It was just a little after lunch and the sun was high up but the forest around felt colder as we ventured deeper, the trees felt as though they had eyes, looking directly at us from all directions, above, the tree branches served as a canopy for the whole area, casting grotesque shadows on the ground and in the river parallel to our path, each step we took wearied us down as though the very earth had little hands that gripped our feet. The wind howled and moved through the plants around, making them dance, I felt as though I was in the middle of some kind of strange ritual, no words were spoken among the three of us since the trip started. I wanted to rest, I wanted to stop, I wanted to turn back. But I couldn’t. I was the one who suggested this, I was the one who invited them, I was the one who asked for this.
A shadow, a sound, a movement in the thick bushes around, the forest seemed to play tricks on us. JC stopped abruptly halting the movement of the whole group. We stood there for what felt like ten seconds or a whole eternity. “Maybe we should rest here for a while,” Irene said. “No, I feel like there’s something bad here. Let’s rest when we get there,” JC replied. It was only two in the afternoon but the forest felt really cold, and my wet clothes gave me chills whenever the wind howled. My head was spinning and I felt like throwing up. I felt like there were chains attached to my feet, and it was the forest holding the handle at the other end of it. We have been walking for two hours but I had a feeling we weren’t any closer to our destination.
A fork in the road appeared upon us. JC took a minute before deciding which way to go. The path we took went outside the forest and up a slope that was filled with jagged rocks, pain for my exposed foot. The skies opened before us but it was slowly turning gray, signaling rain. The road continued to a narrow path on the side of a mountain where we had to walk in single file, to the right was the face of the mountain, and to the left was a steep downward slope. We kept looking at the sky, praying that the rain wouldn’t come. The path went down and into the forest again. It was the same forest but this part felt totally different. I felt like it was another world; I felt like it was from a different time, a time long past and forgotten. The trees were bigger, and there was a feel to them that made it seem like they moved every time we weren’t looking, their roots intertwined with everything on the ground, covering everything.
It was dark and I was sure it was close to dusk. Just a little further we walked, and there it was, the tree with the red stripe painted around its trunk, and to its right was the spring, it was dim but the water sparkled, we climbed upwards through the spring rocks, one little slip to what would be a dangerous fall but onwards we climbed, carefully planning each step. It should have been getting lighter because we were climbing upwards into the open space but the light remained the same; it seemed that the rain would pour any minute. My body felt so exhausted, every flex and contraction of my muscles caused me searing pain, and my feet felt like they had needles pinned to them but at last, we were there. Atop the spring rocks was a small cave, the darkness inside of which was a totally different kind of darkness and the light from our matches only managed to illuminate our hands. I felt for something in the darkness with my feet, a rock with a depression in its center that made it look like a moon crater. Beside the rock, was our destination.
“How long has it been, since we last saw you, John?” The words echoed in the cave and sounded like they were not words. The wooden cross beside the rock illuminated by the weak firelight had no words engraved in it, a marker with no name, it lay motionless and dead, like the person buried under the rocks beneath it, but I felt it calling out to me. My knees finally gave out, maybe it was fitting for me to kneel before it, emotions and memories ran wild in my thoughts, JC and Irene stood there behind me, silent. In the quiet dark I kneeled, In the quiet dark I remembered. In the quiet dark, I started to pray.
Jose Francis R. Sycip is from Bukidnon. He is a 1st year Creative Writing major from the University of the Philippines Mindanao.