Wednesday, April 5, 2017

[Short Story] 10 Million for A Spellcaster

Just how much is ten million dollars? I found myself asking the question one day, staring at my own picture. My eyes stared straight at the camera, a smile plastered broadly across my face, hair combed neatly back. It was taken by a prestigious photographer for a prestigious event, though the location of the picture then was anything but prestigious.

The words “Bounty Board” leered at me. The picture was hung hastily on a wooden wall, a weird ornament in a space bar. I found myself unable to take my eyes off the paper, wanting to erase the words “Wanted” and “Reward: 10 Million Dollars” printed on the paper.

“Thinking of hunting him down eh?” a voice from my right startled me. It belonged to a figure barely taller than the bar counter. The bartender of this joint, busily wiping one of the glasses. His long pointy nose twitched at my direction, perhaps trying to sniff me up. Not uncommon for a goblin. A person’s scent can tell a lot about their story, according to one of the sayings.

I shook my head without replying, forcing a smile on my face. He nodded at me as I sat directly opposite of him.

“Might want to reconsider that. Heard he’s quite a powerful spellcaster,” he added, before turning his attention back to his glasses.

My eyes wandered around the place. Smoke rose and gathered near the top of the bar. Noisy chatter danced with the jazz music coming from a jukebox. Perched in a corner, it was the only other wooden decoration in the place.

No hint of recognition from anyone. My facial alteration charm was working perfectly. Like what the bartender said, I used to be quite the spellcaster. Just the mention of my name was enough to bring hushed whispers of either fear or awe. Part of it was because spellcasters were a rare breed, and magic is generally frowned upon. Some organizations were even dedicated to hunt spellcasters down.

But that was a long time ago, back when I was still young and ambitious. Before I became a tired and disillusioned fugitive trying to outrun his past, a middle aged “relic”.

“Tell me, what do you know about him?” I asked the bartender, pushing several bank notes to him. “And long island tea, please.” I always loved hearing stories about myself. After a long tiring journey, all I wanted was a drink and to catch a breather.

The bartender grunted as he swept the money into his pocket, pouring me my drink with his other free hand. “Heard he’s quite the criminal. Killed tens of thousands across the systems. Used to be right hand man of Emperor Duke himself. Vanished during the 100 Days Revolt.”

I wanted to chuckle, but I stopped myself. My head merely nodded at the bartender’s story as I took the glass from him. Most of his story were true, except the part of killing. It was closer to a few hundred deaths really, all whom I regretted. One could rarely rise to power without weeding off some opposition.

But the New Commonwealth needed to paint me as the bad guy, though them going so much as to inflate the numbers by more than several thousand made me chuckle. To think that they were the same people who accused us of propaganda and pledged to be transparent.

 “Hypocrites,” I mumbled under my own breath, before downing the entire glass. The cocktails served on outposts were nowhere as smooth and exquisite tasting as the ones back at the Capital, but they do their job of bringing back old memories. The tingling sensation lingered in my mouth.

Sweet and yet painful. It reminded me of a time when I naively thought I was using my powers for good, ushering in a golden era of peace and prosperity. Turned out that the Emperor, a person that I gave my allegiance and future for, was not the person I thought I knew. My entire life was ruined because of a misplaced trust. The again, when you grew up with your entire life being persecuted, the first person who comes along and tells you that they are going to fight for you can be quite charming.

“Can I have another glass?” I asked as I pushed the empty glass back to the bartender. My eyes wandered to the assortment of wanted posters stuck on the bounty board, taking small sips from the newly filled cup. Most of the posters were small time criminals, smugglers, pirates, whatnots. More than half of them, however, were people I knew. Used to know.

Justice Tribunal Chief Solomon. Internal Affairs Fleet Admiral Franken. Information Bureau Director Spencer. Emperor’s Right Hand, Lance Zander. It has been a while since I last used that name. The name which once belonged to the second most powerful man among the systems. Once. On the board, I was no different from the lowly space scums and criminals, with the highest bounty of ten million over my head. At least I was still first at something.

As I emptied my second glass, my wristband buzzed. The words ‘NC Patrol’ flashed across it, in bold red. New Commonwealth patrols. Their ships conduct regular patrols so ensure security in systems they govern, and rarely do they wander off into neutral territories. My heart dropped. I walked away from the counter, and whispered into it when I was certain no one else was looking. “How many?” I asked.

Three dots flashed briefly, before another sentence appeared on the screen. ‘Two scout ships.’

A temporary relief washed over me as I made my way out from the bar. Two scout ships I could handle. They usually carried less than five crew members per ship and are not really equipped for combat. But still, questions ran across my mind. Why were the NC forces so far away from their systems? Were they here for me?

My eyes glanced around me, trying to see if there were any suspicious figures following me. Nothing seemed particularly out of place, though I did not want to take any chances.

I pulled my robes closer to me, quickening my pace as I crossed the narrow hallways and towards the hangar. My hand wrapped tightly around my wand. Dwarves and goblins walked past me, most of them dressed rather shabbily, while advertisements rolled across the screens on the wall, announcing the latest offers in the outpost’s numerous bars and brothels. I have no need for them for the time being, as I made my way to the docking gate of my ship. My priority was to leave the system as soon as possible.

But just as I turned the corner to the walkway leading to my ship, two men dressed in bright blue armour stepped out from the gate opposite the one leading to my ship. Each of them held the standard issue blaster rifle, with their face hidden behind the helmet. I cursed as quickly hid behind the corner, deciding my next course of action.

I could pretend that I was just a regular space traveller and walk past them normally, though if they were really here for me, they would have a sensor that could pick up the presence of a wand in the immediate vicinity and it would be too slow for me to retaliate. It was too risky a move.

While I was contemplating my actions, my wristband buzzed again. The words were bolder and redder this time, with an urgency I rarely see, and rightly so. ‘MORE COMMONWEALTH FORCES INBOUND,’ it read rather urgently.

I cursed as I took another peek out from the corner of the wall, and was disheartened to find that there were three soldiers now. They were busy whispering among themselves. Three soldiers would normally be a walk in the park for me, but using my spells meant exposing myself. With more Commonwealth forces approaching, I was not sure if it would be a smart move.

The door behind the four soldiers opened, and from it stepped a figure dressed rather differently than the rest. She was not wearing a helmet, her long blonde hair flowing to her shoulders. A red blazer covered her top, pinned with medals and badges and long sword flanked her waist. She was without a doubt a high-ranking NC officer.

I quickly hid back behind the wall, my hands reaching for the wand. Inside me, my heart was already pounding. With such a high-ranking official at such a backwater outpost, surely they were after me. I needed to hit them when I still have the element of surprise.

Wand at the ready, I jumped out to face them, prepared to unleash several of my spells at them. To my surprise, however, they were no longer around. Only an empty hallway greeted me.

“Manufesto, footsteps.” I flicked my wand towards the direction of the floor, my mind picturing the four NC soldiers. Luminescent green footsteps appeared on the floor, with four sets of them shining the brightest. They all led to the opposite direction. Those NC soldiers, along with the officer, were probably on a highly classified mission. Their lack of noise seemed to suggest so.

Tucking my forbidden weapon back inside my robe, I made my way to the boarding gate opposite of where the troops came out earlier, constantly peering over my shoulders to ensure that I would not get caught by additional surprises. The console beside the gate beeped affirmatively when I tapped by card on it. The gate then slid open, as I stepped into the decontamination chamber.

My wristband buzzed again as the bright UV rays moved across my body, accompanied by a constant and loud buzzing sound. The words ‘NC SHIP PARKED OPPOSITE’ flashed in caps.

“Might as well tell me tomorrow,” I muttered.

“Decontamination process complete,” a robotic voice announced overhead me. The door in front of me slid open, revealing a familiar sight. The interior of Hornbill, the only permanent home I have left.

Giving one last look at the hallway, wondering what the hell was going on and happy that my cover was not blown, I turned back into the familiar sight of the ship. The cockpit door closed behind me, followed by a familiar voice yelling through the ship.

“Did you get my message? Did you get my message?” A worried voice greeted me rather loudly, accompanied by the sound of heavy footsteps. It was not long before a stout figure, half my height, but way bulkier than me, emerged through the opening of the engine room.

I smiled at the familiar bearded face of Kili, who was once the Regime’s most prolific inventor. But like me, he too had fallen from grace, a political fugitive, hunted for his ties to Emperor Duke. He managed to escape the persecution during the 100 Days Revolt, and somehow we ended up together on the same ship.

Sweat was pouring down his face, mixed with the black of grease. Probably trying to cook up some weapon or technological prototype again. It was his way of distracting himself from the new reality of his life.

“Yes I did,” I said, as I sat down in the pilot’s seat. “Might as well tell me tomorrow.”

Kili sulked at my statement, but I didn’t have time to bother about him. My hands flicked the glowing buttons above me, releasing the safety locks and powering the ship up. The engines began their steady hum, while I studied the system map on the console.

My hand’s pushed the ship’s thrusters forward. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here before more of the pesky Commonwealth forces arrive.”

“Yes boss,” Kili muttered, strapping himself into the seat next to mine. His face still had the sulky look on it.

The engines then roared to life, propelling our ship forward. The artificial lights on the station zoomed quickly by, but my eyes were fixed on exit. The ship seemed to give a glorious roar as it flew out of Docking Bay 3B. We were back in the vastness of space, with the blinking stars welcoming us back. Things felt serene and calm for a moment, as I took in the sights around me. Flying into space always has this effect on me.

It was short-lived, however. The ship’s alarm blared almost immediately, signalling fast approaching danger.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Kili!” I shouted, as I began punching in the coordinates to initiate our hyperspace jump.

Kili operated the console before him like a master surgeon. His eyes widened on fear as he read what was written on it. His voice barely masked the rising panic in him. “Not good, boss! More NC vessels!”

“Yes, I’ve noticed that! What do you think I’ve been doing, huh?” I asked, trying to keep my attention focused. The ship shuddered in protest, refusing my request to jump into hyperspace.

“Then why are we still here?” Kili screamed. In the distance, flashes of light began appearing rapidly in the distance. Ships warping in from hyperspace, blinking like the stars behind them. It was like the Commonwealth brought the entire fleet with them.

Panicking, I decided on perhaps the bravest and yet craziest action of my entire life. I disengaged the hyperspace jump, and brought the ship’s thrusters down. Taking a deep breath, I turned to my right, to face. “Kili, I’ll need you to kill the engines.”

“What? Are you daft?” he immediately shouted back.

“I said kill the engines!” I repeated, my voice echoing off the walls of the ship.

Kili did what he was told, with a confused look plastered across him. I didn’t have the time to explain. Kili reached out to the controls and the engines gradually hummed to a halt. Silence slowly settled in the ship, punctuated by only the beeping sound from the various equipment. It was still too noisy.

I tapped my co-pilot gently on his shoulders. “Kili… Except for life support, I’ll need you to switch off all other systems on board.”

My fellow fugitive stared me straight in the eyes. “You want me to what? In the middle of an approaching Commonwealth fleet?” Behind him, the silhouette of the Commonwealth ships continued to grow larger. Time was running out.

I stood up from my seat, pulling the wand out. “I need you to believe me, Kili. One more time. Please.”

He gave a long sigh, as he begrudgingly started to shut down each of the ship’s system. Weapons, navigation, lighting and communication. As I exited the cockpit, I could hear Kili grumbling to himself. “Travel with a spellcaster, they said, spellcasters can protect you, they said.”

The ship drifted aimlessly away from the outpost, as I took my position near the ship’s center. Save for a couple of blinking LED lights, the entire ship was dark. I flicked my wand to the top of the ship, drawing a curve downwards, before bringing it up again, making a full circle. In my mind, I pictured a transparent cloak covering the ship, hiding it.

“Abscondo, Raven,” the incantation flowed out from my mouth. The tip of my wand glowed bright blue, as flickers of light covered the ship, moving in unison across the surface, like waves on the ocean. I closed my eyes as beads of sweat rolled down my face. Turning a small object like a cup or a human invisible may be easy, but no one has really tried it with a huge object like a spaceship before. Until me.

The entire ship vibrated slightly, followed by Kili’s shriek from the cockpit.

“What’s happening?” he yelped, running towards me. The air buzzed with magical force. My eyes remained closed, my mind picturing the entire ship, every bolt, metal and circuit board. Finally, the ship gave one last rumble, and everything settled down.

KIli’s arms were wrapped tightly around mine, shivering. His grip gradually relaxed as I lowered my wand. His eyes scanned his surroundings, his hand scratching his head. “What did you do?” he asked in a hushed voice.

“I simply made our ship invisible,” I said, as I sat down on a nearby chair. Its cold metal surface pricked my skin.

Kili sat next to me, placing a can of beer on the table. “So, what do we do now?”

I let the ice-cold liquid flow down my throat, before turning to face Kili. I smiled, as my heart thumped inside me. The dozen or so Commonwealth ships loomed not far from us, growing in size as they neared the outpost. I wrapped my arms around Kili shoulders. “Now Kili, we wait.”

And then we waited.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

[Short Story] Mr Lion, the imaginary friend

My wet clothes cling stubbornly to my skin as the sky rumbles menacingly for the dozenth time. We may be imaginary, but how the world works affect us the same way like our creators. Gives us depth, I remember someone saying.

Not that I care, anyway. At least no longer. I stare at the sentence in front of me, engraved neatly unto the stone. Marcus J. Smith. 2007-2017. The bright colours of the flowers below the headstone seem so out of place. Mrs Smith was howling when she placed the flowers there, and I've never seen her so sad before.

She was hugging the headstone so tightly, and several of the men had to pull her away. I wanted to put my hands on her shoulder and tell her that I felt sad too, that I cried for days too, beside her in the hospital, but she couldn't hear me. I hope she's doing okay. Mr Smith should have been here as well.

With nowhere to go, I position myself next to Marcus, leaning against the stone that bore his name. There are so many other of them in this place, each with different names and different stories, and I wonder if any of them left so much earlier than Marcus.

I can still remember the day when he first created me. Squiggly lines along an A4 paper, drawn by his first set of crayons. Mrs Smith bought them for his birthday.

Mr Lion, that was what he called me, holding out his paper to Mrs Smith. He gave me a mane like all lions do, though they were coloured in purple instead of brown. Marcus' favourite colour. Jimmy, his friend from kindergarten, called him silly. But I didn't mind one bit. Purple makes me unique and I could, I would have bitten off Jimmy's head right there and then for making Marcus cry.

Mrs Smith brought us to visit so many places together, and we made so many other friends too. There was Alex, this other lion in this place they called a theme park. Marcus and I laughed at him for not having a purple mane. And unlike me, Alex couldn't talk. All he did was wave his hands around and pose for pictures.

Marcus took a picture with Alex too, together with Mrs Smith. He giggled when he saw me sitting on Alex's head making funny faces, just to show my dominance. I thought I would spend my entire life with Marcus. I thought I would go through the ups and downs with him. It was my life's purpose. To be there for Marcus.

But somehow, wherever he is now, I am not there with him.

My hands reach out to wipe the tears streaming down my face, when the another sound catches my attention. I turn around to see another person standing in front of Marcus. A face that I recognize.

"Jeanie?" I call out. Marcus loved to tease her in kindergarten, and she to him. They were close like peanut butter and toast, and the teachers often speculated that they would make a very good couple.

"Mr Lion?" Her eyes catches mine. And like mine, they are red and moist. Her umbrella drops clumsily on the wet dirt as she scampers towards me, kneeling by my side.

Her tiny hands brushes softly against my mane, soaked and heavy from the rain. "Are you here alone?"

I nod.

She pulls me closer, her arms wrapping around me. To my ear, she whispers, "It's okay Mr Lion, you don't have to be anymore."

Why User Experience is the key to your Mobile App Development Success

Nowadays, people are smart, tech-savvy and time-starved to have their needs delivered in an instant. They use their smartphones to shop online, pay bills, communicate with family and friends, book flights, seek answers via Google. In these tasks, the quality of user experience makes an enormous difference - the ease with which they can find, access or buy products.

For businesses wanting to attract and convert that interest into revenue, user experience (UX) plays a key role to their success. When it comes to mobile app development, executing SEO, digital marketing is also often get overlooked – mobile customers experienced when they visit a certain website that weren’t optimized and with poor user experience.

With the growing demand for mobile apps, many companies are getting interested with mobile app development services and today, there are a lot of mobile apps in the app store. However, in today's competitive industry, offering great user experience along with SEO and digital marketing strategies are an essential component for distinguishing your app from your competitors. In this regard, behavior driven development making a huge buzz in the programming concept and gives a lot of emphasis on the user as well as their specific requirements.

Why user experience in your mobile app development is important?

The importance of user experience and designing it properly has been gaining more attention from the businesses whose objective is to keep their users happy. People love a user-friendly website and mobile app, from seamless navigation; engaging content; flawless purchasing transaction; satisfied customer support guaranteed and mobile device compatibility - these elements can make your business in the front-line.

Below are the most effective mobile app development strategies that pays off incredible results:

User Experience
With design focused on user experience, a business is enforced to create for their customer. A relationship is formed and it nurtures, connecting the customer with the product or services. According to a recent study by MarketWatch.com, 90% of users reported they stopped using an mobile app due to bad user experience and poor performance, and 86% deleted or uninstalled mobile app because of encountering problems with its functionality or design.

SEO
This is very important because if your website isn't optimized for search engines, your customers will never find you in the first place. You can execute SEO techniques to boost your content’s visibility. Most importantly, you need to create a long-term place where your content is searchable, such as a blog, news, or infographics.

Digital Marketing Strategy
Once your website or mobile app is SEO optimized with a great user experience, start your digital marketing strategy by creating content rich digital marketing experiences which lead to conversion.

Mobile Compatibility
Make sure that you are not losing out on new customers by making your websites mobile-friendly. You can do this by using a responsive design on your website. Making your website responsive allows your site easily viewable on different screen sizes and configurations.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

What does a banker truly do? A DBS Sparks story

Image: Popspoken

Think being a banker is just all about endless, soulless number crunching, all in the name of profits? Well, think again, according to Team DBS. While the core of the job still revolves around numbers, it doesn't mean that you can't do good too through your work, and latest DBS campaign aims to disprove the stereotypical notion of soulless, boring bankers.

Packaged in a short video series, DBS Sparks aims to showcase the other side of the banking industry, one that is filled with hard work and passion. Viewers are able to see the the story that don't often gets told, following the journey of a team as they navigate clients and challenges in the industry. Most of the stories depicted are inspired by true events, too.

Sure, a series on bankers may seem a little exaggerated, but if TV can dramatize lawyers, police officers and doctors, why can't bankers right? But don't take my word for it. You can catch the series at the DBS Sparks Website and decide for yourself how the production fares.

Of course, the DBS Sparks video series is not the only outreach by DBS. Just last week, on a Monday, me thinks, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion organized by DBS on Digital SMEs of the future, where the discussion focused on a category of entrepreneurship that do not often receive as much attention: social enterprises.


For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, social enterprises are basically run like businesses, meant to be self-sustaining with a revenue stream, with the exception being that they're focused on serving the community through various means. Like charity organizations, if you may, but using a business model. There's a product for sale, and the company profits through that.

It was quite an enlightening discussion, listening to social enterprises founders like David Pong, Gillian Tee and Neil D'Souza sharing their experiences in starting out a business focused on helping others. From providing education to supplying clean water to the underprivileged, social enterprises are focused on making the world a better place by helping those who need it the most, though it can be quite difficult maintaining a social enterprise since you know, most of us are not that kind when it comes to helping.

So it is quite good to know that organizations like DBS are chipping in to help, through its DBS Foundation programme. Since its inception in 2012, more than 100 social enterprises have received funding through the programme, where every small step count towards making our world a better place to live in.


To get a better understanding of how social enterprises and banks can work together for the greater good, the latest installment to the DBS Sparks video series aims to do just that. Premiering on March 17, Episode 7 of DBS Sparks depicts the story of how a social enterprise aims to bring education to low income communities. The episode takes inspiration from the real life story of Zaya Learning Labs, who also happened to be the grand prize winner for DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia.

You can view the trailer at YouTube and do let me know what you think of the series!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

[Horror - Short Story] The Missing Child

First off, just let me say that I work as a thief. Not exactly proud of that, but hey, when you drop out of school at the age of 15, with no one to take care of you (both my parents are dead), you got to find a way to survive. Somehow breaking in houses and stealing came naturally to me.

I have been doing this for a while now, mainly breaking into big houses in those wealthy suburbs, looking for expensive things that I can steal and sell it off. Cash is usually the best item, but rich people rarely keep them around. Jewelry, trinkets, paintings, electronics, these are my usual targets.

About a week ago, I was in this neighbourhood nestled in between a golf course and the beach. It was the prime residential area in the city, where the richest stayed. They even had their own security team patrols.

Call it career advancement, but I had always wanted to break into houses in areas like this. Sprawling mansions, extensive gardens and massive walls. One could only dream of the riches that awaited me in these houses.

Getting into them was the tricky part. These rich people usually have an array of security measures installed — CCTVs, guard dogs and alarm rigged doors — but to an industry veteran, they were nothing more than minor annoyances.

I was over the walls in a matter of minutes, quietly sprinting towards the grand white mansion in the middle of the compound. My first target in the neighbourhood. The house was supposed to be empty tonight, as I earlier spotted a car leaving the place, and the windows were mostly dark.

Flinging my ropes up to the white columns that extended from the second floor, I pulled myself up to what must be the master bedroom's balcony. Tip for breaking into houses: Try to enter through the upper floors. They usually tend to be less guarded.

Climbing over the railing and unto a marble floor, I was greeted with the sight of a glass sliding door. Nothing unusual, until I saw what was behind the door. Or rather, who.

Staring right back at me was the face of a little girl. She was wearing a bright blue pajamas, and her hands were tied above her, around the metal bedframe she was leaning on. A duct tape was plastered across her mouth. Her hazel eyes implored me to free her.

But what unnerved me the most, however, was that her face was one that I recognized. My sister's daughter, Julie. What was she doing here, being tied up in a completely random house? And why hasn't Julie told me about her daughter being missing? Why didn't she inform the police?

Questions filled my head as I rushed to the door, unlocking it with the tools that I brought. But I had to free Julie first. My hands worked expertly at the lock, and with a satisfying click, I pushed the glass door opened and made my way to Julie. I quickly made my way to Julie, cutting the ropes that held her and removing her gag.

"Uncle Tom!" she cried out and hugged me tightly as soon as I was done. Her skin was bruised in multiple places, and I could not bear to think of what she may have been subjected to.

"Shh, don't worry, Uncle Tom is here to save you," I reassured her, hugging her tightly. Julie smelled like she has been there for days. She was trembling uncontrollably in my arms, whimpering.

Thoughts of stealing anything was out of my mind then. I knew I had to get Julie out. My ears scanned the surrounding, trying to hear if anyone heard the commotion. Aside from Julie's whimpering, the house was dead silent.

I pulled Julie away from me, but my hands remained firmly on her shoulders. "Okay Julie, Uncle Tom is going to get you back to mummy. But I will need you to follow my instructions and stay real quiet, okay?" She nodded her head.

It was slightly more challenging to exit the place with a child in tow, but Julie's small size made it easier. I was out from the house in less than half an hour, driving at full speed to my sister Amanda's house. She must be worried sick.

Beside me, Julie just sat quietly, with the occasional soft sob.  "Don't worry Jules," I reassured her. "We'll be reaching mummy's house soon."

My free hand reached out for my phone, as I quickly dialed Amanda's number. A sleepy but clearly grumpy voice greeted me on the other end.

"Why the hell are you calling me at 2am, Tom?"

"What do you mean what the hell? Aren't you worried that Jules is missing?" I asked.

It was Amanda's turn to be confused. "What do you mean Jules is missing? She's sleeping right here beside us!" She switched the call to FaceTime, and sleeping soundly on the cot was Julie, in the same bright blue pajamas.

It was then when I realized why Amanda had not been even a little worried at all that her daughter was missing. Because she never was. But if that's the case, who's the girl sitting next to me?

"Uh, sorry, my mistake! Am drinking a lot!" I immediately said, before hanging up the phone.

"Uncle Tom, are we reaching home soon?" the Julie who was sitting beside me asked. I can't help but to feel a sudden chill run up my spine.

"Uhm, your mummy isn't home right now," I bluffed. "So you'll stay with Uncle Tom tonight alright?"

I drove back to my house, with more questions than answers in my head. One the girl was clearly not Julie. And I could feel something sinister happening behind the scenes. I guess it's up to me to find out.

+++++

“Uncle Tom, why aren’t we going home yet?” Julie asked me repeatedly. It was a question that I didn’t have the answer to, because I simply didn’t know what was happening. Amanda, my sister, clearly showed me that there was a Julie sleeping in her house when I called her, and yet, there was another Julie right beside me. How on earth did I end up with two identical nieces, when I should have only one?

“Okay Jules,” I said as I sat Julie down opposite me. “Before Uncle Tom can bring you back to mummy, can you tell me what I bought you for your birthday last year?”

“Rainbow Dash!” Julie shouted, her face breaking into a smile. “And you brought Julie to Hello Kitty Land!” Well, at least she got that correct.

“Good girl. Uncle Tom will bring you home tomorrow, okay? I promise. But tonight you’ll stay here, alright?” I tried to reassure her.

She nodded weakly, her round eyes staring at me. “Uncle Tom?”

“Yes Jules?”

“Will the bad guys come and take me away again?”

“No they are not,” I sat beside her, bringing her into a hug. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

After that, I called my girlfriend Elsie over, to help me look after Julie while I formulate my next steps in my head. She wasn’t too happy at me disturbing her sleep in the middle of the night, but I told her it was an emergency and she reluctantly agreed.

Thirty minutes later, familiar humming of Elsie’s car told me that she was here. She asked me what the emergency was, and I told her that my sister had asked me to look after Julie for the night, and I needed her help. A necessary lie, as Elsie did not know about my “job” and it would be hard to explain to her about me finding a duplicate of my niece in a mansion I was breaking into. It was up to me alone to figure out the truth.

That night, I didn’t manage to get a good night’s sleep. I dreamt that I was back in the mansion, climbing over the balcony again, in the cover of darkness. But instead of Julie, what awaited me behind the glass door was not Julie, but myself. Tied to the bedframe, slumped lifelessly over. I walked slowly towards my own body, my hands reaching out to touch it.

Just as I was about to make contact, its head suddenly jerked up, my face morphed into Julie’s. Only that she looked different. Her cheeks was melting off her face, like some sort of goo.

“Uncle Tom, save me,” she cried from beneath the grotesque sight, her face splattering on the floor, revealing her skull underneath.

I jolted awake in cold sweat, finding myself back in my room, Julie and Elsie sleeping soundly near me. Elsie had helped to clean Julie up and put her to sleep earlier, before falling asleep herself. My gaze lingered on Julie, again wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. If only I had not broken into the mansion earlier. For the remaining of the night I could not bring myself to sleep, the sight of Julie’s face melting before me burned unto my mind.

The next morning, I asked Elsie to keep Julie busy. I lied again, saying that I needed to run some errands. Elsie gave me a suspicious look, but did not protest.

“Just make sure you come back before lunch,” she simply said, and I told her I will.

I drove immediately to Amanda’s house.

“What’s the great idea calling me yesterday night at 3am?” My sister was clearly furious when she saw me standing outside her house.

“Hey sis!” I jovially greeted Amanda, trying to avoid her question as I walked past her and into her place. Amanda gave a frustrated grunt before closing the door behind me. Her husband Joe was not around, but seated on the carpet of the living room, playing with a soft toy was Julie, still in her blue pyjamas. The smell of cooking breakfast hung invitingly in the air. But I was not there to eat.

“How’s my favourite niece doing?” I called out to Julie, my sister’s Julie, as I made my way to her.

Julie turned towards me, a smile flashing across her face. “Uncle Tom!” she cried with delight as she ran to me and hugged my legs. My eyes shifted towards the toy that she left on the carpet.

“Say Jules,” I kneeled down to her height, an idea forming in my mind. I was going to prove that she was a fake. “What’s that toy you’re playing over there?”

“Oh that one!” Julie went to pick up the toy and ran back to me. “It’s Rainbow Dash! Uncle Tom gave me on my birthday! And brought Julie to Hello Kitty land!”

My heart sank. I couldn’t differentiate the both of them. Both Julies acted and talked the same way. But surely one of them must be fake?

A tap on my shoulder broke my focus. Amanda’s stern face was waiting for me. “Mister Tom, you’ve not explain why you were calling me at 3am yesterday. And what are you doing over at my house so early in the morning?”

I struggled to come up with an answer, my mind still trying to grapple with what was taking place. Before I could answer my sister, however, my phone started to ring. It was Elsie. I hurriedly stepped out of the house to answer the call, worried that something wrong may have taken place.

The voice at the end of the line, however, wasn’t Elsie’s. It was the voice of a man, heavily muffled and distorted.

“Come back to the white mansion. Tell no one.”

+++++

After I received the weird call from Elsie’s phone, I drove home immediately. Despite the instruction to head to the white mansion immediately. I didn’t know why I did that. Perhaps a part of me didn’t trust the phone call. They were not even supposed to know it was me who broke into their house and took Julie.

Amanda was just as confused when I told her that I suddenly need to leave without giving her a reason, but I figured that the less she knows, the better. I certainly did not want to drag my sister into whatever mess that I was walking into. Like they said, ignorance is bliss.

When I reached my house, I could immediately see that my gate has been left wide open. I parked by the driveway and rushed in immediately. The front door of my house was also left open, the people who had been here wanted to immediately.

“Julie! Elsie!” I called out to an empty house, hoping to hear a reply. But who was I kidding.

I scanned the house, looking for clues of the people who took Julie and Elsie away. There was no indication of any struggle. Two plates of uneaten breakfast was left on the dining table, probably cooked by Elsie. The bedroom was not any different from the morning.

As I went back to the living room, I pulled out a pen and an A4 paper. In case I don’t make it back. On it I scribbled the address of the white mansion, along with the message: “I am headed to this place.” Just as I was finished writing, my phone rang again.

Elsie’s number. But with the same distorted man’s voice. “I thought we have politely requested for your presence at the white mansion you visited yesterday. Going back to your house and leaving a message on a paper won’t help.”

I whirled around immediately, my eyes going through the house wildly. How on earth did they know what I was doing at that exact moment in time? As just on cue, the voice continued. “There’s no need to guess how we know what you’re doing, Mr Tom. We would appreciate if you can head over immediately. Or else…”

The voice let its sentence linger. In the background, the terrified cries of Elsie and Julie were clearly audible.

“You bastards-“ I cursed through the phone, but was promptly cut off by the voice.

“Remember Mr Tom, we hope that you would let no one know of your current… situation. Two lives are in your hands, Mr Tom. And please, the clock’s ticking.” Then the line went dead.

A wave of anger mixed with fear washed over me at that moment, as I looked at my phone helplessly. I wanted to kill that bastard behind the phone so badly. I went up to my room where I kept a small handgun of mine, hoping that at least some protection would be good.

To my dismay, however, someone had already sifted through the cabinet. My gun was no longer there. I then went to the kitchen, to discover that all the knives or anything resembling a weapon have been removed. Those idiots were thorough. My brain went through other ways I could obtain a gun or at least a knife, when my phone vibrated again.

A picture of my gun, along with the message: “Mr Tom, clock’s ticking.”

“Fuck,” I cursed under my breath as I headed back to my car. Those bastards seemed to know every step that I was taking. The journey there was a blur, as my mind could only focus on rescuing Elsie and Julie. Who are these people anyway? And how are they able to be constantly one step of me?

The giant gates opened slowly as my car approached the building, inviting me in. In the day, the mansion looked normal from the outside. Like any other buildings in the neighbourhood. But behind those dark glasses, something much more sinister is going on.

The double wooden door that stood guard at the front of the house opened as my car slowly eased into the porch of the mansion. Two tall white columns held up the roof of the porch, while marble slabs covered the floor. From behind the door, a man in suit stepped out, middle-aged, his sleek dark hair combed back neatly.

I killed my engine, before stepping cautiously out. The man in suit was still full of smiles as he slowly approached me. “Welcome, Mr Tom, we’ve been waiting.” His voice was no longer distorted, but it was without a mistake the voice that spoke to me through the phone. He reached out his gloved hand to shake mine. I did not have the time for pleasantries.

“Where’s Elsie and Julie?” I demanded as I reached out to grab him. Before I could reach him, I felt a sharp pain on my neck, followed by a spell of dizziness. My vision began to spin as I struggled to keep my balance, but eventually I collapsed onto the floor. The sight of the man smiling was the last thing I saw, before everything cut to black.

When I finally woke up, I was no longer outside. I was sitting on a wooden chair in what seemed to be an empty underground room, with only a swinging light bulb above me for lighting. As my eyes adjusted to the lighting, I saw a man seated not far from me, his face hidden in the shadow. The man was wearing a different suit than the one I saw earlier. White in colour, topped with white pants.

His voice, however, was the same. “Welcome, Mr Tom. We’ve been waiting for you. Shall we begin your tour?

+++++

“Tour? Tour of what?” I asked.

The man in the suit smiled, his teeth gleamed in the dark. “Well Mr Tom, a tour of our facility, of course.”

Two men that I did not notice earlier stepped out from the shadows and cut my bonds loose. My hands felt a sharp sense of relief as the circulation flowed back to them. As I turned to see the identity of the two men, I was shocked to see that they looked exactly like the man who greeted me at the front door, the man who was opposite of me. Except that one of them was in a full red suit, while the other was in blue.

The man opposite me, whom I shall call White, seemed to have noticed my shocked expression. A soft giggle escaped his mouth, as he approached me. “No need to be alarmed, Mr Tom,” he said, before patting me softly on the shoulder. “You’ll understand soon enough.”

I felt a gentle push on my shoulder as White slowly walked to the room’s exit, beckoning for me to follow. I wondered if I could attempt to escape, but decided against it with the presence of so many hostiles around. The door was closed after me, leaving Blue and Red in the room.

We were standing at the end of a long corridor, which stank terribly. There was a mixture of rotten and piss the air, and I resorted to breathing through my mouth to stop me from gagging. White chuckled when he saw my reaction, seemingly unaffected by the horrid smell. The corridor was illuminated poorly by the same yellow bulb in the previous room, while numerous other rooms lined both the sides of the corridor.

“So Mr Tom, allow me to begin,” White said as he walked slowly down the corridor, the sole of his show clacking noisily against the rough concrete floor. We passed our first room, where an observation window allowed me to peer into it. Two men were lifting black trash bags and throwing them into a burning furnace, which licked hungrily at the contents. I saw black reddish liquid drip from the bag, and the realization of what could be in them sent shudders down my body.

“I’m sorry to be starting our tour from the back, Mr Tom, but allow me to introduce you to our incineration room,” White said as we stood in front of the window. “This is where we dispose of our waste.”

He moved away immediately after, bringing me to the next room. The room looked like a freezer with a table in the middle, with what seemed like compartments built into the wall. One man, dressed in green suit was in the room, along with what seemed like a body of a child on the table. He was operating a chainsaw, cutting through the body, and depositing his work into a black trash back next to him. I had to turn away to prevent myself from puking.

White, however, was still unaffected. “This room is where our waste gets proportionated down into smaller and more manageable pieces, before we send them to disposal.”

My mind however was reeling by then, the sight of the dead body on the table burned unto my mind. I shudder to think that it could have been Julie who was on the table.

“Where’s Julie?” I demanded, as a surge of anger boiled within me.

 White maintained his posture. “But we’re still not done with the tour yet,” he said with that fake smile of his.

“WHERE’S JULIE?!” I screamed as I lunged at him, not caring about my own safety anymore. I just wanted to pummel this abomination’s face. But White was faster than me. He managed to dodge each of my attempt at punching, kicking or just grabbing him. He was stronger too. Each of his punch and kick sent immense pain all over my body. My pathetic attempt at fighting him ended in less than 5 minutes, with me lying bruised and battered on the ground, without even landing a single scratch on him.

“Well I guess you’re no longer interested in the tour,” he said chirpily, before pulling my hair and dragging me across the corridor. I could only howl in pain as he did that. He dragged me past several other rooms, which in my pain I could only catch glimpses of. Men in a laboratory setting, small cages the size of children, and what seemed to be like an operating theatre. He finally pulled me into a darkened room, lit only by flickers of blue white light.

And at the corner of the room, I saw them. Julie and Elsie. Both their hands and feet were tied, and their cheeks were still wet. They both called out to me. I tried to reach out to them, only to be met by a swift kick to my stomach by White. The pain was excruciating.

He was grinning, as I rolled over on the floor, gasping for air. The shrieks of Elsie and Julie felt like they were in a distance. White pulled a chair in between us, as he faced me. “My, my, my, what a reunion,” he teased.

“What do you want from us?” I groaned as my eyes struggled to focus amidst the pain.

White scratched his head. “Simple. Just wanted to tie up some loose ends, to ensure that the nature of my organization’s business does not leak to the public.”

“You mean your murder factory?” I asked, the sight of the body and the furnace still fresh in my mind.

He chuckled at my sentence, as he rose wand walked towards the other end of the wall. My eyes followed him, to find that the flickers of light that lit the room came from hundreds of small screens mounted on the wall, above a console with numerous buttons. The entire room was like a security room you see from the movies. White was standing in the middle of them, his silhouette edged clearly among the bright monitors.

“You see, Mr Tom, what we’re running here is a service. A service that many parents, like your sister Amanda, have come to trust and rely on,” White explained.

He continued. “You may ask what service I am running. On the surface it’s called A Better Child Center, where parents send their problematic children, like behavioural issues that your niece Julie has, for example, in the hopes of us helping them solve the issues. Make the issue go away.”

White flicked a finger, and all the images on the monitor synced to show the same thing. A recording from Amanda’s house. “While other places try to change the original child, what my place does is a step ahead of time. You see, who we are is a product of our genes, behavioural problems included, so the easiest and most effective way is to of course change our genes.”

He walked over to Julie, and pulled her over to him. She screamed and I tried to rush over to her, but to my dismay Blue and Red was already in the room, with Red firmly holding me in place. “And the fastest way to change our genes is through cloning, where the unwanted genes are removed or replaced, to generate an exact same person, only that well, there’s this issue of the original copy that we have to discard.”

I struggled against the strong grip of Red as Julie whimpered helplessly.

“There are many ways to do this, you don’t have to kill. Your methods are despicable,” I shot back.

White laughed. “What matters is not the process, Mr Tom. It’s the results. Besides, how else can I achieve my grand plan if I don’t plant a kid in every house who is under my control?”

White signalled to Blue with his free hand, who emerged with a gun in his hand. My missing gun.

“From how I see it, you have a simple choice to make right now. Either you walk away from this place a free man with your beautiful girlfriend there, or the furnace will have extra two free meals tonight. What do you say, Mr Tom?”

Blue extended my gun to me, and my hands reached out for it hesitantly. “Don’t even bother about using for escape, Mr Tom, because there’s only one bullet in the magazine,” White warned, as if reading my thoughts. My shaking hands took aim at Julie.

“I’m sorry Julie,” I muttered as I pressed the trigger. A single gunshot rang in the room.

It has been weeks since the incident, where the memory seemed like nothing but a haze now. Almost as if I watched everything from afar. Elsie and I are currently enjoying our new life, and the reason I am writing here is to let you, who is reading this, know that I am no longer a thief. Instead, I am one of the professional training execs at the prestigious A Better Child Center, where we can help to turn your out-of-control child to a dream child, with a 100% success rate. Literally.

Just don’t ask for a tour of our place!


Monday, February 27, 2017

[Short Story] Karma Mall

Prompt: When you die you go to a mall where each store represents an afterlife. The karma you've accrued in life is the currency you may spend at each store. You may pick any afterlife according to your taste and your budget

When you die you go to a mall where each store represents an afterlife. The karma you've accrued in life is the currency you may spend at each store. You may pick any afterlife according to your taste and your budget"Welcome," the doors chimed pleasantly as I walked through them, still trying to grasp the situation that I was in. The memories were still hazy, but I remembered walking down the street, followed by loud honk. I braced myself with my hands and closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was already standing on a cloud, a huge mall before me.

There were others around me, and they were all headed for this mall. Since it was the only building in the vicinity, I decided to follow them.

A soft and peaceful music drifted from the speakers in the mall, as patrons wandered from one shop to the other. Curious about the entire place, I walked up to the receptionist table facing the entrance, where a lady dressed in shining white robes and majestic wings was busy greeting everyone who passed her.

"Excuse me?" I called out softly to her.

She turned to me, her bright smile filling me with warmth. "Yes, Amy, how can I help you?" She even knew my name.

"Well, I just wanted to ask about this place. Where am I actually? Am I dead?"

She nodded her head. There was a strange soothing effect from her presence, as I could feel all my fears dissolve away in front of her. "Yes Amy, you're in the purgatory, and this is the karma mall. Based on how much karma you have accrued in your life, you can decide on the type of life you want here."

"Ohh.." I said, as my attention turned towards the various stores in the mall. There was one that promised an eternity in most beautiful beach in the world, another where you are served by hundreds of Justin Bieber lookalikes and yet another where you can spend exploring the most exotic places in the universe.

I felt good too, because when I was alive, I have tried my best to accumulate good karma. I volunteered in animal shelters and soup kitchens. I always leave a big tip to my servers. I never cuss or swear when I am angry. And I always give way in traffic. My karma score should be quite high.

I muttered a thanks to the angelic receptionist as I hopped towards the beach store, the idea of lazing in sunshine with the gentle sound of waves has always been my idea of eternity. Another equally angelic looking cashier was standing behind the desk, as different images of different beaches flashed across the walls of the store.

My finger immediately pointed to the one with a mountain behind it, with a lagoon with crystal clear water. "Excuse me, I would like to have that beach, please," I crooned, already imagining my days sipping from a coconut, sleeping on the soft white sand.

The white lady appeared to be typing something into a console, before turning to me with a worried face. "I'm sorry Amy, but it appears that you don't have enough karma score to buy this afterlife. In fact, I'm afraid you have none."

"What?" I called out in anger, the first time I was losing my temper in decades. "I have done so much good deeds in my entire life! Countless! Donated to the poor, left the toilet seat down, how could I not have even any karma?" I demanded.

The angel scrunched her face at my response. "I'm really sorry Amy, but didn't anyone tell you? We've upgraded to use Reddit karma in this mall."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

[Short Story] My Child from the dead

Prompt: A couple unable to conceive and not allowed to adopt have spent years learning the dark arts. Tonight they visit the local graveyard with plans to raise a child.

"Are you sure about this?" Alex's hushed whispers echoed in the silence of the night, louder that he liked it, as he struggled to keep up with Sam.

"I thought we agreed on this?" Sam shot back, his voice not hiding the annoyance that he felt. There was only one goal in his mind that night, one that even Alex could not stop.

"I just think we should rethink this," Alex tried to protest, his voice laced with fear and uncertainly. He looked around him, studying the tomb stones that reached out scarily into the chilling night. He tried to not imagine what laid beneath their feet.

Sam however, was not one bit affected. "Finally," he exclaimed, standing before a small cross, flanked by two angel figurines.

*Here lies little Angeline, who was gone too soon from her beloved family*, the carvings on the stone read. The dirt beneath them was still fresh, its dark brown colour a stark contrast to the green surrounding it.

Sam extended his hand to Alex. "Can I have the candles, please?"

"Sam, listen to me, I think we should really rethink this, maybe we can get a pet instead?" Alex said, his hands gripping the straps of his bag tightly. As they trudged through the cemetery, he was beginning to regret his decision to agree with Sam. To raise a child from the dead, so they could call their own.

Sam stepped aggressively towards Alex, his hand still extended. "Candles, Alex." Sam's voice was firm, loud. Alex gave a loud sigh as he handed the bag over to Sam, wondering if he has just made the biggest mistake in his life.

"Good," Sam simply said, before he poured open the contents of the bag and began setting up in front of the child's grave. Alex stood there, arms folded across his chest, with only the thought of leaving. He studied the flower wreaths around the grave, wondering if it was despicable of them to desecrate the recently deceased with their longing for a child.

But it was hardly their fault, anyway, he tried to console himself. They had tried so hard to adopt a child, but everywhere they went, the authorities just refused to let them. They were not a traditional family unit, those people would argue. Every child needs a mother, they would say.

Fed up with the absurdity that was the adoption system, Sam suggested an occult practice instead, 'to show those idiots they cannot control us'. Alex agreed initially to humour Sam, to let Sam cope with the anger and disappointment with the authorities. He never knew how serious Sam was with the suggestion. Until that night.

As strange rumbling beneath Alex's feet broke his attention, as he nervously stepped away. "Sam? I think it's working," he called out to his other half, but Sam was not listening. Seated in a strange circle surrounded by candles, Sam continued to chant a language that Alex had not heard before.

"Sam?" Alex called out again, only to be interrupted by a hand shoot up from beneath the dirt. He could see the skin and flesh peeling off to reveal the bone underneath. Alex tried not to scream as he made his way closer to Sam, the rumbling beneath him getting stronger and louder.

Sam continued on his chant, his voice filling the darkness of the night, permeating through the entire graveyard. Alex watched in horror as he saw more hands piercing through the dirt, not only from the plot they were at.

"Sam!" He screamed this time, no longer able to contain the rising fear inside of him. "Stop! I don't think you're only summoning the child from this grave!"

The chants from Sam stopped, but the around them, the dead slowly began to rise from their resting grounds. Sam turned his head to face Alex, who shockingly realized that Sam's eyes were glowing red in the night now.

"It's okay, Alex," Sam said, his voice a strange pitch, like there were many entities speaking from within him. "I have always wanted to have many children."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The million-dollar question — Executive Condo or HDB




With today's fast population increase, the hurry to get hold of a location to live is great. It’s been an aged old argument on which housing type is best suited for Singaporean. Executive condos or HDB?

HDB

Public housing in Singapore is handled by the Housing and Development Board, and thus the name HDB. Most of the residential housing in Singapore are publicly owned and constructed. HDB flats are relatively inexpensive, and financial assistance through the Central Provident Fund is available. They are found in proximity to many necessities that most homeowners seek.

Benefits and Eligibility

There is an added flexibility when it comes to the HDB Eligibility plan for singles 35 years of age and above. If you satisfy these standards, you are qualified to purchase the resale flat on your own as a single based on the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme. On the other hand, you may also buy the resale property with another single, for up to 4 applicants, based on the Joint Singles Scheme.
Singapore people can buy HDB flat if they are 21 years old and above. They should have the capability to develop family nucleus, and each must have another family member who is either one of the family nucleus or a permanent resident of the country. Finally, one should be able to satisfy the standards when it comes to household status, income ceiling, and the elapsed time before the date of submission.

How to Buy

After reviewing your qualifications, find a Singapore HDB flat that's for sale via the HDB official website. Then, establish your loan qualifications for buying an HDB flat and submit your buying application online or by completing a form at any HDB Branch. Has your flat booked after being shortlisted for buying? Finally, sign the lease agreement and obtain your keys from the agent.

Singapore is one amongst most visited tourist spots in the world. Perhaps due to its natural beauty, its ethnicity, cultural heritage, or the Indo, China and Malaysian mix culture.

Since decades, Singapore has offered lucrative business opportunities to people all over the world. It could be better regarded as a hub of finance, electronics, and communication, thereby strengthening residential and commercial real estate investment in Singapore.

It is because of these factors that the real estate market and scenario in Singapore both in the residential as well as the commercial segment is very lucrative, to say the least.

Most of the Singaporeans live in apartments, which are developed by the housing development board of Singapore (HDB).  The average cost of these flats hovers around the 550,000 Singapore dollars.

Real estate investment promises to find better homes at competitive prices.
Depending upon the general requirement the HBD brings up two, three or four bedroom flats in the motion of the HBD laws and act.

To make an investment in the real estates of Singapore, aid, and assistance of real estate firms is sought. The firm needs to be capable enough to pacify all customer needs and requirements. These firms can be looked up in magazines, journals, etc. 

The quite spacious and often luxurious apartments that are located in some good neighborhood are termed as condo units. The prices of these units are very high, and this is because of the demand. The average price of these unit’s hovers around the $3000 for ft2.

Executive condominiums

An executive condo can be of many types. You could look at condos with one, two, three or more bedrooms. You could also consider studio apartments if you plan to stay alone. The same thing applies to a cluster house. You could look at different sized houses in various parts of the city so that you find just the right house for you. It will take time and effort but believe me when you are planning to own a property the time spent is worth value to you.

How will you find your choice executive condo or a cluster house in Singapore? One way is to contact real estate agents and have them show you around. This will not be very tough because Singapore is not the largest country in the world. But this process has its disadvantages.

The biggest disadvantage is that you still end up spending a lot of time going through the listed properties. Since you don't have the filter option available you need to see what the real estate agent shows you. For buying a single executive condo or a cluster house you probably need to go through hundreds of listed properties. And in the heat of Singapore, this is not the something you will desire.

A much better option is to go the online route. This means that you visit a real estate website and see the listings online. The biggest advantage you have in this mode of property searching is that you can filter and see exactly the properties you have in mind. This will take care of the size of the property you want to buy; this will take care of the area you are looking to buy your property in, and most importantly, this will take care of your budget. Buying a property is a good investment, and this filter option is extremely helpful.

After you have shortlisted a few of the listed properties, you can then go for a visit. This will ensure that you can finalize a shorter list thus saving you time and effort. Once you finalize your property, you negotiate, pay and complete the paperwork, and your property now belongs to you.

It is great to have an executive condo or a cluster house in Singapore. Put in the right effort and you will have your dream home. Use the web to select a few properties so that you don't stray away from your plan. It is the best way to own your property in Singapore.

HDB or Condominium

One of the very first decisions that a young Singaporean Investor has to make is the choice between buying an HDB or buying a condominium as his or her first property. This decision is one with far-reaching effects on their future property investment portfolio. This article aims to aid such investors in choosing the most viable option based on their objectives.

Let us first examine the scenario of owning an HDB flat as a first property. There are two avenues that a buyer can obtain an HDB flat, one through HDB directly in the form of Build-to-Order (BTO), and the other through a seller in the resale market. BTO units are typically heavily subsidized by HDB and are a popular choice among young couples with the intention of getting married. However, it is sold through balloting, which can require a great amount of luck for the couple to be able to get a good queue number especially in highly desired locations where the BTO is likely to be oversubscribed.

On the other hand, while HDB flats bought in the resale market are not subject to balloting, buyers are at the mercy of sellers who control the Cash-over-valuation (COV) of the unit. COV has no maximum cap and is determined by market forces, with recent transactions reaching levels in the range of $250,000 COV for an HDB flat in Queenstown. On a brighter note, buyers in the resale market will have access to the CPF Housing Grant (capped at $40,000) and Additional CPF Housing Grant (capped at $40,000).

Buying an HDB flat comes with a strict and rigid set of regulations which prevent the investor from buying any other form of residential property or from renting out the whole unit during the 5-year Minimum Occupation Period (MOP). For BTO buyers, this restriction starts from the date they collect the keys to the unit. Typically, a BTO takes about three years to complete, which means that for the next eight years, the investor will not be allowed to own another residential property under his name.

Now, let us examine the scenario where an investor buys a condominium as his first property instead. The main differences between buying an HDB flat and buying a private property is that the investor does not need to be married if he chooses the latter option. He is also not restricted regarding renting out his unit to tenants immediately after the purchase, which could give him a good passive income per month if he chooses his investment prudently. The only two restrictions are that selling his private property within four years would incur a Seller Stamp Duty and as long as he owns a private property under his name, he is not eligible to purchase an HDB flat.


The prudent investor would do well to have his objectives clearly in his mind. "Is owning an HDB flat very important?". "Are you willing to wait 5-8 years before you are allowed to own an investment unit?". These are the questions that the investor has to assess and decide for himself individually.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

[Short Story] A World Without Men

Prompt: A Dystopian society where women have taken over and stored enough sperm to last them a million years. Scientists even figured out how to genetically engineer to make sure you always give birth to females. After giving birth privately in your home you notice something different on your child.

"You sure the baby is in this house?" Mike's voice echoed through the helmet's intercom, as the squad moved stealthily through the trees.

"Yes, according to our source."

"And what source could that be?" Mike asked, skeptical. They had been falsely led several times over the past few years, each incident resulting in several casualties.

Though they did managed to take down several of the enemy, numbers were not on The Resistance's side. Sacrificing more men for false flag operations is not what Mike preferred. Still, he understood the dire need of these Seek and Retrieve operations. The Resistance's lifeline depended on it.

"The mother's," the voice at the other end announced. "She just gave birth less than a week ago, and she's desperate for us to help before the Sisterhood notices."

Mike sighed under his helmet. As one of the oldest veterans in the team, he remembered a time when men could walk freely among women. A period of equality and respect. Not this brutal, repressive regime. But all that seemed too long ago, only a hazy memory.

"Roger that," he said to his mouthpiece. His hand made several movements to the squad members around him, and they moved into their respective positions, hidden in darkness. Satisfied, he moved through the backyard of their target, quickly but silently.

As he approached the backdoor, his left hand reached for his pistol, while his right hand tapped on the wooden door. Three quick taps, followed by three slow taps, and then two quick taps. There was a moment of silence, his pistol aimed straight at the door. The last operation he went, the whole door was booby-trapped by the Sisterhood. The poor sergeant never stood a chance.

After what seemed forever, taps echoed from behind the door. Two quick, three slow and three quick. The signal. He heard a soft click as the door unlatched. His free hand slowly pushed the door open, which creaked a little too loudly in the silence of the night. He quickly slipped in through the door, to be met with a woman dressed in a simple t-shirt and shorts. Her blonde hair glowed strangely in the darkness of the house, her face framed in a petite heart shape.

But Mike was not there for her. He shifted his gaze to the baby in her arms, sleeping soundly in a sheet of folded cloth. His package for the night. As he stepped forward to retrieve the baby, he noticed that the mum's eyes were still red. She hesitated in handing the baby over.

"Will he be safe?" the mother asked. A question that so many others have asked Mike before.

Mike merely nodded, as he holstered his pistol to carry the baby. The boy stirred lightly, his face momentarily turning into a frown. Perhaps he knew that he was no longer able to see his mum. Mike wanted to assure the mother more, but the voice from HQ interrupted him.

"You gotta get out of there soon Mike, we have a couple Nightsisters coming in." His heart sank at the mention of the famed femme fatale squad.

He turned to leave, but the mum tugged at his sleeve. "Will I see my baby again?" she asked, tears flowing down her cheeks this time. It reminded Mike of his wife.

"You will know," Mike simply said, ignoring the pain that was shooting through his heart. He quickly made his way out from the house, mindful to not leave any evidence behind. Within minutes him and his squad would have disappeared into the night, just like how they first appeared. If anything, the Sisterhood would just subject the young mother to a series of interrogation, without the brutal reeducation class. Mike hoped HQ has been clean in covering their tracks.


The last thing he wanted was for an innocent mother to bear the cost of their mistake. Not every female was their enemy. And if everything turned out well, perhaps one day they would return to the old way of life, and Mike could finally meet his wife again. But for now, they had no choice but to resist.

Friday, February 17, 2017

[Short Story] Bobby and Me

Prompt: [WP] You had one wish, and you wished that your dog would never die. Now you have long since moved on to the afterlife and you find that many of the other spirits have stories about what became of your beloved dog

I thought I was doing Bobby a favour when I made that wish. For him to live forever. I thought it was what he would have wanted. Silly me. How could a man understood what his pet dog would have wanted?

"Hey, you're Jack right, Bobby's owner?" an unfamiliar voice called out to me, followed by a pat on the back. I groaned as I turned around, the sight of the glowing new halo and shining white robe greeted me. Another newcomer.

"Yes, I am," I half-heartedly reply, as I began to move away from the guy. He obviously did not get the hint, following after me.

"How could you do that man? Wishing for your dog to never die? He's been waiting ages for you!" the newcomer said. Something that I had heard countless of times over the years. It was really beginning to annoy me, and you're not supposed to feel negative emotions in heaven.

"Look, you're not the first one who said this." I snapped back at him. "I didn't know okay. I just wanted Bobby to be happy. And just like how he brought happiness to me, I had naively thought that perhaps he could bring happiness to others too. How was I supposed to know that he would miss me so much?"

The guy frowned at me. "Geez, Bobby's Fan Club was right. You are indeed a terrible pet owner." Great. A Fan Club. What next, a legal team to sue me in heaven? And to think that you're not supposed to judge another person in heaven too.

I rolled my eyes at the guy, before flying off to the next nearest cloud. There was really no use arguing with these people who think that they knew Bobby as well as I did. But then again, it has been decades since I left Bobby. And every single soul who entered heaven since then had told me the story of Bobby, of how he continued to faithfully stand guard over my tombstone, hoping that I would come back.

*Why must you be so loyally stupid, Bobby?*

I was flying across another cloud when a felt a strange pull at my feet, which grew stronger by the second. Before I could react, however, my whole body was hurtling towards earth, my vision a blur of colours. I landed with a thud on the ground, and thank goodness I was already dead.

The sight around me seemed unfamiliar, as I was surrounded by various graying tombstones. It was then when I heard a familiar bark.

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