Wow, I can’t believe it’s been more than a year since I last posted for this! I’m so sorry for being so lazy!…Well, not really lazy, but there are just things in life that I had to do first and this got sidelined. So now, I am continuing with it. This is my latest post for this. I am also currently editing a bit the first chapters. You know sometimes you read something again and now notice misspellings, wrong grammar, and even loopholes. That said, feel free to read the previous chapters and scenes, so check out the link below (especially because there is a very important explanation there…) 🙂

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.


Having puffed his last cigarette, Gabriel headed back to the doctor’s laboratory. He had taken a break from work for a few minutes. His stomach still felt like turning, but he made up his mind not to be affected. It was work, he thought, Deal with it. And so what if Dr. Rivas showed him bodies with all the guts and gore. He was tough, right? He had seen worse.

But then again, that was it. He had seen worse. Dealing with this kind of things now only brought back memories Gabriel had struggled to forget for years and he blamed himself for remembering. No, actually, he blamed the NBI for it. He had joined to fight crime, to do good in the world. How was he to know he would be assigned to do this? If only he could back out. But it was an order – an assignment, yes, but an order nonetheless. He put the blame back to himself for performing exceptionally well on the job that landed him this assignment in the first place.

Gabriel took a deep breath, turned the knob and pushed the door open.

What are you doing here? How did you get past – ”

Don’t worry, I didn’t sneak in. I simply kept bothering her until she gave in.”

Hmnn…I’m not surprised then.”

That she gave in?”

That you bothered her.”

Of course, he did not mean to eavesdrop, but he assumed he could simply go in, just as the doctor told him. So now, he heard a conversation between Dr. Rivas and someone whose consequent laughter practically made his heart race.

But you should not be here. I have – ”

Asyama’iya…?” Gabriel cut Dr. Rivas mid-sentence, as two surprised people stared at him and he stared back at particularly one of them. No wonder his being reacted the way it did – he stood there staring at the face he missed most yet did not exactly want to see.

GABILANI!!!” Maya screamed and within seconds, she threw her arms around his neck, causing them both to almost topple over a gurney that fortunately held no skeleton or body on it. “Diyos ko! You’re here! It’s really you!!!” she exclaimed, jumping up and down excitedly. Gabriel was rendered speechless for a while.

Dr. Rivas cleared his throat and Maya finally let go. “You know each other?” he asked. Maya answered an ecstatic “YES!!!” but the doctor’s eyes were kept on Gabriel. “You called her Asyama’iya…”

Gabriel wanted to know, too, why the two knew each other, how come, how well, but he decided not to ask. “Uh…We’re…old friends,” was his reply, an answer he thought was most appropriate to give to someone who was a stranger to him. Maya knew this; a standard reply to such a potentially dangerous question. Knowing Maya, she would not tell a soul so he knew it was the most plausible answer to give.

You,…she called you Gabilani. That is a very rare name, I believe, and there’s only one person she calls by that name…”

So she did tell a soul. How could she! “Like I said, we’re old friends.” He cast Maya an accusing look, but she did not seem anywhere near being remorseful. She was just smiling from ear to ear. He missed that smile. This was not the time nor place to be nostalgic, though. This was not how he wanted to see her again. “But I suppose I don’t need to explain myself.”

Of course, not, Agent Gatdula. Or should I call you Gabilani?” The doctor’s eyes squinted testily.

I prefer Agent Gatdula.”

Maya exclaimed, “Ay! I’m so bad, sorry!” She took Gabriel’s hand and dragged him towards the other man for proper introductions. “Santi, this is Gabilani, A.K.A. Gabriel, that’s what I’d prefer you call him. He’s been my bestfriend since…forever. Gabriel, this is Santi, also my bestfriend since some years ago – there’s no quota on bestfriends. He’s been helping me.”

To him, “Nice touch on the Gatdula, by the way, so nationalistic. It was Gabriel Tatlonghari when last I saw you.” To Santi, “It was Christmas when we thought he needed a new last name. Before that, he was Benjamin…what was your last name then?”

I forgot. I find no reason – ”

Sulayman! Like the rajah in history!” She laughed. But Gabriel recognized it was not at all due to amusement, rather, more like a way to mask her nerves. Yes, she was nervous after all, he could tell now. He did not expect this perky girl in front of him, and in some way, he was a bit glad to see her like this, but the nervous laughter gave her away.

It seemed that Santi, the doctor, knew it, too, as he stared at her. But how could she! Why Santi? Why him, of all people? Gabriel could not help but feel quite annoyed at this. What was Maya thinking? Or could it be she had plans? What could they be? Did Gabriel really want to know?

I know, guys, let’s celebrate this reunion a bit. Let’s go to the deli, my treat.”

Before they could protest, she was already dragging them both to the door.


 *Tatlonghari – an actual Filipino last name made up of the two words, “tatlo” and “hari” , which mean “three” and “king” respectively

*Rajah Sulayman – a rajah, which means king or an heir to the throne, in Philippine history





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AGENT Gabriel Gatdula tried not to frown but he had not much patience today. “In common English, Doc,” he reminded. “If you can tell me in Tagalog or Bisaya, that would be nice.”

Dr. Rivas, the forensic scientist in his lab attire, looked at him with a mixture of irritation and mild surprise. He probably had no patience to deal with Gabriel as well. Too bad, though. They had to deal with each other today.

I’m sorry,” Dr. Rivas said, not looking sorry at all. “It’s just you’re from the NBI, so I thought you’d be well-versed on this already.”

We’re the field guys, Doc. We collect what might be evidence from the crime scene, but we don’t interpret these types of evidence. You do,” Gabriel explained patiently, not looking patient at all himself.

Oo-kaaayy….” The scientist cleared his throat and began to explain once more. He directed Gabriel’s attention to the two tables in front of them, each with bones neatly assembled to form skeletons on them. “As I’ve told you, here we have the victims. This first one, we have identified quickly enough through the Automated Fingerprint Identity System, which is, if you know it, is the AFIS. This guy’s name is Rolando Orneza.”

Gabriel looked at the first formed skeleton, its head and limbs detached from the trunk. “Orneza. Yes, I read the initial reports. The body parts were found in various locations. The trunk was found at the pile of trash at the back of a restaurant in Tomas Morato. The legs found their way to the field near Los Baños. One arm was floating in Manila Bay. One arm along NLEX—I bet that’s the one that’s a bit flattened out, so that makes that other one over there the one from Manila Bay. And the head, it was found—no—sent to the NBI in a box wrapped like a Christmas gift.”

Correct.” The doctor seemed ready to yawn.

But something like this isn’t new. How can you be so sure these parts were all his?”

Well, aside from the DNA matches, all the ‘kerf marks’ match.”

The what?”

The marks that any particular saw or anything similar to it leaves, left by the sharp tooth of the tool used to cut something in pieces. Or to cut someone, in this case. In Orneza’s case, they all match like puzzle pieces. We didn’t even have to look hard to guess his own tool was used against him. He’s a carpenter, as you probably already know.”

Putting on a surgical mask like the doc, Gabriel bent down to observe the ‘kerf marks’. “That’s not the weapon used to kill him, though, right? Not unless he was tied up and slowly tortured with the cutting.” He straightened up to find the doctor studying him. He felt like one of the specimens.

He was hanged, based on his hyoid. That’s the bone at the base of the tongue, a U-shaped bone, and it broke…Before we peeled away the flesh, there were visible marks around the neck.”

P-peeled away…?”

Yes. We can’t determine the marks yet, though; certainly not rope or any material we can already identify. Anyway, his tongue was sticking out, too, so you know, as they say, we ‘put two and two together’ …,” Dr. Rivas explained, then added another popular phrase, “It doesn’t take a scientist to guess that our guy died ‘hanging on to dear life’, right?”

He continued, “It’s like this. In young people, the hyoid is not easy to break, not by simple choking. Orneza, we found, was just twenty-two. That means, it took a lot of strength to kill him by breaking the hyoid. He is tall by general Filipino standards, six-feet-one, so it should have been a really strong or tall person, or maybe device, that did him in.” The next thing he said, Gabriel noted, somewhat made the specialist uneasy for some reason. “He—uh—has a hole on his head, by the way.”

He was quick to say, “Bullet.”

I have my doubts about it…There are no exit wounds anywhere and we didn’t find any bullet at all in his head. No one could have retrieved it either as it would have created more damage on his skull. So I really doubt that the killer has been walking around for days with paraffin residue on his hand.”

The doctor stopped, seeming to be waiting for him to say something. He could not think of any, at least not anything intelligent, and he did not want it to be obvious.

Dr. Rivas moved on to the next skeleton which, when assembled like that, seemed to have been rather tall when he had flesh and was still a living person. “No name yet for this one, he’s new. We’re waiting for the DNA test result. The man was so badly burned, though, I am not sure how accurate the result will be.”

What about the teeth? People can be identified by their teeth, right?”

Sure. That’s called forensic odontology.”

Who cares what it is called?, Gabriel almost blurted out.

Unfortunately, we don’t have forensic odontologists here. Those I actually know aren’t from here. Also, his teeth had all been pulled out, anyway.” His grimaced did not escape the doctor’s eyes. “Yes, ouch. Well, we are still doing something about it, but that eats time and we want to identify this guy the shortest time possible. Anyway, our best chance for now is on the DNA results. One thing is for sure—he’s Caucasian.”

And you know that how?”

It’s the skull. For instance,” the doctor started pointing at parts of the specimen, “see here—high-bridged nose, long and kind of narrow nasal aperture. Indicative of Caucasian features. Here, too. If he was Filipino, the jawbone should show Asian mandibular traits. This one does not at all come in contact with the surface of the table when Asian jawbones should. Jawbones are really helpful in forensic investigations such as this…Basically, we identify ancestry, age, gender by looking at the bones, particularly the skull. So far, what we know is this skeleton belonged to a fifty to fifty-five year old Caucasian man.”

What if the DNA results turn out to be inaccurate?”

Then we might have to reconstruct the face with clay. That will eat time, too, as sculptors and creative artists need to consider a lot of things. We are not talking about artists’ interpretations of what a face should be, and this is not for some movie where they can just cast clay over an actor’s face. They need the most accurate facial depth measurements and to approximate muscle structures here and there for the reconstruction to work. This time, it’s not all about art. It’s science at work.”

Gabriel had to admit to himself he was thankful for science. He hadn’t been a man of science ever since he could remember, but it did not mean he never appreciated technology. There was a time, though, that there was no need for such a thing. It was so much easier. Now, would he have preferred that time? He was not at all sure. Maybe he would rather not need reasons such as identifying skeletons to prefer anything.

How about I show you the flesh we peeled off from these skeletons?” Dr. Rivas asked.

Yes, Gabriel would rather not need to prefer anything, if he could.


*Bisaya or Visayan – the collective term for the dialects of people living in the Philippines’ Visayas region

*nasal aperture – the opening that externally connects the nose to the skull

*mandibular – pertaining to the mandible or lower jaw that is U-shaped



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CLEO went back to her station and was disappointed to see at the lobby a familiar yet unwelcome face. “Her again?” she grunted and immediately sat at the reception desk, affecting a busy look, avoiding the person’s eyes. It would have been better to hide, but who knew what things this visitor told Dr. Rivas? Cleo did not want to lose her job.

“Hi, hello, hello!” Maya de Alano greeted her but she pretended not to hear. The girl did not mind and flung her upper body on the marble counter, her arms supporting her weight as her feet dangled. She got a good look at the computer monitor. Too late for Cleo who did not attempt to cover it so as not to look guilty of anything. “Hmnn…So strawberries can now be harvested in Manila? That’s new to me. Has a lost cow wandered in your farm lately?”

Ha. Ha. Cleo faced the girl with a bored expression. “And what do you harvest in your Farmville?” she asked snidely.

“I don’t network, I don’t blog. And even if I do, I doubt I’d play that. I’d hate the waiting and the routine. Plus, does anybody still play that? Ugh.” Maya let her feet touch ground again. “I like games that give me ‘adrenaline rush’,  fast games – races, DotA, Temple Run, Counter Strike, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Clash of Clans…I do enjoy games for the brains, don’t get me wrong. Word and trivia games make me happy, especially when there’s time limits involved. I’m happy to announce that the Hangaroo rarely got hanged and that I often get the Final Jeopardy answer right. Classic, but great games. Oh, and Scrabble and chess and card games,…though I really prefer playing on actual boards and shuffling real cards. I do like Spider,” went the annoying litany.

“Spider. What’s that? Ah, let me guess. Spiders invade town and you blast as many insects as possible?” Cleo remarked sarcastically. She was not about to appear clueless in front of this girl. If this girl thought –

“Uh, no. It’s a Windows card game, remember? Like the online Solitaire? You have that automatically downloaded in your computer.” Cleo remembered and wanted to slap herself. In her desire to be smug and sarcastic, she only embarrassed herself and not Maya, who had more to say about the topic, apparently.

Maya continued, “A spider’s not an insect, anyway. It belongs to the Class Arachnida, Order Araneae, so it’s an arachnid. Insects belong to the Class Insecta, various Orders. They always have three segmented parts and six legs, each pair of legs for each part, one pair of wings. Spiders on the other hand – ”

“Stop. I know spiders,” Cleo interrupted. Wouldn’t this girl just shut up?!! “I know what spiders look like. So they’re not insects. Okay. I get it.”

Cleo logged out from her account. She could not log in to anything else, not while Maya was around. Even chat sessions had to wait. So to busy herself, Cleo stood up to attend to the white board hanging on the wall beside her and began scrubbing away old reminders. She tried to wipe away all the marks on the board but grunted in frustration. As usual, she had the unfortunate mistake of using a permanent marker.

Maya The Great was soon behind her with a suggestion. “Cotton and alcohol. A bit wet and messy, but that works.” Surely, this irked Cleo more; she scrubbed more profusely yet unsuccessfully with the board eraser. “Alright, wait, wait. Here, let me.” Before Cleo could protest, the girl pulled her gently aside and grabbing a board marker, began writing over the visible marks.

“You’re making more mess!”

Smirking, Maya then took the eraser from Cleo and scrubbed away until soon, most of the marks were gone. “Voila!” Satisfied, the younger girl handed the pen and eraser to a slightly humiliated Cleo.

“Hmp. Such a waste of ink,” Cleo mumbled, going back to her seat.

“Hmnn…You’ve got a point. Next time, buy a dry erase marker for situations like this. Anyway,…” Ms. Know-It-All began to explain how it was possible to erase, but Cleo cut her off, asking rather rudely what she needed from them. Maya beamed a smile. “Good. I thought we’d never get to that. Actually, can I talk to Santi?”

Dr. Rivas is busy.”

Well, that was true. In the few years that Cleo had worked for them, she had known him to be quite a dedicated worker. She found him rather handsome and from what she knew – or rather, hoped – he was a very single bachelor. What he was doing hanging out with this girl Maya, she could not really guess. Dr. Rivas seemed rather formal at work and she thought him serious based on that. This girl, however, could be too naughty, informal, irritatingly perky, or generally just plain annoying. And yet, Dr. Rivas seemed to enjoy Maya’s company for some reason. Again, as far as she or anyone else knew, they were just friends.

Hmp. She’s not even really pretty, Cleo thought. Not sexy. And what’s up with her usual boyish outfit? Maya always wore a shirt-jeans-and-rubber-shoes ensemble. And she always carried around a hooded sweatshirt – one with sleeves during cold weather and one without sleeves during warm weather. She traveled light with a sling bag and always carried with her a pair of arnis sticks. Due to this, Cleo just could not fathom just what kind of relationship Dr. Rivas and the girl had exactly. They never seemed intimate. Close as close friends could be, maybe, but not intimate.

Hoooo-kaaayy…,” Maya continued, “can I talk to Dr. Rivas anyway? It’s just important, like – uh – ‘a matter of life and death’, So can I?”

Normally, people contact him with ‘matter of death and bones’. Besides, do you have an appointment? From what I know, every appointment is relayed to me.”

His assistant probably forgot to tell you.”

Maya lied. Cleo knew she did. Raising an eyebrow, Cleo sat down and phoned the assistant to confirm. As expected, the girl had no business there.

Ms. De Alano, I suggest that you just wait for him here. I’ll call them for you later, maybe after thirty minutes. Dr. Rivas is presently entertaining an important guest. You sit and you wait. You know what to do.”

Maya pouted. “Aaaayyy…And here I was excited to show him my new car, riiiggghht there, across the parking lot.” Despite her irritation, Cleo took a peek at the said car through the transparent doors. In a bit of surprise, she spotted a blue-green Beetle with wavy white lines painted across the sides. Cleo could not believe that with all Maya’s affectations of being young and hip, she would get a slow, old-fashioned car.

Kotseng kuba!” Maya said out loud and tapped Cleo’s forehead not-so-gently. Then she made a sloppy salute.

Cleo was not amused and made no attempt to hide her annoyance as she sat down once more. “I thought that joke died in the ‘80s along with that type of car.”

It’s vintage! Besides, don’t you know it’s been revived? Therefore, it is just fitting to revive the joke. This car came back with cooler designs in the last decade. Because the US finally lifted its ban against the Volkswagon, and the reason they banned it in the first place was – ”

I’m not really interested, can’t you tell? It’s a kotseng kuba, so it’s baduy.” There was a pause and Cleo thought she finally had the last say. But Maya crossed her arms and bent down a bit to look closely at her. That made her uncomfortable. “What?

Have you always been like this?”


You know, angry at the world?”

I’m NOT!!!” Cleo felt herself turn crimson. Somehow, those words struck a sensitive cord in her. “Could you please just sit down!” Surprisingly, she was not anymore forced to engage in another silly exchange and the silly girl sat at the waiting area across her.

You know,” the visitor finally said again after a few seconds, “you remind me of my sister. In fact, if I look hard enough, hmnn, you could be my sister.”

You wish. “I thought you were an only child.”

Sometimes,” was the weirdest answer to this that Cleo had ever heard. The more that she decided that she really, really, really hated this girl. 


*“Voila!” – French for “ta-dah!”

* “Aaaayyy…” – sad “Aaaawww…” in this context, sounding regretful as if something has gone to waste

*Kotseng kuba – In the past, this was the street term for the Volkswagon or Beetle in the Philippines. It literally means “Hunchbacked Car.” There was a silly kid’s game played where players tried to see who could spot this type of car the most and the fastest. Whoever it was would have to be the first to slap the forehead of the others before anyone could, shout “kotseng kuba!” and make sure to be the one to make a salute first in case others spotted it, too, and beat him to it. Sometimes, one would do this outside a game, to the annoyance of the unsuspecting.

*baduy – ill-fashioned or unfashionable; if it’s a person, it means someone lacking a sense of fashion or is a fashion-misfit



For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.


CLEOTILDE San Juan puckered her lips and admired herself in the mirror of the ladies’ room. Perfect, she thought, smiling. If anyone happened to be there at the moment, that person would have thought her perfect as well. Maybe it was too self-patronizing, but Cleo found that even she could not keep herself from admiring her own looks.

Tall, fair, slender and beautiful, she was the stuff models and celebrities were made of. All that she needed was to change her old-lady first name and find a last name with more impact. “San Juan” just sounded so old-fashioned. Being called “Cleo” was her only consolation.

Cleopatra. Kids in school would call her that and it fitted her perfectly. In fact, she once played the part in a play, too. She was beaming all the while. Indeed, she felt like a queen. Everyone, even the teachers, admired her beauty. She had been class muse every year and won every beauty pageant that came her way. Commercials and modeling stints were abundant. She was popular anywhere she went and was never in want of suitors.

Cleo was not born rich, but being beautiful made everything easy for her…That was then, however, and this was now.

A tear fell on Cleo’s cheek and she hurriedly wiped it away, fixing her makeup. No use crying over it, she thought. She pushed the memory out of her mind. With one look in the mirror, Cleo winked at herself and went out the door.




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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



For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.


Santi had come home from the United States for his annual vacations back in the Philippines. It was the first time he and Maya crossed paths. And, perhaps, it would be relevant to note that it was the first time he crossed paths with one of the largest, fiercest dogs he had ever seen, one that unfortunately chased him to a dark, deserted alley.

He would not have gone there at all had his car not chosen to break down at such an ungodly hour in such an unsafe place. It broke down right after he swerved trying to avoid a drunk crossing the street. Just his luck, his cellphone battery died on him, too. Santi had no choice but to look for a payphone while keeping on the lookout for passing vehicles. Back then, convenient stores didn’t have recharging stations, while all the establishments near him were already closed.

He wished he had stayed home rather than party with old friends who did not seem to have mentally matured. They still tried to live it up and live off their parents’ riches and it made him wonder why he was still friends with them. On the other hand, maybe going to the party was not a bad idea and staying there would have been wiser. There were still some interesting and tolerable people at the party. There was, in fact, a particular young woman that interested him.

A morena, with lovely Asian features and nice, dark, curly hair. She was a rather smart and funny conversationalist, quite the type he would go for. She exuded a rather mysterious aura, too, and he hoped it was not all for show, after all, Santi was well-aware she was as interested in him as he was in her.

Santi was tall and well-built enough, with dark and yet somewhat-mestizo features. He was not a bad-looking fellow at all and definitely not new in the art of flirting. When he asked what the woman did for a living, though, she told him she “earned a living in the evenings” and then laughed. Santi took it as a joke. She seemed too sophisticated to be in the oldest profession known to man.

They left the place but not together, although they did manage to exchange numbers. Flirting or no flirting, Santi was not in the habit of taking advantage of women. He liked to know them better first before going to second base, if he thought they were ready. So they drove separate cars and went separate ways. He regretfully wondered, maybe if he stayed longer, she would have stayed longer as well and he would have learned more about her rather than gotten stranded in God-knew-where!

So there in that dimly lit place, Santi’s car brought him, the car that seemed to have ran smoothly much earlier only to conk out on him at such an hour. He was still mulling over his lost opportunity when he saw the dog—black, snarling, the size of a grown person. “GRRRR!!!!” it growled angrily with its eyes fixed on him. Santi, dog-lover that he was, knew that dogs would not normally attack unless provoked. However, this one was huge! It seemed eager to pounce the second any movement was made. True enough, no sooner had Santi taken a step back that the dog leapt and attacked, sending him running for dear life!

Santi ran and ran, trying to lose the dog that kept on coming. He ran and ran pass streets and corners, but the dog kept closing in. “Help!” he yelled as he passed a few vagrants, but no one helped or they were too stunned themselves to do anything. There were no police stations nearby. No patrol car passed by either.

The dog was too intent on chasing him until Santi found himself alone and cornered somewhere he did not even know. Was this how he was going to go? How he was going to be remembered? ‘The doctor mauled to death by a dog’?!!

Santi frantically looked around but kept alert should the dog made its move. No, he was not going down without a fight, not this way. There had to be something, anything. He was not exactly planning to hurt the animal, but hopefully, he could find something to frighten it with. Maybe there was a stick he could throw that could send the dog running away from him. Unfortunately, all around, he could only see trash thrown about.

Papers? No, they would not do, not in bits and pieces. What was he to do, threaten the animal with paper cut? And even if it was possible, there was still the matter of closing the distance between them with also the possibility of getting devoured in the process. Cans? Hardly useful. Staring at the dog, Santi thought that throwing cans that would cause moise would probably anger it more instead of sending the dog away with its tail between its legs. So how, how, HOW???

Santi watched it walk from side to side as if keeping sentinel. Its sharp, scary teeth were snarling and, to Santi’s surprise, its eyes seemed unusually red and angry. And wow, was it big! It was not even a St. Bernard! I need a stick, he prayed, please, please, please! Give me one. Now! If he could hurl one, maybe the ‘nice’ doggie would go fetch?

When—SWOOSH!!! A long stick indeed flew out from nowhere and threw the dog hard on the ground.

What the—?!! Santi barely had a second to grasp what happened when there was another surprise. The stick boomeranged back into the hands of its owner! How could a long, straight stick boomerang?

And yet it was possible for some reason, as evidenced by its owner, the hooded figure standing meters away from behind the dog. Santi had failed to notice him until then; he was too preoccupied with thinking of ways to escape. He tried to get a closer look at the figure but the light against his eyes only allowed Santi a silhouette. Besides, to his disappointment, the dog recovered quickly and stood up, facing its new enemy, angrier, fiercer.

“Run!!!” he shouted at the figure, forgetting for a moment that he, too, should try and escape. Still, that would have been useless. There was nowhere to pass through except the way blocked by the dog. What if it didn’t run after the culprit? Then he thought, what if it did? “Run!” he shouted again. He was not going to have another person mauled to death because of him.

The figure, however, did not budge. Instead, he took a fighting stance, pointing his stick at the dog, as if offering a challenge.

“What are you doing?” Santi could not believe his eyes. “Are you crazy?” What was the guy playing at, a sick version of fetching sticks? Never mind that Santi thought about the same thing a while ago. That was entirely different. Santi watched in horror as the dog attacked the other man. Oh, God!, he cursed and wanted to close his eyes but could not. It seemed like time went in slow motion as he expected to see it sinking its teeth into human flesh. Oh, my God…!

Three hard, calculated blows. Perhaps there were more, but everything went so fast. It seemed like three blows with the stick and the large canine fell once again on the ground.

Santi gasped. How…? He expected it to recover quickly once more but unlike earlier, the dog did not move to stand. It kept still on the ground. Slowly, Santi cautiously attempted to see if it was dead. It wasn’t. It appeared to be stunned, its now glazed-looking eyes and mouth open, yet it seemed hardly breathing. Santi became more bold and touched its chest to check its heartbeat. If there was any beat at all, it was too faint even for him to feel. Poor dog…Despite the danger he was in, he could not help but feel pity for the animal. Surely, there were other ways? Like running away from it?

He turned to face the dog’s assailant, but only in time. Knife attack! The sharp point glinted pass Santi’s eyes. “HEY!” He fell sitting on the ground.

He was wrong, though. The knife, a fan-knife called balisong, hit its target, the dog’s heart, dead on, killing it for good. Not contented, the killer sliced through its chest and down to its stomach, causing spurts of blood. Having witnessed such act mortified Santi even more. He had hoped to escape the dog, but not like this. Enough was enough! He did not care if the man saved him. That was, in more ways than one, an ‘overkill’.

“Was that even necessary?!! You had it down already! Isn’t there a law here that prohibits animal cruelty? Are you out of your—Oh…!” Santi exclaimed. “Oh.” What he witnessed was a total departure from what he thought he knew. A transformation was quickly taking place in front of him. As he watched, the animal on the ground turned into a full-grown, naked woman, and then everything dawned on him. The figure standing before him did him a favor—probably did a lot of people a very big favor—by putting down the monster that lay near him.

Santi stared down at the dead woman, his eyes unbelieving. She was young and beautiful, brown-skinned, and with dark, curly hair…And he knew her! She was the same girl he just had a great evening with, the same girl whose number he got, whom he wanted to date and get to know better. What was her name again? ‘Marie’? ‘Ma…-something’…? His genius memory failed him this time due to trauma. Did his wish just come true in some twisted way? Not only did he get to know her better, she almost ate him alive! So that was how she ‘earned a living’ in the evenings…!

The immensity of this realization made his head spin. He was a man of science, but never had he witnessed such a thing, ever. “I met her at the party earlier. I thought we connected. I never…” Does anyone ever…?

Santi looked up and was then more able to view his savior. Loose, black sweatshirt and blue jeans, rubber shoes, a bag pack from where an end of the ebony stick now protruded, joining its partner. But he could not see the face hidden conveniently under the hood, so much like a masked, modern-day superhero. The figure bent down to take back the knife, seeming to take care of keeping his face hidden. He straightened up to leave, bringing the young doctor back to his senses.

Santi scrambled to his feet. “W-Wait. I haven’t thanked you yet. Thank you for saving my life! And—uh—I’m sorry I yelled at you and said all those things.” The figure stopped for two seconds, nodded to him, then began to walk. Santi tried to follow but he was not as fast, add the fact that he was still in a little state of shock. “Please, wait!…I mean, well, it’s embarrassing, but please. I don’t know this place and clearly,” his eyes swept their surroundings, especially at the dead body, “it’s not the best place to be eaten.”

But the figure would not stop. Santi’s brows furrowed, observing the retreating figure, his mind racing, boggled for a moment, until he remembered his plea. “Uh, wait, please. E-Excuse me…Hey…Hey, MISS!!!” Santi’s superhero stopped. He could tell he said the magic word to make the figure listen, finally.

It surprised Santi a bit to hear a voice coming from under the hood. “How did you…?” She sounded young. It felt good to hear her voice. It felt good to hear any voice!

“Your hips. Well, pelvis, to be exact. I was looking at it and—”

“Wait!” The girl suddenly turned around to face him. To confront him, it seemed. “What? You were looking at my—? Well! Isn’t that just typical of a guy? Ogling at women at times like this. Maybe I should teach you a lesson you won’t forget!”

“Huh? Wha—? Oh, no, no! I’m sorry. You don’t understand. I-I didn’t mean…I’m a forensic anthropologist.” The girl put her hands akimbo and tapped a foot, a silent demand for a more elaborate explanation. He could feel her eyes boring through him. How could he tell her things like that came to him automatically, that it came with the territory? “Uh, I’m the kind of doctor who studies bodies. Bones, actually. But even with your clothes on and all, I could still imagine—er—distinguish your gender. When we have to identify skeletons, the pelvis tells us whether it is male or female…Uh, here, I have a card.” He went closer but carefully as he produced a company card from his suit’s inside pocket and handed it to her. It was from his job abroad but that should do it.

The girl studied it for a while. He wished he could see her expression if only for a bit. “So! Dr. Rivas,” she finally addressed him again, and he was glad to detect amusement in her tone. “Did you really find out I’m a girl just by ogling at my swaying female hips? That gave me away?”

“I told you, I wasn’t…,” he started defensively then stopped. Did he just hear her snicker? Perhaps that was her way of apologizing. “Yes, that gave you away…aaaand the pink shoelaces.” This time, he did not only hear her snicker. He heard a wonderful, little laughter. After such a harrowing experience, he needed to hear something as beautiful as a girl’s laughter. Especially since he just met Ms. Could-Have-Been-Perfect that night and got heartbroken in a matter of hours because it became apparent, she was after his heart.

“True. Though I do prefer teal, that’s my favorite color. Do you know that color? It’s a specific shade of blue and green. You know, it’s that the certain blue-green shade that is often the color of vehicular plate numbers?”

“It is? Oh. I will have to check that out then.”

“Well, a lot of times, they don’t get the exact color shade…You know, if not for the pelvis, I could have been a guy who happened to love pink,” the girl bounced back to the topic.

The brief exchange was followed by an awkward silence. Santi could not think of anything more related to say. There was one thing that came to mind, but he did not know how she would take it if he told her his first-ever clue of her possibly being a girl: the whiff he got of the sweet scent of her girly perfume when she bent down to retrieve the knife.

“Oh, wait.” The girl pulled out a marker from her pocket and picked up a large piece of carton to write on. Having done so, she went back to the dead woman and placed the sign on top.

It read: “PUSHER. ‘WAG TULARAN.” A warning to all to not follow the woman’s drug-pushing way of life or else.

Santi’s bewilderment did not escape the girl’s notice. “What?” she asked matter-of-factly, as if killing monsters and placing such signs on them were but natural hobbies. “Do you think all those ‘salvage’ victims you see on TV are really tortured to death just because little signs like this imply so? Many have been victims by this woman’s kind. Signs like this just throw off the scent from them, to keep humans from guessing what is really happening so they can operate more easily. This is my own way of keeping people safer. If they knew aswangs were real, then monsters like her would know they know, so what would there be to hide anymore? It would be one giant fiesta with people making up the menu and the aswangs trying out everything on the table.”

Santi’s stomach wanted to turn but he controlled it. He did not say a thing. She was the expert in that particular field, not him. He could explain to her all about forensic science and bones, but to attempt to explain aswangs?

Sige,” the girl bade goodbye and began to walk away again, sending Santi on his toes to match her fast pace.

“I’m serious, Miss.”


“Don’t leave me here.” Oh, wow, I sound so pathetic, like a scared fool. Which I am, at the moment. “I mean, I know about self-defense. I’ve worked with the FBI. But this? I don’t know how exactly to handle this. I don’t know how I can handle an…,” he tried to find a more appropriate word. There was none.

Aswang,” she filled in the blank for him.

“It sounds so weird, hearing that word in a conversation that I am actually a part of. But yes, an aswang. If I knew how to handle it, maybe I’d be reacting differently, like how you reacted, except maybe I wouldn’t be that great at it. I was already practically helpless being the intended victim. That’s embarrassing enough to admit.”

“Nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s a normal reaction. All the people I’ve helped got too scared as well.”

“Okay, again, I admitted that already. I’m not exactly proud of myself right now.”


Santi could feel his face getting all red with embarrassment. He guessed she guessed right. He was a typical man, too typical to admit he was not tough enough and too proud to accept a girl saved him instead of him being the savior. “Yes, well, I don’t know how you did it—I mean, I saw how—but, I did not expect it. Even so, I’m thinking I’d be safer with you. So, I’m asking if I can stay with you? Even just until we find busier streets, then I won’t bother you anymore.” There, I said it. Hard to accept, but mature people always said that what made a better man was his humility and ability to admit his weaknesses. Santi wished she would see it the same way. Her silence appeared to be a sign that she was contemplating it.

There was hesitation in her voice when she spoke. “Aaaal-right,” she said, stopping to face him. He was glad because he was getting a bit flustered trying to follow her, plus he had been running as fast as he could not so long ago. He appreciated the break.

“Yey, thank you!” The pounding of his heart was beginning to normalize. All that running and those new-found bits of incredible information kept his adrenaline pumping. He was glad to feel a bit more normal again, and he knew that part of it was due to relief gained from knowing she was taking him with her. “Do you have a car parked somewhere?”

“The only wheels I have are roller blades which I don’t even have with me right now, sorry. I get by like any other commuter. Would that be a problem?”

“No, no. Walking would be fine with me.”

“Actually, I run, jump and leap. Have you ever heard of Parkour, what they call ‘the art of movement’?”

He had, but the idea of it was not so inviting to him. “I just wish my car had not broken down. We could get away from here faster.”

“You didn’t say you have a car!” she exclaimed.

“It broke down so it’s useless.”

The girl thought for a while but he had no idea what was in her head. He could not even see the face! “Then I guess you really have to go with me. Judging from your surprised expression earlier, you did not know the dog was the woman, so I’m guessing she did not ride with you. I’m guessing you told her where you’re heading, or maybe gave her your card, too. Then conveniently, your car broke down, not too far from where you came, but far enough to get you stuck in this horrid place and not be able to get help…She was not alone.”

Santi’s heart leapt. What did she mean? There was at least one other aswang out there that could be watching them right now? The girl laughed and punched him on his shoulder (it hurt a bit but pride did not let him complain).

“Relax! Breathe! I was just scaring you…Well, actually, that was true. She had an accomplice to take care of your car while she worked you up. They knew fully well what would happen to the car. Ha! Even they have their modus operandi now! These days, even the aswangs have to help one another to survive…Hey, you’ve turned pale. It’s funny the way you keep jumping from pale to flushed.”

Maybe it’s because you and your aswang buddies keep springing surprises at me?

“But don’t worry. Whoever’s been helping her is long-gone by now or there would have been another attack.”

“Maybe you scared him. Or them.” But he wasn’t ready to believe that and he looked around. If anything, this girl seemed to have encountered more monsters than necessary that she could already tell how they did it. Santi thanked God that he did not let the monster inside his car or he would not be there still breathing.

“Come on, let’s find your car,” she began and he followed.

“B-But it’s not working.”

“I can probably make it work.”

“Oh, you know how to fix cars?”

She smiled at him. He could see her smile from under the hood. “No. But I know how to hot-wire them.”

Santi gave a nervous chuckle. “I’m not going to complain. Anything to get out of here.”

The two of them set out to find his car and found it parked in a corner. True enough, the girl proved to be an expert in hot-wiring. She knew what to do—only two sparks and the engine roared to life. He didn’t know exactly how his car was sabotaged but it was not important anymore. Santi could not help but be impressed. Dubious of her character, but impressed.

Soon, they were on the road with Santi on the wheel. He was pretty shaken up but driving became a bit therapeutic for him. He did drive like a lunatic the first few miles that could have earned him a driving ticket. He was to drop the girl off somewhere and then he could go home to his warm house, eat his warm food, sleep in his warm bed, and then by morning, he would find out the previous evening was all a bad dream.

“Hey,” the girl said after a while. “I’ve been thinking. You did say you study bodies and bones, didn’t you?”

He corrected, “Mainly bones. Why?”

“I could use your help.”

“What? H-How? Why?” Was there no end to this nightmare?

“The what and how, I’ll explain later. The why is you sitting here beside me, alive and driving, because I saved you.”

Santi thought about it. He did owe her. Perhaps she was not going to ask for something big. Maybe she would only like to see how a forensic anthropologist worked. “Okay, fair enough.”


“Good. Then, since I’ll be helping you, can I at least have a name I can call you by? I mean I could call you Darna or whatever you want, just tell me. If we’re going to be communicating, wouldn’t a name be important? You have to at least give me one.”

The girl gasped. “I thought you had one already?!!” Santi stared for a moment and then, getting her meaning, laughed. “There you go! I was beginning to think you had no sense of humor. Are all scientists that serious?”

“I’m sorry, really. I do have a sense of humor. Many of the scientists I know are quite funny. It’s just that it’s not everyday that you go through what I went through. Of course, I don’t exactly mean you by ‘you’.”

“Maya.” Huh? What did she say? Was that a word? A sound?

“Excuse me?”

“That’s my name, Maya de Alano.” With that, the girl took off the hood of her sweatshirt and looked straight into his eyes.

For the nth time that evening, Santi’s heart leapt, and the car dangerously swerved to the curb. He cursed out loud and tried to get his bearings together. “Oops! Sorry,” he apologized, taking another glance at the sweetest face he had ever seen. Not the prettiest, but something about her…And those eyes!

“No problem. That was new, at least. No one’s ever cursed upon seeing my face before.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t mean to. I was just…distracted. I thought I saw something on the road…” He felt a warm flush on his face again and he could tell she could tell.

“Hmnn,” Maya hummed, squinted her eyes and crinkled her nose, studying his face more closely as he tried hard not to swerve again like a drunk idiot. He wished she’d keep still! Maya smirked and sat back contentedly on her seat, looking ahead. “Did you know that blushing is exclusive to humans alone?”

“What?” What???

“It often starts at around the age of ten although it can also start as early as five. Teenagers blush the most, perhaps due to their high level of self-consciousness. But adults are capable of blushing as well. It has no particular use but can be extremely uncomfortable in certain situations. I think it’s cute.”

Santi felt he had never blushed so much in his entire life. Right then, he knew he could never be the same Santi Rivas ever again. No one had ever made him blush like that. To him, that amounted to something: a lot.



*morena – mocha-skinned or of light-brown complexion

*mestizo – bearing (normally) Caucasian physical features


*’salvage’ –  in the Philippines, the word’s meaning has evolved into practically its exact opposite due to bad and popular media hype. A ‘salvage’ victim now means someone who had been tortured and killed

*fiesta – feast

*aswang – Philippine folklore’s mythical creature considered to be the equivalent of the West’s vampire. It is the general term for various monsters, which are called by other names, depending on the regions. They are said to be generally evil carnivores feeding on human flesh and believed to be able to change into normal human and animal forms

*“Sige” – “Alright” or “Okay” in the context

*modus operandi – Latin for “method of operation”

*Darna – a Filipino superheroine



For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.


DR. Santi Rivas put the phone down. He had just listened to a lecture on the history of donut holes and it made him laugh imagining Maya animatedly discussing her piece of trivia. He would not admit it, but though some people were put off by Maya’s sometimes-off-tangent stories or found her an arrogant know-it-all, that was one of the things he liked about her.

Her love of knowledge was evident and indeed, she was knowledgeable. Many years of existence made her that. She could probably add more information to history than any expert could, and debunk long-accepted facts as well. He loved listening to her, loved seeing the nostalgia and excitement in her eyes, and he knew she knew it. No wonder she bombarded him with information as much as she could. That was her idea of friendly bonding.

Fulfilling his promise, he decided to drop by the funeral home an hour earlier, giving himself only a few hours of sleep. He wanted to examine some things in his lab before he went, but Maya was persistent about making him examine the body she found first. He might as well grant her request. Not that Santi needed a lot of persuasion. Santi was a man of logic and science and yet, somehow, when it came to Maya, all logic came out the window, and who cared about science? That was the usual case except whenever she needed him to help find answers important to her, he had to keep remembering to do care again.

Truth be told, he could have been better off without her if not for one thing: he could not believe—could not accept—such a thought. She was trouble, mystery, joy and wonder rolled into one, at least, to him. Not meeting her would have made his life quite boring.

They first met five years ago, a first meeting that was rather out of the ordinary. Extremely out of it.




For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.


Do you see her comin’ around this way,

trying to find the right road to take

Changing her mind, losing her sense of direction

wishing she’d be back home to stay…

THE song filled the booth as Maya clicked on the speaker so she could cue the next song on her playlist. Thank goodness for the graveyard shift, she needed not say much on the air. A mention of the songs and artists here, an announcement or live greeting there, a news report between songs, some public service announcements. Other than those, it was an all-music program, a complete remedy against listeners who would otherwise make long on-air greetings.

Maya did not hate people. On the contrary! But on evenings like this, she would rather keep them at bay, preferably keeping communication strictly online as she logged on, using the computer beside her, to their station’s website and blogs for any song requests and occasional greetings. No wonder she never made it to the Top Ten Favorite DJ list.

It was a practical way for her to make a living. Being a radio DJ even for just three times a week was the perfect job for Maya. Music was always therapeutic for her. If anyone should ask her what things in her bag she would never go without, that would include her iPOD and, perhaps, an Alanis Morissette song. Alanis made her alive when she was not in the mood, at least, the younger Alanis. More significantly, just hearing Alanis lash out always lessened any anger she felt at the moment. But she would listen to show tunes, too, why not? There was a time when she saw every Broadway show there was.

Letting the headset hang on her neck, Maya tried not to be entangled with its cord as she reached over the media console for the old vinyl record lying on the long table in front. It was a single, a seven-inch record with a large hole in the middle, running at 45 rotations per minute. It was a disappointing thought that not a lot of the youth of modern times had ever seen an actual 45, much less, touched one. Quite a pity. Compact discs were easier to play, for sure, but old vinyl records had longer life span and played with much better quality.

With modern technology, though, it had become easier to play music with a few clicks, making CDs practically obsolete as well. DWZS still did maintain turntables, at least. Maya could play old songs she loved. Once in a while, she would play cassettes when the mood would strike her.

Crying in the dark, she doesn’t see

the light to guide her back home,

taking chances on her own

And if she could turn back the time,

she’d be there, she’d be there

once again…

The song continued as Maya prepared Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise. She had just finished putting the 45 on cue when the phone behind her rang.

Maya picked up the receiver then said, “Did you know that the gramophone, more commonly known as vinyl record, replaced the phonograph back in the 1900s? It’s usually made of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, thus the name. There are different sizes, but the most common are the 45s with the donut holes that run at 45 RPM, and the LPs that run at 33-and-one-third RPM. They were used again for a time because of club DJs who treated them horrendously by repeated scratching. PVC is said to be plastic poison, though, so I guess, it’s ‘yey!’ for the environment…Hi, Santi.”

She could tell her friend was smiling at the other end of the line. “Trivia Girl is now a psychic! You never fail to amaze me,” Santi kidded with mock amusement.

“It’s simple, really. You’re too predictable. Who else would call me here at this time of hour? And not even using cellphone?”

“I’m supposed to surprise you. Cellphones have caller IDs.”

“You forget, before cellphones, landlines were first with caller IDs. What makes you think this landline isn’t telling me there’s a mad scientist talking to me right now?” Maya asked, poised to click on the turntable and fade in-fade out volumes on the console. Number one rule in broadcasting: No Dead Air.

“You forget, I’ve visited you there countless times and the phone does not have—Oh! Ho, ho, ho!” Santi reacted upon hearing the segue of songs. It was a perfect segue but Maya knew he meant something else. “What is with you tonight? Why the sad songs?”

Maya heaved a big sigh. “Senti lang. There’s a theme going on—miserable women longing to be back home…”

“Wait. Did something happen today?” Santi asked, turning serious.

She could just imagine his very worried face, a picture she had seen so many times, knowing she was mostly the reason behind it. She slapped her own forehead. Why did she even have to dampen their moods?

She tried to explain. “It’s just…things were coming back to me. It made me want to go back to the old times again,…before everything happened.” There was a catch in her throat when she said this. She could not believe that after all this time, the past still held so much power over her. Tried as she could to live for the moment and deny herself the luxury of reminiscing, it was too impossible to not do otherwise.

“Tell me you did not go to a session with your psychiatrist again.”

“Okay. I did not go to a session with my psychiatrist again.”

“But you did, didn’t you?”

“But I did.”



“I told you, QUIT going to my uncle! He won’t be of much help to you. You’re just an experiment to him.”

“A successful experiment. And to tell you frankly, he’s a very nice young man. Alright, don’t wince. Forget I said ‘young’. But you have to admit he’s quite nice.”

“Granted that he is. I’m just saying that like psychology, his field is not what we call an ‘exact science’.”

“But I want answers, Santi! Your so-called ‘exact science’ has not exactly done anything to explain more about me and show me my past. Besides, knowing what you now know, do you honestly believe there is actually an exact science to explain everything in this world? Your uncle’s non-exact, crazy science has done more to help me, to tell you frankly.”

Maya could tell Santi was stomped. But only temporarily. “Well, I don’t see why you go through it, that’s all. It just reminds you of the unpleasant past over and over.”

“Not everything!…Not everything was unpleasant, Santi. Why are you even saying that?”

Santi did not reply. She could now imagine him closing his eyes and shaking his head in disbelief.

Oh, dear. What drama. Maya hated drama. The world already had too much drama. She herself had experienced too much of it already to last a lifetime, and she did not intend to add more if she could help it. If she were meant to live many, many years more, then she was not about to let it run her life. How did they say it in English? Oh, yes. ‘To hell with it!’

Maya took Santi’s silence as an opportunity to change the topic conveniently. “Anyway, did you get to see the body that I told you to see?” she asked. Then as a joke, “And no, I don’t mean body shots of me in bikini posted in my blog.”

This time, she could feel Santi warming up to her again. He hated drama as well. “I’m your friend and you haven’t told me about it? Since when did you even have a blog?”

“A-ha! So you would want to see me in bikini if I had a blog!” she laughed, glad to stir the conversation back into happier tones.

She did intend to talk to him about the corpse. If anyone could help her identify the kind of assailants, it would be Santi. It was one of those rare times that science could help explain something ‘unexplainable’, something that went beyond the realm of what was considered normal. Before they met, ‘unexplainable’ was far from his world.

Coming from a well-known rich clan, Dr. Santi Rivas was able to study in the best schools in and out of the country. However, he was not one to sit down and take things for granted. Instead, he had ambition and he wanted to learn. He was Boy Genius. Of course, his family wanted him to take over their business, but the path he chose was one less traveled. No wonder they called him Sancho Jr., to stress that he was as weird and stubborn as his uncle. They called him that especially to make him feel guilty when they tried to drill in his head the importance of keeping the family business intact.

But intelligent and persevering, young Santi soon obtained a doctorate in forensic anthropology, with training and internship at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, particularly, the Smithsonian Institution tucked under his belt. His family would not admit it, but they were proud of him, no matter how they tried to hide it. Still, they would much prefer it if he chose to continue the family business himself.

“Not to spoil your illusion of being the next Miss Bikini,” Santi replied, “but can I just say that you have GOT to stop bringing dead bodies to funeral homes and sending me to investigate! You don’t want that to ruin your spotless reputation. What would your fans say?”

“What fans? And would you rather I sent bodies to your lab?” Maya said testily, though she knew what his answer would be.

“And have the very bureau I work for investigating me? No, thank you. As for your original question, no, I have not seen it yet. I got stuck in the lab all evening. I was not even able to check emails so I have not read your initial findings. I’ll go down there tomorrow instead. Can they hold off embalming after lunch?”

“No, do it earlier.”

“Before lunch?”





“I’ll buy you coffee,” Maya bribed. Coffee was both their passion—brewed, granulated, three-in-one, you name it. He would not pass a good conversation over coffee, would he? But she crossed her fingers, just in case.

There was a long pause at the other end then she heard his resigned sigh. “You drive a hard bargain, Ms. de Alano. Seven it is. I will expect my coffee date. Can I have a donut to go with the coffee?”

“Yes sir, Dr. Santi Rivas, sir! Donut it is! In-cidentally, did you know that a 45 has a donut hole?”

“I didn’t, until a little over five minutes ago when you answered my call.”

“Eight minutes. And I know that you know, but I just had to ask because I was just about to tell you how donut holes came to be…”


*RPM – Rotations Per Minute

*LPs – long-playing vinyl record albums

*“Senti lang”– “Just being sentimental,” with the word “sentimental” shortened. Filipinos are fond of recreating English words like that to use in everyday lingo




For the next chapter pages (and why I have started with this scene already), CLICK HERE.


SHE could have stayed that way, transfixed with memories of a long time gone, if not for a blood-curling scream that brought Maya back to the present. On instinct, her body sent her running towards the source before she could even think. Force of habit, she would later realize.

Maya’s feet brought her to a group of modern-day nomads who gathered around a wailing woman near the shore.

“Maurooo!!!” the woman cried out, cradling a lifeless man in her arms, shaking him as if trying to wake the dead. Maya wondered if he was killed right there, or killed somewhere else and later washed ashore. “Mauro, don’t leave us! What will become of us? What will become of our children?!!” the woman wailed on.

“What happened?” Maya asked the thin, gangly old man standing beside her, fighting the urge to sniff. He badly needed a bath. Then again, so did most of them around her.

“We don’t know yet. We just…” he started then stopped upon glancing at her, mild surprise registering on his face. She could tell he was wondering why an obvious ‘outsider’ like Maya would venture to such a dangerous place as theirs, a young and vulnerable girl at that.

But she was not interested in what he thought, only in what he possibly knew that could help her. “Yes?” she urged the old man to continue.

“Oh. Uh…We just got here and found him like that already, dead.”

“Would you have any idea why?”

He gave her a curious look then shrugged. “My child, this is Breakwater. In case you have not noticed, here, anything can happen any day, everyday. Bad things. This man? He might as well have been murdered before our eyes, but nobody—apart from his friends here and family—nobody would really care. Nobody cares about people like us. We’re dirt. Nobody cares about dirt, except to wipe it off.”

It was nothing Maya had not heard before and she would have uttered a sympathetic reply, but she was more interested in the corpse at the moment. Squeezing through other spectators, she was able to get closer to it. As expected, the body was already rigid and a bit bloated. Maya was disappointed to find that Mauro, indeed, was killed somewhere else and dumped into the water. It was harder to inspect that way. Murders were always harder to solve because water could not only wash bodies ashore. It could wash evidence away as well and speed up decomposition.

She looked closer. Judging by the level of decomposition, “Rigor mortis set in just days ago. He has been dead for two, maybe three days…” she thought out loud and said to no one in particular. People looked at her quizzically that Maya remembered where she was and offered a simple explanation that was half-true. “I, uh, work for the authorities so, you know, I know things like this.”

 “Oh?” the old man she spoke to earlier asked from behind. “Like SOCO?”

Barely had she answered, “Yes, like SOCO,” that everyone—save from him, the woman, and the dead—scurried away. Obviously, authorities were not welcome there, if not avoided.

He squinted his eyes at her. “You look awfully young. What are you, eighteen, twen—? ”

“—ty-five. I’m baby-faced, yes, it’s possible. I was in that SOCO show on TV one time, I guess you did not see that. Who was that guy again with the distinct guttural voice? I forget.”

“So…is that why you’re here? They sent you?”

“No. I simply happened to walk by and heard the scream, so here I am.” At least that one’s true.

“Ah, yes, that is correct. We have just found him. Anita,” the old man pointed at the crying woman who was reduced to weeping by now, “was just wondering where Mauro had gone. He was supposed to be back last Saturday after scraping rust off a ship for two months. Then someone screamed and, well, here we are…What a pity. He was a good man, always tried to earn a decent living. Not easy as around here…”

She did not let the old man’s thoughts trail off. “Has it—uh—he any marks on his body?” Her query was greeted with a confused expression. “Marks. Like, uh, bruises, or stab wounds, maybe? Anything that may explain how he died or how he was…killed…”

Parts of Mauro’s clothes were torn or with holes in different places. They could be due to blows inflicted on him before he died, or simply due to sea creatures that ate at his clothes and body (a notion Maya did not especially like entertaining in her head). Letter C, she pushed in her mind. His clothes got caught up with sharp, inanimate, floating objects, that’s it. Take those unsavory thoughts off your head!

“His heart.” It was Anita who answered in-between her weeping. She could have been pretty but at the moment, grief and agony were written all over her face. “His heart was carved out.”

The old man gasped in horror. “Diyos ko!” He did try to regain his composure. “You said you are like the SOCO people, right? Maybe you can…check his…” he half-suggested, as if wishing he had not suggested it at all.

But that was exactly what Maya had in mind. She kneeled down and asked permission. “May I?” Anita answered with a nod, mutely loosening her hold on Mauro’s upper body, allowing Maya to see the large, gaping hole on his shirt. True enough, his heart was not where it was supposed to be. “Did Mang Mauro have any enemies that could have done this?”

Anita shook her head. “I don’t know of anyone who would be angry enough to do this. I don’t think he had enemies, not really. He was a good man who hardly argued with anyone…Still, there are those who treat people here badly, so maybe…”

“Who? Can you give me their names?”

Anita did not answer and studied Maya instead, seeming to be weighing her options: to tell or not to tell. Indeed, that would be Maya’s question, too, if she lived amongst these nomads. They were always at the mercy of those in power, at least those who had power over poor, desolate souls like them.

“Let me guess,” she directed the question back to the old man, “the police?”

He stared at her for a while then with hesitation in his voice, “T-They own this place, what can we do? They…But you are not like them…?”

Maya gave him a small, reassuring smile to appease him. “You have nothing to worry about me, that I can tell you.” They, however, have a lot to answer to me, they should start worrying already.

Of course, they still looked at her with extreme doubt. She would.

Maya turned her attention back to Anita. “If you will accept, I have a suggestion.”



*Rigor mortis– stiffening of the muscles when a person or animal dies

*SOCO. – Scene of the Crime Operatives

*“Diyos ko!”“My God!”

*Manginformal Filipino term synonymous to “Mister”