This is once again based on personal experience.
I was too scared to create a horror story. My dream as a teenager was to become a filmmaker. So, my best friend, back in the day, cursed me with ‘How if you end up being a horror filmmaker?’ question. Because I was just so cowardly and she just loved horror movies so much. At that time ‘the conjuring’ was released, as always, she was so excited because ‘the conjuring’ had the taste of Asian horror. I, as expected, found a thousand excuses to not watch it. She did find a trick though, one day as I slept over in her house, she made me watch it along with her parents and siblings. So, I had no choice but to bite my tongue.
Short story, when we were in our second years in High School. The Art teacher asked us to produce our own short film for the short film competition in our school annual art week event. I was the one supposed to be the director, but I was just too busy with my part-time, debate club, writing, and perfectionism. So, my classmate decided to create something crazy. They produced a horror movie without my consent. I was told to go into an area, which is a famous graveyard in my hometown. The graveyard had a pedestrian path in between two graveyard sections. You need to realize that Asia, especially Southeast Asian’s graveyard, horror, mystic, ghost, and belief in magic is still strong until today.
Let me give you a brief introduction on my ethnicity. I am a Javanese. The one most mainstream ethnic from the world's most populous island, Java. We had a completed package of mystique folktale, a creepy back sound, and tons of sacred tradition.
If a virgin swept the floor when the sun wasn’t raised yet, she’d left with no friend. If you want to look prettier, you need no plastic surgery, just make an appointment with a local shaman and ask him/her to apply a ‘Susuk’ in your forehead. ‘Susuk’ is a small piece of silver or gold needle inserted in the face with a magic charm to improve your beauty. Also, if you hate someone and want to curse them, do the same, the shaman would send a ‘Santet’ to the person you hate and a trick my grandma had taught me was to sleep on the floor to avoid it. Yes, I might be successful and avoid the ‘Santet’ but gain a back ache instead. There were a plethora more beliefs that I grew up with.
One among many that made me question all the beliefs I had growing up was the coffee on the ‘Sesajen’ basket. It’s not an actual basket, but I have no more accurate word to explain it in English. It’s more like a rectangular plate full of small special bowls, like a Chinese tea glass, and it's full of sacred offerings for our ancestors. Something like a cigarette, incense, betel leaves, coffee, and a bunch of stuff I don’t remember the name of. Basically, my grandma once again taught me that the ancestor has come and drank the coffee, and I asked her.
“How did you know?”
“Look at the Coffee, it’s full before and now some of it was drunk by your grandfather.”
I really want to give her some clarity, it just evaporated my dear Mbah. The worst being Javanese for a coward like me was the ghost. Believe me, something like the Conjuring, Chucky, or Annabelle is creepy but not really scary. Something that I hesitantly typeted the name as I write it now was the one that scared me out.
Let's go back to the graveyard my friend asked me to come. Indonesia is located in the equatorial line; it means that we have the same exact time of sunset for the whole year. The difference was just between minutes. When the sunset came, I was just sat there, among the tombs and shivering. I was genuinely asking my own sanity to agree with it and tried to accept the fact that I was there, sitting next to someone gravestone, over hundreds of corpses. I was definitely not sane. I ended up not directing the film and decided to direct the drama instead. So, my first short film was produced without a proper script.
It’s about a gangster who suddenly dies in a car accident and becomes a ghost. He was tracing back his life and regretting everything. But it was too late, the title was ‘too Late’, too late to repent. He ends up dragged to hell.
Indonesia has a lot of traditions for the dead and how to care for the body. Some will be burned or buried with a coffin like in western. Some will be burned with a huge celebration like a ‘Ngaben’ in Bali. Some other huge celebration was in Toraja, where the dead will be mummified and kept in the house until the remaining family have enough money for the ceremony which will cost billions of rupiah and rest the body of the dead in a natural rock wall. There were jokes among my peers of our ethnicity, some of us save money for die, some others for marriage (Panae, money that men have to give to women before marriage) and more. But the most common way to bury the dead was wrapped the corpses with white cloth called ‘Kaffan’ and tied the top, middle, and bottom like a candy. The strap must be opened when the corpses are buried, if not the dead will turn into a ghost. When I was a kid, there’s a movie about this ghost with the red eyes and the blue eyes. I enjoyed it so much, with my finger in between my eyes. This one candy-like ghost is the one I scared the most. Even mentioning the name in front of me is taboo. My brother and sister used to tease me by mentioning the ghost and I’d screamed to my mom and three of us would end up with detention. I didn’t understand why people like cosplaying this ghost at the town square, I hate it so much. And that night, amongst tons of ghosts in this diverse Indonesia Folktale, they chose this candy-like ghost, I was done.
I lose my focus and all I remember was, ‘I don’t want to go back home alone.’ Have you ever seen a ghost riding a motorbike? I was more afraid that people started being anarchy after mistaken my friend as a real ghost. Oh God! I feel like witches in Harry Potter that are too afraid to mention Voldemort. I do really want to tell you the name, but I was too afraid to check on google, whether you can find it by typing ‘Indonesian Candy-like ghost’ or not.
Ok, then let’s play a game.
It contains 6 letters, beginning with P.
P_ _ _ _ G
_ _ C_ _G
Can you guess it yourself? I have given you all my bravery.
If talking about spending time at the graveyard, rather than my High School experience, my elementary experience was more interesting. It’s very common for Indonesian kids to join a scout in our elementary days. One of the annual events in every scout in Indonesia was the camp. The camp location could be anywhere from the class to the wild. And in all those camps, we have one tradition after the bonfire which I totally don’t understand, ‘Why does it even exist?’. Indeed, as a kid I enjoyed it. It is called ‘Jerit Malam’, roughly translated as ‘Night-Scream’. Properly translated as, ‘A bunch of adults tried to scare a bunch of kids with pretend to be a ghost and lured the kid to the graveyard.’
We’d walked in a row and one by one of us would go inside the graveyard ‘solo’ and try to find the task they were asking for. There’s a moment in my life when I was 8 or 9 in the middle of the graveyard with a bunch of gravestones and corpses under me alone and I was cursing, then praying, and cursing again, and forgiving for nothing, and crying. I swear for a moment I was acting like a ray fish hiding under the sand, with the electrical receptor suddenly getting more sensitive than before. I felt the eye stare at me.
That was all an interesting experience enough to remember, not to rewrite. But, if I can choose, I’d rather feel that fear in my life. I guess fear will always be our foe and transform itself to the one closer. As a young adult, that foe has turned to be a fear of life. When our young unrealistic life was challenged by a realistic logic. Life seems to be creepier than Pocong. But we survived, don’t we?
I still have tons of those bloody horror experiences, from when I was hiking until when I was diving. Let’s just keep it for later.
Thanks for reading.