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I stood shoulder to shoulder with Toby, prepared to confront the Aswang head on. Had it not been for Menchie, we'd have bested her last time, but this day would be different. If I could change one thing, it would be that I will stay with Santa Claus, no matter what. Lunch. Feeling blessed. Daddy only brought boiled bananas for lunch but a new neighbor who just moved in yesterday, gave Dinuguan and Adobong Atay . While we were eating, Toby asked about Santa Claus and gave us four choices as answers.

"Which one are you, Daddy and Neo?" 1. You believe in Santa Claus; 2. You do not believe in Santa Claus; 3. You are Santa Claus; and 4. You resemble Santa Claus." Toby inquired.

"I resemble Santa."
"Did you notice my beard is getting longer and has lots of white hairs?" Daddy responds.

The two boys guffawed at their father's joke, but what followed was an intense debate about the existence of Santa Claus.

I am a member of the Science Club at our school, my favorite subject is physics and my main issue is defying gravity for a quantum silver of a second.

"No two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. When Santa delivers gifts, he must give to children all over the world. There are two billion children in the world, but that will still be reduced because Hindi, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist children, as well as naughty Christian children are not included," I tried to persuade them that Santa does not exist.

"I have received gifts over the past Christmas. Santa and his reindeers have the power to defy the law of gravity, indeed," Toby rebuked me despite my argument backed up by science.

Enough of the discussion! Daddy picked bananas in our backyard and asked me to bring the ripe ones to our new neighbor's house as a welcome gift.

I knocked on her door and it creaked open. However, my knees went weak with her when I saw the horrific figure. I felt that she need not be welcomed. In fact, the sooner we left, the better. Let me explain why...

The new neighbor, Rossi McLaughlin, college professor who enjoys cookery, meditation and rituals. She is friendly and careful but had strange-looking patterns marked on her forehead.

Looking behind her, I noticed an altar with candles and some sort of circle drawn around it. There was even a black cat sitting at her feet, purring softly and looking up at me with glowing green eyes. I felt a shiver run down my spine. I turned tail and fled. I had just witnessed a true witch!

I dashed home, and as I opened the door, I heard the news on TV. Breaking news: A man has been discovered dead. He was last seen alive by CCTV from Prof. Rossi's house three days before he vanished and was discovered dead. A paranormal expert discovers a legend about a supernaturally cursed, lighted candle circulating throughout an old house while investigating a man's death. Anyone who lights the candle has exactly three days left to live.

In everyday life, the doomed few appear to be ordinary people, but when photographed, they appear translucent. To touch a marked person, imagine a compact cat.

Toby grabs the candle and refuses to believe the superstition. A series of images flash through her mind: She looked hideous, mumbling to herself with that dreamy, ghastly smile. Her hair was lank and lustrous, falling around her like rotting straw strings. In the corner, a cauldron slowly bubbled, emitting the most infernal and rancid vapors. The floor of the house was littered with frog legs, bat wings, and newt eyes. Her savage and cunning lupine eyes only came to life when she muttered certain arcane words from a spell. They sat atop her hawkish and hooked nose. It gave birth to the most ridiculous wart. It had to be the size of a saucer. It would have been funny if the scene wasn't so Stoker-esque. As she neared the end of her incantation, her wheezy, cackling voice grew louder and louder. A row of blackened and broken teeth, like old tombstones, lay beneath her fire worshipper-black brows. They arched up and over her dead-fish eyes like sickles, hinting at her cruelty. As she turned fully toward me and pinned me with her gaze, those eyes shimmered with the tenacity of a thousand years. She traced a leathery tongue around her thin, bloodless lips as she examined me from head to toe. Her spindly, arthritic legs moved quickly, like an old spider, closing the gap between us in an instant. I was captivated. I was unable to move my arms and legs. I was the fly in the web.

I could smell the mildewy and sickly passage of her breath as she leaned her face against mine. "Dinner is ready," she said quietly.

When Toby noticed his eyes have cat-like properties, he realizes the curse of the lighted candle is true and calls me for her.

Chanting could be heard coming from our neighbor's house that evening. We peered out my window and noticed an eerie glow emanating from within. We were gripped by panic. Should we inform Daddy? But he was never going to believe us. So, what should we do? We decided to tell my best friend, Menchie, about it and investigate together after we discussed our options. She'd definitely believe us, wouldn't she? We discussed it with Menchie at school the next day. She was convinced by the end of the day. We'd formed our own Aswang-hunting squad.

Mustering up our courage, we made our way to the aswang's house and were about to knock on the door when Menchie shouted, "Neo, look behind you!" I shifted my gaze. It was the black cat. It mewed angrily at us. In fear, we huddled together. Will we be cursed? Didn't black cats cause mishaps for people? "When the candle is lit, we have to extinguish the flame, okay?" Menchie reminds him.

Then, the door opened slowly. The aswang! When she saw our horrified expressions, she let out an evil-sounding laugh. We screamed at the top of our voices.

"Oh no! The aswang is here! Help!", Toby shuddered with fear. She cackled even louder at that and dragged us in before we could even run. We were really goners. Looking at me with sorrowful eyes, Menchie said, "It's been a pleasure having you as a friend all these years. We will now die together."

"You were a wonderful friend, "I said with a sad smile.

Surprisingly, the aswang did not boil Menchie and me or chop us up into minced meat. Instead, she smiled brightly. Then she assured us that she was not an aswang, but rather a lonely old lady from another country who practiced a different religion and had different customs to follow. She even stated that in her religion, black cats bring good luck!

This information amazed us. After that, the "aswang" served us some pastry from her home country. She then told us some interesting stories and allowed us to pet her cat. When we looked at the clock again, it was already evening. Our parents were on their way home from work! We reluctantly bid the "aswang" farewell.

"Don't worry, guys, " she said gently. You can come again any time!"
"We definitely would like to do so!" all of us answering in unison.

Menchie and I parted ways at an intersection. I skipped home, feeling as if a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I no longer had to be concerned about the presence of an aswang near my home! That night, while listening to my new friend's chanting, I drifted off to sleep.

Menchie and I managed to get our parents' permission to visit our neighbor again the next day. The teachers' words seemed to float by during lessons. I couldn't concentrate...Not when I was excited to meet the "aswang" and her black cat, whom I had once feared. Today marks the third day since Toby lit the candle at Rossi's house.

Toby and I were dizzy with delight when Professor Rossi gave us a Christmas present. While we were eating at Rossi's residence and enjoying ourselves...

BREAKING NEWS: Police have apprehended the serial killer, disguised as Santa Claus, who is responsible for the murders that have occurred in our quiet community city, including the murder of the man who came from Rossi's house three days before he died. This man dressed as Santa Claus and came to town, is a psychotic.

"He is actually our Daddy," tears rolled down our cheeks like rivulets.
© Dexter Amoroso Dexter Amoroso is the author of "Rustic Charm" and "STAY-AT-HOME-DAD: Makin' Popcorn & Wiping Asses: Their Turn to Pop is Coming, but Don't Poop at the Same Time!", a former quality professional who has changed careers and wants to enter the world of teaching.

He subscribes to Gardener's Multiple Intelligence as it is one of the highest truisms, but he adds another intelligence called "intuition". And he argues that intuition is the highest form of intelligence as it can identify and target a particular thought or feeling. Intuition is don't think at all but it just comes to your mind...a thought, a feeling, a gut feel. He believes that intelligence cannot be measured only by the ability to do one task. As per what institutionalized education does to gauge intellect. Exposing children to various stimuli will expand their horizons. This will also deepen them as individuals.

Dexter Amoroso is a National Book Development Board's registered writer/author and book editor who mostly pens academic writing and some creative writing in the English language. He was the former VP Public Relation and VP Education for Pinoy Writers Toastmasters Club (PWTMC). He had a bad case of glossophobia (fear of public speaking). PWTMC was one of the things that pushed him out of his comfort zone. Conquering his fear of public speaking is liberating. Probably like how birds feel when they realize for the first time that they can fly. Really happy to overcome this speech anxiety because he wants to enter the world of teaching and he is so happy to share what he can with future students and colleagues! Dexter is inspired daily by his two little boys. In his free time, Dex likes to read and write.

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