A new volume of succinct yet stirring stories arrives with the second season of Future Fables. Exploring how the ancient fable form may bring us replenishment, comfort and perhaps guidance for the modern day, celebrated contemporary writers weave yarns that resonate and illuminate in equal measure.
A writer, researcher and editor, currently working toward her PhD at the University of Oslo, Regina Kanyu Wang artfully weaves together gender politics, environmental issues, and an otherworldly perspective. Following her deep interest in science fiction, this playful yet poignant tale invites us to reflect on the importance we place on the opinions of others.
It must be the worst day of Snaky’s life.
Early flight, traffic rush, long queue at check-in counter, and strictest control on overweight carry-on luggage.
She could not check in the bag. It was full of company devices. Her mission was to take those samples to an exhibition abroad and win customers. It was not a big exhibition. Neither was the country a promising market – it was saturated with numerous local competitors. She was sent there only because nobody wanted to travel. If she didn’t go, she would lose the job. And if she failed to achieve a single order, she would also be fired. She was used to that. Being snaky was never easy.
After taking out the empty pages of a notebook, eating up the snacks she prepared as lunch, and putting on the extra coat she brought, she was finally allowed to board. Seeing the scales on her skin and tail under her clothing, the other passengers on the plane tried their best to keep a distance from her. She tried to pretend not to notice and found her seat, curling her tail and sitting down. Being snaky was always tough.
But that was not the toughest part of the trip.
Upon arrival, Snaky got stuck in the gap between the aircraft and the jet bridge, got lost in the maze of public transportations, and got rejected at the hotel check-in due to a system mistake. When she solved all the issues and entered her room, she just wanted to rest. She took a shower, combed her scales with a brush, and looked at herself in the mirror. The human-animal fusion project had gone on for decades. But after generations of gene dilution, she still had characteristics of a snake, which she urgently wished to get rid of. She covered her face with her hands – something that differs her from the snake ancestor – and felt something unusual. She scrutinized herself carefully in the mirror and found a small piece of her skin next to the mouth peeling.
No, not now, not today. She was going to the exhibition tomorrow morning, talking with potential customers and showcasing them the products. What can be less persuading than a snake? A moulting snake.
Snaky tried to tear off the skin, but it got worse. A larger chunk split from her cheek and trembled in the air, but the rest was reluctant to shed. She felt that swelling underneath and the weakness deep inside but dared not to touch it anymore. The moulting process could last up to two weeks, but she needed to present in decent shape tomorrow.
The first thought came to mind was augmented reality. Snaky was sure that the technology had already been commercialized somewhere in this world and probably in this city, that she would be able to appear as a rabbit, a dog, or a deer with the digital filter, and that the others would be more friendly to her seeing the cute avatar instead of a snake.
She rushed down to the hotel reception and asked about the nearest electronics store. Following the reception’s instruction, she found one on the next road.
“May I help you?” The staff that welcomed her was a tiger-shaped.
“Errr yes, or no. Well, I’m not sure. I’m looking for some AR device that can…veil my appearance?” Snaky carefully considered her words.
“Sorry, Ma’am, I am not sure what you mean. Do you want to look at our latest AR glasses?” The staff responded.
“Not for me, but for others. Well, ultimately for me. OK, look, the skin around my mouth is peeling off, and I need to attend an important event tomorrow, so I want others to see me in the best shape.” Snaky said.
“Ah, I see. You must be shanghuo. The inner heat makes your body lack of water. You need to drink liangcha, the herbal tea, to rebalance your body. You don’t need AR devices. You can find a liangcha shop next door, which is my favorite one in the city.” The staff blinked and escorted her out.
The liangcha-maker was a wolf-shaped lady. She examined Snaky’s face and handed her a bottle of black liquid. “Drink this, with wild honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, and my secret recipe. It will help to calm down your inner heat and detoxicate.”
“Thanks.” Snaky took over the bottle and drank it upside down. The bitterness made her frown, but she did not complain.
“Good girl. Good medicine tastes bitter. You come here and drink my tea for three days, and the sickness will go away.”
“But I’m going to present at an exhibition tomorrow, and I’m worried that the peeling skin would scare others. You know, my snake-shape is already bad enough. I cannot solicit any business like this.”
“You are worried about your skin and appearance? You should go to a beauty salon. Across the street and turn left, you will find one opened by my friend.” The liangcha-shop owner showed her the way.
Snaky pushed the door open hesitantly. She had never stepped into a beauty salon before. She was afraid of the strange look from other customers like cats and birds.
“Welcome, welcome,” A fox-shape walked out. “What can I do for you today?”
“My skin is peeling off. I am wondering whether you can help to make it look not so…so ugly and scary.” Snaky mumbled in low voice.
“What are you talking about? You look gorgeous!” The fox exclaimed. “Let me see. There is a little peeling. I can cut it off. Easy task. Please lie down here.”
Snaky did so.
The fox caressed Snaky’s skin gently with some foam and said: “You have a beautiful skin, smooth and glossy.”
Snaky felt relaxing and some words slipped out of her mouth. “You really think so? I thought everyone was afraid of snake.”
“How could that happen? I don’t see that at all.” The fox wiped the foam with a soft cotton cloth.
“I feel that everywhere. You know, the stereotypes and cultural annotations, the Aesopian fable and the Bible.”
The fox used scissors to carefully cut off Snaky’s peeling skin little by little. “Aha, there are also bad associations with fox in my culture like hulijing, the beautiful fox monster that seduces men. But they are ancient, nothing to do with our present. If you want to talk about old times, we have the mythology as well. The goddess Nvwa and the god Fuxi are both half-snake. One created humankind and one created characters.”
“Really? I never know that.”
“How you sense the world depends on how you see yourself. There are always good things and bad things in the surrounding. What you can do is to embrace yourself and care for yourself. And then you will always feel the good.” The fox applied some products to Snaky’s skin and said, “You can sit up now. Have a look.”
Snaky rose and looked into the mirror. A shiny Snaky looked back with a peaceful and joyful smile. She felt the power that she had never felt before.
In the end, it wasn’t the worst day in her life, probably one of the best. And being snaky was not that hard at all.
Regina Kanyu Wang is a bilingual writer from Shanghai who has won multiple Xingyun Awards, the SF Comet International SF Writing Competition, and the Annual Best Works of Shanghai Writers’ Association Awards. She’s also been nominated for several Hugo Awards in 2023. Her stories can be found in Shanghai Literature, Galaxy’s Edge, Clarkesworld and more. Her essays can be found in publications such as Mithila Review, Broken Stars, and Korean Literature Now. She has published two science fiction story collections, Of Cloud and Mist 2.2 and The Seafood Restaurant in Chinese and her works have been translated into multiple languages and published around the world. She was co-editor of the 2022 collection The Way Spring Arrives and she is also a PhD fellow of the CoFUTURES project at the University of Oslo, researching Chinese science fiction from gender and environmental perspectives.