Sensory Deprivation by Chang Yao

guest-edited by Jeffery Renard Allen


Photo Credit: Yuran Han

Photo Credit: Yuran Han

Heads on Durian Shells

        Two white shells of a durian’s corpse lay on the gray desk. The sweet flesh of the durian is ripped out and eaten, leaving a stench like raw sewage. Six pale misshapen heads, three on the left, three on the right, roll around and chat on the two durian shells. They could be the children of the Marsh King. Their bulgy eyes are those of toads with no pupils. Their ears fly away and hide under the beds of bandits, listening to treasure hunting stories. Their mouths are open as they silently ask each other how they ended up here. The communication melts in the air like marshmallows in hot chocolate, for the heads cautiously protect their secrets. None can come to a conclusion as to why the others are on durian shells; they only know of their own histories. The one thing that they agree on: they traveled here in a brown square satchel.

Photo Credit: Yuran Han

Photo Credit: Yuran Han

A Girl on a Train

        Every night at fourteen o’clock, a young girl in a gray plaid cape gets on the train that comes from fourteen days later and drives to fourteen days before. The dark green seats are cold and hard, like grass thriving in the Antarctic. The metal poles are warm and soft, like earthworms wiggling in the clouds. The yellow walls hum. Clear windows sway. The advertisement above her observes her. The girl stands in the center of the empty car of the train, smiling, black leather boots massaging the belly of the floor. Her white woolen glove tickles the waist of the pole. The brown square satchel in her hand has consumed so many plates of secrets that it wants to vomit. Yet it will never tell that her puffy hair is in fact a big wild mushroom. 


Harvests After Thirteen Sixty-nine

        The train whistled at the platform. A passenger hopped on with his ticket that said departure time was thirteen o’clock, from SW to NW. It should be the right route to home, southwest to northwest. The car was full of passengers and all seats were occupied except for one. Third row isle was a good seat. He took the seat and did not look outside the window. The yellow walls were hypnotic. The advertisement was irritating. The metal poles looked too icy to touch and were perhaps smeared with strangers’ snot. Although the dark green seat was not as plush as his old sofa, he fell asleep on it. From thirteen o’clock to thirteen sixty-nine, all the passengers got off. He was left alone. A young girl in black boots stepped onto the train and stood next to him.

       “Hey, where are you going?” the girl asked. She tapped him on the shoulder.

       He woke with a startle, blurry eyed, and looked up at the girl. “Home.” He retracted his shoulder a few inches from her.

       “Why?” The girl stepped forward.

       “Because.” He grabbed his bag and flipped through the papers, pretending to dig for something important. 

       “Do you want to go on an adventure?”

       “Would you please just leave me alone?”

       “No.” The girl said, grinning.

       “Why not?” 

       “Because I am an artist.”

       “That doesn’t explain anything. Artists are crazy and dangerous. I do my best to avoid them. Now if you will excuse me...” 

       “Sorry,” she said. “You’re coming with me.” The young girl twisted his head off, stuffed it into her brown satchel.

       Back in her studio, she painted his pupils white and ripped his ears off. “You didn’t look or listen anyway. What a terrible waste of eyes and ears. You came from SomeWhere and were going NoWhere. How lucky you were to meet me! Now you’re saved.”

       It was the same story of all the six heads on the durian shells, but they would not find this out. After all, each one is still too cautious and unadventurous, even now.


Contributor Notes

Chang Yao is originally from China and has been living in the U.S. since 2007. She is currently a MFA student in the Creative Writing Program at The New School. Her short story “Sensory Deprivation” is her first story to be published in English.