Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Haunting by Mustafa Shafi Khan

Matt woke up from his sleep like a dead man coming back to life. He is short of breath, his body shivering and sweaty. He reaches for his inhaler haphazardly. The short burst of air from the inhaler seems to give Matt a new life. It is not his asthma attack that woke him from sleep. It is that child and his mother, they appeared in his sleep again. “What was my sin?” the child questioned Matt. His mother stood there without saying anything. The mere thought of their visuals sends shivers across his body. These visuals are becoming more frequent and terrifying each day. With the hope of not waking up to such sights, Matt goes back to sleep once again.

Retired Major General Matt Houston was once a part of the fifth battalion of the United States Army. He served for over twenty five years in the army. Initially admitted as a cadet, Matt rose to higher ranks rather quickly, due to his passion and commitment to serve his country. But when he didn’t wear the uniform he was a different man altogether. Alcohol was his best friend, and he was famous for creating havoc when he was intoxicated in parties and gatherings. This even led him to some edgy situations in the Army with his uniform at stake, but he was let go considering his passion and commitment to work. When the US army was fighting a war in Vietnam, Matt was serving as a Captain.

The next day, Matt woke up early morning. Last Night’s events were still fresh in his mind. His eyes were sore and his face was weak. He hadn’t been able to sleep much since these terrifying visions began to appear in his dreams and his conscious state. His wife had passed last year and since then he had been living alone. He sat in his rocking chair, his eyes closed and his mind dated back to the night that changed his entire life.

It was the night before Matt and his brigade were to leave Vietnam, the war was over and their brigade was the last to leave. The troops were having a small bonfire, having alcohol and listening music on the radio. As the night went on the troops were heavily intoxicated and lost control of their senses, they began acting like a bunch of teenagers on the street at night with no one to stop them. They danced, broke glass bottles and damaged some public property. But this was not it; a few of them including Matt entered a compound where Vietnamese families lived. They barged into an apartment which belonged to a man, his wife and their eight year old son. The soldiers seemed like barbarians, dreadful and inconvincible by anything. They put a knife next to the man and raped his wife in front of him. She pleaded for mercy and her husband panicked like a bird being slaughtered, shouting and trying to break free. Matt stood there with the bottle of whisky in his hand, laughing like a dead soul. When the soldiers were leaving, the husband of the woman pounced on them from behind and got hold of Matt’s gun. In an attempt to free the gun Matt wrestled with the man grabbing his forearm. Suddenly, a shot was fired. There was utter silence in the room and their ears were deafened by the loud bang of the gun. As Matt looked down he saw the bodies of both the man and his eight year old son with a small puddle of blood beside them. 

This incident has been haunting Matt ever since. He retired from army soon after returning back from Vietnam.

He opened his eyes. He saw the child sitting at the edge of his chair by his feet and looking up in Matt’s eyes. Matt was struck with terror he got up from his chair and ran towards the bathroom. His chest was moving up and down from the heavy breathing. He opened the tap to wash his face, instead of water; he saw blood running from it. Matt pulled back from the sink almost falling towards the door. These visuals were frequent with each day gone by; it was becoming difficult for him to cope.

The following night Matt had been up all night in his bed. The face of the woman couldn’t let her sleep. She looked at Matt and shouted for mercy. Her scream, her pain and her face all echoed in his mind, he then remembered the child. The way he was looking at his mother with his eyes still trying to figure out what was going on and then his body as it lay on the ground with blood spilling out from his chest. Matt couldn’t deal with it anymore, he thought to himself. All these years of enduring this guilt and terror. Death was his real medication; he slowly put his feet on the ground as he stood up from the bed, dragged himself towards the cupboard and took out his revolver.


  1. Good story... But how did the man and his son, both die if one shot was fired?

  2. Very good concept! Of course Purple Feather has made a valid point. My two bits are that you are switching between past tense and present tense. Minor grammatical errors.
    Criteria: Short Story - it has all the parts, I'm glad you used a flashback; The Haunting - it is; Terror and Guilt - both are evident. This is a 7/10, good job!

  3. The author's techniques used in this short story not only create a sense of guilt and terror, but they also reflect upon the consequences one has to face after committing a sin like this. The use of the phrase "her husband panicked like a bird being slaughtered" creates an image in the reader's mind and makes them feel like they're witnessing the incident. The reader feels sympathy for the woman who lost her husband and her son. The story keeps developing with every sentence. Punctuation has been properly used and there are hardly any grammatical errors. The ending is a cliff hanger as we know that the protagonist is about to kill himself, but that hasn't happened yet.

  4. You have said a lot Rayyan without providing any evidence (quotes) or analysis (effect). You are getting a chance to rewrite this....due Thursday 8 pm. If I do not get a rewrite grade stands at 1/10.

  5. The short story has been written in third person point of view, however i believe to show guilt and terror, first person would have been much better to show feelings of guilt and terror. The genre is fiction, horror. The story starts with the protagonist experiencing a nightmare. The writer later explains the cause of "Matt's" horrifying visions with an incident that took place in his life in the past.The plot had the potential to be more captivating if the writer had planned it out in a better way.The writer should have focused more upon the guilt and terror face by the protagonist, instead the writer wasted time on the details of the background and not much on the "haunting"! Secondly while reading the story it became really difficult to understand what era of the protagonist's life the writer was talking about. The author jumped to and fro without using clever transitions between the past and the present. The story had major glitches which were also because the lack of planning. There is a mention of only one bullet being fired which causes the death of two people which is impossible. Secondly it was only mentioned the mother was raped and the father and son die, but in the dreams the mother and son come. Moreover there were wrong tenses used which broke the readers constant reading.

  6. Matt is haunted by visions of that night, but when he looks back and remembers watching an innocent woman being raped in front of her husband and child, as he stood there laughing, is any guilt or remorse expressed? if Matt could stand and witness such brutalities without flinching, why are they causing such anxiety now? maybe if there was something like how his wife died and he felt he was being punished for his sins? and terror? what is Matt terrified of?
    these are a few things missing in the essay, in my opinion. Emotions are integral in an essay and i feel regret, remorse, terror, horror should have been more apparent.

  7. The genre is horror. The authors purpose for writing this story would be more than one. The primary purpose would be to create a haunting using feelings of guilt and terror. Another purpose would be to show the reckless beheavious of soldiers which causes people their lives and destroyes their homes. Furthermore the author shows us how guilt of murder can ruin ones life forever and even end it as he has shown that Matts only way out of this living nightmare is death. The point of view is third person and its a wise choice as the author can show us the whole picture instead if just one persons views. The author has included flashbacks showing us the cause of Matts guilt and terror.
    The author starts off his story with a plaintive tone as he shows us that Matt is having these terrifying dreams and they make him suffer. The author makes use of figures of speechs such as " a dead man coming to life " showing us how rapidly Matt woke up and that he was panting as a dead man coming to life would. He also uses "seems to give matt a new life" showing us that how much Matt was struggling to breath and how much the inhaler it helped him regain his breath. A candid tone is seen in the beginning of the second paragraph as the author tells us about Matts life but it gets saritic towards the last few sentences as we see that the author uses figures of speech like " alcohol was his best friend" and " 'famous' for creating havoc " this shows that the author is mocking him. The progression of the story is seen from this paragraph as it introduces us about what happened in vietnam and it goes on till the end of the story showing the cause Matt will commit sucide. Paragraph three and four are rather solemn as they state about Matt's wife's death and about the incident that changed his life, the rape and the murder, which are perhaps the most terrifying, serious and sad. A contrite tone towards the end as Matts guilt for killing the father and the son is shown, and this guilt leads to Matt comitting sucide. The sucide is not shown but the cliffhanger ending gives us a good idea that he will commit it.