This is the fifth installment of a six-part ghost story by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, excerpted exclusively from the author’s new book, Dead but Still Kicking.
In the first installment, the Geneva-based author took us to Indonesia to meet the sultan of a city built on a ghost story. In the second, we met an expert on spirits and a grandmother who is spat on by an angry spirit — and who spits back. In the third, we learned to recognize a pontianak — the ghost that kills by digging sharp fingernails into its victims’ stomachs and devouring their organs. In the fourth, the narrator attended a séance to summon a pontianak despite the misgivings of the owner of a music café.
In this chapter, a possessed housewife lets out a shriek, then collapses. Read on.
It’s late and we’re tired.
“You were so close,” Rustammy says.
He reminds me of a baseball manager talking to a player who hits a long ball which is caught when the outfielder makes a spectacular leaping catch.
But actually, I wasn’t close at all. I don’t believe in this stuff.
“Want to try again?”
Rustammy instructs me to relax, repeat the body posture with hands extended, and this time he says I should ask the pontianak to shake my hands.
I’ve done this type of thing before. The power of suggestion is a strong power indeed. I hold my hands in front of me, keeping them still. Come on pontianak, make my hands jiggle.
I sit there for another few minutes. Nothing. I order the ghost to come to me, to make my hands shake. I command her in English. In Indonesian. In French. In Thai. I run out of languages. Oh yeah, German. That must be a good language for ordering a ghost to come hither. Komm sofort her. No, make it stronger. Sonst, I said with menace in my voice.
And just for fun I start to wiggle my hand.
And once the wiggling starts, the jiggle and jangle of my hands became stronger and my arms are bouncing around, like a small boat on a rough sea. But I am in control. I could stop it at any moment, but it is sort of fun. Let’s see how this plays out.
Come to me. I order you. I humbly request you. Sorry to impose, but I’m only in Pontianak for a short time and it’s now or never. I have a story to write.
What a great song Burt Bacharach wrote for Karen and Richard Carpenter.
Karen Carpenter couldn’t be a pontianak. Could she? No, no way.
Monkey-mind goes wild. I’m shaking my arms and having a good old time.
Foreplay, but no climax. No ghost appears. After a few more minutes I deliberately stop my flailing arms, take a breath and open my eyes.
* * *
And then, Dewi, the quiet housewife in the maroon head scarf sitting opposite me, lets out a shriek that, excuse the cliché, could have woken the dead. It is a cinematic screech, worthy of the best (or the worst, it’s hard to tell sometimes) pontianak movies. Her voice goes all husky; she lets out a high-pitched “ha-hee-ha-hee” laugh of maleficence that could equally be a cry of anguish.
Her voice can best be described by a phrase I would never allow my writing students to use: blood-curdling. Laughter. Screaming. Crying. Sobbing.
“You people are bothering me.”
Her gaze is distant and unfocused, her eyes hooded, her voice husky. Repeat laughter, screaming, crying, sobbing. Dewi starts to shake, jerks around and stands up. Her headscarf goes flying. It looks like she is having an epileptic fit. Softer laugh.
“Blood. See the blood!?” she shrieks.
Dewi quiets down a bit. Rustammy speaks to her, asks who she is.
“Farida,” she spits out. “My name is Farida. I was killed by a man. I want to go to Meester Paul. He called me.”
Meester Paul. That is me.
“I want blood. His blood.” Laughter and sobbing.
“I want to return. Don’t bother me.”
Dewi crawls into the next room, her sobbing mixed with a hysterical laugh.
Rustammy calms her down.
“Go back. It’s okay, Farida. Go back.”
Then Dewi erupts again.
“I was torn apart. I’ll remember his face forever. I don’t want to go home. I want to follow Meester.”
Dewi collapses. She is lying on her back. She looks like she is in a coma.
Rustammy “wipes” her body to remove the ghost. It’s a cleansing action in which he rapidly sweeps the negative energy from Dewi’s head, her back, her stomach, her legs. Even Western massage therapists know this move.
After a few minutes Dewi opens her eyes and sits up. We all breathe easier.
* * *
Meanwhile, in the adjacent room a few meters away, Rustammy’s wife Anni, who had been drinking tea and chatting with friends, becomes possessed. She doesn’t shout, but her eyes roll up in their sockets and she is quietly sick. The spirits are up and about, targeting impressible women.
Just as Westerners are taught the Heimlich maneuver, most Indonesians seem to know how to ask a spirit to leave. Someone puts his hand on Anni’s forehead, and “sweeps” away the spirit, while mumbling some Islamic prayers. Anni is an elegant woman, wearing a dress with a Burberry-style plaid. She calms down, embarrassed by the mess she has made.
* * *
I kneel down next to Dewi and ask if she had any recollection of what had just happened. And she goes wild. It is a false calm. Farida has not left at all, but is lying in wait, like a hibernating bear.
Dewi screams and sobs and laughs. This time she looks straight at me.
“I want to follow you. You follow me to the cemetery.”
She picks up a plastic water bottle and throws it across the room.
Dewi holds out her hand, wants me to take it so she can guide me to the cemetery. I refuse. Her eyes bulge, unfocused.
“Meester,” she says, using the expression Indonesians in an earlier generation used to address Dutchmen. “Meester. You called me. I am Farida. You wanted to see me. I am here for you.”
Dewi crawls into the next room, knocks over a table with coffee cups and then crashes into a computer printer. She huddles in a corner, then squats on a chair.
I don’t get too close to her.
But Dewi approaches me. “Meeesterrrr,” she says, rolling her Rs in a supernatural vibrato, drawing out the two-syllable word for several seconds. “Meee-Sterrrr. You called me. Fifteen years. I am Farida. You called me.”
Fifteen years? I have no idea if that was her age when she died, or how long she’s been in this place between two worlds.
Dewi then ignores me, like a small child who’s bored with a toy. She shudders and Rustammy cleanses her once again.
(To read the final installment, click here.)
Paul Spencer Sochaczewski is a Geneva-based writer who has lived and worked in more than 80 countries, including long stints in Southeast Asia. He has written 14 books; the latest, Dead but Still Kicking: Encounters with Mediums, Shamans, and Spirits, was published by Explorer’s Eye Press in May 2019. He can be contacted at www.sochaczewski.com.