“Ro-Langs” Horror by Val Votrin

"Ro-Langs" Horror by Val Votrin

On a bleak day in early December 1947, a small party of three crossed into the Kham region of Tibet from Tachienlu. The party was led by Peter Goullart, a representative of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives based in Likiang. 

Goullart was born and raised in Russia and fled to China after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. A short, balding, bespectacled man with a disarming smile and the talent of making friends among people of all cultures, he spoke fluent Chinese and, through his twenty eight years in China, acquired a deep understanding of the country and the areas he lived in – the city of Shanghai and the Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. A person of much ambition and skills, Goullart was eager to explore uncharted areas in north China and was not afraid of anything.

This was his first visit to Kham. His companion, a young man called Wuhsien, Goullart’s trusted assistant, had never visited these parts either. This is why Goullart hired a local man – a humble Tibetan merchant – to guide him through the Tibetan highlands. They were heading to Garthar, a village about a hundred miles away from Tachienlu, where there was a trading post and a cattle farm. Their goal was to find the locals out there who would be willing to engage themselves with a new modern creamery or another co-operative – for spinning and weaving, or knitting, or soap making, or leather tanning, or metal working, or any other small business Goullart, and the wider Chinese Industrial Co-operatives, were so keen about. Of course this was Goullart’s official goal as the “Depot Master of Likiang”, as his formal title went. His journey was reluctantly authorised by his superiors who had never entirely supported his plans to visit this ‘Outer Darkness”, a no-man’s land, strange and remote. Was there any sense to discuss the setting up a proper craft with the barbarous tribes who inhabited that place and who could not even speak Chinese? So Goullart’s journey, hesitantly approved and hastily planned, looked more like an exile than an appointment.  

Nothing else was mentioned during conversations with his superiors and all paperwork for the journey arrived on time, but Goullart also discerned some understatements, some subtle hints in the speeches of his colleagues and superiors. They seemed to be fearing something – something, they thought, he would surely encounter in the Tibetan mountains. But they had never been to Tibet themselves, and he concluded that this was the usual Chinese superstitions – a fear of strangers and those strangers’ demons hiding in the unknown. Had he himself not been one of those crazy strangers who, quite conveniently for his Chinese peers, agreed to be sent to the outer darkness? After the Bolshevik horrors he had seen, after watching his mother die in exile in Shanghai, raving in her agony, blurting horrible curses – was he supposed to start fearing the strange Tibetan demons? 

Certainly not.

They made a start on an early morning and, having passed through a few dark, picturesque gorges, plodded along until evening. His companions spoke little so Goullart was left to observe the beautiful landscapes around him. The sun was shining brightly and there was no snow. Goullart looked back – and there behind him, at the end of a long gorge, was a vision of Tachienlu, with its pagodas and temples, framed by the flanks of the gorge as if a stage set with a fabulous castle. A turn of the road – and this heavenly view disappeared, making Goullart’s heart sink in a strange foreboding. 

They stayed in a tiny hamlet overnight. Next morning they started a gradual ascent. It began to snow around noon but, despite the poor visibility and the fatigue of the climb, they managed to reach the top of a 15,000-foot-high pass. Overcome by the altitude, Goullart almost fainted near the top, and it was only his inborn tenacity and pride that kept him going.

At last, breathless and panting, they reached a perfectly flat, windswept top, with several fateful mani stone piles and a few battered prayer flags swaying in the wind on their poles. It was noon and Goullart recalled his companions’ words that the road would become impassable in the afternoon due to the wild winds. They made it to the top of the pass just in time.

The sun was shining again. The sight of majestic glittering peaks and emerald-green forests of rhododendrons around him made Goullart forget about his fears and frailties. They began descending towards a divine-looking blue lake gleaming beneath. A few hours later, they passed a pebbly beach and turned into a narrow valley on the side of the lake. A roaring stream foamed along its bottom, and they started following it down, stepping from one mossy stone to another. It was a very slow progress, but at last the dark, narrow valley turned into a broad and flat one – and Goullart realised that they reached the Roof of the World, the famous Tibetan plateau, a vast, undulating land framed in snowy ranges. Everything was visible, clear and sharp, with objects appearing nearer than they actually were. The yaks on the slopes of distant mountains looked like black beetles. It was about two o’clock, the sun started setting behind the high mountains and the icy winds sprang up – the winds so cruel that it was hard to breathe. So the three people were hurrying up to reach a shelter. The road was empty, their progress became much quicker and it took them just an hour or so to arrive at Garthar. 

The village of Garthar was a row of dingy houses made of rough stones, with tiny windows and flat roofs. It was mostly populated by the Chinese along with their Tibetan wives. It struck Goullart how unusually quiet the place was. There were no lights anywhere, the street looked desolate, and the only sound was the howling of dogs. Amidst the absolute stillness, this mournful sound was frightening. 

The humble Tibetan guide came up to Goullart, shaking with fear.

‘This is a bad village, sir. Something has happened here. We must run from here’.

‘Bollocks!’ said Goullart, aflame with curiosity, wanting to know what had actually happened in this isolated place. Was that a natural disaster the locals had fled from? Or an outbreak of plague?

‘No, sir, very bad,’ the guide insisted. 

It was getting darker very quickly, and suddenly they saw that someone had emerged from around the corner and started walking up to them. The man moved in an unsteady gait, swaying and dragging along his legs as if he could not bend his joints. The Tibetan guide was gaping in horror at the dark figure approaching them.

Ro-langs!’ he shrieked and darted away with almost unnatural speed.

The man came closer, its face a black hole under a traditional felt hat. Clearly he was walking towards them. As he was some ten yards away, he stretched out his hands and broke into a faltering run. That is when Goullart realised the meaning of the word the guide had uttered before running away. He screamed and strode away towards one of the houses, leaving Wuhsien gawking at the dark figure that was already near him.  

Goullart burst into the house, ducking under a low doorway. The house was empty, the hearth cold. Goullart quickly shut the door, locked it and stood still, listening hard. He was all covered in cold sweat and was trembling. But the only sound he could hear was the roar of the wind. Even the dogs stopped howling. 

As he stood there listening to the roaring wind, Goullart clearly recalled the stories he had heard about the ro-langs so often when Tibetan merchants visited him in Likiang. It seemed that all of them, or their family member, or a friend had encountered a ro-langs once or even oftentimes, and Goullart would invariably listen to those spine-chilling stories with attention, nodding his head and tut-tutting compassionately. The ro-langs was a horrible creature of Tibetan folklore, a walking corpse risen from the dead by a malicious spirit or a ‘ba’ po, an evil sorcerer. One ro-langs could depopulate a whole village and turn its residents into other walking dead by simply touching them. Although Goullart happened to have listened to dozens and dozens of those stories, some of them told by actual witnesses of the ro-langs’s devilments, he had never taken them seriously and had always thought those were just the wives’ tales. Even now, after he has met the ghoulish creature, he could not quite believe that the man who he had briefly seen was a ro-langs

 Standing in the middle of an empty hut and listening to the howling wind outside, Goullart tried to start thinking rationally. Indeed, what did he flee from? What did he fear? That man was probably a local resident, who perhaps was quite ill. Goullart has seen too many locals suffering from various diseases. In fact, in his first days as a Depot Master at Likiang he set up a clinic for the local residents and started treating some very simple illnesses – conjunctivitis, trachoma, scabies, small wounds and sores. He also treated other, more serious diseases like dysentery. So why he, with his experience of helping people, fled from a needy patient when he could stay and help? 

Goullart shook his head in frustration. He has now regained his composure completely.

And then came a sound. Amidst the roaring wind, he heard a monotonous banging against the entrance door. It was almost as if someone was trying to kick the door in with a frozen wood log. The door made of wooden planks was trembling and creaking. 

Goullart looked around. His new abode was a rambling log house covered with a wooden-plank roof. As in most Tibetan houses, the ground floor was entirely intended for keeping cattle and storing forage and dried cow dung. There was also a large and dark kitchen which served as a dining room. On the first floor Goullart found several rooms, most of them filled with stores of barley, wheat, corn, yak butter, brown sugar, rock salt, cooking oil, potatoes and some salted pork hanging in big chunks under the roof. One room was a bedroom, very small, with a tiny window covered with a translucent yak bladder. There was a crude bedstead heaped with barley straw, a small table and a chair. A low partition separated it from the other rooms.   

The window was just above the entrance door and Goullart was keen to find out where the weird sound was coming from. After some thought, he tore away the yak bladder and, not without difficulty, thrust his head out of the window. 

The pallid moon sat high in the sky surrounded by unknown, hairy stars, its ghastly light shining upon the whole valley. Everything in sight – the village, each abandoned house, the road and every single rock on it – looked white and breathless as if bleached out of life by this acid light.

There was a lonely figure, charcoal-black in the deathly moonlight, standing motionlessly on the road. This was Wuhsien – Goullart could clearly see his hat and his bag lying beside him. Their Tibetan guide was not seen anywhere.

‘Wuhsien!’ Goullart called out loudly. ‘What are you doing there? What is going on?’

The black figure on the road stirred and drew closer to the house. This was indeed Wuhsien, his face clearly visible in the moonlight. But this face was now still and livid, his glance unmoved and fixed at something in front of him. He moved with the similarly rigid gait as the first man did, rocking from side to side and dragging his feet, and Goullart’s first thought was that Wuhsien had suddenly caught the same illness as the one all local residents seemed to be suffering from.

Then he realised that, while he was trying to draw Wuhsien’s attention, the monotonous sound he heard before still continued. He looked down and what he saw made his blood freeze.

There was the first man at the door and he was trying to enter the house. Yet he seemed to be unable to bend down to get under the low doorway, so he was just throwing himself against the door in equal intervals, as if he was a kind of a mechanical puppet. At some point, his hat fell off his head and Goullart saw the top of his head, a bare skull with skin slipping off in long shreds along with black hair. Next second, he felt a horrible rotting smell coming out of the figure that was trying to break through the doors.

Gasping from terror, Goullart pulled himself back into the house and stepped back from the window. As he was feverishly thinking what to do now, the monotonous sound from the downstairs continued. Even if he kicks the door out, he will not be able to come in, Goullart thought. This rational thought calmed him down a bit. After all, he was on the first floor and was hence relatively safe as the stairs leading to the first floor were narrow and steep. Even if those two walking corpses could break through the door, bend down and get into the house, they would not be able to go up the stairs with their stiff legs. 

But how long will he last here under this siege? Yes, there is enough food in the house to get going for months; but there is no water or a slightest hope that someone will soon find out and rush here to save him. 

The roaring wind outside became quieter but only to give way to another sound – a mournful wailing of the dogs who started howling with a new force, as if sensing a new threat. Goullart came up to the window and looked out.

The road was not empty anymore. It was full of silent figures – men, women, small children – and all of them were walking to his shelter. All of the local residents seemed to be here, and all of them walked with the same rocking gait that was already so familiar to him. His heart sank as he watched this horrible procession in disbelief. Soon all of them stood in front of the house, and, while there were no windows looking out to the backyard, he was sure that the house was now completely surrounded by the ro-langs.

Suddenly the monotonous banging downstairs was interrupted with a loud creaking. The door, he thought and rushed to the top of the stairs. 

It was dark on the ground floor but he could still discern that the frail entrance door was beaten in and was now laying by the doorway. Someone was stepping into the house. Goullart stood above the stairs, peering into the dark space below. There was a movement there and a series of sounds as if a stack of frozen firewood walked in by itself. The source of this sound was covered with a thick black blanket of the darkness.

Whatever has just entered the house, it seemed it was not able to go up the stairs. Goullart rushed to one of the storage rooms where he had earlier spotted the matches. With the box of matches, he returned to the stairs, went down a few steps cautiously and lit a match.

The light revealed dreadful, swollen faces peering at him with white eyes. Dead children. The room was full of the child ro-langs, standing there motionlessly side by side.

Goullart flinched with a stifled cry. Seeing the light, the crowd of the ro-langs swayed forward and one of them, pushed by others, managed to creep onto the lowest step. He stood there, waiving his straight little hands, trying to clutch to something that could help him get onto the next step. Goullart was looking wide-eyed at the thing. The child must have been around six when he was turned into a ro-langs. A nice round face, now blackish, pale-eyed, with evil expression. He was staring up at Goullart, and suddenly a long black tongue sprang out of his mouth with a little hiss. The crowd of other ro-langs was surging behind him, trying to push him up the stairs. 

Goullart darted again to the storage room and returned with a long pole. Whether this was a mop pole or something else did not matter at the moment. As if playing a sort of billiards, Goullart punched the horrible creature to the chest with the tip of the pole. The little ro-langs reeled back and fell on the heads of others who quickly came apart and let him fall on the floor with a thump. 

There was silence as no one downstairs was not moving. Goullart stood waiting, a pole in his hand like a medieval spear. Then suddenly a stir downstairs, and another child ro-langs appeared on the stairs, pushed hard by others from behind. 

This time it was a girl aged around ten or eleven. She did not look dead, only her eyes were white and blind, giving her face a wicked expression. She hissed showing the same terrible black tongue. Goullart hit her right in the face with a pole, and she silently dissolved in the crowd of the walking corpses.

Waiting for another ro-langs to emerge for their hopeless ascent, Goullart realised that he began feeling tired. He did not eat anything for the last five or six hours and was thirsty. It was very cold, with frosty draughts chilling through every inch of the room. He rushed to the nearest storage room and tore a chunk of salted pork off the rope it was hanging on. There was no knife seen anywhere so he simply sank his teeth into the meat. It was very hard and incredibly salty but at least it was edible. During his life in China, he had seen worse food. The trouble was that there was no water. 

As he desperately looked around figuring out which storage room was best to search for water, he suddenly sensed a look directly towards him. Hu turned around and saw that a ro-langs’s head just appeared above the top of the stairs. The corpse’s wild, white eyes stared at him with such malignity that Goullart shuddered. The head bobbed up and down as the corpse was being pushed by others from beneath. 

A pole in his hand, Goullart quickly stepped towards the thing and punched it with a pole, as he has already done. This time, however, the pole cracked and broke into two pieces, and the dead child – it was a husky boy of around fifteen, as Goullart could spot – managed to hold his position. Another ferocious push from beneath and the corpse fell on the floor at the top of the stairs and started crawling, hissing and writhing like a snake, towards Goullart. And there was already another terrible head emerging above the stairs, peering at Goullart with abhorrent eyes.

Goullart cried in despair and quickly retreated to the nearest storage room, slamming the door in the face of the first ro-langs. It was a shaky door without a latch inside and Goullart had to barricade it hastily with heavy wooden boxes with provisions stacking them one on another. Almost immediately, the door wavered under a blow but the boxes were quite heavy and stood the attack.

The room was small and dark. The light came in only through the top of the doorway where the door fell short of the upper doorframe. Goullart heard the banging, thumping and hissing and knew that the room outside was filling with the ro-langs. How long will he be able to withstand the siege? He examined the room almost by touch and soon concluded that the provisions stored here consisted almost entirely of barley, wheat and salt. No water; indeed, no single drop of any liquid.

Utterly exhausted, he perched on a wooden box. The door was now creaking under the same monotonous banging he had already heard outside. 

He must have fallen asleep because a carefully forgotten memory came to him – a room in a cheap hotel in Shanghai and his mother, gravely ill, on her deathbed, her face luminous and peaceful. Suddenly, without the least warning, she sits bolt upright on her bed, her arms extended in front of her, her hands twitching like claws. Her throat issues a sort of animal growl and she croaks, ‘Where are you, wretch? Where are you?’ Her unseeing eyes are bulging, her mouth becomes square like a mask of Greek tragedy. Terrified out of his wits, Goullart tries to make her lie down again, but her strength is enormous and the hands like steel. She gashes him deeply in the arm, croaking again, ‘Just let me find you! I will tear you apart limb from limb!’ Goullart, her only son, sinks by her bed in horror, unable to move. Then, just as suddenly, she falls back on her pillows and soon opens her eyes, smiling gently. She is his poor, dear mother again. ‘Where was I?’ she whispers. ‘I do not seem to remember what happened to me.’ Then, ‘I feel very, very drowsy, Peter, my boy.’ She closes her eyes and, in a few minutes, it is all over.

Goullart opened his eyes with a start. The door was creaking from the monotonous bangs from the outside. 

They will never stop, he thought. They are dead. They will be ramming this door until it breaks apart. These heavy boxes will not stop them either – they will eventually break through them.

His whole body trembling as if he had a fever, Goullart got up and stood there, completely at a loss as to what to do. An hour passed by or perhaps just a few minutes.

At some point of time, he felt a faint draught touching his face. He stretched out his hand and felt a little hole, a slit between the logs, sharp icy wind blowing through it. He stuck his fingers into it and tried to pull. Soon he realised that the back of the house was not made of wooden logs but of planks similar to those the entrance door was made of. They might have been thinner than logs but still very hard to pull off with bare hands. 

He descended on the box, his heart racing, his mouth dry like sandpaper. His foot stumbled across something lying on the floor. This was a fragment of the pole – Goullart must have unknowingly brought it with him while fleeing from the ro-langs

Acting very carefully, Goullart put it into the slit between the planks and pressed with all the weight of his body. The planks creaked. He pulled again. Behind him, the monotonous banging against the door was going on.

He was pulling on the pole, gently but strongly, and the planks started giving way. He knew this because he could feel a widening stream of cold, fresh air blowing out of the hole. 

Finally, one of the planks came off. He threw away the pole and, in one powerful thrust, tore off the other plank. There was now a hole big enough for him to squeeze through, letting the chilly wind and the pale dawn light into the dark storage room. He looked out this improvised window and saw an uneven, wet, ledged surface a bare handbreadth away from him. 

The back of the hut was adjacent to the cliff wall. 

Without hesitation, Goullart put his legs out of the hole and, setting his feet against the wall, climbed out of the hole. He started slowly crawling down, sometimes pressing his back against the wall and clawing at bumps and wrinkles on the house wall. Soon he reached the bottom of the dark, stinky space between the hut and the cliff and started walking to the side which seemed wider and where the morning light looked brighter. Closer to where the back of the house ended, there was a tiny stream flowing down the surface of the rough rock, and Goullart pressed his lips against the water smelling of the yak and mountain herbs and drank for several long minutes. 

The water enlivened him. Cautiously he peered out from the shady space behind the hut. The village seemed as desolate and abandoned as when he was looking at it out of the window above. The sun was already high, the crimson dawn coming over snowy mountains.

Goullart sneaked along the side wall and looked from around the corner. Not a single ro-langs near the house. Flattening himself against the wall, Goullart started feverishly weighing up his options. He could run up to the nearest house and lock himself up. But will he find any food and water there? He could also take a flight down the road in an attempt to meet someone and ask for help. But on their way here, they did not meet anyone, and now it was clear why – the folks from neighbouring villages must have heard about the calamity befalling Garthar and would not venture to approach the cursed village. 

He was about to give up in despair and run up to the closest house but then recalled the stories of those who had happened to meet a ro-langs. They mentioned that the walking corpse is afraid of water and would never venture to cross a stream or a river.

As far as Goullart could remember the map, there was a small river to the west of Garthar, a source of water for the villagers. On the map, it seemed to be located quite close to Garthar, a short 200 yards away. 

While he was frantically calculating the distance to the river, he heard a strange sound. He looked from around the corner and almost knocked up against a ro-langs, the abominable black tongue nearly touching Goullart’s face. The ro-langs stretched out his hand but Goullart was already at a safe distance, running to the river. 

However, having run a few yards, Goullart stopped, breathing heavily. In these high altitudes, running was a difficult sport. He looked round. A crowd of the ro-langs emerged from nowhere and was after him. The morning sun seemed to have galvanised them as they shuffled along the road quickly and in unison. At another point of time, Goullart would have had a good laugh looking at their distorted faces and clumsy movements. But just at the moment he had absolutely no desire to laugh. He was gasping for breath, his breast nearly bursting, his legs feeling as if he wore shackles.

Pulling himself up, he started to run, sometimes slowing to a walk. But even this way, he moved quite slowly, much slower that those chasing him that had no need to breathe. The whole of his short, chunky frame seemed to resist this unnatural physical effort. Looking back huntedly, he could see that his dreadful chasers were catching up with him.

Yet he was the first who reached the river. The ro-langs were just some few yards from him, and he could smell horrible stench emanating from their mass. 

Contrary to what was shown on the map, the river was not small at all. Goullart could actually hear a loud sound of the mighty stream before he reached its banks. It was a tumultuous mountain river swirling down the rugged cliffs, white with foam. There was a small pebbly bar near the place he reached where the locals took in water for their use, and from here began a river crossing made of large boulders. They were wet and looked slippery but this was the only bridge visible. 

Goullart stepped onto the nearest stone and started picking his way across the river. Looking back, he saw in terror that the ro-langs did not stop before the water obstacle but began crossing the river as well, one by one, mainly children who appeared to be more dexterous. Several ro-langs fell to the river and were carried away by the swift running waters, and most undead remained on the river bank. But few remaining child ro-langs were stepping from stone to stone deftly, coming to Goullart nearer and nearer. He could clearly see their horrible black faces and wild white eyes staring at him blindly.

He has already reached the middle of the river where the bridge stones stood almost completely submerged. His clothes were completely wet from the thick water spray; his feet were numb from the cold. Overcome with panic, turning back frequently, he stepped onto a stone, his foot slipped and Goullart tumbled into the seething water. 

He opened his eyes under the water and saw outspread five fingers of a little black palm passing just an inch from his face before the wild river seized his body and hit it against a stone.

When Goullart regained consciousness, he found himself lying under the stone vaults painted with colourful murals. He was in a large square cave all painted with the parinirvana scenes and the images of the Gongpo, Tibetan evil spirits. There was a fire burning in a hearth in the middle of the cave, and an old man sat near it watching the boiling pot closely. He was dressed in a traditional Tibetan robe with long, wide sleeves and wore a tall fox fur hat. When he saw that Goullart had regained senses, he got up with a wide, friendly smile on his face and stood above him, looking down at Goullart. 

‘One rib,’ he said in Chinese. ‘And a couple of bruises. You are lucky to have only one rib broken and a couple of bruises after you have swum in that river.’

‘Where am I?’ said Goullart, wincing from pain in his chest bound up tightly.

‘You are not Chinese,’ said the old man. ‘Where do you come from?’

Goullart chose not to answer. There was something strange about the old man. His wizened, brown face radiated with anticipation as if he knew something about Goullart that Goullart was completely unaware of. He turned away, went to the hearth and starting stirring in the pot.

He was not answering any of Goullart’s questions over the next few days. Goullart would fall asleep and then wake up and the old man would give him a cup of noodle soup. He regularly supplied Goullart with meat and butter tea and examined his rib from time to time. The pain, quite excruciating at first, has gradually remitted and Goullart was finally able to breathe and walk freely. 

One evening, bringing another cup of soup to Goullart, the old man suddenly broke silence.

‘If you were Chinese,’ he said with the same gentle smile, ‘I would kill you.’

Goullart only looked at him in astonishment.

‘My children,’ said the old man. He spoke good Chinese but sometimes slipped into muttering. ‘Good boys, chased you all over the place but you were quicker.’ 

There was a pause and then Goullart asked, ‘You call them your children?’ 

The old man replied in his usual evasive manner, ‘You’ll be fine soon, very soon’. 

Another day passed, and the old man said sipping butter tea, ‘There are too many Chinese in Kham. But no Chinese in Garthar. I have stopped them from coming to Tibet. My children are good, very good.’

 Goullart gave him a long glance.

‘Your things kill not only Chinese,’ he said. ‘They kill everybody. You have committed a horrible atrocity, breached a divine law. You must put them back to sleep.’

The sorcerer put his cup of tea on the floor carefully. He did not smile anymore.

‘What is done cannot be undone,’ he said in a low voice, rather to himself. 

There was a day-long pause before he spoke again. Goullart sat near the hearth looking at the dancing fire. 

‘I pulled you out of the river,’ said the sorcerer behind him. 

‘Why?’ said Goullart not turning back. 

‘I did not know why. You looked so peaceful floating in the water. A good man, I thought, still alive. I saved you from the water so that you could tell me good, harsh things. The truth.’

‘Thank you,’ said Goullart.

The sorcerer laughed. 

‘Thank you, eh? How long have you lived among the Chinese? Five years? Ten?’

‘You cannot turn all Chinese into the ro-langs,’ said Goullart and heard a long sigh. He thought that there would be another day-long pause in their conversation but the sorcerer said, ‘I know. But I have to be trying.’

Goullart turned to him.

‘Will you let me go?’ he said.

The sorcerer sat motionlessly resembling a statue of one of those ancient, fierce deities he worshipped.

‘I can see your future,’ he said, ‘You will never see the snow of your homeland again. You will leave China soon and will never return to Tibet, despite your desire to see it once again. You will die among the Chinese but with Tibetan words on your tongue. There is a path from here to the road to Tachienlu. Somebody will pick you up at the crossroads. Take the bag, there is some food and water in there. And don’t say thank you for there is nothing for you to thank me for.’

Peter Goullart came back to Likiang safely. In 1949, he left China on a plane to Hong Kong, fleeing the advancing communists. He had never returned to Tibet. He died in Singapore in 1978. His last words that he uttered lying unconscious were the only ones in Tibetan he knew, ‘Konan ndro? – Gartha la’ (Where are you going? – To Garthar). 

Val Votrin is a published speculative fiction writer based in Haarlem, The Netherlands. His English language prose has appeared in Quail Bell Magazine, The Eunoia Review, Trafika Europe and The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Vol. 2 (Valancourt Press, December 2021). His novel “The Oracle Seller” is forthcoming in Vraeyda Literary this spring.

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