Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Story of Chang Er

The Story of Chang Er (or Changer/Chang'e)
aka Lady in the Moon
- by TC Lai, 11 Sept 2019

When Changer was told that her husband's apprentice, Fengmeng, had found out about their Elixir of Immortality (EOI), she panicked. "Ahn juah gong, ahn juah gong?" she cried. A kacang puteh man passing by heard her and felt kinship. "Kah kee nang," he muttered and proceeded to find out where the distress came from. A crow that had wanted to pecksteal his kacang flew to a nearby branch. It wondered what the big "dai chi" was and decided to wait and watch.

Changer, surprised by the sudden presence of a nutty man her home, swung round and knocked over a vase. It fell and broke, and spilled out a thousand small stones - pebbles that had been collected from the River of Consequence and Protuberance - a place where women often went to pray and bathe in hopes of obtaining progeny. Curious men also went there to see how the process worked.

"Furen, ler simi daichi?" asked the kacang puteh man, concern in his voice. He then noticed the river pebbles on the floor. They each had a two-character name written on them. He bent to pick one up, momentarily forgetting the wide basket of nuts on his head. It then tipped and poured out nuts, 'em nestling nicely with the stones making some kind of performance art statement. Changer noticed this and got emotional again. Crystalline tears formed, and fell, hitting the floor like hailstones. Ping, ping, ping.

The kacang puteh man looked on with mouth agape. His own wife's crying was less subtle and she would wail like a banshee. It was so wailful, it stopped farmers in their tracks; caused cats and dogs to slink away; and birds to drop dead. It wasn't pretty at all.

"Furen, are you ok? Why so sad wan?" said the kacang puteh man, looking concerned. He once had a name but had long since forgotten. Everybody called him Dat. "Dat" Kacang Puteh Man. So over time, dat became Dat, and that was that.

In that instant Dat realised he was talking to Changer, wife of the famous archer Who Shot Down The Nine Suns, the celebrated Mr Houyi. Immediately he bowed to pay his respects. The crow outside cocked its head in surprise too. But mostly it was eyeing the nuts on the floor and wondered if the red ink on the pebbles were some sort of warning. They looked like the headstones it had seen on B-roads and beside padi fields. Often of people who had perished with unsettled enyuan (resentment). For example, a highway robbery victim.

Well, if that crow had been trained, it might have known that the small pebbles were each marked with the character names of children Changer had hoped to have with Houyi some day.
But as with all high-minded career men, the decision to have children was always postponed. Or Houyi would come home too tired to even remove his pants. Things got worse after the Downing of the Nine Suns. Houyi got more involved in celestial matters and Changer felt her husband beginning to see Earthly Matters (fanjian) as a bit mundane. Sex - playful even - was out of the question. In desperation Changer threw Haole (Hustler) and Huatou (Playboy) magazines around the house so as to remind her husbnad of his spousal duty. But Houyi would only scorn in disdain and stick to his Bow Monthly, a magazine that featured many of his tips on how to excell in archery. In this way, Houyi slowly became very popular in Korea, which, in recent years, had become an archery powerhouse taking up all the Olympic glories. It made some Chinese citizens uphappy. But still, there remained the one and only Heaven-endorsed Houyi and his one very frustrated wife, Changer (better known for her beauty and zirconia-like tears).

Back in the guest hall:

"Yes, these are the spirit names I've given to chidren I wish to have. See how they have accumulated?" said Changer again, rather sadly. "This one I remember was named during the last Autumn Festival. I had hoped for a daughter then. Her name would have been Linyong. The next day, I longed for a boy and I would have called him, Dousa. Yet another would have been named Pandan. You know, Pan as in "to look forward", and Dan as in "courage". I had hoped he would grow up to be as brave as his father (but not that clueless!) I mean Houyi did look skin cancer in the eye and still tackled the many suns' problem nevertheless. And in such close schedule some more! Just like how those fellas in the Soviet Union tackled the great Cheng Nao Bi Da Nan (Chernobyl catastrophe).

Yet another kid name I had in mind was Liulian. My girlfriends tell me this name is very popular in the Nanyang Mao Shan area," beamed a suddenly more cheerful Changer.

Durians were her favourite fruit. And like durians, kid names too have their seasons! In the old country, Black Thorn was a very popular choice-name with expectant wives of mountain thieves and sea pirates.

On hearing Changer's explanation, Dat grew more sympathetic.

"Furen, give your husband time. One day his career will slow down and he will then think of children." He looked down at the pebble he was holding. It carried the spirit name of Danshu. Dat shook his head. Ah, all women have a biological clock. Men's nuts tended to stay fresh longer. At that he remembered his manners and offered Changer his famous kacang puteh.

Changer's tear stained (but no less beautiful) eyes widened at those powdery/sugary nuts that were her fave. She did not care for the ones with wasabi. Nor the chickpeas, which technically, were kacang but not nuts.

After chomping on a few of those excellent kacang puteh, Changer's mood lifted. However, the juxtaposition of the felled nuts and pebbles on the floor was not lost on her. The kacang puteh man could be right! Given time maybe one day, her own children could also chomp on these excellent tidbits. She then chomped on a few more to strengthen her resolution. She also involuntarily tightened her plevic muscles and caused the stylised wooden chair that she was sitting on to creak. A not-too-subtle demonstration of nei gong (inner strength) that went over the swooning head of Dat. A beautiful and famous woman chomping on his nuts! What good fortune!

Dat then started to dream of having a painting selfie with Changer to remember the occasion by. But as he was just a poor kacang puteh seller with no personal selfie painter-valet tagging along (unlike the town's rich folk), this precious moment with Changer existed only in his mind and hopefully, also folklore (no, not really).

On the other hand, the crow captured the moment all too clearly and tried to communicate this fact to a nearby buddy. Its loud cawing brought Dat back to his original good-deediness.

"But Furen, a while ago you were crying out 'ahn juah gong'," reminded Dat. "So what's the big daichi (problem), if I may ask?"

Changer, now a lot more perkier, furrowed her brow, an act that appears to be completely foreign to her perfectly complexioned face. Her collagen was still youthful-plently and those temporary worry lines that rose, soon evened out. Kind of like how foam rubber would react if similarly vexed.

"It's my husband's apprentice, Fengmeng," confided Changer. "He's after the gift that the Queen of Heaven had given my husband for his heroic act. I'm pretty sure he thinks he can sell it for a pretty penny at the town's centre Kaluojio (Carousell) or Jiushijing (Cash Converter)."

Changer was hesitant about telling the truth (of the EOI) to a complete stranger. Living an immortal life had always been a Chinese dream since the myth of the Eight Immortals Crossing Sea. It was particularly so with wannabe cross-channel swimmers and causeway ginseng smugglers.

In any case, after the Downing of the Nine Suns event, it had always been rumoured that Houyi was bestowed with an immeasurably wonderful gift by the heavenly folks. A longevity peach from the Imperial Heaven Garden? A case of Imperial Heaven Wine XXX - bottled since the inauguration of the Heaven? A magical Bak Foong Wan to cure all ills (including old age flatulence)? A self-floating cloud drone to ride on? Gold tipped arrows, etc, etc. The more the people speculated, the wilder the speculations became. Young girls even wished the gift to be a constant wind to blow at their hair like in some shampoo ad. Ah, which boy can resist that!

T'was understandable as heavenly maidens often chose that effect every time they came down to fanjian to communicate with ordinary folks. Except on rainy days.

That and backlighting.

Dat the kacang puteh man was too polite to ask Changer what that gift was. If she said it was valuable, then it was good enough for him to help protect it. After all she had happily chomped on his nuts. Dat was weak like that (as is with most men). And because Changer was twice the beauty of most women, Dat would have happily given his life and then some, to protect her. - A not too preposterous an idea given that Fengmeng's archery skill was quite commendable too. Within 20 yards, he could shoot a crow dead in the eye.

At this, the crow on that nearby branch suddenly palpitated with terror. It did not know why.

The truth of the matter was that Fengmeng was fed up. At the post Sun Downing award ceremony, only Houyi got rewarded. He Fengmeng only got a verbal thank you and shared applause. Shared! KNN. The whole affair - kind of like how Chewbacca (a character from another heavenly universe) was denied a medal when he and his buddies blew up a certain Deathstar. In the Downing of the Nine Suns event, Fengmeng was the guy who did all engineering and prepwork of the far-reaching arrows (supervised by Houyi, of course). An effort (in Fengmeng's mind) that was no less gilat (awesome) than designing an ICBM missile (yet from another space-time universe). However, Fengmeng should have realised that engineers throughout history did not win awards, only patents. Did not matter how glorious their invention was. Only folks who worked in the physical sciences or spent a lifetime writing books that only a select few will read, get recognised. It's the nature of such "noble" prizes.

Plus, marksmanship medals are always given to marksmen, not to the fellas who make the guns.

So Fengmeng got angry at learning that his Master was given the EOI and he, zilch. And since his master Houyi was presently away on Queen's duty (tasked to rid feral Western dragons from mating with Eastern Chinese dragons and donkeys), he decided it was an opportune time to go to his master's home to demand for it. His wife Changer would be an easier wrestle if it came to that. So much easier, kennasai.

Besides, Fengmeng was also suffering from premature balding and maybe a drop of the EOI could cure or return his remaining crown of glory to its former, er, glory. And if he was surreptitious with the stuff, he could perhaps dilute the remaining elixir and sell away as many bottles of it as possible and become immensely rich. Wasn't the Monkey God balding at certain spots from pulling his hair out working overtime for that monk Tang Zheng? A job hazard, no doubt. He would make an excellent First Customer Case.

"Furen, I know what you can do," offered Dat, lighting up with new insight. "There's that Mr Oh who runs a security business. I hear his new deposit box business is very good. You can place your valuables with him with no worries!"

"Mr Oh Yew Bee? The banker?"


"And his cousin De Bi Sai?"

"Yes, the same. And the other cousin, Po Si Bang. And..."

"Ok, ok, I get it," said a rather irritated Changer, a capable pun mistress herself. Everybody knew the top four money lenders in town including Mr Oh Cee Bi Cee, who hailed from Mongol forebears in Kaiping. Same as the Seto family clan. They, however, were more into the abacus and chestnuts business.

With that suggestion, Changer turned to take leave of Dat and go fetch the EOI. It was hidden in a space behind her husband's study desk. Her own study desk was in the kitchen, beside the gauze-lined cupboard that kept half-finished food.

Folks in ancient times are used to hiding stuff in furniture. Probably because many master wood craftsmen existed at the time. Today if you tried the same with Ikea furniture, they would simply fall apart; even if disturbed at the slightest. Ikea furniture, once set up, cannot be moved much. Else, they will wobble and become dangerous to pets and active children below knee height.

Unlike other flat pack manufacturers, Ikea wants you to think their designs colorful but honest, naive but functional. They were most unsuitable for hiding stuff (e.g. family heirlooms) given their insane names. No one could ever properly spell or pronounce them in their wills and last testament. And masking taping something to furniture is technically not "hiding". Many family heirlooms thus went missing ending up in the hands of workers of house removal companies or hard working town councilmen.

Indonesian furniture makers do a better job, especially with their late 19th century English-copy study desks. These have more hiding places than Ipoh's San Bao Dong.

The English liked hiding stuff because of the many rampages they have conducted in the past. The audacious ones hide them in plain sight. Example: The Tower of London. A landmark symbol of violence and thievery at the most obnoxious scale.

Back at the Hou mansion, Changer stared at her husband's study desk and wondered why she was suddenly so deep in thought with furniture past, present and future. She thought she must have caught a charmed splinter. And sure enough, there was one, right on her pinky. She must have caught it whilst reaching into that secret cubby hole. Oh, what lousy workmanship! she lamented. And sure enuf, a red chop at the desk's backboard said it was made by a blackmarket company called Yijiabang.

With the precious snuff-sized bottle of EOI securely in her hand (or rather placed in the pocket of her long sleeve) she retreated back into the guest hall to bade Dat Kacang Puteh Man farewell. She then left by the back garden and onwards to find Mr Oh.

Left alone, Dat had no issue picking up his fallen nuts, dusting them and putting them back into his basket. In the any case, the putehs were his favourites as they looked like diamond encrusted jewellery in bright light.

Dat also picked up the spilled pebbles with the spirit names and placed them on the table. The two-worded names stared back at him as if to suggest something. Soon Dat was turning them this way and that to form words. For example, "Kuang Ming" can be placed beside "Tian Cai" to form the words "Ming Tian" and so on and so forth. In this way, Dat Kacang Puteh Man invented the earliest Chinese version of Scrabble. He did not think about scoring yet. For that, he would need competition and another player.

The crow on the branch saw all that and decided it was a great way to communicate with humans. So far, their species had only been tested with the Retrieve Water in a Half-Filled Bottle problem. And that dumb Tic Tac Toe game that the chickens were so very good at.

Just as Dat was making up another word, in walked Fengmeng all huffed and puffed up as if "ready to blow the house down" (according to some fairy tale phrasing). He demanded to know why Dat was there and where Changer was.

"Sit, my friend," said Dat, motioning Fengmeng to an empty seat. A maid hassled in with some tea and just as quickly, hassled out. She too did not like Fengmeng much and found him leery. Dat looked at Fengmeng and explained: "Madam Changer bought some of my nuts and hurried out."

Somewhat thrown off by that odd statement, Fengmeng sat down and wondered why a person would suddenly run off with a pack of nuts. What emergency would require a pack of nuts? Pak lastic, is it? Make organic jewllery, is it? Or just to add to Hakka-style beef noodles? What? What?? Not as if they were Bitebi (bitcoins) for cashing in.

"Come, while she is away, we can while away our time." Saying that, Dat started to explain the rules of his new game to Fengmeng, who, in the absence of Changer had lost much of his anger steam. History has many examples of this: The wolf swallowing his puff after finding no pigs in the house; Cinderella's queen-mom swallowing her anger on Cindy's gazetted day off with the Filipinas; Snow White swallowing her singing voice when all the birds have flown South for winter; Robin Hood feeling uncomfortably loose in sarong on Tights-Washing-Day, etc. On days like these, folks knew not to gamble and buy 4-D.

Disbursed of his anger and charmed by Dat's kacang puteh, Fengmeng settled down to play piziyouxi (Scrabble) with Dat. Subsequently wine was brought in and Fengmeng further forgot about the EOI, so piqued he was with this new game. Dat, on his part, would try his best to avoid words that might remind Fengmeng of a long life, award, the sun, heaven, etc., - a little difficult given some of these words also formed auspicious names. But as the game wore on, both got more drunk and soon the table was running out of space, i.e. for pebbles as well as wine bottles.

Changer approached the Oh biaoju (security bureau) and enquired within for a meeting with the boss. But the boss had stepped out for a moment and Changer was asked if she would step into the guest hall to wait. That she did.

To her surprise, the guest hall was somewhat bigger than ordinary. Quite understandable actually as the security escorting business involved all manner of stuff. One day it could be escorting a precious sword to Wudang. On another day, it could be several chests of gold to some garrison on payday. So, it had to be big on an utilitarian basis. It was also built to be formal in some sense, to allow it to host clans when they meet to discuss jianghu matters. The last big issue was when famed swordsman Li Mu Bai wanted to take on a young, sexy ingenue as his tudi (protege). At a time when boys went to Wudang, girls to Ermei, and the in-between to Shaolin, this age-inappropriate matter became somewhat the talk of town. It also caused Li's shimei Yu Shu Lien a lot of heartache as she had long pined to wash his dojo clothes and mend his socks. Or help him apply TigerBalm heat rub after a long training session. Duties, as we all know, that are wifey suggestive in nature. But that damn Li Mu Bai was as clueless and high career-minded as Houyi. Perhaps all high martial art guys were like that. Kennasai.

The guest hall itself was quite airy. At one end, chariots could be rolled in; at the other a large table where packages could be prepared in many ways - from the mundane to the exquisite. Wrapped with plain waxed paper or gold-threaded tasselled cloth.

Usually busy with workers, today the table hosted a young man about Changer's age. He looked to be busy building a giant kite. A giant kite that had the form of a person somewhat.

The young man's name was Duan Lu, the first-born son of Mr Oh. And like most sons of rich towkays, he spent his time idling away at his hobbies.

"Is that a scarecrow?" said Changer, surprising the young man a little bit. Their eyes locked and the proverbial lightning and thunder ensued. A strong breeze blew through the hall and the candles within flickered. All in all, a moment that suggested space-time had rewound and forwarded again in a split second.

"Chang Er!" exclaimed Duanlu.
"Duan Lu!" counter-exclaimed Changer.

They both then snapped into a dance routine that involved a few stanzas:

"Chang Er Duan Lu
Yuan Er Jing Jing
Jian Er Bi Bei
Ren Er Yang Bi"

And they both ended up tickling one another.

"How ARE you?" asked both at the same time, like two long-lost twins.

"You first!"

"No, you first!"

It turned out that Duanlu and Changer were childhood sweethearts and that when Duanlu came of age, he was sent away for further studies. The childhood sweethearts then lost touch and their lives inevitably diverged. Changer then grew up and went into an arranged marriage with Houyi, whose father supplied military equipment to Changer's father's military garrison. A marriage of mutual benefit, so to speak, very common at the time.

At the present moment, Changer and Duanlu were so happy to reconnect that they eventually ended up in Duanlu's private study to talk some more. And as the day wore on into the night, the couple was still yakking animatedly away. By midnight, they were in each other's arms wondering what could have been and when the time-gong fella outside in the alleyway bang-bang-gong-gong to signal near-dawn arriving, the couple had committed what that has been enacted in so many soppy Cantonese movies before. Alamak, the girl has lost her virginity, the boy his puppy dog innocence, and both facing parental objection to their liaison.

Before the sun was up, it was Changer who spoke first:

"Look, if we are going to be together, we have to plan this carefully. Houyi and his celestial buddies are not people to trifle with. I mean he could ask them to send a lightning bolt down and we'll be toast, faster than you can say 'People's Action Party'!"

Duanlu, fresh home from overseas, did not know what Changer was on about. What People Action Party? Since when? Was she referring to the CCCP?

Nevertheless, he's smitten and nothing was going to separate him from Changer ever again. Changer being his qingmeizhuma (young plum bamboo horse aka childhood sweetheart).

"I've got to go home now or the maids will start to talk."

"But when will I see you again?" said Duanlu, tugging on Changer's long sleeve. The snuff bottle filled with EOI fell out and despite the dim light in the room, seemed to give off its own faint but mesmerising light. However, Duanlu did not seem impressed and he simply pick up the bottle and hand it back to Changer. He did not, however, miss the exquisite painting on the front. It depicted a beautiful maiden riding on a cloud with the moon in the background. Beside her was a white rabbit holding a jade rouyi (good fortune sceptre). The whole painting was somewhat a traditional sanshuihua (mountain-waterfall art) if not for that oversized moon that seemed to glow now and then.

Changer took her bottle back and paused to think if she should confide in Duanlu about its unusual contents. Sensing her hesitation, Duanlu voiced an encouraging "My dearest Changer-mei, simi daichi?"

"Oh, might as well," muttered Changer, and she sat down to tell her new-found-old-sweetheart the abridged version of the EOI history. 

"Wow," said Duanlu, when Changer had finished. He had grown up in the lap of luxury and so was not inclined to be greedy for anything valuable. Not even if it was an EOI. Because he was a well-read sci-fi fan, he understood the perils/unhappiness of living long/forever. It gets very lonely in the end. And he had no wish to be in heaven. The folks there were no different from any royal family: smug and privileged. He rather live the rest of his life in a whorehouse, and paint. Or open a library and be a forever inquiring scholar, and paint.

"Look, let's do this," said Duanlu, after some thought. He then reached out to pull a drawer open. Inside, it was filled with brushes and snuff bottles. He found a new one that was still bound in its wrappers (a recent purchase). He then motioned Changer to pass him the EOI and within a minute, carefully poured it all into its new home. With the old bottle he put in some baijiu, threw in some sparkly glitter and also a laxative pill. He then corked it all back up and gave it a good shake. It sparkled like the  old juice and then some. The new bottle was a novel one Duanlu had bought on one of his many travels. It had about same concept art except the moon was a tad smaller and the rabbit had its back turned and humping another. The lady of the moon looked on with an expression of both alarm and false modesty.

Duanlu the instructed Changer to replace this bottle of fake EOI back into its cubby hole so no one would suspect.

"This way, even if Fengmeng finds it, there will be no ruckus. It will take him years to realise that the EOI was a dud. And Houyi will not suspect a thing too."

Changer beamed at Duanlu for his brilliance. He hadn't changed a bit since young, still the same happy-go-lucky fella who's quick on his feet. Oh, the fun times they had when they were young. Outwitting both merchants and eating houses for free stuff.

By this time Changer had made up her mind to run away with Duanlu. Besides the lack of commitment to having a baby, there was that perpetual excuse of getting her her own bottle of EOI so they both could go live happily-ever in Heaven together. It would also cut down so much commuting time to work too, suggested Houyi then.

But as with such promises, it soon turned a shade of "real or bluff one" and eventually empty, kind of like how a mistress might keep hearing her man say he would leave his wife (which was always NEVER).

Changer too had begun to think Houyi keeping a mistress up in Heaven. His fastidiousness, growing disdain for fanjian, and of late, him coming home smelling of heavenly flower water. WTF, he must have gotten into a jacuzzi with one or more of those heavenly sluts, imagined Changer, her fists clenching as she recalled all those minute details. Her 'rubber foam' forehead creased and relaxed again. Changer was Changer after all, known for her gentleness and fondness for rabbits and animal socialism in general.

As a wife, Changer knew she deserved better. Now that she had found her old sweetheart, she could reset her life and be happy and not so lonely anymore. Fuck the celestial folks. Fuck the trips to the River of C & P to collect pebbles and give them increasingly inane names. Fuck the....

Sensing her troubled past, Duanlu kissed Changer gently on her overactive forehead once more. He then whispered: "I've got a better plan. We will pretend that Fengmeng tried to be funny with you and that you had no choice but to consume the EOI to keep it out of his evil hands. Then we will sell the story that because of the EOI you had become light of feet and flown up to the moon, staying up there forever. I can make a huge kite in your likeness and let it fly very high for a few nights. The moon is waning but there will be still enuf light for folks to see the kite. It will be perfect. The villagers will think the kite is you on the way to the moon."

With that Duanlu set off to work on the kite and Changer, towards home. They then little-finger promised to meet the next time the moon returned the night to darkness. And in that darkness, they would sneak away to rekindle and rediscover their childhood happiness again.

Back home, Changer found Fengmeng slumped on the table unconscious and drunk. Dat Kacang Puteh Man was no nowhere to be found. Seeing the scene before her, an obvious idea popped into her head. She then began to gingerly loosen the drunk man's trousers pulling it as far down as it would go. A smell of apocrine sweat rose to assault her and Changer gagged. Wah lun eh, she silently cried. Does this man ever bathe?!

Changer then ripped a piece of her own clothing off and placed in the Fengmeng's grip to make it seem as if he had assaulted her. To further burnish this fabricated tale, Changer looked at the pebbles on the table and began arranging them in such a way that they told the story of the evening ending with her consuming the EOI in desperation and in shame, flying away to the moon away from fanjian.

So good she was at it that if Scrabble rules were to be applied, Changer would have scored many Double Word and Triple Word scores. Even Changer herself was impressed by her mastery of the "pebble board" and hoped someday she could turn it into a bestseller.

Two spare pebbles caught her eye and she pocketed them. They would make great names of children she was going to have with Duanlu. She was pretty sure her childhood sweetheart "can do it one."

As a matter of fact, Changer was so hyped up with the idea that she creamed a little at the thought. Embarrassed that it happened in front of man (even one that is lying unconscious) she quickly exited the scene to continue to plant her fairy tale. First she returned to her husband's study, pushed aside the writing desk to make it seem disturbed leaving the empty EOI bottle on top. She then ruffled up the place to make it seem as if there was a struggle. Afterwards she went to her room to pack a few things. Whatever Houyi had gifted her in their short marriage, she decided to leave behind. She then took her favourite hairpin, a double set of night and day clothes, a head scarf she had never worn (good for disguise), a good supply of rouge and make-up (they would surely come in handy as camou!) Finally, she woke her sleepy-head of a maid up and told her of the fantastical but true story of how a celebrated archer's apprentice had gone to his master's house to steal his EOI only for the archer's faithful wife to put up a valiant but hapless struggle and in desperation, swallowed the EOI so the fiend could not get his hands on the darn thing. She then had to leave because her chastity was tarnished and that her husband should never go look for her. To add to the drama, Changer stressed that no one had drunk EOI before and wouldn't know what to expect. She could get very heaty and die; or as rumored, she could become featherlight and GPS her way to the moon.

Saying that, Changer then sent her maid to her in-laws place so she could later convey the whole incident to Houyi when he got back from celestial duty. She made sure the maid passed through the guest hall first to "witness" the mayhem - the broken vase, the drunken assailant, etc. The maid was also instructed to call upon the local constabulary to report on the 'crime' asap. Changer then took out a short letter she had written hastily in the study earlier and grabbing the only thing of value in the guest hall - a jade rabbit, pressed both into her maid's hands and instructed her to pass both along to Dat Kacang Puteh Man. She needed Dat to collaborate with part of her story. More than anything, she wanted to thank him for his role in reuniting her with her first love. Of course, this matter she did not mention.  Before sending her maid off one last time, she gave her a sachet full of silver taels. Just to be sure.

What Changer did not realise then was that her letter and reward to Dat had extra "power". For Dat would go on to spread her sob story all over town/province as he went about his merry way selling kacang puteh. Of how a fanjian lady ended up on the moon and looking down kindly on girls who needed their chastity protected. That this lady was not lonely because she was accompanied by a loyal jade rabbit. (In private, Dat fancied the rabbit to be him. At home the very same jade rabbit statue sat in a big pile of fresh kacang puteh everyday, such was his infatuation/reverence with Changer.)

And the more often Dat sold his nuts, his retelling of the story grew in stature. Very soon, it became customary to look up at the moon on each Autumn Mid-Summer night and wonder about the Lady Changer. Soon cakes filled with linyong, dausa, pandan and liulian were also made and communally shared in her honor. Young wives wishing for progeny also stuck a joss stick into a pile of spirit-named pebbles to pray to.

The belief that the lady in moon was Changer became especially strong in her own town/village. She and Duanlu had flown their kite there very very high. And silhouetted against that aforementioned waning moon, it had seemed as if Changer had physically flown away that very week when Fengmeng was also arrested for attempted theft, destruction of private property and attempted outrage of modesty. He would later wonder about Changer in his cell looking at the moon through its small transom window and feeling a particular pain. Houyi never hired an apprentice ever again nor remarried. The slutty maidens in Heaven were just too much fun and he soon forgot about his missing wife. Last heard, he was again sent on celestial duty this time to a faraway realm that had three suns that were nicknamed "The Three Body Problem". His exploits were later turned into a book by a certain Mr Liu.

As for Changer and Duanlu, they shared half a bottle each of the EOI and went on an extended honeymoon all over China. When he felt like it, Duanlu made and sold lanterns to help folks celebrate the myth of the new Mooncake Festival. But it was his kites of Changer that were the best sellers. With his new "wife" just as pretty as the Lady Changer, sales were also brisk. And not long after, Changer became the happy mother of two - finally fulfilling her wish for progeny. She named them after the pebbles she had taken from her former matrimonial home. Thankfully neither of the two were the flavours of mooncake and the children never had to suffer ridicule growing up.

As for the crow, it had flown into the guest hall and finished up all the spilled kacang puteh still on the floor (and table). It then pecked fruitlessly at a large worm under the table before realising it was woefully attached to the flesh of a man. In the end, it flew away bloodied but nuttier to tell its buddies of the incredible tale of one pretty lady who loved pebbles, kacang puteh and putting on a murderous play.

Crows, if you observe, are particularly agitated during mid-autumn season. And this is the reason why. The tale of Changer is a timeless tale that needs retelling. How to get out of an unhappy marriage, of rediscovering your first love and living your life out in bliss. It is not just about flavours of mooncake.

The end

Background: Story was inspired by how very little depth there is to the myth of Chang'e and Houyi. Hope this version suffices (lol).

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Early Eden

Early Eden
- by TC Lai, 11th August 2019

And so, the Snake had let the naive couple each take a bite off the apple (spiked!) and now we find Adam hiding in the bushes panicking somewhat about the hard stick between his legs. Previously it had hung limp like the nose of a sloth (west side of Garden) or that of Karl Malden's in many episodes of The Streets of San Francisco (again, west of Garden). Could he still pee, Adam wondered, for he had once a full bladder and the feeling was not a nice one.

Some people say the answer is a firm NO, but till you have experienced the Dawn Marikita
syndrome, it is best to say "Maybe".

But in an act of self-assurance, Adam pointed his "stick" and tried to spray a tree nearby. This despite signs warning him not to do so as it was Seventh Month and that it was customary to first apologise. Early-generation trees were like that. Only in later millennia when they had grown a thicker bark did they close one eye. That is also why you don't find double whorls in 'em trees. Close one eye means close one eye. Trees are stubborn and rooted to their decisions like that; if not, they would have grown feet, bochap, and walked away. Vines, on the other hand, are more fickle and less trustworthy - just like snakes. Better to ask the snails, folks will tell you. But oh, wait, that could take forever. Approach the tree frogs instead. They jabber quite a bit especially after some rain.

Cheetah (Adam's chimpanzee pal) wondered about the commotion and bounded after Adam, who was trying to run away from his shock. But the more he tried to get rid of the hard stick, the more it grew and stay attached. With his other free hand, Adam could only seek relief by cupping and calling out, "Or yee or! Ta zen bo cheng kor!" - which any creature in the Garden who had developed hearing by then knew to be some kind of anguish. Those who had developed a certain dialect knew it to be something else and would giggle for no apparent reason.

At length, Adam had to slow down. He was tiring and feeling also if the hard stick had a mind of its own the way it bobbed and pitched. It reminded Adam of a dowsing stick.

And it always seemed to want to point to the sky - usually at an elevation of about 45 degrees but at times wavering at 20. At that, Adam, still trying to get rid of it, would inadvertently return it to its determined state. Thus onward the Garden Adam went - half reluctantly, half letting nature take its course. Cheetah followed closely behind, still not quite sure how he could help his friend. Adam was not yet the Alpha male and he was not about to submit and wank him off. There are limits to a friendship, he decided; even if it was a cross-species one.

However, he knew of a lady cousin keen to evolve. How she got that idea, he wasn't entirely sure. Some bright light in the night sky was rumored to be responsible. This lady cousin chimp would definitely take Adam in and help nurse him. They will worry about the taboo of cross-species mating later (signs were also posted everywhere in the Garden about this). It was also rumoured to be cast in stone and flung from a mountain millennia later by a man named Moses. No one could be sure for now.

Meanwhile, Eve was as calm as ever. At the moment of her "awakening", she had looked down, saw nothing's changed, and shrugged. Only when she accidentally brushed against her nipples did she feel something different. She'd creamed. That the nipples were also hard and pointing at something was evidence something new was afoot. Her eyesight also went super contrasty, outlining things that were never there before. Things, er, literature and Freudian psychology would label as "phallic in nature".

But Eve did not see anything wrong in things phallic. She only knew she had suddenly developed an appetite for mushrooms. And her mushroom soup became the best this side of the Garden (central).

Now, the Being who had grown the Garden, placed Adam and Eve and other things there, was livid. This was not how it should have gone. He had theorised that the couple would feel shame at first, then fornicate like wildcats on honeymoon and then feel full contrition. Afterwards, sit at his feet to listen to him preach. But now, all he got was a loss in satisfaction, entertainment and also a sense of superiority. Damn, it really soured his mood. He wondered if he should raise the sun tomorrow.

Referencing his World Building 101 Book again, he realised he had missed a footnote. "Nudity does not bring shame; it is the loss of pants."

And so, thus chastised, the Being turned to the pages of haberdashery to learn more. Not far in, he noticed a model with the "Jesus" look - some kind Galilean fashion, and smiled. What an idea! it thought, as another diabolical plan hatched in his purported expansive mind. Trees in the Garden shuddered, flocks of birds flew up, and one man could be seen staggering along holding his wilful dick. A chimp following closely behind.

Elsewhere a woman found a different species of mushroom and creamed. How inconvenient, she muttered. But it gave her an idea for a new dish. But where's Adam?

The end

Background: Inspired by a friend's tree frog phobia. Yes, he was specific. Tree frog (those eyes!).

Friday, August 9, 2019

Finding Sheep

Finding Sheep
- by TC Lai 9th August 2019

When Mary woke one morning and found a sheep missing, she was distraught. It was Tony, her favourite one. Although he was more like a wolf in sheep's skin, she liked the way he played rough with her...biting her, pawing her. - It all so titillating! No doubt she liked her other sheep too but only when she was feeling delicate and girly, especially after hanging out with Bo Beep. But it was Tony and his animal ways that got her "excited".

Presently, she went over to Jack (of the Beanstalk tale) house to enquire. She found him busy as usual counting beans. Jack was secretly in love with Mary but was so shy he kept his feelings bottled up inside. So guarded was he that when he beamed to see Mary, all she saw was a face as blank as a new accounting book. The fact of the matter was Jack desired very much to create a future with Mary. And as with all reliable men in this state of mind, he made plans. One plan was to use a fraction of his vast bean wealth and sleek magic marketing skills to start a business building and renting out grain silos. It's the real estate part of the grain commodity business that's seldom spoken of.

Building a grain silo was plenty easy in this rather dry climate. It's exactly like placing a tin can over a big fan underneath and topping it off with a cone. The fan would both ventilate and dry the beans when needed. And with his innovation: a jack-up construction method, a silo could be built in a single day. It could even be moved if need be given its light sheet metal construction. Jack could even use one to house his own beans and speculate on their future.

To Jack, it was a solid win-win plan and he was mightily pleased. Mary would also be pleased. So pleased she'd swoon over and fall into his arms. She would birth out three kids right there and then.

"Jack?" Mary said, with a wave of her hand. Jack broke from his revelry and nodded, sheepishly. If only Mary knew what was on his mind! But plainly he spoke.

"No, I don't believe I've seen Tony. Maybe wait a day or two when the moon is full. He'll run out and howl."

"Should I check with Red?" asked Mary. Red was the town's girl who liked to wear gothic make-up and a red riding hood. The look she was going for was "bad-ass rapper with philo cred". Mostly, she ended up looking like a drug user. Old people avoided her. The riding hood was a gift from her grandma who lived in the forest and Red clung to it like an orphan with an only blanket.

"No use, I think. She is always into those magic mushrooms she finds in the forest. And I can bet she couldn't even tell a wolf from her grandma on any given day!" said Jack, his face still a mask despite the exclamation mark. Jack was never one to judge. But some beans just need to be sorted, is what he thought.

Jack had once thought of dating Red, the only other girl around his age. But with the kind of business he was in, Red was not the most auspicious girl to consider, even to marry. His parents would likely object and his business might also suffer. So he kept his distance from the girl but secretly wished she would spank him or something. Oh, so gothic! Oh, so mysterious! Even bean counters have their fantasies! But red was a color bad for the books, and his business was hard fought for. He had to go to great heights to kill a giant!

Next, Mary went to check with the other Jack who was a professional jumper. But the townsfolk said he had jumped over one too many candlesticks and was now bedded in the ICU when a fay candlestick reached out and snuck itself into his rectum. Further rumors indicted Lumiere, the candlestick (from Chateau De Chambord where a not-so-handsome beast once lived) who was probably "turned" by the not-so-closet clock fella whom Disney had decided to turn gay. Sort of like the sly way The Children's Workshop went about with Ernie and Bert back in the 70s. "How DO YOU GET to Sesame Street?..." was something many gay folks tried but got nowhere.

Mary then stood at the street corner wondering what to do next. A carriage came by and splashed kerb water all over her. This made Mary cry and the carriage soon stopped a short distance away. Out stepped a fine young lady in glass slippers. Cinderella.

The moment she took a second step, Cinderella fell to her bottom. Thankfully her full skirt saved her from a harsh landing on the cobblestones - her slippers less so. They catapulted from her feet and landed hard; one of them anyways. It shattered into a million pieces of crystal shards and then disappeared into thin air with a fancy "pinnng". The other slipper fell onto a bundle of the day's FairyTimes and was thus saved.

At all this, Mary cried harder. Hearing her wail, Cinderella cried too and in total embarrassment, scrambled quickly back into her carriage. Oh, what will her fairy godmother think? First day out and she couldn't even take care of her special footwear. How will she trust her using them again and at that all important royal ball later? Thinking of this, Cinderella cried even harder and hoped her effort would attract the attention of her fairy godmother. It worked the last time.

However, this very afternoon, her fairy godmother was away gossiping at a nail salon run by a gaggle of Filipinas. They were telling her how a place of theirs such as Marawi could use a little of her magic. Fairy Godmother nodded but did not commit.

Not far away, a handsome prince saw all that and went over to pick up the remaining glass slipper. He set his jaw tight and determined to find out who that pretty girl was who hurt her hinny. He loved the way her beauty was further enhanced by her pained expression. Actually he was not a prince but baron. A rich baron by the family name of Grey. (I apologise. By fairytale conventions, he has to be of some royal title. Bluff one also nebermind).

The baron paid no attention to Mary, whose looks were actually not bad. But she was more kawaii then stunner. More sheep than doe. More rabbit than alpaca. get the picture.

A gentleman in a cap and cape walked by. He was also smoking a pipe and went by the name Holmes. Sherlock Holmes. He and the other spy gentleman were the same, always introducing themsleves this way. Bond. James Bond. As if offering their first names first was too pedestrian. How annoying!

Holmes surveyed the scene in front of him and decided it was all too illogical and turned away. Fairy tales, all bollocks! Where's the logic? Where's the commonsense?

But Mary recognised him and tugged at his coattails.

"Mr Holmes, you have to help me. I am missing Tony!"

Holmes turned around and sneered. But he softened when he realised she was not a street urchin (given the muddied state Mary was in) but the Little Match Girl.

"Darling, why are you still in this state? What happened to the five hundred quid I gave you the last time? Did someone rob you? Did the matron at the orphanage waste it all on her secret mahjong sessions? Tell me!"

"I..I...bought some sheep and took lessons from the Little Bo Beep academy. I did not disappoint you, Mr Holmes. I left the streets and upgraded myself, as you have lectured. You said it is not 'Opportunities that maketh the man'," but that 'Man maketh the opportunities'. I took it to heart Mr Holmes. And you were right too that lighters would soon replace matches. And cheap. No one could a good fortune from them except arsonists scamming insurance companies. And the profit margins you mentioned...."

Before Mary could go on, Holmes tapped his pipe on her head. It brought her nervous chatter to an instant stop.

"Now what is this Tony business? I hope he is not your pimp, or I'll have him ripped into pieces and thrown into the Thames!"

"No-no Mr Holmes," sniffed Mary, now more composed and rubbing the bump on her head. "He's my sheep. Or rather, a wolf in sheep's skin."

Hearing this, Holmes got angry. "Girl, haven't I thought you anything? A wolf in sheep's clothing is bad economics. It's diminishing returns. Haven't you learnt anything from all those supper nights when I gave you a warm meal and tutored you on life's rudimentals? Or did all that nice kwaychap went up and blocked that space between your ears?" At that, Holmes rapped Mary's head once again. Hard.

"Ow! Mr Holmes!" snapped Mary, who knew she deserved it. Mixing pleasure with business was a no-no in Mr Holmes books, unless it was pleasure AS a business. And that often meant mixing with bad company like Snow White who was a snakehead and smuggled folks from a country well-known for their bereavement in height, but top-class skills in mining. Mining for blood diamonds, that is - a very nasty business. Snow would work them till very sick - sneezing, sleepy, grumpy, doped, etc., and fed them poisoned apples and afterwards disposed of their bodies in the dead marshes of nearby Dagorlad, where ancient armies fought and the spirits of those who died - orcs and men, still lingered. Travel guide Smeagol looked worn and thin from just passing through that place many times, so wicked the air there had grown. 

"Tell me! Has that wolf touched you in any indecent way?" demanded Holmes, who had earlier developed a soft spot for the girl and adopted her in his mind as his godchild, even if the very idea repelled him. Having any children in his life would interfere with his devotion to forensic science, his first love. And since he liked shooting holes in his living room wall at will, kids would simply get in the way.

"No, no. We just go into heavy petting that's all. He's more like a dog to me, actually," confessed Mary. Holmes, who was a man of the world and familiar with beastial porn, was livid. That wolf has to die, he decided. Sexual grooming in the fairy tale land? What is the world coming to?

"Come, you will go see my colleague Dr Watson. He will examine you and decide if you have been violated. We will then decide if we should bring the full force of the law on that bast....." Holmes checked his language. He was after all in the presence of youth. With his army buddies, it was a different matter altogether and it would be KNS this or CB that.

Mary wanted to protest but was helpless to do so. She knew when Mr Holmes decided on something, it was difficult to change his mind. If only she had cocaine on her; it was catnip to Mr Holmes - make him weak and more agreeable. But all she had white on her were some samples of sheep wool - stuff she had wanted to bring to the Wool Exchange and ask for a quote. But all this business with Tony had derailed her plans. Maybe he wasn't so good for her after all. Maybe Jack from Beanstalk & Co? Hmm....Men can be fashioned like clay, right?

After Holmes deposited Mary with Watson, he went to the Homeless Shelter and entered a special room. Through that a garden and then towards a small piles of stones by the corner. He stooped and rearranged them into a special way, a code. A request for a hitman, to the trained eye.

The other time he inquired was when his nemesis Moriarty became a life-threatening nuisance. This time he had to see to it that Tony the Wolf got hunted down and disposed of. More than Moriarty, he hated wolves in sheepskin. With Moriarty, at least it was WYSIWYG. With wolves, one can often get blindsided and betrayed.

Two weeks after the stones were placed, a wolf was reportedly killed in the forest. It was dressed in old lady clothes and was about to harm Red, that gothic girl from town. They also found evidence that Wolf could be in cahoots with a baker lady operating in the same forest. A large oven was discovered in her candy decorated hut and remains purportedly of children found. Was it cannibalism? Was it paedophilia? In any case, a major crime ring was smashed and Holmes was awarded the town's Key to the City - such was the ambition of the mayor. Only the fairytale folks were not too happy as they detested men of logic; they made life no fun and often diminished their existence. Just like like how one-party ruled states become after a long while... They tended to lose all spontaneity and verve.

The board of Hogwarts had also decided to set up their school elsewhere, denying the further development of magic in the region. That was a harsh pill for the fairy tale folks to swallow. They had yet to forgive the major for that. But paedophilia was paedophilia and had no place even in fairy tales. Maybe in religion. But that's for another realm of discussion and judgement.

The end

Background: Was thinking of fairy tales and this came up.

National Day

National Day aka Lady Speed Stick
- by TC Lai 9th Aug 2019

A story has been going around for some years now especially on National Day of a man who fell from the sky for so long and so far that it took him three days to land. Where he went, what he did in those three days was what made the whispers so fervent.

"Jin eh boh?" ("Really?") was the most common refrain heard in kopitiams all over the island, as old men nursed their kopi-Os and leery thoughts of the local Tiger Beer girl. Of those who nursed their coffees in cafes and Starbucks, theirs was "Must be some government conspiracy, lah!" And of those who nursed their beverages in White Horse Princes Club in the former ITD compound in Sembawang, they'd just give a harrumpgf and go back to planning how to spend their enormous and dubiously entitled year-end bonuses.

A couple of years later a man did emerge to say he had met and spoken to this mysterious fella who fell from the sky. He claimed he was alive and well and this was his story:

"I was diagnosed with cancer and given six minutes to live. Yeah, that's what the doctor said. He then haw-haw-haw and laughed like a bloody hyena. I decided to humour him and asked why six minutes. 'So you get to make two phone calls, my friend. One to your wife and the other to your xiao san (mistress).' Then he added, 'You do have a Little Three, right?' Just then my Little Three shed a tear and ran out of the consultation room. She was his nurse, a cutie from Ipoh. We had been in a relationship for three years. She'd told me she hoped to become a TCM doctor and open a free clinic back home. I told her, well, she could then continue to doctor all over me, haha. But then my own doctor turned serious and said, "John, we've known each other for a long time and have always kidded over matters. But this time, please take it seriously. What you have is highly unusual and malignant. If anything can be done, I would tell you. But I think you should make final preparations and live out the rest of your life in the finest quality possible. Fulfil your bucket list, go fuck a cow, I don't care. Whatever makes you happy.... But live it up."

Then a tear fell from his eye. However, he soon stiffened up and patted my shoulder and turned away. I know the news must have hit him hard, much harder than me. Strange, right? But I think I had known what was coming, oh....for about two years now. The persistent tiredness, the recurring dreams.... that kind of stuff. And also the strong odours from the armpits. People will avoid you like the plaque. A damn sure sign Mr Death has your warrant.

I think this kind of premonition runs in my family. My mom had the same inkling and went prepared and importantly, quite happy. A week before before her passing she'd asked me over and made all the dishes that I loved. Okay, it was also my birthday, but man, I hadn't had her red bean kueh in such a long long time. Oh, what a treat! She also gave me a bundle of jade to pass to my daughter. That night we played a long game of mahjong and spoked gayly of old family times in Geylang. Gay World was a place we often visited and had a blast.

Before I left, I gave her the Lady Speed Stick deodorant from Colgate-Palmolive I had been buying for her. She pushed them back into my hands saying, "Your damn Aunty Sue is visiting this week. Let her suffer." And by the end of the week, she was gone. Foul smell and all.

And now, it is my time to Lady Speed Stick. The thing is, do I want to?

So I started to think more deeply about what my doctor friend said. But fulfiling my bucket list wasn't gonna to be enough. I would just go "Uh-huh, done that finally!" - like a bloody scripted tourist. It had to be something greater, like setting a Guinness World Record for all eternity kind-of-thing.

Looking at my bucket list, there was parachuting in the buff; wingsuit flying and setting off a bunch of fireworks; caress the **** of Annabelle Chong. I mean, HAND. Poor girl, so misunderstood one. What is she doing now? Still aspiring to be a web designer? I would love to see her do a job for the Vatican. That would be such a hoot, right? And people forget, she was the first one to put Singapore on the world map before that bloody noisy F1 night race!
Credit due where credit's due.

Anyways, back to my story. So National Day was coming up in a few weeks. There was sure to be another parachute demonstration from the army fellas. But at the time, they had planned something different. One of the jumpers would be a robot. An AI enabled robot from NTU to demonstrate their newly stated technology cap. An earlier idea was to do an Elon Musk thing and parachute in their new e-sports car. But it was deemed a safety risk at The Float@Marina Bay and abandoned. That it was an amphibious vehicle like the one in Moonraker movie also cut no dice. At the time the NDP Task Force was headed by a certain Colonel Ang Pek Kee. Damn patriotic but also a bit of a char-tau.

Nebermind, so they bought a sex doll with articulated limbs and dressed her up as Sailor Moon. She would parachute in manhandling the chute herself, no fan in her fanny sort of thing to guide her in. Strictly AI. She would brain the thing in herself. Cool, no?

So I thought: Why don't I "divebomb" the event, same as like photobomb. I could dive and land right after Sailor Moon and make some headlines together. Imagine "Avid fan follows Sailor Moon to the Float". Or "Lao Uncle Dare Devil Dives After 90s Icon" ...that sort of thing. It will revive a whole franchise! The least I can do after that Kyoto Animation Studio massacre. Eh, have you watched The Melancholy of Harumi Suzumiya? Pretty philosophical, sia.

Anyways, I hired a plane from Indonesia - I was sure no pilot in Sg will want to do that career-ending stunt with me. Got myself into a wing-suit (why not double bill the thing, eh?), strapped on an ultralight chute and took off in the late afternoon of August 9.

Because I wanted total surprise, I told the pilot to drop me off at a higher out of sight height. But as soon as I dropped from the plane, my chute pack was ripped off. Damn idiot flew too fast and I was too skinny. Terminal illness can do that to you. But some do get very fat, which is very misleading.

So there I was, left flying at 18,000 feet. A dilemma. Should I continue with my mission or land wherever I could. I could do a Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and try to dive-catch a ride with Ms Sailor Moon on the way down. Probably can cop a feel too without anybody noticing, haha. The ol' kill two birds with one stone, eh? Look, I am not cheekoh, lah. Just curious about that rubber doll, that's all

Anyways, by then I was too far off course. Besides, because I was too light, my wingsuit kept being lifted by thermals and I was not able to descend. KNS, I was just too bloody light!

But man, the sights I saw were incredible. The setting sun cutting across a bed of rolling clouds just over the Indonesian border, with Mount Agung in the picture.

And the night scenes up there were out of this world literally. The purest, cloudless ever! Stars so pinpoint bright it caused me to see stars afterwards.

And so in this way I drifted on for a long time. At times, flocks of frigate birds would fly with me. But they would never get too close. Hmm, maybe my Lady Speed Stick application by then was worn. And at one point I had to pee in my wingsuit too, which warmed me up a bit. Later I discovered that these birds could stay aloft for over 50 days at a time. Quite an incredible feat. But for me, that would be suicide.

So when I saw them heading for Christmas Island, I peeled off. I figured ditching in the vast Indian Ocean wouldn't make a great farewell. Look at what happened to MH370.

In the end, the thermals carried me back towards the east, towards Batam. And when they eased off, I quickly wingsuit-glided into a very wet padi field. I rolled like as if I was kicked by Bruce Lee down an alley. About a hundred yards later I came to a stop, wingsuit shredded but the rest of me was unscathed. Not even a scratch, which I thought was a bloody miracle. Maybe it was a sign that my Lady Speed Stick days were over! Trying to get over the fact that I fell from the sky from a great height and lived took a while to get over. It always felt like a dream, the soaring clouds, clear night skies and chatty birds....At times, I felt I could go on forever!

What? The padi field? The village?

Oh, the village near the padi field where I fell belonged to that group of women where, for USD200 dollars a month, they were willing to start a family with you. If you built the woman a house - even the local wood-zinc type, she would bring another sister along.

So here I am, now with a brood of ten kids. See them there, sitting on the edge of a kelong and enjoying the night sky? Why, just the other day, one of them told me he wanted to be an ISS astronaut and live amongst the stars. And the other day, the youngest came up and asked me to buy her that Sailor Moon doll. You know, the one with the parachute accessory. So I guess the NDP parade went well, yah?

What? You mean she not only managed to land but stood up feet akimbo and gave her signature salute?

Wow. Solid sia. NTU must be oversubscribed by now, heheh.

My illness? Gone. I guess the cold temp up there during all those hours (and days) must have frozen them out. Or the starin to survive. But since that fateful day, I've come to cherish the unexpected. Live and enjoy each and every day. Beside, if you do that, there's no need for any bucket list or hare brain schemes to dive bomb an event, right? And you don't always need to be happy too! And as Sailor Moon once said: "My skirt is short coz I like to air my bai-b**..."

No lah, just kidding. She once said: "I'd rather choose to fall in love and be hurt. Sometimes I can't even sleep because I love someone too much. And there's always sadness in our lives. It's that sad feeling that keeps us going..."

So, always live and feel.

Excuse me whilst I go join my wives and kids and look up the sky. They tell me they can see the glow of fireworks from Singapore. It's their National Day there, you know.

The end

Background: (Inspiration) Well, it WAS National Day!

Chinese Seventh Month

Chinese Seventh Month
- TC Lai 7th August 2019

John had been standing at the corner of a quiet street for sometime, not sure what to do. He knew he had died for sure, recalling the scene at the ER where he had seen himself on the operating table and hearing his heart monitor beep to a flatline. He also saw a bosomy nurse turning on one valve and another to try to aid the doctor in reviving him. But as his heart gave out, his bird's eye view of the chaotic situation collapsed and zoomed into the cleavage of the nurse and that was that; a bit of a tight fit and everything went dark afterwards. No tunnel of bright light, no white waiting room. It wasn't too bad after all: Orbs of flesh over orbs of light. But this limbo at a street corner was troubling. People would think he was selling backside.

Presently, John needed to pee, which surprised him. If I am dead, do I still need to do that?

He walked over to a nearby tree to relieve himself. His pee was thick, dark and smelly. How long have I been dead, he wondered?

A voice sounded from behind the trunk, which caused John to jump back, pee staining his suede shoes. The stains will, no doubt, take time to remove.

"Er, can you say "Excuse me" before you do that?" it said. The "it" belonged to a fella, this much John could make out. The apparition was sallow in complexion and moved with a limp. He was dressed in 70s fashion - big collars and bell bottoms. Obviously a ghost from an old death.

"You too?" John suggested, noting that the fella might also have been banged up in a hit-and-run just like he was. And at the same street corner some more.

However, a huge circular safety mirror had since been erected nearby and it clearly reflected off both their silhouettes. This surprised John a bit as mirrors were loathed to do that. I mean, how else are you going to tell ghost from human, or vampire? Maybe it did not matter in this whatever place that he was in. Maybe this place is.... And John began to drift away to ponder about string theory and quantum loop gravity. John was like that, even when he was live. A nerd.

"Hellooo?" echoed the apparition, snapping John out of his cosmic daze.

"Oh, sorry about that," offered John. "I just had the urge to pee and couldn't control."

"It's like that here. Probably as a result of denial. Everybody who dies think they don't need to go toilet anymore. So by the time they have to go, it is often too late. Maybe that is why when you go to places like Angkor Wat or any of the old ruins, they smell funny. Centuries of ghost pee would do that."

"Smell can cross into the real world?" asked John.

"Sure. Smell mechanism is quantum. Throw in entanglement and god knows where that ends up," said the apparition, suddenly as erudite as Richard Feynman.

"You mean I will have to shit sooner or later?"


"Darn, I didn't think I would have to. And I don't have toilet paper." Saying this, John patted his pockets. Empty.

"We all use these here," said the apparition and dug into his pockets to pull out wads of cash.

It was only then that John noticed the bulges in the fella's pockets. They were stuffed full of monetary notes - all at least in the 100 million dollar denomination. At the centre of each note was a chubby mandarin with a beaded curtain hat. That would be Hell's emperor.

"What, you mean you use money to wipe your ass?"



"Yes. Isn't that cool? I can finally be Warren Buffet with diarrhea!"

John wasn't too sure. If folks used money to wipe their asses here, wouldn't the place suffer hyper inflation like how it once was in Zimbabwe in 2007, where a loaf of bread was valued at 35 million zeebaweedollars?

"So. If paper money is useless here, what is valued more instead?" asked John, bringing forth his latent Milton Friedman side.

"Well..." pondered the apparition. He was apparently too long rooted to the tree to give an immediate and current answer.

"Well," it finally said. "It used to be fancy consumer goods like Benzes and BMWs, Lear jets, mega-sized TVs, etc., - all paper models that were burnt from the other world. Then for long periods, it was the iPhones and iPads. But since Steve Jobs passed through here shaking his head, the must-have phones here now belonged to Samsung. Even the exploding Note 7 did not faze anybody. They just pretended it was a novelty feature. I mean when you are dead, why care?

So if you see anybody walking around with half a face, you'll know that they were once Note 7 users. Iphone users still use theirs. But they hang their heads in hoodies to hide the shame. Or stick on a Samsung sticker and pretend otherwise." Looks more like an Oppo, corrected John to himself.

John was once an Apple fan. But since Tim Cook took over from Jobs, he had switched allegiance to Android. His last phone was a Google Pixel 3, now smashed up, of course.

"Of late it has been Huawei, you know," said the apparition, as if reading his thoughts.

"But how do you get to own a handphone here? Is there reception? 4G, 5G... the Internet of Things???" cried a bewildered John, who was clearly a newbie to this place and understandably, had a gadzillion questions to ask.

The apparition leaned on his tree, rolled a cigarette with a 100 million note and drawled out these words: "Well, they are posers, you see. That is one expect of you that's hard to rid of when you die. You'd still want that branded bag, that well-badged car, that famous jewel. It's what keep those joss and afterlife gift paper modellers going too. Why, I used to know this joss lady boss who'd spent 10/12 months living on her yacht. That Seventh Month period revenue alone was also able to send her kids to uni studies in the UK.

And even famous pastors here still hankle after their business jets and armour plated cars. And for what???"

"But how?"

"The usual method lor."

That last "lor" cocked a surprise in John's eyebrow. Is he a compadre or FT in disguise? John wondered but before he could verify, the apparition continued:

"You'll need to try to appear in the dreams of your loved ones so they will burn whatever you need during Seventh Month. It has always been like this for centuries. And by the way, do you mime?"



"So-so, I guess" said John, who was once locked in his office after-hours and had to mime to a fella in the opposite tower block to call his security guys to let him out. The next day, he mimed again to thank the fella and got a flying kiss in return. He quickly waved goodbye and drew his office curtains. This was when he worked in the fancy Marina Bayfront area.

"If you are not good, there are centres here to help you," offered the apparition helpfully.

"But how am I to move from this spot?" said John, who smartly realised spirits liked to haunt the very place where they were first harmed.

"Ahh..." pontificated the apparition. "Very good question indeed." After that, there was a long pause as he drew and smoke-ringed, drew and smoked-ringed on his tobacco roll.

John knew he had all the time in the world and said nothing. He just hoped he needn't have to shit at the moment, else he would have to borrow money from the apparition.

More than branded goods, John hated to owe people money. He could never forget a debt and the stress would rash up the area around his belly button. The times it happened it upset his girlfriends who thought mistakenly that he was suffering from some STD and refused to get close to him. He would then rush to settle his "debt" causing acquaintances to think him petty and siao. Fifty cents only mah! they would holler. Even a dollar was no big deal to them. Two dollars maybe because that can get you novelty stuff at Daiso.

And the rash would somehow mysteriously disappear once the debt was settled. John was thus extremely happy when the Paywave cards and QR code payments became the norm. As was PayLah, PayNow, and the latest one, O$P$, which was really funny with its suggestive dripping paint icon.

"That my friend, is an interesting phenom," noted the apparition finally and stubbing out his ciggy. "Excuse me," he said, absentmindedly apologising to himself and his tree. (It is a well-known superstition that you don't litter around a spirit tree. An unapologised cigarette butt can cause your PMD to explode later in your home or your house to catch fire for no apparent reason. So don't play-play, especially NS men.)

John watched all this earnestly, eager as a noob at a watch convention, to learn.

"You see, WHEN you CAN leave or how FAR, depends on your 'attachment'. No one knows for sure. It is as if the powers that are want you to work out your angst or something."

"And why haven't you left already," asked John, revisiting the idea that he was speaking to an older spirit. The apparition sighed and then perked up and pointed skywards.

"See this tree. It is a MSW. See the other side, it is Dark Thorn." And then he chuckled, as if not believing his good fortune. "Where to find!!!"

John wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. He had heard of hybrid trees before, but two kinds of a fruit on the same tree? That's waaay stretching credulity!

But John was no fruit grower nor an agriculturist, so he attributed the phenom to the eccentricities of the place that he was in. Maybe his loved ones in the real tied two different durian husks together and burned them. Seriously, who knew!

Maybe that is also why this guy is getting an endless supply of "toilet paper". MSW and DT being very popular species of durians WOULD fetch a pretty penny.

He also knew if he appeared in his loved ones' dream asking for toilet paper, they would think he was crazy or something and ignore his request. And nobody alive would want to be seen burning toilet paper to their dearly departed ones. Even if it was Dove branded. "We love your bottom as much as your face!" was their somewhat misguided slogan.

Not even packet tisue too or they'll think he wants to haunt an mrt station or hawker centre. Jeesh, who would think toilet paper was so important in the afterlife? Wah piang...

At piang, the apparition continued:

"Actually the thing you want most is a passport. Passport to as many places as possible. Once you get a passport, a number will magically appear at the top-right corner. And just as it happens at Changi Airport, your number will be lotteried. When enough people have passed through, a lottery is held. The winner will be garlanded and sent on his or her way - with pocket money to spend as well. But whether it is back to where you come from or to another place, no one really knows. All we have heard or learned were like ghost stories when we were alive. The stories were always never first hand, unless it was from that fella TC Lai who saw ghosts growing up in Geylang. But mostly, it is of the "someone told me" variety. But the lottery is real. Wait for the ghost bus. It will take you to the Dream Materialisation Centre (DMC) where you will learn to communicate effectively in mime. When all is done, the same bus will bring you back. Ignore the horsehead or cowhead driver. The vehicle is actually self driven and they just like to frighten newbies.

Plus, a bingo parlour in the annex will announce who has won the jackpot. Now, as you have the time, figure out how to mime "passport". It is a difficult word. And given the small time window of each turn, you don't really want to galang-gabut and send your loved ones the wrong message. Look here, I've gotten novels I have no wish to read," said the apparition, who was still waiting for back issues of Mad Magazine, recently retired. MAD, he realised, was also an extremely hard word to mime.

"Look, it is always live transmission. So don't play-play and miss the chance!"

With that the apparition turned and disappeared. John stood there for a while, a little perturbed, a little exasperated but wholly relieved. Urinary as well as mindfully.

He walked back to his spot and patiently waited for the ghost bus. In the air was the smell of great durian mixed in with the vapours of someone who most likely was heaty. His loved ones shouldn't burn him durians of any kind. But do they sell paper cans of JiaJia liang cha at joss shops? one wonders.

The end

Background: (Inspiration) Well, inspired the Seventh Month

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday
- by TC Lai 5th August 2019 (Chinese Ghost Month, lah)

At 5 a.m. John woke with a chill. It was as if he had no clothes on. Strange. It is the middle of the hot season with temps at least 26 C and above. By right, he should be sweating like a pig in his PJs because he did not install air-conditioning and his overworked fan had decided to call it a day (or night), puffing out wisps of black smoke as if to wave goodbye. So long pal, it has been a great 17 years,  it seemed to say. John felt a pang of regret as he laid the fan at the void deck for some old PRC fella to come recycle. After all he had inherited the fan from his mom so it did indeed feel like losing a family member to the spiritual beyond. Plus it was the first thing he always headed to after returning from NS duty - the No.4 uniform being thick and stuffy.

John disliked his country's tropical weather and had always wondered why he was not born in a cooler place like the Cameron Highlands. Living in a cooler part of Malaysia he could at least still be able to eat his favourite fruit, the durian. Forget Sydney, forget Los Angeles. The fruit durian was his anchor point.

Wrapping his arms around himself, John wondered where the chill had come from. The curtains were still as was the windchime - a souvenir from his last girlfriend, Melody. "When it chimes, you will think of me," the well-meaning girl had said. Not likely, thought John at the time. Melody was a heavy smoker and her voice was gravelly, as if she was Rod Stewart's dad. At first he had found her voice sexy having spoken to her over the phone. But as the weeks wore on, and the cigarette butts piling up, and John's clothes getting stinkier from second-hand smoke, he had decided enough was enough. He was not about to wait for tar to build up in his lungs, nor his ears to bleed from the constant sandpapering.

When novelty ends, many reasons surface to walk away. In some cases, real physical discomfort.

John remembered that day clearly:

"Er, Mel. I think it's about time we see other people."

Mel: "Really?"
John: "Er, yeah."
Mel: "Ok."
John: "Er, huh???"

It was not what he'd expected. Too casual. Am I at fault? I am the one breaking up with her, godammit!

If Mel had broken up with him, John knew he would spend days moping about like an injured puppy and be constantly looking for answers, even if the answer was clear.

"John, I am breaking up with you because life with you is so dull." - a GF had once said. Afterwards John spent days like a data analyst going through all past dates to see if indeed that statement was true. By the time he was through all that, that particular GF would have changed her phone number and left the country. John would then have no choice but to file the matter (paperwork) into binder and store it with the rest in his trusty metal cabinet. (No crumbly Ikea shit!) He even marked the binder "DULL".

Looking now at the row of binders inside the cabinet shelf, John realised that he was actually quite colorful. Besides DULL, there was STINGY, VERBOSE (what's wrong with having a great vocab?),  NERD, FASTIDIOUS, WEIRD, etc. Haha, mused John. Seven folders. Like names for the seven dwarves in the Snow White tale. Hahahahaha, John laughed heartily (or maniacally), at his own self-effacing joke. He could be quite observant of he chose to.

"Maybe the next one will be my Snow White," he mused. And he puckered up his lips in a strained effort to kiss an imaginary air princess. Oh yes, one of the folders on the shelf was also labeled "LOUSY KISSER".

Feeling chilled, John found himself in foetal position and sucking on his thumb. Odd, he thought. He also felt pain in his belly button.

Then he realised what day had dawned. It was his birthday. It had always been like this without fail since he could remember. And the next day his butt would hurt as if someone had slapped it, HARD.

"Did you do something to my butt?" he had once asked a GF who was sleeping over, thinking she had given him a special birthday "butt bite".

"Hellooo, your birthday was yesterday," she had replied, making a face. She was the one who filled his binder WEIRD.

Now realising the morning was his birthday, John decided to wake and treat himself to a special early breakfast at the neighbourhood kopitiam. But when he got out of bed, his legs felt weak. It was as if he had just learned to walk. Damn those residual ancient memories, cussed John. Through experience and putting one foot forward the other, John managed to make his way down to his block's void deck where the first thing he saw was this pale lady lying awkwardly on the sidewalk. Her hair was long and dark and a little matted. Most people would be a little concerned at that sight but all John thought was "Darn, is that my birthday present? My Snow White?"

The pale lady was indeed wearing something red and fancy. A gown, perhaps? It was a very bright red.

John felt compelled to kiss her like how it should be in a fairytale. Fuck the #MeToo movement. Besides, John was too self-absorbed for that sentiment to register. So, tilting the pale lady's lips to his, he gave her a smackeroo... tender but wholly wet.

The pale lady fluttered her eyelids awake as is wont of princesses who have slept for a very long time. She also slyly covered her mouth to check for toxi morning breath. But we all know that doesn't work.

And in a further cultured manner of that of a royal she also floated gently to her feet. She gave John a coy look before leading him away. John was delighted to play Prince Charming and he also gave lightness to his feet and floated along. Better than stumbling along with two left feet, he decided. And so, in this way "Prince Charming" and "Snow White" made their way to the nearby kopitiam to sit and chat. Their breakfast was fried beehoon, kopi-O and gem biscuit. Not a few people at the kopitiam looked pale at what they were eating and decided to slip away muttering "Cheh meh! Cheh meh!".

Back at John's block, a middle-aged lady could be seen burning paper models of the latest computer, table fan, air-conditioner, etc... and oddly also, file binders. She shrugged when the joss shop boss had asked her why models of two-ring file binders? "Don't ask. My dead brother just likes them, that's why."

That year, the Seventh Month "celebration" was filled with eyewitness accounts of a lovely couple accompanied by seven very short men. Some dismissed it as the local MP making late surreptitious block visits with his RC entourage. Others were more skeptical and said RC people didn't go around singing "Hi ho, hi ho..."

"Eh, maybe they were saying Toto-Toto leh."

"So you want to stop them and ask?"

"No, you stop them."

"No, you go stop them."


Somewhere on the island country, a savant someone (who saw numbers and calculations as colors in his mind) filed his Toto tickets away in a binder for data analysis and coloring in later. "Someday, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will come," that person mused.

That person also hoped he'll strike it rich at love too. But that itself we all know is a gamble too. And hopefully not arriving and dressing in red. Bright red, that is.

The end

Background: (Inspiration) Well, it was somebody's birthday and it was during Seventh Month.

Three Wishes

Three Wishes
- by TC Lai, 29th July 2019

When John woke up, he was surprised to find his personal belongings missing. Even the beach umbrella shading him was gone. Out in front the ocean still lapped, the sun above still wicked. And when he got up, the towel that he was lying on turned into wispy smoke and vanished.

All this would surprise anyone but not John. He had gone through a lot recently and was in no mood to be pranked. However, at the back of his mind, he felt there was something more than odd going on.

He tugged at his swim trunks and ran a finger along the seam at the crotch. Sand had nestled there. Wait a minute... John distinctly knew he'd arrived in boxers and was now wearing a Speedo. And an expensive one at that.

He'd also gotten a six-pack.

My, my....what is going on here?

What's next? Baywatch girls bouncing up from a distance?

John stood and waited, one hand on a hip.

And waited. But no one came bouncy up - male or female.

Evidently that was not part of the "dream". It sure felt pretty real though.

Subsequently John moved forward and immediately stubbed his toe.

"Ow, motherfucker..."

Grabbing his hurting toe, John looked down at the offending object. It was a lamp of sorts, you know, of the kind often narrated in Arabian Night Tales or at Disney World.

It was partially buried and so he dug it up.

Lo and behold, it was really an Aladdin lamp, genie stamp at the bottom just above the Made in China label. And just as often, the lamp looked dull. Brass dull.

"Rub it," said John's little devil on his left shoulder.

"No, put it back," said the little angel on his right. "You don't know what trouble it will bring."

John shrugged his shoulders and the two pleading kaypohs vanished. He looked closely at the lamp and a message struggled to make itself read. Perhaps it was a laser display from the inside, made difficult by the bright sunlight.

"YOU...KNOW...WHAT...TO...DO," it said. Birds from a nearby jungle flitted away en masse, as if Godzilla was storming through.

"YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO?" This time it was John sounding rather angry. He picked up the lamp and threw it into the ocean. It made not a sound (as the lamp was pretty aerodynamic) and simply entered the water with a quiet "ploop". So much for that.


Obviously something had triggered his mini meltdown or had brought him to this beach in the first place. Now he was all alone with only his six pack for companionship, so there was no way to know what he was thinking. We just have to wait until someone comes along to act as a sounding board. We hope it will be soon.

And before anyone could say BUKKAKE (sunscreen lotion on face), John stubbed his toe again. This time it did not hurt as the digit was already numbed.

"What the fu**...." John, visibly upset, picked up the offending object. It was the same Aladdin lamp curved spout and handle et al.

"Bloody souvenir stalkers!" And like before, he threw it back into the ocean. Once more it entered the blue space with nary a splash. Nor plop. But the ocean did seem to rear up as if in a groan to say: "Just look at the damn bloody thing!" The ocean was probably tired of all the trash it had to coddle, not to mention the many creatures sickened by it. Mother Nature, some say, have her limits. And the ocean being her bosom, weighed heavy - she was bound to notice.

All the while Father Nature stared and did nothing. Typical.

And John did indeed give the chance to look at the bloody lamp again as another one soon reared its ugly spout and stubbed his toe once more. The poor toe was now swollen and giving him a limp.

"Motherf***ing piece of shit!"

Begrudgingly (remembering what the ocean had indicated to him) John beheld the lamp and looked carefully at it, turning his back against the sun so as to read its message better, kind of like how ordinary folks struggle to read their handphone screens under bright sunlight. Same with birdwatchers when they forget to bring their screen hats.

"I SAID...YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!" repeated the lamp, as if it had been the same lamp or had a cctv or skydrone watching the preceding proceedings.

"Dumbcock!" John cursed. He had never liked playing mind games and wished people were more direct. It was because of this personality quirk that got him into trouble recently and him ending up on the beach.

Thinking it was the right thing to do, John rubbed the side of the lamp. How many times should I..., he wondered. But before he could arrive at an answer, out poured a whole lot of smoke. It looked like as if someone had just thrown a smoke grenade.

Kennasai, thought John, who expected a more graceful issue. Wasn't that what they always showed in the movies?

When the smoke finally cleared, John was squatting on his hinds looking pretty impatient. He also had a rock in hand, just in case.

*Cough, *cough....

"I swear, one day I am going to end with lung cancer with all this secondary smoke."

The being that spoke these words looked real enough to John but not enough to frighten him, so he exuded disdain instead. Its apparition seemed to project from a pebble on the beach, with the lamp pulsating blue at its base. It seemed a master-slave kind of arrangement, thought John, who owned a pair of TrueWireless Bluetooth headphones. They had since disappeared with the rest of his stuff.

John was piqued. The being in front of him looked like an apparition, yet complained of the smoke which John could clearly smell. He decided to test its constitution by throwing a pebble at it. The normal kind of pebble, that is.

"Ouch!' complained It. "Stop that!"

Interesting, observed John. Next, he kicked the lamp a short distance away. The apparition flickered but largely remained the same.

"Hey, don't do that! It's my home!"

"What's the worry? Must be magic or something," decried John, making an assumption assumed by most of the population at large, if they were still beyond the borders of this deserted beach. And reasserting that assumption by throwing more senseless money at that remake-of-a-remake of that Aladdin movie starring a very blue real-life person. What a stupid endeavor!
Can't Hollywood come up with anything original anymore? Has James Cameron gone senile?

"Any technology advanced enough will look like magic," It intoned. That was a quote from Arthur C Clarke, that famous but mostly dead sci-fi author.

"So you are neither agreeing nor disagreeing?" pursued John, who was clearly avoiding the obvious thing to do, that is to quickly asking for his three wishes.

"Spatial cognition, if supported by enough data points...."

"Oh, shut up," said John, clearly irritated. Despite all that had happened, he was still in holiday mood and had no wish to engage in tech talk. Besides, this creature did not sound like the altruistic sort who was dying to grant people wishes and make their lives better. If anything it seemed a tourist lost on his way to somewhere. Or a mixed-reality AI projection on its first iteration. Still a baby.

John decided to test it.

"Aren't you supposed to grant me three wishes?"

"Ah, we have come to that. Yes, the three wishes. Ok, spit it out."

John rubbed his chin and paused for effect, as if to think for a while. He already knew what to ask of It.

"I wished for three things. Number 1, I want to be the guy in 50 Shades of Grey, that Christian fella. And I want you to be Anastasia. Possible?"


At that, It realised he (she?) was too quick too agree, not fully understanding what he was granting. Eventually It and John returned to the beach, the former looking a little abused and the latter, refreshed. John certainly gave his six packs a good workout. That and other muscles best not mentioned. John was surprised how easily he mastered the whip and other instruments of BDSM as well as abusing the wealth of Christian. About that, he was conflicted. Is that the real me? he wondered. Can money really change a person?

'It' was also feeling conflicted after that Grey to Freed saga and could barely look at John. Much time also seemed to have passed. Once there were fluffy clouds, now they were hard edged. Or was it just the current situation making the clouds "edgey".

It said (in barely a whisper), "What is your second wish?" Inside, It was trembling. Like John, he also did not understand the limits of "magic". After that first wish, he wondered if there were boundaries. If not, he was certainly in for a rough ride, kind of like what just happened. It also tapped into his gender insecurities. They were as paper thin as his apparition. How could one be sure when you looked down and saw nothing?

"Number 2," said John, now feeling a bit more in control of the situation. "I wish for all the shipwrecks in the world to surface on the Australian central desert."

"Really?" It was truly surprised by this request. So unusual, so.... He couldn't find the words. It was nostalgic, academic, generous, humanistic, etc. "All of the above" kind of givingness. It now looked at John with renewed respect and was even thinking of forgiving him for what what went on previously in the Grey mansion. However, post traumatic stress disorder feelings can easily mask themselves as a kind of residual Stockholm Syndrome. And muscle memory can be strong, especially of the sphincter kind. That is why children find it hard to forget their first instance of constipation and remember it for life. Maybe like smell it had a quantum (dingleberry?) component. Research money was available but no doctoral student ventured to "look" into the matter. And thus the field remained a "narrow" one. The nose was more favourable although it too has its nasty moments.

The truth is that John had been a fan of author Clive Cussler since his first novel The Mediterranean Caper. And he had brought Cussler's latest book collaboration to the beach to read. It too had since disappeared.

And why the desert in Australia? John had thought it safer than the Sahara's. If it had been there, all the wrecks would have been stripped and sold for scrap before anyone could say "karang-guni". The aborigines in Australia seemed more respectful of history and the dead.
And of course, there were no nomadic tribes to worry about too. Only dried-out bones of dead creatures and tourists too dumb to read a brochure.

"And what is your third wish?" asked It, once more smiling and feeling a little more hopeful.

John was not. He looked a devilish.

"Number 3, I wish for three more wishes."

'It' sighed as only an apparition could sigh. Nearby a crab cocked an eye in sympathy. It wanted to do more but it had a hardshell and making any kind of facial expression to suit the moment was beyond it. That is why crabs also do not hold funerals for their kind. No one misses anyone; no one could tell. And crabs don't have any manner of speech. However, some scientists believe crabs click their claws as a means of communication. Yet they were so similar to aggressive postures that a simple good morning can lead to a "ler kuah simi" standoff. This is why in some human societies, a one-night-stand slang is "Come, let's crab it." Make love and then move away to the sides of the bed (as strangers). "I'll call you" - which is never. Crabs live very complicated social lives - as do people who hang around in pubs, mostly alone and suffering quietly from crabs (pubic lice).

"Look, I cannot grant you that."


"Wouldn't we be stuck here forever and other people cannot wish to make their lives and worlds better?" offered It, who somehow found the answer easy-coming.

"You cannot do it, can you?" said John, trying the oldest trick in the history of mind games.

"I can, but what's the point?" Again It found his answer too easy-coming, as if someone else had typed it and he mouthed it.

"Try it," insisted John, who had nothing to lose except all those things he had brought to the beach, including his pot belly. (Well, there might be some regret there!)

And so the apparition tried as it was meant to grant wishes.

However, the conflict was so great that the lamp bubbled and tittered and eventually exploded in a brilliance of light.

John shielded his eyes and waited for the glare to subside. And when it did, he found himself lying on the beach, on his beach towel and Clive Cussler (the book) resting on his chest. His beach umbrella was about to be blown away. Kennasai, it was all just a dream, muttered John as he struggled to launch his pot belly and the rest his lethargic and cynical self after the wilful shade.

The end

Background: (Inspiration) Just wanted to come up with an original take on this timeless tale to amuse some army buddies on Whatsapp. After writing that 72 Virgins.