By Tan Kaiyi
The whole nation was watching, Guna was sure. He wished that he was home too, holding Eshwari and Rajeev in his arms. But he had a job to do. After this, there were more bodies to be burned. He pushed the thought out of his head. He had to allow himself a moment of respite, or the corpses’ embers would sear his mind permanently. There was no way to go home for the moment. The bodies were waiting, like unmoving lovers who refused to give up their ashen affections for him.
“How long do you think it’ll take before it disappears into the sea?” Chan asked.
Guna shrugged, observing the receding giant figure. “I don’t care as long as it doesn’t come back.” The shadow was slowly shrinking out from view, soon to be flattened within the eyelid of the horizon. Even though it was far away, Guna could still see the gigantic pores of the thing’s skin. Some of them were opening and closing, gnashing like hungry mouths waiting for their next meal. He shuddered, nearly dropping the can of cold coffee he had in his hand. Guna had seen the greenish plumes ejecting out of those holes, engulfing people and entire districts. Some people collapsed instantly, most died within minutes. The worst were those who survived, crying out for an end to their suffering. There were still many more to be attended to. That was Chan’s job, and it was not one that Guna envied. He never wanted to catch sight of those pores again.
“Why do you think it left?” Chan asked.
“Maybe, we asked it to leave nicely,” Guna replied.
“You believe what they said, that we managed to communicate with it?”
“I have no idea.”
The whole country had seen the creature withstand desperate barrages from light firearms, tank cannons and missiles from fighter jets. The armed forces were throwing everything they had to stop its advance but their violence fell on invincible hardened skin. The only thing that kept the creature at bay was its own resting patterns. It would interrupt its streak of poisonous fumes and physical destruction by coming to a complete standstill. Like a misplaced iceberg in an oppressive humid climate, it would stand unmoving for weeks and months. The longest stretch of peace and silence the nation had was six months. The thing slept the sleep of the invulnerable. Nothing would penetrate it, nothing would wake it.
“Daddy, what’s it doing?” Guna remembered Rajeev asking. He didn’t have an answer for his son, so he went for the easiest, “It’s sleeping.”
“Is it going to stay that way forever?”
“I don’t know,” Guna said. He gave his son a lot of ‘I don’t know’s’ during these two years. Why is the creature so big? What are the green clouds coming out of its back? Will it be stopped? Why did his best friend at school Daniel stop showing up to class one day after falling sick? Guna was worried that his son might think he was an idiot for knowing so little about the world.
The people lived in an uneasy tension when the creature froze. Even when the government allowed businesses to resume, there was hardly any cheer. People met loved ones not knowing when they will see them again. On the third day of one of the re-openings, Guna remembered sitting at a kopitiam, watching the channel dedicated to broadcasting the creature live all around the clock. He was observing the patrons around him as he nursed his third and last bottle of beer. Their gazes were chained to the TV screen, their mouths double-locked in silence. No one could get drunk.
Seeing it move again was a terrible sensation. The familiar sense of dread swept through everyone and terror became dangerously monotonous. When Guna read the reports of those he cremated, he came across an entry of a woman who apparently just sat on a park bench as she saw the green fumes coming at her.
She could have run, as the fatal smog took a few minutes to reach her. She just sat there, staring.
The sky turned dark as dusk. The heavens let out a whistle and a pop and bursts of white and red stars appeared above. “It’s starting again,” Guna said.
“What do you think it means?” Chan asked. Guna had memorised the sequence. Red, red, white, red white, white. Over the past month, this specific sequence of fireworks was fired into the air on the Floating Platform in the Singapore River. The fireworks stopped the creature in its tracks and it looked at the flashes as if it were hypnotized. Someone seemed to have figured out that we were able to connect with the creature with colours and sounds. At this moment, no one knew what the sequence meant but there will be plenty of time for that. Guna imagined the conspiracy theories that would be drawn around this mystery. Fake news was another battle for another day.
The blasts and sparkles faded. The national anthem played softly through the public announcement system like an afterthought, as if the entire country suddenly remembered that it was the 9th of August today. The song continued playing when the creature disappeared, and it went on for some time until it was cut off abruptly like an underground party being raided by the police. Chan took this as a call back to work. He stood up and told Guna that he’d see him soon. Guna didn’t hear him. Instead, he stared ahead into the rising night, beseeching it to seal the departing creature forever and always.
Tan Kaiyi is on a literary odyssey to unearth the wonders and weirdness within the mundane. His poems have appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS). His play, On Love, was selected for performance at Short & Sweet Festival Singapore. He has also been published in Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018), an anthology of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories from the region.
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