Short story: “Death”, “Hat”, “Gene”

Sasaki knew nothing would change if she begged for help. She had been there. Weak kids had weak parents who would blame their own child to appease the other kid’s parents. Her parents were weak but she was not. Thus, when Sasaki broke the glass with her satchel and waved a glass fragment at the bullies, she received no sympathy.

There was no such a thing as self-defense in schools. In a fight, there would be no victims. All parties were equally at fault. She knew the consequences and she accepted them. A week before, the idea would have been unfathomable and yet there she was, clutching a bloody shard in her bare hand, watching her classmates backing off as she walked through.

At that moment, her only thought was to kill the other girls and in the end, she only managed to stab her teacher who was trying to stop her.

The police took her into custody. There were no barred cells for children of her age, there were no steel handcuffs. She was attended by a female officer and the worst restraint she had to endure was from a zip tie; even this was only for a brief time between transits. The police and the schools were being courteous, so she heard. They took every measure to cover up the incident.

The police brought in a psychiatrist to assist in the case. The man was twice as tall as she was and he wore thick beards with a pair of round glasses. There was a white-and-pink scarf wrapped around his head. From head to toe, the man was Arabian and he appeared to speak fluent Japanese. He introduced himself as Abu-Jamal, Mahmud Al-Alem Saifu Abu-Jamal upon her insistence.

Their conversation were not without conditions; the first of which was that he must answer one of her questions for every question he wanted answer, second was that he  not overstep his boundaries. “Sasaki-chan” was fine for her but not “Aiko” or “Aiko-chan”, and in exchange, she would call him “Abujama” as he insisted; by his given name and not his doctor title. And the third, she licked her dry lips.

“I’m thirsty…”

Abu-Jamal chuckled. “Well, me too, Sasaki-chan. Do you want orange or peach juice?”

“Milk!” she perked up on her feet, “Milk with sugar, please”, she said.

They were off to a good start. The Arabian got her talking about her family. She had an elder sister, a mother and a father–a more normal family than her actions that day would have suggested. They were all alive and well, she emphasized, but sometimes, she wished they were not.

“Why? Why do you hate them so much?” Abu-Jamal asked.

At this question, she shrank and looked down at her bandaged hands. The answer came under her breath: “They are unfair.”

It was then that Abu-Jamal noticed something unusual about her way of speaking.

“Say, how old are you, Sasaki-chan?”

“Don’t you already know?”

“Just want to hear it from you directly. After this, you can ask me anything.”

“Fourteen. It’s fourteen. And I don’t have any questions for now.”

She averted her eyes from his gaze.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?”

She hesitated. She opened her mouth for an instance then chose to close it and had a better thought of the answer. Finally, she spoke up:

“No, not in particular.”

“You are a good liar, Sasaki-chan, but hesitance can be as telling as silence.”

Following this, he raised a few questions regarding the girls who picked on her, as well as the teacher. But, the conversation had reached the point where she no longer wanted to participate. Then, he stood up and excused himself.

Her father heard of the event.

For this, her father slapped her. They went through a heated argument which concluded with her flinging her satchel at him, missing his face and hitting the family’s altar. The photo of her mother fell to the floor and cracked. Both of them froze at the instance; their faces twisted in agony. Afterward, she bolted out of the house and ran, and ran.

“Sasaki-chan!”

She ran into Abu-Jamal.

“D-Doctor!”

“That’s no good, Sasaki-chan. It’s Abu-Jamal. Oh my…your noses are running–he produced a handkerchief and gently wiped her tears–Tell me what happened.”

Perhaps it was the expectation that the psychiatrist could give her the approval she sought, Sasaki spoke at length how she had been picked on for her fear of sharp things, her anemia and nonstop bleeding, how her father had not been as supportive to her as he had been to her sister, and how powerless she had been.

“Had I not been born…”

The words caught in her throat.

“That’s hardly true, Sasaki-chan. It takes great courage to give one’s life for another. You are a smart girl, Sasaki-chan, can you be as unfair as casting away the life she has given you so easily?”

“B-But…I didn’t ask for this.”

“Indeed, Sasaki-chan. It is unfair to be given something you didn’t ask for and to be demanded gratitude in return. And beside…”

It was then that he took the white-and-pink scarf from his head and put it on hers.

“This is a hat called pagri, Sasaki-chan. It is a symbol of honor and respect in our religion and receiving one means you’re an important guest and that you’re welcome.”

He too was very unfair.

“But I–”

At that instance, she caught his downcast eyes. Was this the right thing to do? Listening to his sigh and seeing him folding the handkerchief and putting it into his pocket, she made up her mind and bowed her head.

“I’m sorry. Thank you.”

“It’s slow, Sasaki-chan. Remember, hesitance can be as telling as silence. So, which one makes you feel better? Before or after you say “thank you”?”

“After.”

This time, she managed to reply without hesitation.

“That’s right, Sasaki-chan. You turned your fear and your weakness into your greatest weapons. I dare say the girls you tried to kill the other day have learned to fear sharp things and blood a little bit more than you do now.”

She grinned and nodded.

“Not that I would recommend you do this sort of things everyday but, surely, you can turn a little unfairness in this world to your advantage too, can’t you?”

She nodded again.

Madmud Al-Alem Saifu Abu-Jamal had a secret. So did Sasaki Aiko.

After their conversation on the street, the man returned her to her home. She did not know what they were discussing in English but it appeared he managed to persuade her father to forgive her. She was afraid her father was only pretending in front of a guest to save face but even after the Arabian had left, he did not turn on her. He merely gestured at the kitchen; a sign that dinner was in the microwave.

It was rice balls again; it was always rice balls from the convenience store.

The next day, Abu-Jamal came by early in the morning. He asked her to put on her black-and-white sailor uniform even though she had no class all day–she had been suspended for a week.

“Your father and I have been discussing about transferring you to a new school. We have a few options on the table. I want you to see the schools for yourself and tell me which one you like best. Isn’t it right, Sasaki-san?”

Her father quietly nodded, confirming the story. Then, he knelt down on one knee and hugged her. “Remember, Aiko. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I’ll always love you.”

“Eh…ah…thank you, dad. I’ll see you again tonight, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll cook something good for you tonight”, he answered, patting her head.

Once they were on the road, Abu-Jamal let out a sigh and remarked.

“You still have much to learn, Sasaki-chan.”

She smiled the bravest smile she could put up.

“You are a good liar too, Abujama-san. But, dad is nothing like you.”

“It’s okay to cry when hurt, Sasaki-chan. It’s a perk of girls at your age.”

And she did make good use of that perk. Abu-Jamal’s words had been full of deception and unfairness but they were ones she could not help but let herself be deceived.

Their destination was Fukuoka Prefecture, home to Kyushu University Hospital. A group of scientists there were researching a cure for hemophilia–a genetic disorder that leads to nonstop bleeding–and they needed her assistance. She was far too young to understand the finer points of genetics but one thing she could understand: she was exceedingly unfortunate to be born with hemophilia.

The chance for females to be afflicted with the condition is one-in-twenty-five-million. When she hit puberty, hemophilia could lead to fatal internal bleeding during periods if not discovered and properly taken care of. The earlier she started the treatment, the lower the chance of incurring long-term health risks.

“That’s not all, Sasaki-chan. I’m inclined to believe you’re also–ah, never mind.”

“I am also what? Tell me, tell me!”

“Now, now, I can’t give any spoiler, can I? You’ll have to figure out yourself if you want to be a great heroine.”

“So…am I a psychic? A blood wizard?”

The man laughed. Rubbing her hair and putting the white-and-pink pagri from her hands on her small head, he said:

“We’ll test that too but, don’t hold your breath just yet.”

“Now that we’re so much closer, can I call you Abujama?”

“At home–ehem, at the new home, you can call me Abujama, Yama, Abu, whatever suits you. Though here, you should call me Dr. Mahmud.”

“Can I have milk with sugar, Dr. Mamu…Mamudu?”

“Sure you can, Aiko.”

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Short story: “Lawyer”, “A.I.”, “Wikipedia”

Percy was about to throw the papers in the bin when he got a follow-up call from the seventy-two year-old plutocrat who owned these papers. He was warned not to take the proposal lightly, whereupon he explained the difficulty to not take these papers lightly. Following a long, two-hour dialogue, the man convinced the mayor to give the proposal a chance.

The man, named Gladstone, had been his donor for a long time. Percy met this person at a fund raising party in Alphen des Meer. At the time, Gladstone donned a dark charcoal suit with a business card in hand. A deep pink cravat with a few horizontal white stripes near the end folded under his jacket. The cravat, he later admitted, was a calculated red herring and not by personal taste.

That evening in Alphen des Meer, he asked the-then-candidate a question that led to these papers lying on the-now-mayor’s mahogany desk.

“Tell me, Mr. Percival, what drives you?”

“Pardon me?”

“No, pardon me, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked?”

“Ah, no, I’m a bit surprised. That’s all. Can I choose more than one?”

“As many as you like.”

“Then it is fame, fortune and power.”

“Interesting…why is that?”

“I won’t lie, Mr. Gladstone. Personal gains and personal stakes are incredible motivators. Those who have them tend to invest more in the position than those who are in for the novelty of it. While corruption is certainly a possibility, I still prefer a sharp knife even if it can kill me.”

“I see you have no fear of political correctness, Mr. Percival. As a businessman, I appreciate men who can articulate exactly what they want. Perhaps, you can elaborate more on what is it that you want to accomplish with fame, fortune and power?”

“Haha, that I’m afraid I cannot disclose…”

The man behind the proposal, the Autonomous Automobile and Public Transport Reform, was a sharp knife that could kill him.

The papers highlighted policy changes necessary to accommodate a displacement of all drivers and truckers in the city. They are to be replaced with self-driving vehicles, robot chauffeurs who can speed through intersections without slowing down, weaving between fast-moving streams of other robot chauffeurs, coordinating with every other vehicles in the local swarm as one entity.

Employment safeguards must be abandoned for all concerned professions, mandatory upgrades and recalls of old car and truck models must be enforced, traffic lights must be dismantled, road signs must be scrapped, and magnetic lanes for new dedicated autonomous zones must be painted. It would take the city many times its discretionary budget to enact the proposal. The numbers on the financial statements attached to the papers almost gave Percy a heart attack. He had to check his smartphone to make sure it was not April’s Fool.

But Gladstone was adamant to get the proposal passed.

He owned a conglomerate named Gladstone Three in Dubai. Other than his pink cravat, his other defining characteristic was the immeasurable wealth from oil drilling and venture capital investments in the Middle East and East Asia. He invested heavily in self-driving technology and put himself in the position where he could claim monopoly as soon as the technology was adopted.

The man got right to the point when he was invited to speak in front of Liston’s budget office. He agreed to shoulder the bill; everything from the manpower to the compensation for laid-off drivers; on one condition: that he must be granted a monopoly in self-driving technology.

The budget office accepted his demand.

On the day a draft of the proposal was submitted to the mayor’s advisory committee on judiciary, Gladstone invited Percy to his office on Twelfth Avenue where he threw a small party on the thirty-fifth floor of La Seraphica tower. It was then that the mayor learned the plutocrat had a son. He had a crippled son; blond haired, about Percy’s age, wearing indoor sunglasses, and bound to a sophisticated wheelchair.

“Thank you for always helping my father, Mayor Percy. I heard you were a lawyer before you were a mayor. I too was a lawyer until I took a car in the knee. Now I have wheels for legs.”

“You have become an earth dragon, Dovahkiin.”

“This is the best response I have ever gotten.”

“I’m glad you like it, Gladstone Jr.–”

“You can call me Lancaster, or Lance for short. It’s a pleasure talking to you, Mayor Percy, but I’m afraid it’s time to change my I.V. drip.”

“Alright, I’ll see you around then.”

Back when Lance was a law student, a professor once asked him a peculiar question: When a chair is used as a murder weapon, who owns the responsibility for the crime; the manufacturer, the vendor, the user or the victim? And, without a moment of hesitation, he answered:

“The user is responsible, of course. Can you blame the manufacturer?”

“For the misuse of their product? No, I don’t think so. But for criminal negligence? Yes, it is possible.”

Percy heard this story from Mr. Gladstone when they talked on the phone a week later. At the time, the draft hit a roadblock in the mayor’s advisory committee on the judiciary. Newspaper began to cover the draft and with public awareness came public outcries. Thereafter, in a Tuesday morning, the mayor paid the courthouse a visit where he was greeted by a group of protesters.

As soon as his car arrived in front of the courthouse, five plainclothes bodyguards cleared a path through the crowd and stopped reporters who were flashing cameras and pointing microphones over the men’s shoulders, asking questions about the controversial transport reform, from coming closer.

Upon entering the courthouse, he made a phone call. There was a priority lane for the mayor and his escorts at the security screening which led to a two-story atrium where the info desk situated. He nodded to the clerks as the group walked by and onto an escalator to second floor.

In one of the courtrooms on the second floor, a judge accompanied by a police officer were waiting for the mayor. The mayor’s bodyguards hung around public waiting area while the mayor followed the judge through a restricted corridor to a cramped chamber. It was in that cramped space that he came face-to-face with two opponents of the draft.

Gladstone was calm when he learned of this meeting. “So, how did it go?” he asked.

“Have you ever heard of the backfire effect?”

“I believe I have. Let’s see…the backfire effect is a name for the finding that, given evidence against their beliefs, people can reject the evidence and believe even more strongly.”

“Heh, Wikipedia”, Percy mused.

“Indeed, it’s Wikipedia. I’m surprised you knew.”

“I have a friend who collects retro stuffs. Once he borrowed my money to buy a SSD with Wikipedia fork from ‘012 and it had been in my possession for a few months.”

“Now that’s some ancient stuffs no doubt.”

“Aye. The talk didn’t go well as you might have guessed. You see, nobody wants to lose his job to a robot and nobody wants to be run over by a hacked car. No amount of compensation will change their minds on that.”

“Ah, resistance to change, humans are truly the same everywhere.”

“On that later point, true irony is…I got death threats, actual death threats in my inbox this morning–”

As Percy broke the news, the plutocrat’s hand clenched into a fist. Percy saw the man’s eyebrows stiffened; the expression of anger and not fear. The smirk on his lips curled wider as he continued:

“–At the end of the day, they are still fighting for the exclusive right to kill their fellow men. A hundred roadkills by human will never cause the outrage a single roadkill by robot will.”

“Is that discrimination?” an unexpected remark came.

Both men cast their glances at the source of the remark. There they saw Lancaster on his wheelchair approaching. Gladstone stood up, intending to help, but the lad turned down the gesture:

“It’s okay. I can manage this.”

“Hmm? What happened to your follower, Dovahkiin?”

The last time Percy saw the man, there had been a maid pushing his wheelchair and tending to his every need. The maid was not present this time.

With a light chuckle, the young master answered:

“I sent her on some errands, namely, picking up the supplies my physician is requesting for the quarterly examination. I saw on the news that you visited the courthouse today.  From what I heard, there was a big protest outside the courthouse. What is it about?”

“Oh that! Just some inept soon-to-be-unemployed stirring troubles instead of working toward their inevitable retirement, or learning new skills for an occupational change…”

“Is it alright to speak about your constituents with such disdains?”

“I’m a lame duck, after all. This is my third term and I can’t run for office in Spring election next year. The amount of damn I give to them is about this much.”

He made a gesture with his index finger and his thumb. He quantified his care for his own public image at this point the size of peanut.

“Isn’t it more problematic for you to pass new regulations then?”

“Exactly why I have to give some people a good smacking and remind them there’s a hard winter ahead for the unemployed. Elected officials are easier to deal with when the talk starts with the threat of losing your father’s donation. Peer pressure takes care of the rest.”

“Although, of course, some people are still beyond my influences”, Gladstone interjected.

“Ah yes…the judges, how can I forget? They are always so rigid when it comes to new laws.”

“Now that I think about it. How do you normally get them to agree? They can’t be bribed, can’t be coerced and can’t be forced out. Such a pain in the ass they are…”

“Normally, you need to amend the bill until it meets their moral and whatever standards. Nine of them accepted the trade-offs we proposed, two of them, however, wanted the cake and ate it too. How can one eliminate human errors without first eliminating human factors from the equation?”

“Is there a way to overrule these judges?”

“Good question. There isn’t.”

“Say, if they, by chance, got caught up in an unfortunate incident and were unable to serve the office then could you perhaps appoint new judges who are more…agreeable?”

“Ah, perhaps an accident by human error”, Lancaster mused.

“Hold it. What are you suggesting?”

“It’s a decent trade-off, don’t you think? Two judges for a bill that can save hundreds a year. Or perhaps, are you in any way a cake-eater like them?”

“Is that a threat, Mr. Gladstone?”

“Oh, no, no, no”, the man smiled devilishly, “Not at all! How can I threaten a friend whose inbox is already filled with threats from the other side?”

“Mr. Gladstone, sometimes, even a politician will appreciate someone who can articulate exactly what he wants. But I digress, there is no point in reiterating what both sides already understood.”

“You are surprisingly calm. Do mayors get threats like these often?” Lancaster asked, a flash of admiration glinted in his eyes.

“Not at all. I’m normally the one making the threats.”

“And so am I”, Gladstone nodded.

But neither of them exercised their coercive might, both understood there was a line that should never be crossed. The dinner they shared on the thirty-fifth floor of La Seraphica tower that day started a crack in their relationship and the crack only got wider as the judiciary committee continued blocking the reform.

Then the unthinkable happened.

The truck that had his name written on its bumper plowed into the silver eight-seater carrying Gladstone on his way back from the state court. The eventuality he had been desperately trying to avert struck him back with a vengeance. That Wednesday night in August, the wealthy businessman shed his last breath on the cold asphalt of Twelfth Avenue. No one in either vehicles survive the crash but it was determined to be caused by human errors.

His funeral was attended by legislators, business partners and all eleven members of the judiciary committee; whereupon they pledged to make his final dream come true. His son, Lancaster, was not seen at the funeral but the maid escorting Lancaster was there. She apologized on her master’s behalf for the absence, stating his health had taken a turn for the worst. She did not say anything else and Percy knew better than to press the matter.

In the end, the reform never came to pass. Even with the approval of both the Council and the Court, the funding necessary for the bill was rescinded by Gladstone Three. It became clear that with Gladstone father and son out of the way, the new president had no reason to follow through with their promises. One moment of hesitation and the greatest gift Liston had ever received slipped between their fingers.

One morning in February, when the winter cold still lingered in the air and when Percy’s days as this town’s mayor had come to an end, he caught glimpse of a familiar deep pink cravat with a few horizontal white stripes, in a silver eight-seater parked across the street from his private residence. He rushed to the front yard, a smile flashed across his face.

The car was still there, parked across the street by the sidewalk. Its passenger door swung open and his demeanor darkened as he remembered Gladstone had passed away. A petite, Asian girl in familiar dark charcoal jacket and a strange, white checkered skirt stepped out and politely bowed to him. It was not the same deep pink cravat she wore but a necktie of the same design.

“Greetings, Mr. Percival. The name is Gladstone. Have you accomplished what you desired with fame, fortune and power?”

“Wh-What is the meaning of this?”

“We are closing down Liston office today and I’m here to fulfill the previous Gladstone’s final directive. So, I’ll ask again. Have you accomplished–”

“No…”

“Excuse me?”

“When he asked me this question nine years ago. I lied. There was no secret to disclose. I had nothing I wanted to accomplish. Fame, fortune and power were what I wanted to accomplish and I did accomplish them.”

“I see…”

“However”, he cleared his throat and continued, “He made me realized fame, fortune and power are not the end. They are the means to the end. Only when I lost everything that I learned what my goals are.”

“And they are…?”

“I want to correct political correctness, Ms. Gladstone. With his life, he proved it can be done. He proved that bipartisan agreements can be accomplished. I want to realize this agreement and make his vision a reality. I will run for office again in three years’ time. Will you continue to support me?”

After a moment of surprise, she grinned and removed her necktie, along with an earbud from her left ear. Placing both items in his hands, she bowed her head again and solemnly informed:

“Welcome back, Mr. Gladstone.”

Short story: “Rain”, “Bottle”, “Bookstore”

A mother and her young son sought refuge from a sudden rain in the bookstore I worked in. They were not the only ones pulled from the busy torrent of city life by the weather. Half a dozen others were standing at the porch, a few drenched to the sole of their feet; all looking miserable, eyes gazed at the darkened clouds and the slow-moving street of even more miserable humans, slopping through knee-deep water.

The young boy, about seven years of age, was exhilarated. His eyes sparkled. His head turned left and right to survey colorful rows of books. He left the mother at the entrance and dashed to the kid’s toys section.

His mother, looking exhausted from a day’s work, walked slowly between “Foreign literature” and “Politics and History” isles. She cast an empty gaze, fixated at shoulder-level, at the bookshelves. At times, she would pause to catch a quick glimpse at a rusty bike she parked in front of the store and then at the other end of the story where her son was supposed to be.

The rain outside intensified.

A coworker adjusted the air conditioner and turned on the light. It was only five in the afternoon and the storm cloud already made it seemed like seven. In the store, we always kept the air dry and cold. The fluorescent white light was replaced with natural lighting at night; though not as pleasant to the reading eyes as daylight, it gave a modern, almost sanitary feel that was, supposedly, attractive to young adults.

And on that dark-blue-and-white, sharp-edged canvas smacked dab the smeared and soaked wet passersby who were not here for the literature, but here for the roof. Rich people had cars, middle income rode motorbikes home wearing composite ponchos, only those whose shabby nylon ponchos could not protect them from heavy rain and those who forgot to bring ponchos gathered here.

“Books sell like hotcakes in this weather, don’t they?” an office lady remarked as she put a few cookbooks and two desktop ornaments on the cashier. She was among those who forgot. Not quite. While there were more people in the store when it rained than when it didn’t, not all were potential customers, only a small portion was.

I smiled out of courtesy and made no comment, quietly scanning the bar codes of her purchase.

“They are presents”, she said holding up the ornaments side-by-side. The ornaments, two ceramic, pawn-sized statues of a boy and a girl hold two halves of the word “LOVE” were a matching pair. “Aren’t they cute?” she cheerfully asked.

“Is that so? Do you want me to wrap them, ma’am?” I asked.

“Do you take credit card?”

“Yes, here”, I answered and showed her the card reader. I assumed that was a no for gift wrapping so I started putting the items in common plastic bags. It was then that I took note of loud scolding at the end of kid’s toys section.

It was the boy from before and his mother. She smacked his hands repetitively and hurled curses at him. The boy began to sob and then cried aloud. She hit him even harder, ordering him to stop crying. She slapped his face several times, making loud smacks every time, and with that she finally stopped his cry.

My coworker came near with a dustpan and a broomstick. The woman bowed her head apologetically and asked for the dustpan and broomstick from my colleague. She insisted, forcefully taking the broom and then starting to sweep shards of glasses in the dustpan. I caught glimpse of the outline of a broken glass bottle as the coworker picked up the largest fragment and took a look at the price tag.

With just that one glimpse, I could already imagine what was going on.

“Where do I sign?” the office lady urged. I was sure she also saw the scene but chose to mind her own business.

“Sign here, ma’am. Thank you for your patron. Please come again.”

Though, she would not be going anywhere in this weather.

The coworker brought the price tag to the cashier. The broken ornament was a miniature ship-in-a-bottle, an expensive one at that.

“I’m scared. I’m…so scared. I have never seen a mother like her before”, she confessed in shaking tone.

“I have but it is beyond my jurisdiction to obstruct their right”, I said.

Truth is, I would like to. But, all of us lived in a culture where parents owned the exclusive right to educate their children in however manner they wanted; however cruel they might seem to Westerners. It was also in this culture that we grew numb to the suffering of those around us.

The boy nervously approached the cashier, weeping in suppressed hiccups. His mother loomed behind him. She had this angry and worrisome expression as she drew a small nylon wrapped roll of crumpled cash from her pocket.

“Pardon me, madam, sir. But…this is all I have…for today”, she said.

From her hesitation, I realized it must have been difficult for her to lay the little money she had on her in front of us. That realization brought great awkwardness to both me and my coworker.

“I’ll bring the rest of the money tomorrow…and the day after”, she pleaded.

My coworker winced.

The young boy froze, his breaths hastened and so did his hiccups. He understood what was happening, didn’t he? He must have.

“Excuse me, I would like to pay for these too”, the office lady from before returned to the cashier with more books. Language learning and art books for the young man who was then with her.

From her conversations with this young man in his twenty, he must have been the office lady’s son. They indulged in idle chatters, about Franz Kafka’s memoir, about the magnum opus “No Longer Human” of Dazai Osamu on display at the highlight section near the entrance.

The weeping boy looked at the office lady and his son. His hiccups got louder and faster.

“Shut up”, his mother gave him a slap. He clammed up and shriveled.

This time, I was sure the office lady had noticed this woman who was so cruel to a kid. The lady’s expression barely changed, her gaze paused on the boy for a moment, but soon broke off and resumed the chatter with her son. The young man paid no attention to other people, seemingly in deep debate whether to purchase yet another classic book–Shouwa Anthology–now or order it later for online retail discount.

“I can’t watch this anymore”, my coworker said, discreetly gesturing toward the abusive mother, “You deal with her, okay?”

Then, she turned to the office lady and moved her books to another counter, informing: “This way, madam. Sorry for the wait. Do you have a coupon?…”

And so, I was left alone with the penniless mother and her weeping son.

“Dis-discount! Can you give me a discount?”

“This is a bookstore, not a flea market. We don’t bargain here”, I said.

She let out a long sigh.

Hesitantly, I looked through the coupons in my drawer. There was a glimmer of hope, expectant daze in her eyes for a moment as I did so. But, I found nothing of such natures. I shook my head and she let out another sigh. After that, she turned to her son.

“Look at what you have done, you son of a bitch. You’re just like your useless father”, she screeched and started beating her son again in front of everyone.

I noticed the office lady was watching in great discomfort. Her son had left to buy a cheap rain poncho from a nearby store. When he returned, the lady urged him to go home despite the rain continuing to pellet the windshield of cars on the street. They left in haste as though running away from a natural disaster.

My coworker also retreated to the end of toys section. No one wanted to have anything to do with this terrible woman. At this point, I too could stop pretending to be sympathetic. I was getting tired of her treatment toward her own son.

“Is that your bike?” I asked, pointing to the bike parked at the porch; the only one that was there, possibly because she did not want to pay the parking fee. “I’m afraid we’ll have to seize it until this–I motioned to the broken item–is fully compensated”, so I said.

Indeed this didn’t feel right. It felt terrible taking money from this woman. But, it was either her day’s worth of work, perhaps many days’ worth of work, or my shift’s worth of work.

“No!”

She snatched the money on the cashier and burst out onto the porch.

“Stop her!” I shouted.

But, despite the flood and the traffic, the woman was gone as soon as I got to the door. She disappeared into the rain like a phantom, leaving only the young boy behind as proof of her existence.

The boy waited alone till the bookstore’s closing hours. His mother did not return for him and his cry drew attention from passersby. As expected, these people were aware of the situation. After the woman ran away, they began to discuss openly about her abusive behavior. They comforted the boy, they gave him food and talked to him.

We turned the boy to the police along with the security footage of his deserted mother. I thought that would be the end of it. Yet, early in the morning of the next day that I received a phone call from the bookstore. It was not on the clock that day.

“Hello? There’s a crazy woman here asking about her son. Do you know anything about her?”

“…”

I was speechless.

“Tell her she doesn’t deserve to be a parent.”

“Wait! I have the money here. All of it. The money…”

“That is not the problem, is it?” I said.

“My baby girl…she was starving last night. I needed to get home and feed her. I couldn’t afford to walk. I know I don’t deserve to be a mother but…Look, I sold my bike, I have the money now. I want my son back. My children are all I have left…”

I could not speak. The words did not come out.

“Hello?”

“Stay right there, I’m coming”, I told her and hang up.

At the porch, she was waiting. In her arms was a baby wrapped in rags. She held the money in her hand, the same hand that pressed her daughter into a tender embrace. Her body swayed in the chilling morning breeze, her head rocked up and down as her bagged eyes fought off drowsiness.

“Hey!” I tapped her shoulder to wake her up.

“My son! Where is he? Here’s the money, take it! Take it!”

“Calm down. Listen to me. Listen…”

“How can I calm down? Where’s my son? I want him back”, she cried.

The baby was waken up and started crying loudly.

“Shut up, shut up, you little bitch!” she shouted at the baby, shaking up and down violently.

“Stop it!” I gripped her arms and forcefully stopped the shaking, “They are your flesh and blood! Why are you treating your children like that?”

“That’s none of your business!” she snapped.

I gritted my teeth, “Then you have no right to know where your son is”, I said.

She gasps for air, then a few mournful hics and finally lowered her head.

I let out a long sigh.

Her husband was a big better on cockfighting. Whenever his cock lost a fight, he would go home and beat her up out of spite. Whenever his cock won a fight, he would go out drinking with his buddies till he ran out of money and then he would go home at three in the morning to beat her up. When he was drunk, he would try to kill his own children as well.

“I prefer him losing…if so, he would spare my son and daughter”, she confided.

“You should call the police when that happens…”

“I don’t have money to bribe the police”, she cracked a bitter smile, “I tried that”, she added.

I sighed again. Then, I took from my wallet a large sum of money and a business card.

“You have money now, and a lawyer”, I extended the items to her.

“I can’t take your money. You worked hard for it.”

“This is not my money”, I paused to consider my wording a bit, “This is your son’s money”.

“Eh?”

“After you ran away yesterday, some people in the bookstore donated food and money to help him. They already paid the compensation in full and this is merely the surplus. Your son is at the police station. You can have this money on one condition: that you will take good care of your children from now on.”

“I-I will. Of course, of course I will!”

I shoved the money into her hand, wrapped her fingers around it and parted ways with these last words:

“I know you will.”

 

My daily battle: 1,000 word goal (Day 2)

I hit some logistical nightmare during my research today. It takes forever to get the timing and transportation right. I guess I’m running into deficit again.

Fact #1: It takes 6 hours by train to travel from Fukuoka to Chiyoda prefecture, 4 hours by air from Fukuoka Airport to Haneda Airport + 1 hour by train to Chiyoda.
Fact #2: There are only two flights from Narita International (Japan) to Dubai, the shortest flight takes 11h30m.

Me: Mission control! We have a problem. In chapter one, I wrote 8 AM to 12 PM time frame before the ceremony began. Should I move back the time frame to 6 AM?

The Planner Me: Hanbei character is a lazy ass, he’ll never wake up that early. Don’t press your luck.

Me: Well guys, better figure something out asap. They are not going to be there on time if they started at 8 AM.

The Planner Me: Well, since Lance doesn’t have a limit on budget. This can logically happen if he puts Hanbei on a helicopter, takes him to the sea (Fukuoka is a port city anyways), brings him aboard the I-Shiniko aircraft carrier and flies him to Chiyoda in a VTOL fighter jet.

The Pantser Me: Yeaahhhh, right! Can I have my teleportation device now?

The Planner Me: You’re right, this is stupid. I need a better solution.

The Pantser Me: Hang on…The guy who said travelling by plane from Fukuoka to Tokyo takes 4 hours has gone full retard. I know for that distance, it can’t possibly take that long by air.

Me: Oh, you’re right, google says 2 hours from Fukuoka Airport to Haneda Airport. What a waste of time! With the added one hour by train to Chiyoda, the travel time should be manageable now. If three hours is even considered “manageable”.

The Planner Me: Good catch! Now quickly write the rest of the trip till the orientation presentation. It should be easy.

Me: Actually, I’m sleepy, I’m in no condition for more creative writing. You know what happened the last time I wrote half-asleep. Let’s call it a day. I’ve only managed 250 but I’ve been writing for 5 hours. Yes, I put down 500 words earlier but they belong to yesterday’s goal. To make matters worse, the plan tomorrow is…out of town all day.

The Pantser and Planner Me: Yep, you’re NaNo-screwed-Mo! Lesson learned, don’t write about or be involved in cross-border romance or your love story will be 80% travelling.

 

My daily battle: 1,000 words goal

The word count for Sasaki this NaNoWriMo Camp is 30,000. Over 30 days of April, that means 1,000 words per day. I’ve cranked out more words in a day in blog posts so 1,000 words should mean nothing.

Nope.

The Pantser Me: This is going to be a piece of cake! Okay, now characters decide to spend their first date at an enthronement ceremony of the Japanese Emperor. 500 words to cover the event and 200 more words for a failed assassination. Cue for our characters to bail…

The Planner Me: Wait a minute…an assassination!? I thought we agreed NOT to take this story over-the-top.

The Pantser Me: Oh right, you’re right, I’ll just scratch that 200 words. Okay, so, nothing happened in particular, let’s just drop a hint with “this is where history begins” line. Quite enigmatic and a nice cliffhanger as well.

The Planner Me: I know where this is going…You’re going to use that as an anchor for time-dilation box time machine, aren’t you? Drop it! We’re not writing sci-fi. This is supposed to be “slice of life”, “normal slice of life”, remember?

The Pantser Me: Okay, okay….Jesus, I didn’t realize I was this bossy? I’ll have that serve as a punchline and nothing else. Alright, we’ll need to figure out a way to quickly draw attention to kTech.

The Planner Me: You’re right but…we are NOT making the Emperor break the tradition and pull shameless advertisement stunt during the sacred enthronement ceremony! Erase those 150 words now!

The Pantser Me: How about this? fast forward to the next day, we’ll describe the declassification of kTech online! It can be described as some sort of eldritch abomination that brings about a game changer into this world.

The Planner Me: And…what kind of game changer you’re thinking…

The Planner Me: Oh, you know the one. One of those gadgets in the Weapon Program. Hmm, let’s unveil the key sci-fi device of the story, the chrono–

The Planner Me: NOPE! NOPE! NOPE! No teleport device, no warp engine, no time-space weapon of mass destruction! If you need a McGuffin, make up something else! I’ll tolerate only the energy shield.

The Pantser Me: But-But…I wrote 500 more words in Chrono Triad direction…

The Planner Me: *facepalm*

Me: Let’s…just call it a day. I swear I’ll blog about you two wasting 850 words today. Mother of God…we only managed 500 so far! Thanks guys, you suck!

The Pantser and Planner Me: Err…we are…you! You’re welcome, try harder tomorrow!

 

Camp NaNoWriMo is here!

Put on your Viking helm, grab your pen and drink plenty of coffee!

NaNoWriMo camp is upon us!

SASAKI FOR NANOWRIMO THIS APRIL

As the title reads, I’ll be joining NaNoWriMo camp this April with my secondary novel project, the Romance story “Sasaki”. It’ll be the first time I’m joining a writing camp at this time of year. And I’m excited to see who will be my victim–err I mean, cabin mates this NaNoWriMo.

I’m probably not going to bother Tetisheri this camp as she’s hating me forever because I keep changing the story of White Destiny all the time (kind of make it impossible for her to write Black Existence). I see Neko is still following me from July camp. Hey Neko, if you want to spend another camp together, send me a memo.

Back to the book Sasaki I’ll be writing this April. Most of my writings have been in over-the-top Mystery, Fantasy, Adventure genres so I know I’m not terribly good at writing Romance or Slice of Life. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone with Sasaki and I’ll probably be able to crank out 20,000 words if I’m lucky. I’ll just set the goal to 30,000 as always.

Here’s synopsis of the book:

“Heihachiro Hanbei received an invitation from his high school sweetheart to work for Kiyomizu Technologies: a mysterious technology company in Tokyo, Japan. Wishing to rekindle their relationship, he accepted the invitation.
But not all were going according to plan. The company and its very existence turned out to be a threat to the government. And, his best friend who works for the government wanted him to spy on Kiyomizu if he wanted to be let off their surveillance blacklist.
Between freedom and love, is there a way to achieve them both?”

It almost feels like I’m begging for Mystery genre with this kind of premise. Old habits die hard, I can see myself resisting the urge to turn Sasaki into an epic Sci-fi as its source material was this entire camp already. God! This is going to be hard. I’ll need new writing music; something serene, something not epic, and something NOT from Two Steps From Hell!

SMALL UPDATE FOR WHITE DESTINY

At the present time, I’m rewriting the entire encounter with the Witch in chapter 5. It’s basically a merge of the old chapter 5 and 6 with more focus on the Scholar in preparation for his story arc. I thought I skimmed through his parts too quickly in the old revision. The latest revision of chapter 5 will be ready this week.

I can’t promise chapter 6 though.

Admittedly, I have no plan whatsoever for chapter 6 at the moment. Chapter 7 is already written  and it covers the battle of Ironheart against Horseman of Death and his undead legion. I can steer the story in chapter 6 in a few directions. I can either focus on fleshing out the Illuminati order or I can focus on the greater mystery behind everything.

Either ways, I will have a few choices in regard to chapter 7 as well. I can choose to follow the old direction and have the Archbishop appears in Ironheart to fend off the Horseman. Or, I can move the actual encounter with the Archbishop to the Witch’s hut in the Dark Forest. At the moment, I’m sort of leaning towards the second option now that the Witch has allied herself with the Priestess’s party.

New book project: Sasaki

This January, I have decided to push through the novel adaptation of my oldest and bulkiest roleplaying game: Imperial Experiment. I adopted the name “Takahashi Fujihita” from Imperial Experiment so this book means a lot to me. I’m glad I finally get down to writing it. The new book is officially named “Sasaki” after the main heroine Sasaki Aiko.

In celebration of the blog’s one-year anniversary, I’ll release the first chapter as promotional material. You can find the fully formatted chapter here:

http://1drv.ms/1QfMzW9

Publication and Licensing

Unfortunately, I have no plan to publish Sasaki on this blog due to foreseeable licensing issues.

The original Imperial Experiment was a crossover between games from three authors: Lightning Ray (me), Soulstone Splinter (aka Vormur) and Ananta Ein. Ein and I are close friends so I won’t have any problems getting his permission to use elements from his games in the book. Furthermore, I fully intend to invite him on board as the editor for this project.

The problem is Soulstone Splinter who has vanished without trace and I have no idea where he is now. Last time I heard, he got into a relationship with another roleplayer in real life and abandoned his online identity.

Lessons from White Destiny

In writing White Destiny, I learned a few things about storytelling and perspective modes.

For starters, Sasaki will be told in first-person perspective, from the view of Anata Ein’s character: Heihachiro Hanbei. I realize I have never fully utilized third-person limited perspective in White Destiny and it seems I’m no where experience enough to do so. Hence, I will pick the (arguably) easier mode for now. Perhaps, I’ll come back to third-person perspective at a later date.

Another thing is that, I start Sasaki with a genre in mind. Unlike White Destiny, which is all over the place and I have no idea which genres it fits in specifically other than Fantasy, the main genres for Sasaki will be Romance, Slice of Life and Drama. I believe these genres can bring out the most of first-person introspective writing.

I know it will disappoint some people who participated in the original game that I might have to skip the Action and Adventure parts in favor of the main genres. Furthermore, I plan to use only a bare minimal of Sci-fi elements. The book will remain in, for the most part, a low fantasy setting. I don’t want the Sci-fi parts to hog too much attention from good ‘ol human emotions: trust, greed, jealousy, anger, and love.

Looking forward

I’ve already finished the first two chapters of Sasaki. The writing speed for the new book is phenomenal and with the amount of materials I have from Imperial Experiment, I can make things very concise and still achieve novel-length.

The other day, I found a nice text-to-speech app called “Kyrathasoft Text To Speech” to replace the broken NaturalReader app. Using the new app, I can perform text flow editing technique I was forced to abandon from chapter 4 (White Destiny). Before the next chapter release, I plan to flow-edit chapter 4-6 and make them sound as great in audio format as the first three chapters.

For the time being, I’m considering rewriting White Destiny in first-person perspective. It sounds like a pain in the ass to change the game plan now that the story is at chapter 6. It is a pain in the ass but the benefits of a complete revision might outweigh the cost. I’m still considering my options though.