“You’re not leaving this room again tonight,” said my friend Janette, her voice shaking with fear as she leant against the locked door of our hotel room.
“But I need the bathroom. If I don’t go now I’ll wet myself,” I pleaded. “I promise I won’t be long, and you can lock the door after me.”
“What if they’re out there, waiting?” her voice was rising to a hysterical screech. There was no way of reasoning with her.
It had been a long, strange night. We were on holiday in Malaysia after our first year of University. We had met studying Malay, and had met some Malay students who offered to show us around, but only in Penang and the capital . We were spending a month travelling round, intending to improve our Malay, but everyone seemed to speak English and were keen to practice on us.
It had been a long, strange night.
After a long bus ride, we arrived in the Cameron Highlands, where we were met by a couple of local men who claimed they were representatives of our student travel service. We had out doubts, but there was nobody else around to ask directions, so we booked into a nearby hotel they recommended. It seemed affordable, clean and quiet.
We knew little of the area except that it was cooler than the cities, and we were glad of a break from the heat and humidity. And there had been vague rumours of guerilla activity and some years earlier a European had disappeared there without a trace.
But we were young, fit and ready for anything. Wherever we went we seemed to meet people who wanted to feed us so we would have the strength to carry our big backpacks. Our passports with kangaroos and emus gave us immunity to most things, or so we thought. When our new found friends invited us out for a meal, we saw no harm in accepting.
The walk along a jungle trail seemed a bit odd, but we were both keen hikers, and had been hoping to see some of the area. These guys were local, they knew where they were going.
Instead of a restaurant, we were led to a clubhouse at the edge of a golf course. When we asked why we were the only ones there, they said it was the quiet time of the year. When we asked why there were no lights on, they muttered something about blown fuses.
What were we thinking? Why didn’t we leave?
We were hopelessly naiive, and we were hungry.
They plied us with huge mugs of beer, but from the first sip I knew there was something strange about it. Glancing at Jan, I saw her put hers down and push it away. I was a medical student at the time, and a marathon runner, so could down enough alcohol to kill a horse, but just a whiff of this sent my head spinning. The food was good, but after the beer we were both wary of what it might contain, so barely touched our food.
When we thought we’d stayed long enough for politeness’ sake, we said we were tired and wanted to go back to our hotel. Our hosts were perfectly happy to escort us back, but warned us but we would have to take the long way along the road. They made several attempts to separate us, but we had enough sense left to cling to each other like Siamese twins.
Walking along the road with hardly any light to guide us, we heard the hum of a heavy vehicle approaching,. Our hosts hailed the truck and helped us scramble into the back. It was an army type with an open back, the centre of which was taken up with a tarpaulin covered load, forcing us to squeeze down the sides of it.
We clung for dear life to the metal ribs arching above us, as we swerved along the winding road. Pressing against my legs, I could feel the load was hard and smooth, and having studied anatomy and done some human dissections I recognized the distinctive outlines beneath the tarpaulins.
Without a thought for my already panic-stricken friend, I asked what they were.
“Dead mans,” came the cheerful reply.
Jan whimpered and leant further out of the truck as if trying to escape whilst arms reached out to keep her in.
I knew what they had said, but somehow could not comprehend it.
“Dead mans? What sort? Were they old or sick” I was worried that they had died of something we had not been immunized against.
“Bad mans. Mans with guns. They got shot.”
The truck lurched to a stop at that moment and Jan almost fell to the ground in her haste. I don’t recall thanking the men for their interesting meal out. Jan raced inside and I had to rouse the sleeping clerk for out key whilst she trembled at the base of the stairs.
It wasn’t until we were in our room that I really took in what had happened.