ONLY UNCLENCH YOUR HAND—ISABEL YAP

They’re killing chickens again in the backyard. Last time, a headless chicken ran in and danced blood puddles around my feet. I can’t relax, anyway, because of another thrumming headache, so I grab a textbook and decide to get a few pages in by the river. As I make my way down the rocky path I hear Tito Benjo laugh and Aling Dinday scream for the chickens to stay still. I should be used to noise, from Manila, but here in the province, every sound is amplified. In a village this small, you can hear everything for miles.

It would be good for my review, Mom and Dad said. No distractions. When you get home, you’ll be all set to pass the entrance tests. So, after graduation and three weeks of rest and sleep, Tito Benjo picked me up and drove me out here. They were right, mostly—I can barely get a cell phone signal, let alone a few bars of Wi-Fi, and even then I have to work out of the village carinderia. But I finished my study plan, with time to review. Besides, I’ll be heading home in a week. I hold up my arm to block out the sun, and see a mosquito latched onto my elbow. When I swat it, blood smears across my palm. “Damn bug.”

“Damn bug,” someone echoes behind me, the English exaggerated. I turn around, grinning, and seize Edna by the armpits. She shrieks as I lift her into the air. “No, Ate Macky! Bloody hands!”

I laugh, put her down, and wipe my hand on my shorts. Edna is the daughter of Aling Dinday and Manong Edgar, the caretakers of Tito Benjo’s farm. I think she’s nine, though she’s tiny enough to be six. She’s one of the few people in the village who humor me, who don’t mind the English I mix with fumbling Tagalog, or the short hair and comfy clothes that get me mistaken for a boy. If not for her company, it would have been a pretty lonely summer. I might never even have set foot outside Tito Benjo’s property.

“Where are you going? Studying?”

“I want to. But my head hurts.”

Edna makes a monkey face—wide eyes, jutted lower lip. “If you have a headache, you should see Mang Okat.”

“Who?”

“Mang Okat,” she says, tugging my arm. “Our healer.”

“It’s fine,” I say. “I get these headaches pretty often.” I don’t mention that they’ve gotten worse, or that they only started this summer, when I decided to pursue law. I don’t mention that I think faith healings are whack, fit only for TV specials and sensational news.

“He can fix it!” she says, still tugging. Because I like Edna, and my brain hurts, and I don’t think I can concentrate anyway, I let her drag me off.

*  *  *  *

Edna bounds up the steps to Mang Okat’s house, which to my city-girl sensibilities looks kinda like a hut. “Manong! I brought someone new for you!”

“New?” He peers out. His weathered, wrinkled face unfolds into a grin. “Ahh-ahh! Ser Benjo’s niece, the Manileña!”

“Hello, po,” I say, ducking my head as I enter. He gestures for me to sit on a plastic chair by the window. I can’t refuse. Edna perches on a bench across from us.

“What’s the problem?”

“She has a headache,” Edna says.

“Yes, po,” I answer, helplessly. Mom got my head checked out when I first complained—but the brain scan they took showed nothing. Take some painkillers, they said, but I’ve already had my quota for the day. I decide to just go along with it, since it can’t possibly get worse. Mang Okat slaps his hand on my forehead. It’s greasy and smells of herbs.

“Hmm-hmm.” He turns to his table, which is covered in vegetables and herbs and jars of—potions, I guess, or liquids that are supposedly potions. He turns back, holding a glass filled with water in one hand, and a small bamboo tube in the other. There’s a black stone in the glass. “Stay still,” he instructs, holding the glass against my head. I glance at Edna, but she just smiles back. Mang Okat dips the tube into the glass and starts blowing into it, making the water bubble. He hovers the glass back and forth and around my head. I feel profoundly weird. To distract myself, I watch the movement of a bug across the floor—it looks like a giant fly, but it doesn’t have wings. Some kind of beetle. It skitters from one wooden plank to another, then races up the window ledge and disappears over the edge.

At once, the pain in my head evaporates. It’s a sudden, sweet relief that extends from my forehead down to my shoulders—I didn’t realize how heavily the ache had been sitting on me. “Better?” Mang Okat asks.

I nod. My breath comes languid, heavy; I feel like having the best sleep ever.

He holds out the glass. The water has turned murky green, with solid particles floating in it. “This was inside you,” he says, before dumping the water out in a plastic bucket.

“Thank you,” I say, rather awed.

Edna beams. “Told you so!”

I fish in my pocket and pull out a crumpled fifty-peso bill. “Here, Manong.” I hold it out.

He waves it off, brow wrinkling.

“No, please,” I say.

“Oh, just take it, Tay,” someone says from the door.

“Ate Senya! I thought you were still in Manila!” Edna launches off the bench and wraps around the legs of the woman coming in. She looks a little older than me. Her mouth is set in a tired smile, and she has severe eyebags. She’s wearing a yellow tank top stained with sweat so that I can see her bra through it, and a sky blue skirt. She wipes her face with the back of her hand while setting down a woven bag of groceries.

“I came back three days ago,” Senya laughs. She pats Edna’s head because Edna is still wrapped around her like a leech. This makes me feel oddly jealous.

“Welcome back, anak,” Mang Okat says.

“Tay, you should stop healing for free. And besides, I think the Manileña has some cash to spare.” She grins—probably to show she’s just ribbing me—but it stings a little, even if I’m used to it. After a brief pause, Mang Okat takes the bill from my fingers. He passes Senya, gives her a quick kiss on the cheek, then holds out his hand. She gives him a pack of cigarettes, and he stumps out of the house.

She looks at the bucket against the wall, mouth quirked.

“Your dad is pretty amazing,” I say, suddenly defensive. Quack powers or not, there’s no denying the fact that I feel a million times better.

“I know,” she answers, softly. “I’m glad he was able to help. Don’t you have any paracetamol, though? I bet it’s more effective.”

I decide not to argue, and shrug. My longing for a nap is overwhelming.

“Ate Senya, be nice. I like Ate Macky,” Edna says.

“I’m always nice.” She crouches down to whisper something in Edna’s ear, and they giggle. Feeling left out, I glance out the window. There’s a cockroach creeping on the ledge. It scuttles down the wall, across the floor, toward Senya. She doesn’t pay attention, even when it crawls between her feet, disappearing somewhere under her skirt. It crawls out again on the other side and drops down between the planks of wood.

*  *  *  *

Edna has to go to the market with Aling Dinday the next day, so I take my backpack and decide to try my luck with the carinderia Wi-Fi. My head feels so light and clear, I practically skip down the road. Manong Edgar waves at me from where he’s knee-deep in a bunch of Tito Benjo’s goats. I wave back.

The lady at the carinderia knows me by now. She fills a paper boat with greasy chicken skin, squirting banana ketchup on top, and hands it to me with a bottle of Coke. I settle in at my favorite table, waving away the flies that cluster in bunches, hoping for scraps off people’s plates. I’m holding up my MiFi, searching for a signal, when I hear glass shattering.

“Fuck you!” a man shouts, and someone shouts back, “Let go of me!”

The Carinderia Lady makes a face at the street, but she stays where she is, waving her flyswatter back and forth. I dash outside. Mang Okat’s daughter—Senya—is trying to wrench her arm away from some shirtless dude in low-hanging shorts. Bits of beer bottle litter the ground around them. A trickle of blood drips down his face, but my eyes fix on the knife he is holding. Senya is gripping the jagged edge of a beer bottle, but the knife will be faster, more precise.

“Hey!” I default to English in my anger. “Let her go!” The man turns, eyes blown to their whites, lip curled. He glares at me, calculating. I’m lean and empty-handed and not that near—but I’m the niece of Tito Benjo, the governor, the landowner, and you don’t fuck with politicians.

He releases Senya’s arm and stalks off, still clutching his knife. The look of searing hate he throws at her, then at me, makes me want to run after him and beat his head with a stick—but I don’t. Senya rubs her arm, looking at me warily.

After he disappears around a corner, she says, “You didn’t need to do that. I can take care of myself, Miss Macky.”

The formality surprises me, that she thinks of me that way too. “I know, I just—what a dick.”

Senya manages a huff of laughter. She comes over, still rubbing her arm. We walk to my table.

“You’re . . . funny, you know that?”

I smile. “You want some chicken skin?”

She shakes her head but takes a seat. There’s a brief pause where I sense the Carinderia Lady watching us, but Senya glances at her, and the Carinderia Lady suddenly starts talking on her cell phone. My cheeks grow hot. If she’s gossiping, it’s not that different from what I have to deal with in Manila—the casually tossed-out tomboy, the more piercing lesbo. I’ve got my friends, my humor, and enough self-preservation to not let it get to me most of the time. It’s not supposed to fucking matter, how I dress and who or what I like. But I can’t escape the blabbering mouths, not even out here.

I tap my fingers on my laptop. My MiFi has absolutely no signal. “Did you know that guy?” I ask, finally.

“I told him I didn’t want to see him.” She rubs one finger down my bottle of Coke, still cold from the icebox. A ring of water from the condensation stains the plastic tablecloth. “I don’t know how to get the message across. I forget about him till I’m back here.”

“What do you do in Manila?”

“I study. Nursing. I’m old,” she adds quickly. “It took Itay and me a while to save enough. He wants me to get work in a hospital abroad, after. That’ll make it worth it. But if I do end up going . . . Well, Itay does okay for himself, but . . .” A brief sadness crosses her face, and I remember Mang Okat kissing her cheek, her exasperation at his work. Then her eyes fix on the textbooks I’ve piled next to my computer. She picks one up. “Law?”

I nod, unable to ignore the way her eyebrows tighten. “Hopefully.”

She sighs. “Corporate, right? Or something like that?”

“I haven’t decided yet.” I haven’t even gotten in.

She dips her finger in the ring of condensation and drags it around the tablecloth. “Doesn’t matter, I guess.” I keep quiet while she continues. “Miss Macky, you and Ser Benjo and your family back home in Manila, you’ll probably be okay. People like him”—she jerks her head at the road—“they won’t bother you. They won’t try. Random bastards won’t try. If anything happens, someone would at least try to solve it.”

“That’s not true,” I say. “Even stars and athletes and people from—people with power—sometimes they get attacked. Sometimes, their cases don’t get solved, too. Look at—uh, Nida Blanca.”

“You don’t understand,” she says, with a tired smile. “It’s different here. We just get used to it. Besides, if what you’re saying is true—why would you ever want to study something so useless?” She looks up from her water-tracing.

My mouth feels dry. I take a sip from my Coke. “I want to help,” I say—­but it’s true; I’m probably not going into criminal law. Too much shit, too much stress. I’m not cut out to become a burning Defender of Justice. It’s too easy to get disillusioned, or at least that’s what my parents tell me, and they’ve both been practicing for years. “Same reason you’re doing nursing, right?”

Senya nods, slowly, but with more deliberation than I could ever muster.

*  *  *  *

I stay at the carinderia until evening, when the flickering fluorescent no longer helps. There’s still a faint streak of pink way in the distance, but I use the camera flash of my phone to light my path as I walk back to Tito Benjo’s, because there are no streetlights and too many potholes.

Halfway there, I hear violent retching somewhere ahead of me on the dark path. The local alcohol is cheap and goes straight to one’s liver. Tito Benjo asks me to drink with him every now and then; it’s pretty awful, but I wouldn’t dare turn my host down. I scoot to the other side of the road and hold my phone-light up. A man is doubled over; the wet chunks of his dinner splatter the ground while he heaves. Disgusted, I try to edge past him, but my light catches the mess he has made on the ground, and I see . . . tiny black balls of . . . what looks like hair stained red with blood. He vomits again. More dark balls splat on the ground, with shiny pink things that look like slugs or tongues. The man glances up, panting. “You,” he manages, one hand gripping his bare stomach.

I see a knife handle poking out of his shorts, and remember—but even if he’s a fucker, if he’s barfing out his intestines, I have to do something. “Do you—” I ask, but he spits, wipes his mouth, and staggers away. I cringe, relieved and grossed out. Already, a trail of ants has caught the mess and is sifting through the vomit. Feeling sick, I run the rest of the way back.

*  *  *  *

Tito Benjo laughs.

“Puking out hairballs? Like a cat?”

“Tito, I’m serious.”

“Must have eaten something awful for dinner.” Tito Benjo shrugs. “That kid—he’s usually up to no good, always sleazing, but he’s never actually doneanything.”

I remember his searing look of hate. “He carries a knife around.”

“Lots of people do, here. You can’t stop them. They’re usually blunt.” He waves it away. “How are your studies going?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“If you don’t pass your exam, I’ll be in trouble with your mom. Ha-ha!”

I grin, because Tito Benjo laughs far too much, and I peck him on the cheek, excusing myself for the evening. Tito Benjo’s house has concrete walls. There’s no gate, but there are locks on the doors. The path is long and the farm surrounds us and no one would dare. I think of Mang Okat and Senya in her hut, Edna and her parents in their own hut, and that drunken man raving through the night, with a knife in his shorts and the smell of vomit and blood hanging off him.

*  *  *  *

Edna appears in our kitchen the next day while I’m ladling out tinola soup. “Mama says you’re going back at the end of this week?”

“Yep.”

“You didn’t tell me!”

There are so few kids in this village; I realize that I’m a rare friend of Edna’s, too. “I’m sorry! I thought you knew.” I pass her a bowl of soup. “I’ll come back next summer,” I say—but I won’t have an exam to pass then, and I’ll probably have summer class. “I’lltry to come back next summer.”

“Try, okay?”

I nod. We sip our soup.

“Ate Senya said we could visit her house later. She’s making mais con hielo.”

“Oh, good,” I blurt out. I suddenly remember the blood and puke spilling from that dude’s mouth—but that path was very dark, even with my phone-light on. He probably did just eat and drink too much, and anyway, I was still learning about all the weird local delicacies.

“So you wanna go?”

“Uh—er—” I was relieved that he hadn’t gotten to them—I had been secretly scared about that all night—but that didn’t really mean I wanted to go.

“It’s mais con hielo.”

“Okay, okay.”

On our way to Mang Okat’s, I find my eyes trailing the ground, both hoping and not hoping to find proof of last night’s encounter. A part of the road has vomit, but in the daylight, the color is more watermelon pink, nothing like blood at all. There are no hairballs. Edna skips over the trail of ants creeping across the mess; if she finds nothing weird, then neither do I.

*  *  *  *

Senya is crushing ice in plastic cups when we arrive. She hands us both knives so we can help. It’s a burning day, and the ice is already half melted by the time we pour condensed milk and corn kernels into it. We don’t talk much, sitting on the steps of her house, eating our frozen treats. There’s one moment when I act ridiculous, closing my eyes. I don’t hear cars or smell pollution or feel like someone’s about to snatch my phone out of my pocket—it’s another one of those times where the province feels peaceful, otherworldly, and I’m glad it’s not Manila. I’m glad the freeways don’t extend to here; I’m glad I don’t feel the need to take a selfie with the cup in my hands and give it the appropriate hashtag.

Edna sings a song in Batangenyo, which I vaguely understand as being about a river, and Senya joins in during the chorus, winding her hair into a braid over her shoulder.

Mang Okat emerges from the trees blocking our view of the path. We’re already standing to greet him when he shouts for help. He’s dragging something—someone.

I get to him first and let him drape the arm of the person he’s carrying over my shoulders. I don’t ask, just move. Senya and Edna watch as we climb up the short steps and deposit the person on Mang Okat’s narrow wooden bed. The man stirs, moans. There are open sores all down his arms and over his chest: cuts and scrapes that gleam raw, wet and weeping. The wounds are all colors, a grisly sunburst spectrum of red-yellow-­orange-purple-black, some graying at the edges.

Mang Okat picks a bottle off his workbench, full of wood chips and herbs suspended in oil. A strong smell of rum leaks when he opens it. He pours the liquid over the patient’s chest, smearing it into the wounds. The patient makes a gargling noise, inhuman-sounding.

“Tay, do you need help?” Senya asks.

Mang Okat glances up and shakes his head. His eyes linger on mine, briefly, but I can’t decipher the look in them—something almost like fear. “I think you girls should go.”

It takes effort for me to walk away. I can’t tear my eyes from the sight of the man, or stop noticing the smell of his skin, warm and slick with fluid from his wounds. There are weeping sores even on the soles of his feet, and before I turn around completely, I see a black bug crawl—out of his wound, or next to it?

“Ate Macky,” Edna calls. I sprint down the steps.

*  *  *  *

We reach the river. I lean over the bank, knees against my chest, willing myself not to retch. The thought of vomiting makes me think of the man from the previous night again. I stare at the water, watch my reflection stare back.

“Who was it?” Edna asks.

“I didn’t see,” Senya says. I turn to look at her. She sits cross-legged, fingers twiddling the grass. “I don’t think even Itay can fix that kind of curse.”

“Curse?” I ask, stomach bunching as I stand. “That was a curse? It looks like he got—I don’t know—sliced by tons of invisible knives.”

Edna and Senya look at each other, then back at me, almost pityingly.

“It’s a mambabarang,” Senya says. “I guess you wouldn’t encounter that, in Manila.”

“Mambabarang? What the fuck is that?”

“They curse people,” Edna answers. I forget that I shouldn’t curse around kids, but she doesn’t seem to care. She’s pulling up little blades of glass. “They’re like . . . the opposite of Mang Okat. You can bring them money, or things they want, and they’ll curse your enemies. Or sometimes they’ll curse people just because.” I wonder why she won’t look at me as she says it.

“Witches?”

Edna shrugs. Her little face is dull, and I realize it’s not that unusual here. My ignorance is—if not annoying, puzzling. “They can be boys, too.”

“What the hell? There’s someone like that in the village and you just—haven’t they ever tried catching the person?”

“The mambabarang won’t get caught,” Senya says, still with that gentle voice. “It’s not like there’s only one. If they were found out, the village would murder them, or at least—send them away. They’re careful. They won’t let others talk.”

I think of Mang Okat’s glance. I remember that the man yesterday gave me the same look, after he’d hurled and started walking away—and heaviness sprouts in my chest. Was it him? But I already know it was.

“It’s not me,” I say.

There’s a moment of silence. Then Senya laughs, doubled over, shrill and gasping. It’s the loudest sound I’ve heard her make. Her laughter makes me feel ridiculous, but I crack a smile, because if she thinks it’s impossible, it must be.

“Of course not, Miss Macky,” she says. “You’ll use the law instead, right?”

I stare at her, mouth open, fighting the urge to slap her—I’m trying, in my own way. Her gaze levels mine. “You wouldn’t do a thing like that,” she says, back to her soft voice, like something escaping a dream. You wouldn’t dare, her eyes say, and anyway, why would you ever need to?

*  *  *  *

Tito Benjo and I eat in the carinderia that evening, because Aling Dinday isn’t feeling well and can’t make us dinner. I push around the stewed goat on my plate, while Tito Benjo watches a basketball game on the oversaturated TV. I am about to ask if I can go home when Edna crashes into our table. The dim light shows tears streaked across her face. “Ate Macky! Governor! Itay is—Itay is—”

We run, with Tito Benjo puffing behind us. Edna stops in the goat field outside the house. I don’t need light to know that there’s blood everywhere. I smell it rising from the grass, and when I kneel down beside Manong Edgar and cradle his head, I feel it, slick between my fingers.

“Who—” I ask, but Edna is shaking her head—she doesn’t know, she doesn’t know.

“I’ll get the car,” Tito Benjo says, voice pinched. He charges off.

“Is he still alive?” Edna asks. I hold my hand over his nose, expecting the worst. He’s breathing, just barely.

“Edna!” Aling Dinday appears at the edge of the field, with Mang Okat and Senya behind her, all of them panting. When they reach us, Mang Okat kneels across me, and Senya pulls Edna into her arms. “Manong, manong, please,” Aling Dinday breathes, clutching Mang Okat’s hand. She isn’t sobbing, but her voice wobbles.

“He needs a hospital,” Mang Okat says. “This isn’t something my healing will work on.”

Aling Dinday draws in a heavy breath, just as Tito Benjo’s car comes up the road. He brings it right up to the fence, then hurries over. Carefully, he and Mang Okat lift Manong Edgar to the car. Aling Dinday wipes her eyes and climbs in after them.

“You stay and watch Edna,” Tito Benjo says. I nod, hands still wet with blood, shaking, shaken.

*  *  *  *

I try to sleep, with Edna curled up beside me, tears streaming out of her eyes while she half dozes.

Why Manong Edgar? Someone drunk? High? Someone with revenge on his mind?

You don’t understand. It’s different here. We just get used to it.

For no reason? I pull my blanket up to my chin and let my heart drum me to sleep.

*  *  *  *

“Ate Macky,” Edna whispers. I jerk upright. It’s still dark outside. The moon hovers outside our window, bloated, dull silver.

“What is it?”

“Come on.” Edna stands from where she was crouched next to my bed. “We’ve got to hurry.” She starts out the door.

I trip out of bed, pull on my slippers, and follow her. She walks down the path, steady and sure, and crosses the goat fields into a thicket of trees—the forest outside our farm. I’m afraid I’ll lose her in the darkness, so I walk faster, until I’m in step with her. After minutes of nothing, I see a dim fire blazing ahead—the glow of several candles, beneath a balete tree with dead, drooping branches. I blink to focus. Someone is crouched before the candle flame, wearing a sky blue skirt, hair hanging wild over her shoulders.

She sees us and holds a finger to her lips as we come closer. Her eyes are hazy, half-lidded. Edna pulls me to sit down beside her.

Senya holds out her hand. There are fat beetles on it, the same kind I’d seen in her house. I am not afraid of bugs, but the revulsion inside me is so strong that I gag. Her finger skims their shells, and she makes a clucking sound in the back of her throat. Then she drops them onto her lap, and they rove around in lazy circles. She withdraws something from her shirt pocket—it’s a needle, with white thread running through it, ghostly in the moonlight.

She picks up a bug and pierces it with the thread. I dig my fingers into my palm. She pierces the bug, again and again. There is no sound, but with each movement of Senya’s stabbing hand I feel like covering my ears, like there’s screaming in my skull. Screaming, laughter, crying, screeching. She does this to the two other bugs, and then sets them down on the floor. Instead of curling up or twitching to death, the bugs appear to be unharmed. They begin moving in a line, pale thread strung between their black bodies, and that’s when I notice the cloth doll lying next to the candles.

The bugs burrow their way into it. Senya watches, hands folded in her lap. We all watch. The doll flops back and forth as the bugs tear their way through it. Then, from the same holes they bore in, the bugs burrow their way out. Senya whispers to them—or to us, or to the candle flame?—and their black shapes move into the darkness, through blades of grass, thread trailing behind them. The sounds in my head slowly die away.

Senya sighs. It’s the first human sound I’ve heard in what feels like forever. She looks drained, the bags under her eyes alarming, her mouth drawn into a deep-set curve. Edna reaches out her hand toward Senya, and Senya takes it. After a moment, Edna reaches out a hand to me, and I reach out for Senya’s, closing the circle. Her fingers are slim and cool in my grasp.

We stay like that, waiting in the dark, while the candle burns and the village twists and seethes around us. It feels like a long time before the screaming starts, but it could have been minutes. In a village this small, every sound is amplified.

There are tears running down Edna’s face, but she just squeezes my hand tighter, and the fury in her eyes is matched only by the serenity of Senya’s smile.

I look down at my feet. I imagine the skin along my veins cracking apart, gushing with blood; dark beetles crawling out, making their way up my shins, my legs, eating their way into my belly. Pouring out of me, trailing my insides with them, slick with blood. I think of the man holding his knife towards Senya. I think of Manong Edgar in the goat field, singing to himself, waving at me. I curl my toes and hold their hands, and we wait until the screams stop; we wait until we are satisfied.

*  *  *  *

My shirt is crusty when I wake up, from Edna’s tears and snot. She’s rolled away from me and is facing the opposite wall. I can’t remember when we came back. I can’t remember if we ever left.

I fumble for my phone. No messages. I hold it outside the window, trying to get a signal, and after a few minutes, there’s a ping: Tell Edna Mang Edgar will make it. Tks.

They come home two days later, after the village has found and buried the drunken ass that did it. Manong Edgar’s head is heavily bandaged, but his laughter when he sees Edna, despite being weaker, is full of warmth.

*  *  *  *

I stop by Mang Okat’s house my last day in town. Edna’s sulking, but I’ve promised to make it up to her by bringing a souvenir from Manila next time. Mang Okat and Senya are on the steps, shelling boiled peanuts.

“I’m heading back to Manila tonight. Manong, thank you again for your help the other day.”

“No more headaches?”

“None. No patients today?”

Mang Okat shakes his head slightly, then stands. “That’s right—I have something for you!” He enters his house and rummages around the bottles on his bench.

Senya holds out a handful of shelled peanuts.

“No, thank you,” I say.

“Ready for your test?”

“Sort of. I’ll feel better when I take it. At least it will be over.”

She laughs as Mang Okat emerges and hands me a tiny oil-filled bottle. “Just rub a bit of this on your head when it hurts,” he says.

“Thank you, Manong.” I fumble through my pocket. He waves me away.

“Just take it,” Senya says—to me this time. She stands, puts her bowl of peanuts away, and gives me a quick, awkward hug. “Good luck.”

I am halfway down the road when I turn back to face them, bottle clutched in my hand.

Senya gives me a small smile and a wave. I wave back. Something crawls up the side of my neck, perching behind my ear. I pinch it between my fingers, hold it away, let it drop to the ground. I see, briefly, the black thread trailing from its body, before it scuttles off to safety.


ISABEL YAP (isalikeswords.wordpress.com) writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, Tokyo (for ninety-six days!), and London. In 2013, she attended the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have appeared in Tor.com,Shimmer, Interfictions Online, and Nightmare; they have also been included in The Year’s Best Weird Fiction Vol. 2, Apex Book of World SF Volume 4, andThe Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005–2010. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Stone Telling, Uncanny Magazine, Apex magazine, andGoblin Fruit. You can find her on her website or on Twitter at @visyap.