“Which fictional character that you created is your favorite, and why?” #atozchallenge2017

So I was late with my F post. Blame it on my very slooooow connection (very slow laptop, actually). And admittedly, I was pretty much preoccupied. The slowness was getting on my nerves on top of that. Anyway, on with my post..

Fictionists, as we know, create characters from their own imagination. Yes, maybe the characters are loosely based on other existing book/movie/TV characters or even actual persons. However, they still have their own personalities, backgrounds, battles to win. Now, being their creators’ brainchild (brainchildren???), for sure, they are special. Do these writers also have favorites, too?

Mine would be Maya, who has been with me, so to speak, half my life, I think. At first, I thought I had a clear view of what I wanted her to be, but I wasn’t ready. I got stumped. For years, her story went on and off, longer than I care to admit. I do feel a bit thankful that I waited because now, she is clearer to me. I know what she is now, I know what I want from her. She is part-me, part-Brennan of BONES, part-Abby of NCIS, and part-whatever things that are unique to her. She is as I have planned long ago, my own contribution to Philippine literature and my own way of introducing the Filipino to the world….Now, if I can only finish it now, that would be awesome! Will carry on, of course.

I was curious about other writers and their creations. I, therefore, posted this question over at Quora:

“Which fictional character that you created is your favorite, and why?”

Luckily, I found people who were willing to share. I think they deserve to be featured simply by sharing. Find out their answers below. Maybe you’ll like their books. Click on the screenshots to get to their respective pages.

 

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Do you have your own faves? Please share and don’t forget to leave your relevant links in the comments! Meanwhile, working on my G post.

F is for “Fictional Character”

This piece serves as my Letter F post for the A to Z Challenge 2017.

If you’re interested:

A for Alibata – How to Spell the Ancient Filipino Way

B for Block – “How do you personally deal with writer’s block?”

C for Contents – Contents with all the Feels

D for Dialogue – Why Dialogue is Important

E for Edit – Mark Your Words!

Why Dialogue is Important #atozchallenge2017

I learned to write fiction first by writing in script form. That means, except for a very few and brief inclusion of actual descriptions enclosed in parentheses, my stories were 95% dialogue. Some friends liked the stuff I wrote, though. Well, they were kids, too, so it was not hard to impress them.

The nice thing about it was even with the absence of actual storytelling, the dialogues worked. My few readers understood the stories, liked them even somehow. Why? Because the dialogue has its own specific and important role in literature.

The Whys of Dialogue

Years ago, I learned of this. I cannot recall from whom or where, but I learned that dialogues are essential in a story. Novels need them, be they fiction or non-fiction.

Here are what I know:

Dialogue makes interaction between characters more natural.

Without dialogues, can you imagine how it would be like? Sure, you can write them this way: She told him he was very wrong. Fair enough. But if you were a reader, how would you like to read something like this one?

She told him he was very wrong. He told her that he was right. She answered back saying he had to prove it. The man then accepted the challenge and said he would be back. Before he left, she reminded him that….

Oh, my. Major headache, that’s what one will get if he reads a whole book without actual dialogue. It’s not just boring, but rather annoying. Even if the character is supposed to be mute and doing sign language, you must be able to let the readers know what it is the character is telling somebody else. This is in written form, folks. There is no other way for your readers to see the actions. It is up to you to make them see–and hear–the character in their heads.

Dialogue adds “character” to the character.

It makes the reader understand a character better. Dialogue gives him personality, background, attributes, etc. If he talks with a certain accent that is recognizable through how the words and even grammar are written, the reader can immediately gauge from where he’s been, maybe get an idea of what his morals are, his beliefs, other things. Like if he sounds Texan, maybe he carries a gun.  This is not merely stereotyping, rather a part of characterization. In fact, you can make him more interesting by making him different, like he’s a guy who has never held a gun in his life–that would be an interesting angle.

You can even let details about the character be known through his indirect words. For instance, one of my inspirations for Maya, the main character in my story, is Dr. Temperance Brennan a.k.a. Bones. Brennan is a genius who likes to share and insert trivia and stuff  in conversations. So by letting Maya talk and talk about trivia and stuff that she learns from her doctor-friend (who does most of the forensics talk, naturally), I let the readers know that Maya’s got the brains, too, and that she could also be a tad like a know-it-all sometimes, like Brennan.

Dialogue fills in the void.

When something about the character or what is happening to him is not explained clearly, whether done by the writer intentionally or not, dialogue reflects the character’s thoughts and feelings. It makes him more human, or in the case of fables and children’s stories where animals and non-living things talk, more human-like.

Through his words and by the way he says them, that gives the reader an idea of him. How does he communicate? How does he speak to others–is he rough, angry, soft-spoken, prone to using coarse language, gentle? How does he treat particular characters? Those maybe clues to things the readers have yet to unravel.

Of course, there could be twists in stories. The well-mannered gentleman may turn out to be the murderous psychopath after all. So how can we say that his dialogues are the reflection of him? They are. He is deceitful, cunning, malicious, and his next dialogues will prove how cold, horrible or conflicted he is.

Dialogue provides white space for the reader.

Not unless a dialogue is turned into a whole speech, it allows for white space. It is literally that empty space on a page that lets your eyes “breathe” or rest. They will need rest after reading loooong paragraphs. I even learned this in my journalism class in college. Dialogues being often shorter allow that break, which then allows the brain to more clearly process what has been read.

 

Alright, so far, those are what I know. I did do a research and found more valuable information. I have collated resources and listed them down below. I suggest you pay them a visit.

Importance of Dialogue to the Readers

It mentions about dialogue also being…

  • critical to plot advancement
  • a tool of foreshadowing
  • one way readers learn about the setting and conflict in a story’s exposition

Reasons for Using Dialogue in a Story

It listed down more ways dialogues help in stories, such as in making the story advance, developing the characters, increasing the story’s pace and dynamics, and showing what is happening rather than telling it.

“How important is dialogue in a novel?”

Writers shared what they know about dialogues. They may echo what have already been said here, but there are more valuable nuggets of knowledge and wisdom to be found.

 

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It is always my pleasure to share, so I am hoping you gleaned at least one thing from this post. Be back tomorrow!!!

D is for “Dialogue”. Like you don’t know it yet. PFFFT.

This piece serves as my Letter D post for the A to Z Challenge 2017.

If you’re interested:

A for Alibata – How to Spell the Ancient Filipino Way

B for Block – “How do you personally deal with writer’s block?”

C for Contents – Contents with all the Feels

How to Spell the Ancient Filipino Way #atozchallenge2017

The written language is most important in writing.Without it, we’d all be like cavemen drawing stories, probably even opinions, on walls, tree trunks, leaves…I imagine there would be much more confusion in this already-confused world.

Of course, there would be the spoken  language, probably mostly grunts coupled with hand gestures. We’d probably be fighting over and over due to sound and gesture misinterpretations. I mean, cave paintings are now art, but isn’t art subject to various interpretations? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in a manner of speaking.

So, without the written language, we’d be so far from the civilized world of today…Well, almost civilized. (Some people do seem to even openly and unabashedly show or express their Neanderthal tendencies.)

A Sense of History and Identity

An uncivilized society with no history, that’s exactly how the country’s Spanish conquerors made the natives, our land’s indigenous people and my ancestors, believe they had. After all, we all used to be made up of tribes that practiced pagan beliefs. For around 400 years, they called us ‘indios’, their colonial and discriminatory racial term for us. The conquistadors made us believe our forefathers were illiterate prior to their arrival. The better to reign over us, right?

“The colonial masters required the native Filipinos to swear allegiance to the Spanish monarch, where before they only had village chieftains called ‘datus;’ to worship a new God, where before they worshipped a whole pantheon of supernatural deities and divinities; to speak a new language, where before they had (and still have) a Babel of tongues; and to alter their work habits, where before they worked within the framework of a subsistence economy.” (Encyclopedia of Southeast Asia: Philippines)

Illiterate with no social identity, though? That was the biggest lie Spain gave us. Before they came barging in, we already had our own ancient writing system, the baybayin, also and more popularly known as alibata.

The Baybayin/Alibata

What is baybayin?

“Baybayin is a pre-Spanish Philippine writing system. It is a member of the Brahmic family and is recorded as being in use in the 16th century. It continued to be used during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines up until the late 19th Century.” (Mandirigma.org)

Pre-Spanish era, we were not yet Filipinos. I say this for the simple reason that Filipinas–the Philippines–was named after Spain’s ruler Haring (King) Felipe once they conquered us. The whole truth was, we were an already-learned people with our own history, as proven by our writing.

“History is impossible without the written word as one would lack context in which to interpret physical evidence from the ancient past. Writing records the lives of a people and so is the first necessary step in the written history of a culture or civilization.” (Ancient.eu, on Writing)

This is our ancient writing system, the Baybayin. Here you see when to make the characters sound with an “e/i” or an “o/u”, all depend on where you put the marks or dots. The cross has a different purpose and was not part of the original system

The Baybayin Advocacy

Back in 2008, when I used to simply call it ‘alibata’, I wrote about it in my old and now defunct first official blog. I said (with some edits here),

Alibata is slowly being re-introduced to Filipinos. A decade or so ago, some began sporting alibata characters, the Philippines’ ancient alphabet, especially as tattoos. Most popular of these is the ‘pa’ character to represent the letter P, to symbolize being ‘Pinoy’, slang word for ‘Filipino’ or ‘Pilipino’. Once in a while, I encounter people wearing shirts bearing some of the characters. In the ’90s, GMA (Channel) 7 came up with the action show titled Pintados. In our ancient times, ‘pintados’ were the tribesmen-warriors called so because they had their bodies painted all over. No, tattooed all over. Anyway, this show took a lot of liberty using alibata characters, but without educating the audience on what they meant…

I think I’ll call myself an Alibata advocate. I’ve been trying to practice it this year and I plan to use it in other things…(I do follow what I’ll call ‘Neo-Alibata‘, though. Old and ‘new’ must meet somewhere.)

It was used in many parts of the country back then, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, so it’s not necessarily Tagalog, our most widely used dialect originating from Luzon. The Spaniards came and forced people to become Christians and the ancient letters began disappearing. The style I’m using isn’t exactly the original. I’m following some changes especially when I’m not writing in Filipino. There are letters in the English alphabet that we don’t have.”

The “Ka” character on a Philippine flag

What I meant by “the style I’m using” was that I was/is following the altered version created by a Spaniard that adds the cross sign to indicate that a character is to be read as a simple consonant–“pa” is simply read as “p”.  Meanwhile, our writing system did not have any R-sound so one of the usual things done, which I follow, was/is to use the “da” or the “la” character instead. I am very partial to the second one because I find it prettier, to be honest. The Mandirigma Research Organization‘s site should be able to tell you much more, so I recommend that you refer to it.

Another popular character, the “Ka”, is another fave of mine. It was used in one of the flags of the Philippine Revolution, by the revolutionary group called Katipunan. Now I know what that image on the flag symbolized.

Check out how I did my name (Jennifer Federizo Enriquez) and my alias (Li’l Dove Feather) respectively using a generator I just found.

Nice, eh? When I wrote the post mentioned above, I actually offered to write readers’ names for them if they requested it in the comments. It was a total hit, I tell you. That second image you see on this post is my handwriting in ali–oops–I mean, baybayin! 

“The term Baybay literally means ‘to spell’ in Tagalog…Some have attributed it the name Alibata, but this name is incorrect. (The term “Alibata” was coined by Paul Rodriguez Verzosa after the arrangement of letters of the Arabic alphabet  alif, ba, ta (alibata), “f” having been eliminated for euphony’s sake.” )…no evidence of the baybayin was ever found in that part of the Philippines and it has absolutely no relationship to the Arabic language. Furthermore, no ancient script native to Southeast Asia followed the Arabic arrangement of letters,…its absence from all historical records indicates that it is a totally modern creation.” (Mandirigma.org)

Like I said, I aim to be a baybayin advocate. In fact, in the story I am working on, the alibata/baybayin is mentioned.

“…It was proof that unlike what the Spaniards claimed, Filipinos were not an uncivilized race before they arrived and conquered. It was only what they made everyone believe.

Maya had scoffed at that in a conversation saying, ‘Ha! I was learning my A-Ba-Ka-Da loooooong before I met any of them. My father taught me that and his father taught him, and so on. If I had my way, I’d put learning alibata in the grade school curricula.’ She would, too, knowing her. In fact, her journal notebook was filled with things always written in alibata, one way to keep most people away, ironically.” (MAYA [CHAPTER 2: DEAD AIR, Scene 4])

The point made regarding including the writing system in the school curricula is definitely my opinion. And time may come that I shall write a whole story in our beloved baybayin. I can’t wait for other Filipinos to do the same (although there are those who have been incorporating it in their comic books). After all, according to the Mandirigma site, Baybayin was noted by the Spanish priest Pedro Chirino in 1604 and Antonio de Morga in 1609 to be known by most, and was generally used for personal writings, poetry, etc.”

Our literary world has suffered for centuries and it’s time to bring back pride for what we can do and continue our history!…But for now, you can bet that the writing system will figure more in my story’s chapters to come. We always start somewhere.

Meanwhile, here are samples I personally made:

If you found this blog’s landing page, this surely welcomed you

If memory serves me right, this was my first attempt at doing baybayin. I mixed images and using a mouse with an unsteady hand, I tried to write down my alias, Li’l Dove. Though the “B” didn’t look that right, I think it was okay because the effect I was going for was a “smokey” effect

For my then blog, I made this for fun. The girl was supposed to be me, only with better hair and with earrings (well, only one visible) when I am not the type to often wear them. I spelled out “kopi kat” in baybayin and added a personal logo I created

 

These were just some of the many names I spelled out in baybayin, as requested. I have deleted the others

My own personal logo, in various renditions. It honestly does not strictly follow the writing system’s spelling rules. I’ve just stylized my logo. The above character, yet another one of my favorites, says “G” (meaning me, Gi); the one below says “pi” because no matter what happens, I’m proud to be Pinoy!

 

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I hope you enjoyed that one and learned a thing or two! Come back on Monday for the next A to Z post! Maybe I’ll have something nice again for you again 😉

By the way, all rights reserved to me, J.Gi Federizo, except for images and quotes that are linked to the right sources. I had original sources in 2008 as well, but the links are gone, and Mandirigma.org shares enough and proper information already, so my thanks to the whole research organization.

Also, DISCLAIMER: This post does not aim to spread hate against Spain or any other country. We are not accountable for whatever bad deeds our forebears did during their time.

A is for “Alibata”, otherwise known as “Baybayin”.

This piece serves as my Letter A post for the A to Z Challenge 2017.

MAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 6] #atozchallenge2015

“C” is for CHAPTER and for today’s A to Z Challenge, I present the long-overdue  next scene of my story’s third CHAPTER. I will need to alter the look of the texts some other day. A few translations to follow soon.

C of A to Z

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE

CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 6)

SHE was blabbering, Maya knew she was, as they settled at a table near the windows of the deli. She was well aware of this, very nervous that she even had a moment of dilemma simply deciding with whom to sit (she chose Santi who happened to be nearer). She knew, too, that they knew she was agitated. It could not be helped for their souls were too connected to hers. Whether that was an unfortunate thing or not, it was not helping at the moment.

…and I remembered you once told me to take culinary lessons so that I could be a chef since I wanted to learn, so I took your advice—well, almost, because I decided to do my own stuff and create anything I wanted, so since Santi, here, didn’t want to join their family business, I decided maybe I could be a secret business partner of the family—”

This is yours?” Gabriel addressed Santi from across the table.

Maya answered for the doctor with “I just told you, he didn’t want to be a part of the family business, so technically, it’s not really his. Mine would be a better way to put it, although,” she suddenly realized she was not supposed to talk aloud about it and whispered, “it’s a secret, really. Santi is the only one who knows and he coordinates with his lawyer for me and the lawyer coordinates with the Rivases. And when there are meetings, I need only log in to Skype for a voice chat.” She looked around the place to make sure no one had heard her careless storytelling. It was a good thing peak hours were not there yet.

Congratulations then, I’m happy for you.” He really did not sound like it. “I just wonder, if you’re not business associates,…?” The unfinished question still sounded malicious.

We’re really just friends, like she said” Santi replied coldly, matching Gabriel’s forced smile. “As I suppose you two are, correct?”

Hmnnn….” was the response coupled with a little sneer that seemed designed to annoy.

Mga loko!” she exclaimed. “You’re both not my type!”

That’s not how I remember it,” Gabriel added with a wink at her then a glance at Santi that he made sure was not missed.

Santi took the bait, saying, “Maybe that’s not how she remembers whatever it is you’re remembering.”

Is that so?” her old friend asked, now addressing her with raised brows and the sneer still pasted on his face.

Maya pretended to be unaffected. “Ay, ewan ko sa iyo! Anyway, we’re here to eat so why don’t we order? I know! I’ll order your favorite for you, Gabi—“ she caught herself, “—Gabriel. I’ll order for you the Puto Bomb! That’s my own style of puto bumbong. Isn’t that funny?”

Isn’t that supposed to be available only during the Christmas season?”

Not this one. And that’s a silly idea to get stuck with, anyway, when we can have it all-year round. Ours come with syrup that you can pour on it or dip into, if you don’t want it the regular way. We’ve got caramel, choco and honey to choose from.” She was blabbering again. “Then how about coffee? We’ve got barako, obviously. But maybe you’d like to have a taste of our rice coffee or corn coffee? We’re the first coffee shop to offer those, as far as I know. Or how about hot choco? Ours are made from actual tablia.” Mentioning those things somehow gave Maya a sense of calm, like they were familiar territory where both she and Gabriel belonged.

Without waiting for his approval, Maya stood up and went to the bar to give their orders. She realized she forgot to ask for Santi’s, but she knew he would eat anything she gave anyway, he would not mind. He would understand how preoccupied she would be with Gabriel as there would be a lot of catching up to do. He knew she missed her old friend very much for she had told him this time and again, like a broken record.

She took a look at their table and saw the two men barely talking, seeming to be eyeing each other intently like competitors would. Ah! This was not what Maya wanted, not how she wanted to introduce them, and very much not how she wanted them to react. Why she expected things to be different this time, she did not know. All she knew was that she was not ready, and surely, Maya would have a lot of explaining to do.

But not this soon!, she almost said out loud when Santi approached her to say he had to go as she received her change from the barista. Instead, she said, “Going? But we just got here!”

I’ve got work to do, you know that. I just got a text.” He produced his phone from his pocket as a way of showing that he did get a text, except he put it back almost as immediately. Maya supposed there wasn’t any text to actually show. “And I’d like to use your potion on the bones already, which I couldn’t do with him around.”

Aaaw…I really wanted you and Gabriel to get to know each other more. I want my bestfriends to be bestfriends, too.”

Santi had a serious, unrelenting look. “Sorry, Maya. It doesn’t seem likely to happen. I don’t think he likes me.”

Or maybe you just don’t like him?”

He ignored what she said. “Besides, I know he’ll be more interested in finding out what you have been up to all these years and perhaps, you know, rekindle old memories that he remembers with you…”

You don’t believe that, do you?” Maya took his left hand in hers and squeezed it to give him reassurance.

Santi gave a little laugh. “I was just joking. It doesn’t matter what I think, really. Also, who am I, anyway? He’s been your bestfriend since forever, like you said. Compared to how long you’ve known each other, it’s like you and I just met…” She could not think of anything immediate to say to that as memories flooded her thoughts. Santi pulled his hand back and checked his watch. “I do need to get back. I’m honestly sorry I can’t stay long, but I’m also glad to give you more time to be with your friend. I am sure you’ll have many things to talk about.” With that, he gave her a little wave, nodded to Gabriel who was watching them, and got out of the place.

Maya gave out a silent, exasperated sigh. There was just no way to avoid the inevitable, she might as well brace herself. She arranged for a takeout of the orders she made for Santi instead, then Maya went back to her seat to wait for orders she made for herself and Gabriel.

Now that they were alone, neither of them spoke. A certain awkwardness hung in the air. The surprise brought by them meeting again was initially a pleasant experience for her until realization began to sink in. Nothing was pleasant the last time they were together. Would it be worth delving into? Would he even want to discuss it? She was not sure if she did.

Fearing a confrontation, she decided to break the silence, anyway. “Wow, it’s been—what?—ten, fifteen years?”

Twelve,” he said. She knew that, but the idle talk was supposed to break the ice.

Can’t believe you’re an NBI agent, of all things. That’s good. A very productive way to spend the years. I’m sure they have made full use of your warrior skills.”

Not quite the way you put it. The work is very well-tamed.” He looked straight into her eyes. “You’ve been busy as well. I see you’ve reconnected with old company.”

And so we start. Can’t we just talk about my new car and the fact that I’m actually driving??? “Well, you’ve lived this life as long as I have, so you know that’s bound to happen in every generation, whether we like it or not. It’s not going to stop unless our breaths do. I’ve learned to live with it and accept it, no matter how people turn out to be.”

Oh, really?”

Sure! Did you see the receptionist?”

Sanwani.”

Yes. She is Cleo now. Looks different, but still very pretty, as she always has been the family beauty. People change face, but we recognize them just the same like it was yesterday. Every reincarnation, though, Sanwani is mean to me. It’s like she has decided to hate me for eternity.” Maya genuinely gave a little laugh.

Sounds exactly like your sister.”

Well, I don’t know how to break that cycle so I deal with it by just being happy to be with my sister in this certain Sanwani-lifetime. Now, Tilsa, guess where that kind sister of mine is. A convent! The habit suits her well.”

The talk was interrupted when their orders arrived: barako coffee and puto bumbong with all the syrups for him, just a simple cup of corn coffee for her.

Gabriel was still not in the mood she wanted him to be in, unfortunately, and had been thinking of something else. “What’s between the two of you?” he asked once the waiter left the table.

Tilsa?” she asked back, taking a sip of her coffee.

You and that guy.”

That guy…Santi…?”

Your Dr. Santi.” If looks could kill, Gabriel’s could have already killed her.

Nothing!” To her own ears, she sounded defensive. “You should know that.”

Do I really know that?”

Why, don’t you know me by now?”

That’s just the problem. You are like an enigma to me. I don’t know who I’m really looking at right now, his Maya or the Asyama’iya I knew?”

There’s a difference?”

Definitely. For one thing, you were a suicidal wreck when I left you and now, you’re this bubbly, talkative girl with her high-tech gadgets, a driving license and a new boyfriend.”

He’s not—!” she snapped and caught herself. Maya took a moment to calm down then told him to eat his food before it got cold. Gabriel picked up his fork but absent-mindedly poked at his food. “If you’re not eating that, then I will.”

So what are you two, really?”

Does it matter?” she snapped again. She expected this, but hated it just the same.

I think you owe me an explanation.”

Why? You’re not my lover, either. If I remember it correctly, you said you could never love me.”

That was not how I said it. Besides, I am not the issue here.”

Why should there even have to be an issue with Santi then?”

You know very well why!”

“Don’t snarl at me. Can’t we just enjoy each other’s company like old friends should?” Gabriel seemed to want to say something more then decided not to. Instead, he decided to eat his food.

Maya took that as another opportunity to restart the conversation, to clear things up. “Santi…Well, we met when I saved his life from…you-know-what. To make things short, I found out about his work and thought he could help me in catching ‘them’ through that.”

“And you catch them because…?” Gabriel did not even look up from his food. She did not answer. “I see you are still on the same destructive path.”

“How is that destructive? Isn’t it your job as an agent to catch bad elements? Me, too, just other kinds of bad elements.”

Gabriel stopped eating altogether and stared her in the eye. “How is it your job exactly?” She did not reply again. She knew where this was going. “The problem with you, Maya, is you never learn. And you’ll never learn until you let go of the past. You let it keep haunting you, and you keep hunting, and now, you’ve let another past back in your life…Good luck on your future, that’s all I can say.”

And with that, Gabriel put down his fork, stood up and left Maya half-regretting seeing him again.

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*“Mga loko! “Crazies!”

*“Ay, ewan ko sa iyo!” – “Whatever!” or to be more literal, “I don’t know about you!”

*puto bumbong – steamed, violet-colored Filipino rice cake

*tablia – cocoa tablets

 

MAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 5]

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.

CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 5)

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

NEXTMAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 6] 

 

 

MAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 4]

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.

CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 4)

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

NEXTMAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 5] 

MAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 3]

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.

CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 3)

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?”

Like…what?”

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

NEXTMAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 4] 

MAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 2]

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.

CHAPTER THREE: REUNIONS (Scene 2)

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.

****************************************************************

NEXTMAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 3] 

MAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 1]

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.

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

NEXTMAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 2] 

MAYA [CHAPTER 2: DEAD AIR, Scene 4]

For past chapter pages, CLICK HERE.

CHAPTER TWO: DEAD AIR (Scene 4)

HE straightened up from examining Mauro Subido’s naked body and checked his watch. A quarter to seven. Knowing Maya, she would be there soon, coming from her broadcasting shift. Except at times like this or other emergencies, she normally went hunting for monsters before going straight home to sleep for hours.

Awoke, she practiced her martial arts and what she called ‘non-martial things’ till around lunch. In the afternoons, she visited museums, exhibits, libraries, the Reader’s Thrift Corner where she bought interesting reads, or her psychiatrist—all depending on what mood she was in. Sometimes, she did read the purchased books, surfed the Internet, and watched TV. In the evenings, she often went to her favorite place, the Barakofé Blends & Deli, which she secretly co-owned, and went on-air three times a week for DWZS. Then the cycle would start again, with her hunting till the wee hours of the morning. Not completely unsociable, though, Maya did have time in-between the hunting and her solitary activities for the few friends she had, mainly him. It’s a cycle that even Santi had memorized.

It would still seem to be the normal routine of an active individual, if not for the hunting being a glaring and regular part of her almost-daily to-do’s. Given her background, Maya was easily one of the most fascinating people one would ever meet, if not the most.

As Santi continued his examination, he could not help but smile. He had made sure to read her initial findings before he went there, and she made sure it would amuse him. It did. It said,

Heart missing, possibly acquired through blunt force. Weapon unknown. Marks around the legs, indicative of legs bound together. Absence of such marks on the arms. Probable upside-down suspension of body, pre- or post-mortem. More thorough autopsy should reveal stress fractures around the fibula and tibia. Microbes may have caused faster decomp while cannibalistic organisms may have gotten to the flesh, broken phalanges as probable evidence, observation made possible due to absence of flesh. Fracture could be due to self-defense, as also suggested by the presence of lacerations on the arms. Blunt force trauma. Calculation suggests Mauro Subido has been dead for two to three days.”

And then she added at the end,

But of course, Teacher, by all means, feel free to debunk my findings. I am but your faithful student. Should my findings be correct, however, you owe me and I shall come to collect.”

Santi laughed upon remembering her email. Show-off! She had spent enough time with him to know of terms like ‘blunt force trauma’, ‘fibula’, ‘tibia’ and ‘phalanges’. He was sure she did her own research on the Internet as well. If he did not know her at all, he would have seriously thought she was showing off. Santi would not be surprised if one day, she decided to get a degree on forensic science, too. It would not have been impossible for her to be good at this science either. Maya could do everything she set her mind to, if she wanted to. Maya did have an advantage—she had all the time in the world to learn things and perhaps, perfect them. So a future Dr. Maya de Alano? It may not really be far behind.

Something stirred at his right and Santi caught himself from chuckling again. He did not yet want to wake the mortician snoring on the hard concrete table beside the one Mauro’s corpse was on. The man was only one of the only three other live people in the place. There was the old guard who seemed just about ready for his turn to be embalmed; the boring manager who offered Santi ten-percent off for any coffin reservations; and the mortician who thought it appropriate to ‘sleep with the dead’.

The anthropologist told the manager he was there to check on the body for more clues. He was not asked any questions and was left alone to deal with the corpse in the meantime. Perhaps flashing his National Bureau of Investigation ID did not really make a difference. They would not have really cared. As long as they were paid for their services, they did not care. After all, Maya had already paid for Mauro’s embalming as well as his wake and funeral. She had promised to Mauro’s widow.

The doctor went back to concentrating on his specimen and was in the middle of an interesting find when something made him straighten up again, pausing from his investigation of the victims’ head. “Good morning,” he said. Slowly, he turned around to find Maya waving two cups of Barakofé coffee at him. He’d recognize the logo anywhere, personally designed by Maya.

The image included characters from the ancient Filipino alphabet called alibata, or baybayin,which others would say was the more politically correct term to use. It used to be practically obsolete, except in some still-existing tribes, until recently when using alibata characters had become somehow a fad—something to make a tattoo look more mysterious and interesting, or to spice up some TV or movie plot—and yet, still not understood. It was proof that unlike what the Spaniards claimed, Filipinos were not an uncivilized race before they arrived and conquered. It was only what they made everyone believe.

Maya had scoffed at that in a conversation saying, “Ha! I was learning my A-Ba-Ka-Da loooooong before I met any of them. My father taught me that and his father taught him, and so on. If I had my way, I’d put learning alibata in the grade school curricula.” She would, too, knowing her. In fact, her journal notebook was filled with things always written in alibata, one way to keep most people away, ironically.

Maya raised an eyebrow at his morning-greeting. “Maybe you’re the psychic and you’re not telling me. How rude,” she kidded as she watched him take off his gloves and inch towards her, his five-feet-ten frame towering over her five-feet-one. She would always insist on the ‘-and-a-half inches’ but he was rather skeptic of it.

“Psychic? Maybe. Or could it be that I smelled the coffee?”

“Over all the stink here?” Maya asked then whistled her admiration.

“One develops such skill in such an environment.” And he realized he developed a keen sense of recognizing her perfume when she was around as well. He wasn’t about to tell her that.

Maya took a sniff, grimaced, then shrugged. “I guess that’s what ‘acquired taste’ really means. But still, yuck…I think my problem is my sense of smell is too developed that I can’t block out certain odors I don’t want to smell at all.” She handed him his cup. “There you go. Freshly brewed kapeng barako, the beans right from Batangas. Just the way we like it.”

Santi took a sip and immediately found pleasure in the warmth that traveled from his lips to his body. Nothing like strong brewed coffee on a cold January morning. “And my donut?” he demanded.

She stuck out a tongue at him, but took off the small and light sling bag that always hung from her left shoulder and across her body. She put it and her coffee down, beside Santi’s own paraphernalia, on the unoccupied concrete table beside her and started rummaging. Santi knew what were typically inside of it. Along with her iPOD and cellphone—both normal-people gadgets—were only a few yet not-so-normal stuff, if one knew what she did with them exactly. There was a wooden yo-yo, the balisong—that he had thought would kill him—disguised as a pen, a large pair of shades, and a curious little piece of transparent crystal kept in one of the pockets.

Maya still carried around the ebony stick that turned out to be a staff made out of the dark and strong kamagong wood. It was used for the ancient Filipino martial art called arnis, more known in the new world as kali, which was actually the more original term. Arnis was the self-defense technique now simply and appropriately called Filipino Martial Art. Maya’s stick was now paired with a newer one and they had their own case that she also kept slung from her shoulder. She took the case off her as well.

None of the said contents she produced. Instead, she handed a paper bag to Santi. “O! There are two donuts. I knew they’d put them in plastic bags so I came prepared. And you’ll find my latest creations in there as well, the Kesong Pilipit and Ampao Barako, free for your tasting pleasure.” Indeed, the said creations that were modified local products were there when he took a peek.

He liked the aroma already but pretended otherwise. It earned him a poke on the rib. “Don’t give me that face. I know you like them. They taste much better, too, I promise. In fact, they are doing pretty well at the deli. Plus, you have no right to be picky. You EAT around corpses, alright?” She picked up her coffee, covered her nose, perhaps to keep the other odors away, and with much effort, took a sip.

“Okay,” Santi agreed and took a huge bite off a donut, munched and swallowed. “Point taken.” He managed to keep crumbs away from Mauro’s body.

Maya watched him devour the pastries, which were surprisingly good as she promised, and gulp down his coffee. “Have I ever told you that sometimes, you don’t act like a doctor?”

“Have I ever told you that you often don’t act like a girl?”

The girl considered his retort then said, “Okay. Point taken.” Maya suddenly gasped. “Tell me that dead man over there did not just move…!”

“That’s the mortician.” On-cue, the man made a loud snore and shifted to a more comfortable position.

Maya snickered a little, crinkling her nose. Santi just realized that Maya crinkled her nose whenever she laughed and crinkled her nose whenever she squinted her eyes, usually during observations. Weird, maybe, but he found it rather endearing.

“Good. I have no idea how to deal with zombies yet,” she told him.

Lucky us, then. Anyway, sorry I could not examine the body sooner. I was busy identifying and investigating two skeletal remains for the NBI the whole day. You know how it is. The AFIS was not much help either. Lots of Filipinos unrecorded…Why did we change funeral homes, by the way?” he asked, lowering his voice and taking a furtive glance at the sleeping mortician.

She lowered hers as well. “Oh, the last one was getting suspicious, I could tell. I would be. Just imagine, four dead bodies in just seven months? I was running out of friends and relatives to ‘kill’. Too bad we can’t bring this new one to your lab. It could be easier with all the equipment there.”

“You forget. One, there are not a lot of equipment. Two, this is unofficial so we can’t make the medico-legal team examine the body. Three, if I were to make a more in-depth examination, I would have to peel away the flesh to make more accurate assumptions on the actual cause of death, and—”

“Which is why it’s good this is not a pile of bones. We don’t have to do too much guesswork. Stab wounds, missing heart…What mortal wouldn’t die? Cause of death: A hungry beast or a psycho on-the-loose. No need to identify the body as he is easily identifiable in this state, plus he was identified by his wife. No need to bother ourselves with his fingerprints and DNA analysis. Really, consider us lucky. All we have to do is identify who and what the killer is.”

“If you ask me, that’s the hardest part of all, and with you being the one who actually hunts them down, I salute and feel sorry for you at the same time.”

“Hmnn. Somehow, I don’t think I’m supposed to say a thank-you at all…Come to think of it, maybe I am sort of good at being an ‘unsub’ profiler, don’t you think?”

“Huh?”

“Hel-loooo?!! An ‘unsub’? And to think you worked for the FBI! ‘Unsub’ — UNknown SUBject?”

“I know that. But you’re not a criminal profiler.”

“I said ‘sort of’. Hay, naku, di ka rin istrikto, ano? I just meant that instead of criminals, I profile aswangs and malignos. You know, I saw this feature on the Discovery Channel once about serial killers? They said that studies have shown that many of these serial killers have an extra Y-chromosome. Isn’t that like a kind of mutation? Then that should mean they are like our malignos and aswangs, if you think about it.”

“I don’t want to think about it, frankly. It’s bad enough that people kill people. I just want to continue this examination.”

“Oh, I forgot. You don’t believe much in the power of psychology! Did you even read my initial findings?” Santi nodded and stifled a smile that did not escape Maya who kept a poker face as well. “So how was it?”

“You’ll be glad to know that so far, I support most of your findings, though for obvious reasons, I would not recommend a ‘more thorough autopsy’ at this point,” he replied, quoting her words. “I have bagged his clothes to gather trace evidence which, you know, is standard operating procedure. My assistant does not tend to ask as long as it’s not a dead body I’m hauling in for an unofficial investigation. Got particulates for analyses. I scraped off samples from his nails, too, and hope we get lucky and find DNA traces of the assailant. I will be sending parts of the clothes to UPLB. My entomologist-friend there may be able to find insect activity and identify of which insects exactly from Mauro’s clothing. May help us retrace his footsteps and find out his whereabouts before his body was dumped. As for the bound legs, yes, I believe he was suspended upside-down after he died…At least, let’s take comfort in that.” Santi stopped, giving Maya and himself time to do take comfort in that particular knowledge, however small.

He harrumphed after a few seconds and got a new pair of clean gloves to put on. Maya hated drama, he reminded himself. “You know, why don’t you just report the way normal people do, anyway?” he continued. “All you had to do was to say that somebody attacked him with something sharp, he defended himself with his arms, was over-powered, killed. His heart was taken out, his legs were tied together, then he was suspended upside-down for some reason, maybe bled out to dry. There! You could have simply stated it that way.”

“You forget,” Maya mimicked him. “One, I am a lot of things, good or bad, except normal. Two, normal is boring. Three, where’s the fun in that? And no, Two and Three are not the same. Three was for your benefit, he he he…

“Yeah. I’m sure.” He sounded sarcastic, but he did know she was right. “You were not-so-correct about the time of death, though, at least by my calculation. I checked body temperature and my conclusion would have been two to three days, too. Well, three to four days now since almost a day has passed. Anyway, it’s January and the snow abroad is melting so our waters are cold as well. Decomp may not have been that fast, actually. The colder the environment, the slower the decomposition. Plus salt tends to slower decomp as well and the ocean is salt-water. So I believe he has been dead a little longer than three days. Now, if I were a real medical examiner, I’d probably be able to tell the exact time he was killed, but—” sniff, “—I am not much good except with bones.”

Maya looked forlorn. “True. Well, we make do with what little we have.” Then she made a grand display of sighing. This time, Santi laughed loud enough that the mortician stirred a bit. Maya shushed him and whispered, “Susmaryosep. You are so easy. I’m weighing between slapping you on the head and letting you continue.”

Having composed himself, Santi took another pair of gloves and handed them to the girl who put down her cup and eagerly put them on. He went to the side where the body’s head was, where he was examining something really interesting before Maya arrived. He motioned to her to come near and said, “Tell me what you see,” so Maya obediently stood beside him. Santi handed to her a tiny penlight and pointed at Mauro’s crown. She bent to study the specimen.

It was obvious from her reaction she missed that one in her initial investigation. “Oh. I didn’t notice this hole. Bullet hole?” She parted the patches of hair around it and poked a bit, as if by poking, she would find her answer. “Eeew…His head feels too soft…”

“I have yet to find a bullet and I haven’t found an exit wound. Plus I did not find traces of gunpowder, but it’s not proof enough that he wasn’t shot. If it was caused by a gun, though, that should explain the softness as the impact of the gunshot, especially if executed at close range, would have exploded the bones of the skull due to sudden surge in pressure. The skull that burst into fragments should also explain why he has a mottled, swelling face.” Maya studied Mauro’s face and nodded in agreement. “Then again, whatever else that caused that hole was just as strong to result into all that…But that’s not the surprise. Peer in.” Maya again followed, using the light. The sound of surprise from her satisfied him.

She straightened up with a look on her face. “W-where…Where is his brain?”

“Surprise.”

“Y-you don’t think…? Was it…siphoned out?”

“That would be my assumption, yes, and that should explain the slight indentations, if you’ve noticed. Not much to keep skull fragments in place, I guess.” He watched her give a little shudder, which was uncharacteristic of her, he thought. “You have no qualms about slaughtering the bad elements, some you may have even chopped off to pieces, but now you’re close to gagging because of this?”

She raised a hand to make him stop and took time to calm down only to say, “I just would like to point out that though I’ve done some gruesome things—reluctantly, I should add, even if not obvious—I have never done them to consume their hearts or innards, or…tosucktheirbrainsout…” At the last mentioned, which she had said so fast that he did not get it at once, she did look almost ready to throw up. “I mean, it’s not even really the sight of them. I’ve made myself used to that. But it’s the thought of them actually being…I mean, something about eating…Son of a…! Now, I’m going to have this sick image in my head of blood and brain matter being sucked out—Excuse me!!!” This time, Maya ran out of the room. Santi guessed she went looking for the restroom to vomit.

She returned after a minute or two. “You know, there’s a sink right here, Maya.” He was rewarded with a glare. Maya picked up her unfinished cup of coffee and threw it in the bin. “I never said somebody sucked out his brain to eat. So far, all we can assume is it got siphoned out.”

“Yeah. Then served on a platter later.” She looked sick again.

Santi waited until color returned to her face. “Can you handle it now?” he asked although he really could not hide his amusement.

“How do you even do it? How do you deal with the yucky stuff?” she asked back, nodding her affirmation at the same time.

“Same thing with what you do before a hunt. I prepare myself. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have thrown up as well. Now? Not anymore. Sometimes, I do have lapses, but it’s part of the job…I seem to remember you being the one mentioning about aswangs gathering to feast on people.” And me about to vomit.

“I have lapses, too. Everyone’s entitled to give every now and then, I suppose…So! Now that I’m calmer, I’m thinking there’s a possibility that there was no consuming done at all. Maybe this murder was all man-made. That is probable, right?”

“Absolutely,” he said truthfully, but then added, “except we really have to do more print and DNA analyses to determine. You’ll have to wait much later. The last time I did that during work hours, I had my assistant asking me all kinds of questions. The discovery of such a DNA strand intrigued her so much, I had to lie and say I was joking and messed with the specimen. I don’t even know if she bought that story.”

Maya stared at him. Stared past him, thinking. “I know how we can be sure NOW.” She rummaged once more through her bag and this time, produced a small bottle of translucent liquid. Before he could say anything, Santi watched her open the cap and pour a drop on Mauro’s chest.

There was a fizzling sound and smoke arose. “Ano’ng—?!! HOY!!!” Too late. She had already done it and there was a burnt area created near the hole on Mauro’s chest. “What did you do? Was that acid?”

“Cotton swab, please,” was not the answer he was looking for, but Santi handed her a Q-tip anyway. Maya then explained, holding up the bottle between them. “A strong mixture of holy water, crushed garlic and salt. That should save us time and keep prying eyes away. I got the idea from TV. See? TV is not useless, when used wisely, and should therefore not be called ‘boob tube’. Anyway, I thought it best to combine all these to make a much more potent potion. As we know, aswangs hate these three things—holy water, etcetera. That’s simply because of the chemical reactions that happen when they come in contact with aswang bodily fluids like saliva and even as simple as sweat. I tested this on one of those monsters the other night. It worked! Like you said, it was like acid…So I do believe I deserve a high grade in Chemistry, what do you think?”

“And…this will help us how?”

“Chemistry?”

“No, the potion. How will that help us? It scorched Mauro, that’s all. Is that toxic? Maybe you forgot to mention about adding something like muriatic acid as well. That can’t be good if we get splashed on.”

“Watch. I will dip this swab here and wipe it on my arm.”

“No, wait!!!” But Maya had always been stubborn. She did it before he could even stop her. Nothing happened, it seemed.

Maya held out the swab to him. The cotton was blue. “Our ‘lithmus test’. It turned blue. Basic reaction. And now,” she took a new cotton swab from him, dipped it in the bottle, and applied the compound around the hole on Mauro’s head. Immediately, there was the fizzle then the little smoke. Maya held the swab out again. “Red. An acidic reaction.”

Santi caught up with her idea. “That means that his assailant did inevitably leave traces on him when it touched or ate some parts of him. And that means whoever did this was not human…Good work!” he beamed at her as she beamed back. Suddenly, an unwelcome realization hit the doctor. “I just remembered why I wanted you to check out his head.”

“You wanted to show the hole and say the brain was missing.”

“The skulls I was examining back in the lab?”

“What about them?”

“They have similar holes as well…”

 

 

****************************************************************

*blunt force – a hit caused by a usually large outside object

*pre-or post-mortem – before or after death

*stress fracture – fracture of a bone due to a heavy, constant activity applied on it

*fibula – hind leg bone or the human leg’s outer and smaller bone

*tibia – shinbone or the human leg’s inner and larger bone

*phalanges (also phalanxes) – finger or toe bones

*blunt force trauma – injury caused by a large object hitting a body

*forensic science – a field of science that uses various methodologies and applications to gather possible evidences and analyses of such for legal or criminal investigation purposes

*A-Ba-Ka-Da – Filipino ABC, read as such, with the letter K replacing C as third letter

*kapeng barako – a variety of coffee found in the Philippines called Barako, belonging to the species Coffealiberica, mostly grown in Cavite province and particularly in Batangas; due to its strong flavor/taste, the term ‘barako’ has also come to mean a male stud (man or animal)

*Kamagong – also called the Mabolo fruit tree found in the Philippines and famous for its dark, iron-hard wood that is almost impossible to break

*‘kesong pilipit’ – a coined term by the author for a supposed modified pilipit, a crunchy local snack that is a twisted sugar-glazed bread; for this story, it is larger, more chewy, glazed with ‘keso’ or cheese, with cheese also found inside the twist

*‘ampao barako’ – a coined term by the author for a supposed modified ampao, sugar-coated rice crispies normally sprinkled with peanut; for this story, it is round and coated with kapeng barako

*AFIS – Automated Fingerprint Identification System

*“Hay, naku, di ka rin istrikto, ano?” – “Wow, aren’t you a strict one!” said sarcastically with a sigh at the start (Hay”) and an expression, naku”, which is short for ina ko” or “my mother”, said in the same vein as “Oh, brother!”

*maligno – normally interchanged with the aswang, but based on what I’ve known so far, this could be supernatural beings that do not necessarily have to be monsters and not necessarily bad

*UPLB – University of the Philippines Los Baños

*Susmaryosep – short, Spanish version for the expression “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” although for some reason, Joseph, which should be Jose, is called Josef

*“Ano’ng–?!! HOY!!!” – “What the–?!! HEY!!!”

 

NEXTMAYA [CHAPTER 3: REUNIONS, Scene 1]