Visitor

I can’t decide who scares me more – the old woman in the attic or the little girl in the basement.

The little girl plays with my younger brother during the day, but visits me at night. I hear her open my door, get on the bed behind me, and embrace me. She mumbles words I cannot understand, whispering them on my ear, before she starts singing a strange song that grates through my skin.

I never turn around. My brother says she has an ugly face that gives him nightmares.

I am bad with nightmares.

***

The old woman appears on an antique mirror near the staircase going to the attic. 

Every time I accidentally stare at it on my way to my room, she’s there behind me, looking straight at me. 

She has ash, waist-length hair and the blackest eyes I have ever seen. She doesn’t blink. She just stares. Then she smiles, showing a set of yellow, crooked teeth. 

She does me no harm. She doesn’t even touch me. 

Except that she seems to appear closer every time I catch her staring at me from that antique piece.

My brother says she likes me so much. And that if she can be with me forever, she will be.

I hate mirrors.

***

I told my parents all about them, but they do not believe me and my brother. Instead they keep sending me to a doctor who does nothing but ask me pointless questions.

I am not crazy! 

“Jared’s been dead for years, remember, love?” my mom keeps saying even though my brother is there standing next to me all the time. “He… your brother died in that car accident.”

“Sweetheart… you’ve… you’ve been blind after the accident,” I hear my dad say.

I am not blind! I can see my brother, and the young girl, and the old woman!

I am not blind. I am not crazy.

***

I don’t know which scares me more now – my very own parents thinking I am crazy. 

Or my brother who keeps telling me that my parents had been dead for years.

I close my eyes. 

I need to rest.

House of the Insane Sisters – How it Came to Be

It all started from a prompt.

Jae, her nickname, was assigned to me as my prompter for a convention I founded for a fandom (this was in 2016). I was a bit excited. She was one of the best writers out there, and that meant she was going to give me a challenge.

And yes, she did. She also seemed to know me very well because the prompt caused my mind to wander further than its usual route. I already wrote a couple of horror stories for said fandom – Forbid, Den and Whisper – but this was the first time I needed to write a finished multi-chapter story.

The prompt : three dusty, unlit candles in the attic.

I started writing the story without a goal in mind other than the fact that it should be horror. That time, I was already starting to build a reputation because of my twisted stories, and I wanted to further seal that image in everyone’s minds.

It was about ghosts. The typical paranormal archetype that never failed to make anyone feel the shivers. However, like how my stories usually were, it started to take a different route. For some reason, while I was writing it, a moniker in college came to mind. Some of my classmates used to call me catharsis queen. And that’s when the epic ending came to mind.

I don’t want to spoil things here, but that will at least give you some clue.

So then… I finally had a destination in mind. The thing kept writing itself until I finished it, with barely a few minutes before it was my time to post it.

Ruthie, my very good friend/soul sister (you can find her at her blog), was a lover of anything twisted and dark. She was also a budding film maker and author. And she told me (with her film maker eyes), that she could see my short story play as a movie in her mind.

That, and while it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea in that convention, it gained a lot of followers and praises.

With the encouragement from these readers and from Ruthie’s help (she offered to become my editor), I decided to turn House of the Insane Sisters into a full-length novel.

Oh God. It wasn’t easy. It’s been a couple of years of hell – a year of trying to publish it on different platforms so I could improve it, and another year to finally write it seriously using my soul sister’s help.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And now it’s finally out! You can find House of the Insane Sisters here. I promise you a different kind of horror. A kind that starts from within.

Enjoy reading it!

Nightmare

I can’t decide who scares me more – the old woman in the attic or the little girl at the basement.

The little girl plays with my younger brother during the day, but visits me at night. I hear her open my door, get on the bed behind me, and embrace me. She mumbles words I cannot understand, whispering them on my ear, before she starts singing a strange song that grates through my skin.

I never turn around. My brother says she has an ugly face that gives him nightmares.

I am bad with nightmares.

The old woman appears on an antique mirror near the staircase going to the attic. Every time I accidentally stare at it on my way to my room, she’s there behind me, looking straight at me. 

She has ash, waist-length hair and the blackest eyes I have ever seen. She doesn’t blink. She just stares. And then she will smile, showing a set of yellow, crooked teeth. 

She does me no harm. She doesn’t even touch me. 

Except that she seems to appear closer every time I catch her staring at me from that antique piece.

I told my parents all about them, but they do not believe me. Instead they keep sending me to a doctor who does nothing but ask me pointless questions.

I am not crazy! 

But then–

“Jared’s been dead for years, remember, love?” my mom keeps saying. “He… your brother died in that car accident.”

“Sweetheart… you’ve… you’ve been blind after the accident,” I hear my dad say.

I don’t know which scares me more now – my very own parents thinking I am crazy. 

Or my brother who keeps telling me that my parents had been dead for years.

I close my eyes. 

I need to rest.

Dear Time (Romance)

Dear Time.

I first loved her when she was a sovereign. A descendant of a glorified royal line whose main obligation was the fate of the kingdom and its people. A duty that was never to be broken even by the sacrifice of flesh and blood.

I was a mere court jester. And my duty was infinitesimal if paralleled with hers. I was merely there to entertain his and her majesties, to elicit a smile from those untainted, noble lips.

She never smiled.

In this life, I died with a broken heart that only knew pain and loneliness. 

She died with a steel heart that never opened.  

***

I loved her next in Kyoto. During the era of the noble samurais.

She was the most beautiful geisha. I was a dutiful, brave warrior – a samurai.

Her graceful movements captivated me. The pitter-patter of her dainty feet, the smooth sway of her gentle hands accompanied by the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, and that classic beauty hiding behind the mask of white and colorburst.

I fell. Hard. If I had a choice, I would have lain my sword beneath her feet and surrendered not only my integrity but also my heart.

But I couldn’t. Not without grave consequences that involved something bigger than my personal desires. 

In this life, I had the bigger duty. My honor as a samurai was far more important than the beat of my heart.

In this life, I died with a blade in my stomach. 

She died dancing for strangers.

*** 

I realized how perversely forbidding fate was when in my next life, I was reborn as a pirate.

And she was a mermaid.

It was a retelling of the classic fairytale. Storm. Captain falling. Captain drowning. Creature of the sea saving a son of the land. 

And another falling. Of a different kind. Of a different beat.

But fairytales didn’t happen even in an altered truth of an alternate world.

In this life, I died waiting for her. 

She died watching me wait for her.

*** 

When I was reborn in my next life, I was a werewolf.

She was a vampire.

Another forbidden love between two dominant species of another world whose lives depended on blood and death. An ancient feud that was never settled even by time.

This world had been harsh. There was nothing but the spillage of crimson and slicing of flesh. While our love still bloomed, the call of the blood and the pull of the ancient bonds couldn’t be ignored.

We were enemies. I had to kill her. She needed to end me.

I died with poison in my blood and with the heart of the one I love in my grasp. 

She died with a huge chunk off her chest where her dead heart used to beat for me.

*** 

By our next lives, I had already accepted that I was being tested by fate.

How long would I last? Will my love for her transcend even the boundaries of otherworlds?

She was born a demon. I was born a human. 

We lived in a world where humans lorded it over the demons. Demons were slaves and were powerless. Humans were masters and were powerful.

I was her master. She was my slave. Her kind was treated like animals, tortured and shamed by even the weakest of us. But I never treated her as such. I only ever saw her as a human.

She ended up killing me in her quest for justice for her kind. 

In this world, I died in her hands.

*** 

Different worlds. Different lives.

Unchanged feelings.

I remembered them all. I remembered every single version of her. I remembered every single version of me. Every time I was reborn, I gained a memory of her. Of me. Of us.  

And how we never were, and while she simply lived and outlived a life where we started out as strangers and ended up falling in love whoever we were, wherever we were.

Time has never been right for me to love her, and for her to love me. Time moved against us, never with us.

And yet here I am again. About to test the same fate. Finding her in a world we can finally consider normal. In a place that is so ordinary it is almost boring–

In a park right in front of my office building.

I am scared.

If I touch her, will she recognize me? In our previous lives, in those worlds of fantasies, she was my only reality. But now that we are finally in a world which I could consider a reality, would she become a mere fantasy?

I walk towards her, my heart in my hands. I am ready to offer it to her.

My heart’s a mess, its sound akin to a ticking time bomb ready to detonate. My mind is in a cornucopia of scattered thoughts of worry and doubt, ready to push me to the brink of senselessness.

I utter her name in a breathless whisper. The name that sounds so familiar yet tastes so strange. 

I witness her still for a moment, before she finally lifts her head from the book she is reading. 

Her gaze meets mine. She stares at me with those familiar enchanting pools of glistening, brown-black orbs.

I drop my heart on the ground. Her eyes—they are, once again, the eyes of a stranger. I mutter a dejected apology, ready to accept that this is not the right moment. Again.

But then… but then she says it. My name. Accompanied by a smile that I have never received from her in our previous harsh mythical lives.

She knows. She knows. She recognizes me. She recognizes us.

***

I offer my trembling hand for her to take. She takes it without the slightest hint of hesitation.

And we just know. And we just both feel. How right it finally is.

It is the perfect time. Our perfect time.

We start out as two lone souls, searching for their own places in numerous different worlds.

But now we are here. We are one. Even when we fade, we fade together.

Two souls merge into one. Amalgamated souls which can be parted by naught.  A union granted and blessed by the spirits of the universe and the ever magnificent deities of fate.

Dear Time.

This time.

We win.

Signed,

Us.

Whisper

Eliza grew up with dolls.

Marian, her mother (who, in her opinion, was a living porcelain doll herself), was an avid collector of antique dolls. She always went with her father, Eduardo, whenever he left for business trips abroad just to buy a doll, which she would add to her growing collection.

Their Victorian mansion was full of them. 

Two-feet China dolls lined the left side of the East Wing’s first floor hallway, their porcelain skin always glistening at every shine of light, whether from a humble candlelight or from the sun’s harsh rays. French bisque dolls decorated the right side, their matte finish giving them a more humanlike glow than the China ones. Kokeshi vintage dolls, those wooden cylindrical dolls that came all the way from Japan, were placed in stacks at every antique table in the mansion.

In Eduardo’s study, there was a set of Daruma dolls (a red, a black, a white, a purple, and a gold), which scared the hell out of Eliza. Their eyes had been filled with two bold dots indicating that the goals or wishes had been fulfilled within a year after they were made. Five Daruma dolls. Five wishes. Five years. It always gave Eliza the shivers whenever she remembered that these dolls used to be eyeless, their blank stares making her feel as if she was always being watched. 

Aside from the wooden antique dolls and the Daruma dolls, all other fragile vintage dolls were placed on a foot-tall wooden platform and covered with glass tubes. They lined the hallway like gleaming giant chess figures.

Contrary to what most expected, not one among the people in the household feared the dolls. The dolls were beautiful. They were huge pieces of lifeless beauty, creating a vibrant, lighter atmosphere inside the huge house. They brought joy and warmth to the dull hues of the walls, breathing warmth to the chilly air that usually surrounded the intimidating home.

Everyone loved the dolls. Even the servants took pleasure in caring for them.

No one could resist their charms.

***

For ordinary little girls, being surrounded by such a fragile collection of masterpieces was a dream come true.

But not for Eliza. 

Eliza loathed the dolls. She hated their hard, flawless faces that looked so real yet felt so reel. She loathed their unblinking, probing stares that made her uncomfortable, making her feel as if they were always looking at her, observing her every move, and judging her even though their eyes remained blank.

She never shared her mother’s fascination with them.

Marian was unusually obsessed with her dolls. She was very gentle with them, treating them with utter delicateness and with such warm, loving touches. Every day, she could be seen attending to one or two of her dolls. She would either be seen combing a doll’s hair, polishing its hard, flawless skin, or changing its clothes. 

Eliza had never gotten such attention from her mother, hence the bitter taste in her mouth every time she witnessed the older woman fuss over her dolls.. And while it’s true that she could feel how much Marian loved her, it wasn’t the same gentle love the woman has for her collection.

Eliza wanted care. And it was obvious that Marian didn’t care for her as much as she cared for her dolls.

Love wasn’t enough. Not for Eliza.

But Marian never noticed. Her thoughts had always been on the dolls. Even when she had the time to at least be in Eliza’s presence, she always talked about her dolls.

Dolls. Dolls. Dolls. Eliza tolerated all of it. While she didn’t care, listening to her mother talk about dolls brought her mother closer to her, even if for a moment.

Still, if only she could get away with it, she would throw them all away.

But not before smashing them to pieces.

***

Eliza was given her first antique doll at the age of 5. Her name was Lola.

Lola was a kewpie doll, which her mother had brought home from Australia. She was similar to most antique dolls except she wore no synthetic hair because that’s how most kewpie dolls were.

Marian handed Lola to her, a smile on her lovely face, and gently asked her to take care of the doll. Eliza, who always loved to drown herself in her mother’s short burst of affection, simply nodded and embraced her mother.

That same night, before she went to bed, Eliza took one, good, long look at the kewpie doll, before dismembering its limbs and throwing the pieces to her garbage can.

Eliza slept with a smile on her face, a peaceful smile that revealed nothing about the brutal act she just did to Lola.

The maid, who took out the trash the day after, was the one who saw the dismembered pieces. She glanced at Eliza, who was innocently staring at her as if waiting for her to ask the question she wanted to ask. The child was expressionless, but the mischievous glint in her eyes caused the maid to shiver involuntarily. She hastily went out of the room, her footsteps in a haste.

The last sound she heard before she closed the door were the mocking giggles of the child.

Eliza was extremely happy that day. That’s one nuisance gone.

Or maybe two. 

The maid handed in her resignation letter the next day.

***

Eliza’s second doll was given to her when she was 8. Her name was Belle.

Marian didn’t ask about Lola, but every time she looked at Eliza, there was something in her eyes that made Eliza want to claw them out. Her mother looked so all-knowing and it was annoying. Marian’s too curious for her own good.

Belle was an 1894 German Armand Marseille antique doll. She was a rare beauty and she was expensive. She has curly, blonde hair and the roundest brown eyes. When she was handed to Eliza, she was wearing the cutest lace dress with matching yellow bonnet.

Eliza stared at Belle’s eyes, unblinking. Marian and Eduardo stared at their daughter, awaiting her reaction. There was concern and love in there–two things that Eliza had always wanted to see from them. A huge love directed only to her and not to the dolls or to work.

Unfortunately, Eliza was too busy staring at the doll to pay them attention. If she had seen the look in their eyes, it might have made a difference.

“I don’t like her,” Eliza finally declared with a straight face. Marian and Eduardo automatically sought each other’s eyes. But before one of them could utter a word, Eliza continued. “But I will keep her.” Her grip on the doll tightened. “She’s better than that ugly Lola. At least she’s pretty. When she starts to bore me, I will get rid of her. Thank you, Mom, Dad.”

Eliza ran to hug Marian and Eduardo, and then walked away with the doll on her hand. Once she was out of earshot, Marian turned towards her husband.

“Hon, I don’t like this,” she whispered as she clutched at her husband’s arm. Eduardo wrapped an arm around his trembling wife’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head.

“It’s just a phase. Don’t worry, Love.”

Marian shook her head and looked up at her husband, fisting the front of his shirt. Her expression was that of burdened pain. “You haven’t seen Lola. You didn’t see how she looked like. The maid who saw it—she was so scared she had to leave. This isn’t normal. Let’s bring her to a specialist.”

Eduardo’s heart was conflicted. He hadn’t seen Lola, but the maid’s reaction had been enough. Still, half of him didn’t want to believe that his daughter has a disturbed mind. He was still hoping that this was nothing but a phase. It wasn’t uncommon for children to have extraordinary imagination.

He pulled his wife closer until her face rested on his chest. “I will do everything I can.”

“How?”

“Eliza—” he hesitated for a while before continuing. “Eliza needs someone of the same age to be with. She has been alone all this time. She never had a chance to—”

Eliza was home-schooled. They tried putting her to school, but she ended up learning how to use her fists instead of her brain. She was always bullied despite her family’s social status. Eliza loved being inside her own world, making her different from the rest of the class. Her classmates thought she deserved to be the center of ridicule because of this. 

When, one day, Eliza finally came home with bruises on her arms and a bloodied lower lip, she was pulled out of school.

“Just trust me,” Eduardo whispered.

He left the next day and was gone for a week.

When he came back, he wasn’t alone.

He brought Nicky with him.

***

Nicky was a quiet little boy.

He stood in front of Eliza when Eduardo introduced them. He had a staring contest with her, something which she didn’t seem to appreciate.

“Eliza, sweetheart, this is Nicky,” Eduardo said with a smile. “Nicky, this is Eliza, my daughter, the one I told you about.”

Nicky didn’t say anything. He just continued to stare. Eliza on the other hand narrowed her eyes into slits, her gaze enough to burn the boy standing in front of her.

“Who are you?” she demanded in such a bratty tone. “Why did you come with Dad?”

Nicky kept mum.

But, just like how a child’s mind always worked, nothing seemed to matter minutes later. Eliza pulled Nicky with her after waiting for a reply that didn’t come, and asked, more like forced him, to play with her.

“Where did you find him?” Marian asked as she watched their daughter play with the new boy. There was still wariness on her face, but she looked more curious than suspicious.

Eduardo smiled at his wife. “In an orphanage at the South. It was fate that I saw him. It was hard to convince his guardian to release him.”

“And he’ll stay?” Marian asked. She was only concerned about the separation anxiety this would cause her daughter if Nicky couldn’t stay.

Eduardo kissed her lovingly. 

“He will stay. He promised he would. A child’s promise is always pure and sincere.”

***

Nicky did stay.

He easily became a part of Eliza’s strange life. 

Surprisingly, she was accepting, far from the attitude she had shown when he was first introduced to her. He also seemed to be good for her. She was less aggressive and more pleasant.

As the days passed, Eliza’s longing for her parents’ attention faded away. She was content to be with just Nicky. She never even fought the dolls for her mother’s attention anymore.

Nicky was enough.

He was always with Eliza. Everywhere. Anywhere. Any time. 

He ate with her. He played with her. He studied with her. He fought with her. He made up with her.

But there’s one thing that made Eliza like him more—Nicky didn’t like the dolls.

“What’s supposed to be in that thing?” Nicky asked as they passed by the hallway, his eyes on that one vacant glass tube. Eliza remembered the doll she had beheaded. Ugly Lola never deserved that spot.

“It’s for nothing significant.”

Nicky didn’t prod for any more answers. But since that moment, his eyes always, always found their way to that one empty glass tube.

He always shivered. It always felt as if it was inviting him in. 

Nicky decided that he would never ever come near it no matter how tempting it would be.

***

The atmosphere in the household had changed a lot over the years.

“I am glad you brought Nicky home,” Marian said, smiling at the sight of their daughter reading a book with Nicky and bantering with him. “She opened up a lot since he came into her life.”

“I told you it was just a phase. She just needed the right friend. When I saw Nicky, I knew he’s perfect for her. He looked so innocent and quiet and alone. Watching the two of them right now, I feel like I have two children. I feel happy.”

“That’s one thing I don’t approve of though,” Marian said, her expression suddenly changing. Eduardo laughed upon seeing where her eyes were.

Nicky’s and Eliza’s hands were intertwined. It’s been happening a lot lately. And while Marian was all accepting towards the friendship and was obviously happy at the changes Nicky had brought to Eliza’s life, she didn’t seem to approve at the thought of something romantic happening between them.

“You don’t like Nicky for her?” Eduardo asked, teasing her wife even though he already knew the answer. Nicky was a nice boy, and he didn’t have problems with him. “I kind of expected that when I brought him home.”

Marian’s face was fierce. “No. Not him, never him.”

The smile dropped from Eduardo’s face as he took in his wife’s expression. He has never seen Marian so angry before. She looked… almost possessed. Feral, even.

“Hon, where is this anger coming from?” He was used to his wife’s sudden outbursts and mood changes, but this was something that he didn’t expect.

“I am just worried,” Marian confessed when she finally answered him, her tone of voice causing him to look at her. “Nicky had brought out Eliza’s true self, but he is—”

“He’s similar to you.”

Marian shook her head. “I’m different from him.”

“Of course you are,” he pacified her, instantly soothing her with his touch and tone.

Marian looked at him suspiciously. “You are not worried.”

“No, I am not.”

“But why? She is your daughter and she’s falling in love with a—”

Eduardo smiled. It was a tender smile that only an indulgent father could possess. “It’s a miracle,” was all he said.

Marian simply watched as Nicky lifted their entwined hands to his lips. She knew her anger was irrational, but it still escalated.

From then on, Marian watched.

***

She always watched.

She witnessed as Eliza became Nicky’s world and Nicky became Eliza’s world. Their lives now only revolved around each other, their feelings growing along with their bodies.

They fell in love.

“Your mother seemed to hate me,” Nicky said as he pulled Eliza closer to his chest. They were seated at the window seat inside the study room, taking a break from their lectures.

“Hmm…” was all Eliza could answer. She noticed the change in her mother’s behavior years ago, but her hostility towards Nicky seemed to have been really more obvious lately.

“She didn’t seem to approve of this,” he said. He didn’t need to define what this was.

“She’d get over it.”

***

Eliza was wrong.

Marian didn’t get over it. Not even when the relationship became too obvious.

She interfered.

Marian didn’t try to force Eliza to go out, explore, and meet people. Instead, she forced Nicky to do that. She enrolled Nicky to a local university so that he could meet other people, explore other opportunities.

Forget about her daughter.

Nicky couldn’t do anything other than accept what was being forced on him. He didn’t have the right to say No. He never had the right to say No.

Eliza hadn’t been happy. She was extremely lonely when Nicky left. She became lonelier when he became too busy even to talk to her. But as much as she wanted to attend the university with him, she couldn’t. She knew how it would end.

Nicky’s lack of time for her gave Marian the opportunity she had all her life and just never took until now—to be closer to her daughter. She tried to spoil Eliza. She brought her clothes, cooked her food, and now even tried to always engage her in conversations. 

If Eliza was still a child who longed for her mother’s care, it would have worked. Her thirst for Marian’s attention had been grave once, to the point of accepting the dolls, the things she loathed the most, just so she could feel closer to her.

But she wasn’t a kid anymore. And none of Marian’s efforts worked. She was years too late.

Eliza now only smiled for Nicky. She only smiled with Nicky.

Marian couldn’t accept it.

***

It was finally Nicky’s summer vacation.

Now he had all the time in the world for Eliza. As a result, she started smiling again, started laughing again—it was obvious how happy she was.

Eduardo was content. He had seen the effect of the separation to his daughter, and he’s just pleased that Eliza would be happy for two months before Nicky got dragged to university again.

Marian’s reaction was different. Seeing the smile on Eliza’s face while she’s in Nicky’s arms caused her to stand from her seat just to tear Eliza away from the young man.

And that tiny action immediately caused hell to break loose.

Harsh words were delivered. Hard slaps were given.

“What you have—it is not real. It will never be real!”

Eliza didn’t cry. Her mother’s words just awakened the dormant anger she felt for her years ago. Anger that was buried by her love for her. Her connection to Marian had been lost since Nicky came into her life. Now, she’s just angry. Love wasn’t enough to disguise it anymore.

Nicky held Eliza in his arms as Eduardo pulled Marian away from the room. 

He would talk to the kids later, but he needed to pacify his wife first.

***

Eduardo came back an hour later.

“I want you to know that I support you,” Eduardo said as he looked at them.

It did nothing to appease Eliza. There was so much anger in her eyes. Nicky looked afraid as he continued to hold her.

“Marian will too,” Eduardo added. “She would understand the pull soon. She would be okay with this soon.”

Nicky just nodded. Eliza remained quiet. 

Her eyes told Eduardo everything.

Eduardo felt helpless.

***

Nicky was awakened by a warm body beside him.

“Eliza?” he asked sleepily when his eyes adjusted to the dark. “What—”

His words were cut by a loud moan. A moan that he immediately realized belonged to him. 

It was only then that he felt the hand that was cupping his clothed member, awakening every nerve in his body.

Nicky swallowed.

“E-Eliza?” he asked, his voice already hoarse, as he stared at the young woman. Eliza was only wearing a robe, which was open at the front, revealing that she had nothing underneath.

He watched as she released her hold on his member and straddled him, the action surprising and pleasuring him at the same time. She was so tight, so warm. 

She slowly moved her hips, causing her to rub against him.

Nicky moaned again, his voice now painfully strained. His hands flew to her waist, touching the softness of her blazing skin. “Eliza…”

Eliza smiled and leaned towards him, her lips touching his lobe as she whispered: “Let’s prove my mother wrong, Nicky.”

Nicky shook his head, his breath coming out in puffs as Eliza continued to grind on him.

“Eliza… please…”

Eliza giggled. And then she started rocking her hips… slowly at first… then faster.

Her aching flesh started screaming against his.

Nicky’s hands on her waist tightened. Eliza completely let the robes fall down, revealing the whole of her supple body underneath. Nicky knew then that he didn’t need to be convinced further. After all, he was just a man.

Eliza and Nicky had proved Marian wrong that night.

What they have—it was real. And they just sealed it.

They became one.

***

One.

Entangled in the sheets and both sleeping contentedly–that’s what Marian saw when she came to surprise Eliza with a new doll named Sebastian. He was supposed to be the peace offering. She still didn’t understand that Eliza never liked dolls.

The plan to make peace with her daughter immediately flew out of the window as Marian took in the sight before her.

Sebastian was dropped to the floor. 

Surprisingly, he didn’t break. 

His unblinking eyes continue to stare at the ceiling.

***

Marian’s screams filled the room and the hallway, waking the owners of the two naked bodies. There was a strange gleam in her eyes as she walked towards them. 

Eliza hid behind Nicky while he stood in front of her protectively, not minding his nudity.

When Marian grabbed Nicky’s arms, it was Eliza’s screams that filled the hallway, her voice full of loathing for her own mother.

Eduardo held Eliza as she cried and begged for her Marian to bring Nicky back.

Her tears fell on deaf ears.

***

Nicky’s laugh reverberated inside the tiny hole that served as his prison. It was a bitter laugh, a cold one that slipped under the skin.

“Why are you laughing?” Eliza asked as she sat beside him, her head on his still-bare shoulder. Marian didn’t even clothe him. He looked dirty and exhausted. 

Eliza actually got worse. She was hit hard on the cheeks. Marian’s palm was heavy, heavy with hatred and something else Eliza couldn’t decipher.

“Your mother would find out and she would tear you away from me come morning light,” he said with a sneer, which, usually, would have surprised Eliza. Nicky never sneered. He had always been this sweet boy with a huge heart.

But she didn’t mind. She just moved closer towards him. Marian could never tear her away from him again.

“I will come back. I always will. I don’t know why she’s so against us. You didn’t see her, Nicky, she looked mad,” Eliza whispered. “Dad is okay with us. He told me… he told me he’ll do everything he could to make Mom see reason.”

Nicky laughed. Again.

“What’s the matter with you?” Eliza asked, sounding hurt. “You don’t want that? You don’t want to be with me?”

Nicky leaned in to plant a kiss on her forehead.

“Your Mom and I talked when she brought me here,” Nicky said. “She was against us, but she wasn’t as against us as we thought she was.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was the dolls.”

“What?”

“It was the dolls. She felt jealous for the dolls.”

“For?”

“Yes, for. “You were paying too much attention to me. And you never paid that much attention to the dolls.”

“But… but she looked so happy before…”

“She was. She still is. But she never wanted you to give your heart to me. You were never

supposed to give your heart to me. She said—” Nicky met her eyes. “You were supposed to love all the dolls. How would you give them love when all of your love was for me?”

It took Eliza seconds to realize what he meant. 

***

“It’s always about those fucking freaks!” 

Nicky tried to shush her.

“NO!” Eliza said, her eyes frenzied with years of suppressed anger. “I’ve had enough! Those dolls had been causing me grief since I was a kid and you know that!”

She wouldn’t forget how these human-like statues had stolen her mother from her. They were the reasons she was never around for her. Marian was always at home, but she was never ever there for her.

It’s time to finally stop this.

Eliza walked towards Nicky and forcefully pulled him up.

“Eliza! What—”

Eliza smiled at him as she put a finger to her lips, indicating that he should be quiet.

“We can end this, Nicky. We can end this.”

Nicky was confused. He refused to budge from where he was standing. “I don’t understand. Eliza, what are you planning? Are we running away? I don’t think that’s the best—”

His words were cut off by a pair of soft, sweet lips. And despite the situation, Nicky could only answer the ferocity of the heated kiss. Her lips had always been his ambrosia.

“I love you,” she said earnestly, the depth of her feelings shining through her orbs. “I will not let something as pathetic as dolls come between us. We will settle this. You’re going to do everything for me too, right?”

“What are you planning, Eliza?” he asked, holding the hands that were holding his face. “Tell me—”

Eliza stood on tiptoe and kissed him softly. “It’s the simplest solution—we’re going to destroy the core of this predicament.”

Nicky still looked confused. “You are going to destroy your mother’s dolls? All of them?”

Eliza smiled sweetly. “No, silly,” she answered playfully, nipping at his nose. “We are going to destroy my mother.

Nicky’s eyes went wide. He gripped the hands holding his face and pulled them in front of him. “Eliza—”

Eliza’s smile didn’t falter. “She started all of this—her and her obsession with dolls. The only way we can stop this and bring everything back to normal is to kill her.”

“No, Eliza,” Nicky said, loosening his grip on her and speaking more gently. “You know that is not the best solution. You love your mother, remember? You’re jealous of the dolls because they took her away from you. We can hurt the dolls, Eliza. I hate them too. We can smash them to pieces so you’ll have your mother’s attention all to yourself… okay?” he asked too sweetly.

Eliza gazed at his eyes for a few seconds. She smiled. Nicky smiled back.

“No.”

Nicky’s smile faltered. Eliza’s didn’t.

“She’d kill us both if we do that,” Eliza replied softly. “And she could do it too. Did you know… did you know she killed the maid who saw Lola’s dismembered pieces?”

Nicky froze. “W-what?”

Eliza nodded somberly. “Yes. She did. Because I lied to her. I told her it was the maid who had done it.”

“But… how did you even know it?”

“I saw it. I saw her.”

“You… saw her?” Nicky paled.

“Yes, I did. And you don’t want to ask how she killed her. But let me tell you this—she killed her because she killed one of her children.”

“So she… lied to your dad about the maid running away because… because of what you supposedly did?” Nicky asked, his voice breaking a little.

Eliza nodded happily. “Yes! See? She’ll do everything for those blasted dolls!”

“Yes…” Nicky nodded. “I guess… I guess she would.” His voice was soft, but there was something in his tone that made Eliza’s eyes get that extra glint.

“So… it would be nice to get to her before she gets to either you or me…right?”

Nicky nodded slowly, wordlessly. His hold on her hands tightened.

“Then it’s settled!” Eliza said, planting another kiss in those soft lips. “I already have a plan. Do you want to hear it?”

“Yes…. Yes, I do.”

Eliza’s smile widened.

“You, my love… you are going to kill her,” she whispered against his lips.

“And you?” Nicky whispered back, as if entranced.

“I am going to watch,” she said casually as she released her hands from his hold to sling them around his neck. “You want to know why?”

Nicky nodded.

“Because I want to see the end of my biggest pain.”

***

It wasn’t supposed to be bloody.

It was supposed to be effortless—an easy escape from the enslaved pain that has accumulated in years.

But the presence of the dolls ignited the desire to rip and shred, to kill and spill. A red curtain, thin as a veil, covered the vision of the one intended to harm. The curtain flowed, like a wave brought about by the breath of the unseen wind.

A pair of scissors.

Two pairs of eyes—one, red; the other brown. Two pairs of hands—one stained with red; the other pure as ivory.

As the red curtain was lifted, a picture was revealed. It was beautiful. Bloody, but beautiful.

Two pairs of eyes—one, accusing; one, cold.

And then Eliza screamed.

Belle and Sebastian watched.

***

Caridad Asylum was not one for hope. It’s an institution where the hopeless minds were brought to rot and die, a fact that didn’t need to be advertised. It was a known, secret thing in the world of the mentally ill that once you are brought to the House of the Insane Sisters, it was the end.

The House of the Insane Sisters—Gregoria, Alfreda, Teresita.

It was named after them. The mansion used to be the home of the Caridad sisters. A home filled with nothing but the laughter of the three sisters who loved each other more than they loved themselves.

And then came love. A romantic one. In the form of a gardener called Antonio.

Gregoria fell first, but she retreated and just watched him from afar.

Alfreda was the second one to fall, and she tried to use the beauty that she was given at birth to get what she wanted. She succeeded with the body, but not with the heart.

And there’s Teresita. The last one to fall. The last one who ended everything.

With the manic laughter of a heartbroken woman, she killed all three before killing herself.

The Caridad parents grieved for a long time before selling the mansion and leaving the country to forget.

A pair of philanthropists, who were touched instead of scared by the story, built a hospital for the poor—a hospital for the damaged minds. Thus, Caridad Asylum was born. It has been housing deranged minds for the past century.

Doctor Alice has been working at the asylum for years. She was one of the few doctors who stayed because they all felt this was their calling. There’s just something peaceful in watching disturbed minds finding serenity when they finally caught their last breaths. She has never seen such a beautiful death until she has seen the peaceful face of a once hysterical patient.

Doctor Alice didn’t play favorites. Her patients were all the same in her eyes. They were all dead souls imprisoned inside breathing bodies.

Until Eliza was brought to the asylum.

Eliza had seen death. She supposedly witnessed the death of her parents in the arms of the one she loved and trusted.

“But it was impossible…” Doctor Alice had declared when she saw the reports. “Because Nicky couldn’t have done it. And only one body?”

“Yes. Only one body was found at the crime scene. Her father’s.”

Doctor Alice turned towards the one who handed her the detailed information. “Where’s Nicky now?”

“Imprisoned in that mansion.”

“Tell me about Nicky,” Doctor Alice asked sweetly, distracting Eliza while she was injecting her arm with a serum. She was truly a different one. She was never wild, just quiet. 

Eliza’s eyes were closed, but she was smiling as she started telling Doctor Alice their story. The doctor heard it several times already. 

Eliza would always act the same way. She would start with a smile. Then there would be pain… and then finally, anger.

Her hands were already in shackles when they got to that part where she started to look murderous.

“Nicky killed my parents! I would never forgive him! Never!”

They’re the last words the doctor heard when she closed the door behind her. 

As she passed by the hallway leading to her office, she stopped by one of the frames hanging there—that of the three sisters smiling all happily.

“Love really destroys you, doesn’t it? It starts with your heart, then it proceeds to eat your brain.”

Her statement was met with nothing but silence and three frozen smiles acting as a happy front to such a tragic story.

***

It’s been one full year when Eliza’s behavior started to change.

She started to act and sound normal. They didn’t need shackles anymore. They didn’t need serum anymore. She was on surveillance 24/7, and she had done nothing in her room but read books, which she requested.

Sometimes, she started one-sided talks with the monitor, letting everyone know that she’s doing it because she knew someone’s watching her in a room and not because she’s talking to someone invisible.

Still, not all were convinced.

Until that day when she stopped reacting harshly to Nicky’s name.

***

Nicky. 

Eliza used to scream and go wild whenever she heard the name. But the anger finally turned into indifference, and then finally, it had turned into tears.

Tears of clarity. Tears of guilt. Tears of… a forthcoming atonement. In a painful realization, she admitted to herself that Nicky didn’t do it. He couldn’t have murdered her parents. 

One, Nicky would never do anything that he knew would hurt her in the end. And two, because she has no mother. Her mother has been dead for years. Eliza only had her father with her since she was a kid.

It was… her

She was the one who killed her father while Nicky just watched.

So Eliza cried. Cried for her parents. Cried for Nicky. Cried for herself. The impact of her crimes was finally holding the whole of her in a painful grasp. 

“I have to see him,” she whispered when Doctor Alice found her crying in her room. “I have to see him Alice,” she said, gripping the Doctor’s arms hard. “I have to say sorry! I have to apologize. I hurt him. All he did was to love me and be there for me. Let me see him, please.”

She was begging. The longing and gripping pain in her voice moved the doctor. Alice cradled her as Eliza trembled in her arms, her tears spilling all over her coat.

“Help me, Alice,” she whispered. “Help me get away from here.”

Alice didn’t react, but she did ask: “You understand now, right? Everything?”

Eliza nodded. “Yes… yes, I do. But I still want to see him. I still want to apologize. Nicky… Nicky had kept me sane inside that hell. And I will never be fully cured until I am able to apologize. Give me peace, Alice. Give me peace.”

Alice knew she would.

“I have to go back to him. Because I love him. No matter what, I have to go back and be with him even if he sends me away.”

At midnight, the door to her cell was opened.

***

Eliza used to hate the dolls. And now, she didn’t.

The home of the dolls was home for her. Has always been.

With unshed tears threatening to spill from her eyes, she walked towards the dreaded hallway—the hallway, which, once upon a time, she loathed more than anything.

The sight of the familiar bisque dolls brought an unwanted clench in her heart. But the anger was gone. She finally accepted that these dolls were insignificant. They were nothing but human-like, lifeless pieces of smooth plastic and porcelain.

She passed by Belle’s and Sebastian’s cylinders, offering them silent smiles of longing, guilt, and apology, until she reached that one lone doll that she owed most of her apology. The doll with the familiar sweet smile that rendered her father insane, forcing him to live with the lies inside his head and not being able to move on even after her death.

Marian’s doll. The doll which her father made. A doll that was the only thing, other than the pictures, that reminded her of her mother.

Eliza touched the cylinder and smiled back at her.

“I love you, Mom. And I’m so sorry. Tell Dad I am sorry too, okay? That I didn’t mean to hurt him. Tell him I’ll see you both soon, okay?”

She was only met by the same, hard, beautiful smile.

Finally, Eliza walked towards the last cylinder. The one that was always unoccupied whenever she was young because she wanted the doll beside her at all times.

“Hello, Nicky,” she whispered.

Nicky smiled down at her, his eyes unusually sparkling, giving life to an otherwise lifeless aura.

“Did you miss me?” she asked, her heart beating like how it had always beat for him. “Because I miss you. I truly do.”

Nicky didn’t respond. He just looked at her. His eyes were the same—the same shiny, dark brown, almost black eyes that only ever saw her.

The tears that she’d been holding back fell right down her cheeks. They fell along with her heart.

“Forgive me, Nicky, please. You have to forgive me. I didn’t mean to blame it on you. I was… I was scared. Dad was taking you away from me. And I can’t take it. And I love you… I want you to know that I really really love you. Even when my mind had told me to hate you, my heart can never deny that I love you.”

Nicky just stood, unblinking.

“But how can I be with you now?” she asked bitterly. “I can’t hear you talk anymore. Is this the price I had to pay for being sane?”

She was sane. She was sane now. But if this was the consequence of having found clarity, she wanted to go back to that dark, confusing world where he was real. Where he was alive.

“Will you… forgive me if I…” if I lose myself again? “Because Nicky… that’s the only way I can hear you again. That’s the only way I can feel your arms around me again. Because that’s the only way you can love me again.”

Eliza sat against the platform, under Nicky’s still figure.

She smiled at the silence she received. She would wait then. She would wait for the familiar darkness to consume her. If it’s only in the darkness where she could be happy with him, then she would surrender willingly.

She knew it would come. It has always been easy for her to surrender to the whispers inside her mind. They were her constant companions that she only silenced whenever she needed time for herself.

Nicky just stared ahead, his smooth face glinting even with the shadows caused by the retiring sun.

Eliza started humming a tune. She was tired. She traveled far and long just to be with him.

She closed her eyes.

***

“Hello, my love.”

And then a hand was offered to her. A familiar hand that fit tightly against hers.

Eliza took it, allowing the warm feeling to envelop her whole being.

“I missed you.”

“I miss you too.”

***

Inside a secret asylum in the city, everyone was panicking over the escape of one of their patients.

Except for Dr. Alice, who was calmly sipping her tea inside her office. She wasn’t surprised upon hearing the news. In fact, a smile played on her face upon hearing the commotion right outside her door.

“Be happy, Eliza. However that will work out.”

***

The Victorian mansion stood alone, away from the other mansions inside the elite village. The vacant lots surrounding it remained vacant.

Outside, it was quiet. Only the gentle hum of the wind and the delightful chirping of the birds could be heard.

But inside, there was a party. A celebration of incarcerated souls.

They were once again, complete.

The souls rejoiced from inside their hollow shells.

FIN

Carina

I.

Ash’s last memory of his late mom was a request to bring her to the living room where Carina, the antique bisque doll she had brought from France, was enclosed in a glass tube.  

His mother had always been obsessed with it, talking to it as if it’s alive. He could sometimes hear his mother argue with the human-like doll, laugh with it, and cry with it. He used to shrug it off as a coping mechanism, his mother’s way to cope with her thoughts – she had depression.

Ash had always thought of the doll as beautiful, but he has always been wary of it.  As a kid, he had always felt that the doll visited him in his room while he was asleep. He used to wake up every 3 am, his eyes automatically landing on a shadowed part of his room. He could see a vague silhouette of a human and could hear someone calling his name, but he never allowed himself to come closer.

He had told his parents about these visits, but his dad never believed him. 

Surprisingly, his mom did. But even before hope flared in his chest, she simply smiled and told him that Carina was simply looking out for him. That the doll always had his best interests at heart.

His mom had always treated the doll as if it was alive. 

That never sounded right to him.

II.

The nightly visits had stopped when he became a teenager. But for some reason, he had felt more wary of the doll. 

For one, he could feel its stares boring at his back whenever he passed by the living room. He was always tempted to look back, but he was scared that if he did, he would see something that would make him wish he never did.

He was in college when he decided that the doll was probably cursed, or worse, possessed. 

His girlfriend was murdered that day she met the doll.

Her body was mutilated, as if attacked by a beast. Her heart was nowhere to be found. Her eyes were open, as if she was forced to stare at the eyes of her murderer while the murderer was tearing off her flesh piece by piece.


“She’s beautiful, Ash. Her eyes seem to be alive.”

Those were his girlfriend’s last words.

He had left home after the incident.

But he had always felt as if he had left something else.

III.

Ash was living his life peacefully, memories of his past deeply buried at the back of his mind, until his dad called, begging him to come home because his mom was dying.

It was a shock to him. His mom had always been healthy.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked his dad as the older man closed the door to the Master’s bedroom.

“She didn’t want me too,” his dad replied. 

“Is there really no chance?”

“I’m sorry, son,” his dad’s tone was somber. 

“It’s okay, dad. It’s out of anyone’s control.”

Ash was just relieved he got to be with his mom during her last days.

IV.

He was looking after her one afternoon when he received a strange request from his mom.

“Ash, can you leave us?”

Ash was confused at first. “Leave? Mom? Are you okay?”

He received a tired but genuine smile from the older woman.

“Yes. Can you please leave us?” Her mom’s words were directed towards him, but her eyes were on something else’s, making him turn to see where they’re falling.

He found himself staring at the round eyes of her mom’s favorite doll.

“Leave… you? With this… doll?”

“Her name is Carina. And yes. I need to tell her something.”

His mom talking to the doll was not unusual, but for some reason, he didn’t want to leave her alone this time.

“Please.”

“Fine,” Ash replied. He stood up, forcing himself not to look back at the doll, and left the room.

He didn’t move too far just in case, but he couldn’t hear what his mother was mumbling either. 

After a few minutes, he heard his mom call him.

“You ready to rest?” He asked, still trying not to stare at the doll.

“Yes, I am.”

He helped her out of the room, his hand around her waist. 

He swore he heard his name being uttered just before the door closed.

He ignored it.

V.

His mom’s last few days gone by so fast. But both he and his dad had learned to accept that soon, she would be taken away from them.

“Ash, your mother wants to talk to you,” his dad knocked in his room one night. There was sadness in his eyes that told him they’re both thinking the same.

His mom would die. Soon. 

“I’ll be there in a few, dad.”

VI.

Ash entered the room and knelt on the side of his mom’s bed.

Her mom looked so weak, as if she was just holding on for him. Ash squeezed her hand, his eyes beginning to water at the realization that soon was now.

“Mom, he whispered. “Dad and I, we’ll be okay. You can… rest now, if you want.”

His mom smiled weakly. “I love you, Ash. I love you and your dad so much.”

“I love you, mom. I love you so much. But… please… don’t worry about me and dad. We will be… fine.”

“I know,” she replied softly. “But I still made sure someone will take care of you.”

“We’ll be fine, Mom.”

“Not your Dad. You.”

He paused, confused. “What do you mean?”

“I made a sacrifice, my son. And it will be worth it.”

“What… Mom, what are you saying?”

His Mom simply shook her head. “She will take care of you. I’ve been preparing for this.”

“Mom, I–“

“Son, trust me. You will be in good hands.”

“But who is this she you are talking about? And what sacrifice?”

His mom simply smiled again. “Just… just promise me you will accept her. She’s been very patient for years.”

Before he could ask another question, his mom suddenly shivered, and then she just closed her eyes.

And Ash knew that she would never wake up again.

He leaned in to kiss his mom on the forehead and stood up to get his dad.

It’s only when he noticed it.

The doll was inside the Master’s bedroom. Carina’s tube was placed at the corner of the room.

He immediately averted his gaze and left the room.

When Ash came back with his father and grandmother, who wanted to be there during the last days of her daughter, he failed to notice one tiny detail.

His mom was wearing the same dress as Carina’s.

And the same shoes.

And the same… smile.

VII.

The funeral was held at a chapel near the cemetery. 

Ash was just a bit glad to get away from their house for a while. He couldn’t shake away that bad feeling, most especially whenever he recalled his Mom’s last words.

VIII.

His mom was buried three days later.

After the burial, his grandma joined him at the living room. She was about to leave in a bit.

“Ash.”

“Yes, Lola?”

“Promise me. Promise me that you will not succumb.”

Ash looked at her, confused. “Succumb?”

His grandmother’s eyes flickered towards something behind him. Ash noticed how the old woman shivered.

“Your… Mom… used to be a loner when she was a kid. Her only friends were her… dolls.”

His silence prompted his grandma to continue.

“She… made promises as a kid and… we don’t make promises to… Ash… listen to me well.”

Ash nodded.

“When I was a kid, my mother tells me that dolls have… souls. They are temporary vessels to estranged souls that roam around the earth. These souls… come and go. But not all of them are… harmless.”

“What do you mean, Lola?”

“Estranged souls are supposed to leave after a while when heaven calls for them. But there are those who don’t leave, their desire to stay on earth is still strong. When this happens their contract w/ heaven… expires.”

“So you mean…”

“Yes. These souls remain inside their chosen vessels instead of coming to hell where they knew they will suffer for eternity. But… they’re also willing if…”

“If…”

“If they can find someone to suffer hell with,” his grandma concluded.

Ash studied his grandma. “And this is connected to Mom in what way, Lola?”

“Like I told you… your Mom talks to dolls. And… dolls are… vessels.”

“Lola, are you telling me that she sort of arranged my marriage or something with a soul?” He joked, trying to diffuse the tension his grandmother’s tone was causing.

“There is nothing funny about this, Ash.”

“I am not a Ghost Groom, Lola.” It was his last attempt at trying to be funny, but his smile fell when he saw how… scared his grandma looked.

“I am not… saying you are. But… Ash… I…”

His grandmother’s eyes flickered behind him again.

“Lola, what–“

“Wag kang lilingon,” his Lola warned, her voice soft but edgy. “She… she is staring at us.”

“Who?”

“Your… Mom’s doll.”

Ash could have laughed, but a sudden chill told him his grandma was not lying.

“Apo, listen to me,” she said. “I will… leave and… try to hold her off until midnight. You still have protection until 12 midnight. But go as far away from this place as possible.”

“But… Lola… why? What is happening?”

His grandma glanced at Carina.

“She is angry. She’s been waiting for this and I’m trying to stop her. I’ll leave and she would follow me.”

“How-“

“I have… something she needs before…” Her eyes were now totally focused on the doll.

“Lola?”

“Apo,” her voice was now a whisper. “You have at least a week. Make the most of it.”

“But…” he almost turned to look, but his grandma was able to pull him.

“I said… don’t look. Ash… never ever look at that doll in the eyes

 before you leave. Let her focus on me and me alone. Please. Leave… leave this room. And I will leave in a while too. After an hour, you leave this house and never look back – do you understand?

“But… how about you and Dad?” Ash still couldn’t comprehend what was happening, but his instinct told him he needed to listen to his grandma.

“Your dad will be safe. She can’t harm someone who has a direct bond with your mom.”

“So… you’re safe too. And I’m… lola, shouldn’t I be—“

“I am. But you are not. You won’t be. Until she finds another you.”

He stilled. “What does that mean? I… lola, what’s– will I run away from her forever?”

His grandma shook her head, her eyes never leaving the doll’s.

“No. You won’t be. But there is a sacrifice. You have… you have to find someone who is willing to take your place. And… I know just the right person.”

His grandma’s words intrigued Ash.

“Who? Who’ll be sane enough to take my place?”

“Your twin brother.”

IX.

Twin. Brother.

“I… what? A… twin brother? I have a twin brother?”

“Yes, you have.”

“But… how? Does dad…”

“He doesn’t know.”

“What?”

“Your Mom made a lot of promises, Ash. And they never involved… normal people. She had… it’s my fault. I never noticed how sad she had become. She found a way to cope with her depression, and it had consequences.”

Ash wanted to say something, but he found himself silenced by the circumstance.

“Your brother… he was a consequence of this. And he would have died, but… I have managed to save him. You… were forbidden to know about him. You still are.”


“And now you’re willing to sacrifice him for me? He is your grandson too!” This all sounded absurd.

“Ash, calm down, please. Your brother’s life is borrowed. He is meant to… sacrifice his life and he knows it.”

“This is stupid, Lola.”

“It is. But sacrificing your brother is the only thing that will end this.”

“He’ll be going to hell if I allow this!”

“He won’t. But if it’s you, you will. I can promise heaven for your brother, but hell is the only place waiting for you.”

“I–” This was happening too fast.

“Find him, Ash. Find him before she finds you. And you will both be okay.”

“What will I do after I find him?” he asked. “Do I kill him?”

His grandmother’s smile was sad.

“No. Wait for her together and let her kill him.”

*The End*

His Lonely Eyes (Horror)

Eric is a silent man.

He never speaks to anyone, not even when it’s essential. He simply shows, but he never tells. His lips are glued as if they are never meant for uttered words. His mind is sealed to anyone who wants access to his thoughts.

Eric is an enigma.

His everyday routine is composed of the simplest things—going to his cubicle without looking at anyone, writing his articles without asking for anyone’s help, and then going home without saying goodbye. He doesn’t even eat lunch. Everyone can see him typing in his computer even when the lights are dimmed for breaks.

Whenever he’s alone, he seems more relaxed. His shoulders are visibly less stiff and his eyes look softer. It’s as if he finds solace in the dark and in the quiet. That he finds shadows more comforting than the ones who own them.

Eric doesn’t mingle.

He remains emotionally isolated from the rest of the company employees. He doesn’t say a word to anyone other than his boss. They had all wondered once how he was able to pass the series of interviews by the human resource staff, but the staff members themselves remain tightlipped about his employment process.

Everyone is curious, but their curiosity remains unanswered.

Silence. It’s something that is often associated with Eric. But instead of chasing them away, it makes them more drawn to discovering who he is. They all want a piece of him. A piece of anything him just because they have nothing. Nothing always pushes human nature’s curiosity to the edge. Pandora’s box is not just a legend—it’s a personification of anything human.

They all leave Eric alone, but they don’t give him peace. They talk about him. They goad him. They push him. They tempt him. They are like little demons that surround him with their traitorous presence.

None of them succeeds. Because Eric answers them with silence. Whenever they try to coax a word or a reaction out of him, or go the desperate route by trying to catch him off-guard—they fail. It’s as if he has eyes behind his head. All they ever get from him is a nod. Always just a nod.

And sometimes a stare.

The employees—they all prefer the nod. The stare, they try to stay away from.

The nod is a simple acknowledgment that never lingers; it only lasts for a fleeting moment. But the stare is something that seems to last forever. Anyone who gets the stare has never recovered.

Probably except for Zabel.

Zabel is fascinated by Eric. The moment she caught sight of him during that first day of her interview, she knew he was someone special. Probably not the usual special, but something else entirely. There is something in him that makes her want to get to know him since the beginning. A pull she cannot explain. A pull that’s been driving her crazy, threatening to engulf her whole. She can never take her eyes off Eric, even though he never even looks her way. And she feels like it’s fate. No. She knows it’s fate. It’s destiny. Or whatever people call that twisted turn in life.

Zabel isn’t supposed to be employed in this company. She never even wants to be in real estate. She wants a job in a fashion magazine where she knows she belongs. But the call for her supposed last interview didn’t come. Instead, a call from this company’s HR had gotten through to her.

From among all the employees during that day, she caught sight of him first.

Yes, this is destiny.

Zabel doesn’t avert her gaze when Eric turns around and finds her staring at him again. She is the only one who can look at him straight in the eyes without flinching.

Eric stares. Zabel stares back.

He ends the eye-to-eye first, turning his chair around to return to his work. But it’s not without a silent retaliation. His stare makes Zabel feel that it’s not the end. That it’s never the end.

A shiver of desire pulsates all throughout her body, sending little bouts of electricity to every nook that thirsts for him.

Eric has such sad eyes. And it’s Zabel’s dream to replace that sadness with happiness.

***

“You have such sad eyes, my love.”

“I do?”

“Yes, you do. Your beautiful smile couldn’t even mask the fact that you have such sad eyes.”

She would then poke at his lone dimple, a gesture that always made him shiver with unexplainable contentment. He would catch her finger and he would place a kiss on it, his pillow soft lips lingering on her silk-like skin.

“But my heart is happy,” he would utter softly while staring at her with those sad eyes.

“I know,” she would always whisper back as she stood on her toes to reach him. “I know.”

And Eric would smile even though his eyes always refused to stop frowning.

***

They talk about Eric’s love and Zabel always listens.

“They said she died in a mental hospital,” says one bloke from the Marketing Team. “Got all loopy in the head, mate.”

“Well, if he’s my boyfriend, I will be loopy in the head too,” says another gossipmonger from Sales. “I mean seriously, he’s gorgeous as fuck, but he’s also weird as fuck. Imagine having sex and staring at those eyes who look at you as if he’s about to die? Sorry, guys, I actually sort of pity that poor girl.”

But Eric has beautiful eyes, Zabel inwardly thinks.

“That’s not true, assholes,” says one from the Sales Services Department. He leans in, making the others mimic his posture. “It was said that he killed her.”

It’s met by scoffs and snorts.

“Pfft. You’re a dickhead who listens to nonsense hearsays,” says one. “Do you think he’ll be here if he has such records? Did you remember Anthony before? The one that was supposed to replace Sheila? The company didn’t accept him just because he has a record in his previous company. Well, unless this is some sort of Belko experiment thing and they all want us to die.”

“But it’s true!” the man says. “No, he didn’t kill him herself. But he was there, he was—”

His voice is cut by the sound of water pouring in a glass. They all turn their head to see Eric standing by the water dispenser, filling his tumbler with water. He isn’t looking at them, but the stiffness in his shoulders tells them he heard what they’ve been talking about.

No one speaks. Not even Zabel. But while the others are busy sucking in their breaths for something that is invisibly suffocating them, Zabel’s eyes are busy roaming Eric’s fine form.

The tension in the room intensifies when Eric turns his head to stare at each and every one of them. But he doesn’t say anything. He simply turns around and silently leaves the pantry, leaving a huge cloud of uncertainty in the room.

Still, a collective sigh of relief can be heard after a few moments of tense silence.

Eric remains an enigma.

***

She used to ask such strange questions.

“Love.”

“Hmm?”

“When I die…will you come die with me?”

He loved answering them. He would often tease her first, staring at the moon or whatever it was that he could distract himself with before he gave in to her. She would often get tired of waiting for his words and would finally hit him in the arms.

“No. If you die, my love… I will make sure I live.”

He would often see the hurt in her eyes at some of his answers, but he would still stay serious if it meant confusing her. He had always loved to witnessed the contradicting expressions on her face—the seriousness in her eyes and the bright smile on her mouth.

“So you will not die with me?”

She would often reiterate the question that usually tested his love for her.

“I will not die with you.”

He would continue to tease her some more until that tiny pout that he loved so much appeared on her lovely face. He would pull her to her arms by then and he would finally respond to her question with all the seriousness he could muster.

“Dying after your death will be too easy. Paradise has never been perfect for us—we need to have a piece of hell to make sense. So I will continue to live, my love, so I can feel the agony of losing you.”

He would often punctuate his words with fleeting kisses. He had always wanted to make her feel the sincerity of his words through the silent passion of his actions.

She on the other hand would always listen to his explanations without interrupting him, as if his voice was a well-crafted literature only she could make sense of.

“The thought of breathing without you destroys the very essence of me. I live to exist beside you. Only beside you.”

He would always kiss the tip of her nose, sealing his promise. Then she would smile. She would finally smile.

“Do you promise?” She would always ask. Every conversation between them served as an oath of invisible bond that sealed their fates together.

He never hesitated.

“I promise.”

She would pull him down towards her for a kiss. A supposed ending to a story that spoke of nothing but love.

But it had always been just a beginning. A prelude for a shadow that would continue to ominously linger.

***

Zabel sees him coming out of the men’s room on her way to the ladies’.

Her heart stops just at the sight of the young man. His presence has always been an ambrosia for her. He is a piece of that forbidden food that’s only intended for the mouths of the worthy, of the honored.

She watches as Eric walks towards her, his eyes never leaving the floor. It’s a habit of his. He never looks at anyone in the eyes if there is no need for it.

Zabel feels a touch of excitement. They are alone. Is he finally going to make a move? Her colleagues say she never has a chance. But they are underestimating her gut feel—she is not stupid. She can sometimes feel his eyes on her. Those eyes caress her body with quiet intensity, burning her without fire, freezing her without ice.

He likes her. She knows he likes her. He has to like her. Zabel has been waiting for him to make a move so they can consume this burning desire together until they collapse in the ashes of their longing and need.

As if he hears her thoughts, he looks up and finally meets her eyes.

Zabel forgets to breathe. She can feel the instant energy that flickers between them the moment his gaze lands on hers. She forces herself to smile at him, waiting for him to return her expression with the littlest of recognition.

But it never comes. Eric averts his gaze and passes by her as if she is a mere dent in the wall. She stays still as she feels the gush of air that comes with his stride, which forces her to face the reality that’s never in her favor. It’s like an on and off switch within her—she sees what she thinks she sees, but there are specks of doubts that often splatter on her usually steady confidence.

She will not have this. Not this time. Zabel abruptly turns around to call him.

“Eric. Wait.”

Eric continues to move forward in even strides as if he doesn’t hear her. His steps are calm, but purposeful.

“Eric! I said wait!”

And Eric stops. But he doesn’t turn around. Zabel walks towards him, her knees buckling a little, until she is standing right behind him. She hesitates for a bit before she lifts her hand to touch his back. Halfway to her destination, she thinks better of it and retracts her hands.

“Eric…” she says softly. “Why…why can’t you forget about Cate?” she whispers. Because she knows it’s Cate. It has always been Cate. She doesn’t know the woman, but the way people keep talking about her, it’s clear that she occupies or at least used to occupy a huge part of Eric’s life.

Zabel doesn’t have the time to contemplate more on it as the consequence of her question abruptly hits her.

It happens in a flash. She finds herself cornered by two pairs of strong arms, her breath being knocked out of her as she feels the pain caused by being slammed on the wall hard.

Eric is attacking her.

The pain she feels ebbs away as she starts to realize the situation. She’s enclosed in the warmth of his hands. She could smell his sweet breath as the warm air coming from his delectable mouth touches her lips.

This is to her advantage.

In a surge of longing and suppressed desire, Zabel leans forward in an attempt to snatch those angry, puffy lips into a kiss, but she finds herself being slammed against the wall again. This time, she finds herself moaning in pain, as her body hits the concrete harder than the previous onslaught.

Zabel looks up and finds Eric’s usually lonely eyes burning with incredible fire that cannot simply be doused by water or ice.

“Don’t you fucking dare talk about Cate,” he whispers calmly in her ears. “You don’t have the fucking right to even say her name.”

Zabel freezes. Did he just—

But before she can even contemplate what just happened, Eric is already walking away from her.

Zabel watches the distance grow between the two of them, her mind still catching up with what happened. She tries to call his name, but she doesn’t even have the strength to open her mouth.

She slides down the floor as she feels her knees weakening at the thought of what just happened. She stays seated on the floor in a helpless heap until she finally has the strength to stand again. The act Eric just pulled triggered different types of reactions from her.

She feels scared. For the first time since she met him, she finally sees something else in his eyes. It’s so strong that she thinks she could have died with the intensity of his gaze.

And there is desire.

She forces herself to stand up and go to the restroom. She hastily reaches one cubicle and enters it clumsily. She locks herself in and sits at the bowl. She hurriedly removes her underwear and stares at it.

Zabel’s lace underwear is wet.

She lifts it towards her nose and smells it, her eyes closing at the scent coming from her own pleasure. She has always loved the smell of post-coital bliss.

She tucks her wet underwear inside the matching brassiere and snatches the bidet spray beside the toilet bowl. She spreads her legs and positions the spray right above her hot mound dripping with pleasure. She pushes the handle down and closes her eyes at the sudden wave of satisfaction that pulsates through her.

She is loud. But the employees keep working.

***

Her name was Cate.

The very first time Eric met her, he fell and never recovered. He had been immediately paralyzed by the intensity of what he felt for her.

She was a stranger, a stranger that just passed by him without a warning. But he had turned. He had turned his head to meet the eyes of the stranger.

And then they’re strangers no more.

Cate and Eric. They happened so fast. He was swept by the strong currents of feelings that he never even felt the need to look for a stray anchor. He had allowed himself to be pulled away from his safe place if it meant that he would get to drown in these overwhelming emotions caused by only her.

Perfection. That’s how everyone thought of him and Cate. That’s how he thought of them too. They were the perfect balance of what’s right and what’s wrong. The hint of life between breathing and of dying.

He was Cate’s life. He was Cate’s death.

And Cate…

Cate was his hope. Cate was his downfall.

***

Zabel’s heart is happy.

She watches him from the corner of her eyes, her gaze taking in Eric’s full form. He is walking at least a meter away from her, and she can see the perfect shape of that bum.

But he’s not walking any faster. Eric simply matches her gait, his sad eyes staring in front. She can see his fists clenching nervously, and her heart drums inside her chest.

He likes her and this is the proof. He has never talked to anyone before, but after that incident in the hallway leading to the restroom, things between them changes. It’s not how she expects, but she can only be grateful for the sudden turn in her fate.

Eric stops ignoring her.

He starts returning her shy greetings with shy ones of his own. He seems to be staring more now that even their colleagues notice the sudden warmness towards her. He also seems to find ways so he can touch her—he bumps into her a lot these days. And he is everywhere she is—at the photocopying room, in the pantry, and even by the elevators.

Zabel has always known it. No matter what the others say, the guy has already moved on from his first love. He is just waiting for the right woman who will let him move on.

And it’s Zabel.

Zabel’s musings are interrupted by the vibration in her pocket. She considers taking it, but chooses to ignore it in the end. She knows it’s her parents, asking her why she suddenly cancels on their once-a-month dinner.

Of course she will cancel! Dinner with her parents happen all the time, but this is a one-time opportunity that she will never ever regret of taking.

This is for her heart. Her heart that’s been thirsting for this man ever since she first saw him.

This is for her heart. She keeps repeating like a mantra.

***

“Eric, you promised.”

He nodded. He promised her death in life. And he would do it.

For her. For him. And for this fucked up abstract thing called life.

“Sing to me, Eric.” It had been one of her last requests. So he did. He had sung to her that one song that never failed to make her happy.

“Rock a bye baby, on the tree top. When the wind blows, the cradle will rock…”

Cate hums with him. The nursery rhyme that her mother used to sing to her had always enveloped her in a blanket of unexplainable comfort.

“When I die, sing this to me.” It was one of her very last whispers.

And Eric had sworn that he would.

***

The film opens into a forest.

Zabel cannot tell whether it was night or it was day. There were small beams of light that escaped from the cluster of leaves above, littering the floor with scattered makeshift dusts, marking the dimness with small bursts of what seemed like hope. But she is not sure if those shots of light came from the moon or from the sun with how meager they are.

There is nothing but silence. But it’s not serene. It is the type of stillness that brings a different kind of silent noise.

Zabel flinches as the camera wanders around the forest floor, or if it could even be called a floor. The roots of giant trees that are thick as a man’s body cover the ground like a herd of dead snakes. She can’t see anything other than the roots interlacing with each other akin to snakes coiling around tree barks.

The camera changes angles. The view lifts, focusing on a root of a tree, then on a thick rough branch, until it finally settles on top of a tree. Whoever is holding the camera, he is very adept at climbing trees. The climb is so smooth as if the bearer is simply climbing stairs.

Then there is silence again. Zabel waits in anticipation.

She doesn’t notice the eyes boring on her every curve, hiding behind the shadows, watching her as she watches the film.

Zabel feels it first before she hears it.

A moan. A sound that speaks of both pain and desire.

She leans in ever so slowly towards the screen to listen more clearly.

There it is again. Yes. It’s definitely a moan. And then… a rustle. It’s accompanied by a rustle of leaves.

Zabel feels her blood boiling. And for no particular reason.

The camera starts moving, doing a slow 360, as it spirals down with its focus.

And then it stills. Zabel blinks as the camera focuses on silhouettes moving against the silence.

There are two—two clothed bodies gyrating against each other as the invisible heat conquers them both. They both seem to be lost in the moment, their bodies moving in an uneven rhythm as if their own passion is trying to kill them with the flame of its dangerous fire.

Zabel doesn’t need to fully see the face of the man to know that it’s Eric.

Her chest constricts with a familiar pang of pain and jealousy, but not anger.

Her eyes move first towards the woman to make sense of her face. The woman whose mound of heat is slowly rubbing against his own heat. The woman whose head is thrown back as Eric peppers her neck with blazing, wet kisses.

It must be Cate. This must be Cate. With the way Eric loses himself into her, it can only be Cate.

Zabel knows she should be allowing jealousy to flow through her, but at this moment, her curiosity is stronger. And that huge part of man’s human nature is winning over any personal feelings she has right now.

So Zabel continues to watch.

The quiet eyes behind Zabel continue to watch her.

***

Cate pushes Eric away, initiating a groan of protest as his lips detach from the crevice of her smooth neck.

Cate giggles as she stands from his lap. She whispers something that suspiciously sounds like, “patience”, and walks a few meters away from him.

Zabel watches as Cate faces Eric, and her too in the process.

And now she knows. Even with all the bitterness she wants to spew right now, she knows that she can never compare. That she will never compare.

Cate is beautiful in every sense of the word. If she has one word to describe Cate, it would be perfection. She hasn’t seen someone as beautiful as her. She moves like a deity of beauty—sensual, seductive, and flawless. But her presence is akin to a deity of war—demanding and fierce.

The said woman slowly removes the tie enclosing her luscious hair into a neat bond. Her brown locks cascade down to her shoulders, flowing like the sultry waves of the ocean. Her eyes never leave Eric as she slowly unbuttons her blouse, revealing that trail between her mounds of flesh.

Zabel watches as the camera circles around Cate until it’s focusing on Eric.

His eyes are burning with an unspoken passion only Cate can elicit from him. His eyes are alive, fierce, dominating.

Hungry.

Zabel has never seen Eric’s eyes this alive before. Never. This kind of look in his eyes speak of something deep and feral, something passionate and calm. It’s a paradox in itself, but the meaning is not lost to anyone who will see it.

The thin material covering the smooth flesh falls down to the forest floor, exposing Cate’s perky breasts and perfect shoulders. The shots of light from a source filter through her, showering her with tainted beams that made her look as if she’s being showered in fairy dusts.

Cate looks ethereal.

Eric watches with hooded eyes as she removes the rest of her clothing. His gaze follows the trail of her clothes and the skin touched deliberately by her sensual hands.

He doesn’t see Cate watching him. Because he is too busy watching her gestures.

Cate slowly walks towards him, her hips moving sensually in a hypnotizing dance of desire. The spell works on Eric. His eyes continue to burn that Zabel who is watching feels like those pools will breathe out fire.

“Fuck me, Eric,” she quietly demands as she stands in front of him totally bare. There is no trace of a smile on her lips anymore. “Fuck me… asshole. Fuck me until I fucking cannot feel my heart anymore.”

Eric doesn’t move. He simply watches her.

And then Cate hits him hard on both cheeks. The sound of flesh cruelly hitting another flesh reverberates in the background. Before Zabel could blink, she is witnessing a scene that she will never forget. A mating ritual that cannot be described by a worthless web of words.

This is animalistic. This is desire. This is raw. This is love. This is anger.

This is pain.

Zabel screams with them. Cries with them. Falls with them. She finds herself burning with them with a different kind of fiery coldness that needs no words.

The screen fades into black.

***

The screen opens into the forest once again. But this time, there is a shift in the atmosphere that Zabel cannot explain. It seems peaceful, but somehow unnerving. The unexplainable twist in her gut tells her this pose of serenity is the climax to the story she’s witnessing.

The camera begins to slowly pan from a trunk of a tree until it focuses on Eric and Cate. Cate is once again standing in front of him with Eric looking up at her.

But Eric is… Eric is crying. Zabel’s heart aches at the sight of the silent tears flowing down his cheeks. Why is he crying?

“Watch me, Eric,” Cate suddenly says, the camera panning to her face instead. There is a maddening smile on her face. It is still beautiful, yes. But it’s also mocking, taunting.

Haunted.

Eric doesn’t utter either a word or a sound, but he obediently watches as Cate slowly walks away from him, the camera following her slow, deliberate movement.

The camera focuses on her dainty legs, on her small steps, until she finally stands in front of a large boulder. The camera shows Cate’s legs climbing the boulder swiftly and without difficulty. And then it shows her feet turning. She is now facing Eric.

The camera slowly climbs up, tracing her glistening naked body with its artificial lens until it finally focuses on Cate’s face.

Cate’s smile is still there, but her gaze is somewhere else. Probably on Eric who’s behind the camera or whoever is holding the camera.

“Eric… I love you,” Cate whispers. “I love you so much.”

There is no response. But Zabel can hear fast breathing in the background. She knows it’s Eric. It can only be him. The one behind the lens has been quiet since this started.

“Watch me, Eric,” Cate says, her voice a peaceful cruel melody that sounds like an ode to Hades.

Zabel’s eyes widens. No. She wouldn’t—

“Watch me, Eric. Watch me as I end my suffering so you can begin yours.”

Zabel’s breath leaves her. She watches as the camera pans away from Cate, revealing the full picture.

Cate is standing on a huge boulder, a thick noose hanging from a thick branch just beside Cate. The beautiful and haunted woman slowly reaches for the noose, looping it around her neck. The almost-golden color of the rope seems to be in contrast with her pale skin.

Cate caresses the rope as if it’s her lover. For some reason, Zabel thinks that the rope around her neck looks good on her even though it’s about to end her life. It embraces her slender neck that reminds her of a queen that took her own life.

Cleopatra is beautiful in death.

There is a brief rustle in the background, but the camera doesn’t leave Cate’s face. However, her sudden laugh echoes in the forest walls.

“You are sick, Eric. You are so sick in the head.”

The camera finally leaves Cate’s face and focuses on Eric.

He is still naked. And his aching flesh and desire is hard against his stomach. Now it’s clear to Zabel what Cate means with her words. Eric is truly sick in the head if he gets aroused at such a sight.

The camera’s focus returns to Cate.

“Watch me, Eric. It’s time,” Cate says softly, the smile leaving her face again as if it hasn’t been there in the first place. She angles her head until she’s facing the camera.

Zabel jumps in surprise. Cate from the screen is now staring at her, her smile manic and beautiful. Cate stares at her for what seemed like a long time while Zabel cannot even move a muscle.

“Watch me die,” Cate finally whispers on the screen as if she is directly addressing Zabel. As if she has known all along that she is watching. But before Zabel can react, Cate jumps from the boulder.

Cate’s body twitches as the noose starts to cut her breath slowly. Hurried moans fill the background as Eric’s desire seems to flow through him like a sinister wave of vengeful fear.

Then Cate finally stills as Eric reaches his orgasm.

Then silence.

The film starts to fade with the camera lens focused on Cate’s pale feet that swing back and forth like a pendulum.

Eric’s face cannot be seen in the background, but his voice can still be heard. It’s getting louder. And louder. And louder. Like a sonata made solely to mark the end of a story.

“Rock a bye baby. On the tree top. When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.”

It’s probably the most haunting sound of pain Zabel has ever heard. The sound of a wounded animal shot to the heart without regret by a cruel hunter.

Eric cries as he sings every word to the seemingly innocent nursery rhyme. The sound of raw pain—helpless pain that will forever remain uncomforted.

The screen turns black. Zabel doesn’t notice that she is clutching at her heart.

This. This is Eric’s pain.

***

“Did you enjoy it?”

Zabel jumps at the sound of the voice that suddenly breaks the silence in the room. She abruptly stands up, her hands trembling on the defensive as she faces the owner of the deep voice.

“I… I’m… I’m sorry!” she says hurriedly as she tries to explain what had happened. “I… it was… it was there and… I’m really sorry! I thought it was a movie!”

Eric stares at her. “It’s a movie.”

“I know! I didn’t—” Zabel stops as she stares at Eric. “W-what?”

“It’s a movie that has no ending.”

He walks towards the VCR player and presses stop. “Cate wants it that way. She wants me to keep chasing for the ending. She told me I don’t deserve an ending.”

“W-what?”

A sigh. “I don’t deserve clarity. Ending is clarity. Because where she’s going, Cate will never have her ending either.”

Zabel remains quiet. She doesn’t have a clear response to that.

“Do you know what she said?” Zabel shakes her head, but Eric doesn’t see it. “She said—”

He turns towards her and smiles, surprising Zabel at the almost kind expression his face is wearing.

“She said that we both deserve to rot in hell. But since she deserves it more, she should go first.”

Zabel feels the fear starting to spread in her body. Eric sounds so casual as if talking about this is not affecting him. As if talking about being burnt in hell is an everyday occurrence.

“I… I don’t understand. Why—”

Eric’s smile never falters. “Why did Cate decide to die?” he asks.

Zabel finds herself nodding.

“Because she doesn’t deserve to live.”

“I don’t—”

“—and yet… heaven doesn’t deserve her soul,” Eric continues, cutting her words off. “So Cate… Cate decides to go to hell and she wants to bring me with her. But… not now. Not until I know how it feels to die while breathing.”

“I don’t—”

“Of course you don’t,” Eric says. “And you will never.” He merely shakes his head as he slowly takes a step towards her. Zabel automatically takes a step back.

Eric’s smile widens. If this is a truly casual conversation, she would have gladly drowned on it. It’s the first time he smiles at her like that. It’s a genuine smile. She would have been happy.

But she isn’t. Zabel, for the first time, is scared of Eric. She is finally and truly scared of him. Her eyes leave his and dart around the room, clearly looking for a way to escape.

“Are you afraid of me now?” he asks, now sounding amused. “I didn’t kill Cate, you know. You watched it. She killed herself. She made me watch her kill herself. She wants me to die as she dies. She is one cruel bitch that really deserves to rot in hell. But oh how I love her!” He laughs, taking in another step towards her. Zabel takes another step back.

“Er…Eric…” she softly calls, her tone telling him she is trying to be calm. “Eric… I… Eric I need to go home. I… my parents are waiting for me… I…”

“Are you using this excuse now? Your parents are not important to you. You chose me over them.”

Another step.

“I—”

And another. And another. Until he is finally standing in front of her trembling form.

Zabel finally looks up and meets his eyes. Eric has such lonely eyes and now she knows why.

She starts to pray in silence. Zabel doesn’t believe in God like her parents, but at this moment, she wants to. The feeling of helplessness suddenly pushes her to believe in the existence of one merciful high power up there.

“Okay,” Zabel whispers as she closes her eyes, surrendering to the battle that she hasn’t even started fighting. She is partly at fault with this. Her obsession with him is possibly one of the reasons why they end up in this situation. She has to pay for her part in this.

Zabel stops her internal struggles as she feels Eric’s breath on her face. She slowly relaxes her body until she is no longer standing stiff in front of him.

“Make it quick,” she calmly begs in total surrender. “Just make it quick.”

Eric doesn’t answer, but instead grants the woman her last wish.

She doesn’t feel the pain of death. Just like how she wants.

***

Eric mournfully stares at the canvas he just painted. He could have made it last, but the clock is ticking.

It looks beautiful. A work of art with the smell of untimely death.

Just like Cate, he thinks as he stands up to admire his handiwork. A magnum opus that can only be created by the ones who know pain. The ones who always smell blood even in sleep. The ones who saw death, who still sees it even though it has long since passed away with the wind.

She is his everything. Cate will always be his everything.

Eric turns his head and meets the eyes in the shadow, the blood dripping from his face and his hands like a mark of something sinister growing within him.

All he ever receives is a nod. And that is the only thing he ever wants. Approval.

Eric smiles. He turns his face away from the shadow and sits on the floor, cross-legged. His eyes wander back on the mutilated body of his colleague whose name he cannot even remember.

She is beautiful in death, her naked body hanging from the ceiling and her blood dripping on his once clean floor.

She needs to die, that is the first thing Eric thought when she first mentioned the name of his forbidden, cursed desire. She needs to die because she is trying to take him away from Cate.

Cate whose death he will always remember.

But now, he is free again. He has gotten rid of the suffocating block to his freedom. Freedom to feel the animalistic pain caused by Cate’s death just as she wanted to.

He will never disappoint Cate. He will always make her happy even if he will never be.

Eric glances on the shadow once again before he reaches out a bloody finger and presses the play button on the VCR. He is unmindful of the blood dripping from the corpse hanging from the ceiling and onto his head.

The screen is black. And then it turns white, slowly showing the familiar forest.

Where Cate has decided to end her life so he could begin his death.

Eric starts to hum.

“Rock a bye baby, on the tree top. When the wind blows, the cradle will rock…”

The shadow that watches Eric remains silent.

END

The Fifth Sabbat (Horror)

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.

Continue reading “The Fifth Sabbat (Horror)”