This October, we don’t mean to scare. Our #PreenSupernaturalSeries will be crossing over to topics of the supernatural, the occult, horror, and fear. It’s okay, we’re with you on this.
I’m not sure what possessed my mom to do it, but she invited an old woman—everyone is old when you’re eight—to the house one day to dotawas.
I’m not talking about the kind you use as a deodorant; I’m talking about the kind albularyos(herb doctors) do to diagnose ailments, usually supernatural in origin.
Growing up, it seemed that my mom had all these stories that involved the supernatural. (We’re talking about dwarves, spirits, elementals.) Even though we lived in Manila, when she told these stories (never to us children, by the way, but always to another adult, although I was somehow always within eavesdropping distance), it was as if they were taken as gossip, to be believed or not believed in the same vein as who did what that scandalized the town. It also seemed that she had connections to a vast array of individuals who plied their trade with the supernatural: hilots, albularyos, Feng Shui masters, and now, mangtatawas.
The lady said a few words and lit a candle, her hand moving gracefully, letting the melted wax drip into a basin of water, where it hardened into different irregular shapes. I remember thinking, This is bunk.I also remember thinking, She’s manipulating the wax with her movements. Because in between the blobs of hardened wax floating on the water’s surface was a distinct shape of a little man in baggy clothes wearing an old-fashioned sleeping cap, the kind one saw in cartoons that tended to flop over on one side. It looked like Snow White’s eighth dwarf in wax relief. Adults are crazy. How can anyone believe this?
“You have duendes in your house.”
She’s obviously making this up. It’s even got the Disney costume!
“This is what you have to do.”
My mom set out a table—in reality a small square of plywood—about a foot on each side, balanced on one of those giant cookie tins half the size of a toddler that contained assorted biscuits. On each side, she placed a boiled egg, a pack of Skyflakes, and a cigarette.
She placed the setup in our skywell, a small outdoor area that we rarely went into because it felt eerie and wrong. There was nothing creepy about it really—it was justan empty space, a square patch of cement floor bordered on three sides by concrete walls, accessible through a screen door in the dining area. The windows beside the door meant that you could peek inside from the house, which is what we often did, just to see what exactly mom hoped to achieve with that crazy setup.
Now, the thing about that house was that it had a lot of rats, the big scary kind that sometimes did not seem to fear humans.
Mommy’s asking for trouble. The rats are going to have a field day.
We waited for the rats to tear into the Skyflakes and make a mess of the eggs. We waited for them to defile the little temple my mother had set up, because that is what rats do—they take what they want, not caring if it wasn’t theirs to take. And we were there to watch, because at that time, that was the only thing children were allowed to do.
The setup was in our skywell for a week or so. The crackers and the eggs stayed untouched the whole time, the plastic that encased the crackers pristine, the peeled eggs still whole, without bite marks of any kind. What was even more interesting was that the cigarettes, though never lit, seemed to slowly consume themselves, slowly, flamelessly burning down to the filter, leaving a cigarette-shaped trail of ash in its wake.
And then the setup was gone.
I thought nothing of it then, only realizing years later how strange the whole thing was, how it wasn’t something other families did, and how weird it was that the event was never talked about while it was happening, and never mentioned afterwards, ever.
I still don’t know what that whole setup was about, come to think of it, except that the offering—which I’m pretty sure is what it was—worked. The mangtatawas never had to come back for a second round, and the setup never appeared again.
As with things like these, I wonder if I actually experienced them, or if I remember them correctly. I asked my sister about it, and she said yes, she remembered everything happening the same way, too. I suppose I should ask my mother for her version of what really went down, but for some reason, I keep forgetting to. Perhaps it’s because part of me wants it to remain a mystery—it does make for good storytelling. But at the same time, I really should find out why she had that lady over, and how she found her in the first place. It’s family history after all, one that, I’m sure, would make an equally strange story.
Yvette Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and a lifestyle writer for major local titles.