The Last Midnight Game
By Joseph F. Nacino
- Turn off all the lights except for a lit candle
As she lay in bed, 13-year old Cathy couldn’t sleep. Her father had finally stopped beating her mother, and now the latter was trying to soothe the baby, Jaime, crying in the next room. Cathy slipped out the tablet from under her pillow. In the darkness, it lit up her room with a weak glow. Eventually, she heard little Jaime’s cries tapering off as her mother sang a tuneless lullaby.
- Open your window so that she can hear you
Cathy had been reading a website that listed all the collected midnight games that could be found online. The various midnight games—the rituals and the warnings, and the corresponding monsters—they all fascinated her. She didn’t know if they were true, if they were a hoax, or a little bit of both. She had tried a couple and nothing had come of it. But it made her curious to know more.
- Chant the rhyme to start the game
She found a new one, and read the instructions. This one interested her because it was in Filipino, calling on a spirit named Ineng Maria who would come if you followed the ritual. You then played a game of hide-and-seek with her, and if you won, you could make a wish. She thought that she could do a lot with a wish that came true. One wish, she thought plaintively. That’s all I want. Just one wish.
- Go to your hiding place
She followed the conditions—the open window, the lit candle, the stroke of midnight—and recited the rhyme. “Tulog na, bata. Tulog na. Wag paabutin ng umaga,” she sang quietly because she didn’t want to be heard by her parents. She finished the rhyme and then went to find a hiding place. The house was dark, but she confidently slipped out of her room and slid behind the couch in the living room.
- If you hear a whisper, find another hiding place
She heard something clicking and she peeked from behind the couch. Someone had opened the front door and his silhouette stood stark against the yellow light of the garage. She saw he held something metallic in one hand. Hearing the sound of whispering that seemed to come from one side of the living room, she jerked down behind the couch and tried to make herself as small as possible.
- Do not, by any account, fall asleep
The man entered the house, his booted footsteps loud. Cathy heard her father come out of their bedroom and exclaim, “Who the fuck are you?!” There was a flash and a loud bang! Cathy flinched but didn’t make a sound. She heard her mother shout, “Please! We won’t sell any more drugs!” Another gunshot rang out and Cathy tried not to scream. That was when Jaime started to cry again.
Someone had opened the front door and his silhouette stood stark against the yellow light of the garage.
- If she doesn’t find you at a certain time, make your wish
The man strode deeper into the house, looking for the source of the crying. When she heard the whispering behind her, she snuck out from her hiding place and tiptoed towards the kitchen. As she climbed in one of the lower cabinet that held the empty bottles and old newspaper, she knocked over a plate and it crashed onto the floor. She heard the boot steps rush towards the kitchen.
- Chant the rhyme again to end the game
She tried not to sob when she heard the steps stop outside the cabinet. She heard the whispering again and the man said, “What the…?!” Then he shrieked. Opening the cabinet door slightly to peek outside, she saw only a white figure with long black hair at the kitchen entrance. Then the figure disappeared. With Jaime’s crying in her ears, Cathy recited in a shaking voice the rhyme to close the ritual:
Tulog na, bata
Wag paabutin ng umaga.
Si Ineng Maria
Hanap mga anak nya.
Isarado ang bintana
May sumisilip na mata.
Baka mapansin ka nya.
Mga batang alaga
Ni Ineng Maria.
Tulog na, bata
Baka kunin ka ni Ineng Maria.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph F. Nacino is the primary editor of three anthologies showcasing local speculative fiction writing under his digital imprint Estranghero Press: The Farthest Shore (fantasy), Demons of the New Year (horror), and Diaspora Ad Astra (science fiction).