"Mia was busy prying a wooden casket open. It wasn’t hard. It was more mush than wood by now."
Culture Spotlight

Fiction: Looking for eternal life in a graveyard in the middle of the night

Instead of partying at Poblacion, two women—one determined and the other reluctant—ransack a graveyard in the middle of the night in this new fiction by Yvette Tan.
Yvette Tan | Oct 31 2019

While it is no match against the horrors of everyday living, the people and places, creatures and chaos that go bump in the night—either paranormally experienced or conjured up by the human mind—can keep us awake to no end. But indulging in these paranormal constructs, and scaring ourselves silly is an age-old, somewhat inexplicable guilty pleasure. In time for the Halloween festivities this week, we've asked several people to either share personal experiences or contribute works of fiction that will help satisfy this national past time. 

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“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Drea asked, staring down the hole at her friend.

“Yes, shut up and keep a lookout,” Mia answered, tossing a shovelful of dirt out of the grave she was currently trying to rob.

“You don’t want help?” Drea asked, not for the first time.

“Instructions say I have to do this myself,” Mia said in between breaths. “Stop distracting me!” Her limbs were shaking so much from effort and her face had turned a slight shade of purple. Mia was not what you would call a fit person.

Drea looked up while keeping her flashlight trained on the grave below, intent on doing what she had come here to do, which was to keep a lookout. Actually, she needn’t have bothered. Anyone who accidentally came across them in the tiny provincial cemetery would either be scared, or could be paid off. Mia asked her to come because she didn’t want to defile a grave alone, and Drea, whose fear of missing out was greater than her fear of the supernatural, said yes because she didn’t like the idea of her friend robbing a long-dead babaylan without her.

Mia was devoted to the dark arts. She liked to wear black and accessorize with occult jewelry, the heavier the better. She wore dark makeup, though her chronic insomnia meant that her eye bags were so dark her lower lids didn't need lining.

She had come across an old book translated from an ancient manuscript in the university library and was convinced that it was real. This was why they were digging up a corpse in a rural potter’s field (Mia had explained that this was unconsecrated ground where non-Christians were buried) in the middle of the night instead of, say, partying in Poblacion. Drea didn’t always agree with what Mia did (she would rather have stayed in Manila, for example), but Mia was the first friend she had made in university and it seemed like betrayal to not stick by her. Besides, some of her weird witch friends were really good in bed, though they unfortunately also tended to be jerks.

Drea heard the shovel strike something harder than the packed dirt Mia had been digging, followed by a yell of delight, which was immediately cut off when Mia realized that she could be heard. Drea looked into the hole. Mia was busy prying a wooden casket open. It wasn’t hard. It was more mush than wood by now.

The cover broke, and the women let out a gasp as it fell away. Inside, the babaylan looked as if he had been buried yesterday. He was younger than they expected, dressed in simple clothes that marked him as poor during the Spanish period. On his neck was a string from which hung a bronze talisman, the anting-anting that Mia was after. It was supposed to grant her eternal life or something. Drea had zoned out while Mia was talking about it and anyway, it probably wasn’t eternal life because the dude was dead, wasn’t he? The friends looked at each other.

Drea broke the silence. “He’s hot.”

“She can’t have it!” Mia screamed. “I purified myself! I did the ritual! I brought gifts! I fucking dug you up! It’s mine!”

“He’d dead!” Mia answered, annoyed and horrified. She put the shovel aside and kneeled over the corpse. “Shine the light over here.”

Drea did as she was told, taking the opportunity to admire the babaylan’s features. Such a waste. He could have been a model. She took his phone out and snapped a picture.

“Drea!” Mia yelled.

Drea screamed. Mia stopped, following her friend’s frozen stare. The babaylan’s eyes had snapped open. Mia gave a squeal and scrambled out of the grave. She hid behind her friend, who was still looking at the newly revived shaman. “Who are you?” the babaylan asked in weirdly accented Tagalog. Even the words were different, and yet Drea’s brain seemed to understand them just fine. Drea wasn’t one to let a pretty face get in the way of, well, anything, really.

“I’m Drea, she’s Mia.”

“I’m Matipuno,” the babaylan said.

“I bet you are!” Drea answered.

“What?”

“What?”

“Stop flirting and ask for his amulet!” Mia whispered angrily behind her.

“Why have you disturbed my rest?” Matipuno asked.

“My friend wants your amulet.”

The babaylan’s gaze landed on Mia, as if seeing her for the first time. “Her?”

Drea nodded.

Matipuno looked Mia up and down. It wasn’t easy, given that he was lying in a hole in the ground. He seemed to reach a decision. “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” Mia said, incredulous.

“It goes to her,” Matipuno said, indicating Drea, who was busy giving him googly eyes.

“She can’t have it!” Mia screamed. “I purified myself! I did the ritual! I brought gifts! I fucking dug you up! It’s mine!”

“No,” Matipuno said.

“What makes her deserve it more than me?” Mia asked through gritted teeth.

“She’s hot,” the shaman said.

Drea giggled.

“Shut up,” Mia said. She stepped forward.

“What do I have to do to get it from you?”

“I demand a sacrifice.”

“I brought gifts.”

“A human sacrifice.”

“The manuscript didn’t say that it had to be human!” Mia yelled.

“I thought it was implied,” Matipuno said simply.

Mia pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine,” she said, and promptly pushed Drea into the grave. “There you go.”

When Drea came to, she was snuggled against an incredibly muscled chest. She quickly realized that she was in Matipuno’s arms and that he was carrying her across the cemetery.

“Hello,” she said dreamily.

“You’re awake,” he said. She still didn’t understand how her mind could understand what her ears were hearing as another language. It really was close to Tagalog, but not quite.

“Where’s Mia? Did she really push me into your grave?”

Matipuno set Drea down. The look he gave her was serious. He really was good looking, she thought. “Yes,” he said. “She did.” Drea’s heart sank. She didn’t think Mia would be that kind of friend. “Why are we here? Where is she?”

Matipuno indicated the cemetery they had just left. “She wanted the anting-anting. It needed a sacrifice.”

Drea was confused. “I thought I was the sacrifice?” she asked, elaborating when she was met with an equally confused stare. “So the anting-anting would grant her eternal life?”

Matipuno let out a loud laugh. “Oh that!” he said.

Drea pretended to be angry, which was hard because Matipuno’s dimples showed when he laughed. “Explain!”

“The amulet is a decoy. I didn’t want the Spanish digging it up and living forever, so I hid the real anting-anting and wore that. I bet you guys even found that fake map,” he smirked.

“If that's a decoy, why is she still there? And where’s the real thing?”

“Not all anting-anting are amulets,” Matipuno explained. “Sometimes, there are rites so a person becomes the amulet. I don’t need to wear anything to live forever.”

“But you were dead!”

“I was just resting my eyes,” the babaylan said defensively.

“If the one you were wearing was a decoy, why did it need a sacrifice?”

“Oh, that’s a real talisman,” Matipuno said, “It destroys everything around it unless it’s worn by a willing sacrifice. Your friend took it off me and put it on before I could warn her.”

She took his hand they both walked toward the light of the road. She would have to teach him about 2019. It sounded like something fun. She hoped he liked to party. When she thought about it, everything worked out for the best. She found a hot guy who seemed kind, and Mia, well, before tonight, Mia always complained about insomnia. She wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.

 

An editor by profession, Yvette Tan has been writing fiction since she was in college, all-in-all about two decades. She says that this contemporary grave robbing tale is an example of the direction she wants to take with her fiction.