Chapter One: Clandestine
The afternoon sun, prideful and unapologetic, threatened to disintegrate anyone who comes near it. You could fry fish on the concrete roads. Descending from an old, dirty underpass, I turn to an alleyway trying to save my face and vision from the merciless ball of glowing gases with the shade of my hardbound copy of The Cthulhu Mythos. I curse myself for not bringing an umbrella, or even a bottle of water, feeling already dehydrated after an hour of Hadean commute. The Manila heat can really make you yearn for an icy underworld, instead of this poor copy of the proverbial hell.
The faded brick walls of Intramuros finally materialize after a few minutes of brisk walking and hearing random people complain about the heat. The hot summer wind does nothing but dehumidify my sweating skin. A youngish guard in light blue uniform is looking at his phone with a bored expression on his face, his prop rifle leaning nonchalantly on a lamppost. Some students, carrying T-squares and heavy Herschel backpacks (freshmen, I roll my eyes), scurry towards the humongous interconnection of buildings that is the university I am also attending. Surrounding it are food stalls for students and professors on a budget, some commercial buildings, dormitories, museums, and fast-food restaurants. A horse-drawn carriage passes by, carrying foreigners on a tour of the Old-World Manila.
As I reach the gated entrance (Beside it, a threatening sign said "No ID, no entry") I fumble in my bag, a small messenger bag (obviously not a freshman) whose only contents include a notebook, a pen, a phone, a school ID and a wallet (I like to carry my books) for my school ID. I present it to the guard by the gate. He promptly checks it and gives me the all clear.
As I enter, the whirring of the huge electric fan in the open area lobby gives me a piece of heaven. I linger for a few seconds, making sure to fan my back, my polo shirt soaking with sweat. Feeling refreshed, I turn to my right heading towards the south building, walk a flight of stairs and into the library, where I usually spend most of my free time whenever I am on the school premises.
As my class is still not for another hour, I have plenty of time to catch up to my readings (for pleasure, unless you get the wrong idea). I am a student of the sciences, but my interest lies in literature and philosophy. A bit of an anomaly, too, as I rarely think scientifically (although I am not so superstitious, you see) and am every bit as disorganized as you would expect of someone whose disposition is to have a positive change in entropy (little joke; you see, entropy, loosely translated as disorder, in the context of thermodynamics, will never be reversed or "have negative change" unless time stops being linear). As I think of this joke, I straighten the collars of my polo shirt.
I pry my book open, making sure to smell the alluring scent of the yellowing pages and read the short story about a mathematics student dreaming about otherworldly mathematical horrors. I smirk at the idea of seeing a cosmic geometric ungodliness, of inconceivable shapes in different dimensions indescribable to our limited three-dimensional senses, that can drive a beholder to madness. "As expected of Lovecraft," I mutter to myself as I close the book with a sense of ghastliness and pleasure.
The library is filled with all sorts of students—the studious ones focusing on their study materials on the individual desks, the ones busy with their phones, only here for the air conditioner and the Wi-Fi, and the ones discretely sleeping as they await their next class. I deviate between these three types depending on the mood. I am neither of the three today.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't little Dick," I hear a familiar voice behind me. Waggish in tone, it could only be the jester Gael, my best friend and only friend (And I say this not out of emotional sensibility, but because it is a fact), whose only real interests are playing video games and attempting to graduate from college doing the bare minimum. (He said this during class introduction. He has no intention of hiding the fact that he is a total slacker).
"I don't know who you're talking to," I reply, not looking behind, "My name is Richard."
"Compadre, all the Richards in the world are Dicks," Gael loves penis jokes. He sits beside me and grabs The Cthulhu Mythos from my hands. "Hey, isn't this from a video game?"
"The video game was based on this book," I say offhandedly. The key to my friendship with Gael is to feign indifference. "Anyway, how's calculus?"
"I'm sorta failing," Gael shrugs. Academic talk with Gael lasts three seconds. "N.E. way, ya heard about the rumor?"
He covers his mouth, eyes clandestine, "I heard from a friend of a friend that the Omega Omicron is back."
"You don't know?" An expression of genuine shock appears on his face. He stares at me like I'm a bug living under a rock.
I shrug. I'm usually the last one to catch the latest gossip, if at all.
"Notorious frat cult in the 90's. They're the reason fraternities are prohibited by the school, not that they should ever really exist in the first place," He leans in closer, "I heard they murdered one of their members because their leader got pissed off by him, but the leader was never acquitted because he had, you know, connections and money. Anyway, his family bought off all the witnesses and the court said they had insufficient evidence to convict him so the guy's walking free as we speak."
He waits for my reaction. I make the O shape with my mouth.
"Do you even know who this guy is?"
"Nope. Not a single trace of his name was ever mentioned by the news or media back then. They got bought off, too."
"And how did you know this cult—group—is back?"
"A little bird told me."
The little bird must be Joseph, his only other friend. Joseph is a rumor-mongering scoundrel who offers homework services to loaded, lackadaisical students. His number one client is Gael.
"I wouldn't believe everything that little bird says if I were you," I say as I get up from my seat, slinging my messenger bag on my shoulder. "I have to go." My mechanics class is in five minutes.
He grabs my shoulder with a sense of urgency. "Before you go," he swings his head to the left and right direction, "I want to give you something." His eyes, then and there, look half-mad. Sometimes Gael is a conspiracy theorist in his spare time.
"Is it my birthday?" I don't celebrate birthdays.
"Wait, really?" He asks, surprised. "No, it's not a gift." I exaggerate a disappointed pout. He ignores my attempt at hyperbolic humor. He rummages through his blue Jansport backpack and procures a pocket notebook with a faded black leather cover.
"I want you to take a look at this," He whispers, looking anywhere but me, covertly putting the small notebook in my clammy hand. "Not here, but in your house. Promise you won't even take this out in public, not even on the train." He sounds weirdly serious.
"I promise," I promise.
"Good." Then, he reverts to his usual laidback self, "Well, you better get going, old boy." He pushes me towards the exit rather chummily. I look back as I walk, the cavernous library engulfing Gael as he buries his head in his arms on the desk that I occupied moments ago, ready to sleep.