185. A Murder of Crows

WARNING: Not for the squeamish

When Laura arrived at the crime scene, she saw an officer curled up and crying in the passengerseat, and another one bursting through the entrance just in time to lose his lunch in a series of lurches. As she walked past the vomiting officer and into the building, leaving behind her the sound of sick pelting against the ground, she knew that she had stumbled upon something good.

Jenny was going to be so pissed that she passed on this to cover Amber Chia’s book launch.

She made it up the narrow, dingy stairs, navigating her way through the darkness (the 60-watt bulb didn’t do much to light up the place), and when she heard the sound of low murmurs, she knew that she was getting warmed. She climbed the sixth and final slight of stairs, and after pushing through the crowd of residents (“Excuse me, I’m a reporter; excuse me, please”), she stepped out to the front of the crowd, just beyond the yellow police tape.

Laura stood there, stunned for a little while, as her mind struggled to comprehend what she was seeing; and there was a voice telling her that she should forget about all of this, take the rest of the day off, and spend the rest of the day wrapped in blankets watching The Big Bang Theory with a cup of hot milo in her hands.

This is what she saw before the bile rose in her throat and nausea clouded her vision:

There was something strapped to a crucifix set up on the rooftop, something that might have been a human being. Its wrists were tied to the horizontal bars of the crucifix, and its ankles to the vertical pole – a crude recreation of the crucifixion of Christ. Whatever it had been, it was now a bloody mess: deep red strips of flesh hung off the bones, the remnants of guts and a mixture of organs settled in the hole that used to be its stomach (the rest of these, it appeared, had spilled onto the ground), the skull hanging uselessly, barely supported by its neck, if that mess could even be called a neck.

“Charming,” she heard Sheldon’s voice in her head.

Laura might have imagined it, but she could have sworn that there was a wet sound when the first eyeball fell out of its socket. The white orb, trailing a bloody optic nerve, bounced twice on the ground before settling into a lazy roll, and came to rest among black feathers.

It was like a fuse tripping. Laura simply fell. She wasn’t conscious when she hit the floor.

Advertisements

184. Mathilda and Joseph

It’s 9.30A.M., and no work has been done since 3.30P.M. on Tuesday.

I was out with a friend some weeks ago, and we were talking about life and work – mostly work, though. It was my second week of doing proper, responsible, adult things, and it was the week that out of sheer crippling boredom, I wrote 3 new stories.

Mr. Dahl’s story of Mathilda came to mind – the girl who was so intelligent that when her mental powers could not be channelled anywhere, it manifested as telekinesis. I realized that in less than a month of working, I’ve written more than I did in the whole first half of 2013.

(can’t say the same for the second half, on account of NaNoWriMo)

It turns out that being bored to metaphoric death was the best thing that could have happened to me as a writer. With nothing to distract me, all my energies were directed towards writing, writing, and more writing. My ex-boss remarked that it appears I have gotten a full-time writing job after all.

Considering the volume of work I complete versus the volume of writing I’ve done, I guess that’s true.

(I just found out that Miss Shelley, of “Frankenstein” fame, also has a story titled “Mathilda”. It’s about a girl who has an incestuous relationship with her father. Parents, please, for the love of all things good and innocent, do not confuse one for the other)

Last week at the Planet Shakers’ conference, the story of the biblical Joseph (in Genesis) became the basis for one of the messages. Like how messages based on Joseph’s life always turn out, it was about trusting God despite insurmountably bleak circumstances. It resonated deeper and more profoundly in me than it used to, and I certainly could relate to the despair of a dream being impossibly out of reach.

(“What power would hell have if those imprisoned here would not be able to dream of heaven?” -The Sandman)

But there was a ray of hope. In a turn of events, Joseph found himself working in Pharoah’s court, and quickly became the second most powerful man in the empire, and possibly single-handedly saved his family from starvation from his position. From the inception of the dream (heh, heh) to its fulfilment, though, was a whooping 19 years.

I hope I don’t have to wait that long to see the fulfilment of mine.

Yesterday, I created a note on facebook to celebrate the 20th short story posted on this blog (“The Long Road Home”, if you’re wondering). In the little introduction that I wrote to the list, there was a sentence that surprised me when I wrote it:

“What can a writer do but keep writing?”

It calls back to the promise I made last year: that no matter where I find myself, no matter how hectic things get, I will always be writing stories. Not only because I want to, but also because I cannot help it. The storyteller in me has become too strong to restrain, too big to starve. If the storyteller dies, I think he might take me with him.

So here I am: still writing, with all the time in the world to do just that.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done. [Genesis 50:20]

183. Who Are You People?

With this post, I have successfully crossed over the halfway mark towards the completion of this 365-day writing project.

(more or less)

There is only one thing that bothers me:

Who are you people?

Who are you people, you who come by to visit from countries I’ve never been to, and some I’ve never heard of? Who are you, who listens in on my rants and my self-absorbed posts and opinions? Who are you, who actually gives a damn about what I write?

(to be fair, maybe you don’t. But I like to think that you do)

As of 1A.M. today, this blog now has 59 followers – that’s enough followers to start an average-sized American church; and to quote Mr. Baggins (the elder), I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like. Heck, I don’t know any of you at all!

(well, except you guys – Vivian, Ann Na, Isaiah, and Richie – you guys are wonderful)

The halfway point of a journey is always a good time to reassess one’s position. In screenwriting class, as we study story structure for emotional torque, the midpoint of the story is where the protagonist is forced to make a second commitment to his quest.

As I cross the midpoint of this journey, it’s a good time as any to get to know some of you, and to make some reintroductions, for the benefit of those of you who weren’t here at the beginning.

Hi, I’m Joseph Ng, a Christian and a writer from Malaysia (the two are not always mutually exclusive, but most of the time, they are). More than anything in the world (except maybe pretty ladies), I like stories, and I write all kinds of them: short fiction, long fiction, episodic scripts, stage plays… Whatever I can get my hands on, and whatever I’m given the opportunity to do. I started off writing short stories when I was 16, and I still write short stories to this day – for few other reasons but that they’re easy to write.

(on the subject of pretty ladies, I just saw Mr. Boone’s “Stuck In Love” yesterday evening, and I think I may be a little bit in love with Lily Collins)

Sometimes when I’m lucky, I get paid to write stuff, and I hope to one day make this writing thing a proper living.

But first, I need to get my bachelor’s degree.

(it’s kind of a funny story, involving me hoping at the beginning of my university career hoping that the Ministry of Education would one day come to their senses and abolish Moral Studies and Malaysian Studies as compulsory courses. That didn’t happen, and I’ll have to sort that out sooner than later)

Until then, I work a day job where I consistently complete work faster than it can be given to me. In between jobs, I write some more stuff to further perfect my craft, and in the hopes of some of these things getting published, and – fingers crossed – getting sold. For actual money.

A man can dream.

So now: who are you people?

182. Genre Roulette

When I say that my mind rebels at stagnation, and that I cannot continue doing the same thing for long, it also applies to writing.

I won’t be able to write the same thing over extended periods of time. Projects lose their allure. Ideas become dull and uninteresting. Pretty soon, I’ll get distracted with a shiny new idea, and the old one is left alone.

(Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time – 42,000 words – was written in 2 months. Impressive, if you think about it. Even more impressive is an older work titled Will + Meg – 51,000 words – written in 17 days, for NaNoWriMo, but it’s not anything I’d want anyone to have the misfortune of reading)

This goes all the way down, and even while writing stories, I can never keep writing in one style for long.

Earlier this month, Fixi Novo announced that their next anthology will be titled “Lost In Putrajaya”, and writers are welcome to interpret that however they wish, and write accordingly. Being me, I already knew that I wanted to write something that look the title literally and figuratively at the same time. When I started writing the story some 3 weeks ago, it started off with a marriage in trouble, with a bumbling protagonist trying to find his work/life balance. I wrote about 500 words of this, and left the idea alone for a little while.

(according to Mr. Hill, of “Locke and Key” fame, it’s important to allow your ideas to marinade and age in your mind, so that’s what I’m calling it from now on, instead of “procrastinating”)

Yesterday, after a long weekend of Planet Shakers conference and non-stop activities, I finally slowed down for the pace at work, and revisited the story. Then in one seating, I added a whooping 2,000 words to the story, and suddenly it was about the man getting lost, and getting plagued by irrational fears and projections of horror from his own mind as he spirals into panic, alone and lost in the dark.

Shortly after this, it became a cutesy boy-meets-girl scene as he is rescued by an attractive young lady, and within 300 words, it spiralled into full crime and drama as he… Well, tries to have the girl do something that she really doesn’t want to do. She fled into the hills, he followed, and there I stopped yesterday.

Today, upon completion of an editing task (which took much longer than it should have), I opened up the file, and the story was completed in another 1,000 words, after taking a nosedive into the fantasy genre and never resurfacing.

God, I love genre roulette.

I like to think of it as a thrill ride – you don’t know what’s coming next. People are too comfortable with genres and the tropes that are associated with them, and I’d like to shake that up a little bit. Family drama? Let’s have some fantasy elements and throw an ancient mythological god in there. Crime? Let’s put a supernatural spin on it, with outlandish characters who belong in a comedy. Children’s theatre? Oh, I have this great double entendre that we can put in!

(unfortunately, that last one was shot down by the director. Still, it was worth a shot)

Genre, of course, is a useful marketing tool. But for now, that’s someone else’s problem. As long as people let me get away with it, I’m going to tell stories like I don’t even know the meaning of “genre conventions”.

“Do people in your world always want only one story flavour at a time? Only one taste in their mouths?” The Gunslinger asks in Wolves of the Calla; and while I can’s speak for the rest of the world, I can certainly speak for myself:

No; no, I don’t.

181. Keep Trying

This day in history:

27th January, 2013. There’s a reminder in my phone: BOD 7.30pm.

The invitation came earlier that week from a man I’ve come to know as mentor and friend. They needed a group of people to come together and brainstorm for stories, and more importantly, to put words on paper. When I arrived, there were soft drinks on the table, and someone brought pasta. I sheepishly explained that I didn’t know I was expected to bring something, but they told me it didn’t matter, as long as I put words on paper.

The director gave us the premise for the evening’s writing session: to adapt two folklores into family-friendly stories for a June show. One of them involved a talkative turtle, and the other was about a king who could turn into a crocodile with the help of a magic sarong.

We got writing, and I put words on paper.

This would later become my theatre debut. Joseph Ng, writer of short fiction and TV episodes, would use the materials written in this session to create The Talkative Turtle and Other Stories, and with that, can honestly write in his bio that he has written for theatre.

One thing leads to another, and writing for The Talkative Turtle and Other Stories led to me writing for the November show, The Flowering Tree, a story of jealousy, betrayal, and reconciliation between two sisters.

(I swear I came up with the story before I knew anything about Disney’s Frozen)

It’s interesting how one open door can cascade into an unending series of other doors. Even the invitation to the writing session was only possible because of a contact I made in February 2012, when I attended the first writing workshop I have ever attended in my life. It’s true, then, when they say that success is a matter of doing the right thing at the right place at the right time.

It sounds devilishly simple, but really an oversimplification of a nigh-impossible task. Kind of like telling someone who’s dying, “Why don’t you, you know, just stop dying?”.

Who can tell the flow of time and tide? Who can see beyond the door until it’s opened? It’s like clearing the fog of war in an RTS game – you don’t really know what’s hiding in the impenetrable darkness of the future until you discover it, or more often, crash into and stumble over it, then landing with your face-first into the ground.

This is why the best advice one can ever give or accept is to “keep trying”. Keep opening doors. Keep discovering the future. You will trip, you will fall, you will fail more times than you think you will, and most of the time things won’t turn out the way you want them to. Sometimes the most well-thought out plans crumble at its foundations. Sometimes haphazard decisions turn out better than you ever dared to dream.

Keep trying.

As I wrote that day concerning the talkative turtle, I thought it’d be fun to throw in a blind wolf, who relentlessly hunts the turtle by the sound of its voice. When that got stale, I threw in three wisecracking, mischievous rabbits. To aid the turtle, I gave the story two bantering parrots. I made things up as the story went along, the whole time reminding myself to just keep putting words on paper.

And everything turned out better than I could have ever imagined.

180. “Bo Jio”

If you enjoy crashing pictures of people’s outings and celebrations on facebook with these two words, I have a few things to say to you:

Shut up.

Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP.

And one more thing:

SHUT. UP.

Look, think of it this way: if you had to say “Bo jio”, there likely is a very good reason why you weren’t “jio”-ed to the event.

To the uninformed: “Bo jio” is Hokkien for, literally, “Didn’t call”, or in context, “Why didn’t you invite me?”. The phrase has existed for a while now, but has gained popularity in recent months on social media. Originally starting off as a fun poke at people having fun, it has devolved into something monstrous that plagues nearly every status or picture update of people doing almost absolutely anything.

“Had such a great time at my sister’s 16th birthday party!”
“Bo jio.”

“Watched Frozen again with high school friends. We should meet up again soon!”
“Bo jio.”

“Family mall outing!”
“Bo jio.”

See, jokes are like salt in food. Things are really bland without them. Put a little in, and it makes for a great experience. Overuse it, and you’re in for some trouble.

It was fun and all when “Bo jio” started off accompanied by a funny picture. It isn’t anymore when literally no one can mention going out without someone commenting the two dreaded words in the comments section.

It’s like crashing a facebook baby announcement with “Death comes to us all in the end”. Just. Not. Cool.

Look, I know. It’s all in jest, and in good fun. Of course people aren’t really whining about the fact that they weren’t invited. But it also is annoying as hell. I mean, if you’re going to joke about something, at least be a little creative about it.

Allow me to suggest a few other ways in which you could respond:

1. Pretend you were there

“Yeah man, it was totally awesome! Can’t wait for the next meetup, love you guys <3 <3 <3”

It’ll confuse them so badly. Who knows – you might even get invited to the next event in their confusion.

2. Go full creepy stalker on them

Cross the line twice with comments that sound almost psychotic in how clingy they sound.

“You… You guys went out? Without… Me? Don’t you guys like me? I thought- I thought we were friends… But it’s okay, it’s your choice, I guess… If you don’t like me…

…I’ll make you like me…”

It might be good for a few laughs. They might decide that you’re actually a pretty okay person and invite you for the next outing. That, or it’ll ensure that you’ll never see another update from them again.

3. Subvert “Bo jio”

If all else fails, play a twist on the phrase. Let people think that you’re going to say “Bo jio”, but yank the rug from underneath them in a clever subversion. At least there’s some degree of humor in there to appreciate.

In the end, all I want to say is this: be creative about being funny. Unless you’re not trying to be funny, and are actually bummed that you weren’t invited, in which case you should take the matter to those involved in a face-to-face encounter, rather than over the internet. As far as the comments section is concerned, however:

SHUT UP.

179. Do Fried Chicken Come From Fried Eggs?

I cannot comprehend the way my mind works sometimes.

Since the time “confession pages” popped up around the internet, a lot of people have become very brave in their anonymity in confessing to thoughts and desires that they’ve had. I don’t personally join in the confession sharing, but reading them is quite the eye-opening experience.

One thing that people need to know, however, is that most of us are not as weird/different as we may think we are.

See, I used to think that I was the only weird person who felt like jumping off a ledge whenever I approached one, despite having a healthy fear of heights and falling. I used to think that I was weird for wanting the tiles on floors to align properly. I thought that my opinions towards certain things were completely original and not shared by others.

The internet has shown me that I’m not as alone as I thought.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who walks into a room wanting to get something, and then find that I cannot remember what I was looking for the moment I walked into the room. I’m not the only one who gets a strange urge to prank people in horrible ways that would ruin their days (but make several ones of mine in the days to come). I’m not the only one who gets dreams about my teeth falling out, or driving from the backseat, or suddenly finding myself back in primary school, or ending up on really tall, unstable buildings.

(seriously though, those dreams are trippy as. Someone needs to do some in-depth research into this)

It also showed me that my brilliant story ideas were neither as brilliant or as original as I thought them when I was 17. Thank goodness too – the stuff I wrote back in those days was too bad for publication, even by fanfiction standards.

(in an ideal world, no one would be allowed to publish anything until they turn 25. Both for their sake, and for the human race in general)

But once in a while, I get pretty strange ideas. Most of the time they’re just wordplay (“come on? Come off!” / “Shut up? Shut down!”), but sometimes they’re genuine questions, such as:

Do people who pronounce “Mexico” as “Me-hi-co” also pronounce “Taxi” as “Te-hi”? You know, since they replace the “-cks” sound in the first for a “h” sound.

Or:

Why do people say that one has fallen “head over heels” for someone? I mean, your head is, by default, already over your heels. If you literally bowled over because that’s how hard you fell, shouldn’t you fall “heels over head”?

And so on.

In a world which sees less and less of boundaries and definition these days, I’m glad to have this going on for me – however strange it is. It’s a part of what makes me uniquely me, this combination of wordplay with strange questions.

Seriously though, do fried chicken come from fried eggs?