Corpse In The Mirror - sample chapters
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Corpse In The Mirror - sample chapters



"Corpse In The Mirror" is the second book in the SPRG Series, the paranormal romance trilogy by A.S.Santos. ...

"Corpse In The Mirror" is the second book in the SPRG Series, the paranormal romance trilogy by A.S.Santos.

(This book follows book one: "Voices In The Theater.")

This file gives you a sneak preview of the book's first five chapters.

This book is now available on



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Corpse In The Mirror - sample chapters Corpse In The Mirror - sample chapters Document Transcript

  • Excerpt from SPRG Series Book 2: Corpse In The Mirror By A.S. Santos SPOILER ALERT! This is Book 2 of the SPRG Series. If you have not yet read Book 1 (Voices In The Theater), click here:
  • Chapter 1: Brighter Days I’d never seen anything like it. The water was a bright cloudless sky, and the sky was an endless blue sea. The sand beneath my feet was warm and powder-like, inviting me to take off my sandals and just lose myself in them. And the air—oh, the magnificent air!—was light and breezy and warm, everything that summer was supposed to be. My mom used to tell me of how she met dad while he was on spring break in Ocean City, New Jersey. And he’d laughed when she scoffed at how Ocean City wasn’t a “real beach,” because real beaches were what she had back in the Philippines. I don’t think Dad ever really believed her, and I had no idea what she meant. Until now. This... this was a real beach. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 2
  • “Helmet diving?” a man said as I walked by. “Jet skiing?” offered another man. They were holding up laminated cards with pictures of people having fun doing the things they were inviting me to do. There were many of these men on the island—tour and adventure guides of sorts—whose mission was to help visitors make the most of their Boracay vacations (and earn extra income out of it, of course). I smiled at them and shook my head as I walked by. Dad and Mom and I had had our fill of swimming, skiing, boating, sailing, and diving in our first 3 days on the island. Now I just wanted to soak up the sun and be alone with my thoughts... and just flow with and let go of everyone else’s. This was a technique I’d been practicing all year with Father Nimoy, this conscious choice to accept and let go of the thoughts I still heard from other people’s heads, and not involve myself in them personally. A few months ago, I’d never have agreed to go with my parents to such a crowded place as Boracay, where it seemed like 10% of every country’s population decided to drop by and stay each summer. I knew the headache it would’ve given me, having all of those invading thoughts crowding my mind all at the same time, in probably every living language in the world. It didn’t help either that my Dad wanted so much to be a better father to me that he seemed to be overcompensating: I knew that one of the reasons he insisted on this trip was Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 3
  • that he wanted me to “socialize.” He reasoned that since he and mom had first met on a beach a long time ago, maybe something similar might just happen with me. At the very least, I think he hoped I’d find someone to hang out with who had nothing to do with school. Of course I couldn’t tell my dad that, for all his good intentions, it didn’t change the fact that most everyone else’s intentions weren’t. Good, that is. It was just so hard to be friendly when every time I encountered a decent-looking guy my age on this beach, the very first thoughts I’d hear in his head would be, “Mmmm, nice rack,” or “I’d give her a rating of 7,” or “I wonder what she looks like naked?” Anyway, I didn’t really need to socialize to enjoy Boracay. Just feeling the energy of this lovely beach while experiencing success with “breathing in each thought, and breathing it out” was actually enough for me. I especially loved it that there were even uninterrupted hours when I could pretty much walk down this whole white stretch of beach all I wanted, and not even be bothered by the people walking all around me. “Sam!” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 4
  • I paused for a moment, wondering if it was a thought or a voice, and whether or not it was even addressing me. “Samantha Davidson!” Yes, the voice was talking to me. And I smiled because his tone was light and familiar, and I knew exactly who it belonged to. I turned towards the direction of the beach, and saw him, sprinting towards me with a wide smile and an extremely tan torso, his board shorts outlining his strong legs with each step. “Malvar!” I called back. In a few seconds he was in front of me, his breathing slightly fast. “Fancy seeing you here. And... in really short shorts!” He grinned. “Awesome legs, Davidson!” I was glad the past three days of beach walks and swims had already given me a decent tan, hiding the blush that I felt suddenly creep up my cheeks. What made it worse was that Richard wasn’t just admiring my legs verbally—for a brief moment I actually saw my legs from his perspective, inside his mind’s eye. It was something I’d never experienced before with anyone, this seeing a glimpse into how they were seeing me. It was just one moment—a moment of gazing at my own legs from Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 5
  • thighs to calves that I picked up from Richard’s mind—but it filled me with a mixture of extreme embarrassment and slight satisfaction. “You’re looking great, yourself,” I said, finally, gesturing vaguely at his chest. “Hahaha! Glad you noticed!” He was totally un-self-conscious and unapologetic. “Here, check this out…” and he proceeded to actually flex his biceps in front of me. Knowing what I did about guys’ thoughts, I decided not to laugh at what Richard was doing, and protect his ego. But he looked so hilarious, I ended up giggling anyway. So I covered my mouth and said, “Wow! Impressive!” in what I hoped sounded like an admiring tone. Once again, he was unaffected either way. “Hey, you wanna hang out with me and my friends? We were just planning to go on a Banana Boat today.” I smiled at the irony. Here I was, on a beach hundreds of miles away from school and everything paranormal I associated with it, and suddenly here was Richard: a fellow member of our Student Paranormal Research Group. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 6
  • Then again, he was the one member in the group who didn’t really have anything to do with the paranormal at all. In fact, he was the one person I knew who could make me feel I was actually a normal teenage girl, living a normal teenage life. So even though I’d already decided to spend the rest of our family vacation just being quiet with my own thoughts, I actually found myself telling Richard, “Sure!” And that was how it all began. What should’ve been just one afternoon and one Banana Boat ride turned into 3 afternoons of hanging out with Richard and his friends, and 2 nights of hanging out with Richard himself until around 3am when most of the bands performed their last songs and most of the bars closed down their big tents and called it a night. We’d done volleyball face-offs, more helmet diving and parasailing and jet skiing, and Richard absolutely loved showing off his wakeboarding skills. He even almost convinced me to dive off a cliff with him—safely into the sea, yeah, but off a high cliff nonetheless—and it was a good thing that some of his other friends backed out, Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 7
  • too, or I would’ve had to walk around with a sore bottom for a few days (like his friend Dave, who hit the water ass-first), or worse. As much as I enjoyed doing all those high-energy activities with Richard’s group, it was the slower-paced nights that I liked better. Two people from the group—Josh and Merl—were a couple, and when night came around Richard and I often ended up with them while the others went off elsewhere. The four of us would hit the bars and dance, sample the different buffet tents and watch the fire dancers, listen to the bands and chill, or just sit as close to the beach as we could (which wasn’t always a legal thing to do at night, depending on which resort you were checked into) and watch the moon. I didn’t even notice it until the second night: the realization that whenever I was with Richard, I didn’t need to consciously “let go of other people’s thoughts.” Other people’s thoughts just didn’t seem to bother me at all when I was with him. The moment I realized it, I wondered why. Was there something special about Richard too, like, supernaturally? Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 8
  • It didn’t really seem likely. In fact, the more time I spent with him, the more I realized the same thing I already knew from the first time I met him: Richard’s thoughts were so… easy. He said exactly what was on his mind, and his mind didn’t stress much. To top it off, being around him helped me not stress out much, either. And that was a big deal for me. I knew I should’ve let it go at that. Still, it was the first time I actually had to wonder what someone was thinking. So on that third night we spent hanging out—the last night both of us were spending in Boracay—I decided to bring up the one thing he’d shown the slightest bit of stress about when he mentioned it to the SPRG a year before. “So,” I began, as we sat side by side near the shore, looking out at the black sky and dark sea, “Is it true you’re gonna be your Dad’s slave after you graduate?” He didn’t look at me. But from the corner of my eye I saw him do his “monster bunny rabbit look,” where he bared all his upper teeth one moment, then clamped his lips the next. “Yeah...” he said, “Pretty much.” “Doesn't it bother you?” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 9
  • “Sometimes, sure. But...” He turned slightly towards me. “You know how some people do things and decide things because they're sure it’s the right thing to do? That’s my dad. And you gotta respect that.” I nodded, slowly. “Yeah, I can respect that, too.” He looked out at the dark sea again, the light from the buffet tent behind us falling on his profile. And it suddenly dawned on me that it was a really attractive profile. He looked so much like a man, but what he just said me made him sound like an unsure boy. I smiled to myself. So this was what it felt like to wonder what someone was thinking. It had been so long since I’d wanted to know someone’s thoughts like this. All I remember most days is how I wished I didn’t know things. “So if you had a choice,” I said, lightly, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up, Richard Malvar?” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 10
  • He laughed. “Nice question! Hmmm... I wanna be a surfer. And a tattoo artist. And a dog trainer. Or a snake charmer. Whichever. I want to open up my own surf shop. And train dolphins to do tricks, and surf side by side with them. Or on them!” We both laughed at that. But just moments later, Richard’s easy smile faded slightly. “It’s just… there’s so much I want to be, so many things I’d like to try. You know?” I waited. “And...?” He shrugged. “I’m not really sure if I’m ever gonna be good at any of it. And since I’m not sure anyway, I think, why not give my old man what he wants, you know? Coz he seems pretty sure enough for the both of us.” I turned to look at him fully, not sure if I wanted to hug him, or just pat him on the shoulder. The first instinct seemed a bit too much, while the second one seemed too lame. Just then, Richard smiled at me sideways. It was one of the most devilishly handsome sideways smiles I’d ever seen. “It’s the beer talking,” he said, his voice low. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 11
  • He took another swig off of his bottle of San Mig Light, and looked back out into the sea. “Sometimes I get the feeling you have superpowers, Samantha Davidson. No one’s ever got me talking like this before.” I felt the warm blood filling my cheeks, and was glad for the cool night air and the dark. I looked out at the sea, too. “So, Richard Malvar, would-be dolphin surfer… Have you ever been on a dolphin before?” “Nope. Not yet.” “Wanna try it now?” Richard laughed. “I don’t think there are dolphins here, Sam. But we can go dolphinriding together next summer in Subic.” He winked. Together. Next summer. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 12
  • Those words sounded so… future-thinking. Like Richard was so sure we’d be spending next summer together, and that we would definitely be riding dolphins. For some reason, it made my heart miss a beat. I’d like to ride you tonight, pretty girl. This time, my heart almost stopped. The thought was so menacing and rough, in a voice that was much deeper and lower than Richard’s. What made it even worse was that it sounded so near: near enough to pierce through the thought-free bubble that surrounded me whenever I was with Richard. Near enough, apparently, to hear that Richard and I were talking about riding dolphins. Was it a spirit, or a person? I wanted so badly to look around behind us, to see if anyone was staring at us. But I didn’t want Richard to think I was weird. Not now, after almost three days of seeming like a normal teenage girl. I tried to focus now on what Richard was saying—something about a sea lion show, and a safari, and how we were going to see all of it in Subic next summer. I’m going to ride you as soon as your boyfriend’s gone, the rough voice said, We’re gonna have so much funnn... Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 13
  • And right after he said it, I saw a quick image of my back towards him, my hair blowing behind me and Richard right beside me… followed by a fantasy image of how I’d look like as he made me scream. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 14
  • Chapter 2: Too Crowded I felt some relief when Richard and I finally walked back to my hotel. Richard had always been walking me to my room these past three nights, but tonight it felt more important to me that he did. Nevertheless, as soon as I saw those images of myself in that unknown stranger’s head, I’d urgently whispered to my guardian angel Samuel to protect me, and in the middle of Richard’s animated stories I’d heard Samuel whisper back: You got it. It had been some time since I’d had a real conversation with my Guardian. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk to him. It was actually the opposite: he told me specifically not to depend too much on him. “You shouldn’t be using me as your crutch, Sam,” he once told me, after about the third time I started talking to him about how my day went, and his voice stopped me mid-sentence when I was telling him about one of Eartha’s hilarious stories. His use of the word ‘crutch’ confused me. “Huh?” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 15
  • Samuel suddenly materialized in front of me in my bedroom—in the act of walking slowly, as if he’d been pacing around me all this time—and motioned for me to sit on my bed while he sat on my study chair. “Look at what you’ve been doing,” he said, a patronizing brotherly smile on his face, “You’ve been talking to thin air every night for three days now.” That confused me even more. “But I’ve been talking to you.” “Yeah, about things I already know about.” He chuckled. “I’m around you all the time, remember?” I crossed my arms in front of me and made a face at him. “So I’m boring you.” He smiled even more, and it annoyed me even more. “Nope, that’s not it,” he said. He moved his chair closer towards me as I looked past him at the curtains. “You’re supposed to live a full life, Sam,” he went on, even as I pretended to ignore him. “Part of having a full life means connecting with other people, like your family and friends. These things about your life you want to talk about, you’re supposed to talk about with them.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 16
  • “But they’re not there all the time,” I told him, in a voice that may have sounded a bit whiny. “Exactly,” he said. “That’s why relationships take effort. And because they do take effort, they’re more valuable when you make them work. You can’t shortcut on that effort by defaulting to me just because you know I’m always around.” I hated it when he was right. It didn’t mean though that I had to admit that he was right. “So you don’t want me to talk to you, is that it?” This time I knew I was whining. “Of course you can always talk to me,” he said a bit loudly, although I was sure I was still the only one who could hear him. “But the thing is, little Sammy, it’s not always best for you if I keep talking back.” The only thing I hated more than him being right in an argument was when he called me Sammy. It was even worse when he called me “little.” I knew he knew those things—he could see it whenever I was annoyed, after all—and I had the feeling he was doing it on purpose. I sighed loudly. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 17
  • “Whatever,” I told him with resentment, but he just chuckled, reached out to ruffle my hair, and then disappeared. I felt miffed at him for a long time afterwards, but none of that mattered now—the images I saw in the stranger’s mind really left me shaken. “Hey, are you okay?” Richard asked me, as he just now noticed me glancing behind us every few moments. I wanted to put on a smile for him, but couldn’t. Because even as we reached our resorthotel’s front desk, I could still see that image of myself in that stranger’s mind, and I couldn’t even tell if it was because I kept thinking about it… or if he was following me, and he kept thinking about it. We were now at the door to my room, and I was going through my waterproof purse for my key-card. Go to your parents’ room, Samuel whispered into my ear. I looked up to my left where his voice seemed to come from, and met with Richard’s confused look. “Is something wrong?” he asked. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 18
  • This time I did manage a smile. “It’s just... uh, could you walk me up another floor? I need something from my mom, and their room is upstairs.” Richard shrugged. “Sure.” That night I slept in my parents’ room, on a sofa-bed that I asked room service to bring in. I’d simply told my mom that I wanted to stay with them, and because I’d just woken her up she was too out of it to ask why, and just went back to bed where dad was still sleeping soundly. As I snuggled into the sofa-bed I started to wonder about a lot of things. Would Richard be okay as he went back to his own hotel? Or would the stranger whose threatening thoughts I’d been hearing and seeing come after him? Had that stranger given up on me when he saw me change rooms? Or was he still actually nearby, watching? “Samuel,” I whispered out loud, when I heard my parents’ rhythmic snoring, “Please watch over me tonight. And please watch over Richard, too.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 19
  • I could swear I heard him smirk. Of course I’m here with you, Sam. But as for your boyfriend, I’ll tell his Guardian to keep an eye out, he said. “He’s not my boyfriend!” I whispered loudly, then shut up when I heard an interruption in dad’s snore. Hmm. Richard had his own guardian angel, too. That comforted me. But even though I went to sleep with that thought, the image of myself that I saw in that stranger’s mind kept creeping back into my dreams. In one nightmare I had just before sunrise, I thought I heard the sound of glass breaking, and a window being forced open from the outside. When I woke up I wasn’t sure if it was a dream anymore. Because when I went back to my room to pack my clothes for the trip back to Manila, I noticed that my window now had a small crack in the glass right near where the knob was, and the knob was turned up as if someone had tried to force it open. “Hey Malvar!” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 20
  • “Dude, is that you?” “So how was Bora?” “We’ve heard some really sick stories about you, bro!” “High five, man!” Isn’t that the girl from new Jersey? What’s she doing with Richard Malvar? When I first entered this campus a year ago, I’d thought there could be nothing worse than the bombardment of all those thoughts directed at me or thought about me by the hundreds of students milling about during enrollment, and the first week of school that came afterwards. I was wrong. Now I realized that last year was nothing compared to the experience of walking around campus with Richard Malvar. He seemed to know at least 20 different people from every college, of every year level, from every org. Even professors and staff knew him by name. We had to make our way ever so slowly towards the Registrar, and then to the Cashier, because the quick walk that would’ve Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 21
  • taken regular mortals about 90 seconds took us 30 minutes, with all the stopping and chatting Richard had to do with everyone he knew. “This is Sam,” he told them, whenever any of them noticed me beside him. “We’re in an org together.” I was thankful that most of them left it at that; they were obviously more interested in Richard himself than in anyone else he was with. But sometimes the girls he talked to would be thinking catty thoughts like “She’s not even pretty,” or “Why is he with her?” while simultaneously talking to Richard, and it amazed me how they could smile and carry on a conversation while plotting how they could pull Richard away from me. “Gotta go enroll now, guys—gotta serve another 4-month sentence,” Richard would say to end the conversation, and either take my hand or put an arm lightly around my shoulders to lead me away. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to make of it. I wasn’t even sure how I felt about it. On one hand I knew he was just Richard, the most non-committal guy in the SPRG, the same guy I just happened to spend three full days out of my week-long summer vacation with. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 22
  • But back here in campus, with all the students out of classrooms and on the grounds in full force for enrollment, he seemed to be someone else: someone different, someone exciting. Someone important. “Hey Malvar, over here!” a guy in line at the Cashier called out. “Hey Mateo!” They did a high five as Richard smoothly slipped in line in front of Mateo, then gestured to the space in front of him with a flourish. “Ladies first,” he told me, smiling. Some students from the snake-long line behind us grumbled. Then again, some of them just greeted Richard happily; they were obviously people he knew, too. “Hey, Sam.” For the first time that day, someone actually recognized me apart from Richard, and called me by name. It was Vanessa, and she had just left the Cashier’s counter and had seen me in line. “Hey, Van!” I smiled back at her and gave her a slight hug. She actually looked happy to see me… and surprised to see Richard right behind me. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 23
  • “Oh! You’re enrolling together?” she asked, but in her mind she clearly said Are they together? “Actually, we just bumped into each other at the gate, and—” “Yup!” Richard said, cutting me off and placing an arm around my shoulders again. Again, I wasn’t sure what to make of his behavior. He wasn’t thinking anything as he did it. He just did what he felt like doing, in his usual Richard way. Unfortunately, I could hear what Vanessa was thinking. “Oh, okay,” she said, smiling a bit more widely. “So I guess I’ll see you both later?” “Later?” “The SPRG meeting this afternoon. Migs texted us about it?” Briefly I remembered my phone, which I’d lost sometime between our last night in Boracay and our flight back home. Dad had gotten a replacement for me yesterday, but I guess I’d lost the past text messages that included Migs’. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 24
  • “Oh yeah,” Richard said easily. “Yup, we’ll be there.” As Vanessa walked away with a number of different theories in her head about how Richard and I ended up together, I contemplated on asking Richard what he was trying to do. But I knew that if I brought the question up, Richard wouldn’t really have an answer. Because the fact of the matter was, I knew he wasn’t really trying to do anything. Richard’s thoughts were as clear and transparent as could be. No hidden agendas, no future plans, no past issues to deal with when it came to me. Or anyone and anything else, for that matter. “Good morning, gorgeous!” Richard greeted the cashier when we reached the front of the line. The woman’s earlier stern expression directed at the student ahead of me now turned into a smile as she looked at Richard. She didn’t even notice me. “Hello Malvar. I’m surprised you’re still in this school,” she said behind the glass partition. “What can I say? People find me charming.” Richard was now using his cute grin on the poor woman, who was now turning pink at the ears. He handed her both of our registration cards. “What do you think, Miss?” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 25
  • The SPRG meeting that afternoon was not what I expected, but turned out to be what I needed. I didn’t realize that I’d actually missed this mismatched group of people, until I saw them all again in one place. Eartha had become more tan, and her beautiful long hair had been bleached lighter by the sun. Lana had grown out her short straight bob, and her hair was now about shoulder length and wavy at the ends. Migs and Aris seemed to have both grown bigger, although Migs looked pale compared to the rest of us, like he’d stayed indoors most of summer vacation while the rest of us were soaking in the sun. He looked even paler than Sir Julius, who had a strange, mild sunburn on his face that only spared the area around his eyes; he looked like he was wearing sunglasses, but in reverse. It was Eartha who first got emotional and started hugging everyone, and it seemed like the most natural thing to do to follow suit. “I missed you guys so much!” she gushed, and when she came to me her hug was warm and comforting, and I remembered how sincere Eartha always was in everything she felt. “I missed you!” Lana told me, and I honestly blurted out “I missed you too!” before we hugged each other tight. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 26
  • Lana had been just another stranger when I first came here, but we’d gone through a lot in the past year—certainly much more than I could’ve imagined. “Hey Sam,” Migs said with a smile, and when I smiled back he gave me a quick hug using just one arm, pulling me to him almost sideways. He’d been another stranger last year, but before we’d even reached the third semester he’d already met my mother. After all the hugging and catching up, Sir Julius filled us in on the latest developments in our org. Peter and Karen had already graduated and naturally left the org. I realized I hadn’t known them well enough to miss them, and it made me feel slightly guilty. Meanwhile, people had seen the fliers that we posted around campus last year, and the Facebook page that Richard had set up was now getting messages from the students about their paranormal experiences. Some were even signing up to join our team. “This means we’ll need to activate the system we started for answering the students’ messages,” said Sir Julius, “And create clearer guidelines for everything we do. We’ll also need protocols for accepting new members, and we’ll need to talk about our group during the orientation next week.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 27
  • “I’m on it, Sir,” said Migs as he took down notes. Without missing a beat he added, “And Aris volunteers to help me, too,” even as he kept his head down towards his notebook. Aris just shook his head and grinned. After synchronizing our course schedules and mapping out our calendar of activities for the term—which, to Eartha’s delight, included a Halloween-themed symposium for showcasing our findings from our past cases—Sir Julius said he wouldn’t prolong our first meeting. “I know you still have vacation hangover,” he said, his eyes smiling behind his glasses, “So if there’s nothing else you want to discuss, you can all have an early break.” We’d already started clapping our hands when Richard’s hand shot up, prompting us to stop. “Actually… there’s just one more thing,” he said. The quiet quality of his voice made us all look at him. I realized I’d almost forgotten he was there. Here in our Student Paranormal Research Group—even though Richard was someone we all found entertaining and generally liked—he wasn’t really as “out there” as he was when he interacted with the rest of the student body, the way I’d witnessed him do first hand. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 28
  • It made me wonder who the real Richard was: The charming one who a lot of girls considered as one of the campus heartthrobs? Or this blend-with-the-group Richard who took things easily and seldom drew attention to himself? Richard was now opening his knapsack and taking out his digital camera with the huge lens. I’d seen him use this camera before when we were in Boracay; it was his DSLR with the powerful zoom. He wore a serious expression as he turned on the power. It was an expression we hadn’t seen before. “Actually, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring this up,” he said. “At first I thought it would just go away, you know? But it didn’t.” He looked up and gave us all a tentative smile that was also unfamiliar. Richard was usually so full of confidence and bravado. He handed his camera to Migs. “You see, ever since I moved into my condo unit last year... this started happening to my pictures.” Aris, Lana, Eartha, and I all huddled behind Migs, looking over his shoulder as he scrolled through the images on the LCD screen of Richard’s D-SLR. Most of them were the normal pictures a teenage guy would take: candid shots of Richard and his friends, planned shots of Richard and his friends, and a huge number of restaurant dishes and landscape shots. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 29
  • Richard’s food and landscape shots were actually impressive. And it wasn’t just because his high-end camera was the kind that would naturally take better shots. With each image I could see how he took the time to artfully compose his photos: to shoot from a different angle, focus on an aspect that people wouldn’t normally pay attention to. Clearly, though, it wasn’t his talent that Richard wanted us to pay attention to just then. Because in each and every image on his camera screen, we could all see the blurred whitish image of something strange that seemed to manifest itself in all of Richard’s photographs. In one shot of a breakfast plate, there was the smoky shape of what looked like a female hand right next to it on the table, seemingly holding the knife. In a breathtaking shot of Boracay beach, the camera captured a faint smoky silhouette standing in front of one of the coconut trees. And in one shot of a beautiful dinner setting, we could all see the faint reflection of a face in the wine glass. It got even weirder. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 30
  • Whenever Richard himself was in the picture, there was always something… different. A glowing light would be floating next to the bottle of beer Richard was holding. Or a wisp of smoke would be patting him on his shoulder. In one particular image, there was the distinct shadow of a figure standing right behind him, and we could almost see a face. Correction: Migs, Aris, Lana, Eartha, and Richard could almost see a face. They said so themselves. But from my viewpoint, her features were as clear to me as if she’d been standing right there when the picture was taken. She looked like she was in her twenties, and her eyes were very angry. In fact, I almost felt like she was looking right back at me. And as if she wanted to prove it, her eyes in the picture suddenly blinked. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 31
  • Chapter 3: Darkness of the Soul “You saw something, didn’t you?” Sir Julius asked me. We’d wrapped up our first SPRG meeting of the year just minutes ago. After we all saw Richard’s weird photos, Migs had drafted out a plan where he and Aris would get a copy of the jpeg files for further study, Eartha and Vanessa would take care of inviting new members for our org (Eartha was especially psyched about speaking to the new froshies on their orientation), and Richard and I would handle the first batch of inquiries that students had been emailing and posting on our Facebook page. Apparently, my mild shock at having seen the girl blink at me from Richard’s camera LCD hadn’t been lost on Sir Julius, which was why he asked to talk to me afterwards. “Yes, I did,” I told him. He was one of the three people in the world who knew about my extra ability to sense things, and it was always a relief to be able to tell him the things I usually had to keep quiet about. “And Sir, there’s something more…” I told him about my experience in Boracay, about the images flashing in my mind from the unknown stranger who watched me from behind. I told him too about that brief incident in Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 32
  • this very campus late last school year, the quick image snapshots that came out of nowhere while Richard and I were talking about coffee. Sir Julius’ eyes turned thoughtful behind his glasses, as he sat back into his office chair and put both his hands together by the fingertips. This is interesting, his mind said, but I’m not sure it’s a good thing. “What may not be a good thing, Sir?” I asked him out loud. He smiled briefly, amused at the reminder that I could hear his thoughts. “You’re getting sharper at hearing,” he said, but as he leaned forward on his desk towards me his amusement faded. “It’s just that it seems like you’re not just hearing things anymore, Sam. Based on what you told me, it seems like you’re beginning to see things, too. And I’m not sure if it’s a good development for you.” He was right. Of course he was right. I was seeing things now. And as I remembered everything I had to go through just to come to terms with my being able to hear the spirit world last year, Sir Julius was also very right about not being too excited about this... Because I certainly wasn’t. If just being able to hear things last year almost drove me crazy, what more with this added dimension of seeing things, too? Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 33
  • After a moment though, I realized that I had already been seeing things before: Hadn’t I been seeing angels and demons since last year, too? Of course, the major difference was that these powerful beings chose to show themselves to me, at the times that they wanted me to see them. Now, however, it looked like I was seeing the thoughts of people, too. And if my past summer experiences were any indication, these weren’t exactly happy thoughts of rainbows and butterflies. “We’ll need to talk to Father Nimoy about this,” Sir Julius said, after looking at my reactions closely, and accurately understanding that I didn’t know what to do next. “For now, just keep doing what he’s been teaching you, and try to let things go.” One of the hardest things to do is to carry on with your life when you don’t know what to do next. It’s during these times that people give you the standard advice of taking it “one minute at a time,” but it’s still a tortuous waiting period with no end in sight. Right up next to it on the list was “letting things go,” especially when what you’ve seen still gives you nightmares sometimes. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 34
  • In our Abnormal Psych class Sir Julius paired me up with Lana to report on “criminal psychology,” and I knew it was his way of helping me gain insights on my own as we waited for Father Nimoy to return from his mission trip. It was basically a good idea, and I did want to learn more about how predators usually think, so I could avoid becoming a victim. What wasn’t such a good idea was when I stumbled across a convicted criminal’s blog during my internet research. Reading about the textbook explanations of psychologist-authors was one thing. But reading the disjointed thoughts of an actual sociopath was completely different... and deeply disturbing. It wasn’t even about the words he wrote. Instead it was the thoughts he was having at the time he wrote his entries—for some reason they would flash across my mind, and I wasn’t sure how to stop them. In one blog entry he talked about how people are strange creatures. He was obviously just ranting, and the text itself didn’t contain anything offensive or suspicious. But I sensed the images that were going through his mind as he was typing: he kept thinking about this teenage girl he knew, a redhead, and he kept having this fantasy of pulling her hair forcefully and shoving her head downwards. He seemed to particularly relish the look of fear on her face in his imaginary assault, and the whimper of defeat that escaped her lips. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 35
  • Another entry came later; he’d written about bathroom mirrors. As I read his dull words I saw a sharp image of his face in front of a mirror, smiling a disturbingly serene smile as he pointed an imaginary gun at his temple and pretended to pull the trigger. In the end I asked Lana to do the internet research part, telling her I could be the one to focus on the textbooks instead, and even do all the cross referencing we needed. She just looked at me for a moment, said “Okay,” without asking why, and smiled her pixie smile. “Here’s the strange thing,” Richard said, about seven minutes into our “one hour of answering FB messages for the SPRG.” “It looks like we’ve got a lot of messages,” he said, “But actually they’re just about the same two things.” He swiveled his chair towards me, his long legs gently bumping into mine. There were just a few of us students in the computer lounge, and many of them had headphones on and didn’t pay us any attention. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 36
  • “Message number one is the ‘I had a ghost experience, here’s the story’ kind. They don’t really care if we have answers, they just want to tell their story. “Message number two, on the other hand, is the ‘I have the third eye, I want to join your group’ kind. And I’m thinking this is Eartha’s and Vanessa’s job.” He smiled a naughty smile. “So the way I see it, our work here is done.” Even as I continued to face my monitor, I couldn’t help but smile, too. He was being Richard again: easygoing, relaxed, and very keen when looking for the fun side of things. “So which one are you?” I asked him, as I clicked ‘send’ on my reply to an FB inquiry; I just basically told the student to sign up for our org during orientation, and typed in the link to our online Member Application form for her to fill out. Richard tilted his head sideways. I saw it from the corner of my eye. “What do you mean?” I turned to face him. “You never showed me those photos when we were in Boracay, even though you had that camera with you. And I know some of those photos are about five months old. Just makes me wonder why.” Richard’s smile didn’t leave him completely. It just changed from a naughty “let’s get out of here” one into a respectful “whoa, I didn’t see that coming” kind. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 37
  • “I really love how you tell me exactly what you’re thinking, Sam,” he said, his voice dropping slightly. He leaned closer to me, his eyes serious. Everything about him right now told me he was serious. And for some reason I became acutely aware of my heart beating faster. “The thing is,” he continued, “I’d been thinking of telling someone about these things since last school year. And the first person I thought of telling was you. Remember when we went for coffee last March? That day we were putting up posters about our org? I wanted to tell you then.” Of course I remembered that day. I remembered seeing Michael from across the grass and the students and the trees, and deciding that I didn’t want to complicate my life by wallowing in my feelings for him. And at that moment of decision, Richard was suddenly there... asking me to have coffee with him. “But you didn’t tell me then. You didn’t even tell me while we were in Boracay.” “I wanted to tell you.” His smile was now softer, and somehow more real. “But there was something I wanted more.” As I waited for him to continue, I saw in my mind’s eye the faint flashes of Richard’s memories. Memories in the form of images. And they were images of... me. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 38
  • How he saw me during our first SPRG meeting, when I spoke about my reason for being there. How he saw me during the deliverance session in the garden, and how he watched me walk away. There were many other images of our days in Boracay: how he saw me smiling, laughing, just being quiet. I didn’t know what those images meant. All I knew was that they were there in his thoughts... and it made me feel warm inside, like I’d just been wrapped in an embrace. “What I wanted more was to get to know you, Sam,” he finally said, oblivious to what I’d seen in his head. “I wanted to be your friend. And I didn’t want you to think I was only talking to you because of ghost stuff.” He had a point. I nodded, slowly. “I get it. And you’re right.” I then gave him what I hoped was a warm smile. “Thanks, Richard.” He leaned back a bit now, his serious moment over, the let’s-have-fun glint returning to his eyes. “So,” he said, “Now that we’re actually friends... There’s really something I want to show you...” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 39
  • We ended up doing what Richard had first thought of us doing that March day when he and I first had coffee together: We went to his building, had coffee, and then he said “There’s something in my room that I want you to see.” Back in New Jersey, this sequence of events would’ve naturally meant we would go up to his room and make out, or more. But again I had to remind myself this wasn’t New Jersey. This wasn’t even the US. I was in Asia, in the Philippines, and once again I had no idea what to expect. “My room’s on the fifth floor,” he said as we entered the elevator, pressing on “5” just as the doors closed. “My parents got the unit for me when I was in first year. They have their own unit down the hall from mine, but they rarely stay there. They stay mostly in our house in Alabang.” “Is that far?” “Actually—“ The elevator suddenly gave a violent jerk, and I automatically reached out for Richard’s arm for support. “What was that?” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 40
  • Richard wasn’t looking at me. He was staring intently at the top of the elevator doors, at the panel that showed us which floor we were on. I followed his gaze and saw why he was concerned. Even though the “5” button was the only one lit and we were the only two people there, our elevator went past the fifth floor and climbed towards the sixth, where it suddenly stopped. The doors slid open to an empty hallway. “Should we go out and use the stairs?” I asked Richard, who was still uncharacteristically quiet. If the elevator was broken I certainly didn’t want to stay inside and get trapped. “Wait,” he said, clutching my arm as I was about to step out. At that moment the doors suddenly closed, and again the elevator started to climb. I looked at Richard questioningly, but he was still looking intently at the panel above. It showed us that we were now going past the 8th floor, the 9th… until we reached the 12th floor, and again we felt the elevator stop. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 41
  • The doors slid open, again to an empty hallway. This time I didn’t move. Richard’s hand still clutched my arm. After a beat the doors slid shut… and this time I saw we were going down. The number “5” on the button panel was still lit. I was sure it meant that we were going to reach our floor this time. But when we reached the 6th floor the elevator stopped, and once again the doors slid open to reveal nothing but an empty hallway. “Okay, let’s get out of here,” I said, now a bit creeped out. As I was about to take a step the doors suddenly slid to a close. They couldn’t have been open for more than two seconds. “I tried that before,” Richard said, almost calmly, as he now went for the button panel. He pressed the “call” button just as the elevator climbed steadily. My guess was we were going to the 12th floor again. “Hello?” Richard called into the holes of the panel, which served as the receiver. “Is anyone there? We’re stuck in the elevator.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 42
  • He stopped talking and waited, and after a moment we heard a loud static noise come from the same holes. The static lasted for two seconds, and seemed to me like there was a voice behind it. “Sorry, we didn’t get that,” Richard said into the holes, “Please help us. We can’t get out of the elevator.” He waited again, and again a loud burst of static came out, this time for three long seconds. I could make a female voice out of the noise. By this time we’d reached the 12th floor again. The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. As we stared at the empty hallway before us, I asked my Guardian Samuel out loud: “What should we do?” I was starting to get really creeped out, and hoped that Samuel would know the question was for him. At least it was a safe enough question to ask out loud that Richard won’t be suspicious about. “I don’t know,” Richard said. “The last time this happened…” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 43
  • The last time this happened? I thought incredulously. I faced Richard. “You mean it’s happened before?” “Calm down, Sam,” Richard told me. Calm down, Sammie, Samuel whispered in my left ear. It’s okay now. The doors slid shut, and the panel said we were going down again. “Yeah, it’s happened before,” Richard admitted. “About three times now. I used to think the elevator was just broken. It just does that: keeps going to the 6th and 12th floors on its own.” “And then what?” He shrugged. “And then nothing. After a few times, it just starts working again.” I looked up at the panel. We’d now gone past the 5th floor, and were on our way down to the second floor... until we stopped at the ground floor. The doors slid open, and the first thing we saw was the security guard’s station. Behind it was an intercom mounted on the wall, and some of its lights were blinking. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 44
  • “The guard on duty must’ve gotten our message,” Richard said, as he and I stepped out of the elevator safely. He pointed to the intercom. “Any emergency call from the elevator is received here.” I approached the empty station, and looked around at the empty corridor. “So he probably went to get help?” “Probably.” The elevator doors now started to slide shut. As I turned back to look, I heard another burst of static come out of the holes from the panel inside. Which should’ve been impossible, since Richard and I were standing in front of the intercom, and neither of us was touching it. Even more “impossible” was the fact that inside the static was a female voice. And I distinctly heard her say, Help me! Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 45
  • Chapter 4: Complicated Richard never did get to show me what he’d wanted to show me that day in his apartment. But I had seen and sensed enough to know that there was more to this than he was telling me, or maybe was even aware of. And if my experiences last year taught me anything about the spirit world, it was this: Strange things don’t consistently happen to someone just because. There was always a reason. There was always a pattern. The lunch hour before our next SPRG meeting, I asked Richard if he wanted to mention the other things that had been happening to him to the group. But even though he’d already shown us his photos, he apparently still hadn’t decided if his experiences were really caseworthy... Which was why he’d wanted to talk to me first. “And we have talked,” I told him. “And I think we should tell them.” But he just shrugged, smiled, then whisked me away to the new burger joint that just opened on the street across the school, and asked me to dare him to eat their famous 6-inchthick burger in three bites. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 46
  • Which he did. I guessed it was the burger that also kept him quiet during our walk back to campus. His digestive system sounded like it was now using up the energy he should’ve used for chewing. One great thing about our SPRG meetings was that our topics had gotten even more interesting this year; we were discussing some really important stuff. Eartha and Vanessa had approved five new members from the ones who signed up at our org booth during the Frosh Orientation, and although they came from different colleges and backgrounds, one thing I sensed they all had in common was a mixture of objective curiosity and just-enough fascination for the paranormal. Aris and Migs had been analyzing their copies of Richard’s photo files, and were currently in deep research mode, creating a database of verified ghost photographs throughout history. Migs even showed us a slideshow titled: “Things Commonly Mistaken As Ghost Photographs.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 47
  • Along with obvious glitches like double exposures and moving subjects, he also showed us how common things like moisture, light reflections, specks of dust, and a phenomenon called “matrixing” (where our brain sometimes makes us “see something” when they’re actually just a bunch of objects aligned together that form a familiar shape—the same thing that happens when we seem to “see” shapes in the clouds) can make people think an image is paranormal, when it actually isn’t. His slideshow presentation was pretty cool, and for the first time I actually understood everything Migs talked about. It was definitely way better than his technical oral reports from last year. What was even more interesting was when Migs called on Eartha to demonstrate how ghost videos could also be faked, especially by someone with the right equipment and enough time on their hands. Eartha said these were techniques they learned in their video editing class: they can erase things they want to hide, add things they copied from somewhere else, and even add special effects if they had enough knowledge of computer animation. “A lot can be done with video editing nowadays,” Eartha said excitedly, as she showed us on the projector screen a time lapse video of how she edited a short “ghost clip” on her laptop. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 48
  • It struck me as funny that, at around this same time last year, she’d also held our rapt attention as she talked about her ghost encounter in the Little Theater. “Cool, huh?” she said as the video ended, when all the strings had been erased from the “haunted kitchen” and all we could see in the final clip were the rags mysteriously flying off the counter and the cabinet doors opening by themselves. “That was very informative,” said Sir Julius as Eartha closed her video program; she also gave us a few curtsies as we clapped. “I think what we learned today from Migs and Eartha further stresses the importance of research, investigation, and documentation in our group. We cannot just readily accept that something is paranormal. We have to look for the logical explanations first.” Sir Julius now flashed one of Richard’s photographs on the screen. It was the one where the full-body yet transparent image of a female was standing right behind Richard, in broad daylight, as he posed with a group of people on a beach—the same photo where the figure’s features were clearer to me than to anyone else, and she had actually blinked at me once. “That being said,” continued Sir Julius, as I avoided looking at the apparition’s eyes, “What do you think should be our next steps in analyzing Richard’s photos?” “The first step, of course, would be to try to recreate them, see if we can produce the same result using natural means,” Migs said, in his usual no-nonsense way. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 49
  • “Not that we think Shemp would’ve faked this, of course,” Aris added with a smile, using the nickname they’d coined for Richard last year and giving him a sideways glance. “I mean, he’s one of us, right? It’s not like he’d spend time editing a series of photos like this just to, say, impress a girl. Right buddy?” Something interesting was happening underneath the conversation just then. I sensed that what Aris said was based on something he and Migs talked about in private. Richard, however, remained good-naturedly unaffected. “Yeah, Larry,” Richard said, chuckling, using his own nickname for Aris, too. “Like I’d really need a gimmick to get noticed by a girl. Please.” “Sir Migs mentioned that in his report,” piped in one of the new members, a Business Marketing student named Mark something. “If you’re taking a picture of someone, and that someone suddenly moves at the last minute, you actually get a blurred image like this.” “That’s true,” said Sir Julius, nodding. He smiled at Richard. “We’re not saying this is what happened with your photos, okay? We’re just training our group to think objectively, especially our new members.” “No problem, Sir,” Richard said, and I could tell he really was okay with it. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 50
  • But for some reason, I didn’t feel okay with it. “One thing that’s harder to fake, though,” I suddenly found myself saying, “Is that—even though she’s transparent and hazy—the figure behind Richard isn’t actually moving. There aren’t any streaks that show movement, she was just standing still.” Sir Julius looked at the screen and nodded. “That’s true. This is good, you’re learning to catch these details that we need to learn from.” I actually felt there was something more important we needed to learn here, but Sir Julius didn’t know that this was more than just about a few photographs. “Sir, I think we need to investigate Richard’s case,” I said. I hadn’t planned on blurting it out like that, but I had. And now that everyone was looking at me, I started to think twice. Sir Julius nodded slowly, while in his mind he was telling me, Tell us what you know Sam, just leave out the parts that might tell the group about your abilities. “What makes you think so, Sam?” he asked me gently, out loud. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 51
  • I wondered exactly how much I needed to say, while following Sir Julius’ advice. I took a deep breath, then told them the truth: “It’s not just the photos. There’s a haunting in Richard’s apartment building, too.” There was a burst of excited comments and a rush of thoughts from everyone after that. In the middle of the “No ways” and the interested “Wows,” one of the new members thought, Cool! A real haunting! while someone who sounded like Vanessa was thinking, Sam’s been spending time in Malvar’s apartment? Richard gave me a look, surprised by my revelation as much as anyone. Sir Julius motioned for everyone to quiet down. “Can you tell us what you know?” I took another calming breath, then, as objectively and as briefly as I could, told them about what happened in the elevator, and with the intercom. This is interesting, thought Sir Julius when I was finished. Even Migs looked thoughtful, even though I couldn’t make out any clear sentences from the jumbled race of thoughts that he was thinking just then. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 52
  • As everyone else was mulling my story over in their own heads, for some reason all I could pick up from Richard’s mind was the way he was seeing me right now... and it started to make me blush. In his mind, I knew he saw the blush, too. That was when it dawned on me: while I was hearing everyone else’s thoughts, I was actually seeing Richard’s. Was that the difference? The fact that many people think mostly in words, but Richard thinks mostly in pictures? Maybe that was why being around him made it easier for me, since I didn’t have to deal with another person’s voice inside my head. And maybe since Richard’s thoughts mostly involved things that were happening in the present—he rarely thought about the past or the future—most of his thoughts were about the things I was actually seeing, too. Now that was interesting. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 53
  • “Sam?” Sir Julius asked, not for the first time apparently, because everyone else in the room was looking at me and expecting an answer, too. And to my deep embarrassment, I realized my head had still been turned in Richard’s direction, so it seemed to everyone that I’d been lost in thought while staring at him. Which I probably was. My cheeks grew hot as I consciously blocked out what everyone was probably thinking, and focused on Sir Julius. “Yes sir?” He smiled. “I said I’d like you to make a case outline for this investigation, if that’s okay, and we’ll schedule a trip to Richard’s condo for our next meeting.” “Oh, absolutely. Will do that.” I bent down and focused on writing in my notebook. “Migs just finalized a new template for our case outlines,” continued Sir Julius, “So you can use that.” I nodded, still looking down at my notebook. “Okay,” Sir Julius now addressed the rest of the group, “Let’s divide our team according to our priority tasks...” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 54
  • Just like what he did last year, he grouped us into “Background Research,” “Witness Interview,” and “Logistics” teams; I belonged to the first team, just like last year. Aside from knowing that “Background Research” would be the area I’d be of the biggest help in, I knew Sir Julius didn’t want to expose me directly to the paranormal phenomena, especially since he knew I picked up more than others did. As the meeting wrapped up I gathered my things and approached Migs; he and Aris were helping Sir Julius pack up the projector system. “Hey, Migs.” He looked up at me briefly, said “Hey,” then looked back down as he tied wire twists around the cables. “So I was wondering where I could get a copy of that case template Sir Julius mentioned.” Although Aris looked sideways at me briefly, Migs didn’t. He was now meticulously putting the projector into its bag, and securing the straps around it. “Oh, yeah. I’ll email it to you.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 55
  • I’d honestly expected a friendlier answer than that, especially after the stuff that happened last year. “Okay,” I said. Migs didn’t say anything more. There was nothing else to say, apparently. So I just turned on my heel and left the room, and found Richard waiting for me in the hall. “So are you and Richard getting-to-know dating, or exclusively dating?” Lana asked me on the phone that night, while I was researching news entries connected to Richard’s apartment building. I smiled at Lana's question. “I’m not even sure we’re dating,” I told her. And I really didn’t think we were. Richard had never asked me out; he just happened to show up wherever I was—which was often in school, anyway—and then we’d mostly spend the day together. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 56
  • Also, he was only able to do that because he’d text me first to ask where I was, and then after I’d told him he’d reply “w8t 4 me.” “I think we’re just hanging out,” I added, as I clicked on a news report about a fire that happened near Richard’s building five years ago. But that didn’t turn up anything. “Well,” Lana said on the other end, “I know you’ve been hanging out with him more than you’ve been hanging out with me. So it’s either he’s your new best friend, or you are in that relationship limbo called it’s complicated.” “Aww, I’ve missed spending time with you, too!” I said, as I went back to my search results. “There are definitely things I can’t talk to Richard about—Wait, what do you mean by relationship limbo?” This time I turned away from my laptop screen and looked at my bedroom wall to focus on Lana’s answer. “It means you’re attracted to each other and doing the things that a couple usually does, but you’re not a couple and neither of you wants to clear up what you really are to each other. And believe me Sam, it always ends up complicated. Or worse.” “Oh, but we’re not making out or anything. We just literally hang out.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 57
  • Lana was silent for a moment. “Okay, if you say so.” “Lana, is there something you’re not telling me?” I heard her sigh. “No Sam. It’s just that I’ve gone through something like that before. And I realized much much later that there was something I wasn’t telling myself.” “And what was that?” “That I needed something different from what was happening.” That short conversation with Lana had given me something to think about. And when I made it a point to deliberately seek her out more often at lunch the following days, Richard happily tagged along and never even gave it a second thought, reinforcing my belief that he had no agenda other than friendship. But Lana wasn’t so sure. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 58
  • “You’re on the brink of it’s complicated,” she told me, after we delivered our report in Sir Julius’ class, and were now studying for an Algebra quiz at the Conservatory. “What makes you think that?” Lana scrunched up her pixie nose, in deep thought. “He holds your hand too much. And when he puts his arm around you—which he does a lot, too—it’s like he’s staking his claim or something.” “Believe me Lana, Richard just does those things because he feels like doing them. He doesn’t attach any meaning to them at all.” “Hmmm.” “What?” “Maybe he just doesn’t realize these things mean something. Even to him.” I thought about that. “That’s actually a possibility.” Just then my phone lit up with a text from Richard himself: wer r u? And after I told him, he quickly replied w8t 4 me. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 59
  • Lana was looking at me thoughtfully, catching me in the act of smiling at my phone. “What?” “He makes you happy.” I hadn’t thought about that. “I guess he does.” She gave me a soft smile. “That’s often what makes it complicated.” Richard and a group of guys appeared outside the Conservatory’s glass doors, and when he saw me he gave them cheerful high fives before detaching himself and making his way to our table. One of those guys came in to drink at the water fountain, and when he saw Richard slide over next to me I distinctly heard his thoughts from way across the room: I wonder if Chynna knows. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 60
  • Chapter 5: The Apartment I arrived too early at McDonald’s that Saturday morning, where our group was supposed to meet up before going to Richard’s apartment. These days Dad and Mom were trying to jog at least once a week at this place called Manila Bay, so they’d given me a ride since it was on their way. “Hey Sam.” I almost jumped at the voice behind me in the order queue, and turned to find Migs smiling sheepishly. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.” “It’s okay.” I smiled back. “You actually woke me more than scared me.” I yawned at my last word. Migs chuckled. “I can see that.” We both ordered breakfast combos and got a booth near the window, so the others could see us right away. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 61
  • “You’re wearing my earrings,” he said, almost surprised, after wolfing down three successive spoonfuls of his rice meal. “Yeah.” I tucked the sides of my hair behind my ears, exposing the hoop earrings Migs had made for me last year. They were actually audio recorders designed to help me catch electronic voice phenomena. “I thought they’d come in handy today.” Migs cleared his throat. “About that…” He took a gulp of his coffee, then looked at me with a serious expression. “I’m actually wondering if it’d be safe for you to go there.” “What do you mean?” Migs smiled softly. “I mean this…” he said, and in the next moment he deliberately let me hear his thoughts—his memories, to be exact. They came in the form of sound snippets in his head. Most of it was of my voice, at different levels of panic, from that time when we stood side by side in the darkness of the Little Theater as we investigated our first case for the SPRG. Hearing it for the first time from Migs’ perspective, I had to admit I did sound a bit unnerving. He never said anything about it before now, but I guessed I’d freaked him out more than he’d let on. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 62
  • “I think I’ll be fine this time,” I told him bravely, but even I heard the slight quiver in my voice. “I mean, we’ll be in broad daylight, right? Not like before.” “I guess,” he said, finally. He was down to the last spoonful of his full meal, while I was barely halfway through my regular burger. “But I’m not letting you stay in the elevator.” That actually made me feel relieved. “I’m definitely okay with that, Sir Migs.” We both laughed, and just then our newbie member Mark himself came in through the doors and said “Oh! Good morning Sir Migs!” It was starting to rain by the time our group made the short walk to Richard’s building. After getting over how Sir Julius looked too much like a fellow college student in his casual shirt and faded jeans, we had a short round up of reports from the groups he’d assigned to do background checks on the case. Lana had gotten most of our newbie members in her group, and she summarized the results of their interviews with the building’s guards and janitors. Basically, they confirmed that Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 63
  • what Richard and I experienced with the elevator was something that had been happening to other people, too, particularly the building’s night shift staff. In fact, the night guards on duty had developed the habit of doing their rounds using the stairs, even though it was a 15-storey building. No one relished the thought of using the elevators at night. Meanwhile, our group reported on the three relevant news stories we found connected to Richard’s building in the past ten years. “There was an accidental death in 2001,” I began, "A 13-year-old girl had been sitting on the balcony railing of their unit at the 11th floor, when she slipped and fell to the ground floor.” I paused and took a calming breath, willing myself to block out the related sights and sounds that were flashing in my head just then, triggered by the news story I’d read out loud. I was prepared for them because I’d already had to deal with them when I read this story online. Once I had them blocked, I continued: “The building administrators put bars on all their balconies since then.” “This second news story is from 2008, about the death of a 21-year-old call center agent inside her unit on the 6th floor,” said Vanessa. “I found 3 news entries about this same story, but Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 64
  • none of them mentioned her name and basically had the same few details: She’d been absent for two days and her team mates wondered why she wasn’t answering her phone. When they alerted her parents they had the building manager check in on her, and found her body.” As Vanessa finished her report I was relieved to note that I wasn’t getting any “flashes” at all from her story. I noticed this happening sometimes: when the person writing the article didn’t witness first hand any of the details he/she was writing about, I didn’t get to pick up anything else, either. “This third story is kinda weird,” Eartha began, and we all smiled, knowing we were going to be entertained. “So I got this from a local weird news site,” she continued, after a slight flip of her hair so it wouldn’t cover the print-out she was reading, “And it says here that in 2006, a couple moved into the 10th floor of the building, and reported seeing the ghost of a crying woman in their kitchen almost every night around Christmas week. “When they asked the building manager if there were any previous occupants who’d died there, they learned that there weren’t any. But get this—!” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 65
  • Eartha wiggled her shoulders and let out a sound that was half-excited and half-scared before she went back to her report. “When the couple tracked down the previous occupant, they discovered she was a single mother who was very much alive. Her husband had died in a car accident around Christmas 2005 when they had just moved into that unit. She was pregnant, missing her husband, and facing the prospect of raising their child alone, so she was crying a lot in her kitchen that year. In early 2006 she sold the unit and went to live with her parents. And the thing is, the couple who tracked her down are positive that she looks exactly like the crying ghost in their kitchen!” Eartha ended with a slight squeal. It wasn’t every day that we found ourselves feeling the need to applaud after hearing a ghost story, but this time we did. Some of the other diners were now looking over at our tables, and I could hear in their minds that some of them had the idea that we were talking about the paranormal, while the others were just wondering what it was that we seemed so excited about. “Very interesting!” said Sir Julius, who was shaking his head and smiling, “And well done, everyone!” As he now proceeded to give us instructions on how we would be investigating Richard’s building—emphasizing to our newbies our standard buddy system and our protocol of Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 66
  • not comparing experiences until afterwards—I actually heard Migs directing his thoughts at me as he stood directly behind me. What do you think about Eartha’s story, Sam? he was asking me in his mind, Was that a doppelganger, or a residual haunting? I smiled, thinking how sneaky Migs was being, talking to me this way while Sir Julius was giving out instructions. After all, no one would know except me. Then I realized it was actually also annoying, because if I decided to answer him it would have to be out loud, and I would end up interrupting Sir Julius’ discussion. So I did the only thing I could reasonably do at that moment. I turned around to look at him, stuck my tongue out, then returned to listening to Sir Julius with an innocent look on my face. I could hear Migs laughing in his mind as he tried—barely—to stifle the laugh coming from his mouth, prompting Vanessa to tell him “Ssshhh!” “So let’s pair up with our buddies now,” Sir Julius was now saying, “And proceed with our investigation.” Migs came up beside me and gave me his foldable umbrella. “Here you go, buddy.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 67
  • “How do you know we’re assigned to each other? You weren’t even listening.” “Well, I guess you didn’t hear, Sam,” he told me, smiling as he led the group towards the exit, “Sir Migs is the one in charge of the buddy assignments.” Richard was waiting for us at his apartment’s ground floor lobby, cheerfully chatting up the guard on duty. He’d taken care of the permits we needed from the building administrators to conduct our investigation; Sir Julius didn’t even need to assign him to do it, he’d volunteered himself before it was even brought up. “Hey everyone!” he greeted, then introduced us to the guard. “This is Manong Bert. He’s going to show us around and tell us where we can set up our stuff.” Because there was already a camera inside the elevator, all Aris had to do was hook up his laptop to record the feed there. Meanwhile, Migs showed the rest of the group how to set up the other cameras on the 6th floor and 12th floor hallways, using flexible tripods he called “monkeys.” Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 68
  • The plan was to send out investigative pairs to spend 15 minutes at each of the four different locations: inside the elevator (where they would ride with other passengers up and down the floors), on the 6th floor, on the 12th floor, and at the guard’s station. Because we didn’t have permission to turn the lights off at any of these areas, we would be investigating in normal lighting conditions; each pair would also be bringing digital audio recorders, as well as two phones that Aris had installed EMF (electromagnetic field) detector apps on. We used Richard’s apartment unit on the 5th floor as “home base.” It was there that Sir Julius also informed me that—echoing Migs’ concerns—he didn’t want to expose me too much to the paranormal phenomena, so I was supposed to stay there while the others investigated. I had mixed feelings about Sir Julius’ decision. On one hand, I had to admit I was sort of relieved; last year’s experiences were traumatic enough for me to last a lifetime. On the other hand, I had decided early this year to use whatever abilities I had to help other people, and it didn’t seem right that I was doing the exact opposite right now. “Help me with the pizzas, Sam?” Richard asked over his shoulder, as he busied himself on his kitchen counter preparing snacks for the team. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 69
  • Sir Julius was outside the door with Lana and Aris who were about to investigate the elevator, while Eartha and Migs were monitoring the different cameras through their laptops in Richard’s living room. “Sure,” I said. At least I was going to be of help in some way. We’d already distributed pizza slices and spaghetti over about nine paper plates when I heard something. It sounded like a scratching noise, and it was coming from inside Richard’s bedroom. I peeked through the open door after I put the filled up plates on his dining table; Richard was now filling plastic cups with ice cubes. His bedroom was a mess. And the scratching sound was insistent. “Do you hear that?” I asked him. “Hear what?” He was still busy with the ice cubes. I went nearer the open door, and was greeted by the sight of several boxer shorts strewn on his bed. The scratching sound seemed to be coming from further inside. “What is it, Sam?” Migs asked, looking up from his laptop. Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 70
  • I gave him a conspiratorial smile. “I think I hear a rat in Richard’s bedroom,” I told him, then pushed the door completely open and took a few steps inside. There was a full-length mirror standing against the far wall of Richard’s bedroom, with a towel haphazardly hanging on top of it. The scratching seemed to be coming from behind it; the sound had certainly grown louder when I came in. But there was something that didn’t seem right about that mirror. I came nearer to figure out what it was. That was when I saw the reflection inside it. It wasn’t my reflection staring back at me. Inside the mirror was someone else… the transparent girl from Richard’s picture. And she was using her bloodied fingernails to scratch at the mirror’s surface, as if she was trying to claw her way outside. Continue reading this book here: Preview of Corpse In The Mirror by A.S.Santos | Visit 71