We were given cheat sheets where the price of food, souvenirs and other stuff were listed. Fortunately, marami kaming nakuhang coins kaninang umaga. Simula rin ngayon, wala nang schedule for the challenges at bibiglain na lang kami, which was quite worrying.
“Gusto n’yo ba ng kape?” tanong ni Arin. “Bibili kami ni Elix.”
Roi and Zion nodded. Agad kaming naglakad ni Arin papunta sa camp store sa tabi ng Main Cabin, the largest one in the camp, kung saan naka-set up ang iba’t ibang klase ng snacks: branded chocolates, potato chips, pasta, fragrant coffees, soft drinks, freshly baked breads, sweet desserts, and other mouth-watering food. Kung wala kang self-control, for sure mauubos ang coins mo sa lugar na ‘to.
“Hmm, so one bronze coin for four cups of coffee,” Arin muttered. “Ang mura ha, in fairness.”
“Maybe they know that most of us drink coffee like it’s water.”
She chuckled. “Yeah. Parang ‘di ako mabubuhay kapag walang kape.”
Sa ngayon, mayroon kaming four gold, two silver and seven bronze coins. Mukhang mayaman-yaman naman kami dahil sa apat na gold coins kaya okay lang gumastos para sa kape na worth one bronze.
I saw Lessy approaching the pavilion, too, so I smiled at her and she did the same. Kasama niya ang isa niyang teammate from the Orange team, si Zey. I remembered the time she and Ina bumped into Zion and me. Kapag naaalala ko ‘yon, parang and-drain na agad ako dahil nai-imagine ko ang energy ni Ina.
“Bibili rin kayo ng food?” tanong ni Zey.
“No, kape lang,” sagot ko naman.
They both snickered. “Kami rin.”
Sabay-sabay na kaming pumila at napangiti na lang ako nang maamoy ko ang kape. Arin and I carried two each and went back to our cabin. Naabutan naman namin sina Roi at Zion na may sinusulat sa whiteboard na nasa living room.
“Ano ‘yan?” asked Arin as we put the coffee cups on the small, round table at the middle.
“Sinulat namin lahat ng teams,” Roi replied.
“We should know our enemies,” Zion added.
We stared at the table they did and I was surprised they remembered almost everyone. I mean, there were 60 people here.
Medyo nahilo ako nang basahin ko lahat ng pangalan. Sa totoo lang, iilan lang sa kanila ang nakakausap ko pero kilala ko naman halos lahat, especially those I find interesting.
“Tao ka ba talaga?” Arin muttered, looking suspiciously at Zion who was checking if he got all the names correct.
“Last time I checked, yes,” he retorted.
“Hoy, may ambag din ako,” reklamo naman ni Roi.
“For sure mga dalawa o tatlo lang ang naidagdag mo.”
Bago pa makasagot si Roi ay binago n ani Arin ang topic at tinanong niya kung anong team ang kailangan naming bantayan.
“Well, Green’s the leading team,” I remarked. “And we’re the second. I guess they are our rival?”
“Still too early to say that,” Zion returned. “Other teams have potential to take over our position, too.”
“Wow. Parang sure na sure kayong dalawa na nasa upper tier tayo, ah,” komento ni Arin at sabay kaming napatingin sa kanya.
“I think we’re the most balanced team,” Zion said. “Hindi naman malayong nasa itaas talaga tayo.”
I felt the same. Kung pagbabasehan ang genres na sinusulat namin, we could already cover almost everything. When it comes to physical strength, we have Roi. Deducting would also be easier if Zion and I help each other. Then we could leave the romance stuff to Arin.
Pumunta naman ako sa porch dahil nagsimula nang magparamihan sina Roi at Arin ng kakilala sa mga nakalista. I breathed deeply and enjoyed my coffee while observing everything from here. Some of the writers were talking to each other from their cabin’s porch, while others tried the obstacle courses.
Sakto namang lumabas si Yena mula sa cabin nila. She was also carrying a cup of coffee. Our eyes met and we nodded at each other. I thought it would be awkward but the silence between us was somehow comfortable. I read some comments before saying we have the same kind of personality and I think that was quite right.
Narinig ko naman ang pagbukas ng pinto ng cabin nila kaya napalingon ulit ako roon. Brian came into view and he broke into a grin when he saw me, which was surprising. So he could smile, huh?
He waved at my direction and I had to look at my right to see if there were any people in the next cabin. It turned out he was waving at me.
“You found four gold coins,” he mentioned and smiled right after.
The teams who got gold coins were displayed on the monitor at the pavilion. Out of the fifteen teams, only five got the 20 gold coins hidden throughout the camp.
“I told you, you’re lucky,” he added.
Kung kanina ay nainis ako sa sinabi niyang ‘yon, ngayon naman ay napangiti ako. I didn’t know luck would be on my side this time.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
Brian noticed Yena listening and she urged her to say hi, too, which flustered her. Napilitan siyang bumati sa akin at napangiti naman ako dahil sinamaan niya ng tingin si Brian noong nakalingon siya sa direksyon ko. I didn’t expect to see that side of her.
He was called by one of his teammates inside so he rushed inside and left the two of us alone. Itinaas ko na lang ang coffee cup ko at gano’n din ang ginawa niya.
“Cheers,” I muttered.
Napatigil naman ang lahat nang may nagsalita mula sa speakers sa kanya-kanya naming cabins.
“Good morning, Challengers! Please proceed to the center gazebo,” the staff said. “Today’s theme is Thriller and the last team to arrive will be the first to play the game. Good luck, Challengers! I hope your hearts are prepared.”
Pagkarinig namin no’n ay agad nagtakbuhan palabas ang mga tao. Mabilis ko namang inubos ang kape ko at sumunod kina Roi at Arin na mabilis lumabas ng cabin papunta sa gazebo.
Zion and I followed behind them and there were already teams gathered in front of the gazebo. Luckily, we weren’t the last one to arrive. Brown team came last and they looked worried about the punishment.
A huge white cloth was tied to the pillars, concealing the gazebo’s interior. One of the producers came out and called the Brown team. Andrea and Jason immediately followed him while Lareza and Meijin walked with heavy steps, afraid of what was inside.
The other teams remained outside, anxious and curious about what would happen. Natigil naman ang bulungan ng iba nang bigla kaming nakarinig ng malakas na sigaw mula sa loob.
“Oh my god! What is this!” Lareza yelled, terrified.
She was shrieking so much that I started to wonder what kind of task would cause her to act like that.
“Please, please, please, don’t move—!” Meijin whimpered and she screamed so loud that almost everyone covered their ears.
Maging sina Jason at Andrea ay naririnig na rin naming sumigaw. I was too focused, trying to hear anything that could help us survive what they were going through, that I flinched when I felt someone’s hand creeping into my arm. Pagtingin ko, naka-angkla na sa braso ko si Arin. She looked scared.
I looked around and saw most of them were already filled with fear. Some were frantically pacing back and forth, wincing whenever someone inside screamed, while others looked pale and grim, as if their souls had left their bodies.
After a few minutes, lumabas ang apat. Jason looked exhausted, while the three had tears in their eyes.
“Anong meron?” nag-aalalang tanong ni Wannie ng Red team.
“It’s crazy,” Lareza said, sniffling.
“Tatlo lang ang nakuha namin,” dagdag ni Andrea. “At si Jason lang ang nakagawa.”
Tumingin naman si Jason sa direksyon namin. He was holding a pink ball and lightly bowed at us.
“Sorry,” he mouthed.
Bago pa may makapagtanong na iba ay pinapunta na sila ng staff members sa katabing gazebo para makapagpahinga. Lalo namang natakot ang iba dahil sa mga sinabi nila.
“Oh my god, ayoko na,” Arin sniveled.
“Same,” sabi naman ni Roi at napataas na lang ang kilay ko nang makita ko siyang nakatago sa likuran ni Zion kahit na mas matangkad naman siya sa kanya.
The staff came out again and looked at our team. “Next! Pink team!”
Almost everyone shifted their gazes at our direction and I realized that was what Jason was sorry about. Naramdaman ko ang paghigpit ng hawak sa akin ni Arin. She said she doesn’t get scared easily but not knowing what was inside must have gotten her.
Marahan kaming naglakad at naramadaman ko ang paglakas ng tibok ng puso ko nang nasa harapan na kami ng harang. Ako ang unang pumasok at kasunod ko silang tatlo. A long table came into our view, with something on top of it, covered with white cloth.
A pretty woman, about 5’6” and maybe in her late twenties stood in front of us and smiled. She gestured us to stood beside her and we did. “Hello, Challengers!” she beamed.
The staff removed the white cloth covering the long table, revealing eight fish tanks. The side facing us and the top parts had black shrouds, completely concealing what were inside.
“The rule is simple,” the woman said. “Each member shall collect one coin per tank within three minutes.” A teasing smile escaped her lips as she looked at our expressions. “Good luck, Pink team!”
“Ayaw kong mauna. Paano kung bugs ‘yan o kaya insects?” Arin shuddered and her face looked pale. Hmm. So she wasn’t afraid of ghosts but bugs and insects terrified her.
“Ladies first,” dagdag ni Roi na mukha ring nakakita ng multo.
Nagkatinginan kami ni Zion and a mutual understanding was reached. He stepped forward, volunteering to challenge first. He stood in front of the leftmost tank and it felt like the whole place was holding its breath, waiting for someone to talk or scream.
The staff gave him a plastic bowl where he could put the coins and they readied the timer.
Zion nodded. “Yes. Challenge.”
He slowly put his hand through the hole at the top of the tank and Arin stifled a scream when he flinched.
“Whoa, whoa,” he exclaimed. “Stop moving.”
“It’s moving?” Arin asked, horrified.
“Buhay?” added Roi.
Sa loob ng tatlong minuto ay apat ang nakuha niya mula sa apat na tanks at kung nagugulat at nagpa-panic siya sa bawat pagpasok ng kamay niya, paano pa kaya kaming tatlo?
“Okay, you got four coins,” the staff confirmed after Zion handed him the bowl.
He sighed in relief. “You guys . . . ” He looked at Arin. “You’re in for a ride.”
Arin and I pushed Roi in front before he could react and the staff handed him another bowl. He looked at us as if we betrayed him but he couldn’t do anything anymore.
“Okay,” he exhaled. “Challenge!”
The moment he put his hand in the tank, he let out ear-piercing screams with cusses in between.
“Putangina, ano ‘yon!” he cursed as he withdrew his hand, inspecting if he still had complete fingers.
Kahit kabado ako ay natawa ako sa reaksyon niya pero parang lalo namang natakot si Arin. Zion, on the other hand, looked like he was about to laugh.
“Dahan-dahan, baka mamatay,” he commented while he was on the other side of the tanks where he could clearly see the contents of them, and that made Roi even more terrified.
“Gago ka, anong hayop ‘to?!”
Zion shrugged. “Not sure. Ngayon lang ako nakakita.”
Fortunately, Roi got a coin from that tank. He proceeded to the next and a higher-pitched scream came out of his throat, almost tumbling over as his body recoiled.
“Tangina bakit may tubig?! Ahas ba ‘yon?!” He glared at Zion. “Hoy!”
I couldn’t hold my laughter back anymore and Zion snickered as we watched Roi destroyed his ‘cool’ image, thrashing and screaming at the unknown contents of the tanks. He only got two coins after three minutes and I was the next challenger.
Good thing I wasn’t scared of this kind of challenge. Honestly, I’d pick this one over a haunted house anytime.
Well, it’s time to test my nerves.