A Sneeze

Author : Aiza Mohd

A singular moment during which your eyes, your nose, your mouth, every feature of your head all simultaneously forget who they are and what they are doing and have a mini existentialist explosion.”

My handwriting is childlike after my reconstruction; I hold the pen with all my fingers, as though writing with an icicle. It has been two days, but I suppose these things take time every time. Even my memory, the sole motivation behind my reconstruction, is still wispier than a cirrus cloud: I would have forgotten many of the details of my self had TANYA not provided me with the form that I had filled out prior to the procedure. Here is what it reads:

“Name before procedure: Roger Clarke Hill
Name after procedure: CLARKE
Date of birth: December 04 1982
Address: Number 61, Ingleside Drive, Whitlock, Kent CT9 H1Z.
Occupation: (Retired) meteorologist
Name of sponsor: Lance Stanley
Occupation of sponsor: Comedian
Address of sponsor: Greenglade Wood Lodge, Winona Road, Dungreen, Cornwall TR29 A2N.
Date of birth of sponsor: May 02 2021”

And so on, and so forth.

It seems peculiar to me that the form should be so equally divided between my details and my sponsor’s details. It would be unnecessary to remind me of my sponsor, indeed – no degree of mental ageing could make me forget the moment my daughter Alice walked in with the legendary comedian Lance Stanley, who told me he was going to finance my reconstruction. The international media exploded – I am, or was, after all, just a nobody.

And of course, I was especially baffled when Stanley told me of his only fee for the deed … Come to think of it,

An experience which reminds you that you know nothing, absolutely nothing, about life.”

That seems an accurate description.

This journal was given to me by Stanley, as an instrument on which I am to record the findings of his ‘ultimate experiment in humour’. I am to write down my own definitions of each new sensation I experience as a newly reconstructed man. He also requested some occasional rambling typical of a personal diary on the side.

It seems more grotesque than funny to me, the thought processes of a grown individual stumbling about life as though he had no memory of ever having lived before, though perhaps because of firsthand experience. Well, when expressed in that manner, it seems a bit futile to have undergone reconstruction only to end up as baffled as I was before. A bit like how ladies a few decades my junior hire experts to carve up their ageing faces, only to look frighteningly unreal and certainly not youthful.

But this is all pointless thinking onto paper; a journal is for journalling your daily occupations. I am packing up to spend the weekend at Alice’s house and re-acquaint myself with my grandchildren.

Every time I place a hand on the suitcase, I am fascinated by the flawlessness of the surgeons’ work, and though it is anything but like normal, I feel like it is the same one I always had. Does this make me a different person? In any case,

The act of laying out a summary of you as a person and arranging it, like a game of Tetris, into a compact space in a bid to remain the same person no matter where you go and no matter what happens to you.”

CLARKE or Roger Clarke Hill? When I’ve finished packing I shall think of a way to put this question to Alice.

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Endless Sun

Author : Aiza Mohd

Today is our last day on Earth.

This morning, I beheld the sun rising over the Arctic. From all the way down in our dwelling, it felt like it was worlds away.

Behind me I saw Naamin. She’d discovered her brother, who’d died in the night, while I pretended to sleep.

There in our kingdom of water and silence, we buried our dead as the sun came up. There was just enough light to paint our surroundings. The muted horror of awakening to gone relatives. The urgency of hiding them, from the far-reaching expeditions of human science.

That nemesis drove us from every home in the past age, exacerbating every attempt to prolong our existence until we were constrained to planet Earth’s most undiscovered world: the oceans.

We weren’t made for such suffocating life. Water such as this was rare back on Marikh; we had avoided the oceans for as long as we could until Earthland was no longer an option.

Closing my eyes to Naamin’s grief, I spoke. ‘Fola led his faction away, while you slept. There are two vessels left. And fewer supplies.’

‘Then let’s leave. Please.’

She was scrabbling in the earth. The dead lay all around us. Nearby, I saw someone leaning over a lost love.

‘Where did Fola go?’

I recalled what a dead friend had told me once, about human knowledge of the universe. His faction had sampled a human, a well-read one who spoke of white holes and lenticular galaxies. We used to do this sometimes, to assess just how far humanity had travelled.

‘He means to reach a faraway planet long dismissed as dead,’ I answered. ‘I don’t believe his craft will even get halfway.’

‘There never was one as resigned as yourself,’ she spat with sudden venom. ‘You’ll doom us all to your deadened dreams.’

‘This planet is at its peak,’ I said. ‘Do you remember what it was like up there?’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I remember. I remember that up there was beautiful and full of life. There were things to see, dangers to run from. And I remember brightness.’ She stood, abandoning the task of digging her brother’s grave. ‘I remember something to live for.’

I said nothing. Overhead, a dark creature swims rapidly away.

‘You see?’ she said softly. ‘Even if we stay, the ocean floor is no longer ours. Earth was never ours — each time, the universe created a new inhabitant for whatever place we’d dare to try to steal. Our time is up.

‘You’ve seen our civilisation rise and fall– you’ve suffered, grandfather. But there’s nothing for us here.’

Emotion, a phenomenon from the distant past, swelled up and soared through me. It bent my heart double and smashed it.

‘I’ve chased our entire existence into a corner.’

‘No, Premier,’ spoke gently the mourner I had seen earlier. ‘You’ve done only what you’ve had to do. But I agree with Naamin.’ The woman was approaching us. ‘Though what lies beyond is uncertain, I would go to my end seeking a better grave. Continuity for the sake of continuity is for nothing, when all we do is bury our dead. We have defied the universe for far too long.’

I was silent, defeated. A tired old man. Naamin led me by the hand to a vessel as some others followed suit. ‘One day,’ she said, ‘humans will be faced with this choice too.’

Now we are leaving, abandoning this dark and rippling realm, leaving everything we ever were behind us. I am holding my breath, I am waiting … anticipating that dazzling burst of sunlight.

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Leave Note at the 7-Eleven

Author : Aiza Mohd

Haan has found a cup of noodles from the future.

‘Mfg. 09 Jul 2036,’ reads the bottom of the cup. The year is 2013.

Haan is a penniless college student with an unbalanced diet, too much time, few friends and a cup of ramen from the future. All five of these are the reasons why he finds himself at the 7-Eleven where he gets his snacks.

But the cashier has no explanation. ‘Sorry, man,’ he says. ‘Barcode says you didn’t buy it here. It’s probably just a misprint, anyway; I wouldn’t worry about it.’

Haan has one foot out the door when the cashier exclaims. ‘Hey, wait a minute,’ he calls.

The cashier rushes over with something in his hands. ‘It’s not everyday I get a situation like this,’ he tells Haan. ‘Last week, a girl came in and gave this to me.’

It is a brown envelope.

‘To the boy asking about the ramen.’

In it is a destination.

Haan follows the directions in the letter until he reaches a house in the suburbs. The smooth white driveway is lined with daisies and the lawn is impeccable. It is the diamond to the rust of Haan’s small, wild balcony garden, ice cream tubs running amok with neglected life.

A girl opens the door when he knocks, holding a blue hardback in her hand. Haan’s shoulders tense as he takes in the bright eyes and the expectantly raised eyebrows.

He holds up the cup of noodles, but she just looks confused.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says, feeling stupid. ‘I must have made a mistake.’

‘We already have noodles, thank you,’ she says. She is ever so polite.

‘I’m not selling,’ he answers, embarrassed. ‘It’s a funny story … you’d never believe it.’

She laughs. ‘I don’t know whether to close the door on you or to ask for this story.’

‘Oh, don’t close the door,’ says Haan. ‘I’ll tell you. But don’t laugh at me, okay?’

‘I won’t. I like stories.’ She looks over her shoulder, as though glancing back at something less than pleasing. ‘I never get to hear any good ones.’

Haan, after placing the cup of noodles in his bag, explains to her all the peculiar events of his day. As he tells his tale, she tilts her head and listens, letting the polite smile grow into something warmer.

Her name is Leanne.

Next morning, he awakens with the strangest sensation that something of profound importance has finally changed in his life. On his wall in blunt pencil, he writes, ‘11 July 2013. Yesterday, two things I believed impossible turned up in my life.’

Now it is 13 August, 2036, and Haan and his wife are battling once again. ‘You never loved me,’ weeps Becca, her face a canvas of smeared makeup, years of frustration painting her cheekbones. ‘It’s her. You want her.’ And although deep down Haan knows she’s got it right, Haan utters not a word. He watches and waits, the way he has his whole life.

In the room down the hall their daughter Jo should be sleeping, but she’s imagining another space in the universe right now, in which Haan is now married to Leanne, and not Becca. They have a double-storey home, three children and a puppy. Becca, in that same space in the universe, is soaring to the top of her career. Everyone is happy. Everyone’s in love.

On the floor by her feet is the blueprint of her plan. The light is dim beneath the desk, but the first step is visible still.

‘2013: Leave note at the 7-Eleven.’

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Junkyard Funeral

Author : Aiza Mohd

There’s a funeral being held in the junkyard today.

Its mourners come in a neat little line of twelve, proceeding in that beautiful precision of steps that only them bots ever have. When I was young, I learned to tell for myself whenever the girl at the ticket counter, the man falling asleep behind the bar, the bored kid mopping up the aisles, was nothing but cogs and gears. Wasn’t the flawless face. Wasn’t no lack of expression, either. Was the way they walked. No human ever walks the exact way the human body was designed to walk. But bots do.

The pallbearers arrive, lowering a dark coffin onto a clearing in the heap. Eddy and I had made that clearing ourselves just a couple hours ago, though we hadn’t a clue what it was for then. Just following orders.

Eddy’s staring, too, his forearms crossed and resting on the handle of his spade. ‘Don’t cha think them wooden ones turned out kinda nice?’ he says.

I look at him. ‘Wooden?’

‘Sure. Where d’you think the junk timber went? They wanna make ‘em outta waste now. Green robots.’

‘And these ones are wooden?’ Some of the mourners are weeping. One of them has white flowers in her hand.

‘So Jackie tells me.’ Eddy’s ex-wife. She works here too. They make small talk when they happen upon each other, as though the 32 years together had never taken place.

‘Well, I bet they ain’t the important bots. Important bots probably made outta gold.’

‘It’d surprise you,’ he says in return. ‘Plenty of them VIP bots is made outta cheap material come outta landfills like this one. Singaporean President? Made of e-waste.’


‘Parts of him used to belong to Acer. Ha, ha ha!’

I look back at the funeral proceedings. The bot holding the flowers lays her bouquet coffin-side. The others bow their heads a little as she does this. Stood up like that in the middle of all that junk, with their slender black silhouettes leaning against the sunset to the west, they remind me of a scene from a movie that I’d seen as a boy.

Pretty soon, them bots start leaving the ‘yard single file, and it’s time for me and Eddy to get to work. The bots don’t dig any grave of their own – that’s what me and Eddy are here for.

As we approach the coffin, the late afternoon light glances off a silver plaque on the coffin-lid. Eddy pauses, then scuttles over to it like the sparkle-loving magpie that he is.

‘What’s it say?’ I ask him.

He’s crouched down by the thing, without a shred of respect for the dead. ‘Isaac Benjamin Crocker,’ he murmurs, callused fingers running wonderingly over the silver plaque. ‘I heard that name before. Ain’t he one of them Silicon Valley fellas?’ He pauses in a moment of conscience. Then he heaves and pries open the damn coffin-lid with his own bare hands.

‘Eddy, what in the name of Teddy Roosevelt –’ and there I stop, because I’m staring, not at the disassembled anatomy of a machine in the box, but a person. A human man.

He’s been perfectly embalmed, Isaac B. Crocker, probably by mechanical hands, but a small card been tucked under his crossed hands. My own hands trembling – very much alive over his – I pick it up and read it aloud to Eddy’s questioning face.

‘Glory be our father.’

Ain’t it peculiar how interchangeable trash and treasure are?

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