Stickman Readers' Submissions May 15th, 2009

The Curse

Andy McCulloch arrived in Thailand in 1999. A true dour Scot, he had looked at the world through negative eyes for most of his fifty five years. Andy would not have been happy with a gallon of Viagra and ten Cowboy hookers. His cup was never half full. Most of the time it was completely empty.

Andy was six foot two inches tall. He was slim but with a small paunch beginning to show over his belt, the reward for drinking good Scottish beer for so many years. His bright red hair and washed out blue eyes on a pasty white skin attracted a lot of attention from admiring Thais who all wished they had skin as white as his.

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Andy’s job as a sanitary engineer took him to villages and towns all over Thailand. He hated his job, and he hated the Thais he met even more. He despised the way they would smile at every little thing that went wrong. And things would go wrong all the time whenever he was around. He knew what the Thais were doing. They were screwing things up just to make his life miserable.

Despite such a dark disposition Andy managed to attract a pretty young Thai woman called Noo. She was twenty four with long hair that hung to her waist and swung enticingly as she walked. She was slender with large breasts; an uncommon combination in a Thai woman. She spoke softly, instantly putting people at ease. Her face was heart shaped with beautiful large eyes that melted the heart of many a man. No one could figure out what she saw in Andy. But they seemed to be content together so no one took any notice of them after they were married. They tended to shun socializing, seeming to prefer their own company. He was obviously besotted with her. That was good news for his staff. Since marrying Noo he had been less moody and a little easier to deal with.

There was only one small fly in the ointment for the couple. Noo wanted to start a family. But no matter how hard she tried she could not conceive. Andy never bothered to tell her that he had had a vasectomy during his first and only disastrous marriage back in Scotland.

Noo tried everything she could to get pregnant. She would lie in bed after sex with her legs up in the air. She took numerous Chinese and Thai herbal potions. She went to dozens of temples to pray to Buddha. But none of it worked. She was getting desperate. So one day she talked Andy into taking her up to Mukdahan, where she knew a famous Mor Doo lived.

The village, Baan Mae, was way out in the country, about thirty kilometers outside Mukdahan city in north eastern Thailand. The village was just a collection of poor huts, mostly of bamboo and thatch roof. There were some breeze block houses occupied by the local Chinese merchants and rice traders. The largest home, however, was occupied by a very wealthy and influential Mor Doo. He was famous throughout Thailand for predicting lottery numbers, helping women conceive, making love spells to entice men back to their wives, and helping people find lost items, or find out when a couple would have a baby.

Andy did not believe in all that nonsense, as he termed it. But Noo was giving him the best sex he had ever had so he had agreed to travel to Baan Mae with her while she consulted the charlatan.

They arrived at the village in the late afternoon after a long drive in Andy’s company car. There was a small, decrepit hotel in the village run by an old Chinese. He sat at an old, brown reception desk scratched and scuffed by countless visitors over the years. The Chinaman wore a tatty singlet and striped pajama trousers. He hawked and spat often into a large Chinese style spittoon beside the old rattan chair he had worn smooth and dirty.

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Andy raised his eyebrows when they walked in and sneered, but Noo put a finger to his lips and begged him to be quiet. He grumbled under his breath, put out that Noo wanted to stay here instead of the better quality hotel he had seen in Mukdahan as they drove through. But Noo had explained that she wanted to stay in the village so that they could be among the early arrivals in the morning. Bangkok fat cats, rich merchants, even princesses, came to the lowly village from their luxury hotel in Mukdahan later in the morning to visit the Mor Doo. By ten in the morning there would be a long line of supplicants waiting their turn to visit the famous magic man.

“We be there early for see Mor Doo soon na jaaa.”

After checking in Noo led Andy to a room on the second floor.

“This is best loom in hotel darling. We be ok here.”

Andy scowled at the modestly furnished room. The bed sagged on tired springs. There was an old dressing table repainted dozens of time judging by the many chips in the mostly cream colored paint. The mirror was old with patches where the silver backing had peeled off. A fifteen inch TV sat in the middle of the dressing table. A wheezing wall air-conditioner pretended to cool the room. Andy could just imagine the sort of activities that had gone on in the room before.

The dumped their bags and went out to eat. There wasn’t much choice. Noo settled on a noodle shop run by another surly Chinese and his fat wife. The shop was in an old wooden building with living quarters upstairs. Downstairs, a few Formica covered tables and colored plastic stools were set out for diners. More tables and stools were set up outside on the footpath. The place was coated in a thin film of fine red dust. The noodles were cooked in a large stainless steel tub full of steaming hot water.

At least they should be cooked clean, Andy thought to himself.

After the meal they strolled down the center of the red dirt village street. A few dogs loitered near rubbish bins, or outside the food shops, obviously hoping to find something to eat. They were so lethargic Andy wondered if some of them hadn’t already died of starvation.

The night was hot so they soon returned to their room where they had a Thai bath from the large urn, using a plastic scoop to throw water over themselves after soaping down. Finally clean of the clinging red dust, they jumped into bed. Noo turned on the TV using the remote. The TV barely worked. The four Thai channels showed the usual selection of mindless game shows or sobbing soap operas. Two of the channels were not tuned properly, making it impossible to watch the shows anyway.

She switched off the TV, snapped out the light and attacked Andy, hoping that she might get lucky this time. She went to work with a will trying once more to make a baby. Maybe being this close to the Mor Doo, she reasoned, she might finally conceive. In the process she made Andy a happy man once more.

The rest of the night was a nightmare. The old air-conditioner bumped and groaned all night making sleep almost impossible. They both woke up groggy in the morning more exhausted than if they had gone to a disco all night. But the village didn’t even boast a decent pub where a man could get a drink, let alone a disco. He was not in a good mood when Noo dragged him up the road after a hurried breakfast of Khow Tom (rice soup) with suspicious looking greasy bits of meat in it.

They arrived outside the Mor Doo’s house where they were greeted by an old crone, her dugs hanging down to her waist. She grinned a black betel nut greeting at them and motioned for them to take a seat under the house out of the sun. It was already hot so early in the morning. Andy hoped it wouldn’t take long.

He could hear noises upstairs. A muted mumbling. The medium groaning out those incomprehensible prayers he thought.

Every now and again the crone would beckon to one of the supplicants under the house and they would climb up the steep step ladder into the house above. Andy and Noo sat silently, both wrapped in their own thoughts.

Andy was thinking about his impending trip back to Scotland. His mother had written the other day begging him to visit soon. His father had been feeling poorly lately, she wrote. A visit from Andy might perk him up. Andy couldn’t understand why she would think that. He and his father had never been close. In fact, for a lot of Andy’s early life all he could remember were the frequent beatings his father had given him.

But family in Scotland is important and Andy was making plans to go for a visit. He wasn’t sure he wanted to take Noo, though. It had been a few years since he had been home, but he doubted that his father had changed much. He was still a sour old curmudgeon. He hated Asians he had told Andy often enough. “Those bloody Pakis is taking over all the businesses.” He groused. Andy could just imagine his father’s reaction to his Thai partner. Andy shivered with apprehension.

Noo looked at him, just about to ask him what was the matter, when the crone beckoned to them.

They got up and climbed up to the house.

They stepped into a gloomy room festooned with statues; Buddha statues, images of ghosts, goblins and ghouls, as Andy thought them. Some were grotesque, others merely strange, all of them unsettling. The walls were covered with various religious pictures. Andy spotted a couple of pictures of a blue Rama, the Indian god. There were pictures of elephant gods, others of Mae Kwan Im, the Chinese goddess clothed in a long white robe, looking a bit like the Virgin Mary Andy had seen festooning churches back home.

The Mor Doo was seated cross-legged on the floor at the back of the room in front of a pyramid of stools mounted with more statues and pictures. Small vases filled with flowers or burning incense sat in front of some.

Andy looked at the Mor Doo. He was dressed in a dirty white loincloth, his shoulders draped with a moth-eaten tiger skin. His head was swathed in a white turban gone gray with dirt. Andy was not impressed.

The room was smoky, dark, and claustrophobic. All the windows were shut tight. The only light came from the open front door and a few candles scattered around the room. A group of about fifteen people squatted or sat in front of the Mor Doo. As they entered he looked up and gestured for them to sit anywhere. Noo chose a vacant spot and guided Andy to sit down. She tucked her legs demurely under her Thai fashion as Andy folded himself down and sat awkwardly, his legs uncomfortable under him.

The Mor Doo resumed his droning chant. After a minute or so, the Mor Doo picked up a straw whisk, dipped it into a bowl of water beside him, and then scattered the water on the supplicants kneeling in front of him. They rose and backed out of the room, waiing the Mor Doo as they left.

Andy was just about to ask Noo how much he was expected to pay for all this hocus pocus when one of the Mor Doo’s assistants beckoned to Noo, motioning her and Andy to the front of the room.

They got up and shuffled through the throng, and squatted down on their haunches as they had seen the previous couple do.

The Mor Doo grinned at them, revealing a mouthful of blackened teeth, the result of years of chewing betel nut. He picked up a bowl, hawked, and spat out a stream of red spittle before turning back to face Noo and Andy.

Seeing this performance Andy was nauseated. But he held his tongue. He didn’t want to embarrass Noo, and he thought this would only last a few more minutes and he could escape. The dark, the smoke, the strange smells from the incense and crammed bodies were all combining to make him feel bilious.

The Mor Doo shot some questions at Noo in rapid Esarn (Lao language). As she replied the Mor Doo shot Andy glaring looks. Andy glared back, feeling more and more uncomfortable. He knew this exercise was pointless, but he could never tell Noo about his vasectomy now. It was too late now to confess. So he sat there, nursing his dark thoughts.

After the barrage of questions the Mor Doo launched into a droning prayer that went on and on. Occasionally he would give a shout, or make guttural noises as he swayed in place. He showed the whites of his eyes occasionally, obviously in a trance. Andy watched, amazed and disgusted. But he sat stoically through it all.

Quiet, that is until the Mor Doo picked up a bottle of water, took a swig, and then spat it out all over Noo and Andy.

Startled, Andy jumped up, raging anger in his eyes. “No one spits on Andy McCulloch!” he yelled. He leaped forward and punched the holy man a solid blow to the jaw. He fell back against the pyramid, scattering statues, pictures, incense and sand all over the place.

The startled Thais in the room jumped up and quickly overpowered Andy. More streamed into the room from outside. They attacked Andy from all sides, crushing him down onto the floor where they kicked and punched at him. Blood streamed from his face, enraging the mob even more.

Noo was caught in the crowd, screaming in fear as she watched Andy being beaten. The room was loud with screams, blows, thuds, and screams. Suddenly a piercing “Yoot!” stopped the melee.

The crowd cleared a space around Andy as the Mor Doo stepped forward and stood over him.

“Out!” he roared at the Thais in the room. “This is a holy house. This farung (foreigner) has defiled it and me enough. Leave him to me.”

The crowd Waiied the Mor Doo and backed out slowly, their eyes still wild from their excitement.

After the room had emptied, the Mor Doo turned to Noo, who was still standing there staring transfixed at Andy lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

The room was silent. Then a long agonized groan came from Andy. Noo gasped and crouched down beside him, caressing his head.

“Oh, my darling, my tilac.” She crooned.

The Mor Doo stooped and helped Andy stand. Then he walked him slowly to one of the plastic seats lining the walls and sat him down. Next, he brought a bowl of water and a cloth and handed it to Noo. She took it gratefully and started cleaning up Andy’s face.

Andy groaned as she wiped the cuts and abrasions, but it soon became clear that his injuries were superficial. He looked up and glared at the Mor Doo.

Noo continued working.

The Mor Doo asked her a question. She shook her head, but the Mor Doo spoke again.

“Andy, the Mor Doo is asking if you will apologize for your rudeness.”

Andy brushed her hand away from his face, leaped up and strode over to confront the Mor Doo.

“Apologize to you, you jumped up piece of shite! Me apologize to you? It’s you who should be apologizing to me. You spat all over me from that disgusting black mouth of yours!” he yelled.

“Andy, please.” Noo pleaded. But it was no use. Andy turned on his heel and stormed out of the house.

The Mor Doo’s face darkened. He sat down cross legged on the floor, tapping out a rhythm on a bongo drum as he began to chant. Noo watched him horrified. She knew what the Mor Doo was doing. He was chanting an evil curse on Andy. He was wishing a great evil to befall Andy, asking the spirits to make Andy sick and waste away until he died.

“Mai! Mai!” she shouted, pleading with the Mor Doo to stop. But he kept on chanting, his eyes blazing with hate, his mouth twisted in a fanatical rictus.

No matter how much Noo pleaded the Mor Doo would not stop.

Finally, terrified, Noo ran out of the house and chased after Andy down the dusty main street. Angry villagers lined the road but they didn’t try to stop her. They knew that the Mor Doo was cursing this ugly farang and that he would soon sicken and die.

She caught up with Andy outside their hotel.

“Andy, please. Go apologize to Mor Doo. He cursing you bad. He make you velly velly sick. Then you gonna die!”

Andy looked at her, pity in his eyes.

“Don’t be daft woman. That’s just ignorant mumbo jumbo. I dinnae believe in your black magic rubbish.”

“It not rubbit Andy. Mor Doo he can make you die. Please! Please kor kawtort, make sorry he no cursing you any more.”

Andy snorted and strode into the hotel and up to their room. He packed their bags and strode back downstairs and out to car. He threw the bags in and motioned to Noo to get in. They drove off without looking back.

As they drove Noo sank into the passenger seat, fear in her eyes, her body shaking.

“Dinnae worry lass. That stupid Mor Doo cannae hurt me.”

She didn’t reply.

They were halfway to town when Andy shook his head. He could feel a pounding inside his head. There was no pain. Just a strange throbbing like someone playing a bongo drum in there. He shook his head again and tried to ignore it.

It wouldn’t stop. The pounding was getting louder. It must be the effect of the beating he had received, he thought to himself.

He leaned over and turned on the radio.

The drumming noise was drowned out. He drove on, feeling better.

Noo was watching him.

“Don’t you worry lass. I’m alright.”

“I worry you Andy. Why you no go back and make sorry? That Mor Doo he velly strong. He make you sick. You gonna die for sure.” She said, and then collapsed sobbing.

Andy reached over to soothe her, but as he did he felt a strange tingling in his arm. He pulled his arm back. That was better. The tingling stopped.

They were just coming into town when the drumming in his head got even louder. His heart was beating faster too. He could feel it in his chest. Was he having a heart attack he asked himself?

“Is there a hospital in town lassie?”

Noo nodded and pointed ahead to a large white building with a green cross on top.

Andy pulled the car up to the emergency door and stopped the car. The pounding in his head was worse. He got out of the car, seriously worried now. He staggered towards the hospital doors as two orderlies came running out. They grabbed hold of him and carried him gently into the hospital.

Noo followed, worried.

The orderlies put Andy on a gurney and wheeled him into the emergency treatment room.

That was the last Noo ever saw Andy. Not long afterwards, the doctor came out to tell her that Andy had died. He was puzzled though, he told her. He had examined Andy thoroughly. His heart was strong. There was no sign of an aneurysm or heart attack. It was like he had just lost the will to live.

Noo nodded. There was no need to tell the doctor what had really killed her Andy.

Stickman's thoughts:

Does the Holt believe in that mumbo jumbo? Nice story though.

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