"It was a cold, foggy winter night when a ghost tried to kidnap me," Mr. Đức said in a low voice with a serious expression. The reflection of the burning oil lamp on a small table in front of him shone in his eyes.
"Like every morning, my colleague picked me up to go fishing, but something was different that day."
He paused for a moment and looked around. Everyone was listening intently. My seven-year-old self moved closer to my mother, discreetly looking over her shoulder to make sure there were no ghosts behind her. It was a hot summer evening and the power was out, as it often was. The usual neighbors were sitting outside our store, fanning themselves. Today, even the quiet carpenter from across the street joined us. He and his family were sitting on wooden chairs in front of their house across the street. His wife, the ever-popular nurse, called to Mr. Đức, who was sitting cross-legged on our straw mat drinking tea:
"What was different?"
Mr. Đức took another sip of tea and answered Mrs. Gái:
"That day I only woke up when I heard him calling. I wondered if I had overslept or if he was just early, but what surprised me most was that he had already left and wasn't waiting for me at my door as usual."
He paused for a moment and moved a little so that Mrs. Mai, who had just joined him, could sit down. Then he continued:
"I shouted, 'Wait for me,' and ran after him, but he was so fast that he almost disappeared in the mist. I ran and shouted until I noticed that he was getting longer and thinner. I was freezing. By now I was standing in front of the cemetery. When it was just a long white line, I turned and ran back."
He stopped for a moment and bowed his head. When he looked up, I could see a hint of sadness on his face.
"I got home around three in the morning - two hours before we would have normally met. So I went back to bed, but I couldn't get back to sleep."
Then his voice softened, almost trembling:
"I lay in bed until my wife woke up. We were wondering where my colleague was when his neighbor came over and told us that he had died during the night.
Mr. Đức was convinced that it was his colleague's spirit saying goodbye. Many of those present agreed with him. They spent the rest of the evening exchanging ghostly experiences, but I stopped listening. My thoughts were with the long, thin shadows.
When we closed the store and everyone went home, the power was still off. The light flickered in the oil lamp and I stared at it until my mother put out the flame. I couldn't sleep for long. My eyes searched for suspicious shadows, but they remained invisible in the total darkness.
There were many such evenings in my childhood. Especially older people liked to tell ghost stories, and children liked to listen to them. Over time, I heard different versions of how my Aunt Liệt's husband had drowned. There were also reports of a similar encounter with a ghost.
At that time, I wondered how people could tell such stories so casually.