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home : arts : arts Friday, November 24, 2017

5/16/2017 12:10:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride

By Kerry Xiong

My heart drops to my cold feet. I want to scream, but my tongue is frozen still. I feel like I am being haunted. A recurring taunt by the strange man called Touzajer. A name which literally translates as the youngest dragon son. Though I had thought it agreeable, the name now brings a chill down my spine.

There is a continuous whooshing in the air, like breath through pursed lips. The cool breeze raises goose bumps on my forearms. I rub them lightly and realize that in my grasp are still the green handkerchief cloth that once wrapped around my now scabbed knees. Fear rushes across my face. I remember that I had been holding these green cloth in my sleep. And now, I am only dreaming.

The gaze of his dark stare looks far from charming. Taunting is more like it. Yet, his expression is clear that he is happy to see me. He doesn't know that in my heart is a newfound fear of him. A great misunderstanding of what we'd promised earlier that day. We had arranged for a night courtship, a secret conversation through the bamboo wall of my bed. I'd expected to hear the soothing cricket-like sound of the ncas in the night, it waking me up from my light slumber with heavy eyes. But I was mistaken.

He is wearing the same, shimmering outfit with the zigzag-patterned Hmong cap. I pinch myself. No pain. I bend my knee slightly. No sting at the newly hardened scab. Odd. His lips curl and I almost can see the kind smile I had seen before. But my face is too warm, my throat too dry. I feel like fainting. But I refuse and instead hold on to dear life. What would happen if I blacked out in a dream?

I shrink back. Sure, I had wanted to see him again but not like this, not in a dream. Only ghosts or spirits come in dreams. My stomach lurches and I bite my lip. He is not human.

"You've come," he says, as if I had any other choice.

"You-you," I hear myself mutter. "You didn't come." I try to hold a calm tone and bite my lip to keep it from trembling. I want to burst into tears and will myself to wake up but avoid that. I should not show any signs of weakness or fear. "How is it that you are here?" I ask. I keep a calm tone to mask my disappointment and current mood of regret. But my face wasn't so skilled. It probably reads as panic. Distrust. Confusion.

He quickly takes a few steps toward me, arms outstretched. I step back instantly. My hands rise to fill the space between us.

"Don't be scared," he says. "I'm not here to hurt you."

"What are you? Are you human or ghost?"

He hesitates but does not speak. His arms retract to his sides as if he regrets something gravely. "I didn't mean to keep the truth from you," he says.

I study him. "What did you mean then?"

He reaches a hand for me as he steps forward. "Take my hand and you will understand."

My body freezes. I feel my heart thunder in my chest, and I dread that he must also hear it. Smell my fear. Breathe in my unease. Tears gather in my eyes, the sight of him appearing faint and indistinct. I shake my head.

"Please Yuyeng. If you don't come with me, it'll sever our tie. You'll never see me again."

At those words, regret struck me deeply. What if I was right all along about this: that it is meant to be. It certainly felt right when he'd helped me home yesterday evening. Concern twists over his face as his forehead, still of pale and fair complexion, wrinkles and his brows scrunch. "Don't fight the attraction," he says. "Our attraction. We were meant to be together." The way his gaze meets mine was riveting. His eyes are darker than night. One gaze and time seems to slow. I am lost but am also found. This feeling is one that I can live with.

"Who are you and why have you chosen me?"

"You know who I am."

My hand clasps over his long, slender fingers. A white light shining from between us blinds me. It is hard to breathe almost like we are under water.

"Open your eyes," he says in my ear. I suddenly am conscious to the warmth of his hands around mine. "Go ahead, open your eyes."

My eyes slit open and all I can see are glistening crystals surrounding us. I reach a hand to feel the gleam. They're scales, like the one in my dream. Only, here, there are hundreds maybe even thousands of them lining in circular pattern around us, like the inside of a well. The colors are changing so fast as if they're flying by. Or...

"Are we falling?" I ask.

"Don't worry. We are only traveling."

"To where?"

He squeezes my hand. His face now is at ease. "Home."

It feels true. I feel like I am in love and nothing can change. My heart had skipped at his every word and still skips now, even with the thought that he is just a spirit. His eyes peer deep into mine and I feel naked. I cannot help but grow shy. My cheeks turn warm and I lean into him and he onto me. Our arms wrap around each other and it feels like we are sailing in the clouds, descending to a new world. If we are falling, let us fall as one. Even if this is just a dream, I'll take what I can get.

"Who are you, really?" The sound of my voice is curious. He says I already know who he is but I can only recall first seeing him in my dreams.

"You've seen me before," he says with great conviction. "At the farm by the glistening pool."

The thought suddenly dawns on me. The white deer that poked out from the faraway forests. It had only been a few days ago when that happened.

"The lone ghost deer." I hear myself say. He doesn't say anything.

I awake with a cramped neck. I want to punch the wall. Why had I woken up so soon? Slivers of light through the cracks of my walls blind me. The roosters don't crow. I've overslept. But I feel restless. My mind is empty but my heart is full. My chest feels heavy, disheartened and unease. Am I only fated to love another in my dreams? Hmong elders say, "Dreaming is far truer than reality," which means that one has a flooded fate that cannot be remedied by normal means. And thus, one may only live out certain experiences through dreams rather than reality. Am I that ill-fated person?

The day lingers at the farm like pain on torn skin. Its passage is as slow as the morph of mountains. Each minute feels like an hour and each hour like a day. But as the sun dims and disappears in the far west mount horizon ever so slowly, my heart wrenches. He had said that I knew who he was. I cannot place the person and am almost certain he is wrong.

Mom and Dad and Goua head home, their bamboo pack on their backs. I insist that I'd stay behind for pork greens again. From a far distance are sounds of wild creatures readying their nest for rest or their beds for mating. I want to lie on the cold still ground and never wake up again. Why do you haunt me so, fair one?

I make way home, singing a kwv txhiaj about him to soothe my soul. The whole hillside was empty and life seems darker than it is. I am the only person alive and no one can hear my plea of love and loss.

The collar at my nape whips up across my ear as my hair flies across my face. I stumble on my feet as if I'd been shoved. I study the place. Empty. Just as I'd expected. Until a voice sounds from the distance. It calls my name with an echo. "Yuyeng," it says, elongating the -eng. Its voice is mystical and resonating like that of a ghost's. My feet pick up pace. Rocks and twigs prick the soles of my feet, but I ignore the pain. I want to look back to see what it is, but the load of my bamboo pack and my racing heart stops me. The forest chases after me as its howls and wild ruckus hums in my ear. Getting closer.

I look back. Dark clouds. Or was it a spirit as dark as charcoal? It leaps in the sky as if wanting to pounce down on earth. A scream escapes me and I trip on something sharp. A tearing pain conquers my knees as the skin rips apart. I duck my head to make it all go away. My only thought is how I might die tonight. All without my parents' and sister's knowledge.

All the noises cease before I have the courage to look up. Sparkling before me is the notorious green pond, its body stretching over the length of ten hillsides. It is Dragon Pond, the one in Grandpa's stories, the one created following the slaying of the ghost deer. I swallow hard. I have never seen these waters here before so close to our farm.

The water laps suddenly. The center of the pond boils and I want to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming again. But I cannot muster the strength. I scurry on the ground like a frightened squirrel. My eyes grew in amazement as I see what appears from the gurgle. Touzajer.

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

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