This Week’s Prompt: 103. Sealed room—or at least no lamp allowed there. Shadow on wall.
The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING
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This prompt is an interesting one—and one that has a number of routes we’ve covered before. The most apparent to me is the hidden rooms of Eros and Bluebeard—often here, the bedroom of the husband or some other secret room is forbidden. In the case of Eros and Pysche is even specific about the oil lamp that wakes and frightens off Eros. We’ve also discussed Balkan Vampires—ones that in fact do fear light or are kept in secret places and pits. However, there is no shortage of strange and monstrous creatures in the night. And one I would like to go over tonight is a vampire from another part of the world: The Philippines.
The creature in question is the aswang—a vampire like creature that has a long tongue with a sharp tip, which it uses to suck blood or viscera from a victim. There are other sorts of creatures called or compared to the aswang in the Philippines, which we will discuss further on. The vampire, however, has some key and common traits. Vampiric aswang are often foreign husbands or wives, who feed on their partner or use their partner as a home base from which to work their havoc. The vampires that are dead returned to the living live in distant forests by day, and come to feed at night.
The viscera sucker, sometimes called naguneg in Iklo and kasudlan in West Visayan, like wise has a long mosquito like proboscis or long tongue—but this isn’t sharp. At night it’s arms become wings and it abandons its legs to go hunting. It leaves these in a closet, on a bed, or hidden in a banana grove—if they are disturbed or salt is tossed on them, the creature will die. The viscera sucker targets pregnant women and the sick, drinking phlegm or feeding on internal organs using it’s straw like mouth. They may live in a jungle, hanging from the trees or in small huts, but a number live as wives in villages. Unlike the vampire, their fears are clearly documented—spices, light (as our prompt requests), big crabs, sting ray tails, salt, fire, guns, and knives. I find these last three fears to be well founded in general, frankly. Salt of course is a weakness of the creatures—and marine life reminds them of that dangerous mineral. Lastly, a bamboo stake in the back of such a creature will kill it instantly. One becomes a vsicera sucker by either eating food spat up by another viscera sucker, or by eating a creature that emerges from a dead viscera sucker’s mouth that resembles a black chick.
A comparable creature, with the same fears, is the weredog. This creature resembles a man during the day, but at night becomes a large dog or cat. It sets upon people in their homes and—perhaps a bit tellingly—on youngsters who are too loud. The weredog and the witch however especially fear the sting ray whip—wounds it suffers from the whip appear again when it becomes a man. Villagers suspect wandering salesmen and laborers on government projects are suspected of being weredogs often.
The next creature of the aswang variety is a witch. The witch is a vindictive man or woman—usually woman—who slips cursed items and talismans into people’s orifices to get their revenge. Witches are described as having eyes like a cat or snakes, which reflect images upside down. They therefore avoid eye contact. They are also shy and live on the edges of town, in abandoned houses. They employ insects as agents to spy on victims or plant curses, and some cases argue they also make use of dogs for this purpose.
The last of these creatures is a ghoulish one. These creatures have long nails, fetid breath, and sharp teeth. They can hear the groans of the dying miles away, and eagerly gather at night around trees in cemeteries to feast on the corpses within. If they come across a funeral, ghouls freely make off with the living and the dead. Loud noises and fire frighten off the creatures, however, so proper celebrations keep them at bay. If they manage to get the corpse, they will turn it into a pig and make off with it—and try to feed it to another human being, turning them into a new ghoul.
The aswang first came to my attention from an episode of Grimm. I don’t remember any of the other elements of that episode, but the image of the long tongued creature horrified me. I don’t believe it separated its body as it does in these stories, but the distinctive appearance and feeding habits have made the aswang famous. There is even a resource on Philippines folklore and mythology, the Aswang Project, named for the creature.
A story from nearby Java also caught my attention. Here two men are lead to a cavern, to marry a magical serpent. They went to a spirit gateway, and after burning incense and making offerings, they were told to close there eyes. One obeyed, the other kept his eyes open. The one who closed his eyes waited until told to open them—and found the cavern replaced by a great palace, the dirt road a grand highway. He was invited in and asked to choose a princess to marry. They were married and agreed to meet Monday and Thursday, and she would give him money each time until she ran out. After that, he would return to serve in the palace.
The friend who kept his eyes open saw none of this—just a cave full of large snakes. He of course didn’t have the heart to tell his fellow about the illusion. Here the revelation isn’t dangerous itself—rather it denies one the benefits and luxury they might have had.
Our story is thus about finding and revealing secrets, although the sort that are perhaps not disclosed in full. The prompt mentions a shadow cast on the wall, which calls to mind an onlooker. Crouched near the opened door frame, looking into this forbidden room. Another has come into the darkness. A light is lit—and their familiar silhouette appears on the wall. Only, moments later, something horrific wakes. Perhaps a winged shape emerges, or perhaps long clawed appendages reach out. And the intruder is gone.
There is a Lovecraftian creature this reminds me of—the Haunter of the Dark. This creature, associated with the artifact the Shining, can go anywhere abroad at night. It cannot emerge during light, and thus modern electrical lights leave it trapped in an abandoned church. Yet when the power grid comes out, it seeks the one who freed it—on black wings, with three eyes, on a whirlwind it arrives. This creature has since been viewed as an embodiment of the great Nyarlathotep, which then possessed the body of the viewer. He and it perished luckily when lighting struck.
This Lovecraft story is situated between two other stories by Robert Bloch, which feature an invisible vampiric creature that rides on cold winds to devour a man from Providence after being summoned and a Doctor Ambrose Dexter being possessed by the lord of a thousand forms. While working on nuclear weapons, which of course is a horror all its own. The details of this creatures functions can be found examined on Lovecraft Science here.
Our story could be instead arranged around this as a midpoint. The discovery of a strange monster in the darkness of a room—one that, drawing upon the Bluebeard stories and Vampire ones, wants its presence hidden—could serve not as the rising climax but as the discovery that incites action. In the middle of the night, you might see strange shapes coming from the older house or the abandoned churches, down from the hill in between flashes of lighting. I do think Lovecraft’s idea, a blackout in a modern city allowing it free and a thunder storms lighting bolts revealing the creature for mere moments, before it flees and moves away. That’s a strong way to build tension in a very visual way—one that I think can be communicated in writing, albeit in a way that would be more clipped than my normal writing.
Oh the terror.
What creatures of the night do you know and dread? What things fear the light or despise it’s presence? Comment below!
Ramos, Maximo. “The Aswang Syncrasy in Philippine Folklore” Western Folklore, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1969), pp. 238-248.
Wessing, Robert. “Spirits of the Earth and Spirits of the Water: Chthonic Forces in the Mountains of West Java” Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1 (1988), pp. 43-61.
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