Jane and one of the night-shift security guards overcame the language barrier enough so that the latter could summon a taxi for the former. Jane was half-asleep by the time the taxi driver dropped her off at her hotel.
Jane’s first inclination was to go directly to bed. It was now a little past 10 p.m. local time. Then she realized how famished she was. If she went to sleep without eating anything, she would feel intolerably weak and light-headed in the morning.
The hotel restaurant was still open; this was Bangkok, after all. Jane ordered a spicy fish-and-rice dish, the sort of fare that could be found in practically any restaurant worth its chops in Southeast Asia.
She was in her room before she realized that the spicy fish-and-rice dish had been a bit too spicy, the fish a bit too pungent. Fresh antacids were usually among her standard travel supplies. But there had been little time to prepare for this trip. The only antacids in her suitcase were specimens from several years ago. Dried and crumbling, they would do her no good.
“To hell with the indigestion,” Jane said aloud in the semi-darkness of her hotel room.
This was a modern hotel, one of the Western chains, and the building was reasonably well constructed. Nevertheless, some light from the street below filtered in through the closed drapes. Muted traffic noise penetrated the massive windows.
Jane wondered if she would be able to sleep. Then she lay down, and realized how tired she really was.
As she felt sleep overtake her, Jane’s thoughts turned once again, involuntarily, to the creepy doll Lawan, the luk thep. Jane recalled that she had played with dolls as a girl. But those dolls—from the Raggedy Anns of her earliest memories, to the Barbies of her late childhood—had been only rough approximations of the human form. The luk thep could be mistaken for the genuine article. Jane, after all, had initially believed Lawan to be a real child.
Don’t think of it as a person, Jane chided herself. She adjusted her pillow, dimly aware of a horn blaring down on the street. Don’t name it, like Khajee did. The doll is nothing but a piece of plastic, however real it might look.
Jane had been spooked before while abroad. On international business trips you sometimes saw weird things—especially when you traveled to countries outside the western sphere of influence. It was easy to make too much of the merely unfamiliar, especially late at night, when you were alone in an impersonal hotel room.
And then she had the dream….