IT’S NOT YOUR BUSINESS — A mystical travel story that will take your breath away

Mystical island Siquijor

The photograph that got me into trouble

The phone rang. A landline. Not shrill and unpleasant, but politely and courteously.

– Hello, – I said in a sleepy voice, though it sounded more like lowing. The clock showed 2 a.m.

– Sir, I apologize for the late call. Could I ask you to come down to the reception to clarify some points?

It was the hostel owner: his voice was pleasant; his tone was polite; hints of awkwardness were audible, but of course, it was 2 a.m.!

– What kind of points? Can’t it wait till morning?

– I apologize again, sir. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience; I’d like to sort this out now.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to dispel the sleep.

– Sort out what?

– Photograph, sir.

The photograph. The photograph really existed. It was eerie and strange. Riding today around the island, I stumbled upon a breathtaking sight: hills, jungles, and a small village hidden away. Parking by the roadside and walking about 30 meters uphill, I began to watch as the sunset played with shadows. I took out my phone and started taking pictures. Only then did I notice that to my right stood a shack—a V-shaped hut. It complemented the scene perfectly, creating a sense of something wild, natural, and non-touristic. At first, I thought it might be a shelter for travelers—a place to rest if you are tired. However, as I got closer, it became evident that I was terribly mistaken. This shack was for anything but rest; in the center of its wooden floor lay a grinning dog skull, and to the right, on a neatly laid tablecloth, various types of grass spread out. Some of them emitted a faint smoke. I decided not to investigate further; I just got on my bike and rode away.

Back at my hostel, I showed the owner the photos I had taken and tried to find out what they could be. But he only shrugged and asked me to send the photos to him on WhatsApp. Which I actually did, and it was a mistake on my part.

– Can’t it wait until morning? — I asked again.

– Unfortunately, no, sir, and the owner responded just as politely. There was silence. We both remained silent on the line.

– They’re already here, sir, – the man added. I furrowed my brow—maybe I misheard?

– They’ve come.

A pause.

– They’re waiting for you.

– Who? — I asked, completely losing track of the conversation.


– Come down, sir. Thank you for your understanding.

A crackling sound followed in my ears, replaced by a monotone beep. I hung up the phone. The palms were sweaty. Sleep had vanished. Sitting in the darkness for a minute, I stood up, put on shorts, and, very reluctantly, headed down to the reception.

Siquijor – Island of Witches

The island was called Siquijor. It was tiny compared to other Philippine islands. In addition, I might never have discovered this incredibly little place if it were not for a recommendation from a random fellow traveler. Typically, all suggestions for interesting places in the Philippines boil down to the following:

  • A beach with white sand;
  • A beach with yellow sand;
  • A beach for diving;
  • Nature;
  • Other.

I was interested in the last two options. Specifically, in the case of Siquijor, the island fell under the category of “Other.”

The thing is, if you ask Filipinos about this stretch of land, one of the first things they will tell you is that the island is mystical. They will say that witches and wizards used to live here. Well, not before, but still now. Mostly in remote villages hidden in the jungles. Besides witches and wizards, the island is also famous for the so-called “healers.” People turn to them when medicine is powerless. The most incredible thing I heard about healers is that they operate on patients without a knife. I mean, they actually conduct a surgical operation without using a scalpel: an incision appears, blood flows, a scar remains—everything, just like in a regular operation, but only using their hands. It doesn’t matter what you have: cancer, cysts, or internal bleeding. Everything can be fixed (Look on YouTube; there’s a lot of video). However, not everyone believes in this kind of thing. Many Filipinos consider it a lie and a sleight of hand. Nevertheless, personally, I have met those who strongly disagree with such judgments. 

Scammers or not, the fact remains: a huge number of Filipinos sail to this island, hoping to be healed, especially those whom medicine has abandoned. For them, it’s their last hope. And people don’t come for an “operation without a knife.” They ask to be treated for alcoholism, cured of stuttering, and combated by the evil eye. On the other hand, to put an evil eye on their enemies. In short, if you need something like that, you will find it on the island. That is why it has gained a bad reputation.

However, I came to Siquijor for stories (and to bungee jump). I was interested to know what the locals thought of their home. In addition, believe me, I asked almost everyone I met along the way, but they all answered dryly, “Yes. We have. We have heard of it. Nevertheless, we haven’t seen it. We don’t know the stories. But a friend of my friend’s sister once fixed a finger. He said it worked.” That’s all. So, I spent the whole day traveling, and as evening approached, having achieved no results, I felt disappointed and exhausted. My only discovery was the shack with the skull. It seemed interesting, but what sense does it make if I don’t know its purpose? Therefore, when I got back to the hostel, I collapsed on the bed and fell asleep. I was sleeping tight until the phone rang.

The stranger man and not-so-simple water

When I came down to the reception, I was greeted by semi-darkness: the territory of the guest area was located as if on the perimeter of a large rectangular building, in the center of which there was a spacious open court—you could play basketball. But the lights had been spared. I looked around. No one.

— Thanks for coming down, said a man’s voice behind me. I flinched. The stranger was sitting at the dining table-the darkest place, right next to the hostel owner’s workshop.

– Hello, I mumbled. — Where is the manager? He called and asked…

– He is sleeping, – the man calmly answered and invited me to sit down.

“Good,” I thought, “he’s sleeping, and I’m here.”

– I understand you’d like to get right to the point.

I nodded confidently.

– Well, your picture.

– What about it? — I interrupted.

The man was about 50 years old. Wind-beaten face. Deep wrinkles. A piercing stare. He wore an oversized black raincoat over his clothes.

– You see… sir, the man said casually, “there are some things in the world that are better kept secret. Not to advertise.

The conversation had clearly started with a twist.

– I stumbled upon the shack by accident, if that’s what you mean. I was photographing the area and…,” I paused, not knowing how to call what I saw more tactfully, “this” was in the frame.

– I see. An accident.

There was a pause. I was being stared at.

– Coffee? Out of the blue, the man asked.

I wanted some. I really did. But I shook my head no.

– I’ll have some.

The man stood up, tall and thin. Slowly filling the glass with boiling water, the man came back and, for some reason, put the water in the center of the table, right in front of me. Just water. The coffee wasn’t poured.

“Maybe he’s expecting me to do it?” My mind raced.

– Do you want me to show you where the coffee is? – I couldn’t take it anymore. The situation was absurd: it was night; I was awake; I was sitting with some creepy guy, staring stupidly at a glass.

– No, thank you, the man replied calmly. – This glass is for you.

My eyebrows almost drew together in incomprehension.

– I said I didn’t want coffee.

The man grinned, but only the edges of his lips twitched.

– And this isn’t for coffee… sir.

Even in the darkness, you could see how the freshly poured water, which was literally clear, changed color in a matter of moments, turning from clear to blue-black, more like oil.

– This is for you. For your story, the man smiled wider. – This is what you wanted, isn’t it? You wanted stories. Enjoy… sir.

A growling dog and that very skull

I just blinked. Only once. How long does it take—less than a second? The water in the glass turned clear again.

– Is this some kind of trick? I asked in confusion.

– That’s for you to decide, sir, The man shrugged, took a deep breath, and slowly rose from the table, approaching the water cooler. He took out a new cup. Poured coffee. Added water, and turning to me, started drinking as if it were the best coffee on the planet, not a 3-in-1 sachet.

– Believing in healers, – he continued, – is a personal matter. Magic, witches, the evil eye… There is so much in pop culture; it’s all so pervasive and predictable—he paused to find the right word, snapping his fingers—that it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s fiction.

– I’m sorry, I began, finally gathering myself, but I don’t see where you’re going with this. We were talking about the photo…

– Exactly! The man interrupted me, raising his voice. – That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Everything has become so visible that there is no hiding place anymore. Only tourists. But we need to live, do you understand?

– Alright, – I replied coldly, losing patience, thank you, I think our conversation…

But as soon as I tried to get up, a menacing growl sounded from the left, about half a meter away.

– Oh, – the companion continued, sipping his coffee and approaching the backpack by the table, – that’s my dog. You can meet him.

The animal bared its teeth. Such copious drool flowed from its fangs that its tongue could barely lick. The posture indicated readiness to attack. But the main thing from which I couldn’t look away was his eyes. The dog’s eyes seemed utterly empty. Yes, it was dark, and imagination could conjure up anything, even Count Dracula’s eyes, but I was really looking into them and seeing nothing: no pupils, no reaction, no movement. Empty. Like those of the dead.

– Not make any sudden movements, – the man whispered, – and my friend will just sit here.

– Who even let…? I didn’t finish. The words stopped on their own.

With true reverence and caution, the man took a skull out of the bag and placed it on the table.

– There. This is also for the completeness of your story. Do you like it? Is this it?

I don’t know about skulls. Nothing. But this skull looks exactly like the one I photographed in the shack at sunset.

“Sir, is this enough for your story?”

The skull was perfect. The only flaw was a crack in the middle of the forehead. Right between the eyebrows. I turned to the dog – he still bared his teeth and didn’t take his empty eyes off me. And he was a scar on his forehead – large and rough. As if someone had hit it hard and then sewn it up. I looked at the skull – the crack on it and the scar on the dog were in the same place. But the strangest thing was to come yet: the man placed his hand on the skull and began to stroke it gently. I turned to the dog again and saw that he was no longer baring teeth. Now he was tilting his head in a friendly manner as if he were to die of pleasure. The tail wagged. From the mouth came the sounds of pleasure.

– Well, – the companion asked, – do you want to pet him?

I didn’t answer. The petting stopped. The dog returned to his guard position.

– You can find animal skulls in any culture. Most often, they are protective totems. The animal obeys and guards its owner. Of course, to achieve this, you need to do something, – the man cunning winked, emphasizing the words «do something». – Dogs are good because they don’t raise suspicions, unlike bears, for example. In addition, they are good trackers – they can find anyone by scent. You, for example. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want to see a bear instead of a dog right now.”

The man laughed at his own joke. I didn’t find it funny.

– And killing a bear… M-m-m… Not to mention the taming ritual.

After he finished laughing, the companion picked up the glass of water in front of me and began to move his fingers over it.

– Did you know that ordinary water in skillful hands could perform miracles?

I looked at the glass nonstop. I already knew what would happen. One, two, three – and the water turned black again from being clear.

– How does it feel? – the companion asked me. 

Until he asked, I hadn’t felt anything. But as soon as I pondered the question, I started to feel lightness in my body.

– You don’t have to answer, I know what you are feeling.

And then, running his hand over the glass again, the water returned to a clean state. The heaviness returned to my body. I felt weak.

– It’s interesting, isn’t it? – the companion smiled at the corners of his mouth. – In my opinion, it’s much more impressive than photographing something that doesn’t belong to you.

I struggled to swallow the lump in my throat.

– What do you say… sir, is this enough for your story?


We looked at each other without breaking.

– I hope you’re satisfied with what you’ve seen?

I didn’t respond.

– Don’t think that I had any harmful intentions. It’s just that Patay caught your scent in the field. So, he tracked you down. You were lucky, that he didn’t attack before.

I looked at the dog – he still had not moved and, I thought, wasn’t breathing.

– But you know I tend to encourage curiosity. Really. Through curiosity, Columbus discovered America. But sometimes curiosity leads us to a line, and once we cross here, we’re not prepared.

The man placed his hand on the skull.

– Beyond that line, there might be a door that’s better left unopened.

His fingers stopped on the crack.

– No, of course, you can knock, but be ready that the owner isn’t always welcoming. But if you’re an adventurer – knock! Like this: knock-knock.

The man gently tapped the crack in the skull with the tips of his fingers. The dog nervously jerked its head and bared its teeth.

– All great people are adventurers. They all knocked. Knock-knock.

New knocks and the dog growled menacingly.

– But respect – that should always be. No matter what kind of the owner opened a door. If the owner says that some things are none of your business, well, it’s worth to listening. Because otherwise, someone might knock on your head.

The dog was already on its feet and pressed to the ground. Saliva dripped disgustingly. His dead gaze was glaring at me. The dog was ready to pounce.

– Like this, – the interlocutor swung his fingertips and forcefully struck the skull. – Knock.

What was it?

Knock-knock. Knock-knock. A gentle tapping on the door.

– Excuse me, sir, you asked to be woken up at 7:30 am, – a female voice said.

– Thank you, I’m getting up, – I replied sleepily. Female footsteps slowly receded.

«What a shity dream», – I thought. I thought I could still hear the growl of the dog.

Morning. My body needs coffee. I took a pack of cigarettes from my bag and wanted to take a cup, but she was full. The black liquid filled it almost to the brim. Ants were crawling on top. It looked nauseating and repulsive. «Probably, I forgot to wash the cup last night and turned it off». 

I entered the bathroom and poured the contents into the toilet. I turned on the tap and flushed away the residue. I looked at myself in the mirror – so interesting, but I looked refreshed. And I felt great. I shake at my reflection and, enjoying extraordinary lightness, headed downstairs to smoke the first and, as usual, the most delicious morning cigarette.

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