The Money Tree, Andrew J. West, Andrew West, novel, supernatural

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Andrew J. West

 

 

51,900 words

Cover art by award-winning Thai artist Vasan Sitthiket

 

by Andrew J. West

 

Ever dreamed of finding a tree that grows leaves of unlimited money? The dream comes true for two Bangkok garbage men when they come across a “money tree”—a tree used for collecting donations for a temple—only the banknotes pulled from its branches replenish themselves. Kob and Beer immediately start spending this ceaseless supply of occult cash, until finding themselves in grave danger when the demonic owner of the tree comes looking for it. Kob recounts these supernatural events to Andee, an American expat English teacher who finds himself sitting next to him in Thailand’s most notorious jail, the “Bangkok Hilton.” The incredible story told by Kob soon becomes all too real as the narrative ceases to be a mere tale and becomes a nightmarish part of Andee’s life as he’s tasked to save the money tree from the demon without getting killed in the process.

 

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Excerpt:

Chapter ONE - Bangkok Hilton

The captain of the guards beats me with a baton in my ankles and knees, where it hurts most and bruises least, steals my clothes and shoes, tosses some blue prison fatigues and flip-flops at me then throws me into an overcrowded cell that reeks so strongly of shit and piss I have to hold back a throat full of bile. The key turns locking the barred door behind me and I look around the cell of my home for the night at Bang Kwang Central Prison a.k.a. “Bangkok Hilton,” Thailand’s most notorious jail. It’s jammed full of prisoners managing somehow to sleep on mats packed into rows on the concrete floor, with an overflowing cesspit for a toilet in a corner.

There’s no room to sit in this shadowy place let alone lie down and I have no idea where to go. A prisoner sits up and waves some sort of stick at me, motioning for me to come over to him. Being my first night ever spent in jail, I’m extremely cautious in this nest of vipers and hope he’s just being friendly because I’m a foreigner or a “farang” as the Thais often call me. Feeling I’m about to crumple into a heap right where I’m standing, I don’t see how I have much choice but to pick my way through the bodies separating us until I arrive at his mat.

“Well-come Bang-kok Hil-ton,” he struggles to say in broken English and gestures for me to sit. He passes me the crutch, a solid-looking homemade walking stick improvised from a sturdy stalk of bamboo, which I use to help lower myself to the floor, grimacing from the pain in the joints where the captain had struck me. When seated, I pass the piece of bamboo back. He puts it across his lap and I realize it’s probably been fashioned right here in this very cell. I wonder with trepidation what else might have been handmade by these inmates, like shanks and knuckledusters.

I take a good look at my new host. His brown eyes glimmer in the half-light thrown by the florescent tube flickering dimly from the ceiling. It’s hard to tell his age in the gloom. Maybe he’s fifteen or twenty years older than me, that is to say he’s around fifty or maybe fifty-five years old. Besides the poor light, it’s hard to tell his age because like most poor Thais his skin is dark and deeply lined. His bare feet are as tough as leather, as are his hands, and he’s covered in tattoos. He’s had a hard life, much harder than mine. I’d say he’s from “upcountry” somewhere, what the Thais call the countryside.

“Name-you-you?” He points at my chest with a bent-out-of-shape finger, wrestling again with his limited English for my benefit.

I’m not about to tell him my real name. “Andee.” It’s the nickname I use in this country because “An” is the first syllable of my real name, and “dee” is the Thai word for “good.” Then I ask him in Thai, “Khun cheu a-rai?” What’s your name?

“Kob,” he replies, maybe surprised to hear a foreigner speak Thai.

Having lived in the country for several years and having studied the language, I’m able to converse almost like a local.

Captain Veroca gave ya a hard time, eh, Andee?” he asks in Thai.

“Chai.” Yeah. I untie my ponytail and quickly comb my hair with my fingers. It had gotten all mussed up when the captain assaulted me. Then I retie it.

“Veroca’s a real fuckin’ bastard.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” I answer in Thai, and we continue speaking in his native tongue.

“You’re unlucky. He’s only back on duty tonight. Haven’t seen him round here for the last three months. What ya in for anyways?” He speaks in “lo-so” Thai. Lo-so means “low society,” as opposed to “hi-so,” for “high society.” It makes him a little difficult to understand and I’m unused to speaking like it myself, as most of the Thais I know are at least middleclass, but I try my best.

I look around to make sure no one is listening to our conversation: everybody seems to be asleep and there’s a constant chorus of snorts and grunts as the other inmates are snoring all about us.

“A cop pulled up my taxi on the way home from a bar. Thinking I must be a rich farang, he pulled me outta the cab and planted some weed on me as he went through my pockets. Then he wanted a hundred thousand baht bribe to let me go. I wasn’t gonna pay three thousand Yankee dollars to that swine! That’s unbelievably expensive. I know a guy who got busted with some weed on him not long ago—not planted on him like was done to me—and the cop only wanted fifty thousand baht for everything to go away.”

“Yeah,” Kob mutters. “That’s the standard price for a foreigner busted with a little weed.”

“I told him to fuck off. The cop was so slimy I couldn’t trust if he was gonna let me go anyway, whether I gave him the bribe or not, and I wasn’t gonna kiss his ass. Now I’m stuck in here until morning.”