Updated: Nov 20, 2020
This story was an experience by Kia Lee and translated by Bao Xiong.
It was the year 1980, in early September. For about three years, our Hmong village in Laos had become a different place. It was taken over by Vietnamese soldiers after the Vietnam War had ended. Besides the soldiers, the residents of our village were mostly women and children because many of the men had fled for their own safety before the Vietnamese soldiers arrived. That’s a different story for another day.
One afternoon, my sister-in-law Yia, paid me a visit with her four-year-old daughter. She was also pregnant and due any day. I had a two-month-old son at the time. Both our children had fallen asleep, so my sister-in-law Yia brought her daughter home for a nap. I waited for her to leave before laying my son down on the guest bed in the living room. The guest bed faced two doors; the front door and a bedroom door that belonged to my sister-in-law Tu.
As soon as I put my son on the bed, I saw something come out of sister-in-law Tu’s room. It was an all-black figure, and solid like a large human being, but it didn’t have a face. The dark figure put both hands on the guest bed and broke it in half, but I didn’t hear it break. There was no noise. Everything was silent.
I saw my son leave the bed right away and went to sit beside the fireplace. But that didn’t look right to me because he was only two months old.
How could he be walking on his own?
I was suddenly grabbed by my shirt. I looked down at my chest and saw a black hand holding my shirt and realized it was the dark figure. It was pulling me to the front door.
I tried to pry its hand off, but it held on tight, and continued to force me towards the doorway. I planted my feet and scanned around frantically.
“You’re looking for the sickle, aren’t you?” asked the dark figure.
That’s exactly what I was looking for.
“Two children are playing with it outside,” said the dark figure.
I can’t see it anywhere, and I suddenly became weak. My head was heavy. No matter how hard I pulled back, the dark figure was stronger. I planted my feet at the doorway, but the dark figure was outside of the door by that time.
I yanked back as hard as I could, still holding onto my shirt at my chest. A piece of my shirt ripped off. I fell backwards, landing with my back against the broken guest bed. I broke free, but I kept my eyes on the dark figure. It ran around to the lemon tree that was beside our hut.
My strength has returned, and my head felt normal again. I could hear the villagers outside of our thin, bamboo and wooden hut. All my senses have returned.
I looked down at my shirt. All the buttons were broken or undone, my shirt was open, and a piece of it was missing. I found the missing piece hanging on the side of the open door, where the dark figure had been.
I got up, and suddenly remembered my son. I turned around and saw him sleeping on the guest bed, which was still in one piece. But I saw it broke in half. I didn’t fall asleep, so I knew it was not a dream. I was too frightened to make sense of it.
Something was very wrong, I felt it in my heart. I knew I had to act fast on getting rid of that dark entity, and make sure it doesn’t come back.
I carried my son and ran to see another relative, my sister-in-law Va Thao. She was a shaman in the village and lived two houses down from ours. I asked her to tie a string to protect my son. I thought that thing was after him.
Upon returning home, I quickly threw a piece of firewood in front of the door and tossed a handful of red chili peppers over it. Then I set them on fire. It was an old practice. Elders and my father used to say that spirits are afraid of spicy chili peppers. Travelers and hunters never left home without a supply of hot peppers.
My daughter, who was five-years-old, returned home with her cousin that was the same age as her. They were carrying the sickle I was looking for earlier. The dark figure was right, two children were playing with it. I used that sickle for gardening and many other important things, such as a weapon to protect my family. It had a wooden handle and a sharp iron blade that curved at the end, very much like a scythe.
That night, I was terrified. I kept thinking of the experience earlier that day. Each time I tried to rest my eyes, I jolted awake in fear.
The next morning, my sister-in-law Yia visited me again.
“I had a strange dream last night,” said sister-in-law Yia. “There was a group of dark visitors in my house, men and women. I couldn’t see their faces.”
I said nothing and just listened to her tell this odd and eerie dream.
“One of them said it visited you, but you were angry with it, fighting and yelling at it. And you made sure it wouldn’t return,” said sister-in-law Yia.
I didn’t want to worry her because she was pregnant, so I said nothing.
“So that’s why they visited me instead.” Her voice was shaky. “They said that they were here to find a bride. They want to marry me and take me with them. I told them my husband is not home, so I can’t go with them.” She was nervous. “I heard everyone talking about you yesterday. You had a dark visitor too.” She knew. “A spirit.”
It was a small village, and people talked. I overreacted the day before with that very public display of burning wood and peppers. I was also at a shaman’s house the same day.
“I woke from the dream in the middle of the night and I was afraid to go back to sleep. I tried to sleep, but I kept waking up because I was too scared of how similar my dream was to what happened to you,” said Yia.
She was right to be scared. The experience was very real to me. I can still feel the tight, forceful grip at my chest.
Two days later, sister-in-law Yia gave birth to another daughter. The days that followed were strange. She lost a lot of blood from giving birth, and her condition grew worse overnight. The baby suddenly died of unknown reasons on the second day. Later that month, sister-in-law Yia passed away.
It was a strange time. There was more than one concern that kept me up at night; the enemies with guns that lived in our village, sickness, famine and dark visitors.
Art by Bao Xiong
Photo by Bao Xiong (Kia's handmade Hmong sickle)