Memorial

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Yesterday, the day he died, every screen in every rail station turned black, emptiness blanking the listings of the trains to-and-fro, times of arrival replaced by a pair of dates bookending ninety-one years. Everywhere were the sharp white letters telling you to remember his name.

Today is the second day of national mourning and the memorial has grown, every screen in every rail station now displaying his picture, oddly gentle, radiating paternal gentility instead of sternness. Even the day’s date and time are gone from the screen. None of it matters, none of it is as important as remembering.

Tomorrow, improbably, the picture will spill beyond the confines of the screen and cover whole pillars, every one in every station. Growing in size every successive day, like the mass of bodies piling up at the Parliament House to pay their respects, creeping across the floor and along escalators and up to the edge of the platforms.

By Sunday, the day of the funeral, the portrait will have swallowed the entire station, every single one of them. Commuters speak in hushed whispers and tiptoe over ground sanctified by the pixels of his visage, creeping along the edges of his face for fear of stepping on it. To sully his picture would be to show disrespect, to spit on the clay bones of the country he had welded together. The trains fall silent. Still the photo of the old man swells, grows and grows, flooding over rail lines and over the hard ground like buckets and buckets of white paint, until the unrecognisable vectors of his face, visible from the stratosphere, reach the infinitely long borders of the country and begin to sink into the sea.

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The War Going On Beneath Us

Ice was a train runner, the first I’d ever known. She’d picked her own name. We dated for a while, and that was when she showed me the wars.

It was because I asked her about the train disruptions.  Because- it’s not like they’re overseeing the bloody London Underground, so how hard can it be? Okay, maybe one major disruption is okay, but three in a month? Seriously? What were you guys doing, I asked.

And her response was, “Do you want to see?”

Like the fool I was, I said yes. Hindsight, 20/20, all that jazz.

There was a hazmat suit involved, markings from the SCDF still on it. “Borrowed,” she said, and insisted I put it on before we reached the tunnels.

Marching. I remember the sound of marching. She held my hand in the darkness of the empty-station-at-3AM as we stepped over the yellow line and she touched the glass of the barrier doors. The entire row vanished, all down the length of the station, hundreds of metres of it. I looked into the cavern that opened in front of me, over the lip of the chasm, and held back a breath.

Faces hidden, clad in battle-scarred armour and purple livery, they trooped past in columns. Measured, almost mechanical movements, like CGI from one of the Star Wars movies–almost convincing enough to be real, but not quite, hovering at the edge of uncanny valley, about to tip over. I looked down the platform, and saw nothing but endless lines of soldiers coming towards us, marching down the tunnel and out of the station. “Who are they?” I asked.

“Soldiers of the purple line,” she said.

“Soldiers of the purple line,” I repeated, as if that would magically give it meaning.  Continue reading

London Bridge

Jen Yong looked left and right at the thready reams of traffic and balled her hands into fists inside her jumper. “Do I have to do this?”

“Come on man, a promise is a promise. Don’t pull out on me like this,” Jay said.

She blew out a breath, and then sighed, shrugging into the massiveness of her outer clothes. Whatever.

They jogged across the bridge. Not because they were in any particular hurry, but because it was 3AM and it was cold, breaths almost-but-not-quite fogging in the damp air. Tarmac-hugging traffic occasionally made its way across, and the roll of its wheels sent tremors across the entire bridge structure. It looked like proper pavement under their feet, nice solid and grained, but wear and tear at the places they joined betrayed the wooden paneling underneath. Like onionskin, peeling the surface away to uncover the reality underneath. The world under us is much less solid than we’d like to believe, she thought.

Jay crouched over the fissure where the bridge split in half, and looked downwards, right down the sandwich of wood and metal beams, to where the Thames rushed below. “This is it,” he said, and pulled the small pouch out of his jacket pocket. Penny. Penknife.

She looked over her shoulder at the guardpost, where she imagined strange men in uniforms were closely monitoring their every move from hidden CCTV cameras that were undoubtedly hidden all over the bridge. “Don’t you worry,” he said, without looking up.

“I don’t want to get deported from this country,” she said. “It’d be a bit hard to finish my degree, if I get deported.”

Continue reading

Captain Bells & The Oppression Of Vocabulary

“Bells”, Howie said in exasperation, “These printed plates are full of nonsense.”

“They are not,” the captain replied, not even looking up from the starchart he was annotating.

“I beg to differ!” The first mate stormed towards his captain’s table, and dropped half a dozen printouts onto it with a clatter. “Have a look: ‘MUCH PLEASED TO HEAR NEWS REVERT PLEASE’.” He pointed, triumphantly, to the offending word. “What does this mean? I do not think there is supposed to be a word there, it does not make any sense.” He grabbed another plate. “Here, an inexplicable interjection of the word ‘input’, and it is in the plural form. I had not known that input was a countable object. Very surprising indeed. Look at this, ‘synergy’. I’ve have never heard of such a word. Might it be a mis-spelling of ‘energy’, perhaps?”

“Escapees”, Bells said.

“It is a mis-spelling of ‘escapees’?”

“No, I mean that the words themselves are escapees. I do collect them, if you haven’t noticed. I keep them in a spare pocket, here,” he said and patted his coat. Then his face crumpled into a frown. “It is not a happy place, though, as I fear that ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ has become rather a bully as of late. I can only assume that those words escaped to flee the persecution they faced.”

Howie, rendered speechless, merely stared at him.

Microfic: Crash Report #9

“It’s weird,” she said, carefully walking the grid on the triple-S. “But there’s someone else here. Is that supposed to happen?”

“Who is it?” asked the voice over her earpiece.

“It’s that guy, the Ninth Doctor. No, wait, not the ninth– the guy who came after him. The tenth one, he was really popular. What was his name? Benedict something. Or was it Christopher? Christopher Bandersnatch?”

“You’re thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch. Wrong classic British actor. David Tennant was the tenth Doctor. Unless you were in fact referring to Christopher Eccleston?”

“No, it’s David Tennant, you’re right. I forgot.”

Another voice cut over the intercom–this one younger, more incredulous. The Junior Inspector. “You’ve got Gandalf in there with you?”

“No, not him. This is the younger version. By about thirty years.” She paused in her procedure, completely put off by the intruder’s fish-eyed stare from between the trees of her vanished childhood playground. “He keeps staring at me. It doesn’t feel like part of the background.”

The Chief Inspector was back at the helm. “Is he doing anything else?”

“No, he’s just staring. Like a creepy creeper from Creepville.”

“The triple-S pulls elements from the subconscious. You watched the show as a child, didn’t you?”

“Sure. But I know what gets pulled out of my subconscious, and this isn’t it.” Which beggared the question: what was this?

“I’m not part of your subconscious,” the apparition said, as if to answer her question. “But you wrote an essay on your blog when you were thirteen. I pulled it from the universal cache. I thought you might appreciate a form you were familiar with.”

“Who are you?”

“My name,” he said, ” is Charlie. I picked it out myself.” He smiled then, a stretched parody of emotion. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Chief,” she slowly said to her earpiece, “I think I’ve found the bug in the system you were looking for.”

Waiting For A Train

This is dedicated to anyone who’s ever had to take the train in Singapore in 2010. For you, my fellow sufferers.

***

He called it Godvision: a bird’s eye view of the sorry souls he was overseeing from his little glass-walled cubby far away from the platform.  They left Brownian patterns as they milled about, listless, dragging their feet to a workday probably spent in a fluorescent-lit box somewhere else. From this angle they looked like little insects, barely distinguishable from one another, gender and race all shrunk down into unidentifiable human blobs.

How small and sad and grey our lives are, he thought.

“It’s time,” his supervisor said.

He recoiled at the idea of what he had to do, dimly wondering if his revulsion made it through the medium of his body and came out as a physical cringe. It was really just a press of the button, no more than the movement of a finger that cost him nothing. But it was another thing when you could see its immediate effects on the teeming masses. The collective hatred and fear that rolled off them, the resentment that was apparent even from the faceless and nameless. The suffering he could not bear to see.

“Do we really have to do this every single time?” he asked.

He thought of the musician who had once written a song with lyrics collected from various PSAs and later called it one of the most depressing things he’d ever done in his life. How was this any better?

His supervisor looked grim. “It’s not your job to question decisions from the Management.”

What should he have done? What could he have done? There was only one way out for him, and it was not much of a way out at all.

His hand hovered over the dreaded button for a long second before it descended and pushed it into place. Somewhere deep in the machinery a circuit was completed and electrical signals raced along wires hidden and serpentine, from switchboard to relay all the way down to the magnetic coils, where the signal he had given juddered out a series of sounds. A jingle, cute and cheerful when initially conceptualized, but worn down through endless replays into something dull at best, sinister at worst. All across the station he could see the waiters look up or shake their heads or just remain stock still, bound into inaction by jadedness. He imagined he could look into their eyes and see blankness recessing into infinity, too devoid of care to do anything in the face of this insidious horror but to mindlessly take the next step in front of them, one after another.

“Train is coming,” he sang softly to himself. “Train is coming, train is coming. Please start queuing. Love your ride.”

 

 

**Bonus points to anyone who can identify the other song referred to here. As a side note, I’ve actually collected an entire pageful of Helpful Missives taken from one SBS bus and I intend to make an electronica song out of them. ONE bus by the way. It was literally plastered all over with instructions to move to the back, give up your seat, look out for terrorists, don’t forget to tap out etc… madness.

Microfic: The Proper Use of Phraseology

Happy 2011! This year, I resolve to write & post more fiction on this blog. Let’s start here with something small, and perhaps a little silly.

***

The coffee cup banged so hard on the desk its contents sloshed out and liberally splattered over her keyboard. She swore a lot louder than necessary.

Alice peered over the cubicle wall. “Something wrong?”

“It’s that Angus from Accounting! He’s been impersonating me all day. I can’t take it. Some of us actually have work to do!”

Alice rolled her headful of eyes. “Ignore him. Just let the little turn waste his time on pranks.”

“He told my supervisor that the polytechnic project would be done by the end of the week. How am I supposed to tell him that it’s actually going to take a month?”

“Just tell him? Your sup should know better than to take unverified stuff when there’s a shifter in the office.”

“I can’t work like this, Alice. I just can’t.”

“Then talk to HR, they deal with shit like this. Or quit. It’s better than suffering.”

“Oh come on, darling, there’s really no need to talk to those sticks in the mud over a harmless prank, is there? And quitting, oh, that’s such a silly notion.”

She and Alice both looked up in shock. Dan was standing over the cubicle partition, wearing a lizardy expression that did not belong on his face, as whole and corporeal as he had been when they’d first met him. But Dan was gone. He had sublimed back to his own dimension, some weeks past.

“Angus,” she said very slowly as memories threatened her inner calm and an indescribable coldness boiled within her, “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but–

“For the love of the gods. Please revert back to me.”

Microfic: The Archangels Discuss That Book

***

“This book. It is unspeakably terrible.”

“I know. I can’t imagine it would have crawled out of the slush pile, had circumstances been different.”

“I do not refer to the writing. That alone is execrable enough, but the things it teaches would terrify me, if I were capable of it. Obsession, control, sick fantasy… Absolutely vile.”

“It gets worse in later books.”

“Later books? That implies that there are more.”

“You didn’t know about them?”

“Raphael–”

“Yes, yes, I get it, you don’t pay attention. You never do. There are several books in this series, and they don’t get any better.”

“I assume that they are indecently popular.”

“A lot of children like them. Young girls.”

“How many of them are they?”

“Millions, probably.”

***

The book thumps shut in concert to a heavy sigh, and Gabriel looks at his brother. “Say what you want about Lucifer, but he very much knows how to make a good deal for himself.”

***

Microfic: Puppet Strings

For Sarah Coldheart, who wanted to read it.

***

If you put him in a room with a guitar, anywhere, you’d find it in his hands eventually. I like to think that they find their way there on their own, as though he were some guitar magnet, a center of gravity for six-stringed instruments. I imagine them coming to him with their tails wagging, and him picking them up and petting them like a fond owner, putting them in his lap. And that’s how I’d find him when I came into the room: seated cross-legged on the floor, bent over the fretboard, a look of pure concentration on his face.

Sometimes I think that he isn’t really complete unless he has that guitar there; alone, unaccompanied, it seems like there’s a blankness in his manner, a void in his arms where an instrument should be. His hands held open, subtly and unconsciously, just the right way to insert a waiting axe, to complete the circuit and bring him to life. I toy with the idea of the guitar in its various forms just being an extension of his body and find it somehow appropriate, him and the guitar being one, a symbiotic cybernetic organism, Johnny Mnemonic.

And then in moments of sudden clarity during the heat of performances when the world is nothing but sound and our hearts are tied to the drumbeat the truth suddenly opens up on me like a floodlight and I see how the relationship between man and guitar goes past parasitism and into an arena where the instrument lives through him and draws the breath in his body and the pulse in his veins to drive the music that is not his, but from some source we cannot comprehend and are only the vessel for. In that moment I can glimpse the will of demons flowing through him and bursting out like detonations, each screaming note a verse and stanza, pouring doctrine into the souls of the listening.

***

Microfic: Blind Item

***

Oh, that! It’s my newest display item. You like it? I saw it while I was out shopping a few weeks ago. Impulse buy, which seems like a stupid  idea now that I think of it. Considering that it was on sale as one of those random blind items, I could have gotten something completely ugly.

But I hardly ever think about those things, and anyway, I got a fantastic deal out of it. Just look at it! It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? The skin’s so beautiful, and they’ve tinted the eyes just right. The detailing on the clothes is fantastic, it looks just like one of those porcelain dolls. And it cost a lot less too, not that you could tell, looking at it. I’m really delighted with it.

It’s too bad I couldn’t get a larger display case for it. You know, when I first brought it home, it kept pounding the glass and crying to be let out, but lately it’s gone very quiet. I think it’s beginning to like it in there.

I hope it lasts long enough to outgrow that cabinet.

***