It was past 2:30 and the dance floor was a mass of quivering bodies.
George shouted his excuses and pulled his wife to leave. Minah and I took that opportunity to say our goodbyes too.
“Good night, guys,” Rama called as he lounged on the sofa with Beatrice, the corpulent girl. By now they had their arms swarming over each other, only our presence stopping their lips from meeting and their bodies mutually ravaging each other.
“Be a good boy, now!” Minah called as we left the table. “And Beatrice, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
Rama roared with laughter and waved us away, his white teeth flashing.
I was about to turn away, when I stopped. I could not pull my eyes away from Rama’s face.
His darker complexion could not hide the heavy line of blackness that grew there, the gash that swelled thickly like a string of opals and spilled in heavy drops down his neck, staining his white shirt. Rama’s eyes rolled toward the ceiling, an expression of pain and disbelief displayed on his face.
Blood splattered his chest.
I staggered back and gasped.
Everything stopped: all light, all movement, all life.
Just Rama and I.
Him bleeding profusely with the dark liquid pooling at his thousand-dollar shoes. And I – helpless, alone and trembling.
Then Rama laughed.
All lights, all movement, all life swam back into action. Beatrice must have made some comment Rama found highly amusing. There was no string of opals, no blood on his white shirt, no pools at his shoes. The vision was gone.
Perhaps it was too much drink. Maybe the food was too rich. Perhaps escargot, champagne and whisky don’t mix.
I shook my head and quickly followed the others.
We stepped out of the club into a car thief’s paradise: a huge car park – still packed with vehicles. For a few seconds we enjoyed the relative peace and quiet, the music still thumping behind us.
We spent a few minutes saying goodbye. George made a couple of jokes about architects and God and we laughed heartily. I decided not to tell any lawyer jokes, for we would be here all night.
As a regular, my white Porsche had a spot right in front. I swaggered up to it, the crazy vision of Rama covered in blood forgotten. The distinct sound of the door shutting, so perfectly, sent a pleasurable thrill up my spine.
Pressing my foot on the accelerator, the Carrera screeched out the gate. Minah giving a little shriek, I felt blood surge in my veins. In the rear-view mirror, George and Cindy waved from their late-model BMW. Minah blew kisses back at them.
“A wonderful night, darling,” she said when she finally settled down. “Great fun, great drinks, good people.”
She leaned back in her seat and, false fingernails flashing, thumbed a message on her phone. Her expression sounded like an advert for rum on ice on a tropical island, but I said nothing and changed gears instead.
“Yeah, they sure are good people.” I grinned. “George is a great architect. His company’s growing by leaps and bounds. Projects everywhere.”
“He’s a real interesting guy … but you, my darling Shazral, are the best, and the way Rama was going on about you, you sound like the best lawyer in the world.”
“Not quite, but soon, only a matter of time.”
“Then I’ll be the best lawyer’s wife and I can have all the dresses I want!” She laughed and turned on the music. “We could travel the world. Won’t it be marvelous?”
I nodded, grinning. It would be wonderful to travel, all of it with Minah, and there was much to be happy about.
This was indeed a great night and I capped it off by speeding through the quiet streets found only at 3 in the morning. Above us stood tall, brightly-lit office towers and shimmering hotels – monuments lifting majestically to the purple night sky. I drove past huge construction sites with promises of even taller, more spectacular buildings. I shot past amber lights, letting the engine loose from a purr to a roar.
Ten minutes later, we turned into the suburbs and were met by criss-crossing streets, a hundred dark windows gazing and apartments standing tall like sentries in the distance.
I eased to a stop outside Minah’s terrace house where her father paid the rent while she studied at a local university. These houses were older than most. The streets were wider and the branches of mature trees on either side had spread themselves above the parked cars.
“Want to come in?” Minah asked.
“Can’t get enough of me, eh?” I said, grinning.
Minah elbowed my arm.
“Ouch, that hurt.” I made a face, making a pretense of pain.
“I’ll kiss it better.” She reached for me and our mouths met, long and deep.
I pulled away, gasping.
“You’re supposed to kiss my arm.”
“I prefer your lips.” She leaned forward and I kissed her soft, full lips again.
“Why don’t you come in?” she said. “I’ve got some Ethiopian coffee.”
“Really?” I said. “Can’t refuse that.”
I followed her out of the car and pushed open the front gate. We held hands as we walked up her well-kept driveway. As is the Malay custom, we took off our shoes, but instead of leaving mine outside for others to see, I brought mine into the house. It wouldn’t be good for the neighbors to know that she had a male visitor.
Minah switched on the light. In one corner of the lounge were her books, files and papers for her research degree.
I sat on the sofa and flicked through my phone.
Minah brought out two cups of coffee.
“Smells great, my beautiful.”
“Yes, I just love it. Oh, I bought a new painting. It’s in the bedroom.”
So we took our coffees up to her bedroom. The shadowed fronds of a banana tree shifted outside the window. Lying in her bed on weekend afternoons, I would often gaze at this tall, elegant tree, thinking of how lucky I was to have found Minah.
She drew the curtains shut and switched on the bedside table lamp. The oil painting of a smiling lady in loose robes of white sent a quiver through me.
“Beautiful,” I said. “She looks like you. Same eyes, same hair.”
Minah laughed. “Maybe she does. Only the eyes, I think, but she’s far prettier.”
“No. You’re more gorgeous. The loveliest.”
She put her coffee down, took mine away and kissed me, her lips smooth and warm. I held her close, my hands stroking the soft material of her dress, feeling the curves on her back and buttocks. At length we pulled away, a few strands of hair slipping down the corner of her mouth.
“Sure you don’t want to stay the night?” she asked, breathing heavily.
“Not tonight,” I said, although I was already regretting my answer. “I’d love to, but I’ve got to get up early and draft some contracts for Rama.”
“Tomorrow then. Oh, it seems so long till tomorrow!”
“I’ll count the hours until then.”
“I’ll count the minutes.”
I laughed as our lips met again, lingered, then reluctantly parted.
The terrace house and neighborhood were smothered by a moonless, starless night. The dwellings were quiet and if it wasn’t for the lights in the windows, I would have mistaken them for being abandoned.
I found some matches lying in the corner and lit the kerosene lamp. I knocked each candle down, undid the circle and quickly brushed away the chalk markings. With its helpers gone and myself free and armed, the hantu jahat was not likely to come.
I sat cross-legged in the center of the living room. The kerosene lamp threw strange shadows on the wall. I took out Pendekar, unsheathed the blade and placed it before me. The heat was gone, but it still felt warm to the touch. I felt a knot in my stomach as I realized that if I started the summons, there was no way of backing out. Though I knew this was my purpose, the thought of the demon coming brought a sharp tightening to my guts.
I pushed the trepidation away and concentrated on the task at hand. I was not going to fall into any more traps. I knew that fear would only bring paralysis. I needed to be quick. I needed every bit of knowledge I had learnt.
And a lot of luck.
The time of the confrontation had come. I recited a prayer, softly at first, cleansing the air. With each verse passing my lips, I raised my voice until it finally echoed through the house like a chorus. I closed my eyes and reached into the past, into the ilmu of my ancestors. Somewhere in my heart, I thanked Pak Khamis for training me.
My lips began to tremble and I started the summons.
The Huntsman and the Tribe
Ride rivers to the sea
Pour darkness to the morning
To await your darkened shadow
O, desecrated one
The spirit calls you out
Our jungle whispers softly
You twisted one repent
O, Satan’s angel come
Your soil will reek in blood
Our waters are your poison
Behold, your mighty servant
With holy iron awaits…..
I called out the chant over and over again, first in almost a whisper, then louder and louder, until it echoed everywhere, reverberating off the concrete walls, until my mind was numb with it.
I was flying through the jungle, past the thick barks and branches. Green everywhere: millions of leaves like faces looking right at me, some smiling, some shrieking as if in great torment. The jungle floor of dead leaves, twigs and insects bubbled in waves as I flew over at great speed, so fast the jungle became a blur, a sea of green.
All of a sudden, I was on my feet on the jungle floor with the shrill of insects all around while in the distance monkeys made whooping, mating calls. I moved forward warily, sensing danger up ahead. I carefully pushed past the branches and vines. As I stepped over a fallen branch, I saw a shadow moving behind the foliage, darting from tree to tree like a wild animal, as if trying to keep away from me. This was no animal; this was a curse against all creatures. I hurried on toward it, trampling noisily on dead twigs and leaves.
It stopped and snarled. Two red points appeared out of the dark shadow. Eyes. Angry, hateful eyes. Because I had dared come for it.
I will make you scream, it seemed to say.
I will tear the flesh from your bones and stuff it down your throat!
The demon hissed, but I refused to be intimidated. I stared back at the evil eyes, repeating the summons, allowing it to calm my fear, singing the words as loud as I could, feeling them rush in huge waves through the greenery. Calling it to me. Calling it to come out from the trees.
I stared hard at those eyes … and they blinked!
It recoiled, turning away, darting among the trees to get away. Yes, I had taken hold of it! I tried to pull it back with the force of my will but could not at first. I struggled with this malignancy even as I felt its evil presence slithering away on the jungle floor.
Then I breathed in and let myself go.
I felt a rush, a force bursting out through my eyes. The jungle seemed to explode in a green starburst into a thick blackness. Yet in the distance was the figure, darker still. I tugged hard, pulling it back. It couldn’t escape, not able to resist the call. It was coming, coming nearer.
Its evil filled my senses – vile and overpowering. The odor from a sewer. Loud wailing and crying filled my ears, like a hundred bodies being tormented. I saw into its past. Saw it waiting at the dead of night. Drawing victims to it and sucking every drop of blood. It was getting nearer, flying through the air.
Pendekar started to rattle loudly against the floor.
I opened my eyes. There was movement on the wall in front of me. First, it looked like shadows shifting, churning within itself – melting, solidifying, melting again – then the surface itself stirred, bulging grotesquely. It pushed itself out from the masonry. First came a forehead, then a nose, lips, cheeks.
No, not a human one.
The teeth were sharp. The eyes crimson. The vertical slits of its eyeballs were like an evil cat’s. They coldly leered at me.
The face widened until the entire head emerged. It bulged out of the graffiti-covered wall like a trophy of some deformed animal. Slowly, the head turned from side to side as though enjoying the feel of its dirty hair brushing the wall. Then its eyes rested on mine. And it smirked.
The head continued to push out of the concrete, all the while grinning like an aged whore. Then without warning, its heart and guts followed, spilling from the masonry with a flopping sound. The end of its intestines hung like a fat worm an inch above the floor. In the sudden heat, the stench of rotten meat swam up my brain.
The demon hovered in the air. Its long hair crept down to where its breasts were supposed to be, but what hung there was a pink pulsating heart. Its intestines, thick and convoluting, coiled down, heavy droplets of blood tapping to the marble, leaving dark blotches among the dust. The face, cracked with fissures, oozed green liquid; its malevolent, cat-like eyes continued staring a hateful red.
I almost gagged from the stench. The creature opened its mouth and, out of its rotten teeth, grew white glistening fangs, dripping with green saliva.
I jumped to my feet and drew Pendekar.
I pointed the tip of the wavy blade at it, feeling its heat in my palms. The creature hovered back in the air, a feet or so above me.
“Hello, my sweet love,” it said, in a cold, deep voice.
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