When I was growing up, I heard stories about the flying heads-with-entrails that would lurk in the dark. People would grow cacti or thorny plants in their gardens to deter such horrific creatures. So there I was, listening to my relatives breathlessly account their experiences (or friend of a friend’s, you know, the usual) of finding one of those flying heads stuck in the cacti, their entrails caught and snared.
Then, there were the stories when I grew up and started working. How my friend’s father confronted a pontianak out right. They had heard her shrieks in the darkness. Frightened, they huddled, but the father simply stalked out and challenged the Pontianak: “I know you are here! Show yourself!” A pontianak is a spirit of a woman who has died in childbirth and undead; she stalks for blood, especially the blood of a newborn and its mother.
This is Southeast Asia, a region of diverse cultures. This is also Southeast Asia, a region of diverse mythologies and legends, some so blood-curdling that you wonder how people walk in the middle of the night (they don’t).
Chinese migrants brought their own cultures and mythologies, their own ghosts and spirits and monsters. Seventh Month is the Ghost Month. Don’t go out late at night. Don’t step on the offerings for the spirits. The gates of hell open during the Seventh Month and spirits pour out, to visit their living descendants and relatives. Sad are the ones without family and kin. They are the ones who linger at the edges of the offerings, pushed out by more senior and older spirits.
Just check out the forums and message boards in the local paranormal sites. They have stories of such spirits. At the same time, such spirits dwell in abandoned flats and apartments, bound by unfinished business, violent death or – simply – a need to find a haunting place.
There are some things we do not touch, do not mention.
As writers born in the region, we have access to such legends, ghost stories and mythologies. The cosmologies are so different from the West – we have our own horrors, our own terrors… and they are more terrible, in my opinion, than those in the West.
Write it. Revel in it.
We have so much to tell, so much to say.
Please do check out Southeast Asian horror by Tunku Halim, a Malaysian who writes creepy stories. At the same time, Singapore enjoys the Russell Lee series of ghost stories, an ongoing series of books happily consumed by young and old.