By UMIYURI KATSUYAMA.
Translated by Toshiya Kamei
IN SICHUAN THERE lived the Bai family in a mansion bustling with servants. A dragon-shaped rock was in the backyard. A servant who worked there since he was a boy believed the dragon’s eyes followed him wherever he passed by. On a half-moon night, he lit a lantern and went out to make his rounds. When he reached the back of the main house, he gasped at the sight of a small dragon soaring heavenward. He dropped his lantern and caught its tail just in time. From then on, a fish carved out of stone kept guard over the dragon.
One Last Shriek
MIND YOU, MERFOLKS live in the mountains too, not just the ocean. Of course, they need water to survive. Deep in the mountains, streams gush forth and never freeze in winter. That’s where merfolks live.
Toraibuchi was such a mountain stream. Though nobody had seen such creatures. The family who owned Toraibuchi enjoyed prosperity. Their mansion had an ostentatious gate like a temple’s. Chirping birds perched on the wide, sloping thatched roof. They kept several horses in the barn. Their daughters wore red kimonos, and played with expensive-looking embroidered balls.
When I was young, I worked for that family. That year, snow never accumulated even though the winter solstice neared. To make my rounds, I began hiking in the morning. Around noon, I reached a blue pool. I sat by the river and opened my lunchbox. I gobbled rice with pickled vegetables and salted fish. After I was done, I crouched down next to the stream to rinse my lunchbox. Then a pair of piercing dark eyes peered out of a deathly pale face. Oh, this must be a merfolk, I thought. Let me catch it. I spread my tenugui* out and scooped the creature up. Once it was out of water, it let out a loud shriek. Startled, I fell on my butt and let go of the creature. It was as large as a human baby. It had a black and pink scaled body like a carp and a human face. Razor-sharp teeth filled its mouth. It gave me the creeps. The creature leaped up and bit my wrist. It hurt like hell. I threw it against the ground, stomped on it, and dropped it in the stream.
Look, the bastard left me with deep teeth marks. After all these years, they still throb when the weather turns cold. The following year, Japan entered the Pacific War. After the war, GHQ issued a directive on land reform, and the family lost their mountain. Who knows what happened to the stream?
* A traditional Japanese hand towel.
IN HER WHITE sneakers, the girl roamed a crowded shopping mall in Taipei. Maybe she was still in high school, a freshman perhaps. She saw a teenage couple necking on a bench and looked away, almost out of reflex. Puppy love be damned!
She wore a white half-sleeve T-shirt and blue denim shorts that showed off most of her thighs. Tied back at her nape, her long hair cascaded over her shoulders down to the middle of her back. Her lightly suntanned skin glistened with an oily texture. Her naturally bushy eyebrows perched above her dark, inquisitive eyes. Sinewy and athletic, she was ready for whatever was coming her way.
A fidgety, bespectacled boy around her age walked in front and then fell behind her. Out of the blue, he pulled the hem of her T-shirt, revealing the shape of her breasts. Even so, she kept her cool like a queen, her eyes telling him to calm down.
A thin, gold necklace shone around her neck. She didn’t need any other accessories to look great, and she knew it. In a few years, she would grow into quite a beauty, the kind you would never see at a beauty pageant.
Umiyuri Katsuyama is a multiple-award-winning writer of fantasy and horror, often based on Asian folklore motifs. A native of Iwate in the far north of Japan, she later moved to Tokyo and studied at Seisen University. In 2011, she won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award with her novel Sazanami no kuni. Her most recent novel, Chuushi, ayashii nabe to tabi wo suru, was published in 2018. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous horror anthologies in Japan.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations have appeared in Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Café Irreal, Samovar, and, most recently, in The Fortnightly Review.