You know the story: office worker gets hit by a truck, gets reborn as the villainess in a fantasy world, tries to convince the crown prince / ex-fiancé that she’s not in love with him, watches the prince and female lead triumph in ironclad plot armor.

You know the story: out of jealousy, the villainess dumps granules of arsenic into the female lead’s tea. The female lead drinks, thumb and forefinger pinching the handle, pinky curled and tucked under her ring finger, an extra limb that has to stay hidden. It isn’t good to use too many fingers—people might assume the worst: that you cling, grasp, hold things afloat. But the female lead has healing powers hidden within her sternum, so deep arsenic must catalyze cellular apoptosis, amp up oxidative stress, knock down organs to drag out holy light. The female lead sits back up, healthy like a horse. The mouton catapults past the lunette. The villainess’s head soars. The tea goes cold.

I would just like to live quietly, says the reincarnated villainess. Retired at a seaside cottage, growing scallion on the window sill, baking ube milk buns in the summer heat because there’s no chiffon dress to ruin with sweat, belting out lyrics from an idol group she stanned several lives ago. In a previous life, she ate pork rinds rather than loins, flushing fat down her digestive system like water, the muscle meat and proteins too tough to digest. This is why your blood is weak, that life’s mother said. Unfulfilled bodies make unfulfilled souls. The villainess wishes to tell the female lead: you can have the prince, I think I’m asexual anyway. But confronting the female lead is like talking to the auntie who sizes you up against their daughter: fairer skin? Higher grades? Better handiwork at rolling and wrapping tangyuan so sesame paste doesn’t leak? Prowess in the kitchen seems desirable these days.

After the villainess packs her bags, changes out of her crimson dress (red is the shade of evil, said someone somewhere), and writes a letter to her parents about breaking off the engagement, she heads off to the countryside. There, she occasionally thinks about the demon lord soon-to-be slain by the prince, the female lead who’ll rescue the prince from the brink of death, the royal garden lined with rows and rows of camellias, serrated and glossy—the perfect backdrop for a love confession, an execution. It will only be a few seconds of thought before the villainess decides to sleep in, hoping she has escaped the death flags this time around. 

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Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Hobart, Invisible City and Five South, and was selected for Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and Pithead Chapel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

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