Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fiction Excerpt: Nanowrimo Entry 2006, "The Silk Dragon"

The Silk Dragon: Introduction (Original work,© 2006) 
I wrote this as my Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) Novel in 2006. The goal was 50,000 words in one month.
I ended up with 50,010 words. This is the story.
Granted, it isn't the best story I've written. When I started to run out of steam, I grabbed things in the air and started writing about that. So as you read this, you might find some inside jokes about TV shows, people, and events. (Parents, see if you can find the references to the Wiggles and Blue's Clues. History buffs, see if you can find the famous people in the story. And...well, I'm not going to spill all the secrets. You gotta find them for yourself.)
Someone asked me, "What's up with the yaks?" I dunno. You gotta read it to understand it.
Oh and BTW, creative works are copyrighted by the author (me, Annie) under a Creative License.
Let the story begin!

The Sian Mountains reached up high into the sky, slicing the Heavens into many jagged pieces. In the wintertime, the thick clouds ringed their peaks like an elder’s mustache, with the sparkling rocks underneath smiling like the elder’s wise grin. The fog flowed down the sides of the mountains like a waterfall of sticky rice candy, but instead of warm and sweet, this kind of fog chilled to the bone and tasted like the chillest cotton candy ever. On both sides of the range, the hardy inhabitants went along their normal business. The weather was not unusual for them; now if a yak sprouted wings and flew, they’d consider it strange. If it tapdanced in the middle of the town square, now that was a bit more strange. If it ordered a mug of lalalapa, now that would be worth talking about.

There was a village in every valley of the Sian Mountains, connected by a network of criss-crossing paths. Churro was the southernmost village and enjoyed the mild weather on the leeward side of the Sian. So the winters were not as bad there. Nevertheless, their dome-shaped dwellings made of wood and animal skins reflected the rest of the valley because their inhabitants refused to think they were better than everyone else. They wanted to be accepted, not be out of the ordinary, and not be strange. In other words, no imagination whatsoever.

The only place where such weirdness was tolerated was the equivalent of the town tavern, the yukka. Every night the whole village gathered there for warm drinks. Some preferred the hard alcohol dachou, others the caffeine-laden chaochaou. And there were others who weren’t allowed to drink such sinful concoctions.
Like Sisi. Then again, she didn’t need such drinks to see things. For one, she was allergic to dachao and chaochaou made her nervy. But she saw dragons in the sky and in the night stars. For hours she stared at the clouds over the Sian Mountains, and at the heavens above her village of Churro.

“She’s crazy,” some of the villagers whispered. “There are no such things as dragons. They are children’s stories and the images of the absolutely nutso. She needs help. Why don’t we send her to the Temples and not worry about her weirdness?”

Others admonished them, for Churro didn’t turn anyone away because of what they saw. “She does her work like she’s supposed to, and she bothers no one. So what, if she stares at the clouds and the stars like a madwoman? The Gods have their plans for people like her, and it’s not advisable to bring their wrath upon us.”

So went the rumors. Poor Sisi heard the talk, and decided long ago not to pay them any heed. She smiled at all the villagers and greeted them every morning and night. Her adopted parents ran the yukka, and she spent time sweeping the floors, making the concoctions, cleaning the barf and mud and scrubbing the wooden benches until they gleamed in the firelight. She worked hard, and when she finished long before expected, her adopted mother patted her on the head and said,

“That’s my good girl. You’ve been such a good help. Why don’t you go and take a walk, enjoy the weather, talk with the eagles in the sky and the fish in the streams? After all, the views from the outlooks are beautiful and gladden the soul.”

“Thank you, Foster-Mother,” Sisi said, “I will take your advice.” So she did. And that was how she communed with the land and the river and the sky, and the clouds and the fog that poured down upon the mountains like sticky rice candy.

This morning was like any other morning. Sisi woke up at the sound of the yak and caribou, her senses coming to full wakefulness without hesitation. She sat up in her comfortable cot, buried under warm yak furs and blankets. Her adoptive mother was already up and boiling breakfast over the fire. Tatara looked up from the huge cauldron and smiled at her.

“Bright the day, Little Fire Dragon,” Tatara greeted. Tatara wore a tent-like dress made of sturdy yak wool, dyed in multicolored stripes. Each stripe represented a deity in her pantheon of Deities: red for the Fire Dragon, green for the Earth Dragon, blue for the Water Dragon, and White for the Air Dragon. Over it all she wore a sensible apron of deep purple, spattered with the remains of sauce and oatmeal. (Obviously, Tatara was not native to a conservative podunk like Churro; she came from Akumas, another village deeper within the Sian Mountain Valley, where they were more sophisticated and more creatively-minded).

“Bright the day, Foster-Mother,” Sisi replied, with a bright smile. She shook the long, black hair out of her eyes. “Do you need any help over the fire?”

“No need, Little Fire Dragon. Get yourself dressed, and share breakfast with me. Today marks a very special day.”

“What very special day, Foster-Mother?”

“Today, in my village, it is the Festival of the Great Dragon, and we celebrate it with cakes and wine, with lots of singing and dancing. Since we are not in Akumas, but in Churro, the people just go about their business. But we will celebrate it.”

Sisi clapped her hands in delight. “May I wear my colorful dress, Foster-Mother, with the long caribou-skin boots and the shawl made of gold thread?

“If you can find them in the trunks, my dear. I can’t remember in which one they are.”

Sisi crawled to the clothes trunks in the back of their dome-shaped tent and sorted through them. The colorful dress held every shade in the spectrum, from dark crimson to deep violet, and everything in between. She wriggled into it, only to find that it reached only halfway down her thighs. She had grown much during this past year, but she was determined to wear this special colorful dress on this special day. Sisi frowned for a moment, deep in thought, then she had an idea. In moments, she found a pair of warm yak leggings, dyed maroon, and long underdress dyed the yellow of a spring sun. The effect, when she put on the ensemble, was quite striking; she was a living rainbow that shimmered in the dawn light. She tossed the golden-thread shawl over her shoulders and pulled on the long caribou-skin boots.

“I knew you’d think of a way to wear the dress,” Tatara said in approval. “It is good to think of alternatives, not just the same-old, same-old.”

“I have good teachers, Foster-Mother,” she replied with another bright smile.

Together, Sisi and Tatara ate their breakfast of porridge with dried fruit and a huge mug of yak milk. When they were finished, they banked the fire, put on their cloaks and went out of the tent and into the morning.

In Churro, the early-risers were already hard at their work. Sisi greeted the woodcarver, the yak milkers, the child-minders, and the weavers. The villagers looked upon her bright clothes in disapproval; how dare she look as beautiful as the Sun Goddess herself? Even worse, for them, that warmth radiated from Sisi’s spirit, a genuine warmth that melted the hardest heart. So even while their guts churned with envy and anger, they could only return the greeting with as much politeness as they could muster.

Meng Pao, Sisi’s foster-father and the owner of the yukka, had already began the first batch of chaochaou, laden with caffeine and chaochaou chips, sweet with cream. He turned as the women walked through the flap of the tent. The tips of his long moustache touched the huge vat of the chaochaou, but not in. Warm smoke wreathed his wide, swarthy face and long hair tied back in a pony tail. Meng Pao, like most of the Churro villagers, was short and stout like the yaks they grazed, as opposed to tall and lean, like his wife and foster-daughter.

“Bright the day, my lovelies,” he said, and gave both of them a kiss on the cheek. “This first batch is almost done. We need to get ready for the Festival tonight. The streamers and the banners are all in the trunks under the drink counter. I need the floor swept clean and the mugs washed and the tables scrubbed. Tonight is a very special night.”

“Yes, Papa,” said Sisi and headed for the wash bin as Tatara went to the storage trunks. Like the rest of his people, Meng Pao did not shirk hard work, and did not hesitate to assign tasks to his family members. The difference was that he was not a harsh taskmaster, or an unreasonable one. Tatara had softened his ways, but not eliminated them.

So the morning passed in a hum of activity. The air within the yukka became heavy and sweet with delicious scents and the plain brown walls sported all kinds of banners and fabric chains, streamers and pictures. The mugs gleamed in the open cabinets, and the tables glistened under the light. Tatara sang as they worked, tales from her home village of Akumas, the tale of the Great Dragon, the protector of the Mountains and the Valleys. Sisi never tired of her foster-mother’s soprano voice; if Tatara had been born a man, she probably would have been a Singer or a Shaman.

“The Great Dragon flies on the wind
 Surrounded by His companions.
He calls them by name, one by one:
On, Fire, On Earth, On Spirit, on Water
Come, Air and Come Rainbow, Come Sun and Come Sorrow.
Together they guard, together they sing
As they fly, wing by wing
Ho! Watch them overhead, see how they soar
And Great Dragon the first, he watches them o’er.”
And Sisi and Meng Pao would chant, “Ho! Come guard us, Great Dragon!” at the end of each verse. Sisi timed her broom strokes to the beat of the song, her long caribou-skin boots beating a tattoo on the floor of the tent.

Finally, around noon, all the work was finished, and the yukka was ready for business. Like always, after the noon meal, Tatara ruffled Sisi’s hair and told her, “Go, have a walk in along the paths. Who knows, maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of the Great Dragon himself.”

“Tatara,” Meng Pao growled. His tone was disapproving, but the sparkle in his eyes belied the words. “Don’t put pretty ideas into that pretty little head. If she is to be a Churro, she must pay more attention to the world of reality, and not of dreams.”

“That’s your grandfather talking, not you,” Tatara scoffed good-naturedly and cuffed him lightly on the back of the neck. “Live a little, you stubborn caribou.”

“Yaks would fly.”

“Old bugger.”

“Fair-headed stink-shrew.”

“Yak dung.”

“Caribou crap.”

“Old goat.”

And so Sisi would leave them hurling insults at each other, each one trying to be more inventive than the other. Admittedly, it was rather difficult, Sisi thought, when the only animals were yaks, caribou, goats, stink-shrews and sheep-like dingledongs. Somehow, Meng Pao and Tatara managed to invent new ones out of thin air, much to the dismay of the other villagers, whose level of profanity was, “By the soft fur of my God-loving yak.”

Sisi wrapped her shawls tighter around her, for the North Wind blew through the tight mountain passes. She followed her usual path out of Churros and on the slope of Squibaw Mountain, the shortest peak in the Sian Mountains. A small stream ran down the slope on one side and served as her guidemark. The rocky terrain was pounded flat by the feet of neighboring villagers, but Sisi turned onto a secret path marked by a careful pile of brush. Here was her favorite Lookout, Dragon Pass.

She sat comfortably on a slab of hard granite, hewn in the shape of a small throne and lined with soft fur pillows. Her chest of small scrolls was hidden here, scrolls filled with wondrous stories of other villages and maps of faraway places. Tatara’s father, and grandfather, and great-grandfather, were explorers, or so Tatara had claimed, and mapped the entire circuit of villages in the Sian Mountains. Tatara’s father had come to Churros with a ten-year-old Tatara and had meant to stay only a little while, but had blundered into the yearly Running of the Goats down the Chuchu Gorge. A Churros healer fixed his injuries, and they fell in love (or lust, as the villagers gossiped). The healer adopted Tatara, and had no objection to Tatara visiting Akaras as often as possible. So Tatara was a woman of two villages, two worlds, and Sisi wished she could be the same.

In that same spirit of yearning, she began with a prayer to her personal totem, the Little Fire Dragon, and immediately, she felt her soul and body become warmer, until she could no longer feel the bitter chill. Then she opened her scroll box and pulled out her favorite piece of soft parchment: the map. Sometimes, Sisi could hear it singing in her mind, “I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map...I’m the map!” and send her on a journey, with a magical backpack on her back and a monkey friend by her side.

Of course, she only heard the annoying song in her mind.

This time it didn’t sing, and she heaved a sigh of relief.

The village of Churros was a circle of huts on the left side of the map, with paths stretching out into the valley and beyond. Sisi looked up and mentally tried to match all the landmarks that she could see from the Lookout point with the ones on the map. It was tough work, for the clouds covered and uncovered the valley with regular intervals. But as the days had gone by since she had started, it had gotten easier, and her skills faster.

She looked up again and saw a wisp of silver within the clouds. What is that? She thought, and tried to follow it with her eyes, but whatever it was, it was not visible to normal sight. Sisi gave up and finished her map exercise, then she rolled the map up and stored it away into its place. A rumble filled the valley and shook the Lookout.

Sisi’s eyes snapped upwards as her heart lurched in terror. The one force of nature that struck fear into the hearts of the mountain villagers was a rockslide or an avalanche. Such thing were fairly common in the Sian; the stories were horrifying, as whole villages were swallowed up within the Earth’s wrath.

A wave of rock and debris tumbled down the side of the mountain, headed straight for Churros!

Forward to Chapter Two

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