Do you know what’s scary? Answer:- the way I procrastinate. If you look back over the years, readers will find that I will be making New Year Resolutions and wishing every one a Happy New Year sometime towards the end of January. Likewise, I tend to leave my Christmas decorations up and try to disguise them to make it look like I put them up specially for Chinese New Year a few months later. So just yesterday, I finally got to watch the movie that I had set aside for Halloween.
It’s a Korean movie titled, “Train to Busan”. As if train journeys are often not horrific enough, they throw in large numbers of evil, undead zombies. It is a big hit in Korea and you know what? In my humble squirrel opinion, it deserves every good review it has received. As with any zombie movie, it is not so much a spine chilling horror experience but more of an adrenaline racing, heart pounding action movie. But the human element is well crafted into the story and the acting surprisingly good; especially the young girl in the story. I recommend it.
You know what else is scary? The real world! Starting with Korea where the Korean President is alleged to have been unduly influenced by the daughter of a cult leader (BBC story); to Indonesia where thousands took part in violent and fatal protests in the capital Jakarta because they do not want a popular (and generally held to be an effective) non-Muslim governor overseeing a majority Muslim city; and finally the insane circus of the current U.S. Presidential elections. Hilary or Trump? The squirrel shakes his head at both but trembles in fear at the thought of President Trump.
And so, we squirrels have decided to intervene for the sake of the world.
A little bird blogger tells me that this weekend is Labor Day in the USA and Canada. As such, most of you will be out enjoying the last days of summer with a Barbecue and a Bud at the Beach, Ball park or Beach. (The previous sentence was brought to you by the letter ‘B‘; tough economic realities has forced the management of this blog to accept sponsored messages).
What that all means is that this post may be a waste of time as it will remain unread…….but never mind, the blog must go on. And, actually for the rest of the world, Labor Day is May 1st. Don’t know why the North Americans have to do things differently.
Anyway, this North American only Labor Day celebration got me thinking about my own very checkered history in the work force. Some of the jobs I had to do were quite demanding physically, emotionally and mentally. I have paid my dues.
One of the things I once had to do was a 48 hour timed experiment where I had to take water samples from an elaborate setup meant to study the survival of pathogenic microbes and their indicators in the environment. Initially, the setup was in a laboratory to get baseline data but later, I had to repeat this with the equipment setup in the field. I had to take samples and process them which takes about 45 minutes and then repeat the process every 4-6 hours.
This meant that 1) I became increasingly sleep deprived and prone to making mistakes, 2) I became addicted to coffee and 3) I regularly worked the graveyard shift when past the witching hour, strange things are seen and heard.
For about two years, I was set up in a small medical laboratory in a very old building of a very old teaching hospital in Malaysia. For most of the night, I was the only one in the complex. Apart from the long corridors, my small lab was the only one lit as the rest were locked and in darkness. The long corridors were also dimly lit and passed through open courtyards where ancient trees with creepers hanging down blocked the night sky making the darkness more complete. I know this sounds like the setup for a B-grade horror movie but it is absolutely true and there is more. As this section is essentially shutdown at night, for me to go in and out, I have to take the back way which connects with the main hospital building………….and this means I have to walk through the morgue. And I have seen many horrible sights there. The bloodied bodies of accident victims were often in this room I had to walk pass ……..and after that was that long, long, dark corridor. And when the wind blew and the trees creaked, you could almost swear you heard voices and saw shadows. A glutton for punishment, I then killed time in the wee hours of the morning in between my samples by listening to ghost stories on the night radio. Never needed coffee. I stayed jumpy all night!
Even more unnerving was when I had to retrieve samples in the Malaysian jungle at night. In one location, I was camped in the jungle. The camp itself was quite nice and well lit but every 4 hours, I had to drive a jeep about 20 minutes along a rutted and unlit logging trail. I then had to scramble for another 10 minutes along some rocky terrain on foot to a small river with only my head lamp to guide my way. Taking the sample would take another 10 nervous minutes. All that time, it was pitched black except for where my light shone in front of me. Especially, when I was bent over collecting my samples, I felt very vulnerable. There were some very real dangers like tigers (uncommon but not at all impossible) and perhaps more of a danger were wild boar and snakes. But my heart was also pounding as I remember the tales of jungle spirits and wraiths. The jungle at night is very dark but it is very noisy with all kinds of sounds; many of which one would not be able to identify. Why, that noise could be the Malaysian jungle version of Jason or Freddy Kruger!
Then, even if I made it back to the jeep with heart racing, one always had to check to make sure something evil was not hiding in the darkness of the back seat. But the part I found scariest of all was when I was driving back and my world was just that arc of illumination in front from the jeep headlights. Occasionally, I would look at my rear view mirror and all I could see was darkness. But you know, I kept expecting that the next time I looked, I would see a pair of glowing red eyes and hear a deep guttural growl.
But anyway, all’s well that ends well. The Lone Grey Squirrel made it through those dark spooky nights unscathed …………..or did he? Mwahahaha.
It was late at night as I sat on the sofa watching the late night movie on TV. The rest of the house was already fast asleep. As the movie drew to a close, I glanced at my watch with weary eyes and saw that it was past midnight, the witching hour. It was time for the head to hit the pillow. I switched off the TV, locked the doors and windows and set the house alarm before climbing the stairs to the bedroom.
My wife was in bed and fast asleep so I tried to make my entrance into the room as quietly as possible. The air condition was on and I was pleased to feel the coolness of the room. I reflected on how fortunate I was to have air conditioning on such a hot and humid night. After brushing my teeth, I thought of just sitting up in bed for a few minutes longer to read some blogs on my laptop computer.
Then all of a sudden, all the lights and the air condition unit all went off and I found myself in pitch darkness. It was a power outage. I was not too surprised as earlier that evening, I had seen some lorries and trucks belonging to the electricity utility company in the neighborhood which usually meant they would be messing about with the power lines and substations. This often resulted in brief blackouts in the neighborhood that could last as briefly as a few minutes or in rare unfortunate occasions, as long as several hours.
I looked briefly out the window and could see that the entire street was is darkness and while it was still cool in the bedroom, one could almost sense the oppressive heat and humidity of the night weighing heavily in the darkness.
I knew the coolness in the room would not last and I tried to lie quietly in bed and even tried to get some sleep, all the time hoping that the blackout would be a short one. From sheer tiredness, I did get some sleep but woke up again at about 1.30 in the morning. By this time, the coolness in the room had dissipated and the oppressive heat from the outside had penetrated. With no ventilation, this room would soon become hot and stuffy.
I was beginning to sweat and feel very uncomfortable but knowing that I had a lot to do later that day, I willed myself to sleep again. My wife had remained unstirred as once she is asleep, it takes quite a bit to wake her.
I awoke again at about 3.00 am. I was drenched in sweat and even when I sat up, I could feel rivulets of sweat rolling down my head and dripping off my nose and chin. It felt like I had been in a sauna. Unable to sleep, I tried sitting up and meditating to reduce my heart rate and heat generation while I continued to sweat buckets. I kept looking at the bedside clock and hoped for the power to return soon.
If midnight is the start of the witching hour, then it has also been said that 4 am. in the morning is the darkest hour of the soul. I was still sitting up but nodding in and out of consciousness in a kind of fitful sleep when suddenly it started. It sounded like what one would imagine the wail of a Banshee might sound like. It was extremely loud and shrill and the wail seemed to penetrate the inky blackness and stab at one’s very senses and soul.
My wife who had so far managed to sleep despite the heat, woke up in alarm and I had to do my best to calm her. It took a minute for the sleep deprived senses to identify the shrill sound as our house security alarm going off. Fearing someone may be taking advantage of the blackout to break into our home, I went downstairs, armed with a heavy handled walking stick, to investigate.
When I checked downstairs, I found the place was secure but the alarm siren continued its loud and irritating wail. I then went to the alarm system panel and attempted to disarm it. To my horror, when I got there, I saw that the alarm system panel was not powered and I could not disarm the alarm.
The house alarm has backup batteries but after more than four hours without mains electricity, the batteries had died out and this triggers the system “tamper” warning which set the alarm blaring. The same batteries powered the alarm control panel and so I could not operate the panel to switch the alarm off. Unfortunately, the alarm system speakers seemed to be on its own battery power and showed no sign of stopping.
By now the entire household was awake and I felt sure so was most of the neighborhood. I spent the next hour and a half trying to get the alarm to stop wailing and failing that attempted with limited success in muffling the sound with the use of a cardboard box and some packing foam placed over the alarm loudspeaker. All of this involved me climbing up and down ladders, doing some acrobatics and body contortions while sweating profusely from the heat and exertion and stumbling about in the light of a torchlight.
However, there was no peace to be had until the electricity supply was restored at about 5.30 in the morning and I was able to disarm the alarm. By then, I was a hot, sweaty, sleepless wreck with a consistent ringing in my ear from close and prolonged exposure to the wailing Banshee. No longer able to get any sleep, I greeted the dawn with a cup of coffee and bloodshot eyes.
I wish no one the wail of the security alarm banshee at 4 in the morning.
Author’s Note: In Irish and Celtic cultures, the Banshee (or “woman of the side”) is a fairy creature that can appear as a beautiful woman but more often as a hideous hag. It is said that when a Banshee appears and lets loose its awful wail, it is a sign that someone will soon die.
This is a composite post on three rambling thoughts which should not be confused with (although related) to my earlier post entitled “Wettest, Coldest, Hottest”. This post is not as superlative as the previous one.
My first rambling thought was about the cold. Have you noticed the new look of the blog with the picture of snow crystals and the aurora borealis? It seems a number of my blogging friends are feeling the winter blahs. That’s quite normal. In fact last Monday is supposed to be the official Bluest Winter Day (as in “singing the blues” and not “the bluebird of happiness”) or so I read on someone’s seasonally affected blog. Hence, I decided to try to bring some cheer by reminding all you good folks that winter can also be so beautiful. Feeling cabin fever? Go out and watch the stars at night. Enjoy a soak in a hot tub. Run naked through your neighborhood in the cold. (not necessarily in that order).
Ooo! Ooo! I just thought of another great idea. Work out all your frustrations with an exciting game of ……….curling. Why, it’s perfect. Played with brooms and stones………..reminds me of “sticks and stones will break my bones”. Yes, definitely an X-treme sport.
Speaking of order; it is fine when the bitter cold stays in Canada, greets Scandinavia or covers Siberia but as I said in the previous post, it is not natural for Texas to be colder than Canada. Climate Change!!!! The latest is that hundreds of people in North Vietnam had to be hospitalised due to a cold snap which has also killed hundreds of buffaloes. Okay, rambling again. To summarize this point – winter can be pretty but should stay where it belongs.
My second rambling thought is on how wet this start of the year has been. Australia has already suffered “floods of biblical proportion” in Queensland and now the flooding has spread to Victoria and according to the newspapers, the experts anticipate even more floods to come in what is now being called the “once-in-two-hundred-years flood”. This is already by far the costliest disaster suffered by the Australians. And they were not alone, in the last two weeks, there were abnormal floods in Sri Lanka, Philippines, Brazil and Sweden amongst others. The tragedy of the mudslide in Brazil which has killed at least 600 people with many more still missing was caused by a downpour that deposited one months rainfall in one hour. Malaysia too is having floods and our neighbor Thailand had serious flood last month. It’s been a very wet period. Again, water brings life as long as it stays where it belongs.
Now you might think that my third rambling thought would be also about the weather. But you would be wrong cause I am a squirrel and I have eaten one too many bad nuts. So, this last thought is about fire – to warm all you frigid northerners and about the supernatural – to send chills down your spine. Mwahahaha (<- evil mad scientist laugh).
There is a story coming from a house in a village in the north of West Malaysia, very close to the border with Thailand. The owner of the house is a 73 year old woman who lives there with her family including two grandchildren. The house is built on land belonging to the Islamic Affairs Department and she has lived there for more than 30 years. However, starting just before the new year, the occupants have been plagued by unexplained mini fires that appear to break out spontaneously all around the house. The fires have burned clothing, prayer mats, furniture and even set the gas cooker on fire. Reporters from one of the national dailies went to interview the family and while they were there, they witnessed five such fires. There have been as many as twenty such incidents in a day.
Fourteen Islamic priests came to exorcise the fire-starting spirit. They performed prayers, chants and rituals. The leader of the group noted that the owner had a collection of ancient daggers and he believed that the spirit or spirits were attracted to these ancient artifacts. However, despite their efforts, the fires resumed the next day.
The home owner has even now resorted to invite a well known Chinese kung fu master to carry out an exorcism. This will be the next stage in the story. As you can imagine, the whole family is in a terrible state. How can you rest or sleep when you are expecting another unexplained fire? These things are alive and well in Malaysia. This tale has been brought to you by Spooky Squirrel. Any theories my skeptical friends?
A boy and a girl break into the school late at night. The girl is hesitant but the boy is insistent. It is clear that he is up to no good and you begin to worry that the petite, pretty blond will come to a horrible end. But it is the boy that is in for a sticky end as the girl is a vampire. The boy was surprised and so are we.
This is why I am a Joss Whedon fan. He is always taking our jaded expectations and turning them on their heads. The obvious story line becomes a roller coaster ride of the unexpected. This makes his stories so refreshingly different. He is always trying things that appear to be foolish but he makes it work. He can scare us, excite us, make us laugh and make us cry, all within a few minutes of amazing writing.
The scene described above comes from the TV series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in which Whedon does a mix of teenage angst and the horror genre. Big nasty vampire baddies get there ass-kicked by a petite Buffy Summers who really just wants to survive school and be popular. The most popular episode of the series was a musical “Once more, with Feeling“. A musical. Can you believe it? But it worked. And, if you can have a musical episode, how about the episode “Hush” which was done with almost no dialogue (cause everyone lost their voice due to supernatural reasons). This creativity was rewarded with an Emmy nomination.
The cult success of that series led to the spin-off series, Angel. Again confounding stereotypes, the hero, Angel, is a vampire while nemesis is a firm of lawyers who had sold their souls to evil. Okay, maybe evil lawyers is not such a surprising concept but a hero vampire private eye is.
Then, came Firefly. The Firefly universe is a world of spaceships and space ports but whose outer planets look and feel like the old wild west. The hero is an ex-rebel space smuggler and again the most lethal person in his crew is a young girl, River Tam. This also became a big cult hit. So even though the networks pulling the plug on the show, fans drove the push for a movie which resulted in “Serenity”.
After this came Dollhouse, but I never got the chance to see this as it did not reach Malaysian shores. But what came next from Joss Whedon’s fertile mind is again a masterpiece of creativity and the unexpected. Kicking his heels during the Writer’s Guild strike in 2008, Joss came up with the idea of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog“, a 2008 musical tragicomedy miniseries in three acts, produced exclusively for Internet distribution where there is a villian that we like and who runs a blog and there is a hero that is obnoxious and distasteful and where everybody sings. Sounds like a ridiculous, disastrous concept?
On October 31, 2008, Time magazine named it #15 in Time’s Top 50 Inventions of 2008. It also won the People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Online Sensation”, and the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. In the inaugural 2009 Streamy Awards for web television, Dr. Horrible won seven awards: Audience Choice Award for Best Web Series, Best Directing for a Comedy Web Series, Best Writing for a Comedy Web Series, Best Male Actor in a Comedy Web Series (Harris), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Music. It also won a 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class – Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs.
Joss, keep it coming.
This alarming video records Dr. Horrible’s takeover of the Emmy Awards Broadcast in 2009
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Well, it’s time for the Lone Grey Squirrel’s annual nod to Halloween (previous Halloween posts include The Oily Man, Of Ghosts and Monsters, A Halloween Tale and the Lady in White.) Actually, Halloween isn’t a big event in Malaysia and so I never had the opportunity to dress up in a fancy costume. I wonder what I might wear if I had the chance. Perhaps I could dress up as “Lurch” from the Addams Family or a rabid squirrel. What might your favorite Halloween costume or character be?
But I digress. The title of this post may seem like the starting line of a joke but I assure you the story behind it is dark and creepy.
Malaysia is officially a Muslim country and more than 60% of the population is Muslim. Islam came to this country around 1136 A.D. with the conversion of the Hindu King of the State-Kingdom of Kedah, Merong Maha Wangsa. He would change his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. However, before the onset of Islam in Malaysia, the Malay people had already a well established belief system rooted in the existence of supernatural beings and magic. This belief system has survived even till today.
The Malay equivalent to a witch doctor or medicine man is the “bomoh”. A good bomoh may be consulted to perform healings and blessings. Event organisers may employ them to make sure there is no rain to spoil some festive occasion and football teams may employ bomohs to help them win games. Some bomohs may also practice the dark arts or black magic and may be hired to put curses on people or to charm them to do something against their will.
For some readers, this belief system may seem antiquated and distant in the modern world of logic and science but in fact belief in the supernatural is very much alive in most of the world. Cases involving the supernatural are reported frequently in the newspaper. Other stories spread in whispers at the coffee shops. Museum exhibits on the occult draw more visitors than exhibits on space exploration.
Mass hysteria is commonly and frequently reported especially amongst young girls at residential schools or factory dormitories. The affected women may scream and shout or sometimes laugh hysterically. After intervention by good bomohs, the victims seem not to remember anything.
Occasionally, a particular malevolent or mischievous spirit can kidnap a victim. Currently, there is a case of a 22 year old woman who has disappeared from her family home. The woman has disappeared a few times before and was later found stuck on top of trees or wandering in cemeteries. There were reported incidences of rocks and gems falling apparently from the ceiling in her presence. In the latest incident, the family reported hearing a loud sound and rushed to the living room in time to see a crystal marble rolling along the floor past the woman. She suddenly bolted out of the house. Neighbours reported seeing the woman being driven away in her mother’s car but could not see the driver. However, the car keys are still in the house and the car was locked.
Since then, she has sent text messages to her mother from her mobile home saying that she is on top of Mount Jerai (a mountain located 300 km away and which has been associated with the old belief system as enchanted). She told her parents that she was taken by “orang bunian” – invisible, supernatural beings; that she tried to escape and was injured but that two spirit princesses of the mountain are nursing her wounds now and protecting her. She remains missing at this moment.
Many Malaysians also believe very strongly in curses and charms. Often, if someone behaves out of character, it is believed that he is a victim of a charm. Often, people report being charmed into giving their money and belongings to a stranger. They are not able to stop themselves nor are they able to remember things clearly after the incident. Sometimes when a not too attractive woman ends up marrying a senior political leader or a millionaire business man, people do wonder if black magic was involved.
This finally brings me to the title of the post. I shall start with the Witch and the Politician first. Mona Fandey was a witch of some notoriety and fame. Senior government leaders and politicians were said to be amongst her clientele. In 1993, Datuk Mazlan Idris, an elected state assemblyman, sought the help of Mona Fandey and her husband to bring him more riches and to help him rocket upwards in his political career. He visited them often to seek their services and paid them handsomely for it. However, according to the police, on one occasion, he participated in a ritual in which he lay down with his eyes closed to wait for “riches to fall from the sky”. Instead of the anticipated riches, it was an axe that fell and decapitated his head. He was then chopped up into 18 parts and partially skinned before being buried in a small hole near her home and covered with cement. It is speculated that it was a ritual killing. The couple managed to get money out of his bank account and went on spending spree before being caught by the police.
Anyway, as these stories illustrate, the belief and practice of black magic is very much alive amongst the quaking population. This brings us to the lawyers. In a meeting last month, religious leaders and lawyers met to discuss witchcraft. Islam bans black magic and witchcraft, for it is a heretic practice to put one’s faith in something other than Allah.
So, the learned ones decided that it was high time to come up with a law to make sure those who are practicing witchcraft and cause harm to people be chargeable and prosecutable. Of course, they first need to address certain issues like what kind of evidence would be admissible and deemed as proof of witchcraft.
This is not such an easy task. Haron Din is a self proclaimed exorcist. He is one of those lobbying for the anti-witchcraft law. It is claimed that he once managed to exorcise a haunted and cursed location and transported out a whole bus load of “orang bunian”. I do mean an actual bus. His followers believed that he had performed a miracle but is a bus load of “invisible people” admissible evidence in court, m’ Lord?
No matter what one believes, there is a pronounced danger that such a law could result in the indiscriminate accusation of innocent people as witches. Some one pinch me and tell me that “the witch, the lawyers and the politician” is just the first line of a bad joke instead of the start of a modern day Salem witch hunt, where the proof of innocence from witchcraft was to die from drowning when they submerged you under water.
I told you this would get creepy. Happy Halloween.
Thank goodness science has taught us the proper way to deal with witches and other such superstition. See video below.
“The strong bright light shone straight into my eyes, blinding me and making it difficult to see my assailant clearly. Not that it made much difference because my tormentor hid his face behind a surgical mask. However, he made no attempt to hide his instruments of torture which lay in neat shiny rows on the small table to the right of me.
Sometimes strange thoughts just enter our minds when we are gripped in terror. I was thinking of shouting out that I was an American and that you couldn’t do this to an American. But of course, I wasn’t and I knew with sinking heart that there would be no U.S. marines coming through the door to rescue me.
He was so close to me that almost all I could see was the cold steely eyes behind the mask. With evil sarcasm, he said, “This might hurt ……..just a little”. The cruel bastard. It was obvious that he was enjoying this.
And then, it began. I heard the awful sound of the high speed drill as he brought it closer and then there was the blinding pain and the taste of blood in my mouth.”
Regular readers will know that I suffer from D.P and that I am a D.Q.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels