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Bright Links Dark Links - Extracts

AN OLD CHINESE SAYING


It was like looking into the mirror. The girl reminded Jeanie of herself when she first met Robert; young, untouched, curious about the world and ready to blossom. In no time, this waif of a girl would become a trendy, self-assured woman, more worldly under his hand. She might have a good chance of making the relationship work for she did not suffer the same blight as Jeanie.

For Jeanie Shen, twenty-eight years old, successful marketing director of Shosen Solutions, had what the Chinese called 'kou yen' or dog's eyes.

There was an old Chinese saying that when dogs howled at night, it was because they saw things which were not of this world. People, young and old, get goose bumps when they hear their woeful cries.  Those born in the year of the dog under the Chinese zodiac were believed to be able to see things from another realm. The affliction manifested itself to some when their health was poor. Others could feel any unearthly presence but saw only shadows. Yet a minority, for better or worse, could see these beings, be it night or day. There was a convention those who had this gift obeyed. Eyes had to be lowered so as not to warn the spirits that they had been sighted, otherwise, they would approach the humans for help.

Jeanie could see spirits. The old, white-haired lady with eyeless sockets who often sat beside Robert was not with him at the supermarket. It was at his house that the apparition often appeared. Jeanie knew better now not to disclose such things to anyone. Unlike her, the thought of the spiritual realm coexisting with the living unsettled most people. Robert was no exception.

Pushing away the bitter memory, she forced a smile on her face - once, twice - just as the self-help gurus had instructed. Hopefully, the smile would show in her voice. Taking a deep breath, she shot a prayer heavenward and picked up the phone.


LOVESTRUCK


Rolling up his sleeves, Sam went about the work. In no time, the damaged wheel was removed. He hauled the spare tire out from the boot, fitted it into place and, with his foot anchored against the wheel, secured each lug nut with a quick spin of the wrench. Satisfied, he released the jack and turned to Jeanie.

She had moved a few feet away from him, clutching her arms again with her hands, face blanched of all color.

"Jeanie?" Sam straightened, taken aback by her strange expression. "Is something wrong?" He reached out to take her hand but she backed away, matching step for step, keeping a distance. Her wide eyes seemed transfixed on something behind him.

Just as he was about to turn to check what it was that arrested her attention, she snapped out of her trance. "No, don't look back!" she said in a breathless voice. "I mean ... don't bother with the car. I'll get AA to handle it first thing tomorrow morning. Come, let's go!"

Without waiting for him, she hurried down the lane, then stopped short at the fringe of the car headlights, as though afraid of plunging into the dark on her own. As she stood there, her large eyes pleading him to follow, hands wringing each other like sworn enemies, a primeval urge to protect her hit him like a shot of lightning, knocking him off-balance with its intensity. Never moved before by any girl in all his thirty-one years, in spite of the many friends his five sisters had introduced to him, there and then, Sam fell, for the very first time in his life, totally, absolutely and most hopelessly in love, smitten by the skittish and most certainly, terrified girl standing on the penumbra, half of her cloaked in darkness and the other, washed in bright, white light.


THE LINK


When the sound came, not around her, but in her head, she flinched but kept her cool. It was a whisper, a hiss, then more whispers. She cast her mind about for some clue as to where it emanated from, but there was no one in the kitchen. The cabinet was there, as before. So was the table. As though reliving the events of the day, Jeanie focused her eyes on that shaded corner next to the cabinet.

Prepared though she was, the army of shadows unfurling from that same spot startled her, driving her back with a physical force. As they darted towards her, she flung her hands up to ward them off. It was useless. They passed right through her as though she was thin air. Her senses rocked with the tornado of smell that assailed her. It was pungent, cloying, the stench of dead rats. A chill swept over her as though someone had opened the door to a giant freezer.

She whirled around to see where the apparitions went and this time, the resistance was gone. She was able to move fast. In the blink of an eye, she faced the opposite direction, stunned at a smooth white wall sticking out right in front of her, so close that her nose was just inches away. She stopped short, feeling disoriented. When did the kitchen shrink to this size?

The sound came again, a cacophony of whispers, sending a shock wave of goose bumps up her spine. She released a shuddering breath. As though her exhalation shifted the air around, particles of the wall, as fine as powder, blew away, bit by bit, unveiling ridges and bumps on its surface.

Rooted to the spot, Jeanie watched the ridges tremble ever so slightly. Two of them cracked open, showing white, glassy marbles underneath, each with a small grayish orb in the center. As she reared back, another two popped open, then another two. In front of her horrified eyes, they widened and ... blinked. A yawning black hole gaped open below each pair, then another, and another and finally, a whole rash of them. And in unison, they wailed.

The scream froze in her throat as she came hurtling out of the nightmare, the wail echoing in her ears. She bolted up in her bed, staring wildly at the reeling darkness. Her chest heaved with the effort to breathe. As the familiar shapes came back into focus, she let out a shaky breath and tried to still her pounding heart. That was when she saw him.

She shrieked and backed into the far corner of her bed. It was a small boy, not much taller than the chair he was standing next to. His body was translucent, fading in and out of the shadows, so much so that she could make out the outline of the bookshelf behind him. If she had been less worked up earlier, the normal warning of goosebumps on her skin would have alerted her to his presence.

"Get away!" She forced the words out through stiff lips.

He flinched, cowering a little as though to ward off an imaginary blow.

"I said get away!" She gritted her teeth and enunciated the words more clearly, her voice low and angry. The shock was wearing off, replaced now by a growing sense of indignation. Her private sanctum had been invaded; her security breached. She knew her place to be free of all supernatural presence. She had checked thoroughly before she bought the apartment. How did this ghost get here?

The boy remained where he was, fixing a glazed stare on her. The light grey irises in his eyes made him look almost blind. He was thin, with a narrow face and a shock of hair on his head. The crumpled white shirt he wore looked baggy against his small frame, draping over his hunched shoulders like a poncho.

"In the name of Jesus, I —" She stopped as a scrawny arm arched upward to dash across his eyes. He looked so harmless and pathetic, only a small slip of a boy ghost, unlike the many ghoulish ones she had encountered before. If he had been a real boy, he would have been no more than ten. Surely he could not harm her in any way.

Jeanie took in a deep breath. "Who ..." She tamped down her fear. "Who are you?"

He hesitated. Then, his mouth opened, its shape reminding her of the black gaping holes in her dream, but no sound emerged.

She leaned closer. "Who …"

"Lek Lek." She almost missed it. It was a wispy sound, registering in her mind two seconds after his mouth closed.

"How did you get here?"

"Followed ... you." Again, a few seconds apart.

"Followed me?" she fairly shrieked. "From where?"

"From kitchen."

Her goose bumps rose with a vengeance. The thought of being stalked from Sam's house to the restaurant and then back to her home was creepy. If he could follow her, what about the others? And why did her internal warning system not work?

"How ... how did you do that?" It came out more as a whine.

"There is..." The voice in her head paused, as though searching for the right word. "A link."

"A link? But how?"

He bowed his head. "By ... touching you."

The shadows seemed to darken and crowd in on Jeanie. The thought chilled her. If any ghost could touch her without her knowing, and in so doing, create a link to haunt her, what an endless passage of fear her life would become. The ability to see paranormal occurrences was already an affliction. Now, the added revelation made it a hundred times, a million times worse.

"Why did you follow me?" She was almost too afraid to ask.

"Scared." His plaintive cry hit a note in her heart. His glassy eyes glinted with what looked like tears. Do ghosts cry? She found the thought strange.

"Bad man," he whimpered. "Scared of him. The others too."

She groaned. This was all too much. She regretted visiting Sam and his family. If she had not gone to his place, she would not be conversing with a boy ghost now, right smack in her bedroom in the dead of night.
 
She had enough problems of her own. Her job was in the midst of change. Her boss had been pressing her to take an overseas assignment, confirming her suspicions about the future of the regional office in Singapore. She had just gotten over a painful breakup with Robert. Sam, while nice, had a whole clan of women in his family she had to contend with. And now, this. A likely flock of spirits who could infiltrate her sanctum.

Jeanie rubbed her eyes and hugged herself tighter, feeling her spirit plummet. She had vowed never again to reveal this secret of hers to anyone. Now what? Should she warn Sam? If she did, he could freak out, just like Robert, and that would mean the end of their fledgling relationship.

Closing her eyes, she dug her head in between her knees and heaved a sigh, feeling downright wretched. Perhaps Sam was not such a good idea after all. There must be other decent men around, with less family baggage and certainly less complications with spirits in their homes.

"Please," she said in a small voice. "I'm sorry, but I can't help you. Go back." She shut her mind to the whispery protests, willing him to disappear. Five minutes later, she raised her head to check and he was still there.

"Just go, okay? And don’t come back." Without another word, she turned away from the boy, pulled the blanket over her head and waited for day to come.


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