Friday, December 23, 2005


It happened years ago, yet my recollections are vivid, and the circumstances surrounding it are still very fresh in my mind, for I have never experienced that kind of thing before, and I do not want that harrowing experience to happen again to me, ever.

As you can see, I come from a remote town in the southern part of Luzon in the Philippines, where belief in the supernatural is still a way of life.

So, it will come as no surprise when you hear stories about creatures of the dark: ghosts, dwarfs, “layog“, “kapre“, “tikbalang“, “manananggal“, etc. in daily conversations of the townspeople, although nobody in our town, at least to my knowledge, has claimed to have seen one or have been a victim of one.

Having lived half of my life in the capital city of Manila, I brushed off these beliefs as nothing but some sort of tall tales and folklore created by people with wild imaginations and nothing else.

It has no place in the 21st century, I said to myself until I went back to my hometown for a much needed vacation in the summer of ‘89.

I have a childhood friend whose family has been the victim of vicious rumors and is known all over the town that all of its members are “layog."

“Layog,” in our folklore, are creatures that are cursed to live and look like ordinary people by day, but transform into creatures that can fly and prey on people, especially the pregnant and terminally-ill for their blood and innards by night.

The said rumor all started when the grandmother of my high school friend, who was said to be the matriarch of the dark creature, died, and it was said that she passed on the curse of the layogs to my friend’s mother.

For years, this family was the subject of wild stories about the supernatural by people who had nothing else to do but engage in gossips almost every day.

Of course, I didn’t believe the rumors, but I should have known better, having spent many days and nights in that household during my high school days, noticing nothing unusual except for the fact that this family was not very fond of meat. In fact, they preferred to have fish for viand most of the time, at least during the times I was there.

One fateful hot, dry summer night, the shining moon full and silver, I was on my way to a card game of “pusoy”, a form of poker in the neighborhood. When I passed by the old bridge spanning the lazy creek to the next barrio, I saw Tia Landa, the mother of my best friend, sitting there alone and looking at the full moon.

I approached her and asked her where my friend was. Instead of answering my query, she turned around and just looked at me in the eye and said nothing. She looked at the moon and then looked at me again, and then without saying a word she continued to gaze at the full moon, oblivious of my presence. Her eyes were transfixed on the silver full moon above.

Although I was taken aback by her unusual behavior, which was a far cry from her usual accommodating self during my visits to her house, I passed it off without much ado, rationalizing that maybe she is just tired from a day’s work, or contemplating on something important and just doesn’t want to be disturbed.

So I went on my way and ventured into the neighborhood, where I played some poker games with my friends up until 1 o’clock in the morning, when we decided to call it quits.

My friends and I went out of the local gambling household and headed for home.

As we traversed the narrow path leading to the old bridge, we heard an eerie sound coming from the sky. It was the unfamiliar sound of a bird harping, ”Weeek! Weeek!” followed by the sounds of large wings flapping above our heads!

Our gaze instinctively looked skyward, coming from the direction of the unusual sound and saw a very dark creature that looked like a very big black bird, as it made its descent, gliding toward the three of us.

"Layog!" I shouted at the top of my lungs as we all ducked for cover and fell to the ground, while our eyes darted out, warily searching and scanning for the dark creature in the dark night sky.

From the lights of the lone streetlight, we were able to see the familiar silhouette as it glided and hovered over the lines of coconut trees on the other side of the dusty road. It stayed there for a second or two and disappeared as fast as we had seen her.

After what it seems like an eternity, with our backs lying on the ground, we heard a very loud thud coming from the direction of Tia Landa's house, the sound of which we likened to the impact of a bunch of coconuts falling to the ground.

The feeling of fear and horror slowly crept into our being while we looked into each other‘s eyes in sheer terror, when it dawned on us what we just witnessed. But we were able to gather ourselves and went on an impromptu Layog-alert watch that night, armed with only fist-sized stones that we managed to collect from the river.

Armed with the stones, we deemed it safer to stick together and decided to spend the night away at the bridge, exchanging colorful stories that made us laugh, although we were still wary of the real or imagined threats above our heads. Our heightened state of vigilance stayed on for the rest of the night, and we were only able to relax when we finally saw the first rays of the sun coming from the east. We all then went home as if nothing happened.

It took months before we finally broke our silence about the incident and freely talked about it. But we also learned that some people in the barrio were awake and aware of the said incident but were just too afraid to venture outside of their houses during that unholy hour.

After that, we all decided to forget about it and continued our nightly poker games, but only not during a full moon.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Blue Kingfisher

Bernard was sitting on the branch of the guava tree in their backyard while watching a lonesome sparrow fly from branch to branch of the adjacent Macopa tree, looking and catching for the proverbial worm one Saturday morning.

With a slingshot in hand, he took aim and let go of the thing and watched as the pebble rocketed past the head of the brown bird causing it to fly away and settle on the nearby high-tension wire of the electric lamppost.
He dashed frantically, scaled their neighbor Mang Gusting's hollow-block fence, and hid in the dense artificial foliage of his greenhouse, as he took another aim at his target but missed.

“Damn“, he said to himself.

He always prided himself of being the best slingshot shooter among the kids in the neighborhood, and he was not about to give up now. With a determined look on his face and a mean stride of his thick calloused bare feet, he made his way into the nearby creek and set his sights on another bird. It was a blue-speckled kingfisher resting on a mangrove.

He was about to aim and shoot at the bird when he heard the voice of his best friend Vino calling out his name. He rushed towards the direction of the voice but found nothing there. Then, he saw the kingfisher fly, dive and rise from the water with a small fish in his beak, heading skywards. He was momentarily distracted as he watched the blue bird soar into the horizon until it vanished from his sights toward the direction of the thick mangroves that lined the murky creek leading to San Jacinto.

Then he heard that distinct whistle of his friend cutting the warm and humid afternoon air. “So you want to play games, huh?” he said to himself as he made a quick dash towards the thick and wooded areas of Tio Pedring’s Banana and Mango plantation, hoping to find his friend there-

At the center of the plantation, hidden from the intruding and prying eyes of the world, you can find their little haven made up of leaves and branches of Talisay and Nipa, just enough to shield them from the shade of the hot summer sun. There, they stashed whatever loot they would manage to acquire from the nearby plantations, or from the kitchens of their respective homes, or whatever things that interest them. In that hideaway, they feasted on pineapples, santols, guavas, bananas and jackfruits taken from the farms of so and so. They would cook rice and broiled fishes (mudfish, tilapia and catfish) caught in the nearby stream, or have some hard boiled eggs and a feast of some sort for days on end.

This day was no ordinary day, or so he thought.

He was surprised to find the place in disarray. The fruits were scattered and the clay pot wherein they used to cook their food was broken into several pieces. The plastic water gallons were spilled into the ground. He stood there for a moment as he surveyed the destruction that lay before his very eyes. He managed to force a silly grin despite the anger building up in his chest.
“Whoever did this must pay!” He murmured to himself.

Then he heard that very distinct whistle of Vino again. He snaked his way out and ran into the direction of the big Narra tree, where he was confident to find his best friend there laughing, having a bellyache at the prank he just did to him. But he was not there.

Bernard decided to go back to their hideaway in the middle of the plantation to fix the mess, and what greeted him made the hairs on his back stand on their ends. Goosebumps began to appear on his skin as the feeling of dread began to consume him as he scanned the place. The place was no longer in a state of disarray, but back to where they were the last time that he and Vino were there. The plastic gallons were filled back up with water, the clay pot resting on the small altar made of stone, and the fruits back in their proper place.

Unable to bear the dread and stand the eerie atmosphere of the place, he belted and made a frenetic run away without let-up. He zigzagged his way into the woods and ran into the small rice fields’ trails, until he found himself at their doorstep gasping for breath. He was surprised to see his mom rushing towards him with a look of concern on her face.

He passed her, went straight to the refrigerator, and drank from the bottle straight-up until he felt a hand tapping his shoulder. He turned around, and it was his mom.

What followed next was a blur. His senses became numb as his mom told him about the fate of his best friend Vino, who was found dead on his bed in the morning, apparently a victim of the bizarre Bangungot*!

He woke up the next morning to the blue Kingfisher singing a lonely song outside his window.

NOTE: Bangungot- is a Filipino term for Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome (SUDS) that afflicts young Asian men. It is also called Lai Tai in Thailand and Hukuri in Japan. The cause or origin of which is cloaked in superstition and this phenomenon is very rare in the Western world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Superman's Ghost

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Superman!

When I was a little lad of five, I believed in the power of Superman.

Don't get me wrong but I really loved and admired the man.

I wanted to be like him and would run around the neighborhood with a towel on my back.

Everybody would call me Superman and I was really proud and had a lot of fun!

Now that I am a grown up, I realized that being Superman is a lot easier said than done.

I realized that I couldn't even be like him for I was not even half the man.

Instead of fighting criminals and the lot, I cringed at the thought of finally meeting one.

If Superman can fly, I could only end up telling a lie.

The man of steel I am not, for I am nothing but a reed-thin Coward.

These things really bothered me, for I really wanted to be like my Superman.

In my dreams, I am the greatest, but when I wake up, all these things would just go pfft!

But I am a determined lot, and I would not let myself go down just like that.

In the morning, I started to jog around, and pumped a lot of irons in the night.

I became a certified Muscle Man and now walked down the road with a swagger to boot.

I proudly showed my sculpted body around town, to the envy of my fellowmen.

One day, I chanced upon a man running on uneven ground, a notorious purse snatcher on the loose!

And to my way he was coming down, I grinned at the chance of finally acting like my old man, Superman!

I tried to grab the collar of the man, and we ended up grappling for the leather bag to the ground. The people started to mill and gather around and watch me fight the fight of my life against the desperate man.

In my eagerness to kick him and pin him down, I got careless and was left defense-less and paid dearly for it, as he grabbed my testicles real hard that made me fart real loud!

The crowd was stunned and so was the man, and as responding policemen finally nabbed the con man, I was left in the middle of the crowd with nothing but lost pride.

I simply walked away a broken man, as if I could hear the laughter exploding on my back like an atom bomb….

From then on I was simply known as the man who wanted to be Superman, but ended up being called as the Fartman!

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Green Lantern

In the dark, Angelo could still see the flicker of the green lantern at a distance.

It was like the last breath of a dying ember on the verge of being gobbled up by the darkness.

He could not help but feel sad as his mind began its journey to a year ago today...

It was the age of innocence: of pure and true love, of undying faith and devotion. It was the year that he met Jennylie at one of the dance parties at the house of a friend. Their eyes met in the crowd, followed by a warm smile that took his heart away and blew his mind out.

That night, he was smitten by her charm as they danced the night away to the music of Chopin, Strauss, and Bach.

But somewhere among the crowd, in a dark corner of the dance floor, lurked a jealous heart. His eyes were on fire and his emotions running wild as he watched Jenny and Angelo sway to the music of the night. His heart was consumed by intense hatred that was further buoyed by the spirit of the single malt whiskey in his hand as he tried to shake the cobwebs from his mind.

Then, in the blink of an eye, he reached for the concealed gun in his vest and fired two shots at point blank range at the dancing couple.

The music died.

And the crowd was stunned in silence...

Angelo saw his beloved slowly slump and sink to her knees, clutching her chest as she gasped for her last breath. Then he saw the light die in her eyes as she tried to reach for his hand.

Many, many nights have passed but that scene of his beloved Jenny dying in his arms was constantly replayed over and over, like a movie in his mind…

"Life’s been cruel and I can't go on living in a sham," he muttered softly to himself.

He decided that tonight will be the end of all nights for him as he gingerly walked into the darkness, turned around and had his one last look at the solitary green lantern on her beloved’s tomb, as his senses were swallowed completely by an unbelievable lightness and peace.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Belinda's Eyes

The grey skies were now nothing but history as Belinda walked out the back entrance of the dark and sand-swept old cottage by the sea to the open macadam road winding down the direction of the sleepy town of San Mateo.

She walked slowly, treading on the pebble-encrusted road, unmindful of the eyes watching her every move, as they followed her tracks with silent sighs and garbled murmurs behind her back.

She ignored the subdued staccato of strange voices in her ears, while avoiding the prying and questioning eyes of curious people along the way. She continued her own reverie as her bare feet continued their assault on the unpaved road. The sun was up and she could now feel its heat prickling her soft brown skin while her mind traveled to a not-so-distant past…

It was almost four and a half years ago when she met Leonardo while attending the 18th birthday celebration of the town mayor's only daughter -- her classmate in high school -- at the town’s plaza, that was transformed overnight into an enormous and elegant social hall by the proud father for his lovely daughter’s coming of age.

Maristela, her best friend since they were young kids running around half-naked by the seashore collecting seashells for their collections, introduced her to Leonardo. After the usual and awkward “hi” and “hello”, they retreated to their own inner circles and spent the night away. That was the last time she had seen him until about a week ago, when he suddenly showed up at their house in Santa Misericordia one early afternoon, while she was out in the yard sweeping some dry fallen leaves from the towering mahogany brought about by the unpredictable weather at that time of the year.

He told her that he was on his way home, after visiting some old friends from the adjacent barrio, when he passed by their house and saw her, remembering her as the one introduced to him many years ago, and decided to drop by for some friendly talk and reminisce about the past. He told her that he had just arrived from Manila for a brief vacation to escape the heat and recharge his battery. She noticed that he now looked different and much better-looking than the last time they had met in the summer of ’76. She could distinguish between the person standing right in front of her and the skinny boy that she met a long time ago.

The aura of the young man was bursting with self-confidence, with a swagger to boot -- one that signified excess self-confidence most barrio folks would attribute to a certain arrogance characteristic of people hailing from the big city. They'd have that thought in the back of their minds that most of their fellow San Mateo residents would probably spend the rest of their miserable lives wallowed deep in poverty in their backwards world without seeing the glitz and glamour of the capital, Manila.

She offered him some Calamansi juice and putong puti while they talked about their common friend Maristela, who was now a registered nurse in an American hospital after passing the state board in New Jersey just a while back. After an hour of small talk, he bade her goodbye and boarded his white Ford sedan, speeding off in the general direction of the next town, Santo Domingo, where his relatives lived. She learned during their conversation that he was a now a medical representative working for a multinational company based in Pasig City.

Two days later, Leonardo was back at their house with a Toblerone chocolate bar and a bunch of her favorite White Roses in hand. He invited her for dinner that night, an invitation that she found hard to resist, for she found it fascinating and entertaining in talking with Leonardo, who in her keen observation has gained a lot of experience and insight on many things in his dealings with the big city people. She was awed by his endless stories about the way of life in the city -- the cars, the nightlife, the movie stars -- and a plethora of miscellany that she could only hear through the hyperactive voices of the anchors at DZRH from her own battery-operated transistor radio.

They drove off to the cottage by the sea, owned by his family and left in the hands of the caretaker when they migrated to Manila about four years ago, that now serves as a rest house whenever they would come back to Santa Misericordia every now and then for a brief stay.

It was already dark when they reached the place, and she was surprised at the opulence inside the cottage, a curiosity that hounded her for years, dating back to her childhood when she and her playmates would pass by the beautiful cottage on their way to the beach on Sundays. The cottage was beautiful and well maintained by Mang Ambo, the caretaker. Leonardo led her to the living room and asked her to sit on the sofa, as he proceeded to the corner of the spacious living room, scanning and picking up some old vinyl records from the heap. He then dusted the covers and played it on the Akai phonograph. It was a violin concerto by the famous German composer, Mendelssohn.

While she sat there listening to the beautiful and haunting melody coming from the old stereo, pretending to read some excerpts of a particular story on an old Liwayway magazine, Leonardo was busy preparing and cooking something in the kitchen for their dinner. She could tell from the aroma floating in the air that it was something rare and extraordinary.

It was half past eight o’clock in the evening when he finally emerged from the kitchen and asked her to join him for supper: fresh seafood that he bought at the Aplaya early in the morning. On the table was a wide array of the bounties of the sea-grilled pusit, steamed crabs and prawns, sweet and sour Lapu-Lapu and fried blue marlins, that made their mouth water in anticipation of a great feast. Truly, she was quite impressed with his culinary skills, which he admitted with great pride that it was taught to him by his grandmother when he was still a lad of ten, mastering it to perfection through the years.

Outside, the rain came in trickles, and then poured heavily on the ground, drowning out their conversation and laughter in the process. He poured her some orange juice and that was the last thing she could remember…

Her thoughts were jolted back to the present when a warm blanket was wrapped around her naked body by a concerned old woman that she only knew by face, whom she recognized as the one who used to frequent their barrio when she was a child, selling cheap beauty products from China from household to household, that rescued her from the ogling crowd.

She woke up the next morning to the smell of antiseptic in her hospital bed, and the sight of a burly policeman who tried to ask her something that she had no recollections of whatsoever. She was told that Leonardo was found dead in his bed with multiple stab wounds in several parts of the body, and that his sex organ was mutilated on the day that she was seen walking naked and aimlessly on the road leading to San Mateo.

She looked out the window and stared without seeing to the horizon, as her memories began to come back to her, and as rivulets of tears began to cascade from her sad black eyes down to her cheeks, just like the waters that overflowed from the rivers that swelled after a heavy rain.

The Search is Over

The moon is full and above and serene as Leonardo walked out of the door of his grandfather's house into the streets of San Marcelino town in Zambales.

The town is dead. The lights are out on the rows of houses that dotted the main road. The side streets are deserted with only a few brave souls like himself darting every now and then as he made his way into the old stone house on the far side of the sleepy town.

The people are afraid. But not Leonardo, for he does not believe that the unsolved deaths of several people that occurred over the past few weeks, and were attributed by some old timers in the town to the vampires, are true. Nevertheless, stories like these, which are not uncommon in remote places in the Philippines even in this age of cellular phones and digital technology, still brought fear into the hearts of every inhabitant of the town. Besides, he was going to visit Divina, the girl who captured his heart instantly the moment their eyes met while walking along Magsaysay Street. For in Divina, he saw the girl of his dreams that eluded him for years even when he was still studying Engineering in one of the universities run by Catholic religious orders in the capital Manila.

The moment he stepped into the front yard carpeted by damp, well-manicured Bermuda grass, he knew that something was up in the air. The house was dark with only a solitary light bulb from a makeshift lamppost providing a glimpse of its facade; the deafening silence and serenity of the place only added to his feeling of dread and uncertainty. From afar, he could hear the night birds chirping and the monsoon wind blowing. The smell of the flowers of the Kalachuchis that lined the sides of the unpaved dirt road filled the warm summer air. He was about to change his mind, turn his back and leave, when the sound of the wooden Narra door suddenly opening caught his attention, and there came out Divina smiling her sweetest smile as she ushered him into the living room. She introduced him to her family who struck him as not of the typical Filipino natives but rather foreign in its features and bearings. They were more of the Castillan race, a fact, that Divina confirmed by admitting that her father's ancestor had come from Catalan to escape the Spanish Civil War and settled in the town in the late 1930's. And what with their jet-black hairs, aquiline nose and deep set pairs of brown eyes. In fact, their only daughter has inherited these features that set her apart from all the girls in the town.

When Divina offered him a cold glass of orange beverage and a handful of American biscuits bought from the American Base in Olongapo City, he seemed to relax and settle in the comfort of the old rattan chair in the porch. He noticed a black cat lying on the floor under the mahogany side table, looking at him like a hungry hyena watching over his prey. He didn't mind it though for his attention was centered on Divina, the girl that captured and enamored him not only because of her beauty and charm but also with her wit and intelligence.

They spent the night there on the porch talking about anything and everything but whether by design or not, they did not delve on the events that happened in the town the past weeks.
It was close to midnight when Leonardo bade her goodbye just as the single cry of a dog howling from afar tore the stillness of the night punctuated by the sound of frogs croaking their lungs out coming from the rice fields at the back of the house.

He walked like a man possessed on his way home, his mind filled with lovely thoughts of her and his heart longing with desire as he made a vow to himself that finally, after years of searching for the elusive girl of his dreams, he now found it in Divina.

That night, he could not sleep. He tossed and turned on his bed. It was the time when you tried really hard to fall asleep yet your mind and senses were running and wide awake. He couldn't wait for the sun to come up for he wanted to go and visit Divina again and tell her his feelings about her.

He got up and walked barefoot on the cold floor towards the window. He reached for the lock of the glass stained window and opened it for a breath of fresh air. His eyes darted on the face of the German Cuckoo clock that was hanging on the bare white wall and read 15 minutes to three o'clock in the morning. His dry mouth yearned for the taste of nicotine. In one single motion, he reached for the half-filled pack of menthol cigarettes on the glass-topped table, put a stick between his lips and with his right hand reaching for the old Zippo lighter on the left side pocket of his Levis denim jacket. And just when he was about to light a stick, he felt a soft, feathery tap on his right shoulder.

He turned around and was surprised to see Divina, with her big beautiful brown eyes and luscious ruby lips staring and smiling at him as the unlit stick of Marlboro Lights fell from his mouth to the damp marble floor.

A horrible cry was heard that night in the neighborhood.

From a distance the town was getting back to life as the rooster crowed to signal the beginning of a brand new day.

Featured in July 1-15, 2003