One day a mold began to grow on Miss Chen's fan. The fan in her hand shook black spots over her sisters and her mother. The fan spread spores in the tea room and in the tea fields. The tea farmers feared for the tea leaves when Miss Chen was around. Her brother, the policeman, offered to buy her a new fan, but she refused. She felt as though a mold had started to grow on her heart and twice she contemplated taking her own life –once as she crossed a footbridge in pursuit of a caterpillar and then again while she watched the fishermen steeping their nets in the ocean. Soon there were reports of a mold growing on Miss Lao's parasol. And hers was a beautiful silk parasol, hand-painted by the artist Bot Ho and presented to her by the son of a wealthy tuna magnate.
That night, as Miss Chen slept, a figure came to her in a dream, calling himself The Lark. He was dressed in a brown military uniform and when he spoke his lips did not appear to move. He told Miss Chen what she strangely already knew in her heart. He told her that a great plague had reached her city. He told her that it would first attach itself to everyday objects: her fan, Miss Lao's parasol, Mr. Chen's kimono, her sisters' playthings; it would grow on the fishermen's sails, in the books of scholars and on the paper lanterns hanging in the thoroughfare, and very soon it would begin to grow on the people themselves. He then brought in a slide projector and projected images of the horror that was to come and Miss Chen wept like a schoolchild.
He calmed her and told her that this was not to be her fate. He told her that she alone would be saved and would live a long, peaceful life on an island miles away. "A man and a vessel await you in the harbor" he said. "This man will welcome you onboard and together you will sail far away from this place. But you must hurry, with daybreak comes the Death in full force." With these final words, The Lark disappeared and Miss Chen woke from her dream. She dressed herself, frantically, tiptoed into her sisters' and her parents' bedrooms and kissed them on their hands and then left the house for the last time.
When she arrived at the pier Harbor Master Wang was waiting for her with the ship. His cheeks were puffy and round and his eyes were all-white like a fish's belly. "Miss Chen" he said, "are you ready to make waves?" Miss Chen nodded and then took his arm and stepped cautiously onto the gangplank. At that moment, however, Miss Chen witnessed a transformation in the Harbor Master; gone were the man's round, puffy cheeks and white eyes; they had been replaced with the bestial features of a snarling dog. And fastened around the dog's neck was a leather collar stitched with yellow thread. The dog stood on its hind legs and licked Miss Chen's face, affectionately. It licked the tears off her cheeks and swallowed them while they were still warm. Miss Chen laughed for the first time in almost a day, then took her canine captain by the collar and led him onto the ship and the two set sail.
The sound of lapping water quickly lulled Miss Chen to sleep. When she opened her eyes again she was laying on a beach and Harbor Master Wang was digging a hole in the sand a few yards away. It was odd; at that moment he was neither a dog nor a man, but rather something in-between, and when she whistled for him to come he ignored her and kept digging. Miss Chen wondered what he would put in that great big hole. She wondered what he'd put in it.
Andreas Britz was born in Cooperstown, New York, and grew up in a village on the southwest coast of Ireland. He earned a BA in English from Ohio University and an MA in the Humanities from the University of Chicago. Andreas is currently an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama.