By: Victory Witherkeigh
My family hails from an island nation called the Philippines, composed of seven thousand one hundred islands. The people of Sulod would tell this tale of the three brothers who visit with newborn children.
When a couple marries amongst the Sulod, there begins the watch of the three brothers. Every day, they wait and listen for any of the villagers to announce their upcoming nuptials.
"We're getting married!"
"We have an engagement party! It'll be bigger than my cousins!"
These brothers seek only one thing from the couples that join to begin their lives: the announcement of a new life, a contemporary descendent in the family tree. The brothers live together in the thick jungles of the island, making their home just beneath the tunnels and passages created from the thousands of years of the palm trees' roots stretching underneath the earth. Here they chart the village's families, weaving their tapestry in the cold dark caves, drinking the rainwater from the Typhoons as it drips through the rock and gravel.
The first brother, Mangganghaw, is also known as the Watcher. He is the one who leaves the comforts of their caverns the most, perusing the village markets for the latest gossip. His nose, elongated and pointed, allows him to smell the village women's shift in scent. They say he can pick up the smell of new life with just his nose, but he allows his appearance to blend into each village as smoothly as possible. Walking up and down the market stalls, he listens to the women as they gossip about their food cravings.
"All I want is cold green mango and extra shrimp paste today... it's for the wife."
"She wants the bulot, the preserved duck eggs again…I'm trying to ask the healers if they're safe for her."
"My Lola tells us that we need to eat the fried bananas on the night of the full moon and then sleep on our right side to ensure it's a boy."
Mangganghaw knew to follow those who smelled like mango and shrimp paste, ice cream and banana, churros with chocolate. He would follow these smells to the women's house, peeking inside and reporting their pregnancy progression to his brothers. He always ensured he never entered their homes, for that was not his role. He gathered the information and relayed that to the second brother, Manlaegas.
As soon as Mangganghaw heard the women's beginning cries of their labor pains, he'd rush back to inform Manlaegas. Mangganghaw is marked as the Watcher because he cannot interact with the physical world through touch. His powers lie only in enhanced vision, hearing, and smell. Otherwise, he passes through objects and people as a ghost, leaving the sensation of a shiver or a chill running through one's spine as their instincts pick up the supernatural force watching them. Manlaegas's power runs through his claw-like hands and his ability to touch and affect the world. Upon receiving the signal from his brother, his task in the birthing process is to arrive in the family's household. There he sits and forces his hands through the midwives, helping the soon-to-be mothers assess whether the child will be born living or dead.
"Bear down now!" the midwives shout as he uses their hands to feel around the women's belly to ease the baby into position.
He needs to feel the liquid from the broken water, catches the sweaty gasps of breath from the laboring mothers, and gathers the afterbirth as soon as the child's first piercing cry rings into the air. Blood is the water of life, the individual tie to each child. Once Manlaegas receives those three signs of life from the child, he shoots a spell off to signal his last brother to arrive at the house at midnight as the parents bustle the baby unaware.
We know the last brother as the Dealer, but his name is Patag'aes. Using the signs of life stolen from his brother Manlaegas, he is able to enter the family's home at the stroke of midnight. The gifts will enable him to hone in on exactly where the child is being held to steal it away so he can be alone with the baby. He will even double-check all the rooms to ensure no one else in the house has witnessed his arrival or hold over the child. It is said that he needs absolute silence to cast his magic and use his gift of speech to converse with the newborn. Sharp, gleaming fangs smile at the babies before he poses the question to them:
"How long do you wish to live? And with that thought... how do you wish to die?"
The bargains always began the same way once Patag'aes laid out the first question.
"There are only three rules you must know before we begin this discussion. Number one, you will die - there is no escape from our Master of Death. You cannot live forever."
"Number two, the choice of how and when is completely up to you. I can offer ideas or suggestions, even counterpoints, but I cannot choose."
"And number three: no one else may hear our conversation. If you cry or I catch someone listening to us, your life is mine at that moment, and I will snuff it out with my fingers gripped around your throat so quickly you won't have another moment to scream."
For these brothers three are the keepers of the records of Death. They monitor and record the decisions made by each human being from the moment they've chosen their fate. Patag' aes' debates with the babies could last for as long as they needed to, for the notion of time had no effect during his dealings. No matter how long they tried to prolong it, the child eventually made the decision. Only upon the agreement by both parties was Patag'aes able to summon a measuring stick to begin his markings, the written proof of their pact. The markings were in the Dead's language, unable to be read by the mortal eye. Still, he gave the courtesy of informing the babies that the carvings would be the final agreed-upon calculation of their lifespans. Once he finished the last stroke with his golden dagger, he would vanish into the night, never seen by the child again.
These brothers give a warning to those parents who eavesdrop on their newborns. Beware interrupting your baby babbling into the dark of night, for you know not who you may find speaking with them.
Meet The Writer
Victory Witherkeigh is a first-time female Filipino author originally from Los Angeles, CA and now based in the Pacific Northwest. Victory has been a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2020 Claymore Award and Wingless Dreamer’s 2020 Overcoming Fear Short Story award. Her work has appeared in online literary magazines, Allegory Ridge, Bad Bride, Thought Catalog. She has her debut print publication in a horror anthology, The Hollow Horror Anthology Book #3, for sale beginning May 2020 containing her fiction short story, “Passion,” under Breaking Rules Publishing.