Halloween Haunts: Pangangululuwa by Victory Witherkeigh
Halloween Haunts: Pangangululuwa
by Victory Witherkeigh
“Did you bring the crispy pata? It was your Tito’s favorite pork dish.”
The woman sitting on the gravesite in front of me said. I turn my head, realizing that there’s a teenage boy behind me holding a silver tray covered in aluminum foil.
“Yes, of course, Ate!” he said, yelling back as he maneuvered his feet to avoid stepping on the metal grave markers littered through the grass.
It must be getting closer to starting time…
Car horns and the smell of dark grey clouds of fuel exhaust caused my nose to wrinkle as I carefully stepped toward the cemetery entrance. More and more people seem to arrive as the sun sets on this All Hallows Eve, the tiny moon rising slowly as the preparations for the Day of the Dead festivities. Despite being conquered by Spain, these tropical islands still observe the celebration for the dead called Pangangululuwa.
The mixture of stilt homes along the older construction along the cemetery entrance soon gives way to a small open-air market. Stall after stall produces aromas of dried fish, freshly cut mangos mixed with shrimp paste and young coconuts.
The market is loud with the sound of the machete-cracking coconuts. People want the freshest food before night comes.
“Hurry! We need these platters on the grave by sundown. We can’t afford the risk of–”
The vengeance of the souls. The hauntings…
Our Day of the Dead is more than just honoring those who have passed on. More than just trying to remember them, Pangangululuwa means “the souling,” a series of smaller tasks people perform to honor and reach the souls of the dead.
“Mama, mama! I have the candles…” my niece said, running towards the front door, the thumping of white wax hitting the wooden floor.
“Aye-dios-mio,” my sister said, half exasperated and half giggling. “Where is your sister? We need help lighting the candles—”
“For Auntie, right Mama?” my niece said, her eyes widening as she took in the moonlight’s glow.
“Yes, my love,” my sister said, gently stroking her long, dark brown hair behind her ear. “You need to find your sister. You both need to be dressed soon for the singing.”
Singing? Oh…that was my favorite when I was a kid…
I followed my niece to her small bedroom. Her sister, my goddaughter, gleefully twirled in front of their bedroom mirror, her somber white dress spinning in a cloud of movement.
“Get dressed,” my sister said, her voice calling out from her bedroom. “The white capes I made for you are on the bed. Hurry!”
I would have stayed to help them, but the smells coming from the kitchen overwhelmed me. I don’t remember moving – just standing in front of the stove, staring as the steam from the woven bamboo apparatus on the burner grew bigger and bigger.
Kakanin…Rice cakes?! Oh…I haven’t had those in so long…I loved making them with these little ones.
“Quickly,” my sister said, startling me as I almost grabbed a rice cake. “Girls! Do you hear that? The songs are beginning. You need to get outside…”
The pitter-patter of small steps and soft cooing down the street pulled me forward to the door. I could only catch every other word.
“The spirit is coming… If we give alms… We will reach the gates of heaven… Before the way is closed…” sang a chorus of children’s voices, including my niece’s girly squeals, as I stood on the front step.
The tips of my fingers tingle, each word of their song drawing a warmth across my cold aura. The songs…somehow, I had forgotten the words, but I knew what they were saying in the bottom of my gut. People used Pangangaluluwa to help the departed reach the afterlife and avoid being stuck in limbo. It involved all the foods, the smells, and the singing with those who had passed on.
The singing continues as the children at the front are all in white while they dress the older kids in the back in a mixture of blacks, whites, and greys. They painted their faces in simple, ghoulish masks that gave their small faces a haunting, ghastly look. Each song builds slowly, some kids acting out scenes of various villagers who had passed away in the past year. Before I could grasp the first scene, my nieces were stepping forward.
“Our Auntie was the best,” my niece said, swishing her white costume back and forth as she stood. “We miss her a lot, especially our mermaid play time…and making our favorite rice snacks together…we will show everyone how we cooked together…”
Isn’t that what we…Does that mean…No…no…
Soft glowing light portals emerge around the road, popping up as huge spotlights in the graveyard and market I stood at earlier. One small beam of light beams down just in front of the house.
“The rice dessert is ready!” My sister said with the children cheering.
As each child stepped forward to claim my favorite snack, I could see my sister passing out small pouches of coins in thanks for their service. The warmth of the light echoed in front of me, a siren song calling me to move forward, to go beyond my fears of the afterlife.
The dance…these songs…I…don’t remember…but I died?! How? When?
It’s the first time I’ve looked at where my hands should be – only seeing the amorphous aura of my former body. The light pulls me towards it as I look back, watching my niece and my goddaughter place a serving of the dish under a candle-lit memorial of my former human form. Immediately, the warmth of the sticky rice and jackfruit hit whatever form of palette I had left. Memories of the children’s laughter, big bear hugs, and constant singing flash through me as I finally face the lighted path I’m supposed to follow.
“I love you girls forever and ever,” I said before turning and allowing the glow to surround me.
I will keep my nose out for the potential taste of their home cooking for next year.
Victory Witherkeigh is an award-winning female Filipino/PI author from Los Angeles, CA. Her debut novel, The Girl, was published in December 2022 with Cinnabar Moth Publishing. The Girl has been a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2020 Claymore Award and was long-listed in the 2022 CIBA OZMA Fantasy Book Awards. The Girl won Third Place for YA Thriller in the 2023 Spring The Bookfest Awards. Her creative content creation for her Author TikTok also won First Place in the 2023 Spring The Bookfest Awards for Creative Content. She has short story print publications in horror anthologies such as Supernatural Drabbles of Dread through Macabre Ladies Publishing, Bodies Full of Burning through Sliced Up Press, In Filth It Shall Be Found through OutCast Press, and Nightmare Fuel’s 2022 Edition: Objects of Horror, etc.
Learn more at: http://victorywitherkeigh.com