Hǎo Gǒu and the Great Quake

Hǎo Gǒu and the Great Quake

Honorable Mention in Group 1 • Historical Fiction / A geological fault-line / A roast chicken

Synopsis: For Hǎo Gǒu, a scrappy terrier from the other side of the globe, life on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco is full of routine, responsibilities, and rewards—even in the aftermath of an earthquake.


There’s a sort of buzzing you get in your ears before a big shake. The shiver underground echoes in your teeth, so you clench them and try to snarl it out. Your stomach goes hollow and squirmy, like when you eat too much grass.

I’d been feeling it for a few days, the topsy-turvy wrongness of a fault about to slip. I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when. Nao-Nao knew it too. He’d been barking fit to split, hour after hour. Bark, bark, bark, whimper. Trying to warn the madam, but she wouldn’t hear. She tossed him and a cuss out into the deep morning darkness, the rickety door slamming behind her.

At the moment Nao-Nao was launched into the purple night, trembling and snuffling with fear and indignation, I wasn’t worried about the fault. I was worried about Jack and Wash—big, mean boss-dogs named for their territories: Jackson Street and Washington Street. They glared out of flat faces, their bottom fangs pushed up through flabby black lips. They were after my Wednesday morning trash-basket and my aim was to not let them have it.

I wasn’t always a Chinatown stray. I used to have an owner. His name was Li and he smelled of fatigue and the laundry where he worked. I’d wag for him and also for his smell, strong enough to dim the reek of the Cow Hollow dairy fields, smells that stirred my thoughts to urges. Recollections of getting my nose right into a mole hole, snorting that clean dirty earth, or thundering into a thicket to feel it get lighter as the ducks flapped themselves free.

I had a different name then but not my first. My first name—Duke—was given me by a girl who was herself royal but impoverished. She’d come to New York on a steamer in search of a wealthy American who fancied a title. I don’t know if she found him, but she lost me. I ended up aboard a transcontinental train to San Francisco.

I couldn’t understand what Li was saying when he discovered my hiding spot under an onion wagon.  But he gave his knee a pat—a universal gesture I couldn’t ignore. He called me “Didi” and I came to it.

It wasn’t hunting in the heather, but it was a good life all the same. Then bubonic plague struck Chinatown and Li died of it. The cot where he slept and the rug underneath were both burned, right along with the whole building. There were no masters after Li, just benefactors. In the Com Coak Alley I had a new name, Hǎo Gǒu, which I earned by killing vermin. The whores thanked me with a soft place to sleep, the restaurateurs thanked me with yesterday’s chop suey, the grocers thanked me with water, and the opium addicts just stared.

Sometimes I’d get a swift kick in the soft parts but mostly people were decent. It was mutts like Jack and Wash I had to watch for. I didn’t know much about myself but I did know I was a pure breed brindle cairn terrier. I didn’t know much about Jack and Wash, but they weren’t any breed I knew. Just mangy ruffians who didn’t work for their food, they stole it.

They’d obviously got wind of my roast chicken situation. Like I said, I didn’t have an owner, but Sun Ming was good as. I kept his establishment rodent free and every Wednesday at opening time I got a very handsome carcass—usually chicken—all to myself. I wanted to keep it that way.

If Jack and Wash were twitchy with impending disaster, they weren’t showing it. Their ugly dragon faces menaced from Sun Ming’s threshold, and their upshot hackles and slow prowl told me they meant business. Chicken business.

I growled, though I had no intention of fighting. I searched the unusually warm breeze for any hint Nao-Nao might have my back, but his scent trail was fading as fast as his whines had done. All I caught was the bright green smell of the lily lady rolling her cart up Jackson—one of the only women on this block who wasn’t selling lookies and feelies—and something sinister, the miasma of geological discontent.

The gas lamp inside Sun Ming’s glowed on. Jack paced around Wash, who stood staunchly between me and my reward, slobbering in anticipation. My only hope was to grab the bird and scarper.

If I could’ve beaten Jack or Wash in a footrace, I never found out. The pavement cracked, cobblestones rattled free and danced a mad jig, alley walls creaked and shrieked and shoved their facades at each other. It rained bricks. Sun Ming’s yellow flags flapped then fluttered down in a shower of dust and iron railings. People screamed and it was awful, but not as awful as when the screams ended.

I scrambled, using the agility I thought would help me scupper Jack and Wash to dodge beams that used to be ceilings and privacy paneling that divided beds. I ducked into a shallow drain at Sun Ming’s just as all of Com Coak collapsed.

Just when I’d convinced myself the world would never be right again, it would always tremble and roar… it stopped. I was left with a high pitched keening sound, a cry like a broken trolley cable being whipped up its pulley. Me, I realized, and tried to swallow the sound.

I belly-crawled from my hole. The early morning gloom was choked with the dust that also coated me. It clogged my nostrils and blocked all the other important smells. Chinatown was only rubble. Rubble and smoke and sobs. I sobbed too.

And then I saw in the wreckage, Sun Ming’s fish basket overturned and spilling its contents. I looked about for Sun Ming, but he was nowhere, and I realized—it was all mine.

It wasn’t roast chicken, but it would do. It would do fine.


© IReen Weiss 2017



{1666}  Really nice piece of misdirection here – your ending works on different levels, both as a joke and as a deeper thematic statement. The piece reads as though it’s going to contain somewhat standard, anthropomorphic attribution of human emotion and empathy to an animal narrator. The irony of your narrator’s response to the disaster and the basic dominance of his survival instinct is that it pulls the rug out from under the reader. While we’re expecting some sort of touching, emotional, “awww” type of ending, we’re left with detachment and non-human priorities, which solidify your theme of nature’s ruthlessness and impartiality in spite of human empathy and hope. The more I think about it, the more exceptional I think this piece is, and ultimately, a piece that leaves a reader chewing can typically be counted a success.  


{1777}  This is like every great children’s book where the little scrappy dog is buillied by the bigger ones but somehow in the end the bullies get their comeuppance and the little guy becomes the hero. Hao Gou has a lot of grit and experience plus the intelligence to use his brains. The descriptions of Chinatown from a dog’s perspective are tantalizing and vibrant and the terrifying quake is nicely illustrated. Great job!  


{1742}  Excited for Isle of Dogs??? This gave that type of vibe for sure! It’s a great idea and you skillfully tell the story from the dog’s perspective. It’s funny at times, honest, and seems like you put a lot of effort into making him a full fledged character with a history. Entertaining!!  




{1666}  There’s little that I would change about this piece – I think you very successfully accomplished what you set out to accomplish. Your work was well-conceived and -executed. Thanks for a unique and engaging read!  


{1777}  Is this the big S.F. quake in 1906? I know dogs don’t read or tell time, but I wanted a fewmore historical markers to give me the time frame.

There’s a mention of hunting in the heather. Was Hao Gou originally from Scotland? I didn’t make that leap from the girl who was a royal. I thought she and her dog were in America.

What was Sun Ming’s occupation? Hao Gou gets chicken from him, but at the end of the story there’s fish. Is he some kind of grocer? Or restaurateur?  


{1742}  I would have liked to have seen interactions with humans and certainly other animals. The conflict was all external danger while friends of Hao Gou may cause vocal conflict and conversation to change the flow of the story. And it would be very interesting to read in the first place

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: