Till Death

 

The Medium

According to my friend, the woman had been in contact with him for quite some time now weeks after her death. Since she couldn’t go to him physically, she had to appear in his dreams instead. I’ll try my best to put here the actual exchanges they had, although, the details may not be exact, so I apologize in advance.

The ghost told him all about the gory details. How she went home alone that night, how she was taken by three sordid-looking men, and the manner of her apparent death. She spared no detail. But he couldn’t remember how the conversation ended, “for the life of me, I just couldn’t,” was his complaint when he phoned me the morning after the last contact. Why was it important? He probably wanted every single piece of information regardless if it was big or small. Hearing all these, I thought he was having a mental breakdown of the sort. I still kind of do, to be honest.

 

The Scoop

After some time, things took an abrupt turn when one day he learned about the grim news. The woman’s lifeless body was found in an abandoned warehouse near the outskirts of the city. The police working on the case had a few leads but nothing certain came out of their investigation — since the area where they had found her remains was in a secluded vicinity, runaways and shady characters do use the place for shelter, who knows for what else. According to the official report, she was probably drugged to last every bit of it and suffered for days. It was so gruesome that the family had no other choice but to have a closed-casket funeral. Based on what we heard, her skin, except for the head, had been completely peeled off. And what’s worse, authorities believed that she was alive when this diabolical act was done. It was like some sick dark ritual. This took a toll on him needless to say. He was so devastated that he became reclusive, cut off from the rest of the world. He could not understand how fate could be so cruel, how such an unimaginable sinister thing could ever happen to anyone, it was so unreal.

 

Office Pantry

One night he had a dream about the woman. They were both standing in the doorway of the office pantry talking about the places where she had been after her death. The conversation had taken place late in the night and no one except the guard stationed downstairs was in the building.

 

Lucid

“Yeah, I’ve been here and there, just lingering you know? The usual ghosts’ thing. But somehow, I’m beginning to feel my mind fading, little by little like I’m losing my own consciousness — my identity if that even makes sense to you. Of course, I still have to find the monsters who did this to me, that memory hasn’t left me just yet, and so I hang around still, mostly just to think.”

“You’re going after them?”

“I think I feel that I have to, but I couldn’t say for sure anymore. That’s why I need help.”

— After that phone call, I didn’t see him for a good two weeks. We never spoke about the conversation around his dream and acted as if it did not take place.

 

Skin and Bones

“Have you seen the doctor yet?”

“No, why? I just need to rest that’s all.”

“Go check yourself in the mirror? You’re skin and bones.”

“I know where I’m at, I can assure you that. You can let up now.”

I did what I could to talk some sense into him. His diet only consisted of cup noodles and cheap chocolate bars, basically candies. Frustrated, I looked his sister up through the emergency contact information in our company records. She agreed to meet me at the petrol station but she didn’t show up.

After a couple of hours, I decided to head back to my apartment. That evening, I got a call from her, I was surprised when I saw her name on the caller ID. Not a single word came through the receiver though — but she didn’t have to, the message was quite clear.

 

Ghost Hunting

From the apartment, we had to drop by the office to pick up flashlights and the first aid kit just in case. After that, we drove up straight to the abandoned warehouse and left the car at the barrier gate. As soon as we set foot in its compound, a cold chill ran down my spine. There was a rotting stench that welcomed us. It crept up into the nose like how rusty metal would smell during the rain only ten times stronger. We looked at each other before we walked any farther. I think it was because we both knew something was terribly wrong with the place. We went past the cordoned area that the police had set up, it was dark and dry, we lit up our flashlights and scouted the area, nervously calling out her name but only the echoes replied.

 

The Murder Scene

I think before we go further ahead with the story, we should probably talk about the history of the place where the body was found, the warehouse.

During the war, this place was one of the Japanese-occupied areas used as a bunker against air raids and was a strategic location for intel gathering — meaning, a place where they tortured prisoners of war. During the ’60s, tunnels were discovered for kilometers on end, linking command posts were also used when they retreated to the mountain ridges when the Americans had taken over Manila.

Some believe that after the surrender, some Japanese foot soldiers still remained holed up in those tunnels and stayed there for who knows how long.

 

The Remedy

But things did not hold up the way he had hoped. Meeting her in his dreams wasn’t good enough anymore, it had to be more. He seriously considered following her. I tried to talk sense into him numerous times, but he just continued on with his rhetoric and shared that he might have found a way to remedy his predicament. The insurance money could set his mom and his siblings for life, he argued. Of course, I did not take him seriously when he shared that.

It was obviously a mistake that I’ll probably have to live with for the rest of my life.

 

Circles

A few days after his death I started dreaming about the same thing over and over. In this dream, I am always working late nights and my friend and his girlfriend are always talking in the corridor outside the pantry at their usual spot. I always tried to listen in but I could never make out a single word. Maybe it was their way of saying that it was their world now and nothing can ever get in.

I think it’s probably true, nothing can come between them anymore, not even death.

It wouldn’t hurt if you belly flop into the pool

 

The Apparition

He didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Patrons buzzed all around as he sat there under a canopy in front of a cafe. Apparently, a genie was granting wishes on the sidewalk. A crowd was starting to swell up to watch the spectacle, their heads, placed so close together, resembled a small hill of hay on a deep midsummer’s night. The cause of this apparition, for the lack of a better term, was a tragic incident of a woman, the genie’s last master, who got hit by a speeding sedan. Sure, there was an attempt to undo this horrible misdoing but the woman was just unable to utter the words, her wish, when death, like a thief appearing from a blind spot, snatched away her last breath. A classic case of hit and run was the only comment the investigators gave for the papers. What a cruel twist of fate, all that power in the world, but in the end, old-fashioned fate won the race.

 

The Wish

When the genie found out that his human (the woman) was gone, he was taken aback and so devastated that he began giving away wishes to passersby. The only thing he’d ask in return is for them to save one wish for him, to allow him to turn his tears into fireworks — some call it a tribute, but truthfully, it was just a desperate attempt to reverse his sadness.

 

The Eyewitness

People are interesting species, was his personal observation, still skeptical of the genie. He stayed in his seat in the cafe, still under the shade, while weighing whether or not he should try a wish himself. The patrons nearest to him, tourists, most of them young, yakked incessantly about the ballgame the evening prior as though it had shifted the course of the history of that world. He then wondered about God, how he must feel watching over his creation on his perch, and if he worries. He then returned to his essays but the scene unfolding before him amused him still; he continued to watch the crowd of people line up pouring over their hearts’ desire. He couldn’t help but feel like a kid with an ant farm.

 

The Talk Show

These are some theories why we don’t find as many genies nowadays, a scholar with a brown bowtie said on TV:

(a.) It’s cultural. How such a being, in appearance, is always going to be different for each race, origin, region, and even religious belief, (camera no.2 zooms in for a more dramatic effect.)

(b.) Nobody believes they exist anymore. Like fairies, they only exist if there is less doubt.

(c.) The devil took over management, (the scholar hesitated to elaborate.)

Host: I’m not sure I understand what you’re suggesting.

Scholar: People as species, are not responsible beings. One cannot simply get their wishes granted without repercussions or some level of responsibility. All I’m trying to say is that it’s like tracing puzzle dots, you won’t make out the picture if you won’t make the connection.

 

The Superintendent’s Note

It was a noise complaint, the piece of note said. He’d been playing the TV so loud following that phenomenon for days about the genie. He tried to phone Jerry, his friend, but there wasn’t a dial tone. The noise complaint turned out to be quite a concern among the neighbors they had asked the superintendent to handle the matter. It was just a short note but the paper seemed to weigh so much — he checked if there were pebbles inside the envelope but there weren’t any. A curious thought circled playfully as he held the parchment paper with the letterhead. They have skinny walls but he has never heard his next-door neighbors’ voices ever, hasn’t met them, never came across any of them in the hallway. Not even a sign that would suggest that somebody was living next to him in the first place. He never heard them consummate, nor let out a horrible yell, not even a sneeze. He followed the trail of thought and rested on a sentiment that it would have been nice to hear anything at all just to indicate a pulse. But how can that be? It just wasn’t possible, unable to hear anything from those rooms next to his. Everybody must be in it, the whole world in an agreement to not talk about it — a TV forever on mute. Perhaps somebody asked the genie to turn everything into a mime show.

 

Running Nose

After hours of handing out job applications, he found himself catching his breath in front of a high-rise condominium where a mounted image of a lion can be seen at the entryway. It wasn’t the rainy season yet but he already has a cold. At the nearby pharmacy, over-the-counter remedies were on display but he still approached the man at the counter. He later learned that all pharmacies, even hospitals, are to be shut down since nobody needs medicines anymore, now that the genie has gone corporate, and made ties with political leaders. He handed over a made-up prescription written on the back of the note he received from the superintendent. The pharmacist let out a quiet chuckle.   

The Waiting Room

It was like any other dream except that it wasn’t. K woke up in a waiting room (of some unknown hospital) although he hadn’t had a clue on how or why he had ended up there. After patting down his chest, parts of his torso, and his neck (party touched his face,) he threw a muted question, “Is someone I know hurt? Did something terrible happen to me?” This kept on circling upon K’s thoughts for some time. But no matter how hard he tried to recollect traces of memory from an incident that could explain him being in that room, he just couldn’t find any. He looked around the whitewashed walls and the first thing that he noticed was the clock hanging on one of its bare surfaces. If it had been a regular type of clock, he would have just moved his gaze past it and continued surveying the room, only it was the first of its kind that he had seen. It bore thirteen numbers on its face. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating, but he was seeing what he was seeing – 13 numbers, and it was analog. Of course, whoever was in charge of his care could have given him a strong medication, the kind that induces a bad case of hallucinogen side effect, but he was quite certain that he was level-headed and fully conscious. It would have made sense if it had been a digital clock, which meant that it was on military time, but then again it wasn’t. Besides, if it was following that time format (quite absurd to see on an analog clock,) it should have also included the number 14 and the rest of the numbers all the way to 23. Leaving out no. 13 like that was all too strange. It was a little past 13 o’clock, the time said, and K didn’t have a single clue as to why the shorthand on its face was pointing at that number. “Probably it’s a practical joke but a place like this is too serious for jokes like this, it’s simply unethical.” K thought that perhaps it was like daylight saving time, maybe they added another number on the clock to recognize the long working shifts the medical staff was rendering. It made sense, K thought, given the demand in their line of work. Although the notion was completely unheard of, foolishly baseless even, he nonetheless consoled his mind and settled on this raw conclusion. There were benches on each side of the room and two more with their backrests leaning against each other right at the center. There were about 6 to 7 patients (whom K assumed were) in the waiting room and like him, without anyone to accompany them. Observing them but not directly staring, K noticed that either they were dozing off or like him, appeared to be clueless as to where they are now. They wore normal clothes (like K did,) and seemed like they too, were waiting for someone to fill them in. The patient nearest to K was a skinny-looking individual with no hair, even the brows and the person’s arms and parts of the legs (what’s visible) were completely clean-shaven. K couldn’t make out the patient’s gender, he or she simply looked androgynous. The patient’s head was relatively small, facial features were soft, the type that would give one an inkling that he or she would rather keep to himself or herself, and when K processed this thought even further, the bald, skinny patient actually looked like a child. K attempted to see if the chest bulged but he retracted the idea almost immediately. Instead, K decided to rest his eyes to avoid any unwanted situation that could get him into trouble. Sleep was something K could do on a whim. If there’s anything that he could do great it was sleeping right on the spot whenever or wherever he decides to but such talent didn’t amount to anything in the real world, it is even frowned upon given its association to laziness and procrastination.

When K woke up from the nap, he was certain that he was out for at least two hours or so but the clock had only moved for one or two minutes, five minutes at the most. It seemed that it was working just fine, and nothing was wrong with it, but somehow K got that unsettling feeling that he was there for eternity, and time moved slower in that waiting room. K stood up but to his surprise, most of the other patients were already gone and it was only him and the bald, skinny patient who were left in the room. He walked towards the door and tried to open it, but the doorknob was dead stuck and seemed to be locked on the other side. Impatiently, K decided to muster courage and approached the other patient.

“Hello, would you know where’s the nurse’s station around here?”   

“It’s outside of this room, just on the other side of that door.”

The bald, skinny patient softly said.

“Ahh, did any of them go in just now?”

“Yes, in fact, you just missed them. You were sleeping, I think.”

K smacked his head with the palm of his hand.

“Don’t do that, mister.”

“Do what?”

“That, hitting your head like that. You might want to hold onto what’s left of your memories.”

The bald, skinny patient almost mumbled this time as if groveling for the words.

And as soon as the bald guy mentioned this, K noticed a wrinkly-looking cord sticking out of the other patient’s gown (the nurses must have changed his/her clothes when he was napping.)  

“Hey, are you alright? I think we ought to get some help quick.”

Thick, transparent liquid began to gush out of the cord. The movie Alien 3 flashed by K’s thoughts.

K rushed off to the door once again and yelled for the nurses.

“Hey! We need some urgent help here, please!” K continuously knocked and slammed on the door.

When K leaned his ear onto the door, he could hear footsteps rushing towards it.  What sounded like keys jingling soon after followed and the door was finally unlocked and opened. And what greeted K, were nine-footer nurses, at least to him, and a doctor (of the same height) standing behind them.

“What’s wrong?” One of the female nurses asked.

“I think I just saw that person’s guts all over the floor!”  K frantically answered.

The giant nurses together with the doctor hurriedly went in and checked the skinny, bald patient. After a few beats, their facial expressions went from worried to relieved. 

“I think we’re all good here,” one of them declared. “Patient’s umbilical cord just came through earlier than expected.”

“Let’s incubate and prepare for the procedure,” the doctor ordered the nurses.

All except for the doctor, the nurses went back to the other side and closed the door behind them. One of them carried the bald patient like a baby in her arms, (another first for K) and indeed, he or she looked like a baby being cradled like that.

“Mr. K, can I have a word?”  The doctor turned after placing the eyeglasses back in their case.

“You’ll be out of here soon enough, well, once your navel turns to develop, but please do not worry.”  

K didn’t respond and was waiting for the doctor to expound what he meant.

“Why don’t we go to the bar? It’s just over there.”

Both the doctor and K went out of the waiting room and true enough entered a dark smoky bar.

“What in the hell is going on? Does my family know that I’m here?”

“Yes, Mr. K, they know what happened to you.”

K took some time to process his thoughts.

“Did something bad happen?”

“You’re indeed such a specimen.”

“But I don’t remember much, no wait, I don’t remember anything.”

“But you do remember me, don’t you?”

“I think I’ve seen you before, doctor.”

“That’s because we were friends. Stuff like that is hard to erase.”

“Will I be able to hold onto this memory?”

“Have you ever wondered about the phrase ‘Creatures of Habit?’ I mean really thought about it? If you’d look it up in the dictionary, you’d find the definition as “a person who follows an unwavering routine. But I think the generalization is off, but then again, perhaps there is a reason. I guess some things are meant to carry on.”

“You mean, ghosts and lost spirits?”

“No, Mr. K, I was thinking of debts, guilt, and morning breaths.”

Both of them shared a quiet chuckle.

“May I call my wife, please? I do have one, right?”

“Perhaps, but it’s against protocol, besides, you’ll probably end up with another. Why don’t you finish your drink? It’s going to be a while before you’d be able to have one.” 

K took a sip and asked for another round. 

“I don’t want to forget,” K said ruefully.

“Nobody does. But remember this, all the ones that we’ve come to love were strangers once.”

They clinked their glasses and downed their whiskeys in a single gulp and just like all those years that went through K’s life, it zipped on by like a blip that came out of nowhere. But time wasn’t letting go, after all, it was still a little past 13 o’clock and it moved so slow that he felt that they could just stay there forever. K felt compelled to order another round and another and kept on riding that infinite stream of consciousness until it was no more and it was already time to go back to the waiting room.

True (cat) Detective

It must be around midnight when I thought I heard something strange. I was still up since I had trouble getting sleep sometimes, I would just lie there the whole night in my bed cursing the ceiling. The source of the ruckus was from outside my bedroom window and apparently, seven angry cats broke into the house. They clawed a perfect circle on the glass but one of them couldn’t fit through, so they made a much bigger hole. They were looking for a “black limping spider” that was how they described who they were after, a male black widow to be exact.

“It’d be just a speck to your eyes, mister, just about 7-8 millimeters in size.” One of them said.

Two cats sat down by my bed while the rest went about the room sniffing and searching.

The lead feline sleuth pulled up a photo from its tabby fur coat, fanned out its chubby paws to show me. I told them that only common house spiders came by but none of them stayed. They asked me for their names but of course, I wouldn’t know any of that.

“How about rabbits? Have you noticed any strange activities around your yard?”

“What do you mean rabbits? I’m not sure where you came from, detective, but around here in the city, you wouldn’t see any rabbits roaming around.”

“The rabbits whom I refer to are not from around. These are dangerous yakuza rabbits.” The lead detective’s tone was low.

“They were hired by the female spider, the lover. Those crazy bunnies are after our client. They won’t stop until they’d found him.”

“What’s this got to do with me then?”

“Well, we traced some shreds of vegetables on the way over. And your house is the nearest from our last lead, we’re just scouting, sorry mister, just standard procedure.” Its silvery fur glared in the light of a passing car.

“The one we’re looking for, the black limping spider, was her mate. She got a taste of him, it’s now missing a leg, and apparently wants the whole cake if you know what I mean. We’re here for his protection. He went to us last week but it seemed like he got spooked and ran away.”

Since none of it was my business, I couldn’t help but feel amused about what the detective cats were wearing. They were wearing fedoras and ties, one of them had suspenders, even. I didn’t know that there were detective cats let alone dressed up like humans.

“Cats do have furry coats for a reason. We use it to conceal these whenever it’s needed. We are true to our cause that’s why we have to pretend that we’re just your normal house pets. That’s how we get into your homes.”

“Are all cats like you guys?”

“Of course not. But everyone is into it. It’s part of our code.”

While we were talking, one of the deputy cats came up to us holding a sachet of Nizoral in its mouth.

“Found this caught in the trap door ceiling, looks odd,” turns to the lead cat sleuth.

And just like that, all seven cats surrounded the area. One cat made sure that the door and the windows were closed, another climbed up the closet near the trap door and the rest stealthily hid under the side table, a shoebox, and into a plastic container. All of them have waited patiently until the male black spider came out from its hiding spot.

It took a lot of convincing but after some time, the black spider with a missing leg calmed down. We fed the poor thing and it confided that it was feeding on the dandruff shampoo for days to stay hidden and to stay alive.

It loved her. But the female black widow tried to eat him. And needless to say, it was devastated, brokenhearted. The seven cat detectives had valiantly exemplified their skills, but the male black spider wanted to discontinue their services for obvious reasons.

It was the last time we saw the spider. Maybe it made the trip on the way over to see the female black widow, if so, I still don’t understand why he’d do that. Maybe it wanted to confront her. Maybe it needed some sort of finality, an answer at the risk of getting eaten. Maybe he was able to escape, but nobody was able to find out what exactly happened.

I still get regular visits from the cat detectives. Sometimes, I even get to see them around the park, but they don’t like to be petted.

“In my years of detective work, I’ve been around the world serving kings, queens, royalties, important men of their time, dealing with the common town folk, even insects, an arachnid in this case. And fate has been kind enough to have allowed me to witness many great mysteries, big and small, have allowed me to participate to deal with questions difficult to answer, oftentimes because I am not asking the right ones. Do you see? our reach has its limitations for a reason… Time had lent its invisible hand and invited me to work and solve some of these cases only to arrive at the conclusion that answers are not the answers sometimes — I don’t know if it makes any sense to you, but the most important mysteries, I think, are best dealt with quiet ponderings that sometimes need not be responded to.

This pinched my chest. I thought of giving my dead wife a late-night phone call just because. I picked up the handset releasing the plunger, I then rested my ear on the receiver. And as soon as I did this, the dial tone indicated some signs of life in its infinite tone. But I knew there was nothing there on the other end, at least not there. I think that cat sleuth is onto something.