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E. L. Chen's short fiction has been featured in anthologies such as Masked Mosaic, The Dragon and the Stars and Tesseracts Fifteen, and in magazines such as Strange Horizons and On Spec. She lives in Toronto with her husband and children and a requisite cat. The Good Brother is her first novel.

The Good Brother by E. L. Chen

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"Goh-Goh is angry at you for not being a good Little Sister. Wah. . . . Why are you so selfish? You know you are not supposed to anger bad spirits during Ghost Month."

I sputtered, "You think Goh-Goh is a bad spirit? A gwai?"

"Ai-yah. Don't call them that. Do you want to anger them? They are the Good Brothers. You call them the Good Brothers. Ho hing dai."

Tori Wong is starting over. She's given herself a new name, dropped out of university to work at a downtown Toronto bookstore, and fled her parents' strict home to do all the things she's never done before. Like go out on weeknights, flirt with her cute co-worker Egan, and live out of the shadow of her overachieving brother, to whom her parents always compare her-even though he's dead.

But turning your back on the past isn't as easy as it seems. Especially during Yu Lan, or The Festival of Hungry Ghosts, when traditional Chinese believe that neglected spirits roam the earth. Not one but three forgotten ghosts come back to haunt Tori: her vengeful brother Seymour, and ambitious Vicky and meek little Mui-Mui, herself at age seventeen and eleven. Despite her attempts to appease them, none of them approve of Tori's new life and interfere with her job and her budding relationship with Egan.

And although it's Seymour who literally burns with jealousy of the living, Tori begins to despair that she too is a hungry ghost and has more in common with him than she'd thought. . . .

CURATOR'S NOTE

Tori Wong is starting over. She's given herself a new name, dropped out of university to work at a downtown Toronto bookstore, and fled her parents' strict home to do all the things she's never done before. As she tries to escape her traditional Chinese upbringing and navigate young adulthood and first love, she's also haunted—by her dead brother during the Festival of Hungry Ghosts. But neither the past nor the present are quite as they appear, in E.L Chen's The Good Brother. – Sandra Kasturi

 
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Third Who Walks Always Beside You

I DIDN'T LIKE EGAN RIGHT AWAY. I met him the morning I lost my arm, the morning I first saw my dead brother.

I saw Egan first, though. That morning before the store opened he paused at the top of the grand spiral staircase, his hand resting lightly on the railing like he owned the place. The hair on the back of my neck prickled. Frances followed my gaze and interrupted her description of Colophon's upcoming Back-to-School promotions. She waved at Egan, and he trotted down the stairs to join our staff meeting. "Everyone," she said, "this is Egan. He's a full-timer, starting today. He'll be working the second floor."

Egan grinned at us. Everyone smiled back, except me. I didn't like him at all at first glance. He was too tall, too skinny, too friendly. His pants were too slim, his feet too big in his black canvas high-tops and his eyes too blue under a curling fringe of dyed black hair. He made me feel like a sparrow next to a flamingo.

Frances introduced us all in turn. To my chagrin, she lingered on me. "I was thinking you could show Egan around, Tori." To Egan, she said, "Tori's the best. She knows the store inside out."

"Cool," he said. We were required to wear the purple Colophon golf shirt with black pants, but the cuffs of his pants were folded up, revealing a pair of non-uniform yellow striped socks. He extended his hand to me, and I found my own swallowed by his handshake.

"Nice to meet you," we both said at the same time. Everyone laughed, including Egan. I flushed. I suddenly remembered that I hadn't washed my hair that morning, and my contacts felt gummy, like I'd plucked them from under a seat on the bus.

Frances checked her watch and announced, "Two minutes to open. Have a great day, people."

"Shall we?" Egan said.

"Sure," I said, shrugging. I led him upstairs while Frances and the others rushed to their posts. At the top of the stairs I spotted a mystery paperback perched on a shelf of photography books. I scooped it up and said, "Hang on, I'll be right back." The Mystery section was around the corner.

A dark head bobbed between the rows of shelves. "Can I help you find something?" I asked as I rounded an endcap and entered the aisle. The dark-haired figure ambled away from me, his pale, long-fingered hands clasped behind his back. He moved like an old man who had nowhere urgent to go, but his back was straight and whip-lean. He wore a short-sleeved electric blue polo shirt with a white collar and stripes.

Something about that shade of blue and those marching rows of thin white stripes tugged at my memory as if I'd seen that shirt before. I shivered. In the distance, I saw Egan leaning against the second floor cash counter, chatting with Diego and Sylvia while Frances scribbled on a clipboard. His hands moved animatedly. Sylvia laughed. I still didn't like him. His face was an open book that said Read me! in large type and I didn't trust it.

"Excuse me?" I said to the ambling figure. "Sir? Can I help you with something?"

The man unclasped his hands and turned around.

Seymour stood in front of me. Or, rather, something that looked like Seymour stood in front of me. The apparition had his face and even the shirt and jeans I'd last seen him in. His appearance was off, though, as if he'd been created by an artist who had only ever seen photos of him. He was too lean and stretched and pasty. His arms hung listlessly by his sides, his posture upright and stiff. His hands were bloodless claws, the fingers longer and skinnier than they had been in life.

But my mental image of him could've been wrong. I had only photos and my own memories to compare. If Seymour had come home the day he hadn't come home, maybe he would've looked like this.

He cocked his head toward me and smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. But he'd never smiled nicely at me when he'd been alive. We stared at each other until I caught my breath and blinked. He smiled again. He'd always won our staring contests when we were kids.

His left claw-hand curled up and rubbed his upper right arm.

The book in my hand dropped to the floor and Seymour was gone, flickering out of my vision like a burned-out neon bulb.

I glanced around to see if anyone had heard me drop the book. Surely someone must have; it had been a thunderclap to my ears. Surely everyone in the store could hear my heart pounding too, and my sharp intake of breath.

At the cash, Egan was walking away with Sylvia while Diego rung up a customer's purchases. Frances was in the middle of opening another register. I breathed a sigh of relief. No one had noticed a thing. Had I imagined it?

Frances caught my eye. She must have seen something in my face, because she strode over as fast as her short legs could carry her. I knew what she was going to say before she opened her mouth. Still I thought, Don't say it. Don't say it. Don't say it. . . .

"You look like you've just seen a ghost." She picked up the book I'd dropped and slid it into a gap on the closest shelf. It was the wrong place but I'd fix it later.

"My right arm just went numb," I said.

"What?"

"My arm," I said, grabbing it by the wrist and hoisting it in her face. It was heavier than I thought it would be. My hand drooped forward. "I can't feel it. I can't move it." My voice rose in panic.

Curiosity glittered in her eyes. She pinched my forearm. Hard. I didn't react. My arm had become a slab of bone and flesh as useful as an appendix. I could see the half-moons left by her stubby fingernails, but I couldn't feel them.

"Wow," Frances said. "Want me to take you to the hospital?"

"Please," I said.

Behind Frances, standing beside an endcap, my dead brother smiled.