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Natalie L. Sin
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hongkongbay2.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2009

Across Causeway Bay

 

Natalie L. Sin

 

 

          Tony Chow realized that the rhythmic shaking he felt was his mom trying to wake him up, and not the usual swaying of their boat.

 

          Aiyaa, Tony,” she scolded, dragging out the vowels, “nay ho yai-yai!”

 

          As far as Tony was concerned, seventeen was too old to be addressed as “naughty,” unless it was by a prostitute.  He waved his mother away with one hand and burrowed deeper into his pillow.  It smelled like Victoria Harbor: salty with a hint of wet garbage.  His mother slapped him hard on the butt.

 

          “You get up now, or I will make you go help Daddy!”

 

          Tony turned on his side and glared at his mother.  The slap upside his head told him it hadn't been lost on her. 

 

          “My father is dead,” he hissed defiantly. 

 

          His mother raised her hand to strike again, then thought better of it. 

 

          “He is still a daddy,” she said, referring to the fact that Win Po had fathered Tony's younger brother and sister.  “Now be a good boy and go to school.”

 

          Beneath his teenage angst and general surliness, Tony felt a pang of guilt.  He loved his mother, even if she did treat him like a baby.  And there was no reason to stall getting up.  The sooner he was on land, the happier he would be. 

 

          “Fine, I'm getting up.  Make me breakfast?”

 

          His mother sighed and rolled her eyes.  “You want breakfast, don't be so lazy.”

 

          By the time he was dressed and ready to go, Tony's mother had relented on the breakfast front.  He inhaled the noodles and pieces of fish, barely stopping to chew, before getting in the dingy lashed to the side of his family's boat.  He made a show of rowing fast for his mother, so she would think him eager to get to school.  In truth, he rarely went any more.  Because of his father's long illness three years ago, Tony was a year behind.  All his friends were getting ready to graduate. 

 

          “Why run if you can't catch up?” he told himself as he left the dingy behind and lost himself in the crowds of Causeway Bay. 

 

          Behind him, boats bobbed lazily across the waters of the typhoon shelter.  Most of the Hok Ga, the boat people of Hong Kong, fished for a living.  Tony's family was no exception.  When he was younger, he would be sent onto Hong Kong Island for school early in the morning.  His mother's remarriage, however, had blessed their family with an extra boat. 

 

          It didn't take Tony very long to spot his first target.  An American woman leaned over a produce stand, her purse strap held lazily in the crook of her arm.  Tony only had to flow with the crowd behind her.  By the time she noticed her wallet missing, he would be in Wan Chai. 

 

          After taking the cash out, Tony threw the wallet away and pocketed her cell phone to sell later.  It wouldn't bring him much money; reputable merchants would instantly be suspicious, but it would fatten the pot.  If he worked hard, he would have enough for dinner and some fun by that evening. 

 

          Since the next day was a weekend, he felt no pressure to come home.  His mother would object, of course, but with two young children to care for, Tony had a suspicion that she wanted to believe his lies about staying with friends and out of trouble.

 

          A few streets down, he ran into another truant teen.

 

          “Billy!”  Tony shouted to his friend and former classmate. 

 

          Billy had left school a few months before Tony started skipping.  Now he sold bootleg VCDs and dirty magazines. 

 

          “Hey, fuck you!”  Billy greeted him with the finger.  “Are you here to pay me back the money I lent you?”

 

          “Bastard,” Tony retorted as he handed over a few hundred Hong Kong dollars.  “If your dick was as long as your memory, maybe you could get laid.”

 

          Billy laughed.  “Don't you worry about my dick.”  He held a few magazines up, spread out like a fan.  “You want to buy a magazine? This one has a gwai-mui with really big tits!”

 

          Tony considered the option.  “How big?”

 

          Billy put down the magazines and held his hands in front of his chest.  It looked like he was trying to carry an invisible sack of rice.

 

          “Fake?”  Tony asked. 

 

          “Of course!  What, you care?  It's not like you're going to touch them.”

 

          Aiyaa, go fuck your mother!”

 

          “Fuck your mother!”  Billy snickered.  “Hey, she's the centerfold in the last issue.  I beat off to her all week!”

 

          “How do you beat off when you can't find it?”  Tony handed his friend more money.  “Give me the one with the shaved Japanese girls.”

 

          Billy gave him a magazine and some change.  “Meet you later for dinner?”

 

          “Yeah, call me when you're ready.  I want to go to Mong Kok tonight.”

 

          Billy grinned.  “How much money do you think you'll have?”

 

          Tony looked around and observed the tourist situation. 

 

          “Enough.  These gwai-lo wouldn't know if I shoved my hand up their asses and stole their gold fillings.”

 

          A customer walked over and Billy motioned Tony away.  Tony understood:  Billy's merchandise was crap, but he worked his ass off to sell it.  Not that the magazines were so bad.  Tony flipped through a few pages of his and smiled before folding it up and sliding it into his pants pocket.  It was a long time before dinner, he could have fun with it later and have time to recover before Mong Kok. 

 

          By lunch, Tony had pickpocketed five more people and unloaded the cell phone, along with three pairs of designer sunglasses and various odds-and-ends he shoplifted from stores.  The sunglasses were used but looked brand new.  Tony was always amazed at how careless people were with their possessions.  Especially teenage girls.  They usually didn't have much cash on them, but were great targets for accessories and cell phones.  The larger the group, the more oblivious they were.  Tony once stole four cell phones from one table of giggling high school girls at a McDonalds. 

 

          “Not bad,” he congratulated himself as he stood in line at a food stall selling skewered pig parts. 

 

          Two stalls to the right, the aroma of duck egg congee wafted over, tempting him with a promise to cure the sour feeling in his stomach from too much beer the night before.  He’d told his mother he had stayed after school to play sports with some friends.  Though Tony had been careful to mask his breath with spicy food before going home, his stomach remembered the stolen bottle of whiskey all too well.  He told himself that tonight he would rearrange his budget to favor sex over booze.

 

           Tony felt a pleasant flush at the thought of what waited for him in the New Territories.  There were prostitutes in Wan Chai, of course, but it made Tony nervous to be so close to the police station.  It was stupid; the police couldn't be everywhere and the chances of Tony being in a place that got raided were slim.  However, that his cousin was a police officer made an unlikely situation more dire.  If Tony got caught with his pants down in Wan Chai, there was no way his mother wasn't going to hear about it. 

 

          On the other hand, Tony didn't worry about being caught stealing.  He was good at it and, unlike fucking, it was easy to run away and get lost in the crowd if someone caught you.  Also, he made sure not to get too greedy.  There was a delicate balance to being a thief, part of which was spreading the action out: another reason to go to Mong Kok.  The trip would take him right through Tsim Sha Tsui, another hotbed for tourists.  Tony could pick up a few extra bucks before he and Billy hit the town.  The nice thing about Billy, he was good at minding his own business.  As long as Tony paid for a few rounds of drinks, his friend didn't give a shit how he did it. 

 

          With nothing much to do before dinner, Tony went to kill some time at the arcades.  He was still there when school let out, so he hung out with his more studious friends.  None of them were particularly concerned with his educational failures.  They bought sodas together, told dirty jokes, and took turns rating the girls in the arcade.  Most of the girls were only average, but a few were pretty enough to inspire fantasies of the bare-breasted kind.  Tony especially liked Melissa Gu, who was taller than him and had bigger breasts than the other girls.  Her nickname among the boys in class was “C-cup Gu.”  It wasn't especially clever, yet it got the point across. 

 

          Some of the guys from school tried to date their female classmates, but Tony never saw the point.  With money, he could see a girl guaranteed to let him go all the way.  No games or insistence on being married first.  He certainly didn't have to buy the women he slept with presents or listen to them bitch about other girls.  The older Tony got, the more he pitied his love-struck classmates.  They chased after girls like Melissa Gu with their whole hearts, whether or not the favor was returned. 

 

          When the call came from Billy, Tony politely excused himself.  A few of his friends looked up at him wistfully.  He didn't bother asking any of them to join him.  They cared too much what their parents thought, or maybe they cared too much in general. A lot of his friends had their sights set on universities, and not just in Hong Kong.  Tony felt that, by next year, he would only be seeing those friends over Christmas and summer.  After that, maybe not at all. 

 

          Billy was waiting for him at the Star Ferry.  He held two tokens. 

 

          “You owe me,” he said when he saw Tony. 

 

          “Fuck you, I paid for you last time!”

 

          “Ah, I forgot.”  Billy slapped his forehead.  “So how much fun are we going to have tonight?”

 

          “You trying to see if I'll pay for you?”  Tony teased. 

 

          “No way, you're too cheap!”

 

          “Maybe I can't afford to buy magazines from you any more.”

 

          “You'll come back.  When the pages stick together you'll need new ones!”

 

          Both of them laughed and hurried on to the ferry.  They found a bench and Tony asked Billy how business went that day. 

 

          “Good,” he replied.  “I sold a bunch of VCDs to a gwai-lo. I don't think he knew they don't work in U.S. players.  He probably thinks they're the same as DVDs.  Bastard is going to have nothing but his dick in his hand and an empty screen!”

 

          Billy took out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Tony. 

         

          “He can still use them here,” Tony said.

 

          “I guess, but he bought twenty.  Who needs that many all at once unless they're flying home soon?”

 

          “Yeah,” Tony agreed.  “Or he's a sex maniac.  You're lucky he didn't molest you!”

 

          Billy punched his arm.  “I'm not a girl, asshole!”


          “But you're so pretty and smooth,” Tony protested. 

 

          They barraged each other with insults until an old man in the next bench started to give them ugly looks. 

 

          “What's your problem, grandpa?”  Billy sneered and turned back to Tony.  “Fucking old people.”

 

          Tony nodded in agreement.  They spent the rest of the trip smoking and talking about what they wanted to do when they got to the other side.  Billy wanted to eat right away, but Tony wanted to try and get a little more money.  Eventually, Tony conceded.  He reminded himself that he had plenty, and it brought bad luck to be too greedy. 

 

          As the ferry pulled into the dock, Tony looked back at the island.  Something about it bothered him. 

 

          “Hey, time to get off!”  Billy reminded him. 

 

          “Sorry,” Tony muttered.  “Hey, do you see that?”

 

          “What?”

 

          “The financial building looks funny.”

 

          Billy looked over and cocked his head.  “Storm coming?”

 

          “Maybe, but it looks like the clouds are only around the one building.”

 

          “Do I look like a weather man?”  Billy asked.  “Come on, I'm hungry.”

 

          Tony took one more look at the financial building.  A cluster of clouds hovered around the top, like thick clumps of dirty cotton.  He scanned the sky around it, but could see no other evidence of a storm. 

 

          That doesn't mean anything, he told himself.  Storms have to start somewhere.

 

          Two hours later, thoughts of weather anomalies were far from Tony's mind as he drove himself into the body of a Mong Kok hooker.  Her apartment was small, even by Hong Kong standards, and every thrust threatened to propel him out of her bed and into the kitchen.  He finished loudly, gripping her shoulders hard as he let loose a string of his favorite expletives.  The hooker took the cue and pretended to join him, her eyes rolling back with practiced grace. By the time Tony pulled his underwear back on, she was already counting her money. 

 

          “See you next time,” she said.

 

          “Sure,” he answered, “next time.”

 

          Once he’d left the hooker's apartment, Tony headed to Yau Ma Tei for street food.  There was plenty to choose from in Mong Kong, but the night was young and Tony felt like walking.  It was only about fifteen minutes, during which he debated fish balls versus siu mai.  Siu mai won out, based on the logic that he might be too hung over to enjoy a proper dim sum that weekend.

         

          Satisfied with the meal plan, he texted Billy, telling him to come to Yau Ma Tei when he was done getting off.  Tony knew it would be a while, as Billy had a habit of talking prostitute's ears off.  Tony wasn't sure if his friend thought they liked him as more than a customer, or if Billy had things he could only say to someone being paid to listen. 

 

          As he continued down Nathan Road, Tony found his thoughts returning to the financial building.  As a Hok Ga, the thought of a storm meant more for him than his other friends at school.  His friends lived in apartments; the most they had to worry about was the power going out. 

 

          Tony reassured himself that his mother was safely in the typhoon shelter.  Even Win Po would have seen the clouds and gotten back in time, not that Tony particularly cared.  The horny asshole hadn't even waited a year after Tony's father died before proposing marriage to his mother. 

 

          Pok gai,” Tony muttered. 

 

          As he entered Yau Ma Tei, Tony stood in the middle of Nathan Road and scanned the horizon.  He was barely able to make out the top of the financial building, but it was enough.  The clouds were  darker than before, almost black, and Tony’s stomach tightened.  It wasn't right.  He had experienced countless storms before, but none of them ever looked like this.  Either it was something he had never seen, which was unlikely, or . . .

 

          Or what? he thought.  You think dragons are fighting up there?

 

          Tony didn't buy such a childish idea, but he wasn't any less nervous.  He decided a closer look would make him feel better.  If nothing else, he wanted to be closer to Causeway Bay if something did happen.  Again he texted Billy, telling him that something came up and he would see him tomorrow.  It would give time to think up a lie that didn't make him sound like a scared schoolboy. 

 

          Message sent, Tony hailed a cab and told the driver to take him to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star ferry stop.

 

          The cab showed up too late and Tony was greeted by the ass end of the ferry retreating across the harbor. 

 

          For the next twenty minutes, he paced the pier, waiting for the 10:30 ferry to arrive.  Every so often he would stop and look at the clouds.  When he looked closely, he saw shapes moving within the mass.  Some were long and narrow, like giant serpents winding in a slow, endless circle.  Others were oddly shaped and moved erratically, when they reached the outskirts of the formation, the clouds bulged. 

 

          When the ferry finally pulled in, Tony immediately found a spot near the front and resumed his vigil.  The ferry was more crowded than usual for that time of night and he soon noticed a palpable atmosphere of anxiety. 

 

          Tony turned to look at his fellow passengers and saw that, while most chatted with friends or dozed in their seats, at least a dozen wore tense expressions.  Some even looked truly frightened.

 

          Alarmed, Tony turned back towards the opposite shore. 

 

          The shapes were still moving.  A casual observer might blame it on harmless air currents but Tony's inner voice argued otherwise.  Nothing natural was happening up there. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an old woman straining a handkerchief between worried hands.  

 

          The ferry stopped dead in the water.  The jolt sent Tony into the railing.  It dug painfully into his ribs as, behind him, people began to mutter.  The murmuring quickly turned to yelling and Tony heard someone fall to the floor.  A woman screamed, but was cut off by the bellow of thunder.  It rolled across the harbor and Tony felt the water bulge beneath the ferry.  Wood and metal groaned as the boat pitched dangerously to the left. 

 

          Tony gripped the handrail and watched, stunned, as the clouds around the financial building spiraled away from their center and engulfed the night sky.  A second blast of thunder shuddered across Hong Kong as it began to pour.

 

          The rain was brutal: It hit the ferry like bullets and churned the water until it looked like the harbor was boiling.  Wind drove the rain across the deck, making it hard for Tony to keep his footing.  As he clung to the railing, he decided there was only one choice: He had to get to shore. 

 

          With the hull of the boat protesting underneath him, Tony stripped down to his underwear and plunged feet-first into liquid night. 

 

          The frigid water sucked the breath out of him as it took him under.  When he bobbed to the top, the rain stung his face and waves sent water down his nose and open mouth. 

 

          Wincing against the onslaught, Tony forced his arms and legs into action and began to swim.  Hong Kong Island hailed him, the chaos of its lights visible even through the downpour.  Tony was a good swimmer and quickly made headway.  He was well past the ferry when its engine roared back to life, the cacophony audible even against the storm.  

 

          Tony looked over his shoulder to find the ferry gaining on him.  Before he could react, its green belly split across the front and widened into a cavernous leer.  Rows of teeth lined the inside like slivers of silver, gleaming and wet. 

 

          The ferry increased its speed and Tony dove under the water, hoping to evade the monstrosity, only to find that the current was now against him.  Worse, it was sucking him backwards.  Like plankton being strained into the maw of a whale, he thrashed helplessly against the sudden vacuum. 

His lungs burned, ready to burst, when the shiny teeth closed around his legs.  Tony had time for one horrible moment of pain before it claimed the rest of him. 

 

 

 

Natalie L. Sin is a horror writer living in the Midwest. When not writing she enjoys strong coffee, Hong Kong movies, and Korean boy  bands.

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