Before I Forget

How I got into the algorithm of the Poor Souls in Purgatory

I heard cries, moans, wails—they had no physical source; rather, they seemed borne by the wind

This is not, repeat, not, a digital road map, so today’s marketers who salivate only after the Gen-Zs and millennials (“You’re a boomer!” said a Gen-Z, aghast, in a -KDrama scene) don’t have to read on since this length is longer than TikTok.

This happened….I don’t even remember exactly when, back in the day when students of Catholic schools went on retreat that observed strict silence, strict abstinence from fun—and pulled off the most ingenious covert operations against school authorities. If you must imagine, think of your K-pop idols trying to comply with the rigid regimen before their debut.

Our class (must be grade 7) was starting a two-day retreat in an old famous retreat house which, with its vast, lush hilly vegetation, was a good sanctuary right in the bustling city. Its ancient trees shielded it from the city noise. It was the go-to retreat destination in those years, and with such distinction came an urban myth: in that secluded retreat house, you could hear the moans and cries of the Poor Souls of Purgatory at night.

However, my classmates apparently didn’t care about such spooky scenario; they were planning to have a pajama party that night, after our homeroom teacher had gone to bed. It must have been Mercury in retrograde that day because in the pre-retreat briefing, our teacher, obviously sensing how her class was intent to goof off, pointed at who would serve as “den mother” that night—me. I still don’t know how I deserved the honor; it must have been any of these skills: I was a) a nerd; b) afraid of the teacher; c) more afraid of the nuns; d) ready to suck up to the teacher and the nuns; or all of the above.

Anyway, den mother I became, and my deliverable, according to my teacher, was to see to it that that night, nobody got out of bed after dinner. We were in dorm-style rooms, with at least four (two double-decks) in the room—except me. I was alone in the room and I didn’t know why nobody volunteered to room in with me.

I was determined to stay up way past dinner to make sure nobody got out of bed, following the teacher’s order. At 9 pm, quiet; 10 pm, all quiet. Then close to midnight—this I remember distinctly—I heard a door open and shut. Ah-ha, I told myself, my classmates were finally making the move. So I jumped out of bed, walked stealthily out to the corridor hoping to catch them in the act.

The long corridor was dark and covered in eerie silence. There was not a single door opening or shutting. No movement. I walked back to my room, puzzled, and sat up in bed when I heard another door opening and shutting. This is it, I hopped out of bed again, like a retreat vigilante, ready to open my door, when I heard another door opening/shutting, then another. With suspended steps, I heard more doors flapping, and still some more to make me realize that these were not my classmates—because the sound was building up to a creepy preternatural crescendo whose source I couldn’t identify.

These were not my classmates—because the sound was building up to a creepy preternatural crescendo whose source I couldn’t identify

I flopped back in bed, wondering what was going on. And then it came.

I heard cries, moans, wails—they had no physical source; rather, they seemed borne by the wind. Or they seemed to be emanating from the walls in my room. In my very young life, I had never heard such prolonged wailing in—not of—the wind. It was a disemboweled, collective sound I can’t describe fully to this day.

The next morning at breakfast, I asked my classmates what time they went to bed. They said, right after dinner because they were all tired and decided to put off their PJ gig for tonight instead. I didn’t tell them about my late-night policing that turned into a hair-raising moment. That night, I was the first to bed; they could turn the retreat house into a disco (in the ‘70s that was how we called clubbing), for all I cared.

From that night on, I’ve learned to say a prayer for the Poor Souls every night; it became a lifetime habit—and my morning wake-up call, believe it or not. I was told years ago that you could just ask them to wake you up at the time you wanted and they would—of course, I believed what I was told in my Catholic school (that’s not so bad as today’s fake news).

It worked and still works—for me, at least. My evening prayer— May the Poor Souls in Purgatory rest in peace. Amen. 8 a.m., please—I just give “them” the time I want to wake up, and my mind wakes up right at the requested time, down to the minute. I kid you not, more prompt than the presidential late-night address.

Could be the prayer, or a neuro thing, it doesn’t matter; I am result-oriented.

I told my good friend, Dr. Lia Bernardo, the “Happiness” doctor and behavioral specialist, about my experience of almost half a century ago in the retreat house, and she told me I could be “clairaudient” (one who hears sounds or even messages from the “other side”). Clairaudience wasn’t my career path; I now hardly recall that episode, except when I asked friends whose core expertise is such stuff. It couldn’t have been just my imagination because my conscious/subconscious was fully into policing my errant class. Another friend, the Inner Mind columnist Jaime Licauco, told me it could have been my vulnerable age—one is most sensitive to these things in adolescence. However, I never got a repeat episode. Well, not exactly.

I woke up from what seemed like a nightmare—an image of a long-haired woman oozing out from the Prada headboard

In New York City, months before 9/11, in an Ian Schrager boutique hotel (of all chic venues), I was dozing off the afternoon from jetlag when I woke up from what seemed like a nightmare—an image of a long-haired woman oozing out from the Prada headboard, its blur of a face getting clearer as it drew nearer. My own Sadako in Manhattan. But seriously, I was struggling to wake up and I had to mutter my Poor Souls prayer and Hail Marys to come to. Budji (Layug) totally ignored me when I told him about it that night, complete with gestures. He merely knocked on the headboard—Prada, he repeated to me.

In London I was spending a free afternoon in our hotel room in quiet prayer of the rosary when I fell asleep. In my dream, I was in the elevator filling up with people, all strangers, and all asking me to say that prayer for the Poor Souls. I must have been muttering the prayer non-stop for each stranger coming into the elevator, including a kid (that, I remember), because I woke up saying, “I’m tired. Enough”—and thirsty. Then I overheard a ruckus outside on the street, below our floor, that included the long scream of a woman who sounded like she was crying for help (of course, in fact, there was none—for it was 4 in the afternoon, broad daylight). Audio on.

In Provence, while everybody else was in the kitchen and living room chilling after a long flight, I repaired to my room for siesta. Same experience—strangers crowding in my dream forcing me into nonstop prayer, until I woke up, feeling exhausted from praying and the struggle to wake up.

In a huge villa in Bali that I had all to myself, I proved wiser—I spent the night with the giant screen turned on to the Wimbledon finals between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, that cliffhanger 5th set tiebreak where Roddick lost 16-14. That harrowing defeat for this Roddick hardcore loyalist barred the Poor Souls from getting a toehold on my mind that night.

In a resort villa in Chiang Mai, I had just settled in and was blow-drying my hair when I heard “psst!” coming from the living room. Must be the housekeeping staff I asked to clean the pool, but how uncourteous of them to whistle, I told myself. After one or two more “psst!” I walked, irritated, to the living room overlooking the pool to check. There was no one.

In an Ilocos resort, I was awakened in the middle of the night by the crashing sound of the stack of books at my bedside; the books must have fallen, I told myself, and went back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I looked at the books on the stand— they were untouched.

Apparently, I’d get these pop-up visits or sounds/vibes only on my travels, staying in unfamiliar rooms with unfamiliar energy waves. I never entertained “visits” at home which, as my friend said, must have already been swept clear of spirits or entities—the vertical vacuum cleaner ubiquitous in K-drama comes to mind. Friends who travel with me have grown too familiar with my….uh….connectivity.

After we check into a room, Alya (Honasan) always tells me, “Turn it off!” My audio, not the BTS Bangtan TV.

About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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