The Gardens of the Shadow of Death

The more graves we passed, the more we noticed the differences between what was etched on grave markers during the Spanish colonial period and the modern Filipino times. Many used Spanish words, a few French, and one each in American and Filipino—if we counted them right. A number of markers meant for children bore only their first names or nicknames.

Last Oasis

I have done what I could

An unwelcome guest has entered my home

The desert has slipped through the door

The drought is in my bones

The land thirsts

The tyrant in the sky is vigilant

Clouds are now memories

Fountains are fantasies

Night is as cruel

Burning winds, torturous and vicious

Shadows are the remaining shelter

The last oasis has vanished into the dunes

Parched is this paradise

Rocks crumble

Soon all there will be is dust and sand

I cannot stay here

Red and Orange Shadows | Like the Shakespearean Sleeping Potion

I think I just entered an Edgar Allan Poe-Vincent Price phase. And I don’t know how to explain myself. Nor do I remember what triggered it.

Maybe it’s all the references on the shows I’ve seen of late.

Anyway, yesterday I saw the 1964 version of “The Masque of the Red Death”. Without rereading the story, I thought the movie was interesting. I believe some liberties were practiced; no big deal with me. But the last scene really took me by surprise; I am almost certain that it wasn’t in the original work. I have yet to read it again.

March of the Deaths (The Masque of the Red Death, 1964)
March of the Deaths (The Masque of the Red Death, 1964)

Just before the closing credits, Red Death by other hooded figures and each one had a different color. Their march haunted me.

It proved to be so haunting that I just had to look up the symbols. So far, I have five.

  • White Death – tuberculosis
  • Yellow Death – yellow fever
  • Blue Death – cholera
  • Purple Death – puerperal infection
  • Black Death – bubonic plague

Poe’s Red Death remains a mystery. So does the Orange Death; some argue that it’s actually a different color, like gold or bronze. Nonetheless, even though the latter is revealed, the former is still shrouded in shadow—much like Master William Shakespeare’s sleeping potion that Juliet used, but that is another post.

Cherry on Top | A Good Death

“May you have a good death!”

I guess, to a great number of us, receiving that wish—despite the best of intentions—would be interpreted as morbid. And practically unheard of! Probably that’s why it would take most by surprise. Who in their right mind wishes people to have a decent demise?

Most of us wish people good days, good times, and good lives. Would it be bad to wish them one more good thing?

Every now and then, I come across stories of people who had pleasant starts as well as pleasant middles yet had unpleasant ends. And the more details I learn of their story, the sorrier I become for them.

Death is—at times—beyond human control. So is life. But despite the unpredictability of merely existing here, that doesn’t stop people from wishing others good lives. Why should that stop people from wishing others good deaths? Would you not want a passing that is as good as your living? A departure that is as decent as your arrival and stay?

In truth, that is what some of us count on. Like the cake could be ruined but the cherry could be saved.

Admittedly, I know that some people become fidgety when it comes to the subject of cessation. And it may not be any of their concerns at the moment. But, for whatever it is worth, may people have good deaths.

Death begs to differ | Daily Prompt: I Believe

For today’s prompt, tell us three things that you believe in your heart to be true. Tell us three things you believe in your heart to be false.

What I believe to be true:

  1. There’s enough love in world—it just has to find its way to the rest.
  2. There’s enough food to feed us all—we just don’t realize it.
  3. We all believe in a higher power—the time to recognize it just hasn’t arrived yet.

What I believe to be false:

  1. We are invincible. Death begs to differ.
  2. We are certain. Death knows secrets.
  3. We have always enough time. Death has a schedule.

Short of Apotheosis | Daily Prompt: Lucky Star

Today is your lucky day. You get three wishes, granted to you by The Daily Post. What are your three wishes and why?

  1. To become invulnerable
  2. A map of everything that was lost by humankind to the Earth
  3. A whole month spent with a corporeal version of Death

The first two I deem necessary to have a full experience of the last. It’s one of those nights when I just wonder and I want to wander in a different way, unlike anyone has ever done.

Hadeson | Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm)

Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.

If you suddenly found yourself switching places with a god, what would you do?

Hadeson had always thought that having supernatural powers would be cool and he’d do anything to experience them. On one night, he got his wish. For eight days, every existing life on Earth was now in his temporarily immortal hands.

Would being Death become a walk through the graveyard?

Dashed with Little Rumors and Secrets | Manila Noir

Manila Noir edited by Jessica Hagedorn
Manila Noir edited by Jessica Hagedorn

Dear Jessica Hagedorn,

Because of spot.ph, I came to know this book.

Yet, if it wasn’t for the Manila International Book Fair, I would not have bought it. And your signature was also a plus! I don’t have that many books that have been signed by the authors or editors. I never tried so I can’t say if I have the patience to line up and wait or not.

While this is not my first anthology, I knew that—with every anthology—it will be a mix of hits and misses. For the record, I love the collection. The dark and mysterious air coming from it is tempting; even if I’m half asleep on the train, I power through reading it. And this is when I begin loving a story: when it keeps me awake. Who wants to sleep when there’s a good story to be read?

And what stories did I love?

  • Aviary by Lysley Tenorio for using a meme I remember, as well as going through shops that I passed by
  • A Human Right by Rosario Cruz-Lucero for making me envious of touring the unseen parts of The Walled City, which I have been a sort of resident for the last six years
  • Satan Has Already Bought U by Lourd de Veyra for violence, gore, and cuss words that worked well together
  • Trese: Thirteen Stations by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo for an unexpected refreshing break in an anthology
  • Comforter of the Afflicted by F.H. Batacan for sounding like an episode of CSI, which I loved—especially with the original team
  • The Professor’s Wife by Jose Dalisay for making it look like it was taken from a movie that I couldn’t remember
  • Cariño Brutal by R. Zamora for having the most vivid imagery in the lot

Most of the stories are dashed with little rumors and secrets of the locale, making them more intriguing and interesting. It made me wonder if any of them were true, if such places—like the precinct and its police staff—exists. Or existed.

Possibly, this may be my first noir book. And it did not disappoint, unlike a great number of horror and thriller books that failed to capture my fear. Of course, this isn’t a horror or thriller book but it delivered what it promised. And that is what counts to me.

Thank you for headlining this endeavor. I hope there will be more.

Respectfully,

Mati Serraño

I, the Replacement | Daily Prompt: A Mystery Wrapped in an Engima

Tell us something most people probably don’t know about you.

I’m not supposed to be here.

Decades ago, my parents were set on having only a certain number of kids. And the last one was well on his—or her—way. But that kid decided not to take up the opportunity to star in this show. Didn’t even bother to go through rehearsals!

So my parents took it upon themselves to make a replacement.

And that is where I came in.

Every now and again, when I am reminded of this fact, I imagine the life that was not supposed to be mine. I see situations where two people—neither one me—both faceless and nameless, a boy and a girl make choices, go through phases, and go grow up. And only one of them was the original. Who that is remains a mystery, until this very day.

Sleep and his Half-brother Death (1874) | Daily Prompt: The Artist’s Eye

Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience. (Or, if art doesn’t speak to you, tell us why.)

Either I haven’t seen enough or there really isn’t much.

And what I am referring to is how the artists’ depictions of Death. I have seen many. They usually come in skeletal forms or in ominous, dark shapes and figures, hooded and cloaked and masked, wielding a scythe or some other bladed instrument or even an hourglass. And each one of them emphasizing one aspect: Death is fearsome.

Until I saw one particular work of John William Waterhouse.

Sleep and his Half-brother Death (1874)  by John William Waterhouse
Sleep and his Half-brother Death (1874) by John William Waterhouse

Here was Death, sitting up, eyes closed, on a bed. Next to him was his brother, Sleep. And both of them looking as human as the rest of us. No menacing eyes, no wicked sneers, no dark auras, no evil blades. It all looked like a frozen piece of memory about two human boys taking a nap. Or is it a nap?

On one of my researches, I found out that Waterhouse painted this piece when his two brothers died.

Art imitating life?

It’s not unusual to preserve a memory of the dead. It’s actually a practice some decades back to prop the deceased loved ones to a position that would make them look like they just fell asleep during the pictorial. And those photographs were compiled into albums that some called the book of the dead.

Sounds and looks macabre, even unappealing, doesn’t it?

Maybe that is why a great number of us—including those who aren’t artists—could never depict in whatever way Death as looking human. It is a part of our cycle that we dread and we hate. And to show something abhorrent as something like us is unimaginable, unacceptable. We could never accept Death. We could never see him as one of us.

Death is never human. Or so we’d like to believe.