“Maybe once upon a time we all were ordinary, until the day life took a fateful turn. Do we accept this, or run from it?” Thus begins your adventure with the #StrangeLit Fateful Turns bundle. Get it on Buqo now for only P45 for 11 stories of extraordinary choices. Don’t forget to add the bundle on Goodreads too!
If you need more convincing, we’ve got excerpts for you 🙂
The Mermaid From Siquijor by Justine Camacho-Tajonera
Tongo Point, Siquijor
“You have to come with me to Siquijor, Lorie. Please,” Shelby begged her over the phone, all the way from Manila. She knew her best friend was desperate because she never begged. Lorie clipped her cellphone between her left ear and her left shoulder as she wiped off the snot from her nose and cleared her sidetable of a mound of used tissue.
“We were engaged. Doesn’t that entitle me to at least several months’ worth of mourning?” Lorie asked. All she could think about the past week was how easy it was for her ex-fiancé to throw away four years of her life. She still had the ring in its red velvet-lined box, and she dreaded the necessary process of handing it back to Elvin. She hadn’t even thought through all the cancellations yet. And she couldn’t bring herself to think of that girl.
“I’ve booked the tickets already. You can’t say no.” Shelby was adamant. Lorie knew that Shelby was only thinking about her and getting her out of the house.
“Because it’s mysterious, because it’ll be a good break for you. Did you know that it’s called Isla del Fuego? I thought you’d be intrigued. There’s nothing like an adventure to cheer you up. Tell me I’m right.”
What Shelby didn’t know about was Lorie’s connection to the island. They’d met in college so Shelby had no idea about the significance of Siquijor to her. She wondered briefly if she should tell Shelby. She decided not to.
“If it means that much to you—” Shelby gave a whoop before Lorie could finish her sentence. Shelby filled her in on the flight details and other logistics. After she put down the phone, Lorie instinctively touched the ornately carved coral ring on her right ring finger with her thumb.
They were booked in a small resort in San Juan, Siquijor, and the highlight of their trip was the dive. Shelby had taken care of everything. She booked the flight and the accommodations. Lorie had gone on diving trips before. Even before Elvin. Her dad didn’t approve, considering what had happened to her mom, but that never stopped her.
“Are you excited?” Shelby asked her as they prepared their gear for the dive. Lorie considered for a moment. She’d done it for Shelby but the prospect of peace and quiet in the ocean really was something she looked forward to.
“It’ll be nice to swim with the fish again,” Lorie said.
“Is that a smile?” Shelby teased. Lorie laughed. “Our dive will be at Tongo Point. The depth will range from seven to twenty-five feet.”
Lorie felt goose bumps. Tongo Point. Was she tempting fate? How could it be the exact place from her past?
“C’mon! Our boat’s waiting!” Shelby shouted as she headed out the door. Lorie normally didn’t wear any jewelry to her dives. She was about to twist off her coral ring but decided to keep it on. She felt that she wanted something of her mother’s to be with her during this particular dive.
It didn’t take long for them to get to the dive point. From the western side of the island where their resort was, the boat skimmed the coast and went north. Lorie enjoyed the sound of the waves slapping against the side of the boat and the way the color of the water changed as they went farther out. She relished the heat of the sun on her skin. She had stayed indoors for too long it was nice to feel the sunshine again. She was a little apprehensive, though, given what she knew of the dive spot from her past. She didn’t really know what was waiting for her there. But she was also looking forward to getting into the water again. When they reached Tongo Point, the air was eerily still. There were only five of them, Lorie and Shelby, a couple from Sweden, and the dive master Mike.
When they descended, Lorie relished the absolute silence of the ocean. She didn’t feel cut off at all but deeply connected to the water. She realized how much she missed diving. Visibility was great. The reef top had fields of leather coral. Lorie didn’t expect it to be so beautiful. Farther down the slope of the reef, she saw the many-colored waving arms of fire hydroids. She could have stayed there all day. A shoal of bright blue surgeonfish surrounded her. She waved at Shelby and gave her the OK sign, letting her know she was glad she came. One large surgeonfish caught Lorie’s attention, circling around her, as if it knew her. She followed it down the side of the reef. She could still see Shelby in her peripheral vision but she went a little farther out, following the fish. She didn’t know how long she had been following the fish but it led her to a crevice big enough for her to fit in. She didn’t know what she was thinking. She knew she should have signaled Shelby or Mike. She knew she was taking a risk. But she was afraid she would lose the chance to see something different.
And she did. She saw shimmering lights a long way down the crevice. It appeared to be a hidden city in a deep valley. She was mesmerized. It was impossible for a city to fit into a reef. She knew that logically. But she could see it. The city was an organic structure made out of bioluminescent matter. She knew it was organic matter because the walls and spires of the city were moving. They weren’t just waving in the water as if buoyed by the current. They were moving, shifting, like many arms on an animal. It was too amazing for her to tear her eyes away. What was it that Shelby said? The depth of Tongo Point was only twenty-five feet. But this city looked like it was leagues into the ocean. And she was seeing it through a reef. Instead of being alarmed, she felt like she belonged there, deep in the silence of the sea. It was a kingdom waiting for her to discover it. She wanted to go into the crevice, but all she could do was float and stare.
She didn’t know how long she was transfixed but her vision had somehow turned purple, and she felt herself being dragged upward.
Lorie opened her eyes. Her head was throbbing.
“Oh, thank God! Tito Ed, she’s awake!” Shelby shouted. Lorie wanted to sit up, but she felt too weak to even move her arms.
“What happened, Lorie? Why didn’t you signal me?” Shelby looked disheveled, like she hadn’t slept through the night. There were tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Shelby” was all Lorie could manage to say.
“It’s okay, Lorie. I’m just glad you’re alive.” Shelby hugged her best friend.
Eduardo Cenas, a handsome man of fifty-one, with streaks of gray in his hair, stood up and bent over Lorie, on the opposite side of Shelby. He gave her a kiss on her forehead. But his eyes were a storm of emotions.
“Shelby, please take care of Lorie. I can’t talk to her right now,” Eduardo said and walked out of the room.
Shelby and Lorie were left in awkward silence for a few minutes.
“Lor, your dad told me about your mom and Siquijor,” Shelby said in a low voice. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m so sorry, Shelby. It was way back in the past. And I really wanted to go. I really did.” Lorie didn’t have the energy to dig up the past or explain the rest to her best friend.
“Mike found you floating by a deep crevice,” Shelby explained, “at the side of the reef. He couldn’t get your attention. He realized you’d passed out. You may have attempted to surface too fast. We had to rush you to a hyperbaric chamber here in Dumaguete.”
As Lorie listened to her best friend as she lay on the hospital bed, she realized that she was over her heartbreak and that she knew exactly how the little mermaid from the fairy tale had felt as she turned to sea foam.
She was sure of one thing though. She would go back to Siquijor. She needed to find out if what she saw was real.
Sprit by Nina Tuballes
I didn’t know how long we stayed in each other’s arms, but I watched as the sun readied itself to set. I felt Ethan drifted on and off of consciousness but I didn’t sleep. I wouldn’t, I was scared that when I wake he’d be gone. I wanted to stay like this and savor the feeling of being secure in his arms.
I remembered a time when we were in Necropolis, when we were cramped in a small space as we waited for the Risen to disperse; I never even once felt that we were in danger. I’ve always felt safe with him, like nothing can go wrong even though the world was already falling apart.
“I’m sorry Ethan.” He didn’t answer but I could still feel his chest rising and falling. I assumed he’s asleep. “Reminds me of a time when we were in Necropolis. You almost got yourself killed to save me from the Brotherhood and now here you are. Dying because of me. Because I’m cursed and I brought nothing to you but—“
I stilled when his arms tightened around me. “Please, stop saying those things.” I looked up at him and saw his once tan face turned to the color of death. His eyes were pleading, his voice hoarse. “You give me hope each time I see your happy face. I—“ he groaned and threw his head back as he clutched on his chest. I panicked as blood spurt from his mouth.
“Ethan!” I tried reaching for the first aid kit but he caught my hand and pulled me towards him.
“No. Don’t go away. Stay here beside me.” He embraced me tight as he convulsed and murmured my name over and over again. “I-it hurts. I-I’m scared—I’m scared too. I don’t want to leave you here. I hope—I hope you will forgive me, forgive me Serenity. I—I’m sorry.”
“Sssh. Don’t say anymore. I’m not mad. I’ll be right here beside you.”
He chuckled but pain stopped him. “You don’t-you don’t understand. I-I kept so many things from you. I’m sorry, I had to. I had to make you forget. You see, you can hear thoughts and I—I control memories.”
Made me forget? Ethan can control memories? I pulled myself away but he stopped me. “Please. Please listen to me, Serenity. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. There’s not much time left.” I felt Ethan kissed my hair and tilted my chin up so I’m looking at him. My eyes widened with shock and I froze as his lips met mine. He—Ethan kissed me!
“I—I’ve always wanted to do that. Always wondered how that would feel.”
“Ethan…” but he put a finger over my lips.
“Please, please. I’m not your-your brother. I—I’m not who you think I am. I’m sorry. Please forgive me, I just had to. I just love you so much. I-I have loved you for-for as long as I-I can remember. I was so-so selfish. I’m sorry. Ah!” Ethan released me as he fell on the ground hugging himself as tremor shook him.
I sat rooted on my spot. If he wasn’t my brother then who is he? Who am I? How dare he lie to me? He told me to trust him and I did! I trusted him and I wanted to be mad and demand an explanation from him. But I can’t. My head reeled with so many questions and tears streamed my face as I thought of how miserable he’s been all these time. He’s loved me for as long as he could remember. He could control memories. He could’ve made me remember that I was his girlfriend, that I was madly deeply in love with him but instead he made me remember him as my brother. He made me believe that I was his sister!
All those years we were together in Necropolis, he could’ve taken advantage of me, but he kept his distance. Without a word, I cradled my trembling lover in my arms and planted a light kiss on his lips like he did to me. “It’s okay, I forgive you. I understand.”
“You-you do?” I nodded but uncertainty filled his face.
“Well, maybe that’s why I keep having strange feelings for you. You could’ve told me.” He chuckled at my dry humor.
“I’m glad I didn’t” He wiped my tears away. “If I—if I did, you’d just-just force yourself to-to love me back or-or—“he started wheezing and though I hushed him, he continued. “or pretend like you’re doing now. I know-I know what you’re doing. I always know.”
“I’m not pretending! I love you. I love you with every breath I take. You’re everything to me. And now you’re leaving me! What will I do without you Ethan?”
His lips quivered. “You really love me?” I nodded and he closed his eyes as he smiled. “I could die right now.”
“No, please open your eyes. Not yet please.” There were so many things I’d like to ask. I wanted to know how we met, when he realized that he loved me, who I am, who he is, how we ended up like this?
The Lady in Pink by Carla de Guzman
Martha Ford can see ghosts. She always has, and when she moved to Paris, she’s found that ghosts are much better company than real people can ever be. She takes a job cleaning up an apartment in the Ninth Arrondisement where she and Henri Beaugiron stumble across the portrait of his great-great Grandmother, Marthe de Florian. But Marthe’s ghost is determined to take over Martha’s body, and unless Martha can find out why, she could lose everything to the city of Lights.
The Eternal Harmony Funeral Home by JM Agustin
What am I doing here?
The rosary tied around the rear view mirror is bouncing wildly while the two guys in front are talking about movies or something. I look out the car window and there’s nothing to see but an unending row of trees by the side of the road.
It was a smooth four hour drive from Manila to the middle of nowhere until we experienced some turbulence caused by the uneven, pothole ridden street we just turned into.
When will we get there?
This trip is taking longer than I thought. After waiting two hours to get past the traffic in Manila, I thought it’d be smooth sailing. But now I find myself just trying to plant my butt on the car seat so I don’t get a concussion.
My wallet is making it even worse, every bounce causing it to dig even deeper into my bone. Maybe it’s because I’m about as thick as a barbeque stick but, aside from the rosary flicking back and forth on the rear view mirror, I’m the only one having his problem.
I could have been at home playing the new Friday Night At Frank’s. I hear it’s really scary — as if. I haven’t once felt scared while playing those games. Most of those games just rely on shock factor to trick the audience into being scared — no build up at all. Right off the bat, they just shove something “scary” onto your screen.
“Pit, you ok there?” Michael asks me, turning away from the road.
“I’m fine. Eyes on the road!” I yelled when his head continued to face me.
“Relax, man! I got it, bro! By the way, thanks for coming with me guys. I know it’s a long trip but we’re almost there.”
“Don’t worry about it. Your grandfather was really nice to me and Pit whenever we were at your house. It’s the least we could do. And we got to bring Pit out of his house, right?” Jerry says.
“Right, bro! All alone in his dark room, playing those horror games? He’s on his way to becoming a serial killer, dude.”
“What did I tell you, man? I knew there was something wrong with him.” says Jerry with a grin.
“Careful, bro. He could crack anytime.” Michael says, laughing.
“Who’s to say I haven’t? By the way, I think I know who my first victims will be. Out here with no signal on our phones and all these trees? No one would ever know.” I say, deadpan.
Jerry and Michael look at each other. Silence followed after.
Now I remember. We’re on our way to the wake of Michael’s grandfather. Was a really nice guy, Lolo Jun but, apparently, also really old. He used to give us candy whenever he saw us at Michael’s house, which was a lot when we were kids.
We never really knew how old Lolo Jun was until he died. 99 years old — just one more year and he’d have lasted a century. Which was funny because he was always the most cheerful one in the room and you wouldn’t have made him out to be that old.
Lolo Jun wanted to be buried in their province which was really far away from Manila. Michael’s parents had gone ahead to take care of things, leaving Michael alone in Manila because he had an exam his professor didn’t want to reschedule for him. Jerry and I thought it’d be better to go with Michael when he followed to keep him company and pay our respects.
Twenty more minutes of the butt-shattering car ride and we finally arrive at our destination, The Eternal Harmony Funeral Home. A two floor funeral home with two rooms on each side of the floor, making for eight rooms in total. The building looks fairly new with some scaffoldings still littering the side.
We make our way to the back of the building where the parking is. It’s a fairly big parking lot with a lot of empty spaces. Not a lot of the spaces are occupied — just cars belonging to those that are visiting Lolo Jun. There’s also an old building on the farthest side of the parking lot.
The old building also has two floors but is a lot smaller than the one in front. It doesn’t look abandoned, though — just very old. There’s some light coming from a window on the top floor so I guess that means there are people inside.
We were able to park fairly close to the new building thanks to the mostly empty parking lot. And as we walk to the new building, I point out the light I saw in the old building. Michael tells us that the old building was the one the funeral home used before the one in front was completed.
The new building had apparently been finished just a few weeks ago, so the old building was still being used as an office until they finished transferring everything. Since they had to close for a week to set the new building up, Lolo Jun is actually the first…err…customer to use the new wing and, at the moment, the only one.
That explains why there are so few cars here. Aside from Michael’s relatives and Lolo Jun’s close friends, others would find the trip too long. Especially with the traffic, it’d take them the whole day to get here and back.
Fortunately, Lolo Jun’s remains were on the first floor right by the entrance so no stairs for me. Not that I’d mind but I’d rather not walk all the way to the end of the hallway, climb up the steps, and feel my legs burning with each step I take. I’m not exactly the fittest person around. It’d be no problem for Michael who basically lives at the gym, or Jerry who plays almost every sport imaginable. But for me?
Yeah, I’d rather not.
“Bro, guest book.” Michael says pointing at the guest book by the entrance.
We head to the guest book and sign our names.
“Jeremiah Casuco ”
Jerry hands me then pen, after signing. I write my name on the guest book.
I put the pen back down on the pedestal but I’m getting this weird feeling all of a sudden. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. I can’t knock the feeling that someone’s watching me.
I look around the entrance hall. The hall’s pretty dimly lit except for the light coming out of Lolo Jun’s room. Come to think of it, the place is pretty creepy with just one room lit. It’s not really helping me to be noticing that now. It only makes me more uneasy.
The only light is coming from the entrance and Lolo Jun’s room. With the doors of the other rooms slightly open, it’s just enough to see into the darkened rooms with long benches inside all facing the wall at the far end. Every shift in movement is making the shadows twitch and change shape. And then there’s that old lady holding a broom, her sunken eyes leering at me from the end of the hallway — wait, what?
“Bro, looks like you have a fan,” Michael says, as he and Jerry start snickering.
“I know right. Really hot. She’s just my type.” I say with a straight face and an annoyed voice.
“Don’t worry about it, bro. Looks like she’s a janitress here. An old lady staring at you won’t hurt you, right dude?” Michael adds.
“Guess not, just makes me really uncomfortable” I answer.
The old lady continues to leer at me until we go inside. While I’m normally nice to old people and comfortable with them, this old lady with the sunken eyes, bone thin, hunchbacked, and a sharp face was very creepy.
She’s like a character from my horror games. If I’d have known this was going to happen, I would’ve just stayed home and played my video games.
Michael’s parents greet us in the room. Contrary to the cars parked outside, there are quite a number of people here inside and it’s fairly lively. We see Michael’s parents have their hands full entertaining the guests so the three of us decide to help out.
Fate by Sue Donymko
Felicity had disappeared.
All of Dan’s calls and messages went unanswered. He went to all the places they went to on their total of ten dates, but she never went there.
He felt like his life was tearing him apart, and he took it out on saving people like a madman. Lita almost cried when he went home once with a burn mark on his side after a challenging mission.
“It’s nothing, Lita,” he said, even as she applied some special balm she made herself.
“This is not nothing, Daniel Santiago!” she had cried out. “I might lose Ka Asyong, and I won’t lose you too.”
He promised then that he’d be more careful. She was right; he was being selfish with his recklessness.
He left church alone—again. Lita still wasn’t taking any chances with Ka Asyong. The courtyard was empty already as he had gone to confession immediately after mass.
Dan put his hands in his pocket and stepped off the church’s last stair.
Immediately, he felt a strong invisible force push him back up the stairs just as a huge chunk of the angel statue that used to protrude off the ceiling over the stairs came crashing down where he had been standing.
“I told her to leave you alone,” he heard someone whisper.
He whirled around.
Felicity stood there in a wispy white dress, her long wavy hair in a loose braid.
Daniel had a lot of questions, and had in fact prepared them in his mind, but all that flew out of his mind when he saw her. “Who?” he rasped out instead.
She came to him slowly, warily. “My sister… She found out about you. I’ve been watching over you the past few days. Keeping her from harming you.” She looked up to the sky, then around them. “She’s gone now. She won’t be bothering you anymore today.”
She stood in front of him, her eyes sad. “Are you going to kill me?”
Dan closed his eyes and took a huge breath before answering. He opened his eyes and took her hand. “Can your kind…you…be killed?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
“I don’t even know what you are,” he admitted.
She smiled a sad smile, looking down at the floor. “Does it matter?” she asked.
Silence stood between them. “I’m not sure,” he finally admitted.
Then he took a step forward, closing the gap between them. “But maybe, just this once, it wouldn’t matter.”
He pulled her in his arms and her chin tilted up, and their lips met, clung.
Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, but they didn’t pull away.
Wordlessly, she led him he knew not where. All he knew was that he’d follow her anywhere she wanted to go.
He’d follow her anywhere, as long as he lived.
Glimmer by Ren Mayari
Hiraya was a theater group run by people whose beauty Amber calls ‘otherworldly’(exhibit A: her boss, Amarissa with her pale skin and grey eyes). There are other things at Hiraya that she found strange as well. The first time she went there, the people she met started upon seeing her as though she was someone else. Amber also thinks there were times that she thought Amarissa’s eyes would turn blue, but that could just be a trick of the light. And since she started working as an intern at Hiraya, the dreams came almost every night – the dream with the lady with the brown wavy hair she’s been having ever since she was little. There’s also the headaches accompanied by some hallucinations. Or were they visions?
The Warrior’s Dilemma by Sette Luis
Nicolla is out to prove that she does not need a man. Tristan does not want to fall in love with a woman. Fate brought them together. Can Tristan allow himself to fall in love when it will cause him his death? Will Nicolla allow herself to love when it will mean admitting that she needs a man?
Harvesting Nightblooms by Will J. Sarm
With the pyre ablaze, the crowd’s bravado is restored to a level even higher than before. They raise their pitchforks in celebration. Their demonic sneers are back, and they point at me, reveling in my imminent death.“You’ll be sorry! You’ll be sorry!” I curse at them, but they all ignore me. They’re too enraptured by my roasting.
“Oh Mom, I’m so sorry,” I say, dropping my head in defeat. I feel the flames getting closer. The heat licks my skin, leaving behind beads of sweat. I look up at the heavens in all its cloudiness. “Please save me!”
The shrill whinny of a horse suddenly cuts through all the diabolical cheering. I don’t know if someone up there heard me but in the next second, a mare of smoke and darkness appears behind the mob with blazing embers for eyes. A trail of fire blazes on the ground in its wake. It leaps over the heads of the crowd as they all gasp in fear. The rider is a hooded figure in all black. I watch breathlessly as he bounds towards me. It looks like Death himself has come to deliver me.
“Draw your swords!” cries the Priest-Commander.
As soon as he says those words, the soil fractures and human hands shoot up from the ground like geysers. Shrieks of terror pierce through the night air and I join them in horrified chorus.
“Oh my gosh!” I yell in disbelief.
My eyes widen as I watch zombies–literally, zombies–rise from beneath the ground. An army of embalmed people with blank stares and bloodless complexion slogs its way towards the soldiers. The soldiers hack at them, limbs falling out of sockets, but they continue plodding along, undeterred.
With the soldiers momentarily occupied by the outbreak, the horse reaches me without resistance. It kicks aside the burning wood, which startles me. Of course, stupid me forgot that despite all the commotion, I’m still tied to a wooden pole completely surrounded by kindling. Its rider then jumps down beside me, pulls back his hood, and takes my breath away.
It’s a bronze-skinned boy, a little older than me, with a buzz cut and a chiseled jaw partially hidden by light stubble. With his gray eyes, he gives me a stare that I swear could melt butter. Maybe it’s the heat or maybe I’m just being melodramatic, but I think that if I weren’t actually fastened to this pole, my knees would’ve buckled a little. In a couple of strides, he slips behind me and I hear a knife slice through the ropes.
“Follow me,” he whispers, his voice full of danger that it almost sends a shiver down my spine.
The horse kneels for him and he mounts it in one motion. Then he extends his hand out, fully expecting me to take it. I gawk at him for a daft moment.
“Well?” he asks, frowning at my dawdling.
Let’s see, do I stay and wait to get sentenced to death again, or do I get on a smoky, black horse with a stranger who, let’s face it, is pretty smoking hot? Like that was something to think about. I take his hand and he pulls me up to his steed.
Enduring Attachments by Johann Farson
The knock came as expected. Three quick raps followed by a solid slap on the aging balsa frame of the door. No doubt it was from the courier service which the seller from SobrangSulit.com had employed.
His signature and full name were required. John Demetrio Ocampo, with a full exaggerated flourish of J.
God may not have come through at times. But from where he was standing, it was nice to see that some random stranger over the internet had done so. Even though he might have been the Devil for all anyone knew.
From an initial first examination, it looked no more special than a piece of charred rock which had been dutifully picked up of the ground, dusted off with a toothbrush, and ever so meticulously furnished with a bit of oil and varnish.
For sale: Palm-sized meteorite, found while taking a trip in the backroads of Pampanga. Previously purchased from a seller who claimed to have discovered it from a local river. Willing to sell for 500 pesos, or trade for certain items. Meetups can be arranged through text.
The description and link to the ad made its way onto John’s email in the spam section. The transaction was wired within a couple of days.
The question now was what to do with it?
One of John’s best friends had a passionate hobby in Geology, and it had been John’s plan to get this rock for him as a present.
Now though, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. He hadn’t quite been this fixated on an object since the time his dad had left his ‘bomba’ magazines lying around in the bathroom, ripe for his consumption.
Perhaps the rock would look good, lying on the center of his display cabinet.
Or not. Maybe it was just best to cover it up, ensuring that John wouldn’t have to be entranced by its unusual detail every time he passed through that section of the living room.
The shrill ring of his home T-phone brought John out of his trance.
He slowly flipped the rock beneath his blankets and got off the bed. The phone rang about five more times before John was able to reach it and press the intercom button.
“O is that you John? We’ve been looking all over for you kanina pa.” The voice of his friend Jen began with a whisper. “So get your ass over here and let’s have us a party!”
John pulled the phone back, as his ears rang from her outburst. “Hay naku, Jen. You’re planning on sleeping with several of the party guests again, no?”
“Aba’y why not? We only live once, dude!”
“Fine, fine. Who am I to argue about your promiscuous approach to doing things? I’ll be there in an hour. Just have to make sure my car won’t conk out on me if I take it that far.”
Jen replied. “Oh while you’re at it, I was hoping you could pick up a few things for us as well. The whole tropa I mean.”
John sighed. “Fine, I’ll go grab a pen and make a list.”
An hour later, John walked into the house where the party was being held. It was located directly at the top of a small hill, and the gate enclosing the border of the property had been a small one that John had easily climbed over.
There didn’t seem to be all that many people around at first glance, though there were a few scattered drunks lying about on the grass. But as soon as he entered through the sliding door at the side entrance, he knew he was in for an untidy crowd.
Most of the guests(Who were made up of teens and people who could pass as teens)were either playing beer pong by the poolside, or lining up for a round of Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle with the party hosts who sat with their legs crossed on the center of the dining table.
“The Circle’s big with the crowd.” John turned around at the sound of the familiar voice to meet the mischevious face of Jennifer Reyes, one of his more friendly colleagues. John peered over his sunglasses to take her all in. She wore a small green Beanie hat which did well to hide part of her smooth, long flowing locks of purple-streaked black hair. Her arms and legs seemed to have a little more toned-up muscle now, especially after the last time he had seen her.
“Our hosts, I mean.” She motioned to John’s side. “They’ve had a real reputation of being able to really perform. Whether it’s in the shower, on the bed, in the pool, or just inside somebody’s pants, supposedly they can really give some of the best orgasmic moments you can ever imagine. That is, if they come to really like you.”
“Bale, the guests over there all just waiting in line, hoping to get a little lucky?” John asked.
“I guess that’s the gist of it.” Jen grinned and put her arms around his head, leaning in to kiss him quickly but fully on the lips. “And now, I guess you got a little of that luck yourself.”
John took a step back, steadying himself. After a moment, he looked back up and returned her grin. “Grabi, ang landi mo pa rin!”
The two of them laughed and embraced.
“It hasn’t been quite the same you know, talking to you and everyone on the phone lang, all the time.” Jen spoke as she pulled away from the embrace. “This past year, I was so preoccupied by family matters in the province, that I never got to meet up with a lot of you guys. Things felt like they were crumbling around me. But I get to this party and just like that, I’m back!”
“Good to hear you’re enjoying it.” John smiled. “Speaking of friends, where would you say ours are?”
She pointed a manicured finger towards the ceiling. “Well, Tim and Jessica are upstairs, enjoying the view.”
“What about Ricky and Jerry?”
“You know they never really go for these types of parties. This crowd was just never for them. They promised they’d be there for the after-party thing, though.”
“Ah, I see.” John nodded. “ So…Should I place the items that I bought-
Jen pressed her left thumb against his lips. “Oh ,shh shh, let’s not get into that just yet, ok? There’ll be plenty of time for that later. For now, just go around the party, get to know the people here.” She gave him a concerned look. “I mean, only if you want to, of course. I’ll understand if you want to avoid them altogether.”
“Bahala na.” John indicated with his lip at the hosts who were now making out on the table. “Ikaw, were you planning on getting into a piece of some of that?” He asked.
“You know, one of them DID catch my eye a while back…So, yeah. I just might initiate a little contact first, you know just to test the waters…And the bed. See who starts screaming first.” With a wink, she pushed him to the side gently as she walked over to where the hosts were playing.
“Hanep talaga”. John muttered under his breath as he walked a short ways into the kitchen.
He pried the cover off the cooler, and reached inside, grabbing hold of a cold can of beer. For a few moments he stared at the design on the can. Finally he proclaimed: “Defend us in battle, o Saint Michael.” He pried it open and chugged the contents into his parched mouth.
A few beers later, he was finally ready to socialize.
He slugged a few steps forward into the back, past the sliding door, where the lengthy indoor pool was brightly illuminated and being enjoyed by several partygoers.
One of them was reading a book and had her feet dipped in the water. John immediately noticed that she didn’t seem to mind that her hair was partly in the water.
He tapped her gently on the shoulder, as he took a seat beside her, on the edge of the pool. She looked up from the native-looking hat she wore on her head, a quizzical expression on her face.
“Do you know what time it issss??” John couldn’t help but slur his last word, already feeling the effects of his binge.
“Oh uh, yes.” She took out her T-phone and took a peak. “It’s 6:07. Bakit? You getting bored already?”
“I wouldn’t sayyy thattt.” John uttered.
“No really, you can tell me. I’m one of the hosts anyway, so it’s my job to keep things from going dull.” She set her book aside and lay her palms out in a questioning gesture. “Well? Think you got any ideas for making this event a little more interesting? Cause I’m all ears.”
“Hey, it’s not really myyy placeee……To judge. The inuman’s good thoughooooo.” This time, he was slurring his speech intentionally.
From the grin he was managing to elicit from her, it looked as if his plan were working. “Hold on now. Mukhang napasobra ka na ng kaunti ah!” She moved to steady his arms, which seemed to be flexing uncontrollably, as he teetered near the edge of the pool.
“No, no it’s fine.” He indicated, and she slowly let go of his body. He raised his hand as if to shake her hand, at the same time sending his body into a teetering movement. “I’m John by the way. And-
He was cut off as he slipped and slid off into the cool waters of the pool, splashing her legs and clothes.
John couldn’t make out her expression as she replied. “It appears we’re both wet.”
Sparks of Circumstance by Chi Rodriguez
Three things cannot long be hidden.
Heavy feet hit the ground, one after another. Jana tries her best to keep running, even when the injury on her left leg forces her to limp through the ordeal. She falls against the alley wall and her jacket sticks to the concrete. The leather makes an awful sound akin to tearing bandage off a previously bleeding wound when she pushes away from the wall. Her hand is now covered with yellow gunk and she wipes it on her jeans as she stumbles forward. She turns her head at the sound of racing footsteps around the corner and hits her side against a dumpster.
It grows quiet. She presses her hand against her ribs as she tries not to groan.
A split second later the faraway footsteps grow louder, faster. Jana sprints, forces both her legs to move quickly even through the pain. There’s light at the end of the short expanse of road and she races to it. She passes the corner of the building, gives one last look behind her to make sure they have not caught up with her yet.
Just then a biker comes out of nowhere, swipes the handle of her bag and sends her spinning, falling. Jana hits the sidewalk and everything goes black.
“Order up for Hannah!” Kent calls out from the claiming counter. A girl approaches, blonde, makeup just enough to put color on her cheeks and tint her lips carnation pink. She smiles as she’s handed the vanilla latte—whipped cream with a caramel drizzle on top—that Kent chose for her earlier.
“Are you sure I’m going to like this?” She’s shy. She’s only been at the café a few times since she first walked in a couple of months ago.
Kent still remembers the day vividly. Hannah walked in with a male companion in tow, a smile on her lips while her boyfriend’s face had I don’t want to be here written all over it. She was unaware of the feelings of exasperation emanating from her boyfriend’s entire being—Joseph, he said his name was when Kent asked what he was supposed to write on their cups. He was seeing someone else, Kick flew by Kent’s ear to whisper before he was flicked away by a spark discreetly thrown his way. No one in the café saw a thing.
Joseph grumbled about not wanting someone else to pick his drink for him. Kent had to explain that, as was already posted behind the cashier monitor, that was how the café operated. It was for the same reason that no menu could be found anywhere. The baristas chose for their customers. The baristas knew what their customers needed. Always.
“Take a sip if you don’t believe me,” he says to Hannah, and couldn’t help but smile when the sadness he felt from her when she walked in flickers after the first sip. They broke up, Kick whispers the unsolicited truth again but disappears before Kent could do anything about it. Cusp finally got her act together, Kent thinks, and he reminds himself to give the caretaker of human intimacy a call later.
Hannah follows the scent of oranges, her favorite smell, to a corner table situated near the window. By the third sip of coffee, Kent watches as her aura gradually brightens around her.
The bell chimes when the door is pushed open and a new customer walks in. Kent saunters back to the register to greet them. “Good morning, welcome to Brewdoo!”
Air floods Jana’s lungs so quickly that her torso arches upward when she finally wakes up. She’s disoriented when the stark white of the room she’s in contradicts what her brain registers as the smell of coffee and fresh oranges. She feels warmth on the tips of her fingers even when they’re only laid flat on crisp white sheets and the air from the vents on the ceiling is cool on her face.
She’s in the hospital, she thinks when the sterile smell replaces the homey ones she’s woken up to. Just a while ago she was in a café, no. She was making coffee for some girl, no. She was drinking coffee? No. She was on the road. She was on the road being chased when a bike . . . yes.
These dreams have been plaguing her for months since she turned eighteen. They started coming to her only at night, in deep sleep. Then they began appearing even during the day. It’s come to a point where it feels as if it’s the dreams that are calling out to her now, and not sleep calling out for them. Because one minute she would just be sitting somewhere, realizing she’s fallen asleep and have dreamt only after she wakes up screaming.
Even though the most recent one has been the setting for many of her dreams, they aren’t always about coffee shops and random strangers. Sometimes Jana dreams of forests and talking animals, people who look like people but not completely, wars breaking out with the wave of a lace-gloved hand, and of the earth shifting at the sound of someone’s voice. Most of the time, it’s Jana’s. But in these enchanted dreams, the people always call her by a different name.
“You were ordered to procure the human for me, at all costs. How difficult could it be for a Ward to do his duty? Should you be turned into a tree? So you can do what you do best and stand there while the rest of the world moves around you?”
The Ward tries to read Lealle’s expression. But he knows that like always, there will be nothing there to read. Lealle has had that smile curving her lips from the very beginning. Her face has always been the picture of innocuousness. Not even the sharpness of her words, nor the gravity of the situation, has made the imposing brunette give away more than what is needed.
Eldunfolk are either scared of her or would give anything to serve at her feet. She’s the Omnia, the one who knows all, the one who sees all, and as far Eldunfolk know . . . controls all. She is power over both worlds manifested in one being, and she is good at exercising it.
“My apologies, Lealle. I’ll take my pack back to—,” the Ward begins to say but never gets to finish. Because suddenly the Omnia is frozen in her throne of tree roots, head lolling back as her eyes are completely filled with the color of amethyst. This is a first for this Ward and his jaw drops as he watches white smoke swirl on the surface of Lealle’s eyes. Eldunfolk are all magical creatures, but to see an Omnia like this is a rare feat, one that no being in either world is always privileged to witness. Only Wards and Keepers get to be in the presence of the Omnia.
But just as suddenly as it began, her eyes clear up and she is looking right through the Ward she was scolding but a moment ago. Slowly, her expression morphs back into that same unreadable calm. Whatever she just saw, it pleased her.
“No matter, Ward. You no longer have to suffer through another rat chase.” Her voice is calm, steady. The Ward does not express his confusion immediately and rightfully so, because shortly after, Lealle continues, “Shadow the girl. See to it that she finds her way to Hanzu’s portal. When she gets there . . . bring her to me.”
Jana comes to with her back against cold marble flooring and fluorescent lights nearly blinding her as she opens her eyes to rush out of that dream. Nurses surround her and the toppled-over wheelchair behind her. They’re starting to poke and prod, calling doctors, saying maybe they need to keep her a little longer for further observation.
She lets them help her up. But as soon as they’re rolling the wheelchair back for her to sit on, Jana makes a run for it and doesn’t look back.
The Rite of Passage by Rose Gallardo
The news of a great earthquake stirred us all in Barangay Sta. Clara. You see, our town is sitting on top of a massive fault line that is predicted to move after 400 years. The earth would shake so violently and many would perish. To save lives, our local government conducted earthquake drills and seminars about survival. Everyone is preparing for this inevitable event, but Tomas has another theoryabout the coming earthquake. He said that this is not a case of tectonic plates colliding with each other, but there is something more sinister underneath our land that is waiting to be awakened. Of course, nowould take him seriously for he is the town’s fool. His rantings are that of a crazy man, rather than a prophet of doom. He would roam the streets of Sta. Clara, talking to anyone he sees, knocking on everybody’s door to warn everyone to flee. Nobody would listen to him, so he decided to talk to Captain Narvasa about this matter. Upon entering his office, one of the town’s councilors pushed him away, he tripped and fell. Laughter filled the hall and Captain Narvasa went out of his office to see what the commotion is about. “Tomas, you stupid fool. What are you doing on the floor?” Cabeza Narvasa said, baffled. “We must flee… why can’t they believe me?” They all looked at each other and laughed again. The Captain maintained his composure and took Tomas’ hand so he can stand up. He straightened up the old man’s shirt and patted him on the back. He took Tomas out of the office. “My friend, it has been a long day. I think you should rest. You don’t look well. All this nonsense makes you ill. I tell you, there is no beast underneath Sta. Clara. The fault line is already ripe and bulging and due to move anytime.” “Exactly! Because the beast sleeps in the fault line when he wakes, the earth will move. And we are all dead. “ Tomas said, almost teary-eyed. “Well, pare, beast or not, we are still going to die.” Tomas went home disappointed. ===================================================================================== Tomas is my grandfather. Being his kind and understanding niece, I have no choice but to listen to hisnonsense. My grandfather is already senile and partially blind due to a cataract operation gone wrong.He stands as my father since high school for having lost my parents in that tragic sea accident. Lolo Tomas worked as a cabeza in Barangay Sta. Clara for many years. Cabeza Narvasa was a councilor at thattime and they have been good friends since then. He is considered as one of the founding fathers of our town and he knows its history very well. A lot of people would seek his advice on things, but then as his mind is failing, he started seeing things. Weird things. I found him sitting outside our house, looking intently at the sky. I took his hand and put it in my forehead. He looks sad, almost grieving.
“Mano po, Lolo. What’s wrong?” “An eclipse is about to take place. The beast will eat the moon and we are all going to live in the dark. This once majestic town will be in ashes, I could hear people wailing as the beast devours them,their sons, daughters, husbands, parent, everyone. There will be blood everywhere.” The wind is getting colder outside. I could feel Lolo’s body shiver. I took him inside and make him sit in his rocking chair. Sometimes I was wondering if he still knows I am Carla, his favorite granddaughter. We are never the same like some 10 years ago where we would talk all night about silly stuff, and give some words of wisdom about my petty problems. But now, we only have small talks like what he wants to eat or when he wants to sleep, trivial things. I sat infront of him and could only stare at his worried eyes. He was fidgety, clasping and unclasping his hand. I stood up and held his hand. I kissed his forehead to make him stop. “Lolo, please, be still. You are overthinking things again.” He stared at me for a minute. There was this hesitation that I felt. He wants to tell me something. “Have you ever wondered how your parents died?” That struck me so bad, like a spear piercing my heart. I was surprised he asked, for he never talked about it after the funeral. All I know is that MV Pearl of the Orient perished in the sea, including its 250 passengers. My parents were one of them. It was an accidental trip going to Bicol, for my mother’s sister requested her presence in her wedding. I was barely a year old then. Orphaned and devastated, my Lolo Tomas took me as his own. I never felt that loss for my grandfather gave all the love I could asked for. “Lo, you said they died in the sea, right? Is there more to that?” I asked, puzzled. Lolo Tomas just stared at me vacantly. Like he was lost in a trance. His eyes begins to get moist. With a shaking hand, he held mine. “The Bakunawa killed your parents. During the eclipse, it came. It was believed to stay only in the sea, but it seems this creature was able to adapt to crawl on land as well. It managed to get into the households and ate everyone in sight. Your parents fought valiantly to save many lives. But the Bakunawa is too much for them to beat. I could still hear your father’s scream when she was being swallowed by the beast, and your mother, crushed to the ground. I could have done something. But I was so… so weak. Karla, forgive me.” I was lost for words. My brain could not process this information. My parents are school teachers in Sta. Clara High School. Mild-mannered people. But I knew there something different about them. Like their murmurings and silent meetings outside my room. Curiosity has hit me and I happened to sneak past my father when he entered their bedroom. He opened an old dresser and was surprised to see an arsenal of weapons such as bolos, spears, arrows, balisong and other weird looking ones that I cannot identify. My father seems to be looking for something else. And then he held out a sword. In my young mind, I cannot seem to understand why we need these things. They can’t even hurt a fly. So I guess this breaks everything for me.
“I need to know more, Lo. Please. Tell me everything.” Lolo did not respond this time. He leaned on his rocking chair and closed his eyes. My grandfather is tired. I did wait for him to say something, but all I heard was his wheezing breath. I stood up and decided to go to my room. “Karla. You can do something to prevent this carnage from happening. You can save Sta. Clara. You have the power of the Moon Goddess, his mortal enemy. Search for your inner strength.” I looked at Lolo. He was saying these nonsense with his eyes closed. I cannot tell if he is awake or talking in his sleep. But whatever it is, things are getting a whole lot creepier. No, Tomas wasn’t sleeping. He was awake when he said that. He was just hesitant to spill the beans on Karla’s secret identity. He wasn’t even sure if she is ready for the task. Tomas could not blame his granddaughter, it was way too scary for a young girl to handle. Karla is so frail and would not know how to fight for herself. On the other hand, he was too old to train her to unleash her inner strength. It was he who taught Digna and Marcelo to fight the beast. He knew the ways, but his mind and body is slowly failing. But time is running out for this town. He can feel the beast turning, but not fully awake. In the other room he could hear Karla’s radio. It was tuned in to a news report regarding the upcoming lunar eclipse. He shuddered. He tried standing up on his rocking chair. Slowly, he walked to his son’s room, just beside Karla’s. He opened the dresser cabinet and reached for the sword. Tomas held it in his hands and caressed the hilt. He probed for the moonstone that was embedded in the center. He could feel enormous power coming from it, regaining strength from his frail body. This is what he needed, and so is Karla. Tomorrow, he will tell her everything. I hope he has a lot of time left to do this. There was a soft knock in my door. I never really slept that well after what he has told me. I had disturbing dreams about the Bakunawa. It was a huge serpent, with a mouth so menacing it could swallow a whole town. A crimson tongue, thorn-like whiskers, throbbing gills, small wires at its sides. Its massive wings flapped in the air, one is large and ash gray while the other is small which is found further down its body. It let out a blood-curdling scream as it reaches for the moon. I saw someone clad with a cloack valiantly waved a sword towards the beast. It glistened with the blood of the Bakunawa. It wailed in pain of defeat. Another blow and the beast plummeted on the ground. The one who slayed it followed the Bakuna on its demise, landing on the ground with a loud thud. The proud hero stood and removed its hood. I saw its face. It was mine. Now my grandfather is banging the door. I was sweaty when I woke up. A nightmare that is quite confusing to me. I got up and opened the door. My grandfather hugged me so tight and I never knew that I had cried. His warmth was enough to console my shaking body. “What you had seen is a vision of what you will become. The hero of Sta. Clara.” “That can’t be. I could not even kill a fly.” “I have to show you something. Come.” He took me in my parent’s bedroom. The dresser cabinet was no longer bolted. It was slightly ajar, and I knew I would not be seeing designer clothes in there. My grandfather opened it wide and was
blinded by a glowing light. There it was. The sword I saw my father held when I sneaked in to his room. The one that slayed the Bakunawa in my dream. Lolo Tomas carefully opened the case, took the sword and hand it to me. I took it with shaking hands. It was very light. I ran my fingers on its blade and felt its sharpness. The stone embedded on the hilt glowed, as if it is delighted to meet its new master. There was a tingling sensation, like a million volts of electricity took over my body. “Can you feel it?” my grandfather asked, examining my still puzzled face. “Yes. Some strange power. This utterly unbelievable confidence flooded my senses. Like that warrior-me exuded in my dream. What sorcery is this, Lolo?” “That would be that glowing stone on the hilt. The moonstone of Mayari. This Bakunawa is fond of eating the moon. That causes the eclipse. It was said that in the ancient times, there were seven moons. The Bakunawa has eaten six of them already. We have to save the seventh moon, or else, there would be darkness on earth. Bathala knew about this, that’s why he asked his daughter Mayari to choose from the Babaylan warriors to be the town’s champion. Our family was chosen for this difficult task.” “Oh, and I am the lucky one who will finish this risky business? I am not really sure if I am up to this.” I said hesitantly. Lolo Tomas gave a chuckle. That sounded good to my ears. I am not sure though if he is really that genuinely happy or being sarcastic. “You’re just like your father. Always whining. Why don’t you try it first and complain later?” Try. That was the only thing that I have in mind right now. To please my grandfather. What surprises me the most is that it seems he has regained his strength in the past few days. He was always on his feet, teaching me how to cleverly maneuver the sword. He also showed me my mother’s crossbow. I wanted to test drive it. It felt like Katniss Everdeen shooting her first bow. But I am uncertain if the odds would be in my favor. I am scared, that is for sure. Death is inevitable. Our backyard has turned into a training ground. Every morning, Lolo Tomas and I would engage in sword fights. He was quite fast that there were several times that he caught me off-guard. Many times I had fell, bruises all over. The sword that was lighter before is starting to become heavier each day. No, the sword is the same. It’s me getting tired and frustrated for I felt I am not progressing at all. We didn’t train today. We just sat under a mango tree, resting my head on his lap. He stroked my hair, like he used to do when I was little. “I could not go on, Lolo. I am tired. I am just a girl. Helpless, weak.” “In persevering we can win battles. The road to greatness is narrow and uneven, but if you tread on it unceasingly, it becomes easier.” I pondered on his words. It soothed my troubled soul. I can never let this man down. Not even my parents. I must find the will to overcome my fears. “Would you like to know how it all started? How this mess came to be?”
“I do need to hear some great adventure stories right now.” I am starting to like this new life I’m living. Not everyone has the chance to become a hero. For a girl, to be exact.
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