Been lying in bed for days, impaired by the sniffles. While I impatiently wait for our flight out of schizo-weathered Sydney on Monday, I hang around my Facebook account's news feed, swarmed by spooky improvised walker costumes and even spookier ghost stories from people who claim to have the third eye. I haven't had a paranormal encounter myself, but I got an equally terrifying untold true story.
Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story... Halsema Highway Horror. Okay, so you guys go "What the heck is the Midnight Society?" cause you're from a different era or from outer space. Well I tell you, that society rocks. At least twenty years ago.
I am starting off with a light tone, but my story is anything but. And it begins at the end of our Sagada trip in March last year. I hired a van at the last minute, as requested by my sis-in-law. Fished the contact number off a random homemade poster pasted on a souvenir shop's wall. Two days prior, we arrived at this quaint municipality aboard a rusty bus from Baguio City. Because the sis-in-law and her beau (who came all the way from Australia) were on a short vacay, they preferred swifter and stress-free modes of transport. And a Lizardo Bus is definitely not one of them.
Our driver picked us up from the guesthouse and helped us pile our backpacks in the van's rear compartment area. Our minds were clouded with jovial memories of this whirlwind trip. Sis-in-law, who's a geologist by profession, was still raving about the caves. Her beau, who was then traveling Southeast Asia for the first time, adored the local handicraft so much that he hoarded bulols/bululs in assorted sizes. Even a serpent-shaped cane that later became a cumbersome hand carry. And for the hubby and I, well, we were simply happy to revisit with our six-month-old infant Luna.
One by one we scrambled into the van. Simultaneously, we all put our feet up even before the engine roared. Already we were savoring the luxuriousness of an ordinary, hired van. Our crammed tummies (thanks to an early morn trip to Yoghurt House for our nth Hiker's Delight) signaled, we need not make stops any time soon. Except, a quickie obligatory pictorial at the highest point of the Philippine highway system in Atok, Benguet. It was gonna be the ninth time that I'm passing through zigzaggin' Halsema Highway, and I didn't want to miss the chance of actually stepping on it.
I positioned myself on the front seat so there's plenty of space on the second row for our daughter to have a full horizontal slumber. The hubby's mostly assigned in holding our daughter during rides because we assume that he can grip our daughter tighter than I could in case yah know, the driver hits the brakes unexpectedly. I immensely enjoyed my seat for I had unobstructed views of the mountain range. The driver and I barely chattered, we let ourselves succumb to our private thoughts.
About an hour into our drive, we were cruising by a cluster of modest houses perched atop cliffs. It must have been around eleven in the morn, I had (and still have) no idea where we were, but the highway seemed busy on both lanes. Up ahead I caught sight of kids playing by the highway, and what happened in the next few seconds was one of the scariest moments in my life! I watched, in horror, one of the girls sprint across the highway. She made it halfway safely for she saw the truck on her left, but she did not see us coming. The truck that just passed was so massive that it concealed our approaching van. We appeared from her blindside.
The driver saw her too and skillfully stepped on the brakes in a manner that didn't send us all flying out of our seats. We didn't crash into her. But she crashed into us. The loud thud produced by her head hitting the corner of our bumper dispatched a chill up my spine. I remember seeing her being thrown off a couple of meters, seemingly in slow motion. She landed on the concrete pavement and rolled twice. When she came to a stop, her face was towards us with eyes half open. I feared for the worst.
Shortly after, her parents ran towards her motionless body. The mom shook her vigorously. In her eyes I saw a longing for the faintest response. I felt out of breath. The driver, still recovering from his own shock, managed to find his voice. "Dalhin natin sa ospital (Let's bring her to the hospital)!", he shouted at the top of his lungs. The dad carried the girl in his arms and hopped in the van, the mom hurriedly followed.
To everyone's relief, the girl began to cry as we rushed to a not-so nearby hospital. A few drops of blood trickled from her mouth, but no cut was visible on her head. She had scratches too on her arms and legs, but none of them required stitching. We worried about internal hemorrhage. The drive to the hospital felt way too long, but it could have just lasted half an hour (as suggested by the timestamp on my photos). The girl was rushed to the emergency room and was advised to undergo an X-ray exam. Meanwhile a policeman was called upon to settle the case.
The girl's parents didn't file a complaint, and our driver volunteered to shoulder the medical expenses (which hopefully was cheaper than the amount we paid for the van). Never learned about the X-ray result, but before we left the hospital, the doctor said her vitals looked alright. I might have exclaimed Hallelujah! in my mind.
Everyone lived to fight another day.
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