The heat of the city is a sweet fever that burns through rooftops and souls. This bizarre warmth has turned the city into a breeding ground for mosquitoes—bloodsucking pests that have terrorized homes. With growing rates of dengue fever coupled with a sudden increase in missing persons cases, the city is in a humid frenzy of mass hysteria and paranoia. Once a week, the city is covered by thick smoke from the fumigation efforts of the local government.
Today, the smoke finds its way through an open window on the third floor of an old apartment, into the room of Joseph who tries his best to keep his eyes open amidst the fumes. His unfinished essay on climate change issues lies next to two empty cans of Red Bull.
The 14-year old starts to feel the pleasure of drowsiness once again, only to be cut short by a sharp pain from his left cheek. He recognizes this familiar sensation and slaps himself—crushing the insect. He wipes his cheek with his finger. Upon seeing the smudge of blood, Joseph is filled with a sudden surge of joy—as if he had finished all his schoolwork. Maybe it was the bite that helped him feel alive in the morning, or maybe it was the smoke that was the cause of this change, but it doesn’t really matter to him as he then proceeds to storm out the room and glides across the kitchen floor.
The kitchen table is empty, not a single soul in sight, not even of his mother who would always wake up exactly an hour before now; at five in the morning. It was very strange indeed and Joseph had never experienced this before, so he checks on his mother to see if she was still asleep. But she was nowhere to be found.
The confused Joseph returns to the kitchen and is greeted by his sister, Marie, her head planted into the wooden table and obviously still sleepy. She was only a year younger than Joseph yet she was always the mature one between the two of them.
“Have you seen mama? She’s not here and it’s creeping me out,” Joseph shivers.
“I just woke up like five minutes ago, how would I know?” she replies in a snarky tone.
“Well I guess you’ll have to settle with some basic eggs for breakfast,” he says as he turns on the gas stove.
Joseph then showcases his meager cooking prowess as he prepares a pair of sunny-side ups while Marie prepares her favorite white coffee. The two were not reliant on their mother when it came to housework and basic survival skills, she was a single parent to the two since their father died when they were still very young. Joseph still grows worried over his mom’s whereabouts with the current situation and the city, not to mention her mother’s on-and-off fevers at night.
A lot of Joseph’s classmates are absent while some of their teachers seemed to have vanished into thin air. Joseph only finds out that they all had fevers a night before they disappeared. After school, the siblings head to the Police Station to report the sudden disappearance of their mother and they are greeted by a long line of people who seemed to have also lost a loved one.
“What is that?” Marie asks as she points to an enormous board of pictures and blurry text.
“It’s the total number of people that have went missing since yesterday.” an officer replies.
One, two, three, four, five, no ten! Ten rows of faces gathered in at least ten columns, over a hundred people were reported missing within a single day. The people in line were in bewilderment, shock bordering into insanity as no one can seem to comprehend how this came to be. The police announce that they will be investigating this phenomenon and sent everyone home with a heavy heart of worry and disbelief.
Joseph and Marie are silent as they arrived home. Marie offers to cook their dinner and her hands shake as she slices garlic for their fried rice. Joseph knows his sister like he knows his own mind: she was scared and so was he. After dinner, Joseph peeks into his mother’s room, still silent and empty. He finds himself lying in her bed, wondering where she could have gone.
Then, he feels a sharp pain from his chest. Like a mosquito’s sting that was piercing his heart, the pain of loss and anxiety leaves him in tears. He closes his eyes until he falls asleep. A sharp pain, a needle-like organ pierces through his body as he lies sweating heavily in his sleep. A fever burns through Joseph as he feels a bizarre warmth run through his veins. With every pulse, he shakes and shakes until he stops moving.
Long pins of black scales begin to emerge from his sides, piercing through his flesh. Two long wounds appear on his back, oozing over a glossy material that resembled a spider’s web. The goo quickly hardens and forms into sharp-edged wings that began to flap on their own steady rhythm. Joseph feels no pain, no bodily reaction to this foreign sensation, his mind falling deeper and deeper into the empty vastness of sleep.
The scent of the morning smoke finds its way through an open window on the third floor of an old apartment, into the room of Marie. Marie has not slept a wink when a mosquito kisses her on the cheek.
Angelo B. Allito, 19, is from Valencia City, Bukidnon. He is taking a BA in English (Creative Writing) in UP Mindanao.