This is a work of fiction
This incident happened during a holiday to Taiwan many years ago and i finally found the courage to get it off my chest.
My buddy Kelvin and i went on a backpacking trip in Taiwan.
The plan was for us to start at the south of Taiwan and slowly make our way up to Taipei.
We were excited about the trip and the 2 of us spent almost a year saving up for it when we were in the army.
We flew off immediately the next day after we turned operationally ready.
Kelvin and i knew each other in the army.
We were the 2 most unfit guys in the battalion that wore red berets.
While many of our friends have no trouble running long distance or charging up the hill with their weapons, Kelvin and i would always be the last.
As if that was not bad enough, we found it so funny that we would keep laughing about it. Needless to say, that got us into quite a bit of trouble with the trainers.
Thankfully, Kelvin and i were like unpolished gems.
After a couple of months, we were whipped into shape and before long, we were jumping out of planes and giving each other the finger as we descended onto a runway.
We found humour in everything, we could still laugh when we were dragged like rag dolls on the ground by strong winds.
Kelvin and i became the best of friends and we competed on a lot of things.
How fast we ran, how much we ate and even who takes the least amount of time to shit in the toilet.
End of the day, we knew we had each other’s back, and if the day comes for us to take up arms. We would not hesitate to march into battle by each other’s side.
We were ready to start the next chapter of our lives, to go back to school and the trip was something to kick it all off.
We were accepted into the same engineering course in university and we had signed up for 3 different orientation programs to meet more girls. The 2 of us even made a pact to be each other’s wingman if anyone got hook up first.
Kelvin and i had a lot of fun on the first few days of our trip. We tried different food, explored old towns , stayed in dingy hotels and hostel that appeared haunted but we just laughed it off.
Nothing fazes us.
In the middle of our trip, we came to a hotel in Taichung.
Set in the middle of the hill, it was tended to by a old man who is in his sixties call Hock.
Hock checked us in and told us that he will not be around after 6pm and reminded us to stay in the hotel after dark.
Hock : The hill is a dangerous place… don’t leave the hotel….
Kelvin : Ok…. thank you…
James : ok… we won’t….
The 3 storey hotel looked like it needed a fresh coat of paint badly on the outside but the interior is still ok.
The furnishings are dated but well maintained. It’s like stepping into a time capsule.
Kelvin and i explored the small town at the foot of the hill before buying some supper back from the nightmarket.
We planned to climb the hill the next morning to catch the sunrise.
After eating and laughing at some ridiculous game shows, we were ready for bed. It started raining heavily outside and we hoped it would clear up before our climb.
I woke up in the middle of the night because i needed to pee. It was then i realised Kelvin was missing.
He was not in the room with me.
James : Kelvin ….oei Bro… Kelvin ??
He was not in the room, nor was he in the toilet.
I went out of the room and looked outside the dim corridor.
He’s not outside either.
We were the only guest in the entire hotel, that’s what Hock told us earlier.
James : KELVIN !!!
I shouted loudly down the corridor to see if he’s just fucking around and there were no reply.
James : fuck this….
I locked the room door and i slowly made my way down to the ground floor.
It was empty. I walked through the whole hotel, every corridor and i opened every emergency exit staircase but Kelvin was nowhere to be found.
I called him on his phone, it connected but he was not answering.
I started cursing under my breath and talking loudly.
James : I’m going to fucking kill you Bro if this is some sort of a prank… this is not funny…. !!!
I walked out of the hotel and into the pitch dark road. There were no street lamps and the only illumination was from the dim hotel lights in the lobby. The rain had stopped and i could smell that unique fragrance from a freshly showered rainforest.
The rustling of leaves, the swaying of shadows in the night compounded the eeriness that descended onto me.
I calmed myself down and told myself this is nothing.
Nothing compared to the chest deep swamps i waded through.
Nothing compared to the nights i’ve spent alone in the jungle. The only difference now is that i’m without my very big gun and knife.
James : Kelvin !!… Kelvin you fuck… !! where are you…
I called out as i walked, trying to see what that dumbass went.
I couldn’t see shit as i ventured further, stopping by the concrete post that marked the driveway up to the hotel from the mainroad.
I reached into my pocket for my phone. I needed some light if i want to continue further.
I took a couple of steps and i heard Kelvin calling out from behind me.
Kelvin : JAMES !! OEI !!
I paused with my hand stuck in my pocket.
That fucker is back at the hotel.
I made an about turn and started walking back to the hotel, determined to give Kelvin a piece of my mind.
When i got back, i could not see Kelvin anywhere. I searched the whole hotel, there were no sign of him.
The lobby phone rang and i answered it.
It was Hock. He asked if we were ok.
James : I can’t find my friend Kelvin….
Hock : Stay in the hotel… we’re coming to get you all….
James : what… why ??? Hock ?? !!
I was honestly starting to freak out a little and i continued looking for my buddy but there were no sign of him.
James : KELVIN… you FUCK!!!! you better fucking show up or i’m going to fucking kill you when i find you !!!
A few minutes later, i saw the beams of a dozen torchlights slicing through the forested area from behind the hotel. Then i saw the firefighters coming into the lobby.
I was panicking by then and i asked them what is going on.
They told me there has been a serious hill erosion and the road in front of the hotel is gone.
They’re getting everyone off the hill right now.
I refused to leave because i have yet to find Kelvin. The firefighters assured me that they will continue looking for him.
By the time i got to the bottom of the hill, i was in full panic mode.
My heart beat so fast that i thought i was suffering from a panic attack.
When the 1st light peek though the clouds from the sunrise, i looked at the hill and i went down on my knees as i looked at the damage from the torrential rain from yesterday.
It’s like some giant took a bite out of the hill in the middle of the night.
I don’t remember the last time i cried but when i saw the rescuers carrying my buddy’s body down on a stretcher, i collasped into a heap and bawled.
I could not accept this. Not like this.
Not like this.
Several locals helped to support me and some gave me water and a blanket. One police officer helped to contact the embassy in Taiwan.
I keep telling anyone that would listen to me that Kelvin cannot be dead.
He called out to me.
He fucking called out to me last night but all i got were emphatic nods from the locals.
I was picked up by the consulate and while i waited for a flight back to Singapore, one of the officers called me into a room. It’s been 2 days since the incident and i have not stopped crying.
The office showed me a black and white video camera footage taken from the hotel.
It showed me walking out from the hotel right up to the stone marker by the main road. A few more steps and i would have walked right off the cliff.
The footage saw me turning abruptly and walking back to the hotel
Officer : why did you turn back suddenly… ?
James : Because Kelvin called out to me from the hotel….i’ve said this a hundred times…
The officer showed me another video. The time stamp was a full hour earlier. It showed Kelvin walking out of the hotel to pick up some of our clothes that were blown away.
We hung it out earlier before the rain came and since it got drenched, we thought to just leave it and deal with it the next day.
The footage showed Kelvin picking up clothing near the entrance of the hotel before a large branch from a tree fell and covered an entire area with leaves and 2m high foliage.
Officer : the family agreed to an autopsy…. and Kelvin passed on because of a blunt force trauma to his head…. he died instantly…. it was an accident James…
I cried again as i refused to believe. No way. this is not possible.
He cannot be dead and still call out to me.
James : He called out to me !!!… he called out to me….!!! are you listening… ? are you… ?
I was really affected by the incident and when i was back in Singapore, my commanding officer even paid a visit to me at my place.
I was a total wreak.
Kelvin’s parents visited me too, they were devastated but they knew it was an accident.
Nobody wanted this to happen.
I told everyone the truth.
Kelvin called out to me. He really did. That’s why i turned back.
While most people think i was just making it up to deal with the incident, Kelvin’s dad was the only one that believed me.
I could tell.
Kelvin’s dad : You’re his best friend James…. Kelvin will always have your back…..
As i buried my face in my hand and broke down again, Kelvin’s father said something that i will never forget.
Kelvin’s dad : I’m sure if it was the other way round, you would have called out to Kelvin too won;t you James…. ?
I nodded and i cried harder than before.
It’s been almost 25 years since that incident and i still keep in tough with Kelvin’s family.
I’m married, with kids and family and i still visit Kelvin’s family almost once a month and definitely on major occasions like new year and christmas.
Kelvin’s parents are retired and although they are secured financially, nothing beats having someone around to talk to and help out whenever i can.
I made a silent promise to take care of Kelvin’s parents like my own till the end. Every time i go to his house, i would talk to his picture as if he was still around, updating him about my life, my kids, the challenges of parenthood.
And i would end each visit with the same words.
James : Thanks for having my back bro…. i’ll see you when i see you….
Photo credit : Sam Chang / Unsplash