To my old friend

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Junior Teixeira


Dear friend, how are you? I miss you.

It’s been a long time.
Not talking to you feels like a crime.

It must have been three years since we last met.

Monday is coming again,
And I have to go back to that prison of an office.

My boss has no idea what she is doing,
she throws all her work to us,
Then she scolds us like we were all lazing off.
I puke a little inside my mouth when I hear her scoff.

My seniors bully us because the boss bullies them.
as the boss flings her work onto them,
They fling their work onto us like monkeys throwing shit.
I have had enough of it.

They go home early while we are stuck long after our shift is over.

I’ll most likely work overtime till ten again
and by the next day, my efforts will all be in vain.
I bet to myself I’ll be stuck in the midnight rain,
Unable to catch the last train.

Just yesterday my senior asked me to arrange five hundred forms for him right as I was about to go.

It makes me want to curse this damn job.

Curse this fucking job,
Fuck this cursed job.

I have to enter data over and over again
until my fingers are about to break.
People here hate it when I take breaks.

I have no mood to enjoy weekends.
Slowly, even my hobbies and passions fade into drudgery.

It’s already midnight, and I still want to play, relax, and have a proper meal under the moonlight.
I do not want to sleep,
I do not want to count sheep.
I do not want to face the day so soon.
I want to gaze at the moon–
The speck of gentle light in the dark.
Its natural calming light shines differently from the harsh electric lights of the office.

I try to find the stars, but there are no stars in the sky.
It must be those ugly lights from the ground.
In the buldings and on the roads.
If only the stars would shine in this darkness

Again, friend, I’m giving you my dearest regards,
You are the only good thing left in my life.

It makes me so angry,
That I always get made fun of.
It makes me so pissed
That I cannot find peace.

Nowhere in the office can I find anyone to mesh with.

There was another new staff, Tommy.
I think he’ll do better than me, really.
He seems rather chummy with all the people he works with.
Even the senior staff do not bully him.

A month into the job and he’s already going to the movies with them,
Dining and chatting over lunch, dinner and supper after OT.
Sharing food deals with each other,
Joking and bantering like old friends from school,
Like you and me used to do.

I wish I was in his team.
I made a solitary bet, I bet I’ll quit before him.

If only I was in his team…

But instead, I got teamed with him that bites me from the back
I comfort myself by saying,
Rats bite things that shine.
But really, all I can do now is whine.

Why the fuck did I take this job?

We are in the same team
But we are barely close.

He laughs at me, not with me.
He talks behind my back.
He praises me in front of others and draws unwanted attention to me,
He keeps puffing me up like I’m perfect to my face,
Then pokes holes in my work and image when I leave.
I just want to lay low and do my job peacefully.
I think he wants public opinion to hang me when I finally fuck up.
I think he was the one spreading all those crapo about me at the pantry.

I think he’s why nobody else wants to talk to me.

But I have no idea why I can’t get along with people the way Tommy does.
Maybe you could tell me why?

I tried to help Tasha with her computer, like I always did with you back at that helpdesk.
I got laughed at, not by her but everyone else.
Tasha smiled shyly and said “Thank you” with a small voice…
It reminded me of whenever a user would thank me or you back at our old helpdesk.

I want to go back there, if only the project wasn’t disbanded.
Please don’t disband our friendship too.

Let’s do anything at all.
Give me a call.

We can chat,
We can fish,
We can catch films,

Or simply have a drink together without talking about anything.
I’m fine with doing whatever as long as you are here.

I bet that I’ll leave before Tommy or that maggot.
Maybe we can have that victory drink, to celebrate my one-sided win, once I hear from you.

Please write to me,
You are the solace I have in this shithole.

Sick of the Stress

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Josh Sorenson


I’m so sick of the damn stress. 

I am not a slab of dough, I am not a hunk of machine and neither are my fellow human beings–so why are we treated as such? Why do we have to fit into this cookie-cutter? Why are we on the conveyor belt? Is the product that we are indoctrinated to be even relevant for the world anymore? 

The world has changed. Degrees no longer guarantee you a high wage and a cushy career. Hard work no longer guarantees success in the factory. Graduates with straight As and stellar portfolios don’t even get the basic courtesy of being a full-time worker with proper benefits. Instead, they get put under agencies and get shortchanged as an external contractor, while still having to work as much as a full-timer. 

On the other hand, people are making big money playing their favorite games and through various unorthodox means that were unfathomable ten or twenty years ago. Trade school students are making big waves with the skills they picked up in the industry and apprenticeships. Any child with a computer can access every free resource in the world. Late bloomers are starting businesses and making huge gains in investments. Artists are getting commissions from clients who visit their social media pages. 

The world has changed. So why has the thinking and policies of the leaders not changed? Why are they still forcing circles into square holes? Why didn’t the foolish senile old fuckers at the top update their thinking? Their antiquated thinking is hurting us, our development and our potential. Why do we always have to adhere to their bullshit? Why do they act like their advice still matters? Why can’t they properly respect our views and experiences? We are the ones suffering on the ground, we are the ones being driven crazy. We are the ones that have to live in this new world long after they are gone. Why can’t we live by what we want?

As I sit at my desk, chained to my bedroom as I log in to my work computer, my every mouse stroke being logged and the work system noting the exact hour, minute and second I log in to the system, I start another day of time-wasting, mind-numbing work, for a mere ten dollars per hour. The old boomers would have lauded ten dollars an hour as good pay, but the world has changed. Ten dollars today is no longer ten dollars of yesterday. But really, they don’t even care. 

When I was a child, I was promised that once I had turned old enough, I would be able to enjoy and live, but if only I kept sacrificing, kept studying and kept giving instead of actually living in the now. All the future faking sure kept my hopes up, and now, where hope has vanished, now replaced by a void. A phantom pain stings at my being; there should be something more to my life than this banality I live. 

Now that I’ve done everything that is supposedly required, where the hell is my fucking life? Where are my sunshine and rainbows at the end of the tunnel? I’m still trapped. 

All the stress has fried me out, and there is nothing I can think of outside of work or studying or surviving. 

How would you be happy if you are constantly told that you are just another cog in the system, a piece of equipment, a spare part?

I’m so sick of the damn stress.

Just another day in a prison without end

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Jimmy Chan


Another day behind bars, another day watching grainy footage of civilians protesting about “freedom” and how “vaccines are evil” on communal TV. I can’t help but groan. The people of Port Estrella never fail to astonish me with how stupid, selfish, and cruel they can be. A virus and its mutated strains are running wild out there and they complain about having to take countermeasures to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

They shouldn’t be complaining. Do they even make sense? 

Those idiots out there in the free world complaining about having to get jabbed, wear masks and obey social distancing guidelines clearly have never been behind bars before. 

If these fools had been here, they would have been tased and tied up by the guards in a stretcher, then taken to the vaccination booth to get jabbed. And then thrown into solitary confinement for a week. They don’t know how good they have it. 

Even if they did not protest they would be hauled by armoured officers to one of the courtyards turned into vaccination centres with their wrists and ankles bound in chains. I went through this process three times. 

These civilians should be glad they get to be vaccinated without being in chains. Don’t get me started on how we have to kneel in the middle of the courtyard for an hour while our arms are still sore. Anyone so much as to make a noise, take a baton to the very arm they got the injection in.

Those bloody civilians get to sit in nice chairs for half an hour and collect freebies, we don’t. Hell, they could even claim vouchers and get to join a lucky draw as an incentive. 

I’ve been catching up with the news through the carefully curated prison broadcast. That’s all the prison media harps on these days: the virus and only that. No more finance news, no politics, no tabloids, nothing. It’s all vaccines, viruses and case numbers. 

I started to read a copy of Moby Dick while the other inmates kept on looking at the prison TV despite how boring it was. 

I’ll never see the streets again, so the closest thing to having an adventure would be in a good book.

Yet a few pages in, I put the book down, as I was little under the weather after my third booster shot mandated by the warden. Nothing much, just general discomfort, dizziness and a lot of fatigue. 

Who am I to complain? I chose that path. I was born into the ghetto where there was nothing but crime and despondence, yet I could have moved away from it all instead of embracing it.

I started off meddling with my mom’s old computer, with the applications, the settings, and then the command lines. Since my mother had no money to buy me toys, I spent my days with the old desktop.

From there I got deeper and deeper. Soon I was impersonating people online, then I moved on to scams and finally to hacking. When the hood rats confronted me over trying to steal or con their money online, I simply shot them- to summarize. 

From there I started my own gang, which I dubbed Terminal 38201- and I got dubbed “Gambling Dragon”. My men bore the tattoo of a Dragon marked with the four symbols of Poker on its forehead while holding poker cards, swords, and guns in their talons. The body of the dragon had the number 38201 emblazoned on it. I had one of those inked on my chest, but the prison officials forced it off me. 

I started to buy houses with the new streams of wealth I made through extortion rackets, scam call centres, hit jobs, and underground casinos. Then, I expanded to online casinos. 

Within two years Terminal 38201 became one of the biggest gangs in the slums of Port Estrella. 

Eventually, the law caught up to me after one of my men got arrested. I’d like to think I would have avoided being caught if he hadn’t snitched on me. Up to this day, I did not know who exactly started the snitching- one did, then followed by the other, and before I knew it everyone said their piece.  

So here I am serving ten life sentences for ten murders and more than two hundred cases of computer hacking. That and organizing a criminal gang. Looking back, however, I do not feel much guilt or regret over the scums I’ve put down. Many of them were greedy, murderous assholes, not very much different from me. I know I wasn’t the best person myself, but at least I wasn’t the one being stomped into the dirt. And besides, I funded the effort to build hospitals, clinics and schools in my area, to do some good with all that money. 

To think that someone like me would lose it all, was unfathomable to me in my prime.

This isn’t something I like to ruminate on. Nor is this something I want to talk about in-depth. 

I lived in yachts, cruises, mansions, penthouses…and now, all I am reduced to is a small cinder block room barely big enough for a straw mat and a urinal. The walls are painted a plain grey, and those damned officers tear down any and all pictures or posters I put on them. 

Back in the old days, my houses never had such dullness- they were painted brightly with pastel colours and had intricate artwork portraying landscapes or gothic architecture.  I even had an oil painting of a whale in the toilet.  Model ships in bottles adorned my fireplace, it looked beautiful. 

Then those fucking cops smashed my bottled ships and took away my art pieces when they raided my home. 

My balconies had infinity pools for me to admire the cityscape while I swam, and now my only window in my cell is a frosted window enforced with metal bars that I gaze out of while I soak in a pool of sweat. The opaque window panel is almost like a mockery–it might as well not have been there. 

I take off my orange jumpsuit with the number 38201 inked on the back, faded from years spent in the max security block, then went to sleep on my straw mat. 

The sirens of ambulances rudely wake me up from my sleep, despite being faint through the concrete walls of the cellblock. My head throbs as I wake up to the sight of a prison cell- barren, dark and musty. It’s times like these when I feel a slight twinge of regret for everything that landed me here. Only slight. 

Vestiges of red and blue sirens shine into my cell under the darkness, despite the frosted glass filtering them like a membrane. 

I pictured medical staff fully covered in PPEs scampering to the ambulances with the sick–my fellow inmates– in stretchers while fully armoured in their face shields, masks and suits. 

The virus must have spread here at last. Given how virulent the spread is, I’m only surprised that it didn’t come to our gates sooner. I cannot imagine how bad it is for the affected, and their families. 

I never did have any empathy for anyone before I came in. Certainly not anyone I’ve robbed from, or anyone I’ve put in the ground. A prison TV harping on a global pandemic sure as fuck didn’t. 

I have been away from the streets a long time, but my instincts never dulled. You don’t get to survive this long without being sharp. The virus has arrived in this prison. 

Just then, an idea starts to form in my head, and the spark of the wildest hope does too. 

Nothing to do with revenge, or going back to the old business. Oh no, I have long forgotten about it, and I have no more desire to start over from ground zero. The white whale has long been skinned down to its bones and drained of its fat. 

I want to find my best friends, Tom and Tasha- the Ishamels to my Ahab.

Goodbye, Claire

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Michael Burrows


The canvas painted with a pastel orange background remained seated in the study room. Claire had wanted to paint some clouds and a big sun later. She will never be able to. Tom never will either: he never fancied himself to be a painter. He knew he would never be able to fill in his wife’s shoes.

The canvas was mounted between the bookshelf and the desk. Light shone through the tinted windows and onto the ceramic floor tiles mopped so spotless that Tom could use it as a makeshift mirror. The room looked as if nothing was out of place.

But the most important piece was missing. Claire was missing.

Tom pictured Claire with a wide smile on her face as she swerved from the desk to the canvas in her office chair after she was finished with her work. 

“I’m going to paint a sunset.” Tom recalled that her words held so much excitement as she looked at him with those doe-eyes. “Do you think I should put seagulls in the background later? Maybe us, even?”

“Yeah, I would love that.” Tom spoke tenderly into the emptiness of the room, as if she was still there.

He was appalled by how life could suddenly become so cruel. He had been told many times by his elders how life was unpredictable, but he had never been hit in the gut by the magnitude of this statement until his wife was infected. 

What had happened? Weren’t he and Claire going to have the life of their dreams?

The Claire at their wedding, he remembered, was vastly different. Him in a suit and she in her gown saying their vows with joy and bliss. They were healthy and happy.

Tom drafted their entire itinerary with Claire for their trip to Europe. After their month-long honeymoon, they wanted to have many children in their new home. 

Tom talked about their plans with such passion during the Chinese New Year of 2019 to their friends and relatives whom they visited. Even if it stung a little that they had to be the ones giving out angpows to the unmarried, he told Claire he was happy to celebrate and welcomed whatever life brought them next.

He now regretted making that statement. 

What he remembered about the start of the pandemic was how fast it brought the world down. At first, the virus was only in Wuhan, and like most people, they never would have guessed that the virus would spread around the world so quickly.

It was clear to Tom, by mid-March of 2020, that his plans with Claire would go up in smoke.

Instead of going on vacation in Europe, the couple stayed at home. Instead of touring from England to Malta, they toured from the bedroom to the fridge.

“Well, that’s ok. At least we can decorate and clean up our house from here.” Claire had said, trying to be optimistic. With that twinkle in her voice, who wouldn’t be comforted? 

Soon, Tom received the termination email from the human resource department at the food catering company he worked in. In a matter of months, he lost his source of income. 

The termination email was filled with pointless fluff in such a pretentious effort to caress hurt feelings as if the person writing it actually knew and cared about him. How about they let him keep his job and work from home instead of outright retrenchment? 

He was crushed, but Claire was there for him, reassuring him that she still had her job. But still, being terminated so abruptly infuriated him. 

“Maybe you can be a Grabfood rider?” Claire’s comforting voice shone through his indignation and worry. “Or help out around the house while I work from home.” 

And so Tom did the latter. It would be less taxing than running around house to house lugging takeaway food. 

Sometime after, Circuit Breaker was over and the country started to open up. When things were looking as if they could go back to normal, Tom started to look for a job again.

Claire, on the other hand, started coughing and had a persistent cold. Fever followed soon after. 

It must have been that in-person work meeting that Claire’s manager had made her attend because everyone who attended that meeting got infected. She had no choice, and to go against that would put her rice bowl at risk too.

He vividly remembered the morning she ran to the office at six before the sun rose.

“Is that you, dear?” Tom said in a groggy voice as he heard his wife’s hastened footsteps in their room and the sounds of wardrobe doors being opened and closed.

“I have to go.” He heard the dread in her voice. Even when he could not see her face properly in the dark, he knew the look to be an exasperated one.

“Are you sure you have to go? Why can’t your manager simply arrange it as an online meeting instead?” 

“I have no choice, honey, he said it was too important to not attend in person,” she responded with a sigh. 

The first day after that meeting, she started coughing. Tom heard her loud and clear all the way from the study room to the kitchen at the other end of their house for the entire day.

Two days after that meeting, Claire started to complain of chest tightness at the dinner table.

By day three, Tom suggested Claire go to a doctor, and she did after hastily booking an appointment with the polyclinic. 

On that same afternoon, when Tom was stirring a pot of carbonara sauce.  For the first time in a long time, he was in a good mood. 

Claire would enjoy such a good meal after her doctor’s visit. He did not say anything about cooking carbonara: it was supposed to be a surprise. 

Right then, his phone rang. 

“Hello, Claire,” Tom said enthusiastically. He did not need to see the call screen to know it was her. He had a separate ringtone set only for her.

“Hey, Tom.” She coughed, this time heavier. 

“Is…everything ok? What did the doctor say?”

“I have to go to the hospital. He suspects that I’m infected with the new variant.”

That statement hit Tom like a cinder-clad kick to the throat. His phone slipped from his fingers. 

He froze in his position. What did that mean? She was infected? Did that mean she would be gone? Would he be able to see her again? 

After a long moment of pondering, he turned off the fire to the stove and let the sauce stop brewing. There was no point in cooking it if Claire could not enjoy it.

She was taken to the hospital to be intubated while Tom was issued a quarantine order and given swab tests. The medical staff came to his house an hour later fully geared up in their PPEs and made Claire pack her clothes before shipping her away. 

Tom missed his last window to see her in person because the medical staff isolated her from his view by forming a big protective ring around her.

Having cotton sticks pried deep into his nostrils was unpleasant, but it was nothing compared to the agony of the illness Claire suffered. He could not count the times his heart sank whenever the hospital gave him updates on her condition. 

Throughout those months that followed, Tom could not stop himself from ruminating about what had occurred, from retrenchment to Claire’s hospitalization. 

Even in his sleep, he wasn’t spared from the loop of tragic events that he could not stop in his head.

Insurance helped with the bills. However, Claire was unceremoniously dismissed from her job through email, just as Tom had been. How could they? After everything that Claire sacrificed for her job, that was how they treated her?

The view of the study room blurred with tears that formed again.

Tom clenched his fists and jaw, his mouth pursed in a thin line. Sobs blubbered through his lips regardless of how tightly he tried to hold them in.

By this point, he could no longer force himself to try to stop the repetition. His stream of memory was overrun by a flood of empty rage and worry. So empty and pointless, yet so overwhelming and destructive. 

To combat this, he sought the advice of his family and friends, who in turn suggested that he clean the house to regain some sense of control in his life. The house was dirty anyway, with Tom being isolated at home for three weeks.

He put in frantic efforts to organize and clean his— no, their home, to the point where it looked like something out of a home decorating magazine. He made sure there were no clothes lying on the floor and all the books were arranged in the bookshelves just as it was done in libraries. 

That was where he started to hold on to the idea that Claire would be back to a cleaner, sparklier home. After all, she always complained about how dusty the house always seemed to be. And she would be able to keep painting, to finish the sunset. 

But that little spark of hope was doused with more updates from the hospital. He never once heard any good news.

On that fateful day, Tom further polished the house so clean that it could not be cleaned any further. He laid in his bed and formed a prayer in his mind like he had made for Claire countless times. 

The ringing of his phone broke the weary young man from his train of thought. 

Seeing the phone’s screen, it was Dr. Bala, the doctor in charge of his wife’s ward. A pit of dread formed in his gut.

“Hello?” 

 “Mr Tan?” Dr Bala said, with a gravelly voice. “Do you have a laptop with you?” 

“Yes? Why?”

“Your wife is going to die. Please get your computer ready to see her off in her last moments. I’ll…send you the zoom link.” Dr. Bala promptly hung up after saying that. 

Tom’s heart sank upon hearing the words. It felt like a meat hook had plunged into his gut and clawed out everything in him. Any moment from now, he was going to lose his wife. The composure he had tried to muster all this while went down the drain. Tears flowed involuntarily from his cheeks, but he was not moving or saying anything. It was a stunning blow to his very consciousness.

HIs world swayed and his head became heavy again. Could he believe any of this?

The final moments with somebody, especially his wife, would be the most important. Even more so when it came so abruptly. Yet this doctor is telling him that he had to see his wife die…from a screen? 

He could not hold her hand and kiss her goodbye for one last time. The most he could do was kiss the screen as the grainy video showed her take her last breath, and transmitted her last words through the filters of her oxygen mask and the speakers of his device.

How would he send her off properly with all the safe distancing restrictions and measures?

Her funeral would not draw many people. Their families would not get to mourn, hug and cry together. Their friends, most of them the same people who attended their wedding banquet with the most jovial smiles, biggest red packets and merriest partying would only be able to cry from a distance, all alone in the homes that they would be required to stay in.  They would not be together when they needed each other the most. How shocked they would be to go from celebrating a joyous marriage to mourning a sudden death in months. 

The funeral would be a shoddy excuse of a proper send-off for a human life gone too early. 

Millions of questions joined the assault on his psyche and body along with the white empty rage, the flooding grief and the clawing feeling in his gut. 

Why this pandemic in the first place? Why her of all people?

The world as he knew it lost all colour and sounded like an old faulty computer slowly breaking down, fading to an empty, black screen. 

Just then, his phone’s message notification chimed again. It was Dr. Bala sending the Zoom link via Whatsapp. 

Tom knew he had to click on it. 

He wished he could at least freeze time to process this news first. Claire was dying.

In the face of reality, Tom let out a broken screech and flung his pillow against the bedroom door. He walked to the desk where his laptop was among a neat stack of books, which he had been reading to distract himself. 

With a violent swing of his arms, he plunged the books onto the floor.

He turned on his laptop, wetting his keyboard with tear-and-sweat-stained fingers, going to Whatsapp Web to access the link. 

As his hands trembled and his vision blurred from tears, he had to click on the link a few times because he could not see it properly.

As the screen loaded, he wondered how lonely and hurt Claire was, with no one around her as she would take her last breath. What kind of sick joke was this from Providence that they would spend their last moment apart?

What closure could there be? 

Tom tried to shrug off the scene in his head. There was no way he would relieve that scene of his wife wilting into death from the screen. 

Tom watched all the way till the heart monitoring machine flatlined and his speaker stopped transmitting Claire’s voice. The screen froze, and the call ended.

His wife was just switched off like a buggy program.

Now all that is left of her is the swivel chair she once sat on, the clothes she once wore, her desk, and the sunset on the canvas that she never got to finish painting.

Autumn Ends

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Charlie CT


Jim, having spent his entire life in a tropical city, has never experienced anything outside of perpetually sweltering heat, humidity, and constant sweating. Moving to the City of Galeridge was a big move for him. Galeridge, aside from its cool weather, was also known for being a college town- a fun place for the young, unlike the old dull, hot city he lived in.

He had expected autumn to be beautiful. He imagined amber rays of the sunset illuminating a pretty falling of leaves all shades of brown. The variety of colours between the trees and the floor becomes a giant mural in autumn, like the way mass media romanticizes them to be. 

Jim had wanted to have picnics with new friends, play frisbee and laugh over BBQ after a long day of studying. He had wanted to have heart-to-heart talks with cool people, like in those movies.

Just like how it was advertised. What a lie.

Perhaps he only had himself to blame for being so silly as to actually believe all of that.

In a cold city, it gets cooler and all the plants die. Leaves fall but the rays of sun that shine on them do not reflect the shades of gold-copper-brown like a prism and illuminate the city. At least, not in the way that magazines portray them.

When he had seen the mass of dried up leaves on the pavements and roads, he realized how irritating leaves are. Especially when eating outdoors in open space. It was for this reason that Jim chooses to eat inside a sheltered area or take it away to his rented apartment.

Jim didn’t see children pile up leaves to create a leaf-man the way they would to snow. In fact, most children in this city get grossed out by the look of a crusty, dead leaf. Either that or they step over them like they do not matter.

What makes it even worse for Jim is that Autumn brings a lot of rain. He can not enjoy a proper walk without being disturbed with rain pour soaking through his shoes no matter how big an umbrella he brings. 

And the rain is Providence’s way of warming up the city’s population for the snow that will come during winter. 

The rain before the storm, huh. Jim quipped with such a sardonic tone that is appreciated by only himself. Jim always wondered if this was why he did not have any close friends, or at least, friendships that lasted more than a couple of years. 

Jim waited for the bus, making sure to stand further inside the bus stop so that the ripples of any rainwater that rolls off the shelter and hit the ground would not be able to splash onto him. 

His ticket said 3:30 pm, and it was already half-past four. There was no sign of any bus approaching amongst the fog of rainwater. 

“Shit.” Jim hissed, as he helplessly saw the time on his watch change to 4:31 pm. 

Jim paced back and forth within the shelter of the bus stop, careful to avoid where rainwater had poured in.  He looked at his watch once every few steps. 

The time changed to 4:32 p.m. No bus. 

Jim hastened his pacing, moving like a fly trapped in a glass cup.  

A long while later, two rays of car lights flashed through the fog of rain, the image of a bus apparating along with it. 

Jim’s frantic expression lightened into a smile. Jim flagged his arm out to stop the bus, and matched the bus number to the one stated on his ticket: Bus 773.
What a disappointing autumn and what a disappointing city. There was no point in lingering in this city. He had not seen any beauty in autumn, nor did he find any beauty in his attempts to bond with any of the city’s dwellers. He pledged to himself that he would never return to Galeridge, with the only souvenir worthy to be kept being the degree that he had studied for.

Thunder

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Johannes Plenio


As I sit in my apartment, I look out of the window, seeing people running for shelter as rain starts to pour. 

It’s a wonder how quickly the sky turns gray and dark these days. I don’t remember the weather being this volatile when I was a kid. 

The rumble of thunder makes my heart skip and makes me flinch in my seat, even though I had seen it coming through the flash of lightning cutting through the dark mass of storm clouds; thunder has never failed to frighten me. Good thing I wasn’t holding my cup of cocoa. 

My adverse reaction to sudden noises has earned me my fair share of ridicule, from when I was a ten-year-old to now, a thirty-something-man. 

I still clearly remember that day in math class when it started to rain outside, and I was seated next to the windows. The teacher was trailing off in her lecture, and I dreamt off. I looked at how relaxing the clouds were, a nice break from the aggressively bright rays and the heat from the sun. 

And then there was a flash of lightning, followed by the loudest blast of thunder. 

I shrieked. 

The worst mistake of my life, as it seemed. There was a moment when everyone looked at me, then an eruption of laughter. 

My face flushed red and I looked down at my textbook. I was embarrassed the entire day. 

If it was only for that one day, I would have been able to move on from it. But the next day I learned how mean and how cruel children can be. 

That was where the mean kids started to put me on their radar. First it was them sneaking up on me and frightening me with sudden noises such as clapping behind me. Then they started to slap books and worksheets out of my hands in the walkways before running away. Then, rumours about me circulated to the point where I had to transfer during my last year and take the final exams as a private candidate.

Since then, I have always told myself–trained myself–to be like a deeply rooted oak tree. Firm and solid. That’s what successful people do right? Be firm and be calm no matter what. 

It never worked out well. Funny thing is, the more I tried to control my nerves, the more obvious they became to the outsider. 

In every job I have ever taken, I have always been able to do low level tasks fairly well. I can finish reports, I can file orders and complete invoices, and I certainly can talk to clients. 

But once I get to the higher levels I crumble, and I always get left, smothered in the ashes of wasted effort. 

In my job as a bank teller, I lasted a month before the manager had me fired because I cannot handle angry customers yelling in my face. 

In my job after that, as a clerk, I left after a year and a half because my supervisor could not stop using abusive language with me. I caved because of the stress and dread I had. 

I have blown through lots of money and many hours working things out on my own and with a professional, but here I am, still flinching at the sound of thunder. Even with the abundance of lightning rods in the city and in the concrete shelter in my home, I cannot help the tingling of my nerves.

The sound of falling rain becomes louder and louder, and petrichor slips through the small gaps of the windows and into my nostrils. Water flows down my window panes, staining my view of the neighborhood and leaving a blurry silhouette for me instead. 

I pick up my cup of cocoa and take a sip, anticipating the next blast of thunder.

All the what-ifs, could-haves and should-haves run through my head: what if I had never been on the bullies radar? What if I had been able to handle those yelling customers at my first job? What if I did not have such a toxic supervisor at my second job? What if I was in a better environment back then? 

Now, I work as a QA tester remotely at home, for a company. The pay is decent and the workload is manageable. I don’t have much to worry for now since I’m not seeing any of my colleagues or my managers. But this arrangement won’t go on forever. 

But the biggest, most prevalent one of them all is–the one that nags at me the most–what if I had never shrieked at the sound of thunder?

The War is Won

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by KoolShooters

Dearest Eli,

The war is over. The Japanese have finally surrendered. They are leaving today. 

I’m glad that all our sacrifices paid off. Every ounce of suffering we went through, every drop of blood spilled, every night plotting and scheming to live and win… it all paid off in the end. 

As for what will happen from here, I do not know, but I know that I have been stashing British pounds–as many as I could during the Japanese occupation–in hopes that should the war be over, if the British return and the Japanese leave, I can use that money. In fact, most black marketers had always been using the British pound, not that joke of a Banana money like the Japanese gave us.

I’m not sure if I would like the British to be back or not–after all, they are the ones who abandoned us to the cruelty of the Japanese. I do not know who would be a better ruler for us, so for now I guess we have to make do with what we have. 

But still, other than five thousand British pounds in my trusty tin can, I have also stolen some munitions–for I have a horrible feeling that I will have to use them in time to come. The Japanese have left, yes, but I do not dare to imagine what comes after. With that said, I have done my share of savagery during the war. I have  no wish to kill any more people–I really don’t.

This is why I am not taking part in the lynching of traitors and leftover IJA soldiers that is rampant in the streets right now. Partisans parade the hanjian around, pelting them with eggs and vegetables and filth so that they can later brag about how they “fought for the country and wrought justice on the invaders.” Either that or they’re venting the rage, suffering and trauma they have been bottling up for the last three years. I don’t see the point in that myself, but apparently someone has to do it. 

Anyway, I stole one of those Japanese swords, three rifles, five pistols and nine hundred rounds. It was a lot to carry around, but nothing a box and a trolley couldn’t handle. I buried those guns and ammo with my clothes and some food–mostly tapioca and sweet potatoes, and a small bag of rice.

Tomorrow, I’m moving back to my father’s old provision shop, with the trolley in my arms and a pistol tucked in my pants-in case a mob tries to steal my possessions. 

Wish me luck from the other side, Eli. I want to retrieve the old shop. I don’t expect much food and groceries to be in there anymore, but I must take the shop first before I repair it to my ideal. Maybe I can even live in it and do away with that flimsy old hut that I have been living in for the past three years. 

If only you were still with us, then you could have seen those scumbags surrender and leave. Today, freedom is ours. 

With love,

Ding Feng

A Wish for A Happy Family

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Achraf Alan

I could have wished for a better, more prosperous life for myself. I could have told the shooting star that I wanted out of this shitty life. Heck, I could have said that I wanted straight A’s, or my peers to stop making fun of my situation at home. I could even have wished for the strength and smarts to endure this situation.

Anything else could have been better than what I ended up wishing for that day. 

“I wish my parents will resolve their issues so they won’t get a divorce and I wish this family will be happy.” 

The shooting star was gone in a flash, and a very naive side of me thought, for a split second, that the angel in it had gone to fulfill my wish. My rational mind instantly called bull on it, but hey, there was no harm fantasizing a little, right? But making that wish gave me hope, hope that the power of the shooting star could at last save my family from falling apart.

A few days after I made the wish, my parents had signed the papers at the lawyer’s office. They, however, had no intention to fight for custody as they still wanted to raise me, Hayley and Peter together. But dad had found a place and moved out.

I wasted my wish on something impossible, something that was destined to fail. I wasted my wish on a dead horse. At first, I thought that the reason my wish didn’t come true was because the shooting star was actually a random satellite that fell from space after it ran out of battery, or space debris, a piece of rubbish discarded by astronauts.

 Or maybe, it was simply because shooting stars don’t work, it’s just childish tales and baloney. 

My Most Interesting Classmate

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Daian Gan


Oh, my most interesting classmate? Nice question.  

It started when I met him during one of my classes and we hit it off right away.

That was during the start of my second year, when I was in a boring application development module. It was the first day of the semester, where everyone talked about their lofty “new-sem-new-me” rubbish. 

Without giving much thought I settled into a corner seat where he, who happened to sit beside me, introduced himself.

“I’m Tommy. What is your name?” His voice was smooth over the ears and clear, not overly nasal or raspy.

“I’m Poh Wah,” I replied while noting his round face, nose and black plastic frame spectacles.

Unlike most of our other classmates, who would be seventeen to twenty-something years old, he was twenty-eight and the eldest student in the class, maybe even older than some of our lecturers. 

But still, older students are a thing especially in tertiary institutions so I decided not to be an asshole about another person’s age. Nor do I want to ask too many questions about why he was here. After all, we all went to school to get an education. Age doesn’t matter. 

Even at the first lesson, we hit it off like we’d known each other for a long time. We chit-chat about everything under the sun, from future plans, to movie plots, and favourite computer games. 

He was the only one that could truly vibe with me, so naturally I teamed up with him during group projects. We had good rapport, did what we had to do and scored well in the end.

Outside of school, he would invite me to do community service with him during weekends and during the semester breaks. I went with him every time because I would’ve been bored out of my ass at home if I did not. 

He has volunteered in sports events, and in old folks homes as well as halfway homes. But he mostly did his volunteering at  a family service centre where he either did administrative work or he worked as a support group session moderator. 

When the time felt right, I asked Tommy the reasons behind his enthusiasm behind community service. 

Turns out, Tommy did not have the best home life growing up, as his father deserted his mother and left her to raise him alone, which was why he now serves in family service centres so he could help problematic families. 

“I want to make this community a better place, maybe I can bring happiness to some families through what I do. After all, maybe someone should have helped my mother.”

He said it like he was taking a solemn vow. Shortly after, he revealed that his mother passed away from cancer five years ago.

Other than coding and serving the community, he drew and painted too. If he was in a good mood, he would even show me some of his paintings. 

Even in art, he breathed so much life and activity to them.

He once showed me a photo-realistic painting of a bottle of wine with a “Danger: Keep Out” sign printed on the label in four languages. Others included a dove flying in the sky, breaking free from a shattered cage, and several drawings of anime characters.

The one that made the biggest impression on me, however, was one titled “A Family in Heaven.” Presented in a palette of whites and light tinted blues, it depicted a family of three angels blissfully living in a castle in the clouds, painted impressionist style. 

The footnote below the painting read “For a family that I should have accepted.” 

Besides painting, he also dabbled in writing, having written a personal essay titled “The Beauty of a Second Chance” and that won him an award which sat proudly on the top of his bookshelf. 

In fact, he was so nice, wholesome and well-accomplished that I could not believe what I discovered about him later on when I googled his name for fun and found a news article about him published twelve years ago. 

Tommy was fourteen years old when he stole a bottle of red wine from the supermarket, but that was not the worst part. 

He guzzled the entire bottle and went to his father’s new home, who has since remarried and moved after abandoning Tommy’s mother. 

He stabbed his father fifty times. 

He ransacked their home and stole around a thousand dollars before he blacked out at the lift lobby, leaving a trail of blood on the corridor leading from his father’s flat unit.

Needless to say, he went to prison for twelve years.

Lyra’s Letter Never sent

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by John-Mark Smith


Dear Jim,

It has been almost two years since my last message to you. 

I hope you are doing well. I’m sorry that I left you when you were in a bad place, but I needed space,

I’m sorry I could not give you the support that you needed back then, but you were a drunken mess, and on top of that, you brought too much drama. You took up too much of my headspace by whining about every minor inconvenience, and sending tons of long ranting messages at night, sometimes at 2 or 3 am. 

I had to tend to my mother back then. She was my main focus. Taking care of both her, after her surgery, and my sister, who I’ve mentioned has special needs, was very hard on some days.

Then, there was my boyfriend, who complained that I wasn’t spending enough time with him. I cannot tell you how guilty I felt when I had to cater to you instead of the guy I was actually dating. Now, we’re getting married next year. I love him like no other and I know he feels the same.

But still, good luck, and goodbye, Jim.

Lyra.

She owed him nothing. In fact, she wouldn’t even send it out. No, this was for her own closure. 

She knew that she did the right thing, logically, when she left Jim. But no matter what, there was a small part of her that could not simply throw their friendship away. Even if she had already cut him off, they were still friends at one point of time. Those were emotions for you—messy and illogical.

While she had found better jobs and better friends, sometimes she could not help but wonder if Jim had also done the same. 

But she would be an idiot to want him back. 

It was a funny feeling that bugged her for a long while. So she decided to process these messy feelings at last by writing it out, as her therapist had suggested many times. 

Her phone’s message notification chimed. The thought of Jim texting her again crossed her mind.

The first time Jim texted her, it was about a test he had failed and he was clearly feeling down about it. 

But then, it became about every small thing.

“Why is the weather so hot today? I can’t go out and what am I gonna do? Am I gonna vegetate at home till I die?” Why can’t he simply turn on the air-con?

“Why is it that some people can shit outside the toilet bowl without flushing OMG I hate it.” Then use another cubicle?

“Why is it that people like to infringe on my personal freedom? Isn’t it enough that I wasted my childhood in primary school all the way to college today for them!” What does he want to do?

Memories of him spamming her phone with incessant texts like those, having to deal with Jim’s melodrama came back to her all at once. 

“I’ll find a way.” He had repeatedly promised. At the end of the day, he would keep asking for virtual hugs while complaining about virtually the same thing that he said will work about.

It was like watching one of those cliche horror movies where you scream at the screen wanting to tell the characters not to do something stupid but they do it anyway for the sake of drama.

Not this again, she told herself. No way.

That couldn’t be possible, she already blocked him and he had not made any attempts to contact her again after she ignored his emails for the fifth time.

People around her liked to tell her she was “the warmest person they ever knew.” But Lyra could never accept these compliments, and she knew Jim would not bear testament to that either.

Especially not after she decided to block Jim at last.

Lyra still could not quite fathom how things become like that? 

From the day that she and Jim met at the cat shelter, he was a little shy and awkward around the cats, sure- but he was very friendly. 

And came his eighteenth birthday, which was a big thing to him. Fifth of October, she remembered.

Because that was also the same day where her mother had severe gastric pain and could not do anything at all. So she had to stay for her mother. To clean, to cook and to prepare medicine. 

Fortunately, Walton was there to help her tend to her mother- he chatted with her like a mother and she chatted with him like her son.

Seeing Walton made her guilty for not spending more time with him- the man she was actually dating. School took up enough of her time, her mother, her other friends and…now Jim. 

She never told Walton about her friendship with Jim, after all, she would hate for Walton to get the wrong idea. 

The next day however, she remembered that important briefing that their lecturer had said to give in class the next day. Jim must be there! His attendance was always perfect. 

Jim, did you record the lecture for today? I really need it, Mr Tom said he has an important announcement to make regarding our final project.

Lyra paced frantically in her seat, 

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…” 

Jim wrote back after an hour:

Sorry, I didn’t. I was late to class because there was a traffic jam. 

Her heart was struck by a harpoon bolt. Mr Tom’s class was the most important one for her to score in- because this was the one class she was struggling with the most. And here was Jim saying that he wasn’t there to help her gather information. 

Why? Why didn’t Jim turn up that day? Doesn’t he understand that she needs his help too? Mr Tom wasn’t the kind of lecturer that cared to repeat his instructions again so it will be hard for her to catch up on what she had missed.

Jim shot her a text message an hour later: I’ll catch Mr Tom later and ask him what can we do?

And even if Jim sent her the notes later, she knew that what-she-got was a summarized, watered-down version- without most of the important little details. 

It’s ok, Jim. I’m not mad at you. She sent. But she was. How could he? How could Jim have been so selfish? In that class they only had each other, not like he doesn’t understand that.

What was he even doing that day? Celebrating his birthday until he was willing to endanger their assignment? Was he that needy?

A few days later, Jim was whining again: same old damn thing about how lonely he is. 

“I’m lonely, why doesn’t anyone eat with me? I want to cry.” 

“Jim, stop being overdramatic. You’ll be fine, ok?” Lyra could no longer find it in herself to write long comforting texts to him by that point.  There is no way Jim could keep mulling over “why I have no friends?” , how about he swap places with her? Take care of her sickly mother, and tend to all the chores. 

A few months of enduring complaints later, she finally decided to tell him to stop bothering her. 

“Today was sick and tiring, same old crap again. Why am I so stuck?” Was the very last message Jim had sent her. 

A cold and decisive sentence was all she wanted to give him. 

I’m sick of your whining. Be responsible for your own issues. 

She hit the block button and never looked back. 

After blocking Jim, she wrote to her lecturers about her situation at home- about her ailing mother and how she was sorry for missing classes. It wasn’t until a year ago that she, along with some savings she had pulled with Walton and her other friends were able to finally ward her mother at a care home.

After a long two years of struggling, she finally graduated and then she went for the interview at that tech company…

Ring.

Her phone chimed. 

For an instant there she thought it was Jim again, bringing his melodrama once more.

She tried to shake the old memories away before pulling out her phone and checking her notifications

Fortunately, the message came from Walton, her current fiance.

“Dear, let’s go for dinner tonight.” 

She heaved a sigh of relief. Walton, unlike Jim, had no melodrama. Walton cared about her and helped tend to her mother whereas Jim rarely even asked about her. Most of all, Walton loved her. 

But there was a part of herself that wondered, if Walton ever fell down a dark path like Jim did, will she cut and run like she did with Jim? 

She shook her head to shake off this wild idea. Revisiting the past was never a good thing. She took the little letter and crushed it, casting it into the trash can. 

Today, she had Walton by her side, a recovered and healthy mother, and a well-paying job. 

It was all she needed for a good life. No unnecessary drama. 

At this point of time, Lyra only wished Jim well from a distance.