เรื่องของรปภ.หนุ่มผู้ค้นหาภูติผีปีศาจในตึกที่ลือกันว่าเฮี้ยนที่สุด เรื่องนี้ได้แรงบันดาลใจมาจากรายการ The Ghost Radio
(the altered version)
Bangkok, December 1995
"Unbelievable that you have the bachelor’s degree!"
The rotund man with a flattop mumbled while skimming over the papers on his hands. When he looked up and noticed some feeling glinted from the eyes of the young man who was sitting opposite him, he chuckled.
"Don't get me wrong! I mean the well-educated guy like you should not have been here, applying for a lowly job like security guard."
The young man grinned.
"That's alright, sir. If I were you, I would exclaim in the same sentence because it is very weird, isn't it ? I know I should have finished my study from only the high school (Mathayom) or something. However, it becomes a grim reality that the graduates with bachelor’s degrees especially of Arts and Social Sciences are ubiquitous nowadays; plenty of my friends are still unemployed. I thus will never deem the job like security guard inferior."
The manager of security company stared at the papers and turned them over back and forth like he was contemplating. He said,
"You graduated from the Department of Philosophy, Chiang Mai University, in 1995 , that is many months ago. But it is bizarre that you began your work as a banker. Although I don't know much about philosophy, I think you will never measure up to that kind of job."
The young man chuckled.
"To be frank, sir, I used my family's connection to help me employed in that bank. It is a quirky twist of my fate that I used to hate the accounting so much that once in my high school I took the sick leave just an hour before I was about to study this abysmal course. I was always bedazzled why they made it compulsory for the high school because it was almost useless when I grew up. But I later found that working as a bank clerk eventually let that damn accounting haunt me all the time. Every day in that bank was then a fierce struggle for me, and I simply quit , after the 4 months of self-torments and shame."
The song name 'Tomorrow is Still Not Too Late' (พรุ่งนี้ ...ไม่สาย) of the pretty young superstar , Tata Young, was played via radio faintly from someplace around here.
The manager said with delight,
"You did the right thing ! A man must be decisive and dare to venture out of the place he can't bear, although it means risking his own future. But I presume your family is well-to-do , right ?"
The young man nodded.
" Not quite, sir. My father is merely a middle-ranking civil servant who has kept working in the different provinces , still he happened to have a friend who was the branch manager of some notable bank in Chiang Mai. But it was so fortunate that my parents at last accepted my apology for the abrupt resignation and agreed with me on a job as a security guard because it will make me more mature from some menial jobs before the self- discovery. I like reading so much , so this job will also give me the whale of time to read. Well , please consider me suitable for this job : I had studied the Reserve Officer Training Course for 3 years and got the highest score in shooting among my peers. I also joined the club of martial arts like Muay Thai and Karate in CMU. On your hands is its certificate, though it looks crappy because it was made by the club itself ; it was signed by the president who was also my friend. But you can rely on him 'cause he is such an honest guy. I can guarantee that I can send burglars or intruders to have a good dream in hospital with my bare hands after all."
The middle-aged man kept laughing. He began to like this guy.
"And all of the buildings in the world , why do you choose to work here ?"
"I think I have the strange attachment to this place, sir. Whenever I set foot here, I have the indescribable vigor rushing in my veins." He grinned.
" Okey dokey ! My new employee. Our company's requirement doesn't stipulate that the applicant must not finish more than Mathayom. Just wait for several days that our staff (sorry to say that there is only me) will verify all your document, and remember your signature is needed for our contact. Afterwards you have to go to the specific tailor shop to be measured for the new uniforms."
The young man smiled broadly, nodded and proffered him a firm handshake. The manager shook his hand and thought this guy was strange but amusing. The conversation was supposed to end after the manager had explained other details about the young man's future job, but ...
"Hold on, sir! I heard that this building is infested with ghosts, that is the reason why the company changes the security guards every now and then. And the tenants of this condominium have gradually sold or put their rooms up for rent."
The middle-aged man was a bit startled but kept his composure quickly.
" Good , I never realize that you are so well-informed. Mr. Surakiat, the building our company is responsible for is more than 20 years old now. It is replete with both of the bad and good memories. Of course, there was once an old Farang dying from the cardiac arrest ; his death needed more than 5 days to be known until his neighbours smelled his decaying corpse. There was also a guy hanging himself because he had lost in the gambling for the 5 consecutive football matches. A young girl jumped from her balcony on the 5th floor because her boyfriend boldly had a fling with another girl in their very love nest, to name but a few ! Just philosophize that there is not a single inch of lands in this world that humans haven't deceased on. These can happen in every condominium in this seedy Bangkok , so are the baseless rumours about the ghosts. Human tongue always alters the message its owner receives. We change the staffs so often because they are young and keep seeking other jobs with higher salaries -not like you. The reason the tenants have moved away is because the landlords let all the facility ramshackle , and this disturbs them so much in spite of their endless complaints. As far as I know , this is a result of some bitter bickering among the landlords and the ensuing law disputes."
It was a turn of the young man to be perplexed by the manager's straightforwardness. He somehow wondered how the fiftysomething rested assure that 'humans have deceased on every inch of the world' was correct. It might at last turn to be merely bullshit , if the scientists and the historians began the serious investigations about this. However , other explanations of his about the irregularities of this condominium sounded reasonable , plus it is the oppressive Thai culture that the younger should not contradict the older. The young man thus humbly bowed his head.
Surakiat unsurprisingly found out later that he was the odd man out among the 5 of his colleagues. They all finished their studies from only Mathayom and came from countryside. The young man was as well the tallest, strongest and the most energetic, whereas those men , already in their 40s , looked sluggish and happy-go-lucky but they pretended to be solemn or combative before their boss like the US Navy SEALs. Surakiat assumed this act of deception was still condoned by the manager because they never really had the derelictions of duty. And it was still a boon for them that the owners of this condominium just visited this place once in a blue moon.
Those senior security guards were stupefied to see the rookie from the middle-class family. They however had treated the young man cordially and jokingly called him 'college boy'. The native of Buriram , Thongbai , became Surakiat's close friend and took him as his protégé. The older must have been so proud to guide the younger who had the bachelor’s degree. And he was the person who had satisfied the young man whose curiosity about the so-called supernatural phenomena in this building looked obvious.
“Yeah, there is true like Mr.Atthanit told you. There are numerous heart-wrenching deaths here. Do you want to listen more? A husband cold-heartedly slit his wife’s throat because he suspected that she was having an affair. A deranged woman threw her poor baby from the building’s rooftop deck and …”
Surakiat waved his hand.
“That’s enough! You are going to make me lose my appetite for this lunch. Tell me about the ghosts in this building.”
Thongbai paused and dropped his spoon on the dish of rice and curry in order to sip water from a plastic cup. But he looked less serious than the manager and smiled at Surakiat.
"This is the first time someone asks me about the ghosts here. You must remember that when the sheer number of people has died at one place ; hence the lonely company of the spirits who don't know where the hell to go. Our run-down building with the abundant tragedies is no exception. Even if there isn't a single death here, there will be naturally at least several ghosts , because the wandering spirits are seeking the comfortable places to dwell in. The landlords aren't superstitious at all , so the shrine of household spirits is not built, and this is like issuing visa for them. Yes, I witness them from time to time but, haven't I ever told you that I used to be a monk before? I had trained my mind well for years, so I have a formidable power. Those ghosts do attempt to shun me at all costs, but I still see their traces somehow, and all I can smell is their fears of me. College boy, are you afraid of ghosts?"
Surakiat finished the last piece of fried pork in his dish and shook his head.
"Not quite, Lung Bai. It is just my long-time curiosity fuelled by an urban legend I stumbled on from some magazines. I want to confess that I am really obsessed with ghosts although I have never really met even a tiny fraction of theirs. What about our other 4 colleagues? Do they usually encounter them like you? I guess they have been working here for years already."
The young man then looked around and found there was only one of their colleagues , who was having lunch at the nearby table. Other 3 were on the night shift and scheduled to be here in the late afternoon.
"They have been sometimes freaked out by those spirits, but their morale is generally high , because I gave them the holy amulets and the incantation which is the very short sentences. I can give you even now , so though you are walking in the utter darkness of the building, you will still feel perfectly safe like strolling in your own garden. It is not difficult to memorize my mantra and you can use it adeptly even you are being scared shitless."
" Really? Why are you bragging so much, Na Bai? You seem to enjoy talking shit like this to everyone you have just met, and this will make the fool out of our rookie , ha ha."
The man interrupted while walking to sit near Thongbai. That was Somkuan, the native of Chacheungsao , who was several years younger than him , but he always called him 'Na' which meant 'uncle' in the Thai culture , like ‘Lung’ which also meant the uncle (the first was younger and the latter was older than the caller’s parents).
Thongbai looked irritated.
"Somkuan, all of you are my protégés. You can still work here comfortably, without unbearable fears because of me. Have you ever shown your gratitude to me?"
The 40-year-old man sniggered.
" I remember that many times you take it for granted that there are the ghosts in our building , though we later find merely the noises from the objects moved by strong winds or animals like stray cats. But I won't say that you are completely a charlatan because there are also several strange things I am not sure of. Perhaps the manifestations of ghosts , and your holy protections given to us might really work, I don't know. After all those are probably the fictions our brains are creating like the cartoons costing 5 baht. College boy, don't believe him much, otherwise you will end up working here with mental problems."
Surakiat was disappointed but didn't say anything. No sooner had the television of the food shop finished the long documentary film about nature than it showed the footage of drama series. It was Mon Rak Luk tung (มนตร์รักลูกทุ่ง) starred by Saranyu Wongkrajang and Natharika Thammapridanunt - the extremely popular drama series of the year. And people still kept admiring it although it already ended many months ago.
Thongbai immediately changed the topic.
"College boy, do you like this series ? Or you merely watch the western films?"
Surakriat shook his head.
"Nah, I like it so much. I remember the last months I spent living in the dormitory of university : the crowd of students was huddling in the hall just to watch this drama. They frequently hysterically laughed or clapped their hands like the maniac."
Both of his colleagues laughed. They had not expected so many of the college boys to understand the rural lives depicted in the series. On the contrary, loads of university students had their hometowns in rural areas. They really appreciated Mon Rak Luktung because it was surreal, produced by the bourgeois director and production team , including the well-paid actors who had off-screen the flamboyant lives. If some film or drama had accidentally capability of reflecting the rural ways of lives to the core , it wouldn't have been so popular because of its lacklustre plot and the banal faces of the folks. This was similar to horror stories , they were well-liked and breathtaking because the tellers of the stories had been given a free hand to concoct the plots as they like, while people had never met ghosts in their real lives (though many of them claimed to do so). And the ghosts became a hype of profit-making entertainment that could fulfil the boundless public fantasy.
Nonetheless, Surakiat was determined that he must have found out about the real ghosts by himself.
Surakiat were eventually being on a night shift for the first time. The sprawling building which was even scary in broad daylight now made him feel like staying in the macabre valley which had been cursed since the era of Sukhothai. Not many lights were being turned on as it was the austerity policy of the landlords who were all going to be broke. The young man guessed there were not many tenants left as he rarely found them. But an hour ago he received the complaint from an old lady who lived on the third floor about her troublesome water faucet. He contacted the plumber who lived nearby but was reluctant to visit the condominium at this hour. The young man had to spend half an hour pestering him and promising to accompany him as long as he was still in the building. Surakiat noticed that the plumber was shaken probably in fear and performed his duty perfunctorily. He said that this building lately became too sinister to even stay in for just minutes. He thus was planning to quit this job soon to live with his children in Ayutthaya. As soon as the job was done, the old lady, instead of showing gratitude, groused that the faucet would soon be leaky again, but the old geezer briskly left her room without even telling Surakiat. The woman told the young man that she desperately wanted to leave here, but she was all alone in the world and had nowhere to go. When asked about the ghosts, she said there were many of her encounters in this building that were too ambiguous to tell , but she told him to be cautious.
This was quite different from an account of his partner on the night shift, Teerasak, who said sometimes he found a dark figure that looked like a woman near the elevators of some floors. When he approached her, it was like she just vanished into thin air. The man admitted he had never lacked goosebumps or sweats while patrolling alone. The amulets from Thongbai couldn't be his refuge any longer because his mentor had been flirting with woman who was not his wife, so his power must have declined. Walking around the parking lot was also the better choice for him because it was not blood-curdling like in the building. But when the number of tenants dwindled, it was not necessary for him to frequently check the parking lot with a few cars. Teerasak thus had no excuse to avoid the most challenging task of security guard here: patrolling around each floor until the top of building every 3 hour. And the creepiest part was that they also had to check the building’s dark rooftop deck ,the very place Teerasak claimed that he usually heard the crying of a baby. Another security guard however used to catch a couple of man and woman wallowing in ‘the lurid activity’ there. The native of Chiang Rai persuaded Surakiat in the northern dialect to accompany him though it was against the company's rule. Also unfortunate for them that another colleague, Prem, was on leave because his wife was delivering their baby at hospital.
Now it was already 9.00 p.m., both men were being ensconced at their office, waiting for the second patrol. Teerasak's body was shaking from a laughter while reading cartoon, and Surakiat was watching TV displaying the news of the prime minister of Thailand, Mr.Banharn Silpa- archa, visiting some place, probably a construction site of dam. The cohort of men in Kaki uniform was standing before him in a very obsequious manner. Mr. Banharn was quite short, bearing resemblance to the supreme leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, so he received the funny moniker from a press like ‘Deng Xiaoharn’. However, many criticized him that he was 100 miles away from being a great leader like Deng. For them Mr. Banharn was simply the local mogul of Suphanburi who had used his clouts and money to buy the corrupt politicians into his party.
“Pi Sak, did you vote for Mr. Banharn’s party in the last election?”
Teerasak was still laughing, so Surakiat went on watching TV. By the time the news ended, the middle-aged man walked to sit near him and said nonchalantly,
"No , I remember going to the sea in Chanthaburi with my old friends that day. It was the rare opportunity because all of them had been too busy with their families and works all year round. But even if I had been free, I still wouldn't have gone to the poll station because it would be only a waste of time. All politicians are innately corrupt, that is boring. I don't why we have the unfruitful activities like elections."
Surakiat raised his eyebrows.
"So, whom do you expect to run the government for our country ?"
"Beat me , perhaps the men assigned by the king , I guess. The king is so wise and benevolent, he therefore has an intuition about what are the best to bestow upon us. By the way, don't feel so guilty about going with me in each patrol, since Mr. Atthanit wouldn't be ruthless. His company is so small, working only with this condominium. He also highly depends on us, as the malicious rumours about this building have scared people away from working here. Don’t you ever notice there is only a small food shop in this building whereas other shops are closed permanently ? There are lately only you as a newcomer. I heard that your study in university was Philo... or something, right ? What is it really about?"
The young man compressed his lips.
"That's philosophy ! It is the study about the fundamental beings of life, world and universe. The natural sciences like biology or physics have the roots in philosophy."
"Aha ! That is why you looked highly keen on the investigations about ghosts."
Surakiat shook his head.
"Not really , it is my personal interest. I wondered since I was quite young whether there is a life after death like our beliefs in ghosts or spirits who are waiting to be sent to heaven or hell before the endless reincarnations. Or do humans, according to some philosophical schools, just completely cease to exist after their deaths? This is because our bodies and minds exclusively consist of atoms. When we are dead, hence the disintegration of those atoms, and our minds will be gone simultaneously. We will thus feel like we are in deep slumber forever."
Teerasak waved his hand.
"That's enough ! I have already a severe headache from arguing with my girlfriend in the afternoon. That's why they call you 'college boy' ; you really are the misfit for this job."
The ringing of the telephone interrupted them, and the older man rushed to pick it up. After a brief talking, Teerasak spoke to his partner:
"I think we'd better go for another patrol now. How come Prem's wife has delivered the baby today? But I think there won't be any problems even if there is not a single security guard at our office shortly because no one dares visit here at night. The tenants also seem to enjoy tucking themselves away quietly in their room. And we just pretend that our telephone is out of order if some callers are frustrated in our absence. Most important of all, our manager has already gone to bed, so he will never sneak in to check on us”.
Surakiat burst out laughing.
"If you think that there is no life after death or ghosts like the materialist theory I mentioned just now , you will never have so many problems from patrolling alone. Anyhow, human being is way scarier than ghosts, do you agree with me?"
The middle-aged man sighed.
"But I believe in my experiences with those other-worldly more than your armchair theory. Why does the religion like Buddhism which had been worshipped for more than 2 thousand years teach us that spirits exist? You are right that humans are the most untrustworthy beings in the world. Still, I prefer not to encounter any like a ferocious ghost or the armed robbers as they can put our lives in jeopardy. Now it is about time!"
They began the second round of confronting their own fears. Surakiat supposed if this condominium had been the macabre valley, walking around it for the security guards would have been like exposing themselves to some wild animals lurking in the dark corners, while they had only weapons like walkie-talkies and lousy clubs on their hands. Fate still smiled on them that there weren't any crimes against the security guards. Only 2 years ago Thongbai and Prem were notified by the terrified tenants about a seeming burglar at their balcony, but all they found was the naked and bloated man who happened to be the patient escaping from the nearby psychiatric hospital. When the man in the Room 612 slit his wife's throat , he just escaped to Surat Thani before being arrested by police 3 days later.
However, due to the limited number of CCTV, a tactic of the company was: during each patrol the security guards had to clock in on every floor of the building with the machines placed far from the stairs to ensure that those nightly workers had properly done their duties. But this even prolonged their suffering amidst the freezing cold and the occasional strong winds in December which made atmosphere around them more eerie.
When both guys walked to clock in on the 4th floor, Surakiat stopped to stand still in front of the room number 415. His partner looked curious and whispered,
" What ? Surakiat , can you hear something inside?"
The young man shook his head.
"No , this is the room of my acquaintance, or I can say : my close friend.."
"Really , I just learn that there is someone you know well here. Does he or she still live here?" asked Teerasak.
"No , he has already moved away for a long time, and I suppose this room is vacant right now , "
Surakiat muttered and his face abruptly looked dejected, a kind of feeling Teerasak had never seen before.
"Of course, if I am not mistaken , the Room 415 has been vacant for the ages," the middle-aged man said.
Both went on to the top of building and walked around the rooftop deck which was cavernous and windy. Teerasak felt so relieved that he was not alone, otherwise he might lose his mind, and even Surakiat felt that such a place was creeping him out. The 2 men attempted to walk in a steady gait and toyed with an idea of asking each other with the same question: without me, will you able to loiter around here or just cast a glance before closing the door and running down in a big hurry? However, their fears seemed subdued when they met a spectacular view of Bangkok in the night.
The young man whispered,
"Be extremely quiet ! We might be hearing some baby crying now."
Teerasak felt a bit agitated to learn that the college boy was teasing him. He almost shouted,
“Don’t be so impertinent! We need the appropriate time like the night of the Buddhist holy day, and especially someone with the 6th sense like me. Poor boy! Perhaps his spirit is still roaming around here, waiting for his mommy who had murdered him.”
Surakiat made his voice more solemn.
“Why did his mother become insane? Had her husband abused or used violence against her and finally deserted her?”
“No, not at all. I know her husband though superficially. He was a nice guy who loved his family so dearly. He had worked his ass off as a taxi driver on both night and day shifts. It was his wife who became unexpectedly mad. Some said that she had been attacked by the black magic from the sorcerer from Cambodia, who was hired by her enemy at workplace or probably her secret lover, I am not certain.”
Teerasak then coughed a little.
“I was there at the time she became berserk. Can’t believe that the tiny woman like her could easily throw off the 3 strong men who was trying to restrain her. Her eyes were baleful, and she terribly disgusted the people nearby by frothing at her mouth and vomit. The woman at last was acting like an old man who could speak Cambodian fluently, even though she wasn’t from the province bordering Cambodia or knew this language. When the monk went to attach a small piece of talisman on her forehead, she incredibly relented. The woman had been treated in the hospital for barely a week before her relatives would bring her back for a treatment by the venerable monk in their province. She then showed some good symptoms and was sent back to this building. That was however the beginning of the tragedy when her husband left her alone with her baby in their room….”
“What happens to her nowadays?” Surakiat asked with excitement.
“Don’t know. Perhaps she was still in the hospital or dead already.”
“What did the doctor say about the cause of her illness?” asked the young man.
“Her husband told me that the doctor’s diagnosis was a heredity, because her mother was also deranged many years ago and died pitifully. But I think the hideous black magic was the real culprit. Son, there are numerous stuffs beyond the scientific thinking which the university student like you can’t imagine of.”
The middle-aged man said and pulled out several cigarettes from his pocket.
Surakiat refused a cigarette from him and urged him to go down because they had spent too long time here. The young man was then amused by the reason why Teerasak who was extremely fearful of the baby’s ghost eloquently briefed him on the short biography of the baby’s mother at the spooky rooftop deck. That was because he had a company, and the beautiful view of Bangkok distracted him. This meant human fear was merely the ever-changing feeling, and it could not necessarily reflect the real situation , the superstitions were also alike.
While the security guards were gradually descending the stairs, Teerasak nudged him and said in a quivering voice.
“Wait a minute! Did you hear something in the left wing of the 4th or the 5th floor we are passing by?”
The 2 men immediately stopped walking on staircase. The silence surrounded them to the extent that if a large pin fell on the floor, they would certainly know this. Listening attentively, Surakiat found the muffled sound of the crying and the screaming of woman.
He peeked at Teerasak.
“Yes, I hear a voice of woman that is showing the great distress."
Teerasak pulled out a map from his pocket.
“There are only a few tenants in the left wing of the 4th or 5th floor. As far as I can remember , those are just an elderly couple and a thirtysomething with his son. Or is it possibly from TV?”
"I don't think so, the voice sounds different from the one in television, as it is long-drawn and back and forth. There is also no dialogue following it at all like a TV drama should be.”
They stood still for a while before walking toward the rooms on the 5th floor. The young man sneakily smiling when noticing his partner a bit trembling. Teerasak’s flinching cast doubt on his own claim that he used to be an amateur boxer with the prestigious history of knocking out his opponents. Surakiat nonetheless assumed it must have been a mind-blowing experience if he had faced this situation by himself. But this time if he still found nothing, he had to stay at that rooftop deck alone to fight his own fear enough to find the ghosts.
The young man led his partner to stop at one room. The middle-aged man pointed at a map and almost yelled out,
“Are you sure about this room? This room has been long vacant because its owner was the young woman who committed suicide by jumping from balcony years ago.”
Surakiat ignored him and attached his ear to the door which was covered by a large piece of red yantra and the mystic spells in white chalk. The middle-aged man was stepping away from his fellow like he was beginning to run away in any minutes, but he then decided to walk back and shake the young man's shoulder.
“This is much scarier than the baby’s ghost! Her spirit was reputedly so fierce that her unfaithful boyfriend had to move away on the first night of her death. And every following tenant of this room had to run like hell out of the condominium in the still of the night. All of security guards also ran past this room with a speed of light. I suggest that we should smartly leave her reminiscing about her dismal past alone. Let get the hell out of here!"
Surakiat put the forefinger on his lips and tried to muster up his courage before groping for a master key in his satchel. Teerasak stopped badgering his partner, knowing that he had been humiliating himself enough. He just held his breath and hoped they would at most find nothing in the room like the run-of- the -mill ghost films which aimed to tease the audience , not the bloody carcass of woman which was standing to greet them with a mischievous smile. When the door was briskly opened, they saw the figures huddling at the centre of the empty and dusty room. Surakiat switched on the light and found that a nearly naked woman was lying on the floor while several guys grabbed both of her arms and legs. One of them was squatting between her spreading legs and had pulled down his pants already. They all stared at the security guards in astonishment.
Someone stood up, slapped the head of his friend in a fit of rage and hollered out,
“I told you: we should have found a better place to do this! Hey, brothers, just fuck off and be quite about this, will you? Do you know who I am? I am the son of Mr.Thanan , the member of parliament , who owns this building !”
Surakiat shouted out,
“No, sir. I am afraid I can’t do that. You are committing a heck of heinous crime. Please step away from her!”
The other man rose to his feet and approached the security guards with a knife. Suarkiat looked at Teerasak who nodded to him as a signal to fight. The young man avoided the knife thrust at his chest and adroitly used the club to slap the face of the knife-wielding man who then was visibly tottering. The rookie without delay launched the knee strike on his abdomen. The man screamed in agony and became quickly unconscious. Surakiat then sprang up and kicked the neck of Mr.Thanan’s son who was standing dumbfounded. The man fell on the floor and never bothered to stand up again. Teerasak had to confront the other 2 who seemed too frightened to take on him. The 40-year-old man simply grabbed both of their heads to hit each other and sent them to lie on the floor. Those men's dresses showed that they were the white-collar workers or probably the spoiled brats from the rich families -not the thugs.
Surakiat was horrified to see the victim. She looked devastated and kept wailing. She seemed to forget about her badly dishevelled hair while trying to bring her clothes to cover her white naked body. He didn’t know whether the rape had already begun but feared that this would be a horrific nightmare for the rest of her ruined life. He couldn’t imagine what would have been like if this had ever happened to his little sister or anyone he loved. The young man blushed and walked to the lying perp whose pants were still stuck on his thighs. He stomped on his genital; that guy shrieked and writhed in pain. The young man quickly sat on his chest and began to punch on his face repeatedly. He could feel his fists smashing both nose and mouth until their blood splattered on his face. They must have been badly broken, and his face might be disfigured for good- serve him right! He sneered and unintentionally thought that his face probably resembled the sadistic face of Doctor Hannibal Lecter, the villain from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, who was using the club to beat the helpless handcuffed guard in cold blood. But if this guy was HIV-infected, it would be a more thrilling experience for the young man. Someone restrained his arms from behind , and that was Teerasak. The older man could have done this earlier, but he might have been busy watching this punishment with satisfaction.
The police were later notified and rushed to the crime scene. The crowd of the doubtful tenants occupied part of the corridor like they were watching the thriller film being shot ; Teerasak told Surakiat that this was the first time in years the building became so boisterous. They were later anxious if that man was really the son of the influential landlord, what would happen to them? But the first reaction of Mr. Atthanit who arrived just minutes after the police was reassuring: he smiled and unstoppably praised both of his subordinates. The justice was seemingly served when the police officers handcuffed the men and dragged them into the cars to the station. The next day the brave security guards were praised by the public and received the awards from some notable foundation. Both of them as well learned the extremely good news that all the wealthy parents, especially Mr.Thanan, were concerned about the severity of the crime committed by their sons and the popularity of their news which had become the headlines of various newspapers and TV channels. So, Mr.MP begrudgingly let Teerasak and Surakiat off the hook. Teerasak moreover attempted so hard to beseech his partner not to spill the beans about his cowardice. He even bribed Surakiat with the promise of delicious lunches cooked by his girlfriend for a month.
The company eventually held a little party to honour both unlikely heroes in the evening. Somkuan did not pull his punches in chiding Thongbai.
“Hey, old man! You spent years instilling the superstitions in the minds of the younger. What would have happened if our college boy had assumed that the woman’s voice of despair belonged to the ghost? She could have been raped multiple times until she died, or at last she might have been killed by those motherfuckers to cover up their crime. You should be responsible for this by stop blabbering about the ghosts in this building!”
Thongbai looked angry and retorted,
“It is the ultimate truth that there are plenty of ghosts hanging around this building, but who the hell would know that those guys could be so reckless to use the most haunted room to inflict the excruciating pains on the poor woman? No , I will never stop holding on to my conviction, not even once in a lifetime. By the way, I am doubtful why you keep pushing me around. Want some fight? Let’s do it on the grass lawn now!”
Mr. Atthanit interrupted with laughter,
“That’s enough, both of you! You should find the best way to work together. We all have the different beliefs , just live and let live. But most important of all, don’t let the superstitions hamper your works, otherwise any one of you will get fired without mercy. Understand?”
Everyone put down the glasses of beer and said , “Sir, yes, sir!”. It was aloud and in unison like the soldiers. Prem asked the manager politely,
“Sir, what had happened that night before Surakiat and Pi Sak would find them molesting that girl?”
“The gang of rich boys and the girl were the night revellers who had just met in the restaurant. The girl got dead drunk after urged to drink incessantly by one member of the gang, even though it wasn’t late at night yet. Her female friends just let them take her home although they should have known what would happen to their friend. It was presumed by police that they were paid by Mr. Thanan’s son who also had a master key of this building. They must have carried her through the gate when both of our men were away , so I consider this a dereliction of duty.But this time is still OK because Surakiat and Teerasak knew well how to redeem themselves."
Somkuan took a jab at Thongbai again.
“So, if that room was really haunted, why did the woman’s ghost let them bang her so easily? Girls were supposed to help each other, weren’t they ?”
Mr. Atthanit shooshed at him; now his face looked a little less serious. The manager talked to the young man:
“Mr.Surakiat, can’t believe that you treated the guy with such a brutality! His nose, left cheek and several teeth were severely broken, so he was expected to undergo the facial operations over a lengthy period of time. He also almost lost vision in his left eye. Feel sorry for him that he was just about to use his dick, ha ha , so he and his friends were only charged with the attempted rape. But even if the rapes had been completed, their parents would certainly have used their connections to help them anyway. Still, a bad news for you is that I just receive the leak that although the guy’s parents don’t press charges against you for that assault, they are secretly searching for a hitman to finish you off. I think you had better get out of here.”
Surakiat remained calm and said,
“Thank you for your worthy warning, sir. I will spend some time figuring out what to do next because I kind of love working here. But please listen, everyone, as I would like to do justice to Lungbai now. I also talked with the police and learned that the girl was spiked by those guys, she therefore really lost her voice. So, there was a zero chance that she would cry and scream so loud through the thick walls that I and Pi Sak who were standing several hundred meters away would hear. Moreover, as soon as I opened the door , I saw a dark figure of woman not far from those guys. And when the light was turned on, it was quickly gone.”
Everybody was aghast.
Chiang Mai, February 23,1991
It was one of the cheerful mornings in February, but it was not freezing or gusty like it was supposed to be. Surakiat kept wondering until now why his Christian school allowed the ceremony of the Buddhist monks offered the foods by the students and their parents in its courtyard. Such a rare ceremony in the winter sunlight was bid farewell to the high school graduates who were bewildered by a post- school life in the nearly post-cold war world. It however seemed to be quiet and modest for the crowd who wished that these merits would help the youngsters to pass any types of examinations to the prestigious universities. After the ceremony, several adults conversed with quite solemn faces not far from the young man; their topic became known to him that there was a coup d’état in Bangkok at this moment. General Chatchai Choonhawan, the prime minister, and his entourage were hijacked on the plane to Chiang Mai , while most of his ministers and some important politicians had been under arrest. The soldiers along with the tanks were crawling on the streets of Bangkok , and some moved to control all the TV stations. What the hectic scenes!
But there were barely resistances in the capital city or elsewhere because people were simmering with resentment against the corrupt politicians like the members of the cabinet of Chatchai with a string of scandals. Public furthermore had never concealed the admirations for the soldiers as a knight in shining armour to lead the country back on the righteous path, though the government of Chatchai was the first democratically elected government in decades and received the kudos for mega projects and prosperity of economy of this country.
Someone slapped Surakiat’s shoulder, and that was Den.
“This is not the stuff for the kids like us. I don’t think it is good at all to be serious about the boring decadent politics.”
“Why do you suggest that I shouldn’t be worried about this as the politics has affected all aspects of our lives? Gimme a break , the government elected by people is being toppled now!”
“That is insanely true like we have learned from the social studies, but how the hell can we do? Make the placards and yell out around the Tha Pae Gate (ประตูท่าแพ) to protest the military? You and I will be whisked away by soldiers from the Fort Kawila (ค่ายกาวิละ) in no time, as the martial law is now declared nationwide.”
Surakiat smiled wryly.
“You are so correct! This is so like the robbers have muzzled us with machine guns while slashing our pockets to reach for our money.”
Den laughingly grabbed his friend’s neck and dragged him to go away from the crowd.
“Nah, I hate to see you serious like this. Now the ceremony is over, and no fussy teacher will check our names or catch our class skipping anymore. We are unbridled at last ! Let’s go to Nong Pu’s dormitory. I don’t have a gut to visit her alone, as I am afraid that I have to endure her wrath for hours. You can be my savoir by distracting her with all your charms."
Surakiat laughed too.
“Shame on you! You are so faint-hearted, not like the legendary Don Juan you always brag of being your idol at all! By the way, you should never have let your girlfriends accidentally stumble on each other , and now all hell breaks loose.”
Den chortled. Both then unwittingly walked past several fellows in the same class who were hanging around the pickup truck which was loudly playing the upbeat song , ‘Unexpected Broken Heart’ (พลิกล็อค) sung by one of the sexiest female singers of Thailand, Christina Aguilar (she was half Philippine, half French , but born in Thailand).
A guy who was sitting and daringly smoking inside the pickup truck saw them and said aloud,
“Hey, hang on, fuckfaces! Where the hell are you going?”
Den looked exasperated.
“What is your fucking business to know where we are going, dunderhead?”
All members of the gang at the pickup truck swiftly gathered before the 2 friends. The leader of the gang scowled while confronting Surakiat and Den who looked dauntless. The atmosphere was very tense and dangerous like a gang brawl in Los Angeles, America. Suddenly, both Den and the leader smiled and shook their hands firmly. The people nearby dissolved into smiles and laughter. They exchanged some nice words and embraced both young men. It was just a hilarious prank- the very last one they shared together before going their separate ways, leaving only the indelible memories behind - in the school where they had spent more than a decade being coming of age.
Surakiat was always amazed at the fact that he and Den were the mismatched friends. He was timid and submerged in his own world, whereas Den was some kind of party animal and extremely friendly, especially with pretty girls. But Den eventually was disillusioned by people around him who proved themselves to be merely the fair-weather friends, and he passionately regarded Surakiat as his only true friend. Their path was separated after the graduation from high school: Surakiat furthered his study in Chiang Mai university and Den, after a couple of failed examinations, turned to study in a private university in Bangkok. However, both still regularly kept in touch via telephone or letter.
Many months later Surakiat learnt that Den dumped his 6th girlfriend and fell in love with a girl - the student of Ramkhamhaeng University whom he accidentally met while visiting one of his friends there.
“I think I have already found the love of my life! We are absolutely clicking,”
Den boasted. His voice was full of excitement like a child who was fondling a new colourful toy on his hand.
Surakiat automatically let the news of his friend’s dalliance slip away from his mind since he had to deal with the study in the first year in university which needed a great amount of time and perseverance. However, he noticed that his friend gradually changed. Den seemed to be unprecedentedly interested in politics by lashing out at the government of Mr. Anand Panyarachun, the puppet prime minister of the National Peace Keeping Council (รสช.)- the junta who overthrew Chatchai in February. The enthralled young man later learnt that his friend was transformed by that girl whose nickname later known as Praew. Praew, according to Den, was unique among the friends in her major, as she was so erudite : knowing a lot about academic areas like social inequity and labour exploitation. Her mindset was influenced by her no-nonsense father who was working as an employee of NGO, and she introduced it to her boyfriend.
Den’s shocking transformation hadn’t been completed yet ; he began to call Surakiat ‘comrade’ and tried to explain for an hour to his friend about the Marxist theories. Surakiat was flummoxed and asked him: what was the point to support such the archaic theories? Now the largest communist country , the USSR, was crumbling. China in the era of Mr. Jiang Zemin also became only the capitalist under a veneer of socialist country. Den explained to him that those countries were the revisionists who had never grasped the essence of Karl Marx’s teachings and the sufferings of the proletariats were still real. So, the true communism was still the idea humans should have struggled for. Den also once snapped that Surakiat should have known Marxism better than him since Marx was the German philosopher. But the young man pitifully made an excuse that he was the freshman and had been just studying in the introductory course of philosophy.
Months later Den took time off from his university indefinitely and spent most of the time joining the activities held by the like-minded in the student clubs of Ramkhamhaeng University. Surakiat wanted to persuade his close friend to go back to study, and he as well was dying to tête-à-tête meet Praew who looked mystic to him. Thus, it was the first time he asked to visit Den in Bangkok as he had always detested this polluted and populous city. His friend currently shared a room in a condominium with Praew not far from her university. The building at first sight stunned Surakiat with its staggering largeness and its unique decoration. Den told him that it was roughly 16 years old, including many deaths inside ensued by the rumours about ghosts but ……
“We should not torment ourselves with this kind of fear because ghosts are parts of the superstition created by the ruling class to exploit the mass – like religion as an opium of mankind. Humans are merely a complex product of the materials, so when he dies, there is nothing after that.”
Den gave the lengthy lecture to him. But Surakiat later knew that the rental fee of this condominium was not expensive; this might have been the ulterior reason why his friend renounced the belief in ghosts.
By the time they were walking to the tea shop in the condominium , they saw the rescue workers carrying a body wrapped by the white shroud with their stretcher. Surakiat asked a security guard who was following them.
“This guy had lost all money from gambling on football for the 5 executive matches, so he became penniless and indebted to the loan shark who had threatened him daily at his room for months. The only solution for his life is to end it by hanging himself,”
The middle-aged man impassively replied. Surakiat then had to wait for several years, so he knew that his name was Somkuan.
Den’s girlfriend went down from their room to greet Surakiat. Given her beguiling round eyes and tan skin, she was so gorgeous that the first sight of her took his breath away. That radiant smile made him blush and avoid staring at her. Their conversation along with the cups of strong coffee was lively. Surakiat thought that Praew was precocious, so he felt like talking with his lecturer in university. That was the reason why she had dominated Den like sister and her younger brother. But when Praew agreed with Surakiat and meekly urged her boyfriend to go back to study, Den tried to keep changing the topic all the time. The radio in the shop suddenly told them about the news of the next election the government of Mr. Anand had promised.
" The general election in March next year? The next step of new democracy, my foot! That is a kind of cunning way for the military to consolidate its power by using politicians."
Both Surakiat and Praew were silent , so Den snarled at his close friend,
"Comrade Kett (Surakiat's nickname) , I don't believe that only months in university can tame you , in other words , brainwash you with bourgeois values. You used to impress me enormously by showing your disgruntlement when there was the coup in February."
Surakiat looked confused.
"Yeah, perhaps. But you should still be proud of me as I was notorious in my faculty for being rebellious against the oppressive hazing held by my senior students. Den, you become the totally new man , like the possessed , that has astounded me."
Praew laughed and quipped,
"Do we have to hire the sorcerer to exorcise a ghost from him right now?"
Surakiat chuckled, still avoided eye contact with her and talked to Den:
"Funny that I begin to believe that politics is so far away from us; the only thing we should emphasize now is our study. I know your family is quite well to do but they almost disown you , so be utterly concerned about your job after graduation too."
Den looked at Praew for support, but the girl said curtly,
"Yes, I agree with Kett , but I don't mean you should abandon your spirit of serving or changing society. You can even do it better when you have at least a bachelor's degree on your hand. Den, I forgive you for telling me a lie that you are just taking time off from university for a while. , so repent for you sin and follow his advice ! (It was hilarious that she had all the time used pronouns with Den like I and you in English - not ฉัน and เธอ in Thai)."
Den sniggered and muttered,
"Now both of you are ganging up on me! OK, I surrender, as it is from knowing that you are all meaning well. I will begrudgingly suspend my revolutionary mission just to fulfil the duty of slave in the capitalist world!"
Surakiat and Praew smiled at each other. He finally managed to look into her eyes and said,
"I am so relieved! Just now I thought you would take Den's side , which meant I could have been devastated. I assume that you have changed Den tremendously as you know a lot about politics like the ideologies in the left wing. I am so glad to meet a scholar like you though you are only the freshman like me."
Praew looked baffled.
"No, not at all. All engrossing me is simply about human rights and social movements. It is Den who has ardently pursued his self-study to Marxism. I'm afraid that he has always exaggerated me since I still have so many things to learn. By the way, he is incredibly fond of briefing me on every detail about your life. Your major in university is philosophy, right? I guess you even know stuffs in political philosophy or even politics far more than me!"
Den said to his girlfriend:
"Don't you believe that Kett is awfully obsessed with ghosts or supernatural phenomena. He and I used to rummage through numerous places reported of crawling with ghosts like the abandoned houses, hotels or even cemeteries, but regrettably, we found nothing."
Praew laughingly clapped her hands and said to Surakiat :
"Really, Kett? You are visiting the right place now. This building is certainly one of most haunted places in Bangkok, thanks to the talk of the town."
Although the 2 men were silent , Praew still looked excited and went on.
"Don't scold me with your eyes that I am falling victim to a hoax or a baseless rumour since I used to witness it myself. Den, do you remember Farang or the septuagenarian German guy who died of cardiac arrest months ago? He lived in a room not far from us. The residents on our floor continued gossiping that they had seen him roaming around his room and our corridor to search for his wife. Ah, I forget to tell you that he was married to a Thai wife. Shortly before his death, he became more irascible and erratic, followed by constant fierce fights. His wife just disappeared one day , so he drowned his sorrows , which meant he had drunk excessively. The very night he died, there were some knocks on the rooms of several neighbours and when they opened them, they found no one. One night, my unfortunate night, I returned to the condominium very late. Walking along the corridor, I encountered the white , tall and old man just standing still before the door of the dead's room. Much to my horror, I tried to sneak past him, but suddenly he gazed at me. Alas, that’s him! His eyes were exceeding bloodshot, full of unbearable grief. However, he sadly smiled at me, but his smile was so creepy. I was frightened to death and ran away to the exit before going back to spend a night at the building of student clubs. Sorry, Den, I have never told this story to you because I think you might get scared.”
Surakiat pretended to exclaim in terror and said that he had the big goosebumps, but Den interrupted,
“Or did you just remember the wrong guy? I know that the German, whose name was Peter, had several western friends who were also living in this building. Some were two peas in a pod. Perhaps that was one of his friends who was extremely despondent and standing to mourn him. Do you ever notice a bunch of flowers at the door of Peter? Ask the caretakers of our dorm. And .. No no, I won’t get scared at all because I have never been a scaredy-cat.”
Preaw looked stunned to see his reaction and spluttered a bit,
“No, I can remember his face correctly! I have ...the great ability of face recognition. Er....and I don’t think midnight was the appropriate time for mourning.”
Surakiat now felt the tension between the lovers ; maybe his friend was trying to throw off the yoke of his girlfriend’s domination. He then tried to mediate the war by waving his hands.
“OK, I understand you both; this depends on personal beliefs. Calm down please. By the way, Den, I don’t have an opportunity to see your room yet.”
Before Den would say anything, Praew almost grabbed Surakiat’s left hand. Her eyes sparkled while she was saying enthusiastically,
“Wow, it is my great pleasure if you will take a tour of our humble and decrepit room. C'mon , Den , don't be so reluctant because I have already tidied our room up."
Surakiat’s heart raced, but he immediately said to Den who was dumbfounded.
“Oh, I change my mind now. I think I would like to go to the building of student clubs at Ramkhamhaeng (University) to meet some students who are eager to do many things for our rural folks. Maybe next time is better."
Den was seemingly able to compose himself.
“That’s all right, Kett, I am about to take you to see my room. But because this is your wish, next time will be much better. Don’t forget my room’s number is 415 , but call me beforehand and you are welcome anytime!”
He finished his sentence before glancing at Praew who immediately turned her face to another way.
Surakiat was later relieved that it was just a bickering and a revelation of the new truth Praew had to accept that her boyfriend became independent, but they kissed and made up after all. Additionally, Den still treated him the same and sent the colourful confectioneries to him. He said that they were the gifts from Praew , as she was highly impressed with him. But Surakiat had never stepped on the Bangkok’s soil again like his promise.
After the new year celebration of 1992 had passed , Surakiat realized that Den’s prediction about the Thai politics was right. A new political party was established with the open secret that it was illicitly funded by the military. Its money and influence managed to attract plenty of greedy politicians from many factions, and the party swiftly climbed up to be the largest one before the election in March. It was no doubt this party would eventually garner the highest number of MPs and form the new coalition. Nonetheless, its leader was declared by the US Department of State that he had been involved in drug trafficking and therefore banned from entering the US. The question about his legitimacy was seriously raised, and finally the aging leader had to turn down the premiership. So , it went to the powerful and ambitious junta who reneged on his tenacious promise that he would never be a prime minister. Whether this is just a coincidence or an ulterior plan of military, no one knew until today.
But the public outcries became gradually more visible, ushering into the unexpected protests.
“Can’t believe that Mr.Chamlong (Srimuang) would be triggering off more protests by declaring his hunger strike with the ultimatum of Suchinda (that junta)'s resignation from PM. What a scoundrel and a liar Suchinda was! He pretends to say that he goes back on his promise for the sake of our country (เสียสัตย์เพื่อชาติ) - ludicrous !"
Den zealously told Surakiat this via telephone and also assured him that he and Praew would be joining the protests until the government backed by military was brought down. He also hoped this would ignite the people’s socialist revolution in the future. Surakiat warned him to back off right away when there was even the slightest sign of military violence against the protesters.
Much to the new government’s anxiety, the number of protesters at Sanam Luang (สนามหลวง) was increased rapidly with the aim to vent the grievance against Suchinda Kraprayoon's authoritarian regime and demand the new PM who was democratically elected. The most popular motto they always shouted in unison was 'Suchinda , get out !" The participation of the opposition parties and the well- known academics in the protests also stepped up an animosity to the next level, followed by the escalation of protests into some cities like Hat Yai and Chiang Mai in May. Surakiat remembered well that the campus of his university was transformed to be the makeshift location for protests, but it was a shame that not many students joined them thanks to the semester break. He wondered until now : if the political upheaval had happened when the new semester already started , would the number of his fellows joining the protests have been dramatically higher ?
Surakiat didn’t just join the protests , he also worked as a volunteer security guard for the protesters in CMU almost every day. But he also had to grapple with his own demon : he couldn’t tell whether he was worried about both Den and Praew or especially the latter. When he made a phone call to Den (who just had the mobile phone), he avoided mentioning or talking to Praew, but his thought lingered around her beautiful face which had to be defiled by the sunlight during the protests. Her faint voice beside Den always melted his heart. The young man was ashamed of himself , especially after he had fantasized that the girl too had a crush on him.
One morning Surakiat woke up and found the news last night the military had shot the demonstrators with live ammunitions as a part of crackdown in Bangkok . He was extremely panic and attempted to call Den, but his friend’s mobile phone was seemingly switched off. So, he contacted his mother, but she said she was also clueless about her son’s fate and could not do anything because those parts of Bangkok became anarchic and the danger zones. Eventually, Prime Minister Suchinda declared via TV to resign several days after he and Chamlong, the leader of protests, were granted an audience with the king. The situation turned to be normal, but Thailand could not avoid shocking the world when the foreign media revealed the brutal and bloody suppression by the military. Time Magazine feathered on its cover an embarrassing picture of a dishevelled man who was attaching his face to the rubbish while he and other demonstrators were ordered by the soldiers to lie down on the ground. Still , the military enjoyed impunity because of the amnesty law issued by the outgoing government.
Surakiat’s worst fear at last became true when Den’s mother tearfully called him from a hospital that both Den and Praew were instantly killed from the bombardment by soldiers on a bridge in Ratchadamnoen Avenue.
Bangkok, January 1996
Atthanit thought that eating instant noodle while summoning Surakiat to his office and also urging him to share the meal with were a clever idea that would help their conversation be less serious than it was likely to be. Sitting before the young man whose face was sullen, he said,
“Ah … Mr.Surakiat , please don’t get the wrong idea that I am calling you here to reprimand you or some sort. It is the company’s rule that security guards mustn’t hang around or visit rooms in condominium if without necessity, though they are vacant, with no furniture or anything inside. You are reported to frequently do that to Room 415, but you told me that it once belonged to your long-deceased friends, and you wanted to absorb the vibes or the lingering memories of them. I accept that. However, if you stop doing that at least for a while, you will make me feel less awkward with my other employees because they might think I don’t get tough with you. Remember you are my most favourite one whom I admire for making our workplace far livelier with your youthfulness, and you are more responsible in your duty more than anyone."
The young man nodded and made his face look less gloomy.
“Yes, sir. I will henceforth follow your order.”
Atthanit sipped the soup from the bowl ; he forgot to invite the young man to taste it. He said,
“But the most alarming thing is that you are still working here, though I have warned you many times that you are still the target of revenge by that guy’s parents. I appreciate your working here, but I will be so relieved if you leave here at once and hide yourself until the coast is clear. Please do it while the hitman still doesn’t catch you with bullets!”
Atthanit was stupefied to see that Surakiat only chuckled.
"Yes, sir. I am perfectly aware of what might happen to me, but I really love working in this place, and I keep abreast of the news from my friends all the time. If I get the heads-up, be certain that even my fingerprints won't be left here."
Although the middle-aged man really wanted to ask who the friends referred by Surakiat were, he just showed the cordial gesture to allow the young man to leave. The rookie never ceased to amaze him by his eccentricity, or probably he had something extraordinary beyond his boss's understanding.
Suarakiat walked past the deserted space which used to be the tea shop where he sat with Den and Praew. His mind was then swirled by the ifs: if he had helped Den to study hard at high school, Den could probably have studied in Chiang Mai and still have been alive. He by then might have been working somewhere like Kad Suankaew [Chiang Mai's then most popular department store], Den's favourite place. Or if Surakiat had joined the protests in Bangkok, he might have unknowingly persuaded the couple to protest somewhere far from the fire zone but it was still risky. But the hypothesis which saddened him most was that if Den had studied in Chiang Mai, Praew would never have been his girlfriend and joined the protests, so she had probably now finished her study and worked with the NGO like her father or become a kind-hearted teacher in some school. Surakiat strongly yearned for this to happen more than anything though it meant she had never met him all her life.
But those ifs were nothing but the painful fantasy, not like when the young man saw the parents of both Den and Praew hysterically wailing while collapsing near the 2 corpses at hospital. It kept tormenting him like the recurring nightmare. Another dreadful reality was that he had never encountered any sign of afterlife of Den and Praew, though he sometimes furtively went to spend half an hour sitting in their room at night. The young man deeply sighed and went on walking to his office.
During one lunch at the food shop, Thongbai surprised him with his unexpected guest, his close friend during the conscription service. That brawny and tall man resembled a tough hero in action films, and he was very likely one of the most formidable persons Surakiat had ever met. Though he always looked into the people’s eyes, his own ones were shifty and sly , which made them look like a deadfall waiting to kill the witless animals. However, Surakiat’s senior colleagues enjoyed talking with this guy so much.
Thongbai said gleefully,
“Can’t believe that you and I will meet again in Bangkok. It is almost a decade that we had lost touch. And I almost forget about your name or your parents’ names, but your nickname in our regiment - Mr. Pig killer- is still stuck on my mind.”
Everyone at the table laughed. Teerasak asked Mr. Pig killer:
“How come you derived this nickname, brother?”
The guy cheerfully laughed, but it even made him more menacing. He said,
“I from time to time sneaked into the regiment’s pigsty and grabbed some unlucky piglets to be cooked for delicious meals. Thanks to my great wit and magic I had learnt during the monkhood; the sergeant couldn’t still catch the perpetrator until today. But I prefer you to call my real name, Ongart, because that kind of nasty moniker should be buried long time ago under the soil of that regiment.”
Thongbai talked to everyone :
“Mr. Ongart was distinguished among us , the conscripts, as he was the macho man who was highly skilled at everything like shooting or hand-to-hand combat, even our most veteran instructor was in awe of him. After the discharge, he furthered his study in the Army Non-Commissioned Officer School (โรงเรียนนายสิบ) and graduated with almost the highest GPA of his class. He is the ultimate pride and the legend of our peers. And Ongart, why did you quit your job as the soldier? What a pity! You still have the promising future like being a lieutenant.
Ongart looked solemn.
“I have some serious and unsolvable problems with my superiors. I am afraid if I were still working there, I would go to jail right now from killing those motherfuckers! Boy, I still dream of snapping their necks or disembowelling their stomachs every night. I am dead tired of the Thai military which pampers higher-ups with a deity-like status, while their subordinates are treated like a dog.”
Somkuan asked him like an interview.
“What is your most impressive experience during your military career, Sergeant ?”
Ongart barely wasted seconds before answering.
“Do you all remember the huge political protests in 1992? I was responsible for leading my unit to clamp down on those scumbags at Rachadamnoen Avenue.”
Surakiat felt the warm blood running around his face, while everybody around him was making a loud brouhaha. Ongart went on.
“Before our operation, we were provided the valuable information that those traitors were hired by the communists to instigate the unrests in Bangkok and some cities. I remember well that day those demonstrators had ceaselessly provoked our soldiers and police. Their savageness was indescribable when they kept scolding us and our revered institutions. They even had the hidden weapons that could have put our fellows in jeopardy. Thangbai, if you were in my shoes, you would do the same when those crazy crowds tried to surround and harm our unit. We carefully shot our machine guns skyward first as a warning but to no avail, so the only way to protect ourselves was fucking shooting right at them. I will never forget the bullets piercing those motherfuckers’ bodies and they squealed like the pathetic pigs; this reminded me of the piglets I used to slaughter. Serve them right! I wish I could have killed them more than this.”
Surakiat grabbed the empty chair beside him loudly. When everyone looked at him, he pretended to smile and said that he was extremely excited and about to tumble down.
The former Sergeant chuckled.
“You must be that college boy! I watched the news and listened to your heroism from Teerasak shortly before your arrival here. You are so praiseworthy for protecting the poor girl. But to be frank, you look more sissy than I thought. Did you by any chance join the protests ? I guess you were already the university student at that time.”
Surakiat said nothing. Ongart thus talked to everyone:
“Prime Minister Suchinda, though not elected, should be praised for stabilizing our country and protecting the 3 pillars like Nation, Religion and Monarchy. My heart cried out when he had to resign from PM for the sake of our country. What about the politicians nowadays ? They are corrupt and have the insatiable hunger for power like the cabinet of Banharn, the prime minister, aka the ATM guy. Look! They are not different from the politicians in the era of Chatchai. Why don’t we let Mr. Suchinda still be the prime minister and get rid of the rotten parts of our politics and society with his resoluteness? The goddam protests ruined the utopian society I have longed for. They were so fucking sham like their leader, Chamlong, who led the hunger strikes to draw more sympathy from the public, but my friend who commanded the troops around his protest site told me that he had dug in the rice porridge in secret every night."
The room resounded with laughter. Teerasak clapped his hands and yelled out,
“Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been fed up with the word 'democracy' as it rings hollow in spite of its beautiful façade. It is nothing but the cohort of politicians who kowtow to their constituency before election and hide their faces immediately after it. We should let our king designate the members of parliament who will really bring about the real benefits to our country."
Surakiat thought he was having lunch with the dictatorship fanatics like the rally of Nazi. He just kept his mouth shut and wondered if Den had been here, would there have been the civil war on the table ?
Somkuan said to the former sergeant:
“Just now you said that you have the magic because you had learnt it when you were a monk. Between you and Na Bai, who is mightier?”
Ongart fondled Thongbai’s head and said proudly,
“That’s me who taught everything to Thongbai. Everybody, please don’t think I am a braggart. My master was the legendary sorcerer monk in the Northeast. The condition of accepting me as his student was so harsh, I had to endure many arduous tests like sleeping in the cemetery replete of the ferocious ghosts who hadn’t been dead of natural causes for 3 consecutive nights or staying for 4 days in the house of the woman ghost who were dead while pregnant and scared shitless the entire village in Sing Buri, according to the Thai Rath newspaper decades ago. I ended up as his greatest student and now my mind is strong like a steel and can conjure up many things beyond your imaginations. Ah, I want to add up one more fact that while confronting the protesters one day, one of them was using a catapult to shoot my eyes, so I used my psychic power to control its pebble and hit his eyes instead.”
Teerasak obviously displayed a strong faith to Ongart and said to Thongbai:
“Na Bai , I think we should invite him to perform the exorcism in our building to scare the ghosts away. If our condominium has to be closed down because there is not even a single soul of tenants someday , we might be kicked out of our jobs.”
“Yes, that is what I have been thinking for years but I didn't know Ongart’s whereabout. So , please help us, my friend. I am at my wit's end to cope with those naughty spirits in this building."
“As soon as I stepped into this building, I used my insight to fathom the fierceness of the ghosts here. They are desperate and some are full of vengefulness, so they try to spook us as much as they can. It might be an uphill task , but when my best friend is begging me , my refusal will be like a mortal sin. But let me prepare for a few days. I am certain I can handle it without losing a drop of sweat."
Both Thongbai and Teerasak sighed with relief. From now on their condominium would not be the haunted building but one of the most liveable places in Bangkok. Still, they forgot to see the sneer of Surakiat.
Surakiat glanced at the clock on the wall of his office, but it stopped working, so all he could do was guess that it was probably 8 PM or 8.30 PM at most. But the most certain thing happening to him right now was the silenced pistol being directed at him by Ongart who was standing not far from him.
The young man slowly stood up from the floor and raised his hands to follow an order from the older man. But all of a sudden, Surakiat burst out laughing and Ongart asked him with curiosity:
“College boy, what the fuck are you laughing at? Is there something funny for you before I will send you to hell?”
“I think I could detect the fishy smell from the obnoxious hitman like you the first time I met you, brother. But I later think that you are also one of the most deluded and self-conceited guys I have ever met. I doubt since that day: if your fucking mind can conjure up many things beyond our imaginations, why don’t you just snap your ex-bosses’ necks or disembowel their stomachs with your psychic power? Or perhaps you just send your ghostly minions or black magic to kill me; that is the easiest way. You thus don’t have to coax all my friends and my boss into staying in the temple and let me alone here tonight by claiming that I was born under a unique auspice , which would help the ritual more powerful. And how much is the bounty on my head?”
Ongart looked agitated.
“O, shut the fuck up, you little brat. I have my own reasons not to do that. Don’t you know the rich parents of the guy you beat to a pulp ordered me to kidnap you to somewhere and let their men torture you to the most agonizing death. But I refused as I want to kill you here simply with my favourite pistol in this haunted building. I hope that this will help you be the fiercest ghost enslaved by me for some purposes in the future, and this ritual is held for capturing your spirit not the exorcism. How gullible your colleagues are! Nah, don’t move, you should be proud that you are my most appreciated victim in my 5 years of being a hitman (I used to moonlight as this career even before resigning from military) .So , I have already allowed you to talk as much as you want before I will vigorously send my bullets through your thick skull. No one is going to help you tonight.”
Surakiat looked into his eyes.
“You and your troops killed my friends on that bridge during the military crackdown. Why do you think that I will be your faithful slave when I die?”
Ongart laughed and acted like clapping his hands.
“Ha ha, I knew it from your eyes during my storytelling that day. You were simmering with utmost fury, but you managed to suppress it. Sorry to kill your friends, they were just the fools who had died in vain for that worthless democracy. You are the tough guy, but I believe I can overpower your spirit despite how hard you will resist. Anything else?”
Surakiat still looked defiant.
“Next questions: did you simply quit your job, or were you fired from stealing or swindling at your office like when you were the conscript? Realize that you are not just the braggart but also the lousy two-bit thief and murderer who should be left to rot in jail!”
Ongart became furious and ready to pull the trigger.
“ How dare you ! Now it is time for you to go to meet your friends, cocksucker!”
Surakiat suddenly kicked the spittoon near his foot to hit the silenced pistol on Ongart’s hand , and it bounced off. The young man darted to kick the former sergeant; the latter evaded his foot and struck back. The 2 men fought fiercely and then both fell on the floor before beginning to wrestle. All the things prepared for the ritual scattered by their moves along with chairs and table. Surakiat then fell backward by the forceful kick of Ongart. Before the middle-aged man would grab the pistol, the rookie managed to stand on his feet and rushed out of the office. He didn’t escape from the building but decided to run along the stairs instead. He could feel several bullets silently piercing the air beside his head.
Surakiat cast a glance at the corridors he was passing by. All the doors were from a far like a strange form of human eyes which were staring at him coldly ; perhaps they would finally be the witnesses of his horrific downfall. The cold wind seemed not to bother him at all as his blood was boiled by adrenaline rush and scare of death. The young man thought about knocking on the door of the old lady to ask her to call the police, but Atthanit told him that the police officers in the local station had been bribed by the parents of that guy, he was thus afraid that they wouldn’t come, or even came to arrest him instead. And most importantly , he would unwittingly turn the old lady into another victim of Ongart. The young man just kept running along the stairs to the top of the building. No tenants interrupted them because they had been seriously cautioned by Atthanit not to even see through the peephole or lean out of the door during the ritual because the embattled spirits might terrorize them to death.
The building’s rooftop deck was dark as usual. And now he felt grateful as it became his refuge from the nefarious hitman. The young man was just sitting still under the gigantic water tank and waiting for Ongart.
The former sergeant seemed to know his whereabout, but he just swaggered around the rooftop deck like playing with the young man. Ongart all at once did something that gave the young man the creeps by spreading his arms, moving around and saying aloud,
“O, the magnificent spirits in this building, I summon thee. I am your new master at this hour! Gather and kneel down before me, the almighty one !”
Minutes passed, nothing happened - only the strong wind swirling around Ongart. But he smiled and said to the empty air before him:
“That’s all right, all of you haven’t known me yet. But I will treat you like I am your benevolent father. Please rest assured that your all bitterness and suffering will all be gone under my rule. Now go find the dirtbag who was cowering in fear not far from here !"
Surakiat sneered ; those words of Ongart sounded like the speeches of the junta or the revolutionary groups like the communist guerillas when seizing the power in their countries. But was the former sergeant secretly suffering from hallucinations? The young man became desperate as he was now being pursued by the lunatic who hungered for blood. He took a deep breath and harked back to the past, thinking about the adoring kiss from his parents on his forehead when he was just a baby, followed by the scene of the childhood with Den while they were running around the vast greenery rice fields. He at last reminisced about Praew’s smile and wondered whether there would be anything in the world more beautiful than it. Suddenly, Surakiat found the white aura rapidly engulfing him completely.
10 Minutes passed , Ongart stopped blabbering when he saw Surakiat impassively walking slowly toward him. The middle-aged man pulled the trigger , but his pistol didn’t discharge as it was supposed to. He repeated this several times, but all were the same, so he laughed.
“Ha ha, you are being possessed by my child ! I am so glad that my child has the new body to dwell in , so don’t leave his body and be my faithful follower !”
Surakiat swiftly grabbed Ongart's hand which was holding the pistol and forcefully twisted it. The older man yelped and had to kneel in agony. He tried to fight back by punching and struggling to kick Surakiat’s leg, but it was like hitting a metal pole. The sweaty former sergeant was beginning to get scared when the eyes of Surakiat turned to be red like a demon's.
Surkiat however said in a smooth voice:
“Hey, almighty sorcerer, do you want to listen to some fun story? That’s about me hearing the screaming and the crying in the room before catching your boss’s son and his friends molesting that poor girl. Of course, you already heard it from Teerasak. The woman ghost didn't play the part in my heroism like everyone believes, but it was my psychic power which helped me know what was happening in that room and could even hypnotize Teerasak to hear what I wanted. One more thing : I just told a lie to everyone that I had seen her figure just to save Thongbai from attacks. Sorry, brother, there is no ghost in this so-called haunted building but your hallucinations and also of many people in this building. I can guarantee that after I have ventured alone in all the rooms reputed to be haunted. This so resembled your rabble-rousing of dictatorship which was so ludicrous. By the way, thank you for awaking my other side and its indomitable power will be beefed up when I am only in this building - the thing my hunch had told me all along."
Surakiat finished his long sentence and twisted those fingers holding the pistol again until the pistol was directed at the shin of Ongart. The former sergeant burst into tears and wailed like a child. Surakiat briskly punched him in the face. Ongart was flung aside until his body hit the fence. His nose and teeth were terribly broken , making his face profusely bleed. Surakiat walked to kick the pistol away and lift him up above his head despite the guy’s considerable weight.
The young man said,
“You atrocious man, you worship the dictatorship because it serves your instinct of murder and greed just like your idol , Mr. Fucking Suchinda. Now I will imitate that woman who threw her baby from this rooftop deck because killing you with your own silenced pistol seems to be too lenient. Any last words before I will send you to hell?”
“Oh, please spare me! Have mercy on me!”
Surakiat laughed maniacally.
“What about the protesters you killed? Do you have mercy on them? I won’t forgive you for killing my friends because they were truly innocent. Their crime was just demand their human dignity given by only democracy. Besides , I know that if I let you be arrested by those corrupt cops, they will release you for certain. And I won’t condone this because it could put the dozens of lives of people in danger as your future victims. Squeal now! Squeal like the piglets you slaughtered, bastard!”
Ongart tearfully said,
"Motherfucker , even if I die , my boss will send other hitmen to kill you !"
"Don't worry , don't worry , tomorrow I will go to strangle his bloody throat with my own hands. Your boss used to be a politician in the government of Suchinda , right ?"
Before the former sergeant would reply , the young man easily threw him from the building as if he had been merely a weightless cotton.