I was a sensitive kid, and my family has had on a few occasions run ins with the supernatural. Mostly surrounding an extended family member that had resorted to the dark arts to work through her unhappiness with our side of the family.
We lived in a flat in Choa Chu Kang, on the 7th floor. And it was good for a while, although the house we moved from in Teck Whye was my grandparent’s old house was where it started. I believe it was that house that tainted us, and marked us for what was to come next. Once you have become acquainted to these dark forces, they recognize the scent of your terror.
We lived in the Teck Whye flat for about 1 year before it got too much for us. I was in Primary 2, and my memories of the place was that it was always dark. I felt unsafe, and watched all the time. Particularly around the master bedroom, which we used as a storage room. It was piled full with boxes and cases, apart from the one window. The light that got into the room could never illuminate the shadows.
One of the last few incidents which finally caused us to flee was when my mom started to experience pain in her feet. At first, she only felt it, like there were needles driven into her toes. Then slowly over time, her whole foot would swell, right up to the ankles. The only indication that this was not a medical ailment was that each feet would be grotesquely swollen for 2 days, before deflating and moving on to the next. Each cycle would repeat, each time getting worse, until she was wincing in pain, unable to walk. Her feet looked fat and disfigured, bloated like it was about to burst.
Indeed, even when we went to the doctor, he was perplexed. Everything else was normal, he could not explain it as allergens or a reaction, nor diagnose the cyclical pattern of the swelling. Anti-inflamations did not work. Nothing did.
Eventually, when she got better after much “cleansing”, and was able to walk, we packed our things and moved out within a month. We then stayed for a while at my aunt’s while waiting for the Choa Chu Kang flat to be renovated and ready. It was a brand new flat when we moved in sometime in 1993 or 1994.
At first, everything was fine. And we were happy, relieved to have a fresh start. But slowly, we started to feel uneasy. Our flat had a big living room, which has a natural sectioning due to its architecture. The section one on the right, had our sitting furniture. The left was where we usually hung out, TV was there with a carpet and floor cushions.
The right living room was always dark, even though it had windows along one side. Nobody spent any time there, only during festive occasions when we would have guests. It was never an inviting space. On the far end of the room was also the store-room. At night, when I would walk back to my room, the living room would be so unbelievable dark, I would shudder. It reminded me of that old master bedroom, with the piles of shadows. Inky black and bottomless.
When I was having pox fever dreams, I would always imagine small and bloodstained figures outside the windows, howling like angry children. They would try to get in, I could see their shapes through the frosted film on the windows, running and clawing.
I had the chickenpox in primary 6. If I remembered correctly, my cousin whom my mom was taking care of at the time, he had it too. I was always mildly unhappy that he was around, since I was oldest and always had to give in to him. On top of that, sharing my space, books and toys, I was not keen on that.
Eventually, he got better. His mom took him home momentarily, to lighten the load on my mom. My sis had been showing symptoms as well.
Our pox was dry, and it did not itch that much. I was very resentful, as my cousin had brought the pox back to our home, and now that he was better, he was gone. I was still uncomfortable, but I was on the mend.
One afternoon, restless and resentful, I was playing with my sister and took a joust too hard. She started screaming for my mother, who came and scolded me.
Feeling daring, I made an ugly monkey face, mocking her. She screamed,
“You very rude, you think your face look very nice is it? You want to scare me with your ugly face? Stop it, I warn you!”
Within the next day, something had happened. My dry spots were flaking off. The healthy skin was beginning to form welts. I fell into a fever, and in and out of sleep. It seems my pox had changed, instead of clearing up, it had grew wetter. There were boils on my skin, tiny pustules and pus.
I remember crying when I saw them on my arms. And was shocked when I eventually saw my face. My mom tried to shield me from looking, but I sneaked a look secretly and just burst out crying.
I was disfigured. My whole face was swollen, my lips were mashed. My skin was the texture of a toad, the skin around my eyes were threatening to swell shut. It was like wearing a mask of misshapen meat, except that was my face. I could not believe it, and told my mom that something was wrong. With tears and gurgling anger, I screamed that something was horribly wrong.
It was not so much the medical condition, rather the fact that when I was looking into the mirror, the swollen mask of flesh was almost smirking. My expression was of dismay or shock, but yet the face I saw in the mirror had an expression that was all its own.
That was also the moment that I stopped sleeping. Something was happening within, and whenever I tried to fall asleep, I would awaken. Feeling hot and angry, sleep did not come. Not in the night, neither in the day time.
By the second day, my panicked mom had asked my grandmother for help. My grandmother had bore the brunt of that relative’s dark work, and over the decades had to understand the supernatural side of things very well.
She visited me, and prayed for me. Afterwards, she told my mom that she had done something very wrong. She questioned my mom, if she had scolded or offended me unjustifiably. Eventually, my mom remembered the incident with the monkey face. She also counted back, with an ashen face realized it was exactly the night of that incident that the welts began appearing.
Plainly, my grandmother disclosed that there was something around me at the time. It had been around the house for a while now. And when she responded with her tirade, the thing was near/in me. It had gotten offended and angry.
This was the cause of the deterioration of my pox. It was also the thing responsible for my restlessness, and growing anger.
I felt alien in my own body. And during the day, I could feel my discomfort turn into anger, and then into hate. I stopped looking into the mirror, but I knew all the same, the mask would mock me. The sight of it was already burned in my mind.
In the night, I was overcome with a feeling of desolation, and despair. The few moments, I would begin to doze, I would have an image of teeth and eyes flashed into my mind. Surprisingly, at night, my fever always subsided, I felt spared from the torture and more like myself. But I could not escape the flashes as I doze. The split-second flashes, always teeth, eyes, red lips. And dark bruised skin.
To appease the spirit, my grandmother had advised me to drink holy water that she has prepared. I was also instructed to dampen my welts and skin with it. In my room, all the windows were shut, and explicitly, at night, there should always be light or a lamp switched on. At no point, was I to be in the dark. Her last instruction was also to prepare a plate.
I still remember this offering plate to this day. Medium sized, white with a layer of banana leaf. On it, there was an egg, a banana and some fragrant offering flowers.
After the first night of her visit, I was still unable to sleep. By then, I had developed the habit of wandering the house at night. While everyone slept, I walked to the windows and looked out. As my room’s windows opened onto the corridor, the kitchen windows, became my haunting ground.
I watched the dark sky. The moon. The starless deep blue night. And eventually, I even quietly pulled up a chair, so I could sit and gaze. Inside the room, the lampshade was slowly burning, the bulb would get extremely hot. I only realized this in the morning, the lampshade was burned crisp. I never told any of my family members, it was my secret.
Every night, I was at the window. It brought a kind of comfort, the only way I could cope with what was happening to me and my body. I used the word “haunting”, because it described exactly how I felt. Like I no longer belonged to the world, that I was a ghoul or a spirit. Hiding in the daytime, and at night gazing out into the world, stained with such unexplainable despair and desolation.
From my sitting at the window, I began to sit on the ledge. At the back of my mind, I could hear myself saying that it was dangerous. But, behind the window grill, I was not close enough to the night. Over two nights, I sat like this. And when I looked down, I did not feel fear but a perverse relief.
When I looked up, I felt welcomed. On the last two nights, my thoughts slowly took a dark turn. I began to toy with the thought of simply falling backwards off the ledge. As I fell, my eyes would rise up into the sky, and then it would be over. At the back of my mind, I asked myself, are you thinking of ending it. And then, always a slithering mocking voice, whispered, “Of course”.
The next day, as instructed by my grandmother, my mom cleared the offering plate. She told me not to look at it, as she carried it away to the kitchen. A few minutes later, I heard clattering and a loud gasp.
I ran to the kitchen. The plate was in the sink, broken. The flowers, once fragrant were rotten. The banana had gone black and deflated. And the egg, too had broken. From within, oozed a gelatinous slime. I could see the whites were now gray, and the yolk had turned deep blue. Almost purple. Almost like a bruise.
All my recent obsessions came to light. Those flashes of eyes, lips, bruised skin. And the deep dark sky, beckoning. My soul was getting darker. I felt like crying because I felt so lost. Like I did not own my body or my soul anymore. How did the egg rot like that in just 3 nights? How was it able to turn that black?
My mom told me to go back, it was much later she would disclose that underneath the banana leaf on the plate was a black centipede that slithered up as she was clearing it. That was what made her drop the plate in shock.
While she was picking up the broken plate and rotten offerings, she sobbed into her other hand, saying she is so sorry for scolding me (it), and to please forgive her and her son. She was begging it to spare us. In her moment of shock and horror, she had forgotten.
My grandmother had warned her explicitly not to engage with it.
That was the last night I stayed at my house. In total, I had not slept for 5 days straight. I was immediately moved to my aunt’s house, to stay with my grandmother. There, she guarded me throughout the night. She told it, not to disturb her grandson anymore. That he is innocent.
She knew what it had been whispering to me. And I was so ashamed I broke down in tears. Can you imagine a 12 year old boy, contemplating suicide. She told me to fight it, never give in to it.
She also knew about the burning in the room, the bulbs that would blew out every night. After the lampshade burnt itself, we put a light handkerchief over the lampshade frame. It caused shapes to dance on the wall. Shapes that had eyes, teeth and bruised skin. She knew of this too, because only years later, she confirmed that it revealed its glistening self to her.
Eventually, I got better. I drank holy water, and bathed in it. And finally, I could sleep. My bed overlooked the window, so at night, I could still see the sky. But ever so often my grandmother would whisper coarsely to the window, to stay out and that it had no place to shelter here, nor an opening to enter. She would speak to it, as if it was a petulant child. Like it was right there with us.
For the next few weeks, I knew it was still with me. As I went back to school, in the toilets, moments where I was alone, it was there watching. But when I looked into the mirror, I could see myself again. The swelling went down miraculously in two days. The welts either burst or dissipated within that time as well. It just stopped, and unleashed me from its hold.
Today, I still have some light scars from my pox ordeal. And I still like looking at the night sky. Turns out, when things like these happen to you, you emit a kind of scent. Mine was not of terror or horror, but of despair and loneliness.
And at times when I feel low, and indeed there was yet to be another trying time in my near future then, I found comfort in that familiar deep blue.
The glimpse of exotic bruised skin, not my own, but of the night. And of flashing eyes, that still welcome and beckon.
Even after all these years, it still seems like an old friend.