She draped herself over the unmade bed, a long, loose-fitting t-shirt falling just below her waist. White sunlight gleamed through the dusty window, highlighting the soft outline of her body. She aimlessly hummed a tune as she grasped lightly at the rays that sloped above her head. He lay next to her, watching as she slipped deeper into her own world. He payed close attention to her hand as it danced through the air, to her pale eyes as they flitted back and forth, to her chest as it rose and fell to the beat of his heart. His eyes flitted to the golden wedding band on her left ring finger, glinting in the morning glow. In that moment, he regretted nothing.
Earlier that morning, the daughter of the deceased gently handed a makeup bag to the undertaker. “I know my mom,” she murmured. “She would have wanted to look her best.” The undertaker nodded and showed the daughter out into the frigid winter wind. Later, after the deceased had been properly dressed, the undertaker opened the makeup bag sitting on the table of utensils. He squeezed out a dollop of her foundation and brushed it over the deceased’s skin, bringing color to her face once again. Popping open her blush, he circled it around her cheekbones. He uncapped her red lipstick and painted over her blue lips. Mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, he went through the entire bag until nothing was left. She had an air of dignity about her, even in death.
I squeeze the Gillette shaving cream into the palm of my hand and lather it over my stubble. Carefully, I let the razor glide across my strong jawline, cleaning me of my roughness. Spring light sneaks in through the window, cascading over my fresh face as I reach for my mother’s little black dress lying next to me. Slipping it on, I take a deep, cleansing breath. To complete the look, I reach into her makeup bag sitting on the vanity, pull out her lipstick- Underage Red- and carefully apply it to my thin lips. I stand tall in front of the mirror, back arched, hands at my sides. Gazing back at me is a woman of great confidence, a woman who knows her worth, a woman who is no longer the empty shell of a man.
She’s a wild one. You’ve heard about her before; the girl that commands the room with her confidence, marching straight up to the bar to order her usual Sidecar, ignoring the stares of the lustful men and the envious women. She scans the bar as she’s waiting for her drink, scoping out her audience. Her eyes meet yours- those chesnut brown eyes. They sparkle for you and only you. She smiles that mischievous, red-lipped smile, as if she somehow knows every detail of your life. Desperate to find out the extent of her knowledge, you work your way over to her, avoiding the noisy bachelorette party calling to “You! Yeah you, the hottie with the hair!” But, as every story like this goes, because every wild one’s nature is just so, by the time you get to where she was standing, she’s gone. Her perfume still lingers lightly in the air, mocking you. You scan the room, desperately searching for her gleaming brown eyes, her cherry red lips. Your eyes reach the exit as her perfectly manicured hand closes around the handle, ready to move on to her next adventure. She catches your eye one last time, lips curving into the smallest smirk, and pushes the door open, letting the warm summer breeze take her place.
It was one day during Rent rehearsal where my world started to turn grey. He took a seat next to me out of the blue, smiling this doofy smile that I had never seen before.
“Hey Kelso. Scarlet Letter, eh?” Not the most interesting topic of conversation, but it didn’t matter- my heart surprisingly jumped into my throat anyways.
“Y-yeah! Just started it- and I don’t hate it? Is that weird?” I tried my best to keep my cool as I looked into his dark brown eyes, noticing the way they glinted in the dimly lit theatre. As we talked, I noticed the way he ran his hand through his silky black hair, noticed the way he gingerly twisted his sunglasses in his hand, noticed the way he stole quick glances at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. I felt my own smile stretch across my face to match his, felt my heart palpitating as if I had an IV shooting caffeine directly into my bloodstream, felt the world around me slow down until nothing else was moving except for us. . What was this feeling? It had a familiar twang- something I hadn’t felt in about 3 and a half years. Oh shit, I thought to myself. I have a crush.
It was a time of first world hardship- I was staying in an overcrowded dorm during a sweltering Boston summer with nothing but a fan to keep me cool- but in the midst of a true tragedy a symbol of hope revealed itself: the red blanket. It seems odd to me now that amidst the heat I would find a blanket so appealing, but it’s comforting appearance put me at ease. No longer would I worry about dying of heat stroke with the fuzzy cloth enveloping me; but first, I had to obtain this prized item. See, it belonged to a remarkably simple boy with sandy hair and blue eyes: a true New Jerseyite. I wormed my way into his heart, similarly to the way his blanket had mine. I had many an adventure with him, and even grew to love him (as a friend of course); but when it came time for our adventures to come to a close, I made my move. I thought quickly and hid the blanket away to where he would never be able to find it. He searched up and down and all around until finally he gave up and hobbled home to NJ-blanketless. I was victorious!
This red blanket reminds me of a time of adventure, a time of music, a time of love; but most importantly, it reminds me that I can get away with- excuse me, accomplish anything if I work hard and put myself out there.
At 12:57 pm on a frigid Tuesday afternoon, Kyle dropped his worn backpack on the green-checkered carpet. Everyone in the library looked up from his or her work to glare at the disruption. Kyle blushed, pulled the wooden chair back from the table, and plopped down. Sighing, he rested his elbow on the table and buried his cheek in his palm. He huffed. As he drummed his fingers on his khaki pants, he glared at his backpack sitting at his feet. He rolled his eyes, then bent down to snatch the bag. He threw it on the table and ripped it open. His eyes narrowed as he rustled through it. He tugged a ripped violet folder and a clear pencil case out of the pack. He pulled the bag off of the table. Flinging the folder open, he yanked out a sheet of lined paper. Kyle grabbed a chipped #2 pencil with his right hand and furiously tapped its eraser against the table. Running his left hand through his hair, he scanned the room. His eyes stopped on a girl sitting across from him. She lazily scrolled through Instagram, right leg crossed over her left leg, right foot shaking. Kyle hastily recorded every movement she made for 10 minutes. Suddenly, the girl flipped her hair and looked over at Kyle, who picked up the paper and buried his face in it. When she returned her focus to her phone, he peeked over the top of the paper, and then rested it back on the table. Again, he documented her every move. 5 minutes later, she stood up, pushed her chair in, and walked out the library door. He sighed and scrawled “Five Fingers” at the top of his paper. He slid the paper into his folder and flipped it closed. Slumping over the table, he put his head down. “’Try not to be creepy,’ Ms. Haymale said,” he whispered. “I swear to God, that girl must have thought I was stalking her.” While Kyle’s head was down, the girl re-entered the library and sat down at her table. She sank her chin into her left palm and rested her elbow on the table. A faint smile stretched across her face as she gazed at the boy sitting across from her. She stared for 2 minutes before the boy lifted his head off of the table. Blushing, she whipped her head away from him. “My God,” she muttered. “I am such a creep.”
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.
The red paint trickled down the flesh canvas, dripped over his fingertips, and formed a small puddle on the floor. The tip of the paint brush lay in the middle of the puddle, soaking in the rich color. It sat there, waiting for the paint to be released into a beautiful creation; but it waited in vain. Creativity was pouring out of the artist, but it would never be used again.
Before that, the red paint trickled down the white canvas as the artist splattered it with the paintbrush. “No good… no inspiration… no creativity… no purpose,” he muttered angrily under his breath. His violent motions became less controlled and more convulsive as the paint collected at the bottom. He began to sob, and all of his bottled up emotions suddenly took hold and came pouring out. He stopped throwing the paint and collapsed on the floor, possessed with overwhelming sadness. He looked over at the nearly empty can of red paint, glanced at his wrist; and in that moment, he decided to make his own.
Before that, the red paint trickled down the artist’s hand, as he stood stunned, tightly holding the paintbrush by the bristles. Just an hour ago, he had finished the painting, positive that this was the one; but now, clear tears painted his face as he was told once again that his work wasn’t good enough to be displayed.
Before that, the red paint trickled down the orange canvas as the artist carefully recreated a stunning sunset. He replenished the paintbrush with red and caressed his hand over the painting, all the while thinking, “This is going to be the one. I will finally be able to afford to live.”
Before that, the sunlight trickled over the artist’s face as it sank towards the horizon. He lifted his head to embrace the light, letting its warmth fill him completely. He breathed in inspiration, carefully set up his easel, and quickly opened his paint. He mixed the blood red color with a bold white, to get a more soft and vibrant tone. He took another deep breath, pressed a paintbrush onto the blank space, and watched the red paint trickle down the canvas.