Chemical Manila 6

Friday, November 14, 2008

The fog became thicker as we went higher up the winding road leading to the observatory. I could hear the labored breathing of Toffee running alongside me. My feet were begging to stop, each impact from the asphalt made my entire leg throb. Behind us, I heard the footfalls of our classmates. I didn't understand why we should run away from them, but the whisperings of death in the evening air was enough to trigger my survival instincts.

I remember as a kid, I used to play tag with my friends during lunchbreaks. I was never the fastest kid in class, though I wasn't an easy target either. I would feint, dash, dart with my fancy footwork and I always loved the distracted reaction on the faces of whoever chased me. Eventually, I tired out and had to let myself get caught. Those were good memories.

This time, however, I just didn't feel like I wanted to give up. The footfalls behind us were getting louder and I felt that a hand would pull me back any moment, yelling a blood-curdling "You're it!", but part of me wished it would never happen. I wasn't a child anymore and I knew this wasn't a game.

The road began to curve again, turning towards some taller shrubberies in front of tall canopies of tries. For a second, I thought I saw a glint of light. Then two. I blinked twice and found them gone.

"Get down!" I heard a voice coming from the woods to our right. Were they talking to us? I asked myself. But before I could think any more of it, I felt Toffee's heavy hand pushing behind my head. I tripped my left leg, lost my balance, and felt myself crash into the hard road.

Just as I landed, the woods head lit up with white flashes of light. I spent a second thinking they were beautiful, at least until I heard what sounded like fists punching hollow wood, again and again. The scent of gunpowder started mixing with the mountain fog crept in, and I found it even harder to breath. I tried to push myself up but an arm kept me down the whole time - Toffee's arm. I rolled to my side and saw her. She was looking behind, where I also saw the bodies of those who were chasing us get pushed back, cloth and skin being blown apart each step backward. I watched how one by one they fell, motionless, bodies smoking in the cool evening air. Stench followed, and I would have vomited once again had my stomach not been empty at that time.

"Cease fire!" a feminine voice from the woods echoed around the silenced road. I tried to get up, but Toffee's arm still kept pushing down. It was shaking, and only then did I realize she was no less scared than me. I braced myself for the worst.

Footsteps crunched the soil covering the side of the road. I saw vaguely combat boots and cargo pants, but I couldn't make anything out because I felt blinded by the flashes I saw earlier. "Are you guys okay?" the same voice asked us. I coughed trying to talk; my throat felt really dry. I nodded, even as I lay in the ground.

"You can get up now," I felt strong but delicate hands lift me from by the shoulders. I winced and my vision became slightly clearer. I thought I was hallucinating at the time, but I saw a blonde lady who liked like a foreigner. Her hair was pulled back into a knot and her left ear was missing. I stared at it for a few moments and then saw her smiling at me. I felt ashamed but it didn't seem to bother her.

"That was a really close call you had back there. Almost got me worried, I say," she spoke in accented Engligh. She helped Toffee up, and Toffee, upon seeing her, jumped into her arms. "Madrina!" I heard her cry out.

They knew each other? It certainly looked like it. I looked at my surroundings once again. A team of soldiers had come out of the woods in full camo, seemingly scouting the area for something. One of them poured gasoline on the bodies of our classmates and set them on fire with a match stick - the same thing that they did an afternoon earlier.

I began to recall what had happened the whole day and felt my heart sink. I saw one soldier and he had a nonchalant look about his face. Anger welled up inside me. I tried to hide it, but I just couldn't.

"Murderers! Why did you shoot our classmates!" I screamed. "Why are you burning their bodies! Is it not enough that you killed them?!" There was silence all around, and the soldier who I was addressing did not speak either. Rather, I almost saw a hint of a pained expression he kept on hiding with a poker face. I hated even that. Hypocrisy.

The lady who was with Toffee walked towards me. I waited what she would say, but before I even heard anything I felt my face fly to the side, with the cold sting of a slap landing on my cheek. "Get yourself together! There is a perfectly good reason for everything."

The shock had silenced me, and I felt my world spinning. The lady started talking, but I couldn't make out much of what she had said. "We should get moving," was the last thing that she mentioned, and that part I got. "If you don't want to hang out with murderers, feel free to turn back, kid," she said with a sarcastic, serious tone. Toffee was silent all this time, standing close to the woman. I almost felt betrayed. I couldn't make things make sense, the way I liked it.

Rationality was of scarcity that night.

I moved up the mountain road with them anyway.

At one point we passed through an overlook. A signboard said "San Juanito 23km" was posted by the entrance. We stopped there to rest. The foreign woman walked toward me and grabbed my arm. She dragged me to near the edge of the road where I saw a darkened sea of trees beneath us and bright embers by the distance.

"Do you see those fires?" she asked me. Smoke billowed out from them, and even with the night sky I saw them clearly. "The Infection has gotten that far and what you see is the destruction it leaves in its wake."

Infection. It was the first time I heard of that word that day. What was she talking about? I indulged in my ignorance. "Who cares? How does some weird sickness justify the actions of these murderers today?! And why do I have to see a bunch of forest fires?" I saw surprise in her face, as though I was missing something big. I looked at the other soldiers and they had the same reaction.

"Those used to be the towns of San Juan, San Jose, and De La Peña," the woman said. "Thousands of people used to live in those places."

I looked at the fires burning at the distance. They didn't look so distant anymore. I can almost hear the agonized screams of those people the woman had mentioned.

I felt faint, like I wanted to just fall over and fade away.

The world had ended that night and I didn't even know it had already happened.


Anonymous said...

I think the last sentence would be better this way:

The world had ended that night and I didn't even know it already did.

or something like that.

very nice series, jet-kinoko =)

Anonymous said...

Hello anon!

I think your suggestion would be better this way:

The world had ended that night and I didn't even know it already [/i]had[/i].


Anonymous said...

hello to you, too, anon.

yes, that's right.

anyway, it's just a minor detail. hope you get to update this often, jet. =)

Menaya Garces said...

The story just pulls you in deeper.


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