by L.C. Hu
There was a monster in Hannah's kitchen.
She had invited it in, but that did not make it any more welcome. It leered at her from above a brown paper package, and from within it: a long-faced man presenting her with a lean, red cut of meat.
"Mermaid," the man said.
The bloody smell of the meat made Hannah's stomach flip. She reached past him to wrap it up again.
"You swear, after this, my brother's off the hook? He doesn't owe you anymore?"
The man hooded his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. She wished she could scrape the smile off his unwelcome face. "Cook it proper. Then we'll talk."
She pointed towards the dining room. "I don't cook with an audience."
"This time you do," he said. "Gotta make sure you don't try nothing... fishy." When she didn't laugh, he sneered at her. "Don't look at me like I'm the bad guy here. It's your brother who's done us both wrong. Who made promises and then didn't pay. Won't be pretty if you turn out the same."
"I keep my promises," Hannah said, glaring.
She dragged a chair out of her office and shoved it into a back corner of the kitchen so he'd stay out of her way. Then, with a deep breath, she headed into her walk-in refrigerator. She picked items off the shelves with the speed of familiarity. Sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, lime. Green onion. She'd keep it simple. Safer, working with an ingredient she had never tasted.
Like an eel wriggling through her fingers, the thought came and went: she could taste it. She shuddered, feeling her gorge rise. Never, she answered herself. It was horror enough to unwrap the purple-red cut, to pick up the firm, slick flesh and move it to the cutting board. The sea-and-blood odor was so strong it invaded her mouth and lingered on her tongue with an aftertaste like tears.
Behind her the man said, "Don't you want to know how I got it?"