House No. 57
“I will defy my fate in the same way they denied my destiny.”
Lucilla looks at the black liquid and into the abyss of her cup, weighing on the dream that woke her. She wonders what the dream means, especially its peculiar timing. The woman’s words echoes in her head, her defiant face embedded in her mind. What she had seen was so vivid it feels more like a memory than a dream.
Shaking her head, she reaches for her cup. Looking at the colorful skyline, she watches the city transition from night into day. It is her favorite part of the day. She would often sit in her tiny balcony, sipping her coffee and watching her street wake up.
The peace before chaos.
Her alarm rings at six o’clock, just as the sun peeks at the horizon. Lucilla get up and pulls her robe tighter around her. The air was a little chilly despite the weather report’s prediction of a humid August. A hot wind blows the chill away just as she thought the day would be bearable.
When the Council of Maidens had forbidden Milagros Ravena from leaving Sta. Catalina, she refused to fulfill the prophecy by getting pregnant. Then, as soon as she had given birth, Milagros disappeared.
Lucilla sighs, then shakes her head. For someone who she never met, Milagros has been occupying her mind since last night’s dream. It makes her wonder, albeit in passing, whether her dream is trying to send her a message.
Seven years ago, she left Sta. Catalina. She has not come back since, even for a visit.
Is she defying her predetermined future by moving to the City of Potencia? Is the dream a reminder that she should return to the life of following traditions? Or is it a warning of what lies ahead of her path?
These thoughts swirl in her head as she starts her day.
The sensation of something rubbing on her leg pulls her out from her thoughts. She is standing under a shed waiting for the bus to arrive. She glances down and sees a gray tabby rubbing on her leg.
It stops and stares up to her.
Lucilla stoops down and picks up the cat. “Hey there,” she greets. The animal responds by leaning into her. “Aww, aren’t you sweet?”
She notices the thin collar around its neck and the silver pendant hanging on it. Stray animals are rare in Potencia, and it looks like this one is not a stray cat.
“What are you doing running around the city?” she asks.
The animal answers with a purr.
She hitches her purse higher on her shoulder to inspect the name tag. It looks ancient, but still beautiful. There is an elegant engraving of what she assumes to be the cat’s name.
“Savian. That’s a unique name for a cat. And what’s this?” Lucilla notices some glyphs engraved around the name, and to her surprise, she can understand it.
“You are the fate I am destined to belong with. You are the destiny that leads to my fate,” she reads. “Hmm… I didn’t peg you to be a romantic, Savian. I imagine you to be a tall man with stern, aristocratic features.”
She giggles at the offended look Savian gives her.
“You are handsome just as you are,” she says, gliding her hand over his soft fur.
Savian purrs and settles into her arms.
“Hey, don’t get too comfortable now. I can’t take you with me to work.”
Just then, the approaching bus honks, startling the gray cat.
“Savian!” Lucilla calls out when he leaps out of her arms and scampers away.
She take a step to run after the cat. She hesitates, then stills. With a sigh, she turned away as the bus halts at the stop. Without another look, she gets on the bus, unaware that the hands of fate started working.
The chaotic routine of Lucilla’s daily life passed in a blur. It was already seven thirty in the evening when she left the office. As the bus crawls through the traffic, she checked her phone.
Not a single message.
Except for the desert her boss ordered during a lunch meeting, Lucilla did not receive any other greetings for her birthday. Not from her college friends, nor from the people back home.
She leaned on the glass window and closed her eyes. The life she imagined she would have when she moved to Potencia seven years ago was a far cry from what she now has. And yet, she does not regret leaving Sta. Catalina.
Sure, it wasn’t as fun as she thought it would be. But the move gave her freedom. It liberated her from the traditions and superstitions that killed her mother.
An hour later, the bus entered Zipara District, one of Potencia’s residential areas. Known for the peaceful and relaxing energy it gives off, Zipara became a popular choice for homebuyers. Its streets are lined by high-rise condominiums, elegant townhouses, and modern apartments. Older homes from before Potencia became a city remained standing in some places. There are few houses sitting on sprawling lawns and winding driveways, and only the richest in the city can afford them.
Lucilla got off at the bus stop near the convenience store. She hesitated for a few seconds, then went inside the store. A few minutes later, she left the store with a big smile on her face. She bought cake and a bottle of wine.
As she turned to her street, the temperature drops. The noise of the city fell away as a streetlight flickered. Shadows grew longer as she walked along the dimly lit street. It only made her smile brighter.
This is home.
Whether it was the city or the province, the supernatural has kept its presence. In Sta. Catalina, everyone acknowledges their existence. The people considered them as part of the community, like every other human. Here in the city, they stayed in only certain areas.
Lucilla stopped in front of an old three-story building. The ground floor houses the restaurant ran by the owners and the laundromat by one of their children. The second floor was the family’s home. Her apartment is on the top floor of the building.
She noticed that the light in her home was on. It looked like someone remembered her birthday. She opened the small gate tucked beside the laundromat and climbed the steep steps to her home. The door opened as she reached the top of the stairs.
A petite woman stood at her door, her hands on her hips.
“You just got home?! I have been slaving around in your kitchen the entire day!” she scolded, even as she pulled Lucilla into a tight hug.
“Lola! Why didn’t tell you were coming? I could have taken a leave,” she greeted back, handing the cake box to her grandmother.
“You know I would come over. It’s your birthday,” Maria Ravena said as they walked towards the kitchen. “Or did you forget like last year?”
Lucilla sat at the head of the table and watched her grandmother set out the food.
“I dreamed of her last night,” she said.
Maria stilled, then continued setting the table. “Let us not sully the occasion with terrible memories. We have a lot of time to talk about that later. For now, let’s eat.”
Lucilla bit her lip and nodded.
The two of them ate while trading news about their lives in the past month. As Sta. Catalina’s head shaman, Maria cannot leave the town for long periods of time. She travels to Potencia every month to visit Lucilla.
Hours later, after they put away the dishes, Lucilla goes out the balcony holding a tray. She serves the cake and coffee and takes a seat. A few minutes later, Maria comes out and hands her a box.
“Thank you, Lola!” Lucilla exclaimed. “You didn’t have to get me a gift though.”
Maria takes her time settling in her seat before speaking. “Do not open it yet,” she ordered. “I know you left to get away from traditions.” She peers at Lucilla, who has her head bowed down. “That is nothing to be ashamed of. For many of us, following the tradition is the way of life. But I saw how that affected my daughter. That is why I respected your decision to be freed from it.”
She takes a sip of her coffee and stares at the horizon. “There is one thing I must remind you. Fate and destiny are two different things. You may change your destiny by the decisions you make, but your all paths lead to your fate.”
“Does it have something to do with my dream?”
“I hope it doesn’t but I am fearing for the worst. That is why you must not open that gift until the 25th day after your 25th birthday had passed.”
Lucilla looks at the wide, thin box wrapped in a brown wrapper and gold ribbon. “Lola, your superstitions make little sense.”
“I know you don’t like them but don’t forget about them, especially when you’re dealing with magical objects. That is a family heirloom.” Maria gestures towards the box.
“So… What do I need to remember?” Lucilla asks.
“Your gift will reveal your fate when you’re ready to know. Before that, you must not use it while it reflects the light of a candle. And never allow other beings to hold or use it. Don’t leave it lying around.”
“Those rules sound easy to follow.”
“If only they really are,” Maria says.
Silence settles between them as they waited for August 25th to end—Lucilla’s 25th birthday.
Weeks passed by quickly. Lucilla’s chaotic routine continues as usual. Despite her grandmother’s reminders, she has forgotten to put away the box she received. It sits idly on her vanity table, untouched.
Then, one day, Lucilla spends a rare day-off at home. Her boss took an unplanned trip overseas and take the rest of the week off. She is sitting on her bed after hanging out her laundry when she noticed the box.
“Has it been twenty-five days already?” she wonders as she picks up the box. She returns to her bed and sits cross-legged.
Lucilla placed the box in front of her and crossed her arms. She looks at the box while trying to remember when to open it.
“Well, it’s been a few weeks, right? I think it’s safe to open it?”
She pulls the ends of the ribbons tied around it, then opened the box.
Inside is a beautiful gilded hand mirror. It looked old yet elegant. Lucilla ran her hand through the sculpted flowers and engraved runes. She turns it this way and that, admiring its magnificent craftsmanship.
Just then, the doorbell rings.
Remembering that she ordered food from the restaurant downstairs, she hurries towards the door. She dropped the mirror on her bed and went out of her room.
While she chats with the delivery boy, a figure of white smoke appears next to Lucilla’s bed. It hovers around the bed as the mirror emits a faint glow. Then it enters the mirror.
Lucilla returns to the room and closes the lid of the box. She didn’t notice small cracks that forms along the edges of the mirror.
A few days later, Lucilla feels there has been a shift in the atmosphere. What it is and how it affects the city, she still doesn’t know. She decides to go about her day as usual.
Unfortunately, her day doesn’t go as usual.
As she leaves the house, the owner calls her over. After exchanging greetings, the old man delivers some news.
“My wife and I will move to our province to retire. Jessie is taking over the management of the restaurant. He’s planning to do major renovations in the building.”
Lucilla nods in understanding. The elderly couple have stated their intention to retire early.
“So…,” he hesitates. “Can you leave in five days?”
“Po?! Five days?! Isn’t that too short of a notice?” Lucilla exclaimed.
The old man apologizes
He tells Lucilla that the building will undergo a major renovation. He requested for Lucilla to vacate the premises within five days. She can return to stay at the rooftop after they complete the renovations. Lucilla can only nod weakly since it was a topic she had previously discussed with the owner.
“Hey, Lucy, remember the renovations we’ve been talking about?” he began. “We’re going to go ahead with it.”
“That’s great news! You can retire sooner. Who’s going to manage the restaurant?” Lucilla replied.
“Jessie will take over and he’s planning some major renovations.”
Lucilla nods in understanding.
“So…,” he hesitates. “Can you leave in five days?”
“Po?! Five days?! That’s too soon!” Lucilla exclaimed.
The old man apologizes and scratches the back of his head. “I know, but the renovations can take months. The sooner we start it, the sooner you can return to your home. Let me know if you need help to move your things.”
Lucilla can only nod weakly while she watches her landlord walk away. She turns and as she steps out to the sidewalk, her heel broke. She screams, flailing her arms. She was about to fall flat on her face when someone caught her.
“Are you alright?” a smooth baritone filters through the sound of her heart racing.
She nods as muscular arms pull her up to steady her on her feet.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he replies. He looks at her, then nods. Without another word, he jogs away.
Lucilla frowns and tilts her head to the side. “Huh? It would have been nice to know his name, but okay,” she grunts and bents down to remove her shoes. “Oh, shoot!” she exclaims when she sees the time. She dashes up the stairs to change into comfortable shoes.
As if her unlucky day is just beginning, Lucilla missed the bus by a minute. She can still see the taillights when she arrived at the bus stop. Then, as she runs toward the train station, she trips and almost fell down the stairs.
When she arrived at work, her boss calls her into the office. She informs Lucilla how she plans on getting married and settling down. Lucilla congratulates her and tells her boss she supports her decision. Then she drops the bomb. She tells Lucilla to apply or look for another job.
Lucilla slumps into her chair and buries her face in her hands. She feels the urge to cry, but knows it will not help her situation. This is possibly the worse situation she has been in the last seven years.
Straightening her shoulders, she turns on her laptop and begins the search for apartments. After sending emails to a few properties ready for occupancy, she turns to the pile of documents on her desk. Finding a new job may take longer than five days, but she is planning to close this unlucky chapter in her life as soon as possible.
Lucilla works through her pending tasks methodically and efficiently. And for the first time in the last three years, she clocks out at exactly five o’clock in the afternoon. She squints her eyes when she exits the building with the sun still above the horizon.
Instead of rushing to the bus stop like she usually does, she took a leisurely walk through the park. The sun has yet to set when she gets home. Passing by the mailbox, she grabs a handful of letters and realized that she needs to change her mailing address.
When she gets inside her apartment, she throws her keys in the fishbowl by the door. Then she spreads the letters on her kitchen table.
A peach-colored envelope sealed with a wax stamp catches her attention. She picks it up and is surprised that it’s heavy. She turns it over and saw her name written in an elegant script. It doesn’t have her address or a return address, making her wonder who its sender is.
She lifts it up to the light, hoping to get some clue, but the paper is thick. Turning it over, she inspects the seal. The stamp has a big letter S in the middle, surrounded by glyphs that are oddly familiar.
Curiosity getting the best of her, Lucilla unsealed the letter without checking for hexes and curses. The letter is written with the same elegant script on the envelope.
“My dear Lucilla,” she reads out loud. “My fervent wish for this letter to reach you in good spirits will be in vain. If you are reading this, it only means that the Fates began correcting its previous miscalculation. Your questions will be answered in due time.”
Lucilla frowned. Whoever sent this letter possesses precognition and the may have something to do with the peculiar events happening in her life lately. She returns to reading the letter.
“’For now, urgent matters should be addressed. A job awaits you in the address on the separate sheet. If you so desire, you may settle in and make it your new home as well.’ What kind of sick game is this person playing?” she fumes. “’I will meet you in the said address tomorrow morning at nine o’clock in the morning.’”
She throws the letter on the table. “What an actual freak?! Sure, I will meet you,” she shouts, glaring at the offending letter. “Then I will shove your letter up your arrogant ass! In fact, why wait until morning when I can do that now!”
She grabs the letter, her keys, and her bag. Checking the address one last time, she stomps down the stairs. She fumes as she walks through the streets of Zipara.
The address is only three blocks away, explaining why it doesn’t have a return address. The walk was not long enough to calm her down. Instead, the distance only makes her grind her teeth in anger.
She stops in front of a tall, Victorian townhouse. Stomping up the stairs, she ignores the cat knocker and pounds on the door with all her might.
A few seconds later, the door opens.
“Hello, Lucilla. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow,” a smooth baritone voice greeted her. Lucilla narrows her eyes as she recognized the voice.
“Who are you?!”
“Welcome to House No. 57. My name is Savian. I sent you the letter.”