Everyday supernatural

Illustration by Daphne Lee

Orang Minyak; and Pontianak,
by Daphne Lee.
One-story zines privately published by the author, nd.

‘[He] could leap high. And he floated, like a shadow, on walls and on ceilings. And then when it was safe he would float down softly and he would creep, silently, like a black cat, and no one would know.’

Orang Minyak

Sex and death: the only certainties where life is concerned. When the two are bound up in our imaginations with thoughts of the supernatural they can give rise to all-pervading obsessions – such as incubi and succubi, and vampires corporeal and psychic. How powerfully such obsessions are able to magnify both our fascination and our fears!

That’s where these two short stories score. Both were first published as one-story zines and later revised, appearing in the author’s collection entitled Bright Landscapes (Laras99, 2019 and Langsuyar Press, 2021). Related in a very matter-of-fact fashion and including ordinary conversations, both nevertheless hint at things beyond the everyday.

When whispers of old beliefs impinge on modern life can they really be accounted as beyond the bounds of possibility when they’re allied with persuasive rumours, odd coincidences and personal experiences? Do they then suggest that the supernatural too is somehow also an everyday thing?

One-story zines Pontianak and Orang Minyak

Orang Minyak tells of a nameless woman, a Chinese Malaysian who’s married to Francis, in Kampung Abdullah, a suburban settlement between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. At times the locale is terrorised by reports of women getting assaulted, raped or worse by an orang minyak – literally an oily or greasy man – and then a group of men head out into the night to capture him, but to no avail: he always evades them, figuratively slipping through their fingers.

But the woman has a secret. Though the couple have a daughter, Lin, she has had miscarriages, all of them male, until finally one survives. But who is the father? The woman’s mother-in-law has her doubts.

Orang Minyak is a subtle tale which, while taking the woman’s point of view, suggests much but leaves us confused as to what is real and what is the result of the woman’s imagination arising from sexual desire. The author’s narrative cleverly disturbs by inserting episodes out of sequence and gaps in the narrative but also leaving us with the aftermath. And always the woman’s overwhelming libido is masked by the banality of everyday actions and conversations.

The other tale, Pontianak, also takes its name from the name of an Asian creature common to Malaysian folklore. The name refers to the ghost of a woman who would’ve died in childbirth before becoming a vampire. The narrator Mei Lin opens her account with the arresting statement, ‘My uncle was once married to a Pontianak,’ and the tale goes on by means of reported conversations and flashbacks to detail the circumstances.

This is such an intriguing short story, telling the curious reader all they might need to know about the nature of Malaysian female vampires within a plausible narrative framework. Mei Lin talks with Kiki and his boyfriend Chris, to the alleged pontianak Anita and one or two others. Kiki says he’s visited by an obliging female ghost at night, to Chris’s disgust; when Mei Lin talks about her uncle David’s spouse we learn how to ‘fix’ a pontianak in human form by means of nails in her dwelling, a banana tree, as well as how to free her; Mei Lin also divulges how to use a needle and scarlet thread to get control of the night visitor.

As with Orang Minyak we’re drawn into an quotidian world of friendships, of surviving day to day, and of conversations that either reveal or conceal feelings and beliefs.  Always hovering though above the ordinary is the extraordinary, the dangerous spirit world, of ghosts with a taste for sex and blood. And their reach can be huge, whether in Kuala Lumpur on the Malaysian peninsula or overseas in Kuching on the island of Borneo.

Though the innocent reader may at first feel disoriented – these spirits aren’t from the European stable of stock vampires or incubi – Daphne Lee’s skill lies in accenting the universality of human reactions to the unknown, as well as to each other. And, as with all good ghost stories, much depends not on what’s said but what’s left unsaid.

Pontianak and Orang Minyak are in the short story collection Bright Landscapes (along with the title story, also published as a one-story zine): all ten stories are inspired by Malaysian / Asian myths, legends and supernatural beliefs.

In 2021 it became available as an ebook, published by Langsuyar Press, being a revised edition of the original 2019 paperback collection (Laras99) but with additional notes and (presumably) the author’s illustrations.

The book costs US$4.00 and PayPal is presently the only pay option for readers outside Malaysia. Further details can be got from https://daphnelee.org/2021/09/04/bright-landscapes-ebook/.

Author and editor Daphne Lee happens to be one of the guest contributors for Witch Week 2022 scheduled between Halloween and Bonfire Night, the theme being Polychromancy


6 thoughts on “Everyday supernatural

    1. I really enjoyed them, Daphne, especially after my recent reread! I’m grateful you sent them to me all that time ago, and that I had a space to let the unsettling aspects settle, all the better to appraise them. 🙂


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