By John Paul Lama
It began during a solemn holiday in 1992 – November 1 and November 2 – known respectively as All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, and locally as Undas. It was a holiday in the Philippines when many people visited their dead relatives in the cemeteries, which is why the event was also known as “Araw ng mga Yumao” or more simply as “Araw ng mga Patay.” (Day of the Dead)
In the month before that specific holiday, cousins Abigail Shiela Ruiz Francisco and Ashley Charlene Ruiz Dominic both turned eight years old. Although cousins, they resembled each other because their mothers were identical twins. More importantly, they were good friends. They spent many vacations and holidays together in their maternal grandparents’ ancestral home in Malabon City, including that year’s Undas.
Like every Undas before, their two families first visited their ancestral home around midday, then went to the Malabon Cemetery to visit their maternal grandparents’ grave in the early afternoon. This time, however, their parents allowed them to explore the cemetery for a short time on their own as long as they stayed together and as long as the sun was up. Ashley led the way, almost dragging Abigail behind her.
“Where are we going?” Abigail asked as they avoided the people around them who were visiting their relatives.
“When we were walking earlier I saw a statue in a cage over a grave. I want to check it out,” Ashley answered.
“A statue in a cage?” Abigail asked. “Why would a statue be in a cage?”
As if to answer her question, the two broke through the seemingly endless procession of people visiting their relatives and reached a grave that had no visitors. That wasn’t what set it apart from the other graves, though. What set it apart was the fact that it had a caged statue on it. Only upon closer inspection did Ashley and Abigail realize that there were actually two statues in it. One was of an angel, lying on its chest on the ground. The other was of a demon, standing triumphantly over the angel, pinning him down.
“I-it’s an angel and a demon,” Abigail said, the fear in her voice audible.
“Not just any angel and demon,” Ashley said, trying to hide the fear in her own voice as she looked at a plaque behind the two statues. “Their names are written here. Lucifer and San Miguel.”
“Lucifer and San Miguel?” Abigail repeated. “The Devil and the Archangel?”
“Yup,” Ashley answered.
“But that can’t be right. Mom and dad always told me that the Archangel Michael defeated Lucifer in the war in heaven. There’s even a picture of that on one of the beers we see on television commercials.” Abigail answered.
“Well…whoever had these statues built certainly doesn’t believe that story,” Ashley said.
“What else does it say on that thing?” Abigail asked.
“I don’t know. I can’t understand most of these words.” Ashley said after squinting closer at the plaque.
Abigail approached it to see if she could understand it, but couldn’t either. She looked back at the statues. “I wonder why there’s a cage over it…” she wondered out loud.
“Probably to keep people from tearing it down.” Ashley hypothesized.
The two cousins stayed by the grave for a few more minutes, quietly staring at the two caged statues. At some point, Abigail felt a chill that wasn’t just the cold wind. “Ashley…maybe we should go back.”
“I think you’re right,” Ashley said, feeling the chill too. Grabbing her cousin’s hand, Ashley led the way back to their grandparents’ grave. This time, Abigail didn’t have to be dragged.
The families of the two girls stayed at their maternal grandparents’ grave until about seven in the evening, then went back to their ancestral home to spend the night there. After eating supper and washing up, the two tried to go to sleep early, but couldn’t. They were both too scared by what they saw in the cemetery. They decided to try to pass the time, but found it difficult to do so, for two reasons. First, the Philippine power crisis was still ongoing that year, and every night there was a brownout (blackout) in much of the cities on the island of Luzon. Second, even if there was no power crisis, they were in their grandparents’ ancestral home, and the only electrical appliances they had were light bulbs, a refrigerator, and some electric fans. Restless, Ashley decided, and Abigail agreed, to explore their ancestral home in the middle of the night, when everyone else was supposed to be asleep.
They went to their grandmother’s bedroom on the second floor. It still had some furniture, books, and artifacts in it. One of the artifacts was a small, handeld mirror on the lampstand by the window. The light of the moon reflected perfectly off the mirror, brightening up the room.
“Ashley,” Abigail timidly said. “We shouldn’t be here.”
“Let’s not go yet,” Ashley said, looking around the room. “Maybe there’s something here we could busy ourselves with-“
She stopped abruptly when her eyes fell on the mirror. Abigail noticed her abrupt stop and followed her cousin’s gaze until her eyes fell on the mirror too. Suddenly, although their bodies were still in the same room, their minds were decades and miles apart…
Abigail found herself disembodied, although she could still see, hear, and smell. And what she saw, heard, and smell, terrified her. The scenes she observed were actually visions of the Philippines in its Spanish colonial era. They centered on a man being tortured by the Guardia Civil. The torture ranged from being forced to break rocks in the mountains with other prisoners, being forced to drink water from a pail that contained human excrement, and being struck by guards. In spite of her disembodiment, she felt a chill all over, along with a sense of being watched…
Ashley still had her body, but it was much older. In her vision she saw herself sitting in the front passenger’s side of a car, with a man at the driver’s seat. The man beside her was speaking with a cop through the pulled-down window, and the cop was shouting back. Suddenly, the cop punched the man. While the man spat out blood, the cop forced open the driver’s door and dragged the man out. As soon as the man was on the ground, the cop started kicking him. Ashley, or rather, the older body her consciousness now occupied, got out of the car and tried to get the cop off the man. The cop angrily slapped her away. The man finally got up and struck the man back. Unfortunately, the cop drew his gun and shot the man dead. Without missing a beat, he looked at Ashley, and shot her too…
Ashley woke up with a start, in cold sweat. She and Abigail were still in their grandmother’s room, lying on the floor, but it was early dawn. Abigail was still asleep on the floor where she had collapsed, although it looked like she was having a nightmare. Ashley had to shake her several times until she finally woke up.
“What happened?” Abigail asked after calming down a bit.
“You were having a nightmare. I think we both were,” Ashley said. “What did you see?”
“I saw a man getting tortured in the Spanish era. He was being beaten up and made to drink water with poop,” Abigail said. “What about you?”
“I saw a cop kill a man,” Ashley said. Then, hesitantly, she added: “…and me.”
“You died?!” Abigail asked, eyes widening.
“Yes,” Ashley said. “But I didn’t feel like a kid when it happened. I felt…older.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.”
Before they could say anything else, they both heard their mothers calling them for breakfast. The two got up and headed for the dining room, without another word of what happened in the room or their nightmares.
That was how they left and kept things. The two figured that by not talking about the incident, they could just forget about it, bury it, put it behind them like a distant cloud. And for years it looked as if they succeeded. Until one day, in December 2020, the little cloud spread and became a storm that obscured the sky. But in a different way, it was when darkness was finally brought to light.
After twenty-eight years, the two ended up very differently. Abigail remained single, and after her parents died from sepsis shortly after Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, she inherited their house. She became an English teacher for a private school. It was a difficult job, especially during the covid pandemic, but it was the best she could get given the circumstances.
Ashley married a man named Gardan Angelo Mercado but kept her family name, becoming Ashley Charlene R. Dominic-Mercado. She also became a human resources staff for an online english tutorial center company in Quezon City. Because of the covid pandemic, the company developed a work from home setup for all its employees, not just its tutors. That setup had its own share of positives and negatives but ultimately, Ashley loved her job for it.
The two had drifted apart over the years. They only spent Christmases together anymore and hadn’t talked much recently. Thus, Abigail never imagined the circumstances in which she and Ashley would next meet. It was Saturday morning when she got a call from her Tita (aunt) Jessica – Ashley’s mother…
“Tita?” she asked, hearing her aunt’s sobs over the phone. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s your cousin,” her aunt said between sobs.
“What happened?” Abigail asked, her heart beating fast as she feared the worst.
Abigail’s legs suddenly felt weak. She collapsed to a chair near the phone. She couldn’t talk for a full minute. When she did, she asked in a stutter: “W-what happened?”
“It’s all over the news and social media,” her aunt blurted out. A few more sobs, then she added: “A cop shot her and her husband.”
Abigail could feel the tears streaking down her cheeks as grief suddenly welled up inside her. But another emotion was subtly growing inside her as well: fear. Still, she managed to ask: “Where is her body now?”
“They’re still doing forensic tests on it,” Tita Jessica said. “They want to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of that sonofabitch cop who killed her.”
“When will they give her back to you?”
“I don’t know,” Tita Jessica said. “All I know is that cop must pay!”
Abigail let her aunt wail before asking her next question. “Did they identify him?”
“The police won’t give his name yet, but the people on social media are trying to get his name from the uniform he was wearing on the video.”
“Where are you now?”
“At the police station in Quezon city.”
“I’ll be there. Just wait for me.”
Without another word, Abigail replaced the phone on its handset. She was about to head to her room to take a shower and get changed when she heard someone ring the doorbell. Angrily, she rushed to the door and opened it, nearly shouting: “What?!”
“I have a delivery here from Abigail Shiela Ruiz Francisco,” a motorcycle delivery man said, showing a package the size of a shoe box.
“Delivery? Who’s it from?” Abigail asked, regaining some composure.
“Ashley Charlene Ruiz Dominic-Mercado.”
Abigail felt her heart skip a beat. “What?!”
“That’s the name written here,” the deliveryman said.
Impossible, Abigail thought. “When did she send this?”
“Two days ago, ma’am. But I wasn’t late, I was given specific instructions to deliver it to this address exactly on this date and time.”
In spite of her disbelief, Abigail nodded. “How much do I have to pay?”
“Zero. It was already paid for by the one who had it delivered.”
“Okay, just give it to me.”
The deliveryman did, after he took a picture of the package and she signed a piece of paper. Once he was gone, she took the package inside the house and opened it. Inside she found only two things: a letter apparently handwritten by Ashley, and a familiar-looking mirror. Ashley felt a familiar chill when she realized that it was the same mirror from their grandmother’s room.
After a few minutes of struggling to overcome her dread, Abigail took the letter and read it. A flood of different emotions swept her as she read the letter from her dead cousin.
If you’re reading this, it means I’m already dead. How, when, and why, only the two of us may know. I knew this would happen; I saw it happen when we looked into grandma’s mirror back in 1992. I just didn’t want to believe it, and I tried to prevent it. But I knew, after I saw that policeman stalking me the other day and recognized him as the one that killed me in my vision, that it was inevitable. His name is Jorel Bert Ladiv Naram.
I also know that you can look back into the past and prove that he did it – if nobody ever catches him on video, or if he tries to silence any witnesses – because you’ve done it before. After I realized that my vision was inevitable, I figured that your vision was historical, so I did some research and identified the man you saw. His name was Simeon Bernardo, and he was the one buried in the grave with the demon statue in Malabon Cemetery. The Spanish government learned that he refused to accept the Church’s teachings, and punished him by imprisoning him and torturing him, beating him, and making him drink water that nobody should ever have to drink.
When I made the connection between your vision and the grave, I realized that the mirror we looked into in grandma’s room let us see different times: the past for you and the future for me. I have no more future after this, but you can look into the past using the mirror and give the authorities the details that will help put this bad cop away before he hurts anyone else.
When Abigail finished reading, her hands were trembling from a strange mixture of dread, grief, and anger. After a few minutes of deliberation, she resolved to use the mirror to find out what really happened to Ashley. At first the mirror didn’t seem to work, until sunlight hit it. Once thus illuminated, she saw exactly what happened to her cousin.
It was what Ashley saw in her vision, only this time, since Abigail was the one “seeing” it, she “witnessed” it as a disembodied spectator, much like in the other vision with the man being tortured. She saw Ashley in the front passenger’s side of a car, with her husband Gardan at the driver’s seat. Gardan was speaking with a cop through the pulled-down window, and the cop was shouting back. Suddenly, the cop punched Gardan. While Gardan spat out blood, the cop forced open the driver’s door and dragged Gardan out. As soon as Gardan was on the ground, the cop started kicking him. Ashley got out of the car and tried to get the cop off her husband. The cop angrily slapped her away. Gardan finally got up and struck the cop. Unfortunately, the cop drew his gun and shot Gardan dead. Without missing a beat, he looked at Ashley, and shot her too. The vision ended there, but before it did, Abigail, in her disembodied state, saw the face of the cop and the name on his uniform: Naram.
Naram. It was among the few thoughts Abigail could think of as she drove to the police station. The others were what he did to her cousin and how she could lead the policeman to him without revealing to them how she knew that he was the murderer. As it turned out, it was a moot point.
When she met her aunt and her husband at the police station, she quickly asked if they found the murderer yet. To her suprise, her aunt said yes. The policeman talking to the old couple explained it to her:
“Officer Jorel Bert Ladiv Naram already turned himself in and confessed,” the police officer said.
“Why’d he do it?” Abigail demanded.
“A few bystanders caught him on video and uploaded the video on social media. He must have figured that it was only a matter of time before we found him, and so he thought it might be easier for him if he just turned himself in.”
“No, I mean why did he kill my cousin?”
“We don’t know yet. But from what some of his coworkers in the force say, he was obsessed with that lady he killed. Probably he fell into a rage when she rejected him and decided to kill her for it.” The policeman paused, then added: “But for now that’s all just speculation.”
It’s closer to the truth than you think, Abigail thought.
“What now?” Tita Jessica asked.
“You can have your daughter’s body back, ma’am. That video of him pretty much speaks for itself, as does his admission of guilt, so we won’t need to run forensic tests anymore. I would recommend that you start making arrangements for your daughter’s funeral.”
I have an idea, Abigail thought as her aunt started wailing again.
A few days later, they buried Ashley in the same plot of land as her maternal grandparents. Her husband was buried with his grandparents on his side of the family. It seemed controversial to split the two up, but after checking with the living members of both sides of the family, it seemed the only decision that everyone was amenable to.
During the burial, Abigail thought a lot about what her cousin wrote. In a way, Ashley was lucky that there were spectators who caught the murder on camera – the video made it easier to bring the killer cop to justice. But what about all the other incidents of police brutality and extra judicial killings that happened in the country without being caught on camera? If Abigail could somehow control the visions given to her by the mirror, she could help the victims by bringing their killers to justice, a lot like that boy in the horror movie who saw dead people and who used his gift to aid ghosts in settling their unfinished business in the world of the living. But would she dare to?
After the burial, Abigail walked back to her car alone. By a strange coincidence, she found herself passing by the same grave she and Ashley had visited twenty-eight years ago, the one with the statue of the devil standing over the statue of the archangel, Simeon Bernardo’s grave. She approached it, and saw the plaque behind it – the plaque that had words most of which she couldn’t understand then, but could clearly understand now. She decided to read it. As it turned out, it was actually a script between the Devil and the Archangel:
LUCIFER: Bakit ka nakikialam sa kaharian ko dito sa lupa, ay hindi na kayo kundi ako ang hari, ako ang nagturo kay Eva at Adan kaya nagkaroon ng sangkatauhan. [LUCIFER: Why are you interfering in my kingdom here on earth, where you’re not the ruler anymore? I am the one who taught Eve and Adam, that’s why mankind emerged.]
SAN MIGUEL: Ang lupa at langit ay gawa ng aking Panginoon, kaya hanggang dito ang aming kapangyarihan. [SAINT MICHAEL: The heaven and earth were both created by my Lord, so our powers reach even here.]
LUCIFER: Bulaan hambog, kung ano ang ibig ko, siya ritong masusunod at hindi ang ibig mo – digmaan, arihan, dayaan, sugal. Lahat ng layaw ng katawan naibibigay ko sa tao, pati mga alagad ng mga Panginoon mo, napapasunod ko, ano pa ang ginagawa mo rito? [LUCIER: Arrogant liar! What I want here is obeyed, not what you want – war, wealth, fraud, gambling. All the bodily comforts – I can give it to mankind. I can even make your Lord’s servants obey me. So what are you doing here?]
SAN MIGUEL (SA SARILI): Panginoon kong nasa langit nasaan ang kapangyarihan Mo? [SAINT MICHAEL (TO SELF): Oh my Lord God in heaven, where is Your power?]
SAN MIGUEL: Tao, tulungan ninyo ako na labanan ang kasamaan, pairalin ang katarungan at pag-ibig sa kapwa, iwasan ang kasakiman sa salapi at kapangyarihan na pinagmumulan ng ligalig. [SAINT MICHAEL: People, help me fight evil, exercise justice and love for your neighbors, avoid greed for wealth and the power coming from bodily wants.]
After reading the whole thing only once, Abigail took a deep breath and made her decision…
John Paul Lama is a yondan (4th degree) blackbelt in Shotokan karate in ISKF Philippines. He is currently finishing his Master’s Degree in Basic Education Teaching. He enjoys reading philosophy and watching horror movies.
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