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A Cart to the Future

7 Jun

by Clare Drewes
7th Grade

I woke up to a full moon. The world below my feet was still, but it wasn’t supposed to be. There was no clanging of pots or voices shouting commands, there was just silence. I opened my paper screen and leaned out the window. There was a very strong smell in the air, not the usual peanut sauce but something more distinct…smoke.

I raced downstairs. The smell was becoming stronger. I ran into the shop’s kitchen. My forehead began to burn. My throat closed up and I couldn’t swallow. The skin on my feet felt raw. Something powerful was eating at my back. I turned around and saw flames running around the perimeter of the room. I ran into the courtyard and found my mother on her knees. “Jia! Jia!” she repeated. “My house! My House!” Water was gathered and the flames were soon gone, but the kitchen was a pile of smoldering ash.

As the sun rose, bystanders and helpers left. My mother was still in the courtyard. “Laupo! Laupo!” she cried. “Husband! Husband! Chie Hui Noksu, your father, look for your father.” My body was still. I did not look, because I knew I would find nothing.

My ears were ringing from the noise surrounding me. Street vendors harassed passers-by, and little children dogged street buggies. The city, Shangjiakou, was not exciting but painful. The pain I felt was not from the unfamiliar sites, but the distant familiarity of it. Rice porridge, fish stock and overwhelming curry filled the street with an amazing aroma. It smelled like my father, my house, and my city. I wanted to bury my face in my father’s apron and escape. I wanted to escape just like my father did. I could escape from my mother, my life, and most of all, my uncle.

Birds scattered as the cart came to a stop in front of a small shack. Red curtains covered openings in the wood house. Dead potted plants framed the ill-fitting door. The roof sagged at the corners, and patches of wood covered places where tile had fallen off. A large tub of water filled with clothes sat in the yard. A large man approached us. As he came closer, his unshaven whiskers became visible. His nails varied in size, and dirt made up the rest of his hand.

“Akio,” my mother greeted my uncle. His name, Akio, means glorious hero, but behind his back he is referred to as Dai, the large one.

He smiled as if he was proud of his home and his nearly toothless mouth. “Kazue, Miho, come! Rin, the bags won’t unpack themselves.”

Cousin Kazue and Miho and Aunt Rin were used to Akio’s frequent requests. The two scrawny girls met my brothers and took them inside the house. Aunt Rin waved towards my mother and quickly grabbed the largest bags. As Akio and my mother went inside the house for tea, Rin and I unloaded the cart.

I woke up early, and to my surprise nobody was awake. My brothers were on the floor and my cousins were squished into the bed I shared with them. I grabbed my white linen dress and tiptoed past my mother in the house’s front room. Once I was in the street I asked one of the few pedestrians where I could find wagashi, traditional Japanese treats. As I passed other shack-homes, I discovered a small alley. The shops’ many stories rested on carved, water-stained wood beams. The old walls looked as if they were having trouble carrying such large structures, so they clung to their neighbor’s walls in hope of help. Old doors allowed morning mist to creep underneath their cracks, but one shop looked different. Purple-hued smoke was protruding from one building’s doorframe.

I cautiously knocked on the wood. The knocker was wet. Red paint marked my hand. More fresh paint dripped from the eaves above me. I entered the building, seeking a wet cloth to clean my garments. As the door opened, a cloud of smoke whipped against my face. My eyes watered, but I continued moving. As my tears drained, I saw a candlelit room. It looked as if the storekeeper had been here for hours. The candles were merely stubs. Wall space without candles was filled by dolls. The dolls all had very foreign characteristics. Their skin was dark and their hair was brown, unlike any of the people in China. Two of the dolls seemed to be a pair. A short girl holding a teacup stood next to a man with a very stern face. The man held a canvas bag in one arm and a cooking pan in the other.

A voice startled my concentration. “Do you like those dolls?” I turned to find a round, balding man standing next to me.

“No!” My harsh tone shocked the man as well as myself. “I am looking for something more friendly, for a child.”

His face eased and his wrinkles moved even farther down his face. He slowly led me to a basket full of Asian girls wearing pink dresses. I smiled, thinking of my cousins. I handed the dolls and a few coins to the man. As he took the money, he handed me something else in return. A wet rag. “For the paint,” he added. I noticed the rag had already been used, but I gladly took it. I retrieved the dolls and left the shop without another word.

The sun had risen above the tall buildings. I traced my steps back to the small shack village. As I entered the house, anger swept over me. I was not missed. No one ran to me, relieved I was safe. Instead, my mother sat at the table bawling, with my aunt.

Without being noticed, I slipped into the children’s room. The two little girls sat in the room playing with cloth scraps. Miho and Kazue were beaming as I presented them with the ornate dolls. They quickly swapped toys, agreeing that Kazue’s doll looked like her and Miho’s doll looked like her. How the girls came to this conclusion I do not know, for each girl was identical, as were the dolls. They quickly ran to show their new possessions to their mother.

As the twins left, my uncle entered. He began sorting through my belongings. He seemed pleased with his discovery: an ivory hairpin painted with pink plum blossoms. My father came to me. I saw the two of us under one of the katsura trees in the family garden. A large gust of wind knocked my hair down and decorated it with many heart-shaped leaves. My father unraveled a piece of cloth, revealing a beautiful hairpiece. He twisted my black mane and held it in place with the new gift. He smiled and held my hand. I’ll miss you. He mounted a horse and departed from the sweet moment.

My uncle must have sensed my hesitation because he felt the need to explain himself. “Your riches are gone, and you no longer have need for such luxuries.” Once I heard the front door shut I broke down.

Hours later I found myself propped up against the wall. Red tears emerged from my cheek. My fingertips were stained from blood and my long fingernails remained inside of my face. Moonlight exposed the shadows around me. I tried and tried with all my might to rise, but my body was exhausted. I gave up and allowed myself to stay in the corner. I listened to breathing. Little sharp breaths and long ones craving more than air. Murmurs of rewarding dreams and a visitor who seemed to be enjoying the solitude and silence of the night as much as I. A thin face appeared in front of the window. The moon outlined his face and highlighted his prominent cheekbones. Our eyes locked. His expression indicated generosity. I knew what he needed.

I left the room and fetched a bowl of rice accompanied by a kiwi. When I returned I was not surprised to find him inside of the room. I did not need to offer the food to him. As he enjoyed the rare “delicacy,” I observed him. His frame was thin and short. He could not have been older than eight years, but his eyes looked as if he had lived for hundreds. He placed the bowl on the ground and swiftly climbed out of the window. Where he had sat lay a small piece of string and a green bead. I knew this was his offering of thanks.

***

Smooth, wet, thin feathers rested in my palm. Laid before me sat tens of chickens. They could not see the disgusted, woeful mien of mine and I regretted that. I had had no intension of slaughtering a living thing this morning, but that was not my choice. His face was red and spewing drops of spit toward mine. His pockets were flat. He had no money. He knew the collectors would come for the money soon, the money that he had bet the night before but didn’t have. The money he still didn’t have. I wandered through vendors’ stands.

“Shen, Shen, Shen Diawan Lok. She-” I stopped. My chin reached towards the sky. A man with broad shoulders blocked the sun.

“You need Shen Lok? I am here.” He bent over and examined the cart full of chickens. “Akio needs money?” My expression obviously answered his question. “Well, I need more chickens. Put them in that.”

Before I placed the chickens into a barrel filled with warm, brown water, I looked at the man one more time. He nodded. The little bodies fell to the bottom, until one rested on another. I needed not to ask for payment, for it was already in the cart.

As I toted the handcart behind me, I saw more. Dirty children sat in front of businesses. The one I had met the night before looked like emperor Sung Ch’ao. Their wide cheekbones suggested that they once had full faces. Their bodies sat on top of small sticks, legs. The youngest was sitting alone. I parked my cart and sat with them. “Hello. Where is your mother?”

The child stared at me. He stood up and began walking away. I followed. He twisted my mind as we ventured deeper into the neighborhood. I lost track of his torn blue shirt. “Come,” he called. Following the sound, I found myself in front of a fence. He opened a gate for me. Inside sat a dirt patch. Goats rested their heads over the many puddles of water.

I continued walking, without my little guide. As I turned corners, more children became visible. They ran into cloth tents. Some greeted me by tugging on my clothing, but I did not stop for them. Dirt became less visible. Structures squeezed into awkward corners and borrowed neighbors’ walls. I began to turn. My turns turned into circles. The slum lasted for miles. I could not see the end or the beginning of this foreign community.

Something was picking at my back. I swatted it away and turned to look for the pest. I found two small watering eyes. This face was not a stranger. It was my guide, the little boy who I had found on the street. I leaned down and hugged the child, to make up for my aggressive swatting. He smiled and took my hand. He led me to a tent. Standing next to it was a cart full of smiling children. I smiled back. The boy climbed in. I found my strength and began to pull. To my surprise, the children weighed very little.

As I ventured further into the village, I gained speed. Wind wisped the hair away from my face. Shapes started to dance around me. Some people shouted, but the children’s laughter was louder. I did not care that blisters were forming on my hands or that my shoes were covered in mud, but that I was entertaining children who had very little to look forward to.

My pleasant thoughts distracted me. I tried slowing down, but the cart’s force was too strong. My toes gripped the ground, but the dirt provided little traction. My hands released from the cart, which pushed my body into a wall. The sound of splitting wood confirmed that the cart had crashed as well. I tried to get up but I couldn’t. So a child helped me. A little hand grabbed my hand and pulled. The frail figure could not possibly pull me up by itself, so I helped. The children smiled once I stood up. I tried to smile, but the sight of my uncle’s cart overpowered me. Three pieces of wood rested on the wall. The children understood my sorrow and led me to another opening in the wall.

As I sulked I felt worried. Then my sorrow disappeared. Why did I need to go home? I was surely not appreciated there. I surely did not appreciate my uncle letting us stay with him.

My blissful thoughts were interrupted. “Are you lost?” The man from the doll shop was there to save me, but I did not want to be saved.

“Maybe.”

He took me back to his shop and presented me with a cup of tea. Sitting behind his counter was a boy. He looked like the children I had just been with. He looked like my night visitor. He was my night visitor. He waved.

“Hello,” he said. “Did you enjoy your visit to the tent village?”

“Yes, I was in the tent village. It was nice. Were you following me?”

He laughed. “I think you were following me. That was my home you were in. That was my brother you were playing with.” He was amused by my dazed expression.

The friendly company relaxed me. I sat and chatted with my new friends.

“That is why I am in Zhangjiakou,” I said, after I told them some of my story.

“Your father, why did he leave?” The storekeeper, Bai, was puzzled by my family’s strange relationship.

“He owned a store and had to travel, a lot. He made friends while he was gone. He and his friends shared similar beliefs. They would meet often and discuss things, but I understood very little because they were speaking in a different language.” I wanted to reveal everything, but I could not risk him telling the government.

“Did it sound like this?” Bai began to speak in the language of my father.

I cried. I cried for my father. “Yes,” I answered in between sobs. “And his friends looked just like you and the boy and the children.”

“Kueng. Your father looked like me, Kueng, and my brother?” the night visitor said, giving me his name.

***

My visits with Kueng continued very regularly. Though I enjoyed my recreational activities, my home life worsened. My uncle was not pleased by my absence from home. He scolded me. He beat me. He forbid me to leave. I no longer had the privilege of delivering chickens every morning. I could not even see Kueng’s brother on the street. My daily activities only consisted of laundry, slaughtering, and cooking.

Tonight was special. It was warm and beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I sat outside of the window. The grass was white in the moonlight. So was Kueng’s face. I did not mind this illusion. I loved the sight of him.

His face was stern. “Would you like to learn the language of Mongolia?”

“What? No. Would you teach me? Well, maybe. Why?”

“You will need to learn it soon. You have another visitor.”

“My only visitor is you.”

“Well, maybe you will be the one visiting them.”

His mystery bothered me. So did his optimism.

“I will come back tomorrow and we can begin.”

Weeks passed, and I became conversational in Mongolian. I would sing to myself in my new language when the adults were gone. My voice attracted many visitors, but none of them were the visitor Kueng had mentioned. After neighbors applauded my performance, they would chant, “Down with Sung Ch’ao!” Their passion frightened me, yet I enjoyed the attention. I mentioned these events to Kueng, but they did not please him as they did me. They startled him and he left abruptly. He did not return that week. Or the next, or the week after that. My performances stopped and my life was drained of all enjoyment.

My little sister had arrived. My mother had foolishly mentioned the arrival of my first period to my aunt who willingly told her husband. His reaction was worse than I anticipated. I was to reside in the garden shack for the next week. I was told to clean the yard of chicken pellets, but other than that I was to stay in the shack until I was sanitary. My mother cried when she heard Uncle Akio’s request.

“She is just a girl. Don’t force her to go through this,” my mother pleaded for my freedom.

“She may look like a child, but she is not. She still lives in my house and she is to listen to me. I am the man.”

The bowl of rice I received every day was not enough. Hunger and sadness consumed me. My week was only halfway over.

My eyes squinted in sudden light. My pale face had been unaccustomed to light for the last three days.

“Come with me. Your visitor awaits you.” Kueng’s voice was a sweet lullaby to my ears.

I responded in Mongolian, “I am eager to meet this visitor. Will you tell him about me?”

“Come now.”

I knew he would not spoil such a secret, so I followed obediently.

We first arrived at Bai’s shop. I was given a black cloth that I was ordered to put over my eyes. Then I was taken outside and placed into a cart, perhaps. Kueng pulled the cart, very quickly. My vision would have been blurred if I could have seen, instead my memories were. I saw my life from age five until this moment. My future could not be determined. The cart had stopped.

Kueng led me through an open piece of land. My eye mask was removed and I found myself inside the slum. Kueng’s brother stood in front of me. In his hands two dolls slept. They dreamed of days spent together underneath a katsura tree. I knew this because these were my dreams. My doll was wrapped in a pink dress. Her eyes were outlined in a charcoal paint. Next to her sat her father, his long dark hair pulled into a bun. His thin frame was covered by a blue wrap he wore whenever he was home. He was in mid-gesture, his arm reaching across his body, his hand holding a very pretty object. A hairpin. Little cherry blossoms had been drawn on it.

“You knew of the hairpin my father gave to me.”

“No. But your father did.” Kueng’s face broke into an enormous grin.

***

One of the tents opened. Inside lay a man. The bandages the man wore blocked his face. I approached him. He was just as anxious as I was. “You are beloved katsura blossom, more beautiful than any other plant, but smart and kind like me.” He chuckled at his own joke. “I have missed you and it broke my heart when I left you and your mother and your brothers. I had to.” He explained to me why he was forced to leave.

His beliefs were those of a Mongolian, for he was a Mongolian at heart. He knew the people of the country and longed to be with them. He often traveled across the border to trade supplies for his shop. He learned of the Mongolian leaders who planned on invading China and eventually ruling. He held war meetings in his shop. These gatherings were known. He was forced to burn the papers and documents that would prove his loyalty to the Mongolians.

He fled the village and went to live with his close friend, Bai. He told Bai many stories of his family. Bai knew who I was, but could not tell me of my father until my father would be respected by the government. The only government that would respect him would be the Mongolian leaders. The Mongols had taken over China two days ago. The year was 1276. He was now an advisor to Mongolian Emperor Kublai.

***

My emotions were high. The day continued to escalate. I left the tent and was greeted by Kueng. Beside him sat the hairpin, to his other side sat a pile of coins. “You know your uncle is controlled by money.” He grinned.

***

Three carriages entered Zhangjiakou. They were all decorated with red and gold painted dragons. The dragons wrapped around the chair legs of a throne. On top of that throne sat my father. He was now second advisor to the Mongolian emperor. The first carriage was already leaving. Its passengers consisted of my family. The second carriage held my closest friends, Bai and Kueng. The third carriage was full. Twenty excited children bounced inside. They were the children of the slum. The children who had given me so much hope and joy. We were ready to live a life of happiness together. A life where only we would determine our future.

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Saying Goodbye to Grandfather

7 Jun

by Alma Younger
7th Grade

Green, green, green everywhere. The terraced hilltops cascaded down the mountain, reflecting everything: the world, the grass, the sky, and my family. In the distance I could see our little one-room house nestled in between the slopes and the other houses, its thatched roof and muddy walls (built by my father and my after we migrated south last summer.) I thought about the warm stove and the rice and the place in the roof where the rain leaked in. I secretly loved when it came time to plant the rice very year, because even though it as hard work and we were going from dawn until much later than dusk, it also represented new hope and a potentially better harvest. I would wade in the mucky water up to my ankles and feel the mud squish between my toes. I would plant the seeds in the earth and convince myself that everything was going to be okay.

But now, walking away from everything I love and know how to do, I wasn’t sure if I would belong in the city. I had to try though. My grandfather was sick and my parents were nursing him, and my sister couldn’t go to the city, so it had to be me. Me, Jin Ling Lum, in the city, earning money to pay Zho Bai Wum (the medicine woman we’d heard had saved many dying people with her treatments who were before unable to be cured), and living far, far away.

I remember when they first brought the new rice from a land that I had never heard of. The rice was rumored to resist the droughts and grow twice as fast. And it proved its worth. It was magnificent: so many crops sprouted up and my family had so much to eat. None of us left a meal hungry and we had so much rice to sell! But there is never enough money in the world, and with my grandfather dying and my parents preoccupied and unable to keep him alive for much longer, I was needed somewhere else: the city.

The trek was long and hard and it forced me to stop several times, catch my breath, and focus all of my energy on walking. Would life in the city be this hard? Would it be harder? I was so nervous that I caught my food on a rock and fell, hard. I began to bleed and tore a piece of my clothing off to bind the wound. It was a jagged, deep cut running across my kneecap down to my shin. I wiped the sweat off of my brow and my hand came away bloody, so I must be bleeding there, too. Was this how much grandfather hurt every day? Did he feel as helpless as I did right now?

I remember the first time Grandfather fell ill. (It had been many months ago.) We were just harvesting the rice, the “thwack, thwack” of the blades slicing through the crops. Grandfather had been bending over to scoop up some plants when he fell with a loud “thump.” He was probably too old to be helping with the harvest anyway, but that was grandfather: always ready to jump up and get work done. I had been standing next to him when it happened. It was terrifying. We thought he was dead. Ever since then he just hasn’t been the same, keeping to himself, barely able to speak. I always hoped that he’d get better, but I guess I knew deep down that he would never recover.

The city was strange. Everything was so expensive and everyone judged you by your cover. Being a farmer’s son, I didn’t have much luck with jobs, though eventually I got hired as a dumpling-seller on the streets. It had its benefits: the delicious smell, meals, and fresh air. I had foolishly spent what little money I had made on a message to be sent to my family, telling them of my luck with my job and where I was located in case they needed me, although I should have been saving money to pay Zho Bai Wum for my grandfather’s care. I hadn’t received word from my family in weeks, so I knew the situation had not improved.

Morning: I woke up to the streets full of people and the sun halfway into the sky. I was really late for work! I quickly threw on my clothes and rushed out the door. I arrived to a very angry boss and a messenger. The boss said the messenger had been waiting for a long time to tell me something urgent. The messenger opened his mouth to speak. “Your grandfather has a day to live. You must come home immediately.”

For about a minute I was in complete and total shock. My mouth hung open and I pushed the tears back. Although grandfather had always been extra hard on me, we had been so close. The memories flooded back to me: his smile, our jokes, planting rice, everything. He had always been so strong and I just couldn’t imagine him not being there.

I ran the whole way home, remembering everything from my journey out here. Suddenly, this journey didn’t feel so long and exhausting any more. I just had to get there before it happened: I needed to say goodbye and be strong, like he had always been for me. The lump in my throat returned and it became hard to breathe. I slowed my pace, gathered myself, and continued on.

When I arrived, my mother came over to me and embraced me for a long time. When we were done she quietly led me over to the little stove and asked me quietly if I was tired from my journey and wanted some soup. I said no, although that was a lie, but I wanted to save it all for grandfather because he loved soup. Then I saw grandfather lying on a mat on the floor looking feverish. I approached quietly and kneeled down beside him. He saw me, but I don’t think he had the strength to speak. We sat like that for several minutes. Then I touched his hand and he looked at me, pain in his eyes. I had never seen him look this defeated.

I began to whisper the song he had sung to me to cheer me up when I was little and had just scraped my knee. It was melodic and eerie, but it had always cheered me up. It was about how beautiful the sun looked after a month of rain. I really wanted that sun to come out right now.

Then Grandpa wheezed and coughed up some blood. As he drew in his final breaths, he looked me in the eye and said, “Do the family name proud, my boy. I have always seen something special in you.” Then he closed his eyes and didn’t open them.

I cried for a long time. Everybody else was stoic, but I just couldn’t help it. They all said it was his time, but I didn’t think about it that way. How would I get through all of my problems without grandfather? How could I ever get used to the awkward silence during meals, silences he used to fill? How could I get over his absence? I hugged myself and hummed the song, remembering every note and word of it. I didn’t ever want to stop.

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

The Winter

7 Jun

by Natalie Shelden
7th Grade

The nights were especially cold as fall was rapidly approaching. My family was on alert, trying to prepare for the cold winter months. Every morning at eight we would set out towards the rice terraces. If they didn’t survive the winter, my family had no chance of surviving either. We made our living off of our rice, and sometimes satisfied our growling stomachs with it as well. It was predicted to be the coldest winter in history. From eight a.m. until nine p.m. every day, we would be out on the terraces plowing over the old rice plants, bringing the warm soil to the top. After many weeks, we knew that it was too late. Winter had arrived and a little less than half of our acres of terraces were plowed over. It was then I had to make a choice.

Being the eldest of seven siblings, I knew that something had to be done. Risks must be taken. Adventures must be pursued. All this had to happen if my family was to survive. I spent that night pondering what I could do that had any value of promising my family food and warmth.

My best friend, who was also my neighbor, had left many months prior, so that she could escape the beatings of her parents. But I had little idea of where she could be. I missed her so much. My favorite conversations with her were the ones we used to have late at night through our upstairs bedroom windows. One night she had expressed her interest in the current construction of the Great Wall. Talked about it for hours, fascinated. The next day she was gone. Without a goodbye. I will always treasure that last conversation I had with her, knowing I would never see her again. Just to hear her voice was a gift, even if it had been about the Great Wall.

“She could’ve escaped there,” I thought silently to myself, just joking around. Then it clicked. She did escape to help with the construction, to have her name go down in history. I suddenly knew where I as going. I knew what I must do.

The following morning I said goodbye to my family, and seven little bodies ran up and embraced me before I walked through the door. Their fragile little arms locked around me just about broke my heart. I knew I had to go soon, or else the clock was ticking on their survival. With tears in my eyes, I fled the city, fled to the Great Wall of China.

As I traveled across the country, it became apparent to me that many were greatly impacted by the winter. Every city had a great abundance of begging hands and frozen, blue faces. In each, I saw a member of my family and what could have become of them at that very moment.

After many long weeks, I arrived at the Great Wall and was immediately put to work. Each hand that helped me carry material would resemble those of my long-lost best friend. Each pair of overworked eyes gave me hope that I would find her. I rarely found food or water and my hours went well into dusk. Every day a new shipment of dead bodies would come through to be used in the construction of the wall. My job was to handle and transport them to wherever needed. Surviving this, despite the odds, was something of a miracle. All that mattered was finding my best friend and saving my family.

Occasionally, new workers that fled to the Great Wall would bring news of what was going on in the city. Word had it that it was the worst winter the world had ever seen. Some people ran around thinking the world was going to end, that the human race would vanish as a whole. I would have believed them, except that I knew my family would make it. I knew that in a few short weeks, I would have been working for four months and would have accumulated enough money to save my siblings from the harsh winter months. However, food and water was still very scarce. One day, a commoner came through, dressed in large cloaks. Little did I know that she would be the one to fully rescue my family from deprivation. She spotted me, of all people who were chilled to the bone and practically purple and approached, friendly.

She introduced herself and I responded, “Hello, my name is Kai Li Chung.”

I had nearly forgotten my name because I hadn’t made any friends in the time I was there—that is, if I can call the woman my friend. That night, well after our working hours, the woman sat next to me in our makeshift tents as we tried to keep warm.

After a few minutes of small talk, she abruptly asked, “You’re hungry, aren’t you, Kai?” From beneath her large cloak, she pulled out a loaf of bread and handed it to me, ensuring that no one else saw.

“But how?” I inquired as I looked up.

The woman was gone. In her place stood a basket of plentiful foods that could last my family months. They were saved. No one was going to stay around carting dead bodies everywhere if they didn’t have to, so that night I disappeared into the shadows and started my journey home.

I soon arrived to the frail arms of my brothers and sisters. There were as thin as I had ever seen, and frozen to the touch. The look on their faces as I handed them the bread and other foods was so grateful. The family rejoiced in unity and I lay in bed that night admiring it all. The first signs of a warm spring were showing, so I opened my window. Just as the welcoming arms of sleep pulled me under, I heard a voice. A whisper. My best friend was speaking to me across the window.

Badger Mouth’s Blood

7 Jun

by Roger Nakagawa
7th Grade

I had never seen such a sight. Usually, Badger Mouth Pass was magnificent, but not today. Today, I stood there, rooted to the spot, pale, and my eyes stared distantly at the blood-strewn battlefield. Almost every man in our army had died. That made the death toll at least 500,000 people, including Cheng Li Pang. The field that we had found so beautiful in our childhood now looked so ugly in the fading light of the day and the red blanket of blood. I turned behind me, tears streaming out of my eyes, and picked up Li’s lifeless and bloodied body to take him back home and give him a proper burial. I took one last look at Badger Mouth Pass, and fled with Li’s body, never looking back. This is our story.

Li and I had been friends since birth, and had grown to be like brothers. I did have a brother, Cheng Tsu Tao, but he had died at birth. When we were young, Li’s big dream was to travel the world and see all the places that he could. He always was interested in what was around us, wanting to know different lands and features of the different places. The closest place we could get to that was Badger Mouth Pass, and we were always exploring the peaks surrounding the pass. We even found a cave that we made our hideout. We even had a tea set filled with water in case of emergency, and zhu (chopsticks) to eat the food we would bring to the cave. To other kids, Li’s interest just made him seem strange, but to me it was part of what made him stand out.

Even as we grew older, his interest in traveling never weakened, even though there were very few ways to travel great distances quickly. Unfortunately, we were drafted to fight the Mongols in northern China to protect our country’s territory. And yet, Li was always thinking about what it would be like to leave the country and go explore other lands. Unfortunately, that fateful day came before he could experience his aspiration.

It was a dim, cloudy morning, almost as if the sky was predicting the events of the day. Our general called all soldiers to withdraw from the cities and to make a stand at Badger Mouth. Many of our soldiers were overconfident, as we outnumbered the Mongols greatly. Li and I weren’t so sure.

He asked me, “Pan, do you really believe that this is going to be an easy win?”

I answered with as much conviction as I could muster, very little, and answered, “Yes.” I really wish that my reply had turned out to be true.

We all were easy targets. The general thought the Mongols would only perform a frontal attack. Genghis Kahn led the Mongols in the front assault, while the other attacks came over the peaks. The Mongols were attacking our army from both sides, and our defenses were gradually failing.

Li and I were caught in the middle of all the chaos. The carnage was the worst sight any of us had ever seen. Everywhere we looked, our men were knocked off their horses, the Mongols’ weapons slicing through the bodies. As Li and I fought for our lives, it was hard not to trip on the bodies of our comrades, lifeless as blood flowed from their wounds. Since our first fight in school, we had always fought side by side.

As I was fighting off four invaders, and a Mongol raised his jian to slash down on a fellow Jin warrior, I was able to stab the Mongol just in time. Seeing another Mongol standing off to the side, I hacked through him, too. What rattled me was that right after my sword entered one Mongol’s body, I saw his face, the face of a young boy, at most a teenager. The terror and pain I could see reminded me of myself in my first battle, seeing the havoc and blood for the first time. I had killed a young boy when his weapons weren’t even drawn. I have never forgotten that instance.

The battle continued to rage on. During the time I had just saved a Jin warrior, I had become separated from Li, which worried me, as we had always battled together, never separately. I fought a bit longer, taking only minor wounds, maybe a scratch here, a bruise there, but nothing major or life threatening.

Everything was going fairly smoothly for me. I cut through two invaders, but was cracked on the head by the butt of a jian sword when a Mongol rode by, spinning me around and onto the ground. I must have been out for a few seconds, as the positions of all the warriors had changed. There was a Mongol and a Jin warrior trading blows, the steel clanging loudly, as another Mongol came and cut down our soldier from behind. Another Jin warrior had minor success chopping a Mongol’s arm off, but was impaled from behind with the bloodstained steel of another Mongol’s jian. There was one Jin soldier lying on the ground with a large cut through the center of his body, his hand holding his organs, him crying for his parents before being trampled. Another was carrying his sliced-off arm, looking for his hand.

Looking around, I saw blood splattered everywhere and random body parts lying around. It was a ghastly sight. The grass, once a beautiful green that stood up almost happily, now was matted down and dyed with the red stains of blood. The sun was a dark orange, barely shining through the gray clouds that hung over the battlefield, the air deathly still.

I finally got up and cut down two more Mongols with my dao, when I saw him, lying in a pool of blood, barely breathing. Panicking, I made my next decision without taking time to think, and in one fast motion, I picked up Li’s dying body and ran towards the little cave we had found and made our hideout as children. My sword was out, the blade flashing in the setting sun as I cleared a path towards the cave where I could hide Li’s body. Arriving at the cave, I set Li down, but his body was stiff and cold, his chest no longer rising and falling. He was dead. As tears dropped from my eyes, I looked at the cloudy sky and screamed in a fit of rage. How fitting, I thought, the sky being a dimly lit red as the sun set, giving the battlefield a dark, evil look with its red blanket of blood.

Hiding Li’s lifeless body and hoping no one would find it until I got back, I rushed back into battle and cut down as many Mongols as I could, but there were too many of them. Soon, the Mongol forces overwhelmed our army and there was nothing else I could do, so I fled. I had to get back to my best friend, as there was still one final thing I could do for him.

It was a clear autumn sky with a beautiful sunset, with the leaves on the peach tree falling off and scattering as a gentle breeze blew through. The grass was green as a bamboo tree, and slowly rustling with the wind. There was only me there, as everyone that was really close to us had died, some in the war, others of old age. I looked at Li’s ashes, paying last respects. The small funeral took place on a river, not too far from our home. As a very last action for my best friend, I took his ashes, cast them in the river, and sat, tearing up watching my friend leave for good, finally reaching his dream of traveling the world.

The Test of a Scholar

7 Jun

by Leah Harris
7th Grade

Fu Zao Wang woke up, drenched in sweat and terrified by the nightmare that haunted him. His breathing was ragged and his heartbeat was rapid, hammering a hole in his broad chest. He rolled off of his bed pallet and got a refreshing glass of cool water. Then the realization hit him: today was the day of the Imperial Service Exam. He glanced at the position of the sun through the small square window before running like a whirlwind around the small room of the boarding house. He threw on his tunic over his trousers and pulled on his boots, at first on the wrong feet. He quickly corrected them and yanked on his belt. His cap was hiding from him, and he looked for it in a panicked frenzy. He spotted it and seized it, then sped out of the room and out of the building. He walked into the crowded dirt streets. He glanced down at his disarray and thought that this surely wasn’t going to make an impression on the officials at the palace, but he had run out of time.

Fu Zao Wang was escorted by wagon to the gates of an official building on the edge of the palace, which towered like a fortress. The palace was majestic and the beauty of it all made you want to laugh and cry all at once. The vines crawling up the building were lush and green, their long leaves were suspended, and the walls were peeking through. He only caught a glimpse of this serene setting before he was ushered into the building. At the door, a security guard checked Fu Zao thoroughly for any paper or anything he might use to cheat with. He was cleared. Then he followed a different official through several long, curvy hallways into the main building. The walls were a clear, crisp, and calming white. He was led to a small room containing a wooden table and chair. He was told to sit and wait while the officials put the correct papers in order.

As Fu Zao waited, he took deep breaths and recalled the hours he had spent studying each day and how he had passed the service exam in his city, then in his region. This was the last round of testing. If he passed, he would be made an official and if he didn’t…it was worth trying.

An official in a tunic with a blue sash strode into the room, gave a brief instruction, laid the papers carefully on the desk, and promptly left. Fu Zao heard a lock click after the official exited. I have to be locked in here? Fu Zao thought. He had not been locked in a room before. I’m wasting time questioning the motives of others. They would do what is best for me, and now it is my turn to hopefully do what is best for myself. With that thought, Fu Zao read the first question.

1. What was the quote from Confucius in Analects 12.2 relating to the phrase “treat others the way you want to be treated?”

Fu Zao considered and then wrote down, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

2. Please complete the following Confucius quote found in Analects 12.1: “Look at nothing in defiance of ritual, listen to nothing in defiance of ritual, speak nothing in defiance of ritual…”

Fu Zao knew the answer immediately, for his father had made him recite this when he was a boy. He wrote, “Never stir hand or foot in the defiance of ritual.”

3. What is the mandate that a ruler gains when he rules compassionately?

“The mandate of Heave—”

Fu Zao Wang choked, tears springing to his eyes. He was transported back into his nightmare.

“Daddy, what is heaven?”

Fu Zao Wang looked down at his sweet five-year-old child, Lian. Her name meant graceful willow. He smiled into her large brown eyes, and scooped her into his muscular, capable arms. She giggled, a clear, high, melodious sound. Her face lit up like the sun on a clear day. She stopped giggling and looked at him with curiosity. Her eyelashes were long, like her mother’s.

He began to explain, “Heaven is the divine place where good, obedient people go after they die. This is the place where God lives, where he watches us from, to see if we are being good and obeying his rules.” He gave his young daughter a short version, relatively easy to understand.

She looked like she understood, and suddenly looked up at the ceiling with awe on her face, as if she was going to see God Himself smiling down at her. Lian stared and stared, and when she finally looked down, she had tears in her eyes, upset with the results or her staring. All she had seen was the white ceiling. She was lowered to the ground and promptly ran out of the room.

A petite, beautiful woman of shiny black hair and subtle curves walked into the room. She was wearing a beautiful long dress. It was red and silky and covered in a floral print. The flowers were lotus, which symbolized perfection. Her face was oval, and her skin was as smooth as cream and the color of delectable caramel. Her eyes were large and the color of milk chocolate, like Lian’s. They made you instantly want to be her friend. Her lips were full and as red as if they were coated with lip color, but they weren’t. Her eyebrows had a natural upward curve that made her look like she was always happy. Her beauty was blinding.

Her name was Chrysanthemum. She was always smiling and laughing, and she would always talk to you. Her laugh was like a song. It could bring you to tears, just like a song. It could also grip you and make you want to start laughing, too. She had that kind of hold on people, and once you talked to her you just couldn’t stop thinking about her. She could come up with a conversation in any situation. She was always good for cheering you up, and she would really listen to what you had to say. She was caring. Chrysanthemum, she was a goddess.

Chrysanthemum floated into the room and gave a brilliant smile. “Why is Lian crying?”

“She didn’t see the face of God,” Fu Zao sighed.

Suddenly, there was a loud clatter, and the rug lit on fire. Someone had thrown a burning torch through the window. Chrysanthemum screamed. The fire was rapidly spreading and the flames were licking at Chrysanthemum’s feet, because she was a terrified, frozen statue. Fu Zao turned and saw her, and yanked her arm. She stumbled, but was caught and lifted into strong arms. With his wife still in his arms, Fu Zao went in search of his daughter. She was sitting in her room, unaware of all the flames heading her way.

“LIAN!” Fu Zao screamed as he frantically looked in her room. She looked up, startled. He grabbed her and yanked her out of the room and into the hallway. The wispy tendrils of smoke got into all of their lungs, but since Lian was the smallest, she was the first to start coughing. She hacked as she tried to rid her lungs of the smoke. She was being dragged through the hallways and she had lost all sense of where she was going. Black was dotting the edge of her vision, and she started to slip under when…she gasped in fresh air. She was outside.

Fu Zao felt like he was about to collapse. Then something caught his eye. About twenty feet in front of the coughing family was a group of seven men on horses. The front three men appeared to be officials of the emperor. The back four were solidly built and their muscles were as thick as sausages. Fu Zao was confused. They were the ones who had thrown the torch?

The lead rider moved his horse forward, and so did everyone behind him. His eyes had a glint, but it wasn’t from the moonlight, because there was only a sliver in sight. The trees surrounding the property were rustling in the wind, and the sky above was pitch black. The only light provided was from the flames consuming the household, which was slowly crumbling. All of their belongings and heirlooms were turning to ashes. Chrysanthemum let out a small whimper.

A menacing voice came from the lead rider’s lips. “Fu Zao Wang. Chrysanthemum and Lian Wang. What a pleasure.” He stopped Fu Zao’s attempt to reply by holding up his hand. “I heard that you have been doing some naughty things.” The leader chuckled with glee. Fu Zao’s confusion grew. He was a model citizen, and he had never done anything illegal. What was the man talking about? “You must understand that no bad deeds go unpunished. But I have gotten bored lately. Instead of killing you, why don’t I make you watch your family suffer?” He grinned.

Fu Zao’s eyes widened and he threw his arms around his family and pulled them to his chest. “Please, there is a misunderstanding. I didn’t do anything! Don’t hurt my family. Take…take m-me instead.” Fu Zao’s voice faltered. “Please!” Fu Zao’s pleading voice was choked with emotion and he gave out a loud, sudden sob.

During Fu Zao’s monologue, the leader’s grin only grew. “Don’t try that on me. You know what you’ve done. For the sake of your family.” He looked with greedy eyes at Chrysanthemum and Lian. “We won’t mention your…past mistakes. I don’t like sitting here and wasting my time when we could have so much more fun.” With that, the leader snapped his fingers, and two of the four heavyset men in the back jumped off their horses and grabbed Fu Zao, and the other two grabbed Lian and Chrysanthemum. 

“Please, please, please!” Fu Zao broke down in shoulder-wracking sobs.

Lian didn’t understand everything that was happening, but she was afraid of the man holding her and was even more afraid of the man who had talked. Chrysanthemum had tears streaming down her beautiful cheeks. The leader noticed this and got off his horse. He walked slowly and menacingly towards Chrysanthemum, and when he got to her, leaned down and kissed a tear off of her cheek. When Fu Zao saw this, he thrashed wildly in his captor’s arms but they quickly restrained him.

The leader turned and said, “I’d certainly like to go home now. Let’s get this over with and go.” He pulled a match out of his pocket and grabbed a torch from a bag on his saddle. He threw the torch into a pile of kindling piled outside of the house’s walls, which were now ashes. The fire flared up immediately. The flames climbed higher and spread closer until they stood just short of Lian. He beckoned for the man holding her to come over. The man dragged the girl, now crying hysterically, over to the leader. The leader turned, threw Fu Zao a smile, and threw the girl into the flames. She screamed for about thirty seconds, and then was silent. Fu Zao and Chrysanthemum were now both in hysterics, struggling against their captors and crying loudly.

The leader then beckoned Chrysanthemum and her captor over. The leader stared into the beautiful eyes of Chrysanthemum. He leaned down, kissed her lips, grinned, and pushed her into the flickering flames. The way the flames illuminated her face was almost beautiful. But Chrysanthemum was in agony, burning to death. She knew her husband never did anything wrong, and she wondered why she and her family were being punished. With the last ounce of her breath, she whispered, “I love you,” and then the flames consumed her.

 “I love you, and love lasts forever.” Fu Zao sank to his knees and buried his face in the dirt. When he lifted his face it was dawn and the riders were gone, as well as his house and family.

Fu Zao suddenly sat up. The question on the exam had triggered more than his nightmare. It was his memory. He choked back a sob and was startled when the door swung open.

One of the officials came back into the room. “You have ten minutes left.”

“Ten minutes? How long did I have?” Fu Zao asked incredulously.

“Two hours,” the official replied as he exited the room and locked the door.

Fu Zao was only on question four and had ten minutes to answer 46 questions. He had been lost in memory for almost two hours. He got to work even though he knew he had no chance of finishing. He rushed through the next ten questions in two minutes. He had eight minutes left and thirty-six questions. He would never make it on time. He would give it all he had regardless.

***

Fu Zao Wang ushered a nervous looking young man into the cool crisp building. He waited as the young man was checked by security. Then Fu Zao led him through the winding hallway and into room 15. He gave the man the set of instructions and said that the man with the test would come in soon. Another official came in, placed the papers on the desk, and exited. Fu Zao waited until the other man left, pulled out the key from his robe pocket, and locked the door. He turned around and went to the front of the building to escort the next man taking the Imperial Service Exam. He passed many of his colleagues and nodded at them as they passed. When he arrived at the front he saw someone in the doorway that he never expected: the leader of the horsemen.

Lon Duc Don

7 Jun

By Aidan Maloof
7th Grade

Lon Duc Don was a Chinese man with a problem. He longed to serve his country and fight off the constant Hun attacks and raids of the Song dynasty. He had dreamed of wielding an imperial sword and defending his country’s honor. However, that was his problem. As a child, Don was pretending to fight off Hun invaders, when he fell through the straw roof of his 15-foot-high house. The fall broke his right leg, and since his mother didn’t want to see a doctor, the bone never set properly. This caused Don’s right leg to be one-and-a-half inches shorter than his left.

So, when the recruiting officer came to his village with a list of names of young men who were to go off to war, he looked at Don’s uneven gait and said, much to Don’s dismay, “You can’t serve in the imperial army with that leg. You’ll slow everyone down!”

“But, but, sir, it has always been my dream to serve the emperor as a soldier!” Don replied, trying his best to keep his composure, despite his inner despair.

“I apologize, however we cannot accept you into the army. Instead, you can help by making items for trade like the women do.”

Don walked away from the recruiting officer, head bowed in shame at being turned down. He had finally gotten the chance to fight Huns and he had been rejected because of his injuries. Now he was stuck doing the most dishonorable task of all. He had to stay home and make things with the women to support the country while the men were off fighting a war. As Don limped away slowly, he could hear the officer calling out names of other village men who were to go and fight the Huns, just like he had hoped to someday.

Now Don worked in a prisoners’ camp, washing clothes and bringing meals to the prisoners. One day on his routine meal delivery, he saw a new prisoner. The prisoner was clearly a Hun who had been captured. When Don brought the prison food to him, he spat into his rice and threw the food on the ground without speaking a word. The prisoner yelled at him, saying sarcastically, “Thanks, limp! I sure am glad they didn’t let you into the army!”

That struck a nerve inside Don, who rushed back to the cell and started swearing at the prisoner. Eventually, Don calmed down and began to talk to the prisoner, whose name was Din Dong Dit. Don asked Dit what it was like on the fronts. Dit described the war, while slowly convincing Don to join the Huns. Every day, Don would return to Dit’s cell to hear more and more about the war.

Finally, after about forty visits, Dit simply said, “Why don’t you fight for the Huns? They’ll accept you no matter what!”

Don, caught in the moment, said, “But how?”

“It’s simple. If you sneak out of here, there’s a recruiting station just over the Mongolian border, if you make it that far.”

“Yes, but they’ll never let me join! They’ll think I’m a spy!”

“Just tell them Colonel Dit sent you and that you know the prison I’m stuck in and have a key. Plus, when they notice your leg they’ll know the Chinese wouldn’t have let you join the army.”

“Do you think that they will really let me join?”

“Of course! Especially with all of your knowledge!”

As Don rushed away to what Dit knew would surely be his death, Dit became very confused by his emotions: part of him sad for the soon-to-be-dead Don, and part of him content with his revenge, and the knowledge that even while he was imprisoned, Colonel Dit could still kill his enemies.