A Short Story for Children By Jon E. Royeca
(Published in the Junior Inquirer, May 17, 2003)
FIVE boys were seated in a circle in the woods of Balangiga. It was past eleven of the evening already. There was a bright moon above like in previous nights when the moon beautified the heavens even though it was September, one of the typhoon months. The winds coming from the Leyte Gulf made them quiver, but they were not as cold as during those dark nights with severe typhoons.
Like what they had agreed this afternoon, the boys gathered here to prove one thing—if the bells in their parish church really turned into gold at midnight or not.
That was an ancient legend of their town: the church bells would transform from ordinary solid bronzes into shining and very beautiful objects. They would gleam for several minutes and dazzle anyone who saw them until they returned to their original state.
However, the bells would only turn into gold at midnight if they were mounted on the belfry. If taken and placed elsewhere, they would remain bronzes.
“It is said that the bells really become gold,” Pancho convinced them. He had already told them about the legend. “Believe me. Everyone here knows it,” he continued. “I just wonder why you haven’t heard about it before.”
“We’ve also heard about it,” Julio defended. “You just came ahead of us in telling it.”
“I still don’t believe,” Benito countered. “I’ll only believe when I see it.”
“All right, this midnight, we will go up the belfry to prove if it’s true or not,” Pancho finished it off.
They got up. Slipping over to the church, they were a bit anxious because the American soldiers in the barracks near the municipal hall were always on alert, waiting for the Filipino soldiers who might attack and reclaim the town.
The Americans had already captured Balangiga. Since they conquered the town a few months ago, they had been maltreating its residents. One afternoon, some soldiers dragged an old woman out into the street because she could not sell them coconut wines.
Other American soldiers bullied farmers only because they wanted some fun. Then they fired their guns at the feet of those poor peasants to scare them off like rats. They also kicked or tripped boys and young men who went by the stores or street corners where they were dawdling the hours away.
The boys knew that if they were mistaken for Filipino revolutionary soldiers, the Americans would surely shoot them. It was still the Filipino-American War; thus, no one was assured that he was safe.
“How can we know it’s midnight already?” asked Pedro, the smallest in the group.
“Haven’t you heard yet of the bell at the municipal hall clanged every midnight?” Crisanto snapped irritably.
“Quiet,” Pancho said. “If we are noisy when we go up the belfry stairs, we would awaken the head sexton,” he reminded them.
Everyone shushed himself. They huddled together behind the trees in front of the church.
“The head sexton is there?” Pedro became alarmed and trembled.
“Yes,” Pancho answered. “He sleeps in a room near the belfry.”
“They say he beats up boys whom he catches climbing the belfry,” Pedro added.
“So be quiet if you don’t want us to get caught,” Pancho explained.
“I won’t go,” Pedro complained, trembling more.
They entered one of the church’s doors. Pedro kept hesitating. His friends pushed him to make him go with them.
The church was not totally dark inside. The altar, the chairs in the nave, and the saints’ wooden images could easily be seen. They were using as light the moonlit that pierced through the glass windows.
Though they were that careful, Pedro touched one big metal candleholder set by the belfry wall and knocked it into the floor.
The sound it made echoed all through the church. Next to it was that they heard a shout from one of the doors near the belfry.
“Who’s there?” a harsh voice boomed. It was the sullen head sexton, rushing from his room with a huge torch.
The boys, who had begun to mount the belfry stairs, could not contain themselves. They scrambled back to the door where they entered, fleeing for their lives.
“Who’s there?” the head sexton was shouting harsher. “If I catch you, savages!”
The boys managed to escape. They kept running until they were back in the woods. Thankfully, the American soldiers in the barracks did not notice them while they dashed by.
“If you were only careful,” Julio castigated Pedro who was about to weep now.
“Tomorrow night, let’s try it again,” Pancho told them, patting the shoulder of the humiliated Pedro, trying to cheer him up.
“Yes,” Benito agreed. “We were almost there.”
“Tomorrow again, is it clear?” Pancho wanted to make it sure.
“Yes!” everyone exclaimed, except Pedro.
“Pedro?” Pancho looked at him straight in the eye.
Pedro nodded and let a mild yes. Tomorrow, at midnight, they hoped they would finally prove the legend of the Balangiga Church bells.
BUT they would not be able to do that because the following day, Saturday, September 28, 1901, fighting broke out in the town. The Filipino soldiers attacked the Americans to free Balangiga from them.
The merciless American soldiers ravaged Balangiga. They shot men, women, and children to death. They spared no one.
Balangiga was only one of the towns on the island of Samar that the Americans attacked and burned down. Samar was turned into “a howling wilderness” because killing its people became an ordinary American play.
After they plundered that town and shot nearly all of its residents, the American soldiers took the Balangiga Church bells as souvenirs of their butcheries there. They brought them to their country.
Pancho and his friends were able to flee with their families from the Americans. They survived the slaughter, but they would no longer be able to know whether the ancient legend of the Balangiga Church bells was true or not.●