The sound of bells; swells of brackish water

The harbor stench a dead-fish atmosphere—

A bearded would-be pirate slight of build

Standing on the dock in dreary overcast

Applied one dawn to join the Red Flag Fleet


And take training on The Flying Dragon

Learning the respected pirate trade

No one deducing motives mutinous—

What harm could come of one so young and frail?

Shih’s notice of the novice cursory


Ching Shih, who ruled o’er ports and shipping lines

On blue-jade waters of South China’s Sea

Possessed too many other grave concerns—

China’s ruler, per persistent rumors

Had paid Portugal’s navy to defeat her


The Flying Dragon, Ching Shih’s ship, set sail

Dragon figurehead riding tall and proud

Out of the harbor into oceans wide

To join the other ships in Red Flag Fleet

Questing the sea for profit and plunder


One bright red sunrise, the ship becalmed

A dozen whales frolicked in the distance

While pirates paused to watch them from the rail—

Loyal Shen Dho, otherwise occupied

Tight-held the novice pirate in his tow


He knocked three times on Ching Shih’s cabin door

And, when it opened, pulled his prize inside

Holding the struggling novice in strong grip

Presented there for Ching Shih’s audience—

“What has our newest pirate done?” Shih asked


“I spied him naked; turns out he’s a she.”

This said, Shen yanked the beard from off her face

And held it up, aloft, as if on display

“Though this one’s false, her pubic beard is real—”

And then he shoved the novice to the floor


“It’s up to me to deal with this,” Shih said

“Leave her to me.”  Shen Dho left her cabin

Reluctantly obeying Shi’s order

Wary of the novice’s deceptions—

What else might the intruder have in mind?


The novice lay there, hands upon her face

Feigning injury from the ripped-off beard

Suffering Ching Shih’s angry scrutiny

Malicious smile beneath her hands concealed—

And, a moment later, her face revealed


This he not only a she, but a Shih

Hiding herself, and cunningly disguised

Identical of face and form to Ching

A more than eerie similarity

Unholy doppelganger who explained:


“Think of me, Ching Shi, as your dark sister

Born of warring forces where our worlds connect;

I’ve come to take your place upon the Earth—

Make all your powers and possessions mine;

From this day forth I’ll rule the Red Flag Fleet”


Youling,i Shih’s pet monkey, was confused—

These two so alike, yet with different scents

And which one was its mistress, real and true?

It bared its teeth and chittered in its rage

Retreating to cower in a corner


The real Shih stood in stern and relaxed stance

Unmovable as the Mountains of the Moon–

“We two are identical opposites,

Shih and Shih, and so one must cease to be

To restore unnatural valences.”ii


The lantern dimmed to black and shadows ruled

Invisible to sight, vast forces clashed

Charged with turbulent, occult energies

Permeating the cabin’s atmosphere—

Time and space in virtual abeyance


A mounted sword jumped from the cabin wall

Into Ching Shih’s double’s extended hand

The second of the crossed swords flew to Shih—

Ching Shih’s knife unsheathed itself, attacked her

Shih fended it off, with the sword she held


They fought with spells and swords, with nails and teeth

They summoned allies from the empty air

Only to see them swiftly disappear

They fought with knives and blood began to flow

Forever staining Ching Shih’s cabin floor


The crew knew nothing of the deadly duel

No one had seen the doppelganger’s face

Not even Shen Dho, for she turned away

When he tore free the beard of her disguise—

No one knew there were two Ching Shihs aboard


They heard loud sounds coming from Shih’s cabin

But when they knocked upon the bolted door

They heard their captain’s voice shout “Go Away”

So they obeyed despite the noisy fray—

Long hours argued: What was happening?


In one darkling corner of the cabin

The monkey Youling howled and danced about

Made faces, spat, leapt to the highest shelf

And, agitated past the point of madness

Threw small clumps of feces at the false Ching Shihiii


Black light radiated from the lantern

Setting the doppelganger’s eyes aglow—

Ching Shih aware she faced unhuman foeiv

Would not admit to overwhelming fear;

She somersaulted; tried a backwards kick


Conflict raged, advantage shifting often

Translucent phantoms swam about the cabin

Spectral insects crawled all along her flesh—

A maelstrom of maladies threatened;

Flitting intangibles pricked at her spirit


This penumbral darkness was sorcerous—

Though the lantern burned as bright as always,

Rays of light were lost in dancing shadows

Ching Shih groped for counteracting magic

So she might better see her enemy


Though weak and weary, Ching Shih would not yield

Nor would her doppelganger quit the field

Both slow and clumsy now, yet on they fought

Throughout the passing hours of the day

And ever onward, deep into the night


Come dawn, the cabin door swung open wide;

Devoted Shen Dho was summoned, and entered

Soon emerging with a heavy bundle—

A body sheet-wrapped and securely tied;

Then, as ordered, he dumped it overboard


By late midday, all returned to normal

The Flying Dragon pirates worked their chores

With Shih’s familiar figure at the helm—

And who could say which of the two survived

The real and true Ching Shi or her dark twin?v



i Pronounced Yow-ling. Rhymes with howling, although the syllables are divided differently.

ii “To restore unnatural valences”; i.e., To restore the supernatural balance of the world

iii Although initially confused visually, once Youling relied upon his sense of smell he knew immediately which witch was which. The doppelganger’s odor had a faint sulfurous tint.

iv See Roberto Rios’ book, The One True History of the Pirate Queen Ching Shih; Inexistente Press, 1845

v Undoubtedly scruff-furred Youling knew who survived; the pirates remained oblivious to the exact nature of the occurrence.


Kendall Evans’ stories and poems have appeared in nearly all the major science fiction and fantasy magazines, including Asimov’s SF, Analog, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Weirdbook, Mythic Delirium, and many others.  He is the author of the novel The Rings of Ganymede and a number of chapbooks, including Poetry Red-Shifted in the Eyes of a Dragon; Separate Destinations and The Tin Men (both written in collaboration with David C. Kopaska-Merkel); I Feel So Schizophrenic, the Starship’s Aft-Brain Said; and In Deepspace Shadows.  

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