AL L I N! A collection of short stories from All In! Young Writers Festival
A collection of short stories from All In! Young Writers Festival
AL L I N!
All In! Young Writers Festival
National Book Development Council of Singapore 50 Geylang East Avenue 1 Singapore 389777
All In! Snack Fiction Anthology A collection of short stories from All In! Young Writers Festival ISBN 978-981-11-4070-9 All In! Young Writers Festival ÂŠ NBDCS 2017 First Edition Various contributors
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A collection of short stories from All In! Young Writers Festival
AL L I N!
Stand Tall | Adya Chatterjee
Acceptance or Something Like That | Athena Tan
The Disappearance of Mr Akachi | Ben Tan Kai Xiang
Midnight Station | Bradley Gerard Santa Maria
Kiss the Sun Goodnight | Lim Yuhua
Roar | Lucas Kua
Alien | Megan Tan
When Would You Like To Go | Melissa Lee
The Two Sides of a Single Coin | Muhammad Taha Bin Jailani
Spirits Eternal | Nicole Teng
When the Stars Come Out | Olivia Liu
The Sage Has Gone Up the Mountain | Rachel Lim
Tick Tock | Rochelle Lee
Myself and the World | Russell Lee
I Am the Worlds | Sean Lim
White Roses | Sofia Amanda Bening
Worlds Apart | Tan Hui Lei
Minkuso Magic | Yap Xin Yi
Snack Fiction 6
micro-fiction that is easily read
WHY SNACK FICTION? The All In! Young Writers Festival has always aimed to provide a platform for young people to express themselves and showcase their content to other youths and the general audience. Through the years, the Festival has become THE place for youthful expression in literary arts, paired with the opportunities to work and interact with professionals and mentors from the writing industry.
Through a partnership with Pulp Toast/Roti Bakar forged during All In! 2017, the Snack Fiction Anthology is a collection of 18 speculative fiction short stories, each less than 2,000 words, written by 13-25 year old students and young professionals. Powered by National Youth Council’s National Youth Fund, the anthology focuses on the theme “Myself and the World,” and looks at how youths see themselves in fictional, speculative utopias and dystopias, providing a unique insight in how young people perceive fiction for consumption of their own peers. So why write snack fiction? Why not.
Bite-sized as they are, snack fiction offers a unique insight on topics that are relatable to readers, especially with youths who are constantly attracted to and distracted by content that swirls around them, either in digital or typographical formats.
Stand Tall Adya Chatterjee 9
Singapore American School Mentored by S Mickey Lin
don’t want to be sitting here. The wafts of air are shifting side to side, anxiously, and whispering amongst themselves. The ebony table, harsh on my dry elbows, stands heavy like an armoured soldier. A menacing judge sits opposite me while periodically glancing swiftly at his watch. My oversized forehead is slick with sweat, my nails are bitten short, and my knees feel the brunt of my exhaustion. Even my deep toffee skin seems pale; I have never been pale before. But, there is worse. What is worse is seated in the bench to my left. My daddy. My daddy in handcuffs and beer under his breath.
A nauseating feeling riots inside, but it’s not nerves since the butterflies died long ago. It’s the sudden awareness of the space between your ribs and heart that hurts every time you breathe. It’s the lingering disappointment where you wish you could run into your daddy’s arms, but he’s the one who stabbed you to make it hurt. Why did you do that daddy? For now the room is bare except for the four of us, my dad, the judge, me, and the female counselor in the back. Minutes are passing as the wait for my mother prolongs. Mom doesn’t tell me where she goes anymore.
Last Saturday, I took every stupid art piece from five years ago, in second grade, and teddy bears from all 13 birthdays and taped them away in garbage bags. I put them all away, except for this one pink bunny. I got it from my dad the day after a childish tantrum. Then, I had taken out an X-acto knife and slit the same bunny. I stabbed it 8 times—one for every broken promise. When she came home, Mom grabbed that bunny out of my hands. She stitched that rabbit back up, taped every torn art piece, tucked a strand of my coily black hair behind my ear, and told me, “ Clara, baby, don’t throw yourself away. When you feel ‘okay’, you’ll want to remember the battles you’ve fought.” As I look to my left, Dad, you are staring at your feet, like you don’t know what you did. She’s different from you. Not a coward. But I mean, she still cries. Do you know how often mommy sobs behind closed doors. No. You were too busy hitting her spine with a bottle and watching the bones crack one by one. You hurt her. She stood up. Then, you got even angrier. And with a broken back, can anybody ever, really, stand tall? Don’t worry, I can feel your eyes on me. Across the table, your piercing black gaze, so similar to mine, threatens to burn holes in my neck while sending shivers down my back. I can feel your gaze saying: Clara, you
I finally ask, “Excuse me, would someone please call my mom to see where she is.” This judge nods, and the lady at the back calls my mother. It rings for a moment before a shrill voice calls out. “Sorry, the number you have dialed is switched off. Press one to leave a message.” The phone disconnects. They won’t start unless my other guardian is present. She is the legal accuser. The walls I have built up overnight break. I’m sorry Daddy that I am not worth it. Why am I not worth it? Why did you leave us? Why did you become such a monster? Why did make you all those promises if you knew you wouldn’t keep them? Why could I never tell what you were doing? Why? Why? Why? Tears start flooding the corners of my eyes and fall down into my hands. The salty sweetness of confusion and heartbreak are complemented with the background sounds of sniffling. If this is what heartbreak feels like, I don’t want it. A warm hand is laid upon mine, and I gasp. Slowly I force myself to look
The walls around the room watch me pitifully as I swing my legs back and forth under the table. The cottony warmth that used to be here in my favorite basketball shirt is leaving as the minutes pass. I need the trial to start, for I could not gather the courage to look at my dad anymore. I fish for my phone deep in my front pocket. The gathering cold stings my hands. I press the home button harshly. Then, I flick the screen a few times with my index fingers. The screen stays black. Nope, not going to work. I sigh and put my phone away. The feeling of despair grows from a seed into a bud with thorns gnawing at my insides. 4:25.
deserved what I did to you. The court psychologist keeps repeating that there is nothing wrong with your mind, but a dad shouldn’t have hit anybody like you have. You were supposed to love me. Even though you seem to sit peacefully, I feel hands tighten around me like daggers. The familiar wetness on my cheeks rebels against every thought of being mature. Be strong. That is what I should do. The heat behind my ears flares just a little bit because of the effort it takes to keep the sobs in. Tick, tock, tick, tock- 4:15. The trial should have started 45 minutes ago, but Mom isn’t here. Why does she have to be late?
up. The woman at the back. She is an older woman who has crinkles beside her eyes and dimples in her cheeks. I didn’t notice how her eyes shone until she sat on the bench next to me. They are brimmed with hopeful tears. She just holds my hands and rubs circles into my palms. “Shhh, shh, it’s okay. You are not alone. Let it all out, my dear. We have all had to sometimes.” I listen. Her voice caresses the words like a baby, so delicately. She keeps talking to try to take my mind off my own thoughts. “I was like you, once. My dad was…let’s say, out of control too. It’s okay to cry because that’s how you know you are accepting that it will be okay.” ADYA CHATTERJEE
Somehow, someday, it will all be okay. It has to be okay. Deep inside, I know she is right. I am not the only one with problems, and there are people with problems like mine. There are people like me. Together, we create a legion. We will be okay through it all. I’ll just hug the pillow tighter. I will be okay, and the good people in this world will help make sure. Until then, I suppose, there is only one thing to do.
Athena Tan Xinmin Secondary School
Acceptance or Something Like That
Mentored by Joelyn Alexandra
here was a crash. Burning, and then the sight of mashed-up body parts came into view. The soldiers ran for the pieces of artillery, stomping all over fingers that sprayed blood and life into the ground.
Please wake up. *****
Gordon reaches for my tablet. I pull it away, saying that I’m writing about blood. Wrong move. “C’mon, man, you know better than to say that,” Gordon says, his voice taking on a defensive edge. I can read his laboured, two-morebreaths-per-minute reaction anywhere, even without looking. Gordon’s scared again. He likes to label himself ‘haunted’ in these situations; whenever someone makes a reference to blood, he’ll get spooked. ATHENA TAN
“I stabbed him b-by-by accident, accident, it was an accident!” I let a sigh escape my lips, and wonder when he’ll let me escape his tantrums.
I curl my fingers into a fist, dip it into the pocket of my jumpsuit, and splay out my knuckles. Explode! I deliver punches into my pocket, fingers jabbing into my thighs.
You were never a violent person. That’s why I couldn’t believe it when you joined the Army. K’s voice echoes in my ears, and drowns out Gordon’s sobs completely. There’s a slip of paper in my pocket; lime-green, like all of K’s notes. He’d mentioned in a note that he liked the colour green because it represents spring. A new beginning, or something like that. ***** I missed lunch yesterday, so today, the volunteer eyes me with concern. “You’re getting thin, Callias, you need to eat, alright?” I shrug and hold out my bowl. As he drags the ladle into orange soup, letting spring onion swirl with the oil at the bottom, he tuts. “Not a smiling day, today?” I shrug again. If I had an opinion—well, whatever man, I have an opinion because I’m
your best friend—your smile’s the brightest thing about you. Sure, you’re nice, but not explosive nice. Not bubbly. But when you smile, the room lights up, so keep on smiling, okay? I smirk at the thought of K writing that. When it’s time to go back to our cells, I almost run. I want to tell K all about the noodle soup. He wrote once that you make the best soup. I savoured the soup just now and realised that I may have grown out of touch with soup skills. Before going onto my usual note app to write to J, I set a reminder—ask if I can help make the soup for lunch next week. I click save, satisfied.
“Now you really aren’t one of us…gotten rid of the orange—.” “I’m only wearing this apron because volunteers have to, in case soup spills.” Like it just did. Gordon shakes soup off. Droplets land on me. “Soup’s orange, jumpsuit’s orange. What’s the difference?” He pauses, and feigns like he’s rooting around in his empty head for an answer. I flinch, bracing myself. “That’s right, you’re the difference! I swear, you do look like a movie star—starring in that movie ‘I’m Better Than You Lot Here—” You can’t take a joke. My advice to you is to calm down, and brush it off. K, how can I brush public humiliation off when Gordon continues to torment me every day? I dip my hand in my pocket; make a fist, ignoring the urge to throw the entire pot of soup at Gordon. ***** We had just won the war. I was lying next to my corporal. His eyes had rolled back and there was blood everywhere. It was going to take so much effort to clean him up, clean all of us up, wash off the grime– a team of therapists there to clear the rubbish that clogged us on the insides, in our
He trips. On purpose, I can tell, because right before soup sloshes all over me, he winks.
I get to serve soup on a Tuesday. When Gordon arrives, with a few others, I start to feel nervous.
hearts. I reached out my hands and pressed my thumbs to his cheeks so the crusted blood would crumble off. Then I got on my elbows and tried to cry so the tears would wash my corporal’s face. But he went into the body bag; face dirty, people not bothering to press down on his injured arm, because he’d already stopped breathing. ***** A voice jerks me awake from sleep. “I need to tell you something…”
I’m fully awake now, throwing aside my blanket, slamming my palms against my thighs. I’m looking everywhere, searching the entire room with my eyes—grey walls, shrouded in darkness, someone watching me fumble. I jolt upright.
Gordon says, “I’d like to apologise for my behaviour at lunch. We’re both men, we should both know how to act maturely… and I did not. I’m sorry.” Lunch? Thinking of soup spilling on me makes me want to scrub myself clean all over again. Clean freak, K‘s voice mellows into a murmur beside my ear, you were always so tidy. Our room was always nice and neat. Suddenly, the grey walls seem too high. I’m starting to feel dizzy, and Gordon raises his hands, as if he’s about to feel my forehead for a fever. I run, slamming straight into the locked door of our cell. I need to get out of here. “We’re locked here, dude.” No, no, no. “There’s always a way out!” I shout. Gordon looks bewildered. “Dude, it’s night—now’s not the time to wander this place.” He speaks slowly, like he’s talking to a baby. My mouth slowly starts to fill up with warmth. Bile. It tastes familiar. “Hey”, I say, legs quivering, “I’m not a baby. I fought in the war. I fought
in the army! There’s a way out!” The floor. I dive, grazing my elbows. My corporal told me, “Keep looking, there’s always a way with the army.” My fingernails scratch against the floor. “What are you doing? Get down and help me!” I yell. Gordon inches away. His eyes are wide. “It’s stone. It’s stone, what are you trying to do?” “Trying to get myself out of here!”
I’ve had enough of reading about my existence. Of someone else looking at my life through some oracle of the past and dissecting it into small squares. I want to write myself out of existence. ***** I forget all about my tablet. It’s only when we’ve gathered for lunch again that I remember it. It’s not like you to forget, K’s voice echoes in my head. You’ve always remembered for me. Seriously, I don’t even need my phone to remind me to wake up! Or something like that. ***** My tablet isn’t there when I get back. A foreign sensation overwhelms me—one that I haven’t felt in ages since I threw up all over my former cell-mate’s feet. I’m so sorry K, I haven’t been writing to you, I think as I rifle through my
I’m thinking of what they would look like against the wall of our cell. Decorating each corner with his handwriting, shaky, as if the notes were written under the light of a shaking bulb. I close my eyes, feeling lime-green envelope me. I am paper, waiting for a pen. I just want to be written upon.
“NUMBER 2039! 2040! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” The sound of keys jangling fill the corridor, spilling into our cell. I’m sitting on my knees, I’m thinking of K’s notes.
Gordon backs away from me. I turn around. I need all the manpower I can get! What is he thinking? I reach out for his ankle, but instead, I throw up all over his bare feet.
pile of belongings. I rifle through my belongings—my pencil, my stack of notes from K. K’s notes are gone, too. Oh my God. Before I know it, I’m slamming things around, tossing my blanket to the side, using the nub of my pencil to scrape into the floor. “Someone help! My notes—they must be trapped—underneath the floor—” Maybe my notes are behind the walls. There has to be a secret compartment somewhere. I stand up in a flash and prepare to run. I crouch down and lean forward and jog for a second to gather momentum, and boom! I run headfirst into the wall opposite me, barely registering the pain. I’m searching for sound. The sound of notes rustling against each other, or the sound of it hitting the high gray walls. ATHENA TAN
“I need them back. I need them back.”
I crouch down, pushing my arms against my ribs, making myself as streamlined as possible, ready to dash into the other stone wall. If only I had my tablet. I could use it to cut. Cut the stone with the sharp side, dig its edges right where the bottom of the wall meets the floor of my cell.
I will find your notes. I will find them! I scream again for help. Someone comes rushing in, sending a heavy wave of disappointment over me. I had been listening for the sound of notes—but all I hear are slaps of feet against the floor, a jangle of keys, a voice trying to calm me down. “I’m going to bring you to the medics. Right now, so follow me, please.” “If only I had my tablet!” I’m sinking to my knees, grasping the ankle of the warden. “Please, please! Give me back my tablet! It can make this whole process faster—I’ll find my notes. Then I’ll sleep and be quiet.” When the warden doesn’t say anything, I clasp my hands together and promise. That’s what they want, right? For me to promise that I won’t misbehave. I won’t. K always wrote saying that I was a teacher’s pet. You listened to everyone. Your teachers, classmates, parents—me. You listened to me, and helped me. “I need help,” I whisper, and I feel something wet careen down my cheek.
The warden looks at me, his face moulding into an expression of grief. “Yes, you do.” “No, I mean I need to help. K needs help, and the only way I can do that is by getting my notes—his notes—back. Can you help me help him?” He whispers apologetically. I cannot hear him. I yell, “Where is my tablet?” The warden’s face turns into Gordon’s as he shouts back at me, and all I can think of is soup, and me drowning in it. I need the notes. “You never had a tablet. You’re in here, for God’s sake!”
I’m here because my head isn’t right anymore. ***** I wake up with my hands in the air, toes scrunched up, skin stretching over my bones like white peaks. My pillow is damp with sweat. I fumble around in the dark, disoriented—I click my phone on; it’s 3a.m. Visiting hours. My body was programmed to wake up at three to visit my corporal, living in the next room through an old uniform and medals. I haven’t been able to visit since I got out of the institute. Shoving my feet into slippers, I shuffle out the door. Today isn’t the day, I’ll just turn back around and— A pause. A click. “There’s nobody I want to save, K.” I walk into the room, and inhale the dust of all the objects I can’t bear to throw away.
“You’re in a mental institute, son. You never had a tablet, nor did you have notes. You‘re in here because the war did a number on you.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, I stumble backwards. My fingers creep up my chest and find a place to grip on the collar of my jumpsuit. The warden starts to look apologetic.
I need my notes—
“Me. You could save me.” K’s voice vanishes, and I am left alone in his room. He has died. Of course, he died. I saw them take his body away in that black bag. He has died and there is no-one living here, but still, I can see him. “I like the colour green,” he’s saying. I’m yawning now, running a hand over his duvet. Lime green. Only God knows why. “It represents spring,” he continues, “A new beginning, or something like that.” I shut the door. I had visited, and right now everything felt like a dream. There is nothing I want to do...nothing more that I wanted to do. I just wanted to wake up. ATHENA TAN
The Disappearance of Mr Akachi Victoria Junior College Mentored by S Mickey Lin
Ben Tan Kai Xiang
am writing this not out of will or want, but because dreadful circumstances have forced me as a member of humanity, to retell confounded, nightmarish tales that might be of later use in corroborating similar events of strange, possibly malevolent nature. Perhaps, more importantly, I hope that the physical documentation of this harrowing tale will relieve the immense mental burden that it still places on my, once, ironlike mental psyche. This tale is not of me personally, though what I have witnessed coupled with the avidness of the human imagination have nearly unbalanced my state of sanity. This is a tale about a curious patient whose mental, emotional and psychological affliction I could never cure no matter the degree of psychoanalytical therapy or behavioural conditioning.
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
As you have no doubt guessed, I am a psychologist by training, armed with the knowledge of the human psyche, its tripartite arrangement in the ID, ego and superego and the various methods, cognitive, behavioural and psychoanalytical to cure oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s unconscious mental afflictions. However, the nature of this patientâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ailment seemed to be beyond the understanding of psychology and I dare say that even its great masters, Sigmund Freud, E.L Thorndike and Jean Paul-Satre, individuals whom I had personally studied with, would not have had the faintest idea of how to go about relieving this man of his frightful and terrible visions. Like any man of empiricism I noted down each and every one of our therapeutic sessions in hope that some revelation in the near future, coupled with observations from the past, would aid in me devising a cure for this afflicted fellow. However, I fear that these initially hopeful and rational intentions in documentation have now been eroded and replaced with a sense of foreboding and fear for all of humanity, as I recount these dreadful experiences to you. Day 1: 10.37 am: Akachi Babajide My new patient was a native born African man. He was tall and lean like the Acacia trees of his homeland, yet feeble and weak, possessing the delicate demeanor of roadside daisies. His eyes were bloodshot and he constantly wrung his hands out of nervousness and anxiety. Bulbous blue veins ran across his entire hand from the tip of his fingers into the crumpled folds of his tattered shirt like the haphazard criss-crossing rivers of the Amazon.
He was a man whose obvious psychological malady had drained him entirely of physical strength and composure. “Haii, Mr Cryste? I hear you have fame in psychology. You can cure sickness of men your friends could not. For this, I come here… Just now I paid receptionist,” he said in an anxious, hesitant voice, with a half-hearted smile worn drearily on his face.
“Are you hiding anything in the shadows?” I asked. “No, Nee Nee! The shadows are hiding me. I can only make out its silhouette, but it is terrible, Sleg, Sleg! Like Inkanyamba or Lukwata. I hope it doesn’t find me.” END ENTRY This was my first encounter with the psychological ailment of Akachi. No doubt deeper probing into the unconscious ID through dream analysis and psychoanalytical therapy was necessary to ascertain the very nature of this strange malady. Day 5: 12.06pm: Dream analysis and psychotherapy: Akachi Babajide “I can’t rememb-er things,” he said, torpidly. Over time, he seemed to develop a speech impediment that only ever seemed to worsen, doubtlessly due to the increased mental stress his subconscious night terrors had on him. “What do you mean?” I interjected.
Operating on the classical mechanisms of psychoanalysis I assumed that this shadow projection was a figurative symbol for some other deeper, more repressed, trauma from the past.
“I dream of sleg, bad, things… I don’t understand.” His voice was deep and coarse, yet it carried a grave sense of fear and hesitance, “I can’t make out what they are. My dreams are shrouded in black cloud. I see shadow, silhouettes, but it is bad!”
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
“Then let’s get down to business shall we?” I said, gesturing him towards a chair. “What troubles you, Akachi?” I asked delicately, not wanting to frighten a man whose emotional state was so utterly wrecked by unspeakable, unconscious terrors.
“I can’t rememb-er dreams, but I dre-am.” He was panting as he said this, exerting extreme mental and physical strength in delivering this stuttered sentence. It was as if an internal battle was being fought on some subconscious plane in his psyche, two forces acting in opposite directions, unyielding in their intent; certainly, the ailment was progressing faster than I had foreseen. “I wake up to silence of night; cold swe-at with memories…dre-ams? I don’t know…ek weet nie.” He spoke, his sentence interrupted intermittently by an uncontrollable shortness of breath.
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
Though his later thoughts were delivered in an incoherent and disjunctive fashion, I believe it necessary to give a brief a recount of these absurdities, which he spoke so eloquently about despite their foreign and imaginative nature. However, when pieced together using an imaginative mind it can perhaps be said that even the most eccentric and avid believers of the occult and readers of folklore would be skeptical to hear of his ability to whisper to nameless stars in undocumented regions of the galaxy, and his talk of chemical and mathematical constructions very foreign to human history.
Regardless of my skepticism towards his ludicrous recounts of venturing into “astral planes”, a term which he frequently used throughout his avid discourse; I believed that given his intense and vehement outpouring and the dreamlike nature of his malady, coupled with my inability to understand his supernatural garble of thoughts, I thought it best to, at the very least, familiarise myself with religious scripture and folklore to provide context to his absurd ramblings, and ascertain with greater clarity the nature of his psychological affliction. END ENTRY Day 13: 8.34pm: Independent reflections Akachi’s ailment seemed to be progressing at a malignant rate far faster, than which I had anticipated. Normal means of psychological treatment— operant conditioning for a steady week—have but little, if no affect at all, on his decaying mental state. Increasingly he speaks of having intermittent, restless sleep that
Day 17: 12.51pm: Akachi Babajide “I se-nse co-ming….My G-od, sleg, sleg… I can’t re-membe-r...” He stammered repeatedly. It should also be curiously noted that at this point in time his voice had become even more coarse and resonant, and his utter inability to enunciate certain words of the English language was bizarre and strange, since not so long ago was he speaking with the eloquence of a literate and educated gentleman. “So-metimes I wak-e up in nigh-t…not remembering how it start-ed; when it e-nded. But know I…I know I do. I can smell bl-ood and bleach on my clothes. He’s coming.” At this point in time my mind was utterly baffled, it had seemed as if no known psychological cure had any potent effect in driving away his affliction. Operant conditioning from Days 5-12 seemed ineffective; psychoanalysis, carried out routinely, held no promise either and even sustained attempts at cognitive therapy from Day 2 to the present shed no light on the unconscious mind. Now his affliction seemed to have progressed from a purely unconscious figment of the human mind to a physical takeover and assault of his entire
However, regardless of their meaning, more advanced and strenuous psychological procedures of dream analysis and psychoanalysis should be employed, though I was unsure of their effectiveness given the grim reality of his condition.
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
culminates in him waking up confused, afraid, and bewildered on the floor of his apartment. These dreams seem to have a certain physical power over his being reminiscent of cultural anthropologist, Edward Tyler’s, observation of the immense power that dreams had in the pagan societies of Native America. Perhaps a more speculative comparison would be to the power of dreams in Hindu scriptures (the Atharva Veda, a scripture which I recently read) to serve as premonition, and possibly even evoke powerful changes in the reality of the world.
psyche, translating into lost gaps of time. In the past I had always remarked of the rapid malignancy with which Akashi’s ailment spread, like wildfire that danced swiftly but destructively across the scorched African planes, but it was evident now more than ever that there was little time left to salvage this defeated man.
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
I am not one to jump to superstition for I am a man of rationalism, and folklore has no empirical evidence to ground its supernatural nature, however, given my recent ventures into religious scripture and mythology, coupled with the seeming impossibility of curing him through normal medical procedures, it seems unlikely for even the most sane and grounded academic to not be speculative in the least given the circumstance. Moreover, perhaps wild speculation governed by the premises of psychology could aid in me devising more appropriate methods to address his peculiar condition, after considering how psychology, when purely seen through the lenses of the conventional, seems to have no means of treating him. It is thus with this hope that I turn to my prior readings on folklore, mythology and religion.
In my readings of Islamic scripture I recall analogously the foreign concept of “astral projections” which Akachi often spoke about. In these scriptures they detail how the prophet’s soul was taken to a paradise realm amidst his sleep. Corroborating this tale are observations of Edward Tyler, a reputable anthropologist as aforementioned, who remarked of the grave importance Native Americans attributed to dreams. They believed them to be portals to another realm occupied by spirit beings whose intentions are unfamiliar and unknown. In fact many religious teachings around the world profess of a universal life force. Taoism and its idea of the Tao, which unites all life from the sleepy river fish to the active mountain leopard, as if one’s life could be passed on, manipulated and toiled with. Perhaps, if we should give weight to these ideas and see them in conjunction with the unconscious mind as detailed by Freud himself, such primordial “life-sense” could only show itself in the ID with dreams as the “royal road” through which we unlock the human consciousness. But, these are mere wild speculations drawn up from an avidness of the human mind, entertained in hope that they may lend a new perspective towards the unconscious, a realm of understanding far beyond human
conception and study. Knowing well that every other measure has failed and seeing that this problem was of a dream-like nature, I requested politely to observe his sleep cycles the very next day in the privacy of his home. His eyes bulged forth and his entire body tensed, it was as if his nervous system was being assaulted by an unknown source. It was blatant that his unconscious and conscious selves were fighting for control over his physical body. His muscles rippled, tensing and relaxing continuously as he stammered in his monosyllabic reply.
“Mr. Cryste, tonight’s visit will not be necessary.” His voice was resonant, authoritarian and assured. It had seemed from his strong, confident demeanor that the frail, diminished figure who but yesterday was on the brink of being pushed off the ledge of sanity was completely eradicated without any known vestige. As I have noted before, Mr Akachi’s voice had grown increasingly deeper ever since our first session, but now it had taken on an air of grim malevolence. It resonated within me like an instinctual song imprinted on man’s psyche since his beginnings as unicellular life in the Palezoic era. It should also be noted, most curiously, though I have never noticed it up to this date for the nature of psychoanalysis forces me into a chair behind my patients’ bed, that this man had undergone certain strange physical malformations, which only now with his figure clearly framed within the oak of the doorway, I dared notice. His back had become increasingly hunched like the crouching gargoyles that decorate gothic churches, such that his once imposing frame appeared shriveled and small. His black African skin now possessed a curious tint of blue, reminiscent of crabs or similar crustacean creatures. From the very moment that Akachi entered the room I knew undoubtedly that something was amiss, for his remarkable recovery was miraculous to
Day 18: 12.25pm: Preparing for night observation
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
say the least. However, upon closer inspection of his physical malformations coupled with previous thoughts of astral interchanges and blasphemies, I was confounded to the greatest degree. More shocking was the fact that, despite decades of expertise in the human mind Akachi had managed to recover without any aid on my part within the meager span of a few hours. I congratulated him on his successful recovery, but considering the shroud of uncertainty and skepticism that surrounded his recovery, coupled with the unquenchable thirst of curiosity, I soon after found myself at his apartment in the dead of night. END ENTRY BEN TAN KAI XIANG
Day 18: 12.25am: Akachi’s apartment “Akachi are you there?” I asked, to no reply.
I fiddled with the door and felt a cool gale of air from its slight opening. The air felt old, stale, as if it possessed some strange, forgotten quality from aeons past. Despite heavy skepticism of the strange and mystical, an attitude that a man of science often adopts towards the unknown, the chill that emanated from but the slightest crack in the door left me panting, powerless as I leaned against its frame for support. Like a flood, strange thoughts and visions of otherworldly, yet familiar, necropolises overwhelmed me as previous imaginative speculation of astral projection, unconscious manipulation and otherworldly beings pervaded my consciousness. I know these were not the thoughts of a logical man, however it was as if this room had somehow stripped me naked of clothes and with it the constructs of the psychologist I once was. However, what I actually saw was beyond human conception, for I dare say that even those who speak of the extraterrestrial, witchcraft and sorcery, well-versed in the forbidden readings of strange manuscripts, could have conjured up this nightmarish image which still remains seared into memory. The walls were coated in blood, perhaps from the dismembered remnants of animals such as dogs, lamb and cattle, which though distinctly of this earth, are reminiscent of ancient manuscripts. However, unlike the haphazard splatter of blood from barbaric
sacrifices, the blood in this case was artfully manipulated to produce cryptic symbols whose blend of imagery brings to mind mathematical, chemical and biological calculations, coupled with symbols of the occult.
The next moment I heard the resonant thunder of some deep guttural sound. It sounded impossibly familiar, and as I looked out of the open window I swear I saw a dark aperture fly upwards into incredible heights. I burst into tears. END ENTRY
Despite the strangeness of the whole situation perhaps the most curious and puzzling was the disappearance of Mr Akachi, who was nowhere to be seen, though the clothes he wore this morning were strewn on the floor.
On the floor scattered about were books of ancient origin bound in thick leather, written in some strange language foreign to me, and perhaps all of humanity for it was like nothing that I have ever seen. Flipping through its pages, it was obvious that they were written long ago given the yellowed, worm-eaten pages, on which contained symbols which echo the strangeness of those painted on the walls. To my best knowledge of the pictorial images that filled the book, it hinted at a means of transformation, though from what and to what I am unclear.
BEN TAN KAI XIANG
In the center of the room was a telescope, which when observed pointed to some unknown, unremarkable point in blank space containing neither stars nor noticeable matter.
Midnight Station Bradley Gerard Santa Maria Ngee Ann Polytechnic 30
Mentored by Joelyn Alexandra
There was a girl there this time. No one else. Just her. At this ungodly hour, more than peculiar. She was probably scraping twenty. Tanned, but not with a swimmer’s built. She wore a sky blue tank top and ripped shorts. She walked from the spectator’s deck down to the edge of the pool. Not once did she watch her step. Her eyes were focused only on the water. She undressed methodically, and revealed a one piece swimsuit beneath. Undoing her knotted hair, she glanced upwards towards me. Her eyes were pretty, but hauntingly piercing, scrutinising my every self-loathing with an incinerating glaze. I did not turn away. We kept our position for some time before she plunged into the shimmery body of water and vanished. I waited but there was no sign of her. “Dear commuters, we apologise for the delay and have rectified the fault. The train shall reach the last terminal in about forty two minutes.” Turning back from the unwelcomed distraction, I realised her clothes had now vanished from the edge of the pool, leaving not a trace. The carriage resumed its rickety glide. None of the other commuters displayed a visible trace of emotion. I got off at the next station and waited for the train going
Along the way to the third station from where I got on, the train came to a stop. It halted exactly at a contrast from the usual high-rise blocks; as if predetermined by a shadowy fate—the neighbourhood swimming pool. A juxtaposition amongst the red and grey blocks of the estate. The district boundaries and all its cosmopolitan amenities seemed to expire, but not this pool. I’d seen it before, but not in such great detail.
I got off work early one night. One supposedly unassuming night. Of course, my idea of early was before the stroke of twelve, in time to catch the last train. 11.26pm. I wasn’t in a hurry to get home. I never was. I hobbled on board, along with the dozen other dreary commuters and nestled my back against the glass divider of the reserved seat, neck arched downward out at the window. Amber glows from equidistant streetlights had suffused through the ticking tree silhouettes as my senses mellowed to an incognisant close. We didn’t belong to this hour. The train doors slammed shut and sluggish inches turned to desperate speed.
BRADLEY GERARD SANTA MARIA
he sullen dusk arrived in no time, emerging from the recesses of subconscious reality to engulf the evening sun. I found myself in the heat of this act—unable to influence the cosmic cycle. At this point of night, even the moon hid behind the black.
the opposite direction. It wasn’t my time yet. I had to see her in the water again. “Hyou there!” A voice pricked the dwindling night breeze. “Thhe one who schhaw thhe swwimmer!” I paused. Then cautiously turned to face the sound. “I’d like a worrd.”
BRADLEY GERARD SANTA MARIA
A lanky man, at least a head taller than me, stood at the far corner of the station. Schools of commuters were manoeuvring around him, blurring his lower body from time to time. His top half, however, never wavered. Sapphire eyes lay trapped in dark circles. He had as good a chance of being sleep deprived as he did being dead. His features could be imagined as a clown without makeup. His skin was scaly and abrasive. A frozen hand danced on my vertebrae like the seasoned extremities of a pianist. “Cahm ohver herre! I won’sh eatch hyou!” He grunted, chewing something noisily.
I relented. From the unperturbed mien of everyone around me, I was clearly the only one who could see this man. Yet, he possessed a human heft about him that ruled out the possibility of anything supernatural. I took a single committed step forward before he charged brutishly towards me, with an open-mouthed grin. He grabbed and hoisted me several inches of the ground, almost hugging my internal organs out. “Hyou ssaw herr ddidn’ch hhyou? Ther ghhirl! Whatch dhid shhee ssay to hyou? Tell me phleahse!” His mumble was difficult to deconstruct, but beneath it was a cry for help. Just a hunch. “Who are you? And what was so special about that girl?” I asked vehemently as we sat down on the bench. Just then, the train that was heading towards the swimming pool arrived. Then left. A mysterious night. And here I was with a stranger. “Ppheterr...Ppeeter...” The man took a deep breath. “Pp...Peet...Pete...... Peter. Mhy...nn...name is Peter.” He was exhausted from trying to sound coherent. “Hi Peter, I’m...” “I knnow whho hyou arre. Ahnd dhon’t bhother lookingg at the trains. Thhere ahre other ishues at hand.” “Alright. How do you know about the pool girl, Peter?”
“Ihmm...I’m...shherr...thhe...Sst..Station..Mhas..Master...” Peter clenched his fist in frustration. He grimaced and began trembling in concentration, then spoke again. This time, his complexion had developed a more rosy consistency than before.
Peter cranked his head up and looked at me with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. A face of disappointment, like a rusty winch that was about to give up. There was clearly some concept here that I’d failed to grasp. “There is a connection. I can’t explain what it is, but it’s there...like a current. A force of nature.” The words I spoke barely made sense to me. She was indescribable. Passionate. Sensual. Suddenly, the station lights began to flicker. Peter lowered his head and stared at the marble flooring. The glossy surface of the ground appeared to be further from the bottom of our feet. As if we were floating...or...the ground was wet! I lifted my legs up and there was a puddle around Peter’s ankles. He shifted his gaze to meet mine. His glowing eyes turned to an eerie shutter. Peter’s entirety contorted. The bones and musculature beneath his skin shifted all around. His hair and teeth had regenerated into a set of polished nubile features. His jawline retracted and then settled. She sat there. The lights blew and their sparks drizzled around us. “I get a sense that you like me.” She murmured, in a soft, velvety tone. There was a playful mood about her when she spoke, as if she was intentionally leaving bread crumbs for me to follow. “How are we here together? Is this a dream? Am I dead? I can’t be, right?” I asked desperately. “The mind can be a pretty powerful tool...but so can the soul. The canvas
“You’re always deflecting aren’t you? Wanting to know who I am and who the girl is, but in the minutes we’ve been sitting on this darn bench, you never once talked about what you felt when a strange man called out to you.”
“Are you a ghost? You know what, I don’t care. I need to know what you do and who that girl is! Please! Freedom and contentment right? Is she some spirit to show me what to do next? What is she Peter?”
BRADLEY GERARD SANTA MARIA
“The Station Master. I observe every soul here. Day in and day out. And I read it all...the desires of you people. A better life, isn’t that right? Freedom and contentment. But then each year starts out and ends up the same. I’ve read everyone like a book.”
with the blankest slate usually holds the most imagination. A soul like yours for instance. And I can add that colour it so desperately needs. The colour of the ocean. The colour of your dreams.” “What’s your name?” I probed. “That’s the least you can share with me. You’ve come all this way after all, right?” She drew her fringe with her pinky finger and tucked it behind her ear. “I don’t know...You decide. Do I need one?” She inserted, giving me an unadulterated grin.
“I am a spirit,” Mural divulged, finally relenting. “A shadow self, to be precise. An element of the world. I am everywhere, yet I don’t belong anywhere. I have no family, none in the past and none in the future. And I had to wait for that one moment. That one tiny window of opportunity to wake you up before your whole world caved in?”
BRADLEY GERARD SANTA MARIA
“I don’t like talking to nameless spirits...Mural. That’s it!” I announced proudly, after some thought. “The name of a new canvas to create a more colourful future.” Mural pondered the name. The puddle had now formed a body of water that reached above her knees and showed no signs of receding. I sat crosslegged on the bench. The water was contained within the station, trapped by the platform doors. The half-submerged notice boards and directories stood out like tree stumps in a billabong. She cast a pleasurable gaze at me as she watched the water level rise.
“But how could you know you’re my spirit? How do you know you exist?” Mural paused at my question. “The same way you know you’re alive. There’s a reason for this night. The pool, Peter, us...It’s both a warning and an invitation. Peter’s alone here. His body is gone, but his soul, that’s another story. Tell me, where does your shadow go to when the lights run out?” She led her fingers on a tour of my face, then down to my shoulders and finally to my chest. Her eyes never left mine. Without hesitation, she plunged her hand through my chest and gripped my heart. Her fingers were damp and pruney from being in the water too long. “So, shall we drown together?” A surge of liquid invaded my throat and nostrils as the station ceiling gave way. Water pummelled me onto the floor, compressing my entire body. I felt my lungs fill up and swell. My heart was asphyxiated and pumping
blood frantically. My brain suffered the worst. I felt like it was being sucked out of my eye sockets and an indescribable headache had overcome me. My senses were fading quickly. I imagined the water turning my bloodstream colourless and draining my soul from my body. Shall we drown together?
My past life was gone, yet somehow remained vivid. I caressed my mother’s arms, hoping to utter a word of thanks, but it never came. My efforts to make a connection were too little, too late. She no longer remembered me. No one would. “Wake up!” A split second later I was back with Peter on the bench. There was no sign of a power outage. The entire episode had condensed into a tick of the clock. “What happened? Where did she go?” I yelled. “I’m so sorry boy. You’re never gonna see her again. That was your one and only glimpse at a message. You have to make do with what you have. She’s your dream. Or your reality, depending on what you do when you leave this station. Me, I’m trapped here till they tear this place down and exhu... Never mind, it’s not important. Your life, your call. But I’m a lost cause, and any shadow can hijack me to communicate with their other half. This is basically my job nowadays.” A pat on the shoulder and Peter was gone. Mural as well. All swallowed up in my mind’s chronology, I reasoned. The station was now closed. I could only leave in the morning.
One I had been to before. I was sitting in a wheelchair in a sick, olivecoloured room, staring out the window. A gardener was planting tulips just outside. An orderly entered my room and brought my mother in. She clutched a rusted urn in her trembling hands. Vitiligo had ruined her skin. I wasn’t sure if the dementia did the same to her mind. She neither spoke nor looked at me. Her sunken eyes bore into the plastered wall behind me. It had been a while since I last saw my parents.
A nursing home.
BRADLEY GERARD SANTA MARIA
Mural’s words and face echoed in whatever was left of my consciousness. Each time, the echo was diminished, until...The sound of spinning wheels pitched the air as I came to.
Kiss the Sun Goodnight Lim Yuhua River Valley High School Mentored by S Mickey Lin
hen Ma gives her the usual goodnight kiss, she always wonders what it would feel like to kiss the sun at night.
Would it taste like the explosion of flavours in the taiyangbing Pa brought home from his trip to Taiwan? Would it feel like the warm belly of the purring neighbourhood cat from downstairs? Would it tickle like Ma’s kisses? That’s mainly why, when she grows up, she wants to be an astronaut. The teachers at school all tell her, “Aiyo, it’s so hard to be an astronaut! Just focus on reading and writing right now, okay?” Pa is of slightly more help. He tells her that one has to read a billion books and a bunch of things in between before one can qualify to fly to space.
1,392,684 kilometres is an okay size. It’s just right. The Sun is also very, very hot. It is 5,500 degrees Celsius hot. That must be way hotter than Singapore weather. The Sun could probably use some ice cream bread. It is also very, very old. It is about 4.6 billion years old! She always thought that the Sun might be around her age because Ma and Pa always tell her that only children have such boundless energy and the Sun must have boundless energy since it keeps on shining, right? But since a billion is a very big number (it has a nine-zero tail), the Sun must be a bit more like an ah ma. Ma and Pa say both ah ma and po po have not been around since a long time ago but she knows what other friends’ ah ma look like. She’s sure she will recognise the Sun when they meet. One last interesting thing, though, is that the Sun is a very, very helpful friend. At night, when she’s supposed to go to sleep, she keeps on shining to give her light to the Moon. Even her best friend wouldn’t lend her any of his stationery.
The Sun is a star, a very, very big star. It is 1,392,684 kilometres wide but it is still medium-sized for a star. It’s okay not to be the biggest star. If it’s too big, how can her Ma wrap her arms around her? That would just be sad.
That’s alright. She loves reading. Her friends call her a walking encyclopaedia. That just leaves having to finish up as many books as there are stars in the sky, and building a space suit.
If that isn’t true friendship, she doesn’t know what is. ***** TO-DO LIST 1. Read a billion books (soon) 2. Make a space-suit (not yet) 3. Talk to the Moon (tonight!!!!) 4. Give the Sun a kiss *****
It’s a quiet Saturday night. She likes Saturdays because that means Ma and Pa will let her stay up a little bit later than her normal bedtime. Not that it’s much longer because now it’s nearing half past ten and Ma has got The Look that is telling her to “put away your books now, ah girl”. She just heard from the TV that tonight will be the night where the moon will be the largest and the brightest.
It’s alright. She has a Plan, one big enough to warrant a capital “P”.
The moment Ma has tucked her in (“Wow, someone’s eager to get to sleep today!”), she quietly slips out of bed, socked feet making little noise on the wooden floor panels as she clambers onto the tiny dresser by the window. The moonlight looks particularly bright tonight. The curves of the yellow orb are soft—friendly, even, melding into the darkened night sky. “Hello?” she tries, pressing her face up to the glass of the window. The moonlight feels muted somehow. Silly her, who likes to talk across a sheet of glass? With all her might, she yanks the window open. “Hello, my dear,” the moon hums, voice low and rumbly. That must be what old grandmas sound like, not that she has much experience. It makes sense that the moon is an old ah ma like the Sun too; they must have had been friends for ages and ages. In any case, the moon feels like an old friend; like the ratty blanket she still kept by her side at night; like the placid neighbourhood cat that plods around in measured steps, slow with age. So she tells the moon about her space dreams, of building a space suit,
a rocket ship, a UFO of her own, to soar beyond the skies and into the at-mosfear (and to show the world there’s NOTHING to fear!), to circle round Earth and look at all the beautiful seas and skies and people, and really, all she wants is to give the Sun a little kiss. After all, isn’t the Sun, having worked so tirelessly 24/7, 365 days a year, deserving of a little kiss? Even little children got kisses even if they don’t really do much at all. The moon is a good listener. Through it all, there is a faint twinkle in her eye, a twinkle that can rival those of the stars in the sky.
The moon responds with a full smile, cratered face beaming into the early morning. *****
NEW TO-DO LIST
“I’ll see you tomorrow night, then,” she asks in all seriousness.
But all too soon, it becomes apparent that the moon, like every loving grandma, has duties elsewhere to other grandchildren, and other friends. Friends from the other side of the world, says the moon, friends from the other ham-is-fear. She’s not exactly sure why those friends are afraid of ham but she thinks they might be vegetarian. Vegan, even.
1. Read a billion books (close) 2. Make a space-suit (very very soon) 3. Talk to the Moon (ish; more data needed about the Sun) 4. Give the Sun a kiss ***** Ma tells her that she ought to read more of those new books she got her, the ones on plants and animals, and another one on grammar. When she whines about how plants and animals and grammar are boring, Ma just shakes her head and moves her old space books down to the bottom shelf. It’s alright. There are things way more interesting than reading about space rocks anyway, like talking to the moon, right? ***** The moon doesn’t seem to be feeling so well tonight so she starts off
with something light. “My mom says that I should read more books about boring things instead.” She inadvertently begins the night’s conversation with fresh gripes about her mother’s latest attempts to divert her attention from her old space books. The moon rumbles in sympathetic laughter. Or perhaps she’s coughing. It’s sometimes a little hard to tell. “Since I’m forbidden from reading about space because it’s not half as useful as animals and plants and grammar, can you tell me a little bit more about the Sun? She’s your friend, right?” she is determined to get to the bottom of the case, or at least start somewhere with the case, tonight. LIM YUHUA
What the moon tells her about her friend is way more enlightening than any of those space books, and then some.
The Sun wears a beautiful cloak made out of fire and light, and that’s what makes the Sun shine during the day. Every night, the Sun takes off her cloak and gives it to the moon for safekeeping, and to keep her warm. Space can be a very cold place, colder than the Arctic and the Antarctic combined. That’s why the moon shines so brightly at night. Why does the moon shine less brightly than the Sun, then? Well, the moon doesn’t want to wear out her friend’s beautiful cloak too much, so she tries to cover it up a little bit from the space rocks that sometimes bump into her. And does the Sun like visitors? For sure, the Sun loves new friends; it gets lonely in space sometimes, especially when your friends are light-years away. In fact, it’s so hard to talk to each other sometimes because the light from the Sun takes a while to reach the moon, and the Earth too. Well, it is true that it takes eight minutes for the light from the Sun to reach the Earth. What does the Sun do in those eight minutes? She doesn’t know but it’s likely that she waits and hopes. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now I really want to visit the Sun, and you too! I think I can show you my space suit the next time you’re feeling better, okay?” The moon responds with a wan smile.
***** 6 BEST SPOTS TO VIEW TONIGHT’S BLOOD MOON! STRIKING TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE: FIRST ONE IN TEN YEARS BLOOD MOON STRIKES FEAR *****
***** NEW TO-DO LIST 1. Read a billion books (close) 2. Make a space-suit (very very soon) 3. Talk to the Moon (ish; more data needed about the Sun) 4. Give the Sun a kiss ***** TO-DO LIST 1. Finish up ending for short story (DUE MONDAY) 2. Type up article for online mag (due YESTERDAY!!!!!!!) 3. Update finances in Excel 4. Water the cactus (don’t forget lol it’s been 2 weeks) *****
The morning two weeks after the disappearance of the moon, she stashes away her half-made space suit in the bottom cabinet of her room. She never takes out that mess of tinfoil again.
That night, she stays up way past her bed time, but even as the yellow orb rises faithfully into the night sky, the moon doesn’t speak to her anymore. Nor the next night, or the following night, or the one after…
She can’t believe the moon really disappeared. In theory, she knows what a lunar eclipse is. She has read about them in one of her newest second-hand space books. She wonders if the moon is upset about the Earth blocking out the light from her friend. At one point during the eclipse, she got really terrified because it looked like someone had taken a bite out of the moon.
It’s the third night in a row that she’s been up this late but what can a girl do when the next pay-check literally depends on how many words she can churn out from her latest brainchild? Ugh. Sometimes she hates her job. (She loves it.) Fifteen years on from the last conversation with the moon, she hasn’t exactly read all the books in the universe (although she’s still keeping tally), definitely hasn’t built a space suit (a degree in English Lit doesn’t quite work the same as that of a degree in Astrophysics or Engineering), nor has the Sun received that elusive kiss. She has gotten pretty sun-kissed lately though, after an ill-advised jaunt to the beach one too many times in pursuit of her elusive “muse”. LIM YUHUA
Nevertheless, she likes to think that she does journey among the stars occasionally when she writes. She’s been wondering about how the ending of this short story should unfold, and now she realises she has found the words a long time ago.
Before the little girl turns to go, she reaches up on tiptoes and gives the setting sun a goodnight kiss. *****
Roar Lucas Kua 43
LASALLE College of the Arts Mentored by Ganaesh Devaraj
he mosquito danced before me, swimming this way and that in the heat of the afternoon, bathing every so often in the beams of burning sun that stabbed through the holes of my box. Each time a bug shot to the other end of the box, I twitched—and my tail would lift to graze warily over the rest of me. Letting any of them settle sharp into the ugly, hairless patches of my skin would prove an agonising decision.
Let me see myself… I hoisted my head round, growling silently as the muscles in my neck flared from disuse. Slumping to the side, I dropped my muzzle before my body and saw… death. What did he do to me? My pelt was the stage of so many of Master’s performances. Thick, raw welts crisscrossed relentlessly over the hills of my body, running straight through the black and yellow stripes, as if disagreeing with their colour. Fur once soft was now frayed, tangled and stringy. In some places, it knotted like the rope of Master’s cord. Licking my fur soothed the pain… and brought back the memories. I remembered that my fur once shimmered like golden flames. I remember Master egging me on to jump through circles both large and small, ringed with fire. I remember being entranced by the beauty of their flicker… and the pain when I came too close.
The box shifted, and I sprang hurriedly to stand—only to be knocked back down again as it tilted from one side to the other. All the bugs that had just been waltzing about my marred form flushed through the nearest holes in the walls as the entire crate lifted into the air. Where to now? Groping at the floor, I resigned to hooking claws into the wood to prevent yet another stumble. A waft of warm, sun-cooked grass stung my nostrils, and I felt the heat of it on my shoulder. Turning to face the opening, I blinked and peeked at the summer sun, its brightness piercing my eyes as a vast open plain of virgin sand greeted me. As abruptly as it began, I could only glimpse a few slivers of pebble more before a man’s leg blocked my view, and the box was enveloped in darkness. A quick sniff at the roof of my box told me it was only a piece of cloth. Not the one Master always used, though. Master’s thick, blood red cloth flowed endlessly to each and every corner of our moving home — trapping light, us, and people. On some days, herds of Master’s friends would stampede into his fold, and some days, they would but leisurely stroll. Whatever the case, we always had to perform. And the performance was nothing more than a
cycle of pain. A leap, a roar, their roar, and the crack of the whip. *****
***** Crunch. I felt the box touch ground as its dry, wooden base met gravel. Staying rooted to the timber—in case the men outside decided to move again —I felt a sudden urge to sniff my new surroundings. It wasn’t that the dark had impeded my vision, but that there was nothing to see. Though... there was something out there—something… new. The cloth enveloping the box was thinly made and did little to stop the scents outside. Just as I had edged close enough to catch a first whiff, the entire wall shuddered, grating its hinges as it shot up, blinding me with a dazzle of light so radiant and white that I shut my eyes. As the pain faded into darkness,
Did she not do as he asked? Was she not his favourite, and I his bastard son? When the whips and chains were put away, my head lay at her neck for hours with barely a whisper. I pretended to sleep with her then, eyes scrunched shut as her breath faded away into rasps, then wisps… then nothing. I so wanted to go with her. Not because I was with Master, but because she and I would be alone. Some ghostly breeze had breathed, somehow, through Master’s cloth then, ruffling fur and hay as it passed through the bars and carried Shiva away. Away from that cold, dead place.
There were other animals, of course, but only two of us—I and Shiva— were the best of all. She was always telling me to please Master to no end, but she never told us when it would end. When Master snapped that dreaded cord and shouted “Sit!” Shiva would already be there. When Master roared to “Jump!” Shiva would fly. When Master screamed and stamped and ripped Shiva’s fur—and I roared and bit and clawed at the bars, neither of us knowing what he meant—she simply sat still, shivering and straining at the chain that so chafed her beautiful pelt raw.
Leap, roar, roar, whip. It’s all I’ve ever known. As much as we feared the sting of Master’s fury, I think we feared the noise they made even more. Master held the whip, but he struck with greater vigour and violence each time they roared.
each clenched eyelid slowly loosened, relaxed, and drew wide. The beauty of what lay before me became overwhelming—almost unbearable. Vibrant, green leaves seemed to explode from every tree, each leaf licked with the brilliance of the sun. Under the vast, expansive canopies of mosshugged titans of trees, stones both bold in their gray and humble brown basked in the dappled sunlight. Pebbles that adopted the colour of the river mud lay resolute in a stream’s churn, throwing up white froth that sprinkled the banks in an endless carousel. The grass, however… I had never seen so much of it, much less felt its softness under my paws. I caught its scent. It smelled sweet. A sharp, light scent that filled my lungs and mind with a clarity I had never felt before. It tasted of the blue, cloudless sky and the soft sprinkle of a garden hose. LUCAS KUA
I inched a paw close to the verdant blades of grass, each one glimmering with morning dew. Ticklish! So ticklish, I wiggled the paw before setting it down proper. And it was soft, nothing like the sand of Master’s floor. Every leaf settled under the leather of my paw like a bed. Nothing was rough or itchy, and the wet grass seemed to slip and slide against my paw. A calming, gentle breeze tugged at my fur as it passed. And I grew weak at its touch; so much like soft, tender hands that I had never known. And I wanted to know. I leapt out of the box, eagerly seeking to get as far away as I possibly could from the thing I had so desperately once clung to. Landing in the rich, dark brown of the cushion-like soil was not enough. I flopped onto a bed of grass. Each stalk and leaf seemed to envelop my every limb as I rolled into them, as if welcoming me into a brand new home, safe from the taint of Master’s presence and fear. As I played on the ground, leaping every so often into a new, yet undiscovered patch of green, I caught something beyond the stream in the corner of my eye. Edging closer to the riverbank, I saw… oh no. Across the stream, about a tree’s height above, sat people. So, so many of them. Why, why, why, why were they here?! If they were here, then that only meant that Master was here too! I had been fooled, brought to another, more beautiful stage where Master would paint me with red yet again. How could I be so stupid? Quickly, I shot my head back towards the trees, searching
amongst the shadows of their shrubbery for any sign of Master’s face or whip. He must be testing me! I-I cannot fail! Darting beneath bushes and atop sun-cooked stones, I searched for the rings. They shouldn’t be hard to find, they’re on fire! Just as I crouched to pounce off the rock, a roar resounded throughout my new stage and I winced, bowing low in anticipation of the whip’s sting. But… my back had not yet been hit, and the roar continued to echo. What is this new game we’re playing? Where’s the sting of the whip as it rips into fur and flesh?
Not Shiva, though. Never Shiva. This was a crowd Shiva would love, and would never die for. This was the world she knew, and the world I had always known.
Silence. The thunder of my roar reverberated into the rows of the crowd, climbing the seats until it was blown away by the howl of the jungle wind. The same people then. As fear began to well up inside me, the people roared back. It seemed to soar through and breathe into my fur as I returned the call, drowning out all memories of Master, his friends, and the red cloth.
I gave a roar of my own, as deep and long as the trees were tall, grasping the muddied dirt under full paws as I let everything out.
I clambered off my perch, and was about to take another step when the people roared yet again from their seats in an almost euphoric cry that shook the air. These people… were they not Master’s friends? As the last shouts faded away I began to wonder. I needed to know.
Alien Megan Tan Republic Polytechnic 48
Mentored by Ganaesh Devaraj
To: The Paragon From: Opal Subject: Acceptance of Mission Dearest Paragon,
I await the details of this mission and hope to begin it promptly. Your Loyal Subject, Opal To: The Paragon From: Opal Subject: Earth, Day 1 Dearest Paragon, I have landed on Earth. The journey was a smooth one, thankfully. This planet is very different from ours. It is much greener, which is admittedly a welcome change from our planet’s hues. It was easy to cloak my ship and shift my form. As of now, the humans have not noticed. It appears that you have set my course for a territory known as “Singapore”. Humans are so territorial of where they live, are they not? We do not do such things back home. I have heard that some territories are even
As such, I have concluded that further research on Earth itself would be important for our study. These humans, like us, are intelligent beings, so I believe that they have their own reasons for doing so.
Based on preliminary research, the wars being waged on Earth are not the result of an intergalactic war. It seems that the humans are starting these wars on their own, which is puzzling. This behaviour does not make much sense at all. All these humans are doing is destroying their own planet and their own species. They are shrinking their own population. It is senseless and silly.
It is with great honour and gratitude that I accept your mission. Humans are indeed mystifying creatures and I do agree that they require further investigation.
turning away refugees from the wars. This does not seem efficient at all, but perhaps I know too little. Tomorrow I shall go amongst the locals and find out what is causing these wars. From what I have heard thus far, humans have some sort of education to keep themselves intelligent and in the know. Like us, they have learning establishments, though theirs are called “schools” instead of learning pods. However, it seems that “schools” are an exclusive privilege. Some humans are apparently not granted this privilege. You must have a certain amount of “money”, which I believe to be currency, and in some territories, if you are of the wrong gender, you will not be allowed to attend “school”. This is most absurd.
Yet it seems those who are allowed to attend “school” do not treat it like a privilege at all. On the contrary, they appear to dislike it. Education is an important part of ensuring peace, as I am sure you will agree. Yet this contradiction is most puzzling. I will delve into this matter tomorrow.
It is getting late, so I will conclude my report for today. I wish you the best and hope to hear from you soon.
Your Loyal Subject, Opal To: The Paragon From: Opal Subject: Earth, Day 2 Dearest Paragon, I have begun my research. Below is an excerpt of my study: “Good evening. I am Opal. I am conducting a research project on why the young people dislike going to school. “ “Oh um… Okay?” “Do you mind if I ask you some questions?” “Err… Sure…” At this point in the interview, the interviewee was looking at me as
if my form was malfunctioning, though she did not say anything. I nearly abandoned the interview for a “bathroom” (an area where humans groom themselves) to check my form, but decided not to. “Thank you. Firstly, do you like school?” “I wouldn’t say I like it, but uh, it’s okay-lah I guess.” “Why do you not like school?” “Why ah, uh… because we do the same subjects every day, then it gets boring. School also got a lot of problems, like, got problems with friends, got problems with teachers. Then still got CCA and exam, very stressful.”
As you can see, the education system in this territory is flawed. I have perused a repository of information called the “Internet” which yielded similar results. I am not sure if this is the cause of their wars. The evidence so far is inconclusive. I will observe further. I will send you another report tomorrow, as usual. Your Loyal Subject, Opal To: The Paragon From: Opal Subject: Earth, Day 5 Dearest Paragon, Observation for this species has been proceeding as usual. Humans seem inherently flawed. These flaws are a part of them, and it
“Alright, thank you.”
“I think right, let students study what they enjoy. Got some people, they good at art, so in future they’ll want to do art. You don’t need, like, in-depth Maths or Science to do that what. Also, I think parents and teacher no need to put so much pressure on students. We understand the importance of education already, I think sometimes they pressure us too much, always say need to get A or top the class. Like that very stressful.”
“I see. What do you think can be done to improve this establishment?”
seems they are difficult to remove. I do not know for certain if these flaws are the cause of their wars, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction. Human beings seem to judge others very easily. This perplexes me, as they are all equally flawed. I think you would agree that this is an inefficient way of living. These humans discriminate against the lesser ones and push them to the side instead of fixing them. There are some that are less fortunate than others, but instead of giving them the extra help they need, most humans choose to ignore and push these beings aside. Are these humans not worth helping? I am puzzled at this.
Besides, their wars are pointless and do nothing for Earth in the long run. These humans destroy their own kind, their planet and their territories. If I were to be honest, sometimes I wonder why they even deserve our help. They do not even listen to each other, and now I doubt they will listen to us as well.
I see no future for this research. What is the point of observing a species that is continuously engaged in pointless bloodshed? These humans seem so insistent on fighting each other and cannot be convinced otherwise. They are knowingly destroying their planet and their kind, and here we are, thinking they were intelligent beings. I do not think there is hope for their planet at all. However, I will continue this research, as ordered. I trust your reasoning behind this order. I await your response. Your Loyal Subject, Opal To: The Paragon From: Opal Subject: Earth, Day 14 Dearest Paragon, Perhaps you were right in continuing this research after all.
I have been on this planet for 14 days now, and the behaviour of humans… they quite confuse me. On one hand, they seem cold and callous, only wanting to fight, to claim more land. Yet, after living here for two weeks, I have been seeing another side to these creatures. I had been leaving the “supermarket”, a place where humans purchase their food. I had initially suspected foreign substances or poison was the cause of the humans fighting wars, so I thought it would be best to try their food. I had been carrying a substance called ‘eggs’ when a human rushing past bumped into me, causing me to drop the eggs by mistake. They broke and splattered all over the pavement. Another human saw and this conversation ensued: “You okay? Come, I help you carry the rest.”
“Oh yeah, your eggs! Come-lah, at least let me help with the rest of your things. If you want I can give you money to buy more.” The human eventually relented and left me alone. I was left surprised. I thought that humans were flawed, hateful creatures who would not go out of their way to help another. It seems there is more to humans and their world than meets the eye. I will strive to learn more. I look forward to your response. Your Loyal Subject, Opal To: The Paragon From: Opal Subject: Conclusion of Mission Dearest Paragon, Alas, this will be my last day on Earth. Here is my conclusion, based on
“It is fine. I can always get more—” At this moment I paused, because I forgot the term for this substance, “—of these,” I finished, waving an arm at the eggs on the ground.
“Never mind, I got time.”
“Thank you, but that will not be necessary.”
what I have learned: Human beings are strange creatures. I say that like itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a bad thing, but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not, I promise. Humans are as flawed as their world. There is no doubt about that. They fight wars, judge each other, and destroy their own planet. They pressure their young to a point where they can no longer appreciate the joys of learning. They pressure each other to look, act and be a certain way. The world they live in is oppressive, terrifying, and always changing. Yet, it cannot be ignored that there are other sides to the humans and their world.
In the face of terror, I have seen humans of all shapes, sizes and colours come together. I have seen them march together, a show of solidarity as they lift each other up. I have seen them help each other after a tragic event. I have seen them pick up the pieces others left behind, and I have seen them put those pieces together to make something strong and beautiful.
I have seen the small acts, too. A young human giving up his seat for an elderly human on public transportation. A young female human picking up trash others left behind. And, of course, that human that helped me when I dropped my eggs. To be honest, it makes our world seem a little boring. We have always prided ourselves on being perfect, but what if we embraced and accepted our flaws just like these humans do? They know they are living in a flawed world, yet they still carry on, trying their best to improve it. Humans live in a world that is both complicated and colourful. They are by no means creatures we should give up on. They are indeed, intelligent creatures. Your Loyal Subject, Opal
When Would You Like To Go Homeschool Mentored by Ganaesh Devaraj
e picked up the crumpled piece of paper from the floor. Alex, it said, ink blots staining the letter. I couldn’t stand being a prisoner of the past anymore. I wanted to escape into a better future.
He sunk to his knees in silence and stayed there until her blood seeped into his heart. ***** It had been a long day.
The tow truck had towed away Alex’s car and there was no way he could walk home from here. There weren’t any bus stops or subway stations near either. The last thing he wanted to do was to get a cab, but he would end up sleeping on the street if he didn’t, so he hailed a faded yellow taxi. Duct tape secured a crack in the door. “When would you like to go?” The driver asked. The interior was worn, the leather of the seat peeling off. The cab smelled like fresh dew and smoke.
“What do you mean?!” Alex snapped. He was in no mood to play anyone’s games.
“I drive the taxi of the past. If you pay me, I’ll bring you back to a moment of your life you’d like to change,” the driver tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “So, when would you—” “Come again?” The man refrained from sighing–a well rehearsed act. “I drive the taxi of the past.” When did he hear that before? “Calm down, Violet,” I tried to reassure my wife over the phone. “What happened?” “I-I took this taxi,” she replied, out of breath. “The driver said he’d take me back to my past. Change things.” “Violet—” “Listen,” Violet mumbled, and I could sense her every heartbeat. “No one ever listens.” I heard her take a deep breath. The world seemed to stop. Just me and her.
“Y-You! You were the person who brought my wife back to her past!” Alex spat, an apoplectic fire charring his words. “She killed herself because of you!” He saw the driver’s expressions change on the rearview mirror. “That woman…” he murmured, guilty. “I think I know who you’re talking about. But I can’t do anything about that. Although this isn’t the time for bringing up policy, ours state that we are not responsible for anything that may happen in our customers’ alternate futures.” “Saying that doesn’t automatically let you off the hook!” Alex rasped. “This is homicide!” “I’m very sorry for your loss,” the driver replied softly, and Alex could tell that he was. It just wasn’t enough for him.
“Do it for the lives you ruined. Do it for my wife. Do it for me. Do it for yourself.” It was quiet again. “I promise.” ***** The buttery sunset filtered in, chasing away the shadows. I knew what this man wanted me to do and I wanted to kick him out of my taxi, but there was something in that man’s voice that made me let him stay. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a hero or anything, it was simply the right thing to do. We lurched forward, whizzing past skyscrapers and offices which crumbled into houses or were demolished completely, reconstructing until it took the shape of a street. Autumn leaves transformed into delicate white
“I want you to go back to your past,” Alex whispered, tears dribbling down his cheeks and filling the crevice of his neck. “Change your life. Choose a different career.” The driver opened his mouth, prepared to object, but Alex didn’t give him a chance.
“Is there still anywhere you’d like to go? I can get you to a normal destination too.”
Silence penetrated the air. Alex leaned back on the seat and exhaled, even though that only helped bring him to the verge of tears.
snowflakes. The taxi jolted to a stop. My heart thumped, each beat punctuating the windshield wipers. Finally, I stepped outside. The taxi vanished, and once it did, I was huddled in the corner of the street, wrapped in a tattered blanket. Back to the beginning. Everything was still the same–the rusted bucket with a few coins inside, the pigeons flocking around… My head spun, bile rising in my throat until I leaned over and I vomited a puddle of sickly orange. It suffocated the air with a putrid stench, instantly pushing the wall of pedestrians further away. I surveyed the area in hatred. Old Man George’s bookstore. The cafe. MELISSA LEE
The vinyl shop. My eyes closed in disgust.
“Hey,” someone said. I ignored the voice. “Hey,” she repeated, harsher this time. I looked up, pointing to myself. It was a middle-aged woman with an emerald dragon tattoo curled around her neck. A cloud of gray smog traveled from her lips. “Yes?” I asked meekly. “How much money you got?” “A dollar seventy-two. Why?” I made a move to pull my bucket closer, but she grabbed my hand, her nails piercing into my skin like daggers. “Stand up real slow now,” she grinned deviously. I stood. “Now, I’m just a little short of cash today.” Her eyes were now an inky blank canvas. “No.” “Aw, c’mon, son. Didn’t your mother teach you to share?” Her face got disturbingly close to mine. “I don’t know you!” I writhed from her firm grasp. “Well, this is my introduction,” the woman yanked my shirt collar, trapping me between her strong but lithe arms. An eruption of fury clawed at my chest. Suddenly, I punched the woman’s jaw and a scream ripped from her lungs. Just at that moment, a couple exited the cafe, hand in hand until the man
saw our scuffle, chickened out, and ran away. I wonder if this was what my customer felt like when his wife left him. The woman snatched my bucket. “LET GO!” I pulled the bucket closer to me. She pulled it closer to her. “It’s mine!” I finally got a good grip on it. The woman looked hurt, and I almost pitied her. She couldn’t control herself anymore. “Whatever,” the woman slunk away, defeated. Heaving, I slid down to the ground, the brick wall scraping my back in the process. A dollar seventy-two, I thought. Familiar. That’s when it clicked. It was the same amount of money I had the day before I received my taxi license.
“No one likes an untidy person,” I snipped at my hair using a Swiss Army knife. “No one likes a filthy employee,” I scrubbed at the dirt wedged in my nails. “No one likes the homeless,” I stared at my reflection in the mirror. It surprised me how old I already looked. A few moles dotted my sagging cheeks and a formation of wrinkles creased on my forehead. “At least, when they know you are.” ***** “So you don’t have an available position?” My teeth clenched slightly. Eight months had gone by, and I was still unemployed. “Apologies. You could always check somewhere else.” I stalked out of the store. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sad. I was drowning. Drowning in a war that I was fighting against myself. I was torn between the promise I made that day and wanting to give up. You promised, though, I reminded myself as I sunk deeper into the ocean. Promises have to be kept.
I strolled along a narrow alleyway until I spotted a public restroom.
There was still time to change everything today.
“I-I can’t,” I whispered. “I can’t. I can’t!” Passers-by threw me strange looks. “I can’t!” They stopped moving. “I can’t do this anymore! I exist! I exist as much as you do! I have a life! I had a life!” A little boy stared at me wide-eyed. “I had a child just like you,” I knelt down to meet his eye level. “Get away from my son!” His mother shouted, hugging the boy close to her chest. “Get out of here!” Someone added. “Who does he think he is?” The crowd roared. Even the birds flew away. “STOP!” The yelling subsided. Phones were lowered. MELISSA LEE
“Being homeless,” I cried, “doesn’t define who I am! But your actions define you!” I gestured at the people. “You walk past without a second look. Some of you are ‘braver’, though,” making air quotes as I said the word ‘braver’.“You toss a coin and then you move on with your lives.”
“What’s your point?” A teenaged boy questioned from behind.
“My point is, I’m human,” I spoke, my soul weaved within my words. “I deserve to be treated like I am.” ***** Three weeks later, my vision consisted mainly of yellow packages and white envelopes. I was a mailman. I did it. I kept my promise. I had to continue taking shelter on the street. Sometimes I caught colds and had to bear with them until I got better. On other days, I went for a week without food. But all the hard work I put in was worth it. ***** “Here’s your coffee, Oliver.” “Thank you,” I breathed in the strong aroma before taking a sip. In the beginning, I thought that going back to my past would break me.
It didn’t. It made me stronger because I went through the pain again. This time, I believed in myself. My eyes scanned the scenery from the window of my office. Old Man George’s bookstore. The cafe. The vinyl shop. A faded yellow taxi stopped in front of the building. There was duct tape sealing the damage on the right passenger door. No. Shock pulsed through my veins. It can’t be! But it was. That faded yellow taxi was mine.
“Was I right?” The same husky voice. “You were right,” I replied, breathless. It was my customer. “My wife said she couldn’t stand being a prisoner of the past anymore, that she wanted to escape into a better future,” he paused, his eyes glazed with hope. “But the last thing she said to me was over the phone.” “What did she say?” A gentle breeze tickled the back of my neck. A group of students trooped across the street. He looked at me and smiled. “I ruined my life by thinking it would be better if I went back to my past. That’s wrong, Alex. You shouldn’t dwell on what happened before because life is about living in the present. Live, Alex. Just live.”
“I’ll get back to you later, Linda!” I threw on my jacket. Bounding down the stairs, I swung the door open.
“Oliver, when do you want the—”
A figure with dark hair stepped out of the cab, wearing a dress shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar.
The Two Sides of a Single Coin Muhammad Taha Bin Jailani 62
Anderson Junior College Mentored by Don Bosco
or eons, I have been trapped here. In this limbo between the aether and the dirt. I have watched your kind rise from the earth and build into the clouds. I have seen all that you have made, and all you have taken. And at times, I wonder, is there any more to this existence than this? Watching creatures of the dirt live their lives as if they belong in the air, only to succumb to the realisation that they are nothing more than children of mud?
And now, I hesitate to even guess at my duty. Where once I was a force of vitality and creation, now I am nothing but lethargy. Now I remember nothing of that time but for one command; you shall not interfere. At the beginning, I was so intrigued with you beings of dirt. How curiously you would interact with one another! You’d fight and bleed and hurt and crumble back into the dirt. Eventually, you’d find your way back to peace, but I never understood why. To you creatures, these wars seemed to be times of great sadness. But to me, these were the time that you finally knew what it meant to be alive. If you knew that you would invariably crumble away, why not have some fun while you could? And in time, you gave me a name. I was The Creator; I was the giver of life, of love, of mercy and sacrifice. I was the bringer of peace and my name was exalted in every corner of the globe. I was all-things-good brought into manifestation, a paragon of virtue. And suddenly I thought it all fit. I thought I could finally understand my purpose. Then, when the universe was new, I was so invariably alone. Alienated. I observed you creatures, and though you were rather entertaining at first, I soon grew bored of you. It became clear, that as peace became the norm, I
At times, I look back and try to remember. At the beginning of reality, there was a voice. Gentle, yet firm. Commanding. It spoke to me and it gave me relief in an extended moment of great uncertainty. Then, I was strong and empowered; my mind was fresh, I was limber and energetic. And above all, I had a purpose. I felt like I could serve my duty without hesitation.
MUHAMMAD TAHA BIN JAILANI
In time, all will return to the dirt. No matter how high the mound you’ve built.
would become trapped in the tedium of simply existing. I realised that a name was nothing. I did not feel any stronger nor any smarter; my existence was not improved in any way or form. I was the same being I had always been and a name would never change me. Then, when the boredom finally overtook me, I broke that one rule. I interfered.
MUHAMMAD TAHA BIN JAILANI
I looked down, through the clouds and the fog and smoke and the haze and the mist, and I meddled. It wasn’t hard to get you creatures to turn on one another again; there were so many ways, it was astounding. I knew you creatures were no more complex than beasts, but even so, I would have thought it to be harder. All I had to do was make one jealous or fearful of another or even make you lust after the wrong people, and you would all return to your most savage of tendencies. It was glorious. And I suspected that you must have thought the same, else why would it have been so easy in the first place?
And then you gave me another name. The Destroyer; the taker of life and limb, the messiah of avarice and apathy. From the shadows, whispers of fear and temptation would spread with my name on their lips. And on the tails of every whisper came the thundering sounds of coming war. At first, I hadn’t even noticed the difference. Like the dual faces of a coin, I had two faces, two names, but I was still one being. Though I was still called The Creator, over time… Over time, The Destroyer became a more comfortable mantle to wear. Or at least, a more fitting one. I wore it with pride. Until one day, I grew bored of it too. And so I stopped and once again left you creatures to yourselves, thinking that you would return to your original state of peace over time. But I was wrong. Before, when you would wage wars upon one another, there would always be a return to peace. It had made me believe that peace was the final stage of your development. But now, that would never happen. Bloodshed begets bloodshed, and pain would only breed pain. Another cycle had been established, but one of destruction not construction. You no longer needed any deity of war; you had become your own. And I tried, at first, to correct my fault. But no matter what I did, conflict
would become the only option. Eventually, I returned to my only rule and I ceased to interfere. Where once I was delighted with the excitement, now I only knew sorrow. I had brought this fate upon you. And during this time, you kept calling out to The Creator and despaired when he would not listen. Though I did, I despaired too for I could not help.
Perhaps you humans are right to be faithful to a Creator. But I know for a fact, I am not that Creator. I wonder if I was once fortunate enough to have heard his voice. And then disobeyed him as well. And though I wonder for the existence of The Creator, I know I need not wonder for the existence of The Destroyer. ***** Sometimes, when I glance down at you beings of earth, I wonder if you were the lucky ones. Though you would always return to the dirt from whence you came, there was no uncertainty in that. Ashes to ashes, no exceptions. Each and every one of you knew that there would always be an ending to the torment of life, an escape. And for me, there is nothing but uncertainty. Or perhaps, there is simply a denial of an unwelcome certainty. Many of you still believe in The Creator, and though none of you have come to me after your inevitable crumbling, I can only hope that your faith was rewarded by his existence, his peace. If you do meet him, can you pass him a message from me? Tell him, I said, “I’m sorry.”
At times, I try to remember that voice who spoke to me in the beginning. I try to make out the words that gave me vigour. But now that I am old and decrepit, I find the greatest tragedy of all; I find that I am no longer certain if that voice had even existed in the first place.
MUHAMMAD TAHA BIN JAILANI
And during this time, you cursed The Destroyer. And I cursed him too, for I had found him within me. I cursed him for I had fed him myself.
Spirits Eternal Nicole Teng School of the Arts 66
Mentored by Ganaesh Devaraj
he darkness stretches across the sky, inky black studded with flickering white fires. Overlapping slates of stone lie cracked and dented below. Wolga gazes at the swirling lights above, and wonders if he will ever see them again. “Wolga?” A voice rises from the mist. A creature of blood-red flames and twin bright, oval eyes floats over to his perch. “Nosmirc.” Wolga turns around. “Can I help you?” “Here, take this. It might help you on your journey.” Nosmirc produces an elongated object and hands it to Wolga with his dark red tendrils. The smooth surface of the blade reflects the two Enigami, one crimson and one deep blue. Both trying to pretend that everything’s fine when it’s not.
“Isn’t it going to be dangerous?” He glances towards the curtain hiding the gateway and doesn’t answer. ***** The Enigami are dying. The fire-like creatures with shining white eyes are slowly extinguishing, going out one by one. They have lived on Krad for years, dancing, thriving, casting their resplendent light across the lands. The Enigami never needed much. They don’t eat, or drink. They don’t ask much. They don’t start wars. They don’t kill each other. So why are they dying? It was a question that had no answer, no matter how hard they searched. Just when they were truly at a loss, giving themselves up for fate to decide, some of them started shimmering. Shimmering brighter than anything they had seen, and, as though they were pulled together by some inexplicable force. Their fiery bodies melted into each other, spreading out in a blinding white, causing the rest of the Enigami to look away. And when they turned back, an oblong space, a sort of void, was in their place.
“Thanks.” Wolga places it on the ground. “But I don’t think I’ll need it.”
Nosmirc rolls himself into a ball. “The sword was on the wall, so I didn’t think anyone would use it.”
Wolga takes it in his own blue-hued tendrils. “Isn’t this Dlareme’s?”
A portal, it whispered, we will take you through time. Use us. This is why the remaining Enigami are sending Wolga through the portal to seek the answer, to enter their past and seek their origin, to understand how they came to be. They will learn how to create themselves anew, stronger, better, so that they can carry on, revive their species. Wolga is their bravest. He is their strongest. He will save them all. He must. ***** NICOLE TENG
It swirls and dances, streaks of colour darting out every now and then, thrumming with energy and life. The portal is ready. “Good luck.” Nosmirc bobs up next to Wolga. Even though he sounds cheerful enough, Wolga hears his voice quiver.
“You have a few hours, make the most of it, okay?” Dlareme adds. Her flames tremble.
Rebma, an elder, pats Wolga. “You can do it!” Her voice is weak, but ever hopeful. Wolga knows she will not be alive when he returns. He won’t fail them. He won’t disappoint them. He will dive into their past, find out who they are, come back with that discovery, and start a new generation with the help of the others. He will save them, no matter what. Two tense seconds later, Wolga is sucked into the portal. ***** His world spins and spins, bursts of warm yellow, hot pink, silky green invading his sight. He is riding on a ribbon of determination and hope, the spirits of all the sacrificed Enigami urging him on. Sparks fly. Colours appear and dissolve, leaving him in a blur of— *****
Wolga opens his eyes to a world that is dark, a neverending expanse of slate grey. The sky is filled with hundreds, no, thousands of glowing orbs, each its own iridescent sheen. A shattering difference from their land now. Then— The ground rumbles. The sky screams. Wolga cowers as the lights above start to shake and fall.
More join in. Let’s begin! The first hesitant tendril of gold reaches out. Oh, Wolga thinks. That’s— Startled, Wolga’s oval eyes grow wider, and his thoughts fly around his mind in a whirl. We came from the sky! The stars! But if we came from the stars, where did the stars come from? And then what the stars came from, where did that come from? And then— But it doesn’t make sense. None of the elder’s tales even hinted at this. Wolga trembles. His mind is rejecting this, yet here he is, watching his ancestors fall as stars. Wolga rolls himself into a ball so he can’t see this version of Krad, this wrong Krad. *****
We made it! A voice chimes from nowhere. A new start for us! A new beginning!
They fall gracefully to the ground, unexpectedly landing with a resounding crash. The smooth rock cracks on the impact, a spider-web pattern spiralling outwards. The balls of light start to softly melt into the shapes Wolga is so familiar with. The ground pulses with life.
He runs, skimming inches above the ground, but eventually stops when he realises that no one is chasing him. Blue flames calm their frenzied movements as Wolga settles down. He watches the lights shower down like rain from the sky, a descending rainbow of colours— sunset, emerald, cyan. It reminds him of something, but he can’t quite figure it out.
Nosmirc and Dlareme watch helplessly as Remba fights for her last moments. Her amber flames swirl weakly in the air and her glowing eyes narrow to slits. “W... Wol…” She shivers violently. “Shh,” Dlareme reaches over to stroke her. “Wol…” “Don’t strain yourself anymore.” “Ga… Wolga…” Rebma stutters out. Her eyes are a thin line of light. “Remember… I told…” “He’ll be back soon.” “Sto... ry. Real?” NICOLE TENG
Dlareme looks over at Nosmirc. “What is she saying?” Nosmirc blinks slowly. “I don’t know.” *****
A dozen thoughts swirl in his mind: he wants to go back, he wants to forget all of this, he wants someone to tell him that everything will be all right. He wants to go back to when he was a tiny flameling, listening to the elders’ stories without having to worry about anything. The stories. He misses them. And he misses his favourite, the one about… the one about… …oh. Could it be…? His favourite one was of an Enigami of golden fire, who was horribly late to something, something important which wasn’t quite specified. The other Enigami were offended, and they ignored him for a while, treating him like an outcast, excluding him from their rituals and activities. The story was meant to teach little flamelings to be punctual, Wolga had always assumed that the Enigami was late for a meeting. But what if… What if the golden Enigami was late to something else? Something as important as… His landing into the new world? Into a new life. It was a legend, but didn’t all legends hold a spark of truth in them?
Wolga uncurled himself. If it were true... Then it didn’t matter if they died out. It didn’t matter if they couldn’t keep their Enigami forms, their fire bodies, their unblinking eyes. For they were the world and the world was them. They were the stars, the moon, the sky, the slate below, everything. They would carry on living somehow, in another form, another life, just like their generations before. Rise, fall, then rise again. Spirits eternal. They are the balance in the universe. A cycle that will carry on until the breaking of their world. Wolga’s flames grow brighter, taller, before spinning him back to his time.
He is now the last Enigami. His blue flame will be last to shed light on this planet, but that’s okay. He understands now. They all understand now. Spirits eternal, Wolga thinks to himself. Rise, fall, and rise again. He feels no pain when his diminishing fire streaks out and snatches at nothingness, recoiling back again. He feels no grief when he gradually grows smaller, weaker, a dying ember. He feels no regret when he winks out of this world and the last Enigami is gone. He understands.
Dlareme’s last embers flicker and disappear into the night. Wisps of green linger in the air, as if struggling to hang on. When they are finally gone, Wolga shakily rises from the ditch in the ground, which he now knows was made by a falling ancestor.
When the Stars Come Out Olivia Liu 72
School of the Arts Mentored by Joelyn Alexandra
t was only at the eighth stop of my ride back home when I realised what it was. It was only when I had turned around approximately five times upon hearing your name, when I realised what it meant. It was only when I noticed how my daydreams all started and ended with the thought of you, when I finally figured out why. The reason was simple. It was just three words. I missed you. ***** It all started last night. During dinner. “Cath?”
Your face freezes, and the natural curve of your lips that I’ve memorised falters, and your smile fades from your eyes. “Yes, it is. My father found a job there, so I guess we’ll be moving.” My world is spinning. And you won’t look at me. “That’s great!” My father cuts in now, and his hands start to wave wildly. He’s excited. “San Francisco is pretty amazing, the weather is beautiful and I hear the bookstores are something else!” Look at me. Why won’t you look at me. “I-I think so!” Your voice is flimsy, and I knew what was coming. Please look at me. Why are you still not looking at me? “What do you think about it, Jen?” My mother looks at me as she says this, and her smile cuts. I swallow
“I heard that your parents are moving to San Francisco,” my mother stands up and grabs the serving fork, twirling pasta clumsily onto her plate while continuing to speak. “Is it true?”
My mother asks. You pause, swallowing your food before you answer.
hard and close my eyes. When I open them, I mustered as much happiness as I could. “I-I think it’s wonderful. Congratulations, Cath.” It’s only then, when I saw them. Your eyes framed behind the lenses like art, stare at me then. And when I see them filled with tears, my own vision goes blurry too. ***** We walk up to my room after dinner, leaving my parents and grandparents in the dining room. The climb up the stairs is silent and painful, our once easy silence now charged and suffocating. “Jen?” Your voice is soft. As if you are not speaking to an infant that might cry at any second, not your best friend. OLIVIA LIU
“S-Since I’m leaving soon, I wondered if you would like some of my clothes. Maybe I can give you that shirt you’ve always wanted.”
My vision goes blurry again, my nose crinkles up and I squeeze my eyes shut. Fat tears roll down my face, but they go unseen in the darkness. I wipe them off with the back of my hand. “I won’t need them in San Francisco, I can just get new ones.” Your hand reaches out, an offer of comfort. I pull mine away. I don’t want you to feel the tears on them. Your hand falls to your side, and you continue, drawing in a breath. “I can also give you that skirt that you gave me for my birthday. I know you wanted that too. Actually, maybe you could come over and pick what you want from my room! It’ll be fun.” By the time we’ve reached the door to my room, I was bordering on hyperventilation. I never imagined that you would leave. I never imagined that you would have to give your things to me. “It’s fine.” I forced. “I don’t want your clothes. You can just give them to Goodwill or something.” I creak my bedroom door open with my shoulder. I walk in and turn on the lamp, looking at my walls of posters. Doing everything but looking at you. Crossing over to the bed I sit down, knowing without looking, that you
were close behind me. “I was going to tell you, you know.” You sit down next to me, the lamplight making your face glow. “We were going to sit up here, and we were going to stargaze later, and then when the time was right, I was going to tell you that—” You exhale. “I would be leaving in three days’ time.” “Three days?” I paused. “Cath, you were going to let me have three days to get over the fact that you were leaving.” “I know. I’m sorry.” You are? You really are?
“Well you just did.” I bite down on my cheek, hard. Blood stings my mouth, the taste of iron. “And now I’m left with three days to forget.” My world just starts spinning too fast, the planets are spinning out of this solar system and away, spiraling into nothing. Everything in my voice tells you to go away, and from the way your shoulders tense I can tell that you know this. “I-I think I’m going to leave now. Sorry.” Clenched fists. Hearts breaking. “Fine.” You don’t have to say sorry anymore. Just sit next to me. Just don’t walk away. And when you walk out of my room, I see you walking out of my life forever. *****
“I didn’t mean to!” Your tears are all over your face now, and I just can’t seem to move my arms to brush them away. “I wanted to tell you, I really did! I told myself I would tell you, but every time I came close to saying those words, I’d—” You bite your lip, and raise your face to the ceiling. “I’d see the look on your face. The way you smile and laugh when you’re around me. And I just couldn’t bring myself to break your heart.”
I try to say, “Stay. Please, stay. I can’t live without you.” Instead, it came out like, “You know me, Cath. You know this is one of my worst fears. Losing you. Losing the ones I love. And you give me three days?”
The next three days without you were a haze. Time blurred into insignificance, but now and then I would jump when I heard your name. Now and then I would swear I caught a glimpse of your long black hair in a crowd. Now and then, I’d hear your voice. But when I turned you were never there. And the next thing I knew, three days had passed, and I was on the train back home from school. Realising for the first time how much I missed you. Then it all came back to me. The way you swing your hair back when you’re nervous. The feeling I get when waking up to a text from you. How you never capitalise your words. How you always give me an earpiece to share with you. Your smile that leaked into your voice when you talked. Your eyes that seemed to shine in this otherworldly light. You. That I love. And then all I know is that I need to see you one last time. I need to know how our story will end. I need to say goodbye. OLIVIA LIU
I get off the train one stop early, and the moment I’m out of the station, I run. Past the bushes where we hid for ‘spy surveillance’, the game we used to play, past the ice cream shop where we celebrated my birthday, along the street where we rode our bikes. I run as if through time, all the things we did and all the things we said coming back to me so fast, filling me up inside.
When I arrive at your place, panting and stumbling, night has truly fallen, and the stars are out in full brightness. I step through your unlocked front gate, and breathe in sharply. You. Your hair in a messy bun, like when I first saw you. Your shirt that’s tucked halfway in, a fashion that you were addicted to even though people haven’t been doing it for months. You, sitting on your doorstep, flashlights in hand, smile on your face as if you knew I would come. But I had to be sure. I had to check. “D-Do, you want, t-to stargaze?” And even though I saw it coming, I was still surprised when you say yes. ***** I can see Mars from where I lie in the grass. It’s quiet here and all I can hear is the sound of our laughing and talking. You say something and I laugh again, lighter this time, heavy with sleep. But I keep my eyes open, wanting to look at you for as long as I can before you go.
“Look at it,” you say, scraping the night sky with your fingertips. “Infinite space, nothing at all between them and just you and me.” I nod and grasp your hand. You laugh, one I will not hear for a long time, except over bad quality video calls and maybe in my head as I go to sleep. You hold my hand even as it grows heavy, squeezing our interlocked fingers. When you next speak, your voice is far-away. “Do you think you’ll ever forget me?” “Forget you? Never. You’re like my sister.” “We’re not actual sisters.” “No. Something closer.”
“You close your eyes and wait for time to wash me away.” I swallow hard at the thought, and look deep into your eyes. “Then I won’t close my eyes. I won’t even blink.” It’s as if time has stopped. The stars have begun to twinkle in slow motion, each flickering light blinking us away from this world. It’s only you and me. A friendship lasting almost half a decade, a whirlwind of summer nights and study sessions, tears and kisses on cheeks. And even though I know you will leave. Even though I know when I see you next, you might not be the same again. Even when my brain is telling me I should be sad, I should be crying, I shouldn’t feel as hopeful and bittersweet as I do now. I know I will always see you, when the stars come out.
“I can’t forget. How do I forget?”
“But Jen, will you ever forget?”
You sigh, and roll over so that we are face-to-face. From close up your freckles look like constellations, maps of stars that I know like the back of my hand.
The Sage Has Gone Up the Mountain Rachel Lim 78
Homeschool Mentored by Joelyn Alexandra
As the sage climbed, the sounds of the village grew faint, and he felt lighter and lighter. He carried little on his back but his bedroll and a few other simple things, but even those seemed to weigh nothing at all on his old bones. The clear air, free from the smoke and grime of the village, was like food to him. By the time he reached the mountaintop, night had fallen, but the peach trees were blooming, and their mysterious scent, like incense, was all the more intense in the darkness. The only sounds he heard were the toads croaking, the insects shrilling, and the rushing of a faraway stream. It was so pleasant and welcoming that he decided to lie down where he was, drifting into his new life on the cool breath of the mountain air. Within the week, the sage had built himself a hut made of bamboo and perfumed with sweet grass. Within the month, he had explored just about
At the same time that the monastery was bidding the little monk goodbye, the sage was beginning a journey of his own. He had grown tired of men, of their unending selfishnesses and petty desires, and the interminable diseases and vices of the village, and as the top of the mountain glowed in the sunlight shining through the clouds, it struck him as a much more suitable place for a wise and great man to live. So, early one morning, the sage took up his bedroll and started up the mountain, walking away from the world.
“It is impossible for him to handle all those people on his own,” the monk said. “If I meet him, I can talk to him and he can talk to me, and that way perhaps we will both learn something from each other.”
n a faraway land, in a green valley, there lived a little monk. He lived in a monastery with his friends and kinsmen and the people of the surrounding towns, and every day they said prayers and helped people and did the usual things monks do, but one day he read in a book about the tremendous suffering and difficult lives of the people across the sea. Although there was no shortage of things to be done in his own country, at least there were monks to do them, and the little monk was so filled with pity for those people that the head of the monastery allowed him to go and help them. Shortly before he left, the little monk found out that the people across the sea did have a great sage, who was supposed to help and guide them, but this did not deter him in the slightest, and on the contrary increased his desire to go.
every inch of his new home, which had trees and stones all around it so it was sheltered from the winds, like a little room cloistered away from the world. When he finished the dried food he had brought, he ate peaches and apples and handfuls of fragrant herbs, and drank every day from the waterfall he had discovered tucked into an alcove of rock. He kept his books in another alcove, and read them sitting in the sun, reacquainting himself with their ancient knowledge. It was a life in which every day was the same yet distinct, and the days slipped away like leaves down a river, turning into weeks, then months, then years.
Up on the mountain, the sage had a single friend, and he was very happy. He met him one morning stepping out of his hut—a little swallow with a bright and beady eye staring down at him from the bamboo. The swallow had a friendly aspect, and the sage greeted it cordially, as a host would a guest. “Hello, little fellow. Have you come to look for worms, or the ripe berries of the bramble-bush?”
He fed the swallow a berry from the tips of his fingers. From then on the swallow returned every day, and gradually the sage learnt that he had a mate, that his nest was in a tree by the waterfall, and that he liked to eat not only berries, but also seeds and chunks of fruit as the sage broke off peaches and plums. In return, he and his mate sang every morning and delivered small gifts to the sage’s doorstep. The swallow also led the sage one day to the beehive, where the busy creatures stopped their humming long enough for him to gather the honey dripping from the bottom and the pieces of honeycomb that broke off with their own sheer weight, and because he did not disturb them, the bees settled gently on him as if he carried the scent of flowers. Eventually, the sage became so enamoured with his new home and its splendid sunrises and sunsets that he abandoned his books. “What use have I for the wisdom found in books,” he said, “when I could glean it from nature, as I glean my food?” So he left them in the rock, not expecting to ever read them again. It was during this time that his chest began to hurt him as it had back in the village, perhaps due to the thinness of the air, but the honey and the birdsong were so sweet that he could forget it.
One morning, the swallow did not arrive to sing his customary song. The sage, troubled with anxiety, went down to the waterfall to look for him. As he approached he saw a terrible sight. A great, green lizard, as long as his arm and twice as thick, was crunching the swallow’s mate in his grim mouth, her wing bent at a cruel angle. The lizard’s tongue flickered in and out over the carcass.
It was a cold winter. The sage took to burning his books. The peach trees drooped, and the beehive was cold and silent. There was no more honey, no matter how many times the sage visited, and in the midst of that harsh and songless season this seemed so unfair that he could suddenly feel no other emotion but unspeakable rage. He picked up a branch lying on the ground and in a hot fury struck the hive off the branch. It hit the ground with a terrible crash, and a few bees, limp and betrayed, fell out. The sage fled back home, with a strange sense of things having happened before, and remained in a stupor for many hours before realising that again the swallow had not sung at his accustomed time. With a great effort, he stepped out the door, only to catch the pinprick silhouette of his friend disappearing into the sky. He was overcome with complete desolation. “Again,” he thought, “I am all alone,” and his chest began to pain him once more. Heavily, he sat down on a rock, and as he sat and reflected, he realised that his insatiable craving
At this time, the monk had reached the midway point of his journey. He had crossed mountains and rivers and had seen suffering far beyond what he had known in the monastery, and he had helped where he could and often wished to stay, but he was full of faith and determined to go to the people across the sea, with their murderous diseases and their lonely sage.
The sage sat at his window for many hours before a shadow appeared on his table. A drop of water followed it and at first he thought it had started to rain, but he looked up to see the male swallow who carried an almost human sadness in his eye. Then the sage started to weep, and he wept through the night because the scent of the peach trees had been replaced with that of blood and his idyll was no more.
Horrified, the sage screamed and raised his arms, and the lizard slipped under the water and disappeared into the stream. Although the sage searched and searched for his friend, he was nowhere to be found. He returned to his hut with his shoulders weighted down with sorrow.
for solitude would be his destruction, and that as far as he went he would never be able to escape the diseases of the village, because not only were they wormed deep into his own heart, but had been there all along. And then he could bear the pain no longer, and the idea of returning to the village came to him on the wind. So he ran, leaving behind the peach trees, the hut, and the last of his books, and felt as he ran a force pulling him down to earth, towards houses and men and smoky fires. He ran faster and faster, through piling snowdrifts, as if on wings, and though the pain in his heart grew and grew he ignored it, until it consumed his entire body and shot through the entire world.
At this time, the monk arrived at the village of the people across the sea. Their suffering was worse that he had imagined, and he was surprised to learn that the sage had gone up the mountain, and had been there for many years. Although he was anxious to start helping them, to teach them cures for their diseases and for the awful pains in their hearts, it made him terribly sad to think about the sage up there all alone, on a height without the laughter of men and the warmth of their fires, and without a faith on which he could rely. So he went up the mountain, hoping to bring him back down, and as he went he had the curious sensation of getting farther and farther away from the world. He climbed for a great distance, but still saw no trace of the sage. As the night became darker and snow began to fall, he felt a distinct feeling of danger, and was just about to turn back when he found him. The sage was lying on the path, his mouth crooked and open as though pleading, and though his head was pointed down towards the village his eyes were staring at the sky. The little monk read suffering in every line on the face of the old man. It was now even clearer to him that the sage was no exception to the suffering of the people across the sea, and he was filled with sorrow, but was too late to help. He said a prayer, closed the bodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mouth and eyes, and used the cloth wrapping his supplies to cover the face wracked with pain, feeling all that time the feebleness of his efforts. He had to hurry down before the snows made the path too difficult, but he resolved to tell the villagers and help them have a proper funeral for their kinsman as soon as possible.
As the little monk walked sadly away, the snow continued to fall on the mountainside.
The villagers were all very sad and wept huge tears over the fate of their sage, but the blizzard made retrieving him impossible. For a long time, the faithful little monk worked very hard to ease their suffering, and when he had done everything he could he returned to his kinsmen and green country, carrying with him the warm memory of their thanks. When the snows cleared and a party from the village went up the mountain for the sage, they were assailed with the scent of the trees, but found nothing, for the lizards had overrun the mountaintop and made away with the last of the bones.
Tick Tock Rochelle Lee School of the Arts 84
Mentored by S Mickey Lin
ive minutes, Alida. I swear.” Mother smiled reassuringly as she ushered me inside the shop. I rolled my eyes and dragged out an exaggerated sigh. I wasn’t going to bother arguing with her, because I knew I would only meet my defeat in minutes. Thus, I trailed behind her, and when I finally caught up she was already chatting happily to a salesgirl. You would think that typically, a mother would drag her unwilling offspring to shop for clothes, or makeup, or accessories, only to leave empty handed after practically trashing the store for underpaid employees to clear up and wonder if their paychecks were worth this misery. But no. Mine was far worse. Mother absolutely loved...clocks.
“They’re beautiful, Alida. Seriously. You don’t understand it,” she’d gushed to me once. Her cheeks flushed, a spark danced in those glazed-violet irises. It reflected my astonished, slack-jawed face. Was she serious? I now looked around the store, a frown pinching my brows. There were clocks hung on every available surface. Ornate gold antiques, modern shiny metal frames, old Victorian grandfather clocks, some with crazy colorful designs, while others looked sleek and muted. Every surface seemed shiny and reflective, a paradise for people with a crazy clock-fetish. My mother, a stellar example. And this was not a good thing. I was unable to bear standing in this space with clocks and nothing but clocks. I pressed my fingers down on my eyes, as if warding off a bright light, and exhaled heavily, praying Mother would wrap up her browsing soon. As if we needed a new clock. I opened my eyes, roped loose strands of auburn hair back into my slick ponytail and directed another pleading gaze at Mother, hoping she would get
It was a particularly weird fetish that was far beyond my comprehension. What was there to love about clocks? All they were circular pieces of metal that told you the time. Not only was our whole apartment decked out in the things, but she insisted on keeping oversized boxes holding her collection everywhere. She even threw out the prized bike she gave for my tenth birthday. Five years later, and I’d never forgotten it. How strong could this fetish be, to block out the importance of sentimental objects? I’d seriously considered counselling.
That’s right. Clocks.
the message and we would leave. Lady Luck wasn’t on my side that day, and Mother continued to examine every bit of some glassy silver clock that I was sure we already had thousands of. “Any trouble, dear?” I heard the smile in a clear, crisp voice, and turned to see it etched on the face of a middle-aged woman. Her thick, luxuriant plait, greying to the hue of iron, dangled from one shoulder and dazzling emerald eyes fixated on me keenly. Her name badge read Ember.
“I’m fine, thanks.” My eyes traveled round in boredom, before picking something out among the shiny surfaces. It was a small glass tube, filled with a peculiar solution that seemed to change color from every angle. One second it was pale violet, the colour of the evening sky before the vibrant sunset, the next it was as white as the petals of a delicate lily, before transforming into bright aquamarine that rippled slightly, like water. Fingers of bloodred started to crawl in and disturb the peace, turning the solution into fiery scarlet. I caught my breath. “Wow, what’s that?” I blurted out, pointing at the tube. “It seems amazing!”
Ember’s eyes flew open and an odd sound escaped from the back of her throat, like a trapped animal. Astonishingly, she managed to work her cheekbones into her previous calm expression. “Nothing, my dear.” She forced a small laugh, reaching to grab the bottle in one swift motion. “It’s really nothing. At all.” She appeared so cool, so together, but I sensed the underlying tension in her tone. I took a step closer. “You know something, do you? You do! So tell me!” For the first time ever in a clock store, I was piqued with interest. “I don’t think that’s necessary.” “You have to tell me. Right now.” Realising how rude that sounded, I tried to be more mollifying. “Please, Ember?” The woman blinked at my azure-eyed gaze, and I gazed back, refusing to break eye contact. She suddenly gave what sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sigh. “Even if I tell you, you won’t believe it.” “I don’t care.” “Fine.” She put her elbow on top of the counter and rested her chin on
her fist. “I’m guessing you hate clocks, right?” “No kidding. It would be OK if not for my mother’s crazy fetish.” I jerked a thumb towards Mother, who was admiring an amethyst-studded clock. She smiled. “I get it. I hate clocks, too.” “What? You do?” “I know. But you see, I had to man this store.” “Why?” Ember ignored me. “The truth is, this was a clock shop from years by. Centuries, even. It kept folding and being rented out, because…” She leans in and speaks sotto voce. “All the past shopkeepers...died.”
“Yes, there are,” Ember replied archly. “Don’t be shocked, girl. I already told you you wouldn’t believe me.” “Yes, but—” “If it’s anything, I can tell you my...my mother died that way.” Her jaw tightened. “Possessed and died on the spot. It was a family business...so I had to take over, you see.” Somehow, I couldn’t find a response on my tongue. “See all the times that are frozen? It actually dictates the exact time someone died. Once the spirits inside the clock possessed them, their soul is taken away and the death is instant. The dead shopkeeper is now a spirit inside that very clock, and the time changes to when the shopkeeper died.” She shudders. My mind reels. “But how do the spirits escape?” Ember holds up the tube, where the solution has turned into a pretty rose-pink. “When this is smeared across the glass, it forms the final barrier between these dangerous spirits and the safety of humankind. As each minute passes, the sooner the spirit will escape. However, the solution delays the process by quite a bit. Look closely at that clock. See something on the
“There aren’t any spirits trapped in clocks!”
“It was all very mysterious. No clue as to how they died, but only the line of shopkeepers knew why. It was because of the spirits trapped in the clocks. They possessed them and took away the shopkeepers’ souls.”
face?” I turn to look at the antique clock with an intricately carved frame. Looking closely at what appeared to be an immaculate glass face was now a film of a glistening solution. “If the face doesn’t have that solution, it’s very dangerous, and you must depart instantly. Once your soul is taken, the spirit is revived and they are reborn, a whole new identity, maybe on the other side of the planet even.” “Is this true?” “What do you think? “I don’t know what to think.” Ember waved a hand. “No matter. You don’t need to.” ROCHELLE LEE
“So how do you get the solution on?” “I come in at six a.m. every morning to coat each face with the solution and tell my employees not to polish the clocks. Once they do, it’s the kiss of death.”
I felt numb. Of course, Ember could just have been pranking me, but what for? I thus felt inclined to trust her.
“Ready now, Alida?” Mother comes over with an armful of meticulously wrapped clocks, grinning widely. “Um...yes. Nice talking to you, Ember.” I call back feebly as we walk out of the store. What just happened? It was such a tall tale. Truly ridiculous. Who would believe it? I almost laughed at the thought. What did this woman take me for? But then I remembered, perhaps that was the thing. The element of it being unbelievable was, ironically, what made a story all the more truthful. There was a reason she was so skeptical I would believe it after all. I knew, logically, it was a wind-up. But I kept thinking...just thinking... what if it was really real? That the spirits are out to get us? I think I need to sit down. ***** What a risk I took back there, she marvelled, climbing up on the stepladder to hang up an ornate gold clock. Spilling the most sacred of
secrets to that girl. I don’t even know her. What was I thinking? Ember didn’t know either. But there was something in her blue eyes that she could trust. But she probably thinks it’s a windup. She must. Why wouldn’t she? If she does, it’s for the best. No one should be exposed to such treachery, not at a tender age. After all, I nearly passed out with shock when I first found out. “I’m going to go soon,” calls Kelly. “OK, Ember?”
Kelly waved goodbye, picked up her stylish shoulder bag and left her alone. Soon after, she prepares to go home too. Lowering the shutters, something made her bolt upright. One distinctive silvery clock by the entrance caught Ember’s eye. But she only stared at the face. It was completely spotless. Her eyes widened. Oh no. Oh no. That was the one Kelly had cleaned. Arousing herself, she quickly darted back into the store and behind the counter, scrabbling frantically for the tube. Where was it? Where was it? Her mind races. I only took it out to show it to that girl in the afternoonIt was too late. All of a sudden, something takes hold of her breath. Ember sucks in shaky gasps of air. She feels her legs buckle and places one hand on the countertop, the other sliding across her stomach. The white-hot pain tore down her spine, ripped through her system. Ember cried out in agony. She fought so hard against the pain, but found herself slowly giving in, slithering to the floor in a heap. Hands changed to two past midnight. As the tendrils of spirit gradually tugged her soul away, she saw the solution glimmering faintly. And then she saw nothing but black.
“Yeah, fine,” Ember mumbled, distracted by an incoming message.
“I cleaned up a clock in the storeroom. Really nice. To fill up that big gap over there.” She chats on.
“Fine.” Ember looked at her watch, thoroughly coated with the solution. It was almost midnight, allowing her a few minutes to check on the clocks before closing up for the day.
Myself and the World Russell Lee National University of Singapore 90
Mentored by Joelyn Alexandra
What was it going to be like? Was interdimensional space like the ocean, with the worlds in the form of divided islands? Was it going to look like space, or a cloud-filled sky? Would there be a gatekeeper to meet me on the threshold? And what world would I reach first? A world with humans like ours, yet living vastly different lives? Or something completely alien altogether? I could still remember every detail of every book I had ever read about travelling to other worlds. Looking up at the ceiling, I could see the characters there—the sceneries I had dreamed about for years. Among others, Gulliver himself and Bobby Pendragon were there. They were calling out to me. They were waiting. My heart pounded against its cage. It wanted
Was this a dream? Was I really about to accomplish my life’s mission? All the years studying in university, all the years spent toiling in the lab— they were all just a blur to me. I had the vague notion that Gulliver had once been a tiny cube that could fit in the palm of my hand. Now it was the beast that lounged in its cradle before me. Soon, the sleepless nights would end. The dreams would no longer be dreams. On Gulliver’s back, I was going to head to all the places I imagined as a child—all the places I saw beyond the windows on the bus rides home, all the places I drew in the sketchbook I still kept within my bedside drawer.
I looked up at my creation. ‘Beautiful’ was the only word that came to mind. Its titanium finish shimmered silver in the hangar’s spotlights. Veins of neon blue pulsated along its hull, clustering in blue moons at regular intervals. It possessed the majesty of a breaching whale, yet the elegance of a swan cruising lightly above the water’s surface. I breathed.
t last, Gulliver was complete. Against my engineers’ protests, I had invested an additional decade to craft the vessel in the likeness of a Chinese treasure ship—the brave sea lions that had carried Admiral Zheng He on his quest for new lands in the 15th century. The feel was important after all, especially since the shape of the vessel didn’t matter (interdimensional travel was convenient like that). My engineers originally wanted to build a hollow sphere large enough to contain five people (can you believe that?). It ended up taking an unspeakable amount of funds but that wasn’t too much of a problem—the world’s eyes were on me. After clinching the Nobel Prize with my breakthrough in quantum theory, I was going to be the first person to set foot on other worlds.
to get out. It wanted to go there. “Professor,” a voice hailed me from aboard the ship. “All systems are working fine. We’re ready to go whenever you are.” My mind fell back into reality. This was real. This was now. “Activate the portal,” I said. My assistant ran off. The guests behind the reinforced glass gasped as sparks of energy spurted from nodes along the length of the gate that stood before Gulliver. The spurts synchronised, followed by a loud crack as the space within the gate was engulfed by a silver light. A gale swept out of the portal, grabbing and pulling at anything it could find. A screech cut into my ears as Gulliver’s wheels squealed in resistance to their brake locks. One of the assistants waved at me from above the ladder. Waving back, I ran. RUSSELL LEE
My mind was trapped in a whirlpool, the edges slowly being stripped away by the vortex. I was shrinking, falling. Was I going to disappear? Just as the last piece of myself was about to be swept away, I fell into a chair, intact. My vision was still swirling but I could make out a black silhouette against a warm pool of orange. “Hello?” My throat was dry. The silhouette froze. “I beg your pardon?” The voice was male. My vision cleared. A young man with silver hair sat at a desk of polished wood, examining a pile of scattered papers. He occasionally poised a goldnib pen over one of them before shaking his head and pulling it away. “Who are you?” But he didn’t answer. After watching him for some time, I sent my eyes around the ‘room’. There were no walls or ceilings. Other than the orange light behind the man, all other space was swathed in darkness. Engraved into the orange light was what appeared to be an ink drawing of a clocktower, except that it possessed only one moving arrow. Its every tick echoed into my head, as if my body was calibrating to follow. Was this the threshold between worlds? “You do not seem very surprised.” The man hadn’t lifted his head.
“I’m quite well-read.” The man looked up with a stalwart gaze. “I see.” I breathed. “Who are you?” “That is a difficult question, and one I am not obliged to answer due to certain… laws.” Grabbing an empty sheet, the man began scribbling rather heatedly. “But for the purposes of this encounter, you may address me as the Cartographer.” “The Cartographer.” My heart raced as the word slipped off my tongue. “So are you the gatekeeper? Are you going to lead me to another world?” The Cartographer’s pen slipped off the table and fell through the darkness that encased us, vanishing.
A flood of conviction flowed into my chest as I took a deep breath and looked the Cartographer in the eye. “My dream is my creator.” His frown vanished, only to be replaced by a pair of odd eyes. “I am who I am because of my desire to see other worlds,” I continued. “I am my dream, my desire. Without it, I would be nothing.” The Cartographer stared. Suddenly, a grin splayed across his cheeks and he clapped as he broke into laughter. “Good answer.” I sat frozen, chest pumping. Did I make it? He rose, walked towards me and put a hand on my shoulder. “I will be sending you back to where you came from.” The words were blunt at first. But as their connotations hit me, they pierced me through. My head shot up to his. “Why?” He shook his head. “My apologies but the universe has laws that must be followed. You have not been chosen. You have not been invited to go beyond this place.”
Creator? Was this a riddle I had to solve? I pondered the question for a while. The idea of a creator had popped up a couple of times in the stories I had read. But each time, the answer had been different. Of course, that was because each story had a different protagonist. Well then, as the protagonist of my own story, who was my creator?
“Do you know your creator?” he sighed.
Losing all control, I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “But I did everything I could! I read all the stories! What else do I have to do? Tell me!” “My apologies. There is nothing I can do for you now.” ***** Beep… Beep… Beep…
Where am I? There was something on my face, covering my mouth. There were voices, little strands floating just out of reach. Was someone there? I willed my eyes to open but they disobeyed. My arms and legs were dead. My lips refused to move. My mind scrambled in confusion, haunted by thoughts beyond my control. Time almost slipped from my grasp but I willed myself to remember the clock’s ticking from the Cartographer’s room and kept myself afloat. The voices got stronger. “…disgrace to humanity. I can’t believe we followed him. We were fools.”
“…wasted funds. We could have done so much for the world. Yet, we allowed ourselves to be tricked by one man’s pipe dream. No, not a man. He was just a child.”
“…no such thing as other worlds. Well, he got what he deserved. Nothing we can do to him in that state. And with all the other crew members dead, we should drop the case. The world doesn’t need to know the details. We can just wrap it up as an accident. No more research into all this quantum nonsense. Ours is the only world there is.” Footsteps and the sound of a door closing. I lay there, unmoving, but trembling in the depths of my psyche—a black ocean. So this is how it all ends? In the darkness, I raised my arm, trying to imagine a spark of light in the distance. But there was none. After all the work. All the years. Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep— It’s not fair! I made it all the way! Why wasn’t I allowed through? Sound of the door slamming open. Frantic steps. Hands covered me, trying to suppress convulsions they couldn’t know of. I wasn’t chosen. I’ll never be able to visit other worlds. What is even left for me anymore? They held my hands, massaged me. But there was no stopping the rage that incinerated my darkness. The words I gave to the Cartographer whispered back in my ear.
Nothing. Nothing’s left. My dream was everything. My dream was all I had. Now I’m nothing. My feet caught fire. The flames rose to swallow my chest. Just nothing. My arms burned up. A noose of fire strangled me by the neck. Loose embers tore at my face, shattering it like a mirror. Before I completely vanished, a sharp pain stung me in the shoulder. The flames flickered against my muddled thoughts. Darkness was once again coming into reign. ***** “Next!” The Cartographer rose from his seat and approached a brass counter. Behind it stood a silver-wigged man armed with a monocle and a handkerchief which he was using to polish a gold bell.
Returning the bell to the counter, the man received a stack of sheets from the Cartographer and sifted through them with his monocled eye. He paused at the final sheet and blinked twice. “An Appeal for Reincarnation with Enhanced Privileges?” his voice rose with an ascending lilt. “Is there a problem?” The man eyes the Cartographer with a mixture of suspicion and concern. “No, no problem at all, sir,” the man said. “I was just surprised. Unlike the other Keepers, we do not receive such requests from you often. In fact, I believe this is the only time you have submitted such an appeal in all your eons of service.” The Cartographer left a couple of glowing coins on the counter, hit the bell, and turned. “He left an impression.” With those words, he took a step forward and vanished.
“No. 39, what a pleasant surprise!” the man behind the counter kept his eyes on his task. “You do not return from the outer circle often. What brings you here, to-day?”
The Cartographer coughed.
I Am the Worlds Sean Lim Homeschool 96
Mentored by Don Bosco
THE HOME FOR THE DREAMERS, PHILOSOPHERS, MANIACS, AND IDIOTS the sign read. It was painted a clinical white, and you could hear the chatter drifting from its windows. “You can’t impose your dogmas on me! I create my own!” “That’s why I believe the inner stardust, our constitution, compels us to discover our cosmic origins in scientific pursuit.”
John Smith: “What is the world then? How could it be anything beyond me?” Smithy John: “Many things.” John Smith: “Such as?” Smithy peered back into the home, gesturing to John with his eyes. One of the inmates growled at him, so Smithy turned his head back. John Smith: “I still think I am the world, and the world is me.” Smithy sighed. “You can think what you want to think. There are many worlds, you can be one I guess.” John Smith: “You’re just mocking me now. You’re not sincere.” Smithy John: “Fine. You’re not all the world to me.” Tears welled up in John’s eyes. He burst out crying. But their conversation did not last long because the alarm soon chided them to work. The tinny voice from the radio rang out: “Grab your gear and get down to work!” They walked to the cemetery, where the parents and ancestors of the
Smithy John: “I disagree.”
John Smith: “Continuing on what we discussed yesterday, I still think I am the world.”
Amidst the hubbub, two people sat on the porch quietly, sipping on their coffee, chatting about life. They looked over the neighbouring cemetery, where they had seen many of their friends buried.
home’s residents were buried. They scrubbed the tombstones clean, using a potent bleach to get rid of stains. Smithy John: “I’m just going to sit down at the side. You carry on.” John Smith: “ Who do you think you are? Such a skiver.” Smithy John: “Think about it. There’s a multiverse, and each one of us has a mirror being in each reality.” John Smith: “Here he goes again.” Since the time they were growing up in the home, this theory had always been in Smithy’s head. John liked to joke that when Smithy was born in the home, he must have been born in John’s room, and seen his reflections on the many mirrors. That must have been how he made up this nonsense.
Smithy John: If there are 5 of me, they’ll all be working. If my doppelgängers are working, why do I have to work? I have 4 guys filling in for me! I can rest.” John laughed rather mirthlessly as he sat down, watching the other inmates toiling away. He had heard this excuse far too long.
Without any warning, a great monument, built in honour of the cemetery, collapsed. John and Smithy were talking when they watched a shadow rapidly expand across the floor, flashing in a sudden blackness. A grey dust from the wreck gently settled on the tombstones. The other inmates groaned when they saw that their work was made obsolete. They extracted the two limp bodies from the wreck, and placed them into wooden coffins. The two were buried in the cemetery. John blinked awake as he found himself under his very own tombstone —at the dark end of the mirror which he so often looked at. “Not a soul in sight.” he said gleefully. Finally, he was the world and the world was him. As for Smithy, he lay under, watching as his four clones flurried in activity about above him, scrubbing and cleaning his tombstone. He could finally rest.
White Roses Sofia Amanda Bening 99
Ngee Ann Polytechnic Mentored by Don Bosco
aking a long sip from his coffee, Roy observed his friend from across the table. He hadn’t seen Kyle in months, but in recent years, that had become the norm.
“How’ve you been?” “The garden— ”
Roy slammed down his cup of coffee, enough for a few drops to escape and form puddles on the table. “God, again with this garden crap, Kyle?” Kyle could feel other diners’ eyes boring holes into him. He stared, embarrassed, at the liquid shifting from side to side due to the aftershock. SOFIA AMANDA BENING
“Hey,” Roy sighed, causing Kyle to snap his head up. “Look, we’ve known each other for half of our lives. I’ve tried to support you in everything you do. But this...this gardening thing…” “It makes me happy, Roy. My ga—”
“What about Emma?” Roy interrupted, collapsing back onto the plush leather seat in exasperation. “She’s your wife, Kyle. She’s supposed to make you happy, not your stupid garden. But it’s all you ever talk about and think about. Do you even love Emma anymore?”
His words turned Kyle’s hands into tight, trembling fists under the table. “Of course I love her, she’s my wife,” he spat. “Ha,” Roy let out a bitter laugh, and Kyle could almost taste the toxicity as it escaped his friend’s lips. “You think Emma and I don’t talk? While you’re out there for hours taking care of your plants when you’re supposed to be taking care of your wife, she’s sobbing to me on the phone, telling me about how you haven’t taken her out to dinner in over a year, and how you spent your 10th anniversary planting Plumeria seeds and cooing to your Bleeding Hearts.” Kyle looked away. He knew his decade-long marriage to Emma was hanging dangerously from the edge of a precipice, and every year that passed, their grip weakened and weakened. The one thing that jammed its boot on his and Emma’s fingers, twisting and twisting, pushing them further and further, was the garden. But the garden—oh, the garden! It filled Kyle with a joy that seemed impossible, unattainable. His heart was imbued with adoration. He was
besotted with, enamoured by the garden. It called out to him, whispered his name, beckoned him from outside his window, even in the dead of night. Kyle would jolt out of bed, as if being pulled by strings, and he would allow himself to be pulled towards the puppeteer. Yet, Kyle still loved his wife. He knew he did. He knew that the same passion that he had for her many years ago was still buried in him somewhere, underneath the fertile soil that was nourishing and nursing his beloved flowers and plants.
Kyle gritted his teeth, wiping his eyes with ferocity. He loved Emma. He knew he did, and he was going to prove it to Roy. He was going to save their marriage and make her his world again. “My plants need watering,” he muttered before leaving the cafe. ***** Seeing his garden always made Kyle’s heart swell with happiness. There were his exquisite, fragrant Lilacs, Gardenias and Clematis. There were the Marigolds and Black-Eyed Susans, the Eulalia Grass and Coral Bells, swaying in perfect synchronisation to the rhythm of the light breeze. Then, there were his precious pride and joy: His roses. They were the purest, most innocent white—the perfect white. He visited them every morning once he got out of bed, and every night before he slept. There was nothing on Earth more beguiling than his white roses. “Oh, I’ve missed you,” Kyle crooned, bending down to greet the rosebush. “How are my darlings doing today?” He listened intently to their response, and a grin spread across his face. “That’s wonderful, my lovelies,” he said before chuckling. They were tickling
“Are you seriously crying right now?” Roy’s jarring voice brought Kyle back, to his dismay, to where he was: in a cafe, sitting opposite an outspoken nitwit who failed to understand the beauty of his garden.
He loved Emma, but he loved the garden so much more. It was his world.
SOFIA AMANDA BENING
The passion was buried there, but he was afraid that it had become a dead seed: shrivelled, black and frigid.
him again. By now, he was used to the slight prick from the thorns, and while they drew blood, he knew it was a gesture of affection. “Kyle!” his lovestruck thoughts were halted by the sound of his wife calling him from the front porch of their house. “Sweetheart! It’s time for dinner!” The rosebush hissed and recoiled, slinking away from Kyle. His heart broke, knowing his beloved treasures were jealous. “I’ll be back before you know it, darlings, I promise,” he whispered. ***** SOFIA AMANDA BENING
Emma looked down at her plate as she and Kyle ate in silence, a silence so loud that he could hear her chewing as if it was right by his ear. “Emma,” he said, “please stop chewing so loudly.” She stopped and her eyes met his. Suddenly, she threw her fork across the table, narrowly missing her husband’s head.
“What the hell?” Kyle yelled, whipping his head back to stare at where the fork had landed on the kitchen floor. He turned back to Emma, incredulous. “Are you crazy? What the hell was that for? Christ!” The redheaded woman was slumped over the table, shoulders visibly shaking. She was crying. Kyle had no choice but to lock eyes with Emma’s fiery head of hair, and as he saw how brilliant the red was, he thought of his roses and was so glad they were white. Stunning, beautiful white. Emma lifted her head and Kyle watched the tears roll down her freckled cheeks and drip onto the table. “Kyle,” she choked out. “Please.” “What is it?” Her husband’s fingers drummed a rhythm on the table. They were aching to tend to the garden. “Oh god, Kyle, please,” Emma began to blubber. For god’s sake, just love me,” she managed to say in between sharp, short breaths. She walked over to him, and knelt on the floor next to his chair, wrapping her arms tightly around his leg. She rubbed her cheek against his thigh, hoping to elicit a reaction. Kyle remained still, but watched her intently. What a sad, pathetic display. Something had to be done.
“Love me again,” Emma pleaded, planting a kiss on his clothed knee. “Please, I’m begging you.” Kyle stood abruptly, causing Emma to fall onto the cold floor. “My plants need watering,” he said quietly, before walking out into the garden. *****
“Kyle,” she murmured. “I was getting lonely in the house.” “Head to bed. It’s getting late.” “I just wanted to spend some time with you. And the roses,” she moved beside him and grabbed onto his wrist. “They’re beautiful.” Emma took Kyle’s hand and placed the palm against her face. She yanked on it lightly, forcing him to look at her. “Do you still think I’m beautiful, Kyle?” He studied her face for the first time in years: her hazel eyes, button nose, pink lips, round cheeks. She was very pretty, probably the most attractive woman in town. But why couldn’t he find her more beautiful than his roses? For Kyle to love her fully and wholeheartedly, Emma had to be as beautiful as his roses. She had to be a rose. A grin broke out on his face. He knew he could fix it. He’d show Roy. He’d show Roy he could love Emma with all his heart, and make her his world again. That night, as Emma slept, Kyle snuck silently around the house and the garden, gathering the tools he needed: pliers, a shovel, soil, fertilizer, water and most importantly, a handful of his prized, perfect white roses. He stood over his sleeping wife, taking in the last few moments he would ever see her like this. The last few seconds before he finally made things
“Emma,” he said flatly.
Something ceased the roses’ moonlight dance, and they turned away to face the darkness. Kyle realised that Emma was behind him, arms around his waist, cheek against his back.
SOFIA AMANDA BENING
He stood in front of his alluring roses. Their snow-white petals glistened and glowed in the pale light of the moon, and Kyle was transfixed by the way the roses waltzed and reached out to him, inviting him to come closer.
right. Before Emma became as beautiful as a rose. At long last, he could shower her with all the affection and attention she wanted and needed. ***** “Well! Kyle and Emma, as I live and breathe!” Roy couldn’t hide the disbelief from his face as he saw the couple walk towards him. “Hi, Roy,” Kyle shook his friend’s hand, one arm around Emma’s waist. She smiled politely, staring right past Roy. “Boy, am I glad to finally see the two of you together!” SOFIA AMANDA BENING
Kyle chuckled. “About time, huh?” His gaze shifted to Emma, and he paused for a moment, taking in her beauty. It felt so good to be so in love with her again. Roy’s eyes were on her too. “Wow, Emma, you look gorgeous as ever.” He pointed at what was adorning her neck. “Kyle made that for you?” Emma looked down at her necklace of white roses and nodded slowly. Something seemed to pulse beneath her skin.
“Am I dreaming?” the couple’s friend shook his head. “First I see you two out on a date, then he’s cutting up his precious flowers to make you jewellery!” He guffawed to the sky, patting Kyle on the back. “You made the right choice. Her over the garden, just like it always should’ve been.” “I didn’t have to make a choice,” Kyle beamed. He traced his fingers lightly over the string of roses, careful not to touch the wounds where he’d planted them into her skin. They reacted happily to his touch, their petals fluttering as they fed off the delicious water and nutrients from the new soil.
Worlds Apart Tan Hui Lei
Mentored by Don Bosco
River Valley High School
on’t stay out too long! Dinner will be ready soon!” We smiled non-committally as we dashed out of the house, leaving the door swinging behind us.
You chased me down a hill and joined me as I tumbled, two balls of laughter hurtling down at full speed. When we finally came to a stop, you ruffled my hair and laughed, commenting that I looked like I’d been through war and back. You helped pick a twig out of my hair. I picked the dried leaves off yours. And then we rested, lay gazing up at the stars, on the hilly plains for a long while in silence. The dewy scent of rain still lingered in the air as our chests heaved and subsided, our breathing synchronised. One...two... three... bright specks too many to count. It was you who broke the silence first. “You see that group of stars over there?”
TAN HUI LEI
“The ones that looks like the wheelbarrow Dad’s got laying out in the field?” I asked lackadaisically, astrology never having been my niche.
“That’s the Big Dipper. And if you follow it a little ways off, you’ll see Polaris.” A yawn. You punched my arm. “Anytime you can’t find your way, just find Polaris, it’ll show you the true north and guide you home.”
Stupid, when am I ever going to use that? I thought of retorting but when I turned to you, your eyes shone with all the brightness of the stars in the sky and more, along with the stupidest grin plastered on your face. I laughed and held back my words. We soon returned for dinner. ***** “Thanks, mister!” You always had such a way with people that I never had—with Mum, Dad, even strangers. I was a little more jealous than I cared to admit. You hopped onto the back of the cart easily as I struggled to push myself up. Noticing my fruitless efforts, you yanked me up by my collar, causing me to land unceremoniously on my behind. “Thanks,” I rolled my eyes. “That’s what big brothers are for.” A smirk. A beat. “You know I’ll always be there for you right?” I wondered why your voice cracked a little as you said so. As the horse trotted on, the small town shrunk slowly into the distance. We sat in silence for most of the way home—you scrawling on the package of
chicken feed, me counting the sheep (or as you affectionately termed “landclouds”) that we passed. I gave up eventually though because there were too many and they all looked the same. ***** You slipped me a torn piece from the chicken feed packaging, with a few words scrawled on it. “HA! Your handwriting looks like chicken scratch! How ironic.” After a much-deserved punch in the arm, I kept my mouth shut. “Listen, don’t tell Mum or Dad but… I’ve been learning to read and write.” “WHAT FOR—” The rest of my words were muffled by your hand.
“Well I’m sure if you told Mum and Dad, they wouldn’t really mind. You’re their favourite after all. You get away with anything.” “You know that’s not true.” “Whatever. I don’t care.” But I did care, so, so much. My heart clenched at the thought of you being so far away from me, from this little world we knew, the only world that I ever dreamed of knowing. But you had bigger dreams and deep down, I understood. My heart swelled with the thought of being entrusted to keep your secret. ***** It wasn’t long before your conversations about dreams became conversations about girls. A girl. Nothing special in my opinion, but Mum and Dad fawned over her. I think they were impressed that she was literate. You told me later that she was the one who taught you. Suddenly, the secret you shared didn’t feel as special anymore. “I’ll teach you, if you want.” But I
“And when I make enough money, I’ll fly you guys over to join me and we can all live there together. Bright billboards, neon signs, taxi cabs, it’s really happening there.”
TAN HUI LEI
“Shhh... not so loud. I’ve been thinking of getting a job in the big city, you know? It pays much more than what we make selling produce at the farmer’s market on weekends. “
never wanted, didn’t want her around. Yet nobody else seemed to mind. I started counting, wondering, how many more people you knew that I didn’t. *****
TAN HUI LEI
There came a day when I was working the cornfields when I heard your laugh, which had, since her arrival, become a more frequent occurrence, though I would never admit that. An ingenious idea struck me as I crept up behind the tall, golden stalks, ready for an ambush. As I jumped out, I was caught off-guard by you kissing her. I stumbled in surprise and landed at your feet as you stood and laughed at me, laughed at me with her. From down on the ground, I could see the crawling ants and worms, small and insignificant. I wondered if that was how I looked to you now. From down on the ground, you looked and felt so very far away. I wondered if you really were. Heat stung my eyes as I felt my vision blur. I took to my feet as fast as I could, ignoring your cries and your hurried footsteps as you chased after me.
I’m sorry I pretended to be asleep when you came by my room to talk later that day. I know I wasn’t that great of an actor. I counted the minutes you spent standing by my bedside, waiting for a response. But you just stood there quietly and I dared not to open my eyes even though the silence was unbearable. The moment seemed to drag before you kissed me on my head and turned off the light. You left me alone after that. ***** One day a man came by and told us you were drafted for the war. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, just that you got to wear really cool uniforms. I was jealous. But I watched my mother’s shoulder shake with sobs which escaped from behind her blistered hands, as my father held her in his arms, a tear sliding out when he thought I wasn’t looking. Figures, you were their favourite after all. I found myself wishing I would get drafted too. As the time grew closer for you to leave, you passed me a letter with your name on the bottom left corner, the only thing I had learnt to read over the years besides my own name. “Open it whenever you miss me.” “You’re mocking me, aren’t you? You know I can’t read. I hate you for leaving me and I never want to see you again!” I crumpled the letter and threw it into a box
by the side of my bed. I now wish that I had thought those words instead of screaming them aloud, for I saw your face soften with indescribable anguish that struck me to my very core.
And after work, when I cab back home, I get stuck in traffic for hours which is great because it gives me ample time to read the billboards preaching the same old brainwash, while the neon signs from shops down the road pierce my eyes in their attempt to get my attention because in the big city, you either stand out or lose out. I wonder what you liked so much about this place. Where are the stars? Where are the sheep? The only sheep you count out here are the ones in your dreams. Where is everything that made me feel homely, where is home? Where are you now? I often wonder. Tonight, I sit in my apartment in the district with the most expensive housing in New York City. But all apartments are pretty pricey out here. I am reminded of you, as I am on most days when I’m feeling lost, as I feel
‘Financial compensation from loss of life in the war’ was what put me through school, my parents had told me. I studied hard to forget about you and made a name for myself. For once, I actually mattered, I wasn’t just—’s stupid younger brother anymore. I moved out to the big city, the place you always wanted to be, for us to be. And now I work at an insurance company, counting damages, lives taken, amounts that need to be paid to clients, chipping away at the values on my calculator all day. All the counting I do now is done in black and white but I earn close to 70k every year and that seems to be the only counting that matters out here.
TAN HUI LEI
On the day of your departure, I didn’t rise from my bed to see you off. I guess I was still a little mad, though I don’t remember why. “I’m sorry your brother is so…” Mum had begun in a hushed tone as the three of you stood at the entrance of our cottage, unaware that I could hear every word. “It’s okay Mum, he’s tired, let him rest. He’s a really good kid you know, just needs a little time to open up to people is all. Take care of him for me when I’m gone, yeah? Love ya.” Little did I know, those were the last words I would hear from you in a long time. I counted the days till you finally came home. I gave up eventually though because there were too many and the day never came.
on most days. As I shift through junk, I find a crumpled paper ball sitting in the same lonely corner from all those years ago. Am I ready? I quell the rising uneasiness as I unfurl the letter. After all these years, it still looks like chicken scratch. Hey sport, How’re you doing? By the time you’re reading this, I’ll probably be a long ways from home. I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to spend as much time together as I would’ve liked. I’ll really miss you, and Mum, and Dad too.
TAN HUI LEI
I miss the times that we used to spend rolling down the hills or feeding the sheep or playing hide and seek in the cornfields. I’m sorry that I laughed at you that one time but you looked really cute with the corn hair clinging to your face. You ran off before I had the chance to clean them off you.
Wait for me, yeah? I’ll try to make it back in one piece from the war although I know stories don’t always have happy endings. I want you to know I’ve set aside some of my earnings to put you through school, because I don’t think any financial compensation would amount to much. I told Mum and Dad to keep it hush-hush because I knew you wouldn’t take it otherwise. You were always such a bright and earnest kid, just needed a push in the right direction is all. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to keep any secrets between us, so forgive me for just this one. Know that if you’re ever feeling lost, I’ll always be there for you to guide you on your way home, like Polaris. I’ll always be there for you. That’s what big brothers are for. Love— My eyes paused at the end of the page as I felt my breath catch in my throat. I let the tears come slow, then all at once, as I heaved with the pain I had not allowed myself to succumb to for years. I cried, much more than a man my age ever should. I cried for the big dream you had, for the big world you wanted me to be able to see but you yourself never got the chance to. “Stupid,” I cried. “You were my world.”
Minkuso Magic Yap Xin Yi 111
River Valley High School Mentored by Don Bosco
have seen it from my tower, our rice paddies turning paler than spun gold. I have watched it from my room, our trees growing sparser with the prolonged heat waves. I have charted it myself: luxurious vibrant green fields languishing into faded wisps. This drought has been too harsh, and no magic has been able to reverse its effects. Many speculate that it has been a curse from Ersendower, our enemy state. Well, I don’t believe in curses. This is our four centuries-year-old war finally taking its toll. I say this, but no one believes me because I am not “gifted with magic”. “What would you know about what magic can do?” is a common retort. This was how I learnt (very early) that without magic, you could not go far.
YAP XIN YI
Being born in Minkuso meant that this reality mattered every day. Being born an outlier means facing these limits of your abilities (however dejecting) every moment. Also, being born fourth in line to the throne out of eight halfsiblings meant that my future was insecure in the worst possible way.
Perhaps this is why my room is the loneliest: furthest, most inaccessible, most secluded. I have lost count of the nights and days I cried, hopeless— while my mother trained me in various dangerous arts, trying to ingrain in me her knowledge of the many spells and potions Minkuso magic has to offer. I hardly blame her. My mother is probably the most talented woman there is with elemental magic in our tiny state of Minkuso. As the bold shimmery stripes running across her bronzed calves can attest, her silver shines the brightest among elementals. Despite all the training and education however, even I could tell from a young age that I would not be able to defeat my halfsiblings. She tells me, magic takes time to surface, but we knew the chances were close to none when I turned six. I suppose her teaching me was more out of sheer desperation than anything else. Nonetheless, I diligently committed the hundreds of pages’ worth of knowledge to memory over the years, while at the same time drew up numerous plans detailing strategies on how to defeat each and every halfsibling. It was best to be able to identify the magic used against you, in any case. It became routine to wake up, select a few potions, and update my battle
plans as I waited for the vats to brew. It was on yet another such afternoon that I was on my oversized bed updating one of the many journals-disguised-as-books when my brother barged into the room. I was, at thirteen, four years older (and one head taller) than him but already, he was bossing me around, assured of his superiority because of magic. On the back of his left fist, just below the third knuckle of his pinky finger, boasts a sizeable but dull, bronze triangle for healing abilities. “Min, I heard that Father has begun negotiations with Ersendower. Come watch!” Marcos bounds over. “What’s that you’re writing?”
“And I appreciate it, Marcos.” I pause. “What are they negotiating?” Marcos makes his way swiftly; consequently, I enter the room quietly puffing for breath. A small figure clad in rich dark blue silk trousers and a stark white cotton top is kneeling beside the stone brick walls. His curly, dusty blonde curls are pressed tight into the corner. Marcos tiptoes across the carpeted floor whispering, “Anything to report, Agent Sparkal?” Sparkal whirls around, shoulders at the height of his ears. Upon recognition he relaxes, stepping away. I offer half a smile and a wave, chirping, “Hi, Sparkal.” He does not return the gesture, avoiding all eye contact as he says uneasily, “Father said he would give away one of his children for peace.” “What?” Marcos barely manages a hushed tone. Sparkal shrugs, gesturing at the wall.
I stir the vat once, clockwise, contemplative. He cuts a lonely figure from this distance. I don’t have the heart to tell him off.
“Sparkal and I found a crack in the wall in the room next to it.” He smiles proudly. He reaches for the book, stopping mid-way when he catches my glare. He sulks as he sits on the edge of the bed. “It’s only because you’re my sister that I’m asking.” His foot kicks the bedside dresser half-heartedly.
YAP XIN YI
I snap the book shut with finality. “Some old stuff. Since when did Father allow you into meetings with important ministers?” I stuff the book under my pillow and cross the room to check on my potion.
Father has never thought about giving in despite having warred for many generations. This news, and the significance of the deal—as much as my brain tries to follow the rationale, it has already struck me which one of his ten children he would willingly send off. Because, why waste perfectly good talent? I would be first up for offer. A small, stubborn part of me hopes Father would be kind, but I knew, long ago: kindness did not sustain any wars.
YAP XIN YI
Almost tripping over my own feet, I join the huddle at the corner, heartbeat quickening, ramming against my ribcage. The room is dark through the crack. “The king of Ersendower hopes to put our centuries-old feud to rest. After all, both sides have already suffered unnecessary drawn out pain, and at what expense? At what further cost?” We are crouched, one atop another, trying not to breathe too loudly as the conversation in the next room continues in low murmurs. I shove my way to get a better view. Sparkal gives in easily.
“Wise words,” Father muses, finger tracing the rim of his golden goblet. It is unnoticeable from this distance, but I know that intricate lilac swirls representing his mastery of non-verbal magic decorate his fingers from knuckle to nail. He is commandingly handsome, even from this sliver of a view. “I am sure any of your many accomplished children will be able to make a future for themselves in Ersendower.” I feel the single bead of sweat make its way unhurriedly down my back, and I shiver involuntarily. “Minsella is only a thirteen-year-old maiden. She has barely understood Minkuso’s politics, much less a bigger state like Ersendower,” Father chuckles. A tiny intake of stuffy air from Marcos; it was going to be me after all. I tighten my grip on my silken dress. All these riches, it will not last. Marcos grips my hand with his small but rough fingers—badges of honour, incurred from training. I don’t know what to say except “Marcos, find our mother for me, will you?” My voice sounds tinny. Dark eyes wide open, he nods, squeezing my hand once for reassurance. They leave the room obediently. Must the situation at hand be that dramatic for Marcos to listen to me? I wish I could laugh; it would make matters less real. I creep closer instead.
The minister swirls his goblet and takes a leisurely sip—is that the ghost of a smile? “Our young soldiers received no such mercy. Please, considering how your kingdom owes us the favour, don’t make this negotiation difficult. Our king awaits your answer.” Father lets out a sigh, heavy-set shoulders drooping further. He frowns absently, likely assessing the best profit margin. A tradesman before a king, Minkuso says.
The negotiations come into effect almost instantaneously. I decide to bring my journals and leave the clothes. Where I am going, I will only need my brains. I do not intend to succumb to fate, not yet. I may be only thirteen, but Father does not know me well. The midnight oils, the smuggled books, the worried crease nestled between mother’s eyes when she thinks I’m not looking—they were to make a day like this less painful. Being born a princess without magic meant having to make do. I sweep into my bag the (blackmailed) stash of vials, long prepared as a desperate bid to secure a future for myself. The castle’s apothecary warned me that I will shorten my lifespan following this little bit of forbidden dark magic but then again, what is a life worth without a little risk, without a little magic? Choking my second strange-tasting vial down (even if it is more than the stipulated amount, it is a special occasion!), I watch a faint, serious Byzantium-purple blob tucked away behind my ear flower into a single curl, barely longer than an eyelash. Satisfied, I take out the pins holding my curly
“There you are, Minsella! The King has been asking for you. Greetings, Lady Mersewol.” The first wife Queen Gloria is at the doorway wearing an impassive smile, inclining her head as she acknowledges my mother. “Be a dear, don’t keep him waiting.” My mother applies pressure into her hug before quickly releasing me. “Go,” she urges, eyes inscrutable. The eldest daughter of Queen Gloria will have no competition now.
YAP XIN YI
Was I that dispensable? I hear before I see my mother entering the room, hasty rustles of silk. The colours smudge together as I welcome the familiar embrace of jasmine-scented hair and firm muscular arms. “Marcos told me.” She whispers, head bowed. I bury my face deeper, trying to muffle the uncontrollable, toe-curling sniffles. “I just thought, maybe—”
hair back, letting the strong mahogany waves frame my dark face. The only reflection is grim determination. I take big strides across the room. No more hesitation, no more mercy. My vision blurs. My hand still lingers at the touch of these heavyset, dark rosewood doors of my room. It will be the last time I step foot in here. When I return, I will not be the same helpless girl. I take my time going down the stairwell. A rat scampers along the steps, and a thought strikes me. I extend my hand towards its direction where a dimly lit cat baring a dripping-wet red mouth appears mere millimetres from it, flickering dimly along the corridor. Only a brief apparition, yet it is enough to bring perspiration trickling down my hairline and the rat fleeing back to where it came from. YAP XIN YI
Farewells are made, curt and scantâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the family members are mostly elsewhere, training, unaware of the short notice. It is just as well. I studiously avoid the ministerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gaze as the carriage rattles past our dried-out squares of soil, leafless trees and the fields with straws for grass. The consequences of our four centuries-year-old war assault me yet again.
This drought has been too harsh, in more ways than one. Maybe no magic has been able to reverse its effects, but I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t believe in curses or bad luck. The minister yawns. I finger the spot where my very own magic rests behind my ear. Minkuso magic makes this world just a little more worthwhile. I hide my smile.
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ABOUT THE MENTORS
When the sun is up, Ganaesh Devaraj tries to earn a living as a content writer for the marketing department of an enterprise software company. He’s still pretty new at this, so everyday becomes an adventure for him. After the sun sets, he ruminates on the meaning of life while eating cheap bento and writing short stories. Instead of worrying about genres or style when coming up with story ideas, he’s just aiming to please the readers with his writing.
Don Bosco writes thrilling fiction inspired by Asian legends and pop culture. He started the award-winning publishing studio Super Cool Books in 2011. His books include the YA thriller MAGICIENNE, co-authored with celebrity illusionist Ning Cai, and the story development guide IMAGINE ALL THIS: HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN STORIES. He is a local co-organiser for StoryCode Singapore, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. He has been a featured speaker at writing festivals and media conferences.
Joelyn Alexandra’s dystopias and urban fiction have been published by Two Trees, Math Paper Press (Singapore), and Buku Fixi (Malaysia). When not writing or engaging in arts management, she plays and writes board games and RPGs. She can be found on joelynalexandra.weebly.com and tells whatever stories she can
S. Mickey Lin holds a Master of Arts from the University Of Southern California School Of Cinematic Arts. His writings have been published in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US. He is the author of Uncanny Valley, a collection of short stories about the Lion City. For additional information, check out www.mickeylin.com