Hell Hath No Fury Like a (Deceased) Woman Scorned
Frightening, frangipani-loving, femme fatale; what would you do, if she follows you?
Upon entering my home, I glanced at the wall clock directly opposite. 9 o'clock. It's already past my usual dinner time.
My work shirt was covered in specks of ash. It's that time of the year again in the Chinese calendar—the 15th night of the seventh month, otherwise known as The Hungry Ghost Festival when spirits are free to roam.
My Chinese-Taoist neighbours would traditionally burn joss paper in braziers placed across the neighbourhood during this period.
Joss papers are also known as Hell money—burning them, is akin to sending remittance to the spirits of deceased loved ones for use in the afterlife.
"Jangan pijak abu tu, nanti benda ikut kau balik!" Don't step on the ashes, otherwise, something will follow you home! A reminder from my mum I often heard as a child. Now that I'm a grown man I don't pay heed to such silly superstitions.
I was at the dinner table, eating the chicken rice I had bought on my way home from the office—when I heard knocking on the door.
It's probably mum. She must have forgotten something; after all, she told me today she was leaving for work earlier than usual.
I opened the door and found nobody there, other than a faint, recognisable floral smell, like the Lust perfume from Lush I had bought my sister for her birthday—without the notes of rose or ylang-ylang.
Just as I was about to sit down, I heard the knocking again albeit more rapid than before. Sounds desperate almost.
I went over and looked through the peephole. Again, no one there.
Well, that's annoying. Who's letting their mischievous kid run loose along the corridors at this time of night? It's half-past eight p.m., prepare your kid for bed already. Goodness, parents these days.
I finished up my dinner and proceeded to clean up. While washing the dishes, I heard a tapping noise. I looked up towards the direction of the sound. All I saw was the kitchen window less than a metre away from me.
As I stared out the window, I saw a white towel falling—probably belonging to one of my neighbours living on one of the floors above me. Other than that, I saw my neighbour from the opposite apartment block snuffing out the flame from a candle in a window.
Then right before my eyes, one end of my metal laundry pole hit lightly against the window frame. Pivoted above the light switch diagonally across the window, the bare pole was light enough for the wind to nudge it. That explained the tapping sound then.
With the dishes cleaned, I stripped to my underwear and headed to the bathroom for a shower.
As I was soaping myself, the door shook briefly. It's probably the wind again, coming in through the kitchen window.
Strange though; typically I would also be hearing the rustle of leaves from the nearby trees outdoors.
After drying myself, I went into my room. Browsing through Spotify, I put the Tiki Torch playlist on shuffle.
I enjoy listening to deep house music when I play Dota 2 on my laptop—it gets me in the zone and helps me achieve multi-kills in the game.
While powering on my laptop, I heard a giggle and dismissed it as the backing vocals from Cassius' song, Calliope.
As the music faded to its end, I heard a slow but deliberate quacking sound coming from the living room. Goosebumps crept its way from my wrists, right up to my shoulders.
Ducks don't exist in a heartland neighbourhood like mine.
Then I recalled another one of my mum's superstitious tales.
A quacking sound is often associated with the nearby presence of a "Pontianak", the malicious spirit of a woman who died during childbirth or after being raped.
In Indonesian and Malay folklore, she is often depicted with unkempt waist-length hair covering her face, wearing a blood-splattered white dress and her presence is heralded by the smell of jasmine or frangipani. To announce her presence, she would let out bloodcurdling feminine laughter; if it is low in volume, the Pontianak is nearby and it is loud, then this carnivorous innards-eating vampire is far away.
Then it hit me:
The flowery scent in the corridor. The knocking on the front door. The noise from the kitchen window. The diving "white towel". The bathroom door shaking when the night had been completely still—with no sign of even the slightest breeze.
I froze upon piecing together this eerie realisation and right then, I heard her laughter coming from the living room.
My living room.
I didn't know what came into me, but I threw open my bedroom door and screamed, "WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT, YOU BITCH?"
Only to realise there was nothing in the living room. No duck. No Pontianak.
Surely I haven't been hearing or seeing things?
I went back into my room and decided I was not in the mood to play Dota 2 after all. It was already midnight and clearly, I was tired.
I switched off the lights, crept under my blanket and as my head landed on the pillow, my eyes shut as quick as venus flytraps upon catching its prey.
Out of the blue, my phone started playing When the Lights Are Out by Maceo Plex from the Tiki Torch playlist:
Do you get me? / Do you like what we do when the lights are out?
Baby / Do you get me? / Surely you don't believe I'm giving up
Then I heard a giggle beside my ear.