Category Archives: Fiction

Would You Read This Novel?

Here’s an excerpt of a story that is currently in the works. I don’t have any idea how long this would be, or if it’s going to be a weepy drama or a typical rom-com. I just wanted to share this with you and ask for your opinion on whether or not you would consider reading this if ever it turned out to be a novel.

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ONE:

The cotton bud was covered in tiny drops of blood by the time I pulled it out of my ear. Great. Another wound unintentionally caused by my own stupidity. Who else can injure herself with a harmless object such as a Q-tip? Who else but me? What a way to end a relaxing bath.

Grabbing a cotton ball, I tried to wipe off the remaining blood dripping from my ear. I sure as hell won’t be going out looking like my eardrums just burst. It was enough that I always asked people to repeat themselves before getting what they were saying. No, I’m not a dumbass. I’m not a retard either. It’s just that, I choose to focus on other things. Example – ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream, but I don’t. The taste of cold, frozen dairy mixed with chocolate and nuts is revolting. I don’t have to taste it for myself to know it. Another thing I hate is dogs. Those bumbling excuse of a pet makes my head squirm. We had a dog once, its name was Fluffy, believe it or not (‘coz my mom is soo creative). But it ran away after a week. Apparently, it didn’t like the idea of being substituted as a footrest. I also dislike cats. Those little devils… I swear to God those fur balls are spawns of hell. When Fluffy ran away, mom adopted a cat which she called Cleo. I wasn’t sure what it was called, but it was thin and didn’t have any fur. Cleo loved sleeping in the kitchen sink. Once, when I was tasked to do the dishes, I tried to move her, first by filling up her food bowl. She didn’t budge. Then, I switched on my laptop in the hopes of attracting her to lie on my keyboard instead. She took one glance at my computer, then at me, her eyes mocking, as if saying, “Is that all you can do, human?” before returning to sleep. I had no other choice. With my bare hands, I carried the little witch, cringing at the feel of her rough, cold skin. She wasn’t even out of the sink when she gave an angry hiss, at the same time, scratching me with those Wolverine claws of hers. I had to wash the dishes with a bleeding arm. Until now, whenever I enter the kitchen, Cleo looks at me with those green orbs of hers. And I swear, that little monster is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to kill me.

“What’s taking you so long?” My mom was banging on the bathroom door.

“Just a minute,” I replied. I still haven’t stopped the bleeding.

“Well, your date is here, you better hurry.”

Shit. I almost forgot about my blind date.

Blind dates were a monthly thing for me. For some unknown reason, my mom has this crazy belief that I would grow old without a husband. So she has taken it upon herself to hook me up with random guys she meets from various places. She believes that through this, I could at least find someone who would then open the doors for future relationships.

“I don’t want to die without a grandchild! So do your best this time,” – was my mom’s usual before-a-date speech. Which would then be followed by, “I can’t believe you scared him off again! What is the matter with you? Don’t worry, I’ll find you another boy,” when the date ends.

 It’s not that I don’t like boys. In fact, I adore them as much as the next girl. Once, after seeing the movie A Walk to Remember, I was so into Shane West I promised myself the man I would marry would be none other than him… or someone in his likeness. The problem, it seems, is that no matter how hard I try to make the date go smoothly, something unexpected always happens. Something unexpectedly bad.

“This is Jeremy,” mom said without much ado. “He’s just entered college and is taking up Biology.”

“Hi, nice to meet you,” Jeremy said, holding out a fair hand. Heavens knows where my mom picked up this guy. He was dressed in a black shirt with a skull print on it and skinny jeans that didn’t help in hiding his lanky frame. His hair, which was swept back, was as dark as his shirt. A spiked bracelet covered his right wrist, and a silver chain hung from his left pocket.

Oh god, please don’t be in combat boots. Please don’t be in combat boots! I thought to myself as I eyed him from head to foot. Damn. He was in combat boots.

“So uhm… are you ready to go?” he said, pointing his thumb to his back.

“Oh, yeah, I’m good to go.” I wasn’t. There was no way I would be seen with this… this weirdo.

“Have fun! Oh, and make sure to be back before 10!” My mom pushed me out of the door.

Jeremy gave me a close-lipped smile, with his hands in his pocket. We stood in the hallway for a few minutes before he decided to take the lead, heading down the stairs while I followed close by.

A blue, beat down Beetle was waiting at the parking lot. “After you,” Jeremy said as he opened the door of the passenger’s seat. It gave a creak.

“Damn, how old is this thing?” I said without thinking.

“Older than you.” He smirked. The engine sputtered, like an old man coughing, as he started it. He shifted the gear stick and stepped on the gas pedal. The car jolted, then started moving. It was pretty slow, but heck, what else should I expect from something that looks so ancient?

We drove in silence for a couple of minutes. I was starting to get bored. This was a bad sign. I avoided getting bored, as when I do, my attention shifts to random stuff. There was nothing interesting inside the car, except for the two stuffed dominoes hanging on the rear-view mirror, which dangled to the rhythm of the car’s movement. Jeremy must’ve noticed. As we rounded a corner, he slid a black cassette tape into the radio.

“Wow,” I said, staring at the radio. “I’ve never seen that in like, a really, really long time.”

“I guess you could call it vintage, then,” he said. He pressed the play button and soon, a man with a wispy voice started to sing.

“Uhm… John Lennon?”

“Wha –? Oh, hell no.” Jeremy started to laugh. I noticed that he had a tooth covered in a silver cap.

“Okay. I just assumed ‘coz, you know? It’s on cassette.” His laughter annoyed me. So what if I made a mistake? That was no reason to laugh.

“You can’t just call every male on cassette John Lennon,” he said with a grin.

I crossed my arms and looked out the window. “I know that, I was just trying to start a conversation.”

“By saying something you know was clearly wrong?”

“At least I tried.” I turned the volume up. “Asshole,” I added in a whisper before returning to looking out of the window.

He started to laugh – a loud, hearty laugh. One you wouldn’t expect to come out from such a thin mouth. I glared at him. “That’s what they all say,” he finally said.

He brought me to a quaint little coffee shop just a few blocks away from his university. It was a nice change from all the other dinner dates. Usually, my mom would set me up and my blind date in a nice restaurant. My date and I would have dinner, and then talk a little. When it was all over, my date would bring me home. Our parting words would usually be promises of second dates that would never come. This is why promises never meant that much to me.

The café smelt of a mixture of tea leaves and vanilla. It had low wooden tables and bean bags for chairs. Jeremy ordered a cup of macchiato for each of us. Since I was still mad at what happened earlier, I decided to order a slice of cheesecake and some cinnamon scones. After all, the best revenge on a man is through their wallets.

“If you don’t mind, can you tell me more about yourself?” He was holding his cup with both hands, tracing its edges with his long fingers.  He had his eyes fixed intently on me. Oh boy, I hated this part the most. First of all, how does one effectively describe oneself without sounding too egoistic? I could go for mild and meek, but in conversations such as this, being humble only means hiding vanity in a more acceptable way.

“I’d answer that, but you have to answer my question first.” I needed more time to think of an appealing way to describe myself.

“Sure. What is it?” Jeremy cocked his head to one side.

“Okay, don’t laugh. I’m really serious in asking this.” I cleared my throat and leaned forward. Then, I said in barely a whisper, “Are you a vampire?”

Jeremy’s eyes widened. Slowly, he put his cup down. He folded his hands and placed it under his chin. He took in a deep breath and furrowed his brows, as though he was in deep thought.

“Well? Are you?”

He shifted on his seat, took another deep breath and looked me in the eye with such intensity it made me doubt all of my life decisions. “What made you say that?” he said, his tone was dead serious.

“Well,” I said, rather nervously, “…you’re as ashen as a wax figure, and your lips are cherry red. You look as though you haven’t slept since you were born and…”

“And…?”

“…And you like old songs.”

He blinked his eyes once, then twice, before leaning forward. He gestured me to come closer. Closer. I was starting to get scared. What if he was actually a vampire? And what if I accidentally broke his cover? What if he intentionally brought me in this empty, secret café just so he could kill me and suck my blood dry? I could scream, but no one would hear me. In fact, the lone barista looked as though she could be a vampire herself. When I was as close as I could get without hurting myself over the edge of the table, he drew his face towards my ear. He was so near I could feel his breath tickle my earlobes.

“The truth is,” he begun, “…I am… NOT A VAMPIRE!” He screamed into my ear before he burst out laughing again.

I hastily felt if my ear started to bleed again and was relieved it didn’t. I shot him a disgusted look, then went ahead to stuff a particularly large slice of cheesecake into my mouth.

Tears were streaming down Jeremy’s face by the time he stopped laughing. He apologized and said he didn’t mean to laugh. He just thought that, me thinking he was a vampire, was funny.

“Looks like somebody’s been reading too much vampire novels,” he said, once he had settled down.

“You promised you won’t laugh!”

“Did I?”

He was teasing me, and I know it. We were at the second phase of our date now, the part where we talk about our preferences and past relationships, if any. Now was also the time to throw those meaningful glances and show a bit of skin, enough to tease the imagination. This is the trickiest part. One wrong move and chances of that much sought after second date could go down the drain. But following this date’s events, I’m not looking forward to a second date.

We sat in silence for a while. Jeremy’s cup was still quite full; in fact, it never even touched his lips – his blasted cherry lips. Damn. Why couldn’t I have those instead? While he sat there, looking practically like a male version of Snow White, I struggled to finish my food. The sooner I get rid of these scones, the better. I wanted to go home and start writing about how much of a bitch this guy was, on my blog.

 The clocked ticked by and still, none of us said a word. My tongue was starting to itch. I needed to say something, but I definitely won’t be the first to talk. Heck, if he’s interested, he’ll make the first move. So I waited, and waited, and waited… half an hour passed and still, no word. My butt was numb and my cup was already empty. Crap. Crap. Crap. I should’ve known this guy was crazy. Oh wait, I did know it, right from the beginning. From the very moment I saw those combat boots. Aside from having such a strong affinity to anything black, this guy had no fashion sense.

“So, you still haven’t told me anything about yourself.” Bam! Just like that. Silence is broken, as if nothing awkward has happened. Un-fucking-believable.

I stared at him, without even bothering to mask the incredulous look on my face. His chin was resting on his folded hands again, and his eyes were focused on… my empty plate? I wasn’t sure.

“Wanna tell me what happened to your ear, then?”

How the hell did he know about that? I was sure I had stopped the bleeding before I left the bathroom.

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Your ear,” he gestured towards his own ear, “…it had some blood in it. I noticed while we were driving.”

So he knew? And yet, that didn’t stop him from screaming directly into my ear? What was wrong with him?

“Had to check if you were going deaf,” Jeremy said, as though reading my mind. “Sorry.”

“Idiot. Ever heard of an ear infection?” I said, rolling my eyes in annoyance.

“Ever heard about the guy who tightroped across Niagara Falls?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”

Jeremy shrugged his shoulders. “I thought we were talking about things everyone was aware of.”

I was completely lost. It was better not to answer. I was starting to get so frustrated, I could feel my arteries clog. I checked my watch – 8:30. The date was over. It was time to go home.

The car ride was uneventful. Jeremy played his cassette and told me that they were his favorite band. Then he started yapping about how much he enjoyed the coffee and watching me guzzle down the last of the cinnamon scones. He said it reminded him of flamingos drinking water.

Mom took her time in answering the door when we arrived. It was one of her tactics to get me and my date to end the night properly. This was the last phase – saying goodbye. We stood facing each other, both heads looking down. I wasn’t in the mood to look him in the eye and give a proper farewell. I can’t tell him how much I enjoyed the date, because it was the opposite. Another period of silence.

“Uhm… so, I really enjoyed talking to you,” Jeremy started. I raised my head and looked at him, wondering if he was telling the truth or just being polite. “When can we do this again?”

My mouth fell open. Did I hear that correctly? Was he really asking for a second date?

“I was thinking, next week? Are you free? Saturday?” he continued.

It took a few seconds for me to compose myself. I slapped my face twice and gave my arm a pinch. It hurt. Meaning, I wasn’t dreaming. A second date… I was being asked on a second date! Why am I so excited? The feeling confused me. Minutes ago, I didn’t want to see this guy ever again. But now, I can’t fucking wait for Saturday!

“Lemme see,” I said, pretending to be thinking real hard. “Saturday works for me.” It was hard not to give him my biggest grin.

He smiled, and then offered me a handshake to seal the deal. “It’s a date.”


Flying To Mars

The voices are here to stay. At least, that’s what they told me when I first mentioned about how I keep hearing these strange, whirring noises. Truth be told, they’re not actually voices like those you hear every day, you know? Actual people’s voices, loud ones like those of the newspaper guy down the street. Or soft and hushed like that of a person dying of old age. No, voices without clarity and sound. Voices only I could hear. They started last year, just when I was about to graduate from college. I’ve been taking up education as I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Well, what I really wanted to be was an astronaut, but I’m no good in physics. When I was younger, I distinctly remember my teacher telling me that I could never be an astronaut because I could never remember what mass times acceleration was for. Until today, I still couldn’t tell. The thought was reiterated again when I failed to keep my frog alive during biology. We were asked to keep it breathing so we could see how the heart functioned. Don’t cut too deeply, the teacher said over and over while he breathed down our necks. Maybe he was checking for potential surgeons. Being able to make that t-cut without causing the frog to bleed and die was a mark of a good doctor, at least, that was what we were made to believe. My hands must’ve been too heavy. It was that or the fact that I trembled so much when I made that first cut. Needless to say, my frog was dead before my t-cut was completed. There was blood all over the dissecting pan and my teacher wasn’t pleased. How do you even expect to go into space if you get fazed by such a trivial matter? My teacher yelled, spit flying out of his mouth and into my face. At least, that’s how I remember it. Now that I think about it, these were things I have never thought about for a long time. Things that I thought were forgotten. But ever since those voices came, these memories returned as well. They came rushing in like water out of the floodgates. It started so innocently. There I was, sitting down on my favorite corner, in the café down my apartment building. I was reading a magazine with a famous astronaut featured on the cover. This astronaut had just returned from a trip to Mars where he stayed for a total of fourteen earth days. It took him almost a year’s worth of voyage, with his spacecraft travelling at almost fifteen-thousand kilometers per hour to get there. The whole duration of his stay, until his safe return, was truly a huge success. He was only twenty-seven. I held on to that magazine for hours. Rereading the details of his journey until my coffee went cold. I would’ve stayed longer, had I not heard those tiny whispers. At first, they were a series of static-like buzzes you’d often hear while tuning a radio. That day, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was playing, an appropriate song to compliment the café’s mellow atmosphere. Then, they started to grow clearer, louder. Incoherent whispers slowly turning into comprehensible words. I looked around and tried to find its source, but the cafés patrons seemed unaware of the chorus of voices that was now drowning out Gershwin’s rhapsody. I didn’t realize that the magazine I was holding now lay on the floor, while each of my hands covered my ears. Stuffing it, trying in vain to cover up the voices that had exploded out of nowhere. I woke up, on the floor, to a number of worried faces staring at me. Are you okay? What happened? Do you need help? Voices said to me, but these weren’t like the ones before. These were human voices. I remember it clearly, how they helped me back to my seat. How someone even offered to walk me back to my apartment. I still remember them all. The voices, well, they came back. I still don’t know what they want from me, or what they’re even telling me. They come and go without warning. Filling my head, growing louder, until I cannot take it anymore. Until I’d black out. In that magazine article about the astronaut who was sent to Mars, I remember about that one line he said when asked to narrate about his experience. I am complete, was what he said. The experience was to die for. He got shot a few months after that. Now, the voices are speaking to me. Wordlessly telling me that it is finally time to go for it. They said that I was ready. I didn’t argue. Frankly, I agree. I told you earlier that I always wanted to be an astronaut, and now is my chance to be one. I know that they are right and so, I am writing you this letter to tell you that I will be fine. You won’t be seeing me any longer, but know that I would definitely be watching you. The voices has assured me of that. Don’t despair. Mars is waiting.

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Dear Reader, If you happen to enjoy (or despise) this short piece of writing, it would be such an honor if you would spend a little more of your time to tell me about what you think of it. Help a struggling writer to find her voice. Thank you.


Swan Song

Last night, I dreamt about how the clouds would part the moment the end of times would arrive. In my dream, the heavens were black and lined with streaks reminiscent of a broken glass mirror. There were no stars, just specks of silver dots that gave off an eerie yellow glow, like the eyes of an unknown creature hiding under your bed. One that you hastily made up as a child in order to have an excuse to not sleep alone.
That was my dream. When I woke up, it was as bright as can be. Outside my window, the sounds of cars and people talking was loud enough to wash the sleep away. I sat up, already wide awake. An ice cold bath was unnecessary. Checking my watch, I realized I was ten minutes behind my daily schedule. This wasn’t really a bad thing, but it meant that I have to move faster.
An hour went by in a flash. By the time the noises down the street had dwindled to dog barks and bird chippers, I was ready.
Nothing seemed unusual when I headed down the stairs and out of the apartment. The custodian mopping the hallway gave me his customary salute, which I returned with a small smile. Outside, there were no cars. Although the street was littered with used cans and crumpled papers. A man dressed in a long coat was lying on the sidewalk, his face was painted black and he looked like he was in a deep sleep. There were no dogs, although the air was filled with their barks. Loud and sonorous, as though one was barking directly into my ear. After looking back, I admit that that situation alone was enough to cause me suspicion. But maybe I was too busy thinking of other things. Other less important things.
“Tickets for two.” I found myself telling the man behind the counter. The man looked surprised. I’ve been buying tickets from him ever since, and though we never said a word about anything else other than the tickets I needed, in a way, he was my friend.
“Tickets for two,” he repeated. It was more of a statement than a question. But I knew through his careful actions that he wanted to ask me why I needed two.
“Times change,” I said without prompt. “Suddenly, you find yourself needing two tickets instead of one.”
“Times change, just like how ticket prices change without our knowing,” he answered. It was the first real conversation we had had in over five years. “Here you go.” He handed me my tickets and gave a curt smile, which I returned. Again, looking back, that situation alone was enough to cause me suspicion, but again, I dismissed the thought.
The train arrived ten minutes earlier than usual. I was lucky enough to sit on an empty space near the glass doors. The trip would take me at least fifteen minutes, which was fine with me. Those fifteen minutes were enough for me to catch up on precious sleep.
I woke up when an unexpected cloud of darkness loomed. Around me, people started whispering. My brain was only half-awake when I turned to look out the window.
The train has stopped in the middle of the tracks. This wasn’t due to a power outage because I could still feel the hum of the engines beneath my feet. Outside, the sky was as dark as a black hole. Streaks of lightning made the heavenly vault appear like the surface of a broken glass mirror. Besides that, there wasn’t any other light, save for the specks of silver giving off an eerie yellow glow…


The Basics of Time-Travel (And Why It Should Be Kept Secret)

Rosemary recalled the last time she had a man’s arms wrapped around her. It was during a late summer’s day when it happened. There they were, sitting on a tattered blue blanket, beneath a star-apple tree. Her hair, still raven and shiny, was pulled back in a tight bun while his was combed into a sleek pompadour. He had his head on her lap, eyes closed as she read a chapter from Great Expectations out loud. When she was done, she closed the book and up he stood. He gave her one smile and then laid a kiss on her head before locking her in a tight embrace. They stayed that way until the moon replaced the sun. It was the best memory Rosemary had of him. At that time, she thought she had known forever. That was, until he got shot the next morning. Rosemary opened her weary eyes and sighed; forty years flew by so fast.

Now, her hair was all wiry and patched with streaks of gray and white, and her once cherubic cheeks now sagged. Still, her lips remained full and her eyes never lost their childish sparkle. Her arms were still firm, her stomach was still flat, and her breasts did not sag – not bad for a woman of sixty-five.

Despite of this, she was lonely.

The park was bathed in a golden glow, and Rosemary thought that it looked beautiful – like an old sepia photograph. Rosemary inhaled deeply. These were the moments she wished that she had remarried. Watching the sun set was better viewed with a beloved.

The day’s newspaper was folded neatly on her lap. She had just finished reading about a certain Mr. Zee, a self-proclaimed mad scientist who declared that he has discovered the secrets to time travel. According to him, with the help of a machine he had designed himself, he was able to open a wormhole that enabled him to travel between dimensions, and through time. Of course, Rosemary knew very well that this was all just hokum – the product of a mind possibly damaged by too much pill consumption, or lack of sleep. But still, the idea of travelling back in time appealed to her greatly. She would give anything just to have the chance to see Andy again.

“Care for a candy?” a man who seemed to have come out of nowhere offered. He was holding a peppermint bar.

Startled, Rosemary eyed the stranger warily before politely declining. She loved peppermint, but courtesy dictated that she decline his offer. Unless he offers it once again, only then could she accept.

“Go on, you look like you could use some,” the man said. He was dressed in a crisp white suit and had his hair neatly combed to the side.

“Thank you,” Rosemary answered in a small voice. She took the peppermint bar from his outstretched hand and gave him a smile. Her cheeks felt a bit warm, though it wasn’t that cold. It’s been a while since she last spoke to a stranger, most especially, to a man.

“Mind if I take a seat?” the man asked. Without waiting for an answer, he settled down beside Rosemary and grinned. He looked familiar.

“Do you come here often?” he said. Rosemary was feeling flustered. Normally, if she can help it, she refrained from speaking to anyone. Not that she hated people; she just preferred to be alone. Besides, when circumstances that required the need for social interactions arouse, she never knew what to say anyway.

Rosemary shook her head, stopped, and then nodded after. The man raised an eyebrow.

“I mean… Yes, I do come here often,” Rosemary replied. “Every afternoon.”

The man nodded. “I see. I came here often as well.”

Did she hear him correctly? Did he say that he came here often? How was that possible, when Rosemary just saw him now?

As if sensing Rosemary’s thoughts, the man chuckled. “Yes, you heard me correctly. I came here often… But not so much anymore.”

He still didn’t make any sense. But Rosemary didn’t dare ask any questions. She barely knew the man, and she felt it impolite to ask.

“Something bothering you?” the man said. He was staring at Rosemary with great concern. The intensity of his gaze sent an unexpected chill down Rosemary’s spine, and in an instant, she felt her cheeks flush once again. She covered her face in shame. A sixty-five year old woman acting like a schoolgirl in front of a twenty, perhaps thirty-something man, was a silly sight to behold.

“I’m sorry,” Rosemary said, keeping her face hidden behind her hands.

The man gave her a puzzled look. “For what?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Rosemary turned away from the man, she wanted to leave, but she couldn’t. Maybe it was because of extreme embarrassment, but her legs felt like a tree with roots buried deeply into the ground. Or maybe it was because, after a very long time, she has met another man.

Without her knowing, the newspaper folded neatly on her lap, fell on the ground. Seeing the headline, the man picked it up, smoothed it out and read it with mild interest.

“Time travel… Interesting.”

Rosemary looked up at these words. “Yes, it is,” she found herself saying.

After reading, the man folded the newspaper once again before handing it back to her. Then, he crossed his legs and placed a hand under his chin. His pose reminded Rosemary of that famous sculpture by Rodin, and of something else, although she couldn’t remember.

“Do you believe in time travel?” he asked, keeping his eyes on her.

Rosemary regarded him for a moment. “I believe it is possible,” she answered.

“You do? If I told you I’m a time-traveller, would you believe me?” the man said. He kept a straight face so it was hard to tell whether he was serious or not. Rosemary was starting to feel uneasy. She had always been warned against speaking to strangers, and at that moment, she hated herself for disobeying that one rule which she never failed to follow. She shouldn’t have taken that candy in the first place.

Not knowing how to answer, Rosemary gave out an uncomfortable chortle. “Don’t play games with me, mister. I’m too old for that,” she said.

“If I told you I’m a time-traveller, would you believe me?” the man repeated. He suddenly took hold of Rosemary’s hand. There was a look of unexplained urgency in his eyes.

“I…”

“Rosemary, would you believe me?”

Rosemary was taken aback. She didn’t remember mentioning her name to this man. No, she never mentioned her name to him. In an instant, her heart rate started to rise. Her hands became numb, and her breathing became shallower by the second. She was having a panic attack.

Alarmed, the man held on to both of her hands. “Don’t panic! Breathe… breathe…” he said, trying his best to keep calm. “Rosemary, look at me. Don’t you remember?”

She was taking in long and deep breaths. She needed to calm down. She wasn’t going to end up as the lonely old lady who suffered a heart attack in the park that the people would read about in the newspaper the next day. No. If she had to die, she would rather it happened in her home, with her lying peacefully on her bed.

“Breathe Rosemary, breathe… Try to remember,” the man said.

She didn’t understand. Remember what? Rosemary lifted her head and stared long and hard at the man’s face. The eyes were unquestionably familiar. But try as she might, she couldn’t recall where she has seen those eyes before.

“Rosemary, please. Please!” the man’s eyes were filled with panic. His grip on her hands was tighter now, but she didn’t feel a thing.


Venus

The house on the hill just beyond the rice paddy was an unusual sight, and Dean Solis loved every bit of it. Built before his great-great-grandfather was even born, the Villa Dela Rocha remained to this very day, the same ominous stone giant that overlooked the little town of San Andres. Thirty years since Dean last set foot over the wrought iron threshold of the estate and still, nothing has changed. The two stone dogs by the wooden door remained, sitting with their backs arched as if ready to pounce at the slightest hint of unfamiliar movement. Just like the last time he saw them.

Dean stepped out of his green Volkswagen and honked the horn. A long, low blast echoed across the estate, causing a nearby flock of birds to fly out of an acacia tree. He wasn’t worried of causing any disturbance. After all, the next house was probably a kilometer or two away. He blasted his horn again, this time, with two short ones.

Soon, a small door carved into the larger wooden one, opened. Out came an old man dressed in a tartan shirt and brown overalls. The man had a toothbrush moustache that covered a toothless mouth. A straw hat blackened with dirt sat on a weird angle above his head.

Dean gave the old man a quick salute. The old man gave a wide grin and hurried towards the gate, gait shuffling, due to rubber boots two sizes too big.

The iron gates creaked as the old man pulled them open with much effort. Dean muttered thanks before getting back in his car, and driving it into the estate.

The old man’s name was Francisco. He has been the caretaker of the villa ever since Dean could remember. Like the house, Francisco didn’t seem to age as much as he should. Aside from a few greying strands of hair on his moustache, Francisco seemed fine, for a man of his age.

Francisco offered to bring the rest of Dean’s things to the master’s bedroom, which Dean gladly obliged.

“Feel free to take a look around,” Francisco said, taking two of Dean’s bags and carrying them towards the second floor. Dean nodded. Taking a tour of the house wasn’t a bad idea, Dean thought. He could use a memory refresher. Being gone for such a long time, there were some aspects of the villa that Dean had forgotten. If he was to live here for the next couple of months, he needed to familiarize himself with his surroundings.

Saying that the Villa Dela Rocha was huge was an understatement. It was colossal. The entrance itself was enough to house a simple two-story house. A twelve foot door made from carved oak stood at the center, with two staircases with golden railings, flanking both of its sides.

Dean reached for the brass knob and turned it slowly. He knew very well what lay beyond that door. It was what he came here for in the first place. Growing up, Dean had heard stories. Stories his grandfather used to tell him before taking his afternoon siesta. Dean’s cousins never wanted to hear about these tales, because it frightened them to bits. But not Dean, he would anticipate each of his grandfather’s tales about the lady of the house. The beautiful maiden who stood guard over the house on the hill, her arms outstretched, waiting for her beloved to come back to her, forever.

“They said she comes to life at night, and roams around the villa, searching every room for the lover that she lost,” Dean’s grandfather would whisper over his grandchildren’s scared faces.

“Stop it papi! We promise, we’ll go to sleep now,” one of the children would say, eyes tightly shut.

“Good girl, now close your eyes and you’ll have a cup of warm milk waiting when you wake up,” Dean’s grandfather would say before giving each of his grandchildren a kiss on their foreheads.

Little Dean hated it when his grandfather’s stories would end. If he had the choice, he would want to listen to the tale of the stone maiden, over and over again.

 

The oaken door led to the grand ballroom. It was circular, with varnished wood for wall panels, and parquet floors. And there at the center of the room just below a golden crystal chandelier, she stood. Her arms were outstretched, white and sculpted in marble, outstretched as though inviting one to enclose the rest of her in a tight embrace. Her face was like a diamond, with a wide forehead and a delicate chin. Ringlets of what could have been ebony hair fell down to her waist. He could only imagine dark hazel eyes, sensual and imploring as they gazed at him, lifeless like the rest of her. As he stared, he wondered whether those cold, dead lips would feel real, if not close to real, as the statue’s hands. Those marble hands that seemed to have been tailor-made to hold him, to pull him, to lock him in an eternal kiss. She was glorious.

Dean reached out for the statue’s hands and held it. They were cold and unfeeling, just like the rest of her. Slowly, he loosened his grip. Disappointed over the unknown. What was he expecting to happen anyway?

“Your things are all set Mr. Solis.” Francisco said as he entered the ballroom. “Anything else you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you.”

Francisco beamed. He looked like a walrus, only one without its tusks. “I’ll be at the garden,” Francisco added, before giving Dean a low bow.

 

It was late in the afternoon when Dean decided to visit the glasshouse. Francisco, who was busy trimming a box hedge, was bathed in his own sweat. Not two minutes had passed since Dean entered, that he felt an icy trickle down his spine.

“He truly loved her, didn’t he?” Dean said. He was busy examining the floor, which was covered with the mosaicked face of the lady. Albeit weathered, Dean thought the alternating red and black tiles amidst a circle of white jasmines, looked out of place.

“I couldn’t agree more… sir,” Francisco said. The old man stopped for a moment to look at Dean. “Although, I believe adored would be the proper term,” he added.

Dean stopped short in front of a small jade Buddha that sat beneath a roof of pink plum blossoms. “Care to elaborate?” he said, scanning the jade statue. It was a curious ornament to an otherwise, strictly European themed glasshouse.

“Well, it’s the same story. I’m sure you’ve heard it hundreds of times.” Francisco placed a hand at his collar and started tugging at it, as though his shirt just turned tight. He wasn’t smiling anymore. The old man’s face, which looked taut before, was now etched with deep lines, aging him greatly.

A flowered bench made from whitewashed wood was situated just a few steps away from where Dean was standing. Thinking that it was about time to rest his swollen feet, Dean took a seat. He gestured to Francisco, who was now standing still as a statue himself, to sit by his side.

Slightly apprehensive at first, the old man took tiny steps and then did as he was told.

“Tell me about it,” Dean urged. His eyes were filled with child-like interest that Francisco found it hard to refuse.

The old man inhaled until his nostrils flared. Then, he sighed until he was out of breath. Before inhaling once more, this time, with his eyes closed. “Captain Dela Rocha was a powerful man,” Francisco began, opening his eyes slowly. He decided it was best if he kept them focused on the ground as he retold the tale. “Rich, intelligent and famous. He owned half of San Andres, and according to the records, even had frequent dinners with the governor-general and the friars during that time. He had everything a man of his stature could ever desire.”

“Except,” Dean interrupted, “…a wife.”

Francisco nodded his head. “A fine gentleman such as himself deserved nothing more than a fine woman. Everyone knew that. So, before his fiftieth birthday, Captain Dela Rocha decided that it was time to look for a wife. The captain threw a ball, and invited all of the eligible young ladies in the land. Ladies and gentlemen from all over attended this grand ball.”

“When the captain was about to take his leave, just a few minutes before midnight, that was when he saw her.”

“She was dancing, wasn’t she?” Dean said excitedly.

“Yes,” Francisco answered. “Arabella. This young, fair-skinned and raven-haired maiden, who was moving across the dance floor, swirling in her blood-red dress, caught the captain’s eye.”

“He was smitten. Never had he seen such youthful beauty.  In a trance, he ran down the stairs and scooped the young girl into his arms. He said he was in love and he wanted to marry her. The next day, the whole town celebrated their wedding. Arabella was twenty.”

“Twenty and very beautiful,” Dean said, more to himself.

“Arabella was beautiful. And she knew it,” Francisco continued. “She had the captain deeply under her spell.”

“No surprise there,” Dean whispered, thinking of the marble statue in the ballroom.

“But unlike other men who soared in the presence of their beloved, the captain fell to utter despair,” Francisco said. “After spending most of his riches to build Arabella this marvelous house, he became a recluse. The few people who saw him stated that he seemed to have aged a hundred years in just two. While Arabella, she seemed to grow more beautiful with time.”

“Soon, the captain died. Some say it was due to sadness because of Arabella’s inability to produce an heir. Others say it murder. But one thing’s for sure, after the funeral, Arabella closed the doors of the villa, and she was never heard from again.”

“And the statue?” Dean asked, unable to restrain his curiosity.

“No one was aware that Arabella had a sculpture of herself made. True, the woman had hundreds and hundreds of self-portraits made, everyone knew that. But the life-sized statue remains a mystery. It was found many years later, when the local government decided to re-open this place as a cultural museum. Since then, no one has ever laid claim towards its creation. The statue of a woman… standing sentinel over the villa.”

There was a long pause. Around them, Dean felt a chill, as though the temperature had suddenly dropped.

“Well, as you can see, the museum didn’t work out as planned,” Francisco said. He raised his head to face Dean. “While working on its restoration, workers complained that things just didn’t seem right, if you know what I mean.”

Dean shook his head.

“You know? Things disappearing then reappearing in places different from before, cold spots, whispering voices… Men before me often lost their minds on the first week of the job.”

“What made you stay, then?” Dean said. He jerked his head to the left, on a spot a few inches above Francisco’s ear. He thought he saw something move. He then decided that it was just the wind.

“Why? It’s because I fell in love with the place. It made me feel like a king. This place doesn’t deserve to be forlorn. Beauty must be preserved. And this place is a thing of much beauty. I don’t believe in ghosts. Well, I would like to believe I don’t. Besides, I need the money.” Francisco shrugged.

Dean regarded Francisco for a moment, before giving the old man a light pat on the thigh. “Good story, interesting.”

Francisco smiled his toothless grin. His face brightened immediately. “Glad you liked it Mr. Solis.”

“I do.” Dean returned a smile.

“Dinner will be ready soon. I hope you like crab.” Francisco bowed, and then exited, leaving Dean alone.

 

Francisco proved to be more than just a grounds-keeper. He was also both chef and server, an all-around butler, without the fine clothing. The crab was good, although a bit messy. Dinner was great, but the dining room with its twelve chairs felt empty. Despite his invitations, Francisco declined the offer to have dinner with him. According to Francisco, it was disrespectful for servants to eat in the presence of the master of the house. A bit unnerved to be addressed as such, Dean had to admit that it felt good. Francisco was right, the place did make one feel like a king.

Before retiring for the night, Francisco informed Dean of the schedule for the next day. And that he would be in the servant’s quarters near the kitchen. Dean made a mental note of the path from his bedroom to the kitchen, in case he needed Francisco.

While heading to his room, Dean passed by a portrait of the captain and Arabella. It stood from floor to ceiling, adorning the wall just behind a grey bust of the captain himself. Dean stopped to admire the painting. The artist did a splendid job, he thought. Each crease and wrinkle on the old captain’s jacket looked as real as the scowl on the captain’s face. His grey hair held neatly by a blue ribbon, while a violet feathered hat covered his head. He was standing behind a young woman, who was seated on a velvet chair. She was dressed in a silver flowing gown, each bead and sequin sparkling under an invisible light. Her dark eyes were judging and unkind, so unlike that of the stone goddess locked in the grand ballroom.

Dean changed his mind. Sleep can wait.

 

The statue was the same. It was still. However, now, it seemed like it was about to breathe. They say the statue comes to life. Distant voices echoed inside his mind. He shuddered at the thought. Arabella’s likeness was uncanny – the gentle curls that fell to her waist, the hazel eyes, and the outstretched arms. Lost in the moment, Dean stepped closer. The marble hands were just inches away from his skin. He wondered how it would feel to have them around his face. Somewhere, a clock struck midnight.

Dean’s mind was on fire. The fingers were cold, just like the lips that touched his. If only they were real…

He drew himself closer, wrapping the rest of her in a tight embrace. His eyes were shut tightly as he drew her in, tighter, closer. Pushing his entire being against her.

“My darling,” she whispered.

And the cold hands drew him tighter, still. Locking him in an eternal embrace. The cold lips kissing him. Just as furiously, back.