The Detached

“There are no such things as ghosts,” said Aunt Isabel in a straightforward, definitive statement. “Do you understand, Celestina?” asked the aunt.

Celestina, a girl of ten, nodded her head. “But what about Daldal’s story about the Detached?” she asked.

Daldal is Aunt Isabel’s lady’s maid, and lives in a bungalow outside of Isabel’s plantation house. Daldal is a full-time helper to Isabel and supplements the other house staff. In her mid-thirties, Daldal has worked with Isabel for the last fifteen years. The work isn’t difficult, primarily helping Isabel as a personal assistant. She is respected, provided housing and clothes, and benefits from the aunt’s wealthy status. She is nearly equal in all things, except of course for her duties and responsibilities to Isabel.

Shaking her head and exhaling, Aunt Isabel responded, “Little girl, do not listen to Daldal.” She continued, “She’s a bright-enough woman, but she believes in many fantastical things. She does go on talking endlessly about spirits and the supernatural. You see, it’s all whimsy to her. You should look only for truths and facts, and base your actions on those things, not fantasy. Real wisdom is a product of your mind’s strength. It is derived only through intelligence, the search for truth, and the acquisition of knowledge. Daldal doesn’t think this way. With her, it’s mostly emotion and heresay.”

Isabel paused, “Daldal truly believes in spirits. She sees things. More importantly, she likes to scare little girls like yourself.” Aunt Isabel emphasized the last part while patting Celestina’s back followed by a tickle. They both had a nice giggle.

It is 1920 in the Philippines. Celestina is visiting her favorite aunt again this summer. For the last few years, her mother, Luz, sent Celestina to Isabel’s home because, as she would repeatedly say, “It’s too hot to be in Manila this time of year.”

Celestina loved visiting Aunt Isabel and her house.

Isabel’s home is actually a villa, and situated at the center of a significant family coconut plantation near the small town of Iloilo east of the Sulu Sea. The plantation encompasses seven hectares of coconut-rich land, and farmed by villagers living in a small community within the plantation.

Endless tops of coconut trees are all that can be seen in any direction from the perspective of the Villa. Situated on generally flat terrain, the Villa – the main house, painted in traditional pink with white trim – was bordered by two smaller, yet similarly ornamented, grand plantation-style homes. Each house had three floors, with a staircase leading up from the driveway to the second floor – the main entrance.

Although the two bordering houses are long-empty due to the family headcount dwindling down over time to just one – to Isabel, the three plantation homes were kept in tip top shape by the village workers. With the surrounding gardens equally well-manicured, the grounds of the main complex was a wonderland, especially to children. In fact, whenever thinking of the Villa, it’s grandness always comes to mind for Celestina.

She also sees her aunt as grand. Isabel would often stand at the entrance doorway situated atop the ten steps of the staircase. She was always formally clothed in heavily starched dresses of the day, and did not shy away from jewelry. This vision of Isabel solidified in Celestina’s mind as her aunt would always greet her in that manner during each visit.

Aunt Isabel announced that there will be a small party at the house tomorrow evening. Several of her friends come over regularly for dinner and a challenging, high-stakes betting game of Majong. She gave Daldal the grocery list and asked for Celestina to accompany Daldal to the market, saying that, “It will be good to for our little lady to enjoy the Iloilo market.”

So that afternoon, Daldal and Celestina took one of the plantation carriages to Iloilo. They drove through and out of the plantation to the main road. After about half an hour, they arrived at Iloilo, a small, quaint village with an extremely tight-knit community. As they rode through the streets, people would wave and acknowledge Daldal and Celestina, having recognized the plantation carriage.

The open air market was another treat for the senses – lots of colorful, fresh produce from local and regional farms, and, depending on your perspective, the mixed perfume of fresh meats – cattle, beef, pig, goat, and fish – in various stages of butchery and preservation. Daldal knew the place well and weaved her way to the stalls noted on Isabel’s grocery list.

At one of the fish stalls, Celestina noticed Daldal gossiping with the merchant. “Yes, another tragedy,” said Daldal. Celestina only heard part of the conversation: “Honesto was killed by… the Detached… vampire… ripped up the body… flew away… don’t visit them anymore… no, not the first.”

On the ride back, Celestina asked Daldal, “Why do you believe in ghosts? Aunt Isabel says it’s nonsense.”

Daldal gave her answer some thought, and responded, “Your Aunt is an intelligent woman. She likes and lives in a state of order. From her always well-groomed appearance to her enjoyment of cards and number games, her intelligence prohibits her from believing in things that are non-factual, that are ‘second sight’ so to speak. So she believes spirits and monstrosities as nonsense.”

She continued, “But the world is more complex than that. It allows for mystery, things unprovable, and things supernatural. It’s not something that can be taught in a classroom. It can only be experienced, perceived. So I believe in spirits, as you say, because I open my mind to experience and see them.”

“Enough of this seriousness,” Daldal said, wanting to change the subject. “How about a candy?” she mumbled while searching the pockets of her skirt. “Ah, I found it.”

Pulling her hand and the candy from her pocket, a deck of cards partially popped out. Celestina reached for the cards, but Daldal said those aren’t for her.

“Sorry, I just wanted to see the funny playing cards.” stated Celestina.

Daldal exclaimed, “No, these are not playing cards.”

“What are they, then?” followed Celestina, confused since the cards did have numbers on them.

Sighing, Daldal said she would show Celestina the cards at a later time.

The sun had just set and the sky started to darken. “We better get home,” said Daldal, more to herself than to Celestina. She told the carriage driver to increase the pace. He nodded his head in agreement. Celestina, feeling the mezmerizing rhythm of the carriage ride, pondered on what Daldal said during the trip back.

Much later that night, after the conclusion of the dinner party and Majong game, Celestina was lying in bed wide-awake. She gazed through the windows through sheer mosquito netting which protected her from blood-drawing insect bites. Watching the net sway in the gentle breeze, her mind was filled of the evening’s events.

There was the sumptuous dinner featuring a delicately steamed fish. The meal was enhanced by the polished silver, crystal, and china, which glittered when reflecting abundant candlelight.

And her aunt’s friends – three ladies, all elegant and wealthy – provided much entertainment. The four of them had known each other since University, and eagerly shared stories of their lives through the years.

The best part was the Majong game following dinner. Although Celestina did not participate, she watched the ladies chatting and laughing wholeheartedly in between aggressive yells of ‘pong!’

There was a soft knock on her bedroom door. It was Aunt Isabel. She walked in and asked Daldal to follow. They recounted the evening, specifically how enjoyable and successful it had been.

“Now,” said Aunt Isabel, “Time to sleep. Daldal will help you with your prayers.” She kissed Celestina on the forehead and left the room.

“Let’s get on with it” said Daldal. Celestina jumped to the side of the bed, kneeled, and clasped her hands. Daldal took a rosary and started the prayer. Celestina joined in:

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Celestina ended with, “Lord bless Aunt Isabel, Daldal and everyone in the village. And Lord bless my mom. Please let my aunt see the unseen. Amen.”

Daldal tucked the little girl in, leaned over, and gave her cheek a small kiss. “Good night, Celestina. Sleep. Dream.” She got up, looked concerned at the open windows and closed them, making sure they were locked. She then turned off the light and left.

With the windows shut, Celestina had a difficult time falling asleep. She felt stifled and missed the cool breeze. She got up and walked to the windows. Being on the third floor, the windows were floor to ceiling. She opened them and walked onto the balcony.

The night air was pleasant, especially with the breeze. The stars twinkled in the sky, and the full moon illuminated the land with its soft glow. Celestina rested her chin on the railing and placed her foot on the bottom rail. She then repeated her prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

Before she could finish, Celestina heard a muffled squawk in the distance. Facing the villa is a long, formal driveway, bordered with hedges on either side. At the other end is an ornately gated entrance. That’s where she heard the sound. She squinted her eyes, trying to see clearly using the moonlight. She saw nothing.

After a minute and starting to feel sleepy, she decided to return to bed. Then she heard the squawk again. She peered into the moonlit darkness more intently.

This time something moved. A person – a man, partially obscured behind the hedge, appeared just inside of the gate. He moved slowly toward the main house. His gait was odd – smooth like gliding on an ice rink.

Breaking the quiet of the evening, Celestina’s foot slipped from the rail and hit the floor with a thud. The sound reverberated outwards and caught the attention of the man. Still by the gate, his head with glowing eyes turned toward Celestina. They stared at each other for a few seconds, then in an instant, the man flew directly from the ground toward Celestina on the third floor. She screamed.

Isabel burst through the door and ran to Celestina on the balcony. She held the girl tightly and said, “What is the matter, and what are you doing outside?” Celestina started sobbing and hugged her aunt.

Daldal also came to the room having heard Celestina’s shriek. “Tell me, what is going on?” said a frustrated Aunt Isabel. “Why are you out here and not in bed?”

“It got too hot,” said Celestina between sobs. “I wanted fresh air. I always sleep with the windows open at home.”

“But why did you scream?” asked Isabel.

“A ghost flew at me,” was Celestina’s only response.

“A ghost?” said Isabel while giving Daldal a scornful look. She continued: “So, you’ve been hearing of ghost stories again. I am going to say this one last time – there are no such things as ghosts. Do you understand?”

Daldal said, “Maybe it was a monster.” Isabel shook her head at Daldal and mouthed the words, “You aren’t helping.”

Celestina continued to sob. Isabel said, “Oh, come here,” upon which she hugged Celestina again.

Now looking at Daldal, Isabel said: “Oh Daldal. She doesn’t need to hear these things. It’s no wonder she can’t sleep. She’s frightened. May we please stop discussing this with her?” Daldal nodded.

“But I saw a man,” Celestina said quietly.

“Alright, alright now,” said Isabel frustratingly while trying her awkward best to console her niece. “Everything is fine. And it’s late. You need to be in bed. Now let’s go inside.”

Isabel took Celestina’s hand and led her to bed. Isabel asked Daldal if she wouldn’t mind staying with Celestina until she fell asleep. Daldal said, “Of course.”

The next morning, Daldal served Isabel and Celestina breakfast. She prepared a plate for herself and, upon sitting at the table, the three started to eat. In the sun room, the breakfast table was cheerful as the room was accented in white – lace table cloth, linen napkins, bone china, and whispy curtains that billowed with any breeze. The table and chairs were rattan and gave the room a relaxing, tropical atmosphere. The room’s lightness and elegance was amplified by the lush view of the gardens and coconut forest beyond.

“May I have some coffee?” Celestina asked. Daldal laughed. Aunt Isabel said, “What? Coffee at your age? Don’t be silly.”

“But mom lets me have some every so often,” said Celestina.

“We’ll that makes sense,” said Isabel while sipping her cup of coffee. Daldal pushed a glass of guava juice in front of Celestina. Isabel continued, “It’s no wonder you can’t sleep at night. And why is your mother giving you coffee at your age. I’ll have to talk to her about that.”

Luz, the youngest of seven siblings, was twenty years younger than the eldest, Isabel. She never had a close relationship to Isabel due to the age gap. To her, Isabel was a boring adult. To Isabel, Luz was a silly girl. This state between them existist through today. Isabel said, “Yes, I’ll have to speak to Luz about coffee.”

Interrupting the light conversation, the butler entered and said, “Excuse me Doña, we have news from Iloilo.” He stopped to look at Celestina. Isabel noticed and said, “It’s alright, please continue.”

“Well,” he said, “Mayor Laracas is missing. He hasn’t been seen since last night. His wife last saw him early evening when he said he would take a stroll around town.”

“I see,” said Isabel. She thought for a minute, then responded, “Thank you, and please let Señora Laracas know that I will visit her today.” The butler nodded and left the sun room.

Isabel continued, “Very strange.” Daldal, looking quizical, agreed.

Celestina paid attention to the news and said, “The monster took him!”

Daldal made the sign of the cross. Isabel rolled her eyes and said: “Really Celestina? Still going on about monsters, and after our talk last night? Daldal, when you’ve finished, please come to my room and help me get ready to visit Sra. Laracas.”

When Aunt Isabel left, Celestina asked Daldal, “What do you think happened? Could it be my monster?”

Daldal stood, started to pick up the plates, and said: “You really should listen to you aunt. She’s a very astute woman – sharp and clear-headed. She’s also right – you should not be thinking about phantoms.”

Isabel left to visit Sra. Laracas. She was gone for most of the day. Daldal decided to go to the market to see if she could find out more about the Mayor. She brought Celestina with her.

Arriving home around the same time, Isabel said to Daldal that they needed to talk privately. Moving to the bedroom, Isabel sat in her dressing chair, and asked Daldal to close the door and sit. “I’m afraid it’s bad news,” started Isabel. “While visiting with Sra. Laracas, the police came and announced that they found the remains of the Mayor. They said…” She paused, “They found only pieces of him scattered near the road just outside of town. It’s ghastly.”

“I heard the same at the market,” said Daldal. “They said it was gruesome, and the work of…”

Before she could continue, Isabel interrupted and said, “The police say it was murder. They have no lead whatsoever.”

Daldal said, “This also isn’t the first one. There have been several deaths since earlier this year where bodies have been found mangled. The police haven’t resolved any of these deaths. We need to be careful and protect ourselves.” Daldal kissed the crucifix attached to her necklace.

“Is it as bad as that?” asked Isabel.

“I’m afraid so,” answered Daldal.

The ladies sat quietly for a minute, then agreed that Celestina should return home as soon as possible. They went ahead and contacted Luz, then made the proper travel arrangements. Celestina was unexpectedly on her way back to Manila.

The following summer, Luz asked Celestina if she would like to again stay with Aunt Isabel. She explained that her work requires her to be in Tokyo for at least a month, and that she could not take Celestina with her. Celestina was, of course, eager to return to the Villa and see her aunt and Daldal. Luz phoned the Villa at least three times but was never able to reach Isabel nor Daldal.

After a few days, Luz received a letter from Isabel. It briefly stated that Celestina may come to visit. “How odd,” she thought. “She’s always been eccentric, but responding with a letter? That’s extreme even for her.”

The letter bothered Luz. Something was wrong, so she took out her deck of Tarot cards to see if she could gain some insight into her sister’s odd response. After shuffling the deck, she spread them on the coffee table and chose a card – the King of Swords. It slipped from her fingers and fell upside down.

In Tarot lore, the King of Swords represents an authority figure of strong, logical and mental sharpness. Luz wasn’t sure how to interpret this card. She knows that Isabel fits the description to a large degree, but what does it mean? Why is the card pointing to Isabel?

This left Luz slightly unsettled. She said out loud, “Maybe I shouldn’t send Celestina to Iloilo.”

Celestina walked by and heard what her mom said. She asked why, then begged and pleaded, and finally persuaded Luz to let her travel. “By the way, what are those cards?” asked Celestina. “I’ve seen them before – Daldal had them.”

“They’re Tarot cards,” said Luz. She spread the cards and showed them to Celestina. “People use them to help interpret situations and provide guidance. I just drew a card to see if I should send you to Iloilo, but my answer was unclear.”

Luz though to herself: “Maybe I should send her to Isabel. The card describes one of character, strong will, and intelligence. My sister is certainly that. And she had the good judgment to send Celestina back home when the murders occurred. Yes, Celestina should go.” Her decision still left her unsettled.

Celestina’s visit was different from last year. Where the three had spent a lot of time together, this year they were apart a majority of the time. They met for breakfast, dinner, and most lunches, but Isabel would often head to her room, and Daldal would go to her bungalow and similarly stay out of sight. Celestina ended up filling her time with the butler and maids, as well as play and explore outdoors. Periodically, Isabel or Daldal would check on her, but those times where generally short-lived and uneventful.

A week into the visit, Daldal told Celestina that her aunt will have another dinner and Majong party that evening with her girlfriends, but should stay in her room instead of join the party like the prior year. Celestina didn’t understand. Daldal explained that the ladies are ‘less festive’ these days as each had either a friend or family member ‘leave.’

That night, Celestina was in her room. Dinner was brought up to her. She opened her window for the fresh night air and could hear the party directly below her room. Daldal was right – the ladies made noise per se, but they were muted conversation rather than merriment. Celestina decided to go downstairs and see what was going on.

She walked quietly down the stairs and into the sun room, which had a view of the dining table and the ladies playing Majong. She hid behind one of the rattan chairs.

Lit brightly by lamps and candlelight, the four women sat around the table. In the middle were the Majong tiles, distributed among the players and well-arranged. But they didn’t seem to be playing. Celestina noticed that they were quiet, sat motionless, and stared into the distance past each other. Then the room darkened.

The air cooled and forced the curtains to billow outward from within. The house started to shake. The air started to swirl. Several objects – vases, lamps, photographs, Majong tiles, and any other small thing – slowly rose into the air.

Celestina, terrified, stood to run to her aunt. But she stopped at what she saw:

The ladies’ pallor changed. Their eyes began to glow yellow. And their bodies began to simultaneously rise – but not their entire body!

Only their torso was rising. It was detaching from their lower half at the waist area. Their bodies were literally splitting in two. Skin and muscle stretched and ripped. Innards were falling out of each torso and dropping onto the lower body parts. Blood gurgled and sprayed. The ripping process was painful as each woman was moaning in anguish.

After being fully detached, the air settled, the room stopped shaking, and the small floating objects fell back to their respective places. The women, now only torsos, hovered gently and silently above the game table, their faces now serene, changed, gruesome.

Celestina screamed. Aunt Isabel’s torso turned and floated toward the little girl. Before it reached her, Daldal appeared and knocked Isabel out of the way, grabbed Celestina, and ran out of the house.

Celestina yelled, “What is happening?”

“Your aunt has become one of the Detached,” was Daldal’s reply.


This is Dante P Ramon, your host and author of The Dark Reading, a collection of original scary stories inspired by Tarot cards. I invite you to follow my website as I present new stories on a weekly basis. I also record and distribute my stories via podcast. So, visit us on the web at, and feel free to share The Dark Reading with your friends.

I just drew the Death card, so good night for now.


Season 1 Episode 26.

©2021 The Dark Reading. All Rights Reserved.

This, and all stories on The Dark Reading are original and written by Dante P. Ramon.

All third party marks are the property of their respective owners.


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