The Short Story Project

Presented by Campus and QUT


Campus  Magazine  is  creating  what  could  be  a  first-­of-­its-kind  experiment  in  creative  writing,  bringing  together  creative  writing  students  in  Australia  and  Singapore  for  the  Short  Story  Project  (or  SSP), working with Campus Magazine’s pool of contributors in collaboration with 5 students from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia. The  story  will  be  written  in  alternating  paragraphs,  with  Australia  and  Singapore  each  contributing  one  paragraph  per  day  to  the  story,  building  on  the  previous  one.

The story begins here…

It  had  just  been  one  of  those  days,  and  Bruce  couldn’t  stop  fixating  on  that  piece  of  meat  stuck  in  between  his molars…

Chinook salmon, freshly imported from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Wrapped in 24-carat gold leaves. Topped with 0.20-carat African diamonds. Bruce had been in no position to say no. He’d taken the piece of sushi and popped it casually into his mouth, all too aware that the hors d’oeuvres cost more than his life savings. Now he plucked a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and gargled discretely. He wasn’t himself.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

“You know why I called you here.”

Bruce switched the personal dental display on his left cornea off, and turned to look at Planetary Elector Wai, who had taken a seat at the next table. She slid a photograph out of a binder, glanced around the restaurant, and got up, leaving the photograph on the table.

Bruce could see that it was an ancient daguerreotype of a very familiar face…

(Teng Jing Xuan, Singapore)

He observed it hesitantly at first, then leant in for a closer look. The old copper plate had weathered, but the image of the black-eyed soldier was still clear enough for Bruce to identify the supraorbital instalment scar. There was no question as to who it was—impossible though it seemed.

‘Nice picture,’ remarked a waitress as she reached for Bruce’s empty sushi plate. ‘You haven’t aged a day.’

(Rebecca Kahler, Australia)

Sliding the photograph into his pocket, Bruce navigated through the well-dressed crowd, carefully avoiding some precariously arranged chocolate dodecahedrons on a table near the door.

The company transporter was waiting outside. Bruce stepped in and greeted his three colleagues, who were already strapped into their seats.

There was a moment of silence as the four men looked out the diamond windscreen. Four identical reflections stared back at them.

(Penthesilea Chua, Singapore)

Bruce coughed, disguising what was actually a burp. That damned salmon, he thought, kicking the XS7 into gear. As the machine slipped through the city, Bruce’s partners grew uneasy—they didn’t like waiting for orders. Jeep, the fat one, snatched the photograph from Bruce’s pocket. He smiled slowly, chortled. Steel and Poe nodded. But Bruce drove calmly onwards—only two kilometres to the palace. His insides turned.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

He was chased out of the transporter and the heavy metal transformed into a gigantic full-fledged robot which looked like it came from another planet. Jeep forcefully dragged him towards the deserted palace with the other hand tightly holding onto the tattered picture. Bruce had no idea what was about to happen. As one of his colleagues reached for the entrance, Bruce heard the sudden shriek of a woman from the dilapidated place.

(Yoon Ji Seon, Singapore)

Bruce hadn’t been here since the last days of his childhood. He’d expected it to be run down, but not like this. Where his grandfather’s universal time chamber had once stood, in the centre of this entrance hall, there was a pile of electrical waste and discarded battery engines. A sliver of moonlight shone through an opening in the roof.

The woman shrieked again. “Traitor!”

Bruce was in a sweat.

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

“Grab the transistor!” Poe hissed in his ear.

The woman’s shrieking had turned into growling. It seemed to originate from within the entrance hall but aside from the four men there was no-one in sight.

“God, what’s the matter with you?” complained either Steel or Poe – Bruce couldn’t tell in the dim light. Jeep was moving about the hall, tagging cables with his handheld CatView.

Suddenly, the growling stopped.

(Teng Jing Xuan, Singapore)

The only indication was a slight quake, but it was enough to send each man sprawling for cover. Pup dove through the steel roof like it was water and stuck a heavy landing. Its feet bored into the ground, the stabilizing drills whining while Pup’s full armament unwrapped. Pup scanned the hall, and the witch descended. Machinegun fire punctured her neck and torso. Black smoke billowed from each wound.

(Harlan Ambrose, Australia)

An all too familiar scream from an all too familiar voice. And then, there was silence. A ricocheting shrapnel wormed its way into Steel’s midriff, gnawing at his flesh. A shot to the upper torso – setting off intermittent flashes of “Warning!’ which was now clouding his thoughts.He’d be here before. In another light, in another time. The vociferous crackling of concrete under metal did nothing to resuscitate his conscious self. His ammo pack was a finger’s grasp away, rendering him as useless as a fork in a kitchen of soup.

He knew the Witch was near. He could feel her.
Tonight felt like a good night to die.

(Prabhu Silvam, Singapore)

Bruce watched as Steel luminously convulsed, then folded into rigid death. The acrid dust of the witch circled his crumpled body like a scavenging animal. Then, as if through dead will, his jaw opened, drawing in a speeding stream of blackness. A low rumble, then a twitch until the flaming witch gushed from Steel’s mouth in a pitch stream of ash.

‘Give it back!’ she screamed, pointing at Bruce.

(Rebecca Kahler,  Australia)

A squalid opening to the right revealed the exuberance of the galactic sky, comets and all.
Shooting stars were a commonplace this time of the year.
Then again, so were the night watch patrol ships ever since the invasion.

“Poe! Cover at 8!” Bruce roared, as he enveloped himself under a dilapidated
pillar, firing rounds as he did.

Still visibly displaced from the aftershock, Poe reached into his utility pack and fished out
his thermal viewfinder. Vengeance is underrated. A fellow comrade had been slain.
It was mere obligation that blood be spilled in the name of a fallen friend.

(Alexander the Great, Singapore)

Bruce had never questioned the intentions of Poe, his closest comrade. He was a good man, resilient and honest. Bruce lay waiting behind the pillar for the enemy’s next move, his chest panting, his hands swollen. Inspiration struck.

Bruce scrambled through the rubble to reach Poe. Their identical appearance was not a coincidence after all, he thought. It was the reason why one of them would die here tonight

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

“Friends for life…” he mumbled dumbstruck, barely hearing himself speak the words. It had always sounded trite when someone else had said it. “Friends for life, eh?”

Bruce took a breath so deep, it seemed his lungs would never fill. Raised his gun and said “Goodbye Poe.” The shot rang in his ears as Poe slumped to the ground. The shooting stopped. Someone started slowly clapping. “Well done, Bruce…”

(Lucius Tan, Singapore)

It was Planetary Elector Wai. Jeep stood vigilantly to her right; the witch fluttered cool blue flames to her left. “Well done,” Wai calmly repeated. She served a hand across the room, showcasing the damage to Bruce.

Steel: dead. Poe: dead. One of them was the insider. Fifty-fifty. Heads or tails.

With both men down, the mission was over.

But Wai smiled gravely. She seemed to think otherwise.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

The asteroid-caked floors shivered a little under Bruce’s feet, as it broke open to reveal a capsule bathed in eye-blinding magenta light. Wai walks assuredly towards the rising pod.

“Earth domination is just a breath away…”

In a far off corner, a staccato growl echoes through the darkness, and a faint figure galumphs across the cracked floors. Creeping up behind Bruce, another adumbral figure lumbers towards the light.

Jeep lets out a throaty howl, “ZOMBIES!”

(Anne D’cruz, Singapore)

Bruce doesn’t flinch. He glances knowingly at Wai who quickens to his side. She slips her hand into his vest, retrieves two 0.20-carat African diamonds, then pushes one into Bruce’s carotid inoculation receptor with a glossy talon. She repeats the same for herself. A blue glow emits as they both exhale, now impervious to attack.

‘Just a breath away…’ repeats Bruce, watching Jeep yield to a violent scrum of the undead.

(Rebecca Kahler, Australia)

A rush of adrenaline scours through Bruce, his pupils widening with
each exhalation. An unfounded sense of energy and might burgeons through his veins. For a millisecond, nothing seems to matter.

Every life he’d ever taken had finally lead him up to this point.

He looks intently into Wai, who is now trying to make out the words from his quivering lips. Without blinking he thrusts his crescent-shaped kris into her abdomen, still looking into her eyes as he turns it clockwise to ensure her demise.

(Prabhu Silvam, Singapore)

Victory tastes better than gold encrusted sushi, Bruce thought. It was as if the blood in his mouth had turned into a sweet vintage wine.

He continued turning until the diamonds locked into place. A brilliant white light emits from Wai’s chest and gush of wind blows through the chamber.

Finally, Bruce is alone. He looks around the palace. The remains of his childhood. So many years of suffering.

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

Bruce inhales a lungful of cold air.

From the frosty corner, a warm magenta glow crawls out of the woodwork and sneaks into Bruce’s peripheral vision. He turns his head in a gawky manner, now eyeing the pod that is oddly surrounded by stalagmite-like spikes.

He bites his shrivelled lower lip, and hesitantly walks towards the luminous light.

“What in God’s name do I now do with this useless bunch?”

(Sam Anne, Singapore)

As he nears the pod Bruce notices that the spikes bear symbols relieved into each base. Ancient, yet familiar enough. Bruce remembers once seeing them as he probed through the studies of his Grandfather’s library.

He touches one. It hums, but then he feels something arrive like the rumbling breath of time. Bruce quickly turns to see a tall man cloaked in black, sabre raised to strike.

“My grandson, a disgrace,” growls the man.

(Rebecca Kahler, Australia)

“You’ve lost the mission. I’m cutting this short…” as the sabre falls, Bruce winces. Everything goes black as if he’d died…

Opening his eyes, he blinks in the harsh, blueish simulator light, with General Tiberius Bruce staring at him. “You’re a disgrace Sgt. Bruce. Whatever strength I passed to your father has diluted to you. You’re dismissed.” Suddenly everyone in the room was extremely busy not watching Bruce march out.

(Jennifer Loh, Singapore)

Keeping his disappointment in check, Bruce exited the underground military compound, which happened to be directly below his favourite sushi stand. He ordered the usual—two seafood rolls, $4.90—and sat down in a park to write.

The city was futuristic around him. Not with robots or zombies or the magenta-like colours. But with possibility. He could write his own story.

Negotiating a mouthful of salmon, he got to work. He didn’t feel a total failure.

(Andrew Last, Australia)

Where did it go wrong? Not just today, this mission. The entire lot. He liked parks and sushi and quietly recollecting his thoughts. Soldiering was misery… Zombies, seriously?

Just then, a standard-issue military transporter glided up, stopping at the bunker entrance. He watched Wai exit the vehicle with a purposeful stride. Recollecting the simulator and killing her, he smirked as some rice fell from his mouth.

(Gan Phua Beng, Singapore)

What a waste it had all been. A beautiful, delicious waste. Sushi was all he had really wished for in this life.

Bruce was a silly man. Brilliant, but ridiculously silly. He had learnt a lesson or two today, he supposed. Never trust an old friend. Never rely on your instincts. Certainly, never trust a witch.

A gentle breeze blew through his hair. Freedom, he thought. This was the life.

(Grace Finlayson, Australia)

“And… Cut!”

That was the last scene of the day. Bruce, aka Johnny Thunder, stood up and walked towards his trailer. “That scene was epic… People’s Choice Award is mine!” as he absentmindedly flexes his biceps in an oversized mirror. There was a knock on the door.

“Here’s your divorce papers,” said Wai, aka soon-to-be ex-wife. Johnny yanked the envelope and slammed the door. Hollywood marriages never last, he mused.

(Angeline Silva, Singapore)