Exulansis [On the Record]

Traffic was turning into a maze, but Kat wasn’t going to let that slow her down.

The wind casted off the hair-band holding together her blonde, flowing tresses. The sheer force of air current was enough to peel open her dark faux leather jacket by the zipper, revealing a white undershirt. Her deep navy jeans hugged the cold contours of the motorcycle. The vehicle, black seating and tank wrapped around the steel grey skeleton, stood out from the sea of brightly coloured mopeds sharing the same space. It sped through traffic lights, exerting immense pressure on the roads, which was poorly cemented and up to the neck in litter. Houses, heights flowing freely like a bad Tetris game, invaded the sidewalk with no consideration for safety distances. Every surface showed signs of age, with cracks, and yellow walls.

Kat took a right at a local university campus, steering the motorbike into a path no wider than two metres. The road here was in significantly worse shape, holes and bumps encountered at random intervals. She refused to slow down, and took a few more turns to arrive at the land mark tree, at the back of a cut-off alleyway. Like all secluded trees in Hanoi, its base was filled to the brim with trash.

Parking her bike amongst many others, Kat headed for the nearest establishment. From the outside, it was a four-metre house. Only past the entrance could the utter disregard for any sensible architectural principle be observed. The building was built deep into the interior of a neighbouring apartment unit, extending with great depth and inaptly small walkways. A set of doors was located a few paces deeper than the original entrance. Outside of it sat a shirtless man, eyes glued to the old, bulky TV set loosely placed on a low wooden table. Kat passed him with great haste, and stepped through the sliding door.

Already she was struggling to suppress her revulsion, as she eased into the narrow passage in between two rows of computers. The ambiance was the equivalent of a rattling din of drunken blathering emanating from the scarred and vomit-drenched tablecloths. She proceeded, with a distasteful scowl, over the prostrate form of a man exuding a kind of rancidness capable of overcoming even the reek of this unholy place. The heel of her boot grazed against half-broken ceramic floor tiles, blemished with stains of all shades and drenched in dried soda.

Despite her disgust, she headed for the stairs. There was a second floor, but it was nothing more than an area of structurally unsound concrete stuck outside an unnaturally big window. She had to keep her head lowered to not hit the ceiling, as this was a house built for people much shorter than she was. Her only goal here was to find someone.

“For a doctor, you’re not very composed.” A silvery female voice called out. Kat turned to face it, displaying uneasiness in her gestures.

“We need to talk,” Kat said. “In private.”

“What about?” Speaking to Kat was a girl, no more than eighteen years of age. She was sitting on a blue, shabby-looking plastic lean chair, hands on a keyboard and legs crossed against the table. She donned a blank blue T-shirt and a pair of puffy red trousers that clearly didn’t fit, as if making a statement about her utter disregard.

“In private, Vivian,” Kat repeated. It was not the girl’s real name, but that was how she insisted the foreigners to refer to her. “Now.”

“Fine, but I need two hundred thousand.” The girl held out her open palm. Kat grumbled, before reaching into her jean pocket for a stack of money, the local equivalent of twenty dollars. It was more than twice what was asked of her, but she could care less.

Vivian, sympathetic of the doctor’s agitation, made an effort to leave quickly. The two of them departed the internet shop with numerous sets of prying eyes following their every step. After all, a white, blonde female stepping foot into this hellhole was by no means an everyday occurrence.

“Something’s wrong?” Vivian munched on an energy bar found in her pocket, while the doctor was heading straight for the motorcycle, now burrowed deep between thick layers of inconsiderate parking.

“A lot.” It took another ten minutes before Kat could wrestle the vehicle into the free road. She took a seat, and the engine roared. “Come on.”

“You’ve been in Vietnam for three days and you’re already not wearing a helmet while driving.” The girl’s lips curled into half a smirk. Getting on, her arms grabbed the driver at the hip. “You’re learning.”

The bike accelerated.

“Where’s Victor?” The girl asked, hands running through her own ebon locks.

“He’s busy elsewhere.” Kat narrowed her eyes, arms making difficult turns. “I’m trying to drive, please be quiet.”

“Didn’t you want us to talk?”

“Yes, but not here.” The motorbike was then back on the main street.

The burning sun was dawning upon them, without the protection of high structures on the sides of narrow street corners. The four-lane street had upward of ten motor vehicles travelling parallel, typical of Hanoi’s afternoon rush hour. Dust and noise penetrated the air with vim and vigour. The flow of the road had slowed into a crawl due to sheer number, and the chance of getting anywhere fast was basically zero. Even then, the two females elected not to say a word.

Four days ago, Kat got on a plane going half-way across the planet. With her old friend and partner Victor, she was looking forward to a chance to see a foreign country she had always wanted to visit. Her task, investigating a local psychic, seemed routine and menial enough. After all, she had little reason to believe in supernaturalism, especially a case of a middle-aged woman supposedly speaking to the deceased. At least, that was what she initially thought.

An hour later, they stopped in front of a luxurious hotel complex. Its dim yellow lighting, array of decorative foliage, and curved exterior created an image of a majestic golden train, bending itself against the land. Pools and outdoor entertainment venues populated the surroundings, but hid themselves behind thick coatings of trees. Letting the bellboy take care of the bike, she and Vivian headed up.

The girl peered around the five star hotel penthouse. “This place is actually so nice.”

“Is it really that alien to you?” Kat received a casual nod. “Where do you live?”

“Hạnh gives me the attic to stay in.” Ms. Hanh was the psychic Kat was sent to investigate. Vivian was her alleged apprentice, and acted as a translator during their meeting a few days back. “But I usually stay overnight at the internet shop.”

“You sleep in that place?” Kat received yet another nod, and this one only served to confuse her even more. “How do you stand that smell?  Besides, it doesn’t even look safe.”

“The place closes at eleven, but the owner lets me stay,” the girl spoke coolly. “He gives me a blanket.”

“You sleep on the table all night?”

“Yep.” Vivian threw herself down on the bed, enjoying the rare experience of a warm, soft cushion. “You were going to talk to me about something?”

Kat took a quick second look at the documents on the desk, and sighed. “We need to talk about Hanh.”

“What about her?” Vivian expressed a grimace, bending her side inward a little. “She already told you that she wasn’t going to approve your investigation into her work.”

“I’ve personally checked over all of her previous jobs.” Hanh’s work as a psychic comprised primarily of private search arranged by wealthy individuals. These people had money, and they wanted to find a relative or two that they might have lost during the Vietnam War. With how bloody the war was, naturally the psychic was in high demand. “Test results came back precisely correct for all of them. She had been right every time.”

“And?” Vivian appeared uninterested in the conversation, instead poured herself a glass of Chardonnay.

“I refuse to believe that she can actually talk to the dead.” Kat was visibly upset, not used to being on the other side of science. “There has to be something else going on.”

“Tell me, doctor.” Vivian sat up straight on the bed, legs crossed, sipping the glass of white wine. “What do you really know about us?”

“Vietnamese mainly subscribes to a local folk religion, combined with Christianity and Buddhism to make up a slight majority of the population.” There was, of course, a lot more nuance than that. Alone, ‘local folk religion’ had in itself half a dozen separate distinct sects. More confusingly, a lot of locals had very little problem lumping it as an alternate interpretation of Buddhist teachings. Officially unsanctioned cults also operated actively, along with Taoism, and similar non-religious beliefs. Kat simply found it so much more difficult to gather good data, since even official sources could not reasonably agree. “Though officially, the country is atheistic.”

“Sounds about right.” There was no hint of sarcasm in those words. There was no reason to believe the girl doubted Kat, but the doctor felt challenged regardless. “Now, why do you think I asked that question?”

“To see if I’m really worth paying attention to?”

“To get your perspective.” Vivian, deciding she had consumed enough alcohol for the day, settled back the glass. Instead she unbundled her hair; sable locks descended on the bed sheets, up to the brim with sweat. “I trust you’re not a religious believer, are you doctor?”

“I can’t say that I am.” Kat’s frustration once again surfaced. “Which makes me mad that this farce is still happening right under my nose.”

“If you can’t prove it wrong, is that your fault for being incompetent, or is it just because you don’t want to deal with being wrong?” said Vivian.

Before Kat could constitute a reply, the girl’s cell phone rang. Picking up the line, Vivian became noticeably bothered. She started scratching herself, legs nervously shifting from side to side.

“Who was it?” Kat asked, both curious and concerned after the call ended.

“Give me your phone number.” Vivian uttered in a smoky manner. “Please.”

“Alright.” Kat complied. Due to the doctor’s frequent travel, she employed a global unlocked smartphone, and it was easy enough to manage. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t really have time to talk about it.” It sounded more like an excuse. “I have to go.”

“Do you want me to drop you off?”

“I still have some of the money you gave me from before.” Vivian lightly padded herself on the cheeks, as if trying to hide the fact that they were reddening due to the alcohol. “Thanks for having me.”

The girl disappeared, leaving Kat even more baffled than before. She elected to take a bath to get her minds off of things. Up here on the roof, she had the pleasure of an open air hot tub. The soaking stream of warm liquid glazing on her skin, coupled with the cool wind from the autumn air reminded her of the hot springs she had the pleasure of immersing in the last time she was in Japan. Of course, the water back there had less chlorite, and the air didn’t taste like pollution.

The sun had started its downward incline, and it only suited to darken her mood. When she first landed in this country, she already had a bad premonition. Usually, her targets were those with mythical referrals or inspirations in their so-called ‘work’. Vampires, werewolves, mind-readers, all had their origin stories. So long as she could track down the source, it would be nothing more than a basic task to expose the associated web of lies and excuses, however tangled it may seemed. The current case, however, featured nothing but ‘talking to the dead’, an extremely vague notion that could possibly belong to every single set of belief. Furthermore, the Vietnamese government did not condemn, but openly supported this psychic’s work.

Her train of thought was disrupted by a knock on the see-through sliding door between the room and the balcony. Standing on the inside was an older man, sporting a scruffy overcoat, untrimmed beard, and grey pants. He was especially notable as a foreigner, since he’s not only bigger, but also the clothes he wore had no place in a hot and humid climate of this city.

Kat motioned him to come in.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“No signs of fraud regarding the payments. All of the transactions are legitimate.” His voice was extremely rough, a result of an already terse tone coupled with slow adaptation to the change in atmosphere. “With the way you’re looking, it doesn’t seem like you found anything either.”

“Every specimen had both matching DNA and adequate physical and structural resemblance that it was impossible for me to say they’ve been faked.” Kat threw her hair back, eyes staring at the dawning night. She had never felt quite so powerless. “Honestly I’m out of ideas.”

“Then I guess we have our conclusion.” He reached for his phone. It’s a more bulky, plastic and outdated model than most in this day and age, but it was his. “I’ll make the call if you don’t want to do it.”

“Are you just giving up, Victor?” Kat’s protest came almost unknowingly. “Don’t you think that’s a little too easy?”

“Katherine.” That single word was spoken straight from his throat. It demanded attention, and attention it received. “We’re hired to verify, not deny. You’re taking this far too personally.”

He did not move an inch, but he might as well have slapped her across the face. He was solemn, features stern and rugged. Kat held a scarlet complexion, lips kept shut to prevent any type of verbal spat. They stared daggers at each other, but did not utter a single word. The silence between them was not common even after seven years of partnership. They had a lot of disagreements on their first case together, and back then she was just twenty two and fresh out of college, but even that did not bring about this kind of hostility.

“Can you give me another day?” Those words grated through her teeth.

“I can.” Victor put away his phone. “24 hours without progress and someone’s going to come here and pull the plug on this operation.”

“I appreciate it.” Kat thanked him out of sheer courtesy, causing him to go wait inside.

Sighing deeply, she started to dry herself off. It was good that during her moment of rage no regrettable words were said. Kat respected Victor for his capabilities and his experience, but sometimes between them was just a bridge too far. Usually it never got this serious, but the seeds of conflict had always been present.

But was he wrong? She thought.

Her phone vibrated violently, indicating a message. It was from Vivian, and read:

Next job at 11 p.m. Ba Vi National Park.

A moment of consideration passed, as Kat checked the current time. It was eight thirty in the evening, and she raced out of the hot tub. Hastily gathering her clothes, she bolted into the inner chamber. Victor raised an eye, lowering the case files he had been studying.

“How long does it take to get to Ba Vi National Park?” she practically howled.

“It’s a 2 hour drive west if we were to take a car.” The place Kat asked about was a fairly popular tourist destination, and this was not the first time Victor had been to Vietnam. He was fairly reliably getting around.

“Vivian just told me that Hanh will be doing another job in about two and a half hours.” Kat was still in the process of properly dressing herself. “We need to go now.”

“We’ll take the car.” He did not feel the need to ask more questions. She never told him of her private meeting with the girl, or what she planned to do, but Kat trusted him to place complete faith in her nevertheless.

They took the staircase to the garage, despite being on the roof of a thirteen-story building. Awaiting them was an old, black 1994 Honda Accord. In spite of its apparent age, it shone a kind of post-wash glitter that came common, but hardly noticed until put amongst the ruthless, dusty vehicles that populated the highway. In America, this would be a common, if not a bit old, sedan. In Vietnam however, where the used car market had only been in existence for a little more than half a decade, this twenty year old automobile was a sight to behold, sometimes even sought after for collectors. Leaning in, Kat checked the glove compartment. It held cigarettes, a local brand.

“You’re so sweet.” She grabbed at them enthusiastically. Victor didn’t smoke. She was not a heavy smoker, but this was one of those occasions that guaranteed at least a couple of sticks. “You don’t happen to have a lighter around?”

“You’re not smoking in my car.” He handed her what she wanted regardless, Victor started the engine. “Do it once we get there.”

“Wait, don’t go to the National Park yet.” Kat scrambled about the front passenger seat before finding a copy of the casefiles. “How close is Hanh’s house?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Let’s go there and follow her.” At this point, she was ready to pull out all the stops. “Maybe monitoring will give us a clue.”

Victor did not answer, indicating adequate acknowledgement. The car was on the street soon enough, but ran at reasonable speed. The two of them eyed each other, and Kat started to light up a smoke. He wasn’t going to go with her driving, so she wasn’t going to go by his rules. The compromise also involved her opening the side window to let the smell out, and he accepted it. The streets of this city was small and poorly kept, but its extensive array of road signs was decent enough in lending him a hand in figuring out where to go next. GPS didn’t work well here, so Victor needed all the help he could get.

“We’re here.” He pulled up near the curb. Strangely enough, there were plenty of parked vehicles directly on the sidewalk as well, but he decided that some cultural norms weren’t meant to be followed. Stopping, he pointed at the aged, solitary house at the end of the block, surrounded by commercial buildings. “That’s the place.”

“Be ready to follow once I get back.” He nodded, and Kat left the car without hesitation.

In preparation, she had put on clothing that qualified as more regional. Plain white t-shirt hid under a grey, patternless wool overcoat. Dark pants and hat put her visible feminine, alien features within a reasonable margin, but she was still very tall compared to the locals. Kat drifted toward the house. The structure seemed like it was built some thirty years ago, with concrete walls and clunky-looking double-layered steel doors, shutting off outside contact completely. Sliding into a small gap of construction next to the house, she could see a small side window emitting light, positioned high enough to be an air vent. Backs to the wall and feet against the opposite concrete surface, she climbed up slowly. Through the open hole, she spotted two people.

One was Vivian, and the other was her employer, Ms. Hanh. Hanh was an unimpressive looking woman, with round features and a plump figure. She wore a silk, buttoned shirt and khakis, presuming ready to go out. Vivian, on the other hand, was still wearing the same clothes from a few hours ago. They were engaged in a screaming match, but Kat could not make out a word they were saying. The doctor had some ability with the Vietnamese language, but only enough for typical tourist conversations. Presently, Hanh started slamming on the table, blood reddening her bloated cheeks. The girl didn’t seem intimidated, and that only served to heighten the intensity. The quarrel continued until Hanh picked up a nearby racket, and swung it at the girl’s shoulders. Kat could do nothing but stared in disbelief, as Vivian fell to the ground, and the woman continued to hit her with savagery, bellowing what could only be interpreted as threats.

A rush of car horn sounds came from the front door, causing the scene to cease. Kat carefully eased herself down from the walls, and ran to the entrance of the small alleyway to spot a white medium-sized van parked at the front. She could make out four silhouettes, but there was no more time. Departing from the scene, she spotted both Vivian and Hanh ushered inside the van.

“Let’s go.” Kat slammed the door as she returned to the Honda.

Victor nodded. From where he parked, he saw the group’s departure, and was right on their tail. At times like this the doctor appreciated his ability to be inconspicuous. After what she had just witnessed, it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to think she would have been hasty and blow their cover.

He was quick to notice her agitation. The way she was toying with the burning cylinder clasped between her fingers was less than subtle. “What happened back there?”

“I saw that psychic woman battering Vivian.” She tapped at the cigarette in an attempt at distracting herself. “I think I’m still shaking.”

Victor drove on without a word, but she knew he shared her sentiment. The man was a father of two, and anyone’s guest was as good as hers when it came to what he’d do had it been his children instead. Kat rolled up the window, as rain was starting to fall and the night was taking over. Darkness swallowed the moon, and soon only the light emitting from the two cars could be seen. It was impossible to tell whether or not the people in that van had suspected something, but there weren’t any signs that showed it. As the road kept getting smaller and the scenery less urban, it was obvious that they have left the capital city behind.

They arrived sixty minutes later. What the surroundings had looked like that entire time, they could not have made out, but Victor purposely steered the car half a kilometre further so as not to cause suspicion. There was no sign of establishment once they’ve stopped inside the National Park, so the car had to be parked slightly uphill just to put it out of sight. Departing, the two now had the task of actually finding the other group. The kind of logistics needed to track anything within this dense forest was not possible, and so they had to rely on looking out for sound, while making little of it themselves. The dirt road had gotten muddy since it rained, and though Victor’s clothing cared little for the harsh weather, Kat’s weren’t as adaptable. In fact, she had to leave behind her coat and hat, and simply struggled on under the downpour. Momentarily, they were in doubt as to the feasibility of their plan. However, the frantic flashing light source appearing in the distance gave them the necessary hint. The problem was how it was moving so rapidly.

“Cứu!” A tremulous voice could be heard in the distance. It was a somewhat familiar one, and Kat deducted it to be Hanh’s. Following the voice, three shadows were in hot pursuit. The only reason the psychic wasn’t captured was due to how the woods’ undergrowth was protecting her, but it was only a matter of time.

“She’s screaming for help,” Kat explained. It was one of the more basic words she had learnt prior to her arrival. “Victor, can you take care of her?”

“What about you?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

“I have to find Vivian.”

Not awaiting a confirmation, the doctor dashed off. As her boots dug deeper into this shaky mud road, it was obvious they weren’t helping. Quickly discarding them, Kat took a moment to plan out her next move. With how even Hanh had stopped screaming, it was even harder for the doctor to locate a girl in hiding. She had only one choice.

Pulling out her phone, now utterly soaked and murky, she dialled Vivian’s number. A noise, though muffled, was heard to her right, and she immediately began sprinting toward it. Another set of footsteps could be heard paralleling hers, presumably from the last pursuer sent after the girl. The sound was quickly shut off, but it was enough. Kat and the unknown man arrived at Vivian’s location at the same time. Her eyes quickly scanned him from head to toe. He had on a kind of local bourgeoisie clothing, signified by the blank wife beater tank and a pair of red shorts. More alarmingly, he also held a kitchen knife. After staring for a moment, he hurried toward Vivian, and Kat reacted by coming right at him. It was then she realised the mess she had gotten herself into. The warmth, crimson liquid leaked slowly from her abdomen, where the knife’s blade had become ingrained. The man who stabbed her seemed just as surprised as she was, and inadvertently took a step back, trying his best to keep calm.

“Doctor!” Vivian’s words were like a soothing bell, despite the panic. The attacker, after a moment of contemplation, pulled out a handgun. His grip on the firearm was fairly loose and unsteady, suggesting that he was not used to it at all. He must have meant to kill Vivian with just the knife to not make a fuss, but now it’d been pushed to this point, Kat thought. She was still standing, even though it hurt dearly. The man raised the gun.

“No!” Kat could feel the girl’s arms flinging around her waist, so she blinked. Within that instant, she experienced a feeling of weightlessness. Her head was spinning, and her eyes refused to open. The ground beneath her feet dissolved into nothingness, as if she had fallen down an endless pit. No words came out of her lips, but she was not gasping for air either. Nothing seemed to work right. The only thing she could still feel was Vivian’s distressed embrace. Presently, she hit the ground sideways. The impact stirred the knife, and caused her to retract in pain. Opening her eyes briefly, she could see Vivian’s hands reaching for the handle.

“Don’t!” Those hands immediately withdrew.

“Doctor?” Kat felt the girl’s hands turning her over. “Are you with me?”

“Yes, but don’t pull out the knife.” She had difficulty speaking. “It’ll just open the wound and cause blood splatter.”

“Sorry.” The panic was still there, but Vivian sounded less stressed now that she realised the doctor wasn’t in mortal danger. “What should I do?”

Kat’s mind was racing. If this wound was a little higher up it would have been straight through her heart. “My right pocket, there’s a wallet. Take out the credit card.”

“Ok”. Vivian carried out the task clumsily. “What do I do now?”

“Give me your arm.” Kat took hold of the sleeve, and ripped out a patch of cloth. She’d do this on her own shirt, but hers did not have any. “Take this.” The girl complied. “Now I’ll pull out this knife.” Kat calmed herself down through controlled breathing. “As soon as I do, blood will pour out. Don’t panic. Lift my shirt up, and put the credit card onto the wound to dress it, then tie it in place with the fabric, alright?”

“Yes.” Vivian swallowed harshly.

“I’m asking a lot from you, but the blood loss will make me light headed, and I can’t do this myself.” There was the slightest hint of irony in this situation. “Are you ready?”

Vivian took a deep breath, and nodded. Kat did as well, and used her left arm to apply pressure above the wound. Counting to three, she held the knife handle, and removed it with haste and precision. Almost immediately, she felt the feeling of weightlessness again. For a moment, she could sense the cold air invading her as her shirt was lifted up to reveal the stab, then nothing.

When she came to, her head was heavy, and so were her limbs. Reaching down, she could feel the cold, bent plastic. Now that the immediate danger had passed, she was allowed to think. She wondered what happened to the attacker, and why wasn’t it raining anymore. Her eyes flung open, and she saw the same tree clearing as she was when the confrontation took place. However, something was distinctively different. Not only were there no more rain, but not a single gush of wind could be felt in the atmosphere. The scenery around her appeared muted, like looking through a sepia-touched photograph from the last century. It was not dark, but she could see no colours that she should be able to. The forest didn’t seem alive, the leaves did not rustle, and there didn’t seem to be anyone around. The sky was clear, but the moon was nowhere to be found. It was as if the binary of black and white had infused, ripping apart everything else and consumed their essence, except for the light. The light was an all-present feature, engulfing everything in a harsh roseate tone. Looking around, Kat saw the girl, whose back was against a tree trunk drifting off.

“Vivian.” She breathed easier, still lying down. The girl took a bit to respond, most likely due to her dreariness, but she seemed ecstatic.

“Doctor.” Vivian drew close. “Are you alright?”

“I’m probably fine for a while.” Kat extended her hand. “Can you help me up?”

The girl eased her over. Kat was able to move if she had to, but she deemed it safer just to rest. The girl sat down next to her.

“I have a lot of questions for you.” This was the best time for it, if any. “Firstly, who were those people?”

“They’re part of a criminal syndicate.” Vivian was quite gloomy, but that was to be expected. If Kat wasn’t there, it could very easily had been her on the other end of that knife, and unlike the doctor, she’d not know how to help herself. “Hanh did a job for them a few weeks ago. They got mad because the body turned out to be the wrong one.”

“The body was incorrect?” Kat wasn’t sure whether she was glad to hear this. “Why doesn’t this show up on my reports?”

“It was an underground job, strictly off the books.”

“Then I was right, she was a fraud!” Kat’s smile extended from cheek to cheek, before containing herself. “But if she knew that, why would she still go with these people?”

“Oh doctor, you hadn’t figured it out yet.” The coy, sardonic tone had returned to Vivian. “Hanh went with them because she didn’t know that she was in danger.”

“What do you mean?” Kat began scanning the girl’s gesture to see if there was any indication of deception, but it showed nothing but confidence.

“Where do you think we are?” Both of them looked around. The place was still the same as the last time Kat had looked at it: voiceless, breathless, and deserted. “This is the land of the dead.”

The girl’s arms extended, and a wave of energy pulsated from her throughout the entire forest. With that, human silhouettes started to appear. They were all very plainly clothed, but none of their features had colour. All of them shared that dreaded shade of brown red. They did not walk, for their feet did not touch the ground, nor did they seem to have feet at all. The light only served to obfuscate their defining facial features. They roamed about aimlessly, masked beneath a dense mist.

“What did you just do?” The events unfolding were too real to be denied. Kat had always considered the possibilities of the supernatural, which was all but inevitable in her line of work, but this was nothing like what she had envisioned as conceivable.

“The reason why Hanh could do what she did was because I told her where to look.” Vivian stood up and stretched. “Something the dead themselves told me.”

“Are you telling me that you’re the real psychic?”

“Yes, doctor, and that was supposed to be the secret.” Both pride and sadness were found in her tone. “But I panicked and tried to save you, so I brought you here with me.”

“So the reason why Hanh was not aware of the fraud,” Kat began. “Was because you purposely tricked her?”

“You don’t know Hanh, doctor.” She actually did, if just a little bit. “She’s the kind of person I’d die to get rid of.”

“She abuses you, doesn’t she?” Kat spoke as a declaration. Vivian had no choice but to nod in surprise.

“She picked me up when I was six, from a foster home.” The girl closed her eyes and smiled weakly. “She was the only one who didn’t think I was insane when I talked to her about spirits. When I realised what I fool I’d been to tell her, it was already too late. She would threaten to out me if I ever thought about leaving, and she could just beat me if she felt like it.”

“I see.” Kat gritted her teeth. A tragic tale of circumstances, as they always were. “So you pissed off this criminal syndicate just to get back at her?”

“Yeah. I know it’s dumb, but I don’t have much to lose.” The girl said. She stared at the doctor, to see the woman becoming slightly light-headed. The air was suffocating to breath for those not used to it. “This place isn’t good for the living. I should bring you back.”

“What about you?” Kat caught onto the wording of that sentence.

“I don’t think I’m coming back.”

“What?” The doctor instantly protested.

“Hanh would probably be dead by now.” Vivian was not aware of Victor. Then again, even Kat didn’t know what happened while they were gone. “If I return, it’d be to a life of being hunted.”

“You can escape. You don’t have to stay.”

“How exactly am I going to do that?” The girl lost her voice in the moment. “I’ve no money, no education, no place to stay, and no one who cares. What would be the point?”

A brief pause.

“I’ll help you.” Vivian stared at the doctor, eyes wide. “I can provide for you, even if just to get you back on your feet.”

“Oh doctor, we’ve only known each other for three days. Do you want to be my hero that badly?” The girl expected a joke, but began to wrap her head around that prospect. The look in Kat’s eyes convinced her. She began to kneel down, before drawing the woman into her arms, and bawled. They stayed together for a while.

When Vivian eventually brought them back, the rain had already stopped. However, the many puddles of water spread around with random intervals confirmed that this was where they belonged. The man who stabbed Kat was not present, nor was there any sign of anyone else. The doctor pulled out her phone to confirm a signal, before calling her partner.

“Victor, it’s me.” She cautiously touched her stomach once again. The bandage job didn’t seem to be failing. “I’m in the National Park still.”

The two of them explained their situation briefly. Kat learnt that Victor was able to rescue Hanh, and had been searching for the two of them. He was coming over shortly.

“What do you plan to do about her?” The girl asked, a small degree of concern in her voice. “Hanh’s not going to be happy with you assuming custody of me.”

“We have all the dirt on her we need. I doubt she’d be complaining too much.”

That put the girl at ease. She helped Kat go over to the main road, where they would be out on the open. It didn’t take long for Victor to spot them, and soon they were inside the black sedan, now utterly drenched in dirt and dust. Vivian was up on the front seat, and Kat laid at the back. The girl could be seen nervously looking behind ever so often, but never spoke up.

Kat, on the other hand, focused her gaze on the scenery outside, which she didn’t get to observe under the shadow of the night. Rice fields expanded endlessly on both sides, and livestock could be seen waking up, in response to the sun rising at the end of the horizon. The golden orb ascended at a sauntering speed, dripping its ruby flames onto the fields below. This had a renewing property, dripping life into the crops. The doctor thought of the upcoming changes in her life.

She lit a cigarette.


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