Week 2 of quarantine, where I am; no walks, no meeting friends. Even I, hermit as I am, worry about going stir-crazy.
So- was thinking we can embark on journeys, together.
Drop me an emoji? I'll write you a prompt. An adventure, just beginning.
There's something in your sandwich, between tempe patties -an oil-stained slip of card. "Come alone," it says. There is a street address.
Its tendrils uncoil. Its vines unclench, recede. Knot in on themselves, twine into thin limbs.
They let go of your fence. They have a face. Flower eyes: two purple trumpet blossoms. They offer a hand to shake.
You smell burning. Coffee! Your moka pot is now sooty, long past hissing. A man stands next to it, made of steam.
"Salve," the steam ghost says, tipping his steam cap.
"Ah!" she says, in darkness. "So over this power cut."
Time to get more candles.
Lonely road, no streetlights, trees knitting their branches overhead.
You shiver. You hate that you shiver. You're an adult. You make noise to assert this. The jack clunks on the ground.
"Darling?" somebody whispers.
Laughter. Ringed fingers part the curtains. A powdered dowager wearing a cartwheel ruff of peacock eyes peers out. She holds her nose.
You hate her.
Goldteeth Liu sips his cognac and asks: "Hey boy, why you not eating? My food not good enough for you is it?"
You feel sweat on your chest, where the wire is.
"Behind the painting," a voice says.
A button behind the painting. Press it. The wall goes click. A crack appears.
"Now can I go?"
You unspool your spell, and the spirit leaves for her afterlife.
"What's with you?" they ask her.
"What you mean?" she giggles. She never did know how to play it cool. But she doesn't have to. Under the table, she puts her feet in your lap.
The one in your right cheek is a transmitter -a signal for Ops to start the evacuation;
The one in your left is a cyanide pill, in case of capture.
Or was it the other way around?
But getting no bigger? Is it shrinking?
It is in front of you, now. It is as big as your forearm -no, your finger.
"Bite me," it squeaks.
But now you are in trouble. Now, you enter your second trimester. Now, you *crave*.
Gardenia white bread.
You will brave cordons to get it.
The voice comes from a red altar under a tree, past the kerb. From a songkok-ed uncle, as tall as your calves.
"Got food ah girl?" the roadside god says. "Two weeks already uncle hasn't eaten."
Your mailbox in the lobby;
The telephone pole in front of your parking spot;
The flower pot on the balcony.
Creepy. "It's not me!" your housemate says.
This morning, you find googly eyes on your forehead.
The door swings open onto an empty living room. On the floor: rectangles of dust, where your shelves and cabinets once stood.
As well as a shred of newsprint. "Take this, Mat!" it says.
Your name's not Mat.
Pa died last week. Yesterday was his birthday. You bought his numbers from the ticket counter.
Today you check the results:
"First jackpot: 1406 2902"
It shatters on the parquet floor.
There are ceramic shards, change -and a passport with Dr Khoo's photo. Under a different name. In Cyrillic script.
Ina: "What are we going to do for protein, now?"
Gan: "We can search the shophouses in town. Or hope to catch a lizard?"
Ina makes a face. You shrug. With your cast-iron pan, you can cook *anything*.
You bustled in, dropped the card in its holder, threw your suitcase in the closet, dumped yourself on the bed.
Don't look up.
You wish you could work up the courage to talk to her.
She looks up, sees you watching, and waves.
The key feels heavy in your hand. Plain and iron. But when you bring it near the queen's jewellery box it *shifts*: turns silver and intricate.
A skeleton key!
"The key only works once," the goblin said.
The cops charge with riot shields. They are beating protesters-
What are you doing?
You are recording this on your phone.
A cop points his baton at you.
"Brian?" you asks.
"Your cousin Brian?" they say. They point. He smiles and waves back. You don't recognise him.
You wake to familiar voice: "Hey."
It is your voice. "Don't panic," your doppelganger says. "You're okay." She dried you off, put you in bed. She will not harm you.
You will journey into the wastes. You will brave the fire. You will acquire the Phoenix's egg. The Pasha is a gourmand. He wishes to *eat* it.
Sunset. A ray catches your captain's arm and belly, throwing the sucker-shaped burn marks there into textured relief.
"The problem is fighting it," your captain says.
Somebody bonks your side-view mirror. "Oi!" you say -but more people are rushing past. The drivers of the cars in front of you. What are they running from?
Across the intersection, a stampede of water buffalo.
"VitaOX, premium bottled air," the billboard says. "A Sinochem-McDonald's company."
See that hill, blocking our view of the rising sun? That's not a hill. That's a sloth. It sits, seemingly smiling, covered in trees. When it shudders the birds take flight.
Look: it opens its lake-like eyes.
Then it turns out the Statue is also missing from all visual media: T-shirts, postcards, patriotic paraphernalia.
The White House settles on its favourite scapegoat- *China*.
Its scutes represent the 38 provinces of the Empire. Its coloration represents the hills and valleys. When Sagely Fu fought the Tortoise, he kicked a chip-mark into its shell.
There rules the Queen, a goddess of pure and alien elements. If you can make Her shed a tear she will grant you your heart's desire.
Seeking vengeance, she hunts men. She takes the form of a comely woman. One of her signs is the fragrance of frangipani blossoms.
"Hey," says the bar hostess. She smells of night flowers.
In her hut are bones, bones, bones. Piled in a bucket. Mounted on display stands. Sniffing your ankle -fox skeletons, moving as they did in life.
"Can you do cats?" you ask, nodding to the bundle in your arms.
"I told him," one of the guides whisper. "I *told* him. Don't take anything, I said. You don't whose things you're taking. But I saw him slip a stone into his pocket."
You like walking here, at night. You like the granite dolphins, mid-jump, frozen in time. You toss a coin into the fountain for luck. Clink.
There is a splash. A flash of motion. A fin.
Bought this book for your birthday. Which is also Valentine's Day. I will never be able to tell you that I love you. So I will never give this book to you.
Sara is your mother's name.
You stash it in a notebook, stuff that in your bag.
"Over here," Michelle says. She grins, shimmies out of a space between leaning shelves. A box of double-A batteries. Meaning: jackpot.
It's a commissary in the middle of an industrial park. The guy at the counter says nothing. Just looks you up and down. He licks his lips.
"What's in this?" you ask, pointing at the takeaway pack.
"Meat," he says. He licks his lips.
Carp and arowana are most common -but advances in aeronautics have made wing-form (ie: stingray-like) aircraft possible.
You are a pilot. Today you will test the first ever flying machine made in imitation of a bird.
Your bodyguards down the beast. It came from the forest behind the golf course -the one you've earmarked for clearing.
It's not the only forest creature that wants to murder you.
Your husband will pick through the ash and bones. Tomorrow he'll take a boat, sail a kilometre out, empty your urn in the sea.
The day after, silver pomfrets will school in a person's shape, and you will see the ocean.
She whines -you are tearing her from her work, she says. You insist. You point up.
Orion and the Dipper, the soft shine of the sickle moon.
"Wanna go for a walk?" you ask. She slips her arm into yours.
See? You've stopped dictating, but the pen is still writing:
"NO AH NO IT MOTHER PLEASE IT HURTS MAKE IT STOP"
Hell's not a good muse.
"Sorry you didn't make it," the pilot says. "Cosmofleet is not for everyone." He's trying to be kind. This does *not* help.
He leaves you on the pad. Here you are, with packed bags, back home.
You hear the tread of the logovore. The meaning-eater. Books impaled on its spines -leeched of their ink, their substance, going see-through, disappearing.
It does that to humans, too.
A confection of flour, sugar, pink food colouring, floating next to beef slices, on the oily surface of the noodles you ordered.
The kitchen makes you a new bowl. The chef is baffled.
Meteorology reverts to fortune-telling. Intelligence becomes earth-bound. Defense satellites play games of laser tag.
Broadcasting ends- well, not really. When you turn on your TV it tells you: CALL YOUR MOTHER SHE MISSES YOU.
A fresh stem of basil, putting out its mild scent; its green, convex leaves.
You pluck a leaf, put it in your mouth. Your cat jumps into your lap. You feel her scrape your finger with her tongue.
When you step into your garden something squeaks.
The toad jumps away, incensed. Its siblings hop off, too. You whole lawn, leaving you.
They eat electricity. They line the sidewalk. "Hungry," the Pixel Goblin says. She looks at your phone, hopeful.
You have 11% battery left.
You can hear that hard "k" from here. Baldie in an Invisibles tee and factory-distressed jeans, thinks he knows magic? Please.
Then he pisses on your headstone. Which is rude. So you possess him.
You turn the corner, too.
In front of you, the prints have stopped, side by side. Their toes now face you.
The Prime Minister oinks.
He blinks. Clears his throat, looks at the teleprompter -and oink-oink-oinks.
The PM's eyes blink tears. Then the broadcast cuts out.
See its phases -the way it goes from a bright circle, wanes into a crescent, shuts completely, then opens again, waxing half into full-
Like a creature blinking: slowly, ever so slowly.
The moon has not looked directly at us. Yet.
She rolls her eyes.
Day after the party she wants to meet you. That makes you happy. She's not happy. The flower's driven a root into flesh, behind her ear.
It's the most delicious thing you've ever tasted.
This shouldn't be impossible. You cry. You'll never have anything this good again.
You know this moment. The kitchen was never your thing. You made an excuse and left to play videogames in your room. Two days later Mother died. Car accident.
This time you stay. You cut the floret in two.
The Blood Prickle only blossoms when watered by the viscera of living creatures. You lead your herd of sheep into the desert.
"Go away!" the bungalow's owner says. You see her eight eyes peer at you from a window.
"Babe, please," you say.
"Stop stalking me!" she shouts.
They felled a forest to build this strip mall. But they did not exorcise its ghost. Ghost vines hang from the ceiling. Ghost trees fill changing rooms. In the car park a ghost brook babbles, incoherently.
Your friends have grey hair. Others dance to Kelly's playlist. Something in your brain snaps -you do not know how old you are.
There is only one candle on the cake. It tells you: you are however old you want to be.
You name her Millie. Obviously.
You boyfriend is disgusted. Slightly jealous of the attention you allot her. He was always insecure.
In the midst of all this, on an overgown street, incongruously -the smell of boiling soup. Fry-oil. Fish balls. A lok lok truck, greasy and pristine.
You lose your job at the production house. Once again, you are a freelancer. Interviewers pooh-pooh your portfolio.
You will learn how to draw again. Your muse was a crutch. You must do this on your own.
But when the fortune-teller looks up and sees you, she says: "No no, out."
"You. No. Get out," she says, afraid.
Stones sizzle as you open the door. Somebody is here, already. You take the opposite bench. He has an athlete's thighs. Sweat on his obliques make them look oiled.
He looks you up and down. Smirks. Judges.
Sylvia comes in. She makes an oinking sound.
He grunts. She oinks again. Hoot-hoot. He hisses in reply. It appears to be a conversation.
Sylvia sees you staring. Waves a hand in your face, asks: "Moo?"
"They are going to love you," you say.
In her nervousness she walks up to the microphone, no intro, just launches right into it. Her poem is electric. She is electric. And she is yours.
You didn't expect the hex-wards in the inner compound. When you set foot on the manager's balcony, the teak floor shrieks: INTRUDER INTRUDER INTRUDER HERE!
"Flee, peasant!" he growls. He reeks. He has a bin lid for a buckler, a brolly for a sword. "I shall shield against yon creature!"
You into the dark under the overpass -and notice the hulking shadow there.
"My daughter made this," she says.
You nod. You miss your son, too. All this -the pay you earn, burning villages- you do for your children.
No. Kong is actually an orangutan. He escaped from the Zoo, and started working in Goldtooth Tat's crew. As comic relief. Everybody who laughed at him is dead now.
If you want to work for him you should know.
"There!" your partner shouts, pointing. A brain in a glowing jar, in the robot's belly.
The broom, the hair -the chairs, Naugahyde over industrial frames. The mirrors, angled slightly, either side leading into infinity. The sink where Uncle Kuppu rinsed his razors and shaving brush.
Uncle Kuppu's gone. Now this place is you.
"My formula," he whispers. "You're an assassin from the Banker's Guild? You can't have me turning lead to gold."
You shake your head. "No. I work with the Silversmiths' Guild. I'm here to *protect* you."
They are always young, with tattoos. He restrains them, strangles them by the neck on the floor of his bathroom.
You watch, through your telescope. You should report him. But you like to watch them struggle.
Gate 412 marks the time they slaughtered your parents. You touch it, and swear quietly: you will burn Grand Andropolis.
A woman with sunglasses arrives. The restaurant people tell her: "Kitchen closed already. Drinks?"
Just kuaci, she says.
See watches the men. When she bites the seeds open, you see long canines.
Her bright crystal optic sensors. Her omni-articulated limbs. Her way with words:
"HEY HUMAN USER," she synthesises. "HEART-UNIT NOT FOUND. PERHAPS YOU HAVE IT?"
You ask him why.
"We are exorcists, dumb-dumb! You know how many things the damn spirit can hide in? Can throw at us?"
When you master sees the T-rex skeleton in the atrium, he sighs again.
A stiff, lanky construct; needing only sun and soil; grown in vast groves; with souls of bamboo and therefore without mercy ...
The tide swells, then withdraws just as quick, leaving a carriage of driftwood and flowering coral-
"Dammit!" a voice says. Rattling, from within. "Door's stuck!" A sigh. "Some help, please?"
His gift is a book. "Telekinesis In 100 Days", its title says.
Mark smirks. "Enjoy!"
You'll show the bastard! It's just day 13. Already you can toss 50-cent coins with a lift of your eyebrow.
They descend the stairs. The man frail, tubes stuck up his nose; the woman in silk, her wig so heavy it is held up by grav-suspensors-
One push of your remote, and the suspensors fail.
"Jesus. Your feet."
His apology is a snorted murmur. He curls further, pressing into the heat of your belly. His hair tussled, smelling of lavender.
What's his name? Can you remember?
Your spell-dwarf grumbles. "Lead brackets, see? Shock hex won't work."
"Lemme try," your slip-spirit squeaks. Flattens itself, slips under.
Doesn't came back.
Here is found the Weeping Roc -whose cry is a woman wailing; who steals children to feed its blind, featherless chicks.
Children like your six-year-old.
They say she made a bargain. When she dances a devil helps her; plays her like a puppet on strings.
Truth is he forces her. She never wanted to dance.
Tonight you host its auction. Many have shown up: demon worshipers; glamrock stars; violist perverts; members of the Critics' Cartel -troublemakers.
*Except* in Fading Dassho, whose most dilapidated districts sit twilit under an obsolete stellar shield, its support struts increasingly ancient and tottery. A shutter collapsed, just last week -shattering six thousand souls.
we assumed exposure to Ultimate Evil would be bad for the human psyche.
All moot, it turned out. Because drones are robots -and, you know, that cliche about robots turning bad, turning KILL ALL HUMANS?
Three days of signings, panels, cosplay- and a podcaster found garroted in her room.
Horrible! Horrible. (But, really. Best. TrueCrimeFest. Ever.)
Your eyes pop, your tongue hangs lolling. You speak drool and sputters. You try the chirurgeon. He thinks you are fooling. Kicks you out.
The Rictus Worm is rare. You feel it in your nape.
Constellations vanish, nebulae fade. The moon hangs alone in the night sky.
Only our sun and its huddling planets remain. An isolated, solipsistic -self-obsessed- apocalypse.
She is your mother; she calls you Ah Boy. Return appropriate amounts of affection. Your mission depends on how well you fool this woman.
This is the Competency Test, through which all citizens are streamed. An "A" means you get to stay above-ground. A "B" sends you Below.
Travelling carnivals! Holdovers from a previous world, now surmounted by app-stores. You don't get the appeal. It's not even ironic-
High up, in the pod, Anna kisses you.
*Now* you get it.
A bright blue star, trailing a bright line, bisecting the sky. Staring at it would spoil your eyes, they said.
In your cockpit, as the countdown begins, you think: now you will be a bright blue star. There will be a girl, watching.
It is curled up foetal. It is the colour of mahogany. It fusses slightly -then starts into a full-blown caterwaul; big droplets of blood well from where your rough knifework has nicked it.
Thank you all for your tweets. Coming up with these gave me a weekend of distraction, of imagination. (It was tougher than I expected!)
I hope these let you travel, too. <3 <3 <3