When it comes to local horror stories written in English, Tunku Halim is probably the most well-known author of them all.
His Horror Stories anthology (2014) is the top Malaysian English fiction bestseller to date – and this is proudly proclaimed on the cover of its sequel, Horror Stories 2.
So, does the sequel live up to the original?
Well, similar to the first short story collection, Horror Stories 2 comprises stories already previously published.
In this case, the stories come from Tunku Halim’s 7 Days to Midnight (2013), 44 Cemetery Road (2007), Gravedigger’s Kiss (2007) and The Woman Who Grew Horns And Other Works (2001). His novella Juriah’s Song (2008) is also included.
To be honest, I feel that it’s a bit of a cheat to just collect various published works into one anthology, without even adding at least one or two works original to the publication.
While it’s convenient for those coming to these stories for the first time, it seems a bit unfair to those who have bought the other anthologies.
Having said that, the arrangement of stories in this collection is well-thought out, enabling a well-paced read.
It starts out with all the short stories from 7 Days to Midnight (Saturday: Shrine to Friday: Midnight), followed by the longer Juriah’s Song.
Various other short stories written earlier in Tunku Halim’s fiction-writing career (1997 to 2001) come next, with his sole play, Pig Heart, closing out the collection.
As expected, familiar Malay supernatural creatures make their appearance in a few of the short stories.
They include the penanggalan (a variation of the Malay female vampire that can detach its head and entrails from its body), the were-tiger and what seems to be a version of the hantu air (water spirit).
One story also revolves around the use of susuk, where needles are inserted into a person in a ritual that typically confers great beauty onto them. The catch though, is that the needle needs to be removed before the person dies, or … well, I won’t spoil Tuesday: Goodnight, Mama for you.
A less easy to classify evil entity makes its appearance in Something Called Mamsky, which Tunku Halim describes as being based on “perhaps one of the scariest nights of my life” during his university days in Britain. Be warned, though, you might find the horror of the story lies not so much in the appearance of the evil entity, but in the terrible pun the story ends with.
There are, of course, the prerequisite ghosts of various sorts.
What I like most about Tunku Halim’s treatment of these ghost stories is that they are not your typical take on these paranormal entities.
For example, in Sunday: Kyoto Kitchen, what starts out as a typical haunting ends in a way that provoked me to think about the line between mental illness and the supernatural.
Birthdays Are Deathdays was another example of a particularly clever twist on a haunting.
However, not all the stories were strictly supernatural. For example, Monday: The App deals with a mysterious personal-assistant app that seems to be able to help the protagonist with anything, while the satirical Pig Heart is about a Muslim who has a bioengineered heart of a swine transplanted into him.
The horror in other stories are more mundane than paranormal, including things like murder, child sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS and child-stealing monkeys (yes, you read that right).
The story I personally found most chilling can be categorised as one of these. Wednesday: Clear Blue Sky deals with the fallout following the discovery that an asteroid is going to hit the Earth, which is horrific enough, but what devastated me was the simple, but stark ending.
Going through the stories, you can certainly tell that Tunku Halim’s craft has improved over the years.
Some of his earlier stories, like Monkeys!, Haze and A Summer Quartet, don’t always seem to know where they are going. I found Monkeys! in particular quite confusing.
But I suppose the ultimate test of this collection is, did the stories keep me up at night jumping at shadows?
Despite being a scaredy-cat when it comes to all things horror, the answer is not really.
However, if you liked the first Horror Stories, chances are you will like this collection too.
Horror Stories 2
Author: Tunku Halim
Publisher: Fixi Novo, fiction