fiction

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Mouse Trap

Rats in a maze – fiction by Nick Compton

 

Bachelorhood didn’t suit Jake. He had an empty fridge and a cupboard full of mice. He’d hear them at night. Not just a few, but bloody hordes of the little bastards. Loud as a herd of elephants. Lying awake in bed, thinking of her, he’d listen to them run riot throughout his little hutong place. It was worse when they’d get into the drawer filled with plastic bags he used for the trash. The scratch and swish as they rifled through them had an air of desperation that panicked him much more than their secret scampering. When he told his landlady, a fast-talking barrel of lava from Sichuan Province, she laughed and waved him off. “It’s an old Beijing neighborhood,” she said in an explosion of accented Mandarin sand-blasted by years of chain-smoking full-tar cigarettes and screaming at her husband. “Buy a glue trap.”

One night he’d forgotten about a cookie in a little paper pouch he’d tucked into the side pocket of his backpack. As he closed his eyes, he heard what sounded like an excited kid tearing into a brightly wrapped present on Christmas morning. He popped out of bed and grabbed a slipper, sneaking to the top of the stairs that separated his lofted bedroom from the vermin below. It was too dark to see clearly, but he aimed for the bag and fired.

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White Socks, Short Nails

A tale of two Ayis – fiction by Magdalena Navarro

 

Auntie Han took two steps back and looked at me as if straightening a crooked painting.

"Are you wearing the new socks?"

She stepped forward to flatten my hair to the sides of my head.

"Yes." Plain white, no patterns. I had changed into them at the train station that morning.

"Hmm. Show me your hands."

I obeyed, my eyes fixed on her mouth. Two of her front teeth were missing, but that did not make her look endearing. She was getting them fixed now that she had saved a bit of money. Besides, her mother-in-law's funeral had given her an excuse to go back home for a while. I was her replacement.

“Good." She dropped my hands. "Keep your nails clean and short. That's how they like it.”

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Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Fresh blood – fiction by Max Berwald

 

All morning a cool, hard wind blew out of the north. At noon his phone vibrated against his arm and he sat up in bed and the wind stopped blowing. “Hello?”

“Mr. Zhang?”

“Hi.”

“I’m calling from People’s General Health Services in Haidian.”

Chongan nodded, rubbing his eyes. “I already...” He was still high. He scanned the bed but Morgan was gone. No, she’d fallen asleep at Olu’s– he’d gone home without her? “I already picked up my results.”

“I was hoping we could meet for lunch.”

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Friends Hospital

Fiction by Bradford Philen

 

“No, not figuratively dimmer, actually dimmer.” 

With that, professor Zhi Xun nodded to the student in the audience who had asked the question. He was a doctor actually, professor Zhi Xun: an esteemed Doctor of Philosophy in Chinese history. The student was Bill Hurley, an American, from Dover, Indiana, studying and working in Beijing on a Fulbright scholarship. Bill figured he was nearly fluent in Chinese, but thought maybe he was missing something. 

The panel discussion Life after Mao and Mao in the After-Life had just ended. There were artists, politicians, government officials, writers, and scholars on the panel. Mostly Chinese men. Zhi Xun was taking a few questions.

“It is a scientific fact,” Zhi Xun continued. “When Chairman Mao died in 1976, we have astronomical measurements that the sun grew dimmer.”

His face didn’t move or twitch and his eyes didn’t wander to see the audience react. It was as if he’d said something so known to be true, speaking it had little value. Chinese eat rice with chopsticks. True always and always true. The birth of Mao brought the shining sun in the Far East. True and true and true.

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The View

Flash fiction from Shanghai by Josh Stenberg

 

Jason called out of the blue. He was staying at a fancy hotel in Pudong; I should come over. The view was amazing, he said. Had I ever been? So, come.

I was startled and almost stumbled in the street. I agreed instinctively, out of confusion. Once I put down the phone, a prick of self-loathing. I wasn’t going anywhere special, so I bought a pair of new shoes in self-parody. Leather is also a kind of substance abuse.

Despite the shoes, the day was suddenly empty and smelled perilous. There was too much time before I was to go meet him and I knew that at home I would only mull and stew. So I just kept walking. The streets were cradled in that brief spring when the temperature is still comfortable but the threat of summer has already made the rounds. Things begin to sweat, especially things like us, who don’t belong, who prickle and rash. The climate is trying to excrete us.

This thought proved I hadn’t slept enough, so I repressed the desire for a cigarette and groped about in my mind for some duty or escape. I followed a sign, as if it held some kind of authority, like it might fulfil a perverse need to foil expectation. I turned into the Sun Yatsen residence.

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