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home : arts : arts Wednesday, November 22, 2017

4/10/2017 10:45:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride

By Kerry Xiong

I stand on the farm hillside alone staring into the distance. Mountains pile up high, so far away that they appear blue. The ranges closer cultivate trees of green and yellow. Who knows what is out there. No one. Yet, I still wonder. How is it that creatures and spirits can lurk amidst those trees?

"Yuyen!" A voice calls for me, the voice of a man. I look away from the mountains, head turning all around to seek out the voice. No one. Then suddenly, the mountains disappear. I find myself now in a dark room. No - it's a cave. A stone cave with fallen shingles that lie on the ground. They are magnificent; transparent, they glimmer in the light. I walk closer. They are more beautiful than the trinkets were during the New Year. I pick one up. Its surface is as rough as the cave walls. Holding it in my hands, it looks almost like an enlarged fish scale, enlarged indeed as it is the size of my palms. Hmong elders say that we should not take any treasures that we find in caves, even if it is only in a dream. Nothing is free. If it belonged to a beast or spirit, they will come after us to seek a gift in return.

I should put it back. It's not mine for the taking. But, wouldn't Goua like one? She'd wear it on her hair and be even prettier than she is. And Mother, she'd like the look of it, too. I should leave it.

"Yuyen," calls the male voice, again. Louder this time as if it is getting closer to me. Seeking me. Finding me. Then, a light. It shines from outside the cave and blinds me. My hands jolt to my eyes. The voice calls for me again. Eager and urgent. I keep my eyes closed as the light warms my eyelids.

My eyes slit open. "You're awake!" says Goua, hovering over me. Breathing heavily, she brings a gourd ladle of water to my face. It drips and splashes at her every stumble and wets my shirt. "Drink this," she says.

My vision becomes clear. The ceiling of our farm hut greets me, its loose grass roofing shakes with the rhythm of the wind. Locks of my hair flies with it. My neck tenses as I realize where I was - the farm.

"Meng came by the farm and saw you lying on the ground," Goua explains. "Meng said your face was white as cotton when he saw you."

A pain hammered in my head. "Let's go home," I say.

Meng and Goua both support me on a long walk home. Goua kindly tends to the house chores - cooking dinner, feeding the pigs and chickens, and washing the dishes - as I take an early rest.

I have never felt so ill. My head is so strained. My brain balloons like it wants out of my skull. My whole body shivers as if I am having a fever, but my arms and legs are cold as stone. My fingers feel stiff against my cheek as I lie down in bed. Will this aching ever go away? I bring the covers above my head as I try to sleep.

Suddenly, all these raw sensations cease. But oddly, I am no longer on solid ground. Rather, I feel like I'm floating. I am floating in mid air. The room is too white to tell where this place is, if this is even a room that I am in. There are no walls. No ground. I am flying? This must be a dream.

Beside me is a man. He dresses like the men from our town, black pants secured by a red sash and a black top with blue stripes at the sleeve and chest. But how come I've never seen him before? "Excuse me?" I say.

He doesn't answer. He turns his back to me and walks away. Perhaps he didn't hear me. I extend an arm to touch him, to get his attention. He continues walking. I attempt to follow him. My feet, though light and airy, are hard to move - hard to walk. Almost like I am taking strides under water. I follow him, anyway.

"Excuse me?" I say again, pacing slowing behind. I hear my own breath. "Where is this place?" My voice echoes ahead of me, as if we are inside a tunnel. He and I are the only ones here. Surely, he'd know where we are; he is leading the way after all. But the more we walk, the more it becomes clear that we are not advancing, not getting anywhere in this white room of no walls. A sudden fear shocked me, making my stomach lunge. Hmong elders talk about the trail in the afterlife, and the journey into heaven. Have I recently died?

"Excuse me, sir!" I manage to yell. The man abruptly stops. I halt clumsily behind him. He turns around and looks down to me. His eyes are fierce, like an enraged forest tiger. I try to look away but cannot help it. I meet his stare. His eyes are dark but not black. From an angle, it almost appears like a bruised shade of green - jade green. "Have... have we met before?" I stutter.

His face softens. "Yuyen," he speaks.

I step back, shocked. I don't recall ever having met. Yet, the tone of his voice is familiar. I shake my head for a brief second before I gaze up again at his unsmiling face. "You... you know my name?"

He didn't speak. His face settles into an unyielding frown. I am reminded of an image earlier that day; the image of the bare, white horns of the Ghost Deer in the distance, lurking in the trees. And the well dressed man who stood beside it. "Who are you and where are you from?"

He doesn't answer. Instead, he takes a step toward me, slow and strategized, like a lion leaping near his prey.

My neck tenses. My breathing quickens as if I've been running. I bite hard to prevent my jaw from shuddering. But my shoulders tremble anyway. A quiver of fear possesses me; I am unaware of this man. His intentions, or my fate, my life.

I want to throw a hand between us, but don't do it. Maybe it was out of fear. Or curiosity. Or intrigue. Whatever it is, I am certain that it is something I have never felt before - a mixture of guilt, curiosity, and excitement. Like waiting for a storm to pass but fearing that it'd never come again. Or tossing a ball to a man across from me during the New Year and wondering if he felt for me what I felt for him.

I feel his warm breath on my forehead as he steps closer. I struggle for breath as my world holds still. And time slows. I notice his fine features - the rough skin of his square-jaw, the sharp of his cheeks, the thick of his jet-black hair, and his lips - so full and daring. Is this what love feels like?

His silent stare is captivating. Entrancing. I want to focus on nothing else but him. Yet, there is beckoning for me to look away. I must look around, as a new sensation seizes me. I suddenly feel like I am falling and accelerating downward. Was I falling off a cliff? Dropping from the sky? Or am I simply mesmerized?

Perhaps I am falling, because he drifts away from me. His image becomes further and further from view. Hands outstretched, he speaks my name, "Yuyen." He repeats, "Yuyen."

I stretch my hands forward. I advance toward him. Closer. We almost touch. Just a little more until the tip of his fingers touch mine. Our hands clasp, our fingers lace. My breath catches. His hands are as rough as the shiny scales in the cave.

I wake up.

**This folktale has been modified from its original form and contains fictional elements and characters of which is the author's sole creation. Any relation to real people or historical context is a mere coincidence.

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