fiction

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Escape

Trailing visions – a short story by Dipika Mukherjee

 

The smell of the manuscripts hits her nose like a memory. Like the scent of mashed wet earth on a child’s palm after a spell of rain.

Tess shivers slightly. It is cold inside, although she can see the harsh glare of the July sun through the cracks in the old wooden door. The books lie in neatly labeled rows, the tiny words sheeted in white paper under glass cases, as structured as a cemetery. The ones 400 years or older are under special lights.

In this room there is nothing but books and old furniture. Yet Tess feels, more than sees, green. Grass under gently falling rain, and a jade bangle glistening on the slender arm outstretched to catch a drop. She has to close her eyes until the vision disappears. When she forces herself to reopen her eyes, she sees rosewood chairs inlaid with marble and heavy low tables. She glances up at the heavy wooden beams on the ceiling, her eyes drop to cement floors. She breathes her relief.

Life in China, as a trailing spouse, is driving Tess mad.

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Goodbye Joe

A backpacker's last night in China – fiction by Aaron Fox-Lerner

 

Ed: This was the final story read out at Scotch & Stories night, accompanied by a peaty Laphroaig 10

The guy I went out drinking with was a hostel buddy, one of those strangers temporarily united with you only in the shared purpose of wanting to party and maybe even get laid if it’s a good night. It wasn’t a good night.

The guy was an American like me, but he spoke Chinese and had been living for five years in Zhengzhou, which is a city in China that must be the real deal, because I’ve never heard of it. I felt like he looked down on me slightly for being just a tourist in Beijing, but we were both there in the common area and I had extra beers and we got along alright. I'd only been in China six days, I hadn't planned on staying long since all I'd heard about China was how fucked up it was, but I figured I should hit up the nightlife on my last day in Beijing before traveling on to Korea.

After knocking back a few beers with him, we go to some bar district and I pull him into the first dive I see.

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Those Crazy Shanghai Nights

Flash fiction by Josh Stenberg

 

Peng was at the door. The famous dumplings were in Shanghai, somewhere, and they weren’t going to eat themselves. The rest of the troops, already assembled, were milling and photographing each other with wall posters of tourist meccas far away, with clocks in the lobby.

I took it as a special favour when Mona Kwan wanted to have her picture taken with me. This was the girl I was trying to sleep with at the time – there was always one back then. Back then? I like to pretend now my life has become more complex. I remember I had an elaborate plan to hive her off from the group, look at that building or mmm, doesn’t that barbeque smell good. We would get lost by accident on purpose. It was nice that our Hong Kong cell phones were out of service here. We could disappear, properly, the way people used to. For once, the theoretical romance of travel might spill over into real life.

As a consequence of this obsession I have no recollection of the famous dumplings. I remember only that Mona would not play footsie with me at the table. Another girl squealed and eyed me incorrectly, and by noon the prospect of me-and-Mona seemed antique.

After lunch we went through the tourist brimstone of Nanjing Road and down to the Bund.

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The Hornèd Hand

Men of metal – short fiction by Kaiser Kuo

 

Ed: This story was read out at the Anthill Scotch & Stories night, accompanied by the Ardbeg 10

The place: Beijing’s notorious Get Lively club, where it’s Metal Moshpit Monday and the heads, they are a-banging. The band: Daomuren Gonghui, the locally-legendary Grave Robbers Guild, voted Beijing’s Most Morose Band by SinoMetal magazine three years running. They’re harder, louder, faster and far scarier than any band should reasonably be – even one that plays “Dess Maitou,” as they call their genre.

They stalk the stage, menacing and murderous, each clad in a black tee emblazoned with the undecipherable thorn-font logo of another Dess Maitou or Hei Maitou band. They’re painted up to look like they’ve just been exhumed from month-old mass graves, as though what flesh remains on their gaunt faces and gangly arms might slough right off. Fortunately, it doesn’t.

The relentless blast-beats the drummer kicks out slam into you like a jackhammer shoved up against your sternum.

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Classifieds

An unexpected friendship – fiction by Daniel Tam-Claiborne

 

He met her over the classifieds; that was how it started. He was living in Beijing for a couple of years then, teaching, and porting in and out of Mongolia on a tourist visa. Truth be told, though, even the teaching was a stretch. He rented a small room in an apartment with a couple of other foreigners and was going out nearly every night. By the time Thursday arrived, he could practically count the stiches at the bottom of his wallet.

The woman in the ad wanted English lessons. It all sounded pretty standard: reading, listening, conversation practice. That is, except for the asking price. It was over twice what he had seen anywhere else, so naturally he contacted her immediately. He figured he would have to fight off scores of would-be English tutors, but she wrote back within the hour and agreed to start right away.

Class was Saturday mornings. Friday nights were always the worst, but he told himself that he’d just ease up gradually and it wouldn’t be so bad. There he was, drinking a glass of scotch, watching the traffic swirl outside his twelfth-story balcony, and before he knew it, he was waking up in a bed he didn’t recognize, pulling all his strength together just to get across town.

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