MY MOTHER WAS A FISH. That's why I can swim so well, according to my father, who is a plain fisherman with a fisherman's plain logic, but uncanny flair for the dramatic. And while it's true that I can cut through the water like a minnow, or a hand dipped over the edge of a speedboat, I personally think it's because no one can grow up along the Mekong without learning two things: how to swim, and how to avoid the mermaids.
Mermaids, like my father's favorite storytale version of my mother, are fish. They aren't people. They are stupid like fish, they eat your garbage like fish, they sell on the open market like fish. Keep your kids out of the water, keep your trash locked up, and if they come close to land, scream a lot and bang pots together until they startle away. They're pretty basic.
My sisters tried to talk to a mermaid once. It was caught up in one of Dad's trammel nets, and when they went to check the net out back behind the house, they found this mermaid tangled in it. It was a freshwater one, a bottom-feeder, with long, sparse hair whose color my sisters still argue about to this day. Iris, the oldest, felt bad for it and made May splash some water on its fluttery gills with her red plastic pail. She asked the mermaid if it was okay, what its name was. But it just stared at her with its stupid sideways fish eyes, mouth gaping open and closed with mud trickling out over its whiskers. Then Dad came home and yelled at Iris and May for bringing in the nets too early and touching the mermaid, which probably had sea lice and all kinds of other diseases.
I was just a kid then, but my sisters tell that story all the time. Iris is a marine biologist wannabe, almost done with high school but too dumb to go to university, who lectures us on fishes like we haven't been around them our whole lives. She sleeps with the biology textbook I stole from the senior honor kids' classroom under her pillow. May doesn't give a shit about school and will probably get married to one of the boys living along the dock so she doesn't have to repeat tenth grade again. The mermaid is one of those shared childhood memories they have, a little spark of magic from a time when they still believed that our mom really was a fish and maybe that mermaid was a cousin or something.
But I'm fifteen now, a full-fledged deckhand on a trawler, and too old to be duped by some story Dad made up so he wouldn't have to explain why our very human mom took off and dumped the three of us with him. I don't care about stories of kids touching a glorified catfish either. It actually makes me sad, to think that my sisters really believed that our mom could be a dumb animal like that mermaid.
I'm lacing up my boots and getting ready to leave for the boat when May flops down from the top bunk, her black hair tumbling over my face. "Here." She fumbles for her necklace and presses her carved-shell Buddha into my palm. "Come back safe, okay?"
I slip the waxed string over my head. It's still dark out; the sun won't be up for another few hours. "Yeah, of course. Go to sleep."
She gathers the sheets up around her, their folds cresting like the ocean's breakers. "I mean it, Lily," she mutters. "Don't come back a ghost."
I tuck the dangling tail of her blanket under her belly. Iris, snoring on the bottom bunk, doesn't even stir. "Ghosts are silly," I tell May, grabbing my knapsack from where it hangs on the edge of the bed. Our little house is only two rooms, a blue tin roof over bedroom and kitchen, balancing on stilts above the river. Dad's bedroll is gone, so I figure he's aboard Pakpao already. "I'll see you in a few days."
I always check the nets out back for any fish that might have wandered in overnight, drawn by the ripe scent of trash. They're empty tonight, no silver tilapia or pacu with their human teeth. No spindly-armed mermaids, either. I let the nets slip back into the water and trot down the walkway that connects the neighborhood of ramshackle houses above the river, wooden boards yawning underfoot. The green, thick smell of the river creeps up over the piers, rising into the night sky.
Our rickety trawler, Pakpao, waits at the edge of the docks, the crew drifting through the moonlight like specters. Pakpao looks like a child's toy boat built out of scrap metal and blown up to the twentieth scale. Colored flags flicker in the damp wind, and rust creeps up the ship's sides. My father's stout, compact figure crouches over the nets, winding them up.
"Hey, Lily," says Ahbe as I jog up the pier. At nineteen, he's the deckhand closest to my age. "Ready for another four days at sea?"
"You must be feeling lucky if you think we'll fill the hold and make it back home in four days," grumbles Sunan, hauling a crate of plastic floats past us. His shirt has wandered off somewhere. "Cook's looking for you, Ahbe. He wants to know what happened to the other batch of rice."
"Gan was supposed to bring it in," complains Ahbe, but he disappears downstairs anyway. Taking my cue, I follow Sunan to the nets.
Dad doesn't look up from his work, patting the deck beside him for Sunan to drop off the crate. I sink down next to it, crossing my legs and pulling the nets into my lap. When the light's better, it'll be my job to fix the floaters and the heavy bobbins to the net's mouth, widening it to span the surface of the river and weighing the bottom layer down to skim the mud below.
"I tried to wake you but you were fast asleep," Dad says. He sounds apologetic. "Captain Tanawat wanted me here early to double-check the motor and our course to the ocean. Monsoon weather makes the fish finicky."
I glance at him. My dad's shoulders pump as he draws in the last of the nets. He's the strongest, slyest fisherman I know. Someday, I want to be just like him. "Even the deep-water species?"
"Even those." Dad sighs and lets the nets pool at his feet, kneeling beside me. His weathered hands coax the nylon strands out of their knots. "We might not find any mermaids for a week."
"I don't mind missing school," I say. "I'd rather be here with you." This is better than school, I figure; the algebra of the nets, the geometry of Pakpao out at sea, are more valuable lessons to me.
Dad smiles and ruffles my hair. "You're a good girl, Lily." Standing, he unclips his pocket flashlight from his belt and hands it to me. "I need to make sure we have enough ice in the hold, but you might as well start on the nets now."
As he walks toward the cabin, I twist the flashlight on and grip the metal handle between my teeth, working in the small circle of electric light. I tie on the plastic floats and metal bobbins until the sky lightens and Ahbe hurtles from the kitchen. "We're leaving! Are the nets ready?"
"Just about," I reply. "They'll be ready by the time we need 'em."
He grins, raking back his hair. "Awesome. I'll let Captain Tanawat know that we're all set!" He dashes off again, thin brown limbs flashing. I wonder if May will marry Ahbe out of all the fishing boys. I think he would be a good choice.
The motors roar, churning the green water below. Other ships are pulling into the docks, unloading their catches of basa, perch, and stingray for the fish market starting to construct itself on the shore. I don't see any mermaids on sale, not even the pesky local catfish ones. Maybe they're saving them for international markets.
Pakpao barely clears the heavy-limbed trees clustered by the riverside, their branches drenched with musky river-scent. I duck, keeping my attention on the nets. By the time I finish fixing on the last bobbin and remember to look up, our stork-legged village has disappeared from sight.
THE MONSOON RAINS catch us an hour into the journey downriver, so we don't end up letting out the nets until the next day, when we're almost at the delta that opens up into the sea. Dad, Sunan, Ahbe, and I work together, feeding out the bottom nets with their bobbins first, then the large central net, and finally the top nets. The nylon stings my fingers as it's yanked through the water, but I won't complain, not in front of Dad and the others. I'd rather nurse my wounds in private.
It isn't long before the nets grow heavy. Pacu, carp, lots and lots of catfish. We pack them into coolers full of ice, where they'll stay until we return home, and send Ahbe and Sunan to cart them down to the hold. No mermaids yet; maybe they've been scared into deeper water by the storms.
"Fuckin' hell," mutters Sunan as we drop the nets back into the water. "Not even a fuckin' mud-eater. At this rate, everything in the hold's gonna spoil before we catch anything good."
"Be patient," hums my father. The river mouth is widening, and salt cuts through the thick, live smell of the water below. "There will be plenty in the open sea."
"The better kinds," adds Ahbe, as Sunan casts him a sour look.
"Tigerfish, lionfish, yellowfin--"
"I know what brings in the money," Sunan snaps. I keep my head down and focus on the nets. "I don't need you to name all the fish in the sea, kid."
The two of them bicker as the river empties into the ocean, trees and thick foliage giving way to an expanse of open sky. It always scares me, how exposed everything is at sea. At the same time, it thrills me. I find myself drawn to Pakpao's rail, the sea winds tossing my hair free from its braids. The breakers roll against the trawler, and as we buck over the waves, the breath is torn from my lungs and replaced with sheer exhilaration.
When we pull the nets in the next morning, they are so heavy that we have to recruit the cook to help us haul them onto the ship. There are a few tuna, bass, and even a small shark, but the bulk of it is squirming, howling mermaids. As we yank the nets onto the deck, bobbins clattering over the planks, I realize that we've caught something strange.
Most of the mermaids tangled in the nets are pale, with silvery tails and lithe bodies. This one is dark brown, its lower body thick, blobby, and inelegant, tapering to a blunt point instead of a single fin. Its entire body is glazed with a slimy coating, covered in spines and frondlike appendages. Rounded, skeletal pods hang from its waist, each about the size of an infant.
Worse, this fish has an uncannily human face, with a real chin and defined neck. While all of the mermaids I'd seen before had wide-set eyes on either side of their heads, this one's eyes--huge and white, like sand dollars--are positioned on the front of its head. And unlike the other mermaids, gasping and thrashing and shrieking on the deck--there are few things worse than a mermaid's scream--this one lies still, gills slowly pulsing.
"We got a deep-sea one," breathes Sunan.
Ahbe crouches over the net, mouth agape. When he reaches his hand out, my father barks, "Don't touch it!" and yanks Ahbe's arm away. His body is tense, and when the mermaid smiles--it smiles, like a person --its jaws unhinge to reveal several rows of long, needlelike teeth.
I can't stop staring. The mermaid has a stunted torso with short, thin arms and slight curvature where a human woman would have breasts, but no nipples. This shocks me more than it should; why would a fish have nipples? Heat rises in my face. I feel exposed, somehow, fully clothed though I am.
"Wow," Ahbe says. His eyes are shining like he's never seen a deep-sea mermaid before. Maybe he hasn't. I haven't either. "We're gonna make a lot of money off of this one, huh?"
"If you don't lose a hand to it," my father replies. The other mermaids are wailing still, the last of the seawater trickling from their gills in short, sharp gasps. "Let's bring them below. Do your best not to damage them; we need as much of the meat intact for the buyers as we can get."
We descend on the net with ropes and hooks. The brown mermaid's eyes are blind windows, like an anglerfish's, but her face follows me as we move around the deck, securing the mermaids, pinning their delicate arms to their torsos so they won't shatter their wrists in their panicked flailing. Once they're bound, Dad and Sunan lift them and carry them down to the hold. With Ahbe packing the other fish into coolers, I draw close to the deep-sea mermaid, rope in hand.
That mouth opens, and I swear--I swear to god, or gods, or whatever is out there--a word hisses out: "Luksaw."
I drop the rope and stumble away. Ahbe's at my side in an instant. "Shit! Lily, did it hurt you?" He grabs my hands, turning my arms over. "Did you get bitten?"
The pods at her waist clatter and air whistles between her teeth. She is laughing at me as they bind her and drag her down to the hold. "Luksaw. Luksaw. Luksaw."
My belly burns. I can't stop shaking.
On Pakpao, we keep most of the catch frozen, but mermaids are a peculiar, temperamental meat. You have to keep them alive or the flesh goes bad. In fact, it goes bad so quickly that some places have created delicacies based on rotten mermaid because of how impossible it is to get fresh cuts in non-coastal towns. The Japanese traders who visit our village have great saltwater tanks installed in their ships which they load up with live mermaids, carted straight from the holds of wet trawlers like ours. From there, they're shipped to restaurants, which take great pains to sustain them. Still, they rarely last more than two weeks in captivity, which means there's always a market for fishermen like us.
Mermaid is a cash crop. Iris, May, and I wouldn't have been able to go to school if not for the ridiculous amounts of money people are willing to pay to eat certain cuts of mermaid species--not the catfish mermaids from the river, but the ones harvestable on the open sea. These are the people who say that the soft, fatty tissue of a deep-sea mermaid is the most succulent luxury meat you will ever taste: like otoro but creamier, better. There are others who claim it's the thrill of the forbidden that makes mermaid taste so good. I had a classmate once who told me that eating mermaid, especially the torso, is the closest to eating human meat you'll ever get.
The truth is, I fucking hate mermaids. I can't stand them. I would never tell Iris or May this, but mermaids scare me. Their empty eyes, their parasite-ridden bodies, their almost-hands, almost-human faces ... they are the most disgusting, terrifying fish I've ever seen. There is nothing about them that I like.
I can't even eat them. Once, for May's birthday, Dad brought home a thin slab of silver-scaled, Plah Kapong mer-tail for us to share. It was the most expensive food we'd ever had, and it tasted like plaster in my mouth. May and Iris wouldn't shut up about how delicious the white flesh was. I wadded mine in rice and choked it down, knowing that Dad had spent a large chunk of his last catch's salary on this special birthday feast. He liked to spoil us whenever he got the chance.
The mermaids in the hold won't stop whimpering. I can hear the high-pitched, teakettle sounds through the walls of the ship as I lie in my hammock with my hands over my ears, trying to sleep. It's a noise they make under stress, according to Iris. Something about air whistling through their gills and the vibrations deep in their bodies.
I don't fucking care why they're making the noise. I just want it to stop. It's even harder to sleep because I keep thinking about that brown, spiny mermaid. Those blind, luminous, predatory eyes. The unhinged jaw, the tapered waist, the brief curves on her chest. The scent of her skin, salty and alien.
Sunan and Ahbe are gone, taking the night shift on deck. Across the room, Cook and Dad are asleep. The electric lantern swaying overhead isn't doing anyone good, so I snag it and hop from my hammock, slipping quietly out of the cabin.
As I pad down the stairway to the hold, the whimpering gets louder until it's a fevered whine in my head. I imagine the brown mermaid laughing, floating in the water. Too soon, I'm on the landing at the bottom of the stairs, my sweaty palm on the metal door's cold handle. I pull it open.
The hold is full of seawater, coolers of frozen fish bobbing up and down with the outside waves. The mermaids swim in confused circles, making distressed cooing noises. They are tethered to metal rings on the wall, thick twine wrapped around their delicate baby wrists and hooked into the sides of their mouths. A mermaid whose body is mostly muscle, long and heavy like an arapaima, surfaces with a treble hook stabbed through its cheek and disappears back into the water without a ripple.
Sunan is kneeling by the wall, the rocking motion of Pakpao slopping fake waves up to his chest. At first I think he's hurt because there's blood in the water nearby; the mermaids keep circling closer, keening when the hooks and tethers prevent them from reaching him. Then I realize the pale crescent disappearing in and out of the water is his ass. His pants hang on a ring nearby, their ankles drenched in seawater, and he's holding something down as he rocks back and forth, back and forth. It's not the ship rocking, it's him. A thin, clawed hand slashes over his shoulder; he swears, the sound echoing, and slaps whatever's underneath him. A heavy silver tail thrashes the water.
A hand grabs my shoulder from behind and I almost scream. I'm pulled backward, the door to the hold clicking shut in front of me. "Don't watch, Lily," Dad says in that low voice he puts on whenever he wants to protect me. My blood boils, fear and anger and adrenaline roaring through my system. "Go back upstairs and pretend you never saw any of this."
"They're fish!" I snarl. "What the hell is Sunan doing? This is all kinds of wrong. They're not even people, they're just goddamn fish!"
"It happens on ships sometimes," Dad says, and I can't believe what I'm hearing. "It doesn't hurt the meat." He looks straight at me, those serene dark eyes unfamiliar for the first time in my life. "I didn't want you to know until you were older, but I suppose you were bound to find out sooner or later."
"You knew?" I whisper. "Does everyone on this ship know?"
My father sighs. "Go upstairs and don't think about it."
I have this horrible epiphany. Dad used to have his own boat too, long ago. Mermaids are common enough; even the big ones could fit in a bathtub. He could have kept them alive, feeding them, fucking them--is his story about Mom just that, a story? Or is it true that he kept a fish for himself, hurting it--raping it--until it gave him three daughters? Or was there more than one fish? I think of the dumb, mud-mouthed catfish mermaids that drift into our nets behind the house sometimes, and my stomach turns.
"Have you been fucking them, too?" The words spill out before I can stop them.
"Lily, go upstairs." His voice has gone cold and dangerous.
"This is really sick, Dad," I manage.
"I'm not going to tell you again," he says, and when he looks at me, I wish he hadn't.
My mother was not a fish. My mother was a warm, human woman. I am certain of this, even if I cannot remember her at all.
There was a story I heard once about a man who got his dick bitten off by a catfish. He was peeing in the water and the catfish followed the stream of urine straight to his dick, crunched it right off.
This was our second-favorite story growing up, after the story about our mom, and now that Iris is an almost-biologist, she likes to tell us smugly that it's the ammonia in pee that attracts fish, something about tracking prey through the ammonia leaking from their gills. I don't know if this is true. But I've felt the crushing power of a catfish's jaws, the bony plates on my arm while I wrestled them down to the hold. The catfish in the Mekong are huge, bigger than me. I am learning, as I get older, that many things are bigger than me.
In her second year of high school, Iris shut down. She stopped going to school, staying curled up in bed all day, and at night she would cry in her sleep. She wouldn't talk about what had happened, but I found out from May, who knew some of Iris's friends, that one of the boys at her school had followed Iris into a broom closet when they were cleaning up the classroom together. He was a close friend, a big, heavyset guy with short hair and glasses, but Iris would flinch whenever someone mentioned his name.
As I lie in my hammock, I think about catfish. I think about crushing mouths, crushing holds. All the while, the brown mermaid's scent and voice sing in my blood, pulling it, tugging and setting it aflame.
I swing my legs over the side of my hammock and slip out of the sleeping quarters, taking the lantern with me.
Ahbe is making his way up the stairs as I descend, and he stops me with a laugh and a hand out against the wall. "What are you doing up so late, Lily?"
I look at him, that fire a cold burn in my chest. His shirt is hastily buttoned, his knees damp with seawater. "I'm going to check on the fish," I say. The words feel flat in the wet, stifling air.
"I just did that," Ahbe says. "They're fine. Nothing's spoiled; we should be able to get them to the market by tomorrow."
"No. I want to see the mermaids," I tell him, deliberately, and his face changes.
"I didn't know you knew about that," he says. "You're too young to go down to the hold by yourself."
"I'm fifteen," I say. I think about the way my dad talks, the rich, strong core of his voice, and I channel that as I add, "I'm old enough to decide what I want. And I want a mermaid."
Ahbe stares at me in the lantern light, and I can see his resolve wavering. "I guess it's all right," he mutters. "I was fifteen too the first time I had a mermaid. Just be careful--they bite." He sucks in his cheek. "I didn't take you for a thoom, though."
I knock his arm out of my way and he laughs. "Go to bed, Ahbe," I snap. "You're stupid. I'll lock up the hold when I'm done."
He tosses me the keys before he vanishes up the stairs, and I'm left alone in front of the heavy metal door to the hold.
It's impossible to be a fish's daughter. It's almost as impossible as believing that your father is a monster.
I open the door and walk inside. Another set of stairs descends from the doorway, disappearing underwater after the third step. The mermaids appear to have calmed down a little, the surface of the water no longer choppy with tails. Only the slowly moving tethers stretching from the wall mark their presence beneath the waves.
I raise the lantern slowly across the room, searching for the brown mermaid. There: I catch a glimpse of her white eyes peeking just above the water. She is bound tight against the wall, tighter than any of the other fish. To get to her, I will need to wade across the hold.
I take a deep breath and shuck off my clothes before descending into the water. It's freezing cold; the shock, the new weightlessness of my body, shoot thrills of adrenaline and terror through me. The mermaids dart away from my legs, smooth contact of scales against skin as they brush by. I walk faster, purposefully. I remember the fins and teeth on some of the tigerfish mermaids we caught earlier today. Maybe if I'm confident, they'll think I'm a predator and stay away.
By the time I reach the brown mermaid, I'm shivering and my body is pebbled with goosebumps. The lantern wobbles in my hand, casting an orange glimmer over the rippling waves.
The mermaid surfaces, her chin just brushing the water. I can see her spines, the pods and fronds, and the rest of her soft, blobby body floating with the motion of the ship.
A sound hisses through her teeth, and it's a moment before I can understand what she's saying. "The girl-child."
"I'm not a child," I find myself saying through chattering teeth. She smiles, blind eyes glowing silver in the darkness. "No, no child. What is your name, Luksaw ?"
In all of those European myths we had to read in school, they made it clear that you should never give your name to a faerie. But this is just a fish. "Lily," I say. I wish I had pockets to put my hands in. "Why do you keep calling me Luksaw ?" Why can you talk ? I want to ask, but the breath is sucked back into my lungs. I am afraid of the answer.
Her arms are stick-thin, tipped with delicate toddler-hands and bound above her head. "Let me go and I'll tell you."
"Fat chance," I say. "I didn't come down here to get eaten by a fish."
She clicks her jaws. "It is the other way around, no? You eat the fish."
"Yeah," I say. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
The mermaid laughs at me. "And are you content with the way things are supposed to be, Luksaw ?" Perhaps she smells my hesitation, hears my grip tighten on the lantern, because she softens her voice to a deep hum. "I will not hurt you. Let me go and I will tell you everything you want to know."
Maybe it's because I want to believe her so badly, maybe it's the fire singing deep in my body, maybe it's the image of Sunan in the water on top of a mermaid; before I really know what I'm doing, my fingers are picking out the knots attaching her tethers to the ring above her head.
As soon as the last knot slips undone, her hand snaps out, lightning quick, snagging my chin. The twine tethers still attached to her wrists lash against my bare chest. The lantern bumps against her head as she draws close and licks my face, her tongue cold, alien, and rubbery. Her teeth are inches from my eyes.
"Are you really my mother?" I whisper.
The mermaid's tongue sweeps across my forehead, down my nose, and across my mouth before retracting. "Ah," she sighs. "Not my broodling. No, I would remember one like you." That childlike hand is nightmarishly strong. "But you are ours nonetheless. You taste like the ocean, not like the stinking land above." She lets go of my chin, but I don't back away. "I would grant you a boon, Luksaw, in place of your mother. But I must have a bite of your flesh to make it true."
Dad used to tell us an old tale about a magic fish that granted wishes if you caught it and released it back into the sea. I don't remember this part of the story.
Her baby-fingers trickle across my shoulder. "Right here. It will not hurt much."
A hysterical laugh bubbles up inside me. I am standing naked in the hold surrounded by mermaids, talking to a magic fish. What am I afraid of? I have had worse injuries; I can handle a single bite. I am an adult now.
I open my mouth to ask her for enough money to get off this stinking boat, enough gold to drown a sailor in, to drown all of the sailors in. I open it to ask about my mother, if she knows her or can find her or bring her back. If my mother is alive or dead. Whether she was human or fish, truly.
But then I think of my sisters: Iris, shaking beneath her blankets and clutching the biology textbook like a magic charm, and May, who had given me hers to protect me at sea. I remember that there are more important things. I think about the people who hurt my sisters, who could hurt them, about the boy in the broom closet and Sunan in the hold. About my father on the landing, his eyes bitter cold.
I tell the mermaid my real wish. She grants it.
THERE ARE MANY VERSIONS of this story, each with a different ending.
In one, I swim away with the brown mermaid. The sun wavers in a jagged disk overhead, glinting in strange scintillations. The water is cold, the pressure enormous. It pushes in on my billowy body, still tender, pressing it into a tighter, sleeker shape. Our tiny, delicate hands are locked tight as we dive deeper into the ocean.
In another, a large storm scuttles Pakpao, along with all the other fishing boats in the area, on the reefs by Teluk Siam. The hold cracks, allowing the mermaids to escape. Everyone survives and is discovered days later. The rest of the story is fairly uneventful, equally implausible, and made up by people who care more for happy endings than truth.
But here is what really happens. The brown mermaid disappears and Pakpao makes it safely home with a hold full of live mermaids. If the crew looks a bit dazed and disoriented, if they are not quite themselves and walk as if they are not used to having two legs, it is just the result of sunstroke. If the mermaids in the hold swim in frantic circles, their eyes rolling wildly in their heads and their wails ricocheting through the hold, it is just what fish do. After all, mermaids are fish, not people. The Japanese traders find the catch acceptable and the mermaids are transported by tank to restaurants across Hokkaido. We make a huge profit.
With the exception of yours truly, every member of Pakpao 's crew drowns within a week of returning home. Though I live, our family does not escape this tragedy unscathed; my father's body is found floating in the nets behind the house. A joint funeral is held. Sunan's widow speaks tearfully about how her late husband stopped talking after his last fishing trip and had spent the days before his death trying to walk into the river, a story that resonates with the families of the recently deceased.
My sisters weep, their futures secure. I weep, too, licking the salt from my tears. There is a bandage on my shoulder and a bite beneath that will not heal.
Four original novellas
Chris De Vito Jan Lars Jensen Rand B. Lee Eric Carl Wolf
that dig deep into the recesses of our beings
--Rich Horton, LOCUS, on "Final Kill"
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Alyssa Wong is a 2013 graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop for Science Fiction & Fantasy. She graduated from Duke University last spring with a B.A. in English & theater studies. This story is her first professional fiction sale. It doesn't require much speculation on the part of this science fiction editor to predict that it won't be her last.