The Old House: Children's Tale

It was eleven in the night and a stark eeriness hang in the air. The stillness was broken by the sudden howling of dogs. Quito jumped to his feet and stood frozen for some dreadful seconds. When the noise abated, he sighed a relief. Cautiously, so as not to make the bamboo slats of the floor creak, he sneaked out of his room. Peeping through the door of their room, he checked his parents and found them embracing each other, sound asleep. Sighing another relief, he made the sign of the cross, then tiptoed his way to the kitchen.

The moon was in majestic sovereignty that its light permeated even through the tiny gaps on the bamboo walls of the kitchen, casting hypnotic shadows on the sink. Watching the bright strips of light filled Quito with shivers. Nonetheless, he stepped into the trance and searched for the candle and matchbox he had prepared earlier tonight. He found them immediately, and inserting them nicely into the side pockets of his short pants, he sighed once more and breathed hard.

I must go there, he said to himself.

Days before, the thought of going to the old house had kept bothering Quito. He was afraid but he knew he had to undergo that; every fifteen-year old boy in the village experienced that.

The old house was several miles away from Quito’s small community and stood alone on the heart of a vast cogon* grassland. According to stories, the house would be full of cries of hungry souls during the night. There would be sudden candle lights everywhere, mysterious treads on the floor and felt presence of other beings. The old house was evil. For years, it was a tale of horror and an endless source of fascination to every boy.

When he was finally out of their nipa hut**, only then did Quito feel the full terror of the night. The moonlight created appalling shadows around him. Even his acacia tree seemed to possess black hollow eyes and a furrowed mouth, ready to engulf him, with its limbs swaying to the gentle, cold breeze. Quito clinched his teeth and fists, and expanding his chest, he went to his bicycle which was propped against the tree. He dragged the bike along the rocky trail and rode on it upon reaching a better path. The old house was a good thirty-minute ride from the village so Quito relaxed and steadied his speed.
“Just this once,” he said to himself, “and then people will consider me a man.”
As a kid, Quito had often heard people cursing the house and wanting it burned down, though he had often observed too, that the old house was a constant joke among the grown men. Once, when they were still eight, Quito and his friends escaped class and visited the old house. It was two in the afternoon, the sun blazing furiously, so the four were confident that they would not encounter the other kinds. They had always seen the house on their way to school but only from a distance. On closer view, the house was a rotten wood with puckered tiled roof, broken sliding windows, peeling powder blue wall paints and antiquated high doors. It had two floors and only the grasses adorned its perimeter. When they stepped into the porch, a gust of wind passed by, strangely chill that the boys cuddled to each other. Suddenly, the front door swung open and an old woman emerged. She had gray hairs, round sunken eyes and a freckled face.
“What are you, boys, doing here?” she croaked.
Like frightened rats, they darted away….

To be continued....

* Also known as bloodgrass, it is a perennial grass native to many southeast Asian countries. It can grow up to 10 feet tall. 
** Known locally as “bahay kubo” in the Philippines, it is a native house constructed with bamboo tied together and covered with a thatched roof using nipa (palm tree) leaves.

Image courtesy of Flickr.


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