“You are too young for camping, Kat. You know you can’t sleep alone. You even always call for Mama,” started Katrina’s father.
Katrina, since the start of the school year, had been very excited to go to this region-wide camping of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. She even saved money in her small elephant-bank so that she could afford to pay for transport if her parents would not permit her. They always thought that she was still not ready to be permitted outdoors, and she wanted to be different this time.
“No. I want to join. Everyone else in our class will be there. Just please, please, please let me be in this camp.”
“You’re still afraid of many things, darling. We will not be there to look after you,” her mother replied.
“But, Mama, I promise I will be good and I will learn something in the camp,” Kat insisted. She stood before her parents, trying not to blink. When they finally agreed, she jumped and kissed them on the cheek.
Katrina made a promise to prove herself. She wanted her parents to realize that letting her go would not be a waste. Along with the other scouts, she played egg relay, pass-the-message, lighted the fire wood using only the sun, cooked rice in a Zest-O juice pouch, and cooked scrambled eggs inside the small, brown paper bags attached to dried, y-shaped twigs. And on second day, she joined in her most awaited game — treasure hunting. She wandered around the place, looking under rocks, searching for strips of paper hidden behind leaves, hunting for clues. Later, she realized she was not with the rest of the girl scouts anymore. Around her were only tall trees and grasses. The breeze got colder and it was getting dark. She was afraid that she might not be able to find her way back.
“Hello? Can anybody hear me?” Kat shouted. Her shaky voice echoed in the thick foliage. “Help me out of here, please?”
The road was slippery because of last night’s heavy rain. When she got only the answers of the chirping crickets and croaking frogs, she knew she was in trouble. She didn’t know what to do and the falling dark was giving her the creeps. The full moon made her think of being chased by sigbin, large-eared and with a long tail that sucked blood through one’s shadow. Or aswang, with its bat-like wings and long tongue. Katrina trembled all the more at the mananggal’s dirty and blood-stained body. Her mother’s voice played over and over in her head—“You’re still afraid of many things, darling. We will not be there to look after you.
Katrina did not know where to go. She walked slowly, careful to make no sound. And into a hole she slipped; she screamed. She thought she would be swallowed up by mud. When she heard a shriek, she remembered the stories of her sister about a girl who had not been found since she encountered a kapre, a black giant, smoking tobacco while perched on a mango tree.
She stayed still, figuring out what to do. She took deep breaths, counting from one to eight repeatedly to calm herself. But the scream echoed again, and it grew louder. She ducked and closed her eyes. Her feet numbed and her throat dried. She was panting now.
Katrina heard slow footsteps coming toward her, like a countdown to her end, but it stopped near her, and then there was a sobbing. She found a scout covering her face. She stank and her hair was messy.
“I’m Clouie. I want to get out.” She held Kat’s arm and wiped her tears with her skirt. “I think I’m going to die here. The monsters are following me. Help me, Scout!”
They held hands as they planned their escape. Clouie was making the sign of the cross and kept on whispering “Jesus” to cool herself. Katrina, on the other hand, took her clothes off and put them on inside out, hoping to find the route back. She whistled and whistled so that others would know they were lost.
Clay was crying again and kept on making the sign of the cross. She sobbed about what her parents would do to find her, and that if they remained lost after an hour, she would die.
“Ssssshhh. There will always be something that can save us.” Kat scanned the place. She opened her bag and found a map given to them during the orientation. Now she knew where she could be in the little forest. At the back of it was their camp schedule.
“See? If we follow this map, then we’ll be safe!” Katrina said.
“Oh, yes! The campers will be in the field for the campfire tonight. We could join them, we still have time.”
They had been searching the way out of the little forest, but the map seemed to be of no help. The other scout was gripping Katrina’s arm and walked behind her back. Kat was tired and she was losing hope. She would have been in their house at this hour. She would be at the dinner table with her mother and father. And have a bedtime story after her bath. But she was away from home and lost in the dark. As the trees swayed in the cold wind, she began to weep.
“We can’t see the other campers anymore, right?” Clouie sobbed, her voice fading away
Katrina looked around and shouted, “Help us!” hoping that her mother, who used to be always with her, would sense that she was in danger. She remembered what her mother told her before she went to camp. She wished she had not forced her parents.
She stumbled on a rock. She grunted as she rubbed her forehead and dusted off her knees, catching her breath. “Are you okay, Clouie?”
Clouie nodded as she wiped her tears and looked around.
Just then, she noticed a twinkling glow not very far from where they stood. “Oh, look! That could be them!”
They both limped toward the fire. Katrina was not as nervous anymore, she was full of hope. The night seemed not scary after all. What was in the forest was just part of nature and she had just imagined it differently. And if it weren’t for the pitch dark, she wouldn’t have seen the feeble light.
As they came nearer, they saw the other scouts gathered around the campfire. While they hurried toward the group, Kat opened her bag and put on her Girl Scout hat and yelled, cheerfully now, “A Girl Scout is always ready!” She smiled at Clouie who was in tears. They held hands as they hobbled toward them.
Everyone looked at the two. The one in a hat waved, smiling, waving with wild abandon, it seemed. They did not know what the two had gone through. At least not yet. They might not sit beside her.
But Katrina would not mind. That night, she knew her worth.
Denise Alexi Go is a third year student of BA English (Creative Writing) at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.