Come gentle night!
“The battle between light and dark, good and evil is as old as death itself.”
Ramiro smiled, “Surely you mean life; for, without life, there can be no death.”
The old exorcist chuckled. “You are mistaken, young man; but it goes with your age! Death walks with and then stalks us all; and it is possible to be both alive and dead, or should I say, dead and alive.”
“This is the wisdom I seek, Monsignor, the reason I have come to see you. As an exorcist, you tread the fine line between the living and the dead, the saved and the damned.”
“Then tell me, my son, how can I help you?”
“Forgive me, Monsignor, I think I have fallen in love with an Aswang.”
“This cannot be so Ramiro, you come from a long line of mortals. You must know a relationship between a mortal and an Aswang is immoral and impossible. Anyway, I am sure you are mistaken. If you are not, then you will be shunned by your family and fellow parishioners. You will be excommunicated from the church!
She will be ostracised and vilified. It is an impossible match.”
“But I love her. From the moment I saw her, I knew she was the one. Undoubtedly, she is the most beautiful woman in the entire Philippines.”
“She has bewitched you, then.”
“Yes, but I go into this with my eyes wide open. I am mortal, that is true. She is not; that is probably true also. However, the only thing truer, more honest and righteous than these facts, is true love itself.”
“You are young, your heart is filled with lust and lasciviousness, your head has confused primal urges with romantic notions of life and love. Wait, son, give it time, and you will see this match cannot be. The beguiling will pass, wait and see.”
“I love her, and I want to marry her, Monsignor.”
“Ramiro, Ramiro, your heart is true; I can see that. But it is mistaken, believe me! Tell me, where did you meet this Aswang and what is her name?”
“Her name is Julieta. I met her when my friends and I infiltrated a strange occult gathering deep within the woods.”
“Why on earth would you seek out and attend such a coven of depravity? Did you have no concern for your safety or the sanctity of your faith?”
“We disguised ourselves as ghouls, covering ourselves with pigs’ blood, then rolled in the foul bog of Capiz. We were safe from the underworld, but not from our noses.”
Ramiro smiled; the monsignor’s body stiffened. His forehead creased.
“Why, pray tell, would you do such a thing?”
“My friends took me there to forget about a girl. A girl called Resare.”
“Is she an Aswang as well?
“No, she is a mortal like myself.”
“Why then was there the need to forget her?”
Ramiro lowered his head, spoke softly, “unrequited love.”
A deep chuckle erupted from the monsignor’s lips. His beard and moustache, unamused, remained in stasis.
“Now let me understand,” he started, “to get over a girl—your friends decided to drag you, kicking and screaming, no doubt, to a debauched klatch deep in the forest. Then, to ensure your presence remained undetected, you defiled yourself with pigs’ blood and filthy quag!”
Ramiro shrugged his shoulders. “It sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it?”
“Let’s not stop there, though, my son. While you were there, you met an Aswang wench called Julieta. A being you have fallen madly in love with!”
Ramiro gulped. “Yes, Monsignor.”
“She has clearly bewitched you; cast a spell! The Aswang you have fallen for is a vampire. These vampires live deep within the forest, far from our towns and villages, yet they crave their diet of human blood. Disguising themselves in the shape of beautiful young women, they hope to attract a mate to marry and infiltrate the mortal community. Once married, they slowly suck the lifeblood out of their foolish husbands and then the community in which they live. Can you not see your folly?”
“That is an old wives’ tale,” Ramiro scoffed.
The monsignor stood. “You came here seeking counsel, you feebleminded young man, do not throw this in my face. I have had Aswangs in my own church! They are clever; they accompany their husbands to Mass, only to dodge, duck, and weave the blessings I throw their way. I have seen it with my own eyes. Aswangs are also exhibitionists; they are vile and lewd. Did she expose herself to you? Did you see her naked flesh?”
“It is true love,” argued Ramiro, now blushing. “Even if she is an Aswang, I wish to marry her, and I seek your support and blessing to do so. She is coming here at sunset in the expectation we will marry and be together for eternity. That is what she told me.”
“I will happily marry you both if you can prove to me this Julieta is not an Aswang,” suggested the monsignor. “Have you seen her in the daylight? As you know, the old wives say they do not like the sun! Tell me, have you met her parents? Do they share the slippery tongues of a serpent and the teeth of a shark?”
Ramiro sat in silence.
The monsignor softened his tone. “You are a gullible young man, but you aren’t the first, nor will you be the last. I cannot marry you, Ramiro; I would be signing your death warrant and going against every covenant of my faith and humanity.
“Ramiro, tell me honestly, did she kiss you? Did you feel her warm and ravenous tongue in your mouth? There is no point in denying it—see how the holy oil boils when I bring it close to you. I noticed it simmer as you walked through the chapel doors.”
“Then there is no time to waste, son. Quick, follow me—I have a plan. We must prepare!”
The setting sun shining through the stained-glass window gave the impression St Francis Borgia’s big bald head was sporting a halo. A good omen thought the monsignor. The stained-glass window had never looked so vibrant and alive and the subject of the window, St Francis, took on a regal glow.
Turning toward the altar he genuflected, crossed himself, said a silent prayer.
The monsignor was dressed in a red chasuble to symbolise blood shed for Christ. A purple stole clashed on top. Just as well Aswangs have blurred vision, he thought, the colour combination was a cardinal sin against decorum.
The monsignor looked around the chapel. Four cramped chickens clucked nervously in a bamboo cage within the transept. The chapel itself smelt of vinegar, urine, and spice, all known Aswang deterrents. There were sufficient votive candles to fill a quiñón, all gleaming softly, their flickering light filling the chapel with peace and serenity.
He had prepared as well as he could, and the cold feeling from the two hardened blades of his knives hidden beneath his vestments gave him additional comfort.
He looked over at Ramiro, his hands and feet bound in strips of red cloth. The same material was tied around his waist and neck.
“It is time, Ramiro,” he said after a moment. “Are you prepared?”
“No, Monsignor, I’m afraid.”
“Do not be frightened; the loving arms of Jesus Christ will keep you safe. Trust in him, pray to him and you will be saved. Drink this, and I will perform the exorcism to drive the evil from your body. You will sleep; you won’t feel a thing. The colour red and the power of the Lord will keep the Aswang away from you. I will save you from her.”
The monsignor took a chalice from the altar, brought it over to Ramiro. “Drink this—all of it.”
“What’s in it?”
“Nothing to worry about—garlic, lemon, spices, salt, ash, and crab blood. It will put you to sleep. Keep you safe when Julieta arrives. I will wake you up when it is over. I promise.”
“Are you sure?”
“Trust me, son, I am a man of God.”
The instant the last drop passed Ramiro’s lips, he started choking. He fought hard against the binds that held him, straining to scream and cough. The monsignor rushed over; pulling Ramiro’s neck bind, he inserted his wooden crucifix into the bind at the back of the neck. He twisted it and turned it further, garrotting Ramiro until his eyes bulged. He could not take the chance Ramiro’s cries could be heard.
After a few minutes of writhing, Ramiro collapsed dead on the chapel floor.
The monsignor smiled; exorcism may save the souls of the damned, but murder was a hell of a lot easier and quicker. He picked up Ramiro’s limp body, carried him to the pews in front of the altar. He propped him upright with the help of Bibles and twine cinctures. He walked to the vestibule, the hinges of the molave door groaning and creaking as the heavy church doors swung open. Now he just had to wait.
The moon rose; excited, the nearby animals raised their voices, making their presence heard. The night belonged to them, and they knew it. The bats, the flying lemurs and eagle owls, greeting the night with tumult-filled hysteria. “Tiktik, wakwak,” they cried to the sky, mocking the humans lying in their beds, hiding under covers behind locked doors.
The monsignor hid behind a panel in the vestibule; for his plan to work, he would need to lock the door behind the Aswang.
A tailless leopard cat, eyes bulging, ears twitching, appeared from nowhere, poking its nose tentatively through the chapel doors. Picking up the scent of the deterrents, it spewed a deep guttural growl. It froze, hairs standing up. After a moment, the cat turned and walked away.
Damnation, the monsignor cursed silently.
But the cat returned, again sniffing the air, growling, baring its teeth. It peered into the chapel, spying Ramiro seated on the front pew opposite the altar. Without warning, the cat miraculously transformed into a bat! Then it took off at breakneck speed, flying straight into the arched wooden beams of the chapel’s ceiling.
“Got you,” the monsignor whispered before quickly slamming the chapel doors shut.
Perched upside down, the bat screamed on hearing the doors slam, “Who’s there?”
“I am Monsignor Laurentius; Ramiro asked me to marry you both. I presume you are Julieta?”
“Why is Ramiro not moving? Is this some kind of holy trick—priest?”
“He is sleeping, that is all; come down and look for yourself. You can wake him, and we can start the ceremony. Be quick.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because I believe in love, as much as I believe in Christ.”
Julieta changed shape again. She appeared in front of the altar as a beautiful young woman, dressed in a long white wedding dress. Her beauty was immense, her hair the colour of ebony, her skin deep mocha. She smiled at the monsignor, beautiful white teeth flashing behind full, luscious lips. She floated over to Ramiro.
The monsignor walked toward her, Bible in one hand, wooden crucifix in the other “I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions . . .”
“He is dead,” she screamed, “you have killed him!”
“ . . . by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
She shape-shifted again, this time tearing toward him in the shape of a wild boar, mouth-frothing, tusks protruding, dying for a fight.
The monsignor dropped his Bible, reached with two hands under his chasuble, and pulled out his two knives, planning to dodge the charge and plunge the knives into the back of the passing boar.
But the boar stopped. Julieta appeared before him naked.
“Take me, priest,” she cooed. “Look at my flesh; it is warm, it is firm and willing. Take me. Take me now!”
The monsignor hesitated, his eyes drifting like a pilgrim lost on a trail.
She clasped her breasts, cupping them. “Look,” she said wide-eyed, “when was the last time you saw the beauty and magnificence of God’s creation?”
She sashayed closer, eyes fixed on his, then looking down, smiled at his growing erection.
“You want me, you need me, come, I will give you what you desire. I will take you places you have never been, priest. A life of virtue is surely no fun.”
The monsignor started to shake and tremble; his mind began to race. No one would know, he thought. No one would know.
Julieta batted her eyes, lifted a round shoulder, tilted her head and twizzled her long locks.
“I know you want to. There is more pleasure in my body than within the entire gates of heaven, believe me. Give in to your dreams of carnal pleasure; let me be your guide.”
She slid her hands toward her pudenda, her fingers gliding through her downy blaze.
The monsignor’s loins were on fire, the dull ache of chastity overwhelmed by the agony of abstinence. The sins of the flesh calling to him, demanding to be heard.
“No, no, no,” he stammered, “no”—lashing out with his knives, slashing indiscriminately at fresh air.
She disappeared. “I’m up here,” she mocked.
He looked toward the ceiling beams; she was now a giant brown rat, teeth protruding from a bewhiskered pointy face; fleas jumped from her body, and he could smell her foulness from where he stood.
The monsignor started to pray again. “I cast you out, unclean spirit, along with every satanic power of the enemy, every spectre from hell, and all your fell companions; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ begone and stay far . . .”
“Argh,” the rat spat back, scuttling across the beams toward the altar. It settled immediately above the wooden crucifix of Christ and proceeded to defecate over Christ’s head. The Aswang laughed.
“That’s what I think of your Lord Jesus Christ!”
The monsignor angered; he raced to the chicken cage. Reaching in, he pulled out a squawking recalcitrant chicken. In less than a heartbeat, the chicken was headless, blood spurting explosively from its neck. He threw the excited but expired chicken into the air. It half flew, half ran in mindless circles throughout the chapel. All the while, blood spewed into the air, onto the pews and floor.
The noise, the smell of blood, the moving animal thrilled the Aswang. It leapt down and slithered quickly along the ground, stalking the ever-slowing chicken. The Aswang was now a long snake, the monsignor witnessing the serpent’s tongue darting this way and that, in and out, so that it could savour the still-warm blood.
The monsignor killed and released another chicken. This time the snake moved with lightning speed and swallowed the chicken whole.
“More priest, more,” it cajoled. “This is such a tasty appetiser before I feast on you!”
He felt sick. The snake was covered in chicken blood and feathers; its devil eyes possessed the stare of the dead. All the while, its proboscis-like tongue ravenously sought more gore.
He grabbed the remaining two chickens, despatching and releasing one immediately. The chicken gyrated in its death throes.
“I love this game,” the Aswang gloated, slithering off and quaffing the chicken, splaying its feathers into the soft light of the chapel. “More, priest more. I see you have one left!”
“You will have to come and get this one,” the monsignor demanded.
He cut the chicken’s throat with one hand while the other held it firmly, refusing to release it to the evil stalking the chapel.
“Well, what are you waiting for, come and get it,” he jeered, blood splattering all over him.
The snake evaporated back into Julieta, the woman. Again, she was naked. She sauntered, hips wagging, breasts gently swaying. She moved toward the monsignor, smiling and giggling. “I will take the chicken, then I will take you.”
Before she reached the last two feet, the monsignor threw the chicken into the air directly behind the Aswang. Excited, she turned to chase. The monsignor raised his knife and stabbed her in the back. She screamed; she fell. She raised the dead with her almighty fury. The monsignor reached for his other blade and once again stabbed her in the back. This time the power was such it impaled her to the chapel floor.
She grovelled, she cried, she spewed vile. She demanded the monsignor release her. He didn’t. Instead, he poured the holy oil over her wretched body. It burned, she convulsed. Smoke rose from her body, head to toe. She released a smell so foul, it made him gag.
He started to pray again. “Begone, then, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Give place to the Holy Spirit by this sign of the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.”
In one final act of defiance, the Aswang returned to the beautiful bride Ramiro dreamt her to be. She wore a virginal white gown, her face appearing soft and innocent. A truly magnificent example of God’s aesthetic, an ironic illustration of light triumphing over dark.
The monsignor shook his head in pity and dismay as he removed the knives and picked Julieta up in his arms.
He carried her gently and laid her next to Ramiro. He removed Ramiro’s binds and laid him down also.
“Mortal enemies in life, married in death,” he sighed, “together in eternity as Ramiro wished.”
It was raining heavily the following day and was well after sunrise when Monsignor arrived to open the chapel doors of St Francis of Negros. Some of the parishioners were already waiting outside, listless; prayers and penitence were the first and most important constitutional of the day.
A woman approached him as he lifted the solid wooden board shutting out the unworthy and the unwashed.
“Father,” she said, “Father, I am Ramiro Mejidana’s maid. Ramiro’s family are worried sick; he did not return home last night. Do you know where he might be?”
The monsignor shook his head. “No, I have not seen him.”
“Where could he be?” the anxious woman asked. “I have searched everywhere!”
“Come,” the monsignor said, “let us go in and pray for his speedy discovery.”
He took her by the hand, led her into the chapel.
They walked hand in hand toward the altar.
Within a few steps the maid screamed. “Holy Father, Holy Father, no this cannot be true!”
Breaking the monsignor’s grip, she rushed forward to the two bodies lying on the front pews.
“No, no,” she wailed, falling to her knees.
“This cannot be,” the maid cried. “Why would someone do such an evil deed?”
The monsignor looked up at the recently polished crucifix above the altar and sighed.
“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished.”