(A Chinese Mermaid Tale)
Written and illustrated by Linda Yi | Chinese Translations by 竻竻
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Chapter 31– The Dreamweaver
The person in front of Hai had silver hair… or was it a face of shadow and light? Hai saw the figure clear as day, yet he couldn’t seem to remember what they looked like. It was as if Hai’s eyes could only see one feature at a time.
No sooner did Hai’s eyes register one feature to move onto the next, his mind was wiped blank, leaving only the hint of a face. Hai thought they might be smiling…
"Strange boy," they said, voice wrapping around Hai like silk.
"Wonderful boy. What is it you hold?"
Hai’s hand closed protectively around the rose pearl, dimming it’s bright light.
The one called Meng looked at the human boy standing before it. The first of his kind – the first in many lifetimes (if one was to count such things) – to venture into Meng’s realm. Meng regarded it with curiosity.
The boy had broken rules. He had made light, even after Meng had plucked the moon from the sky. In the dream realm, Meng was Queen (and also King). None but Meng could re-weave the strands of all dreams dreamed, none save a fellow immortal, yet this boy had – somehow.
Meng sniffed the air and nodded. Yes, the boy bore a scent which was unmistakingly human. The Dreamweaver smiled a smile which the human boy could not see.
"Strange boy" Meng purred. “Wonderful boy,” she repeated, sliding effortlessly into her female form.
“What is it you hold?”
The Dreamweaver saw apprehension flicker through the boy’s eyes, saw him tighten his grip around what Meng now realized was a large, pink pearl.
"Unburden your heart," Meng told the boy with a light laugh. “I do not desire that heart you hold. I need not its light.” she reached into one of her many pockets and retrieved the moon. With one smooth movement, she returned the orb to the sky. Then, Meng looked straight into Hai’s eyes.
See, Meng commanded, in a voice that was not a voice.
The moon rested once more in a slate colored sky. The land was again awash with pale silver light. Hai found himself looking into the eyes of a tall woman with silver white hair. Had she always looked like this? Hai opened his mouth to speak, but before he could do so, the silver woman plucked the words from his throat.
They sat on the palm of her hand, shimmering and shivering. Meng cocked her head, considering Hai’s words. Hai clutched at his throat, unable to make a sound. Then, Meng opened her mouth wide and swallowed Hai’s words whole. When Meng spoke again, the voice that emerged was Hai’s own.
"I've come to seek help."
Meng touched a pale tongue to her lips, tasting the lingering echoes of Hai’s words. "Indeed you have," she murmured, gaze softening as she looked again at Hai. His mouth was open, stunned and – obviously – silent.
"You see" laughed Meng, " tasting words is the best way to prove sincerity.” She smiled wryly at Hai and gave him a nod. "Ask me for what you seek, boy named after the sea. I will answer if I can." With a snap of her elegant fingers, Meng restored Hai’s voice. And so, Hai told the Dreamweaver all that had come to pass.
When he had finished, Meng looked thoughtful. Then, she nodded. From her silver hair, she plucked a single blossom. Had it always been there? Hai mused. Meng placed the blossom into Hai’s palm. He saw that it was a pale white flower, the same color of the moon, with a soft yellow heart.
"This is a soul blossom,” Meng said to Hai. “Mei will need it if she is to return to you. However, you cannot take one in bloom from here. Should you try, its petals shall crumble to dust – for it is not of your realm.”
“However,” Meng continued, “the pearl you wear around your neck will allow you to take a single seed back to your land. Whether or not the soul blossom blooms will depend on you.”
With those words, Meng placed a hand on Hai’s chest and gave a firm push. The ground beneath Hai gave way and he fell, backwards, hands cupped around a white and yellow blossom.
Chapter 32– Soul Blossom
Hai’s eyes blinked open to find that he was back in his cottage. How long had he been asleep? There had been... someone. Someone in black, with silver hair. She - or was it he? - had given him something, something for Mei. It was still night, for the moon hung – ever bright – in the sky.
Sitting up, Hai looked down to see that, in his right hand, he was holding a seed: a tiny thing, black and round. Then, Hai felt a stinging pain in his left palm. Opening his left hand, Hai saw the following words carved – in thin red lines – into his flesh:
Bury me under moonlight,
water me with dew.
Nourish me with proof,
of a heart beating true.
Hai rubbed the remainder of sleep from his eyes. He swung his legs out of bed and padded across the floor and through door, footsteps soft as night. Choosing a spot right by his little cottage, Hai dug a hole in the damp soil. Gently, Hai placed the seed he carried into the hole he’d just dug, covering it again with handfuls of rich earth.
Hai straightened and gazed at his work. The earth was hardly disturbed (the hole had been small). With the sharp edge of a stone, Hai scratched a mark on the wall of the cottage, to indicate the spot where he had planted the seed. Then, Hai walked to a nearby tree, taking from it one waxy leaf. He rolled the leaf into a makeshift cone and then sat down with his back to the trunk. The sky was still dark. Hai gazed at the moon and waited for dawn.
Dawn came with rolling mist as her train. The mist draped its soft folds around each leaf and each blade of grass. Hai watched the mist come, watched as the sky began to wake: first a pale cool blue, then tinged with orange and pink. With the leaf cup he had made, Hai spent his morning collecting dew.
A droplet here, a few leaves shaken there, and a couple droplets more.
The sun was now pale and yellow in the sky. Sweat streamed down Hai’s temples as he worked. He nearly had a full cup of dew now. Gingerly, he carried the water back to his cottage, steps slow and measured.
Hai knelt to the ground, trickling the dew water down onto the patch of soil where the soul blossom's seed lay buried.
Drink, he whispered.
Chapter 33– Dew Drops
Each day, before dawn herself awoke, Hai had risen – ready to collect the morning’s dew.
dawn he rose - collecting dew drop by dew drop.
On her way to bed each night, the moon bid Hai goodbye, smiling quietly down at the boy in love. She smiled at him in her fullness and smiled as she gradually waned. It was when the moon once again grew round and silver that it happened:
A lone green shoot emerged, peeking shyly from the soil.
So dawn after,
dawn Hai continued to rise –
- now to pour his carefully collected dew drops onto leaves and roots. And day by day, the seedling grew. It grew towards the warm rays of sunshine; grew under the tender care of a heart in love. The seedling grew from shoots into vines – and those vines climbed and climbed, sprouting wide waxy leaves that shone jade under moonlight.
Yes, the vines of the soul blossom grew stronger, day by day. Yet as the many days passed, no blossom of white with a center of gold appeared. Still, Hai continued to rise at the first note of dawn, collecting dewdrops for the seedling against a half-awake sky.
Chapter 34– Proof
One particular afternoon, Hai was shucking oysters the size of his palm. His skillful hands made quick work of the task, aided by his trusty knife. As Hai worked, he thought of the last meal he and Mei had shared – sweet oyster meat on fragrant rice, a meal he had barely touched… Ai-yah! A sharp sting of pain pulled Hai from his reverie.
The fleshy part of his index finger had caught against the sharp edge of a broken shell. He pulled his hand back and observed the cut. It was shallow and looked worse than it felt, although a trickle of red had already begun to flow from the wound. Tearing a strip of fabric from his tunic, Hai bandaged his cut and resumed his shucking. There were only a few oysters left.
That evening, Hai walked back from the market. His way back to the cottage was lit by the moon. Her pale light dusted the leaves of the soul blossom vines a queer shade of lavender. The color was so peculiar that Hai reached out to touch a leaf, as if the color might pass to his fingertips. The strip of tunic which he had used to bandage his cut finger had long since fallen away. The cut had reopened, and as Hai touched the leaf, a dark red smear stained the leaf's surface.
A wisp of cloud passed over the crescent moon. Shadows fell. When silver light bathed the seedling once more, the crimson stain had disappeared. Hai stared. Slowly, with the tip of his bleeding finger, he touched another leaf. A droplet of blood shone dark red under moonlight before vanishing – as if swallowed by the plant.
Bury me under moonlight,
water me with dew.
Nourish me with proof,
of a heart beating true.
The pearl around Hai’s neck pulsed against his chest. Proof of a heart beating true? Life's very force which flows through us all… Which flows through me. Hai looked again at the spidering vines which had climbed the walls of the cottage. For the third and final time, hepressed his cut finger to the leaf. For the third and final time, the soul blossom vines accepted his offering.
The wind rustled the leaves of the vines. "Sleep" they seemed to whisper. Hai heard. And he slept.
Story Video (with bonus drawing process! )