Books: Singapore Stone- Fiction

The Imperial Cloak Series

The Singapore Stone

with a selection of

SHORT STORIES

FICTION BENDING REALITY

Lady-Lotus Ponds and -boat

The Singapore Stone

Read along as I explore locations and source material and events with imaginary and often real interactions in developing the adventure and challenges of shaping the story.

You can also read extracts and enjoy stimulating  photography and video as I travel through unusual situations and locations in my research.

"The Imperial Cloak" Series

The Singapore Stone

Chapter One

Sassafrass Melbourne Victoria Australia

Power Source- Imminent Disaster.

Nick Campbell studied the fresh sepia coloured watermark of drip stains increasing after each mouthful of coffee that dried on the cup’s rim. Could one tell who took the draught?
He recalled Megan lifting the chalice to her lips. She had thrown her head back as she swallowed the elixir without hesitation.  Could his reluctance be used to read him? Tell his character, or his reluctance to invoke his agonizing dreams and needs? Expose his guiltiness, innocence, or even worse –his mediocracy. What was it about these traces that he felt compelled to delete?  With an imperceptible lick of his thumb an innocuous brush across it he cleared the evidence — accusing, conclusive and sufficient for imprisonment. For now he’d eluded conviction. Eliminated the trail from the pursuers. The clatter of hooves —that still echoed through his head— grew silent; the riders with the howling bloodhounds, noses pressed to the ground had lost the trail.
He remembered again the scream that shrilled across the heavens and split the air. It was the last time he’d seen the girl. He had to continue his search. He could not sleep easy until he could resolve the puzzle. His eyes returned to the cup. He picked it up from the balustrade. The drink had gone cold. “Best served cold.” What was that quote? “Revenge.” Who is it that is out for revenge? The dark forces? Karma? Let’s not get into superstition.

He’d woken in a fearsome sweat. Felt the tiny spears slicing into his skin. Each barrage raising his electric charges. Firing his nervous system to a jangling crescendo of cicadas shrilling through his brain. Every centimetre of his body like a high voltage transmission grid.

He recalls the court inquest.
  He picked up the folders and gauged the distance to the door — his escape route across the stream. Except for the jury that sat in judgement. With knives and guns harbored beneath their garments. Is the girl in the stall, the pretty girl in the stall –still taking notes. It suddenly dawned on him. There was no ugly women in his world. Was this a clue to the deception?  Had he formed or was it them that had constructed an artificial world and environment? He tried to recall if he had taken an hallucinatory substance. The fact that he couldn’t remember likely meant he had.
He awoke again in a cold sweat. He had started daydreaming.

 A pause in the conversation raging around him. All eyes were on him. He tried to replay the last words he had uttered. Had they asked another question of him? Waited for reply?  He recalled nothing –his thoughts were far away. The girl who scratched at the paper was looking at him waiting. There was no jackpot here today.  Expectation for an answer was futile. More dead ends unless he broke the blood pact? Ten years was an eternity.

His bare feet sank into the deep pile carpet as he rose from the lounge. He felt the smooth softness and slid his feet across the surface. The surprise of the silkiness —and thoughts of Megan came flooding back.

The carpet a warm burgundy, soft on his eyes. The mood the room gave him was not one that he wanted right now. He wanted to wallow in his sorry state.  He stood up quickly and strode to the glass door, slid it ajar, paused, then thrust it wide open. In bare feet stepped onto the rough unfinished concrete deck. Beyond the roofs, through the hazy smog he could see Melbourne city’s skyline far in the distance. The last months he was preoccupied with getting the prototype’s flaws eliminated.
– and now the garden screamed for attention; grass creeping up the paling fences and vines enveloping the native trees. When would he ever get  the chance to spend a day, more likely a week, as he gazed around at the unpruned fruit trees. At least I’ve cut the grass. Gulping the last of the half cold drink, he left it on the flat top railing and vaulted over, dropping  to the lawn like he used to do so easily. That now seemed years ago. His landing was awkward on the wet grass and he winced with the jolt to his knee. Limping slightly he reached to the handle of the roller door and reefed it up. It rolled easily and shuddered above his head as it hit the stoppers. The floodlight inside the garage lit up first time for years illuminating another cleanup ahead for him.
Retrieving the lawnmower he had left out overnight he pushed it into the garage, crunching a number of snails under his bare feet. He paused and wiped his feet in the long grass.

 Showered and changed he thought again of Megan as he dodged the shallow puddles on the way to the hotel. He planned on drinking to oblivion. His mind was filled with the sensations of their last time together in the shower as he soaped her curves, with the memory still excitingly intense.

He’d inherited the house, and while that was fine, but with the congested traffic it took time to get out here after work. Time to sell–or lease?

Chapter Two

Megan Farhston

 Return to Kruunalber    

Three and a half hours away by car…
Megan pulls to the kerb at Candarrak on return to Two Rivers Coastal City Kruunalber.

She’s wearing a bright purple top, sunglasses. Confident upward tilt of her head, tight black slacks. The high heels she was wearing on the drive to Geelong, were changed to slip-ons after the steak sandwich she had purchased at the take-away. Casual confident walk. Hair now again tied high in a ponytail. The other half of the sandwich went in the bin before crossing the road.

Tiny starlings chirp under the oak tree that is bursting with pale new growth. A surprisingly mild day for early spring, the warm breeze gusts pleasantly shimmering the pastel leaves. The rocky outcrops on the mountain peak stand soaring boldly against the sky, blue with dark wispy patches of cloud that drift high above. A large cannon, its shiny but age-pitted barrel, is pointing towards the hills as if awaiting new conflicts and threats.

Entering the shop Megan is drawn to the postcards where she selects one of a craggy mountain peak set against an intensely blue sky. She takes it and a brochure with a local travel map to the counter where she waits for a child to carefully select and pay for his sweets. She fans her face with the card as she stands with her breath quickening. She orders a cappuccino. The machine gurgles steam in the jug as Megan inspects the ready-made sandwiches.
‘Sugar?’ asks the woman behind the counter.
‘No thanks,’ resisting the urge, ‘Are these fresh?
‘Yes love, they’re fresh.’
Megan’s eyes are drawn to the cakes. “I’ll have a vanilla slice– maybe.’
‘Sandwich too…?’
‘Oh… no… just the slice… and the card thanks.’
‘Safe travel. Hope they’ve opened the highway again. Terrible thing it was …just terrible. Never happened that far from the mountains. Still it had the cover of the gully. You seen the paper?’

                                                        * * * *  
She shivered as she recalled the grainy image of the black panther on the newspaper at the news-stand in the city, but regained her composure and nodded. She paid the woman and quickly left the shop. The door banged behind her and she lost her grip and fumbled to grab the bag with her cake. Outside the shop she stopped for a moment. What the hell do I think I can do? This is all totally crazy. Her thoughts went back to the day she was stabbed. Stabbed was a bit of an overstatement she’d agree. But the strange artifact that spiked her foot in that lonely shack where she’d taken shelter was the start of all her problems.  All she could remember after that was waking up on an odd lump of island with rebellious youths who added to her confusion by abandoning and leaving her to drown. She was swimming, struggling to breath gasping for air …
‘Miss… Miss…Hello. Is this yours? You okay?’’
She spins back to earth and reality.
It was the child who had been buying the sweets. He was holding up the paper bag containing her slice. ‘
‘…Oh… oh, yes… thanks.’ she mumbled and she took it from him.
‘It’s a bit squashed,’ said the boy. ‘Sorry about that.’
‘My fault,’ said Megan, ‘I wasn’t concentrating…’
‘You sure you’re okay?

 * * * * *

Megan shakes her head, and taking the sugar fix and polystyrene cup crosses the road to the park, stepping back as a Nissan utility brakes hard, turns with a squeal of tyres in front of her and comes to a dusty stop under the trees. Autumn leaves swirl upwards. 
She wonders if she is too late, but didn’t want to question the woman in the shop. The reason for her visit, she’d keep to herself.

A young couple with their children who tumble from their car, are drawn to the gaudy playground equipment. It is harsh and invasive to the landscape but beckons the restless youngsters.  The woman stares at Megan as she passes. Megan, unwilling to draw attention to herself or enter into conversation, keeps her eyes on her coffee.

They should be safe enough now it’s fed, Megan thinksShe wants to remain inconspicuous. She tries to relax and sitting, begins to read the brochure of the attractions in the area and turns it over to study the map. She reaches into the side pocket of her bag and pulls out the transparent sheet of tracing paper and lays it over the map. It’s a different scale so she lifts it away and compares the relationships between the points. She feels goose bumps on her neck and slowly raises her head to look through strands of her loosely tied hair. Between the escaped wisps that dangle forward over her face she sees the woman is still looking in her direction.

 

The mother holds her daughter’s hand as she approaches. Megan feels her icy cold eyes staring at her. She looks familiar.
‘Get away from here,’ says the woman.
The man calls to her and the woman stops and turns back, choosing a swing for herself beside the child as the father in jeans and white tee-shirt propels the boy into the air higher as he screeches in delight. The child’s eyes light up as he sees the cannon beyond trees. Trailing his feet he slows the swing and sprawls in the sand. His father grabs at the chains before the seat can strike his raised head. Unaware of the near miss the youngster regains his feet, scattering sand as he runs toward the war relic. His sister breaks free from her mother’s hold and darts after him.
Megan, returns her attention to the map, finishes tracing her journey ahead with her finger and places a number of red dots. She circles an area with her red highlighter.
The artifact is burning below her throat. She ignores the heat. She knows she has time. She watches the family unaware that the pen has slipped to the lawn. Folding the map, she pushes it into her bag, reaches into her blouse and lifts the pendant away from her skin. She won’t run. They can’t frighten her. She walks to the swings and leaves her bag and shoes propped on the sand where she can watch them. She needs to plan carefully. The photos are inside the bag. She mustn’t lose them again. She picks up the bag and returns to the swing.
She sits where the children’s mother had been a few moments earlier then tilts her head sideways and reaches to the back of her head removing her headband. She tosses her head and her dark hair cascades forward.
She watches the road and sees the car as the heat from the gem almost scalds her fingers. She bears the pain. Pushes it away below conscious thought.

She will use him. He is unsuspecting. She fastens her eyes in his direction… He is done… Unwary of the geography of the gameplay. The pendant cools. It’s her duty. She accepts it is not her will. Her plan has to be followed. The shadows move closer. She knows they are here. A gust of wind stirs the yellowed leaves.

The sky has become bluer, the wind warmer.
It is still and calm.

She puzzles for a moment and not finding the pen, finishes her drink.
She recites her unwritten thoughts,
‘Dear Anna, Sorry that I’ve neglected you.
…He knows I took it. It belongs to her sister.
Someone is watching. I have to go.
Bye for now,
Meg.

In the car Megan checks the mirror and freshens her lipstick. A fleck of chocolate from the cappuccino rests upon her top lip. She licks it away. Remembers Nick and resolves that she can’t talk with him yet. She scratches through the glovebox and finds another pen.
She glances in her rear mirror. Is it the car that she feared was following her earlier parked near the derestriction signs? Surely they wouldn’t recognise her in Anna’s Porsche. Well if it was they’d have to run her to ground.
The cannon points towards the sky as Megan Fahrston drops the card in the slot, returns to her car and accelerates away from the mailbox.

Ants swarm over the vanilla slice on the park bench. It is missing one bite and the tilted pink icing layer has a dark spot.

****

Singapore: The Asian Civilisations Museum

Locating the stone.

Nick folded the map back on itself to a manageable size with the area he searched roughly in the centre. His temples trickling sweat and eyes smarting from the shiny glare of the glossy paper he stepped to the shade of a nearby cafe awning. Looking up the co-ordinates of the map, he ran his finger across and discovered the location of the museum beside the Singapore River.  

 His walk brought him to an outdoor cafe. The waiter was busy shuffling dishes as a group of patrons were just leaving. Grabbing an orange drink from the fridge of the cafe he swallowed most of it in one draught before catching the eye of the waiter who nodded in the direction of the cashier who had just emerged from the shop. He took the note Nick offered and passed him the change.

The street emerged with more restaurants and cafes lined along the river. A brightly coloured tour boat with its motor rumbling, the props  churning water, was loading passengers through its divided bow while held against the promenade. Nick studied the map again. A group of elderly tourists who had disgorged from a nearby coach wobbled past him to board the boat, assisted by the steadying hand of a jovial crewman. Nick pushed through them and followed the curved walkway south past the souvenir shops and cafe tables set under umbrellas. The drink he’d just swallowed surfaced again producing a layer of moisture from brow to navel.

Asian Civilisations Museum

  After passing several buildings, a large classical grey stone structure came into view. Wiping the perspiration from his face he read its name portrayed in simple concrete letters high on the roofline. ‘Asian Civilisations Museum.’  Eager to unearth the answer to the mystery Nick quickened his steps past the trimmed shrubs with brief relief from the heat offered in scraps of shadow and on turning the corner sighted the ornate arches of the entrance.

Gaining entry into the cool and vast elegant foyer, he soon discovered and read information directly relating to the myths surrounding the Singapore Stone. Slowly turning the ring bound card pages of a display book he was amazed that what he had seen in the scroll found in the mansion on the Taarum River was here illustrated in cartoon-like full colour. Sensing a woman waiting behind him, he stepped aside leaving the book open.  ‘I beg your pardon. I wonder where this stone is now?’ he asked her.

She was a history teacher and informed him that:

‘…one portion of the stone now resides in the the Singapore Museum not far from here.’ She continued, ‘…two or three other parts of the stone had been taken elsewhere many years ago, probably India— Calcutta, I believe,’ but shrugging her shoulders, added that she ‘…had no idea where they were now.’

 She said she didn’t know where he would find further information, or even if they did still exist.

Nick slowly turned the large card-thick pages reading the stories relating to the stone. Were these mythical tales based on long blurred facts? Real events so profoundly altering history that human nature could only comprehend the truth by mythical recounting. The page with an image of four sages floating in space struck a powerful surge of recall back to Taarum Island.

Continue

‘There is something else I would like to show you. Come with me,’ she said.

Nick startled, took a deep breath, and followed.

He walked with her as she pointed to other artifacts before directing his attention to one particular glass case.

An intricate jar or cask with a neatly fitted lid sits in prominent display. She tells Nick that she once worked here cataloguing casks such as this one. She tells him, ‘Further information relating to the casks can be learnt from…’ She paused and wrote an address. ‘…Visit this place and ask for Mr Yu Liang.’

 

Her phone rings and she is called away. The conversation on the phone becomes heated. She appears to be trying to calm the caller and then quickly terminates the call. ‘I’ll have to go now,’ she said to Nick.

‘Where did you say the remaining stone is held now?’

She gave him brief directions, but suggested he ask at the desk for a map of the area as she rushed off, her footsteps echoing along the hallway.

 

Could he be close to finding the missing piece he required? The fragment that could be used to complete the puzzle? He was beginning to understand the Chinese intellect’s caution of playing it cool.

But how could he convince the museum to allow him access to the stone with the scrutiny necessary? And the lost section? Was it needed? He almost ran from the building and he smiled at the receptionist repainting her nails as he resumed a more dignified walk though the foyer. He left the building descending the stone steps two at a time.

On the steaming streets with the directions given to him by the woman, he jogged in the direction of the Singapore Museum. Fifteen minutes later, despite one wrong turn and dead end, he slowed to a walk, remembering he’d forgotten to ask for a map. He retreated from the sweltering sun into a curio shop where he bought can of Solo soft-drink. In a display rack he found a street locality map. The guy at the counter scrawled with a red textra marker directions across his map.

 

Discovery at The Singapore National Museum

At last he found the impressive domed building. 

He inspected it. Ah, so this was what Todd was telling him about. Not as large as he expected it was only about two feet across and less so in height. The Sanskrit-like letters carved in the stone made no sense to him. Peering at it intently he followed the shape of the letters. He could make out the letters ‘b’ in lowercase and a simple uppercase ‘G’ that was similar to English. ‘Maybe that’s a lowercase “e”.’ He muttered to himself. Even if he could read the language he realised that trying to understand it would be futile. He spent about fifteen minutes wondering what secret this stone possessed –or at least this portion of the original stone.

There was no one else in the room.  Great, he thought. Moving up close to it he unclipped the cover over his camera lens and because of the glass protection, to get the most accurate image decided to do a manual focus without flash. There was just enough light and with a steady hand he’d avoid any blurring.

  An attendant walked in doing her rounds. To Nick she looked like she was pulled in from her usual work as a matron at arms in a prison. She shook her head firmly, waved a finger then pointed toward a sign.  

 “No photography allowed!” In bold print.

  Damn. Closing the case, he lowered the camera and swung it on the strap to his hip as she marched on into the next room.

 

New Chapter

 

 Nick moved on to the next display where other artifacts were laid out in cabinets. With sudden inspiration, he went back to the display of the stone again and tried to interpret some of the letters, but with no better success.  Then he remembered the Genevan translator he’d met in Sydney. Grant Keasch-Rousset. “I imagine he’d have some clues to deciphering the ancient script,” unaware he was thinking aloud.

  Another visitor to the museum, a man in a dark suit, replied, “Excuse me? Many have attempted – even the memorable Sir Stanford Raffles–  and failed. In truth it’s probably only some carved ramblings of a madman.”

The guy intently focussed his camera and took a couple of close- up flash photos of the stone, turning the dark room into a solarium.

 

New Chapter

 

Nick was blinded by the flash and starbursts…. As the room returned to normal again Nick pointed to the sign forbidding photos. The guy just shrugged and wandered off.

Surprised by his nonchalant attitude Nick hurried from the room before the attendant might arrive, drawn by the flash, thinking he that had ignored her. He pushed his camera further behind his back, and regretted not wearing a jacket for cover.

Feigning interest in some crumbling relics and coins displayed in the next room he read for a time of dates and events associated with them until a brilliant idea struck him.

He listened for the approach of the guard, or anyone else. He took his mobile from his pocket. It was an early Nokea flip-phone he kept that held important numbers that he hadn’t transferred to his new smart-phone. The new smart-phone’s battery had smartly drained dead flat within thirty minutes. It was now in his bag. He planned on getting it replaced at the first chance. …and a new charger as he’d left it still plugged into the wall at the airport when he’d run to catch the plane in Darwin. His old phone would reliably rise to the occasion. He pressed the shortcut button on the side to set it to camera mode.

All was quiet.

Strolling back into the room again with the phone pressed to his ear and faking conversation with ernest concentration, he stood sideways to the display as he aimed the lens at the stone..

He pressed the shutter button, continued his immersion on an apparent call and bumped into the buxom woman at the door.

‘I wonder if you would mind coming with us sir.’ she said and motioned to a man in uniform behind her. He seized the phone from Nick’s hand and passed it to the frowning woman who had admonished him earlier.

‘What?’

The woman pointed at the sign, her lips pursed and eyes gleaming in victory.

No photographs allowed, stated the sign in bold type. It loomed bigger now.

‘But what about that other…?’

Ignoring his protests, the attendant indicated the smaller print below.  The placard stated: Management reserves the right to confiscate photographic equipment used without permission in this display.

Nick recalled a sign at a beach resort he’d seen among a friend’s amusing photos: Beware or monkey take your belonging. He gave a half smile.

You will not be amused. This is a serious offense.

‘Yeah I understand,’ said Nick.

‘You can get it back tomorrow after we have a technician delete the unauthorised images’ said the man beside her.

Revisit The National Museum of Singapore

Ring-a-ring around Rosy

Nick knew from his last visit where the stone was displayed. Expecting Roussett-Jones who had flown in from Switzerland would meet him here and commence the translation, he was shocked to see a display of ancient coins had replaced it in the room and the stone was nowhere in sight. Had Julian masterminded removal of the prize?

Spotting an attendant in the adjoining room he approached him.

‘No, it’s not in this original location,’ he told Nick. ‘Now you can see it in a new display down that corridor and on the left.

Nick checked his watch. Grant was late. He might have been held up in the early work traffic. Or maybe he had already gone on to the new display. He turned back to the guy he’d just spoken to and was told that he was the first visitor this morning. ‘It is still early,’ he said peering through to the empty foyer,’ Go on, and if he arrives I’ll send him through. There is plenty to keep you entertained.’ 

They danced around him, ancient shadowy figures, displaced from their refuge, disturbed from their position and held by the gears of eternity, challenging him and his intent. He recalled the Melbourne exhibit and the lingering shadows. Had they followed him onto the plane? Friendly figures behind, urging him on. Others darted to and fro in front. Distorted faces were pushed aside, opening the way. Urgent, jumbled messages skimming his mind chattering voices raised in repelling attitudes. But still he was drawn on through the haunted corridor.

With his handful of brochures, he continued on through a long tiled hallway, his footsteps echoing. Nick wondered if museums and galleries were specially designed to give the eerie feeling of awakening dozing spirits that tolerate or often resent our intrusion into their twilight world?  He glanced around and self-consciously raised a hand to the back of his head where the hairs had suddenly risen and prickled as he felt an unexplained presence watching him. The silent eyes hidden in small glass domes above monitored his every step. Was that all? The watchers expecting him.

Uphill the floor devoured his footsteps. His energy sapping, the air thick as molasses. Sweating in the effort. Out of focus swimming vision. Eerie light filters down, menacing. His steps trembled the floor as the gleaming tiles seemed to shatter under his each forward step. Had he violated some eternal tango? Don’t look back. An echo in his brain. Threatening low whispers circled around him.

Stone Exhibit

To the display presenting many antiquities. ‘Do you have a ticket to this exhibition?’ asked the guy at the door.

I hadn’t realised… Do I have to go all the way back to the foyer desk?

‘Up there.’ He pointed towards a ramp leading towards a ticket dispensing machine, ‘you can get a ticket. ‘Credit cards are okay if no have cash.’

Nick started to select. Adult, All special displays…

‘Maybe I help,’ said a soft female voice behind him. ‘Today, entry free all exhibitions. But need ticket.’

It was a woman in a dazzling kimono. She tore a ticket from the booklet she was carrying. ‘You still pay get talk on headset…’

‘…But the guy at the door…’

She threw a quick glace in the doorman’s direction. ‘He new here. Headset… I give free…use here one.’ Retrieving a player from a box at the end of the counter and unwinding the leads, she handed it to him.’ Plug dicky, not good, give jiggle. Come okay. Have problem bring back.’

‘Is it necessary? Maybe I can read the titles?’ Nick realised he had used some difficult words and was about to simplify his question.

‘They are essential.’ She smiled at her display of competent English while nodding and hands pressed together in a wai.

Slightly puzzled by her burst of clear English, Nick wondered her origin.

He wondered if he should linger for a bit until Grant was here. He turned back to her. ‘If someone arrives… my friend…

Waving in the direction of the exhibition, she said, ‘ I take care… Go now… hurry. Time no wait.’

He was granted entry into the Ancient Singapore display and avoided explaining the free entry day to the doorman. He would wonder later. Was it indeed the manifestation of Saraahl. 

Having entered the recently built and inspired construction, with many levels having branching off points leading from the circling ramp as it descended from a height equivalent to three stories.

Entering the first part of the display and listening to the taped messages with the corresponding prompts and numbers displayed on the floor…

He continued on through the various levels and was surprised to see the Singapore Stone or a portion of it displayed in the dark room illuminated dramatically by lights.

He had expected it would be protected by a clear perspex.

Good-day said a voice behind him. So glad you’re on time.