The clouds parted and moonlight spilled onto the deserted road. The trees lining the road rustled in the wind, throwing shadows of branches into the pools of light. In the distance, a figure emerged. Close behind, two other figures followed the first. They ran together in the moonlight.
Janie stopped and took off her high heels. Clutching them in one hand, she ran faster to catch up with the others. Siew Ching had hitched up her skirt and was already running in her stockinged feet. They ran until they reached a fork in the road. Nadia halted and they all stopped, breathing hard, glancing behind them.
“Left or right?” Nadia asked.
“There’s nothing nearby,” Siew Ching said, a sob catching in her voice.
“Yes, there is,” Janie said. “The limestone caves. We went there for Geology class.”
She started running again, and her friends kept up with her. Reaching the limestone caves where Taoist deities welcomed devotees and visitors, they ran up the wide expanse of stairs. On the right, water splashed from a fountain, and ancient tortoises poked their heads up to watch the young women as they struggled up and into the limestone cave.
At the top of the stairs, Janie dragged her friends forward, past the information booth that was closed for the day. She pulled them beyond the stalactites and stalagmites ringed by protective cords and then up more stairs that were wet from the moisture in the cave. Janie ducked under a rope barring the way further into the cave system and after a moment’s hesitation, Siew Ching, and then Nadia followed her.
In the darkness, they felt their way, touching the cold, damp limestone walls. Finally, Janie stopped, and the friends crouched, partly hidden under a ledge jutting out from the solid wall. Trying to keep their breath steady and quiet, they could only hear light drips of water. A drop fell onto Janie’s forehead. She wiped it away cautiously. In a few millennia, there would be more stalagmites and stalactites, perhaps right where she was now, Janie thought.
A thunder clap resounded in the caves and the torrent of a monsoon storm poured around them. Even if they tried to speak, they wouldn’t have been able to hear one another. Janie clutched Siew Ching’s hand, reaching for Nadia’s. A blazing light flashed in front of her eyes and in that moment, she saw Nadia being lifted out from under the ledge and high up towards the ceiling of the cave. Like a bad B grade horror movie, her body was flung to the side, down and then up again casting shadows of her rigid figure against the ceiling and walls. It seemed to Janie like hours of agony and yet only seconds passed before Nadia’s body dropped harshly onto the hard stone floor. She lay limp and still on the cave floor as the light dimmed once more.
In the darkness, Janie could hear Siew Ching sobbing. She reached around her and felt for Nadia. This was the moment when she needed the light of a mobile phone but all their phones had been confiscated at the Halloween party. The loud music, crowded rooms and costumed revellers dancing and laughing behind their masks, and the sweet concoctions in champagne glasses and party cupcakes and delicate sandwiches on glittering trays seemed a lifetime away. Janie could feel Nadia’s chest moving as her breath steadied and eased into a regular pace. She was alive! But they couldn’t go anywhere or do anything now to find out if she were injured or if something worse had happened. They would have to wait for daylight.
In the morning, woken by the sound of monks chanting, and the footsteps of early morning worshippers and visitors, Janie stood up and stretched. She glanced down at her friends sleeping peacefully on the cave floor. It was time to get back to the real world. Last night had just been a bad dream, a Halloween Party gone wrong. Someone had spiked their drinks or given them snacks laced with LSD. That’s all. No matter it seemed to be the same nightmare they’d all shared.
Janie gently shook Siew Ching awake. With a jerk, Siew Ching sat up and rubbed her eyes. Together, they looked at Nadia. Her hand shook a little as she reached out to her friend, but Janie stroked Nadia’s cheek gently. It was soft and warm. Nadia’s eyes fluttered open. Was that a ring of red Janie glimpsed as Nadia’s eyes slowly focused on her friends? Surely, it was just that she was tired after the exhausting run? Nadia got up and stretched just as Siew Ching did. She couldn’t be doing that if she had really been swept up in the air and fallen from such a height, could she?
“How do you feel, Nadia?” Janie swivelled at her waist, watching her friend from the corner of her eye.
“I’m good. Just a bit of a stiff neck. Must be because of the hard floor,” Nadia rubbed the back of her neck and twisted it left and right, wincing a little as she stretched her muscles. “That was some crazy party, right? What did they put in that juice?”
“Or in the cupcakes?” Siew Ching chimed in. She, too, was looking at Nadia while she straightened her dress and re-tied her hair into a simple ponytail with her blue scrunchy.
The young women left the cave, quietly sneaking past the no entry signs and ropes cordoning off the area they had hidden in the night before. In the daylight, Janie let her friends lead the way from the limestone caves. Under the guise of looking for her high heels that she had lost in her haste, Janie stared hard at Nadia’s back. She seemed absolutely normal; the same Nadia she had known since kindergarten. The same Nadia who had been with her on the first day of school and who had been baptised and received communion together with her on the same day.
“Hey Nadia,” Janie said, running to catch up. “Go to Sunset Mass together at St Michael’s today?”
Was that a flash of red she saw in Nadia’s eyes as she turned to reply? “Of course! I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Nadia said, lightly.
Janie was relieved. Everything was all right. It had just been a Halloween Party gone wrong. Siew Ching turned to Janie and smiled. There was nothing to worry about. They continued walking.
It had just been a nightmare.
No, a hallucination.
Just a party gone wrong.
Nothing to worry about.
Janie knew it was true.