At one time, my husband worked for a large IT firm in Singapore. Let's call it HAL. ;) Beloved of big companies, and those who consider themselves “progressive”, is the “team-building exercise”. And my husband, J, heard about one team-building exercise that took place in the jungles of Singapore. If you've seen pictures of Singapore, you'll be laughing at me right now, convinced that every square centimetre of that island-state has been concreted to death. But, believe me, there are still pockets of rainforest around, and it was in one of those that this exercise took place.
There is a victim in this story but I can't say I feel too sorry for him. Although he was evasive on that particular point, from what J told me, I think he (let's call him Steven) was too busy checking his smartphone for failing reception to keep up with the rest of his hiking team. The way Steven tells it, one minute he was following his group, the next he was completely alone. Even when it's high noon, it's dark in a rainforest, everything smudging into grey-brown, tall tree trunks reaching up to the sky like thin punctuation marks, broad rotting leaves beneath your feet, protruding root systems, puddles of dark water, rocks. Steven thought he could cope with it all and was more than relieved when one of his team-mates tapped him on the shoulder. Except, when he turned around, there was nobody there.
He thought maybe a fat drop of water had fallen on his shirt, but hurried away nonetheless. Until that unseen person tapped, several times, on his shoulder again. At which point, Steven says he fled through the darkness, zigzagging his way through muddy paths until, by luck, he found his group. The way a couple of others told it, they heard Steven's screaming long before they saw him!
On my side, I blatantly eavesdropped on one woman talking to her friends in the tea-room one day. Again, another IT company, this time at my place of work. There was a lot of giggling and hushed voices, but here is the gist of things.
Maggie (not her real name) was in her late twenties and happily married. She had been suffering from dental problems recently, however, necessitating some x-rays being taken. The dentist was perplexed by what he found. Gold! But not in Maggie's fillings. In her chin!
Here's what happened. When Maggie was a teenager, she and two friends decided to visit a local bomoh (witch-doctor). He told them that he could make them appear eternally young by carrying out a magical ritual involving precious objects. If they were rich, the girls could pay for diamonds to be inserted into their faces at their foreheads, on each cheek and in their chins. The girls weren't rich, so the bomoh offered them small gold needles instead. Ah, that they could afford! All three got it done, and it worked about as well as you imagine.
Twelve years later, Maggie had forgotten all about the gold, but the x-rays hadn't!
I am surrounded by such beliefs—spells, curses, potions, ghosts. Everyone in south-east Asia believes in them. In fact, I disregarded the above two examples for my book, THE COMPLETE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY, because they were too mundane! You may ask, what inspired me to write the book. My reply is, what didn't?
After the tragic death of her parents, and with nothing left tying her to the United Kingdom, Ursula Formosa returns to her homeland and a job with the eccentrically-named Singapore firm, “The Check Your Luck Agency”.
What begins as an attempt to stave off boredom turns into a new way of life as the scales drop from Ursula’s eyes and she tentatively enters a realm that contains vengeful ghosts, toyol, demons, pontianak and curses, not to mention old-fashioned fraud and larceny. As she befriends bomohs, mediums and a young woman already centuries old, Ursula’s ideas of friendship expand into a fresh view of the world that surrounds her.
But she isn’t going to be left to ease into things. A criminal mastermind, who is also a powerful sorcerer, is gathering mythical creatures to help him possess every living soul in Singapore, and he isn’t about to let the members of The Check Your Luck Agency stand in his way!
“What made you take a job with Fiona Li?”
“I think it was Fiona who chose me,” I laughed. “She had the craziest ad in a newspaper one weekend, and I was mulling my options at the time. It was a fortunate confluence of circumstance, as she’d say.”
“You mean you didn’t train to become a paranormal investigator?” he asked with a smile. It dented his cheeks, giving him dimples to go with those liquid eyes, smooth voice and engaging manner. I swallowed. I was in serious trouble.
“I don’t see myself as a paranormal investigator,” I corrected him.
I knew Fiona’s views on the Agency’s work and my own differed markedly, but I wasn’t going to lie to the smooth-skinned, extremely handsome man seated across the table from me.
“I’ll admit I’m the sceptic of the company,” I began. “In fact, in every case I’ve handled in the past six months, not a single one ended up being attributed to supernatural causes.”
“Not one?” He was clearly incredulous.
“I certainly haven’t seen them,” I demurred. “So far, ten out of ten times, the ‘bad luck’ dogging our clients has been down to greedy relatives, unscrupulous business practices or malicious ex-lovers.”
“Not one case of hauntings or possession or things that go bump in the night? Not one instance where you’ve seen something you can’t explain?”
Yes! Tell him!
I looked him straight in the face. “No. Nothing like that at all.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
KS "Kaz" Augustin loves writing human stories, whether set on Earth or out among the stars. Malaysian-born, she has travelled a goodly portion of the world and lived to tell the tale! Her urban fantasy release, The Complete Check Your Luck Agency, consists of five books, exploring the myths and legends of the melting-pot that is south-east Asia. Come for the food, stay for the monsters! (Ghosts included at no extra charge.)
As if all that's not enough, she's also Chief Editor of the free online quarterly magazine, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. http://www.scifiromancequarterly.org/
Kaz's website is at http://www.KSAugustin.com and a list of her books can also be found at http://www.SandalPressOnline.com She occasionally tweets as @SandalPress
The Complete Check Your Luck Agency is available from:
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00IJZQ106
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-complete-check-your-luck-agency-ks-augustin/1118612994?ean=9780987317483
The author will be awarding a $25 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.