That night, his dreams are plagued by a series of fractured images.
A woman pounds against the lid of a locked trunk.
Car brakes squeal.
Ghostly white eyes peer down at her.
A heavy metal door squeaks open.
A long metal staircase shakes behind his weight.
His left-hand trembles. Stepping over large sacks of plaster, he dodges drooping wires, moves in and out of the bars of scaffolding.
The flap of a painter’s drop cloth slaps back and forth against the wall.
Flashes of muted pink from a flickering neon sign outside light the figures of hundreds of lifelessly hanging bodies.
Unblinking eyes. Faces of hard-plastic.
A noise. He tightens his grip on the trigger of his gun. Floorboards creek.
Pressure builds around the silence.
His heart stills. Fear materializes around the gruesome shape of a woman suspended from the ceiling by over half a dozen cords. The white of her face now a congested purple, her eyes bulge, shot with red. Blood leaks from her throat, staining her blouse.
He reaches out his hand, takes hold of her wrist.
“Jai Mei,” he whispers.
He traces his thumb across her lips, purple and swollen.
A small bump wedged between two of her bottom teeth. He pinches it between his fingernails. A thin piece of waxy string, threads through her teeth. A gargling sound lurches up from her throat.
Dripping in blood and stomach bile, he holds the string up to the window as strobes of violent red and unfeeling blue slide across the walls as his ears are gripped by the terrible sound of police sirens.
A rush of sound rises behind him.
A flurry of movement precedes a loud THWACK.
The snap of fireworks brings him awake. The countdown had begun. In three days, the traditional Dragon Parade would wind its way through the streets accompanied by the explosion of fireworks meant to frighten away the spirit of the Nian.
This must have been a test run.