PEACEFUL PARADISE

The Army bus that pulled up alongside the troop ship in Port Manila was painted a dull shade of olive green, the signature color of all Army vehicles. A destination tag on the front of the bus said: Statsenburg Hospital, which was located forty miles northwest of Manila. While the nurses assigned to Statsenburg said their goodbyes to others assigned to different hospitals, several men transferred the women’s baggage from the ship to the bus. The men moving the bags seemed to be under the direction of a young Filipino man in army fatigues with Filipino military patches on the chest and the sleeves. Soon, the buses were all loaded, and the nurses could see the amount of activity of the busy port as they waited to get underway. The Filipino bus driver finally closed the bus door and lifted a microphone out of its holder with one hand as he started the engine with the other. The gears ground and they were on their way.

“Helloooooooo, ladeezzz!” he cried into a crackling speaker system. “My name is Angelo,

pronounced with the ‘hard G,’ like ‘angle-O,’ no ‘an-jello; I am not jiggly dessert. My name means ‘message from God.’ The night I was born, my mother, she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary through the window of our home, this is true family story, and she gave me a special name.” He tapped his chest for emphasis. “I am Catholic and I practice Christ. Welcome to our peaceful island paradise where our God looks with favor on us each day!” He kissed a crucifix hanging on a chain around his neck. “I am grateful to my God for everything I have, and I try help other people move with Christ.

“And now, on behalf of the Filipino people, I wish to welcome you and offer you some excellent observances as we drive to Clark Field, Statsenburg Hospital, and the modern barracks you will be living in.”

The bus went through the main gate of the Port Manila grounds and soon the views from the windows were much more enticing than the shipyard.

“What’s that beautiful purple flower climbing up that iron fence over there?” one of the nurses asked.

“That,” said Anglo, “is bougainvillea, a beautiful native plant that thrives here year-round. But, ladeezzz, you have seen nothing yet! I will take you on…how you say?..whirling winds tour of our wonderful island of Luzon and the city of Manila. I will show you the excellent happiness of Ayala Triangle Gardens, Mehan Gardens, Dolomite Beach, and many top-rate buildings for your looking pleasure, such as Coconut Palace, Roman Santos Building…”

Angelo was a great guide and soon the nurses were listening to his patter and relaxing in their seats. Some even dozed off; the trip to Manila on the troop ship was long and often boring, and the city sights were a welcome change from the wide-open ocean.

Suddenly a building a block from their route caught Ethel’s eye. She shuddered at the sight of it, though she obviously knew nothing about it.

“What is that walled compound over there?” she asked, pointing out her bus window.

“That,” said Angelo, with a flourish, “is the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, built in 1611 when our country was a territory of Spain. We call it the Catholic University of the Philippines. It was originally supposed to train young men for the priesthood. But now it is a university with several thousand enrolled and many types of teaching. It is the oldest Pontifical college in Asia and has offered the courses all the time except in 1898 and 1899 during the Philippine Revolution against Spain. The walls completely surround the forty-acre campus and it has a center garden for prayer and meditation…”

“It looks creepy,” Ethel said, shuddering again. She looked back at the receding University campus, which seemed as if it was rising out of its foundation and…groaning.

Ethel did not know that the abyss, even now, was beginning to overtake the sacred community of higher learning, and the enemy was coming to invade the compound. And Ethel never suspected that the evil the abyss held would someday capture her and her fellow nurses as they risked their very lives to care for their charges.

The abyss hissed, but the nurses’ bus was hurtling along toward their new lives as Army nurses in paradise. They didn’t hear a thing except the chatter of the bus driver, Angelo.

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