I haven’t written a short story for several weeks because I was busy with my writing gigs. I told my clients that I don’t work on the weekends. So here I am, doing absolutely nothing. When I am not trying to be logical (like at work), I just let my mind wander while doing menial tasks at home; that’s when the stories come.
A mental image of a lady dressed in black, complete with a veil, flashed in my mind. And all I knew was that she was a housekeeper who was a bit odd. Sometimes the stories come as an image or as a short video clip. And sometimes they come accompanied by words. In this case, the mental image of the lady came with the incomplete sentence: “Down in the deep south, where magic runs deep and witchcraft is considered a currency–.” And usually, I incorporate these sentences into the story. Sometimes I use them in the opening paragraph to start the story, and then I watch it unravel.
Down in the deep south, where magic runs deep and witchcraft is considered a currency, our housekeeper hails from. The day she arrived, she came in smelling of sweat–her rigid straight-cut fringe plastered on her wet forehead–while hauling three huge canvass bags. She was given the room near the kitchen. She never spoke much; she just went about her day minding her chores. When we talk to her, she only answers “yes” or “no” and then smiles a smile that never really reaches her eyes.
She’s the first one to rise at dawn to prepare breakfast. Throughout the day, when my parents go to work and I go to school, she cleans the house and prepares our food. She’s not like those other helpers who lounge around when their employers are not at home.
At dusk, she goes outside to feed a bird in our backyard. As far as I know, there has never been a bird in our backyard. We don’t even own any pets.
One day, after arriving from school, I saw her on my bedroom window. There was a black Drongo-Cuckoo balancing on her index finger while she was whispering something to it. I pressed my ear harder on the window screen so I could hear but she was too far. And as if someone snapped her neck sideways, she looked dead-straight at me with her bulging eyes and her frizzy, curly hair in disarray. I got scared with how she looked that I crouched under the window and sat underneath it. I waited for her footsteps to go back to the house before I stood. But I never heard her footsteps as I sat there waiting. After a while, I heard her breathing on the window above me.
I tried not to make a sound so she wouldn’t hear me, but the pounding on my chest was too loud in my ears. After what seemed like a long time, I can still hear her breathing on the window just above me. I can hear her shallow breathing coming in and out of her nostrils. In and out the nostrils so quickly that it seems like it never reaches her lungs.
I got curious if it were really her by the window that I slowly, without making a sound, took my compact powder from my school bag. I opened it cautiously and carefully adjusted it to reflect the window above me. I shouted a piercing scream with what I saw in the mirror: her face was leaning hard into the window screen that her nose was slightly askew; her bloodshot bulging eyes looking directly at me like she can see me all this time.
I hurled my compact powder across the room and ran for the door. I twisted the knob but it won’t open. I tried again and it swung open. I gave out a weak cry for there she was, standing on the threshold with her smile that never really reaches her eyes.
“Why are you shouting?” She asked me with her odd smile. I looked at her almost gray, bulging eyes and sent a shiver down my spine. When I saw that she was about to enter my room, I quickly put my arm on the door frame.
“Don’t ever go into my room,” I told her in a rather high voice, not out of anger but more out of fear. After hearing what I said, her eerie smile quickly changed into a long expressionless face. She turned towards the kitchen, where she stayed until it was time for bed.
That night, I was woken up from my sleep by a bird cawing on my window. I opened my eyes to a darkened room. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, a lady garbed in a black dress and a veil on her head stood in front of the window by the foot of my bed. The same window that our housekeeper leaned her face in. She just stood there motionless; then my eyelids suddenly felt heavy and I fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up late for class the next morning, and I was pissed for the rest of the day. When I got back home from school, I saw her again in our backyard. She was surrounded in a semi-circle by birds like a sort of a preacher preaching to her congregation. I went to our backyard to see more clearly, to check if my eyes weren’t fooling me.
I went out and the strong winds felt wet like a storm is coming. The sky darkened. The once light and airy clouds turned gray and heavy with rain. As I went closer, I saw all kinds of birds perched on our wall fence, the tree branches, and the clothesline. She was speaking gibberish while the birds stayed where they are. The birds didn’t fly off to find shelter for the coming storm. They stood there defiantly like infantry awaiting orders.
The wind began to pick up its pace. It began to howl like a lost person’s whistle, blowing frantically to be found. I had to shield my face from the force of the wind. I looked at them and they were all still in place. She and the birds stood motionless, except for her old granny dress that kept flailing in the wind.
She took off her granny dress, probably bothered by it, and she was suddenly stark naked in the middle of our backyard. The strong wind–as if a supporting character in this strange act–whisked the granny dress away. Meanwhile, the birds looked on with their dark beady eyes. I saw the green veins and burst capillaries just beneath her pale saggy skin. And her body was covered with bruises in various stages of healing and colors: dark brown, light brown, green, and yellow.
Her shoulder blades became larger and larger until they burst out of her skin. As the rest of her bones burst out of her skin, she let out a wail. Still, the birds looked on, unperturbed by the howling wind that brought a little rain with it. The rain’s going to come down any minute now, I thought.
Before her transformation reached her head, she turned half-way towards me and looked at me. She smiled her smile that never reaches her eyes. After a few more bone-crunching minutes, she stood in the middle of our backyard as a human-sized bird. She flapped her wings once and I was thrown a few meters back and the wind knocked out of me.
As I lay there on the grass, I saw her take flight and the rest of the avian group followed. Every flap of her wings was like the force of a punch. Then the heavy rain started pouring. It rained for eight hours and the wind never subsided. I never slept that night; I stayed on guard against the typhoon and against something else that I couldn’t quite explain.
Meteorologists said it was the strongest storm of the year. There was no warning because they didn’t see it coming on their radar. It just appeared out of nowhere. It decimated our town and other surrounding towns and cities. There were flooding and landslides; a lot of people died. Everything was flattened around the radius of the house, but our house remained standing. It was as if the eye of the storm was directly on top of our house. And instead of it moving sideways, it moved upwards.
Two days after what I’ve witnessed, I heard a cawing outside my window again. I sleepily but quickly turned on my night light and listened while I rested my body weight sideways on my elbow. Then I heard that familiar shallow breathing again. In and out the nostrils so quickly that it seems like it never reaches the lungs. I froze as I thought that she’s by the window again. Leaning her face in so hard that it skews her nose. I slowly turned sideways to look at the window and my heart plummeted to the floor. I realized she wasn’t by the window as I felt her breath on the crook of my neck. I turned towards the other side of the bed and she was behind me smiling, her smile that never reaches her bulging eyes.