In Zhao Song’s newly translated thriller, a recluse moves into a mysterious apartment block where not everything is as it seems

In the spring of 1989, I moved into a Japanese-style apartment building in the old part of town. I rented a single room on the first floor. There was a shared kitchen and bathroom. Not long after I moved in, the people living across the hall moved out. After that, the room sat vacant for a long time.

I appreciated the peace and quiet. I only had a single room and I never went across the hall, but I enjoyed feeling like I was the master of an expansive suite. The way I figured, if I was going to live alone, I might as well enjoy the solitude. If I needed someone around all the time, I’d go out and get married.

I’m a lazy person by nature. Back then, I spent most of my free time reading. I liked wuxia stories—martial arts masters descending into the underworld to seek revenge, that kind of thing—or collections of strange stories about ghosts and immortals. I wasn’t even above picking up the occasional gossip magazine. In order to preserve my indolence and give me enough time to read, I found a job as a night watchman guarding an engine room. My shift started at four o’clock every afternoon. Each day, I showed up with my book, dutifully took my post, and read until midnight, listening to the machines whirring behind me. Except for whoever came in to relieve me, I never had to deal with any coworkers. That was another perk of the job.

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author Zhao Song (赵松)

Born in 1972 in Fushun, Liaoning province, Zhao Song is a writer, literary critic, and curator. Initially a bureaucrat who drafted official documents and reports for a state-owned enterprise, he resigned in 2003 and moved to Shanghai to work in an art museum. Zhao continues to write part time, and is now the author of eight books, including short story collection Yichun (《伊春》), from which this story was selected, and Fushun Stories (《抚顺故事集》). His short story “In the Park (《公园》)” won the Short Story Biennial Award organized by Fiction World and the Si Nan Literary Journal in 2021, while his short story collection Building Block (《积木书》) was selected as one of the best books of the year by the One Way Street Book Award in 2017.

Translated By
author Dylan Levi King

Dylan Levi King is a writer and translator. His most recent translations are Cai Chongda’s “Vessel” (HarperCollins) and Jia Pingwa’s “The Shaanxi Opera” (AmazonCrossing).

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