Plastic skulls sway from tree branches. Synthetic cobwebs are strewn across bushes. Dry ice ships to the disease surveillance lab in Halloween-themed bags. Everything we smell, eat, touch, and drink is pumpkin-flavored-something. It can only mean one thing: October is here!
In honor of this awesome month, I thought I would share some ghost stories (with *illustrations!).
Not every story my parents told me growing up has some moral to teach. Most did, but some were just meant to scare us. I don’t remember Brother being nearly as terrified though. Enduring my family’s continuous efforts to frighten me to death has done nothing to improve my tolerance for things that go bump in the night. It has, however, led to the development of a fail-safe terror defense mechanism: 1) go limp; 2) fall into fetal position; 3) whimper; 4) sleep.
*Disclaimer: I am not a graphic artist.
Only when chance for victory is relatively feasible (i.e., non-spirit adversaries), Death Blossom replaces “sleep” in Step 4.
So, without any further ado…
The creature that haunts this tale has no official name, so unfortunately I defer to the name he was given by some teasing friends. It is the Lao version of Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman. Parents tell their children this story as a warning to ensure they get out of the woods alive.
He dwells in the deep forests of rural Laos, through which villagers must travel in order to sell their goods at the nearest town. People say he was once human, exiled because he was either mentally handicapped or deranged. Over time, forced to resort to the most depraved methods of survival, he became a cannibalistic monster. Maybe he made a nefarious deal with demons; maybe he steals the life force of the people he eats – either way, he must be several centuries old by now.
The Bamboozler hunts in the daytime but will not eat his meal until the sun goes down and the forest is dark. His oily black hair has grown several feet long, and he hides his tusk-like teeth behind an enormous upper lip. He is sinew and bones; his fingers have become deformed and resemble claws. His grip is unnaturally strong.
When he comes upon a careless traveler, the Bamboozler snatches him up by the forearms and holds tight. As the person screams in terror and struggles to escape, Bamboozler slowly lowers himself into a seated position, never slackening his grip. For the next several hours, he sits patiently in front of his victim, waiting for sundown. As the light disappears from the last fissure in the forest canopy, the creature begins to shake back the hair from his face. Then he folds his unusually large upper lip over his glowing eyes, as if he himself cannot bear to watch what comes next.
He devours his victim from the head down.
Mom used to act out the entire story, chasing me around the house with her hair hanging over her face. She even grabbed my forearms and curled back her upper lip as far as it would go. The last time it happened, I Death Blossomed her.*
*This did not result in any serious injuries.
The only way to stop the Bamboozler, once he has you, is to be clever. People who live in this area wear bamboo poles over their forearms when they venture into the forest: if the Bamboozler catches you, all you have to do is slide your arms out and run like the dickens. He will sit there until nightfall, holding onto the bamboo. By that time, you have alerted everyone in the village with your girlish screams, but you are safe.
Pi Gkong Gkoi
This is the only ghost story that actually gave me recurring nightmares as a child. I remember sleeping next to my father in the living room and dreaming that I woke up in the middle of the night. While Dad kept snoring, I stared at the doorway leading out to the front porch. There stood a skeletal creature with flames in its orbital cavities, watching us. I convinced at least one of my uncles that the creature was real, that I hadn’t dreamed it after all.
Long ago, a young Lao man was abducted and enslaved by Vietnamese aristocrats. He was tortured and abused, forced to labor every day. Finally, he could take no more and planned his escape. When he had the opportunity, he made for the woods near the house. Knowing he would soon be caught, he broke both his ankles to face completely backwards, so that wherever he walked, his footprints would appear to face in the opposite direction. Of course, he died (probably of severe infection and excruciating pain). His vengeful spirit still roams the earth, provoked by the sound of Vietnamese language.
When my grandfather visited circa 1992, he saw me walking backwards in the street, towards the house. Don’t ask me why I was doing that – I was 10 and very foolish. I received a spanking and a lecture, accented by a threat: “If you walk like that, people will think you’re crazy. And also, Pi Gkong Gkoi will follow you because he thinks you’re his friend!” This made no sense to me, but I was sufficiently frightened into never walking backwards again. I even think twice before skating or dribbling a soccer ball in reverse. My future children will also have to hear this threat when they try to walk backwards for amusement.
A soldier stationed in the middle of a desolate plain was on watch when he noticed a monkey sitting in a tree. There were no other trees in sight, barely any vegetation at all. Where did the monkey come from? the soldier wondered. Over the next several days, he constantly saw the monkey in the tree, and it never moved. Finally, perhaps out of curiosity, the soldier was compelled to fire his rifle at the animal. He stood several meters away from the tree but was considered an excellent marksman. When the smoke cleared, he expected to see the monkey dead on the ground. To his surprise, it was now sitting at the base of the tree, unharmed. Slightly irritated, he aimed and fired again. When the smoke cleared, the monkey had moved a few meters towards the soldier and sat, staring intently. A third shot rang loudly. Again, the monkey moved closer. By now, he was almost at point-blank range; if the soldier missed again, he might as well consider himself a disgrace to the king’s army. Taking aim, certain of victory this time, he fired. The result was the same as before: the monkey was now unnervingly right at his feet. Just as he started to utter words of disbelief, the monkey sprung at his throat and ripped him apart. (Actually, there’s probably a moral in there…something about human nature, machismo, or conservation?)
Note: I cannot take full credit for the Death Blossom, as it is from the film The Last Starfighter. Additionally, it was DP who first explained it to me in the context of real-life, hand-to-hand combat situations in which the odds are overwhelmingly against you, but you kick butt anyway.