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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #4 of 12

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In the Year of the Pig, Farmer Enyi collected spit from his four hogs and poured it into his son's tea. Since his wife had died, Enyi needed more help on the farm, but Bunsang was too skinny to work in the fields or even to haul bales of hay. The farmer thought the hogs' essence would make his son eat more and grow strong.

But Bunsang grew sick instead, and spent five long nights staining his sheets with sweat from his feverish body. When he finally recovered, he was thinner than ever, only now he had a pig's keen nose and could smell the eggs cooking in the neighbor's house, even though the neighbors were a day's walk away.

Farmer Enyi was glad his son had not died, but frustrated that his plan hadn't worked. He slaughtered one of his pigs and soaked an old towel in its blood. When Bunsang came out of his bath the next morning, the Farmer wrapped his son in the bloody rag.

Once again, Bunsang became sick. His fever burned hotter this time, and he stayed in bed for all of ten days. When he awoke, he sniffed the air and declared that it would rain in two days, that the Empress had spilled perfume on her shoes, and that the chicken grilling over the pits in the distant City was not yet thoroughly cooked.

Bunsang stayed inside all day, sniffing the air and making his proclamations. Someone had dropped a crate of green tea into the river. To the east, a kitten had killed and eaten its first mouse. Over the mountain, his sister was sitting in her new husband's house and crying tears that tasted of salt.

Farmer Enyi decided to try one last time. He killed the largest of his pigs, cut out its heart, and ground it into a paste. He intended to rub the heart over his son's stomach while the boy slept, but when he entered the room, Bunsang awoke.

"I smelled the slaughter, Father, and I smell the frustration on your breath," Bunsang said. "But if you do this thing to me, I will most surely die."

Farmer Enyi grew angry. "You are useless to me unless you can work the fields, boy. I would rather you die than take food away from the rest of the family."

Bunsang lowered his head. "I smell your resolve. Do as you will."

Farmer Enyi smeared the pig's heart over his son's emaciated chest. Even before he removed his hand, the boy started to die, his eyes wide and wild. The last thing he said was, "Mother is welcoming me in heaven, and she is oranges and summer, love and cool water on my feet." The Farmer fell to his knees, stricken by these words, but it was from his dead wife that he begged forgiveness.

He buried the boy with the pigs, and from then on, even their bacon smelled of oranges.


Jenn Reese photo


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 jenn@sff.net. Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.
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