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Behind the Tracks and Other Stories A Compilation of Narratives from Bluebell High School under the Neo-Writers Project PHL

Neo-Writers Project PHL An imprint of EIC Training & Consultancy RNC Complex, Brgy San Carlos, Lipa City, Batangas Philippines 4217

Copyright 2018 Š EIC Training & Consultancy

Behind the Tracks and Other Stories: A Compilation of Narratives from Bluebell High School under the Neo-Writers Project PHL All rights reserved. No part of this compilation may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system , or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying , recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

Printed in Lipa City / Singapore Editor: Carlo Venson PeĂąa Layout & Design by Lim Soo Yong

Behind the Tracks and Other Stories A Compilation of Narratives from Bluebell High School under the Neo-Writers Project PHL




Behind the Tracks | CB Peña

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#ThinkingDifferently is a hashtag I am most fond of. Not only does it define what the Neo-Writers Project (NWP) embodies, it also helps underline more personal goals for myself as a publishing professional and writer, and as an educator and programme designer. Having to look beyond the box of what is deemed as the norm, the accepted, and the quo is a trait that not everyone possesses, but in reality is a skill everyone needs to learn and relearn. A modular mentorship programme designed to develop narrative skills and storybuilding techniques among youths aged 13-18, the Neo-Writers Project (NWP) is both a showcase of expression and a platform for budding content among young writers. Packed with interactive writing exercises and insightful sessions exploring various inspirations for narrative design, the NWP uses story-telling techniques designed to elevate young writers’ writing to publishable standards. It provides a 3-part programme schedule of learning through narrative design, storytelling and critical thinking. In every class, our mentors emphasise the strategies and processes involved in developing a narrative that can qualify for a national writing competition for youths aged 13 and above. The NWP is not just a programme that wants to break moulds, but more so, a movement to give young people a voice and a platform to tell their stories according to how they see it fit, and have those stories published for everyone to read, to enjoy and to learn from. In the end, the goal is to create an opportunity to showcase the youths’ unique perspectives of the narratives they weave, based on both fictional and real-life stories they themselves are meshed into. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the school for supporting their students’ writing journey, and for believing


that our youths have an important story to tell. There is much to learn, and plenty to do in these our intertwined writing journeys, and we need to take that first bold step to rising together as a nation by #ThinkingDifferently.

Carlo Venson PeĂąa Head Trainer, Neo-Writers Project PHL/ Managing Director, EIC Training & Consultancy


Behind the Tracks CB Peña

The train took a sharp right on the tracks, much to the dismay of the suddenly disoriented commuters who were on the seven-twenty. It was Friday, and everyone was begging for the day to finish. In the same crowd stood Michael Sanchez, a twenty-something desk editor for a small, yet moderately known publishing company, and who was now almost crushed at one side of the train cabin that led its way into the central district. He had always dreamt of becoming a writer, but found himself starting as a clerk in the firm in a year’s time, after none of his articles were deemed appropriate, or the least politically correct, by the lowly publishing house’s conservative board of senior editors. It was a blessing, he thought now, that he was given editing jobs the least, to make use of what he knew about writing, after he graduated with a degree in English from the local university. It was Michael’s last day of work, having resigned just a few weeks ago. His editor, Mr Sebastian Torres, found it amusing that only after a year of working for the company, this young man had rashly decided to pack his bags. He knew better when he was younger; he worked for a few years as a clerk in the company before he got his first break as a copyeditor five years later, when the youngest among the pool of editors, Louise, who was forty-five then, had a heart attack–and Sebastian, having learnt the ropes of editing through him as his apprentice and substitute desk editor for the past few years, took over his stack of articles on the day the middle-aged bloke had to be rushed to the hospital, complaining about chest pains. Louise never made it to the hospital, and


Sebastian got a job offer the following print run. He never looked back. Heck, he didn’t even attend Louise’s funeral. Michael, on the other hand, could never have been happier with his decision. He grew up in a lowly suburban pueblo that told itself it was a suburb, only to realise later on that it was actually already at the outskirts of the city from where he went to school at. Michael never really liked his teachers; all of them drummed tons of routinely structured exercises down their throats, never batting an eyelid even though one or two of the children would not keep up with the dictation drills all day long. Today was his happiest day, Michael thought. No amount of train schedule delay, or inundated cabins to say the least, would stop him from enjoying his last at the office, not even Sebastian, who would probably be breathing at the back of his neck for the entirety of this Friday. Sebastian was a privileged child–to a certain extent. For one, he was a city boy, having had lived in a small two-room flat at the heart of the city. The building stood a towering forty storeys high, and shone a harsh crimson glow over the streets, partly due to the semi-polished bricks that had eroded as time whipped years off the building’s walls. In the morning, his block was filled with the bustling sounds of car honks and children complaining about going to the nearby school, and at night, prostitutes ruled the sidewalks, shouting profanities to passersby and prospective customers, as they cupped their breasts to entice the men who flocked the streets with liquor at hand and money at their disposal. The son of a bank accountant and a sewer, Sebastian was an only child. Lanky and awkward, he felt it was his duty to keep the house sane, not only for himself, but for his parents who quarreled more often than his mother made dinner. His father’s drinking and womanising had reached their own zeniths more often than not, much to the dismay of his mother. Because of the constant quarreling, Sebastian’s parents often took him to his Aunt Lucia, a spinster who had more money than Sebastian had in his emptied mayonnaise bottle that he turned into a piggy bank of sorts. She was a towering wrinkly woman, as Sebastian could remember, and


she lived atop a tall building three blocks away from their flat. Her house was nothing unusual, except that her flat had its own library that stretched from one corner to the other, wrapping an entire room with pages of accounting, physics, Greek mythology, Jules Verne and romance from the 60s. Sebastian found himself humbled by those pages; with the books, he believed himself to be privileged whenever he dropped by to read, regardless of whether this aunt asked him to sweep off her silver hair scattered on the kitchen floor, or scrub the bathroom walls while she was still in the toilet bathing. In the train, Michael was trying hard not to fidget too often. It was a packed cabin; for the most part, the city’s decision to make the cabins unisexual, that is, have both men and women share the same cabins—amid the ranting of fundamentalist female advocates of the city—proved to be a double-edged sword. Indeed, train services had become more efficient, with every cabin now filled almost to the brim, and yet new problems rose: women—and men—getting groped at every body part insanely possible; wallets and bags slashed from decent citizens; and children almost suffocating from the odours and scents that everyone took with them to the train. The occasional spitting was tolerable to an extent, but the crowded cabins took its worst turn when small children and drunkards decided to do their business in the cabins themselves. The city mayor had to order random police checks on each train stop, just to ensure that these incidents could be avoided. Michael didn’t care about all those, actually. What he did care about was not missing his stop. He didn’t mind the spitting, the crowded cabins, the odours, and the occasional peeing. He grew up in a house like that. He was used to it all. His habit of missing the stops was annoying to an extent though, especially today, since it was his last day at the publishing house. Michael’s family shared their house with another family—the Manuels— since owning an entire house was too much of a financial woe for anyone in the outskirts. They were an odd bunch, Michael would think every time they sat together on the dinner table, smiling at each other ceaselessly, early in the evening while the coyotes howled their names to the wind, and the sun set in


bright hues of red and orange. As an only child, Michael always wondered how it was like to have siblings, and yet his parents evaded the question all too often, since his father was too busy tending to the herd of cows that he inherited from his own parents, and his mother, well, she just kept quiet most of the time. The Manuels comprised of the oddly-bearded father, Sancho, who took to the fields with Michael’s father in the early mornings; the highly-enervated mother, Olivia, who knitted in silence with Michael’s mother during the early evenings; and two children, Paco and Anita, whom Michael had dealings with that he dared not tell his parents about. Paco was three years older than Michael, and a few inches taller than him as well. His raven-black hair was unkempt most of the time and his fingers were thin like ladies’ cigarettes. Paco would insist that he and Michael took baths together during the mornings, and at night, he would sneak into Michael’s bed and mess with him till dawn. It was Paco who taught Michael the nasty stuff, and sometimes he would do these in front of the shocked Anita, who would then squeal like a piglet whenever her brother did so. Anita, on the other hand, looked sheepish most of the day and often kept her eyes to the ground. She too had dark, raven hair and yet it glistened a soft brown glow in the sunlight. Michael often heard her father say she was probably switched at birth with the neighbours, and he felt it rude for Sancho to say this, and so he reminded Anita, every time they met secretly in the barn during the wee hours of the night, that it wasn’t true that she was adopted. He also like how her hair turned into a deep brown when they ran after each other in the nearby wheat fields. Eight a.m. and Michael had yet to reach the office. Sebastian was grinning to his ears, thinking that tardiness was not a good impression on Michael Sanchez’s last day. Sebastian was turning thirty-seven this year, and he had grand plans for himself, after he found out that a senior editor was retiring due to a liver condition later in the month, and that he was being eyed to take over. Or at least, this was the circulating rumour according to Cecille, the slender lady that took down notes for the assistant managing editor, and whom he and the same


editor dated on different occasions. He has had little remorse for Michael, who decided to quit only after a year of working under him. He was bright, he had to admit, with his highly emotive choice of words, but the publishing house was not ready for such language, let alone opinions about women and men and politics and the lot. Conservatives still ruled over the masses, and it was not time to dive into such folly, Sebastian thought. In a few more decades probably, but not now. Sebastian glanced at his watch—a family heirloom his father gave him on the occasion of his fifteenth birthday. “Today, you become a man,” his father said. “Make sure to wind the gears at least once every year to keep the watch going.” He left them the same year, following his coital conscience and choosing to stay with Martha, a twenty-four-year-old waitress from downtown. They met at the bowling alley during one of his father’s many soirees, and he was hooked. His mother took it lightly, and went on with the business of her day— no crying, no sad faces or screaming, no nothing. Sebastian took it that his mother was showing him an example. And so Sebastian had followed it ever since. “Good morning, Mr Torres. Train was so packed today I almost missed—” came Michael, rushing through the revolving door that led to the publishing house’s main lobby. The old Castro Building stood only four storeys high, with each storey a division of the company: the ground floor was the reception area that also led to the bar where most senior editors had coffee meetings over beats and new assignments, and “baptisms of fire” for the new reporters; the second floor was for all the writers, the secretaries and most of the section editors; the company’s accounting and advertising divisions were on the third floor; and the fourth floor was where all the senior editors and the managing director held board meetings and late Friday night poker over beer, coffee, and a pack of smokes. Now almost fifty years old, the building has seen its own fair share of history, having been a hotel, a gambling den, and a garments factory. Its changing faces also saw the changing of tile, of paint, of people, and of pungencies seeping through the ventilation that had aged together with the now diminutive building amidst the rising structures that popped up like mushrooms around it.


“Late yet again, Mr Sanchez. Even on your last day, I might add,” came the reply from a stoic Sebastian who had already planned a dubious workload for his resigning assistant. “Of all the days of tardiness, Mr Sanchez. I applaud you for being consistent, I suppose.” He sipped some of his latté, while he sat nonchalantly on one of the couches in the building’s lobby, cup on one hand and sheets of paper, all scribbled with editing symbols, on the other. “One must be consistent, I suppose, sir,” Michael said, inching a sheepish smile. “Well then, Mr Romano needs you to finish the copies for the wildlife section before noon—he’s doing a feature on the new specie of magpies that were discovered at the lagoon over the weekend. Fascinating feature, I might add,” said Sebastian, without looking at Michael who has now started making coffee for himself. “After looking at his notes, I’d say you’d be so elated, you wouldn’t even have time to drink that cup of coffee.” Dismayed, Michael put down the cup, and started walking towards the lift lobby, saying “I’m sure I will be,” and trailed off with a huff as the metal doors closed in front of him. On his seat, Sebastian smirked behind the sheets of scribbled paper, sipping more of his latté, and thinking how impishly satisfying this day would be for him. On the fourth floor, Michael went straight to Mr Romano’s table, and started sifting through the pile of notes that riddled the seasoned editor’s desk. He was an odd chap altogether, and Michael had heard rumours that before he joined the paper, he was a mobster who enjoyed castrating his victims with his bare hands, asking them to eat their own testicles while the poor blokes bled to death. Other staff said he was a former zoologist who lost his academic status after he was discovered to have forced macaws to copulate with lovebirds, thinking he could create a new specie. In another floor, people talked about him as a crazy, intrepid sailor who lost his way at sea for days on end, only to discover he was sailing around an island the entire time. Most of the other editors, however, just say he was a lunatic who could only talk about birds in the wildlife section and nothing else.


In reality, Edmund Romano was a blithely young man who was discharged from the army after he was discovered to have been selling cannabis to his bunkmates. He was later asked to join the paper through his father’s old friend, the late Mr Arturo Castro, who decided out of folly to put up a publishing house—to the request of his daughter Agatha, who was now managing editor of the paper—after winning an entire building from a poker game with the city mayor. This mayor, whose connections with the Mafia were a nefarious open secret, had earned him to claim a nearly dilapidated four-storey structure along Main Street that guised itself as a garment factory when well in fact, was a safehouse for small-business extortionists. Michael couldn’t care less about the rumours though. It was his last day, and all he needed to do was to survive the day’s toil. A few minutes later, he found the stack of yellowish notes that belonged to Mr Romano. Magpies, he thought. Magpies. For the most part, Michael enjoyed working in the publishing house. Aside from the occasional lazy days when he had almost nothing to do, since the paper only ran once a week now, in comparison to its daily print-run a decade ago, time stood very still inside the building, and work was scarce almost throughout the divisions. Most of the editors spent their days lounging at the lobby, sipping coffee and shouting gibberish at each other, as they ranted about the politics of the times, only to burst into boisterous laughter after one of the secretaries walked in or out of the building, swaying her hips from side to side, with the old blokes ending each other’s sentences with expletives. The only reason the paper still ran was because of the managing director, now well in her sixties, and just as stubborn as she was epochs ago when she convinced her father to buy the paper’s first rolling press. Michael had only seen Agatha once, along the hallway of the fourth floor when Mr Torres sent him to get some documents he needed to verify an article. She looked as petrifying as the accountants from the third floor had pictured her to him. She was talking to Mr Romano in a very low, domineering tone, with the senior editor almost melting in his footing as she did. That day she wore an olive green arabesque dress that fell short just below her wrinkly, boney knees, which


Michael stared at, losing himself in the most odd, awkward manner, as if he was being drawn to them. They reminded him of Anita, them running in the fields, their exploits in the barn, and how Paco told their father about how he touched her during the wee hours of the night—after he refused to entertain his own invitations with him in the shower one summer morning in June. Michael was fourteen by then, and Paco was seventeen; the older boy had more than just the usual nasty stuff in mind that day. “Aren’t you supposed to be finishing those for me, young man?” It was Mr Romano, staring at him with a ghastly stare that only a man in his twilight years could portray. “I need them rushed to the printers by tomorrow, so best be on your way and finish them by eleven today.” The old man left afterwards, leaving a thick stench of old age and regret trailing behind him as he walked past the row of comparatively younger editors who buried themselves in their own heaps of paper, unbeknownst of the man whom many in the Castro building called a castrator, or the very least, an outdated newspaperman. As the old man walked away, Michael nodded to himself, convincing an invisible audience that he was to finish the article on time today, in time for the printers to start the plotters for the following week’s run. Slowly, Michael paced towards the lift doors and waited patiently as the numbers above the old lift’s dial swung from one to two, to three, then back to two. The doors chimed a soft tone, opening on their own, whilst brandishing the excessively large metal swirls that resembled lifeless flowers that hugged the sides of the lift’s walls. From what he has heard from the older staff, the decorations were Agatha’s idea, in a vain attempt to hide the old structure’s mischievous past, only to be left with a grotesquely designed lift and a poorly renovated lobby that housed her harem of old geezers who only had tall tales of their forgotten masculinity to keep them grounded and unfazed by their own brands of dementia. To Michael the walls seemed like forgotten fields, whose cold flowers had bloomed to their own deaths, although fully aware of the consequences of spurting amidst such arid conditions. His mind fleeted away, back to the


outskirts, and imagined him leading Anita into the barn one warm summer night—candlestick in one hand and Anita’s hand on the other—and sitting her on the soft hay that his father gathered from the fields. There he would gently touch her under the playful dance of the flickering candlelight, and bask in her soft purrs. The chime came once more and Michael found himself in the lobby, brimming with sunlight that passed through the glass doors that left little comfort for many who chose to stay in the lounging area. But for those “many,” the lobby was indeed the only place that reminded them that the paper was still alive. Everything else, everywhere else in the building felt dead. He headed for the bar, where a metal thermos was filled with hot water every two hours, courtesy of Susana, the receptionist. “I’ve got the notes, Mr Torres,” Michael said as he grasped and waved the pieces of parchment into the air. “I’ll just have my fill of coffee and I’ll start writing in a while.” Sebastian, who remained seated in the lobby the entire time could not care less, and yet in the ideal of being the gentleman that he knew he was, responded, “I’m sure it’ll be an interesting read after you finish it, Mr Sanchez.” He paused afterwards, lifted his cup—his third for the morning—and said, “Though I do hope we see more of real writing this time, rather than your rumblings about the city mayor or the hookers along Avenue Four. Lest we all want to be left with yet another embarrassment after you leave the paper today.” A ruckus filled the entire lobby, with the older gentlemen heckling likening almost an asylum, throwing praise at Sebastian who slipped a smile as he sipped from his cup and posed to continue reading through the article he was editing. Michael could not care less about his immediate supervisor though, and had purged himself not to respond in the most ill-manner as he could, “I’ll try to write it as good as if you wrote it, sir.” He took his cup of coffee, drank it all without hesitation in one big gulp, and went his way up to the second floor. As a teenager, Sebastian knew he was bound for great things. A few months after his father had left him and his mother, his Aunt Lucia died and left both of them a handsome amount; the house however, was donated to a local charity for old women and had been converted accordingly in the next few years


into a book repository, a dance studio and eventually into the exclusive café that stands where Aunt Lucia’s building used to be, after it was demolished and deemed its very existence a violation of habitable standards. A few blocks further down Main Street was an old building that was slowly being renovated into an office, and a year later, Sebastian found himself standing outside the glass doors of The Mint, the city’s first daily newspaper that was run by none other than the city mayor’s daughter. After school, Sebastian would stand outside the glass doors of the building, watching every man and woman who walked past through the whirling doors. He watched as the sun caught their beaming skin and their freshlypressed suits, as the sun slowly crept through the glass windows, and lingered on the dark marble floors of the lobby. Every now and then he heard a sweet chime walk past through the lobby’s main doors, taunting him to come inside. That day, he decided he would. The Mint had been running for a few months now, and he himself was impressed with how hard-hitting and straightforward the paper was. Sebastian was someone who was not impressed easily, and in his heart he knew, this was where he was supposed to be–as cliché́ as that sounded. He took his first few steps towards the lobby doors but then he bumped into a woman well in her thirties, a bejeweled tote on one hand and a cigarette on the other. Sebastian knew who she was—Agatha Castro. On his desk, Michael started scribbling a few lines for Mr Romano’s article. Magpies. New species. Raven and yet with red streaks. Squawks louder than most magpies. Never been seen before by birders. He kept fiddling with his pencil every now and then, looking at the minutes that slowly ebbed away from the old circular wall clock that hung near his desk, on the walls that had its paint peeled away by years of seeming neglect over deadlines, scoops and rumours. That reminded Michael of the smug that Mr Torres had on his face as he made a fool of him at the lobby, in front of the senior editors. He knew himself as a resolute man after all that had happened in his life, and yet he was starting


to tremble in anger, slowly as if a tremor that was creeping from underneath the earth. In a single snap, Michael found his pencil broken in half, its lead bleeding on his fingers, leaving a black smudge in between his thumb and index fingers’ minute crevices. He stood up, and stared at the notes and heaps of other scribbled work that lay flat on his small mahogany desk. Today was his last day, he thought. His last day. He looked at the wall clock once more: it was nine-forty five. With that, he stood up and took a swift pace towards the staircase that acted as a fire escape, which led him down to the back of the building where most of the employees smoked during lunch break. He walked quickly, feeling his breath grow heavy as he took each step on the sizzling pavement that lined the back alleys. The string of rubbish bins stood silent as they flanked his way towards Main Street. The city was just starting to prepare itself for brunch, and the cafés and al frescos had already opened. From across the street, a man was reading through his papers, looking like he was anxiously waiting for someone, and yet Michael knew his mind was fleeting away, just like his as he treaded the main road towards the train station. Michael wasn’t sure whether what he was doing was right. All he knew was that today was his last day at work, and everything about that trailed away behind him. And that he had to make it to the ten-fifteen.


{ NWP }

A modular mentorship programme designed to develop narrative skills and story-building techniques among youths aged 13-18, the Neo-Writers Project (NWP) is both a showcase of expression and a platform for budding content among young writers. Packed with interactive writing exercises and insightful sessions exploring various inspirations for narrative design, the NWP uses story-telling techniques designed to elevate young writers’ writing to publishable standards. With the help of editor-mentors, participants are taught basic and intermediate techniques in narrative structure, world building, content editing and proofreading, with the aim of publishing a short story of at least 3,000-5,000 words, in English, in a printed collection under the programme. Stories written under the programme will be made eligible to compete for a slot in an anthology that will feature other young writers’ works across all other participating institutions. This publication will carry its own ISBN, and will be made available for distribution under the NWP’s own imprint.

A modular mentorship programme designed to develop narrative skills and story-building techniques among youths aged 13-18, the Neo-Writers Project (NWP) is both a showcase of expression and a platform for budding content among young writers. This book is a compilation of stories from Bluebell High School under the NWP.




Neo-Writers Project SAMPLE (1)  

A modular mentorship programme designed to develop narrative skills and story-building techniques among youths aged 13-18, the Neo-Writers P...

Neo-Writers Project SAMPLE (1)  

A modular mentorship programme designed to develop narrative skills and story-building techniques among youths aged 13-18, the Neo-Writers P...