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home : arts : arts Friday, November 24, 2017

3/21/2017 4:33:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride Chapter 1 - Lone Ghost Deer

By Kerry Xiong

Kerry Xiong
There is a story that we don't tell. Not because it is forbidden or off-limits. But because what it regards, a pond, is frightful and true. Very true. And it still exists today. If ever you come across this pond, don't step in. You could die if you do. So to even mention the story can be dangerous. No one, not even the elders, would dare. No one except grandpa.

He'd told me it once when I was a lot younger. I'd always slept in his bed during those days. Better there than in mom and dad's bed, which was always crowded with Goua, Mai, and Chee-my younger sisters. I was eight at the time and should have been brave enough to sleep alone according to mom and dad. I didn't think so. Neither did Grandpa.

Life in the forestry mountains always made nights cold. That night, however, during the frightful story, it was colder than any other. A freezing breeze snuck through our thinly woven bamboo walls making me shiver under grandpa's arm. I tucked in close, but still couldn't sleep.

The straw roof above head was starting to loosen, parting open gaps near the edge of our walls that made our house an effective sound box that amplified every animal cry outside my room. Louder tonight, they broadcasted. It was a ruckus-the owl, the weasel, the dogs. Maybe even, the Tigers.

"I'm scared of girl ghosts," I whispered to him. Everyone knew that Tigers traveled with girl ghosts at night to haunt humans in their beds.

Grandpa continued patting my back, softly. His eyes were closed, probably already asleep. But I nudged him as I always did. I hated being the last one to sleep. Especially so considering the ghostly and animal creatures lurking just outside. I shivered.

"Shh..." His lips slightly parted. I've seen this face before-unmoving, expressionless, and droopy. He was so still he almost looked dead. Until I abruptly jerked his arm free from its immobility. He coughed.

"Don't be scared of girl ghosts. Or Tigers. There are other things more scary," he mumbled, eyes still closed.

"Like what! Like what!" I said. He grunted, figuring that he'd stirred the wrong pot. He had me hooked, and I wouldn't sleep now until I'd heard the full story.

"Like water serpents in the deep green sea."

A long time ago, even before grandpa's time, in an unnamed village, there lived a poor mother and her son.

They were so poor they did not own a single plate or spoon to use, much less any food to eat. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs and the rags and remnants of pots and farm tools that they found in their shabby little house. They lived at the edge of this unnamed village, far away from everyone else.

It had to be this way. The townsfolk didn't want to live near them. No one wanted to speak to them. Not even their names were known. But what was known was that the woman had terrible fate. A fate that was contagious and evil. It was what had killed her husband even before her ill child was born. And also what made them so poor. Anyone who dared to meddle with her or her child would inherit traces of this bad fortune. So no one dared speak to them.

But sure enough, their ill fate spread anyway. As time went by, the land surrounding this unnamed town, for which the people used as farmland, became more and more infertile. Drought poured over the town and prolonged its visit. The forests beyond the farmland became inhabitable for animals making wild game scarce. All of this, the townsfolk surmised, was due to the old woman and her son. They must be destroyed in order to restore good fortune.

On an ice-cold evening, the townsmen set out to murder the woman and her son. They packed in their bamboo-woven backpacks thick grass-twisted rope, spears, and even a bit of rice and jerky as a snack for the journey. Because the woman and her son lived on the outskirts of town, it would be a long voyage by feet. As they traveled, the path lying ahead appeared more and more cluttered. Trees crowded in and shadowed the trail, darkening their way. It soon became so dark that they had trouble seeing.

"Are we going in the right direction?" asked one.

"It's too dark to tell," answered another.

"Let's mark our path so we know not to travel in a circle," suggested one.

And so they did. They cut the grass rope they'd brought into short pieces and tied a piece around a tree after walking a far distance. After tying over ten trees, the men were exhausted.

"We should have reached the end of town by now," said one. "It's nearly midnight and we've been in the forest all this time. We've not advanced."

"Shh..." calmed another. He placed a hand over his ear as he listened. Sounds of wild geese, owls, and even the snorting of wild boars echoed from a distance. The other's faces curled into wicked grins as they caught on. They licked their lips and rubbed their bellies. Wild game was residing in this area all along! That greedy wench!

Their thoughts were confirmed. Right before their eyes, not more than ten feet away, stood a pale white deer with horns as curved and tall as the branches of trees. It stood there unmoving and expressionless. It was white as a ghost. It's eyes shimmered ice blue. It's head not turning, as if frozen still. Leaves did not shuffle under its feet. The whistling wind did not tempt its limbs to shiver. Stark as night, quiet as ice, the lone ghost deer stood like a statue. Almost challenging.

The men made a slight move toward it, careful to not stir its senses. One lifted their spear and with a quick stab, sent the lone ghost deer into a panic. The ground trembled as the hooves of the lone creature pounced heavily onto the soil and fallen leaves. It ran for its life in a twisted motion, as if its legs were bound together. It even appeared maniac like, making the townsmen growl in laughter. The deer didn't get far and plummeted to the cold, hard forest canvas floor that speckled with its crimson, pungent blood. Seconds later, the men rushed to it.

He jerked free his spear from the neck of the ghost creature not so ghostly anymore. Encircling its neck was a ring of bright red, bubbly blood that stain its hairs. Its tall, branchlike horns maintained its white hue but now with blotches of red splatters. The men were proud. Dismissing their prior feat of murdering the woman and his son, they hauled the beast back home for feasting.

The next morning, the townsfolk celebrated in banquet for five days and five nights, not sharing a single slice of meat with the poor woman and her son.

Five days and five nights later, it started to rain. The curse was over, the townsfolk were certain. The land became moist again and animals could be heard at the dark of night. Life was coming back into town, they all agreed.

Until the rain didn't stop. The ground never dried again. And animal voices echoed louder than before. The town flooded like a frenzy of anger sweeping over the land. The village gaped into a deep yawn that sent everything, home, people, and all, down pooling with it. The folding chairs within the houses, made of rafting material, floated to the surface by the hundreds. The only ones saved from this destruction were the woman and her begotten son.

"That pond still exists today," grandpa had said. "They call it, Folding Chair pond. Some call it Beast Pond or Dragon Pond. The town was named Meuen Xi." He was wide-awake now, staring straight down at my widened eyes.

"Sea creatures lurk in those waters," he continued. "And they will catch you if you don't go to sleep at night."

I immediately squinted my eyes closed as my breath hastened. I tucked my head into the shadow of grandpa's chin.

"Go to sleep, Yuyen."

**This story has been modified from its original form and contains fictional elements and names of which solely stems from the authors imagination. Any relation to real persons or historical context is a mere coincidence.

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