Death’s Tongue: Nine Years After a Fatal Blaze

ONE can easily come across its ruins. Charred by an angry fire nine years ago, devoid of GI sheets, with its windows, doors and walls all but obliterated, only the abandoned red bricked columns of the Family’s home, reminds one that a house once stood here. Gone also is a tree once standing tall in the front yard, which is a bit elevated than the gateway. The black gate still stands there in 

front. Hanging there were plastic bags of garbage slung there by neighbors.

At one time, wild grass grew on the abandoned property.

A poor family now calls the ruined house a home. One of their kids sell sampaguita garlands to churchgoers every day at 6 in the evening.

Seances say way way back, after the Fire, that the Family’s ghosts still linger inside their Home. Or what used to be one until flames from a lit LPG tank consumed the structure and everyone inside caught unawares of the treacherous crime being done on them. The Family’s ghosts call for justice or seem not to believe the horrendous deaths that Father, Mother and Sisters of the Suspect
had undergone because of him. Or, as stories had claimed in the days, weeks and months to come, his drug-induced insanity.

Memories of a fire past still linger on like embers.

“Death strikes like a thief in the night.”

UNTIL now, at least in the memory of this writer. images of flames leaping into the air, consuming the once seemingly placid home of the Family are still vivid. It was dawn Black Saturday. Hours earlier, the baranggay’s Catholics had just finished the yearly Santo Entierro procession, having led the imitation Christ statue to its “burial.” They slept for the night and to gain strength
for hectic activities for the next day’s Black Saturday rituals in preparation for Easter.

No one was prepared for the crime they were about to see.

Accounts reported to this writer, and supported by his own memories, reveal how red dark tongues leap into the dark night of Holy Week. March 2005. Embers rained on the roofs of neighboring homes. Suddenly, a distraught lady, without slippers, ran across the street named after Palm Sunday, her cries for help marked by panic, horror and helpness.The writer’s father came out sounding
further out alarm with a whistle. Neighbors rush out of their homes, with pails of water in tow. One of them may have called the BFP for around 30-45 minutes into the blaze, a fire truck came screaming down the now panic-stricken street. However, the truck had no water since it had just come from another blaze. Yet, inexplicably, if the truck had no water in it, why it had passed through the
village to “respond” to a blaze? Later on another truck arrived, as neighbors frantically threw pails of water into the fire. It was too late. For apart from the blaze having been started by an intentionally-leaked LPG cylinder-as later revealed-, probers also found out a more horrifying fact. The Family’s parents had been stabbed in their sleep. The Father was a respected lawyer in the village. The Mother had been serving as baranggay councilor at that time. Two sisters also perished in the blaze.

Denouement

Morning of that day. Media men arrive, asking the SOP questions in cases like sifting truth from rumors, like sand and gravel on a sieve. Policemen bring the bodies to the morgue as horrified neighbors look on with the results of the massacre that shook them into fright. The dawn has ended, another day has just begun. And four persons perished.

Meanwhile, it turned out that apart from the sister who ran out for help in the street, three more members of the family were not in the house at the time of the blaze. Two of them were somewhere else at the time the blaze had been consuming their house and home.But the third one had been in the house and had ran away after the incident. As circumstances of the Black Saturday inferno
were pieced together, it turned out he had killed his parents, and leaked open the gas cylinder before setting it ablaze. Further probing revealed he had been a troubled person, either from having used drugs way way back before or had been tortured by some men in the mountains, also many years ago.

It has been nine years. Nothing has ever been reported after the suspected was reportedly tracked down (or surrendered) after having fled to a nearby forest, inside a dam’s compound; charges were not pursued by his relatives against him. The house was left to the elements and seances. And so, the red-bricked columns stand lonely in the yard that, upon it, once stood a home.

***
Fires are sacred, if the Parsees or Iroquois are to be asked. Fires illuminate the hearts of darkness, honor the dead, or, as Catholic dogma insists, symbolize the rebirth of those who believe in the resurrected Carpenter from Nazareth. But fires can also be the wrath of the unstable and the tortured, and if left unchecked, can devour those they love the ones the most.

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