1 Chapter 1: Special People

It was an exchange of awkward nods, silent sighs, forced smiles, tapping of utensils, and a rumbling stomach. Ulrica finds herself in a very uncomfortable social disposition. She should have been used to it because it has been going on for three weeks already. But she never found the comfort of dining with three other people that she doesn't know.

Dinners should never be like that.

It's not because she is socially withdrawn or anti-social. She has friends, and they hang out a lot! But the last two weeks have been a mix of weirdness and discomfort because of their visitors. Even if her mother invited them, she never thought of the right way to approach them.

Three senior citizens. Plus her mother, which makes it four.

Somewhere within the second week of what she used to call "Party with the Grumpies," she tried to crack a harmless joke to which one responded, "María Santísima!" A deep sigh accompanied the reaction of the woman. She even mentioned the names of patron saints. Since then, Ulrica kept her mouth shut and pretend like it was still the 1950s. Ulrica never sought to start a conversation again after that failed attempt. She just decided to smile, nod, and act like she was greeting them as if she just saw them whenever their eyes met.

But that was two weeks ago.

The third week with them was different. It was still weird, but somehow better. Ulrica's mom woke her up. Going downstairs, she was greeted by the two older women enthusiastically. They used to ignore her as if she's invisible. But now, they look at her as if they raised her.

It didn't take long to grow fond of them. Ulrica might not know the reason behind their sudden kindness, but she likes it. It was the first time they invited someone at home after her father passed away.

Just like their typical suppers, they are seated around a square table waiting for the food. Ulrica hated their dinners because they stare at her with a very disappointed look as if she refused to marry a millionaire's son. Unlike now, when she can freely talk about literally anything. But even with all the fun being created by Sainika and Wana, she can't help but wonder about the sudden change in their treatment.

"Did my mom scold you?" Ulrica asked Sainika.

Sainika doesn't communicate much, but she smiles and takes care of her. She can feel the gentleness inside her even if her looks say otherwise. Sainika has a very muscular built for an older woman. Her physique looks like that of a retired military. Add the vast scars throughout her body, which made her look like a warrior who fought thousands of wars. It felt like she stopped aging in the mid-40s because none of her muscles looked saggy. Fine lines are visible throughout her face, but that's it. Only the wrinkles and gray hair gives away her age. She also has a full sleeve tattoo and untidy ponytailed hair—your typical gangster of the 1950s.

"Your mom asked us to treat you well. Like one of our own," Sainika replied.

After what feels like forever, her mom came out of the kitchen with a newly cooked roasted chicken. The smell of the lemongrass in it covered their entire apartment. She heard her stomach growl as if there's a monster making its way out. The faces of Sainika and Wana has been filled with delight. Unlike the old guy with them who looked like heaven and Earth fell on him since day one. Their third visitor.

"Here's our dinner!" Anya exclaimed, calling the attention of everyone on the table. She's happily swaying and slightly dancing while holding the plate of a roasted chicken.

"Finally, mom," Ulrica whispered.

"Be careful and don't spill our food!" Wana uttered while trying to catch the plate. Afraid that they might lose their dinner because of Anya's dancing.

"Your skills never went away, Anya," Sainika said.

Then suddenly, there's silence. The music that made them dance that wasn't even there was replaced with cricket noises and the wind's gust outside their home. No one's talking, and they just stared at each other.

"You know that it wasn't my skill," Anya replied. She placed the plate on the table and removed the cotton mittens she's wearing. Her shoulders dropped, and her smile suddenly faded away like it was never there in the first place. Ulrica wondered what set her mother off. Because just a few minutes ago, she's strutting like a teenager with an enormous smile on her face.

"Are we going to talk about that now? I'm starving," the only man among the group asked. Ulrica felt the most uncomfortable in his presence. He was quiet and had a very regal demeanor as if he owns a gigantic business or that Uncle who just ordered to kill someone. He always wears his fedora and holds his cane. She never saw him talk to Sainika and Wana. During dinner, when they eat together, he will stare at Ulrica the whole time while waiting for Anya to bring the food. Ulrica never got used to it, but she lets it slide to avoid causing any ruckus.

According to Sainika and Wana, his name is Madar, and he's the eldest among their group. Aside from that, they did not tell her anything about him.

When you're sitting with him, you will notice nothing bizarre about his body. But when he stands up, you will see that his right hip is higher than the left and his spine is twisted. He also has a more extended right arm than his left. There are so many things that you will notice. But the most interesting thing is that his body configurations do not stay the same every day. Sometimes, his left hip is higher than the right, and his spine is still twisted but in a different direction. Sometimes, his arms are both okay, but most of the time, they're too long as if about to fall off. Ulrica doesn't know the deal with him, but she ignored those noticeable changes every day.

"It's not like I want to talk about it, Madar," Anya replied. "You know that I will be the last person who will wish to talk about it," she added.

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"Wait, talk about what? Can we eat? Because I am starving, and this chicken smells good!" Ulrica interrupted.

"Close your mouth, girl. You act as if you know it all when you don't even recognize the world you are living in," said Madar.

"Old prick. One more word, and I'll slice your tongue with this spoon!" Sainika angrily uttered while gripping the spoon she is holding.

"Hand me the chicken," Madar ordered.

"Why don't you get it if you want it so bad?" Sainika replied.

"Oh, really? Alright, as you wish," Madar said.

Ulrica saw that Wana and her mother's eyes widened for unknown reasons. She's been bouncing her eyes to whoever speaks because she's wondering when will the old folks end their argument.

Madar raised his left arm and reached for the chicken. He was leaning on the chair like a lazy guy reaching for food. But Ulrica noticed something peculiar.

Was his hand always been that long to reach half of the table without leaning towards the table?

Ulrica was watering the plants in the garden with Anya. Wana and Sainika are washing their dishes because they just finished their late lunch. And as usual, Madar was there. Alone at the garden set. He was holding his cane, and between his forefinger and middle finger is a cigarette.

"Mom, why do you have such weird friends?" Ulrica asked with a bit of a smile on her face. Anya looked at her and asked her back, "Weird? Honey, they are not weird. They are normal, just like us!"

"But..." Ulrica uttered. "Look at them. And I didn't even know you have friends."

"In a few days, honey, you will understand. And I hope, at your age, you will be strong and ready," Anya replied.

Ulrica looked in Madar's direction and saw him looking at her. She evaded his stare and continued watering the plants, hoping that the old man will leave her alone. But he didn't.

From afar, she heard Madar, "When are you going to tell her? I've been wasting my time here!"

Ulrica looked at Anya to ask what Madar was talking about. But she saw her mother's face, red. Her eyes, even if she's not looking at her, was obviously teary.

Sainika went out to the garden. She's wiping her wet hands to her shirt. Wana was following her. "What happened?"

This is not the first time Ulrica felt that she is being left out about something that she should know. There are many times that this has happened, and now, she just snapped.

Ulrica tossed the garden hose. "What's up with all of you? Huh? Tell me what you want to tell me and stop making me feel stupid!" she asked. Her high-pitched question was followed by silence — again.

"I am done with this! If you do not tell me, then none of you can come near me!" she added. Ulrica was about to burst off and run to her room, but Sainika stopped her.

"You heard the girl!" Madar yelled. Then there was nothing but silence.

"He's right. We should prepare her, Anya," Wana told Ulrica's mother while trying to console her.

"Take us, Wana. It's time," Anya said while sniffing and wiping her tears. Wana nodded to her order.

Wana walked to the middle of the garden with both her hands on the side, her palms open and fingers stiff.

"What is this nonsense?" Ulrica asked.

"Just look. You have to see this. And you better get used to it," Sainika answered while trying to put a smile on her face to calm Ulrica and assure her that everything will be okay.

The clouds darkened and started to move fast in one direction. Wana slowly lifted her hands and started moving sideways, back and forth, while drawing a vast circle in the air. Ulrica rolled her eyes. She thought that they are trying to play games with her. She wanted to scream out of frustration, but what happened next left her in awe.

The clouds in the sky became a mix of gray and a heavy shade of blue. Powerful winds blew and even ruined the bushes around their garden. The plants are bending and flying towards Wana. And Wana's invisible drawing created a thick circulating purple cloud with lightning forming on its own. The middle of the circle was pitch black, and it looks deep.

"I can't hold it much longer! Move! Fast!" Wana yelled with so much stiffness in her voice.

Madar walked calmly and stood in front of the purple cloud. A bolt of lightning suddenly struck him, and he disappeared. Anya walked towards the cloud. She stopped halfway and turned to Ulrica, who was still being held by Sainika.

"Have faith. Come with me," Anya said. Her hair was slightly covering her face. But they knew that she's crying. Then she continued walking towards the cloud. Lightning struck her too, and she disappeared.

"Mom!" Ulrica yelled. Her mind lost all its logic. She cannot lose her mother. She just can't.

Without hesitation, Ulrica sprinted towards the purple cloud. She noticed that it's getting smaller.

Her biggest nightmare ate her fears, question, and confusion. And that was losing her mother.

But even with that thought, she suddenly hesitated when she faced the purple cloud. She looked at its edges and saw that it was purple and black. Lightning and mist surrounded it. She tried to peek to see what's inside, but she can't see anything. She tried to call Anya and Madar, but no one answered. The fierce winds ruined her balance, but she managed to keep herself steady.

She looked back. Wana's just behind her. She saw that her hands are trembling and stiff. Nerves are showing on her forehead and neck. She's sweaty and drooling at the same time. Wana started screaming at Ulrica, but she can't hear her. The loud winds are drowning her voice. Ulrica then walked towards Wana to help her, but she felt that something pushed her back before she even landed her first step. She stopped moving and saw a white light surrounding her body.

She, too, was struck by lightning.

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