ONE / AT OLD GUINTO CEMETERY
“And you shall be made welcome in the House of the World,” Lando intoned the quaint, archaic end of the prayer for the dead used around these parts. He murmured it while the rest of the assembled few, clad in black and full of grief, said it in solemn measure.
He had come home to bury his mother. Lando, this provincial boy turned Manila condo-dweller; might as well be living on Mars from the looks they gave him. Admiration and odium in almost equal parts. They knew him, from mewling babe to awkward teen before he departed. They knew him like they knew the threshing of rice for harvest season and now he was miles and miles away from the nearest 7-11. But who was he?
When the funeral director told him they’d finish covering the grave in the morning since their truck had broken down, he simply nodded, distracted as the procession of condolences started. He barely noticed the necklace of garlic bulbs they tossed into the hole.
“Mutha laid to rest. May she R.I.P” Lando tweeted and stared back at the assembly and shook hands and thanked them all with dry eyes.
TWO / AT THE NEW GUINTO ANCESTRAL HOUSE
“This is a true story, but you will not believe the truth of it.”
His old nursemaid, the yaya of his boyhood, was giving him a talking to in lieu of a welcome. This tree bark of a woman, the wife of the chief caretaker to their once sprawling estate was all that was left of the small army of servants needed to run the place; a hacienda since gone to ruin with neglect and parcels of land sold off to this farmer, that experimental irrigation company, and one strange Dutch guy who might very well be a child pornographer according to rumors.
Yaya poured him more coffee, then continued “I tell you this: The fortitude of ghosts is built upon the bedrock of human emotion. The certainty of intense feeling. Doubt, fear, grief, any of them made into some form of reality of the moment, a product of longing that encases you as unerring as beholding the love of your life, naked for the first time. An experience to prove that even death can sometimes overlook his duty. Sometimes, but not often. Your mother understood this and the dichotomy of Old Guinto and New Guinto. Why we had to leave the old town to prosper in the new. The sacrifices we had to make and the sacrifices we make still. That woman had grit to spare. Her grave, if you have courage enough, will be a site for reverence but only at the correct time of night.”
She crossed herself. Lando did the same. “May she be made welcome in the House of the World,” they both said, almost together.
He had intermittently visited his bedridden mother towards the last days of her life as if he was easing himself off a helpful, but double-edged substance. Something that needed a taper of dosage for proper withdrawal. Too slowly and his system might never recover, too fast and he would relapse.
All he remembered by the time his visits had gone to once every other month was that, the last time he saw her, she appeared defeated, reduced, constantly in shock: possessing the thousand yard stare so many of those he treated in psych sessions, for troubled teens and children, accumulated from sustained trauma. It filled him with disgust to see how she had given up fighting. With disgust came shame and a hate so powerful it distressed him.
“Grit? My mother? Bullshit. That woman had, God bless her soul, gone on to become the flake she abhorred once she decided the cancer was going to defeat her. Also, the love of my life turned out to be a whore, Yaya,” Lando said.
This old woman grinned, and Lando, the gifted psychiatrist who had purloined lost hope from so many a despondent patient like fishing an elusive, tiny creature from the black depths of their depression to show it to them glittering and slick with potential, felt like a seven-year-old again under her gaze.
She had his habit of bluffing down cold, and called it: “Did I not tell you?”
THREE / AT THE NEW GUINTO BARANGAY HALL.
In these parts the drug of choice is fantoma, a mix of potent weed, fermented corn, and finely granulated meth dashed with some kind of pollen from God knows what. It’s drunk, or burned then inhaled, or mixed with condensed milk then spread on pandesal. Tonight, the funeral celebration for the community demanded shots.
So they had shots. Too many mystics in both the towns of New and Old Guinto had been born from of the vicissitudes of fantoma.
Lando couldn’t remember the names of his old /new buddies, most of them were his elementary and high school classmates, now turned farmers, that he’d summarily declared them all as classless, brusque pricks after he left the province. How mistaken he was! They were good guys and surely the best of friends who now toasted tribute to his dead mother.
When someone suggested they should go to the Old Guinto cemetery to properly fete the recently deceased, this sounded like a grand idea.
FOUR / ON THE ROAD TO OLD GUINTO
Including Lando, five of them traipsed through the darkness with two flashlights and a lapad bottle of gin-fantoma each. There were no actual roads between Old and New Guinto, and no street lights as such. Lando couldn’t tell who was talking in the dark but he was sure that the potent alcohol and drugs in his system was making him horny as fuck.
“Hey, my eldest sister used to tell me this story about why they call this town Old Guinto and ours New Guinto, like a whatchamacallit, legend.”
“Isn’t your sister’s a whore?”
“Well, yeah, but you want to hear about it or not?”
“So this is how she used to tell it: Seven hills there were in the threshold to the House of the World and, atop each hill, was a king set to rule over that hill. And for each king was given a fierce guardian to protect the king and his family and those treasures he held in keeping for his people. But only one out of all the hills was suffused with gold and greatly did the six other kings covet that hill’s riches.
“When the six kings decided to wage war against the ruler of that kingdom, the Gilded King, that same wise noble reached out to one of the six kings, a fierce Warrior-General, and proposed a bargain: help him defeat the other five kings and he would be rewarded with a fourth of that kingdom’s treasures.
“The Warrior-General thought this a fair, easy bargain since he had the biggest army and the best weapons out of all the other kingdoms. Even a fourth of the Gilded King’s riches would be more than enough to fill his coffers many times over. So he betrayed the other five kings with a decisive attack and the benefit of surprise, decimating them on the battlefield and enslaving what was left of their families then given over to the Gilded King.
“Pleased, the Gilded King presented the Warrior-General with his reward and so they took the gold back to the Warrior-General’s kingdom. But the Gilded King, unknown to his ally, did not want to relinquish his treasures so easily so he had placed a spell upon the chests of riches so that there were only traces of flecks and powder within when the Warrior-General’s people arrived at their kingdom.
“Furious at this duplicity, the Warrior-General launched an attack against the Gilded King’s but his soldiers were still so exhausted from fighting the other armies of the five kingdoms that they were routed and eventually defeated. With his dying breath the Warrior-General cursed the whole kingdom of the Gilded King from his advisors to his soldiers to his citizens in seven ways that would carry on to the children of their children until the end of days, one curse for each of the kingdoms he had felled with his malice and deceit.
“It is said that the site of Old Guinto used to be part of the Gilded King’s domain and so it became a cursed, wretched place that was destroyed by avarice. The end.”
“What the fuck? That can’t be the end?”
“That‘s all I remember!”
“Maybe one of the curses is fantoma? Might make sense why there’s a lot of drunks in town.”
“Well, how did Old Guinto become New Guinto?!”
“Oh, wait, yeah. I think that part goes like this: ‘When the children of the Gilded King threatened to annihilate the House of the World the refugees fled rather than be consumed by the hungry darkness of those who still dwelt upon the hill.’ So I guess that was further down the road and the refugees are our ancestors who fled and made a new town. Or something. Damn it, I’m drunk, okay?!”
“Fucking House of the World shite, who cares? Let’s get some girls over and have some real fun. What do we need to go to a dirty cemetery for?”
“Yeah! Who’s up for poker? My house is over this way!”
FIVE / AT OLD GUINTO CEMETERY
Only Lando decided to forge on to the cemetery armed with one of the flashlights. His new best friends had been waylaid by thoughts of poker and the company of provincial girls willing to play strip down with a little fantoma down their throats.
Who needed them? He had grit aplenty. Grit that absent from his mother in her dying days. Alone and free of provincial small-mindedness, he had accomplished so much. Why fix something not broken?
He had forgotten that here grave was still mostly unfilled, a green tarp covering it, a huge mound of dirt to the side, like a miniature of the hill in that story of the Gilded King and his cursed progeny a.k.a those who still dwelt upon the hill.
Off to his left and all behind him the woods of Old Guinto, a ruined town of empty houses and half-demolished buildings, had run rampant into the abandoned structures and loomed.
“Well, mother, here I am!” Lando staggered as he raised his bottle and drunk from it. “Late as usual to whatever it is you had planned.” He had not arrived in time to see his mother still alive. “You were always saying how much of a disappointment I am.” He had not arrived for her last birthday, citing some lame excuse from work. “So I made it a point to leave and disappoint you from a distance. Myopia makes the heart grow ever so fonder.” He had not sent her a gift or called but texted her a birthday greeting.
And as he stood over the grave he thought about what he’d not done all those long years of her sickness, uncaring, and wept and collapsed to his knees from the confessions of his grief. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he murmured to the earth. He dropped the bottle of fantoma and gin and it rolled under the tarp into the grave.
The sound he heard then, if you pressed him after, could have been pinpointed to the front and somewhat to the left, deep inside the woods, but really it felt like it was all around him. What it was was a roar. A revving chainsaw coming from the mouth of some primordial beast, more machine than mammal. But it had pitch and it was angry.
There was no choice for Lando. With the swiftness of those drunk and yet in deep terror he rolled down and jumped into the open grave, landing with a soft thud on the soil on top of his mother’s coffin, his foot tangling in the garland of garlic bulbs the superstitious fuckers had thrown in. What dirt there was was meager, but sufficient to muffle his fall. The creature had not heard him.
Moments later he heard the flapping of giant wings and a gust that shook the leaves. Then the woods became so silent he thought his heart could be heard for miles. After 10 minutes without incident he finally decided to climb out of his mother’s grave and investigate.
SIX / SOMEWHERE IN THE OLD GUINTO WOODS
He crept from cover to cover in case the creature, or man, was still out there, but he made good progress and it didn’t take him long to spot what was likely the its victim.
There was a pair of legs in a sundress partially hidden by a doorway inside a concrete structure, an unfinished house with no roof, or the roof likely stolen by looters. Whoever it was was sitting with their back against a wall, flexing their rubber shoes.
“Miss are you okay?!” he hissed. He approached and could make out the floral details of the gold and black filigreed sundress, the Chuck Taylors the girl wore, and the fact that these legs were athletic and mestiza and the hem of the dress was way above the knee showing amazing calves and a smooth expanse of thigh that would, in a different situation, make the crossed-legs angle drive him crazy.
Why wasn’t she responding? But her left leg just moved and one knee was slightly raised, the right leg now extended fully.
He gestured to her. “C’mon let’s get out of here! Don’t know if it’s coming back but let’s not wait to find out. Are you hurt?” Hope not. Lando didn’t think he’d be strong enough while drunk to carry a whole human being to safety, especially since the nearest help was in New Guinto, a good 30-minute walk away. 20, if he ran. Shit. He had to get closer and check.
He rounded the corner and shone the flashlight full upon the figure. There was nothing above the waist of this girl. The golden sundress tapered to the torso just above the belly button and fell around it, the curve of the hips perfect and unforgivingly seductive, above it simply a mess of Ouroboros guts, blood, and the slight vestige of spinal bone off-white against all that red. The intestines reminded him of the tangle of wires and cables that ran from his computer to his TV and his gaming console.
The upper half of this girl was completely gone. The lower half was, however, beautiful. She? It? Was moving slightly with the feet flexing and the right and left leg being drawn slightly up and down, the knee being raised to the stomach and then extended again, as if trying to work out a cramp. Because of this movement he could see her panties were yellow and decorated with the same floral pattern as the dress. His hard one, forgotten with the fear of the creature’s roar, was now back and as heavy and painful as a cement brick in his pants.
He took a step forward and one of the legs suddenly kicked his shin. It was more out of surprise that Lando fell on his ass rather than any real damage being inflicted. The whole thing, legs and sundress and Chucks, suddenly jumped up to stand and, slowly, as if locating the danger, crab-walked around him until it reached the door. And then it jogged away.
He watched and followed it with his flashlight for a few seconds. Suddenly energized, he pushed himself up and ran after it. He knew what to do.
SEVEN / ?
He caught up with it before it could cross into the cemetery, tackling it like he would a real person. They fell in a heap and he carried “her” (he couldn’t think of the thing as an “It”) kicking and struggling into another empty structure – this time with the roof intact – and there laid her down.
Unbuckling his belt, he pried open her legs with his knees and held her down with one arm while he removed her panties as best he could. He was able to get them off until they got tangled on her left ankle. He left them there.
Her Chuck Taylors stomped the concrete floor alternately arcing above his head in the tussle. She had a thatch of soft brown hair and he touched this gently as he did the pale, silken skin on her thighs before he had to use both his hands again to restrain her. He was too strong.
He took a deep breath and then entered, pushing inside with resolve, proceeding to violate her with such intensity that when he climaxed he saw explosions go off behind his closed eyelids, beautiful as Christmas lights against a hungry dark.
EIGHT / THE THRESHOLD TO THE HOUSE OF THE WORLD
He sated himself twice more within a handful of hours. She was docile by the third.
When his passion cooled he wiped her down as best he could with his one handkerchief, as the long legs spasmed and twitched, and he put her panties back on with careful tenderness. She curled her knees up to her stomach and lay on her side, the guts spilling out on the floor, but otherwise she remained unmoving.
For about 10 minutes the post-coital meditation yielded nothing but a mix of repulsion, guilt, and perverse delight. All were equally satisfying to Lando.
With a burst of insight he lifted her gently, gently and carried her back to where he found her. He went back to his mother’s coffin and found the bottle of gin and fantoma still intact and half-full, he poured some of its content onto the coffin as a final tribute and then drank everything on the way back to where she lay, still curled up and unmoving. He tossed the bottle into the woods and sat watching, waiting.
He was prepared to be patient but did not have to wait long for her return. All of her. The roar from above and the beating of mighty wings he welcomed as a sign of her regard; without need for confession the jubilant, albeit strange, ecstasy of those who dwelt still upon the shadow of the hill had seeped into his blood. He could see it now: the doors slowly opening, bidding him welcome. The sweetness of its gilded halls unfathomable.