na makakasalubong sa daan tuwing gabi? Hindi ko ito tinanong sa kaniya kahit kailan.

Kapag gabi kasi, palagi na lang akong natatakot sa mga alulong. Gusto kong patayin ang mga aso kapag nangyayari ‘yon, para tumahimik sila. Para hindi na ako matatakot. Sa gabi, dinadalaw ako ng matitinis na halakhak ng panakot-uwak sa dahilang ‘hindi ko malalaman.

Madalas, kapag umaalis si Tatay meron siyang dalang itak. Tulog na ako kapag umuwi siya. Hindi ko na natatanong kung saan siya nagpupunta. O kung ano ang mga ginagawa niya kapag sumasapit ang gabi.

Pero palagi, pagsapit ng umaga, may dagdag sa almusal namin bukod sa lugaw. Minsan saging, minsan kamote. Minsan nga kapag walang huling ibon nagugugulat ako na may gulay sa kainan. Hindi ko alam kung saan siya kumukuha ng mga ganito dahil ubos na ang bunga ng saging namin. Nalason na ang mga kamote. At wala na kaming mga pananim maliban sa mais na iniyakan nang iniyakan ni Tatay nang malaman niyang nasira.

May isang tanghali na hindi ko sinasadyang marinig ang usapan nila Nanay at Tatay.

“Istong, ano na ang mangyayari sa atin?”

“Hindi ko na pwedeng gawin ang ginagawa ko gabi-gabi. Humihigpit na ang pagbabantay ng mga may-ari ng pananim.”

“Saan tayo kukuha ngayon ng makakain?”

“Gagawan ko ng paraan. ‘Di ko hahayaang mamatay kayo nang dilat.”

Naluha ako sa narinig. Tiningnan ko ang dalawa kong kapatid na patuloy sa paglalaro sa labas. Hindi naiisip ang problema. Mabuti pa sila.

Nagmamasid ang mga Uwak

Ilang araw na rin kaming walang nahuhuling ibon sa bitag. Sabi ni Tatay, hindi na raw kami makakahuli kahit kailan.

“Yudiputang mga uwak ‘yan!”

Parang tumalino raw kasi ang mga ibon at kung hindi man matalino naroon naman ang uwak. Pabalik-balik kahit iilang beses na naming binubugaw. Nang-aasar dahil sa panakot-uwak pa sila nagpapatalon-talon.

“Parang hinihintay tayong mamatay lahat! Mga yudiputa talaga!”

Iyon din nga ang naiisip ko palagi. Na naroon lang ang uwak, hinihintay ang aming pagkamatay. Inaanunsiyo ng nakakakilabot na huni ng mga ito ang nalalapit naming kamatayan. Nagtatawag ng mga kasamang pipilas sa aming mga laman. Kapag lumalapit sa panakot lagi kong naririnig ang halakhak nito. Nagsasabay sila ng mga uwak. Parang alam ang petsa kung kelan kami mamamatay.

Palagi tinatakpan ko ang mga tainga. Para hindi iyon marinig. Pero parang nakaukit na sa isip ko ang mga huni at halakhak. Hindi nawawala.

Bisita

Tumagal nang tumagal ang pag-alis ng tag-init. No’ng isang araw, pinatabunan sa akin ni Tatay ang isa sa mga balon. Siya na raw ang bahala kung anong gagawin sa ikalawa.

“Kuya, hindi na ba tayo makakakin ng karne?”

Nagulat ako sa tinanong ni Carmencita. Ilang araw na rin kasing walang nahuhuling ibon sa bitag. Uwak na kasi ang nanatili roon. Pabalik-balik ang mga ito kaya nagsawa na rin kami sa pagbugaw.

Umiling-iling lang ako. Nasa kalagitnaan kami ng pangunguha ng mga panggatong no’n.

“Ganun ba. Bakit? Wala nang dumadapong mga ibon sa bitag? Wala nang kumakagat?”

Napatingin ako sa kaniya. Nagulat dahil alam niya palang hindi sisiw ang kinakain namin.

“Alam ko na nu’ng una pa lang. May matino bang taong kakain ng sisiw? Siyempre wala, Kuya. Aantayin na lang na maging manok kaysa kaining sisiw. Mangingitlog pa.”

“Paano mo agad nalaman?”

“Nakita kong tinatayo ni tatay sa palayan ‘yung bitag.”

Sinagot ko ang tanong niya kanina.

“Di na tayo makakain ng karne muna. Wala nang dumadapo sa bitag, e. Nandun kasi lagi ‘yung mga uwak.”

Mula sa di kalayuan narinig namin pareho ni Carmencita ang huni ng mga uwak.

“Natatakot ako sa huni nila, Kuya.”

“Bakit ka naman natatakot?” pagpapanggap ko. Pero ang totoo, ganoon din ang nararamdaman ko.

“Parang mayroon silang sinasabi. Parang may hinihintay. Basta, parang ano, Kuya…”

Hindi ko na tinanong kung ano ang ibig sabihin ni Carmencita. Natatakot akong sabihin niya na kamatayan ang hinihintay ng mga uwak. Kamatayan ng aming buong pamilya. Hindi niya na rin itinuloy ang sasabihin.

Nagyaya na akong umuwi.

Sa bahay nadatnan namin ang isang hindi pamilyar na mukha. Pinakilala siya ni Tatay na si Tito Roel, sa Negros daw ngayon naninirahan. Tinapik kami ni Tito Roel sa ulo: ako, si Carmen at Lucas. Umiyak si Lucas nang dumampi sa kaniya ang butuhang kamay nito.

Parang naglalakad na kalansay si Tito Roel. Ang payat-payat, malapit na silang maging magkasingkatawan ni Tatay. Parang lalabas na ang buto sa mga balat. Halatang-halata na ang pag-usli ng buto sa balikat niya. Walang buhay ang mga mata.

Habang naroon kami sa kubo. Pinakinggan ko ang usapan ni Tito Roel at Tatay. Sinabi ni Tito na kaya raw siya nagpunta rito sa Anislag dahil tinanggal daw siya sa trabaho. Sa tubuhan na pinagtatrabahuhan niya sa Negros. May mga nangyari daw kasi, mga paliwanag na hindi pa kayang intindihin ng bata ko no’ng isipan.

“Nagbakasakali lang ako na may pera ka, Kuya. Akala ko kase, okey kayo dito. Halos katulad din pala sa Negros.”

“Pasensya ka na talaga, Roel. Namomroblema na rin kami araw-araw kung paano kakain.”

“Ang dami ng bata ang namatay. Nangayayat ang iba. Mga malnoris na, wala nang mapagkunan ng pera at pagkain ang mga magsasaka. Naibenta ko na nga ‘yong lupa. Ang mga anak ko, Kuya, ang papayat na. Parang hindi ako nakikilala kapag tumitingin sa akin.”

Maririnig ko, may umiiyak sa kwarto kung saan sila nag-uusap. Si Tatay at Tito Roel.

“Kuya, sana mairaos ninyo ang buhay dito. Babalik din ako agad sa Negros para sumama sa isasagawang kilos-protesta.”

“Sigurado ka bang ayaw mo munang magpahinga?”

Maririnig ko ang pagbukas ni Nanay sa latang lalagyan ng bigas.

“Kumain ka na muna bago magbyahe papauwi. Pasensya ka na, Roel, at ako man, walang-wala na rin. Lupa na lang na bigay ni tatay. Nakuha na ang lahat sa akin.”

No’ng araw ding ‘yon, umalis sa amin si Tito Roel. Pero bago siya umalis, may sinabi siya kay Tatay.

“Kuya, gawin mo ang lahat ng nararapat para masalba ang mga anak mo.” Nakatingin lang ito kay Tatay. “Kanina pagdaan ko rito, nakita ko ang mga uwak. ‘Di ba? May paniniwala ang pamilya natin no’n na kapag may uwak may nalalapit na mamaalam. Bantayan mo silang mabuti, Kuya, hanggang sa malampasan ninyo ang tag-init.”

Karne

Narinig kong nagmumura ang Nanay. Hindi ko pa siya narinig na nagmura kahit kailan. Tahimik na babae lang ang Nanay. Kaya nagulat ako sa narinig. Sinusumpa niya ang mahabang tag-init.

“Putanginang tag-init ‘yan! Isang buwan na hindi pa umaalis!”

Magtutuloy-tuloy ang pananahimik niya. Uupo sa isang sulok ng kubo. Palaging ganito si Nanay lalo pa’t nag-iisip.

“Noy, samahan mo si Tatay Istong mo sa pag-igib mamaya, ha.” Pagkatapos pumunta ito ng  kusina. Uminom ng tubig at tinuwad ang container.

“Papaubos na ang tubig.” Nilagok ni Nanay ang tubig.

Pagsapit ng gabi, lahat kami nagulat. May mga karne na naman kasing nakahain sa hapag. Adobo ang niluto. At ang dami-daming karne. Mas marami pa sa kanin.

“Galing Taytay, sarap naman ulam. Karne ulit.” Sasabihin ni Lucas habang panay ang subo sa nagmamantikang karne.

Nangingiti ako dahil ilang araw na rin kaming sabay-sabay na kumakain. Ang sabi ni Tatay, karne daw ‘yon ng unggoy na nakukuha niya sa kung saan kapag umaalis tuwing gabi. Mainit sa katawan ang karneng kinain namin. Pero kahit pa ganoon, palagi kaming nagpapasalamat kay Tatay dahil palagi kaming nabubusog. Isang linggo na rin ang lumipas magmula nang kumain kami ng karne ng unggoy. Ang init-init pala talaga sa katawan ng karne ng unggoy. At ang sarap-sarap.

Natutulog akong busog. Nagsimula akong mananalangin no’n na sana dumating na ang tag-ulan. Pananalangin na hindi ko naman talaga ginagawa. Bago mapapikit, maririnig ko palagi ang alulong ng mga aso sa aking isip, ang huni ng mga uwak at halakhak ng panakot. Matutulog akong nakatalukbong ng kumot at tinatakpan ang tenga. Pakiramdam ko papalapit sila nang papalapit sa akin.

Misteryo ng Nawawalang Mga Aso

Dumadalas ang pag-iigib namin ni Tatay. Ang bilis maubos ng tubig. Hindi naman dating ganoon. Bumilis lang ang pagkaubos magmula nang magsunod-sunod ang pagkain naming ng karne ng unggoy. Siguro, mahirap at maraming tubig ang kinakailangan para tanggalin ang lansa sa karne. Kapag ganitong nag-iigib kami, ganoon na lang ang iniisip ko palagi.

Sa bukal na igiban, usap-usapan ang pagkawala  ng ilang mga aso sa Anislag. Wala kasing nakikita kahit wakwak na katawan. Kaya nagdududa na ang mga kapitbahay kung aswang ba ang may gawa. Baka raw kasi lumayas lang ang aso dahil naramdaman na magagaya siya sa amo: mamamatay sa gutom.

No’ng pagbalik namin sa bahay galing sa bukal, napansin ko ang labis na pamumutla sa mukha ni Tatay. Napainom siya nang maraming-maraming tubig. Sinapo ang dibdib at huminga nang malalalim. Natakot siguro siya sa mga narinig tungkol sa aswang. Ako rin naman, natatakot. Sa mga aswang at usapan tungkol sa pagkawala ng mga alaga. Paano na lang kung hindi lang aso ang mawala? Paano pag pati kaming mga bata kunin ng aswang at di na makita ang katawan?

Hindi nagpaalam si Tatay na aalis pagsapit ng gabi. Nakakapanibago. Sinabi lang sa amin na masama raw ang pakiramdam ni Tatay.

“Hindi ka mangangaso ngayon, Istong?”

“Hindi na muna, Ora.” Nakita ko ang pagpipigil ng iyak sa mukha ni Tatay. “Pahupain ko na muna ang balita tungkol sa aswang.” Totoo nga na natatakot din sa aswang si Tatay.

“Bakit?”

“Hindi mo ba narinig ang balita? Usap-usapan kanina sa bukal na baka raw tao ang kumukuha sa mga asong nawawala. Baka di raw aswang?”

Pagkatapos no’n, mananahimik si Nanay. Mag-iisip na naman siya nang malalim na malalim. Pagpapahingahin niya si Tatay na parang naiintindihan ang labis na takot nito. Paglipas nang gabing ‘yon, di na ulit kami makakain ng karne. Tumigil na rin ang mga balita tungkol sa mga asong nawawala. Nagtiis ulit kami sa pagkain ng lugaw.

Lucas

Kapag tinitingnan ko si Bunso, lalo ngayong sobra akong nagugutom, naiisip ko, sana bata ako ulit. Walang problema. Laro lang nang laro. Tawa lang nang tawa. Parang ang dami-daming lakas na kailangang pakawalan.

“Lucas, punta ka nga digdi.” Sinenyasan ko siya para lumapit. Niyakap ko siya nang mahigpit. Humuhuni na naman ang mga uwak. Mas malalakas kaysa no’ng mga nakaraan. Pumiglas sa akin si Lucas. Humigpit ang yakap ko nang hindi ko namamalayan.

“Kuya, bitaw. Sakit. Sakit.”

Ang payat-payat na rin pala ng bunso namin. Kayang-kayang liparin ng hangin. O iangat ng maraming mga uwak. Nagtayuan ang balahibo ko sa naiisip. Nagpaalam ako kay Carmencita na kasalukuyang binabantayan ang lugaw.

“Kaw na muna magbantay kay Lucas, ha. Maghahanap-hanap lang ako ng bayabas baka mayroon diyan sa malapit.”

“Sige po, Kuya. Ingat ka.”

Pagbalik ko sa bahay. Wala na si Lucas kung saan ko siya huling iniwan. Mula sa labas ng kubo narinig kong may mga nag-iiyakan. Niyakap ako nila Tatay, Nanay at Carmencita pagpasok. Lahat sila, umiiyak. Nakahiga si Lucas sa papag. Namumutla. Hindi na gumagalaw. Parang nawala lahat ng enerhiya sa katawan.

Bigla na lang din akong naiyak. Nanginig ang kalamnan ko. Sinabi sa akin ni Carmencita na wala na si bunso. Patay na raw nang makita. Sa lupa, nakahiga. Hindi gumagalaw kahit anong pagyugyog ang gawin niya. Niyaya niya pa  raw na maglaro sila pero hindi talaga gumigising si Lucas. Saka niya lang napansin na hindi na ito humihinga. Natapat kasi ang paningin niya sa mapapayat na kamay nito. Nakakuyom daw ang kamao. Nakapatong sa dibdib at parang lumalaban sa kung ano mang nararamdaman.

Puno raw ng lupa ang bibig ni Lucas nang makita. Nabulunan ng batong sumama sa lupa. Umiyak ako nang umiyak dahil naisip ko na totoo ang paalala ng mga uwak. Baka sa mga susunod na  araw kami naman ang sumunod na mamatay. Hindi namatay sa gutom si Bunso, iyon ang ginawa kong pampalubag-loob sa sarili. Pinatay siya ng lupa kung saan kami nakatayo. Pinatay si Lucas ng tag-init.

Naghukay kami ng libingan pagkatapos naming padasalan si Lucas. Ibinalot namin sa banig ang maliit niyang katawan. Pumala kami nang pumala ni Tatay. Hanggang sa magkaroon ng malawak na libingan si bunso. Iyon ang napagdesisyunan naming lahat. Ilang hakbang lang dapat sa kubo ang layo ng libingan niya. Pareho kaming umiiyak ni Tatay habang pumapala. Sabi niya, bilisan, sinunod ko naman. Pala nang pala.

“Luwagan natin ang hukay, Noy.”

Iyon na lang daw ang tanging bagay na aming maibibigay kay Lucas, maluwag na libingan para kung sakaling gustuhin niyang magtatakbo. Doon sa ilalim daw ng lupa pwede siyang maglaro. Iyon ang sabi ni Tatay. Sinunod ko ang lahat ng sinasabi niya pagkatapos no’n. Ayaw ko pa kasing mamatay.

Ang Pananahimik ng Mga Alulong

Bihira na kami ulit magsabay-sabay sa pagkain pagkatapos no’n. Si Carmencita na ang pinapauna namin. Susunod ako. Pero hindi ko na nakikitang kumakain si Nanay at Tatay. Kapag may mga umagang nakikita ko silang magkasama at nakahiga. Nakikita ko minsan na para silang mga kalansay, magkayakap at naghihintay na lang mailibing.

May mga araw na pinupuntahan pa rin ni Tatay ang bitag ngunit wala na itong nahuli kahit kailan. Bumabalik pa rin ang mga uwak paminsan-minsan. Pinagmamasdan kami. At pinagmamasdan ko rin sila. May mga panahong naririnig ko pa rin ang halakhak ng panakot-uwak. At napapanaginipan ang pagtuklap ng mga uwak sa aking laman. Naroon ako, nakahiga. Katabi ni Lucas. Inuuod kaming parehas.

Hindi ko na nasusundan ang bilang ng mga araw. Nakita ko si Tatay isang umaga habang naglalakad papunta sa mga bitag. Tinitingala ang panakot uwak. Parang nagdarasal. Matagal na matagal.

Kitang-kita ko kung paanong hinuli niya ang isang uwak gamit ang kanang kamay. Hindi lumipad ang iba pang nakadapo sa panakot. Hindi ko na nakita kung pinakawalan ba ni Tatay ang uwak o hindi.

Minsan, umuwi si Tatay sa kubo na nakangiti. Walang buhay ang mga mata. Itim na itim katulad sa mga uwak. Para siyang nanggaling sa mahabang lakaran. Napansin kong may mga itim na balahibo sa kaniyang bibig. Ginulo-gulo ang aking buhok. Nginitian ako ni Tatay.  Sa pagngiti niya do’n ko lang naramdaman ang kilabot. Nagtayuan ang balahibo ko sa batok. Kilabot iyon na higit pa sa hinahatid ng mga alulong at huni. Kilabot na katimbang ng panakot-uwak sa tuwing humahalakhak ito sa aking utak.

Tinabig ko ang kamay ni Tatay.

“Noy, mairaraos din natin ang tag-init.” Narinig ko ang pagbukas ng pinto. Si Nanay. Hinahatak ako.

“Huwag kang masyadong lumapit kay Tatay Istong mo. Nababaliw na yata ‘yan.” Lumabas kami ng kubo. “Kung ano-anong nakikita.”

“Noy, ikaw na muna mag-igib mamaya!”

“Nakikita niya si Lucas. ‘Di pa rin natatanggap na guran na.”

“Baka walang inumin ang mga kapatid mo!”

Hindi ako sumasagot. Naguguluhan ako sa sinasabi nila Nanay. Gusto kong sabihin na hindi naman namatay si Lucas dahil nakikita ko pa rin paminsan-minsan. Nakikipaglaro sa akin. Nakikipaghabulan kay Carmencita. Bumabalik lang ulit sa lupa kapag napapagod na. Pero hindi ko na sinabi, hindi ako paniniwalaan ni Nanay. Baka isipin pa niyang nababaliw din ako.

Muli narinig ko sa bukal ang balita tungkol sa mga aso. Ngayon daw, nakikita na ang mga bangkay, lahat pinapatay. Wakwak ang tiyan. Aswang daw sigurado ang may kasalanan. Lumalabas na uli si Tatay tuwing gabi nang marinig ko ang mga usapan. Bigla-bigla na lang siyang nawawala no’n sa bahay. Hindi na nagpapaalam kay Nanay pero dala-dala pa rin ang itak.

Ako na lang palagi ang nag-iigib at nangunguha ng panggatong. Si Carmencita kasi, madalas nanghihina na. Wala naman daw sakit sabi ng albularyong nilapitan. Pero minsan, umiiyak si Carmencita sa kalagitnaan ng gabi. Ikukwento niya na isinasama na raw siya ni Lucas. Palagi sasabihin ni Nanay na ‘wag siyang magpatangay. Huwag daw abutin ang kamay ni Bunso.

Mahimbing na ang mga nagiging tulog ko simula nang magkaroon ng balita tungkol sa mga asong inaswang. Nginasab daw ang mga lamang loob. Winakwak ang tiyan ng mga alaga nila. Nabawasan na rin kasi ang mga alulong.  Ang huling balita na lamang na narinig ko ay tungkol sa asong pinutulan ng ulo. Napakatalim daw siguro ng kuko ng aswang kaya ganoon kalinis ang pagkakaputol sa ulo ng alaga ni Ka Doreng. Bihira ko na makita si Tatay sa kubo mula no’n. Sabi ni Nanay, sa maliit na kubo na lang daw doon sa itaas ng palayan nananatili si Tatay. Hayaan ko na lang daw.

Ang Karneng Higit sa Lahat

Umuwi si Tatay isang gabi. Umaalulong na parang aso. Matitinis ang halakhak na parang panakot. Umiikot ang maitim na maitim niyang mga mata. Parang gustong kumawala sa kinalalagyan. Napayakap ako sa braso sa takot at panginginig.

“Sinabi sa akin ng mga uwak…” Huminto siya at sisigok-sigok na nagsasalita. “…maibabalik daw natin si Lucas. Kailangan lang natin kumain ng sagradong karne.” Nagtungo siya sa sulok ng bahay kung saan niya itinatago ang itak.

“Sumama ka sa akin.” Sumunod agad ako. Kahit nag-aalangan ang katawan. Hindi ko na napigilan ang sarili.

“Maibabalik po talaga si Lucas?”

“Kapag kinain nating lahat ang karne.”

“Pero hindi naman po nawala si Lucas, di ba?”

“Patay na ang kapatid mo! Pero wala kang pakialam? Anong klaseng anak ka?”

“Pero nakikita niyo rin po si Lucas, di ba?”

“Nakikita ko kayong lahat!” Nanginginig ang boses ni Tatay. Binaybay naming ang papunta sa taas ng kubo. “Lahat kayo mamamatay kapag wala akong ginawa!”

Naipit ang boses sa lalamunan ko.

Maliwanag na maliwanag ang gabi. Bilog na bilog kasi ang buwan. Nakaramdam na naman ako ng pangamba na may mga nagmamasid sa amin mula sa dilim.

“Kapag hindi ako gumawa nang paraan, mamamatay tayong lahat. Ayaw ko nang may ma-guran sa pamilya, Noy!”

Pagsapit sa kubo sinabihan ako ni Tatay na magbantay. Baka raw may mga dumaang mga PC o sundalo. Baka raw may mga kapitbahay na mapadpad. Sinunod ko ang utos niya nang walang angal. Naririnig ko sa loob ang mga paghikbi at mga pag-ungol. Sa malayo nakikita kong may tatlong pigurang papalapit. Iniwas ko sandali ang paningin ko dahil baka namamalik-mata lang ako.

Sa pagdako ng mata ko sa palayan kung saan naroon ang panakot-uwak, napansin ko ang kakaiba. Nawawala doon ang panakot. Ibinalik ko ang tingin sa mga paparating. Palapit sila nang palapit sa akin. Ilang hakbang na lang ang layo nila nang makita ko ang kanilang mga hitsura. Isang taong-uwak na gawa sa buto ng tao ang mga pakpak. Ang panakot-uwak na may ulo ng aso at naglalaglagan ang mga dayami at buto. Umiyak ako sa ikatlo, si Lucas. Inuuod ang naagnas na mukha. Naglaglagan ang mga uod niya sa mukha at naamoy ko ang umaalingasaw niyang hiniga. Sa pagbuka ng kanilang mga bibig ay lumabas ang sanlaksang uwak.

“Noy! Pumasok ka nga rito! Tulungan mo ako!”

Hindi sila nawala. Humalakhak ang panakot. Humuni ang uwak. Nagsalita si Lucas.

“Kuya, kumusta? Buhay ka pa ba?” At unti-unti naglaglagan ang mga lupa at patay na uwak sa kaniyang bibig.

Nawala lang sila bigla nang isubo sa akin ni Tatay ang karne.

“Masarap ‘yan kahit hilaw!” Nginuya ko ang malansa at makunat na laman. “Pumasok na tayo sa loob! Tulungan mo ko.”

Sa loob ng maliit na kubo nakita ko ang isang taong pinutulan ng ulo. ‘Di ko napigilan ang sariling magsuka. Sinuka ko ang karneng kinain kanina.

“Tabunan mo ang ulo do’n sa isa pang balon. Bilisan mo lang, ha. Baka mahuli tayong dalawa.”

Nataranta ako. Ayaw kong mahuli kaming pareho. Kinuha ko agad ang ulo at ipinatong sa dalawang kamay. Pinaharap ko ang ulo kay Tatay.

“Yung pala, ‘wag mong kalimutan. Lilinisin ko pa ‘tong karne.” Pagkatapos ngumiti si Tatay. Sinabi niya sa akin na siya na ang bahalang magtapon sa katawan. Sa mga laman na hindi mapapakinabangan.

“’Tay, bakit po?”

“’Wag ka na magtanong,Noy.” Nginitian niya ako. Umikot-ikot ang maitim niyang mga mata. Ginulo-gulo ng duguan niyang kamay ang aking buhok. “Ginagawa ko ‘to para mairaos natin ang tag-init. Wala kang pagsasabihan nito, ha. Kahit sino, kahit si Carmencita at si ‘Nay Ora mo.”

“Kapag nalaman ‘to at kumalat, pareho tayong makukulong. Pandidirihan tayo ng buong bayan ng Anislag at madadamay si Carmencita at si Ora. Ayaw mo naman na mangyari ang ganoon hindi ba?”

Tumakbo agad ako papalabas ng kubo. Ayaw ko nang marinig pa ang mga sasabihin ni Tatay. Natatakot ako sa mga posibleng mangyari sa mga darating pang gabi. Pakiramdam ko habang-buhay kong dadalhin ang bangungot.

Nadapa ako habang tumatakbo papunta sa tuyong balon. Nabitawan ko ang ulo kaya gumulong-gulong. Lalo akong kinilabutan sa nakita. Dilat ang mga mata ng lalaki. Namatay siguro sa takot at sa gutom, sa isip-isip ko. Noong gabing ‘yon, hindi na ako bumalik sa kubo kung saan kinatay ni Tatay ang katawan. Noong gabing ‘yon, unang beses akong naglibing ng ulo ng taong hindi ko kilala.

Habang papauwi, nakaramdam na naman ako na parang may nagmamasid sa akin. Lumingon ako sa likod. Wala. Tiningnan ko ang panakot-uwak na katabi ng parang mga krus na bitag. Naroon ang panakot. Hindi gumagalaw. Pero parang may nagmamasid pa rin sa akin kahit sa dilim. Kahit saan, may nagmamasid sa akin. Dali-dali akong umuwi  at naghugas ng ulo at kamay. Magdamag akong hindi nakatulog.

Sumapit ang umaga. Tuwang-tuwa sila Nanay at Carmencita sa kinaing karne. Si Nanay, ngumingiti kay Tatay na parang alam nito kung ano ang kinakain. Walang kamalay-malay si Carmencita, panay ang subo ng inihaw. Nagdahilan na lang ako na masama ang pakiramdam kaya walang ganang kumain ng karne.

Tumingin si Tatay sa akin ng matalim. Kinawayan ako para lumapit. Ginulo-gulo ng madumi niyang kamay ang aking buhok. May ibinulong.

“Wala kang pagsasabihan nito kahit sino, ha. Sana nagkakaintindihan tayo, Noy.”

Tiningnan ko siya sa mga mata. Nagsa-matang uwak ‘yon. Itim na itim.

Panakot-Uwak

Lalong dumami ang mga uwak na lumalapit sa panakot. Napapansin ko, hindi natatakot ang mga ibon sa tuwing lumalapit si Tatay. Parang natutuwa pa nga. Panay ang pagaspas. Nagpapatalon-talon pa sa kaniyang ulo at balikat. Parang magkakaibigan silang tatlo ng mga uwak at panakot.

Isang hapon, natukso akong  tingnan kung ano ang pinagkakaabalahan ng mga uwak. Napabagsak ang puwet ko sa lupa sa takot. Doon, nakita ko ang laman ng aking mga panaginip. Bungo ng aso ang ulo ng panakot. At ang katawan nito ay ang katawan ng lalaking kinatay ni Tatay isang gabi. Inuuod. Pero tinutuka ng mga uwak ang mga naagnas na nitong laman. Lahat, parang natutuwa sa hindi lumalaban na biyaya. Sa panakot nakakita ang mga uwak ng kakainin. Sa panakot kung saan minsan nakikita ko si Tatay na parang nagdarasal.

Binugaw ko ang mga ibon ngunit sinalakay ako ng mga ito at pinagtutuka. Tumigil lang ang mga ito sa pagtuka nang dumating si Tatay.

“Huwag ka kasing makialam sa pagkain nila. Sila ang nagturo sa atin kung paano malalampasan ang mga tag-araw.” Tiningala niya ang panakot-uwak. Parang buo ang paghanga do’n ni Tatay. “Baka isipin ng mga ‘yan, wala tayong utang na loob.”

Umalis ako no’ng araw na ‘yon sa bahay nang hindi kinausap si Tatay. Wala akong kahit sinong pinagsabihan ng sikreto naming dalawa. Hindi ko rin sinasabi sa buong pamilya na sa tuwing naglalakad ako lalo’t madilim palagi kong nararamdaman na may nagmamasid sa akin. Bago ako lumayas, nagdasal ako no’n sa puntod ni Lucas. Inisip ko na sana, mapatawad ako ni Bunso.

Ulan

Ilang araw lang ang lilipas darating ang ulan na kay tagal hinintay nga mga taga-Anislag. May dala-dala ang ulan na biyaya. Mga pumupusag-pusag na isda.

Carmencita

Pinatalsik na si Marcos sa palasyo nang matunton ako ni Carmencita sa karatig bayan ng Anislag. Ibinalita niya sa akin ang kamatayan ni Tatay.

“Hindi mo man lang kinausap si Tatay bago ka umalis.” Humihikbi ang kapatid ko. “Hinintay ka niya na bumalik pero ‘di mo na ginawa. Hinanap ka nang hinanap ni Tatay.”

Hindi ako umimik. Niyakap ko ang iniwan na kapatid. At sa likuran niya nakita ko ang aming bunso. Nakangiti na parang may gustong ipahiwatig. Naluha na rin ako.

Detalyado ang naging kwento sa akin ni Carmencita tungkol sa kamatayan ni Tatay. Nakita raw itong nakadipa na parang panakot sa aming palayan. Hindi nahuli ang may kagagawan. Pinagpipiyestahan na raw ng sanlaksang uwak ang bangkay ni Tatay nang makita ng mga nadadaang magsasaka. Naagnas na ang bangkay at naglalaglagan ang mga bulok na laman at uod sa lupa.

Natatakot pa rin akong mahuli hanggang ngayon. Natatakot din akong tanungin kay Carmencita kung alam ba nila ang tungkol sa nangyari no’ng isang gabi ng 1984. Bilog na bilog ang buwan no’n.  At may nagmamasid sa amin. Umalis din siya agad sa bahay matapos ihatid sa akin ang balita. Sinabi ng kapatid ko na napatawad na nila ako sa ginawa kong paglalayas, ganoon din daw si Nanay.

Pagkaalis ni Carmencita, pinaalala sa akin ng aking napangasawa ang lumalalang tagtuyot. Tinatanong kung saan daw ako nakakakuha ng karne at kung bakit palagi raw akong umaalis tuwing gabi. Hindi ko maalala ang mga pag-alis na binabanggit niya kaya ginusto kong manahimik na lang. Inisip ko kung paanong maitatawid ang pamilya sa paparating na tag-araw.

Naisip ko si Tatay. Kung paano siya pinatay. Naisip ko ang mga matang nagmamasid sa akin sa dilim. Ayaw kong mahuli. ☁️

This is an entry to Fictory, Bookbed‘s Fic Fest, in which participants write a fic based on a prompt.  This year, the prompts are all horror themed. One winner and one Crowd Favorite (by hits and shares) will receive prizes. If you enjoyed this story, share it or leave a comment below. Remember to add #BookbedFictory!

Meeting Different Kinds of Readers at the NBS #BookBingeBazaar in Davao

by Nove Patangan

Yesterday was the second day of National Book Store’s Book Binge Bazaar, and it is also Davao’s first time to host this event. Since it’s the first in the Durian capital, it is expected that Dabawenyo avid readers will flock just to score titles at a low price.

Apart from stumbling upon interesting books, we get to meet various kinds of readers. Now, it’s a known fact that no two readers are like. We have our own literary preferences, habits and quirks, and how we buy books are influenced by these. Check out some of the readers* I was able to meet at the NBS Book Binge Bazaar!

NBS BookBingeBazaar 4 - Bookbed

Me talking to one of the readers

 

YA Addicts

“More on young adults and teens because it brings back youthfulness and it somehow relieves from stress. I look for books that I like so that it is much easier, then after, I check from aisle to aisle.”—Mica, 23

 

“I am into any YA books because some stories are interesting and pwede ma-apply sa life, and also maka-reflect ka. I also read local books like Jason Paul Laxamana’s Isang Daang Tula Para Kay Stella. To find interesting books, diretso lang ako sa may teens section and I just look for the cover and title ng books. (I am into any YA books because some stories are interesting and can be applied in real life, and that can make you reflect. I also read local books like Jason Paul Laxamana’s Isang Daang Tula Para Kay Stella. To find interesting books, I go straight to the teens section and I just look for the cover and title of the books.)”—Mark Bolatero, 16

NBS Book Binge Bazaar 1 - Bookbed

The weekend warrior reader

When faced with a pile of new great finds, this reader would devour all of them by reading one book per week. She definitely remains enamored with the idea of spending a day inside her room or in a library. She puts reading first, and everything else second.

“In one month, I would read one book. But usually kasi [naka]katapos ako ng book within one week lang pero depende [pa rin] ‘pag may time. (In one month, I would read one book. But usually I can finish one in a week, depending when I have time .)”—Mica, 23

NBS BookBingeBazaar - Bookbed

Fiction lovers

“I like Fantasy books because they [take] me on adventures. I think I started reading when I was seven, [through my mom]. When going to bazaars, I just look at books that I might like and I read the back part (blurb).”—Danna Sofia Fernandez, 11

 

“I like yung mga love stories and mga thriller books. I don’t often buy books due to limited budget. When I buy books on sale, I just go to different tables and just [browse].”—Kathlyn Nico Yi, 20

Classics fanatics

“I used to be a really big fan of books of YA and Fantasy, pero now, I’ve been looking for more classics like [books by] Ray Bradbury and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. [I] just look for titles and covers na I enjoy and babasahin ko lang po yung synopsis. ‘Pag bumibili po, it depends on the book. Of course, ‘yung mga P700 pataas, I have to save for them. (I used to be a really big fan of books of YA and Fantasy, but now, I’ve been looking for more classics like [books by] Ray Bradbury and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. [I] just look for titles and covers na I enjoy and I’ll just read the synopsis. When buying, it depends on the book. Of course, those that cost P700 and above, I have to save for them.)”—Patricia Nicole Aquino, 16

 

Most of the books I read are usually classics, and then more on history and geography books because I’m a Literature graduate. Basically, I am used to look for labels but here sa Book Binge, it’s a bit difficult since there are no genres, only teens and children’s books.”—Kitchie, 26

NBS BookBingeBazaar 1 - Bookbed

Readers with special preferences

“The books I usually read are books that are about friendship because they [help] change your perspective in life. I always try to finish one book a month, and I also prefer reading books first. Parang kung nag-watch ka na ng movies, nag-set ka na ng expectations before reading the book. It’s kinda interesting if you read the books first. It will be subjective on how you interpret it.”

Non-Fiction Enthusiast

The readers who absolute love these type of books are those who prefer real facts and stories, may it be biographies or historical pieces. Real life > fiction.

Hilig ko sa politics. Hilig ko yung mga biography ng mga well-known politicians and mga world issues. Sa books, dili kaayo pirminte. Sa Internet, didto ko nagabasa jud. Basta kung gusto ko yung books, bibilhin ko. In college, hilig ko mga fiction. Tapos nung grumaduate ako, binalik ko yung hilig na politics yung binabasa. When going to events like this, ang tinitingnan ko kung saan yung mga nonfiction.”—*Mocha, 47

So what type of reader are you, what type of books do you look for and what book-hunting tips can you share? To my fellow Dabawenyos, enjoy the book binge! ☁️

NBS BookBingeBazaar 3 - Bookbed

*They didn’t want to be photographed 😂
The four-day sale brims with literary treasures for P75, P125, P175, P275 and P375 price points. There is a vast selection of fiction and non-fiction titles, children’s books, classics, young adult bestsellers, cookbooks, coloring books, coffee table books, self-help hits and more. Toys and novelty items are also on sale. The bazaar runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m every day at Function Room 1, SMX Davao, SM Lanang Premier, until October 28. Admission is free. 

Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘Heneral Luna,’ ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral The History Behind the Movie’

by Bryan Meniado

This October, we are celebrating National Museum and Galleries Month and National Indigenous Peoples’ Month. Once again, we are reminded of our roots and identities. At the same time, we are approaching the centennial of Philippine cinema and there’s no better way to express our enthusiasm than to watch high quality Filipino films. With this, I want to highlight the recent phenomenon of Jerrold Tarog’s historical biopics Heneral Luna (2015) and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018), which have awaken our slumbering interest in history. And as an avid follower of kasaysayan, I am thrilled to see that Filipino historical films are cool again!

If you haven’t seen Heneral Luna and Goyo yet, I highly recommend that you do (original DVDs, please). I also suggest for you to grab copies of the tie-in books Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral The History Behind the Movie released by Anvil Publishing. (If you’ve gone to the cinemas, no problem—you can still complement your awesome cinematic experience through reading.)

Heneral Luna Goyo Ang Batang Heneral - Anvil Publishing - Bookbed

The books reveal the creative and logistical processes the makers undertook to produce the films. They also share more details about our heroes through interviews with scholars who studied their lives. Don’t worry, they contain no spoilers. *wink* We all know (or should know) that Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar both died in the end of their respective films, and that Apolinario Mabini will just be sitting the whole time. *wink wink*

Not convinced enough? Read on!

1. These books will help increase appreciation for art, culture and history

With all the ills of our society, I know that appreciating art, culture and history are not among the top priorities among many Filipinos. Not saying we are not capable to appreciate such—it’s just that these things seem to commonly only fill the background of our lives.

For example, we frequent the shopping malls, but do you remember the last time you visited a museum? Do you still pay respects to the flag when you hear the national anthem in public? Have you visited monuments of historical figures other than the famous one in Luneta? Or do you even know where these monuments are?

One may ask: why is it so important? Why do we have to know and cherish such seemingly intangible and trivial things? Eh, hindi naman tayo mapapakain n’yan. Sadly, this mentality exists among some of us and it reflects in our everyday landscapes: the abandonment and disregard of monuments or of places with historical and cultural significance. We vandalize them, we desecrate them, or we simply don’t care. But why do we put less importance to these things? Are they really not that important? (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: The ‘Looking Back’ Series by Ambeth Ocampo”)

2. These books will help address the miseducation of the Filipino

Borrowing and re-appropriating Renato Constantino’s words, I think one of the reasons for such disregard lies in our education system. Hence, the miseducation of the Filipino. We just don’t give ample attention to history and social studies. We put more value on the sciences, the engineering, the maths and the business but we seldom take pride in the arts, humanities and social sciences. (However, I should make it clear that I am not trying to put one on the pedestal at the expense of the others. I am for the equality of all the disciplines.)

I acknowledge that it also depends on each one’s inclination. If you like science and math over art and history, so be it! But I also think, and likely that we all know, that the way history is being taught in our schools is a bit discouraging, which contributes to the notion that studying history is boring. We just memorize. Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, national hero. Antonio Luna, greatest general of the Philippine Revolution. Gregorio del Pilar, youngest general (not even). Born on, died on, etc. I can’t really blame people if they say: who cares?

Another pressing issue is that some history textbooks highlight certain perspectives at the expense of the themes that should really matter. Or worse, even some of the reading materials contain erroneous information! It is also saddening that we don’t really read much about our heroes and history outside school. How many of us have really read Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in their entirety and not only some abridged or comics versions?

As what Ambeth Ocampo says: our heroes are everywhere but nowhere. We see them on our money but we don’t really know them. Hence, the real challenge is not the memorization part but how to make history fun, relatable and constantly relevant.

3. These books will help reinforce film as an art

Film is a promising medium that can be used to fill the gaps in our historical and cultural consciousness. It can definitely rekindle our interests in history if used properly and effectively. And yes, this is where Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral come in.

As we approach the 100th year of Philippine cinema, Jerrold Tarog’s masterpieces are another confirmation that local filmmakers can make quality films that discuss things that truly matter. Unfortunately, some of these quality “indie” films do not usually enjoy the limelight with the commercial, money-first films, and they are only being watched by a few movie scavengers who are hungry for movie as an art form. However, it is fortunate that Heneral Luna and Goyo managed to break into pop culture and consciousness of the general public.

These kinds of films remind us that movies should not only be boxed as pampatawa or pampasaya. Films should squeeze every ounce of emotion of your humanity. Films should offend, if necessary. Films should not only make you laugh over sarcastic jokes or jokes that make fun of other people. Films should make us think, and take note, think critically.

4. These books will help humanize our national heroes

One of the most essential lessons of Heneral Luna and Goyo is that our heroes were not infallible beings. They were humans too. They committed mistakes and made bad decisions. They also did some “normal” and mundane things just like us. That’s why we should make them go down the pedestal and view them as someone like us—human beings. We should not blindly worship them because if we do, it would blur our judgment of their weaknesses and flaws as well as the dire consequences of their mistakes.

It may sound blasphemous. Yes, we build monuments to commemorate their lives and contributions to the birth of our nation, but that does not mean that we forget about their humanity. Give credit where the credit is due but remain critical of their faults. It is imperative for us to continue interrogating our past to learn from it and never repeat it. We often say, “History repeats itself.” No. As historians say, we, the people, repeat history. Hence, the burden lies with us to understand and, if necessary, correct our past.

5. These books will help realize our capacity for greatness

Another important realization from the lives of Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar is our own capacity for greatness. We should draw inspiration from the great things they did for our country and, more importantly, also learn from the mistakes they committed.

Recognizing their shortcomings will help make us realize that we are not that different from them. Knowing them as human beings and not as deified gods, embodied by monuments and museum exhibits, makes them more relatable and relevant in our lives. They fought for their principles. They voiced out against injustice. They defended and fought for the liberty that we are enjoying today. They inspired many people in their time. If they were able to do it, why can’t we? If they were able to fight for what is right, why can’t we?

So it is our mission to realize through constant introspection and interrogation what role should we really take as members of our society. Do we let our values and principles as a people be degraded? Do we want to keep propagating fear and hate? Do we keep on watching and letting our fellowmen die? How about corruption and incompetence in public service—what do we do about those? Do we just let the ideals of Heneral Luna and Heneral Goyo go down the drain? Bayan o sarili, mamili ka! ☁️

Why Filipinos Should Read appears every last Friday of the month. Read more here.

Backstage Pass, Too: Author Tara Frejas on Sequels and Growing as a Writer

by Allana Luta

Tara Frejas is a name that’s familiar to Bookbed readers who have been here for a while. We’ve done a couple of reviews of her works, recommended her to our readers, and had her as a featured author as part of the #romanceclass column. So to say that we’re fans would be kind of redundant but we’ll never get tired of it. Tara has a way of telling romance stories that capture our attention and imagination. And with the sequel to Scandalized on the way (scheduled to be released in December!), we’re ready to dive back into the world of k(pop)razy with Tara as our guide. Here, she talks about Play It By Ear, her musical influences while writing the sequel, and her growth as a romance author over the years.

Tara Frejas - Bookbed

Tara Frejas is a cloud-walker who needs caffeine to fuel her travels. When she’s not on work mode, she keeps herself busy by weaving her daydreams into stories.
Aside from her obvious love affair with words and persistent muses, Tara is very passionate about being caffeinated, musical theatre, certain genres of music, dancing, dogs, good food, and romancing Norae, her ukelele. She owns a male bunny named Max who sometimes tries to nibble on her writing notes.
Fun fact: She’s a Piscean. Go figure.

Visit her website / Buy her books: via the Author, Amazon 

Hi, Tara! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. You may or may not have noticed but we at Bookbed are huge fans of your work and we’re excited for Backstage Pass #2, a.k.a. Play It By Ear! We already know this is going to be Yihwan’s book but can you tell us a little more about it?

Thank you for having me! ❤ Yes, I am aware there are a couple of you at Bookbed who read and enjoy my books, and I’m very grateful for the support!

So, Backstage Pass #2 or Play It By Ear happens around six months after Summer Crush (read our reviews here). (Summer Crush happens in April, Play It By Ear starts in October of the same year.) At the beginning of the book, Steven Bae—East Genesis Project’s drummer—injures himself in an accident and that puts him out of commission for a little while. And because he was supposed to join a talent show on TV, their agency, Amethyst Entertainment, sends Jo Yihwan in as a replacement. He meets an idol trainee named Ha Yoojung while doing the show, and that’s where they will—literally and figuratively—make beautiful music together. Until sh*t happens, of course.

Play It By Ear also touches on the power dynamics among people in the entertainment industry, and how those in power can wield their authority and influence to get whatever they want. The subject of sexual harassment in the workplace is tackled as well, and will be a huge turning point for one of the characters.

Play It By Ear by Tara Frejas - Bookbed

Cover illustration by Shai San Jose / Design by Tara Frejas

In Scandalized, majority of the story happened in the Philippines and having Fi as the main character, the plot was still very much Filipino. However, in Play It By Ear, we will be transported to, I’m assuming, South Korea. Was it difficult to write characters from a different culture? Or was it just a case of research and imagination?

The short answer is no, it wasn’t very difficult.

Here’s the long answer: I have been a huge Korean pop culture enthusiast since 2004, and I have learned a great deal of things about Korea through the media I consumed, as well as my language teachers from the Korean Cultural Center. For the Backstage Pass series, I took a lot of inspiration from current and continuing issues in their entertainment industry and also artists I like and follow. I guess you can say all of the hours I spend watching K-dramas and variety shows, listening to K-Pop, and learning the language was part of a very long research process!

Additionally, crafting these characters weren’t difficult for me, because putting aside the fact that they’re Korean, these characters share values and personality traits that I either possess or value. I also like assigning faces to characters because that helps me with my research, too! I definitely have seen more FTISLAND videos than I’d care to admit just so I could observe the body language of their leader/main guitarist and his interactions with his band members.

You’ve mentioned in several interviews before that you listen to music when writing. Were there specific songs that motivated you throughout writing this book? Or do you have a playlist to accompany the story?  Or maybe songs you just want to recommend?

I will have a playlist up soon, but I haven’t really compiled all the songs yet. I do have one specific song that I’ve listened to relentlessly while I was writing the second and third acts of the book. It’s a very powerful and emotional song called “Wild Flower” by Park Hyoshin, and in my head, this is how gripping one of Yihwan and Yoojung’s performances will sound.

Throughout the writing process, I have been listening to a lot of FTISLAND. And recently, I revisited some songs from the soundtrack of Secret Garden, Goblin and You Who Came From the Stars as well.

You also mentioned before that outside of #romanceclass novels, you don’t really read books with romance as the focus. Is that still the case? If so, how does reading books in other genres help in writing romance?

No, that is not the case anymore. 😊 When I decided to become a romance author, I have started reading more romance, and most of the books I’ve been reading were #romanceclass books! (Love your own!) I just feel like it’s a way for me to educate and improve myself as an author and an advocate of romance books.

Aside from #romanceclass books, I’ve also started reading romance by authors of color, and my recent reads have been Take the Lead by Alexis Daria, Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau, Sated by Rebekah Weatherspoon and The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.

It’s been a good few years since you published your first novel. How do you think your writing has changed, if it has? What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself or your writing style since?

On the technical side of things, I try my best not to head hop anymore! 😛 There’s a conscious effort to do this now, when in the past, I didn’t really think too much about it. I was standing in the back of the room when Gio Gahol and Gab Pangilinan read an excerpt from Scandalized in 2016 [live reading of #romanceclass books], and I realized then how jarring a POV shift could be. It’s one of the reasons I decided to re-edit and re-release Scandalized.

Scandalized by Tara Frejas (New Edition) - Bookbed

I am now also more aware of my word choices when I write, because in the past I didn’t know I was using ableist language and I’ve been learning through book Twitter, my editor’s notes and some book reviews. Hopefully, I’ll be able to avoid it completely as I continue writing my books.

As for writing in general, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that, with a solid outline, I can finish writing a book in three months. But! Another, bigger lesson is this: Finishing a book in record time does not mean you should rush everything else. Waiting is a necessary pain. I’ve learned to be more patient with myself and my work, and I keep reminding myself that not meeting deadlines I’ve set for myself doesn’t mean I’ve failed. 😊

Tara Frejas is part of the #romanceclass community. Visit them here.

#ProjectSavingNoah, #GaleWatchCon and Other Stories of Hope: An Interview with Author Six de los Reyes

by Romy Peña Cruz

It’s always great to find new stories and find yourself cheering for the characters who live in a world so unfamiliar but also interesting. This was how I felt after chatting with author and marine scientist Six de los Reyes about her latest book, Project Saving Noah, the second release from the #romanceclassFlair imprint. Like her previous book Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions, this new novella deals with characters in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field—which definitely excites me as romance reader. Read on as she shares her thoughts on writing and mental health, and what the “Hi-And-Bye” release means. (Plus, a hint on a future book featuring a character from Beginner’s Guide!)

Six de los Reyes ~ Bookbed

Six de los Reyes has been reading and making up stories for as far as she can remember. In fifth grade, she learned to write about the stories she wanted to read. As a pretend grownup, she writes contemporary romance novels. Her day job doing science has something to do with being a part-time mermaid and a part-time lab rat. She currently lives next to the sea.

Visit her #romanceclass page / Follow her @sixdlr / Buy her books: Amazon

Hi, Six! Thanks for letting me interview you. Congrats on the release of Project Saving Noah. The book deals with STEM—is it safe to assume that much of the book is inspired by your life, or day job, at least?

Project Saving Noah by Six de los Reyes #romanceclassFlair - BookbedAs with Beginner’s Guide, Project Saving Noah is also [indeed] a STEM romance and is influenced by my work as a marine scientist.

At first, I was hesitant to write more characters in the STEM field, but I always find myself looking for more romances with scientists and the sort, and after reading what I can find I can’t help but think “I want more of that. But, like, “Filipino-style.”

I can’t claim to represent the local STEM population, and I definitely bend some rules for the sake of cool (and convenience), but I can say that the portrayals are accurate to a certain degree and within specific subsets.

Is there anything familiar about the setting? The program? Of course not! Ha… ha… ha… I so totally did not use my day job as reference.

Okay. Maybe just a tiny bit. STEM people are people, too. They too need love and support and sometimes kilig to thrive. Did I think it would be part of my brand? No, definitely not. But I do enjoy writing them and will continue to write more of them.

Can you tell us more about how Noah, rather, this new book came about?

Project Saving Noah is the second book from the #romanceclassFlair imprint, a #romanceclass community project that promises to bring you unapologetically steamy contemporary romance in English by Filipino authors. The first book is You Out of Nowhere by Jay E. Tria.

I joined the workshop facilitated by Mina V. Esguerra, submitted my draft, and after revisions and edits with the editorial team and rounds with the design and marketing teams, here we are.

At the start of the workshop, all I knew was that I was going to write an ocean book, the trope would be rivals to lovers—one character would be an oceanographer and the other would be a math person—and it would be set either on field or on a research vessel in the middle of the ocean. I also knew that even though the imprint required high heat levels, I would be writing about touch aversion.

I played with the idea of Math Boy x Ocean Girl, but I already had an ocean girl in Phylle Paiton (introduced in Beginner’s Guide, with her own book, Field Guide: Love and Other Natural Disasters. Coming soon? Eventually?) so Math Girl it was. And let’s face it, an ocean boy meant a shirtless boy for 99% of the book.

Was it a challenge? Definitely. But always the good kind. I’m glad I got the opportunity to work with the Flair team for this project.

And as if that wasn’t challenging enough, you have another upcoming project: the Gale Watch Con collaboration with Miles Tan. How is this different and what can we expect from this?

#GaleWatchCon by Six de los Reyes and Miles Tan - BookbedMiles said to me, that when asked for comment, I should always say: It’s a passion project. Gale Watch Con is a gaming convention we made up because, Miles and I, we really like video games. It’s not a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.

Let me tell you, when I first approached Miles asking for her expert opinion on a game dev character I was building, I did not think it would escalate to “So, yeah we’re building our own dev company and a gaming con, and then books, right? It’s a full universe of geeks and nerds and gamer girls and boys finding love.”

Apparently, Miles has one of these projects in secret and now that I’ve unearthed it from the treasure chest it’s been buried in forever it’s finally happening. For real. Oops? Yay?

Expect nerdery and geekery and kilig. Also really bad game puns. It’s so much fun.

Follow the hashtag for updates! #GaleWatchCon #romanceclass

Congratulations on everything! Now that you’ve accomplished these things (and for sure are working on some more), is there anything you do to celebrate?

I only consider a book officially done once it’s released in the wild. Usually this is accompanied by a #romanceclass event so the obligatory celebratory effects such as cake, coffee (or in some cases Korean barbecue and soju), is always followed by hibernation from me.

Writing and people-ing deplete my energy reserves, and when hooman-ing is a limited resource it’s important to maintain sustainability. I take breaks from social media and go do something else not reading or writing or involving other people. Usually it’s video games. Whatever it is, it’s alone time.

I like to say, my release style is Hi-And-Bye. “Hi. I have a new book /drops link/ Bye.” And then I dive back into the water and resurface much much later after the initial wave or two has passed.

Glad you’re here to talk about your passion projects with me! Here’s something more important to bring up: why do you make it a point to write about strong, independent main characters in your stories?

It’s the standard I apply to all my characters. It’s important that these people are in control of their lives and are able to make decisions according to what they deem is best for them.

No one is going to make the decisions for them or manipulate or guilt them into doing something they’re not 100% into. This also means that whatever the consequences of their actions, it’s theirs to take responsibility. And that always makes a good story.

Touching on good stories… October 10 was World Mental Health Day. You’ve said before that you did not set out to write about depression or touch on mental health when you wrote Sounds Like Summer, but after you published it, how did you feel? Especially now that people are starting to be more open about talking about their struggles.

I don’t promote Sounds Like Summer as much as I should because I still don’t know what to do with it. It was a book that had to be done, and I did it, and looking back at it I always hope that it provides a reminder to people who need it.

These are unpleasant times in an unpleasant world and it’s so easy to struggle in silence and forget that we are not alone. That even though it’s dark now, the sun will shine tomorrow.

It’s difficult remembering we need to stay because tomorrow needs us, but if this book becomes someone’s reminder—or if it ends up reminding me—then wouldn’t that be something?

About a month ago, September 10, was National Suicide Prevention Day. For the past two years, I’ve been active on the hashtag but this year I remained silent.

It’s been a difficult past couple of months and participating in a movement that encourages people to talk about their struggles, seek help and hold on to hope made me feel like a fraud.

How do you shine a light on people when you don’t feel bright inside? Mental health isn’t something we talk about one day and suddenly, like magic, it disappears in a smoke of rainbow ash and sparkles.

It’s an ongoing conversation we have with ourselves and with other people and may we all take the steps we need toward recovery. If you’re not okay, it’s okay to not be okay. Reach out. And if you’re okay, reach out to someone, anyone. You never know who needs a hand out of the dark. Sometimes a simple “How are you?” makes all the difference.

Thank you for reminding me of something that I wrote. I did not think this would come back to me in this way, but that’s just life I guess. I hope this book, and Ghost of a Feeling by Celestine Trinidad, find people when they need a reminder that hope lives. We don’t have to suffer alone. Unless the world ends tonight, it’s not our ending yet. We must always remember to keep breathing.

Or, as Dory (and Noah!) would say, 🌊 just keep swimming 🌊

Six de los Reyes - Bookbed

☁️

Photos from the author’s Instagram @sixdlr, posted with permission. Project Saving Noah is now available here.
Six de los Reyes is part of the #romanceclass community. Visit them here.