29 Sep 2012 Leave a comment
I have never liked Seventh Month. Ghost Month. Gui Jie. The Lang stay indoors this month, barricading ourselves, locking ourselves in. The ghosts are out, some lost, some looking for their loved ones, mostly for blood and vengeance and hate. What frightens wolves? Hateful spirits.
I make sure I hurry home straight from school. I even stop hunting at night, with the Gang. Marianne does the same. So, two young Lang, afraid of the blood-thirsty ones, alone at home. We spin tales. Wolves love songs and stories. We spin ghost stories, real-mixed-with-fake, and scare ourselves even more. Our parents are out at a meeting, some pack thing that we aren’t even sure of. We are always glad that Seventh Month is over and the joy of the Mid-Autumn Moon fills our hearts. We hang onto the promise of the hunt and the feast. Mid-Autumn Festival is much gentler, nicer.
We spin ghost tales, layering them with truths, half-truths and out-right lies. Outside the house, the rain thunders down and I swear I can hear the cries of the lost ones. Homeless, family-less. I try to switch the talk to the hunt, mooncakes and delicious teas. But Marianne insists on the ghost tales.
“We can bare our teeth,” Marianne whispers, snug under her favorite blue blanket. Her eyes are wide, staring.
“They are not prey,” I whisper even softer. We can’t even bite back and they bite. I have seen scars.
A flash of light dazzles us, further fraying nerves. Marianne shivers as the boom shakes the house.
“Prey or not, they are not scary. We are Lang.”
“They are wild ghosts.”
“I call it ‘being smart’.”
Then Marianne storms up the stairs to her room. I hear the door slam. What has gotten into her? She has turned into a wild ghost herself, unpredictable. My sister. The wild ghost.
I have never liked Seventh Month. Ghost Month. Gui Jie.
Author’s Note: I wrote this short during last month (Seventh Month). So, the story’s backdrop was the Ghost Month or Hungry Ghost Month for the Chinese. Yet, the deeper story explored the prickly relationship between Jan and Marianne.
Since tomorrow will be Mid-Autumn Festival (but I celebrated today with my parents), this short is a gift story, since the Lang loves Mid-Autumn Festival and Jan Xu will love tonight’s bright moon.
28 Sep 2012 Leave a comment
Grateful thanks and a shout to White Chan for the illustrations! Your support is really appreciated. And folks, go buy the e-comics! They are cute!
28 Sep 2012 2 Comments
28 Sep 2012 3 Comments
“Aiyah, the calamity!”
Green heard her Jie Jie’s wails within the pagoda. Sea water bubbled in streamers about her. She breathed normally under water. In her hands she held a porcelain pot, sealed tightly to endure the rigors of underwater swimming. She brewed double-boiled soup of herbs and succulent frog legs, to rejuvenate Lady White and give her strength. Bu bu sheng ti, ti ti shen.
What a disaster it had been. Lady White did fall in love with the bumbling idiot and he in turn fell even harder for her.
Then the righteous monk came and turned everything upside down. For a monk, he was devious, like a jin. A demon. Worse than spiders, snakes and assorted evil animals. He tricked the bumbling idiot scholar into tricking Lady Snake; her Jie Jie drank poisoned wine and revealed her real form.
“Ah-ha!” The monk said, worse than any trickster or con-man. “Ah-ha! White snake!”
Lady White clearly loved the scholar who wrung his hands a lot and did nothing but mope. Lady White fought the monk, oh the calamity – and he imprisoned her in this underwater pagoda. Green had been faithfully providing her with food since then. The bumbling fool of the scholar? Nowhere to be seen. Spineless idiot.
Humans are all spineless fools.
Maybe she should have listened to that smelly wanderer after all. Maybe she should have been more firm, as firm as a green viper could possibly be, and drill some sense into Lady White.
Her heart ached to see her mistress suffering. Her Jie Jie, the only kin she had. If she could tear apart the pagoda with her bare hands, she would.
“Jie Jie,” Green called out. “I brought you soup.”
Lady White’s face, moon-pale and thin, appeared at the small window. “Mei Mei!”
“I also brought you this,” Green fished out another tightly wrapped parcel. “Fried scorpions. From your favorite stall at the market.”
“Green, Mei Mei, you have been so good to me,” Lady White received the food. Her eyes looked swollen as if with prolonged crying.
“Jie Jie, you have to persist. Fight the monk. Fight him with all your might.”
Green didn’t know why she had said that. What temerity had come over her? Did she put too much shao xing wine into the soup? She swore she only sipped it a little, for taste.
Lady White listened and her lips curved into a very serpentine smile, a smile that bared the fangs and made a snake very dangerous indeed.
“Of course, Mei Mei, I will fight him,” Lady White said, biting into a scorpion with an audible crunch. There was a flash of moon-colored opalescent scales as she tossed her head back in a rare show of indulgence. She finished it with another audible crunch, like tiny back bones breaking.
“I have something to fight for,” she continued, popping another scorpion into her mouth and smiled the snake smile. “Green, you will be an aunt soon. No, I think you will make a good godmother.”
Green stared and stared. Her hand flew to her own mouth. Her stomach lurched.
This ends the Lady White Snake re-interpretation. I hope you like this triptych.
26 Sep 2012 1 Comment
The sequel to The Warning.
Green swatted at the mosquitoes alighting on her exposed arms. At least they were getting a decent meal. Her stomach rumbled. She suddenly craved her sugared crickets and plates after plates of steamed paddy field rats. Even frog legs, tian ji, paddy chicken. Anything.
They had been on the road for two days now. Lady White had decided to eschew the usual sedan and walk all the way, much to Green’s chagrin. Her Jie Jie admired the gorgeous scenery of snowy mountains and shimmering lakes, green as jade and flat as beaten bronze mirrors, pausing here and there to look at flowers or blow happily – like a little girl – at the white puffy dandelions. She had the patience of the Lord Buddha.
She thought about the filthy-ragged wanderer and rued the day she promised to follow her Jie Jie to West Lake. She was a dutiful Mei Mei, the best handmaid and confidante of Lady White.
She flicked away a particularly plump-looking insect off her green sleeve, already envisioning dire consequences of their trip. Her peonies must be dying. Old Fan had better water them. Or else…
Of course, they had fun too, sampling all the human street food. Caramelized hawthorn, crabapples on sticks, sweetness dripping down their hands, steamed bao with savory fillings of chives and meat. It was fascinating and so much desirable to scorpions and crickets and simple vegetable dishes.
Green wished she had her own skin back, her real skin, not this tender fair human skin so prone to bruising and swollen insect bites.
This time, the shout was not her. Green glanced up to see a man. He was wearing scholarly robes, all gangly limbs and bones. Bamboo scrolls scattered about him like fortune sticks. She knew that kind of man: bumbling idiot. The kind who stayed indoors and buried his face into books and examinations. Pale skin, soft hands. A si ren, a poet.
Like her mistress, her Jie Jie.
Her stomach grumbled. They were due for a rest stop. Her feet ached. She wanted to eat. Even chicken feet marinated with sugar and vinegar would taste good, the bones crunched like peanuts. Anything to wash the dust out of her mouth. Even tie guan yin tea sounded good, so good.
Lady White was already approaching the scholar. She bent down to help pick up the scrolls. Green smelled his sweet-sour sweat. He had a charming smile and eyes like a sad stray puppy. She stifled the urge to lick her lips or snap at him.
“She is not allowed to fall in love!” The wanderer’s words echoed in Green’s head. “She should not fall in love with humans.”
In the distance, storm clouds rumbled around mountain tops, the grumbling of irritated dragons.
23 Sep 2012 Leave a comment
21 Sep 2012 1 Comment
21 Sep 2012 6 Comments
“Aiyah! Aiyah! Listen to me!”
The wanderer stood outside the wooden door, shouting a storm. Summer often brought them out. Green sighed and slipped away from her peonies to attend the problem. She slid the wooden block side-ways and opened the door.
There he stood, the wanderer, all filthy and in rags. He must be one of those who lurked under the temples, absorbing the sutras and the wisdom, believing they were enlightened and tasked by the Lord Buddha to spout prophecies.
“Lady, Lady, tell your mistress not to fall in love with humans!” He hopped from one foot to another, his spittle flying everywhere.
What irony. They were all in human form, even the smelly wanderer. They all wanted to be human. Green smoothed her flowing sleeves and gave the wanderer her best viper glare.
“Nonsense. Go away! Go harass the Lee family two houses down the street,” she hissed and closed the door firmly. The wanderer stuck his hand through the slit. He had black bitten nails.
“Wait, Lady! Listen to me, your mistress shouldn’t go to West Lake! She shouldn’t fall in love. Oh, calamity! Oh, suffering!”
Green wanted to shout something else, something deliciously vulgar, when she spied Lady White emerging from the prayer room. Jie Jie was disturbed at her meditations. Oh, stupid wanderer! How dared he disturb her Jie Jie?
“Mei Mei,” Lady White said. “What is wrong?”
Green shook her head. “Just a wanderer.”
Lady White smiled. Her body shimmered like moving light, her elegant robes the shade of opalescent moons. Green felt self-conscious. Her green robes looked too gaudy, out of place.
“Just give him some silver taels and a steamed rat,” Lady White said, patting Green’s shoulder kindly. She was so much like her father who would do just that and be generous to beggars and wanderers. Green was grateful to Lord White for a reason: he picked her up when she was barely a day old from her shell and brought her home. There she grew up and became a hand-maid to her Jie Jie, Lady White.
Lady White went back into the house. Green heard the qin. Shrugging, she went to the kitchen and wrapped one of the plumb paddy field rats (done to perfection in the bamboo steamer) with a square cloth. She also took a chain of silver taels from the box where they kept extra money.
The wanderer was still there, muttering to himself. He looked up hopefully when Green appeared with the food and the taels.
“Here, take this,” Green said curtly. “Now go away.”
The wanderer looked at his gifts doubtfully, as if they were strange. “Lady, listen. Your mistress is not to go to West Lake. She is not allowed to fall in love! She is not allowed!”
Green had enough. “Whatever my mistress does is none of your business, worm. Go slither off somewhere else.”
She slammed the door so hard that the wood rattled. The wanderer was still shouting: “Aiyah, calamity, calamity! Trouble will befall upon her!”
Of course, the wanderer had to bring up the issue. How did he know anyway? Maybe he had a bit of the bodhisattva in him and knew about their impending trip to West Lake. Green did not want to go to West Lake. She did not want to mingle with the humans. Maintaining this form was difficult enough, chanting the sutras with iron discipline. But Jie Jie had insisted she wanted to. In a moment of soft-heartedness, Green relented. She rued the fact Lord White was no longer around to curb her mistress’s impulses and be the voice of reason. He had died two years ago, a victim of a hunting spear thrown by a human lord.
Green did not want to go, because she would miss her peonies and her sugared crickets. She was sure Lady White would miss her fried scorpions, an indulgent snack she often asked her Mei Mei to buy at the stall when the hand-maid went out to do her marketing. She licked her lips with a slender forked tongue. They had subsisted long enough on vegetables and the occasional rat.
Perhaps, she would try to persuade Lady White, her Jie Jie, tonight again. What could a green viper do to be the voice of reason to a stubborn white python?