Once there was an elderly widow, Chen Ma, who lived with her only son inside a forest in the Shanxi Province. Her son was one of the tiger hunters licensed by the local magistrate, following the same profession of his father and grandfather before him. His share of the profits from the sale of tiger skins, meat and bones was sufficient to keep the small mud hut well provisioned for himself and his old mother.
All was well until a particularly bitter winter. During a snowstorm, Chen Ma's son was separated from his fellow hunters and became food for a hungry tigress.
After her initial shock and grief subsided, Chen Ma took stock of her own utterly desperate situation -- an old woman left all alone. She went and implored the magistrate to provide her with compensation for the loss of her son, who was her only source of support. The magistrate decreed that henceforth, she would have a small share of profits from the kill of each tiger by the hunters. Needless to say, his decision was not taken well by the hunters, who had plenty of mouths of their own to feed -- both old and young.
So, when the hunters succeeded in killing the tigress that ate Chen Ma's son, they decided not to give her a share of the profits. Instead, they brought her the tigress' newborn cub. He was a small quivery ball of golden fur with wobbly legs and toothless gums. The rope they tied around his neck was so tight that it was practically choking him. Instantly, Chen Ma's heart went out to this helpless creature, whose jade-green eyes were glistening with tears.
After the hunters left, the tiger cub wobbled to where Chen Ma sat and lay at her feet. She bent down to rub his ears and he licked her shoes with his soft tongue.
The elderly widow looked at the tiger baby and sighed. "They told me to butcher you, to salt and smoke your flesh for my meat supply. Your skin would make warm boots for my feet; your bones are good for making Tiger Bone Wine to ease the pain in my joints. But oh, how can I bear to kill you? You are so young and vital, while I am so old and frail."
And so, Chen Ma untied the rope from the little tiger's neck and fed him a paste of cooked roots with her fingers. Her son had a good supply of grains and roots in the attached shed and she planned to stretch the food out to last the winter.
When the store of the firewood was running low, Chen Ma was unable to keep her bedroll on top of the kang warm (a kang is a bed base built of bricks with space for a small fire). So she slept curling against the baby tiger, whose soft fur was cozy and warm.
Once ever so often, women from nearby villages would bring sewing for Chen Ma to do. She was very handy with a needle. They paid her for her labor with dried venison and small sacks of grain. At first they did not find the little tiger's presence alarming; he was no bigger than a piglet. However, when spring came, he had grown into the size of a calf, showing a full set of teeth and claws. The women told their hunter husbands and the men came to kill the young tiger.
Chen Ma armed herself with her son's hunting spear and threatened to gut anyone who dared to harm her beloved pet.
"I've lost both husband and son. This tiger is the only companion I have now. I shall go to the magistrate and request to adopt him as my son."
The hunters thought the old woman had become mad and jeered at her. But since she was so determined, they dared not kill her tiger without the magistrate's permission. So they followed Chen Ma and her tiger all the way to the official's judgment hall.
"Venerable Mother," said the magistrate. "Your request is most unusual. Are you not afraid that some day the tiger might revert to his wild nature and devour you?"
"Honorable sir," replied the old widow with tears in her eyes. "What is there to fear? I have lived too long. The only worry I have now is being left utterly alone. Please let me adopt this young tiger, for he has become like a son in my affections."
The kindly magistrate did not have the heart to refuse such an ancient woman's pleading. So he had his assistant draw up a document for the tiger's adoption.
In order to protect the tiger from the hunters' arrows and spears, the magistrate ordered a large copper pendent made to hang around the beast's neck. The words "Fu Chee" were engraved on the pendent meaning Tiger Son. To show her deep gratitude, Chen Ma knelt down in front of the magistrate and knocked her forehead three times. Then she led Fu Chee back to their home in the forest.
By next winter, Fu Chee had grown into his maximum size. Chen Ma's hut was in danger of collapsing whenever the tiger became playful. Reluctantly, she allowed Fu Chee to make his home inside a cave nearby.
However, the affectionate tiger came back to visit his adopted mother often, always bearing a gift in his mouth -- a dead deer or a large piece of tree branch. Also, he still liked to lick her shoes and to have his ears rubbed. Chen Ma's needs were being cared for just as if her natural son was still alive!
After Chen Ma died at the ripe old age past one hundred, the hunters noticed Fu Chee guarded her tomb nightly. They left him unmolested as he had never attacked any humans or domestic animals. This went on for a number of years and then one day the tiger was seen no more.
Out of deep respect and admiration for the filial tiger son, the hunters erected a small stone monument at Chen Ma's tomb with Fu Chee's story engraved on it. Henceforth, Fu Chee became a household legend in that part of Shanxi Province.
~ ~ The End ~ ~ [more][Less]
By Susan Willingham
The girl didn’t know how she got there, but it seemed as though she had been with them her entire life. She had suddenly found herself living with a family where the people were made of crystals. They had the form of a normal flesh and blood person, but there were tiny, gleaming jewels of different colors making up their eyes, lips, hair, and skin. They looked like crystal dolls. The entire family was outwardly beautiful, each part of their perfect bodies sparkling with colorful clarity. The mother had black hair, each strand consisting of tiny gems of shimmering blue-black onyx. Her eyes were of a brilliant sapphire, emblazoned with a radiant light, so brilliant that it was impossible to look at them for more than a few seconds at a time. Her lips consisted of jewels of ruby, like fiery embers of red, that flashed and moved when she spoke. Her teeth were a perfect glimmering white. When she moved, every minute gem of her body appeared to move singularly in a synchronized form. The rest of the family…father, son, and daughter, had the same likeness of appearance. The only difference was that the men were not as spectacular as the radiant women. Even the family dog was dazzling, with a beautiful coat of shining gold that moved with a fluid grace.
Another surprising thing was that their bizarre behavior did not seem to affect the rest of the town. The citizens of this ordinary town actually appeared not to notice their abnormality. The Crystal family interacted with others as if they were just everyday people. They had jobs and went to school like everyone else.
The girl observed the exquisite family closely while she was in their midst. Even though they appeared to have thoughts, feelings, and emotions of happy, rational human beings, there was something different about them besides their appearance that she could only discern after a period of close observation. Their beauty was deceptive. Their smiles and laughter were too quick, too bright, too fake. There was some internal struggle, like a cancer eating away at their insides, consuming them, while they were frantically trying to ignore it. Their jeweled smiles hid their pain and they had beauty to cover their weaknesses. This family’s performance was convincing. The whole town was convinced. And maybe if the whole town believed the façade, they would believe it, too. But at times, when the girl looked closely, she could detect what appeared to be tears glistening behind their beautifully jeweled eyes. She wondered if they fell apart when no one was watching. Maybe they would let her in on their dark secret, their hidden torture, and she could help them somehow. But the farce was too deep, too hidden. They would only deny that anything at all was wrong. They were living among the dead.
They accepted the girl as if she were one of them, as if she had always been one of them - like maybe she had been born into their family, or that she was made of the same things as they were. She marveled at this and wondered why they welcomed her and why she felt so comfortable with them. Suddenly, with an awakening that struck here like a lightening bolt, she knew. She knew only too well. The girl had been drawn to them because she was becoming like them. She began to remember where she had come from. She saw herself running… running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction and searching for someone, something to save her from the chains that are holding her prisoner. She hoped someone would hear her crying and carry her away, perhaps a prince charming that would step in and save her life. She was running from the ugliness in her life that had instilled itself into her heart, making it cold and hard. She had a cesspool inside, just like the Crystal family, and if she didn’t clean it out and allow herself to be filled with “something good and wonderful”, she would become like them. Instead of a beautiful diamond heart that matched their jeweled outside, this picture perfect family carried around a hard black piece of coal. The girl could begin to feel her own heart freezing.
It was a slow fade, so slow that the girl didn’t realize that her life was anything but okay. It started when she was a child; it probably started before she was even born. The life was all she knew and she thought everyone else’s life was the same. She thought that it was normal to live in a family where the father drank himself into a stupor every night. She thought it natural that her father would beat her mother until she cried out in hushed whimpers. She was remembering it all now, the past crashing in on her like a tidal wave, knocking her to her knees. She was dredging up memories of the abuse, the drunkenness, the fear. Suddenly the girl was back in her childhood, hiding under the porch all alone with her demons, clutching the puppies that her pet Evie had given birth to recently. She stroked and consoled them as if they, too, felt the dread of the fight above them and were also dismayed at what the future held for them.
The girl was heaving with the burden of shame she had carried since she was a child. She continued to carry that shame as she grew into her teens and began to realize how sick her family and her life were. She felt beneath her classmates and friends, and believed that if they really knew her and knew what her life was like, they wouldn’t like her at all. She was rejected by the “popular” kids because she wore old clothes and lived in an ugly house, and everyone in the small town knew about her father. Soon she found drugs, and in the first instance she tried them, she felt complete. She felt powerful, in control, beautiful, rich, everything that she was not. The drug crowd accepted her. They didn’t seem to care where she lived, what she wore, or that she had a father that was an alcoholic. They had the same problems as she did, and some worse. Even though the drugs worked for her for a while, they eventually became ineffective in covering her pain. The girl found herself searching for something else, anything to make her feel okay. She tried it all and nothing worked. That is when her heart began to harden and she put a wall up to keep out the hurt and shame.
The next thing the girl knew she found herself living with these beautiful people make of crystals. She had to leave them. She had to find the answer for her life, and the answer was not in beauty and riches. She had to find “Something Good and Wonderful.” She dropped to her knees in anguish. It was there that she found the answer. She would take back her life from the demons that had snatched it since she was small. She would take back her identity, her heart, and her soul. She would find out who she was and what her values were. She would no longer believe the lies of her past, the lies of the devil…that she was no good. She would no longer live with shame and with the misery of jumping from place to place, relationship to relationship to find happiness. The “Something Good and Wonderful” spoke to the girl and said “Do you want to be free? Lift your arms. I have the keys for the chains that bind you.” She was free! She would go back to the Crystal family one last time to tell them the good news.
When the girl went to them, she saw that they had gotten worse. Their appearance was even more perfect and beautiful than she had remembered. They were trying harder to delude themselves. She confronted the mother and told her about the “Something Good and Wonderful.” The beautiful woman slowly shook her head, her hair flashing with the motion, her ruby lips trembling. Her amazing cerulean eyes began misting with a slow agony. They gazed at each other for what seemed like eternity. Slowly the girl could see the woman’s flawless body begin to melt, her lovely features fading away. The colorful crystals ran together into a dripping twinkling wax. The onyx of her hair blended with the blue of her eyes and with the red of her lips, creating a merging color of sparkles, shimmering into a pool on the floor beneath her. The girl stared at the glittering substance on the floor in front of her and gravely watched as it changed into a colorless powder. Sorrowfully, she scooped the powder into the palm of her hand and softly blew, scattering it into a mist of a million tiny pieces. [more][Less]