By Catherine Batac Walder
“I just need some water, juice, any liquid, if they’ve got it. If not, a banana will do,” Odessa said grumpily. She has been very agitated since consuming the last drop in her water bottle, realizing she forgot to take her second tablet of Antiox. It would have helped if she had something to induce the tablet with, say, shove it into her throat with a chunk of banana. Anything would do for as long as she could take the damn non-chewable tablet.
Delia was tempted to pull over, after she saw the mangoes on the fruit stand by the side of the road. Having worked abroad a few years ago, Delia always longed for Philippine mangoes and bought some any chance she got. “The closest I came to buying real Philippine mangoes were those sun-dried ones, packed in their country of destination,” she used to say. While abroad she had a regular supply of dried mangoes, as if conjuring the Philippine sun through them.
The aunt and niece team have been doing these trips for the past year, these weekend getaways around the country, the two of them alternating on the wheel.
Delia was back after only ten minutes, and to Odessa’s relief, had a bottle of Royal Tru-Orange with her. “Here, and mangoes and guavas for me.” Delia winked, carelessly handing to her niece the bottle as she got into the driver’s seat. “And young lady, keep your bottles away from my brake pedal,” she handed Odessa the empty water bottle. “You are becoming obsessed with this tapeworm thing,” she observed, more to tell her off.
“Didn’t you use to give me purgative medicine as a child to get rid of tapeworms? Just because one is not a child anymore doesn’t follow that she is protected from these parasites.”
“Learned it from Monet,” Delia sighed, referring to her dead sister, Odessa’s mother.
“Yes, you always tell me it’s something mama would do,” Odessa said. She rarely spoke of her mother, and when she did it was casual, without a trace of affection. She hardly remembered her. “But I’ll tell you what it is. I was in the jeep after meeting a colleague. I had missed breakfast and lunch. I felt that my head was becoming bigger, like someone was tickling my scalp. Then a part was becoming itchy. So I scratched it. There was something there. I pulled it, and I could swear I pulled a tiny worm that was sucking on my scalp.”
“Must have fallen on your head from a tree or something,” Delia said, almost uninterested.
“No, I swear the worm came from inside my head. I must have a lot of parasites in my stomach. And because they didn’t have any more food they crawled all the way up to my brain. I need to take these tablets as prescribed so I can get rid of them. One 100 mg tablet in three consecutive days. Otherwise they’ll eat my brain,” Odessa said.
“Rubbish,” Delia said.
Odessa was now swallowing the tablet and made the mistake of taking so little water that she almost choked. Delia started the engine and began to edge their way back onto the main road. Odessa drank a little more. It was while trying to swallow the tablet hard that she saw the woman for the first time. She was standing by the side of the road as they left the fruit shop.
At the gas station, they filled in the tank and while Delia waited in the queue to pay, Odessa grabbed some sweets from the shelves. As she joined her aunt in the queue, Delia remarked, “she reminds me of a moth, look at the shawl. Imagine, a shawl in this scorching heat,” Delia lifted her chin, smirking, pointing it to the woman standing by the door. Odessa had been used to her aunt’s comments on how people looked. She was arrogant and mostly intimidated other people simply by being around.
The woman had a black shawl on and stood awkwardly by the door, as if lost in thought. She turned her gaze to them. Odessa was quite embarrassed to be caught looking, but something caught her transfixed. The woman had such enraged eyes it took a few seconds before Odessa could turn her head away.
She looked quite familiar.
It was only later when they were back on the road that Odessa realized she was the same woman she saw at the fruit shop.
At the hotel in San Antonio where they planned to stay for the night, Delia brought out a cigarette and a lighter from her bag. She handed her bag to Odessa. “Please bring this up also. Will you manage?”
The lift was ancient, well, so was the hotel, with all its floors creaking. Their room was on the third floor. The hallway was quiet. Odessa found their room and pushed the big, old key into the lock. Her thoughts were suddenly on that woman wearing a black shawl. Like in horror films, she imagined that if she opened this door, she would find the woman sitting on their bed. Odessa could scream just thinking about this.
She opened the door so wide, just to see all angles of the room before she could even step in. She was relieved to see that there was no one there.
She was freshening up in the toilet when there was a knock on the door. She remembered the receptionist gave them only one key. This must be her Tita Delia.
“Everything okay?” Delia asked when she opened the door.
“Fine,” Odessa said.
“I can’t believe that woman,” Delia said.
“What woman?” Odessa asked.
“Oh, one I met while smoking just now. Kept asking if we passed Kambubulag Road on the way here. ‘Never heard of the road,’ I told her. She said it’s four kilometers from the hotel and mentioned how we should be careful because we might encounter the kambubulag. ‘Most residents here have resigned themselves to the fact that they have more chances of dying on that road than any other non-resident. But as anyone would say, if it’s your time, then it is,’ she said. All the time we smoked all she could talk about was the kambubulag. Sounds to me like your obsession with Antiox.”
Odessa made a face at her aunt. “What’s a kambubulag anyway?”
“Beats me. Here, you could be useful by checking if the internet works. Why don’t you look it up, this kambubulag?” Delia said. She handed her MacBook to Odessa who switched it on. Delia retreated to the toilet.
“There’s a Wikipedia entry about it,” Delia heard her niece say from the toilet after some time.
Delia shouted back, “Wikipedia is…”
“Rubbish, I know,” Odessa finished for her aunt. “Anyone can edit it. But it is a good alternative to start finding information as it usually provides external links towards the end of every entry. And listen, this sounds interesting.” Odessa began reading the following aloud from the website.
“For the moth king, see kambubulag (moth king).
Kambubulag [kam-boo-boo-lag] comes from the Tagalog root word “bulag” meaning “blind.” The kambubulag is notoriously associated with a road north of the Philippine capital, home of a stream of vehicular accidents since the previous decade that both names became interchangeable in recent times: kambubulag or Kambubulag Road. This was not originally the name of the road, rather brought about by the mishaps on it. Kambubulag to the residents around the road may mean many things relating to the supernatural. Four roads intersected at that point. One of the roads joined one town to the other. It crossed the highway that most vehicles travelling to the capital used. Sometimes it took ages for any vehicles in between the two towns just to cross, with all the other vehicles passing not giving way. To the residents, there was something, perhaps a ghost, at that crossroads that kept people from seeing other oncoming vehicles. One would notice the row of trees on the highway, most of them peppered with flowers, ribbons and some other decorations, a memory of those who died there.”
Odessa lowered her voice just as her aunt walked out from the toilet. They quietly read the rest of the entry together.
Sightings and Accidents
(Added March 15th, 2006)
The following accounts were gathered from interviews with different witnesses:
June, 1994. On a rainy night, an overloaded jeepney swerved into a flooded ditch after the driver had overtaken another vehicle. Some passengers stayed in the jeepney while others got off, impatient to wait for the vehicle to be lifted back onto the road. They didn’t have a choice but to walk since were no other jeepneys passing by.
One man who got off the jeep, Rene Meleo, thought he could just postpone coming to Manila for the next day, perhaps early in the morning. The situation might not be as bad. The water was getting deeper in some parts. But he thought walking back home was a better option. He didn’t want to pass Kambubulag Road in that overcrowded jeepney at night, especially a rainy night.
Rene heard the news from the other waiting passengers at the gas/bus station the day after. That jeepney had crashed into a parked truck on Kambubulag Road. Half a dozen people died, with a few others in critical condition. The sad thing was, if it were some other place, the truck would have had some parts coated in high-visibility paint so that the other motorists could see it. But as anyone would usually ask about that road – will anyone see anything on Kambubulag Road?
August, 1996. The gas station that had served as a bus station for many years had closed down so commuters had to wait for the buses on the highway. Sheds marked each bus stop where the waiting passengers flag their bus. The nearest and most convenient (if not for its notoriety) stop for most to wait was Kambubulag Road.
A witness who recounted this incident had been waiting for the bus before six in the morning. “I could have gotten killed, too. But I decided to go back to the barangay and buy a cigarette. Ten minutes! You know how ten minutes can change your life?” Exactly that moment he was walking back to the station, he saw a bus approaching. A woman had to wait by the road, away from the shed, to flag the bus down. “The driver of the bus killed that woman. He was blinded and hit her and that was when he saw her. The impact couldn’t have been that bad as he intended to stop to wait for passengers, as these drivers usually do. But the bus was empty and the driver probably thought there was no witness. He reversed and killed that poor woman, ramming into the shed. You hear how all of these bus companies even save money by killing their victims. If the woman was saved but became an invalid, it might have been more costly for them to support her for as long as she lives.”
(Added December 10th, 2008)
Odessa and Delia were interrupted before they could read “Origins” in that Wikipedia entry when the door opened out of the blue and shut again. They looked at each other.
Delia shrugged. “It’s the wind. I must have forgotten to lock it,” she said as she walked to the door. “You’re scratching again,” she told Odessa when she returned.
“Look,” Odessa said, showing something in her open palm, “it’s a worm,” she said quietly.
Delia just looked at her.
“You still don’t believe it came from inside my head, do you?” Odessa said as she walked to the toilet to wash her hand. Delia didn’t know what to make of her niece’s expression. It seemed Odessa looked too disgusted to be frightened of these worms that were presumably eating her brain.
“What would you like for dinner?” She shouted, then checked herself. Was it even appropriate to talk about dinner now?
“I won’t mind anything,” Odessa said, walking back to the bed and rummaging through the fruit bag. “May I have a guava?”
“It will spoil your dinner,” Delia said.
Odessa was already biting into the fruit, “it’s already spoiled,” she said, at the same time showing her aunt that a worm was struggling to come out of the part of the guava she’s just bitten. Odessa quickly ran back to the toilet in the act of throwing up.
When they went downstairs, Odessa expected to see the woman wearing the black shawl.
They ordered drinks and food from the bar and informed the barmaid where their table was. Delia was joking around with the barmaid about the older men in the room.
“It’s like you’ve known her for ages,” Odessa noted as they sat at their table.
“Oh, she was the woman I told you about, the one I had a smoke with earlier this evening.”
They waited for a while till the same woman served them dinner. “Diligent customers,” the woman chuckled upon seeing that they had managed to get their own cutlery. She set down the trays. “Oh,” she exclaimed and started to dust Odessa’s sleeve. “Oh God, it’s a moth king.” The insect flew around the room for a bit and then out of the window. Still, it didn’t calm the barmaid, “Oh God, seeing a moth king means there’ll be another accident on Kambubulag Road soon,” she said. Even as she walked back to the bar, she didn’t stop mumbling how terrible the coming days were going to be. Her mood was completely transformed from a jolly to that of a worried one.
Delia was shaking her head. “I wonder how much research she had done about this kambubulag. That woman,” she commented, “is as unreliable as Wikipedia.” She gulped down her glass of San Miguel, “but when you think about it, it does root from what my grandmother used to tell us, so we would stop playing with butterflies or moths. Grandma said if we touched them and then touch our eyes we’d be blinded temporarily, from all the powder from those creatures’ wings. That’s probably the root of all this kambubulag hype,” Delia narrated.
“Or that a kambubulag is born out of the worms on a woman’s head, sort of the larva of a moth king,” Odessa joked, but after a while she realized there must be some truth to what she had just said.
“Oh, don’t start on that again,” Delia said before Odessa could say anything more about the worms on her own scalp.
Odessa downed her glass of Coke. After that she returned her gaze to her aunt, then past her to the extensive lobby behind. “It’s her,” she motioned discreetly with her head. “No, don’t look! She’ll know we’re talking about her,” she warned.
“Who is it?” Delia asked.
“That woman. I first saw her at the fruit shop, and then at the gas station and now here. That woman wearing a black shawl? Tita, I think she’s following us.”
“Don’t be silly. What would she do that for?”
Odessa was looking straight at the woman now, not hiding her curiosity. While looking, she spoke, “Those eyes, look at those eyes. There’s so much anger in them. Why is she angry with me?”
Delia was also curious now, but Odessa knew that the instant her aunt would turn her head to look at their stalker, the woman would disappear.
She was wrong. In fact, as soon as Delia looked, she recognized the woman. “Don’t mind her. We’ll do something about it if she comes near. But if she’s only looking at us, the best we can do for now is to avoid looking at her.”
“I feel I’m being harassed. I’m calling the police any second,” Odessa said.
During breakfast at the hotel, Delia noticed the circles around her niece’s eyes. “Did you sleep well?”
“Not really, no,” was Odessa’s answer.
“How come? Can’t wait for the morning, to be out in the sun again?”
Odessa looked out of the window. “I read more of that kambubulag on Wikipedia. Look here, I saved it all on Word. I didn’t want to wake you up last night.” Over plates of cold ham and cheese and toast, Odessa took out her aunt’s MacBook from its case and switched it on. She tapped her fingers on the table, impatient, “I seem to remember it now,” she said. Delia noted how uneasy she looked.
The computer was slow but as soon as the Word document loaded up, Odessa pushed the MacBook across the table so that it was facing her aunt. Delia, in the middle of munching on toast, read quietly.
(Added December 10th, 2008)
There are many speculations as to the origins of the kambubulag, the most popular of which was the girl in the dark alley.
It was said that it happened while the girl was on her way home and caught up with three women and a young girl of about six in a dark alley. One of the women was smoking. As the girl didn’t approve of second-hand smoke, she stepped down from the sidewalk to overtake the party of four. A car happened to pass by so the girl had no choice but to come back on the sidewalk, walking faster as she did and ending up in front of them. She was worried they were bullies so as much as possible she didn’t want to catch their attention. But since there was a little girl with them, she thought she was safe.
As she walked, she heard giggling from behind her. Upon looking to her right, she saw one of the women, the tallest among them, was trying to keep up with her and almost brushing her shoulder against hers. The girl saw the woman’s face for the first time, coal black hair and eyes, with heavy eye make-up. She could just have let it passed, especially as they were now crossing another road and it looked as if the women were turning left and not going her way. But she didn’t feel it right that someone would think they could bully another person just because she was smaller and was on her own. As she crossed the road to separate from the other party, the girl uttered, “puta.”
When she looked back, she saw that the tallest woman was after her, cursing and yelling, “What did you say?”
The girl then reached into her pocket for her repellent, “do you want a spray? Do you want a spray?” She yelled back, though nervously.
“I was just messing about! Give me that f–king spray!” The tall woman said, looking as if she would run after her. But the girl kept her distance by running every time the tall woman took a step.
“Do you want a spray? Do you want a spray?” The girl still kept saying.
The tall woman was still running after her now, with her three other friends left farther back. Yes, it was a relief for the girl with the spray that there were more lights on this road now. Yet there were no other people about. It wasn’t that late, only 8 o’clock. She didn’t know what the tall woman would do if she caught up with her. Darn, she shouldn’t have threatened her with a spray.
They were nearing the crossroads now. If only she could cross that road, she would reach the bus stop on the other side. There would be some people there and this tall woman clad in black and black eye make-up would just leave her alone.
The girl with the spray rushed to the road and underestimated the distance of an approaching car. The car was so fast that it reached her even before she could cross.
She died on the spot. The driver escaped.
The tall woman running after her was said to have just walked away quietly from the scene.
It must have been one of those things that were at first taken as a joke but had to end tragically.
After the girl had died, accidents started to happen at that crossroads.
“I remember it now. You, me, mama and your other friend Tess. San Antonio. That’s why this place sounds so familiar. We were visiting Tita Tess. We were walking to some party at someone else’s house. This girl… I remember mama was making fun of her. Up to now I can still see mama running after her,” Odessa closed her eyes tightly as if to try to forget. “We were watching from the sidewalk. I saw that girl being hit by a car… you covered my eyes.”
Delia was shaking her head, “All a farce, whoever wrote that exaggerates. I don’t know why you believe everything on that website, much more believe you are a character in all that pack of lies! I need to smoke,” she said.
“Mama killed that woman,” Odessa said.
“Stop it, Odessa, stop that now!” Delia stood up and towered over her niece. She raised her hand in an attempt to slap her, to awaken her, but her hand lay suspended on air. “Your mama wasn’t there, all right? Your mama was hit by that killer truck a year before that girl with the spray died,” she said. Delia covered her mouth with her hand, but she knew there was no point taking back all that she had just said. She left Odessa alone at the table.
They had been quiet since coming back up to the room after breakfast. They mechanically brought down their bags to check out.
“I could drive,” Odessa offered as they reached the car park.
“No, I’m fine,” Delia said.
They were a few kilometers from the hotel when Delia noticed Odessa shake down her head and place her hand on her forehead. “What’s the matter, got a headache?”
“She’s there. Can’t you see her? That woman wearing a black shawl. Shit, my head is getting bigger. I feel a worm is coming out of my scalp again.” Her face was now in both hands. “She was there at the first junction, by the side of the road, as if hitchhiking. And then just as we turned a minute ago, she was there again. Didn’t you see her?”
Delia’s mouth fell open. She didn’t know if she should play along with her niece. She remembered seeing the woman wearing a black shawl once or twice yesterday. But she had never seen her today.
As Odessa lifted her head, she exclaimed, “There she is again!” pointing to the other side of the road. Delia suddenly screeched to a halt. Odessa took the opportunity, “I have to go to her to ask what she wants. Or just to tell her to stop bothering us. Me.”
“She wouldn’t be able to hurt us in broad daylight,” was all Delia could say, but Odessa was already getting out of the car.
Delia screamed to warn her niece of an oncoming vehicle, but when Odessa turned to her, she saw worms, one each, creeping out of her eye sockets. “Odessa!” She said again but Odessa was already crossing the road. All Delia could hear was the loud honking of the approaching car.
Delia was so shocked and unable to move. After a minute, she climbed out of the driver’s seat, just as the other cars and their passengers stopped to gather around her niece.
“She’s dead,” the one who had checked Odessa’s pulse said.
“I kept honking but still she proceeded. She moved as if she didn’t see me, like she wanted to kill herself,” the driver of the car said.
“Where did she come from? Is she with someone?” Another asked.
“She’s with me.” Delia said, making her way through the crowd, her voice choking back tears. She crouched down and touched Odessa. “You saw her, but she didn’t see you,” she said, addressing the driver. She looked up and caught a sign right near where she had parked the car. Holding her niece in her arms, she had to squint against the bright rays of the Philippine sun to be able to read the sign properly, “Drive Safely on Kambubulag Road.”
There are many speculations as to the origins of the kambubulag, the most popular of which was the girl in the dark alley.
It was said that it happened one night when the girl was on her way home and caught up with three two women and a young girl of about six in a dark alley.
It is to be believed that the girl and the little girl saw a fourth person whom the other two couldn’t see. The girl was hit by a car after the woman, the fourth person, ran after her. The woman was believed to be the ghost of Monet Turibio, who had died a year before on that same road. Monet had seemingly found someone to take her place as the ghost of Kambubulag Road.
Another woman died on Kambubulag Road recently. It is with hope that this is the completion of a cycle, of the moth king finally finding its home.
(Updated by Delia Turibio, March 15th, 2009)
Tags: Catherine Batac Walder
One Response to “The Kambubulag”
Two stories « deck shoes Says:
March 27th, 2010 at 9:12 am
[...] March 27, 2010 Two stories Posted by deckshoes under boating, life, writing | Tags: England, Philippines | Leave a Comment A bit late but Demons of the New Year, Horror from the Philippines is now live! My story, ‘The Kambubulag’ is over here. [...]