Late August


I was walking on my campus a few weeks ago, and reached the courtyard of a tall building of a dozen or so floors and made of sable concrete. The building was built in the seventies in the shape of a flat box standing on its side with rows of rectangular cutouts for windows, making it look like a switchboard or an old yellowed punch card. The courtyard was paved with large off-white square tiles streaked and spotted with dark gray and black soot.

It was late afternoon; the sky was a mixture of orange, blue, white, and gold, and the ground, at last getting a respite from the relentless beating by the sun’s blazing whips, heaved steamed sighs of relief as its master began the descent again toward the horizon. On the courtyard were concrete planters boasting privet shrubs with throngs of thick, leathery, glossy dark green spade-shaped leaves. On the edge of one planter, a young thin Asian boy, about seven or eight years old, sat, with a stack of books at his side, his feet barely touching the ground. The books were slim, with hard and soft bindings of various colors. The boy had one open in his lap and was reading, thoroughly absorbed.

I was walking across the courtyard toward the building, when all of a sudden, I heard a loud fluttering noise coming from behind me. Before I could react, I saw shapes of gray, passing, by and over me. A blur of gray forms, lines and shadows, soaring, gliding, by, or perhaps even through (that was the impression I had) me. A cloud, a mist, a shower of unfocused flitting shadowy shapes, surrounding me, enveloping me. Penetrating me.

Then, releasing me.

The fluttering mass landed about ten feet away and stayed still, and the multitude of shapes comprising it became denser, darker, more focused. Discrete. Solid.


It was a flock of pigeons.

In various shades of ash, with arsenic-like blue undertones, crimson eyes, iridescent teal necks that faded into a smudge of magenta, and claw-like feet the color of the horizon right before sunset. They were flapping, picking, jutting their throats back and forth, and rippling and smoothing their delicate feathers.

Then, suddenly, without any warning, all rising and flying in the reverse, again, toward me. And became nothing, again, but a swarm, of accelerating roiling shapes, indistinct, abstract, transparent.

And passing through me. Again.

Then, once more. From the other side.

All this happened within seconds. I didn’t know how I felt, except almost as if the molecules of my body had become looser. That I had disintegrated, a little.

The boy sitting by the privet shrubs was still reading, and apparently hadn’t looked up. I recall a clear feeling then, that he and I existed, somehow, at that precise moment, in two completely different worlds. Or perhaps, we were for some reason, brought into the same world, from two different moments in time.

Perhaps he saw me, in one of his books.

There was a hot breeze. The privet leaves rustled. Cicadas chirped louder, it seemed, just before the sun disappeared.

I came home and wrote all this down.


HC Hsu was born in Taipei. He is the author of the short story collection Love Is Sweeter (Lethe, 2013). Finalist for the 2013 Wendell Mayo Award and the South Pacific Review and The Austin Chronicle 21st short story prizes, Third Prize Winner of the 2013 Memoir essay competition, First Place Winner of the 2013 A Midsummer Tale Contest, and The Best American Essays 2014 Nominee, he has written for Words Without BordersTwo LinesPRISM InternationalRenditionsFar Enough EastChaPifBig BridgeIodinenthposition100 Word StoryChina Daily NewsLiberty TimesEpoch Times, and many others. He has served as translator for the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China and is currently completing a commissioned translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo’s biography (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).