East Asian Horror Holiday

I tugged at my mother’s hand. “I'm not feeling well, mummy."

“Honey, we just got here.” She squeezed my fingers gently.

I look down at my Mulan costume and shrugged. “I know.”

It was October 31st and my mother had agreed to take me Trick or Treating in London's China Town. But until now, with the moon pale, I never noticed the numerous Guanyins sitting outside each door. Guardian spirits, but who knew whether it was entry or exit that was forbidden?

Painted faces stared out of the mini altars, back-lit by red lights. The female buddha, Guanyin, could be seen at the door of every household in miniature, grinning behind their smouldering incense. Mandarins no one dared to touch had been stacked before them as an offering, and I imagined Guanyin’s mouth opening, her jaw breaking the ceramic that encased it, cracking the paint to reveal her teeth. In the morning, the mandarins were always gone.

For luck and fortune, my mother always said. The lights must never go out at the altar, but no one ever explained why. I walked down the street behind my mother, the echo of our footsteps joining the white noise of TV filtered through concrete walls.

We stopped in front of a red door. “You'll like this. I promise.”

I cast my eyes on the Guanyin by my feet and swallowed. This place had one too, but there were no mandarins offered to her yet. I cast my gaze around and saw other children dressed up as dragons and witches, going door to door. “I don’t like it here," I said, sounding more afraid than if intended.

“Darling, try to enjoy yourself.”

The Guanyin was staring at me with black, beady eyes that shone, her red lips in a frozen half-smile. I shook my head, but she ignored me. Mother knocked on the door.

A moment later, it opened to a Chinese woman with beady black eyes and a red half-smile. I shrank behind my mother rather to shout 'Trick or Treat'. My mother sighed and said it for me instead. 

The woman beamed as she waved for me to go inside. “Come in, come in! I have so much candy, you got to come to and choose some.”

“No, thank you," I said.

But my mother tugged at me. "Let's go. I'll come with you."

The woman's grin widened. “Come in. Have a mandarin.”

As we stepped in, I could see them, the round, orange fruits piled in a bowl in the middle of a small table inside, but I didn’t want them. I just wanted to go home.

We went through into the kitchen. My heart caught at the sight of a big Gunayin in the corner on the other side of the room. The red light bulbs in the altar glowed like twin dying suns, and like a pale ghost she sat, rock still and grinning, unseeing, waiting.

I turned away, unwilling to look at her any longer than I had to. A thud made me jump and I looked around. “What was that?”

My mother frowned. “It’s probably the neighbours.”


The woman nodded. “Yes, yes, the neighbours. Nothing to worry about it.”

Then, all the lights went out.

I blinked. “Mummy?”

There was no reply. I whirled around, and the only things I saw were the dying suns of the altar. I staggered, backing into a cupboard. The cups clinked and threatened to fall as I leapt out of the way. “Mummy, I’m scared!” I shouted, but still there was no reply. Tears sprang to my eyes and I gulped, my hands feeling along the wall. There had to be a light switch.

My hands brushed past the switch and I flicked it on with a sigh. I was staring right back at the altar. The Guanyin wasn’t there anymore, the altar empty with an empty plate and incense burning.

A thud sounded behind me. My skin prickled as I turned.

There my mother sat. Her skin had turned to china, glossy with varnish and just as cold. Black beady eyes stared back, unseeing. Her arms had been fused to her body, her head tilted in a permanent slant, and a red smile plastered on her face. Just like a Gunayin figure.

Another thud jolted my gaze to my mother’s ceramic feet. They shuddered, trembling against the tiled floor.

My hand flew to my mouth as I held back a scream. I shook my mother, the cold ceramic under my grip as I shouted, “Mummy! Mummy, c’mon! Wake up!”

She simply trembled, rocking against the floor like she’d been mummified in fired clay. I didn’t know how to break her out - if I smashed the china, would she be inside? Or would it kill her?

I looked up, not sure what I was looking for, and finally saw a little china statue like another miniature buddha on the shelf behind my mother. The figurine was that of a middle-aged woman, both hands clamped over her mouth, black eyes wide and round. Now I saw it shift, tilt, her head smacking against the side of the shelf. Thud. Like a warning for me to flee. There were more figurines, only these were children, dressed up as dragons and witches, all of them rocking on the shelf. Thud.

My mother was also rocking, the constant tremor reduced to a buzzing at the back of my mind. A shadow fell over me.

I raced over to the table for the mandarins. If I offered the female Buddha mandarins, perhaps she would rest - luck and fortune. The lights must never go off. Something cold made me shiver as the red altar lights burnt.

I imagined Guanyin’s mouth opening, the china cracking, the goddess breaking out of clay for a bite of fruit. But I’d never imagined her teeth, not really, not in any representation of her had there ever been a smile with teeth.

I reached for the mandarins. My fingers touched the rind as the shadow curled over the entire table. Over me.

The bowl tipped. The mandarins tumbled.



October 30, 2020 23:10

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