If you haven't figured it out yet, I come from spooky roots.
Whereas some parents would tell their kids that there was no such thing as ghosts, my mom and dad relished telling me about their creepy experiences. Family gatherings inevitably turned to good ghost stories, and our family tree is peppered with the unexplained.
I can't decide if it's all true. Frankly some of the stories are just so out there, they're hard for me to believe. But how do you make some of this stuff up?
My grandparents -- where many of the stories come from -- came from tiny villages in rural China, where in the early part of the 20th century there were few, if any modern conveniences. Movies? Radio? Nope. Just hearsay and experience.
One such experience is my grandfather's adamant belief that he witnessed the procession of the dead pass through his tiny village.
You know, "zombies".
It's just such a weird tale. I don't normally get all that creeped out by zombies, but this one chills me every time I hear it. It really is a story from some other time and place.
So dim the lights, turn off your TV, and lock the front door. Here, for your Creepy Corner pleasure, is my grandfather's story about the dead being led to their own burial.
When my grandfather was a young boy, he lived in a remote village far outside of Canton (Guangzhou).
In his time, it was customary for young men to leave their home village to find work, then send money back to support their family. Most of these men, if they did not marry and start a family of their own, did not expect to come back to their village alive.
Upon their death, usually around the age of 60, after years of hard labor, they had but one strenuous task left before them: their post-mortem journey home.
Now this did not mean they would be carried or carted to their village for burial, oh no, it meant that they would walk, on the day the Buddhist masters or "Dao Sees" (as my mother translated) deemed auspicious.
Upon death, a corpse would not be laid down to rest, but instead kept propped up by a pole, and the Dao Sees would surround them with non stop prayers to stop their souls from wandering away from their bodies.
When the time was right, the Dao Sees would gather up an odd numbered group of the dead -- always an odd number because any number divisible by two is bound to repeat itself, and the walk can only happen once -- and began marching them, single file, to the beat of a gong, back their respective home villages.
On this certain night, my grandfather knew the dead were coming. A runner had come through the village, 13 hours ahead of the dead, to warn people of the coming procession.
When this happened, everyone was supposed to shut themselves away. Especially girls, because there was a fear that one of the dead would show favor to a young girl and he would want her to be his "ghost bride."
But my grandfather and his brother decided to peek out from the shadows to watch the procession pass in the night.
As they waited, they began to hear the beat of the gong getting closer and closer to their village. Finally, my grandfather saw the dead.
Lead by the Dao Sees, he saw them, in a sort of jumping-swaying motion, lurching through the streets to the rhythm of the gongs. Their heads, covered with white cloth (the Chinese funereal color), looked straight ahead -- homeward.
The only sounds were the pounding of the gong and the tromping of walking dead feet.
The village was advised to remain silent, as any human sound could "distract" the dead and cause them to collapse. My grandfather claims that in the past, some children had made a commotion as the dead passed, causing some of the corpses to fall down. The Dao Sees then had to carry the dead on wooden planks, not only elongating the dead men's journey, but also putting a curse on the unlucky noise makers.
Another danger was staring at the dead. When the corpses passed, if a member of the living was present, he or she must bow their head out of respect. If someone were to look directly at a passing corpse, as supposedly happened at a later procession, the corpse may latch on to their "chi," or energy, and start processing TOWARD that person.
When this happened in my grandfather's village, it apparently took all night for the Dao Sees to get the corpse back into line, and away from the offending person.
Finally, the dead made it through my grandfather's village, and the beating of the gongs receded into the night. The dead would not process for another month or so. If there was a wedding in the village, it could be longer, as the Dao Sees made sure that two such events would never intersect.
And that is my grandfather's "zombie" story. Until his dying day, he swore with the utmost solemnity that this story was true. From my few dealings with him before his death, my grandfather was a serious man with an intense respect for the dead. A story such as this was not taken lightly.
But I don't know what to make of it. It seems just too far beyond belief. Could this just be a scary story to frighten children back to bed in the dark of night? Or was there a time when things like this were not only possible, but an accepted reality?
I just don't know.
What do you think? Does your family, or anyone you know firmly believe in a spooky occurrence that is beyond belief? Have you, or anyone you know witnessed such an occurrence? Know any good "zombie" stories?
Is that a gong I hear?