The Twin Hooks

7 Jun

by Paul Gutierrez
7th Grade

I sat in the small shack I could barely call a home, as I thought of the family I would soon be leaving. The sheer thought of rebelling against a massive army frightened me greatly, but I knew it was the only way to keep my family safe, and I had to help as much as possible. I have been the man of the house ever since my father died and my brother was killed, and since then I have taken it as my responsibility to go to war if necessary. I started packing my essentials as quietly as possible, though the havoc that was encroaching due to the nearby battle was more than enough of a cover for me. Children and women fled to their homes, some screaming for their husbands and fathers, some knowing very well they had been killed. We were losing this fight.

Changde, Hunan, our home, had been overrun with Uyghur warriors ever since the revolution. Many fellow Miao people had started a large rebellion, and so, being a Miao myself, I knew my responsibility. But so far, we had been no match for them, and as the Uyghur warriors slowly made their way towards our town, I knew it would only be a matter of time until my family would be slaughtered.

I finished my packing and looked over to the infamous corner of our small home. There stood my Shaolin monk-father’s two lethal swords. My heart filled with grief, as I remembered the empty, desperate look on my mom’s face when the news came in that my father had passed. His passing ripped our family apart, stripping our wealth and authority, and staining our pride and peace. Ever since then I had kept anything of significant value with me, hoping one day for our family to go off and afford another life in a distant haven. But it was time to move on.

I went to my sister and my little brother, carrying every last bit of silver, dishes and anything else worth a fair amount in a large sack and placing it in their room.

“Shang Yu?” my sister said my name with a confused face as she looked through the bag.

“Everything in here is worth enough to leave this place and go to a better one,” I responded.

Though my sister was young (only 13) she understood what that meant, but as for my younger brother, things were a bit different.

“We are leaving? But what about this house? This is a good place for living!” said my brother, not understanding that within less than two days this entire town would be flooded with dead bodies and burned buildings.

“Some men are coming,” I attempted to say lightly to the little one, “and they don’t like this town, so we must leave.”

Though he didn’t understand, I knew in the long run he would, so I left and headed for the living room in search of my mother. I found her lighting a fire with some sticks and coal.

“Why do you have the pack on your back, Shang Yu?” she questioned.

“I am leaving, mother, and so will you and the young ones,” I responded with a fake amount of confidence.

“But, the war, those battles, they won’t reach here,” she said with a bit of fright in her tone.

“They will mother, and you and the children need to leave. I have given the valuables to them, and you can be on your way by tomorrow morning,” I said, biting my lip to fight off the sadness.

“No! You don’t mean you’ll stay here and fight? You cannot! You are only sixteen! Just a boy!” she frantically responded.

“But I am also the man of the house, and I must defend it until the last mud brick falls to the ground burning.”

“You’ll be killed! You have only lived sixteen years. You deserve more!”

“And Shang Hou and Shang He have only lived thirteen and six, and that will be their final age if I do not do this!” I responded with anger and despair.

My mother sat quietly, as small streams fell from her eyes, wetting the dirt floor. I hugged her, just as my younger siblings came in to see us there.

“Why are you sad, mother?” asked Chang Hou.

“My child, these are tears not of sadness, but of happiness,” she lied, “for your older brother is going to do something braver than any other man could do.”

I looked to her, seeing she finally understood that, no matter how much she loved me, she had to do anything to keep the younger ones living. The children stood quietly, too confused to say anything.

“It’s time to go. Start packing, and grab everything else from this house and put it in a knapsack,” I said. While the children frantically ran around to get everything, I went to my mother. “They might be here sooner than we expect. I think you should leave as soon as possible.”

“We are all tired. Let us rest for a small time,” my mother responded.

We sat collecting our thoughts, and soon the house had been stripped bare by my two frantic siblings. My mother looked at the infamous corner, staring with concern. She told the children to come over to get rest while I watched the door. By now, it was dark.

Just as the light of dawn crept up from the horizon, they came. In the distance, I heard yelling, screaming, slicing, the galloping of a horse, and the crackling of a fire.

“Wake up! Wake up! They are here! Don’t make a noise,” I said.

While they frantically got up, I went to write a note on one of the few pieces of paper we had. When I finished, I snuck it into my mother’s pack, and went to see my family for one last time.

“I will see you soon, I promise,” I said, thought the children didn’t know I meant in the afterlife as, no matter if I survived, I would never see them again while living.

My mother nodded and pulled out two things from her knapsack. “An ink stone of a flower, to remind you of how beautiful life can be.” She gave it to me and then revealed the other thing, “And your father’s swords, The Twin Hooks, to remind you life can be ugly and sometimes you have to fight to find the beauty.”

I felt a sudden responsibility. I nodded, hugged all three of them and studied the sword. Just then, a fire arrow came through the wall and struck the bare house

“Go!”

They ran through the back, and I led them through the streets. A warrior strode up, a bloody sword in hand, and took a swing towards my mother. He would probably have hurt her, if his head had still been attached to his body as he swung. I swung my now-bloodstained sword toward another attacker, slicing his stomach and stabbing through him. “Run! Don’t stop! Go to the fields and get out of town!” I yelled, fighting off another attacker. They ran, following my directions, not stopping until I couldn’t see them anymore.

From a distance, around the chaos, I saw the rest of the army coming through the town. The attackers on my side had next to nothing for weapons, just a few decent swords and a few bows, and I knew now that I had the best weapon. One warrior who wielded a massive club and rode on a big horse, came straight towards me with ferocity similar to mine. I drew my other sword, and all of a sudden everything went in slow motion.

As the horse pounded into the ground and the warrior swung his club, my instincts kicked in. I dropped to my knees, too low for the club to strike me, and lashed out, buckling the legs of the horse with one swipe from each sword. All the enemies around me seemed to disappear, as I noticed the slow red trickle from the horse as it tumbled down and the rust on the flimsy armor that the not-so-menacing warrior sported. In reaction, I killed another as he came up behind me, but I looked straight back at the rider.

His helmet was partially knocked off, he was barely conscious, the horse was on top of his probably broken legs, and his sweat dyed hair hung over one of his bruised eyes. As my swords dove into him, I realized not only why I killed him, but also who I had killed. His helmet toppled off, and I saw a young face, a teenage face. He was just like me, forced to fight, doing only what he thought was right. I killed him to spare him. Because I knew if he survived he would never find his family, he would still be forced to fight, and he would still not be at peace.

I knew the horse would be dead soon, but I couldn’t watch it die like that, not after realizing what I was doing. Just as I was sparing the horse, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I dropped to the ground, seeing I had been struck with an arrow. I fought a few more men, using the skills I had learned from my father, and ran away.

I ran far away, meeting a few more enemies along the way, injuring none of them. I ran far up a mountain, feeling more tired every second, but not wanting to kill any more people or be a part of it. I looked down to see something wonderful. I could see where we used to live when my father was alive and our house we had fled from not two hours ago.

At this moment, I realized now I was at peace. I knew my family was still in danger, I knew they would be sad to know I was gone, but they had a life ahead of them. They were alive, with a few small riches, and hope. Whenever they did unpack after a long hard day on their journey to perfection, they would see my note. And I hoped that every time something bad happened in the future, they would read my note and remember what they have been through and how lucky they are.

I looked down to see my entire shirt was stained with my blood, and it was spreading quickly. I pulled out the arrow in lots of pain, but with the assurance that it would be over sooner. I let the blood run freely as I slowly lost consciousness, and knew soon I would bleed to death.

I lie here on the side of a mountain, in peace, dying, almost free, and with the knowledge that my family will always keep my note in mind.

Dear Mother, Shang Hou, and Shang He,
The end of every story is the beginning of a new one, and so while this could be the end of my story, this will no doubt be the beginning of yours. Whatever happens, stay a family.
Love, Shang Yu

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