The Thai Ghost Festival
The surroundings were pitch black. Like a mother clutching her newborn, the night embraced the moon and the stars. The woman stumbled a few times on the ground, but she picked herself up at a panicked pace every time. The dark alleys of Chiang Khan Street in Thailand were filled with the sound of the woman sprinting away and her labored breathing. She stumbled one last time, and it was apparent that she was hurt this time because she failed to stand up. Chasing behind her was a dark figure holding a sledgehammer. The woman was crying while clawing at the ground in a last-ditch effort to get away. She turned around and pleaded with the dark figure not to hurt her. Getting no response, she screamed for help. The dark figure loosened his grip on the sledgehammer, dropping its head on the pavement. He slowly walked towards the woman while dragging the thing with his left hand. He was purposely making unnecessary noises to terrify his victim even more.
Her cries were in vain as the street was deserted. The suspect raised the sledgehammer and hit her head with it. Her brain and blood splattered on the ground. Half her head was missing after the first strike. She was dead. It doesn’t matter, though, because the culprit hit her again and again and again. His eyes were filled with ecstasy as he marveled at the sight.
The homeless man clutched his head as he slowly opened his eyes. He was familiar with the place, yet he couldn’t remember how he got there. He almost cried when he accidentally touched the bloody body of a woman beside him. He screamed in fear when he realized that half her head was missing. He crawled away from the body and gasped as he noticed that he was swimming with her blood that was spilling on the ground. He scrambled to stand, falling a few times in the process. His head was still spinning, which caused him to vomit.
Not long after that, he heard the siren of the police cars. It’s getting nearer and nearer. He held his head one more time as he leaned on the wall. He heard one of the cars stop and someone opened the door.
“Police! Don’t move!” The policeman tried to take his gun from the holster but it was stuck.
He took this opportunity to flee as other policemen went after him. He hid in a corner. He cowered down and covered his ears in dread. He was panting and shaking uncontrollably. He couldn't remove from his mind what he had seen. He heard that a few other people were killed with a sledgehammer in the neighboring towns. In fact, despite the busy night market, another woman was attacked by the suspect with a sledgehammer not far from his location.
He was relieved when the police ran to the opposite side of where he was. He was about to run off again when he noticed that he was carrying a bloody sledgehammer in his left hand. His entire body began to shake once again. He gripped it in fear before tossing it out and running away. He came over the Loei river and tripped, falling into the water, which was dyed red by the blood on his clothes.
Act 1: Summoning Phra Upakhut
The friends Sujira, Nong Yao, and Ying were preparing for the Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival. It is a celebration that is full of fun, mischief, and, of course, a little bit of the paranormal. The festival is exclusively observed in the agriculturally based Dan Sai district. It is located in the Loei Province of northeastern Thailand. Since it varies yearly, there is no specific date for the celebration, but it is similar to the Halloween celebration in the West.
Sujira and Nong Yao are known to be the opposite of most Thai women. They were loud, and naughty, and tended to violate the norms of the community. On the other hand, Ying was the shy type, resembling an ordinary Thai woman. Sujira was fixing her hair while smiling at a passerby that was looking at her. She elbowed Nong Yao and pointed at the good-looking foreigner that took a glance at her earlier. Nong Yao immediately threw the foreigner a flying kiss and whispered. “Me love you long time,” she said in broken English, which is what the hookers in Thailand typically say to foreigners. After this, she looked at Sujira, and they both laughed together. Ying, on the other hand, was timid in her reaction and was busy fixing the accessories of her dress.
“The first day of the celebration is the most boring one,” Sujira frowned.
“Why no cute boys?” Nong Yao replied naughtily.
Nong Yao giggled and answered, “There will be a lot of tourists, so we should not miss the fun!”
“I am just hoping for protection and merits for this year.” Ying sheepishly smiled. "My parents taught me to take our traditions seriously," she continued, looking down on the paved road and up again. “You guys know that I’m not here for that,” she said, looking at Sujira.
Sujira frowned at her response and reminded her, “Last year, you kept holding on to a cannon-shaped phallus until the mask wearer almost kicked you away.”
Nong Yao followed up with, “Don't be a hypocrite! I will make sure I take home a mask with a big phallus tomorrow.”
“But today let us bring home some handsome and rich tourists.” Sujira interrupted
Ying threw her hand in the air in resignation and just laughed a little bit.
The sexual undertones of the Phi Ta Khon event are an intriguing feature. The festival was supposed to be religious. The first day was a celebration of the summoning of a Buddhist monk named Phra Upakhut. The monk had attained enlightenment. He was summoned by a king to watch over the creation of many temples for seven years. But the focus has changed in recent years.
“I will look for a wealthy tourist and get out of Dan Sai,” Sujira declared.
“What if he has a small dick?” Nong Yao whispered.
“It's okay as long as he has a deep pocket and a big wallet,” Sujira interrupted.
Both women laughed in unison.
Sujira pulled Nong Yao out of the house to come to the river for the summoning of Phra Upakhut. They were wearing traditional Thai dresses that revealed their beauty. The people greeted them with smiles.
Ying scratched her head when she noticed that her friends were gone and looked for them. She went to the Upakhut Hall at the Dan Sai District Office. But she couldn't find them, then she realized that the summoning ritual had started. A monk was standing on the river bank and was saying a prayer. Another monk in the water picked up a rock from the river and asked the other monk, “Isn’t it Phra Upakhut?” The monk standing on the bank answered, “No.”
Sujira and Nong Yao laughed when they heard this, and the people frowned at them. The monk in the river picked up another rock and asked again: “Isn’t it Phra Upakhut?” The monk standing on the river bank answered again, “No.”
Sujira and Nong Yao burst into laughter again. Ying found them and told them to stop laughing as people were looking at them. Sujira and Nong Yao just shrugged their shoulders. They don’t care what other people think of them. Ying shook her head in disapproval of the two and looked at the ceremony.
The Phi Ta Khon Festival, which is also known as the Boon Luang merit-making festival, lasts for three days. The Thai believe that Phi Ta Khon, or the ghost of the dead, will join the crowd on the first and second days to celebrate, just like in the days of old when they rejoiced at the return of Buddha from a long journey.
For the third time, a monk in the river picked another rock and asked again: “Isn’t it Phra Upakhut?” The monk standing on the river bank answered again, “Yes, that’s the real Phra Upakhut." At that time, some fireworks and firecrackers were lit to the delight of the people.
A homeless greasy man appeared in the river and yelled, “They are here! The spirits are here!”
Sujira and Nong Yao burst into laughter again upon seeing him. But Ying noticed some dark figures that joined the celebration. Black smoke was coming out of them. Heavy rainfall followed, which caused the people to celebrate and dance in the rain. The downpour ended on the first day of the celebration.
Act 2: The Phi Ta Khon Parade
Sujira and Nong Yao burst into laughter when Ying told them about the dark figures she saw on the river bank.
“You’re just seeing things because you’re stressed,” Sujira pinched Ying on the side of her tummy. “You need a boyfriend,” she added with a tease.
“Don’t we all?” Nong Yao interrupted.
They went home after the rain and were upset that they had not met any tourists.
That night, Sujira felt that she was being watched by someone. She was living alone after her parents died a few years ago. She closed the door and locked her windows. She felt cold as the temperature seemed to drop inside the house. She turned on the TV and tuned in to a news documentary. The news reporter, Ruangrit, was interviewing a cop named Kasaem about the security measures being put in place for the Ghost Festival.
The TV became pixelated and the channel suddenly changed until the TV turned off by itself. She was holding the remote, so she was surprised since the other appliances in the house were working. She checked the power cord of the TV. She noticed someone was in the corner of the living room near the power outlet. She screamed when she saw the dark figure clutching a sledgehammer.
Her shouts coincided with fireworks that night, so no one heard her. The sledgehammer hit her beautiful face many times until she could not be recognized anymore. The sound got louder and the fireworks became brighter and reflected the bloody face of the dead woman as the light passed through the transparent window.
The lighting of the fireworks was supposed to attract rain to water the farms. Every year, a competition to determine the best fireworks is held. The villagers spent much time painting their masks and making their fireworks. This has been the focus of most of the participants in the celebration.
Ying went to Nong Yao the next morning and brought her some clothes for the parade. They decided to meet at Nong Yao's house because the parade would pass by there first. The two did not know yet that Sujira was brutally murdered.
“That girl should be here by now!” Nong Yao smirked at Ying. “The parade has already started.”
“Let’s just wait for her,” Ying tried to calm her. “Go ahead and try this dress.”
A few minutes later, they heard the roar of fireballs and rockets and the noise of people. They went out of the house and saw that the parade was passing by. The participants, wearing masked ghost costumes, were proudly flaunting their gigantic phalluses. They danced and paraded through the town, especially in front of the women. There were phalluses in the shapes of swords and cannons, and some women—especially tourists—would even touch them. The carrying of the masks with a big phallus reenacted the demons carrying large phallic weapons and other devices to cause chaos. The masks will be thrown into the river on the third day to expel all the demons.
“Let’s go near the mask with the big phallus,” Nong Yao invited Ying.
“What about Sujira?” Ying asked.
“She might still be in bed. Let’s go," yelled Nong Yao, pulling her out of the house.
They pushed through the crowd of people until they reached some big masks with sword-like phalluses. The women teased each other by touching the mask and the phalluses of the huge Phi Ta Khons. The large Phi Ta Khons, which are roughly double the size of an average human, were painted with male and female genitalia. It alludes to an age-old idea that human genitalia stands for abundance.
The homeless greasy man appeared again in the street and preached, “You have made a mockery of our traditions!”
The people ignored him, but he continued, “Your celebration tore the skies and awakened the dead. The ghosts emerged from the forest ready to take part in the celebrations and haunt you!” Then the homeless man ran away when a few onlookers started harassing him.
As the participants marched through the city toward the Wat Phon Chai temple, Nong Yao and Ying joined them in dancing to traditional folk music. When some participants took off their masks and went inside the temple to pray, Nong Yao took the masks and gave one to Ying. They stole the masks and brought one each home.
When they arrived home, Nong Yao felt weird and felt that someone was always watching her. She noticed later that their chickens and cow had gone missing.
“That’s strange,” she whispered to herself.
She made her way to their backyard to look for their missing livestock. To her absolute horror, she discovered that their chickens were ripped apart by something and were strewn all over the surrounding area. She put her left hand to cover her mouth. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Then she realized that whoever or whatever did this could still be around. If it’s a predator, she needs something to defend herself with because she still needs to look for her cow. She quickly went inside her house and took their kitchen knife. After that, she carefully made her way to the Mun River.
Upon reaching the riverbank, she noticed some movement in the thick foliage behind her. She carefully looked over and was greeted by her injured cow, who was as scared as she was. The cow suddenly jumped onto the foliage and ran towards the river, where it stumbled into the water and drowned. Nong Yao was almost run over by her cow, which had a visible bloody head wound that colored the water in the river when it fell. She loves that cow because she was the one who raised it. All she could do was cry.
That same day, Sujira was then discovered at her home by her relatives; a Phi Ta Khon mask was covering her bare body. The neighborhood was terrified of her gruesome death.
Unbeknownst to them, Nong Yao suffered the same fate that night. Nong Yao lives alone as her parents were separated and have had their own families. Nong Yao was taking a bath when she heard someone open the door. She took her towel and covered her body and checked who it was. She was sure that she had locked the door. She was shocked when someone grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth. Her face was covered by a towel, revealing her naked body. She attempted to flee, but the suspect twisted her neck. The serial killer hit her head with a sledgehammer repeatedly. The culprit sated his bloodlust and then vanished.
The homeless man was seen outside the house weeping.
“The mask is indeed a reservoir of bad luck!” he cried.
Act 3 The Phi Ta Khon Mask
Kasaem, a cop, was tasked with ensuring the safety of people attending the festival. He brought his photojournalist friend, Ruangrit, with him when he was called about the death of Sujira. He investigated the murder. When Ruangrit took pictures, he saw some silhouettes or dark figures surrounding Sujira’s body. Kasaem, being an agnostic, dismissed it as a photo glitch. The people began spreading rumors that the ghost of the dead killed her, while the cop was determined to find the culprit. Ruangrit was also determined to prove to Kasaem that he was able to capture some ghosts in his shots.
“I still remember the photo that you edited to make your story viral,” Kasaem mocked Ruangrit.
“I did not edit that photo,” Ruangrit defended himself. He was referring to a viral photo of a human skull with horns that went viral but was dismissed as a hoax.
“I brought you here so you could look for a woman and enjoy your miserable life,” Kasaem jokingly said.
Ruangrit told Kasaem that he would be the best journalist in the world and turned away from him to take more pictures of the murder scene for his news story. Kasaem noticed a homeless man standing outside Sujira’s house. The homeless man was weeping as if he was mourning the death of Sujira. Kasaem tried to approach him, but he was gone when he left Sujira’s house.
Kasaem received another call about another murder victim and arrived late at the scene. When they arrived, the walls and floor were dripping with blood. They saw the victim, Nong Yao, dead in her bed when they entered her room. Her head was also hit by a hard object many times. Her naked body was covered by a big mask she brought home from the parade.
Phi Ta Khon’s mask is made of a bamboo steamer, folded into a hat-like shape and punched holes for the eyes, with a long and pointed nose made of a piece of wood resembling an elephant’s trunk, and a horn made from dried coconut husks. The mask is then artistically painted to appear frightening yet delightful and beautiful.
“She should not have taken that mask home," Ruangrit murmured.
“She was also hit by a sledgehammer,” Kasaem whispered as he looked up at the ceiling.
Kasaem confirmed that he was dealing with a serial killer. Ruangrit saw the homeless man, Tawin, outside, who was weeping. The homeless man then walked away from the area.
“That man could be the culprit!” Ruangrit asked Kasaem to arrest him, but some people told them that the homeless man, Tawin, is harmless. Due to a lack of evidence, Kasaem let Tawin go but warned him that he would keep an eye on him. Tawin made an insulting smile and yelled that the spirits had become mad. He immediately ran away after that.
Act 3: The Ancestor’s Day
Kasaem was watching a recorded video of the parade. He recognized some women who were holding a Phi Ta Khon Yai with a phallus. One of them was Nong Yang, teasing another girl who he later found out to be Ying. He noticed some dark figures that looked like humans, but they were emitting dark smoke. They were encircling the women. He looked at it closely and dismissed it as a costume for the participants.
Kasaem realized that Ying could be the next victim, though. He managed to track down Ying’s residence near Chiang Khan Street. But she was not there when he arrived. He grabbed his phone and called Ruangrit to accompany him, but he could not reach him either. He decided to explore the dark alleys of the place to scout the possible hiding places of the serial killer.
Not far from where he was scouting, he noticed a girl that looked like Ying running away from something. A few seconds later, he confirmed that she was indeed Ying. He saw where Ying was running from. She was already being chased by the serial killer. Ying fell to the ground several times, but she quickly sprang to her feet again. Kasaem wasted no time and called for backup.
Kasaem could hear Ying’s heavy breathing from where he was. Her footsteps were also heavy as if she was exhausted. After a few seconds, she appears to have stumbled and was injured. Kasaem immediately took his gun from the holster when he saw that she did not get back to her feet.
A shadowy creature carrying a sledgehammer pursued Ying from behind. She was crying and clawing at the ground in a desperate attempt to escape. Kasaem pointed his 45-caliber pistol at the killer and pulled the trigger. It jammed.
“Shit,” He hurriedly inspected his gun and tried to dislodge the jammed bullet. He remembered Ying and hurriedly looked at her and the killer.
Kasaem saw her spin around and begged the shadowy figure to spare her. She screamed for assistance.
Kasaem holstered his pistol and ran as fast as he could, but he lost his footing and crashed on the ground.
The shadowy figure lets its grip on the sledgehammer loose and lets its head hit the ground. He approached the Ying gently, dragging the weapon with his left hand. He was intentionally creating extra noise to frighten his victim even more.
The suspect raised the sledgehammer and struck her head with it. Her brain and blood spattered on the ground. Half her head was missing after the first strike. She was dead. It didn't matter, though, because the culprit hit her repeatedly. His eyes were filled with ecstasy as he marveled at the sight. After satisfying his bloodlust, the suspect disappeared.
When the other policemen arrived, some tended to Kasaem’s injuries that he got when he crashed on the ground. Luckily, his injuries were superficial. Another policeman told him that some of them were in hot pursuit of a homeless man who was seen next to the body of Ying. After making sure that everything was okay at the crime scene, Kasaem proceeded to the river and saw Ruangriit there. He turned around and also saw Tawin coming from the river and arrested him. He forced him to admit that he was behind the killings.
“You psychopath!” Kasaem screamed as other people noticed him.
Tawin shivered as his body was drenched. He denied that he was the killer. He was shaking his head and said that the spirits became mad because of the sexual undertones in the festival. Deep in his heart, Kasaem knows that the homeless man cannot do this evil act. Yet because the people are demanding that he do his job, he detained Tawin in the precinct.
When they got back to the temple. A Monk told them to relax and proceed with the ritual to cast all demons away. Everyone threw their masks at the river while Ruangrit remembered the mask they got from the killings.
Ruangrit looked worried and warned Kasaem, "Those masks might cost us our lives. They need to be destroyed and thrown in the river.”
“Those masks are part of the evidence and must be kept,” Kasaem told him. The cop then looked at the pile of masks being thrown into the river. “That tradition is polluting the river.”
“But that is the only way to get rid of the demons,” Ruangrit argued.
The people who looked at the two told them to be silent as the ritual was being done by the monks. When Ruangrit turned to his left, he noticed that several black clouds of smoke surrounded the river.
He was excited. He closed his eyes and smiled.
Act 4: The Pi Tam Khon
When the black smoke disappeared, most people were overtaken by evil spirits who caused mayhem. The people acted like demons who were equipped with huge phallic weapons and other tools for wreaking havoc. All norms of conduct have been temporarily disregarded. People were dancing naked in the streets. The next few hours were characterized by insanity, mayhem, drinking, and vice. In addition to singing, dancing, and general revelry, there were demonic possessions throughout the town as ghosts arrived from all across the region.
The people were busy trying to save themselves from those that experienced possessions. Ruangrit and Kasaem were among the ones that were not possessed by the spirits. They sought shelter from the Pon Chai Temple.
“The homeless man is right, we have deviated from our traditions,” Pichai, one of the head monks, welcomed them.
Ruangrit asked, “Are the masks that we kept causing this bad luck?”
“No, there is something higher than that. The Pi Tam Khon, or the ghosts of the forest, are mad,” the monk replied. "They were supposed to be here for the celebration, but they wanted something else.”
“What do they want?” Kasaem inquired. “What should we do to appease them?”
“The 13th sermon is about to be finished,” the monk smiled. “Don't worry, everything will go back to normal.
The monk seemed pleased at the people’s attendance at the temple. Ruangrit noticed that the temple was full of people who also sought shelter from demons. Usually, the villagers visit the temple on the third and final day to hear the monks of Wat Phon Chai read the 13 sermons, which recount one of Buddha's previous lifetimes. The previous year's attendance lowered on the third day as people focused on the activities on the second day, which were the parade and the fireworks display.
Kasaem didn't see the black smoke or the dark figures like Ruangrit, so he was still skeptical. In his mind, the demonic possession could be a mass hysteria to hype up the celebration.
“The sermon is finished,” the monk Pichai invited them. “Let us have dinner.”
When he turned back to leave, he saw a dark figure with black smoke looking at him. This is the first time that he has seen such an entity. He had some goosebumps and he felt scared for the first time in his life.
“Let’s go back to the temple,” Ruangrit said, pulling him by the elbow. He saw what his friend saw. They headed to the temple.
Act 5: Phi Tai Hong’s Exorcism
The demonic possessions have ceased but did not stop. Worse, one of the people in the temple was possessed as well. The monks got worried and were terrified. The rituals to cast out the demons have not been successful.
Kasaem and Ruangrit arrived at the temple and saw the head monk performing an exorcism to drive out the evil spirit. The exorcism took place on the temple's front lawn. The possessed man was seated inside a tiny enclosure that the monks had constructed. Four stakes that were joined at the top by a white rope served as the enclosure's markers. There were chaleuw, or Thai hexagonal stars, created from split bamboo pieces on each corner of the top of the pillars. Chaleuw was used as a ceremonial defense against ghostly assaults on buildings.
The monk stood outside the enclosure reading from an ancient Buddhist book as the possessed man was tied and sat on a mat made of split bamboo. The man was unwell; he had a slender build with exposed chest bones and slightly arched shoulders. From time to time, he would scream, spit, and calm down.
Runagrit took some photos, but the monks told him not to. He continued taking some shots, then he turned off his camera and just watched the ritual.
The monks tied a black cord to the possessed man that connected a bamboo container and a small bamboo bridge in his hands. There were nine parts in the container, each holding different pieces of meat, veggies, and glutinous rice. A lit candle and some eggs are both sitting in an earthenware pot on top of it. The man's clasped hands are attached to the candle in the pot by the black string that he was holding.
As soon as the monk was done reading, he grabbed some small branches, dipped them in the pail of water by his side, and then stood up to sprinkle the water over the possessed man. The monk then cut the black string with the knife he had brought and extinguished the candle. The monk then covered the pot with a piece of paper. He had inscribed some Buddhist writings on it, ritually trapping the phi inside. Then he removed and buried the pot.
Kasaem and Ruangrit talked to the monk Pichai about what they saw. The Buddhist monk discovered that there was a vengeful spirit. It summoned the Pi Tam Khon. They discovered that the main culprit was not the Pi Tam Khon or the ghosts of the forest, but a Phi Tai Hong.
“What is a Phi Tai Hong?” Ruangrit asked.
The monk mentioned this while shaking his head. "Phi Tai Hong are especially dangerous and aggressive because, due to their sudden death, they were unable to fulfill their dreams and desires while alive. As such, their anger and sorrow are manifested in the form of a vengeful ghost.”
“So it is a vengeful spirit then,” Kasaem confirmed.
“It is believed that the first seven days of a person's death is when their spirit is most actively seeking revenge,” the monk declared. “Phi Tai Hong will often try to kill other living people in the same manner of which they had died themselves”
Kasaem checked his phone for a record of the killings in the last seven days and found a picture of one of the victims. She was wearing something around her neck. It was similar to the one worn by the spirit that he saw.
They showed the picture to the head monk, and the monk confirmed that it was the phi that he had just trapped.
Act 6: The Sledgehammer
The people started going home as well as they received calls that their relatives who experienced demon possessions suddenly got well. The monk confirmed that the demonic possessions were gone. They thanked the monks and the cop on their way out.
“Hey bro, let’s go and eat Massaman Curry! I know a place near here,” Ruangrit said as he placed his left hand on Kasaem’s left arm.
“Sure let’s go,” Kasaem smiled but took note of Ruangrit’s callous left palm. “I see you’ve been working out?” he inquired.
“Nah bro, I got this from my side hustles. I’ll tell you about it later.” Ruangrit replied.
Kasaem got into Ruangrit’s car and headed home.
“My news and photos went viral again,” Ruangrit laughed.
“Congrats phi chay!” Kasaem smiled, referring to him as a brother.
They were halfway to their destination when the car suddenly stopped for some reason. Ruangrit got out of the car and checked what happened.
"We have a flat tire," Ruangrit mused as he took the spare tire and tool from the trunk of his car. He then asked Kasaem to replace the tire because he needed to call his boss.
“Sure, let me help you.” Kasaem got out of the car and took over replacing the tire.
Ruangrit then went back to the back of the car and grabbed a bloody sledgehammer with his left hand. He loosened his grip on the sledgehammer, dropping its head on the pavement. He slowly walked towards Kasaem while dragging the thing, making unnecessary noise on the way.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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