M

methuselah

The man drove up to the front of the two-story house in an old Toyota Corolla. Mrs. Jesusa Madrid, stout build, 55 years of age, with a smattering of salt and pepper hair, watched the old blue car park in front of their small house in a Quezon City subdivision.

The night was ominously dark, with stars covered by swathes of discomfiting clouds. A storm was coming in tonight the TV said a few hours ago and people were warned to stay indoors.

Mrs. Madrid would have loved to sleep, a luxury nowadays, but things have gotten out of hand.

“Mrs. Madrid,” the man dipped his head slightly in a bow. “My name is M. Just M.” The old woman shook his hand vigorously and pointed at a door at the far end of the hallway.

M had jet-black hair, slicked back with oil. He sported thin glasses, a thin beard and eyes with two colors: one blue and one black. When asked about his eyes, he often told a story of a random accident as a child.

If the story was good enough for curious onlookers, it was good enough for him.

“How long has he been in there?” he inquired, looking at the door intently, as if sizing it up.

“Two, three weeks, I’ve lost count. It’s been the same situation. I can’t go in there anymore. I just can’t!” The woman broke down in tears and M led her to a seat in the living room.

“That’s why I’m here. I wouldn’t even suggest that you come with me. The process is dangerous to the untrained and unexposed. You’ve lived with it for some time, so it knows you, to an extent but isn’t interested in you, yet.”

Mrs. Madrid focused on “yet.” She shivered and began to wail again. “My Ricardo, Ricardo… Oh…”

Thick roiling clouds signaled the beginning of the storm.

A flash of lightning briefly lit the room. For a few seconds, M saw how the situation had aged the woman. Deep lines cut through the Mrs. Madrid’s face. Lines of worry and fear. It was time to get to work.

M instructed Mrs. Madrid to stay put no matter what she heard or saw. M drew a large circle around her chair and poured salt over it. Just fine salt, nothing fancy. He returned the salt to the kitchen when he was done.

M could hear things from beyond the door. Things that sounded utterly strange and separate from the reality of a modern home in Quezon City. He knocked on the door twice.

“Ricardo? My name is M. I know you can somehow still hear me and I’d like to ask permission to come in to fix your… situation. To the other thing inside with you, I don’t give a flying fuck what you think about me or my coming here. But I’d like to tell you that I’ve little patience with the likes of you. I also have a horrible headache and I will be easily pissed off. So. Don’t. Fuck. With. Me.”

The door opened on its own. It creaked ajar. M was assaulted by a mix of odors so powerful, he brought a gloved hand to cover his mouth and nose slightly. He did so out of vanity. He didn’t really mind.

Demonic possessions often carried with them strange odors. Some say it’s because the plane of reality is corrupted. Others claim that it’s just bad hygiene. M knew it was a mix of both. And the natural odor of someone consigned to the furthest depths of the alter-reality called “hell” is putrid and beyond revolting. “Evil smell” is an understatement – it was downright unfair to expose human nostrils to it.

The bed was empty. M grumbled and slowly trained his eyes upward. There you are, he thought.

It was a good thing that Mrs. Madrid had called him. Ricardo was already in a semi-advanced stage of decay. He had begun chewing on his hands and arms. His skin had a pale pallor with patches of green and gray. Green is necrosis and he had horrendous hematomas from repeated contact with hard objects around the room.

This happens when forces of death invade a living, breathing body. The two worlds just don’t mix and the body begins to break down.

The bedroom is in a state of complete disarray. Plates of stale, uneaten food littered the floor. The yellow curtains have been torn down. A study table lay upturned and useless on one side, with a cracked lamp feebly blinking beside it. The cotton fillings of the bed had been clawed out in some places. Brown and reddish human waste was plastered on the walls in innumerable finger and hand streaks. The floor was slick with what M could only surmise as weeks-old and fresh urine, mixed together in a syrupy combination that felt gritty and slippery at the same time, as his shoes squelched the few meters from the door to the bed.

M’s normal eye could see a sixty year old man sitting upside down on the ceiling looking, at him with malevolent eyes. He was naked, down to his non-existent underwear. His head was also tilted a wrong way, too far too the left. Unwashed, unshaven and beyond unkempt, Ricardo would have fainted if he saw himself in the state he was in now. Over the phone, Mrs. Madrid explained that Ricardo was normally hygienic and even picky with clothes. When he began ‘changing,’ his hygiene was the first thing to go. The wife also noted that Ricardo developed a penchant for all sorts of bugs as he forego his human meals.

In his upside-down position, Ricardo’s left cheek rested flat on his shoulder. His hands were bleeding, clutching at a part of the ceiling where tore out the ply board so he could get a good grip at the wooden beam above it.

M called this ‘standard’ ceiling position “parkour from hell.” In reality, demons preferred this position so they could land and kill intruders when they were playing with their food. Practicality over theatrics.

That has got to hurt, M thought as he surveyed Ricardo’s hyper-extended neck. He’s going to feel sore when he’s finally out of it.

M’s other eye, the blue one, could see a ten-foot entity with several red eyes, a long, green tongue that cut through its many cheeks and several mutilated human faces crammed into a huge mask. The entity’s black body, as wide as a sumo wrestler’s was in perfect alignment with the human host. Parasitic is what it is.

“Oh my, oh my,” M smiled and addressed the entity directly. “What are you supposed to be, big boy? A collector? No you’re not a collector. You’re a pig. Look at what you’ve done to Ricardo.” M’s voice was quiet and soft.

M pulled out a small dagger made of ivory, with a handle made with dark ebony wood, from his back pocket. A gift from an old friend, a voodoo chieftain who practiced the healing arts for more than a hundred years.

The entity began laughing. It projected an ear-splitting laugh that echoed on its own around the room at an unimaginable volume.

“I… kill people. You… boy. Will die… Your face… Mine.” it spoke using at least five other voices. It collected not just faces but voices. M heard the voice of a little girl in the mix.

A child killer, too. Really low in the demon matrix, he thought.

“Call me M. But my real name is Methuselah. And boy, I’m older than the Holy fucking Bible. You sick freak.”

M saw his opening. He ran toward the bed and launched himself against the upside-down entity by jumping on the bed. He drove his dagger into one of the demon’s foreheads. His other hand clawed at the mask of uneven faces, tearing apart its sinews. Globs of rotting flesh and fluids sprayed out. The various faces sewn together gave a collective grimace of horror and began screaming in pain – all at the same time.

The two crashed to the floor with M on top of the Ricardo-beast.

M had no intention of killing the parasite. There were agreements between hell and this side and hell and “up there.” But he could leave the demon in terrible pain for the next few hundred years.

The entity had several mouths, supported by poorly jointed jaws of old victims. Ricardo, its latest victim, wasn’t part of it – yet. He was still alive. M waved his ivory dagger in front of the entity’s eyes. Its many eyes followed the dagger with pure fear as it moved to and fro in front of its face.

“You like swallowing things, right? That’s what I call you. The swallower. Swallow this.”

He punched the dagger into the entity’s throat and pushed hard, past the throat until he felt its wriggling and writhing insides between his fingers. M was shoulder-deep into the demon when he stopped punching in the dagger. He quickly pulled out his arm, now steaming from sulfur burns. He surveyed his damaged skin and clucked. He’ll need to put some extra-powerful salves on his arm later. Can’t be too careful with tetanus and what not.

The multi-faced, multi-eyed and multi-jawed demon clutched at its throat and coughed, trying to expel the dagger.

“You… KILLED ME!” The beast wailed and coughed as it teared at its throat, pulling out nasty chunks.

“No. But you will wish you were dead. Leave Ricardo Madrid and go fuck yourself. I really mean it. I haven’t had my paracetamol. The tindahan ran out of biogesic. So my head is really in a state right now, with the likes of you.”

The beast’s many eyes looked at M pleadingly. M pointed to the floor.

“Back to whoever you serve. Whatever.”

The demon began melting into the cement floor like putrid, hot wax, leaving its core – Ricardo, intact.

A few minutes later, an ambulance’s siren could be heard in the distance. As M entered the main thoroughfare, he picked up a small amulet that he found on Ricardo’s body. It was a ruby amulet packed into a round, gold frame. No inscriptions, nothing. He asked for the amulet as payment from Mrs. Madrid. Mrs. Madrid was only too happy to get rid of the thing as her husband beg changing after acquiring the amulet at a small auction.

M’s blue eye looked at the amulet intently. Within it, he saw dozens of demons swirling and knocking against the crystalline structure. Rapacious entities who wanted nothing more than to wreak havoc regarded their new owner with malicious eyes.

M wore the amulet and gave it a soft pat.

“Fat chance,” he chuckled.

#FlashFiction

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#Horror

#Demons

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Junior’s Fate

juniors-fate

“Hoy Buloy, nasaan ka man,

Siguradong hindi ka namin

malilimutan.”

Buloy, PNE

Tomas Mercado Jr. alias Junior contemplated his options.

His younger brother Honesto had been buried a month ago. Oni was only fourteen when he was found dead in a grassy area of the Valenzuela public market. The child had been bound by duct tape, with a cardboard sign that said: PUSHER AKO HUWAG TULARAN.

Junior knew full well that Oni was innocent. The boy was a hard worker – a good kid. He wondered why his parents, often opinionated about their neighbors’ lives, was silent about how Oni died. They grieved, yes, but Junior also felt that they have washed themselves of all responsibility.

Leaving everything, all the guilt and pain… to him.

Besa and Tomas Sr. never quite lifted a finger when Junior began selling drugs. Their silence suited Junior well: he could do what he wanted. He could ‘rent’ out their shack as many times as needed, daily. Only Oni was clear-headed enough to complain about the stinking bodies that invaded the sanctity of their home every single night.

Junior made sure that he gave each parent at least 500 pesos every few days. He peppered everyone with small gifts whenever he could afford it. His father, Tomas Sr., always had enough cigarettes and rum on him. Besa is a veteran gambler who loved nothing more than to spend a few hours with her ‘amigas’ playing tong-its after a long day at the public market. While Besa made sure that she never touched her small capital for the market next day, she pocketed much of what Junior gave her, leaving Oni, their youngest, with almost nothing.

Junior often wondered why his parents never bothered to enroll Oni again in the local public school. Oni stopped going at fourth grade and began helping Besa and Tomas Sr. at the public market.

Besa always mumbled about “school expenses.” Tomas Sr. laughed off the idea, saying that he finished only first grade and didn’t need ABCs to get a wife and make kids. Junior himself stopped schooling at sixth grade – pulled out by his parents, too.

Every night, the four walls of the Mercado “mansion” became a haven of methamphetamine users, each with a story to tell. Junior got to know a few of them.

Jun-boy graduated to methamphetamines after being hooked on rugby for years, beginning age six. He worked for a small grocery during the day, nicking a handful of items every few days to help with the upkeep of his habit. Dennis was the fifth child of an ex-captain who hated school with a passion. Rona, age 19, was heartbroken and was using methamphetamines to “dull the pain.”

The air inside the house contrasted heavily with the air outside. Outside, you can smell the garbage and sewer but you can also occasionally catch a fresh, soothing breeze, especially at night. If the night is clear and there weren’t too many people sauntering about, you can also stretch on a long bench (if your house had one) and take advantage of the night’s feeble temperature drop.

Inside the Mercado shack, the air is always heavy with the fishy smell of mingling bodies, sweat, itching scalps and unwashed mouths breathing too quickly – or too slowly.

A pestilence of human noises also prevented good sleep. Guttural moaning and high-pitched chatter disturbed Oni’s sleep. He often said that if one of kuya Junior’s customers didn’t accidentally stab him while on a bad trip, he would die from having too little sleep because of the incessant sounds.

A pockmarked forty year old man with orange highlights made strange circles in front of him and smiled at a blank-faced woman across the room. The blank-faced woman suddenly became animated, with her face twisted in both anger and laughter. As soon as the bad trip started, the woman became subdued once more. She became woozy, dipping her head on her bent knees. Everyone was on the floor, near a piece of wall. One man spat on the floor every few minutes. Within a night, Karyo could create an impressive pool of spit. He’s one of Junior’s longtime patrons.

The walls of the house is the constant hero, standing between the dignity of sitting down and the lasting embarrassment of being face planted on the floor.

Junior watched as life ebbed from his customers, inch by inch, as the acrid stink of melting methamphetamines permeated the air starting at 6 PM every night. He remembered once, when Oni accidentally sat on a needle. He used a steel pipe generously on the customer who left the needle on Oni’s bed. Junior screamed about blood, disease and how dare he leave a used needle on his little brother’s bed. The customer was beaten to an inch of his life and warned never to return.

A little after 3 AM, Junior begins to collect money from fellow addicts. Some are easier to handle than others. Loyal customers or those who’ve been with him for years are allowed to sleep it out in the shack if they wanted to. Newcomers are thrown out after paying. Those who can’t pay are given warnings.

Junior exacts a certain price for each customer, depending on what they can offer. Men and women offer different things. Junior especially liked women customers who liked to pay ‘in kind.’

Junior often gave Oni small amounts so he wouldn’t have to work as hard. But Oni was insistent in working hard, seven days a week. He wanted his mama to have enough cash for tong-its and his papa to always have his rum and cigarettes. Nothing that Junior said could change his youngest sibling’s mind.

Now, things have changed.

Having lost his brother, Junior’s view of his trade changed drastically. He must decide. After a fortnight, he began the painful and often uncertain task of cutting links with the methamphetamine distributors. He no longer cared if they trusted him to keep quiet or not. What mattered is he needed to stop. He didn’t know how long he can keep it up, being a user himself. But he made a promise to himself that their house will no longer be a den – it has been a den long enough.

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[B2]

Suspected drug pusher falls in Valenzuela

Suspected drug pusher, 26 year old Tomas Mercado, Jr., fell to operatives of a local narcotics detection group a week after he surrendered to authorities, according to sources. A representative from the narcotics detection group stated that Mercado had been armed with a caliber 38 pistol and had fired at operatives when they entered Mercado’s Valenzuela home at four in the morning. A separate account from witnesses stated that Tomas Mercado, Jr. alias Junior had been sleeping when the authorities arrived. Shots were immediately fired, waking up neighbors nearby. Mercado’s parents insisted that Mercado had been unarmed for he did not have money to buy his own pistol.

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Honesto’s Wake

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Honesto Mercado’s wake was delayed several times.

You would think that the dead would be given a break in this day and age. However, the fundamental laws of economics state that even the poorest dead need to pay up before they are laid to rest.

Pay up – if they ever wanted to leave the endless cold and darkness of funeral homes with their loved ones.

Honesto’s mother Besa placed upon herself the nearly impossible task of producing the 40,000 pesos needed to claim her youngest child. Besa and Tomas opted for the cheapest casket and had asked the local kapitan to allow them to use the barangay chapel for the wake. After a week of soul-shattering haggling with the funeral home, they finally brought home Honesto’s body.

Known to his friends and classmates as Oni, the fourteen year old boy helped his aging parents eke out a living in the Valenzuela public market where his mother sold all sorts of vegetables: tomatoes, green chilies, peeled taro and the odd assortment of leaves used for clear soups and stews. Honesto augmented the family income by doing random errands for stall owners.

A tiny boy with peroxide blond hair (made possible literally, by hydrogen peroxide) and a long, hard-set face that belied his actual age, Honesto was one of the youngest laborers in the public market.

He worked so hard that he earned anywhere between 50 to 150 pesos a day. When he’s not busy pushing a rickety hand trolley stacked high with boxes of groceries, he’s doubled over, trying to carry 25 or 50 kilogram sacks of rice for Igme’s Rice Dealer Store when it’s shorthanded.

At night at around 8 PM or thereabouts, Honesto would walk with his mother and father back to their ramshackle “mansion” located a few streets away. Their hovel was built against a crumbling wall that constantly groaned and threatened to fall over when the concrete expands in the midday heat.

They called their house a “mansion,” for a second floor was built hastily on top of the first one. Before the fatal day, it often housed up to 15 people at a time – especially at night.

Honesto’s brother, kuya Junior, learned that the best way to earn money was to ‘rent out’ their hovel to shady individuals looking to score methamphetamines well away from their homes.

Honesto never touched the sachets of white crystals himself, even though tooters, lighters and all manner of improvised bongs are scattered throughout the “mansion.”

There was even one night when Honesto yelped in pain after sitting down on his low wooden bed. He accidentally punctured his backside with a stray syringe that one of his brother’s customers left behind. Kuya Junior laughed and ruffled his hair. “Here,” kuya Junior said, extending a five hundred peso bill to his younger brother, “go buy us some sisig and lechon manok with lots of sarsa. I want to eat like a king tonight!”

Honesto’s parents felt that they had no right to stop Junior, who was 12 years older than their youngest. The money Junior shared with his aging parents was enough to tip the fragile balance of parental authority. The son who brought in the bigger buck, however infrequently, had a say on things – end of story.

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[A1]

METRO MANILA

(Valenzuela) The body of a minor, 14 year old Honesto Mercado, was found in a grassy area near the Valenzuela public market. SPO3 Ernan Capulong, police officer present in the initial investigation, stated that the teenager was bound by duct tape from head to foot. A cardboard sign marked with “PUSHER AKO HUWAG TULARAN” was found at the scene of the crime. Deep ligature marks were found on the victim’s neck, prompting suspicion that the minor died by strangulation. Probable motivation for the killing may be drug related, a source said, as the victim lived in an area known for illegal narcotics use. (Continued at B9)

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Honesto’s father, Tomas, stood at the precipice of unbearable sadness coupled with the frequent tremors of impending insanity. He had been unable to sleep for days, only spending short minutes to nap. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw his youngest son again in the morgue, lifeless, with angry bruises on his neck and empty, staring eyes that nearly popped out from extreme pressure of strangulation.

He held a small, clean rag and constantly wiped the casket’s glass. Tears made it harder and harder for him to wipe the glass clean. The image of the departed soon blurred with the pale arcs of bitter moisture falling from the old man’s face.

Behind him was kuya Junior. His face belied nothing. He sat cross-legged holding his small cellphone. It beeped three times. He pushed a button and a message flashed on the screen:

INGAT DN PG MAY TYM. WG K KSE MAINGAY. SBI NI TSIP.

The text message came from an unknown number. Kuya Junior looked at his cellphone with unseeing eyes and turned it off. He walked to a small cardboard box near the door of the barangay chapel and opened it. Inside was a fluffy chick, as yellow as the morning sun. He picked it up and plodded slowly to Honesto’s casket.

Kuya Junior placed the chick on top of the glass.

He watched as the chick began pecking.

Tink-tink-tink
Tink-tink-tink
Tink-tink-tink

He took one last look at his brother’s peaceful face and stepped out of the barangay chapel and into the night.

POSTSCRIPT:

In the Philippines, it is believed that a chick placed on top of a murder victim’s casket will “peck at the conscience” of the victim’s killer. The chick is as much a sign of societal injustice as it is of hope – that one day soon, unidentified assailants will be brought to justice and bring peace and closure to the families of victims of unresolved killings.

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Dream Time

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He crossed the Aegean Sea on a powerful trireme with fifty slaves rowing nonstop on both sides of the vessel. The oracle warned him of the absolute certainty of his failure. He sailed anyway.

“There is no cure. Not all the gold in the world can put a stop to it.”

He did not take the oracle’s words to heart. Instead, he spoke to other mystics and seers. He poured libations in honor of a handful of gods in the hopes of arriving at a solution. None came. Until finally a tradesman specializing in rare medicament told him about a mystic woman in a secluded island across the sea.

The tradesman spoke in hushed tones, afraid that someone else might hear him.

He drank the tradesman’s words like fragrant, Bibline wine. Imbibing the new knowledge, he had a majestic trireme built for one mission alone: to reach the island of Sarpedon the quickest.

The trireme launched itself against powerful headwinds on that fateful day. Certain gods had heard of the quest and decided to play tricks on the gigantic, 50-slave trireme.

The sky rumbled as water surged in hurricane intensity from the depths of the ocean. Seven times the vessel nearly capsized. Half of the slaves drowned – others disappeared, carried away by clawed and finned beasts from the deepest parts of the sea.

When the vessel finally anchored in Sarpedon, the man was already feverish. He disembarked and sought a cave, any cave near the beach. He found a tiny one that smelled of rotting fish and the sea.

He slept like a dead man.

In his dream, he stood in front of a formless darkness. Earsplitting hisses echoed throughout the cave. There was no fire. For the first time in a long while he felt afraid.

The formless darkness spoke first.

“How dare you come to my home, Midas.”

Midas showed her his right hand.

“The disease is spreading, Medusa. I can no longer breathe right. I no longer eat. I can only taste wine. Food will not fit into my throat, now solid gold. I am starving with all the gold I can ever want with no way to enjoy my riches.”

The hissing increased. Midas tasted anger in the damp air.

“What is it to me, Midas.”

Midas wore his glove again.

“I want you to end it. However way. The seers say I will not die.”

The remaining crew of the ship waited and waited until many succumbed to thirst and starvation. A violent storm pulled the trireme back to sea and smashed it on the jagged rocks below the water. The prow cracked and the oar banks split, allowing ocean water to pull the vessel deeper, until it was no more.

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#FlashFiction
#Medusa
#Midas

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Old Nick

The icy cavern shook for the thousandth time.

A hulking man with a white beard and rippling muscles feasted on a whole goat on a spit. His nicotine-yellow toes wiggled comfortably by the large fire in front of him.

 

He tore through the goat with gusto and burped with such magnificence that the walls of his abode shook again and again…and again. He drank honeyed wine from a leather flask – a gift from the Egyptian god Anubis. He and Anubis go way back. They still play mancala whenever things are slow in the underworld.

The well-lit cavern was a coal mine and tiny elves worked day and night without stopping for the most anticipated night of the year.

“Adnan! Coskun! Egemen!”

Three elves, all looking as old and dirty as time, rushed to his side. He threw them meaty chunks of goat. The elves descended upon the goat ribs like a pack of wolves. They slobbered all over the bones and smacked each other for scraps that fell to the floor.

“How goes the reindeer stable boys?”

They answered one after the other in rapid succession, as they are part of the same hive mind:

“Fed and burped!”

“Shoed and ready!”

“Brushed and bridled!”

He stood up and gave an almighty belch that reeked of too many goat dinners and the occasional yeti that he found delectable, too. He shook snow and dirt off his feet and plunged them into oxhide boots he made himself.

He gave a wild look at all the elves who stopped to look at him.

“LET’S ROLL!”

A hundred or so reindeers took to the sky. They pulled a mighty sled of steel and wood, with a nearly bottomless sack of ever-burning coal. These vulture-reindeer hybrids flew faster and never tire. They looked like ordinary reindeers, except for their hardened beaks and black wings that spanned four meters end to end. The time-stop was in effect and Old Nick wanted to unload his cargo as quickly as possible.

“COAL! COAL! COAL FOR ALL THE FILTHY BOYS AND GIRLS!”

Sheets of fiery coal rained down on cities and towns, finding their targets. Naughty, evil and corrupt adults woke up with a start, finding themselves being peppered with burning coals from the sky. The burning coals stung like nothing else and whatever they did, they couldn’t pry the coal from their burning flesh.
Violent screams punctuated the night as the retribution came at Christmastime, with a bang.

After burning through half of Asia and a third of Africa, he turned to Europe and the Americas.

“DON’T FORGET TO SAY MERCI BEAUCOUP. MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM MY HAIRY ASS!”

Old Nick fired volley after volley of extra hot and painful coal. Tons of coal razed the most corrupt and vile of the populations. Almost all the ever-burning coal was gone after he went through Europe and the Americas.

He gave his steeds an almighty pull and turned them back to the general direction of his ice cavern.

Until next year, Old Nick!

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Sermon on the Mount

barren-land-700x700

Every few thousand years, inexplicable things happen and are immediately boarded up or erased from popular memory.
This is one of them.

Alupihan Archives

CASE FILE NO. 00012252016

TRANSCRIPT

Presiding Officer: Col. Dante Argayosa

DANTE: Mr. President, I understand on December 24th of the current year, you claim that you were taken to a bare mountain surrounded by a bone dry desert, desolate and filled with the bones of animals.

PRESIDENT: That is correct. I told you, why you people keep asking me the same stupid questions again and again. Putangina.

DANTE: I’m sorry sir for the clarification. Can you just tell your story again. I need to hear it for myself.

PRESIDENT: I didn’t see anyone. I was calling my dear friend Boopsie on my landline in the office and then everything just went dark. Next thing I knew I was in this mysterious land. On a fucking mountain. A mountain on Christmas Eve!

DANTE: Dark you say? Was there a brownout?

PRESIDENT: Inutile! There are no brownouts at the Malacanan Palace!

DANTE: Apologies again, sir. Just trying to understand what happened.

PRESIDENT: You interrupt me again with stupidity, I KILL YOU. Do you understand soldier? I will stand by you and the other soldiers but if you interrupt me or criticize me in public, I KILL YOU. With my bare hands. While blindfolded. With my hands tied to a post or behind my back.

DANTE: Yes sir. I agree sir.

PRESIDENT: Are you being sarcastic?

DANTE: What is sarcastic sir?

PRESIDENT: Dios mio. Remind me to call the coterie of two and three star generals to give you a good beating after this.

DANTE: Y-Yes sir.

PRESIDENT: Anyway, anyway. I was taken to this mountain. Everything around me was bone dry and dead. Then a bearded man in a long, flowing, white toga approached me. He had this amazing beard that reached all the way down to the ground. He kept stroking his beard. I would probably stroke my beard if it was that long, too. Magnificent beard. He probably spends a ton of money for shampoo just to keep it silky smooth.

DANTE: What did you ask him sir?

PRESIDENT: I said of course, hello. Like this: hello, hello, hello how do you do. I did that a couple of times to get some practice.

DANTE: O-Okay then?

PRESIDENT: He smiled at me only. He spoke another language. Not English. Not even French or Spanish.

DANTE: What did he speak?

PRESIDENT: He spoke with squeaks! Like a rusty door!

DANTE: (To himself) Putangina pala ano.

PRESIDENT: What did you say soldier?

DANTE: Wala po sir.

PRESIDENT: So he squeaked and squeaked like a rusty door. And he pointed all around me. He began making these crazy gestures, like counting on his fingers and pointing at the bone dry skeletons in the desert. His eyes were rolling all over the place. His tongue too!

DANTE: Do you think this could be related to what we’re doing at the moment?

PRESIDENT: No. I don’t think so.

DANTE: How can we help?

PRESIDENT: I think the strange man wanted me to keep doing what I am doing. I think he was encouraging me! So I want you guys to keep it up! Even divinity is saying we are doing a good job!

DANTE: Really sir?!

PRESIDENT: Why, do you doubt my eternal wisdom?

DANTE: No sir.

PRESIDENT: Putangina ka pala e.

DANTE: Sorry sir!

– End Transcript –

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The King of Kings

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The assembly took place at exactly 12 midnight, behind a lone McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue. Twenty of the city’s toughest killers, thieves and other criminals gathered for this historic night to determine the leadership for the coming year. At 67, the gang leader, Arnulfo Dimagiba had held the same position three years straight.

The others are still convinced that he is the best man for the job. Several counts of assault, armed robbery, illegal narcotics – you name it, Arnulfo has done it in his lifetime. His face and body bore the brunt of endless abuse and intoxication. His pinched face sported a long scar that ran sideways from the right cheek to the left side of his jaw – a trophy from a prison riot in 2009 where he was said to have killed over a dozen men in order to survive.

The gang selected three of their best candidates. Each candidate will be given enough time to speak of his ‘achievements’ in the current year. The rest will vote if he is worthy to replace Arnulfo. The self-styled king didn’t want to leave just yet. He was sure that his lifetime achievements have sealed a permanent position for him in the gang.

He never said it out loud because he wanted the others to believe that democracy was alive and well. He lorded over the others through fear, memory, force and through accomplices who “took care of business” for him.

The first candidate to step forward was Lino. Lino never spoke or opened his mouth. He relied on his arms and legs to do all the talking. Lino was an armed robber – the best in his class. It was rumored that he commandeered a truck loaded with Toyota Vioses on his lonesome and never got caught. Arnulfo spoke at length about how Lino contributed to the group by disposing of traitors and snitches. He praised Lino’s efforts and gestured to the group: here is a man with balls the size of watermelons. A worthy man.

But, Arnulfo continued, he is too young to lead. So I think this year, Lino, the group will not benefit from your leadership yet. Maybe next year.

The second candidate was a man known only to his peers as Larry. Larry loved banks and ATM machines. He couldn’t stay away from them even if you chained him to a lamppost. He rigged ATM machines and held up people withdrawing cash. Agile and intelligent, he is an asset to the group when it is in need of quick cash.

Arnulfo once again praised Larry’s achievements and even poured a glass of Fundador for him. Larry drained the filthy glass with relish and held it at his side, waiting for the King’s recommendation of him as a new leader.

“However… There is the matter of the money you owe me. That you have not paid.”

Larry was stone-faced. He turned his back and took his place at the back of the congregation. He owed Arnulfo more than 50,000 pesos. He used it for his wife’s kidney treatments. Larry’s wife died three months ago and he had been unable to produce the amount plus interest.

Arnulfo faked a deep sigh. “Is there no one here worthy enough to take the place of an old man?” He stood up and gestured dramatically to the band of thieves and killers. Many were already nodding in agreement – there is no one else worthy but Arnulfo.

A young boy, Santos, stepped forward. “I think I can do it, sir.”

Arnulfo laughed merrily, holding his belly. He shook his long, greasy hair and exposed his rotten teeth in a sardonic smile. “Santos, son of Larry. I like your guts. I can make you a messenger. Money, boy. If you are loyal enough, you’ll have lots of it in no time.”

Santos smiled. His face was merry and light. Arnulfo believed everything was in the bag. It was good to be the leader for another year.

A few moments later, Arnulfo is face down on the pavement, his blood painting the muddy concrete a sick crimson. Santos tilted his head to the left to study his handiwork. Satisfied, he turned to face the stunned group of criminals.

Santos put his foot casually on Arnulfo’s back. He holstered his .38 pistol at his back, where it was waiting, cocked and loaded, since 12 midnight.

Santos smiled and addressed the group for the first time, as the King of Kings.

“He talked too much, don’t you think?”