Baru2 ni aku ada dapat invitation untuk tulis satu cerpen Ingrish yg diber judul THE HOUSE. Cerpen ni adalah projek bersama Poskod.my, The Greatest Hits dan juga Fixi sempena Halloween. So, kalo dah pasal Halloween tu mestilah cerita dia pasal ghost/horror kan? Takkan pasal kisah cinta seorang wanita bertudung kaler paddle pop yg kawin dgn lelaki kaya yg irritating pulak?
Yg penting, cerpen yg terpilih akan dibaca oleh actors di BFM radio (podcast) dlm minggu terakhir Halloween (last week of October lettew maksudnya). Dan untuk memendekkan cerita, cerpen aku terpilih dan telahpun dibaca oleh Lil Kev dalam BFM radio beberapa malam lepas.
Bagi yang ter-missed, boleh dengar balik kat link nih: THE HOUSE
Bagi yg tak berapa nak faham apa yg si Lil Kev ni baca plak, bolehla baca manuskrip cerpen kat bawah nih ha.
Azrael sipped a can of Nescafe that he kept between his thighs along the ride. His wife, Ayu, read the Google map from her smart phone, trying to figure out if they were on the right path. The clock showed that it was around 9pm; it was already pitch black outside.
“Are we there yet?” He asked half-way through a yawn.
“Almost. In another 1.4km, you need to turn left and merge onto Jalan Husin, and then continue on to Jalan Ramli, continue straight for about 3.4km, and then turn left and then another quick left turn….”
He yawned again.
“Did you tell her that we would be late?” She asked about the owner of the house that they planned to rent for two weeks. A writer’s retreat. That was what Azrael called it. He wanted to start writing again. His first book, Tripping, was a story about a guy who got superpowers after taking a psychedelic drug. It was a big hit 10 years ago and was even turned into a movie that lasted for more than a month in the cinemas. It didn't hurt the family finances that they received a good chunk of money from it as well.
However, the subsequent books only had mediocre sales and no movie deals. Azrael didn’t know what was wrong, though. He even changed his writing style and tried new genres to make it more appealing to a larger audience, but nothing turned out as well as he expected. So he simply stopped writing.
“I called her before I left the office. She’s OK with it. We need to look for Pak Jusoh, the housekeeper.”
“He’s staying in the house too?”
Azrael shrugged his shoulders. He took another swig of his drink. “I can’t wait to write again. It’s been too long…”
“Ya, what do you want to write about this time? Maniacs? Drug addicts? Religions?”
“Uuuu….” She rubbed her chin. “Do you know how to write a ghost story? Have you ever written a ghost story before? Have you seen ghost? Have you read any ghost stories? Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Horror doesn’t necessarily have to be about ghosts. I could write about something gory. Genetic mutations gone wrong. Psycho kids. Ya, stuff like that.”
“Look, there’s Jalan Husin. Turn left.”
Azrael turned the steering wheel.
“So we should look for Jalan Ramli next. Continue straight for about 3.4km, and then turn left and then another quick left turn again….” She repeated.
“How’s Luna doing back there?” Azrael indicated to the back seat where their white, bushy-tailed Angoran cat sat like a diva being chauffeured around town like a boss. They had adopted her 6 months ago shortly after their only son, Rafi, moved to Australia to continue his studies. He liked to tease his wife that the cat was her way of dealing with empty nest syndrome.
“She’s fine. Sleeping until we hit a bump in the road. I don't think she likes car rides very much.”
“I told Rafi about this trip.”
“You don’t need to call him every day. It’s expensive.”
“WeChat. It’s free.”
“You know what I mean. Don’t text him, don’t disturb him. He is mature enough to go for a few days without his mother peeking in on him.”
“I miss him, Az. I’m lonely. I don’t have anyone to talk to at home. You come back late from work every day. Then you have your TV time, your newspaper time, and your sleep time. I need to have some social interaction too, you know?”
“Now you have two weeks of me by your side every day. I hope it makes you happy.”
“OK, turn left here… and turn left again,” she interrupted him after seeing the street they were looking for.
They drove up to the big, old bungalow house surrounded on each side by the jungle. Ayu jumped out of the car, excited to have finally arrived. By the time Azrael got out of the car, a tall, skinny old man came out of the house to greet them.
“Welcome to Teratak Jiwa. I wasn't told that you would be arriving this late,” he said with a strained smile.
“Sorry, we got lost. It’s very hard to find this place at night,” said Azrael as he shook the old man’s hand.
“Nah, don’t worry. The most important thing is that you finally found it. But excuse me for asking, what is inside the bag? It is moving!” He pointed to the bag that Ayu pulled out from the back seat.
“My cat, Luna.”
His face turned sour. He looked unhappy.
“Don’t worry, she won’t bite. I’m sure she’ll find some place to hide in the house. She is shy around other people.”
The old man nodded. “Pak Jusoh.” He introduced himself.
“I'm Azrael, and this is my wife Ayu.”
“Come inside. I'll show you the house.” He turned the lights on. The house was a two-storey bungalow. The lower floor consisted of a single bedroom, a wet and dry kitchen, two separate bathrooms side by side, and a small living room. The upper floor had another bedroom, a larger living room, and an open-air verandah facing the jungle, where a long hammock was attached to the wall. “There’s only one key to this house, one key for every door. Please take good care of it.”
“I will be in the neighboring house, just across this abandoned rice field. You can’t see it from here after dark though.”
“Ya, its pitch black outside. Not even the moonlight can get through this cloud cover.”
“Tomorrow is a full moon. Don’t go out after sunset. Don’t invite anyone inside either. Just stay indoors.” He smiled again. “I will let you two relax now. Good night.”
“Thanks. Good night,” Azrael replied before he closed the door.
Azrael was preparing dinner when he saw his wife come downstairs after taking an afternoon nap. “Did you sleep well in the hammock? Nice breeze, huh?”
“Not really. I had a nightmare actually. Hmmm…” Ayu tried to remember her dream. “There was this old guy who had a cat face. He was smiling at me but didn’t say a word.”
“An old man with a cat’s face? Interesting. Well, my mother used to tell me that every old house always has a ‘permanent resident’ in it. Maybe that old man stayed here in the past.”
“You believe that?”
He nodded. “And you need to wash your feet too before you go to sleep. No ghost will disturb you then.”
“Maybe you can write a ghost story like that… a couple who comes to an old house for a writer’s retreat and gets harassed by ghosts?”
Bang! Both were shocked into silence upon hearing the loud noise outside.
“Luna?” She opened the door. It was not Luna but a dark-skinned, shirtless boy, smiling widely as if showing off his rotten, yellow teeth. “Who are you?” She asked.
The boy remained silent.
“Az! Come here!” She called to her husband. He came over, and they both looked around outside, trying to see if they could spot any other people there. Nothing.
“Hey, kiddo. What are you doing here? What’s your name?”
“My name is Rafi.”
They both laughed. The kid laughed too.
“Your name is Rafi?” Ayu asked the same.
“And where are your parents?”
He shook his head.
Ayu and Azrael looked at each other. “Azrael, why don’t you go to Pak Jusoh’s house and tell him that this boy is here. I will take him inside. Better go now before it gets any darker.”
“Boy, come in. Did you see Luna, my cat, out there?”
“So your name is Rafi? That’s my son’s name, you know?”
“You have a son? Where is he?”
“He’s in Australia. Studying.”
“Does he look like me?”
“Oh, no no. He’s a lot older and taller than you.”
Ayu didn’t realize that the boy grew a few inches taller. “Taller and older.” She laughed. “Do you want something to eat?”
“Older like this?” Wrinkles suddenly appeared across his forehead.
Ayu looked at him closely. She noticed the changes this time but shrugged it off as drowsiness after her nap. “Where do you come from?”
Ayu didn’t like his indifference to her question. “How can I contact your parents? You know you shouldn't be wandering around this close to maghrib, right? Your parents must be worried.”
“No, they won’t. Do I look like him yet?” He grew another few inches taller. “Or do you want me to look even older?” More wrinkles appeared.
Ayu started to feel uncomfortable with this boy. He looked totally different from what she saw just a few minutes earlier. “Maybe I can find something for you in the fridge. Are you hungry? Thirsty?” She went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. "Luna!!!" she shouted, terrified with what she saw inside. "What did you do to Luna??? Who did this to my precious?” She screamed hysterically.
“Do I look like him yet? Tall enough?” The boy was really tall now. His head almost reached the ceiling.
“What the hell are you?”
“Not old enough?” He changed his face again. Even older and scarier. “Do I look like him yet?”
“This is not happening. This is not real. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe this is happening! Get out of here! What do you want from me? Don’t disturb me! Go! Azrael!!!! Help!!!!”
The boy smiled. Fangs slowly slipped out of his mouth. “You invited me in.” He dropped his head by elongating his neck. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this. I finally found someone,” he said with a deep, husky voice.
Ayu tried to scream even louder but her body felt numb. She couldn't do anything, not even blink her eyes.
Pak Jusoh opened his front door slightly after hearing his name called repeatedly by Azrael. “Can I help you?” He asked without showing his face.
“Sorry to disturb you. There is a boy in our house right now. His name is Rafi. Do you know him?”
“No. Go back to the house. Your wife surely needs your help.”
He didn’t understand. “I need to send the boy back to his parents. Could you come to the house and help?”
“You don’t need to return him. He knows what to do and when to leave.”
“So you know him?”
“It’s a full moon tonight. You’re not supposed to leave the house.”
“So you aren't going to help?”
“And you’re not supposed to invite anyone in either, remember? Go!”
Angry, Azrael climbed the stairs and pushed the door open. Pak Jusoh was knocked back. But when he entered the house, Pak Jusoh wasn’t there. The house was empty. The door shut behind him suddenly. Azrael tried to open it but found it locked from the outside. He was trapped.
After an hour or so of fidgeting with the door and the windows, the door unexpectedly opened. Azrael ran as fast as he could back to Teratak Jiwa. The moonlight was bright that night, and it helped him find his way back easily. “Ayu!” he shouted his wife’s name as soon as he opened the front door.
Ayu was lying on the floor, passed out.
“Ayu! Ayu!” He shook her body and attempted CPR, something that he learned from watching TV, hoping that his wife would respond.
She did. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. We need to leave this place tonight. Where’s the kid?”
“The boy. Rafi.”
She shook her head.
“Never mind. Come pack our stuff. Where’s Luna?”
She pointed to the cat. She was playing with a dead moth near the bathroom.
“Come. Hurry up. We need to leave!” Azrael ran to their room and started packing.
“I’m glad that we managed to run away from that eerie place. It was scary. I think Pak Jusoh was a ghost. He disappeared when I went into his house.”
Luna was meowing on Ayu’s lap as Azrael shared his experience.
“Why don't you keep her in the cage?”
“She likes sitting on my lap. Where are we going?”
“Back. What happened in the house while I was gone? Rafi. What did you do with him?”
“The boy. You don’t remember him?”
“Does he look like this?”