“Did your Daddy tell you about what happened to him in Vintar?” my mom asked me.
I’d been gently pumping my parents over Christmas dinner, hoping for more family ghost stories and such, of the kind that they told me (and which I posted) several years ago. Under my prodding, they pulled stories from their memories, most of which I’d heard before. That’s okay; the stories are always worth re-listening to, and it’s fun to note how the details change just a little every time I hear one. With my mom’s help, I got a couple more anecdotes out of my dad that were new to me. Here’s one. I think my dad must have been about eight years old, or so.
“This was during the Japanese time [the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII], and I had been going to school in Laoag [the provincial capital], ” my dad began. “But my father wanted me to be home for All Soul’s Day. So after classes, I set off, on foot, for home. We were living in Vintar, at the time.”
“Oh, Halloween! How perfect!” I said.
“Mmm-hmmm. Well, there’s a really steep hill on the road from Laoag to Vintar, and on the top of that hill is the cemetery. A really big cemetery — two of them, in fact: first there was the Aglipayan Cemetery [the cemetery of the Philippine Independent Church], and then the Municipal Cemetery. So when you are walking on the road, it takes a while to pass it.
“By the time I climbed the hill and reached the cemetery, it was dark, and drizzly. I could feel the damp in my hair and on my skin. As I started to pass the cemetery, I heard a rustle and a flapping. I turned, and I thought I saw a big black bird flying past.
Suddenly, I felt a cold weight on my back! The chill settled down on my shoulders, and I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I started to walk faster. The weight was still there. So I walked even faster, almost running — but not running! I had to will myself not to run, because I knew that running would make it worse. But, boy, did I walk fast!”
“But why would running make it worse? How did you know that?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Just instinct. Something, a feeling, told me not run. So I just kept walking faster and faster. The road past the cemetery seemed so long!
“Finally, I saw the lights of the barrio that was between the cemetery and the town, and once I saw them, I could feel the weight lift off my back, and the cold feeling went away. After that, boy, I ran all the way home!”
“It was a kalag that attacked you!” my mom said with a laugh.
“What’s a kalag, Mom?” I asked.
“It means “ghost” in Bikolano,” my mom said. She couldn’t remember the word for “ghost” in Tagalog — I had to remind her, which made both my parents laugh. I asked my dad what the Ilokano word was. He couldn’t remember; “ghost” isn’t a word my parents use a lot, except when I’m around. As Dad frowned into his coffee cup, wracking his brain, my husband fetched his laptop and googled it. The word we wanted, according to the internet, is al-aliya.
“Oh, yes, that’s right! Ar-ariya” — Dad pronounced it with more of an “r” sound. “Now I remember! Yes, maybe it was an ar-ariya. It was something creepy.” He shivered at the memory.
“Pero walang mga kalag doon ngayon,” said my mom. “There are so many people around there now, there won’t be any more ghosts.”
My parents have a theory that ghosts congregate where people are absent. Once people come back, the ghosts go away. Too noisy, I guess.
“No, I bet there are still ghosts there,” Dad said. “All the dead soldiers.”
“Dead soldiers?” I asked.
“Yup. The guerillas used to hide in the cemetery, to ambush the Japanese soldiers. The road up the hill from Laoag was steep, remember? And by the time they climbed to the top, the soldiers would be tired. So then the guerillas would jump out to attack them, and — kkkkkkh!” He drew a finger across his throat. “They got a lot of them. Lots of ghosts.”
This reminded me of Mom’s murdered Japanese soldiers — the ones her family found buried under their house. I’d always wanted more of that story, and this seemed like a good time to ask her about it again. Interestingly enough, this time she claimed not to remember the bones and skulls that she told me about before. Just the uniforms. Funny how the mind works.
It’s still an intriguing tale, though.
Image: Vintar panorama with evening rainbow (2017), Peter Rowley. Source: Wikimedia