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You’ll Want To Take Better Care of Your Body After Watching This Anime

Did you know? 

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our body, working relentlessly throughout their life cycle (about 120 days), after which they are replaced with new cells. 
  • White blood cells protect our body against diseases and foreign invaders. There are several subtypes, including macrophages, which destroy bacteria, as well as T-cells that destroy infected cells. 
  • I learned all this from an anime. 

Okay, so that’s not 100% true. I learned it in biology class. But that was 15 years ago, and I’ve long since forgotten everything but the most basic facts about the human body. So watching Cells at Work: Code Black was a fun (albeit dark) refresher. 

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Seriously, if we had shows like this back in the day instead of boring ol’ textbooks, everyone would have aced their biology exams. It has everything that a good anime should have: beautiful art, interesting characters, a great plot, awesome action. But most of all, it’s educational, and it carries an important message beyond just entertainment: Take. Better. Care. Of. Our. Bodies. 

Based on a popular manga series, the first anime season of Cells at Work! details how a body functions through the eyes of anthropomorphised cells, ie a red blood cell and a white blood cell. I haven’t watched the original, but I’ve heard it’s light and fun, with a focus on comedy. Code Black, however, is much darker – and shines the spotlight on what happens to an unhealthy body caused by bad lifestyle habits and stress. 

Synopsis 

The series opens with our ‘hero’ AA2153, a rookie red blood cell. Somewhat naive in character, he starts off enthusiastic and pumped (ha!) for work, but soon discovers that there are plenty of problems with his work environment, from angry, overworked cells to pathways clogged with cholesterol and plaque, hindering oxygen deliveries — a reflection of the body’s unhealthy state. The environment is also hostile: AA2153 often gets verbally abused by other cells, as they are all stretched to their limit and often have to prioritise certain functions over others.

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During a delivery run, our protagonist is saved by white blood cell U1196 from an invading Pneumonia Coccus, and a friendship blossoms despite their different roles. The two characters will continue running into each other throughout the course of the series, as they both try to fulfil their duties to keep the body running. 

AA2153 does his best under terrible working conditions and tries to keep his optimism up. In the first episode, he witnesses a terrible scene: his co-workers turning into zombies (carboxyhemoglobin) after coming into contact with carbon monoxide (from smoking). Although initially terrified, he hardens his resolve to deliver oxygen after his senpai sacrifices himself by running through the gas, so that AA2153 could deliver oxygen through a safer route. However, this is just the beginning of the body’s troubles. 

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Throughout the course of the anime, our characters will have to overcome various situations, some of which are self-inflicted by the body, from heavy drinking and a bad diet to consumption of caffeine and energy drinks, which in turn cause the body to weaken further, making it prone to disease. After battling conditions such as hair loss, kidney stones, gout, erectile dysfunction, gonococci and pulmonary embolism, AA2153 starts to lose hope that the hellish environment will change… 

Verdict 

I absolutely love this anime. Pretty art style aside, I think it’s brilliant how the writers have managed to turn somewhat complicated concepts into easy-to-digest (pun intended) stories— and they’ve also done an excellent job depicting the anthropomorphised cells and the various organs creatively. 

The kidney, for example, is shown as a traditional bathhouse, and the glomeruli (the filtering unit) as bath girls who help clean up the red blood cells. When bacteria invades one kidney, threatening to destroy it, AA2153 urges the girls to evacuate – but they are prevented from doing so by the matriarch Glomeruli, who tells them that the kidney is a ‘silent organ’ — always working, never complaining. This hit me hard because I know that kidney failure is often called a silent killer, and it isn’t until they are failing that we realise something is very wrong. The kidney is eventually saved after the body ingests antibiotics, which help the white blood cells defeat the invading bacteria. 

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Another good example of the anime’s creativity is the liver, represented as a red light district with hostess clubs, where the red blood cells go to ‘unwind’ and detoxify, especially after alcohol consumption. But as the body continues drinking excessively, the once bright and colourful district becomes a dark and gloomy place, with exhausted and sickly hostesses (hepatocytes). I think it’s just great how they used real-life scenarios and applied them to the anime in such a way that is easy to understand. 

But more than just spitting facts, the anime manages to depict the emotions of the anthropomorphised cells and the seemingly hopeless state they are living in. The characters aren’t just there to tell you about how the body works: they have their own hopes and dreams and feelings. The main character is your typical anime hero: bright, cheerful and enthusiastic, always trying to inspire others — and while it’s nothing original as far as animes go (think Naruto, or Luffy), AA2153 is endearing in his own way.

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AA2153 and AC1677

The side characters are equally well developed. In episode 7, our hero’s best friend, a fellow red blood cell designated as AC1677, becomes jealous of AA2153’s achievements, having always been overshadowed by the former’s achievements.  He also feels somewhat guilty at AA2153’s persistence and dedication, as he doesn’t have the same zeal. AC1677 turns to the high that caffeine produces in order to try and outshine his friend. The body suffers a nosebleed, and AA2153 almost loses his best friend as red blood cells are sucked out and AC1677 loses his strength after crashing from a caffeine high — but he manages to save him, and eventually returns to his former self and works harder. (AC1677 is my favourite character by the way!) 

It’s episodes like these that make me feel a twinge of guilt — of course, I too have made my own body suffer from bad decisions (lack of sleep, for example, eating unhealthy food, and stressing myself out lol) and watching Code Black somehow drives the point home that I’m letting it down. I’m killing these cells in my body even though they’re working so hard for me — always working, never resting — so that I can enjoy a good quality life for as long as possible without suffering and pain. 

Since the pandemic began, I’ve made some changes to my lifestyle, including more exercise and a better diet (because I haven’t been able to eat out lol). I’ve lost about 12 kg, and I’m feeling much better compared to the days I used to gorge on fried foods coz of work stress. I couldn’t even climb stairs without feeling winded. My body must have been screaming. 

I’d like to think I’m providing a better ‘working’ environment for the cells living in me these days. So that’s a good thing. 

Rating: 8.5/10 

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I Finally Played Assassin’s Creed – Here Are My Thoughts

The Assassin’s Creed series is one of the most popular games in the world, with 11 installments under its belt and over 140 million copies sold. While I have heard many good things about the game, I never had the chance to play it until recently. Steam was having a sale on all AC titles, some of which were going at half price – and after looking up reviews, I settled on AC: Origins.

Only regret? I should have started playing sooner.

AC Origins is set in the last days of the Ptolemaic dynasty in ancient Egypt, and follows Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay whose duty is to protect the people – sort of like a modern day sheriff of sorts. A dangerous job begets dangerous enemies, and Bayek and his son Khemu are captured by mysterious masked figures from The Order of the Ancients. They demand Bayek open the Siwa Vault, but Bayek was actually oblivious to the vault’s existence, a fact the Order of the Ancients refused to believe. In the ensuing scuffle, Khemu is accidentally murdered by his own father. 

The story picks up one year later, with Bayek returning to Siwa after successfully killing The Heron, one of the Order. Bayek and his wife Aya are hell-bent on revenge, and they have a list of targets from which they intend to eliminate. However, the more Bayek investigates, the more he realizes that toppling the order isn’t simply about assassinating a few men, as the organisation is not only firmly entrenched in society and politics, but also wields enormous influence. They also discover that the Order is actually after powerful relics – which is why they wanted access to Siwa Vault – and use these powers to subjugate the population and bring peace and order to the world. 

To counter this, Bayek and Aya found The Hidden Ones, the precursor to the modern Assassins. Like the modern version, the Hidden Ones are meant to represent peace through freedom, whereas the Order of Ancients – a forerunner to the modern Templars in other AC games, represent peace through order. These two secret societies will battle each other through the ages: one determined to seek out relics for power, the other to prevent the subjugation of mankind. 

The Story and Characters 

If you’re a fan of historical fiction (like Dan Brown), you’ll love how the story weaves Bayek and the Hidden Ones into real-life events in history. There’s even a mission where you help sneak Cleopatra into Ptolemy’s palace, so that she can meet Julius Caesar. The main story isn’t all that long, but there are plenty of side missions to keep you occupied. Some have interesting plots and add to the overall story; others are mundane and involve things like fetching items. As much as I like the game, I found the side missions tedious and repetitive after awhile, but kept going because I’m *hangs head in shame* a completionist and it bugs me when there’s an incomplete mark on the map lol. 

Bayek as a character is quite likeable, albeit a little naive (he often takes what people say at face value, then (insert Pikachu face meme here) is shocked when they betray him. Bayek’s guilt at Khemu’s murder ,his helplessness at being unable to protect his son and family, is also well written and portrayed through small side missions, like the one where you can complete puzzles and be rewarded with some dialogue about how Bayek and Khemu used to go star gazing.

I also think that the theme of revenge is conveyed really well. Bayek feels that by killing the people responsible for his son’s death, as well as those who have wronged Egypt and oppressed its people, he will be able to feel at peace. We see that this is not the case. 

Whenever Bayek makes a kill, the player is transported to a dark space where Bayek has a conversation with his victim and passes judgement for their sins, before they are sent to the afterlife. But as the player observes, Bayek is not always happy, even after his vengeance is complete, because deep down he knows that like Hydra in Greek mythology, cut off one head and another appears. There will always be oppressors, just as how there will always be the oppressed. It isn’t until he realises this and finds a greater calling – to protect the people through the Hidden Ones and leave a legacy that lasts beyond his own life – that he truly finds purpose. 

Graphics and Setting 

Image via Ubisoft

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egyptian history (one of my dreams as a kid was to go see the Pyramids of Giza), and AC Origins delivers with breathtaking visuals. It’s one of the prettiest games that I’ve played, aside from Detroit Become Human. 

The immersion is wonderful; at times I felt like I was actually exploring ancient Egypt in Bayek’s shoes, checking out tiny details on the buildings and statues,soaking in the culture and colourful tales of their gods and myths. The costumes are amazingly detailed and reflect the different stations of its characters, from the everyday people and the priestesses, to soldiers, merchants and nobility. You also get a nice mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture, as during the Ptolemaic period these three were intertwined (Rome invaded Egypt in 30BC, ending Cleopatra’s rule and the ancient Egyptian dynasty). As Bayek, you visit important cities such as Alexandria, Krokodiliopolis, Thebes and Memphis, each with their own unique architecture.

Gameplay 

I have to admit – I was rather miffed at the lack of a ‘jump’ command when I first started playing, because it seemed like such a basic move that players won’t be able to do at will. Instead, you vault over obstacles when Bayek’s avatar is close – but you kind of get used to it as the game progresses. As the AC series is all about stealth, you’re not supposed to be running through hordes of enemies hacking and slashing, relying instead on hiding yourself in bushes, around pillars and timing your attacks so that enemies won’t raise the alarm. Overall, the gameplay feels smooth, even though sometimes I would accidentally release myself from a ledge and watch as Bayek falls to his doom wtf haha. That being said, the game allows you to move and climb virtually anywhere. The use of your hawk Senu to hone in on hidden treasure and enemies is a nice touch, and is apparently a hallmark of the AC games (can’t compare because I’ve never played the other ones). 

I feel that it is a good thing that I started with AC: Origins. Not only does it start in the ‘correct’ chronological order ie how the Assassins came to be, thus giving the player plenty of backstory, it’s also touted as one of the best AC games of all time. Because I had so much fun, I purchased AC: Odyssey, which is the latest one in the franchise and will be checking it out as soon as I have more time – and I’m planning to get some of the older games too.The thing about that, though, is that the new games tend to be improvements over old ones, so you just can’t get into them once you’ve played the new (case in point: I played Witcher 3 first, and Witcher 2 just sucked in comparison. Same case with Borderlands 2). 

Have you played any of the Assassin’s Creed games? Which one is your favourite? 

Special Request : A Short Story

Hey guys! 

I don’t know what I clicked on my Google Docs last night, but I unearthed a short story I wrote back in 2015. I think I submitted it for a FIXI (that’s a local indie publisher here in Malaysia) anthology. Needless to say, it wasn’t selected 😛 I’m still pretty happy with it though, so rather than let it languish in storage, I’ve decided to share it with you guys here. Enjoy, and let me know what you think! 

PS: I wish I could still write like this. I don’t think my creative writing skills have improved over the years (rather, they’ve deteriorated because uninspired. lol) 

Special Request

by Eris Choo

Khoo felt relief wash over him (or maybe it was just the rush of cold air) when he finally stepped into the cool, air-conditioned interior of the fast food restaurant. Parking in SS2 was a nightmare – he had been driving around for half an hour, and the only available spot was still a ten minute walk away. Now his shirt was stuck to his back with sweat. He wiped some off his brow, adjusted the heavy backpack over his shoulder and took a moment to catch his breath. 

It was close to lunch hour, and the place was filling up with customers. Khoo fell into line behind a little boy and his mother. The boy was having a minor meltdown as he pointed at three yellow and blue figurines displayed on a nearby glass shelf. 

Nak Minion! Nak Minion!” he pleaded, stomping his tiny feet and tugging hard on his mother’s sleeve. She shushed him. Spurned, the boy flopped onto the floor like a starfish, wailing his lungs out. “Minionnnnn! Nak Minionnnn!” he screamed, as if his very life depended on it. The poor, harried mother, who already had her hands full with shopping bags, tried to pull him to his feet. People were starting to stare. Some shook their heads, others looked annoyed. 

Ok, mak beli, mak beli set Minion. Diam boleh tak?” she hissed, defeated. The boy immediately subsided, watching quietly as his mother ordered a child’s set meal and one for herself. He unwrapped the Minion toy and hugged it to his chest, happy that his wish was fulfilled, while the mother clucked and told him to find a seat. 

Khoo smiled. He remembered a time when Mandy was younger; she had been quite the handful herself. He recalled how she had climbed onto the roof to get the badminton shuttlecock – nearly gave him a heart attack when he came home from work and saw his daughter clambering up the pipes on the side of the house like some monkey, her long ponytail swinging behind her. He had screamed at her to get down before she broke her neck, but his little girl had climbed right up to the top, then sat on the roof and waved at him. The cheek! But that was Mandy alright – she always did what she wanted to, even when her father told her otherwise. 

“Hi, sir. Makan sini ke bungkus?” the petite Malay girl behind the counter asked, snapping Khoo out of his reverie. 

He ordered a medium coke for dine-in. Drink in hand, he climbed up the stairs. 

Am I really going through with this? he thought. His feet felt heavy. With each step, his heartbeat seemed to get louder and louder, until it roared in his ears and blocked out all other noise, just as he reached the restaurant’s second floor. 

He’ll be in the corner, with a book. KL Noir: Red, if he’s open for business. 

Sure enough, there he was. 

Khoo was taken aback by the man’s appearance. He was expecting someone big and burly, with gorilla-like arms covered in tattoos…or maybe a tough-looking thug in shades and a black coat, like in those gangster movies. 

Instead, sitting with his back to the glass window overlooking the street was a thin but athletic youth. He couldn’t be older than 25. Dressed in a grey turtleneck and black-rimmed glasses, he might as well have been auditioning for a part as Steve Jobs in a biopic. Mandy would have called him ‘one of those hipster dudes’.

The thought of his daughter hardened his resolution. He clenched his fists, walked over and sat down at the table. 

The guy didn’t look up or make any indication that he noticed his new table mate. After a few minutes, Khoo cleared his throat. 

“Are you Zee?” 

“Depends on who’s asking,” the man replied, still not looking up. He had a deep but soothing voice, the kind reminiscent of Patrick Teoh-esque radio announcers back in the 60’s. Khoo was starting to wonder if he had gotten the right person. 

“I heard you provide… solutions. To problems,” Khoo began. 

Zee flipped a page. “For a price, yes.”

“I have a problem that needs solving.” 

Silence. Then: “If you know how to look for me, you know my fee, yes?” 

Khoo nodded. He knew as much. 

“Cash. Half upfront, and half after I deal with your… problem,” Zee said quietly. Right on cue, Khoo unshouldered his backpack and placed it onto the table. 

That finally caught Zee’s attention. He put down his book and leaned forward, an expression of polite interest on his young face. Khoo shrunk back a little in spite of himself. It was like a switch being turned on. He saw a cold, hard glint in the man’s eyes that wasn’t there before, and wondered why he had even doubted if it was the ‘right person’. He shuddered. He had been dealing with a snake – one that was hiding or pretending to be asleep, but had suddenly woken up and was ready to strike at any moment. 

“Tell me more about this problem of yours.” Zee said. 

Khoo told him. 

The man leaned back, closed his eyes and nodded. “Good. I’ll look into it. Meet me back here at the same time next week with the rest of the payment.” 

“I have a request.” 

The man smiled, more to himself than to Khoo. It was a ‘I’ve heard it all’ smile. 

“I…don’t want it to be quick. Do you understand?” Khoo asked, his voice trembling slightly. Not from shame or fear, but from anger. Mandy’s face loomed in front, like someone had plastered his daughter’s image over his eyes. “Make sure he knows what we’ve been through.” 

“That’ll cost you extra. Include that in your final payment.” the man said curtly. He got up to leave, picking Khoo’s bag and tossing it over his shoulder. 

“Wait.” Without thinking, Khoo grabbed the guy’s arms to stop him from leaving… then recoiled at the sudden thought of what those arms and hands must have done. Khoo felt a wave of shame and disgust: both at himself and the man standing before him. But he had asked for this. He had sought out Zee’s services. He was in no place to judge. 

“If there are any problems… there’s no way it can get back to me, right?”  

“Don’t worry, Mr Khoo.” The smile Zee gave him was cold. “Everything we discussed today is confidential.” 

*** 

The blaring club music was giving him a headache. Techno! Of all the terrible music genres to ever exist, this was the one they had to pick for the night. Zee, he preferred classical music. Nothing like listening to some Vivaldi after a long day at work. 

He leaned against the railing on the raised platform which overlooked the dance floor, sipping on a cold beer. The alcohol kept his insides warm, helped him to focus on the task at hand. If the night dragged out any longer, he’d have to order a soda. Mixing business with pleasure was a bad idea. When he was at work, he was focused. He had to be. 

He glanced at his watch, which said 2am. It had been a long night, tailing his quarry around. Said quarry and his bunch of friends had gotten steadily drunk as they hit almost every single alcoholic establishment in the area. Zee couldn’t even keep track of the name of the club they were in now.  

He continued watching his target, who was attempting to grind against a bunch of scantily-clad girls in the middle of the dance floor. After what felt like an eternity, the window Zee had been looking for finally opened  – the guy was stumbling toward the restrooms at the back. Zee finished off his drink in a hurry, tossed the can onto a nearby table and started down the spiral staircase. 

There was a Caution: Wet Floor sign just next to the toilet door. Perfect. He propped it up, slipped in and closed the door behind him.  

His oblivious victim was pissing into a urinal, his back to the door. The place was empty. Things couldn’t have gone any better. 

Time for some action. 

“Rodney, my man,” he said, clapping a hand onto the poor chap’s back. 

“What the fuck, dude ? Can’t a guy take a leak? What do you – ”  

Zee caught his victim in half-turn, slamming the latter’s head against the wall in one swift motion. There was a loud thunk as Rod’s skull hit the concrete wall and he slumped, dick out and all. Zee casually stuffed it back into Rod’s pants, shifted the guy’s bulk over his own shoulders and carried him outside. 

It was a good thing Rod wasn’t a big man, but even if he was, Zee wouldn’t sweat it. He’s dealt with larger people before. It’s not the size, it’s how you use it. Zee managed a chuckle, which was drowned out by the DJ dropping the beat on the deck. 

Nobody batted an eyelid as Zee half dragged, half carried Rod to the exit. It wasn’t uncommon to see shit-pissed-drunk guys being carried out of the club by their friends. Speaking of friends, Zee was careful to avoid the centre of the dance floor, where he knew all of Rod’s ‘friends’ were. Probably too busy getting their hands up some skirt, judging by his observation of the group earlier.  

They slipped out of the back door into the alley, where Zee’s car was parked. It was getting late; some partygoers were still straggling about but the crowd had thinned considerably. A girl was puking onto the sidewalk while her friend patted her on the back.  

There it was, the silver Proton – right at the end of the row. Unlocking the car with a push of a button, he carefully placed Rod onto the back seat in a sitting position. Checked the man’s eyes. Still out cold. Good. Zee grabbed a piece of rope from under the front passenger seat and secured Rod’s hands and feet. Although it was only a 15 minute drive to Zee’s workshop, he didn’t want the guy waking up in the middle of the drive and pulling some stunt, like jumping out of the moving car. That almost happened with the last guy. 

Turning out onto the LDP, he drove well under the speed limit. The last thing he wanted was for cops to pull him over for reckless driving. Now that’d be funny, wouldn’t it? 

                                                                                 *** 

It was a good hour before Rod finally came to. Zee had been reading. It was harder in the dim light of the basement, but he managed.  

“Rod, my man,” Zee greeted him cheerfully, putting down his book and walking over to where Rod was tied onto a chair in the middle of the room. “You awake? You were out cold for nearly two hours. Sorry, must have hit you harder than I thought.” 

“H..H..Who are you? What’s happening?” Ron’s voice was sick and groggy with fear, his eyes taking on the wide-eyed look of a trapped animal. A purplish bruise swelled on his head like an ugly, protruding crown. “Wh..why am I tied up? Help ! Helppp!!!” Ron screamed. 

The sound of cicadas and crickets from the surrounding jungle sang in return, filtering in through a small window at the top of the basement. 

“Quiet, Rod. I don’t want to gag you,” Zee warned, brandishing a rag. The nearest neighbour was a resort-cum-cooking academy at the foot of the hill, a good few kilometres away, but Zee didn’t want to take any chances. Rod subsided almost immediately into snivelling sobs. 

“What do you want from me? If it’s money, you can have it,” Rod said, his eyes pleading. 

Zee smiled and opened his briefcase. Relished the look on Rod’s face as the light from the ceiling bulb reflected off his shiny, just-polished instruments. All part of the show, of course. Scare them good and proper. After years in the field, Zee found that psychological trauma was always…useful. His targets were usually so scared by the end of his little display that they hardly put up any resistance during the actual business. 

True enough, Rod was already pissing himself. Zee saw the guy’s crotch darken, as a strong stench of urine filled the air. He shook his head disapprovingly. 

“Rodney Tan. Uploaded naked photos of your ex-girlfriend after she broke up with you. Threatened to put them up on the Internet if she wouldn’t have sex with you, recorded that, then put everything up anyway.” Zee made a tsk-tsking sound, holding up a chunky pair of pliers in front of Rod’s face. “What a bad boy you’ve been.” 

“I swear, I don’t know what you’re talking about – ” Rod stammered. But Zee had seen the quick flicker of understanding and panic in Rod’s eyes. He grinned. This was going to be fun. It was times like these that he really enjoyed his work. Of course, he was no saint. He had taken care of (sometimes) innocent people. But it was always the special requests which were really fun. He liked to think of himself as a sort of Judge Dredd, meting out twisted justice in a world where the corrupt and the rich and the powerful always, always got away with things. 

Here, he was jury, judge and executioner for his clients. Some clients simply wanted a quick and clean solution. Those were easy – sometimes he’d stage them as a hit and run, at other times a break-in or a robbery. 

But sometimes some clients, like Mr Khoo, had special requests. That was when Zee would bring them back to his workshop in Penchala Hills (just 10 minutes from 1 Utama Shopping Centre! How’s that for convenience?). It’s remote location on the top of the hill made it easier for him to work without being disturbed. 

Rod was babbling. “I don’t know any Mandy Khoo… you’ve got the wrong guy, I tell you. She was always making up stories about things – “ 

Come on, Rod. I didn’t mention who it was, why are you admitting it? Are you really doing this to me? To quote President Snow from The Hunger Games: I thought we had an agreement not to lie to each other.” 

“Did she put you up to it?” Rod asked hysterically. ”She..she’s lying! She was sleeping around…anyone could have put up those pictures. The lying bitch -” 

“The lying bitch is dead,” Zee said softly. Watched as comprehension dawned on Rod’s face. “She died a month ago. Took her own life. Probably while you were out partying it up somewhere, taking photos of the next girl innocent enough to be sweet talked by your lies.”

“It…it wasn’t my fault! Please! I’ll give you anything you want! We’ll keep this between us! I – “ 

“Hush. I’m just doing my job.” Zee placed a finger to his lips. “Now tell me, which one do you prefer, this, “ – he held up a plier in one hand – “or this?” – a sharp hunting knife in the other. 

“Don’t, don’t, don’t….please….” Rod’s eyes swam with tears as he made one last pitch for mercy. 

“I think we’ll go with this first,” Zee said happily, picking the plier. As he carefully positioned it over one of Rod’s securely tied hands, Rod started screaming. Zee sighed. The plier hadn’t even touched the skin. Always so noisy, especially the men. He picked the rag up from the floor and stuffed it into Rod’s mouth.  

“You and me, we’ll have a long night,” Zee muttered, casually clamping a nail between the pliers’ jaws. Pulled. The nail ripped clean off, a spray of hot blood hitting him in the face, splattering across his glasses. Rodney’s eyes bulged in their sockets as muffled screams filled the room. 

“Ah.. I’m sorry. That was messy,” Zee apologised, wiping his glasses on his shirt. “I’ll do better next time.” 

Another. And another. The room was punctuated with screams and shrieks each time the pliers jerked and pulled. 

Once he was through, Zee picked up the hunting knife. Tested it out on skin; nodded in a satisfied way as the blade sliced open flesh to reveal the pink muscles underneath. Then he started cutting. He was slow. He was deliberate. When his quarry passed out, he slapped him to consciousness again. He hummed a tune as blood flowed freely onto the cement floor, forming a large pool of deep crimson. 

After the last of Rod’s fingers had been removed, Zee finally stood up for a breather. He had been at it for at least two hours. 

“There. Not that bad lah, right ?” he cooed, placing Rod’s severed thumb into a neat box where the man’s ears and nose now sat. From the chair, the thing that once looked human made a weak, gurgling sound. 

Zee glanced at his watch. 6am. The sun would be up soon.

“Oh, my. Look at the time. I have an appointment to catch later, and I still have to clean up. We’ll just finish this off now, okay?” 

Zee took out his final piece of equipment : a 5” gut hook. As he buried the blade into Rodney’s warm, slippery insides, he tilted his victim’s head up. Zee liked to look them in the eyes and watch as life went out of them. He wanted his face to be the last thing that they saw, the face of their punisher and their saviour, come to put them out of their wretched, miserable lives. 

“Nothing personal, Rod,” he whispered, his hand warm and slick with blood up to his elbow as he felt the man’s guts spilling out onto the floor. “It’s just business.” 

***

It was Monday again. Khoo walked up to the familiar red and yellow building at the corner of the street, and walked in. The smell of french fries and chicken nuggets fresh from the fryer greeted him, and he breathed in deeply. He was ravenous, for some reason. Khoo ordered a large chicken burger, fries and a coke. To top it off, a chocolate sundae. He held the tray carefully as he carried it up to the second floor. 

Zee was sitting at his usual spot, reading. This time, it was KL Noir: Yellow. Mr Khoo sat down. Same thing – the guy hardly batted an eyelid. 

“Is everything – ?” 

“Yes. It’s done. ” Zee pushed an envelope across the table. Inside was a plain silver ring. Rod’s. Khoo picked it up absently, then dropped it in a hurry when he remembered what happened to its owner. Zee slipped it back into the envelope when he was satisfied that his client had seen evidence of a job well done. 

“What did you do to him?” Khoo whispered. He was both fascinated and disgusted at his morbid interest in the death of a man he had hired someone to kill. Not that the scumbag didn’t deserve it, a small voice in the back of his mind chimed in. It sounded awfully like his daughter’s. 

“I don’t think you’d like to know the exact details. Not over lunch.” Zee’s lips curled into an amused grin. “Rest assured, you’ll probably hear about his disappearance on the news.” 

Mr Khoo passed him a black bag, similar to the one used last week. Inside was RM50,000. 100 crisp pieces of RM100 notes in each bundle. Mr Khoo counted them out again this morning, in front of Mandy’s picture on the family altar, while his wife sobbed in the back room. She never did anything other than cry these days. 

Zee took it, running long, slender fingers over the bag’s fat curves, and smiled again.

“It was nice doing business with you, Mr Khoo. If you have anymore… problems, you know where to find me.” 

“The pleasure is mine,” Khoo said quietly. He looked down at his unwrapped burger, at the ring poking out of the envelope, at the young killer’s smiling face, then back at his food. 

“Mind if I… sit here and finish this?” 

“By all means.” 

 

Book Review: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Hey guys!

Been a minute since my last post – been busy with life and stuff.

I recently went for a close friend’s traditional wedding ceremony, and it was not only great fun but also an eye-opening experience. I realised that I know so little of my own culture lol.

I was also in SG a couple of days ago for a work meeting with the SG team – there are major changes coming and I’m not sure how I’ll cope, but the only way is to soldier on I suppose. I’m not going to kill myself over it because my anxiety charts are off the roof lately.

I’ve also been working on some part time projects; these will come in handy if my (day)job suddenly goes tits up – so even though they’re eating into my time at the moment, I’m trying to keep them going.

I also found some time to finish Salem’s Lot (finally!). Trying something different this year in that I want to upload more videos, so here goes the review. I still don’t like appearing on camera, so for now voice will do:

If you don’t like my nasally drone-y voice (ha)!, here’s a summary –

Fans of horror should definitely read Salem’s Lot, one of King’s earlier novels (I like to call it his ‘Renaissance’ period). The horror titles he produced between the 1970s – 1990s are some of my favourites, the likes of Carrie, Cujo, Pet Sematary, The Running Man, It, The Shining and The Stand. To put it simply, Salem’s Lot is about vampires – the kind that rips your throat out and sucks you dry, not the sparkly lovestruck kind.

The horror in Salem’s Lot is less about what people do to others, but goes back to a more primeval fear, of evil personified as monsters lurking in the dark. It’s the fear you get while entering a damp and dark labyrinth full of unknown creatures, rather than the fear of walking home at midnight looking out for muggers. (does that make sense?) The characters are well developed with good story arcs, and you can’t help but root for them to overcome dangers thrown their way. The climax of the novel is a bit of a letdown, however, and I feel that it lacks that oomph in its resolution. Still, I think it’s a great horror novel and a great introduction to King if you are not yet familiar with his work.

Fun fact: Stephen King has had 83 novels published. Which one is your favourite?

 

30-Day Writing Challenge – Day 5: An Inanimate Object That’s Important To You

5. An Inanimate Object That’s Important To You 

I can’t even remember when exactly I started wearing it, but I’ve always had a small jade pendant on a silver chain which I never take off, even for showers or when I go to bed. The pendant is an amulet of sorts that was blessed when I was ‘taken in’ as an ‘adopted daughter’ of the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, Guanyin (or Avalokitesvara, as she is known in Buddhist texts).

I haven’t been able to find anything on the Internet, but according to what I know, it is common for Malaysian Chinese families to have a child ‘adopted’ by a particular deity, so that they may enjoy protection and blessings. I don’t recall much of the ritual, but I think it involved me going to a temple and there was a monk presiding over it. We also had to buy the jade and have it blessed.

By virtue of having had it for so long, it feels weird whenever I don’t have my pendant with me. I’m not very religious, but I also believe in the supernatural. There have been times where I felt afraid and the presence of my pendant (and the belief that it affords me protection) have helped me to sleep, especially when I am alone in a foreign place.

 

 

 

Monster

Are you afraid of monsters? When I was young I used to be. Nameless things with fangs, lurking in the dark just beyond the reach of light. Biding it’s time for the adults to leave. As you shake under the blankets, a long gnarly finger creeps out, gripping the edges of the door. It grins at you, a pair of yellow eyes glinting malevolently, dripping blood from it’s rotten teeth. It makes you feel like your heart will burst from the horror of it, but no sound comes out from your throat: you’re left mouthing screams like a fish out of water.

As I grew up I  realised that monsters were only what I made them out to be. They had no more power over me when I woke up from a nightmare.

Little did I know that as a grown woman I would face my childhood horrors again. One that walked with human skin.

The monster walks with a thousand faces. 

He might be your neighbour, the seemingly ordinary Joe. He might be that good-looking stranger you exchange glances with at the grocery store, unaware that underneath that smile lurks something unimaginable. And that’s what makes the whole thing more terrifying. Monsters in nightmares fade away in the daylight, but true monsters, the ones that can really hurt us, prowl the streets at all times. They are everywhere. They are everyone.

A seemingly innocent walk out in the park turned into a trip to hell. Before I knew it a heavy hand clasped over my mouth, muffling my screams. Dragged me into the bushes.Every stab felt like slivers of broken glass. I didn’t even have the small mercy of blacking out until everything was over.

They never found my monster. Like a nightmare, he was gone. I woke up, but the nightmare has never ended since.

9 months. 9 months of physical agony borne ; pain that will last for a lifetime. The seed he implanted throbbed inside me, it’s steady rhythmic pounding in tandem to each heartbeat. Within my swollen belly, I fed the monster’s spawn. This monster was hate. It is a wretched thing of flesh and bone. It repulsed me that I carried a piece of him growing within me, writhing in my womb, waiting for it’s time.

How could I stand to hold it when I shudder at the mere thought that when I look into it’s eyes, I would see his eyes staring back at me? The cruel yellow eyes glinting in the closet.

And yet I had not the heart to kill something that has my own blood running through it’s veins.

But life always has other plans for us.

The first time I laid my eyes on the bloody, wailing figure the nurse was cradling in her arms, something else sparked within me, an emotion I never felt would be possible to feel again. It was love. Love for my child. He had my blood, and he had my eyes.
Till this day, they have never caught my monster. But I have learned to live with that night of horror, because there is something else that lights up the dawn. my little son. He has brought hope to me when things were darkest.

I live for his smile.

 

 

Note:

Picture credits – Jenny Morgan
Believe or not, I actually started out writing about Hitler and the Holocaust.  Somehow it just morphed into a story about rape. It’s true what my creative writing teacher said, sometimes you just have to let your thoughts flow. You’d be surprised by what might actually turn out. Incidentally, the main idea behind both stories revolved around Hate. Hate is like the unborn child conceived from rape – unwanted, unclean. Hatred and anger damages both our mind and body. It’s like a virus – eats away at you. Which is why a major teaching of many religions is to forgive. That’s not always easy to do though. If you were in the character’s shoes above, would you be able to let go and move on?

Note 2:
I haven’t been writing. Work is not an excuse. I’ve just been effing lazy.

1/3/12
“It would be awesome if they invented a chill pill.” 
“It’s called anti-depressants.” 

Forgotten.

I was tidying my extremely messy bookshelf when I came across an old 2008 diary ( the type that companies usually hand out to business customers). Curiousity piqued, i flipped through the pages and came up with a few pages of rough draft that I had TOTALLY forgotten it existed. As with most of my stories.. it “mati separuh jalan”, which means that I never got down to finishing it XD

Anyway, here it is:

It was nearly midnight.
The rusty old green and white bus finally pulled to astop at the Pudu Bus Terminal after almost 5 hours. The journey from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur through the North-South Expressway would’vr taken 2 and a half hours at most, but ill luck and poor maintenance had caused the vehicle to break down halfway. Frustrated passengers grumbled and waited impatiently, while the bus driver made calls to highway patrol, the mechanic and headquarters to try and get the bus up and running as soon as possible. An hour later, help finally arrived to get the bus fixed.
And so it was that the passengers aboard Suria Express 35 Ipoh-KL arrived at their destinatin 3 hours later than scheduled: hungry, angry and exhausted. They got down from the vehicle in silence, too tired to say anything. The luggage compartment at the side of the bus was popped open and everyone lunged for their bags, eager to get out of the place as soon as possible.
Among those onboard that ride was a tall, handsome youth of around eighteen. He had pale skin, small Asian eyes that slanted upwards at the corners of each, and sharp elfin ears with huge garrish earrings studded on them. His hair was spiked and raven black; he wore baggy cargo pants and an oversized T-shirt. He was one of the last to get down from the bus because he had fallen asleep and had to be shaken awake by the driver. After taking his things, he looked around for a place to sit and spotted an empty bench. He walked over quickly and plopped himself down onto the seat before anyone else could cut him to it.
The young boy’s name was Lee Weng Shen, better known as Shen among his friends. Shen now sat and rested, wiping the sweat off his face with the back of his hand. The bus station was busy, crowded and smelly, even at this time. There were many people travelling by late night bus. Shen looked down at the luggage he had dumped on the floor. 2 sports bags and 3 plastic bags bulging with his stuff. That about summed up his worldly possessions. Shen sighed, pondering what to do next. He had not expected to arrive so late at night. Where would he sleep tonight? He did’nt really have much money. He rummaged in his bags for a moment and whipped out……
A crummy piece of paper.
Written on it in somebody’s scrawly handwriting was an address. The writings were faded, the paper already yellow from time and wear, but the words were still visible.
Shen’s thoughts strayed back to the time he was at his Ah Ba’s deathbed at the hospital. His dad had always been a little sick, but he refused to visit the doctor. No time, no money were his excuses. It came as a rude shock to both father and son when the former was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. There was nothing doctors could do about it. Ah Ba had clasped Shen’s hands, telling him to be a good and useful person. And he had given Shen that yellowed piece of paper.
“If you need help, go find Ah Ba’s old friend. His name’s Ray Tang,” his father rasped in a slow and effortful voice. “Good luck, my son.”
And the old man gave up the ghost. Shen had no chance of asking further about this mysterious Uncle Ray.
For the next few weeks, Shen hid in his house, refusing meals and avoiding contact with the outside world. His mum had passed away in a car crash many years ago and it was his dad that had single-handedly raised him, so Shen was very attached to his “old man”, as he liked to refer to him. Shen’s friends grew worried about him and they visited him as often as they could, giving him encouragement and support. Amomg them, Swee Ching was the one that laboured the most. She accompanied Shen most of the time, making meals for him and cleaning up his increasingly cluttered home. Her care and patience slowly brought him out of his depression state. It was’nt long before he was himself again.
It was then that he decided to seek out the friend that his dad had mentioned before he died. There was no phone number, no way of contacting this person except for an address on a piece of paper that looked a couple of decades old. That meant that he would have to go there himself and find this Uncle Ray. He was reluctant to leave because he had fallen in love with the kind and pretty Swee Ching, his childhood friend in the village. Nevertheless, he made up his mind.
Shen had lived in the village all his life with his dad, so he had never assumed his dad had any friends far away in big cities, simply because his dad seldom ventured out of the village. A sense of curiousity filled him, along with a sense of regret that he had not asked to know about his dad’s past before, thinking that he would always be around. He was only fifty at the time of his death.
How fragile human life can be.
So Shen quit his job at the restaurant where he was working as a kitchen helper and made all the necessary arrangements, getting ready for his big trip. Being somewhat uneducated and not so well off, Mr Lee had not bought insurance, so Shen was virtually left with nothing. The landlord was kind enough to waive the rent Shen owed him in light of the recent events…….

Ok. That was all I wrote. I’ve been cracking my head as to what my intended story line was about, but I simply couldnt recall anything.Will probably continue the story when I’ve found back the general idea.