Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Woods at Night

They came back an hour after sundown. We saw them flitting through the trees - three bounding spheres each no bigger than a man’s fist - spinning round and round in an arc as if tethered together by some invisible thread.

Mum had warned us not to leave the house when these so called "spirit lights" were out. “You run inside Robbie. Shut the doors, the windows and keep Sarah by your side at all times”

I had nodded and told Mum she won’t need to worry about me and Sarah. We’ll be fine. Soon as the lights appear, were indoors in a snap. “Promise me!”, Mum had said and we solemnly made our promise though I felt she was being a tad too melodramatic considering the mystery lights were - as far as folks were aware - fairly harmless.

Or was there something else Mum wasn’t telling us? Perhaps she knows the origin of these strange lights; where they came from, what’s causing them and why is it we never see them in the winter? Clint from Ace Hardware down in Morrinsville had said something about swamp gases and lightning and how the two seemingly isolated events could conjure light orbs able to traverse thick woods and fly around like fairies. But then Clint had also claimed to have been abducted by little green men and subjected to tests. Whatever the real origin of the strange lights, they’ve yet to cause any trouble or had the townsfolk up in arms weilding pitchforks and shovels looking for them.

So there we were, Sarah and I peering down from our first story bedroom window across the backyard and into the deep woods that made up the furthest edge of our property. The spirit lights were coming closer, maybe ten meters now from our kitchen door. The moon was out, though just a flat round blemish in the clouds. The wind had picked up and we could hear it whistling through the rafters. Across the fence the Barton’s dog was howling – a long pained keening that made the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and goosebumps sprout all over my arms.

“You ok Sarah?”, I whispered, my right arm wound tight around my sister’s shoulders as we watched the lights between a crack in the curtains.

“I’m scared Robbie. Where is Mummy?”, she asked. She had Mr. Jinggles, her favourite fluffy toy held close to her chest. Her pale blue eyes searched me for comfort, and assurance that everything will be alright and Mum will be rolling up the driveway right this minute.

“Mummy’s at the restaurant Sarah. She’s working double shifts. You know how it is on Fridays”

“No fair! I wish she was here! I think the lights are scared of Mummy”

“We’ll be fine Sarah. Let’s draw the curtains and get you to bed ‘kay?”, I said as I led her away from the window, across the hallway and into her bedroom.

Sarah clambered in bed and pulled the blankets over herself and Mr. Jinggles. “Please leave the lights on Robbie”, she said. “Please!”

“I’ll leave the lights on Sarah. And I’ll be just across the hallway OK”, I assured my sister as I rubbed her soft blonde hair and gave her a light kiss before I went back to my room.

When I peeked through the curtains next, the lights had disappeared.

Then the doorbell rang downstairs.

I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just a quarter past eight. Couldn’t be Mum. She’s not due home till early morning.

I threw on a robe and stopped over at Sarah’s room to let her know I was going to check who it was at the front door.

“Robbie, I’ll come with you!”, she said, climbing out of bed Mr Jinggles in tow.

“Sarah, please get back in bed Ok. I’m just gonna have a quick look. It’s probably one of the neighbours”, I said as I ushered her back under the blankets. She looked upset but knew it was better she stay in bed whilst big brother see to the door.

At the bottom of the stairs I switched on the porch lights. I saw no one; no dark silhouette through the pebbled glass panels on our front door. The first thing that ran through my mind was - this had better not be a prank by that Barton kid. He’s done it before but god help the little shit if it was him again.

I walked across the foyer and reached for the doorknob.

Then I heard Sarah scream.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Male Pattern Baldness

The blind old seer gurgled and sloshed the tea in her mouth. Then hawked and spat a glob of creamy grey into a tin cup and wiped away long gooey strands of saliva from her mouth.

She looked up and proffered the cup to me held in her skinny brown hands, like a prize catch caught between a raven’s claw. She said in a quavering voice, “Minum, nak, minum nih bagus” – drink this son, it’s good.

“Take it, go on. It’s only tea”, said Karin, my fiancee who was sitting beside me and had recommended this “treatment” for my gradually eroding hairline.

I looked at Karin, incredulous, saying, “You gotta be f***ing kidding me. I’m not taking a sip of that shit. Tea my arse. You drink it!”

“Michael, either you take it or we go. And you can watch the last few strands of your hair fall off”

“I am not drinking that shit”

“Nobody’s forcing you Michael”

“Oh. Right. Nobody’s forcing me. Quite right Karin. Is this the carrot or the stick now? I don’t drink this antidote from Master Yoda’s sister, I end up with a nice shiny pate. I drink it, I either end up with a mane David Hasselhoff would envy or – I still end up with a shiny pate”

I pointed at the old seer and asked “Does she give a money back guarantee? Could you pretty please ask her that Karin? - seeing my Behasa Melayu’s not quite up to scratch”. It was a rhetorical question of course. Karin knew that. She also knew I was not drinking spit from some hundred year old blind crone, even if it was just tea. No way. Not even for all the uh .. tea in China.

Karin looked at me for a moment, her eyes looked tired and I could see she was not amused with my latest outburst. She turned to the old woman and spoke to her in Malay, and the witch doctor nodded slowly, her cataract covered eyes betraying nothing though her mouth slowly pulled back into a sneer as if she could divine some unfortunate circumstance befalling this difficult client in the very near future.

The old seer swished the tin cup around, put it to her lips and tossed the contents back down her throat. Oddly, that reminded me of a Milo ad I saw on TV as a kid where lovely and healthy looking family members were downing hot cups of carbo filled cocoa to some upbeat, catchy tune. I’m not 100% on the health properties of local tea and yellowing spit but I am glad the old fart finally drank it herself. She wiped another skinny arm across her spit encrusted mouth and muttered something to Karin.

“It’s thirty ringgits, Michael”, said Karin, holding out her hand. “And Mak Cik’s very disappointed with you, to say the least”.

Great, I’m in the old woman’s bad books now. Not exactly making new friends amongst the old and infirm am I?

I fished out thirty bucks from my wallet and gave it to Karin saying “Here’s a thirty plus a five dollar tip. The old fossil could use it to buy a new pair of dark glasses. Tell her they’ll make her look cool and also hide those eyes of hers. They give me the creeps”

Karin gave the old seer the money, uttered a “Terimakasih, Mak Cik” and we were out of her hut and into the hot afternoon sun.

“You could at least show some respect for Mak Cik. She’s been at this sort of stuff since she’s a teen and she does know her magic”, said Karin as we walked up to her BMW parked under a shady Banyan tree.

“Magic, shmagic, who the hell cares. I can go bald, it’s not so bad. We’ve tried every remedy both scientific and traditional but time to face facts Karin; like my father and his father before him, I think we Wongs are destined to be bald and beautiful by around our thirties”

I pulled down a vanity mirror in the car and ran my hand through my thinning hairline. So little left and I’ve only just turned thirty one. I wonder if Vin Deisel had the exact same problem. I’m a big fan of the man.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Happy Birthday Matt

It’s hard work hiding in a coffin. There’s the complete absence of daylight; I’m in utter and complete darkness, worse than being blind and made far worse by the fact that I’m claustrophobic. The coffin lid is just mere inches from my face but I can’t even see it and only knowing it’s there without a visual cue is somewhat scary. There’s the lack of oxygen; I am beginning to suffocate as the little air that’s left is rapidly replaced by Co2 or whatever it is that’s a by product of depleted air – chemistry wasn’t my strong suit back in school. There’s both my legs slowly falling asleep, no big mystery considering I’ve been lying in this polished sarcophagus for about an hour now. I give them a good shake every few minutes just to keep the blood circulating.

I feel a cold bead of sweat running down my forehead making a straight drop pass my cheeks and down onto my satin pillow. It is warm in here. And getting worse by the minute.

I can’t wait to get out. Can’t wait to stretch, suck in a lungful of cool fresh air and remove the cricks in my neck.

But I must wait. I must wait for Poe to ring me – or rather buzz me as I had put my cell on vibrate mode. And the second he rings me, the second I could feel my little Nokia dancing in my right breast pocket, I will lift open the heavy mahogany lid and clamber out of the coffin. I will rise like a modern day Lazarus come to life and I will have a small handgun in my right hand. I will raise this gun, hold it steady and then put a bullet through the head of a stranger.

In the confusion and hysteria that will ensue, I will make a quick exit out of the funeral home and into noonday rush hour traffic.

At least that is the plan. Poe had promised to buzz me once all his so called ‘chess pieces’ are in place and it was time for me, a lowly pawn to take the King. Poe had said no more than a half hour, but I swear it’s almost an hour and a half right about now.

I close my eyes. I could feel more sweat erupting off my forehead and streaming down my cheeks and I know I’m about to pass out with so little air left in my little wooden tomb.

Within a few minutes I could hear muffled sounds of men talking. Three or maybe four of them – approaching the coffin. One of them made a joke, laughter all around. I wish I could hear better but three inch thick mahogany isn’t exactly the best sound conductor. I will have to leave it at that and hope Poe will ring me when the right time comes.

I have been fully briefed and I know what my target looks like – he’s a tall man with greying temples walking with the aid of a cane and most probably wearing a sharp suit, a red tie and polished shoes. I do not know who he is; only that he must be eliminated. There is a good chance that his bodyguards will take me down or even worse leave me alive for interrogation. Not a lot of good that will do them as no amount of torture or mind tricks is going to give away my employer’s identity. All I know is I’ve been hired by a faceless client who goes by the name of Poe. Now whether this employer is a man or a woman, Asian or European, I have absolutely no clue. I have never met Poe in person. Our mode of communication was solely Skype and my cell. And the few times he had called me it was obvious that the voice I heard was disguised via a voice changer anyone could get from a good electronics store. And it wasn’t important to me who Poe really was.

Only that he fulfils the terms of our contract – that upon completion of my mission my brother Matthew is to receive a million dollars in the form of a cheque through the mail.

The cheque will be crossed and made out to Matt who lives in Singapore. Imagine the shock this will give Matt wondering who would be so generous as to write him a check for a million bucks. But I know the man will be set for life. I know Janet will be pleased too. At last then they can pay off their crippling debts and have enough to keep them financially secure for the rest of their days together.

And now at last my phone is vibrating.

It is time.

Matt, I love you little brother. This is for you.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


"I’m not sure if I want to go through with this”

“Huh?! Did I just hear you want to chicken out?”. It was Uncle; the man was not happy – his brows furrowed and despite his dark glasses, I sensed two burning orbs ready to bore a hole through my slight five seven frame.

“Sorry Uncle”, I stammered, “I can’t – I’ll make a mistake. You said no mistakes. You take me inside I’m going to mess up. I will. I swea ..”

Uncle reached out and slapped me hard upside the head. I saw stars – like on Saturday morning cartoons only worse and it hurts like a bitch – and I instinctively put up my right hand again ready to fend off another blow.

The Twins – the two Rajs seated in front said nothing. Raj One and Raj Two just stared straight ahead; Raj One both hands in custom leather gloves resting on the steering. These guys were stoked and set to go – and our latest development, this little altercation between the boss and I; well they figure, knowing how Uncle operates, either – One, the man pulls out his gun and shoot me, to hell with the leather upholstery, he’ll do the job solo - or Two, I’m suitably cowed and as planned and rehearsed many times over the last month follow the boss-man inside the bank and be prepared to make a quick exit.

“We spent months on this- planning everything down to the last detail; you pull out now I swear you’ll never see that stupid wife of yours again”, said Uncle and added, “All it takes is a phone call and the missus ends up in a vat of acid. I get out of this car – you follow me”

He wasn’t my Uncle in the biological sense – definitely not my Mum’s brother or any of my Dad’s sibling or distant relation thank God. The man was just nicknamed that – Uncle. Out of respect and deference to his age – he’s 60 or so - and definitely out of fear as the man is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most notorious gangster and up there on the 25 Most Wanted.

How he managed to avoid capture by the authorities is the stuff of legends. A master of disguise, and an accomplished con, Uncle could talk his way out of police trouble and when the occasion calls for it, slip out of the premises minutes before a raid by PTK (the local SWAT) or vice squad.

And I hear he’s survived a gun battle – took three bullets in his chest, narrowly missing his vital organs only to escape from a secure wing of a hospital weeks later, disappearing back into the underworld. 50 cents has nothing on Uncle. This guy is one mean MF.

The car door opening snapped me back to the present – Uncle had gotten out, a long black sports bag in hand and a nine piece tucked in his belt and hidden by his light brown jacket. Without waiting for me to get out, he made his way to the bank – a modern concrete and glass building with an ATM kiosk beside the entrance – disappearing through the automated doors.

I wasn’t too far behind. The plan was I take care of the jaga behind the doors - usually some old retiree who’d surrender at the first sign of trouble – then knock out the cameras and make sure Uncle has a clear path back to our ride, with hopefully the day’s catch in his sports bag. Easy.

But as the saying goes “ the best laid plans of mice and men …”; there were a few challenges waiting for Uncle and I. Firstly, our jaga was no old fart. He was an Indian guy in his early thirties, six two easy, and looked like he could stop a cannonball if it comes to that. Slung over his shoulder was a Remington 870 pump action, which if memory serves could blow a hole the size of a car tyre in anyone or anything foolish enough to volunteer as a target. And a wicked looking black truncheon hung off his belt, handy backup should his shotgun fail to sufficiently incapacitate his foe.

The moment we entered the air conditioned confines of the bank, the jaga had his eyes on us.

And that wasn’t all – right in front, were four policemen in uniform, queued up amidst the regular customers. They were probably there to cash their cheques or some such. Each officer had a firearm hanging off their belt and every few minutes, we would hear a burst of static from their radios. A squad car is most probably nearby.

We could use a Plan B, right about now.