The Nameless Ones (Part 1)

Troy leans against a makeshift shelter, cobbled together from pieces of damp plywood and sheets of corrugated metal. He wraps a thin jacket around his thin shoulders, shivering at the inadequate heat it provides. The shelter faces one side, against the stronger winds, and the slanted roof is supported by twin beams of wood. Another flash of lightning illuminates the face of his partner, Aubrey. She is curled up on the ground, her dark hair twisted in an untidy bun at the nape of her neck, her grimy cheek pillowed on her equally grimy hands. She is also bundled up in a flak jacket and a bulletproof vest, hanging over her thin frame like a turtle shell, and wrapped altogether in a silver blanket that makes her resemble a giant burrito. They’ve both been awake for sixteen hours, and this is the first time they’re getting a reprieve. He’s volunteered to take first watch.

He is almost tempted to call HQ, to abort the mission. He thinks about other rainy nights, about other places where he thinks could double for this godforsaken hole. He flexes his fingers, curses the ache in his wrists. Carpal tunnel. He attempts to catalogue his emotions in an effort to stave off sleep. He’s tired, that’s for sure — he’d barely recovered from the last mission before he was asked to take this one as well. An easy one, said Agent Jimenez. Just a routine pick-up.

He’s also hungry. Their last meal before heading out was lukewarm lugaw and something that resembled fried tokwa but he was quite sure was just another science experiment from R&D. That was yesterday. Sure, they were able to get a plastic cup of taho sometime in the morning, but that was it. His stomach rumbled desperately. What he wouldn’t give for a styrofoam cup of instant noodles and the strongest black coffee on the planet.

He’s also cold. Water is trickling down the back of his neck, soaking his shirt and dripping down his shoulders and back. The jacket isn’t helping, and their umbrella has been discarded long ago, a victim of a particularly strong gust of wind. It wasn’t raining when they left yesterday, and he thought the wind-resistant outfit that Support had provided them was just an affectation, and decided to head out in his usual jeans-shirt-jacket outfit. Now he wished he listened to them. (He keeps on forgetting that there are weather-watchers in Support, and that they were probably sniggering at him now for being too stubborn.)

He feels his phone vibrate against his leg, and fishes it out. The plastic casing is slick with water, but thanks to certain enhancements, the machine is pretty much indestructible. He punches in the code and slides the screen lock. He grimaces as he looks at the message. It’s his girlfriend, Elsa.

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The San Pedro Piggery

Every morning, there are another ten or so in line, each carrying their own piglet. Someone takes down their details, takes their piglet from their greasy hands, and compensates them appropriately, anywhere between one-five to three-thousand depending on the size of it. We take the piglets inside, together with all the other piglets. Sunlight doesn’t make its way inside the building. We find it best not to expose them to anything from the outside world.

I’d like to personally welcome you to San Pedro Piggery Incorporated. Formerly government-owned, it was sold to the company a few years ago. Admittedly, it’s getting too crowded in here. We didn’t expect so many families to be so eager to sell us their piglets for such low prices, but I guess they don’t have much of a choice. And ever since the company bought the piggery, we’ve been subject to less and less regulations.

As we enter the main structure, you’ll be amazed at how efficiently we’ve packed all the swine in order to make them fit. Each row filled to double the intended capacity. All the pigs squeezed tightly, given just enough space to breathe, covered in mud and dirt. Of course, these are the older ones—about five or six years old—that are within a month of being slaughtered. The piglets that you saw come in this morning wouldn’t survive half an hour in these conditions. Ideally, we should be building a second facility in order to better accommodate the animals, but that would hurt profits.

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The Turning

I’ve called my granddaughter, the one who enjoys my stories the most, to join me this afternoon; there is one story I would like to tell to her, and to my favorite tree – a big one with branches cascading downward into a canopy, and sporting a low lying branch one can comfortably sit or even sleep on. It is rather funny looking and its leaves are always rustling in the wind. Whenever I go there, I take the outside route that I always prefer: not through the house and out the backdoor, but through the narrow path at the right side of the house into the old play area at the back, where, if one comes by on a sunny afternoon, one will be greeted by the sight of kids running under soft sunlight streaming down through branches, the ground mottled with shadows, and a drizzling of leaves to welcome me.

I still visit them, our trees. I would sit underneath them for hours on end to bask in their presence, to accept the quiet understanding and comfort they offer when I need it, or to listen for the secrets that only they can smile about.

The trees always welcome me back.

* * *

“You’re looking a fine green today, hija,” he said as he dragged himself out of the front door and onto the porch.

“You should sun yourself here, Lolo.”

“Thank you, hija, but I’ve already had my share of the sun earlier,” he replied as he sat in his big chair.

Things remained normal in our part of town that day. A friend, fresh from a trip outside the country, was back to selling his trinkets right outside his house. Another neighbor, a very interesting old pair and among our very good friends, had just gotten themselves a cute little pup that they showed me a day earlier when my grandpa and I went to visit. They waved as they passed. The street was littered with people who were out for a walk on that lazy Saturday afternoon.

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While She Was Sleeping

“Ow!”

She pulled her thumb away from the offending spindle and, without thinking, sucked on the wound.

“Tsk! Tsk!” said a voice that came from somewhere near her knee. “Haven’t you outgrown that habit yet? It looked cute when you were a toddler, but it looks pathetic now that you’re an eighteen-year-old Princess.”

She looked down, surprised that someone was speaking to her. She had made sure that she had stolen away to her secret hideout unnoticed. It had become necessary to be wary since her father had gotten it into his head to ban throughout the kingdom ownership of all spinning wheels, under pain of death. That had happened a long time ago, when she was only a year old. Since then, the kingdom had needed to buy its cloth from other kingdoms, depleting the royal treasury significantly. Yet, after she had acquired a spinning wheel and learned its secrets—thanks to a kindly old woman whom she had met by chance—she realized that the kingdom could save a fortune in gold by spinning its own thread and weaving its own cloth. So, breaking her father’s ridiculous law, she had hidden the spinning wheel in her secret hiding place and had made sure that no one was with her whenever she practiced her weaving. Well, she always made sure to bring her cat, Tybalt, for company but…

She blinked.

There was no one else with her except the cat, which meant…

“Yes, yes! The cat can talk!” The voice at her knee piped up again, carrying with it an odd mix of impatience and smugness.

She leaned over and took a long, deliberate look.

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The Wish Trade: The Mermaid’s Voice (Part 2)

The baroness and her daughter, though, would not give up so easily. Especially not now that they knew the king was on their side. They frequented the palace, and because of that, the prince avoided the place. Since Leila was unkind to our mute mermaid, the prince often took her sailing with him. Again, another opportunity she didn’t take advantage of. When the prince tried conversing with her, she just nodded and smiled, and that was the end of it.

One day, though, the baroness arrived bringing along with her one of the nephews who were dependent on her for their allowance.

“My nephew, Pig, your highness,” the baroness told the prince.

“P-pig?” The prince asked.

“Yes. We call him that because he eats like one. For a living, he uh… plays with rocks.”

“I am a sculptor, Aunt,” Pig corrected the baroness. “I do not play with rocks, I make art.”

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