I’m delighted to be part of the book blitz for ‘Monkey Around’ by Jadie Jang organised by Storytellers on Tour. This is Jang’s debut novel, released by Rebellion Publishing, and today I have an extract to whet your appetite as well as the chance to win a copy of the book for yourself.
San Francisco has a Monkey King – and she’s kinda freaked out.
Barista, activist, and were-monkey Maya McQueen was well on her way to figuring herself out. Well, part of the way. 25% of the way. If you squint.
But now the Bay Area is being shaken up. Occupy Wall Street has come home to roost; and on the supernatural side there’s disappearances, shapeshifter murders, and the city’s spirit trying to find its guardian.
Maya doesn’t have a lot of time before chaos turns up at her door, and she needs to solve all of her problems. Well, most of them. The urgent ones, anyhow.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011: Chinatown Rooftop, San Francisco
The guard looked entirely human.
He wore designer jeans, knockoff Gucci loafers, a sheeny buttoned shirt, and too much hair gel. He smelled, even at a distance, of strong cologne. His skin was a taut medium brown, with faint wrinkle lines starting between his groomed eyebrows and around his cheeks. He held his cigarette between his thumb and first two fingers and blew crooked smoke rings.
He looked entirely human. That was my first clue that he wasn’t.
I know, I know, if everyone who looked human wasn’t, then nobody would be human (interesting thought, that …) but that’s not what I mean. There was a … brightness to his appearance, like he was in HD while the rest of the world was a cell phone video. He was too perfectly what he appeared to be: an inevitable side effect of wearing a bought glamor. Other people’s magic just doesn’t sit naturally on you, and only an amateur would take that sparkling, sharp visage at face value.
This guy, if Ayo’s info was correct, was a bajang: a shapeshifter that had a human-like form, and a weasel-like form. The human-like form, however, wasn’t entirely human. He should have had clawed hands and taloned feet. And he was entirely too tall for a bajang, being around my average human height. And bajang, apparently, don’t have higher deceptive magic. Not that he’d have gotten away with it if he had. I have my own magic detector, when common sense fails, and my eyes were burning away merrily.
The only thing I couldn’t tell you is why a rooftop guard would need to go to such trouble to hide who he was. I mean, he was on the roof.
I was at that moment in the form of a shadow at the base of the air conditioning vent. The guard had come out almost immediately after I got there to have a smoke, and gave the place I was shadowing a few hard looks. Probably saw that something was wrong with my spot (there wasn’t supposed to be a shadow here) but couldn’t put his finger on it. I waited.
He seemed nervous, for some reason.
Halfway through his cigarette, he decided he was done. He gave me a last hard look and flicked his cigarette into me, turning to go back through the door before it landed. The butt flew through me, bounced off the air conditioning vent, and landed, just outside my square of darkness. I gave it another minute to see if he was coming back, then transformed from a shadow into a rhesus macaque monkey. Monkey was my default animal form, and the best form from which to do what I was about to do.
I pulled a hair from my chest, set it on the bare skin of my elongated palm, and focused on it. The tip of the hair turned into something resembling a microphone, and the shaft began to lengthen. The microphone nosed its way into the vent like a snake, and the hair continued elongating behind it as it slithered down the airway. The root end of the hair shaped itself into an ear bud and I put it into my right ear, even as my left hand continued feeding the shaft of the hair—now a flexible cable—into the vent.
It didn’t look like any technology you’ve ever seen. I started out in high school trying to make real machines out of my hairs, but I didn’t really understand their mechanisms, so they never worked. But when I got it through my skull that it was magic, not engineering, I just made the things look like what I wanted them to do, and then they started working like whoa.
The microphone head slid past several rooms featuring sounds appropriate to a “massage” parlor (I’ll spare you any elaboration.) Without looking I reached around the vent chimney for the black patent leather crossbody purse I’d brought with me (fashionable and water resistant!) I pulled out the stone Ayo had magicked for me and cupped it over my left ear, and the conversations became understandable. I couldn’t suddenly speak Chinese, mind you, despite four years of college classes. But the gist of the conversation filtered into my brain, even as I listened to words I couldn’t understand. I was listening for a particular female voice—one that sounded like a warped metal door being scraped open across a rough cement floor—or for snatches of conversation about the owner of that voice. I got nothing.
I was on the hunt for Dalisay, the head of the Bay Area aswang contingent, who’d disappeared without a trace two days before. It was a fairly serious matter: leaderless aswangs would be no joke, especially when their leader was Catholic AF, kept them all living near the cemeteries of Colma, and organized raids on said cemeteries to keep her flock from stealing live babies. This was the third building belonging to the Hung For Tong I’d checked tonight, and the only one I’d found any people—or critters—in.
I pulled my cell phone out of the purse. Like the magicked stone, it didn’t—couldn’t—change shape with me, so I had to deal with it—irritatingly—whenever I went on an assignment like this; hence the purse, which was real, not made out of my hairs, like the rest of my clothes. One of these days I’d figure out how to make a phone from a hair, and then we’d be cooking with dynamite.
– NOTHING SO FAR. GO FOR PLAN B., I typed and sent, then returned the phone to its baggie, in its hidden corner.
A minute later, I heard a phone ring through the mic. A brusque male voice answered, and I heard Ayo’s tiny, tinny voice coming through his cell phone. She sounded angry and demand-y. The brusque male voice told her, apparently for the second time, that he knew nothing, and hung up. Ayo didn’t call back, like she would’ve if this had been a real demand.
Then a softer male voice asked the brusque one the obvious question. The brusque voice said, “That woman asking about Dalisay,” and the other one grunted. After some desultory talk, they turned to tale-telling that would put X-Tube to the blush. Either they didn’t have Dalisay, or they were all talked out about it for the night. Without shifting its position, I changed the mic into a micro camera, and repeated the room-by-room search (I could do sight and sound at the same time, but it took a lot more focus.) This turned up nothing on Dalisay again, just stuff I would never, ever unsee. I pulled the hair camera up, turned it back into a hair, and stuck it back on my chest.
– NOTHING. I texted to Ayo.
– ??? She texted back. This was Ayo asking for next steps.
– TALK TOMORROW. She could ask for details at work tomorrow if she wanted to. I turned off my phone and put it away.
I turned to go, and kicked something by accident. It clattered away across the rooftop—a beer can. It hadn’t been there before. I would have known; I had been the shadow it was sitting in. I looked for the half-smoked cigarette, didn’t find it, and knew that I wouldn’t. I should’ve known: the cigarette hadn’t sizzled out when it hit the wet rooftop. The bajang had thrown a basic enchantment over the beer can to set it up as an alarm. Whoops.
I had just enough time to admire his crude, but effective, tactic before he yanked the rooftop door open and tumbled out. He was shorter by a lot, and his Gucci loafers had been replaced by taloned feet. A look of focused rage now marred his handsome face and his eyes glowed orange.
My rational brain was telling me to flee. But I also have a monkey brain, and Monkey loved to fight. And Monkey currently had the upper paw.
I slid into human form, expecting to gain a moment of surprise. My human form is, I’m too often told, rather young and sweet-looking: a pale-skinned girl anywhere between 15 and 25 years with Asian features and long hair just this side of the blonde/brown divide. About half the folks I’d fought screeched to a complete halt at the sight of her. Me.
But this guy was good. He didn’t pause, just closed on me with a fury of lighting-fast punches and kicks that left me breathless … and delighted. I shoulda just put him down, but: 1) I’d never fought a bajang before, 2) I’d been getting bored with life, and 3) this guy was good. He was so fast I couldn’t see his hands and feet moving. Wow. Okay, then, buddy, Okay! Let’s see whatcha got!
I backed us up along the short length of the roof, opening up a bit to keep up with him. I even let him land a few, just to see how he’d handle it. Oooh, he was pretty. Look at that form! And that speed! Maybe my sweet little face was relaxing in admiration, because he took advantage, leaping forward, sinking his claws into my shoulders, and smashing the bony crown of his head into the bridge of my nose.
… Or, at least, trying to. I turned briefly into a dragon egg, the sudden hardness of my shell thrusting his claws out of my flesh, just in time for him to smash the hard part of his skull against the hard part of my everything. I switched back to monkey, the claw-holes behind my shoulders gone as if they’d never been. He staggered away from me, pressing his paw to his crown.
I didn’t think it would stop him for long; I was told bajang have hard heads. So I swung up on my knuckles to kick him in the throat, the gut, and the … did bajang have balls? I noted that none of this had a particularly strong effect, although his throat seemed marginally more vulnerable than the other two. Fair enough: I stuck four monkey toes into his throat again for good measure. He choked, recovered … and then it was really on.
He feinted a swipe from my right, then swept my legs. Or tried to. I turned to mist for a moment, then rocked back on my knucks and shoved him on the side with my feet, using his excess momentum against him. Instead of stumbling, he executed a controlled fall, which he turned into a sideways roll back up into a side kick. Damn, this guy was good. Moreover, I’d seen that move before. Come to think of it, I’d seen a lot of his moves before.
I switched back to human so I could speak.
“Where have I seen you?” I asked, as much to find out as to see if he was distractible. He wasn’t. I had to block a 1-2 … then a 3, even as his face opened with surprise and … was that …? Guess he was pissed off.
“MMA,” he mumbled, as if coerced, then followed the concession with a vicious claw-swipe that would’ve taken out my eye, if I’d had an eye just then.
… Oooooh, MMA! Right! This guy was Budi “Bu Bu” Budiman, Indonesia’s golden boy for a few seasons—until he took some time off to recover from an injury and never came back. I could almost see what had happened to him play before my eyes like a soap opera recap: his treatments paid for by a mob boss, his recovery not as quick and complete as the business required, his debt suddenly unpayable. And now this contender was a leg-breaker. Sad, but common. The question was: why did they put what was undoubtedly their best guard on the roof? They couldn’t have known I was coming.
As if reading my thoughts, Bu Bu’s rictus of fury cracked open at the mouth and he asked me in a voice that sounded … shaken, “What are you?”
Ugh. I hated that question.
I did wonder, for a second, if I’d hate it nearly as much if I knew the answer.
And there it was: I was distractible. He sensed it and took advantage of the moment to break the rhythm we’d created together. In a move I hadn’t thought he’d try again, fool that I am, he feinted left, jabbed left, then swept my legs. I went straight down and he threw himself over me, using his claws and talons to encourage me into a hold.
Okay, fun and games over. He was poetry in motion, but nobody puts me in a hold. The monkey part of my mind shrieked at me to kill him, but was easily overruled. I grasped his wrists and prised them away. I’d been holding back, and he didn’t think I could prevail in a strength contest, so he pushed back. Not very respectful.
I yanked his wrists outward with about 50% force and felt something in the soft tissue give. He didn’t cry out, but his strength fell away. I suddenly hoped I hadn’t broken those golden wrists. This guy was too much of a gem to injure permanently.
I shoved him off and snapped to my feet. He rolled away and up and paused for a moment to think, his whole body projecting wary defiance. To be fair, I’d been giving him the impression that he had various split seconds here and there to think things out, but the truth was, he didn’t. I simply reached in with both hands, grabbed his injured wrists above the joint (didn’t wanna hurt ‘im!) and used them as leverage to run up his body. At the top, I backflipped and, still holding his wrists, threw him over my head backward toward the rooftop door.
This was Monkey’s favorite move: you never knew where they might land! It was like I was a bride at a wedding where I was marrying kickassery, and the opponent was my bouquet.
Oh … where is Bu Bu? I thought to myself deliciously. Where could Bu Bu be?
I whipped around, but he was already rising out of his crumpled position. What the hell? Didn’t he know when he was beaten?
“What are you?” he asked again, in a wavering voice, and I looked more closely at his expression. Suddenly, I realized that he wasn’t furious—he was terrified. Had been, the whole time. What? Of li’l ol’ me? Weak.
I paused to consider responses. Your Daddy? The iron something in the velvet … hm. How about: The Long Dark Night Of Your Soul, Motherfucker? Yeah, that was good. I turned back into a shadow, for effect, thinking it probably wouldn’t faze him, but would be funny.
But my punchline was preempted by a bloodcurdling scream … from Bu Bu. I focused on him. All at once he’d gone from injured-but-defiant to cringing and abject.
“You just like him!” he cried in a high-pitched voice. “You same … thing. What are you people? What you want?”
My brain froze. What the— what? What “him”? What “thing”? What the fuck?
The slippery little fucker took advantage, and turned to run. My monkey brain kicked the rest of me back into action. I turned into a giant frog, leapt, and gravitationally encouraged him by the shoulders into the ground. Then I turned back to human, rose, and grabbed him by the throat.
I shook him a little. “Did you see another one like me? Where? When? Did you see one like me? Did you?” I shook him with every question. Really, it was more monkey brain than me. Monkey didn’t think a little injury should come between friends.
But Bu Bu was completely overcome. He cringed before me, holding up his injured wrists in a pathetic attempt to protect himself.
“Get ahold of yourself, Bu Bu,” I commanded.
At the sound of his name, he burst into terrified sobs.
“Don’t!” he cried. “Don’t eat my soul! Please!” And he dissolved into blubbering.
I heaved him to his feet and shook him a few more times, but no more info fell out. Monkey would have been happy to keep shaking him until I was exhausted, but cooler parts of my mind recognized that I’d have to give him time to calm down … and maybe find a little leverage too.
I crabbed sideways, still holding him up with one hand, grabbed the bamboo tube Ayo’d given me out of my purse, and flipped the cap off with my thumb. With a “swop!” sound, the cringing Bu Bu disappeared inside. I put the cap back on.
He could just sit there for a while, until he was ready to talk. I wasn’t letting this go. I’d been waiting my entire 25 years for some little clue about what I was, and this MMA goon was the very first one.
About the Author:
Claire Light (writing as Jadie Jang) is almost as organizy as her characters. She started a magazine (Hyphen) and an arts festival (APAture) with a cast of Asian Pacific Americans even more magical, if less supernatural, than the ones she writes about. She also got an MFA, went to Clarion West, and compromised between the two by publishing a collection of “literary” sci-fi short stories (Slightly Behind and to the Left) that maybe 100 people read. After wrangling arts and social justice non-profits for 17 years, her already autoimmune-disease-addled body threw a seven-year-long tantrum, leading our then-house-bound heroine into an urban fantasy addiction.
A few years, and a dozen Euro-centric-mythology-dominated urban fantasy series later, Claire sat up and said “I can do this!” and Jadie Jang, the part of her brain that writes snarky-fun genre romps, was born. She posts about monkeys every Monday under @seelight on Twitter.
Publisher Links – Rebellion Publishing / Solaris:
Prize:One physical copy of Monkey Around by Jadie Jang – International
Starts: August 18th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: August 23rd, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
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