People swirled in on the crowded streets like a teeming school of fish. Only these fish were churning in on themselves in the white-water rapids of a river. Layers of highly functional chaos one upon the other created something that was not only consuming but inspiring.
She’d been in crowds before, but this was something of a distant next level.
And as the humans boiled out of every opening like visions of some hallucinogenic drug there were chaotic levels unseen layered even on top of that. The smells. These smells were not meant to be combined, this she was sure of. They were destined by the order of the universe to exist in entirely different places, never to touch one another in the vicinity of anything consciously aware of their sordid meeting entailed.
Yet here they were, one upon the other; an orgy of scents never destined.
Motor oil drifted heavily through the air cut by a breeze of… pork soup? Something brighter? Onion? But it would last only a moment before the motor oil would retake center stage, only to be again pushed aside by something that reminded her of burning electrical wire, only subtly different in a disturbing way. And then what? Raw meat? Or was that saffron? A sweet wave of -she was sure- pineapple and lychee broke the confusion, only to be made sour and unappetizing under the inky darkness of the motor oil again. And possibly burning gasoline?
Never before could Sarah have ever expected these smells to be anywhere near each other. And yet here they were; and nobody seemed even remotely concerned.
As she moved through the crowd towards the next checkpoint, she took a momentary gap in the crowd to bounce high on her toes. Just enough time to see that she was still heading towards the big, square, neon-green sign with the vague likeness of a lobster flashing in pink in the center. She stopped her mind from wandering to the possibility of what this place would add to the smell-orgy.
So many people. She was never a city girl but this had broken any notion of MAYBE in the back of her mind.
Yet, despite the uncomfortable crowding and myriad of unholy unions of scent, there was something worth savoring.
The colors moving through the crowd, both pleasant and harsh, were myriad.
She had seen, identified, and memorized a dozen new subtle emotions in the short time since stepping out of the tuk-tuk. Combinations of complex emotions swirling in an individual created new flavors that she’d never considered possible. And what’s more, Sarah had trained herself to not only notice these combinations and their sources, but to save them for later. Like a new word in the vocabulary of the human energy field.
She felt like a child in a candy shop.
Sarah had found, since visiting Kedrik, that her ability had grown exponentially in a very short time. Her resistance had dampened it. But three days at the Raven’s Den around someone that understood and all of that was gone now.
They’d ran experiments to determine just exactly what she was capable of. Nothing short of super-hero status.
It became evident then (and especially now in this crowded mega city) that her ability was layered like her normal senses. The colors operated more or less like her normal sight. She could see energy fields and emotions from afar. As far as her normal vision could make out physical detail, what she’d begun calling her occult vision could pick out emotions. The closer she was, the more detail she’d gather.
But it didn’t seem to be a limit of her sense, so much as a limit of her catalog of colors. Once she knew a subtle variation and memorized it in her own way, she would then be able to identify it from further and further away.
It seemed that her occult vision was twenty fifteen as well.
On the other hand, the actual sense of the emotion operated more like her sense of smell. Distance was a limiter.
Kedrik had described it in terms of long range scanners, like a satellite dish, and a short range meter, like an electrician’s tool. When her field began to actually touch and blend with another person’s, she’d be able to “smell” the emotion.
She could see the colors moving through the crowd as far as a hundred meters away. After that it became too faint to make accurate judgements.
But within four or five meters she’d begin to actually feel it.
In a crowd like this it was a carnival ride of the human condition. As soon as she’d pick up one she’d be riding the cresting excitement of another only to be dropped into the subtle calm of a third. Like a seagull sitting on the ocean-surface near the shore; waves moving in nearly every direction and all she had to do was sit pretty and enjoy the ride.
She was surprised to be fairly well OK with the experience. Her usual dislike of uncontrolled chaos (including roller coasters) was not present in this case.
But what she didn’t enjoy were the darker emotions.
Like the sludging scent of motor oil riding beneath all manner of food smells, it shocked her and threw her off balance. Amongst the bright notes of joy and unique blend of impatience and excitement, among so many other colors and sensations, there were briefly exposed elements of heavy desperation. Dark blackness of depression mixed with amusement. Voids that she could only describe as absolute apathy. And the sticky nearly-black reds of anger and hate.
These emotions, she found, were not ones she could get used to.
They stung her heart every time and for a moment the rest went silent and gray. Like a flash of darkness from light switch flicked off and then on again.
Every time it happened she’d look around hastily, trying to find the source, the person, that emanated such darkness. But the crowd was dense and constantly changing and these darker feelings seemed to diffuse amongst the crowd more than the others. Like a smog over the city or the darkness creeping in at sunset; almost felt more than seen.
Those moments were intense and caught her breath. The only times she wished she could turn it off.
Sarah pulled her hood towards her chin. A little tighter, and little safer. She had always liked hoods but since her occult senses had awakened, they became essential. When she told Kedrik he had secretly made her a new one; a hood with no jacket. It had a mantle that sat under her jacket, so that she could wear it with anything. Ties under the mantle looped under her arms to tie in her front if she wanted to wear it with no jacket at all.
It was a godsend to have, made of a medium weight oil-skin cloth that looked almost like leather. He’d told her it would need to be re-waxed from time to time but not how to do it. Secretly, she suspected, so that she would have to visit more often.
The crowd parted in an odd way before her and she realized too late that they somehow knew of the puddle that she stepped solidly into; splashing muddy water and who-knows what else to the scowl -and muddy green flash- of a few passers-by.
Luckily her lower legs were covered with a similar material as the hood, and tightly, so that the drops of whatever rolled down to her boots.
Sarah stepped out of the puddle and looked up to find the lobster directly in front and above.
“Not the only one glowing today are you, Mr Lobster,” she said with a grin.
A wave of pink joy and what she sensed was nervous apprehension washed over her as a young woman scurried past in a a cute out-fit complete with cream-white rain shawl. Sarah watched her move off into the crowd with delicate finesse as she savored the feeling.
“He said you’d be coming, but-,” Sarah looked quickly down as she heard English for the first time in days to see a short man with greasy balding hair and beady eyes wearing a once-was-white apron over a bulging belly, “He did not say you were so beautiful.”
Had she met this man just a year or so before, she would have considered him creepy and impolite. Nothing about his appearance, the way he spoke, or what he said would have assured her otherwise.
But from him came a warm green glow and the feeling of deep respect and appreciation. Sarah had been pleasantly surprised by a number of people on this journey.
“Nor did he tell me you would be so charming,” she replied, grin growing into a cheesy smile.
The man wiped his hands on the filthy apron and stepped aside to gesture her in with a huge hand. As she passed he made sure not to actually touch her while politely moving his hand with her back.
“You do not have to be so kind, Miss Sarah,” he replied, “I have been working all day and know precisely how I appear.”
They entered a long hallway that passed alongside rows of windows and the occasional door-less entry into what she assumed was his seafood butcher shop.
Patrons perused the sparsely-iced bins of whole or partial sea creatures while young attendants is equally filthy aprons served them.
Glancing over her should with a questioning look, he pointed further on to a wooden door at the end of the hall. The sensation of his aura was fatherly. She had become familiar with the way that the leering-eyes of hungry men felt, but he had none of that. She had even begun to have a vague notion of where someone’s attention was, thanks to some entirely disrespectful individuals demonstrating by looking anywhere but her eyes.
This man was respectful in aura and attention.
She felt safe and as the noise of the busy streets died down behind them she felt calm as she pressed the old wooden door open to find a room both private-kitchen and living room.
“Please, Miss Sarah, have a seat at the table. Tea?”
Sarah unzipped her jacket as she surveyed the room, “Yes, that would be lovely.”
He went to a big sink near the door -she was pleased to see- to remove his apron and wash his hands and arms up to the elbows before heading to the kitchen half of the room and fill a kettle.
“I’m sorry, I was told of the lobster sign but not given nor caught your name-”
The man startled and turned, wiping his already dry hands on a rag as he stepped to her, “Ah, Miss Sarah, how rude. Yes! I am Charles. A pleasure to meet a friend of Mister Kedrik.”
Sarah smiled as they shook hands. His were huge and warm.
He laughed and his belly shook before he replied, “Yes, well. Everyone calls me this. The name my mother gave me is not easy to say for those that do not speak Thai.”
“Try me,” she said.
“I am Chalermchai. At your service,” he replied, with a short but show bow.
Sarah hesitated at even attempting to repeat the name. “If it’s alright, I’ll stick with Mister Charles.”
They both chuckled together.
“That will do just fine for me, Miss Sarah,” he replied before turning again to the stove to attend to the whistling kettle.
Sarah sat at the table, small and sturdy but seemingly older than this building, and pushed her sleeves up slightly before reaching for the box of tea. It was divided into four sections by thin pieces of wood fit solidly together. Each section smelled unique. One was spicy and earthy, the next soft and bright. The third had a concerning smell that was not appetizing, and yet she could not help but smell it a few times. The last was definitely jasmine.
She took the small spoon from the earthy corner and scooped a bit of jasmine into the strainer sitting atop one of the cups before setting it back into the earthy corner.
Charles turned around, bringing the hot kettle and poured hot water into her cup.
“Jasmine tea is a good choice,” he commented.
Sarah was impressed. “How did you know? You can’t possibly smell it already?”
“You will find, Miss Sarah, that in Asia, we know our tea by many ways. Much the same as I think you now know people…”
He trailed off on the last few words, looking up into her eyes. His were piercing and for a moment she sensed deep knowing and something fierce. This man was not a bumbling happy store clerk.
The intensity was gone faster than it had arrived and his energy softened. Sarah slowly slid the cup towards herself with a nod, and let the delicious steam swirl past her face.
Charles took the spoon and selected the questionable tea. He must have noticed her face because he chuckled.
“You may be able to read more of a person than I, Miss Sarah, but you surely cannot hide your own feelings yet,” he said with a mock sternness, obviously teasing.
“Hah. Well, you’ve caught me, Mister Charles,” she replied, using his formal way of addressing her in return, “that one did not smell very good.
Charles smiled as he poured.
“Shu Pu’er is Chinese. And it is fermented. It tasted much better than it smells to those that do not know it.”
They both stared into their cups, as if divining the next part of the conversation from the steam that swirled from cups to faces, and past.
Minutes passed by and Sarah did not feel the need to break the silence. It had not been quiet since she had arrived in Bangkok. The city was alive with nearly nineteen million people at any given moment; sprawling in every direction with towers next to slums next to industrial parks next to shopping streets. With restaurants next to oily mechanics and vallet parking near the tented-rows of the homeless. Zoning was an entirely western concept, it would seem.
But the silence did not last, and before he spoke, Sarah sensed an energy of purpose and intention fill the room.
“Miss Sarah, I regret that I cannot enjoy your company for longer. I would very much like to hear of your travels,” he said with a sideways nod, looking into her eyes gently but directly, “But we must be about our business, as I have other to attend to. I beg your understanding.”
Another short bowing nod.
Sarah could hear and see but also feel the truth of what he said. Charles did have something pressing to attend, though what it was she could only guess.
“Yes, of course, Mister Charles,” she returned the nod and added a smile, “I can see that you have a lot happening. Do not feel bad in the slightest.”
He smiled and she felt his relief.
Another nod and he slid his chair back to stand, next moving to the living room half of the space. An old bookshelf filled mostly with books but also trinkets, letters, and a mirror held a small wooden box that he retrieved.
He brought it back to the table with a reverence she hadn’t seen him use before. A bit of orange seeped into his energy and she felt the slightest bit of nervousness. Or was it caution?
Before she could explore the sensation further her attention was brought fully onto the small box as he was nearly to the table. Her head snapped to it and he slowed,moving carefully to sit before setting the box between them.
Sarah could feel the box.
And after a moment she realized there was the ever-so-faint hint of color around it.
Her jaw dropped as she looked up to his eyes -already on her- and furled her brow questioningly. Mister Charles scrunched his face, almost nervously, as he looked aside. She turned her gaze to the box.
Was it green? Or brown? So faint. What was the sensation she felt. Longing? Anger? No, it was something like frustration and vindictiveness. But justified. Purposeful. She puzzled the box as he spoke, now very softly, and she could hear his nervousness.
“I met Mister Kedrik years past, here in Bangkok. I will not clutter this space with unnecessary details, but what is relevant is our reason for meeting. I have a… disposition… to finding these objects. Mister Kedrik has the means of keeping them safe and… soothing their… them…”
She looked up to his face and saw him looking down to the box with concern, but confidence. He was not afraid, only reverently aware of something she had not yet figured out.
She reached slowly towards the small box, inlaid with curious white lines in geometric patterns between carved textures that passed over edge and down the sides. She knew, somehow, that they must also pass to the underside as well.
Cautiously, the tips of her fingers moved to touch the edge of the box but the moment they did she drew them back; shocked as if bitten or burnt by something that was neither hot nor moving.
“It- I- That isn’t…” She paused to catch a sentence that made sense but could only find one, “That isn’t possible?”
It came as a question as she stared at the box intensely.
“Ah. But Miss Sarah, it most definitely is.”
She looked up to meet his eyes, now strong and sure again, “But… Mister Charles. The box feels like a person?”
“Not the box, no. The box contains what you feel. It is safe, please open it, Miss Sarah.”
She hesitated, but from his eyes she felt care and sincerity, honesty and nothing malicious. She looked back to the box, regarding it like a coiled snake or impossible eye puzzle. Then, slowly, she reached out with both hands.
Placing the fingers of both hands on the box lid, it was clear as he said that the energy she felt was inside. It was not that it was painful or bad; what surprised her was that it was in an inanimate object. What surprised her was that these sensations only ever came from conscious beings. As she readied herself to open the lid, she half expected to see a tiny person, or something more grotesque. Her heart raced.
She lifted, and the lid smoothly came up and tilted back on hidden hinges. The moment that her eyes glanced the darkness inside she felt it fully.
Longing. Anger. Confusion. Intense red ever so slightly muddied with brown. Determination. Strength. Fear.
She gently flipped the lid completely open until it rested on the table, exposing a dark velvet pillow interior obviously worn with age and countless number of previous residents.
In the center of the pillow sat a gemstone.
It was mostly translucent with patches of red and purple, but entirely clear. Inside she could see flecks of bright metallic silver and possibly orange reflecting the light from overhead. The more she looked at it, the more complex it appeared.
Mister Charles cleared his throat quietly and spoke, “In a past life I was a gem dealer, and later a collector. This is how Mister Kedrik found me, though I do not know how he knew as I was here in this life as a shop owner of sea foods. I know my gems and stones, Miss Sarah, and as I did then and do now, I know when something is… different.”
He paused, relaxing into his chair again and reaching for his cup to take a sip of tea. He cleared his throat again.
“This is not a normal gem. In English I think it to be called feldspar but this is not that physically… or otherwise.”
Sarah came out of her trance at that and looked up.
“You’re fucking telling me,” she caught herself, “Excuse me. But no, this is not an ordinary anything as far as I have ever witnessed.”
“No apology needed,” he said with a grin, “It is definitely fucking not normal, Miss Sarah.”
The way he emphasized the ‘not normal’ had a funny way of making his swearing sound playful in comparison. The tension in the room dissolved.
Mister Charles slid a much smaller box of very similar appearance towards her. She had not seen him retrieve it. He opened the lid to reveal a similar velvet pillow interior, but in this case it had an obvious depression where the gemstone would fit perfectly.
“I know that you experience this stone deeply, and I would prefer to spare you more intensity. But if you are going to take this to Mister Kedrik, it is better that you know it well. The box will contain the feelings. Shield you, in a way, so that you can carry her without discomfort.”
Sarah had not realized she was looking down at the gem again, but looked up quickly.
“Yes, Miss Sarah. I assumed you could tell,” he said curiously. His tone dropped into reverence as he continued, “This gem contains the energetic quality that was once a living person. A thousand years in this form, what comes next on the path awaits and Mister Kedrik will help. She is ready.”