The Call of the Dead

2017

RAPID AND RHYTHMIC firing of heavy machine guns fill the air. Every second is a stream of bullets unleashed. Every bullet pierced human flesh it found, striking and shattering bones that came along its way, severing veins. The burst of gunfire tore through the silence that wrapped everyone in peace that midnight. Explosions erupted from every direction. Bombs roared as it plummeted from the sky. Smoke rose. Nipa huts were set on fire. Women and children were helplessly dragged on the ground. 

“Run!” A woman, with tears in her eyes, shouted at the young boy.

Bang!

The teenager jolted in the middle of the night, gasping for air as he woke breathless. His heart and thoughts raced. He shook. The nightmare plagued him with an overwhelming sense of dread and terror that felt so fresh like it happened only a second ago. With a deep breath, he buried his face in his hands, attempting to compose himself. When he finally pulled himself together, he leaned against the wall beside his bed. 

In front of him were the photos of the Philippine presidents. Among all those images, one picture caught his eye. It was the late Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Deemed both intelligent and authoritative, he was, however, betrayed by his own methods and tactics.

On the thirtieth day of the twelfth month of the year 1965, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. took over the presidential seat after winning against President Diosdado Macapagal in the Philippine Presidential Elections. The doors of Malacañang Palace met him with arms wide open. As he set foot upon its halls with his footsteps’ sound resonated in the air, the path to be taken by the country has already been set. It was the beginning of an era of political repression and violence. 

While he gained power, he was resolute in his intent to keep authority revolving in his palms. For as he attained presidency, he laid out manipulative and exploitative maneuvers with a sleight of hand. He used his relationship with the Catholic Church when it suited his political aims as he saw it necessary to rally popular support. Indeed, the world is filled with people who are being used as tools as a means to achieve one’s selfish ideals. 

In the ninth month of 1972, he declared Martial Law. He claimed that it was a defense against violence, crimes, and alleged threats of communist insurgencies. It sounded like words coming from a respectable leader who is an ally of justice. Yet, no matter how good it sounded, it, unfortunately, did not match the drama behind the curtain. 

The teenager was drowned by his thoughts back to slumber. As he slept, a gust of wind blew through the room. The picture of Marcos, Sr. was torn from the wall. As it broke free from hanging, it left behind a noticeable mark where it once hung.

1977

I WAS ONLY sixteen years old at that time. My Papa was a journalist of the Daily Express. It was the newspaper in circulation during the Marcos regime. Papa would often stay up late at night on his desk with documents scattered all over his room, working on the news that needed to be delivered to the public. 

         Once, he wrote a press release about the ambush of Juan Ponce Enrile, two days before it actually happened. That ambush would be the last straw that would show the Filipinos the necessity of declaring martial law. My Papa wrote every story that could be made to justify martial law. Every news he put out made people step back and think that maybe martial law was indeed the right thing to do. Papa was one of the President’s assets.

Papa’s job allowed us to live a good life though. We lived in a house with good food and a warm kitchen. We had nice cars. We travelled all over the world. We were living the dream— the life envied by many. As long as we were under the shelter of the Marcoses, we would have everything we wanted and more. 

We were sitting at the table for dinner when he talked about what the world outside our home had become.

“It wasn’t a paradise full of angels and fairies who played around and made the flowers bloom,” he said. “Rather, it was more of a marsh dominated by goblins and demons when night fell.”

            When I heard these words, I did not fully understand what it meant and I can’t help but think that he was just extremely exhausted from work. Yet, it caused me cold goosebumps on my nape from the way he said it.

The next day, I saw his back facing me as he left for work. Before he left, he said, as he would always say, “I’ll come back. Wait for me, okay?”

He always would. 

Until that day came.

He was preparing his journals for work. I noticed his hands trembling. He breathed heavily. Is it possible for someone to be this nervous when leaving for work despite being an employee in your field for over ten years? Something was wrong. When Papa finished preparing, he began to head out. But before he was out of sight, he tightly hugged Mama and my siblings. Then, he firmly gripped my shoulder while looking at me intently. 

          “Boyet, be strong.”

Papa hugged me. He looked at me. His eyes seemed worried. He smiled, but it was not the same as before.

             “I’ll come back.”

            He would always do this before leaving for work. But it was strange. His statement was lacking. He did not ask us to wait for him. Still, we waited for him to come home like how it always was. The sun began to sink on the horizon and the night took over the sky. We waited.

The clock’s hands aligned with the twelfth mark on the dial. We were still waiting. I began to feel uneasy. Suddenly, I heard something shatter to pieces on the floor. It was a picture frame… of my father! An unpleasant emotion rose to my chest. I regarded his whereabouts, but I suppressed it. Maybe he’ll come home tomorrow. He’ll return. He always does. 

We waited still. We waited long. 

The moment someone walks out of the door, there was no assurance of ever seeing them return from that same door again. Sometimes, they vanish without any prior notice. Papa disappeared. And I did not understand why. Why wouldn’t he return? Why didn’t he come home?

Then, that day happened.

I was scraping the dishes with a rubber spatula to remove leftover food. Some had stuck-on food where I needed to soak it with detergent for a few minutes before washing. Suddenly, the telephone rang with a shrill ringtone. I was startled by the sudden noise. My hands jerked in surprise, colliding with the coffee mug sitting next to me. The mug shattered into pieces, with ceramic fragments scattered across the floor. I took the broom and dustpan just near the counter to carefully sweep up the mess. The telephone was still ringing incessantly. I cleaned the kitchen floor from the debris and made sure there weren’t any fragments left. I hurried to the telephone and picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Is this Boyet Mijares?” The unfamiliar voice came from a man.

“Yes. What can I do for you, sir?” 

“Your father is alive. If you want to see him, meet me at the building near the old bridge.” 

           When I heard these words, time slowed down and all the noise in the background sucked into silence. The only thing I could hear was that my Papa was alive. 

“Thank y–” Before I could even reply, the man hung up.

When Papa disappeared, our home became dark and gloomy as if light left us together with him when he walked out the door. He became the talk of the town.

“Your Papa is dead, isn’t he?”

            “Primitivo is gone. Poor man, he didn’t have a proper funeral.”

“Any clue where you could find his body?”

“No one knows where Tibo is. He could be alive, but he’s nowhere to be found. He could be dead, but his remains are missing.”

            Unless it was proven to be true, I held on to every light of hope I could find no matter how hard my heart pounded against my chest, telling me otherwise. I chose to ignore whatever logical explanation my mind provided because I knew that it was too heavy to bear. I might go insane. So, I chose to hope.

“Don’t go, Boyet.” Mama said. 

My mind was screaming at me with all of its reasoning as to why I should just sit tight and be Mama’s good boy. But if I was given a chance that could magnify that light of hope in my heart, shouldn’t I take it? Shouldn’t I rule out every possibility that my mind created which could hinder me from having the moment to finally prove that what I chose to believe in is true, no matter how irrational it may be?

“Mama, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to solve the mystery where Papa is,” I sighed.

“Your Papa is dead! He’s not coming back–”

“Mama, how could you say that? You’re his wife! Papa is not dead unless you show me his corpse! I know my Papa.” Tears welled up my eyes. How could Mama say that? How could she convince herself that her husband is already dead without even seeing any of his remains? How could she just believe all those rumors?

“I know it’s hard for you, Mama. I know you’re trying to protect me but I just want to know what happened to Papa. I don’t want to keep on guessing,” my voice cracked. I hugged Mama tightly. I’m sorry, Mama. I just want my Papa back.

I came to the said meeting place. It was an abandoned building. The moment I set foot inside, it felt like burying my other feet on a grave. What would my Papa do here? This is such a creepy place for him to concentrate on channeling his thoughts. It was eerie. I smelled a strong, offensive odor coming from something I don’t know what is. 

I heard loud footsteps. They were moving unseen from the shadows. Then, an echoing voice spoke. 

“Hey, kid. Don’t you know the basic rule that parents always teach their children? Don’t talk to strangers. And since we’re strangers, all the more you shouldn’t trust us. You should’ve listened to your mother.”

“W-what? I don’t understand. Where is my Papa?”  My lips were shaking. My hands were trembling. My knees were weakening. Beads of cold sweat appeared on my forehead. 

Then, the lights turned on. A six-foot stranger was there—standing with an evil grin. Oh no, this is bad. He’s got company!

“Kid, your father disappeared, right? He’s already dead, you know. That reporter of the Marcos-controlled newspaper was such an ingrate! He dared bite the hand that fed him. You know what happened? He was thrown out of the helicopter by the President’s henchmen. You should’ve seen how he begged for his life! His brains burst out of his skull when it cracked on the ground. But don’t worry, you’ll meet him. I am a promise-keeper.”

What? Papa is really dead? Is this why he did not tell us to wait for him? I wish the rumors remained as they were— rumors. But joke’s on me. They were actually true. Mama was right. Papa is no longer coming back. We were never told to wait for him because there was no one for us to wait for. No more Papa returning from that same door he walked out of.

A tingling sensation of fear suddenly rushed up my spine after realizing the situation that I am in. To say that I was terrified was an underestimation of what was truly tormenting me deep within. My heart was about to burst out of my chest. I trembled.

A man grabbed me and brought me to a room where lots of torture equipment hang on the wall. They tied me to a chair. One man took a knife. I expected death from a single stab. Suddenly, I felt the tip of the knife piercing through my eye socket. I screamed. Then the other. I screamed even more.

Before I could catch another breath, my hands were untied from the chair and laid flat on the table. I felt something drop on my hand. Left and right. Twice. It seemed like a massive, heavy ball. I heard my bones crack and break. A fractured bone even punctured my skin. I felt like I was about to faint. These brainless hounds aren’t yet satisfied with their game.

My body felt so heavy that I fell on the hard floor. I convulsed. The impact from the fall caused me to suffer even more. I felt a cold blade lacerate my feet. It seemed as if I was being skinned alive. Blood gushed out and I could feel the sharp sensation of the cold wind piercing my exposed flesh. Now, the chance of running away was eliminated by these wild animals who seemed to be mistaken for humans. 

It didn’t end there. They stripped me naked. No, they didn’t molest me. Instead, they sliced my genitals from my body. I squealed. These disgusting, inhuman monsters shouldn’t be left alive. As blood spewed out, my strength was completely gone. All that I could do was breathe the air that my lungs can take.

I could only ask myself, “Why me?” I only wanted to see my Papa. I only wanted to figure out why he disappeared. I was just a son wanting his Papa back. What was so wrong with what I did that I ended up like this? Why would they do this? Why would the President allow this? Papa was loyal to him. Was Papa’s service nothing to him? Is this how we were supposed to pay for the luxury we enjoyed under their wing?

As if the bloodshed they caused wasn’t enough, they perforated my chest with multiple stab wounds. Blood laked beneath me. After a while, I saw a faint image of my old man, hands reaching out to me. Papa! Papa! My heart was filled with joy. I was right. He was alive all along, but they would not believe me. Papa! Who would’ve thought that I’d meet him here, at this moment, of all places and circumstances? “Papa, take me with yo–”

 

GASPING FOR AIR, the teenager woke up frantically with a panicked yelp. He was sweating and disoriented. His sister came bursting into the room with a glass of water in her hand. 

“What happened?” She said as she sat on the bed next to him. “You were howling!”

“His head… A heavy iron… Blood…” Color was drained from his face. His voice was thick with fear. His lips were shaking. His eyes darted from left to right.

“Who?” The lady asked, wanting to figure out what her brother saw. However, dread already gnawed at his insides, leaving him mute with horror. 

The eyes of justice— it was truly shut. Silence is golden but sometimes, it is just plain faded yellow.

The teenager hurriedly scoured his bag. He looked for his book. Skimming through the pages, he found the article he was looking for:

In September 1983, Marcos’ political rival, Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., who was returning from the United States after medical treatment, was shot dead at the Manila International Airport. This triggered the potent opposition movement to gather around his widowed wife, Corazon Aquino. Threatened by the growing polarity, Marcos held a snap election with Corazon Aquino as his opponent. Unsurprisingly, Marcos won the election but caused the Filipinos to finally overthrow him. This man knows how to play his game. However, the Filipinos were not fools anymore.

The protesters blocked Manila’s main thoroughfare, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). Even with countless threats from the president, they refused to shrink in fear. On the afternoon of the second day of the protest, the president sent in tanks to clear the streets. However, the troops refused to fire as the nuns knelt in front of the tanks with rosaries in their hands uttering their prayers.

After four days, President Marcos stepped down from his presidency and fled the country. On the 25th day of February 1986, Corazon Aquino was proclaimed the 11th president of the Republic of the Philippines.

The young man slowly lowered the book. A look of relief settled on his face. But a thought hit him. His eyes widened, as if he solved the final piece of the puzzle. He looked at his sister.

“Tibo Mijares… he was the President’s asset… while he remained useful…” He breathed heavily. His sister looked at him, waiting for his next line. He looked at the closed window.

“…but when he was stripped of his purpose, he became just another dead body piled up on the mountain of corpses, adding to the death toll…”

His sister gasped.

“This Tibo Mijares… Wait— did you? Did you dream of this man who died?” his sister asked, eyes narrowing. 

He shook his head. “It was his son.” A wind blew.

“I think it would be best if you would keep yourself away from any material that is related to the Marcoses.” His sister stood up, facing away from him.

“Why?” The teenager was puzzled.

“When someone tastes the glorious bliss of power and authority, it becomes his opioid— his addictive drug— and he becomes someone who’ll go to such unimagined lengths just to keep away the cessation of his supremacy. Now, the dictator’s glorious days are gone. The EDSA People Power Revolution was one of the greatest moments in Philippine history that was held in pride. It was a bloodless revolution to overthrow the authoritarian ruler that caused bloodshed in the shadows.” His sister’s words purposefully did not answer the teenager’s question. She just took the picture of Marcos, Sr. which laid flat on the floor near the leg of a chair. As she stared at the photo, her eyes darkened.

“Is there something wrong, Ate?” His eyebrows furrowed.

His sister started to walk out of the room. She stopped by the doorframe. 

“Just keep your nose off anything Marcos-related.” She did not look at him. She shut the door behind, leaving the young lad confused. 

As the door closed behind the sister, she released a deep sigh. She walked to the kitchen floor and took a glass of cold water, soothing her parched throat. After having the last drop, she placed the glass on the kitchen sink. Once again, she looked at the picture of the late dictator. She held a lighter in her hand. She felt its cold metal gently pressing against her skin. She struck the flint wheel, and a tiny flame danced at the tip of the lighter. As she brought it close to the photograph, fire quickly spread, consuming the paper. A faint scent of burning paper danced in the air. She watched the flames die down as the photograph turned to ashes. She closed her eyes and she felt the cold wind embracing her. 

2022

THE PHILIPPINE ARENA was packed with thousands of people in their red shirts, with phones in their hands. A man in a red polo was standing on the podium. As he spoke, cheers emerged from various sections of the arena. A wave of praises and applause echoed, and voices overlapped into a chorus of rallying support. They were like red ants gathering in their colony, all hailing the son of the late dictator. While everyone in the arena waved the Philippine flag and held their banners of support, a teenager was in a corner, frozen in his place. His gaze was transfixed on the man whose speech brought the people into tears. His eyes grew into wide circles, unable to blink. His gaze roamed the entire arena. He gaped, not knowing whether he should breathe or scream. His face turned grey, as if blood was drained from his skin. Suddenly, someone tapped his shoulder.

“What happened? Looks like you saw a ghost.”

The teenager looked at his friend who was smiling widely at him. The teenager backed away from him, from everyone, seemingly terrified from being touched. He was desperate to leave, hurriedly packing his things away.

For some, red was the color of power and dominance.

However, what the teenager saw were clothes stained with the crimson blood of the innocents.

This entry was posted in Fiction on by .

About Catlyn Rose Laurente

Catlyn Rose Laurente is a writer from the City of Naga, Cebu. She is a senior high school student from Minglanilla Science High School. She is an active participant to many extracurricular school competitions where she won contests in various division and regional school press conferences, essay contests, spelling bees, film competitions, coding, and even research competitions among many others. Her interests lie heavily on technology, human potential and societal afflictions. Laurente was given a fellowship for fiction during the 2023 Bathalad Sugbo Creative Writing Workshop held at the Rizal Museum of Cebu City.

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