In present day.
James stared straight into my soul, wide eyed, unable to respond. He then made a frown and leaned back, stroking his chin as if he was trying to pick out some falsehood in the tale I had just recounted to him.
His dark mocha frappuccino already half gone while mine stood full, diluted with melted ice in the tropical humidity. Perhaps it was too much for a boy his age to take in, I thought, but we were severely running
short on time.
“That is some bullshit...” He uttered, to which I promptly schooled him the importance of civilized language when speaking to an adult.
He was a handsome kid about half my age, looking at him reminded me of my younger self. A foulmouthed confident little brat. But he was intelligent too, and his eyes, they distinctly show that he was stuck in a place that could not contain him. He laughed his nervousness off, but his concern came across genuinely when he asked, “Did, Annie… survive?” I nodded in reply.
“And the girl?”, He asked and I nodded once more, giving him a more substantial reply “Her mother and grandma, unfortunately, didn’t.”
I conveyed to him how the rescuers spent hours trying to pry apart the carnage that had turned our night upside down. And when they finally got to the bodies, they were beyond saving. Annie and I couldn’t help to think that had we not gotten on that bus, none of it would have happened. At least, two innocent lives could be spared and the soul of one little girl.
“Legion. Lisa. Why were they after you?” James prodded, “Do they have abilities like us?”
I hushed him, explaining sternly that it wasn’t a topic which can be discussed openly. He then retorted that no one eavesdropping on us would ever believe a thing we said. We live in a modern world where people marvel at superheroes and expanded comic universes but never gave the slightest thought that somebody with abilities beyond their imagining could be seated right next to them in a Starbucks.
So he was right in a sense, but it wasn’t the public, the foundation and I, were worried about. We knew Legion was on the move again, and a decade of tracing Lisa has led me to this boy.
“Come with me.” I said as I picked up my untouched coffee-water. “If I want to live?” James joked mechanically. Imitating the voice of the Terminator from a bygone era as he finished the last bit of his frappé.
Finally some air conditioning. I proclaimed internally as we crossed the glass boundary between outside and in.
Bugis Junction is an interesting development comprising of a retail mall, an office tower and the InterContinental Hotel. The mall was completed when I was twelve and I used to be bewildered at how the complex grid of glass could soar over the preserved shophouses without falling down on us all. In the night, it was beautiful to see the shoppers’ reflection in the glass ceiling illuminated by the warm glow of incandescent lights. Moving images painted over the night’s canvas.
These days, the immense crowd gets under my skin. A mob of hipster youths, whose ages ranged closer to James than mine. They constantly raid the shops for the latest fashion and gadgets. But I was grateful Annie had chosen this meeting spot because we were safer in numbers. As we made our way to the central elevator, I could tell from the look of every deadpan adult leaving their office that their desperate mission was to get out of that suffocating place alive. Endure the train ride home and get back to their families, only to repeat the cycle the next day.
The descending elevator was a world away from the hustle and bustle of the surface. It was crowded as usual, but I always note how moving cages like this tend to awkwardly silence even the most talkative youth. Perhaps, all of us have been talking openly about our darkest secrets in open spaces, until we crowd ourselves into tiny metal confessionals where our words can truly be heard.
The carpark was a different space too. The grey stifling underbelly of every retail mall in Singapore. No air conditioning here. We stepped into the sports sedan that I had arrived in. A perk from work. The seven-seater on our left and the red hunchback on our right had nothing on us. Our ride was built for speed.
James began, “You know, I’ve seen some reaaal shit..” as I pulled the car over to the exit gantry of the carpark. He started narrating to me how he first discovered his abilities. “Boy. Save it.” I placed my coffee into the cup holder and impatiently slapped the electronic card reader plastered above the dashboard.
Why. Won’t. It. Work.
I shouted in my mind with every flick of the wrist.
Just as I shifted the gear in reverse in an attempt to activate the sensors, the red hunchback appeared in my rearview mirror and plowed forward. Giving us a solid in the rear. James, who had not buckled up, slammed his forehead into the dashboard.
“Why didn’t you just ghost through that?” I asked condescendingly as I signalled him to buckle up quickly. Looking through the rearview mirror, I jammed my foot on the accelerator and pushed the vehicle behind us backwards through sheer torque.
The sedan’s growling engine roared through the underground carpark as it crumpled the hunchback against a column like paper. “What are you doing?!” James yelled in my ear telling me to get going.
The chase begins.
My tires screamed and smoked. I shifted to Sports mode and the car throttled forward, breaking through the gantry and into the streets.
It clearly wasn’t James’ first time dealing with bad guys, and he definitely knew when not to put up a fight. However, Legion is different. They are a merciless bunch of mercenaries. We certainly did not anticipate them attacking us the moment we made contact with the boy. It did not make tactical sense. However none of what Lisa did that night made sense either. She’s unpredictable, intolerable, brash, and the goons on our tail is just like her.
“James.” I ordered as I struggled to create distance from the hunchback which was actively catching up to us by bashing into every vehicle that passed us. “Google Maps. Now!”
He reached for his Galaxy from his back pocket just as I pulled the handbrake to drift the vehicle right across the junction from Middle Road on to Waterloo Street. In his panic, James ghosted his phone through the side door, painfully watching it skip a number of times over the asphalt before splashing across the fender of a passing motorcycle into thousands of glittery bits.
I had my own problems as well. Waterloo, at least the section we were on, isn’t a road for vehicles. It had been converted into a pedestrian mall a couple of decades ago to help ease traffic congestion. Sure wasn’t helping here. I looked up to the Hindu and Buddhist temples and prayed to their gods I don’t hit any of their worshippers. If anything, Annie’s gonna kill me for causing such a scene.
But keeping James’ alive is priority.
Before the hunchback could rearend us again, I pressed forward into the late evening crowd. Worshippers gathered outside the adjacent Kwan Im Tong temple instinctively moved out of the way and said their prayers. While petrified fortune tellers, incapable of predicting this scenario, leaped away from their “New Moon” umbrellas as I abruptly trashed through their evening ritual setups.
“Here,” I said to James as I handed him my iPhone, “Don’t lose this one.” I steered the car haphazardly into the weekend Pasar, trying my best not to crash into any of the stalls.
“What’s the password?!” He yelled as I jammed my brakes at the main square connecting the pedestrianized Waterloo with Albert Street.
There, a big crowd of chinese tourists passed us. An old chinese man knocked on the bonnet and scolded with incomprehensible dialectic expletives that I should watch where I was driving, oblivious of the red hunchback coming up fast behind us. The other half of them were enthralled by the plastic animatronic toys being sold at a shop nearby that seemed to have a life of their own, ignoring their frustrated tour guide who was egging them to get a move on.
I looked around and saw that locals at the nearby hawker center were racing to get their phones out to showcase the commotion on social media.
“1-2-3-4!” I replied James hastily as I wrangled the steering wheel pass the tour group onto the one way street.
He gave me side eyes that screamed, “Are you kidding me?” and thumbed open the Google Maps app on the main screen. “Now what?” He asked as he turned to see the enemy right on our tail. Improvising, he rolled down the window and tossed my coffee out the window at the rampaging hunchback, expecting it to do something. It didn’t.
The cup splashed on to the road and disappeared into the distance. Ignoring the stupidity of what had happened, I instructed him to get me directions to the Golden Mile Complex.
“How bad are you at directions?!” James quipped when he realised our destination was just a stone’s throw away. “Make a U-turn here!” The sedan blasted past Sim Lim and I drifted the car around the road divider on to the other side. We brushed through the heavy traffic, thinking we were actively driving away from our enemy. However, glancing through the tinted window, I saw a flash of red on the other side of the road. The hunchback was gunning backwards, swerving between oncoming vehicles right beside us.
The windows facing us rolled down in unison, and we were greeted with familiar black masks.
This is madness! I yelled in my head as two henchmen in the backseat squeezed their upper torsos out the windows revealing a pair of loaded shotguns. Before they could send any bullets our way however, the roads split thanks to the hollow husk of the deserted Rochor Centre.
“Thank god!” James slid down in his seat with a sigh of relief. Just when we thought all was good, the seven-seater Nissan slammed into us on the junction between Ophir and Queen. The roar of the crash was deafening. The impact of the collision sent us rolling into the grass field near by. However as I laid in the comforting patch of grass and stared into pitch black sky, I realized we were not in the sedan anymore. A few meters away James was struggling to get up.
He saved my life.
“Thanks...” I complimented him as I caught hold of my breath and wiped the sweat, blood and grass off my face, “I like your ability. It’s useful.” I picked him up but his knee was broken. There is no way out of this, I assumed.
The Mazda and Nissan rolled up to us and a small army of masked men stepped out. All of them had weapons directed at us as they moved closer. “So which of you is Lisa?” I said, putting up a poor show of confidence as I stood my ground. “Er… Hi.” I gestured to the only one amongst them without a weapon.
“John. It’s been awhile.” She greeted me with that unmistakable guttery voice. She stepped up close to us and surveyed the injured James. She pouted at the sight of his wounds and questioned why I had not taken better care of him.
She then looked around mockingly and asked, “Where’s… Annie? Your fortune telling lil’ bitch?”
If it weren’t for Annie’s ability kicking in at the last minute, ten years ago, the world wouldn’t be what it is today. But here we stand.
Our judgement day had only been postponed.
The vision I had back then was real. I wasn’t out of my mind. I did hear Annie calling out to me. She was unconscious when it happened but it was an apparition of her from the past that spoke directly to me. To be precise, it was her past self from about ten minutes prior to my encounter with Lisa.
When I thought she was looking out the window calmly that night, Annie was in a trance. Her abilities probably triggered by what the masked man did to the girl’s mother. She saw the events that would play out in the next few moments. And when she figured what Lisa was about to do, she called on me to stop it. The rest of it happened as I’d explained. From that incident on, our lives changed dramatically.
Annie and I were freshly graduated from college, eager to move on to the next stage in life. But we couldn’t understand how and why the events of that day took place until we came upon the Golden Mile.
“Oie, watch your language.” James told Lisa with a strong jab to her jugular, causing her to choke on her own words. He ghosted his hand through her face and ripped the mask off. James wrapped his arms tightly around my neck and made his injured leg disappear so I could make a dash for the shophouses of Kampong Glam.
Lisa’s henchmen chased after us without her. She knew her own abilities will be useless once we’re two bodies in a crowded place. I, on the other hand, had speed on my side and they quickly lost sight of us.
The modern village we were headed to was a glistening abode of middle eastern culture juxtaposed with back alley watering holes which James was a tad too young to enter. Japanese beer bars, rainbow ice cream waffle shops and mexican eateries sat between Indian prata shops, Arabic textiles and dollar gift shops.
“Why did they give up on the chase?” James asked as he ghosted us through an alley wall into an indian restaurant. We found an empty table near the road in the midst of all the hangry office workers who have descended into the area to dine.
“Lisa has a kind of x-ray vision to put in bluntly. She can see through everything.” I clarified, “However in a densely populated place like this, it’s difficult for her to figure out where we are. Besides, they wouldn’t want to cause a scene here, so we’re safe for now.”
I took a closer look at his injured leg. His jeans were ripped and bloodied but his wound had already begun to heal. “It’s superficial, I can only clean up flesh wounds by ghosting but I can’t heal any broken bones.” James explained.
The smell of good food floated by us, taking our minds off the ordeal we were in moments ago. Just then, a short announcement blared through the loudspeakers of the nearby Masjid Sultan Mosque and Friday prayer filled the air. As we cooled off we were captivated by the golden dome perched on top of the Mosque’s northwestern entrance marking the main axis of its architecture and entranced by the reverent chants emanating from within its hallowed hall.
“Want a bite?” I offered as I held a hand up to signal the waiter. “I’m famished. I’ll have two plain pratas and an iced milo.” He ordered.
A pristinely white sedan pulled up on the road in front of us. James was taken aback. Must have been shocking since we were in the exact same model a few moments ago. The site of the crash not too far away from us was still cordoned off and the police were only halfway through their investigation. The tinted window rolled down and Annie peered through from the driver side. Visibly agitated, she ordered. “Make it to go. We don’t have time to waste.”
Her voice was familiar to James. It was the same female voice that instructed him to give Lisa a surprise punch to her throat and take her mask. “W-we err… lost our phones, w-we didn’t call you, why are you here?” I said to her defensively knowing the consequence I will receive once we get back to base.
“Because I saw everything, you fool.” She remarked.
Mitch Advent is a lifelong experiment. It is about throwing caution into the wind and delving deep into different passions to discover similarities and celebrate the differences between them. The project stems from the belief that at its core, all things creative are the same. Mitch, because that is my name. Advent, because I do not consider myself the best at anything I do. My objective is to lead by example and invite others to walk the same path.