What followed was a long stare between me and General Aung.
They say your eyes are the window to one’s soul and looking at the dark corneas of the man in front of me, It’s like I’m starring into the abyss or the depths of space.
My little triumph is beginning to look like a mistake to me. Despite all that I’ve done, we are still at the mercy of the General and his men.
“You are free to choose who to stay or go.” Aung said to me. “ However, you shall remain here for the rest of the 30 hours you have left.”
General Aung walked away from me and gave everyone a glimpse of his explosive anger when he lifted and toppled the table of food with one hand.
The outburst startled the kids and a couple of them started crying immediately.
I honestly thought he is going to go back on his words of letting 10 kids and 2 adults go, he shouted something to Terry in his native tongue as he exited the warehouse.
Terry waited for Aung to be out of sight before turning back to face me.
“10 adults, 2 kids. You have 5 minutes to choose who.” Terry said before turning to speak with a few of the men in the warehouse.
I don’t know what he is saying but I could tell they are no longer taking things lightly after the stunt I pulled. I get the feeling they are trying to beef up security or something to make sure no one slips out.
Turning around to look at the group, I was immediately greeted with a bunch of hopeful looks.
Everyone wants to get out of here but who do I choose?
I have to be logical about this.
You could see it in the eyes of the adults, Sam and Alvin knew right off the bat they are out of the selection. I could tell they want to give the chance to the kids too.
Bobby and Conor have got themselves off the ground and despite their bruised and beaten state, I could see the anger in their eyes. The looks of men who are not going to take this lying down.
They were beaten up pretty bad.
A gentle shake of their head from Bobby and Conor when I look at them told me there’s no need to worry about them.
The kids are the priority.
I want to get Daphne out but the moment I looked at her, she mouthed to me she wants to stay for the story with a stare that says there’s no way she is leaving.
Walking closer to the class on excursion, I lowered myself to the ground to speak with them.
“Alright everyone, I know you are scared, but Uncle Jerry will fix this ok? I will get everyone out of here safely back home ok?” I paused and let my words sink in. “We can’t all leave together; we have to take turns.”
“You guys are in Kindergarten 2 right ? you’re let me see, 6 years old?” A few of the nodded while one boy pointed out they have a few Kindergarten 1 kids among them too.
I looked at the teacher and she gestured to a bunch of the younger kids by her side. They look so innocent and lost with their small backpacks and water bottle slung around their tiny frame.
I nodded to let Mindy know I am aware of them and that I will definitely prioritize the younger ones in my selection.
I turned to see Terry redeploying the men to different sections of the warehouse.
Lowering my voices, I asked the K2 children how many of them have started taking swimming lessons.
A handful of them shot up their hands and I gestured for them to come over to me. I checked to make sure they can swim with the aid of a float.
“Guys, listen. “ I said as if they are adults. “we need to find a way to escape and I’m not going to rule out swimming. You have some experience in the water, I’ll need you guys to help me out a while longer over here is that ok?”
The swimmers nodded and I looked at Sam who immediately herded them over to his side with Alvin’s help.
Taking away the swimmers, there are still 13 kids.
I asked if anyone has their birthday in January and 2 hands shot up.
“February?” I asked again and 2 more joined the January babies.
I’ll have to choose 3 out of those 4 to stay for the simple reason that they are older than the rest.
“Guys, you are older than the rest of your classmates. I know it’s only a few months but to me, you are the big brothers and sisters of the class. I’ll need your help for a while longer over here while we let the younger ones go.”
Looking at the only girl in the lot of 4, I asked if she is ok to help take care of the rest that will be leaving.
“What’s your name little girl?”
“I’m Claire.” She replied.
“Alright Claire, we have enough, you can join your friends over there. I’ll have you on the bus in no time.” I barely finished my statement when 2 of the boys started crying.
They started sobbing away upon knowing they have to stay behind.
“Guys, guys, guys, calm down. Come on.” I said to the 2 boys whose face has already scrunched up like a wrinkled melon.
Looking over at Terry, I was worried he would hear what I am trying to say to the kids.
“I can swim.” Said another girl from the younger group of 5 year old.
“Hurry UP! What is taking so long !” Terry shouted at us suddenly and the 2 boys started crying.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. Everything is ok. Don’t cry.” I said and Daphne came over to try and pacify the kids
Claire went over to the other girl who said she could swim and pulled her over to Sam and Alvin.
“Let them go, we’ll stay.” Claire said as she squeezes herself and her young friend into the group huddled behind Alvin and Sam.
I did a quick visual count.
I have 7 swimmers who are 6 year old, and 1 that is 5. That leaves 2 non-swimmers. That’s not too bad, I’m sure if it comes down to paddling out into open waters for help, we can juggle 2 kids among the adults.
Terry shouted for a few of his friends to come over.
“We’re not waiting anymore.” He barked as I gestured for Mindy to get up together with the group of 10 kids that are leaving.
“Choo…Choo… you… you’ll leave with them.”
Choo is the obvious choice here. I’m guessing he’s about the same age as Tan but having him here might distract Sulyani from what she is here to do. Besides, Tan was supposed to kill someone had I not stop him in time.
In times of emergency, I guess it would be nice to have someone who had it in him to stab someone close by.
Tan pulled Choo over and I heard him telling Choo to let his granddaughter know about him if he gets out.
“Tell her not to worry about me. I’ll be ok.” Tan whispered sharply.
Mindy is the only teacher left and I need her to handle the kids, including the young ones for the next 30 hours. The rest of us will figure out what to do with those still in the warehouse.
I gave a quick glance at the remaining group left and as far as the adults are concerned, I could see no objection to my choice of who leaves and who stays.
No one stopped me when I followed the group of 12 out of the warehouse by helping Choo and Mindy carry one of the kids, I went to the back of the line to make sure everyone exited safely.
At the same time, I took the opportunity to check out the security arrangement that has been set up. Aung has at least 30 men from what I could see scattered throughout the 2 sites.
While some remained on guard, some are busy unloading stuff from the container truck.
I saw another familiar face when I head over to Sam’s nursery.
Set up under a cluster of palm trees and black netting, is Larry. The creepy guy watching me pee in Lisa’s bathroom. He did not see me as he continued meddling with the numerous radio sets and signal equipment. It appears as if he’s monitoring the numerous channels in used by law enforcements.
The black netting Sam used for this plants provided the perfect camouflage for the setup. Looking down from above, you will see nothing by rows after rows of sheltered plants.
I saw Aung speaking to one of his men standing by the bus that brought the kids in. Mindy, pleaded with the men to let the kids use the bathroom one last time. Several kids followed Mindy towards Sam’s bathroom while Choo looked after the rest.
Shortly after that, Aung came over to me.
“I am a man of my word, however I am not a fool either.” Aung said as everyone who could leave loaded up the bus.
Two of his men will be following the bus that will be driven by Aung’s men.
“The bus will keep moving, no one leaves. No toilet, no food, nothing. 29 hours later, my men will let them go.”
“I can see you redid the interior and exterior for the bus”
“Nuggets of information from my fortune teller.” Aung said without elaborating.
The company logo of the bus has been painted over and replaced with something else. While there is no time to repaint the whole bus, several streaks of colours have been added to what otherwise is a boring grey bus.
The slight change in it’s paintwork would make identifying it difficult along the roads.
I heard a loud clang of metal and realized someone is just done changing the license plate too, the original number plate is now thrown unceremoniously onto the floor by the side.
“what guarantees will I have that they will be unharmed?”
“None. Only my word, take it or leave it.” Aung said before walking away with a smug look on his face.
“what’s the difference then if they stayed right here ? “
“I can tell you Jerry, in 29 hours, this place is the last place you want to be in. hahha.” Aung’s voice trailed off as he walked further away.
I put down the boy I was carrying and walked briskly towards Sam’s office where I kept the biscuits and crackers.
A couple of men stopped me but I told them I’m just getting water and food for the kids. It’s more than 24 hours for fuck sake. They exchanged a look before letting me and Choo through.
I ordered 5 cartons of water. With each carton holding 9 x 1.5 litres of water, I have 45 bottles in all. Those still on site can always drink tap water, I’m more worried about those that will be on the bus.
They’re going to be in a moving prison for more than a day.
Then again, if I give them too much, I will have less of the plastic bottles Xiuwen wants me to keep.
It’s not hard to put 2 and 2 together by then.
The empty bottles are going to be used as floats from what I can see. If I can tied enough of those together, they should be able to carry the weight of a 6 year old and help them paddle to safety. It’s a risk getting them into the open water but it beats staying here with the madmen.
Trying to do the sums in my head, I struggled with how much to ration them.
At 1.2 litres per kid per day, that would take up 12 litres. Include Mindy and Choo who probably need 2 litres, that will be 16 in all. I loaded 2 cartons of water into the bus and told Choo to ration the water and biscuits.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them.” Choo said before lowering his voice. “My..my daughter…”
I shook my head and told him not to say anything.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she will be ok, I’ll keep an eye out for her.” I said.
“Let her know I’m safe, so she can concentrate on her work.” Choo whispered to me.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Looking at the bus from the inside, I realized the curtains were all drawn. Not only that, the windows were stuck with black trash bags, blocking out the vision from both sides.
In the short time between me winning the challenge and choosing the kids, there’s no way they can prepare the bus in that manner. Inside the bus, the men chose where each of the hostages will be sitting.
They put one kid by each window seat propped up on boxes, raising their height profile.
Anyone can tell they are going to use them as shields against any attempts at rescue. Aung knew the bus had to be prep for transportation from the start.
He just didn’t expect I would win the challenge.
Terry directed for the container truck blocking the exit to move and I watched the bus depart from Sam’s nursery.
“If you try anything here, we will kill everyone on the bus. If they try anything on the bus, we will kill everyone here.” Terry warned with a grin. “either way, we win.”
Not wanting to engage Terry in a conversation, I just looked at the departing bus.
I was led back to the warehouse and I updated the guys that the bus has departed.
Returning to the makeshift prison, I tried to find out more about what happened from Bobby and Conor.
“They came the first time in the morning.” Conor said.” Cut all the phone lines, killed the internet and took our phones.”
“I thought they wanted money and I offered them the safe.” Bobby said. “ But they’re not here for money.”
“You guys resisted ? that’s why you were beaten up?” I asked.
“No..” Conor replied. “ We did not resist, they made us fight.”
According to Bobby and Conor, while waiting for the rest of the crew and the General to arrive, the men were bored. They made Bobby and Conor fight with their men.
“What the fuck…?” I mumbled.
“They’re sick fucks I tell you. Fucking Chee byes.. ( Cunts ) “ Conor spat.
“This is….this is from one fight?” I asked.
Bobby revealed that they treated it like some sort of a game. A combat sport.
“Lethwei, they call it. Or Burmese Boxing.” Bobby added.
It’s considered to be one of the most brutal martial arts in the world, the sport is done bare knuckled with only tape and gauze. Fighters are allowed to strike with their fists, elbows, knees and feet, even headbutts are permitted.
Needless to say, Bobby and Conor did not last long for the men’s amusement.
“how badly are you guys hurt?” I asked.
Bobby told me he is aching all over and his ribs are killing him while Conor showed me 2 fingers of his that are bent way out of shape.
“I think Bobby cracked some ribs, I’m aching too but I should be ok other than the fingers” Conor said.
I settled down beside Bobby and asked him if there’s any way we can get out of there besides charging through the guards.
Bobby lowered his voice to a mere whisper.
“There is a narrow walkway behind the shelf on our back.” He said.
I pretended to stretch and look at the shelves filled with boxes.
Bobby told me it leads to this exit door that opens directly to a dirt path at the back of the warehouse.
“From there, it’s a straight ramp down to the sea.”
The men checked every door in the warehouse when they took over, the door Bobby is referring to has been bolted shut with a padlock from the start so they left it alone.
“They took my bunch of keys for the place, but I have kept a spare.” Bobby told me on the lit up exit sign above the door, a spare key has been place on the lightbox in case of emergency.
I pretended to lie down alongside the shelves to get some rest and took the opportunity to check out the walkway through the tightly packed boxes.
This might work.
We were left alone for the next few hours and everyone is starting to get hungry.
I was allowed to get the biscuits and water from Sam’s office. Alvin and I transported the stuff over a few trips.
“what the fuck is going on Jerry ? What’s this thing about being able to tell the future?” Alvin asked as we loaded up the water onto a trolley
“It’s hard to explain but I was given a newspaper that sort of predicts what will come true and one thing led to another.” I said. “ It sounds incredible and unbelievable but, but everything seemed to be happening.”
I gave Alvin a quick summary and he just looked at me as if I’m mad.
“I don’t expect you to believe me.” I said.
“How is this possible?” he asked.
“It’s not possible, people can’t know the future. But, but here we are.”
“You mean you know there will be a terrorist attack today?”
“I don’t, this is the frustrating thing, I don’t get the full picture of what is going to happen, sometimes I just get bits of it and I have to figure the rest out.” Gesturing to the water and snacks, I told Alvin I only ordered them the day before.
“Let’s just focus on getting out of here alive first.” Alvin said as he loaded the last of the water onto the trolley.
We ate quietly and everyone just waited. I’m not sure what we are waiting for but we just sat around while the guards around us took turns for their breaks.
As night falls, the kids slowly drifted to sleep. I asked to turn off the lights around our area so the children can rest properly. Conor was allowed to head to the switch and soon, a section of the warehouse is plunged into darkness.
However, the powerful lights from other lamps still on is bright enough to make sure all of us could still be seen by the guards.
I started reading the labels on the boxes and I ripped opened a few of them.
Initially the guards shouted at me, demanding to know what I’m doing, but when they say I was just looking for something to cover the kids as the temperature dropped, they left me alone.
While opening the boxes, I made a mental note of the ones that is going to come in useful.
A shipment of curtains and clothing is soon spread out among the hostages. It’s not much but that little bit of comfort does wonders for one’s morale no matter how low it may be dipping to.
It was coming to midnight when Aung came into the warehouse.
“Thanks to you Jerry, I have the police on a wild goose chase.” Aung said.
I could pretty much figure out what he meant even without him elaborating.
An entire class of kids missing from their excursion, surely it will spark off a massive manhunt throughout the country. Worried parents will be slamming at the desk and doors of the police station.
The school bus will be their first target and I guess by now, everyone will be focusing on the bus that is driving around the island, if they can identify it that is.
“You watched the show ‘Speed’ before Jerry?” Aung asked. “ I love that show. It gets my heart pumping, makes me excited. Hahha.”
“It’s too much hassle to rig up a bus that cannot go too fast or too slow. Singapore has a shitload of traffic lights. The bus will probably blow the moment it reach a junction.” Aung took a seat in the chair his men brough and faced all of the prisoners. “just replace the driver with my own men and it’s done.”
“it’s a matter of time before they realise you only have half the kids on that bus.” I said.
“You are right, but I will have accomplished what I want to do by then.”
“And what is that?”
“none of your business. Jerry.” Aung smirked and I saw him steal a glance at his watch. “Bring everyone in here except the guards.”
Within minutes, all of Aung’s men are gathered in the warehouse. This time round, I saw Sulyani and Chan as well. Both of them avoided looking over at me and I too, did my part by looking away.
All of the kids are asleep. They used their bags as makeshift pillows while the curtains I opened up functioned as blankets.
With the 10 kids sleeping in the middle, the rest of us formed a circle around them.
I faced the front, looking directly at Aung while Alvin took up position to my left. Sam got my right, followed by Daphne, Tan, Bobby and Conor.
“I have no intention of sleeping tonight, let’s have some entertainment shall me.” Aung said and his men knew exactly what he meant.
A circle was formed in front of Aung’s chair and several of his soldiers spoke in their native tongue before one man stepped into the middle.
He’s about the same build as me. Removing his top, I could see his ripped muscles.
“what the fuck are they thinking…” Sam mumbled.
As the soldier started to warm up, Aung pointed to our group, asking for one of us to step up into the ring.
“Are you kidding ? We’re not soldiers. We’re civilians!” I retorted.
“I can always choose, if you guys don’t want to make the decision yourself. I might just choose one of the kid hahah.”
Everyone exchanged looks and it became evident I’m the obvious choice.
Conor look like shit with bruises all over his face. His lip is swollen and his left eye could barely open. I’m one of the youngest one in the group, I can’t exactly expect my boss Alvin to go out there can i.
Not that it would affect my annual appraisal or anything.
Tan, although I’m sure he will stab and kill his way out of this is too old to be doing this.
“fuck this.” I got up and Alvin held onto my hand.
“Jerry, don’t.” he said.
“come on, stay standing long enough, and I promise all the kids get a nice hot breakfast in the morning.” Aung said.
I stepped up and walked into the ring surrounded by Aung’s men.
This is going to end badly. I have shit knowledge and experience when it comes to a fight and I’m sure it’s already starting to show in my body language.
Several of Aung’s men laughed as they look at how I stand with both of my fist up in front of me.
The soldier that I will be fighting rotated his arms and did his stretching.
I thought about how Conor is looking and I subconsciously touched my own cheek. I can’t imagine myself looking like that in a few minutes time.
“Hnin, 201 Battalion , 1st company, 1st platoon, rifleman.” The soldier identified himself while taking up a fighting position.
All eyes are on me like they expected some grand introduction on what I can do.
“Jerry, Nparks, Senior Manager, Planning and Development.” I blurted out and from the corner of my eye, I saw Chan and Sulyani’s jaw dropped an inch.
“Survive 3 minutes Jerry, and I consider it a pass. Hahah. Begin!” Aung gave the order and before I could do anything, Hnin feigned a kick before delivering the real one into the center of my chest.
I fell immediately onto my butt after staggering back 3 steps.
Before I had time to check if I was still breathing, I felt a hard blow to the side of my face.
When I opened my eyes, I could hear people laughing and clapping with plenty of ‘boos’ thrown in. The disorientation I was feeling is like I’ve spent the last hour sitting in a spinning tea cup ride at the amusement centre or something.
“Come on… Jerry.. hahha. “ Aung laughed. “I expected more from you.”
I pushed myself off the ground and when I touched my own cheek, I could feel this numbness like I just visited the dentist. I could taste blood inside my mouth too.
How the fuck do people fight like that?
Seeing that I was up on my feet, Hnin came in for another strike with his arms this time. I raised my arms to block his strike but his hit was so hard that it sent me staggering towards the cheering soldiers on the side.
They pushed me back into the fight and Hnin lifted his leg, angling his knees in a downward smite.
His extended limb connected with my chest and I was immediately presented with a view of all the lamps illuminating the warehouse.
At the rate things are going, he might as well have been fighting a 6 year old.
Struggling to breathe, I turned to my side and several of the kids were awaked. They were looking at me in shock.
I mouthed to them that I’m ok and I tried to get back up. It’s just 3 minutes, I should be able to hold out till then.
Hnin charged towards me and just when I thought I’m going to get knocked down again. I saw an arm punch through the fray. It blocked Hnin’s strike, stopping him in his tracks.
Looking up, I saw Sam in the ring.
“Alright. Alright. Hahahaha. A New contender.” Aung and his men cheered.
“Stop embarrassing yourself Jerry” Sam said as he warmed up his body. “stay back.”
“Be careful Sam.”
“I grew up in the streets Jerry. I pai kia ( gangster ), last time I cheong and fight with billiard que one.” Sam gave me a grin.
“Hnin, 201 Battalion , 1st company, 1st platoon, rifleman.” Hinn looked visibly more excited facing Sam than he me.
Sam stood with a relaxed posture and orientated the left of his body to Hnin.
“Sam, CEO, Chief entertainment officer of Sam’s Nusery. I own the fucking nursery you guys are trespassing on.” Sam declared before making the first move on Hnin.”arghhh!”
What followed was a flurry of movements, of hits and kicks. There’s no grace of any kind in Sam’s movement. It was an all-out brawl. With his large frame, Sam is capable of taking a few hits and still strike Hnin.
The two entangled together and in less than a minute, the onlookers stepped in to separate the 2 men. In that short span of time, both men manage to inflict quite a bit of hits on each other’s face.
Hnin kicked and struggled to break loose from his friends holding him, eager to hit Sam again while Sam did the same.
“Fuck you ! You Chao Chee Bye! ( You cunt ) Come on!” Sam shouted.
Aung spoke in his native tongue and Hnin was let go while the others tried to hold Sam down. Sam put up a valiant fight but bulk and size is no match for numbers. Within seconds, he was left cowering on the ground, trying to protect his head from the blows raining on his body from all over.
I dashed in and pushed several men aside and Alvin joined me in breaking up the group.
“enough!” Aung said, looking thoroughly amused.
Alvin and I dragged Sam aside and I looked at Aung who seemed contented reading messages off is phone.
“What is the fucking point of all this!” I shouted at Aung. “ What the fuck do you want with us!”
“watch your language Jerry, there are kids around.” Aung laughed.
Larry, who was manning the comms ran into the warehouse suddenly and there was a grim expression on his face. Aung got up immediately and went over to him. Something must be happening.
They had a short exchange and Aung looked over at everyone in the warehouse.
When he came back, he had his weapon out.
He pointed it at Sulyani and Chan.
“Hey, hey, hey, what the hell?” Chan spat.
“someone sent out an encrypted message 20 minutes ago.”Aung said.
“We helped you move your stuff and get your men into the country!” Chan said angrily while Sulyani held him back.
“General, the only reason Chan and I are still here is because we are waiting for our money! Money that you are withholding” Sulyani said. “As soon as you pay us, we will go.”
“my men will not betray me, you 2 are the only outsiders here. ”Aung said.
“You think we want to be here? The agreement was just to get your men and your stuff in. You are the one keeping us here. We just want the money!” Sulyani raised her voice at Aung, if I didn’t know who she really is, I might really just be convinced that she meant it.
Aung spoke to Larry in his native tongue, and he replied shortly while tapping away on a laptop.
“We will decrypt the message, then we’ll know if you deserve to get paid.” Aung’s men let Sulyani and Chan away, keeping them separated from us.
If Sulyani and Chan did send something out, it could mean help is on the way. Then again, once the message has been decrypted, it could mean certain death for them too.
The crowd of men dispersed, leaving only 2 guards seated a distance away from the prisoners.
12th January 2019
At 1am in the morning, it started to rain. I could hear the rumble of thunder in the warehouse. The sound of rain falling on the metal roof of the warehouse gets amplified in the confined space. I could not bring myself to look at Daphne. It could happen anytime.
The 2 guards chatted with each other and i started to crawl towards each adult in the group, telling them my plan.
Returning back to my spot, I kept an eye on the guards as I slowly wriggled and crawled my way towards the boxes at the back shelves. I’m going to try and unlock the door, paving the route for our escape.
I’ll position myself by the boxes I want to move while the others will distract the guards one after another.
It was then I realized there’s a pair of eyes staring at me.
The youngest girl who offered to stay because she could swim.
“Hey…it’s ok. Everything will be ok.” I said.” Don’t worry ok? Uncle Jerry will fix this.”
“You’re hurt uncle Jerry.” She whispered.
“It’s just some scratches, I’ll be ok.” I pulled her makeshift blanket higher to cover her and asked her to get some rest.
“I can’t sleep. I miss my bed.”
“I miss my bed too.” I said with a smile.
“My Mummy and Daddy will be angry.” She said with a frown.
“I’m sure they’ll understand, we’re all kept here against our will.” I said and I noticed a guard heading our way.
He gave a visual check of the number of people before heading back to his position. He is on his feet, I’m waiting for him to sit down so I can give Daphne the signal to go over and block his line of sight.
“My Mummy will be angry at my Daddy.” She said.
“My Daddy chose the school, I think I am unlucky.” She said.
“don’t say that. Nobody wants this to happen.”
“Mummy is going to scold Daddy for sure.” She quipped just as a loud thunder rumbled the very structure of the warehouse we are in. A couple of kids woke up and started crying.
Daphne helped to pacify them and I saw the guards shot us a look before resuming his chat.
“don’t worry ok, I’m sure help is on the way.” I reassured the little girl, gesturing to the darkened warehouse made worse by the storm outside, I told her there’s no need to be afraid.
“I’m not afraid of the dark, or the thunder.” She replied as smugly as a 5 year old could be.
“I can tell you’re a very brave girl.” I smiled as I cast another look at the guard. He’s pulling his pants and positioning his body in front of the chair, it looks like he’s going to take a seat soon.
The little girl pointed to the soldiers guarding us with a quick jab of her thumb.
“When my Daddy comes, they will be the one who is going to be afraid of the dark.”
I smiled and patted her head, asking her to get some rest.
“What is your name?” I asked.
She took her time adjusting her Peppa pig school bag under her head, making herself comfortable just as the guard took a seat in his chair.
Upon seeing the guard seated, Daphne and I exchanged a look before she got up on her feet.
As Daphne walked towards the guards, I exhaled and got ready to move.
“Good luck Uncle Jerry, my name is Lynette.”
Lynette buried herself under the blanket and turned away from me.
She’s a sweet kid, perhaps too young to understand the gravity of the situation facing us.
With Daphne blocking the guard’s line of sight, I shifted a large box, freeing up enough crawl space for me to go through the shelves. Careful not to hit anything, I quickly adjusted the box back to it’s original spot as I laid flat on my tummy while looking in between the boxes to see if my little stunt has been discovered.
Daphne walked away towards the bathroom and the guards continued talking among themselves. Looking at my watch, I noted the timing in my head.
5 minutes, I told Daphne to give me 5 minutes before she comes back.
I got up and pressed my body against the wall, walking quickly towards the exit door Bobby talked about. I could see the dim white light of the exit sign clearly in the darkened walkway.
Stopping again by the door, I heard another loud crack of thunder. The warehouse rumbled and I could feel my heart rumbling as well.
I saw another flash of lighting before a louder crack of thunder shook the very door panel I was leaning against.
Using the rolling boom of the thunder, I jumped and my hands tried to feel for the key on the top of the exit sign. I felt it on the first jump but I failed to grab it.
Bending my knees in preparation for the next attempt, I waited for the flash of lightning before I leapt up into the loud rumble of a thunder that seemed determined to shake the very structure down to it’s foundation.
This time round, I grabbed the key and I went straight for the padlock. The old heavy lock squeaked loudly when I tried to turn the key, forcing me to wait for another clap of thunder.
When the bolt came loose, I quickly undid the lock and placed it on the floor.
I thought of opening the door to check the situation outside but I stopped myself in time.
Opening the door will giveaway my position right away and the guards will know exactly what we’re trying to do. Howling wind and angry rain isn’t exactly subtle.
I’ll have to get as many kids behind the shelves and ready to escape before opening the door.
There’s still plenty of preparation to be done. Crawling back to the place I entered, I waited for Daphne to be back from the bathroom. Using the cutter I brought from office, I sliced opened the box near the bottom.
Inside the boxes are phone cases and screen protectors. Packed into large bundles, the combined weight makes it hard to move it around. I started pulling them out as quietly as I can, reducing the weight of the box that is going to see quite a bit of movement.
I checked my watch and saw that I have another 2 minutes give and take before Daphne comes back.
Crawling on my belly, I turned to the other direction where the narrow walkway leads. I put the stuff I took out on the floor. Feeling for other boxes and crates that are light enough for me to pull out, I started building a barrier.
It looks more like a child’s pillow fort but if it buys a few extra seconds from the pursuing soldiers, it’s worth the effort.
“There’s no more paper in the toilet.” Daphne said loudly as she walked back in order to give me some advance warning.
Quickly making my way back to the crawl space, I waited for her to block the views of the guards before making my move.
Using that small window of opportunity while she talked to them, I shifted the boxes and crawled back into the group.
I barely had time to adjust the boxes back into place when the guard stood up to cast a quick glance over at us.
My heart was thumping as I held my breath, trying to pretend I was asleep.
Seeing that all was normal, the guard settled back down.
With Daphne back, I gave the signal for the adults to proceed to the next part of our plan.
Pretending to shift our resting position, I got the larger sized adults to come to the front. If we all shifted at the same time, it will look suspicious.
So we did it slowly over 15 minutes.
Sam, Bobby and Conor sat up and hugged their knees at the front of the circle in a staggered position, while Alvin and I turned to our sides and pretended to sleep with our bodies facing the guards.
The lights in our zone have been dimmed while the brighter area is where the guards are. The spill of the light hitting our elevated bodies cast a dark shadow behind, giving Daphne and Tan the cover they need for the next part of our plan.
We have opened several boxes of goods in Bobby’s warehouse. When initially we appeared to be looking for something soft to lie on or to use as blankets, I was in fact looking for stuff we can use.
There is a box of adult pants which came in handy. We undid all of the plastic wrappers earlier when we were trying to set up the sleeping space for the children. Unwrapping anything now will surely draw too much attention.
“Be as soft as you can.” I whispered to Daphne and Tan who is tying up the bottom of the pants in knots.
I’m getting them to make an improvised float. By tying up the leg holes, we can slip in the empty 1.5 litre bottle to where the legs are supposed to go. Tie it up again at the waist, you will have a make shift floatation device that kids are taught to do with their pyjamas during swim class.
Only in this case, we did it with empty plastic bottles instead of blowing into them.
That’s not the only thing we are doing. Using fabrics from the curtains, Daphne and Tan will also be shaping them to mimic a kid sleeping underneath.
That way, we can do a one to one replacement for every child we smuggle through the shelves and into the escape corridor.
It’s impossible to save all 10 at one go, I’ll try to save as many as I can but I know I have to send at least 5 out.
Why 5 ?
Because based on what I can see, Sam, Alvin, Bobby, Conor and I, we can each carry a kid and run if it comes to that. Tan and Daphne will go to the waters with the 5 swimmers. With the floats and 2 adults, they should be able to swim to safety under the cover of darkness.
The waterway is always busy, some passing boats will surely pick them up.
If there are more than 5 kids left in the warehouse after the 1st group made their escape, one of us will have to carry 2 kids and run.
There’s a chance we may get away with pulling 1-2 kid out, but to have too many being substituted by fake profiles whose head cannot even be seen, the guards might realise what we are doing before the escape begins.
It may not be the best plan, but it’s what I can think of under those circumstances.
Once Daphne and Tan has ‘shaped up’ a sleeping child and a sleeping adult, they wake a child up quietly. Daphne, being the only woman, if she were to disappear suddenly, it would be a dead giveaway. She will have to be the last to go once we get the kids ready.
Tan has a smaller build and they have already shaped the fake profile in his size right at the back. He is also the oldest among the adults.
Daphne leaned close to whisper the plan to a kid and I prayed he understand what we are trying to do. I watch the boy rub the sleep from his eyes as he nodded his head.
Half crawling and wriggling, Tan guided the boy to the box where I made my entry to the walkway. I gave him a thumbs up with my hand behind my back as I kept my eye on the guard.
Holding my breath, I heard the soft shuffle of a box being moved.
Moments later, I felt Daphne tap me on my leg, giving me the signal that Tan and the boy made it.
Daphne continued doing what she did earlier.
Making an improvised float together with shaping a sleeping child. We cannot make too many floats at one go, neither can we shape too many fake profiles. It will have to be a one-to-one replacement.
I wished I could help but I need to keep an eye on the guards.
The 2nd child made it across in no time and things are only going to get more difficult from there. There is always a chance the guards might decide to come over for a closer inspection.
Just before we started on the 3rd kid, one of the guards stood up to stretch his body, casting a glance over at us.
Sam, took the opportunity to tear open a bag of crackers loudly, spilling the individually packed biscuits all over his lap.
He opened one up and munched loudly while starring at the guard.
Conor stretched and cursed as his bruised and batter body sent aches and jolts of pain.
Aung’s men looked away and continued talking.
Daphne has got down on her tummy with her legs spread apart, making contact with Alvin and me. I knew instantly what it meant, and I saw Alvin give me a nod.
He understood her intentions too.
Keeping our eyes peeled at the guards, Alvin and I can give Daphne’s feet or calves a quick squeeze to warn her if needed.
The rain hitting the metal roof of the warehouse helped masked out the occasionally snap of plastic from the bottles Daphne is handling.
It took us close to 30 minutes to get the 3rd child across to Tan, partly because 2 of the kids we tried to wake up are fussing too much. One of them is Lynette.
She mumbled and groaned as she turned away, snuggling deeper into her makeshift blanket.
Just when we are about to start on the 4th, one of the guards stood up and I saw him put a cigarette to his lips. He started walking over and I quickly warned Daphne to stop everything she is doing.
All of the adults are wide awake and tensions are high. One wrong move and everything will be gone to waste.
“Eh brother.” Sam called out to the smoker, distracting his attention. “ I also need a smoke.”
“Me too” Bobby said.
“Me three.” Conor added.
“Me four” Alvin chirped in.
There was a deep frown on the guard’s expression as he looked at the 4 prisoners pulling out their crumpled cigarettes from their pockets.
“Come on….just a smoke. I’m dying here man.” Alvin said.
“You want you smoke here!” The guard said.
Alvin gestured to the kids behind him.
“Come on. Not in front of them. And you took our lighters.”
“Fuck off. No smoking for you.” He grunted angrily, annoyed that his smoke break is getting interrupted.
Gesturing to his bored friend to keep an eye on us, the man walked towards the exit of the warehouse to light up.
Sam took out a cigarette and just sniffed it before groaning.
“You look like you are sniffing worn underwear or something.” Bobby commented, taking the opportunity to throw a jab at his neighbour who he has a boundary issue with.
“ahhhhh… how would you know ? Unless you did it before?” Sam countered without losing his cool before giving a sick expression with his tongue slightly out while licking his cigarette.
I could tell Bobby wanted to come back with another insult or jab but he ended up laughing and so did Sam.
And just like that, the animosity between a pair of feuding neighbours is gone.
“Shut up!” The guard said loud enough as he folded his arm and put up his leg.
The banter stopped and as soon as he looked away, Daphne began to move again.
With one guard gone, we took the opportunity to push the 4th kid through.
The next push will be the riskiest.
It involves getting Daphne and one other kid across at the same time.
When the smoking guard came back, he is not alone. He brought along another 2 guys presumably to take over their shift.
Everyone held their breath as the 4 men hung around for a couple of minutes before parting ways.
The new set of guards did not chat at all. They just settled into their seat and looked at us.
One of them played with the ends of his shoelaces while resting his ankle on his other knee, while the other just stared blankly in our direction.
“We need to do something.” Alvin whispered. “Distract their attention or something.”
“This 2 looked a lot more alert compared to the ones before.” Sam mumbled and one of the guard sat upright, staring at our direction as if he noticed us mumbling to each other.
“He’s watching us. Hush…”I whispered.
Suddenly, the guard stood up and started walking over in an aggressive manner.
I braced myself and got ready to hold him back, if need be, I will shout for Tan to leave with the 4 kids he has.
A cry of pain rang out in the warehouse followed by shouts and grunts.
The guard turned around to see the commotion.
A group of men have Chan and Sulyani restrained and are pushing them towards us.
“Oh Fuck off. Get your hands off me!” Chan shouted before getting punched in the face.
Sulyani struggled to break loose but was punched both in her stomach and kidney.
Walking behind them is Larry with a laptop in his hands.
Pulling out a gun, Larry pointed it at us.
“Which of you here understands Malay?”
No one said a word and Larry fired a shot into a pallet of suitcases.
The loud boom echoed within the warehouse and woke all of the sleeping kids. The cries were instantaneous as almost all of them jumped from their sleep.
The children got up and grabbed the closest adult and Lynette clung onto me as she cried from the loud gunshout.
We immediately tried to form a barrier around the kids, both to comfort them and to block out the missing ones.
“You!” Larry pointed the gun at me.” You come here.!”
“I can’t read Malay, I’m Chinese.” I said.
“COME over HERE!”
I stood up and went over, passing Lynette over to Daphne.
I felt the still warm muzzle of the weapon touched my head as Larry showed me the text on the screen.
“I don’t understand Malay dude, you mean I don’t look Chinese to you?” I said only to get a painful jab of the gun nozzle against my temple.
“Read this, what does it say? Just read it.” I looked at the text and cast a look of surprise at Larry.
“What is this? “ I asked.
“The encrypted message that they tried to send out but it was blocked and intercepted.” Larry snapped.” What does it say?”
“It doesn’t mean anything, it’s a song.” I replied.
“This, this message you are showing me. It’s a song.” I insisted.
“Bullshit! Read it! What does it say?”
I looked at my friends staring at me and I read the message off his screen.
“Di mana dia anak kambing saya (where is he, my little goat)” I said the words without singing.
“What does it mean?” Larry asked with his weapon pointing at me. “Someone answer me right now or I will put a bullet through his head”
“The song is about someone asking where is his goat. Come on. You can google this!” I retorted.
“No. this part. It has Chan’s name!. Chan Mali Chan! What does it mean?” Larry started waving his gun in an aggressive manner in my face.
“Chan Mali Chan? i..i have no idea what that means.” I said as I turned to my friends for help.
“you’re lying! What is Chan trying to say?”
“He’s not! We can all sing that song. It’s a folk song!” Alvin shouted.
“Shut Up!” Larry returned that shout with his gun pointing at Alvin.
“Di mana dia anak kambing saya~~” Sam and Bobby started singing.
“Anak Kambing Saya yang makan duan talas~~”
Terry appeared and he too has a gun in his hands.
Larry looked at the adults, all of us chipping in to sing a old folk song from our childhood days.
“What is the message?” Terry asked.
“It’s a song.” Larry replied.
“Bullshit. Why would they send a song? Have you tried searching for it?” Terry said.
Larry said something in English before switching to his native tongue but I could roughly make out what he is trying to say from the beginning of his sentence.
Something about staying offline.
“It’s a song. Which part of it do you not understand.?” Chan shouted at Larry.
“And why did you try to send the song?” Larry spat.
“It’s not me! You just assumed it’s me because my name is in it! Chan is both a surname and a name, it can mean anything.”
“Chan means more than you can possibly imagine.” Terry said.
Larry and Terry exchanged a look before looking at Chan and Sulyani.
Larry and Terry deliberated over themselves before I could see them making up their mind to confirm it. Just a simple search on the internet will clear up the misunderstanding.
“Do it, go online and search it.” Terry said.
“Just do it, better to find out if they are lying to us now.”
Larry meddled with his phone before while Terry helped him hold onto the laptop. Moments later, the folk song we are all familiar with started playing in the warehouse.
‘Di mana dia anak kambing saya~’
‘Anak Kambing Saya yang makan duan talas~~’
The duo checked the laptop a couple of times, no doubt running the search through multiple engines just to be sure.
“Chan mali Chan~”
It felt weird listening to the song playing in the background as the soldiers deliberated their decision.
Terry was the one who spoke first.
“do you think we are stupid?” Terry said. “ Only the 2 of you are free to walk around, and only the 2 of you don’t belong with us. No one but you guys will send something like this! Not our men !”
The shock did not even get registered in me as the report of the gunfire nearly ruptured my eardrums.
The next thing I knew, Chan was flat on the ground with blood spilling out the centre of his chest. Sulyani grabbed onto Chan and applied pressure on his wounds as the noxious fumes of spent gunpowder reached my nose.
The horrific sight petrified everyone in the warehouse and I could feel my heart sink, like someone tied a heavy weight to it and dropped it into the sea.
The kids that saw what happened screamed, Sam, Alvin, Bobby and Conor instinctively shielded the crying kids by lowering themselves in front of them.
Chan’s lips shivered and vibrated like he was in shock. I could literally see the colour drain from his face as blood literally erupted from both the front and back of his gunshot wound.
Sulyani’s fingers were dyed a dark shade of red as she screamed.
“arGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! NO! no..no…no… NO!!!”
Sulyani kept screaming as she tried to put pressure on the wound, but her palms cannot stop the tsunami of blood that keeps spurting out.
There are no last words, no violent convulsions. Life just drained away like someone flicked a switch. I looked at Chan’s eyelid flutter before they closed permanently.
Chan was gone in less than a minute but the blood kept oozing out, spreading in a slow radial pattern around his lifeless body.
“All of you will join him soon!” Terry said just as Aung came into the warehouse.
Sulyani held onto the body of her partner and I didn’t know what to do. I can’t even bring myself to say anything or comfort her.
I’m just at an absolute lost.
Terry updated Aung on the message that was sent out.
“It’s a folk song. We verified it on the internet”
Terry barely finished that sentence when an infuriated Aung gave him a slap.
“You IDOIT! Why did you go online!”
It was at this point Sulyani started laughing.
A slow eerie laugh of a broken soldier hugging her fallen friend.
“You are right…. You are RIGHT.I tried to send that message, but it wouldn’t go through. And you…..You, searching on the internet for that helped me get my message through.” Sulyani taunted.
“stop it!” I tried to stop Sulyani from speaking out of spite but she shoved me away from her. “ You…you…..!”
Sulyani pointed her bloodied hands at Terry.
“You helped me send out my message.”
Terry raised his weapon at Sulyani but was stopped by Aung.
“We have better uses for them now.” Aung said “ Move on to the next phase.”
Aung, visibly upset at the new developments looked at his watch and I looked at mine at the same time.
It’s 2.30am in the morning.
Aung pulled out a walkie talkie and spoke into it.
His calmness returned too quickly after such a major fuck up by his men.
It gives me a feeling that as much as he hated the boo boo, he has planned for it just in case it happens.
In a sign of things getting escalated, 2 more guys came over, carrying a large crate in between them. Another 2 more pushed a trolley each.
More men filled into the warehouse and from within the crate, they brought out rifles and body armor.
While previously I only saw them carrying pistols, this time round, they are bringing out the big guns.
“oh my god.” I muttered as I looked at the soldiers gearing up with rifles, some of which came with attached grenade launcher.
These men came prepared for a fight.
The warehouse, which has been quiet for the most part is now filled with the disturbing click and snap of bolts as the men cleared their weapons and loaded the magazines.
“I really wished it didn’t come to this Jerry, but you people leave us no choice.” Aung said.
“What are you talking about?” I said.
Aung directed his men who have geared up to start their deployment around the site. I watched a section of men ran right out into the rain as they disappeared into the night.
It was at that moment when all the men are busy with their gear, I realized no one is watching us.
I gestured to Daphne who was already positioned by the box to cross over to the walkway. I motioned for her to go.
She grabbed the closet sobbing boy to her and started moving the box on the shelf.
I shifted my position to try and cover Daphne’s exit.
The shuffling of the boxes, her clumsy crawl, I’m surprised no one heard the commotion.
“what the fuck do you want Aung! “ I shouted with my hands behind my back, waving desperately to Daphne and Tan to go.
I’m confident they knew what they have to do. I’ve already told them to move immediately once they have the kids with them but I still can’t help giving them the push to hurry along.
Aung shot me a look before checking his watch again but he did not reply me.
A loud metallic snap of the exit door opening soon reached my ears.
The moment the exit door was opened, the howling wind brought with it the tropical storm that has been raging outside into the warehouse.
Impossible to go unnoticed, Aung and his men immediately realized what is going on as the exit door slammed shut.
Several armed men ran over and a few more ran the detour to get to the walkway at the back of the shelves. It didn’t take long for the 1st soldier to trip over the boxes and stuff I stacked all over the floor and I could hear him cursing as his friend nearly tripped over his body.
The soldiers on our side started pushing and kicking the boxes aside before finding the spot we have been using to make our escape the past few hours.
I charged towards the shelves. Bobby and Conor reacted as well, the 3 of us shoved and pushed goods and boxes that we can move through to the other end.
Kicking, shoving and pushing, we rained what we could on the soldiers attempting to go after Daphne and Tan who made it out but our efforts were futile.
Within seconds, we were literally hammered to the ground by the sheer number of men holding us back.
2 soldiers made it out through the exit door and I prayed Tan and Daphne is already in the water.
I felt a hard smack across my head, and I just collapsed face down as warm blood started rolling down my cheek.
I pulled myself up to see a crying and frantic Lynette coming over to me.
“I’m ok… I’m ok.” I said as I looked anxiously at the door.
“Get the lights!” Terry shouted and within seconds, powerful overhead lamps illuminated the whole warehouse.
Moments later, when I saw the 2 men re-enter the warehouse, totally drenched, they shook their head at the General and I heaved a sigh of relief.
One of them threw a makeshift float at our feet.
“You just murdered your friends Jerry.” Aung said calmly. “In this weather, you made them go out to sea?”
“I rather they take their chance out there, than stay with here with assholes like you.”
The General looked at his watch again.
All his men are fully geared up.
These are not your run of the mill terrorists.
They’re all well-equipped soldiers, following the orders of a mad general.
“get rid of the liability Terry.” Aung said coldly. “save the bullet, we’ll need every one of those later.”
Terry dragged Sulyani away from Chan’s body with his arm around her neck.
He’s choking her.
Sulyani’s feet kicked against the ground as she fought for her life. Her bloodied hands left marks and scratches on Terry’s strong arm but no matter how she struggled, he held on to her, choking the very life from her body.
“STOP!” I shouted and tried to go to her assistance only to be shoved back with the rest of my group.
All of the kids are crying while the adults did what we could to pacify them.
Nothing could describe the anguish and frustration that is filling up inside me. Lynette clung onto me like a koala as I carried her off the floor.
“Please stop. There’s no need to do this. We’ll do what you want…. Let her go!”
Aung gave Terry a look but said nothing. I could see Sulyani’s literally slipping away.
“No… NO please NO!” my pleas fell on deaf ears as Terry tightened his grip.
Sulyani is fighting, I could see her fighting. That determined look in her eyes as she stared defiantly at Aung.
“How would a folksong about goats and lambs help you?” Aung asked as his men helped him with a body armor before handing him a rifle.
Sulyani, bloodied by Chan’s blood on her hands, strangled by Terry, literally spat at Aung and his men like an enraged beast with her last breath.
“Because ….. the lions are coming….. coming to feed on lambs and goats like you!”
I felt a tear roll down the side of my cheek as Sulyani’s eyelids fluttered for a brief second before closing permanently.
Terry kept up his tight hold around Sulyani’s neck as Aung laughed.
“NOooooo!” I felt to my knees as Sulyani’s body fell face first onto the ground like a puppet with it’s strings severed.
“My men and I have hunted many animals before.” Aung said as he slapped a fresh magazine into his weapon while his men loaded more into the pouches on his vest.
Aung pulled the charging handle of his rifle, chambering a round into his weapon before slinging it around his body.
“I have looked at countless wild animals in their eyes before I kill them” Aung said as he looked at his watch again.
An angry clap of thunder preceded by a series of rapid flashes of lightning shook the warehouse, sending vibrations into the walls and roof of the structure.
Looking at Sulyani’s lifeless body with disdain, Aung added;
“I look forward to meeting your lions.”
Everything seemed to go mute on me as I looked at Sulyani faced down on the ground. I could still clearly remember the day we spent together. The meal we had, her smile, the way she laughed.
Flashbacks of the 1st time we met, how I saved her life, how we got to know each other, memories appeared in front of me like someone showing me a series of flash cards while hurrying me to look at it.
I felt sick in the gut as the realization of how fragile life is hit me.
One moment you can be alive and well and the next moment, you are gone.
We live in a sick world.
A world where mad men run amok, creating chaos and tormenting simple folks like us for their agenda.
The sudden jolt of Lynette hugging onto me shook me from my stupor as I got up on my feet.
Amidst screams from the kids and shoving from the soldiers, all of us were dragged out from the holding area we were in for the past day. I turned and looked at Sulyani and Chan’s body. They were just left on the floor as if they were nothing.
Like no value was assigned to the life that was brutally taken away.
Just earlier in the day, Choo was telling me to reassure Sulyani that he will be ok, I didn’t even get to speak with her. I cannot imagine telling Choo what happened to his daughter. I don’t even have the words for it.
There was no time for grief. My thoughts are but a jumbled mess and I knew I was in shock. My breathing grew irregular, one moment I’m breathing rapidly, then I suddenly stopped inhaling until my lungs are screaming for oxygen.
I bit down hard on my teeth, forcing myself to snap out of it.
We were brought to the outside of the warehouse and I could feel Lynette hugging tighter onto me. Sam, Alvin, Bobby, Conor, each carrying a kid joined me as we were made to take the connection to Sam’s nursery.
As we moved, I noticed Aung deploying his men around the site. He sent some of them into the warehouse, a few across the road, another group into another neighboring unit.
It’s like he knew something is going to happen soon as he stole another peek at his watch.
Aung disappeared with Larry by his side into the dark as they walked towards the main road.
Exiting the warehouse and into the torrential storm, I felt my heart sink as I looked at the rain pouring down upon us. It’s such a heavy downpour that I could barely see 10 meters in front of me.
“what are you doing!” Sam shouted. “ Where the fuck are you taking us!”
“ the kids for fuck sake! The kids!” Alvin protested as we were pushed deeper into the rain. “You want the kids to go in the rain!”
None of Aung’s men complained as they stepped out from the shelter of the warehouse. The rain did not bother them, not one bit.
Using the butt of their rifle, the shoved all of us out.
When the cold rain whipped onto my face and body, I felt a shudder running from the back of my neck to my spine.
The muddy ground soaked into my shoes with each step I took.
The exterior lights were switched off for both sites, plunging the area into pitch darkness. There is barely any ambient light left and we were led by a soldier in front holding on to a small torch.
Looking out to the main road, I noticed that the few lamp posts close to Sam’s nursery and Bobby’s warehouse are also out of order.
Aung’s men probably disabled them.
The closest lit street lamp looks like a small speck of candle far away.
Lynette’s fingers clenched around my shirt as I felt her shiver in the cold and rain.
Water entered my eyes and it’s hard to make out anything in front of me as we were shoved from the warehouse towards Sam’s nursery.
I tried to hug and stroke Lynette’s arm to keep her warm but with all our bodies drenched, the comfort that you would have got from skin contact is all but gone.
The temperature dropped more than I expected in the storm.
It was cold, and the prevailing breeze from the sea made it worse. Each step I took felt heavy, weighed down by the rain soaking into my clothing. My clothes and pants stuck to my body and the rain felt like thousands of pin pricks hitting onto bare skin.
We were herded like cattle towards the last few racks of Sam’s plants by the longkang fishing pond.
I could catch a glimpse of the childcare teacher floating face down. She’s still there and I tried not to picture the fishes feeding off her dead skin.
“Stay HERE!” A guard shove Bobby into place before the rest of us were spaced out.
Bobby took the 1st spot, with the boundary wall separating his warehouse and the nursery on his left as he was made to face the water.
Alvin was then shove into place next. This was followed by Sam.
Conor took the next spot before I was made to take up the extreme right position.
All 5 adults, each carrying a child were made to face the sea.
We were barely 15 meters away from the water’s edge and it looked like the tide is coming in.
Angry waves crashed onto the concrete slopes, bringing with it the usual wastes we see along coastlines. I saw an empty water bottle being swept onto the slope and I felt another sickening crunch in my gut.
Across the narrow straits, I could see Malaysia. The dim street lamps and light from buildings are barely visible but you could tell it’s right there.
Looking towards the sea, I thought about what Aung said earlier. That I just sent Daphne and Tan to their deaths along with the kids they are tasked to look after.
The howling wind and the choppy sea looked menacing. We’re not even talking about the hidden under currents. I don’t think the flimsy floats are going to last in waters like that. I can only hope they lasted long enough for some passing boat to help them, or for the group to swim to safety.
I hoped they are ok, they have to be ok.
My lips trembled as I fought back tears that stem from raw unfiltered fear.
If anything happens to the group I sent out to sea, I will be the one responsible for their deaths.
“what are we doing ! What the fuck do you want with us!” Bobby shouted with his head turned to face the front of the nursery.
Looking behind me, I realized the guards that brought us to the edge of the nursery is gone.
I cannot see them anymore. They have retreated back to their positions near the gate.
Looking at the rest of my group spaced out at 3 meters intervals, I finally realized what this is.
We’re going to be executed.
That’s what this is.
All of us lined up in front of a firing squad.
Sam, seeing that no one is around, tried to run but a loud report from a rifle sent all of us onto the ground.
The kids screamed and my eardrums almost ruptured as Lynette shouted by the side of my ears.
Another shot was fired, and I could see the pot of orchid to my left explode into smithereens. Bits of clay, charcoal and ruptured roots laid on the floor by my feet. Another pot of orchid exploded by Sam’s ear and we hugged the ground, covering the kids with our own body.
“Stand UP!” A voice shouted from the dark.
None of us moved and the voice shouted again, defying the howl of the angry wind.
This is madness. They are shooting at us and they expect us to stand up?
A series of 3 shots shattered the wooden planks in front of me, splintering the wet wood and weakening the structure. Barely a second later, the entire row of plants on it fell to the ground.
There was another loud bang and Conor’s scream ruptured the consistent howl of the wind around us.
Conor rolled on the ground in pain to my side.
The bullet went through his left shoulder and split another pot of orchid that is already lying on the ground.
I can’t make out the blood in the dark but the smell.
That strong smell of blood is impossible to miss.
“aRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Conor writhed on the wet muddy ground as the boy he was carrying crawled towards him in shock.
I tried to reach for him but he rolled violently on the ground away from me.
“Conor!, Conor!” I tried to go over to him but a pot of plant right by my head shattered as hot lead punched through the fragile container. I could feel bits of soil splatter onto my face as I crawled back to my position. “Conor stay down, don’t move! Don’t move!”
I alternated my attention between a bleeding Conor and a terrified Lynette on her fours covered with bit of soil and mud as the relentless rain continued pelting down on us.
“STAND UP” Came the shout again from the dark. “STAND UP OR WE WILL SHOOT!”
Still, none of us got up.
Everyone is terrified and I could hear Bobby shouting.
“Stop shooting! There are kids here !” Alvin shouted into the dark as another shot rang out.
Soaking wet and freezing, I looked around the nursery and I saw the large pile of compost.
“arGHHHH, it fucking hurts…arghhhh! Jerry… help me… help me! Arhghhhhh!”
I was trying to think of something when another loud bang brought with it the pungent smell of gunpowder.
Conor’s screams were cut shot like someone hit the mute button on him.
He stopped moving immediately.
“Conor! Conor!” I shouted “ NO!”
Looking into the dark, I can’t see anyone.
“STOP it, Stop IT!” I shouted at the shotting soldiers while trying to stay down. “I want to talk to General Aung!”
Aung and his men are nowhere to be seen and it’s obvious I was being ignored.
The time for talking is long over.
“STAND UP, or we will SHOOT!” The same voice shouted over to us.
Seeing that Conor is no longer responsive, the little boy Conor first came over to me but before I could grab hold of him, he decided to change direction.
The boy started running towards the entrance of the nursery, crying and shouting for his mother as he ran.
“NO stay here!” I shouted and I could feel my fingers grazing the back of his drenched top.
“Mummy…. I want my mummy!… I want…”
There was another shot and I literally see the impact of the hit throw the kid against a table of orchids.
A splatter of blood slapped me in my face before the rain washed it all away.
The lifeless body of the child laid in front of me as I watched the muddy water turn a shade of red as I choked back tears in horror.
Lynette’s hands pressed against her own ears as she looked at her dead classmate. Crawling over to her, I tried heading towards the compost pile only to see the pot of orchids shatter beside me. The porcelain pot exploded, throwing charcoal bits about as gunfire tore through.
I could hear the cracks of speeding rounds breaking the sound barrier near my head. The rounds are flying by close.
The flower pots around us started exploding as Aung’s men shot up the surroundings. We were all reduced to our knees as we cowered close to the muddy ground.
Lynette was sobbing away as I covered her body with mine.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. Everything will be ok.” I lied.
“what the fuck do you want!” Bobby shouted in despair.
“STAND UP!” Came the reply.
“FUCK YOU!” Bobby shouted
They could have shot us where we were but they wanted us up.
I turned and looked at the dark sea and I tried to make sense of what is going on.
They shot Conor when he was on the ground, it meant they had a clear line of sight to where we are all huddled up. Yet they are aiming for the flower pots and forcing us to get up.
They’re not executing us. They’re going to use us shields for whatever is coming.
“STAND UP, or we will SHOOT!”
“FUCK YOU…. FUCK ALL OF YOU! ARGHHHHH!” Bobby grabbed a pot of plants and threw it into the dark.
His valiant effort yielded nothing except spilled soil and a soon to be dead basil plant.
I heard some shouting as Aung’s soldier begin to advance on us.
They’re coming, they’re going to force us to get up.
Within seconds, I saw the approaching men with their rifles raised.
I felt anger and the rise of raw animalistic rage rising inside me. At that moment, I am no longer a sane adult capable of making rational decisions.
The unjust I was feeling was kept suppressed by how tightly Lynette is holding onto me. That overwhelming rage made me reach for the cutter I kept in my socks.
I looked down at the approaching muzzle of the rifle and in that instance, the fear I had been feeling throughout the whole ordeal is gone. The fight or flight response has taken over by then. The acute stress triggered the sudden release of hormones, setting off a chain reaction of increased heartrate, blood pressure and intensified breathing.
I will not allow them to do this to us.
I will not allow them to treat us in that manner.
“Get behind me Lynette.” I said and she reacted immediately, far more cooperative than I expected for a 5 year old.
My thumb slid the cutter out and I put Lynette behind me.
In split second that everything went down, my eyes locked with that of the approaching soldier.
Bringing my hand up, he saw the cutter I have, and he raised his weapon at the same time.
I can see from his eyes that he is going to pull the trigger, and I have no doubt he saw the same murderous look in mine, one that is determined to slide open his throat.
Grabbing onto the muzzle of his weapon, I angle it up and felt it go off several times. The heat from the barrel seared the very skin of my palm as I jabbed the cutter towards his throat.
He backed off in time and kicked me back.
I saw him try to take aim again at me but I watched his head disappear before my very eyes into a mess of blood and bone.
As the soldier collapsed onto his knees, an angry boom echoed from behind me.
I heard another loud boom, a low roar that eclipsed the very thunder in the storm. That roar did not come from the rapid expansion of air surrounding the path of a lightning bolt. It came from that of a high powered round leaving the chamber of a rifle.
A loud crack snapped by my right as the super sonic bullet broke the sound barrier, slamming into it’s intended target to my front.
There was a moment of confusion, and I heard a loud announcement from the sea behind me.
It was short and curt order and I dove to the floor, grabbing Lynette as I sought cover behind the compost mound.
Aung’s men recovered and regrouped in no time, within seconds of hearing that warning, they opened fire towards the sea.
“arGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Bobby shouted as I curled up into a tight ball while hugging a crying Lynette as lead flew over our head.
Tracer rounds from both sides streak across the industrial site.
The crack and muzzle flashes lit up the entire area for close to 30 seconds. It felt a lot longer especially with the ringing in my ears.
The intensity of the firing dropped a notch as half of Aung’s men reloaded while the others kept up with short burst of firing into the sea. The storm got heavier, as if it too were upset by what it witness that night.
I sucked in a mouthful of water and air when I saw the blaze of gunfire cut into Sam’s nursery like a laser. Tracer rounds ripped into plants that were still standing, it cut and sliced a path through the nursery like a jedi waving his light Sabre.
The carnage from that 5 second burst silenced all the sporadic firing earlier.
A flash of lightning lit up Sam’s nursery and I saw a several of Aung’s men cut cleanly into 2 or more pieces.
I covered Lynette’s eyes and told her to look away.
I could hear Aung’s men regrouping as the shouted in their native tongue to each other.
Moments later, they started shooting at us again.
There is another flash of lightning and I saw Bobby running with the kid in his hand.
“Bobby get down!” I shouted but it was too late.
I saw the spurts and spray of blood mixing into the rain before I registered the series of rounds fired at him.
Both Bobby and the child stopped moving immediately.
“arGHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I shouted in anguish as I cursed angrily into the night.
“JERRY You fucking stay down you hear me!” Alvin shouted in my direction. “ Don’t you fucking get up!”
“Are you ok Alvin?”
“Yes I am, stay down!”
“I will, you too! SAM…SAM where are you….?” I shouted.
“I’m here…. I’m here…. I’m on the ground…. I’m on the ground!” he replied breathlessly.
Gunfire erupted all around us again as Aung’s men shot both at us and towards the sea.
Several rounds lodged into the compost pile, chipping away at the small mound of rotting plant material. It was then I realized the compost pile is not just a mound of soil and fertilizers.
There’s something inside. My hand reached for it and I touched concrete. Brushing away the outer layer, I realized there is a solid concrete wall in front of me.
Sam by then had crawled over to my side with the boy he was shielding.
It turned out that Sam had built the concrete mound to put the rotting materials, however, as more and more gets added to the pile, it covered the entire structure with the bottom layer getting compacted, making it the perfect cover.
Sam looked at the concrete I exposed and commented.
“Well, they say composting saves money and landfill space, never figured they’ll save our lives too.”
“I can’t believe you are joking right now.”
“I’m not” Sam replied as he dug into the compost pile and pulled out a rusty shovel. “I knew it was in here somewhere.”
With bullets flying overhead, there is nothing we can do but stay under cover.
“How the fuck can this happen in the country? This is crazy.” Sam cursed as he removed a broken handle off the shovel.
“And we’ll need men crazy enough to get us out of this.” I replied.
A series of angry flashes streaked across the red skies followed by thunder so near that it shook the very ground we were on.
Sam gestured towards the water with an upward nod of his chin.
“Do those count?”
I turned towards the sea and the latest crash of waves brought with it men appearing out of the water like the dead rising from the graves. The flash of lightning revealed a glimpse of their night vision goggles.
In groups of 5 they rose.
They rose like a necromancer has cast a spell summoning them from the depths of the sea.
The curtain of rain lit up with muzzle flashes as the divers, dark as the soul of the devil rose from the water.
Just like the rain did not bother Aung’s men, the hail of gun fire did not bother the ones rising from the sea.
They fired their weapon and advanced, unyielding in the face of adversity.
Their rifles recoiled with purpose, and the muzzle flashes never stopped.
As swiftly as they emerged onto dry land, they disappeared again into the dark, fanning out in different direction. The only tell tale sign they are still there are the muzzle flash from their weapon.
One man stood out from the rest as he advanced faster than the others with total disregard for his life.
He ran straight towards us and the rounds splintering the still standing plant racks told us he did not go unnoticed.
The man slid on one knee, raising his MP5 submachine gun at the same time.
The 9mm rounds bore through planks and flowerpots, finding their target in the torso of one of Aung’s men whom we did not even realized was that close to us.
The man took 2 steps forward and ejected the magazine of his weapon, before he could reload, he dropped the weapon and in one swift motion, pulled out his pistol and continued advancing.
By then, he was barely 5 meters away from us. He never stopped, there was no hesitation as he squeezed off his weapon.
With each round he fired, he came closer and closer.
He came close enough for spent shells to fall onto my body.
Dropping his pistol, he charged straight for the dark while pulling out his knife from his sheath.
“arGHHHH!” The man with his face painted in streaks of black drove his knife upwards the same time one of Aung’s men lunged at him.
When the 2 bodies landed in between Sam and I, both of us had a shock.
“what the fuck!” Sam exclaimed as the soldier told us to turn the kids away.
Lynette already has her hands over her ears with her eyes pressed shut, I placed my hands around her ears, and while I could shield her from the horror that is happening beside me, I could not block my ears from hearing what is happening.
Turning around, I saw Aung’s man on the ground holding onto the blade of the large knife which is already an inch deep into his stomach.
Aung’s men tried to stop the knife from going deeper but the soldier on top of him hammered the back of the knife handle, driving it deeper and deeper. With each fist, I watched the metal slowly disappear into the body
The rain could not mask the sound of agony from Aung’s man as the blade impaled into his body.
The soldier twisted the knife before pulling it out, the gaping wound erupted with blood and bile for a couple of seconds, turning the compost site into a muddy shade of red.
The gun fight around us never stopped.
Bullets are still flying around us. The soldier reloaded his weapon and kept it raised for a good 5 seconds before lowering it.
Another flash of lightning revealed more men rising out of the water.
It was then I saw the giant of a man carrying a shield coming towards us.
“Lynette… Lynette!” The soldier that killed several of Aung’s men pulled me back to reveal the girl I was protecting.
He knows her. It’s like he came specially for her.
Several soldiers came over to us and the shields they carried were barely in place when I could clearly hear the rounds hitting and ricocheting off them.
The soldier removed his goggles and reached for the shivering girl.
With his face painted in streaks and the dark, Lynette took a while to respond as she could not recognize him.
When she finally did, she cried harder than before as she opened up her hands to the soldier.
“Uncle James…” she cried as she held onto him, seeking comfort in his hug.
The soldier immediately checked Lynette, making sure she is ok, he brushed her messy hair from her face and beneath the war paint on his face, I could see the unmistakable sigh of relief.
He is however not her father.
Lynette called her uncle.
James spoke onto his throat mic, delivering the piece of news whoever is on the other end is waiting for.
“I have her. Lynette. I have her…” He said as he held tightly onto the little girl
Someone handed James a pair of noise cancelling headphones and he reassured her everything will be ok.
“It’s ok, it’ll all be over soon ok?”
Lynette nodded as James helped her put on her headphones.
“Boon!” James called out to his friend and the giant of a man whistled, sending a shrill across the battlefield.
A green flare was fired on shore and was immediately met with 3 more fired from the sea. The flare lit up the battlefield and if not for the situation we were in, it would have been a beautiful sight to take in.
The glowing light descending onto the ground like visitors from outer space attempting to land.
Everything happened so fast. A couple of assault boats punched up the slope from the sea as we were all made to get up on our feet. I could see all 3 remaining kids being bundled up.
We hid behind the shields as the soldiers brought up our rear.
Whenever someone fired at us, it would immediately be replied by a overpowering hail of bullets. Eventually the firing stopped.
“Alvin!… Alvin… where are you? “ I called out and I realized he is nowhere to be seen.
I told the soldiers there is one more.
“we have no time, we need to go now. We’ll find him later”
The soldier tried to drag me into the boat but I pushed him away.
“Jerry, get back here ! “ Sam shouted at me.
“I have to get Alvin!”
“Uncle Jerry!” Lynette shouted at me from the boat and I gave her a smile.
“Stay safe Lynette.” I called out as I ran back towards the nursery.
The engine of the boats fired up and within seconds, they pulled away from the shore.
The gun fight intensified on the warehouse side as the remaining soldiers pressed on with their attack.
The action had all but died down in Sam’s nursery.
I kept my body low as I called out for Alvin. Stepping over body parts and dead soldiers, I kept calling for my boss.
“Alvin…. Alvin where the fuck are you!”
I tripped over something and fell, my hand plunging into the gapping wound of a opened rib.
It’s contents are nowhere to be seen.
“Alvin!” I called out again but there was no reply.
As I got close to the entrance of the nursery, I realized Aung’s men had made some fortification to the site.
They had set up sandbags and barriers, they were firing behind them.
I stepped over spent shells and dead bodies.
Body parts, fingers, bits of scalp and hair were strewn all over sandbags and flower pot. I even saw a finger sitting nicely in a pitcher plant who miraculously survived the Armageddon.
I got closer to Sam’s container office and I made my way over to it.
A sudden picked up in gun fire over at Bobby’s warehouse made me stopped moving as I pressed my back against the used shipping container.
When it died down a notch, I scurried over to the door and opened it.
“Alvin…Alvin are you in here…?” I called out.
I was about to venture in when I heard a shout behind me.
The air in my lungs were knocked out as Terry charged into me, driving me into Sam’s work desk.
I fell backwards, toppling over the monitor.
The lights may be off but the small lamp from Sam’s fengshui fountain is more than enough to illuminate the interior of the small office.
Terry pulled his gun on me and squeezed the trigger.
My heart skipped a beat but I heard a click and no round came out. It jammed.
I threw a tray of documents at Terry, knocking the weapon out of his hand.
I got up to see an enraged Terry pulling out a knife.
“I’m going to dig your heart out. ARghhh!”
Terry came at me and I ripped Sam’s keyboard from his desk.
Slamming the keyboard towards Terry, I dislodged several keys but I effectively blocked his stab.
“arGHHHH!” Terry tried to stab me again and if not for the toppled chair by his feet, he would have succeeded.
I used the opportunity to smash the keyboard into his face in a series of 3 strikes.
Terry kicked away the toppled chair and I grabbed onto an ornamental glass ball, hurling it into his face. It connected with his nose and I heard a sickening crunch.
Grabbing what I could find, I threw it all at Terry who had one hand on his bleeding nose while the other waving the knife in a menacing manner towards me.
Terry’s knife slashed across my chest without me realizing it until I felt the sore of the cut. It’s not deep but it opened up my shirt and drew blood.
Grabbing a ream of paper, I blocked his subsequent stabs and found the opportunity to slam the ream into his face. While he is disorientated, I smashed his nose again, smearing the ream of paper with his blood.
“arGHHHHH! Fuck you!” He shouted and kicked me backwards.
I landed on Sam’s glass coffee table hard. I barely rolled off when the pointed edge of Terry’s knife jammed straight into the tempered glass, sending a splinter of spider web like cracks across the surface.
I wanted to kick Terry in the nuts but I missed, just as well because my foot landed on his forearm, sending the knife he was holding into a corner of the dark office.
Terry jumped and mounted me, I lost balance and fell back first onto a waste paper basket. I dodged the first punch and I got a hit onto his nose again, rearranging his already ruptured cartilage.
The next thing I knew, Terry was raining blows on me and I covered my head with my arms.
“aeGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Terry shouted as he kept raining blows on me.
Drawing back my legs, I used my knee to push him back, when I have enough leverage, I used the other feet and kicked him on his chest, sending him back onto the damaged coffee table.
Terry landed hard, dislodging the glass from the frame before sinking down the middle. The weakened glass shattered into a thousand small pieces.
Every muscle in my body is aching and I reached for the closest thing I could grab. It’s a laptop.
Swinging the laptop into Terry’s face as he got up, I sent him back down into the hollowed-out frame of the table.
Panting and searching for something else I can use, I saw Terry crawling towards his knife.
I saw a DVD on the floor. I grabbed it and folded it against the ground, the DVD cracked and shattered into several large pieces, each with edges as sharp as a broken glass.
Terry’s hand found the grip of the knife but as he turned around, I drove the piece of DVD into his left eye.
Blood squirted into my mouth as I disarmed the knife from his hand.
“ArGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Terry screamed as he held onto his eye with the piece of plastic sticking out.
I grabbed Sam’s fengshui fountain and lifted it. It’s got to be at least 40kg by my estimate.
“arGHHHHH… FUCK YOU!” I shouted as I threw the fountain at Terry’s head.
The stone landed on point and Terry stopped moving after that.
I panted and sank to the ground.
What have I done?
Crawling on my hands and knees, I left the container office and continued my search for Alvin.
I went from body to body but there was no sign of him.
“Alvin….Alvin!” I shouted, too tired to worry if anyone heard me.
The rain got lighter suddenly, it’s like someone turning off the tap. The heavy downpour turned to a heavy drizzle.
The lights around the nursery and warehouse came back on and it was then I realized how many bodies there were on the floor.
I tried to look for Aung or someone else I recognized but most of the faces were so badly disfigured.
“Show me your hands! Show me your hands or we will shoot!”
I saw several laser dots on my body and I immediately raised my hands and identified myself.
“Alvin, my…my colleague….Alvin is missing…”
I was searched thoroughly and after the soldiers verified my identity, they brought me to a corner and gave me some water.
The rain has stopped by then and I realized I was hyperventilating with the bottle of water in my hand. More men arrived, by the road this time instead of the sea.
I watched in horror as the soldiers brought body bags after body bags over, laying them by my side.
The smaller ones held the kids. The bigger ones for the adults.
With trembling fingers, I opened the bags one after another.
I saw Chan, I saw Sulyani.
I saw Bobby, and I saw Conor.
I saw Alvin, and there’s more.
My heart shattered and I felt all of my lifeforce being drained from my soul when I opened another to see the pale lifeless face of Daphne.
My head connected with the ground as I screamed into the soil.
Why is this happening?
I was supposed to save them, I ended up killing them.
The next thing I knew, I was being forcibly strapped onto a trolley by paramedics.
“Let me go ! Let me go right now!” I struggled as several paramedics tried to calm me down. I was crying and shouting like a kid throwing a tantrum.
“tell me how many…. Please… please… tell me how many… how many of the kids drowned…. Please!” I struggled so hard that I might as well be a zombie trying to come back to life on the gurney.
Someone stabbed me with something in my leg while another tried to insert an IV into my vein.
“I can’t find his vein, he’s too dehydrated.” He said while another of his friend asked to try.
“please… please tell me… please tell me!”
Looking at the ceiling of the ambulance, I suddenly felt weak and sleepy. My breathing slowed and I had a feeling like I was getting drunk in a pub.
I could see the flashing lights and the sirens seemed to get softer in the distance.
I don’t want to close my eyes.
Not like this.
Not like this.
It’s a lie. Suwen and Xiumei told me I could save them.
I was suppose to save as many as I could.
Why did they die?
I felt my exhausted lungs exhaled and my eyelids got too heavy to keep opened.
And then everything went dark.