Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
On certain quiet nights under the watchful gaze of a full moon, one could hear surreptitious moans, half manlike and half swine, in the dead air of Barangay Kampigan in the hill regions of Buena Vista near the border to Inabanga, both townships in the province of Bohol. It is an ancestral place to me and my kin, whose virgin soil lay barely touched by the ravenous kiss of progress. Much lay unknown about the dense woodlands of Bohol, and lesser still in the snake ridden and cave lined hills of Kampigan. What secrets her intertwined limestone caves, and dense canopies of palm trees, and brooding mango overheads, none could tell. For farmers never stray past the hours of darkness, when the moon hangs high above the night sky and the evening cold stings the skin. And little merriment can be found, even from the drunken squalor.
Though all was not such in conservative Kampigan, for no more than 5 years ago, before the great earthquake of 2013, it was a bustling port for the Thursday markets, when the hill folks come down to trade their wares. Now, buses scarcely come at all, save for weekends when young folk would return from the cities; and the Thursday markets opens in neighboring Bugtong. What happened as conveyed to me by the squalid denizens of Kampigan, in their thatch roofed nipa huts, was that during those first few weeks after October, when the mighty earthquake struck, strange things began to happen. The first of which was the arrival of an innumerable host of snakes, who sprang forth from the limestone caves and meter long fault lines left by the earthquake’s wake. The woodlands had become so terribly choked with serpents that one could barely tread the makeshift roads without risking a venomous bite.
The next to come was the beginning of the alien vocal choirs of strange “toads” never heard before, or at the very least the majority of them thought they were toads. It began on a November night, when the cold winds started blowing, when the first of the alien toads sang their cacophonous melody. The strangeness lie in the auditory character of how these “toads” sounded and still sound, for it is a horrendous amalgamation between the squealing of pigs, and screaming of man. Of these toads, no physical evidence seemed to have presented itself. But wild claims from the country folk speak of a nightmarish origin of these sounds. One of which was Manong Ruben, a hillside decadent who bespoke of a primitive age; he used to climb the hills and search caves at night to hunt for python meat.
The story conveyed to me was far beyond believable, yet the evidence and connection between events were less disputable. For after a fortnight when the strange sounds began, mysterious disappearances also started taking place. At first, it was chickens and cats that failed to return to their respective homes, then dogs too started disappearing. No sooner did their goats and cattle disappear like the rest. No trace was ever left of the missing animals, and all cases happened when a cave was nearby.
After a month of silent terror, the first human disappearance took place.
It was on a dying day, just before twilight, Manang Suseng had her son pick up wood for fire in the backyard thicket. Not far from that wood, it should be noted, was a limestone cave, roughly one and a half meters in diameter situated on a small hill rise located near a fault line. Manang Suseng, as she claimed, waited for her son to return, but late evening came and she grew restless, and finally informed the neighbors of his disappearance. The men formed a search party with local deputies in the dead of night, carrying their electric torches and cutlasses, but found no trace of the missing child. At first authorities blamed the sudden surge of serpents for the disappearance of the boy, perhaps an overgrown python had found him easy prey. So for weeks, they overturned stones, searched the mouths of caves, beat down bushes and climbed up trees, in vain search for the giant snake and its child victim. While all this happened, more cattle disappearances raised a certain degree of alarm within the farmer folk.
Two months on, and an aftershock shook the hillside town at 2am. In the morning, they discovered a new limestone cave had formed near the local stone quarry, and at the same time 8 more cattle disappearances were reported. After the discovery of the cave, every night since, the strange sounds grew stronger and louder.
The terror came to a seemingly abrupt end by January, with no more reported farmstead disappearances, and a noted “dying down” of the hideous sounds. The denizens were all too eager to forget the nightly terrors, but Manang Suseng had to be moved back to her family home in Tubigon. Crop yields were normal that summer, and no other abnormalities save for the ever increasing presence of snakes was noted.
But by June of the next year, the horror returned with a sudden start, and reached its zenith; when a group of twelve quarry workers disappeared after an overtime shift that saw itself well into the dead of night. No trace of them remained except that the barren lime road was trampled and squashed into mud, as if trodden on by a stampede of cows, though no cloven hoof ever suggested itself on the soft soil. All the while, every denizen in Kambigan swore that the terrible baying and croaking of the unseen things sounded the loudest on the night the men disappeared.
By this time, devilry was suspected, and the old Mangkukulam (witch doctor) was brought into question. He suspected the works of fairies, and other such fantastical nightmares that plague Filipino mythology, while the desperate and frightened farmer folk were quick to point fingers at whatever their wild imaginations saw fit to blame. Others agreed with the Mangkukulam, while others like Old Manong Donyo blamed it on the snakes. Manang Rencia, on the other hand, who grew up from older Inabanga, saw fit to connect the events to the archaic story of the giant catfish under the old Saint Paul’s Parish Church in her old hometown, which the earthquake had brought ruin to; undoubtedly the underground limestone cave which connected to the Inabanga river had been affected in more ways than one. Indeed Manang Rencia’s stories convinced some of the older folk, what with the strange noises about that they could compare to the low growl of a catfish. But Kambigan is far high uphill, and questions of catfish inland were immediately ridiculed by the more educated neighbors.
However, none could place exactly what is making those nocturne sounds and what is causing the disappearances. By then, Manong Ruben arrived from neighboring Bugtong, who likewise felt the tremors of last year’s October. He had apparently heard from local news that Kambigan was experiencing a sort of boom in its ophidian population, and resolved himself to visit to quench his hunger for pythons. The serpent, being a sort of local delicacy, was found to be very abundant in the region.
Needless to say, Manong Ruben had little difficulty in finding his catch, and on the first day caught a bounty, enough to feed him and his neighbors for weeks. Since Kambigan was but half an hour’s trip on motorcycle from Bugtong, Manong Ruben found himself on daily trips to and from the haunted region. After a time, he had made friends with the farmers, who were plagued still by the disappearances of their animals. He has heard of the queer stories of the nightly songs of unimaginable horrors, and the complete disappearances of thirteen people, one of which was a child. He himself had not heard the baying and the moaning of the man-like swine squealing, since he had never tried to stay later after twilight.
Then, by September, a considerably strong earthquake, though of less magnitude than the one from last year, rocked both Inabanga and Buena Vista. The Earthquake found Manong Ruben homeless, reducing his concrete bungalow to rubble. He was, at the time, hunting for python in Kambigan when the earth began to rumble. He hurried home, and found his lodgings in a desolate manner, neighbors were in no better shape. Without a family to go to, Manong Ruben resolved to live with a months-old friend from Kambigan, who relished his company. This way, he needn’t drive up half an hour uphill everyday to find his catch, and the folks of Kambigan were the kind who’d enjoy queer local meals.
It was on the third week when Manong Ruben resolved to hunt for the suspected giant serpent, after a second child disappeared into the woods. The child was from a family who hailed from urban Tagbilaran, apparently visiting relatives. She had been playing near the woods, close to one of Kambigan’s many limestone caves at sunset.
After an unrewarding search for the missing child and the vindicated culprit, all efforts were dropped. The local deputies were all too quick to call it the work of an oversized snake, though none was ever found.
Ruben himself believed the serpent theory, and resolved to find the culprit. He deduced, from his years of experience as a snake trapper, that he could find it when it was most active. And from the local’s tales of disappearances near the caves, he had come up with an idea of where the thing lurked.
So, on a humid evening, he set out with an electric torch, his cutlass, and a revolver and dived deep into the caverns that riddled across Kambigan. Manong Ruben, at this point, was obscure in telling his story; he claimed that the next few hours of walking in pitch black, aided by the torchlight and bridled with courageous zeal, was like a lucid dream. As the night waned on, he realized that the sound came from no devil toad of the outside, but originated deep in the belly of the caves. As he trudged onward, the baying grew louder, and louder. It must have been hours that he walked on, for his torch started to grow dim, when at last he had reached the point where the sound had seemed to have come from. By now, his conveyance of the story was choppy, and unclear. At first, he said, he could see nothing, for his torch had become so dim that he could only see what was directly in front of him. Then as he stared into the distance much longer, and his eyes started to adjust to the meager light his torch flashed, he screamed.
What he saw in that cave, he could only describe, was a blasphemous horde of flesh and teeth. They were loping, mole-like maggot gorillas, with pink leather skin and a mouth of sharpened teeth. They had no face, their heads mounting a singular mouth which drooled and gasped. They walked on fours, and sometimes on twos, and gnawed and bit at each other. It was an orgy of unbridled cannibalism, of organic corruption and the twisted evil side of evolution. They bayed and growled, croaked and moaned, and squealed like a pig-man, or a man-pig; but they were neither man nor pig. Their blubberous masses, much like walruses choked the tunnels, and their unwholesome sour stench filled his lungs. From that point he ran. And as he ran, nightmarish legions of dread demons and devil toads, stories of child eating snakes and malignant fairies clawed at his sanity. He remembered little of the run, of his mad dash back into the embrace of the upper world, his incoherent babbling to the wakened farmer folk, his hysterical laughing into the night, pointing at the distant cave, and finally the merciful stamping of his consciousness. By morning, he awoke, and demanded to the farmers an empirical need to blast the caves to kingdom come. The farmers were convinced, and dynamite all the discovered caverns. The blasting of underground networks apparently shook the earth again, for in Kambigan and Bugtong were felt an equally strong earthquake as the one of October, 2013. This quake was registered as a minor one everywhere else in Bohol.
The disappearances stopped there and then. Poor Manong Ruben, who was the sole witness of the true horror, had his mind blasted and to this day still has dread nightmares of the teeth and pink flesh. He never left Kambigan since, for he swears one or two caves must have been missed; for on certain quiet nights, under the watchful gaze of a full moon, one could hear surreptitious moans, half manlike and half swine, in the dead air of Barangay Kambigan.
CREDIT : G. A. Plarisan