Stories

The Crystal Dragon, KTV: part 3, by Edward King

#adventure #crystal dragon

“Alex!” Hammer called.

“Emily!” said Emily. “Hammer?”

“Emily?” said Hammer.

“I go by Emily now,” said Emily.

“Oh. …Why?” said Hammer.

“Because I want to.”

“Huh. Okay.”

“It was my mother’s name. Well—her Chinese name. Well—it’s what my Dad called her.”

“Huh.”

“艾美丽. (Ài měi lì). It means beautiful, sort of. It’s the Chinese version of the name Emily. He couldn’t really say her real Chinese name.”

“Oh. …What are you doing here?” said Hammer.

“I’m a photographer,” she said. “I came here to document the sex trade.”

“The what?”

“Oh, don’t be naive. Don’t you see what this is?”

She gestured around at the gaudy mural of a naked woman on the wall; the women’s skimpy clothing.

Suddenly it became clear to Hammer as well. He turned to Laser; Laser blushed.

Fen Yi walked into the room.

“Fen Yi!” said Emily, warmly.

“艾美丽!” said Fen Yi.

They conferred in Chinese, speaking faster than Hammer could understand. Their voices seemed to wrap around each other, like two friendly dragons playing in the sky, or two strands of DNA. Hammer focused on Emily: strong-legged, strong willed, and then Fen Yi: thin, timid, but equally as strong somewhere deep down. She would come out of this okay.

The grey-eyed man rushed into the room, swinging his arms in rage.

“I told you to get to WORK!” he said.

Fen Yi turned to Emily and then back to the grey-eyed man. She assumed a strong stance, her legs apart and her arms in fists at her sides.

“No!” she said. “I’m not your property.”

It was only as she said this the grey-eyed man seemed to notice the presence of Hammer, Laser, and Emily. His rage seemed to leave his body in thick flames.

“外国人,” he said (“foreigners”)—partly to Fen Yi, partly to himself.

The grey-eyed man frowned. He seemed to be deciding what to do. Then he smiled.

He reached across his body to lift his shirt-sleeve up. Hammer noticed that one of the fingers was missing on the hand that lifted up the sleeve.

Two characters were tattooed on his upper arm: “灵大.”

Laser’s eyes widened. “We need to go,” he said.

The grey-eyed man started to laugh. He fell into the chair behind him and lost himself in laughter as he pulled a cellphone from his jacket pocket.

Clouds brewed above as Hammer, Laser, Emily, and Fen Yi thundered down the KTV’s concrete steps. The light was fading, but the street was suffused with a green glow. A dragon hovered above them in the street.

0
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon: KTV, part 2, by Edward King

#adventure #crystal dragon

Hammer and Laser walked up the stairs into the purple light.
The sign above the door read “KTV.” Months worth of dust from the road covered the sign.

They entered the door and walked up a flight of stairs to the lobby. The purple light intensified.

The lobby contained a fish tank, an empty counter, and a bench under which lay multiple pairs of rubber slippers.
Where are we? said Hammer.
Laser shrugged innocently.

Fen Yi rushed out from the back.
“Welcome!” she said. “We’ll be with you in a minute. Would you like a cup of tea?”
%
A litany of women slept amongst blankets and pillows on couches and the floor. A bouquet of flowers lay falling apart.
Purple light fell onto the women, fell onto the canister of film.
Emily Long popped off the lid of the canister and took the roll of film out.
She loaded the roll of film into the camera and closed the camera.
Her camera would bring freedom.
Emily pointed, framed the shot, and took the picture.

%
Fen Yi led Hammer and Laser past the counter, deeper into the purple light. They came walked past a room with an open door. When they peeked in, they found it filled with resting women. Laser eyed the women curiously. Hammer looked around the room until he saw—
“Alex!” he called.
The wooden steps that led up to her door.

0
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon: KTV, part 1

#adventure #crystal dragon

New to The Crystal Dragon? Catch up here!

Fen Yi watched the dirt run off the potatoes. The water washed it down into the drain, the same as yesterday, and innumerable days before that.

A purple light spilled out into the alleyway.

“Come inside!” said a voice from within.

Fen Yi sighed deeply. “Coming!” she said. It would be him again: the one that kept her here. She picked up the knife and held it underneath the bowl of potatoes.

She walked in through the smudged glass back door, holding the knife and bowl of wet potatoes.

The walls leading to the kitchen were decorated with paintings of flowers she had bought from the artists’ school by the city wall.

A man with grey hair and one grey, opaque eye stormed up the stairs behind Fen Yi. As she put the bowl of the potatoes down, he poked his head into the kitchen, sweating.

“再晚,” he said. (You’re late.)

“知道了,” (I know), she said, under her breath. She gripped the knife firmly as she peeled and sliced the potatoes.

“你看一个外国人了吗?” he said.
She shrugged sarcastically. Had she seen a foreigner? Of course she hadn’t.
The grey-eyed man stormed out of the kitchen. Fen Yi filled a pan with oil and tipped the cut potatoes in. They crackled joyfully inside the pan.
The grey-eyed man grabbed the pan from her hands.
“Get out front!” he yelled.

Fen Yi dropped the pan and rushed into the lobby.

0
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 11: Chase, by Edward King

#adventure #china #crystal dragon

LAST TIME, ON THE CRYSTAL DRAGON: OUR HEROES, Hammer and Laser, meet in an Internet cafe to discuss the “Cloud Mafia”—a band of criminal elements controlling the mining of the metals used to make phones and computers, those essential pieces of our modern lives—but their talk is interrupted by a mysterious grey-eyed man!
Read the past episodes.
Hammer and Laser thundered down the steps of the internet cafe. Behind, the grey-eyed man pursued them.

They crossed the street. A heavy stream of traffic blocked their pursuer.

He had one grey eye and one normal, and wore a dull grey dusty rumpled suit.

He stood there helplessly, blocked by a car.

Time seemed to stop. Though they were far from the ancient city center, Hammer felt that they were in the middle of the city—of the world. The present dilemma a seamless part of the tapestry of his life.

Hammer and Laser stood in a town in the midst of three skyscrapers. Children played in the space underneath the grey buildings housing sixty stories of families. Every necessity for life was there, packed into the corners of the dirty streets. In a general store, Bottles of water and packaged food crammed onto tiny shelves. Cramped Sichuan restaurants served spicy pepper dishes. A cell phone shop, a bank. A basketball court in the concrete lot behind the supermarket. At a table on the street, family sat around a steaming wok filled with peppers, long-stalked mushrooms and potatoes.

He thought of her: Alex. The wooden steps, the falling snow, his beating heart.

His eye caught the pink, shimmering lights of a KTV, a karaoke center.

A scantily-dressed model stood outside. Her sequined pink bra revealed her fleshy stomach.

Hammer thought, inexplicably, of Alex Long. The wooden steps leading up to her apartment.

Her body, sheets and bra, embracing him.

“What are you looking at?” said Laser. “karaoke?”

“No,” said Hammer.

“I don’t think that’s one of the legit ones anyway,” said Laser. “Or—depends what you mean by legit, I guess. It depends what you’re looking for.”

The grey-eyed man appeared atop the stairs. One eye watching them, the other grey, opaque.

“Run!” said Laser.

They ran through the smoky streets between the skyscrapers. Past a karaoke bar where skinny women stood below gauzy pink lights illuminating the street. Down concrete stairs.

They hopped across a board between two roofs.

The grey-eyed man behind them reached into his coat. When he withdrew his hand, it held a dull grey revolver.

“Duck!” yelled Laser.

Hammer ducked. A shower of sparks rained from the fire escape above his head.

They ran down the concrete stairs. Laser bumped a wok, launching food into the air.

The peppers landed on the grey man’s face.

“AHHH!” he yelled. “MY EYE!”

Hammer and Laser sprinted down the street.

“Sorry!” He yelled back, still running.

They were back outside the KTV again.

“In here,” said Laser.

They ducked into the entrance and ascended a set of glimmering LED-lit stairs.

“Who was that?” said Hammer.

“We just call him Mr. Grey,” said Laser. “He more or less runs the rare earth mining operation in this province.”

“That was your boss?”

“I don’t think I’m employed there any more,” said Laser.

Midway up the stairs, they stopped.

“I thought I saw her!” said Hammer.

“Who?”

“Alex Long. My ex.”

The wooden steps that led to her front door. The white snow falling softly on the stairs.

They continued up the KTV’s glimmering stairs.

In the inner entrance stood someone.

Alex! Hammer thought. At last!

But it wasn’t wasn’t Alex. It was—

粉一, she said.

Her skimpy clothing shimmered in the light.

6+
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 11: Train Station, by Edward King

#adventure #china #short stories #stories

There are many thieves in the train but I am not a thief.

There are always many trains coming and going, and many people, and much hustle and bustle, and they use this to their advantage, as a distraction. And though my clothes are dirty and my beard is long, though my eyes are weary and my cap is worn, I am simply a traveler and I would never cause another person pain just for my own gain. I am a decent man.

It is summer now, and so the stations are more hot and dusty and chaotic. The cafes, once something of a refuge from the crowds, have been overrun—the tables are all full and even the spaces on the floor are taken, and I’ve heard that by the afternoon there isn’t any tea left at all; although this is hard for me to verify as I don’t touch the stuff.

Summer is also the time when I begin my travels in earnest. In June I will leave Xi’an and take a train to the coast, to Guangzhou where I once had relatives; but I have not been for a long time. I will look them up, I think, but I should not torture myself with old family history as they will want me to. Perhaps I will not look them up.

9+
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 10: Internet Cafe, by Edward King

#adventure #crystal dragon

Hammer stood on the bus, holding the handle, swaying only slightly side to side at the bus’s violent stops and starts as it wove among disorderly lanes of traffic into the city.
He watched the tired faces of the people on the bus. They were a mix of laborers and office workers. A man wearing a rumpled shirt got up to let an old lady sit down. She smiled and thanked him.
The bus passed under red archways on the way into the city. The words passed by too fast of Hammer to understand. Billboards promoted engineering projects and the “Chinese dream” over photoshopped images of giant malls and industrial parks.
A sign read “Xi’an: 10 km.” Hammer closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep on his feet.
%%
The internet cafe was up four flights of dirty, graffiti-soaked stairs. Hammer was supposed to meet Laser here two minutes ago.
The girl at the front desk gave Hammer a sour look.
“Do you have an ID card?” she said.
“No,” Hammer said. “Do I look like I’m Chinese?”
“No ID card, no the computer,” said the girl.
Hammer was getting ready to put up a fight when Laser appeared from the stairs. “Forget about it,” he said. The front desk girl rolled her eyes, lit a cigarette, and returned to her screen.
Rows of teenagers sat along the internet cafe’s tables, wearing headsets. Rapt with concentration, taking breaks only when absolutely necessary. Cans of soda and styrofoam noodle cups sat half-eaten by their keyboards.
They sat down at a table with two computers in a quiet corner.
“Would you like some tea?” Laser asked.
He got a pot from the front, took the teapot poured the steaming neon-green stuff into plastic cups for Hammer and himself.
“I normally drink Pepsi but I know you guys like to experience the real China.”
“You guys?”
“Americans. Laowai.” He looked from side to side as he said this, as if he was suddenly self-conscious to be seen with an American.
“So, you’re working for an American company up in the mountains,” said Laser. “You must work for Nexus, right?”
“That’s right,“ said Hammer.
“The largest internet provider in the world. And now you’re penetrating China.”
“Yep.”
“And it’s for free, as long as it comes with a Nexus home screen. Nexus apps, Nexus store, all lines of profit going back to Nexus.”
“Hey, man, it’s just a job,” said Hammer.
“I’m just giving you crap,” said Laser. “Your Chinese is not bad, by the way. How long have you lived here for?”
“Two years,” said Hammer.
They had been slipping between Chinese and English through the conversation. Laser’s English sounded cribbed from American movies, with a twangy accent laden with slang.
Around them, the blue light of the screens reflected on the faces of the youths. They were taking valuable hours away from their studies to immerse themselves completely in the game.
Their eyes lit up with wondrous colors from the screens. Adventure, competition, victory.
Hammer eyed Laser’s clothes. They were cheap knockoffs, the kind you bought in past-their-prime malls that packed hundreds of clothes stores into their grimy colorful alleyways.
“So you work for the cloud,” said Laser. “Me too.” He grimaced.
“How’s that?” said Hammer
“Rare earth metals,” he said. “Mining.”
Suddenly it became clear in Hammer’s head. The explosion, Laser’s shadiness. He searched for his phone in his pocket and began mentally composing a text to Kip:
He’s with the cloud mafia!
That was what Hammer and Kip had taken to calling the rare earth miners. The mafia controlled the industry, exploiting others’ labor to extract the minerals that went to create the chips in our phones and computers.
An alarm bell sounded in his head: they were dangerous. He eyed Laser more closely. He had slicked-back hair over shaved sides, and wore a thin tough look as he put a cigarette to his lips. He tried to project world-weariness, but Hammer guessed they were the same age.
Hammer looked past the young boy leading an aerial assault on a European village to the front of the cafe.
Wait. Over by the counter. Was that—
Her! Alex Long. The wooden steps that led to her apartment. The mix of emotions they brought back: lust, adventure, trepidation, love. He’d left them far behind.
The girl holding the notebook at the front of the cafe could have been her. But he thought he saw her everywhere. Every Chinese woman the right age…
Laser saw him looking and turned around. He jumped, spilling his tea on the table and Hammer’s lap.
“We have to go,” said Laser. “We were followed. They must have seen me talking to you outside the mine.”
When Hammer looked up, the girl was gone but a man wearing a dark suit watched them. One of his eyes was normal and one was a dull grey.
They left the back way, keeping their heads low. Laser thundered down the steps, with Hammer close behind.

7+
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 9: Qinlings, by Edward King

#adventure #crystal dragon

Some time has passed since our heroes and heroines’ training in Siberia. Out in the world, with Oilberger and Siberia far behind him, Ben Hammer embarks on a new adventure…
From the top of the radio tower, Hammer scanned the mountains. They were blanketed by an impossible green.
He thought back on what had brought him here. What seemed real, what seemed unreal. Siberia. The fire. Hartman’s voice calling through the flames.
He watched a hawk, a speck, circling below.
He wondered, briefly, what Alex was doing now. Back home, it was night time on Sunday. She would just be making dinner. Something cheap and simple simple—a chicken quesadilla or some noodles. In the distance, the same sun he’d left in Colorado hung behind Mount Hua.
Suddenly, he heard a boom below.
Thick black smoke rose up amongst the green.
He radioed down to the outpost, which looked the size of a Monopoly house below him.
“Hey, Kip,” he radioed down. “I’m seeing some black smoke somewhere on the other side of the village. Any idea what that could be?”
“I don’t know, I just saw it too.” said Kip. “Wanna go check it out?”
”Sounds dangerous.”
Hammer met Kip down at the base of the tower, where orange butterflies circled above the ground. A stray dog sniffed at the wild strawberries that ran along the path.
They walked down the path, past laborers carrying mechanical parts and farmers carrying wicker baskets and tanks of water.
Kip had curly hair and an always-earnest face. The strong jaw that had blessed Hammer had never suited his personality, he thought.
“Should we wait for Gordon?” said Hammer.
“It’s up to you,” said Kip. “He won’t be back til night, I bet. By the time he gets there it might be hard to find the source of the smoke. If we go a little bit closer and watch from a good vantage point we should be safe.”
“Sounds to me like you’re the EXPERT, Kip,” said Hammer.

They set off on the pathway into town. They passed day laborers, shirtless, carrying shovels, into rice fields.
“It looked like it was just past the village,” said Hammer.
A highway ran along the river, and the village had grown alongside it. Blue motorcycles hauled wood and baskets of fruit along the road. Trash and liquor bottles littered the shore of the river.
They passed rows of concrete brick houses. All had red doors and most bore a large sticker of the character for “luck” upside-down. Tired laborers passed, sitting in truck beds and crammed into buses, squinting over cigarettes. The sky was blue above the little town.
They passed the junior high, its concrete block-built buildings painted blue, a basketball match in session under the noon sun.
Older kids waited in line for bowls of noodles in plastic bags outside shops, some with ornate golden characters carved above the entryway.
A Chinese man in his twenties crossed them on the path. He was about their age. He eyed them suspiciously.
“You shouldn’t go past here,” he said.
“What’s going on?” said Kip
“Listen. I need to get back to town,” said the stranger.
“You work here in the village?”
“No, town meaning Xi’an. I’m just an inspector here. …Listen, I’ve already said too much.”
He seemed determined to set off on his way, before he changed his mind. He pulled a card from his wallet.
“Meet me here tomorrow morning at 11. I’ll explain then.”
The card read:
“Laser Xu, cloud engineer. LUCKY 8 INTERNET BAR.”
But he must have given them the wrong one by accident. The card was crumpled and worn, not the kind of fresh business card you would hand to a client. And where the card should have read “cloud engineer,” a word was scratched out and rewritten to read:
“CLOUD MAFIA.”

2+
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

Lycaon, Part One, by Garret Schuelke

#action #adventure #fiction #flashfiction #lycaon #scifi #shortstories #werewolf

Banner knew that he should have never got a can opener from Goodwill. Even if they did give it to him for free, it still refused to properly open the can of beans that he needed to complete his chili.

He heard a train coming. He pledged that if he couldn’t get the can open by the time the train appeared, he would whip the can opener underneath the wheels.

On top of the train, Gareth woke up. He looked out at the Thunder Bay River. He sat up and stretched out. Being away for this long still hasn’t changed anything, he thought, scanning the streets. Same businesses, no new attractions, not even any kind of construction going on.

Gareth put on his backpack. “Chicago, babe, expect me back ASAP. Once I save this hole, I’ll be back home to stay.” He jumped off the train as it started to slow down. “For some time, anyway.”

Banner cursed the can opener. He threw it towards the tracks. Gareth felt something hit his leg as he landed. He looked down to see the can opener tumbling down the gravel.

“Oh Jesus, I’m sorry, man,” Banner yelled, running towards Gareth. “I swear, I didn’t mean to hit you!”

“Can’t get the can open?” Gareth asked, pointing at the can of beans Banner was holding.

“Yeah, and I got my chili cookin’ right now. It wouldn’t be the same without these beans.”

“I got a can opener that’ll work,” Gareth said, putting his arm around Banners shoulders. “Let’s go to your pad and I’ll dig it out.”

Gareth put his backpack down when they got inside the dilapidated train shack. He dug the can opener out of one of the side compartments. Making sure that Banner was still stirring his chili, Gareth concentrated on transforming his right hand. His hand tightened, and his fingernails grew into claws. He stuck a finger into the can, and circled the top until the lid came completely off. He relaxed his hand, reverting it back to its normal state.

“Here’s your beans,” Gareth said, dumping them into the chili. “You can take my can opener too. I’m not going to need it anymore.”

“Thanks much, man. You sure don’t you need it, though?” Banner asked.

Gareth shook his head, put on his backpack and headed out the door.  “There are a lot of things I don’t need anymore.”

Gareth searched through the shelves where the Alpena News and other Michigan newspapers were for stories on the wolf attacks that occurred in Alpena County over the last month. He copied the articles, and snuck out of the library to avoid paying the copy fees.

He headed over to Save-A-Lot. He scoped out the front entrance in the alley across from the store. After thinking over what he remembered of the store’s layout, he tied his grey mask over his eyes. He transformed, stretched his legs, and ran into the store.

He swiped some hamburger patties, barbecue sauce, and a package of white bread. Running out the store, he nearly ran into a girl who was texting.

His last stop was Tarters Party Store.  He planned to swipe a bottle of red wine, but then he saw the 24 packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon that were right next to the entrance. Aw yeah, he thought. Using his super speed, he darted across the street, swiped one of the packs, and sped down Chisholm towards downtown.

Read part two.

1+
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

The Crystal Dragon, Part 6, by Edward King

#action #adventure #crystal #crystal dragon #dragon #mystery #russia #siberia

Read the previous part here. Artwork by phalanxus.

When Sedgwick and Hammer got back to their room, the power was out.

“It must be something to do with the dragon,” said Sedgwick. He looked around. “Candles,” he said.

He pulled two out of a drawer where Hammer glimpsed various other articles of seduction, set them on the small coffee table in between the two beds, and lit them. He opened the door to the fridge and retrieved two beers from the dark interior.

“What I know,” said Sedgwick. “Not much. It started last night.”

Sedgwick left the party in room 308 early. Samantha was texting him relentlessly. He made it back to his dorm room and tried to call her, but he couldn’t get through.

He went outside to get a breath of fresh air.

The whole thing with Sammy had begun as a summer fling a year ago. Did he love her? No. He couldn’t.

But there had been moments. Her rubbing sunscreen on his back before tubing the river. Exhausted afterwards. Her looking into his eyes.

“What am I going to do when you leave?”

He shrugged it off like it was nothing.

Maybe there was something there. Something worth preserving.

But no. Now was now. He typed out the text on his phone: “Sammy, we need to talk when I get back. I’m not sure if this is working.” Hit send.

It was then that he noticed the hooded figure along the periphery of the compound, inside the fence. He wore a ratty grey trenchcoat. His face was swathed in shadow. He was fingering a small, glowing box, like an illuminated rubiks cube.

“He was muttering something,” Sedgwick told Hammer, in their candlelit dorm.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know! ‘Blah, blah, blah, I’m muttering something.’”

“Never mind. What happened next?”

“He saw me and dropped the cube. It sort of shattered on the ground and there was a rumbling, like something was angered. A glow, like, emanated from all of the pieces, and formed itself into a ball. It darted inside. I followed it.”

“So there it was, this glowing orb, just hanging out in the hallway of the dorm. I was just standing there, like, aghast. Then other people started to come out.

“At first they didn’t know what to do. Then they brought out their phones and started taking pictures.

With each picture they took, the light seemed to gain more and more form. First it separated into two glowing eyes. Then a head started to appear, long and snakelike, with flared nostrils. Then a long body.

“That’s about where you came in,” said Sedgwick.

%

Hammer woke up early in the morning after sleeping poorly. He had dreamed of a golden dragon soaring through the clouds.

The sky was just getting light. Suddenly the speakers around the dormitory blared, and a dry voice intoned: “all assemble for an emergency meeting! Meet in educational building two in five minutes.”

Follow Ed at @edjamesking

0
Send to Kindle
Standard