FREE short story, set in Thailand
The lanky palms swept the top of the cracked tiled roof. A frond whispered its way to the parched grass. Bangkok’s heat throbbed and drained strength, newcomers suffered, veins pumped, sweat dripped in torrents.
“Oh, be careful that just missed you,” Justin said, pulling Mondtree back. The pull became a hug. She shrugged him away, tutting.
“Not here, not now,” she said.
He led her to the wooden steps to the porch.
“Nung, song,” she counted. “Nung, song, sam, si,” two steps, and four paces to the door, she said. “I don’t like even numbers.” Her Thai, still perfect even after spending years in London.
Justin flicked through the brass ring of twenty-six keys, he knew how many, Mondtree had told him.
“It must be this one, look at the size of it.” He held the old key on display.
It wouldn’t fit, he jiggled and joggled, stooping to look through the keyhole. Finally, after blowing away the clogged dust, the key turned. The door swung back smoothly.
“Come on then, let me carry you over the threshold to a new life.” His arms outstretched, soon limp.
“Don’t be so daft,” she said, giggling. He grabbed at her. She fought herself free. “Someone may be watching.”
“So what? We are married.” He said as he entered the dark brown teak gloom. “Come on, we must open the window shutters, let some light and air in.”
Mondtree looked around, she heard palm leaves rustle, something else stirred her senses, what was it? Dry bamboo leaves sounded like rain, didn’t they? Bamboo stalks bobbed and danced. What else? She ran outside, back to, but not on the steps, then she stepped to one side, pulling at, and lifting dry and green branches, something scuttled below, unseen beyond the vegetation. Slowly she walked back to the front door.
“Come on,” called Justin, “what are you doing out there?”
“There was something out here.”
“Just a cat, I expect.”
Justin continued fighting the rusting hinges of the shutters, hooking them secure.
“That’s better, homely, don’t you think?”
“It’s not like the picture you showed me,” said Mondtree.
“That was an old one, the agent sent it to me. The house has been left empty for a while.”
She grunted and wiped her finger through the dust on the window sill.
“Come on, darling, let’s look around,” Justin said.
The main living room was spacious, doors led to an outside kitchen, a small bathroom and a smaller room.
“That can be my office,” Justin said.
Stairs grew from the centre of the main area, leaning back away from the front door directly in front.
“Bad start,” she said.
“What are you on about,” Justin said, as his grin got wider. “I’ve heard enough of your outdated Thai beliefs.”
“Two steps up, then dead ahead is a staircase. And I bet there is an even number of stairs?”
“No house should have a ‘ghost entrance’ like this,” Mondtree, shook her head in disbelief, “Who would build like this?”
Justin shook his head, then nodded.
“Up we go.”
They took the stairs carefully, highly polished wood covered with dust felt like an ice rink. She counted to twenty-six. The handrail was sturdy and swept left and right at the top. Five doors greeted them. Mondtree ran to and from each.
“Oh, no,” she said, “as I dreaded, four bedrooms and a cupboard!”
“It is unlucky, don’t you know anything?”
“What if we made two rooms into one? The bridal suite?” He scratched his chin.
She snorted louder this time.
“We’ll need another bathroom upstairs, the other one is not enough, we could make the fourth bedroom into a bathroom?” he said.
“Why did you buy this place? Without even asking me, and without even seeing it?”
A year earlier, Justin had fallen in love with the chef in his favourite Thai restaurant in Knightsbridge. After a whirlwind romance, Mondtree’s father, the restaurant owner, had allowed her to marry the shy Englishman. Her father expected them to take over his business and allow him to retire. The day after the wedding, Justin stated his plan to move to Thailand and sell products online. Photographs of an aged property on the outskirts of Bangkok did nothing to cheer his in-laws.
The aged two-storey house, built with Thailand’s long-lasting, termite-free, teak wood, it was tucked away at the dead end of a Soi, far from the screaming, tooting jammed traffic. More modern homes had been built nearby, but not within 100 metres, the weeds and trees surrounded the previous occupant, they are still there, growing unhindered.
“Good job we didn’t decide to open a restaurant.” She snorted. “There’s not too much in the way of passing trade,” she glared at him.
“All I need is my laptop and a decent Wi-Fi connection,” said Justin.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll both be flat out renovating. When settled, we can think of something for you.”
“I don’t want to live in a place with two steps leading up to the front door, or with four bedrooms.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ve already told me. Don’t you think there are more important tasks, like sweeping up before we move our furniture in?”
“That’s another thing, why order all the stuff without letting me pick some bits?”
“I only ordered the basics, you can choose the rest. I wanted to get started, that’s all.”
They relaxed, her phone vibrated.
“The furniture shop is calling me, hold on,” said Mondtree, with her hand up in a quiet gesture.
She stared at her husband, hands-on-hips, mouth open.
“What?” asked Justin.
“They will deliver, today as promised, but will they will not set foot in this house. All our new stuff will be left outside.”
“I suppose that’s because of the two steps?” he sniggered.
She playfully slapped him across the shoulders.
“Now we will have to lug everything upstairs?”
“You wanted something to do.” He said as another slap accompanied a half-hearted smile.
A pickup truck pulled up, the men started placing boxes outside the gate and tried to sneak off and disappear.
“Why won’t you shift it all inside?” called Mondtree from the house.
She was answered with ducked heads shaking.
“Please sign this. Out here,” the driver asked.
Most of the furniture was flat-pack, far too modern to suit the house, but easy to shift. The plastic-wrapped mattress was not so easy. Heavy and unbending, Justin’s sweat dripped from rivulets. Before they began the furniture construction, Mondtree swept while Justin mopped.
“Look after my cigs and lighter, I’m sweating all over them.”
They smiled at each other.
“Let’s try the bed?” suggested Justin.
“I’m not sleeping here tonight, and not until you sort out that step.”
“Who said anything about sleeping?”
“Is that all you think about,” Mondtree said.
His grin switched from jokey playmate to a slow-motion sneer. The corners of his mouth pointed south. His shoulders trembled as his head tipped from side to side.
She took a half step back and looked deep into his eyes. His lips began vibrating and twitching. His eyelids flicked up and down, his eyes glowed a steamy pink. Anger throbbed.
She pushed him away, turned, and ran.
He bounded after her, room to room, slamming doors in the chase.
“Where are you?” he bellowed.
Panting, Mondtree skipped across the upstairs hallway and took three steps at a leap, panting for breath on reaching the bottom, unable to scream. Catching a glimpse across her shoulder, she opened the door and froze.
“Come in, come in, my pretty,” he stood at the top and pointed at the bed.
His back had hunched, his hair jutted at all angles, his fingers were gnarled like broken cutlery.
“Come on my darling, I won’t hurt you.” He beckoned with bent fingers.
Mondtree looked around, the hated two steps were bobbing up and down, like a dinghy on the sea. One step rocked up, the other dipped, both moving in and out. Hands to mouth, eyes popping, she measured her chances. Slim to none. She couldn’t stay, she dare not attempt the steps.
Taking a long step back, as his outstretched claws scratched at her, she sprang forward. Tumbling and cursing, rolling in the weeds, gasping for air. Peering for a chance to run.
Her sprint took her as far as the gateway, stopping as an idea hit her, she gathered the furniture’s wrapping paper, nylon rope, together with dried broken branches she formed a loose ball.
Using Justin’s lighter, she torched the ball and flung it at her deformed husband in the doorway. Dust, rubbish and his clothes caught instantly alight. He laughed at the fire; he danced jumping up and down.
Not stopping to watch, she formed another ball, turning back, she threw it at the window, smash it shattered as teak burst alight. Flames licked everything it touched, catching the antique wood afire. And all inside creaked and groaned as it burnt. Spitting blackened splinters.
Smoke billowed as she wailed.
“What have I done?”
Even numbers ticked in her brain.
The two steps stopped wobbling. Still, unmoving were the two steps, but two steps she would never step on.