she was going to have a seizure. “You’re wrong, I’m afraid. Quite wrong. I am as much a product of these people as my three brothers. How could I not be? I was brainwashed from birth. They sent me out to find a farang like you whom they could manipulate, and since I was their zombie, their robot- like all good little upper class gangster girls—I did as I was told. This is the way the world is, was their message, these are the kind of things you have to do to survive. And: look at the money we’ve spent on you, didn’t you realise it would be payback time one day?Everyone else is earning their keep. What did I know? I’d never had an independent thought in my life. If you remember, I even faked an interest in sex at first.”

“Lali,” I said, “I can’t believe you’re saying this.”

She ignored me. “But when I saw how basically noble you were, and how you had that peculiar British integrity—which my charming family sees as stupidity—that forced you to carry on with what you had started, even if you had a frigid wife and the mob for in-laws, I started to feel terrible. Really terrible. So terrible I could no longer live a normal life. You see, in my own frigid way I had finally fallen in love with you, but being a psychic nonentity I had no libido. I think I might have developed sexually, if I hadn’t been so depressed about it all. It’s been cowardice and self-disgust that’s kept me pinned to this bed—this damned room—all these years. If I’d had one atom of courage I would have told you to pack our bags and take us to the Himalayas—I dreamed of living in a cave with you in a state of total poverty.” She sighed. “But I waited too long. Middle age caught up with me. It was too late.”

“Lali, you’re killing me with this,” I said.

She put a hand out for me to hold. “But not to worry, this is Thailand. There is always a way around such things.”

I frowned. Whatever could she mean?

She beckoned me to come closer. “The Mae Nak shrine—your uncle Walter’s mysticism—they sowed seeds in my mind, but there was nothing I could do until Bunthan came to see me.”


“The Khmer man who came to your office today. I sent for him through my Aunt Nit, whose husband is also from Cambodia. Bunthan is a shaman of the old Khmer school that has its roots in ancient Brahmin sorcery.” She had to pause for breath. I could see her heroic struggle with weakness and nausea and felt worse than ever. She continued: “He has been teaching and training me for ten years. I wanted to tell you immediately but he wouldn’t let me. He reminded me of how fatal weakness and impatience can be—look what misery those faults had brought me already.”

“Teaching and training you in what?”

For a long moment she did not answer. Indeed, she seemed already to inhabit a different world. “Advanced techniques in cheating death,” she said at last in a whipser.

“But you’re dying—the doctor said so?”

“Yes,” she said with a grave nod, “but thanks to Bunthan I’m going to cheat. We are going to be saved by ancient magic, my love, working through me. Indeed, you could almost say that in your case you have already been saved. Just promise me one thing—that you’ll play the game and won’t freak out like Mae Nak’s husband?”

“How can I promise anything when I have no idea what you’re talking about? I’m sorry, you have to tell me more.”

Lali sighed, then beckoned me to come close to her mouth. I could see in her face all the suffering of the decades, and the toll her disease was taking. Her voice shook when she said: “All these years I’ve spent mostly in bed–immobile, you see, more or less dead.”


“He showed me how to…”

“How to what?”

She raised her head with great effort to say: “Project the etheric body, also known as the ghost body. It can be done, you know, consciousness can live anywhere, it can even create its own vehicle.” Then she collapsed back onto the pillow and closed her eyes.

“No,” I said, “you can’t leave it at that.” I shook her. “You’ve got to tell me what’s going on. What did you do to Uncle Walter’s diary?”

She smiled very faintly. “Bunthan said it had to be done that way. It’s part of the architecture of your mind that your Uncle Walter has to be on your side. After all, he’s the one who brought you to Thailand in the first place, he’s your real life guru. You needed at least a hint from him. I read the diary to Bunthan, who is illiterate in everything except ancient Khmer, and even then he can only read magical incantations. He says your Uncle Walter was very advanced, but there was a paragraph missing from the script, which Walter deliberately left out because you weren’t ready, but now had to be replaced.”

I stared at her with aggressive incomprehension until, with great effort, she pushed me away, then started to drag the sheet off of her. She was wearing a cotton dressing gown, which she pulled up until her pubic hair was exposed. I breathed in sharply: there was that same tattoo about two centimeters from her vagina, identical in every way to the one Om also wore in the same place. I needed no further prodding. I pulled open her dressing gown and made her sit up. Sure enough: the same tattoos as Om in identical positions on her shoulder, belly and lower back.

She was quite exhausted and could hardly manage the last words she ever said to me: “I’m going to make it up to you. What you’ve seen so far is only the beginning.”

She died that same night.


I typed the foregoing notes, Reader, in a state of great agitation the day after Lali died. On reflection they appear to me as a crude attempt at exorcism, and I trust you will forgive a certain hysteria inherent in the account, which is, I can assure you, nevertheless true in every particular. Now, six months have passed and everything has changed.

I waited a decent length of time before moving Om into the compound. The ex-in-laws didn’t like it, but there was nothing they could do. They knew something occult was going on, over which they had no control—and in any case, there’s no way they can survive without me. Just to be on the safe side, I also moved Bunthan into the compound, because he terrifies them. In other words, Lali’s death has made me prince of the fort, a veritable boss or jao poh, who runs the show. I am finally free and intend to celebrate by taking Om on an extended vacation to the Himalayas: we’ll be spending quite some time in Ladakh. I can’t tell you how excited she is.

Life has improved in other ways, too. I’ll give an example. Om and I have developed our social life to the point where we’ve learned to enjoy even the stuffiest side of my profession. When we went to a Law Society dinner last week they sat us more than ten places away from each other on opposite sides of the infinite table. Both of us were stuck with brainnumbing bores on either side, but it didn’t bother us at all. Just as the high court judge on my right was starting into an insufferable diatribe against the latest criminal law amendment statute, I felt a friendly tug at my crotch, followed by the unzipping of my pants by petite expert hands and a long, slow, humorous caressing of my member. True, Om was sitting more than thirty feet away, but distance is no problem for one of her reach. Of course, I don’t call her Om anymore when we’re alone. I call her by the name of the master who is projecting her: Lali.

John Burdett

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