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“Chin Oil” by George Guthridge
Card picked: Ten of Hearts
From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination
“Chin Oil” opens in 16th century Siam with a young pregnant woman being sacrificed to put to rest the angry spirit that is inhabiting her body. Alas, her possession is but a rumor and it is her wronged spirit that will become the true Phi Tai Thang Klom.
In 1995 Thailand, an American named George has become part of the Por Tek Tung, the Buddhist sect of emergency responders and corpse collectors, in order to be closer to the ghost of his wife and son, Malee and Bat, who died in a traffic accident. In particular, George works the section of road where his wife’s ghost, wreathed in blue flames, *causes* accidents. More than putting his wife’s spirit to rest, George wishes for vengeance on Laud, an odious man who George blames for Malee’s death. Before her death, Malee was troubled by dreams of the Phi Tai Thang Klom. As George lures Laud into a scheme to obtain chin oil, the oil from a dead man’s chin which is a powerful aphrodisiac, Malee’s spirit and the Phi Tai Thang Klom to which she is connected may have their own vengeance.
And I am truly not doing justice with that summary. There’s a lot going on in this story and Guthridge weaves it all together beautifully in a story that is pretty succinct. It might be that I have a particular fondness for Asian ghosts, but this is one of the better tales I’ve read this year. It wastes nothing, spends little time explaining, and simply tells the story.
About the Author: The name George Guthridge seemed familiar to me, but a site search didn’t turn up any other mentions of his stories. The back-of-the-book bio informs me that he is a notable educator in Alaska and has in the past been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards. Since the Copperfield anthology, he’s won a Bram Stoker award with co-author Janet Berliner for Children of the Dusk.