Oh. Fellow faithful listeners, welcome to Superstitions, a Spotify original from podcast, I'm Alistair Madden. If you're just joining us, our show takes the history and cultural background of behaviors we take for granted, like walking under a ladder or avoiding the number 13 and tell stories about how they affect human lives. Now, today's superstition is one you do not have to go outside for.
It can and will find you very much at home.
You see, architects can be very specific when planning out a house. And according to some cultural traditions, the number of steps in a house can determine the fortune of those that live within. Filipino architects abide by this superstition which holds that the number of stairs in a house cannot be a multiple of three. The tradition holds that you should count the stairs as you go up saying Faurot Latha Martta Auro Plata Mata until you reach the final step in Spanish. These words essentially mean gold, silver and death.
If your final step falls on death, your own home has cursed you with bad luck.
You can find episodes of superstitions and all other Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify wherever you listen to podcasts. Coming up, the story of a building that flaunted every architectural superstition. This episode is brought to you by Faneuil's sportsbook, don't just watch college basketball, get in the action and shoot your shot with the fan to a sports book app. There's more ways to play the bracket all tournament long. New users get your first bat risk free, up to 1000 dollars.
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Everyone knew there was something off about Pontac House designed by famous architect Rodrigo Bonton.
It was a perfectly ordinary residents in many respects three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a basement and attic, a living room, a kitchen with a walk in pantry.
Perhaps it was the lavish design of the place. You wouldn't know it from the modest residential neighborhood. But once you stepped inside, you could see a cavernous entrance hall and three flights of mahogany stairs to leading up and one leading down these stairs felt the weight of many generations. Children who became parents, parents who became grandparents.
These stairs were well acquainted with death.
The story I'm about to tell you is from the recent past maybe 20 years or so ago, some of the individuals involved are even still alive, having recovered from the events that transpired that summer in Montauk House.
Some, but not all. Dino Medina was shocked by how easily the heavy door opened, the atmosphere inside seemed thick with memories. Dino hadn't known what to expect from his summer vacation. His college life in America was so different from his life back home that it felt like travelling between two different planets. One was the world of the young, partying, studying and living life to its fullest. The other was the world of the old, where his sister Eva would rope him into caring for his perpetually sick mother.
Day in and day out, he loved his family. But the longer he spent at university, the more going home felt like a detour, a regression rather than a progression. And it seemed this summer would be the same until he got the letter offering him a summer job, housesitting the most infamous building in his bar and guy. He took the opportunity without hesitation. Having a whole house to himself for a month was too enticing. No matter what people said about the place he could read without interruption have come over without telling his sister or mother, dive into his myriad of work, study applications for the next semester.
It was total freedom as long as he picked up the mail and scared away vandals. It even seemed like the house itself welcomed him. As Dinos stepped into the entranceway, the door swung shut behind him, slamming with a force that shook the walls, as if in response, something fell from the rafters and landed at Dino's feet. It was an ancient coin, a single piso, probably minted in 1898. From the look of it, it reminded him of something his mother once told him.
Houses in the Philippines, especially older ones, were often built with coins embedded in the foundations as a seal against bad luck, this coin must have somehow been squeezed out of its resting place by decades of building pressure. Dino didn't think of it as anything more than a bit of luck as he pocketed the coin. But counting on any kind of luck when it comes to Bond House is a risky thing for Rodrigo. Pontac designed this house specifically to test the superstitious practices of his colleagues.
Even Dino could tell that something felt wrong about the place, though he couldn't put his finger on the reason he hadn't paid any mind to the Aratula trees lining the front garden. Nor had he consciously recognized how odd it was for the house to face west rather than east, or that the staircases all bent ever so slightly to the left. The first sign of trouble came only two days into his stay when Dino threw a party for a handful of old friends from the neighborhood.
He was smart enough to keep the guest list small, but it still was a more raucous evening than Bonton House had seen in years, maybe even generations, when they were sufficiently inebriated. A number of his friends went out back and started an improvised game of toome home Prasow or hits the Cannes, lining up cans and bottles on the fence and throwing shoes at them. Dino came out to put a stop to this, but was sidetracked almost immediately by a drunk friend named Benito.
Tell me they're really treasure buried in this house. Dinner rolled his eyes. He'd heard the rumors, of course, that on top of the piece in the foundation, Rodrigo Bontemps had hidden some kind of vast fortune somewhere within the old place. People just love to take a kernel of truth and inflate it into something fantastical. He reminded Benito that even if there was a buried treasure, there was no way the owners would have told their house sitter about it.
Then what's that lump? Benito asked, gesturing at a strange raised mound a few feet away. Dino laughed. I wouldn't go looking for buried gold there, buddy. That's a septic tank. Dino finally managed to herd his friends back indoors as they stepped back into the soundproofed interior. He let his shoulders relax. Then something that felt like a coil of wet rope landed on them, froze as whatever it was started. He heard a number of his nearby friends scream and then a faint hiss right in his ear.
Qenos heart pounded as the snake's slick coils slid across his neck. Would it bite or was it a friendly household snake? A hand closed around the creature as one of his friends ripped it from his shoulders and flung it onto the floor. Someone couldn't tell who in the commotion brought their foot down on the snake's head.
The room went quiet. Dino struggled to slow his breathing while a friend named Tarla stooped over the dead snake. It looks like a pit viper. I wonder where it came from. Are they poisonous? Dino asked. The correct term is venomous and yes, they are, but they're usually pretty shy. I don't know why it would have jumped you like that. Everyone looked up to the ceiling. They saw nothing but rafters and severely cracked crossbeams. A shudder passed through the group as everyone imagines snakes looking down on them.
Though Dina remained unharmed, the snake had pretty effectively poisoned the mood of the party. Soon, everyone found an excuse to go home early. Dino didn't object. He stood by the doorway and wave them goodbye before heading back up the stairs.
As he crossed each one, he counted to himself a habit from his childhood auto plotter, Martin Auto, the motto auto one plotter to matter three, rinse, repeat until the top of the stairs, auto Blätter Mata.
He stopped 18 steps. A shiver ran up his spine and then he tried again. Auto plotter matter. This time he ended on Plotka. He tried again and landed on auto with a gulp. He mounted the steps again and ended on Martta. Was he too drunk to count properly or did the number of steps in this house change every time he walked up or down? But the alcohol soon won out over his curiosity and he went upstairs to go to sleep.
He awoke to the sound of something hard hitting a window. At first he thought it was local kids flinging rocks. But when he cleared his eyes, he saw a small cluster of downed feathers and a faint pink smear on the glass. He opened the window and looked down to the yard below. Something small and blue was twitching in the grass. It looked like a bird. The events of the night before came flooding back the snake, the old staircase.
His mother had told him something about that silly step tradition years ago. Was it? Something about the final step landing on number three, Martta death.
It didn't take a genius to work out why that was ominous, but what did it mean?
Gold and silver were prosperity related, but was death only in the pattern because it rhymed? He went out to the main staircase and glared at it for a moment. It looked like it was receding away from the light. And then the noise broke the silence.
The ancient phone almost seems surprised to be ringing, Dino considered letting it go, then decided he should probably take a message. He lifted the dusty receiver, his sister's voice answered, It's evil, you idiot. Who else would be calling? How did you get this number? Apparently even haunted houses appear in the phone book. Are you free this afternoon? She didn't even wait for an answer. I need you to swing by the pharmacist to pick up a package for mom.
Okay? I'm tied up at work and she needs these meds. They know who you are, so it's going to be quick. Eva, I'm sorry, I really need to work on these applications if I don't get them in the mail today, it won't reach the states in time. You better work fast then.
With that, she hung up. Dino dusted off the receiver and returned it to the cradle with the sign, even with a whole house to himself, he couldn't escape the obligations that came with being home. The day flew by in an anxious blur, he barely managed to post all five of his applications, then sprinted to the pharmacy.
He didn't know what they were or what they did, probably a new wonder drug or immunity booster that his mother hadn't tried yet. In his more cynical moments, Dino thought she was an ideal patient for this industry, someone who never got better but stayed alive so they could test every new drug out on her. He never told these theories to his mother.
Of course, she was a sweet and trusting woman, the kind who presumed good faith from everyone.
Her room was decorated with dried sangeeta flowers in the corner. His mother was asleep, snoring through a film of mucus at the back of her throat. He tried his best to ignore the smell of sweat and sick from the bathroom. He sent the pills on her bedside table for a moment, he considered waking her, but decided against it. They could catch up later, he reasoned, and truth be told, he was still preoccupied with the ineffable staircase and the snake.
Even when he ran into his sister in the hallway, he still wasn't fully shaken out of his days. Where are you going? Eva asked.
Dina replied, absent mindedly back to Pontac House. I ran your errand. Mom's napping. His words had venom in them when she next spoke. Can't wait to get out, can you? Dino turned. Excuse me. It's your pattern you'll never hear when you're here. You show up every year or so to make sure mom isn't dead and once your conscience is clear, you want nothing to do with us. Dino protested. But she wasn't finished. I know you've got ambitions.
I know you've got a life that's thousands of miles away from ours. But you keep bringing the distance back with you every time you visit. Mom is too nice to say it, but I'm all the family she has left. You were just a ghost. Know didn't invite his friends over after that, whether it was the confusing omens or his sister's accusation, he couldn't say either way, the best course of action, it seemed, was to keep quiet and let the rest of his time in Pontac House pass without incident.
And it might have done, if not for the reputation of the place. See, Beneteau was not the only one who had heard the rumors of buried treasure, though a relatively local and obscure myth, it had reached the ears of a certain American.
And like most Americans where there is treasure, he saw opportunity on genos 26 night at Pontac House. It was beset by a horrible windstorm. Dino lay awake worrying about his future. Four of the five work study applications had come back undelivered, and earlier that day he'd been blindsided by a bicyclist and nearly run over. He was more on edge than ever, but even he was not prepared for what was about to happen. Outside the house, three men gathered unshaven, unwashed men who had just stepped off a plane.
The tallest of these were a brand new Panama hat, which contrasted sharply with the black leather gloves. He grinned up. Boys were about to become rich men, one of the other men shackled, fingering a pistol in his belt. They weren't there to kill, but anyone who got between them and their fortune would have only themselves to blame. Either the house was empty or it soon would be.
Coming up, Dino's cushy summer job turns deadly, you discover their practices, seek their advice and let yourself become more vulnerable than ever before, they have the ability to heal what the doctors can't or so they say.
Hi, listeners, it's Vanessa from the podcast series Cults.
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Gambling problem call one 800 gambler. Now back to the story. Dino shoved a pillow over his head, willing himself to sleep, the wind roared outside and the house groaned with age. And if the noise wasn't enough, his gut squirmed with guilt. His sister had accused him of being a bad son and shirking his family responsibility. The worst part was he couldn't entirely disagree. He had been and was still being selfish. But he didn't know how to make things right without putting his entire life on hold.
Though his job application seemed to be falling through left and right. He knew that with his grades he'd be able to make something of himself. He didn't want to get stuck at home like Eva.
The phone ringing was what finally caused him to sit up, he wondered if it was the owners calling to tell him they were back in the country. He did not turn any lights on. The moonlight's was enough to guide him to the phone. He picked up the receiver and heard an indistinct voice on the other end. Can you speak up? He said, I can barely hear you over the wind. Eva's voice surfaced for a moment over the howling.
Dino couldn't pick up the whole thing, but he caught a few key words. Mom, blood hospital.
Dino's heart plummeted.
He told her that he would be right there, hung up the phone and threw his coat on. A thousand regret's surfaced in his mind. What if she had fallen into a coma? Had he missed the last chance to talk with her? He pushed those thoughts aside and flew down the stairs, making his way for the door. Just as the lock turned over on its own, Dino skidded to a stop.
Still wary from hours of attempted sleep, he took a moment for his brain to shift into panic mode. Someone was breaking in at that thought. Dino's instincts kicked in. He seized one of the banisters and vaulted over it, landing nimbly in the shadows by the basement entrance. And not a moment too soon, the heavy door swung open, crashing into the wall. It was followed by an annoyed whisper in English. Jesus, Prado, you couldn't open it quietly.
Three men entered, one wore a white hat, another had a scruffy goatee. The third was the only one who looked the part of the cat burglar with a black turtleneck and matching hood. Dino's heart raced. He had to get out the door, get to the hospital and see his mother. He'd be giving up the house to a bunch of burglars, but that didn't matter. What was he supposed to do against three hardened criminals anyway?
The owners would understand. Besides, he could always tell them that he was in the hospital with his mother when the break in happened. He just had to get past the burglars.
So where's the money supposed to be anyway? Gote asked the hat. You didn't tell us that part. The leader took a moment to survey the entrance hall. He said the basement, of course.
Dino's heart leaked to his throat. He was standing right by that doorway. He only had two options descend into the basement or charge right into their hands and try to get past. Endino had seen enough Hollywood movies to know not to get between an American and his treasure as carefully as he could.
He opened the doorway and slipped into the darkness.
Dino took one step at a time, descending deeper and deeper into the Earth. The stairs seemed to go on forever and in his panicked state, his brain started to count or plot the matter or plot the matter. Auto plotter Mata. He reached the basement and felt his way into a corner just as two flashlight beams followed him down, the white hats of the leader practically shone in the darkness.
Deno held his breath and pressed himself as far back as he could. Among the foundations and old crates. Two of the men, the hat and the turtleneck entered the room and fanned out. Dino inched his way toward the stairs, hoping that he could make a break for it without anyone noticing.
The criminals looked almost as nervous as he was. The house was creaking and groaning like some kind of sleeping monster, and they hadn't even seen how Cracked and warns. Some of these beams were dino parades. The house didn't collapse while they were all in the basement, and then one of the flashlight beams snapped to his face and the voice growled, Look what we have here.
Dean has breath caught. The flashlight beam was only a few feet away, just like hit the can.
Dean slipped off a shoe and flung it at the light.
He heard the boot connect and heard the burglars cry of surprise and pain. The beam flailed wildly, and Dino was off running as fast as he could back up the stairs.
He took three at a time, not caring how much noise he made. The men wouldn't chase him out onto the streets. Once he crossed the threshold, he'd be safe. But then he saw the man with the goatee standing by the doorway, pistol in hand. The man fired wide, causing Dino's ears to ring with the shock. He turned and booked it for the second story. The gun went off again, and this time he felt the wind of the bullet ruffle his hair.
Another groan echoed through the building. His vision blurred before him. For a moment, it seemed like there weren't eighteen stairs before him, but hundred. Then his toe caught on the landing and he went sprawling, he rolled over and looked up to see the leader of the group looming over him.
The man grinned. Now, I think we've gotten off on the wrong foot.
Who are you? The other two burglars joined him turtleneck eyeing his trigger happy colleague. Warily, Dino looked between the three men.
They looked desperate, wolfish and not a little silly in the moonlight. But he couldn't bring himself to say anything clever. I'm the house sitter. This caused raucous laughter from all three burglars. The leader in the Panama hat knelt down and said. Look, there's no need for anyone to get hurt, we're just going to hold on to you for a while to make sure you don't do anything stupid. Once we get our money, we'll be out of here.
What money? Dino asked. The bandits in the Panama hat responded by grabbing him and leading him to the basement entrance, and that was where he made his biggest mistake. A burglary is a fragile thing, easily upset by disturbances and just like how a sudden noise can cause an avalanche, a mansion like the Bontemps house is sensitive to intruders. A groan echoed from the very tip of the attic to the bones of the basement and one of the support beams cracked.
A dislodged piso landed at the feet of the man in the Panama hat, he released Dino in surprise, then knelt to pick it up. His eyes glinted with excitement as he spoke. Oh, it's a start. In actuality, it was to be his end. One of the enormous supports groaned in complaint. Perhaps the pressure of the storm had been too much. Or perhaps he had just been undone by the rot of time.
The beam snapped and plummeted after the piso landing right onto the head of the bandit leader. He crumpled like a rag doll head pinned to the earth.
Dino rushed to his side and tried to lift the beam off the fallen man.
He looked up at the other burglar's. Help me, he shouted. The two men looked on in horror. Another scream of straining wood echoed throughout the chamber.
The man with the goatee shouted, panicking.
We're going to get out of here. The house is going to collapse any minute. The man in the turtleneck shrugged, looks like he's your problem now, kid. He scooped up the leaders, discarded Panama hat and vanished out the door. Distant police sirens showed that there would be thieves had made the right call. The man in the goatee fled. A moment later, pushing with all his might, Deno rolled the support beam off of the bandit. His scalp was a bloody mess, but at least his hands were still twitching, Dino, in an attempt to calm himself as much as the wounded man said, it's your lucky day.
I was actually just heading to the hospital. With the help of local authorities, you got the burglar to the hospital there, he found Eva and his mother and got to relay all the strange events of the night. He never learned that the bandit leader died on the operating table or that only one of his associates made it home to the states. All he knew was that his time at Bontemps House was at an end. He would spend the rest of his summer trying to be a better son and a better brother than he'd been his entire life.
His visits home were more frequent after that, and when he was there, he was really there. But he never went back to Bontemps house and he never stopped counting stars. Although today's superstition is specific to the Philippines, it's yet another example of a belief built around the number three, there's a popular myth that celebrity deaths come in threes, for instance, which we impact on our sister show, Urban Legends. It's the most basic form of pattern recognition we have.
Think of the phrase two's company, three's a crowd, the Holy Trinity in Christianity or the Latin saying on Maytree unperfect Perfecta, which means everything that comes in threes is perfect. In a sense, the superstition of Aldo Plata Mata is a subversion of that because Philippine architects go out of their way to avoid having the number of stairs in the house divisible by three.
Unlike the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, there is no harmony in these three, only bad luck, gold, silver or death.
The origin of this superstition is murky. A long history of colonialism and unrest has made culture in the Philippines a unique mixture of outside and indigenous influences. The fact that both the foreign powers that colonized the Philippines were highly Christian nations, the Spanish Empire and the United States of America, respectively, might have something to do with this fixation on the number three.
But the research to support that is scarce.
The other peculiar aspects of Pontac House in today's story are references to similar architectural beliefs. Throughout the Philippines, staircases are supposed to be bent to the right as it is the most righteous path, and Aratula trees are supposedly an omen of illicit pregnancy.
Snakes on the grounds are supposed to be good luck unless they stick around for too long. Perhaps most unsettling is a vague superstition around septic tanks that they should not rise above the ground level. And if they are, it's a sign of doom, perhaps because they start to look like tombstones. Pontac House was clearly constructed by someone who wished to tempt fate at every turn, though the one area that remained in line with tradition was the coins embedded into the pillars.
These are supposedly a seal of good luck. The prevalence of this superstition speaks to how people see their own homes as a symbol of their lives. Our homes aren't important simply because all our stuff is there.
They have to be emblematic of our own fortunes and misfortunes. When you're choosing a home, you're choosing a place to be your sanctuary from the outside world.
If it isn't protected by every means, both natural and supernatural, who knows what could happen.
And as for staircases themselves, well, it's no coincidence that they're regarded with a degree of suspicion. Like we mentioned in our episode, about walking under a ladder. It's worth remembering how many people a year are injured or killed falling down the stairs.
It's a part of our daily lives, our homes. So perhaps that's the fear behind this Filipino's superstition. The reason we count Auro Plotka, Martta, because no amount of gold or silver can save you from a bad fall, so. Watch your step. Thanks again for listening to superstitions. You can find more episodes of superstitions and all of the Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify until next time, be wary of the things you cannot explain.
Superstitions as a Spotify original from podcast. It is executive produced by Max Cutler, Sound Design by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Erin Lawson.
This episode of Superstitions was written by Robert Teamster with writing assistance by Andrew Kelaher, fact checking by Onya Bailey and research by Brian Petrus. I'm Alistair Merryn.