It would have been nice if I had it out this month - then it would have coincided with The Hungry Ghosts Festival as well, which would be cool since it's something I've tackled in DLMN #2 - In The Name Of The Soul.
Just in case you don't know what this festival is all about, here's a link to explain the basics. Here are some dos and don'ts you might want to read about as well. Interesting, eh?
Now, for this very special post I want to leave a never-before-seen excerpt of ITNOTS. Enjoy!
Ruth’s Volvo SUV cruised into Chinatown on the back of a dragon. Or at least that was what the bridge seemed like, with its concrete guard rails transformed into red and gold scales made of plastic and metal. The archway ahead possessed the same bold colors, with dragon heads at each end biting the edges of a white tarpaulin banner.
It was an unusual sight but, better than that, it gave me the chance to break the silence. “What does that say?” I gestured to the Chinese characters slashed in black ink on the archway’s banner, desperate for distraction.
After all the paper-signing in the council hall, Ruth had fetched Mae and Jonathan at a nearby mall. Mae welcomed me gladly. Jonathan…did not.
“Yúlánpén,” she said. “It means Ghost Festival, and today’s the first day of Ghost Month.”Ruth threw me a grateful smile through the rearview mirror. Her normally cheerful round face still showed signs of strain after her earlier quarrel with her son – because of me.
“Oh.” I wished I hadn’t asked. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would not make me sound stunned and alarmed by their holiday. Ghost Month? Really?
“If you can’t deal with it, that’s your problem,” Jonathan muttered under his breath. He was glued to his side of the door, as if he couldn’t get far enough away from me. A now-familiar scowl had settled on his face.
“Jonathan!” His mother’s voice was like whiplash.
He exhaled an angry breath. “Sorry.” He sounded anything but sincere.
“It’s okay,” I answered quickly. He was right, anyway. Amnesiacs like me can’t afford to be picky.
Mae, his year-younger sister, threw me an apologetic glance over her shoulder from the passenger seat in front.I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile as the elephant inside the car only got bigger and angrier. Jonathan had never tried to hide the fact he was against his mother temporarily adopting me. I wished I could reassure him that I didn’t mean any harm, but I couldn’t.
Traffic congested at the foot of the bridge and I watched the digits on the speedometer display trickle down.
With our windows rolled down, the sound of something hitting the ground easily reached my ears, like a rainfall of pebbles.
I glanced outside. A throng of people were on the sidewalks, throwing on the ground curved red stones that looked like pairs of Ying and Yang.
Mae saw where I was looking and explained, “It’s kind of like fortune telling from the Gods. You get ‘yes’ if both stones face the same way and ‘no’ if it’s not.”
A huge moan drowned the last of her words, and I looked ahead when the moaning didn’t stop. The sound came from gigantic temple gates protesting against the yellow-robed monks pushing them open.
A cold gust of wind blew into the car, stinging my eyes into shutting closed. When I opened them again, a bloodied, half-naked man slammed into my side of the car, mouth gaping wide.
I screamed, backing away and bumping into Jonathan.
“Stop it, you idiot,” Mia hissed at the ghost.
My screams died when I saw Mia put her hand out to push the ghost away, rapping out something angrily in Mandarin.
“It’s just a guy in a costume,” Jonathan said under his breath.
Embarrassment flooded my face and I scrambled away from him, mumbling ‘sorry’. It had been a prank. Just a stupid prank. And I had acted like he was going to kill me. In fact, my heart was racing fast I seriously wondered if the others could hear it. Worse, the frantic tattoo of my heartbeat against my chest was awfully familiar, as if terror had a permanent place in my life – whatever it was.
I caught a glimpse of Jonathan’s face. His cheeks were flushed, and I wished I could disappear, hating how I seemed to keep giving him more reasons to consider me a nutcase.
Mia had finished snarling. The man’s face was white and he had sprung away from Ruth’s car, hands held up like her words had convicted him.
After stabbing the man’s back with one last glare, Ruth checked me through the rearview mirror, her dark eyes seeking mine, her slightly rounded cheeks made pink by her outburst. “You okay, Fiona?”
I watched the man slink away, his shoulders hunched, our roles now reversed, and I was the one haunting him. “Yeah.” But I wasn’t, and we all knew it.
“Ghost Month isn’t anything like Halloween, really, but some of these kids try so hard to Americanize it.” Ruth rolled her eyes.
“It’s okay.” I cleared my throat, hating how my voice croaked.“It’s my fault, too, for being so jumpy.”
Ruth shook her head so adamantly her short hair bounced. “Don’t think like that. You’re actually doing quite well, considering the circumstances.”
The circumstances…It sounded better than the proverbial elephant, I supposed, and way much better than the truth of having my memories carved out by an accident.
“So,” Mia said brightly, “did you like the clothes I bought for you?”
Everyone – even Jonathan - burst into laughter. “All the stuff you bought for her was either pink or had ruffles. Only someone silly like you would like something like that,” her brother retorted.
Mia grinned shamelessly. “I just wanted to make sure we could swap clothes. And besides, I knew she’d look good in them.” She chatted nonstop about the things we could do over the summer, keeping the mood lighthearted throughout the ride.
Outside, the lively colors of the festival had gradually disappeared and muddied into bland and ugly shades of brown and gray as Ruth drove deeper and deeper into the throat of Chinatown – Ong Pin, which was the area’s main road.
There were no houses but just one low-rise building after another, nothing that went past five stories. I couldn’t imagine memorizing the ins and outs of Chinatown when everything looked exactly the same. A few more minutes passed and then Ruth was maneuvering the car into an expansive parking lot, waving back to a uniformed guard as she did.
“Jonathan, get Fiona’s stuff,” Ruth said.
Without a word, Jonathan took my suitcase out of the trunk.
“I can do that---” I started but shut up at his look. Five minutes later, and I was thankful I hadn’t insisted too hard. The Changs lived in the fourth floor, which would have been fine if their apartment building had an elevator. When I reached the fourth landing, I was breathing hard while the others still looked refreshed, like they had just stepped out of the shower.
I glanced down – the narrow, U-shaped stairs prevented me from seeing beyond the last two flights but its sight still made me dizzy. The thought of having to climb them every day made me feel even dizzier.
“Welcome to home sweet home,” Ruth said as she unlocked the door and pushed it open with her shoulder. A tall, dark shadow slipped past her, and the hairs on my nape stood up.
I glanced at Mia and Jonathan, wondering if they had seen it, too.
Jonathan caught me looking. “What?”
I shook my head. “Nothing.” And there was nothing, I told myself, because I didn’t have the ability to see ghosts. I didn’t. I didn’t.