Cradle to the grave
By John Paul Lama
It all began with a careless act.
Francis Reynaldo Santones and Sonya Clarisse Amata were a young couple in the Philippines with a problem. He got her pregnant, and they were clearly unprepared for it. They were college freshmen in their twenties, with no money or residence beyond what their parents gave them. Even worse, they both had younger siblings to take care of and were supposed to support their families once they had graduated from college. It would be a tough, uphill battle to graduate from college, let alone get jobs to support their families if they had the baby.
If. Ever since Sonya came to him with the positive pregnancy test, the two had chatted online if they should have the baby. They had not told anyone about the pregnancy yet, not even their parents, but they both knew most of the reasons people would give for and against keeping the baby: they would be punished for their sin, they do not have the money to raise a child, a baby has a right to life, a woman should ultimately choose what should happen to her body, they are abdicating their responsibility, the world is overpopulated, etc. After a few more days of discussing it secretly, and with signs of her pregnancy becoming more difficult to hide, they agreed not to keep it.
The two decided to go to a clinic one late Saturday afternoon. Their parents suspected nothing because they usually went on dates on Saturdays all the way to the night. Upon meeting at the mall that afternoon, the two took a taxi to the clinic. Fortunately for them, there was a taxi pick-up/drop-off point not too far from the clinic; they didn’t have to worry about transportation on the way back. Unfortunately, the street from the pick-up/drop-off point was barely maintained; the streetlights were apparently all broken, there was litter everywhere, and there were strays running all over. They didn’t consider the last until it was too late.
Sonya woke up in the backseat of the taxi. She had a distinct sense of déjà vu as she had already done this before, but she dismissed the idea. More importantly, she felt like she should not go through with the operation. It was strange that she was getting cold feet now because she and Francis had been quietly resolute about it since their agreement. She guessed it was one thing to discuss it, and another to actually do it.
“Up already?” Francis asked from the front passenger seat. “Good. Because we’re almost there.”
“Are you going to ‘that’ place?” the taxi driver asked as they slowly drove into the unlit street. He turned on the headlights, which only gave them a few feet of forward visibility.
“What do you mean?” Francis asked, his tone defensive.
“Me and my friends drive a lot of couples like you to ‘that’ place. We know what they do there.”
“It’s none of your business,” Francis snapped.
“Right,” the taxi driver said with a hint of sarcasm. “Better be careful. Lots of things can happen.”
“Shut up,” Francis said.
“Wait,” Sonya said abruptly. “Let’s stop. We should-“
Before she could finish, they all saw something run across the street. The taxi driver swerved to avoid it, and they ended up crashing into one of the lamp posts. Sonya’s final thought before slipping to unconsciousness was a question as to why a boar was crossing a street in the middle of the night.
Because the street was not too far from the taxi drop-off/pick-up point, some of the other taxi drivers heard the crash. One of them went to the source of the noise and called for an ambulance upon finding the crashed taxi. The ambulance arrived minutes later. Only Francis was conscious when the paramedics transported them from the taxi to the ambulance…
By the time Sonya woke up, it was early morning the next day. Francis was there…and so were her parents. She saw Francis looking dejectedly at the ground, her mother sobbing, and her father looking with contempt at both her and Francis.
“Sonya!” her father practically shouted upon seeing her awake. “You idiot! Do you have any idea-“
“Enough, Albert!” her mother cried, intervening. “Your daughter almost died and this is what you say to her? Let her rest, she’s had enough for today!”
“Our daughter, Esther! Remember?! Our daughter! And look at the trouble our daughter got herself into!” Her father stormed out and her mother followed. Once they were gone, Francis approached her, obviously relieved that the two were gone.
“How are you?” he asked, holding her hands in his.
“I’ve been better,” she said. “Where are your parents?”
“Taking care of my siblings. Besides, I’m well enough to move around. I don’t need them flying circles around me.”
She then asked: “Did you tell my parents?”
There was a pause, then he answered: “Yes. They would have figured it out anyway. The doctors did all sorts of tests on you when you got here, including a pregnancy test…” His voice then trailed off, not wanting to continue.
“Well, you were pregnant,” he said gravely.
“Oh,” she said quietly. She remained quiet, letting the news sink in.
“Not exactly how we planned it, but it’s what we agreed to do.”
“We didn’t plan anything.”
“Francis, if we had only done more planning, we wouldn’t have had to agree to do it.”
He frowned. “Are you feeling guilty?”
“Yes,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek.
“You don’t need to feel guilty. That car crash was an accident, it was-“
“If we hadn’t decided to get rid of it, the accident wouldn’t have happened.”
“Why are you being like this? We both agreed to-“
“You don’t know what it’s like,” she said, crying now. “I…I just…I just feel so guilty, like I’ve done something unforgivable!”
“Look,” he said, trying to comfort her. “If you’re going to blame someone, blame that asshole driver. He was the one behind the wheel, he was the one who got us into this predicament-” He stopped as if remembering something.
“What happened to him?” she asked.
“He didn’t make it,” Francis said.
“Great, now we have two deaths on our conscience-“
“No. It wasn’t our fault. He was the one driving.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” she asked. This time, he didn’t answer.
She didn’t say anything for a while either until her gaze drifted down to his arm and noticed a long, deep cut there recently stitched together. What made it from his other cuts and bruises on him was how long and deep it was, like it was intentionally done by someone or something.
“You got that from the crash?”
“No. It was a boar that did it. After the crash it just broke the window and cut me up,” he said.
“You saw it too?” she asked, stunned.
“Of course. Why?”
She was about to speak but decided against it. “Nothing. I just thought I hallucinated it.” She then settled back to her bed.
The doctors had Sonya stay in the hospital for observation for a few more days. As much as Francis wanted to stay by her side, he had to go back home to help in the house and go back to school. Sonya, on the other hand, had her parents by her side the whole time because they requested Tita (Aunt) Marcie to take care of her siblings and the house while they watched over her. Her father already got most of his rants out of his system on her first day in the hospital, and her mother already talked some sense into him, so he didn’t spend the whole time condemning and sermonizing to his daughter.
The stay at the hospital was uneventful, until the final night. On that night, Sonya awoke to find her mother asleep on her bedside, and a woman dressed in white by the doorway with her back to them. At first, she thought it was a nurse, but then the woman turned around. Sonya couldn’t see her face, but clearly saw what she carried. It appeared to be a baby in swaddling clothes, but when she saw its face, she saw that it was a dead baby. At that point, she woke up in cold sweat. There was no sign of the woman in white or the dead baby. She wrote the whole thing off as a nightmare.
When they finally returned home, the first to greet them were Sonya’s younger siblings: 10-year-old Peter and 8-year-old Lila. Her parents must have explained the situation to them because they were far less energetic than they usually were, even grim. Her Tita Marcie, who had been cooking lunch when they arrived, finally came down to greet them. Strangely, Tita Marcie had a look of fear on her instead of the sombre look that Sonya expected. She quickly hid it, though, and said they should eat lunch.
Sonya stayed in her room for the rest of the day. She was not in the mood to do housework, catch up with her studies, or even chat with Francis on her cellphone. Her mother understood and asked their Tita Marcie to help out while Sonya rested. Tita Marcie agreed. At first, Sonya thought she was just being sympathetic, until Tita Marcie visited her in her room that night when everyone else was asleep.
“Tita Marcie?” Sonya asked groggily. “What are you doing up at this hour?”
“I need to ask you something,” she said urgently.
“Did anything strange happen to you…before that crash?”
“What do you mean strange?”
“Anything out of the ordinary. Like, did you meet a woman in white?”
Sonya straightened up. Her aunt was from the province and thus more superstitious than her parents. She even claimed to be able to see paranormal entities. Normally, Sonya didn’t put much stock into what her aunt had to say about such things, but after seeing the woman with the baby in the hospital, she wasn’t so quick to disregard it.
“No,” she answered. Well, not before the crash, anyway…
“What about anything inhuman? Like a strange animal that seems out of place?”
This time, Sonya realized the connection immediately. “I saw a boar before that crash. The taxi driver had to swerve to avoid it, so in a way, it caused the crash.”
Tita Marcie relaxed somewhat. “It wasn’t a boar. It was a demon.”
“How do you know that?” Sonya asked, uneasy.
“When I saw you back from the hospital, I sensed two paranormal entities around you. One was a woman in white. The other was a boar demon.”
Sonya felt a sense of creeping dread. “Why would paranormal entities be around me?”
“Good question. That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”
Instead of answering, Sonya’s eyes darted to her left and right. “Are they still around me?”
“The woman in white is not here right now. But the boar…”
Tita Marcie gave a nod, gesturing behind Sonya. “He’s outside your window.”
Sonya turned around and got the shock of her life when she saw a humanoid creature with a boar’s head standing out her window. Instead of attacking, it seemed to grin at her, then disappeared.
“Wh-What does it want?” Sonya stammered.
“This demon seems to want to torment you specifically,” her aunt explained. “If it revealed itself to you before the crash, that means it’s singled you out.”
Sonya’s eyes widened when she realized something. “I wasn’t the only one it revealed itself to.”
Tita Marcie frowned. “Who else saw it?”
Francis was in a cold sweat when Sonya called him on his phone. Just minutes ago, he had a nightmare of being attacked in bed by a strange woman in white. Except it wasn’t a nightmare and the woman wasn’t a stranger; his forearm still had marks where she had scratched him.
Dammit, Sally, why couldn’t you just leave me alone? he cursed silently as he answered his phone. It was Sonya.
“Francis, are you all right?” she asked, concerned.
“Yeah…” he lied, not wanting to worry her. Then he realized she was already worried. “What’s wrong?”
“This is going to sound crazy, but I think we’re being haunted,” she said straightforwardly.
He paused, then cautiously asked: “Why do you say that?”
“I saw that boar again from the crash. It was right outside my window. And it didn’t look like a normal boar. It looked…demonic.”
He didn’t say if he believed he or not; instead, he asked another question: “Did you see anybody or anything else strange?”
“No,” she said. At least, not today, she added, remembering the woman in white who visited her in the hospital.
“I see.” She expected him to relax when he replied, but his tension was audible.
“Francis, why are you so distraught? Did you see it too?”
“N-No. I just think that someone is following me,” he said.
“I don’t know,” he lied. “I gotta go. I don’t want to wake up anyone. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Before letting Sonya return to bed, Tita Marcie promised to do what she could to stop the paranormal entities from haunting Sonya. In the meantime, she gave Sonya an amulet and told her to keep it on her at all times. After what she saw in the hospital and out her window Sonya, obeyed with no reluctance whatsoever.
The next day, Sonya was feeling well enough to return to school already. Acknowledging that she had to attend classes or risk failing, her parents allowed her to do so. Before leaving, her Tita Marcie spoke to her in private about what happened last night.
“I checked my books once you went to bed last night,” Tita Marcie said. “I suspect that the creature we saw is a demon called bkybngwn. It’s an evil spirit that kills and torments its victims. But this demon doesn’t do anything on its own, it has to be summoned by someone for a purpose, usually revenge, and whoever summoned it has to sacrifice a soul to it.”
“But why take revenge on me? I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“I don’t think whoever’s behind this wants revenge on you per se. I think this person wants revenge on your boyfriend and you got involved because you’re his girlfriend.”
Sonya considered that for a moment. Francis never told her if he had a girlfriend before her, but he didn’t talk much about his past. “So what should I do?”
“Talk to him. Ask him if he hurt someone who may want revenge.” Tita Marcie said. Then, in an urgent tone: “You have to tell me as soon as possible. I’m going home this afternoon. If you tell me before I leave, I may be able to find a way to stop the demon. If you tell me after, I’ll call you and tell you what I have.”
Sonya followed her Tita Marcie’s advice and messaged Francis to meet her at the library steps before first period. He agreed, but didn’t say anything else, which seemed odd. He wasn’t there when she arrived, however, so she figured he went inside. She quickly looked around the first floor and was just about to go up the second floor when she heard a muffled scream, followed by the door to the men’s restroom opening. A moment later, he ran out, practically into her arms. The door behind him closed from the force of his run.
“Francis!” she whispered, keeping her voice down. “What happened?!”
Pale and shaky, he stared at her for a few seconds before he finally answered. “She’s here.”
“Sally,” he said.
As if to answer her question, the door to the men’s restroom slowly opened on its own. Out came the woman in white, still carrying the dead infant. Francis and Sonya froze and stared at the pair. However, the woman in white only gave them an evil smile before disappearing.
About a minute passed before Sonya regained her wits. “Francis,” she said. “Let’s go someplace we can talk.”
The two cautiously went to a corner in the first floor, far enough to not disturb any students or library staff, but not too far to be unheard if they cried for help. Once there, she said: “I need to know who this Sally is.”
He looked at her apprehensively for a few seconds, then finally spoke. “Her name was Salome Montalban dela Cruz. She was a girl in the same school as me in senior high. We were friends…until I did something that ended our friendship.”
“A bunch of mean girls in our batch began bullying her, spreading rumors about her. I didn’t stand up for her because I didn’t want any trouble, I didn’t want any scandals following me after graduation. They kept bullying her until she couldn’t take it anymore.” He paused, then said: “She committed suicide by burning herself.”
“Wait. That incident sounds familiar. Did she release a suicide note online naming all of her bullies?”
He was stunned. “Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I read about it in the news a year ago. I forgot the names of the victim and the bullies but I remember how she killed herself and how she named her tormentors. Your story reminded me of it.” In truth, the reason she remembered it was because a similar fire happened in a house not too far from her parents’ house a few days before Sally’s suicide. But she didn’t bring that incident up because she didn’t see any obvious connection.
“I often wondered why she didn’t name me in her suicide note. Now I know.” He shook his head in a resigned manner. “She had a special revenge in mind for me.”
“But why take revenge on me too? I mean, she doesn’t even know me, and we weren’t even together when she committed suicide.” She knew she sounded selfish for saying it, but she had to say it.
“I don’t know. What I do know is we have to stop her somehow.”
“We better come up with a way soon, before she attacks you again.” She and her demonic summon, Sonya thought as she remembered the boar demon.
That afternoon, after saying goodbye to Francis, Sonya went straight home. She kept the amulet her aunt gave her safely around her neck, figuring it must have protected her from the ghost of Sally earlier in the library. The fact that the boar demon hadn’t attacked her or even shown up all day only reinforced her idea.
She had just gotten off the jeepney and was about to walk to the tricycle terminal to take the final tricycle home when she saw, to her surprise, her Tita Marcie waiting for her at the terminal. This was very strange, considering her aunt said she was going home that afternoon.
“Tita, what are you-“
“Shh,” her aunt interrupted, gesturing for her to be quiet before grabbing her hand and leading her away. “Follow me.”
“Where are we going?” Sonya asked as she was led away.
“Someplace we can talk in private.”
Tita Marcie led her to a vacant lot overgrown with grass. As soon as they came to a stop, Sonya asked: “Okay, we’re alone, now what do you need to tell me?”
“I found a way to stop the demon.” Tita Marcie said.
“You have to capture it while it is in its weakest physical form – the boar – then bind it with the amulet I gave you, and kill it.”
“How do I do that?”
“It’s already after you. Now you just have to lead it to a place where you can set a trap for it.”
“Do you remember that burned down house a few blocks from your parents’ house?”
“We’ll go there now.”
“Why now? Can’t we just do this tomorrow?”
“Who knows what else the boar demon will do the longer you wait? It already hurt you and your friend. It might hurt your family.”
Sonya realized her aunt was right. “How long will this take?”
“As soon as it shows up and you kill it, it’s over,” Tita Marcie reassured her.
“Okay.” Sonya said with a nod. I’m gonna get in so much trouble with mom and dad for this. But hey, I’m already in trouble.
Sonya and her Tita Marcie walked to the burned-down house. The sun had already set by the time they got there, and they only had the light of the moon and the streetlamps outside to see with.
Once inside, Tita Marcie stopped and took out a box. “Now, put the amulet in this box. We want it to follow you here, not to be scared off.”
Sonya hesitated, but in the end, relented. As soon as she put it in the box, Tita Marcie tossed it aside and grabbed her by the wrist with incredible strength.
“You just don’t know who to trust, do you, Sonya?” Tita Marcie said in an unfamiliar, inhuman voice.
Sonya tried to break free, but to no avail. “What are you talking about?! Let go, tita!” she demanded.
“You trusted your boyfriend and he got you pregnant. You trusted that driver and he got you injured. And you trusted…me.” Suddenly, Tita Marcie transformed into the boar demon. Sonya’s face twisted into an expression of utter horror. The boar demon let her go, but she didn’t run away. Instead, she collapsed to the floor in a sitting position with her hands supporting her.
“Wh-who are you?” she stuttered.
“I have so many names. But I prefer bkybngwn.”
“Are you here to kill me?”
“You’re already dead.”
Sonya could only stare dumbfounded at the boar demon. It answered her unspoken question: “Don’t you get it? You aborted your baby, but there were complications. You died with your baby.”
“If I’m dead, then how can I still be experiencing all this?”
“It’s part of my deal with Sally. In exchange for her life, I will kill and torture Francis. In exchange for the life of your baby, I will kill and torture you.” It gestured around. “All this is your own personal hell. And Francis’ personal hell is to have himself and his girlfriend be tortured and not be able to do anything about it.”
“But why?! What did Francis do that pissed this Sally off so much?!”
“What is just as important as why. She was a witch, born in a family of witches. And she kept that secret her whole life, even from her only friend Francis. He broke her trust when he found her diary and read it. It was a careless act, but one that he couldn’t take back. He got scared by what he read but he couldn’t just return it to her straight and admit he took it. Things got worse when he misplaced it and a bunch of girls read it. They spread rumors – which were closer to the truth than they imagined – and made her life a living hell. She wanted revenge on them for bullying her, and on Francis for violating her trust and allowing the whole thing to happen. She got her revenge on those bullies when she offered sacrifices to me.”
“What sacrifices?” she asked, but she already suspected the answer.
“The family that lived in this house,” it said, confirming her suspicion.
“Why didn’t you just kill Francis immediately? Why didn’t you just kill me immediately?”
“Part of my deal. I had to wait until he got a girl pregnant and the girl decided on her own to abort her baby.” It grinned. “It was worth the wait. You humans are so predictable and your suffering so palatable.”
“You delight in human suffering? You really are a monster!”
“A monster to some. An avenger to most. If you only knew how many humans have made deals with me so they can take revenge on those who have wronged them.”
“You think what you do is justice?!”
“There are many brands of justice, little one. Divine. Human. Even demonic.”
“You’re not some righteous avenger! You’re an evil monster who manipulates and hurts people!”
“I am not the one who is evil. I am summoned by the evil within humans to do their dirty work.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Sonya asked inasmuch as confusion as desperation.
“It increases my pleasure to see you humans realize that you only brought disaster on yourselves, and you can’t get yourselves out of it.”
Sonya hung her head and arms limp in resignation. “Kill me.”
“I already told you, you’re already dead.”
“I remove your memories. And watch you start all over again. Oh, I will change the details. Maybe your little brother will be my final disguise, or your little sister. Maybe you get crippled, or Francis. But make no mistake, this is already the second time you have relived this nightmare. And it will only get worse every time you relive it, and beg for your death, and repeat it over and over for the rest of eternity.”
“What are you going to do?” Sonya asked, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“You’ll find out. Time to wake up, Sonya.”
Sonya woke up in the backseat of the taxi. She had a distinct sense of déjà vu, like she had already done this before, but she dismissed the idea…
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.