Slightly Spooky Reads #2: The Flea Circus (Part 2 of 2)

“I need you to see this.” I dragged her back to my discovery.

“Oh, I had almost forgotten about this place,” she said. Her eyes looked misty, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the dust.

“Who owned this room?”

“Your grandfather did. He painted as a hobby.”

“And the woman on the canvas?”

“Ah, that was your grandmother,” my mom smiled, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

“That’s her?” I asked in disbelief. “Why did lolo paint her in such an odd way?”

“That was the day they first met,” my mom explained. “Your lolo went to the town’s fiesta and decided to attend the cirus. It was in one of the shows, amidst little people running about scaring kids, and a woman in a mermaid costume getting dunked in a water-filled basin that she spotted your lola—the ringmaster of a flea circus. Apparently, she was very good at making the tiny sets of carriages and carousels that the fleas could move around in. Your lolo was impressed with the detail of her work and plucked the courage to ask her out. When your lolo asked for her hand in marriage, she never went back to the circus.”

I was speechless. I looked through the canvasses, and lola, as a flea ringmaster, was apparently my grandfather’s favorite subject. They were beautiful and strange paintings of a pale young woman in a loose bun, a small black hat, a striped tailored jacket and very red lips.

“How come you never mentioned this?”

“When I was younger, our home was filled with his paintings. But when papa died, mama hid all of it in here because she said it was too painful. I guess over the years, I forgot.”

“I always thought lola never really approved of my drawings.”

“You’ve got her all wrong,” my mom shook her head. “This was the note she left for me,” she reached into her pocket.

Take care of this house for Elsa. Someday, she will be a fine artist, just like her lolo.

 

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Slightly Spooky Reads #2: The Flea Circus (Part 1 of 2)

When my mom announced that we’d be moving to her hometown of Laguna, I was shocked. She explained that she had inherited the ancestral house, and since we were cutting down on expenses, we’d be moving there permanently. I had never seen my grandmother’s place before. It was always my grandmother who visited us whenever she had errands to run in Manila. Having lived in the city all my life, I didn’t know what to expect. And it wasn’t like my lola was any help. She never talked about Laguna. She spoke to me only to ask about school. She never cracked a smile, never loosened the tight bun her hair was imprisoned to. I tried showing her some of my drawings, but all she ever did was raise an eyebrow.

“We’re near,” my mom said as we passed through a concrete marker that read Pila. Rows of beautiful old houses and a church made of bricks greeted us along the way. I felt transported to another time. I quickly grabbed my sketch pad and began drawing.

We stopped in front of a white house with wide capiz windows and wooden moldings.

“We’re here,” my mom said.

When we entered, my mom pointed to a room with double doors. “That was hers.”

I stroked the carved details of the heavy narra door as I slowly pushed it open. The room was immaculately clean—the wooden floors gleamed, as if it were polished daily. A four-poster bed with a daintily crocheted cover was at the center. To its right was a dresser with an oval mirror and crystal knobs. On it were lola’s hairbrushes, arranged by height. Two framed black and white photos hung on the wall. With her hair down and a curious smile on her face, the woman in the portrait hardly resembled my grandmother. The other frame was that of my lolo. He looked very much like the respected doctor that he was in his white shirt and black tie. I wished I had gotten to know him. He had passed before I was even born.

“Mom, let’s check out the other rooms,” I said, tugging at her sleeve. I was itching to find the perfect space to draw.

“Sorry, Elsa. I need to unpack. You can explore on your own, just don’t leave the house.”

I nodded. I dashed to the dining room and found a long table that could sit twelve people. Beautiful plates were on display in the cabinets. I crossed the other end and spotted a smaller room, identical to my grandmother’s. When I entered, I spotted on the dresser what appeared to be a photo of my mom when she was my age. She was playing the piano. Then, something caught my eye—a keyhole beside the dresser. When I looked closely, I saw a well-hidden outline of a door.

“Mom,” I hollered. I ran outside to look for her. “May I borrow your set of keys?” She grabbed it from her purse and handed it to me. I quickly went back inside and searched for a slim key. I got the door open on my second attempt. With no window in sight, the room was completely dark. I patted the walls to look for a light switch, and when I found it, I flicked it on.

“What the…” my voice trailed as light flooded the room. Walls of shelves covered every space. In them were odd-sized bottles, brushes and canvasses filled with color. The floor was covered in thick dust as if it hadn’t been swept in ages. At the center was an easel and when I looked at what was mounted, I was captivated. On it was a young woman with dark circles around her eyes and a painted smile on her lips. But there was something about her that reminded me of someone.

“Mom,” I gasped, trying to catch my breath as I rushed back to my mother.

“What is it this time?” Mom asked as she handed our luggage to the housekeeper.

Spooky Reads #1: My Friends in the Attic (Part 3 of 3)

Part 3

Elsa hurriedly went down the stairs and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Mom!” She called out, her voice cracked.

“Elsa?” Her mom shouted back. “Elsa, where are you?”

Elsa stepped into the kitchen and saw her mom talking to a person in a police uniform.

“Elsa!” Her mom gave her the tightest hug. “Where have you been? Why are you covered in soot? What happened to you?”

Elsa glanced at her reflection on the shiny refrigerator. She looked thin and raggedy.

“When I came back from the sale, you were gone! We’ve been looking for you for days!” Elsa’s mom continued, her eyes red, her hair in disarray.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” Elsa said. She began to sob, knowing that she was that close to being lost forever.

“No, Elsa. I’m sorry. I should’ve been spending more time with you. I forgot how important you are…more important than anything in the world.” She kissed Elsa’s forehead over and over again. “I have no excuses left. If there’s something that you want us to do together, just tell me.”

“Maybe we could walk outside and grab some food? I’m kind of hungry,” Elsa asked.

“Get cleaned and be ready in five! We’re going out,” her mom said, squeezing Elsa’s hand.

“Mom?” Elsa glanced back. “Did you know we have an attic?”

“No, I didn’t. Do you want to go and explore it later?”

“I want to clean it out,” Elsa said.

Spooky Reads #2: My Friends in the Attic (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2

One evening, Elsa’s mom called her for dinner. She had somehow whipped up buttermilk chicken and mashed potatoes. Elsa looked strangely at the woman in front of her. Was this a surprise? Tomorrow was Elsa’s birthday, but she had very low expectations. Her mom had forgotten her last two birthdays.

“What’s the occasion?” Elsa asked, trying to sound nonchalant as she washed her hands.

“I’m on the verge of a very important sale. I’m so happy because this sale means we’ll be able to afford a family trip to visit your dad! I’m sure you’d like that,” her mom gushed, her eyes sparkling with excitement.

“Really? Yes, I’d love that,” Elsa said as she sat down. She meant it. It didn’t matter that her mom forgot her birthday. It was more important that they get to spend time with her dad. During dinner, they planned the trip, with her mom telling her all the places they could visit. Elsa couldn’t believe her questions were getting answered and she wasn’t being shushed.

“Let’s walk to the park tomorrow morning,” her mom said as she began clearing the dishes. “Maybe we’ll find a four-leaf clover to give me some luck.”

Elsa nodded, grinning from ear to ear. Maybe her mom didn’t forget after all. She fell asleep with a big smile on her face as she pictured their perfect morning together.

The next day, Elsa woke up extra early. As she came down from her room, she saw her mom grabbing her car keys.

“Elsa, I’m going out. The important client I was talking about wants to meet up with me as soon as possible,” she said hurriedly. “Just lock up and I’ll be back soon.”

“But what about…” Elsa’s voice trailed. She heard the door slam and knew that her mom was gone. She chewed on her lip, fighting the urge to get upset. She hurriedly ran upstairs, knowing exactly where she wanted to go.

“Do you have any photo albums with me in it?” Elsa asked the minute she stepped in the attic.

Lank (the tall one) nodded and emerged with a worn shoe box.

In it, Elsa saw her baby pictures and the warm smiles of her parents. Her dad raising her up in the air; her mom tying a balloon to her wrist as they strolled through a park; Elsa blowing sparkly candles on a cake. She blinked a couple of times.

“Your cheeks are wet,” Mafia (the bossy one) went up her ear to wipe a tear a way. “Don’t we make you happy? Be happy,” it commanded her.

“It’s not you,” Elsa bit back a sob. The sprites pushed a pillow beside her and she lied down, curled up in a ball. Exhausted from crying, she soon fell asleep. She woke up to a gentle nudge.

Elsa blinked a couple of times before realizing that the room was filled with colorful balloons and banners.

“What is this?” Elsa called for the furry sprites.

Slim (the thin one) waved a matchstick and all the sprites came together to sing a slightly off-key birthday song. They each took turns to climb Elsa’s shoulders to give her a peck on the cheek. They lifted pictures of birthday cakes, ice cream and brownies from the magazines. They were even able to find a piñata to smash. Soon, the attic was littered with candy and colorful confetti. Elsa clapped her hands and laughed as the sprites competed in their game.

Pretty soon, the sun was coming down. But Elsa didn’t want the day to end. She didn’t want this to be just another day that passed by. “Can I tell you something, Furball?” The furry sprite nodded. “I don’t want to go down anymore. I want to stay here.”

All the sprites gathered around her, nodding in consent. “Stay,” Biggie (the biggest one) said. “We’ll have fun all day long.”

“You’ll never get bored,” Smarty (the one who brought all the books) said.

“Ahhh,” Elsa yawned loudly. “Maybe I’ll sleep here tonight.” The sprites pushed the pillow back and watched as Elsa fell asleep once more.

Elsa woke up, but things felt different. She glanced around, and while it looked like she was in the attic, there was nothing in it, except for a frame that with a photo of two girls. Both girls looked alike, with one slightly taller than the other. They looked like a younger version of her mom.

“Elsa,” one of the girls in the frame spoke.

Elsa tripped on her footing as she scampered back, away from the picture.

“Don’t be scared,” the smaller girl said. “It’s me, your lola.”

Lola Isabel?” Elsa asked.

“I’m your Lola Dea, your Lola Isabel’s younger sister,” the girl said. “You have to get out of this attic. Now.”

“But why? I like it here. The sprites love me and they take care of me. It’s not like my parents care that much about me. They’re always too busy.”

“That’s what I thought. I was the second child and I felt that my parents always gave more attention to your Lola Isabel. I felt that she was always better than I was. And so, I began hiding in this attic. I didn’t notice that the more I stayed, the more I faded. One day, I simply disappeared. I could see my parents searching for me in this very attic and they couldn’t see me. It was like I became invisible.”

Elsa’s whole body began shaking. “Could the sprites do that?” Elsa whispered.

“They told me that they were the protectors of the things people have forgotten. But the more you stay here, the more you become forgotten in the real world. You become like dust,” the girl warned. “Tell them you’re coming back. But go and do it quickly.”

Elsa woke up with a startle and she was back in the real attic. She tried to calm her heart as she thought of an excuse to go back down.

“You’re awake!” Bossy said. “She’s awake,” he announced to the other sprites. The group gathered around her. “What do you want to do?”

“I just want to go down for a while,” Elsa said as she forced a smile.

“Why?” Biggie asked. “Don’t you want to stay with us?”

“I just want to…get all of my photos so that I could store it here with you and we can look at them together,” Elsa said, as she held her breath for their answer.

“Ooohhh, photos!” Lanky said. “I want more photos!”

“Be back soon,” Biggie said as it moved away from the attic door.

 

Spooky Reads #1: My Friends in the Attic (Part 1 of 3)

PART I

It was a summer day perfect for doing nothing at all. For once, thick clouds hid the punishing rays of the sun and the air was quite cool. Any other kid would have been thrilled at the prospect of sleeping in or maybe watching copious amounts of Youtube. But Elsa wasn’t like any other kid. She woke up at exactly 6 am every day and was never very interested in watching any sort of tube. She sighed loudly and reluctantly got out bed.

“Mom?” Elsa called out as she headed to the kitchen.

“Cereal and milk are on the table,” Mom said, barely looking up from her computer. As usual, she was doing three things at once —drinking coffee, typing on her laptop, and chatting on the phone.

“I guess we’re not walking around the block today,” Elsa said, even though she already knew the answer.

Mom didn’t even blink to acknowledge her statement.

Zombie mode. She knew that when her mom was like this, she’d be rooted to her “office” for hours on end. Elsa ate in silence as she tried to remember the last time they went out. It was months ago, with her dad a week away from ending his vacation and going back to work in Dubai. He reserved a room for them at a resort and they spent a whole day at the beach with no phones and no computers to compete with. But now, Dad was back to his work and Mom was as busy as ever.

Elsa cleared the table and washed her bowl just to have something to do. Now what? Elsa counted the wooden boards she stepped on as she went up the second floor of what she jokingly calls their new-old house, a house that her grandmother recently passed on to Elsa’s mom.

She checked the shelves and scanned through Lola Isabel’s worn-out volumes of Reader’s Digest magazines. I need light. Elsa searched the ceiling for a light bulb. But instead, she saw a chain hanging from the ceiling. I’ve never seen that before, Elsa thought to herself. She quickly ran to her room and got an umbrella. She hooked the umbrella to the chain and pulled on it. Stairs slowly came down to the ground.

An attic! Elsa’s heartbeat quickened as she began to climb the staircase. Faint light was shining through a small window, but it wasn’t enough for Elsa to see what was inside the room. She groped around for a light switch and found one. Warm yellow light filled the room and Elsa was amazed at what she saw—dusty albums, hard-bound books, framed photographs, wooden trunks—she couldn’t believe her luck! A treasure trove of things to explore! She picked up a book and dusted its cover. It was an encyclopedia dating back to the 1970’s. Elsa poured over its contents, laughing at some outdated information and carefully looking at each picture being described. She was so absorbed that she failed to notice a ball of dust rolling across her feet. Soon, the ball was on her shoulder.

“Hi!” A tiny voice came from nowhere. She looked around, trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. She spotted the black ball of dust on her shoulder and was about to sweep it off when she heard it squeak.

“Who are you? What are you?” Elsa said, her voice filled with wonder.

“We’re dust sprites and we live in this attic,” the ball spoke.

Then, another gray ball emerged from between her feet. “We are the guardians of the things people have forgotten. Can we help you look for anything?”

Elsa grew silent for a while, thinking of the situation she was in. The sprites looked harmless enough, and quite cute with their big round eyes and furry bodies. Between the prospect of dying from boredom downstairs to talking to these eager balls of dust, she thought the latter was the obvious choice.

“Hmmm…,” Elsa tapped her chin. “Do you have something actually owned by Lola Isabel? I was just a toddler when she passed away.”

“Oh, we have a lot of those,” a particularly furry sprite rolled away and came back with an album.

Elsa flipped over the pages and saw beautiful black and white photos of a woman who looked like a more dressed up version of her mom. She was glamorous, with her beaded gowns and her hair pinned up. Elsa got so absorbed with looking at pictures that she almost forgot the time.

Elsa!” She heard the distant voice of her mom. “Oh, gotta run!” Elsa said a quick goodbye to her new friends.

“Come back soon!” The dust sprites gathered at the attic’s opening to say their goodbyes.

Going to the attic quickly became Elsa’s favorite pastime whenever her mom was working, which was practically all the time. She was always careful to pull the stairs back up whenever she climbed. She didn’t want her mom to find her special place and ban her from it. She’d spend hours playing with her cute friends, soon giving them equally cute nicknames. She’d try on the old gowns that had been stored away and do a fashion show with the sprites. She’d open trunks and read through beautifully penned love letters. The sprites always tried their best to find what she wanted.

One particularly long stay, Elsa’s stomach grumbled. “Oops, I’ll just go down and grab some food.”

“No need,” Shorty (the stumpy one) said. “Let us show you some of our magic.” It took an old magazine and opened it to a page with a spread of food—cubed cheese on a wooden tray, blueberry bagels, sugared donuts and a steaming mug of hot chocolate. “Point to what you like.”

Elsa pointed to a cube of cheese and somehow, the sprite was able to lift actual cheese from the page.

“Cheddar!” Elsa exclaimed as she popped the cheese in her mouth. “Can you get me a doughnut?” The sprite called for some help to lift the doughnut from the page, and just like the cheese, a fluffy doughnut appeared.

“I could get used to this,” Elsa said, eating to her stomach’s content.

“Anything for you,” the sprites smiled, throwing approving looks at each other.