Tan Shi-Ming, 38-year-old mortuary makeup specialist, joined the grisly business to continue the legacy of his father. Surprisingly, I got through over 10 years of service without a supernatural disturbance of any kind- and expected, or at least hoped, to reach the end of my tenure as such.
My trick was to never let it get too personal. To never question the state of the corpses. I treated them most professionally, most uncaringly. I believed that this would provide me peace, prevent emotional distress and circumvent nightmares. It was as my father had done.
The gunshot in the back of the abang polis’ head, the toddler’s stained thighs, the biskut ring I had to clip off a youngster’s swollen, bleeding thumb. They are projects to finish, bodies to make presentable, and other peoples’ subjects of grief.
The same applied to the female corpse I was assigned to who had passed away in her bed at a local mental institution. At first glance, and I mean no offense by this, she resembled a pontianak. Pallid skin, scrawny figure, dissociating expression- but most of all, it was the matted, inhumanly long locks of hair cascading down her back.
A colleague informed me that the sight of her corpse was so surreal that a worker took a photo, which an artist came across on social media, and replicated into an oil painting he called “Seven Years Of Hair.” I deemed it an insensitive gesture.
Apart from its apparent artistic value, the smell was inconceivable. Taking a closer look at the hair, that refused to be combed through, I found that the entire head had gone untouched for a substantial period of time, essentially just a clump of overgrown curls held together by natural oils and other foul-smelling substances.
Some of the hair seemed to have been lightened somehow, leaving streaks of blondish white as if spontaneously bleached. Attempting to detangle the mass with my fingers, I discovered tiny, white, stone-like pieces of what looked like bone or teeth. That’s when I made the ultimate decision to cut it all off; a choice deeply scorned by my nostrils and scissors.
The rest of the procedure went smoothly as I prepped the body for the casket, concealing the scars and blemishes on her face, hands and legs, that served as telltale signs of severe neglect. Of personal care and hygiene, that is…
Thankfully, she was my final assignment for the day, and I ventured home swiftly to take a shower and wash off the noxious affair.
Then came the retching.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, psychological thriller cliché style, I felt a large lump in my throat. Pushing against my esophageal wall, I gagged and sputtered uncontrollably as I lodged a finger in to try and fish it out.
I caught on to a rough, fuzzy, seemingly never-ending build-up of hair that I had to pull out my mouth like a clown’s magic hankie and quickly realised that it was the same untamed, pungent tresses on the corpse I worked on just an hour before.
The clump was wide enough to impede my breathing, and in my desperation, I found the urge to delve into a dead woman’s past for the very first time.
That is when I found an abundance of news clippings that could have warned me against my irrational act, had I bothered to look into them earlier. According to the reports, she was named Samantha Yong, and had been happily married to her cinta sejati for 10 years prior to what is described as her “time of insanity.”
Her husband, Michael Yong, was a government official who was tragically killed in a shooting that took place at their home while she stepped out to get groceries. His body and faced had been shot at mercilessly, leaving him almost unrecognisable when she encountered his corpse laying atop a pool of blood when she returned home.
Before help arrived, Samantha caressed her husband’s body, sobbing desperately as she picked up as many pieces of his mashed skull, teeth and flesh that she could, and proceeded to ‘store’ them in her hair. She was sent to the mental institution soon after by her parents, who could no longer tolerate her irrepressible fits, intense grieving and the smell of her hair that she refused to wash or cut.
“… At the institution, workers complained of the unbearable stench and began to purposely avoid Samantha’s room. They also claimed that she had gotten violent on multiple occasions, refusing medical care and grooming. She would not consume a full meal throughout the 7 years that she resided there either. She ultimately died from severe malnutrition, flesh-ridden hair still intact.
“She was eventually kept in restraints when experts concluded that she could pose harm to others, but even in that state, nobody dared lay a finger on her hair. Workers allege that Samantha would whisper threats to them if they tried. These whispers persisted even when Samantha was sedated, so the staff eventually gave up on trying to help her.”
With tears in my eyes, I clutched my throat as I felt another lump coming up…
* All illustrations AI-generated by nightcafe.studio & hotpot.ai
* Malaysian Mystery Memoirs is a series of fictional horror tales by JUICE, for entertainment purposes only. Any similarities to actual persons or situations are purely coincidental.