Excerpt: ‘White Lady’ by Tina Isaacs

The last story in Insignia: Asian Fantasy Stories is a very interesting tale about a Singaporean mortician.

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‘White Lady’ by Tina Isaacs

Excerpt:

“What made you choose this life? It’s so…” he raised his eyes to the ceiling as he fumbled for a word, which wouldn’t come across as condescending, “…macabre.” Despite efforts, he couldn’t hold back the shudders that racked his spine.

Timothy suspended a pen over his note pad. He glanced at the fine-boned lady as she silently went about her task. She had the weathered face of someone who’d experienced her share of grief, and her skin was as sallow as the body which lay under the white shroud before her—or so he imagined.

She slowly laid out an array of equipment and materials on the three-tiered trolley beside her. On the top tray of the trolley, he eyed a row of brown glass bottles, silver canisters and various steel tools that she’d lined with painstaking care.

“I supposed you could say the profession chose me, rather than the other way around.” Her almond-shaped eyes crinkled at the corners as she paused in her task and looked up at Timothy. “The womenfolk in my family have always been White Ladies, you see. My mother, my grandmother, and her mother before her.”

He smiled and nodded to encourage the undertaker’s narration, his pen rushing furiously in an attempt to get it all, verbatim, despite the digital recorder he’d placed on the gurney in front of her.

“Techniques on how to prepare bodies after death were passed down the generations… Of course, the way we’ve handled things has changed over the years, but the premise is the same,” she said, her smile soft. “You see, many believe the way we prepare the body for the afterlife stems from the manifestation of society’s desire for some kind of continuity after death. It’s like a show of respect to those passing into the next realm, on the belief that we’ll be shown the same respect when we die. And this is especially true for the Chinese.”

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Tina Isaacs’ Author Page

Insignia: Asian Fantasy Stories Page (Insignia Vol.4.)

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Excerpt: ‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

Our second story from Singapore is by regular contributor, Joyce Chng! Her previous stories have been YA fantasy, but this one is definitely for the adult category this time around. 🙂

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‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

Siri took her time climbing the stairs leading to the nightclub. She could hear the steady techno bass beat coming from the open door—the door was always open, like all the women who passed through it—and licked her lips, tasting the waxy lipstick.  The air was stale with cigarette smoke and vomit, laced with the pungent after-scent of alcohol. It was still early; most of the guests would only appear after ten. There was a ship in town and there was the promise of cold hard cash.

She dressed for work—a tight bustier and mini-skirt showing off her long, slim legs. Six inch heels, pushed up her buttocks to give the illusion of perkiness and perpetual youth. Her pimp, Chan, gave her the clothes. He also pocketed most of the hard cash. The rest she kept and some she sent back home.

A couple of working sisters passed her, already tipsy. Siri blinked. Shadows followed them, like dark waves. She was reminded of the shimmering effect on a hot day, shimmering heat above hot tar while the road steamed with cars passing her by. She blinked again. The shadows were gone.

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Joyce Chng’s Author Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

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Excerpt: ‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

The first Singaporean story in Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy was written by Melvin Yong and explores the myth of the Singapore Stone.

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‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

If I could have foreseen the unspeakable horror that was to come from the old family home, I would have run out of that decrepit building and never returned.

It all started on a suffocating November afternoon in my late uncle’s tiny, cramped study. I spotted the crumpled, yellowed envelope in the back of his desk drawer, containing half a dozen faded black-and-white photographs and a short handwritten note.

I had spent the previous two days packing at the empty house after my uncle’s demise a month ago. It was terribly tedious, but the occasional discovery of a vintage curio enlivened an otherwise dreary experience. By noon, the study had become stiflingly warm, so I grabbed the open envelope and hastily retreated to the more accommodating living room downstairs.

Settling into an old rattan armchair, I took a closer look at the faded photographs. Three of the four pictures were of the same serene beach, taken from different angles. In the background were a kampong or fishing village and an unusually tall coconut tree, approximately twice the height of the other trees. Three wooden huts perched just beyond the shoreline and they appeared uninhabited, with no fishing vessels in sight.

The fourth photo piqued my interest. Almost completely white, the print looked like an overexposed shot at first, but upon closer examination, it was a close-up of a sandy dune, with webbed animal tracks trailing from one bottom corner of the photo to the top. My initial thought was that they might have belonged to a waterfowl or some curious amphibian. I couldn’t identify the creature, nor could I estimate its size.

The backs of the photographs were all date-stamped 1947, but had no other information of any significance to me. I would have dutifully tucked them all back in the crinkled envelope, if I hadn’t seen the accompanying note.

Torn from a notebook, the page was half-covered by handwritten etchings—not just words and phrases, but peculiar symbols in black and red ink. The date at the top right corner read April 1949, which immediately ruled out my late uncle as the author, or his involvement in any way; he had been born just before the Japanese Occupation.

Most of the writing made little sense. There was an address scribbled at the beginning of the page, “Pulau Satumu,” which I later discovered was a small, uninhabited island off the southwest coast of Singapore.

Now, I shall not attempt to reproduce the contents of the note, for nearly half of it was in a foreign language of unknown origin. I assumed it was a local dialect, but upon closer examination, that was not the case. Strange wiggling tentacles of ink and tiny stars and planetary symbols took the place of letters and numbers, creating a surreal wall of incoherent text and images.

The text that I did understand chilled me to my core, even in that oppressive afternoon heat. I could find no other way to interpret the second half of the note: it was a dire warning of threats to come.

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Melvin Yong’s Author Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

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Excerpt: ‘Looking for Trouble’ by Joyce Chng

 

This week, we’d like to share a few excerpt’s from the short stories in ‘Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories’. Joyce Chng contributed two stories to this anthology, both are Young Adult urban fantasy stories.

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Looking for Trouble by Joyce Chng

The old man is watching me. A pair of brown eyes set in a face crisscrossed with wrinkles. His hands rest somewhat elegantly on the walking cane knob. I blink. A dragon. The knob was carved in the shape of a Chinese dragon: curled beard, bulging pearl eyes and open-fanged maw.

Mind you, he looks really nondescript. Your typical ah pek, out on a MRT jaunt, probably going to the kopitiam for a cup of kopi and coffee house politics. It’s the eyes. Dragon eyes. A tian lung is looking at me. I stare back, typical teenager bravado. And mind you, I am not ah lian material, either.

The old tian lung smiles at me, baring his teeth–or lack of. Gold flashes at me. I close my eyes, pretending to listen to gothic metal. The joys of using an ipod. In my mind’s eye, in the aether that binds space and Myriad together, I confront the tian lung.
“Far from home, old one,” I say politely. Respect your elders, even though they are not of your kind.

“I have been watching you for a long time,” the serpentine shape spirals lazily in figure eights. Silver scales glisten, like arowana scales. “You have barely fledged.”
Self-consciously, I look at my feathers. Gold, green and red. The blue is starting to come true. I am a late bloomer, unlike my sisters.

“Little phoenix, you are in trouble.”
I bristle instantly. Fear reflex. “What did you say?”
“You are in trouble.”

The beeping of the closing MRT door startles me back into my human body. I blink. Uniform: check. Name-tag: check. Self: check. I watch the old man wave at me on the platform as the train pulls away.
I am late for school.
I am in trouble.

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Thanks for reading! Further details and links are on the Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories page.