Dark Times in Kuching

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a supernatural horror novella

about the Penanggalan

by

Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman

As I sit alone, contemplating the past and writing the 'Penny Dreadful', which I have every reason to believe will become my notorious memoirs, I can safely say that the short time I spent attempting to solve a case in the Malaysian city of Kuching, will probably always be regarded as my most horrific. And I can pretty much say, looking back, that this particular case has never been bettered for its level of sheer, macabre grotesqueness, despite the catalogue of pure horrors I have been unfortunate enough to witness in my career.

Whilst I attempt to find closure with my demons and transition into the later years of my life and my retirement from my job as an Agent of Interpol, I can honestly say I have seen sights that would turn even the strongest of stomachs and witnessed the most despicable and depraved human behaviour. But even the most horrific of these cases fade into mere insignificance when I consider my time in south-east Malaysia in the early 1990s. I had always been a pretty level-headed detective before my deployment to Kuching but nothing anyone would have considered telling me before my departure, would possibly have prepared me for the experience I was about to have there and likewise, nothing since has been able to ease the burden or overshadow that case ever since. No amount of therapy, meditation or prescription drugs could ever erase the memory of the nights I spent in Kuching.

***

To be honest, when my superior called me into the office on that fateful morning the case finally handed to me, seemed to be nothing completely out of the ordinary. Pictures of pregnant women bleeding out onto their hospital floors, and new-born babies blooded and mutilated beside them, didn't really shock me quite as much as it should have nor may have done the average human being. I remember the hesitancy in his face as I flipped through the gore filled images and facts associated with the case I was about to be deployed upon, he quite clearly suspected something out of the ordinary right from the beginning but I just predicted it to be the handiwork of some deranged serial killer, perhaps an awful obstetrician with a particularly sadistic nature or failing that a series of horrible, fatal mistakes that had been carried out by a mis-practising medics.

And despite my boss's apparent concern and worry over this case, it didn't seem to be too out of the ordinary to my mind after I had previously tracked heinous serial killers and despicable cults across the globe for many years before then. And although you could perhaps argue that if this case was to prove to be a straightforward as I had naïvely assumed it would, then maybe the local police force could have dealt with it easily enough themselves, although in the back of my mind I was aware that South Malaysia was not renowned for its effective policing and so was not entirely surprised that Interpol had been asked to look into the case.

Still to this day, I remember flicking through the confidential files about a series of horrible killings occurring in the maternity wards of Kuching's biggest hospital during my flight over. Allegedly around 12 new mothers, six new-born babies and two expectant mothers, had been horribly murdered in a period of around seven months, each seemingly having their blood drained from their body. This was quite possibly, and probably to many people's minds, a most horrific series of killings, but until I arrived in Kuching, to my mind, it by far wasn't going to be the worst thing I'd ever experienced as the case I'd immediately been involved in before going to Malaysia, had seen me track a sadistic religious cult across South America. I was definitely anticipating a slightly easier case this time round.

And in all honesty, who wouldn't think this. Sure, it was destined to be an unpleasant and upsetting case to deal with, but I had been trained for many years to do this sort of work without suffering too much psychological damage. To my egotistical but logical mind, it plainly seemed a safe bet that Kuching General Infirmary was being plagued by either incompetent members of staff or a serial killing medic, and so I was prepared to look into the training statuses of all of the maternity units staff before commencing potential legal proceedings and ensuring the victims of what I thought might be a series of mistakes were well supported and compensated. Or on the other hand I was happy to conduct a manhunt and deduce which member of the medical team was also hellbent on a killing spree before handing them over to the authorities. I didn't anticipate the case being too difficult to crack, and in honesty, not to out of the ordinary for its setting. How wrong my hypothesis was to turn out?

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