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Ghost Tower

asura eating anger

An Asura feeding on anger

My short story GHOST TOWER was featured in the January 2013 edition of eFantasy Magazine.  It is a strange travelogue through Bangkok’s darkest corners and the Buddhist afterlife, and here is some information about the ideas and research that went into the story.

eFantasy cover

My first inspiration came from my honeymoon in Thailand.  It is a wonderfully surreal country steeped in history, religion and superstition.  I saw magic everywhere: Yan sigils painted on the insides of cars, mystical amulets for sale on every corner, and saffron robed monks traveling between countless temples filled with golden Buddha statues.

At first my eye was drawn to the allure of twisting rivers, old fishing boats and ancient ruins.  While riding the sleek, ultra modern monorail through Bangkok, however, I saw something strange jutting out of the skyline between the traditional terra cotta tile roofs of the temples.  I saw my first ghost tower.

The Asian economy was roaring in the 1990s, and a series of massive sky scrapers went into development.  When the market crashed, the money for the unfinished towers ran dry.  They are all still there, decades later, haunting the Bangkok skyline, their pale concrete skin ashen with soot and choked with thick creeping vines.

sathorn unique

The towers have begun to crumble and rain chunks of concrete and steel onto the streets below.  Why are they still there?  Why haven’t they been demolished and exorcised from the civic center?  To understand that, one must understand the Buddhist mind.  You have to take the good with the bad and accept things as they are.

The next major piece of inspiration was an article I read about the ‘body snatchers’ of Bangkok.  The city is infamous for being crowded, and with that comes nightmarish traffic.  Unfortunately there are also lots of very bad drivers and far too few ambulances.  It falls to the ‘body snatchers’, groups of volunteers, to prowl the city for accidents in the hopes of assisting the injured and dead.

Doing the Lord (Buddha)'s work

Doing the Lord (Buddha)’s work

As I said, Thailand is an extremely superstitious country.  Many Thai have an intense fear of ghosts, and the unhappy ghosts from high velocity car crashes are thought to be extremely powerful.  A volunteer can earn spiritual merit for rushing a wounded driver to the hospital.  The real reward, however, is in handling the haunted corpses and taking them to be cremated.  The spirit of the deceased is believed to be released from its body and free to move towards its next reincarnation.

I knew my story would involve the ghost towers and body snatchers.  It was another news article that really opened my eyes to the widespread belief in ancient black magic.  In May of 2012, a man was arrested with a suitcase of roasted baby fetuses.  He was trafficking in Kuman Thong, an ancient form of necromancy in which the spirits of babies are enslaved to bring wealth and protection to their owners.

A plastic kumon thong.  You don't want to see a real one.

A plastic kumon thong. You don’t want to see a real one.

The story then jumps into the Buddhist afterlife, one of the richest, most complex and fantastical realms in the world.  It’s too much to cover here, so I will simply leave you with a photo from Wat Rong Khun, a temple in northern Thailand that featires visions of the afterlife.

white temple hands of hell

It is a common misconception that the Buddhists do not have a hell. In fact, they have many.

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