Divine City: Bangkok Fantasies Scott B Robinson @SBR_author email@example.com Dark fiction Speculative fiction Short stories Supernatural forces and secret societies descend on modern Bangkok as a series of mysterious black boxes surface into the lives of five remarkable individuals in this magic realism collection of five short stories. As this cross-genre piece modulates through elements of the psychological mystery, horror, the thriller, the detective mystery, adventure and romance, it explores classic Western themes—the Fall, the Temptation, Pandora’s box—in an Eastern setting. The book is ultimately a study of the human obsession with the unknown.
I was woken by the sound of scratching. Groggy, I at first wondered if it was a branch blowing as I peered out the palely moonlit window. But the broad silhouetted leaves of the mango hung motionless. No, the steady resonating was not that from glass, but rather deeper and hollow, as from something wooden. And it was without question emanating from within the four walls of my room, faintly yet methodically. From within my closet.
As I crawled from bed and inched to the narrow opening, the noise louder with each step, I was certain I would discover Boonnam’s soft ears when I crouched to reach inside. What could my little sweetheart be doing in there? But instead my knuckles rapped against something hard, unrecognizable…unexpectedly inanimate. It was rectangular and solid and heavy, like a chest. My mind was completely bewildered by its existence. Did I own such a thing? As I hurriedly felt around its surfaces, the scratching persisted, as if from right beneath my touch. There was something prickly…countless small points arranged along the object’s top. And when my hand settled into a bare section, in unison with the noise I felt a sharp scrape, like that of a needle along my palm. A cold shiver ran through my arm and I leapt back with a start. The scratching had stopped.
I quickly flicked the switch. Brought to sudden light, my room appeared bizarrely ominous in its familiarity. I looked down at my palm, still twinging, but found no wound. My legs trembled as I clung to the bedstead with my good hand for support. The whole room seemed to throb along with the pain lingering up and down my right arm.
Just like one struck nearly by lightening, in whom an echo rings long after the thunder’s gone—the dire question pulsed through my head: what had made the noise? I stood paralyzed, too afraid to uncover the sinister thing that still lay unseen in the closet’s shadow. My throat clinched, my heart pounded ceaselessly. For it knew that something inside, something alive in that mysterious box could sense and was feeding upon my mounting terror. The floor felt like it was tilting toward the closet, an oppressive gravity pulling me and the entire room inward. My fingertips dug into the wood and I looked away and up to the window, instinctively, desperate for some distracting thought…
There…there was the moon outside…the full moon, awash in the windowpane’s reflection of my room. That small, veiled, frozen circle became a point of focus for me, an ungraspable talisman that perhaps promised this experience would truly pass, without harm, beneath its vigilant eye. The moon continued its destined course behind the slowly coloring leaves. What seemed like a moment frozen was pierced through by one indomitable fear—what if the scratching should resume? I thought I would die if I had to hear it another time. If only this perfect silence would endure, time might once again take hold and draw this torture to an end. And slowly my own reflected image faded behind the scene kindling outside; the lamp’s fixing glare at last dimmed into the first suffusing rays of light; the black pocket of my closet was no longer sharp and pure; the tingling in my hand had ceased. Somehow I had made it through this most horrible of nights. And the diminutive courage of one who survives finally took seed in my heart…
So starkly differently do we behold the world in the full of day, so unthreatened and in our element, the previous night’s dreams would seem embarrassing to us if we were still children. But I’m too old for embarrassment. So what am I to do with nightmares when they are through?
I hardly remember the mundanity of removing the black box from my closet and carrying it to the kitchen table for inspection. It was smaller than I’d imagined (possibly big enough to stick your head into) and made of some sort of dense, black lacquered wood. It was more tall than wide, crouching on four fat and crude legs. On its dusty lid I saw the small jet stones I’d felt the night before, dull and unevenly encrusted. While the box’s lid was thick, its tiny tarnished lock looked incapable of keeping it shut. Really the whole thing was so generally antiquated and tacky, like something your grandmother might bequeath, the mystery of its sudden appearance was frankly overweighed by its relatively benign gaudiness. There was nothing to prevent me from trying to open it…and with the lightest of touches, the lock sprung open.
It took me a few moments to understand what strange shape I saw motionless inside that recess which had tasted no light in god knows how long. At first I thought it must be a pile of dried sticks, or perhaps some primitive statuette. But then one of its extremities began to move…and then another…mechanically, like the inner workings of a clock tapped into motion. The shadowy clump dragged itself upward, slowly. A thin barbed claw reached over the box’s lip and three menacing spikes emerged into view, followed by the prehistorically helmeted head of a tremendous beetle. The monstrous form, as large as one’s hand, filled most its outlet. I stepped back as I watched it pull its smooth, dark brown mass over the ledge and smack onto the tabletop with a dull clack. The giant was not phased. Its triple horns advanced and I withdrew another half-step.
The insect thankfully halted at the table’s edge, its antennae unfurling from a clump of orangish hairs under the head and furtively tapping about. Beneath the deep rim of its belligerent crown, you could see the two huge lifeless eyes that seemed to stare at nothing. Did they sense me? How long had this fascinating creature slumbered within the box? How on earth could it have survived…?
And it was then the insect resumed its crawl, counterclockwise, around the table’s rim, as if it had reached a decision about the best direction, deliberate and plodding, its antennae navigating about like blind men’s canes. The beetle disappeared behind the box.
I’ll admit I was afraid when it came round and completed the last of a full rotation, as if it were returning for the one thing it found worthy of attack. But the flashing horns and dead eyes passed me by for another circuit.
I cannot say how long I stood there watching this repeating cycle. Eventually I pulled a chair under me so I could observe more closely to its level. And each subsequent time it disappeared behind the box, I grew more and more anxious for its return to sight. The thing was amazing. Except for the small yet precipitous curve it followed tirelessly, it seemed utterly oblivious to everything around it. Its path was insanely hopeless, yet it moved as though it knew nothing of it, feared nothing. As if it could clutch the very globe inside the lethal space between its one lower and two upper horns. I thought to myself, ‘It really is the absolute master of this tiny realm. What is it trying to achieve with this dire circumference…? What hex is it attempting to cast?’ And I began to imagine that perhaps instead it saw all, that those impenetrable eyes would engulf the entire cosmos if they only wanted. Maybe, just as for the solipsist, what it did not gaze upon didn’t even exist. And it was with these sort of meditations that the forgotten hours of the day dissolved away while the creature’s lengthening shadow shifted back and forth across the table, like a mad shuttle through an invisible weave, like a swart comet witnessed from irrationally far outside its orbit. My vision solidified. My mind began to penetrate into the crevices of that gloriously perfect shell, as though to glimpse beneath the robes of Phra Phrom himself. Becoming the creature—empty and pure. The insect’s mesmerizing silhouette faded into the blackness overtaking the room; its ominous pigment oozed into every corner, out into the world and across the entire city. I could no longer see. I did not notice that it was actually spiraling inward, ever so incrementally with each revolution. And when I at last broke the spell and mustered the sense to turn on the light, its unbreachable armor flashed in my eyes more brilliantly then ever before.
When did the thing suddenly stop before me, so much nearer to the box now than to me? Yet in truth I knew it would stop just then, that it had completed its trek. And I suddenly realized—this was a beetle. It could probably fly. Now was my only chance. I had to snatch the box from the table before the insect was able to withdraw back inside forever…
Without another thought I lunged and arched my reach over the beast, but it spun on its legs like a spring. Its battle-ready carapace instantaneously flared at me in defiance as two grotesque bat-like wings shot out like an infernal gown. It was too late—my weight was in freefall and I was already right upon the demon. A deafening thrum exploded in my face and eclipsed my vision as I flinched and crashed blindly onto the table, knocking shut the lid of the box. I heard a distinct click beneath the low, resonating, satanic chant of the beetle’s wings as it thundered past my ear, out the kitchen window and into the bottomless night.