Three days ago, an old lady died in my village. The trouble is she didn't stay dead. A series of disturbing apparitions and murders has led a Taoist master to come to my village and begin a battle against these evil spirits. This is the story of my gift, better yet; it's the story of my curse.
Chapter 020 The Envious Ghosts - Part 2
The next morning we had breakfast at my house. Zhao Laohei came to the door and hurried us out of the house. Xiao Chun stood in the street beyond our door, staring blankly up at the light blue sky. Next to him were Zhao Jie and Zhao Yuan, both looking as nervous as I felt.
When Zhao Laohei ushered us out the door I hid behind my mom unconsciously. Zhao Jie and Zhao Yuan more than a few paces from Xiao Chun, shot him uncomfortable glances every so often. I'm sure Jie and Yuan would have run away if Zhao Laohei hadn't been holding the fool's hand firmly.
It seems I wasn't the only one who remembered Xiao Chun holding his mother's head with a sickly smile on his face.
As if reading my thoughts, Xiao Chun turned his asymmetrical eyes to me and smiled a silly smile.
Sensing everyone's discomfort, Master Liu broke the silence, "Okay, everyone is here. Let's start off."
When I saw that everyone was pooling into the same tractor wagon and realized I'd have to sit by Xiao Chun I turned to my mother and pleaded, "Mom, can I refuse to go?"
She placed her hand gently on the back of my head and said, "Sweet one, it'll be okay. Your dad, Master Liu, and your Uncle Zhao are here."
I knew I would not get my way when I heard her tone. When she spoke quiet and peacefully, her mind was set.
My dad put things away into a box near the front of the tractor and then he took out an old bag. Holding my hand, we followed Zhao Laohei and Master Liu towards the wagon.
Zhao Jie and Zhao Yuan moved close to me, showing a similar distaste at sitting near Xiao Chun. Zhao Jie whispered to me, "Xiao Yong, I don't know why my dad insists on making me come with you to Li Jiayu. Why is Xiao Chun here? Look at his dirty face, he is so smelly..."
While Zhao Jie was speaking, Xiao Chun darted his head to look at us. Zhao Jie fell suddenly silent. I exchanged glances with the Zhao siblings and we all went quiet. Xiao Chun looked back to the tractor and laughed wildly. Zhao Yuan leaned and whispered to us, "I think my dad wants to sell us. The harvest of crops was bad this year..."
Before Zhao Yuan could finish, my dad stifled a laugh with a cough, saying, "Children stop this nonsense! Xiao Yuan, quit guessing! I was afraid that you were bored staying at home this summer holiday, so I suggested we take you along."
My dad was Zhao Yuan's teacher. One she was used to obeying. She bowed her head politely and said, "Um, yes sir. I will follow your orders Mr. Shi."
I mocked her and copied my father's tone. "Xiao Yuan is a good student, following the words of her teacher."
She turned and moved to twist my ear, "Say that again! I am not your sister. You shouldn't call me Xiao Yuan!"
I turned to my dad for help, but he just shrugged and loosened his grip on my hand. Obviously uninterested in the fights of children, he walked to Zhao Laohei and Master Liu.
When I saw my father refusing aid, I turned to Zhao Jie, "Xiao Jie! Come to my side! Help me fight your sister's tyranny! Only then will you be number one in your family!" I suppressed a grin and made my face serious.
Zhao Jie simply shook his head saying, "Not this time! We're both shorter than her, she'll stomp us in no time!"
I pulled free of her grip and we moved towards the wagon. There was a main road between my village and Li Jiayu. It was smooth and would be easy travel. The summer day was sunny and the adults had predicted no problems on our way. The mood to play diminished quickly as we boarded because Xiao Chun sat gazing around with his dumb smile. Whenever he looked our way we'd huddled together in alarm.
Master Liu placed a seat near the front of the tractor where he could keep an eye on Xiao Chun. "If he gets upset and they aren't able to control him, he'll probably jump off and run away." Zhao Yuan whispered to us.
The tractor didn't move very quickly, but if you jumped off while it was moving you'd get scratched up pretty badly.
We arrived at the neighboring Li Jiayu after a thousand years, which was probably a little over an hour.
Our village was located on the edge of a plain, so the ground didn't slope very much. This made it excellent for playing football and other sports. Li Jiayu, however was located at the foot of a high mountain with sloping hills moving towards the great landmass. The mountain was far greater than the one near our village. I had seen the peaks in the distance many times, but this was my first real look at the monstrosity ahead of us.
Zhao Jie, Zhao Yuan and I called out with excitement when we arrived at foot of the mountain.
"It's the biggest mountain in the world!" Zhao Jie claimed with awe.
Zhao Yuan pinched him and reprimanded, "No it isn't! The highest mountain is Chomolangma! It's twice the size of this mole hill!" Though her look showed just as much awe as his did.
I gaped at Zhao Yuan, impressed by her knowledge. "She must be the smartest girl in her class." I thought.
When we entered Li Jiayu, Zhao Laohei brought us to a home at the west end of the village. The homes were built with green stones that were astronomically different from the red ones our houses were composed of. I gaped around at the surrounding landscape of glinting green buildings.
This village was called Li Jiayu and most everyone's surname was Li. There were very few strangers in this town.
We went to a family whose host was a middle-aged man called Li Jun. When we came upon his home, he was squatting in the yard making a basket of thorns. A cowshed sat crookedly in the east of the yard. Four cattle were inside.
"Four? They must be loaded!" Zhao Jie whispered at me.
A woman, who looked just as aged as Li Jun sat by the doorway of the house. She sat in a chair with a long tube pipe in her hands, smoking some kind of herb. Eight chickens clucked and pecked around the doorway, ignoring her puffed smoke and sandaled feet.
Li Jun saw us and put down his incomplete basket. His face split with a wide welcome smile. "Ah, Lao Hei, Mr. Shi, I don't know you would be joining us today! I am pleasantly surprised."
Zhao Laohei, the most familiar with Li Jun, spoke first, "We brought Xiao Chun here to let you see him. And we'd like to know more about your family."
My dad added in with a chuckle, "Plus, we've got these naughty children you might be interested in!"
I twisted my neck to make sure he was joking. Li Jun looked at Xiao Chun and said, "I have met Xiao Chun before in your village. I was not curious then, and I'm not curious now. He's the famous dummy is he not? What more do I need to see?"
Master Liu frowned at the word 'dummy'. My dad leaned over and whispered to him, "Master Liu, pay it no mind. We've all called him that for many years. It is not meant to be rude, but rather a straight shooting nickname. If you stay with us long enough, you'll understand."
Master Liu nodded, but didn't smile. Li Jun noticed the old master.
"And who is this elegant looking fellow?" He asked Zhao Laohei.
Zhao Laohei bowed respectfully, "This is Maser Lui. He is a master of my craft, and more capable than I."
Zhao Laohei was a famous priest in our village, so Li Jun spoke politely to Master Liu, "Nice to meet you, Master Liu. Please come in. My wife!" He called to her, "Serve the dishes and water dear, and make a delicious lunch. Don't we have the good wine in the basement?"
Zhao Laohei moved to refuse the meal, but Master Liu stopped him. "Never turn down free hospitality." The master whispered then raised his voice to Li Jun "Thank you! We will stay at your home today."
Li Jun's wife smiled past the smoke rising from her pipe. She looked like a kind and generous woman. Our party entered into the room behind her and she smiled at us.
"Welcome to our home," She said with a bow, and showed us around the room. "It has been a long time since our house was filled with the noise of children, welcome! Lunch will be ready at noon!"
The adults came into the room where they promptly began to talk about Xiao Chun. Li Jun pointed at the spare room, saying, "I never had a son, but I did have a daughter. She's married and gone now. Usually, my wife and I are lonely in this empty house. There are several cattle that are important for our crops and we've always needed an extra hand to help." He smiled at Xiao Chun, who was standing in the corner trying to look everywhere at once. Li Jun went on, "I make baskets to sell with my spare time. My wife is unhealthy and I am old, so we can't graze cattle up the mountain. We may be wealthy, but it is too expensive to hire a regular fellow." He glanced at his wife knowingly, "They have appetites that we can't provide for and I think it's too expensive. So we've taken to hiring fools to work for us. It gives them something to live for and we get to have company again."
Master Liu had been studying the man as he spoke. He finally asked, "How do you prompt the fool to work? Do you beat him?" His voice wasn't impolite, but very firm.
Li Jun shook his head with a smile, "The fool was born of a mother, wasn't he? Why would I beat him?" He laughed a short sharp guffaw. "It's easy to motivate anyone to work. We provide comfort and patience. I think after a time he'd enjoy the activity. In fact, although they are not smart, they behave like children, and we've always loved children. The last farmhand we had was almost a son to us."
"We were devastated when he was killed." Li Jun's wife added.
Li Jun was smiling, but light tears had formed at the corner of his eyes.
Master Liu looked at the couple and nodded in approval.
"Lao Li, if you allow Xiao Chun to stay here, you would be doing a good and kind thing, accumulating virtue of life. But before I can let you do this, I should tell you the truth. You are a pair of good souls and I shouldn't lie to you."
Lao Li's kind eyes blinked back his emotions and he looked at Master Liu like a gambler looks at playing cards. "Do you want to tell me about Xiao Chun's mother?" He asked.
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To be continued....
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