Glass Marbles

“How long is it gonna take?” 5765 laid on the operation table, asking the doctor. “Would I be late for dinner?”

The doctor introduced herself as Calypso. The name sounded fake, but 5765 wasn’t in the position to complain about names. Doctor Calypso was kind to him and didn’t treat him like a child. So that’s good.

“Probably,” Doctor Calypso said. “It’s not that good anyway. Canned beef stew and potato again.”

“Okay.” It didn’t stop his mouth from watering. Any food was good food. A stew in the war zone would have been heavenly.

He tried staying still on the cold surface, but he couldn’t help himself. A lengthy disinfecting process had got rid of all the grimes. His skin was still tender. His fresh new jumpsuit made him fit right in with the sterile environment of this…facility.

He didn’t know where they were. Just underground. It’s large and full of people. They’ve been here for a few weeks. Waiting for something. It’s finally his turn to get treatment.

“Is it gonna hurt?”

“Only a little at first.” The doctor said.

5765 believed her. The doctor was younger than his mother as he last remembered her, and carried an entirely different vibe than anyone he used to know. The same vibe as the man in white, who guided his group inside the facility. The same as those who gave them fresh bedrolls, clean water, and food. They were nice.

“Ouch.” 5765 felt the sting on his arm.

“See? That’s it.” Doctor Calypso put away the empty syringe. “I won’t lie to you.”

5765 was feeling the effect. His eyelids felt heavy, and his limbs felt light. The table underneath him was moving. He used up all his energy to squint. He was inside some kind of pod, and the lid was closing on him. There was a brief panic, but he relaxed. It was the safest place he had ever been to.

Then he closed his eyes and began to dream.

***

His family lived on the east side of Mt. Trash. Their house was a shipping container, rusted and forever smelled like something crawled in and died. It was probably accurate, since her parents never told him where Grandma and Granpa went. One day they were living with them, the next they were not.

His family scavenged for a living. Mt. Trash was truly resourceful. On a good day, all of them could fall asleep not hungry. On a really good day, they could even find something to sell. Dad would dig out the cyber implants from the dumped corpses they found, and took them to the market. He would come back with fresh food, usually bread. And Mom would yell at him because three implants would certainly worth more than three loaves. He gambled the rest away.

5765 had a handful of siblings. This oldest brother got scammed by the prostitute he “fell in love” with. He was saving money for two tickets out of the system, and ended up broke and stabbed, left to die in the gutters.

But no one would hate the prostitutes because of that. Because his sister did that for a living. She swore to 5765 that she’d never fall in love, and made him swear he’d do the same. 5765 never understood what love was.

“Can you eat it?” He asked his sister.

“No. It eats you.”

Scary.

That was what roughly happened before the war came. For the first time, they were glad to live in Mt. Trash, because the firefights didn’t reach here. Until the bombs started falling. They scurried toward the next settlement, with only the clothes on their backs.

In Clifftown, Dad was conscripted by the rebel army, and that was the last 5765 saw of him.

Back to the shelter under the bridge. A few dozen refugee families were camping there. Sometimes they fought over clean water and food. But when the shells started dropping, they huddled for warmth.

His last surviving brother was one year older than himself. He taught 5765 how to steal. When the soldiers left town, the stores would reopen. That’s how they could get anything they wanted.

In theory, anyway. 5765 got caught on his second try. His first target was the food stand, where he got his dinner. The amazing feeling of being full had made him dizzy. Made him bold enough to forget that he was far from a seasoned thief. His strike on a former toy booth—now military surplus store—went awfully wrong.

It all happened so fast. 5765 was standing among the shelves, pretending to browse. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He was a young man, just old enough to fit in with the surplus crowd.

There weren’t a lot of costumers, so his brother offered to distract the owner. He pointed at some laser gun on the wall, and the owner turned his back to retrieve it.

5765 knew it was his opportunity to act. He grabbed a fist full of pellets and stuffed them down his pockets. These kinds of things were the real currency, these days. He grabbed one hand after another, until his jacket was weighted down.

Some spilled out and pounced on the floor. They made sharp, clicking noises as they rolled.

The owner turned his head and caught him red-handed.

“Robbery!” He was yelling. Everyone in the market turned their heads. None of them helped either side. They ducked and screamed when the guns came out.

The next thing 5765 knew, he was running. In his panicking state, he had put a handful of pellets in his mouth and swallowed them.

What was that for? He didn’t know. They felt like pebbles stuck in his chest. All he knew was that he was choking. He coughed violently, still scrambling to run.

His brother was behind him, scrambling between the various stands.

“Faster!” He yelled.

5765 was running with biological tears rolling from his face.

Before he knew it, his brother was shot. He was shot twice in the back as they were running. 5765 thought he was dead. He hoped it was quick. Because in the blinding panic, he left his brother behind.

5765 went back to the camp under the bridge. His family’s empty tent was still there. He crawled under the plastic sheet, curled up and began to cry.

While sobbing, his waist muscle tightens and he felt the pain. Looking down, he found blood. He was grazed. And he was bleeding. A dark red stain was spreading on his tattered clothes.

His pockets were empty. The treasure that costed him all he had left, were scattered on the way back.

He was certain that was how he’s gonna die. Alone, last of his family, inside a dirty hellhole. The same kind of place where he was born. As his consciousness slipped in and out of focus, he heard voices. Was it God’s angels? They were outside his tent. Then, someone tore off the plastic sheet, and light flooded in.

“Here’s another one!” Someone yelled.

He strained his eyes to look. A group of strangers was standing over him. Some kind of military men. He panicked. Tried to run. Forgot he couldn’t. And he laid there in pain. The night was made bright by all the flashlights they carried. Under the light. He saw that the man in front of him was wearing white. Not the black armors or camouflage like the soldiers.

Someone picked him up and put him on a stretcher. A few hands carried him away. To where? He fell unconscious.

Briefly, he woke up again. This time, he was inside a moving. The hulls vibrated. It was an aircraft. He had never been so high in the sky, and it scared him shitless. He closed his eyes and hoped for the best.

Then, he wasn’t bleeding any more. He was in a shower. He was getting fresh clothes. He was waiting in line for food. Food! He had a metal tray in his hands, like the other people in line with him. The cook dropped a spoonful of something onto his tray. He didn’t know what it was, but it smelled heavenly.

“People, gather around!” A few of those men in white armors came back. One of them looked like the leader, stepped forward.

“By now, you probably heard a lot of rumors about what this place is. Arber Conservatory will be your temporary home. A refuge until we make the arrangement for your new lives. Rest assured that you are safe here. The war is behind you. We have staff in place to take care of your needs. For your safety, please do not venture beyond your designated area.”

“Why did you give us these numbers?” Someone among the crowd asked. “What are they for? Why can’t we use your names?”

“Your number is assigned to you by chronological order. The first one who arrived here was “number 1”, the second was “2”, and so on. It’s easier for our agents to identify you, since some are having trouble pronouncing your names.”

“Please be patient until the transportation is arranged. We will notify you when it’s your turn. If you have any questions, any working agents around you can answer them. If they can’t, direct your questions toward the Caseworker’s office.” The agents scanned the room. “That’s all for now.”

***

Doctor Calypso processed her patients in groups of eighteen. She used to have twenty regeneration machines but two were down, and there were no technicians around to fix them.

The organization had deemed this dimension “lost”. Even after decades of trying to fix things, trying to make things right. Thousands of agents died to fix this dimension. At first, they were adjusting the timeline so the war wouldn’t happen. When that failed, they were trying to bring back peace. Calypso knew of a colleague who went as far as infiltrating the governments, but none of that worked. In the end, she supposed, fate was fate. What’s lost was lost.

In recent months, CICADA had been pulling their resources off the planet. Personnel evacuating through spacecraft or portals.

This underground cave they were in, was the last CICADA facility in this dimension.

Arber Conservatory was originally designed to house endangered local plants and seeds. It was far from designed to act as a refugee center, but it’s the only safe place large enough.

It had been months, and they were still stranded on this god-forsaken world, waiting for their turn to evacuate. Only one portal was working. It opened once a week and had to recharge. They could send about five hundred people through, before risking overheating the gate.

Calypso told herself it didn’t matter where she’s doing her job, here or the other side of the portal. These patients needed attention. But the med bay here is basic and severely understaffed.

It could have been a lot worse, though. They could’ve been dead, caught up in the war that’s tearing the planet apart.

Also, she badly needed a cigarette. She had two options. Ascending miles to the chaotic surface, or crawling into the outgoing air duct. Neither was worth the trouble.

She compromised by having a cup of powdered coffee. A green light popped up on the control panel. The procedure was complete. She leaned back in her wore chair, waiting for the machines to power down.

Calypso glanced at the screen, which was producing a detailed report about her patients. One of them caught her eyes. The boy, 5765. Barely a teenager and already suffered multiple old wounds. Hairline fractures and old burn scars.

He was a survivor. She briefly wondered what he could achieve in a peaceful world.

There was something in his stomach, the imaging showed. The automatic operation had removed them from his body, and deposited the small spheres for the doctor to examine.

They were shiny, glass marbles.

***

The light was too bright as he stepped through. The other side didn’t look too different. The same kind of room, but with clean white walls.

“Refugee number 5765, you may now choose a name.” A slightly mechanical voice began. The room had many screens, and he was standing in front of one. “If you choose to become a civilian, on the screen in front of you is a list of socially acceptable names, ranked from the most common to least.”

“There’re other options?” He asked, hesitant. It seemed silly speaking into a machine.

“You may also choose to join CICADA Our organization specializes in the protection of the humankind across timelines, dimensions, and beyond. The benefits of joining our organization are as listed: guaranteed housing, a competitive salary, and a purpose in the service of mankind.”

“It’s like the people who saved me, right?” He asked.

“[Direction Unclear].” The machine said. “Please repeat your inquiry.”

“…Never mind,” he said. “Go on.”

“As an agent of CICADA, you may choose any codename you like. As long as it is one word and does not conflict with those in our database. Type in your potential name to see if it’s available.”

“You have chosen to become an agent of CICADA Please exit to the room on the right for information regarding your future identity, housing, and training program.”

After he made his choice, a woman in a black suit greeted him at the door.

“Welcome to Earth.” She shook his hand. “This one is safe. You are safe. You are home.”

And, for the first time in his life, he felt like he could finally breathe.

Divine Intervention

“The portal is ready, Kyan—wait, why aren’t you in your costume?”

Startled by the sudden opening of her office door, Kyan turned to face her colleague, Beryl. His presence was always anxiety-inducing, since it either meant more work or bad news.

Or both. She was just about to take a sip of coffee from her “world’s best boss” mug when he barged in. It would be a shame if she dropped the precious cup.

“What portal?” She asked, dumbfound. “There’s no scheduled portal opening today, I don’t think. Also, what costume?”

“Well, check your calendar again. The Moongate project just got an update,” Beryl tapped his hologram wearable, looking agitated. “Never mind, the launch window is in just under an hour. We have to get you ready. I’ll brief you along the way.“

Kyan sighed, putting down the coffee and got up. It was then she reconsidered her life. The mug was a mere souvenir from a trip back to the 21st century. She was no one’s boss. She was just another lowly employee at C.I.C.A.D.A. Level 3 in the dimension-spanning organization’s hierarchy. Anyone could order her around.

“What is this update about?” She asked. They walked down the labyrinth of white corridors. Judging by the scenery, she knew they were heading toward the launch hall. “Start from the beginning.”

“Fine. You know the trip we planned for the Eyaithen Ceremony? When their entire planet gather to pray to the goddess Yaeshene? What’s worse, the sun of their system just had an unpredicted flare event. Which means they are holding the ceremony *now*. We aren’t ready, but someone must go.”

Well, fuck. “Do we not have a Traveler on call?”

“No, we do not. Kyan, I cannot stress enough how important this job is. They are going to ask for the Yaeshene’s blessing on their new spacecraft launch. Our analysts calculated a 62% chance of them discovering Milky Way on their next expedition. That was two months ago.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Kyan said. “I’m supposed to have my afternoon off.”

“The percentage is now eighty-seven. We need to put it under twenty. 10% or under would be even better. Take a look at this,” Beryl pushed a tablet into her hands. “A report from Lark.”

A shaky footage of a devastated hellscape. Kyan faintly recognizes the architecture style to be of Earth. A middle-aged man showed his ash-covered face in the frame, as he turned the camera toward his tattered self.

“Level 6 Traveler, codenamed Lark, reporting a Class A event from the year 2487…” He coughed. Blood seeped from between his fingers as he covered his mouth. His augmented left eye was hanging out of its socket. The footage was glitching badly. “To any agent seeing this, take a look at Point Sigma-Beta-Echo-Four, to Echo-Seven. Something went wrong…there. Requesting…intervention.”

“Let me guess,” Kyan gave Beryl back the tablet before the footage cut off. “That’s the timeline where we didn’t stop the Eyaithens from waging war on Earth. Not good. Everything goes to shit. The stakes are high. You can’t find a good Traveler, so you find me.”

“You aren’t taking this serious enough.” Beryl made an angry gesture, as if he wanted to smash the tablet on the wall. “Do you think I wanted to come to you? The Traveler we are training for this mission is sick. Something she caught on her last trip. I don’t have a choice.” He stopped abruptly. “We are here.”

Gate Hangar 9. Kyan sighed. She was really doing this.

“Tell me, at least there’s someone to go rescue Lark.”

“Of course. He’s a valuable agent.”

In the changing pod, Kyan changed into the gray protective armored suit. She held the helmet under her arm when she stepped out. The space opened up.

In front of her was the heart of Project Moongate. The site was styled like a hangar, with tall ceilings and maintenance crew walking on levitated platforms. The most eye-catching subject was the circular gate in the middle. Four pairs of metallic arches held it steady, taking up most of the space. The actual gate wasn’t that big. It could only let in the smallest spaceship. The Moongate was humming even in pre-activation mode. The steel platform vibrated beneath Kyan’s feet.

“Is this necessary?” Kyan eyed the four-person costume crew as they crowded her. They were dressing her up in Eyaithen fashion, attaching ready-made white cloth stripes to her suit. The material felt like silk.

Beside them were crates of artifacts, collected by other Travelers on their previous journeys.

“We don’t have time for makeup,” one of the costume crew members said. “A mask should do.” They discussed among themselves, and decided to take her helmet. The crew was working in terrible efficiency. They put it through the handheld 3D printer and sprayed it gold.

When Kyan got it back, the helmet had two branching horns attached to it. It was also shaped like a goat’s face, with a complicated engraved pattern on the sides.

Kyan turned to look at the holo screen she saw them referring. It was the Holy Text of the Eyaithen people. She could barely recognize the language, let along speak it. Guess that’s why the crew attached a voice filter to the built-in translation device in her helmet.

She wasn’t close to an expert in the Eyaithen. As a Traveler, her specialty was in time travel, not planet-hopping. She did remember one report about this alien species. They were devoted believers, even though C.I.C.A.D.A. has not found out if their goddess actually existed.

“Your mission is to impersonate the Eyaithen goddess, Yaeshene.” Beryl approached Kyan just as the crew was putting on the finishing touches.

“Are you serious?” Kyan glanced at the complicated costume. Dozens of fabric stripes dragged on for a few meters behind her, acting like tails. “Alright, I kind of saw that coming. What am I going to say? Should I say anything at all?”

“A few words would be fine. Yaeshene is not a chatty god.” A beat. “Don’t say anything stupid.”

“I’m a professional,” Kyan said.

“Sure. There will be twenty drones surrounding you in a crescent formation. Sixteen of them are hologram effect projectors, making quite a light show. Four have speakers attached, so don’t be surprised when your volume is booming.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

They were walking slowly toward the bridge. Crew members helped carry her tails.

All around them, the engines were powering on. The noise echoed in the Hangar 9. They have to shout to be heard.

Beryl side-stepped to avoid stepping on the tails. “Double-check your jet thrusters,” he reminded.

“Already did,” Kyan was putting the mask on. It was a heavyweight on her head. “Wouldn’t be a convincing goddess if I fell from the sky, would it?”

The translator inside her helmet was projecting her words into a different language. A slow and rusty sound.

The Moongate powered on. The boom made Kyan glad for the helmet to dampen the noise.

Kyan stared into the gate. It was swirls of white light and nothing else. She took a deep breath, waved back at her colleagues and gave a thumb-up.

The Traveler took a step into the portal. The drones followed after her.

*********

King Alqovoh stood at the top of the tower. Below him, his royal subjects knelt. The air smelled like a hundred or so flesh burning, or some kind of herb.

The bells chimed in the wind.

“Lit the pyre,” he spoke. His servant cut the string. The embroidered signal flag rolled out. Under the tower, ten soldiers dressed in silver armors held the torches to the pyre.

The King moved his gaze toward the horizon. A crimson cloud was forming, casting shadows over the land of sand. Not an ideal weather for the launch, but the craft’s departure should not stray from the schedule.

Lightning flashed across the sky, making his subjects cower. Still, the King stood tall.

“The ceremony must continue,” he spoke, even as his servants trembled.

That was until the booming thunder rolled over the hills. He felt the presence before he looked up. The sky opened up. A circular ring of light. Energy crackled like a storm. The sharp wind shook even the firmest joints of the tower. He looked up and saw the celestial being descending in the glow of golden light.

His subjects knelt once more. Each of them must have been shivering worse than he was.

“The Gate of Thantonia,” he heard himself muttering in awe. “Just like the Holy Text… ‘a ring of pale fire burns…’ The Goddess has not abandoned Eyaithen, after all.”

“Do not abandon your homeworld.” The Goddess spoke. Her voice was calm, gentle even. The voice echoed through the sand plain. “Those who reach for the stars will not receive my blessings.”

“But—” That was not what the King had expected. He could not bear to look straight at her radiance, as he spoke in rebellion.

“Forgive my bluntness, but we have to search for a new homeland. This world is…We are running out of resources, and our kins—”

One of the Goddess’s lightning orbs struck the ground, causing flames to flare up. The divine act installed fresh fear in his people.

The King tried to keep calm under pressure. According to the Holy Text, the Goddess Yaeshene was not a merciless one. The spell she cast was merely a warning. The explosion did not injure his subjects, even though they were dangerously close.

Indeed, the Goddess seemed to lean down, closer toward him. He risked a glance up.

“I entrusted this land to you. Use it wisely.”

As if it was all in a dream. Yaeshene disappeared into a blinding ray of light. The pyre was out, leaving only ashes and smoke. The King searched the sky, but not a single trace remained.

The ceremonial ground was holding a collective breath. King Alqovoh was in deep thought, then he broke the dead silence.

“Burn it.” He pointed at the craft. “Burn it for the Goddess.”

*********

The Moongate spat Kyan out and powered down. The Traveler fell onto the bridge platform, less ceremoniously than she expected. She stood up, as the machinery whirled. Platforms folded to box her in. The decontamination process began.

“Woah, now that’s a nasty headache.” Kyan’s head felt like it was about to split open, but the pain only lasted for a few seconds.

When she stepped out of the pod, the crew helped her get out of the costume.

She exited the decontamination pod. The project manager and his inner circle was there, waiting. Kyan froze. What did she do to warrant this?

The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied with her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.

“Welcome back, Kyan.” Beryl was among them, also the only one who looked glad she was fine. “The project manager wants you to explain this.”

The tablet he was holding was showing a page from an Eyaithen book. A history book, as far as she could tell. It showed a sketch of something that looked…faintly, like a broken drone.

Oh fuck.

“Only nineteen out of twenty drones came back through the portal.” A crew hurried over and reported. That wasn’t helping.

“A drone flew too close and I accidentally knocked it down. It fell and crashed.” Kyan explained, as professionally as she could manage. “I didn’t know where was my arms with that stupid helmet on.”

“What!” Beryl was scandalized. “That goes against everything a Traveler stands for. You should never leave anything unnecessary behind, ever. Is this affecting the timeline?” He turned toward the analysts.

“Not much. The likelihood of the Eyaithen leaving their planet within the next five centuries is 6%,” the analyst said. “To be honest, their spacefaring technology is shaky at best, at least at this point in time. The likelihood of them discovering the drone’s real use is close to zero.”

“See, I would consider that as a success,” Kyan said. Even as she said it, she realized how much of an excuse it was. However, she was exhausted and sweaty because the suit didn’t have proper ventilation. She just wanted a shower and sleep on her day off. She was going to get a day off after all this, right?

Beryl nodded. “We achieved the goal, no matter how.” For once, he was agreeing with her.

The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied at her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.

“Wanna grab a drink after work?”

“Sure, why not. It’s been a long day, after all.”

*********

In a distant world where the sandstorm washed against the scorched land, fragments of celestial origin sat on a golden pedestal behind the throne. The relic was metallic in color and smooth to touch. The Shards of Divinity, it was called.

According to C.I.C.A.D.A. analysts, the cost of sending an agent to retrieve the broken drone outweighed the risk of humanity’s exposure. So, they left it like that.

It would remain there, for the entirety of the reign of King Alqovoh the Entrusted, and long after.

When Writing is Like Shouting into the Void

I’m, unfortunately, the kind of person who’s easily discouraged.

I could get a brilliant idea in the shower, come from the steam and open the laptop to write, but there’s another open window with the Goodreads page open. I would see a successful author in my genre, then remember the mediocre reviews on my book, and there goes the urge to write.

This year is a year for changing. I’m at a crossroads, having to face the reality of writing. I have to decide if I want to keep it as a passion or if making money sounds like a priority. I don’t know yet, but I’m not hurried to find out.

I’m exploring new things, new genres I haven’t touched before. New formats, like the sort of creative non-fiction I’m writing these days.

Sometimes writing feels lonely. And then that’s all I can feel.

I was once in a writer’s discord group. It was lively for a while. They were the only writing friends I had, at least in recent years. We talked about nothing and everything, but in the end, I realize there was never a true connection.

I know what a true one feels like.

All the way back to elementary school, I used to threaten my friends to write so I can have something to read. I was writing a novel even then. I wanted them to be like me, because the writers were cool. A few of them did, but gave up two pages in.

They preferred to read. Pen on paper in a tiny notebook I got from the nearby convenience store. That tiny notebook got passed around the class under the teacher’s eyes.

Now I haven’t heard a single notification from the group in months. And I haven’t been in contact with any of my childhood friends in years.

Except one, who visited me last summer. By chance, I just got my author’s copy in the mail. I opened the package in front of her. She was pleasantly surprised and thought it was unbelievable.

We met again in Beijing a few months later. Us two, and another friend of ours agreed on a reunion. We sat around in the back of a boba shop in a busy mall, each with a drink in front of us.

She said something I don’t think I can ever forget.

“It’s great that you actually went out to complete your dream.”

She said it in an almost wistful way. It made me stop for a few seconds to think.

We were all lost youth. Didn’t she have a dream she has yet to complete? Plenty of time left.

Also, was publishing a book my dream? I never really treated it as such.

When I was a teenager, I made a bucket list and one of them was “publish a book”. But it was obligatory.

I never intended for it to be just one. To publish more, of course, you have to publish the first one. I wasn’t going to stop, the idea of such is ludicrous. I wasn’t going to stop at just one.

I want to keep writing as long as I’m still alive.

That’s, I guess, is why I’m also easily encouraged. Just writing this article is making me feel better. There’s no profound insight here, just a writer, venting.

I don’t know who invented the phrase “there’s no going back now”, but he sure was an idiot. That’s what heroes say at the start of the third act. That’s not real life.

There’s never a way of going back. Not now, not ever. We can only look forward. Sometimes forward is the void.

Sometimes the abyss stares back.

How to Give Up on Your Work in Progress

This isn’t an article about never giving up

You are a writer and you have countless ideas. You have unfinished drafts too. You are working on something but it’s not working as intended.

You want to give up.

People have written countless blog posts about giving up. Articles are urging that you should finish everything you started, but sometimes we can’t.

So there are also posts about when to give up. Spotting the signs of a disaster in the making, a trainwreck too far gone. You should give up on your work-in-progress (WIP) then.

It’s not easy, not at all. Some may feel giving up is taking the easy way out, since you are refusing to do the work to see it through. Sometimes you know giving up is just as hard, because you realize it’s not working, and you can’t waste your energy on something that doesn’t.

Either way, there should be no judgment. It’s your work and only you can decide when it should end.

Maybe you have put in countless hours into it. You conceived this idea since the day you dreamed it up, and carried it with you ever since.

Understand this: you are basically a god. Not unlike the Lovecraftian deity Azathoth who dreamed up everything, ever. To your creation, whether it be a short story or an epic novel, you can decide where it goes from here.

Perhaps you are just putting it down for the moment. You have other things, deadlines to hit and life gets in the way. Perhaps you have plans to go back to it later.

Great.

Whether the giving-up part is permanent or not, now that you have decided on abandoning your WIP, how should you do it?


Braindump everything related

Go open a blank file and just write. Write down what’s frustrating you. Vent. Write down what makes you stop writing.

After the venting, write down your thoughts on the project as a whole, and your plans for the future. You might not remember it after you move on to the next project. Future you might find this helpful, and find ways to prevent past mistakes.

If it’s a novel, write down all the foreshadowing you have done.

This is important, because it helps you tremendously if you ever want to go back and finish the rest of the story. If you have to sift through your old writing to find the hidden details your younger self thought clever, you will be discouraged. Or worse, forget about the foreshadowing is even there and leave plot holes unresolved.


Never delete anything

Under whatever situations, you should never delete anything related to your writing.

Organize everything you have generated for this work. Your list of ideas, future chapter names, character ideas (even if it’s only a name and a gender).

If they are all separate in your chaotic Notes app (like mine), you can copy and paste them into one giant file called “ideas”, if you are lazy (like me). Or you can clarify from there. Character ideas, plot ideas, and scenes you have written.

Don’t delete any of your writing, and keep them together with your existing chapters. Don’t let them get lost in the sea of apps.


Finish the story —in a few sentences

I’m not telling you to write the next 40,000 words, just one or two sentences.

Every writer should be able to tell their story in a paragraph. Give it a beginning, middle, and end. At least you have one finished story, no matter how short it is.

One day you might realize, a story you loved so much just fade from your memory. It’s the worst feeling, like you lost a part of yourself.

The simple act of writing down a paragraph summary prevents it from happening.

Feel free to elaborate, though.

If it sparks a writing session, just keep writing. Finish that outline. Give each chapter a summary, or something like that.


Archive, and make backups

Even if it disgusts you when you spend one more second looking at it, you have to keep your writing safe.

The same should go to every project you ever work on. Archive your writing. If you usually write offline, make a copy on the cloud, vice versa.

While you are at it, make a few backup copies. External drives are cheap and spacious nowadays.

All your dead projects together on a USB thumb drive won’t cost you too much, certainly not more than the pain if you lose your writing.


So, you have given up on your writing project. Time to move on to the next one. Carry the lessons with you, and you might finish the next one.

While you do that, your abandoned project is safe. Whether or not you want to go back to it someday, your old writing will be waiting.

Don’t Force Yourself to Consume Something You Don’t Enjoy

Your time is more valuable than the money you spent.

Sometimes the things you resonate with come from the least expected places.

I was flipping through a typography book when I saw the following quote, used as a sample text. It’s a step above “lorem ipsum”, it actually carries some meanings.

“What is the cost of War and Peace? The cover price of the Modern Library Classics paperback edition is $15.00, discounted 32% by Amazon to $10.50. But what about the human cost in terms of hours squandered reading a super-sized work of literary fiction? If you can read 400 words permutes, double the average, it will take you 1,476 minutes (24.6 hours) to read War and Peace. Devoting just four hours per day to the task, you could finish the work in a little over six days. If you earn $7.25 per hour, the cost of reading War and Peace will be $184.50.”

— “Thinking with Type” by Ellen Lupton

This chunk of text struck a chord within me.

There is a wealth of content out there. There are more books, films, and music than we are ever going to consume in one life.

I’m not saying you should only fill your life with things you like. It may sound ideal, but when you are a student or learner, you can’t always stay within your comfort zone.

You eat food you hate because they are good for you.

Life is short. If it’s for enrichment and entertainment, don’t waste your time on things you don’t like. It’s simple. You have to be mindful of where your time goes.

Some people force themselves to finish every single book they read. Even when they want to chuck it out of the window 50 pages in. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Sure, you might want to finish that book if you’re a reviewer not want to be uninformed. But if it’s how you spend your afternoon at the beach, why are you torturing yourself instead of doing something you actually might like?

Your time is more valuable than the money you spent.

You can get the money back, sometimes, but never the time you wasted. I have wasted countless hours on YouTube watching mediocre content. I click close whenever the video lost my interest.

Blame it on my short attention span, but it’s still better than wasting more hours sitting through videos I don’t care about one way or another.

Don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter.

The time you waste on things you enjoy aren’t wasted time.

Breathing New Life into Unfinished Drafts

What to do with those 300-word drafts sitting in your files?

If you’re like me, you have a bunch of ideas and drafts saved in your word processor, waiting to see the light of day.

They probably won’t, unless you do something about them.

Some of them are only a few sentences, or even shorter. Some of them might look like this:

“The house was in complete chaos. Murder. Supermarket.”

What does it even mean?

I don’t know. It was probably jotted down in early morning, fragments of a dream I wanted to remember before falling asleep again.

But some of them are longer and more coherent. My mind was fully there when I wrote them, on the train or just before bed. Struck by a burst of inspiration and I needed to write them down.

Hundred-word long snippets, or opening paragraphs of something that looked much longer in your head. A scene to a novel that I have yet to outline. Or, an outline, but a rough one — one with the character named “MC” and “XX”, placeholders of their real names yet to be thought of.

They are not full-length stories yet. I can’t post them anywhere in that state, but they are the ones worth collecting.

It‘s always a good idea to save them somewhere, but what can you really do with them?


Get it to 1000 words

Then it’s a flash fiction, a short story. A 3-minute read. Good for publishing on Medium.

If it’s already a scene, then it’s simple. You flesh out the characters, describe the setting, and then give it an unforgettable ending.

Sure it needs some work before it’s publishable, but at least that’s a complete thing.


Write all dialogs

I do this when I’m lazy.

Imagine this: you are first drafting and heard all about “the shitty first draft”. They all tell you to go fast, type it all out. Mistakes, plot holes and all. You can rewrite them later.

Sure, it works. Guess what, what if you finished your shitty first draft but because it’s so shitty, you don’t want to look at it for another glance?

It’s possible. It happened to me.

When you’re lazy but still want to create, you probably don’t want to be stuck on the second draft forever.

There is something you can do: write all the dialogs first.

No dialog tags, no “he said” “she said”. No description. Just whatever is in the quotation marks. It helps.

Some advantages to this:

  • You have to differentiate who is talking, just by their words alone. Your character will look more fleshed out.
  • You can write very fast. Say, you’re aiming for a 2000-word chapter. You write 800 words of dialog, and that chapter is done. You can move on to the next chapter. 
    You can finish your first draft fast, and it won’t be shitty in the traditional sense. (Disclaimer: the dialog ratio is made up.)
  • Because the work is bare bone, you can do it any time. Waiting in a line? Write a few lines of your characters talking.

Later you can fill in the description.


Summary for a longer work

Sometimes an idea may look like a 80k novel to me, but I’m in the middle of another long project that needed to be done. I couldn’t spare the energy to work on two things at once, because then it usually means both of them will be half-finished.

Sometimes a flashy new idea looks so good it makes you fall in love with writing again, but you have deadlines to hit. It’s time to clear your head, and just brain-dump all your ideas for that project onto the page.

They are the notes for the future, and they aren’t going anywhere once they are on the page.

Tell that story in a few hundred words. It can tide you over until you can work on it again.


No excuses, now. You can start writing today. Create something, finish something.

Look through your old drafts, maybe you can fall in love again.

None of the Stories I Tell are Real

Then do we still need the tears?

Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

Lately, I have been setting my fictions aside and diving into the world of nonfiction. As a young person, I might not have that many life experiences but some of them are rather unique.

I’m not blogging about a strange anecdote tied together with a life lesson to teach. I’m not trying to sell you anything.

I’m just trying to leave a mark on this vast internet.

I tried making listicles — they seem to be popular here — but they usually leave me feeling hollow inside.

That kind of emptiness is special. Only works I truly care about can fill that void. For me, it is fiction.

The sense of creating something out of nothing is real to me. It’s creating worlds. It’s like playing god.


When I was a lot younger, I used to walk past the newspaper stand on the way home and for certain, every week there would be a new issue of the YA magazine I follow. I would pay the smoking old man in scattered cash, and be on my way with the booklet.

The cover was always nice and illustrated by up-and-coming artists. The magazine was full of short stories, genre ranging from literary to science fiction. There were author interviews, too. Those acted as my muse and a glimpse into a future I would like to have.

There were several writers I like, with no one particular being my favorite.

A few months ago, while preparing for a trip abroad, I got distracted by the local social media and went stalking my favorite author when I was a child.

I came across a short poem. I will translate it here.


None of the Stories I Tell Are Real

By Qi Ci

None of the stories I tell are real
Then do we still need the tears?
Secretly saved in the pillow and the desk
Turning imagination bitter, making time rain dry
Then do you still need to use these clear blue drops
To save the blind girl you like?
Then do we still need to believe
Believing the deepest sky, the farthest land
Making the devil quiet, turning the claws soft
Believing in the gods walking past the rooftop
Trying to be the best little kid?
Then do we still need to believe, to journey?
To sail from the front gate to the next street
Still need to light up every single star sky
Light up the dark village?
Tell me, do we still need to set up
The last warm camp of this land?
Then do you still need me to tell you a story
My dear
How you wish to climb down from the bedtime story
And grow up
Leaving these old picture books, and the storytellers
By the dimming yellow light
Left blank, by you


If none of them are real, do they still matter? The stories I tell are just that, stories. They rarely expose real-world problems and never fix them, won’t solve climate change, can’t bring us one step closer to world peace forever. They aren’t even good utopias, the kind that allows an escape into fantasy.

Why do I still write if no one is watching? It feels like a solo ballet in an empty theater, and the spotlight is a gaze of mediocrity.

Why are there still stories when there are more than enough in the world?

Because the authors care. Because I care.

Because you do, too.


© Aurelia Wong 2019

We Flew All The Way To Rushmore

We flew all night, all the way to Mt. Rushmore. I landed on Lincoln’s head, stumbling until I knelt down on a flatter surface. It was slippery with morning dew, and I was spent.

Cold wind still filled my lungs as I tried to even my breathing. My feathers were all ruffed like a backyard chicken’s, but I had stopped taking good care of them long before that day.

I turned my head when I heard Olivia’s landing. She was graceful, riding the wind, gliding down and folding up her wings as soon as her feet touched the ground. Then, a breeze hit us. I heard her cursing as she wavered in the gust. I had already slipped and fallen off the human president’s face, crashed into his nose, and tumbled down the hill.

Before I recovered, the wind wooshed behind me. Olivia hauled me up from the ground.

“What the hell was that?” She was mad at me. “We just flew for five hours straight, what’s the point?”

“You didn’t have to follow me,” I said, smacking her with my left wing.

“I thought you were ditching Wind Physics for, I don’t know, a bite in town. But you kept flying like a psycho, all the way here.”

“That’s because you’re too slow to catch me,” I laughed, getting up to my feet.

“Where is ‘here’ anyway?” She crossed her arms.

“Mount Rushmore,” I pointed at the four heads carved into the mountain.

She turned to look, the sight startled her. “Those aren’t natural.”

“No, they aren’t.”

“You flew five hours to see four human heads made of stone?”

“I didn’t plan to stop here.”

“Then where are you going?”

“Relax, I’m not running away. Just need some time away, that’s all.”

“You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

“The sun is coming up,” I commented. Rays of gold would soon engulf us and the ground down below. If I squinted, I could see the tourist center. I turned to look at Olivia, she was toggling with her wrist screen. “You aren’t going to report me, are you?”

“If I were to do that, I’d have done it 300 miles earlier,” she scrolled, “And my wearable is running out of battery. Hey — Where’re you going?”

The park was about to open. We couldn’t be here when the tourists arrived with their cameras. The Director wouldn’t like viral photos of a winged person on the internet, and I knew Olivia was camera-shy. Our existence was supposed to be classified.

“Alright, are we going back?” She arrived next to me, combing through her feathers absentmindedly.

“Yes, but it’s also getting hot.” I didn’t like flying close to the sun, and it was almost summer. “We can fly in the evening. Don’t you want to see the world, just for one day? I’m sick of spending my life in the hangar.”

“People will be looking for us — ”

“We’ll go back at night. Promise.”

As I walked down the neat pavement with all the state flags hanging from both sides, I could see a gift shop sign from there. We couldn’t just walk down the street in broad daylight.

“Ugh, fine. It’s not like I’m the one with a disciplinary warning.”

“That was an accident.” I didn’t like the reminder, but I loved being her amusement. “Let’s not speak of that ever again.”

We walked down the pavement with our wings folded. A few employees were arriving, getting ready for the day. One of them opened the door to the gift shop and went back inside.

I slipped in, grabbing two souvenir sweaters from the shelf. They were the largest size.

“What the hell are you doing?” Olivia hissed at me. I tore off the price tags and threw one of the sweaters into her arms.

In the public restroom, I took off the complex elastic band from my forearm and used to it bind my wings to my back. Olivia did the same but she was slower. I could get it done in a minute. She was the good kid who seldom left the hangar. I was surprised she had tagged along for so long.

“Isn’t this nice?” An hour later, we were walking on the side of a mountain highway. Cars sped past us, their drivers weren’t giving us more than a glance.

“You can see the city from here.”

“Would be better if we can glide down there,” Olivia said, “That’s faster than walking.”

“You want to see the city?”

“Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? If you want to see these trees — ” she gestured all around us. “We have plenty of these back home.”

I kept quiet, not wanting to mention the fact that she just called the hangar “home”.

“I feel like…” I hesitated, “I felt a pull…to come here. Like something is drawing me here.”

Instead of laughing at me, or worse, ask “what do you mean”, she didn’t say anything at first. I regretted walking at the front. I couldn’t see the reaction on her face.

“Hmm,” she finally said, “I wonder if it’s your human part or the bird?”

She was right. I never knew what kind of bird DNA they put in my body. My wings were tawny and white. Those colors were too common to really tell the species. And the scientists won’t tell us. Either they thought it was useless information, or they mixed so many things together they forgot which was which.

Could my bird species be native to South Dakota? Was that the reason to come here, some sort of natural instinct, living on as a part of me? Or…my history as a human had something to do with this.

I wrecked my brain and could not find an answer. None of us could remember our time before the hangar. Some of us were even born there and never ever left. I always liked to think of myself as the former. Someone with a history, with a past, a back story.

Yet it was no use to me now.

“Let’s head back,” I said, “That way we won’t miss the curfew twice.”

“But didn’t you say it’s dangerous in broad daylight?”

“It’s alright. We’ll fly high, close to the sun,” I looked at her, before tearing off my disguise and doing a running take off. “It’s not a problem at all.”

Bright Decay is here

My debut novel is now live on Amazon. You can purchase a paperback now or preorder the ebook edition, which is coming out on September 16, 2019.

Bright Decay is the origin story of a female superhero who can control time. It’s the first book of a trilogy and can be read as standalone.

Everyone knows there’s something off about Skylar, including herself. She wades through high school being normal, but ever since the disappearance of her only friend, her life spirals out of control. Humans with uncommon abilities live closer than she thinks. 

Skylar wants nothing to do with the government-sponsored superheroes that inhabit her world, yet a near-death experience makes her one of them: she can stop time with a thought. The entire world, frozen in stasis, can become her playground.

In the city of Duskim, she has to adjust to her new reality. Her powerful ability can’t save her from past regrets, though it attracts the attention of all kinds. If she wants a rank among the heroes, she must stop the resurfaced terrorists threatening to burn down everything she knew.

She may be powerful. She may be powerless. Who is she when it matters the most?


BRIGHT DECAY on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45032011

BRIGHT DECAY on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1093784865/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_tyXdDb89CXJFN


Want a sneak peek? Right now, you can read the first three chapters for free!

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Learn more about the World of Clepsydra here


Support me on Patreon! There are exclusive short stories and content on there if you are interested.

Strange Days Are Good For Being Inspired

Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash

It was January in California. I was living the low life. Sleeping twelve hours a day, waking up at noon. Doing work and then not. I ate very little, then a lot.

I went through whole days without talking to anyone. Even in our small room, my roommate and I barely exchanged hellos. I was surviving on peanut butter and instant noodle, the latter being the luxurious instant pho instead of ramen. I was looking at my electronic devices all day, watching other people achieving their dreams and not feeling a thing.

I wasn’t creating contents like I was supposed to do. I wasn’t creating anything. My thoughts still raced, but I was always tired, always too disappointed at the world to put anything down.

Among what friends I have, only one person still text me. And when he asked me if I want to go out to eat, I responded three hours too late. I was living in the confine of my room, biding time until the spring comes, waiting for a change to give me the reason to be irritated again.

I was in bed all day, under layers of blankets with the AC on cold. I was invincible at the safety of my room. I was in bed until 6 pm. I was invincible but only somewhat.

I crawled up and changed my sweatpants to a pair of jeans, put on a jacket and head out for a night lecture. Artists often visit my school throughout the school year, and now I was taking an easy class where all I had to do was sit in the lectures twice a week and get easy credits. Might be waiting the tuition I paid, but really I just want to get things over with.

The winding corridors were empty. The only sound was my footsteps. For once I was walking without my headphones on. Truly listening to the winds howling and all the creaking noises, the people talking in a faraway place or just behind the door.

The lecture hall was dimmed so I didn’t have to worry about seeing people’s faces. I signed in and sat down at the back row. I was on my phone, pretending to have something more important than this until the lecturer announced that he was ready.

The next two and a half hours was such an out-of-body experience I almost felt bored among all the strangeness.

The artist was one of those good speakers we rarely get, otherwise it could have killed me with secondhand awkwardness. Instead, he was brilliant and easygoing.

He mainly did installation works, worked with all sorts of material and sound. He took us through his life’s works in various types. A room-sized installation that looked like an escape room inhabited by aliens? Check. An outdoor opera through a hole in the chimney? Check.

I was always so cynical about fine art, never finding the point of it all. Told a friend that I’m not the type of person to feel emotions when I look at art and he was genuinely shocked. I truly didn’t.

Who’s gonna fall for this? I was a narcissist when it came to creativity. They could be producing masterpieces and still, I thought mine was better.

Of course, mine was better. I loved my world better than his rant about a fantasy world map he drew. Even though I never drew a map as complexed as his. Mine was better because it was all in my head, where they sat pristine in gestation, never tainted.

In the darkness, everything made sense. That was when I realized it couldn’t stay that way.

Everything in our headspace is always better. Every story sounds better in our own head. In my head, I won all the arguments, while in real life I only smiled faintly. Under the dimmed lights and having watched the improv performance the artists spontaneously did, we clapped in hesitation.

When it was over and I walked out, knowing the cafeteria would only have leftover food. I had a slice of pepperoni pizza for dinner the third time that week. Red-ish oil glimmered under the heating lamp.

I sat alone in the emptied dining hall, listening to the echoing sound. I knew at that moment, I needed to write something. For the first time in months, I felt the urge to write. I was writing before, but it was like a routine of typing words, and I would drop off the face of the earth for another few days, then came back trying to pick up the threads. It wasn’t working. I needed to write something else.

I was walking back home with my hands in my pocket, shivering all the while. I recently picked up an interest in the introspective personal essay. Am I telling a story? Or simply dumping my mind’s content on the keyboard? I started a first draft that later became this.

I don’t know, I don’t know. This feels like a journal entry.

Yeah, I do this very often. I get inspired by others quite easily. I got epiphanies a few times a month. The weightless feeling I was addicted to, the sense that you can do anything, you can accomplish anything. My mind turned into a different beast at night, or maybe I’m romanticizing the darkness.

I was back to my bed and blankets again.

I turned on my nearest screen. Turned on some soft hip hop. 
An old friend was online. The certain kind of friendship: know her in real life, friended her on social media. Never talk to me, never texted me, never liked my posts. Last time we met was five years ago in a dingy subway station. You know, one of those old friends.

She posted something, saying that she was crying because one of her favorite authors had passed away. We read some of his work in a grade school textbook, but it’s not an author I care too much about.

She thought otherwise. She posted a diary entry of four years ago when she wrote about being inspired by his work she just read. With the caption, “when I grew up, you’re gone.”

A sudden sadness came over me. Like it often did.