"s 2015 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by HISHAM H.

My brother, Joe, had been engaged.

His fiancé eloped with our stepfather.

Yeah, that was pretty awkward.

I myself was recently let go from a company, with an admittedly generous severance package.

To make things worse, the site hosting my food and dining review blog suffered a colossal failure. End result? Four years worth of posts deleted.

So we both felt the need to unwind a bit.

Joe had already booked a reservation for two at an idyllic island resort in Malaysia. So there was no point in wasting the tickets or the money.

The resort was located on a tiny island in the northern part of the island of Borneo; part of a disputed group of islands between Malaysia and Indonesia. For now, the island of Pulau was under Malaysian rule.

Joe had rented one of those water bungalows situated on stilts. Very fancy; complete with air-conditioning, satellite TV, WiFi internet (albeit spotty and unreliable, but better than nothing), plumbing, hot and cold water, and steps leading downwards into the water below. Plus each bungalow had its own wooden jetty coming off the main pier separate from the others, adding a measure of privacy.

Each bungalow had a valet assigned to it, and ours was a Malaysian youth named Ashraff. He was cheery, loud and friendly, and spoke fluent English, and proved to be an avid fan of Western pop-culture.

He passed by daily to change the sheets, clean the place, bring fresh towels and so on. His jovial manner helped to liven up the situation. He often had a second guy come and help, a soft-spoken teenaged boy named Irfan, who spoke English just as fluently, but enunciated each and every word, and avoided using contractions. He reminded me of my English professor.

Our first two days went fairly well, what with snorkeling (I had to ward off a particularly pushy triggerfish) and fishing and dinner parties.

On the morning of the third day, my brother woke me up with a yelp of pain. He grasped his right side.

Great. The gallbladder again.

Joe's gallbladder was always troubling him. He got the gallstones removed again and again, but they always returned. His doctor told him gallstones usually reccurred, and it was better to just do a cholecystectomy and take the whole thing out, but Joe was having none of that. He said he was reluctant to permanently remove part of his body. What if he needed it later on?

My brother is an intelligent, well-educated man, but he does have his idiosyncrasies. If he ever had appendicitis, would I have to negotiate the extradition of the diseased organ?

As he ducked into the bathroom, I began to worry. Joe's digestive tract (and its associated organs) was notoriously volatile, and his body reacted to exotic foods like a pristine island ecosystem to an invasive species.

I still remember when he got hospitalized for gastroenteritis after a meal of escargot, and we never knew if it was the blue cheese or the gastropods that got him. Or the time he was almost done in by a dish of home-made ganjang gejang mitten crabs. Or the time he got shellfish poisoning from geoduck hotpot. It didn't help that we thought he was just drunk when his face got flushed and he couldn't speak properly.

After that, JoE decided to never touch a crustacean or mollusc again.

He had been careful last night; he steered clear of all invertebrates on offer and opted to eat only things with backbones. I had eaten the same things out of solidarity; cold poached ocean trout, a crunchy salad of palm hearts and water chestnuts, grilled turkey kabobs, and fresh mangosteen salad topped with lychee sorbet. Which one of these was the culprit?

I began to worry. Would his insurance even cover it here in a foreign country? How do these things work, exactly? Could it be arranged with the embassy? Acute cholecystitis wasn't a top-priority emergency, but, still...

There was a knock.

"Come in!"

Ashraff and Irfan walked in, holding fresh sheets and towels.

Maybe they would know, I thought. Maybe there were health facilities for guests, on-site doctor, no need to panic, surely...

My train of thought was broken as Joe emerged from the bathroom.

"Don't worry Greg, false alarm. Just saw myself in the mirror, had the big, nasty bruise on my right side, and now I remember I slammed into that ice sculpture last night. Decapitated the phoenix with a downward blow from my ribcage. The maître d'hôtel started crying. It happened when you went to the toilet."

So that explained the maître d'hôtel sudden hostility for the rest of the evening. I breathed a sigh of relief. "Just do yourself a favor and just take out your gallbladder. Evict this ungrateful tenant!"

"Ah!" Ashraf exclaimed, "Problems with the gallbladder, I presume?"

He motioned at us to follow his outside. I noticed Irfan's polite smile had become fixed.

He gestured grandiosely towards something in the distance; a pier, similar to the one connecting our bungalows, ending in a large one-storey building, a longhouse on stilts. It was built in a less modern fashion, being made of bamboo and covered with a roof of thatch and palm fronds.

"Our local health spa!" he proclaimed proudly. "No fancy name till now, but still a famous and successful healing center! Uses only herbal concoctions and alternative medicine, to treat a variety of ailments!"

"And what sort of 'ailments' does this spa treat?"

"Gallstones, acute cholecystitis, chronic cholecystitis, hemmorhoids, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, even polyps and colon cancer!"

I raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Well, I did say treat, not 'cure'. For some patients, they're completely cured after one sitting. For others, it requires many sessions. And for others, the symptoms never go away, but the treatment does improve them. What's it called? Parallel, palatable..?"

"Palliative care?" supplied Irfan.

"Ah, yes! Palliative care! To ease and comfort, rather than cure! Here, have a brochure!"

Ashraff produced one from seemingly nowhere. Irfan's left eye twitched, but he remained silent.

I groaned. In an effort to stave off surgery, Joe had resorted to various forms of alternative "medicine". These ranged from the conventional (herbal supplements) to the unproven (colon cleansing) to the preposterous (crystal therapy). There was that one time when a particularly macabre package arrived that contained, among other things, an assortment of various insects sprouting fungi and a mummified tropical-looking gecko. The whole thing was meant to be seeped in hot water to make a tisane, a tea that ended up giving him explosive diarrhea for two weeks. 

"Interesting." Joe leafed through the brochure earnestly. "Looky here Greg; they write here that what they offer is not a miracle cure-all or panacea, but an alternative to current medical treatments, and like all treatments there is a success-failure rate. Seems like a strange disclaimer for a scam, don't you think?"

I thought otherwise; it seemed like an excellent disclaimer for something that, in all likelihood, would almost surely fail if not kill you outright, but I bit it back after I saw how genuinely enthusiastic Ashraff looked.

After they left (with Irfan glaring daggers at Ashraff), I turned to Joe:

"You're not seriously thinking of trying it out?"

"Why not? It couldn't hurt to try."

I could only hope it didn't involve something illegal.

Later he headed towards the "health spa" while I took the ferry to the mainland for a bit of shopping.

When I came back, I was surprised to see him packing.

"What're you doing?"

"Oh, hey Greg. Just packing for a night at the spa."

I rolled my eyes. "You signed up for a session? Seriously? Why do you have to stay there overnight?"

He explained that each session required the client to stay overnight in the longhouse. There were all sorts of massages and poultices, and just before bedtime you drink a special brew of herbs, then go to sleep.

There were all sorts of release forms and consent forms. What was surprised was what they used: a standard form used for medical procedures in hospitals, like for intubation or whatever.

Joe explained that some treatments, like for colon problems, required an enema to be inserted during the night, to deliver a second dose of the herbal mix, and it would be administered through a tube made from the hollow stem of a local herb, so thin it wouldn't even wake you up.

For gallbladder troubles, they would have to insert the tube through the mouth, but they do it so gently that it won't wake you either.

I found that hard to believe. I suggested the "herbal brew" might be some kind of powerful knockout drug, a precursor to some repulsively deviant crimes.

Joe laughed, saying he thought that too, until he spoke to one of the spa's regulars. An old lady, she was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer. But after each session, the symptoms would go into remission for almost a year. So she made it an annual tradition to come here, and she found the quality of her life greatly improved.

There was another regular, a man with familial polyposis, a disease where your colon polyps proliferate throughout your life, far too many to excise one by one. The doctors recommended that they completely remove his colon, but ever since he started visiting this spa he managed to keep cancer at bay. The guy was grateul, but initially had a lot of reservations as well, so he used to go a regular hospital after each session. Each time, after a thorough examination, they failed to find any evidence of penetration. Satisfied that he wasn't being violated each night as part of his treatment, he became a regular customer, visiting every six months.

I still remained unconvinced; all that proved was absence of forced sexual trauma. I was pretty sure it was possible to assault someone without causing any lasting damage or pain, especially if your victim was sedated and powerless to resist. Joe countered that it was a medical procedure you consented to, no different from visiting a doctor twice a year to have him insert a finger in your butthole and prod your prostrate; if anything, it was better, since you aren't aware of the procedure.

My own butthole clenched reflexively as Joe reassured me that the tube-insertion was entirely optional, and there were a number of people who chose not to. But after talking to the rest of the clients, he noticed the ones that agreed to it all showed marked improvement, while those who declined improved little, if at all. So he decided to take a chance.

In the end, I was unable to discourage him, but I went along to have a look.

When we reached the longhouse, I was surprised to see that it was indeed as Ashraff said; there was no sign, no indication that it any sort of spa.

At the entrance, we were greeted by an old woman who was kind enough to take us an a tour.

It was surprisngly minimal; a few pieces of rattan furniture, chairs, stools, and what I assumed were massage tables. The matting and general feel of the place was in stark contrast with some of the equipment and supplies; computers, files, consent forms and so on.

There was a large room with what looked like cubicles; low beds separated from one another by bamboo partitions and curtains. The lady told us that this was the place where guest would sleep overnight. There were separate rooms for men and women.

She explained that no one was allowed to accompany the guests during their session. Visits were allowed, but companions were absolutely prohibited from staying overnight. No cameras were allowed; both to protect the privacy of guests and the secrecy of the techniques.

They were pretty strict about the cameras. They took away our phones in the beginning, even patted us down. At least there was no cavity search.

There were many signs and posters explaining about the procedures Joe had told me about, but I was surprised at the many warnings for pregnant women.

I asked our host; she explained that pregnancy was an absolute contraindication for some of the procedures. The herbal brew was highly teratogenic, even causing fetal death. Some unfortunate women would try to take advantage of the brew to terminate unwanted pregnancies, but the spa made pregnancy tests compulsory for women of child-bearing age. Abortion is highly illegal in both Malaysia and Indonesia, only permitted in certain cases for medical reasons, and then only by a qualified doctor.

I was certainly impressed by their diligence. They even did a skin prick test for Joe, to check for any allergies to the herbs.

I felt somewhat reassured, and left my brother under their care. For supper that evening, with Joe absent it was my chance to indulge my amateur (and primarily gastronomic) interest in marine biology and partake of a meal of fried calamari and seafood pasta rich in mussels, scampi, shrimp and crabmeat, followed by a serving of sago pudding and another of quince and apple tart. 

The next day, Joe called me, and told me he felt much better than he had in years. In fact, he was so pleased that he had signed up for a few more days.

We later met for lunch. Over bowls of fried rice, bean sprouts and sizzling beef teppanyaki, he told how after a simple, light dinner of white rice, vegetables and boiled fish, they were given the herbal brew, which tasted just like boiled spinach, before retiring. The next day he awoke marvelously refreshed and well-rested. He felt light, cleaner somehow. And the best part? He had slept soundly throughout the procedure. We were in a great mood, and we welcomed dessert with high spirits; fresh lychees topped with mangosteen sorbet.

Later, Ashraff and Irfan passed by to hand over our laundry, and the former was certainly pleased to hear of Joe's apparent satisfaction. I noticed Irfan looked even more sour than usual, although his manner remained respectful and polite.

As Ashraff helped Joe pack a fresh change of clothes, I waved Irfan aside. As soon as Ashraff and Joe were out of earshot, I turned to Irfan:

"I can't help but notice you seem, well, ill at ease about all this spa business."

Irfan stared at me for a few moments, then shrugged. "I do not like to speak ill of people, and the spa certainly seems to help a lot of sick patients. I am no doctor, but.."


Irfan hesitated, then went on: "If their therapy is so successful, so wonderful, then why stay here? Why not open other facilities, in more populated, more tourist-heavy places? Why here? This is the only spa that offers these services. Surely the herbs and techniques can be used elsewhere. Some guests begged to take back the treatment with them; they would pay millions, to bring this wonderful therapy back to their countries. They refused. One rich lady offered a very large amount so that she could bring back a private therapist, with the promise that the technique would never be revealed publicly. Again, refusal."

"No showy advertisements, no distinctive name or logo. Knowledge about it is almost entirely by word of mouth. And local agents passing out brochures."

He stared at longhouse. "Sometimes, I feel it is about location. They can only do it here. But why?"

I felt my misgivings come back. I thanked Irfan for his thoughts. Soon, Joe was on his way.

That night, I was uneasy. Nervous, I couldn't eat anything but bread rolls and plate after plate of pepperoncinis, the sharp, acidic taste keeping me on edge.

As a result of that dietary indiscretion, I was unable to sleep, so I got out of bed.

I sat at the window. The moon was out, and dimly illuminated the night.

All the other bungalows were dark. Their occupants either asleep or out partying.

I checked my phone.

1:53 AM

I normally never stay up this late. Not since college, anyway.

I saw the longhouse in the distance. Although the windows were shuttered, I could see it was still dimly lit.

Everything seemed so peaceful.

I felt relaxed, despite the caustic bubbling I felt beneath my diaphragm.

Then movement.

A dark shape peeled itself from the roof at one end of the longhouse.

Large tattered wings flapped awkwardly, lifting the being into the sky.

It's body was tiny in proportion to the wings.

It alternated bouts of flapping to gain altitude with long glides.

I watch transfixed as it flew inland, eventually disappearing as it dipped below the trees.

The next part's a bit fuzzy, but I do recall I found myself running along the jetty before I came to my senses.

Why was I running? What was I hoping to accomplish? The thing was long gone.

As I walked back feeling bewildered and a bit ashamed (and thankful I hadn't lept into the , I thought what I had seen.

A flock of birds? A fruit bat? A flock of fruit bats?

I remembered how the moonlight illuminated its wings.

No, it was something else. A hallucination? An pepperoncini-induced phantasm?

Needless to say, the next day I did not wake up refreshed.

Ashraff and Irfan, sensing my gloomy disposition, darted in and out unobtrusively.

I called Joe, asked how he was. I had lunch brought up to me; turkey sandwich and a fruit plate. I was surprised at how famished I was; apparently nocturnal sprinting gave me quite an appetite. The only thing disconcerting was the fruit platter; consisting of rockmelon, papaya and mango, the cubes of fruit were confusingly all the same shade of buttery orange.

That night, after an early and rather hasty dinner of halibut cheeks and artichoke hearts I hurried to the bungalow and sat at the window, staring at the longhouse.

Hoping to glimpse the thing again.

But no such luck. I had failed to realize how sleep-deprived I was from last night. After 1:00 AM, I started nodding off, and the next thing I knew I was perspiring in the sweltering heat of tropical Malaysia at 11:53 AM.

I felt much better now, possibly from finally having a good night's sleep, albeit upright in a chair. And with my mind a bit clearer, I had but one nagging thought.

That the thing had noticed I was standing vigil, and so failed to appear.

The next night, well-fortified with strong, black coffee, I went through the motions of preparing for bed, and turned off the lights.

After about ten minutes, I slid slowly from beneath the covers. I crept, flattened against the floor.

I felt foolish and childish; a grown, intelligent adult acting as a boy playing make-believe spy.

Nevertheless, I took up a position near the window where I could look at the longhouse, but hopefully still be hidden from anyone watching from outside. And let me tell you, I felt ashamed for even thinking that thought. Like there was an actual creature watching the bungalows.

The hours passed.

My jaws ached from yawning so much.

At around eleven, a couple came walking down the pier, laughing and conversing loudly.

I groaned.

They headed towards their bungalow. They entered and turned on the lights.

Great. Just great. The thing would never appear now.

My thoughts wandered. What could it have been? Some sort of cryptid, a monstrous undiscovered species of bat? Or maybe an anomaly, a fruit bat that mutated after eating a radioactive fig?

After what seemed like an eternity, just as I was about to give up, the lights went out.

I looked at my phone. 12:17 AM

I waited.

It finally appeared. It flapped awkwardly from the treeline, and when it got enough altitude, it glided right towards the longhouse.

It stayed for almost an hour and a half. Then it flew off, back where it came from.

I admit, I was mostly equal parts horrified and fascinated. But one small childish part of me felt triumphant at being vindicated.

I was now convinced that the nightly flyer was somehow connected to the longhouse. And I certainly did not like the idea of my brother being under the roof where a nightly visitor perched for a prolonged period of time.

I called Joe. I was pretty sure if I told him a winged phantom made nightly visits, he wolud either laugh at me outright or have me committed. So I made up a story of seeing smugglers and boats, and secret packages being exchanged in the dead of night, and begged him to leave the spa and come back.

The guy had the audacity to be angry with me. He declared he felt better that he ever had before, so why was I trying to ruin this for him? He accused me of being close-minded, ignorant, and prejudiced against foreign cultures.

I admit I may have lost my temper a bit, and rashly retorted that if being afraid of a nocturnal flying monstrosity made me "prejudiced" against the local culture, then so be it.

That earned me a good five seconds of silence before he hung up on me.

I needed a different course of action. I needed to find out what was going on in that longhouse.

So I went shopping for a bit. I needed supplies.

The next day, I called for Irfan, and offered him a very generous sum to do what I say.

It took quite a bit of persuading. Several times his eyes darted to the side, as if he was contemplating throwing himself off the jetty to escape. After multiple inquiries as to the state of my mental health and assurances that I wasn't delirious with fever or on "illegal recreational chemicals", he asked:

"Mister Greg, I hope you do not mind me asking this, but why not do this yourself?"

"Because Joe will instantly know something is up the minute I show my face. I'll never be able to smuggle in the camera! Besides, I have to watch the outside too, see if that thing comes back."

Irfan raised an eyebrow. "And you think I would be able to smuggle this in? Because I happen to be...indigenous?"

He held up the object gingerly with his fingertips, as if it was a particularly putrid rotten fish.

I had fashioned a sort of effigy from a clump of twisted roots and a wooden carving of a shark, stuck on some sequins with glue, and added the plumed tip of a peacock feather for good measure. Hidden within the hollow shark was a wireless spy camera connected to my laptop, the lens nestled within the mouth in such a way that I hoped would avoid detection.

The idea was it was some sort of good-luck charm or talisman.

"No no, I don't mean to offend! In fact, a dumb tourist like me is more likely to be the sort of gullible idiot to carry around that thing. But like I said, I can't do it, and you seem unsuspicious enough. They probably know you by sight."

He sighed "But why me?"

"Because at the moment you're the only one I'm 100% sure has nothing to do with the health spa."

"Mister Greg, I am not sure about all this, what with this talk of a flying monster. Plus I am sure I do not relish being-" he paused delicately,"-probed."

"You won't have to get probed or anything! Just sign up for one night and refuse the procedure. You won't stand out, plenty of people refuse the enema or whatever. All you have to do is just hang up camera, spend the night. That's it. No dangerous stunts or anything."

"Very well, suppose probing is not an issue, but what about the flying beast? I do not appreciate being placed in the line of fire."

"It should be perfectly safe! Dozen of people have stayed overnight without any problems!"

"Why are you so focused on this? You really are worried about your brother."

"It's not just my brother! This is common human decency!"

Irfan sighed, then said: "About a month ago, we were very busy. I was up all night, and the next day I had to clean one of the bungalows. I was so tired, I fell asleep right there on a pile of towels."

He gazed across at the longhouse.

"That night, a fight broke out between some of our guests in the bungalows. There was quite a ruckus. It was really late, and I was too scared to show myself, so I stayed where I was. I waited for things to calm down, and for everyone to leave. I wanted to make sure nobody saw me. I glanced over at the longhouse, and..."

He looked at me.

"I saw something leap from the roof and fly away. Something with what looked like bat wings. Later I convinced myself it was just a tarp, or it was all in my imagination. I was tired that day."

He picked off a few sequins, then plucked the peacock feather from the effigy and let it drop.

"Now it is better. Less tacky, at least. Alright, I hope I do not regret this, but I will help you."


The next day Ashraff came alone, as Irfan had called in sick as per our arrangement.

I told him that I had some personal business to attend to, and gave him instructions that I was not to be disturbed for the rest of the day. But at the look of surprise on Ashraff's face, I panicked and thought it might seem suspicious to skip lunch and dinner (when I had diligently adhered to mealtimes these past few days), so as he turned to leave, at the last moment I blurted out that I would like an early brunch, and hastily ticked off a few things on the menu without really looking. I became concerned about the consternated look on Ashraff's face.

But ever the professional, he said nothing, and later brought back my order.

I now understood his confusion; I had ordered sliced green mango with bagoong, beefheart tartare, poached peaches folded into vanilla ice cream, and a very expensive-looking thing that was apparently steamed sea urchin roe pudding, topped with fresh sea urchin gonads.

"Ah yes. Exactly what I wanted, yes. I, ah, had a craving. Thank you."

Evening came. Topped up on gametes, raw meat and fruit, I sat on the floor of the bungalow in the dark. I positioned my laptop so the glow of the screen was blocked by the furniture.

I had purchased a pair of binoculars in addition to the camera, plus some other odds and ends to make it work. I checked the live feed. Everything was going well.

After reading up on the internet about a dreamcatcher, the cover story that Irfan went with was that the effigy was meant to ward off nightmares, and was a gift from his beloved great-grandmother who grew up in a longhouse in the jungles of Borneo. Irfan would emphasize that he did not believe in such nonsense, but he promised her he would always hang it above his head when he slept (Irfan believed the sentimentality would discourage closer scrutiny).

Apparently he was right. My screen showed the inside of the longhouse. All the guests were dressed in simple gowns that reached mid-thigh. From the way Irfan clutched at the hem of his gown and kept angling away from the camera, I guessed they weren't wearing any underwear.

I had instructed Irfan to hang it as high as possible, both to get the widest view and to peek above the partitions. He was unable to get a bed right next to Joe or directly opposite, but managed to get one opposite that was only one bed over.

Hanging next to the door of each cubicle was a metal clipboard with papers, most likely each guest's file. A woman walked up and down, double checking the occupants and the clipboards.

Finally, they were ready for bed. Workers brought in trays with small bowls of green liquid. Each bowl was labeled, presumably with the name of the patient. Everyone (including a rather reluctant-looking Irfan) drank the brew.

The camera had a low-light mode, but it wasn't necessary; the longhouse was equipped with fluorescent lights, and when everyone had settled down, the lamps were dimmed but not turned off.

I waited. The brew seemed to be a highly effective sedative, but not quite the tranquilizer I thought it was. Some drifted off to sleep almost immediately, others stirred drowsily for a while. Poof Irfan, lying straight and rigid on his mat, stayed awake until almost midnight, but eventually his limbs relaxed.

So I waited. Every now and then I looked up at the longhouse through the binoculars.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

I stared at the screen, feeling a bit queasy with all the energy drinks I consumed.

I looked again at the longhouse.

I saw the creature gliding down, landing softly. I sat up straight.

Here we go.

The thing perched on the roof, shuffling around a bit. Even with the binoculars it was hard to make out, but I could tell it had huge ears and an almost human-like torso, except the arms were too long. I couldn't make out the lower part, but I could see that the wings were strangely, almost haphazardly jointed, asymmetrical even. It kept poking around in the thatch head down, like a mosquito seeking a vessel.

Finally it seemed to find a sweet spot of some sort and stayed still, wings obscuring it from view.

I turned my attention to the screen.

Something was emerging into view. From the top right.

Something like a long, thin, woody liana or vine, bendy and flexible, coming dow from the roof, just out of view. It seemed as thin as a pencil, maybe even thinner.

It extended into the space between the cubicles. It waved around, like an insect's feeler, as if it was sampling the air. Or listening.

It stayed like that for quite a while. Then, apparently satisfied that the coast was clear, it stretched onwards. The tip passed out of view. The main body of the liana was curved upwards slightly, so that it's horizontal length was almost level with the top of the cubicles.

It was almost certainly a part of the creature. It was probably probing the roof looking for a suitable gap to insert it. Perhaps that was why the longhouse was thatched with palm fronds.

A change was occurring. Liana was an appropriate descriptor; along its length, small buds grew into branching offshoots with extraordinary speed. It was like watching time-lapse photography.

Each branch was the same diameter as the main stem. And the tip of each branch started to sprout a small tuft of fresh, bright green leaves at amazing speed.

From each tuft, one leaf seemed fleshier and stouter that the others, and soon extended into a tentacle. A swelling appeared at the tip, and quickly ballooned in size.

The swelling formed into the shape of a bulbous gourd, and was roughly the size of one. A split appeared near the top, and it opened up like an alien flower, the upper part folding back and up into a fleshy lid.

A pitcher. The famed pitcher traps of the insectivorous Nepenthes.

Each cubicle now had a wiry vine dangling a pitcher over it.

They were gorgeously colored, streaks and spots of intense colors liked uncut gems. The one hovering over Irfan was a rich, mottled Tyrian purple, halfway between amethyst and ruby. Two others of a similar vivid shade hovered over the neighboring cubicles. The one hovering over my brother was more purple. The one opposite was wine red, with brick-red flecks. One just visible at the edge screen appeared to be an unnatural shade of electric violet indigo.

Then, each one did something comical.

Each one snaked towards the cubicle opening and positioned itself in front of the metal clipboard. The one in front of Irfan's cubicle even recoiled slightly, as if doing a double take.

They stayed like this for a few minutes.

Then, with the exception of Irfan's pitcher, each one started snaking towards the cubicle's sleeping occupant.

I barely noticed the stinging pain in my legs as I dug my nails in. I could hardly breathe. My stomach was sick with dread.

The guy next to Irfan was a large overweight man. He snored softly as the pitcher with the same color as Irfan's slowly positioned itself between his legs.

It bent over, lifting up the man's gown with its mobile lid.

"No," I whispered at the screen.

A thin, almost thread-like tentacle emerged from the mouth of the pitcher, so fine I could barely see it despite the high definition of my high-end spy camera.

It appeared to fasten itself to his posterior.

I turned away. What vile act was this?

I felt nauseated, both by what transpired and the realization of the voyeuristic nature of my mission, this painful invasion of privacy.

Did people really have no recollection of any of this?!

Did the pitchers squirt some sort of amnesia serum into you?!

How was any of this therapeutic?!

My head snapped back as I remembered Joe.

The purple pitcher appeared to be stuck on his face. It writhed and convulsed. Joe didn't even twitch.

All the pitchers seemed busy, with the exception of Irfan's, which simply hovered over him like a mobile on the crib of an infant.

Now what?

To be frank, I was mainly concerned with uncovering the secret of the spa, plus documenting it. I had a vague idea of turning over the information to the authorities if I uncovered anything unsavory, but I was all too aware the fact that what I was doing was probably highly illegal in itself.

But now, with the true grotesque nature of the so-called "therapy" revealed, I had to make a decision. I couldn't let these nightly violations continue.

I pondered what to do next. My first instinct was to just run and scare off the monster, but there was no telling what might happen to the victims if I suddenly interrupted the procedure; I had a sudden vision of a pitcher retracting too quickly and pulling out someone's entrails through their orifice in the process. Besides, their lives did not appear to be in any danger.

The pitcher lolling over Irfan started to collapse on itself and roll up, withdrawing into the embrace of the leaves which closed around it like the petals of a flower. Then the whole shrank and retracted into the vine. Then the side branch did the same, retracting into the main stem. I could see the other pitchers start to disengage.

I made up my mind. I would try to track down the beast's roost, or at least its general location, then come back with an army. I remembered that it flew inland, so it was likely it resided on the island. The island wasn't very large, and it was well-explored, with multiple paths. There weren't many places it could escape detection. We could raze the whole jungle if we had to. Of course, I had no intention of taking on the monster single-handedly. This was reconnaissance only.

I left my laptop running, and peeked out. The creature still had its head down, and with the way it flattened itself against the roof, it was almost invisible.

I remembered the last time I saw, I actually saw it dive beneath the treetops. Shouldn't be too far then.

I looked through the binoculars again. It looked like it was scanning the pier.

Presumably satisfied that the coast was clear, it took off.

I watched carefully the course it took, and noted where it went down. It struck me that as it flew from the longhouse to the coast, it seemed to closely follow the path of the jetty. Was it such a shitty flier that it didn't feel safe over the open water? If true then it was well and truly trapped on the island.

I left the bungalow and headed towards the treeline.

I walked through the bushes and shrubs, trying to be as quiet as possible. But before long I noticed I was on a path; a well-worn path. And as I headed towards where I saw the beast land, it became clear that I was more or less following the path.

I was surprised when I saw the first of the buildings in a clearing up ahead. Simple, one-storey affairs, lodging for the staff who didn't reside in the resort itself. A tiny little village separate from the guest housings. Here there was a break in the tree cover. The perfect landing pad, if it weren't for all these buildings.

Everything seemed quiet. Surely the monster wasn't here?

I crept around, keeping to the outer perimeter. There were a few electric lights dangling from overhead cables, illuminating the paths and buildings, but none inside the buildings themselves. I noticed several were boarded up. I would have guessed that no one actually lived here anymore, but the lights were brand-new, which told me otherwise. 

I then noticed one building, located far away from the others and right on the far edge of the clearing. It was in much poorer condition than the others; old bicycles and other junk piled up in front it door, and the windows were all boarded up. A portion of the roof seemed to be missing.


I circled around, going for the side that faced the trees. The windows were almost fully boarded up on this side. I crept up as quietly as I could. 

I moved towards a window, and listened. A sort of rustling or shuffling sound. Something was definitely in there. But I couldn't tell if it was the monster, or some other animal.

I began to get frustrated. Was the beast inside or not? It was too dark to tell, and if I peeked, it might see me.

Well, it was a good night's work, I thought. I could come here during the day, check if the thing actually slept here. It surprised me that it could live so close to humans without being noticed. Then again, who knows what kind of abilities it has. Maybe it turns invisible when it sleeps or something.

Suddenly, a burst of illumination erupted from the inside. I clamped my hand over my mouth and just barely failed to contain the muffled shriek. Fortunately, the light came with a burst of applause and music that drowned out any embarrassing sounds. I realized it was a TV.

I decided to risk a peek.

It was a large flatscreen TV in the corner, showing some late night comedy show. It dimly lit the figure sitting on a stool in front of it, its back partially towards me.

It was not human.

At least not from the waist up.

From the waist down, it was human, or more accurately human-like.

A pair of legs clad in faded jeans.

Shoes clad in sandals. Remote control next to the left foot.

There was even a belt holding up the pants.

But that's when the similarities to a human ended.


I could just barely see the edges of the pelvis, like the edge of some macabre bowl.

And nestled within that bowl, was a vile, flabby beast.

An overgrown baby bird (though far larger than any hatchling I've ever seen), with a disproportionately massive head and huge eyes partially covered by flesh, looking out through narrow slits. The creature looked raw and undercooked, waterlogged even, and it had dark pinfeathers sprouting sparsely over its whole body. Its wings didn't have any flight feathers.

Have you ever seen a male Muscovy duck? With all the caruncles and warts on its face?

This thing was like that all over, like it had some tumorous disease that caused it to sprout pluots and plumcots from flesh. In fact, it seemed to reside within a nest of such boils within the pelvic cavity, as if it sprouted, puffball-like, from that fungoid mass.

This thing was watching TV.

And every so often, it would point its beak skywards and gape alarmingly wide, begging the way nestlings do, except silently.

And something, some dark shape I couldn't see, perhaps hanging from the ceiling, extended a long thin vine tipped with a familiar tuft of leaves and a dangling pitcher.

It lowered that pitcher almost right into the nestling's mouth. And dribbled something into it mouth. I could hear noisy swallowing and gulping, then it would close its beak and turn its attention back to the screen. The vine lifted up from view.

This process repeated every few minutes, with all the practiced monotony of a guy slurping a soda at a movie theater.

I was pretty sure I knew who the owner of the vine was. So now I knew; that thing, after feeding, would come here and feed its baby or larva or whatever; this was its base of operations. The fact that it was seemingly capable of reproduction distressed me deeply.

I crept away, and made my way back to the bungalow. I was thinking furiously; I had to figure out a way to present this information without seeming like a hoaxer or a crazy person, and I wasn't having much luck with the latter.

I slipped into the bungalow, and locked the door. It was only then that it occurred to me that I should have probably checked to see if I was being tailed.

Because the creature was standing right there in the living room.

The head was roughly skull-like and hairy, the upper jaw elongated into a snout like a carnivorous mammal. The teeth were long fangs, with blunted tips. The lower mandible was split and splayed apart like the jaws of an insect. It was now clear that the liana I had seen was actually this creature "tongue", coiled up up like the proboscis of a butterfly. Huge ears with pointed tips each almost as large as the head itself, and each delicately ribbed and veined. Two huge, gleaming amber eyes as big as grapefruits, with black pupils shaped like hourglasses. A nose (I assumed it was a nose) that looked like some terrible dead-leaf moth with hooked-tip wings, convoluted and elaborately folded into a series of curls and spikes. The end result; its head looked much like the head of a Maclaud's horseshoe bat, if it had been built out of dead leaves and burlap.

The torso was also humanoid, but the arms were disproportionately long, nearly twice the length of the body. The hands had too many fingers, and each ended in a stout, hook-like claw, like a polydactyl sloth. The enormous wings were folded accordion-style. They were batlike, but awkwardly misshapen and uneven; like someone shaped wings out of unevenly branching twigs and vines. And unlike the leathery wing membrane of a bat, they looked like they were composed of millions of thread-like branching fibers, like fungal hyphae. The entire creature looked skeletal, its skin looking stretched over its frame. It was standing on its hands, because the there was no lower half.

The torso just ended at where the bellybutton would be on a human. Instead of hips, it had a bunch of limp, multicolored tubes writhing and flopping around. I once saw a clip of a seal carcass infested by giant nemertean worms, their pale, ghastly shapes wriggling like giant overcooked noodles. That is exactly what the tubes looked like, waving around seemingly tasting the air hungrily.

We stared at each other for almost a full minute before I came to my senses and reached for the door handle behind me.

At the sudden movement, it sneezed, and the loathsome vine shot out from its throat with all the speed and precision of a chameleon's tongue, and wrapped around my throat.

My shriek was cut off as I was yanked off my feet. My face hit carpet. Then thing was on top of me. I felt the rough bark of its tongue liana scraping against my skin as it continued to coil around my mouth and throat.

I thrashed and rolled about. The thing wasn't very heavy, but it had a tenacious grip. I felt the tubes from its torso writhing and wrapping around my legs. 

It finally pinned me on my back. My arms held down by its claws, my legs tangled in the mess of tubes. It gurgled in my ear.

It took me quite a while to realize that it wasn't looking for the right spot to stab my jugular or suck my brain through my ear.

The hentai monster was speaking English.

It didn't have the jaw and lips to speak, so it talked by gulping air and sort of belching out the words. It just about managed to make itself understood. 

"Quiet! QUIET! Look, I'm not gonna kill you! I am NOT going to kill you! NO KILL YOU! NO KILLING, NO EATING, JUST TALKING! Just listen! Just, shut up and listen!"

I was so flabbergasted, I could only stare wide-eyed. I could see its exposed tooth-lined throat, like the spiny maw of a leatherback turtle.

"Okay, that's better. Okay, everything is fine. We are both intelligent guys here; we can discuss this right? Right?

"I'm usually more careful on nights with a full moon. So you followed me. I know what you're thinking; I'm some sort of depraved monster molesting people in their sleep. But take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

"I'm not hurting anyone, right? It's all good, they get better, I eat, win-win situation! I'm practically a doctor, a surgeon even! Alternative medicine and all that! It's just bile, and gallstones, and tumors and polyps anyway! Things nobody wants! Right? I'm gonna let you talk now, but no screaming, okay?"

I glared at it.

"C'mon, no screaming! We're just having a talk!"

Well, I wasn't in much of a position to argue, so I nodded, and the tongue-liana shifted slighty to let me open my mouth.

"You really don't see what's wrong with violating people, let alone in their sleep?! You don't see the whole creepy, rapey aspect of it all?! Oh wait, you don't! Because you're a monster whose primary mode of nutrition is sexual assault!"

"Now hold on here!" It snorted indignantly (I had to remind myself not to get to carried away here; the thing was still practically throttling me). "I don't force anyone to do what they don't want to! The sedative, the entire thing, it's all consensual! Like anesthetic before surgery! I always take consent! They all signed forms! Remember? A slender tube made from a plant stem is inserted, quote-unquote! It's all there! It's the truth! Not a single word was a lie!"

I was not convinced. But I needed it to keep talking; I needed time to figure out how to escape, so for the time being I was content to stall.

"But it's still lying by omission! It's dubious consent at best! You think anyone would give consent if they realized some nightmarish horror was poking about their giblets with its proboscis?!"

"Well, what do expect me to do?!" It sounded almost like a whiny child. "I can't live on birds and monkeys, Gigantopithecus is extinct and orangutans are endangered, so it's gotta be human! I mean, I eat a lot of durians when it's in season, but I can't live on durians alone, I need human-stuff to survive! This island was once a hill, but with the rising sea level I got cut off. I'm trapped here, and there aren't many durian trees either. I admit I used to flap around and do my thing while people were asleep, so don't you think this is much better than the old way?"

This was becoming uncomfortably similar to arguing with a rape apologist. I couldn't believe that I was debating ethics with a terrifying monstrosity. 

I had to be wary; this creature, no matter how well-spoken or rational it seemed, nevertheless saw humans as a food source, and as such I could not let my guard down. It was obviously very intelligent; all too capable of deceit. I couldn't let myself be sweet-talked into this whole scam.

"Look, you want to do this ethically?" I said as calmly and as neutrally as I could, "Fine! Turn yourself in then! Reveal yourself to the human world! I'm sure some scientists will even volunteer to be hosts for a chance to study such an otherworldly creature. And even if not, I'm sure the government could supply you with surgical waste, you'd never have to probe another human again!"

It whined again. "But what if it all goes wrong? What if they all see me as just a monster to be exterminated? Can you promise me someone won't just take a bazooka and blast me outta the sky with it? Can you guarantee my safety?" 

"I can't promise your well-being," I admitted, "but it's a risk you're gonna have to take if you're serious about this whole ethical feeding thing. If it's the right thing, then it's worth dying for."

"Well, until I muster up the courage for my grand reveal, is it too much to ask for your silence?" It cocked its head at me.

This is my chance, I thought. If I play it cool, maybe it'll let its guard down. I'll leap through the window, then make a mad dash for the nearest bungalow, raise a ruckus. I steeled myself for an escape attempt. There was only a small window of oppurtunity.

"Fine. You seem like you're trying to do the right thing, you're helping people, and you're having a talk with me instead of killing me outright. I'll keep your secret. Won't tell a soul."

I desperately hoped that didn't sound as forced and artificial to the monster as it did to me. I'm not good at faking sincerity.

It cut me with off by slapping a pitcher on my mouth and nose, a pitcher the same shade of purple as the one I saw on Joe's face.

"Sadly, I don't think I can trust you," it gurgled, "But if you were being sincere, then I appreciate the thought."  

There was a scent of permanent markers and cherry cough syrup, then I blacked out.


I was awoken by shouting and an angry Malaysian man shaking me.

It was daytime. The bungalow was a complete mess; not a single piece of furniture was left in place or right-side up. Cushions and pillows were everywhere.

I was still groggy, and I really didn't have time to get my story together, or come up with a more covincing one.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant setup: bungalow in ruins, foreign tourist in some sort of drug-induced stupor. Drugs were a very serious matter in Malaysia, and would you have believed a story about a flying demon that stuck a drinking straw into people to slurp up their insides?

I don't remember much. A lot of shouting and yelling. The report says that I threw the first punch, but I have no recollection of the matter. I'm not the sort to get physical when I lose my temper, but I'll concede it's likely that I probably stumbled over my own feet and accidently clocked someone in the jaw.

I do remember being hauled away by security, then handed over to police who took me to the mainland. They took like half a dozen samples of my blood, and I had to piss in a cup twice.

Then they put me in a holding cell, where I slept off the effects of fiend's narcotic breath.

My mind was in a  kind of fog, so I don't know how many days passed, but one day they took to much nicer quarters, and I was soon meeting with a man from the embassy named Mr. Samuels.

Mr. Samuels was kind and understanding, although a bit condescending in his manner. He told all the tests came back clean, and the resort was dropping any charges. Apparently, although a huge mess had been made, nothing was actually damaged, with the sole exception of my laptop which had been smashed and ripped apart, and the hard drive mangled, battered, crushed then shoved into the toilet bowel.

As for the man I had assaulted, Mr. Samuels said he and his staff were working very hard to clear up the whole manner, and Mr. Samuels thought I was very lucky to have a brother testify that we had been going through a stressful period in life.

Yep, my brother told them all about our stepdad's elopment and my firing. At least it painted me in a sympathetic light. So my little "episode" was chalked up to psychological causes rather than alcohol or drug-induced.

Joe visited me later, and infuriated me with his kindly manner and the look of pity in his eyes. I'll leave out the details, but there was a lot of sappy stuff like "I hadn't realized you were hurting so much" and "I should have recognized the signs" and everything I had been babbling about was "a cry for help."

Still, it wasn't his fault, and it was all rather touching in a way. There was no reason to be angry with him, and I told him as such. He smiled and told everything would be arranged, and we would going home soon.

After that, I was released from custody and all charges were dropped, then given housing at the embassy, on the condition that I leave as soon as possible and not take a single step off of embassy grounds. Joe told that once arrangements were completed, in a few days a car would be taking the both of us directly to the airport. 

It was during this interlude that I was informed that I had a guest, and I was surprised to learn it was Irfan. After vouching for him through security (and a thorough search of his bag), we went back to my quarters to talk.

The first I did was apologize for all the trouble I put him through. I also realized at this point that I still hadn't paid him for his help. He tried to decline but I insisted. Although he didn't say it outright, I had the feeling that he didn't want to take advantage of a person whose faculties were not intact. I assured him I was mentally sound when I made the offer, and mentally sound when I paid him. The business transaction was perfectly legal.

Irfan then asked what had happened. I saw no need to hold back, so I told him everything.

When I finished, I wasn't suprised to see a look of disbelief and concern (possibly for me, more likely for himself) in his eyes.

"It's alright if you don't believe me," I sighed. "I don't expect you to."

Irfan said delicately and diplomatically: "At any rate, I do believe something did happen, whatever it was. I do not think you took any illicit chemicals."

Clearly uncomfortable with the subject, he shifted track, "Anyway, this is the reason why I came."

He reached into his bag, and pulled out the "dream catcher."

"I do not think you are attached to this, but I believe the camera was expensive, so I brought it to you."

"Hey, thanks! I forgot all about it."

"Another thing. Ashraff sends his regards, and he is very sorry about what happened to you. He was not able to come here in person to say goodbye, for he is very busy today. When he heard that I was coming to see you, he had a strange request; he gave me money and asked me to buy something for you. As a gift."

Irfan pulled out something else from his bag. Something rather flat and rectangular, and gift-wrapped.

I tore open the paper with trembling hands.

It was a new laptop.