I was going through one of the old short story folders on my computer yesterday, when I came across this spooky, horror one. Written a few years ago for a friend who had an interest in such things, I thought it would be perfect for Sindy’s Spooky Writing Challenge – my favourite writing challenge of the year! It’s not my best piece of writing, but I hope you’ll agree, you can see how much my writing has developed over the last few years.
To be the son of an impious man was shameful. My father was greedy, coveting riches ceaselessly. We lived in a palace full of treasures but he always wanted more.
However, nothing was harder to bear than his lack of care and respect for the dead. I often found myself wondering if our home – my father in particular – was cursed. His insatiable desire to possess everything he saw was bad enough, but he despised waste. It would have been a noble quality in any but him.
I would place offerings of food and drink out for the spirits of our ancestors during Ghost Month, when spirits left Diyu, the lower realm, and on Ghost Day, when the spirits came to visit the living. I didn’t want to anger my ancestors, and I couldn’t bear the thought that they might go hungry.
But my father didn’t believe in any of it. He would not publicly say this, of course; to do so, would probably bring ruin upon our home. Nonetheless, I often noticed that once I put out the offerings, he would take them back, returning them to the kitchen under the cover of darkness, when the thought no one saw.
I had observed him doing this the previous two nights, and today was Ghost Day…
I was standing on the edge of the river with others from the town, watching the paper lanterns float away on the current. Everyone present was hoping that the light from the lanterns would guide any wandering spirits away from this place so they could cause no mischief. The full moon above glowed brilliantly, its golden-silver orb reflected in the water. And silently I wondered if the ghosts of our ancestors would go hungry tonight.
And what they would do in return.
When I returned home to bed I couldn’t sleep. Finally, when I couldn’t stand tossing and turning anymore, I got up, careful not to wake my sleeping wife, who, like the rest of the household and town, was oblivious to my father’s insulting attitude towards the ancestors. I decided to go for a little walk around the palace, to see if that would still my unquiet mind.
And that’s when I saw it, a dark shadow climbing over the roof of one of the outer buildings. Even in the light of the full moon I couldn’t make it out clearly. I wasn’t even completely sure of what I had seen. However, fearing attack, I decided to investigate. My father was an important, powerful man and this would not have been the first time an attempt had been made on his life. I had my dagger at my side and was capable of using it to deadly effect, if it was indeed an assassin.
My fear proved true, for whoever it was ran silently passed the treasury. Many valuable items were displayed all around the palace but these were ignored too.
It could only be an assassin.
When they reached my father’s chamber, they opened the door and slipped inside. A moment later, I did the same. My plan was to take them unaware, and immobilise them quickly before any damage could be done. If I sounded the alarm, not only might they kill my father, but themselves also. I needed to determine who had hired them and why.
Inside the room, all was in darkness. Slowly I crept along to where my father slept. I held the advantage in the dark, knowing the layout of the room; the assassin would have to let their eyes adjust to the dimness, or so I hoped.
Noiselessly, I released my dagger from my belt, and turned the corner into my father’s sleeping quarters. That’s when I paused.
The shadow was hovering over my father, who was gasping for breath, and yet I couldn’t see what the assassin was doing. There were no hands around my father’s throat. No knife was protruding from his chest.
‘Stop!’ I called out. Two blood red eyes shone at me out of the darkness as the culprit looked up. And that’s when I realised this was no assassin at all.
In shock, I dropped my dagger, it’s clanging on the floor was almost deafening in the silence.
I tried to move but something, some otherworldly power, held me fast to where I was. I tried to call out for help, but again, something had made me mute.
I knew what was happening…and what was going to happen. I knew what hungry ghosts did to satiate their craving. And when my father exhaled his last breath, he became the meal he was so unwilling to offer our ancestors.
When it was done, the shadow left the bloody remains on the bed and approached me. I thought my heart would burst out from my chest in fear.
‘You are honourable,’ it whispered to me. ‘You are safe from the spirit of your ancestors. Continue as you have always done. Respect them. Honour them. Placate them.’
‘What of my father?’ I asked, the power of speech now returned to me.
‘His greed in life will plague him in death.’
I understood what that meant.
My father was a hungry ghost too now.