Mah liked to invite his young nieces in to see the tiger. He'd watch their easy mélange of opposites while he stood smoking by the air vent. Fear. Delight. Wonder. Boredom. Magnetism.

Slowly, slowly, he introduced them to the idea of touching the beast. No, little ones, Uncle isn’t joking. And they came around in timid spurts. Stroking its fur, paws and whiskers. Sinking little fingers between the fibres of its muscles. Inserting seven inch needles into its joints.

Mah taught them how to find the line of the articulations, and shave back just enough fur to expose the skin. Then how to swab carefully with alcohol, and make sure the needles were disinfected. The tiger responded with moans that were guttural, nauseated, and tremulous with early insanity. They came at a frequency that induced loss of bowel control, perhaps for a second or two, that the girls thought hilarious.

Together the three of them spiraled upward into a realm of creative cruelty not one of them could have managed alone. The whole so much more than the sum of the parts. For which Mah was duly thankful. Coconut candies and sticky-bean pastries were always in plentiful supply.

The cage was to Mah’s own design. Five millimeter diameter stainless steel rods held together in grids with titanium welds. Not that the cage needed to be that strong, it was that each glint of weld impressed customers when they came to visit – just adding to the magic. There were sliding poles at the four corners that allowed the roof and floor sections to be adjusted in spacing. And finally a tilt mechanism that gave the whole cage a 45 degree angulation left or right. This last feature he plundered after seeing a similar mechanism in hospital beds – to stop patients getting bed sores by changing the angle of pressure. Important stuff, if he wanted to keep this tiger alive. But it also made milking the beast so much easier.

The extract was in high demand. Just last week Mah had the leader of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Prime Minister both in his waiting room at the same time. Playing mahjong. Amazing how civilizing a force addiction can be. Just one look at them and you could see all the signs of Mah’s touch. Their smiles white, their skin and eyes radiant, their hands steady. Not crack whores by any stretch – but junkies all the same.

Mah liked his American customers the best. He loved America and everything about it. The films, the cars, the music, the ice cream. “The Americans,” as Mah would say in his heavy Chinese accent, “have good balls.” So from the beginning it was always his intention to sell into the States. He had his brother Lim Jin make the first delivery of little, green bottles to New York. Mah was quite concerned that they would have to rent a shop front, and that this would attract attention, and that sooner or later the Food and Drug Authority would shut down his enterprise. But Lim Jin just laughed. “I will look after us, brother.” And he did. It took him less than 48 hours to sell the first box of five hundred bottles – straight out of the warehouse.

“I don’t believe you.” Mah, when he received the call. “Little brother is playing games with me.”

“Everything is easy here.” Smiled Lim Jin, who had spent the first 12 of those 48 hours poring over magazines like the ‘Harvard Business Review’ and actually extracting something of more value than the right choice of cigar. “They call it ‘marketing’.” And went on to explain.

‘Uncle Mah’s First Class Tiger Bile Extraction – For the Yang Stimulating.’ Mah liked the tie in with Uncle Sam. Lim Jin knew he would.

It was this early success that caused Mah to lose several night’s sleep. Wondering how the two of them might maximize profits. And by God there were profits to be had. Mah made all the calculations, and the list of people he had to contact. The animal dealers – to procure more tigers. Three, four – who knew – maybe even a dozen. The builders – to expand the cellar. The glass maker – to put a down payment on another five thousand bottles. And his sister, probably – to help him with the milking of the beasts. He called Lim Jin, so excited he sounded like a record at 45 rpm. He stammered and stumbled through the grand plan, barely able to hold back giggles of excitement. He’d never felt so close to the little weevil.

“Brother, you are the most stupid you have ever been right now.”

Mah locked, word half finished.

“You don’t want more of anything, you piss pot, you want less. Mother sent you to school, eh, she sent you to school alright, but you didn’t learn a thing. And it’s two in the morning here.”

“I … had to tell you straight away. So we could get started immediately.”

Lim Jin’s laugh was more a cackle, and had a history that dated back to their teens. “Brother needs glasses. I have already started us. I’ve done more in two days than you could have fumbled in a year. And you thank me like this. Good night.”

Mah held the phone to his ear, the dead tone buzzing diligently for another ten minutes while he stared mutely at the floor. Now what? Take lessons in pharmacology from his little brother? Mah was the direct inheritor of a lineage of herbalists that dated back to the Yellow Emperor. Who was Lim Jin, in his Lakers jacket and baseball cap, to teach him anything about anything?

Mah went down to the cellar. The tiger bared it’s teeth at him and roared. In it’s original restraint it could still move somewhat, and it heaved against its ropes until the noose around its neck made it struggle for air.

“You think you know better than me. You think so, eh.” Mah unlashed the belt from his waste and whipped the tiger across the nose.

The animal lunged, as best it could, but recoiled in pain as the noose cut off the air altogether.

“Ruin my profits, will you?” Mah brought down the belt again. The tiger huffed and cowered.

Mah flogged the creature, again and again, until it lay still and silent on the ground – both its eyes bleeding, its nose open with a gash deep enough to expose the soft cartilage underneath.

Mah was bent over in exhaustion, clutching his knees. Panting. Smiling. Only then seeing what he’d done. The clear plastic tube that was inserted into the tiger’s gallbladder through a hole in its stomach wall was now draining fluid of quite a different colour. Formally a thin yellow-green liquid, it was now darker, thicker, more resinous. He opened the tap and let a drop fall on his finger. It started to burn his skin immediately. He licked it off.

Mah straightened. His teeth and tongue were pulsing – he wasn’t expecting that. A ripple of unfocussed wind spread down to his feet and then bounced back up off the floor. The waves increasing in intensity as an impossible dynamic took hold. He was leaving through his chest in plumes of ice, and re-entering through his spine in squirts of flame.

“This, little brother, I can ‘market’ on my own.”

And then it hit him. For real. The first thud of pure, unadulterated power. Yang to the nth degree.

His body was expanding. Filling the room. Even when he looked in the mirror and confirmed it wasn’t true, it felt just as real. Siphoning the energy out of the concrete and steel. Engulfing the house. Engulfing the city.

Mah turned his erection on and off at will. Ejaculated three times in thirty seconds and knew there was plenty more in store. He felt sharp and hard and metallic. Because he was. The effects lasted nearly a day.

He wanted to get on the next plane, find Lim Jin, and put a finger through his third eye. And the way this new extract worked, he was sure he could have. But there was that indiscretion some years ago with the Party official’s teenage daughter, and the ensuing criminal record, that made obtaining a Visa for the US impossible – so the idea of boxing his brother was purely academic. In any case, the Dao De Ching advised prudence in such matters. He gave Lim Jin his second chance.

“You are right, little brother. You have your specialty and I will do well to respect that. On my end I have greatly improved the formula, and was hoping that …”

“Fool. Don’t change anything, nothing. That’s not how it works. Nothing. Nothing. You change it back how it was and do exactly what I tell you.”

Mah nodded patiently. Very good, little brother. But he sent a sample of the new extract anyway. Regular post. He attached a note instructing Lim Jin to drink it all at once. A week later Mah received the news officially by way of telegram from the State Department. ‘Yes.’ Thought Mah. ‘I’ll arrange for his body to be brought back for ceremony and burial.’ When all was said and done – and now it really was – they were still brothers.

Lim Jin was right, and Mah was big enough to admit it. He didn’t need more quantity – especially not more tigers. He needed more quality. Though Mah did end up contacting someone on the list. The glass maker. To order smaller bottles. Much smaller.

A sequence seen
We immerse
The edges know no edges
Dreams of prey
Prey of dreams
My tea tastes of blood

What a ruinous time. Betrayed by his brother. No contact with America. Dozens of petit green bottles burdening his shelf. I Ching, I Ching, I Ching. No answers.

Mah continued regular floggings of his tiger. Systematically moving to unbruised parts of its body – to avoid desensitizing the beast. But Mah knew enough physiology to see even this had an upper limit. He experimented with different implements. After the belt he took a length of wood, a metal spatula, an iron whip he bought from a medieval arms dealer. No help. Gently, gently, the tiger’s bile was lightening in colour.

Mah stared down the bustling alley from the front door of his pharmacy. Forlornly hoping the answer might just, come. Fruit vendors, mobile phone resellers, black smiths, fortune tellers. He spat in disgust. He had half a mind to let the tiger reap havoc on the lot of them. When Mah finally saw the sign, he was cross at himself for missing it for so long. Acupuncture supplies. Of course. He darted down the street.

“Honourable Mah, welcome.”


“Very good. We have hundred piece boxes, but I can sell in tens if you wish.”


The vendor squinted at him, blinked sagely, and stacked ten boxes on the counter.

Down in the cellar the tiger recoiled at the glint in her captor’s eyes. Six months of beatings. Six months. She was ready to stop being. But every time she lay down to sleep for the last time – truly the last time – this man slit the throat of a squealing piglet over her head and let the blood seep into her. And time after time awoke her primal nature, fed her, then flogged her until she passed out again.

Every night she dreamed of stalking him. Disemboweling him with a casual stroke.

“Look what I’ve brought for you.” Her captor had blades of silver grass in his hands.

Mah had studied acupuncture, naturally, though it wasn’t his specialty. He guessed at what he thought might be the most painful points – and plugged away. The tiger’s eyes rolled back until there was only white.

“No sleeping yet. No, no, no.”

Mah swiveled the needles. The tiger sighed. Mah frowned.

She felt warmth flooding her limbs. Like the fresh blood of a kill when it first fills her throat and nose. She let the warmth curl its lines through her, and felt the wind again, the stretch of her body, the ice-water drinking pool, the joy of rolling on her back.

“Mah, you piss pot.” Mah stared at the fluid coming out of the plastic tube. Within minutes it was back to its normal, healthy colour. Not even Mah’s terrified and indignant screams could raise the cat from its wonderful slumber.

He sat poised to gouge out one of the beast’s eyes when the bell on the wall rang. His sister letting him know there was a customer upstairs.

“I’ll fix you later.”

The bell again.

“What is it, what is it you can’t do by yourself? Are we out of dried lizards again?” Coming up the stairs.

His sister looked at him a little frightened. “I think he’s American.”

Out by the sorting shelves was a tall man. Aging, but still robust. Jeans, boots, checkered shirt. A ten gallon Stetson finishing off the cliché.

“Uncle Mah?”

Mah nodded.

“Well I sure as hell hope you do English.”

“I try.”

The American reached into his pocket and pulled out one of Mah’s original green bottles. Empty. “Bought in once, good stuff, fella said he was your brother. Larry-John. Then he up and disappears and I’m left with my butt swingin in the breeze.”

Mah stared.

The Yank laid a hand on Mah’s shoulder and smiled. “I want more. And I mean a whole lot more.”

It wasn’t a dream, and it wasn’t a waking fantasy. It had no words and Mah didn’t want to risk breaking it by applying any. His skin tingled gently as he went to the back room and took a single petit off the shelf.

He wasn’t halfway back in the door before the American was complaining. “No, no, I want the same, exactly, and at least a couple a dozen bottles.”

“You take. Try.” He opened the bottle and put a drop on the American’s thumb. “Suck.”

“Love a God!” Rolling his eyes. ”Is it the same stuff or isn’t it, Mah?”

“Same, same. But different.” Mah guided the American’s hand in the direction of his face. “Suck, suck, yes.”

The American put his thumb in his mouth. Mah hid a smile. He could have laid that drop on any finger, but would it have been as much fun? The things we enlarge can be the same things we belittle, if we don’t see them in the mirror.

Fifteen minutes later the two sat at the negotiating table. The American stroking his erection. The question had been asked, and Mah was contemplating a response. He couldn’t look the man in the eye as he named what he thought an insanely high price.

The American didn’t blink. “Done.”

The tingling on Mah’s stomach intensified. “I having question.” Mah puzzled a moment. “To having person make, ahh … delivery, bottles, for US of A.”

“Delivery!” The Yank roared. “And I thought you fellas had an edge on us for business thinking. Mr. Mah, you don’t delivery anywhere. Repeat, nowhere. With juice like this they’ll be running to you. Gar-an-teed.”

“But …”

“And don’t fret none about the competition. You’ll pulverize them.”

No response from Mah.

He repeated ‘pulverize’ slowly, drawing out each syllable.

Mah shook his head sheepishly.

“You’ll crush them, sir, crush them.” And he rolled his fist in his palm.

Mah finally nodded. “Yes, yes. Crush.”

Mah returned to his chambers that evening, the satisfaction a bubbling syrup in his marrow. He sat at his desk, flattened out a sheet of rice paper, and emptied himself thoroughly. When the tides of emotion were subdued, he dipped the brush two thirds into the ink, and began.

The water is flat
Our reflections are a lie
Your veins
Your heart
Your fire
Your eyes
We trade skin
Nobility and pride
I lay in green
You watch the fish vendors in the morning
And smoke

Mah liked his new apartment. Top floor. Whole floor. A view over the bay, a view over the city. He liked it so much in fact, that he bought the whole building. In keeping with habit, the tiger inherited the cellar.

He liked that first American customer, and enjoyed his half-yearly visits. And so far the broad shouldered, ex-college basketballer was right about everything. Mah had to do nothing in particular. It was the customers that did all the talking. (Read ‘marketing’.)

Yet there was something about their first meeting that had snagged into Mah’s side. Itching and prickling in moments of absence. When he finally understood what it was, he strolled to the edge of town to the metal works yard.

“Make me this cage.” Said Mah, and laid out the sketch on the table.

The man’s cigarette sent curls of smoke into his eyes that he didn’t seem to notice. “You want the roof to come down?”


“How far?”

Mah bared his teeth. “As far as it needs to.”

In real terms this meant an inch a week until the tiger could only crouch. Then only cringe. Then only lay with its legs splayed out at unnatural angles – a preview of the floor rug it would one day become – its pelvis on the verge of snapping in two, its ribs already chipped and splintering. ‘You will crush them, sir, crush them.’

Drip. Drip. Drip. The yellow-green resin flowed better than ever.

Everything had a perfect symmetry and balance. Without further contemplation or examination Mah now instinctively understood the meaning of the ancient texts when the spoke of being one with the Dao. The tiger produced less bile, but it sold at an incredible price. The price cut out the vast majority of buyers, but the new extract only worked on those who could afford it anyway. Correct. Its effects were only manifest in the most rarified of power players. Leaders of corporations and countries. Men whose mountains were littered, quite literally, with the bodies of those they’d slaughtered. Countless villages of little, brown people after they’d raped entire landscapes taking gold or oil or diamonds out of the ground. Or putting radioactive wastes back in.

If you did not know that specific and voluminous joy of having woman mindlessly wanting you, and men mindlessly fearing you, then Uncle Mah’s Newly Improving Tiger Bile Extraction did nothing more than give you a mild rash in the nether regions. But if you’d already tasted something of its flavour by other, less bio-organic means, its many and wonderful benefits were available to you. Symmetry and balance. Only the richest could afford the extract. And the extract was only of use to the richest.

Given its nature, it was only a matter of time before the President of the United States caught wind of it. But Mah refused to sell him any unless he came in person. Mah, of course, was thinking about his wall of fame. Photos of Mah with his chest puffed out and his arm around various VIP’s. The King of Jordan, the Director of the CIA, Bono. Like that.

“I don’t think you understand me, Mr. Mah.” Some brown-noser in the West Wing. “This is the President of the United States of America. Do you knowAmerica?”

“Tell Mister him come make click click with Uncle Mah. You knowUncle Mah?”

So it was under a guard of thirty secret service agents that the Prez made a midnight junk run. Though he couldn’t understand why he had to. He was the President. Why wasn’t there a fresh bottle waiting on his bedside table for him every evening? Why did He have to kiss the ass of any senator to get a bottle every time He wanted to nail a few interns or nigger fags out in the toilet block. And now to top it all off, He had to go out there to Chink Land just to fetch it. Jesus, it was probably further than Florida.

Mah watched the secret service men go about their check, and felt a growing unease. Mah could tell a lot about people by how they first responded to seeing the tiger in its cage. His sister, for example, fainted. Split her head open on a concrete pylon – to which both Mah and the tiger responded with a smile. Mah’s sister was a hypocrite. She loved her new apartment, and sending her girls to good schools, and having the massage boy come up once a week for a special treatment. But at the same time needed to make a theatre piece out of her sympathy for the beast. So be it.

But what was Mah to make of the black suits? A man can hide a wince, but only to a certain degree. And Mah was an expert at scenting out the residue. So how could any person honestly look at this poor creature, in clear and undeniable agony, and not feel something? Even if their boss was a child-eating demon worshipper, it couldn’t have explained desensitization like this.

The men pronounced the cellar ‘all clear’, then filed out systematically and silently. Mah’s ears popped. There was a steady hum coming from he couldn’t tell where, and he wondered if it was the harbinger of fortune or of folly.

The President stepped in, walking like he’s just finished a five minute special with Marilyn Monroe. He shook hands with Mah, but didn’t speak. Mah shuddered. Something wasn’t right with this man. Something fundamental. Something cellular.

“How many bottles you got in store?”

“Sixty and two. Soon one more.”

“I’ll take ‘em all. Box ‘em up.”

Mah had to think for a moment. “I having many customers. How much bottles you need?”

“Sweetheart, I’m your only customer now.” The President’s smile not quite pre-electional. “You got chicken wings as well?” He laughed.

A heaviness settled on Mah. Something was wrong with this one. Very wrong. If Mah could have mapped out the archetypal persona attracted to his extract, then magnified each trait tenfold, he still wouldn’t have arrived at a condition like his. This spoon-fed parakeet was at best only quasi human.

The President bent down so that his face was level with the tiger’s. The cat’s eyes were closed, its breathing steady. The President whooped, then spat on the animal, but the tiger didn’t stir.

He arced a look back at Mah. “I didn’t come all this way not to get a show. Wake the bitch up.”

Mah didn’t know how to respond.

But the tiger wasn’t sleeping. It was the first animal – other than Man himself – to become aware of its Creator. It was praying, silently but fervently, to die.

The President reached into the cage and tugged the tiger’s top lip. There was an unexpected spurt of blood. Then Mah saw the small blade in the President’s hand.

The tiger wearily opened its eyes, the fresh cut literally as a drop into an ocean of pain. But when she saw this stranger, his eyes hollow and senseless and alien, she filled with such an unimpeded fear that she howled in a way Mah hadn’t witnessed in over a year. This, Mah knew, was the sound of her begging for mercy.

The President spoke between glittering teeth. “I’m gonna suck you dry.”

Despite knowing the cage and its limits absolutely, she jerked back again and again trying to get away. Jamming her head tighter and tighter, breaking one rib and then another, literally choking on her tongue trying to push his stench out of her soul. The President responded with giggles as he reached into the cage with child-like cutting movements of his blade.

So this animal, the first to know God, was also the first to know the malignancy of evil. In its insane struggle, it finally broke its neck and died.

It was the single most humane thing the President had ever done.

Mah’s cry of anguish reached into the tunnels of death, lifting the tiger and carrying it like a wave.

A jungle with no doors
A girl in a blue dress
Where is your mother little one
Circle stalking
Moment of safety
Her neck snaps in my teeth
Every swallow I drink for you

Orders got held up for six months while Mah made his adjustments to the cage. A few customers commented about the distinct change in flavour after. How was it they described it now, a ‘Southern Twang’. Though none of them complained about the effects. If anything it was even better.

And the secret service agents? They were well prone to keeping their mouths shut with a bottle each per month.