|Rocks Attending River by Holly Friesen
The Dog That Cried “Ah
by Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao
The news always traveled fast when something unusual happened in Taipei. In a small but popular pet store right outside
the Tung Hwa Nightmarket, a brown and white Jack Russell Terrier puppy, only a few weeks old, had become an instant celebrity.
Instead of whimpering, crying, howling, or
yipping in a regular fashion like all the other pups in the store or the rest of its brown and white litter, this puppy screamed,
“Ah Wei!” loudly at passersby from its cage. Sometimes it was just
“Ah, ow, ow,” but quite consistently it screamed, clearly, both syllables, “Ah Wei,” dragging the
“Wei” sound long as if it were calling for a person named Ah Wei.
Now, Ah Wei was a common nickname for someone
with the character “Wei” in his name, so there were Ah Weis everywhere.
“I bet someone named Ah Wei will buy the dog,”
the owner said to his daughter.
An attractive young news reporter came to interview
the owner of the pet store and capture footage of the puppy for a human interest segment in the local news.
“Ah Wei, your dog is looking for you!”
the young newscaster joked into the camera as she squatted beside the dog cage and witnessed, along with the television audience,
a little brown and white terrier moving around in its cage frantically, belting out “Ah, ow, Ah Wei,” loudly. Public response to the brief video was so enthusiastic that soon the clip “Ah
Wei, your dog is looking for you!” was all over the internet, and the national news rebroadcast the same footage of
“Ah Wei’s puppy” in the six o’clock news right before the weather forecast.
Most of the population in Taiwan merely found
Ah Wei’s puppy amusing, but one man named Ah Wei heard the puppy’s desperate, plaintive voice in the middle of
eating his lu pork dinner bento, and choked. That puppy sounded exactly like Shasha. Shasha, his unstable and needy ex girlfriend. Shasha,
who had threatened so many times to kill herself, and by the time nobody believed her anymore, she actually did it. Ah Wei choked so hard that tears came from his eyes as he doubled over and coughed up pieces of rice and
ground pork onto the tile floor.
He felt chills run down his back. It didn’t make any sense, and Ah Wei did not like to be superstitious, but he had the feeling that
that specific puppy was Shasha. Shasha, reincarnated into a nervous puppy; how
appropriate. In theory it was less scary than Shasha as a vengeful suicide ghost—as
a real person Shasha had been scary enough, throwing fits and breaking bowls against the tile floor, screeching like a crazy
person through her messy, long hair. And he could not deny that he felt responsible
for her death. Pretty much everybody who knew her did—everybody who had
told themselves, when she sent out her last pleas for help, or threats of suicide, that she would never really do it.
“If you don’t come I’m going to
slit my wrists right here in the bathtub, I’m going to take the elevator to the top floor and jump right off the balcony,”
Shasha said in her last telephone conversation with Ah Wei.
Frankly, Ah Wei was getting tired of this.
“Don’t call me like this anymore. I
am at work. Do you want me to lose my job? Stop making trouble for me,” Ah Wei said, and hung up.
The next day one of Shasha’s few girlfriends
called Ah Wei with the news. Shasha, dead in a pool of dirty red water in a little
cracked bathtub in her one-bedroom apartment, with a suicide note. The friend
did not get to see what the note said.
“The police took it, they want to ask you
questions,” she said.
“What questions? She didn’t accuse me
of anything, did she? I…I don’t know what to say, it’s not that I didn’t care for her, she was just
so…” Ah Wei could not finish his sentence.
“Anyways, she is dead, so there’s no
need to talk about her like that. I gave your number to the police, and you should be expecting a call from them soon,”
the woman snapped, and hung up.
After he received the call, Ah Wei paced his living
room, flicking the television from news channel to news channel all evening. Shasha’s
death was not in the news. Nobody called.
The next day he called in sick at work and monitored the news channels, but still, no reports of suicides, and nobody
called. Apparently one woman’s suicide was not enough news for the rest
of Taiwan to care. Finally, when he was in the middle of a meeting at work the
third day, a local number appeared on his cellphone.
“I have to get this,” he said apologetically
to his colleagues, and left the conference room, where the company was holding their quarterly meeting.
“This is the Taipei City police,” a
polite male voice said. “Is this Mr. Cheng Shon Wei?”
“Yes, it is,” Ah Wei said, trembling.
“Would you mind coming by the station today
or tomorrow? We just want to get a statement from you regarding Miss Tsai Shasha. I’m assuming you know what happened.”
“Yes,” Ah Wei said, nodding unconsciously.
“What would be a good time for you? Our Da
An office is open from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon,” the police man asked.
“I can stop by tomorrow at seven,” Ah
He was standing outside the police station at 6:50
AM the next day, nervously staring at the sidewalk. Some old people passed by
during their morning walks, vigorously swinging their hands to get their heart rates up. A stray dog wandered by, avoiding
eye contact. There were people inside the office but a man did not come to unlock
the door until 7:08 AM.
“Hi, I am here for a statement,” Ah
“Have a seat here,” the officer who
opened the door said, pointing to a pastel blue plastic chair. “I’ll get the person who’s supposed to work
Ah Wei waited for half and hour before another officer
told him to follow him to a desk with a computer. The interrogation, if one could call it that, lasted three hours. Not because there were lots of questions, because they were few and simple, such as where do you live,
what do you do, what was your relationship to the deceased, has she ever displayed inclinations towards suicide (yes, oh,
yes) and why didn’t you do anything about it, but the police officer was the slowest typist Ah Wei had ever seen in
his life. The poor officer could not find the keys he needed on the keyboard
and scanned the entire keyboard slowly with his eyes looking for the key he wanted before doing it all over again with the
next key. After the lengthy ordeal, the officer found “control” and
“p” and looked pleased as the printer behind him spat out a one page printed statement.
“Pleased read this over and sign at the bottom,
where it says signature and stamp,” the officer said. “Please use this ink pad to print your thumbprint beside
Ah Wei accepted the statement along with the ink
pad. He wondered who else had stamped his or her thumb on this pad before him.
“While you do that, I’ll go get something
to show you. The chief was debating whether we should show it to you, but it might shed some light on the motive. I already
asked you everything, and though I think it’s kind of creepy and unnecessary, most of my colleagues said to show it
to you and see if it reminds you of anything,” the man said, and went into another office.
He did not emerge until another half hour later,
when he held in his hands a clear plastic bag with a note in it. Ah Wei immediately
knew what it was. It was Shasha’s suicide note. It said, in her always surprisingly neat handwriting, Ah Wei, See you in the next lifetime. I will find
you. Ah Wei shuddered involuntarily as he read these words.
“I … Shasha liked to be dramatic and
tried to scare people, like when she threatened to kill herself so many times,” was all Ah Wei could say.
“Well, she didn’t just threaten, she
did it,” the police officer said. “So you have nothing to add, in response to this note or anything else we may
“No, not at all,” Ah Wei said.
He did not want to point out the multiple typos
in the statement, for fear that he would be here all day, waiting for the man to fix the statement.
All that happened over a month ago. Sometimes Ah Wei had nightmares about Shasha coming back from the dead to find him, long hair and nightgown
dripping wet with blood and bathtub water, but for the most part, her image gradually faded from his mind.
Then he saw the dog in the news. If he told other people, they would probably think he was crazy, but something told him that this dog was
Shasha. And she had “found” him.
He should have felt frightened and haunted and moved out of the country, but instead, he began to miss Shasha. He wanted her back. Should he go and
buy the dog? It must be really expensive by now, practically an animal celebrity. It might be reserved for a famous entertainer or powerful politician who was willing
to pay the highest price. How could he, a regular engineer in a computer software
company, convince a pet shop owner to sell him the famous Ah Wei dog?
The only way, perhaps, was to tell the owner the
story. And of course, pay the price, as long as he could afford it. The next day was a Saturday, so Ah Wei put on jeans and a nice shirt, and headed for the pet store near
the nightmarket. It was not yet noon when he got off the bus at the entrance
of the market; the morning market venders were mostly gone or packing up their last guavas and tomatoes into a truck or back
of a motorcycle. The clothing and shoe stores still had their metal gates locked. Ah
Wei bought a cup of soy bean milk from a smiling old woman at a breakfast stand and walked slowly towards the pet store. It looked exactly the way it looked on television: a neon dog bone and neon text beside
it promising “Happy Pets”.
Somehow he had expected a crowd there. Cameras,
film crew, a whole queue of people waiting to see the famous Ah Wei dog. But
there was nobody outside the store, and the inside of the store looked quiet, too, without a customer in sight. Ah Wei wasn’t sure whether the store was open, but when he pushed the door a bell rang pleasantly,
inviting him in. Before him was a long rack stocked with leashes, toys, treats,
dog clothes, bells, collars, treats, and other pet items. Along either side of
the wall and in the window were kittens and puppies in cages, mostly sleeping. A
young girl who seemed about high school age sat behind the counter, a textbook open before her and a pink highlighter in hand.
“Welcome,” she said, looking up from
“Hi,” Ah Wei said. “Do you still
have that dog that talks?”
“Yes,” the girl said, smiling, walking
out from behind the counter. “He’s quite the celebrity.”
The girl led Ah Wei to one of the cages, where the
famous brown and white Jack Russell Terrier was sleeping, one ear flopped away from his face.
The price tag on the cage read $40,000 NT, not unreasonable for a purebred puppy in Taiwan.
“I’m surprised you haven’t sold
him yet,” Ah Wei said.
“You know, I am, too,” the girl admitted.
“We’ve had so many people come in here, and they all want to see this puppy, and some of them did buy a dog or
a cat, but nobody bought this one.”
“Is there something wrong with it?”
Ah Wei asked, frowning.
“Oh, no, no, not at all. My dad was saying,
people will watch a video or come to our store to look at the dog in person, just to see if it really cries Ah Wei and to
tell their friends that they saw the Ah Wei dog, but when it comes down to it, nobody wants a dog that screams Ah Wei, even
if that person’s name is Ah Wei.”
“My name is Ah Wei,” Ah Wei said.
“Really?” the girl said. “Then
do you want to buy this puppy? Maybe it’s fate!”
“Maybe it is,” Ah Wei said.
It seemed unnecessary to share the Shasha
“I can open his cage so you can play with
him,” the girl said cheerfully.
While they were talking the little terrier had woken
up and moved towards them, trying to sniff them through the cage. The girl lifted
a latch and grabbed the puppy under its front legs.
“This nice guy’s name is Ah Wei, do
you want to say Ah Wei to him?” the girl asked the dog.
It struggled in her arms and tried to get closer
to Ah Wei, to sniff him. The girl handed the puppy to him and it immediately
settled in his arms and began licking his face and neck.
“He likes you!” the girl said. “Maybe
he is destined to be your dog.”
“Maybe,” Ah Wei said, though he knew
he could not let go of it again.
Half an hour later, laden with a Jack Russell Terrier
puppy (complete with pedigree papers) in a brand new kennel, a bag of necessities including bowls, puppy food, leash, collar,
dog treats, and other odds and ends, Ah Wei hailed a taxi. The dog whimpered
and cried all the way home, but did not say “Ah Wei.”
At night, Ah Wei put the puppy back in its kennel
and went to his bedroom. The terrier slumped down and whimpered.
“You can’t sleep in the bedroom until
I know you’re potty-trained,” Ah Wei said, and went to his room.
In the middle of the night, Ah Wei woke up with
his backside covered in sweat. In his dream, the wet and bloody ghost of Shasha
was screaming his name, over and over again. When he woke up, he realized that
it was the puppy that was screaming his name. He went to the living room and
saw the puppy running around inside the kennel, crying “Ah Wei! Ah Wei!”
Ah Wei sighed and moved the kennel into his bedroom.
He gave the terrier an unremarkable name, Chocolate,
after the brown patterns on its body and ears, and it grew up to be a quiet and unremarkable dog. Ah Wei could not teach it to fetch, sit, lie down, or do any tricks, however many dog books he read and
treats he bribed it with. Chocolate only had one trick: once in a while, when
upset or looking for his owner, he ran around and cried, “Ah Wei!”
Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao was born and grew up in Taipei, Taiwan.
She received her BA from National Taiwan University and MFA from Penn State. The Backwaters Press published her poetry book,
We Grow Old, in 2008. To see more of her writing and artwork, please visit www.yuhanchao.com
|Release by Holly Friesen
by Javy Gwaltney
It was the year 1931 when the dockworker Charlie
Scarab was squashed beneath a falling crate containing an oak piano.
The overseer, Michael “Micky” Fielding,
approached the site of the accident first, scratching the back of his head with anxiety. “Ah, jeez,” he said,
staring at the black boots that were sticking out from beneath the crushed crate. The other dockworkers crowded around peering
over their boss’ shoulder.
“Charlie?” one of them asked.
The owner of the boots didn’t say anything
“Ah, jeez,” Mickey repeated. “That’s
“Should we poke him?” asked one
of the dockworkers.
“Shut up, you.
Somebody get the morgue on the phone,” Mickey yelled. “Better call the wife too.”
The funeral was as pleasant as a funeral could be
with flowers and a nice mahogany casket. Several of the dockworkers chipped in to help Mrs. Scarab pay for the dreary event
and also gave her some money—despite her resistance—to help her raise the infant that Mr. Scarab had left behind
in the wake of his demise. Mrs. Fielding was kind enough to cook three fruit cakes to help usher the mother and her child
through the grieving process.
Mrs. Scarab remarried three years after her
husband’s passing. The replacement, a Mr. Phillip Auburn, was polite enough,
and worked as a clerk at one of the hardware stores in East Baltimore. He treated his new wife with as much kindness as any
gentleman though he never warmed up to the boy, Tom Scarab, which was fine with Tom as he never particularly cared for his
stepfather. The mother fulfilled her maternal duties to the letter, but wasn’t particularly affectionate; she never
mollycoddled nor did she sweetly sing him to sleep. In fact, as Tom grew into a young adult, he couldn’t help but feel
that she was distancing herself from him. He would often catch her out of the corner of his eye, observing him with a melancholy
expression—an expression that would vanish when the boy turned ‘round to confront it. In his adolescence, he found himself avoiding her entirely, stealthily fleeing from the room whenever she
entered. He sought to escape the sadness of the Auburn household in his seventeenth year by becoming an assistant clerk at
one of the local grocery stores. The owner of the store, an elderly Polish emigrant
by the name of Alesky, paid the boy two dollars a week to shelve food and handle customers while he sat in his small office
masticating sauerkraut. It was during this stint as grocery boy that Tom began to notice that grocery goods such as McIntosh
apples and rosemary capsules had the unfortunate habit of gravitating toward his rather large dome, tumbling from off the
higher shelves and bonking him on the head.
The connection between his father’s death
and the possible paranormal activity that was harassing him escaped him, perhaps because Tom was a healthy young lad with
a growing interest in the ladies; an interest that ruled his senses and shoved everything else to the sidelines of his consciousness.
Luckily for him, the women of Baltimore had a reciprocal interest in him. He ignored the girls his age; there was simply no
way to breach the chaste fortresses their parents kept them locked away in. Wives and widows, on the other hand, were quite
eager to let him inside. Indeed, it wasn’t long before Scarab Jr. was kicking
off the boots he had inherited from his dearly deceased pop, and diving bare-assed into bed sheets to explore territory long-forgotten
by its original conquerors and settlers. It was during these fumblings that he became more concerned about gravity—a
force that seemed prone to bringing things like paintings and ceiling chips down on him. His bed acquaintances attributed
these strange happenings to what they perceived to be the mystical properties of his member.
It wasn’t until the day after his eighteenth
birthday—when two flower pots attempted to commit a plummeting kamikaze assassination—that Mr. Scarab finally
became concerned enough about the universe’s Newtonian contempt toward him that he decided to figure out what the hell
was going on. With his father’s tragic death in mind, he ascended the stairs of the attic in search of a clue hidden
amongst the dusty treasure trove of horrific portraits, wrinkled parchment paper, and journals; he found his answer within
his father’s dusty copy of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. The
newspaper clippings dated back to the late 18th century, the oldest shreds of paper seemed ready to crumble in his hand and
were difficult to discern because of the odd punctuation. They were from all over the east coast: The Baltimore Sunrise,
The Oakland Chronicle, The Easley Sentinel. The clippings were not obituaries,
but you would have been forgiven if you made the mistake. One told of a man named Dexter Scarab who had meandered in
front of a staircase just in time to be run over by an armoire dropped by two movers. Another clipping recounted how another
Scarab, this one named Lucas, was flattened by massive pipes that rolled off the back of a steam engine and over him as he
tended to some crops. Sebastian Scarab nearly had his brain pushed out through his nose when he passed beneath a recently
His heart sank.
Fate was out to get him—to crush him. His despair rose up like the
Red Sea and swallowed him, the weight of his terror dragging him further down into himself. Doom was in his blood. The hand
of the Almighty was going to reach down and pop him like a pimple, but for what? What had he or his father or his father’s
father ever done? And then the saddest epiphany of all smacked him dead in the
face: the reason for his mother’s estrangement was suddenly clear. His
wretchedness intensified. Why had she not drowned him in the tub when he was a senseless baby, or brained him by dropping
him headfirst if she knew about the legacy? Cowardice, perhaps—the fear of damnation. He supposed he couldn’t
blame her. Would he have had the grit, or the cruelty, to hold a child’s head beneath the water until the bubbles stopped
surfacing? Probably not. But none of that really mattered anyway, Tom reasoned. He was here now, mere steps away from the
guillotine, cowering his head as giggling skull-faced Death raised the scythe in the air. Tom felt a surge of disgust. What
was he, an insect? He flung the book and the clippings aside, and sat still. He knew there was no escape, but that didn’t
mean that he had to wait for the end to come by cowering in a corner of his attic, no. He would make the reaper work for it.
He searched the attic until he found his father’s helmet from the first Great War inside a wicker box. One of the straps
was broken, but he put it on anyway.
Within a week of donning his old man’s helmet,
Tom Scarab went from being a respectable member of the neighborhood to the local loon. Shopkeepers observed him through their
windows, shaking their heads in disapproval, as the young man be-bopped down in the streets in his sweater, penny loafers,
and war helmet. The younger men, and the children of the neighborhood, were more vocal with their displeasure, jeering at
him and yelling, “Hey Scarab, the war’s over!” The younger women giggled and spoke amongst themselves in
hushed voices as he passed. It is interesting to note that the young man’s peculiar fashion choice didn’t detract
from his sexual escapades. In fact, several of his bed acquaintances found the addition of the helmet to be invigorating,
and demanded that he keep it on, which was fortunate for him since the amount of objects being pelted his dome seemed to increase
exponentially during these clandestine fornications, but these were merely annoyances. The true dangers lay outside; flowerpots,
stones, pails, and even glass was hurled down at him from great heights, and always—it seemed—when not a single
soul was looking in his direction. He soon came to welcome each collision, each thunk against his helmet and the following
vibration, and even the soft bruises on his forehead for it meant that he was still alive, and had thwarted fate yet again.
He soon came to believe with hearty confidence that he could beat the Scarab curse.
Of course, this couldn’t last. It just turned
out that it was later rather than sooner that Tom found out that the old cliché was true: life was a rigged game. Fate was
kindly sinister enough to let him run amuck in Baltimore for two years before it checkmated him. By that time the helmet was
dinged up so badly it looked like it had been the victim of countless hammer taps, and—unbeknownst to Tom—he was
about to become a father. It had happened that he had knocked up the plain looking wife of a well-to-do banker, and she, after
finding out that she was carrying either her husband’s child or the child of an insane oversexed hooligan, convinced
herself that it was her husband’s and never once called upon the boy wonder again.
And so it is that the lines of this story converge,
and we end it the same way we began it: with a piano. This particular piano was a very fine one that had been recovered in
the aftermath of second Great War from the ruins of Vienna. The Americans who
apprehended it had no earthly clue how to handle the magnificent instrument, and scraped its precious legs as they pushed
it into the back of a C-47E Douglas Skytrain. The plan was to fly the piano, alongside some other recovered valuables, to
Warfield Air National, and then ship it to the Baltimore Museum of Art. And everything would have gone according to plan if
the pilot’s finger had pressed the button its owner had intended to press, but before he could rectify the error he
heard the groan of the cargo door opening, and out whooshed the grand piano into the Baltimore skyline, keys and all.
Far below, in John Hopkins Hospital, a nurse walked
down the hallway cradling a blanket wrapped infant, preparing to present the child to her mother for the first time. Meanwhile, back in his small neighborhood, Tom Scarab walked along the sidewalk in
the direction of another house call. The day was calm with a slight breeze and just the right amount of sun to keep one almost
comfy in the winter temperatures. It was then that Tom’s foot slipped and, for the first time in two years, out flew
the helmet into the middle of the street, leaving the young man’s head defenseless. He recovered his footing and dashed
toward the helmet that lay spinning in the middle of the street. All eyes turned to watch him while, far above, the piano
continued to plummet, spinning several times. Within seconds it would have been possible for employees in the Bank of America
building to witness a rather large brown spec tumbling toward the earth—if they had been paying attention. Down, down,
the grand piano fell, speeding past the city’s tallest buildings toward its grand finale.
Tom had just managed to retrieve his father’s
helmet and stick it on top of his head when he was struck down; he didn’t even have time to yell “oomph!”
The crash was loud, and the screams that followed it even louder as splintered wood and dismembered keys were tossed in every
direction. Those in the streets didn’t move; they stared at the two boots sticking out from beneath the wreckage. Some
of the women were yelling. A familiar face was the first one to take a step toward
the body. Micky Fielding, now a bald widower, limped over to the piano with the help of his walking stick and looked down.
He thumped the left boot with his cane. Utter stillness.
“Ah, jeez,” was all he said.
As the warmth faded from Tom Scarab’s body,
a child was being handed to its mother for the first time. She cradled her new son in her arms, staring down into his curious
brown eyes. She had always imagined this moment as being accompanied by silly sounds produced by her own mouth in an attempt
to coerce the infant into laughter, but now she understood that the only proper way to welcome someone to life was with reverent
silence. A profound sensation of joy seized her heart—an unbearable rapture that coalesced itself at the corner of her
left eye, and then began to slide slowly down her cheek until it reached the tip of her nose. There it dangled precariously
over the boy’s forehead.
It remained suspended for a brief moment, a glistening,
holy tear. Then it fell, and it was as though all the joy in the world had been brought down and abolished by gravity.
Javy Gwaltney is an aspiring author, essayist, and screen writer who hails
from the almost nonexistent town of Bamberg, South Carolina. He is on the verge of graduating with a degree in English from
Winthrop University. You can find his works in Thumb Smudge Java, THIS—A Literary Magazine, and his blog, which is
updated sporadically. His other talents include reading prodigiously and making a killer oven pizza.