A Deal with the Devil

by

M. Maharlika

UNO

“I can’t believe that you’d rather travel at this time of night to such a secluded part of the countryside, instead of having a big party night in the city,” Marge complained, as they drove along the narrow country road in an old Hispano Suiza.

“And my God! Where did you get hold of this old jalopy, it smells of rotting carcass,” Marge carried on complaining, referring to the classic Spanish-Swiss limousine they were driving, which was so large and cumbersome it could hardly traverse the small country roads.   

“I can’t miss Aunt Lisa’s death anniversary, Marge,” her friend Maria explained for the umpteenth time. And my grandpa likes it when I arrive in his old car, which he gave me to look after. It’s a solemn occasion, and the vehicle adds an aura of respect and dignity.”

“But can’t we just go tomorrow?” Marge pleaded.

“We’re already on our way, you know. And Grandpa and I promised on her deathbed to visit her grave every year, pray and make offerings in remembrance of her tragic death. And anyway, we’re only one hour away now.”

“Okay. Whatever, girl,” Marge lazily answered.

“Besides, it’s only three more days until the anniversary, on October 31st, and there are some things I need to prepare. You know she was my favourite aunt. Most Filipinos only celebrate the babang luksa[1], the first death anniversary, but our family celebrate the death of special loved ones every year, to ensure their souls are still not wandering the Earth.”

“Oh my God! Where did you dig up all that eerie stuff?” Exclaimed Marge.

“It’s not eerie, it’s very tragic what happened to me and my grandpa, her father. I can tell you later,” said Maria in way of explanation.

Marge fell into silence, and Maria carried on driving through the dark silent night, with only the thrum of the car’s large engine to keep her company.

Maria’s Spanish ancestral home is in a secluded part of the countryside, some distance from the old town of Vigan, in the province of Ilocos Sur – some three or four hours’ drive from Baguio City in Luzon by way of San Fernando following the western coast. The two young women work in Baguio as legal clerks, and had been given a few days free from work, as their offices were being refurbished. They thus took the opportunity to set off on a little adventure together. But Maria had not wholly informed her friend and colleague Marge why she wanted to drive to this remote part of the countryside.

After driving many hours, Maria saw the old dilapidated signpost that read, “Villa Luciano – 2 millia”. After driving some minutes more she could finally see the old iron gates of the villa, which happened to be open. She glanced over at Marge and saw she was still sleeping. On driving past the open gates, Maria decided to wake up Marge.

        “Marge? Wake up, we’re here,” said Maria.

After a few calls, Marge finally woke up.

Marge and Maria had met in the legal department of the local government offices in Baguio. Maria had worked one year more than Marge and was an executive officer, while Marge was only a junior executive officer. Marge was assigned to Maria, so that Marge could also become a fully qualified executive officer. Despite their role as mentor and student, they had become close friends. 

“Have we arrived at the old man’s villa, huh?” Marge asked, still a bit sleepy.

“Yes,” Maria replied while manoeuvring the large old car, and parking it near the front entrance. 

“My god! This villa is enormous and really ancient,” Marge exclaimed.

“It certainly is, ha-ha,” said Maria.

“But it’s a little bit scary,” Marge added.

“Yes, because my grandfather is so old now, and can’t take care of it like he used to, especially after my grandmother and aunt died some years ago. That’s why it looks abandoned and overgrown – almost like a haunted house, ha-ha,” Maria said humorously.

“Yes, haunted. That’s the right word.”

“Maybe there’s some supernatural things inside, let’s find out,” Marge said excitedly.

“You think so?”

~

The two young women took their baggage out of the car’s trunk, and headed for the front door.

Maria knocked hard on the thick oaken door, and shouted out, “Abuelo, we’re here.”

“I think he’s already asleep?” Marge said.

“I don’t think so. I told him what time we would be here,” she explained.

“Alright if you say so.”

Maria tried the door handle, and found that the door was unlocked. So they both just entered the large villa.

“Let’s go straight to the kitchen, because I’m starving,” said Maria.

“Sure, me too. I didn’t have any lunch or dinner earlier, so for Pete’s sake give me food or I’ll die soon,” Marge said animatedly.

“For real? Where do you get all your energy from? She said to Marge.

“Don’t over react, Maria. I’m just gifted in that way,” Marge said laughing.

“Whatever,” replied Maria.

They walked through several large rooms, before finally getting to the kitchen.

“Why don’t you check on your grandpa?” Marge asked.

“I will. I’ll just get something to eat first, and then go upstairs,” she replied.

Marge sat down on a chair in the dining area of the large kitchen.

Maria discovered there wasn’t much to eat in the kitchen’s butlery, so she just made some bread and jam, which she gave to Marge. Marge hated such simple food, but was starving and had to eat it as she had no other choice.

“I swear, I’ll wake up early tomorrow and drive to San Fernando, so we can buy some proper food,” she said while eating the bread and jam and gulping down a cup of hot cocoa, which Maria had made.

Maria decided to go and see how her grandfather was doing upstairs.

DOS

“What happened, Maria?” Marge asked as she came back into the dining area of the kitchen.

“You’re right. He’s already asleep. I didn’t want to disturb the old man when he was sleeping, but he suddenly woke up, or at least he opened one of his eyes – a pale blue eye with a film over it – he looked sick – but then he closed it again, and went back to sleep, she said.

“Just let him rest more, he needs to recuperate some strength if he is sick,” said Marge.

“You’re right. But I also feel guilty that I’ve left him more or less alone in this old villa and gone to work in the city.”

“But how could you ever find a job in this out-of-the-way place, if you don’t mind me saying,” Marge said bluntly.

“I know. But still I feel sorry that I can’t personally take care of him,” she said sadly.  

“Well, we’re here now. You can look after him as long as we’re here,” Marge replied, trying to cheer up her friend.

“Yes. So are you done eating?” She asked, changing the topic.

“Yes. I’ll just clean up this mess,” Marge replied, starting to pick up the dirty plates.

“That’s okay, Marge. Leave it.”

“Don’t worry. It’s nothing.”

“No just leave it I said – okay?!!” Maria said, raising her voice angrily.

Marge was shocked and surprised at Maria’s sudden outburst.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that – just leave it – ok. The caretaker will clean it up. Just follow me upstairs so we can both get some rest,” she said in a milder tone, trying to make up for her sudden angry outburst.

~

Maria had shown Marge to her room, where she was now lying in bed. But she was unable to sleep, and her mind dwelled on the events of the day. She couldn’t understand Maria’s sudden outburst. She had never heard her raise her voice in anger like that before. Marge tried to explain it to herself by thinking that her friend must be tired.

Marge’s thought turned to the old villa. She’d now be spending some days in this mansion of gloom. She wondered whether the atmosphere of the place had taken hold of her, so that she was no longer able to rationally perceive her surroundings. Because, in her imagination, she felt that there hung a peculiar atmosphere about the whole villa and domain, which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which reeked of decayed matter; and the walls were ingrained with a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull and sluggish, it seemed to her. She had taken in the prospect of the villa when they had approached it in the car – its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages was great. There was indication of extensive decay – minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet despite the dilapidated state of the building, no portion of the masonry had fallen. 

Wrapped up in these thoughts, Marge thought she could very well be in one of the haunted houses in the numerous stories and horror movies she had read and seen such as The Fall of the House of Usher and Bluebeard.

However, Marge wasn’t worried by her thoughts, she promised herself that the next day she would become a tourist and visit various places of interest in the location. She had even heard there was a beautiful and scenic beach not far away. With such pleasant thoughts running through her mind, she started to drift off to sleep.

But Marge hadn’t been sleeping that long when she was awoken by some noises. She lifted herself up on the pillows, and, peering earnestly into the intense darkness of the chamber, she could hear certain low and indefinite sounds, which came through the pauses of the storm, which raged outside. The sounds increased in volume and became more discernible. It was someone or something scratching behind the wall in the vicinity of the antique closet at the opposite side of the room. She looked at the old grandfather clock ticking away, and saw that it was three in the morning.

She tried to ignore the sounds and went back to sleep. But, she hadn’t been sleeping long before she was awoken once again by the scratching, which was getting louder now. The scratching turned into a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly inhuman—a howl—a wailing shriek of horror, such as might have arisen only out of hell, from the throats of the dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation. Marge decided to explore where these horrendous sounds were coming from. It almost sounded like the sound of some cat buried behind the walls. Or perhaps it was just her imagination, and the scratching sounds were just rats scurrying back and forth within the walls of this dilapidated old villa.

The only way to solve this conundrum was to inspect the closet and the wall behind it. The lighting was very dim in the room – she couldn’t see any hole or anything in the wall, so she tried peeking behind the old closet. And there she saw a part of the wall that had been newly plastered over as if to cover up something. However, she needed to move the closet, if she was to free the cat that she imagined was imprisoned within. Using the strength of her whole body, she started to push the heavy old closet, with the expectation of being able to reveal access to the wall behind. However, before she accomplished this task, she heard a large bang outside her door.

“What the hell was that?” She frantically asked herself.

She immediately ran to the door to check what had happened. She grabbed at the handle of the door, which suddenly opened. Maria appeared perspiring profusely. Marge invited her inside, and they sat down on the edge of the bed together.

“What was that loud bang I heard?” She immediately asked Maria in a panic.

“That was nothing. Don’t mind that,” Maria just said.

“Are you sure? That was a pretty loud bang, and why are you sweating profusely?”

“Uhm—I was just working out, because I can’t get to sleep,” she explained unconvincingly.

“It’s three in the morning for heaven’s sake,” said Marge.

“Is that so? You should sleep then, because we need to get up early,” Maria said.

“Alright. I’ll get back to sleep,” Marge said.

Maria was on her way out, when Marge remembered the scratching sounds behind the wall.

“Wait a sec, Maria. Earlier I heard some strange sounds coming from the wall, near the old closet,” she said.

“What sounds?” Maria asked, curiously.

“It was like a scratching sound. Perhaps it was some rodents or large insects or something like that?” Said Marge.

“How now, maybe a rat? Maybe it was a rat? Don’t worry I’ll check it in the morning, okay?” She just said, and left the room.

Marge then went back to bed and tried to sleep, hoping she would hear no more scratching noises.

TRES

Marge woke up around five in the morning. She still felt very sleepy, but she needed to get up. She threw on her clothes with haste, and aroused herself from the pitiable memories of the night and evening before. She left her own room to look for Maria, but she didn’t actually know where her room was exactly. So she knocked on the doors of all the rooms when she walked along the long hallway.

“Maria, I’m ready. Are you awake?” She said in a low voice, because she remembered that Maria’s grandfather was also sleeping, and that he was sick. She knocked on the door of the room that was next to her own room but nobody answered. She tried to open the door but it was locked.

“Maybe in the next room,” she said to herself.

She kept on walking towards the second room in the hallway, when she heard something that was coming from the first room. She decided to go back to the first room.

“Maybe Maria’s awake and those sounds were made by her,” she thought to herself. She then went back to the locked room.

“Maria? Are you getting ready?” She asked while standing outside the door of the room.

She grabbed the door handle, but peculiarly, this time it wasn’t locked. She couldn’t help but wonder why it suddenly was unlocked. She reasoned that perhaps Maria had unlocked the door. She opened the door slowly and peeked inside, but the room was very dark and there was a bad smell of decomposition oozing out of the room. She reached inside trying to find the light switch, but her fumbling was unsuccessful.

“Maria? Why is it so dark in here? Are you taking a shower? Hurry up!” She said enthusiastically, while walking inside the room.

But still there was no reply from her. It was really dark and she couldn’t see a thing. To take away the eerie feeling, Marge decided to open the door fully, so the light from the hallway would flood inside the room. She was still near the door of the room – not having entered fully – when she heard some whispers. It sounded like it was coming from deep within the room. And the whispers sounded like there were many people talking silently.

“Does Maria have other visitors?” Thought Marge curiously to herself.

Out of curiosity, she walked towards the direction of the whispers, but as she delved into the innermost regions of the room the light from the hallway was more or less dissipated. The room seemed to be very large, because she walked quite far without touching or bumping into any furniture while she progressed towards the source of the whisperings. The whisperings became louder and louder. She still hadn’t found the whispering people, when the whispering suddenly stopped. She looked all around her, but the room was very dark so she couldn’t see a thing.

“Maria? Are you there?” She asked, while an eerie feeling came over her.

She decided to leave the room, because of the strange and unnatural atmosphere. She was walking towards the door when she heard another whisper, the whisper of a woman’s voice. She stopped walking, concentrating intently on the whisper of the woman’s voice, because it sounded so close. She looked back and saw nothing but darkness. She didn’t believe in ghosts, but now she was starting to get scared.

Arriba!”[2] Said a very hoarse voice.

Marge was already terrified. She tried to see where the voice came from.

Arriba!” Said the voice even louder, repeating the word that she didn’t understand. 

The voice sounded like it was emanating from a person who was out of breath, so it was very creepy.

Arriba,” repeated the voice once more.

And now Marge had an idea where the voice was coming from.

In fact, she was very sure that the voice was coming from the ceiling. But how on earth could that possibly be, and she didn’t have the guts to check out what it was all about. So she silently walked straight towards the door. But the sound seemed to be crawling over the ceiling towards her direction and what terrified her even more was a cracking sound, like some bones were breaking.

“Damn!” She said.

She walked faster towards the door, but the crawling sound also move towards her faster, and the cracking sounds became louder.

She finally reached the door and grabbed the handle, but before she could open it, someone else on the other side of the door had opened it.

“Maria,” she cried out, teary eyed and trembling very badly.

CUATRO

“What happened to you? And what are you doing here?” Maria asked.

“I’ve been looking for you and ended up in this room,” Marge explained still trembling.

And the fact was that this was her first encounter with such unknown phenomena that she had almost lost consciousness. What’s more, if she had come face to face with what she had heard and felt she might have died from shock.

“I was just downstairs and my room is the one next to this one,” Maria said as she closed the door of the creepy room.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. You forgot to tell me,” Marge said.

“I’m sorry, but now you know where my room is,” said Maria while staring at her intently.

“What’s with that room, Maria? I heard whispers and other peculiar sounds in there. And I was really terrified. God knows what might have happened if you hadn’t come along,” Marge blurted out.

“You’ve been hearing things since we came here. You have to remember this is an ancient edifice, so the timbers are old, and creak and groan when it’s stormy outside. Anyway, that room was my late aunt’s room,” Maria added.

“For real? But I’m sure I heard crawling and cracking sounds! That really freaked me out! What was that? Don’t tell me it was the old building moving on its foundations?!” she frantically said.

“Maybe it’s the spirit of Aunt Lisa and she’s welcoming you, ha-ha,” Maria added, with a mischievous smile on her face.

“Stop teasing me. What I experienced in that room really scared me to death, I swear,” she said irately to Maria.

“I’m sorry,” Maria apologized, but still silently laughing to herself.

“So what’s the plan for today, anyway?” She asked Maria as they went downstairs.

“Ah yes, I was about to tell you earlier that my grandpa Pablo needs to be checked by our family doctor because, he’s weaker now. I’ve already asked Crispin, the caretaker, to take you to some places of interest and I will join you later. I’m sorry that some of our plans have changed,” Maria said.

“It’s okay, don’t worry. How’s your grandfather?” She asked a bit worried about the old man.

“He’s in his room, resting. I’m just waiting for the doctor to come.”

“Does he stay upstairs?” She asked Maria while they were walking into the dining hall. The breakfast was already laid out on the table ready to eat.

“No. His room is at the end of the hall from here. I transferred him there, because he isn’t able to walk up and down the stairs. His body is too weak, especially now,” Maria said sadly.

“Sorry to hear that. Can I visit him?” She asked. Maria looked taken aback at this request.

“Of course. After you’ve finished your breakfast, we can go there,” Maria agreed.

“Who cooked the breakfast anyway?” Marge asked.

“I did it. It tastes good right?” Maria asked.

“Wow! How did you manage to do that? We both slept so little, and you even did some exercises, so if there was someone who was going to sleep in, then it would surely be you.”

“I’m just an early riser, you know that,” Maria replied.

“Have you found out about the rats?” Marge asked, referring to the scratching sounds in the room where she was sleeping.

“Rats?” Maria asked confusedly.

“Yes the scratching sounds behind the wall,” she answered.

“Oh! Not yet, maybe this afternoon,” replied Maria.

“Alright thanks,” replied Marge, as she was finishing off the remnants of her daing na bangus[3].

After they had finished eating breakfast, they went straight to the room where Maria’s grandfather, Pablo, was resting. They walked along the long hallway that was without windows and dimly lighted. Marge was suddenly reminded of her unnerving and unpleasant experiences in her own room, and the room that she mistakenly thought was Maria’s room. But she erased these thoughts from her mind.  They had been walking for quite a long time, but still hadn’t reached the grandfather’s bedroom.

“Wow! Are we going to walk forever?” Said Marge teasingly.

“The master bedroom on the ground floor is at the end of this hallway. That room is the only one that has a garden view, so I decided to put him there,” Maria explained.

“That’s his room, right?” Marge asked, when she saw the last room at the end of the hallway, almost next to the back entrance of the villa.

“Yes. Wait here, I’ll just fix him up first,” said Maria.

“Fix? It’s okay, Maria,” she quickly replied.

“Just wait here,” Maria said, and then hurriedly walked into the room.

She was left alone in the murky and silent hallway. She looked back along the hallway, but couldn’t even discern where they had started from because of the poor lighting. The aura of the place chilled her to the bone. At the end of the hallway, there was one small window, she discovered, with a view that looked out on to the garden. She peered out, and saw that the garden was more or less lifeless, hardly a garden at all – as there were no flowers, or green plants, or vibrant young trees. The garden seemed to be abandoned and overgrown with dead leaves everywhere, and the dead trunks of decayed trees. There was a fountain, but it just spouted some brown and muddy liquid at intervals.

“Why stay in the farthest room along the hallway, if the view is like this?” She thought, when she went back to check on Maria.

She was walking towards the room, when she heard Maria calling her. She opened the door and walked inside. She saw Maria standing beside her grandfather’s bed. Her grandfather was sitting up in bed, wearing a soiled nightgown. He looked at her. One of his pale blue eyes was covered with a film of grey. He smiled wide and invitingly to her, exposing his decaying teeth.

“How are you, sir? I’m happy to finally see you,” she greeted him.

“I’m happy to meet yet another beautiful young girlfriend of my granddaughter,” he said with a mysterious smile that sent shivers down Marge’s spine.

She felt like the mutterings of the old man portended some hidden meaning – but what?

“Thank you Sir. I’m starting to enjoy this wonderful residence,” she lied.

“Are you really enjoying?” He emitted another mysterious smile.  “Yes, especially if I can visit some attractions in the area,” she said, looking at Maria who was standing next to the old man.

“That’s good. I’m sorry that I can’t accommodate you,” he said, as he stretched out a scrawny hand trying to reach her, which made her jump back inadvertently. Maria put her hand on her grandfather’s arm restraining his unwanted approach.

“Marge needs to go, grandpa,” Maria said looking at Marge.

“Yes?” I do.

“You can wait for me outside,” Maria commanded. Maria waited for Marge to leave the room, before she helped her grandfather lie down again in his bed.

~

“I don’t understand Maria’s weird behaviour,” thought Marge to herself, while pacing back and forth outside the old man’s room.

CINCO

They left Maria’s grandfather, and went to the reception area of the villa, where Maria had agreed to meet the villa’s caretaker Crispin. But he wasn’t there.

Cobwebbed in a dark corner of the reception area was an ancient house phone that suddenly began to jangle and ring intermittently.

“That must be Crispin,” said Maria.

She walked over to the jangling phone and took it off the hook, holding the ceramic earpiece to her ear.

“Hello, this is María de Aragón y Castilla of Luciano Villa,” Maria said into the mouthpiece, giving her full name and title which Marge had never heard her use before.

“Yes, … I see … okay … I’ll inform my friend Marge, said Maria to the person on the end of the line.

“It was Crispin. He said he can’t come, because he has some kind of emergency situation,” Maria informed Marge.

“Is that so?” She replied.

“Maybe you can go alone? And I’ll just follow you later,” Maria suggested.

“Yes. It’s okay,” she agreed.

Maria let Marge use her grandfather’s vintage car, because she said that there’s no public transportation anywhere near the villa, because all the surrounding lands are private property attached to the villa. The plan was that Marge would drive to Crispin’s cottage, and he would function as some kind of guide for her planned tourist trip to the nearby town of Vigan. Maria had told her to turn right when driving out of the gate and then to follow the signs for Sagada. When she was in the vicinity of Sagada, she would see a signpost reading, “The Hanging Coffins of Sagada”[4]; some short distance after this she would read the signpost Villa Luciano Cottage – which would lead her to Crispin’s residence. 

Marge wasn’t sure she would ever be able to follow these complicated instructions.

Marge started the 12-cylinder engine of the J12 Hispano Suiza by pressing a small bakelite button on the dashboard. The engine sprang into life. She gently depressed the acceleration peddle and the car moved off in a dignified fashion. She didn’t realise at the outset that it was such a long way. Fortunately, although the car was almost a museum piece, its gigantic engine and 12 cylinders enabled it to cross the Sagada mountains without any problems, and its large headlamps penetrated the darkness of the forest so Marge could at least see where she was heading.

After following all the driving instructions, for what seemed like an eternity, she finally saw the signpost that read, “The Hanging Coffins of Sagada” – and driving further she saw the signpost, “Villa Luciano Cottage”.

Through the narrow windscreen of the old car, she espied what must be Crispin’s cottage. She parked the large limousine in front of the wooden crofter’s cottage – in fact, the old distinguished car was almost larger than the tiny cottage. Marge felt quite proud of the fact that she was able to drive this prehistoric car, and actually find a destination in this God-forsaken region of her homeland. It was now the evening – so the sun had long since disappeared beneath the horizon. But it wasn’t that late that civilized people were still not awake. With this thought in mind, she approached the front door of the cottage, and bravely gave it a manly knock with her delicate girl’s hand.

“Hello? Anybody here?” She called. 

A young boy suddenly appeared and looked at her curiously.

“Hi kiddo! Do you know where I can find Mister Crispin?” Marge asked cheerfully, despite the sullen atmosphere of the dank small cottage in the dark forest.

“Wait ma’am,” he said respectfully.

She didn’t know if she was even at the right place. She watched the boy turn around and walk into the small wretched cottage.

She heard him say, “Papa, someone’s outside.”

“Who?” A baritone voice answered – which must be the father of the boy obviously reasoned Marge.

“Tourist,” the boy simply answered.

The boy returned with his father in pursuit. The father must have been in his late thirties or early forties.

“You need something ma’am?” The father asked respectfully.

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry for bothering you – I’m staying at Luciano Villa with my friend, Maria, and she told me you might be able to show me around – that is – show me some local attractions.”

“Ah yes – I talked to Maria on the phone – I was supposed to meet her but something unforeseen turned up. It’s okay. But there’s nothing around here, except for the hanging coffins. But perhaps you can drive into Vigan town. It’s one of the few towns left around here whose old structures have mostly remained intact, and it is well known for its cobblestone pavements and unique architecture combining the Spanish and Filipino, especially the Bahay na Bato houses and an Earthquake Baroque church,” he explained with a friendly smile.

“Alright. Thank you for helping me out,” she said.

“That’s okay. But how come you didn’t know? You’re staying in the town, right?” He asked a bit confused.

“Ah no. I’m staying in Villa Luciano with Maria and her grandfather Pablo,” she replied.

“Villa Luciano?! Are you sure?” He asked shocked.

Marge couldn’t understand what he meant.

~

Maria was disappointed that she couldn’t join Marge visiting the tourist spots in the province, but she didn’t have any choice, because she had to look after her grandfather. After Marge left, she went back to the kitchen to wash the dishes and clean up. She then had to go to her grandfather’s room to check up on him. He was sitting on the edge of the bed looking out of the window and the old decaying garden. When Maria walked into the room, his face turned from one of blank expression to fear. 

“Why, abuelo?” She asked him.

“Why don’t you rest, Maria?” He suddenly asked, still looking at her.

“It’s okay, abuelo. I’m not tired yet, and you need to have a check-up soon,” she said smiling.

But he just remained silent, while still looking at her with the same fear showing on his face. He looked like he was scared that something was going to happen.

Maria didn’t understand. “Who or what is he frightened of?” She thought to herself.

“Are you ready?” She asked, referring to his check-up.

Por favor,” he exclaimed.

And she was really surprised at her grandfather’s sudden outburst. She wasn’t sure what was happening to him – was he sick – or just getting old? She needed to be more patient she thought to herself. She felt sorry for him. She decided to leave the room and go back to the reception area. Before closing the door of his room, she looked back at her grandfather and saw that he still look terrified, his sick eye staring out into the void of the room. While she was leaving, he was mumbling to himself, but she couldn’t discern what he was saying.

“He’s really getting worse,” Maria thought to herself. Maybe he would get even more worse during the next few days. All she can do is to get ready for such an eventuality. She closed the door and went back into the reception area.

SEIS

Marge had already arrived in the town of Vigan. She had to park her monstrous car outside the perimeter of the city, because motorized vehicles were forbidden in the inner environs. The local inhabitants believe that machines are the work of the devil. Marge needed to do some shopping for things that they needed at the villa, especially food. She managed to find a large grocery store. She bought some candles that they could light to honour the death anniversary of Maria’s aunt. It was almost as if she had forgotten Maria and her grandfather, when she was wandering around Vigan. But then she recalled the reactions of Crispin the caretaker who seemed to be shocked that she was staying at Villa Luciano and that Maria was her friend. She had tried to ask him what he meant, but he only became speechless – so she just left him and thanked him for his kindness in telling her how to drive to Vigan.

~

After Marge had finished shopping she drove to one of the nearest beach resorts called Santa Catalina. She soon found a hotel near the beach and checked in – the OveMar Hotel. After parking the car, she went straight to the lobby and asked the receptionist what activities were going on.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but there is not much going on at the moment, but you have access to the beach from here.”

In fact, Marge could even see the welcoming beach through the window behind the reception desk. The prospect was indeed invigorating, and stirred her expectations. “It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful,” thought Marge to herself. “I feel inclined to have some fun in the sun – it’s more fun in the Philippines,” they say, thought Marge.

“Is that so?” Marge said to the front desk officer, feigning disappointment.

“But the beach and other water activities are fully available, ma’am. You’ll surely enjoy our beach, ma’am,” the front desk officer offered.

“That sounds interesting. I’ll try that then,” she said. 

“You’re alone, ma’am?” The receptionist asked her, while she was writing down Marge’s personal details.

“Well, at the moment yes. But my friend will be following me here soon. I’ll just call her later,” she answered.

After she finished checking in, she walked to the beach, enjoying the air and the view; she took some quick photos, before going to the restroom to change into her swimwear.

~

She didn’t regret coming here, the beach was so serene.

On seeing and hearing the waves rolling back and forth her mind was cast back to her first love, her cousin, the handsome gentleman Lee: I was only 13 years old when we first consummated our love, but it was not to be. It was many a year ago now. The heavens tore him from my young heart. He lived not long on this earth, but he lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me. I was a child and he was my lover in the kingdom by the sea. But we loved with a love that was more than love – I and my sweet lover Lee. With a love that the winged angels of heaven coveted him and me. And this was the reason that, long ago, in the kingdom by the sea, a cold wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful lover. So his highborn kinsman came and bore him away from me, and shut him up in a tomb in the kingdom by the sea. But our love it was stronger by far than the love of others – and neither the angels in heaven above, nor the demons down under the sea, can ever dissever my soul from the soul of my handsome lover Lee. Whenever I hear the sound of pounding waves, my heart always remembers my Lee, my love, my life, buried in the tomb there by the sea, in his tomb by the sounding sea. Marge was woken up from this daydreaming reverie with the squawking and wailing of an angry white gull flying overhead, which returned her mind to the present.

She decided to give Maria a call. It took her a few rings before Maria answered.

“Hello? Maria? I’m already here at Santa Catalina. Are you on your way here?” She asked.

“I’m sorry again, Marge. I can’t go there at this time; the caretaker is still not here to look after grandpa, so I decided to just stay here,” she explained.

“Oh! That’s sad that you can’t come, the place is really great. But it’s ok, family first of course. Take good care of the old man, okay?”

“I’m really sorry, Marge. Don’t worry I’ll make it up to you one of these days, I promise,” replied Maria.

“That’s a promise huh? Anyway I’ve already bought some food so no worries. I’ll just spend some more hours here then go back there.”

“That’s good. Take your time.”

“Alright. Bye.”

“Bye, Marge. Take care.”

After her phone conversation with Maria she decided to take a dip in the sea, before heading back to the villa. She swam back and forth not far from the shoreline – along the coast facing the South China Sea.  She wished she could stay another day so she could see the dawn coming up like thunder out of China across the sea in the morning, but she had to get back. Marge pondered, “Why is it called the “South China Sea” at all? Why isn’t it called the West Filipino Sea”?

After her swim, she decided to go back to the hotel and take a shower and have a rest.

~

She drove the long way back to the Villa Luciano. When she was driving towards the villa’s gatehouse she saw a silhouette of a man waving at her. She slowed the car down but could still not figure out who the man could be. She pulled the car up to a halt before driving under the archway of the gatehouse. The man was now waving his hand at her. So she wound down the car window a little bit and called out to him, “What do you want? Do you need something, Mister?” She asked.

The man walked in the direction of the car and she was then able to identify him. It was the caretaker Crispin who she had met recently in his small cottage. She wondered what he was doing here, or if he had been waiting for her arrival, hiding near the gatehouse. She had no clue. 

“Good afternoon, ma’am. Remember I’m Crispin the caretaker,” he began, “the one you asked about directions to Vigan town, if you remember?”

“Of course I remember,” she said, surprised at his question.

“Can we talk ma’am,” he politely asked.

“Of course. Here?” She asked.

“But it would be better if we could have some privacy. Excuse my effrontery, but can you drive me to my cottage, and we can talk along the way,” he asked with a cowering expression.

Marge thought his proposal absurd and slightly impertinent, and had doubts about this man who was almost a stranger – but she was intrigued, so agreed.

“Alright, go round the other side of the car – you can sit in the front,” she instructed him. 

~

Marge revved the twelve-cylinder engine, pressed down the clutch, and holding the ivory knob of the long floor-mounted gear lever, she thrust it into first gear. She released the handbrake, and pressed carefully down on the accelerator pedal, so as not to give free reign to all of the 250 horses of the J12 engine. Nevertheless, the back wheels kicked up the gravel on the road, and lifted the prow of the bonnet, so the flying stork (La Cigogne Volante) almost flew away.

When the car had reached a comfortable speed, Marge decided to open the conversation. She kept her eyes on the road ahead, but addressed him in a quiet and civilized tone, which was possible, because the V12 purred quietly like a contented lioness. Marge began, “Well, what is it that you want to talk about? You sounded very serious earlier,” she asked wondering.

“It’s about Villa Luciano, ma’am,” he started.

“What about it? And please call me Marge instead of ma’am, because I feel like I’m your employer when you call me that. By the way, I know your name is Crispin, but what’s your son’s name?” She asked.

“His name is Julio, Ma’am— err, Marge I mean,” he answered.

The country roads were tortuous. But because of the enormous power of the engine, Marge did not need to gear down when reducing speed; but the large vehicle was no sports car, so she had to slow down for the numerous bends in the road, but accelerated up to 85 mph on the few straight stretches of road and overtook the few puny modern vehicles on the route.

“Alright. It’s nice to meet you again. So anyway – what’s this all about”? Marge asked.

“She’s doing it again,” Crispin said obscurely, while shaking his head in dismay.

“Doing what? And who’s ‘she’?” She asked.

“How long have you known Maria?” He asked, ignoring her questions.

“Almost one year, I guess? I met her at work. Why do you ask?”

A knowing grin formed on his face, which developed into an enigmatic nodding of the head.

“And how much do you know?” He continued.

“I know a lot of things about her since we work in the same company, and I’m the one she’s most friendly with. And why do you keep on asking me things about me and her? Get straight to the point – what are you trying to say?” She asked, feeling a bit irritated, while swerving the two-ton vehicle dangerously to avoid a hedgehog crossing the road.   

“I’m sorry. But I just want to hear how you met a person that died six years ago,” he said in a very serious tone.

“Are you feeling well? There are reasons why our progressive government, led by our compassionate President Callahan, have implemented reform programmes to help poor people who are burdened with drug addiction due to antipathetic social conditions. I’m sorry if you have such a problem – but it seems to be the case, because what you’re saying now is tantamount to some kind of delirium,” said Marge in a sudden outburst, almost losing control of the car in a hazardous uphill hairpin bend.

“I’m sorry, I know this must all sound very far-fetched to you. I’m not a drug abuser, Marge. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been living here all my life. Didn’t you ever wonder why in the extensive lands of the villa, which stretch for many miles in circumference, it is only me and my son who reside here. There’s just one reason for this,” he said while glancing at her sideways.

“Tell me then. Don’t make me more confused,” she said nervously.

“Okay. I’ll tell you. Señora Matilda died 8 years ago. She’s the late wife of the late Señor Pablo de Aragón y Castilla who also died 6 years ago, Maria’s grandparents,” he said.

“Late Señor Pablo? What do you mean? He’s gone too?” She asked and saw him nodding.

“But I saw him earlier, and he even talked to me?!” She informed him frantically.

“Let me finish first, please,” he said.

“Okay. I’m sorry,” she apologized.

“I’ve been their caretaker for almost twenty years. I was only nineteen years old, when I first started working there; I started to work there when my father became sick and I took over his job as caretaker. My father often took me with him to the Villa Luciano when I was younger. I saw everything that went on there, and I got to know Maria’s mother Clarita. She was just some years older than me. She died of complications after giving birth to Maria, so Maria grew up together with her grandparents and her father. Nobody knows where he is now, but some people say he’s living abroad. Maria was a very shy and silent girl as I remember – always alone, and staying in her room. She started to behave in a peculiar manner. She hardly talked to anybody, although I had a few words with her sometimes. After some time she began to be severely violent towards small animals. She burn one cat alive, stoned dogs and cut off the limbs of mice and rats. Her grandparents were worried about her behaviour, and took her to a well-known psychiatrist. After a few check-ups, Maria was diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia at the age of eight,” he said.

Marge was unable to absorb all the things that she was hearing. Her head started to ache. But she decided to carry on listening to what Crispin had to say.

“At the age of ten, she became worse. Her grandparents saw that she was becoming more intractable and unfriendly. Her grandmother even had to prevent her from jumping from the balcony a couple of times. At the age of twelve, she progressed from hurting animals, to hurting herself and other people. And the servants always saw her talking and mumbling while walking along the hallways in the middle of the night. I also observed how she was sometimes walking around the hallways shouting and screaming uncontrollably, and becoming hysterical. At that point, the staff were instructed to bind her in a straightjacket. On some occasions a local doctor was called who administered electro-shock treatment, so that she became subdued for a period,” he went on.

Marge started to believe this incredulous story about her friend and colleague, and almost began to feel very sorry for the young Maria. She had to experience such terrible things at a very young age.

Crispin carried on telling his story: “Her grandmother, Señora Matilda died when Maria reached the age of fourteen. She then became even more uncontrollable without her grandmother’s soothing hand. Her grandfather couldn’t accept the death of his wife, and in some unfathomable way started to blame Maria for his wife’s death. So he came to hate and neglect the young Maria. It was during this time that I saw how the old villa became the host and home of cult activities. Señor Pablo imagined that if he pledged and sacrificed a pure soul it would bring his wife back to him. His servants became terrified at these goings on, and fled back to their homes. In the end I was the only one left. After a year of consistent study about the cult’s knowledge and demonic activities, Don Pablo decided to pledge and sacrifice a pure soul. And that was Maria. He sacrificed his own granddaughter to bring about his wife’s resurrection,” Crispin went on.

Marge didn’t quite know what to feel right now. That she was shocked is an understatement. She was having mixed emotions – fear, sympathy and empathy. Crispin continued his story, while Marge carried on driving almost in some kind of haze. 

“Do you know why he hated and blamed Maria for Señora Matilda’s death? Because Maria had killed the old woman by burning her alive. While her grandmother was sleeping, she had doused her in spirits and then set her on fire, because she had scolded her for torturing her black cat. Maria was sent to a mental institution right away by her grandfather. To avoid a family scandal – as the Luciano family were revered for miles around, he told people that the old woman had died by accident,” Crispin continued.

“At that time, when Maria had been forcibly admitted to a mental institution, Señor Pablo told me to visit her. This gave me the opportunity to ask her why she had committed that horrible crime. She answered that she only did it because her “imaginary” friends commanded her to do it,” Crispin added. 

He carried on, “the reason why Señor Pablo hid the facts about the death of his late wife was because of his hidden motive regarding Maria. He didn’t pursue the case towards Maria, but had her put into a mental institution instead,” said Crispin.

He continued, “He had planned to demonically sacrifice Maria, so as to get his wife back. He needed to sacrifice a virgin.”[5]

Crispin carried on. “Pablo believed that if he sacrificed Maria to the devil, the devil would bring his wife back to life.”

“Oh my god. Are you for real?!” Marge exclaimed, extremely terrified yet sympathetic towards her friend Maria.

“But all the stories have their twisted part,” he continued.

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“On the day of the sacrifice, it was decided that the gardener’s brother, Jose, a mentally deficient man of thirty, should represent the devil by proxy. Thus, she was drugged and bound and dragged down to the cellar, where an altar of sacrifice had been prepared. Witnessed by Pedro, and others who had been invited to view the ritual, the simpleton Jose violently raped Maria. Her agony and screams shook the very foundations of the villa’s cellar. The cellar was hereafter named, Casillero del Diablo. Jose was later mutilated by an ox, that first abused him, and then gored him to death,” said Crispin finishing his story. 

Marge started to feel sorry for Maria even more. And for the very first time, she became speechless.

SIETE

After being abused and raped by the mentally backward gardener, Jose, in her grandfather’s ritual sacrifice, Maria finally tipped over the edge and entered into another world of hallucinations and delusions. After the death of the gardener, she still believed that he entered her every night, and she would break out in screams waking the whole household. She also believed that her grandfather was using her in satanic rituals – physical and sexual abuse of her in occult rituals. Maria was unable to see the difference between dreams, or rather nightmares, and reality. But we also had problems, because she had been abused and raped, so it wasn’t completely unlikely that this happened on numerous occasions. There were even rumours going around the nearby village that the only reason Pedro had not taken her life in the sacrifice was that he wanted to carry on abusing her in the rituals to which he invited the wealthy and powerful of the region, so they could also take part in the mass rape of the poor child. So in the end we didn’t know what to believe.

Her deliriums and nightmares became too much, so that she was transformed into a pale ghost of her former self. Pablo finally had her interred in a mental asylum again. He had explained to the doctors in the asylum that Maria was suffering from female hysteria, and told them to ignore her protests that she is sane; Pablo pointed out that all mental patients claim to be sane, much as all criminals claim to be innocent. Of course, Pablo had her interred so he could say all her claims of his abuse of her were mere delusions of a sick mind.

She spent some weeks in the Maison de Sante or private mad-house, and the asylum’s doctor was a young man, Dr. Cordero, who was up-to-date on the latest medications and electro shock treatment – so after a period of time she could almost function like a normal person.

~

Marge and Crispin finally arrived at his cottage. But he still hadn’t finished his story. Marge parked the car outside, and they went inside, where Crispin’s son, Julio, was playing with some toys. Crispin disappeared into what must have been a small kitchen and reappeared with some light victuals – some local wine and biscuits. He continued his narrative, sitting in front of the fireplace.  

“After being interred in the mental institution for some weeks, Maria was released. After this, the rumour went around that Señor Pablo carried on committing his malignant deeds and performed pledging rituals. He invited all the rich and powerful men of the region. She was the main attraction; they took turns at abusing her for three consecutive weeks; the pledging ritual of Maria was always initiated by her grandfather, Pedro. The other men cheered Pedro as he abused his granddaughter, and then cheered each other as they took turns abusing her.”  

“And how did this all end,” asked Marge.

“One gloomy morning, a horrific view met my eyes. Señor Pablo lay on the floor outside a room at the rear of the building all covered in blood. He had been decapitated – his head was sliced off! I heard some steps behind me, and on turning saw Maria approaching with his head on a platter, which she offered to me.  The head was ugly beyond belief, because the eyes had been gouged out, and the tongue removed. The heart was missing in the decapitated torso. His death is still officially unsolved, though the main suspect is of course Maria,” he carried on. 

~

“I immediately contacted the authorities, but it would take them some time to arrive, because the villa is so isolated,” Crispin continued.

“I went to look for Maria, but she had mysteriously disappeared. Also, Pedro’s head had disappeared, as I had taken the platter and placed it beside the body, while I was contacting the authorities. The head was later found buried in the gardener’s dung heap.” 

~

“I went to look for Maria, but felt very apprehensive and scared. Every step I took walking along the hallways and going in and out of the rooms of the large villa filled me with angst. I went upstairs, opening every door on the right and left of the hallway. I finally found her in the seventh room, on the left. And what I saw terrified me beyond the extreme. I found Maria’s mutilated body, which had been so tortured and abused it was completely disfigured and unrecognizable. But I knew it was Maria because of the ring on her finger, which bore the initials, M.A.C, that is, María de Aragón y Castilla. I was so frightened and scared that I ran to the villa’s stables, and taking a horse rode as fast as I could to the local police station. I returned to the villa with the police. But when we arrived at the villa, her body had disappeared.    

~

Marge was becoming tired listening to this incredulous story about her office colleague Maria, so she was barely able to take it all in. Crispin had made some strong coffee and added a shot of Emperador deluxe brandy. Marge swallowed the laced coffee, which revived her, so she was able to continue listening to Crispin’s grotesque and what she thought at times must be a fanciful story.

“After the deaths of Señor Pablo and Maria, a number of young girls went missing every year. And they were last sighted in this province before they disappeared. Five young girls had already disappeared. It was usually girls travelling alone on holiday to the province, who were going to meet up with friends later – but they never met them.”

Crispin took a long pause, poured a double Emperador, and downed it in one. He continued.

        “And do you know her last victim? I say “her”, because it is obvious that Maria never died, as she is here in the flesh now. My whole body freezes up when I tell you this – her last victim was my own daughter, Elena. Maria had become so obsessed with sacrifice, rape, abuse and death that she herself had now become the perpetrator, when before she had been the victim. So she delighted in abusing, torturing and murdering others, especially young girls. She had bound my daughter with rope and sacrificed her on a stone altar in the cellar of Villa Luciano, now infamously called Casillero del Diablo. Until now, I still dream of her – while she’s being abused and sacrificed by Maria, I can hear her calling, ‘Daddy come and help me!’ But I wasn’t there to help her. I can never forgive myself.”

        Crispin put his head between his knees and began to sob uncontrollably. After some time he seemed to recover.

        “At least I thought I could find the perpetrator of my innocent daughter’s death and torture. I enlisted the help of the villa’s gatekeeper, Igor, and we proceeded to dig up Maria’s grave. The grave was deep, so it took us many hours of hard labour. However, our labour bore no fruit. All we found was an empty casket covered in large strange handprints.

Crispin took out of his pocket a packet of cigarettes – La Bella Filipina, and offered Marge one, which she politely refused. He lit up his own cigarette with his father’s Zippo lighter. His father had been given the lighter by a US soldier during World War Two. His father had fought for the “Huks”, Hukbong Laban sa Hapon, a guerrilla movement of peasant farmers that had defended their homeland against the Japanese invasion; victorious, they were part of the forces that liberated Manila from the Japanese.

Taking a long drag of his cigarette, he exhaled the smoke through his nostrils and continued his story.

“And it came to me that she’s not dead and she was the reason for the disappearance of all the girls in this province. And I’m still trying to find out where she hides the bodies of all her victims,” Crispin said, as he began to sob uncontrollably again.

“Are you sure it was Maria? She’s sweet and she’s alive actually. I can’t imagine she is a monster,” Marge said, with a fearful expression on her face.

She continued, “How could she work together with me all this time, for months, and be my friend, and appear perfectly normal?” Marge asked.

“I don’t know – but some people say that antipsychotic drugs can have a normalizing effect, while if the patient stops taking the drugs due to side effects, they can revert to their original psychotic condition. But I don’t understand all these new scientific ideas, all I know is that ‘the Devil is such a good pretender, she will never show you her real appearance with the horns, tail and fangs until she wants to show you her real intentions.’ It’s not the same Maria anymore – maybe it’s her body – but her soul has been taken over by the devil. I don’t know. Some say the devil took possession of her soul while she was asleep, or even after she died.”

“How can you say that Maria did all of those things? Do you have proof?” asked Marge.

“Aside from her missing dead body, some people say that they saw Maria walking at night or they saw Maria walking near the Villa’s entrance. And I also heard unusual sounds and some familiar voices every time I enter the villa late in the evening. I’m still looking for my daughter, but it seems that her body is well-hidden somewhere. Is she alive or dead I don’t know? Maria is clever at hiding her victims. I always dream of my daughter – that she is perhaps alive and kept imprisoned somewhere. Maria’s grandfather abused her in the cellar of the villa, but there are also stories circulating that he abused many others. No one has all the keys to all the doors in the labyrinth of the cellars. There is also talk that Maria is carrying on with the rituals where she had once been the victim, and that she chooses young virgins to abuse and keeps them barely alive in some extremity of the passageways in the cellar. This is my wish – that I can find all these young girls alive including my daughter,” said Crispin hopefully, but sadly.

He took a pause from recounting his narrative, and poured himself another Emperador brandy.

He continued, “There is also a rumour that Maria has an accomplice – otherwise how could she commit all these crimes on her own? Maria’s grandfather Pedro had found a barefoot orphan child begging on the streets of Ermita in Manila, and raised him in secret in one of the villa’s cottages, where he hired a woman of ill repute called Jane, who he also met on the streets of Ermita, and had enjoyed her services. It is said that this child, Manuel Brezo, is descended from the negrito peoples, although the father was reputed to be an American soldier stationed in Angeles. He is forever indebted to the Luciano family for rescuing him from the deprivation of the streets of Ermita, and is pledged to being their servant for life. This faithfulness he now shows to Maria. So he follows her biddings no matter how perverse they may be, because he thinks the Luciano family is synonymous with goodness. His soul reflects that of his mistress Maria, demonic and hellish. In his devious exploits, he is also helped by Jane, who is not much older than he – both being in their twenties now. They have been protected and remunerated by the Luciano family ever since they were rescued from the streets of Ermita, and will do anything they are instructed to do. Despite the demonic nature of Manuel Brezo, his appearance is that of a gentleman in dress and aspect,” said Crispin, concluding his account of Maria’s helpers.

~

Marge felt absolutely confused and exhausted by all these revelations – in fact she thought this must all be some kind of nightmare she was dreaming in the daytime – a “daymare”. But even if only part of what Crispin had told her was true, she asked herself: “What does she want from me? Why did she befriend me and bring me here? For what reason?”

~

“I’ve already talked to my psychic friend and my cousin the parish priest in the town of Bantay. Both of them have the same theory. They believe she is looking for victims, so as to gain more energy, power and strength, because the evil continues living, using Maria’s dead body. And it’s also how they mock the virgin Mary, the one they hate the most.

“I don’t know what to think,” Marge said.

“I’ve been waiting for this chance. Tomorrow is the anniversary of Maria’s death, October 31st, what the heathens call Samhain, but which we God-fearing Christians call All Hallows’ Eve. It’s the day on which we Christians celebrate pain, torture and murder; the bloody murder and torture of the son of the virgin Mary, Jesus, and other martyrs. We celebrate the dead, and prepare to enter the period of darkness ruled by the devil. We need to ward off the evil spirits that flourish in this period of darkness – the demons, witches, and hobgoblins. It’s the same day on which all her victims went missing,” he continued.

“So even the story about aunt Lisa isn’t real,” Marge asked.

“It was Maria who died on October 31st – it’s her death anniversary. Aunt Lisa was real – that’s her late mother’s oldest sister. But she died before Maria was born, so Maria never even knew her. But it is also true her aunt died on October 31st, but as I mentioned, it’s more than a score years ago.”

“Yes. She told me that tomorrow will be the day of her aunt’s death anniversary,” she said to Crispin

“Indeed, that’s also what she has told others whom she tricked to come here,” he said.

“I just can’t believe Maria would have any evil designs on me,” she exclaimed, teary eyed.”

Marge was exhausted and said to Crispin she needed to take a walk in the garden to refresh herself. After walking around the garden lost in thought, she started to believe Crispin’s story. Perhaps she needed to cooperate with him in some way so as to avoid her own demise. She walked back to the cottage, and when she entered the living room, she saw that he was still sitting in the same position with a pensive look on his face. His son Julio was putting some of his things in a small traveling bag.

“He’s leaving tonight with his mother. We actually live in Vigan town – this house was my father’s house – we sometimes come here to breathe in the fresh air of the forest,” he said to her, when he saw her looking at Julio packing his bag.

“What should we do now? I’m scared. I’m not ready to leave this earth yet,” she said, crying.

“I have a plan, but we need to talk to my psychic friend, Lander, and my cousin, father Simeon,” he said while getting ready.

“Alright. But remember you told me you saw something in the second room?” She asked nervously.

He stopped what he was doing and looked at her.

“I saw Maria climb the wall to the ceiling by crawling along using her long and sharp dead fingernails – and then she suddenly stopped and slowly looked at me with bloodshot eyes and her mouth wide open, so that I almost swooned from the shock of the sight,” he said.

“So that was the sounds I heard, when I was exploring the rooms!” Said Marge.

OCHO

Even though Maria was one of her closest friends, she still needed to cooperate with their plan of stopping her evil deeds. Now she was able to connect everything – such as Maria’s odd behaviour ever since she had first met her. Marge hadn’t paid much attention to this before, because she had thought at the time that it was “normal”. Maria had been absent at work many times unaccountably. She didn’t socialize with people that much either. Sometimes she had caught Maria talking to herself, babbling incoherently, while smiling to herself. Sometimes blaspheming, and speaking in tongues she could never have learned. She didn’t even know where Maria had been living all this time. And now Marge just wanted to run away and go back to where she came from, but she thought she had to help them catch Maria for her crimes, although she wasn’t even sure who the “real” Maria was.

~

They drove the car to the Bantay parish to meet Crispin’s psychic friend, Lander, and his cousin, the priest of the local church. The old church had a small study, where they all met.

“But we can’t be sure. Maybe she knows what we’re up to; we need to be careful,” Lander said, Crispin’s psychic friend.

“I know. There’s no turning back, this is our chance,” Crispin added.

“Don’t be scared, Marge, because God’s always with us – He’s our greatest weapon.” Father Simeon’s words gave Marge hope.

“Thank you, father. I hope that everything will be okay,” she replied.

“I’ve been studying this case for a long time, and I have confirmed most of the facts by now. And the Bishop has just approved my request to perform a sexual exorcism on Maria, because we believe she is copulating with the devil; we have solid proof now, with people like Crispin as witnesses,” Father Simeon continued.

“You can go there first, Marge – and we’ll come later. Don’t be scared, because we’ll arrive not long after you, Lander said.

“I will recite prayers for you – St. Michael and St. Benedict prayers – so as to protect you. And I’ll give you holy water that you can put in a drink you can give to her – it will make her sleep, but we still need to be careful, because the devil comes in different forms,” Father Simeon said briefly.

“Buy her something you can offer her as a drink from the nearby store and then put some of the holy water in it,” Crispin added.

~

Maria put the holy water that Father Simeon had given her into her haversack. After father Simeon had said prayers for Marge, she got in the car and drove to the store to buy the drink for Maria.

~

Marge was already on her way to the villa, driving alone. She was very apprehensive and drove very slowly; so slowly in fact that Lander’s car appeared as a tiny speck behind her in the rear-view mirror. She assumed that the car had three occupants, Crispin, Father Simeon and Lander. She was really scared out of her wits, and her shaking hands were barely able to grasp the gigantic ivory steering wheel of the Hispano Suiza. By the time she reached the villa, the sun had long since set. She drove the car past the gatehouse, and parked it near the front entrance like before. It was pitch black, but there was a light over the front door of the villa, under which she could see the figure of Maria waving at her. Marge felt very confused – was this Maria her dear friend – or the fiendish she-devil as described by Crispin, Lander and the parish priest? Maria got out of the car slowly. She needed to act normal or else everything they had planned would go to waste. She grabbed her haversack with the cranberry juice and other food she had bought earlier. Maria immediately ran towards her to help her when she saw she had things to carry.

“How was your trip to the city,” Maria asked, smiling. Marge tried to read something else into her smile, but let it go, and tried to focus on the plan they had hatched.

“I- it was g-great b-but tiring. H-how’s your g-grandfather,” said Marge swallowing hard, as they walked towards the kitchen so she could deposit the groceries she had bought.

“He’s okay. And now he’s resting,” she replied, and smiled her enigmatic smile.

“T-that’s great. I-I brought some food, let’s eat,” she offered hiding her nervousness, but she still couldn’t help stammering. She just hoped that Maria wasn’t suspicious of her behaviour.

I see you’ve bought some food, but I’ve just finished eating, Marge. Maybe I’ll eat later,” Maria said.

They walked into the kitchen and Marge gave Maria the food she had bought so she could store it away in the butlery, which was accessible from the kitchen. Marge held back the cranberry juice, and went to the cupboard and retrieved two glasses, while Maria’s was putting the food away. She poured the cranberry juice into the glasses, and added the holy water, and placed both glasses on the table in the dining area in the kitchen.

When Marge walked back into the kitchen, Maria said to her, while glancing at the table where the glasses of cranberry juice were placed – I’ve bought some wonderful fresh cranberry juice, why don’t you try it – they say it’s good for your health, and wards off evil sicknesses. 

“I’ll drink it later,” she said, not even glancing at the juice.

“Are you sure?” Marge asked.  

Marge began to have doubts. She still looked like the same old Maria, sweet and shy. She couldn’t believe that she’s some kind of an evil virago – a termagant – a dragon-lady. Not with the way she talks and not with the way she behaves either. She looks like a normal healthy shea girl, but like Crispin said, the devil is a great pretender.

“What are you thinking? Why are you so silent?” Maria asked while staring at her.

“Nothing. Just tired,” Marge replied, looking down at the floor as she couldn’t stand the intensity of her stare.  

“Of course, I understand you must be tired going from one place to another,” Maria answered, which sounded ominous to Marge. Marge wasn’t sure if she was just being paranoid, or if Maria’s words had a double meaning.

“W-what d-do you mean?” She asked nervously.

“You visited places, right? That’s maybe the reason why you feel drained,” she answered.

“Ah yeah. Don’t let the juice get warm – taste just a little bit, I bought it especially for you,” she said picking up the glass and offering it to Maria once again. But Maria just looked blankly at Marge.

“Of course you bought it for me. What’s so special about that juice – why do you keep insisting that I drink it?” Maria asked while staring at her with emotionless eyes.

“B-because i-it w-will get too warm if you don’t drink it now,” she reasoned, while avoiding her chilling gaze.

“Alright. That drink seems so special – I will drink it later. And let’s rest for now – we have a long night ahead of us,” said Maria with a meaningful smirk.

Marge wasn’t able to argue like before, because she’s too scared and has the feeling that Maria might even attack her. She’s getting more and more worried with every passing minute. She was already making her way upstairs when she remembered she’d forgot something, so she turned back and walked towards the kitchen. She saw that Maria was still in the kitchen, so she walked as slowly and silently as possible. She then saw something that gave her a jolt. Maria was pouring the cranberry juice down the sink. Marge quickly turned around and went upstairs to her room, and locked the door. She couldn’t stop walking back and forth in the room thinking about what she ought to do. She was shaking uncontrollably and decided to message Crispin that Maria had thrown away the cranberry juice; perhaps he had some idea what she might do now? How she wished that the morning would come soon.

NUEVE

A scratching sound woke up Marge. She quickly got up when she discovered that she had fallen asleep, which wasn’t exactly in her plan. She immediately grabbed her phone and checked the time, it’s almost 2 am. Then she looked towards where the sound was coming from; a sudden feeling of fear washed through her entire body. She decided to message Crispin and looking at her phone she saw that she had missed a couple of calls and text messages. She quickly opened the messages.

From: Crispin

We’re just here waiting. Father Simeon said that it’s still okay if she didn’t drink the juice with holy water.

From: Crispin

The wind is rising and getting stronger. The trees are moving in an unusual way. Are you okay?

From: Crispin

Lander has already seen Maria’s apparition. Are you alright? Please message us back.

From: Crispin

We’ll enter the villa in a few moments. Both Lander and Father Simeon can feel the negativity getting heavier. We hope you’re okay.

~

Crispin’s messages just made her more scared.  After messaging him back, she stood up and observed the surroundings, looking to where the scratching sounds were coming from. She became scared imagining what thing could be making that sound. She slowly and silently walked towards the door and checked if it was still locked. When she saw that the door was locked, she leaned against it trying to hear if there was anybody outside. She was almost going away from the door when she suddenly heard footsteps that were coming towards her. As the steps got nearer, her heart began to beat faster as well. The footsteps stopped in front of her door and she heard something hoarsely breathing. Her body froze. Then that someone outside was trying to open the door in a hurry, and was rattling the doorknob.

“Marge?” A hoarse and raspy voice called her name. And she wasn’t mistaken – it was Maria. But she kept silent and listened intently.

“Margeeee,” Maria called hoarsely in a singsongy way. Her voice changed – it now became sharp and sounded like she was losing her breath. Marge silently walked towards the bed while crying.

Then Maria stopped calling her; Marge went back to the door and it seemed that Maria had gone away already. She was able to peek between the doorframe and the door, and she saw Maria with her bloodshot eyes looking straight towards the crack through which she was peeking. She hurriedly ran towards her bed and picked up her phone. She was calling Crispin, when she heard a loud bang coming from the direction of the door. She was waiting for Crispin to answer her call, while staring intently at the door.

“Hello? Marg—.” She dropped the phone when the door suddenly burst open. She automatically walked backwards when she saw Maria coming towards her – her body was all bent. She looked almost like some kind of perverse gymnast, walking towards her with her body all twisted. Her fingers had turned into knife-like nails. Marge started to weep uncontrollably, but managed to reach into her haversack to retrieve the small bottle of holy water. She tried to be brave even though she was shaking badly.

“Maria? What happened to you?” She asked, terrified and saw that she had stopped walking, and was trying to straighten up her body.

“Come here, Marge,” Maria said while opening her arms welcoming an embrace, while her head was still twisted to one side. Marge stepped backwards from this vision of Maria in the shape of a witch, with bloodshot eyes, and a wide and gaping smiling mouth full of protruding sharp teeth. Her hair hung down in strands, and she waved her arms around uncontrollably, her long nails making a swishing sound through the air.   

“Please, whoever you are. Leave me alone,” she shouted.

“I’m your friend, Marge. I’m Maria,” she said, and started walking towards her again her bones making cracking sounds like they were breaking. Her body started to contort again, and this gave Marge the chance to run out of the room. But before she could reach the open door, Maria had crawled so quickly forward with her head moving jerkily to the left and right, and then she jumped at Marge. Marge released the loudest scream she could, and fell down to the floor. When she looked up, she saw Maria clinging to the ceiling with her long nails. She had clattered quickly up to the ceiling and was now facing downwards towards Marge who lay prone on the floor. Maria let out an unearthly scream, and opening her mouth full of sharp teeth, she fell down on top of Maria cutting Marge’s neck and lapping up the red fluid that oozed out. Marge blacked out.  

~

Before the events described above, Crispin had tried to message and call Marge, but she hadn’t answered.

“I really hope she’s okay,” said Crispin while dialling Marge’s number, but she didn’t answer. Because there was no response from Marge, the three of them were already making their way to the villa. They had been calling her for hours, but she hadn’t answered any of the calls.

~

When they entered the villa, they saw Marge sitting comfortably on the couch in the living room. She looked pale and drawn. She was wearing a velvet band around her neck, which Crispin thought peculiar, as he couldn’t remember that she had been wearing it before. They hurriedly walked towards her.

“What happened? Are you okay?” Crispin asked in a low voice.

“Yes. I’m okay, so all of you can leave now,” Marge answered them standing up.

“What are you saying? Did she scare you?!” He asked.

“Maria isn’t evil. And she’s okay, sleeping upstairs already. So you need to go before she wakes up,” she stated oddly. Something’s not right.

The three of them looked at each other with confused expressions. When they entered the villa and saw how Marge sat there fearless – right at that moment, Crispin already knew that something had happened.


[1] First death anniversary, one year after the death.

[2] Arriba (Spanish): Go, go! Come on, come on!

[3] Filipino breakfast dish where bangus (milkfish) is split open, marinated overnight in a vinegar solution, and then pan-fried until crisp and golden.

[4] Members of the Igorot tribe of Mountain Province in northern Philippines have long practised the tradition of burying their dead in hanging coffins, nailed to the sides of cliff faces high above the ground. Comfortably predating the arrival of the Spanish, the procedure can probably be traced back more than two millennia. https://www.roughguides.com/article/hanging-coffins/

[5] Sacrificing children has been practiced by several “civilizations”, such as the hundreds of children sacrificed in Peru by the Chimu civilization.

Published by babblingstories

Creative punk

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