Stonescript by Ryan Tan

I bought a fishing boat and sprinkled twelve life jackets around the deck. On the day of the tour, I wore a durian-patterned shirt with the Singapore Tourism Board logo on the breast pocket. Aaron, a bearded teenager with poop emoji earrings, shoved fifty dollars at me without asking for my license.

“I study ancient languages,” he said as we departed.

“That so?”

He nodded. “I lost my mind when I saw your advert. You’ve no idea how much I want to see the Singapore Stone.”

“You mean the Singapore Stone has stuff written on it?”

He folded his arms. “Didn’t you say you could see its ghost?”

“Oh yes, I remember now.” I clapped once and grinned. “Tell me more.”

“I went to the National Gallery to see the fragment that survived. But I couldn’t decipher the inscriptions. Too messy.”

“What a shame.”

“There was one word I could read, though. The Sanskrit word for ‘thanks’.”

We passed the ArtScience Museum. Water lilies purpled the entrance pool.

Aaron stiffened. “I see it.”

“The stone? Where?”

“In front of Anderson Bridge.”

I saw nothing but phlegm-green water. “Huge, isn’t it?”

“Monstrous,” he said. “I can understand why Captain Stevenson ordered its destruction.”

“Horrible man, that Stevenson.” I spat on the deck.

“Can you go a bit closer? I want to read the inscriptions.”

I obliged. My Gucci wallet warmed my fingers.

“For,” Aaron said. “For the.”

“Sorry?”

“I can read two Old Javanese words on the stone. ‘For’ and ‘the’.”

“Really?” I coughed.

“There’s one other word. I can’t remember what it means, but I’ve seen it before.”

He said nothing for the rest of the trip. At Boat Quay, he alighted and took three steps towards Craft Pizza. “Ride,” he mumbled.

“What?”

“The last word is ‘ride’.” He turned and winked. “The Singapore Stone says ‘Thanks for the ride’.” He fled.

The guy was unhinged. At least I’d earned fifty dollars off him. I opened my wallet and held my note against the Singapore River. Where the president’s portrait should have been, a smooth-coated otter smiled for the camera.


Ryan Tan studies English Literature at the National University of Singapore. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Straylight, Grimdark, Bone Parade, Bristol Noir, and The 13 Days of Christmas.

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