The Philippines. Thousands of tourists from all over the world travel every year to experience numerous destinations way beyond the imaginable. Beaches, lakes, mountains, food, events. As the tourism motto says, It’s more fun in the Philippines.
Albert Blackstone, an English-American Anthropologist based in California had just arrived in the country. Not to experience a luxurious holiday on the beach, but to study. He put back the Travel Magazine in the seat pouch and went to the washroom. It’s been a long-tiring travel aboard Philippine Airlines.
The 37 year old was about to go north to visit a local town named Constancia. A place known for its tourist destinations as well. Often visited by both local and foreigners alike, visiting the town is a ‘must’ for people going to the north for the first time. The cab ride from the airport to Cagayan took about twelve hours. And from the provincial capital, another two-hour on a tricycle. He closed his eyes and breathe as deep as he could as the wind brings the pleasant smell of the green rice fields on the way to the town center. And when he reached the place, he was marveled by the ancestral houses and the panorama as a whole filled with colors due to the street stands selling food, garments, souvenirs and other varieties. The city was full of welcoming smiles for sure.
Man. This is awesome. Thought Albert before he reached the municipal hall that mirrors the rich history of Constancia. The hall was not big compare to other municipalities but its built was as great as the ancestral houses surrounding it. The first floor was full concrete and the top floor was wholly made of wood. Most of the windows were wide open. And he could tell to himself that it could be a great time to ask permission regarding his purpose of visit since the hall doesn’t seem busy. He walked towards the entrance of the beautiful, antiquated establishment. And he was hoping to the heavens that there will be neither issues nor hindering on visiting the site.
“The Cave’s forbidden. Sorry. Not possible. Littering, vandalism, just go at the façade, take a couple of pictures then go – that’s all you can do.”
Albert’s face swiftly went from beaming to the exact opposite. “With all due respect, Sir, I didn’t travel all the way from the United States just to vandalize. I’m an Anthropologist. And I dropped by here to ask for your permission to go inside and explore the cave. I really need this.”
“And what do you want to prove?” Roland smirked.
“I don’t want anything to prove either, I just, I need you to give me a chance to study an unexplored cave. I’m writing a book, and this is my last destination. I am actually begging you.” Albert said in desperation.
“Sorry to say this Mr. Blackstone, but, as the Head of the Municipality’s Tourism Office for seven years, I can recite the cave’s history to you in less than twenty minutes. It’s called the ‘Bitin Cave’ from the local word Bitin, meaning hang or hanged. The cave served as the execution spot back in the Japanese occupation. And most of the captured Filipino guerillas were terminated by hanging. That’s it. There’s also a story concerning treasures. Gold bars and jewelry were left by the Japanese inside but that story came from some old folks and they can’t even prove its credibility. All hear-says. Alright? And as I knew, a group of hunters stealed-in a couple of decades ago or more, and didn’t managed to come back. Hence, it’s closed.”
“The cave, is unexplored.” The unconvinced, importunate American answered emphatically.
Roland can’t hide his annoyance to the visitor and told the latter to finish his coffee and leave. The tourism officer was hesitant to let anyone to explore the place for only God knows how long, how deep and what lies inside it aside from bats and piles of skeletons. As the elders were saying for decades.
“By the way, before I leave, I need a place to stay.” Said Albert.
“We don’t have hotels here, but there’s a place accepting transients nearby.” Roland wrote the address on a piece of paper. “Have a nice day, Mr. Blackstone.”
Albert sighed in frustration and left the office.
Albert reached the address, he didn’t had a hard time finding the house. He got down the public tricycle and took a photo. The house was old but not messed up, he suppose it stand for over decades, or rather, generations. He looked around and compared the other households and realized, the house that he’s about to stay in seems to be one of the cultural heritages of the town.
Martina, the accompanying lady in the house seems nice and hospitable. And he was right, the house has been inherited by her husband after her in-laws died. And the ancestral house was over two hundred years old. Albert opened up about his planned expedition to the Bitin Cave, and he was marveled by Martina’s stories about the place. She told the American that the place has been forbidden due to unexplained events hidden inside. “Those were events Mr. Albert, not just stories.” Martina said.
Albert and Martina’s conversation over dinner got interrupted by the arrival of Martina’s husband, for the visitor’s surprise, it was Roland.
“What the hell?”
“Yes, Mr. Blackstone.” Roland lit a cigarette. “I presumed you’ll turn down my offer after my hindering earlier. I’m sorry.” Roland winked.
Confused. Albert resumed eating.
After a fine meal with the couple, Roland and Albert sat at the veranda for some beer.
“So. How’d you find the place? Man, I’ve been married to this house even before I met Martina. This is all we got. And now, well – ” Said Roland.
“What do you mean?”
Roland was in huge debt. He got gambling issues without his wife’s knowledge. And he could lose the house in the following months. Albert felt it. Roland was troubled. And he got thrilled when he suddenly realized, he could take advantage of the situation.
“I can help you.” Albert said.
“How? Are you a Magician who can manipulate Black Jack?” Roland lit another ciggy.
“Just give me permission to go inside the Bitin Cave, please.” Albert said desperately.
“Look, aside from my personal problems, your interest on the cave really bothers me since this afternoon. What do you want exactly? Forget about the damn cave, man. It won’t happen. I told you that.” Roland gulped his beer empty.
“I will pay you ten thousand dollars. I swear to my father’s grave, Roland. Ten thousand US dollars. Say yes tonight and I will pay half before the start of the expedition.” Albert said.
Roland snorted. “Ten thousand, a hundred or a million. How the hell would it matter to a non-breathing person.”
“So you believe the stories?” Albert put his beer bottle on the bin.
“Only those damn hunters know if the stories are true. Unfortunately, they could never tell.”
“Thirty-two thousand.” Albert said while reaching the beer from Roland’s hand. “I know, it’s a weird amount. It should be thirty-five or forty, but that’s all I got left from my account.”
Roland sighed. “Your room’s ready. With new beddings and pillow cases. And the most essential – mosquito net.”
Albert was confused.
“Take a rest. You need it.” Roland said.
The next morning, Roland and Albert went to the Mayor’s Office to ask permission to work on to form an expedition team to the Bitin Cave. At first, the Municipal Mayor was hesitant. No one in the town of Constancia was unaware of the mystery the cave holds. But the government official got convinced that exploring the cave could be the answer to whether open it for locals and tourists or stay to be restricted. For Roland and Albert’s relief, the Mayor gave them a ‘go’.
“God. Please keep them safe.” Thought the Mayor.
Japanese occupation,1943. Jose along with his fellow guerillas were getting lined up to march for their death, to the Bitin Cave. The Japanese escorted rebels has been captured after a bloody battle at the dense mountains of Constancia.
“We are going to die right?” A rebel asked Jose to which he replied, “Yes. All of us. But if God will give me a chance, I will take as many of these Japanese soldiers with me to hell.”
After almost an hour, the fleet finally reached the mouth of the cave. And one Japanese soldier yelled to go on with the march. No food and water had been given. The Filipino soldiers seem like a helpless fleet of black ants walking forward to a blazing fire. Every step they make was a step closer to their dark fate.
“Lord. The first time I came here with my father was when I’m nine years old. I told to myself I would never go back to this ghastly place again. And now I’m here. Waiting to get terminated by this wicked subjugators who can’t even utter a single word of ours.” Said Pedro as they were approaching the largest part of the cave.
“Pedro. Look.” Jose whispered. He eyed a box of dynamites a couple of meters away. And motioned Pedro to take the small knife hidden inside his ragged boots.
“This is our chance. Untie me, quick.”
Pedro was unaware that whether Jose will make it or fail, it will not matter. For Jose knew, with their enemies holding guns and bayonets, they will all die anyway. “Done done. Go!” Said Pedro.
Jose swiftly pushed the nearby soldier and grab the torch. He managed to take the box of explosives. But before he yelled ‘Long live the Philippines!’ before dropping the torch, everyone turned to the front of the line due to gun shots and constant storming from the Japanese soldiers and the guerillas.
“What is happening there? What is that?” Pedro, as he heard a loud growling as the soldiers and guerillas at the front squalls for dear life.
Jose, along with the remaining breathers inside the cave paused as they hear the sound of growling and crawling creatures louder and louder as it approach from the darkness.
Jose, who was still holding the torch did not have a chance to yell the Filipino ‘battle cry’ when he saw what was coming. “Merciful God!” He uttered before his hand let go of the torch followed by a deafening explosion that rocked the cave. The Bitin Cave’s entrance has been shut down by huge rock debris that caused the whole place to get swallowed by total darkness.
God knows what happened inside after the bombing incident, but one thing’s definite, no one got out alive. And just barely a couple of years after it was reopened in 1977, four desperate treasure hunters guided by a local villager secretly sneaked in for a selfish mission. No one got out alive.
So. We’re ready or we’re ready? Albert asked Roland in thrill as the latter was talking to his wife before they part. Roland took his Bolo Knife which he inherited from his late grandfather and off they went. Along with four more comrades to assist them with the mission.
April, 1997. After two decades since the last time someone has entered the Bitin Cave, Albert Blackstone along with his team went inside the cave through a small opening from a slab of rock which they had managed to pull out. It was enough for a single person to crawl since the front of the cave was still shut down due to the large rocks covering it. Baldo, a stout middle-aged man – was the only one left outside to wait and to make sure that the ropes would stay on line so the team could go back out easily or make signals to the outside if necessary.
Albert, Roland and three others were walking through the dark, narrow path for about ten minutes before they start to realize that they were gradually descending. Only flashlights and torch lamps were the source of light. And the place was so silent that Roland could hear the beating of his own heart. He was scared, for a part in him believes that the stories which the cave holds for decades could be true. Albert, on the other hand was the exact opposite. He was beaming in excitement since they got inside the cave. Turning left and right with his camera on hand hoping to see something of important note. The Bitin Cave – did not disappoint.
Carvings of ancient wordings and images were seen on the wall as they continue to descend in the narrow path. “Mr. Albert, look!” Christopher said as he was looking up to the strangest cave markings they had seen so far. For the locals, they find the drawing freakish. But not for Albert Blackstone as he continues to take photographs. His mind was clouded with thoughts of what the cave could bring for his young, promising career after the publishing of his book. The flash from the camera was blinding due to darkness. The huge collection of markings and drawings were organized as well as if it was telling a story. Or an account on either what happened or what could happen. No one could say for the images and texts were all unknown to everyone. Even the five locals. And instead of frustration, the young anthropologist started to take photos as many as he could. “Man. This seems unending.” Dante said as he points his flashlight to the pathway. “Hey. Make sure you don’t lose the damn rope!” Roland, after he realized they were getting far from the cave’s entrance.
“We lose it already.” Christopher said.
“What the hell do you mean? Is it gone?”
“Yes, man. The rope isn’t that long. And besides, who’s going to get lost with a narrow path like this?” said Arman.
“Yeah man. Calm down. We can close our eyes and the walls side by side will guide us back. We haven’t turn once since we walked in here.” Dante followed.
“Shit!” Roland exclaimed when he realized Albert was gone; walking forward.
A moment later, the group were standing at the middle of a massive dome. “My God.” Roland uttered. “Yeah. Look at this.” Albert, as he was staring at the greatest discovery in his career. The dome was filled with cave paintings unknown to modern human eyes. Then suddenly, the men were surprised by Arman’s yelling. “What the hell was that?”
“I swear I saw someone there!” Arman continued while pointing east.
“Someone? Are you high?”
“Okay. We need to calm down.” Albert said.
“Calm down? The stories could be true my friend. That’s why I got this.” Dante took out his caliber .38 revolver from his waist. Roland followed with his Bolo knife when the group suddenly heard a sound. The sound was like a stone thrown from afar. “Alright. This is not good. Take your damn photographs and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Hey. Easy there.” Said Albert.
“Mr. Albert, I’m about to crap in my pants. Please, take some photos now and let’s go.”
“I’m with him. Shits getting real out here.” Dante agrees with Christopher.
“Oh c’mon now. We haven’t seen a single bone since we got here. What if – “
The group turned silent after they heard a deafening growl not far from where they stand.
“Turn off the lights!”
No one was moving a muscle as they were hiding at the back of a large rock as the sound of approaching creatures goes louder and louder until it was so close that they were able to hear its breathing. It could be stray dogs, or wolves but one thing they were certain. Those creatures were huge. And then, silence. Total silence.
“I think they’re gone.” Roland whispered.
Christopher turned on his lamp and everyone were astonished to see the creatures were right in front of them. Albert was speechless. As the creature taller than a stallion with a face like that of a bat with longer snout, baring its long fangs and flaming red eyes stands a couple of feet away from him. And when it growled, dozens followed.
“Run!” Roland yelled. But they were surrounded. The dome was filled with the Bitin creatures and everyone knew, no one was going out alive. Gunshot reverberated, the men turned to Dante lying face down to the ground. Arman, picked up the gun. Albert took a photo of the creature and to their surprise, the creatures took two steps back. They fear the sudden bright flash from the camera. “We need to move. Keep on clicking that thing.” Roland said.
“Roland.” Arman whispered as they turn. They realized that there were four different pathways leading outside. The creatures, growled. And Roland, started laughing. Mad laughing
Albert Blackstone, in extreme fear, kept hitting the shutter as the snarling creatures kept coming forward. He knows the camera will die eventually, he knows that that will be his last moments before turning to a wandering soul, but he was hoping the camera will soon be discovered; along with his legacy. To him, that was all that matters.
And the cave was deafened with growls, after the last hit on the shutter.