Dig on the HNR debut of author, Jay Pee Yu!
The Boys from Quiapo
by Jay Pee Yu
It was the rain that woke them. When it rained, the underpass went inundated, ankle high. They all stirred and hurriedly evacuated its slaking throat, running up the untrustworthy concrete steps. The downpour pelted sharply. Occasionally the wind blew hard, then it would die. It drove the rain toward their shed. It spattered on the huge mirror of the mall they were standing by and sometimes stung their faces with its freezing droplets.
A black SUV stopped in front of them. The door on the driver’s side flung open as a man with a shaved head climbed out of the car. A black umbrella sprang open like a wilted flower and the man under it sprinted toward the mall. He took out a leather wallet from his back pocket, fingered out a one-thousand peso bill. It dazzled under the luminescent lamps of the clothing-line store. An abrupt gust of wind blew it off the man’s hand, fluttering away. Startled, he produced a heavy voice: “No!”
Denden chased the bill, caught it, and then stashed it in his pocket. He returned to his place, gave back the money to the man. And the man gratefully took the bill.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Did you eat already?”
“No.” He looked at his friends, Kanuto and Bukoy.
The man beckoned the three of them to come over, and they obeyed.
“You three, come with me. I’ll buy you food,” the man announced.
The three boys felt a surge of gladness from within, they agreed and said ok in perfect unison.
“Just a moment.” The man dialed on his phone. He covered his mouth and talked to someone on the other end.
He was finished; he led them off to the SUV and went to Jollibee.
There were so many vacant seats inside but the man chose the seat where another bald man was waiting. They sat and ordered meals. The man, who was waiting, spoke a dialect Denden and his friends never did comprehend, but heard several times. Denden heard him said Dandreb.
“We ought to wait for them…. Then we could take them home, Tonyo,” Dandreb said patiently and calmly. His accent was heavy and stressed, obviously thick, something only countrymen had. He had a flat nose and a thick, square face. He and Tonyo were both in muscle-shirts, bulky, just like the hard-rocked bouncers from some nearby KTV bars.
“Okay,” Tonyo said regretfully. He seemed like someone who disliked waiting as his furry brows like giant black caterpillars—furrowing, narrowing—told so. His temples were shallow, shiny, greased with oil and sweat.
The boys wolfed the meals, messing the table. The two giants stood up and waved their hands at the boys—time to go.
“Where do the three of you live?” asked Dandreb.
They were in a dark street. Somewhere a dog snarled.
“We have no home,” said Denden.
“Ah, I see. Would you mind coming with us?”
“Where?” Kanuto reacted with a question in response to another question.
“Just come with us,” Tonyo said gravely.
The interrogation ceased. Behind Kanuto a big hand came up and covered his face with a rag. It was Tonyo’s. Kanuto weakened but tried to struggle. Joints and veins bulged on the back of the hand, as if ripping the skin.
“Hey!” Bukoy shouted, trying to fight the arms of Tonyo, yanking them away.
Dandreb grabbed Bukoy’s forearms, squeezed, and covered his nose. The boy staggered but Dandreb lifted him up off the ground. The two boys fainted.
Denden was afraid that they had been strangled to death.
“Don’t dare run yourself, boy,” said Dandreb.
Denden, immobile, let Dandreb cover his face. He used Acetone, Rugby, and Alcohol thinner for a temporary walk in the clouds, but he never sniffed on one like this: it smelled of Turpentine, Gas, or perhaps Ether. It burned his throat. He felt blood pulsating in his neck. His heart beat faster and faster, floated up, and then sank. All he could remember was he had put his head against Dandreb’s broad chest.
They pulled to the side of the road.
The bumpy road the van had scampered on seemed trod out by industrial vehicles long before the house they would stay in had been built.
Air darkened with dust, as did the house. As did the souls it housed.
Dandreb was the last to get out of the van; he killed the engine. Tonyo lifted Kanuto up and hoisted him over the shoulder like a damp towel. His beefy body was too strong to load two boys on both sides. Heads bouncing against his massiveness, he slung Denden on the other, hands were bound behind them, as well as their feet.
Denden could feel the strap around his wrists. A heavyset man opened the gate. Paunches layered into two flabby folds on his belly like great waves. Denden could barely see the man for his vision was still filmy, but he could read the sign on the cardboard duct-taped to the gate: ICE FOR SALE.
The red gate squeaked as it was widely opened for them to pass through.
Bukoy was soundly asleep on Dandreb’s arms. Tonyo put down Kanuto first. He next laid down Denden across the other couch.
The three of them, sedated, lay innocently without knowing what would happen next.
The room was partially dim. Some sort of faint custardy bulb was casting a gloomy but somehow cozy ambience. It was suspended from the thin black nylon cord nailed to the rafter. It swayed, as if somebody under its eye-aching emission of light would be interrogated and vigilantly murdered sometime later. The room’s temperature climbed up to a menacing heat.
Denden spied the room. There was a stainless-steel table at the corner that was gleaming in its smoothness. It appeared rather a bed than a table. Near it was a sink occupied with glass jars and surgical tools. It had cupboards and drawers and cabinets.
What is this room? A kitchen?
But there were no kitchenware, no stoves, and no utensils. This made him doubt his notion.
His legs were shackled. It was heavy and rusty, chafing his ankles. He saw blood mingled with the fine rusty flakes the metal had skinned off from its cuffs. His salty sweat stung the abrasions. He slunk, rolled, and learned that he was in a dog cage. It was so big it could accommodate him. It reeked of canine excrements.
From the far corner, he heard a soft humming in the tune of “Silent Night”: a voice getting lost from the notes. Gradually it turned to dull sobbing. Sob from a troubled innocent. It was very awful and quite peevish. Denden leaned closer to the cage, filtering the sound and trying to decipher the secret message it wanted to tell him. Persuading him that the noise was not just an illusion he was making up. He knocked his shoulder against the sharp steel mesh. He winced.
When silence descended, the voice stopped its senseless hymn, as though it was distracted: no more humming, no sobbing either.
Under the table, a girl hunkered. Her hands were covering her face. Denden looked at her, he had to squint to get a better look at her. The girl bent her wrists but retained fingers circling the eyes. This resembled glass-less binoculars, peering through the tunnels of her hands. She stared at him. Denden couldn’t see her fully in the dark. She chuckled and Denden’s skin froze, raising gooseflesh on his arms and legs.
The girl crouched, emerging from the murk that engulfed her. Her head was thrown forward, as if bowing to Denden in respect of their meeting. She wore a tank top with Hello Kitty picture on it, drenched in blood.
As she went towards the cage, crawling on fours, Denden brusquely moved away. She hooked filthy fingers through the grate. Fingers with nails blackened, deadened; a mallet must have been dropped, or, worse, hammered to them.
“Den—den!” she shrieked.
Startled by her surreal addressing, Denden flung himself backward, away from her.
The girl’s breath smelled of earth and formaldehyde and spoiled food.
Her voice registered to the spooked boy: Dora, their girl-friend who had been missing for three months now. Her real name was Rosalie but they used to call her as Dora for she really had a marvelous resemblance to the Spanish-speaking animated, tanned girl who claimed herself as an explorer.
“Den-den! Den-den! Den-den!” Dora hollered, spit getting on his face.
Denden, stiff and rooted to his position, gazed at her. Her lips were cracked, caked with soil; cheeks were salt-white, extremely dried up, and—Denden didn’t want to believe this—her eyes were empty, only sockets of hollowness. A void, deep, dark well. No eyeballs like a bottomless hole resided by echoes.
He gasped, wanting to scream but couldn’t. Something was inhibiting the urge.
Dora is here, he thought. No, she was here. She was dead. She died here. No, she was murdered. And this is her ghost.
“D-Dora?” said Denden, freezing in cold terror. He felt no sensation.
“Den-den!” Dora exclaimed, like a doped drug-user.
“Stop bitching around, you little whore!” It was the heavyset man; his growl was as enormous as his bellies.
A barbed wire ran around Dora’s head. It fitted from the mouth to the ears. She struggled as the wire tightened and cut the corner of her mouth, passed through pallid skin, tearing and separating the jaws from the skull, ripping the ligaments, slaughtering her face. No blood streamed; she was indeed dried up: a bloodless ghost, neatly vacuumed.
She forcefully trembled, accompanied by sudden attack of thrashing arms. Her legs tottered, soles of her feet sliding upon the slippery floor. She feebly tried to be released from her assailant; nevertheless, she futilely sought freedom. Her jaw hung open: a puppet abandoned by its ventriloquist. Her tongue protruded.
The man let her off to the floor. She dropped on her knees, fell forward, hitting the floor headfirst. On the floor she was slack and was lying facedown.
The man felt the weight of Denden’s stare. His answering stare was also so heavy that Denden had to turn his eyes away from him. His hand searched his jeans pocket and came out holding a giant ring with dangling keys. He walked to the cage, undid the lock and unlatched it. He opened its door and pulled Denden out. The boy screamed, the leather strap on his wrists tightened, and the chain on his legs hurting him. The man grappled Denden and hauled him onto the table. Laid down, legs chained to the table, Denden’s thin legs were steadied by the heavyset man and reached for the counter. He took a saw.
Denden peeled his eyes very wide. His pupils darkened as his eyes rounded and grew larger. He tried to scream but was too weak now to do it. He lamely moved.
The cutting tool was first perceived by his innocent mind’s eyes when he walked past a pirated DVD stall along Carriedo playing repeatedly the macabre moment of a man who regretfully—but somewhat necessarily—amputates his own chained legs just to avert the doom Jigsaw has prepared for him.
As the man’s arm sawed Denden’s legs, blood gushed out. The toothed blade bit his skin and sank through flesh. Denden, boomed out a shrill cry, groaned and cursed.
The man cackled while watching the boy agonized. He grinned then laughed like a lunatic.
A cry reverberated in the sinister room. The man, who was in profound ecstasy, was startled and confused by this sudden intrusion. He cocked his head to every direction, and then stopped severing Denden’s legs.
The boy was momentarily relieved from the damn pain. He could barely catch air.
“You’d better do no move, kid,” the man said. He put down his tool.
“Putanam—” Denden faltered as the cry came again—
—and completely out of agony, feeling eased that everything was just a dream, an illusion made of fabricated fear that dwelt inside him. But the sense of setting and the presence of the place he was now was the same to where he had just come from. Only Dora was not in sight, nor the heavyset man.
Or he was just to come.
Again, the cry that cut the wall came over. It was the most piercing cry Denden had ever heard: A boy’s.
A cry for help.
The door slammed open and it bounced back a little. The door squealed like a dying sow, asking for some privacy.
Here he comes, Denden thought as the heavyset man entered the room. He glanced at Denden, winked like a longtime friend.
Kanuto was on the man’s shoulder. Besides being stocky and compact, he also towered in height, enough to dunk a rim and yank it off the board.
Kanuto violently pounded the man on the back although restrained by the leather strap. He kneed the paunches as much he could, but he nonetheless did no injury at all. The shackles on his legs outweighed and made his legs less strong. He was dropped down to the table, backfirst, and groaned as the dull throb electrified him.
Shackles clanked, chains clattered.
“You must know, little monkey, that crying worth no money here. So shut up or I’ll blow your nose off,” he warned the boy.
“Ulol!” Kanuto growled, and then spat on the heavyset man who was looking down at him.
“You follow no instructions, huh?” The man was infuriated. He then swung an arm up, and crashed it down to Kanuto’s face. Blood streamed down the cheeks, lips split, and glittering crimson fleeted out.
Kanuto moaned, half conscious.
Denden froze—fear was eating him up. In the cage, he somehow found safety.
The man reached for the cupboard, opened it, careful not to clutter things onto the floor. Several boxes were piled up. Denden couldn’t read their labels; he didn’t have a clear view of the counter. The man put them in the aluminum tray, pushed the cupboard doors close—click!—and walked back to the unmoved boy on the table. He opened one of the boxes and produced a vial.
The swinging bulb flickered and burned out. For nearly half a minute blackness loomed. The man gave it a soft tap and it came to life again.
He held up a syringe sealed in plastic package. He peeled the wrapper and uncapped the needle. He held up the vial upside down and stuck the needle right through the rubber cap, siphoned a large amount of the liquid, filling the syringe full. The man shook it and was about to plunge it into Kanuto’s forearm when the boy slipped back to consciousness and shoved the man’s hand away. The syringe flew off, and the man, for the second time, felt insulted, crushed the boy’s face again.
Kanuto fell quiet. He lay bleeding and bruised.
The syringe skittered off under the cage, surreptitiously rolling. Denden reached for it, through the dog-food slot. He got it, made it vanish into his shorts, avoiding not to be stuck.
The heavyset man looked for it, checked under the table, and then nailed his eyes to Denden.
“You see it?” the man said coldly.
“What?” Denden said.
The heavyset man just smirked. “We have plenty of it, anyway.”
He extracted another one. After filling it up, he launched his arm, plunged the needle through Kanuto’s vein. Then, after the first shot, he filled up another one but this time from another vial. Its red paper label was illegible.
“Heart stopper,” the crazy heavyset man croaked.
Denden feared he would be the next one lying on the cold table as it showed to him the truth that was lying there.
The man stooped down, yanked open the cabinet door and pulled a duffel bag, pregnant of solid contents. He unbuckled it, took out surgical tools and placed them on the aluminum tray. They clanged. The man stood, straightened his back, stretched out his arms then slipped into the rubber gloves.
“Let’s do some magic here.”
He started it off by incising Kanuto’s chest. With his friendly scalpel, the heavyset man ran a long deep V-shaped incision. Blood welled up. He proceeded on dissecting the boy’s abdominal section down to the pubis; now an extended Y-shaped opening. He did it in a very short time, like he was just stripping a negative film on a master flat. He had done it a hundred times, and, if there had been a course for it, he must have mastered the practice already.
Denden shut his eyes. In the sultry room, he could smell the overwhelming odor of fresh blood and raw meat and dread, unpleasant and disturbing, condensing in the air. He almost retched, but fought it back.
The man whistled, shooting air between his teeth. He pried open Kanuto’s ribcage by a U-shaped medical instrument. It held the sternum, widely spread, as he pushed his hand into the poor boy’s chest, delicately fumbling for the heart, and then finally raised it up. It looked like a bloody rubber mango.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he told Denden.
Denden, with escalating trepidation, did say nothing, and eyes were still close.
He put down the heart on a small stainless plate.
“I’m done with the heart, next the intestines,” the role-playing-surgeon-crazy-heavyset man said, wanting Denden updated.
Denden drove away what he had heard, but another movie scene flickered in his head. The perpetrator in the scene had the same instrument the heavyset man had showed him. It was very familiar to him.
“That’s a scalpel,” the DVD-vendor informed him.
He saw that one on a small TV overtly showing a cannibal elitist who squarely cuts a skin from his male victim’s leg (strapped on the gurney) and puts it on a plate, eats it, and sips wine, like a gourmet in a cooking show. He couldn’t remember if it was the prequel or the sequel, but he was certain it was Hostel.
He believed he could escape, despite that he was now helpless and a loony was just a meter away from him, doing a harrowing ritual to his friend. Tears began to swell up his shut eyes.
“Hey, shut up, monkey!” a voice came over: Dandreb’s.
“Pre, I’m done here,” the heavyset man complained. “Do your chore now.”
“I know my part here, Vic. Keep your hole zipped or I’ll stack it with that boy’s guts,” snarled Dandreb.
Denden mistakenly thought a battle was going to flare up.
Now, after many hours of pointless conversation through eye-communication, the heavyset man’s identity had been revealed: Vic, the fatso who got nutso after a kiddo had spat on his face.
“And. Never. Give. Me. Orders. You dig it?” Dandreb said, pushing past Vic to the table.
Denden opened his eyes. He watched how Dandreb firmly expanded Kanuto’s dissection, opening it like a purse. He brought the intestines and the spleen out of the fleshy abdomen very gently, cut them and let them slithered through his fingers as they snaked down, piling up at the bottom of a small aluminum bucket. The table pooled with clotting blood; rivulets of scarlet streaking down the legs of the table. At the edges, blood and water dripped, turning the white floor into puddles of fresh human gore, glistening in brilliant red.
Denden never noticed that tears were rolling down his face, all he knew was that relenting for his friend would not help him out of this place.
Vic passed Dandreb a canvas knapsack. It was tied with very intricate knots. He tried to untie it with his blood-bathed hand but he failed.
Vic held out a cutter to make the job quicker and less complicated. Dandreb took it. Once the knapsack was untied, Dandreb roughly tipped out black plastic packets the size of a cassette tape. They dropped onto the table and onto the floor.
“Shabu, boy, Shabu,” Dandreb proudly displayed it between his fingers before Denden’s adjusted eyes.
With Vic’s help, they stuffed the dead boy’s opened body with the packets of methamphetamine hydrochloride. After feeding the packets in, Dandreb produced a needle and a thread, then ran a series of distant stitches on the Y-shaped incision.
Denden witnessed how Kanuto was ruined by these giant butchers, and true horror was approaching him.
Rigid and stunned, Denden watched them scooping out his friend’s eyes. The corneas, souped with blood, rolled down inside the empty jar.
They stored the jar in a huge Tupperware cooler.
What will happen to the body after this?
Will they give Kanuto a decent send-off?
Or feed him to the crocodiles in Manila Zoo?
“And these are for selling, kid. Rich people but vision-deprived desire these. And you’re chosen to share yours later,” Vic told Denden, like a prophet muttering an unbelievable incantation. He laughed a fiendish laugh, as if succeeded in deceiving an angel to eat a devil’s horn.
In the presence of inexplicable atrocity of this hellish fate, Denden, terrified and shocked, passed out.
Coldness pricked him. He stirred, dragged back to reality. Now, in wakefulness, he felt grateful to the chilled table. He was naked to the waist. The syringe buried in his shorts was still there, untouched. This was the only weapon he possessed.
Maybe it could help.
His arms were not locked anymore; his feet were free from the shackles and heavy chains.
“Wake up, little toothy,” Vic’s voice rang. He was looking down at him. “Just cooperate and you will feel no pain.”
He turned and prepared the instruments he would need. Turning his back to Denden, he never thought the kid was about to attack him.
Denden slowly released the syringe, still full of whatever reagent inside its container. The needle glinted in the dim light, perfectly pointed. He was weakening and losing half of his energy, but still determined that he could do it.
In a quick one sway of an arm, he poked the fat man’s leg.
Vic screamed, jolted and stupefied by the great pain. His right jean darkened as the thrusting moved deeper and it bled, forming a round black blotch. He staggered, one leg becoming numb. The chemical immediately ran through his leg, reacting so fast it made his leg paralyzed and insensible. He downed on his knees. Without sensitivity, he crashed to the hard floor.
Denden heaved up and set himself. He fell to the floor, clambered to its cold surface. His leg jerked the bucket down, and blood spilled on the floor. At the sight of its grossness, a cold clammy feeling stirred his bowels and urged him to vacate them. Stinking blood and water attached to his skin. He tottered. His vision propelled, turning round and round. Nausea crossed his head in a fierce move like an arrow through his skull. Everything swirled. He almost fainted but fortunately took a few steps.
A hand grabbed Denden’s leg.
“You can’t run from me, dirty monkey!” Vic roared.
“ULOL!” Denden shouted. He kicked a leg out, shattering the man’s nose. He heard it crack and blood smeared around the mouth.
Denden exited the room.
The house was empty, nobody was home: no Dandreb, no Tonyo. He looked for Bukoy, but he was nowhere. He feared Bukoy was as cold as Kanuto was now.
Afraid and alone, he cried. He snuffled. No one was going to help him. He rubbed his eyes. Dirt and salty tears collided to mud his face. Long black dirt smudged. He could barely breathe.
Then he heard clamors from the room.
Vic, now up, was on his way to catch him. Metals clanked in the same room.
Out in the yard it was dusk, the sun poured fiery orange to the clouds and bruises to the sky. He gave the house one last glance and was amazed by the spectacular dance of the Christmas lights.
The gate was padlocked, and the wall was too high, must be eight-foot tall wall.
Vic was banging on the door.
Denden willed himself to climb the wall. As he started ascending the wall, a dog barked on his side. It was chained to a santol tree. It threw its body against the length of the chain. Great strings of saliva drooled from its mouth. The tip of the muzzle glazed with sweat-beads. It made other dogs from farther neighbors bark, too. It snapped on his shorts. Fortunately, it was just the hem the dog had bitten off.
He climbed up and Fatso Vic recklessly rushed out of the door. Denden jumped off. He landed on the droughty earth. “You are heading nowhere!” Vic hollered.
The van came rolling down the unpaved road. Motes formed into a cloud as the car steered off. Then it stopped and the side doors were thrown open. Tonyo and Dandreb emerged, and they sprinted towards Denden.
He glanced back at the ICE FOR SALE sign on the gate, stared at it for almost quarter a minute, and, as if having a delusion, the phrase EYES FOR SALE sprang out.
An intense apprehension had scuttled up his spine, locking his knees. Tears burst from a correlation of fear and relent to his friend.
And the chase began.
Hilly plains and lush vegetations were laid down beyond the clusters of trees on roadsides. Tall grasses were gorging the boughs of the lower trees in limited height. Cool wind flogged Denden’s face as he jogged on constant speed, and horrible odor of farm wastes was wafting around.
The ruthless bastards were still after him. Vic was now with them. They broke through the lonely country road, concealing the cat-and-mouse game they had been doing.
The sun finally drained its last thin light when Denden stumbled in front of a checkpoint cabin. Tonyo angled up an arm, stopping his compadres. They slowed down and strolled.
How foolish they didn’t ride the van!
Denden, tired and exhausted, despised his churning stomach. He needed to lubricate his throat. He was panting and his bare soles were blistered.
He knocked. Nobody answered. Then he rapped on the door, harder this time, and yelled. A policeman darted out from the tall grasses behind the cabin.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” the policeman said.
“Please…let me in…please,” Denden said, gasping.
The man looked at Denden, reluctant, deciding.
“Okay, go in.” The policeman clutched the knob and twisted it. He let the boy in.
“Now, relax.” He handed the boy a cup of water. “Tell me what happened.”
“Those men.” He pointed out the window and pertained Tonyo, Dandreb, and Vic who were resting on the hot macadam, recovering strength, looking back to Denden like a high-school lover waiting for his girlfriend’s class to be dismissed.
“They’re going to kill me. They killed my friends and sure I’m the next. Please, help me, sir.”
The policeman stared out the cabin’s window. He looked at them.
His voice sent chill to Denden.
Denden looked at the policeman.
The policeman, sweet and kind according to his eyes, grinned to the butchers outside. He winked at them and said, “That’s a negative, boy. Nobody’s gonna help you.”
Denden shuddered, and then closed his eyes.