Short Story: The Siege by Tan Kaiyi


The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

He felt the ground for the reassuring grip of his cleaver. Once he had it in his hands, he crouched down and heard for sounds. The night was dead quiet. Not a good sign. It was a shade of absolute silence that was all too familiar to Lao Seng. He gripped his cleaver tightly. He peered over the barrier that marked out the activities area for the elderly to look at the field between the two blocks. The electric lamps had dimmed as well, creating a darkened no man’s land. Something metallic hit the floor violently and from the sound, Lao Seng knew where it was. One of the offering bins had been toppled and thrown against the pavement. The sleepers in the apartment upstairs would only hear it as a minor nuisance before they roll up their blankets to return to slumber. For Lao Seng, it would be a different story.

He eyed the area under the tree where the offering bin lay. It was now somewhere in the covered walkway between the two blocks. In its place, was a black figure, hunched over like an ape. Its form was indistinct, as if one could see through it. Dark smoky trails rose out of it, like it was burning from a black fire. The ape figure was rummaging through ashes of the joss paper as well as several food pieces scattered around the field. It was hunched over, totally focused on picking through the burnt heap.

Lao Seng observed guardedly. He rehearsed various scenarios in his head. This type was slow and ambling. They were easy to ward off, as opposed to their other more mysterious brethren that were far quicker and deadlier. These were not very smart either and always opted for a straightforward approach. Lao Seng went through the movements in his mind. Stand firm, raise the cleaver and slash quickly in one strong swing. But what if it came with a group? He would then have to improvise or worse—hide. As long as he stayed near Guan Yin, he would be safe.

Lao Seng looked about trying to spot its companions. So far, it was alone. Lao Seng noticed that he had stopped breathing for a moment and he willed himself to resume. It looked to be an easy first night. As the thought rose in his head, a deafening clang came from behind. A cold shiver jolted him about and he held his cleaver up front as if he wanted to poke someone—or something—with it. At one of the lattice grills that surrounded the area, a shadowy figure with seven legs clung on like an insect. The shock shook Lao Seng so badly that he nearly dropped the cleaver but to survive, he knew he had to hold on to it. Any noise would draw them to him. He backed against the wall under the altar. In a trembling voice, he muttered some semblance of a prayer. He remembered a few phrases from some chants his mother taught him as a young child. He did not know if they were effective against the creatures, but they were better than nothing.

The spider-like creature made a clacking sound as it moved its limbs. Behind its bulbous body came a blur of insect wings and a serene tone of buzzing. Its visage was too much for Lao Seng to take, sending him back against the wall under the altar. Unconsciously, his chanting sped up. He slid to the floor and fixed his eyes on the insect. Behind him, he could hear the ambling of the ape creature. It was getting closer, the rustling of grass under its feet became louder.

 

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