JOY

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MEETING THE HIDDEN ADMIRER

The next day was very boring indeed: she’d grown bored with the other non-horror films her father owned, she’d read the rest of that mythology book, and Joan, Dina, and Jake were at school. She continued reading Without Seeing the Dawn; it’d gotten to a very interesting scene.

Charlie was, once again, all curled up and sleeping next to her. She was thinking about going for another walk, maybe go down to the library. But then again, there was the chance of her having another chance encounter with Marissa and Lillabeth again. They were “ditchers”, as she called them: they liked to ditch school, mainly to get sweets from the bakery or coffee from the local coffee shop. She was sure you could get in trouble for ditching. Then again, they never really seemed to care. How, though? From what she’d seen in her anime shows, school seemed pretty interesting.

Her night-school classes were interesting enough; learning History and such. Sometimes, she wished she could just go with the other students to daytime school. It wasn’t much fun to spend most of her time cooped up in the house. Or being targeted by Marissa and Lillabeth whenever she left the house.

She placed the bookmark back in the book and set it on the table. Charlie stirred a bit, then readjusted his sleeping position and dozed off again. She smiled at him; why was he so damn cute? She grabbed the remote control from the little basket under the coffee table and turned on the TV. On Tuesdays, there was a better chance of finding something to watch; she didn’t know why, but it always seemed like the better shows she liked were always playing on Tuesday.

She settled on the news. She’d heard about a story that would be discussed at 10 am. It was now 9:57, which meant it wouldn’t be much longer until it came on. The story was about an attack in the area, but that was all they said. She wanted to know what happened, because she was curious about stuff like that when she heard about them. Most times, they creeped her out. Not that she cared; she watched these kinds of things regardless of whether they creeped her out or not. It was a bad habit.

She went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of orange juice, then returned to her seat as they began announcing the story.

“Now continuing on with the news, there’s been an attack in town. The victim was a young woman, 24-year-old Eleanor Martez, whose body was found beaten and bloody near the forest. There is no evidence of sexual assault and a suspect has yet to come up. Police chief Frederick Cruz states that they have officers searching the area, and claims that they will catch the criminal. And, for those of you worrying, this will not stop the Festival from going on. Cruz has guaranteed that all officers will be on high alert in case anything fishy happens.”

“Well then, not the most comforting thing to hear from the news,” Joy said to herself. The fact that they had a murderer wandering around (as well as the fact that people were more worried about the festival being postponed) was probably one of the scariest things she’d heard from the news, and she’d heard some pretty freaky stories. Like the one where the one dude was found hanging from a tree branch by his necktie or the disappearance of a young woman. Now those were scary.

A sudden knocking at the door pretty much scared her out of her skin, causing Charlie to jump up and start yipping. She started petting him to get him to stop and he eventually ceased. The look of alert in his eyes did not disappear though. She got up and headed for the door. She peeked through the little peephole, then opened the door.

Ciara stood there, a little nervously. Joy just stood there, staring at her with wide, confused eyes. She’d never tried to talk to Ciara before; she’d only met her a couple times, and they hadn’t talked. Ciara looked up at her, her green eyes full of timidity and uncertainty.

“You mind if I come in?” she asked. Joy shrugged and stepped aside, allowing the small girl to enter her more or less humble abode.

Ciara took a seat on the couch. She stole a quick glance at Charlie, then looked down at her clasped hands in her lap. Joy didn’t think she’d ever seen Ciara look so scared. This was not the confident face she usually saw Ciara wear. It was like a copy of her own face, always worried and afraid.

“W-what’s wrong?” she asked softly. Ciara looked up at her.

“You know how the Festival is coming up?” she asked. Joy looked toward the curtain-drawn window. How could I forget? The fact that she’d have to get up and sing in front of so many people. Also the fact that it was coming up this weekend.

“Mm-hm,” she affirmed.

“Well, I don’t know if I can actually do it. You know, get up there and sing.” Her hands were laced together in her lap, clenching at each other and slightly trembling. Joy didn’t know how to react to this; she thought Ciara was used to this kind of thing. “I guess you think I’m weird, huh?” Joy quickly shook her head.

“Mm-mm,” she denied.

“Well, I think it’s weird. I’m usually so collected with these things. But...ya know, I haven’t done it in front of a festival. Usually talent shows and plays have people who are supportive of everyone. Meanwhile, at festivals, people tend to be a bit more judge-y and mean. I don’t like negativity. Makes me nervous.” Unexpected, Joy thought.

“W-Well...people get nervous,” she mumbled, trying to be as supportive as she could. “It’s normal.” She wasn’t used to consoling. Joan hardly ever got upset and Dina was made of stone. Most times, they needed to console her; hardly ever the other way around.

“Yeah,” Ciara said. “But I like to keep the image that I’m super chill and laid-back and shit. I don’t like to seem nervous.” Well, look at me, Joy thought. I step out on the stage and I’ll probably pee myself. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen, but she couldn’t predict the future.

“I-I might pee myself onstage,” she murmured. She followed that comment with a small, non-meaningful giggle to make it seem as if she was kidding. Ciara giggled back, her face lighting back up in a smile.

“Stage fright?” she asked. Joy nodded. “Everyone gets stage fright, don’t worry.” Then she stood back up. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I have to go back home and meet up with my mom. She wants to go shopping for some of that traditional garb for the Festival.”

“What-what about school?” Joy asked.

“Oh, Mom had me stay home so we could prepare for the festival,” Ciara clarified. Joy nodded and waved her goodbye, and Ciara trotted out the door, making sure to close it properly on her way out. Joy locked it once it was closed.

She looked back at Charlie, who was looking at her and wagging his tail. Yeah, everyone. That’s why they could get up on stage and actually manage to perform. Not her, no matter how much she would’ve wanted to. She’d freeze and pee, not that she wanted to. Pure panic.

“So, how about we do something to help pass the time?” she asked Charlie. He sat up, stretched, and jumped down from the couch. She smiled, then retreated into the kitchen. The little tappie-tap, tappie-tap on the wood floor behind her told her that Charlie was following.

“How about we do some baking?” she said. Charlie spun around a couple times, something she noticed he did when he was excited. She smiled, then went to the pantry and collected rice flour and brown sugar, then to the refrigerator to collect some coconut milk and cream, water, and latik. She’d decided on making Kalamay, another dessert she’d tried and ended up loving. Maybe she’d save some for her father when he got home. She supposed it’d have to stay refrigerated (she’d only tried a sample, never actually bought some).

She pulled up the recipe on her phone, then washed her hands and got to work. Charlie looked at the ingredients intently, although she knew better than to feed him some (well, some other than the coconut milk, which she assumed might've been all right); it’d make him sick. She was somewhat surprised on actually having the ingredients, considering they’d never made Kalamay before. Come to think of it, she didn’t even remember seeing her father bring these home with the groceries last Friday. But she assumed that maybe he had and that she probably just didn’t notice.

She set the temperature on the stove to low and turned the timer to fifteen minutes, then left it to cook…or bake or broil or whatever. She didn’t really master cooking slang. Not really her thing.

She returned to the couch and her book and continued reading. Charlie did not follow her; he turned his attention toward one of the curtain-drawn windows, tail still wagging. She assumed he saw the shadows of birds.


Once nighttime came around, she prepared to leave for her night-school classes. They didn’t have a night-school building in this town, so it was held in someone’s living room. This someone didn’t live too far from her home, so she could walk. She kissed her father goodnight (he was already in bed and would be asleep when she got back), hugged Joan (also already in bed), then grabbed her keys and phone and headed off.

It was mostly always peaceful walking at night, though she’d always be a little on edge. What if she was raped by a Tikbalang or attacked by a Sigbin or an Aswang? The idea of an Aswang brought the Dilan family to her mind. Even if they were Aswangs, they wouldn’t attack her; Aswangs don’t attack their neighbors. They mostly went to the next town. But what if it was an Aswang from another town? Not real, she reminded herself. Not real.

As she walked, she stared up at the sky once again. She did this a lot. The sky was so starry and beautiful; she couldn’t help but look at it.

She could see her teacher’s house coming up and she started to trot. The windows were lit, meaning she was still awake (as always). Once she set foot on the porch, she rang the doorbell. The wait took a little longer than usual, almost three minutes. Miss Reyes usually answered almost instantly. She rang the doorbell again. After a moment, Miss Reyes answered the door.

She looked different than usual: her hair was down instead of up in a ponytail, she didn’t have makeup on, and she was dressed in her usual house-dress instead of the more business-y clothes she wore. She also had a pained look on her face, something that Joy usually saw when Miss Reyes was on her cycle.

“G-Good evening, Miss Reyes,” she greeted, trying to sound polite and not concerned.

“I thought I sent a text saying there’d be no class tonight,” she mumbled. Her tone of voice was very shaky. She sounded like she’d been attacked. Maybe even raped.

“Are you okay?” Joy asked.

“Yes, fine. Please just go home. I’m going through a tough time right now,” she said.

“But— ”

“MAGPAROO’T PARITO KA NGA, ANG MGA BATANG BABAE!” she shouted, then shut the door. Joy stood there for a moment, shocked. Miss Reyes hardly ever spoke in actual Filipino, and usually never yelled. She finally decided on leaving, though she was still in shock by how Miss Reyes had acted. She was usually really soft-spoken and polite, and she hardly ever spoke to Joy in such a way. Had something happened? Then again, she did recall her saying something about an abusive ex; perhaps something happened with them. Oh, how terrible.

As she was walking, she couldn’t help but feel like someone was watching her again. But there was no one on the street, as far as she could see. Well, there were cars passing by, but she couldn’t really tell if they were looking at her. She turned around, thinking maybe someone was walking behind her.

Nothing there either. She shrugged, assumed it was her imagination again, and continued home. But now, she could hear a very faint noise. It was hard to tell exactly where it was coming from because it was so soft. She stopped walking and listened. Very faintly, she heard it. Wakwakwakwak. It sounded like wings flapping. Wait, didn’t she read about something that makes that sound?

Her thoughts were interrupted by something swooping down at her and the feeling of something sharp cutting into her jacket sleeve. That was enough to make her duck down in shock. She looked up at whatever that creature was, and was able to get a small glimpse of it before it swooped back up into the air.

It looked like it had the shape of a person, but a person with wings. Was it a Manananggal? No, it still had legs; she could see that. No, it was a Wak-Wak. Yes, she’d read about it in her mythology book. And what did they do? Hunt at night and, what’s more, feed on human hearts. She didn’t want her heart harvested and eaten.

She got back up and started to run, always looking up and around to try and avoid its attacks. It swooped around her, trying to grab at her with its terrible talons. She did her best to avoid it, always managing to avoid its grasp at the last second. She looked ahead. Yes, there was her home. Only about a little ways away. She ran toward her home, hoping to get inside before this creature could get to her.

Something grabbed the hood of her jacket and pulled her backwards. Now she was on her back, staring up at this creature as it landed on top of her. Its fangs glinted in the starlight, probably happy that it had its prey in a vulnerable position.

It swiped at her chest, and she blocked the attack with her forearms. She screamed from the pain, feeling the blood oozing from the cuts. It continued with a second attack, this time managing a good (and painful) slash across her torso. The sensation of the blood trickling down the sides of her body felt like acid being dripped down. She gave out one more desperate, choked scream for help, hoping someone would come out and save her.

Through her blurred, tear-filled vision, she saw the Wak-Wak’s horrific silhouette suddenly whip away, and the feeling of it sitting on top of her disappeared. Now she could hear what sounded like a scuffle, as if someone was fighting it off. Crazy, but relieving. She tried to sit up, to get up and run to her house and call the police. Then a loud roar scared her back down into a fetal position. She closed her eyes tight and clamped her hands over her ears, folding her knees up against her terribly slashed torso. All she could do was close up into a protective ball.

The sound of the scuffle continued for a solid three minutes before the wakwakwakwak sound got louder, which she learned in that book meant it was heading farther away. Still, she stayed curled up in the grass, too scared to look up. If whoever saved her had, indeed, successfully fought it off, they’d be very badly scarred and she didn’t want to see that.

The feeling of a hand stroking her head gently was enough to force her eyes open. She was expecting to see her father or Joan. No, it was something that she recognized, but only from a book. The face was dark-brown (black in the dark), and had a very bristly beard and hair on its face and head, like it hadn’t been taken care of in years. The body was hairy too, just not as much as on its face and head. The eyes were quite large, almost the size of tennis balls.

It looked at her in an endearing way, like how a mother looks at her children, or how a man looks at his soulmate. It calmed her down a little, the way it was looking at her and how it stroked her hair. She didn’t usually like to have her hair stroked, but at this point, she didn’t care. She wiped the tears from her eyes and pushed herself to sit up. Now she could see that it was covered in scratches and blood. A particularly big scratch was displayed across its face, though it didn’t give these wounds any notice; it only stared at her.

She reached a hand out to it, wanting to see if this creature was real and that she wasn’t just hallucinating from pain. Sure, she could feel its hand on her head, but what if that was just her jacket hood or something? Or it could’ve been some sort of lucid hallucination. Was that a thing? She didn’t know.

Her hand touched its cheek (its skin felt rough), and it closed its eyes. It reminded her of a cat when it enjoys having its head stroked. Then its brown hand enclosed around hers. Her hand was almost completely enveloped in its, save for the glimpse of her fingertips.

“Thank you,” she managed to choke out. It opened its eyes and looked at her again, a hint of a smile appearing on its face. She got herself standing again, staring it in the eye for a moment, then turned and started toward her house. Once she was on the porch, she turned to look at it again. It was gone. She turned back and entered the house.

No one was awake. Thank God. She didn’t want to make a big deal about her cuts, even though she’d enjoy going to the hospital to get them fixed. Whatever, though. Miss Reyes had taught Health; she could do it. She snuck upstairs and into the bathroom, where she knew that her father kept some gauze and butterfly band aids from his old job as a soccer coach.

Once she’d washed out the cuts and wrapped them up in bandages, she went to her room. Charlie was sleeping on her bed, then sat up once she turned on the light. He didn’t really seem worried, just surprised. She changed into her pajamas and brushed out her hair (it was wet with dew from the grass).

She noticed something on the windowsill, where the three flowers sat in the little water-filled glass. A fourth flower was among them, a Waling-Waling. She actually kind of liked orchids. How nice of the Kapre.

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