(First published by the Philippines Graphic Magazine – February, 2020)
“The story of Marga, is true. She exists. Living alone in the ghastly hut at the foot of Mt. Irid. With the ability to shift to a dog or wild pig, believe me, my son, she is the last person or should I say, creature – you would want to see.”
I frowned as my mother tells the story of Marga. An old woman told to be living alone in a secluded area about a mile near the Groto of Mt. Paruwagan. The story, should be petrifying. If not because of the fact that I, and any other kids in the village had heard the story countless of times from our folks, anyone of all ages would hesitate to roam the streets at night.
They blame that imaginary creature for the missing kids through the years. And the fact that even the police can’t find that Marga woman to imprison, was beyond ridiculous. My uncle, who was a policeman was one of the few sane people in our village. He doesn’t believe the stories for he, along with the other cops have tried to track down Marga in the remote areas hoping to see the allegedly missing kids in the whole town, and as expected, they failed.
The moon was mad bright that night. And I just want to play with my friend Marko. I was imagining him listening to his mother trying to convince him not to go and fetch me by telling the same lame story while I was sulking in my attic room. I sighed, while staring at the welcoming, bright full moon from my window. It was a Friday night and I was not allowed to go out to play with Marko and other kids in the village. It was harrowing. This has to stop, thought I. Every kid has the right to play hide n’ seek and patintero under the bright moon. But then again, who was I to challenge my folks? I was nine years old and even my father who walks like a ninja carrying a case of beer going home was a believer of that moronic story. My father would never go out the house at night without his machete hanging on his waist, accompanied by Bogart, his ugly-ass dog.
I sighed again. And threw myself in the bed in poignant disappointment. I did not eat dinner that night to rebel. That’s just the start, I said to my poor-frustrated self.
I woke up due to Marko’s rapid knocking on the glass of the attic’s window.
“What?” I turned to the wall clock. “It’s barely 1:00am.”
Marko scrammed from their house just to tell me that someone told him about the house of Marga.
“Well, you are more idiot than I thought.” I told Marko as he was inviting me to go with him and track down the old woman.
“I thought you aren’t scared, boy.”
“I’m not. And I’m not stupid either so no, I’m not coming with you. We could just go to the Sipak Maly river later in the morning. Or fly a kite at noon. Stop this nonsense.”
“Alright. I’m going. Alone.” Marko spit the last word emphatically. “And don’t you dare tell the folks that you saw me, when I’m gone missing.” Marko said, and he jumped off the roof.
It was dread cold. Probably the coldest of 1969. And I was embracing myself to feel a mite of warmth, I asked Marko how on earth did he know about the house of the old woman.
“You know the Alvarado twins, right? Molly and Mark?”
“Yeah. What about them? I just saw them earlier at the school park.”
“The twins saw a messed up hut just half a mile across the Sipak Maly river.”
“Are you insane? We are going across the river at this time? And how did they convince you with this nonsense? Those weird kids are not even our friends.”
“I can sense if people are lying or not. And yes, I can sense that you are scared right now. And it’s alright.”
“No I’m not. I’m cold. And if they saw that old woman Marga, how the hell did they manage to come home?”
“They did not see her. They saw a horde of cats. And they ran off.”
“Oh my God!”
“Shut up.” Marko said while walking fast like a beagle. Marko was a short-fat boy. We used to call him longganisa (Filipino Sausage)due to the thin-fine lines visible in his arms and legs.
And after a long walk that felt forever, we started to see cats. In vast numbers. But we haven’t see the hut just yet. “C’mon Marko. This is ridiculous.” I said in a whispering manner, just enough for him to hear clearly.
“Shut up.” Marko smirked. “You know we need a damn proof that this old witch, aswang or whatever the hell it is, is not true. Right?”
Despite of the presence of numerous cats, the place’ silence was deafening. Even the whistling of the wind was gone, but the cold was more harsh. We hesitantly walked towards the huge Balete tree and when we crossed, a small old house similar to a cabin suddenly appeared in a blink of an eye. And when I turned to the tree, the cats were there. Sitting and staring at us like they were saying, “what the hell are you lil’ idiots doing here?”
We were chilling in cold and fear, when I wagged for I suddenly felt a licking in my shaking feet.
“What in the hell is this midget beast doin’ here?” Marko exclaimed.
It was Bogart. My father’s dog were following us all along and we didn’t notice. And honestly, that time I felt a bit better when I realized that there were three of us standing at the middle of the creepiest place I have ever been to in my nine years of breathing air.
“C’mon now. You know this is the time to run, right?” I told Marko. But the bastard was stubborn to the bones.
“No. We need to see what’s inside that house.”
“Are you serious?” I wanted to smash Marko’s head with a blunt object that I could pick up at that moment. ” How many scary stories do you need to hear to realize where is this going?”
Marko turned, smiling. “We are going home. Whatever happens, we are going home, my friend. And I would never let anything happen to you.”
Bogart suddenly started barking constantly like it saw something terrifying.
“You idiot-ass dog!” Marko exclaimed as he kicked Bogart right in the face.
Then we turned back to the old house.
Marga was standing just a few feet away from us. She was tall. High as a horse standing upright like a messed up rotting scarecrow with arms wide open. Long gray hair. Her mouth was wide open full of flies. And her flaming red eyes seems to be melting the skin of her wrinkled face. We were struck and numbed looking up to the most terrifying scene unimaginable to man. Then she screamed, without a sound. And the flies went haywire out of her mouth.
“Run!” Marko yelled, before I heard the blood-curdling scream.
I was running for dear life and I once turned at the back to check on Marko. Marga grabbed Marko on the neck and lifted him up like a hopeless cat. The woman then turned at me before I heard a crack. I was stuck-frozen in fear when Bogart started barking. I turned to him. He was barking as loud as he could as if he was telling me which way to go. I ran. Bogart was running faster but he would immediately stop every time I need to slow down to catch my breath.
Up to this day, I cannot barely remember how I got home that night. I thought that I would never see daylight again.
The next day, my mom and dad rushed to my room. Asking if I saw Marko the previous night. “No. I didn’t.” I answered without throwing a single glance at them. And hoping that I managed to hide my terror due to our encounter with Marga. And they would believe me for they know that I was spiteful that night.
“Alright. Later we’re going to visit his mom. She’s troubled because your friend has been missing since last night.”
I wanted to pretend that I was surprised. But how can I? When I was aghast. My flesh started to tremble again while every scene of that night was constant in my mind like I never left the place since. I could still hear Marga’s vigorous breathing, smell the stink of the place and seeing the cats that stare at me like I was the most scrumptious meal.
“Son. Are you alright?” My mom asked. Her motherly instincts kicked in when she noticed that my voice was shaking a bit.
“I’m fine, mom. Not great. But I’m fine.”
My mom beamed before she closed the door. And that was the very first smile of hers that failed to wipe away all the negativity in my being.
When night falls, my mom approached me while sitting like a fetus in the sofa. “Son. Are you ready?” I stared backed at her, my eyes were asking why. “We are going to Cita’s. Your friend is not yet home.”
“Goddamn it!” My father exclaimed out of nowhere.
“What?” My mother asked.
“Nothing. Just a damn cat.” My father answered, panting. Bogart started barking fiercely.
I was frozen for a minute while I was staring at the cat sitting at the front door. And with all my might, I approached, slowly. Trying to defy the intense fear crawling down my spine. The black stout cat wasn’t moving as I was getting nearer. Seconds later, we were face to face. That cat yawned. And it seemed to me that its tongue was cut out.
Those eyes. I was certain, until this day.
It was Marko.
– Juan Bautista (2020)