A free short story by Colin Devonshire
Is everything Ready?
“Everything was ready for the ritual. What have you done?” Mr Kirkwood asked.
“Sir, I don’t feel right about this,” Khun Daw answered.
“You may not, but I am the General Manager of this hotel, and if the owner’s wife wants a, eh, different party to celebrate, eh, her special day. Well, we do our best. Okay?”
“Sorry sir, not okay, I am Thai, and we don’t celebrate death like this.”
“The owner and his wife are Thai, I believe they know what they require. Rearrange the ritual or hand in your notice.”
“But, I’ve got a new baby and a mortgage.”
“Tough, what is more important? Reset the, eh, display, and make it better than before.”
Mr Kirkwood stamped out of the hotel’s Celebration Hall, ignoring his staff greetings as he stormed past them. Fighting to hold his bubbling temper and longing to discard his traditional Thai uniform jacket.
“Against hotel policy!” he mouthed as he slumped behind his desk.
“One cappuccino, and make it snappy,” he called to his secretary.
Peering around and seeing no one, he poured himself a large Scotch under his desk, knocking it back in one swallow.
“Also, against hotel policy,” he snorted, then grinned.
His coffee arrived, “How are the bookings looking for next month?”
His secretary, bowed her head, “Sorry, sir, not good.”
“Don’t give me ‘not good’, I want figures.”
“We only have the owner, his wife, and her friends staying after the party. There are no tourists because of the COVID situation. The Indian company cancelled their staff holiday. Sorry, sir. The F & B manager also requests a meeting.”
“What does he want?”
“His staff can’t manage on their salaries without tips.”
Kirkwood snorted, “Okay, I’ll see him later, not that there’s much I can do.”
In the Celebration Hall, Daw was scratching his head as he studied the layout plan. Snatching his phone, “Get up here, and bring three strong workers, we’ve got to redecorate the hall. Again.”
The second call organised black paint from the warehouse and yards of black material from housekeeping.
His third call was to the nearby slaughterhouse.
“Yes, you heard it right. Ten gallons of fresh blood, and nine ox heads, nine pig heads, and buckets of offal. Yes, I mean it. All to be delivered tomorrow morning. Add the cost to your monthly bill.”
Hammering quick as machine-gun fire cloaked the psst, psst of the stapling. Battered planks of aged wood lay still long enough to be sawn. The hotel’s artists balanced on ladders as they splashed fluorescent designs onto black drapes.
Daw stood back, impressed with his team’s work if he was unhappy with the theme.
Mr Kirkwood arrived and nodded his approval. “That’s better, let’s hope she likes it.”
“Sir, I know it’s Halloween for the westerners, but why for Thais?”
“I’m just a manager, I do as ordered.”
“But it is unusual, for a Thai to celebrate death in a fun way.”
“That is not my problem.”
“Sir, do you mind if I call in monks, to, eh, say a prayer?” said Daw hopefully.
“What? Are you mad? It’s only a party.”
“I’ll do it at my expense. And on my own time.”
“But why?” asked Kirkwood.
“It is embarrassing.”
“What is it?”
“My wife has been suffering from depression since our daughter was born.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but what has it to do with this hotel?” Kirkwood asked.
“My wife blames my work for our child’s deformity.”
“That is crazy. How can it be the hotel’s fault? You mean because I make you work too many hours?”
“Yes, and no. My wife has always had an interest in, the rituals of magic. The magic certain elders perform.”
“You mean ‘black’ magic?” asked Mr Kirkwood.
“Maybe not what you think. In Thailand, most people believe in Buddhism but are tainted with magic. Believers can be educated, even university qualified, some are rich. Wealthy or poor, their souls crave. They crave prizes from the world of magic. There is good magic, chanting, and special oils are used. But there is also a place for evil. Black magic in Southeast Asia has a more nefarious intent and is often fuelled by all that glitters. A wild lust for power and control is the evil twin desire that drives people to the doors of a shaman. The measure of these men is his use of power. People don’t like to talk about the darker side of magic in this region; in fact, those who dabble in black magic guard their identities zealously. After all, these are people who often want harm and woe to befall others, so they hide in the shadows. There will always be people who want quick money without having to work for it. They believe strongly in mystical and spiritual powers, so they are drawn to black magic, ‘white magic’ practitioners work hard to dispel the maledictions brought on by the black magic masters.”
“Wow, you certainly know your subject, and your command of English is better than I thought,” said an impressed boss.
“I should be good at both.”
Daw stared at Kirkwood’s puzzled eyes.
“We should not encourage this at a joke party,” he continued.
Kirkwood’s mobile rang before he responded.
“Yes sir, yes, sir, of course sir,” he stammered. Clicked off the call and replaced it in his pocket. “You will not like this. The owner has instructed me to collect pre-cooked and raw dishes from the kitchen. Plus, we’ve to display a collection of red wine bottles on the head table at exactly ten minutes before eleven pm.”
“That’s not so difficult.”
“Normally, you’re right. But on Halloween night only you and I are to work. The hotel must be empty, with no guests, no staff. Just us, and the party guests.”
“Okay, we have no guests and the staff will welcome a night off.”
The hall’s doors swung back, delivery men struggled with two bulky packages. Sweating, they placed them on the stage.
“What the hell are those?” asked Daw.
Kirkwood’s phone rang again.
“Yes sir,” he said.
“Daw, unwrap the chairs please, and set them next to each other.”
“A throne and its baby sister,” laughed Daw.
At nine o’clock on the 31st of October, all the staff packed their things and left, Mr Kirkwood and Khun Daw were presented with new uniforms for the party.
They had matching white dinner suits.
“What the hell is all this?” Kirkwood moaned, “I haven’t served wine since I was food and beverage manager.”
As instructed, Daw laid out the covered dishes on the tables.
“No cutlery? Should I get some?” asked Daw.
“We are to follow the orders to the letter, there is no mention of knives and forks, so no. Maybe it is just sandwiches?”
Kirkwood began opening and pouring the wine. Daw stood by the Hall’s grand doors and waited for the knock. He heard the buzz of chatter approaching.
He swung back the decorated wood and showed the guests to their tables.
The guests were all female; they wore dark purple full-length gowns. The women remained standing in silence, even when the men pulled back the chairs for them.
Daw returned to the front with his boss and lined up glasses at the edge of the table.
Chanting began, soon the women were bellowing out the wail. Some screeched, some cried. Then silence.
A woman entered from the back of the stage, dark purple robes flowed, a tall headpiece graced her tall stride.
“Gentlemen, if you look down, you will see loops of rope by your left feet. Put your foot in the ring. Thank you.”
A guest stepped forward and checked the rope was tightened.
The hubbub restarted increasing in volume the chanters remained standing. Instantly silent once more, another purple-clad woman entered.
“The owner’s wife,” whispered Kirkwood.
A woman dressed in white followed her out. She was carrying a tiny baby.
“My baby, my wife,” screamed Daw.
The ropes were tugged, tightening painfully, and snatched by a pulley above their heads. Slowly they were lifted by their ankles until they were swinging heads down above the serving table.
The owner’s wife, taking the role of black queen, offered a seat to Daw’s wife, who gratefully accepted and cuddled her daughter.
The girl screamed as she wriggled in her towelling.
It was only then that the men realised the ropes were the ones Thai boxers of old wrapped around their fists. Glass embedded rope.
The men tried to reach each other to free themselves, only causing irritating cuts to legs, hands and anywhere the rope touched.
As the ropes swung, the white suits darkened.
“The deformities to this beautiful girl were caused by them.” She pointed up.
Blood dripped. The guests wandered to the table and uncovered the food, trying to catch some red liquid in the cartons. One lady held her glass directly under Kirkwood’s foot, she gulped the contents of her goblet. Licking her lips and fingers, stood back, offering her place.
Kirkwood suffered a stroke and died, Khun Daw lasted an hour longer. The women kept eating and drinking.
The baby stopped crying. Her cleft healed.
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