THE GHOST WHO WALKED WITH A LIMP

A Halloween Tale, 2015

Can  a ghost be surprised? This one looked amazed when he noticed I was looking at him wide-eyed and obviously able to see him! He came towards me and the lamplight on my night table illuminated his transparent figure clearly.

The Ghost Who Walked With A Limp

By mimi illenberger mapa

THERE was this charming, adobe house in Calamba, Laguna that I fell in love with and wanted to buy,my cousin told me over breakfast.  It was a good thing I listened to your Tita Dahlia’s advice. I could have gotten myself a house where three people had been murdered.

TITA DAHLIA V. – was a retired public school teacher from Ramon Magsaysay High School in Manila. She believed in the forces of wind, water and spirits. And yes, she also believed that ghosts are for real. “ The ghost stories we read about maybe figments of the writer’s imagination,” she stressed. “ but that does not mean to say there are no ghosts. There are and I should know!”

WHEN it came to the acquisition of old properties or for that matter, any expensive heirloom being disposed of at ridiculously low prices, Tita Dahlia warned – -“ It is important to know the history of the stuff you are buying, specially when dealing with beautiful, old houses up for sale at give away prices.”

BELIEVERS in feng shui also tell us that moving into an old house or office is like stepping into the previous owner’s shoes. Whatever transpired in the past may affect the present occupants. House spirits certainly have power over the living. So we all have to be wary when owners are in such a hurry to get rid of something so obviously valuable.

TITA DAHLIA V. was always suspicious of old houses and of old dormitories in particular. WHEN prodded to explain why, she confessed that it stemmed from a scary encounter with a resident ghost in an old boarding house where she had stayed as a student.

From Tita Dahlia came this chilling tale:

I WAS 15 years old and in my senior year when my father was promoted to head a branch office in Western Visayas. I was expected to graduate with honors and so my parents decided to leave me behind to finish my studies in the same school where I’d been since elementary grades.

AFTER much prodding, I reluctantly agreed to live in an ancient boarding house where my father used to stay as a student. The owner, an old Spanish lady, was the mother of Papa’s childhood chum who died so tragically a week after his graduation from highschool. Senora Clotlilde vda. de Arroceros promised to take good care of me.

LOLA Tilde was a 78 year old widow whose only surviving kin was a daughter who had long migrated to America. The boarding house was her only source of income and she saw to it that all the young people entrusted to her care were well taken care of. This was made possible with the assistance of Tiya Toyang and Nanay Sepa , her two faithful servants who were both unmarried and who had been in her employ for more than 30 years. She also had an elderly gardener who took care of her beautiful garden. Over the years, her well-managed boarding house had acquired the reputation of being a “home away from home.” Satisfied clients did not mind the slightly higher price she charged.

THE boarding house was a large u-shaped structure with an interior garden. The right wing was a dormitory for boys, most of whom were students from the exclusive boys schools along Mendiola Avenue; the left wing was a recently built  structure for working girls and coeds from a nearby women’s college. Both wings were independent of each other, but shared a common garden .

THE garden was so beautiful, a breath taking sight even for a connoisseur. A narrow, ancient iron trellis attached to the masonry with sturdy bolts ran the entire span of the inner wall. In time, the intermingling vines and creepers became a thick canopy of lush foliage , now dripping with colorful grape -like berries and flowers. Pretty and comfortable wrought iron chairs and tables were set beneath this overhanging shelter of leaves and fragrant blooms – the perfect setting  for a romantic interlude. And to ensure the coolness of the place, built at the heart of the garden was a circular pool with a spouting fountain. The profusion of blooms from Lola Tilde’s collection of American roses, orchids and exotic African daisies , coupled with a number of giant ferns gave the place a certain magical appeal that made people want to linger.

IN THE center of the U-shaped structure was a spacious living room with large windows that overlooked Lola Tilde’s collection of flowers. But the first thing that caught ones attention was the grand piano and the ancient harp at the far end of the sala which were right below two huge oil paintings of Lola’s deceased husband and son. Boarders were allowed to receive weekend visitors in this area but always under the watchful eye of the efficient major doma, Nanay Sepa.. This central portion of the house was the mistress’ private domain and nobody was allowed to loiter after visiting hours.

CONNECTED to the living room was a long corridor where three large airy rooms were lined up in a row; at the end of this dimly lit hallway was a banyo for visitors. And hidden from sight was a door that led to the kitchen, dining room and the master’s bedroom. All told, it was a lovely , quiet sanctuary for the aging widow who had only her music and her garden to live for. In the evenings, however, when the servants began lowering the blinds, the house became an eerie place.

I WAS the youngest boarder and everybody doted on me, specially the two elderly servants who constantly reminded me of my resemblance to my father, who for years had been the constant companion of their deceased senyorito, I had also grown attached to Lola Tilde who treated me like her own grandchild. And so, when I found myself alone in the left wing during the two weeks sem- break, Lola asked me to occupy the room opposite hers. Two folding beds were set up for the old servants who were instructed to keep me company.

IT WAS obviously a boy’s room in predominant colors of brown and blue. There was this glass show case where a collection of miniature imported toy cars, tiny tin soldiers in different fighting positions, stacks of comic books and quaint bottle caps were displayed. Pennants of various shapes and sizes adorned the varnished walls and several trophies lined the top of an oak chest. Also displayed in one corner, was a large photograph in pewter-steel frame. It was a picture of my father and another boy. Both were smiling broadly.

“MANOLING?” I asked my two elderly companions as I tried to suppress a shiver that ran through me. Both looked teary-eyed when they replied, “ Yes. Our young master and his best friend.”

IT WAS the last evening of our semestral break. I still had a few more pages to read before I was done with my home-reading assignment. As I settled comfortably in the large bed I promised myself I will finish Don Quixote dela Mancha even if it took the whole night.

AS I plowed through the pages of the famous comedy , I noticed a comment scribbled in fountain pen at the half empty page after one chapter..  Monitori tu salutamos, ora pro nobis  (we who are about to die, salute you). How strange, I thought to myself. Who could have written this morbid note in Latin?

MY MIND  was still on the boyish scrawl when I suddenly realized I was cold. It was a particularly warm night but my room had turned frigid. As I was about to get up, I heard the bouncing sound of a soft ball being dribbled and before I could react, I saw a weak glimmering ball of light enter the room from the darkened doorway. The ball of light hovered around Tiya Toyang’s folding bed. I stared at it, seemingly hypnotized, until it increased in size.

SOON it became a giant-size soap bubble and there was this transparent figure of a man in it. The man stepped out of the bubble and sat beside the sleeping Tiya Toyang, the loyal yaya of many years who was now tossing restlessly in her bed. After a moment, the ghost stood up and bent down to touch her head in an unmistakable gesture of fondness. He pulled up her blanket up to her neck, tucking it in at the sides. The sleeping, old lady quieted down and he turned away, smiling.

THE ghost now turned to the snoring Nanay Sepa. Again he sat at the edge of her folding cot, watched her curl herself as though extremely cold. He gently shook his head and reached for the folded coverlet at her feet and covered her with the thick blanket.

I WAS looking intently at the ghostly apparition all the time, taking in all his movements. I was freezing. My teeth were chattering as I trembled un-controllably and the book I was holding slipped from my hand and dropped to the floor with a thud. The ghost looked back and saw me at the far end of the room.

CAN  a ghost be surprised? This one looked amazed when he noticed I was looking at him wide-eyed and obviously able to see him! He came towards me and the lamplight on my night table illuminated his transparent figure clearly. He had a young, good looking face of a Spanish mestizo, his eyes were an attractive shade of gray and he had a  dimple on his chin. I noticed his spanking white pants and delicately embroidered barong tagalong. Funeral vestments, I said to myself. I also noticed that he walked with a limp.

HE CAME nearer my bed and the look of wonder ment in his face gave way to recognition. He came nearer still, smiling gently. He was only a few steps away from the bed, when he suddenly held out his hand in a welcoming gesture. I closed my eyes and fainted in sheer terror.

IT WAS  morning when I came to. Tiya Toyang was gently shaking me and calling my name, “Dahlia, Dahlia, wake up. You’ve been having nightmares. We had to repeatedly shake you a bit the whole night. You’ve been calling out to your father.”

I TOLD Lola Tilde what had transpired and from my description , she had no doubt that it was her beloved son . She assured me there was no way anybody could have known about the limp. She told me the day  before her son died, he had accidentally stepped on a bar of soap carelessly left on the school’s bathroom floor, lost his balance and sprained his ankle. He was brought to a nearby hospital for treatment and both his mom and the attending physician were not worried. Manoling  was strong and  healthy; and a star athlete too.. “ He will heal fast,” the doctor assured Lola Tilde.
WHAT her son failed to tell his Mom and the attending physician was the fact that he had hit his head hard on the floor when he fell. That evening, as he was sharing his hospital meal with his mom, he suddenly grabbed  his head and screamed in  pain; terrible seizures wracked his body. He fell into a coma soon after and died the following day without regaining consciousness.

WHEN I refused to remain in the boarding house, my father understood. My scary encounter with the ghost of his childhood friend had traumatized me; I was now afraid of the dark and refused to sleep in a room all by myself. Dad reluctantly transferred me to a girls dormitory nearby where I shared a bedroom and bath with five other girls.

AND FROM THEN ON, I also developed a fear of old houses.

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CAMILLA

EmoGirl18

For the locals, Camilla was a harbinger of storms – a sea nymph, a Lorelei. But was she really? For Don Manolo dela Guardia she was simply the ghost of a beloved daughter who had looked forward all her young life to see the beautiful island paradise of Guimaras.

C A M I L L A

by mimi illnberger mapa

Puchoy was just a boy then but he still remembers that particular summer vacation he spent with his Wawating – or “little grandma”- in his Tito Abelardo’s home. His uncle’s house was on top of a hill overlooking the vast sea that separates the tiny island of Guimaras and Negros Occidental. The haunting memory of this particular morning remains etched in his mind.

It was such a lovely morning. The woodland garden was alive with the sounds of twittering birds and foliage rustling in the soft breeze. It had rained the night before and now moisture dripped from the drenched leaves of the duhat, caimito, guyabano, casuy and nangka trees. Gentle morning light filtered through the branches, turning tiny droplets on shimmering leaves into glittering diamonds that twinkled off into stardust.

It was an enchanted moment for the diminutive grandma and her ten year old grandson. They had gone down the small hill at the crack of dawn to await the large fishing boat of their generous host as it came in to unload its bounty from the deep.

Abelardo, the old lady’s favorite nephew had promised she could have anything she wanted from their early morning haul. Wawating knew that aside from the usual catch, there would also be an abundance of lobsters, giant crabs and sometimes even baby sharks and some stingrays. She wanted her little companion to experience the thrill of seeing up close these deep sea creatures, most of them still alive and squirming in the large banyeras (large tubs normally used for bathing).

It was at that very moment of breathless expectation when the boy saw her and pointed her out to his startled grandma. She was a virtual sea nymph wading gracefully in the shallow waters. Even from a distance they could see she was fair skinned and very pretty. Clad in some diaphanous, silvery material that clung seductively to her wet skin, a coronet of silky blue flowers on her head and a garland of what looked like tiny shells around her neck, she was a vision of ethereal beauty. She was humming a hauntingly familiar tune, a lullaby,  her sad voice riding softly on the cool, morning breeze.

“Camilla,” the old woman whispered hoarsely as she immediately reached out for her grandson’s arm. “We must hurry back! A storm is forthcoming!”

The youngster knew something had frightened his grandma as she pulled him towards the steep, sandy path they had always avoided in the past. This was the shortest but dangerous way back to the house. When one was not careful, one could easily lose one’s   footing and roll downhill to the sharp rocks below.

Halfway down the slippery trail, it began to rain very hard. The gentle, early morning sea breeze had turned into a biting, cold easterly wind. Claps of thunder echoed eerily from nearby caves.

“A few more minutes and we’ll be home!” the septuagenarian assured the trembling boy. “ I hope your Tito Abelardo’s basnigans ( an Ilonggo term for large fishing boats) have found shelter behind those islands.”

Puchoy and his Wawating reached the safety of the large house in the nick of time. The storm unleashed its might on the island and a number of  trees were felled. A large boulder was also pried off a cliff, rolling down the very path they had just taken, destroying everything thing on its path.

Who was that woman? Was she indeed the harbinger of storms?

Puchoy, now a grown man, reveals that  his Tito Noy had also seen  this mysterious beauty thirty years ago and had in fact, fallen in love with her. He also tells us that the men on board his Tito Abelardo’s basnigan could have perished from the storm had some mysterious force not  interceded.

Who then was Camilla? Was she a  sea nymph, a Lorelei? Or the ghost of someone who simply loved the sea?

Puchoy recalls no fear of her.  This is his story:

Milo ( close friends and relatives called him Nonoy) belonged to a family of distinguished boat builders. The family wealth came from building pleasure sea crafts for affluent local and foreign clients who wanted custom made boats which were beautifully constructed, reasonably priced and sea worthy. G&M Pleasure Crafts, Inc. was reputed to be the most reliable boat building company of its time.

Milo was an architect by profession and just like his father, Senor Gonzalo Borromeo, he loved the sea and spent most of his boyhood days accompanying his dad in his excursions to the ocean. As a boy, he was his father’s most enthusiastic assistant in boat building.  He also shared his old man’s passion for fishing , sailing and deep sea diving.

Senor Gonzalo’s services were highly sought after in the seafaring world. The satisfied customers loved to relate how at a very young age of 18 years,  Gonzalo built his first pleasure craft which was promptly bought by the governor of the province. His name soon became identified with beautiful, seaworthy sea crafts. After his son was born, the master ship builder decided to form his company, the Gonzalo & Milo(G&M) Pleasure Crafts. Inc.

When the President and Chairman of the Board of G&M Pleasure Crafts, Inc. suffered a stroke, his wife Senora Mercedes decided it was time to ask her only son to come home and sit on his father’s chair. Milo was then living in San Francisco with a cousin. In spite of a very promising career in a large architectural firm where he was already a junior partner, Nonoy dutifully came home.

The young architect was surprised to find how big his father’s company had grown, that Senor Gonzalo had also ventured into real estate and agriculture with his wife and daughter as  partners; that in ten short years, Heather, Gonzalo & Mercedes (H G M) Greens, Inc. was already a name to reckon with in real estate and agribusiness. The fifty hectares of marshland not too far away from the sprawling Borromeo compound had been impressively transformed into a residential subdivision with all the basic conveniences necessary for healthy living- like good roads, an abundance of potable water, electricity and wide open spaces reserved for park and playground. The family corporation was now in the thick of constructing its first two hundred budget homes.

In order to get a better view of the ongoing construction, Milo decided to turn a large, empty room on the third floor of the administration building into his private quarters. This room offered a fantastic view of the distant mountains and the nearby beach. From his living room window, it was easy to observe the work in progress below without the workers knowing they were being observed through  powerful binoculars.

Looking out of his window one very early morning, he noticed the lone figure of a girl strolling on the beach. He immediately noticed she was not a local belle but an exotic beauty who was barely out of her teens. The girl must have sensed she was being watched for she turned and looked at his direction. Her hazel eyes matched the color of her long braided hair. She was unlike anybody he knew – she was  peaches- and- cream with pinky white, satin smooth skin and cherry red lips. Unexpectedly, she winked and saucily smiled at him, catching Milo completely by surprise that he almost dropped his lenses.

He saw her again the following morning and this time he rushed down to join her at the beach. Astride his powerful motorcycle, he was there in less than five minutes but she was gone. He scoured the entire stretch but she was nowhere in sight.

“ I saw her turn towards your direction! She couldn’t just have vanished into thin air!” The agitated Milo could hardly believe not one of his workers saw the girl.

It was all of two months before he caught sight of her again. She was jogging and this time she stopped and looked in the direction of his window. She waved and  smiled broadly at him .  Milo immediately noticed her long, shapely legs and full breasts since she was wearing a wet, skimpy swimming attire that showed off her trim figure. She was barefooted and for a moment, she looked as though she was floating on air. This time Milo made no attempt to run after her.

Not a morning passed by without him watching out for her. By this time he  knew he was deeply attracted to her. Milo was so smitten that he decided to go jogging too every crack of dawn. His perseverance  finally paid off when one morning he espied her jogging figure only a couple of meters ahead of him, seemingly oblivious of his presence. He ran after her but  in less than three minutes, she had remarkably outdistanced him. He saw her negotiate the curve that led to the walled-in estate of the  century-old Villa Javellana.

That very afternoon, Nonoy decided to talk to his mother. From Senora Mercedes, he learned that the villa and the adjoining Javellana properties had mostly been sold out to a wealthy Spaniard when the clan decided to migrate to Canada. As a matter of fact, she told him, ten acres of the Javellana farm were bought by HG&M, Inc.

The new owner turned out to be an aging widower with only a handful of servants to keep him company in the century old villa.  Don Manolo dela Guardia was also a horticulturist who owned a world renowned garden and landscaping outfit in Barcelona, Spain, now being managed by his two sons. Milo decided to pay a neighborly call on Don Manolo. He, after all, needed expert advice on the park he intended to put up for the family owned HG&M Subdivision.

The new neighbor turned out to be a warm, gentle person who was quite happy to share horticultural tips with his guest. Milo was delighted when Don Manolo brought out a number of albums containing pictures of the world’s most beautiful gardens.

Over snacks, Milo decided to ask his host about the girl on the beach. He had noticed her striking resemblance to Don Manolo. Was she perhaps a relative or a compatriot from Spain here on a visit? The startled old man almost choked on his orange juice. He asked Milo to describe her, which of course Milo did to the smallest detail. To his shock, the Spaniard broke into tears, sobbing as though his heart would break.

When he finally regained his composure, Don Manolo unhesitatingly told his guest that the girl on the beach was in all probability his daughter’s ghost.

“ Camilla was my youngest child, born to me and my wife in our late years. Unfortunately for us, however, her mother died of post-partum complications. With only me, her two adoring brothers and a nanny  as her daily companion, she grew up to  be a pampered little girl. She was such a beautiful child and I could hardly deny her anything. Fortunately for me,  her needs centered only on three things – the sea, her dogs and my   and my lullabies.  There was hardly a night she didn’t ask me to sing her to sleep. And oh, how she loved the sea. Her two brothers and  I used to tease her that she must have been Poseidon’s daughter in her previous life. “

Don Manolo had that far away look in his eyes as he reminisced about his lost child.

“ It was not a very good month to go on a tour but Camilla insisted to see Paris with her friends. On their way back to Spain, the group lingered in the walled city of Avignon, marveling at the Palace of the Popes and the ruins of the old bridge of Sur Le Pont d’Avignon fame. From there, they slowly made their way back to Barcelona, the soccer-crazy capital of Catalonia.

“ While driving leisurely past the picturesque fishing ports that dotted he Mediterranean coastline, the group suddenly decided to go sailing despite the choppy sea. It was here that the accident happened. The small craft they had rented capsized. Two of Camilla’s companions drowned, the rest were lost at sea. Camilla, fortunately, was rescued two days later – they found her clutching to a piece of driftwood, barely alive.

“ She was rushed to a nearby hospital where she succumbed to pneumonia a week later.  But Camilla must have anticipated her own death because she told me to cremate her and take her ashes with me when I go to the Philippines. And that was exactly what I  did.”

“You might be curious how I got this place, “ the gracious host said, smiling broadly as he went on with his story. “Jason Javellana and my older son, Miguelito were classmates in a graduate course at Cambridge University.  Miggy had been a guest here five summers ago and fell in love with the place. When he learned the Javellanas were selling the villa, he convinced me to buy it. It is paradise, he said, the  perfect place for you, Camilla and her dogs. But Camilla died before she could come.

“ Miggy had constantly gushed about the warm, crystal clear waters of the bay; the hidden coves, the stunning sunsets and the friendly people. For hours, he would regal his younger sister about this part of the island paradise with its intoxicating blend of natural beauty, idyllic weather, stunning beaches and of a fruit so unbelievably sweet and delicious.  They spent hours day dreaming of this place.”

The Don’s voice started to quiver and was unmistakably on the verge of tears. Then with visible effort  Don Manolo checked himself and  smiled as he stood up and patted his bewildered guest on the shoulder.  “Forgive this old man, Milo.  My heart is in a turmoil. How I wish Camilla was truly here.”

The clear blue sky now donned the beautiful colors of sunset – crimson, purple and orange; the sparkling turquoise sea had now turned into grayish blue but both men continued to sit companionably in the terrace, quietly talking about the life in general. And then out of nowhere, they heard this hauntingly familiar tune. Both rushed towards the railings to get a better view… a familiar figure was walking leisurely on the beach.

It was Camilla and she was humming a lullaby Don Manolo used to sing to her as a child. The girl slowly turned and waved at them, smiling happily. With the setting sun in front of her, she continued to walk toward deeper waters until she disappeared from sight.

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The Monster Lover

RAVISHED !!

by mimi illenberger mapa

       In Panay island, some Ilonggos still believe that in primitive times – farther back to the conquest of the Philippines  by the Shri Visayan and Madjapahit Empire from Malaysia- the country was populated by two types of people called the mowas (the dwarfs) and the kapres (the giants).

The mowas were stunted,  misshapen men with coarse, shaggy hair covering almost their entire body. They had long spidery arms and fingers , short muscular legs and exceptionally large genitals. These ugly creatures looked like a cross between a monkey and the hobgoblins of the white men’s myth and legends.

The dwarf- like men were said to live in caves and subterranean passages. They were by nature predatory but were known to be friendly towards human females. They were highly sexed creatures who copulated with almost any female mammal.

There is no record of anybody seeing a female mowa – like there seems to be no record of anybody seeing a female dwarf or for that matter, a female kapre.. Once in a while, however, a healthy, well-endowed barrio lass consented to mate with the ugly creatures in exchange for great wealth. She was brought inside the mowa cave and fed with specially prepared meat seasoned with herbs, spices and honey. This prepared her for the non-stop copulation with the little men who took turns mating with her.Very few women managed to survive this physical ordeal, and those who did , usually died giving birth to monster babies  who were ready to be born after five short months. The mowa offspring was immediately whisked away by the group.

The kapres were giants who lived in big forests of the unexplored mountains. They were generally  harmless  unless provoked into defensive hostility. Both mowa and kapre were like chameleons who blended with their immediate surroundings and therefore hard to spot. Both species were endowed with long lives.

The legends about these creatures are still prevalent in the remote farm districts of the Visayan Islands. Stories about them can be pried from oldsters who frequented the market places  every  adlaw sang tienda ( market day). One such fellow  was Lolo Kalaw , a garrulous octogenarian who was obviously respected by his peers . The old man insisted sightings of these creatures continued up to modern times by people who happened to stray into their habitats. From Lolo Kalaw comes this strange, erotic tale:

Two days before his 27th birthday, the father of Jose  Dela Cuesta, or simply Doc Joe to his friends,  died in his sleep. The aging patriarch  of the respected Fil-Hispanic clan, Don Augusto dela Cuesta,  had spent his last days celebrating with the farm folks of Hacienda La Granja Maria. He was the ever  benevolent father figure  of the people living under his care and on his land. And now they mourned him.

When the family physician accompanied by some town officials came to check on the body,  they were sadly told by the small crowd that  had gathered in front of the Dela Cuesta mansion that perhaps it was fatigue and going to bed with a full stomach that had brought about his untimely passing. An old man speaking softly and almost in tears told the family doctor that    Don Augusto had actively participated in the fiesta  games the young people had organized and in the early evening had happily partaken of the  lavish Ilonggo dishes and delicacies generously laid out on long make shift  dining tables in front of the  hacienda chapel.  It was the feast day of  San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of La Granja Maria and everybody was invited to join the celebration. The neighbors who had been with him surmised that perhaps it was the deadly combination of tuba (coconut liquor), lechon (roasted pig) and fresh talaba (oysters) that had brought about the deadly malady locally known as   bangungot. (sleeping sickness)

Meanwhile in Manila Doc Joe and his best friend Doc Arnel Jimenez, had just been sworn in as Doctors of Medicine. They both opted to join an   old , highly respected surgeon and university professor in his humble clinic in Gagalangin, Tondo.  On his side, Doctor Ignacio de Moratinos was also  delighted to have  two of his best students   join  him. He needed dedicated young surgeons with a social conscience to continue with his advocacies when he retired.

They were in the middle of a medical mission to the families living around the old Manila harbor when the summons arrived for Doc Joe to immediately go home.   The young doctor was clearly devastated with the news.  He had promised to spend some time with his father after graduation but simply failed to do so. Now in grief, he recalled how Don Augusto had been a widower for more than two decades. His mom, Dona Cristina Soledad, died after giving birth to a stillborn – grotesque looking fetus – when he was  just a boy.  Don Augusto never looked at another woman again and simply devoted all his time and energy raising his orphaned son  and  taking care of the hacienda.

At thirteen years old, however, Don Augusto felt the boy needed the refinements and education fit for his status in life and so he took him to live with a childless sister in Malate, Manila and placed the boy’s education under the care and supervision of his younger brother, Padre Diego , a Dominican priest.  The kindly priest promptly enrolled Joe as an interno   (intern or boarder) at the country’s oldest catholic university. And there the youth stayed until he finished medical school. It was only on rare  occasions that the young man saw his father.

When the mourning period for the old don was over, Doc Joe took his time inspecting La Granja Maria – the vast, fertile hacienda of the Dela Cuestas. The natural boundary between the hacienda and the next town was a thickly forested hilly range. As  he inspected the site, he saw  from  a distance this ghostly,    quaint looking white cottage ,   half hidden by wild vegetation and trees. With  his binoculars he saw that the ghostly looking house  was only a couple of meters away from the foot of a hilly mound and looked as though  limestone blocks had been used to build it. He wondered how his dad could have forgotten to mention this lovely little house in his letters!

Before sunrise the following day, Doc Joe returned  to the site with  Tiyo Luis, his father’s trusted old hacienda caretaker and a couple of farm hands. They had to hack their way through  wild thorn bushes, thick prickly wines  and saplings  that  abundantly thrived in the area.  Even a part of the house had been  partially overtaken by ivy creepers which the men had to slowly remove.

Upon entering the house, Doc  Joe knew at once this had been a  private retreat for his father, a fact excitedly affirmed by  Tiyo Luis.  He told Doc Joe how his  father used to bring him here as a little boy together with the beautiful Dona Cristina.  His parents called the place their  CasitaFeliz ( happy little house). But after his mom’s shocking death, the distraught Don never returned to Casita Feliz.

Doc Joe decided, on the spot, to reopen CasitaFeliz and make it his private retreat too. Thereupon, Tiyo Luis was instructed to scout around  for a well recommended and reputable construction group to rehabilitate the place as soon as possible.

To the surprise of everybody, after the forested area was cleared of unwanted trees and vegetation, what looked like an ordinary hill was in fact a huge limestone mound.  And so, capitalizing on the natural sheen and beauty of the chalky white slope,  a patio  large enough to  accommodate at least a hundred seated guests was built right below it.  A cavernous fireplace  and lined by red bricks was also constructed right on the slope.  It was made to resemble a medieval oven and was  big enough to roast a fatten calf.

For three months, the construction went on   without hitches. But quite suddenly one late afternoon,  a fierce thunderstorm unexpectedly  rocked  the darkening sky and this was  followed by the shaking of the ground. It was an earthquake of high intensity; sending terrified laborers screaming and scampering for safety. When they returned the following day, they found  the  fireplace had cracked, a split  that started at the center of the hill facing CasitaFeliz and which became wider as it continued downward towards the brick lined  fireplace. The frustrated engineer clearly had other priorities in mind because he simply told his men  to temporarily hide the ugly crack by putting a large, potted, prickly bougainvillea bush   beside the fireplace.

When the renovations on the house was finished, the beautification of its immediate surroundings followed. A certain Senor Enrique Casals, the famous horticulturist from Madrid was hired to turn the surrounding area of Casita Feliz into a something fit  for aristocracy. Senor Casals  was a friend of the Dominican priests and had been cited for his beautiful architectural landscapes  all over Europe. Since both Doc Joe and Padre Diego were lovers of  beautiful, European  landscapes, they decided the  expense of bringing the horticulturist over to the Philippines was worth it.

With scientific care, the once forlorn area was turned into  a  scented, woodland wonderland.  By having large, full grown flowering trees and shrubs transplanted from forested areas of  Hacienda La Granja Maria and other places in Asia,  Senor Casal had successfully created  a breath taking “ perfect hideaway” in a record span of two short years.  Even rare birds and  butterflies were let loose in the garden so they may breed and multiply in the hacienda.

On the month it was completed, a lavish celebration was scheduled and friends of the family in the Philippines and abroad were invited. Members of the  church hierarchy and town officials were likewise given invitations.  The Provincial Governor himself had announced, to the delight of everybody, that CasitaFeliz was now the official residence of the province’s most elusive bachelor.  Doctors Pedro Cabral and Arnel Jimenez also arrived with their wives in tow. Padre Diego came all the way from Manila to bless his brothers  place.

The transformation of the environs  around CasitaFeliz was the topic of conversation among the guests that evening. The beauty of its immediate surroundings had inspired even the most humble home to grow and maintain a garden so neatly kept, it had turned this  part of the hacienda into a picture postcard sight. Jaded guests from Manila and other urbanized areas were astonished at the “instant” and magical transformation too. But everyone unanimously agreed  that such a feat could  only be possible if you had the wealth, the flair and taste for cosmopolitan living, fertile soil, good irrigation and the talent and skill of a world class horticulturist.

Unknown to the guests was the fact that behind this picture perfect façade, the wonderland had  disturbing problems. Just a few days before the house blessing, the fatten calf ready for roasting had disappeared without a trace from its secured corral, a couple of imported chicken bought and kept for this occasion because of its tasty  black meat were stolen and even the old  family dog went missing.  Joe was greatly disturbed but he issued stern instructions for his staff to  carry on as normally as possible. He wanted everybody to have a great time and strictly warned his people to keep everything under wraps. They would wait until the last guest had gone home before they discussed the worrisome thievery.

Just three days after the last guest returned to Manila,   the newly hired maid packed up and left  without waiting for her wages. She was crying and refused to wait for Doc Joe for fear he might prevail on her to stay.  She told her fellow servants how she had been molested by a “maligno” ( a generic term for a supernatural creature) while she slept.  She thought it was a nightmare until she saw the scratches on her breasts and her private parts swollen and bloody.

This alarming report prompted Doc Joe to have  a  perimeter fence immediately constructed around the property and to deploy three large watch dogs to guard the area.  All female servants were also sent back to the mansion, leaving only Lolo Luis, who acted as gardener and majordomo, and  four  robust youths as companions. The servants quarters was also declared off limits to any outside visitor.

It did not take long, however, for the  unfortunate incident to be forgotten as life  slowly returned to normal. The house remained pristine and peaceful and no one outside  his domestics knew of the problem.   And to the fifty or more families living in the vicinity, who had always been contented and happy working for the Dela Cuestas , life continued to be pleasant and uneventful.

1901  was an exceptionally good year for the hacienda community.  For the past 18 months, they had  enjoyed bumper crops of kalamansi, lanzones, papaya and langka. Their granary was packed to the rafters with premium rice and corn awaiting better prices in the market.   Now, two hundred  mango trees heavy with fruits were awaiting harvest. Everybody was happy and excited.  Doc Joe just like his father before him was a benevolent and generous employer and his people knew fat envelopes would be distributed again this Christmas. The Dela Cuestas had always appreciated and encouraged hard work and integrity among their people.

But  without anyone noticing it, a dark cloud had slowly gathered in the horizon.  Thievery was on the rise again. Pigs, fowls, goats and even suckling bovines  would  disappear without a trace. Dogs that used to be   docile and friendly towards strangers were now nervous and boisterous at night; some were downright  aggressive and would attach passersby without provocation.

The community was puzzled and worried. Doc Joe ventured an explanation –  that it could be the presence of too many  pangayaws (strangers) in the hacienda.  These strangers were mostly out of town friends and  relatives  of the community  who had been hired as extra hands to help in the harvest. Quite a number of these pangayaos were young people in festive moods. Doc Joe advised everybody to be watchful but must also maintain  little restraint in their sadya-sadya (exhuberance) and  to please, avoid wandering off alone at night.   He also cautioned the young men who wanted to go serenading to at least take along a friend or two. Doc Joe knew he was starting to be paranoid on what was  going on.  But his instincts told him the real problem in the hacienda was something dark and sinister.

And then the unthinkable happened. A lady visitor of Tiyo Ramon, the old timer in charge of Joe’s bakahan ( cattle ranch ) failed to show up for breakfast.  For a while the family thought she had just gone to the nearby bubon ( well) to fetch  water for her morning  bath.  But  midway his first cup of steaming salabat (ginger tea) Tiyo Ramon heard the horrified shouts. People were running towards the direction of the forested area.

Not too far away from CasitaFeliz, they found her  lying naked ,  spread-eagled;  arms and legs stretched to the fullest and securely tied to four wooden pegs.  A dirty piece of rug was stuffed in her mouth to muffle  her screams. She had been gang raped and judging from her terrible wounds,  the rapists certainly had abnormally large genitalia. She was hemorrhaging and there was fecal matter all over her legs and abdomen.  The doctor  had rushed to her aid but despite his efforts to save her, the woman died minutes later.

The  horrible story made its rounds in the community .   A pall of gloom descended upon the once happy people. There was distrust and fear everywhere.  A day later, a large group of angry, shouting men led by Mang Ramon himself were on the streets armed with bolos, pick-forks and bamboo lances. They went around inspecting every suspicious look place.  No house was spared from search –  every  nook, cranny or cave was  torched. Even CasitaFeliz was thoroughly searched.  It was a scary sight but what Joe found really disturbing was their chilling chant.  ”Kill the incubus of La Granja.”  What did that mean?

Despite all efforts by the local police, barrio officials and the reward money posted by  Joe, there had been  no arrests. The months and years dragged by and as is usually the case with communities living in relative prosperity and with no repeat incidents, the whole episode receded into memory.  After three years the case was archived to the “Unsolved Crimes” section of the local police.

Joe was now in his  late thirties when he decided to return to Manila and rejoin his former classmate and best friend  Doctor Arnel Jimenez in his medical practice. It took months of brain storming with his trusted hacienda  staff and the old families of La Granja Maria who had been with the Dela Cuestas through thick and thin.

In the end, Joe decided to hire three people:  an agriculture graduate with modern ideas,  a seasoned accountant and a trusted young engineer to take charge of operations.  His Tito Pons , a  maternal uncle  who had been the family treasurer for more than two decades  was asked to take his place as President of La Granja Maria. Doc Joe remained the Chairman of the Board of the family corporation.

On his third year as Operations Manager, Cesar, the young engineer, announced his plans to get married.  Doc Joe was very pleased with the news. He generously told Cesar he may use CasitaFeliz as the venue for his reception. He also donated a fatten calf for roasting and several bottles of good wine from his father’s wine cellar in the La Granja Mansion. In addition, Joe was given a two week stay in the house with a blanket authority to use everything he needed for a worry free honeymoon.

The new bride took an instant  liking for the beautiful CasitaFeliz. She particularly loved the magnificent view from the balcony of the master’s bedroom and the creaking, hypnotic   sounds of  the bamboo trees as they swayed to the gentle evening breeze.  But as she went around the house curiously looking- over the place, she noticed a wide crack that had almost destroyed the cavernous brick oven in the patio.  It was not visible from cursory inspection because of the thick scarlet blooms of the lush bougainvillea shrub growing beside it.  As Margarita peered into the darkness beyond, she thought she heard movements and faint voices.  This frightened her and she ran back to the house, securely bolting the door behind her.

On the couple’s first night in the cottage, Margarita had the strange feeling they were being watched.  In the darkness, as  her husband undressed her , she was overcome by this feeling there was another person in the room watching them. That night, after her husband had rolled off her, she had this incredible nightmare that someone invisible in the darkness  had  taken over her husband’s place and was wantonly playing  with her private parts. To  her dismay, she found herself responding to the stimulation which he kept on until she  climaxed and  fell into a  dreamless sleep.

On the last few days of their stay at CasitaFeliz , Cesar suddenly announced he had to go to town office for an emergency meeting and may have to stay there over night.  Margarita wanted to tag along but Cesar  demurred . He was in a hurry.

It had been a long, boring day for the new bride. And so, to while away the time, Margarita spent the whole afternoon helping the maids rake leaves, sweep the yard and burn the piles of garbage intended to ferret out mosquitos and bugs in the area. She  was so beat that  straight from a  hot bath, she went direct to bed without supper and with her hair still dripping wet. She fell asleep instantly.

There was a full moon that night and the master’s bedroom was bathe in silvery light. Something had awakened her. And then she saw him…. a stunted, misshapen man with long thin arms covered with coarse hair  seated beside her with a lewd grin on his face. Her legs had been spread out and  long boney fingers were inside her exploring ..probing…stimulating.   Margarita screamed and screamed but no voice came out of her mouth. She could not move either.

She  smelled  his fetid breath as he began to lick her bottom with his rough tongue.  She saw him briefly play with this huge, black thing that jutted out of his belly. And then with horrified fascination,  she watched him position it  between her legs.   When he plunged inside her, she screamed in agony. But as he drove into her repeatedly, she became conscious only of gorgeous, exquisite pain.Whimpering with pleasure, she clung to him until she felt his warmth spill inside her in savage, jerking motions.

Margarita woke up trembling , there had been no sign of any unnatural activity on the bed.  What can she tell her husband? That she was repeatedly ravished by a monster ? Will he believe her? She was all packed and ready to leave that early morning when word reached her that Cesar would be delayed.  He would come to pick her up later that afternoon.

She had taken a light lunch and was about to doze off when she espied this revolting creature who looked like a shriveled chimpanzee watching her from behind the curtains. He was again playing with this black thing on his belly.  She immediately remembered with horror the  stories from the countryside – “ a  deformed face and  abnormally large genitalia   distinguishes a mowa  from the ordinary dwarf. Be careful for they are evil.” Margarita shuddered,  this was no longer a dream! But she remained glued to her bed, unable to move or shout.

In one swift, painful thrust , she found herself impaled to him. There she remained  squirming and pulling like a helpless bitch. She was terrified of him but  a raw and primitive need to copulate had over-powered her.  Nothing seemed to matter  except the sexual pleasure she got from this powerful, pumping thing inside her. And then in one split, agonizing second she was pried loose.  With  a loud pop  the creature had completely detached himself.  She fell into a swoon.

Cesar was beside her with a concerned frown on his face when she woke up the following day. As soon as they were back home, he had a doctor come to see his wife who was by now delirious with fever. After examining her, the doctor declared her pregnant.

pregnancy

Margarita had a horribly difficult  pregnancy with cravings  for fruits that were out of season and for raw sea food. She particularly like presca nga isda nga ginkinilaw sa gata (raw fish marinated in coconut milk) and  beef cooked medium rare.  Her stomach ballooned so fast, in 16 weeks she went into  unexpected and scary labor pains.  The baby was kicking furiously in her womb and it looked as though it was going to rip  open her stomach.  Margarita was screaming non-stop in agony. But it  took the doctor three hours to arrive because of the pouring rain. When he saw how pale and weak she was, he immediately decided to perform an episiotomy.

With the help of the elderly midwife who had come to assist, they were able to get the now unmoving fetus out of her body.    It was dead, strangled  by its own umbilicus. Margarita was unconscious.

Cesar was aghast with what he saw. It was a baby monster with an ugly, distorted face , a deformed body covered with coarse hair,  long thin, spidery arms and an oversized genitalia. It was the most horrid looking creator he had ever seen.  He had the body wrapped in blanket and blessed. It was later cremated in a huge bonfire by the pangpang sang suba (river bank) and its ashes thrown into the raging waters  brought about by the bad weather.

Margarita died three days later without regaining consciousness. She was buried in the parish campo santo ( cemetery).  The midwife had spread the word around that the incubus was back in Hacienda La Granja Maria. With this fear taking a grip of every family,  people slowly began to leave the hacienda.  And thirty years later, the once happy place had deteriorated to what it was during Lolo Kalaw’s time – an ordinary barrio peopled by mostly unschooled, superstitious folks.

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The Night Visitor – The Skipper’s Story

 

   Strange tales are usually heard about ancient settlements in a country like ours with a historical existence that dates back over five centuries.

        There is this place in Panay Island that was a Malay Settlement in  the 11th century before Spanish colonizers settled in it, circa 1567 AD.   There used to be a much wider and deeper sea inlet that allowed the passage of Spanish and local sailboats through several towns which were back then , just a vast expanse of land bordering the estuary. Time has gradually converted the sea lane into swamp rivers and inter-island vessels find haven in some parts of the estuary that flow through inland towns.

        Our story begins with a trading vessel –M/V Bundulan- that docked in a convenient spot near an abandoned site in one such ancient settlement, in the town of Dumangas, Iloilo Province. The boat owner who was also the skipper- was a young, modern and professionally trained seaman who did not give credence to superstition nor to folk tales. Over the warnings and protestations of his local crew members, he chose as docking site for his boat an abandoned village by the shoreline of the ancient estuary.

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(credits to the photographer)

        One evening, when everybody had gone to bed in the boat’s forecastle, the young boat owner – let’s call him Gabi- was awakened by an unusual noise. He was sleeping on the floor of the forecastle with his head out of the window sill on a plank. Opening his eyes, he saw directly overhead a huge bird, the size of a man, hovering over the boat. It was flapping its huge wings as it sought to land on the roof of the forecastle.

        Gabi scrambled to his feet and climbed up a short staircase to the roof screaming, “ So, you’re the one they call “aswang” at malaking ibon kalang pala! Anak nang pating, akala mo matakot mo kami? Come down and fight, you devil!” The monster bird hovered for a few seconds and then decided to fly away. But not before the skipper caught sight of the bird’s fiery red eyes.

        When the crew learned of the incident, they warned the skipper to expect the night visitor to return. There had been stories of the persistence of this man-eating creature, that he would return time and again until he succeeded in carrying away someone he could easily overcome. They believed the monster bird was just taken aback by the skippers fearless defiance. Unfortunately however,  the two newly hired deck hands from that area were truly terrified and decided to quit that very morning.

        Gabi was not impressed by his frightened crew. It took a second nocturnal visit by the strange creature to strengthen his resolve to look for another docking place for his boat – if only to avoid the inconvenience of losing another deck hand.

        Two days later, with their trading finished, the vessel was all set to sail back home. It was drizzling slightly and most of the crew were sleeping inside the forecastle with their skipper.

        It was past witching hour when Gabi heard the approach of the creature: the flapping of great wings as it descended on the forecastle roof followed by tentative footsteps that  sounded human. Gabi silently alerted the sleeping men who immediately reached out for their weapons. The footsteps were headed towards the open window where Gabi sat waiting with a drawn bolo.

        Half-way towards the skipper’s window, the footsteps stopped,  the creature had sensed danger from below.  Unable to stand the suspense, Gabi rushed out followed by two of his men, brandishing their weapons and shouting invectives. There was nothing on the roof but from a distance they saw silhouetted against the moonlit sky, the great bird flying away.

        Gabi never returned to that place again. Despite his reluctance to believe local superstition, there was no denying what he and his men experienced. What they saw and heard that night  was no figment of imagination and definitely the near encounter was not something to scoff at.

 

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GHOSTS IN THE HIGH SEAS

   It is a common notion that seamen are a superstitious group of people. Perhaps it is the nature of their profession – the loneliness for families and loved ones; the deeper awareness of their surroundings; the ever-present danger from unpredictable forces of nature; and having more time on their hands to ponder on things unseen. All these contribute to making them what they are reputed to be – lusty, superstitious and garrulous men.

       There are many superstitious beliefs involving the sea and lakes around us. One universal belief among mariners is that when their bodies are given a sea burial, their souls rise as sea birds – albatross or sea gulls. Sea birds, then, according to sailors, must be treated with great kindness; otherwise they bring bad luck to the ship.

       Stories involving ghostly sightings on board sea vessels are also commonplace. Who hasn’t heard about the Flying Dutchman or St. Elmo’s fire? Superstition has it that sighting a phantom ship like the Flying Dutchman means death or at least blindness to the one who saw it. St. Elmo’s fire, a bright discharge of electricity often seen at the mast of ships , was considered a benevolent warning of storms.

 

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(credits to the photographer)

      Two merchant marine graduates from one of the country’s finest institution have these stories to tell:

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The Sea Gull – The Engineer’s Tale

 Tito P., a successful marine engineer now working with a large shipping company based in Amsterdam shares with us this story involving a sea gull.

       One fine morning while SS Green Lady was cruising along the African coast, a lone sea gull was seen flying along the same direction. The playful guard atop his ledge on the main mast caught the bird with a fisherman’s scoop net. He passed the struggling bird to his bored companions below, who immediately tied one of its feet and fed it with bread crumbs. The bird quieted down after being fed. Intending to make a pet of it, one of the captors – a Greek assigned to the mess hall – carried the sea gull to their sleeping quarters and perched it on a bed rail where it was tied near an open porthole.

       Early the next morning, a crew member hysterically confided to a companion that when he got up the night before, he saw a thick fog enter the porthole near the sea gull’s perch and surround the bunk where the bird was tied.  

       “That thing swirled around for a while as though trying to make up its mind about what to do and then off it went, straight out of the porthole. I tell you mate, that was no ordinary fog! I swear that thing was alive.”

       Both sailors nervously made the  sign of the cross as they agreed how unusually chilly the sleeping quarters  had been that night despite the heating system.

       “Do you know that the Greek was transferred to sick bay early this morning? He was burning with fever but his limbs were cold as ice.”

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(credits to the photographer)

       A little later that day, strong winds and giant waves appeared from nowhere and began buffeting the large ship. The whole crew was worried and mystified. The ship creaked and groaned each time a powerful wave smashed against it; the sailors tossed around like puny toys.

       An officer responding to a hysterical call from the lower deck turned pale when he saw the squawking bird perched on a teetering table. The creature was apparently hurt. The man remembering the legends of the sea, rushed to untie the bird lest it died in captivity. He dared not ponder on what terrible fate could befall them as he whispered his apologies, “ I am so sorry they did this to you, Mate. Forgive them their ignorance.”

       The seagull responding to the gentle stroking of his injured head, softly pecked  on his hands as it flew out of the porthole. The officer saw the bird disappear in the distance as it blended with the turbulence of the elements.

        The storm began to quiet down as suddenly as it started. The skies cleared and the sun shone brightly upon them, as if by magic!

       Tito P. observing all these, knew there was something to the lecture the angry Norwegian captain gave the crew that day: It is good practice to respect the traditional beliefs in their occupation for whatever it might be worth in safety to life and property – old legends  and beliefs may not all be plain and baseless superstition. When something repeatedly happens beyond coincidence, it is wise to be cautious.

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The Lonely Ghost – The Captain’s Story

A young ship captain, a quiet person who would rather spend his leisure hours reading or cooking, shares with us his unusual encounter on board SS Nuget. It was not easy convincing him to share his tale with us. He was a reluctant story teller and he assures me this is not a sailor’s yarn:

There was this newly built ship manned by an able crew that was as seaworthy as they came, but already had a reputation of being haunted. Its owner had difficulty replacing crew members who would resign after a short stay in the service, the turnover being frequent.

When this story happened, our ship captain, Gabriel  V. had just graduated from a local maritime academy with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Maritime Transportation when he found himself working for this ship as third mate. He knew nothing of its reputation and it took all of three weeks and several hundred nautical miles into the Atlantic when an old deck hand told him of the haunting and how this came about.

The ship’s middle aged chief engineer  was a hearty Swede who was liked by the whole crew for his gentle and fatherly ways. He was a family man, totally devoted to his wife and two daughters , so unlike the rest of the crew who looked forward to momentary pleasures whenever they made land. Engineer Bjorn considered his cabin the extension of his house – his home away from home and here he spent his leisure hours writing letters to his family and reading his vast collection of books.    His cabin was a mute testimony to how much he missed his wife and two daughters. There were pictures of them everywhere. He called them his “little women”  and each time the ship docked on a port of call, all he did was shop for his girls.

The ship was on its way to the Persian Gulf  when they found him dead in his room ,  a victim of coronary thrombosis. His body  was then brought to the nearest port and shipped home to Sweden.   Meanwhile, one of his men,  Miguel, a newly hired Filipino marine engineering  graduate  was  tasked  to pack and itemize all the Swede’s  belongings so it could be shipped  out with the body.

It took almost two hours and three large boxes  to finish the chore. Miguel was just about to leave the cabin when he noticed a large black book that looked like a leather bound bible lying on the bed. Wondering aloud how he could have missed that one item, he went back to get the book .  Just as he was resealing the big box  marked “personal effects”,  he heard  something creek from behind him.  Someone had come inside the spacious cabin and  was now seated on the bed facing him; it was Engineer Bjorn !  Shocked, Miguel bolted out of the room .

That was the first incident.  Weeks later, a deck hand also swore he saw the dead officer  standing by the passage rail, sadly looking out to the sea. The vision so frightened the man, that he rushed to the opposite direction in a state of hysteria.

On various occasions, the ghostly  figure was also sighted in other sections of the ship. And this  really frightened the crew because there was no telling where you would run into him;  a few sailors adamantly refused to be assigned in the night shift.  The dim corridor leading to the unoccupied cabin was also avoided by almost every one and nobody wanted to go to the engine room alone. The whole episode  was affecting the morale  and efficiency of the men on board.

Several months later,  a Filipino priest the sailors had befriended in Korea  learned about their problem  and  suggested  a  special exorcism ritual for earth bound spirits. And this suggestion was taken to heart by  Miguel  who was now almost at the end of his wits;  he implored  Father Bernardo to instruct him how to proceed with the  exorcism.

Summoning his courage, he brought with him three of his closest  friends. And with full trust on the power of the Holy One, and on the blessed icons they carried –  a lighted candle,  a crucifix and  holy water –  they went about the room, opening closets and cabinets and sprinkling  holy water everywhere as they chanted the prayer for the dead from the Gregorian Mass. Miguel also addressed  the Chief Engineer  in a loud voice – “Sir Bjorn, please leave us in peace. We have not forgotten your kindness and generosity. We promise to remember you in our prayers.”

A cold gust of wind blew out his candle, but the three men stood their ground. Miguel’s faith was strong and his fear of the supernatural  left him as he willed himself  to see through the empty space. There was nothing there.  When they finally  stepped out of the room, closing the door softly behind them, a faint echo resounded through the dimly lit corridor.  The three friends clearly heard someone say..”Thanks mate.”

No apparition was seen again after that day for a long, long time.

All these happened  before Gabi’s time, but somehow

the reputation of the ship being haunted stuck; the stories about the lonely ghost refused to die down completely.  Months later, the young officer  found out why.

On particular stormy evening, he found himself alone in the mess hall reading an interesting spy novel  and sipping coffee laced with brandy. Before him was a huge bowl of mashed potatoes and a plateful of tenderloin tips topped with onion rings. He was enjoying a Sunday respite from his usual duties and had requested a hearty meal from the cook.

Gabi was about to reach out for the food when he saw, sitting at the other end of the officer’s table, this stranger holding a coffee mug and looking at him with a bemused smile. There was nothing scary or ghostly about the man and, for a while, Gabi assumed he was the new man who boarded their ship from Rotterdam, their last port of call.

The stranger raised his cup in friendly greeting . Gabi did the same.  And so can you imagine his consternation when, before his very eyes, the stranger disappeared.

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(credits to the photographer)

 

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