Beliefs surrounding the Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts : A horror story
The seventh month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar is the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival, and is about to be celebrated by the Chinese in many countries. On the fifteenth day of this month (17 August, 2012), the spirits of the dead are released on earth to enjoy earthly pleasures and be with their loved ones - or resolve any unresolved differences. This will last till September the 15h, 2012.
During this month, Chinese Taoists and Buddhists pray to their deceased relatives and ancestors in the hope that their spirits will be appeased.
As such, it is time for a ghost story - one on the fictitious island of Pulau (Malay word for Island) Mati (Dead).
Oh.....we're not supposed to go out late during this month, or.......
The army barracks on island of Pulau Mati, shrouded by trees, was a cold fortress with cold, unfriendly walls no soldier wanted to make his home. The low-rise building made a subtle, slow appearance as one entered the forest clearing where it was located; a clump of trees shrouded the frigid stone walls, restricting view. Lying in quiet, the army barracks on the Island of the dead was a not a place a soldier wanted as a place of rest. The barracks were empty; rows of beds were lined neatly, as if waiting to welcome one not of the living. The morose corridors were silent.
A group of soldiers trooped into the barracks, hot and dripping with cold sweat, some of them collapsing on the neatly made steel beds with white linen. One of the young male troopers, Rong Yao, opened his locker to fish for a towel in preparation for a well-deserved shower. Tong Lee, his platoon mate and long time friend, was about to do the same; some of the other boys joined them as they walked in relief to the bathroom. Michael, another recruit, grabbed the bottle of shampoo resting on the sink. Rong Yao showed his irritation. “Hey. That’s mine. I was about to use it. Don’t you ever ask anyone for permission before taking their stuff?” Michael raised his eyebrows in retort. “Eh, you were the one who took my toothpaste this morning without asking me. What....” The two eighteen-year-old boys were about to come to blows when Tong Lee made a timely interruption . “Hello, you are men. Why bicker over something so trivial? For goodness sake, shower and rest. Sergeant Leong just told us that there will be training tomorrow night.”
At that, the two others stopped the argument and looked at Tong Lee with chagrin. “Alamak,” Rong Yao’s sigh in Malay seemed like the acceptance of a death sentence. “There isn’t supposed to be training at night, right? It’s that month again.” “There wasn’t supposed to be any,” answered Tong Lee with a flick of his towel. “But Sergeant Lee came by while the two of you were arguing loudly in the bathroom and gave the order, not sure why. Why don’t the two of you just cut it out, shower quickly and get the heck to bed, because we’ll have a long day tomorrow.”
The forest trail seemed darker than usual. The dark veil of the night sky covered the entire forest; forbidding, towering trees reduced visibility to almost zero. With torches shining, the soldiers plodded through mud and tried to avoid the stones that threatened to trip.
They finally reached one of the forest clearings, and Sergeant Leong decided to perform a head count. “Rong Yao, Tong Lee.......someone seems to be missing. Look around you and see if your buddy is here.” As a precaution, Sergeant Leong had paired off the soldiers; in the prevailing darkness, it was easy for any of them to end up missing.
“Sergeant,” Rong Yao’s voice had a ring of urgency. “Michael’s my partner, and he’s not here,” He shone his torchlight on the faces of all in the group as they covered their faces with their hands to shield themselves from the light.
Rong Yao came to an unwelcome conclusion. “Michael’s really not here,” His voice had taken on a worried tone. Sergeant Leong picked up the vibe. Recruits Rong Yao and Tong Lee, we’ll wait in the barracks for you,” He secured his backpack and prepared to leave. “Two of you, bring him back. Take your torches and go.”
Rong Yao and Tong Lee stayed close to each other as they trekked through the thick dense jungle trail, darkened by the night sky. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Tong Lee grumbled. “Why didn’t you keep an eye on Michael? You’re his partner. Now we’re in this mess.” He angrily kicked at a stone that had the misfortune of blocking his way.
“How was I supposed to see anything? It was dark and all!” Rong Yao’s voice rose to a wail. “Now what will we do?
Tong Lee, the calmer and more levelheaded of the two, thought quickly on his feet. “I remember passing a clearing as we were walking just now,” he supplied helpfully. “Let’s go back there and at least get ourselves some rest. We can decide what to do once we get there.”
Have fun with this one.
The forest clearing was pitch dark. Shining their torches around the area, the boys looked for a spot where they could settle down and regroup. Rong Yao’s torch shone on what seemed to be a small, wooden structure.
“Hey, Tong Lee,” he gestured to his partner who was surveying the nearby bushes. “There’s an empty shack here where we can settle down.” Cautiously, he opened the rickety door; the un-oiled hinges squealed in protest.
Stepping in, they shone their lights around. The empty shack had no occupants; the floor boards creaked in protest as the boys trod slowly on them. They looked around; nothing. The dusty, dismal hut seemed to be unoccupied, but an odd, foul odor pervaded the air.
Rong Yao wrinkled his nose. “What the.....”
“Crap!” Tong Lee’s abrupt, urgent cry caught Rong Yao by surprise. “Crap, crap, crap..........”
“What is it?” Rong Yao was by his side in an instant. Tong Lee flailed his arms about wildly in answer.
Michael lay against the wall, his arms hanging by his side. HIs mouth hung open and blood flowed freely, trickling by its sides. He lay still, but his eyes were open; they fixed the boys with an accusing, black stare as if to say - come join me. Now.
The boys ran without stopping out of the shack and into the forest, paying no heed to where they were headed. FInally, with their energy expended, they stopped; Tong Lee leaned against a tree, gulping a few frightened, much needed breaths of air.
“What’re we supposed to do now?” Rong Yao’s now shrill voice quivered with fear that the recent, gruesome sight had brought about. “I don’t know, man,” Tong Lee panted. “Let’s get help first. We don’t know where we are.” He looked around frantically, panic rising within his usual calm self. He spent about five minutes searching through the dense trees and foliage. There was nothing and no one nearby.
He looked behind in search of Rong Yao, whom he had forgotten. No one was to be seen.
He turned around again, engulfed and blinded by darkness, as he heard the breaking of branches and the rustling of leaves.
Then Rong Yao’s blood curdling scream.
It was every soldier for himself. Tong Lee ran to the edge of the forest, where there was a main road. He flagged every car and truck that drove by, but he was ignored by all. He paced about in a frenzy; if only that retard of a Sergeant Lee had stayed on the side of caution and not insisted on night training during the month of the Hungry Ghosts. None of this would have happened.
A blue Nissan pick up finally stopped in front of him. The driver, an affable Chinese man in his thirties, waved him aboard. “Where to?” he asked, looking hard at the now distraught Tong Lee. “Anywhere,” the young soldier gasped. “As long as it’s far away from here.”
They began to drive.
They drove along the desolate, dimly lit highway, with no other cars to be seen. On the side of highway were the trees that Tong Lee now knew only too well. Except for the ill-placed street lights lining the highway, all was in darkness.
Tong Lee leaned against the headrest, finding his eyes squeezing shut. With a tired sigh, the young soldier dozed off.
When he woke up, they were still driving. “Where are we?” Tong Lee “And who are you? I haven’t had the chance to ask you your name yet.” Rong Yao’s tortured scream still rang in his ears. He shuddered.
The Chinese truck driver next to him grinned. “I don’t know what happened to you, but relax. I’ll take you to where you want to go.”
“We must be so far away from the army barracks,” Tong Lee looked out of the window. “Could we turn back?”
“Will do,” replied the driver, and the swung out of the high way.
After an hour, they were still driving on the deserted highway. Tong Lee’s now more relaxed self began to be alarmed. “Hey,” he stared at the road in front of him “thanks and everything, but I should be getting back to the barracks. Why aren’t we there yet? My friends just....” His voice trailed off and he shook his head.
The driver suddenly stopped at a dirt road. There was a cemetery nearby; and something that came as a surprise.
It was the shack that the boys had visited earlier.
Tong Lee turned to look at the driver next to him. His features had transformed; they had lost their affability. His now pale, demonic eyes took on a sinister glint and his black hair had turned - white. His cheeks were sunken and his face, pale; he flashed a toothless, evil grin. Tong Lee could smell the same foul odor he had sensed in the shack earlier and now knew what it was - it was the smell of rotting flesh.
Tong Lee’s legs began to quiver and he literally peed in his pants. Realization dawned on him. “Wh....what happened to my friends?”
The driver moved towards Tong Lee, his face coming ever closer to his. His hands were about to encircle his neck. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Some things to observe during the Hungry Ghost Festival
Here are some observances during the Hungry Ghost Festival - these are not necessarily beliefs, but are observed out of respect for the deceased.
Do not step on the offerings made to the deceased.
Do not turn back when you hear someone call your name - you know what it might be.
Do not go out late at night during this month.
If you do have to go out, do not walk against walls. Spirits love to move along walls and one may possess you.
Do not look into a mirror lest you see the unexpected. (not easy, especially for ladies.)
There will be road shows known as Getais. Do not sit in the front row when watching these shows, as these are reserved for spirits.
Postpone major travel vacations; don’t travel by road or ship lest you meet spirits.
Don’t whistle at night. It attracts ghosts.
Don’t paint your nails black. Only the dead have black nails.
Don’t curse and swear.
Don’t swim - there is a higher instance of drowning during this month!
Copyright (C) by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin
- Hungry Ghost Festival
Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 7th month of the lunar calendar. It is believed that the gates of hell will be open on this month. Ghosts will be free to roam around on earth.
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