She wanders down the rutted road, feet squelching in the mud. She drags a heavy, ragged sack as the wind whips against her frail figure; but she trudges forward, determination in her eyes. Her shawl, red speckled, protects her as she turns down a sodden dirt path. The pointed black iron gates come into view and she shudders. The sign overhead reads Greensbury Street Cemetery. Water droplets drip like tears from the slick, ivy covered gates. She ventures into the sylvan landscape, the large maple trees guarding her from the pounding rain. Finally she sees the familiar pristine grey stone that reads Arthur Cunningham, 1774-1817.
“Hurry, Alice,” the stone seems to whisper. She drops the sack and pulls out a blood stained knife. She runs her left ring finger over the blade, unfazed by the pain. “Hurry, Alice,” the voice commands. She obeys and carefully traces her finger over her husband’s name, leaving her blood to mix with the words. A deafening screech echoes through the cemetery as the gravestone slides across the earth to reveal a rotten wooden spiral staircase leading into a dark cavern. Alice grunts as she slings the sack over her shoulder and carefully steps down. The stairs creak with every step as she ventures deeper into the darkness.
“Alice, Alice,” the voice calls impatiently. “I’m hungry Alice.” She quickens her pace until her foot finally hits the soft dirt floor. A faint light guides her to a baroque wooden door. She whispers the incantation messily carved into the top: Omnem dimittite spem, o vos intrantes. The door swings open with a bang to reveal a desolate chamber with a flickering chandelier swinging from a rusty chain. Granite walls encase the room; a musk almost too powerful to bear permeates through the air.
“Come in,” the voice rasps urgently. She enters the threshold and turns to see her husband, tightly shackled to the wall with clamps around his wrists and ankles. “Hello, Alice,” he croons, “You’re just in time.” She can’t will herself to look away as his hands start twitching, every vein and muscle becoming more defined. He lets out a choked cackle as his body is suddenly taken over by violent convulsions. His hands jerk back and forth across the stone wall, cracking as his fingers expand and sharp yellow claws form. He rakes his claws across the iron, screaming for release as his skull bubbles and stretches. His skin sheds and is replaced with a transparent blue-grey mucus covering. He arches his back as much as he can as his vertebrae pop and crack to form a spinal ridge. Suddenly, his body goes limp with exhaustion. He is quiet, except for his labored breaths echoing through the room. Slowly, he raises his head to reveal two pus-yellow orbs in place of his glistening blue eyes.
He pants, stares at Alice, and growls, “Well? Where is it?” She kneels to the ground and pulls the sack open. Carefully, she slides a pallid young girl out of the bag and lays her on her right side, facing the creature.
“She’s on the verge of death, very weak, just as you like them,” Alice mutters, regret on the tip of her tongue. For a moment, she sorrowfully looks upon the defenseless child, thinking of setting her free and killing the beast; but instead, she turns her eyes towards Arthur and nods submissively.
“Thank you dearest,” he grumbles insincerely. His breathing becomes even more labored as he gazes intently upon his prey. He runs his black forked tongue across his upper lip as a yellow drool escapes from his mouth. Suddenly, his tongue snaps out toward the girl and enters her navel. Alice turns away and covers her ears as Arthur sucks the life out of the girl. When the slurping stops, Alice looks back to see a shriveled corpse lying in front of her. She cries for the child as she takes her shovel out of the bag and starts to dig a new grave in the dirt.
“Don’t cry darling, that was the best one yet,” Arthur chuckles. “You did so well my pet, so very well.” Alice stays quiet, focusing on her work.
“And Alice,” Arthur asks, “Can we make feeding time happen weekly? I would do it myself but…”
“But, Arthur! The townspeople are getting suspicious. If kids keep disappearing, sooner or later they will-”
“Then go to a different town. Go to the orphanage; I don’t care what you do! You’re a smart girl, figure it out!” Arthur hisses, baring his pointed teeth. “I’m hungry, Alice, and you have to take care of that, remember?” He pauses, letting his tongue slip out of his mouth and point at her. “Or do you even love me anymore?”
“I-I do love you,” Alice lies through her tears.
“Good,” Arthur smirks. “Then I’ll see you next week.”
Alice slams her front door and locks it behind her. She sinks into her ancient, flowered armchair, closing her weary eyes. Her entire body goes limp, exhausted from the events of the night. “How did I get myself into this,” she thinks as she fades off to sleep. “Why me…”
“I promise to always protect you. I will never let you get hurt. I will never hurt you myself. I love you; I will always love you. Forever and always, my darling, forever and always,” Arthur finishes his vows and slips the ring on Alice’s finger. “You may now kiss the bride,” the priest declares. She looks into Arthur’s peaceful, smiling blue eyes, closes her own, and leans in to kiss him.
“Open your eyes, sweetie!” Arthur exclaims. Alice’s eyes shoot open and before her lay a small cottage. “It’s just big enough for the two of us,” he exclaims. “And a baby.” Alice squeals and hugs Arthur tightly. “A baby…” she breathes.
“What do you think the baby’s name should be?” Alice asks hopefully, rubbing her rounded stomach. Arthur replies with a pained grimace.
“Honey, are you okay? Was it the chicken?” Alice asks, putting her hand on his back.
“Get away from me,” he spits. Doubled over, he stumbles out of the room.
“Arthur, where are you going?”
“Out,” he yells. The door slams and Alice is left in stunned silence.
A couple hours later, Alice is startled by the loud bang of the door against the wall. She creeps downstairs to see Arthur stumble through the door and plop down in his flowered armchair. “Arthur, we have to talk about what happened,” Alice declares sternly. Arthur stares straight ahead, tapping his finger on his knee. His eyes are distant, cold, almost black. Alice bends down and puts her hand gently on his arm. “Arthur, come back to me. Listen. We need to talk, my love.”
“Quiet, you can’t understand. Just let me be, please. I’m begging you. For your own safety,” Arthur whispers, hand rubbing the ridge of his nose in frustration.
“My safety? Arthur, what the h-” Alice is interrupted by a thunderous roar. Arthur began to twitch wildly, his bones cracking. “ARTHUR!” Alice cries, “I-I’ll g-go get the priest!”
“NO,” he roars. “Stay here!” Alice backs into a corner, watching in terror as Arthur’s skin oozes and bubbles. His bones crack as his vertebrae extends. He turns, towering over her, glassy eyes fixed on her stomach. The creature bares it’s pointy teeth, as if it were smiling. She screams as the creature’s black, slimy tongue shoots out of its mouth and penetrates her navel.
Alice wakes up in Arthur’s arms. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I couldn’t control myself. I’m sorry you had to find out like this,” he blubbers. She looks down to see her baby bump had disappeared. In it’s place was a small red mark on her naval. She lets out a piercing shriek and scrambles out of his grasp.
“My baby,” she wails, “my baby! W-what happened to it? What did you do?” She turns towards the door, but Arthur tackles her to the ground.
“Please don’t go. Give me a chance to explain myself. Please, my love, don’t leave me,” he begs desperately. Defeated, she stops struggling against him, and slowly, he releases his tight grip on her torso.
“W-what are you?” she asks as she turns to face him.
“My dearest, I am an Aswang,” he sobs.
“W-what?” she stammers.
“I-I am a monster. I need to feed off life forces to stay alive, and well…” he trailed off sorrowfully. “I lived in the Philippines, until 1804, when the people of my village found out what I truly am. I was not welcome anywhere, until I found you, Alice. You welcomed me into this town, into your life. I love you, Alice. And you love me, I know you do. And if you truly love me, you will not speak a word of this to anyone. I can’t lose you Alice, I can’t give up the life we built because of one moment of weakness,” Arthur pleads, tears welling in his eyes. “Forever and always Alice, remember?”
“Everything alright in there?” a voice calls. “We heard yelling,” calls another. Arthur looks at Alice, eyes begging for mercy that she could not provide.
“HELP!” she shrieks through tears. “MONSTER! A MONSTER ATE MY BABY!”
Alice trudges silently behind her husband down the rutted road, torches from the mob of villagers lighting their way. A village woman tries to comfort Alice’s aching heart as the mob leads Arthur to his doom.
“Eternal damnation,” Arthur chuckles playfully, just loud enough so Alice can hear. “What a fitting punishment.” Alice doesn’t say a word, she just keeps walking through the cemetery gates. The mob chants a prayer as they maneuver through the graveyard. The group comes to a new granite gravestone. A fresh inscription reads Arthur Cunningham, 1774-1817.
“I-I h-hope this is more comfortable than t-the jail cell they kept me in while they were building this t-tomb,” Arthur’s voice wavers. Alice reaches to comfort him, but someone grabs her wrist before she can.
“Only the blood of the spouse can move the stone!” the man calls. He tugs Alice’s left hand and swiftly slices a small incision into her ring finger.
“Go,” a woman whispers, voice trembling. “Open it.” Alice wills herself to step forward and forces her finger roughly over the stone. With a deafening crack, the stone moves to the side to reveal a beautiful wooden staircase.
“Move,” a man growls, pushing Arthur toward the grave. Arthur steps to the top of the stairs and turns to Alice.
“I love you. I will always love you. Please, don’t leave me here to suffer,” Arthur breathes into her ear. He looks at her with his pleading blue eyes, and she knows that she can’t abandon him.
“Somehow… I-I love you, despite all you’ve done. I will be there for you dearest. I-I promise,” Alice stammers, letting a tear fall down her cheek.
“Don’t cry, oh please don’t cry,” Arthur wails. He moves his bound hands toward her cheek, but before he can wipe the pain away, he is torn from her and thrown down the stairs. The men rush after him, wielding their iron chains. Alice sobs as the village women lead her away from the grave. ”Arthur,” she wails, “Arthur, I won’t leave you! Wait for me!”
“Like I have a choice,” a faltering voice faintly echos from below.
Alice shoots up out of her chair, breathing heavily. She brings a hand to her face and wipes away the tears that cloud her vision.
“Where did his love go?” she stammers angrily. “What happened to him? He lied; he promised he would never hurt me! He promised me forever and always, but he broke my heart anyways,” she rages, clenching her jaw in disgust. “My love is a monster… and my love is going to pay.”
“Arthur,” Alice calls as she enters his prison. She turns to see Arthur in his human form, a bewildered look plastered on his face.
“Alice,” Arthur exclaims, “what are you doing here? Feeding time isn’t for another couple days.”
“Oh, Arthur, I’ve missed you,” Alice croons, batting her eyes. She takes off her petticoat to reveal only a white nightgown underneath. She glides forward, eyes locked in on her prey. “I long for your touch, Arthur. I long to hear you scream my name,” she says seductively, caressing his face. “I long for you, Arthur,” she whispers in his ear.
“I don’t believe you,” he whispers back.
“What the hell does that mean?” Alice gasps.
“You’re repulsed by me. I can see it in your eyes,” Arthur hisses back.
“Darling, I do love you. Forever and always right?”
“Then prove it,” he spits. “Kiss me.”
“Kiss me.” Arthur closes his eyes and leans down, stretching his neck as far as he can. Her tense hands run through his hair and grasp the back of his neck as her soft lips meet his. Suddenly, her thumbs wrap around Arthur’s throat. She slams his head back against the granite wall with strength she never knew she had. She presses against his airway with all of her might.
“A-Alice,” Arthur chokes as he desperately thrashes, trying to break free of her grasp. His movements become weaker as she presses harder. The blood vessels pop and fill his eyes with red as color drains from his face.
“Goodbye, honey,” she snickers. She watches the light leave his eyes and feels his body go limp. She loosens her grip, lingering on his carotid artery for a moment to check his pulse. Nothing.
Alice smiles up at her husband and takes a deep, freeing breath. She begins to spin around, arms outstretched. She yells, “My soul is free! I am free!” over and over until she collapses in a heap of giddy laughter. Then, she runs out of the room, door slamming behind her. She hurries up the rotten spiral staircase for the last time. She turns to close the grave, but she lingers, remembering all of the trauma and horror that unfurled in the chamber below her. The memories flash until she bundles them together in her mind and breathes out heavily, as if she were releasing them into the grave. The gravestone slides across the earth, locking in her memories. She turns to look at the fresh new world in front of her. She never looks back.