Chinese Stories in English
3. The Sorcerer's Sword
1. Family Heirlooms
2. Red Dragonfly at the Wedding
1. Family Heirlooms (传家宝)
Hou Fashan (侯发山)
Springtime added two pieces of wood to the fire. After a burst of pop-popping accompanied by a spasm of dancing flames, the fire burned more brilliantly than before, casting a black and red sheet of shadow and light on his father's face. Springtime took cigarettes out of his pocket and handed them over. “I’m not used to smoking these. They’re stronger.” His father shook his pipe to empty the ashes, then stuck the pipe into his pouch and dug out a full bowl of tobacco. He pressed down on the tobacco with his thumb, leaned his head close to the spiraling flames and lit the pipe.
Occasional sounds of exploding firecrackers came from the village. The atmosphere was beginning to feel more like New Year’s.
“When the new year comes, I’ll have been at it for forty years.” His father took a pull on his pipe with a "ss-ss" of obvious enjoyment.
Springtime lowered his head. He seemed to be in a daze.
“I’m getting old. Can't move around anymore.” He watched Springtime. There was a look of love and joy and expectation in his eyes.
Springtime stared at the leaping flames. He didn’t say anything.
“Because our ancestral home was flooded, your old gramps (a local term for “great-grandfather”) brought his whole family here to put down roots. He was grateful that the people here were so nice. He had some carpentry skills, so he built a small boat by himself and would ferry people across without accepting even a penny in payment. He made out a will when he was about to die and directed, ‘My descendants through the generations shall ferry the dear people of the village in righteousness….” Springtime’s father didn’t seem to be talking to himself, but rather for his son to hear.
Springtime’s gaze had turned to the outside. He was looking at the slowly flowing river, a feeling of groundless resentment growing in him.
"When your old grams (great-grandmother) died, your old gramps busied himself with the funeral arrangements in the morning and went to the ferry landing in the afternoon.... In the next generation, on the day of his wedding your grandfather went right to the ferry landing after performing the traditional kowtows to Heaven and Earth.... When it was my turn, I did even more. One year I dove into the river to rescue someone. I started burning up with fever after I got to shore and had to spend half a month in the hospital before they’d let me out. You were away from the village working and didn’t come back, so I came up with a thousand yuan to hire a guy to work the ferry for that half month....” At this point, his father got such a vigorous expression on his face that it even shown through all his wrinkles.
“How long before we can be done with loving the dear villagers?” Springtime couldn't keep himself from asking.
“We’re not done yet! How could we be done with it? If they hadn't taken in your old gramps back then, his family would likely have become orphan spirits, homeless ghosts. Then how could I be here? Let alone you.” At that he pointed to the bamboo raingear and the punting pole in the corner. “These and the boat outside are our family heirlooms. From your old gramps to my generation, we’ve worn out twenty-two wooden boats and broken over a hundred bamboo poles.... We’ve come this far, and you can’t end it. You’ll pass it on to my grandson, too.”
“What’s in this to be proud or happy about?” Springtime was half angry and half laughing. He could make four or five thousand yuan a month working outside the village, and he absolutely didn’t want to return to the village to live.
Just then they heard the clatter of chaotic footsteps outside their door. “Someone to cross the river!” The old man stood up and went to get the bamboo pole in the corner.
"It’s New Year’s, Uncle. We’ll have a couple of drinks with you." Several villagers darkened the door and came in. None of them were empty-handed – they were carrying bottles of booze and plates of fruit and other foods. Springtime noted that one of them was the village chief.
When the chief saw Springtime, he said: "Well, Springtime's here. When did you get back? You’ll be leaving after the New Year, won’t you?"
Without waiting for Springtime to say anything, his father laughed and said proudly, “No, he’s not leaving. He needs to take over.”
Springtime stood up to greet the village chief. “Yes, I’m back. Mom’s still busy at home getting ready to celebrate New Year’s.”
Springtime’s home was on a hillside not far from the ferry landing.
His mother had just finished making some steamed bread when he went home later. She’d made spring rolls and buns stuffed with vegetables along with the steamed bread, and they all gave off spirals of warm steam and wisps of fragrance. The tastes of home and of the holidays suddenly engulfed him, and the unhappiness he’d been feeling disappeared without a trace.
Springtime had just reached out to grab a flower roll when his mother slapped his hand. “We haven’t made the offering to the river god yet,” she said. “Wait a bit before you eat anything.”
At the mention of the river god, Springtime again felt vaguely unhappy.
His mother seemed to know what he was thinking. “If your dad wants you to come back," she said, “then come back. There’s land here, and you won’t starve. What do you want to earn so much money for? In this life, there’s nothing more important than a person’s reputation."
“Don’t say any more, Mom. I’m back to stay this time.” His heart had been moved when he saw the snow white on her head.
Once the holidays were over, Springtime did indeed take over his father’s ferry. What people never expected was that he'd break tradition and collect a fee – two yuan per person per trip.
“You’re not my son,” his father said.
“Don’t you want to ask my mother about that?”
His father blew up. “Bastard spawn! You won't get in our family plot after you die.”
“What we say doesn’t count as to whether I’ll get in or not.”
“Just what is it you think you’re doing?” His father fought to hold down his anger.
“I’m collecting fees. The villagers don’t feel like they’re losing anything.”
“Bullshit! It’s something we owe to the dear villagers!” His father didn’t dare go outside and face the villagers for many days.
In fact, his father's conjectures and worries were completely overblown. A lot of the villagers did understand why Springtime was charging for operating the ferry. The village chief knew how his father felt about it and came over to console him. He said there should be a charge for the ferry and there should have been for a long time.
In private, though, some people had already calculated how much Springtime was making. Two yuan per person per ride, ten people each trip, maybe thirty round trips a day – at least twenty or thirty thousand yuan per month. Wow, Springtime was going to make a fortune.
When his father went outside again, he clearly felt that the villagers were looking at him quite differently than they had before, and greeted him much less warmly than they had in the past.
Springtime had a similar experience with the way the villagers looked at him. There was less warmth and less friendship compared to the past, and more coldness and more hostility. Sometimes, right to his face, they’d complain and use vile language about something else but were obviously referring to him.
”Retribution, retribution," his father moaned like that over and over. But when a son who's grown up won't follow his father, the father's anger is in vain. There's nothing he can do.
A year later, a construction crew came to the village and began to erect a bridge over the river.
No one would be taking the ferry anymore. Springtime's little boat, the bamboo punting pole and the raingear really would become heirlooms. Some of the villagers rejoiced in his misfortune. When they saw Springtime, they'd even pretend to care while shedding crocodile tears because, now that they'd have a bridge, Springtime would be out of a job. Springtime would smile thinly but say nothing. He didn't look dejected, not even a little.
The day the bridge was completed, Springtime again left the village to get a job.
That same day, his father couldn't resist telling the village chief that Springtime had put up the money to fund building the bridge.
The chief’s jaw dropped and his mouth stayed open a long time. Finally he just said, "Fucking Springtime."
His father wasn’t willing to take that. "You bugger, why're you turning around and cursing me and mine?"
The chief laughed and stroked the old man’s head.
"Fucking Springtime," the old man repeated, mumbling to himself. Then he laughed out loud. Tears of pride and happiness filled the corners of his eyes and flowed down the wrinkles on his face.
Text on p. 57; translated from侯发山的博客 at: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_48fa92ea0102xir0.html
2. Red Dragonfly at the Wedding (婚礼上的红蜻蜓)
Lin Wanhua (林万华)
The restaurant "Dragonfly Park" is outside the city where there are rivers, trees and flowering plants. City residents have no problem getting there to eat.
In spring, when the weather warmed up and the flowers blossomed, he and she held their wedding reception here.
They’d met here two years previously.
She’d hobbled onto Dragonfly Park’s lawn with crutches under her arms and individual dragonflies hovering around her. She watched them sentimentally. She wanted to reach out and grab one, and hold it in the palm of her hand, gently pinching its wings and feeling its body. She liked the beautiful and free flying dragonflies.
A dragonfly flew over to her. It danced lightly as a leaf in the wind, now high and now low, lurching left and right. She reached out to grab it, but it fluttered its wings and flew unconcerned away from her hand. After a while it turned and flew back. It seemed not inclined in the least to escape, but rather, to be intent on socializing with her. She moved her body forward in the belief that she could catch it this time, but as soon as she reached out, it swerved and changed direction. She caught a handful of air and, not only that, also lost her center of gravity....
He’d been standing nearby throughout, gazing attentively at her attractive features. He was three steps away when she started to fall, but made it to her in two steps and steadied her. He looked at her and smiled, and she blushed shyly.
He and she had met, and they fell in love.
He sent her an engagement gift, a gold brooch in the shape of a dragonfly. She wore it on her breast every day from then on.
They chose the location for their wedding reception together.
She put on her pure white wedding dress before the reception and walked over to the mirror to look at it carefully. All of a sudden she realized she’d forgotten the gold brooch.
She remembered that she’d put the brooch on when she tried on the dress the evening before. She’d faced the mirror and examined her reflection for a long time. The pure white of the wedding dress was a bit jarring to the eyes, but the gold brooch softened the luster after a while. She’d taken it off, polished it carefully and placed it on the nightstand. She thought, “I’ll put it on first thing in the morning. At the reception, when he sees it shining brilliantly, he’ll be pleasantly surprised and moved.”
The next morning, she was in a rush to wash her face, apply makeup and put on the wedding dress, and she forgot the brooch. It was too late to go back for it, and she was terribly anxious. But perhaps anxiety is the mother of creativity. She picked up a net used to catch fish in the tanks at the front of the restaurant and walked out onto the green lawn.
Dragonflies were flying freely in groups of four or five, and a mating pair flew quietly around her, completely immersed in their moment of bliss. Right then she need only raise her net into the air and wave it gently, and in the blink on an eye she’d have herself not just one, but a pair of dragonflies.
All of a sudden, just as she was thinking this pleasant thought, a strong whirlwind blew up and the leaves on the lawn were thrown into the sky. Everything before her was obscured. When the wind died down, she was pleased to see that the pair of dragonflies, in their ecstasy, had fallen to the lawn beside her. They lay there quietly, not moving at all, and she saw them clearly: one red dragonfly, and one yellow.
Amazed at her good fortune, she dropped the net from her hand, squatted down and reached for the red dragonfly, but it woke up suddenly, shook its wings and flew away lithely. She looked at the yellow dragonfly. One of its wings was broken. Its body was shaking but it couldn't fly. She picked it up gently with her fingers and placed it on the palm of her hand. She felt sorry for it and said softly, “Take part in my wedding reception, then I’ll bring you back here.”
She carefully placed the injured yellow dragonfly on her breast. It was so afraid of falling to the ground that its three pairs of slender feet dug into her thin wedding dress like needles. It behaved itself and lay still on her breast. Her "golden brooch" regained, she smiled with satisfaction.
The wedding reception started. He and she walked hand in hand to their table, where they stood facing their many relatives and friends. Happy smiles covered their faces....
Just then a red dragonfly came flying in from the direction of the lawn. It flew to their table, and people cast their eyes on it in surprise. Had it also come to offer congratulations? It flew around her two times, then tried to hover in front of her breast, not without surprising her. Suddenly it landed on top of the injured yellow dragonfly and hugged it firmly with its legs. It flapped its wings with all its might and slowly flew toward the lawn with its mate.
She was speechless as she watched the red dragonfly move away, carrying its heavy burden. Her tears began to fall....
Text at p. 60; translated from 作家网 at: http://www.zuojiawang.com/html/zuopinzaixian/28061.html
3. The Sorcerer's Sword (悲魔剑)
Ling Junyang (凌君洋)
I knew I couldn't get out of it now.
I held the Sorcerer's Sword in my hand. I glanced at it and felt an inexplicable sorrow in my heart: How many brave and stalwart men had paid the ultimate price for this blade?
Don't underestimate it. This sword was a relic of Heartless Meng, the late Master of the Martial Arts League. It was the supreme treasure of the Depend on the Wind School that he founded. People in martial arts circles talked it up as the most miraculous of swords, as if it could cut through iron like water, but it’s not true. I’d had second thoughts when I took it from my Lord Meng’s hand: “Is this the legendary Sorcerer's Sword?” I’d mumbled. “It’s obviously a rusty old sword!”
The incident happened after the last Martial Arts Convention. After I watched the excitement, I continued to search for a master willing to teach me the martial arts. I passed right by the town because I was trying to go too fast and it was starting to rain. I had to settle for a dilapidated old temple to rest in and get out of the rain. As I entered, though, I was shocked by what I saw in front of me:
Heartless Meng, The martial arts master I’d just seen at the conference, was in a confrontation with a group of men in black clothing!
The two sides started fighting before I’d recovered from my shock. The men in black had a decisive advantage in numbers, but Heartless Meng still beat them into disarray. I almost forgot myself and cheered....
Suddenly I saw a man in black hiding in a corner. In his hand he had a weapon that he’d apparently had concealed, and he was aiming it at Heartless Meng; Meng was savoring his victory and had no defense....
I called out anxiously, "Watch your back!" I rushed forward, pulling out my sword as I went, and stabbed the man – when it was over, I broke into a cold sweat from fear. These men in black were all very powerful killers. Even if I had ten lives, I’d have lost them all if Heartless Meng hadn’t been there.
I’d taken the man in black by surprise. He hadn’t had time to pull out his sword and counter my attack before I stabbed him, but the hidden weapon had still flown out from his hand. I’d stabbed him again and dispatched him, without giving him a chance to take a breath.
Everyone in the dilapidated temple had been stunned into silence, but a cry of "ah" brought them back to their senses – the man’s concealed weapon had struck Heartless Meng in the shoulder, and the sudden pain was enough to make even that strong a man cry out.
The men in black saw their opportunity and immediately surrounded Heartless Meng, leaving only one person to deal with me – although there was only one, I only had the skill to parry his blows and not the power to counterattack. I knew full well that I would be dead before he’d dealt even thirty blows.
Through my panic and the confusion, I heard the leader of the men in black say, "The time of your death has arrived, you devil named Meng. Don't blame us. Someone has paid a lot of money to bring an end to the calamity that you are. Don't blame us brothers when you get down to the Yellow Springs of Hell...."
Before he’d even finished speaking, Heartless Meng made a move called "Depend on the Wind without Snow" – it was a move he’d created himself and was his signature style – and cut down all the men in black around him. I was some distance away but also felt the icy ferocity of his swordsmanship, a cut on my face that caused a faint pain. Then a powerful "frigid frost palm" struck my opponent. The man in black who’d been battling me was immediately knocked to the ground, his innards spewing out. He was dead before he’d even had a chance to grunt.
Heartless Meng also fell in that same instant.
I was struck dumb by the sights before my eyes: Heartless Meng and I had just been in such a perilous situation, then all our enemies had fallen in the blink of an eye. But Heartless Meng had gone down as well. It was all so incredible to behold.
"Come over here, Little Brother!" Heartless Meng’s muffled voice roused me from my numbness. I immediately hurried over and suddenly recalled the concealed weapon that had struck his arm. I said gently, "M’Lord, your injury...."
Heartless Meng took hold of the concealed weapon stuck in his arm and abruptly pulled it out ... without even the slightest groan of pain! Then he seemed to say to himself, and also seemed to be telling me:
"There was poison on the concealed weapon.... Right, it’s the heartbreak grass toxin.... Heh, heh.... It’s bad this time...."
I didn’t really understand, but when I heard the word "toxin", I reacted immediately "M’Lord, how can we get rid of the poison?"
"Detox ... I’m afraid there’s not enough time...." He spoke haltingly. "Little Brother, why did you.... Why did you want to help me?"
"‘When you see an unfair fight, rush in to help.’ That’s what everyone trained in martial arts should do. You mean, you don't agree, M’Lord?"
"Heh, heh.... In this day and age, to encounter such a newborn calf, not afraid of death.... It’s a rare thing, really rare. I hope.... I hope the Lord of Heaven won’t let me … hasn’t let me misjudge you. Heh, heh. If I’m wrong, it’ll be really bad.... It’ll ruin the Depend on the Wind School’s ... reputation.
The more I heard, the more confused I became. All I could do was comfort him. "Nothing will happen to you, M’Lord! You’re the Master of the Martial Arts League! There’re so many important things waiting for you to do in the martial arts world...." I was speaking incoherently.
"What’s your name, Little Brother? Who taught you martial arts?" He asked abruptly.
"You’re servant is called Amiable Zhang. I have a superficial grasp of a few Kungfu moves that my fellow villager, Ah-Meng, taught me...."
"Amiable Zhang.... Good, good, good...." He coughed suddenly. There was blood in the sputum.
"Don't talk, M’Lord. Save your strength." I was getting anxious.
He shook his head. "All the disciples of the Depend on the Wind School were killed in a sneak attack by the men in black.... And I have only one breath left...." He paused before continuing, "But the Depend on the Wind School can't come … can’t come to an end like this.... I see you, Amiable Zhang. If you put your heart into it, you will ... you’ll definitely become this generation’s great warrior. But ... but there’s no one who can advise you while you grow. This is something to be regretted in the martial arts world...." He again waved his hand to indicate that I shouldn’t interrupt, then went on, "I want to accept ... accept you as a disciple, and pass the skills of the Depend on the Wind School on to you. I’m dying, and after I’m gone, you’ll be an initiate in the Depend on the Wind School...."
I was taken aback. "M’Lord, your servant has neither the virtue nor the ability. How can he accept such a tremendous...."
He didn't wait for me to finish. "Don't say such ... such things to me. I’m Heartless Meng, and I’ve made sure to do things with swift efficiency my whole life. Now if ... if you don't accept this, it means ... it means you don’t respect our Depend on the Wind School."
There was nothing I could say. Besides, I’d had my heart set on being a warrior for righteousness since I was a child, doing away with bullies and bringing peace to the common people. Without superior martial arts skills, that was nothing but an idiot’s dream. So I knelt before Heartless Meng and said the words:
"My Exalted Master, accept this sign of respect from your disciple!" and I bowed down to him.
“Good, good, good,” he said happily. "Hurry, come here, I’ll transfer the martial arts skills to you.... I don't have much time...."
He sat behind me. I seemed to feel him pat me once, and after that I felt very hot.... I don’t know how long it was before the Master said, "Okay, that’ll do it."
I turned around and found that Master’s face looked much more haggard than before. I still didn’t understand what had happened. I just heard Master saying, “I ... I've passed all the skills I learned in my life on to you. Now, you just ... just have to study the moves and that'll do it. And I've put 'Depend on the Wind's Book of Secrets' in you ... in your bag. You'll only have to look at it and you'll have learned it. It's the heart and soul of my life as a teacher. Absolutely ... absolutely do not spread it around...."
Then he handed me a sword. "This is the Sorcerer's Sword. Only initiates in the Depend on the Wind School ... are qualified to use it...." He took a deep breath before saying, "Mark my words. The Sorcerer's Sword will only show its strength when you're fighting for righteousness. Otherwise … it will break apart.... And along with it, the Depend on the Wind School will disappear...."
With that, he breathed his last....
I arranged Master’s funeral. Then I took to the road with the Sorcerer's Sword in hand....
Everyone in the martial arts world wanted a piece of the pie after the Depend on the Wind School's catastrophe. Some people wanting to know my whereabouts even went to see my friend Ah-Meng seeking news about me. He was murdered because he wouldn't tell them anything. I was incensed ... because Ah-Meng really had nothing to do with this matter....
I will avenge Master and Ah-Meng!!!
A year later, through my efforts the Depend on the Wind School had again become an awe-inspiring force. For the first time in my status as an initiate in the School, I gathered the heroes of the world in the Valley of Fallen Leaves and convened a Martial Arts Convention to elect a new Master of the Martial Arts League. That year I heard that the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the plot against the Depend on the Wind School was actually Receive Heaven Huang – he'd been one of the "Paired Heroes of Martial Arts" along with Heartless Meng, and had been one of the idols I'd worshiped when I was starting out.
On the day of the Martial Contest, with the Sorcerer's Sword in my hand, I defeated all my opponents without any effort – except Receive Heaven Huang. He'd plotted against the Depend on the Wind School so that he could be Master of the Martial Arts League. He couldn't imagine that a commoner like me, a total unknown, could have foiled his evil scheme. Naturally he hated me to the bone. He didn't know, though, that I hated him even more. It was he who had murdered Master and Ah-Meng! He had only to enter the Martial Contest arena with me and I could avenge them!
At last Receive Heaven Huang entered the arena. I couldn't wait to open a wound on his body with my sword and immediately strike a killing blow with ruthless force. In the blink of an eye, all the vital spots on his body would be enshrouded by my sword. As soon as he left a gap in his defenses, he would die under my Sorcerer's Sword.
Receive Heaven Huang hadn't had time to make use of his "Sword Fast as Wind" before I stabbed him in the waist. According to the rules, the contest was to end once a touch was made. I should've stopped, but I didn't. I raised the Sorcerer's Sword and chopped down on Receive Heaven Huang's neck....
His blood gushed out and splashed on the Sorcerer's Sword. I didn't care about the world's heroes who were there. I laughed out loud, "Ha, ha, ha! Receive Heaven Huang, you have the heart and guts of a wolf! I finally have revenge for Master and for A-Meng! Ha, ha, ha, ha...."
Suddenly, the Sorcerer's Sword broke in two in my hand....
From far away, I seemed to hear what Master had said as he lay dying. "Mark my words. The Sorcerer's Sword will only show its strength when you're fighting for righteousness. Otherwise … it will break apart.... And along with it, the Depend on the Wind School will disappear...."
Text on p. 64, translated from 天翼阅读 at this page
4. Crazy Hat (疯狂的帽子)
Zhang Zhiqian (张治乾)
There’s a mountain called Hat Mountain southeast of the city. They say a demigod came from there 9,000 years ago. The magical mountain stands majestically with white clouds circling just below the bare mountain top, looking like a giant wearing a huge straw hat. They say that’s where the name Hat Mountain comes from.
Recently, a small bit of news came bubbling down the mountain. A Hat Immortal had come out from Hat Mountain. This Hat Immortal wasn’t distributing magic potions or tonics, but would place a straw hat on your head, and then you’d be rolling in wealth and good fortune. Old Wang’s wife exaggerated it even more. She said Old Li’s family, her mother’s neighbors, had four sons who all went up Hat Mountain and, within one year, one became a director and three became deputy directors.
Old Wang didn’t believe it. “It’s as clear as the sun and the moon. How could there be gods in this world?”
“You can’t not believe,” his wife said. “I heard the head of the household next door – You know how he is, he doesn’t even look like a human. Ask for his diploma and he doesn’t have one. Ask his rank and he doesn’t have one. He went up Hat Mountain just once and got himself a job as a deputy section chief."
Lao Wang couldn’t withstand his wife’s pushiness and decided to take a trip up the mountain.
He rode a bicycle for an hour and finally reached the foot of Hat Mountain, where two men leapt out from beside the road and blocked his way. "This road is for descending the mountain,” they said. If you want to go up, please proceed from South Mountain. Since ancient times, the government office has faced the south. No exception for gods."
Old Wang had to switch to the road to South Mountain. After much effort, he’d climbed to Heaven’s Gate South, where a wide clearing opened up before his eyes. A courtyard fully eighty acres large nestled between evergreen pine and cypress trees. Three caves showed in the cliff face. Above the one in the middle, the biggest one, were three words written in large, red characters: Hat Immortal’s Palace.
Old Wang wanted to enter the cave, but an old-sounding voice came rolling out. "If you want to enter the palace, your heart must be sincere. There's Immortal's Dew in the left cave. Bathe and then proceed."
Old Wang understood and immediately entered the left cave. He found the humidity inside the cave oppressive. A modern instant electric water heater sat in the middle of the cave, so he stepped forward and flicked the switch. No water came out, but a lithe and graceful voice announced, "If you want to bathe, please insert renminbi, This machine does not make change, so please insert exactly one hundred yuan."
Although this left Old Wang rather at a loss for words, he went ahead and inserted the money. A jet of water immediately poured from the ceiling. It was just the right temperature, neither hot nor cold. Old Wang bathed happily, put on his clothes and walked out of the left cave.
The old-sounding voice drifted out of the Immortal’s Palace. "If your heart is sincere, enter the palace. Enter with bright candlelight. There are aromatic candles in the right cave. Only by three candlesticks can you show respect."
Old Wang understood and immediately entered the right cave, where, as he expected, he did indeed find a vending machine filled with five-foot sticks of aromatic sandalwood. Just as he was worrying that he had no way to get at the incense, he noticed imitation Song-dynasty-style characters on the machine's chassis: "You must deposit money to request incense, fifty yuan per stick."
"And kowtow," he thought, "and bow with my hands clasped in front of me, and then just tremble in awe." But he forced himself to deposit a hundred and fifty yuan, and three sticks immediately popped out from the machine's slot.
With the three sticks of aromatic sandalwood in hand, Old Wang added it up. He'd spent two hundred and fifty yuan, which was nothing to sneeze at. Nevertheless, he went ahead and devoutly lit the incense sticks, and walked into the Hat Immortal's Palace.
He was in for a surprise when he entered. He'd thought there would certainly be many images of deities inside, with smoke and mist swirling around and bursts of heavenly music. But what was presented to him was just a stone monument, and of course there was a huge straw hat in the middle of it. Although the interior furnishings disappointed him somewhat, he still had that hat to pin his hopes on.
In a flash, an old Immortal with white hair, white whiskers and white eyebrows came out from the interior of the cave. "Our Benefactor is indeed sincere, and sincerity must be rewarded. May I please inquire, does Our Benefactor seek an official position, immediate wealth or future prospects? Or do you ask for happiness, or advice about a calamity, or about your destiny?"
Old Wang answered directly. "I'm seeking an official position."
"Our Benefactor is honest and truthful," The Immortal said. "Congratulations on finding the right path."
"Will it come true?"
"It will come true if you are sincere! Come, come, come, put on this hat and make your wish. It will be realized before March is out." As he was speaking, he took the straw hat and put it on Old Wong's head. An acrid odor assailed the man's nose.
Old Wang made his wish, that in the future he would be promoted to deputy section chief. No, make that section chief. He wasn't asking for a lot.
After he'd made his wish, the Immortal told him, "To be on the safe side, you must give your wish a secret code."
"The code word is very particular," the Immortal continued. "The starting number must be an odd number, but after that you can fill in what you like. You can fill in zeros, but you must be sure there are five places. The mystery is in the very first number. If you make it a '1', it can only be low level. Fill in a '3' and it's secondary level. A '5' is normal level, a '7' is auxiliary position and '9' is regular position. Our palace is still in the development and construction stage, so that's as big as it gets."
Old Wang thought, "So I'll fill in a '9' and get to the end in one go." He wrote a "9" and added four "0", then let out his breath and signed his name.
"Our Benefactor is indeed sincere of heart," the Immortal said, "and his expenditures will definitely be rewarded. Go now, and don't forget to pay the fee as you go out the door."
"Fee! What fee do I still have to pay?" Old Wang was a bit perplexed.
The Immortal said, "Does such an intelligent person need me to speak more clearly? For the wish you made, you pledged a secret code. It's hard to believe you've forgotten. The ratio between what you wished for and the secret code is proportionate. That is to say, if your wish is to be fulfilled, you must first pay 90,000 yuan. It was your own wish. If you renege, you will be required to make retribution, and that is also directly proportionate."
Lao Wang’s mind went blank. Before he'd left home that morning, his wife had given him five hundred yuan. He'd spent two hundred-fifty, leaving only two hundred-fifty.
He slapped himself in his own big mouth and fled down the road. All he could see was the straw hat swirling crazily in front of his eyes and skipping across the city. On the ground, a crowd of people craned their necks and frantically chased after it....
Text at p. 69; translated from 汉丰网 at: http://www.kaixian.tv/gd/2017/0316/734652.html
Bonus Selection by Rainy Wang (王雨)
The Communist Party Secretary in a certain township was suspended and placed under investigation for inappropriate behavior. Half a year later, he became a government official in another area. Specifically, he was transferred to a job as a City Health Department Director.
Public opinion was quite stirred up for a time. A former high-ranking official sent telegrams to the Municipal Party Committee and the municipal government: "What are you people doing, using this kind of cadre in such an important position?!"
The city leaders felt wronged. "How are we using him in an important position? You could say he’s been transferred to a job at the same pay grade, and not been demoted. However, sir, you must know that a City Health Department Director can’t be compared to a Township Party Secretary. We dare not say the difference is as large as Heaven and earth, but they are at least several levels apart in the pecking order! Wouldn’t you say, sir, as a former official, that this is punishing him? Do you mean to say that this punishment is not severe enough?!”
The old official thought about it and, surprisingly, had nothing to say!
To get Chinese text by return email, send name of story to email@example.com
Stories printed in Chinese Mini-Stories 2017
2017年中国年度微型小说, 作家网选编, 冰峰•陈亚美主编
Text at page cited after each story; translated from the webpages cited below.
4. Crazy Hat