We had hoped the old ghosts would not follow us across the ocean. 

Of course, they did. But it wasn’t only the multo that came to America. 

I once saw a tikbalang, with its human body and horse head, cut across our backyard. Lolo Nando was barbequing isaw one night when he noticed a kapre perched in the big oak tree in his apartment complex courtyard, smoking a cigar. Tita Baby, who lives a few streets away, said she was with her kids at the playground when she saw a duwende dive down a tube slide and then return to its hill. And Ate Jazz saw an aswang shapeshift from a brindled pit bull into an old woman. She said that the old woman flashed her fangs and winked before turning the corner, but my sister tends to exaggerate.  

Talk to any of our kababayan. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve called this country home. Everyone has seen some terror, some darkness that we thought we left behind on the islands. Maybe the creatures followed the steam of our rice cookers, or the lights of our parol, or the echoing singing of our videoke. Maybe it was deeper than that. Maybe we carried them in our accents or our brown skin. Whatever the reason, it was obvious: we had made it out, but we had failed to escape. 

That’s why when my girlfriend, Lala, told me she was pregnant, an icy dread gripped my insides. 

I was hanging with my friends JoBoy and Miguel out in front of my family’s house in Daly City. We were sitting on overturned milk crates, silently watching the sun set and the summer end.

Then Lala appeared in front of us, arms crossed protectively over her stomach. Her blonde hair looked a mess. Her eyes were red, and her mascara was streaking down her cheeks.  

After she dropped the bomb, the three of them watched for my reaction. JoBoy’s and Miguel’s eyes were as wide as the brims of salakots, understanding what this meant at a level Lala didn’t. 

But I just took off my Warriors cap, ran a hand through my hair, and leaned back against the front of my house. Holding the fear back felt like trying not to vomit, but I didn’t let it show. 

“You sure?” I asked. 

Lala nodded. 

I reached for her. She moved closer, arms still crossed, and I hugged her legs and rested my head against her soft hip. Lala was trembling. Or I was. Or we both were. 

“Y’all straight fucked,” Miguel said, laughing as he shook his head—which is how he always dealt with bad news. 

“Chill,” JoBoy told him. “They’ll figure it out.” 

“How they going to figure it out?” Miguel said as if Lala and I weren’t standing right there. “Our mans can’t even pass algebra.” 

“Can you all give us a minute?” I asked. 

JoBoy stood. “Yeah, of course.” 

Miguel remained seated. “Nah, I’m cool. But while you up, JoBoy, grab me some popcorn.”

Lala glared at him. “Leave.” 

He sighed and made a big show of getting up. “Fine. We out for now. Holler at us later.” 

After JoBoy and Miguel drifted away, I turned Lala so she faced me. Gently, I opened her arms, rested them on my shoulders, and leaned my cheek against her belly. 

We stayed like that for a few moments, then I looked up into her icy blue eyes. “But we never fully—you know ”  

She shrugged. 

“They should teach us in school that it can happen like that. Seems more important to know than, like, the definition of ‘onomatopoeia,’ or whatever.” 

“Goddamn right they should.” 

I shifted my gaze to the darkening sky and stood, accepting what was to come. “We should go inside.” 

She nodded and followed me. We sat down at the kitchen table underneath the free calendar from the Asian supermarket. A bowl of leftover sinigang sat in the center of the table, next to a plate of rice covered with Saran Wrap. A fly buzzed and bounced against the light fixture that hung off-center over the table. 

Lala and I just stared at each other for a while, trying to comprehend how the world could change so enormously, so suddenly. 

I was also trying to figure out how to explain everything. 

Lala had moved here a few years ago, and hers was one of the few white families in a city that turned brown a generation ago. Even though we’d been together for a little over a year, and she had absorbed some Tagalog and knowledge of Filipino history, I wasn’t sure how much she’d believe about the danger she was now in. 

“I’m fucking having it,” she said. 

“Okay. I’m happy about that.” 

“You don’t seem like it.” 

I shook my head. “It’s something else.” 


“I don’t know,” I said, even though I did. 

She took a deep breath. “You about to break up with me now, like some asshole?” Her eyes teared up. “I know it’s not going to be easy since we’re still in school and all, Felix, but I didn’t think you’d—”

“I’m not breaking up with you, La. Just … it’s heavy news, you know?” 

She went quiet. 

“We’ll make it work.” I rested my hand on hers. “I’ll pick up more hours at the store. Quit basketball. Do whatever else I need to do.”

“I’ll have to quit basketball, too,” she finally said. 

“I know.” 

“But I’m actually a starter.” 

“Ouch,” I said. “I’d be first string too if—”

“If you were any good?” She cracked a smile that collapsed a moment later. “So if you’re not breaking up with me, then what is it? I can tell something’s bothering you.”

I placed a hand on her forearm and looked at the ceiling and then her stomach. “I think you should move in with us.” 

Lala put her hand under my chin and tilted my head up so she could look into my eyes. “Are you serious? Don’t play with me, Felix.” 

I kissed her. 

Maybe I didn’t need to tell her about the manananggal. If she stayed here, I could protect her and the baby. She’d never have to know about the danger. 

“Your parents?” 

“They’ll understand. They’ll want to help.” 

Lala looked at me skeptically. Wanting to believe, but not letting herself. Her family sucked, and she’d always talked about how she couldn’t wait to leave them behind. 

“They will,” I said, because it was true. My parents were diehard Catholics, so they wouldn’t be completely happy about this whole situation. But they didn’t have much room to complain, since they had my sister before they were married. When the typhoon of their anger passed, they’d help rebuild. 

When it came down to it, they knew that, like the multo and the duwende and the kapre, the manananggal had followed us. 

Analyn Felicidades, this woman we knew from St. Iggy’s, had been pregnant at the beginning of the summer. Her white husband—Ed or Bill or something like that—thought it was primitive superstition when she warned him, so he refused to take any of the precautions our people usually took during pregnancy. He even refused to let her do any of it, I guess in some attempt to “civilize” her or whatever. 

The rest of us hoped the baby’s mixed blood might protect it, but news had spread a few days ago that Analyn wasn’t pregnant anymore. 

“This better not be a fucking joke,” Lala said. 

And that’s how my pregnant girlfriend came to live with my family.


* * *


Lala’s parents didn’t object. Not that either of us were surprised. I think they were happy not to have to deal with any of the mess that was to come, much less having to figure out how to feed another mouth. 

Like I said, they sucked pretty bad. 

Anyways, as cool as my parents were—at least, after they had gotten all the yelling and headshaking out of their systems—they wouldn’t let the two of us share my room. They gave it to Lala, and I moved in with Ate Jazz, like back in the day when we rocked bunk beds. The bunk beds were long gone, though, so I ended up sleeping on the floor on one of the half-dozen twin-sized leaky air mattresses we kept around for whenever relatives visited or needed a place to crash after moving stateside. 

Ate Jazz gave me a lot of shit at first about knocking up my girlfriend before junior year and for taking up half her room. But when she noticed how I was careful to put away the air mattress each morning before she woke, wear a sufficient amount of deodorant, and always pick up after myself, she started to soften. 

“Remember when you used to pull my ponytail just to get me to cry?” she asked into the darkness, one night after lights out. 

“Sorry about that,” I said. 

“You’re not the annoying little brother you used to be.” 

“It’s a little harder ever since you cut your hair short.”

She laughed, then fell quiet for a while. She’d be away at college this time next year, and it made me sad whenever I thought too much about it. I wondered if she felt the same. 

“If you don’t take care of Lala, though—I swear to God ” 

“I will,” I told her, and myself. 

A few minutes later, I could tell by my sister’s breathing that she’d fallen asleep. But I was awake long after that, staring at the ceiling, feeling powerless, and hoping that in the morning I’d find Lala and my child safe. 


* * *


“I don’t want to be racist,” Lala said one morning as we were walking to school, “but your room smells like the Asian grocery store.” 

It was January, the first day back to school after winter break. The air was chilly and the sky a ceiling of gray that mirrored the concrete city. Lala was five months along now. Her belly had become undeniable, and all of her angles had softened.  

“Well,” I said, feigning confusion, “I do work there.” 

“Yeah, but your room never used to smell like this.” 

“But I work twice as many hours now,” I said. And it was true. I hadn’t even hung out with JoBoy or Miguel in months, and I missed their stupid faces. “We can pick up some Febreze after school.” 

Lala started to speak, then hesitated. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, revealing one of the ugly earrings I’d made her in art class as a Christmas gift, since I couldn’t spare the cash to buy anything. Then she touched her stomach idly, which was something she’d started to do after she began showing.

“I don’t think that shit will help, Felix.” 

“Why not?” 

She stopped walking and waited for a nearby group of kids to pass. “Filipinos don’t practice voodoo, right?” 

I shook my head, trying to decide if I should call her out on how racist that was. “Why?” 

“’Cause I’ve been finding these little containers all over the room—I think that’s what smells funky.” 

“What do you mean?” I asked, as if I wasn’t the one who’d put them there. 

“You know, like, those tiny cups to-go places give you sauces in?” 

“Yeah.” I started walking again. Lala followed. 

“I keep finding them all over. Sometimes they’re out on the dresser or nightstand, and sometimes they’re hidden, like, under the bed or in the back of the closet or in a drawer.” She tried to gauge my reaction. I tried to look puzzled. “Some are filled with uncooked rice or salt. Those aren’t bad. But the ones with vinegar or garlic stink like crazy. And some, I think, have spices … or ash. Those smell weird, too. They’re also creepy as hell.” 

“Hmm,” I said, like this was some real intriguing Scooby-Doo level mystery, and not my own efforts to ward away the manananggal. 

“I’ve been throwing them out,” she went on, “but the next day there are always a bunch of new little cups all over the place.” 

We came to a street corner and stopped at the red light. Lala punched the crosswalk button. 

“That’s so strange,” I said, tousling my own hair. I needed to get a cut, but that was another way I’d been trying to save as much money as possible.

“Your parents have been really nice about everything, Felix … but do you think they’re trying to—I don’t know—curse me or something? Like, maybe they’re actually not cool with all of this, and are hoping these spells get rid of our baby?”

The light changed, but we stayed on the corner. 

Lala took a deep breath. “Maybe they’re mad I’m white and not Filipina.” 

“La,” I said as gently as I could, looking deep into her eyes, the blue of which seemed to have become even paler over these last few months. “I don’t think that’s it.” I kissed her on the mouth, then I bent over and kissed her stomach. As I did so, she ran her fingers through my hair, sending a chill through my body. I considered straight-up telling her about the manananggal, but I wasn’t sure she’d believe me. And, even if she did, I didn’t want her to be afraid all the time—I’d read online about how too much stress during pregnancy was unhealthy for the baby. 

Nah. I could shoulder enough worry for the both of us.

“I’ll ask them,” I said. “I’m sure it’s just my folks following some old superstitions to bless the baby with happiness and health and all that. But, in the meantime, maybe leave those spices and stuff alone. It’ll probably make them feel better.” 

Lala hooked her thumbs through her backpack straps. “I really don’t like it.” 

The light changed again, and this time we crossed. 

I took her hand. “Like I said, we’ll pick up Febreze.”

She shook her head, unconvinced. “I really don’t like all of those little cups. They’re weird as hell, Felix.” 

“Well, maybe not Febreze. That stuff’s expensive. I’ll pick up some incense sticks from work.” 

“Whatever,” she said. 

I squeezed her hand and made a mental note to swipe more of the little containers from the store … and to Google if using incense was safe during pregnancy. 


* * *


Two months later, I woke to the sounds of screaming. 

I threw back the covers and raced to Lala’s room, opening the light as I burst in. 

Lala was cowering against the headboard, sheets clutched over her swollen belly, eyes wide with panic. 

I glanced up just in time to see something that looked like fishing line quickly withdraw into the ceiling. 

The manananggal’s tongue. 

Shit, shit, shit. 

I gathered Lala in my arms. “What was that?!” she cried. “What the fuck was that thing?” 

There was the sound of scrabbling above, like rats in the ceiling. Then it was gone. 

“Did it get the baby?” I asked, voice cracking. 

The rest of my family had appeared in the doorway. All eyes were on Lala’s stomach. 

“What the fuck do you mean ‘it’?!” she shrieked.

“Did that thing touch you?”

Nanay made the sign of the cross, and asked, more directly, “Did it pierce your belly?” 

Lala stared at my mother, eyes wild. “I don’t know! I was asleep. Then I felt a tickle—I thought it was a bug or something, so I brushed it away. I felt it again, and I then woke up to find this fucking thing hanging from the ceiling and touching—no—trying to go into my stomach. That’s when I screamed.” 

Lala started crying again. I held her closer. 

Nanay looked around the room. “Where’s the salt and vinegar, Felix?”


“We told you that you couldn’t be lazy with this,” Tatay broke in. “Not like everything else in your life. Especially when she’s this far along.” 

My parents waited for me to answer, but their familiar disappointment deflated me. I couldn’t say or do anything besides hold my girlfriend.

Ate Jazz finally spoke up in my defense. “She kept throwing them away.” 

“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?” Lala pleaded. Her heart beat against me like crazy, and she was sobbing now. 

That, more than having actually seen the manananggal’s tongue retracting, shook me. All the family stuff Lala dealt with had forced her to develop a thicker skin than anyone I’d ever known. 

This was the first time I’d seen her break down. 

“It probably did not have time,” my father said, quickly shifting his tone. 

“Yes, you must have scared it away,” my mom added. 

“I’m sure the baby’s fine,” Ate Jazz said. 

I stroked Lala’s hair as she started to tremble uncontrollably. I looked up at the spot in the ceiling where I had seen the tongue disappear, and found my voice. “We need to take her to Dr. Ramos.” 

My parents nodded, and went to make the call. Besides being Lala’s OB-GYN, she was pinay, and a friend of Nanay’s, so we knew she’d understand why we were waking her in the middle of the night. 

“Is there anything I can do for you, bunso?” Ate Jazz asked as she lingered in the doorway. 

She hadn’t called me “baby brother” since we were little. “Not unless you can kill this goddamn manananggal,” I said. 

She nodded and then disappeared. 

It was a long time before Lala calmed down. After she did, she wiped her eyes, sat up, and said, “Felix. Tell me what the hell is going on.” 


* * *


My parents drove Lala and me to see Dr. Ramos first thing in the morning. Thankfully, after a short examination and an ultrasound, she told us the baby was still there, still alive and well. Everyone exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Lala and I held hands, gazing at the grainy image on the screen. 

“It’s a good thing you woke up when you did,” Dr. Ramos said. “They work quickly.” 

Lala and I exchanged a glance. Although I’d finally told her everything last night, she was still skeptical. 

“You mean the mananana … ?” asked Lala, trailing off as her tongue stumbled over the syllables in an attempt to pronounce the name of the foreign creature that wanted to steal the life within her. 

“Yes. The ma-na-nang-GAHL,” Dr. Ramos said, breaking the word down as she might any other medical term. 

“So they’re real?” 

Dr. Ramos nodded. 

Lala alone laughed, in a way that worried me. 

“There’s a creature that can separate its upper body from its lower body and then fly around?” she asked, still incredulous. 

We all nodded. 

“And then it somehow knows how to find a pregnant woman, lands on the roof of her house, then lowers its tongue through the ceiling and ” 

“And it takes the fetus,” finished Dr. Ramos, holding Lala’s gaze. 

That icy feeling gripped me again, even though I already knew all of this. 

“Like a miscarriage?” Lala asked. 

The doctor shook her head. “No. Afterward, the womb is simply empty.” 

Lala grimaced in shock and disgust. “It eats the child?” 

“Most likely. But some believe it turns the child itself into a manananggal. Nobody knows for certain.” 

Lala turned to me. I could tell that hearing a woman of science confirm everything we had told her—with an absolutely straight face—was chipping away at her skepticism. 

“How come I’ve never heard of them before?” she asked. “Why didn’t any of you tell me?” 

Dr. Ramos shrugged. “White people have a way of not seeing things, even when confronted with them.” Then she held up her hands. “No offense.” 


* * *


As we pulled up to the house, Ate Jazz was in the driveway, slashing the air with something that looked like a long, bone-white stick. She wore an expression of serious concentration, as if she were the pinay version of Bruce Lee. 

But she moved aside when Nanay honked so that we could pull into the garage. My parents led Lala back inside to take a rest, and I made my way to the driveway. 

My sister brandished the whip. “Badass, di ba?”  

“Is that what I think it is, Ate?” 

She nodded. “A buntot pagi.” The air whistled as she sliced at an invisible foe over and over again. 

“Where did you get a stingray tail whip?” I asked, impressed. Of course I’d heard about them in stories—essential weapons for defense against the lower creatures—but I’d never seen one in real life. 

“Lolo Nando,” she said. “Direct from Capiz.” 

“Oh.” Was that a typical Ate Jazz exaggeration? Maybe it was Lolo Nando’s. But if it was true, if the weapon really was from the home city of the aswang, then it had to contain additional power. 

As the sun crept higher over the crowded houses that lined our hill, I watched Ate Jazz continue practicing. Her movements were smooth and fluid, probably because she’d trained in arnis for years. Now I wished I hadn’t quit. 

She finally stopped, out of breath and forehead glistening. She wiped the sweat with the back of her forearm and then handed the whip to me. 

I hefted it in my hand, testing it, then awkwardly imitated some of her slashing movements. Though it was called a whip, in action the long, thin bone felt more like an extremely flexible fencing sword.

“He gave me this, too.” Ate Jazz picked up a leather pouch from the grass next to the driveway. She untied it and let me peer inside. 

“Salt,” I said. “Also from Capiz?” 

She shook her head. “It’s Morton’s. You know, the one with the white girl in a raincoat?” 

This was less impressive. 

“Lolo Nando said it would be just as effective.”

“I hope so,” I said. “Did he tell you anything else that might help us?” 

“Yeah. The manananggal’s upper body can’t travel too far from its lower body. Maybe one mile. Two, at most.” 

I nodded. Then I stepped back and resumed practicing with the stingray’s tail. “Tonight.” 

Ate Jazz nodded. We were ready to hunt immediately, but the manananggal was a shapeshifter—it could literally be anyone. However, it could only commit its dark deeds at night when it was able to return to its true, vile form. That was when we’d be able to find it and kill it, so that my child could slip safely into this world. 

Ate Jazz watched me flailing, a pained look on her face. “I’ll use the whip. You carry the salt.” 


* * *


That night, my parents insisted Lala sleep in their room. Even though they could now put out the salt, ash, and vinegar without fear Lala would throw them away, Dr. Ramos had warned us that the further along she was, the less effective those precautions would be. So they would take turns staying awake, watching the ceiling to keep my girlfriend safe—as safe as they could, considering the looming threat. I had asked if there were something we might be able to hang over Lala to shield her, but they told me the manananggal’s tongue could pierce anything. 

I called JoBoy and Miguel to catch them up on all that’d happened, and to see if they could help. JoBoy was freaked out and wanted to, but his nanay was real strict about his curfew. Miguel, on the other hand, said he was busy playing Madden. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d powered up my console. 

So Ate Jazz and I set out by ourselves as soon as the sky began to darken. 

Our house was located in a section of the city sandwiched between 280 and Mission Street. If what Lolo Nando told Ate Jazz about the manananggal’s range was accurate, then those would neatly form our east-west boundaries, while Jefferson High and Market Street would roughly mark the north-south. The streets were laid out in wide rectangular blocks, so we decided to start at the school and snake our way south until we hit Market. 

Though we might have looked suspicious to outsiders, our kababayan did not call the police when they noticed us prowling through the shadows. As soon as they saw the buntot pagi in Ate Jazz’s hand and the bag of salt in mine, they merely nodded, made the sign of the cross, and then drew their curtains closed. 

We walked around houses. Peered over fences. Checked behind bushes and cars and grills. 

At first, my heart was racing, my palms sweating. But after an hour passed, then two, my nervousness gave way to a numbing combination of hopelessness and boredom. 

“We’ll never find it,” I said, lifting the lid on what felt like the millionth garbage can of the evening. “It might be inside one of these houses … it might be one of our neighbors.” 

“We have to keep looking.” But the whip dragged at her side. 

We kept searching and kept finding nothing. 

We walked the entire neighborhood, then did it again. Once Ate Jazz thought she heard a tiktik overhead batting its wings, but it turned out to be someone vacuuming. 

We crossed 280 to search the golf course just in case Lolo Nando was wrong, and Ate Jazz’s face wrinkled in disdain. “Can you think of a bigger waste of resources than a golf course?” 

“No,” I said. 

“Analyn’s husband golfs,” she said with some disgust.

“Of course he does.” 

“Fucking rich people.” 

Evening gave way to dawn. Street lamps switched off. We went home. 

Lala was well-rested and safe. Ate Jazz and I were exhausted. We collapsed into our beds and slept through our alarm clocks. Our parents called the school and told them we were sick. In a way, maybe we were. 

From then on, we patrolled every night. 

If I wasn’t at school or at work or on patrol, I was sleeping. Ate Jazz somehow seemed to deal with it all right, but my grades fell. JoBoy and Miguel dropped me from the group chat. The basketball team played on just fine without their second-string point guard. It all made me kind of sad, but Lala was safe. That was what mattered. 

“I’m so tired,” I would tell my parents, falling asleep into my bowl of Cap’n Crunch. 

They would laugh. “Just wait until the baby is actually born.” 


* * *


Two and a half weeks before Lala’s due date, Ate Jazz and I finally found a detached lower body. 

After all the time we’d spent searching, I was expecting some kind of epic showdown. What a disappointment. It was just a pelvis and a set of legs, like the abandoned lower half of a mannequin, hanging out in the shadows behind the dumpster at In-N-Out. Except instead of tan plastic, the naked legs were grayish and sickly-looking. They quivered non-stop, and the overgrown toenails were the color of a yellow onion. I’d expected organs or bones or the spine sticking up and wriggling like a sea anemone or something, reaching to be reunited with the rest of its body. Instead, it was perfectly severed, as if someone had just taken a sword and cleaved through in one clean, cauterizing swipe. 

“This it?” I asked Ate Jazz.

She walked up next to me and checked it out. 

“Gross,” she said. “I think so.” Then she turned her attention to the sky, whip at the ready, as if the upper body were about to swoop down at any moment to protect its other half.

I untied the pouch of salt. “So I just pour it out on top?”

“That’s what Lolo Nando said.” 

“It stinks,” I said. “Like hot garbage.” 

“Maybe that’s just the dumpster.” 

I shrugged. Then I tilted the bag and began to pour. 

The salt sizzled on contact, like garlic dropped into a frying pan of hot oil. The legs began to tremble more intensely, and as they did so, they shriveled. It was startling. But they basically stayed in place, so I continued sprinkling out the salt, doing my best to distribute it evenly across the exposed cross-section of pelvis. 

We waited for the top half to return, to dive down on us, talons and fangs first. 

But it never did. 

In the middle of this, a random dude in a fedora came by. He tossed an old vacuum cleaner in the dumpster, watched us for a minute without saying anything, and then snapped a picture with his phone before leaving. Ate Jazz rolled her eyes, knowing it would only show up as an indistinct blur. 

I emptied out the last grains of salt. The legs continued to shrivel and blacken and shrink. After maybe three or four minutes, they looked like part of a chicken that had been roasted in the oven way too long. When they were too small to support the weight of the pelvis, the whole thing collapsed.

“Guess that’s it,” I said. 

“Yeah, I guess so.” Ate Jazz poked at the charred remains with her foot, clearly disappointed. Now she would never get to use the buntot pagi. The upper body wouldn’t be able to connect to the lower body and would simply dissolve at daybreak. 

I checked my phone. Dawn was less than an hour away. “We should get home.” 

My sister nodded, eyes back on the sky. “You know that some In-N-Outs are open twenty-four hours?”

“For real?”


“Damn. Wish this one were. I could really go for a chocolate milkshake.”  

“Denny’s is open.”


Milkshake-less, we walked home, the relief of our victory tempered by the exhaustion of so many sleepless nights. Still, we practiced telling the story and joked about hiring out our demon-killing services instead of going to college.

“But then,” Ate Jazz said, “we’d have to hire someone to protect us from Nanay and Tatay’s disappointment.”


* * *


Lala went into labor at night exactly on her due date. The city was still damp from recent rain and the moon was missing. My family drove us to the hospital, and our girl burst into the world a crying, reddish purple ball of blood and placenta goop—and I loved her immediately, I loved her more than I ever knew it was possible to love something. It had all been worth it, and I knew I would spend the rest of my life doing whatever it took to keep her safe, to make her happy.  

One of the nurses took our daughter to clean her up and run tests, while others remained with the doctor to tend to Lala. After they finally finished and left us alone, Lala fell asleep almost instantly. But I was wide awake in the quiet midnight hum of the hospital, gazing at my girlfriend’s tangled hair, flushed skin, and chapped pink lips as I held her hand. 

My mind buzzed with the future, with the reality of being a teenage parent finally hitting me, with wondering about what kind of father I’d be, with realizing that intense joy I felt was rivaled only by the sense that I had no idea what I was doing. 

Sometime later, the nurse returned with our child in a bassinet, clean and swaddled. She looked at Lala, then to me, and then held out my daughter. “We’ll let your girlfriend sleep for a few more minutes.” 

I took her into my arms, marveling at her smallness, and looked into her face—my breath hitched and I felt as if I were falling.  

Because although she was almost unrecognizable in her purity, she was recognizable in another way.

“She’s ours,” Lala said, eyes now open and arms reaching out hungrily. 

I looked from the child to Lala, from Lala to the child. Then I handed it over. 

I didn’t have time to dwell, because right then my family burst into the hospital room, all noise and Filipino food in Tupperware. But I could tell by the way they took in the child’s face, then stopped short, that all of them noticed what I had. Nothing was said. Instead, they fixed their expressions, cooed over the child, and began debating whether she had Lala’s or my nose, mouth, eyes. 

It was only after everyone left and it was just Lala and me that I had to say it.

“She looks like Analyn Felicidades,” I said. “Who used to go to our church.” 

I said “used to,” because Analyn had disappeared two-and-a-half weeks before. Her white husband—Bill or Ed or whatever—had made one of those desperate missing person Facebook posts. It had gone minorly viral, but she’d never returned. I had my suspicions as to why, but I could never bring myself to say them aloud. Not even to Ate Jazz. 

Lala cradled the bundled child closer and grinned. “She tried to take her back.” 

“Take her … back?” 

And then it hit me: We had killed one manananggal—Analyn—but there was another. 

Lala looked at me, love-drunk. 

“Thank you for protecting us, Felix,” she said, then shifted her gaze back to the baby. “She’s ours now.” 


* * *


We had hoped the old ghosts would not follow us across the ocean. 

Of course, they did. 

Talk to any of our kababayan. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve called this country home. Everyone has seen some terror, some darkness that we thought we left behind on the islands. 

Losing language. Replacing names. Ceasing remittances. Forgetting history.

Consciously or subconsciously, we tried in a million ways to cut ties and forge our lives anew. But none of it worked.

We thought we made it out, but we failed to escape.

{ Edited by Sharyn November. }