It was almost sundown and I was on my way home from Aling Taling’s to get trays of eggs and some chicken meat for the fiesta the following day. My mother was always excited for those kinds of celebrations; she would exhaust all our hard-earned money just to fill our tables with different dishes for other people to eat. I cannot forget how mad my father was one night when he found out that she sold one of our two kalabaws to have a grand celebration for her birthday; my itaydid not say a word to her for a week.
I trod on the dusty road of our little barrio and took a glance at the golden haze of rice field that stretched far in the horizon. At the end of it, I saw the tip of the sun peeking in between the two mountains; the sunset yesterday was golden with screaming orange clouds splattered across the sky, but now it appeared rather pale along with custard-colored sky. I did not notice that I was already watching the sunset far too long until one of the light posts lit up. As much as I loved staying in that place because of the cool breeze from the field, the fear of the stories about the aswang taunted me.
It had been two weeks since our barrio experienced distress over some incidents of frequent knockings on their door, some flapping sounds over roofs, and the death of goats with suspicious teeth marks on their necks. For a boy who stayed in the city for years to study and work, these rumors still had me terrified and anxious.
I walked faster as the light posts ahead of me started to light up as well. I came across little children hurrying home, some being chased by their nagging mothers.
“I told you to be home before sundown! Do you want the aswang to come after you?!” a woman shouted at her little boy as she hit him with a long thin stick.
My chest pounded upon hearing her words; the aswang might be true since it was already the talk of the town and many of the villagers had stepped forward to attest to its existence. I remembered how my inay warned us about these creatures when we were young, and I guess the fear still lived inside of me up until now. It never left me — even when I went away. When I was living in the city, my roommates would always tease me because I easily got scared of ghost stories and horror movies, even if I was already a grown man. The little noises in the kitchen made me stay up all night, wondering if what would happen if a ghost pull my feet and drag me to the abyss of darkness.
“Excuse me.” I heard a voice from behind. It was a girl with long blonde hair and pink nails. “May I know which way I should take to reach Aling Manda’s home?” She took a final chew and spit her bubblegum to the ground.
I was in awe for several seconds; her fragrance smelled like freshly picked fruits and her long wavy hair dangled on her shoulders. Her eyes reminded me of the city lights I used to stare at by the windowsill at night. I could tell how caked her face was with make-up because her cheeks looked like full-bloomed tomatoes.
She must be new here.
“Aling Manda?” I tried to confirm, “The one who sells gayuma?”
She nodded. “Can you show me the way?”
I looked at my watch and it was almost six o’clock; my inay would probably wonder why it took me so long to get home, but my manoy had always reminded me to help other people and always look out for women and children. It was dark and the girl was not familiar with our place; her safety was my responsibility. Even if the thoughts of aswang came rushing to my mind like waves on the shoreline, the words on my manoy weighed heavier than my fear.
I decided to accompany her. As we went our way, the girl couldn’t stop talking. I grew up as a rather shy boy, so I just listened to her telling stories animatedly.
She seemed…bubbly and carefree.
I learned that she was from the city and worked as a cashier; I didn’t mind asking why she wanted to see Aling Manda because there was only one reason why people came to visit Aling Manda — it was her love potion. She was quite famous because of it.
Her house was located at the end of the corn field so I instructed her to be careful with her steps the moment we got through it since it was already getting dark. The haunting beam of moonlight stealthily peeped in between the tall crops of corn which made it easier for me to see the face of the woman. She had thick eyebrows and her mascara started to smudge underneath her eyes; she must have a long and tiring travel just to get here.
While we were exchanging remarks, I suddenly wondered why she needed a potion; she was beautiful and charming, and she spoke nicely — who wouldn’t fall for her?
“Your town shuts down before six, eh?” she said.
“Yes. People are rushing home before sundown because of the aswang,” I answered her. I felt my arms getting numb; the trays of eggs and meat started to weigh heavier; I had been carrying them for almost an an hour now.
“Do you believe in aswang?” she said while smiling sweetly as the moonbeam shone on her eyes. A city girl like her might find it these mythical creatures funny.
I shrugged my shoulders and looked at the sky; the clouds started to dim the light of the moon. I must hurry home after, my inay and itay were probably worried about me.
I heard a rustling sound that made me shift my eyes to look for the girl but she was suddenly gone. I looked around and started calling her out even if I didn’t know her name.
“Do you believe in aswang?” I heard someone whisper in my ear. I held my breath as shivers went down to my spine.
I looked around but suddenly there was no one. My feet were frozen though I wanted to run away and ask for help.
I slowly turned around to run out of the cornfield when I saw her from afar, staring at me. Her once beautiful eyes turned all white, and her brown skin appeared like silver now.
She grimaced and her face became distorted. “That’s why they said you should hurry home before sundown.”
Thea Margarette R. Elipio is a teacher at a senior high school and part-time brand manager of an app in development.