A couple spotted a restaurant by the road. They noticed there were plenty of cars in the parking lot, and thought it might be a good place to stop and take a break from their long drive. Inside, however, they were surprised to see the dining hall close to empty. Where were all the people from the cars parked outside? Tired and hungry, the couple eagerly enjoyed a beef soup at the restaurant. It was so delicious that they asked their server what the secret was. She said it was all in the ingredients.
The couple left, and continued their drive to the woman’s grandparents’ house, where they were to meet her grandmother and aunts. When they finally arrived, the family wondered what took them so long. The couple said that they had stopped at a restaurant with really good food, only to find out from the grandmother and aunts that customers who stayed in the restaurant past dusk never left—because they were cooked into the meals.
That story is 27-year-old Luigi Rosario’s favorite from a popular book series called True Philippine Ghost Stories, which he read while growing up in the Philippines in the early 2000s. Now an engineer in Pasay City, he has collected 23 books in the series and still reads them to this day.
Before Netflix, Filipinos lined up at cinemas and kept vigil on TV channels to catch scarring horror movies. Those who preferred to read their scary stories, though, ran to bookstores to grab the latest book in the True Philippine Ghost Stories series, which was first released by PSICOM Publishing Inc. in 2002.
The books contain tales of horror and urban legends. As with most stories in this genre, whether or not they were actually “true” was beside the point. At the peak of their popularity, the thin paperbacks were known for their can’t-look-but-also-can’t-look-away illustrated covers, hair-raising stories from around the country, tempting tips for experiencing the paranormal, and chilling photos submitted by readers.
Today, Filipinos who have managed to keep their now worn-out copies of the iconic books say reading them still brings on the creeps—and a heavy dose of nostalgia.
“The stories featured in the book are just so good that it got me hooked,” 26-year-old medical student Chelsea Mendoza, from Lipa in Batangas province, told VICE, adding that she still reads the series when she’s in the mood to spook herself.
Mendoza bought her first copy in 2003. Like many other Filipinos, she went to a Catholic school, where she said she heard plenty of paranormal stories that took place around the campus and neighborhood. Those gave her the creeps, she said, but also made her yearn for more. She found herself frequently visiting her local bookstore to see if the newest book in the series was available.
She learned a lot about paranormal activity through these books, like the concepts of clairvoyance and doppelgängers.
“Very chilling stories, indeed. I can’t imagine ever seeing someone’s doppelgänger. But for sure, I am not looking forward to seeing mine,” Mendoza said.
As gripping as these stories are, she believes the books offer something much deeper than an easy scare.
“True Philippine Ghost Stories does not just tell about hair-raising stories but also reflects our Filipino culture and traditions, and how these shaped us today. The books keep an account of our unique experiences and reflect the beliefs of different provinces,” Mendoza said.
While some enjoy scaring themselves in private, other horror fans think the spooks are best when shared.
Angela Perez, 31, a freelance email support provider from Makati City, said that back then, she and her friends from school read all the stories by alternating their purchases.
“I kept buying a copy since it became sort of a tradition that at least one from our friend group should buy a copy, then lend the copy to the rest of the group,” Perez said, echoing what many other groups of kids at the time did. She remembers one particularly scary, though unverified, story about a hospital.
“All the patients at the ICU all died at exactly 11 a.m. regardless of their medical condition. A paranormal investigator was called to see what was happening, only for them to discover that, apparently, the janitor was unplugging the life support so that he could plug in the vacuum cleaner,” Perez recalled.
Others made reading the books a family affair.
“True Philippine Ghost Stories brings back a lot of memories from my childhood,” said food and plant vendor Mary Joy Bautista, 24, who’s based in Malolos in Bulacan province.
She recalled how her mom would surprise her and her siblings with new books from the series, and how they’d be unable to sleep after reading them because they’d be too scared of ghosts.
Bautista’s well-worn copies are now held together by strips of tape, but she said she’s still looking forward to sharing the ghost stories, as well as memories of her family reading them, to her future kids.
Marianne Lourdes Ramos, 36, a virtual assistant from Tanauan, Batangas, said she can’t pick a favorite story—she loves them all.
“True Philippine Ghost Stories just proves that there are many things in the world that we cannot explain, especially when it comes to the supernatural. And sometimes, when you think that you are the only one experiencing it, you are wrong,” Ramos said.
Ramos has all the books in the series currently published.
“I kept them all these years because it has been part of my childhood and it continues to be part of my life until now,” she said.
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