Chasing Literary Awards Won’t Promote Singlit

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Epigram Books, a Singaporean publisher, is aiming for the Man Booker Prize. As part of its goal, it has opened an imprint in the United Kingdom, so that its offerings will be eligible for the Prize. Founder Edmund Wee believes that the publicity generated from such an achievement “would be a turning point for people to see that Singaporean books aren’t that bad at all”.

I wish him the best of luck, but my experience suggests that it’s a long shot. I am Singapore’s first, and so far only, writer nominated for the Hugo and Dragon Awards. I can tell you that chasing awards means nothing.

Epigram Books is the creator of the Epigram Fiction Prize, Singapore’s richest literature award. Each winner receive $25,000 and a publication offer. Per the article:

Out of the 72 entries received in the first year, four were shortlisted and published. All four sold out their initial run of 1,000 copies within two or three months, a milestone that normally takes bestsellers a year to reach in Singapore, according to Wee.

Colour me impressed, but I should note that my own novel, which was not selected for an Epigram Fiction prize, did far better in the same time frame. I’m not sure if I can publicly disclose the actual sales figures, but I can say that neither my publisher nor I had to sink in $25,000 to bring it to the market. We both enjoyed healthy profits from that one book in three months.

And I won’t comment on Epigram’s UK imprint selling only 100 copies per title in its catalogue.

The key to understanding the TradPub mindset is that they don’t sell stories. They sell paper. It’s the traditional way of delivering stories to customers. But technology has significantly altered the publishing industry in the past decade.

Print on Demand technology has rendered storing mountains of paper books in bookstores and warehouses obsolete; if you want a paper book, just go on Amazon, and it will print and deliver the book to you. Ebooks are far cheaper than paper books, and far more convenient and accessible in an age of smartphones and tablets. Ereaders and ebook stores have opened the floodgates to new markets and new writers, and search engine algorithms and social media have made discovering and following writers easier than before. Self-publishing platforms allow anybody to write and publish stories from anywhere in the world without having to go through publishers.

Books themselves are facing stiff competition from elsewhere. YouTube, Crunchyroll, Steam, GOG, NetFlix, and other media are all competing with books for the readers’ entertainment dollar and time. If a customer has to choose between dropping $18 on a paperback that can be read in 8 hours, or $15 on an indie game that lasts for 50 hours, you can bet that he will choose the latter. Likewise, $18 on a single paperback versus $11.95 on a monthly Crunchyroll premium membership with complete access to all anime and drama in its catalogue is a no-brainer too.

We live in the sunset of traditional publishing. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing down, and Big Publishing is declining. Writers and publishers must adapt to changing times or be forgotten.

Encouraging Singaporeans to read Singaporeans may be an admirable goal, but publishers need to remain profitable to continue publishing stories. If they can’t make a profit, publishers will be force to close down. Becoming profitable is simple:

Give readers what they want.

Technology may have changed, but readers’ tastes have not. Romance readers want love and drama. Thriller readers want excitement and derring-do. SFF readers want awe and wonder. Produce books that meet their expectations, using technology to minimise costs and penetrate markets, and you’ll make money.

Publishers need to take a long, hard look at the industry and themselves, and see how they can best serve their readers’ needs. Wee’s words are instructive of his attitude:

“For many years, it has been in Singaporeans’ minds that foreign books are better and local books not so good,” he says. “I blame everybody. I blame the schools because literature is not compulsory. I blame the bookshops. I blame the press because they still want to interview famous international authors instead of local authors.”

Blaming everybody is not the solution. Courting people with awards will not work. If you don’t publish writers whose works people love, people aren’t going to love them back. It’s as simple as that. Of all the Singaporean-authored books and stories I’ve read over the years, none of them have left a lingering impression on me. None of them met my tastes — or my standards of craft.

Chasing a Man Booker Award is a snipe hunt. Writers who can win such an award are incredibly rare. Gambling everything on the hope that that such a talented writer signs on with you is the literary equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. After all, what are the odds that a writer capable of winning the Man Booker Award sign on with a small publishing house from tiny country?

Even if Epigram manages such a feat, it’s not likely to have a knock-on effect on all other Singaporean books. As I have seen first-hand with the Hugos and Dragons, should an author win an award, readers will flock to the award-winning book, then the rest of his backlist, and only then other authors of similar standards in the same field. Sharing the same nationality as a Man Booker Award-winning writer isn’t compelling enough to capture a reader’s heart. These other writers must be in the same league as the award winner to stand a chance.

Mickey Spillane once said that people eat more salted peanuts than caviar. Other writers mocked him for his writing style, but through hard work and appealing to the masses, he left his mark on the American crime thriller genre. I have a similar philosophy.

I don’t write stories to chase awards. I write stories to entertain my readers. Awards are pleasant, but profits are king. If you want to encourage readers to read more books, you have to sustain the ability to publish more books, and to publish books you need to be profitable. If I were a Singaporean publisher, this is what I would do:

  1. Focus on genre fiction. There is a dearth of genre fiction in Singapore; other than Young Adult and the odd romance and horror story there is a stunning lack of Singaporean genre fiction. Grab the first mover advantage in this field. Don’t limit yourself to submissions from Singaporeans, but do try to sign on as many Singaporean genre fiction writers as possible.
  2. Publish stories that meet and exceed genre conventions. Stories must be entertaining. Build a brand focused on quality entertainment and powerful story-telling. In a world where anyone can publish anything, publishers can differentiate themselves by creating a reputation for quality.
  3. Break into ebooks and Print on Demand technology, and target a global audience. The wider your potential market, the more money you make. Minimise cost, maximise distribution.
  4. If your goal is to promote ‘literary’ works, create another imprint dedicated to literary fiction. Channel profits from genre fiction into this imprint to keep it running. Follow steps 2 and 3, building a reputation for publishing quality work and delivering it to the world. You might not make much money out of the literary imprint, it might even be a loss leader, but hey, you’re promoting Singlit and your own brand.

I am leery of ‘literary’ stories. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two kinds of books: books worth reading, and books not worth reading. To stay competitive, publishers must do the former and avoid the latter. Qualities like ‘literariness’ or subversiveness or other avant-garde properties take a back seat to market demand. To remain in the publishing game, publishers have to turn a profit. Ignore the market at your peril.

At the end of the day, trad publishers would do well to study the history of publishing. The literati may elevate the heavy, ponderous tomes of great literature — but it was the cheap pulp magazines, filled with energy and excitement, that instilled the joy of reading in the common people.

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To get a taste of my writing, check out my Steemit serial NIGHT DEMONS and my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 6 of 6

Knife

Dozens, hundreds, thousands of minor parasites swarm all over me. They are gnats and centipedes and biting worms, landing all over my aura. They crawl and wriggle and bite and chew and tear. My skin begins to itch, and my eyes flutter involuntarily.

Easiest option is to run them through with cold steel. But there’s too many people around. If they saw me do that, they’d call the cops on me. That’s how demons fought, by turning people against each other.

Instead, I step aside, whip out my phone and pretend to stare at the map. I want to call down the Light, to burn off the things crawling over me. But that is an inefficient use of limited energy.

And there are better ways to do this.

In my mind, I reach up to the heavens.

‘Archangel Michael, please open the gate to the Light.’

A pair of gates appears in my mind’s eye. They swing open into pure dazzling light.

Addressing the entities feasting on me, I say, ‘Why are you here?’

A chorus of tinny voices reply immediately.

‘Food!’

‘Because we were forced to!’

‘Reshazak says so!’

Voices are a good sign. It meant I didn’t have to slaughter them all.

‘Do you want plenty of food?’ I ask.

‘YES!’

‘Do want to keep working for Reshazak?’

‘NO!’ a voice says.

Other voices drown it out.

‘We have to!’

‘No choice! He hurts us if he does!’

‘He sounds like a bad guy,’ I say. ‘But listen, you don’t have to work for him any more. There’s a place where you can free of him, and where you can find plenty of food.’

‘Where?’ they chime.

‘Do you see the White Light before me?’

‘Yes…’

‘Just step through.’

‘But we’re not of the Light! It burns! It hates us!’

‘That’s not true,’ I say. ‘Look inside yourselves. Do you see a light?’

The chewing stops. Finally. This time, they chatter among themselves.

‘I see it!’

‘Look, look, so bright!’

‘Is that light? Why is there light?’

‘You carry the Divine Spark,’ I say. ‘You will always be welcome in the Light. You just have to step through.’

‘But it’s scary!’

‘The Archangel Michael will help you. There is nothing to be afraid of.’

Michael steps through the portal in his full regalia He extends one arm to the gates, and another at the entities.

‘Everything will be all right,’ he says. ‘Just come to me and we’ll take care of the rest.’

A brave soul jumps off me, flying to the Light. Another, a third, then a thick scream of them. Michael whispers reassurances, gathering up a few recalcitrants in his hands, and guides the rest through the gates. As they fade into the light, I hear cries of joy.

‘Well done,’ Michael says. ‘That takes care of the lesser spirits. Now Reshazak will have to contend with you himself.’

‘Where is he?’

He points down the road at a tall structure, a quartet of obelisks reaching for the sky. The Civilian War Memorial.

‘Thanks,’ I reply.

‘Be wary. He is deploying servitors. Prepare your steel.’

Servitors were mindless beings created to serve the will of its master. In this case, they must be designed for combat.

‘Understood.’

The world darkens as I approach the War Memorial Park. Strange whispers fill the air. The streetlights illuminate crooked trees and stone benches. Black things dance in the shadows between the pools of amber light. There’s an underpass leading to the Esplanade MRT station in front of me, and I’ve no doubt there’s a camera nearby.

I didn’t have to like this. I just have to do this. At least there are no civilians nearby.

I cross the road.

The shadowy things coalesce, growing into snakes and eels. I run to the Memorial, but they slither across the ground and pounce on me. A bitter brown taste floods my mouth. Cold venom punches into my shields.

A fresh wave of energy hits me. Eleanor’s energy. I drink deep and flush my aura with pure White Light. The servitors dissolve. I pop my knife open, hold it in a reverse grip and dash for the monument.

The four columns of the Memorial looms solemnly over me. A shallow pool of water marks every corner. The benches are all occupied.

By dark humanoid spirits.

They get up and charge at me. The closest swings a right hook. I cover with my left elbow and peck at its arm. The blade passes clean through it, but dark energy stings my face. I stab at its throat, go for its thigh, and it dissipates.

A second one leaps at me. Sidestepping left, I slash down, catching its arm. I stab it in the neck, arc around and stitch down its body and it dissolves.

A pair of servitors rush me. Air whooshes past my ear, and suddenly a lion and a wolf leap over my head, pounce on the beings and tear out their throats.

‘We’ve got your back,’ Lupin says.

‘Thanks.’

My spirit guides break off, hunting down individual targets. Anther servitor runs towards me. I lunge in, thrusting the knife into its crown and power-stroking through. It bursts apart, and another jumps on my left arm. I cycle my Griptilian, shearing and tearing, until it disintegrates.

Three servitors surround Leonhard and Lupin. The spirit guides take one each. I lunge for the last and split it in half.

The air darkens. My throat dries. A huge black column blasts down from the sky, down the center of the Memorial. As I dash over, a tall dark figure descends the stairs.

‘Reshazak,’ I say.

‘Michael Chang,’ the demon says. His words are knives scraping against my soul. ‘I will enjoy destroying you.’

My breath comes and goes in ragged spurts. Sweat soaks my clothes. My muscles burn. No time for a protracted engagement. Have to end this fast.

‘We don’t have to do this,’ I say. ‘All you have to do is go into the Light.’

‘No.’

He dissolves into a thick dark cloud.

‘Watch out!’ Leonhard urges.

The cloud whooshes towards me. I ready myself, gauge the distance, sneak my foot forward, lunge, thrust down—

Reshazak splits in half, avoiding the blade.

Pure darkness engulfs me. Inky choking burning acid burns into my skin, my bones, my soul. Harsh guttural cries and high-pitched screams tear through my ears. I cycle my blade back and forth, but it’s like slicing air, it’s no use nothing works—

‘The light!’ Lupin yells.

‘The water!’ Leonhard shouts.

I call on the Light. The blackness parts just a little, revealing a bright yellow spot. I stagger towards it, flailing the knife about. My legs feel like they are moving through molten concrete, but it’s an illusion, I just need to go smoothly and carefully and—

My shoe drops.

Cold water splashes against my pants leg.

I take a few steps forward. More light surrounds me, burning through the dark. The water works its magic, disrupting the demon and his magic. Fires ignite across my skin, but it’s too late. A crack appears in the thing’s presence. Pure energy floods in. Again, Eleanor’s. I drink it in, compose myself, and reach for the Light.

“MICHAEL!”

White Light blasts down from the heavens, burning through Reshazak. It screams, thrashes, writhes, but between the water, the light and the White Light it doesn’t stand a chance. The murk dissolves.

What’s left of Reshazak resembles a naked, shriveled elderly man. He drags himself out of the water and onto dry concrete. I approach it, knife at the ready. This thing has harmed enough people. He damn near tried to kill me. I ought to—

‘No,’ Leonhard says.

‘It’s not worth it,’ Lupin adds.

Reshazak turns around, sitting on the ground and staring at me. He unleashes a long string of obscenities, concluding with, ‘Finish it already, damn you!’

I’m tempted to. But he’s… small. Weak. He can’t harm anyone any more, not in this state.

White lights dance before me. A warm hand touches my shoulder.

‘What do you plan to do?’ Michael asks.

I draw in a deep breath. The threat is defeated. The Law, mortal and divine, would not justify future violence. And if there is one thing I must always do, it is to stay true to the will of the Cosmos.

‘Archangel Michael, please surround this being in a bubble of Light. Carry him away, that he may be transformed.’

A great white sphere engulfs the demon. He pounds and scratches, but it’s no use. The ball floats into the sky, disappearing through a portal of White Light.

‘Well done,’ Michael says.

There are no more threats around, but I think I see a few people staring at me from across the park. I fold my knife, clip it to my pants, and wipe the sweat from my face.

‘Thanks for the assist everyone,’ I say.

The hand squeezes my shoulder. It doesn’t hurt.

‘Be well.’

The warmth vanishes. Leonhard and Lupin look expectantly at me.

‘Let’s go home,’ I say.


I walk aimlessly for the next ten minutes. When I’m sure I’m not being followed, I cab home.

I indulge in a long, cold shower, with plenty of sea salt. There’s a number of black marks on my face and arms and legs, but with Reshazak gone they rub off easily, and the salt and water takes care of the remaining negativity.

I stumble out of the shower, yawning. I’m exhausted. Drained. I had to rest, recharge, get as much sleep as I could. Only way to heal a battered soul. And it’s well past one in the morning. Well past bedtime.

But first…

I message Eleanor. Thanks for the help. Everything’s fine now.

Thank God, she says. What happened just now?

I check the time. Glance at my bed. Pat my still-wet hair. Think about Eleanor Wang, my best friend, the woman who’d quite likely carried the day for me. She’s still on the line, still waiting for a reply.

Sleep can wait a little longer.

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Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

For a fresh take on gods and demons, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 5 of 6

Knife

It’s too bright and too crowded for me to act. A hostile entity wouldn’t feel constrained by people, but if things went dynamic and if I had to perform an exorcism… I don’t need the attention.

 

I make a sharp right turn, heading down a narrow alley between a 7-Eleven and Ramen Bar Suzuki. It ends in a fork: straight ahead or to the right.

 

I go right.

 

Bikes and streetlights cram the road. There’s barely enough light to see. No people in sight, not yet. I cast a wary gaze on the doors on either side; the last thing I need was for some innocent night shift worker to step out into a fight.

 

Sprinting silently down the alley, I draw my flashlight. Place like this, I need illumination more than an edge. Behind me, I hear animalistic breathing and heavy footsteps.

 

A bend to my left. I look. A group of citizens gather around a group of tall, narrow tables, chatting and drinking. No go.

 

To my right, an opening to the main street. Two men lean against the walls, smoking and chatting.

 

No place for an ambush.

 

An incoherent roar reverberates down the alley.

 

Too late. I spin around just in time to see the threat barrelling down towards me.

 

I get my hands up.

 

“Stay back, stay back!” I shout. “I’m not looking for a fight!”

 

Closing in, the man brings up his hands.

 

I light up his face. He pauses, covering his eyes. In that light, I see dark, twisting smoke engulf his face, rearing up like a snake.

 

“Back off! Back off now!” I yell.

 

He roars.

 

Charges.

 

I step in. Snap my foot into his groin. He just keeps coming. With my light I hook his left hand down, and hack his other arm up and away with my left forearm. Closing in, I seize his skull and ram my elbow into his jaw. Something cracks. I smash my right forearm into his neck, shoving him aside. Cocking my left hand, I slam my palm into his temple, bouncing his head off against a wall.

 

He shrugs off the blow. Pushes himself off, grabs my shirt with his left hand, and cocks his right hand back.

 

 

Trapping his grabbing hand with my flashlight, I slam my forearm into his broken jaw. The blow unbalances him. Reaching around his arm, I grab the pinky side of his grabbing hand. Peel it off, torque anticlockwise and take a big step.

 

My inverted wristlock sends him crashing into another wall. Despite the damage, the sonofabitch still keeps fighting, flailing and snarling and thrashing. I extend my left leg, brace the locked arm against my thigh, and drive my right forearm against his upper arm.

 

With my entire bodyweight on him, he’s not going anywhere. He must be in terrible pain, but the demonic strength keeps him going. Glancing around, I see witnesses on their phones, gawking, filming the encounter, doing everything but helping out.

 

The great black cloud washes over me, infiltrating my nostrils and stinging my eyes. I have to finish this. Taking a deep breath, I find the essential stillness in my centre and bring it out into the world. I connect with the White Light and call it down. The possessed man pauses for a second. I begin my litany.

 

“Archangel Michael,” I whisper, “I call on you now in this time of need. Protect me and those around me from the forces of evil.”

 

A blazing blue light burns down from the heavens, clearing away the darkness. An inhuman howl escapes the man’s lips. A glowing yellow poker skewers my ears and brain. I grit my teeth and carry on.

 

“Free this man from the darkness. Surround the evil being in a bubble of White Light, that it may harm none, and carry it off to be transformed.”

 

A glowing masculine hand touches the back of the man’s head. I look up and see Archangel Michael with his glowing blue armour and burning sword. A large white bubble grows from Michael’s hand, encapsulating the possessed man’s skull. Michael lifts his hand away, taking the bubble with him. Inside the bubble there is a angry black cloud.

 

Michael looks at me in the eye.

 

‘This is only a small part of Reshazak. It’s not over yet.’

 

I nod. ‘Understood.’

 

A rectangle of light opens behind him. He steps back, and the portal swallows him and the captured spirit. I blink, and there is no longer any trace of the astral.

 

The formerly-possessed man goes limp. Gently, I set him on the ground and roll him into the recovery position.

 

“Hey, are you okay?” a man asks.

 

I check him out in my peripheral vision. The passers-by have stopped gawking, and now one of them is babbling into her phone.

 

“Yeah,” I say.

 

“What happen just now?”

 

I shrug, clipping my flashlight, still looking away from him.

 

“Dunno. This guy just started chasing me out of the blue. I tried to run, but he caught up and attacked me.”

 

“We call the police now. Just rest here, okay?”

 

Police. Damn it. I still have my knife on me. If they found that, there’d be too many uncomfortable questions. They’d accuse me of carrying a weapon and I wouldn’t have a good answer. In the eyes of the law, that was automatically proof of guilt.

 

I turn and run.

 

“Hey, wait! Where you going?”

 

I don’t look back.

 

****

 

A couple of minutes later, I’m clear of the alleys. Slowing down, I breathe hard through my nose and make my way towards the waterfront.

 

Fatigue sinks in. The adrenaline dump has passed. My limbs turn rubbery and my eyelids begin to droop. A dull cold ache sinks into my body, and darkness slips across my eyes.

 

Must have picked up some of the crap from the threat. I flush my aura with White Light and reinforce my shields. It helps, a little. But there is still a lingering, sticky, greasy sensation that clings to my hands and thighs and face. I pat myself down. No blood. But the gunk is still there, and I’d have to wash it off later.

 

I think about the formerly possessed man I’d fought. Christ, that was a screw-up and then some. The ambush hadn’t worked. More than that, I had to whale into him, pound him, break him. I’d hurt him. Bad. But he wasn’t acting of his own free will. Did he deserve so much punishment?

 

Probably not.

 

I sigh. I have to get better at this martial arts stuff. If I have to fight possessed people again, I really didn’t want to break them.

 

But first, I had to get home. Whipping out my iPhone, I check my map. Closest MRT station was Raffles Place, but the police would check it out later. I’d have to make distance, get far away from the fight, before I could think about faster forms of transport. Just had to…

 

Motes of bright blue and white light sparkle before my eyes. The passers-by don’t notice them. Archangel Michael is near.

 

‘Look up,’ Michael says.

 

I do. Dark energies swirl and gather in the air above me, shredding the clouds to form a black vortex. It’s a portal, bridging this world to wherever the demon came from.

 

‘You made Reshazak angry,’ the archangel continues. ‘He’s coming for you.’

 

‘Could you shut down the portal?’

 

‘Ye, but it won’t keep him out forever.’

 

‘What should I do? Take the fight to him?’

 

‘No. He is strongest in his home plane… but comparatively weak here. When he crosses over, finish him.’

 

‘I’m not exactly fit for combat right now.’

 

‘Stand and fight. You started this, now you must end it.’

 

‘I’m going to need help.’

 

‘Ask, and the Almighty shall provide.’

 

I draw myself to my full height, and suck in a deep breath.

 

‘Archangel Michael, we go forth to battle evil. Please help me stay strong and win through. Protect me from harm, and together, we shall restore light and goodness to this world.’

 

I sense a smile.

 

‘Very well. To arms, Michael Chang. This night is not yet done.’

 

The lights vanish. Bitter cold sears into my flesh where I’d touched the man. A curse. And it would give Reshazak a chance to find me.

 

I just had to be ready.

 

Opening Whatsapp, I messaged Eleanor.

 

Need help. Send healing energy and shield up. Rough night ahead.

 

Her reply is instant.

 

Okay.

 

A soft, gentle warmth descends on me. Her energy. I drink it in and direct it into the corrosive energy, taking off the edge, preventing it from sinking deeper, and cross Cavenagh Bridge. The running water acts as a natural barrier, disrupting any hostile spells or negative spirits still around me. The curse falters, fading into a background ache.

 

Past the river, I draw my Benchmade Griptilian and hold it by my leg in a reverse grip. Nobody notices.

 

I need room and privacy for the final showdown. I didn’t know how or where it was going to come for me; I had to pick a spot where I could see possessed humans or other creatures coming for me. A place where I could deploy light and steel without being interrupted.

 

I head north to Esplanade Park. The streets are deserted. The only people I see are clustered near the solitary bus stop. Their spirit guides watch me as I approach, and shrink away. They do not betray me to their humans and I return the favour.

 

Darkness crowds the world around me. Living shadows sneak across the ground, latching on to me. My shields hold, but already I feel a chill creeping across my body. I call down the White Light, burning it through, replenishing myself with Eleanor’s donated energy.

 

Glancing up at the dark whirling mass of malevolence, I send a thought.

 

‘You’re going to have to do better than that.’

 

Sinister laughter fills my mind. The vortex flattens into a flat circle of pure darkness, becoming a portal into an alien realm. A realm of near complete darkness, broken by swarms of iridescent lights tearing through the deeps. The lights grow larger, brighter, and race for the mouth of the portal.

 

And a horde of unclean spirits rains down on me.

 

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

For a fresh take on gods and demons, check out my Hugo and Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 4 of 6

Knife

When fighting the forces of darkness, it pays to have bright powers on your side.

 

At dawn, I dress in bright, clean and comfortable clothing. I ring my singing bowl and clear out the remaining negativity. Light three sticks of incense and place them in a brazier on my work table.

 

Lower my head and clasp my hands.

 

“Gods and buddhas and angels and friendly spirits, I am under attack by an evil spirit. Grant me the strength to protect myself, my friends, and my clients. Please enjoy this offering of incense, and come to my aid when I call on you.”

 

I was raised a Buddhist, was exposed to Christianity in school, and studied world religions throughout my childhood. My faith is more eclectic and universal than most people, but I received no complaints so far. None from the only ones who matter.

 

I spend an hour training. Empty hand, knife, flashlight. Footwork and strikes and cuts and kicks and grappling, taken from Pekiti Tirsia Kali. I maneuver around my bed and furniture, adapting my moves to take advantage of the surfaces around me. I finish with breathwork and wash up with cold water and salt.

 

For breakfast I boil four eggs. As I wait, I repair my wards and pile on my shields. This time, I throw on a cloak of shadowy energy over my shield, rendering me effectively invisible to hostile entities. Then I fire up Google Earth and zoom to Clarke Quay. Astral tracking was a two-way street. The creature might have found me by following my energies, but I could do the same to it.

 

I think of the demonic assault, replaying it in my head. I skip through the opening sequence and pause at the moment the creature unmasked itself. I study its aura. Deep brown shot through with filthy blacks, red sparks dancing through it. I knew what it truly looked like. I could find it.

 

With my second sight, I scan the area, using the digital map as an anchor for my psychic senses. In my mind’s eye, I see streams of energy rushing down roads, solid blocks that indicated long-established buildings, pillars where high-energy events occurred, blank spaces where no one lived or worked. They come in a rush of colours and textures: smooth royal purples, deep wet blues, springy reds, prickly browns.

 

Brown. Similar to the demon’s energy. I redouble my efforts, slowing down and zooming in. A huge brown cloud blooms over a building. Brown with black, with sparks of red. The demon.

 

I look up the address. A nightclub called Blackout. Figures. Pubs and bars and clubs were the feasting grounds of negs. Lots of easy prey, plenty of opportunities to jump on to a fresh target. Small wonder the demon had chosen it as a base of operations.

 

After breakfast I tend to more mundane affairs. Life won’t wait just because you have a feud with an unclean spirit. I finish up my freelance work—an article about the benefits of enterprise planning software—and send it off. I hit the crypto markets, sell some Litecoin, place a couple of limit orders on Bitcoin, and buy a bit of Dash. I plan my next blog post on Steemit. I arrange a couple of appointments—in-person tarot readings, easy yet rewarding—and answer some queries.

 

With work done, I can get back to my real job. On Blackout’s website, I study the photos, note the dress code, and prepare my clothing. Long-sleeved white shirt, smart pants, thick-soled shoes. I clean my earplugs, slip them into my breast pocket, and prep the rest of my gear. Finally, I message Eleanor and tell her what I plan to do.

 

Good luck, she says.

 

She wasn’t a fighter. Never would be one. But at least she had my back.

 

Dinner is light. Chicken and assorted vegetables wrapped in lettuce. Nutritious, but not so rich that it would slow me down. I spend an hour meditating, waiting for the night life to really get underway. Then, I hit the street.

 

Taking the train to Clarke Quay, I emerge at Hong Lim Park. This is the site of Singapore’s famous Speakers’ Corner, which is probably why there is a police post nearby and the Attorney-General’s Chambers are right across the street.

 

I head in the opposite direction, towards the Singapore River. Here, at South Bridge Road, I see the surviving fragments of Singapore’s past. Shophouses and low-rise office buildings flank the road, rebuilt with modern materials while retaining their old-time designs. The daytime businesses are closed, and the night-time companies are coming to life. Hostesses in skimpy clothing and high heels linger outside lounges and discos and bars, smoking and chatting with patrons and passers-by. Every time a door opens I hear frenetic music blast forth. A tiny 7-Eleven stands near the bus stop, the sole bridge between the day and night worlds.

 

My kit digs uncomfortably into my flesh. My tongue registers hard bitter curves. Annoying, but I’ll have to live with it. Can’t go empty-handed against a demon.

 

Down the street, I cut into Circular Road. Now the night world hits me with full force. Old-school rock and roll, slow and melodic, plays from a nearby eatery. It is packed with young adults, chatting loudly to be heard over the background noise. I seek temporary relief at the building across the road, closed for the night, but it lasts only until I reach the Indian-themed pub next door. Past that was a cake decoration store, painted an incongruous pink, utterly out of place here.

 

Sticking to the narrow sidewalk, I keep walking. I pass by the Quarters Hostel and sidestep around a couple of tourists emerging from the front door. Then I weave my way around the patrons and staff of more pubs.

 

The further I go down the road, the narrower the street becomes. Furniture spills out into the sidewalk, forcing me to squeeze past narrow walkways to chance walking the road. The denizens of the night form static knots and slow-moving clumps. A river of cars roll down the one-way street, narrowly avoiding the vehicles parked alongside the road. Lights flash and music blares, but I only have eyes and ears for traffic and warning signs. There was so much motion, so much sound, so much everything I have to shut down and focus.

 

Once, a Thai hostess makes the mistake of tugging at my sleeve. My hand flies to hers and peels it off. She gasps, withdrawing. I wag my finger and her and slide through the night.

 

Finally—finally—I reach my destination. A small shophouse with ‘BLACKOUT’ in thin bold white words plastered across an all-black signboard. There is a small queue outside, with a heavyset bouncer at the door. Donning my earplugs, I join the queue.

 

When it’s my turn, the bouncer says, “Show me your IC please.”

 

Great thing about Flare Audio’s earplugs, they cut out unwanted sound while leaving you the ability to hear conversations around you. All the same, I read his lips to verify what I hear.

 

I show the bouncer my identity card. He nods and pats me down. I endure the feel of foreign flesh against me, flaring my shield so his energies slide off.

 

His hands stop at my waist.

 

“What’s this?” he demands.

 

“My flashlight.”

 

“Show me.”

 

Slowly and carefully, I withdraw it from my waistband. It’s a Nitecore MT2A. In the low light it’s hard to tell it’s a mil-grade light.

 

He nods and carries down. He moves down my legs and ankles, and stands up.

 

“Okay, boss. You can come in,” he says.

 

I stow the flashlight and pay the cover charge. Fifteen dollars. He hands me a ticket and I enter the club.

 

Light and sound assault me. Iridescent lasers slash across my eyes. Ever-changing spotlights slide across the walls and floors, barely illuminating the dark. A synthesized techno beat screams through the crowded room, so loud my earplugs barely reduce it to tolerable levels. People dance all around me, flinging their arms and shaking their bodies to the beat. I keep my hands close to my chest, ready to ward off dancers who get too close.

 

Underneath the mad, frenetic energy, something lurks in a lower realm. Something brown and dark and predatory.

 

The target.

 

The ticket entitles me to a free drink at the bar. Browsing the menu, I select a cranberry juice. I’m not here to party. I’m here to work. The fruit juice is ice cold when it arrives, and goes down as a shock of white. Good. I need to clear my head.

 

I lumber to the upper floor, staying well clear of the dancers. Keeping to the walls, I scan the crowds, looking for something, anything out of place. Someone lingering too long in a corner and watching the crowd, someone moving aggressively on a vulnerable person and sucking in energy, someone slipping drugs into an unattended drink, male or female, doesn’t matter.

 

No signs of predators here. Nobody takes any interest in me either. With drink in hand, stuffy clothes and a guardedly neutral expression, nobody will.

 

I finish my drink and head down the ground floor toilet. In the cubicle, I do my business, then pop off my left shoe and pull out my knife. I’d been walking on my Benchmade Griptilian for the whole evening, and it dug uncomfortably into my sole with every step.

 

At least that unpleasantness was over now. Sitting on the toilet bowl, I slowly and silently open the blade and close my eyes.

 

In my second sight, I assess the dark mass I’d seen. Reshazak, or a significant fraction of it. Long, thick ropes of negative energy anchor it to the world. Through these anchors, it feeds off the energy of everyone here and assesses patrons as prey. Unfortunately for it, my cloak is still intact.

 

I reach out with my mind. Gather the ropes into a thick, squirming bundle before me.

 

Cut.

 

Energy rushes through the air. Something howls in my head, cutting through the deafening music. Malevolence radiates from the dark mass, and now I feel the full weight of its attention.

 

‘This place is MINE!’

 

Not any more,’ I reply.

 

I imagine the creature floating before me, a writhing, seething mass of naked evil. I cut the image, and through the image I transmit the space-ripping force of cold steel.

 

How dare you!’ it screams. ‘You will pay for this! I will eat your soul! I will feed on everyone you—’

 

I cut again.

 

‘Shut up.’

 

I cut and cut and cut, dividing it into ever-smaller pieces. It grows tentacles and lashes out at me, but most of them slide off my shield. I cut off those that don’t and continue slashing away at the being. It continues screaming, promising to exact vengeance over a thousand lifetimes, eternal torture in its domain, utter annihilation.

 

I’d heard it all before. I didn’t care. Make war on me and pay the price.

 

One last thrust. Light flashes through the world. For a moment, there’s a brief sense of dislocation. Then Reshazak is gone.

 

I close the blade, put it away and leave. Once outside the nightclub, I stow my earbuds and yawn. It’s been a long, long night. I have no idea how normies can stand so much noise and touching, and really, I don’t care. They can keep to their world, and I’ll stay in mine. Just like it’s always been.

 

Heading down the street, I dodge a few more passers-by, scanning the world like I always do. I breathe through my fatigue, forcing myself to stay alert. The night isn’t over yet. Not until I’m home.

 

Belatedly I realize I’m going the wrong way. Doesn’t matter, I can always turn around, and anyway the Raffles Place MRT station is nearby. I keep going anyway, keeping an eye for—

 

‘Look left,’ Lupin urges.

 

I do. Out the corner of my eye, a gangly Chinese man rounds a bend. By the amber street light I see long, thick, unkempt hair and a rounded back. A huge black cloud of negative energy looms over him. Reshazak’s energy.

 

His eyes lock on my face.

 

Threat.

PSX_20170918_044151

Previous parts: 1, 2, 3

For a different take on gods and demons, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 3 of 6

 

When going to war, first build an invincible defence. And I am strongest at my home.

 

Home is a studio apartment a few minutes away from the Farrer Park MRT station. Unlike most single Singaporeans my age, I live alone, well away from my parents. It’s for their safety. They’re normies, and given my lifestyle, the last thing I need is for demons to show up at the doorstep of my family home.

 

It’s happened more than once.

 

To the naked eye, it’s an open concept one-room flat. In my mind’s eye, I see multiple reinforced layers of shields, shimmering white and blue and gold, ready to repel intruders. Crystals stationed near the door and windows anchor the shields in place. The wards are intact, and there are no signs of forced entry.

 

Setting my backpack down, I don a pair of Flare Audio titanium earplugs and pick up the crystal singing bowl in the corner. It’s less a bowl and more like a cylinder, half the size of my torso. I cradle it to my hip and strike the rim with a wooden dowel.

 

A pure note fills the room with white sound. Rubbing the dowel against the outer rim, I circle my home, carrying the sound to every corner. The walls are thick enough that I don’t disturb the neighbours. The high-pitched tone sweeps through me, clearing any stray negativity I might have picked up.

 

I put the bowl aside and sit on the floor. Draw my Benchmade Griptilian from my waistband and pop it open. Closing my eyes, I open my mind’s eye and hunt for negative attachments.

 

There. A cluster of black cords extending from my crown. I swipe my knife through them, severing the connections.

 

Vanessa would have left those attachments, of course. She couldn’t help it; where intention goes, energy flows. She desires intimacy and seeks it in mere flesh. I can’t help her with her issues. Not today. All I can do is help myself.

 

Passing the knife over my body, I clear all other unhealthy attachments in my aura. It’s a staple practice in Western occult practices, but it’s not something I do for people who aren’t read into them. Singapore doesn’t have a knife culture, and the first time I brought out the knife the client freaked out there and then. Since then, I resorted to sage.

 

I didn’t make this world. I just have to live in it.

 

When I’m done, I hit the shower. Cold running water with plenty of sea salt. Can’t ever be too careful. I change into a green shirt and comfortable pants, and dump the laundry just in time to hear the doorbell.

 

I check the peephole. See a woman. Open the door.

 

Eleanor Wang stands at the doorstep. Dressed in a bright yellow dress, she carries a sling bag over her left shoulder, another bag on her right, and a smaller carrier in her left hand.

 

“Hello!” she sings.

 

“Hi,” I reply. “Just in time.”

 

I let her in. Dumping her bags next to the door, she plops herself on the sofa and hugs a cushion to her chest. Her spirit guide, a small tabby cat named Blazer, shows himself, sprawling all over her crown.

 

“So coooooooooold,” she says.

 

“Monsoon season’s starting.”

 

“Mm. Is it cold here?”

 

“I’m good.”

 

Blazer climbs down. Lupin and Leonhard reveal themselves, and the trio hold a conference in a corner of the room. As I sit next to her, she says, “How was your client today?”

 

For the next ten minutes, I recount the events at Bedok. Eleanor listens intently, chiming in with questions where appropriate.

 

“It sounds like a powerful neg,” she says.

 

“We’ve dealt with worse before,” I reply.

 

There are a handful of people in the world who know who I am and what I do. Eleanor is one of them. The first among them. We met in secondary school, and she was the only friend I retained from those days. When I stumbled upon the hidden world of gods and demons, she was the first person I confided in, and the first person who followed me down the rabbit hole. It helped that she had no small amount of talent herself.

 

“It feels like a spirit of lust,” she says. “It is attracted to carnal desires, but it feeds directly on life energy. But it’s also powerful and dangerous enough to protect itself.”

 

“Michael says he’s gunning for me now.”

 

She sigh, shaking her head. “As expected.”

 

“It’s what I do.”

 

Another sigh.

 

“I need to prepare for round two,” I say. “Can you help?”

 

“Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay…”

 

We reinforce my home. More shields, more wards, more blessings, concluding with a prayer for help.

 

“Archangel Michael, General of the Armies of Light, watch over and protect us from the forces of evil. Safeguard this place and ensure it remains a sanctuary from darkness. Thank you.”

 

Short and simple, as the best workings usually were. Eleanor favoured other divinities, but it’s usually best to concentrate your energies on a single celestial being than to spread them out over multiple ones. More so if they don’t get along.

 

A quarter of an hour later, we’re done. Eleanor chugs down a glass of water and declares, “Time for dinner!”

 

We have dinner twice or thrice a week. Sometimes she visits me, sometimes I go to her workplace in Toa Payoh, other times we meet somewhere in between. Her way of keeping track of me, I suppose.

 

I’d left two packets of salmon fillets and another of potatoes out to thaw. I don’t normally prepare those, but with Eleanor around I made the exception. We rummage around the fridge and produce a bunch of French beans, cherry tomatoes and peas. Together, we prepare dinner. There was so little room in the tiny kitchen we had to work hip-to-hip.

 

The kitchenette has a tiny cooking hob. Just about adequate for what the real estate agent had called ‘light cooking’. Today, that meant pan-seared salmon with helpings of assorted vegetables.

 

Laying out the food on the dining table, we lower our heads, clasp our hands and bless the meal. I draw down divine energy into the real world, into this tiny spot in space-time, and infuse it into the food, willing the energy to bring health, wealth, and good fortune. In my second sight, the edibles glow softly.

 

We make small talk over dinner. She does most of the talking, complaining about the latest round of office politicking, venting about the people she had to deal with, commiserating about the stresses of the job. Her voice, a sweet, melodious mix of green and yellow and indigo, makes listening to the litany barely tolerable.

 

In the grand tradition of countless Singaporeans before her, she’d joined the civil service after graduating from university. It paid much better than what I did, as she liked to remind me, but I wasn’t sure if the job was worth my soul.

 

I suppose we who are called to serve the Divine have different priorities.

 

“How are you doing these days?” she asks. “Can you still cope?”

 

“Sure. I’m making enough to get by.”

 

“How much do you save a month?”

 

I shrug. “Five, six hundred.”

 

“Only?”

 

“Still a lot more than you.”

 

She chuckles. Much of her income went to servicing her education loans. Most of mine went to paying the bills. We all have our crosses to bear.

 

“Is your magic business working out?” she asks.

 

I nod. “I can cover the utilities.”

 

I offer a multitude services. Tarot, palm reading and graphology are my most successful offerings, and those I’m obliged to charge for. I have to, to keep myself afloat. Healing, only if the client can afford it. Exorcism is a donations-only endeavour. It’s not a money-making business; in a good month I can cover my expenses, in a bad month there’s nothing to do but dip into my savings. But this job isn’t about the money – and if I needed cash, there were other ways.

 

“And cryptocurrency leh?

 

Now I grin.

 

“I made fifteen hundred dollars off trading Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash and Litecoin this month.”

 

She smiles too. “That’s awesome.”

 

Okay, I exaggerate. A little. Most of those were paper gains. I’d jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon early in the game, early enough that when I finally remembered I had a Bitcoin wallet I realized I was sitting on a small fortune.

 

I wasn’t a millionaire. Not by a long shot. But I could afford to stay here for ten years, if I made my trades carefully and if the crypto market continued to remain favourable.

 

Of course, the main problem was ensuring my bank account had real money in it. Singapore still ran on fiat, and most of my savings were locked up in crypto. I supplement my income with freelancing and other mundane work—but talking about that would bore the both of us.

 

We keep conversation light over the rest of dinner. It’d been a long day and I didn’t have much energy for anything else. We put away the dishes and she stays a little longer, sitting next to me on my sofabed. We’re so close our shoulders touch. She is soft and warm and it only took me a full year—the entirety of my last year in secondary school—to acclimatize myself to this much contact.

 

A pleasant hour passes in conversation, tarot reading, and meditation. At least, she tries to meditate.

 

“I can’t really meditate as long as you do,” she complains.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Can’t sit still lah.

 

I nudge her side. Lightly. The sensory recoil sends shockwaves through my body.

 

“Maybe I should tie you up.”

 

WHAT?!

 

“I read somewhere that people do that to keep their minds and bodies still…”

 

“No! Pervert!”

 

But she giggles. And she keeps her tone light.

 

“Well, if you’re ever interested—”

 

“Go away! I don’t know you!”

 

And again she laughs, lightly shoving me away.

 

We turn to less sensitive topics for a few more minutes. Then she breaks out a tube of cream and squirts out a small amount on her palm, as large as a twenty-cent coin. Rubbing her hands together, she runs them down her face, her neck, her arms, her legs.

 

Her skin is a battered wasteland of dry flakes and dull red patches. Full-body eczema, co-morbid with lichen amyloidosis. With a careful diet and rigorous skincare regime, she’s kept it under control for the past decade and a half. Despite my best efforts I haven’t found a way to help her. But I’m not giving up.

 

As she speaks, she gushes about her latest skin care products and skin-friendly makeup. Most of it flies over my head—all I comprehend is a daily infusion of aloe vera—but I smile and nod anyway. It’s the best I can do for her. At least, for now.

 

She stays for another half hour, and then it’s time to go. Donning my knife and flashlight, I escort her to the MRT station. She’d long ago given up any hope of persuading me to disarm myself, but she lives in a different world. Cold iron and white light are the most effective tools against spirits, second only to blessed and enchanted holy objects.

 

I have also been reliably informed that knives and flashlights tend to useful against human threats. Not that I plan to use mine on humans, of course. After all, as every law-abiding citizen can tell you, weapons are illegal in Singapore, and self-defence is no excuse to carry one.

 

I return home and stifle a yawn. All the socialising had sapped my energy reserves. No point doing any more work tonight. I wash the dishes and brush my teeth. Fire up my laptop, check my Exodus wallet and my accounts on various cryptocurrency exchanges, record my income, and spend the next half hour relaxing with videos and some light reading.

 

When I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, I unfold my sofa into a bed, stash my flashlight and knife under my pillow, turn off the lights and dive under the covers.

 

It is warm and soft and clean and comfortable and soothing. After so many hours of sensory contact with other humans it was just the thing to recover. It’s a weekend too; I could sleep in if I wanted to, not that it was going to happen, I had work to do and work never ended. I close my eyes and turn on my side and sink into the mattress.

 

There is a new pressure next to me. Soft and warm and human. I sit up and Eleanor is lying next to me, smiling an invitation, peeling off the blanket to reveal an expanse of smooth fresh skin and in her right hand is a coil of rope and the rope unfurls into a hangman’s noose and she is smiling like a tigress and she crawls over with noose in hand and that is not Eleanor’s skin that is not Eleanor wake up wake up WAKE UP!

 

My physical body is frozen. My soul is not. I visualize a pentragram. Five blazing white lines burn into existence, forming a barrier between me and not-her. She hisses and her face warps into an malformed spotted thing.

 

“I banish you! By the most holy names of God—Yahweh, Agla, Adonai, Ehyeh Asher Ahyeh—I banish you and command you never to return!”

 

The pentagram burns white, drowning out the world.

 

I shoot up into a standing position. Hot electricity crackles through every fiber of my being. To my right, just past the bed, I see a large brown blob the shape and size of a man. It scowls at me, growing massive fangs and a pair of clawed arms.

 

Reaching under my pillow, I grab the first thing I can find. Heavy, plastic, textured. Knife. I snap the knife open and pounce on the entity.

 

“MICHAEL!” I scream.

 

Angel lights flash into existence. The knife punches clean through astral matter. A demonic howl fills my head. The lights frame and illuminate the neg, holding it in place, burning off the darkness. I slash and thrust and cut and stab and the spirit is gone.

 

I turn on the lights.

 

All clear.

 

My heart pounds in my chest. Sweat spills down my skin. My steel is steady in my hand. And there are no more threats.

 

It is just after three in the morning. There are great, gaping holes over the windows and door. I’d have to repair them later. I put my Benchmade away. Wipe the sweat from my face. Sit. Breathe.

 

Lupin and Leonhard materialize before me. Their bodies are covered in scratches. The angel lights flit over them, concentrating at their wounds.

 

‘Are you okay?’ Leonhard asks.

 

I nod. ‘I should ask you that.’

 

Lupin growls. ‘Reshazak brought many friends. They tore down your shields and created an opening for him. Sorry we couldn’t hold them off.’

 

‘We won. That’s all that matters. Michael?’

 

‘Here I am,’ the archangel says, his voice emanating from the lights. As he speaks, the guides’ wounds close over.

 

‘Thanks for the assist.’

 

I’d rather not fight at all, but winning was second-best.

 

‘You’re most welcome. Reshazak read your mind and exploited your weaknesses. You did well to detect his presence and drive him off, but he will come back. His pride demands it. And if he can’t reach you, he’ll target Eleanor.’

 

I exhale sharply. I’d expect nothing less of a demon. There’s only one thing we could do.

 

‘We’ll hunt him first,’ I declare.

 

 

Previous parts: 1 and 2.

 

For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon.

Night Demons Part 2 of 6

 

I glance around the room. The miasma redoubles in strength. The Lums’ spirit guides are fleeing to different realms for cover. But there is no overt sign of the evil spirit.

 

I’d have to flush it out.

 

“Vanessa, please let me see your hand,” I say.

 

She holds out her arm. Examining the streaks, I peer beyond the material realm. Every black line is a deep cut in her aura, filled with dark festering energy, consuming her life energy.

 

“Do the marks feel odd? Are they warm, cold, numb…?”

 

“A bit cold, actually.”

 

The curse was devouring her life force to fuel itself.

 

“Have you washed the marks?”

 

“Yes. With soap and water. I keep scrubbing them, but no matter what, they don’t go away.”

 

The boy snorts. I ignore him, listening instead to Leonhard and Lupin. The spirit guides whisper into my mind’s ear, and I repeat them.

 

“This is a powerful curse,” I say. “It is eating away at your life energy and your luck. I think there is a negative spirit possessing the man you described, and you were unfortunate enough to run into it. But don’t worry: I can handle this.”

 

“What do you need to do?”

 

“Are you ready to be healed?” I ask formally.

 

No healing, magic or other working can be performed without a patient’s consent. It was an ironclad rule in this business, one to be broken at your peril.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Excellent. Please wait here a moment. I’m going to cleanse your home.”

 

“‘Cleanse’?” the boy asks.

 

“Yes,” I reply. “I will cleanse the home of negative energies and create a sacred space. It is the first step of the working.”

 

The black ball of negativity whirls round and round his head. “It’s really going to work meh?”

 

This is how negs work their will in the real world, through pawns and useful idiots. John’s trying to provoke me into an outburst, or to convince the family to throw me out. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he doesn’t exist.

 

“I won’t guarantee results,” I say slowly, “only that I will do my best.”

 

“So you can’t do anything lah!

 

“John!” the mother snaps. “Don’t talk to Mr Chang like that!”

 

Aiyah, what can he do?” he says. “He’s not a doctor, he’s not some sort of priest or what, he’s just a quack lah. Why you even listen to him?”

 

Leonhard chuckles and whispers a single sentence into my mind.

 

“How is your ankle?” I ask.

 

“My what?”

 

I point. “Your left ankle. It’s an old injury. Does it still hurt?”

 

There is a throbbing brown ball in his ankle. Electric streaks of red pain radiate through his foot and leg. He’s leaning against the wall because his injured foot can’t take his weight. The neg orbiting his head is probably interfering with the healing process too.

 

He blinks. “How did you… Someone must have told you, right? Who?”

 

“I never told him anything about you,” Vanessa insisted.

 

“Then? How did you know?” John demanded.

 

I smile.

 

“John, as I said, I will do my best. You may observe, but do not interrupt.”

 

Lupin growls at the neg dancing about John’s face. It shrinks away and melts into the miasma.

 

“Can you help him?” Vanessa asks.

 

I turn to John. “Do you want to be healed?”

 

He crosses his arms. “We’ll see how first.”

 

I unzip my bag and lay it flat on the floor, revealing several smaller ziploc bags. I retrieve the one containing a bundle of white sage smudge sticks and grab a lighter.

 

Igniting a smudge stick, I hold it high and let the purifying smoke rise into the ceiling.

 

“The smell is pretty powerful,” I say. “If you have breathing difficulties, please stay clear.”

 

With even, measured steps, I walk throughout the house, filling it with smoke. The scent is thick and herbal, like burning tobacco but brighter and cleaner. The miasma retreats before it, pouring out of the doors and windows.

 

Smudging is a Native American practice, but most Singaporeans are familiar with burning incense or other offerings. They are conceptually similar enough that people don’t ask me questions about it. I swirl the smoke in the corners of every room, letting it clear out the miasma.

 

There is a tiny altar mounted in the kitchen near the ceiling. It is the only overt sign of religiosity in the household. John’s bedroom is humming with tense, conflicted energies. The energies of a teenager undergoing puberty. The parents’ room is flat and empty, mostly devoid of life.

 

Vanessa’s room swam with a toxic brew. Most of the energy here was hers, but there was much stagnant foreign energy too, no doubt the traces of strange men. The miasma was thickest here, and I spent extra time clearing it out.

 

The Lums weren’t particularly religious, much less spiritual. They would have been easy targets for a malevolent entity.

 

Returning to the kitchen, I extinguish the stick and settle in my chair. Half-closing my eyes, I take a series of deep, full breaths. On the inhale, I direct a glittering golden stream of life energy into my second chakra, two fingers below the navel. On the exhale, I discharge a cloud of waste energy into the universe to be renewed.

 

Opening my eyes, I see.

 

A swarm of beings crawl all over her. Some are as tiny as gnats, others are the size of my fist. Some are parasites, others are lost souls swept up in their wake. Underneath the mass of creatures, I see something larger swimming through her aura, like a shark among a school of lesser fish.

 

The chief of the negs.

 

“Archangel Michael, please come to us in our hour of need. Bless this space and open a gate to the Light.”

 

Above our heads, an astral gate opens. White light, pure and holy, floods the dining room, burning off the last of the miasma. The world brightens immediately. Framed in the portal, I see a man in sky-blue armour with a blazing sword in his right hand, spreading brilliant white wings from his back. My namesake.

 

Swooping down, he lands next to me. My spirit guides bow to him, and he bows also. I nod, and continue the ritual.

 

“We are now in the presence of the Light. Beings who wish to pass on, you are free to leave. Michael, please watch over them.”

 

A rainbow stream of souls unwind from her, ascending into the Light. As they depart, they flash through human forms—an elderly man, a little girl, a young woman—and vanish from sight.

 

“Do you see sparkling?” Mr Lum asks.

 

“Where?” John asks.

 

I ignore them.

 

“Beings who wish to harm Vanessa, know that your time here is done. You are free to pass into the Light. You are also free to leave. But you cannot stay.”

 

A gentle warmth radiates from the burning blade. Smaller entities leap off her and join the souls heading up. The horde thins out immediately, and in that gap something dark and ugly surfaces in her aura. It glares at me. I stare back.

 

‘This one is tough,’ Lupin says. ‘You gotta burn out its attachments.’

 

“Here we go,” I say.

 

I take her arm. It is smooth and cool and springy. A strange feeling passes through my kin, like the sensation of rubbing milk with your fingers crossed with clutching a lightning bolt. Cream white flashes across my eyes.

 

Breathing through the sensory intrusion, I touch the fingers of my right hand to the black thumb-sized streak and channel energy from the Universe. A river of hot, clean energy surges through me, down my crown, through my arm and fingers, and into her wound.

 

“Tell me if you feel anything,” I say.

 

The cosmic energy floods into the auric wound, transmuting into White Light, burning away the festering energy, leaving a gap behind. The energy turns into a golden liquid, filling up the hole and sealing it off. The being growls.

 

“It’s getting hot,” she whispers.

 

“It’s working,” I say.

 

More energy. More power. More heat. I step out of the way and allow the Universe work through me. First comes a stream of Light, burning away the last of the curse. Then a stream of life energy, filling out and sewing up the wound.

 

The creature shrieks.

 

“I think… I hear a voice,” Vanessa says.

 

The neg is now perched over her face, resembling an overlay of an ugly old man scowling at me.

 

“I want you to take a deep breath.”

 

She does.

 

“That is the being who cursed you,” I say.

 

“What? Really? I—”

 

“Shh. Breathe.”

 

She does. The deep breaths keep her from panicking.

 

“Can you hear what the being is saying?” I ask.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m going to talk to him now, but I want you to tell me what he says. Can you do that?”

 

By listening and speaking, she will regain control of her sovereign body.

 

“I… I don’t know…”

 

Smiling, Michael steps behind her and lays his hand on her shoulder. Her expression relaxes immediately.

 

“There is nothing to be afraid of,” I say reassuringly. “We are in the presence of the divine. It cannot hurt you.”

 

She nods. “I’ll try.”

 

“Okay. What is your name?”

 

“I don’t have a name.”

 

I shake my head. “All sentient beings have a name. What is yours?”

 

“I won’t tell you.”

 

“I ask you for your name, that I may address you with respect.”

 

“I’m not going to tell you.”

 

Michael looks at me. ‘His name is Reshazak.’

 

The archangel’s voice is a deep, commanding blue, rounded off with a melodic gentleness.

 

‘Thanks,’ I reply. Out loud, I say, “I hear your name is Reshazak. It shall be so. Reshazak, your time here is done. You are free to go—”

 

“No! The girl is mine!” Vanessa blinks and shivers. “I didn’t mean to—”

 

“It’s okay,” I say, feeding her more energy. “We know who said it. We’ll carry on. Reshazak, you may leave with our respect and gratitude.”

 

“No! She will always be a part of me!”

 

Michael rests his sword on her crowd. An agonised shriek fills my mind.

 

“Reshazak, it hurts, doesn’t it?” I say.

 

“Huh?”

 

“You are in the presence of Michael the archangel. You stand now exposed to the Light. You are suffering, aren’t you?”

 

“So?”

 

“Reshazak, if you stay and continue to harm Vanessa, you will suffer even more. But you can end it. All you have to do is leave.”

 

Her voice grows harsh. “You leave! You are a fake! You cannot do this—”

 

“No. I am staying. So is Archangel Michael. Your time in Vanessa’s body is done. If you continue to stay, you will suffer even more and receive even greater punishment.”

 

“Fuck off you piece of shit!”

 

The Lums recoil. Vanessa quickly shakes her head. “No, I didn’t mean to—”

 

“It’s fine. You’re just the messenger,” I say soothingly.

 

Ethereal flame leaps off the sword, pouring through her aura.

 

“He’s screaming,” she says. “He’s screaming and telling you to… well, you know.”

 

I nod. “Reshazak, you can stop the pain. All you have to do is leave.”

 

Vanessa tilts her head back and opens her mouth. An unearthly sigh fills the world. A male sigh.

 

And Reshazak is gone.

 

She slumps over. Releasing Vanessa, I take a deep breath and recharge myself. The portal closes. The miasma is gone. Michael steps aside, grins, and gives me a thumbs-up.

 

“Did you hear that?” John asks.

 

“That was the being departing,” I reply. “It won’t harm anyone again.”

 

Vanessa looks up at me. Her aura is free of negs. “Thank you.”

 

I dispense my usual post-exorcism advice. For the next seven days, shower with salt, preferably sea salt. Scatter more salt on the corners and at the windows and door. If the being comes back, if something else happens, let me know.

 

Vanessa shakes my hand. “Thank you so much.”

 

Her touch lingers longer than expected, her warmth burning and corrosive. Her eyes widen, a pair of black holes threatening to swallow me whole. It was the same behaviour that got her into this mess.

 

I slide my hand away as politely as I can. “You’re welcome.”

 

Her aura is still a mess, still polluted with the remains of who knew how many men. I honestly don’t know if I can clear them out, but I’m not going to compound the problem.

 

‘You did what you could,’ Leonhard says.

 

‘Now she must save herself,’ Michael adds.

 

You can’t win them all, I suppose.

 

Mrs Lum presents me with a red packet. I don’t charge a fee for higher-end magical services, but I do request a donation. I slide it into my breast pocket and pick up my backpack.

 

“Um, can you help me with my injury?” John asks.

 

“I could, but I have a policy of treating one client at a time,” I say. “Drop me an email and we can arrange for another appointment.”

 

“Okay,” he says.

 

At my feet, Lupin and the rabbit converse earnestly, no doubt plotting how to nudge John to contact me later.

 

I leave the flat. At the lift, I open the red packet and find two fifty-dollar notes. Not too bad for an hour’s work. I’d been paid much more before, but I’ve also received much less. Looking up, I see the archangel staring intensely at me.

 

‘Michael, this job isn’t over,’ he says.

 

‘What do you mean?’ I ask.

 

‘You’ve only dealt with a small portion of Reshazak. It was not taken into the Light; it fled to reintegrate itself with the whole. He knows now what you are capable of. He is a being of immense malevolence, and beings like that are not the forgiving type. You are his next target.’

 

Stand against the dwellers of the dark long enough and they will start hunting you. It’s the nature of the game.

 

Still, I grin.

 

‘I’ll be his last.’

Part 1 can be found here.

For more fiction by yours truly, check out the Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.

Ethereum Cofounder Vitalik Buterin Supports Legalization of Possessing Child Porn

Today Vitalik Buterin, cofounder of Ethereum, tweeted in support the legalisation of the possession of child pornography. His tweets, now deleted, are reproduced below.

 

 

(Original sources for the first and second pictures.)

These statements are outrageous. By legalising the possession of child pornography, it will cause demand for child porn to spike. Producers will have a greater incentive to produce even more child porn, since they can sell the porn to a wider audience. That in turn means even more children will suffer from the depredation of deviants.

Libertarianism may have its appeal, but this goes too far.

Buterin argues that by legalising the possession of child porn, it would ‘[establish] a general norm that “a person’s laptop is an extension of their mind, and is inviolate”.’ This argument is nonsense: it means that the police cannot seize and examine a cracker’s laptop as evidence that he committed cybercrime on it. A computer is not a sentient mind; it is merely a tool whose use reflects the user’s intentions and motivations. If a person uses a computer for evil, it should be seized as evidence against him.

Even if there were social benefits from making computers untouchable, a superior option would simply be to render censorship illegal. The state would not be allowed to prosecute anyone for alleged hate speech, nor would the state be able to seize and destroy computers, films, recordings or other media containing such hate speech.

But Buterin won’t take this path, because he believes in censorship.

(Original source here)

I live in a country with an actual censorship board. The Media Development Authority develops the media by censoring it. The MDA has consistently censored movies, books, plays, films, music and any other form of media that criticises the government or runs afoul of Singapore’s ‘Asian values’, all in the name of preserving a delicate multi-racial society. My own fiction cannot be published in Singapore for fear of running afoul of the censors.

The purpose of political censorship isn’t for truth and justice and order. It’s to empower and entrench the ruling party. Nobody can guarantee that ‘the good guys’ will be in charge, only that the ones in power will use censorship as a tool to consolidate and grow their authority. It may be fine and dandy for supporters of the current regime, but once the levers of power change hands, they will find themselves on the wrong end of the censor’s pen.

Cryptocurrency was supposed to uplift the world. I cannot in good faith support any cryptocurrency whose co-founder supports naked evil and blatant censorship. Effective immediately, I am dumping all my ethereum and encourage you to do the same.

To read the stories the Singapore government will disallow, you can check out the first chapter of my free serial fiction NIGHT DEMONS here and my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS here.

Night Demons (Part 1 of 6)

Stepping out the car, I sense the miasma. A black, viscous, oily fog that clings to my skin and tries to eat into my flesh, my bones, my soul. My shield holds. For now.

My Uber drives off, oblivious. A tiny bit of miasma lingers on the car. Nothing to worry about; the late afternoon sun would burn it off soon. There wasn’t any point telling the driver about the miasma either. She didn’t have the second sight. Didn’t have the trained and conditioned third eye chakra needed to see the astral world. Without it, she couldn’t see the dark energies blanketing the housing estate. Feel it, maybe, like a general sense of uneasiness, but not see it. Like most normies, she probably never would. Not in this lifetime.

Which meant I’d always have work.

Cracking my neck, I square my shoulders, shoulder my GR1 backpack, and enter the void deck. It’s a large open space that takes the place of the ground floor of just about every flat in Singapore. A concession to the tropical climes, it improves air circulation and cools the high-rise building, and doubles as a communal space.

No community here. Just a sullen-faced girl barely in her teens shuffling to a vending machine, refusing to even look at me. The letter boxes watch us silently. Concrete benches jut out from the support pillars, gray and weathered with age. A black cat with white patches hides under a bench, staring at me as I pass. Near the lift, I spot a green-tiled table with four chairs, all of them built into the bare concrete floor. This flat was old, but then, Bedok was one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore.

‘This case is more complex than it seems.’

The voice is in my mind, but the caress against my right leg feels almost real.
Leonhard sits next to me, his head coming up to my elbow. He is a huge scarlet lion, his thick, bushy mane tickling my arm. He watches his cousin, still hiding under the bench, flapping his tail back and forth in wry amusement.

‘Of course it is,’ a new voice says. ‘We warned him, didn’t we?’

Lupin materializes on my left, brushing against my knee. He is a sleek gray wolf, restless and eager, circling round and round the concrete floor.

The duo were my spirit guides. Beings assigned to help me through this life. When I took the case they’d warned me that it wasn’t a typical request for healing. I’d packed my bag accordingly.

‘Thanks for the advice,’ I say. ‘Let’s do this.’

Most people can’t see them, of course. With bodies of pure energy, they can pass through solid matter and manifest as they please. Like the miasma, they are invisible to those without the second sight. It makes prolonged conversation in public a complex affair. As far as the girl was concerned, I was simply reading a nearby notice board.

We head up to the sixth floor. Leaving the lift, I check the signs and head to my client’s home. Right off the bat I see signs of corruption. Dark energies ooze from under her front door and dark-tinted windows. A black cloud gathers around the security grille, forming a metaphysical barrier. There was so much negativity here, the sun couldn’t put much of a dent in it. I had doubled up my usual shields today, reinforcing them with a dark amethyst necklace under my shirt. Even so, a tingling runs up my neck.

‘Be wary,’ Leonhard says. ‘I sense the presence of unholy forces.’

Like attracts like. Negative energy attracts negative beings. At the low end, they are parasites that suck life energy from people, plants and animals all around them, as intelligent as your average housefly. Most negs belong in that category. The older and more powerful among them have power over the real world, to manipulate people’s emotions and perceptions. And at the far end of the spectrum, there are creatures the world faiths call demons.

Lupin chuffs. ‘Nothing we can’t handle.’

‘Let’s do this,’ I say.

I press the doorbell.

Noxious miasma gushes out from under the undercut and swirls up into a barrier. The peephole darkens a fraction. Moments later, the front door unlocks with a heavy metal clunk, revealing a woman in a black shirt and knee-length red skirt.

“Hi. Are you Mr. Chang?” she asked.

“Yes. Vanessa?”

She nods. “Thank you so much for coming.”

Three days ago, Vanessa Lum emailed me, claiming she needed my help to ‘break a curse’. Her words. The miasma obscures the state of her aura. I’d have to read her inside.

She unlocks the front grille with a painful SNAP and lets me in. The rest of the Lums are waiting in the living room. The father is a balding man with a moderate paunch, dressed in a red short-sleeved shirt with dark pants. The mother wears a large pink one-piece dress with an awfully bright floral print. Behind them, tall teenager in a red shirt and blue jeans leans against a wall, staring sullenly at me. Vanessa’s brother?

The parents greet me with posed smiles and cold eyes.

“You look really young,” the mother says.

I nod. “Thank you.”

All the people I’ve known in this line of work tend to fall into two categories. Hardened middle-aged individuals affiliated with a religious institution, veterans of dozens, even hundreds, of exorcisms; or idealistic idiots with their heads in the clouds and feet floating somewhere off the ground and utterly, with little experience with the darker side of reality and even less desire to acknowledge it. Dressed in a sharp white shirt, blue pants and frameless spectacles, I don’t fit the stereotype.

“Would you like a drink?” Mrs Lum asks.

I shake my head. “No thanks.”

“Are you sure? We have tea, water, Coke—”

I set down my GR1 and point at the Klean Kanteen secured to its side. “I have my own.”

I didn’t know what the Lums drank, and if I asked for water I might get ordinary tap water. Not ideal for a job. The air is heavy with dark energies; I didn’t want to poison myself.

The dining table is next to the door. We pull out two chairs, each facing the other. I take the chair facing the door, Vanessa has the other. My spirit guides flank me protectively, ready to respond to unseen threats.

“I understand you need help with a curse,” I say. “Please explain your situation.”

She folds her hands on her lap, covering her right wrist with her left hand.

“Um, well, it all started a month ago. Suddenly I was losing my things. My earrings, my jewellery, my handphone. Then it got worse. I started falling sick all the time. Flu, fever, and then last week I had food poisoning. I never get sick so often.”

Her voice is a pale violet, her words arriving in slow-motion staccatos. As she speaks, I scan her aura. The outermost layer is a light fluffy pink. Under that is a verdant green and shimmering yellow. Or should have been. Clouds of grey mush swim through her, penetrating her deepest level. Her eyes are wide but hard, as though artificially expanded and frozen in place. She’d known many men, and with every contact they had left part of themselves behind.
And there was a black patch over her right wrist.

“Did something touch your right wrist?’ I ask.

Her eyes widen. “Yah. How did you know?”

I smile faintly. “It’s my job. May I see your wrist, please?”

She hesitates a moment. Then she rolls up her right sleeve, revealing four long black streaks across her forearm, and a smaller one on the underside. In my second sight, they seethe with corrosive energies.

“What happened to your wrist?” I ask.

“About four, five weeks ago, out of the blue, this man grabbed me. He said he wanted to be with me. I pulled away from him and ran. But when I came home I saw these black marks on my arm. They didn’t go away. After that, those things start to happen.”

“Aiya, you never wash properly, is it?” the boy remarks.

“I got wash!” Vanessa insists.

I glance at the boy. His aura burns a dull red. Resentment, anger, and a degree of unhealthy materialism. His crown chakra is dull and murky. Limited to no connection with the divine. A small dark blob hovers about his face, no doubt whispering denials of the metaphysical. His spirit guide, a worn-out rabbit, appears by his foot and hops over to Lupin.

‘Be gentle with the kid,’ the wolf says. ‘He’s got a lot of growing up to do.’

“You are free to observe,” I reply, ‘but please do not interrupt.”

The boy snorts but says nothing.

“Let’s go back to the beginning,” I say to Vanessa. “Where were you when the man touched you?”

She drops her eyes and looks away. “I… I don’t remember much.”

A twitch runs through me. A lie.

“Please try to recall,” I say. “Every detail is important.”

“Why?”

She had to be hiding something. I breathe through a twinge of irritation.

“The more information I have, the better I’ll be able to understand what, exactly, happened.”

She sighs and looks past my shoulder. “I was out jalan-jalan with my friends. Then that man suddenly appear and call out to us. I told him I wasn’t interested in him, but he kept coming. We told him to… to go away. He just grabbed me and told me to go with him. I pulled away, my friend pushed him off, and we ran.”

Negative entities—human or otherwise—don’t usually randomly attack a group of people when they’re out walking. There’s more to the story here.

“Where did you run into the man?” I ask.
She covers her wrist. “I’m not sure…”

“Please try to remember.”

“Is it one of your clubs?” the brother asks.

“No!” Vanessa says.

“So, where was it?” I ask.

“Around Clarke Quay.”

Famous for its night life. Including clubs.

“Where in Clarke Quay?”

“I don’t know lah, we were going all over the place.”

“What time of the day was it?”

“In the evening.”

“You mean night time.”

“It was so long ago, how to remember?”

Out the corner of my eye, I see her parents staring at us with poker faces and narrowed eyes. I think the entire family knows Vanessa trawls the night. They may even suspect what she really does when they’re not around. There’s a lot more she isn’t telling me. A lot more she won’t tell me. Not with her parents around.

On the other hand, I’m a magician.

In my mind’s eye, I draw a sword. A European longsword, blazing white and blue. The sword of the Archangel Michael, the sword of Truth.

“How many friends were you with?” I ask.

“Why is that important?”

“What you experienced was highly unusual,” I say. “Bad guys don’t usually target groups of people. They prefer individuals on their own. If you want me to help, I need to know what happened.”

Her body tenses. “Well… I was with a guy and a girl.”

As she speaks, the sword glows. But when she says ‘girl’, the sword turns dark. A lie.

“Just two people?”

I feed a little more energy into the sword, empowering it to reveal the truth.

She nods. “Yeah.”

Guy and girl counts as two people—even if she’s the girl in question.

“Have you ever seen the man who touched you before?”

“No.”

The sword turns bright again. Truth.

“Describe him for me.”

“It was dark. Couldn’t tell much. I know he had really long and dirty hair, up to his shoulder. He was… Chinese, I think, he had this very strong cheena accent. Oh, and he stinks. He had bad breath and even worse BO.”

Truth.

“Did he say anything to you?”

She shifts uncomfortably.

“He was… talking dirty. Saying how I should go with him, how he’s better than other men, that sort of thing.”

“He xiao is it?” the elder Mr Lum offers.

I don’t bother with a response. I’ve everything I needed to know. Now I just have to…

The world darkens. The miasma thickens. In my mind’s ear, I hear a dark, bitter hissing. The humans miss it. The rabbit hops for cover. Lupin and Leonhard arch their backs and bare their teeth.

‘The enemy is here,’ Leonhard says.

For more long-form fiction by Dragon Award nominated writer Kai Wai Cheah, check out No Gods, Only Daimons on Amazon.

Move Every Day

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Humans are not meant to be sedentary creatures. Rooted to a chair and hunched over a screen for hours on end is a sad state of affairs. This stagnation of body, mind and spirit leads to a dead end of poor posture and health, chronic negativity, and low energy. But it’s the default position for most people living in the first world. If you want to be more than an ape chained to a cubicle all day, if you want to achieve your fullest potential, you must move every day.

I’m not talking about endless sets of mindless reps of alleged exercise. I’m talking about conscious, mindful and focused activity. It shouldn’t be something you can do while staring mindlessly at the nearest screen. It should be something that requires you to engage your senses, pay attention to your movements, ergonomically imposes loads on your body, and where applicable, molds your body to adapt to a fitness target. By being fully present, you take yourself to your limits and make the most of what you’re doing.

Activity takes all forms. Hiking, swimming, weightlifting, dancing, Frisbee, bicycling, martial arts, the important thing is you move your body in a way that is challenging yet manageable and motivational. Whatever activity you engage in should motivate you to do even more of it in the future.

In my case, I block out at least an hour every day to do something. I hit the gym twice or thrice a week, perform calisthenics or go running once or twice a week, and martial arts at least twice a week. Other times I do yoga or walk for hours on end. By training in a holistic fashion, targeting different muscles and developing different skills, I’m developing all-round fitness. And more.

Regardless of what you do, by moving every day you will realize a number of important benefits.

image-1

Holistic Health

You are not just a body. You are body, mind and spirit, intertwined and interdependent, each affecting the others.

Regular exercise leads to improved health, cardiovascular endurance, strength, metabolism, balance, and other benefits. That alone is a good enough reason to exercise regularly. But the benefits of exercise go beyond the mere physical.

Vigorous exercise prompts your brain to provide an all-natural endorphin rush. It generates a sense of well-being and euphoria that persists for hours. While exercise is not a silver bullet for mood disorders, it is a method of emotional self-regulation that just about anyone can do. It grants you control over your emotions, letting you overcome the small setbacks of life with an endorphin hit at a time of your choosing. It guards against extended periods of negative emotions while providing an incentive for you to work out again in the future, creating a virtuous cycle that leads to continued self-improvement.

Aerobic exercise is linked to enhanced fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to analyse novel problems, recognise patterns and relationships in such situations, and extrapolate the latter to solve such problems. This is especially important for creatives and entrepreneurs, since their careers is all about identifying and resolving novel problems. Thus, exercising more makes you smarter.

Exercise makes you smarter by helping you solve novel problems, letting you tackle difficult situations that require out-of-the-box thinking. It refreshes your emotional state so you’re less likely to give up in the face of negativity and adversity, and more likely to keep on going. It strengthens your body so you can execute whatever task you demand of it. While everyone can benefit from these, these three outcomes synergize especially well for entrepreneurs and professional creatives, who have to work hard for long hours, persevere in the face of never-ending obstacles, and constantly develop innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Endurance

Develop Discipline

Discipline is a muscle. It grows when exercised and atrophies when unused. To achieve greatness, you must have the discipline to do the work every day. Exercising every day helps.

If you’re scheduled to lift heavy iron, train at the dojo or hit the track, go out and do it. Rain or shine, exhausted or energetic, sad or happy, you go out and do it. Set aside how you feel about the situation, about any discomfort or inconvenience you experience, and focus only on getting stuff done.

If you’ve had a bad day at work but you’re scheduled to squat for five sets of five reps, you will squat for five sets of five reps. If you slept late but promised to show up for martial arts training first thing in the morning, you will attend training. If you broke up with your lover, have a hangover, got caught in a traffic jam, whatever, you will show up and you will do what you’ve planned to do.

By training when you don’t feel like it, you are conditioning yourself to do your best in spite of what the world throws at you. You are mastering your emotions by choosing to train instead of slacking off, reducing your ability to be affected by negative emotions. You are developing the habit of seeing things through no matter what. The more you choose to train in uncomfortable situations, the lower the willpower cost you pay when you do train, so it progressively becomes easier the next time around. If you can perform at a high level when you are at your worst, you will surely excel at your best.

Discipline bleeds over. If you can be disciplined with training your body, it becomes easier to discipline yourself in every other aspect of your life, be it work, diet or whatever. You still have to consciously apply that same iron discipline to those fields, to set standards for yourself and live by them, but if you are used to applying discipline to physical activity, you can draw on those same habits of mind to impose discipline on the rest of your life.

FMA

Do More

Eliminate dead time.

Naturally, the more you do something well, the better you get at it, be it weightlifting, running, or rock climbing. But that’s only half of the equation for increased productivity. If you want to do more, you need to remove inefficiencies. By training daily, you’re not just putting more time and energy into activity — you are eliminating dead time.

When traveling to and from the gym and other training areas, I’m usually reading something. The news, philosophy, fiction, or research. This helps me make the most of transit time. When training, I’m training. I focus solely on working out, not on random distractions.

When planning my training schedule, I don’t block in rest days. Just days of varying physical activity. The day after a hard training session, I take things easier with yoga, focusing on stretching out sore muscles, developing balance and coordination, and re-energizing through breath and bodywork. If I feel parts of my body require more recuperation time, I train something else. When I train martial arts, I cycle through different intensity levels to develop different skills — go slow to develop body mechanics and precision, go fast for flow and real-time problem solving, go hard to develop anaerobic fitness and test skills. And when the opportunity arises, I pack my bag and go walking for hours. Days without physical activity is dead time — I cycle between body parts and skills to miminise dead time, and adjust intensity levels to prevent overtraining.

This principle can be applied to the rest of your life. By eliminating dead time and seeking efficiency, you develop the capacity to do more. Instead of mindlessly decomposing on a couch, do something else that allows you to train some other aspect of your entire being while the rest of your body recovers. This doesn’t mean you should avoid sleeping or recovery — it does mean you should strive to be as efficient as possible.

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Movement is Life

In my last post, I wrote about writing 200,000 words in 2 months. That would not be possible if I didn’t already have a regimen of working out every day. While the physical activity is important (spending hours at your chair banging away at the keys is not conducive for long-term health), but even more valuable are the habits of mind, the discipline, inculcated from being accustomed to working at something regardless of how I feel about it. In that sense, being a pro writer isn’t all that different from daily training: the work has to be done no matter how you feel about it.

By moving more, you develop the discipline to act, no matter your personal circumstances. You increase your fluid intelligence, and with it your ability to tackle new challenges. You’re better able to self-regulate your mood, preventing you from spiralling down into never-ending discouragement and depression when things go wrong. You get healthier and stronger and fitter, allowing you to get more out of life. You eliminate periods of inefficiency, allowing you get even more stuff done. You create a virtuous cycle that keeps you growing, pushing past your limits, and achieving what you set out to do.

In other words, movement is key to a good life.

While you should move every day, this doesn’t mean you should break yourself in pursuits of such heights. If your body isn’t accustomed to it, training hard every single day of the week will lead to injuries and long-term health issues. Destroying yourself is the opposite of the goal of improved health, productivity and happiness.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks if you truly need them. While moving every day is a standard you should aspire to, recovery is as important as activity — arguably more so. Exercises stresses and tears down muscle; to grow, muscles need time to recover. Personally, my schedule is so packed that breaks tend to occur organically without my needing to arrange them. But if you haven’t reached this point, don’t worry about it. Take breaks if you need them — and if you don’t, move.

Humans aren’t sedentary creatures; they are dynamic ones. Daily physical activity helps you think better, work better, and live better. You get stronger in body, mind and spirit, and with greater strength comes greater capacity to act and achieve your goals.

Stagnation is death. Movement is life.

The Pulp Speed Transformation

woman-typing-writing-windows.jpg

NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words in a month. An enormous undertaking for any writer, especially hobbyists and newcomers. But having written at Pulp Speed for the last two months, the NaNo challenge suddenly seems diminished.

In September I wrote about 75000 words. In October I clocked 108000. In the past 4 days, 17000 words. Yesterday, I completed my novel KAGE NO OUJI, with a total word count of 200307 words.

In 2 months, I completed NaNoWriMo 4 times.

I do not write this to boast about what I have done. There are many better and more prolific writers out there. Peter Nealen writes much faster than I do, on the order of 5000 words in 2.5 hours. Dominika Lein has pledged to write 175000 words for NaNoWriMo, which averages to 5833 words a day — and so far she has exceeded 6000 day after day. Larry Correia starts writing at story at 5000 words a day, and as he gets into his groove, tops off at 10000.

And yet, having passed through the fires of Pulp Speed, I can no longer be the writer I once was.

The Simplification

To meet the demands of Pulp Speed, I reduced my life to the essentials. Work. Writing. Training. Sleep. Eat. Hygiene. Social and business activities where appropriate. That is all.

It is a purity of existence, defined by activities needed to sustain and grow life and relationships, by the stuff I do to pay the bills, and by writing. There is no space and time for activities and beliefs which do not make me stronger, healthier, wealthier, or otherwise help me achieve my goals. I ignore thoughts and beliefs and words that hold me back, and listen only those that spur me on. For entertainment I reserved time only for that which helped me, in some way or other, become a better man: reading high-quality works of fiction and non-fiction, educational videos, inspirational music, the odd game that I can connect to the writer’s craft or to the pursuit of self-perfection.

A life free of useless of self-sabotaging activities is a life focused on success. By cutting away everything that pulls you down, and replacing them with everything that builds you up, you can only get better. By eradicating beliefs that limit you, you become limitless. By replacing mindless entertainment with dedicated work, by trading in soul-numbing couch-surfing for purposeful training, by consciously building mind and body and working towards your goals, success becomes inevitable.

The Discipline

Get up and write. Transform break times into writing times. Before bed, write some more.

Every day. Rain or shine, sleepy or refreshed, frustrated or inspired, no matter what, I kept writing. By consistently writing at my worst, I am able to make the most of the moments when I can write at my best.

Stories do not care how you feel. Readers do not care about your mental or emotional state when you are writing. All that matters is whether you are writing or not. If yes, you have skin in the game and you will complete the story if you keep it up. If not, you are not a writer.

Anybody can write when they are feeling on top of the world. But to be a pro, you have to write regardless of how you feel at the moment you touch your fingers to the keys. Once you achieve this, success is inevitable.

The Transcendence

KAGE NO OUJI is without question the best story I have written yet. Within the pages I have filled moments of sorrow and joy, terror and relief, rage and levity… and transcendence.

It is righteous fury married to calm calculations expressed as a whirlwind of primal violence. It is finding the serenity to confront something old beyond time and malicious beyond measure with a serene heart, for an even greater and more powerful being of goodness and truth is behind you. It is the recognition that all creation has conspired to place you in a moment in space-time to do what only you can do. It is the veil dropping from mundane reality, revealing the hidden truths that underpin a glorious cosmos.

I cannot say that I, this ego, wrote these moments. Only that with these mortal fingers I pray I captured on the page a glimpse of something higher and truer and greater than the foibles of mere men in this dewdrop world.

But to get to this point, you must have discipline. You must set up the scenes and characters so they make sense. You must spend the time and energy to build up to the payoff. You must show up and do the work, or you will never reach the summit of your skills.

Without the discipline to manifest it, an inner vision of the transcendence becomes a mere daydream. With the efficiency of a simplified life and the ironclad discipline to put in the work, success becomes inevitable.

The Next Stage

After this story, what next?

Another story, of course. The world waits not for the writer who grows fat and complacent. I have a veritable library of ideas percolating in my head; I need only figure out what to write next. And now, in the full knowledge that I can write a lot and write well, the process of choosing becomes easier.

Should I dedicate myself to it, I can start and finish a series in a single year. I can explore more experimental stories without having to sacrifice writing profitable ones. I can take time off to write shorter stories for practice, for profit, and for pre-series preparation. My career options have expanded dramatically. With prolific output and an ever-growing backlist, commercial success becomes inevitable.

But there is always room to grow. I aim to learn to write faster, to produce new kinds of stories, to try different writing methods for maximum output. I can always be more than who I am now.

On a far shore, a new story beckons. I take up my pen and prepare for the crossing.

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If you’d like to check out my fiction, you can find my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon, with 45 reviews and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.