Anton dela Vega is getting restless.
He has been waiting for four hours in the basement parking lot of one of Makati’s prime commercial establishment. He has already gone through one pack of his Marlboros and has been growing steadily uneasy.
The source of his agitation was not the burly man in a Barong Tagalog with the very prominent bulge of a gun holster on his hip seated on the hood of a black Mercedes Benz. Boy, being the madam’s bodyguard and all, is a common enough sight to him.
The madam definitely does not inspire unease in him as well. She was a tall woman and of regal bearing. She owns this building and several other valuable pieces of real estate around the country (and abroad, it is rumored). She inspires intimidation in him, yes but unease? No.
And why shouldn’t he be intimidated?
First of all, Anton is not somebody important or even physically imposing. He’s just the madam’s accountant, the one who takes care of her various businesses’ numbers and they are big numbers indeed.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the price to pay for a miscalculation was a simple pink slip. Unfortunately, considering the kind of shady dealings the Iron Maiden had, the result would be most probably a toe tag…the one they give you in the city morgue.
The source of Anton’s unease was a small, wrinkled native woman busy painting symbols on the asphalt of the parking lot using a dead chicken’s blood. She continually muttered to herself during the entire time she was painting the floor and Anton couldn’t tell if she was merely speaking to herself or chanting.
The madam found this midget of a woman by the referral of one of her amigas who dabbled in the occult. According to her, this woman was a medium, someone with the gift (or curse, however you want to look at it) to converse with spirits and elementals. The madam has been having problems with this particular piece of property and she was told that it was supernatural in nature.
Anxious to solve the problem and recover her losses, she agree to hire this woman to ask the spirits in this place why they were being so troublesome.
“Matagal pa ba?” madam snapped her fan shut.
“I have another engagement tonight and I’m late enough as it is!”
Her sudden outburst startled Anton out of his reverie and dropped a half consumed cigarette on his pants in surprise. He hurriedly stood up and swatted the still lighted Marlboro before it burned through the material.
“Magsisimula na tayo.”
There was a sudden silence.
The old crone’s voice was high pitched and had an odd inflection to it. The overhead fluorescent lights above created deep pits of shadows on her sunken eyes and yet tiny pin pricks of light played upon them. She was smiling and the act defined even more the wrinkles on her weather lined face.
She was standing directly overhead one of the fluorescent lamps in the middle of a circle of what appears to be native symbols and crude drawings. There were four candles distributed along the edge of the circle with a small bowl beside the candle.
The bowl contained what looked like black paint but from the odor it emanated it had to be more of the chicken blood.
Madam, her impatience suddenly vanishing after the old woman’s announcement, was suddenly apprehensive. The crone beckoned everyone to step within the circle as she took her place in the middle of the circle, careful not to step on the lines she made with blood.
“Magsisimula na tayo” she intoned.
She gave us one last look and spoke, “anuman ang mangyari, huwag ninyong iiwanan ang liwanag”. With that she closed her eyes, spoke one word of a long forgotten tongue, and all the lights in the basement parking lot died.
Except for the one overhead the symbol that the hag drawn.
Remembering her warning, Anton stilled his nerves and resisted the urge to just bolt for the nearest exit. After his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he suddenly grew aware of a low guttural chanting that seemed to be coming from the native woman.
She was swaying to and fro and as the seconds passed so did the intensity of her chant. All of a sudden the candle light began to flicker and he suddenly became aware of the movement of air very near the ground.
The candles flame began to flicker and in fact was almost getting ready to blow out when suddenly the air was still once again and the flames returned to its steady burn.
“Bakit ninyo ako tinawag?”
The voice coming out of the crone’s mouth was not the high pitched cackle she was using earlier. This was deeper, a basso totally out of place for a woman of very advanced age.
“Oh, my God!”
The words left Anton’s mouth involuntarily. Boy, the bodyguard, was completely overcome by his fear and bolted…away from the circle of light.
“Boy! Come back here! BOY!!!”
Madam was screaming but made no attempt to move from her place. Boy’s running footsteps echoed in the mostly empty parking lot and was heard diminishing as he moved further away, as fast as his feet can carry him. The clickety-clack of his leather shoes abruptly stops and the last noise they heard was Boy’s strangled call for help followed immediately by sound of wet, ripping flesh.
Madam stifled a pending scream by biting into her knuckles.
“The medium told you not to leave the light”.
The crone was addressing the two left again with the basso voice.
“Who…who are you?” Madam finally managed to ask.
“I live here”.
“I want you to leave!” she screamed, no longer able to hold back her hysteria.
“I don’t want to be here…but you insisted”.
“Insisted?” Madam was incredulous. “I never insisted you stay here much less invited you to live here as you say!”
“Ah, but you did” the old woman intoned in a voice not her own.
“Remember the tragedy”.
“What are you–!?”
“REMEMBER THE TRAGEDY!!!”
Suddenly there was a howling not so much as a gust of wind than a low pitched whine of a hundred voices, like a pitiful cry. The hairs on the back of Anton’s neck were all standing up on end.
“You wanted this building to be the biggest and brightest ever built in Manila and you wanted it done it time for the new millennium” the crone said as she continued to channel the spirit.
As she was speaking otherworldly light illuminated a wall of the parking lot where emaciated shadows with hard hats and tools were toiling.
“We worked round the clock and yet you pushed the schedule beyond what was practical…or wise”.
The howling wind has now escalated to a howl.
“We were already pouring the cement for the 35th level’s floors even as there were still work being done on the 34th…all because we had to meet your deadline”.
The shadows on the wall started sinking into the ground as debris fell all around them.
“The cement was too fresh and so it didn’t hold. It buried us along with the workers in the 34th.”
“There was 45 workers and their families were all compensated for their—.”
“There was 46.”
The shadow play on the wall vanished and once again the parking lot was enveloped in darkness. The howling wind has also suddenly stopped.
“You didn’t even bother to dig the bodies up because it would set back your schedule.”
Madam was, by this time was emitting a low pitch wail and was inching away from the crone who has opened her eyes and is staring directly at her.
“So you had the new workers pour the cement and continue construction.”
Suddenly, the medium shook her head as if waking up from her trance. When she spoke it was with the familiar high pitched voice with the odd inflection.
“Now you have your building but because of you I lost my son.”
As madam began to scream, the crone leaned and systematically blew out the candles plunging us all again into darkness. Anton heard sounds of struggle and a muffled scream as he fumbled in his pockets for the lighter he always carried.
He finally found it and managed to light it. Anton held it high and found that he was alone. The medium and madam was gone and there were streaks of blood on the asphalt though he couldn’t tell if it was the chicken blood or…someone else’s.
The hair on his nape stood up once again as a whisper found his ear.
“Now we are 47”.
Anton ran from the place as fast as his legs can carry him.