We met Irene at the ruins of a crypt that dated back to the Spanish era. Our hosts had brought me and my friend there to catch a glimpse of the Taal not yet accessible to tourists.
The structure was discovered last year. Irene’s father, Mang Bernard, was the first to explore its depths, lowering himself down a hole in the dome atop the crypt, dropping into a small cavern that contained a long rectangular table surrounded by chairs. “They say it contains a tunnel that leads to the basilica,” Irene said in Tagalog.
“Have you always known about the structure?” I asked.
“Yes. I grew up here. We always knew it existed,” she said.
“Have you experienced anything strange?”
She gave me a weird look. “What do you mean?”
I waved my hands vaguely; I tend to do that when I’m embarassed. “Strange things. Supernatural things.”
Irene brightened. “Oh!” Her tone said, ‘why didn’t you say so.’
“I saw a kapre once. I think I was in grade five. I opened a window and there he was, standing outside.”
He was extremely tall, she said, with broad shoulders and red hair so thick it looked like fur. Something glowed in his hand; she guessed it was the cigar the beings were never seen without.
“And then what happened?”
“He ran away.”
We chuckled at the thought of a small girl startling a big monster.
“Was that your only experience?”
She told us about the house she grew up in, when the family would hear a baby crying under the floorboards in the middle of the night, even though it had been years since the youngest child was a toddler.
“Were you scared?” I asked.
“Of course I was!”
They eventually asked someone to send it away. “The cried grew louder before slowly disappearing,” Irene said. “You know they’re leaving when they sound near. They’re nearby when they sound far away.”
She waved a hand at the family house in a clearing just beyond the ruins. “We’ve found a lot of bones here. I guess it used to be a cemetery, probably the part where they buried folks who couldn’t afford the crypt. Our neighbors found bones while they were constructing their houses, too.”
I wanted to hear more stories, but it was time to go. “You should talk to my father,” Irene said. “He’s seen things.”
I said that I would love to one day. Goodbyes were said, and we returned to the car.
I always love hearing about people’s brushes with the supernatural. I may not be sure such beings exist, but I continue to hold out hope that they do. The world would be far less interesting, otherwise.