Authors: Wesley Robert Lowe
Tags: #psychological supernatural thriller ghosts chinese, #psychological
GHOSTS OF CHINATOWN
A Supernatural Thriller
Wesley Robert Lowe
2014 by Wesley Lowe Media
All rights reserved
One of the world’s most fascinating cities, Beijing is a mixture of complexities and contradictions, of mysticism and modernity. Aged narrow “hutong” alleys lined with their timeworn courtyard residences pop up unexpectedly, mingling with bustling modern cityscapes. The Ming Dynasty’s Tiananmen Square, with a huge Mao Tse Tung portrait in front of its ancient gates, is just a few footfalls from street vendors who peddle their cheap tacky wares on blankets, just a leisurely stroll from Wangfujing, one of the most contemporary and largest shopping areas in the world.
Hidden away in one of the back streets is a refurbished theater, the Xing-xing Xiyuan, the “Double Stars Theater.” Once upon a time, this was a real happenin’ place but that was then and this is now. It still retains vestiges of grandeur but it’s now looking kinda shabby. On the roof hangs a huge sign with large faded Chinese characters painted in gold against a red backdrop, a lot of the tiles are chipped or broken and the dragon guarding the door needs an overhaul.
However, the interior of the building is another matter. Like stepping backwards in time, everything is pristine, everything is elegant. By the door are full-size mannequins wearing traditional costumes from traditional Chinese opera. Some wear colorful stiff costumes with dragons or tigers woven in the front, others carry spears for weapons, still others have elaborate headgear with pheasant plumes seven feet in length, looking fierce and ready to attack.
At the side of the foyer, underneath a portrait of a ferocious, resolute warlord with crimson make-up and feathered headdress, is a remarkable curiosity. Standing perpendicular by itself, a foot off the ground with no support mechanisms, is a handcrafted Chinese erhu, an elongated Chinese violin with two silk strings and a painstakingly carved dragon’s head. With unseen hands, a bow lifts and starts playing, moving across the erhu’s small resonator cylinder with python skin covering the top.
A haunting, timeless Asian melody wafts the air, suddenly punctuated in the distance by the muffled, painful cries of a young woman in Chinese-accented English, “Stop! Stop! No more! Please, no more!”
The doors from the foyer to the theater burst open and the sounds of lament intensify. Inside the theater, surreality reigns onstage as smoke wafts through the shadows of a moodily lit living room and we see a young Chinese woman, Jasmine Huang, being beaten by a wild-eyed, young Caucasian man, Todd Mathers, on top of a grand piano with a bloody, old-fashioned, mechanical wooden metronome. This piano is a magnificent instrument, one hundred years old, and handmade from rosewood-colored Cuban mahogany, but right now, that is the last thing that anybody is thinking about.
“Stop. I didn’t do anything wrong. I am innocent. Please, Todd.”
In the theater’s unsettling darkness, Todd does not relent. “Don’t lie to me, Jasmine. We know that’s not true.”
Jasmine’s face is lacerated and bleeding. The sleek-figured woman is helpless to stem the tide against the relentless metronome pounding down on her again, creating another bloody gash. Her expression is one of abject horror, laced with deadly fear.
In her twenties as is her attacker, the slender Chinese beauty with long, flowing black hair fights back but she is no match for the lean, athletic young man. “Stop! No. No. Please. We only went out for coffee.”
“Coffee five times a week? Ha! You can do better than that.”
Jasmine’s cries turn to whimpers. “I did it for us.”
“You did it for money.”
“I had to. We need it. You’re only a student and haven’t worked in a year.”
With a previously unknown surge of strength of survival, Jasmine lashes back and lands a blow on Todd’s nose, causing it to bleed, infuriating Todd to an even greater attack. “You whore!”
“No money. No money.”
Todd screams, “Then that’s even worse.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I had no other choice.”
Todd hits her again and Jasmine launches a bloodcurdling scream, then starts gasping. “Stop. Please stop. No more… No more...”
Todd momentarily pauses the brutality. Out of breath, he pants, “You are such a good actor.”
“Not acting. I’m not acting. I mean it.”
Todd stares at her in disbelief. “You are something else.” He resumes the beating with increased intensity.
A confused frantic scene that is absolutely senseless.
Jasmine’s hands start quivering and her breaths become quicker but she has little energy to battle the determined assailant.
“You think I like doing this?” Todd snarls. “What do you think I am?”
“You are Todd. You are really Todd. No more. Please, no more.”
“Don’t blame me. You asked for it.” Todd reaches back as far as he possibly can and with all his strength, comes bashing down.
Looking up to the piano lid, Jasmine squints to see blurring and fading images of her face, then her life. Swirling... fading... darkening… The throbs of pain subside as Todd’s disconnected voice intones across the chasm of looming death.
She falls from the piano to the floor.
Suddenly her body goes still.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Todd takes off, dropping the bloodstained metronome onto the floor.
The metronome beats unevenly… tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…
Catherine Drysdale, a fat fourteen-year-old Caucasian girl with acne, straggly, oily hair and Coke-bottle glasses, staggers up the rickety stairs of a decrepit corridor of the Double Stars Theater, carrying a long-stemmed red rose. This overweight teen has been going up and down the stairs for an hour and is exhausted from the exercise, not paying any attention and more than a little wishing that there were a Baskin Robbins closer than three thousand miles away. “Three thousand and six, three thousand and seven… I… can… do… this… I …will… do… this…”
Catherine slowly nears the top of the landing. “Three thousand and fourteen.” The entrance door swings open and a panicked Todd flies out, knocking her off-balance.
He stumbles, trying to grab her but falls on top of Catherine instead and the two land near the top of the staircase.
He glares at her. “Watch where you’re going!”
“I’m sorry, Todd.”
Todd untangles himself. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you remember? I’m Catherine.”
Todd doesn’t bother looking at her. “Yeah, right.”
A sick tightening of muscles as Catherine hands him the rose. “I brought this for you.”
Taking a quick glance, Todd snatches it and mumbles without meaning it, “Thanks.” He gets up. “Gotta go, gotta go.”
“Where you going, Todd?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Todd pummels down the stairs, two, three steps at a time. Tripping, he drops the flower to grab the railing. “Stupid thing.”
He reaches the exit and rockets out the door.
Todd’s words rip her apart. Catherine can hardly breathe as she pins her eyes morosely to the rose on the stairway and forces a barely audible whisper out of her mouth. “Thank you very much, Catherine. That was very nice of you to give that to me.”
It’s Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in Canada, one of the worst areas in the civilized world. Strung-out hookers, dealers, pimps, punks, the insane inhabit the streets openly and without a scintilla of fear. Every three feet, you bump into a john or a junkie, sometimes both. After all, this is their territory.
But it wasn’t always this way. You can see remnants of its previous lifetime where instead of broken-down shops and broken-down people that live on life’s edge, there were restaurants, stores, cabarets and even a museum, all catering to a vibrant, thriving middle class. Sadly, almost all these establishments are closed or boarded up and those that are still open have iron bars on their windows.
If that weren’t bad enough, there’s the weather. One thing about Vancouver is that it always seems to be raining and this is one of those days. A torrential downpour drenches Todd as he treads down this forlorn street.
Time, or is it guilt, has changed him. With a beaten backpack and now with hair reaching halfway down his neck, wearing clothes that look like they’ve been worn forever, Todd walks, oblivious to the sideshow around him, into an alley.
The alley is even worse than the main drag. In addition to the drug deals going down and low-cost ladies making fast bucks, even the sheets of water can’t wash away the smell of stale urine, feces and cheap booze. Debris including junk mattresses, used syringes, empty cans and bottles litter the alleyway. With troubled eyes, Todd meanders halfway down the block and stops at a steel door with big letters that read: RIALTO THEATER – STAGE DOOR ENTRANCE.
He pounds on the door.
Nadir, a burly Egyptian security guard, unlocks the door and snarls, “Go away.”
Todd pleads, “I’ve got to see her. It’s totally urgent.”
“She said no.”
“I say yes.”
Todd tries to push Nadir out of the way but the Middle Eastern man easily swats Todd to the ground.
Todd lifts himself up. “I’m not some crazy trying to get into her skirt.”
“Then you are a total whack job because there ain’t no other reason for anyone to see her.” Nadir easily grabs Todd by his knapsack and forces him out. “She has absolutely no interest in seeing you, not now, not ever.” Nadir throws Todd to the ground and slams the door shut.
Todd picks himself up and kicks at the door, but the only response is the echo of his worn boots against the hollow steel door. “Let me in.”
“I must come back.” Todd stops, wheels around and walks away, disappearing into the drencher.
Just a block away from the Downtown Eastside is Chinatown. Once upon a time, this too was a vibrant area of Vancouver. From the 1880s to the 1960s, it was the focal point of everything Chinese, not just in Vancouver, but all of Canada. The early immigrant laborers left rural Canton to become farm workers, sawmill laborers, houseboys or railway workers where they were paid a fraction of what the whites made. They would sleep in Chinese rooming houses, eight or more to a room, they would buy their meals from restaurants like the Ho Inn, where for a nickel you could get a main course, daily soup and all the rice you could eat. However, there was a quiet desperation for many of these men. Unable to make enough money to bring a wife to Canada or to China, these men became a lonely “bachelor society,” entertaining themselves with the scourge of the Orient—opium.
However, the favorite pastime for all, rich and poor, was gambling.
hit the top of the list and the clanking of noisy tiles from the rooming houses and family clan buildings was almost as loud as the fishmongers hawking their fresh catch. Chinatown was like a big family where everybody knew everybody and everybody helped everybody as best they were able.
Something happened to Chinatown in the 1960s. Immigration opened up and it wasn’t just the poverty-stricken who came to Canada. Now people with skills and/or money arrived as well. With the young generation of Canadian-born Chinese becoming more affluent and educated, Chinese started moving away from Chinatown to the suburbs. The old buildings of athletic associations, Freemasons, restaurants,
buildings and Chinese language schools are still there but they are a shadow of their former selves. Wandering through the streets and seeing Chinatown’s decline, it’s as if the souls of those old Chinese “bachelors” still haunt the buildings and streets.