Haunted Advent Calendar Day 4 – with guest Kristine Ong Muslim

To celebrate the release of our second Self Made Hero book of M. R. James adaptations – Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Vol 2 – we’re going to be counting down to Christmas in true Jamesian style, with a new haunting image and nugget of info every day.

On top of that, we’ll be giving away a copy of the book via Twitter every Sunday in the lead up to Christmas. Check the #MRJ2GIVEAWAY hashtag for details of how to take part.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry, including the short story collections Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016) and Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), as well as the poetry collections Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), and Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017). Her stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2017), The Cincinnati Review, Weird Fiction Review, and World Literature Today.

She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.


Christmas is when the Ghost of Injustice rears its ugly head amidst the merrymaking that can just as easily drown out its voice. It is also the season for my favorite fruitcake and Fruitcake, an album by Eraserheads, a Filipino band that had been, especially for the most part of the 1990s, wildly assertive of its lingering influence on Philippine pop culture. Fruitcake comes poised with phenomenal musicianship, crisp double entendres like “There’s a fruitcake for everybody/ There’s a fruitcake for everyone” and “Take a bite/ It’s all right,” as well as a deliberately baskmasked section. The latter is a sly response to absurd rumormongering about Eraserheads’ music, as well as those of some Eraserheads’ contemporaries, being praises to Satan.

Eraserheads has a song called “Spoliarium.” An iconic and historically significant painting, which is displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila, bears the same name. The oil painting is by Juan Luna who, in a jealous rage, murdered his wife and mother-in-law in 1892. The painting shows bloodied, stripped, and dead gladiators being pulled away from the arena, where they had just been served up—Roman-amusement-style—to be killed. Meanwhile, Eraserheads’ “Spoliarium,” whose brooding, enigmatic Tagalog lyrics seem to draw (although the songwriter denied this but then later said he would “take this secret to the grave”) from the 1980s gang rape of a fourteen-year-old actress by Eat Bulaga television show hosts, Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon, and Richie Reyes. Pepsi Paloma was the screen name of the fourteen-year-old, who subsequently killed herself. She looped a rope around her neck and hanged herself, according to the papers. But her manager said otherwise. Also, there was one Kit Mateo, who suggested otherwise. The three could have gotten the death penalty had they been tried and convicted that time. Their life saver: Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto’s brother. Tito Sotto is a Filipino senator, a Bible-thumping conservative with sexist and misogynistic views. He managed to get Pepsi Paloma to drop the charges in exchange for an apology. An account of how she had been made to agree to no longer press any charges: “Paloma eventually dropped the charges after she was allegedly visited by one of the trio who said he had only talked with her, but only after placing a pistol on the table in front of her.”

Fruitcake is cheery and it goes, “There are b-sides to every story/ If you decide to have some fun…” And so the Specter comes with a rope readied into a hangman’s knot. Or with a wet sponge for easing contact between the shaved scalp and the electric chair. And the Specter slouches, glowers before the bed of the one who has wronged the child. The Specter never sleeps, thus no sleep is forthcoming for the one on the bed. ‘Tis the season for the haunting of those who have wronged the child.

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