“Once upon a time…”

…is a pretty nice way to start a post about genre stories, don’t you think?

Once upon a time–I think it was about a dozen years ago, more or less–Philippine Genre Stories started, first as a print publication (with a blog at philippinegenrestories.blogspot.com), evolving later on into digital here on this website, though it had to stop due to the ravages of time (or rather, the lack of time to be ravaged).

I have to thank Celestine Trinidad, who reminded me via a tweet of a PGS story published in 2012, “Last Stand at Ayala Center” by EK Gonzales. The quote goes:

“And then the virus came, then the martial law order to stay indoors, the lock-down and the quarantine. The virus came, and like a vacuum it sucked up the future. Suddenly there was no time, not even to dream, not even to live.”

How apt and prescient, yes?

Locked up at home, do we have more time? Maybe, depending on your work-from-home situation. Are we running out of time? To dream? To live? Maybe also…

I posted about this quote just earlier this evening on my personal Facebook account, and then friends and former contributors Ian Rosales Casocot and F.H. Bataccan commented about how nice it would be if PGS could come back, and that a pandemic issue would be good, and suddenly the comments section of that post started getting populated, Dean Francis Alfar got tagged and so on and so forth until, well, here we are.

Here’s the meat of this post: This is a limited call for submissions for a digital pandemic segment for the Philippine Genre Stories website. I, as publisher and editor of PGS, am opening up for submissions, in any genre or mix of genres, submissions of stories about the Covid-19 pandemic. This call is open only to former writers and contributors who have been published in PGS.

Why am I limiting the call to former writers and contributors? Well, time is still short, for one thing, so I want to work with writers with whom I had already worked with before, who already know what PGS is about, and who I know can produce. You all know who you are, and I do want to give you all a chance again at getting a genre story out there via PGS. Just like old times, don’t you think? 😉

It is also limited because I do not see PGS moving on as an ongoing concern. Time, once more, is the opponent. I think I will have enough wherewithal to run and manage this for a limited period, for stories about the pandemic, and after that, PGS may need to “rest” again until such time as the ways and means come about for it to steadily continue again. How many stories will come out of this? I don’t know. I have the commitment of Dean, Ian, and Ichi, and that is something I value and am grateful for. I have tagged Celestine and EK here, so I hope they agree, too.

I am inviting all former writers who were published in PGS to send in your work. I won’t tag you all, but I do hope you see this, and I do want you to tell all those you know who have been in PGS to ask them if they will be willing to contribute a story. Please? 🙂 If you know any of them, please let them know.

Whether this runs just with Dean’s, Ian’s, and Ichi’s tales and be done, or if it gets to run on for just a bit longer with more former PGS writers sending in their work, I will be grateful. Whether this runs for just the very short period of a couple of months, or if it runs for longer, I will be grateful. But as F.H. Batacan said, it would be good to set these stories down as a record of these tough and challenging times in the form of genre stories. And maybe it will help relieve us of some of the stress of dealing with these times.

And, as usual, and paramount for me, it will give people a chance to read the work of Pinoy genre writers.

I will set the last day for submissions on October 31, 2020, but feel free to start sending in as soon as, say, August 15, 2020? And let’s see if I can start publishing online not long after that. The schedule will be flexible, but I will do my best to keep some steady flow of work going on Philippinegenrestories.com. You can email your submissions to pdofsf@yahoo.com. And it would be great to be in touch with all of you again, after all this time. 🙂 Cheers to you all, I hope you are all doing well, and are safe and healthy.

The New Daughter

When the boy inevitably grew up, married and moved away with his own growing family, the toymaker decided to make a girl. He did it this time in secret, afraid of what his neighbors would think, fearing the potential unjust accusation of prurience when all he wanted was someone he could talk to, whose conversation would eradicate the heaviness of his solitude.

He worked at night, carving wood with his spotted hands by the feeble light of low and fat candles he favored from his youth, recalling how he watched his grandfather shape magic from wood and humming a song whose words he had long forgotten. He worked from midnight until just before dawn for five weeks, struggling with the impatience that old men with erratic memory suffer, losing himself in the methodology of his craft, shaving wood to reveal the delicate limbs and the small torso of his waiting daughter. Then at last he reached the part he liked best: shaping the girl’s face, determining the contour of her cheeks, the ridge of her brow, the curve of her chin, the hollow of her eyes. For her hair he chose the color of burnished bronze, planting and pulling the strands in and out of her hard scalp. For her eyes he selected the color of the bluest sky, fitting the glass spheres with a precision that only a master toymaker possessed. Just before he finished, he covered her polished nakedness in muslin and lace, cutting and sewing the sleeves and the hems and the ruffs, just as the sun came up.

The toymaker straightened up and grimaced at the creak of his aching back and looked at his new daughter, reaching forward to gently put an errant lock back in place.

“Now we must be patient, you and I,” he told her. “If my son could come to life, then certainly so can you.”

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She hoped the crisp warmth of the morning would persevere until early afternoon, aware that only on warm days do Manang Yna’s therapeutic massages work best. Mai needed a particularly potent dose for tonight: Jun, her husband, was coming home early. She made sure of it during breakfast when she seasoned his fried eggs with salt and a pinch of finely ground mermaid bones.

“I’ll cook dinner tonight. You don’t have to bring home fast food or pancit.” Mai smiled. Jun almost missed it on his way out. He looked back at her through the aluminum screen door, anxious to be gone.

Ano? Ano?”

Magluluto ako ng ulam pang hapunan.” Mai winced as the door shut. After that, she phoned Manang Yna.

The retired nurse was gifted with the ability to reform her clients’ appearance and reinvigorate their bodies. Over the phone, Mai explained: last night, she found her husband’s collection of naughty videos on their computer. She must have sounded defensive, she apologized, she was looking for recipes for sinigang na sirena.

The older woman was completely sympathetic. Masahe lang iyan, iha, stressed ka lang. Mai refused to regret poisoning her husband, setting a trap for him, and preparing, even now, to seduce him as revenge. Hindi ka naman papatay, diba?

If Mai described girls in her husband’s favorite videos, could Manang Yna mold her face into a passable replica, for a fee? Mas mahal yun than the regular massages she enjoyed to maintain her figure and, sometimes, to enhance her breasts. Pero oo, syempre, para sa’yo. Anong oras ka pupunta rito?

So, tonight, her husband would come home to a woman he enjoyed and the women he loved could finally, finally enjoy him. But she needed him to come home.

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Divine Light

“Most favored and thus fortunate of wenches,” says the god, “yonder varlet hath yet again demonstrated most appalling familiarity toward mine august person.”

“It’s ‘valet’, not ‘varlet’, Great and Glorious One.” Lee completes her exterior vehicle check, eyes flicking across the underground parking lot, as she re-folds the extensible mirror she used to scan the undercarriage. Of course, since she waited a reasonable several minutes a respectable several meters away before even approaching, any little surprises would more than likely have triggered already—and poor Carlos would have been a victim of, probably, automotive immolation rather than godly wrath. Still, it’s always better to be sure. “Can we please get in the car?”

The god climbs in, obligingly enough; luckily, he believes in graciousness—at least toward his ‘right and worshipful devotees’—and is preoccupied with what he considers to be the more important matter at hand, in any case. “Thou’lt smite him for such impertinence, naturally,” he says, settling into the shotgun seat.

“Naturally.” Lee is already inside, has checked the back seat, and is running her hands over and under the dashboard, across the ceiling, beneath the seats, and along the steering column. “Seatbelt, please.”

He grimaces. He doesn’t like seatbelts; they muss his clothes—and he’s particular about his appearance, which he says any self-respecting god should be, in the most elementary practice of noblesse oblige—and what’s more, he’s convinced that no ‘mishap of mortal origin’ could possibly cause sufficient damage to harm his divine presence.

She’s less sure—but would, of course, never actually say so out loud. Instead, she’s concocted the reasoning that her ‘womanish concern’ over his well-being is, in fact, a facet of her reverence toward him, and that indulging her in it therefore constitutes another instance of the noblesse oblige befitting a superior being.

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The Nameless Ones (Part 2)

Aubrey shoots up, her body ramrod straight as she sheds her discomfort. He gets up more slowly, training the scanner at the center of the tunnel. The shadows shift like storm clouds breaking and then re-forming. Above them, the sky releases a fresh batch of rain. They steadily inch forward, away from their makeshift lean-to, the rain obscuring their vision as they moved away from the shelter and out in the open. Troy walks in front, one hand holding the scanner steady, the other hand tucked at his hip, fingers tracing the familiar holster of his gun. Behind him, slightly to one side, Aubrey already has her palms open, fingers spread out, eyes blinking back the rain.

The shadow in the tunnel seems to retreat slightly, gathering itself. Troy remembers snorkeling somewhere off Palawan, one summer day, a lifetime ago, and saw a school of fish moving through the ocean waters. The tides pushed them this way and that, and yet they seemed to instinctively follow a pattern, become a whole being that surrounded him, that swam around him like a multicolored whirlwind. He thinks the shadow is like that: made up of miniscule pieces that swam together, forming and re-forming into this vast, cloud-like shape that filled the entire tunnel entrance.

The scanner squawks as they approach, a high-pitched whine replacing the low hum. Troy switches it off, shoves it in his pocket, and instead spreads his palm out in a gesture of peace. Blue-white lines flare up across the skin of his open palm, fine lace-like traceries that form a familiar symbol — familiar, at least, if you were of non-human origins. The mark of A.G.I.M.A.T. “My name is Agent Montero,” he says calmly, reciting each word in a low, non-threatening tone. “This is my partner, Agent Miles.”

“Stupid codename,” mutters Aubrey behind him. He ignores her.

“We don’t want to hurt you. We are seeking an artifact that may be with you. This is a dangerous item. Please, we are asking you to give it up so that we can take it to a safe place.” The shadow croons, its sound like a hundred thousand nails scraping across a chalkboard. Aubrey flinches, but Troy keeps on speaking, his voice rising above the din of the rain. “Can you understand me? We don’t want to harm you. Once you give us the item, you’re free to go.”

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