The Last Bite

by Victory Witherkeigh

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco

“Don’t eat that! You need to leave the last bit. Never be the one who finishes the last bite!” my Filipino Lola yells from the kitchen.

I scowl in my chair. This rule has been part of our lives for as long as I’ve been aware, and I’m only eight. My entire family does this. We open a bag of chips and have dozens of packets with the shiny, metallic cellophane wrapped around itself, holding the chopped up crumbs. We fill the refrigerator with little Tupperware containers that have just a bite or two of leftovers from their dinners and lunches. Somehow the food disappears over time, but I never see who ends up eating the bits here and there.

“But it’s my favorite dish, Lola!” I whine back to her, staring at the food in front of me.

I usually only get her cooking once a month now. My parents both work, and sometimes their busy season requires them to work on the weekends. When I was younger, I’d get dropped off at Lola’s house every Friday and picked up on Sundays. This meant entire weekends full of my favorite Filipino dishes – eggs and Vienna Sausage for breakfast, run to Red Ribbon bakery for empanadas for lunch, and her famous tamarind soup for dinner. Lola would laugh as she watched me eat and moan at the deliciousness of her food, asking for seconds and sometimes thirds of each meal. I was still a scrawny little girl because I was in advanced ballet since the age of 4.

“You have more than enough space to put all this food away, Iha!” she’d smirk at me as I’d chomp away at my meal. “Lord knows to have practice twice a day definitely burns the calories.”

No matter how much I begged and pleaded for more, Lola always stopped me when it was the last bite. It was no different tonight, but I was fed up with it. I pushed my chair back from the table, grabbed my empty plate, and brought it to the sink before stomping off to the guest room where I was staying. I was so angry everything was red, including my face. This past week was awful. I didn’t finish my spelling homework because my dance lesson ran late. That meant that I barely passed the spelling test, which earned the lecture of the year from the parents when I got home.

“You need to focus on your studies!” they yelled, “Dance is not the most important thing! It will not put food on the table when you get older!”

This weekend with Lola was supposed to be my fun time. She was always there for me like a second mom. Sometimes I wished that I could live with her all the time instead of at my house. I could hear her footsteps as she was turning the lights off for the evening and heading for bed. Part of me wanted to get up and apologize for my hissy fit about the food, but I was still just angry and honestly, hungry. I don’t know what it was when I was upset, but food helped me feel better. It made my tummy warm, and my insides flush like I was getting an internal hug around my heart. Food made my brain explode with fireworks of color and sensations – spicy jolts of electricity, sour puckering causing tingles from my lips to my tongue. Lately, my stomach rumbled more and more past the dinner hours, waking me up in the middle of the nights with dreams of cakes and sugar or bowls or rice and tamarind soups. 

The click of her door locking for the evening spurred my body up from the bed, tip-toeing as I cracked my door open to the dark hallway. I wanted food, and I knew exactly where the leftovers would be. The wooden floorboards beneath the carpet creaked with each slight step I took, inching toward the kitchen carefully. I concentrated and exhaled as quietly as possible, focused on ensuring I made as little noise as possible. My hands felt along the icy black walls, guiding me through the house until my toes touched the cold, sleek kitchen tiles. 

That was the first time I heard the rustling. A faint light from the refrigerator illuminated the kitchen corner I was seeking. My Lola’s kitchen was older, built-in an odd corner of the house along a hallway rather than a full room. A person needed to walk past the pantry cabinets on either side before reaching the stove and oven. The sink with open counter space was built on the corner of the hallway, styled like a white subway tile before turning into another doorway that housed the refrigerator and more storage. At the end of that hallway was the backdoor to the house, allowing my Lola to access the garden she grew her lemons and limes, herbs and some vegetables. It was in this dark corner that the rustling and gobbling sounds continued as I tip-toed forward, following the small light from the refrigerator door.

Who the heck could have beaten me here? I thought only Lola was in the house tonight?

The rustling and chomping grew louder as I reached the corner’s edge. The clanging of empty Tupperware containers being tossed into the sink echoed louder as I entered the hallway’s last blind spot before I could face whatever was eating the food I had planned for myself. The smell of the cold bites of soy and fish sauce now mingled with a rancid odor that made my eyes tear and my nose twitch. 

Ugh! It smells worse than when Grandpa forgot about the goat’s milk in the fridge, and it started rotting?!

I stopped in my tracks at the sight in front of me. The refrigerator door was open, the yellow light blinking that the door needed to be closed.

The shelves that once filled to the top with single bites of various meals were empty except for a red, thick viscous liquid dripping between the gaps.

The floor had the same liquid, droplets leading to the back door.

I bent down to touch it when the slow sound of heavy breathing caught my ear.

The little tendrils of black curls by my ear drifted downward.

The breathing grew heavier, deeper, but it wasn’t until the same red liquid dribbled on my cheek that I realized my problem.

I needed to look up.

It’s above me.

Hanging from the ceiling, in all its dripping, goriness was a creature I grew up fearing more than any other – a Pugot Mamu!

Other Filipino kids like myself grew up with stories of its terror on the islands of our parents. The headless being, in a lumpy shape of a young man with long claws for hands and feet, renowned for hunting and eating children.

Its mouth was just a large slit across the shoulder blades. The same mouth that was heavily breathing in my scent, large, sharp teeth emerged as the slit opened wider, displaying a giant cavernous hole with bits of half-chewed leftovers and the same red liquid that had dribbled on my face.

Blood… it’s blood…

I took off, my feet sprawling and sliding in the blood as I screamed. The Pugot growled, leaping to the wall before swiping at me as I fell.

I crawled as quickly as I could out of the alcove so I could get back on my feet. Sprinting down the hallway, I arrived in front of Lola’s door.

Bang. Bang. Her door was locked.

“Lola! Lola!! Wake up!!”

I turned and twisted the knob as my sweaty palms struggled to grip the brass. The heavy breathing and the sound of the claws of the creature denting the floor was growing louder.

Bang. Bang. “Lola! Please, please open the door!! There’s… There’s a Pugot Mamu! It will eat me! Please!” I cried as I pounded on the door with my fist.

Gurgles and hisses were louder now as it closed in.

Bang. Bang. Bang. “Open the door!!”

I looked over my shoulder to see the glint of its teeth, the slit of its jaws fully open as the rancid, vile breath oozed out. I shut my eyes, wrapping my arms around myself, shaking and waiting for the chomp.

It never came.

“It’s okay, Iha. You’re safe now…”

I opened my eyes to find myself sitting in my Lola’s bathtub in a pool of warm water as she was washing me down.

“How? Wha? How did I get here?” I murmured as I looked at her.

“I woke up and heard you outside my door. You were a mess, covered in something and shaking…” Lola answered quietly.

“But…the…what happened to the Pugot?”

“Shh… I think you just had a nightmare, dear….” Lola said.

“No! No! I know what I saw! What I smelled… why do you think it covered me in all that stuff?” I snarled.

“You just got into the fridge. I told you to leave the food. It wasn’t for you,” Lola hissed back.

“Then, who else is it for?”

The words fell from my lips before I really thought through the question. She had been saving the food all this time.

“You knew? You’ve had it here the whole time? You’ve been feeding it?” I backed away from her in the tub, grabbing the towel and drying off.

“Iha… slow down. It’s not that simple….” she starts.

“You have a monster in the backyard!! It eats children – it almost ate me!!” I screamed.

“SILENCE…” Her eyes become black and cold, bottomless orbs as I scramble back to her bed, wrapping the surrounding towel. “I am your elder, and you will respect me. I am the head witch of my coven, the balayabi of our people. Do not disrespect your ancestry again.”

Her voice was disdainful, void of any love that I usually heard from her. She knelt down and pulled my chin up to make sure I could look directly in her black eyes.

“You will one day take my place, Iha. I expected you to be made of stronger stuff than this. You knew the rules of this house. The last bite did not belong to you…”

I nodded silently, trembling still as a chill ran up my spine. My Lola let go of my chin and handed me a set of clean, blue striped pajamas.

“Now… don’t you want to meet your little brother?”

I barely whispered as she took my hand to lead me out her bedroom door, with a sickly smile on her face.

“But… but I don’t have a little brother…” 

Victory Witherkeigh is a new upcoming female Filipino author originally from Los Angeles, CA. She is based in the Pacific Northwest and finishing her first novel. Victory has short stories published in literary magazines, Allegory Ridge titled, “HysterSister,” Bad Bride, titled, “Catherine de Medici,” and Thought Catalog titled, “I Didn’t Believe in Soulmates, But Here He Was,” respectively. She has her debut 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.

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