Welcome Home, My Little Dreamer

“Welcome my nephew, hope you have fun in your stay here,” the blonde’s uncle greeted him as they rode to his grandmother’s house. Sid McBailey moved from America to Siquijor for a month vacation. He was born and raised in Cali all his life and his parents decided that he should get to know about the relatives he had in the Philippines now that he was a teenager. He didn’t know why he had to be at least 16 to get to know these so called relatives. Why such precautions were needed was only answered with such a general answer:

“You now have more respect and understanding of things. You’ve already know what is good and bad, what is real and what’s not.”

That was it and he was shipped off to his mother’s country. He was received lovingly. Warm, Filipino dishes were served with cold mango juice. By the third day, he knew lots of them. His grandmother, Lola Ysang, told him that her house was their ancestral home and the biggest house owned by the family. According to her, they came from a divine and noble line in centuries past. He was staying in the guest room.

While there, he met his far cousin, Marsha. She was one year younger than him. He was taught about family ties of the Filipinos when he was a kid by his mother and then his school, so he assumed that all his relatives lived on the same street lane. He was shocked to know that his other relatives didn’t. Actually they were a couple or more blocks away from them. Both of them became close and she volunteered to show him around. At nap time, he was told many things and many rules including not going to a particular old mansion on the street corner. But things weren’t the same in Cali. They don’t believe in the supernatural anymore.

Nightmare Specially Made For You

It was a Tuesday afternoon when he and Marsha toured around town, malls and tourist’s spots. On the way back, they passed by the old mansion. The crisp, cold night air softly caressed his skin. Unconsciously, he stopped in front of the gate. His eyes moved as he surveyed the mansion. It had a Spanish architect style with veranda and egg shell white sliding windows. The wood on it, although it showed evidence of age, was still intact and complete. Wild plants were scattered everywhere, the grasses were short which seemed like it was well taken care of. He looked up at the sky and saw that the birds were avoiding the area. The symphony of the crickets echoing through the silent, empty building could be heard from where they stood.

Something on that mansion was calling out to him to enter. It was like someone was pulling him in and a sweet lulling song dulling his senses. His body started to move on its own. His right hand already at the metal grill of the gate, at the same time his left hand reached a higher grill than the other. He no longer could hear anything, only the music. The sweet, melancholy music. He started to doubt that it was only in his head for he did not hear the scraping sound of metal on the ground as he started to lift his body off the ground. Yes, it needed him for why would it call in the first place. And he wanted it–no, needed it.

He felt a forceful tug on the back of the varsity jacket as he tried to climb higher. The searing cold metal started to numb his hands as he tightened his grip as not to fall. The scent of rusting metal filled his nostrils. As he climbed he felt his elbow hit something. The pain started crawling from his elbow to his fingertips. The weight pulling on his back all of a sudden disappeared. Thinking it was only in his imagination, he ignored it, and with a weak grip, he continued to ascend.

The collar of his jacket was suddenly pulled back. It started to choke him as he kept forcing his way up. Because of the lack of air, he was forced to let go of the gate. He frantically clawed the back of the collar. Nails met skin, but not his. Instead of his nape it hit hands that had gripped his collar. He screamed and struggled against his captor as it dragged him slowly away from the property gate. He wanted to go there so badly. His breath was slowly running out. The gravel beneath his feet crunched under his weight and then he started flailing his hands in the air blindly with a growl. The hand that gripped him released its hold. As soon as the hands were gone he ran towards the gate. The hand returned and caught his shoulder, its nails piercing his jacket. The sudden pull turned him to face his assailant.

Wake Up!

Pak! The painful sound echoed through the cold night. The sound and pain rang from his ears to his head. He slowly turned his head to see his cousin in tears, with a busted lip and a bruise forming at the side of her head.

He felt his heart sink. Ice cold chills enveloped him as he started processing what had happened. But before he could even come to a conclusion, she grabbed his hand and ran, dragging him behind. He was an athlete and taller than her so it wasn’t very hard to catch up to her, his long strides covering more distance. He could tell that she was desperate to put more distance between them and the old mansion by the way she ran and the way her shoulder shook as she took gulps of precious air. They stopped in front of the ancestral house, both of them catching their breath.

Before he could even say what was on his mind, in tears, she berated him and told him, no matter what he heard, saw or smelled he mustn’t go anywhere near there. When he asked why, she just said, “You’re still new here. And in this part of the country, the old ways still lives. Please understand, everything here is simply not what they seem.” With that piece said, she pushed him inside the house and ran to hers.

Waking Up Does Not End The Nightmare, Little Dreamer

That night was pretty much weird and he tended to forget weird incidents. After a week, he was pretty familiar with the streets and houses there. Everything was going as it should be until he did something he would regret his whole life. He was walking aimlessly when all of a sudden he heard a cry for help. It was an old lady’s voice and it was coming from the old mansion which his relatives deemed cursed. From the tone of the voice, the owner was crying and in a lot of pain. He was raised properly, so turning a deaf ear to cries for help wasn’t going to work well with his conscience. So as quickly as he could, he climbed the rusty gates and ran inside the mansion.

He was greeted by darkness when he entered the mansion. The only source of light he had to navigate his way around the covered-in-blanket furnitures was the light of the full moon seeping through the gaps of the windows. Luckily, he had his trusty key chain flash light with him. He noticed the cob webs and thick dusts that had settled to all the furniture. Most of them were wooden and antique, but it was in a good condition in his opinion.

The loud cry for help jolted him back to the situation at hand. He hurriedly looked for the source of the cry, running, tripping and almost stumbling his way through the house. The voice became louder as he neared what seemed to be the living room which was closed off by twin sliding doors with a wooden handle which were all made of Narra. His lungs burned of the cold night air as it begged for more air. When he reached it, he hastily slid it open. His heart was pounding from running and the sudden fear that crept to his heart.

His eyes had adjusted to the darkness and were currently surveying the room. The crying seemed to have intensified as he slowly made his way to the center. He was breathing heavily as panic rose from his guts to his throat. Cold sweat trickled down his forehead to his chin. He kept yelling “Hello?” and ”Where are you?” to let the voice know someone had heard her and was going to help. He approached the corners of the room, but the voice seemed to grow weaker but louder when he passed by the center. The sudden realization hit him like a brick. Gulping the lump in his throat, he kneeled down and pressed his ears on the wooden floor. It seemed that the screaming came from the ground. String of colorful curses came out his mouth as he stood up and looked for something to tear open the floor. Dust mingled with cold night breeze as he flipped the white blankets that covered some of the furniture.

In his frenzied haste he knocked down some boxes, its contents flung out with a loud crash. Along with them was a rusty garden spade. He snatched it from the floor and slid kneeling to the center. He started digging, chunks of wood flying past him and some hitting his face. After weakening some parts of the woods, he used his bare hands to pull the cut up wood. His hands bled from splinters as he lifted the broken piece of the floor. But he did not find any old woman, or anyone.

From the hole he created was a little wooden statue of the natives. It was a statue of an old woman holding what seemed to be a voodoo doll. She was tied by ropes, two ropes going across her waist and two ropes going diagonal forming an X from her shoulders to her waist. At the base, symbols were carved around it. Some of them were familiar, if he would guess it was an alibata. He encountered them when he was wandering on his lola’s backyard, they were written on all the large bamboo shoots. His lola said it was for protection from engkantos and other unseen beings who meant harm. Blood from his hands stained the wooden figure as he inspected it.

The winds began to howl, banging on the old windows. The blond boy lifted his head as he heard a creaking sound followed with a rumbling sound as the ground shook. All of a sudden he could see the fog of his breath. Chills crawled up his spine and his face drained of blood. He started to hear a cracking sound, turning his gaze to what he was holding where the sound seemed to come from. The statue was cracking and breaking in half. In surprise, he threw the statue across the room. It crashed on the floor into pieces.

Trapped Between Reality And Fantasy

Mist emerged from the broken statue to form an old woman. Her clothes were like those of a native he saw on the paintings that hung on the walls of his lola’s place. But the one she wore were ragged, burned and dirty, her hair resembled Einstein’s and with silvery gray hair. Crackling malicious laughter invaded his ears. It tilted its head at him as it inspected him, head to foot. His mind told him to run, to choose flight but his limbs was trapped in an imaginary block of ice. It came nearer to him but he just sat there not until he heard a shrill scream behind him and the sound of something hitting the ground. Turning his head he saw Marsha with a flash light and a medallion in her right hand, her phone on the ground.

The gears of his head suddenly started working, in the top of his lungs he screamed at her to run but she didn’t budge. He forgot that the ghost, spirit, or whatever it is for that matter, was nearing him. The thing caught him off guard as it grabbed his left leg. It felt like dry ice was burning his flesh. He yelled with all the air in his lungs as the pain gnawed at him to his bones. Even though the ghost was made from mist, its claws were able to bury itself, breaking the skin. Blood dripped down to the cold floor. The malicious laughter and his agonizing screams filled his head. He couldn’t hear anything else. He closed his eyes thinking this was one of his horrible nightmares and he would wake up in his room, but the pulsating pain in his leg kept him from believing himself.

Bit by bit the sound of laughter died replaced by chanting of words he did not know. Taking a chance, he opened his eyes and saw the thing growling not at him, but past him. At the corner of his eyes, he saw Marsha walking towards him, the medallion held towards the spirit. Fortunately, his leg was released as it started backing away. It tried to swipe its claws towards the medallion but to no avail. She stopped and stood between him and the ghost, just inches away from it.

Quickly, he dragged himself away from it until his hand hit the phone. Someone was talking on the other side. He picked it up and put it near his ear. It was his Lola Ysang; he told her what was happening. After that, she told him to tell Marsha to strike the ground with the dagger she gave then hung up. He did what he was told to do. After his cousin planted the dagger on the floor, out of nowhere, a light circled the ghost. It tried to get out of the circle, but it looked like it was trapped in a glass case. It kept banging the walls, trying to break it. A moment of relief washed over him. He saw something light up behind the spirit. The wooden statue glowed and its pieces floated and started to glue itself back together. If it wasn’t for the life threatening and possibly traumatizing situation, he would’ve awed in amazement.

The Price of Disbelief

She relaxed a little as she went over to where the statue was and slid it into the circle. “I need to seal it in again,” Marsha said to him, her breathing was heavy in exhaustion. The thing stared at her, taunting her but she calmly stared back, determination forming within her eyes.

“What do you suggest we do?” Terror was over taking him again. A red angry hand print was in his leg and blood still leaking out of his wounds.

“I know a spell, but you have to promise something.” Her voice started to shake. Something told him, whatever that spell was, it was going to be dangerous. She shifted her eyes at him to get her answer. Not trusting his own voice, he nod which she took as a yes then she shifted her eyes to stare at the thing. “Whatever you see, keep it to yourself unless it’s your blood relatives on our side.” The she turned to him with a smile but sad eyes. “Go through the test, it’ll help you in so many ways.” Confusion settling on his face, he was not left with time to make her explain when she started chanting again. This time, her voice was starting to crack. He looked at her, her face was calm and collected as tears ran down her face.

The ground where she and the thing stood gradually glowed brighter. Hands rose up from the glowing ground of the ghost. The thing gave an ear-piercing shriek as it tried to thrash and claw the hands away as it grabbed her, dragging her into the statue. He was dumbstruck, one second he didn’t believe an ounce of this ghost crap, the next thing he watched an evil spirit get dragged by lit up hands from the ground and sucked up into the statue.

When the thing was gone, the light from the ground vanished but the one underneath his cousin didn’t. Just like what happened with the ghost, hands appeared from the ground. It grabbed her legs, her hands and then her neck but she did not stop chanting. His eyes went wide with fear. Horrified, he tried to stand up but failed when the pain on his leg flared up as he put his weight on it. He screamed her name anxiously as another hand sprouted out off the ground. It picked the dagger up and grew longer until it was the same level with her eyes. In tears, he watched helplessly as the hand pulled back. He held his breath as his heart skipped a beat. Time seemed to have stopped as the dread grew within him as he waited for what was to happen.

With a painful scream, the daggered hand descended and stabbed his cousin’s left eye. Blood gushed out of the opening. Her hands closed into fists so hard that her knuckles had turned white. The hand retracted slowly, but as it did the eye it stabbed was stuck on the dagger. With a disgusting squelching sound, the eye left the socket with the dagger. His insides turned, his dinner at the middle of his throat threatening to spill any moment as he continued to watch the scene unravel before him. Another hand suddenly appeared and yanked the dangling eyeball resulting to another torturing screech. One swift movement of the daggered hand cut the eyeball from the meat that still connected it to her head.

Yet, something in him prevented him to turn away or shut his eyes. The hand re-positioned the red stained dagger to the right eye. The hair on the back of his head raised as his stomach squeezed until he felt his guts burst. It pulled back and stabbed her other eye. Another great agonizing cry came from her. Fresh streams of blood flowed down mixed with her tears. Restrained by the hands, it prevented her from thrashing and lashing out to her assailant. The red coppery-tasting liquid pooled on the ground where she stood. The hand pulled out the dagger with another of her eyeball and cut it out like what it did earlier. She was shaking, she was in a hysterical state. Who wouldn’t be after what she’d been through? The glowing hands sank back into the ground. Without the hands that supported her she fell unto her knees. He quickly dragged himself to his charcoal haired cousin using what was left of his strength.

But the mystery did not end there. The pool of warm crimson red fluid began crawling on the floor in a straight line. Baffled, he followed it with his eyes as he finally reached the teen girl’s spot and cradled her into his arms. It went in the direction of the wooden statue. What confused him more was that the statue that used to hold a voodoo doll was now holding two round things. His heart banged against his rib cage, begging to be let out. The blood filled the lines and details the statue had. It filled the two newly carved circles. He is focus was shifted by hearing his name being called. He looked into his arms and saw the damage that had been done. She was still trembling and her voice sounded weak. Fright and guilt filled him as he pressed her head on his chest. He shushed her. His clothes felt damped, blood had seeped into his shirt. Gray fabric was turning into red as he let her have a minute of rest.

After what seemed like a year, she stopped. Suggesting that they needed to leave, Marsha supported him so he could stand. Before they could get far, she stopped and asked where the statue was. Strong, continuous waves of fear crashed back at him. Seeing firsthand what it just did, he was freaking out to even be in the same room as it. But she still insisted that they take the doll, so in the end he did. Besides, it was all his fault and she suffered more than him so he was willing to trust her in this.

What's Real And What's True?

They got home; how they got there was a blur to him. It was the middle of the night so he expected to see only his grandmother to be up. To his surprise, most of his uncles and aunts were there gathered around. Every single one of them looked frightened, anxious and nervous. One by one, he looked them in the eye. The bags under their eyes had darkened, exhaustion written on their faces. His Lola Ysang, vibrant, energetic and cheerful old woman, looked like she had aged more. How long had they really stayed inside the mansion? Hours? Days? Weeks? Years? His throat constricted as he felt his heart sink even lower where his balls could be found.

The first reaction he received was surprised, then relief but when they got a closer look at Marsha almost everybody wanted to faint. They rushed to them, separated them into one corner, the first half took Marsha, cleaned her up, bandaged her closed eyelids and gave her a new set of clothes. The other half took Sid, cleaned his wound and him, put ointment and a bandage on it, then gave him new set of clothes too, roughly. All through the process, he felt heavy stares blaming him for what had happened.

He was brought back to the living room, Lola Ysang told him that she had sent them all home. Marsha was resting and was going to stay there until morning came. Both of them were going to be sent to the hospital for check-up tomorrow while they made up some excuse for the injuries. He was very hesitant to look her in the eyes. He thought that she would have the same eyes as them, accusing and disappointed. She made him look and told him she would not get any rest if he didn't. Grudgingly, he looked up. He saw concern and pity within those onyx black eyes. Then she began to tell him the whole story….

Blood is Power, Blood is Life

His whole family on his mother side came from a long line of babaylans. They were the shamans of the natives in this country; they were mostly female but there had been rare cases that a male could become one of them. Male babaylans were called “bayocs”, but babaylans were more powerful in fighting the supernatural beings. Bayocs were mostly known for their accurate and powerful dreams than babaylans. And since dreams were considered the pathway from this world to the supernatural realm, bayocs with uncontrolled power attracts spirits. If the spirit was good, it would only assist you on your way, but if it was evil, it either misguided you away from your body so you wouldn’t be able to go back or turned you into one of them.

Dreams turned into nightmares. Nightmares. It reminded him of the nightmares that haunted him every night, about a mystical forest and creatures; they were blurry that he couldn’t remember what they were. He was lost and he would wander around until something found him, it was covered in light, held his hand and ran, dragging him behind. Then things covered in black would follow them. One time, one of them scratched him until he was pushed on a cliff full of light. He woke up with his mother beside him. She told him that he was screaming in his sleep and asked where he got the three long blood-red gashes he had on his left arm. That was when he told her his dreams, a week after he was sent in the Philippines for a vacation.

Not knowing if telling this to his grandmother would mean anything, he told it to her. She just nodded as she listened carefully. She was not judging, but listened and tried to understand. After telling his story, she looked at him with a sad smile. The nightmare was a “rukut”. Meaning he was being called by the sacred or good spirits, it was also a warning that the one having the rukut must undergo the test to be able to control his/her powers or misfortune will befall him/her and their family. When he asked why his nightmares stopped coming back after he came here, she answered that the writings on the bamboos on her backyard prevented the dark spirits from entering his dreams.

With a heavy sigh, she leaned in her rocking chair while staring intently at the wooden statue. He could tell that she didn’t particularly want to talk about the story behind it. He wanted to say it wasn’t necessary, that it was fine if she chose to keep it away from him but she seemed to have read his mind because she gazed at him thankfully but with regret. So he just sat back and stared at the floor. He still hadn’t had the strength look at the statue.

The rocking chair creaked as another sigh was heard from the boy’s grandmother before she began again. The wooden statue was made of Narra, the reason for this was because it was like a metal rod to electricity. It was a good conductor to their magic; they could easily manipulate and repair them in an instant with their abilities. It was also the reason why the statue was magically restored. It was great for sealing dark spirits because it seeped of spiritual energy making it stronger, not easily broken by both time and supernatural entities. Even termites were afraid to destroy them, because they could sense the power stored within them. The creature they sealed was a spirit of a powerful and demonic witch or known to them as “mangkukulam” named Zula. She used to be one of the strongest babaylan the world had ever known, but the Spaniards came and declared that all babaylan’s and bayocs were minions of Satan. They mercilessly executed all of the shamans and Zula watched her friends and families die brutally in front of her. Filled with hatred, she lost her way and turned to the darkest diwatas and engkantos. She asked them for power to avenge her fallen brethrens in exchange for her body and soul then she began to live deep within the forest. By then most of the surviving babaylans had mingled and hidden themselves from the society.

The Spaniards of this region started disappearing one by one, their mutilated body found in the forest; next came the plagues that killed dozens of the foreigners. One of their ancestors, Maria Isabella, married a Spaniard nobleman, and to which they should thank for their ancestral home, had ten children. Three of them died of the plague and the husband almost died if it hadn’t been for their ancestors who practiced the way of the babaylan in secret. Knowing the cause of the mysterious events, Maria and her babaylan relatives confronted Zula on one moonlit night. They begged her to stop, but she just laughed and mocked them but even though she was overtaken by her hatred for the invaders, she still loved her brethrens so she expressed her regret at having killed and hurt any children of babaylans and bayocs which she swore to protect, and promised to kill only those who deserved their painful death. She told them that if they needed her help, they were to go into the forest at midnight, light a lantern while they hold their “agimat”, a medallion which was the source of their power, in front of them while they scream her name, and then she disappeared into the forest.

Unbeknownst them, a servant listened and watch the exchange between them. He was a servant of Maria, fearing the mangkukulam he told a friar about it and devised a plot, but he was grateful to Maria and her babaylan family for his life so he didn’t tell the friar about them. He just told them that he followed suspicious people and watched them offer a necklace while calling the witch’s name. And the witch came out and granted their wishes with dark magic.

The servant did everything he heard the witch said and used Maria’s agimat. Zula, thinking Maria trusted the man with her secret complied with his call only to get captured by the Guardia civil and the friar. She was condemned to burn at the stake in the middle of the plaza. Thinking Maria and the others betrayed her, while burning she chanted a curse that she would one day return, using one of Maria’s family as a vessel and killed everyone that contained her blood with all those who deserved to die.

She did return in the form of mist in the middle of the night at the heart of the forest. But Maria and her family were ready and fought her, but still, she was more powerful than them even though they outnumber her. Luckily, Maria Isabella carried a wooden block of Narra with her. She begged the spirits of light to use her life if it would seal Zula within the block. The powerful diwatas heard her plea and helped them seal Zula with all her dark powers. But the Narra was not enough to keep her in, and so the diwatas took what Maria offered. The block of wood carved itself into an image of Zula. The voodoo doll that she seemed to hold before was Maria’s body and soul, it was the one that kept Zula inside the wooden statue. After sealing Zula the diwatas warned them:

“It was by the blood of one of you that had sealed her and only by the blood of one of you would free her of her prison.”

With that they vanished. It became their responsibility to keep it hidden. One of the generations that succeeded had bought the house where the statue was buried, hidden under the wooden floors. The reason their babaylan and bayoc relatives didn’t live on the same street was because if you trace and connect their houses, it would create a circle and alibata letters with the old mansion, where the statue was placed, at the middle of it creating a prison for it. It was also the reason the wooden statue was repaired quickly, because all of their magic and chanting was directed exactly to it. Finishing her story, his lola picked up the doll and felt the detail line with her thumb but she stopped at the hands where the voodoo doll used to be.

She explained that since his blood freed Zula, Maria, who was guarding the statue, was also set free. By the passage of time, Zula had become weaker but still powerful and needed something to seal it within the wooden statue. The diwatas that Marsha summoned knew this and took only her eyes. And the two circles, which symbolized her eyes, that replaced the voodoo doll was the proof of that.

The Payment For Freedom is Pain

From then on, he lived with the guilt of being the one that caused the blindness of his cousin. For this reason, he became overprotective of her and brought her closer to his heart. Although he saw it as his fault, she kept insisting that it wasn’t and it was for the better. He thought she was just being nice to him until she smiled at him on a mysterious way and said to him

“Don’t worry, it will come to you.” With a calm but foreboding voice which creeped him out and made the hair on his arms stand up straight. But eventually it did come to him.

One night, he dreamt of a meadow with a clear stream and lots of wild flowers, sitting near the pond was a beautiful woman with long black hair wearing old Spanish clothes. She stood up slowly then turned to him with a radiant smile. He felt light and he smiled back rather unsure what he was feeling. She hugged him and thanked him. When she pulled away, the woman eyes were full of unshed tears. He felt himself blush when he felt her hand upon his cheek. She thanked him again, that her name was Maria Isabella and now she was free to be with her family on the other side. At the word, Maria Isabella he was frozen stiff. So this was what his far cousin was talking about. She wanted him to express her sorry and thanks to Marsha. And like every time, before he could ask or say anything, he was woken up from his dream.