“Death is only the Beginning.” Mo-Qian recalled the words from “The Mummy” but, the beginning of what? For more times than he could remember, he had regained cognizance at this intersection at exactly 5:00 p.m. everyday. And, at exactly 5:00 a.m. each morning he would slip into oblivion once again. He felt like he was trapped in a never ending repetitious, pointless loop instead of starting on a new journey to the afterlife.
Reflecting on his experiences from the day of his funeral, the troubling thought about that being the last day he would be able to bask in the warmth of the sun turned out to be a prophetic premonition. Since then, his conscious existence had been relegated to darkness. Until the sun was setting each day he still hid in the dark corners. In fact, he was never really comfortable until around midnight because any contact with the living caused a painful burning sensation. And nowadays, people were willing to sacrifice their sleep to gain a few more hours for working and playing.
When he was alive, he was too busy making money to worry about where his soul came from when he was born or where it would go after he died. Dead is dead and getting mired in philosophical contemplation about it seemed like an annoying waste of time.
He now realized what a gross oversight that attitude had been. He was dead now and had no clue whatsoever of what to expect. If there were supposed to be messengers from the spiritual realm to guide him to the afterlife, why hadn’t he seen them? Nor had he been contacted by any of his dead ancestors to guide him either. Was it possible that his name was not written in the scrolls of destiny and his death was a mistake?
His eyes glistened momentarily with a glimmer of hope at that thought but that was quickly extinguished when he remembered that his body had been irrevocably burned to ashes. Still, living people made mistakes every day. Was it unreasonable to assume that mistakes were also made in the spiritual realm and that his current situation was a result of such a mistake? He must find the answers.
The noises of the street were gradually dissipating, providing a small measure of comfort. Once familiar sounds from his past life now seemed to be in a frequency that was out of phase with his sensory receptors. They blended together in an unintelligible high pitched chattering sound reminding him of a tape recorder in fast forward mode. The harshness of it combined with his frustration, chronic migraines, body aches and shivering chills overloaded his senses to the point where he thought he would explode.
Suddenly, above all this, he heard a loud piercing scream that was an unmistakable sound of impending danger. He turned his head just in time to see a crashed scooter skidding past him and a young woman flying through the air. He instinctively positioned himself to catch her and break her fall. Confusion swept over him as he puzzled over how his spirit was able to intervene physically in the world of the living, and who the young woman was that had crashed on the scooter with the license plate number “BRU-441”.
He supposed that she had been impatiently waiting for the green light and seeing very little traffic decided to take off. But obviously she failed to see the car that hit her before it was too late and collided with it head on. Miraculously, thanks to Mo-Qian’s intervention, she was barely scratched and seemed clear headed. He drifted back into the shadows as the emergency and police vehicles arrived to examine the injured and sort out the details of the crash.
Mo-Qian was proud of himself for saving the girl but at the same time struck by the irony that only his death made it possible to prevent her from being killed. Life is so fickle he thought. Your destiny can be changed in the blink of an eye and leave you unprepared. He realized that he had not recovered from his own untimely tragedy as he struggled to control his emotions.
Gradually he became aware that the air was getting hazy and he felt a cold chill. An ominous foreboding of gloom engulfed him. Suddenly a man ... no, a ghost, an angry ghost, came toward him very quickly. His bloodshot eyes protruded from their sockets as if they would fall out of his head. His face was rigid and distorted with anger as he glared directly into Mo-Qian’s eyes with a frightening intensity.
The ghost kept circling around him with ever increasing speed until he was surrounded by a solid hazy wall which suddenly hurled him to the ground with unimaginable force. The ghost picked him up and repeatedly slammed him back to the ground until he felt like his bones were breaking apart. He could not even stand up let alone fight back. He could only endure the pain, reassured by the fact that he could not die because he was already dead.
It seemed that the ghosts anger had subsided somewhat as the beating stopped and Mo-Qian’s body began to regenerate its self. The “healing” happened so quickly that he felt a shockwave of sharp pain disperse to every part of his being. But the ghost had not finished with him yet. He grabbed Mo-Qian by the neck and thrust him violently against a wooden telephone pole and hung him on a spike so he could not move. He was at a loss to understand why he was being so brutally assaulted as the ghost stood motionless, still staring fiercely into his eyes.
He was amazed at how cold the air had become considering that it was a warm summer night. His attention shifted to the increasing number of spirits gathering around them. He speculated that they were the cause in the climate change and was curious as to what their purpose was for being there.
The appearance of the ghostly apparitions shocked him. Since his death was not violent and his “body” was intact, he had never considered that a spirit would not be totally whole regardless of how its owner had died. But now he realized how fortunate he was as he surveyed these inauspicious souls, trying to guess how they had met their death.
Some were bloated and left small puddles of water on the road as they moved about; drowning victims. He identified the hanged by the distorted blood gorged faces with bulging eyes and tongues hanging out. Of all the unfortunate souls he surveyed, those burned alive were the most horrid to behold. The scorched faces and charred limbs induced a momentary empathetic pain in him that was unbearable. Though each was grotesque in a different way they all had one thing in common. They were disfigured beyond recognition.
He knew from ingrained traditional beliefs that all of the ghosts gathered here, attracted by the commotion of his attack, were trapped by their overpowering emotions. Revenge, sadness, resentment, anger, hatred and despair were all emotions that could trap a spirit in a limbo between the living and the dead with no clear path to the eventual passing into the afterlife. This knowledge explained the presence of the unfortunates who had all obviously experienced painful or violent deaths. But he was baffled as to why he should be trapped here with them, having no recollection of any traumatic events related to his death.
The crowd of onlookers was steadily growing and the chatter of speculation about the events that had drawn them to this place gradually became the dominant noise in the street. Suddenly, above the clamor, a booming voice queried the angry ghost. “What is going on here?” The noise from the crowd diminished somewhat as their attention shifted to the man with only half a face.
The ghost slowly turned his head and replied with a tone that portrayed a heart heavy with despair and anger. “I am cursed with bad luck! Where the hell did he come from? I’m finished, all my work was for nothing. Who knows how long I’ll have to wait for another chance.” With deep grief in his face, he focused his stare back on Mo-Qian. “I won’t let this ghost off so easily for such a grave violation of the rules!”
A woman in the crowd shouted, “Did he rob you of your chance to steal another soul’s body?”
Mo-Qian glanced over at her and was repulsed by her disfigured face that looked like someone had skinned her and cut off her nose and lips. He couldn’t help wondering what sort of gruesome death she had suffered. Her words also summoned another bit of folklore from an obscure corner of his subconscious about how ghosts, trapped in this limbo, would plan the death of a living person so they could displace their souls at the instant of death and pass on to the afterlife, leaving the unfortunate victim’s soul trapped in his place. He now began to comprehend the gravity of his actions and feared for his well being. As the birth rate declined, the chances for reincarnation decreased and so, understandably, the ghost that he had sabotaged might have to wait a very long time for another opportunity to escape.
“Don’t you know the rules? Why be a hero? The girl will never know who saved her life and will never be grateful to you. Where are you from and why are you too ignorant to understand this situation?”
All the cursing and ranting had not assuaged his intense anger and he was still very agitated. He had waited a long time at this intersection to set up just the right accident. He had planted the thought in her head about forgetting her purse, which induced her to run the red light. But, he didn’t expect someone to intervene and disrupt his plan. When he first saw Mo-Qian, he suspected that some other trapped ghost was trying to seize his chance to escape. He had never imagined that some ghost would try to save a life. But, regardless, the result was still the same. His chance was gone.
If I don’t punish him to teach him a lesson, who knows what other ghost will be the victim of his stupidity. At this thought, the anger surged in him again and his hands tightened around his antagonist’s throat. Mo-Qian knew he was in perilous danger and began to sob uncontrollably out of fear. Alone and helpless his consciousness slowly faded to blackness.