Kristine Ong Muslim
We drove as far as our bus’s limited fuel could take us. This time, my comrade Jackal was the designated driver. Running on fumes and eventually conking out, our yellow bus—or whatever guise our vehicle had taken this time—managed to take us closer to our destination. We herded our respective wards from the backseat, all ninety-two of them, no longer flailing as they were busily growing accustomed to their new forms, their new forms that were at last deprived of a physical body and saddled with pure consciousness, a transformation that had taken the fight out of everyone.
The clearing was as wide and as windy as the last time we delivered our latest haul. The surrounding vegetation, being all plastic, did not rustle in the wind. The illusion of trees in the background was still convincing. The ground, its underside bolstered by lifetimes upon lifetimes of excess baggage that had to be shed off at this point in the journey, was unyielding, steady, unnaturally leveled throughout.
“Is this it?” one of them asked. It was the bearded forty-two-year-old man collected from the gleaming metropolis of Abu Dhabi. He was the last one to emerge from the backseat, the one who, for many years, fancied himself a creative type, a tortured poet, so he churned out banalities and spouted off rehashed Kierkegaard quotes as if they were his own.
“Oh, no,” one of us saw fit to reply. “We still have a long way to go. But we walk from here on, past the fake trees in the distance to the mirage at the end of the clearing. There shall be a lake there somewhere. It’s where you’re supposed to wash yourselves clean.”
“Clean of what?”
“Clean of—of what you are.”
“Ha, this is all a dream,” a dark-haired lady chimed in. “I’m going to wake up any minute now.”
Jackal laughed hard and snorted in disgust, “Dream on, lady.”
“Come on,” I said to our latest herd of ninety-two. “Start walking. This is going to be a long day.” And it was, just like before, but not for long.
The Admiral’s Not-So Tulip
What looks like and affects the swagger of a plant may not actually be a plant. Take for instance the illustration created sometime in 1637 by the erstwhile Admiral van der Eijck, a rare species of what appeared like your typical tulip was shown, its dimensions drawn to scale. Exploring for a few days the relatively remote trade route in a small Mediterranean island, the Admiral and some members of his crew chanced upon a field of these tulips near where they were encamped, eager for dry land. He took out his sketch book, drew on the spot, and did the rest of the coloring that same night.
This specimen may look to you like something out of Kingdom Plantae, but that’s only because you aren’t looking hard enough. Move the page close to your face. Closer. There. Now, peer in closely at the underside of the red blossom, the point where the bud attaches to the stem. For the botanically inclined, this is the region marked by the receptacle and the peduncle. Notice the almost imperceptible bulge, as well as the hint of movement, something akin to the tremors of chewing with the mouth closed. Although this tulip obviously lacks a conventional mouth, there’s still a part of it you haven’t seen up close—the one under the soil, the one masquerading as roots as if to tell unwary prey that it is safe to approach it, that it is immobile and is anchored in the soil just like many of the flowering plants before it, that it is harmlessly harnessing energy from the sun to stay alive and therefore would have no use for live prey.
A thorough examination of the ship’s records meticulously maintained by Admiral van der Eijck’s cousin, Napoleon of the Burning Bush, showed two missing crew members upon leaving the island. One was first mate Joris Santander, a mousy lad wholly subservient to the Queen. The other was Louis the Fried, the deckhand who was once tasked to mind the galley’s pots and pans all dinged by his carelessness. Everyone chucked up these two’s going AWOL to the pursuit of lust-driven escapades. What’s notable was the personal journal entry, also meticulously maintained by Napoleon of the Burning Bush, written as the ship sailed away toward the yet-to-be-plundered Spice Island in the equatorial region. His journal entry told of a strange sound in the direction of the field of tulips. The sound was muffled as if originating from under the ground. But it was loud enough and instantly recognizable—a satisfied belch.
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of the forthcoming short story collections Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016) and The Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), as well as many other books, including We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012), Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012), and A Roomful of Machines (ELJ Publications, 2015), a new edition of her debut poetry collection that came out in 2010. Her short stories have appeared in Confrontation Magazine, Sou’wester, The State, and elsewhere. She lives in southern Philippines and serves as poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, a literary journal published by Epigram Books in Singapore.
More stunning art (tulips and more!) at EIL: