Home ->Catacutan ->3 In the Watches of the Nigh

 My eyes no longer have sands, but my throat does now. How my saliva tastes metallic and feels thick! It's like sucking an old coin that has been grossly disfigured and passed on through generations of sweaty palms.

Being a highly-spirited boy that I was back then in my childhood years, a playmate of mine whose name and face I no longer remember accidentally dropped a peso coin inside my mouth. The coin failed to slide down my throat because the Central Bank of the Philippines that time still prints coin that was insanely larger compared to the average size of coins today.

I will never forget the coppery taste of it and how, for a few seconds or perhaps even minutes, it clogged my airways while I kneel on the floor, rasping and gasping, my hands clasped around my neck in a death grip. The hysterical scream of my playmate as she cries for help only made my situation far worse than it already was. Made my dawning realization about my own mortality and seemingly approaching death all too real and dreadful.

It was a horrible near-death experience. A very close one. I thought I would finally kick the bucket. Really thought I would finally lay on a cheap coffin four days shy of my tenth birthday, stripped off the chance of any possible good life still ahead of me. I was young. I did not want to die. Death was a horrible idea to me. Death and the process of dying was unacceptable. Unimaginable.

Until I took the blinders off and saw the world of what it truly is: Cold, ugly, unfair, meaningless, purposeless, barren, void of any real value and ultimate justice.

Death is not a bad thing. Not at all. It is a precious gift given by Father and Mother Universe.

It is the only way out.


I wish that coin did kill me. Being choked to death seems more poetic and honorable than to die of loneliness and starvation. At least I'll die with dignity and my sanity intact.

It will be a good death.

"Push! Move! Sales!"

In the sea of our voices that floods the four corners of this dreary room, the high-pitched yet mighty voice of Helga stands as the strong cataclysmic wind that constantly blows and pushes us to become gigantic monster waves. Oh, how Helga loves to push! Her air of superiority never ceases to amaze me.

Dangling silently above the ceiling, bunch of yellow pumpkins grin devilishly at me. The gaping holes around their glossy surface serving as their eyes, noses, and mouths glow blood red in contrast to the pale green light of the fluorescent bulbs. The pumpkins are slightly swinging on their strings like bunches of over-sized pendulums. They can also feel the torrent of air coming from a storm named Helga. I can't prove it, but I know what I know.

"Energy, guys. Push. Sales. There are only ten of you dialing for tonight. Give me your very best shots. We need sales. Push."

The water dispenser silently stands on the left side near the closed bathroom door only a couple of feet away from me. Underneath one of the faucets that has bright letters plastered above it that says Hot in brilliant red, shapeless white ghosts float from the half-empty glass.

Beneath the dispenser, sitting on the floor and leaning its back against the yellow bricked wall, is a furry brown Teddy bear the size of an average twelve year-old kid. It is facing sideways, on its right, and that's weird, actually. Where would one see a gigantic stuffed toy that faces sideway? So weird, as if it doesn't want to look at me. It just doesn't make any sense. None at all. Helga must have put it in there for some unknown yet stupid reason. To insult me? I don't know. Perhaps-

The two swivel chairs in my left are both vacant as well as on my right. The five stations behind me remain untouched. The headsets and mice are still in their right places. Undisturbed. So why is it that I feel like being watched? Like someone is staring at me from somewhere in this dimly-lit room?

Our eyes meet.

On the far corner beside the tall Grandfather Clock lies a hulking figure clad in thick robe as black as charcoal. A gloved hand gripping a silver switchblade protrudes from under its left sleeve. On top of the robe, a glistening ivory skull stares at me with its hollowed eye sockets, a sunken grin plastering its outstretched lips bombarded with ragged rows of big teeth. Behind it and the Clock, the window momentarily glows bright blue. A deep rumbles echoe from a distant.

Yeah, Fyodor. You are being watched by Ghostface. Or perhaps by those jack-o-lanterns hanging up above the ceiling. Maybe the bearded Skydaddy is monitoring you right now through His Divine Spy Camera in the sky. Who knows? You know that I can go all day but the point is, get a grip! No more coffee for you.

"Hello, who's calling, please?" Kirk has a very deep and authoritative voice. He sounds like Morgan Freeman. He must be a CEO in one of those towering skyscrapers in New York.

"Hi, Kirk. My name is Michael. I'm-"

The line goes dead, followed by a monotonous hissing sound.

"Guys, we're not in Divisoria. I said be energetic, not to shout!"

The swarms of voice lower down.

"Hello?" Sandra's voice is quivering, as if she's crying or perhaps cutting an onion. She sounds gloomy, like she carries the whole world upon her shoulder. Poor woman. Perhaps she's worried that her car's not insured. I can help her. "Who is this?"

"Hi, there, Sandra. My name is-"

"Whoever you are, don't call again."

"Sandra, I-"

Dead line.

"Push, guys! Push! The first one to set an appointment shall receive a hundred pesos straight from my pocket. On the spot. So what are you waiting for? Make a sale. Push!

"Now what, guys? None of you still got sales? Dang! The hour grows late. Push! Sales!


The other end of the line keeps ringing. I push the HANG UP button on my ViciDial and then the NO ANSWER button.

The calls are queuing.

My lips tremble.

My nape belongs to a corpse. The skin against my palm feels alien. Like I am caressing a nape which doesn't belong to me at all but to someone else. The numbness is too overwhelming. My hand lands on my left arm. The rolls of toilet paper that are meticulously wrapped around it also feels cold, and that's reasonable enough since we're being bombarded by the chill air coming from those two aircons embedded on the walls. But the coldness in my nape doesn't seem right. It seems-

It's all right, Fyodor. It's the aircon, though it's weird. Considering your body doesn't tolerate hot environment and all, cold places should be in your to-be-in list. I think your silly outfit is mainly to blame. Forgive me for saying this, but it doesn't suit you well. Not at all.

True, and I'm not expecting to win that silly Monster of the Year, anyway. I'm far from being called a scary mummy. On the contrary, I look like a guy who has unwittingly scalded himself on a drum of boiling oil and now suffering from a third degree burn just like Freddy Krueger.

It's all right, Fyodor. There's nothing wrong in taking chance. Life is a game of faith and luck, after all. Have faith first. The trust part comes later. And...goodluck!

I will never win. My chance of winning is one out of one hundred.

One percent chance is still a chance, Fyodor. Besides, having yourself burned from your chest down is so scary, don't you think? I think it does.

My fingers grasping the mouse crunch as I move them, bones screaming and sending electrical jolts of pain around my wrist to my arm. My veins feel like they're going to explode.

It's the frigid air, Fyodor. The coldness around here is...killing you!

Clenching my teeth, I resist an urge to yelp.

I pause the ViciDial and open my Skype. My eyes search for Sharon's profile. She's online, thank goodness. With my shaking finger, I start typing on the keyboard.

Catacutan_Michael_Agent: Sharon, turn off the aircon.

Without a second's thought, I press the ENTER piece as quickly as I can.

Catacutan_Sharon_OM: (typing)

There is a shard of ice inside my stomach. Cold smoke floats their way up to my already soaring and itching throat. My nose starts to itch, too, and I can already feel those sticky mucuses sliding their way out from my nostrils. A silent moan escapes from my lips.

Catacutan_Sharon_OM: But I already turned it off five minutes ago.

True. The distant humming of the aircons can no longer be heard saved by the whirring of the motor from the fan above me which is slightly off-center, creaking back and forth as if it's going to fall off any moment now and crash on me.

Catacutan_Sharon_OM: Are you cold?

Cold? No, Sharon. I'm freezing!

Catacutan_Michael_Agent: Yes.

Catacutan_Sharon_OM: Put on your jacket then. And, please, Fyodor, resume your call. Helga might catch you.

Shivering, I resume the ViciDial.

My jaws are clenching, my teeth chattering. The sounds they make as they hit each other are way too loud beneath my numbing ears.

A wisp of white smoke floats out from my gaping mouth, spreads in the open space before me, and then dissipates in thin air in a split-second. My mouth and nose tingle from within, as if tiny insects, with their miniscule wings, feet, and all, are swarming in there, scraping and digging at my flesh.