The Girl Who Sailed with a Star

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There is a village in Benguet where a giant wearing a broad-brimmed hat spent days staring at the sun and nights talking to the moon. They called this giant Mt. Kalugong. For, the truth was, he was simply a mountain who came alive while children slumbered underneath thick knitted blankets and dreams.

At the foot of Mt. Kalugong, there lived a little girl shy as a tiny mouse. She rarely went outside the doors of their steel and wooden house.

“Nabuteng, please buy vinegar from Manang Rosa.”

“Can someone else do it, Mama? Aling Rosa scares me.”

“Gahh, fine, I’ll ask your brother. Balong, gumatang ka ti suka! Did you ask Manong Nestor if he’s done making your uniform already?”

“I haven’t, Mama. I don’t think I can speak in front of Manong.”

“If you won’t ask, who will? Not me, not your Papang, not Balong. Hay!”

Such was the usual exchange between Nabuteng and her mother.

One February night, a star danced over the child’s bedroom window. The star had heard about the girl who was too timid to go out. She peeked through the curtains. She watched the child’s chest rise and fall, and rise and fall, and rise and fall, and she wondered what scared Nabuteng so when she was awake. Sleeping, the child didn’t seem to be afraid of anything.

“Child, come away with me.”

They had already soared over mountains, over valleys, over hills, over plains when Nabuteng’s eyes flickered open. “Whe-where am I??? Wha-what is happening to me?”

“Hello, Nabuteng. Welcome to the world beyond.”

“Be-beyond?? Ta-take me home! Take me home please.” Nabuteng whimpered as she covered her face with her hands.

“You’ve made it this far. I will take you home. But I have yet to show you more.”

The child continued to snivel. But slowly, as they continued to sail over more mountains, over more valleys, over more hills, and over more plains, wonder replaced the fear in Nabuteng’s eyes.

“This… This is amazing…”

“It is. I’d like you to meet some other stars, too.”

“Wha-what? Other sta-stars? No – I can’t!”

“Yes, you can.”

And on and on they sailed.

“Hello, Nabuteng.”

“Hello, child.”

“Such a lovely girl.”

Little by little, the bashfulness in her heart disappeared.


“Hi… I’m Nabuteng.”

“Hello… Nice to meet you, star…”

And on and on they went some more, until Nabuteng realized that they were home.

“See, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?”

“No… It wasn’t. Thank you.”

The child crept back to her bed, the stars and the mountains tucking her back to sleep.

The next morning, as Mt. Kalugong said good morning to the sun, he saw at the corner of his eye a little girl emerging out of a steel and wooden house waving at the sky.

Assignment 3 (Coursera: Writing for Young Readers)

Week #39&40: Message in a Bottle

39. Scenario: A friend has been staying with you since his relationship break-up. He has overstayed his welcome but you don’t want to ask him to leave. Think of an imaginative scheme to make him decide to go.
40. Title: Messages in a Bottle

“Dude get up.”


“I said, get up, man.”

“Go away.”

“It’s been three months. It’s time to get out of that funk.”

“I need… more… time.”

“Fine then. I’ve got something for you. Here.” I shove a red bottle towards him.

“Urg. What’s this?”

“A present. You’re supposed to drink it up.”

He reaches for the bottle, knocking down the lamp, a picture frame, and, well, almost everything on top of the coffee table next to the sofa he was sleeping in. “Sorry, man.”

I sight. “It’s alright. I’ll fix it up later.”

He glugs the red potion down. The thing seems to be burning down a trail of fire down his throat.

“Man, that was strong.” He looks more awake now. “What was that?”

“Something I got from the old man down the street.”

“That weird, crazy dude? Wow, he’s got good stuff.”

“Err, yeah. Do you feel any different?”

“I feel — young and free! Like I can do anything. Like I can take on any challenge?”

“Like you can move out of this house?”

“Like I can move out of this house! Wait, what?”

“Dude, I need you to move out. This isn’t helping either of us anymore. I mean, sure, the first few days it was okay. But when your stay eventually became months, I’ve got to say… well, there’s no easy way to put it. I can’t have you stay here anymore.”

“Well, uh, why didn’t you just say so in the first place? You could have just told me.”

“I tried, man. I tried.”

“Well, that bottle got me feeling great. Where are my stuff? I should start packing. Hey, man, thanks for letting me stay over.”

“It’s, uh, not a problem. But next time… let’s hope there wouldn’t be a next time.”

He shuffles away and gives me a languid wave. “So long, Lucas.”

“So long, SP. You take care.”

“You, too. You, too.”

*Author’s note: Any guess what the red potion could be? And what SP stands for? Speculations are welcome. :D


Catching Up + Weeks #30&31: The Skeleton in the Village

I have some writing to catch up on. Will be mashing up the last item from the last set and the first item from this one:

31. Subject: Write about a train journey.
32. First Line: That summer seemed to last forever
33. Dialogue: “Give me one good reason why I should wear a dress.”
34. Scenario: A man lies close to death. Describe the images from his childhood that fill his mind.
35. Title: A Far Cry From The Mountain

Care to join me in a train journey?

* * *

30. Title: The Skeleton in the Village
31. Subject: Write about a train journey


There’s something about slow, intentional travels that make sojourners like me sink into a deep melancholy. Today’s journey is no different. Especially since I’m headed to a place one can’t help but feel nostalgic about.

Today, I’m going back to the past.

The train chugs along lazily. Trees wave surreal branches at me as I pass from one station to another. A thousand suns rise and set with each mile passed and, with each burst of golden orange, I know I’m closer to my destination.

By the time my ride draws to a stop I already know that I’m here. I’m in the Past. I’m in a village filled with remnants of my childhood, of my teenage years, of some early days of my adulthood, too. I breathe in — slowly — take my bags, and get out of my coach.

Everything’s exactly as I remembered. The squeaky swing sets are still there. Mr. Chipmunk’s store is still up and running like it’s business as usual. The driveway is filled with bicycles, scooters, roller blades, and a roller skate that I’ve always claimed as mine. I want to get on the swings, buy tsoknut from the store, put on the old skate, but I stop myself.

I’m here to retrieve one thing.

There’s a skeleton hiding somewhere in this village. I need to bring it with me to the present. People don’t usually do that. People usually keep these skeletons locked up in the past, in the darkness, where no one can bring them to the light. But that’s exactly what I need to do — bring it to the light.

I once read that if you shine light on something, you can set that something free. I want to be free. I don’t want to be haunted by that skeleton anymore. But the light in the past isn’t enough. Only the light in the present is.

I find the skeleton underneath the staircase leading up our house. Its pungent aroma hits my nose. I’m surprised nobody’s found it. I’m surprised nobody’s dared to relocate it, bury it, or even throw it away. But then, of course, nobody lives in the Past. Nobody’s bothered by it.

Only I, who knows it’s there, am.

I throw my black travelling bag over it. Fix it up. Zip it up. Pick it up as I head back to the train station so that I could make my way back into the present.

It’s time to set myself free.


Weeks #26&27: The Girl and Guy Next Door

26. Subject: Write about a neighbour.
27. First Line: With him, she’d had some wonderfully stable times

With him, she’d had some wonderfully stable times. Stable, in a way that they never fought. They never had any misunderstandings. Things were easy. Things were fine. Things were…


She never complained, no, not her. She was happy. He was a good man. He had a good job. He was good looking, too. She wouldn’t trade him for anything or anyone else.

Or so she thought.

She couldn’t really remember when she had those first prickles of discontent. Was it when she took notice of the uninterested way he sometimes listened to her stories? Was it when she realized he ordered the same old thing every Saturday night? Hmmm. It just crept up on her, she guessed.

But she couldn’t break up with him. No, she couldn’t. What would she say? “You don’t interest me anymore.” That would be, not exactly harsh, but not exactly tactful either.

Maybe… maybe she could find a way to rekindle the romance lost between them. Rather the romance she’d lost or cut of from him. She didn’t know if he felt the same way – stuck in a rut – as she did. So what could she do?

She went back to their first glance — the first time the two of them met. It was during a seminar. A seminar for a cause she was and is still passionate about.

She went back over the memories they had shared throughout the years. Ten to be exact. Wow, she couldn’t believe they were together for a decade already.

She pored over their ups and downs. The past few months felt like they were only standing on middle ground. But as she recollected the roller coaster years that preceded it — why, times with him, in actuality, weren’t really that boring.

She had simply just forgotten her first love. She knew this was true when she met up with him again that Saturday. He ordered the same old thing, sure. But his face wasn’t uninterested when he looked towards her. In his eyes, she saw those of the man who doted on her ten years before.

As he lifted his fork towards his mouth for a bite of pasta, she leaned over to give him a kiss.

“What was that for?”

“Nothing. I love you, Honey.”

“I love you, too.”

Week #2: Broken

It was broken, but she was determined to fix the heart that hung limply out of her bloodstained chest. She winced as she tried to keep it in place. There was a drugstore nearby. Perhaps she could find some bandaids or bandages there.

The pain slowed her pace down a bit as she gingerly made her way towards the small shop. Some old fashioned chimes tinkled and an elderly woman with a smile as warm as hot chocolate welcomed her in.

“Hello there, darling. What can I do to help you?”

She tried to enclose the grotesque, dripping thing with her two small hands while trying to appear nonchalant. “I don’t suppose you have any bandages here, auntie?”

“Why, we have all sorts of bandages… Pink ones with flowers, rainbow-colored ones, sparkly gold and silver ones — but, oh, we have those plain white ones, too.”

“A white one will do.” She didn’t see the point of decorating her ruined heart with all that fluff.

“Funny. Most other people who come here lean towards the more frivolous stuff. They say it covers up some of the ugliness… but then again… tell you what. I have some scarlet here in my store. Do you think you’d want to take a look at that one instead?”

“Nevermind, auntie. I just want the plain ones.” Her heart, which had grown numb, started hurting again. “And I’d like to have them now, please, if it won’t be so much trouble.”

Into the store room the elderly woman went. She had two boxes in her hand when she emerged. “I know you said you didn’t want the red one. But maybe you still want to take a look.”

She heaved a pained sigh. Maybe she should give the box a chance. The auntie seemed so set on having her buy it. “Alright. But how much is it?”

“It’s free, deary.”


“Yes, free.”

She opened the box, exposing her heart — already falling apart — as she did so. She unrolled the scarlet bandage and held it out into the light. “It’s… beautiful. But it seems… pre-loved.” She tried to be politically correct with her term. In her mind she simply thought, “What on earth? It’s already been used!”

“Ah, yes.” The lady smiled. “But not recently. Someone did use it, but around 2000 years ago, deary.”

She thought of all the disease that she might get infected with if she tried mending her heart with this abused bandaged. A shudder crept through her already weakening body. “The white one? How much is it?”

“10 dollars. I suppose you want that one, then?”

“I do.”

But still something drew here to the scarlet one which she had unconsciously began to wrap around her shaking fingers. In an odd way, the bandage made her feel warm. Secure. Healed. Whole, even. What if she used it to mend her heart?


“Yes, deary?”

“Nevermind. I’ll take this one.”


Silly Story

Just a silly story I wrote a little bit more than one year ago. I’m still doing rewrites so, yeah, that’s taking up most of my writing time. Re-reading this kinda makes me laugh. Someone said he and I could maybe work on a children’s book one day. That would be so awesome! Meanwhile, here’s the absurd and nonsensical tale. ;)

Sleepy Beauty
(Mari Anjeli, April 2012)

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a beautiful princess. Her name was Sleepy Beauty. Yes, you read correctly. Sleepy Beauty – not Sleeping Beauty. The latter was Sleepy’s cousin (once or twice removed) and was in deep slumber, as of the telling of this story. But the former, our heroine – she was not in slumber. She was in fact under a different kind of curse – one that never allowed her to sleep, yet made her eternally sleepy.

Thus Sleepy Beauty’s name. Sleepy was an unfortunate soul. Sometimes, she would sit at the dinner table with a spoonful of soup lifted up to her mouth when her eyelids would flutter and the spoon would fall to the table all a clatter. Other times, she would be brushing her hair by her bedside table and just when she would reach the hundredth brush stroke (she would brush her hair one hundred times every night), she would nod off for a second. And then she would lose count and would have to start her brushing ritual all over again, forgetting that she had actually already completed it. This happened almost every night. And so you can see how incredibly unlucky Sleepy was.

At night, you’d think she’d find reprise, but she never did. At precisely nine o’clock, she would crawl into bed (after brushing her hair one hundred times – or more). Then she would close her tired eyes. But, drowsy as she may be, her mind and body never reached that state of restfulness. She’d find herself aware of every noise, of every scent, of every movement – and she knew that she was not asleep. No, not at all.

The truth was, there was nobody to blame for this misfortune except Sleepy Beauty herself. She wasn’t always that drowsy. In fact, when she was just a child, before she turned 13, she was annoyingly perky. Coffee was not yet discovered during that time, but if it were, people would have described the child as “annoyingly high in caffeine.” She would buzz about, jump at people, giggle-giggle, and irked a certain witch so much (yes the same one that put her cousin – once or twice removed – to sleep) that the witch cursed her with that eternal state of sleepiness. Well, eternal, until Sleepy would taste of true love’s first kiss. Of course true love’s first kiss would always break the spell.

But who would want to kiss a drowsy dame who would doze off just when you are about to lean in? No one wanted to risk doing so because one time, a duke from a neighboring province did – and he ended up with a broken nose. A really broken nose.

And so Sleepy remained sleepy. And dinner time remained punctuated by cluttering utensils and she kept brushing her hair more than a hundred times almost every night.

But everything was about to change. One day, the princess met a dwarf with the same predicament. It was during a wedding of a maiden from another kingdom. The blushing bride had skin white as snow and lips as red as snow and was telling the guests the story of how the prince’s kiss was able to give her new life. She had been poisoned by an apple. Now, why would princes jump at the chance of kissing corpses or maidens who most probably would have bad morning breath – and not jump at the chance of just having a potentially broken nose? Anyway, it was during the maiden’s speech that Sleepy Beauty caught a glimpse of a tiny chap who was also trying hard not to doze off. She assumed that he was under the same curse that she was.

“Hello, my name is Sleepy Beauty.”

“Hello. I’m Sleepy. Just… sleepy.”

“Oh. A pleasure to meet you. Are you a friend of the bride?”

“Oh yes. I am. We took her under our wing when her evil stepmother tried to kill her and the hunter sent her away.”

“I see. We…?”

“Yes, I and the other six dwarves.”

 “The other six d…” And before Sleepy Beauty could even say dwarves, she found her eyes closing and her speech drawling. Only when she heard a voice say, “Miss beauty, are you okay?” That she remembered that she was at a wedding and was conversing with a fellow drowsy one at that.

“How do you feel about having your nose broken?” Sleepy Beauty asked when she was (almost) awake enough.

 “My nose? My nose doesn’t matter to me. And I don’t think it is likely to get broken. Dwarf noses are very squishy you know.”

 “Is that so?”

 You could probably guess the series of events that happened after that. You might argue that a dwarf could never be one’s true love, but who says the title is for Prince Charmings and Knights in Shining Armors only?

And so Sleepy Beauty was cured of her curse. But it turned out that Sleepy (the dwarf) was not cursed at all. He had a sleeping disorder called narcolepsy – but Beauty could live with that. When they got married, she changed her name. No longer did she call herself Sleepy Beauty – from that day forward, she was called “Sleepy’s Beauty” instead.

And you could probably guess that they all lived happily ever after.

What if Saturday (Err, Wednesday): Shutdown

Dear Readers,

Forgive me for not being faithful with the 10 What Ifs. Life became… busy. But fear not. I shall finish this project up. We’ve two more stories to go — this one and a final one which will wrap the series up. I hope you’re all still able to follow what’s going on. So here we go — Shutdown.


This can’t be. This isn’t happening. What’s wrong with this computer? What’s the matter with this browser? I try to hit refresh —

Oh wait. Let me copy this email’s body somewhere safe first.

Of all days. Of all possible hours. Of all the minutes in the world, it has to be now, when I’m smack in the middle of sending an important mail, that the Internet suddenly decides to go crazy.

Right click, new folder, drafts. Right click, new document, IMPORTANT. Ctrl+V, save.

I close my eyes and heave a sigh. That message was supposed to be for the President and his officials. I met up with a women rumored to be the President’s long lost wife this morning. The whole thing’s kinda crazy if you ask me. But as his PA, I had to find the girl, do some background and security check, and then I had to convince Miss What’s-her-name to come back to the President’s loving arms. So now I have to write a report about her and my morning’s findings.

I was doing just that. But looks like the connection has decided to go kaboom.

Perhaps I should kill time by catching up with the afternoon news. There should be a portable TV somewhere in these drawers.

I reach out for the handle of my top desk-drawer. Nothing.

Of course. All the important papers are there.

I reach out for the middle. Office supplies. Of course.

I reach out for the bottom one. My emergency supplies. Ahh, there it is.

I fumble through the controls. I haven’t used this in a while. I rely mostly on Twitter and YouTube for important news updates when I’m in the office or on the go.

The face of Selina Quezon, the station’s number one news anchorwoman, fills the screen.

“Beloved citizens, there is no need to be alarmed. As many of you have noticed, the Internet connection provided by Globalink has come to a shutdown as of 3:00 this afternoon. We have received reports from international sources that the machines in the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) headquarters have been obliterated, leading to this unfortunate event. We do not know when the machines will be brought back to their original state. Some organizations doubt if they can even be restored at all.”

What in Tim Berners-Lee’s name? An Internet shutdown? No, no, no, no! “No need to be alarmed,” the news anchorwoman said. Uhh, within the same breath as, “we do not know if the machines can be brought back to their original state or if they could be restored at all…?” How could anyone in their right mind keep calm and move on?

I do important transactions via the Internet. I connect with other offices through this medium. And I maintain the President’s Twitter and Facebook Page, posting notes and updates through the WWW for crying out loud!

And, on a more serious note, my two younger siblings’ livelihoods depend on the Net and its stability — they’re both web developers. So what will happen if the web never comes back?

Who’ll support them — and who’ll support our parents now?

I give the tiny machine a frantic shake, as if doing so would force Ms. Quezon to take back the piece of news she had just delivered.

She doesn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, the network flashes to a footage of the ICANN headquarters. A field reporter is on the bottom-left corner, adjusting the lapel microphone in his collar.

Suddenly, the queerest sight fills the screen. A little boy wearing bunny ears and a maroon waistcoat runs out of the building and collides with the reporter head on. The man tries to get up when a young woman running about in stilettos speeds by, pausing briefly to help him get up. She whispers something into his ear before she zooms away to the direction of the young boy.

The reporter straightens his shirt and speaks into his lapel. “Good afternoon, beloved citizens. Pardon me for that ungraceful opening but an undisclosed source has just revealed to us a shocking lead as to who may be responsible for this afternoon’s Internet shutdown.” He pauses.

“The prime suspect for this incident is none other than the Mad Hatter.”

I sit still and grip the portable TV in surprise.

What? The Mad Hatter?

Well I never.



What if Saturday: First Lady

Julieta, Julieta, wherefore art thou, Julieta? Check thy watch and refuse to be late — arggg.

Where is she?

Where oh where has my little sis gone? Oh where oh where could she be?

She said she’d meet me here for her lunch break. Things must be pretty busy at the health centre for her to be this late.

Gosh, I wish she’d hurry up. I’ve got crazy weird news to tell her, you see.

Come on, Julie. Show up already. Or else I’m going to burst like a can of pop that has been all shook up.

Tap, tap, tap, tap. Ugh. This isn’t doing me any good.

Fine, I’ll let it out already.

Here goes —

I’m married.

To the president. Of the Philippines.



It’s so unbelievable, right? I’m not even sure how it happened. All I know is that a strange person dropped by my house this morning, introducing herself as the president’s PA. She showed me a marriage contract — one that has apparently materialized out of nowhere, since I have no recollection of having gotten married to anyone — proving that I was the president’s — gasp — first lady.

I told her she had the wrong person, but there it was in black and white. The contract had my full name — Aleksandra Elisabeth Salarson de Guzman — down to all the eccentric spelling nuances. It had my undecipherable signature as well.

So what did it all mean? What did it all imply? I asked the PA those questions and all she said was that I had to be in Malacañang that evening.

That’s seven hours away. Oh, I hope Julieta would get here soon. She’s always been the sane and level-headed one. She’d tell me what to do.

Suppose this was all real? Suppose I had perhaps gotten a bit tipsy and had maybe flung myself into a Vegas-like ceremony with the most powerful man in the Pearl of the Orient? Suppose I’m not dreaming up this wacky, far-fetched nightmare?

Suppose —

Well, I suppose I should get my act together, then. Would it take a lot of work to become a president’s wife? He’ll need me for support. He’ll need me to give him nuggets of wisdom, too, from time to time, I guess. He’ll need me to flutter like a social butterfly during classy engagements, to be the people’s lady during community events, to be a witty speaker during press conferences. He’ll need me to stand forever by his side.

Gosh, I don’t know if I’m up for it.

Julieta, please get here fast.

I need all the words of wisdom and encouragement that I can get.