This is one of my earliest short stories. We all know the drill, written in college for a class, all that jazz. It’s a bit altered from its original incarnation. I’ve streamlined the world I’ve set the story in since then, so I’ve rewritten some parts. Please enjoy.
Anna opened the door, interrupting the loud barrage of whoever was knocking, and blinked at the person framed by the threshold against the darkening sky. She looked at the person on the other side and sighed. “Joel, really, could you go easier on my door? Please? I’d really rather not have to fix it.”
The engineering student blushed, squirming in embarrassment. “Uh, sorry about that, doc.”
Anna sighed tolerantly. “So, what can I do for you?” she asked.
He looked uncomfortable. “I was wondering if I could watch TV here? They’re having a funeral a few blocks over and… well, I’m really hungry.”
Anna rolled her eyes. “Oh, fine, but don’t turn it up too loudly. I want to get some reading done before going to work, and Stephen has to write his thesis. I’ll bring out the extra pillows. Do you want something to drink?”
Joel shook his head firmly as he entered the house, making a bee-line for the room where Anna kept her entertainments. A little channel-surfing found a loud and rambunctious American sitcom, and Joel determinedly sat and watched while Anna bought out the sleeping things. She laid them out on one end of the sofa, which didn’t fold out, but was nicely wide and comfy.
Anna sat down on her favorite rocking chair, spaced just so between the TV, the bookshelf and the door to the kitchen, idly picking up the book she’d been reading when he’d come a-knocking, exchanging the Airline playing card she’d used as a bookmark for her finger. She opened it idly, seemingly blocking out the sound of the TV with the superhuman powers of concentration attained by bibliophiles of a certain level of obsession.
“So,” she said, sounding like she could care less. “Want to talk about it?”
Joel sighed, though his gaze never wavered from the TV, a flat-screen Anna had bought herself during a moment of post-holiday indulgence, the year after she’d gotten her doctorate in medicine. Relative silence descended, except for the TV, which played the end of a punch-line, the network’s annoyingly catchy tune, and several commercials. Anna, humming, read some pages.
“They had lechon sauce in the next room,” Joel said, voice both long-suffering and twitchy. “And sisig. And beer. It was practically a buffet…”
The salivating hunger in his voice was painful to hear, in more ways than one, and Anna fumbled over the side of her rocking chair into the bowl she kept some cheap candy bars in, grabbing a couple and tossing them to Joel. He caught it awkwardly, fumbling the wrapper open and sticking the gooey, fatty, sugary mess in his mouth, chewing determinedly and getting his pointy teeth glued together. Anna helped herself as well.
“I tried working on a banana trunk,” Joel muttered through a mouthful of diabetic hell. “Really working on it, getting all the details right, carving it out slow, see if I could be artistic about it instead of relying on juju, you know, take pride in my work, put those wood-carving lessons to use.”
“Hmm,” Anna said, the appreciative listener. She quite firmly restrained the urge to read.
“It just made me hungrier,” Joel said, and there was a hint of a whine in his voice.
Anna sighed. She’d heard aswang made for good neighbors. That was apparently when they were doing their aswang-thing, walking the aswang-walk and talking the aswang-talk. Not when they were trying to be progressive and not give in to ghoulish urges for human flesh and ninja-like body-switching of corpses. Though she had to give the man credit, he was trying. A crowded subdivision close to the universities that saw a lot of natural births and deaths was hardly the place for an aswang who did not want their diet to veer towards being a humanitarian.
“There, there, Joel,” she said, wanting to lean over and pat him comfortingly, but she was too far. She settled for reaching over the side of the chair again and throwing him another candy bar, which he caught and opened. “It’ll be all right. I heard they’re moving him to his hometown tomorrow, so you just have to last the night. Do you want me to lock you in when I head for work tonight?”
He nodded jerkily, eyes focusing a little too hard on the will-they-won’t-they dynamic of the paleontologist and the fashionista of the show he was watching. Anna sighed. “Here, take the rest of the candy,” she said. “And you should probably take a bath before you go to sleep. You came straight from standing on your head in your listening hole, didn’t you?”
Joel reddened in embarrassment. “Sorry,” he mumbled around another mouthful of candy.
Anna waved a hand dismissively. “I’m used to it. Here, let me open you another pack of candy.”
She locked the door behind her as she left an hour later, heading for her job at an abortionist’s. She admired what Joel was trying to do, she really did, sticking it out in the big city and working to get his engineering degree instead of heading to Mindanao or Mexico and gorging himself stupid on all he could eat like some did. Still, a mananggal’s got to eat, and her mother had always told her they lived in a time of plenty, when none had to starve if only they had the ingenuity to find a way. Liking her lips hungrily as she thought of all the food the night’s work would bring, she made a note to buy Joel some balut and a few sticks of those chicken-intestine barbecues he liked. After all, to have good neighbors, one needed to be a good neighbor.
Whistling, she headed off to catch a jeep, making sure not to leave her legs behind.