I come from a very superstitious country, the Philippines. And the more remote your town is, the more people believe in the supernatural. Although I grew up in the city, my imagination always leaned towards supernatural beliefs. While growing up, Mama would take us kids to the quack doctor to be “healed” when mainstream doctors fail to diagnose our sickness. In hindsight, it was probably just because our medical industry isn’t as advanced.
But my ultimate horror story happened when I was in senior highschool. A group of us classmates qualified to a computer programming tournament in one of the few computer companies that branched into the southern part of the Philippines. However, because most of the other contestants lived up in the mountains, away from the city, the company opted to have the competition there and drive 15 of us from my school to a tiny town a couple of hours outside the city.
It was a thrilling experience for a 16 year old girl. We had to stay overnight at the campus because we were due to be picked up at 5am the next morning. I was giddy to be sleeping in the classroom with my friends (and a crush nearby). Our bus trip was spent half dozing off because we really didn’t get to bed early (as would be expected when friends are under the same roof).
The competition venue was remote to say the least. The classrooms looked like temporary buildings surrounded by coconut and banana trees. The ground was muddy from last night’s rain and the stage looked like it’s been there since the Japanese occupation. But we were ecstatic to be participating in the first ever computer programming competition. Needless to say we aced it. The top three prizes were given to our school. We were overjoyed that our little excursion was successful.
Armed with our trophies, we made our way out of the school, expecting to go home that same day. However, the competition lasted longer than we expected and by the time it finished, there were no buses travelling back to the city (the school couldn’t afford a hotel or private transportation for our group). Our teacher decided we camp at the computer company’s local office and leave the next day. But before we could head off, we were approached by a local student who generously offered his home for the night. He was insistent that we take shelter at their place, and have dinner with his family. Since he was a local, our teacher obliged and told us to follow him to his place.
So we walked, and walked, and walked until there were no more lights or houses nearby. We followed a muddy trail in the middle of what seemed like a jungle, going deeper into the darkening forest.
Now you should remember that before we went to this place, there were stories of supernatural creatures frequenting the area. We called them Aswang – a beautiful maiden during the day that transforms into a baby-eating monster at night. According to the stories, she would apply a special oil on her body to make the transition easier. Once she is ready, her body would grow huge bat-like wings, her hands would turn into claws, her teeth would grow enormous fangs, and her upper body would separate from her lower body – hiding it in her house for safety. The Aswang would then fly into the night to hunt for people to eat. But her favourite meal is that of a pregnant woman’s unborn child. The stories say that the Aswang would remember the pregnant women in the village during the day and then follow their scent at night. Her long tongue would then descend from the roof made of nipa leaves and puncture the woman’s stomach to suck the delicious flesh and blood of the foetus.
Gruesome? Absolutely. That’s the kind of tale I grew up with as a child. It makes the evil stepmothers of Brothers Grimm seem like sissy little brats.
We were all teenagers, yes, but those stories that we keep hearing about will always linger at the back of our minds. Darker and darker the forest became, and we got extremely worried about our situation. Then suddenly, we saw a gate in the middle of nowhere.
“We’re here,” our guide said.
It was an old-style Spanish house, tattered and weary, surrounded by so many trees. We entered the house and saw that it was filled with people. A lot of people. The living area, the dining area and the kitchen were clumped together in the middle of the house. An old woman with long black hair, almost covering her face, was chopping something for dinner. There were several rooms, all on the second story surrounding the living area, like a dormitory of sorts. There were women and young girls, all with long flowing nightgowns, all with long jet black hair almost covering their faces –some sitting, some standing, all staring at us. I’m not sure whether there were any men there at all. I can’t remember seeing any.
We didn’t say it then, but we all felt it – the collective thudding of our hearts, the collective fear we felt, the collective instincts in our gut to get away. He asked our teacher to come, sit down and have some dinner with “the family”. We all gave our teacher pleading looks, even if we didn’t need to, because even in her adult eyes we could see she was petrified too.
She politely declined and we slowly walked towards the door (we didn’t want to make any sudden moves in case, you know – angry dogs usually jump on you when you run instead of just slowly backing away).
Once we were in the clear, we ran. We ran towards the nearest lights, the nearest road, where other humans can see us. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and unanimously decided to sleep in the computer company’s local branch for the night (our teacher already had the key).
It was probably just our imagination running wild, but if it was, why did we all feel the same way towards the place and the people? Why did all 15 of our gut instincts, our spider senses, go berserk?
After having dinner at a small diner, we headed to the office and slept on the floor, on makeshift beds, on the tables. We stayed away from the doors and windows, huddled in the centre of the office, and went to the bathroom in teams.
Everytime I see these people (we’ve kept in touch forever and are still great friends), we talk about that night and we still get the creeps. Who knows what would have happened, but I’d really rather not know.
p.s. A big THANK YOU to Marnie from 3pickles for giving me a new skill to master. Awesome awesome skill!