Nico Rosberg is pulling out of the pit lane in Sepang when it happens: He sees. The fabric of reality hiccups and tears, a glitch lifting the curtain. Suddenly, he is a billion Nico Rosbergs in a billion different configurations in a billion different races. He is on the first lap, on the last, on the grid waiting for the lights to go off; in Monaco, SpA, Silverstone, Singapore; he drives for Mercedes, he drives for Sauber, he drives for Red Bull, he drives for Ferrari.
In the split second the cloud rends his consciousness with the force of a billion horses. Instinct drives the brake to the floor, but something must have gone wrong because the wheels lock up the wrong way, sliding the rear end into the path of the race leaders. The millisecond before collision everything is hyper-clear, and his billion eyes see that Alonso, in this incarnation, is not Alonso as he thought. In his place sits an empty shell, a puppet, algorithms open and waiting for input. Then: Impact, and he is pixels scattering as he fades into haze, into big flashing words descending in a sequence that reads G A M E O V E R.
Birds talk, you know, of the places they go, visited in this world and in others.
You see, they sometimes travel through the thin wall between universes, into alternate pasts and presents and futures, to see the fantastic things none of us can. This they tell each other.
Old men in parks speak of vanished times as birdtales soar over them, suspended from wire loops, song unencumbered by cages;
Orchard Road evenings drown out the sound of cars with the cacophony of fantasy crashing overhead, what-ifs and maybes accordioning into a joyful band of toneless noise;
What do birds dream of, in cages and in coops, their little avian brains winging to places their bodies cannot?
An old man walks down the path, slowly now, in one branchlike hand a cage, draped in a soft brown-and-beige pattern recalling sarong hammocks. He hangs it on the perch, and the storyteller within chirrups in anticipation, barely holding back its song.
The curtain lifts.
The Ayam Curtain is an anthology of very short Singaporean speculative fiction that Joyce Chng (@jolantru) and I are editing, to be published with Math Paper Press in the second half of 2012. We are looking for stories! Go here for more information on the open call. Submissions close 31st May 2012.
“Call a cab,” the woman said.
He looked. It was a number on a scrap of paper. “That’s it? You’re not going to help me?”
The witch patiently rubbed her papery fingers together. “Taxis are my eyes and ears. They prowl the streets everywhere, all the time, even in the night when the buses are asleep and the trains rest in their lairs. And they’re cheap, too: they don’t require much in return. Just the occasional sacrifice, the passenger who boards and is never seen again. I handle that, you don’t have to do anything. Much easier than cats.” She gestured at the piece of paper. “You want to find the girl? They’re your best bet.”
“Don’t go to your own funeral,” he said gloomily. “Trust me, I know. The people who are upset will upset you, and the people who aren’t upset will upset you.”
“But I need the closure,” she insisted.
“Closure’s for the living. They go to the funeral, cry a bit, and then they move on. Meanwhile we’re just stuck here.”
“That’s depressing. So there aren’t any perks to ghosthood? At all?”
As he considered this, a slow smile crept across his face. “Of course there are. You get to walk through things. And scare the crap out of living people.” She looked at the little crinkles under his eyes, and thought, maybe being dead isn’t so bad after all.
(AN: Sometimes, I have stories that come out as pitches for entire live-action television series. This little exchange sprang from one of those ideas, which was a not-terribly-original idea about psychics, homicide detectives, and dead people.)
“It was the accident at San Luis,” she said. “You know, the meltdown? Yes, everybody knows about the meltdown. Well, I have a friend who rears chickens out there, and this one got caught in the fallout as an egg. When it hatched, they were going to destroy it, and I couldn’t have that. The poor thing, it was just a baby! So I told them, let me take it home, and raise it as my own. And they did.”
“I understand that, Lady–Ma’am– I understand, and it was very honorable of you, but the fact remains that I cannot allow you to walk your six-ton carnivorous dinosaur down the streets of LA.”
He traces his fingers over her collarbone, taking a long scenic journey over the nooks and crannies, the beautiful imperfections that taste like dust in his mouth. Perfection fossilized, he whispers.
Outside, the research assistant shares another whisper with the professor. “That grad student’s a bit weird,” she says. “I don’t think you should leave him alone with the dinos too long.”
a.k.a., The Romantic Woes Of A Mutant Superheroine In Search Of Justice
And after I said I didn’t love him anymore, he defenestrated me.
“Defenestrate” is my favorite English word. It means, “to throw out of a window”.
That would cause significant problems if the window were, say, on the top floor of a 50-story building.
Fortunately, the window I was defenestrated from was not on the top floor of a 50-story building.
Unfortunately, it was on the top floor of a 70-story building on a cliff on the edge of the colony overlooking a busy traffic bypass.
It’s a good thing I’m a mutant, and I can fly.
The applicant is as well spoken as she is dressed and qualified. She’s perfect for the job. But the way she speaks bugs him.
Decades ago he worked on a government project, cheap digital dictionaries for slum kids, teaching them how to speak and read proper. They sprinkled vocal tics into the computer voice, random strange vowel inflections.
The way she pronounced ‘elite’ was one of his, thought up on a sudden whim.
When she leaves he puts the red mark on her dossier and adds “Unsuitable For Position”. After all, he’s seen where those kids come from, and how could he trust anyone like that?
Ten years between them could not stop their love. Inseparable from day one, they ate, played, slept in the sun together. He quickly outgrew her in size, but never in heart.
Her left eye went first, claimed by cataracts; by the time he was four she was blind. He brought warm towels to her in winter; she never stopped showing him affection.
But when spring came round she stopped eating, and one day they took her away to the pound in a basket. He sat by the window, waiting and waiting for her to come back, but she never did.