The Fifth Horseman

woman girl silhouette jogger

Leave me alone

Jenny found herself wide awake in the early hours of the morning, heart pounding, pulse-raising, and thoughts unable to settle down, just swirling a whirlwind of flashing images. At times her chest would hurt, and at times her face will flush. No! This was not that time of the month, and at other times Daniel and herself had been always careful. No, this was her doing; Sheila!

Her memory was vague, but she remembered having a dream that night. It had something to do with a river cruise, in some beach resort, in what looked like some Polynesian country. They were enjoying themselves, Daniel, herself, still as couples, with Sheila and some foreigner she found on the trip. The foreigner left to get cocktails. Then Sheila got angry about something. She started crying, and launched across the table at Jenny. They were on the floor. Jenny unable to let herself loose, feeling abnormally weak, strangled by her friend while she cried pouring her tears voluminously all over Jenny’s face, and soon half the floor was in puddle. That in turn gradually became a pool, and eventually they found themselves in the depths of a large reservoir. Daniel did nothing but laugh along with the foreigner, oblivious to what was happening. She could see his wavy outline made by the water, far, far away. ‘Please, HELP!’ she cried and cried and that was it.

Jenny was up on her feet, pacing to and fro and then she did it, succumbed by an intense desire of curiosity. She had no faith in the occult but a strange feeling lingered in those walls of their once shared apartment. As the door to Sheila’s old room creaked open, a residual smell entered her nostrils. It was ‘Her’, her perfume, her deodorant, her air freshener. It was only an empty lot, as her family had removed most of her things, but a small part of her was still there, as though she had never left.

Jenny turned the lights on, and walked to the centre of the room. She felt a cold murky air linger around her, wrapping her by the ankles, forcing the chill of the marble tile to creep into the sole of her feet. She felt as if Sheila was trying to talk to her. Perhaps she was at that moment, but Jenny had no way of knowing.

‘It’s cold!’ she told herself. ‘I need a run,’

**

Detective Nurul had been pouring over her notes, sipping coffee to stop the shaking, and smoking to keep warm. It was a cold night and there was a thick fog lurking outside, amongst the drug addicts and the homeless. On a night like this, she would go the bars, the shady ones, order a beverage, obviously non-alcoholic and just wait for a fight to start. Strangely enough she wouldn’t interfere if anything did happen. She was not on the clock, so why not just let them fight and enjoy the scene play out. At most it would be just drunkards riling up each other, followed by a curse word or two, then a swing and a miss, followed by hurling their bodies at each other, until someone breaks a glass or actually gets a punch right. Sometimes there would be guns, but the minute she flashes her holster, all that nonsense would immediately stop. There will small chattering, ‘Who’s the middle-aged women with the ponytail? How does she have a gun?’

Nurul suddenly recalled one of those nights. At about 11.30pm, she had the overwhelming urge to take a piss, so she waited by the stalls in one of those bars. The girl inside was taking too long.
‘Don’t tell me it’s fucking drugs. Please just… don’t…’ Nurul sighed. She knocked but there was no answer. She knocked again. A loud thump answered her, as if to warn.

‘That’s odd!’ Nurul figured. She crept closer to the door and kept her ear an inch closer, careful not to actually touch the disgusting thing. There were moans, but it wasn’t like the person inside was enjoying it.
Nurul moved back, raised her knees to her chest, her feet parallel to that door, kicked and busted it open. ‘Now I have to work…’ she sighed again while releasing her Magnum out of her pocket.

Two men in their 20s, staggered to see her, raised their hands clumsily all the way up, their paranoia a little disproportionate to their situation but the powder under the noses was good enough an explanation as to why. The poor girl, also in her 20s, sprawled on the toilet seat, her clothes barely on her, by the looks of it, beaten and drugged up. She smiled while trying to form a sentence. ‘Wha?… Wha?… What are you doing here?’

‘OK, Out!’ Nurul waved her gun pointing at the exit. The men complied. Just as they slipped by Nurul’s side, she clobbered them over their heads, and repeated bashed them until she was satisfied and finally ready to take them in.

That night, yet another bar had uncovered her identity as ‘Police’. ‘I actually liked that place. They got live music on Tuesdays sometimes.’ Nurul fret.
‘Sorry?’ her colleague thought she was speaking to him.
‘No, don’t… worry about it,’ Nurul replied, her eyes heavy despite the coffee. ‘Caffeine tolerance, that’s all,’ she jokingly stated.
‘Maybe we should call this a night,’ her colleague got up from his semi-reclining desk chair and stretched his limbs while unapologetically yawning.

Nurul stared at there board. She had different markers for everything, and several names of hospital members who may or may not have any relation to the case she was currently working on.

Her colleague stared in her direction. ‘What if all this pointless, and it turns out to be just a suicide huh?’

‘Then it won’t be so fun anymore,’ Nurul joked. ‘It doesn’t fit her profile you know. I mean look at that face.’

Nurul had scanned through Sheila social media to find the picture she found most honest and transparent about the victim. In the end she was using her gut feeling, but she found it oddly motivating that a picture of the doctor in some campsite back in the day, would be the one picture to grab her attention, tickle her conscience, that this was more than just a depression induced suicide.

‘So, who’s in the top tier suspect list?’

‘Well, we have the parent’s statements, and the hospital director has been judiciously avoiding me at all costs. We can’t step foot in that place before we get some excuse that the doctors are busy. So, we go for the friends next, preferably outside of work. We’ve met Dr Ram. Now, for the others.’

‘All the statements point to her having a myriad of friends.’

Nurul smirked. She opened Sheila’s Instagram account on her laptop and showed it to her colleague.

‘From what I’ve found, she had most photos with this girl,’ pointing to a picture of Jenny and Sheila posing in front of a Baskin Robbins before a bucket of ice cream.

‘OK! So we go to her,’

‘Not just that, there are other friends too, some doctors, some nurses but what I want you to see is this.’

Nurul opened two picture side by side for comparison.

‘What?’

‘Notice the sudden change in… well… let’s say… cosmetically. I mean her make-up,’

‘I don’t know how you women…’

Nurul interrupted, ‘Don’t be a dense little baboon Sheik, really look. Observe all the other pictures that come after.’ She started flipping through the later selfies and group pictures, then placed two randomly selected photos side by side for comparison.

‘You’re right. It’s not just the make-up and the hair. It’s the clothing too, it’s all too…dark,’

‘Not dark, just more of the same shade, less color, more thematic, like she figured out an identity and decided to stick to it, not as vibrant and keen on trying new things anymore. I have reason to believe that the Sheila we know from the picture to the left and the one to the right, might as well be two different Sheilas.’

**

The morning was gloomy as streaks of bright sunlight struck the horizon. The density of the clouds overcame much of it, still hiding the morning rays, giving the appearance of a grey sky. Jenny had her tracks on, slim fit, body-hugging, aerodynamic with her padded running shoes pacing ever steadily. She focused on her breaths, the monotony of it, anything and everything to calm the racing disorganized thoughts in her mind.
The tracks kept going like the yellow brick road to Oz, leading her. She ran adjacent to a wide-open lake. There were ducks, herons, and hungry fish mouths, plopping out of the water. The birds chirped and the leaves rustled, but Jenny couldn’t appreciate any of those. To her it was all about her breath, just the calmness of her inhales and exhales.

The light started to reflect on the lake, like an old 70s VHS video, it was too bright and glossy. She turned her eye away and tried focusing on something else.

‘You happy Jenny?’ a voice echoed.

She stopped and grabbed her knees. ‘No!’ she stammered. She got up and surveyed around. There was an eerie feeling she had of being watched. She persevered and focused on finishing her laps before work.

Then, her head turned by intuition to an angle behind her, and she saw it; on a park bench across the lake, sat a stocky figure, in thick layers, just looking ahead. There was no way to confirm if this person was looking at her, but she had to dismiss the notion, before it became some other form of paranoia.

Jenny’s course approached the person, and she could roughly make out that this was a woman, somewhere in early 40s, just dishevelled looking, probably just a homeless person watching the ducks in the morning. Jenny tried to avoid eye contact. In a split second, she was inches away from the woman, her heart pounding even stronger and then the moment was gone and Jenny had long trailed forward.

She stopped again to catch her breath, and finished with some final stretches. With a towel loosely wrapped around her neck, she got to her car, checked her phone and scrolled through all her messages.
There was a text thread with Tzen from the night before. They had been texting a while now, and they decided to meet after work. Jenny knew it would not be possible as she figured the day might run late due to it being her long shift. ‘Sorry Tzen, maybe tomorrow,’ she replied.

An immediate reply followed, ‘the day after then, I’m busy tomorrow.’

Jenny knew that Tzen was disappointed.

Before she left for good, she had one last look at the lake from afar and blew out a long sigh, her head muddled with thoughts of how this was going to go.

**

Tzen had arrived earlier to their supposed rendezvous point. It was a local Chinese restaurant, busy, bustling, and exactly the kind of place where he and Jenny would just blend into the crowd. He had bought himself a tall glass of iced tea and waited patiently for his friend. For some reason, possibly a passer-by on the road, made him think of Sheila, of the first time he saw her with those clothes on. ‘Please, please, please just don’t,’

‘Don’t what?’ Sheila replied. Right next to him, she appeared seated, her back against the worn-out flimsy plastic chair, looking right at him, adjusting her hair. Tzen tried not to pay her any attention.

‘Tzen?!… Tzen?!… ALAN!…’ she yelled while shaking his shoulder.

Tzen suddenly realised he had been nodding off. Jenny had her hand on his shoulder, before making herself comfortable on that same plastic chair earlier, only this time there was no Sheila.

‘You waited long?’

‘I’m not really sure,’

‘You look horrible Tzen. How have you been doing?’

Tzen realised that Jenny was right. He appeared untidy, and his eyes were begging him for some sleep. She, on the other hand, was neatly dressed in her office wear; shirt, slacks, shoes, face powdered up and a fresh coat of lipgloss.

‘How about you?’ Tzen avoided answering.

‘Good, I guess,’ she replied. There was a certain calmness around Jenny.

She appeared to be taking the whole thing quite well.

‘With Daniel?’

‘Well, we have not really bumped into each other, so…’

‘The apartment?’

‘That’s a whole other thing though. I told you how it was.’

‘And do you like…’

Jenny stopped him. ‘Let me ask some questions too if that’s alright with you,’

A waiter approached their table and Jenny politely waved a gentle ‘No, thank you,’ to her.

She had a long hard stare at her friend. Tzen was a smart guy. He had a fantastic work etiquette, was popular among the nurses, had a few good circles of friends and he was always in the loop about things. Now however, the only thing that even kept him tethered to his reality was Jenny and Jenny alone. Neither his parents nor his siblings knew not about what he was going through, and despite Jenny repeatedly asking him to confide in them, he was always infuriatingly obdurate.

‘You been keeping well?’ she knew he wasn’t but she had to start with something a little conservative.

‘It’s been OK.

‘How’s work?

‘Work is also OK,’

‘Heard you missed a few days. People aren’t that happy,’

‘It’s Rachel isn’t it? She’s been grinding my ass for days,’

‘Well, is she wrong?’

‘What do you mean?’

Jenny figured she should tread lightly. Keeping the tension at the right amount was key to such conversations. She wanted to help and not just make small talk. She wasn’t here merely as a friend, but a good one would know when to confront, and she had steer this the right way, before she lost another one.

‘What I mean is…’ she drank a sip from his drink. ‘What’s your plan? Come on Tzen, you don’t need a coddle, you need direction,’

‘I need a friend.’

Jenny sensed she was losing him. He was gulping down the rest of his drink. It was a clear sign he was about to bolt and this would have been for nothing. ‘Alright!’ She knew the that only way she could connect with him was if she exposed herself a little as well.

‘Fine,’ she sat back and took a deep breath. ‘I miss him. I went out on a few dates with someone else. I did. It was friend of a friend but really it was horrible. At least I tried.’

Tzen kept his glass down. The remaining ice cubes were already melting into a small pool.

‘I also had a dream,’ she continued, ‘in fact I have been having several,’

‘Since Daniel?’

‘Since Her,’

‘Like recurring?’

‘Water… it’s always water. I don’t know why but I’m starting to actually be afraid of large masses of water.’

Tzen felt a little insulted. Was she making a joke of this? He had dismissive look and she noticed.

‘No, I’m serious. Don’t laugh at me. It’s like there’s someone there. Just watching me.’

Tzen started to open his eyes a little wider.

‘I thought only I felt that way.’

‘You think it’s her?’ Jenny was getting tense.

‘As in like…from the afterlife?’

‘I don’t know if suicide victims go to heaven..’ Tzen responded. They were silent for a moment. The air around them started to change. Jenny had goosebumps. She felt the wide open space around them was slowly creeping up at her, closing in.

‘Sir?,’

Jenny shrieked, slamming the table. Tzen pulled away in shock. She looked up to see the waiter girl from earlier right by them looking equally stunned by her reaction. ‘Erm… I asked if you wanted a refill or anything else sir.’

This time, Tzen waved politely dismissing her.

‘That was weird…’

Jenny started to chuckle. Tzen peered intensely at her but after watching his friend freak out like that he found himself bursting into laughter as well.

‘But in all seriousness though. I think you have to meet Dr Satya,’ Jenny pressed.

‘You’re one to talk,’

‘Come on, mine is just fear,’

‘An irrational fear. It can lead to things if not properly treated,’

‘Well, like hallucinations perhaps,’

Tzen got very quiet for a moment, to an awkward degree but Jenny didn’t care if she insulted him, rather gave him all the space he desired. She could have looked at her phone and distracted herself but she just sat there as if she knew what was going through his head and was now interested to see what he was going to say.

Tzen realised he had never heard her nor himself acknowledge it before. That was what ‘she’ was, wasn’t she? Just his mind playing tricks on him. Tzen was ‘logic’ man. Superstitions or the possibility of ‘the occult’ never made sense to him, but he was beginning to accept this constant apparitions as something real. It would just always feel that way. She would react to him, talk to him, touch his shoulders, sometimes even breath on him in weirdly sexual way that made him uncomfortable. Why would he be imagining all of this?

‘Would you? Meet Dr Satya?’ Tzen retorted, knowing his friend was being hypocritical.

‘No. I’m different,’

‘See that’s the thing. I don’t think you are. The only reason I reached out to you was because I knew you would understand. You wouldn’t laugh or judge. Second to Sheila, you are the most sensible person I know but even you have your delusions. Even you live in denial.’

The tables had turned and Jenny was now the one feeling criticized. She was here to help a friend, not have him question her for how she was handling her life. Tensions rose and she was the one getting ready to leave.
Tzen’s weary eyes spotted the difference in her, suddenly moving about her hands, unsure of where to place them, her left leg twitching, and her lips smacking repeatedly. He was right. It was a ‘tell’.
‘Even at her death she doesn’t just… just… leave me alone!’ Jenny snapped.

‘You mean us?’

‘Yes, US,’ Jenny corrected herself, though he was thinking of something different entirely. What bothered her was not the memory of Sheila, but the person Sheila was. She just wasn’t sure if Tzen was ready to hear it. The truth was that Jenny and Sheila didn’t really end things well between them. There was some resentment, and though they were best of friends, Jenny was more angry then upset that Sheila left. She wanted to curse at her, strangle her, drown her and kill her herself, but what kind of person would that make Jenny? There it was again, ‘Water!’

Tzen realised that his friend needed as much help as he did. He remembered going through the same with his mother, getting her to meet a psychiatrist the first time, getting her to take her meds, and all ‘that’ drama. He was just going to have to do the same here again.

‘You know how Sheila got me to taking my mother to see a shrink?’

Jenny had heard this before, just from Sheila’s perspective.

‘She told me she would stop smoking. And she did.’ Tzen figured it would inspire Jenny if she heard the story about the river back in Sarawak.

Jenny smiled and didn’t think twice, just fully enraged she blurted. ‘See that’s the thing Tzen. She never did,’

Tzen appeared perplexed.

Jenny knew that was not the right thing to say, not to a grieving friend but she wanted it to hurt, not Tzen, but maybe Sheila. it was the least she could do if not beat the already dead corpse now rotting in that gravesite.

‘She lied. In fact, her smoking got very bad after that. Did you realise she had a lot of perfume on? I promised her I wouldn’t tell though. But she’s dead now so who cares, right?’

Tzen kept the same frozen glare, but a tear rolled down his right eye. Why would Jenny tell him that? What was running in her head?

Jenny felt a weight leave her shoulders. She felt evil, strong, but it was over in a second. Looking at Tzen, a whole new weight was put back on. What did she do?’

‘Tzen, I…’

Tzen sprang up. ‘I don’t care if my licence is on the line. I don’t care if I am gonna have to defend myself in front of people who don’t know shit about what I’m going through. But you’re right, she is a hallucination. And she really wants your seat. She’s been trying to push you off since you got here.’

Jenny frenetically checked her surroundings to see if Sheila was there. It was irrational, but her guilt overwhelmed her all the same.

‘So, you’re going to see him,’ Jenny smiled after catching her breath.

‘I wish you were too. Because I know you Jen and what I’m seeing now, well, that’s a whole new kind of “fucked up”.’

Jenny too got up from her chair and their conversation was forced to end right there. They then parted ways, both in disagreement but happy at least it was a step in the right direction.

**

Jenny thought back every now and then to that day. It had been a few weeks and she was midst her paediatric posting. Her democratically elected Intern head was very understanding in that she would never allow Jenny and Daniel to work the same shifts. This allowed them some needed space, but to Jenny’s detriment, she was alone in this. She had nobody to confide in, and meeting Dr Satya was all too scary for her.
She had a newborn in the procedure table. He needed a TSB level check because he was severely jaundiced yellow. She needed to prick his heels for some blood but accidentally the needle pricked her finger instead. She started bleeding from inside of her gloves.

‘Go meet Sister now,’ a colleague sounded.

She nodded and walked right out, removed the gloves and with a clean gauze, she wrapped around her finger to stop the bleeding.

While she paced to the Sister’s office, she caught a glimpse of him. Daniel, in his NICU scrubs, with a fully-grown beard, was attending to another newborn. She took out her phone and double checked her working schedule. It turned out they were accidentally put on the same shift today.

‘Hey,’ Daniel called out.

Jenny sped off.

‘Hey!’ Daniel ran after her. She was distressed, and he noticed the gauze on her finger.
‘Wait,’ he stopped her before she could leave. It was right at the doors the changing rooms. The sign read ‘Male’ exactly above where Daniel was standing.

She looked at him, and he looked right back, his beard somewhat off-putting but it was growing on her.

Something came over Jenny and she pushed him through the door. It bounced open and he fell in back first on the cold concrete of the male dressing room, pitch black just dimly lit by the iridescent street lamp piercing through the blinds. She walked right in, and climbed on top of him. She got down to his face and passionately kissed him. He kissed her back.
They both sprang up to check if anyone was there. The coast was clear. He slowly crept behind her and started kissing her neck. She leaned back and felt his abs and thighs on her, as well as what in between. Their fingers tied and their eyes closed, she tilted neck to let their lips meet, forgot about everything else and kissed.

Daniel lost in his high, brought his arms around her and whispered. ‘Does this mean we’re back together?’

Jenny snapped back. What was she doing? She recoiled and pushed herself away.

‘Jen?’ Daniel looked confused.

Jenny was about to lose it. She immediately dashed out.

**

The ward Sister had some forms for Jenny to fill and some of her blood was taken into vials for screening. She was told to take the rest of the shift off and was dismissed home.

Her head was cluttered and she knew she was going for another run tonight.

All through the track, she kept forward, not turning to look once at the stillness of the lake. It was just her, some homeless people and a track for her to complete.

Then she saw it, again, on that same park bench, the same woman, holding up a newspaper, only that it was upside down.

Jenny slowed and stopped a good distance away, kept her arms crossed, swung her hip and looked right at her.

‘Shit, the jig is up,’ the woman uttered while placing the paper down.

‘What do you want?’ Jenny yelled as if to intimidate.

‘So your friend Dr Ram told you about me,’

‘No. But whatever this is, you tell him it’s creepy and he better fucking stop, or I’m coming after him.’

The woman immediately raised her palms and retracted. She regretted starting with that, hence the miscommunication.

‘Relax Doctor,’ she replied while removing her phone to light up the inside of her jacket. It was the emblem of the Royal Police Force. ‘Call me Nurul, I prefer to keep things informal.’

Jenny was mildly relieved but still curious. This woman was strange and not what you’d expect of a typical policewoman. ‘This is about Sheila?’

‘Yes Dr,’ Nurul replied.

‘It’s a suicide plain and simple,’

‘That doesn’t mean there might not be people responsible.’

Jenny smirked. She wondered what kind of conspiracy theories Ram had filled her head with. ‘Why not?’ she figured, ‘let’s see where they are going with this, and when it becomes the wild goose chase it inevitably will, they will all see what I saw; just a hopeless loser who killed herself because it always had to be about her.

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