A tale of ghosts and spirits or more earthly matters?'' I see dead people” is the first thing that Yoon Sang-hyeon, 24, says, solemnly staring ahead at the drizzling rain that has an eerie look to it.
It is still daylight, but the clouds above cover the land with shadow.
This is not a scene from the horror movie “The Sixth Sense,” directed by M. Night Shyamalan, that frightened every living soul who had the courage to buy a ticket to see a child, Haley Joel Osment, talking to dead people.
Mr. Yoon claims he can see, talk to and make physical contact with the dead, very much like in the movie, although no stream of breath is visible when he speaks.
“When there’s a ghost the temperature drops and the air becomes chilly,” Mr. Yoon says.
The air does seem chillier than usual, but that might be due to the bad weather on this day, or maybe because the vehicle Mr. Yoon is traveling in is air conditioned.
Mr. Yoon, an exorcist, says he has been seeing the dead since his middle-school years, when he had a near death experience.
He was trying to save a drowning child at a nearby stream. After pushing the child to safety, it was his turn to be saved after he suffered leg cramps. “I was sinking to the bottom of the stream and that was when I heard the voice of an elderly person,” Mr. Yoon says. “He asked me if I wanted to live.”
Miraculously, Mr. Yoon says, his body floated to the surface as if someone were carrying him, and ever since then he has seen dead spirits walking the land. “I see them every day.”
So what are they like? “They’re just like us, they spend their days just walking around,” Mr. Yoon replies.
Asked if other people can see the spirits as well, Mr. Yoon says, “It depends, but if you concentrate hard enough you may see them like I do.”
What do they look like? Well, did you notice in “Sixth Sense” that the dead looked exactly the way they did as they died? Well that, Mr. Yoon says, is how they look. If a person were to die in a car crash his face disfigured, that would be the look his spirit would have. Mr. Yoon says dead people even have a distinctive sour smell. “Some smell like rotten fish,” he says.
Mr. Yoon is riding in a four-wheel-drive vehicle driven by Park Sang-gyu, 24, as both head toward an abandoned elementary school that is an hour away from the Chungju Bus Terminal in North Chungcheong province.
Both Mr. Yoon and Mr. Park belong to a club, Hyung-ga-chaehum, which translates as “experiencing haunted houses.” Members of the club, which was founded a year ago in April, seek out haunted houses across the country and spend a night or two nearby. Several exorcists, including Mr. Yoon, travel along in case there’s an unnatural danger. The group’s members are not supposed to spend the night at a haunted house, but if they decide to do so they are only allowed within a certain “safety” area determined by the accompanying exorcist.
The abandoned school is a one-story, white building with a huge tree in front.
“The tree is 300 years old, which, as an old grandmother spirit, protects the school grounds,” Mr. Yoon says as the car pulls up behind the building, next to an outdoor bathroom.
The 30 or so members of the club are everywhere on the school grounds. Some are performing hypnosis, while others are just lounging around or drinking bottles of soju.
It is still daytime, and the visit to two nearby haunted houses is scheduled for after dark. Members are just lingering about when one becomes possessed by a baby ghost whose head is supposedly disconnected and dangling.
“I have a baby ghost possessing my body,” Han Jeong-gyu says while nodding his head back and forth. A young woman, who is referred to as Seonnyeo, which means nymph, rushes out from the school and heads toward Mr. Han, who is standing near an outdoor kitchen. “You keep calling the baby ghost again and that’s why it’s coming back to you,” Seonnyeo cries out. “Stop thinking about the baby or it will keep coming back to you!”
It is not the first time Mr. Han claims to have been possessed by the baby ghost.
According to Mr. Yoon, once a person is possessed, it is easy for the spirit to re-enter the body.
Seonnyeo keeps persuading and threatening the “ghost” in Mr. Han. Seonnyeo threatens to whack his hand if the baby does not leave Mr. Han’s body and even insists on using salt water, which ghosts abhor.
Nothing works, and finally Mr. Yoon jumps into action. He sits behind Mr. Han and presses his fingers on both sides of Mr. Han’s torso, in the rib area. Soon Mr. Yoon’s face turns fiery red and after a short breath he says, “The ghost is released from the body.” Panting, Mr. Yoon says it takes a lot of energy to release a possessed person.
Mr. Han still looks as drowsy as he did while possessed, and he keeps smacking his lips. He finally falls asleep, which Kim Do-han, another exorcist in the club, claims is natural for a possessed person because the chi, or inner spiritual energy, is drained out. “Most people that I have seen are overwhelmed with fatigue after their bodies are possessed,” Mr. Kim says.
After the sun sets and a spooky darkness covers the land, the three exorcists ― Mr. Yoon, Seonnyeo and Mr. Kim ― and several others go off to the haunted houses as a reconnaissance group.
The haunted houses were first discovered by Mr. Yoon, whose own house was not far off.
According to the villagers in the area, there is no ghost story or legend involving these houses. It was a quiet neighborhood, although Mr. Yoon claims to have seen some ghosts in the area and picked two haunted houses near the school.
Two by two, the members form groups and travel across the school fields to the haunted houses, which are opposite each other.
Armed only with a dim flashlight, each group is to pick up three paper cups that are hidden in three rooms of the houses. Overgrown grass surrounds the houses, and the rooms are empty except for the leftovers of earlier residents ― water bottles, magazines, clothing.
It is spooky, but there is nary a ghost in sight.
To spice up matters, a few members decide to play a trick on the next incoming groups. Mr. Park hides in a closet and another in the overgrown grass.
Things are going along just fine and everyone is having a good time. There is even an incident in which Seonnyeo claims that a female ghost with long hair is standing at one of the windows of the abandoned school. People start to videotape the ghost, but others claim that it is just a shadow.
A light party with alcohol is going on at the abandoned school but, not long after, one of the youngest members of the club, who is called Hwa-gum, starts to whimper and wince in the corner of the room. All of a sudden Seonnyeo, who is walking in, sees the crying Hwa-gum and jumps on top of him.
“Get out, you devil!,” cries Seonnyeo. “You bastard, you’ve frightened my children,” Hwa-gum yells in reply. Everybody’s attention turns to the two struggling people in the corner. Several other members jump on Hwa-gum and hold both of his arms and legs and pin him to the ground.
Hwa-gum starts to bang his head on the floor and to foam at the mouth. Seonnyeo forces a handful of salt in Hwa-gum’s mouth. Hwa-gum, whose face has turned pale white, starts to yell, “It hurts! It’s hot! It’s hot!”
Mr. Yoon suddenly falls to the ground as his face turns red and he shouts in agony. “It’s coming to me! Everyone step back!”
Things have gotten a little out of hand by this time and the situation becomes serious. A dead silence falls over the group. The members, except for a few, are escorted out of the building to the outdoor kitchen.
“Nobody returns until further notice,” says one of the members who is executing the orders of the exorcist.
Inside, the struggle continues and loud cursing passes back and forth between Hwa-gum and the exorcists. Others who were holding down Hwa-gum smack his feet to loosen the tense muscles while the three exorcists are trying to drive out the ghost.
“Get out! Don’t try to trick us,” the exorcists shout. After two to three hours have passed, Hwa-gum says the ghost is almost out, but he makes the announcement in Chungcheong province dialect. Hwa-gum is a Seoulite who has no relationship to the province. “Stop lying! Hwa-gum! If you can hear us, fight back,” the exorcists yell.
Hwa-gum groans in pain and agony.
Kim Jun-soo, from Daejeon, who is shooting the entire process with a video camera, says it is unexpected. “This exorcism is something I never thought would happen,” Mr. Kim says. “Whoa, this is just too tense and eerie.”
Four hours after Hwa-gum was possessed the struggle continues, but the ghost is getting weaker and weaker, Seonnyeo claims.
According to Mr. Kim, Hwa-gum was possessed when he travelled with two others to the haunted house before the party to apologize to the ghost for the intrusion. Apparently the members of the club had frightened the ghost’s two dead children and she wanted revenge.
Hwa-gum finally is released but Seonnyeo says it would be easy for the ghosts to enter his body now and therefore he must take precaustions.
“When going to a haunted house always listen to the exorcist and never wander alone or you might get possessed,” Seonnyeo warns.
Who knows? A ghost might be peering over your shoulder reading this story.
by Lee Ho-jeong