It was the fourth time Yong Hui escaped the party that day. She’d left her sister, Yong Lynn, in the hotel ballroom, saying she had to use the toilet. In truth, she’d been exploring the mall to which the hotel was connected.
This time, Hui took a turn down a path she had not been, and found her breath stolen by the sight before her.
There was a fountain in the hall—though Hui had never seen an indoor fountain this large before. It was five storeys tall, gushing straight into the air from an unseen water source below. The water was swift and strong. Its roar echoed in the vast chamber. There was no one around except for Hui.
And a man.
He was dressed in navy blue overalls, perched upon an impossibly tall ladder. It was nearly as tall as the fountain. He must be maintenance, Hui thought. The ladder was very close to the fountain, so close that the man could reach out a hand to touch the water, or trip and get sucked into the tide. But he did neither.
Instead, he looked at Hui and gave a small shake of his head.
And then the water moved.
It shifted into a wave that reached the ceiling—maybe even higher than that—but Hui didn’t know, didn’t care. All she saw was the water, an enormous wall, deadly silent, hauntingly beautiful. That wall would soon come crashing down on her.
Yong Hui ran.
Terror moved through her veins like a snake, and she could smell the ocean in the air. It was getting closer and closer and closer. She shouted for others to run. There was a flash of confusion on their faces, and then there was the fear, twisting their features into wailing screams. All the while Hui ran, searching for an exit, but she saw none.
“WHERE ARE THE DOORS?” someone yelled.
They were gone.
Hui climbed up; the others did the same. Up, and up, and up. An escalator. Two more. It was not enough. Above the chaos, she could hear the howl of the water.
She launched herself up another stairway, pressing against other bodies that were scrambling to get to the top. Hui fixed her eyes on the landing at the end of the stairs. She needed to get to higher ground, higher—
The water slammed into her.
Hui’s lungs seized for air, but there was only water. It burned her throat as she inhaled it. When she opened her eyes, the world was a picture of seafoam green. Gravity had lost its meaning. A table floated across the hall. Pieces of clothing drifted like jellyfish.
And then there were the bodies, pale and stiff and unmoving. Their hairs fanned out like seaweed around their heads.
Hui’s scream loosened in a stream of bubbles.
The surface, she thought. If I can reach the surface, I can get out. She looked up and saw, to her dismay, that it was dark. Dark as the depths of the ocean. But she was so sure that way was up. Or was it?
Time was ticking. She would soon run out of breath. Hui glanced around wildly, and her gaze caught on the ground. It emitted a wan glow. In the middle of the concourse floor was a dark circle the size of a sewer cover, with a rusty chain attached to its top. It reminded her of a large sink plug.
She swam towards the plug and felt a current tugging her backwards. But she pushed on, her chest searing for air when she could finally grab the chain and pull, and pull, but it was not moving and she was drowning—
The plug came free with a quiet pop.
Water swirled into the giant sinkhole like a tornado, and soon the world was no longer blue, and air rushed back into Yong Hui’s lungs. She gulped it down greedily.
The mall looked like it did before; the only difference was that its pillars and walls were now dripping with water. And there were the exits, as if conjured out of thin air! The people milled about, unconcerned. They seemed to have no memory of the deadly, impossible flood. Their clothes were drenched, but no one took notice. The sight sent cold goosebumps crawling across Hui’s skin.
“There you are!”
She whirled to see Lynn, soaked and scowling. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where’ve you been?”
“The...uh, flood?” Hui gulped. “We almost died?”
Her sister let out a tinny laugh. “Another one of your daydreams? Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Before Lynn could drag her away, Hui looked back at the plug—or at least, where it should’ve been, had it not vanished.
And there in a distant alcove stood the maintenance man from before. He was the only one whose clothes were still dry.
Their gazes met. The man pressed a finger to his lips and turned down a dark corridor before Yong Hui could call for him.
A tiny trail of water slithered on the floor in his wake, and he was gone.