The resort is on the North East coast, not far from the Thai border. An area ravaged by monsoons and pirates and skirted past for centuries by ocean-bound traders plying their goods between South China and what is now known as Indonesia.
A place of long, wind-swept beaches and occasional small islands. The resort is old, sprawling and grand. Crumbling whites, rotting surfaces, a melancholy mix of traditional and colonial styles, which appear to be being slowly pushed into the sea by the encroaching jungle.
They were given a chalet on the beach; a wooden structure on a small headland pointing directly out into the mouth of The Gulf of Thailand. The chalet itself was delightfully ship-like. One imagined being in the cabin of some ancient junk working its cargo of ceramics, silks and spices north, south, north again through treacherous waters against a coastline scattered with the unmarked resting places of those who for hundreds of years had perished, one way or the other, in that trade. Inside everything was dark wood, everything creaked, from footfall, tropical wind or perhaps from the cabin slowly breathing in time to the rising and falling tides.
Night fell. The air was humid, sweltering and still. A shroud hung over the world, torn in parts with pins of light shining through. An inky-black sky; so dark that the stars at the same time seemed more numerous than ever, yet closer than ever possible. Everything was quiet, except for the creaking (breathing) of the chalet and the languid, metronomic roll of the waves against the beach.
He dreamed, very vividly, that someone was holding his feet. Pressing them down, pushing and pulling them. The feeling was somehow urgent, faster and much less regular than the rhythm set by the ocean outside. The dream continued and the sensation became more frantic, more desperate. He awoke suddenly, shocked, breathing heavily, nervous without understanding why. Not a nightmare, for he rarely suffered nightmares.
He turned to check his partner.
For sure she must have been playing some trick on him, an uncharacteristic trick but a trick all the same. But she lay asleep next to him, her back turned and her face solemnly directed out to sea. The sensation continued, his feet held firmly, being pushed forcefully down against the mattress, released, pulled upward and pushed back down again. His heart began to race and, as his eyes slowly accepted what little light filtered into the room, he apprehensively turned to look toward the foot of the bed.
He couldn’t move, he wasn’t sure why. Not frozen in terror in the accepted sense because he was sure he didn’t really feel fear. He felt fascinated but somehow deeply disturbed, not really afraid; perhaps he was in shock.
As he lay there, propped up on his elbows, he could see, as his eyes adjusted, a figure at the foot of the bed. A tall and apparently strong figure, leaning slightly forward as it exerted downward pressure in his ankles.
The figure then would rise slightly as the action of pulling his feet upwards made it rock backwards, then downwards again, then upwards and backwards and so it went on. He could not tell if the figure was looking at him, as no features were visible, just a dark, powerful silhouette facing him. He was sure, though, that his attention was being sought, there was an urgency, an immediacy about what was happening, almost a sense of desperation. Then, suddenly the figure was gone.
He knew this had not been a dream, much as he wanted it to have been. Slowly he turned on a lamp and climbed out of bed. The chalet was bright again. The waves crashed along the beach outside, the wood creaked, the chalet was bright and there was nothing; no-one except those two who had been sleeping moments before. ‘What is it’? She asked. ‘Nothing, I just needed some water’.
The following evening they ate by the beach. Their waiter was half Thai, half Malay a charming, friendly man who had lived in that area all his life. After the meal, as they finished their wine the waiter came to chat; the usual small talk about how long they would stay, where they are from, how do they find Malaysia.
He found the courage (as it always seems inappropriate or somewhat risky to ask such questions) to venture, ‘The resort has a strong atmosphere; does anything strange ever happen here’? The waiter paused for a moment, looking down at the table and shifting some dishes, then looking up and directly at him, asking,
‘Which chalet are you staying in’? ‘Number 3 — —’. He replied. Glancing slightly at her and back to him the waiter answered, ‘We should talk about this tomorrow, not now in the night-time’, then whispering, ‘not in front of her’.
‘I’ll be working at the bar in the morning, come to talk then, not now’. As he finished his sentence he picked up some dishes and walked away. He didn’t return to clear the table until they had left. As he approached the bar the waiter looked up and without hesitation he asked, ‘What did you see’? He replied that he was not sure, but that he had woken during the night, or early morning to what appeared to be the shape of someone at the foot of the bed.
‘That is the Hantu Raya’, came the response with a tone of familiarity and absolute certainty.
He had no idea what ‘the Hantu Raya’ was, he told the waiter, but the waiter seemed not to hear in his excitement to explain everything. ‘You see the tree outside your chalet’?
‘That is a very old banana tree, no-one here will touch that tree, we do not even like to walk past it at night, because in Malay belief the banana tree, especially a large old one is the home of ghosts and spirits’. ‘That tree has many ghosts, including Hantu Raya’.
He went on at length to explain that Hantu Raya is a Prince of Ghosts. A male ghost that needs a host to live in and that once it has such a host it can take the host’s shape and appearance and do many things to help the host but it has to be kept according to custom, to be fed ancak and the host’s blood amongst other things and these offerings must be observed at particular times to keep the Hantu Raya satisfied; otherwise it can cause harm to the host and those around him.
The host must control the Hantu Raya very carefully and make sure that before his own death the blood link must be severed or the Hantu Raya will continue to roam in its dead host’s form, unchecked and doing evil deeds until it can find a new host to accept it. Of course if the host dies suddenly, unexpectedly, for example in an accident, and there has been no ceremony, the Hantu Raya immediately becomes free but also lonely and desperate.
‘But how do you know I saw a Hantu Raya in the chalet’? ‘Many people have before, including the staff, it was in the shape of a large, strong man correct’? ‘That is what is often seen at night in that chalet’. ‘You should ask reception to change your room, that room has a bad history and we should not put guests there’. They changed their room.
Some weeks later, back in the city he attended a party and mentioned to a friend that he had taken a break at the resort. She replied, to accompanying shaking heads from others in the group, that she would never stay there again ‘after what had happened’. ‘What had happened’? He enquired.
She went on to tell him that some years ago an Englishman (much like himself) had gone swimming from the resort beach during the monsoon season, despite the warning flags and advice from the resort staff. The currents during the monsoon seasons are exceptionally strong and despite being a good swimmer and a large powerful man, he had disappeared. His body was washed ashore some days later and found by a guest one morning outside one of the chalets after a particularly high Spring tide during the previous night.
Appearing to change the subject dramatically he mentioned that he was interested in ghost stories and liked to collect them wherever he traveled or lived. ‘What do you know about Hantu Raya’? He suddenly asked.
The group looked surprised at him and she answered, that was old Malay superstition, and that the Hantu Raya is a kind of ghost or spirit that needs a willing host to inhabit. If accepted it will live inside the host but may roam about taking the host’s shape and appearance. It will do what you want of it, even harming your enemies or bringing you wealth, but you have to let it feed on your blood and if you are not careful to control it will appear as you appear and do bad things such as sleep with your wife or lovers or drink and fight with your best friends.
If you want to be free of the Hantu Raya you must have a ceremony with a pawang to make it leave your body forever. That is why at a traditional Malay funeral the corpse should always have the eyes covered with coins to prevent the Hantu Raya escaping; they always leave the body through the eyes, and roam the world in your form to do bad things whilst looking for a new host.
‘And do you know how Hantu Raya gets into your body’? She continued. ‘Well where I come from there was a belief that evil spirits enter through the mouth, that is why we are taught, as children, to cover the mouth when we yawn.’
‘No lah, different here, evil spirits and especially Hantu Raya always enter your body through your feet’. ‘They always enter through your feet, but you have to accept them; that’s why they often come at night because when we are asleep it is difficult to turn one away’.
Story Courtesy of http://chestnutmouse.com/stories/