Shortly after I got married in 1985, I worked as a medical representative for a German-based pharmaceutical company with Cagayan de Oro City, Bukidnon, Eastern Misamis Oriental and Gingoog City as my assigned territory.

I would make my rounds of Cagayan de Oro for two weeks, take a week long trip to cover Eastern Misamis Oriental and Gingoog City, and another week for Bukidnon from Manolo Fortich to Kibawe.

During these monthly trips to Bukidnon, I often hitched a ride in the Volkswagen Beetle of  a fellow detail man whom we shall call Jean.

Vintage photo of the Sayre HIghway as it snakes through the Mangima Canyon in Dalirig-Tankulan, Manolo Fortich. (NARA)

During the mid-1980s, the roads in Bukidnon left much to be desired. The asphalted portion terminated at Malaybalay City and from thereon to Valencia (still a municipality) and beyond to Kibawe, the Sayre Highway was a two lane graveled road which threw up clouds of dust in summer and turned to a muddy morass during the rainy season.

But this story isn’t about Jean or me, but about his supervisor, a veteran detail man who was now Mindanao Manager whom we shall name Eadgar. Ed was an easy going fellow, and often regaled us with tales of the bad old days of detailing in Bukidnon, when the roads where even worse, and med reps often had to sleep in the residence of the doctors in their call list for want of a suitable motel or pension house in the immediate vicinity.

It was during one such sojourn in a distant barrio of Manolo Fortich that Ed was invited to stay with a doctor, since it was getting late when he called, and there was no pension house or inn he could sleep over during that time.

Even by the late 1970s, not much had changed in the condition of the Sayre Highway in Manolo Fortich since it was constructed in the early 1940s.

After they had taken dinner, his physician friend told Ed he could sleep in the couch in the living room with one proviso: under no circumstance was he to open the door after the midnight, no matter who was knocking on the door.

“Bakit po?” Ed asked (who was a Tagalog from Batangas). “Paano kung may emergency?”

“Ah, basta huwag na huwag mong buksan ang pintuan pagkatapos ng hating gabi!” (Under no circumstances should you open the door after midnight,  no matter who is calling or what they’re saying) the doctor replied.

After a shared beer or two following dinner, the doctor excused himself and Ed went to sleep in the couch which his host had provided with some pillows and a blanket.

Being exhausted from the day’s calls and further bolstered by two beers, Ed instantly fell asleep but was rudely awakened by a frantic knocking at the door not quite three hours later.

“Doctor! Doctor!” a voice called from the outside. “Palihug tabang! Nagsakit akong amahan ug dili na kabakod! Maluoy ka Doctor! (Doctor, please help! My father is sick and cannot stand anymore! Have pity Doctor!)

Ed was up in an instant and was about to open the door when he remembered what his host warned him about and stayed put. However, the knocking at the door did not cease, but became even more frantic, until Ed could no longer stand it and went to the doctor’s bedroom where he  knocked and asked, “Doc! Paano iyan? Baka delikado na iyong pasyente niyo?” (Doc, what now? Your patient might already be in dire straits?”)

His sleepy host opened the door and irately told him, “Di ba sabi ko sa iyo huwag mo pansinin kung sino man kumatok basta’t hating gabi na? Matulog ka na nga!” (Didn’t I tell you now to bother answering the door after midnight? Go back to sleep!”)

Mystified and a bit upset about the whole thing, Ed slowly went back to his couch but the knocking on the door continued unabated. After a few minutes, it resumed with even more vigor, but instead of a human voice, he now heard what he swears was a series of growls and hisses, followed by a scratching on the door, as if someone was running his fingernails across the wood.

It took quite some time for the racket from outside to subside and eventually in the wee hours of the morning after much tossing and turning, Ed finally dropped off to sleep from sheer exhaustion.

In the morning after breakfast with his kind host, he took his leave and left for the day’s rounds for the further parts of the province.

However, before he left the premises, he couldn’t resist sneaking a look at the door which was the source of all the commotion the night before. His eyes widened and he felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand on their ends and a shiver run down his spine at what he saw.

There were several streaks on the wood which looked as if someone with a rake or really long fingernails scratched repeatedly at the door.

He told us  he couldn’t remember seeing them the night before since it was quite dark already when he called on the doctor but he resisted going back to ask him about them and instead quickly hurried to his car and left the property as fast as he decently could, making the sign of the cross and repeatedly muttering the Lord’s prayer under his breath.

Needles to say, he never slept at that residence again, choosing instead to call on the doctor and leave early.

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