The Burnings


Julian Lees was born and raised in Hong Kong, attended boarding school in England and currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with his wife and children. The great-grandson of a high-ranking Cossack general who served under the last Tsar of Russia, Julian is a writer who draws from his family's rich history. His novels are set in a world where East meets West, a cross-cultural world which he captures bewitchingly and dramatically in his fiction.





A hot electrical charge. It popped behind her eyes, a sharp explosion of static in her skull.

She stirred.

A fuzzy cognizance, followed by a voice in her head.

Her own voice.

Urging her to wake up.


Gasping, swallowing blood, tasting copper, her eyelids snapped open and she made out a curved black panel mere centimetres from her face. Dazed, she blinked once, twice and quickly lost focus.


Her chest jolted with a startled heave.

Awake now.

She heard an engine. Discerned movement, sensed wheels bumping beneath her.

The boot of the car stank of old carpet. The inside temperature, unbearable at the best of times, must have been nudging 50° Celsius with the motor running.There was no air. No ventilation. Nothing but stale breath and fumes from the exhaust pipe.

Everything appeared unnaturally dark. But gradually the darkness began to shimmer. There were thin chinks along the weather strips of the boot door and through them she saw the city rush by, streaming past in a kind of molten slow motion. The colours from streetlights played out across her forehead. A flicker show of sharp reds and yellows.

She was not sure how long she’d been out. Perhaps a couple of hours.

What she recalled was leaving work, walking through her building’s underground car park, hearing the squeal of balding tyres in the distance and then . . . choking, flailing. The hand over her mouth had smelled of rotting mango.

Struggling, she’d raked his shin with her heel, but he soon had her by the hair, snapping her head back and toppling her to the ground.

Had he struck her? He must have done because her face felt sore. All bashed up. She couldn’t see out of her left eye. Her nose was so smashed in that when she inhaled through it she made a wet klik-klik rattle deep in her nostrils. And whenever the wheels hit a bump it was like a nail gun to the temple.

Instinctively, she went to touch her face. One wrist pulled on the other, causing both hands to move in unison, the left hand mimicking the right. A momentary confusion. She realized she lay curled in a foetal position, head bowed, back curved, with her limbs fastened in front of her – lower arms secured to ankles with thick cord. Bound like a trussed fowl.

She tugged wildly at the rope, jerking her knees right up to her chest. Elbows knocking against ribs, she brought her fingers to the underside of her chin. Straining on the cords, she probed with her fingertips, finding congealed blood and a band of plastic, which was smooth beneath her touch. A strip of duct tape ran the length of her mouth. A little higher, the pulpy flesh around her left cheekbone was sticky like a popped peach.

A car horn blasted. A motorbike roared by.

One thing was unmistakable: the streets had darkened. Night was falling fast.

The car stopped.

An aluminium shutter clattered down over a door and windows. The small shops were closing; people were making for home following the end of evening prayers.

Bucking, she heaved and yanked and tugged at her bonds.

She dug her nails into her cheek, into the corner of the tape at the edge of her mouth, snatched at it. After several attempts, the adhesive came away.

She screamed.The blood from her nose slipped down her throat, turning her cries into a gurgle. She butted the boot door, hesitated, and then did it again. She battered it until her crown bled, desperate to be heard. She buffeted, bumped and slammed herself against the catch. Nothing she did sprung the lock.

The car moved off once more.

Shivering, the trapezius muscles along her spine juddering, she begged for her mother.

She groped the floor. Her bag and purse were gone. Her phone had been taken too.

She shifted her weight, knocking her pelvic bone against steel, twisting to get onto her front. The carpet was loose here. With the ends of her fingers she wrenched at the interior lining, first peeling the black polyester away from the false bottom and then the flexible rubber material to expose the metal underneath. Even in the darkness she could tell the spare wheel, the plastic trim and the spare wheel tools had been removed. But she was not interested in them.

It was something else she was after.

She ripped away the final bit of rubber and there it was: the tiny hole. Only just big enough to shove her thumb through.

It was only a small rupture in the floorpan. Regardless, it gave her hope.

She tried to force the casing open, thrusting the pads of her thumbs into the hole, prizing, wresting. But to no avail. The opening refused to get any larger.

Through a blur of tears she stared at the small gap. At the blacktop whipping by. Once more, she tried to wrestle with the breach but it wouldn’t budge. A sickening sense of free-fall took hold.


(C) Julian Lees 2017



© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.