The villagers gathered to mourn the young man’s death and gave money to help the widow until she could find a new husband who could take care of her and her three children.
With the sad news, my uncle and his wife did not try for a baby. The weird thing, it seemed that this new village was cursed or something because every month, there seemed to be another death. No markings on the person, no specific age group or sex. One day they were healthy, the next they were dead.
One day, after a long day of hard work, my uncle needed to go to defecate, but was far from home and didn’t have the energy to walk to the nearest river. Luckily, he found a stick in the woods and dug a hole. After he was done, he buried it. He wanted to make sure that it didn’t spread any diseases and he didn’t want anyone to step on it by accident. Usually, if the ground were too hard to dig a hole, you would need to place a bowl over the feces. It was my uncle’s lucky day for finding the stick, because he didn’t carry a bowl with him that day. Don’t ask me why. It is the culture. It is like asking why do dogs bark and cats meow. There is no explanation. It just is.
When he was done, he sneaked around to the other side to hide his embarrassment. There were two elders crouching on the ground whispering. My uncle knew these two men. They were respectable men who had nothing to hide, so the fact that they were whispering, it must have been big.
“Ah, excuse me.” My uncle interrupted, making sure they knew he was there. He didn’t want them to think that he was eavesdropping. “What are you two talking about? You look so intense.”
The elders looked around, looked over their shoulders, looked behind them and pulled my uncle down. “Don’t talk so loud in the woods. The villagers are afraid of all the deaths that are going on around here. It seems that there is a pattern. People would die the day AFTER the full moon.” They whispered.
My uncle was shocked. He never even thought about a pattern. He just thought it was odd that people were dying like the people were dying in the last village. He knew that there might be a war going on because the Northern Vietnamese were trying to recruit the villagers to push the Frenchmen out of Vietnam. He only assumed it had to do with the Communist. “So you think the Communist has something to do with this?” He said in a low voice, fearing that his life would be next if “they” ever heard the word “communist” come out of his mouth.
“Ai yah! Who cares about the Communist? They are just a punch of gangsters trying to be some important organization. We’re talking about life and death here.”
“Oh, sorry for my naiveté. Please continue. What do you think is the cause of all these death?” He asked feeling sick to his stomach, hoping that they don’t blame my uncle for bringing bad luck to the village or something related to that.
“We think there is a Ma-Lai in the village.”
“Ma-Lai? What’s that?”
“Where were you born? In a city?”
“No, whatever that means!”
“A Ma-Lai is a person who is half-human and half-ghost!”
“Oh come on, stop fooling around. Tell me the truth! I can handle it! Is it like a code for Communist or something?”
Smack! One of the elders slapped my uncle on the side of his head. “Listen and stop being so stupid!”
“Okay, okay, it’s a Ma-Lai. What does it do?”
“Ai yah, these young kids! They know so much, yet so little. Like I said, a Ma-Lai is half-human and half-ghost.”
“Wooohh, how is that possible?”
“Who knows, it just is. It’s like asking me why is Buddha fat. He just is!”
“Okay, old man, just tell me about this Ma-Lai.”
“A Ma-Lai is usually a woman. You can tell who is a Ma-Lai by the number of lines she has on her neck.”
“Number of lines? I’ve never noticed a woman’s neck. I’ve always preferred to look at her hair.”
“Well, start noticing! We need to find this Ma-Lai and kill her before she kills all of us.”
Suddenly, a group of three women with baskets of vegetables walked by trying not to show their fear since they didn’t know whom the killer was.
“It’s getting dark, we should walk back with the girls.”
“Hey, old man, I want to know more about this Ma-Lai. I have a wife I want to protect.”
“Oh yes, sure, sure. What did I tell you so far?”
“The number of lines on her neck!!!”
“Oh yes, most people have one or two lines on their neck. A Ma-Lai has three lines. That’s the secret number. Three. Look around and if you see three lines on a woman’s neck, bring her to the elders and we’ll bind her to the ground and chop her head off. That’s the only way to kill her. You have to separate her head from her body before the next sunrise. We won’t have to worry for another week or so. She only comes out when the moon is full, that’s how we figured it was a Ma-Lai; we would find a person dead the day after the full moon. Trust me, I’ve seen this before when I was 10 years old. It’s a Ma-Lai.”
That night, my uncle couldn’t sleep. He wanted to protect his wife and he didn’t think he could fight a ghost. My uncle thought of a way to sell all of their belongings so they could leave before the next full moon. Then he realized that he didn’t ask how the Ma-Lai striked. For the past months, there were random deaths; the sex and age of the victims didn’t match up. So if I wasn’t able to sell all of my assets before the next full moon, we still have a chance of survival. With that thought, he was able to sleep.
Two weeks past and he wasn’t able to sell a thing. The villagers all thought like he did. People were trying to sell so they could leave the village alive with their family. That night, two weeks since his last conversation with the old men, the moon was full. It was the biggest and brightest it ever had been that year. Everyone locked themselves in their houses, and prayed to their god, Buddha, to protect them.
That night, my uncle tried to keep his wife by his side, but her stomach ached and she said she needed to go outside because she ate something bad. He told her that he would go with her. “No, I would like to go by myself. I am too embarrassed to have my husband hear me and stay by my side while I go. Don’t worry about me. I will scream if anything happens and I will be right outside, not too far away.” She said reassuring him so he would not worry too much.
“Okay, you promise not to go too far out?”
“Yes, just far enough so the smell won’t reach our house or the neighbors. I promise to scream if anything, any small sound frightens me; I will scream.”
“Sure, I will wait for you in the house.” He looks at the clock as the second hand clicks on the number eight. Great, 20 minutes until midnight. I think we should be safe.