“Thank you, husband. I can’t handle the stomach pain anymore. I will be back soon.”
When she returned, my uncle was sitting on the floor, snoring loudly. My poor husband, he must be very tired for him to be snoring so loud. I am glad he’s asleep, though. She went to place a pillow under his head and a blanket over his body. Kissed him good night and crawled into bed feeling much better now that her stomach pain was gone.
Yes, the next morning delivered a new death in the village. Luckily, it wasn’t my uncle and he was very thankful it was not his wife. They had another month before the next full moon to sell all their assets. My uncle told himself that he was not going to take the chance and will sell everything at whatever price people offered; though his wife would debate with him concerning this. Still, he loved her more than he loved Buddha, so he agreed to sell the items at the true value and was able to sell only one third of the furniture. Only a few more days, and the next full moon will arise.
The day before the full moon, my uncle kept a close watch on the villagers and his wife. He had to make sure she was safe especially when they survived this far. That night, my uncle could see that his wife was in pain again. He thought it was odd that she seems to always have stomach pains during the night and never during the day. He wondered if she was having an affair and this was her reason to sneak off in the night to meet with her lover. Yes, I know. She was supposed to be this ugly woman so why was he so madly in love with her? Love makes you stupid. That is my answer.
Okay, so my uncle had it in his head that she has a lover. That night, he went to bed early and she did, too. She woke up to my uncle’s snore and got out of bed oh-so-very-quietly as to not wake him up. The minute she closed the door, my uncle instantly got up and ran to the door. He watched her go towards the barn. He went after her when he saw her go through barn door. He tried very hard to stay in the dark where she would not notice him. As he got closer to the door, he heard a pail fall indicating that someone was coming his way, so my uncle ducked behind a stack of clay pots. He was able to see through the cracks and saw particle hair that looked like his wife as it passed by. He hid his body and face just as he noticed that it was a floating head with the intestine following it. As he shook his brain in disbelief, he thought: The head and the intestine are floating in mid air! Oh my god, that was a ghost! He could not believe it. He reasoned with himself that he was mistaken and that he was in a dream. After a minute, he sobered up and investigated the barn to make sure he was mistaken.
At this point, he would rather find his wife naked in the arms of another man. He went in the barn calling her name, “Ngoc!” She didn’t answer. He said, “It’s me, you don’t have to be afraid. I don’t care if you have a lover, just come out. I forgive you.” Nothing. He went through the whole barn and didn’t hear a sound. Nothing. Then he noticed an area in the far back of the barn. In the corner, there were old clothes stacked about five feet high. That was odd to him to have so many clothes in a pile. He walked over to the pile of dirty clothes and noticed his wife’s barefoot. Oh my god, she is probably naked with her lover right now! “Get out from there! I see you!” He yelled as he went around the pile. “What the hell!” He saw her naked body lying on the dirty clothes, her naked breast showing. Nothing was on her, not a man, not a blanket, not even her head. Then, fear crept over him and made him realize that the ghost has his wife and killed her. He ran to the village elder’s home to ask for help. It was now an hour past midnight. As he banged on the door crying, “Help me, help me! The ghost killed my wife!”
“What is it? Are you sure? Is your wife dead?” Asked the elder trying to put on his slipper before leaving the house to follow my uncle.
“Yes, yes, my wife’s head is missing. And all I see is her naked body!”
“Wait! Did you say your wife’s head is missing and her body is still there?”
“Yes. Come with me quick so I can show you!”
The elder stopped and took my uncle arm and told him to stop. “Quan! Tell me one more thing before we go! Were there any blood on your wife’s body? Tell me. Do you think she was raped and her head chopped off?”
“Raped! Raped! Blood. Blood.” He yelled at first, then quiet down when he tried to remember if he saw blood. “No. No blood. What does that mean? No blood? She’s dead! She doesn’t have a head!”
“Okay, Quan. This is what I want you to do. You have to calm down. Come to my house and I’ll explain what’s going on.”
“Calm down? What? Are you crazy? How can I calm down when my wife is dead?” He screamed, ready to punch anything and everything that was in his way.
“QUAN! I know what I am saying. Come to my house. I think your wife is okay. I will explain. Just come to my place and I will give you some whiskey to calm your nerves. Come! Trust me. Come!”
Suddenly, the heaviness of the village deaths dropped on my uncle’s shoulders and he couldn’t fight anymore. “Yes, I will listen. Tell me that my wife is okay. Just tell me that everything is okay.”
In the living room of the elder, the old man weaved his knowledge plain and simple for my uncle as he poured a large glass of homemade rice whiskey. “I told you about Ma-Lai. They have three lines around their necks and they are usually women. What I did not tell you is that the Ma-Lai leaves its body in the middle of the night. Her head and intestine leave her body. She floats and roams the land until she finds human feces. Ma-Lai doesn’t eat like we eat. She likes to eat human feces. The feces coat her stomach to keep her satisfied until the next full moon. Whomever feces she eats, that person dies the next day. That is why we have to burry our waste or cover it with a bowl so she can’t get to it.” The elder took a drink as he watched my uncle closely. “Now tell me; think clearly. Did you see a head floating by your wife’s body? Try to remember.”
“I saw, I saw. I saw nothing.” He lied, but he told himself that he wasn’t lying. I didn’t really see anything except for the naked body. He shook his head, “I think you are right, maybe I was wrong. I saw my wife’s naked foot and ran. I didn’t want to see her with her lover. I need to go back and confront her. I am sorry I woke you up. Forgive me. I love her too much to want and believe that she has a lover. I need to be a man and confront her.” He looked desperately into the elder’s eyes. “Will you forgive me?”
“Ai yah, yes. I forgive you. It’s late and everyone in the village is worried. I understand. Go home to your wife. I won’t say anything to anyone about tonight. Make sure to tell your wife to get rid of her lover or else they both will be punished for adultery.” The old man replied kindly, knowing the stress everyone was carrying.
“One thing, how do you kill a Ma-Lai?” My uncle asked curiously.
“Oh, that’s simple. The hard part is figuring out who the Ma-Lai is, but once you know, you follow it during the full moon. When it hides its body and the head is detached from the body, you just flip the body while the head is away. When it comes back, the head can’t reattach to the body. When the sun comes out and the moon disappears, so will the Ma-Lai’s spirit. It will die before the first rooster crows.”
My uncle thanked the old man and walked home praying to Buddha that he was only dreaming and that he was mistaken about his wife. He went back to the barn where he saw his wife last. There was the pile of clothes, still five feet high. He took a deep breath and walked around the pile. Nothing. His wife wasn’t there. No body was there. Yes, it was just a dream! The stress is getting to me. I didn’t see anything and only imagined it. His walk was lighter as he entered the house. His wife was sleeping soundly in bed and he was at peace once again.
The next day, my uncle asked his wife where she went last night. She got very upset and asked, “Where did I go? Where were you? You leave me in the middle of the night and I waited until I couldn’t wait anymore. The next thing I know, I find you in bed! Are you having an affair?”
Remember when I told you my uncle loves his wife? Well, he did; a lot! He was afraid she would leave him, so he asked for her forgiven and told her that he was not able to sleep because of the stress and went to visit with the elder. He won’t do it again. They both dropped the subject and were happy again. Though, my uncle was still worried that his wife would leave him, he would stay awake every night until his wife fell asleep first. After three weeks of her staying home every night. He stopped worrying and was able to sleep early and got some real rest. His mind and heart were so fixed on his wife that he didn’t even cared that a death occurred the night he spoke with the elder.
The next month, during the night of the full moon, my uncle was exhausted and went to bed early. His wife said she had one last load to wash and will be in soon. The minute he saw his bed, he flopped on top of the blanket and snored. The full moon shined through his bedroom window and woke him. As he got up to close the curtains, he saw the back of a head and intestine floating towards the barn. Oh my god. The Ma-Lai is coming to get us. I must warn my wife. “Wife, wife, get up.” He looked towards the direction of his wife and saw nothing. Fear drained the blood from his body. He ran outside towards the barn to the exact spot with the pile of clothes. There it was, his wife naked with her head missing. He couldn’t allow himself to be weak much longer and flipped her body over as he screamed and cried, “Oh my god! My god, no!”
The minute his wife sensed that something was wrong with her body; she floated back to the barn. There. There was her husband, shaking as he cried, “This isn’t true. It can’t be. It is a just nightmare. Wake up. Wake up!” As he slapped his face over and over again.
“Husband.” She whispered. Her voice was soft and dreamy. “Husband, you are dreaming. Go back to sleep.” Was all he heard.
“Husband, go back to sleep.”
His eyes slowly closed because he desperately wanted to believe it. He could feel the weight on his head dropping over his chest.
“Husband, you’re dreaming, flip the body back to how you found it.” She called out to him as a nightingale sings to its owner. “Flip the body back.” What? If I’m dreaming, I don’t need to flip the body back. He told himself. He placed his head next to his wife and slowly drifted.
“HUSBAND! I need you to flip my body back! Get up and flip my body back!” Her shriek pumped adrenaline into his brain as he jumped to his feet. Out of disbelief, he ran to the door, but she floated after him blocking his way out.
“Husband, please. I beg of you. Don’t kill me. I love you.” She sobbed trying for his sympathy. “I promise I won’t do this anymore. I promise. I will try my very best to control my urges. Don’t kill me. Don’t you love me? I love you. Don’t leave me for dead.”
He couldn’t bare the tears any longer and walked back to the body. “You promise?”
“Yes, I promise.”
He flipped her body back and she instantly connected with her body. She got up and hugged her husband.
He couldn’t look at her and only said, “Quickly, we must pack our things and leave tonight.”
They left that village in the year of 1974. After the communist came, my mother never heard or seen him since.