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The Headstone and the Wizard

By: Philip R. Slocum Posted: June-22-2011 in
Philip R. Slocum

I recently received a call from a local friend and he asked me to stop by his place to check out a gift that he had for me. It was a warm afternoon and upon entering his bar he grabbed my by the arm and hauled me to the back of the tavern that he runs. Propped up against the wall of the wash room was a Graveyard marker, a Headstone. It was obviously very old and appeared much abused. The stones age was not easy to determine but hundreds of years old did not seem out of the question.

Broken and deteriorated it was crumbled at the edges and with dark water marks marring a surface that showed hints of the beauty that had once shone on polished granite. The carvings on the stone were worn to nothing with vague scratching marks left like ripples on wind blown sand. But in the center of the piece there was a string of Chinese characters that were still legible. Running vertically about 25 inches long and 3 inches wide the script was definitely old Chinese and not Vietnamese. Odd for this area but not impossible. Hoi An had been a Chinese Trading port for hundreds of years until trends changed and the porcelain demand in Vietnam was channeled to new products and different locations.

Now my friend Steve wanted me to take this away and I asked him why? He said that his Mother-in law wanted it gone because it was cursed and it brought evil spirits into the home. She would not let the baby be in the house at the same time as the stone and she would not enter, herself, until the stone was removed. He was quite distressed.

As a friend I picked up its considerable weight and move it down the block to my Book/store/home and installed it in the front hall. I am not the superstitious type but my figuring gave equal chances to a spirit being either friendly or malicious and I patted my new found member of the household and welcomed its spirit to my home. I told it I would keep it warm and out of the weather and to make itself comfortable.

The next day I had the busiest day at the book store ever. 4 or 5 times the normal revenues and good vibes all around. The following day the same thing happened and I was starting to think that Stevens bad luck piece was a good luck piece for me. No strange noises woke me during the night and there was no negative thoughts or feeling associated with the home at all. Business did taper off over the next days but by this time I was not feeling well. Occasional bouts with stomach bugs happen all the time on the road and I found myself running to the bathroom the day after a Wedding and Dinner party (two events) the previous evening.

I have rules regarding food poisoning while I travel and the first is to use home cures for the easy stuff. So.. 3 bananas and a coke for breakfast. Usually works. Not this time. The stomach pains were starting and a mild fever was trying to fight its way into my now uncomfortable day. Rule #2. If food poisoning becomes bad enough to cause a fever go to the doctor immediately. I called Dr. Josh but he was out of town. He texted back and prescribed two meds with dosage instructions and I asked my house keeper to get the prescription filled at the local drug store. My exact words were to please go buy these and then you are finished for the day. Free day off. I never have any problems with Xinh (pronounced Sin) so she wandered out the door and I thought nothing of it.

Two hours later she finally made it back. She was holding a translation from one of her friends, tears dripping, and asking why I wanted to fire her and what she had done wrong. She had not purchased the drugs that I had asked for. By this time I was not in the mood for hysterical women. Between runs to the bathroom I explained that she was not fired. I asked her about the drugs and she brightened and went to fetch them one more time. 2 hours later she returned from the hospital with a signed note from the doctor stating that the prescription that I needed was only for extreme mental patients and an over-prescription at that, and the doctor had refused to fill the prescription. Bad to worse.

Not being in a patient mood I dragged her out the front door and walked the 50 meters to the pharmacy. They filled the prescriptions in about 2 minutes and I scrambled home to my awaiting throne. Humbled, irritated, amused and exhausted. 4 hours of crap for something that should have taken less than 10 minutes. The harmony had definitely left my home. Translation problems are a bitch, but I had never had problems with her like this before. I sent her on her way and waited for the drugs to kick in and gradually my mind and my bowels relaxed. All appeared to be well.

All was not well. At 3 in the morning the stomach pains woke me. The whole thing started all over again and I was texting to the Doc to find out what was wrong. He passed on some more recommendations for various drugs and for the next 48 hours I powered water and rehydration drugs and continued my porcelain track meet.

I had been thinking of my new house mate and letting the superstitions of the locals creep into my mind. Wondering if I was indeed, cursed. I called a local friend and he contacted the local shaman. A wizard of some renown. He arrived later that day, dressed in a royal blue, silk robe with matching hat. Age, undetermined. Old old old. A face that had road maps carved into it. He had small button eyes and an infectious grin that belied the dignity of his position. He swarmed past me, or should I say glided, seeming to know without being told where the Stone was located. Incense in one hand, the other furiously making arcane passes over the stone. A droning, repetitive, almost sub-vocalization vibrating through the house. An assistant was setting up a small shrine on the porch table with fruit, more incense and a package of paper money, candies and various good luck charms.

Many blessings occurred and they took the stone away, after covering it with some sort of altar cloth. The Wizard informed me that the head stone belonged to a woman from an old Chinese family, and that the family was large and still living in Hoi An. He told me he needed to hold a 3 day ceremony of reburial for the spirit and commended me for calling him. His impression was that the spirit was angry that she had been neglected by the family. She wanted a place to rest and my house was the first time she had been in out of the weather since her burial, several hundred years earlier. She did not want to leave. Now she was pissed. He promised all would be well in three days. He was wrong.

At the end of the day, I ended up in bed by 6:00 in the evening. I felt listless and tired and I slept fitfully. At 5:00 AM I awoke and found myself exhausted. Enough was enough so I cleaned up and after popping off a couple of Emails to tell people where I was going to be, I was off to the hospital. Thinking that I would get and injection and some more meds, I was shocked when the doctor told me my heart was completely out of kilter and showing and arrhythmia with an irregular heart beat. They put me in bed instantly and I started to get worried when they couldn’t find a vein for blood work. My veins were collapsing due to extreme dehydration. They finally found a vein and put me in intensive care with full monitoring and transfusions going full blast. I came to the conclusion that evil spirits can really kick your ass. 24 hours later they released me from the hospital.

Being away from the house gave my system a break and I was feeling better. The minute I reentered the house my stomach revolted and it was back to the track meet. I doubled up on my meds and this seemed to keep things in control. I would feel better in the morning and worse as the day progressed. Finally I called the Wizard and asked him to return. He brought out the big guns this time with many presents and gifts for the spirit. He also had containers of rice in which to capture the spirit. While droning along he sprinkled holy water by dipping a flower in a large container of clear water. (I later found this to be Rice wine) He started at the rear of the home and flung liquid to all corners of the house trying to drive the spirit toward the front of the home and then out.

Incense was burning in all corners, on the porch and at the street. Rice was flung into the street, as if seeding the avenue for next year’s crop. An immense stack of money was burned at the front of the property. The rice was what had been in the containers that captured the spirit. The casting it into the street was symbolic of the spirit being released from the home and sent on its way. We said prayers over the temporary altar and much bowing and droning continued for the next hour. Finally the wizard informed me that the spirit had been banned. The house was free of any evil influence. Hallelujah.

Still feeling under the weather I retired to bed and slept like a baby. I didn’t wake once. Now by this time I had been sick for over a week and I don’t know if the bug had run its course or what, but I awoke feeling refreshed and it’s like I was never sick. Coincidence?
Yeah, Probably. But it certainly makes you wonder. When in Rome etc. You have to flow with the local superstitions and customs. I have noticed my neighbors giving me the eye the last couple of days. Not in a bad way. Maybe with a little more respect that they had before. Of course it could be my imagination.
Wizard indeed! Oh, by the way. Not one cent exchanged hands. No money involved at all. Not the Vietnamese norm. You have to wonder….

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