A young man in his mid-twenties sits on the floor with his back against the wooden wall. He looks like a seemingly lifeless ragdoll left by its owner to survive the test of time by his own.
But he is alive. A hot breathing flesh that is very much human.
He seems to be sleeping. But the rhythmic beat of his heart opposes the claim of the ill-advised.
He is awake.
His knees are folded against his chest, his head buried on them as if he wants to drown and never resurface. His fingers continue to painfully tread towards his hair, as if he’s deliberately trying to tear the strands off until there’s nothing left but torn, bleeding skin on his head.
His silent scream echoes, drowning the room with a melancholic feeling that penetrates the soul.
He is crying. A cry of anguish than can only come from the tormented.
He is tormented.
A series of knocks on the left-side window disturb the silence.
He freezes, his fingers ceasing their movement upon hearing the interruption. His posture is tense, alert, as if he’s expecting an assault.
But he does not move. His head remains buried on the flesh and bone that hide him from what he does not want to see.
But the second bout comes.
A series of knocks on the opposite window join the first set of unwanted noise.
His grip on his hair tightens. His fingers start trembling as he tries to ignore the cause of his internal torment.
He does not look up. He knows what he will see when he looks at the windows- the clear glass fails to hide the horror reflected on them.
It always starts with the soft calls of his name then they will turn into something else.
Moans of dying souls that refuse to burn alone. Painful screams that tear every piece of armor he built around his heart and soul.
It destroys him every single time.
He never forgets. He continues to live it in every lifetime.
This is his fifth.
“Stay away from a woman with the veil.”
There are twelve of them.
“She is a sacrifice,” his Aunt tells him as he continues to watch one woman surrounded by a group of boys.
“She and the other women are sacrifices.”
He doesn’t understand. All he wants to do is to understand the woman standing a few feet from him.
He meets her gaze.
He is quite sure his heart ceases its beating.
At a clearing bathed by the light of the moon, he witnesses a ceremony.
There is blazing fire, its flame a combination of black and blue. The light it provides casts an eerie glow to the bare flesh of the lecherous.
Surrounding the fire are a dozen naked women in various depictions of uncouthness. They’re seemingly under a trance, dancing to a silent sensual tune against their chosen hosts.
One woman is mounted on a thick log, her hips moving hither and yon against it as she wordlessly fondles her large, flaccid breasts. Groans of a sensitive flesh abused, escape from her mouth, along with whimpers of pleasure.
Another woman is seated facing the fire, her head thrown back. Her fingers are on her heated mound, moving furiously against the wet folds. Her pupils dilate at the pleasure her body receives from the treatment of her own hands.
At the other side of the fire, the rest of the women engage in various forms of sexual embrace. Their bare skins rub against each other, their hands exploring forbidden regions as their tongues entwine in a seductive clash of desire.
Surrounding the act of lewdness is a small band of little children who look familiar to him. They encompass the ceremony in a small sphere of possessive stance. Their gazes are far, unaffected.
A lone woman faces the dark path opposite his hiding place. Her hair reaches down to the sole of her feet and the curve of her back is a living temptation to anyone set to commit a sin.
Her gaze is steady, never leaving the endless darkness of the path.
His heart stops. He will recognize her anywhere.
And then it happens.
The women cease to move as they all turn their heads towards the path the lone woman is facing. For a while there is nothing but gripping silence.
Then he hears it—the sounds of hooves. Soon enough, the clearing is filled with beasts, one of them a large ram that has massive horns.
He watches as the women all got down on their knees, their previous sensuous faces now feral and fierce. They start crawling towards the beasts.
And she—she starts walking towards the ram.
He cannot bear the warped sight– the union of women and beasts.
Without a word of warning, he turns around and runs.
His aunt had warned him. He should have stayed away.
He couldn’t stay away.
He accepts the role of a husband.
And of a father to a damned child that will never be his.
They fall in hell together.
The sacrifice will happen tonight. It is a promise the town made with the devil.
The towners watch in hunger as the priests place ropes around the necks of the twelve women. They had nurtured these cursed for years, waiting for the buds to come out and grow from their wombs.
His heart is breaking as he catches sight of the woman he loves. Her expression says nothing, but her eyes tell him everything.
She is ready for this.
“Tonight, we will say goodbye to the cursed. They will bring along with them all the bad luck of this town and offer them to Lucifer. We will be at peace.”
He closes his eyes as the priest orders the execution of the victims.
He feels a small squeeze in his hand, but he does not open his eyes. He almost forgets that he is holding the hand of the little boy that he has learned to love as his own.
“She is dying tonight,” he hears the little boy say. “Will I die tonight too?”
He remains silent.
“Release the ropes.”
They witness as the condemned women twitch and shudder. They try to struggle with the ropes on their necks; a futile attempt to escape death.
It takes only a few seconds before the struggle stops one by one.
The towners are silent.
“And the first sacrifice has been made”.
The towners cheer.
“Now on to the last.”
He feels his heart stop as the words prompt him to open his eyes.
“You have chosen to bear the curse with these women,” the town priest says, addressing him and the eleven other men beside him. “No flesh that bears the blood of the cursed shall live.”
Each of the twelve men are handed a scythe by one of the priests.
“End it,” the High Priest says one more time. “And the Lord will bless you for your sacrifice.”
The little boy in his hand turn around to face him. He stares at the taller man with nothing but indifference in his eyes.
“Am I dying tonight too?”
He can hear his heart breaking.
“Papa, am I dying tonight too?” the child repeats.
He cannot answer him. He shouldn’t.
He hears a cry of anguish from someone beside him and he knows that one of them already did what is needed to be done.
He closes his eyes and whispers, “Forgive me.” Then he opens them and lifts the scythe.
And slashes the throat of his own son. He watches the blood squirt from the little boy’s neck, his eyes refusing to close. He is still staring at his father even until his last breath.
“See you in hell, my son,” he whispers as he sees the boy take his last breath. He places a kiss on his forehead and closes the boy’s eyes.
His cries, and the cries of the other fathers, echo in the woods, just before they too are executed by the other towners with the axes they brought.
It had been bloody. Peaceful, but bloody.
The group of priests pile all the bodies and burn them.
The town is cleansed for the next one hundred years.
The people live in prosper and peace.
The devil will never touch their town in a hundred years.
Or that is what they believe.
The vision stops.
He slowly stands from his perch on the floor makes his way towards the door, finally opening it.
And there she stands. Her long hair curls down to her feet and covers the entirety of her face. Her head is bent to the right, at an odd angle that bears the side of her pale neck. She wears a long, white robe that stops at the sole of her feet.
Beside her, he stands. The little boy who is never his.
The woman lifts a hand and he takes it.
He nods automatically, the familiar swirls of red haze covering his eyes. He turns towards the little boy who hands him an axe.
The little boy smiles at him.
“End it,” he says.
The man nods and releases the hand of the woman before walking away from them.
The deformed woman and the child watch as the young man comes home to his family in this lifetime.
“Paradise is never for you or me. Or him. It stops becoming ours when they took it away from us,” the child says as he offers a hand to the woman beside him. “Let’s go home and wait for him.”
He will come back as he always comes home to hell with them.
They both enter the house.
For another one hundred years, it will remain silent. Until the screams of the damned are triggered by the birth of a cursed soul.
Santiago is a relatively peaceful town located a few miles away from a slightly modernized San Carlos.
Considered as the town’s only source of entertainment, the local newspaper makes life more interesting. It contains gossips from wives who don’t have anything better to do with their time.
That is, until today. The usually peaceful morning is drowned by screams coming from the direction of the woods.
For the first time in years, a local news reaches mainstream media.
There are seven bodies including the body of the murderer, all of them grotesque and bloody.
The towners agree to burn the cabin along with the bodies inside. Fire will erase the physical existence. The smoke would take away the remnants of the memories.
By the end of the ceremony, no one is left except for the town’s priest.
“May the Lord grant you eternal peace. In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of—”
His words are stopped at the sight of a little boy and a veiled woman who stand a few feet away from him almost as if she doesn’t want to be seen.
“Hello?” he calls, but the little boy does not answer. Neither does the woman.
Normally, he will approach the child, but the presence of the woman is telling him it will be an unwelcome gesture. The priest does not persist and walks away, passing in front of the boy.
He sees the child glance at him from the corner of his eyes…
The priest shivers with a sinister warmth. His feet move with an unconscious command, prompting him to walk faster.
As he stumbles on his path, all he can think of are his mother’s words from his childhood.
“Anak, walang pinipiling katawan ang mga demonyo.”
He starts praying.
A shadow arises from the smoke and flitters towards the woman in the child.
They disappear towards the direction of the woods.