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Teluk Berapit

 

Teluk Berapit

Halloween’s coming, and in keeping with tradition, we’re posting a story about the supernatural. We ‘ve possibly exhausted all the supernatural tales surrounding RI from all three campuses, so we’re featuring a story from Mr Othman Wok’s novel on the supernatural titled ‘Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50s.’ The story we’ve chosen to feature is quite long, so we’ve broken it up to two parts. 

 

***

It had always been a strangely quiet, forbidding place. There was first of all that jungle. Stretching from the beach for as far as the eye could see, it was reputedly impenetrable to man or beast. Night or day, no bird of any feather, so it was said, would dare perch itself on any of its trees. And no animal great or small would be caught dead in it. The waters, always so calm and free of currents, were known to be teeming with fish. It would delight any fisherman to see them jumping about as they did here on the water's surface. But, sadly, Teluk Berapit was no place for fishing, for it was also reputed to be the domain of evil spirits. many a daring fellow testing that taboo had perished there. In a village miles away, old Pak Adam, his wife and four small children lived a pathetic, hand to mouth existence. Pak Adam was a fisherman, and the family's fortunes thus depended solely on the sea and the whims of the weather. Today was to be yet another of those miserable days they had had of late, when he came home with nothing to show for the hours he had spent at sea. He looked down cast as he unloaded his tackle at the door. Not a fry took his bait today. What was he and his family going to eat? Same as yesterday, rice and salted fish in a soup of cold water? Or like the day before, watery rice porridge with some salt? Come to think of it, there probably wasn't any grain of rice left in the house.


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© Photo credit: azrulazisphoto.blogspot.com

His wife, Sapiah, who had shared this life of misery with him for many years, said nothing when he returned. She knew from the way he looked that it was going to be another gloomy day for them. Resignedly, she went to the old cupboard in the kitchen where she kept some coins in a cup. That was to have been invested into making some cakes for Seman, their eldest son, to sell and help make some money. It looked like it will have to serve as capital for their stomachs today. Grabbing her worn out shawl, Sapiah went out and hastened to the local Indian provision shop, She would have to ask Kassim to give her whatever food she could get for the paltry sum in her hand. It was dark and silent at Pak Adam's place that night. Having spent all their savings on the lunch today, the family now had nothing left even to buy the kerosene for the lamp. Left in darkness, the kids went to bed early on the two or three spoonfuls of rice that was left of the afternoon meal. Sapiah too soon fell asleep from exhaustion. Pak Adam, however, could not sleep. There were troubles in his mind, and his stomach was tormented by hunger. He tossed and turned, right, left, face up and face down, but the pangs were too much to bear. He got up and went to the kitchen to get himself a drink, hoping that it would ease the hunger. 

As he poured some water into a metal cup, Pak Adam considered his chances at sea tomorrow. He must do something to change his fortunes. he must seek the best fishing grounds and get a good haul, to make sure his family will have something to fill their stomachs. The name 'Teluk Berapit' kept recurring in his mind but, for a while, he brushed it aside, aware of the taboos about the place. 'Don't ever visit that evil place. never mind if your family has to starve. Don't even go near it, for whoever goes there will bring misfortune to this village.' Adnan the Shaman warning was still clear in his ears. But, as he returned to his room, Pak Adam realized he had a serious problem in his hands. How is he to feed his family tomorrow? Is he really prepared to see them go on an empty stomach for yet another day? No, misfortune or no misfortune, evil or no evil, Teluk Berapit was his only hope now. He must go there tomorrow to try his luck, or his family could very well die of starvation. Pak Adam lay down. His mind was made up. Somehow, that made him feel a lot better, and at last, he could close his eyes to sleep.

By the time Pak Adam reached Teluk Berapit the following day, he had spent a whole day rowing and in the west the sky was already turning red with the setting of the sun. Just like he had been told, it was an eerily quiet place. There was an unnatural stillness in the air, in the water, in the whole atmosphere. And that jungle. Just like they said, it stretched right from the shore and looked so thick and forbidding. As he rowed on nervously towards the beach, he wiped a way the sweat on his face with sleeve of his tattered shirt, and surveyed the waters around him. He was now where no fisherman was supposed to be... that infamous place supposed to wreak misfortune on himself and his village. Adnan the Shaman's warning kept ringing in his ears. Even his wife had tried to dissuade him that morning. 'Frankly, I'd rather we all starve than have you visit that damned place. Why can't you listen to what the Shaman said? Who's to look after me and our kids if something happened to you?' she pleaded.

And he replied, 'Please don't worry, Piah. I can take care of myself. And don't put too much faith in all these witch doctors. We are the ones suffering, you, me, and our kids. Not them. If I go out fishing like I always do, and come back empty handed, like I always do, is Adnan going to help us? That cut throat. You think he's going to do something for our sake?' Pak Adam could still hear those words in his ears. He really wished he did not have to venture into the bay, but he had no choice. His family's survival was at stake. In any case, he had gone too far to go back now. Might as well get it done and over with, and make a good job of it.  As soon as he landed, Pak Adam started looking for a place to spend the night. With the woods stretching right down to the beach, he had very little to choose from, but he did find a suitable spot under a shady tree. Quickly, he unloaded his stuff, and built a shelter of branches, twigs and dry leaves. He lit a fire, and sat down to the meagre dinner his wife had prepared for him. And then he slept like a log.

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© Picture credit: www.pixoto.com

When he awoke the next day, the sun was already high. Strangely, so were his spirits. There was none of the anxieties and fears of the evening before. The bright sunshine must be doing him a lot of good, he thought. After a late breakfast, he prepared his lines and paddled out to the middle of the bay. There he found the otherwise calm water rippling, indicating an abundance of fish. As a matter of fact, a good number was jumping about on the surface, just as he had been told. Pak Adam spent the rest of the day doing nothing but fish. So engrossed was he that he completely forgot about lunch. By late afternoon, his boat was fully loaded with the day's catch. He only realized how long he had been on the water when the sun had almost set. Quickly, he pulled his line in and hurried back to shore. After only the sixth stroke of oars, Pak Adam suddenly froze. His heart started pounding. He had a strange feeling that he was no longer alone, that somewhere back in the jungle surrounding the bay, something was watching. He scanned the scene around him. Everything seemed so quiet. Not the lightest of wind was in the air. The jungle was rapidly turning into a great, black silhouette as darkness fell. Nothing was out of the ordinary as far as he could see. Yet he could feel a pair of eyes watching him from the distance.

Then, as inexplicably as it came, the feeling disappeared. And he started rowing again back to his shelter. It was already dark when Pak Adam landed. he hastened to unload his hefty catch and store them for the night. Suddenly, he froze again. This time, a chill came over him and he could feel his hair standing on end. He sensed it acutely. Something was watching him, staring at him from behind. he could almost feel the heat of its eyes on the back of his neck. Slowly releasing the fish in his hand, he reached for the dagger in his boat and swiftly turned around. Nothing! There was nothing there other than the blackness of the jungle. It was beginning to bug Pak Adam. Was he imagining things, out of anxiety perhaps? Or was there really something out there? Human? Animal? But he thought no human or animal lived there. An evil spirit, perhaps? The guardian spirit of the place? Then, strangely as these thoughts tumbled in his mind, the feeling somehow disappeared once again. He ended up feeling embarrassed with himself for indulging in such childish imaginations.

His catch unloaded and taken to the shelter, Pak Adam lit a fire. Then he sat down to clean the fish and salt them before storing them well away from the heat. This way, they would last much longer and can even be sold later as salted fish. He could not help feeling pleased with his haul. He reckoned he would easily get twenty or thirty dollars for it, enough to feed his starving family for a few days. He roasted a couple of the fish, boiled some rice and sat down to dinner. That was when it came back again, that nagging feeling that something was watching. He strained his ears for tell-tale sounds, half expecting a beast or something to creep up behind him. But there was nothing of the sort. Yer he could really sense those eyes staring at him, almost searing him with their gaze. He could sense them closing up on him. Pak Adam stopped eating. He had lost his appetite. Warily, he scanned the jungle around him. Nothing but blackness as far as he could see in the light of the fire. But his uneasiness could not be dismissed anymore. His sense of danger was growing stronger and stronger. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end. He straightened up nervously, and peered into the darkness, straining his ears for the slightest sound.

Suddenly, his heart went racing and his whole body started trembling uncontrollably. There they were, in the dark edge of the jungle on the other side of the fire, a pair of green eyes fixed unblinkingly at him. 

***

 
 ***

 

Teluk Berapit

The colour alone told him they were no human eyes. Animal, probably. He could not be sure for the eyes were all he could see in the darkness. But at least they were real. At least he knew what had been bugging him. At least now he could see it, and as far as he could see, it was nothing supernatural. Rising cautiously, dagger in hand, Pak Adam picked up a burning stick from the fire and flung it at the pair of eyes. The stick landed on some dry leaves, causing a small fire which lasted long enough to let him see that the pair of eyes belonged to something like a dog. The fire did not seem to bother it at all. It just kept on staring stonily at him. Even when a second burning stick landed a little closer to it, the animal only retreated a step or two, before sitting down to stare at him again. He snarled at it, hoping to scare it away, but that had no effect either. The animal stuck to its position. Finally, faced with a deadlock, Pak Adam sat down grumbling, 'Well, go on. Stay there the whole night if you want. But if you touch my fish, I'll cut you to pieces!'

As he finished his dinner, the old man added some sticks to feed the fire, and was soon able to see, in the brighter light, that his guest was indeed a large wild dog. He found comfort in his knowledge that a wild dog is at least not as dangerous as a tiger, and would not come near if there is a fire. When at last he retired to his hut, Pak Adam noticed the dog was still there and had not moved. He lay down with the dagger right next to him, but somehow that did not give him much comfort. He found it difficult to sleep, continually feeling the urge to get up and check what the dog was doing. He spent some time tossing and turning, troubled by all sorts of ideas and unanswered questions, before he finally dozed off. His sleep was interrupted sometime later. He looked out, and everything was dark. The fire had died down! He rushed out and hurriedly rekindled it with some dry twigs, and soon it was burning again. As the flames lit up the surrounding area, Pak Adam noticed that the dog was still at the same spot. It was lying prone now but its eyes never left him. Gradually, it dawned upon him that the dog did not mean him any harm. His sympathy was immediately aroused, for he realized it had spent practically the whole night there and must be hungry by now. He tossed a couple of fish. Surprisingly, the dog did not touch them at all.


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© Photo credit: Lukasz Markowicz



Giving up, but still puzzled by the dog's behavior, Pak Adam went back to sleep. When he woke up, the sun was already high. He gathered his tackle and his catch and prepared to leave. The wild dog was still at the same spot, observing his every move. It stirred when he started carrying his things to the boat, getting up to tread quietly after him down to the water. As Pak Adam loaded his stuff, the dog sat down to watch him from a distance. Feigning disinterest, but keeping the animal always within sight, he pushed his boat into the water, got in and started paddling along the shoreline. The dog followed him at the water's edge, keeping abreast of the boat. The faster he rowed, the faster it strode, and soon it was running to keep up with him. Pak Adam found the dog's behavior more and more baffling. It appeared that it wanted him to stay. Swiftly, he swung the boat back to shore and stepped out. The dog halted, keeping its eyes on him. Pak Adam approached it, dagger in hand. On seeing this, the dog turned around and headed for the jungle. He followed. It kept going, but paused every few steps to turn around and look at him. It did not take long for Pak Adam to realize, of course, that the dog was really leading him into the jungle.

Thus they went, beast in front, man behind, through the woods. At times, Pak Adam had difficulty keeping up, what with the tangle of vines and undergrowth he had to bash through, and the dog would actually wait for him and go on only when he was within sight. The further they went, the more convinced Pak Adam was that it really wanted him to follow it. It took them almost half a day before they finally came upon a clearing. In the middle of the place, the dog halted and turned around to face Pak Adam. Then it started scratching the ground, pausing after a while to look up at him, before continuing. This went on for some time until it was apparent to the old man what it wanted him to do. For a moment, the two fore paws of the dog even looked like a pair of human hands to him, while that pitiful look it kept giving him seemed to convey a plea for help to Pak Adam. Pak Adam could not understand what came over him next, or what made him do what he did, but he squatted down and, with the dagger, started digging furiously at the spot where the dog had been scratching. The dog remained close by, watching. About half an hour later, the dagger nicked something. He cleared the soil on top, and carefully lifted a wooden plank.

What he found underneath made him scream in shock. It was human skeleton, buried along with a blowpipe, the weapon of the aborigines of the Malayan jungle. As he stared at his discovery, Pak Adam forgot about the dog for a while. He did not even notice it when it drew closer, and stood right beside him at the edge of the hole. What a surprise he had when he suddenly felt the animal breathing down his neck. But that was not half as bad as the shock he had when he turned around to find himself face to face with a drooling beast, its tongue sticking out and its eyes fixed at him in a daunting gaze. In that instant, he could imagine the vicious force of its jaws on his neck. But no, the dog did not harm him at all. Indeed, as Pak Adam stared into its eyes, he soon realized it was only trying to show him how happy it was.

Barking away like dogs do when in high spirits, it then bounded towards a pile of dry wood near the edge of the clearing. There it turned around and stood looking at Pak Adam again. He quickly understood what the dog wanted him to do. Pak Adam collected the bones and the blowpipe, carried them to the pile of wood, and started a fire. Soon, a roaring fire was consuming the bones and the blowpipe. Pak Adam kept adding wood to keep it burning until all that was left was a pile of ash. So engrossed was he that he forgot about the wild dog altogether. When at last it was over, he looked around and found he was all alone. The dog had disappeared without his knowledge. He searched around the clearing as best as he could, but there was no sign of it. Finally he decided there was no point staying there any longer, and hurried back to his boat. The queer circumstances of his experience was beginning to get to him.


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© w0nderfullife.deviantart.com

How he managed to find his way through the thick forest back to Teluk Berapit, he never knew. As soon as he reached the boat, he got in and rowed hurriedly away. He had not gone very far when he noticed a strange happening. For the first time in a long while, the still waters of Teluk Berapit stirred and rippled as wind blew, bringing life back to the bay. Pak Adam raised his sail and the boat picked up speed, and sliced its way home. It was dusk when Pak Adam reached his village. His returned created a sensation, sending almost everyone down to the beach. They came in droves, not only to marvel at his extraordinary haul but to gawk at him and confirm for themselves that he had indeed returned safely. It seemed during his longer than expected absence, word had got around that he had disappeared at sea. His wife Sapiah had gone hysterical thinking he must have met his fate at the hands of the evil spirits of Teluk Berapit. Worse, she sought Adnan the Shaman's help, and he had divined that Pak Adam had been abducted by the elves, Bunian, and would not return unless a king's ransom was paid. Adnan said she had to offer ten yards of white cloth, ten yards of yellow cloth, saffron rice, roast chicken, flowers in seven hues and several other items if she wanted to redeem her husband. Fortunately, Pak Adam returned just in time, or she would have taken an enormous loan from Kassim the Indian shopkeeper to secure the ransom.

When asked what happened to him in Teluk Berapit and why he failed to return yesterday, all Pak Adam said was, 'I met the Goddess of the sea, who took me to her palace, treated me to a banquet, and presented me with this boat load of fish.' And he quickly extricated himself and hurried off to sell his catch. The money he made gave the family welcome relief. Ever since then, Pak Adam had been making occasional return visits to Teluk Berapit, to fish and just to be there. No longer was he filled with trepidation about the place. And no longer was he troubled by fears of the unknown lurking in the jungle, watching his every move. On one of these fishing trips, he chanced upon some aborigines in a boat. The oldest among them greeted him as their boats drew closer.

'I notice you've been fishing regularly and sometimes even spending the night here.'

'That's right,' Pak Adam replied. 'Have you ever come across a certain wild dog?'

'Oh, as a matter of fact I have.'

'Weren't you afraid?'

'No.'

'You know something? That's not a real wild dog. He was one of us. He'd been cursed into a dog, and became the guardian spirit of Teluk Berapit.'

'Really? How did it happen?'

'Well, one day, he killed a dog. Not just any dog. It was the chief's best hunting dog which the man loved like his own son. The chief got seething mad. He banished him from the village and condemned him to be an outcast, roaming the jungle alone. He also warned him never to return, or he'd have him killed and his bones scattered all over the jungle, and his spirit will then have no peace unless a stranger comes along and burn them all to ashes.'



© This story is republished with permission from Mr Othman Wok. It is part of an anthology of horror stories from the book Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales of Singapore and Malaysia in the 50s

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