My knees were still shaking when we got back to the waiting facility, but embarrassment transcended my fear after seeing the people glancing at our direction. Halos gusto ko nang lumubog sa hiya dahil alam kong narinig nila ang minu-minuto kong pagsigaw sa loob ng horror house.
“Elix! In fairness, natapos n’yo on time,” said Lan while waving at our direction.
Hindi ko alam ang isasagot sa kanya kaya tumango lang ako. Good thing the rest of his teammates stopped him before he could add another comment.
I plopped on the floor and heaved a defeated sigh. Wala na. Sira na ang reputation ko. Not that I cared about it that much, but it was quite embarrassing for a mystery and thriller writer to be this afraid of a horror house. Besides, I had this mysterious image since I don’t share much about myself on social media. I would only talk about my stories or any writing-related stuff. But now . . .
A shudder ran through my skin. Once this episode got broadcasted, I wasn’t sure how I could recover from the humiliation. Iniisip ko pa lang ay gusto ko nang lumubog sa lupa. Nakakahiya ka, Elix!
Baka hindi na ako magpakita ulit pagkatapos nito. Sana talaga nagsulat na lang ako at hindi na in-accept ang invitation na ‘to.
“Okay ka na ba?”
My thoughts were pulled back to the present when I heard Zion’s voice. There was a look of concern on his face, and I suddenly remembered the things I did inside the horror house.
“Y-yeah, sure,” I said as I tried to avert his gaze, but it landed on his shirt.
Dahil wala pa ako sa wisyo noong naglalakad kami pabalik ay wala akong sense of awareness sa paligid ko. Ngayon lang din nagsi-sink in lahat ng pinaggagawa ko at gusto kong sampal-sampalin ang sarili ko dahil doon.
Isang malalim na buntonghininga ang pinakawalan ko. “I’m sorry about that,” I weakly said while looking at the state of his shirt.
Napatingin naman siya roon at hinawakan ang damit niya. “Ah, this.”
A sheepish smile appeared on his face and that ticked me off. Gusto ko sanang magpasalamat sa kanya dahil kahit papaano ay tinupad naman niya ang sinabi niyang hindi niya ako iiwan sa loob, but I knew that smile meant he had thought of something to use against me.
“Hindi naman napunit,” he sarcastically said while still holding the hem of his shirt, “but it’s not my size anymore.”
I had to bite my lower lip to keep myself from screaming. Paano ay halos malaglag na mula sa mga balikat niya ang collar ng damit niya at nagmistulang V-neck na ito. Even its hem had been stretched to its limit. Hindi ko in-expect na magiging gano’n ang estado no’n pagkatapos naming makalabas sa horror house. Did I cling to his shirt that much?
Bigla tuloy akong nahiya nang makita kong may iilan pa ring tumitingin sa direksyon namin. Pakiramdam ko tuloy may masama akong ginawa.
“S-sorry,” ulit ko.
“It’s okay,” he replied. “That experience was . . . quite interesting.”
Sinamaan ko naman siya ng tingin. “You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?”
He shrugged while flashing a teasing smile. “No, I’m not.”
I was about to retaliate when his face turned serious. Hindi ko napansin na suot na pala niya sa kabila niyang tenga ang earphones. He was listening to Roi and Arin’s challenge inside the horror house. Meanwhile, I couldn’t wear mine because I didn’t want to relive the experience I just had inside. Pero kahit wala akong suot na earphones ay naririnig ko pa rin ang pagsigaw nilang dalawa mula kay Zion dahil magkatabi lang kami. Were they okay?
He had already shifted to his competitive mode so I didn’t bother him. Tahimik niya lang na mino-monitor sina Roi at Arin mula sa sound feedbacks habang nagmasid naman ako sa paligid. There were still a lot of groups that had yet to do the challenge and it was already 8 p.m. Somehow, I was thankful that we wouldn’t have to venture inside the horror house at midnight. Baka mamatay na talaga ako ‘pag gano’ng oras namin ginawa ang challenge.
Dahil wala naman na akong magawa ay hinintay ko na lang din matapos nina Arin at Roi ang challenge nila. Those who were finished with the challenge were just lounging around too or playing card and board games provided by the staff. May sleeping quarters din sa isang side ng facility. It was a row of tiny compartments, and each of them had four single matresses that could accommodate a group. Pero mukhang wala pang may balak matulog kaya naman bakante pa rin ang compartments.
Few minutes later, Zion said our teammates just finished the challenge.
He sighed. “Hindi sila nakaabot on time pero nasagutan naman nila ang dalawang questions.”
“Oh. Ilang minutes sila?”
Ah, kaya pala medyo disappointed siya. Halos isang minuto lang ang lagpas nila sa time limit kaya saying. That would cost us an additional five points. Dahil tama naman kami sa sets of questions na ibinigay sa amin ay hindi kami madadagdagan doon, although the additional points for the curses would probably be plenty.
Nakita kong bumalik sina Arin at Roi habang pinakita naman sa monitor ang final score namin. Our average heart rate was 110, plus five points for not finishing it on time, and another 10 points for saying five profanities. Akin ang dalawa at kay Roi ang tatlo. Our total score was 125.
Pagbalik nina Roi at Arin sa puwesto namin ay agad silang lumuhod sa harapan ni Zion.
“Sorry na,” Roi said while deeply bowing at him. “Promise, grabe ang pagpipigil ko sa pagmumura!”
“Sumisigaw lang ako pero ‘di ako nagmura!” depensa naman ni Arin sa sarili niya. “Hirap na hirap akong takpan ang bibig nito,” sabay turo kay Roi. “Feeling ko tuloy may laway mo ‘yong kamay ko. Kadiri. May alcohol ba kayong dala?”
Zion drew a deep breath, as if listening to them had exhausted his remaining energy. “I guess it’s okay,” he said. “We currently have the lowest score, so that’s a good thing.”
Their face brightened upon hearing his comment. Wala na rin naman kaming magagawa dahil tapos na. Besides, this result was already the best we could ask for. Imagine, Roi only cursed thrice, while I finished the entire thing even though I was scared shitless.
Tumabi naman sa akin si Arin at biglang tumawa. “Ano, Elix, ayos ka na ba? Tawang-tawa kami sa ‘yo kanina habang pinapakinggan ka.”
“Tapos nakailang sisi ka rin sa producer at director,” seconded Roi while snickering.
My face immediately turned red. “T-that’s . . .”
“Cute cute mo nga, eh,” Arin added as she ruffled my hair. “Sa isang linggo nating magkakasama, ngayon ko lang na-witness ang range ng emotions mo.”
“Anong nangyari sa damit mo, Zion?” tanong ni Roi.
“Well,” Zion’s glanced at me and those two did not miss that chance.
Isang malakas na halakhak ang pinakawalan ni Roi. “Lumambitin ka ba kay Zion? Nahiya ka pa, Elix, sana pinunit mo na nang tuluyan.”
Sinamaan ko siya ng tingin at hindi na nagsalita. Mataas ang chance na pagtulungan lang ako ng tatlo kaya mas mabuting tumahimik na lang.
Dahil depleted na rin naman ang energy ko ay nagpaalam ako sa kanila para subukang matulog sa sleeping quarters. I picked the mattress farthest to the opening so I wouldn’t disturb them when they come in, but as soon as I closed my eyes, images of the haunted house creatures flashed in my head. Agad akong napabangon at mabilis na lumabas mula sa compartment.
“O, akala ko ba matutulog ka na?” tanong ni Roi nang makita niya akong bumalik sa puwesto namin kanina.
Arin burst out laughing. “Natakot ka ‘no?”
I pursed my lips and nodded. Kahit naman i-deny ko o gumawa ako ng excuse ay hindi sila maniniwala. I settled on the bean bag chair na kinuha ni Roi mula sa gilid dahil sa sahig lang naman kami nakaupo lahat. My eyelids were already getting heavy but I didn’t want to sleep alone. Bigla namang umalis si Arin dahil kinawayan siya ni Imari. She went to her direction and they started chatting. Meanwhile, Les asked Roi if he could play some board games with him. Inaantok na raw kasi siya at hindi pa rin sila natatawag. He needed to stay awake for a few more hours.
Grabe, ang dami pa rin nilang energy kahit halos katatapos lang nila sa challenge samantalang ‘yong akin ay ubos na ubos na.
Nagulat ako nang bigla ring tumayo si Zion. I thought he was going to sleep already, but he pulled another bean bag instead. Itinabi niya ‘yon sa akin pero sa lapag pa rin naman siya umupo. I was about to ask him but his gaze drifted to me.
“Kung ayaw mong matulog sa compartment,” sabay tapik niya sa bean bag. “You can use two of these, so you can sleep here comfortably.”
Dahil pabigat na rin nang pabigat ang mga talukap ko ay hindi na ako nagpatumpik-tumpik pa.
“Thanks,” I whispered as I put the bean bags together to create a larger space to lie down. Few minutes later, I had already drifted to sleep.
I jerked back to consciousness when the speakers blared a lively song. Gusto kong takpan and tenga at magpatuloy sa pagtulog pero sobrang ingay ng music. A chorus of grumbles and groans filled the room, while fee were happily singing along. Without any hope to go back to sleep, I forced myself to get up, but was met with surprise when I saw Zion leaning against one of the bean bags I used. Dito rin siya natulog? I silently wondered.
Ilang segundo pa ay nagising din siya. He groggily rubbed his eyes as he tried to wake his senses up. His disheveled hair was poking out of every direction and there were sleep marks on the right side of his face.
“It’s morning already?” He murmured while looking around.
Nagsilabasan naman ang mga natulog sa sleeping quarters at nakita kong lumabas mula sa compartment namin sina Roi at Arin. Halos pikit pa ang mga mata ni Arin habang naglalakad, which was weird because she was a morning person. Nagpuyat ba siya?
“Morning,” greeted Roi as he stifled a yawn.
“Good morning,” bati ko pabalik.
I was informed that the horror house challenge ended around 1 a.m. and I silently thanked my luck for saving me from doing that during an ungodly hour. Nang magising na ang lahat ay sabay-sabay na rin kaming pinabalik sa main camp.
We trudged through the thinning woods and was greeted by a somehow familiar view. The hanging bridge was lightly swaying from the morning breeze.
“Sa wakas!” sigaw ng isa mula sa likuran.
“Gusto ko nang matulog nang maayos.”
“Same! Nanaginip pa ako ng mga multo kanina.”
I silently agreed to some of their sentiments. Isa-isa namang naglakad sa bridge ang mga tao kaya pumila na rin kami. However, one seemed to be having a hard time looking ahead.
Arin chuckled upon seeing Zion’s expression. “Ano na, Zion? Sumikat na ang araw pero parang ngayon ka pa nakakita ng multo.”
“Mas takot ‘yang mahulog kaysa makakita ng multo,” seconded Roi.
“Roi,” tawag nito sa kanya pero bago pa siya makapagsalita ay tumakbo si Roi papunta sa bridge. He was about to look at Arin, but she did the same.
Heh. Right. He was afraid of heights.
Gusto ko sana siyang asarin bilang ganti sa pang-aasar niya kagabi pero biglang nagtama ang paningin namin. Before I could even move, he firmly held my right shoulder. Crap. I shouldn’t have thought about teasing him. Now, I lost my chance to run.
Zion flashed a practiced smile. “Now it’s your turn to lend me a hand after I helped you inside the horror house.”
I groaned in return but I couldn’t refuse it. Damn it, he was so good at incurring favors from people who were indebted with him.
With much difficulty, I had become Zion’s guide and my neck and shoulders were once again sore because of how tight he was clinging to me.
Pagkabalik namin sa cabin ay agad na pumasok sa kani-kanilang kuwarto sina Arin at Zion. Sabi ni Roi ay gising pa ang dalawa nang magpaalam siyang matulog bandang 2 a.m.
“Magb-breakfast ka ba, Elix?” tanong ni Roi. “Tara, sabay na tayo.”
Dahil nakaramdam na rin ako ng gutom ay tumango ako. “Okay, tara.”
Pagkalabas namin sa cabin ay saktong palabas din sina Yena at Brian mula sa kanila kaya sabay-sabay na kaming naglakad. Yena and I walked side by side while the two were in front of us.
“Your group ranked fourth in the horror challenge,” she said.
Really? Hindi ko na natanong sa kanila kanina kung ano ang rank namin. Well, it was still quite high given that we had a lot of deductions.
“What about your team?”
A pleased smile appeared on her face. “Second.”
“Wow,” I blurted out.
“We were just lucky that all of us enjoy thrills such as that hauted house,” she replied.
Napalingon naman sa amin si Brian. “But it was surprising to know that you’re not quite a fan of it, Elix,” he said while gently scratching his right cheek.
Embarassment started to wash over me but Roi laughed out loud before I could even react. “Okay lang ‘yon, may mga bagay talaga na kahit anong pilit mo ay hindi mo magagawa,” he commented.
As if on cue, Ms. Hanna announced the next challenge through the speakers.
“Good morning, Challengers! Today’s genre is mystery and crime. Let’s test your deductive skills. Good luck, and all the best!”
Roi whistled as soon as Ms. Hanna finished speaking. “Naks. Your time has finally come, Elix.”