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Something wet and warm awakened her. It felt like a small tongue licking her nose. She jumped awake, scared that some weirdo had broken in and was licking her nose. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the luminescent blue-grey lighting of dawn, but her jaw dropped when she saw what it was.

It was a puppy, maybe about nine months old. It was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, with a beautiful red and white coat. It looked up at her with its dark-brown eyes, full of adoration and curiosity.

Her heart melted when it yipped, and she proceeded to pet it. Perhaps her father had given it to her as a late birthday present (six months late, to be exact). She’d been asking for a puppy for a while now, and he’d always give her the old “maybe, we’ll see”.

Well, now it seemed that he’d decided on it. And she couldn’t be happier. It was so cute! And so soft! She was so happy!

Then she noticed something else: her window was open. Wait, was it open when she went to sleep? She couldn’t remember. She’d gone to sleep so fast that she didn’t really pay attention. Maybe it was open when she went to sleep and she just didn’t notice. Yeah, that’s probably what happened. Although when she was outside, she didn’t see it open…

She looked back down at the dog. It was male, definitely. She smiled at it.

“I’ll call you Charlie,” she said. The puppy didn’t react, just curled up on the bed and closed its eyes. Yes, Charlie was a good name for it. After all, it was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It fit perfectly.

The sound of the coffee maker going off caught her attention, and she assumed that her father was already awake and ready for work. She looked back down at Charlie, then slipped out of bed and tip-toed down the stairs.

Their father was dressed in his grassy-green polo and black khakis—the outfit he wore for work—and was making his coffee. He turned to her and smiled a tired smile, and she smiled back.

“Hey Joy,” he greeted, pouring the finished coffee into his mug.

“Morning, daddy,” she replied. “So, did you get me that puppy?” He looked up suddenly, a confused expression adorning his face.

“Puppy?” he asked. Joy nodded. “What puppy?”

“There’s a puppy sleeping on my bed,” Joy explained, nodding her head back toward the stairs. He set his mug down.

“I did not get you a puppy,” he informed. She looked at him with a confused expression.

“Well, if you didn’t, then where did it come from?” she asked. He started up the stairs and she followed him. She wanted to know if she wasn’t going crazy and hallucinated a puppy in her bed.

Once she and her father walked through the door, Charlie raised his head to look at them in confusion and wonder. His brown eyes shined in the intensifying morning glow, which she became uncomfortable standing in.

“Young lady, where did this puppy come from?” her father asked. She shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t know, he was on my bed when I woke up,” she explained. He looked at her for a moment, then turned to face the doorway.

“Joan, come in here for a second,” he called out. There was an irritated groan from the next room, and Joan appeared in the doorway after a moment, her raven hair tangled and her eyes red from sleepiness.

“What is it?” she asked. Their father pointed to Charlie, who was innocently watching the spectacle that was being put on in front of him.

“Where did this puppy come from?” he asked. Joan looked at the puppy in confusion, and her eyes widened in enthusiasm and her face lit up in a smile.

“A PUPPY!” she exclaimed, trotting toward Charlie and scratching him behind his ears. “Hi buddy!” The look on their father’s face read “Well, I guess it wasn’t her then”. And that was easy to believe, considering how genuine Joan’s reaction was. Joy hadn’t seen anyone not react the way Joan reacted whenever they saw a dog; it was in human nature, she supposed.

“Can we keep him, Dad? Please?” Joan asked. Their father didn’t answer, just looked at the floor in confusion.

“I’m just questioning as to how it got here,” he mumbled.

“Please?” Joan was persistent. Their father shook his head.

“You’re gonna be the one to pay for the food,” he remarked. Joan smiled.

“Awesome. I’m gonna name you Joey,” she beamed, stroking the puppy’s fur. Joy cleared her throat, and Joan looked up at her.

“I already named him Charlie,” she commented. Joan stared at her for a moment, then looked down at Charlie with a dumbstruck look on her face.

“Oh,” she squeaked, then her face lit up again in an embarrassed grin. “I should’ve figured you named him already.” Joy smiled at her sister.

Joan left for school at about seven-fifteen and their father left for work at seven-thirty, leaving Joy at home by herself. ...Well, she wasn’t entirely by herself; she had Charlie to keep her company. He was all curled up in a little ball on a rumpled blanket, and looked so peaceful.

She tried looking for something to watch on TV; nothing but shows that she wasn’t at all interested in. She tried looking through her father’s collection of DVDs. Mostly horror, something she preferred to avoid. She only found one DVD that interested her: a relatively older movie called Madrasta. It piqued her interest, and she placed it in the DVR.

It was a movie about how a young woman marries a man with three children, and struggles to gain their acceptance. Joy found it quite interesting, but found the children’s disdain for their new stepmother irritating. At least they had a mother (or, at the very least, someone who was trying to be a mother).

She and Joan had never met their mother. Their father explained that she ran off with a lover, to which Joy felt a subtle disdain toward her for. How could she cheat on their father? People who cheated were scum! And for that reason, she’d rather have a stepmother that loves her, Joan, and their father than someone who’d betray them for someone else. What was the point of that?

She looked up at the clock; it was going on 10:00 when the movie ended. And she was left bored and pondering what to do again. She decided to continue reading that book. She hadn’t picked it up since yesterday.

She retreated back up the stairs, stealing a glance back at Charlie, who still laid in a blissful sleep. Come to think of it, what am I gonna feed him? She hadn’t thought of that. They definitely had a lot of foods in their home, but she didn’t know what was okay for dogs to eat and what wasn’t, especially for a young fellow like him. Maybe I’ll look it up on the internet, she thought. There must’ve been some website that’d tell you.

She was expecting some kind of gift when she opened the door. This was getting weird. First a mysterious flower, and now a puppy? And judging from both Joan and her father’s genuine reactions, it couldn’t have been either of them. She stopped in front of the door, waiting and listening. It didn’t sound like anything was moving inside her room. She opened the door a crack and peeked in. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She opened it fully. Nothing. She shrugged it off and managed a smile. She remembered that Joan had taken Performing Arts, so maybe she’d mastered it enough to make her reaction look genuine enough. She walked over to the bed and reached under it.

When she pulled out the book, she dropped it in shock. This was not her Without Seeing the Dawn book. This wasn’t even a Stevan Javellana book. It was a book on mythology. It wasn’t the one she wanted, but it was still a mythology book.

The cover was leather with little embossed figures around the embossed title, TALES NG MGA ALAMAT SA PILIPINAS, or TALES OF MYTHOLOGY IN THE PHILIPPINES. Now she was getting a little weirded out. How on earth did this keep happening? And where in the bookstore did she see this book? She was always poking around the section that had fantasy and info books, and she’d definitely never seen this one. It was faded and rough with age and use, compared to the other books in the bookstore, which were polished and new. Could it be from the library? She mostly found books rough with age in the library.

She opened it and flipped through the pages a bit. The edges of the pages were yellowed and there were some finger smudges. It also seemed that this had been written by hand. What was this, someone’s journal? But if it was, why was it titled? And how did it get under her bed?

She peeked under the bed. The Without Seeing the Dawn book was still there, albeit pushed a little farther back to where she wouldn’t have been able to reach it without climbing under.

As much as she wanted to continue reading Without Seeing the Dawn, she was curious about this supposedly handwritten book on mythology. Who knows, maybe it actually had accurate information. She brought the book back downstairs and returned to her seat on the couch. Charlie’s big brown eyes opened and looked up at her. She smiled at him and scratched him behind the ears. Once he laid his head back down and returned to sleep, she turned her attention back to the book in her lap.

She once again got the feeling of being watched, but she brushed it off and opened the book to the table of contents. It listed a lot of creatures: Tikbalang, Kapre, Tiyanak, Sirena, Manananggal, and a whole bunch of others.

She decided to read up on this creature called a Santelmo. It was apparently a ball of fire, sometimes believed to be the spirits of men who died at sea. And it would apparently chase people. Interesting. But her father always described it as being a giant ball of lightning. No wait, that's called St. Elmo's Fire, she thought. She remembered looking out the window up at the sky during a thunderstorm, trying to see if she could see this supposed ball of lightning.

There were other creatures that piqued her interest as well: Diwata, Agta, Bungisngis, and Kinnara. Also, along with information on the creatures, there were little stories of supposed experiences people had had with them, such as a woman being raped by a Tikbalang and a man having been chased by a Santelmo. Even the Philippine mythology book at the bookstore didn’t have that; just the information.

After finishing reading the experience someone had with a Bungisngis, she closed the book and set it down on the coffee table. She decided to have a snack and went to the kitchen. She picked a ripe peach from the fruit bowl and bit into it with relish. She liked peaches. They were very sweet and soft and juicy. As she was eating, she looked at the window. Its curtains had been drawn to prevent any sunlight from coming in. She hated how easily she sunburned. It was like she was a vampire or something.

Once she finished the sweet fruit and dropped the pit in the trash, she decided to go for a walk. She slipped on her red Wellingtons and her cream-colored cardigan, then readied her umbrella.

Before she could grab her keys and sunglasses, something nudged her calf. She looked down, and Charlie looked up at her with his big brown eyes. Perhaps he wanted to go for a walk too. But they didn’t have a leash. Oh, I’ll just make one, she thought. She went back to the kitchen and dug around one of the drawers, eventually coming across a spool of ribbon. Yes, this was the same ribbon that Joan used for a play costume. She removed the rest from the spool and turned back to Charlie. But wait, they also didn’t have a collar.

She looked back down at the drawer. Nothing she could use. Maybe Mrs. Dilan had a collar she could use. She remembered that their eldest daughter had a little dog before heading off to college. Maybe they had a spare collar.

“Okay, let’s go Charlie,” she chimed, scooping the puppy up in her arms and heading for the front door. She slipped on her sunglasses, stepped outside and opened her umbrella, then closed the door and headed next door.

The Dilans always had their blinds drawn and weren’t the most sociable family. People called them Aswangs for some reason and would avoid them, but that was ridiculous. She’d known them her whole life; their eldest daughter used to be her babysitter.

Once she was walking up the wooden steps that led to their porch, she was already rehearsing in her head what to say. Her stupid social anxiety. She rang the doorbell.

After a moment, Mrs. Dilan answered the door, first opening it a crack, then opening it wider when she saw it was Joy. She was dressed in a floral house-dress.

“Joy, what can I do for you?” she asked, giving her a smile. Joy managed a smile back.

“Do, uh, you think you could…spare a dog collar…please?” she asked quietly. Mrs. Dilan’s eyes shifted down to look at Charlie, who was staring at her in curiosity, then back up at Joy.

“Of course. I assume we have one somewhere. Please, come in,” she welcomed. She stepped aside and allowed Joy to step inside. She set Charlie down and closed her umbrella as Mrs. Dilan shuffled upstairs to look for a collar. Joy looked around at the house while she waited. It stunk of old meat, probably from what they had for dinner, but she knew better than to point this out. Her father told her never to comment on something if it sounded rude. And this sounded rude.

Mrs. Dilan came back down with a red little collar. It had a red bell on it.

“Will this do?” she asked. Joy nodded, and allowed Mrs. Dilan to place it around Charlie’s neck. “When did you get a dog?” Joy shrugged her shoulders. How was she supposed to explain that she woke up to a puppy that mysteriously appeared in her bedroom? “Did your father buy it?” Without any other excuse in mind, she nodded.

“Well…thank you. I-I have to get going,” she stammered. Mrs. Dilan smiled and nodded, then opened the door for Joy.

“Have a lovely day,” she beamed as Joy stepped out the door.

It really was a lovely day, even though she couldn’t really look up at the sky without hurting her eyes. Even with her sunglasses on. It was like laser pointers being pointed toward her eyes; they were always so sensitive, even more so than her skin. Despite this, Charlie seemed to be enjoying himself; he was panting in excitement and was trotting happily in front of her. She smiled at him. Though still confused as to where he came from, she was happy to finally have a puppy.

A pair of familiar faces blocked her path as she was lost in thought. She reached down and scooped up Charlie, out of fear of these two girls. She’d seen that anime Elfen Lied, and she knew that she couldn’t trust her new puppy around people who didn’t like her. The last thing she wanted was to see Charlie get beaten to death.

“'Sup, Diwata,” Marissa greeted with a mean smirk. Joy gulped. They were always calling her a Diwata, even though she wasn’t. Even though there was a legend that albinos are the products of affairs between humans and engkanto, but that was just a legend. These creatures weren’t real; she knew that. She’d been raised to know that.

“Where’d you get that dog?” Lillabeth asked, smiling. Charlie whimpered a little, either from apprehension at the presence of these two girls or because Joy was starting to squeeze him out of fright. She wanted to open her mouth and tell these girls in a clear voice to leave her alone. But she couldn’t. No matter what, they just scared her too much to allow her to speak. That’s how it was for a lot of people around town. They were strangers, and not all strangers were nice.

“Can we see the puppy?” Marissa asked. The tone of her voice convinced her that they had plans on beating Charlie to death in front of her, then she’d gain the ability to kill them with vectors and she would be taken away and tortured and—wow, she needed to chill on the anime. When Marissa took a step toward her, she immediately took off running. She didn’t want to give them the chance to let them lay a hand on her puppy.

She could hear them chasing after her, and she tried to quicken her pace. As she was approaching one of her neighbors’ yards, they finally caught up to her and pushed her to the ground. Charlie flew from her hands and landed in a little cradle of tree roots under the tree in the neighbor’s front yard. She saw them approaching and quickly crawled toward Charlie, placing herself in front of him like a human shield. If they were gonna beat him, they’d have to get through her.

She looked back at them and found Marissa holding a pretty sizeable tree branch. Wait, where did she even get that? She assumed that Marissa must’ve picked it up while chasing her. Oh no, now they were going to beat her! She’d hoped this wouldn’t happen. She faced toward the tree again, looking down at Charlie; he was looking up at her with worried eyes, although she assumed he had no idea what was going on. That was easily expected; he was a pretty young puppy, yet old enough to be separated from his mother and to eat hard food. She braced herself.

The first whip with that branch hurt as much as she’d expected. It felt like a bunch of toothpicks had been nailed into her with a giant bat. She could feel splinters in her back and some bruises forming. Charlie started whimpering in fear. But she wasn’t going to give them the chance to hurt him, much less beat him to death. He was her responsibility now.

The second whip hurt worse than the first, considering that the chipping bark and little twigs had broken away, and it was left much blunter. Now she could feel blood trickling from little cuts it left. The tears were streaming down her face now, but she tried to hide them from these girls.

The third whip never came, and was instead replaced with the sound the branch had made when it struck her back (bwack!), followed by painful wails and terrified shrieks. She slowly turned her head to look at them. There were the shattered remains of a branch at Lillabeth’s feet and blood flowing from a horrible gash on her forehead. She was moaning in pain while Marissa was shrieking at the sight of the blood. Her terrified eyes stole a quick glance back at Joy, then back at Lillabeth, and she quickly led her bleeding friend away.

Charlie climbed out from her protective encircle and looked up toward the top of the tree, tail wagging. She looked up as well, though she saw nothing unusual. Perhaps a bird had perched on a branch and that’s what he was looking at. She was able to get herself standing again, though not without some little pops of pain in her back. As she got standing, she noticed something that hadn’t been at her side throughout the fracas: her umbrella. She was sure she’d dropped it on the sidewalk, open. Now it was set down near where she’d huddled around Charlie, closed. There was no way in hell either Marissa or Lillabeth had set it like that.

She simply shrugged it off, picked it up and opened it again, and picked up the end of Charlie’s ribbon leash.

“Come on, Charlie,” she choked out. “Let’s head back.” He looked back at her briefly, looked back up at the tree, then trotted toward her with a happy panting smile on his face. She smiled down at him.

The injuries weren’t nearly as bad as she’d expected; only some slightly bloody scrapes, some splinters, and some bruises. That wasn’t really too hard to fix. She took a quick shower to clean out the scrapes and try to get the splinters out. She sang a little while doing so. Might as well practice for her little festival performances since there was no way out of it. She really didn’t want to perform in front of everyone. Well, she wanted to, but knew she couldn’t. Not in front of hundreds of judge-y people. She’d freeze up and wouldn’t be able to get a word out. She’d be lucky if she managed a little squeak.

After stepping out of the shower, she wiped the condensation from the mirror and checked her back again. Better, yet still battered. She shrugged it off, then got dressed.

Once again, there were two flowers on her bed. She wasn’t nearly as surprised as she had been with the mythology book. She was beginning to expect it now. The flowers were two bright red Everlasting flowers. They were pretty. She went and placed them on her nightstand, then went back downstairs.

Charlie was, once again, sleeping on the rumpled blanket. She smiled at him; he looked so cute and peaceful. She went to the kitchen and got a small glass, filled it with water, then returned upstairs to her room and placed the flowers (including the Gumamela) in it and placed it on the windowsill. The Gumamela was already starting to wither, and she didn’t expect it to last much longer. Perhaps she’d press it in one of her books.

Their father was home for his lunch break at 11:30 am. He’d bought a burger and some fries at a local fast food restaurant. She welcomed him home with a quick yet tight hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“So how was work so far?” she asked as he sat down on the couch. He shrugged, something he usually did when she asked. She already knew that he was having a sucky day; she could tell by the look on his face. It was the face he made when he was annoyed but was trying to hide it. She saw that a lot. He never really talked about what bothered him at work. She assumed it might’ve been a bossy coworker or a mean customer.

“Same old, same old,” he brushed off, his mouth full of burger. “Nothing unusual.” She didn’t understand what he meant by “nothing unusual”, as he never really talked about anything about work. He was just a secretive guy, she supposed; didn’t want anyone to worry or something.

“Mrs. Dilan gave me a collar for Charlie,” she commented, managing a smirk. He smirked back.

“She’s a nice lady,” he said. He turned his attention back to his food after he said this. “So, have you heard anything from the people running the festival?”

“No, not really,” she denied, looking down at her feet. That wasn’t really something she wanted to talk about.

“Are you excited to be singing?” he asked. She shrugged.

“Yes and no,” she murmured. “You know I don’t like singing in front of others. Except for Jen. But that’s because she’s so young.” Her father shook his head.

“Still got that social anxiety, eh?” he asked. She nodded.

“Doesn’t that come with autism?” she asked. He shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess. That has so many symptoms, it’s a wonder you manage to seem normal at all,” he remarked. She found that last sentence to be a bit insensitive, but she brushed it off. She tapped her thigh three times, and Charlie sat up, stretched, and jumped down from the couch.

“I’m going upstairs,” she pointed. He didn’t answer; he’d turned his attention toward his food again. She silently huffed in slight irritation and climbed the stairs, Charlie eagerly trotting up behind her.

Nothing unusual in her room. She plopped down on her bed, her back stinging a little as she did so. She didn’t mind, though. It was only slight pain. Not like the terrible cramps she’d get when the moon was full for her. She always used the term “when the moon was full” for her time of the month, something she picked up from this book she read by an American author named Stephen King. What was it called? Rose…Rose something. She’d only read it once. She didn’t like the psychopathic abusive ex-husband or the sexual references that much. The romance between the main protagonist and the new love interest guy was nice though.

Charlie hopped up onto her bed and snuggled up close to her thigh. She reached over and stroked him down his back. He was very soft.

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