HEADLINE: MANANANGGAL IN FORBES PARK!

by Carla M. Pacis

BLAG! Cely woke up with a start. A loud noise had intruded into her dream just as Señorito Ricky was about to plant a kiss on her eager, waiting-forever lips. She tried to go back to sleep hoping the dream would resume where it had left off. BLAG! There it was again! This time, Cely stayed awake and waited to hear the sound again. The only sound she could hear was the refrigerator outside as it hummed its lullaby and Bandit's soft dog snores.

Bandit, was the family German Shepherd, who slept on the floor beside her bed. BLAG! KABLAG! Two in a row! Bandit lifted his head, perked up his ears and got onto his feet at the same time that Cely grabbed her uniform and shoved her feet into her rubber tsinelas . That was too loud to be a cat or a rat. There was only one thing that could have made that sound. Magnanakaw !

Both maid and dog rushed to the double back door of the mansion's kitchen where Cely had been living the last few months. Her amos , were the adorable Señorito Ricky, his wife, the very pregnant Senorita Susan and their two adorable twin sons, Ryan and Robbie. Srta. Susan expected Cely to clean, wash, cook and take care of the kids. Were they too stingy to hire other maids?

Cely opened the back door for Bandit who, already having smelled the culprit, was excitedly jumping and yelping. He rushed out the door, slammed open the screen door and began to bark as loudly as he could while baring all his big sharp teeth. That should scare away whoever is on the roof Cely thought as she stood behind the door.

On the roof of the large house, a visibly frustrated and increasingly angrymanananggal murmured, " Anak ng tupa! These tiles are too thick and tightly spaced for me to be able to get my tongue through! It's already so bruised in so many places. I've hopped all over this roof and tried to unglue the tiles. My beautiful long nails are chipped in so many places and I still can't find a decent opening to put my tongue through! And the smell of that delicious fetus is driving me insane! And now, and now, that stupid dog is going to give me away! Never mind, one good snarl from me and it'll be reduced to a puppy!" She lifted her arms that were like giant bat wings and flew down fast towards the dog, her long black hair flying in the wind, the part of her stomach including the small intestines trailing from under her. It was a feat of gravity that they did not fall out.

On seeing this creature rushing down at him with a snarl meaner than his on her face, Bandit ran back into the house, fur standing on end. He crashed into Cely, causing her almost to fall, and ran straight into her room. The once brave Bandit had been reduced to a whimpering ball of fur. Cely quickly closed both doors. As she did, she thought she heard the whir of wings. She shook her head as if to throw the thought. But she made sure the doors were locked and ran to join Bandit in the sanctuary of her room and the safety of her cot. "Please dear God," she prayed aloud," don't let it harm me. I'm just a poor house maid who needs to send money to her poor mother.

"Cely," Srto. Ricky asked at breakfast the next day, "did you hear those sounds on the roof last night?"

"Yes, sir," she answered dully.

"Was that why Bandit was barking so loudly?" asked Srta. Susan.

"Yes, senorita."

"What was it?" asked Senorito.

"I dunno, sir."

"Report it to village security anyway on your way to work, honey," said Senorita.

With senorito at work, the senorita sleeping siesta and the kids watching TV, Cely took a break from her chores to investigate last night's event. She took Bandit with her and headed straight for the clump of bushes by the swimming pool. She looked carefully at each of the plants and the ground on which they stood. The soil had not dried up yet and Mang Temiong, the driver cum gardener had not yet watered the plants. Sure enough, she found the spot where the manananggal had planted her body. A couple of plants in the center of the clump had broken stems and torn leaves. The ground had the deep imprints of someone who stood in the same place for a long time. "She's after Srta. Susan's baby," she whispered to Bandit, who stood by her but had both ears flat on his head and tail tucked between his back legs, hair on end. "She really scared you, ano ? She'll be back again but don't worry," she said as she ruffled Bandit's fur, "we'll be ready for her."

Cely went back into the kitchen and came back out carrying a small jar of rock salt clutched in one hand, a handful of onions and ginger in her other hand and a bottle of vinegar tucked under her right armpit. She sprinkled and poured all of these ingredients all around the clump. "See, she won't be able to hide her body here and maybe she'll go away and never come back," Cely hoped. She knew from the stories her mother told her that manananggals were very persistent creatures and would try everything to get at their victims.

That night, Cely sat up in her bed, with Bandit settled uneasily on her feet. She waited silently in the dark to hear the telltale signs. Sure enough, just as her mother had said, she heard a faint shrill cry that made the hair in the back of her head stand. She knew that the manananggal had arrived. So did Bandit. The poor dog shook and whimpered in fear. "Don't be scared Bandit," she assured him, all that salt, garlic, ginger and vinegar will drive her away."

BOG! Suddenly, Cely heard the sound a body makes when it bumps against a window. It sounded like it was coming from the master's bedroom.

"Oh no, my trap didn't work! Mang Temiong must have watered the bushes!" Cely ran out to the garden and looked up. There was the manananggal banging herself against the thick glass windows of the master's bedroom, her long, scaly tongue flailing about and slamming against the glass. Cely covered her mouth with both hands so as not to scream and draw attention to herself. Thank God the curtains of the master's bedroom were thick and always fully drawn at night. The morning sun bothered the senorita.

Cely quickly turned and bolted from the horrible scene. She began her search for themanananggal's lower body. Where would she hide it this time? Several pained howls from Bandit sent Cely running towards his empty cage. The poor dog had smelled out the lower half of the manananggal's body tucked neatly behind his cage and the cement wall. I need to move the body even just a little so she can't connect properly, thought Cely. "Quiet Bandit!" she whispered loudly at the howling dog as she squeezed herself behind the cage. "We don't want her to know that we've spotted her lower body.

Anak ng dalag! That dog again!" screamed the manananggal upon hearing Bandit's howls. "This time, I'm going to shut him up for good!" Upon reaching the dog's cage, she spotted a human with the dog. "She must have been the one who put all that salt, spice and vinegar all around the clump! I'll get her too!" Themanananggal dove towards the human and the dog with the speed of a curse. Cely heard her coming before she saw her. She kicked at the manananggal's lower half, which didn't move an inch. She couldn't help notice that the lower half wore slick, silk pants, similar to the pair Srta. Susan had which she had to dry clean by hand. She kicked again. Harder. It swayed a little on its stiletto pumps but still didn't budge. Just as she was about to kick at the lower half again, the manananggalswooped in and managed to connect the upper half of her body to the lower half. She was so close to Cely that she noticed the manananggal wore a silk shirt. What kind of manananggal was this Cely thought as she tried to quickly scramble out from behind the cage, her arms flailing wildly at the monster. But, instead of attacking Cely, the manananggal simply flew away.

Cely was surprised. She thought tonight was the night she would die and no one but her mother would know how her death had come about. When she put her hand to her forehead in relief, she realized why the manananggal had flown away instead of attacking her. Thank God for home cooked meals! She had cooked chicken and pork adobo , the senorito's favorite food, that night!

"It was like something wanted to get into the room!" Cely heard Srta. Susan say as she and the senorito walked into the dining room.

"I didn't really hear anything," said Srto. Ricky.

"I was trying to wake you up!"

"Must have been really tired from work."

"And the baby. The baby started tumbling around in my stomach!"

Cely served the senorito his coffee and the senorita her juice. The air-conditioning must have muffled the sounds, she thought.

"You were just agitated about the baby. Cely, did you hear something banging against our window last night?" asked Srto. Ricky.

"No senorito," she answered.

"See?" he told his wife.

"Okay so you're right. Wish I could take sleeping pills but the doctor has banned them while I'm pregnant."

Armed with the necessary weapons, Cely went back out to the clump first and sprinkled it all over with the ingredients, not forgetting to tell Mang Temiong not to water those plants.

"You're acting really funny Cely," said Mang Temiong.

"There's a manananggal that's trying to suck Srta. Susan's unborn baby from her stomach!" she whispered conspiratorially.

"Don't tell me you still believe in those folktales!" laughed Mang Temiong.

"But I saw her!"

"You did? , what does she look like?"

"She has long, straight black hair and a face that is as pale as a ghost."

"But that sounds like the amo of the next house!"

Cely's heart skipped a bit. Was it possible? And she hadn't told Mang Temiong about the silk pants and shirt.

That night, Cely did not wait in her room. She waited in the shadow of the wall that separated their house from the neighbor's armed to the teeth. All that she needed was in the market basket. Srta. Susan had even asked what she planned to do with the kilos of rock salt, onions and ginger and the case of vinegar. She gave some flimsy excuse about Srto. Ricky having an office party and wanting to serve adobo . The night passed. Her legs began to ache so she sat down against the wall. She began to feel sleepy. Her head was getting heavy and still no manananggal .

She must have dozed off because she woke to Bandit's wild howls. Did she not leave him in her room? Cely ran towards the sounds. She found Bandit, hair all at ends, in front of the kitchen door running madly around in circles, his tongue lolling out and foam building up around his mouth. On his back, was the upper half of themanananggal ! She was trying to get the dog to bring her into the house. Poor Bandit! Cely had to find her lower half quickly or the dog would die from fright!

Cely had no idea where to start. She was sure the clump of bushes and the dog house were no longer safe for the manananggal to hide her lower self. She ran around the house and searched the roof for something unusual. Nothing. She checked the bushes in the front yard. Nothing. She looked up the mango tree. Nothing.

In the meantime, Bandit's howls were getting wilder and more desperate. Now she could hear banging. The monster was trying to break down the kitchen door! She checked inside the large, ancient jars that stood by the front door. Nothing. She ran back out to the garden. The garbage can caught her attention through the grilled fence. Something else was beside it!

Cely opened the gate and ran to where the garbage can stood with one hand holding the basket and the other pinching her nose closed. The black plastic bags in and around the can had popped open from all the gas the garbage had built up. The stench was horrible. Two weeks and the garbage men still had not passed by to collect the garbage. A perfect place for a manananggal to hide her lower half! And there it was, in jogging pants and running shoes, standing straight as a sentinel among the black plastic bags. With great efficiency from having to sauté so often, Cely quickly sprinkled handfuls of salt, chopped onions and ginger all over themanananggal's lower half. She thought she recognized the liver and were those the kidneys? Then she poured a whole bottle of vinegar and another, just to make sure, on the exposed half. That should cook it! she thought as she hurriedly ran back to the back of the house to save Bandit. Waving her hands in the air, she screamed at themanananggal to leave and never come back. Hearing Cely's screams, themanananggal began to rant, " Anak ng tilapia ! It's that probinsiyana again! I hope she hasn't found my lower half. The last time she did, she ruined my silk pants. Thank the demonyo that this time, I wore my designer jogging outfit." But smelling all the garlic, vinegar and onions from Cely as she came closer, the manananggalimmediately flew away. Poor Bandit collapsed to the ground. Was he dead? Cely had no time to find out. She followed the manananggal to the garbage can. The shrill scream of the doomed monster upon finding her sautéing body was so loud and so frightful that Cely cupped her ears. It was loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood! The distraught manananggal flew around her quickly shrinking body and wailed at its demise. Eventually, she too began to sauté and POOF! All that was left were ashes which Cely quickly swept into a garbage bag.

Cely held Bandit in her arms and struggled to carry him inside the kitchen. He still seemed to be breathing although very faintly. She laid him on the tile floor and cleaned off the grime the manananggal had left on his beautiful fur. Then, she wrapped him in a blanket and stroked him until she herself fell asleep.

"Cely wake up!" Mang Temiong called several times as he gently nudged her.

"Huh?"

"You fell asleep on the kitchen floor with Bandit. What happened to him? And why do you smell like you've just been ginisa ?"

"I killed the manananggal , Mang Temiong. I found her body and killed her," Cely said sleepily.

Ay naku , you just dreamed all that. Get up and get dressed before the senoritos come down for breakfast."

"Listen to today's headline sweetheart," said Srto. Ricky as he read the newspaper, "Manananggal spotted in Forbes Park!"

"How crazy naman ," said Srta. Susan. "These journalists just have to find anything to sensationalize."

Not really thought Cely as she served her cute Srto. Ricky his coffee and Srta. Susan her juice.

July 2004

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