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.

Amateurs

 

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.

 

 

Amateurs

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.”

 

 

Drive

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.

 

 

Marionettes

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.

Drywalls

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

 

Letter

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.

 

Tryouts

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.

 

Tourist

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.

Singularity

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.

“What?”

“Go on ahead and look.”

“Huh?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.

 

Derby

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.