BODY -SNATCHING RIVER

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By: Luis  Mondejar, Jr.

One Sunny morning,  Mercedes went to a river near their house (an infamous river in Southern Luzon). The river is feared because of the numerous drowning incidents there.  A number of people were also being reported missing after a trip to the river.  They were never found  and their disappearance remained unsolved to date.   Mercedes was warned not to go to the river. However, she had to do  their laundry. Their deep well needed repair so she  really had no choice  but to  do her laundry in the river. She could  have postponed it, but she  was insistent and  obstinate.

At the riverside was an old  mango tree about 200 meter from their house.  Across the river, beside a hilly  portion draped in heavy shrubs and bushes, also stood  a centennial tamarind tree.  Many  believed that  the heavy vegetation in that area  hides a cave but no one dared venture into place. It was  believed  to be inhabited by elementals. After doing her laundry, Mercedes went back to their house.  Her mother was furious. “I had  to do the laundry  today, Nanay.  Tomorrow is  school day again,”  Mercedes reasoned out. “But, anak, that place is dangerous ,” replied  her mother. “Nanay, look, I have  come back and nothing unusual  happened to  me,” Mercedes defended herself. Her mother ended the  discussion with a stern warning; Mercedes will never set  foot in  that river again.  Mercedes just shrugged her shoulder.  A few hour later, Mercedes had an accident-she slipped and had  a ball fall. She fell so fast hitting her head on  the floor.  She immediately lost consciousness. Her hysterical mother cried for help.  The responding  neighbors rushed  to their house and helped brought the still unconscious Mercedes to the nearest hospital. She  was pronounced dead on arrival  by the attending physician.  Cause of death was cardiac arrest.  “That’s  impossible!” exclaimed the mother. “Mercedes didn’t have  a heart disease. She was perfectly healthy!

News of Mercedes’ sudden death spread in the barangay. They  immediately suspected that the river had something to do with the  accident. However, they were  baffled  by the fact that Mercedes  didn’t  die in  the river but at home.  Mang Inting,  a dumaan (a native) of the place was consulted by the  parents  of Mercedes. On the last day of the wake,  and before the coffin was to be carried out of the house for burial, Mang Inting advised the  parents that the coffin be brought out through the window and bring it to the old mango  tree near the river.  The people . including the parents  of Mercedes, were advised to return to the house immediately and never to turn back as soon as  they have placed Mercedes’ body under the tree. All of them complied. Mang Inting promised to return with Mercedes, alive before noontime.  “Mercedes never died at all,” he told them.  So, Mang Inting waddled across the river to where the  tamarind tree stood.  Upon reaching  the tree,  he stopped  awhile and said a prayer in a  language only Mang Inting could understand . Then, he pried apart the  shrubs  and bushes that covered the entrance  of the cave. And alas! A young girl was seen sobbing. Her dress was wet. Her body was stained  with muds  as if she  was pulled  out  of a quagmire.  “Are you Mercedes?”  asked  the dumaan, Mang Inting.  The girl nodded. She could not speak. At exactly 12 noon, Mang Inting returned to Mercedes’ house.  Everyday stood in awe, their eyes widened in disbelief, when they saw  that Mang  Inting was really with  Mercedes.

The curious and doubting Thomases returned to the mango tree to  see what happened  to the coffin. It was still there,  but without any body. What they saw were shrubs  and bushes inside the coffin. Later, they  saw a man coming from the tamarind tree and  entered the cave.  Mercedes had not spoken since the incident as is her  tongue  had permanently cleaved to the roof of her mouth.  When asked, she just  gesticulated with her hands to describe  the man in the tamarind tree  was tall,  black, hairy, with shiny big round eyes. The residents thought, as confirmed by Mang Inting, that the  mysterious man in the  tamarind  tree was  what the Cebuanos called agta  or engkantong itim in Tagalog

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