When I was still in the Philippines, my parents would take me and my other siblings to their home province in what you can call the countryside. We always loved going since it really marked the beginning of summer vacation; away from the city, away from school and most of all all my other cousins, and our clan is huge that these vacations really turn into family reunions.
We, I guess you can say, have a house there; our ancestral home, where my great grandparents and their parents (and maybe their parents as well) have called home. But the happy-togetherness feeling is not what my story is about and here is where things start to turn.. let’s just say “weird”.
On that year, sometime in the mid-90′s, not all of my cousins were vacationing. So it was just a few of us. On top of that, it was a wet season (rainy to stormy) most of the time, we were inside the house unable to play outside due to the heavy rains. And if you were a Filipino kid who grew up in the 90′s, you know very well about the “black outs” or “brown outs”; electrical failures that happens during stormy weathers.
So as we all expected, a “brown out” occured. We children then hurried to light the candles and oil lamps to illuminate the sudden embrace of darkness. This would always turn into a very good opportunity to start sharing ghost stories, now I have always been a scared-y young girl flinching at the slightest squeak or any small sound from a dark corner that I could not readily give an explanation to. My cousins enjoyed scaring the wits out of me when there are brown outs back then and their stories are so ghastly that the images it conjure in my head were just too real. Well, on this particular night, I asked that they do not make their stories so horribly scary to the point that I could not go to the washroom without somebody accompanying me.
They would chuckle but agreed then we decided to start our story-telling session.
My eldest cousin was the master story-teller, he really knew how to build the right atmosphere that he can really make all of us scream and run for our parents. He has this uncanny ability that he waits for the perfect opportunity and setting, sometimes not saying a word til it is dead quiet, harnessing the sounds of crickets, dogs barking from afar, trees whistling in the dark of night that sometimes I wonder if it was all coincidence or he really control these “anomalies”.
As the rain started to lighten, slowly and slowly until not a single drop were to be heard, my cousin told us to listen as he tells his first story.
It was about a young woman who was about to get married who happened to be a resident of our town (barrio) back in the days of the Spanish occupation. This woman was thought to be the the most beautiful woman in town that men from neighbouring towns and even provinces would come visit her for a chance to woo her and perhaps win her heart. She was also congenial, never turning away a suitor, it was said that she had met with all her suitors during the time and this only helped spread her identity farther. Until one day, a single man showed up infront of her house. It was a local town farmer of about the same age. He was simple yet humble, hardworking and religious. She immediately took a liking in him to the dismay of most of her other suitors. One of her suitors happen to be a powerful Spanish plantation owner with direct ties with the church and another who is a Spanish officer. They conspired to get rid of this simple farmer and they did. They took the farmer down a nearby lake and was said to have shot him in the back of the head and then left floating on the water’s surface. Upon learning of this, the woman was very heartbroken that she drowned herself in the same lake; a lake that happens to be not far from where our ancestral home is. To make things worse, before her tragic end, she was said to have vowed to “never bring peace” to the lives of the descendants of the two Spanish gentlemen responsible for killing her beloved farmer.
And then, my cousin suddenly mentioned “today happens to be the day she died 300 years ago and in case you all did’t know, we have Spanish blood in us… and we live close by this lake… think about it” that it quickly sent chills up our spine, me personally could not move from where I’m seated. But then again, I thought, it was just a story. After this story was told, my other cousins decided to get some water to drink, then from the dark living room only lighted by one candle I saw somebody emerge from the left approaching me, I squinted and recognized it was my mom wearing her sleeping dress or “duster” as it is called and sat not to far from where I’m seated, that is when my other cousin decided she was thirsty, too and got up. Leaving only me and my mom in the living room. My mom then said she’d like to go outside as it is hot inside the house; believe it or not, even after a long and heavy cold rain in the Philippines, the 30C degree weather still lingers especially inside people’s homes. I then thought that would be a good idea since I, too felt kind of hot. The terrace was just outside, although the seats are going to be wet so I knew my mom wouldn’t want to sit there. So we just stood out there enjoying the fresh cool breeze.
Inside, I could hear all my cousins have come back from the kitchen and they were all calling for me. One of them asked where I was and I yelled back that I’m outside in the terrace and they started calling me to come inside. My mom then looked by the lake, after hearing about the story, I asked my mom if the stories were true. I was surprised when she nodded, thinking my mom couldn’t possibly believe in such stories. She started walking towards towards our garden, which is strangely enough, the direction where the lake is, the flowers were in full bloom especially with all the rain that we had lately at that time that I also felt like checking out the beautiful red roses that were fully blossomed.
Then my mom glanced her head back and I caught a glimpse of the side of her face that would be forever etched in my memory; just blank white for eyes and her mouth stretched to her ear lobes and began to smile that is when I woke up from what seemed to be a stupor and heard my cousins hysterically shouting “KRISTY! BILIS!!” translated: “KRISTY! HURRY!!” before I could make sense of it all I just instinctively started running towards them and I began to cry when I realized I have walked outside of the confines of our house and was halfway towards the lake and to make matters worse, I was being followed by what seemed to be a floating white dress and I did not bother to analyze who or what it was. I just kept running towards my horrified cousins from inside the house peering out the window. I then recognized my sister crying while shouting, telling me to hurry and never look back. When I got inside the gate, apparently I got the feeling that I wasn’t being chased anymore, my aunt’s dogs were suddenly baring their teeth growling to whoever or whatever was behind me (being a religious family, the gate was also adorned with crosses) and by the time I got inside, we all heard the most sinister laugh; a laugh that I suddenly remembered as I write this story (not something you’d want to hear, believe me). I continued crying while all my other cousins came to me, re-assuring me I’m safe now.
It was such an unforgettable story that every time I recall the event, I can’t help but wonder “What would have happened if I did not hear my cousins yelling?”