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CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 1)
MAYA did not exactly wake up refreshed. A few hours of sleep was not the problem; she was used to it. Nor was it the hour of the day. It was her fitful sleep, that was the problem. She had trouble falling asleep at first as her mind was filled with thoughts connected to her and Santi’s newest discovery.
She had been waiting for news from Santi, news that could confirm that the holes in the skulls were, in fact, made by at least one monster. She had lent him the concoction. But he had not called or sent a text message and it was keeping her anxious. Then she fell asleep only to wake up abruptly from a nightmare. First, there was Santi literally offering her a human heart, then cut to a scene with giant mosquitoes having a wonderful time in Boracay and sipping juice, except they were not holding coconuts, but human heads!
Maya shook her own head to send the image away. I must really have the most active imagination…Defeated, she went down to go to her personal gym and de-stress.
She loved her house. She found an ideal lot in a quiet subdivision two years ago and put up her ideal place, complete with enough space for a garden. The walls and gate were high enough to keep people away. She had even put up a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign when she did not have a dog. The yard had space for a garage but she kept her newly acquired car parked outside the gate. It was a safe neighborhood, so far.
The house itself appeared to have only one storey with the living room greeting guests (which was not often, she could hardly remember the last time she had company), the kitchen-slash-dining room at guests’ right, and four steps leading to two rooms elevated from the ground. In truth, Maya had a basement as well, the gym with sound-proofed walls covering the entire floor area. It could only be accessed from her bedroom, one of the elevated rooms. A secret door and stairs led to her secret training room. She had thought it was better to keep it a secret in case, for some reason, a guest wandered into it.
It was where she practiced her combat skills and other unconventional things. It was also where she kept her weapons and it would not be easy to explain, for instance, what a buntot-page was doing in her collection, or how she acquired a real katana, and weren’t bottles of water and condiments supposed to be kept in the kitchen area? She could make up stories, but that would really be such a bother. She had made up too many stories already.
On the right side of the spacious gym was a very worn-out punching bag that Maya boxed, kicked, kneed, and elbowed to practice her martial arts on whenever she was not attending actual classes outside. She had learned these intense fighting skills long before they became the “in” things in the Philippines. Joining classes was not for her to be considered “cool”, though. She was much too old to care about such things. But still, the best way to master her martial arts was to practice on others, at least with one sparring partner. She just could not anymore count the times she was asked to join competitions for women, to which she always said no. To accept would be fool-hardy—she did not want the attention as much as possible, plus it would be downright cheating, her being her. She knew her opponents would not stand a chance. It was hard enough trying not to hurt a sparring partner.
Besides, despite what she did, Maya never took pleasure in hurting other human beings. Whenever she had to, it was in self-defense or to defend someone else, and never lethal. It was, after all, what all the martial arts were about. They were made for the purpose of self-preservation and defense, not for destruction. Too bad that many times, Maya had to use them to destroy, however just the cause.
What could she do? Fate brought her there. And if self-preservation wasn’t a human instinct, perhaps she should already be dead. People would most probably call her immortal if they knew, yet that was far from the truth. There was no such thing as immortality. That was the myth. There was only longevity and the incredible will to survive, probably even coupled with a lot of skill and luck. Survival of the fittest.
Her personal circumstances just happened to be different. It was not that she could not get hurt. Her aging may had been in slow motion five or six times more, and she could heal much faster than the average person, but dying was just as possible to happen to her. It was also her reality. She could get hurt, shot, stabbed, hit, and anything fatal could be the end of her. Surviving was simply the result of human instinct. She, instinctively, simply refused to die.
But the scars were there as constant reminders of her mortality. In a sense, she loved what her scars reminded her of. Meanwhile, they were also what reminded her of people’s fragility, and that was what kept her reluctantly alive for so long. Fate brought her there for a purpose, and maybe it was hers alone to bear. How many people like her did she know? As far as she knew, Gabilani was the only other person alive on earth who existed like her. That was, granted that he was still alive.
Gabilani, where are you…?
Thinking about him only made Maya angry, she realized, as she boxed and kicked, elbowed and kneed her poor punching bag with much more intensity. Of all the people in the world, why was she the one given this mission? Why did the only person she could count on choose to leave her side?
Well, not exactly the only person I can count on, she remembered, her blows softening. There was Santi. Sweet, ever-dependable Santi. He was reluctant at first, unable to accept the new reality he faced. But once he realized his possible role in the whole scheme of things, he became her willing ally. Sometimes, she even had to stop him from overdoing it.
As an initiative, Santi took an extra two-year training abroad, learning more from the other branches of forensic science, to find out more beyond what bones could tell him. It was almost a never-ending occurrence of overseas calls between them just so she could consult him on things related to his expertise. However, he also found time getting trained in Muay Thai. The better to help Maya with. It became their cause of argument when he got back, though, with him insisting on helping her hunt, with her insisting that he did not.
Once, she let him accompany her and it almost got him killed. “That’s it!” she told him. “I will not endanger your life…Santi, you can help me more with your brains. Your place is in the lab. Either you stay there or you don’t help me at all!” With that, Maya won her argument. He knew he could not change her mind.
That was three years ago. Santi had since concentrated on the forensic side of things and set up a laboratory in the Philippines. Which only made Maya feel guilty. Santi had a potentially successful career abroad and yet, he gave it all up so he could help her. He even partnered with the NBI to gain access to some cases and mainly, to avoid probable suspicion against him. Someone investigating bodies and bones when he was not yet supposed to would have definitely alerted the authorities. So why not make it more “legal”? Meanwhile, like a couple on dates, Santi would meet Maya at funeral parlors in a kind of twisted trysts involving dead bodies. How lovely.
He had complained about that countless times, but Maya could not see anything to go around it. Whenever she found bodies that bore marks suggesting non-human causes, she had to act fast before the authorities could be alerted, if at all. She knew they would not be considered victims of the non-human kind. The cases would be simply treated as murder or manslaughter, then good luck if they would be solved, or if no innocent got wrongly convicted.
No amount of investigation, however modern, could help unless the authorities were open to accepting the supernatural as facts. And so, Maya was left with no choice but to convince, in any way possible, the victims’ families that she could help bury the dead properly for free. She was unsuccessful with some, particularly the rich or well-to-do, but so far, her success rate was also impressive, given that most of the families were poor. For instance, having established the idea that she was “like SOCO” people, it was easier to convince Anita Subido to let Maya take everything from there.
Normally, the dead was left untouched until the forensics team arrived. Onlookers were kept meters away from the body by yellow tapes covering the crime scene, or at least the area where the remains were found. The assigned entrance would be the assigned exit as well. These were to keep unauthorized people away and avoid contaminating or compromising the area that could destroy or rid of any possible evidence. Even the smallest matter mattered. That was the normal SOP. But being killed by any aswang was far from the normal world that many times, Maya knowingly violated this whole primary investigative procedure…
Maya stopped hitting the punching bag. That seemed like one already-dead body, too, so badly beaten up, she would have to replace it for the nth time.
A quick glance at the wall clock told her it was way past three in the afternoon. She decided to stop training entirely and drop by Santi’s lab for her answers.
In half-an-hour, she was on her way.
*Boracay – a beach island in the Philippines known for its white sands and that has become a popular tourist destination
* buntot-page – tail (buntot) of stingray (page)
* katana – sharpest and most deadly samurai sword