My mom once told me that I should never peel an apple in a spiral when it’s midnight…
We’re thrilled to share “Five Ghost Stories”, a short work of flash fiction from Pik-Shuen Fung, author of Ghost Forest. A debut novel about love, grief, and family, Ghost Forest is available from One World.
How do you grieve, if your family doesn’t talk about feelings?
This is the question the unnamed protagonist of Ghost Forest considers after her father dies. One of the many Hong Kong “astronaut” fathers, he stays there to work, while the rest of the family immigrated to Canada before the 1997 Handover, when the British returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China.
As she revisits memories of her father through the years, she struggles with unresolved questions and misunderstandings. Turning to her mother and grandmother for answers, she discovers her own life refracted brightly in theirs.
Buoyant and heartbreaking, Ghost Forest is a slim novel that envelops the reader in joy and sorrow. Fung writes with a poetic and haunting voice, layering detail and abstraction, weaving memory and oral history to paint a moving portrait of a Chinese-Canadian astronaut family.
FIVE GHOST STORIES
My mom once told me that I should never peel an apple in a spiral when it’s midnight.
Why would I ever peel an apple in a spiral when it’s midnight? I said.
Because, she said, you’ll see ghosts.
My husband dreamed last night that there was a big frightening man in a tall white hat standing by our kitchen sink.
That’s ***, my mom said over the phone.
Who is ***, I said.
The leader of ghosts, my mom said.
Can you Whatsapp me the Chinese characters? I want to look him up on Google.
Do NOT look him up on Google! Do not attract bad spirits to your home.
What’s he called again?
Don’t think about it anymore!
Every time I Facetime my mom, she reminds me that I need to pray.
Are you praying to Kwun Yam? she asks.
OK, I say.
What about you, she says to my sister, who has now appeared behind my shoulder in the frame. Are you praying to Kwun Yam?
OK, my sister says.
Pray 23 times. If you pray before bed, it’ll help you fall asleep.
OK Mom, we say.
In Hong Kong, next to the columbarium where my dad’s urn is housed, there is a paper offerings store. The first time I went there with my mom, I was surprised to see ostrich print shoes, bird’s nest, and premium abalone, all made of paper.
But what do western people do when they’re dead? I asked. How do they eat, how do they get dressed?
Maybe they have different governments, my mom said.
How does that work?
Maybe they have better welfare.
What about a Chinese person living in a western country? What happens to them when they’re dead?
We are back in Vancouver visiting family friends. We are staying at the airport hotel, sharing a room, my sister and I. She falls asleep right away, but I’m still daydreaming.
Then there is rustling and my sister starts screaming with her mouth closed.
I turn on the bedside lamp, sit up, and tap her on the shoulder softly.
She opens her eyes wide at me and points at the narrow space between the bed and wall.
She says, There was an old lady right here cackling.
She says, She was sitting or squatting because her face was right at the level of my face.
OK it’s going to be OK, I say.
I grab her Kwun Yam necklace and drape it over her head, and then I grab my Kwun Yam necklace and drape it over my head.
I turn on every light.
Then I lie back down and put my palms together and my sister mirrors me.
We pray until we fall asleep.
Copyright © 2021 by Pik-Shuen Fung