GONE ASTRAY

GONE ASTRAY

By:  Ma. Paula Fifi  Ongoing
Language: English
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In the Philippines, there is a well-known and commonly practiced superstitious belief called pagpag, loosely translated as "to dust-off." One should never go home directly after visiting a wake or a funeral, because the ghost of the deceased might latch on and cause hauntings or attract evil. Now, where can Filipinos pagpag and lead spirits astray? It could be anywhere: a restaurant, a mall, that house down the street where your toxic ex lives… but usually, people opt for 7-Eleven convenience stores and nobody knows why. Follow the story of Akira Basilio: a part-time staff who mans the Luntian Street 7-Eleven on Thursday and Friday nights, which sounds completely normal; except Akira had the ability to communicate with the dead. She maintained a quiet life by keeping her sixth sense a secret from both the living and the departed, until a particularly persistent spirit flips everything into chaos when he entangles Akira in a hunt for a murderer.

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11 Chapters
CHAPTER I: ALL SOUL'S DAY
FLOWER markets were a nightmare this time of year.There was a horde of people in every direction, and everyone was struggling to buy last minute baskets and bouquets and garlands… all for people who won’t even be there to see the florals arranged beautifully for them.Akira looked down on the basket of white lilies on her lap before gazing out the window, attention caught by an old lady silently watching a bucket of flowers get sold from the corner. She had her hands on her back, observing the vendors near her like a teacher watching students during an exam.As the car slowly rolled forward, Akira’s gaze dropped down to the old lady’s bare feet. They were swollen, blackened, from the ankles to the toe tips covered in severe gangrene. Akira squinted and could faintly see through the old woman’s body, as if the elder was made of parchment every time the sun hit her skin.“Everything okay?” Gian asked when he saw A
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CHAPTER II: FREE KEITH
IF SHE wasn’t with Gian, Akira would’ve looked like she was out of her mind, getting worked up over something that no one else could see.This child appeared like – for lack of a better term – a hot mess. His hair was disheveled and his lips were dry and cracked, tiny nails the color of bark and almost-blue bags under his eyes. Overall, he just seemed like a very sleep-deprived kid.Akira held Gian’s hand as she let the boy lead them around the cemetery. Obviously, this happened a lot and Gian was used to it, but he still asked anyway.“How old is he?” Gian questioned as they make a turn. The boy held up five fingers happily.“He’s holding up five fingers,” Akira replied, and when the slightest beam from a far light post shone on them, she added, “His skin is yellow.”It was unmistakable. All strays that Akira had encountered may be translucent to the eye under illumination, bu
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CHAPTER III: MAGIC GO-AWAY STICKS
MOST people were at work on weekdays.Gian was no exception; he left for work this morning while Akira reviewed and edited a shoot from home.It started as a simple hobby, until photography became the course of education for Akira. She enjoyed it so much that she practically had to beg her parents for it (they wanted her to major in accounting), invested in it, practiced it, graduated with a degree in arts, and worked several gigs with other jobs on the side so she could move to the city and qualify for a small savings account.When she decided to begin treating photography as a serious source of income, Akira barely got booked and it was extremely difficult financially and mentally. Here she was, living in a cheap crammed dorm with nothing but a single professional camera, a laptop she had been using since college, and a constantly throbbing head thanks to her obnoxious roommates.Akira’s dream of thriving in her craft hung by a thread and she wrac
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CHAPTER IV: DEAD ROOMIE'S TALE
SMOKE was a neat trick.Akira noticed in the past that churches didn’t have strays during mass which was strange, since all religious methods she tried didn’t do anything for her. And then the priest took out his censer and she wondered if that was the reason.Akira bought frankincense and a metal bowl the first day she lived alone. Tonya, intrusive as she is, showed herself immediately. The woman wasn’t a malicious spirit at all, but boy was she talkative, and Akira needed the quiet for work.So, one day, Akira whipped out and burned the frankincense right in the living room where Tonya usually appeared. It made her fade – a different kind of fade from when a spirit is finally free – but more akin to paint smeared with a finger. Akira referred to it as glitch.The only problem with frankincense is that it produced too much smoke and made the whole apartment smell musty, like a wet forest.Akira occasionally smoked cig
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CHAPTER V: WELCOME HOME, TONYA
AKIRA was torn whether or not showing the article to Tonya was a smart thing to do, but the dark side won.If Akira’s senses were right, Tonya would react the same way Akira did when she first read about it.“I was shocked too, but then I was laughing.” Akira grinned. The younger woman half expected that Tonya would cry or curse or leave.To her delight, the older woman burst out in teary laughter – the kind of laughter that made Tonya press her hands against her stomach. She couldn’t even read it with a straight face.It was her ex-husband on the article, hospitalized after the woman he cheated on Tonya with, cut his genitals off because she caught him with another woman in bed.“That’s so horrible but so funny at the same time.” Tonya giggled, catching her breath as she wiped her eyes. “Another woman? At his age? Really?”“He’s fortunate that she used a knife. Straight
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CHAPTER VI: HELLO
MIDNIGHTS were usually for editing and non-stop reviewing of photos for Akira, but not on Thursdays and Fridays.Well… not since Gian had known the truth about the eye, anyway.It stemmed from a very unfortunate event of a homeless man lying face-down in a pool of his own blood in the street, after being hit by a speeding delivery truck.Akira could picture it clear as day: she was riding a bus home and the massive vehicle struggled to pass through the bottleneck path caused by the accident. There were authorities, medics, and gossips scattered all over, as if they cared about this man when he was alive and provided him loose change just so he could fill his belly.Akira initially felt sorry for this poor soul. She knew that people crowded around this death not because they cared about him, but because this accident was an inconvenience.The traffic made the bus accelerate slowly. Akira couldn’t take her eyes off the scene not
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CHAPTER VII: MY NAME IS
RINGING in Akira’s ear was the cash register’s unlocking signal, next to the sharp clinking of coins as the next shift began. She hurriedly shoved her things in the bag and pocketed her phone before turning to her coworker Nathaniel – or Nathan – who just walked in, fresh in his uniform. “Boring night?” he asked, and Akira responded with a tiny shrug while she handed Nathan the keys of the convenience store. “Sort of.” Akira let out an uncomfortable laugh and then her eyes glazed over the racks at the back of the counter. “A few call-center people, drunk people, just-came-from-a-wake people… the usual.” “Hey, I know you can see and hear me!” the stray beside her interrupted. He was talking and screaming and whining non-stop, and Akira’s head began to ache. Of the short shift she worked in this 7-Eleven, it sure felt like a thousand days with this tireless, lost soul. Shut up, shut up, shut up! “’Just-came-from
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CHAPTER VIII: CHESTER DANTE
HANDS over her ears, Akira had dropped the box of cigarettes and the lighter on the floor. She shook her head for a moment, and the stray stood frozen a few feet away from her in surprise. “I was just –” “I said no!” Akira shouted. “I don’t care what you need. You followed me home and invaded my personal space despite me obviously not wanting to do anything with you.” “But –” “I don’t care! I don’t want to know your name!” His expression just crumpled like a piece of paper, as if he had just witnessed Akira kick a puppy. Before pity took over, Akira decided that this man had to disappear because knowing his name might strengthen his latch onto her. She swiftly bent down to pick up the lighter and the box, opening it without a second thought. Muscle memory provided useful as her fingers moved on their own, unwrapping the pack and pulling one of the sticks out before placing it between her lips. The stray just stood there dumbstr
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CHAPTER IX: COMEBACK
TOSSING and turning in bed was what Akira did most of the night. Gian, sweet and supportive as he is, tried to stay up with her for as long as he could. Near 4:00am, they were still telling stories about how their individual days went and it took Akira’s mind off of strays effectively. Under normal circumstances, any other long-term couple like Akira and Gian would end the day like this: talking about what happened with them while they were apart. Indeed, very normal, very long-term… except theirs happened during ungodly hours on Thursdays and Fridays. This is Akira’s favorite part of being in a stable, sane, relationship. Not the dates, or the sparkle, or the grand gestures, but the boring. She loved that Gian and her could be so into each other that their plain conversations and watching television and homemade dinners were a hundred percent satisfying to the heart and soul. Perhaps it’s the eye that made her crave whatever normal is, for y
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CHAPTER X: A FATHER AND TWO SONS
STOPPING in front a building with bright pink neon lights was Akira’s ride, a red Vios with the front windows down blasting Aqua’s Barbie Girl. It was ridiculous and hilarious at the same time; two words that perfectly described the driver that stepped out of the vehicle.She wore this skimpy dress with a streets-of-Japan pattern, a leather jacket, and pink sneakers, apt for a night of tequila shots and bad decisions. Basically, Akira’s opposite, with a graphic t-shirt and jeans. In a single look, one would instantaneously wonder why Akira was in any way associated with this person.“Really? Windows down in Manila while wearing that?” Akira flashed a grin and took one last hit at the cigarette between her fingers, before throwing it on the asphalt and putting the light out with the sole of her boot.“It’s fine, I have a gun in the glove compartment,” she stated plainly and pocketed her keys after closing her car wi
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