I hope you’re all enjoying Horror Matsuri so far!
Today we have a horror story by Malaysian writer, Deborah Wong. Deborah was featured in our Author Spotlight earlier this week, and is a contributor in the Southeast Asian Fantasy Drabbles anthology (links follow the story).
HOUSE #197, ARGYLL ROAD
by Deborah Wong
Beware of the decomposed hand clinging at the door.
That was grandma’s message before I left.
Amber cloudscapes weaved to shed greasy rains; the air was dampened by the musky whiff. I hadn’t visited Penang for the past decade and likely wouldn’t have for another, if not for a meeting with a potential buyer for this inherited property. It was the only abandoned unit in the pre-colonial village.
Calligraphy was written in ancient black ink scripts on a crimson red paper—scraped and torn due to decades of sun ray. ‘Peace and safety to all who come and go’, as translated—a typical wish-you-well in any Chinese Diaspora traditional household.
A decapitated doll was left at the stoop.
The majestic wooden door was half-conquered by a visceral termites’ colony. I dragged one daring step into this ancestral property that was left abandoned, since Ah-Gong had passed on forty years ago.
Darkness had befallen the clouds, again. I called the realtor, while scrolling my iPad with my other hand for any business prospects and rescheduling of shipping orders.
“The number you’re calling is unreachable. Please try…”
I grunted, then cursed.
That sudden lightning strike had disconnected the telecommunication line.
The door slammed in the most savage fashion.
I screamed and tried opening it, but the handles were dead-locked. Desperate to escape, I kicked the door repeatedly, but the door was jammed by some fallen wooden beams blocking the entrance.
Suddenly, thunderous sounds blasted from outside. A landslide of blinding, cold soil roared and rolled in, seeping under the door to swallow my iPhone that had dropped on the ground. Darkness enveloped the house, smouldering and eating me alive.
A voice said in the most petrifying tone.
But it was just me, alone, wasn’t it? My eyes surveyed the dishevelled premises. Chills ran down my spine. Sounds of hatching and hissing were in audible sequence, trailing from the altar, mind-fucking my intellectual ability. Cobra-offspring slithered and dived into the ground from every pillar’s slit, drilling in and out from the incense ashes within the prayer’s urns as if it was their home. There would be a male and female hidden deep somewhere, waiting patiently for the next piquet mating season.
I was hanging on to the brittle window-ledge for my life.
Closed my eyes—and then opened again. These were only illusions.
Thought I could start to breathe in proper, but then traditional cymbals clanged to join the blowing of requiem trumpets in unison. Footsteps were closer and nearer, singing an eerie hymn of a customary marriage. A bride dressed in pure red flew passed from outside. Baby cobras slithered helter-skelter right under me, crawling into any holes to avoid being victimised by the mature ones.
It reminded me of a musical chair game when the pre-school teacher shouted ‘stop’. A girl from the class threw me off the chair; she was a head taller than me and loved pushing me around.
But, her passion for intense speed driving got her thrown off from the Audi Spyder, crashing violently against the divider last year. It was all over the headlines. And, her head was found a week later, stuck within a billboard slit by the lonesome highway.
Breathe, girl—breathe, I promise not to hurt you.
“Leave me alone!” That’s all my lips could convey.
You can’t sell this place if I don’t take you down the memory lane.
A bisected rotten hand flew in my direction, instantly blinded my vision.
I saw a young woman by the lake, allowing the turquoise coloured water to consume her dreams and visions. I called for her, but no voice came out. Even a fake cough was soundless now. Carefully, I trailed behind her, coming to a prosperous chicken coop. She lifted two watering buckets, balancing them on her fragile shoulder, watching the water pouring on the garden, bursting with home-grown vegetables. She looked sad, confessing her hardships as she fed the hens and chicks. A rooster was circling an ovulating hen. This young woman looked to be in a ripe time to give birth.
Children came out to play as evening swallowed the daytime. Hyperactive, they smelled like cold powder after bathing. I missed grandma’s handmade powdered perfume, made of rice, infused with rose water and screwpine leaves; hand-rolled into nibs and then sun-baked in the garden on trays.
I then spotted the six years old Ah-Gong was among the children.
A woman yelled at him for chasing another child, dodging underneath a pregnant woman’s undergarments that hung on the provisional drying poles. Then, I heard the thunderous crying sound of a young woman coming from the small wooden house. Later, a middle-age woman, presumably the midwife, stepped into the yard, instructing the family members to boil water, prepare new basins, and bring stacks of clothes and blankets. While the infant’s screamed during the delivery was a healthy sign, the young woman was crying in pain. Ah-Gong instantly fell excruciatingly ill.
Unfortunately, my son died. Your grandpa survived!
Things returned to normal with that eerie confession.
I remember Grandma used to scold me for playing hide and seek under a pregnant woman’s undergarments when I was a child. It happened to Ah-Gong. No one in the village experienced it but he was the first and survived due to his strong BaZi.
The rotten hand crawled to me. I took a deep breath and believed all that had happened—accepting the horrific situation as it rested on my shuddering lap.
I will never ever rest in peace ‘til I get what I want.
The decomposed hand was on the verge of breaking my neck. I could hear my trachea bone crushing. Its strength was like the crash of kamikaze planes and smelled like over-roasted char-siew meat, exceptionally acidic. I scratched the hand. What flew out was a shimmering nauseating liquid, worse than what the sewage treatment plant smelled like.
Your skin is as tender as your grandma’s. I tried to possess your grandpa, to kill her, on their wedding night but failed. And your mom, so scared of my burnt rotting hand.
I bit and spat part of the flesh out. The bloodless rotten phalanges were as tough as a wild stallion, It stopped the asphyxiation, moved aside—shocked.
“He paid for his ignorance and died of aortic aneurysm rupture, alone in the cold hospital room. At least, you had a chance to see your boy. You should be grateful.”
It’s the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival. I need company.
The decomposed hand retrieved my phone from the ground, pressed the messenger app and scrolled to find my next-of-kin contact.
“What are you gonna do?” Psychologically, I’d broken down from exhaustion.
Its rotten index finger started typing on the cracked and filthy keypad. “I WANT TO STAY.”
With my last gathered strength, I tried grabbing the hand.
The finger had pressed the ‘Send’ button.
Sorry child, your BaZi isn’t as strong as your grandpa’s.
Deborah Wong graduated from the University of London with a Bachelor of Laws, and attended the summer intensive creative writing workshop at the University of British Columbia. Her work has appeared in local and international magazines and journals, including Liquid Imagination, Strange Horizons, Frozen Wavelets, Blood Bath Literary Zine, Eye to The Telescope, The 2020 Rhysling Anthology and forthcoming in Australian based Twisted Moon Magazine.
Deborah Wong’s links at Insignia Stories:
Next week for Horror Matsuri we’ll have a poem by Maggie D. Grace and a blog tour stop for Natasha Sinclair’s Javanese story ‘Goddess in Motion’. Don’t miss it!
Have a great weekend!