fourth chapter

In the night, Ahn smelt something burning. He sat up, blinking. The night air was thick with smoke.

The just-so girl was sitting before him. In the moonlight, through the haze, she was an apparition. A cigarette dangled from her lips. "So you're camping now?"

Ahn shrugged. "Sleeping in the outdoors usually does me good. Why aren't you in the bar?"

"You weren't there." The thin woman took a long draw on her cigarette. As she breathed in, her bony shoulders rose rhythmically.

"Uh huh. What do you want?" Ahn squinted through the darkness, his eyes black and wide, collecting every available particle of light.

"I want to know why you're here." The woman uncrossed her legs and stood, brushing the creases off her tight, black dress. "This place doesn't seem like your kind of deal."

"And how would you know?" Her smugness was starting to irritate Ahn. "Just because you've fucked me, you think you know me?" He stood up, stuffing his thin sleeping roll into his pack. The woman took a step towards him.

"When I was younger, I worked in the capital. I was beautiful then. Not so old, or skinny. It was easy for me. In my line of work, that meant I slept with all the bad men, so I know one when I see one. You were spoken of all the time. I probably fucked most of your friends." She dropped the cigarette, crushing it beneath her toe. "I know they were your friends, because sometimes you would come in. You would talk to them. But you never came to see us; the girls. When you left, I'd always be disappointed."

Anh shook his head. "Whoever you're thinking of, it isn't me. I've never lived in the capital." He wrinkled his nose. "What's that smell?"

"The tailor's shop is on fire." The pale woman was taller than him; she looked at Ahn, looming over him in the odd grey light, trying to stare him down. "I thought it was because you were here. Things like this don't happen unless people like you are around."

"People like me? Things like this?" Anh started to walk, not waiting for her to catch up. "You're mistaken. I'm just a guy who's stopping by. I've no reason to be here. Look at me; I don't even have enough cash to spend another night in your 'establishment'. Shouldn't you be over there, watching the shop burn down?"

"Why are you here?" She caught up to him easily, her long stride matching his quick, silent steps. "I know you're the same guy I saw ten years ago. They all said you were dead at the time. You just disappeared."

"I'm leaving." Anh turned left, down a path leading into darkness; the forest beyond was thick and dense, blotting out the moonlight. The smoke was beginning to clear. He breathed easier and sped up. The road ahead stretched into black nothingness; she wouldn't follow him there. "Stop looking for things that don't exist." Anh smiled. "Living in a small town like this will do that to you. Maybe you need some excitement. Go back to Lon-San. The people you once knew might still be there." He left her standing at the junction, breathless. She wouldn't follow.

Silence. Anh pushed forward, allowing his feet to guide him, into the depths of the wood.

"You are who you are." Her voice drifted after him, piercing through the thick, still air. "You'd better stay away from places like this, if you can't admit it to yourself. "