Author Archives: Patsy Teoh

Ghosts of the Tortured

Choon Siong Tan, 20, Male

Student, Malaysian-Chinese

Los Angeles, CA

I approached Choon one evening and asked if he has heard of any interesting ghost story. Since both of us are Malaysians, I thought asking him for a local ghost story would be a great idea. So we talked about the ghost story after dinner that evening:

So this story took place in my primary school, a school beside a mountain. It’s in my hometown, Kemaman. In Terengganu. It must begin with some history… the time when the Japanese occupied our country. So, the Japanese army and our own army had a huge war and they killed a lot of people, and they just threw them into the mountain. They dug a huge hole, and threw all the bodies into the hole. Basically, people believe that the souls of the dead people are restless and that they are seeking for revenge. And it’s like… after the war, people started to hear ghost stories that happened in the school. Some said they heard the Japanese army marching at night, they heard the sound, but they didn’t see them. School children always have camping activities nearby and that’s what they said… they heard people marching. And one famous story is about the ghost woman in the toilet. This happened to two girls… they were camping, too, with a group of students. One of them went out of the toilet first, and the other one was still in there… and when she wanted to go out, the door was locked, no, not locked… she couldn’t open the door. She thought her friend was pulling a prank on her. So she said to the friend, “Hey, stop playing”. But in the end, she saw two fingers under the door pulling the door from outside… so she tried very hard to open the door and after a while she managed to open it. She went out and scolded the friend for frightening her… but the friend said “I have always been out here, waiting for you”. The ghost was not seen, only the two fingers… but it was convincing enough, don’t you think? It all happened in the same school!

I then asked Choon what exactly happened in the building during the Japanese occupation:

They keep hostages… hold them captive. They kill people… but most of the time they use two ways. They rape and kill the girls… decent-looking girls. And for guys… they just behead them, or if they want to torture, they will pump water into the stomach… or force them to drink a lot of water, until the stomach is about to burst… and they will kick and press the stomach. So this is how they kill people. They can’t escape so they will end up dying. They only catch Chinese, most of them, because of the war between China and Japan. So when they see Chinese in Malaysia, they want to take revenge on them.

I then asked Choon if he thinks this story is a scary one, and he responded by saying that it is not scary if a person listens to it, but it will be really scary if it happens to the person at the exact place.

This story makes a good ghost story because it constitutes the two sensory evidence as depicted in Elizabeth Tucker’s Haunted Halls, which are sight, sound. It also envelopes the theme of revenge, which leads to occurrences of hauntings in the school compound. The spirits lingered in that particular “zone” because it was the last place they had been before they were brutally murdered. A possible reason for their continuous dwellings is that they are waiting to take revenge on the murderers. Many versions of this very story were told over time, but all are congruent in terms of the kind of ghosts they see and hear (wailing females) or the eerie presence they feel when they are in the building. The appearance of the female ghost suggest that she had been mistreated (raped and killed) and did not manage to live a fulfilling life (died young and unmarried), and thus her soul lingers in the living world. Male ghost hauntings are rare probably because the men who were killed died a dignified death, as compared to women who were raped, tortured and then murdered.

The spirits of the dead are unable to rest due to improper burial. As told by Choon, the dead bodies were discarded into the hole in the mountain. No ritual ceremonies where carried out and no prayers were said to the dead. The Inuit tradition mentioned that if bodies were not properly wrapped and buried, the soul of the dead will not be able to rest and bad things will happen to the village. Although it is not known whether or not the brutal Japanese soldiers experience any unfortunate circumstance after, but improper burial can certainly explain the hauntings occurred in areas close to the mountain.

Patsy Teoh, 20, Female

Student, Malaysian-Chinese

Los Angeles, CA

The Headless Horseman

Britta Roosendahl, 20, Female

Student, American

Los Angeles, CA

So umm… I hope that I tell it right. It’s a really famous story on the East Coast and it has a history… like during the Revolutionary War. Okay, so… there’s this town in Pennsylvania, called Tarry Town, and it still exists. And so since the Revolutionary time, there’s this story called the Legend of the Sleepy Hollow. So I guess back in the 1600s, there was this guy, his name was Ichabod Crane. He was a school teacher, and he was kinda awkward, you know… tall and skinny and weird and he really liked this girl, who is the daughter of this farmer. So he is in love with this girl, whom he taught the piano to, umm… but she is the daughter of this really wealthy farmer and he’s really poor and, you know… but he loved her and he wanted to be with her. So he went to this party at her house and he hopes to get to know her better, and there’s this other guy, who is much bigger and more… umm… manly… who’s also in love with this woman. They called him Brom Bones or something… because he’s really kinda scary… and he didn’t like the fact that the school teacher was falling in love with this girl. So he told him this story… that one night, when he was riding home from work… and he heard… umm… he heard this noise behind him and this guy, he was riding a horse… and when he looked over, he saw that the guy had no head. And the guy was following him silently. So… umm… Brom, the big, tough guy saw that the guy was chasing him and he realized that if he rides over the bridge, to the churchyard, the ghost won’t be able to follow him, because ghost can’t cross over water and can’t go into the churchyard. So he crosses the bridge and looked over, the ghost bursts into flames. So… umm… Ichabod Crane… the skinny, dorky guy was totally freaked out because uhh, you know… there’s a ghost running around in the town. So after the party finishes… he… umm… said goodbye to this girl and rode on his horse and you know, it’s kinda dark, riding through the woods by himself and he got scared. So he then heard the sound of the… hooves and he looked around, no one was there. And it was really dark, so he got really scared. He kept looking over his shoulder, then saw the headless person riding behind him, really silent. He is wearing this military uniform, sort of like those worn during the Revolutionary war. So he pretended he wasn’t there, but eventually when he opened his eyes, and the guy was right next to him. He tried not to freak out but this guy was just riding next to him, totally silent. And all of a sudden, Ichabod Crane just freaks out and picked up his pace, and this guy was chasing him, and he was like… oh my God… I need to get to the bridge… so that, you know… the ghost will disappear. So he crosses the bridge and looks behind him, and the guy was still chasing after him. He didn’t burst into flames or anything, he just kept coming. He pulled out something from beside him, not a head, but something like a carved pumpkin… with a crazy face on it and aims it at Ichabod Crane and hits him and he flew off his horse and rolled down this hill then he was never seen again. To this day… the horseman still roams in the forest. Well, the coolest thing was, it is a traditional ghost story and I know there are many out there which are scarier… and umm.. this story, it is so traditional, East Coast and I learned it when I went to school there, in 4th grade and everyone in New England knows the story. And people travel down to Tarry Town to see the grave of the girl and they are all like… historical figures. And they are saying like… maybe Brom Bones, the bad guy, dressed up as the headless horseman, to scare Ichabad Crane away from the town so he can be with the woman, but everyone believes that the headless man is real because he probably died in the forest during the Revolutionary War and Pennsylvania is… well… uhh a creepy place!”

Like many post-war related ghost stories, the story of the headless horseman envelopes the motif of restless dead. Based on the book, The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow written by Washington Irving, a stray cannonball shot the man’s head off, and since then, the now headless man rides around the woods in search for his lost head. The headless horseman was also described to be wearing a Hessian military uniform, which then explains that the story took place during the American Revolutionary War. Many places were deemed haunted after a certain war period because many people were killed and most of the time, they are not buried properly, or buried without complete body parts. Because of this reason, ghosts, or spirits were seen roaming around their death place, in search for missing parts to make themselves complete before advancing to the spiritual world. People who did not die a merciful death, or had “unfinished business” in their lifetime, will probably come back as ghosts to seek revenge.