This is a short story that I worked on the past four months. I have never put this much effort into a single piece in my entire life, and I’m pretty happy with the concept. The entire plot should be read as an allegory to modern day social injustices. There are several graphically violent parts, so beware!
The truck tossed and jolted as we made our way up the unkept Thai terrain. Everywhere we looked was green, green, green and we had been on this same steady weaving incline for hours. We had left Chiang Rai and gone west about 9 hours ago, driving straight into the mountainous jungle. The last village that had running water or electricity was about 7 hours behind us. This was uncharted territory.
I am the “medical assistant” on this voyage, which basically means I am the gopher. Reggie says ‘go fer this,’ and I do it. Reginald Smith and his student Anne were commissioned to visit this colony of people in rural Thailand and they brought me with. And we have a translator named Pornchai.
The people in this tribe have what the doctors call misymphomia, which is a fancy word for, their bodies never heal. The Thai people call them wah-see-how. If they get a cut, they’re stuck with it for life. If they hear something too loud, their hearing is irreparably damaged.
And so on.
Apparently no one has ever gone and done a proper medical evaluation of their condition, so we’re going to take a look. I’ve been wondering how we’re going to do blood tests if the needle holes would never heal.
“We ammost there,” said Pornchai over his shoulder.
The motion of the truck driving over the mud road could have been that of a boat tossed by the waves of a small storm. From the passenger seat, Reggie looked determined to arrive, slightly anxious at what he might see. The jaw beneath his peppery temples had been tensed this entire trip. He wasn’t quite middle aged, but it was dawning quickly on his horizon.
Anne was in the back seat with me, curled up the past four hours trying not to puke for a fourth time. Partly from the truck’s motion and partly from nerves. We had been assured that these people were entirely peaceful, but I guess anxiety accompanies mystery.
“Arright,” muttered Pornchai as he shifted the truck into park on the flat dirt path. The three of us looked up and saw the jungle as it had been before, but now, almost as if intentionally hidden among the trees, were bamboo huts scattered across the acres before us. As I continued to scan the foliage, I realized that these were not like the huts we had seen in the tribes before. They were far more intricately crafted. It almost seemed as if different woods had been imported just to adorn the exterior of their cottages, giving the entire village a very prestigious feel.
“Did they know we’re coming?” I asked Reggie.
“I doubt it. How would anyone have communicated with them? They haven’t even heard of electricity,” he answered.
Reggie and I were the first to open our doors. Slowly, so as not to alarm any onlooking tribespeople.
But the village seemed abandoned. I looked through the window at Pornchai and nodded my head for him to get out of the truck too.
Now all three of us had our hands out below us as if petting fragile invisible dogs to show we meant no harm. Much of this trip hinged on whether or not Pornchai could adapt Thai to their tribal dialect.
He began to call out in Thai, probably something about us coming in peace and meaning no harm.
A door opened in the hut nearest to us, directly in front of the truck.
The first thing we saw was a white umbrella. It preceded a small figure wearing smooth robes that covered nearly every inch of skin. The figure seemed to weightlessly drift toward us beneath its embroidered dome, and very soon it stood before us.
At once I saw the figure to be a small boy with the smoothest skin I had seen on a human. It seemed to be an ivory piano key that grew into a small human being. His eyes were beautifully shaped and as he pointed them at things, he seemed to be seeing into whatever he observed.
Pornchai approached him and bent down. He spoke softly. The boy nodded, replied and turned to walk back to the hut. Pornchai turned and nodded for us to follow. Anne was out of the car by now and the four of us followed the small boy. I almost had to jog to match his swift and graceful gait.
As we approached the edge of the woods, I could now see beyond them into a valley that fell beneath the path we walked on. The valley was filled with huts and homes just as beautiful as the boy’s, but these were connected by a web of covered pathways. In that moment I realized the sun would have damaged their skin; even in short bursts it would add up over the years. I wondered if they had ever felt a ray of sunlight anywhere on their flesh.
As we approached the boy’s hut, I also realized how quiet the town was. No doubt they kept it this way to prevent damage to their eardrums.
He gracefully pushed open the door to his hut and we followed in single file. The interior of the building was just as beautifully intricate as the exterior. Smooth bamboo laced walls of oak. The decoration was minimal but brilliantly executed with splashed of stones and brick splashed into the walls, with combed sand gardens in several of the corners.
The boy turned and muttered something to Pornchai and walked down a stairwell on the far side of the hut.
“He’s going to bring us the tribe leader,” Pornchai informed us. Apparently the tribal dialect was close enough to Thai for him to understand.
In place of windows, the bamboo poles were further spread out so they could overlook the valley before the hut while letting in the evening breeze. I walked over to them and looked once more at the web of walkways and huts in the valley. There must have been over one hundred homes, each one as ornate as the one in which I stood. I couldn’t help but thinking, for a colony of people who have a terminal disease, this village was incredibly beautiful.
After about ten minutes the boy returned, followed by a middle aged man with equally smooth and pale skin. His voice was smooth as he bowed and addressed Pornchai, who informed us that we were welcome. The chief spat a quick yet gentle command to the boy, who turned once again to descend the stairs and return a moment later with four white umbrellas in his arms.
The chief turned to the three Americans and bowed to each of us with a smile pressing against his cheeks.
“My name is Ahn. We will prepare a place for you to stay,” he said through Pornchai.
He and the boy led us down a series of stairs and ramps which opened to the web of pathways on the valley floor. The sun had dropped below the rim of the surrounding hills and lights in the huts were beginning to ignite. We saw several villagers slowly pacing the paths between the buildings, none using their umbrellas now that the harmful rays had disappeared, each one with skin like fresh candles and the slow and the graceful gait of ballet dancers.
We followed the chief and boy around several turns until we were ushered into a hut. It was not quite as large as the one from which we had come, but it had the same blend of woods and ornate designs. Ours had only one combed sand bed in the corner.
Soon the boy entered holding two mats and set to laying them out for us. I wandered through the first chamber into the second, where the other pair of us would sleep.
Birds sang in the evening.
I saw fireflies dancing in the colorful dusk through the slatted bamboo window. There was certainly an idyllic atmosphere to the town. I was exhausted from the trip and was slowly beginning to let some of the questions in my head drift away as I turned my mind to sleeping.
Several minutes later, the boy entered again with two more mats and layed them out in our room. I would share a room with Anne. We helped lay out our mats and before I knew it, I was flat on my back drifting away into a dream.
The dream was—as most dreams are—a blur of images and plotlines that bowed and weaved through and over one another like double dutch jump ropes. The resounding theme of my dreams were a screaming chorus. People gathered beneath a king standing on a litter as he whipped those beneath him, carrying him on their shoulders. His family stood behind him on the platform, watching in silence.
Disembodied arms digging their way into the earth.
And of course, white piano keys sounding out discordant tones.
I awoke feeling oddly renewed and calm despite the distressing imagery of my dream. It was one of those things where, when you’re in the dream, it’s not that strange, but when you describe it to your friend you sound drooling mad.
The town was oddly quiet for a group of people gathered in the center of the jungle. Only a few birds chirped and the song of the insects was present but somehow muted.
I was the last to rise, so I walked to the entrance of the hut. I saw more villagers beneath their domed umbrellas, staring at me as they passed on the maze-like walkways.
One of them saw me standing there, looking awfully aloof, and pointed a smooth finger to a nearby hut. I walked in the shade of the terrace. As I passed over an elevated segment of the walk, I could see clear to the edge of the village. It was about 400 yards away and I could see part of the walkway that strayed off around the corner of the valley. No one was walking on this section. I assumed it was for disposing of trash or some other utility and quickly forgot about it. I entered the hut where Reggie, Anne and Pornchai were sitting on the floor with Ahn eating breakfast.
“There she is!” said Reggie with a surprising amount of vigor in his tone. “Morning, Princess!”
Ahn pointed to the food as an invitation for me to eat. We ate a very wet bowl of rice with vegetables and spices boiled in. Previously, I would have thought this a strange breakfast food, but after a few bites I was convinced to the contrary.
Ahn spoke through Pornchai again, “Today I will show you all around our village. I am happy to answer any questions you have.” Ahn held a genuine smile on his face as Pornchai spoke for him.
“I have one,” said Reggie. “Do you have any young men who would be a good match for our Anne?” He laughed at his own joke as Anne shoved him, also smiling. Apparently I had missed part of the earlier joke.
Ahn led us through all of the village, showing us several of the huts, all of which were kept in incredible order. There seemed to not be a crumb or clump of dirt that made it past the doorway of any of the huts. We saw the infirmary, where pale skinned nurses attended elderly villagers who barely seemed sick at all. They lay so peacefully in their beds and their skin had barely given way to wrinkles that the only way I could tell their elevated age was the tiredness in their eyes and the slowness in their movements. They looked at me and gingerly moved a hand or nodded to us to acknowledge us.
We saw the school, where today the boy and many other porcelain children sat still before the lecturing teachers in the various classrooms. Ahn showed us the library, which was not large by any means, but contained several shelves and eager readers who sat carefully scanning the pages of handfuls of books. It was evident that precautions were taken to prevent loud noises and any kind of abrupt surprises. Everyone seemed to move slowly and patiently, never in a hurry and never in a sloppy manner.
When Ahn was about to conclude the tour of the village, I remembered the stray pathway I had seen earlier from the high pass. I asked him about it.
“What pathway?” he replied through Pornchai.
I explained how I saw a pathway that went away from camp around a fold in the valley.
“I don’t know of any pathway except those in the village, connecting our homes and buildings,” he said.
My stomach growled and I figured I must have been misremembering from my morning haze.
We returned to Ahn’s hut for lunch and two women brought in trays of bamboo cores, garden vegetables, and steamed chicken.
Suddenly I realized Ahn had not shown us any place to prepare food. We had seen nearly every building in the colony, but I had not seen a single area for preparing food, much less killing a chicken. Little mounds of curiosity began to rise within me.
After lunch, I passed again over the high walkway and paused to look for the stray path I had seen earlier, but a giant curtain had been hung across most of the walkway. It was a rich shade of red which complemented the wood of the huts in a very elegant manner. It was positioned perfectly so as to prevent anyone from seeing out to the edge of the camp.
“Sun,” said a voice suddenly behind me. I jolted and turned to see Ahn standing inches from me on the walkway. He pointed to the curtain and motioned the sun coming at them from an angle and being blocked by the curtain. “Sun,” he said again, and pointed to his skin. He was not smiling now. He walked away, seemingly irritated by my curious staring at the curtain.
I deemed it best not to pry, so I walked to my hut. Reggie and Anne were lying on their mats talking.
“Isn’t this place great?” asked Reggie, looking up at me. I suddenly realized they were unaware of the odd day I was having.
“It’s so beautiful,” answered Anne before I could speak. “We were just talking about how this is nothing like what we had expected.”
“Yah,” I muttered, still jarred from the strange encounter with Ahn on the walkway. “Did either of you notice the pathway I was talking about?”
“What pathway?” asked Reggie. “There are literally hundreds…Okay, maybe not hundreds. Dozens! There are dozens!” Reggie was getting to that age most middle aged men reach where they laugh at their own jokes which were in no regard funny.
“I didn’t see it,” said Anne, “but I wasn’t looking for anything. Why?”
“Well, it just seemed strange that Ahn avoided my question earlier and now, there is a curtain blocking our view.”
“Eh, you just need to relax,” said Reggie as he stretched and repositioned himself on the mat.
Ahn had simply told us to enjoy ourselves until dinnertime, when he would gather several of the notable villagers for a special feast with us.
I spent the afternoon wandering around the maze of pathways, half-heartedly looking for the way down to the stray ramp around the corner, but it seemed to not exist anymore. Or perhaps it was hidden or blocked. I was also keeping my eyes open for a kitchen or pantry of any kind, but saw nothing of the sort. There were no structures that contained so much as a chopping board or oven. I guess that made sense though; Why would they want to risk getting burned? Then again, how was our food prepared? And where?
Dinnertime arrived and Ahn led us to his hut where about a dozen villagers and some children were already seated on the ground around a large table. They all looked at us as we smiled and nodded with a warm welcome spread across their faces. I was seated next to a middle-aged man named Samhyup. He knew no more English than I knew his tribal language so we smiled and nodded to one another again as I sat down.
Shortly the servers came out once again with large platters of steaming meat and perfectly spiced vegetables, all alongside bleach-white sticky rice. Without thinking, I loaded up my plate and took a bite of some of the rice with pork. Immediately my mouth was seared and I inhaled quickly to try to cool it down.
“Oooh, hot!” I abashedly exclaimed as I realized everyone at the table was looking at me. No one laughed. I fanned my hand at my mouth to make light of the fact that I had burnt my tongue. At this, one of the young boys laughed. He then took a heaping bite of the hot chicken and rice and then fanned his mouth. After about two seconds, the pain set in on his mouth and his eyes widened.
Immediately, Ahn stood up and pointed at the boy, yelling something in their dialect. Two men who had been standing outside the door to the hut rushed in and ran to the boy while Ahn continued holding his finger straight at him. The guards grabbed the boy from either side, one on each arm and stood up with him. The boy’s face turned from pain to shock and fear and he began screaming.
He tried to wriggle from the arms of the guards as they easily picked him up and carried him to the door. The boy’s screaming slowly faded out as he was carried farther and farther from us until we could hear him no more.
Ahn turned to Pornchai and urgently spoke to him. “Ahn says that he is so sorry you had to see that and would like to know if there is anything he can do to make up—“ Ahn cut him off and spoke to him some more. “He would like to apologize for the loud sounds you had to hear and would like to know if he can do anything to make it right.”
“Where did they take him?” I asked Ahn directly. Pornchai translated.
“It was taken care of,” Ahn answered through Pornchai.
“Yes, but what’s going to happen to him?” I persisted.
Ahn was silent for a moment and then said perhaps we should all get some rest. I looked at Samhyup, who still wore his pleasant Thai smile. I tried to communicate with him to ask where they took the boy. He simply continued his grin and shook his head, as if to say either he didn’t know or he was not allowed to say.
I looked at Reggie and Anne, who looked as shocked and confused as I was. We all agreed with Ahn that perhaps some more sleep would be good. The table was still overflowing with plates of food as we left the hut and walked to our own.
“What was that about?” asked Reggie once we were alone in our building.
“I told you there was something strange about this place!” I told him.
“Eh, it’s probably just something cultural,” he replied. “Like us taking our kids out for a spanking. We’re just missing something.” I realized then that he still did not perceive anything unusual about the village as I did. I started to get upset with them for being so blind, but rather than belabor the point, I retired to my mat. “Tomorrow we’re going to start running some tests on the villagers,” he said. Gonna figure out how to get some blood out of them. Hah! Maybe we’ll just have to settle for urine.”
Once my body was on the mat, I realized how exhausted I still was from the travel and adjustments. Before I knew it, my mind had let go of its concerns and I was deep into a rich sleep.
In my dream, a hand poked my arm. It persisted. It grabbed my arm and shook me.
I faded back into reality and saw Samhyup’s face leaning over me in the darkness. Slowly I crawled from my dream and gave the small man an inquisitive look. He waved his hand to come with him.
I pushed myself up, rubbed my eyes, and stood up to follow him.
He led me out of our hut and weaved through the many turns of the maze-like walkways. We went down the gentle slopes in the direction of the outer edge of the village. He ducked under some of the railings and left the safety of the covered walkways, which of course did not matter in the quiet moonlight. We cut across some of the courtyards and fields and climbed onto another walkway on the far end of the camp. I realized we were heading toward the path I had seen the first day. My tired head spun with questions, already dizzy from the sudden jolt from sleep. Samhyup probably got me right in the middle of my REM cycle.
I looked behind me and saw the rest of the village looming above me, ominous in the pitch blackness. We were presently on the trail I had seen from the overpass. In the darkness I could barely make out the giant red curtain that had been hung across the high central passage to prevent us from seeing this very walkway.
I followed Samhyup around the wide curve of the edge of the valley. The path turned to the right, so that after several minutes of walking, the village was out of view and was replaced by the natural wall. We walked for roughly half an hour as the path curved gently left along another turn in the valley, then right again along another. Finally the hills opened up once again and I could see another village. In the darkness, I could soon see that this village was very unlike the other. There were plenty of buildings but no covered walkways between them, only dirt. The buildings themselves were nowhere near as nice as the ones I had come from.
The closer we drew to the village, the more I could detect a foul smell. It was the odor of dead things rotting. Although it was the middle of the night, I noticed that this village was not as quiet as the other. Several fires burned in the buildings. People—or things—were awake and working. Metal clanged. I heard thuds and pounding.
I saw a fire burning in one of the buildings closest to us. As we approached it, I could see a pile of something to the right of the doorframe. I squinted into the darkness against the dim light of the fire through the open door and saw that it was a pile of bones and innards.
Suddenly I realized that this is where all the food is prepared for the people in the other village.
Samhyup stood by the building and motioned for me to look inside.
I squinted against the light of the fire, and as my eyes adjusted, I could see a man cooking something. As the bright blurs turned into solid lines, I saw that most of his body was very deformed. Instead of fingers on his hands, he had knobby claw-like appendages. His skin was bubbled and rotten. He was handling hot pots and moving meat around over the fire, preparing it for the next day.
He detected us watching him and turned around. His face was pink and red, disfigured by burns from both the fire and the sun. He appeared young. Possibly even in his late teens. Blots of blood covered his clothes and I wondered if they were from the animals or from unhealed wounds on his body.
When he saw us, he lopped over to us as quickly as he could and fell on his knees before me. His claw hands grabbed my arms and shirt and he yelled in his language. He wept and began screaming. His pulling on my arms grew more violent until finally I jerked my body away from him and he collapsed on the ground, still crying loudly.
I looked at Samhyup and he began walking further into the village. I was unsure about what to do about the weeping man on the ground so I turned and followed Samhyup.
We were walking uphill through a smattering of ramshackle buildings, many of which were producing the jarring sounds of labor. As we passed various windows and doors, I could see children inside, hammering various objects or sitting at desks working on various things. Samhyup walked gracefully but quickly, so I was only allowed momentary glimpses of the figures within the shacks. Some were more disfigured than others, with limbs missing, or spreading infections and rashes across their flesh. Blood was everywhere. The entire village reeked of rancid wounds.
As I was led through the village, I saw that it was much larger than the first one. I followed Samhyup around a corner and down a smaller corridor where he turned into a small opening in one of the huts. A few small candles cast ghostly shadows against the muddy walls. Scattered bodies slept on the dirt floor of the hut and in the corner I saw a figure sitting hugging his knees and quietly sniffling. Immediately I recognized him as the boy from dinner earlier who had burnt his mouth on the food.
Samhyup walked over to him and whispered to him with his hand on his shoulders.
I took another look around the hut and saw that all of the blankets covering the sleeping villagers had dried blood all over them. All the heads poking out the top of the coverings had similar burns and peeling skin to that of the first man I had seen. Years of working in the brutal Thai sun had taken its effect on their unhealed skin. None of them seemed to be very old. Hardly into their twenties, yet their skin reflected many more years of damage.
After whispering to the boy for several minutes, Samhyup stood up and motioned me to follow him out of the hut. We emerged into the dirt pathway again and I followed him around more turns and paths throughout the village. There was no order to this village. The huts were thrown hither and thither without care or planning. How Samhyup knew where he was going was incredible, especially considering the darkness.
He came to a hut several times larger than the others. He came to the door and waved me inside. The entire village stank of putrid disease, but the smell in this building was particularly tremendous. Behind me, Samhyup lit a torch and suddenly, in the dim light I could see a giant floor covered with sleeping bodies. Only these ones were clearly in a worse state than those in the other hut.
A few stirred at the light from the torch. I could see giant gashes bleeding through shotty bandages. All of their skin was brutalized by the elements, the sun, and other accidental wounds.
We walked through the aisles of bodies and I realized that Samhyup brought me to this building only to show me the sickest members of this village.
This was the infirmary.
Where the villagers came to die.
As we passed by, one of the sick men grabbed my leg. I looked down at him and saw one eye looking at me through a puffy face. His jaw was missing, so everything south of his nose was a gaping chasm seized by infection. It had reached his other eye as well, which had swollen shut and secreted a black ooze. It looked like he was trying to speak, but only gurgles and gasps escaped his throat. I moved my leg and his weak grasp slid off of my ankle. I felt moist residue on my leg where he had gripped me.
I caught up to Samhyup who looked back at me, looking intently at my face as if to ask, Well? What do you make of this?
I looked back and he could surely see the combination of shock and sorrow that filled my eyes.
We left the infirmary and I followed him back the way we had come. We were going back to the first village.
When we were nearly back to the weblike zigzags of covered walkways, Samhyup turned to me and pointed back to the sick village. He then covered his mouth, indicating me to say nothing about what I had just seen.
When I lay back on my mat, I had trouble sleeping. I had no idea how to comprehend what I had seen in the far village. It was the polar opposite of the village where we were staying, enjoying the clean and quiet comfort of a village made possible by the diseased. Eventually I drifted off into unquiet dreams.
I woke up slowly and realized no one had woken me up in time for breakfast. I could see bright sunlight flooding the world outside my slatted window. I slowly rose and began moving. From a few huts over, I heard the sound of Reggie laughing at one of his own jokes.
I found which hut the sound came from and saw that Reggie and Anne had set up an impromptu testing station. A curtain walled off a corner where the villagers were supplying test samples of urine, saliva and semen.
“We can’t take their blood, so we’re working with what we can get,” explained Reggie followed by a chuckle at his joke. He and Anne sat across from each other at a low table on the floor. The surface was covered in a mess of tubes, cups, bottles filled with chemicals, and measuring instruments.
I left the hut to try to find some food to eat. As I wandered the zigzag walkways, I wondered if the episode in the middle of the night could have been a dream. A very realistic dream. Conjured up by my paranoid imagination.
“No way,” I actually muttered aloud. It was real. I had to find Samhyup.
I found some villagers in their own hut who invited me in for some tea and rice crackers. They smiled and nodded at me, but the language barrier prevented any more interaction.
I spent several hours that day wandering around, looking for Samhyup as well as the passage we had taken in the middle of the night. However, because it was so dark and I had been so disoriented, I couldn’t remember the way.
Dinner time came and once again, we were seated with several of the notable villagers. I walked into the hut, fresh from a bath, and sat next to Reggie. He was quieter than usual, as if something was on his mind. Before I had fully sat down, he began explaining what he and Anne had found.
“Nothing,” he said. “We can’t find a single difference between their fluids and a normal person’s. The enzymes we were expecting to find are not there. I mean, we can only read so much without sampling their blood, but we expected there to be at least some difference! Heck, I even made Annie pee in a cup just to make sure!”
I was literally biting my tongue so I wouldn’t burst out and tell my companions about the other village, the village flowing with blood. I withheld because I feared Ahn would somehow know what I was saying. He was very kind, but it was the same type of kindness and generosity you see in the really evil movie villains. He seemed to understand more than he let on.
I noticed that Samhyup was still missing, but also could not ask about him because it would look suspicious. Had he not woken me in the middle of the night, I probably would have forgotten about him too.
The rest of the dinner was spent in silence.
Later that evening, Reggie, Pornchai, Anne and I were reclining on our mats in our hut. I wanted to try to bring up what I had seen.
“You guys notice anything weird about this place?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.
“Yah, these people never heal and they do a good job of never getting hurt!” Said Reggie with the tone of a standup comedian. “Gall, I know I couldn’t do that! I fall down the stairs twice a week!”
“But what about that boy the other night?” I replied. “The one who was taken out of dinner? I didn’t see him all day today.”
“Well…” said Anne, trying to think up an explanation.
“And today, one of the villagers we ate with last night was also gone. Samhyup,” I added.
No one said anything, indicating they hadn’t noticed his absence. I decided this was not the time to tell them about my midnight adventure.
Soon we were all asleep.
The next day passed the same as the previous. There was no sign of Samhyup or the boy, and Reggie and Anne were finding the same results in their medical tests. They performed every examination possible without injuring the villagers, and found no difference between the Misymphomiacs and a healthy person.
Several more days passed in similar fashion. I kept waiting for an opportunity to tell them about the second village, but no such time presented itself. There were no more odd occurrences, and my brain began to doubt the things I had seen around the ridge.
Then, three nights later, I was woken up in the middle of the night again. Samhyup stood over me holding a knife. My eyes adjusted as my dizzy head spun and I made sense of what was happening. At first, I jolted away from him, but he remained motionless. Once I realized he was not going to cut me, he turned the blade around and offered me the handle. In the darkness, I could see the quality craftsmanship in the knife. I took it from his hand, still puzzled.
“Ahn,” he whispered.
“What??” I blurted out.
Samhyup made a cutting motion over his forearm and again said, “Ahn.”
I did not know what to think. Did he really want me to murder the leader of his tribe? I knew that a cut from a hefty knife like this would easily kill a Misymphomiac, even just on the arm.
Samhyup could intuit what I was thinking. He took the knife and held it to his chest, then shook his head. Then put it once again to his forearm and nodded. Perhaps he did not want me to kill Ahn.
I nodded. Samhyup stood up to leave and I watched to see if he would beckon me to follow. Instead, he just walked out the doorway and was gone. I put the knife under my mat and quickly fell back asleep.
The next morning I woke up and forgot about Samhyup’s visit until about five minutes into my morning. I felt the lump under my mat and suddenly remembered everything. I thought for a second and shook my head, thinking about how ludicrous it was that I could cut our host, the leader of this village.
I went to breakfast with the dilemma still heavy on my mind. Every action of the villagers made me suspicious, despite the grace with which they moved and interacted.
The day passed in a blur as the decision weighed so heavily on my mind. Before I knew it, dinnertime had arrived and I was seated two people away from Ahn. I stared at him, watching his every move. I pictured him clutching his wrist, lying on the floor of the hut bleeding out. Would the guards come and take him away as they had the boy?
I had left the knife in my hut, but had a small knife for my meat.
Finally, when I was halfway done with my food, I could take it no longer. I would make it look like an accident. I held the knife in my hand and made a sudden reach across the table for a plate that was in front of Ahn. I let the knife hit his arm as I reached over. I felt the blade contact his skin, then slide forward a centimeter as it punctured his flesh. He reacted and pulled his arm away and I did the same.
I apologized, but I was never very good at acting. I mostly just sat there in stunned silence, waiting to see what happened. So did everyone else.
Ahn held his arm before his eyes, looking at the two-inch rift in his forearm. Five seconds later, blood poured out of it. Ahn looked around the room in anger and screamed something at me in Thai. The entire table then turned their gazes to me as I continued sitting in silence. Still, no one moved. Not even the two guards at the door who had rushed in to carry out the boy.
Ahn suddenly got up and rushed out the door, holding his arm as blood dripped down onto his clothes.
“What did you do?” accused Anne.
I was speechless. I managed to blurt out something about it being an accident, which must have sufficed because Reggie and Anne got up and ran after Ahn, followed by Pornchai. I wanted to convince everyone it was an accident, so I got up and walked after Pornchai.
There were drops of blood all along the pathway, some of which had been streaked by passing shoes. We followed Ahn into his hut. Reggie ran back past me, running to get his medical kit from our hut. I approached the door of the hut and saw Ahn sitting on a cushion with Anne holding pressure on his arm.
She looked up at me and said, “You’ve been acting so strange this whole trip! Did you do this on purpose? There is something wrong with you!”
Reggie came back in and knelt by Ahn, opening his kit. “Make sure and save some of this blood for the tests,” he said to Anne, all humor evaporated from his voice. He was in superhero mode now.
I walked out of the hut and waited.
I walked back up to our hut to wait for the diagnosis, and only twenty minutes after that, Reggie and Anne walked in.
“Well the bleeding stopped,” said Reggie. “I guess blood clotting is a segregated function from the healing properties, so we’ll see how it looks tomorrow. We got some samples we can run tests on too. I’m going to get started on some of those now.” He set down his medical kit and left to run the tests in his impromptu lab. I was asleep before he returned.
The next morning, I awoke to Reggie speaking loudly with Anne in the next room. As my consciousness overpowered my sleeping brain, I realized they were talking about the tests.
“I can’t figure it out,” I heard Reggie say. “There is no difference! What are we missing?”
I stood from my mat and walked to the doorway.
They saw me and looked up.
“It’s strange,” Reggie started. “Ahn’s blood seems to be the same as anyone else’s.” His serious Mr. Doctor voice was still in effect. It was evident he had not slept much.
I spoke up, “You guys, there’s something you need to know.”
They detected the gravity in my tone and looked at me.
“One of the first nights we were here, a man came to me in the middle of the night and took me to another section of the valley,” I explained. “He took me to another village about half an hour walk from here and it’s awful. The people there—“
“Another village?” Reggie cut in. “Of Misymphomiacs?”
“Well,” I continued, “I think so. They were horribly deformed. They were making food and clothes and there was blood everywhere.”
They didn’t know whether they wanted to believe me or not, but they were listening so I continued.
“And…I’ve been thinking about it lately, and one of two things is happening here. Either the people in this village don’t have Misymphomia, or they do and have taken the people in this other village as their slaves. Or maybe some of them have it and some don’t. I don’t know.” My brain was really on the move now. “Remember that boy who was taken away after he burned his mouth? I saw him in the other village! And Samhyup, the man who took me to the village, disappeared the day after he took me there.” I paused before dropping the bombshell. “And he’s the one who told me to cut Ahn. I think he knew that Ahn doesn’t have it. He’s faking it.”
Anne and Reggie sat in stunned silence.
“Well,” Began Reggie, then paused. “If what you’re saying is true, we’ll just see what happens to Ahn in a few days.” He paused to think some more. “Could you take us to the other village?”
“I’ve tried to go back, but it was pitch black when I went before, and the walkways here are impossible to get through. I think they may have even rearranged or blocked parts of it so we can’t get there. When Samhyup took me before, we climbed over and under railings and bridges. It would be hard to get there again.”
“So that’s why he wanted you to cut Ahn,” said Anne, almost to just herself. “So maybe the best thing to do—if you are telling the truth—is to wait a few days and see what happens to Ahn’s arm.”
We agreed that was the best course of action and decided not to bring it up to anyone in the village
Two days passed and Ahn’s arm seemed to be healing. On the third day we took Pornchai into the hut with us to talk to him.
“Your arm is looking good!” Reggie said through Pornchai, friendly as ever before.
“Yes, I must be cured,” Ahn replied. He spoke slowly, as if thinking up explanations as he went.
Reggie had taken the bandages off and was examining the wound.
“You know what’s strange?” He said to Ahn through Pornchai. “I tested your blood and it is normal. We can’t find anything strange in it. It’s like you don’t have the disease.”
Ahn seemed unfazed. Anne looked up at me from where she was kneeling on the other side of Ahn.
Then something cracked loud behind my ears and everything went black.
I slowly awoke to a throbbing headache and the stench of the bloody village. Night had fallen outside and it was pitch black beyond the doorway. We were in a small room. A fire burned in the corner and blood was splattered all over the room: on the walls, floor, tables, and I realized that we were in the room where the boy had fallen to his knees before me. It was the room where the meat was prepared for both villages. Reggie and Anne were both still unconscious near me with blood on their faces and clothes, and Pornchai lay unconscious several feet from us. The claw-handed boy stood on the far side of the room sharpening a knife.
“Hey,” I whispered to him. “Hey!”
He turned around and his face was twisted into a combination of fear and sorrow.
“What’s happening?” I asked him knowing full well he couldn’t understand a word. I pushed myself up onto my hands and the small motion squeezed my head into an invisible vice grip.
The boy was still looking at me and waved his deformed hand in front of him, as if saying I don’t want to hurt you.
My eyes continued to adjust to the dim light and I saw pieces of animals scattered around the room. Some with clumps of fur attached to them, others with feathers protruding from them. I gently shook Reggie’s shoulder and then Anne’s. She stirred first and began holding her head.
My head pounded as I crawled across the floor to Pornchai and shook him. He did not stir. I moved closer and heard his breathing, but he would not wake up. I noticed that his face was more damaged than Anne or Reggie’s, and blood flowed in several thick streams through his hair and down to his neck. I left him and pulled myself back over to the doctors.
“Where are we?” asked Anne, still lying down and holding her temples.
“This is the other village,” I answered, “the one I told you about.”
Reggie began moving as well.
“This is where they handle the meat,” I explained. “I was here the other night.”
From outside the hut we heard voices approaching. Then Ahn was in the doorway with several guards behind him. He growled some commands at the boy with the knife, who bowed his head and walked out the door.
Ahn then turned his attention to us on the floor and yelled some things in his tribal dialect which no one understood. Pornchai remained unconscious. Ahn walked to his body and kicked him twice in the stomach until Pornchai began to move, curling onto his side and holding his stomach.
Ahn yelled some things to the guards who left and returned a minute later with some chains and cuffs in their hands. They first went to Pornchai, putting one of the cuffs around his neck and then hands and feet. They dragged the chain from him to us and did the same. The guards first came to me and forced the cuff around my neck, then shoved my hands through the smaller cuffs. They did the same to Anne and Reggie so the four of us were bound to one another and unable to do anything but shuffle our feet.
By this point we were on our feet in a straight line. There was a chain connecting our necks, another connecting our hands, and one on each foot. The guard in front of us jerked on the neck chain and we lurched forward. My head felt like it had just cracked in half.
They led us out of the hut and up a trail leading outside the village. We left the line of buildings and were now walking through the forest. It was still black out, save a few torches carried by the guards and Ahn.
I leaned forward and whispered to Pornchai, “What are they saying?”
“I donno,” he answered. “I only hear them talking ’bout their secret and not let us—“ he was hit in the back by one of the guards, who yelled something in Thai.
We continued walking in silence with only the clinking of the chains to disrupt the chirping of the nighttime insects. We walked for about fifteen minutes, though it seemed much longer because of the pain of being bound and only being able to take very small steps.
Finally there was a small opening ahead on the path and the familiar stench of death graced our nostrils again. Poles surrounded a wide tree stump in the clearing. The guards put the torches atop the poles and made us stand facing the stump. One of them walked behind us and kicked our knees, forcing us to kneel before it.
From the ground, I could see bones and other pieces of human surrounding the stump. Body parts covered in dry blood lay scattered, all rotting, some clearly older than others.
Reggie vomited. All four of us were now shivering despite the warm Thai night.
Anne began screaming for them to let her go until Ahn walked directly in front of her and screamed something in Thai, presumably telling her to be silent. When she wouldn’t, he spat on her head, then pointed to Reggie and gave a command to the guards. Two of the men approached him and removed his cuffs. Reggie sobbed and yelled for them to ‘Please, please don’t…’
The guards walked on either side of him, both holding an arm, and took him to the stump. They shoved his shoulders over it so he was bent directly over it, his feet still on the ground and his stomach on the wood. He was looking back at us, still crying out.
Ahn yelled again to silence Reggie and kicked him in the back, which knocked the wind out of him. He heaved for air. Ahn then turned and called another command in Thai and the young man from the kitchen came from behind us. He still looked sad and fearful as he approached the stump. He held the blade he had been sharpening, and was clearly shaking as well. Ahn yelled at him and pointed at Reggie. The boy hesitated, so Ahn snatched the weapon from his hand and began hacking at Reggie’s back.
Anne shrieked, then forced her jaw to close over silent sobs.
Reggie’s back was lacerated repeatedly until the streaks began to unite and fall off his body. After about half a minute of chopping at his back, Ahn stepped directly behind Reggie and ran the sword through his torso. Reggie’s shrieks had turned from yells to breathless gurgles, which presently fell silent.
Immediately after pulling the blade from Reggie’s body, Ahn spun around and pointed it at Anne. She screamed again and fruitlessly jerked agains her binds. The two guards silently started walking from Reggie’s body to Anne. I saw Ahn step to the young man who brought him the blade and whisper a few fierce words to him. He raised the blade and slowly sliced the boy’s neck, right above the shoulder. The boy shrieked in pain. Ahn yelled and he turned and ran back up the trail, knowing the wound meant his imminent death.
The guards had undone Anne’s cuffs and gotten her to her feet. Then I heard rapid footsteps behind me and in the next ten seconds, it took me a moment to realize what was happening.
I saw the guards turn and then fall. I saw several of the mutated Misymphomiacs running from the woods holding makeshift weapons into the flickering torch light. I saw Samhyup run from the tree line of the clearing and chop with a fire poker at the two guards holding Anne. I heard wet sounds of stabbing behind me followed by the dull thuds of bodies hitting the ground.
The entire ambush took about ten seconds, and ended with Ahn surrounded by four of the villagers and his hand cut off. It appeared they had wanted him alive, but had to take his weapon away.
Now the four Misymphomiacs were backing Ahn against the stump until he could not back up more. He backed right into Reggie’s body and stood there holding his wrist. The two other villagers and Samhyup joined the semi-circle around him and the eight of them began a heated but brief debate. Then they stopped and one of them turned over his shoulder and yelled. The claw-handed boy who had brought the blade came back from the trail, holding a rag onto his bleeding neck.
More of the tribal dialect was shouted and I watched as the villagers grabbed Ahn’s arms and legs and held him against the stump, spread like a gingerbread man. The younger man walked to Ahn’s severed hand and took the blade from it.
Ahn began talking to him, his tone portrayed a false, pleading sort of kindness to the boy. The boy moved slowly and specifically as he walked right up to Ahn and began slicing up his stomach. The gashes were not deep enough to let his intestines out, but he sliced and sliced with the tip of his sharpened blade until the membrane that divided skin from innards was no more. He then began to slice Ahn’s arms with the same kind of shallow gashes until one of the older villagers said something to him. The boy then stabbed Ahn in the chest, pinning him to the stump. Ahn’s screams, like Reggie’s, turned to a gurgle and then silence as his body slumped against the stump and relaxed onto the sword.
Samhyup and the seven villagers with him then turned to us and hurriedly found the keys to release us from our binds.
Samhyup spoke to Pornchai who told us, “He say he is very sorry he di’ not get here sooner to save our other friend. He invite us to his hut to explain errything.”
We were led back to the bloody second village, apparently into Samhyup’s hut. His wife was already making food with some assistance from some other women in the village.
After we had cleaned up a bit, we sat down to eat and Samhyup began explaining everything through Pornchai. “The Misymphomiacs lived here in this village for as long as we know,” he began. “But one year, Ahn came and discovered them. When he and many of his tribe realized how fragile they are, they made the Misymphomiacs their slaves. They built that entire beautiful village for them, and many of them died in the process. No one who lives there has Misymphomia. They simply act like they do in order to live in comfort and act peaceful when anyone comes to the village. The sick make all their meals, do all the cleaning, all the construction, everything. They do everything.
“I came to the tribe and soon saw exactly what was happening. I decided to act like everyone else while secretly building relationships with the people in this village, the Misymphomiacs. That’s how I met my wife.
“When you arrived, I knew we had a chance to expose them to the world. That’s why I brought you here the first night,” he pointed at me, “and now you all know. You all can help to bring justice to our tribe. To these people who are now my people.”
We agreed. With Ahn dead, it would be easier to bring justice to this group of people who had been pushed down for so long.
Or so we thought. I had underestimated how violently people will hold onto their way of life. And hold onto comfort. We rallied several dozen of the Misymphomiacs to march to the other village and demand equality.
By the time we arrived the next afternoon, the other villagers had heard about Ahn and taken up weapons of their own. They killed over half of the villagers that had walked with us, and because of their condition, even the Misymphomiacs who had minor cuts or broken bones were doomed to die quickly.
There were less than twenty of us when we finally surrendered. They had us surrounded.
They then took Pornchai, Anne and I away from the others and deliberated what they should do with us. Pornchai told me they were saying they’re worried about us leaving and telling the rest of the world about their village. I realized that with most of the fighting men from the second village now dead, they would return to being slaves working for the healthy and comfortable villagers in the first village.
Finally the guards near us stopped talking and one approached us. Taking the sword from his sheath, he first stabbed Anne in the chest, followed by Pornchai. He then came to me and pushed the blood-covered sword into my stomach.