HORROR MATSURI #10: ‘I SHOULD BE ASLEEP’ BY JOYCE CHNG

The final flash story for Horror Matsuri is by one of my favorite Asian writers…one of my favorite people, in fact, the incredible Joyce Chng!

I asked for a werewolf story for Horror Matsuri and she delivered. Enjoy!

I SHOULD BE ASLEEP

Joyce Chng

I should be asleep.

They are real.

They are out there.

The wolves.

They are out there.

It’s Ghost Month, isn’t it? It has been an eventful year with a stupid virus. This Ghost Month is going to be something else. Already I see the shops selling bundles of paper money, paper products, paper paper paper. Paper laptops. Paper mobile phones. Even paper BMWs. The coffee shop has erected their make-shift altar, complete with red candles, plates of roast duck, steamed chicken and sweets… And even a smaller shrine for the ghost children: toys, sweets and toddler’s clothing. Blue for boys. Pink for girls. Dummies, bottles of sweet powdered milk, packets of soft drinks.

They keep ghost children in the coffee shop. For prosperity, wealth… and causing mischief to business rivals.

People can be so devious.

The wolves are out.

“There are no wolves in Singapore,” people often say. I know. The only ones are living pampered lives at the Night Safari, a popular tourist spot next to the Zoo. They look trapped, to be honest. Pampered lives in a gilded cage. But trapped and bored. They smell, redolent of wet fur, moist earth and declawed paws. 

But the wolves are out there. Watching us.

Watching me.

They have golden eyes.

Wolf eyes.

I see them glistening at the corner of my eye. The old ah pek sipping black kopi, withthe auntie in a pink t-shirt that screams RAINBOW UNICORN.  The bunch of kids playing at the playground. I quickly walk away. The hair on the back of my neck prickles.

A getai is being set up right next to where I live. The temple sponsoring it brought out everything. The works. The huge dragon candles. Intricate towers made of peach-shaped longevity buns. Hampers after hampers of canned goods, all wrapped with glossy ribbons. Vases, ornaments and a LED TV screen for the auction. They even have the lion dance troupe in for the opening ceremony to chase away any evil spirits. The drums throb, echoing around the tall apartment blocks.

The trees hiss in the gold of the setting sun.

Red candles line the streets, along the curbs. Old women throw paper money into the burners provided by the town council. The intense heat from the burning turns the air into shimmering wraiths. Plates of fruits and steamed bao sit side by side the candles that guide the spirits.

The ghost gate opens tonight. I can feel it in my bones. And the wolves… the wolves watch and wait.

I should be asleep.

I can’t sleep.

I know the wolves are out there.

“Gui men kai lor!” A cheerful auntie’s voice says in my head.

I need to get essentials. My shampoo has run out. I don my wolf-snout mask and scurry out of my flat. The mask is to keep out smells. Plus the virus. It’s there, but not there.  An evil hiding in plain sight.

Like the wolves who live amongst us. The wolves who watch me. Why are they watching me? I am not a wolf.

Burning paper money lingers in the air. Somewhere, Buddhist chants drift on the wind. A funeral wake. It’s relentless during the Ghost Month. The gates are open.  Souls go in and out.

Ducking into the small departmental store, I am glad for the air-conditioning. It’s always warm and humid during the Ghost Month. I grab what I need and go straight for the cashier.

Then, purchases done, I scurry back out into the open. Sunlight bites down with intense heat.

A woman, looking like she’s in her late forties, begins trailing me.

The garishly-dressed getai singers belt out old Hokkien and Cantonese songs from the 70s and 80s. I watch the uncles and aunties hand ang paos to the singers who thank them profusely.

Meanwhile, next to the stage, the tang ki are drawing a crowd of devotees as they channel various deities. Their eyes glitter like gold flecks.

I try to sleep.

I hear a howl in the distance. The howl is a sad song.

The same woman is still trailing me.

I try to dodge her. She’s persistent. A woman in a white t-shirt and brown cargo shorts. Flip flops so old they are faded.

She corners me at a quiet part of the void deck. It’s late afternoon. Nothing seems to stir.

“I know who you are,” she says in Mandarin Chinese

“Stop following me,” I shout back.

I can smell her. A dog smell.

A wolf smell. The wolf smell. Wet fur and moist earth.

“You can’t deny who you are,” she continues. Her widening smile worries me. “You have the blood.”

Then she changes.

Black fur sprouts from her skin like emerging worms. Her mouth elongates. Her upper canines grow sharper.

Her eyes turn a golden orange.

Shreds of clothing fall off her now muscular body.

“You are one of us…” her voice becomes a growl.

The smell of dog is overpowering.

“NO!”

“You can’t deny who you are.”

The growling makes the words sound monstrous.

I turn and run for my life. She chases me, a panting, dog-smelling monster snapping at my heels. I puff up the stairs, shouting for help. Knowing this is Singapore, nobody comes out from their flats. I run, stumble, run.

I lose her on the ninth storey.

I flee straight to my flat and lock the door. The panting outside the window makes me cringe. The darkness is all-encompassing like a cage.

The Ghost Month reaches its peak on the fifteenth day, when the full moon rises big and round in the sky.

Burners glow reddish with sparks of embers swirling in the wind. There is wailing. Someone or something howls. Is that the wind? I see them now. The pack. Men, women, even children. Standing in front of my window. Their eyes gleam gold.

Balls of light swirl around the pack.

Ghost children.

I am not a wolf, I shout. Go away.

Fight the evil, fight the evil, the pack whispers. We are born to fight evil. You have the blood. Don’t deny the blood.

Don’t deny the blood.

I scream and slam the window shut. My cage feels safe.

Am I safe?

I should be asleep.

I can’t sleep.

I know they are out there.

Waiting for me.

I should sleep.

My wolf mask is next to me.

I fling it away.

The howling is in my head. It won’t stop. It won’t stop.

The sound of the gates closing rattles my soul.

My blood burns like a fever.

Don’t deny the blood.

“Gui men guan lor!”

The gates close.

They will open again next year.

The wolves will be there.

Something in me breaks the cage open.

It has the smell of wet fur and moist earth.

Freedom.

My blood sings.

I don’t need the mask anymore.

No more hiding in plain sight.

No more.

I am free.

~~~

Joyce Chng lives in Singapore. Their fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF IIWe See A Different FrontierCranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Joyce also co-edited THE SEA IS OURS:  Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Their recent space opera novels deal with wolf clans (Starfang: Rise of the Clan) and vineyards (Water into Wine) respectively. They also write speculative poetry with recent ones in Rambutan Literary and Uncanny Magazine. Occasionally, they wrangle article editing at Strange Horizons and Umbel & Panicle, a poetry journal about and for plants and botany. Alter-ego J. Damask writes about werewolves in Singapore.

You can find them at http://awolfstale.wordpress.com and @jolantru on Twitter. (Pronouns: she/her, they/their)

Joyce is a top contributor at Insignia Stories! View a full list of her work with us here: Joyce Chng

This was the last story for Horror Matsuri here on the Insignia Stories site, but we have a final blog stop tomorrow with Stewart C. Baker. Please join us!

Horror Matsuri Calendar link

~~~

Photo by Virginia Johnson on Unsplash

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