By Vince Torres
While he supposed there was no harm in following the superstition of pagpag, which meant not going home directly after attending a wake to shake off any spirits that might have followed, what Kyle really believed in was not going back to the dorm hungry. He had spent the typhoon-ravaged evening staring at Alvin’s closed brown metal casket, and avoiding the graduation photo that had frozen his former best friend’s lopsided grin for all time. Sopas and pansit guisado were available, but Kyle didn’t feel like eating in the cold, stuffy funeral chapel. As he sat through various retellings of how Alvin fell headfirst from their apartment building’s roof, Kyle fought back his tears and tried not to wonder if it really was an accident. By the time he left the wake, he was weary and in need of a hot meal.
On his way out of Graceland Memorial Chapels, he saw the small restaurant called Goto Paradise at the other side of Araneta Avenue. Although the establishment turned out to be dated and dingy, Kyle supposed the presence of other customers meant the food was safe to eat. He picked an empty table beside a window, and found the worn chair friendlier on the ass than Graceland’s wooden benches. When his order arrived, he was pleased that the large steaming bowl of goto had chicharon bits along with green onions and toasted garlic, and a whole boiled egg swam with the thick slices of tripe—all for less than what a cup of watery lugaw would cost on campus. This was probably the secret to the restaurant’s longevity.
Kyle picked up a spoon and stirred the goto a bit. When this released more steam, he knew that trying to eat it now would only scald his mouth. He left the spoon in the bowl, and turned towards the window just in time to see the weather worsen. Torrential rain obscured Graceland, swept across the road in vast sheets, and spattered against the glass.
The flash of lightning made Kyle blink. Thunder rattled the window beside him. An instant later, when a power failure plunged the restaurant into darkness, Kyle gasped. He immediately felt like an idiot because no one else made a sound. Not even the solitary old woman at the next table.
He glanced towards the old woman’s table, and saw silhouettes occupying all four chairs around it. A trick of the dark, he thought.
He pulled out his phone, but stuck it back into his pocket when he saw the battery had died. As he waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, Kyle had the uneasy feeling that the restaurant was larger somehow, and had more customers than he initially thought. He glanced towards the old woman’s table, and saw silhouettes occupying all four chairs around it. A trick of the dark, he thought, and hoped that someone would soon be around with a candle. He turned his attention back to the bowl, raised a spoonful of goto to his lips. And realized he couldn’t remember who had brought the order to him.
A passing car briefly illuminated the window-side table before his own. For a moment, Kyle saw the faces of those seated around it. Pale. Expressionless. Their mouths opened and closed in a manner that indicated they were talking slowly, too slowly, but made no sound.
“Fuck.” Kyle dropped the spoon. It bounced off the table and clattered somewhere in the blackness beneath that wafted the smell of candle smoke and damp, rotting flowers. Kyle stayed in the chair, terrified to move, unsure what to do. It was the clammy touch on his ankle that made him jump out of the seat. He ran past the tables of the dead, and yanked open the restaurant’s door.
Just beyond the doorway, something stood waiting in the rain. It didn’t have much of a face left. The top of its head was gone, shattered from the cheekbones up. Where its nose had been was a gaping, bloody mess. Although some of its teeth were missing, there was no mistaking Alvin’s lopsided grin.
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