After living in the city for 30 years, EC moved to the countryside. He writes about life in the mountains, dogs, plants, and cooking.
Do you believe in creepy creatures that live under the ground, on trees, and in haunted places? Let me share some of my ‘brushes’ with them.
Our house in the province was surrounded by and endless stretch of ricefields and situated at the end of the narrow alley. There were no lighted posts to illuminate the rough surface of the path. The light from one small bulb hanging at one corner of the shed-type roof was just enough to make out the shape of the gate. Some parts of the large yard and its surroundings were shadowy after dark and thickened with trees and wild grasses.
The neighbors’ kids often talked about ghosts and spooky creatures that appeared at the middle of the darkened fields. Those kids’ parents would add to the tall stories by even taller tales of their own about seeing apparitions while working night shifts during planting and harvesting seasons.
Since leisure time was shortened by lack of modern amenities like television and recreation places, their creepy stories were re-told every night while the elders gathered around a small bonfire to smoke and drink cheap cigar and liquor or chewing ‘nganga’ (shaved areca nut and lime wrapped inside fresh betel leaf). The youngsters would sit in groups and listen to spooky stories about tiyanak, duwende, engkanto, aswang, kapre, ghosts, and other scary creatures.
My family would sometimes join the neighbors when mosquitoes and other irritating insects were few. Most of the time, we just stayed inside our house and listen to the storyteller’s voice that wafted in the air while lying in our beds.
After one year, I had to leave to go to college. It was really back to the old life because we were all born in the different cities. So even though I went home every other week for my allowance, my ways were turning more and more urbanized. It was very hard to believe tales about creepy creatures when living in the city where the main roads and most structures remained brightly lighted all night.
I acquired the habit of riding the bus on its last trip whenever going home and arriving at near midnight. The parents were very irritated and would often scold me with my recklessness but I was a bit stubborn still and wouldn’t change my ways.
My defiance could be a secret desire to show that the stories about the creatures in the dark were just stories. I was a bit of a hooligan even as a child. My inborn inquisitiveness would often push my mouth to open and ask ‘why’ whenever anything without known basis was taught to me. I was a ‘to see is to believe’ type, even then.
During a bus journey, some of my fellow passengers started to talk about a ‘tikbalang’ when the mountain road was taking a series of twists and sharp turns while slowly climbing down. We were passing a line of fruit trees when something round flew inside one open window.
It was a ripe santol fruit the size of a small orange. The thick light brown skin was broken and some of the white juicy large seeds were visible.
Since most of the passengers were dozing and sleeping, only the self-appointed storyteller put on a reaction. His voice went hushed after a startled gasp.
“I told you. It’s true! There’s a tikbalang that hates the buses traveling at this late hour. This place is his home. He must be resting when we passed by so he threw a fruit at us to show irritation. We’re lucky tonight because it’s only one.”
I didn’t believe him because there were also houses along the road. Any human being could have thrown fruits at buses just for fun.
One time, we had some friends staying overnight in the house. I just arrived home and was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t hesitate going out again to buy more food. My younger brother went with me because I borrowed his bicycle. The parents were already sleeping in the house, a few meters away from the storage shed and receiving area.
“You’re not afraid of the dark, sis?” My brother was a bit awed after a group of street dogs briefly chased after us.
“What’s there to be afraid of?” I countered with an easy smile.
“You know… ghosts and everything.” He just turned twelve and still very much a child. I was mere sixteen but felt years older.
“I haven’t seen any of those things with my own two eyes.” I laughed.
There was an all-night bread store somewhere down our street but after buying a bag of oven-fresh bagels, I turned the bike to the next street and took my brother for a midnight joy ride. We were still laughing when we reached the alley to our house. The flashlight he held to light up the road was unsteady because I was playfully wiggling the wheels to make him laugh more.
There was a young coconut tree at the end of the alley. It was planted there by the ricefield owner to mark the dead end and to deter trespassers who trampled rice stalks without care.
We were nearing the gate to our place when the flashlight focused on the said coconut tree. It lasted a few short seconds but what I saw was forever imprinted on my mind. A pair of shining eyes was there in the dark and staring directly at us.
There was a faint silvery light coming from the sky because the moon was hiding behind thick grayish clouds. I caught a glimpse of something shaped like a child. The figure in the shadows looked blacker and topped with something round like a head but much bigger than a child’s… And there was something protruding by the side. It could be an ear but with a pointed lobe…
When the moon momentarily peeked from its hiding place in the clouds, the whole form gleamed as though drenched in thick oil.
My eyes blinked reflexively and made sure my sight was clear and that I was really seeing one of those ‘things’.
The twin orbs of glowing red were still there.
The moment was jarred when my brother jumped off the bike and opened the gate with unnatural haste.
Did he see the marble-like black eyes, too?
“Give me the bread and you lock the gate.” He gave the flashlight to me, grabbed the bread bag, and scurried towards the shed.
With a stiff neck, I forced myself to calmly wheel the bicycle into the yard. The hairs in my arms and nape were all standing while closing the gate. My pride refused to let me ran in haste too so my feet walked away slowly.
My breath hitched when a shrill sound similar to a small child’s giggle ripped the silence of the night.
‘Tiyanak!’ was my only thought before I shook off my fake bravery and ran away like mad. I bet my soles were as white as my face that night!
I told my father about it in the morning. The next time I went home, the gate was transferred to the other side of the property. Apparently, he preferred to share the entrance with a colony of white dwarves living in one corner of their yard because they were a lot kinder than the dark-skinned ‘tiyanak’. However, he suspected that the creature I saw was one of the black dwarves living just outside our fence.
Did that weird encounter stop me from moving around after dark? No. I just accepted that there was some truth in those spooky tales after all. And by stubbornly riding midnight trips through the mountains, I could be subconsciously yearning to see more proofs of the paranormal stuff.
My secret wish was granted one night with a full moon.
I was living in my aunt’s place. The room space was meager so my large drawing board was positioned at the center of the hallway, which meant my chair was right in the middle and that I could see both ends by a mere turn of my head. The front gate was to my right side and the low concrete fence in the far end was to my left.
There were lots of school projects to do and I had to stay all night for several days to cope with deadlines. Until being alone in the hallway when everybody was asleep didn’t bother me anymore.
It was past three in the morning when something compelled me to turn my head to the left. Nothing was amiss. The short fluorescent tube bulb with the slightly blackened ends was switched on to provide light for anybody needing the community toilet.
As I was turning back to my project, I sensed some movement so I looked again. No one was about yet. It could be a stray cat or rat foraging for food in the narrow creek down below the fence.
I stared longer this time because the fence seemed ‘moving’. Like in a heat haze, when things seemed to ‘wave’ before your eyes.
There was white smoke. But it was not real smoke. It was slowly taking shape of a woman. A woman with long hair and long dress…
But it was not human. It was a white lady.
I blinked several times but the apparition remained in my sight. I was sitting six meters away from it. And yet, strangely, I was not scared maybe because she was not facing me. I was busy looking at the details.
She was looking up at the moon. All I could see was the line of a cheek and neck. She was floating one foot above the ground. The dark fence made a perfect backdrop for the smoky shape to appear more visible. Her hair was so long, as long as her dress. She was fascinating.
Then a cold wind blew. I shivered. It was only then that I started feeling frightened. As though just waking up, I was a bit dazed when I tidied my things. My movements were slow and careful. I realized that I was holding my breath when I picked my bag and went inside the room. My heart was beating so loud. Both my mouth and throat were so dry I glugged two glasses of water before my wild pulse rate slowed down.
The next day, I asked my aunt about the white lady. She never saw the apparition even after living there for more than thirty years. And according to other roommates, no one had seen anything creepy.
Did it mean I possess a third eye? After that night, I decided that I did not want to have one. I deduced that if I stopped actively seeking for evidences of paranormal existence, I wouldn’t be seeing anymore of ‘them’.
My wish was never granted so I learned to avoid looking even whenever I was feeling a creepy presence. But when curiosity got the better of me, I couldn’t help myself.
After fourteen years, I was forced to move back to the old house in the province. My father passed away unexpectedly and as the eldest child, I knew I would be expected to take care of the property.
My husband was born and raised in the city. He had never seen a rice stalk in his life but felt obligated to uproot our family and live in a strange place. Actually, the term ‘obligated’ was really ‘terrorized’. He was adamant in his refusal to leave our city home but after the ghost of my father appeared in his dream, he had no choice.
The death of my father was shrouded in mystery. Some psychic relative from the paternal side had commented about paranormal interference. The old wise man warned that a dark power in our property was displeased at something my father did and that other members of the family might be taken away one by one as punishment. Possibly, another male would be next.
The solution was a complete ‘treatment’ by offering goodies and gifts to the unseen creatures. The ceremony was performed by a psychic or a faithhealer, locally called ‘albularyo’.
As the man of the house, my husband was asked to hold a flashlight for the psychic healer while moving at all corners of the property and communicating with the unseen forces. After several times of roving around the property while murmuring strange words nonstop, the requests were collected and an offering was finally put together.
The offering consisted of the following:
- sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and packed into two empty coconut shells,
- two native semi-matured chicken, roasted over open fire,
- a pack of native cigarette (long, thin, and brown variety),
- a glassful of gin, and
- a small dish with fresh chicken blood.
It was imperative that nothing was salted.
My husband did not believe in any of the supernatural stuff. He thought all the shenanigans going on were ridiculous. Thankfully, he was able to hide his mirth for the sake of our children. He was just going with the flow – at first.
The healer was using a plate and an egg to communicate with the unseen creatures. The egg would stand by itself on the smooth surface of the plate if both the offering of food and friendship was accepted.
When my husband witnessed the egg moving on its own the first time, all the hairs in his body seemed to stand. Disbelief, fright, and fascination wiped out all the thoughts from his brain as he stared at the unmoving plate. The psychic healer was busy whispering while holding the plate with both hands to keep it firm and steady. The egg would roll around if the plate moved slightly.
“I still can’t believe it! The egg stood on the plate -- as though an invisible hand was holding it upright!” For weeks, my husband told this story to anyone who would listen.
The healing session was believed to be effective because we lived in the property for more than nine years without anything untoward happening to my family. There were neighbors who claimed to see some shapes and figures roaming around our house after dark.
“They are our friends and guardians,” became our standard reply.
I guess these dire warnings were the replacement to the storytelling rituals of the old. Progress had reached the place long before our move. Televisions were the usual pastime for families.
And we really needed extra security when living in a near-isolated house with my husband and children deemed as strangers in the area. Even I was not considered as one of the local people because I lived there for only a year and became a regular visitor for just a few years.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention this. The young coconut tree with the small black creature had been destroyed by a strong typhoon. I was also relieved that none of my kids had seen anything strange while growing up in my late father’s place. They learned about those mythical creatures from literature books.
Ian Spike from Cebu, Philippines on May 03, 2021:
I love the way you tell these stories..good work!