Fiction: Rule #2
Who ya gonna call?
MURDER? no PROBLEM. You can get other people to do the deed for you these days. Outsource. That way, you won’t get blood on your favourite jeans. You don’t need to shower all the time to get rid of the stench of iron and decay, of the spurt of warm redness blossoming in your hands, turning sticky and slimy. You would probably get to sleep at night.
Look. Forget for a moment why I had to get rid of her. When you’re in my position, you make decisions, hard and fast, or you’re dog meat.
RULE #1: REGRET nothing. I was very careful. I studied the Milgram experiment, saw how they did it. The order came from someone higher up. The guys didn’t know who was in charge. Diffused authority. It worked. I chose the right guys too—desperate, cruel and stupid. I gave them her schedule, told them what to do and where to dump her body. The bastards went and did it. Kau tim.
RULE #0: Know Everything. My rules have never let me down. So, why are the bloody pocongs following me around?
Back in the kampung, I hated going to the outhouse at night, because of the trees. On one side of the house was the jungle, the other, a fruit orchard. In the daytime, the shade under the trees was a happy place to play. We climbed, we stole fruit, we got bitten by kerengga.
At night, there was a penunggu lah, some girl in a red dress and purple face, hanging with her tongue sticking out. And don’t talk to me about jasmine trees, because Cikgu kata the hantu dancing around them will steal your manhood. For years, girls, who wore a floral scent, dark lipstick and a red dress, and left their hair long, scared the s**t out of me.
But most of all, I hated the banana grove outside my bedroom window. It was windy where we lived, and the undersides of the leaves were often exposed. Their light colour and the surrounding shadows in the twilight made it seem like something was out there, waiting for me.
The funny thing is where the pocongs first showed up. I was snowshoeing. In the middle of winter. Among the white pines of Canada. The snow was pure and undriven. The air smelt new. It was a bright afternoon. If you are used to Malaysian jungles full of underbrush waiting to trip you up, the smell of rich compost and the hot humidity, you’d be surprised to learn that white pines grow tall and neat, like lampposts in the heart of KL, only with undergrowth.
And then the pocongs showed up in their full glory, standing upright beside the trees. At first, I thought they were plants covered with burlap, to protect them from frost, but no tree could have emitted that particular foulness.
I couldn’t believe that the kind of place that inspired Fresh Pine could end up being sullied by corpses rotting impossibly in below-freezing temperatures.
The shrouds, usually pristine white at funerals (also in movies), because people don’t usually wait long before burial, were drenched in pus and coagulants, and emitted a yellow odour and black blood. Goddamnit. There’s no logic to this. I only had one girl killed. One. Those guys kept their traps shut, so they’re out of it. I didn’t kill them. What kind of man do you take me for? If I go down that road, it would be a bloodbath. Hey, I made sure they didn’t do anything funny with her, okay?
And another thing. Why should Asian ghosts travel that far just to bug the hell out of me? Why so many?
The next time I saw them, I was on my way home with a stopover in Seoul. I had an hour to spare, so I went to see if I could pick up a pair of decent boots in the underground. I made a wrong turn and found myself in a tunnel with shops on one side, all selling clothes. There were no human beings there, no living ones anyway. The pocongs were lined up in front of every store among the racks of clothes.
One day, at a meeting, they had dumbass slideshows about processes and workflows, and a s**tty projector. They had to close the blinds. When they drew them for the coffee break, I saw the pocongs hovering outside the sixth floor window, bumping gently against it and leaving trails of ichor on the glass.
My God, they had faces. Or rather, the shroud wrapped around them had absorbed whatever ooze was liquefying on the corpses’ faces. Their features showed. I knew who they were. They were all... F**k. I can’t say it.
They were in the car park, behind every pillar, beside every exit, leaning against every car door. I made it to my car. They were in the car. I wanted to ram into them and run over them, but I couldn’t. Because of the faces... They followed me up to my penthouse in the lift. I wanted them to moan, or chant, or something. It wouldn’t have been as bad as waiting for them to speak my doom.
By the time I reached my bedroom, I was used to them. I pushed aside the curtains. In the reflection, I could see they were standing behind me, judging me in silence, with their faces, my face, set in agony.
RULE #2: Live With the consequences, or die.