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.



“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.



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 that 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.

Nightly Concessions



H still thought it was a good idea for us to tag along. There wasn’t much else to do anyway, nor did we find any reason not to. We just agreed and went. At the party, the three of us kept on downing drinks, cracking up while we ransacked the fridge and whatever was there in the pantry; the birthday girl, whom we only met once, treated us like some delegates because we’ve got the funniest jokes that night. While the brightly colored confetti, like dirty snow, was sidelined soon after they touched the ground. They remained in the slums of spilled drinks with all the muddied cigarette ash on the floor as the faint breeze from the rotating stand fan plowed the half-deflated balloons, frustratingly convincing the onlookers that they still got a pulse. After some time, we slid out through the backdoor, sat by the pool, and watched the reflection of the moon quiver on its surface. My friends and I talked about old western tramways and isolation, argued about bullfights, spending afternoons in the countryside — we talked about this and that, mainly about the trip that would never happen. We stayed seated there, like some discarded tinsel, our backs pinned against the chicken fence while watching the moon shine low over a satellite dish.



Night Owls

They watched the night trains roll by the apartment window giving out occasional electric sparks. It almost felt like counting sheep, but they didn’t work. Their iron wheels on the flat-footed rails were heavy and their hisses sharp. Besides, it wasn’t the time for sleep. When the time came, as the clock went off, it cued the man to get up and get dressed, to pocket his keys together with his phone, pulled out a few notes, and paid her rate. He wanted to stay a bit longer, say something nice, talk more, perhaps about where she’d got that new dress. He thought about calling room service before hitting the road. But her moonlight face chose to stay in the night, her light would drown in the sun; she’d be inconspicuous and ordinary. Her faint glow needed the dark alright, but the shine consigned was at a price that he could never afford.




In the end, he’d sorted out his affairs just before things got worse. It was the best advice he got from his physician since the time he started seeing him. He would have phoned his lawyer to help him out with his estate if only he had any. At least his debts would die with him, it was little consolations like this that he’d leave behind for his loved ones which he hoped would merit a good enough eulogy. A few nice lines were enough, perhaps some of them would stay for the cake. He imagined it would rain and everyone would bring their black umbrellas, wearing the same type of clothing, perhaps play his favorite song. However, during the service, the sky was clear, there wasn’t a single patch of cloud that can be seen. The sun was out, shining, wildflowers sprouted everywhere while little canaries sang in the blowing wind from afar. It was as if the day wasn’t even trying.



Looney Tunes

The ward where they placed him was humid and cramped. But for crazy people like himself, things like these were mere trivial matters. During art lessons, the woman, a year or two older than he was, started humming a tune while she dabbled the paintbrush on the canvas. Nobody in the room realized it at first, but the song, although made up, resonated with everyone, especially with the young man. They just knew. It was like an anthem sang by angels.


Strange Conversations

This is about a strange encounter I had many years ago. It’s a lengthy one, but allow me to narrate it to you just the same. I came from a middle-class family and although I should be able to live comfortably enough as a student, things went sour after my father’s passing. Tuition payments could be intense and so I had no choice but to find work to help out with the expenses, luckily, I was able to land one nearby. The place was open 24-hours, however, it was not as popular as compared to the big names you’d usually go for. But they had decent food choices, making them a good-enough alternative for those who worked at the nearby commercial buildings and for the students who went to the university. I worked on the graveyard shift, which meant, foot traffic wasn’t as high compared to daytime. Needless to say, it worked pretty well with what I needed — a peaceful place where I could focus to do a bit of studying while earning. The only setback was that the public transport wasn’t available during wee hours, either you’d wait it out until daybreak or walk for a few kilometers to get to the nearest bus station which was ill-advised. On that particular night, when I clocked in to relieve the last guy, I remember feeling anxious about schoolwork but nowhere near the right mood for it. I was on a deadline and felt that I should hit the books the first instance I could jump into, it’s just that my mind wasn’t in the right place so to speak.

There was quite a downpour making the mood sort of slow and quiet. Past midnight, the number of customers decreased as expected and the last of the customers were a couple making a last stop bite before heading home. After serving their food, they still hung around though, standing there by the counter. Usually, they’d just go, but they didn’t. They were probably waiting for the rain to let up. Figuring that they’re through, I went on to my other routine wiping off the counter surface, I got the mop and started with the kitchen floor. And when I ducked down reaching for something on the lower counter compartments, I heard someone say hello to me. It sounded like it came all the way from the front entrance but when I resurfaced, instead of seeing the couple, an old man was standing there in front of me. The couple was gone and was sort of replaced by this new customer. Naturally, I was taken aback by how the man snuck up on me like that. I didn’t see him entering nor standing in line, he was like a stealthy cat.

The old man had a transparent plastic poncho on and a fedora. Under his raincoat, was a tweed jacket over a white button-down shirt and what appeared to be a faded brown tie. He looked nice enough, he could as well be one of the university professors, at least that was my initial impression, but I don’t remember seeing him around the campus nor elsewhere. When he took off his hat, most of his hair was gone, and he had a creased smile that shrunk his Asian features all the more. He was very polite and should I say, still full of energy for his age. As he leaned on the aluminum counter and surveyed the menu overhead, his brows met, as if that meal was of a great deal of consequence, muttering to himself as he read through the list.

“I think I’ll take one of each.”

“I’m awfully sorry, which one?”

“I could be very indecisive, so please indulge me.”

Dumbfounded, it took me a few beats before I was able to respond. 

“Very well, Sir, I suppose this is to go?” 

“No, I prefer to dine here.” 

At this point, I didn’t pursue the matter anymore. I thought, the sooner I started working on his orders the sooner I could get him off my back and probably begin my schoolwork. I thought of giving a recap of the order but doing that would just make me sound rather silly. Instead, I went on to work right ahead. I preheated the fryer and griddle, cleared the prep table, and started working. “Of all the nights it had to be tonight,” I complained to myself while watching the old man leisurely reading a folded newspaper through the tray rack. 

I ran back and forth serving each of the meals on the menu. And each time I went to the old man’s table, he’d turn to me with the widest smile which crept me out a little bit. I know he was just being polite, it’s just that it was a little too much for me I guess. 

Considering his medium-size built, the old man didn’t look as if he’s slowing down, I even thought he looked determined finishing all of that food.  

I forgot to mention that while preparing his food, apart from the newspaper he brought, I also saw him flipping through a small pocket notebook. It looked pretty worn-down like it’s been with him for a very long time. It looked like one of those notebooks sleuths would carry around in their pockets. The old man was seated just across from where I stood behind the counter and I saw him intensely reading every bit of it. At first, I didn’t think it was anything at all, but he kept on whispering to himself, kept on looking through the glass window, his gaze off to somewhere very distant like he’s onto some deep serious thoughts. 

He didn’t pay cash and so, through the card that he used, I thought I should be able to look his name up on the web but it turned out nothing. 

I didn’t know what came over me. But it seemed odd that I couldn’t find any trace of him. You’d usually find most people online. But then again, maybe not all people are fond of being found at all.    

“I don’t think I could finish all of these,” the old man turned to me after some time. 

“Can you wrap the rest to go instead, please? But you could do that later, I’m not backing down just yet.” 

“No worries, please do let me know if you’re about done. 

“Oh yes, I will.”

Under the light, he looked strangely familiar.  When I thought about it, he really did look like John Wayne, except, he’s Asian. 

“Say, do you mind me asking a few questions?”    

He pulls up a small colored photo of a woman in her twenties and started asking questions about the woman’s whereabouts. Of course, I didn’t know anything.

“Any chance you that it may have just slipped out of your mind?” 

“I think I would recognize a beautiful young lady like that from a distance.”

“So you’re saying you would have pursued her, that you’re attracted to her?”

“No, I didn’t say that.”

“But you admitted that you think she’s attractive.”

“Yeah, sure, but I didn’t say I would approach her.”

“What would you do then?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you’d seen her walking through that door, sitting here this late, what would you have done?”

I didn’t say anything for a while and sort of composed my thoughts.  

That’s when it hit me. Just a few nights before, a woman’s lifeless body was found in some abandoned warehouse, somewhere near the outskirts of the tech hub. The police working on the case had a few leads but nothing certain came out of their investigation. Truthfully, I wasn’t surprised at all given their unimpressive track record. The area where they had found the woman was a cesspool for delinquents and they’re hinting that it was the cause. Of course, they could be right, after all, the warehouse was in a secluded vicinity. Runaways and many homeless people use the place for shelter all the time since the government hasn’t reclaimed the area yet. But the manner to which they found the woman’s body didn’t exactly correspond to that assessment. According to the official report, she was probably mugged, drugged, and tortured, suffered for days before finally being put out of her misery. It was so gruesome that the family decided to have a closed casket funeral instead. Based on what my friends and I have heard, her skin, except for the head, had been peeled off. And what’s worse, she was alive when this diabolical act was done. It was like some sick dark ritual, nothing a common criminal would do. 

“Is that the same person who I think it is?” 

“Why? Do you know her?”

“I may be wrong but is she the one they found just a few nights ago?”

“So you did see her?”

“If she’s the one on TV, then yes. But only on TV.”

At this point, our conversation took a sharp turn. I may or may have not told him that he looked like John Wayne. Anyway, I explained to the old man the truth that I memorized his name through the receipt and looked him up online. 

“Seems like I have a competition right here. Have you considered serving?”

I thought hearing that question was quite odd. I may not know who that old guy was, but there were clear indicators that he was working on the case.

“Please forgive me for snooping, Sir, I was just curious that’s all. As you can see, I am alone here, no security guards around, I hope you could see where I’m coming from.” 

Although I didn’t know the woman or anything about the case, I stayed in the conversation because I was intrigued. Besides, I knew I wasn’t guilty of anything, so I thought I’d get more out of the conversation than he would. 

“Probably there was something that she’d said, maybe she went against the wrong people. I mean, if you’re working on this case and interviewing people uptown, there must be something more than the angle of mugging.”

I must have been deep in my thoughts when I was explaining this that I didn’t realize sooner that he was taking notes. 

“Do you believe that’s what happened?” 

“It’s just a thought,” I clarified.

Then he showed me another photo.  A photo of me in a rally.

“Can you confirm that this was you here?” 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was confused. What in the hell is happening? Why does this man have a photo of me?

“Where did you get this?”

“Just answer the question kid.”

Beads of sweat began to build upon my forehead, this was so unexpected.  He dropped a few more names, names whom I’ve heard were part of an underground group attempting to topple the government and some I only heard that night.

“I didn’t take you for a thought police.”

The old man’s expression suddenly changed. 

From cheerful and friendly, it became perplexed.

His Asian features, as well as his facial lines, deepened. 

We sat there in silence for quite a long time. 

It was an uncomfortable stare-down, but it was a kind of conversation that I also enjoyed, you could say. 

Probably the juice I needed to finish my school paper. 

I know that the old man knew that the woman and myself didn’t know each other. 

That he was there for me. That the woman was a reminder.

If there was one thing I realized was that, whoever that woman was, she got to them deep where it really hurt.

I later found out that she was suspected of smuggling drugs and what happened was apparently a rubout.  Of course, with how things went down that night, nothing could be further from the truth. 

It was the last time I saw the old man. After a few months of working at the food joint, I eventually quit. 

But I couldn’t help but feel that I’m still being followed. I think I see or rather sense people watching me here and there. They’d be standing by an electrical post or walking meters away following me, pretending to have phone calls or eating tables away from me, reading my mails. Of course, it could just be my imagination, but I get that same strange feeling every time, the same feeling I’ve got the night I met that old man. 

As for the woman, the news eventually stopped covering updates about her case and as with all things, life had moved onto other things. 

Two weeks ago, I got reacquainted with an old friend who is still involved with our school. I told him my experience but I rather not share the details with you here. But If there’s anything I would say it’s that, we had an even stranger conversation that would go further deep down the rabbit hole. 

The Woman in the Bar

A guy walked into a bar. It was midday and although there were only fine rains, he decided it’s better to wait it out and not risk it. Climate change has made weather reports unreliable these days, he thought, and a few cold beers wouldn’t hurt anyway. There was a woman with an orange tabby cat at the bar. The cat was in a carrier on a stool next to her casually licking its paws. The guy pulled the corner stool and ordered his drink, lit a cigarette. The woman, probably in her mid-thirties, pulled out from her handbag, a much smaller purse, and two small men jumped out of it as if scurrying. And although they were standing next to each other for some time now, the two tiny men seemed to be oblivious of each other’s presence. The first one sat at the chair with a table the woman has also pulled out from her purse, drinking bourbon the woman poured, while the other one found a spot at the edge of the bar and swung a fishing rod into the air as if he was at the sea.

The woman first talked to the tiny man who was sitting at the miniature table, talking to him as he shuffled a deck of cards. Because of his size, the tiny man got drunk quite fast. Both the woman and the first tiny man exchanged laughs as their conversation went on. Watching them, the guy on the corner stool thought that they must be lovers, and although it was none of his concern, he couldn’t resist observing them from where he sat. From the way the woman tilted her head and how she was playing with the locks of her hair every time the tiny man cracked a joke, she seemed quite interested. Needless to say, the first tiny man was quite a charmer. After a few minutes, the woman excused herself and went to the rest room. When she returned to her seat, she turned to the second tiny man and started a conversation. As far as the first tiny man was concerned, she still wasn’t back. The woman and the second tiny man mainly talked about fishing and his search for the “biggest fishing conquest,” his eyes gleamed when he talked about his adventures and declared that he’d love to take her with him some time very soon.

The woman did this for some time, the two tiny men taking turns, unaware of each other’s existence as if living in separate worlds. As time went on, it became less and less for the guy at the corner stool to hear what they’re talking about. All he could see was that they were all whispering to each other’s ears in turns, giggling as they got more engaged.

“Why don’t we go somewhere more quiet, private?” The woman addressed both tiny men at the same time. They were caught off guard in a good way of course, even the guy sitting on the corner stool heard the invitation. The tiny men simultaneously gave out their answers to the woman, as they held each side of her well-defined jawline, as if placed in some sort of spell. The woman held out her hand, guided the tiny man with the fishing rod into the cat carrier since he was the closest, opening the cage and slipped him through with a gentle nudge of her hand. Moments later, there was a rattle inside the carrier and some muted screams as the fat orange cat pounced on her prey. The same fate awaited for the other tiny man, only this time, it was quieter. He was drunk from the four sips of bourbon — there wasn’t much struggle. The only sound that the guy sitting on the corner stool heard was the crunching of the tiny man’s little bones.

Horrified, the guy from the corner stool quietly pulled out his wallet to settle his bill. He pretended to take a call so as not to draw attention. He was in a strange place, in a strange town. It was his first time there. And when he looked around, although there were only few, the patrons appeared to be unperturbed by the incident. He continued to talk to the fictitious person on the other end of the fictitious call as he stood up and pulled his bag onto his shoulder. And as he walked toward the front door and stepped out, it was only then when he realized that the rain let up and it was already nighttime. But it was completely dark out, there were no streetlights nor the windows from the neighboring apartment buildings were nowhere to be seen. It was completely dark except for the two amber moons overhead that somehow resembled the eyes of the orange tabby cat from inside the bar.



Public Ward

The hospital beds were lined up evenly as if parked cars. All of the patients were facing eastward towards the direction of the morning sun, it’d be good for us, the nurses kept on saying. Next to me, was a middle-aged man struggling with his breakfast which he sipped through a plastic straw. His undivided attention, life’s worth of training dedicated to that simple pursuit. I heard that he used to be well-known, used to play overseas some years ago before a career-ending incident. Looking around, a grim thought suddenly dawned on me — the inevitable truth that we are all heading down the same corridor. Our shadows will catch on eventually. The patients looked the same in those gowns they made us wear. All of our collective backstories, identities, and even passions, were mere incidental trivial matters for the time being.



Old Movies

We went back to her apartment and rewatched some of the old movies she had on CDs. As usual, traffic was so bad that we missed the screening of the weekend premiere. “But that’s okay,” she said while reliving those perfect lines from that perfect screenplay. A million times over and yet, I still saw those tears rolling over her cheeks at the exact queues — it was like a magic trick. I snuck a peek to look at her in the dark; her face enveloped in the light of the TV monitor. And at that moment, I could not help but feel that I was being taken. It felt as if I was swallowed up and being washed away, in the foams of a great wave. It was definitely magic.




Two amateur robbers were squatting in the dark.

“John, I don’t think I could get through this.” one of the robbers said hesitantly.

As if hearing nothing, John (not his real name) wiped off the sweat under his ski-mask and just continued working on the fence with the wire cutters.

“I’m sorry, but I’m bailing out.” The fearful robber jumped off the wall but hurt his ankle when he landed. He missed the thicket. Bellowing in pain, he lay on his back holding the injured leg with both hands.

There were barking dogs that can be heard in the distance.

John abandoned his attempt to break in and helped the friend up.

While fleeing farther away from the scene, the friend apologized sincerely while limping.

“I should shoot you, you know?”

“I know. I’m sorry I let you down.”

“Nah, I guess it’s a sign. Let’s face it, we’re not cut out for this sort of thing. At least we learned something tonight.”

“Yeah? Like what exactly?”

“That we should enter politics instead.”




A buddy and I liked to drive around town and have our usual aimless conversations. He’s one of those kids who live in those affluent subdivisions with really high walls you’d mistake for a fortress. For the life of me, I still don’t know how we ended up as friends. I suppose it didn’t matter to him, or maybe, having me around was a novelty for his kind. No matter, I was just glad to have him around during those years, I even thought that I was helping him. I showed him the real world while he helped me escape it — a paradoxical symbiosis of a sort.

If we could, we’d exchange lives. We both thought we’d rub each other out.

Maybe, I just liked driving around in shiny cars I only saw on TV. He tried to explain things to me but I could not catch on. Maybe, I got lost in the haze. Maybe, he was too. We just drove on, agreed that we would stay on that stretch in silence instead. The way was dark, but at least we had those four feet of headlights to guide us through into the night.

Drunk Men Don’t Sleep


Indie Film

She was one of those aspiring movie stars I met in a smoky bar after-hours. It was just temporary, she said, working graveyard shifts for some offshore company paying premium for local support. She was celebrating, skipped work, liberating herself for the occasion. She bought me two rounds of Jim Beam and a platter of chicken wings, I guess, to warrant the intent. I wanted to believe her, rooted for her even. But there was something in the way she held that drink that betrayed her. I decided not to pursue it, I didn’t want to ruin the night. Instead, I found my fingers plodding the crucifix tattoo she had on her chest. It was her lucky charm, she claimed. It had worked so well that, she thought it was what got her the part more than her acting talent.

“The audition didn’t even last half an hour. We went filming shortly after. I guess it sort of attracts sordid men.” It was an indie film, the type that doesn’t roll credits at the end.

“One of the cool girls had this and so I thought I should get one myself. Thinking about it now, it feels like living in somebody else’s dream. You know? I don’t remember much of that life anymore, or why this tattoo? I mean, I don’t even pray.”

“Maybe the deed is beginning to pay off.” I said sincerely.

And as if hearing nothing, she kept on dragging her cigarette, until it finally burned her cracked lips.



Drunk Men Don’t Sleep

We passed around the bottle as we did with the stories we shared that night — crude tales of old men, of the scarred and the beaten, of those who carry saddlebags under their eyes, the sleepless. Besides, drunken men do not sleep, at least not the weary ones. It was a sultry night. We buried the smell of our mixed sweat with the stench of cigarette smoke and our incessant laughter. We fought off the coming of the day, we all wanted to stay, recluse, in the night. We hid in our own lies caught between our teeth. In those minced words. We lurked, like gawking vultures in the dark for any leftovers. Waiting, ever long, sleepless like a steady patch of a cloud on a windless night.



Mulberry Plant

It was New Year’s. Everything was still. Quiet. Tranquil.
It was more than what I deserved, but I took it anyway.

“Hey, bud.” The Mulberry plant began.
I turned to the door but there was no one.

“Hey, bud.  Are you there?” It was only then when I realized that it was talking to its actual bud.

Again, I turned to the doorway and minded my own.

I reclaimed the quiet and sat on the stillness of the brand new day.




They stood along the roadside where the rest of the crowd had also gathered. The child perched upon the shoulders of his old man, cheering on beautifully embellished motorcades reeling past them with colorful balloons strapped at the corners.

Everybody was waiting for the sixty-foot marionettes to come.  And when they appeared, they couldn’t believe what they were actually witnessing.  It was nothing they’ve seen before.

The giants glided over the water, at the great lake by the ravine.

The town police stood between the onlookers and the mechanical beings made mostly of wood. There were only iron barricades and nylon ropes to keep the crowd at bay. The crowd broke loose, lurched forward into the lake to welcome the gods. While high-ranking officials cavorted with off-duty prostitutes and bootleggers became the day’s official suppliers of folly — the acolytes of Dionysus.


I was glad to finally see my little sister after several months of being away for work overseas. I only get a few weeks of stay before being called back by the agency for another year or so. She cleared her schedule for me, on our first weekend together. From the station, we got some supplies for my stay en route to her place. I wanted to just hole up and loaf, I told her. At least that was the plan. When you get to a certain age, you would prefer peace and quiet over anything else. The lesser the interaction the better. Carrying grocery bags, I followed her to her apartment on the third floor where we had dinner and a few drinks to catch up. There she shared about her romantic escapades, or what was left of them, and confessed that she feels squeamish about staying around for long. When I asked, she said that it was because of the “lack of color,” whatever that meant, and seriously considered moving into the city or at least somewhere near to the land of the living. “Even my landlord looks utterly the same as my drywall.” she declared. I thought it was weird of her to say that, but true enough, when we chanced upon this old guy heading down for more drinks, I saw what she meant by it. I will tell you more about it, but the feeling that I got looking at him was rather strange. I could not help but stare at him as we walked by. It was as if something was missing in his expression. Something lacking that I was compelled to search for it. His face was like an unfinished canvas. The artist who was working on it just left and did not come back, that kind of feeling.

That same evening, I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. Although I wanted to turn in early, I just could not shake off that feeling from earlier. Besides, I figured that it would be the best time for me to get acquainted with the place. I mean, I’m always at the open sea, and walking on land is considered a luxury for my kind. Late nights mean less human contact. It was sort of a compromise, so I took it.

I eventually landed on this hole-in-the-wall sort of pub. It was situated just a few corners from my sister’s place but I doubt if she frequented these parts. You could say that my sister is on the dapper side. While the pub has a Manila sort of nightclub vibe, which gives out a sleazy impression. I would have wanted to have her around with me since I get really awkward around people quick. Anyway, my night apparently was just getting started, but mind you, I am an early riser. I like getting up before the sun does but I also need my late nights too. Call it a balancing act. But I get less sleep to compensate for it, living in both worlds; night and day. For me, mornings are for the clearing of the head, sanitizing the mind, while late nights are for refilling the tank.

So, there I was sitting at the corner stool, drinking my stout, watching the golden bottles shimmer under their display illumination. I suddenly felt like a giant mackerel lured in for the bait. A beautiful woman suddenly appeared behind me and asked for a light. Of course, I responded accordingly to the request, albeit mechanically, just in time before it got weird being how I am around people. The woman unconsciously showcased her jawline when she tilted her head away from the flame, finger-combing her hair to the other side. This has also revealed how tiny her head was underneath all that mane. For a moment there she caught me staring at her. I thought I scared her off. While it was true that I was fascinated by her looks, I also envied how particularly proportioned her head was with her frame. I always want a tiny head myself. I remember as a kid, friends always teased me for my huge head. I never heard the end of it. This was one of the reasons why I stayed away from home whenever I could, like when I went to university and eventually got a job from really far away. With enough burn on her cigarette, she stepped back and said thanks as she walked off. What a cool cat, I thought. Thinking that was the end of it, after a few more drinks, about half an hour later, the woman reappeared only this time she was with two others younger than her. This time, I saw them approaching me as they walked through the shoal of fishes who were lured in this place like me. “I’m sorry to bother you again, but can I borrow some light?” I always thought it was weird how people phrase that — “Borrowing light.” Anyway, even with much anticipation, I was still caught off-guard. And again, I mechanically responded to the request doing precisely as I did the first time. And as if it was a rehearsed choreography, she did exactly as she did then. It was Deja Vu. She tilted her head, accidentally showcased her jawline, weirded out by my staring before stepping back.

And just like that, she was gone. She got swallowed in the open sea of the crowd. Her two friends remained, however. To my surprise, they introduced themselves and ordered drinks for three. I rarely get the chance to tell you truthfully, I thought it was some sort of a sham. But it was not. I did not notice it at first, but the two girls were in fact twins. One of the twins told me that I looked rather familiar but I was quick to dismiss that notion, since I was not from around, and explained that I was just visiting someone. “Were you with some girl earlier down at some apartment on St. Mary street? Yeah, I think that was you alright.” The other twin hopped in excitement as if it was a discovery of the century. “Yes, yes, you were with your girlfriend heading upstairs.” I knew I didn’t see them in the building, but I confirmed that it was me and that it was my sister that was with me. They gave me a dubious look and turned to each other. “Right, your sister. we get it.” Then there was a friendly heckling that took place. While that was going on, I could not help but realize something about the twins. Something strangely familiar.

“You guys mentioned that you saw me at the apartment building where I was with my sister, right?” There was a pause before they affirmed it.

“Then you must be living there as well, are you not?”

That was when they told me that the landlord is their father. And during that same instance, I was reminded of that weird feeling when I met their old man that afternoon. As if something cold was poured all over me. The twins had that same look or should I say impression. A blank sort of mesh on their faces. Do not get me wrong, they both had full features, they were young, strikingly beautiful, but looking at them just gives you that sort of feeling that something was out of place. Like a desolate land or a barren plain. And the funny thing was when I turned to my drink to give it some thought, on my peripheral, they both appeared normal to me. Or should I say better, fuller? I do not know if I am making sense, but that is about the only way I know how to fully explain what I had seen or had not seen… The more I looked away they sort of appeared normal. And when I turned back to look directly at them, certain features or if I may say, certain body parts on their appearance were missing. As in gone, and they change each time as if the blank patches have a life of their own. I thought my eyesight was messing with me or probably the alcohol, but they were about the only ones I saw like that in the room. Now, it was at that point when I could no longer evade the awkwardness anymore.

“Oh-oh, I think we know what’s going on here.” one of the twins started.

“Do you think we should tell him?” sounding worried, the other depended for an answer.

At this point, I thought I was going to faint. Either because of what my mind could not comprehend or because of my behavior, of me being rude to my new friends.

The more talkative twin chased after my gaze and reassured me that I was not losing my mind. Then soon confessed that they have this rare condition that they too could not explain.

“We don’t even know what it is called.”

I wanted to give myself a pinch but I did not want to be more inappropriate. Clearly, they were bothered about it.

“Half of the town has it. But of course, we could not just go telling everyone about it. It is not a medical condition since the ‘onlookers’ are the ones basically experiencing the inadequacies. Does that make sense?”

“Yes.” was the only thing I said since I did not know what else to add.

“And we could not go out without anyone ‘normal’ tagging along. As you can tell, it is quite hard to comprehend.”

“And I assume the lady who was with you earlier was your chaperone?”

“Yes, she’s our guardian. She was just making sure you are okay.”

I did not know what to make of everything I learned that evening, I think the twins felt really awful too, in fact, they were really apologetic about the entire thing. I told them I was the one being stupid and less empathetic, and that I should be the one apologizing. I know I’m an awkward type of guy, but I knew how to break the ice. So, to take back the night, we ordered some more drinks until we could no longer handle our liquor and went back to the apartment. We were smashed.

The next thing I remember was the morning after when I woke up in the twins’ bed with nothing on. They both shared a bed. The twins were nowhere to be found but they left a note which they both signed thanking me for last night and hoping that I could stay around longer. I picked up my clothes and washed my face and when I opened the front door, the beautiful woman from the night before was right there leaning against the wall with an unlit cigarette on her lips. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The woman did not say anything and just stood there with her eyes piercingly fixed at me.

“Oh, it’s you. Do you need some light?” I searched for my lighter, patting everywhere but could not find it. Then she took something out of her left-hand jacket and lit the cigarette. I thought it was mine, but I let it go and just walked past her. Up to now, I’m still not sure what that was about. But I think that was her implied way of warning me. She was, after all, the twins’ guardian.

The Understudy



It must have been his fourth cup. At this point, he was beginning to feel the weight in his chest for not being able to hear from his mother. She has not sent a word for months. If hope was ever a commodity, it sure did not deliver as advertised. He would have chosen to stay at the cafe longer, but he was conserving the little money he had left. Midway through his letter, he began to notice that his hands looked tired, older, it was as if they were no longer his. What is worse, the sun was preparing to set and his eyes hardly kept up with the impending gloom. Then, at some stroke of luck, the only lamppost on that street was lit. Under its light was the woman he often sees working nights. A sudden change of heart, he unpocketed some loose change and bought another cup of coffee and stared behind the window. “How lucky is the man who could afford her.” he sang to himself. He would have spent all his money on her companionship only it would still fall short to make up her rate. Instead, he created a world in his mind about how he and she made a happy life together. No more cheap coffee, no more working late nights, only a warm and cozy embrace under a scrap blanket his mother had handsewn. It would have been a good narrative to end his letter.



Stamina was even a tougher obstacle to get the scholarship. Apart from his apparent physical disadvantage, the determination to overcome this feat was nowhere to be found. But the fear of starvation offered a far more sinister kind of motivation. It was not long before the coaching staff posted the results of the tryouts. Of course, he did not make the cut. But he was not at the bottom either. He will have to find another way to afford the semester. He took whatever good he could find though. It was not all too bad, he thought — no matter how few, he still ranked over those names on the list. He would celebrate that evening and got some laughs from it down at the bar.



It was his first formal invitation since his arrival in the city. He intended to land an impression on the faculty members to showcase his attributes or at least to get acquainted. The professors spoke of Foucault, Voltaire, Nietzsche, and others whose names he couldn’t remember. Those names he had managed to capture resonated with him but regarded no friendly affirmations to his personal pursuits. He was an outsider, after all. A tourist from far away, desperately latching onto the cliffs of their summits. But no matter what, no matter how perilous the traverse, he decided to stay on the climb.


I heard about this place somewhere south. So, I phoned to make a reservation and drove down ahead of time so as not to be late. According to the friend who introduced me to it, the dining experience is so intimate that only one guest is allowed at a time. I was lucky to even get through the line, he said, let alone make a same-day reservation: It was like winning the lottery. I wasn’t quite sure how they were able to sustain operating in such a fashion, but they’ve been around for a while now and their popularity has grown exponentially, in fact, the place is considered one of the most sought-after dining spots in the city.

I was greeted by a perky barkeep as if I was a long-lost relative that he was glad to see. Talk about customer service. He was already standing there behind the counter, facing the direction of the doorway even before seeing me walking by the glass window. Naturally, I was impressed. There was just one stool at the counter and it had leather upholstery. Of course, I took it. The barkeep was the only one inside the establishment. And as I was taking the seat, he told me that I didn’t need to mention what I was going to have, that it’s being taken care of.

“But I haven’t given you my order yet.”

“No worries, I’ll get you what’s in your mind, Sir, or your money back.”  He cheekily announced.

I didn’t dare to contend the gimmick or whatever it was that he was doing. Maybe, they conduct a background check as soon as the reservation has been concluded, looking up the patrons on the web or through their social media accounts, or in any means possible to give them an inkling of the personal preferences of their guests.

The moment I allowed things to happen, I immediately felt comfortable. It must be the air that stirred in the room, it felt fresh even though there weren’t any open windows. It felt as if the weight that I was carrying on my shoulders was lifted. Like there were these invisible hands giving me some backrubs of the sort. So, he went at it, conjuring what he had predicted I wanted to order. I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing behind the tall bottles and beer glasses that stood between us. He maneuvered like a skillful athlete tossing around jiggers, oranges, and some bottles as if it was a performance. “Your favorite drink, Sir.” Slowly placing the heavy glass in a dramatic fashion in front of me. “So, it’s true then what they say, that you can read minds?”

“I can only speak the truth, Sir, nothing more.”

“Some trick. I’m impressed.”

“I understand if you’re skeptical about my abilities, which by the way is your prerogative, but then again, I can only speak the truth.”

“So, there’s no trick whatsoever?”

“Or your money back.”

There it was again, the repetition of his responses, the play of words. He whipped the fly that landed on the counter with his damp hand towel.

“I’d let you in on a secret.” He moved in closer as if it was a matter of life and death, then a long pause.


“Go on ahead and look.”


“Take a look at your drink, Sir.” I bowed down and saw that the drink turned into water.

“Wait, how did you do that?”

“It’s just regular hypnosis, Sir. All I did was serve you plain water. It was your mind that perceived it as otherwise.”

“But it tasted like the real thing?”

“Of course, Sir. Our nervous system is a powerful machine.”

“It’s weird that you refer to the brain as a machine.”

“The brain is just a part of an intricate web of wonder inside your body.”

“Wait, is that what you only serve to your customers? Just water?”

“I can only speak the truth.”

“Aha! But that’s not the truth at all, I deserve a refund you said it yourself, I mean should I ask for it.”

“If you say so, Sir. But it was real to you, was it not?”

“I guess so. How about food? What do you do for that?”

“Water is life.”

“That explains a lot about your costs.”

“For as long as we have access to clean water, yes, we’re in business. We can do a lot with just a glass.”

“That’s brilliant.”

“Thank you for saying, Sir.”

“You should branch out.”

“What do you mean, Sir?”

“There’s more to simulating human experiences than just food.”

“We haven’t thought of it that way. But our simulation is like looking at your reflection. We merely hold the mirror for you to see what your mind tells you. Mirroring emotions is a black hole, Sir. Everything breaks in its singularity. It’s a tricky business.”

“What made you decide to disclose your trade secret anyway?”

“It gets boring around here as you can see.”

“Do you also share this with your other customers?”

“Just with the regulars.”

“But I’m not one of them.”

“You’ll see.”

As I was downing my drink, a thought landed on me.

“We haven’t done that sort of thing yet, Sir. As I mentioned, we’re all about the dining experience, the tastebuds, perception, but not in that area just yet. But I guess we could make an exemption just for tonight.”

“No, please. Don’t mind me, I was just thinking about its possibility.”

“But you’re right, Sir. We should consider branching out to more than just serving food.”

“How many glasses of water do you think it would take to do it?” Completely indulging the thought.

“A few tall glasses would do the trick, I reckon.” The barkeep was absorbed in deep thought.

He went into the kitchen and has been gone for a while before finally returning. I was on the edge of my seat. My heart was pounding and beads of sweat began to appear on my forehead.

As I was waiting, I heard a voice behind me.  It belonged to a woman. It was my late wife, Sofia.

“Hey there, hon.” Even before I could turn to see, I knew it was really her. No doubt about that.

I couldn’t tell you how many drinks I had exactly, but she had a case of Pale Pilsen, in less than an hour. She was making up for the lost time she declared. It was the best time I had in years. The barkeep offered us the menu and said that everything was on the house to celebrate the milestone of the business. Of course, we feasted. We went along with how everything turned out that evening.

Sitting next to her at the bar, I told her everything I couldn’t tell her all those years. I left nothing behind. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake ever again. It was limited though, we only had less than an hour left in my reservation. We concluded the chat. I left a five-star rating on the survey sheet on the way out. Finally, I could move on with my life.

The next day I woke as if I was a completely different person. Or should I say I regained my old self? I immediately phoned my friend and told him all about the experience. “Really? that’s intense. Did they say how they were actually doing it?”

“The barkeep just told me that I was just hypnotized.”

“What a load of crap, I’m sorry I wasted your time.”

“Yeah, it was awful.”

I couldn’t understand why my friend said that. Of course, it wasn’t awful. I asked him to keep everything to himself and he gave his word. I was told by the barkeep that I couldn’t share with anyone what transpired that evening. But my friend wasn’t just anyone so I assumed that was okay. Especially that part with my late wife, since it was still on the beta stage, that it hasn’t been tested extensively, even though it worked with me just fine.

“We need more test subjects, I hope we can count on you about keeping things confidential for now.”

“Who is we?” I only thought about it when I was taking a shower and getting ready for work. I sat down at the toilet and did my business while I was on my phone skimming my emails. Then a weird thing happened. I heard my late wife’s voice beneath the bathroom floor. I was stunned. I had goosebumps.

It sounded that the voice was directly coming from beneath the toilet. I thought it was the hangover and decided it must have been that plus the sound of the flush when I pushed down the plunger. The phone in the bedroom rang.

It was the barkeep. His voice was shaking.

“I need to see you now, Sir.”

“What for?”

“No time to explain. Just head back and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”

I did what I was told. I called up the office and told them that I’d be late for the day. When I arrived, the barkeep was standing at the front door.

“We need to talk. Please follow me inside.”

We went in and headed straight to the kitchen.

“There’s been a problem.”

“Obviously. What’s wrong?”

“We need to let it all out of you.”


“All the water we used up for the apparition of your wife.” He was walking up and down the tiled floor.

“Wait, calm yourself, what do you mean we have to let it all out of me? What the hell is going on?”

“Plainly speaking, the water that you’ve consumed was contaminated. Apparently, there’s been a breach in our water supply. Have you noticed anything odd since you left the bar?”

“No, not at all. I’ve been feeling good since I left. But I thought I heard my wife’s voice this morning.”

“So it had started. We have to ensure that we let it all out of you. You know? Wring you of all the water you’d had from this place before it reaches full circle.”

“What would happen if we don’t?”

“Your wife takes full control. She’ll take over your consciousness, you could figure out the rest.”

The barkeep led my head to the sink. Shoved a rubber hose into my throat and pumped the contents of my stomach. I vomited everything I had in my gut. Or should I say I vomited every part of my wife? I could see parts of her in my puke. I vomited her eyes, bits and parts of her torso, her jaw, and the hardest was her limbs. And when I thought I had the worst, the barkeep gave me some laxatives. I had to stay with the barkeep for three months.

Night Duty

This is a true story. It was a windy night. The tropical storm was heading westward and what we were experiencing according to the weather report was the tail-end onslaught of the typhoon. It was supposed to be over soon, but it seemed like it was just getting started. There were just light rains thankfully, which meant lesser floods in most areas but the strong winds compensated for the lack of it. We were sleeping soundly in our condominium studio apartment my wife and I had just recently moved into when the storm got worse. Everything was going according to plan, it felt brand-new, starting a life together as a couple. It was quite a high finally landing on our own feet. You could say that we are still new to this sort of life even though we have been together for several years. I admit, however, that we were too eager about making it work. Sometimes it feels a little bit too soon. Either way, it had to be done at one point or another anyway. Nothing was going to stop us, we wanted nothing more.

The building construction was still on-going though. And there were only a few of us who were occupying the new structure. There were about eighty to ninety families or owners for all forty-four floors, which includes the penthouse, two commercial floors, and the three car-parking floors.

It was about past midnight when a series of loud banging noises woke us. My wife, being a light sleeper, complained about it first and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep anymore. I couldn’t as well, I don’t think anybody could. Apparently, the source of the nuisance was caused by the strong winds banging the doors of the unoccupied units. It was the storm, there was no doubt about it. And the barrage came mostly from the upper floors. And there were a lot of them since most units were yet to be turned over to the owners or were still up for sale. Unlike the other condominiums you’d normally find around the metro, the developers hand the property over to the owners bare. Meaning, there are no furnishings, fixtures, nor tiles, no paint jobs whatsoever. Just an empty concrete box and a door with no lock.

We just moved in, a little over a month give or take. My wife and I had lived around the city our entire lives there was no reason why we should be bothered about such a petty disturbance. But that night in the condominium was different. The booming barrage of noises was far worse than any thunderstorms we’ve encountered. Imagine, heavy doors made of hardwood banging constantly from different floors of the building one after another. It felt like a giant percussion in a full-length set. We thought that we were going nuts, it was torture. We work during the day and for us, a good night’s sleep was imperative.  At first, we tried to shrug it off hoping that the winds would tire down soon but it didn’t.  What’s bizarre was, when I went to the door and checked, I was the only one who was out in the hallway. “How can these people sleep, aren’t they bothered?” probably they are all used to it, probably they get a discount on the association dues for the trouble, or perhaps they have a state of the art noise-canceling padding installed on their walls. Either way, I just couldn’t understand how they were able to stand the entire thing. But I realized that maybe we were the only ones who there on our floor that night, maybe our neighbors (which were few) were out.

So I went to work. I could not stand another second of it. One way or another, I wouldn’t allow it to ruin what we had set out to achieve – a home. A little peace and quiet are hard to come by these days. We could talk to the building manager and file a complaint, of course, but that would happen no sooner than the morning after. I wanted to fix the matter up right away by taking things into my own hands. Besides, I’m an impatient man. My wife and I share that character flaw. We’re not proud of it but we get things done because of it. There’s always a way to keep things moving faster, we believe. You can coin it however you like, but it’s a principle that we carry.

I started with the doors on our side of the wing and carried on to the other. I was angry. I wallowed about the incompetence of the building administrators. “How could they miss this?” Since there were no available doorknobs at the vacant units, I tore off a generous portion of the carton box that I found and used that as a shim to keep the doors fixed in place. I closed the windows in the vacant apartments. I threaded carefully since it was dark in most of them. There were only the lights from the neighboring buildings illuminating my path. I tried the security guard on the ground floor, but couldn’t find him for some reason. I didn’t want to waste any more of my time so I went back to our floor to finish the job.

I boarded up the air-conditioning provisions with scrap boards and fragments of concrete blocks I found lying around. I was able to shut all the doors in-place on our floor but regrettably, it didn’t dent the impact of the noise at all.  It was overwhelming, I didn’t think this through I told myself. It felt like I was on the verge of caving in. But something must be done; I desperately mustered all the anger in my chest and turned it into pure will. I must admit, there was regret looming every time I felt tired and ready to give up. But I was not going to quit. Floor by floor, I went up through the elevator, doing the same things I did on ours: Shimmed the doors, closed any open windows, and blocked any significant openings with anything I could find useful. I was getting tired; I didn’t have the time with me, but I think I spent nearly two hours on all those doors. When I was near the top floors, I felt like fainting, I wanted to stop.

Even though I didn’t want to rest, I sat down on the hallway floor as I waited for the elevator to fetch me. I was on 43rd.  I was catching my breath and my throat was dry. By the time I entered the lift and was set to push 44, I realized that the last floor was off-limits it being the penthouse. I was relieved, it meant that the technicality concluded my quest for the night, finally.  But I noticed that there was an extra button just above it. “Another floor? That can’t be right?” I was sure that there wasn’t a 45th floor but it was there in front of me glowing in its LED light. I still have the condominium brochure and the paperwork, and it only mentioned 44 floors and not 45. I kept on staring at the number to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. And that strange button was on top of the penthouse which was kind of absurd. At first, I hesitated to proceed any further, but since I was there already, I ought to finish the deed I set out to do in the first place. But more than that, there was that unscratchable itch to know more about that mystery floor. I don’t know, I was just drawn to it, like it was calling me, like a long-lost friend beckoning for a chat. And without thinking too much, I went for it finally. Before long, the elevator doors slid open. That thin chime that nudged me that I was there echoed across the room.

It was dark and there was total silence. I noticed that there wasn’t a hallway, there was no wind at all but it was colder than any of the other floors I’ve been to. It was just a huge spacious dark room that seemed shapeless. Like a deep void or some sort of a vacuum.

I didn’t step out. I mean, why would I? I decided that there wasn’t any door that needed closing anyway. My task is done, I convinced myself. Leave now before you regret staying. I was scared, to tell you the truth. I never felt this alone my whole life. I was brought up in the slums but I never felt this perilous. I couldn’t move and I felt frozen all of a sudden. Everything was still, I couldn’t remember if I’d breathed at all. For all I care, I was a cold corpse. And before I was able to push the close button, the elevator seemed to have telepathically understood my will, as if it had its own consciousness. Then that chime had rung again to announce my departure. I was saved! A small voice in my head had celebrated in silence. But then, when the doors were about to slide back to closing, it struggled. It was like the doors were dragging itself to do it. It was as if someone or something was forcing it not to. But it continued on, slow but it was moving.

It was the longest five seconds of my life. And when the doors were finally about to touch shut, I swear I saw something between that narrow gap. I’ll try to describe what I saw to the best of my ability but I assure you that this description is nothing compared to what I have actually seen. What I saw between that narrowing vertical was a face. There was a glimmer of light, a faint illumination that shimmered in the darkness. It didn’t hurt my eyes, in any way, allowing me to see clearly.  Behind the light emerged a face, the feeling that it left me that night stayed on. The face had a very dark complexion. Its skin had a dry, cracked texture. There were thick scabs, in a quite unusual formation. It looked like one layer was sitting on top of another and another. It was sort of a miniature canyon after a volcanic eruption. I thought that the face was smiling, well it appeared as if it was. I don’t think it had lips on its mouth, just the skin around it. I couldn’t say if it had a body though. Or hair. Or anything else. It was just there facing directly towards me, just a few paces away.

It was gone instantaneously, almost at the same moment I saw it.

Of course, my wife and I went to the admin office as soon as their office had opened. I gave a brief narrative of what happened and expressed our frustrations about the experience.  My wife told me between the conversation as she whispered that I was calmer than she had expected me to be. I don’t know about that, I just felt exhausted after all. I didn’t share with anyone about the 45th floor, even to my wife. But I asked the official if there was a floor above the penthouse, but the building manager told me that there was none.

That very same day, we were informed that none of the occupants heard about the loud banging noises. Even the security guards who were doing the rounds that night didn’t hear anything at all. “But that was just impossible, that couldn’t be right.” My wife told the manager and his assistant at our door. “We wanted to get to the root of it, we even went asking around but even the other unit owners didn’t seem to have heard the noises. But we’ll check all the doors from now on just to be sure.” We thought it was weird. We were willing to bet that the noises we heard that night reached up to two blocks away.

It’s been four months now since the night of the incident.  And true enough, as the building manager had promised, we didn’t experience any of it anymore. It’s been months since I’ve written anything as well. Not to make any excuses, but I haven’t been in my element since the night of the incident. What’s troubling me was that the 45th button wasn’t there anymore but there is a dent on the control panel that hinted that a provision for a button was once available. I don’t know, it could be my imagination. I decided to let it go, but as of late, I couldn’t find my sleep for some reason. The wife returned to her routine which was more important. I am writing tonight to journal that night’s strange experience. There’s a storm heading our area. The biggest in years they said. I decided to trace my footsteps as I did that night, hoping to put a stop to all of this madness. I’ll be going floor to floor, simulating as I did then to get to that ominous floor. I’ll write a log soon about any further developments.



I couldn’t remember the last time we spent an afternoon like that. The benches were starting to fill as the Sunday crowd flocked around the cockpit.

Men in stylish shoes sat together with men in rags.

Men of power, money, and influence — mingled with minimum wage earners.

Men of authority in civilian clothing, men of vast lands, towering concrete columns, the strong men, the giants rubbed elbows with the little men —

The little men who live along the railways and by the creeks.

We could catch the scent of intensity, the smell of thin air belching out from empty stomachs, famished hearts, and unfulfilled dreams.

Of mixed warm sweat,

Dry, sticky sweat.  

Arriving, we could see the owners carrying their prizefighters on their sides as if holstered pistols in a duel. Stroking their red and white fowls — their coats like a lion’s mane.

Wagers were in, bets were called.

A few flaps and a lot of slashing.

Fleshes were ripped, blood splattered in the dusty ring.

In a half-chance, winner-takes-all gamble.

All for the pot money and some stiff-meat lunch the next day.

Badong – not a fighting fowl.