Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Diary of A Bomoh: The Locked Apartment Mystery

The clock is counting down to the release of my next book, Diary of A Bomoh.

Diary of A Bomoh is a departure from my previous stories. The story is an epistolary novel, told entirely through emails and diary entries. It is the life story of a bomoh, a traditional Malay shaman. Except that this bomoh is decidedly untraditional, and the choices he makes during his lifetime leads him down the road to decadence and damnation.

Don't let the experimental format fool you. It's still a Cheah novel through and through. There is plenty of action to go around, featuring the Malay martial art of pencak silat. The occult practices described in the story is a mirror image of the spirituality embodied in my previous works. The bomoh fancies himself a deep thinker, and makes many references to world literature and philosophy. Diary of A Bomoh has all the signature elements of my writing style, expressed through the paradigm of a diary novel.

Where this book differs from my other work is psychology. It dives into the psychology of a man who chooses to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven. It explores why he chooses the path of black magic and blasphemy. And it portrays the consequences of going down this road.

Diary of A Bomoh is a horror novel through and through. It is also a SingLit novel, written by a Singaporean, set in Singapore, featuring Singaporean characters, with Singaporean culture and geography playing prominent roles. It is the deepest story I have written yet.

Here is the first chapter of the novel, told through the perspective of Inspector Ibrahim, the police investigator assigned to investigate a strange death—a death that is set to get even stranger.

Good morning sir,

I am writing to you about my latest case, as discussed during our meeting earlier. I have sent my official report in a separate email. For your convenience, I prepared a summary below. Due to its unusual nature, I am sure you will agree that we should keep the full details confidential.

Last Friday, at 0718 hrs, six GRF officers from Yishun South NPC responded to a call for assistance at the scene of the incident. Residents reported a foul smell in the area. The officers traced the smell to a ground floor HDB flat. The door was closed, the windows were shut, and the curtains were drawn.

They knocked on the door and rang the bell several times, but no one came out. When they tried to open the door, they found that it was locked. The senior officer at the scene, SI Aloysius Tan, made the decision to engage a locksmith.

The locksmith arrived thirty minutes later and unlocked the front gate and the main door. Once they opened the door, the officers detected a strong odour of putrefaction. The flat was dark and unlit, and the air was stale.

When SI Tan entered the flat, a huge mass of insects swarmed him. Flies buzzed around his face. Beetles crawled around his boots and up his legs. Through the noise, he heard rats squeaking.

Shocked and distressed, SI Tan retreated outside. His fellow officers chased the insects away and removed them from his uniform. The officers took a short break to calm down and catch their breath. Once they were ready, all six officers entered the flat.

They discovered a body lying facedown on the living room floor. The hands were clutching the chest, the head was turned to the right, and the jaw was hanging open. The body was clothed in a ragged brown T-shirt and a stained pair of shorts.

After a quick search of the flat, the officers determined that no one else was inside, then cordoned off the scene and called the CID.

I arrived at 0843 hrs, along with personnel from the Forensics Division. As the Forensics team inspected the scene, I interviewed the officers and the neighbours.

According to the neighbours, the resident of the unit mostly kept to himself. Most of his neighbours had never spoken to him before. The few times they had interacted with each other, they simply exchanged greetings and nothing else. They claimed that the flat was rented out for a few years, and the current resident moved in around early 2017.

The resident kept odd hours. He was spotted coming and going from his flat late in the night and early in the morning. During his excursions, he refused to engage with his neighbours. He never told them what he worked as, or even whether he held a job.

There were no unusual sounds or activities around the unit in the past four weeks. However, they did notice Deliveroo riders regularly delivering food twice a day to the unit during this period. Before then, as far as they know, the resident had never ordered food delivery services.

At 1115 hrs, I entered the flat. The moment I stepped inside, a deafening scream reverberated throughout the house. The windows and doors shuddered. A cold wave washed over me. The forensics personnel inside the flat recoiled in shock. One of them almost dropped his camera.

Everyone evacuated the flat. I accounted for the forensics team. Then, together with the GRF officers, I searched the flat.

There was no one inside.

No one outside the flat heard the scream.

The GRF officers reported nothing unusual. Only SI Tan noticed the windows and the doors shaking, and only because he happened to be looking at the flat. Even then, he didn’t hear anything either.

I recited a prayer for protection. Other officers followed. After the situation had calmed, I examined the body.

There was significant consumption, liquefaction and disintegration of soft tissue, creating a cadaver decomposition island. While the fluids had mostly evaporated, the floor under the body was still wet.

We found maggots and beetles inside the body orifices, concentrated in the nostrils, mouth and ear canals, as well as in the eye sockets. During the rush to clear the flat, many of them were scattered or squashed. The forensics personnel collected samples for analysis.

Most of the soft tissue of the face was consumed. This includes the tongue, the cheeks, and the eyes. The hands and upper arms had also been stripped down to the bone. What was left of the skin had turned red. The nails and teeth are intact.

While SI Tan reported hearing rats, we found no rats at the scene. We did, however, find bite marks, rat droppings, and strands of fur. We believe the rats must have escaped through the drain or some other hidden opening.

There was no unusual clothing damage, or any other markings on the body. We found a large antemortem bruise at the hairline, likely caused by a fall.

The body was surrounded by a circle of candles. The candles had been burned all the way down. Near the head of the body, there were empty plates and jars, all of them filled with pupating larvae.

By the left side of the body, we found a small mound of ash on a plate. On the right, there were bottles filled with clear fluid. Samples have been collected for forensic identification.

A shelf in the living room was filled with figurines, pottery, bowls, and music instruments. There was also a single leather-bound copy of the Quran, worn with age and use. A second shelf was overflowing with books. Half of the books are fiction; of the nonfiction books, half were about magic, spirits, and other occult matters. The books were mostly in English and Malay, with some Indonesian and Arabic titles as well.

A long bag leaning against the bookshelf contained martial arts weapons, mostly sticks and knives made of wood and plastic, as well as blunt swords and knives. Another bag nearby held live blades, notably three kris, eight assorted knives, and a pair of swords.

The Forensics team and I determined that the body was undergoing the active stage of decomposition. We believe that the deceased passed away about two weeks prior to discovery.

Forensics recovered large numbers of fingerprints from the scene, consistent with long-term habitation. However, the overwhelming majority of them are smudged and cannot be used for identification. They have also recovered hair and skin samples for DNA profiling.

We found no identity documents at the scene. While we did find a wallet, there was no IC, passport or driver’s licence. The wallet itself was completely empty. There was no banknotes, coins, cards, or receipts. Likewise, we found no money or other valuables inside the flat.

The neighbours barely interacted with the resident, and none of them knew his name. I have requested HDB to provide details of the lessee of the flat, as well as any other occupiers, and am waiting for their response. As yet, we are unable to independently verify the identity of the deceased.

It appears that the deceased passed away in the middle of a ritual. However, the complete absence of valuables and identity documents is highly suspicious. So is the lack of facial features and fingerprints. While there is no evidence of foul play, I do not want to make a definitive assessment of the manner of death just yet.

Because of all these factors, as well as the strange events at the scene, I strongly recommend keeping this case away from the media. Fortunately, the media did not turn up at the scene, and we have not received any media inquiries just yet. Furthermore, there are no mentions on social media about police activity in the area. Should the media send an enquiry, we should simply tell them that investigations are ongoing.

Following my preliminary investigation, I filed a report with the Coroner. When he came down to view the scene for himself, he decided to order a post-mortem examination of the body. He also asked me to carry out additional investigations to determine the decedent’s identity.

While there are no identity documents at the scene, I have found a set of personal effects that could be used to identify the deceased. Inside a bedroom drawer, I discovered a set of diaries. While there is no name on the diaries, the author recorded the date of every entry.

I believe that the diaries hold clues to identifying the deceased. Even if he didn’t write his name, the subject referenced events in his diary that we can investigate and thereby determine his identity.

The diaries are written mainly in Malay, with some English and Arabic. I have taken the liberty of translating part of the earliest diary, dated 2002. I have added notes to aid your understanding of the case. I also left out the entries that cover day-to-day life, focusing only on those that might help us identify the deceased. Please see the translation attached to this email.

I am not a professional translator. Please excuse the roughness of the translation. I scanned the original diary entries, used OCR software to create a text document, then created the translation based on the scanned document and photos of the original. I tried to preserve the author’s voice and writing style as much as possible, including the use of underlines and the lack of italics to emphasise words and phrases.

I think you’ll find enough information in this set of documents to prove the hypothesis that translating the diaries will give us insights into the writer’s identity. I’m confident that we’ll find more information in future entries. If you agree with this approach, please let me know and I will continue to translate the rest of the diaries.

I would also like to request the assistance of my friend, SI Muhd Jafri bin Haji Muhd Rizwan. Jafri is a group leader in the GRF, assigned to Clementi Division. While he is not part of CID, he has invaluable knowledge that can help with this case.

Jafri studied at a madrasah during primary and secondary school and has a strong grasp of Arabic. In addition, his uncle is an ustaz (i.e. Islamic religious scholar). His family is well-versed in spiritual matters.

Jafri is also a peruqyah: an Islamic faith healer.

I do not know if you believe in such things or not. But I can tell you this: When the uniformed officers entered the flat, the crests on their berets turned black.

They do not know how it happened. The crests were clean when they arrived. When they stepped out, the badges were all stained.

I’ve attached photos of the crests to this email. It’s the only weird occurrence at the scene that we managed to document.

You may have heard that the SPF crest is blessed by the four major religions of Singapore. Whether that is true or not, there is something eerie about this case. You can find more strange events described in the diary. We definitely need the help of an expert. There is no one better than Jafri.

And of course, I don’t think it’s wise to disclose this bit of information to the media.

I hope that you will consider my request. Please let me know if you would like to proceed with this translation project. While it is an unorthodox approach, it may be our best hope for identifying the deceased.


INSP Ibrahim


Enjoyed what you read?

Keep an eye out for Diary of A Bomoh when it drops!

In the meantime, if you're looking for something to read, check out my FREE ebook DAYS OF FIRE!

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