Stars

“The lord loves stars.”

These were Dr. Albano’s words before he died, choking on blood coughed up by lungs breathing their last, red liquid forced upwards and out even as it bled through his torso, which was slashed raw, his entrails—liver, kidneys and intestines—shredded to ribbons, hot and steaming.

The words were said in a gurgle of blood, so soft I had to lean close to hear them, and to hear his last breath as it escaped from his lips.

“What did he say?” Minda asked.

“He said the ‘the lord loves stars.’”

Minda looked out the window, bulletproof glass now cracked, tiny spiderweb-like fault lines running through the formerly impenetrable glass. The curtain had long been torn away. Outside, the sky glowed light blue. Dawn had broken. I let go a breath I didn’t know I was holding in.

“Do you know what he meant?”

Minda ignored my question. “We should take him out,” she said.

We dragged Doc’s corpse onto the beach, me taking his shoulders while Minda carried his legs. The island was quiet, save for the sea as it lapped at the shore, leaving bubbly grey sea gunk and broken shells in its wake; whitish sand dotted with the bright blue of the starfish that inhabited the island’s shores.

We set him down on a grassy patch just outside the lab where we had spent the night. Doc stared up at me, his eyes filmed over. The blood he vomited had dried on his shirt and already, flies were swarming around him.

I took the bolo, the big utilitarian knife still used in the provinces, that Doc held only a few hours before and proceeded to hack him into big, rough chunks. We didn’t even take his clothes off.

When we were done, we took what was left of the doctor and piled it under a wooden post that served as the newest midway marker between the lab’s entrance and the sea. Doc had begun the practice of measuring the distance between the shoreline and the entrance the day after we lost Leila. There were five such posts now, each one getting nearer and nearer our front door.

I placed his head on the post, running my hand over his eyes to close them. Something glinted in the sun next to my foot. Doc’s anting-anting, his amulet of protection. I pocketed it, then turned my attention back to the head in my hands.

“Goodbye Doc,” I whispered. I didn’t believe in God but I said a short prayer for Doc Albano anyway. I couldn’t get his last words out of my mind. “Minda–” I began but when I turned around, she was gone.

I had been on Balicasag Island for less than a month, being the last to join Doc’s motley team of Para-scientists. The sea was guileless then, a blue-green so clear you could see straight to the corals and the fish that lived among them, turning a deep black where the reef ended in a cliff that fell to the ocean floor. Balicasag used to be a fish sanctuary, one of the few places in the country where snorkelers and divers could enjoy the same spot. There used to be a resort here, and a small community that catered exclusively to tourists. They’re all gone now, only hollow block buildings and dried straw huts stand as evidence that they were ever here.

The sand was coarse and rocky, the kind you couldn’t walk on barefoot without getting cut. I walked the shoreline, letting the water lap at my sandals. The beach is different during the daytime. When the sun is out, you are safe. You can do anything, as long as you don’t leave the island. That’s what Rodel did, the night after Leila died. Got into a boat, screaming that we should come with him, that we were next unless we left right now, right this minute. But Rodel is gone and I’m still here. What does that mean?

The community had been cleared out long before I arrived, the resort locked up, the huts left empty, a couple of them having been torn apart by Rodel for firewood. There was no cellphone signal on Balicasag. No phone lines, no internet. Not that it mattered, because there was no electricity either. According to Rodel, contact with the outside world was the first thing to go. Anything within a five mile radius of Balicasag simply stopped working. You couldn’t even play a battery-powered radio on the island. So why was I here? Why did I voluntarily come as part of Doc’s team? There isn’t a day that goes by that I wonder about that myself.

I looked toward the water, where blue shapes gathered.

The starfish were plentiful now. It was hard to miss them, bright blue stars you could see from the shallows, littering the coral that surrounded the island. They were the first things I noticed when I arrived, peering over the edge of the boat that brought me in, a big bangka, called “Divil Fish”, a local play on “Devil Fish,” one of those with a roof and a motor and giant balancers that stretched out so that the little rowboat wouldn’t tip into the sea at the slightest wind. The water was so clear you could see the floor below, the rocks and sand punctuated by the bright blue of the odd starfish.

“They’re only that pretty when they’re alive,” Leila told me. “They turn brown when they die.”

Leila was pretty. Model pretty. She had long black hair that belonged in a shampoo commercial and liked to wear short cutoffs like the ones Jessica Simpson wore in Dukes of Hazard. It was all I could do not to stare every time she passed. I had no idea why she spent so much time with Rodel, who was pock-marked and frequently surly, sort of like Wolverine, except he looked more like the underside of the X-Men character’s shoe than Wolvie himself. Minda, I couldn’t read. She was a young Bohol native barely out of her teens; Doc’s latest ‘discovery,’ a local he had met on his way to Balicasag.

***

I arrived on the island as the last of them, going on leave from my job as Vice President for the news department of the biggest television station in the country and coming to Balicasag because Doc asked me to.

Doc asked me to.

That sentence makes me sound like a puppy, but I don’t know how else to put it. The phone call came out of nowhere. I was sitting at my desk when my secretary patched him through. I had given her strict instructions not to let anyone, not even my mother, through but she had done so anyway. She hadn’t even asked for his name. Doc had that kind of an effect on people.

“Hey, Marty!” his voice leaped through the receiver, “How’s my favorite student?”

That sealed it. I knew that no matter, what I thought or what I said, I would be doing whatever the Doc asked of me. Like I said, he had that kind of effect on people.

Doctor Albano wasn’t your regular doctor. He was the region’s premiere authority on the unknown. His brand of paranormal investigation was part Aleister Crowely, part Jung, with a dash of Ivan Reitman. In short, what he advocated was part mysticism, part behavioral science, part theatrics, all of it backed by decades of research, of communicating with gods and elementals, with the dead. The local media liked to trot him out every Halloween, and Doc was only too happy to oblige, holding séances, touring haunted houses, conducting exorcisms for the country—and later, YouTube—to watch. He had his devotees and his, what’s the word they use nowadays—haters—like everyone famous did, but one thing’s for sure, no matter how you felt about Doc, you could never call him a fake. His methods bridged the rift between life and death—and of the dimensions beyond—on TV and the Internet for all to see. He called his craft Para-Scientology, a mix of the words ”science,’ and ‘parapsychology,’ a dubious-sounding name for a slowly growing science, a name for which he was endlessly mocked.

I had attended one of his classes, Behavioral Sciences and the Spirit World, as a university elective. It was, as one expected, a popular class, filled with nubile coeds, jocks looking for an easy grade and paranormal enthusiasts alike, all of them wanting to see their first ghost.

I remember walking into the classroom, staring at the mix of students who had gotten there before me, then at the small, dark, bespectacled man in front of us talking to two good-looking seniors who looked dressed for a party rather than for class. His thinning hair was combed over a bald spot. He wore his polo shirt half-open so that it was easy to see the triangular, bronze anting-anting medallion that hung from a leather cord around his neck.

He was leaning close to one of the girls, a hand hovering over her waist, moving downwards to her butt. She was laughing at something he was saying while her companion looked on, obviously jealous at the attention showered on her friend.

Doc caught my gaze and winked. I looked away. When class started, he had us fill our class cards then pass it back to him.

“Thank you all for your interest in my class,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can only divide my attention between a select few.”

Murmurs arose.

“I will be selecting five students whom I will require to attend class without any lates or absences. The rest of you will get an uno and the rest of the semester off.”

Everyone cheered, the prospect of getting an instant, perfect grade overriding their desire to experience anything paranormal.

Doc Albano spread the class cards out on his table. “I know you all signed up to see something interesting. I won’t disappoint you.”

He waved a hand over the cards.

“I said that I would be picking five of you to be my students, but the truth is, it won’t be me who’ll do the picking.”

Slowly, the cards began to rise, all of them moving counterclockwise until there was a tiny whirlwind of class cards on top of Doc’s table. One of them flew out, straight into Doc’s open hand. Then another, and another, until the Doc had five class cards. The whirlwind slowly stopped, the cards arranging themselves into a neat pile in front of Doc. The class watched raptly. Some girls fainted. A couple of geeks clapped.

“And now to find out who the five unlucky people will be,” Doc said.

Mine was the first name called. The way he said it sent shivers down my spine. It was as if he was tasting my name, savoring the way it felt on his tongue. I felt dirty. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be in his class. But you never said no to Doc.

It was, quite appropriately, the strangest semester of my college life. We saw more than ghosts. We got to reunite with dead relatives, talk to giant cigar-smoking kapres that lived in trees, hunt with horse-headed tikbalangs whose hulking human bodies made ours look frail and inefficient, make love with ethereal enkantada at the risk of getting trapped in their fairy world forever. We weren’t under any drugs (Doc had a strict no drugs, tobacco or alcohol rule), and I don’t think it was mass hallucination. I have no doubt that whatever we experienced under Doc was real. What I didn’t understand was how he did it. I came into the class hoping to find the science behind the para-science, and though I came away with having cried my eyes out at seeing my grandmother, ten years dead, again (“You’re so gwapo, ijo,” she told me); my virginity gone (taken by a rather enthusiastic enkantada at the foot of Mt. Banahaw); and a cut on my arm from a tikbalang hunting blade that never healed properly and tended to ache on cold nights, I didn’t really learn anything ‘scientific’ from that class. I thought I would be able to get a look at the legendary library where Doc kept all his research but this, he guarded fiercely, and I never got to see even a scrap of paper until I was working with him on the island. I did come away with something though. I was one of Doc’s students, and Doc never forgot his students.

I went on to finish my course in Journalism, graduating Summa Cum Laude, then took a job as a Production Assistant in what was then a tiny start-up TV station. Once in a while, I would get messages from Doc telling me to be at this place at this time, bring a crew, no questions asked. More often than not, what we would find would be major news. Everyone thought I had magical news-finding powers. I found myself becoming a segment producer, then a news reporter, then finally, Vice President. The tiny TV station grew with me and now held a considerable chunk of the Neilsen’s ratings. To say that I owed Doc would be an understatement. But even if he hadn’t been helping me all these years, I still would have done whatever he asked. So when the phone call came, I applied for a leave, packed my bags, and hopped on the first flight to Bohol.             

***

This was not the first time something like this had happened. Tiny islands, most of them not found on major maps, had been disappearing. In the Bahamas, in Micronesia, off the coast of Guam. At first, no one noticed when the uninhabited ones disappeared.  But when an army outpost stationed on a nameless island in between Southern China and Taiwan disappeared with the land mass, the world took notice.

Now, whatever was happening started slowly, only affecting the islets near Bohol, concentrating on Balicasag. First, there was a report of an epidemic sweeping the island. Children on the resort started waking up to bleeding orifices, blood oozing out of every tear duct, every pore. They were rushed to the mainland, where they bled out faster than the doctors could pump blood back in. Their deaths were slow and horrible, each gasp for breath, each change of blood-soaked bandage recorded on the news—our news—which ran almost 24/7. A massive evacuation campaign was launched, but not before the second wave of…whatever it was that hit the island. It wasn’t as dramatic as the bleeding children, but it was just as horrible. Everyone who had been on the island started having nightmares. They would close their eyes and hear the crash of the waves, followed by the feel of slime and blackness as it attempted to sit on their chests and squeeze their lives away, much like a bangungot, the local word for dreams that people never woke from. “Bangungot Epidemic Strikes Balicasag Survivors” made wonderful headlines. And then everything stopped as abruptly as it started. No more deaths, no more bleeding. Then Balicasag disappeared. Not physically. You could still see the island from the ocean, a beautiful oasis in a sea of green. But if you were to look for it via radar or satellite, try to reach it via landline, cellphone, or e-mail, you would not find anything. Only emptiness, a busy signal, an e-mail returned.

Scientists from all over the globe came. Biologists, geologists, chemists, forensics…you name it, they were there. The government would only let them go as far as Panglao, the part of the mainland nearest Balicasag. From there, they conducted every test possible using the most high tech equipment. It was a long process, more freak show than scientific inquiry; a security nightmare for the government and a feast for the media. No one could figure out what went wrong on the island.

That was when Doc Albano came forward. What afflicted the island extended beyond conventional science, he said. If he could assemble a team of some of his most talented students, he could find out what it was and reason with it to let go its hold over the island. The government, clutching at straws, finally agreed. That’s where I came in. Doc called me just as he and his team pushed off towards the island. I was just an afterthought, but, if Doc’s sweet-talking could be believed, an important one.

“You were always the one who could put it together,” he said, “I need you.”

“How long will we be there?”

“As long as it takes, Marty.”

And so I dropped everything for Doc. Told my wife I would be in a month long, closed-door planning session, told work that I was taking a month-long vacation, then took off for Bohol, where people from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and the Armed Forces of the Philippines were waiting to whisk me to the little boat that was to take me to the island.

***

There was a sand dollar at my feet, one of many that littered the island. I picked it up, feeling its fragile calcium shell, the skeletal remains of what was once a marine animal. The beach was full of these. They were rare when I first arrived, but have been steadily growing in number since then; skeletons that look more like children’s toys, fairly round, the size of a coin, white and fragile, with the shape of a five-petaled flower in the middle. They died, it seemed, at the same rate that the starfish multiplied, the round husks washing up with the blue stars on the beach, each day getting closer and closer to the door of our lab.

I couldn’t stop thinking of Doc’s last words. The lord loves stars. Did he mean the starfish, which had grown steadily more plentiful since I arrived? Or did he mean the sand dollars? Or did he mean the stars themselves, the bright orbs that littered the night sky? I stepped on the sand dollar, feeling the calcium crack and give way underfoot. I smiled, then headed back to the lab.

Minda had just finished cooking breakfast. She managed to net some talakitok off the fish sanctuary. She roasted them over a fire, separating two for breakfast and saving the others for lunch and dinner. She handed me a fish. We ate in silence, polishing meat off bone, sucking on the cheeks, crunching on tail. You tended to eat things you never would have touched before when you’re desperate, when you don’t know if the meal you’re currently eating will be your last.

After breakfast, I pored over Doc’s copious notes, looking for the answer to his cryptic message. Doc had the annoying habit of writing everything in alibata, the ancient Filipino alphabet. My alibata was rusty, so it was late afternoon when I finally looked up from my reading. I cursed. I had lost a day and hadn’t even found anything that mentioned stars. One word kept cropping up though, the name “Tarabusaw,” which meant whirlpool, but not in any context that I could associate with what was happening on the island. I let it go. Probably the first signs of Doc going senile, finally losing his wits to the science he had helped build.

I planned to take a look at the window to see if the cracked glass posed any danger, but that would have to wait. Fortunately, Doc’s death would buy us some time, another night at least, two if we were lucky. Still, I was annoyed that so much time had been wasted.

Minda finished locking up for the night. Aside from the door’s double locks, she had pushed a desk against it.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was so late?” I asked irritably.

She didn’t answer. Instead, she brought our dinner, more fish from this morning. Our water, we had to ration from the start, even though we had enough to theoretically last us for months. We ate in silence. Afterward, Minda put the dishes away. Her hand brushed mine as she cleared the table, and she drew back, shuddering. She put down the plate she was holding, banging it on the table. The act startled me.

“Minda?” I asked.

She was crying, silent tears that became heaving sobs, graduating into loud wails that I was sure could be heard on the mainland.

“Quiet!” I hissed. “It’ll hear us!”

She ignored me, sweeping aside our dishes with a hand. They clattered on the floor. I grabbed her wrists, holding her as she tried to struggle, smothering her cries against my chest. I did this as an act of self-preservation. Minda could do what she liked, but I did not want to end up like Doc or Leila or Rodel. Minda must have mistook my intentions, because instead of hitting me like I thought she would, her lips found mine and soon we were kissing. I undid my pants. We fucked in silence, afraid that the smallest sound might give away our location. I could feel her nails digging into me through my t-shirt. I welcomed the pain. I would have welcomed any sensation a long as it erased the gnawing that I had been feeling in my chest on a daily basis.

Then we heard it. The sound had become familiar over the course of my weeks here, and yet it never failed to send chills down my spine. There was a loud rush of water as it moved back from shore, a movement so fast and sudden that the table we were on shook underneath us. We could hear it emerge from beneath the waves, its large, bulky form sucking in sound and light, tentacles uncoiling, crushing sand dollars as it slithered against the rough sand. It moved slowly, stopping at what we knew was the spot where we had left Doc’s remains. We heard it take a bite of Doc and begin to chew. The thought of it feasting on Doc outside while Minda and I made love in the lab was arousing. I found myself moving in time to its infernal mastication. Minda’s nails dug in harder, until I was sure she was drawing blood. She came before I did, shuddering as the thing outside bayed, a loud, low noise that reached straight down into my groin. Still silent, Minda and I composed ourselves as we crept towards the window to take a look.

The moon was weak that night. We could barely make out the shape of the thing hunched over Doc’s corpse, its tentacles blending in and out of the shadows, the weak light showing an occasional flash of bloodied tooth. As with the other nights, it was impossible to make out the creature’s features. Sometimes, we imagined catching a glimpse of a giant eyelid. Other times, one of the many suckers that lay under the thing’s massive tentacles. We watched the shape consume the last of Doc Albano, Minda burying her face against my chest as we listened to its teeth crunch down on Doc’s head.

I watched as Doc’s lower jaw disappeared into the creature’s maw. It was still chewing, never having broken rhythm from when it first started. The thing swiped at the wooden marker and bellowed again. It was still hungry. Doc Albano had been a small man, and Minda and I were foolish to think that he would be enough to satisfy a beast that seemed to get more ravenous each time it visited. A tentacle took hold of the marker and threw it against the window where we watched, crouched low so it could not see us. We scurried back when the wood hit, Minda stifling a scream as she dove under the table that held her squirming body just moments before. I flattened myself against the floor, looking for the bolo that we kept for defense, cursing myself for leaving it outside. My fingers found the handle of our metal detector and immediately closed around it.

I could feel the terror rise up in me. It had never done this before. The first week I was here had been quiet, with Doc going through his arsenal of methods that included séances, ritual sacrifices, spirits of the glass, the going over of the island with a metal detector, and other things that seemed more suited to a witch doctor than a scientist. I believe that it was the chicken that did it.

We prepared an alay, a traditional offering of a living thing to appease whatever spirits were in the area. Doc held the ceremony by the beach during twilight, the wind rushing past us and out into sea. We joined hands and gathered in a half circle around him, Leila, Rodel, Minda and me, all of us chanting a Latin prayer inscribed on the anting-anting that Doc wore around his neck, one sentence written one word on top of the other so that it read the same from left or right, up or down.

sator

arepo

tenet

opera

rotas

 I remember thinking that Doc never bothered to tell us what that sentence meant, only that it was powerful.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas…

Leila had not been feeling well. She had dysmenorrhea and had spent the whole day bunched up in pain. It had taken her a considerable amount of willpower, not to mention some coaxing from Doc, to even be part of this ritual.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas…

Doc held the chicken aloft, holding it by its feet with one hand while he brandished a bolo with the other, his voice rising above ours.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas…

The wind grew stronger, almost dragging us towards the sea, whose waves, defying all reason, railed against the wind to crash high on the shore, water washing away at our feet.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas…

He raised the chicken, his voice getting louder, fighting against the wind.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas!

He slashed at the chicken’s throat. Its head flew off, blood spurting at the roaring ocean. The waves rose up to meet it, blood melding with seawater. Doc fell to his knees, the headless chicken still squirming in his hands. He threw the body on the shoreline. We watched as the waves washed over the chicken, pulling it into the sea. The wind died down, stopping as abruptly as it started. We saw the tide draw back fast, like a film in fast motion. Everything was quiet for a few moments. There was a loud roar, then the water rushed back to the shore. Doc barely had enough time to get to his feet. We all ran to the lab, the waves crashing behind us. Minda reached the front door, opened it, dashed inside, followed by Doc, then me. We heard a scream. I turned back to see a tentacle reach out from the black water and grab at Leila, wrenching her from Rodel’s grasp. Leila’s screams could be heard over the roar of the waves. Rodel made as if to follow his lover but I ran back, pulling him with me into the lab. We locked the door and pushed the desk against it. Doc and I looked out the window, watching as Leila disappeared into the ocean while Rodel lay sobbing on the floor, his body curled in a fetal position while Minda tried to comfort him.

We were afraid to venture out when morning came but when we eventually did, the beach was calm. The sand was smooth, untouched. The waves lapped lazily on the shore. What differentiated this from any other day was Leila’s absence, and the appearance of the blue starfish, more than what normally washed up on the shore. Rodel started screaming, calling for Leila. We tried to restrain him but he broke free, rushing toward one of the small boats we kept moored on the island. He pushed into the water, got in and started rowing, yelling at us to follow. A big wave came up in front of him, pushing his boat back towards land. Rodel did not stop rowing. A tentacle as long as a  city block reached out of the water. The three of us watched in shock as it overturned the boat and grabbed at Rodel, its underside covered with what looked like suction cups filled with teeth. Rodel started to bleed at the eyes and mouth. He was dead before the waves covered him, leaving the sea calm again. Doc started marking the halfway mark between the tideline and the lab after that. He spent the days making copious notes in alibata, not telling either me or Minda about whatever it was he thought was haunting the island.

The night he died was the night he thought he would finally be able to vanquish the beast.

“We can do it without Leila and Rodel,” he said.

“Leila was supposed to be the medium, the conduit. Rodel was supposed to amplify her powers. Since the thing has no qualms about showing itself to us, finding it won’t be a problem.”

He took Minda’s hands in his. “You have a gift for psychic languages. You will be very important when the time comes to communicate with it.”

He turned to me. “You were always the one who put everything together,” he said, “we need that now, more than ever.”

“But you haven’t told me what you’ve discovered,” I protested, “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do!”

“Have you forgotten what I taught you in University?” he asked, “The less you know, the better. Let your spiritual abilities guide you.”

We ventured out into the open that night. The moon was full, giving us just enough light to see by. Any sane person would have stayed in the lab, which the thing left strangely alone, but we weren’t what you would call sane. We gave up the right to be called that the day we voluntarily agreed to set foot on Balicasag. We didn’t have a chicken, so Doc did what to him was the next best thing. He knelt on the sand, taking the bolo and slicing the palm of his hand. He closed his fist, letting his blood drip into the seawater, which lapped it up before retreating in preparation for the next wave. He stood up.

“It’s time,” he said.

We chanted by the seaside once again, Minda and I holding hands with Doc in the middle. We were silent, Doc’s raspy voice the only sound on the quiet beach, chanting what I recognized from my University class to be the prayer to St. Benedict, used to counter demons and aid in exorcisms.

Ejus in obitu nosotro presentia muniamur…

I could feel something rising in me, forcing its way up my chest and out of my mouth. I found myself following him, in English, under my breath.

May his presence protect us in the hour of death…

Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux…

May the holy Cross be for me a light…

A third voice joined us, Minda murmuring softly in a strange language, low and guttural, impossible to human vocal chords. We continued, Doc leading and us following in our own tongues.

Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux…

Let not the dragon be my guide…

A wind came, blowing hard towards the sea, which rose to meet it, water churning wildly but never touching land.

Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti…

The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict…

I saw a dark shape rising from the waves, releasing sinuous limbs that stretched out and tried to reach the shore, only to be repelled by an invisible force that now surrounded the island. We could hear it shrieking, the sound muffled, as if strained through cotton.

Vade retro Satana; nunquam suade mihi vana…

Begone Satan! Suggest not to me thy vain things…

The shape began thrashing about, its tentacles whipping back and forth as it tried to get at us. Doc kept chanting, eyes closed, his voice getting louder, overpowering the wail of the wind and the crash of the waves.

Sunt mala quae libas; ipse venena bibas!

The drink you offer is evil; drink that poison yourself!

We had done this enough in class for me to know what the next line – the killing line – was.

Pax.

Peace.

One word, and everything would be over. The demon would be vanquished, we could all go home. One word. But before Doc opened his mouth to say it, he was cut off by a loud growl. I stared at Minda, whose eyes registered horror as her mouth moved of its own accord, the ancient language she spewed arranging themselves into human words.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas!

Minda let go of my hand. She backed away, bringing both her hands to her lips, trying to close them, trying to stop the words from leaving her mouth.

Sator arepo tenet opera rotas!

Doc turned, his concentration ruined. “Minda!” he yelled, “Stop her, Marty!”

I lunged at Minda, the both of us rolling towards the lab, her mouth repeating the words like some mad mantra. I slapped her. That helped her come to her senses. I saw the shape in the sea loom near, saw a tentacle lash out and break through Doc’s shield.

“Run!” Doc yelled as the creature rose out of the sea. I could see Doc stand his ground, looking into the creature’s eyes, facing it down. He didn’t move, even as a tentacle rose out of the sea and hit him on the chest. The force sent him flying in the direction of the lab. Minda and I got up. We managed to get hold of Doc and drag him inside the lab, shutting the door just as a giant tentacle hit a window, almost shattering the bulletproof glass.

Doc lay with his hand on Minda’s lap, his last few moments of life spent comforting the girl who for all intents and purposes cost him his life. I examined his wounds in the near darkness. His shirt was wet, his opened torso, sticky with blood, a gristly bowl cradling his innards, which had been mashed together like a stew. He cried blood tears. Minda and I watched helplessly as he expired. His last gesture was to ask me to press my ear to his mouth, so that he might tell me his dying words.

“The lord loves stars.”

I still have no idea what that means.

***

There was a sound of shattering glass. A tentacle had broken through our window. Minda screamed. I got up, brandishing the metal detector, yelling at her to get out. Minda wasted no time following my instructions, getting up and running out the door. I followed her, swiping at the thing with the unwieldy instrument, trying to keep it at bay.

When I got out of the lab, Minda was running down the beach. The creature was in the act of turning in her direction. I could see little lights along the shoreline. The starfish had begun to glow blue. The stars on the sand dollars began to spin, little blue whirlpools that spun in the sand. There were so many of them they practically covered the beach. But there was no time to admire them.

The thing had turned its attention to Minda. There was no doubt that he would get her, that he would get all of us, that Balicasag would sink like all the other islands. Whatever it was would move on to bigger land masses, going slow, taking its time because it was so sure of its indestructibility. There were only two lives on Balicasag, two beings to temporarily sate its growing hunger. It was down to me and Minda, and I didn’t want to be the last. I dug into my pocket and pulled out Doc’s anting-anting. The brass triangle felt cold and heavy in my hand. I hurled it towards the creature.

“Over here, you sonofabitch!” I screamed as the amulet hit home. The thing turned toward me. I stood my ground, staring defiantly at it as it came. I let go of the metal detector. Not as if it would help against the thing, anyway. A tentacle unfurled, wrapping itself around me. I could feel tiny mouths latching onto my flesh, little teeth making their way into my bones. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t scream. I watched calmly as the tentacle lifted me up towards the thing’s open maw. I caught a glimpse of oily dark eyelids covering half-open beady black eyes. I began to throw up, the taste of blood and bile making me faint. Its eyelid slid open, until it was staring at me full in he face.

That was when I saw it. What Doc was talking about.

In his eyes, I saw stars.

—-

Yvette Tan likes steak. This is all you need to know right now. For everything else, go to yvettetan.com.

The image of Balicasag Island is from here at HubPages.

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