Thursday, July 20, 2017

[Horror - Short Story] My First Gameboy

I used to love Pokemon. When the game first came up, I pestered and begged for a Gameboy. I remember how magical it felt, exploring the region of Kanto, catching and training Pokemons. Days and nights were spent in front of the Gameboy. Until one day, many years ago. I hated Pokemon after that. The day is still fresh in my mind, like it just happened yesterday.

It was a school day, in the afternoon. I ran up my room as soon as I reached home. Class could not have ended sooner. My Gameboy was waiting for me on the table. It was a big day for me. After weeks of mindless training, my beloved Pokemon team was finally ready to face the Elite Four. The battle that I had been expecting for weeks. My friends were already talking about their victories in school, and I could not wait to brag about mine.

My fingers flicked the power switch on. The screen loaded like it has always done, the words Pokemon hung on the top of the screen. I pressed the A button continuously, unable to contain my excitement. The arrow hovered to 'Continue' and I waited excitedly to hear the music of the Elite Four as the screen faded to black. My mind was already imagining the strategy that I would employ to defeat the opponents’ Pokemons.

What greeted me, however, was not the Poke Center outside of Elite Four, where I had saved the previous day. It was the music that came through the speaker first. The only music that I hated in the entire game, because it made me uncomfortable. The music of Lavender Town. My character was standing in the middle of the town, alone. There were no NPCs around, and the buildings in the town looked different. The roofs had holes in them and the walls were filled with cracks. A slight fog hung over the town.

My first thought was that my little brother, James, had messed with my save file. I was about to shout bloody murder to him when a message box popped up on the screen.

"It's not your brother,” the message on the simple text box read. I tried pressing the different buttons, A, B, Start, Select, but the message refused to disappear. Feeling a little creeped out, I pulled the power button down, thinking that something was wrong with the game. The Gameboy, however, refused to turn off. No matter how hard I pulled or what I pressed, it continued to repeat the music.

The first message then faded to another. "It's no use. You are scared."

By then I was scared. It was like a presence was in my room. In a state of panic, I turned the Gameboy over and snatched the batteries out. No use. The Gameboy stayed on. Another message appeared on the screen.

"It's no use. You cannot turn this game off." I heard a soft giggle mixed together with the music, and the screen flickered. A shadow appeared briefly on the screen. A gassy form, with hollow eyes and mouth. It was staring at me, and the whole of my body was filled with dread.

Being a teenage school boy, I freaked out immediately, dropping the Gameboy to the ground and running to my room's door, screaming at the top of my lungs. I twisted the knob and pulled at the door, but it would not budge. Panicking, I shouted for my mother and James. I pulled and bang the door, hoping that they would hear me. They should have been home. And usually they could hear me with no problem. But there was only silence that day, despite my shouts.

The whole house was utterly quiet, except for my voice and the music from my Gameboy. I ran to the window and tried pulling them open, but they too were jammed shut. I was locked in my own room. It was then when I heard a voice whispering through my Gameboy, the same voice that giggled earlier. Like a small child’s voice, but it was distorted with static.

"How does it feel, human? Being trapped in a place where you cannot escape? Forced to play a game you don't want to play?"

"Who are you?" I shouted back at the Gameboy, tears running down my face.

The voice in the Gameboy giggled again, this time slowly, dragging each syllable in its sentence. Hi. Hi. Hi. And it continued its monotonous giggle, letting it blend together with the Gameboy’s music, slowly filling my room.

"Stop it!" I shouted, curled up by my room's door and with my hands pressed against my ears. But my Gameboy ignored me. It continued to taunt me with the music, as it continued to increase its volume. As it was doing so, I saw the shadow running past the rooms of my wall, its eyes fixed on me.

I thought that I was going to die or the game would do something horrible to me. But in a moment of sheer panic, I ran up to my bed, took the Gameboy, and flung it with all my strength to the window. The Gameboy shattered the glass with a loud crash, and then smashed unto the sidewalk below. The music and voice stopped immediately.

The noise brought my mother running out from the house. Looking at the broken Gameboy, she stared at me in disbelief. She had bought me the device with almost a month of her pay. “What on earth you think you were doing?” she screamed.

I told her about everything that had happened. The voice, the music, me screaming for her, but she claimed that she did not hear anything. Even James, who was sleeping in the room next to me, heard nothing. My mum refused to believe my story initially, but when she saw that I was trembling in tears, she kept quiet.

I never found out what happened that day, nor am I interested to know. My mum never again bought me any gaming devices after that day, though I am not complaining. A few years after the incident, my mum admitted that she bought the Gameboy from a second hand store, though she did not know the story behind the Gameboy. The store closed down before she had a chance to ask.

Nevertheless, I never played another game again.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

[Short Story] Deities

"You've got to be kidding me!" T yells exasperatedly, as she watched the group ran off on their own. She has been trying to get them to eat llama meat for months now, only to have all her work ruined when K appeared with a mutilated corpse with maggots bursting out of its torso, claiming that eating llama meat does that to the body.

He was grinning ear to ear as a counter appeared on his head, adding a hundred points to the string of numbers. T glared at those numbers. "You know merely influencing a small behaviour is not going to add a lot of points, right?"

K shrugged at T's words. He snapped his fingers twice, and the corpse beside him disappeared. "Even though you say that, but I don't see your points being anywhere near mine."

T rolled her eyes, ignoring K and the number counter above her head. She would have netted almost ten thousand points if the entire group had tried the llama meat. She even did the whole feat just by pretending to be a doctor and creating some news articles online. The bonus was going to be huge. But K just had to appear and ruin everything.

T snaps her own fingers, and her glasses and clothes disappeared, replaced by the golden silk dress and a crown that she usually wore. She then turned her head to K. "Can't you just have left me alone?"

"And let you get those sweet 10,000 points? You've gotta be kidding me," he retorted. T groaned. K was known for his strategy of ruining the games of others. She had hoped to accomplish her goal before he appeared. After all, there were 26 of them in the game.

"Can't you just have gone to P? He's gotten so much point now," she asked. P was leading the game, almost a few million points from the next person in the list.

K shook his head. "Nah. I can't get anywhere near him without being shot at. That dude is a genius. Being a politician to influence people. He don't even need to use his powers now to control anyone."

T sighed. P was not the only one who was using the politician way. After seeing how successful he was, almost everyone tried to copy him. But it was too easy a method to win the game. And T hated politics. The 26 of them have enough politics on their own. She knew K hated politics as well.

"So... why are you out here in the open, besides to steal my points?"she asked, as she sat on a nearby rock, staring at the llamas on the field. The humans were long gone, leaving only her and K in the open field. She may not get many points here, but she enjoyed the view.

K sat next to her. "Honest answer, or not so honest answer?"

"Honest answer."

K gazed at her, before turning his attention back to the open field. "I'm feeling a little sick of this game already. Influencing mortals, but not controlling them. All to see who's better. And see what kind of shitty world we turned out with."

T chuckled. K was right. When they first started, the game had seem innocent. But along the way, the players have used their own creation to engage in proxy wars, sacrificing millions of lives just for the sake of points. It was one of the reasons why she chose the unconventional path instead.

"So... what are you suggesting then?"

K plucked some of the grass from the ground, before releasing them to the wind. It was the first time T noticed how dreamy his eyes looked. He then turned to her. "Lets start a new world together."

T's eyes widened. "What?"

K grabbed her hands. He brought them to his chest, and T felt a strange warmth surge in her body. In the millions of years since she existed, she has never felt this way before. K's face was only inches from her. "I say lets start a new world together. Without this stupid game. Where we are free to help our creation, instead of using them as our own personal tools. Lets create a utopia, a place that is a thousand times better than this shitty earth."

T gulped. The thought as never crossed her mind before. "Are we even allowed to do that?" she whispered.

A familiar grin flashed across K's face. "Never try, never know. Are you up for it?"

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Better Florist for Your Dose of Petal Power

It’s a fact that flowers will never become outdated in terms of gifting. Can anyone ever get bored of receiving or gifting flowers? In my own opinion, you can’t deny the power that powers hold, as they are able to transform your entire day, the mood, the setting and sometimes even your relationship with people! But there’s a florist that introduced an entire new thought behind gifting flowers, which is so far from just grabbing a bouquet from the florist around the corner. A Better Florist is the best florist in Singapore, and here’s why.

First of all, the design of the bouquets and arrangements is aesthetically pleasing definitely outside of the box. Their blooms are carefully put together, so that every time you order a bouquet it’s going to be unique, beautiful and fresh. And as impressive as the design might be, I was shocked by the freshness of these beautiful creations. None of my orders so war where wilted, or looked borderline sad, like you usually experience buying from a florist stand. Their blooms exude vibrancy and should be a symbol of freshness.

After some time I spent scrolling through their website, I learnt that they grow these statement blooms on a farm on Cameron Highlands, where they nurture each bloom to utter perfection. They aren’t picked for their convenience, they are picked when it’s the right time so that the blooms look just like on their website.

It’s definitely a major plus when you receive exactly what they claim you will receive. The freshest arrangements and beautifully designed bouquets aren’t the only perk of buying from A Better Florist. The entire shopping experience is a breeze, as there are no complex forms to fill out, nor is it necessary to stand in long lines, waiting to grab the bouquet that’s left. Their website is supremely user-friendly, and you can shop till you drop from your phone or your computer.

The best flowers in Singapore aka A Better Florist, allows you to choose from a modest selection of blooms, so that the choosing process doesn’t last for hours. You pick one of their signature bouquets, and you click on the shop button. I believe you’ll find everything you need, from birthday bouquets, to anniversary bundles and funeral wreaths in Singapore.

Last but not least, their delivery system guarantees that you will receive flowers in record time, no matter where in Singapore these flowers need to be. Not only that, but they also deliver on the same day, promising a swift delivery within only 90-minutes.

The entire story behind the A Better Florist is what drew me in and got me hooked. I learned that you should never settle for average, even when it comes to flowers. And the fact that their philosophy is special is proven by their expansion beyond Singapore. I was amazed to see that they have a Dubai Florist and that they also provide Hong Kong flowers.

And to prove that I’m totally fair and unbiased to towards this brand, they’ve been officially proclaimed to be the best florist in Hong Kong. With this impressive track record, I highly recommend you check them out. And I dare you not to be amazed, because it’s literally impossible.

Monday, May 29, 2017

[Short Story] Power to draw

"G," my finger spelled the word across the padded wall, as I struggled to focus. The handkerchief that I had tied around my leg did little to stop the blood flow. My shirt was damp with red, and already a small puddle was forming beneath my leg. I cursed at the unconscious body beside me. That bastard hid a knife underneath his jacket.

"U," I began to spell the second word, but my vision was beginning to blur. If I were to escape, I needed a second plan.

I dipped my finger on the small puddle of red, and beneath the words "G" and "U", I spelled out the words "Needle" and "Thread". They both magically popped out in the air, and dropped on my bed. I smiled. No wonder the guards tried so hard to keep me from remembering. Despite the cloud of drugs, my mind still managed to piece the puzzles together.

I dipped my finger again in my own blood, and on the wall wrote the word "Whiskey." A bottle of Jack Daniels landed not far from the needles and thread. I was hoping for a Johnnie Walker, but a bleeding man cannot be a chooser.

I stumbled unto my small bed, the cushion barely covering the metal frame below, and reached out for the whiskey. Never have I felt so comfortable on the bed before and my eyes wanted to close there and then. I had to pinch my wound to force my self to stay awake.

Like how I managed to knock the guard unconscious, my body moved on its own with the thread and needle, as if I had done it numerous times before. I dabbed the alcohol on the wound to disinfect it, wanting to shout bloody murder as the pain hit me, before stitching myself back up. It took my less than five minutes to finish.

Once I was done, I took a swig of the Jack Daniels. The liquid burned all the way down my throat, but I savoured every drop of it. It has been far too long since I had anything to drink. Memories began to slowly trickle back to me. My life has been good once. I remembered cocktail parties and balls, along with the laughter and smiles of my family. All of which the bastards at this jail must have taken from me.

The blood flow stopped, I staggered back to the wall, and finished my word. "N".

An ACR rifle dropped unto the floor, along with a pouch of ammo. The exact thing that I needed. My powers can be quite forward planning sometimes. I was surprised that I recognized the gun's model, despite having no memory of using guns before. They pumped me so full of drugs that I could not even recall my own name. But my torture was about to end.

Grabbing the gun and ammo, I began to push the steel door open, with the barrel of the gun aimed outwards. It was past lights out time, and the place was quiet. No one had notice yet that the guard outside my cell was missing. That was good. I slowly crept out of my cell, before making way past the shadows along the corridor. I have never see past the door of my cell before, and it turned out that my cell was the only room on the corridor. I had thought that the prison might have been bigger.

I crept past the corridor, moving swiftly. I had hoped to avoid any confrontation if possible, and if I was lucky, I would be able to reach the office safely. My body still ached, but as long as I could get hold of a pen and paper, I would be unstoppable.

As I turned the corner however, I walked into a muzzle of a gun that was pointed directly to my head. Behind the gun was a woman, in her mid-fifties, with streaks of grey between flaming curls of red. "One more step and you're dead."

Her face was one that I instantly recognized. "Mum?"

The woman's face looked at me stoically, betraying neither a hint of smile nor surprise. Despite knowing that she was my mum, my emotions bubbled underneath at the sight of her face. Hatred, contempt and the pain of betrayal.

My fingers squeezed my rifles trigger, and three bullets exited the chamber. They were supposed to be too fast for my eyes to see, but they glided slowly towards the direction of my mother, like paper airplanes. Mother had her hand in the air, with a slight smirk on her face. "Oh, I see that you have not recover your memories fully yet, or else you would have known better than to shoot me. With a gun, nonetheless."

She stepped out of the bullets path, and dropped her hand. They pierced through the wall behind her with a bang. "My dear boy, it's not only you who has superpowers here."

I immediately aimed my gun at her, despite knowing how futile it would be, but two strong arms from my back gripped me. My rifle fell to the floor as I turn to see the face of the guard, who was supposed to be dead.

"Thought you killed me?" he sneered, reading my expression. "Like mum said, you're not the only one with powers here, brother."

"What?" I cried out, as I tried to free myself. For far too long I had believed that I was held by the government or a secret organization, kept against my will because they wanted to harness whatever power that I had. Family was last on the list. "What do you guys want?"

Mother walked towards me, and placed her well-manicured finger on my cheeks. She ran it slowly down my face and my neck, stopping just above my chest. "Oh what do we want indeed, my dear boy Richard." My brother growled behind me.

"This is punishment, my boy, for betraying your family because of a mere mortal girl," she whispered. It was then when the memories hit me. Emily. My wife. Her face slowly crystallized in my mind. Those piercing blue eyes of hers and that smile that could melt anyone's heart. We were planning to start a new life together, away from everything.

"Where is she!" I shouted, as the anger came surging back. "Where is she!" I repeated, thrashing wildly. I snapped at mother, trying to kick her, shouting like a madman, but she merely stood there, her slight smirk now a satisfied smile.

"Good, good you're feeling the anger. The pain of betrayal. Just like what you put us through. Which makes it so much better when we wipe your memory again," she said and waved her hand.

"No! Please no! I will do anything!" I screamed, kicking and turning myself. But my brother held me firmly as he dragged me along the corridor, towards the lab where they pumped me with drugs.

"I win," I saw mother mouthed, before she disappeared behind the corner. It would be a long time before I see her again.

Friday, April 28, 2017

[Short Story] Monsters' Children Protection Agency (MCPA)

"So who's my next assignment?" Netherclaws asked as he stepped into Mr Closet's office. His giant feet brushed against the velvet carpet, enjoying the sensation from the soft fibers. He always enjoyed visiting Mr Closet's office, its chandeliers, grand oak furniture and a fireplace that was forever burning was a far cry from his usual workplaces.

Netherclaws pulled out one of the two chairs facing Mr Closet and sat on it. Despite the chair being almost two times the height of an average adult, it still felt small for him.

Mr Closet's eyes peered at Netherclaws from behind his black rimmed glass, before sliding a folder across the table. Netherclaws was one of the top agents in the firm, one of the rare few that received assignments from Mr Closet himself. Assignments that came in leather binded folders, instead of the usual app notification.

Netherclaws reached out for the folder, his six eyes catching a glimpse of the words "Priority Case" on the cover. He flipped open to the first page, to see a face of a human girl not older than seven. His next assignment. Her details were typed neatly across the page, detailing her name, age, location and what not. But he was not interested in those. His paws turned to the next page. The heading "Case Summary" was printed in bold on the header.

"Case of abuse and neglect by both her parents," Mr Closet suddenly piped out, as he observed Netherclaws. His hands were clasped beneath his scaly chin.

"But it's more than a classic abuse and neglect," Netherclaws interjected, as his eyes scanned the case summary, taking in the background and the circumstances of the case. The girl was not only abused by her father, there were mentions of he he charges other for other... services as well. Netherclaws felt his breath quickened as he read the details.

"Yes, as you can see, the father, not only abuses his daughter, but seeks to profit from her as well. And the mother is clearly in no position to help, being abused herself," Mr Closet continued.

"And that is where I come in," Netherclaws added.


"Consider it done," Netherclaws said, as he flipped to the back of the folder, the numerous photos of the girl looking back at him. Amy, she's called. "I'll make sure to keep her safe from those predators."

Mr Closet smiled at Netherclaws. "Good. Just make sure to... not be too violent this time, alright?"

"You know I can't guarantee that," Netherclaws replied, as he stood. He gripped the folder tightly below his arms, details of the case flashing in his mind. Despite his years of experience in the job, he still found it hard to understand how humans would find the heart and conscience to abuse one of their youngs, when they are supposed to protect them.

"You no longer have to be afraid, Amy," Netherclaws muttered to himself, as he exited the room.

And the humans called them the monsters.


Netherclaws eyed the house before him, two floors high, painted in white. Light shone out from the second floor windows. Other than the tall weeds growing on the front lawn, the house looked perfectly normal. Netherclaws grunted. They all do.

Netherclaws blended into the shadows, and slithered along the walls and up to the second floor. He knew exactly where to go, having studied his brief front to back several times. There was a reason why he was one of the best agents. He took his job seriously, seeing it as his chance to atone for his mistakes.

Amy's room was at the back of the house, just right beside the master bedroom where her tormentor slept. The house was quiet when Netherclaws entered, save for the sound of TV playing on the first floor. He made his way through the cracks of Amy's door, and slipped into the shadows under her bed. The place would be his new home for the rest of his deployment.

Amy was not in her room so Netherclaws made himself comfortable, and waited. Protocol dictated that monsters should always introduce themselves to their clients, to avoid scaring them. The ones who should be scared are the ones whom the monsters are protecting the children from.

Netherclaws decided that he would immediately introduce himself once Amy got back into her room. The file said that she was not schooling and she had no friends in school. Tonight, however, things would change, he told himself, as he made himself comfortable.

The door opened not long after, and from his hiding place, Netherclaws saw two pairs of legs enter the room. The first one was skinny and frail, and the second one hairy and rough. He did not have to guess which belonged to Amy. There was a third pair of legs however, leaning against the door, as Amy and the second person walked towards her bed. Netherclaws could hear her softly sobbing.

"For dear god, can you stop crying and actually do your job?" the person near the door suddenly yelled. Netherclaws took a peek out from under the bed and he instantly recognized the face of the man standing near the door, despite his longer hair and beard. It was none other than Amy's no good father.

The who was the person that entered the room with Amy? The sound of a belt unbuckling, followed by a zip being pulled down, answered Netherclaws question. The man on top of the bed grunted, and Amy let out a terrified cry. It was then when Netherclaws lost it.

He roared at the top of his voice as he shot out from the shadows, grabbing both Amy's dad and the man in one swoop, and in his rage, tore the both of them apart. Blood splattered everywhere. The two men were dead in an instant.

As Netherclaws stood there, panting, the two men's crumpled bodies on the floor, he spotted Amy on the bed, staring at him. He immediately regretted his decision, afraid that his actions may have caused more harm than good.

In her eyes, however, was not fear, but relief. She ran towards Netherclaws, and hugged him.


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, 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.

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!


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