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What’s in a Name?. . . . . . . . . . . . .Complete Speaker’s Almanac, p. 22

"Here we are in a month named after the Roman god Janus, an appropriate personification of the start of the new year. This particular Roman god had two faces so that he could look ahead toward the future and back at the past at the same time. As we get rid of an old year and look forward to a new one, we all try to be a little like Janus. We know through experience what we did wrong and what we did right, and hope to do better this year. Some people make ambitious new year’s resolutions; others just take a deep breath and hope for the best.…"

To Start A New Year. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anonymous

"A new year is unfolding—like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.

Lord, let this year be filled with the things that are truly good—with the comfort of warmth in our relationships, with the strength to help those who need our help and the humility and openness to accept help from others.

As we make our resolutions for the year ahead, let us go forward with great hope that all things can be possible—with Your help and guidance."

Recipe for a Happy New Year. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anonymous

Take twelve fine, full-grown months; see that these are thoroughly free from old memories of bitterness, rancor and hate, cleanse them completely from every clinging spite; pick off all specks of pettiness and littleness; in short, see that these months are freed from all the past—have them fresh and clean as when they first came from the great storehouse of Time. Cut these months into thirty or thirty-one equal parts. Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time (so many persons spoil the entire lot this way) but prepare one day at a time.

Into each day put equal parts of faith, patience, courage, work (some people omit this ingredient and so spoil the flavor of the rest), hope, fidelity, liberality, kindness, rest (leaving this out is like leaving the oil out of the salad dressing— don’t do it), prayer, meditation, and one well-selected resolution. Put in about one teaspoonful of good spirits, a dash of fun, a pinch of folly, a sprinkling of play, and a heaping cupful of good humor.

I Am the New Year. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bible Illustrator

I am the new year. I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.

I am your next chance at the art of living. I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about life during the last twelve months.

All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me, waiting for you to search it but with more determination.

All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.

All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will, all the faith that you claimed but did not have—these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.

I am your opportunity to renew your allegiance to Him who said, "Behold, I make all things new."

A Year of Time. . . . . . . . . . . . Steven B. Cloud, Pulpit Helps, Vol. 14, # 2

…Though even thinking on the subject of time may prove discomforting, it is not a bad idea—especially at the beginning of a new year.

As we look into we look at a block of time. We see 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. And all is a gift from God. We have done nothing to deserve it, earn it, or purchased it. Like the air we breathe, time comes to us as a part of life.

The gift of time is not ours alone. It is given equally to each person. Rich and poor, educated and ignorant, strong and weak—every man, woman and child has the same twenty-four hours every day.

Another important thing about time is that you cannot stop it. There is no way to slow it down, turn it off, or adjust it. Time marches on.

And you cannot bring back time. Once it is gone, it is gone. Yesterday is lost forever. If yesterday is lost, tomorrow is uncertain. We may look ahead at a full year’s block of time, but we really have no guarantee that we will experience any of it.

Obviously, time is one of our most precious possessions. We can waste it. We can worry over it. We can spend it on ourselves. Or, as good stewards, we can invest it in the kingdom of God.

The new year is full of time. As the seconds tick away, will you be tossing time out the window, or will you make every minute count?

Time for New Beginnings. . . . . . . . . . . Taylor Addison, Blue Mountain Arts, 1989

"This is a time for reflection as well as celebration.

As you look back on the past year and all that has taken place in your life,

Remember each experience for the good that has come of it
and for the knowledge you have gained.

Remember the efforts you have made and the goals you have reached.

Remember the love you have shared and the happiness you have brought.

Remember the laughter, the joy, the hard work, and the tears.

And as you reflect on the past year, also be thinking of the new one to come.

Because most importantly, this is a time of new beginnings
and the celebration of life."

A New Year’s Prayer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anonymous

Dear Lord, please give me…
A few friends who understand me and remain my friends;
A work to do which has real value,
without which the world would be the poorer;
A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed;
An understanding heart;
A sense of humor;
Time for quiet, silent meditation;
A feeling of the presence of God;
The patience to wait for the coming of these things,
With the wisdom to recognize them when they come. Amen.

A New Year. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . William Arthur Ward

Another fresh new year is here …
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
To live each day with zest …
To daily grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree,
And sing more joyful songs!

A New Year’s Prayer

May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most,
and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

A Prayer for the New Year

Come, Holy Spirit,
Spirit of the Risen Christ, be with us today and always.
Be our Light, our Guide, and our Comforter.
Be our Strength, our Courage, and our Sanctifier.
May this new year be a time of deep spiritual growth for us,
A time of welcoming your graces and gifts,
A time for forgiving freely and unconditionally,
A time for growing in virtue and goodness.

Come, Holy Spirit,
Be with us today and always. Amen.

"A Morning Wish". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W.R. Hunt

"The sun is just rising on the morning of another day, the first day of the new year. What can I wish that this day, that this year, may bring to me?

Nothing that shall make the world of others poorer, nothing at the expense of others; but just those few things which in their coming do not stop with me but touch me rather, as they pass and gather strength:

  • A few friends who understand me, and yet remain my friends.
  • A work to do which has real value without which the world would feel the poorer.
  • A return for such work small enough not to tax unduly anyone who pays.
  • A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed.
  • An understanding heart.
  • A sight of the eternal hills and unbelting sea, and of something beautiful the individual hand has made.
  • A sense of humor and the power to laugh.
  • A little leisure with nothing to do.
  • A few moments of quiet, silent meditation. The sense of the presence of God.
  • And the patience to wait for the coming of these things, with the wisdom to know them when they come."

Guide words: An Anthology of Inspiration and Humor, p. 13

New Year’s Message

"I asked the New Year for some message sweet,
Some rule of life with which to guide my feet;
I asked, and paused: it answered soft and low,
‘God’s will to know.’

‘Will knowledge then suffice, New Year?’ Aloud I cried.
And, ere the question into silence died,
The answer came, ‘Nay, but remember, too
God’s will to do.’

Once more I asked, ‘Is there no more to tell?’
And once again the answer sweetly fell,
‘Yes! this thing, all other things above:
God’s will to love.’"

Guidewords: An Anthology of Inspiration and Humor

New Year’s Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anonymous

"Heavenly Father, for this coming year
Just one request I bring.

I do not pray for happiness or any earthly thing.
I do not ask to understand the way you lead me;
But this I ask—teach me to do the thing that pleases You.
I want to know Your guiding voice,
To walk with you each day.

Heavenly Father,
Make me swift to hear and ready to obey;
And thus the year I now begin
A happy year will be,

If I am seeking just to do
The thing that pleases You."

A Prayer for the New Year

Come, Holy Spirit,
Spirit of the Risen Christ,
Be with us today and always.
Be our Light, our Guide,
And our Comforter.
Be our Strength, our Courage,
And our Sanctifier.

May this new year be a time
Of deep spiritual growth for us,
A time of welcoming
Your graces and gifts,
A time for forgiving freely
And unconditionally,
A time for growing
In virtue and goodness.

Come, Holy Spirit,
Be with us today and always.

Pacem in Terris

Pope John XXIII, 4/11/63

"May He banish from the hearts of all men and women whatever might endanger peace.

May He transform them into witnesses of truth, justice and love.

May He enkindle the rulers of peoples so that in addition to their solicitude for the proper welfare of their citizens, they may guarantee and defend the great gift of peace.

May He enkindle the wills of all so that they may overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others, and pardon those who have done them wrong.

May all peoples of the earth become as brothers and sisters, and may the most longed-for peace blossom forth and reign always among men and women."

Taken from


Not everything falls into your plan
Maybe luck just wasn't on my side
I don't know why it's you that I love
Maybe it's better to let you go

It's not fair, not fair, oh, for him/her
This isn't fair, isn't fair, oh, for me
It's not fair for you to ask
If I love you too
It's not fair, not fair, oh, for him/her

You never tried to understand me
The love you proclaimed, you never show
And the moment I am lost
A burden you never tried to lift

It's not fair, not fair, oh, for him/her
This isn't fair, isn't fair, oh, for me
It's not fair for you to ask
If I love you too
You are not mine

And I am a coward
Admitting my love for you
A thousand times I tried to say it
when you're with me
You are not mine
And you know it
You are not mine

(Loosely translated from a Malaysian song sung by Yuna)

The sweetest melodies are those sung from the heart
The softest harmonies are when two souls mend together
Why then do people say it's love that tears them apart?
When it's with love that you can stand the stormy weather

When I met you, Spring was here, and the birds were nesting
I looked into your soft eyes and saw the prettiest smile
Heaven pulled down her veil and offered her most sacred blessing
I've met an angle, I couldn't help but to smile

Sitting by the pool of life, reflecting upon its surface
I think of others and I get a little ripple
I think of you, and a wave swells, spraying my face
You said you wouldn't cry, but I see the tears start to trickle

Some people don't believe in love at first sight
Obviously they haven't seen you
Drifting on love's endless blissful flight
I'm so glad I met you

(Poem by Mike Lewis)

There was a Sultan who loved to play tricks on people and derived pleasure from seeing people tortured from his cruel jokes. He likes to disguise himself as a commoner and goes around looking for his victims so that he can play his sick jokes on.

One day, while disguised as a traveller, he found a drunken beggar who wished more in the world to have the destiny to become a sultan. The Sultan knew he found the perfect victim. He made him drunk to the point of unconsciousness, took him back to the palace, cleaned, shaved, dressed and perfumed him and let him lie on the bed while he disguised himself as one of the palace guards to watch his joke in play.

As expected, when the beggar woke up to find himself in the sultan's palace and everyone calling him 'Your Majesty' and all that, he was driven crazy, and the Sultan went almost mad with laughter as he watched the poor beggar trying to figure out whether it was a dream or not. The subjects had no choice but to play along with the Sultan's joke for fear of being beheaded if they give away the secret.

But what the Sultan did not expect was that the beggar soon believed that he was the Sultan and unlike the real Sultan, he took his role very seriously and actually began to care for his subjects. The real Sultan didn't think this joke was funny anymore, and decided to end it by drugging him, strip him off his fancy clothes and throw him back to the streets where he belongs.

The poor beggar woke up finding himself in the streets again as a beggar and went almost mad, shouting throughout the streets that he was a sultan, which earned him a trip to prison. The Sultan giggled as he watched the beggar trying to convince himself that he was the sultan, but slowly eased in to the fact that he wasn't. The Sultan decided to play the same trick again to him by repeating the same process: drugging him and changing him back to the lavish Sultan's clothes.

When the beggar woke up again in his fancy state, he again went crazy, screaming "No, it's happening again~!" But this time, the tables were turned. The Sultan made a mistake by hiding behind the wardrobe while watching him going crazy while his subjects tried to calm him down, and while he laughed out loud, the beggar thought it was demons playing a joke on him and took a nearby dagger and stabbed the Sultan in the wardrobe to death.

The subjects were a little distraught. The Sultan had no heir and there would be a civil war if the news of Sultan's death ever got out. They decided to cover it up by saying to anyone who asked that the Sultan had went on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca and had asked his friend to take over. After agreeing to that decision, they tended to the beggar who is the current "Sultan".

"Who was that?" the beggar asked.

"Oh, that's the royal jester," they replied. "Don't mind him. His last joke was a killer, anyways."

And soon the beggar became the most well-loved Sultan among his subjects and the old Sultan was, through time, completely forgotten

Moral: Never tell the same joke twice


Long ago,

When Gods were still living on earth with mankind,

Zhurong, God of Fire, made three zithers out of wood of Mount Yao.

They were called Huanglai, Luanlai and Fenglai.

Zhurong cherished them very much,

Especially Fenglai.

He played with Fenglai frequently,

Which made Fenglai a spirit.

The spirit had a form of mankind,

And could speak with Zhurong.

Zhurong was so delighted

That he requested Goddess Nuwa to bring a true life to him.

Zhurong treated him as his son,

And named him Prince Changqin.


Prince Changqin was soft and quiet.

He enjoyed playing zither in Mount Yao,

Thus making good friends with Qianyu,

A water snake living there.

Though Qianyu was vulnerable,

He considered himself unique

That one day he would become a great dragon.

He promised Prince Changqin

That he would carry Changqin around the world

As long as he could fly freely in the sky as a great dragon.


Hundreds of years passed by.

King of Gods, Fuxi, became so unsatisfied with mankind

That he decided to take all gods to the Heaven,

Leaving human behind.

Prince Changqin didn’t want to leave.

He loved the life in Mount Yao,

But had to bid farewell to Qianyu.

It took three hundred days for the gods to build the Heavenly Palace.

After all was over,

Prince Changqin went to Mount Yao

Only to find Qianyu vanished.

He then realized that

One day in heaven equals one year on earth.

Three hundred years had elapsed.

He could not see Qianyu any more.


Time flies.

Thousands of years later, a black dragon appeared in the south,

Causing trouble while playing in the southern sea.

The dragon hurt the god who was sent to punish him,

Fleeing into Mount Buzhou.

God of Fire, God of Water and Prince Changqin

Were sent to capture the dragon.


The dragon was formerly water snake Qianyu.

What’s more,

The three gods accidentally destroyed the Pillar in Mount Buzhou,

Which was key to holding up the heaven.

The collapse of the Pillar brought a serious disaster to the whole world.


It took all gods a long time and great efforts

To rescue the world from the disaster.

Qianyu was punished to be subordinate to Goddess of Chishui,

Deprived of freedom.

Zhurong and Gonggong were

Thrown into prison for a thousand years.

Prince Changqin was descended from the Heaven,

Becoming an ordinary human being.

He was no longer immortal,

And was cursed to be lonely forever

In his life time.

Thence in Heaven,

a black dragon Appeared,

a talented zither player Disappeared.


The body of Prince Changqin was destroyed,

But his sprint was left lingering in Mount Yao.

A craftsman of Longyuan clan, Jiaoli, caught his soul

And split it into ten parts.

He fashioned the core part and other four into an evil sword.

The remaining parts of the sprint in agony attached to Jiaoli’s newly-born son,

Escaping the doom to fade out.

Jiaoyue often stared at the sword in his childhood,

Seeming to be telepathic with it.

Later, the evil sword was taken away and sealed

By Goddess Nuwa.

Jiaoyue suffered from losing the sword,

thus committed suicide.


Like as a river always goes forward, so does time.

No matter what happened,

The prosperity and collapse of Longyuan clan,

The evil sword, even the great disaster,

All faded away in the river of history.

So is the fate of Prince Changqin.

Time is as long as an infinite river.

Nothing is eternal.

Only I

Was left in the rift of time

In endless solitude.

(Poem by ~hazhangzhong)

Jason let out a sigh of relief as he plopped himself onto the sofa. It was another long, hard day at the office, as usual. He lit himself a cigarette and took a long pull. The phone rang a few minutes later but he didn’t bother to answer. The answering machine did the job for him.

“Hello? Jason? You’re still not home yet? Come on, man, stop hiding from me. Look, I got a gorgeous gal that I’m sure you’ll be interested in. you can be friends with her, for starters. Call me.”

As soon as Jason heard his friend hang up, he deleted the message. He refused to have anything to do with him. He trusted no one. No one at all. No gorgeous chic was going to draw his attention. He had himself to himself, and that’s that.

His living room seemed pretty empty after he got rid of all his photos. The last photo he had removed was the photo of his youngest daughter graduating from college. Aside from a few paintings, his walls were bare. Even the photo of him getting married with his wife (now his ex-wife) was burnt. It was as if he had cut off all relationship with every human in the world, including his own flesh and blood.

It felt really alone in the house he lived in, but he embraced the loneliness. After another long day surrounded by people he refused to trust (except his boss, which was a forced one), he was glad to be in a place with nobody at all. Nobody to trick him, nobody to cheat him, nobody to even rob him out of his happiness. He was glad to be alone.

Well, almost.

Occasionally, even loneliness bugs him.


Jason lay still on his bed, unable to sleep. The silence was pretty deafening, as if everyone in the whole world was dead, leaving him the only human alive. It even made his dark bedroom even darker.

It’s been almost 3 years since he lived in this completely solitude life. The first time he tried it, it drove him to tears every night. Almost every bedtime for the first few months, he cried himself to sleep. Now that e had gotten used to it, he was beginning to have second thoughts about choosing this type of life in the first place. The feeling of no one there to do him harm was OK, but the feeling of no one to talk to, to pour out his true feelings was quite bad. Maybe he should…

Jason shook his head. He almost lost his guard there. He chose this life and he himself thought that this life was better than anything else in the world. No way was he going back to the way he was. If he were to choose one thing, he’d better stick to it. He turned to one side and forced himself to fall asleep.

Moments later, he heard a faraway jingling. At first he tried to ignore it, but the jingling continued without stopping. It was a pleasant sound to hear, but if it goes on and on non-stop, it could be pretty annoying. And that’s how Jason felt. He got up in a thrice, picked up his baseball bat (he had it during high school) and rushed downstairs to see who was making such a racket at this ungodly hour.

He wasn’t kept in the dark for long—there, on his front door, hung a crystal bell hanging from a silver string, jingling and jangling like mad. Weird though, because it was jingling crazily when there wasn’t a whiff of wind anywhere.

“So you’re the one keeping me awake, eh?” Jason growled as he grabbed the bell. “I’ll show you what’s it like to mess with me!”

So saying, Jason brought the bell down to the solid floor hard, smashing it into a trillion pieces. If that wasn’t enough, he even brought his bat onto the pieces and almost clubbed it into dust. He couldn’t control himself. Somehow, he had vented all his pent-up anger onto that harmless little bell. He only stopped when he heard a loud bellow from the neighbour complaining about the noise.

“What am I doing?” Jason suddenly felt foolish of himself as he slumped down to the floor, panting slightly. He stared at the crystal dust on the floor and felt even more stupid.

All of a sudden, as if there was an invisible wind blowing, the crystal dust gathered together at Jason’s feet. It stayed there for a few seconds and, to Jason’s astonishment, began to mend itself back together again. The dust collected itself, forming into solid pieces and slowly stuck itself together, fragment by fragment, until it became the original crystal bell. The silver string even threaded itself into the bell’s tiny loop, making the finishing touch.

Jason stared long and hard at what he had just witnessed. It was too unbelievable. He pinched and slapped himself, thinking that he was having a very extraordinary dream. He wasn’t, though. He touched his forehead, thinking that he had gone mad. Maybe, maybe not. He poked at the crystal bell. It was real, alright. He suddenly felt himself unable to trust even his own judgments. He had to make sure his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him.

He picked up the bell and smashed it again, but this time without reducing it to dust. Again, the bell mended itself, like rewinding a scene from a video tape. He tried burning the bell, but the burnt mark disappeared almost immediately before his eyes. He tried flushing it down the toilet, but it was immediately spit out and was dry as a bone instantly.

Jason was dumbstruck. He had never come across anything as bizarre as this. The belt continued to jingle and jangle in Jason’s hand, pointing towards the direction of the door. Jason couldn’t help but ask the bell directly, “What is it you want?”

The bell pointed towards the door.

“You want me to go outside?”

The bell jingled urgently.


The bell stopped abruptly, as if hesitant to answer.

“I’m not going out there in the middle of the night if you don’t bloody tell me what’s going on.”
Jason felt utterly stupid talking to a bell, but there’s nothing else he could do to know the bell’s intention.

“If I take out my laptop, will you talk to me? I mean, type it out?”

The bell jingled softly.

Jason rushed to his study and hunted for his laptop. He had placed it in a small briefcase on the high shelf. He used to do that so that his kids would not attempt to do it in ruins. He was surprised that he still had that habit after his whole family left him. He took down the laptop, plugged it in and turned it on. After entering the Microsoft Word, he held the bell loosely over the keyboard and said, “OK. Type away.”

The bell remained unmoving.

“Come on now. Tell me who the heck you are.”

The bell moved slowly up and down, clicking onto the keyboard. Minus the punctuation and spaces, it was pretty easy to read.


“Alright then, I’ll call you ‘Brat’.”


“Well, you said I can call you anything I like! Besides, you woke me up in the middle of the night for no reason! Doesn’t that sound like what a brat would do?”


“What is it you want from me?”


Jason wrinkled his nose. “Destiny? What destiny? What do you mean by that?”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about. This has got to be crap, right? I mean…”

The bell was moving faster now that it was being denied and ignored: SEEKANDYOUWILLFINDYOURDESTINYAWAITSYOUHAVETOTRUSTME

“Woah, woah, woah! Hold your horses! Trust you? I’m sorry but I don’t trust anybody. Not anymore!”

The bell kept still for a couple of seconds, then started typing: THENYOULLHAVETOLEARNAGAIN

“I’ve out my trust on people and they end up stabbing me in the back. How would I know you bloody won’t stab me in the back too?”


“Yeah, right!”


Jason stared at the bell. He began to contemplate its words. Should he or should he not trust the bell? It’s just a thing, not a person that would betray him just like others did, yet it’s quite alive, to be exact, so it can be regarded as a person, not a thing. He had lost his trust in everyone around him; could he be able to put trust on a thing that has a mind of a person? Would he be able to even start trusting somebody or…anybody? Jason let out a long sigh.

“Where shall we go?”

The bell jingled before replying: IWILLLEADTHEWAY

“What am I supposed to do now? Cease to exist?”


“Whatever you say. But I’m bringing this laptop, so we can talk.”


Jason got up, went to his bedroom and rummaged through his cupboard. He took out a few pairs of boxers, some socks, some men’s underwear, a few T-shirts and jeans and a number of casual wears, some formal clothes and a few different kinds of shoes—sneakers, shoes with shoelaces, sport shoes—two or three pairs each. He threw out a suitcase and stuffed them all into it. Then he grabbed a backpack and filled it with anything edible from the kitchen: canned food, junk food, a few cans of beer and a few instant cup noodles, tea bags and instant coffee packets with a flask to go with. He even stuffed a few books between them. He had never felt so busy before in his life.

Finally, he checked his wallet. He threw away all his credit cards and business cards that were piling in it, leaving one credit card, which was his favourite. He knew he had to give it up as soon as he finds himself unable to pay the debts, but he kept it anyway. He made sure his identity card was there, of course, and his driving license. Apart from these and a few thousand bucks, the whole wallet was pretty light and empty, much to his surprise.

Mr. Taylor got off the car and handed the keys to the bell-boy, saying, “Park it away from the sun, please.”

The bell-boy nodded and took the wheel. He waited until every family member of the Taylors got off the car before starting the car and driving off. The Taylor kids cheered with glee.

“Yippee! Holidays at last!” Tony cheered as he flung his cap up with triumph. His brother, Clement, did the same.

“I can’t wait to try out the swimming pool!” Zoë, the eldest daughter declared. “I heard that the decors at the indoor swimming pool are simply exotic!”

“I want to try the playground! I want to try the playground!” The twins Clara and Clarice chided in, giggling like a pair of naughty hyenas.

“Now, now, children. One at a time,” Mrs. Taylor tried to quiet down her 5 bickering children. The bell-boy came back with their suitcases and placed them on the trolley. Mr. Taylor went to check in while the children feasted their eyes at the beautiful hotel.

It was a 5-star hotel, very new in the industry and pretty high-classed. It had decors and the architecture of various country cultures; from the bodacious Swedish to the suave French to the courteous Spain and even to the poetic Athens and Greek. It even has the splash of Asian, Russian and even their local English air. It was all in one, and yet they did not clash with each other. Each culture seemed to have peace with each other and blended in with their surroundings. It was so grand that even the king’s castle seemed like a squatter’s area. It opened a few months ago and Mr. Taylor thought it would be OK to spend the holidays with his family here.

“Enchanted Nite Hotel. Not a bad name for a high-classed hotel,” Mr. Taylor commented after taking the room keys, “I feel enchanted already!”

“What room are we, dear?” Mrs. Taylor enquired.

“Room 5012.”

“There are so many portraits, Dad!” Clement exclaimed, astonished. “What are they for?”

“It’s just decors, kid,” the bell-boy explained as he led the Taylor family to their room. “The manager is quite eccentric, you see. He hates leaving the walls bare. Even his own room is filled with frames of pictures.”

The five siblings watched from left to right. Every wall has at least one portrait or a beautiful exotic painting. There were even replica paintings of famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh. There’s even a replica painting of Mona Lisa on the wall next to the Taylors’ room.

“It’s kinda creepy,” Zoë shuddered as she stared at the smiling Mona Lisa. “It’s like being watched wherever you go.”

“Well, we’ll be here for a week’s stay,” Tony replied nonchalantly, “so I guess we’ll just have to get used to it.”

“Alright, kids,” Mr. Taylor voiced out, “put your suitcases into the cupboard and take out whatever you need. You can go and enjoy yourselves silly. Your mom and I will be right here if you need us.”

The 5 children cheered with glee as they grabbed their swimsuits and stuff before leaving Room 5012.


Tony and Clement couldn’t sleep. They tossed and turned and tried many sleeping positions to get comfortable but in vain. Tony was also beginning to get a headache. He cursed himself for being so nosy with the 3-in-1 instant coffee.

Zoë, Clara and Clarice had dared Tony and Clement to drink coffee. As their parents went down to the lounge to enjoy a little happy hour, the children decided to fool around with the facilities of the room. They’ve tried the bathtub, the mini-fridge, the satellite TV, everything. Once they’ve come across the 3-in-1 instant coffee packets, all hell broke loose. The children knew that their parents have strictly forbidden them to drink coffee until they’re old enough, and the ‘taboo’ seemed tempting. The sisters dared the brothers to drink the instant coffee since they’re not ready to take the risk themselves.

“Why don’t you drink it, since you’re eager enough?” Tony asked suspiciously.

“Because we are girls and you’re not!” Zoë insisted.

“So what if you’re girls? Mom drinks coffee too!” Clement complained.

“That’s because she’s a grown up, and she’s older,” Clara and Clarice said together. They always say things at the right timing. “Besides, you both are much older than us put together! So you drink it!”

And so they did. Without realizing it, the boys have gulped down 5 tall glasses of instant coffee (added sugar), and now they couldn’t sleep, with Tony having a headache due to the caffeine.

“I can’t sleep, Tony,” Clement whined, rubbing his eyes.

“Neither can I. and I’m getting a splitting headache. Blast that coffee!” Tony hissed and massaged his temples.

“Let’s take a walk. It might tire us out and wear off the coffee.”

“Alright. I need some ice for my head anyway.”

Slowly and silently, Tony and Clement climbed out of bed. Clement took the keys while Tony got a thin towel from the bathroom. They tiptoed across the room, opened the door and crept out silently. No one stirred. So far, so good.

They took the lift and went down to the 2nd floor, where the ice-vending machine was. Tony held out the towel while Clement pushed the button. A silent humming sounded and the ice-cubes clattered out into Tony’s towel. Tony gratefully wrapped the ice-cubes and held it on his throbbing head with a sigh of relief.

“You know,” Clement said, his voice echoing down the empty corridors. “Zoë’s right. It is kinda creepy with all these portraits and pictures. It’s like those portraits’ eyes are following you wherever you go.”

“Hush!” Tony hissed, rubbing the ice on his forehead. “You’re being paranoid! They’re just paintings, what more can they do to us?”

“I don’t know. I mean, it’s pretty scary, really. It kinda feels like Hauntsville, with all those paintings. I, for one wouldn’t be walking around here if you weren’t coming with me.”

“Come on! Don’t be such a scaredy-cat! It’s supposed to be weird like this. After all, it is a new hotel with its own new style!”

“Well…I suppose you’re right then. It does have its own—shh! You hear something?”

Tony tilted his head, trying to hear whatever it is Clement had heard. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“I don’t hear anything. Now stop being paranoid…”

“Shh!! Be quiet! Try to listen harder!” Clement hissed insistently, a solemn look running across his face.

Tony decided to humour Clement and pretended to pay attention. He didn’t have to pretend for long—he actually heard someone whispering to another in an urgent tone, like some sort of argument. Tony took Clement’s hand and tried to find the source of the sound, completely forgetting his throbbing headache. The voices led them to an empty lobby at the end of the guest rooms’ corridor. The lobby was really empty—no chairs and tables, no sofas, nothing. The bell-boy did tell them that the lobby was under renovation, but it looked perfectly fine. In fact, it was so fine that Tony and Clement was beginning to wonder why it needed any renovations at all.

Tony felt the walls for the source of the voices. Tony was pretty good at this—it’s as if his hands were doing the listening. It led him to a portrait of the famous writer Mary Shelley (who wrote the book ‘Frankenstein’). The portrait was beautiful—a flawless, young woman dressed in clothes of the 18th century. Tony stuck his ear onto the wall and listened, and as expected, the voices were quite clear, although still a little bit of a mumbling sort. Clement was prying the portrait with curious hands when all of a sudden, it opened, like a miniature door. Tony was quite taken aback but regained his composure quite quickly. Taking Clement’s hand, he stepped into the dark secret passageway.

The passageway was pretty cold and dim. All the walls were made of cold steel and the floor was of solid metal. At this part of the place, there were neither portraits nor paintings. Everything was bare. It was so contradicting with the way the hotel walls were decorated.

“What is this place?” Clement’s whispers echoed through the passageway.

“Shh! Don’t even whisper!” Tony hissed urgently. “Look! There’s a little bit of light! My goodness, this is a laboratory!”

So it was. In fact, it was a very, very high-tech lab—the whole place was filled with weird-looking gadgets and astonishing machinery, and there were lab instruments of all kinds everywhere. There was an incubator at the end of the lab and there were a few more phials and cone glasses filled with bubbling concoctions. Test-tubes, syringes and even complicated medical instruments like scalpels and surgery scissors were also there.

“Woah! This is way cool!” Clement started but was stopped by Tony from getting too near the lab stuff.

“Stay low to the ground, you idiot! I think I hear the voice owners now!”

Tony was right; there were people in the lab, somewhere at the far corner. Clement was lucky that they didn’t notice him when he was advancing towards the lab table. It was a couple—scientists wearing clean white robes which had a distant disinfectant smell on them. The man was clean-shaven and was quite young, and surprisingly, he turned out to the bell-boy who carried their luggage that afternoon! The woman, on the other hand, was a stranger to them. A blonde and very solemn-looking at that.

“Have the Rangers being dispatched?” the woman asked in a serious, no-nonsense tone, without even a trace of joy on her face.

“Yes, Shenna, they have. They should be back here with Project No.69 now,” the bell-boy answered, not looking at her directly in the eye.

“Now? NOW?! Yeah, right! You call 5 hours ago ‘now’? I’m beginning to doubt your Rangers. I should’ve used my Rangers instead! They’re more capable!” Shenna snorted haughtily.

“They maybe slow, but they’re the best in my team!” the bell-boy rebutted her. “Or do you want me to dispatch the Predators?”

“No, no! Absolutely not! I will not hear of it! The Predators kill without a cause and kill without mercy. They’ll ruin Project No.69!”

“What’s so important about Project No.69? We have plenty of other Projects to deal with and you only care about him!”

“You don’t understand, Roger,” Shenna replied, pretending to be interested with her laptop. “Project No.69 is very valuable.”

“Yeah, right,” Roger, the bell-boy, snorted back. “And I suppose it’s because he’s finally turned out be better than the former Projects?”

“Yes. He’s perfect in every way. Both physically and mentally.”

“No shit!”

“Yes. He’s the only Super Human ever successfully created.”

“Only that you made a simple glitch,” Roger folded his arms and stared at her mockingly.

“What glitch?” Shenna was taken aback.

“You messed up his chromosomes. You turned him into a gay.”

“It wasn’t my fault! It just happened! I can’t exactly control everything that’s growing in his body, you know!”

“Then he’s not perfect. He’s a casualty.”

“Of course he’s perfect! OK, so maybe he’s turned into a homosexual, but he’s perfect in every way! Unlike those failed mutants, he excelled! He’s everything we’ve wished to create on him! He’s the one, the Super Human we’ve been wanting for!”

Tony and Clement have heard everything. Although it was still quite vague, the boys got the basics: they created a creature, a very powerful creature, they’ve accidentally lost him, and now they want the creature back.

“It’s just like a sci-fi movie, Tony! This is so cool! We’re in the middle of a high-tech conspiracy!” Clement was so excited, he almost wanted to shout it out loud.

“This is so unreal!” Tony could hardly believe his eyes and ears. “This exotic hotel is actually a cover-up for a high-class secret government project! My goodness, it’s like we’re acting in the X-Files! I don’t believe it!”

“Believe it, Tony. That’s exactly what these scientists are saying.”

“We’ll need more blood samples,” the boys hushed when they heard Shenna talking. “Have we got anymore new guests?”

“Quite a few. I must say the Taylor family is the best candidate…”

That was the last straw. Tony and Clement have heard enough to warn their parents and sisters. They knew that they wouldn’t believe them, but one way or another, they have to take their family out of the hotel before Roger and Shenna take them as their next project. Slowly, they crept out of the lab, hurried down the cold passageway, climbed as silent as possible out from behind the portrait and dashed back to the lift, wishing with all their might that they’ll be in time before it’s too late.


Zoë noticed Tony and Clement’s absence. She didn’t drink coffee, but she was quite a light sleeper and pretty sensitive. Any silent movement would stir her up in no time.

She heard her brothers saying something about getting ice for Tony’s head and about taking a walk to wear out the coffee effect. She grinned secretly—she felt darn lucky for not touching the coffee. She peeped quietly as the boys crept out of the room before going back to sleep.

Now she was awakened by a silent jingling of bells. Slowly, she sat up and listened again. Yes, there it was, that jingling again. She got off her bed to find out where the jingling came from. The twins Clara and Clarice stirred. Either they have also heard the jingling or that Zoë’s movement woke them up, it didn’t matter to Zoë. She just wanted to find the source of the sound.

She found herself standing in front of the huge bathroom mirror. A crystal bell hanging from a silver string was stuck on the rim of the mirror. It jingled like wind chimes, constantly knocking against the mirror. Weirdly, it did not make any tapping noises when it hit the mirror. Instead, it made ripples on it, like the ripples made on water when a stone was thrown into it. Zoë was utterly fascinated.

“Wow! What is that?” Obviously the twins have also seen the same thing as Zoë did.

“I don’t know…but I got a feeling…The mirror is calling me,” Zoë gazed in wonder, advancing slowly towards the mirror. “It’s calling me…I have a mission to do…”

Almost suddenly, Tony and Clement barged into the room, panting like dogs. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor stirred a little before they turned and dozed off again. Zoë broke her eye contact from the mirror and stared at her brothers in astonishment.

“We-We have to get out of here! Wake-Mom and Dad up, we’ll explain-everything!” Tony panted, gasping for breath.

“You might not believe it at first, but it’s true!” Clement agreed. “Hurry up! Why the dilly-dally?”

The twins pointed at the rippling mirror and the bell. It took Tony and Clement 10 seconds to absorb everything that they were witnessing before their eyes. The atmosphere was pretty tense—with only the bells and no other noises about. Come to think of it, it was pretty unreal.

“What…What is going on here?” Tony broke the silence at last. “What the hell is going on here? Why is this happening to us?”

“I don’t know, Tony. But I got a feeling that it is meant for us to find out,” Zoë replied, reaching for the bell. “It’s our destiny. We are chosen to do this task.”

“What task? Why so mysterious all of a sudden?” Clement was quite surprised at how calm Zoë was about all the strange happenings.

“The task will be revealed if we search it, Clement. We have to do this. Come with me.”
Tony and Clement hesitated. Part of them felt unbelievable about all this, yet another part of them felt that they should embrace this destiny, only that the mirror wasn’t their destiny but something else. As if answering the boys’ question, Tony’s foot kicked on another crystal bell tied with a silver string. He bent down to pick it up, and immediately the bell was pointing the opposite direction, towards the main door.

“Come with me, Tony, Clement. Our destiny awaits,” Zoë was clutching her bell and moving backwards to the mirror.

Tony stared at his bell for a few moments, then said, “No. We can’t. This is our destiny, not that one. Clara, Clarice, you go with Zoë. You’re meant for that.”

The twins were only too eager to follow. They took Zoë’s hand and waved goodbye to the boys. The thought of saying farewell to their parents didn’t even cross their minds; as if the urging of the bell and the call of the mirror was more important to them. Slowly, Zoë and the twins disappeared into the mirror, making a large ripple on it. Then, silence.

Tony and Clement crept slowly towards the bed where their parents slept and gave them each a kiss. Then, Tony took Clement’s hand and followed wherever the bell was pointing. They found themselves being led to the Mary Shelley portrait again. This time, they were ready.

All was quiet after they stepped into the passageway behind the portrait.

AJ glanced across the lecture hall at the tall, slim Alan. He couldn’t help it. He had to at least look at him once before he could concentrate in his lessons. It was like Alan was a stimulator for AJ to carry on with his daily routine for the day.

AJ did a little doodle on his textbook. He knew almost everything the teacher was teaching, and was probably way advanced than the teachers themselves. He had read almost all of the books in the library and can at least understand the basics of the subjects taught in senior classes. He even jumped a far distance during PE lessons today with no difficulty at all. The students were beginning to give him the ‘eye’ again.

He was special and he knew very well that his special talent would attract attention. Keeping a low profile wasn’t easy, but he managed it quite well. He learned not to be a show-off in class and helped his fellow classmates out in their weak subjects as well as possible. Many looked up at him as a role model and many girls adored him. Almost every year, his desk would be piled with Valentine cards and little gifts.

But there was one little secret that he kept from the world besides being special. AJ was a gay. He must admit that he noticed a lot of girls who were very beautiful, but they didn’t catch his attention. Not one bit. He couldn’t help it. He just couldn’t bring himself to like girls. When Alan transferred into his class, AJ was love-struck on that spot. By then he knew that he’s a gay and he’s in love with a man.

Alan was a friendly guy. He made friends with AJ almost immediately and they were always together ever since. The only time they’re not together was when the lecture hall was full and there were only 2 separate seats left. That was AJ’s worst nightmare.

“It’s very normal for men to fall into gayinism,” Doc said. “in fact, the reason why you became gay is due to your chromosomes.”

Doc was AJ’s personal robot physician. He looked like the short, stout robot in Star Wars but quite talkative. AJ didn’t know where he came from. All he remembered was that Doc has been with him all his life. His parents were unknown, strangers to him.

“Your parents passed away when you’re only a month old. I was entitled to be your legal guardian,” Doc said when AJ asked him about his parents a few years ago, and said nothing more. AJ never asked him again since.

“Is it wrong to be a gay?” AJ was still doubtful.

“There is no right or wrong in gayinism or lesbianism. It’s what humans think that makes it right or wrong.”

AJ nodded. He trusted Doc’s words. He’s been looking and advising him for the past 15 years, so there’s no point doubting his words now.

“When is your camp night?” Doc asked as he glided to the kitchen. “Is Alan going?”

“Tomorrow. Of course Alan’s going. I wouldn’t be going if he’s not!” AJ replied, blushing a little.

“I wonder what the two of you would do…”

There was a sly tone in Doc’s voice. AJ blushed redder and flung a cushion at Doc. Doc laughed as he glided away to prepare dinner.


“Right! Who wants drinks?”

A dozen hands or so shot up, including Alan and AJ. The teacher walked around passing the drinks to them. Alan and AJ both got chrysanthemum tea.

“Let’s go somewhere else! It’s too noisy here!” Alan shouted amidst the loud Linkin Park music. AJ nodded and took Alan’s arm, pulling him towards a creek which was somewhere near the camp inside the forest. There, the trees blocked out most of the ear-popping music.

AJ and Alan were chitchatting on the way to the creek when suddenly Alan tripped. The grass broke his fall and he wasn’t injured. But the bottom of the drink packet Alan was holding broke and split, letting the tea leak out like a runny faucet.

“Darn those tree roots! They can really get away with murder someday!” Alan complained, frustrated. He tried to finish the drink before everything leaked out of sight but in vain—the tea was escaping much faster than he could drink. As a last resort, he sucked it from the split bottom.

AJ was watching him all the while he was doing it. The hole was bigger than his puckered mouth, so the tea actually leaked out from the corner of his mouth. It trickled down to his chin, and some ran down his neck. Alan held out his hand below his chin and the tea droplets fell onto his palm. Alan was closing his eyes as he did all this—he always closed his eyes when he’s engrossed in something. AJ continued to stare as Alan resolved to lick the remaining tea away. His heart raced to an uncontrollable level.

Everything except Alan was a fuzzy blur to AJ now. Alan was somewhat moving in slow motion in his eyes: the way he sucked the last few drops of tea, the way he licked his bottom lip, the way his hand brushed his chin and neck and the way he licked his hand. Everything he did with his eyes closed was very seductive to him. AJ’s heart pumped even faster. He felt his face burning like hell, as if he was on fire. He couldn’t think straight anymore. He had lost control of his hands and feet and of his emotions. Only his intention stood tall—to claim Alan and make him his. He caught Alan unaware and placed his lips on Alan’s, kissing deeply; so deep that AJ thought he was trying to eat Alan whole…

When he opened his eyes, then he realized what he had done. Alan was staring at him in disbelief, quivering like a frightened rabbit. His eyes gave AJ a sign of utmost disbelief, shock and hurt, as if being betrayed by someone he had trusted. Instinctively, AJ let Alan go and apologized profusely.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Alan! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know what got into me, Alan. I’m so sorry. It…It won’t happen again…”

Before AJ could continue, Alan seized him by the collar. AJ shut his eyes tight, waiting for Alan’s blow. He almost shrank when he saw Alan’s eyes burned with fury, an anger only seen when a predator is eyeing its prey. Then, almost suddenly, he felt Alan’s lips on his, his tongue slid down almost near his throat. It was lucky he didn’t choke. It lasted about 30 seconds before they parted.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Alan’s eyes brimming with tears. He was still quivering, only that it wasn’t as violent as before. He was trying to stop himself from sobbing but his shaking shoulders betrayed him. He flung himself onto AJ’s chest and sobbed like a little child who lost his mother. Tentatively, AJ wrapped his arms around Alan. A few minutes later, Alan ceased sobbing and whispered, “Kiss me, AJ. Kiss me again.”

AJ smiled. He has misinterpreted Alan’s eyes all along. He held Alan’s face and kissed him as deep as before. It was obvious that Alan like it, as he wrapped his arms around AJ’s waist and returned his kiss. Things were getting quite saucy hot (they were in the verge of stripping each other naked there and then) when something fell on AJ’s head. It jingled as it fell onto the earth. AJ bent to pick it up and held it under the moonlight to see.

It was a beautiful, dainty little thing. It was a crystal bell hanging from a silver string. It jingled and jangled and sounded like wind chimes. It sparkled and glittered as it caught the moonlight.

“Oh, that’s beautiful! It’s so cute!” Alan cooed in delight as he fingered the bell.

“Since no one owns it, you might as well take it,” AJ said as he handed the bell to Alan.

“Oh, AJ. Can I really?”

“Why not? I don’t see anybody running out asking for it. Take it, Alan. As my first present for you.”

Alan smiled sheepishly as he took the bell. He wounded the string around his wrist. AJ wrapped his arms around Alan’s waist and licked his ear. Alan let out a soft moan.

“Wanna go to my house after camp?” AJ whispered to Alan’s ear.

“Is that an ‘invitation’?” Alan asked naughtily.

“What do you think?”

“Well…I have no objections to that…”

“Good,” AJ said and kissed his cheek.


AJ’s night light was on. Elsewhere in his room was pretty dark. Though AJ had the air-conditioner on, he and Alan were covered with beads of sweat. Alan laid on his stomach, clutching the bed sheet. He had his face on the pillow, letting out muffled moans and groans of pleasure with each thrust AJ gave him.

AJ was all over him. He sniffed his hair. He nibbled his ear. He let his tongue run from Alan’s neck down to the back of his sensitive spine. He stroked his thighs as he slowly inched his legs apart for more room. He thrust Alan again and again, each one harder than before, pushing into the soft opening. He heard Alan’s muffled moans and thrust harder, exhilarated.

“Ooh, AJ…” Alan moaned, his face burning, his whole body getting all spiced up.

“Does it feel good?” AJ whispered as he licked the back of his ear.

“Yes…Oh, yes…”

“Say it out loud. I wanna hear you say it.”

“It feels so good…” Alan whispered. It was obvious that he was still feeling a little sheepish.

“Louder. I can’t hear you,” AJ encouraged him.

“It feels so good…! So good…! Yes…”

“Louder,” AJ thrust in harder and deeper, over and over again.


Doc, who was at the living room, had to turn a deaf ear awkwardly over the ‘racket’. If robots could blush, he’d surely would. It was AJ’s private affairs and he didn’t want to interfere. He did say being gay was OK and he had no intention to bother those two lovebirds. When AJ brought Alan home, Doc was impressed at how good-looking he was. It was no wonder AJ would fall heads over heels over him.

Suddenly, Doc was attacked from behind. He was pushed to the ground and was surrounded by several boot-wearing feet. His head was not built to look up, so he couldn’t see who they were. He could hear them though.

“Where’s Project No. 69?” A gruff voice demanded. Doc recognized it.


“Where is he? Where is Project No. 69?”

“I don’t know,” Doc had to say something to defend AJ. He knew they had come for him.

“Don’t play games with me, QX5.5! You have abducted Project No. 69 and kept him under your custody for 15 years! Now where is he?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Doc felt his head bashed by something heavy, like a sledgehammer. He groaned and shut himself off. He wasn’t going to give anymore answers. Playing dead seemed like a good idea. Though shut off, his mind is still clear inside and he hoped that no one will find AJ.

“Check the place out! Leave no stone unturned! We have to get Project No. 69 back to the lab!”

There were a lot of shuffling and banging as the owners of the feet searched the area. At the same time, the bell wounded on Alan’s wrist began to jingle, pointing a direction towards the window.

“Oh heavens, Alan. Put that bell away,” AJ said as he kissed Alan’s neck hungrily. “Are you trying to entice me more with it?”

“No…No, I’m not. It…It jingled by itself,” Alan tried to silence the bell but in vain.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not—What is all that racket out there?”

At Alan’s words, the door suddenly burst open. Men wearing military suits surrounded the two naked teenagers. It took 2 seconds before they realized the men’s presence.

“Who the hell are you? What are you doing here in my house?” Aj demanded as he put on his clothes. Alan did the same.

“No. 69, you’re coming with us to the lab,” one of the men ordered.

“What lab? Who’s No. 69? My name’s AJ! Andrew Johnson!”

“No. 69, you are requested to come with us quietly.”

“I’m not leaving without an explanation!”

“Then we’ll have to use force.”

So saying, all the men jumped onto AJ. Alan screamed as he jumped off the bed and ran to the living room. There was a huge havoc going on in there. The men were all trying to hold him down and drag him away, but AJ was too quick and strong for them. He didn’t bother to keep a low profile anymore. He used all his strength to beat off the men, sending them flying across the room. He then ran out, grabbed both Alan and Doc and dashed out of his apartment to the parking lot. He helped them on his Suzuki motorbike, started it and raced off down the road.

“AJ, I got a feeling this bell is trying to help us get away!” Alan exclaimed when he noticed the bell pointing forward. “Look, it’s showing us a shortcut down the highway!”

So it was. AJ decided to listen to Alan (although he’s still doubtful) and drove wherever the bell was pointing. He yelled at Doc, “Doc! Doc! Turn yourself on! I need some answers!”

Doc, who was between Alan and AJ, turned himself on and said, “I’m sorry, AJ I’m sorry! I should’ve told you earlier…”

“Who were those men? What were they doing here? Why did they calling me No. 69?!”

“I’ll tell you everything! Everything! Just keep driving until we find someplace safe and I’ll spill the beans!”

AJ huffed and increased the bike to full speed, driving away into the night.

Athena sat on a flat rock, meditating. The tight bonds of rope aroung her body didn’t really bother her at all. She was contented to just sit there and think of nothing but peace.

On the other hand, Gary and George were fighting over a drumstick. They were squabbling about who should deserve that drumstick better.

“I found this wild chicken!” Gary yelled.

“Well, I shot it!” George barked at him fiercely.

“If it weren’t for me, you would be eating that nasty trout again!”

“What’s the use of finding it if you can’t kill it?”

“And what’s the use of a gun if you can’t find anything to shoot?”

Henry, who was drinking his coffee, sat quietly as he watched his friends continue bickering at each other.

“Well, at least I plucked and cleaned the chicken!” Gary growled.

“Well, I cooked it!” George insisted.

“No way! I set up the fire!”

“And who brought the wood?”

“And who brought the matches?”

“Henry,” Athena opened her eyes in the midst of all the racket, “would you be so kind as to let George have your drumstick? I’m sure it’s still untouched.”

Henry nodded. He picked up the drumstick on his plate, poked George and passed the drumstick to him. George looked at it and noticed Athena smiling and nodding at him behind Henry. He let go of Gary and accepted the drumstick. Henry grinned and went back to sipping his coffee. Athena went back to her meditation.

“I wonder when we are going to get out of this bloody forest. It’s been weeks since we left home for this trip,” Gary complained as he munched triumphantly on his drumstick. His red hair shone under the light of the fire.

“That’s because you lost the map!” George said dourly. “You’re all thumbs, Gary. You can’t even hold a pencil right, let alone an important thing as a map!”

“I did not lose the map! I stuffed it into your bag as soon as I finished reading it! You lost it! And another thing,” Gary protested before George could rebut him back again, “you didn’t bring a compass along. That was your job. So there!”

“Well, I never! You suggested this trip in the first place! You bragged about knowing this place like the back of your hand! Now look what you’ve led us to!”

“Me? Me?! Why, I…”

Henry shushed them and jerked his head towards the meditating Athena. Gary and George ceased their quarrelling and turned their backs towards each other. Secretly, from the corner of their eyes, they stared at Athena sitting on the rock with her eyes closed, deep in her thoughts, clad in her usual robes. A very unlikely thing to wear during a camping trip, but neither of the men mind.

Having finished their dinner, the men took out their sleeping bags and tucked themselves in. only Athena remained at her spot. Gary did call her to go to bed, but seeing that she didn’t react, he left her alone and turned over, falling asleep instantly.

Athena continued meditating. The peace and tranquility of the forest was music to her ears. Apart from the occasional forest bugs, the men’s snoring and the crackling of fire, everything was fine. Her mother was right; if there is peace in the mind, there’s peace everywhere.

Suddenly there was a jingling of bells. Athena opened her eyes abruptly, shocked at what she heard. There wasn’t a decent sound in the forest for weeks and now there it was, right in front of her! Maybe somebody has come to help them at last. Maybe someone has heard wind of their disappearance and sent the rescue team to help them. Athena relieved herself of her sitting position and got off the rock. Henry heard her and woke up.

“Sorry to wake you up, Henry,” Athena apologized.

Henry shook his head, and then gazed at her with questioning eyes.

“I hear bells. Do you hear it?”

Henry raised his head a little. The jingling caught his ear. He nodded.

“It could be the rescue team. It could be anybody. Do wake the others up. I have a feeling we’ll be saved.”

Henry got up in a thrice and shook Gary and George awake. Athena stood a few feet away from them, waiting.

“What is it? What is it? If that’s you, Gary, I’ll…” George mumbled sleepily, annoyed at the sudden shaking.

“Wake up, George. Wake up, Gary. I hear bells. There might be help coming to us. Let’s go and see who it is,” Athena urged.

At the word ‘help’, Gary and George were wide awake almost immediately. They didn’t care if their hair were ruffled; they’re dying to see another person in the forest that might provide some sort of rescue. They ran towards the sound of the jingling which was music to their ears, leaving Athena and Henry behind.

Moments later, they found themselves standing in front of a jeep. It was a classic one, the type which was used by soldiers during the war, the one without the roof. On the rear-view mirror was a crystal bell hanging from a silver string, jingling and jangling, pointing forward.

Athena and Henry caught up. They saw the jeep and the bell, but there was no one else in sight. Gary and George called out a few times but nobody answered. Nobody appeared out of nowhere and said, “Yes, you called?” or “Hey, that’s my jeep!” There wasn’t even a sound of a footstep.

“No one’s here, only the jeep,” Gary concluded. “Guess we have to ride ourselves back to town. A car for free, imagine that! He he he!”

“No, Gary, please!” Athena begged, quite horrified. “It’s not right to steal someone else’s car. It might belong to someone!”

“Well, we’ve called several times but no one showed up. How can you be sure that person needs it? He probably didn’t give a damn about this baby and dumped it here. It’s pretty old, you know.”

“Maybe they left it there for a while and went to the men’s room or something. It’s just not right.”

“Well, right or not, Athena, this sucker left the keys in the car. How stupid can that person be if he really cared about the car?”

“I don’t know…” Athena was still worried.

“Come on, Athena. We’re just borrowing the jeep,” George, for once, defended Gary. “Once we get to town, we’ll find the owner and give it back to him, plus apology. Whaddaya say?”


“You want to go home to your peaceful lifestyle again, don’t you?”

“Y…Yes, I must say…”

“Then hop in!” Gary grinned. He turned the key in the ignition and it started immediately. “Let’s get out of this dump!”

Athena finally let herself into the car. Henry was the only one who had a driving license, so he sat in the driver’s seat. Athena sat beside him and the rest sat at the back. As soon as everyone got on the jeep, before Henry laid his hands on the steering wheel, the jeep suddenly swerved and went down the road, going towards the direction of where the bell was pointing.

“What’s going on?! Henry, is this what you learn in driving school?!” Gary shrieked as he held on tight to the seat. Henry put his hands up and shook his head in protest, indicating that he didn’t dupe the car or anything.

“Oh heavens! This car has a mind of its own! It’s taking us deep into the forest!” Athena screamed in panic. The men were also in panic. Henry tried to step on the brakes but it didn’t work either.

“Look! The tank is empty!” Gary exclaimed, pointing at the tank meter. “But the jeep’s still running! It really has a mind of its own!”

Athena clasped her hands and prayed. Henry held tight on the steering wheel. Gary and George grabbed on each other. None of them knew what to do.

A desperate cry for help was the last thing they could say before they were carried deeper and deeper into the thick forest.

There were about thirty to forty people at Tamara’s Class of ’98 reunion party that night. Everyone from Class ’98 was there, including the teachers. Although the hall of Tamara, the little Miss Richie Rich of Class ’98, was big, people still had to stand very close to one another and shout to make themselves heard. If it weren’t for the large buffet table (which was taking up most of the space) and the loud Bon Jovi music, the atmosphere wouldn’t be so appalling. Many were grinning, showing capped white teeth. Most of them had a cigarette in the left hand and a drink or a plate of food in the right, and there were quite a number of children running around the place, probably belonging to a few of the married ex-students of Class ’98. It was a wonder those kids did not crash into one another or any of the adults or causing the spilling of drinks and flying of shrimp cocktails.

Suzie moved away from her crowd. She wasn’t much of a chatty person anyway. She headed for the small bar in the far corner, and when she got there, she sat down on a bar-stool and faced the hall. She ordered a Martini and watched the ex-students—her ex-classmates—of Class ’98, chitchatting away without noticing her at all while taking food from part-time waiters and waitresses from some of the most high-classed catering companies money can buy, waiting on them hand and foot just to earn a couple of bucks to pay for their tuition fees. Typical for the richest girl of Class ’98 to be hiring help for everything she did.

It’s not surprising that no one noticed her. Suzie could be considered the Ghost of Class ’98—she was tiny and timid, with long hair down to her waist. She was very fair, almost going pale, and the only thing that ever gave her face any colour was the pink blusher she wiped across her cheek. She was dressed in black, like Morticia in the Addams family, and she looked like her too, minus the make-up, that is. People barely acknowledged her unless she at least whispers a little, then they’ll raise their eyebrows and say, “Where did she come from?”

“Well, well, well, if it ain’t our old friend Suzie the Ghost! Got room for us?”

Suzie looked up and saw Tamara with a number of other girls. The Barbie Girls, they were known to everyone in Class ‘98. She nodded and they all sat beside her. Tamara put her arm over Suzie’s shoulder.

“Having a great time? You should be glad I remembered and invited you. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.”

“Thank you, Tam,” Suzie replied timidly. Oh, how she envied Tamara and the other girls. They’re all robust and lively, full of colour (not to mention Tamara being rich). How she wished she could be like them, that is if she weren’t so busy trying to avoid them and their possible ragging.

“If you are trying to dress up like Morticia, Suzie, you should’ve decorated your face like her as well,” Janet, one of the girls, remarked as she tossed her red hair and laughed. “You look like Morticia who just had a nasty cold!”

Sorry I tried, Suzie thought acidly, fighting the urge to splash her glass of Martini on her foundation-covered face.

“Hush, Janet, that’s not nice!” Another girl, Diana defended her. She’s very sweet, this Diana, despite the fact that she was one of the Barbie Girls herself. “Don’t mind her, Suzie. You look great.”

“Thanks,” Suzie replied. She hated make-up. Really, she did. It was an effort for her just to put a few lousy dabs of blusher.

“Is that all you can say, Suzie?” Tamara tried to make the conversation friendlier and clapped her back. “Dang, you haven’t changed since we last saw you—or even remembered you. How are you doing these few years? Doing college? University? Married?”

“No. I work in a nursery,” Suzie lowered her head, the cold glass of Martini numbing her fingers.

“Oh, babysitting children, eh? I bet it’s tiring, having to run around meeting all those little brats’ whim and fancy.”

“It was OK.”

“That’s a sweet job, Suzie. Gives you preparations before-hand when you heve kids of your own someday,” Diana complimented.

“Yeah,” Janet snorted, “if she ever gets married!”

“Janet, don’t!” Diana frowned at her.

“Hey, it’s a fact. She’s been in high school for years and no guys had ever set eyes on her. I wouldn’t be caught dead a spinster if I were her!” Janet’s a very outspoken girl. She couldn’t control her own mouth, let alone others.

Tamara could see that Suzie was in the verge of breaking down, so she quickly changed the subject, “So, Suzie. I heard that you’re on your own now. That is so cool. I mean, so much freedom, having everything to yourself, no worries at all. Where do you live?”

“An apartment at Loanes Street,” Suzie cheered up a little. She sometimes wished Janet would just shut up.

“Loanes Street?! Isn’t that apartment supposed to be haunted?!” Janet was at it again. “You gotta be crazy to go on living there!”

“That’s just rumours, Janet,” Tamara groaned in exasperation. “What’s really like up there, Suzie? Still rearing fishies as pets?”

Suzie almost dropped her Martini. ‘Fish’ was the lat thing she ever wanted to hear. Janet smirked when she noticed her going pale.

“See? See how jumpy Suzie is? I told you that place is haunted, especially the drain!”

“And what do you know about the Loanes Apartment, huh?” Diana challenged. She bet Janet was just all talk, but Janet proved her wrong.

“Oh, I know dozens about the apartment, I do! Particularly the drain. The drain is the spookiest of all the hauntings in the apartment. Some people say they can hear a woman screaming for help with her husband swearing in the background, some say they can see a dangling corpse hanging from a fan or something and some say they could see and hear ghosts roaming around the corridors and moaning in front of their faces, but none is compared to the drain. No, none can be compared!”

“Is that true, Suzie?” Diana asked Suzie. Suzie remained silent.

“Oh Christ, Janet! Stop the dilly-dallying and tell us about the drain, if you’re not trying to be hogwash!” Tamara barked at her outspoken friend impatiently.

“I’m not trying to be hogwash! It’s true! My brother-in-law, before he married my sister, used to live there and he had a score to tell!”

“Well, what is it?” One of the girls in the group asked, humouring Janet.

“He said that the drain in the apartment is haunted. Every night, and I mean every night, at exactly 8 o’clock, you can hear loud splashes in the drain, like a fish doing jumps over the water or something, and the splashes are very loud. Almost abnormal. And it goes on and on throughout the night. Sometimes you can still hear those splashes at the most eerie hours, but it always start at 8 o’clock at night, no matter what.

“Then came a night when he couldn’t stand it anymore. My brother-in-law, together with his roommate, went down to investigate. They went near the drain that was making all the loud splashes and guess what? The sound of the splashes was there, but there’s no water in the drain! I tell you, the drain was as dry as the desert! Sure, there should be a little water enough to wet the whole darn drain but he swore there was no water at that side of the drain! Yet the sound of splashes was so loud, and it came from there!

“Of course, my brother-in-law refused to believe it at first. He thought they were echoes from another side of the drain. So he turned around to check out the other side. Suddenly he heard a gurgling noise, like someone was drowning, and when he turned around, he saw his roommate lying on the solid ground, dead and as pale as a ghost. Forensics have checked out his roommate’s body and reported, reluctantly, that the cause of death was drowning. Drowning! Could you imagine? It was an uproar, I tell you. After that incident, with involvement from the police and all, a massive group of house-moving occurred. A lot of residents decided there and then that they’re moving. I’m sure that happened when you’re still living there, right, Suzie?”

Suzie nodded. She swallowed her Martini all in one go, which was something she had never done before.

“See? I told you it was true! I’m no hogwash!” Janet exclaimed triumphantly. She even ordered a Bloody Mary to congratulate herself with.

“Then why didn’t you move? Why didn’t you leave that place?” Diana asked, concerned.

“Because it’s my fault,” Suzie replied after a very long silence.

“Excuse me?” Tamara raised an eyebrow.

“I caused the haunting.”

Janet almost choked in her Bloody Mary. All the girls looked at her as if she had just made a bizarre announcement about the end of the world. Suzie ignored them. She ordered another Martini and sipped it.

“What do you mean you caused the haunting?” Tamara asked Suzie, trying to check if she had lost a few marbles.

“Like I said, I made the haunting happened. If it weren’t for me, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“What? What did you do?” Diana asked. She was getting worried. She had never heard Suzie spoke more than a sentence before. Janet thought she was getting drunk with all the Martini she’s been drinking.

“You mean you rigged those splashing sounds and scared my brother-in-law’s roommate to death?”

“No. It’s not that.” It was surprising that Suzie didn’t jump up at that remark.

“Then what happened?” Tamara was getting impatient.

“You know I have a letch for fish. I adore fish. If possible, I would love to collect every species there is in the whole world and keep them in exotic tanks and just sit there and watch them swim around.”

“Then that’s not a problem.”

“That’s a very big problem,” Suzie said, anxious. “I haven’t got the money and none of my fish I’ve kept survive more than a month.”

“Good Lord!” Diana exclaimed, cupping her mouth.

“I had 4 beautiful goldfish once, and each of them died, one per day. The last goldfish survived for 2 more days before dying abruptly.”

“That’s terrible,” Tamara said.

“Bummer!” Janet remarked.

“A month later, I received 2 carps from my friend, a male and a female. No sooner I got those carps than later that evening, the male died.”

“Bullshit! That can’t be true! You’re pulling our legs!” Janet snorted. Her eyes were glazed by the drink, but her mouth was as outspoken as ever.

“No. it’s true. It died right at that evening. I didn’t want to see the female suffer the same fate, so I brought the bucket down to the drain and poured her and the dead male down. I know the drain might lead somewhere down to a sewer or something, where she might survive just for a while. I just poured and left with looking, so I didn’t know whether she made it or not,” Suzie took a long pull of her Martini after she finished her story.

“Good heavens! Suzie, how could you?” Diana was almost in tears. She’s a sweet girl, and any cruelty would drive her into a bucketful of tears.

“Looks like the drain has told you whether she made it or not,” Janet grinned and ordered a vodka next.

“I had no choice,” Suzie said quietly.

“You know what I think? I think that fish is trying to draw your attention. She wants to lure you so that she can kill you, just like she did to the roommate.”

Suzie kept silent. She finished her Martini and grabbed her coat. She made up an excuse, thanked Tamara for the lovely party and left. The girls just sat there and watched her leave, completely dumbstruck.



The splashes have been going on for hours now. Suzie glanced at her clock. 2 a.m. Suzie drew her blanket nearer to her chin. The splashes were threatening her—demanding her, to be exact—to go down and check it out. It was calling her, wanting her to go down to meet the doom that she deserved. Suzie had brought herself to get used to the splashing, but after the story Janet told the other girls, she was getting goosebumps all over again.

Suddenly she heard a series of tiny jingles. Suzie opened her tightly shut eyes and saw a crystal bell hanging from a silver string on her window sill. It was jingling and swaying, as if the wind was blowing at it from inside the room. It was pointing towards the direction of the drain, jingling ever so softly, like melodic church psalms.

Suzie knew that in a way, she had killed the female carp and she deserved to be punished for that. She knew that the dead fish was seeking revenge upon her. She was scared. Throughout those nights, although she told herself to get used to it, deep down inside her, she was scared stiff. Now, after listening to those jingling of the crystal bell, she knew she couldn’t hide anymore. She knew that this day would come. She knew she was going to die in the fins of a very vengeful fish sooner or later.

Most of all, she was somehow ready to face it.

She removed the bell from the sill and let it guide her. The bell continued jingling and pointing to the front, guiding her way. Surprisingly, Suzie wasn’t scared or shocked by this mysterious bell. She wasn’t the least bit curious about the way the bell acted. She just accepted whatever was happening to her now and let the bell lead the way.

Soon, Suzie found herself standing in front of the famous haunted drain.

This is a story about 15 people.

This is a story about 15 people undergoing a journey through 7 Roads of the Realm of Life.

This is a story about 15 people who wouldn’t stay and wait for fate to claim them. A story which shows that they have the determination to change their own fate, their own future, their own lives. A story which they have to learn to understand about life, about themselves and about their true destiny.

This is a story about 15 people who have beaten all odds received the most precious gift in their lives.

This is a story about love.

About courage.

About determination.

About sadness and joy, despair and hope.

About life.

This is their story.

The Enchanted Tsarévich

Once upon a time there was a merchant who had three daughters. It so happened he had one day to go to strange countries to buy wares, and so he asked his daughters, "What shall I bring you from beyond the seas?"

The eldest asked for a new coat, and the next one also asked for a new coat; but the youngest one only took a sheet of paper and sketched a flower on it. "Bring me, bátyushka [father], a flower like this!"

So the merchant went and made a long journey to foreign kingdoms, but he could never see such a flower. So he came back home, and he saw on his way a splendid lofty palace with watchtowers, turrets, and a garden. He went a walk in the garden, and you cannot imagine how many trees he saw and flowers, every flower fairer than the other flowers. And then he looked and he saw a single one like the one which his daughter had sketched.

"Oh," he said, "I will tear off and bring this to my beloved daughter; evidently there is nobody here to watch me."

So he ran up and broke it off, and as soon as he had done it, in that very instant a boisterous wind arose and thunder thundered, and a fearful monster stood in front of him, a formless, winged snake with three heads. "How dared you play the master in my garden!" cried the snake to the merchant. "Why have you broken off a blossom?"

The merchant was frightened, fell on his knees and besought pardon.

"Very well," said the snake, "I will forgive you, but on condition that whoever meets you first, when you reach home, you must give me for all eternity; and, if you deceive me, do not forget, nobody can ever hide himself from me. I shall find you wherever you are."

The merchant agreed to the condition and came back home. And the youngest daughter saw him from the window and ran out to meet him. Then the merchant hung his head, looked at his beloved daughter, and began to shed bitter tears.

"What is the matter with you? Why are you weeping, bátyushka?"

He gave her the blossom and told what had befallen him.

"Do not grieve, bátyushka ," said the youngest daughter. "It is God's gift. Perhaps I shall fare well. Take me to the snake."

So the father took her away, set her in the palace, bade farewell, and set out home. Then the fair maiden, the daughter of the merchant, went in the different rooms, and beheld everywhere gold and velvet; but no one was there to be seen, not a single human soul.

Time went by and went by, and the fair damsel became hungry and thought, "Oh, if I could only have something to eat!" But before ever she had thought, in front of her stood a table, and on the table were dishes and drinks and refreshments. The only thing that was not there was birds' milk. Then she sat down to the table, drank and ate, got up, and it had all vanished.

Darkness now came on, and the merchant's daughter went into the bedroom, wishing to lie down and sleep. Then a boisterous wind rustled round and the three- headed snake appeared in front of her.

"Hail, fair maiden! Put my bed outside this door!"

So the fair maiden put the bed outside the door and herself lay on the bedstead.

She awoke in the morning, and again in the entire house there was not a single soul to be seen. And it all went well with her. Whatever she wished for appeared on the spot.

In the evening the snake flew to her and ordered, "Now, fair maiden, put my bed next to your bedstead."

She then laid it next to her bedstead, and the night went by, and the maiden awoke, and again there was never a soul in the palace.

And for the third time the snake came in the evening and said, "Now, fair maiden, I am going to lie with you in the bedstead."

The merchant's daughter was fearfully afraid of lying on a single bed with such a formless monster. But she could not help herself, so she strengthened her heart and lay down with him.

In the morning the serpent said to her, "If you are now weary, fair maiden, go to your father and your sisters. Spend a day with them, and in the evening come back to me. But see to it that you are not late. If you are one single minute late I shall die of grief."

"No, I shall not be late," said the maiden, the merchant's daughter, and descended the steps; there was a barouche ready for her, and she sat down. That very instant she arrived at her father's courtyard.

Then the father saw, welcomed, kissed her, and asked her, "How has God been dealing with you, my beloved daughter ? Has it been well with you?"

"Very well, father!" And she started telling of all the wealth there was in the palace, how the snake loved her, how whatever she only thought of was in that instant fulfilled.

The sisters heard, and did not know what to do out of sheer envy.

Now the day was ebbing away, and the fair maiden made ready to go back, and was bidding farewell to her father and her sisters, saying, "This is the time I must go back. I was bidden keep to my term."

But the envious sisters rubbed onions on their eyes and made as though they were weeping: "Do not go away, sister; stay until tomorrow."

She was very sorry for her sisters, and stayed one day more.

In the morning she bade farewell to them all and went to the palace. When she arrived it was as empty as before. She went into the garden, and she saw the serpent lying dead in the pond! He had thrown himself for sheer grief into the water.

"Oh, my God, what have I done!" cried out the fair maiden, and she wept bitter tears, ran. up to the pond, hauled the snake out of the water, embraced one head and kissed it with all her might. And the snake trembled, and in a minute turned into a good youth.

"I thank you, fair maiden," he said. "You have saved me from the greatest misfortune. I am no snake, but an enchanted prince."

Then they went back to the merchant's house, were betrothed, lived long, and lived for good and happy things.

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