© Simon Totten
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Allow me to introduce myself. I exploded into life, one millionth of a second after the fertilization of my human’s embryo. It’s hard to believe that was twenty three years, four months, three days, sixteen hours and thirty two minutes ago. Doesn’t time fly?
You can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell me, so you’re always complaining you can never find me when you need me. Even your best scientific brains have no idea who I am. They believe human DNA is 2% chromosomes, cells and genes and the other 98% is dormant. They think I’m redundant genetic clutter left over from billions of years of evolution. They call me Junk. Whatever. To be honest, it’s not important what you or your eggheads call me. I am nothing yet everything. To some I’m the essence of their being, a celestial presence, an indefinable aura. To others, I’m just plain spirit.
To be precise, I am the living spirit of my human, Jake Hunter. The story I’m about to tell you is all about him.
I warn you though, it’s not for the faint hearted but as you are no doubt aware, life is tough, things don’t always go to plan. Shit happens.
From stories in ‘The Bible’ and ‘The Quran,’ to ‘The Sun’ newspaper. From ‘A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius,’ to ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ From literary fiction, to page turning crime thrillers, to dark fantasy or fluffy rom com chick lit, I expect you’ve heard them all before, so why bother with mine?
Well, if you’ve ever been the slightest bit curious about spirit, ever looked in the mirror and asked yourself, ‘Do I even have one?’ ‘What is it?’ ‘What’s it for?’ ‘Where does it go when I die?’
Then read on, you’re in the right place.
Flying was up there with taking a cold bath with someone he disliked, sleeping on a bed of nails or having his teeth removed with a pair of pliers. So on a twelve hour flight from London to Bangkok, Jake Hunter had plenty of time for regrets.
But he was doing his best to stay positive, to convince himself of the method in his madness.
Perhaps it was his excitement at a three week dream holiday in Thailand? The chance of a brand new start? An opportunity to get off the endless treadmill of life, escape from his tired humdrum existence, explore some amazing places, meet new people, be seduced by the exotic, enlightened by Buddha’s spiritual wisdom? Discover new horizons, break down barriers, find himself? Go wild, be an adrenalin junkie? Wear shades, soak up rays, sip Pina Coladas? Ogle at bikini babes on white tropical beaches with emerald oceans and paradise palms? But really, who was he kidding? The brutally honest answer was staring him in the face. He’d conquered his innermost fears just to keep up with his younger, more adventurous, better looking brother Danny.
‘Something to drink from the trolley Sir?’ asked a gorgeously slim blonde air hostess.
‘Yeah… a vodka tonic with a slice of lemon please?’ said Jake. Ordinarily he never touched a drop, always kept a clear head but if ever there was a time he needed to calm his nerves, it was now.
‘Certainly Sir,’ would you like ice with that?’ she asked in a seductively smooth eastern European accent.
‘That would be great thanks. Heavenly… in fact…’ he said, eyeing the perfect line of her pencil slim skirt on her curvaceous thighs, and the tights on her shapely long legs. ‘Is that where you’re from?’
‘Heaven. That’s where all angels are from isn’t it?’
‘Ah… chat up… funny guy yeah?’ she said.
Like most women, she looked as if she couldn’t wait to get away from him. They just didn’t understand that his confident bluster was a total sham. A cover for his shy sensitive, vulnerability.
A few minutes later she stood before him again, red and radiant in the aisle showing off cards with diagrams explaining what to do in the event of an emergency. She demonstrated blowing into the air pipe of a life jacket and performed an embarrassing routine of bizarre hand signals. When she’d finished, she disappeared behind the magic cabin crew curtain.
After skimming over ‘how to’ articles on optimum health, work-life balance and the perfect lifestyle and flicking aimlessly through the glossy holiday ads in the in-flight magazine, Jake tried to relax, settling back in his seat.
Beside him sat a cool sophisticated man in a pinstripe suit with sleek brill creamed hair. The kind of man that looked down his nose at everybody. To his left a small girl was concentrating on a demolition job, her face a picture of blissful rapture, savouring every lick of pleasure of her chocolate ice cream, despite the fact it was covered in it. Behind him was a middle-aged woman with a missing front tooth, three chins and mounds of belly fat around her mid-riff. She was the spitting image of a hippopotamus and was already snoring. Jake had a feeling this was going to be a long flight.
A different air hostess returned with another vodka and tonic which in truth was more tonic, lemon and ice than vodka. He hadn’t got half way through it before another wheeled a trolley of food and served it one row at a time to passengers on trays with plastic containers and cutlery. The lukewarm lumpy mashed potato, chicken and gravy and yoghurt and a slice of fruit inside them was barely edible.
With so many distractions, Brad Pitt had begun working overtime in the in-flight entertainment’s epic movie Troy, without him even noticing. He tried to pick up the plot but couldn’t. Perhaps there wasn’t one. In the end, although he was no film expert, he decided that it was more of a disaster than a disaster movie.
As usual he was fighting sleep, wary that bad memories or horrific nightmares might haunt him or he’d spend the next few days trying but failing to rationalise some inexplicably baffling fantasy.
After the third and fourth vodka and tonics, his eyelids began to droop. Half an hour later, the drone of the plane’s engines and the rhythmic snoring of the hippopotamus woman, had lulled his consciousness into a state of paralysis and he was left with no choice but to embark on a journey into sleep.
At first, he floated dreamily into a night sky dappled with an infinite galaxy of stars, then plunged into a dark empty nothingness. A vast universe where he circled the planets several times in a state of bewilderment and wonder.
Then, a series of dreams flickered into life. An erotic scenario involving the air hostess stripped down to her red lingerie. Her smooth white flesh quivering in suspenders and skimpy lace knickers teased and tantalised him. She locked him in the toilet, her eyes burning with passion as she ripped off his clothes. But just as he was about to take her from behind, he started floating in clouds full of flying machines and women he’d either fallen in love or lust with at some stage in his life. Rather puzzlingly, they were all riding bicycles with shopping baskets.
Then, just when he least expected it a filthy black crow, appeared from nowhere, perched on a telegraph wire, like death itself. Its black pearl eyes followed him through a graveyard. Past the weather-worn inscriptions on head stones, along a concrete path cutting through a neat grass verge where Jesus was nailed to a ten foot wooden cross. The battered, scrawny old bird lifted its dark wings into the apocalyptic December sky. An evil lion’s head knocker stared at him from the front door of a church.
Inside, his footsteps echoed in the silence. A glorious light shone through stained glass windows. Vivid paintings on the wall depicted Stations of the Cross. Rows of hard wooden benches with cushions on kneelers stretched half-empty, from back to the front. The main altar was laden with bouquets of flowers, stone carved statues, crisp white table cloths and gold gleaming chalices. At the back, a square golden tabernacle glittered on high. Hymn number 247 The Lord is my Shepherd was displayed on the board. The marble steps leading up to it were covered by a thick piled red carpet. On them was a coffin with the word DAD spelled out in a wreath of flowers next to it.
To the side candle flames lit up a dingy space where a statue of the Virgin Mary stood, praying and smiling warmly. A face emerged. The features, contorted at first came slowly into focus. Pale blue eyes, finely chiselled cheekbones, short black hair. The knowing expression that had always comforted him. The approving grin that had always encouraged him.
His mother gave him a white candle. ‘Here, light it,’ she whispered, softly in his ear. ‘It will light up his way to heaven.’
Jake stepped up to place the candle in the holder. But instead of lighting it he closed his eyes and blew out all the candles. He looked up and smiled at his mother.
‘I made a wish,’ he said, gushing with pride. ‘You know? Like on my birthday when I blew out all the candles?’
His mother said nothing.
‘I wished Dad was back with us,’ he said, searching for a hint of approval.
Thunder spread over his mother’s face. Jake’s smile crumpled.
‘I’m sorry,’ he shouted.
The blurred face of an angel slowly revealed itself but there was no halo and no wings. In fact she was fully clothed in a red airline uniform and was doing her best to hide a disapproving scowl.
‘Sir?’ she said. ‘Sir? Time to wake now… we reach destination here in Bangkok. Passengers alight here,’ she whispered gently. And after the most delicate brush of her perfectly manicured nails on his arm, his head span, the dull ache of a hangover throbbed in his head, he rubbed his eyes and woke from a sleep that had been neither brief and fitful nor peaceful.
One day, who knows when, I’ll end up as one of the Unholy Trinity of the Dead, ‘The Free,’ ‘The Hungry’ or ‘the Damned.’ But until then, I have my destiny to think about.
It’s important you know, I’d do anything to fulfil it. I’d fight to the death if I had to. My raison d’etre is to keep Jake Hunter’s hopes alive. Breathe life into his dreams. Be his inspiration, a driving force, a rock, a guiding light. Fan the flames of his love. Put a spring in his step. Keep the wind in his sails, the sparkle in his eyes and joy in his heart. But he doesn’t listen to me, these days he never does.
Don’t get me wrong, I do my best. Before he set off for Bangkok I tried to instil a spirit of adventure in him. I did everything I could to persuade him but his decision to travel to the other side of the world for a holiday to meet Danny was nothing to do with me.
I’m privileged to hear all his thoughts. I know them before he even thinks them. I know his temptations and innermost secret desires. I get to watch all his memories too. From the trivial, boring stuff that fades and vanishes in a week, to the indestructible, unforgettably magic moments that will shine like precious treasure at the forefront of his mind forever. But it’s the clutter of the fallout debris of his life’s unplanned disasters that worry me. I never get to see them, they just crash and burn in the skeleton graveyard at the back of his mind. He keeps them hidden away because he can’t bare to look at them.
The one exception is the memory that’s also a recurring nightmare of his dad’s funeral. I’ve seen it so many times, I know it off by heart. It often lurches like a monster into the light of his consciousness, then clambers secretly back into the darkness.
Ever since it happened, I’ve been a distant irrelevance. Ignored and excluded. My voice, is a mere echo in the caverns of his subconscious. I have waited so long for things to change, I’m not sure if I even exist anymore. I’m not supposed to give up but let me tell you I’m close. Very close.
When Jake stepped off the plane into the unforgiving humidity of Bangkok’s midday heat, he was cooking. ‘Jeezus… what the fuck?’ he cursed.
In the chaos of the airport, he removed his steamed-up glasses and wiped a tepid residue of sweat from his brow as he battled his way through legions of locals, holidaymakers, refugees and staff to get to a set of huge revolving doors in order to escape to the outside world. What lay on the other side took his breath away.
The streets of Bangkok were a war zone. Never before had he seen so many people in one place, at one time. Businessmen in suits gabbled into mobile phones, street sellers hollered, beggars pleaded. Heaving, clanking cars, trucks and rickshaws were gridlocked, bumper to bumper, snarling like a stampede of wounded metallic beasts. Lost in a sea of foreign voices and signs, he didn’t know which way to turn.
‘How do I get to Khao San Road?’ he asked a taxi driver who didn’t speak English.
‘Bus 13’ said a tourist behind him.
Jake fought his way through another scrum of people, who had obviously never heard of the words ‘orderly’ and ‘queue’ and clambered onto a bus.
‘Khao San Road, please,’ he said to the driver, handing over his fare. Seeing the bus was packed he stumbled, shielded his eyes from a white-hot glare and grabbed at thin air.
‘Open the window please, someone… anyone?’ he said. Nobody moved or said a word. Like white-faced zombies, passengers just stared through him. Several moments of gut wrenching panic followed, in which he asked himself the same question over and over ‘Is this the right bus?’
For the last twenty three years I have marvelled at your world through the windows of Jake’s soul. It’s the same one you see, except for the colours and spirits. Buildings so high you can see for miles from the top. Clouds the size of mountains. Sunsets so stunning they make you cry. Skies so vast and clear, you believe you can fly. Trees so tall and strong with roots so deep, anything feels possible.
And Bangkok didn’t disappoint. The colours were amazing. Some people say they can see them but only spirits can properly. They’re sometimes known as aura or the fingerprint of God, a visible clue to the hidden reality of people. A map of their thoughts and feelings. A precise indication of their emotional state. It’s a shame you can’t see them, they’d make your life so much easier.
Halos of luminous light surrounded everyone. Usually, I can spot a few green auras, belonging to well-balanced, peaceful, comfortable, healthy, loving types. But here there were none. Most were purple or muddied red. Purple was pain. Red was rage, the kind that can make you kill.
Toxic clouds of poison billowed into the sky, from exhaust pipes, melting holes in it. Crimson, pink, orange and green swirled like an aurora borealis. I wondered how it was possible for something so beautiful to be so deadly. Let’s face it, your planet is falling apart. You’re killing yourselves with earthquakes, fires, floods, tsunamis and hurricanes and you just can’t see it. What is it you say? ‘What the eyes don’t see… the heart can’t feel.’
When the bus finally stopped to let passengers off, Jake spotted a vacant seat, at least it was half vacant. The woman occupying the other side of it, had hips as big as boulders, breasts like lumpy pillows and an Afro frizz as wide as a tree top. He perched on it, one buttock on, one off.
Musing that perhaps this was what it meant to be living on the edge, he convinced himself it was an improvement on standing in the aisle in a tangle of sticky bodies.
He no longer cared whether he was travelling in the right direction such was his gratitude at resting his legs. He ran his clammy fingers through his matted black curls, gnawed at his fingernails, unzipped his bag and fumbled inside for a bottle of water.
‘Shit…’ he sighed, seeing it was empty.
Through the front window, visibility was down to a couple of metres. For the last few minutes the bus driver had not been watching the road. Every now and then he’d fling his arms in the air and shake his fists. Then, he bowed his head, chuntering to himself. Jake rubbed his St Christopher pendant between his sticky finger and thumb, praying for a miracle then stared at the woman with the Afro, imploring an explanation.
‘What the hell’s he doing?’ he asked.
‘He want help,’ she said. ‘From Mae Yanang the goddess of journeys to chase the smog away.’
‘Hail Mary full of grace…’ he muttered, wishing the journey would end. When the bus finally juddered to a halt he made his way to the exit. Stepping off it, he stretched and yawned. After the long flight he was like an astronaut, taking his first steps on the moon but at least the smog was starting to clear and the traffic was beginning to crawl.
After collecting his backpack from the luggage store, he set off for Tai Loke hostel to meet Danny. Dripping with sweat as he swam against an incessant tide of jostling bodies, he stopped in his tracks. In the dark shadow of a shop front, he shivered, feeling unwell. He couldn’t understand why he was so cold in such unbearable heat. A black mood, laced with dread, crept over him.
For some reason, there were more spirits in this city than anywhere else I had ever been. They were everywhere.
Some were the darkness of death, evil spirits of the Damned that were destined to remain on earth forever. Hybrids crawled in the lengthening shadows. Scorpion dragons darkened the shifting skies. Bugs with human eyes emerged from sewers. Black lizard-rats with human fingers lurked in doorways. When one spread itself over Jake, I had to be careful, stay strong. Let it in and three things could happen. 1. He would die or 2. He’d go insane or 3. Both.
Others were the light of life. Unnoticed by the human eye, high above skyscrapers, hundreds of golden spirits soared. When ‘the Free’ move on they are a spectacular sight. Along with so many other things you seem to take them for granted you see them every day. They’re the cold pale yellows and dappled greys of Winter. The bright, clear light of Spring. The pastel orange haze of Autumn. The golden blaze in Summer’s cloudless skies. When one of them shone on Jake, a warm optimism spread inside him.
The postcard in Jake’s hand had lost its crisp whiteness to the ravages of time. Its tatty crumpled corners, shrivelled by sunlight. On the front of it, was a photo of Thai workers with wide-brimmed straw hats, digging in a field with spades and forks. Danny’s scrawl on the back was smudged by orange brown beer or coffee stains. It was still legible though and that was all that mattered. It remained his only real link to him. He held it up to the light to get a better look.
‘Hey dude, I’m the urban spaceman. Wheels are made for rollin,’ bags were made to pack I never seen a sight that didn’t look better lookin’ back. Butterflies, zebras, moonbeams and fairytales, - Tai Loke 3570 Khao San Rd is cheapest Bangkok hostel if you fancy a visit. Meet you there. Aug 21 4pm? Jesus Jimi Christ, Come up and see me make me smile?’
Jake smiled at the lyrics of Danny’s favourite songs. On their last night together, they had got stoned listening to Hendrix, Dylan and The Rolling Stones. The sixties kind of suited Danny. Wild, free and easy. Tucking it carefully in his pocket like it was his most treasured worldly possession, he checked his watch. It was 3.36pm, almost time to meet Danny, he’d have to hurry.
The last thing he wanted was to be late, so he started jogging. Looking up, he panicked, temporarily lost, until a sign for the Khao San Road appeared reassuringly above him. He stood by the side of the road waiting to cross. In the grit and slime of the gutter he shifted his feet uneasily from side to side. A rickshaw rattled by, missing his toes by centimetres.
While he waited for a gap in the traffic his impatience grew, inching forwards, he expected drivers to slow down, show some caution, maybe even stop but more and more of them flew past him at a frightening speed. Drivers pumped their horns. Their red faces, leaned out of windows, shook their fists and spat insults like bullets at him, forcing him back.
‘Afro fire, Afro fire,’ whispered a voice in his ear. He looked around for someone speaking to him but he was alone.
On the other side of the road, the woman from the bus with the Afro frizz was staring at him. Orange and yellow flames shot out of her head, her hair was ablaze. Jake stepped out into the road to help her. But by the time he found himself in the middle of the road, the fire was gone. Laughter filled his head.
‘AAAArghhh…’ he raged as a rusty old pick-up truck sped towards him. Like a rabbit in headlights, he froze.
I thought you might be curious about the unfortunate incident with the woman’s Afro so I’ll explain. After Jake’s fourth birthday and his dad’s funeral, he went to see some serious men in white coats. They did all kinds of tests but couldn’t work out what was wrong with him. It took them months to decide. Finally they told his mother the reason for his disturbing auditory and visual hallucinations was the trauma of his dad’s death. They called it ‘Bipolar Type II psychosis,’ whatever that is.
They prescribed yellow anti-psychotic pills. He has always been very good at taking them. Two a day, morning and night with a cold glass of water. I can only recall a short period while working at the Monkton Hill public library, that he didn’t. But that, as I recall, didn’t go too well.
Every day, Merkel, the chief Librarian’s shoulder pads would explode ripping her head clean off. It would fly past him and land in the book bin. When the OAPS came to choose the latest bestselling large print the more they deliberated on the latest Mills and Boon romance, the more a clockwork dalek would appear, shouting exterminate, exterminate, euthanasia, euthanasia.
Most days he’d slice his colleague Hilary up with a chainsaw and index her body parts into neat piles before posting them with inter-library loans. Every evening, he tied Merkel to the Horror Crime section, he would take a can of petrol and douse her, then smile before striking a match and casually flicking it in her direction. As the yellow flames ignited around her, her purple face would scream in agony and he’d close the door on another satisfying day’s work.
Since then the yellow pills have always kept the problem under control but in all the holiday excitement, he’d forgotten them. Without them, his horrific visions of death and destruction had returned and the people who’d been whispering behind his back all those years were right after all. He was as mad as a box of frogs. Two cans short of a six pack. Away with the fairies. One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. A nutjob. A bona fide basket case.
The Hungry Cowboy
Hurtling out of control the truck swerved, its two front wheels skidding. It span in a circle, hit the curb and mounted the pavement. Metal poles piled up in the back, rolled off, then bounced and clanked across the road. People dived out of the way. A man in a grey suit fell, tossing away his briefcase which opened in mid-air, throwing hundreds of pieces of paper flapping into it. A woman tottered backwards on high-heeled stilettoes, dropping her jaw and bags.
The truck ploughed through empty chairs and tables outside a restaurant. A shower of glass rained down as it crashed into the front window shattering the ‘Soon Fat,’ sign neatly written frosted letters.
When it came to a standstill, its rear wheels were spinning off the ground. It was wedged half-inside, half-outside the restaurant. Something sparked and buzzed. A dull thud, the scrape of metal and a scream followed.
Jake’s glasses flew off. Fumbling blindly in the road, he grabbed them, placed them back on his nose and struggled to his feet. Through the fumes, passers-by moved in slow motion. Splintered table legs and broken chairs, fragments of bricks and crushed umbrella shades lay on the ground. The restaurant owner appeared in tears, sank to his knees, head in hands, a life’s work up in smoke. A man lay spread-eagled next to the mangled wreckage of his tuk tuk. The left wheel bent double, the right spinning slowly. Jake searched for signs of life but he was just lying there, motionless.
From inside the dead tuk-tuk driver’s twisted body the swirling mist of a white hungry ghost howled, spinning into a mini tornado that fizzed, sparked and rocketed into the sky. Laser beams of light sliced through the smog, lighting up the world until it was gone. Another emerged. Black, with two stumpy horns and dark hollow sockets for eyes it drifted into the street. Tusk-like fangs snarled. A long proboscis flicked in and out of its jaws. At first it floated around a ravenous dog nuzzling at scraps in the gutter, then slipped inside its bony ribcage. The dog shook violently as if it had fleas. When it bolted, the dark spirit flew into the air, and swooped down into the metal grid of a drain.
The small Thai boy, dressed in a cowboy suit lay on the ground, his fingers twitching, scratching at the pavement. The silver barrel of his toy pistol gleaming next to him. One minute he’d been happily playing in the street. The next he wasn’t. His pleading eyes blinked and closed. Blood trickled from his ear.
Jake staggered towards him gazing in disbelief at the carnage, wishing the ground would swallow him whole. The dead boy’s face flashed over and over in his mind. He twisted his fingers together and bit down so hard on his lip he could taste blood.
He tried to run but remained rigid, transfixed by shock. Heaving deep breaths, pain birds flew from his churning stomach to his brain, making him dizzy. Vomit welled up in his throat.
A Thai woman, holding a baby in her arms pushed through the crowd. Several people jostled her. Free at last, she ran to him, focusing on the boy. Holding back her momentum she eased herself down next to him.
‘Lek, Lek, Lek!’ she screamed, touching his face.
She leaned over and shook his lifeless body again and again but there was no response. She tried again. In that moment the world stopped. Silence filled the air. Only a grieving mother could cradle a boy in her arms like that.
In the distance, people fussed and shouted. A policeman tried to calm the irate drivers vacating their vehicles. Another directed traffic. Sirens blared, lights flashed. Firemen sprayed the truck, quelling the flames. Paper floated into the air, like confetti. Smoke darkened the sky.
Jake panicked and ran. At the street corner he stopped, bent double, his lungs about to burst, hacking and barking like a seal, he was on the verge of collapse, he could go no further.
Emptying the contents of his rucksack onto the pavement, he searched his bag for his medication. The yellow anti-psychotic pills, he could have sworn he’d packed but found nothing. His thoughts span out of control until it finally dawned on him. Nobody had seen the accident. Nobody would know it was his fault. Nobody would blame him. It was his secret, a secret he’d share with Danny and nobody else. He’d know what to do, he always did.
Peering into the ash sky, clouds and the odd bird flew by, nothing unusual. He wondered if there really was a God. And if so, how could he let something like that happen? He sat down on the pavement, drew his knees up to his chin, covered his ears and rocked slowly, back and forth.
When the dust had settled on the accident, I had only one thought, ‘Only the good die young.’ Lek’s spirit left his body. The faint imprint of his face circled the air, A gaping hole opened and closed where his mouth should have been, as if he was screaming. White fire roared from the narrow spaces where his eyes used to be.
Vibrating with fury, the freckles on his cheeks glowed like small nuggets of white gold. Strands of his ginger hair stood on end, dancing like flames. His snarling lips uncurled into a sinister grin. You’d think for the spirit of a boy, no more than three feet tall, he’d be harmless but you’d be wrong.
Uncertain of where to go or what to do next he had decided that if Jake hadn’t run into the road, the truck wouldn’t have hit him and he’d still be alive. He was pure white, shaking with the demented lunacy of a hungry ghost that would stop at nothing for revenge. That was bad news for Jake. Extremely bad.
The First Rule of Possession
The midday sun burned Jake as he heaved himself off the ground and continued searching for the hostel. A young Thai man in a green shell suit with a greasy streak of black hair that hid half a pale, care worn face that was littered with scars and pot holes was standing in his way, loitering, as if he was about to rob him.
‘You want… buy?’ he asked, holding up plastic bath plugs on chains while one of his eyes stared somewhere into the space above his head and the other was covered by a patch. Unsettled, Jake skirted around him.
A few steps on, an older man tried to convince him that a stuffed camel would be the cornerstone of his existence. In fact everywhere he turned, somebody was selling something as if their life depended on it.
A beggar stood before him, his filthy ripped rags hanging off his back. His face, barely visible through dry flakes of skin and great clumps of a beard, matted by dirt. He held out a photo of Thai royalty, rattling a rusty tin. Jake reached into his pocket for a handful of coins.
A Thai woman, in her late forties leaned in, close to his face, pressing herself against him so the cushion of her breasts rested on his arm.
‘Cheap fuckee, you want cheap fuckee?’ she asked, drawing back a veil to reveal a tongue sliding back and forth over broken teeth, dull eyes that undressed him, hairy warts and a hooked nose. He lengthened his stride. Looking back to see if she’d gone, he heard her yelling after him. When he was satisfied she’d given up, he breathed a sigh of relief.
I couldn’t miss the man selling bath plugs. His neon lime aura was about a foot wide and glowed in bright sunlight. It showed he was struggling, losing control. The dark blue around the prostitute’s feet meant she feared the future. The old man selling the camel was a muddy grey. A residue of fear was accumulating in his body. The darkness of death was almost upon him.
Exhausted, Jake dumped his rucksack on the pavement and sat down. Just when he thought he’d found a moment’s peace, a caged chicken was thrust into his face. As he stared into its drooping eyes, a warm liquid splashed his face. He looked up and another drop of sweat fell from the hairy armpit above him.
‘Jesus C-Christ,’ he stammered.
The man with the chicken disappeared. Jake stood up, shaking. Fists clenched, teeth grinding.
‘F-Fuck,’ he said.
‘You ok?’ said an old man passing by.
Jake glared at him suspiciously.
Taut and visibly shaking, the old man, narrowed his watery hazel eyes. Sensing Jake’s apprehension he removed the amulet on a piece of string from around his neck, reached over and handed it to Jake.
‘Really there’s no need,’ protested Jake. ‘I’ve got a St Christopher to protect me,’ he said. ‘He’s the patron saint of travellers, where I come from.’
‘Take it, take it,’ insisted the old man forcing the amulet into his hand. Reluctantly Jake closed his fingers around it and tied it around his neck.
‘It look bad,’ said the old man, pointing at the sky. A cloud of thick smog billowed into the road, the swirl of its mysterious white shapes spiralled closer and closer. The world was slowly disappearing before his eyes.
When the smog eventually cleared, the Khao San Road revealed itself in all its glory. He had never seen such a cornucopia of delight and madness. It was riot of colour, bursting with noise and chaos. Market traders shouted. Tourists’ cameras clicked. Ears were glued to phones, clothes stalls were draped in swathes of brightly coloured shiny silk and garish cotton. He licked his lips, swallowing hard as the enticing aromas of fried locusts and banana fritters flooded his mouth with saliva.
Escaping the array of fake rolexes, handbags and cheap gold necklaces, he positioned himself carefully, balancing on both feet under the canopy of a market stall to shelter from the relentless rain. After checking the number of the hostel on his postcard he made a dash for it, splashing his way through puddles, half-jogging, half-stumbling, He decided he didn’t mind the rain. In fact, he quite liked it. It was cool and refreshing.
He searched for ‘Tai Loke 3570,’ among the sprawling Thai letters on advertising signs, only stopping to catch his breath and wipe his specs on his soggy sleeve but it only made things worse and he kept bumping into strangers.
As Jake made his way to the hostel, Lek was never far behind him. His legless, neckless form vanished into the mountain of grey cloud above, dipping and diving like a manic bird, with the sheriff star on his shirt flashing in the sunlight.
Eventually Jake came to a battered door. The numbers painted on the wall beside it were faint. He checked them several times until he was sure it was 3570. Weak and tired, his wet clothes stuck to his skin weighing him down, he tried to push the door, but at first it didn’t budge until finally the golden horseshoe knocker in the middle of the door creaked open.Half of Lek’s face appeared. One silky white eye peered out. The wing-like limbs hanging from his sides like the melted wax of two huge candles unfurled.
A sweaty, grubby mess of a middle-aged man emerged in the doorway, his beady eyes looked Jake up and down before he disappeared back inside and sat down behind a glass kiosk chomping his hamster jowls. The wispy curls stuck to the crown of his bald head, were partly obscured by swipes of dirt and a spider web of cracks in the glass. His lop-sided smile acknowledged Jake’s presence.
‘Yeth? What d’ya want?’ he lisped through the gap in his teeth.
Jake pulled out the creased photo of Danny. ‘You seen this guy lately? He’s staying here,’ he proclaimed.
Jake knew there couldn’t have been many people with Danny’s distinctive dyed blonde mohawk, the dragonfly tattoo on his arm and dangly pirate ear ring in Thailand. Anyone seeing his smile for the first time would think it was false but Jake knew different. Whenever he had his photo taken he always said bollocks instead of cheese.
The hotel owner scanned the photo blankly and shook his head. ‘Many tourist, no memory,’ he said finally, scratching the flab bulging from the holes in his white string vest.
‘You sure? You must have seen him?’ said Jake, waving the photo under his nose.
A grimace spread over his face. As he shrugged his pursed lips inflated the rolls of flesh under his chin like a plastic paddling pool.
‘Ok I’ll wait for him here then,’ said Jake. ‘Have you got a bed for tonight?’
‘Only big room beds, all rest taken.’
‘Big room beds?’
‘Come, I show you,’ he said, swatting a fly on the back of his hairy neck as he ushered Jake through the door, gesturing grandly as if he was leading him into a royal palace.
‘Forty baht. Cheapest in town,’ he enthused.
Jake dragged his rucksack into a shabby dormitory with rows of grey metal framed beds lined up with military precision and paid him for the night.
When the owner was out of sight he flopped exhausted onto the nearest bed sinking into its saggy mattress and waited, scratched his sweaty balls and picked his nose. Danny was bound to show up sooner or later with some kind of lame bullshit excuse no doubt, he thought.
As he lay on the dormitory bed, Lek was on top of Jake, slashing his misty tendrils wildly across his throat. But as is the case with inexperienced spirits of the dead, he was so consumed by hatred, bitterness and desire for vengeance, he'd forgotten the first rule of possession – ‘Spirits of the dead cannot influence the physical world unless they possess something living in it.’ Lek tried everything to force his way into Jake. He was inventive and determined, I’ll give him that but I would never allow him in. Never.