The Second Cousin of the Monkey King
by Natalie L. Sin
Suet Dat, second cousin of the Monkey King, wasn’t that important. He was well below the rank of god, unlike his well-loved relative, and his powers fell short of amazing on just about every level. No one in China was ever going to sell statues of Suet or build him a shrine, nor would Dickey Cheung be relaying his accomplishments in a movie.
Still, Suet enjoyed the anonymity of being unremarkable. He saw the kind of pressure put on more popular immortals and counted himself lucky. Even so, having no purpose at all became depressing after a few thousand years and for the last century Suet hadn’t even cracked a smile. Feeling disillusioned, Suet asked his godmother, the goddess Kuan Yin, if anyone would mind if he retired to Earth for the rest of eternity. The goddess of compassion put in a good word, and Suet’s transfer was quickly arranged. After being given a change of clothes that wouldn’t attract attention and some pocket money, he descended to Earth on bridge of helpful birds. It ended in Hong Kong, circa 1984.
It took him a while to get the hang of human life. Eating itself was a challenge. In the heavens the only food available was celestial peaches, whereas humans enjoyed an embarrassment of culinary riches. During this period of acclimation, Suet found it best to be within sprinting distance of a working toilet at all times. Since this meant not leaving his apartment much, he decided to make the most of the situation and learn how to play the guitar. That was his first mistake. His second was naively thinking that his musical skills would be considered as mediocre on earth as they were in the heavens. Where he was from, there were musicians whose skills could alter the very fabric of time. Humans proved less discriminating.
This culminated in Suet’s third and most profound mistake: He joined a rock group. More specifically, he joined a Beatles cover band. They called themselves Nathan Road and sang only in Cantonese. Such a combination should have doomed Nathan Road to an early musical grave. There was no reason to translate the Beatles, after all. People in Hong Kong knew who they were and were perfectly happy enjoying the legends in English. Then Suet showed up and changed everything.
Within a year Nathan was the most popular group in Hong Kong history: Their Cds sold in the multi-millions, concerts sold out in hours. None of its members could so much as pop out for a snack without being flooded by fans and paparazzi. They had fame, fortune, and piles of amorous female fans. Suet was miserable.
He was also torn. The thought of crushing the newly realized dreams of his band mates riddled him with guilt. It wasn’t fair to cut their careers short. After all, Suet had forever to find personal fulfillment. In the spirit of fairness, he hung around long enough for the rest of the band to savor being rock stars. That, and earn enough to never have to work again. For Suet, it was enough to take a few hundred years off, providing he invested the money wisely.
After saying good-bye to Wu, Donnie, Bing, and Bing’s English Bulldog McCartney, Suet left for America where no one would know who he was much less care. He ended up in the Northeast where he bought a condo in Beantown that overlooked the Boston Common. There he luxuriated in being no one again. He even stopped dying his hair black and let it return to its original bright shock of maroon. Days consisted mostly of sleeping in, reading, and taking long aimless walks while meticulously avoiding Chinatown. All was well.
Occasionally Suet missed having company. He even started to romanticize the times he shared a hotel room with Bing and the ever-flatulent McCartney. He also missed the more intimate connections in life: sex. To correct the problem, he started hiring escorts. The good ones knew how to hold up their end of a conversation and shared Suet’s no kissing rule, something a nonprofessional would have taken issue with. Much like the back of a prescription drug bottle, kissing immortals had too many potential side effects: light headedness, reduction to animal form, temporary amnesia, lunacy, and in rare cases immortality.
The downside to using professionals was that they insisted on using protection. While Suet recognized this as common sense among humans, he resented having to participate. There was no possible way he could contract an STD, let alone share one, and pregnancy was equally unlikely. As befitted his underwhelming cosmic role, Suet was sterile. Immortals had notoriously low fertility rates, which Suet appreciated given that the heavens would have filled up pretty fast otherwise. In the end, he started hiring fewer girls and spending more time at the adult video store. In some ways it was a trade down, but with a DVD he could eat pizza during the slow parts.
One day Suet returned from a leisurely visit to the Erotic Emporium to find a postcard from his cousin. The front was a still from the original “Planet of the Apes.” Suet’s cousin had a whole box of the things. They were a gift from the Lord of Amusement, who adored ironic gifts. On the back was a short message:
Some of the celestial animals have escaped. We suspect they may have fled to your area, so could you please keep an eye out?
Suet groaned. It simply wasn’t safe for celestial animals to be around humans. They were kept in a nature preserve where they could mill around harmlessly. Most were fine with the arrangement, however there were always a few bad apples that got bored and wanted out. In the middle ages, a herd of unicorns broke free and ran rampant over England. Then there was the water monster that tried hiding out in that Scottish lake. For centuries, the animals treated Europe as the best place to go AWOL. Now it looked like America was the new safe haven.
“Idiots,” Suet grumbled as he checked the rest of his mail.
There was no way to tell how long it would take to catch up with a wayward creature. The unicorns were pretty easy, given how blatant they were at frolicking around the fields and meadows. Good old Nessie, on the other hand, gave everyone a good chase before some guy with a camera accidentally caught her on film.
The postcard didn’t mention what got out, which worried Suet a little. The next morning he decided to get up early and scout around. He left the condo shortly after dawn, armed with a small jade whistle and a mega-jug of black coffee. The whistle was in case he saw anything. Three short blows and a starling would appear, ready to convey any message Suet had. He kept the whistle in his pocket with the keys to his condo.
Around noon, Suet decided to break for lunch. Nothing out of place had caught his eye all day and he was starving. After grabbing a few items at a nearby convenience store, he went to the riverfront. It would have been a shame to eat inside: Summer was ending and there would only be so many warm days left to outdoors. Down by the river, he found a woman staring sadly into what appeared to be a foot long ham and cheese sandwich. She had the kind of hair that was too dark for blond but not quite brown and at the moment it was in imminent danger of making friends with a generous portion of mayonnaise. At the last second, she brushed it back over her shoulder and started talking to herself.
“Pickles,” she lamented. “So many pickles.”
“Excuse me?” Suet couldn’t help himself. It was the most random display he had encountered in at least a thousand years.
The woman looked up in mild surprise at the sudden company.
“Do you like pickles?”
Suet shook his head.
“Neither do I. Yet here they are, covering my sandwich like slimy little sliced slugs.”
` “I’m sorry.” He didn’t know what else to say. The slug comment was putting him off his own lunch.
The woman gazed out over the river. “Do you think pickles are bad for the environment?”
Suet considered the question. He couldn’t think of any animals that were especially fond of pickles. That said, he never heard of them killing anything.
“I doubt it.”
She started picking off the offending objects and throwing them into the river like miniature Frisbees. When she was done, she took a tentative bite of the sub.
“Ugh.” Her face contorted. “All pickly.”
“Do you want to trade?” Suet sat next to the woman and showed her the hot dog he purchased.
“You said you didn’t like pickles.”
“I don’t hate them.”
She grinned and it made her eyes change color. Suet had always been fond of hazel eyes.
“Deal.” She handed over the ham and cheese. “My name is Aidan.”
As they ate, the river water began to froth. Suet was trying to discreetly look down Aidan’s shirt when a sharp hissing alerted him to the fact that the Charles River had become a towering serpent. It glared down at him and Aidan, as it tasted the air with its tongue. Then the snake’s eyes flashed and it descended on Suet like a bolt of lightning.
Being swallowed by a snake was a unique sensation. Suet compared it to putting on a wet sweater that was two sizes too small. He was halfway down the gastrointestinal tract before he remembered that a stomach produces gas while, as luck would have it, Suet had been born into the element of fire. He quickly snapped his fingers to create a spark.
The snake never knew what hit it as the fireball exploded out of its midsection, throwing Suet free in the process. The flash and innards quickly returned to a liquid state, which Suet promptly began to drown in. As he took in another lungful of river water, he reflected that he really hadn’t thought things through. At least he would only be dead for a few days, a week tops. And, with any luck, he wouldn’t reappear somewhere socially awkward. At the very least he would be dry.
The world began to grow black as Suet drifted closer to his temporary demise. Yet when he came to, he was still wet and violently purging water onto the grass. Aidan was beside him, equally soaked.
“What the fuck was that?” She panted.
“Celestial serpent. Don’t worry, it’s gone now.”
She stared at him, and then took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry, can we go over that again?”
“It was a celestial serpent,” Suet spoke slower this time. “It’s gone now.”
Aidan sat back on her heels. “Do I want to know how you know that?”
“It’s probably better if you don’t.”
“All right then.” She stood and held out her hand to help him up. “Wanna go dry off and grab lunch?”
Suet was impressed at how elastic Aidan’s mind was. Most mortals would be screaming or unconscious. Come to think of it, he did hear a lot of screaming. Aidan heard it too, and together they turned to look behind them.
He should have known. Water serpents almost always hung around wood beasts. It stood to reason then that if the former snuck out of the heavens the latter would have gone trotting along after. On their own, the wood beasts weren’t that impressive. Give them a good tree to set up house in, however, and they tended to unleash chaos. From that one tree, they could control living plant matter as far away as three miles.
The screams were coming from the people in streets of Boston as arboreal death skewered them from above. A nearly oak had done a particularly good job: Each branch was a thick shish kebab of pedestrians it had picked off the sidewalk. One of them, a jogger by the shorts he was wearing, was still alive and hitting the tree with a water bottle.
“You need to get out of here.” He told Aidan. “Do you know any place without any plants or trees?”
“I don’t think that matters.” She pointed. “I would have to get past all that.”
Suet cringed. As far as he could see, trees and bushes were attacking humans. On the other side of the street, an old lady was sucked into an evergreen bush, which promptly spit her back as a wad of bloody meat and polyester.
“Stay close.” Suet instructed. “They might leave you alone if they see you with me.”
“The snake didn’t seem too impressed.”
“That was a water monster, we’re dealing with a wood monster now. Fire and wood are even.”
“I take it you’re fire?”
“Yes. Now stay close to me while I blow this whistle.”
Suet fished around his pocket but came up empty. Even the keys were missing.
“Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.” He checked the other pocket, even though he knew it was pointless.
“Suet.” Aidan gripped his arm. “Suet, the trees are moving.”
“I know, but I have to find my whistle.”
“No Suet, they’re WALKING.”
She was right. The trees were pulling themselves out by the roots and chasing everyone in their path.
“What do we do?”
They made it about a block before an elm tree speared Aidan through the gut. Suet watched in horror as blood rushed from the wound and ran down the branch. The tree started to lift her into the air when something unexpected happened: Aidan’s blood changed from red to silver. It continued to run down the branch until it reached the trunk, where it disappeared through the cracks in the bark. The tree started to shudder; then it started to shriek.
The branch running through Aidan’s abdomen was the first to fall. She landed on her side with a dull thud and started to moan. Meanwhile the tree continued to make an awful wailing sound as shards of glistening metal tore it apart from the inside. It only stopped after being reduced to a pile of scraps and splinters. Suet ran to Aidan’s side and yanked out the branch. She bolted upright and clutched the rapidly shrinking hole.
“Why am I still alive?”
It was a fair question, but Suet honestly had no clue.
“Have you ever made out with anyone who wasn’t human?”
“Unless CPR counts as kissing, no.”
“You know, mouth to mouth? You were drowning if you recall.”
“So you kissed me.”
“CPR isn’t kissing.” Aidan insisted.
“Essentially you kissed me.”
She threw up her hands. “Fine, we kissed. Now what?”
“Now you’re immortal.”
Neither of them knew what to say. In the growing silence, it struck Suet that the trees had stopped the carnage and re-rooted themselves.
“Wow. You really freaked them out.”
“Really?” She looked proud of herself.
“Good thing you’re metal. Finding the wood beast will be easy now. All we have to do is find a tree that’s bleeding.”
They found the tree next to the duck pond in the Public Garden, next to a weeping willow whose slender branches had been used to strangle a few dozen humans. The corpses’ feet dangled over the surface of the pond, an inch or so above a rapidly growing slick of blood.
“Why is it bleeding?”
“You killed one of the trees it was controlling. It’s a sympathetic injury.”
“How sweet. What do we do with it?”
“Get the beast out.” Suet went up to the tree and switched to Chinese.
“You have three seconds before I set this thing on fire. One, two.”
Before Suet could say three, a crack appeared in the center of the tree. When it got about five feet wide, the wood beast waddled out. To the unfamiliar eye, it would have looked like someone sewed the head of a bobcat onto a pigmy hippo. When it saw Suet, it made a pitiful mewing sound. Suet walked over and whacked the thing on the back of the head.
“Bad wood monster! Very bad! I hope they eat you when you get back to the celestial gardens.”
The wood beast began to cry. Suet wondered what he was supposed to do until someone showed up to haul the little asshole away. As it turned out, he didn’t have to worry. In the distance, a hulking form flew off the roof of a Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Now you show up?” Suet exclaimed when the dragon landed next to the duck pond. It snorted and showed its teeth.
“I’m sorry.” Suet bowed contritely. The dragon nodded.
“Hi.” Aidan waved weakly and aped Suet’s bow.
The dragon gave Aidan an appraising look and winked at Suet. Then it grabbed the cowering wood beast by the scruff of the neck and launched into the sky. The whole meeting lasted less than a minute.
“I’m going insane, aren’t I,” Aidan stated, more than asked.
“No. But don’t worry, humans have a wonderful capacity for ignoring the extraordinary.”
“Look Suet, I’ve been human all my life up until today. Humans might be dense, but they tend to notice large piles of rotting bodies.”
Suet tried not to let his disappointment show. He had been so close to being dull.
“You ok?” Aidan asked.
He shrugged. “Do you think anyone noticed what we did?”
“Nah, everyone ran or died. We got lucky.”
“Of course. Who needs that kind of attention?”
For the first time in 127 years, Suet Dat smiled.More stories like this by topic: Characters of color, China, Women authors