No such thing as ghosts

Update 10 Sept 2011: this story is submitted as a contribution for CC:SG Festival 2011.

My submission for Writing the City, July 2011 theme, “Local Magic”. Submitted 31 Jul 2011.

About this piece: I started on this just one day before the deadline. Not so much for the contest but as a personal challenge. The deadline loomed. National Service, BMT, ghost story – those were the closest ideas that surfaced, to the themes of “being local”, “superstition” and “magic”.

No such thing as ghosts
July 31, 2011 By ivan chew in Competitions, Local Magic

Chan was lost.

Night exercise, Basic Military Training. Their platoon sergeant thought to bring them through a forest short-cut, back to camp. So they entered the Tekong foliage, single-file, bathed in patches of moonlight. Not long after, Chan found himself detached from the rest of his fellow recruits.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Chan assured himself yet again. He had an inherent fear of the dark. It did not help that his platoon sergeant chose to share a ghost story just yesterday evening. A supposedly true camp lore. About the lingering spirit of a recruit who died in training.

Using his torchlight did not help Chan one bit. The night forest looked absolutely alien. It did not occur to Chan to shout for attention. His mind spiraled between hopes of reaching the main walking trail, and sheer terror of not knowing where he was.

He stumbled, groped, tripped, crawled, scrambled. He was scratched, poked, choked by the unfriendly jumble. His spectacles was all fogged up. His panic reached a point that his legs gave way. He sat down heavily, sobbing.

“Eh, here.”

Chan turned in the direction of the voice. “Alan? Buddy, that you?”

“Here. Here lah.”

A gush of immense relief and gratitude soaked through Chan. Although he could not see very far with his fogged up spectacles, Chan could hear his buddy’s voice quite clearly. It seemed to take Chan only a few steps to be back on the main trail. He saw his platoon mates several meters ahead.

They all made it back to camp.

While washing their boots, Chan went up to his buddy. “Alan, thanks. Lucky you came back for me. I must have been walking in circles.”

His buddy looked puzzled. “Since when did I go back for you? You sure took your bloody time though. We were the last two.”

Chan involuntarily shivered.

It suddenly dawned on him that his buddy spoke only English. The voice he heard in the forest had spoken in Mandarin. ”这里.” Here.

“Chan, you OK not? Suddenly look so shocked. Seen a ghost or what?”

Chan stared past the camp perimeter, beyond the lights. The forest remained impenetrable.

He managed a croak. “No.”

After a longer pause, he said, “No such things as ghosts. I don’t believe in them.

But I think there are guardian angels.”