Diary of War
- by Joyce Chng -
I am awake. The war hasn’t arrived yet.
It is sunny, complete with blue skies and white wispy clouds.
Outside Mama is hanging the laundry. She loves the “sun-smell” of clean clothes.
I am reluctant to get out of bed.
In two days’ time, I will turn
Most of my peers have left for the academies.
Mama is not at home today.
She’s gone off to the town council meeting to vote. Our town tithes two regiments of soldiers. Half of the town has
lost sons, brothers, husbands.
Daughters, sisters, wives, too.
We argued last night.
I should be at the frontline. Mama protested. She was angry.
Her eyes blazed like fire.
Her eyes always blaze
I get out of the room. On the table, still faintly steaming, is
a bowl of hand-pulled noodles and two hard-boiled eggs.
The broth is savoury.
My birthday treat.
There was the sound of explosions in the distance, near the town of Sweetherb.
The siren pierced the air.
It was in the middle of the night.
Some people ran out into the streets.
It is quiet when I wake in the morning. Mama sleeps deeply.
She returned from her meeting angry, her lips
in a thin straight line.
I find myself harvesting the herbs from the wasteland.
Some herbs are in Mama’s book. Some herbs are new and I have to go check. I dry some of them next to the big window.
They smell good.
The explosions were loud enough to shake us out of bed.
The air smelled like gunpowder
from the New Year fireworks display.
It got into my nose, onto my tongue. It is a taste hard to get rid of.
For the whole night, I thought of New Year food and that there would be no New Year this year.
We have not celebrated New Year ever since Baba left for the frontline.
I can’t sleep.
I stare out of the window and it is
then I see it.
It has jade-green front claws that look like scythes and a shell-like body that gleams a paler green. While it moves, I see the smudges of organs moving inside the shell.
The eyes are large, set in front. I am reminded of
a praying mantis in Mama’s books.
Except this is bigger, faster, more lean. It moves up the street, its front claws twitching as if they are tasting the air.
Something booms farther down and the green thing leaps toward it, its shell-body pulsing.
I clap my mouth shut. It is one of
They are here
in my town.
Mama shakes me awake later. I have fallen asleep under the bed.
This time, Mama is wearing something different. She has army fatigues on, like the ones worn by the tithed regiments.
Yet the badges are not the same.
There is a long knife hanging from her belt.
Here, take this. She hands me a gun. I recognize its make.
It’s the same as Baba’s. She told me that it was a pistol, the night he left for the frontline.
You will need to protect yourself, Mama says, and her eyes blaze.
I will teach you how to use this.
When the invaders arrive, there is no resistance.
The village yields like
I cut my hair, shave my face, and follow Mama.
We protect our own, Mama whispers to me, as if she is telling me
a story from her past of dragons, fox spirits, and spiders on two legs.
My arm still aches from the shooting.
We join Mama’s friends in the dark. We lay bombs and damage the invaders’ engines. When they explode, we laugh and run away.
In our hiding place, we tell our stories and share hot soup in tins. Mama sits in her corner, the knife across her lap.
She stares into the dark, her eyes like banked fire.
I cannot sleep.
The sound of the invaders is bone-chilling.
You hear their chittering first, before you see them. The one I have seen is a scout.
The warriors are frightening, larger, and their scythe-claws sharper.
They hunt at night.
We churn out posters, printed words on paper.
Paper, such an old-fashioned thing.
Like Mama’s books. The posters speak of resistance, of fighting against the invaders. Fight them. Deny them. Cut off their claws.
They are invaders.
They take our homes.
They are barbarians.
They are ruthless.
Hate them. Chase them out.
When your land is invaded, what can you do?
What should you do?
Mama brings me to raids. I am glad for the darkness. Nobody questions how I look.
Young boy. Young girl. I am both.
Under the camo paint, I am just part of the resistance. I streak green and black on my cheeks with relish.
We throw home-made bombs, made with distilled alcoholic spirits and twists of paper, tossed out in empty bottles salvaged from an old factory.
When the invader ships explode,
we shout with glee.
The warrior looks at me with those large eyes, its scythe-claws slashing the air. It has the colour of early spring leaves and its innards throb like
one giant heart.
For a while, we stare.
I hold onto my gun. My hands tremble.
You are not male, the warrior pulses.
You can talk to me, I whisper. My voice flees.
Of course, I can, the warrior says with a hint of pride. Its voice is the rustling of dried grass in my head. It is a strange, uncomfortable sensation. I am taakaki.
Taaka-what? I blink and this time, the warrior raises its claws. They look curved, dangerous, with crimson—our blood—coating its shell.
Up close, the warrior is more crab than insect.
A high-pitched screech distracts the warrior. Suddenly it hisses at me, its eyes unfriendly. The claws slice toward me.
Something hits it. A small explosion of shell, foul-smelling . . . blood? I drop onto my buttocks. Mama comes running up, her face twisted in
a snarl, her gun pointed straight at the warrior.
The warrior chitters and backs away, finally scurrying off to whatever had summoned it.
Did it hurt you? Mama demands. I have its green blood on my uniform. The stench makes me want to vomit.
I shake my head.
All I feel is dried grass in it, rustling, hissing.
The word/sensation/feeling lingers in my head. I dream of it. I dream of the warrior with its scythe-like claws.
We bomb more invader ships. Our camp is victorious and we celebrate with rice cakes and wine. Somewhere, in a parallel peaceful planet,
we celebrate the return of spring.
It has gone bitterly cold. The snow coats everything in sight.
I want to see plants, sprouting greens and herbs.
The invader has planted
a seed in me.
I wake in a cell.
The seed is growing.
We interrupt this diary for an important message:
The seed is growing.
Identity is real.
Fighting the invader is real.
I wake in a cell.
It is cold. I am swimming in a clear gel.
A pulsating cord extends from my belly and ends in a gelatinous mess at my feet. It reminds me of the masses of frog eggs in the pond next to the wasteland.
I am also naked, all of me laid bare.
But I am too in pain to care,
Who are you?
What are you?
I am who I am.
You are neither male nor female.
I am who I am.
When they release me, I fall out of the cell in a rush of gel, blood, and fluids, curled up, shivering. I have changed.
They change me.
My hands are now scythe-claws, pink in colour, transitioning into a dark green. But the rest of my body is still fleshy human. My nipples tingle in the sudden chill.
But my face . . . my face is half invader, my eyes grown larger, brighter, like an insect’s. My hair is now chitin, pink-green, green-pink.
You are taakaki, the voice in my head says, rustling. In between, neither. Now may you speak for us.
I am not your voice, I scream back.
I am not your plaything.
But you are, because we made you the way you are.
I cry, but my crying is the chittering of an insect.
Unmake me. I am not your puppet. You are evil, evil, evil. Change me back!
The dried-grass voice rustles and laughs.
There are many voices. They echo and echo, a rush of high and low tones. In the hive, they resonate. It seems that the hive has been infiltrated.
I see her first.
I try to speak up, my voice choking in my throat—
She raises her pistol at me. The long knife in her other hand gleams with bright green. Blood of the invader. My blood.
Her words are weapons. Demon. I am a demon.
Can she recognize me? Mama! It’s me!
Then I feel the fire in my chest.
Then everything becomes cold.
Am I writing this on paper? Or is paper just a remnant of my memory? Perhaps, paper is my memory.
I am writing this, speaking this, as a memory. My voice.
They have forgotten who I am.
But I remember who I was and what I am. They have made me their speaker, but inside, I am not their speaker,
I am myself.
I still fight the war against the invaders.
Perhaps, one day, my people, my mother, would accept me back.
Perhaps, one day, I would accept myself.
© 2017 by Joyce Chng
Joyce Chng lives in Singapore. Their fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Joyce also co-edited THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Their recent space opera novels deal with wolf clans and vineyards respectively. They also write speculative poetry with recent ones in Rambutan Literary and Uncanny Magazine. Occasionally, they wrangle article editing at Strange Horizons and Umbel & Panicle, a poetry journal about and for plants and botany. Alter-ego J. Damask writes about werewolves in Singapore. You can find them at http://awolfstale.wordpress.com and @jolantru on Twitter.