Philippine Speculative Fiction

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Andrew: This one’s for Papa Ed, for all the stories.

 

Charles: Dedicated to Ruby Katigbak, Isabel Yap, and Alyssa Wong.

Table of Contents

 

 

Introduction

 

 

Blood of Iron
by Christian Renz Torres

Panopticon
by Victor Ocampo

First Play for and by Tikbalang Triggers Uproar on Opening Night
by Vida Cruz

Only Dogs Piss Here
by Michael Aaron Gomez

Last Race
by Jenny Ortuoste

Oscar’s Marvelous Transformation
by Kat Del Rosario

Stations of the Apostate
by Alexander M. Osias

Sikat
by William Robert Yasi

Deliver Us
by Eliza Victoria

Miracles Under a Concrete
Sky
by Franz Johann Dela Merced

The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso
by Kate Osias

The Woodsman
by Cedric Tan

And These Were the Names of the Vanished
by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Anthropomorpha
by Crystal Koo

Sofia
by Marianne Villanueva

Transcripts from the Investigation on the Life and Death of Alastor de Roja
by Vincent Michael Simbulan

TG2416 from Mars
by Nikki Alfar

Mater Dolorosa
by Marc Gregory Yu

Scissor Tongue
by Elyss Punsalan

Cogito
by AJ Elicaño

 

 

About the Editors

Introduction

 

I.  Passing the Torch

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade now. Back in 2005, the launch of
Philippine Speculative Fiction
Volume 1 was celebrated in Manila by a
humble group of writers, friends and family. Back then, Andrew Drilon was the youngest contributor, while Charles Tan did not even qualify. As a publishing venture, the book itself was a stab in
the dark because the audience for these kinds of stories was unknown. “Speculative fiction” was an unfamiliar term in our schools and bookstores, where social realism was the dominant
mode of Filipino literary fiction. The local pool of speculative fiction writers appeared small, and this anthology seemed to be the only venue for the “literature of the
fantastic”.

Philippine Speculative Fiction
has evolved since then. As the torrent of submissions grew with each volume, a co-editor was added to help with the heavy lifting. The series shifted to a
digital format, which allowed it to reach more readers here and abroad. A rotation of editorial duties was instituted to allow different perspectives to influence and expand on the voice of this
anthology, which resulted in some of the most interesting and diverse volumes in the series. New writers were discovered, many of whom continue to impress with new stories today, not just in this
series, but in various other publications, speculative-fiction-themed and otherwise.

Nine years later,
Philippine Speculative Fiction
is still alive and stronger than ever.

 

II.  Publications & Recognitions

2013 saw the welcome migration of three online speculative fiction anthologies to print publication:
Disapora Ad Astra
edited by Emil M. Flores and Joseph Frederic F.
Nacino (The University of the Philippines Press),
The Farthest Shore
edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Joseph Frederic F. Nacino (The University of the Philippines Press), and
Demons of
the New Year
edited by Karl R. De Mesa and Joseph Frederic F. Nacino (The University of the Philippines Press).

New work published in 2013 include the excellent anthologies
Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults
(The University of the Philippines Press) edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Kenneth
Yu and
The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005 – 2010
edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar (The University of the Philippines Press for print, Flipside Publishing for
eBooks); the collection
Now, Then, and Elsewhen
by Nikki Alfar (UST Publishing House); the novel
Project 17
by Eliza Victoria (Visprint, Inc.); the Filipino novels
Di Lang
Anghel
by U.Z. Eliserio (Flipside Publishing),
Epiko
by U.Z. Eliserio,
Takbo, Zombie, Takbo
by U.Z. Eliserio (Flipside Publishing), and
Bayaning Lamanlupa
by U.Z.
Eliserio (Flipside Publishing).

The Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop accepted two students of Filipino descent in 2013: Alyssa Wong and Isabel Yap. 2014 will include Vida Cruz. In previous years,
Filipino Clarion alumni include Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Ruby Katigbak.

In 2013, “Song of the Body Cartographer” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (
Philippine Genre Stories
) was a finalist under the short story category of the 2012 BSFA Awards, while
Crystal Koo was the first place winner in the Adult Category of the Hong Kong Top Story Competition.

It was announced in 2013 that two novels by Filipino authors would be published in the US:
The Forever Watch
by David Ramirez (Thomas Dunne Books) and
The Girl from the Well
by
Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire). Both saw release this year.

 

III.  In this Volume

For this ninth volume of
Philippine Speculative Fiction
, we decided to focus on the ‘Philippine’ aspect of the equation, challenging our contributors to
‘feature a strong Filipino element’ in their speculative stories, with the caveat that this preference could be overturned by exceptionally well-written pieces. This narrowing of
parameters, rather than limiting the scope of stories, seems to have encouraged a plethora of spectacular submissions with greatly varying styles, tones and concerns. We’ve selected the best
among them for this volume.

What follows next are twenty stories, all but one of which are original to this anthology, with an even split of stories between male and female writers. We are happy to note that—while we
have ten wonderful stories by returning authors—half the stories in this volume are by authors who are new to the
Philippine Speculative Fiction
series. Especially for those among
them who are first-time authors, we hope that this is just the beginning, and look forward to reading their future works.

In the meantime, we would like to thank everyone who answered our call for submissions (your stories were lovingly reviewed, hotly debated and deeply appreciated), our publishers for their
immense and unwavering support of this series, and most of all you, dear reader, for keeping the flame of speculative fiction alive. Turn the page and watch it burn bright.

Andrew Drilon & Charles Tan

Manila, 2014

Renz Christian Torres

 

Blood of Iron

 

Christian Renz Torres. Dumaguete native. Jack of all trades. If he couldn’t sell himself to the Underworld AKA the corporate world as his accounting course
would suggest, he would rather learn how to write.

UNDER THE SHADE of thick
narra
, I wait. It has been a listless morning. No game is in sight. I had lost my spear trying to fight a boar six days ago, and the boar had
won that battle, taking with it as trophy my hand-carved spear.

I squat in the bush, bow in hand, hungry.

Sometimes being a hunter for the village has its easy days. Sometimes the gods would hand you a deer which strayed straight into your eye line ready for the taking. A hunter, however, has to
train, and one skill a hunter must learn is to wait.

So I wait. The day is hot. Beads of sweat trail down the muscles of my brow. I ignore the ravenous sound of my hunger, and the sensation of heat on my skin. The absence of mountain wind has made
the day less bearable. As I let slack my loaded bowstring, I see a bird fly out from the canopies. I feel instinct take over, and I shoot the bird right out of the hands of Kaptan, king of the sky.
The bird plummets like a fallen star into a nearby clearing. I creep up to it, waving away the unseen with my bow, swinging it here and there to scare what is hidden in the grass. I see the arrow
standing out like a reed in the clearing. I walk to it, dagger in hand.

What I find is not an animal I have been taught to skin and butcher. It has dark shadows for feathers—with a sheen like how the forest reflects light when the sun embraces it. It has a
beak as dark as its wing, and a horn as tough as my arrowhead.

I remove the arrow from one wing of the fallen bird, and I watch it move with what life it has left. I do not know whether to bring it back to Kaluwalhatian.

I wonder if it is a spirit owned by the gods.

The strange bird stays on the ground in wounded docility, breathing with some difficulty in the middle of tall, swaying cogon grass. It kicks now and then, and so I tie a coil of abaca rope to
its left talon. It is then that I see, buried deep in its dark brown tail feathers, a small bamboo slate, etched and unpolished. I slide carefully my calloused thumb across the inscription, which
reads:

To whoever finds my message, please know that there is a village across the great river, and we are in need of your help. Cut out the pumping heart of a banana tree. Have
the hornbill deliver it.

 

I know this river. I have grown up by its furious banks. It is great and deep and wide, and seems to stretch with impossible endlessness to the horizon. Boats have been lost easily to its
mysterious rages. Crocodiles drown in it. The gods seem to have abandoned it. To cross the great river would require bird wings, or the sturdy leaps of magical bearcats.

I look at the bird on the ground, which seems frightened still. It darts its head around, as if driven by some peculiar need to see the high blue sky. I can see that the sky means salvation in
the bird’s eyes.

I hover my hands above its darting head—and the bird surges forward quickly, savagely, almost biting off a finger with its sharp beak. With some care, I untie the twine from the message
and coil it with some firmness around the bird’s beak. I decide to bring the bird to the village
mangkukulam
, who must know a way to nurse it back.

No way can it return to the village across the great river with a broken wing, I think.

THE NEAREST BANANA corm is not too far off. I survey the edges of the forest in search for a stalk in bloom. Old bananas lose their fervor with age. The young ones, on the
other hand, still have the vitality and passion necessary to produce a pumping heart.

The banana plant I know with a full pumping heart is the tallest one in a nearby grove, the only one for great distances around. When I come to it, it towers over me like a challenge. With every
inch I manage to scale on its spongy, slippery stalk, I imagine the anonymous faces of that unseen village across the great river. The need for a pumping banana heart—the tremendous whole of
it—means only one thing: the people of that village are dying.

I climb higher and higher, and then I see it: first, the taut green aorta of a pumping banana heart, and then, finally, its crimson body expanding and contracting with graceful power. I
carefully fasten a rope around it. Then I unsheathe my
bolo
, and I begin to carefully hack away at the stalk, with rope coiled around my torso. But the heart, once detached from the
slender body of the banana plant, begins to agitate in my hands with irregular beating, careening around incessantly, nearly bringing me to the ground. The sharp blade in my hand glistens with
mortal knowledge.

Then the heart squirms again, and then it slips away from my hand, quickly, leaving me scrambling. From the corner of my eyes, I see a familiar creature flash to action. It is sturdy and
large—easily the length of a small man’s arm—and it billows through the air with charcoal-colored fur. It catches the falling heart with sharp claws teased with caution. I catch
my breath. I feel my chest pounding like the hornbill. And then I see the banana heart lowered to safety below, on the stump of a fallen banana trunk. I close my eyes, and whisper a prayer of
thanks to the gods. Makahagad—my
binturong
, my sacred bearcat—has saved the fragile blossom.

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