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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #9 of 12

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In the Year of the Dragon, Kwong found a glittering scale by the well and brought it home to his wife, for it reminded him of the sea. No matter how he held the scale, or how dim the light, the scale shimmered and glowed like the sun dancing on the surface of the ocean: blue, green, and smelling of salt.

Lian, Kwong's wife, was delighted with the scale and hung it in the kitchen, where she could look at it all day while she worked. Lian began spending more and more time gazing at the scale. The bread burned and the rice cooked so long it became one white, gooey mass.

When Kwong called her to bed one night, she did not come. He found her sitting on a chair in front of the scale and staring at its surface.

"What do you see that entrances you so?" he asked her.

"A princess," Lian said. "A princess of the deep ocean, with long hair like tendrils of thick kelp and eyes pure white, like pearls, glowing in the smooth green skin of her face. She is wearing a flowing dress and near it, little silvery fish dance and sparkle in patterns. Also," Lian said, "she is my daughter."

Kwong grunted. He loved his wife, but did not care for this madness. That night he had suffered through a dinner of burnt fish and cold tea. Maybe he should have agreed to father a child for her, so she'd have something to do besides daydream.

The next day, Kwong awoke early and took the scale into town. He sold it to a man who collected oddities, and used the money to buy a new rice pot for his wife. He never should have picked up that old scale anyway, glittering or not.

When Kwong got home with his present, his wife was gone. He searched the yard, the bedroom, and the kitchen—twice—and was forced to admit that she just wasn't there. He wandered outside and once again found himself at the well. He peered over its edge and called "Hello" into the darkness.

After a long, lonely moment, his wife's voice floated up from the depths. "I'm sorry, Kwong, but I've returned to my first husband, the water dragon, and to our daughter. There's a bag of rice in the cupboard and some freshly picked vegetables in the basin. Have a good life!"

From this, Kwong learned a valuable lesson: never pick up strange ocean-scented objects, no matter how pretty, if you've married a woman who you found on a beach.

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Jenn Reese has published stories in cool places like Polyphony 4, Flytrap, Strange Horizons, and various anthologies. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she practices martial arts, plays strategy games, and laments the loss of Buffy. You can follow her adventures at her website. To contact her, send her email at Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.
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