Monstrous Femme

“While they’re still alive, people can become ghosts.”

– Haruki Murakami


Siri’s strange nocturnal angst in crowded mind terror segments:

Night is the time people truly become beasts, sometimes the thing in the garden,

sometimes the ghost. On this night, cold rain hammered on the broken bricks. Someone

coughed in the distance. Here was a newlywed, there a spirit. The regular drumming on

a metal pot picked up tempo. Like metallic music. A car door slammed. I had no regrets.

It was time to leave. A cloying scent of frangipani filled the air—sickly sweet. Time

for the hantu polong beast inside to drag me out to the outside realms, to manifest. The

chants grew louder, the drum beats wilder. Someone pressed something cold into the

palm of my left hand, my right breast. Cold, like metal. It burnt, the shock waves running up my arms to lodge at the base of my skull in a series of trembles. Where the trees half

reclined into heavy brick, walls remained, the moon on the black painted window sills

revealing each grotesque nocturnal face. The kampong houses or what was left of the

muddy village were part of the encroaching jungle, choking the cemetery, the dank

shadows, the dirt and dung and darkness around me, climbing the hillsides in haste.

She was not unhappy but I did not know what to say to Munirah. I felt trapped,

somehow responsible for what was unfolding. The saffron stained flowers on the electric

poles, the clattering screech of railway bridges, the ghost pipe plant of hollow sounds, the

smell of aromatic rotis, the colored glass beads, the hardboiled chicken eggs, and the round iron nails to stick in the hole at the back of the hantu’s neck, where the skull separates. I could not go back. It was what it was. There was something stuck in my throat. There was something stuck! I coughed up a marigold. It was drenched in sputum and blood.

A hollow, scary sound reached my ears. A scrape of finger nails. Someone

pinched my little toe, kneading it hard, so hard, as if squeezing a lime. The old sign of

searching for the animal that is inside of me. A gurgle escaped. An answering howl. A

chant suspended in broken silence. The wind grew still, whistling, as though in warning.

“Ceremonial observance day,” I said these words over and over until it sank in.

Suddenly, I was not in the river tied to a broken boat, I was back in my bedroom for the

red moon night. Munirah came in moving sinuously like a voluptuous dancer. She carried

a thaali of marigolds in her shredded arms. She patted my hair. How cold she was, her

frozen scaly skin making me shiver and suddenly I knew I am not going to be waking up

anytime soon. She smiled wickedly. The family photograph on the dressing table was a

dim smudge—of him, of me and of it and before IT of she, fading from view, of SHE!

When I awoke, it was pitch black. The lights were not working anywhere, not

since the storm. At first, I was okay with it like this, because Munirah was there,

companion and lover. But anybody could be here waiting, watching, blood-sucking,

nocturnal beings, maybe even one of those strange white-gowned apparitions Munirah

told me about, the one she regularly saw through the apertures between packed trees at

the highest elevation of the gravestones hill. What if that head detached pontianak thing

hid behind bedroom shelves, or in the thick roots of trees, or under our bungalow’s stilts,

or maybe even here at wayside inn? I curled up in terror, jamming my bloody eyes shut.

My long skirt stuck to my body. I had to peel my face off the floor. My tummy

felt like that cloth doll out by the badminton courts after I kicked and punched it to shreds. I shuddered at the state I was in. A bride, but I could barely stand. The shower stopped working a couple of days ago. Even the kitchen taps stopped running. I heard someone scream my name. My beloved, he could not be far. But, that bomoh?

I could not breathe. I could not think. My head was churning over and over.


Some cerita hantu ghost stories never die, neither do their hantu polong haunted

spirits wracked-with-pain, shapes branded to their bodies from the dark side:

Her name was Siri Dorai and she was dead. She did not know it, nor that she was

buried. She was. All alone, waking up out there past the wayside inn in a forgotten

graveyard, the first of many steps, which at first did not seem strange at all; sneaking into

the distance to a remote, abandoned location as a protesting newly-wed did. She was a

creature of the night. She had been forbidden romantic trysts. It was only when she

dragged herself from the murky depths of the brown river, sharp screams ringing in her

throbbing head that she noticed the woman in white. A stranger? A beast! Too late!

Munirah! Can’t be! But it was. She heard the dogs howl mournfully, the wind

gusts drowning the sound. They carried the voices of the unburied without graves, the

unsouled, those like Siri. The wood edged corners of the small boat thwacked against the

river’s flow drowning the rest. The horrible scream repeated, the jangle of fancy red

jewelry saved for marriages bobbing crazily on her breasts and wrists.

The woman was dressed in white sarong kebaya. She was pale. Her dark flowing

hair undulated in waves to her ankles. Munirah had the thickest, longest hair. The strange

woman stood by a two-storey bungalow on stilts, motionless, Siri’s honeymoon inn. Something was amiss. Something she couldn’t see. Something she must see.

The woman was preventing her. A long shape of bloodied entrails made the woman’s

eyes glow red in the darkness. Something loitered past the inn’s shadow, but she could

not see. She was agitated. She thrashed wildly. She could not see. The flowing river burnt

her eyes. The smell was awful and she did not know how long she had been lying in a

puddle of her own vomit and that it was slimy. She could not move because her lungs

hurt, her stomach hurt, even breathing was difficult. Her bulging eyes stopped moving.

The woman in white was elongating, pulling out her long finger stumps, which

reached to her ankles. She had six of them. Her head floated loose, segments of her

snakelike spinal cord hissing, attached. Her long nails gleamed like small sharp knives,

refracting off the water. Munirah wore her nails long, always long, always painted a ruby

red, made to look like droplets of wild boar blood, vivid on her white attire.

He had said they had to go up graveside hill to get the old bomoh’s shamanistic

blessings, nothing more. He had said it had to be. “Just one night, Siri! Our honeymoon

holy night darling, nothing less,” he had begged. She was out of answers visualizing his

pleas, visualizing his desperation to be rid of Munirah, visualizing the pitch occult

darkness engulfing the cemetery, visualizing the hantu reputed to appear behind pokok

pisang plantain tree clusters in separate body parts when the day grew dark—first the

floating head, then the trailing intestines, then the long knife-like finger nails. Only she

knew. The consequences. Siri was not to know the body divisions in Munirah. Not then.

 Throughout the years the bukit hills had been engulfing full of wild banana trees,

frangipani, angsana trees and the poison wild rengas. The sign. They grew in clusters so

thick no woman dared trespass, for fear of disturbing those beast-like unnatural things

these troublesome trees concealed, especially past the wayside inn down the slope to the

graveyard side, where the road was poorly maintained. Everyone knew the terror when

dusk approached—when an overgrowth of hantu pontianaks nocturnal spirits out for

blood revenge, sought unaware victims. Everyone knew. And everyone stayed away.

Twisted roots rode up the river waters like curved talons. There was no moon. Siri

felt something touch her. It glided softly over her skin, settling on her stomach. She

gagged. She felt the welts rise. She was waterlogged deep beneath the river’s surface.

Darkness was overpowering. Her eyes wouldn’t shut. Her eyeballs struggled to adjust.

She tugged at the gold bracelets wrapped around her arms. The langsuyar

revenant could not let go, bound tight to the boat, enjoined with her. She traced the dark

welts on the skin of her forearm: too skeletal to be recognizable.

“You’re possessed, Siri,” her own voice whispered to her from deep within the

river. She wondered how her possession came about. Was it violent? Was her end

sudden? Crushed under tree trunks, or fallen from that broken bridge over the swollen

river? In this town rain was frequent. The river flooded. Or, was it a slow creeping

illness, the night at the gloomy wayside inn when a stranger’s sudden talons wound its

way into the pit of her bowels? She wouldn’t know. She couldn’t know. She could still

smell the blood. Through the murkiness she thought she saw the shoreline fill with paper

lamps, flying like nighthawks, screeching terrible sounds: kee-kee-kee! Not the moon,

not even a star in sight. She heard chants, screams, cries, wails, wafting on the rippling

river. It carried away, out past the salt marshes where the mangroves ended. No one

descended the hill to the other side, no one, not at this deadly hour of night, past the

wayside inn into the jungle filled with stunted trees that stood on thick stilted roots.


But what really happened to screen Siri discarded on the hillside was this:

Wayside Inn loomed up ahead, a dark mass against a darker horizon. She knew it

well in life. Come here as a girl to poke sharp sticks at hungry baby crocodiles, at toads

with wide, pupilless eyes. Come here as a young woman to be with eager boys, while they fleshed out ghosts along winding roads leading up to monstrous hideouts, old colonial bungalows, abandoned school rooms, formerly infamous WWII lodges. Come here with Munirah to enjoy secret trysts, romantic hiding places, while they hunted for beasts, iguanas, among remnants left behind by the sanatorium inmates.

The girls easily overlooked external sensory stimuli such as plumeria smells,

night owl sounds, unlike a bomoh. There was no dispute Munirah had a rare ability few

could surpass. Now here was Siri a newlywed bride with her husband of a few hours on

the flimsiest of reasons, since it was a well-known fact that their small village lacked a

medicine man bomoh, and this shaman husband found was the only one prepared to meet

them at the actual location of dark energy, to dispel the beast he had said, at the hill, in

the bungalow on stilts, Wayside Inn. While all the necessary preparation was underway

the bomoh was to give Siri the little-known tantric protection amulet, a special love charm acquired from burnt blood, which would save her from the evil eye of the unquiet beast spirit. Siri was relieved. Her husband’s demand was a small favor, too small to refuse. 

Hantus were way too familiar to Siri. She knew them better almost than Munirah

did. Growing up surrounded by ghost stories were everyday occurrences in her life. There

was not a single day when mind horror stories did not unspool by grandma/grandpa talk

with colleagues and friends, with classmates, especially with Munirah. There were keras

places one never visited or forgot, because of their dark nocturnal energy. All creatures

shed it. Children and disbelievers were warned. Ungodly places invoked hidden hantu.

Sad, lonely places of murders, executions, black magic, voodoo, where macabre incidents

of such magnitude occurred, it did not bear thinking, so much that the spirits of the dead

never fully left. It was an ill omen to awaken soulless hantu polong from the grave.

The small boat quietly moored against the pebbled shoreline. Siri hopped out

eagerly. Shapely sandaled feet spry on water woven rocks. It was her wedding night. The

newly married husband and wife chased each other playfully to reach the top of the

bridge. Siri did not know what awaited her. But she believed her husband’s urgency when

he said that the bomoh was on the other side. She could see the faint white outlines of

birds in the angsana trees. She always liked how they slept with their little heads just

tucked under their wings. But not those foraging night owls, those night flying bats,

asleep but alert, ready for whatever came next. The night owls knew. So did the fruit bats.

Every year someone fell off the bridge into the river. Strange how this occurred

with clockwork regularity. “Bridge not safe. Water murky lah. Something float below,”

her aunt reminded, cautioning Munirah and Siri intent on their lesser known jaunts,

“—long hair tangling to submerged boat and then habis. Habis lah! All is over!” People were just known to stand on top of the wobbly bridge. They stared at the water

below and they just fell in, because it was the hantu beast with the long kuku panjang

fingernails who threw them into the river below. Siri knew only too well every version of every local story, and every legend of disturbed unquiet spirits, to give nightmares for life.

She saw her husband run up ahead. She was a few steps behind. Then, as if out

of nowhere the ghost of a floating head slipped past on the river below, its stomach and

intestines trailing bloodied strips, turning the water brown. The scream died out in Siri’s

throat. An unruly pack of stray dogs gnashing their teeth rushed the rickety bridge from

the opposite side, blocking them. A ghostly cloud as of a rising mist of skeletal heads

ascended the water. She heard chants, prayer verses, the rhythmic drumming beat on a

metal pot. Suddenly her husband was nowhere. Neither was the bomoh. Nor the dogs.

“Here,” the formless head spat at her malevolently rotating its jaws, displaying

fearsome fangs like a crazed beast and Siri froze, unsure.

The thing of the plumeria frangipani flower fragrance and the rengas jungle tree racun poison towered high above the bridge, held upright by its thick flowing guts as if on stilts. It was a horrific sight. Siri went down on her knees in a painful crawl, the action instinctual. Easy. Faster. Move.

Her knees scraped. Her palms tore. Guts and hair reached upwards sideways to the top of

the bridge, coiling around her, tightening its grip. She heard voices, a rustle as of others.

They were faint. Was that the bomoh who had rejoined? He must have. Leave!

“Gather,” the bodiless hantu polong commandeered Siri in her husband’s voice.

The ensnared woman wobbled, confused. The indistinct voices grew louder. The recital

of verses garbled. Her haphazard thoughts in an instant drifted to the nuns in her convent

school during singing lessons. Munirah and she in loud chorus. Once she had asked her

singing teacher if she ever saw spirits. Sister had replied there was no such thing but you

want to be vigilant. Always! Always?!

The apparition lifted its great cloven foot slamming it down hard. Tremors

traveled to the center of the bridge. To her skull. Wayside Inn shook, rafters sliding into

the swirling river. Stamp! Stamp! Again and again. The earth shook underneath her

bloodied knees. The bridge splintered piercing her soft skin. The ground rolled almost

like a boat, long enough to conceive the plunge while it was happening. The bizarre

apparition held her head firm, smiling tauntingly at this other unknown darkness below.

“I know your place,’ intoned a familiar voice waving a mengkuang spiky frond,

the cure-all for instantly removing unknown demons. The bomoh? She heard her husband

call her name. Her throat froze. The jungle hantu spirits seemed everywhere, not a hill

stream or wild jungle patch not overflowing. They were freely occupying Wayside Inn.

When the tidal tsunami of willful darkness struck, came the wave, like a wall of

rushing water bored down on ghostly spirit and victim so tall even the nocturnal beast

apparition was dwarfed by the shift. The floating head crouched down beside Siri. Using

its powerful mass of entrails as wide as the Wayside Inn bungalows, even bigger, the

floating thing jumped high atop the tall wave of wanton darkness, holding the hapless

woman screaming in terror for help, secure in its blood encrusted stomach parts.

Siri could no longer see or hear. Not anymore. Her only sense was that she was

drowning in water, the blackness closing over her head. Pulling her. Down, down into the

deepest depths. And then all was dark, and she was somewhere new. She gasped, she gagged, struggling to be free. The outward surroundings looked thick, murky. She no

longer felt her body. Her insides were sucked dry. She was all wet skin and bone. She

could no longer see the formless beast apparition either, nor her husband, nor the bomoh,

nor the inn, nor the strange woman in white with the long hands and longer finger nails,

and she was shivering, cold, alone and afraid. Very afraid. And her lungs were enflamed.

Even as her lungs were ripping apart in bits, she sensed a renewed churning in her gut.

“Help!” she cried weakly. “Help me!” she bubbled. Till she was hoarse.

A voice she did not recognize, or almost did, could be Munirah’s, reached her

senses. It echoed hollowly through the river’s waves, lapping the boat’s sides. “Shhhh,” it

said in the voice of the beast spirit, “soon it will be all over.”

The sun had long set. The sky had turned a dull gray saffron buffed in skin of

roaming twilight clouds. It was time for wayward ghosts to reenter the nocturnal world

of creature habitats, while no one was watching. Time for soulless creatures to roam.

Time for local legends to be born, to gain foothold. Time for graveyards to burst open.

Never a good time to be out roaming the countryside, or to hunt down old hantus, or to

respond to the shrill cry of a nighthawk, or to chase down the sudden strong smell of

plumeria, however strong, or to visit creepy vacant lodges on abandoned hills, or to

disbelieve graveyard stories or what one likely sees, not even if one came fully prepared

to withstand the mind terrors, armed with a bag of iron nails and a vat of vinegar. So it

was with Siri and her once haunted possession of the dark whereabouts. The bomoh

involved in the rites of this exorcism likely disappeared for awhile. Her husband roams

the graveyard hillside they say. He never leaves the vicinity of the Wayside Inn. But no

one knows for sure, of him, or the old bomoh. Siri spotting is a curious thing. In time it

will develop into a solace.

As for her entangled human form the reality is, on that night of her entrapped honeymoon, Siri just hilang disappeared and was never seen again.