'I thought we were going to a shoe factory?' said Rose.
'We are,' answered Amanda.
'This doesn't look like a place they build boots or clogs. We are in the middle of nowhere.'
'Hey, Mr Taxi Man, we thought we were going to a building on an industrial estate?'
The taxi stopped, and the driver held his hand out for two hundred and twenty Baht as he pointed ahead to a bleak-looking gateway.
'Why not drive us to the entrance?' Amanda asked as she found two, one-hundred Baht notes. 'Lend us a twenty,' she said to Rose.
The Toyota slammed into reverse and sped away.
'Odd, that's strange. He didn't even get the full fare.'
The girls wandered the short distance to the grey and scared steel gated entrance.
'Why did your dad send you here?' asked Rose.
'His UK business is struggling, what with strikes and the cost of supplies, etcetera, he wants to branch out here.'
'Here? Is he mad?'
'He heard a bargain was to be had, haha, you know my old man.'
They squeezed through a gap. Rose nicked the cotton of her new t-shirt. 'Damn, I only bought that last night.'
'You've cut yourself too,' said Amanda.
'It's a scratch, don't worry.'
'Ah, look, she must be a new mum,' Amanda said, pointing at the silver-coloured cat.
'Jeez, what a funny shape.'
'Where are her kittens? She needs to feed them.'
They moved towards the building. Besides the new mum, not a sign of life, weeds had covered the driveway, and rust claimed the shuttered windows. The cat started meowing as if leading them on.
'What does she want?' asked Rose.
'Don't know, let's follow.'
The cat kept looking behind, checking the girls were following. Finally, she jumped up to a window ledge.
'Look, she wants to go in there. A tree branch has blocked the broken glass.' Amanda pulled at the palm frond, pulling it away from the gap in the window. The cat leapt inside.
The tiny kittens nested below all small bundles of fur, hungry and alone.
'Come on, we must get in and help them,' said Amanda.
'We can't break in; what if the police come?'
'If we don't, I'll worry more about those babies.'
Rose shrugged, forced the broken glass from the frame, and clambered through, followed by her friend.
'Christ, your dad would love it here. Look at all the shoes scattered everywhere,' said Rose, clicking away with her phone.
'I'm getting more worried about the kittens. Where are they?'
'They were here, right below us. That's funny. Where have they gone?'
The girls jumped from the wooden units to the floor. Most of the sliding doors were open and empty but for empty cardboard boxes.
The cats were forgotten briefly.
'God, what happened in here?'
The far wall was black and scarred as if it took the brunt of an explosion, a steel unit shattered into pieces, with splinters aiming up and out.
'Can you hear that?'
'I don't know, but it doesn't sound like cats, big or small. What is it?'
Rose ducked and signalled Amanda to do the same. 'Look', she pointed.
A mist the colour of a rain cloud wafted, spinning slowly, a child's toy needing winding; drained of energy, it floated aimlessly - then, suddenly, it was gone.
The girls stood, looked at each other, and then stared at the far wall. Amanda's ear cocked, 'Can you hear the cat?'
'Something, yes, but I'm not sure it is feline.'
'The kittens? Come on, let's see.'
They kicked components of shoes aside; unattached soles, tongues and laces cluttered the tiles. The odd yelping sound got louder. Finally, a flash of a silvery tail disappeared ahead as they rounded a cement pillar.
'There she is,' said Amanda.
'Where did she go?'
'Look, there is a gap in the floor.'
'How did she fit through there? It's too narrow.'
The meows echoed.
Amanda stooped and peered through the split in the ceramic tiles. 'There she is. She must have angled her body and slid through.'
'What is down there?' asked Rose.
'I don't know, but a light is on, and something is moving.'
'Let's go. We've seen enough. Tell your dad it's a mess. Get something else.'
'I don't believe it. You are scared of a few kittens,' Amanda laughed.
'Do you feel comfortable in here?'
The spitting and screech of a cat, followed by painful yelps, jarred Amanda's thoughts.
'Come on; something's hurting her.' She raced in hunt of a more prominent entrance to the underground room. Rose trudged behind.
Amanda skidded and tripped on leather off-cuts, losing her balance. She stretched for support from a bench and sent a metal bucket flying. It crashed into the wall. Rose grinned at her pal. 'Come on, let's go.'
'No, wait a minute, did you hear the sound that pail made?'
'What are you talking about?'
Amanda tapped the far wall. 'Listen, solid concrete here, then a hollow sound. There is nothing behind this wall.'
'We can't break open somebody's wall. Are you mad?'
Amanda was already pulling away the plasterboard covering. A waft of smokey mist escaped.
'Christ, Amanda, shut it, the stink,' said Rose, covering her nose.
'The cats are in trouble. We must help them.'
Behind the covering was a metre square opening. An orange glow lit the wooden steps going down. Amanda moved backwards first through the space and gently stepped down. Rose shrugged and then followed her friend. The meowing got louder. The girls stepped down to a concrete base, their eyes adjusting to the dim, smokey glow. The suckling of kittens was drowned by a wafting of air circling the girls' heads. A gentle slope changed from cement to uneven stone.
Amanda flapped her arms to clear the mist and led the way to a rocky opening. The glow brightened.
'My God, what have we found?'
In the centre of the cavern was an altar, scattered with upright female statues, large and small, cluttered the thick timber, all dressed in orange, all with thick hair topping their shapely bodies.
'WTF is all this?' asked Rose.
The flames of orange candles flickered and dulled, smokeless and scentless lit the room.
Rose grabbed her friend's arm, 'Who lights the candles? And don't tell me it's the cat.'
'There must be another way in.'
A grunted smirk rang out with a muffled clap of hands. The girls gawped and hugged each other close.
'Come out, whoever you are. Don't try to scare us.'
Silence answered them. Then a screeching, as if metal against stone. 'What is going on?' asked Rose as she returned to the entrance.
'Who are you, and what are you doing?'
The hunch-backed, skinny and oddly shaped person turned. The lop-sided grin revealed stumps of black teeth.
'This is my factory. Why are you here?'
'Where is the ladder? And what is in those drums?' Rose then gasped as she noticed the person in front. His deformed body seemed to balance a straggly-haired head flopping across half of the jaw bone, and the left eye socket was a black hole.
'I have removed "my ladder" for safety, look, it's up there,' he pointed up. They looked up, and as if laughing at them, the steps were proudly hooked to the ceiling. 'And the casks contain poisonous chemicals used in leather tanning.'
'I don't want you ladies to leave.'
He limped away. Amanda and Rose looked up at the hole they had climbed through. 'How the hell are we going to get out?'
'Mind that stuff. It stinks.'
'My dad got in trouble using something similar in his place. It's dangerous.'
'So, why is it here?'
'To stop us trying to climb out.'
'Right, where is that freak? I'll make him let us out,' said Rose.
'Where are you?' she called.
'I'm up here,' he answered. He clambered up a rope ladder, rolled onto a hammock, and waved from a broad, colourful cloth strung high. He was stroking the cat.
'You know cats are far more loyal than women. Cats are independent animals and don't require constant attention or care like a girlfriend or wife. A man who values his freedom and independence might prefer the low-maintenance nature of a cat. As pets, cats are loyal and dependable companions who offer unconditional love and support. A man hurt or betrayed in past relationships may find it easier to trust and bond with a cat than with a girlfriend. A cat's purring and soft fur can be comforting and soothing, especially during times of stress or anxiety. A man who values emotional support and comfort may find it easier to connect with a cat than with a girlfriend. And some men may prefer cats over girlfriends because they align better with their lifestyle. I love this beauty, and she never lets me down.'
'Lovely speech,' said Amanda, 'But, what has that got to do with us?'
'You may have guessed, and I don't go out much.'
'Would you like us to take you out?' Rose laughed as she shook her phone, hoping for a signal.
'I don't like your humour, just like my ex-wife's. She caused this,' he pointed at his chin. 'I shot myself because she joked.'
The cat squealed and lashed at Rose's face as she jumped down and ran away.
'Let us out. We won't tell anyone,' said Amanda.
He turned away, snorted, and then became silent.
The girls ran around and around, hunting for another exit. His laughter echoed from the rocks.
Eventually, they ended up back underneath the hammock. It was swinging slowly from the ceiling.
'Right, you've had your fun. Now release us.' Rose screamed at the freak above them.
'No need to shout. Over the next few days, you will become quieter and quieter, and then as the hunger and thirst get to you, one of you will eat bits of the other, and then dear ladies, my beautiful Siamese cat and I will feast on what is left.'