When the air in Kaluwalhatian shifted with the final exhale of an old woman on the mortal plane, the thread fell through Liwani’s fingertips. A little more color bled out of her tapis, and her skin turned translucent, the bright red of the cloth she had been mending visible through her hands. Guntinan had tried to warn her that this would happen. He knew what was happening the moment her skin began to blister each time she stayed out in the sun for too long. Liwani was the goddess of light, and any light should have been a source of strength instead of weakness. While she had entertained the idea that Apolaki, the god of the sun, might have been upset with her for reasons she could not fathom, Guntinan had merely shaken his head, his lips quirked in wry amusement.
Liwani nearly tripped in her haste to go to Guntinan, who had stepped outside the kubo only a little while ago. She was unsure of her own substance, of how to navigate her way with limbs she could barely see. Her toes crossed the kubo’s threshold, and she jerked away from the scorching touch of the sun. She cried out, losing her balance and landing hard on her back.
Liwani rolled onto her side and tucked her knees against her chest, fingers trembling, as she reached out to prod the angry raw skin on her foot. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes, though she could not tell if it was from the shock or the pain. She felt solid now, at least, certainly solid enough to feel every bit of burnt skin.
From here, Liwani could still make out Guntinan’s figure in the field. He lay face down in the grass as if he had simply fallen forward without even trying to break his fall. To Liwani’s relief, he wasn’t burning, but he wasn’t moving either.
“Guntinan!” she yelled, creeping as close to the opening of her kubo as she dared. “Wake up!”
Liwani eyed the kubos on the other side of the small field, half-hoping that one of the major deities would step out and offer their assistance, but she knew better than to rely on their help. The major deities had duties on the mortal plane that kept them busy. She hardly ever saw them on Kaluwalhatian. “Guntinan, please!” she yelled once more.
But Guntinan didn’t wake up, didn’t even stir at the sound of her cries. Liwani called until she felt ridiculous, like a rooster crowing at night for a sun that wasn’t ready to rise.
It wasn’t like gods could die anyway. She’d heard stories of Bathalang Maykapal’s form perishing, but each time, he would be reborn. Such a thing had never happened to her, but Guntinan was a master at changing forms. He would wake up eventually, one way or another. Liwani resigned herself to being patient. He would come back. He had to.
Just as the sun was setting, Guntinan finally began to move. He sprang up as if he had just tripped, though his body was much smaller than it had been when he fell. Rolling his shoulders as if relieved to be free of the weight of his previous form, he looked around before taking a few cautious steps toward Liwani’s kubo.
“Hello?” he called out. “Is anyone here?”
“I’m here!” Liwani replied and got a proper look at him as he inched closer.
The god of memory had enjoyed many forms over the years. Sometimes he looked ancient, white hair long and straggly as it hung in front of his face, with wrinkles deep enough to hide all the memories he carried. Other times he was a young maiden with an eager face, choosing the age at which kids were most curious and adventurous. It was rare that he chose a form so young, an age where memories were formed only to be forgotten, but she didn’t question it as he wandered closer. He peered up at the kubo, trying to make out her features, shrouded in the dark.
“I’m lost,” Guntinan said. “Can you tell me where I am?”
His voice was so small, thin, like it didn’t contain echoes of the past.
“Guntinan,” Liwani said, “we’re here in Kaluwalhatian where we’ve always been, don’t you remember?”
The boy shook his head, and Liwani waited for him to come back to himself. Guntinan would have lapses now and again—only for a few seconds, but always long enough to scare her. She covered up her worry with gentle teasing, telling the god of memory that his old age was finally catching up to his mind, even if it didn’t show on the face he had chosen to wear. She would add po to the end of her sentences and press the back of his hand to her forehead in a show of mock respect like she once saw humans do after the Spanish conquered the islands. But this time the confusion wouldn’t pass and Guntinan just stood there, his bottom lip trembling andlooking more like a child pretending to be a god than a god pretending to be a child. She eyed the fading light that spilled into her kuboand considered reaching for Guntinan, who was hovering at the base of the ladder, but she decided to wait until the sun had set completely.
“I’m scared,” he said.
Liwani was too, but she forced herself to clear her mind, tried to focus on the knowledge that anyone lost was naturally drawn to her, the goddess of light, the guide. Though she didn’t know if he could see her, Liwani put on her most reassuring smile. “Come inside, I won’t hurt you,” she said.
“Who are you, anyway?”
The words stung more than her burns. Liwani’s smile wavered. “I’m Liwani. I’m your friend. You can trust me.”
“It’s awfully dark in there. I can’t see very well.”
“And it’s about to get very dark out there. At least here, you’ll have a roof over your head. You are safe here, I promise.”
The boy placed a hand on the ladder, hesitated, then began to climb. Crossing the threshold with stilted, awkward movements, he carried none of the grace that Liwani had come to associate with any form Guntinan took. If not for his tattoos, she might not have believed it was him.
He folded his legs against his chest, chin resting on the tattoo depicting the birth of Maganda and Malakas. His eyes lingered on one of his smaller tattoos, one that was almost lost among the scenes that stretched over his entire right thigh. Grazing his fingers over the dark ink, bold against his tanned skin, he asked, “Can you tell me how I got this?”
There were many tattoos that Guntinan had asked about lately, pretending that he just liked hearing the way the story rolled off her tongue, but he had never asked about this one before. The request filled Liwani’s heart with an odd mix of fondness and hurt. She brushed her fingers over the burn on her toes and forced herself to speak. “You are the god of memory, Guntinan, and your tattoos represent the events in our history that are meant to be remembered,” she said.
“And what’s happening in this tattoo?”
“Well, Anion Tabu, the goddess of wind and rain, was having yet another fit. She had been in a foul mood for days and the sky rumbled each time anger thrummed in her chest. I don’t remember what she was angry about, though it probably doesn’t matter. You know how moody she can be sometimes. It was probably something inconsequential, but it upset her nonetheless. When her anger finally gave way to sadness, she lashed out in one of the worst storms of the season. The night sky shuddered, and the rain fell through the cracks in the sky,” Liwani said.
She tried to remember how Guntinan had told her the story all those years ago. He told it better, she was sure, and the words felt clumsy on her tongue. The lack of recognition on his face disappointed her, and she had to pause for a moment before continuing.
“There was a group of children on their way home when they got caught in the storm,” she said, watching Guntinan’s reaction carefully. “The downpour was so harsh that they couldn’t see. There was no shelter around, and the rain made the cold seep down into their bones. They were afraid they were going to die. They prayed to Mayari, but the moon had too many duties during the night to attend to the request of a few children. They prayed to Tala, but there was little the stars could do against the fury of the storm.”
“Did they die?”
Liwani laughed. “Of course not. They believed they would be saved, and so they were. They started to pray for light, any light, to any god who could fulfill their wish. Suddenly a firefly appeared, its light brighter than that of any other firefly they had ever seen, and seemingly impervious to the beat of the rain. Everything else blurred, except for the light of the firefly that never wavered until it guided them all the way home.”
“Their prayers worked?”
“Well, they believed, and so it came to be. Sometimes that’s enough. And they believed so completely that a young goddess was born that night.”
Guntinan hummed. “I found you after that, didn’t I?” he asked, eyes clearing of confusion as his body uncurled itself and relaxed against the coolness of the bamboo walls.
A relieved smile spread across Liwani’s face. “You did,” she said. “I appeared exactly where my kubo stands now. You were in the form of a young warrior that day, and I looked about the same age as you do now. Your kubo is right next to mine, so you found me first. You told me that I was a goddess of light, that I was meant to be a guide. I was a goddess for the lost, the one who lights the way. In the meantime, you told me, you would serve as my guide until I got my proper bearings in both the mortal plane and Kaluwalhatian.”
Liwani could still see him in her mind’s eye, towering and intimidating as he loomed over her but with a smile brighter than anything she had ever seen since. Traces of that smile lurked in the corners of Guntinan’s lips now, and she perked up at the sight of it.
“I remember now. I did make an excellent mentor, didn’t I?”
“I see your memories have also returned your modesty.”
Guntinan laughed, allowing himself to indulge in the familiarity of their banter before turning his attention back to his tattoo. He traced the black ink that did little to capture how Liwani’s skin glowed that day, so bright that it almost hurt to look at her when she first appeared. There was no such light in Liwani’s kubo now and suddenly the absence of it felt like a physical thing, weighing heavily on them both.
“What a sad pair we are,” Guntinan laughed again, this time without humor. “A forgetful god of memory and a goddess of light who hides in the shadows.”
“We will get better,” she said. “Only two believers remain, but once they pass our story on—”
“Don’t you understand yet, Liwani? No one is telling our story anymore. And even if they are, no one is listening. I can’t even remember the last time I received a proper prayer. Can you?” he asked.
“You don’t remember much of anything these days,” Liwani said.
Guntinan fell silent, though Liwani knew that he was more sad than angry. “Liwani,” he said. “Our believers are dying. After the last two die, we will die with them.”
“Gods can’t die. Maybe if we travel to the mortal plane, we can show them. Remind them of our existence once again,” she said.
“It doesn’t work that way. If we do that, we will—” Guntinan cut himself off suddenly. His face scrunched up before smoothing out into surprise.
“We will what, Guntinan?” she asked.
But Guntinan didn’t seem to hear her. Instead, he was distracted by the image of two birds flying on his forearm. His eyes were wide and empty as he asked her, “Can you tell me how I got this one?”
The moonlight did not burn as the sunlight had, but Liwani’s skin ached and blistered nonetheless, so she made sure to keep to the shade of the trees as she walked to the kuboskept by the major gods. She had not seen them in decades, but if there was anyone who would have answers, it would be them. Perhaps if she spoke to Apolaki, he could tell her what to do. If not, perhaps he could help her land an audience with Bathalang Maykapal.
The kuboApolaki shared with his sisters Mayari and Tala was close enough to hers—Kaluwalhatian wasn’t big enough to allow for anything to be more than a few meters away—but theirs was much bigger than hers. In place of a ladder, there was a short staircase that led to the living area, but the sliding door was closed.
Liwani considered turning back, but she knew she could not come back in the morning. She climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. “Hello?” she said and repeated it a few more times when she received no answer.
It was dangerous, she knew, to keep this up. Apolaki was much more powerful than her. If he chose to summon the power of the sun, he could burn her alive whether he meant to or not, but she thought of the blank expression on Guntinan’s face and the boarded-up windows of her kubo and summoned the courage to knock again.
The door slid open wide enough to show a glimpse of ivory hair. With a voice as smooth as the gentle waves of the sea, the goddess of the moon spoke. “What brings you here?”
Though she could not see more than a few strands of hair, Liwani knew that Mayari had always been one of the most beautiful goddesses with hair as fair as the moonlight she manipulated, swathed in robes so white that they seemed to glow against the deep tan of her skin. The angles of her face were soft, rounded out by her full lips and a thoughtful brown eye. Her ruined eye did little to detract from her beauty. Instead, it added a sharpness that had not been there before and the silver scar glittered like the blade of a knife.
Liwani had never felt more inferior to the moon goddess than she did at that moment, and she stepped further into the shadows to hide her raw skin. “I am Liwani. I’ve come to ask for guidance from my fellow deities. If you would be so kind as to let me speak to Apolaki, I would—”
“Apolaki is not well,” Mayari said. “What guidance do you seek?”
Liwani was momentarily stunned, almost forgetting the words she had been practicing in her head on her way here. She was tempted to ask about Apolaki’s condition, but she swallowed the urge. “Guntinan’s mind is deteriorating and my light burns me. Our believers are dying. As minor gods, we depend entirely on the oral tradition, but Guntinan tells me that our stories are no longer being passed on. I wanted to ask for advice on maintaining believers so we can continue to enjoy the prosperous life given to us by Bathalang Maykapal,” Liwani said.
“Maintaining believers,” Mayari murmured, then slid the door open to reveal herself, and Liwani barely stifled her gasp of surprise.
Every inch of Mayari’s exposed skin was ashen and dry, cracked like clay exposed to too much heat. When Mayari offered Liwani what might have been a sad smile, the skin of her cheeks split open, wide enough for a dark substance to seep out of the fissures lining her face. Mayari seemed unbothered as the liquid dripped onto her robes. It was only then that Liwani noticed that Mayari’s normally immaculate robes were now dirty gray, punctuated with stains of black.
“We have no believers to maintain,” Mayari said.
“I don’t understand,” Liwani said, shaking her head, as though Mayari’s image was a nightmare her mind had conjured up. “What happened to you? Your stories have been written down, immortalized. How could the people forget you?”
Mayari slid the door shut behind her and sat down on one of the stairs, moving as if each action pained her. “There is a difference between being remembered and being believed in. There are no prayers, no offerings, just our names written down on paper—immortalized, as you say, in ink. That is all we are: paper and ink. That is what we have been reduced to.”
She held her hand to the moonlight and Liwani watched as her skin crinkled and rivulets of dark ink came flowing down from her palm. “Apolaki is in the same state as I, but he is much worse. His ego has always been bigger than mine,” she said, the corner of her mouth quirking up in fondness, “so he has taken it harder than I have. I do not know what state Tala is in now—she refuses to leave her room—but I imagine she’s the same way.”
Liwani stared at the goddess, edging away from the ink in fear that she would catch their disease. She thought of her own burns, imagined that darkness spilling out of her skin and drowning her. “What about the first generation of gods? What about Bathalang Maykapal? Surely, they know how to fix this.”
“They are dead.”
For a moment, the moonlight no longer burned and Liwani forgot her disgust for ink and skin and blood and paper and all the things wrong with her kind. She threw her hands up as if to ward off Mayari’s statement—Mayari’s lies—but the damage had already been done. Pointing an accusing finger at the moon goddess, she said, “You’re lying. Gods can’t die.”
“Yes, they can, but belief allows them to be reborn. There is no such belief to resurrect them now. They knew our fate, the fate of all deities. They once controlled so much of this world, you see, and so they took control of all they had left. They chose to die by their own hand,” Mayari said, eye closed and face turned toward the moon despite how the exposure caused ink to flow down her cheeks.
“Then why haven’t we done something? Why didn’t we do something before things got this bad?” Liwani cried. She couldn’t understand how calm Mayari was, how easily this once-powerful goddess had surrendered to their so-called fate.
Liwani wanted nothing more than to grab Mayari by her shoulders and shake the calm out of her, to imbue her with some of the urgency that Liwani felt burning within her even more painfully than the light that burned her skin. But she was afraid to touch the moon goddess. Liwani was afraid that one touch would make Mayari crumble completely, leaving nothing left of the goddess except a sea of ash, dissolving in darkness.
“We were arrogant,” Mayari said. “Belief can be a fickle thing. There are times when it is strong and times when it is weak. We believed in our influence, and the mortals stopped believing in us altogether. Now, there is nothing left to do but wait.”
“Why not go to the mortal plane now? Remind them of who we are?”
“And convince them how? Our powers are virtually nonexistent. Look at your burns, Liwani. Look at how faded you’ve become. Look at my skin, how I bleed ink. We look more like monsters than gods,” Mayari said, voice no longer calm, but tired. “How many believers do you have left, Liwani?”
“You asked for guidance, so here is my advice: enjoy your time while you have it. Your believers are old and their time is short. You will live only as long as they do.”
The moon goddess looked over her shoulder as she spoke, smiling as if she had offered Liwani a word of kindness instead of a death sentence. Taking a breath, Liwani squared her shoulders and willed her hands to stop shaking. She wondered if the moonlight could sink below her skin and fester in her bones, if she would ignite like a flame or burn away like ash. “No,” she said.
“No,” Liwani repeated, more confident this time. “That is not our fate. I will not give up that easily. I am Liwani, goddess of light. I am meant to light the way. I was born to be a guide, and I will find a way to save us all, even if I have to do it alone.”
Mayari regarded her as if she were a child. Perhaps, in Mayari’s eyes, she was. The moon goddess was ancient, a direct descendent of Bathalang Maykapal himself, and her gaze made Liwani feel foolish. Still, Liwani refused to look away until Mayari turned her attention back to the moon.
“Do you remember how I lost my eye?” Mayari asked.
Startled, Liwani answered, “When you thought that Bathalang Maykapal died the first time, you and Apolaki were fighting over who would be his successor. Apolaki struck you with a wooden club and blinded you.”
“That was just a taste of what the price of success would have been for Apolaki. Fortunately for me, he was unwilling to pay that price. Tell me, Liwani,” Mayari said, her smile the widest fissure of her face, ink coating her teeth and spilling from her mouth, silver scar glinting in the moonlight, “what price are you willing to pay for your success?”
The walk home was faster than the walk going to Mayari’s kubo. Liwani had run as fast as she could to avoid the first rays of daybreak, but her skin sizzled and welts formed on her shoulders. She didn’t dare touch them, afraid that the ink that infected Mayari would pour from her wounds.
By the time she reached her kubo, Guntinan was awake and waiting for her. “You went to see the major deities,” he said. His tone was annoyed, but his features betrayed his concern as he helped her into the kubo. He was still in the form of a little boy, but the way he held himself gave away his age. Liwani could have cried out of relief at seeing her friend’s mind as it should be. “Lift your hair. I made you a salve for your burns.”
“Thank you,” Liwani said, tugging her singed hair out of the way. Guntinan gently massaged the salve over her arms and back. The salve stung at first, but it lessened the throbbing of her burned flesh.
“What did they say?” Guntinan asked.
Liwani watched the sun rise, its light kissing the land and chasing away the shadows. Bitterness rose in her throat as she forced herself to look away. “Mayari told me that there’s nothing we can do except wait and die.”
“And what do you think?”
“I think it’s the worst joke I’ve ever heard.”
“Odd. Mayari was known for her humor,” Guntinan said, and Liwani barked out a laugh. He turned to apply the salve to her face, rubbing it over the worst spots on her cheeks and nose.
“What do you think we should do?” Liwani asked.
Guntinan wiped the excess salve off his fingers on his bahag and pursed his lips. “Honestly? I think Mayari is right. We’re in a deadlock, Liwani. To get better and regain our powers, we must be believed in, but to gain that belief, we must first prove our existence with our powers. There is no solution here.”
“I believe we can get better. Does that count for nothing?”
“Don’t be naïve.”
“You can call me whatever you want, but I’m not giving up like you. You haven’t even tried!”
“I am the god of memory, Liwani. I remember all things that have happened, and I know there is only one way this can end. We’ve lived a good life, haven’t we? Mortals live for a few decades if they’re lucky. We’ve had centuries. Isn’t that enough?”
No, it isn’t nearly enough, Liwani wanted to scream. They were gods, and though Liwani didn’t know what fate meant anymore, had no idea what they were meant to be, she knew that they were meant for more than this. She didn’t know how to make Guntinan understand, so she chose to remain silent instead.
Guntinan read it in her face anyway and his expression softened. “Liwani,” he said, “don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
Liwani left her kubo once night fell. She brought the red cloth she had been mending and wrapped it around her shoulders to protect herself from the moonlight. Kaluwalhatianhad never looked so small to her before. The field wasn’t even big enough for crops, just a handful of kubos filled with deities that no one believed in anymore.
For the first time, Liwani realized that there was nothing in Kaluwalhatian beyond this field, and she wondered what would happen once the deities were no more. Would Kaluwalhatian simply collapse? Disappear, as though it had never existed in the first place? Would its edges break up and dissolve into the nothingness that surrounded it? Turn to paper and crumble like Mayari’s skin?
No, Liwani decided. She would not let it.
She walked to the balete trees just beyond the kubos of the major deities. The balete had always been tied to the mortal and the supernatural, a natural doorway that the gods used to travel between worlds. Warmth radiated from the trees regardless of the weather, but it was a comfortable kind of warmth, the kind that reminded Liwani of a fire on a cold night.
She placed her hand on the tree trunk. In the old days, the trees were scattered all over the mortal plane, allowing a god to choose a specific destination, but Liwani didn’t know where the balete trees were anymore. She had never traveled without a destination in mind before, and she didn’t know what would happen if she chose a tree that no longer existed.
She closed her eyes and spoke the words. “I am Liwani, goddess of light. Bring me to my people.”
It was a bizarre feeling to be falling and ascending all at once. She was weightless. There were no such things as bodies here, but the sensation didn’t feel like it did when she turned translucent. Here, she was infinite. She was a goddess uninhibited by the form she took. She could wiggle her phantom fingers and tickle the very beginnings of time. She could release a breath and move universes. For a few blissful moments, she could be anything again.
Then, she was burning.
Every part of her body seized as the heat of the sun seared her skin. She screamed and tried to run, but all she could see was red. She tried to shield herself with the cloth, but she didn’t know which part of herself to cover. Everything demanded shade. Everything demanded safety from the harshness of the sun.
“Liwani,” a voice whispered.
“Help me!” she pleaded.
“Liwani, Liwani, it’s Liwani!”
She followed the sound blindly. Perhaps it was her people, recognizing her, protecting her. “She’s burning! The sun! Shift the leaves!”
And suddenly the sun was gone, and she was enveloped in shade.
She cried in relief, barely feeling the salt of her tears sting her ruined flesh. The whispers were excited, chattering among themselves as their voices reached a fever pitch. Liwani finally calmed down enough to take a look at her saviors, expecting to see a group of people with awe in their eyes, but she saw nothing.
Her back was pressed against the wide trunk of a balete, and the trees stretched as far as her eyes could see. She raised her gaze and found dozens of small eyes peering down at her. Lambana, she realized belatedly. “Thank you,” she said. “Where am I?”
“You are in Manila,”they said.
“Rest, goddess. You are injured. We will protect you as you sleep.”
Whether it was because of pain or exhaustion, Liwani’s eyes started to flutter shut, and she slipped into a dreamless sleep.
Pain punctuated Liwani’s return to consciousness and when her eyes finally opened, she wanted to close them again. Her skin was a mess of exposed flesh, though she could see the ground through her arm. The color of the tapis she wore had almost faded completely, and the hair that hung in front of her face was dry and brittle. Liwani’s only solace was that the sky was completely dark—even the moon was obscured by clouds tonight.
As Liwani teetered between consciousness and unconsciousness, the ground grumbled and the hum of a foreign sound caught Liwani’s attention. She struggled to her feet, gripping the tree trunk for assistance.
“It’s a human, Liwani! Hide!”the voices whispered.
“Human?” Liwani repeated, her voice scratchy even to her ears. “Believers,” she murmured and stepped toward the sound. It was coming closer, and she didn’t know of any human who made a sound like that.
Liwani found herself in the middle of a path and suddenly an odd contraption with twin beams of light was barreling toward her.
There was a man in the contraption, his skin almost as fair as Mayari’s robes had once been, his hair the color of early morning rays. Liwani had never seen a human like that before, and she caught his startled gaze moments before the light of the contraption hit her.
Her already-abused flesh sizzled and she screamed as she threw her arms in front of her eyes. The contraption passed right through her body and Liwani felt parts of her form stretch and blur and fade.
When Liwani passed by the strange man, she felt no awe in him, only fear. He said something in a language she didn’t understand, and he cried out as he pressed his fingers to his forehead, his chest, and across his shoulders.
Then the man was gone, the contraption carrying him away, and the path was dark once again.
Liwani watched him go and blinked tears out of her eyes. How hideous she must have looked, like a monster fresh from Kasamaan. She wondered if this was what Mayari had meant when she said that there would be a price to be remembered.
Strangely enough, her burns had significantly improved by morning. Her skin was still sore, but the flesh was no longer exposed, and she felt little pain. The tapisshe wore was completely drained of color, but that was all right. She could always weave herself a new one.
A smile broke out across her features and she pressed her forehead to the balete tree.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Guntinan, but if you can, it’s working. I doubted for a moment, but I’m getting better. A human saw me and he must have remembered. I told you it would work, didn’t I? Hang in there, okay? Just a little bit more. I’ll make sure they remember you, too, and then I can gloat in person.”
She then turned her attention to the trees, seeking out the eyes of the lambanawho had helped her. “Thank you!” she said and was undeterred by the lack of response. They had been silent since she’d encountered the man and Liwani was worried that his contraption frightened them. They’d come back eventually. She’d thank them then.
Then, because she couldn’t help but test the limits of her improvement, she lifted her hand past the shadow of the balete. The light warmed her fingertips, stinging, but not burning.
There was a time when she could produce light from her fingertips, let it dance between her fingers and cut through the darkness like a blade. She could shine, too, if she wanted. Light would pour from her pores, and she would be bright enough to rival Tala’s stars.
Perhaps she would be able to do it again one day, but for now, just feeling the light without burning was enough. Liwani had missed the light more than anything else so she let herself step out from behind the shade of the tree to bask in it. It felt like coming home.
Each day, her burns improved and her body grew stronger, but her mind grew fuzzier. She would try to leave the balete trees, but as soon as she took a few steps away, she forgot why she wanted to leave in the first place, so she wandered back. Sometimes she would speak to the trees, but eventually, she could not remember why and felt foolish.
There were whispers too. She could hear them carried by the wind. Some said she was a student who had been molested and murdered by a taxi driver when she was on her way to school. Others said that she once lived in a mansion along Balete Drive, the daughter of abusive parents whose ghost would run out into the street to run away or ask for help. Another tale said she had been betrayed by her husband, or sometimes her fiancé.
The whispers grew louder and there was a prickling at the back of her mind like there was something she was forgetting, an echo of a name that had been uttered long ago by a boy with a kind face and markings all over his body. Who are you? she wanted to ask until she forgot the question too.
When light shined during the day, she watched the way it caressed the land and she retreated into the shadows. Something like longing stirred in her chest, though she did not understand it. Sometimes she decided to take a nap instead, to dream away the pull of the sunlight. Often there was a woman in her dreams, a terrifying image of cracked skin and bleeding ink, warning her of something. She could never understand what.
By the time night fell, the scent of fear wafted in with the cool breeze, a strange and delicious smell that drew her out of the trees every time that contraption—a car, she had learned—passed by. It tickled her nose, called her to make an appearance. Her feet carried her toward the road of their own accord, white dress gliding behind her.
When the car appeared, she threw up her arms out of instinct. She braced herself not for the impact of the car but for the glare of the headlights, even though she knew the light could not harm her. She relished the sharp thrill of terror that coursed through the driver’s body, delighted by the way his pupils dilated as she stared at him from the backseat of his car.
He whispered, as they sometimes did, White Lady, White Lady, like a chant, like a prayer. This was not always her name, she knew, but she could not remember what else it could be. She watched as he drove away, knowing he would carry her story with him.