Stepping out the car, I sense the miasma. A black, viscous, oily fog that clings to my skin and tries to eat into my flesh, my bones, my soul. My shield holds. For now.
My Uber drives off, oblivious. A tiny bit of miasma lingers on the car. Nothing to worry about; the late afternoon sun would burn it off soon. There wasn’t any point telling the driver about the miasma either. She didn’t have the second sight. Didn’t have the trained and conditioned third eye chakra needed to see the astral world. Without it, she couldn’t see the dark energies blanketing the housing estate. Feel it, maybe, like a general sense of uneasiness, but not see it. Like most normies, she probably never would. Not in this lifetime.
Cracking my neck, I square my shoulders, shoulder my GR1 backpack, and enter the void deck. It’s a large open space that takes the place of the ground floor of just about every flat in Singapore. A concession to the tropical climes, it improves air circulation and cools the high-rise building, and doubles as a communal space.
No community here. Just a sullen-faced girl barely in her teens shuffling to a vending machine, refusing to even look at me. The letter boxes watch us silently. Concrete benches jut out from the support pillars, gray and weathered with age. A black cat with white patches hides under a bench, staring at me as I pass. Near the lift, I spot a green-tiled table with four chairs, all of them built into the bare concrete floor. This flat was old, but then, Bedok was one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore.
‘This case is more complex than it seems.’
The voice is in my mind, but the caress against my right leg feels almost real.
Leonhard sits next to me, his head coming up to my elbow. He is a huge scarlet lion, his thick, bushy mane tickling my arm. He watches his cousin, still hiding under the bench, flapping his tail back and forth in wry amusement.
‘Of course it is,’ a new voice says. ‘We warned him, didn’t we?’
Lupin materializes on my left, brushing against my knee. He is a sleek gray wolf, restless and eager, circling round and round the concrete floor.
The duo were my spirit guides. Beings assigned to help me through this life. When I took the case they’d warned me that it wasn’t a typical request for healing. I’d packed my bag accordingly.
‘Thanks for the advice,’ I say. ‘Let’s do this.’
Most people can’t see them, of course. With bodies of pure energy, they can pass through solid matter and manifest as they please. Like the miasma, they are invisible to those without the second sight. It makes prolonged conversation in public a complex affair. As far as the girl was concerned, I was simply reading a nearby notice board.
We head up to the sixth floor. Leaving the lift, I check the signs and head to my client’s home. Right off the bat I see signs of corruption. Dark energies ooze from under her front door and dark-tinted windows. A black cloud gathers around the security grille, forming a metaphysical barrier. There was so much negativity here, the sun couldn’t put much of a dent in it. I had doubled up my usual shields today, reinforcing them with a dark amethyst necklace under my shirt. Even so, a tingling runs up my neck.
‘Be wary,’ Leonhard says. ‘I sense the presence of unholy forces.’
Like attracts like. Negative energy attracts negative beings. At the low end, they are parasites that suck life energy from people, plants and animals all around them, as intelligent as your average housefly. Most negs belong in that category. The older and more powerful among them have power over the real world, to manipulate people’s emotions and perceptions. And at the far end of the spectrum, there are creatures the world faiths call demons.
Lupin chuffs. ‘Nothing we can’t handle.’
‘Let’s do this,’ I say.
I press the doorbell.
Noxious miasma gushes out from under the undercut and swirls up into a barrier. The peephole darkens a fraction. Moments later, the front door unlocks with a heavy metal clunk, revealing a woman in a black shirt and knee-length red skirt.
“Hi. Are you Mr. Chang?” she asked.
She nods. “Thank you so much for coming.”
Three days ago, Vanessa Lum emailed me, claiming she needed my help to ‘break a curse’. Her words. The miasma obscures the state of her aura. I’d have to read her inside.
She unlocks the front grille with a painful SNAP and lets me in. The rest of the Lums are waiting in the living room. The father is a balding man with a moderate paunch, dressed in a red short-sleeved shirt with dark pants. The mother wears a large pink one-piece dress with an awfully bright floral print. Behind them, tall teenager in a red shirt and blue jeans leans against a wall, staring sullenly at me. Vanessa’s brother?
The parents greet me with posed smiles and cold eyes.
“You look really young,” the mother says.
I nod. “Thank you.”
All the people I’ve known in this line of work tend to fall into two categories. Hardened middle-aged individuals affiliated with a religious institution, veterans of dozens, even hundreds, of exorcisms; or idealistic idiots with their heads in the clouds and feet floating somewhere off the ground and utterly, with little experience with the darker side of reality and even less desire to acknowledge it. Dressed in a sharp white shirt, blue pants and frameless spectacles, I don’t fit the stereotype.
“Would you like a drink?” Mrs Lum asks.
I shake my head. “No thanks.”
“Are you sure? We have tea, water, Coke—”
I set down my GR1 and point at the Klean Kanteen secured to its side. “I have my own.”
I didn’t know what the Lums drank, and if I asked for water I might get ordinary tap water. Not ideal for a job. The air is heavy with dark energies; I didn’t want to poison myself.
The dining table is next to the door. We pull out two chairs, each facing the other. I take the chair facing the door, Vanessa has the other. My spirit guides flank me protectively, ready to respond to unseen threats.
“I understand you need help with a curse,” I say. “Please explain your situation.”
She folds her hands on her lap, covering her right wrist with her left hand.
“Um, well, it all started a month ago. Suddenly I was losing my things. My earrings, my jewellery, my handphone. Then it got worse. I started falling sick all the time. Flu, fever, and then last week I had food poisoning. I never get sick so often.”
Her voice is a pale violet, her words arriving in slow-motion staccatos. As she speaks, I scan her aura. The outermost layer is a light fluffy pink. Under that is a verdant green and shimmering yellow. Or should have been. Clouds of grey mush swim through her, penetrating her deepest level. Her eyes are wide but hard, as though artificially expanded and frozen in place. She’d known many men, and with every contact they had left part of themselves behind.
And there was a black patch over her right wrist.
“Did something touch your right wrist?’ I ask.
Her eyes widen. “Yah. How did you know?”
I smile faintly. “It’s my job. May I see your wrist, please?”
She hesitates a moment. Then she rolls up her right sleeve, revealing four long black streaks across her forearm, and a smaller one on the underside. In my second sight, they seethe with corrosive energies.
“What happened to your wrist?” I ask.
“About four, five weeks ago, out of the blue, this man grabbed me. He said he wanted to be with me. I pulled away from him and ran. But when I came home I saw these black marks on my arm. They didn’t go away. After that, those things start to happen.”
“Aiya, you never wash properly, is it?” the boy remarks.
“I got wash!” Vanessa insists.
I glance at the boy. His aura burns a dull red. Resentment, anger, and a degree of unhealthy materialism. His crown chakra is dull and murky. Limited to no connection with the divine. A small dark blob hovers about his face, no doubt whispering denials of the metaphysical. His spirit guide, a worn-out rabbit, appears by his foot and hops over to Lupin.
‘Be gentle with the kid,’ the wolf says. ‘He’s got a lot of growing up to do.’
“You are free to observe,” I reply, ‘but please do not interrupt.”
The boy snorts but says nothing.
“Let’s go back to the beginning,” I say to Vanessa. “Where were you when the man touched you?”
She drops her eyes and looks away. “I… I don’t remember much.”
A twitch runs through me. A lie.
“Please try to recall,” I say. “Every detail is important.”
She had to be hiding something. I breathe through a twinge of irritation.
“The more information I have, the better I’ll be able to understand what, exactly, happened.”
She sighs and looks past my shoulder. “I was out jalan-jalan with my friends. Then that man suddenly appear and call out to us. I told him I wasn’t interested in him, but he kept coming. We told him to… to go away. He just grabbed me and told me to go with him. I pulled away, my friend pushed him off, and we ran.”
Negative entities—human or otherwise—don’t usually randomly attack a group of people when they’re out walking. There’s more to the story here.
“Where did you run into the man?” I ask.
She covers her wrist. “I’m not sure…”
“Please try to remember.”
“Is it one of your clubs?” the brother asks.
“No!” Vanessa says.
“So, where was it?” I ask.
“Around Clarke Quay.”
Famous for its night life. Including clubs.
“Where in Clarke Quay?”
“I don’t know lah, we were going all over the place.”
“What time of the day was it?”
“In the evening.”
“You mean night time.”
“It was so long ago, how to remember?”
Out the corner of my eye, I see her parents staring at us with poker faces and narrowed eyes. I think the entire family knows Vanessa trawls the night. They may even suspect what she really does when they’re not around. There’s a lot more she isn’t telling me. A lot more she won’t tell me. Not with her parents around.
On the other hand, I’m a magician.
In my mind’s eye, I draw a sword. A European longsword, blazing white and blue. The sword of the Archangel Michael, the sword of Truth.
“How many friends were you with?” I ask.
“Why is that important?”
“What you experienced was highly unusual,” I say. “Bad guys don’t usually target groups of people. They prefer individuals on their own. If you want me to help, I need to know what happened.”
Her body tenses. “Well… I was with a guy and a girl.”
As she speaks, the sword glows. But when she says ‘girl’, the sword turns dark. A lie.
“Just two people?”
I feed a little more energy into the sword, empowering it to reveal the truth.
She nods. “Yeah.”
Guy and girl counts as two people—even if she’s the girl in question.
“Have you ever seen the man who touched you before?”
The sword turns bright again. Truth.
“Describe him for me.”
“It was dark. Couldn’t tell much. I know he had really long and dirty hair, up to his shoulder. He was… Chinese, I think, he had this very strong cheena accent. Oh, and he stinks. He had bad breath and even worse BO.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
She shifts uncomfortably.
“He was… talking dirty. Saying how I should go with him, how he’s better than other men, that sort of thing.”
“He xiao is it?” the elder Mr Lum offers.
I don’t bother with a response. I’ve everything I needed to know. Now I just have to…
The world darkens. The miasma thickens. In my mind’s ear, I hear a dark, bitter hissing. The humans miss it. The rabbit hops for cover. Lupin and Leonhard arch their backs and bare their teeth.
‘The enemy is here,’ Leonhard says.
For more long-form fiction by Dragon Award nominated writer Kai Wai Cheah, check out No Gods, Only Daimons on Amazon.