By Nicky Moey
As their Honda Accord turned into the lane behind Meridien Hotel, Lay Lin gave a shout. ‘There it is!’ she said, pointing a little to the left. Tanya Ong followed her daughter’s finger and saw a maroon 19-seater bus parked along the side of the road. The Honda cruised nearer towards it.
‘3436,’ Lay Lin strained to see the license plate. ‘It’s the one!’ She looked into the bus as their car cruised past it. ‘Ay, there are people inside already. We’re late!’
Her father Kee Long took a quick glance at the glowing hands in front of the dashboard. ‘We’re only two minutes late.’
‘Hurryyyy!’ the girl yelled anxiously. ‘You promised to come home at six but you came back at eight-fifteen!’
‘Don’t shout,’ Tanya said. ‘They’ll wait for us.’ She turned toward her husband and saw that he, too, was trying to contain his excitement. It was the first time they were going on such a tour.
It sounded a very good idea. Although she was already thirty-eight and had long outgrown ghost stories and movies, Tanya Ong didn’t mind an evening visiting haunted sites, as long as it was with Lay Lin. Considering that she and Kee Long worked eight-thirty to eight-thirty nearly every day ploughing through accounts, and spent a lot of their weekends at golf courses, this was quality time. It was also a rare invitation from their daughter, who could have asked her friends instead. And of course, it was better than shopping, the usual pastime when the three of them went out together.
This ghost tour was recommended to Lay Lin by a friend who had an appetite for horror and had gone on this tour a week ago with her boyfriend. Gina didn’t scare easy, Lay Lin knew, so if Gina said this was great, this was great. Lay Lin had then booked the tour through the tour agency’s website, Spook.com, using Tanya’s credit card number.
They parked the Honda in the Meridien, made their way out of the hotel and walked quickly to the bus, Lay Lin way ahead of them.
A young woman, no more than 25, who could have passed off as the sister of Phyllis Quek, collected their tickets at the front of the bus, smiled pleasantly and said, ‘Hi. Hope you’ll have an enjoyable evening.’
‘Are we going to leave soon?’ Lay Lin asked.
‘We’re still waiting for four more people. We’ll leave as soon as they come.’
‘See,’ Kee Long remarked. ‘Hurried for nothing.’
‘Would you like to go up the bus first?’ the young woman said, making a welcoming gesture towards the door.
As they made their way to the seats near the back, Tanya noticed her fellow passengers. Three Caucasian girls and a man who wore a baseball cap sat in the front seats, probably tourists who had somehow found out about this tour. A young couple in the middle of the bus, the girl, who sported a pony tail, was speaking loudly to the fair-skinned bespectacled man in Mandarin. On the other side of the young couple were family of two boys aged about 10 to 12, and their parents, both of whom look older than her and Kee Long.
They took the long seat right at the back.
‘You sure these places are really haunted?’ Kee Long asked.
‘Gina said in certain places she could feel her hair stand,’ Lay Lin replied. ‘At this haunted house, she said she and her boyfriend saw the shadow of the girl who died there. She said she screamed, man!’
‘True or not?’
‘The website for this tour said that sometimes visitors see and hear strange things. And Gina and boyfriend cannot have imagined it at the same time.’
‘Maybe she was exaggerating,’ Tanya joined in. ‘Put in a few details to make it more interesting. That’s how tales get started.’
‘I’m not so gullible, okay?’ Lay Lin said. ‘That’s why I want to see for myself. Whether this is a hoax or for real.’
‘Wha, what is this,’ her father said. ‘The X-Files?’
Lay Lin smiled.
Tanya switched the topic to her daughter’s school work, tests and ECA. Lay Lin was smart, Tanya knew, but she could get distracted easily – by books, TV, friends, hot gossip over the phone, and Ricky Martin. She had on occasions done badly in tests because of she had been too carried away by them.
They had been talking for about five minutes when their attention was distracted by the sound of feet scrambling up the bus. These were a group of young adults: two Chinese women, an Indian man in shorts and T-shirt, and a plump Chinese man trooped up the bus noisily. The girl who looked like Phyllis Quek came up and the bus door closed. This late group sat near the back. The bus driver started the engine and the air conditioners blew cold air into the bus. A moment later, they were saying goodbye to the bright lights and bustling sidewalks of Orchard Road.
‘Hello everyone,’ the voice of Phyllis’s look-alike came through the speakers. ‘Welcome to our ghost tour. I’m Kelly and I’m your guide this evening. As you know, we’ll be visiting five places that are reputedly haunted.’
‘How do you know they’re haunted?’ one of the Caucasian girls in front asked, her accent American.
‘Well, first of all, our company, Spook.com, was started by a team of young people, who spent nine months talking to taxi drivers, shop owners, flat dwellers, coffee shop owners, even friends in the police force. Then they went to these places themselves to investigate. Out of 19 places, they chose these four for this tour.’ Kelly paused. ‘Let me tell you this: we have had people who have been frightened so badly they filed complaints.’
A few of the tourists exchanged amused glances.
‘Okay,’ Kelly continued. ‘The places we are going to are 1) a 14th-floor flat in Toa Payoh, 2) a graveyard, 3) an old schoolyard and lastly, and the most scary place of all, a haunted house in Mandai. Now, this one is really a kicker, okay, and I don’t recommend it to those who have weak hearts. If you feel you have a low tolerance for the supernatural, you can always skip it and stay in the bus.’
She proceeded to pass torches down the bus, then tell them the don’ts of the trip.
‘Do not wander off by yourself.’ she began.
‘Who would dare to,’ Kee Long said softly.
‘Do not touch anything, just walk and look.’
‘Do not spit anywhere in or near the haunted places.’
‘Do not pee anywhere in or near the haunted places.’
In twenty minutes the bus reached the first destination, an old flat in Toa Payoh. It turned out to be a little disappointing, because all they saw were padlocked gates in front of the main door full of yellow paper with red inscriptions – Buddhist charms. There were also similar charms on the old aluminum shutters.
‘These are charms to keep the spirits inside,’ Kelly said. ‘Because these people died violently, some people believed their spirits are vengeful.
‘The last owner of this flat lost a lot of money gambling,’ she continued. ‘I am told it was the races. When his wife refused to give him any more money, he started getting violent. When she picked up the phone to call the police, he got hold of a kitchen knife and stabbed her fifty-three times and their three-year-old daughter six times. Before the police arrived, he jumped down from here.’ She slapped the parapet in front of her.
‘No shit,’ the young Indian man in the group of four said.
‘It’s true,’ one of the Chinese girls in his group said, grimacing. ‘I heard this same thing from a friend. Didn’t know it was this place until now. They say you can still see the blood stains on the floor and walls.’
‘Aren’t we going in?’ said the American man with the baseball cap.
‘Sorry,’ Kelly replied. ‘I don’t have the key. But we can see the inside from here.’ She led them to a gap in the shutters, and one by one, they shone their torches inside and looked. Lay Lin looked in excitedly and remarked, ‘There are brown stains on the floor.’
Kee Long took a look, and muttered, ‘Mmmmm.’ Tanya decided not to see.
Back in the bus, Tanya noticed that the younger of the two primary school boys looked a little shaken, his eyes wide, mouth slightly open.
‘How?’ she asked Lay Lin.
‘Good for starters,’ she said. ‘But I expect more.’
10.15pm. They reached the second destination, a huge graveyard. Kelly took them all for a 20-minute stroll through a sea of tombstones, all the way to the grave of a pretty young girl, whose A4-size black and white picture was on the stone.
‘See this grave,’ Kelly said. ‘An incident happened here about twelve years ago. A soldier here on night sentry duty came upon this grave. He was so attracted to the girl and decided to kiss the photo.’
‘Grossssss,’ the plump Chinese man in the group of 4 grimaced.
‘You know what happened?’ Kelly continued. ‘His lips got stuck to the photo. He kept trying to pull away from it but could not. A few soldiers finally managed to tear him away, but he became a bit crazy after that.’
‘Pretty chick,’ the plump Chinese man said. ‘What a waste.’
Kelly suddenly turned to the man. ‘You know,’ she remarked, ‘according to the story I heard, these were almost the same words the soldier said just before kissing the photo.’
Back inside the bus Kee Long said, ‘That young man better watches what he says, or he’ll offend the spirits.’
‘They’re part of this tour,’ Lay Lin whispered. ‘Something like plants. I’m quite sure they’re here to make the trip more exciting. You know, corroborate the stories the guide tells, make a few comments here and there. I won’t be surprised if one of them starts screaming hysterically afterwards.’
Tanya and Kee Long smiled. Boy, was their daughter smart.
Then, at the schoolyard, something happened. It was in the little yard of a former primary school that was about to be torn down, an estate of semi-detached houses to replace it. The school itself had closed down, the staff and pupils distributed to other schools. But for now, the premises were vacant, dark, quiet. They found their way in through a gap in the old rusty fence, made by some boys who sneaked in to play soccer in the field. Tanya looked at her watch. 11.20pm. The place very dimly lit by the street lamps beyond the premises. Beams from the torches were swinging in different directions. Why was it haunted? Well, Kelly said, it was here that a group of children were killed during the war when a bomb from a plane exploded.
On Kelly’s cue they turned off their torches and pressed themselves against the walls of the building, keeping as quiet as possible. They waited. One minute. Two. Three. Then they heard it.
For the first time in her life, Tanya felt her skin prickling, cold sweat breaking out, her heart palpitating. She reached out to grab Lay Lin’s hand and found it cold and sweaty.
The yard was empty, a rectangular space with an old hard cement floor worn down by rain and heat. Her little walk around the yard 10 minutes ago had told her there were no hidden speakers anywhere, yet the giggling, laughing and talking were coming from the thin air in the yard.
The 10-year-old boy in the group, whom his parents called Tee Tee, started to cry. He wailed, head buried in his mother’s thighs. ‘Wo yao hui jia! Wo yao hui jia!’ he kept screaming. I want to go home.
Finally the laughing stopped.
Kelly said, ‘Okay, let’s get back.’
For a long time on the bus, everyone was quiet.
Presently Tee Tee’s father went up and said something to Kelly. When the bus reached a main road, it stopped at a bus stop and Tee Tee’s family got off, the little boy still clinging to his mother.
‘That,’ Kee Long said to Tanya and Lay Lin, ‘was no plant.’
QLRS Beta Issue