Catarina Rosales Marquez surveyed her garden of fruit and vegetables in the windswept hills of Mindanao. The Aswang Queen of Domminga Mountains, Catarina ruled with an iron thumb, her sleek black hair like a whip, replete with eyes of black pearls that shone like a viper's.
Catarina had a secret: she abhorred human flesh. Having gone to college for Biology in Manila, Catarina had genetically engineered fruits: mangoes, lanzones, calamansi for teas - everything jade and green under the sun of Bathala that produced the florid juices of the jungle - into sustenance for aswang, with human proteins.
But the Aswang of Domminga Mountains were traditional: you were born, you died, and you feasted upon tender suckling babies, like stuck pig that bled providence of ruby hearts, silver alveoli, and tender bones for stews. Catarina had tried without fail to have the Ikapati Tribe, her queenship's name, to adopt her peaceful ways.
Ikapati, who she was priestess of, had blessed the Domminga Mountains, and city of Mindanao, with bountiful harvests, monsoons, rain like the tears of Tala's eyes - starshine somber – and all was peaceful for a time.
But the Aswang were older than the mountains, older than the broken spires of Domminga's rocky crevasses, and as the jungle grew and throbbed like a python's greedy heart...
The Aswang flesh urge remained.
Catarina was losing her battle - and as she approached age 26, the Ikapati Tribe kept demanding she choose a husband, an Aswang Warrior, who had done battle against the wind spirits and rival Tikbalang hordes, who fought over Domminga Mountains for terrain.
But Catarina had never been entranced by the wiles of men: they were coarse, hairy, dark skin like cacao, rough thumbs that left her breasts aching as if they were devoid of milk. When she kissed her boyfriends, she felt dead, so she lived alone in her adobe castle, made of clay and crystal, fronds of banana and palm branches like a lattice in the roof, and she tended Ikapati's Peace Gardens, trying to change
The carnivorous ways
Of the Aswang.
Little did Catarina know, soon, her life would be changed by a plucky American ate. A blue eyed, blonde adventurer, Rose Smith from California, who would make Catarina question all she knew, and want to make a human
Rose Smith sat at a coffeeshop in Mindanao, folding her backpacker's map of the Domminga Mountains, her pert nose flared as if she could smell the adventure waiting for her!
She nibbled on some fresh pandesal, stirring some Cafe Americano sweetened with coconut milk, and chewed on her bottom lip: "I'll find the Philippine Eagle if it kills me! Let's see, I need to take a hike through the Green Pass of the jungle, up a few miles into Domminga... oh dear, the nests are so far away from any civilization!"
Rose squeezed her binoculars, dressed in biologist clothes. A graduate student at Stanford studying Philippine eagle conservation for her dissertation, Rose Smith was 26 - blonde and German-American, blue eyed with a penchant for mischief. She had done her master's thesis on the tarsier, but the Philippine Eagle haunted her dreams - like it, she wanted to fly on creamy wings, away from the stifling perfection of Stanford.
Rose had studied abroad in Manila in undergrad at UCLA and had fallen in love with the Philippines - the fresh tamarind, the taste of chicken adobo, pungent sisig, tender balut, and sweet lechon roasts. Enchanting to her was the kindness of the people - and beauty of the women.
Rosy didn't mind if her lovers were men or women, but the innocence of the village women, high in the Domminga Mountains, where life was carved in sweat and blood alone, and the virtue of living was so entwined with the natural world, made Rose an expat of sorts.
The bus to the Domminga Mountains honked. A bunso - young Filipino brother - smiled with a gap-toothed grin. "Aye, blondie! You're the famous biologist Rose Smith, right? Don't you know that the Domminga Mountains are the home of Ikapati Tribe of Aswang? They steal babies to grow their fruit with the bones of newborn villagers. And the Tikbalang are no better, deathly horses that stampede the dreams out of you, leaving you a shell! There are no warrior shamans around here to protect you, no wise women or priestesses. This is rough man terrain, no place for a short blonde American."
He honked his horn, tipped his baseball cap, and Rose just smiled, boarding the bus and tipping him generously. "I don't worry about fairytales, Daniel. C'mon little brother, I gotta tag some Philippine Eagles for Stanford. I'm a conservationist, and the beautiful biota and rainforests of Domminga Mountains are a refuge. I'm sure the bloodsucking, bone-crunching Aswang are worth a few bites of to see my dream bird."
And so, the bus drove off with just Rose up the foreboding mountains, from Mindanao, as the jungle grew thick and steamy, and monkeys played hide and seek on the road. Rose smiled secretively, laughing at the idea of the supernatural. The Aswang and Tikbalang were just that - local, quaint superstitions. Rose had never been much of one for religion, a hippie Cali beach babe who was content just "vibing" with nature. If there was a Goddess, it was probably just Mother Earth... Rose stared at the forests, a lush expanse of Gaia, dreamily.
Wait, what was that? Something fanged, pale, with ruby red eyes and black hair like a psalm...
But it was only an apparition.
"Crap, I'm seeing Aswang, I'm so sleepy! I was up all night fixing the Philippine eagle radio collars," Rose laughed, and Daniel winked at her.
"Eh ate, get some rest." He clutched his rosary hung from the beat-up bus window as they passed a bridge that had seen better days. Thick jungle water poured past under the rocky terrain of the stream. "You won't get there for 8 more hours."
Rose smiled, and dreamed
Of a strange woman, with violet eyes, dark skin like cinnamon, a small chest whose nipples were brown like syrup, and fangs.
She dreamed of kissing this siren - a vampire? A lamia?
The dream girl wore a silver starlet crystal crown, delicate as fine bone China.
And the mountains burned beneath her, a poison garden of baby bones.
"I am what you seek, Rose Smith," the treacherous dream girl said.
They kissed in the hazy nightmare, and Rose snored, not a thought in the world, a silent curlicue at the back of the mountain bus.