I feel it fitting to tell a ghost story today. Alas, I do not know any good ones, except for the personal account I’m about to tell. I used to live in the projects in North Minneapolis right off Olsen Memorial Highway, where all the four-family units looked the same save a different shade of pastel color paint. The basements to these units were concrete all around and the walls had bricks that made it look like a cave. And like a cave it was cold, damp, and filled with cobwebs. It was a perfect place to keep jars of padek, preserved fermented fish. And we had many jars underneath the stairs.
The Ghong-Goy* lived under the stairs as well. I had witnessed it one day going down one flight of stairs to get rice from our storage bin. The flight of stairs faced directly out into the basement, a dark cave. There was no light switch, only the stairway light. And to turn on the light in the basement you had to walk down into the darkness and pull a cord. I always faced the white wall when I was scooping sticky rice to soak. Sometimes out of fear I’d miscount and have to start over. Every once in a while I’d feel something move or glimpse darker shadows in the corner of my eye. That’s when I would rush upstairs.
“That’s not enough rice,” noted my mother. Damn. I thought, if I had just done bigger scoops I’d be done faster.
“I was scared,” I told her plainly. Of course she wanted to know why. I looked at her and sucked my teeth as if to say, you know.
“Go get more rice, and you forgot to put the scoop back in the bin,” she commanded. I knew I had to go back down there anyway, but I was hoping after I had mustered up enough courage later that day.
I cautiously stomped down the stairs, keeping my eyes on the white wall away from seeing the darkness. I had left the lid to the rice bin open so I dug my hand in with the scoop and felt the cool grains of rice bury my hands. I heard movement and took a deep breath, taking great care not to look down into the darkness. That was when all sound fell silent and the beating of my heart sped up. I felt my ears burn hot just like right before you hear bad news. Then I heard it.
A voice came up from under the stairs, “Ghong-Goy Gok!”
I shot up the stairs and wasted no time thinking about it. I didn’t care that I left the lid open. I didn’t care that I spilled any grains of rice. I didn’t care if I got splinters from the wooden planks that made the stair case. I just didn’t want to face the Ghong-Goy.
“What’s wrong?” asked my mother, washing vegetables at the sink. I gave no reply. I never said anything to her about it.
# # #
Years later, when my nephew was about three years old, I heard my mother playing with him. He used to get into everything, and my mother would tell him that the Ghong-Goy would get him if he wandered too far from her sight. Then I heard, “Ghong-Goy Gok!” in the same voice as I did as a child. I looked over at my mother and saw my nephew come running from the hallway. She smiled at me as if you say, you know.
*Ghong-Goy is the Lao variation of the Boogeyman.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Be safe. ~Danny