an excerpt from Kappa Quartet
NOBUO kept guard by the fire. The rest of us had called it a night. Akiko sat next to him, keeping her words to herself. Neither of them spoke. Their shadows were cast high and far over our tent.
“Sugimura barely spoke to me the whole afternoon,” Ahab said. I threw him a look.
“He’s not here to make friends,” I said to him. “He just owes me a favour. That’s the only reason why he’s here.”
“Oh yeah?” Ahab said. He smirked. “What did you do for him that was so special?” he said. I told him it was none of his business.
At a quarter to ten, Nobuo came over and unzipped the front of our tent.
“I think I saw the kappa. Somewhere over there.” He pointed southeast.
“You sure?” I said.
“Not really, to be honest.” Nobuo was drenched in sweat again. “The figure wore something brown, though. Matched what Akiko said yesterday.”
Ahab was out of the tent in seconds. “Akiko?”
Akiko looked at him. She was rooted to her chair beside the fire, seemingly out of breath.
“I’m not lying, Ahab.”
Ahab and I quickly got flashlights. Nobuo held up an electric lantern. Sugimura and Akiko were to stay behind, and Ahab was to be our leader. “Follow me,” he said. Somewhere behind, Sugimura called out, “Don’t go beyond the sight of the flame.” Ahab crooked his jaw.
“First thing he’s said to me all day,” said Ahab. He waved the knife in his hand. “Come on.”
The forest was completely dark: the canopy had broken the moonlight, rendering it useless. It just fell, diffuse, like dust over the ground. The only thing our flashlights revealed was just darkness, darkness, more of it— an endless supply of it lying ahead. The trees revealed themselves as white as bones.
Nobuo nearly tripped over a root. The light from his lantern swung back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
“I’m going crazy,” he said, I swore.
“I can’t see anything.”
“Shut it,” said Ahab. He looked over his shoulder. “I can still see the campfire. Let’s keep walking.”
Barely a few seconds passed before I before began to sweat. All I saw was tree, bark, root. Tree, tree, tree. All I could hear were my breath, my thoughts. Steps I took with my feet that I kept counting. “Nobuo,” I said to him. “Nobuo.” But he didn’t reply.
I turned around. The two of them were gone. I didn’t know where I was any longer.
“Nobuo?” I said again. “Ahab?”
I swing my torchlight. Nothing. No one. The light was so strong it bounced back into my eyes, blinding me for a second. I was completely alone.
© Epigram Books
by Daryl Qilin Yam
from Kappa Quartet (2016)
published by Epigram Books