by Arnel Banaga Salgado
There were a continuous slew of patients flocking the small but serene barrio where Apo Baring lived. Each individual had their own purpose, but majority were seeking to be cured by his supernatural gift of faith-healing.
His power, he claimed was given by Ingkong Marya, the leader of the cult he belonged. It was been agreed that every year, he was required to take a pilgrimage from his place in Pangasinan up to Mount Banahaw if he still wanted to renew the power of his craft. Although he was old, he tried to walk barefoot braving the heat of the sun and the danger to be side swept by a passing car along Mc Arthur highway. His determination to climb waned as he aged especially now that he was almost eighty and his energy gradually deteriorated. There were wrinkles everywhere. There was the shadow of death waiting for his soul. There was hopelessness. There was melancholy. His fountain of youth was unreal for him because he could not find any appropriate incantation to alter his age. There was pessimism everywhere.
Ingkong Marya was offering a naked body of a man to an idol carved from a narra tree with imposing phallus and a terrifying face like the decomposing cadaver floating at the river. These were magic words she said which could not be understood by anybody including her. Perhaps, only her god knew. There was an atmosphere of awe and solemnity, silence and holiness, terror and mystery as the members hummed continuously incomprehensible words which they believed came from the language of their gods.
Gradually she stood and danced the ritual while slowly removing her clothes and went closer near the lifeless body of the man. She touched and kissed the skin starting from the head up to the lower torso and when she finished, she positioned herself to the cold rod and the slit of her body while chanting the supposedly magic words or mantra which could prolong her life and the life of her followers. Then suddenly, she darted her buttocks and gyrated for almost fifty times as she caught with her breathe, panting, moaning and later on shouted a loud cry which signaled her orgasm.
Apo Baring was trying to decide whether he could take the last walk of his life or retire from his mission. After all, he was already old. There was question about what to do when he stopped his faith healing. He could not earn anymore and surely, he would be starving to death. Ennui and melancholy could be another threat that would trigger suicide or aggravate his heart ailment. He was confused," What will I do?" he asked himself while looking at his patients who flocked his little shack situated along the lonely farm where only few families lived. The atmosphere was like his funeral. There was no smile. There were cries from the children but the parents where otherwise quiet. There was loneliness and fear outlined on their faces because they could see that Apo Baring could not cure them any longer next year if he would retire or die. His people would suffer and he could also die because of boredom.
The house of the cult was continuously thronged with people everywhere. Ingkong Marya already started to dress up for the ritual and she started to accept offerings of any sort from the pilgrims. There was a trickle of money, fruits, livestock, even clothes and pledges to support the needs of the cult members monthly. It was like a great feast. The incense was burning from the rising of the sun and the continuous incantation of mantras could be heard from every part of the mountain. The gods showered all the members with the Holy Spirit, holiness and even excitement. All were solemn. They were dressed up with a fashion appropriate on that occasion. They wore hoods, cape and long white albs which reminded me of the vestment of the priests. The procession was long. It took a kilometer of queue before the last person could be reached. The first station was the pool of spring water which they believed could provide them power and could heal whatever affliction in body or spirit that they had. As soon as a member would step on the holy ground of the water, he was required to immerse himself while protecting his flambeaux from being extinguished by the water of the pool. If the flame would accidentally be extinguished, the pilgrim was required to repeat queuing and wait for another turn for his immersion on the miraculous water. The group sang spiritual songs while invoking their gods for a miracle and to recharge their supernatural powers. The ritual took almost a day for everybody but they did not feel any fatigue or hunger, instead they were filled with joy and zeal.
The house of prayer was finally filled with the pilgrims and soon as the sun set and the dusk approached. There was silence, there was darkness. The ember from the burning incense was their only light while Ingkong Marya sang her incantation and invoked the god of the cult. Her voice was terrifying and the atmosphere was like the burning fire of hell although outside the house of prayer was a cold breeze of the summer night. Everybody was overcome by a sense of wonder and mystery. There were so many questions from the group although they were not allowed to say it.
The light was gradually turned on as one was focused on the ritual table. The face of Ingkong Marya was seen by everybody. It was white as if she just rose from the dead and her nakedness outlined the youth of her flesh. Her breasts were cone shaped as her virginity was threatened many times by the phallus of a man's cadaver. She started the culmination of the offering as she drank the blood of the dead man and gyrated for many times before she finally shouted the orgasmic mantra which would bring magic to all the pilgrims who would hear it. Then afterwards, there was chaos all over the house of prayer as they made their ultimate act of sacrifice. They were having sex orgies as every flesh met lively flesh as the next supreme healer would make love with the dead body of Apo Baring and his responsibility to his patients. Indeed his last pilgrimage brought him his fountain of youth and his eternal rest - as the second most influential figure on the necrophilic cult of Mount Banahaw.