Saturday, March 31, 2012

Charlene's Letter


   How are you today? I would like to inform you that "1st Non-Manuscript" will not publish a "Crab Mentality" part next Saturday. "Crab Mentality" will come back later in April. In the meantime, you may read the beginning of the story to catch up on what happened so far. You are also welcome to give critiques via my email.
   Thank you for your patience, and have nice week ahead!


Crab Mentality (Part 22)

June 14, 2010 (8pm)
                There were clusters of stars in the night sky, and gentle breezes were blowing on the bushes near their car. Chalano wondered if Kim got to see the fire. He brought out his mobile phone, but he suddenly put it back into his pocket when he heard someone knocking on the car.
                “Good evening, ma’am,” a man’s voice greeted in a polite tone. The stranger was wearing a policeman’s uniform. He was standing next to the window that was beside the driver’s seat.
                “Good evening, sir,” Chalano’s mother politely replied as she opened the window.
                Chalano moved to the left to get a better view of the stranger’s face. It was Callon. “The fire was put out at 7:15, ma’am. All residents are now allowed to go back to their houses.”
                “Oh, thank God. Who do you think was behind those fires, sir? They seem to have become a trend,” Chalano’s mother said.
                “The police is still investigating it, ma’am,” Callon replied. “I will just escort you back to your house.” He went to the police car, which was parked nearby.
                The police car moved ahead of them, and their car followed. It felt so cool to have police escort; Chalano just wished that people didn’t think that they were under arrest.

                Chalano unlocked the gate, and opened it. He waited for his mother to drive the car into their garage. He glimpsed Callon going out of the police car, which Callon had parked in front of their house. Chalano looked at him. Callon smiled, and asked, “Are you okay?”
                Chalano still could not forget the night when Callon spoke to him about Coal. Chalano didn’t feel like talking with Callon. Just to not ignore him, Chalano replied, “I’m okay.”
                His mother walked out of the driveway. “Bring the bags upstairs. I’ll lock the gate,” she quietly ordered Chalano.
                Chalano left the gate as his mother approached Callon. Chalano wished that Callon wouldn’t tell his mother about Coal. Chalano carried the bags upstairs.
                He put the bags on his bed, and collected the pens and pencils from the floor. He placed the pencil holder with its contents on his desk, and took his books from his bag. He put all of his belongings back to where they used to be. And then he looked out of the window to spy on his mother and Callon. Too late. The police car was already moving away, and his mother had just closed their gate. He sat down on his bed, wishing that his mother wouldn’t punish him for being a member of Coal.
                She walked into his bedroom. She sat down beside him, and hugged him. “I’m glad that we’re home,” she said.
                And I’m glad that Callon didn’t tell you the truth, Chalano thought to himself. She kissed him on the forehead.
“Good night,” she said as she stood up, and walked out of his bedroom with her shoulder bag.
                “Good night, Mother,” he said after her. He walked to the door, and closed it. Yeah, I’m glad that we’re home.

June 15, 2010 (11:59am)
                Chalano had finished copying another article from the blackboard, but most of his classmates were not yet finished. He waited. Something seemed wrong with everyone in his classroom that day. They had been strangely quiet. Too quiet. Even John was very quiet.
                Chalano had taken a different route to school to avoid Kim that morning. Later, though, he regretted it because Kim had always been the source of the latest news, rumors, etc. Chalano wanted to know what was going on.
                “Have you heard?”
                It was Benny and Benjie, the twin brothers who were at the back of Row 2. Benjie’s question was followed by Benny’s reply, “Yeah, Rella’s next.”
                The brothers became quiet again.
                Rella? Rella was the muse of their class. Even though John was not the Escort, she had always been paired with John. Chalano looked at Row 3 in search for her. Her seat was empty. Next? He was very puzzled with what he heard.
                12:00pm. The school bell began to ring. Chalano lost sight of Kim in the moving crowd of students. Kim seemed to have avoided Chalano in the same way that Chalano had avoided him that morning. Chalano walked through the crowd in search for his friend. Kim had been getting the habit of spending lunchtime at the school library, so Chalano hurried upstairs to the library. There he is!
                Chalano ran after him. “Hey, Kim! Wait!”
                Kim stopped walking. “Oh! Chalano, I was looking for you this morning. Sorry, though. These are the only minutes that I have to review my Algebra. I’ve been doing very badly in it. I’m not like you.”
                Kim turned away, and continued walking to the library. Chalano tried to keep up with him. “Yeah, I never had a problem with Math. It’s not that it’s easy, it’s just like all of the other subjects. Maybe you should just relax, and treat it like a common task.”
                “I can’t relax. I must totally focus on it,” Kim said as they got closer to the door of the library. “I must leave you here, because talking is not allowed inside. Just meet me this afternoon after class.”
                “Before you go, I just want to know about something. What happened to Rella?”
                “Rella? She’s dead.”
                The word “dead” seemed to shut out all of the daily noises around Chalano. It echoed in the shocked silence of his consciousness. Even though he had simply said it, it seemed to have the same effect on Kim. “Dead”; the classmate who they had attended class with everyday. “Dead”; the pretty girl who most of the female students looked up to. They were quiet for some seconds.
                Chalano broke the silence by asking, “Are you sure?”
                “Her house got burned. They said that she was the only one who was inside during that time. She was never seen again.”
                “Did she live in Citrus?”
                “Yeah. The fires had been in our town in the past days, but it moved to Citrus Town. She was the first victim.”
                Chalano swallowed hard. He walked to the balcony, and stared blankly at the students below him. Kim followed him.
                “There have been rumors that it’s a very strong type of fire. They say that it completely burns all of the bones in a human body. It’s just a rumor because no such type of flammable chemical had been officially known before,” Kim said. “There are also rumors that it was just made to look like arson because it was actually kidnapping, or something like that. There’s still no official statement from the authorities about this matter, but all of the rumors have been scaring the residents of the towns around us. I think that this whole thing only helps to strengthen the bad image of people from our town. I mean, to the ones who believe John.”
                “Well, the arsonist has moved to his town, so I hope that he will be next.”
                Wide-eyed, Kim suddenly turned to Chalano. “What did you say?”
                Chalano looked back at Kim innocently. And then both of them laughed. Kim slapped Chalano’s back before he continued walking to the library, saying, “That’s the spirit!”
                Suppressing his own laughter, Chalano turned to go back downstairs.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Crab Mentality (Part 21)

June 14, 2010 (3:59pm)
                Chalano and Kim were walking home from school. They crossed Lincoln Street, and stopped at Kim’s house. Kim walked to their garage as he said goodbye. “Well, Kim,” Chalano said, and then he hesitated. Chalano couldn’t control his curiosity. “Can I go to the woods behind your house?”
                Kim stopped walking, and turned to Chalano. He looked puzzled about the question, but answered, “Sure. Why not?”
                “Okay. I’ll take only a few minutes.”
                “Anyone can go to the woods,” Kim said, chuckling to himself as he entered his house.
                Chalano went to the passage beside the garage, and walked through the woods. It was a sunny, quiet afternoon. There weren’t plenty of winds. Everything was still.
Something moved. Chalano suddenly looked behind him. Everything was as still as before. He kept walking. Swoosh! It passed above him. A bird? Something white. Where did it go? He looked around him. Paranoia was setting in, but he carefully stepped forward on the soil to continue walking.
                “Good day, Chalano Marchus.”
                The deep voice came from behind the trees. It came into view. A burning ball of fire. Floating. Flying. Toward Chalano.
                Chalano exclaimed in fright, and ran as fast as he could. He accidentally tripped, and he fell into a deep, grassy hole. “Ouch,” he exclaimed, frightened about how it was the same hole that Kim had fallen into in his dream.
                Chalano’s left leg was twisted. He was unable to run. He couldn’t even stand up. Grimacing in pain, he yelled above him, “What do you want from me?! Why do you keep tailing me?! What do you want?!”
                “Your help,” the deep voice calmly responded as the ball of fire floated above the hole.
                “What are you talking about?!”
                “I am the Master of all fires in this world. I rule over the fire element. Fire is meant to warm up, light up, and fuel. Fire is meant to work well with all of the other elements. But something has been misusing fire. It manipulates fire to destroy, kill, and spread evil. I must stop it. I need your help to stop it.”
                The voice was strong, and clear. Too clear. Chalano covered his ears. He could still hear it very clearly. It was speaking to his mind. “For all I know, you are the arsonist,” Chalano retorted. “So this is how you burn your victims. You tell them that you are the ruler of some ‘element’, and you flatter them by asking for their help. Okay, fine! So how may I help you, my ‘lord’?”
                “Sarcasm is a cover up for fear. You are trying to deny your fear, and you want me to deny your fear. In the process, you deny the truth. You deny what is going on. You deny the burnings and the killings.”
                Chalano angrily yelled at him, “Get out of your delusions! Maybe you just don’t want to deny them, because you’re behind them. Is that it?”
                To his disappointment, the voice calmly replied, “No. Something else has been doing them, and I need your help to stop it.”
                “What do you expect me to do? I cannot catch a criminal. I’m not a policeman.”
                “You think of yourself as less capable than you really are. You don’t have to catch it in order to stop it.”
                Chalano managed to get up. He walked away, saying, “So that’s what you want me to do, huh? You want me to sacrifice myself. Get lost! What if I sacrificed myself without saving anyone? You’re just fooling me. I can report you to the police. So stop talking to me!”
                “You can save everyone. You are as scared as everyone in this place. Your human instincts are correct. In the coming days, more people will die. Only you can stop it.”
                Chalano reached the level ground. He was walking with a limp. The fire was quietly following him. “Stop stalking me,” Chalano yelled. “Why don’t you just get out of my mind? Do you hear me? Get out of my mind!”
                Kim appeared from behind a tree. He was staring at Chalano, and asked, “Hey … why are you talking to yourself?”
                Chalano pointed at the fire to explain what had happened. But the fire was no longer there. Kim was correct. Chalano was, indeed, talking to himself. Trying to shift Kim’s focus, Chalano said, “My knee is wounded. I think that it’s broken. I fell into a hole.”
                “Oh, I should have told you that the woods are full of unpredictable holes,” Kim explained as he guided Chalano to his house. “I once fell into one when I was eight. I got a really huge bruise on my forehead.”
                “Yeah. That was why I never went into the woods again,” Kim kept talking as they entered his house.

                While the sun was still visible in the sky, Chalano checked the doors of the second floor of his house to make sure that they were locked. As he checked the double doors at the back, he glanced at the windows. The sky was yellow-reddish. The air was warm, as if it was afternoon. And then it dawned on him.
                His mother ran up the indoor stairs, screaming, “The neighbor’s house is on fire! Get your school things! Bring only the things that you really need! We’re leaving right now!”
                She hurried into her bedroom. Chalano ran into his bedroom. He took his schoolbag, opened it, collected his school things from the shelves, and put them into his schoolbag. The pencil holder fell to the floor when he took his eraser, and the pencils and pens spilled across the floor. He took two pencils, a black pen, and a red pen, and pushed the rest aside. There was no time to fix the mess. Only the things that you really need, he thought as he looked around his room in search for other things to bring. He looked at the trash can.
                His mother came out of her room. She had finished packing up, but she was carrying only her shoulder bag. “Hurry up, Charlie!”
                Chalano walked to the trash can, and took the manuscript. He finished packing up, and followed his mother down the stairs. Before the last step, Chalano looked back at the second floor. Why did it come to this? He’d never thought that they would have to leave this house. His father’s house. Their home. He turned, and followed his mother. They went out of the front door.
“Carry this to the car,” his mother ordered, giving her shoulder bag to him. “Put your bag into the baggage compartment, but put my bag on the front seat.”
                She locked the front door as Chalano --- still walking with a limp --- carried the bags to the car. She walked to the garage, and handed a huge padlock to her son. “This is how you’re going to do it,” she instructed as she bent down to speak to him. “Go to that gate, and open it. Wait for me to drive the car out. Once the car is outside, go out of the gate, close the gate, lock it with this, and get into the car. Is that clear?”
                Chalano nodded. He hurried to the gate as his mother got into their car. His mother used to do both opening the gate and driving the car through the garage, but, for some unknown reason, she allowed Chalano to help her that night.
                Fire trucks were speeding by as Chalano opened the gate. Their sirens sounded so irritating in the quiet neighborhood. His mother drove the car through the garage, Chalano locked the gate, and he got into the car.
                Their neighbors were panicking. They were getting almost all of their belongings. They were going to bring their refrigerators and chairs with them, and they were not even finished packing up yet. Chalano and his mother were the only ones who brought few bags.
                As the Marchuses’s car moved to the southwest, Chalano glanced at their neighbors, thinking, “Well, this is an emergency, not moving day.”
                His father had probably passed some military discipline to his family. They lived a “portable lifestyle”. They were always ready to go anywhere anytime without refrigerators and chairs.
                His mother was driving out of 4th Project Town.
                “Hey, aren’t we going to see the fire?”
                “No,” she answered. “We cannot bring this car to that area because we might just block the way of the fire trucks.”
                That made sense, but he couldn’t bear not looking at the fire. He felt like he was in the wrong place.

                All the lights looked so beautiful in the night. It was some kind of a huge shopping center in a town that was a few kilometers away from 4th Project Town. There were lots of malls. There was a building for a department store, and a different building for a market. There were many cars and people. Chalano had gone to this place only to buy books, or birthday cakes, but he had never visited this place on an evening before. It was so strange to see that so many people were still awake at night.
                They entered the wide parking space at the back, and parked under a very bright streetlight.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Crab Mentality (Part 20)

June 12, 2010 (8:00pm)
                Grounded all throughout the weekends? What a waste! Chalano was bored. He turned off the lights, and lay down on his bed. Everything was dark, except for the glow of the streetlights outside their house. It was a quiet night. He began to drift off to sleep.
                Knock, knock! Rays of the sun were shining through the windows. It was morning. Chalano left his bed, and opened the door of his bedroom.
                “Hey,” Kim said as he stood outside the door.  “Wanna see a secret?”
                Before Chalano managed to figure out how Kim got into his house, Kim pulled him out of his bedroom. “Wait! I cannot go out of the house today,” Chalano complained. “I’m grounded.”
                “Don’t mind it. You can escape,” Kim said, and he led Chalano through the living room.
                They went to the balcony, quietly walked down the outdoor stairs, sprinted through the wide garage, and climbed out of the huge gate.
                As they walked on the sidewalk outside, Chalano asked, “What is it?”
                “It’s a secret for now. I don’t want to tell you about it ahead of time because you might just keep talking about it, and then somebody might overhear. No one is supposed to know about it yet.”
                “Hey, who is always talkative …?”
                “Oh, shut up. Now, you’re being talkative.”
                The friends argued as they walked under the morning sun. They stopped arguing when they reached Kim’s house.
                Kim led Chalano to a passage beside their small garage. Morning breezes were blowing on them. It was just a narrow passage. It led to the back of Kim’s house. The woods.
                The boys walked faster. They stepped on the thick, green grasses. They passed by the huge trees.
                “It’s over here,” Kim said, and motioned to the thicker part of the woods ahead of them.
                Chalano held his breath. He had never been to the woods with Kim before. It wasn’t just because Kim had never seemed interested about the woods, but also because Chalano had never wanted to go back to the woods. Chalano wished that Kim didn’t discover something that Chalano had known all along. Chalano didn’t know 4th Project Town geography well, but he was certain that somewhere in the woods was the spot where he had burned the dogs as a Coal gangster.
                The air became warmer. A bright light was shining from behind the thick leaves of the trees before them. They kept walking to it.
                It was in the middle of an open area of the woods. A very huge, floating ball of fire. It was bigger than Chalano and Kim. The wild flames were producing a sound that was similar to “whoom-whoom-whoom”.
                Chalano carefully walked around it, maintaining safe distance from it. He caught a glimpse of Kim’s figure, walking at the other side of the fire. But Kim was actually behind him, following him. They had company.
                “Who is he?”
                “What’s he doing?”
                The man suddenly turned, and ran into the woods.
                “He’s running now, Kim.”
                “Yes, I can see him. But he wasn’t here when I saw this fire … What if he created this?”
                “You mean, he’s the arsonist?”
                Kim turned to Chalano, and asked, “What?! Did I say something like that?”
                “But he seems guilty,” Chalano explained, ignoring Kim’s sarcasm.
                “If he’s the arsonist, then let’s catch him!”
                The friends ran after the man.
                The man was a very fast runner. They kept chasing him. All three of them got deeper, and deeper into the thickest part of the woods. Kim brought out his mobile phone. He was making a call as he ran. He didn’t see it. “Ouch!”
                He slipped from the rock that he had stumbled on, and fell down behind a tree. He fell into a huge, deep hole that had lots of grasses. Kim couldn’t get out of it. He couldn’t go back to Chalano, who had stopped chasing the man. “Keep chasing him,” Kim shouted above him, still holding his mobile phone. “I’ll call for help.”
                I’m just a kid, what can I do? But Chalano did as he was told. The man was farther ahead than before. The trees were closer together, and their thick leaves kept most of the sunshine from reaching the ground. The ground became uneven. Chalano stopped. He couldn’t see the man anymore. They lost their suspect. He turned to go back.
                Someone grabbed his shirt, saying, “When you chased me, I ran.”
                I t was the man. He had gone behind Chalano. The man continued, “Now, it’s my turn to chase you. But I won’t let you run.”
                He threw something at Chalano. Chalano was set on fire. Chalano touched the trees, and rolled himself on the dry leaves on the ground, but he kept burning. Chalano screamed, “Help! Kim! Mother!”
                The man calmly walked away, and Chalano’s view was blocked by the flames.
                “Mother! Help! Help!”
                The ground began to shake. Chalano abruptly sat up. “Mother!”
                “It’s okay, Chalano, it’s just a nightmare,” his mother hugged him.
                They were sitting on his bed. It was evening. He was still trembling. He could still see the woods and the flames on his mind. It wasn’t real.
                He left his mother’s embrace. He was so ashamed of himself. Being such a scaredy cat felt so embarrassing. She stood up.
                “Just don’t sleep in the same position that you were in when you got the nightmare,” she instructed, getting back to her strict attitude.
                She walked out of the bedroom, and closed the door behind her. He looked at the clock. 9:00pm.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Crab Mentality(Part 19)

June 8, 2010 (11pm)
                The man stopped, held his hands up, and pleaded, “Please, don’t kill me!”
                The small cans that the man had been holding fell to the ground, and made noise in the night. It seemed that he had been digging into Callon’s trash can, which stood beside the garage.
                “Get out of this place,” Callon ordered. The man ran out of the gate in fear, forgetting to bring his dirty bag of cans with him.
                Callon walked to the gate, putting his gun back to its holster. He examined the lock of the gate. The lock wasn’t broken. How did the man open the gate …? Callon stepped out, and locked the gate. He began to walk to the precinct.

June 9, 2010 (3pm)
                Class was over. The students took their things, left their desks, and hurried out of the classroom. The air smelled a bit like chalk. Chalano stood beside his desk, and waited for Kim. His gaze wandered to Row 3, and he saw John.
                John was still sitting before his own desk, and flipping through his own notes. He ignored all of the other students. He had a black eye, and there were some bruises on his face and neck.
                Chalano carried his schoolbag, and began to hurry out of the classroom because he was scared of getting left alone in the classroom with John.
                “Come on,” Kim said in a hushed voice as he joined Chalano. The two friends walked out of the classroom.
                As they walked past the auditorium, Chalano glanced at Kim’s face. Kim’s face was as neat as ever. Kim had no wounds, nor bruises. Chalano was going to ask him about what happened the other night.
                Kim asked before Chalano could speak, “I was just thinking, do you have a problem with integers?”
                “Huh? No. Why?”
                “They confuse me. I keep getting wrong answers.”
                “But you answered Miss Lola’s question correctly this afternoon, right?”
                “Yeah, you’re right, but I got a wrong answer after that, and ---“
                “Good afternoon, guys,” a musical voice greeted. It was Rella, the Muse of their class. She had been walking near them.
                “Well, hello,” Kim reluctantly greeted back.
                “I would just like to tell you that you are welcome to audition for our stage play,” she said with a smile.
                “Sorry, John does not want us to join. Even if John allowed us, we would be not that interested,” Chalano retorted.
                “Oh, I don’t know about what John said ---“
                “You heard it, you were there when he said it,” Chalano argued. “We don’t mind not being able to join in your stage play. What we mind is getting discriminated in your school, and by your partner ---“
                Kim gently elbowed Chalano’s side to shut him up. Rella didn’t see it.
                “Oh. I’m totally sorry. Yes, I was there,” Rella gently replied. “But you are welcome to join any workshop in this school. You are nice, kind people. People from 4th Project Town are awesome.”
                The boys were too pleased with what they heard.
                “I wish that you will not hate the class officers. Thank you for your time, and have a nice day,” she explained with a smile, and left them.
                “You don’t argue with girls,” Kim quietly lectured Chalano.
                “A-alright! I take that back! What do you want me to do? Run after her, and say ‘sorry’?”
                “You don’t need to be sarcastic. Just don’t do that again,” Kim said as they walked to the gate. “She’s a nice person. It’s just that she’s always with an evil guy like John, so you’d think that she’s like him. On her own, she’s a nice person.”
                “Yeah, right.”

June 12, 2010 (5pm)
                “The glowing embers could be seen in the darkness like shiny, evil eyes. The fire was almost gone, but it was not gone. The air was filled with smoke, and the heat ---“
                Chalano’s writing was interrupted by the “heat.” Was it still in what he was writing? The air became increasingly warm. He stood up, and left his desk. He left his bedroom, walked through the corridor, and went to the room at the back of their second floor.
                There was a huge, ball of fire. At the farthest corner of the wide room. As he looked in fear, it spun in a circle. “Chalano Marchus,” a deep, powerful voice from it said.
                “Fire! Fire! Mother! Help,” Chalano screamed as he ran back to the corridor.
                He met his mother at the indoor stairs. She looked frightened. She asked him, “Where is it?”
                “At the back! The doors to the balcony are burning!”
                His mother ran to the back of the second floor. She stood still in the room, and asked, “Where?”
                He walked to her, and spoke as he pointed at the farthest corner of the room, “It’s ---“
                There was no fire there. Wide-eyed, Chalano couldn't believe it. He saw it burning right there only a few seconds ago. “It’s gone,” he said in a hushed voice.
                His mother walked to the double doors of the room, which were open. She angrily said as she closed them, “What a nasty joke! That is not funny!”
                No, I wasn’t joking. But he couldn’t interrupt her because she was angrily talking endlessly.
                “You opened the doors, and screamed for help. You, and your idea of fun! You don’t even have an idea how someone walks the streets of this town, and burns the houses and their residents. And you’re joking about fire?! All of our neighbors will condemn you! You’re grounded until Monday.”
                She went downstairs. He didn’t know what to say. He looked back at the corner. There were no traces of burning on the walls and the doors. He sadly walked back to his bedroom, and closed the door behind him. In his frustration, he grabbed his drafts, and dumped them into the trash can.

The Comeback


                It took me so long since I last posted here. I hope that you started 2012 well. The Chinese ones had welcomed the Year of the Water Dragon, and the romantic ones had celebrated Valentine’s Day. Some of you have become better at your work, and some of you are going to graduate from school soon. A new school-year is coming up; June in the Philippines, and September in western schools. As for now, it’s Women’s Month, and Women’s Day!
                “Crab Mentality” is back. I’ve created a part that’s exclusively for Facebook. You may check out "Crab Mentality" for Facebook. From now on, I’ll try to publish “Crab” every Saturday until its finale.