Short Stories

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In a place long ago and a time far away, there was a little girl named Zhang Li. She was a rowdy and very undisciplined child. She terrorized the boys in her school by brandishing sharp pencils. She bullied and picked on smaller boys and girls alike. If she had been in England, she would have been referred to as a tomboy, but this story takes place no-where near England. Her aggressive nature should not be misleading. It was not that she was mean or that she was evil. It was simply that she had a fiery temper and would let no one bully her around. She was the smartest child in her rural village. When the Emperor’s Minister of Education visited her school, and gave her and her fellow students the Standards Test, it was found that she was among the smartest in all the land. Of course her mighty intelligence sometimes forgot where it was when she was engaged in eating mud pies in her grandmother’s yard. Those mud pies did little to improve her digestive powers either. As she grew from girl to young woman, her fiery demeanor diminished. The boys grew too big for her to beat up, and eventually children outgrow such noble pastimes in favor of other pursuits. Namely the pursuit of each other. In these games of boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, Zhang Li was not an active player. Great thick glasses rested on her button nose and her hair was cut a little too short perhaps. Her mother believed that short hair required less shampoo to wash. As shampoo was expensive and the family poor, Zhang Li had to be satisfied with short hair when all the other girls let their grow enticingly to their waists. Zhang Li’s family being poorer than others, on account of many reasons not her fault at all, Zhang Li was forced to wear clothes that were not flattering or expensive. In short, and she was that as well, Zhang Li did not make a stunning impression on the other young people of the village. She enjoyed physical sports and spoke her mind. These too discouraged boys who preferred more traditional girls instead. Sadly, Zhang Li retreated into the village background, turning to her studies to keep her occupied. A few years later the village was approached by a stranger. He was a handsome looking fellow, riding a tall horse with a sable coat, bearing a friendly smile, with the looks of good manners and wealth. He was a young lord. When he rode up to the village everyone rushed out to greet this stranger. “Good day.” He greeted them in a solid and trustworthy voice. “Is this the village called North Village?” The villagers all chorused that yes, it was. “Excellent. I have come to build a castle and make this place my home. By order of the emperor, I am your new lord.” The villagers took this news with mixed feelings. The old lord had died the winter before last of a bad heart. His castle had been no more than a big mud and log hut on a hill. The old man had been a miser and had tried to take his every penny with him to the grave. The old lord had done little to enhance the stature of this part of the countryside, but he had kept the bandits away with his men. Fending for themselves, the villagers enjoyed freedom from taxes and laws, left to govern themselves, but at the same time the bandits were returning and the village had all but disappeared from the map. The villagers gazed up at the confident young lord with rugged good looks and an air of success. Surely he was a man who would restore the honor and esteem of their part of the country, and would stave off all the bandits as well. So that night, the village headman feasted the young lord and all the villagers praised him and lauded him, and did their best to make him merry. He was good natured and kind and enjoyed the company. His stallion cantered off into the corral and enjoyed all the fillies had to offer. When the headman noticed the lord’s eyes always wandering, he asked, “Please, good sir, are you looking for something?” “Actually I’m looking for a woman. I have not yet taken a wife.” The old headman, father of sixteen daughters, was puzzled. “But surely, lord, you will have a noble wife of high birth. There are none of those here.” “I care nothing for bloodlines and circumstance. I have all the money and luxury I want. What I want is a woman of substance, of brains, of wit, of laughter, and beauty. A woman who is a better woman than any other.” At these comments, of which every eligible woman in the village heard distinctly, even some of the married ones, caused a stir, and more than a few hurried thoughts on divorce. Suddenly there were comely legs and flashes of bosom everywhere. Smiles burst around the young lord like fireworks. His was mightily pleased and courteously met each and every lady. Even an old crone, long since withered and widowed, but who had four grandchildren to feed. The night passed away as the lord caroused and laughed and met everyone. The next day at lunch he announced to the headman that in ten days time he would have a competition to decide the most virtuous girl in the village. The winner would become his wife. The headman considered this, considered that he had sixteen eligible daughters and his odds in the contest to acquire a rich son-in-law would be good, and congratulated the young lord on a fine idea. Before he could hold the contest, the young lord decided he must survey his new lands first. He must choose a place for his castle, he must visit the three much smaller villages under his […]

Ice cold winds beat brutally against the cabin door. Snow from the blizzard piled against the outside walls like ash, the landscape a barren wasteland to his eyes, the cabin an empty shell. Everything was meaningless. The only life that remained lay behind him on the small wooden bed, swathed in sweat-soaked sheets, panting weakly, threatening to expire as well. Her eyes, sunken deeply into their sockets were closed. They had been for two months now, for once the fever had taken hold, it had quickly devastated her. Once a ravishing beauty, he had carried her around on his arm with such pride and love his heart seemed ready to burst at any moment. She had possessed a full, buxom figure, her cheeks perpetually blooming with a healthy glow, her limbs strong and brimming with energy, skin the purest cream. Her shimmering blond hair cascaded past her shoulders, sending other women into apoplectic fits of jealousy when she tossed it in the summer sunshine. Now all that was gone. Her body lay shrunken and twisted, the fever having consumed nearly all of her fat and muscle tissue, leaving only brittle bones behind. Her hair had turned wispy and grey, snapping like straw when the illness caused her head to roll wildly. Once plush lips were cracked and covered in dried blood. Standing next to her now, he felt his heart torn at the sight of her. Not for the loss of her beauty, but for the loss of her health, her vivacity, her spirit. She slid inexorably towards the cold gates of death, her progress slowed by his constant attention, but never stopped completely He poured warm soup into her mouth, massaging her throat to make her swallow. He massaged her limbs and body to encourage blood to flow. He meticulously washed and cleaned her three times a day, removing the toxins and filth expunged by her systems. It slowed death but could not seem to prevent it and that was destroying him inside. Never once did he shirk from his tasks, never once did he wince at her and think how ugly she had become. Rather, he still saw her beauty, his love still beat strong, however tainted with sorrow it had become. He loved the woman more than life itself. He only wished she would come back to him, shake off the claws of disease that were certain to take her from him. Since the moment she had taken ill, he had not left her side, leaving off work, family, everything. There was only her. Suddenly he snapped. The bowl of hot soup he held in his hands shattered to pieces against the far wall and he dropped to the bedside, screaming at her. “Stop it! Stop dying on me! You can’t leave me when I love you this much! Fight it! Fight this god damned darkness. I love you! Do you understand me? I love you! Come back to me, dammit. Come back, show me your smile again, let me hear you laugh.” Tears came now, pouring freely down his cheeks. “I won’t let you leave me. Do you understand? You’re not allowed to go! Fight the beast. Fight it! Do you hear me?” He pounded his fist into the bedside, causing the whole frame to shake violently. “Dammit, my love, if you don’t then I swear by god the moment you go I’m coming after you. Do you hear me? You go, we go!” His voice broke off, choked by a sob, and his whole body shook with a combination of anger and loss, his face gleaming wetly. Hope despaired within him, sorrow threatened to overcome him, he could feel his very soul turned grey as the ashes in the fireplace. Something deep within her changed then. It was as if a spark appeared within the darkness, far away and tiny to be sure, but that little mote of light burned with determination. He froze as a moan trickled ever so faintly from her lips. So faintly he was sure he had imagined it. Then her hand moved, just a fraction of an inch, and touched his own. He kneeled, staring at her bony extremities for long moments, then raised his eyes to her face. She had returned to her previous comatose state, but he sensed something different, something alive. Urgently he bolted to the kitchen, filled another bowl with soup from the stove, and rushed back to her side. Murmuring words of encouragement just as he always did, but this time sure she could hear him, he fed her. The soup slid between her broken lips, and as his fingers worked, it made its way to her stomach, giving her body much needed fuel. Unlike the previous two months, however, it seemed as if the soup actually began to have an effect. Over the next two weeks her body finally seemed to respond to it, feeding off of the soup instead of itself. Slowly but steadily, he watched as his darling wife retreated from death’s domain, stepped back from the brink of disaster and began to turn around. Hope renewed itself in his breast as life once again appeared in her spirit. Now when he sat long hours beside her, gazing always at her face, he had reason to believe one day she would again look back * She struggled slowly through the dark morass. She pushed her arms ahead of her and clawed and tugged at the pitch black nothingness that clung to her, that impeded her way. Somewhere ahead of her she heard a voice. She didn’t know what it said, she didn’t really know who it was, but something inside her knew she had to reach it again, and nothing could stop her. Nothing else mattered but that voice. Gradually the voice became louder, though its words were still incoherent. It rang of hope, of excitement, yet she was sure that sorrow ran deep within it. She shook off the darkness, despising […]