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Birth Of Trees

Hi All,

I’ve been completing quite a few short stories recently. This one is called Birth of Trees.

Set in my Distant Moon universe, it is a vignette of a grandmother ape teaching her grandson about how the Treeborns make their young.

Hope you enjoy it.

Birth of Trees

“There’s a reason why they are called Treeborns,” the old ape woman grunted to her grandson in Ape-Speak.
The young ape peered at the miracle that was happening right before him, and he was fascinated, though his fascination was peppered with guilt, as though he were doing something wrong, but grandma is beside me, he figured.
The mother tree was large, as large as any tree he had ever seen, and she reminded the young ape of a woman hanging upside down with her feet raised in the air, but those were in truth tributaries of the main trunk which held a soft sack.
A moving root cut itself out of the tree sack, and that root revealed itself to be part of something that resembled a hand, then a head emerged, tiny, wet, laden with tiny leaves, the little body of the baby Treeborn fell onto the soft ground with a gentle thud.
Its roots still writhed but it was not erratic, but gentle, perhaps genteel, in birth the roots were not hard as bark but soft as worms finding purchase without avail, then something caught the little ape’s eyes.
“He has no legs, Grandma,” he snorted.
“They don’t need legs,” Grandma said to him proudly. “While we are born on the ground and climb up the trees, the Treeborns are born high up and land into the ground, rooting themselves. Look.”
The lower half of the infant Treeborn, full of wriggling roots, pricked itself into the fertile soil beneath it, and once the half was firmly buried with the ground did the infant look up to its mother tree. She had no face, just a womb, and it was said by Grandma once that in time the mother tree’s womb would dry, and it would wither and die, and another mother tree would come in her place, to birth another Treeborn.
The young ape had thought he and Grandma were the only two witnesses to the birth, but from the ground emerged the other Treeborns. Two grabbed the infant and caressed it with their roots, perhaps as how an ape Mother might caress her newborn.
The Treeborns looked at Grandma and the young ape, nodded, and their bodies, along with the infant, disintegrated into the soil.
“Where did they go, Grandma?”
“I don’t claim to know much about Treeborns, child, but I know they are always where they need to be and are always around when they are needed. Look at the city behind you, child. New Mustahael could not have been built so quickly without their help. But remember, they helped us because we helped them in the battle of Manaharta against the dragon Azusz Naga.”
“Help them and they help us?” The young ape asked.
“Always it is for all things,” Grandma grunted.
“Then why do some of the apes refuse to help the humans?” The young ape wondered.
“Because, as apes grow old child, they do not remember this lesson I am teaching you. I pray you do not forget when you grow old to help all and whoever is in need, for the grace of the Mustahaelim is such, that we welcome all, man and ape alike,” Grandma said.
This answer satisfied the young ape. He nodded, and approached the mother tree, caressed its trunk, and smiled.

END

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Blood and Oil Story

BLOOD AND OIL

JOHN AND SHEILA

The first thing John and Sheila noticed when they went inside the room of their cheap hotel was this thick, greasy stench. When John locked the door Sheila snorted her nose, then gagged.
“This room stinks,” she said.
John crinkled his nose and said the same thing, but his hand was on the curve of her body, lowered to the thickness of her bottom she was conscious of but he didn’t care about. He began to wonder if Sheila was her real name as he closed the door, then decided it couldn’t have been. She didn’t look like a Sheila, and he wasn’t really ‘John’. It was just an alias that stuck with him when he took these women for these night trysts, these call girls or street walkers, and calling Sheila wasn’t exactly cheap. He couldn’t wait to tell his score to friends, take her photo if ‘Sheila’ allowed it to show off to his buddies. 
Thinking of all that made him reach into his pocket for his phone. He checked for the time and there were no messages. He pocketed the phone and looked up to see she was in the bathroom. This girl wasted no time as she turned on the sink and coughed out something from her throat, rinsed her mouth and smelled the brandless hand soap on her hand as she washed it. 
“You OK there, Sheila?” John asked. He didn’t want this to turn into a sick girl with nothing to show for it. 
She spit out the water and faked a smile. She grabbed his hand and slowly pulled him into the bathroom in one hand and unbuttoned his shirt with the other. With the door still opened both of them soon got out of their clothes and got under the shower, Sheila still taking the lead, still faking that smile as she lathered John’s body with the hotel’s complimentary bathroom soap, with John happily enjoying being lead. He knew the motions of this dance very well, careful not to touch her too soon, as he knew this would eventually lead to the bed itself. 
They hadn’t turned on anything but the bathroom light and themselves at John’s request, cooling with the spray of the shower and stoking the fires of their passion by toweling their bodies dry.
Without any clothes on they moved to the bed, Sheila giggling as John playfully slapped her ass, then moving his hand up to her neck and to the curve of her cheek, bringing his face closer to hers. Their lips touched and their tongues tangled tip to tip then closer and closer. He pushed her against the bed and wasted no time to enter her though she wasn’t exactly ready: she preferred a longer arousal time, for a man to use his fingers first, but it was typical of her clients to enter headlong, as it were, first. She had adjusted her head so it was propped on the pillow, her mouth gasped open although she was initially sore from John’s initial forced entry she had to admit she liked his technique: fast and hard using every inch of himself right from the tip to the base. She tried to fight what she was soon bound to admit, that with each thrust she was enjoying it more, soon giving in to the act, readily this time with John. She wasn’t always this ready for a client, sometimes faking it completely, but this was one of the rare ones. 
She had to control, hold it in, but with each push getting deeper and deeper into her she had no choice, it was as if each shove into her seemed to push it out of her throat like tiny balls of air, gasps that were at first small and barely noticeable. Then those balls of air coalesced into a moan, then an unmitigated scream, her lips parting open, her hands around his neck pulling him closer, her legs wrapping around him tighter, she screamed for him to go harder, faster, her mouth open constantly searching for air enough to repeat those same instructions over and over again.
She had forgotten about the greasy stench when she first came into the hotel room, now she and John weren’t people anymore but a higher being composed purely out of pleasure. 
The two backed beast had come out in full force in that room, the beast with two pairs of eyes and two mouths, one rough and the other lustrous, searching for air, but found something liquid touch her lips instead.
She paid it no mind, and thought, maybe it was the dew from the air conditioner. 
It touched her lips again, a drop anointing her twice on the forehead. This liquid was too thick to have been dew, too warm. Her gasps slowed, and a drop went into her mouth, meeting the tip of her tongue. She spat it out.
“What’s wrong,” John muttered in half-breath, still focused on moving his body inside her. 
Sheila motioned for him to stop, which he reluctantly did. Another drop but this time it landed on John’s thigh. 
They both looked up. In the faint dim light, their eyes met with something above them. A lifeless thing, staring back at them, somehow hanging on the ceiling, dripping blood and oil. 
Both of them screamed and got out the bed, their screams so loud it echoed through their hallway, so loud it merged into the sounds of police sirens coming into the street less than an hour later.

OLIVIA LEE

Now dressed, John and Sheila were at the lobby, their faces marked with alternate shades of blue and red streaming from the outside through the glass door, answering questions from a uniformed police officer when they were interrupted by a bell chime and the opening of the door. They looked to see who it was. She in turn smiled at them as the door closed itself into place behind her, crinkling her nose trying to ignore the thick smell of cigarette smoke mixed with stuffy air conditioning. She motioned to the uniformed officer and tapped on his shoulder, telling him he could go and she would take it from here. He wondered who she was, in a long sleeved black shirt that snuggled nicely around the curves of her body, and form fitting black jeans and track shoes, that was until he saw the lanyard around her neck and the CID pass at the end of it that fell just below her chest. The officer nodded and left while she went on one knee to place her hand on Sheila’s thigh to console her. 
“I heard what you saw,” the detective started. She showed her pass to them. “Olivia Lee. Sexual Crimes Branch,” she introduced herself. “We will need you to come to the station later. Have you called your boss yet,” she asked Sheila, aware that there was no denying what Sheila’s real job was. Even as a woman, Olivia had to admit her envy when she glimpsed the low cut dress Sheila had on. Olivia never had the chance to dress like that for a long time, not since she broke up with her boyfriend a year ago. Now all she seemed to do was work these long hours with never ending cases and dress in jeans and shirts, though work itself was the reason Jason left her. Kneeling beside Sheila, she began to feel rather inadequate as a woman, but why would she need to feel that way? She didn’t need to dress up for work at all. 
“Officer,” John said, “How long will all this take?” 
“As long as it takes, I’m afraid. Is there anything else you can tell us?”
“We did smell something before we went in, but I didn’t pay it any mind. Sheila was the one who saw the body.”
Olivia stood up and rubbed Sheila’s shoulder consolingly. She turned to look at the elevator. “What floor were you on?”
The elevator binged at the 9th floor. Olivia came out of the elevator and went straight to the room where there was a forensics man taking photos of the bed, whose once white sheets were now stained red and black. Olivia noticed a black drip on the bed that just formed. She looked up and even she had to gasp. She had never seen a murder like this. The woman on the ceiling was naked and the black greasy goo was still oozing out her mouth. Strangely, no one had turned on the light in the room. It added to the gloom of the murder, or they didn’t want to see the oddness of the dead body in full light. Either way, this prompted Olivia to pull out her own flashlight and shine it at the woman. Her bush too was dripping in grease and blood. Lower still, dripping out her vagina, was the same greasy substance that oozed out her mouth. 
“You guys been here long?” she asked the forensics man. Beyond the bed two uniformed officers were prepping a ladder to cut the body down. Olivia shone the light at the body and as the cops climbed up the ladder all of them had the same thought in their heads: exactly how was she tied and held up against the ceiling?
“There’s no rope,” Olivia observed as she pointed the flashlight to the body. 
“She’s been raped,” Olivia said. 
“How would you know?” the forensics man asked.
Looking past his thinning hair and comb over, she quickly glanced back to the cops. The cop on the ladder stood close enough to the ceiling where he reached out to the woman’s left arm. “Some kind of glue,” the constable said. He looked down to the forensics officer. “I’m sorry boss, but you got one of those latex gloves?”
“Kirpal,” the forensics man said out his name. He reached into his back pocket, fishing out the gloves. Olivia took it and handed it to the cop. He slowly slid the gloves onto his hands and got closer to the arm. 
He tried to pry the hand from the ceiling but all he could hear was the black goo stretch. He looked down to the other officer. “You’re gonna have to catch.”
“Fuck,” the other constable said.
“Do the legs first,” Olivia suggested. “You’ll get more balance that way.”
The cops nodded and readjusted themselves and the ladder. The first cop pulled the legs off and the other cop took the bed sheet as a cover against the goo and held on to the legs. 
Then there was that peeling sound. Like a rotten orange pulled apart from its crust. The entire body followed suit and dropped face down onto the bed as the cops bemoaned the fact their uniforms were now ruined.
“I’m sorry guys,” Olivia told them.
“It’s fine,” the said, though they knew it wasn’t.
“How did you know she was raped?” Kirpal asked Olivia.
“This is just a rough assessment until we get her to an autopsy lab, but there’s signs of a struggle, lacerations around her neck and arms, and I detected signs of genital injury. Vaginal trauma. Her privates were rubbed raw, basically. By a strange lubricant from the looks of it.”
“Oil?” Kirpal enquired.
“Maybe. And her genitalia is seeping blood. Forced penetration of perhaps the rapist’s own genitals.”
Kirpal glanced at Olivia. “All that from just one glance? I’m impressed.”
“I try my best,” Olivia said proudly. She motioned her head to the door. “Who’s the manager of this hotel?”
The man was waiting at the lobby. Wherever he stood he was still an oddity, with his hair cropped so close by the sides all you could see was skin. The top part of his hair was dyed faint red, or it could have been dyed cheap with a red that kept fading. When Olivia came out the elevator he was already talking to another CID officer. 
“James,” Olivia called his name. 
“Olivia Lee,” James remarked. “Fancy seeing you here before me.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“This is a murder investigation, not something for Sexual Crime,” James said, his tone slightly raised.
“These murders are sexual crimes,” Olivia retorted. “Three deaths in this month, all raped and killed. You want to conduct your investigation, fine, but I want to know who’s been doing this.”
James turned to face the hotel manager. “Mr. Kee, can you show us the tapes?”
The monitor showed the time in the hallway. Mr. Kee’s hair looked neon-like in the darker monitor room. His fingers were on the controls when James told him to stop.
The image paused. “That’s her,” Olivia said. “The murder victim.” She took her phone and took a picture of the monitor. 
“What are you doing?” James asked.
“That’s our suspect.” Olivia looked hard at the image. It wasn’t clear, but there was a man with a black cap, visor purposely covering his forehead and eyes. 
“I need a record of all the names that checked into that room in the past 12 hours,” James asked Mr. Kee.
“No. It’s 10:45pm on the monitor. Mr. Kee, I’ll need your log book.”
“What are you doing?” James asked incredulously. “We need a thorough search of all the names on the list.”
“Get me the book Mr. Kee. Please,” Olivia instructed sternly.
Mr. Kee turned his head to Olivia, then to James. He stood up. “Aiyah, don’t fight lah. If policemen fight then how to keep the peace like that?” he walked back to the front counter and returned with the log book.
Olivia scanned her fingers down the list of the book and saw a name signed at 10:30pm. 
“Damn it,” she said. “It’s a female name.”
“He must’ve used the girl to sign the name. Covering his tracks,” James said.
“Who was the guy at the counter?” Olivia asked Mr. Kee.
A moment later the counter lady was talking to Olivia, answering her questions. “I don’t know much, can’t remember but he was a Malay man. Young, maybe early 20s.” 
Olivia thanked her, and took down the IC number in the book. She and James walked out the door, past the blue and white police line, their faces colored with alternating blue and red, and curious bystanders standing around the police cars and an approaching ambulance. The medical technicians went in the lobby heading to the ninth floor. Olivia looked at her slim digital watch to check the time. It was two in the morning. When she raised her head she saw a constable with his hands up, signaling the onlookers to leave the scene. 
“What was that all about?” 
“What?”
“You showing off just now. This is my case and you’re making me like a fool,” James raised his voice.
“Your case? Sexual Crimes called it on the first murder.”
“Your department called it but we’re taking it over since it’s been classified as murder,” James explained as the medical technicians went through the lobby’s main door with a black zipped up body bag, their light-coloured uniforms stained a dark shade of goo. The remaining bystanders peeking over each other’s heads wondered what that was on the uniforms, what was in that body bag, who was it inside? Rumors amongst them had spread , stories made up on the fly.
“By who’s definition?” Olivia asked James. “By your boss?”
“Forensics,” James said quietly.
Olivia kept quiet as she felt something inside her get warm, then hot rise from her chest up her face. “We’re dealing with a serial rapist. And a murderer. Why not we combine our departments?”
James ran his palm across his forehead. “Listen, if you want, talk to DSP Feng.”
“That’s exactly who I don’t want to talk to.”
“Total bitch.”
“Exactly,” Olivia remarked.

BREAKING NEWS

The news of the murders with oil were spreading in the papers. Headlines such as OIL IN PRIVATE PARTS were emblazoned on the front pages of the more scandalous papers. The best taboo headlines always had the distinction in Singapore of it being proliferated in multiple languages, with first the Straits Times and the New Paper, then the Malay Berita Harian and the Chinese Lianhe Zhaobao, with an average of a headline a week from each paper with probably a small sidebar mention every other day. That didn’t include the mentions in the news channels, also in the various spoken languages.
There were already three murders but not many leads, save for the blurred CCTV footage from the hotel of the most recent murder.
The day after the murder of the third victim, technically the same morning at daybreak, Olivia had woken up by 7, the memory of the murder still fresh. With her head still on the pillow, her hair disheveled and her eyes still adjusting to the grey dawn of her bedroom, she began to think of a barrage of things.
Calling DSP Feng. She was a young scholar who was about the same age as Olivia, now a Deputy Superintendent who Olivia admitted was smart but arrogant, on account, Olivia had always figured, on the fact that she had attained such a high post at such a young age. The DSP’s mandate of segregating the departments was taxing. Gone were the good old days of two years ago, when there was a camaraderie between all the departments. She prepared in her mind the things she had to say, an opening statement, a closing argument, a winning defense for herself to pool the resources of both the Special Investigation Squad and her own Special Sexual Crime Branch.
Then there was the phone call at two in the morning she had to make.
The IC number on the list matched the name of a Malay girl, twenty years old, whose address they ascertained from the Police database, along with the address’s phone number. 
Olivia hated this part of the job. Being the bearer of bad news. She realised people had a wonderful coping mechanism for dealing with bad news and bad memories: they tended to ignore the pain over time. At least that was how she coped with telling people their husbands, wives, fathers and daughters had died. But the first part was always the worst. That instant of bad news always hurt her just as much as the person receiving the news.
Five hours ago both seemed like a long time ago and like it just happened. “Hello, Mr. Jamal, I’m Detective Olivia Lee from the CID. It’s about your daughter-”
She rose from her bed and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and showered. Toweling herself dry she quickly put on her jeans and a long sleeved shirt and was at the front door when a voice that sounded as if it were boots stepping against gravel asked, “Out so soon?”
She turned and sighed. “I’m sorry daddy, there’s a case I’m working on.”
“The oil man case?”
“Yeah.”
The old man was sitting on the sofa, his four-legged cane beside him. “Any luck?”
“Only bad.” She unlocked the door and the grill gate and left.
“Good luck, Ollie,” her father whispered when she was gone.
On the train she felt a sinking pang that sunk right to the bottom of her core, a lead weight composed of equal parts grief and guilt. She hated to leave him alone. She was all he had now, since her mother died a year ago. Now with that bad leg her father limped with that walking stick around the house. 
She used that mechanism she had mastered so well, tried to ignore this guilt and shove it aside, just as she was now shoving aside all the rough papers and scribbles that had accumulated on her desk.
When all that junk was cleared she had the three files in front of her. Three files for three murders and she looked at her watch. It was eight in the morning. She had an hour before DSP Feng came in. 
Olivia began to sort things out in chronological order.
The first murder seemed sloppy, taking place in a park. Bishan Park was a distance away from Lorong 12 in Geylang, where the most recent victim was. The body of the Chinese woman was found by a jogger at about 7:15 in the morning. Her clothes were disheveled but not torn and she had her skirt lifted over the buttocks. 
The jogger stood still when he saw her, not knowing what to do. No one knows instantly what to do when faced for the first time with a naked body. Tan Teck Hwee stood for a long moment, catching his breath, running his fingers over his comb-over. His tracksuit which shielded him from the cold now ran hot. Stationary without the wind blowing against his body, the sweat from the jog, coupled with the cold sweat of seeing the body by a tree, facedown, made him rise with the beginnings of a fever. His first instinct was to reach into his pockets. But it wasn’t there. His phone was in his car.
Just as he turned away he heard a draggled moan behind him. He stopped, along with his heart, and turned slowly. There was a cough, followed by a spurt of blood from her mouth, and he swore he saw something black around her lips. He reckoned it was also oozing out her mouth. He told her to wait, that he’d call for help, and ran to his car.
He heard her voice fading away, pleading for help as he ran farther away from her.
He unlocked his car and grabbed the phone from the glove compartment and gave the police a call. The Ops Room attendant told him to wait at his car. He gave the lot number and his personal description and fifteen minutes later a patrol car was there to greet him.
Complaining they were too slow, they calmed him down and he told them she was still barely alive. He showed them where she was, all of them jogging to the spot. The two male cops tried to suppress the urge to look up her skirt. 
The Sergeant kneeled down beside her face and tried to hear her breathing. “She’s not breathing,” he said gravely. 
Later the coroners couldn’t exactly determine cause of death, though the reports in the papers of genital trauma spread like wildfire.
Perhaps the suspect used the oil as a lubricant prior to penetration. What worried the coroners, Olivia read on, was the suspicion that the victim’s mouth too was covered with oil externally and worse still, internally.
Was forced fellatio involved? There were bruises and lacerations around the neck, flakes of oily skin beneath her blackened fingernails, semen lodged in the vagina, subconjunctival hemorrhage, or blood red eyes and involuntary urination and defecation, meaning the victim was forcefully strangled.
Olivia read on about the second victim, who was found dead not in a park, but in her own room, her white sheets now stained with blood and oil. She was a virgin, and the oil that was present in the previous murder was present here as well. She was found dead by her father, of all people, almost naked. She was home alone before he came back. Everyone could only presume that she brought the killer home with her, had intercourse before he left the scene.
For a few days after the family couldn’t rest in the day, as forensics came in to look for prints and clues, though foreign prints, that is, prints of people that did not live in the house, did not match anything in the forensics database. The other thing that had yet to be solved, was how the killer escaped. 
In the latest case, there was nothing in the security footage that showed the man with the cap escaping out the door. 
In the second case, the father unlocked the door when he came home, suggesting the killer escaped by the window, but the window of a ten storey flat was not a smart exit route.
Nevertheless, Olivia was there to inspect the windows. There was the one lead. There were oil stains at the window of the second victim’s room.
She closed the case files and had it figured out: she wanted to spot a match between all the oil samples. 
Her watch read 8:45. She walked out her office and took the elevator upstairs, exited and walked to the door for DSP Feng. She hoped the DSP was in a good mood today.

THE INCUBUS ROOT

The doorbell of the flat rang. A bearded man with a salt and pepper beard opened it, dressed in a shirt and pajama slacks. The interior of the flat was dim, which made it hard for the doctor to see what was outside. He squinted and saw a man with a black cap, it’s visor shading the man’s eyes.
“I told you not to come to my house,” the bearded man said harshly, subconsciously closing the door slightly. 
“The pills, it’s making me sick,” the man with the cap said. 
The bearded man sighed, peeked his head out and looked both left and right to see if anyone was looking. “You got the money?” he asked.
“Yeah.”
“Come to my clinic later after five pm. After the patients are away. I don’t have the medicine here. But, how was it? The pills?”
“It’s working too good. My skin,” the man with the cap raised his arm.
“My clinic. Later.” The doctor slammed the door shut.
Two months ago, the man with the cap answered an obscure ad in the papers, an ad which even the advertiser wasn’t sure anyone would answer. The ad was for a clinical trial to enhance sexual libido via an experimental method, the first few sessions were paid for by the clinic. No one else had answered the ad for a week until the doctor received a call. Excitedly, he made an appointment, and the man came, explaining his lack of libido, his lack of confidence in life. He had half-erections, if any, and girls just rejected him time and time again. 
His hair under the cap was long and black and stringy, and his body had this odd slouch where his head seemed to merge with his shoulders in a level line. When he came into the clinic his walk was almost simian, as if his knuckles dragged across the floor. 
He explained he was tired of not being able to even do it himself. He wasn’t a master of his domain, as it were.
“Do you want to change your life? Do you want to give yourself a new start?”
Yes doctor. Yes! Was what the man with the cap essentially said, only without the exclamation points. He said it sullenly. 
The doctor slid a glass jar across the table. Inside was a pill that didn’t look like much. It looked as generic as paracetamol. “This pill is magic,” he told the man with the cap. This pill, I’ve created was derived from an ancient plant extract we found in Sarawak. From an ancient root from an almost extinct tree. I call it the incubus root,” he paused, for effect, and also to see if his patient was getting this. “An Incubus,” he continued, “Is a male demon who has intercourse with women. I want you to take a few of these home, see how it works for you, and report back to me. If I’m right, you’ll be a monster in bed once your treatment is complete.”
The man with the cap looked at the nondescript pill. He stood up and took the bottle in his hand. 
At five pm the man with the hat, now looking even more pale than he was just this morning, went into the clinic. He coughed and said he was sick. His skin was breaking out in acne. His hair seemed less thick than before. “You asked me to report, so this is it. Side effects. I’m not feeling too good. You said you got a thing to reverse the side effects?”
“I didn’t exactly say that,” the doctor said as he double checked everything in his office, fiddling with the door to make sure it was locked, that the windows were shut. “I said I can make you better. And the only way to make it all better, is to complete your course,” he motioned to his table and slid a bottle full of the white pills across the table.
The man with the cap stood up abruptly and his chair fell to the floor. “Liar! You’re just trying to con me, isn’t it, Dr. Neil! I’m losing myself, for serious! Look at me!”
The doctor turned and winced.
His patient took two huge steps toward him and lunged his arm against the doctor’s neck. “Take a good look! Look at my face and tell me this is an improvement!”
The doctor forced his eyes to look. With a wet gurgled voice he said,”Tell me, how has it been with the women? Was it so good they died from the pleasure? Do you want to go back to being your old self? No women, no confidence, nothing to show for in your life?”
He loosened his grip on the doctor and the doctor coughed and gasped to gather his breath and his voice. “So, what do you say?”
“I didn’t mean to kill them,” his patient sobbed. 
The doctor placed his hand over the patient’s shoulder, guiding him to the chair. His patient continued crying. “I didn’t mean to,” he kept repeating to himself. 
“I know you didn’t,” the doctor consoled him, patting him on the shoulder. “Things always get worse before they get better. That’s a fact of life.” He reached out to the bottle and dragged it to the table’s edge. “Complete the course and you’ll be a new man. A better man. You’ll be so great, you’ll be able to finally approach that girl you keep telling me about? The one who’s always driving by your workplace?”
“Patricia,” the patient said quietly. 
“Make a difference to your own life. Complete the dosage.”
The patient reached into his pocket and removed the money from his wallet, and gave it to the doctor.

PROFILING

The DSP and Olivia were sitting down across each other at the DSP’s table. DSP Feng was quiet as she contemplated this. 
She stood up. “OK, Detective Lee, you drive a hard bargain. But keep this internal. Only you and James and don’t let word of this team up leave the three of us. 
Olivia stood up and thanked the DSP. She was quite surprised that the DSP was this easy to convince. She turned to walk to the door when the DSP’s voice stopped her.
“You may be wondering,” the DSP started, “why I agreed to this.”
Olivia turned around. “True,” she replied stoically.
“I’m not as harsh as others might think. Or as you might think. This team up made sense. It was justifiably within our limits to cross jurisdictions. But the higher ups than me, they made the rules and not me. I have to show that I’m enforcing it.”
“I know that your bosses won’t like it. But I do appreciate this.” Olivia nodded and went out the door.
She sat back at her desk minutes later and re-read the files again, trying to profile the killer. She texted James about the DSP’s agreement and James sent a simple OK. He texted he was chasing down leads, revisiting the people who knew the victims.
Placing her phone down, she noticed a certain pattern among all the victims, a regularity of strangulation. All the victims were strangled, beaten and raped.
The perpetrator seemed to fit into the profile of a rapist in the anger-retaliatory category. It was slightly rarer, but usually a person like this had a bad relationship with their parents and suffered physical and emotional abuse from them. His victims would suffer from physical and verbal abuse, and it’s not always sexual but more about dominance and the need for power, and attacks are provoked after an argument with a significant member of the opposite sex. A wife. A girlfriend. Mother.
Olivia didn’t have much to go on, but she had figured her suspect was a young loner with control and inadequacy issues. He’s out to hurt someone. His victims all had facial and genital injuries. Her suspect seemed to have a propensity for strangling people, she presumed as a form of control or domination. But with not much to go on, with inconclusive witness statements and blurry CCTV footage from the hotel she had not too much to go on.
In the evening she went to the coroners to see if they had any luck “identifying the glue-like substance on the latest victim?” she asked the bald Indian man, Kirpal.
“No,” Kirpal said simply. “The Forensics Chemistry and Physics Lab haven’t come back to me for this latest one.” 
“Then all we got is their findings from the previous cases. But this doesn’t explain how he got his victim to stick against a ceiling. The hotel footage didn’t show him bringing any type of glue, no one’s been able to identify what it is, God, it’s like the thing came out of his own-” Olivia paused.
“What is it?” Kirpal wondered. 
“This sounds crazy, but contact the lab, ask them to examine the glue and oil and see if there’s anything organic traces in it. Like you can trace DNA in oily skin, right?”
“I’ll ask them to extract traces of skin particles from the glue,” Kirpal said. “Clever idea, Miss Lee.”
Her cellphone rang. She smiled and looked up at Kirpal. “Yeah?” It was James. 
“We got another one,” he told her.
“Great. How old is she?”
“That’s the thing. The victim’s male.”

NOT A HOME AT ALL

This is a bad morning for him. He’d left the flat with the door slammed against his mother’s face. This is a few months ago, before he had met the doctor. His mother had just completed a diatribe against him, one about how he couldn’t hold a proper job, how she was sick, or lazy, from his point of view, and that he needed a better job than being a gas station attendant.
“At least I have a job, while you’re just here in your chair complaining about your joints aching. How about standing up once in a while,” he said to his mother before he slammed the door.
To be fair, his mother was right about him not holding a proper job. He was twenty four and was working at the gas station, on minimum wage. Prior to the job at the station he was a cleaner but was fired because he kept coming late. But his work was spotless, he defended himself. His mother and him were now living in a low rent HDB where most of the tenants were older folks. They had to move out once his father died. With an unfinished mortgage payment the HDB took back their flat and so they moved here. He had been close to his father and never much cared for his mother. He wondered a lot how a man like his father could have fallen in love with a woman like his mother. Maybe he died due to the depression of being in close proximity to her all these years, eating away at his soul until one day he just expired.
At work once, in the first week on the job he saw a girl in a nice black shirt driving a nice car come and ask him to fill up the gas for her car. She was, he reckoned no older than twenty one and this was probably her father’s car. He helped place the pump nozzle into the tank, imagining it was him entering her.
With that mental image in mind he stammered as he asked her, “So-so-so….. Uh, Miss….”
She didn’t even hear him, amidst the sound of the other cars driving past them on the main road. She was busy texting on her phone when she heard him, his second attempt at talking to her, but his voice sounded like a low murmur, an insect from a lower dimension buzzing in her inner ear. “Yes?” she asked sharply. 
“Do….. You come here often?”
Stupid question, to be sure. Real smooth. 
“What you think this place is? A club?”
“Uh, no, but uh–”
The nozzle jerked. The car was filled up and she walked in to the cashier and paid the amount. He pulled out the nozzle as if it were something limp and flaccid. 
As she got back to her car she ignored him and drove off, the exhaust of her car filling his lungs. He coughed hard, but was infatuated all the same, with a girl who didn’t care he existed, whose car and phone were more important than he was, were larger than his own self worth. “Fucking bitch,” he muttered to himself, but got on through the day undressing her in his mind. 
When he got back home he tried to lie down in bed and tried to think of that nameless girl, his penis erect in his hand, but it didn’t stay that way for long. Bleeding from the edges of his memory was the image of his mother nagging at him, plus the feeling of inadequacy he had always felt at not being the best of anything, not even able to keep himself erect to finish himself. He pulled his shorts back up and took a cigarette from his drawer, lighting it up, he stared out the window. The lights of the buildings he saw became a wet blur, but not for lack of trying. He began to cry uncontrollably for what felt like a long time. After he was done feeling sorry for himself he wiped his tears aside and went back to the drawer again to take out a newspaper cut out of an ad that said: PAID VOLUNTEERS FOR NEW SEXUAL ENHANCEMENT DRUG. CALL NUMBER BELOW.
He took his cellphone in his hand and hit the numbers from the ad slowly.
CLINICAL DECOMPOSITION
The clinic from the outset looked just like any other residential estate clinic. There were a few police cars and blue and white police tape surrounding the clinic. The sun was nowhere to be seen, the sky bruised with a dark blue. Olivia went into the doctor’s office and found James already there, standing over the doctor’s dead body. Doctor Neil Lim, age 55, was lying on the floor of his own clinic, his clothes covered in oil as black as night.
“Where’s the counter girl?” Olivia asked James. 
The counter girl was sitting by the plastic waiting bench, her legs closed together, her hands on her knees tight. She was staring at the people walking by the pavement. “You worked for Dr.Lim?” Olivia asked her. 
Her body jumped slightly, her hands still firm against her knees. “Yes,” she replied quietly. 
“Was there a patient before the doctor died?” Olivia asked the girl. 
“Yes.”
“Do you have his records?” 
“No.”
“No?”
“Dr. Lim met him always when the clinic was closing, and the doctor said not to take him name down. This was off the record.”
“What did the patient look like?”
She paused before she said it, afraid she would be revealing some secret she shouldn’t have. The shadow of the doctor still seemed to loom over her. Now that he was dead he seemed scarier to her, as if he was able to haunt her. 
“Her wore dark clothes. He had a black cap over his head.”
“A black cap?” Olivia reached into a file, removing a photo. “Did he look like this?” she showed a printout of the video feed from the hotel.
The counter girl nodded. “I don’t want to die,” she said quietly. “I don’t want what happened to the doctor happen to me.”
Olivia placed her hand over the girl’s arm. “That won’t happen, Carla,” she reassured her. “We’ll take care of you.”
“So he’s the oil man,” Carla told Olivia. 
“Did he go by the back door?” 
“The back door’s locked.”
“So you saw him run out the front here?” 
“No. I only heard a struggle, then the doctor’s body drop. But I didn’t hear the oil man run away.”
“So how did he–?”
James came out of the office and asked Olivia to come back inside. When she came back in he showed her a pill he had found on the floor. “That’s not the only pill,” James told her. “A few of these are scattered all over the floor. And there’s an empty bottle in the doctor’s pocket.”
“The doctor was cautious not to keep any of his correspondence with the patient on any official record. We just need a phone number we can trace back to his patient,” Olivia said.
“We’ll have to try his home. Let’s pass this over to the HSA to analyze this pill here. All the pieces are coming together but it’s still a jumble.”
Olivia nodded, saying nothing. She walked around the office, looking for signs of an exit. “She didn’t see him come out the front. The only ventilation in this room is that air-con fan there.”
Both of them walked to the fan, and saw the very thing that confirmed their suspicions. “Oil,” both of them said at the same time. 
“But how could he escape from this?” Olivia wondered. “It’s impossible for a human body to slip through.”
“It’s like he’s not even human,” James said. 
Olivia picked up the pill from James’ hand. She raised it up to the light, examining it. “Not anymore.”

INTO THE SPIDER’S LAIR

He had always liked the night shift, because that meant he would be away from his mother at night, and be asleep in the day so he wouldn’t have to really see her until he left the house. Before he came to work he took a few of those pills, and was feeling pumped, like he could take on anything and anyone. 
He joked more than usual with his colleagues, his confidence boosted along with his libido.
As the night wore on he began making a mental listing of potentials, girls he could test his new prowess with. He was armed with a few month’s supply. If his body was deteriorating he might as well enjoy it before it all comes crashing down. He looked at the his palm. It was greasy. In fact, so was his neck. He felt a wonderful stirring in his loins, but there was no one he was really interested with among all the single girls and people’s girlfriends he saw in tonight’s customers. 
By midnight his boss told him to take a break. He took to the corner and ate a sandwich, still watching the other cars coming in. There were a few hot girls he thought had potential, but without truly realizing it, he was searching for someone in particular. 
When her car drove in he stopped eating his half-eaten sandwich and as another pump attendant was filling up the gas and she waited in the car, he sidled up next to her by her side’s open window, full of confidence. It was now or never. 
“You’re Patricia, right? We spoke that day.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, for a while, but you were busy with your phone.”
“Patricia, you know him?” a voice said. The man was tall and too slick and he hated that. 
“She comes here all the time. She likes to come, don’t you?” he asked her slyly. 
The pump jerked to a stop. The man began sizing him up, and just before he left to go to the cashier, he warned him, “We’re not done yet.”
He watched as the tall man paid for the petrol fare. He took this chance to continue his chat with Patricia. “He doesn’t deserve you.”
“You think so?” She was regretting not pulling up the window, but she kept up the small talk. Billy should be here soon. Right? Soon. What was taking him so long? She tried to peek at the convenience store. Maybe he’s buying junk food.
“He’s a jerk, you and him won’t last long.”
“Who said me and him are in this long term?”
Billy came back and moved toward him. He towered over him by a few inches. He looked up at Billy, peering through the visor of his cap. He snarled at Billy. Billy pushed him away with both hands but he grabbed Billy’s wrists hard as he reeled back. Billy had to admit, this scrawny pencil neck had spirit. He looked at Billy for a brief, sniveling instant and let go.
Billy moved around the hood and went to the driver’s side door and entered the car, starting up the engine.
He peered his head into Patricia’s window and taunted them both. “You might want to reconsider your short term plans.” 
Billy revved the engine, while he backed away from the window. Patricia rolled up the window while the car moved off quickly.
With his arms folded he snarled and took note of the license plate number.
He knew exactly what his short term plans were.

END