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Posts Tagged ‘ghost story’

The Man Who Sold Ghosts

When Sung Tingpo of Nanyang was a young man, he was walking one night and he came across a ghost. He asked him who he was and he said he was a ghost.
The ghost in turn asked who he was. Tingpo lied that he was also a ghost. The ghost asked him where he was going and he said,’I am going to Wanshih town.”
“Ah I am also going there.” said the ghost and he said ‘Come we shall go together.’ They went along for a while. After covering a mile the ghost said it was stupid of them to both walk when they could carry one another in turn. The ghost carried Tingpo for a mile and he put him down with a racking cough. ‘You are too heavy for a ghost.’ complained the ghost. Tingpo excused himself he was a new ghost so he was bound to weigh heavier. Tingpo offered to carry him next which he could do with ease since he was a ghost. Thus they walked each carrying the other in turn and Tingpo asked what made him most afraid of. The ghost answered,’Human saliva.’ Thus chatting away they went on till they reached a stream. Tingpo let the ghost go ahead and observed he made no noise at all. While he waded across the stream splashing. The ghost asked why he was making all that noise. Tingpo explained that he was a new ghost and he couldn’t quite manage a stream as he could.
They walked on as before carrying each other in turn. In the end they came at the outskirts of a town. The ghost turned himself into a goat. Tingpo spat on the goat and it could not change back into a ghost. Tingpo found a piece of rope to tie the goat. He sold it for fifteen hundred cash and went home.
Since then there is a saying by Shih Ts’ung ‘Tingpo sold a ghost for fifteen hundred cash’.
(From Soushenchi, Fourth Century)
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(Wang and Lung are identical twins and they live in a village by name Sheng. On New Years eve they set out to Po-Yen, meaning thousand patience. Po-yen is situated in the Fuchin Jiang valley in the province of Chechiang.  This extract describes what happened to them in course of a day.)

Chapter-1

A Left Handed Fox- Spirit

On the last day of 1587 Wang and Lung left the house early since they wanted to see the town preparing itself for the coming festivities. The night before Blia the cook had made moon cakes from rice flour, pork fat and sugar. While the woman kneaded the flour and white fat into cakes and garnished with haws and dried green plums the servants had hung up paper lanterns and tallow candles here and there to give the house a new look. The cakes were really delicious but the twins were preoccupied.

Before the house was astir they had got out. Wang was certain that day was unlike any other and had made sure Lung fell in with his grand design. “What that be,” Lung asked as they catfooted to the gate.” The end of the year is when we begin our plan.” Wang whispered rather mysteriously. That only made Lung more nervous since Wang was the one who made all the plans and he was the one who without any exception ended as the fall guy. It was not that he was dull or slow on the uptake. They were identical as two peas in a pod; their harmony, as their tutor was not tired in telling, was that of two chopsticks. Wang could not have pulled off his pranks without Lung who was all for order. He always returned what props his brother filched from here and there. Wang always thrived in confusion. If Wang did a vanishing trick it fell to Lung be present when the victim came to his senses. Lung of course got hit each time. He had been told by many that he served as a sitting duck while his brother got off lightly. “May be,” Lung could shrug off, “One has to give and another take it. Life is a matter of give and take as my tutor would say.” Lung believed it wholeheartedly.

Still that morning he had to brace himself. Wang felt some uneasiness as his brother but for different reasons. The cold wind and dead silence of the village where houses in silhouette partly obscured by thick mists was eery enough but to him the occasion seemed not right. What if? He had to think of the honor of the House of Chu K’wang. The filial piety by which every House was judged needed to be upheld. Their mother had taken to bed and it looked all the more likely that her end was near. It was touch and go, like so many other times. ‘But what if our dear mother died and we were not around?’ It was a dishonor that was bound to dog them rest of their life. Instantly Lung put out his hand as though he had same thoughts and said, “ Pray that mother will pull through.” Instead of Wang he bumped against a muffled figure and was thrown backwards. There was a strange apparition that was recklessly venturing out from opposite direction. He was tall and Lung could only catch a glimpse of his face that to his horror was a death mask. “He is a ghost!” Lung exclaimed. It amazed him that he could be knocked down by so light as a feather. The stranger having knocked him down glided right through the hedge as if he did not intend any harm to him or to that hedge. “He is indeed a ghost!” his hairs stood on end. Next moment he heard a voice from far off but distinctly saying,“ Chuan sent me!” “What on earth..” Lung exclaimed as he picked himself up.

The sound of falling brought Wang quickly to his side. Lung said, “Funny the voice said, Chuan sent me!” “Chuan!” Wang whistled. The name seemed to ring a bell. And nothing more. Wang said,” All I can think of is our poor father.” Lung looked at him with concern, “It is our mother whom we need to take care of.” Lung felt all the more nervous to move on. He excused his lack of enthusiasm. ”Brother, we just had a strange encounter. It is a sign. A word of caution. We ought to listen to it.” “What did it tell you?” “Go home.” Wang persuaded him not to give in to his nerves. Lung thought Wang perhaps was right. They walked on.

Wang said in sotto voce, “Chuan, where have I heard the name?” He was uneasy but quickly got it out his mind. Before Wang and Lung could see the town from far Lung was amazed to see his brother stopping dead on his tracks. He also stopped. He was staring at him just as he, hit by the same thought. “Chuan,” they blurted out in unison. “Chuan!” Wang said a trifle too loud, ”You know him don’t you?” “Yes, I know” Lung replied. Wang let out a shout. ”That fellow who knocked you down,” he said with a laugh, “That was a phantom, and a good sort too.”

“How can you be sure brother?” “I know now. ”Wang said assuredly,” We know Chuan cannot mean bad to us?” Lung nodded.

”Six years ago remember the time our father died?” Slowly Lung’s face became pale and color of his eyes darkened, to recollect their loss. “Oh yes!” They could place the name and that sad occasion which had first dealt its nasty cut to their happiness. The same Chuan who appeared mysteriously from his village around the time their father died six years ago. They remembered that day with clarity. The twins believed since then that Chuan will reappear if anything were to happen to their mother.

Lung felt a tug at his heartstrings for he knew his mother survived his father but lived in a coma as it were. “It is a call from the grave,” as Aunt Thousand Fragrances one evening cautioned their grand uncle lugubriously. They had overheard it and had since then deeply impressed into their sensitive hearts. ‘What if she died?’ If she were to die it was their duty to be present. Wang as if he read his inner thoughts said, “Mother will pull through for a time being.” Lung knew. Wang also was certain. She would only die after Chuan had come second time. Just as he had mysteriously come some six years ago to announce that he had lost a brother. No one saw him after he silently glided past the house all of a sudden.

Chuan. He was the one who could put to rest every strange sensation that made them restless and get into scrapes one after another. “So we have been forewarned, brother,” they said upbeat. “Mother is in no danger.” It was if the encounter gave them license to enjoy their jaunt. They were also sure Chuan would come second time. Surely he must hold some powers if he could come as if by premonition six years ago. Chuan would come. That was like a pick-me-up and they briskly moved on.

The brothers were already on the highway that led them to the archway indicating the town limit. The stone pillars with bas-relief of demons alternating with strange symbols and characters weather worn, were frightful. Wang and Lung quickly ran past. They lost themselves in the thick of clamor that was steadily on the rise.

2.

If the identical twins were waiting for the appearance of Chuan who they believed held the key to such mystery as death, no less anxious was Ashu. In another part of the town he was biding his time for a bitter man to die. It looked as if it would happen any moment. Ashu as the name implied was a rat, an ill omen. From childhood his basic traits had made him stand out. Scrawny and ungainly he did not present a pleasant form; inquisitive and secretive at the same time he put off his playmates. Whenever he joined them something untoward was sure to happen. A few who had a winning hand lost for no explicable reason. If they wrestled, his sudden appearance was a signal: one may accidentally get a poke in the eye if not pull a tendon that hurt the victim badly for a week or two. He fouled up the normal life that his playfellows in the village thought he was ‘A blasted boil walking on two legs.’

At home he was no different. His foster-father, an old sandal maker had enough of him and one day washed his hands off him. At the age of 15 the boy took to the street. Before long Ashu went to the Tryst. There lived at that time K’an P’i, the sorcerer whom the townspeople dreaded most. They thought he was the resident evil, the left handed fox-spirit whom Mi Fu the Crazy One had set up for evil purposes. Ashu had nothing by way of experience to offer; but he had guts to call on one from whom every other shrank from. The sorcerer must have felt in his scarecrow looks, a congenial spirit. He took him in his service: it was three years ago and he was still an apprentice.

On the last day of the year. Ashu waited greedily to be on hand for the master to breathe his last. He was alone.

Whenever other magicians sent their messengers weeks earlier to enquire of his master’s health the apprentice had put them off. To a few who were persistent he pointed the nearest inn where they could lodge till his master was ready to look them up. “Oh he shall get around to that,” he had assured them. It was a lie of course. From the day Ashu was taken into the service of K’an P’I inexplicably an overweening ambition seized him. Perhaps the spirit of the left handed fox-spirit stirred him up. Nothing else could explain at the way he changed. Three years it took him to cancel out whatever he had by way of native intelligence or to learn useful trade in order to eke out a living. Oh no, K’an P’I’s unassailable power had turned his head. He lied through his teeth to have the dying sorcerer to himself. Three years only he needed for his ambition to bear fruit, almost. The master wasn’t in a hurry to die.

Since Ashu plays a great role in this story let me sketch out his life under the roof of The Tryst. On the second day since Ashu entered the service his master handed him a pail of water and a mop to clean up the place. He had settled on a name that he came across by chance. His name shall be Hsiangyuan, (“Too good to be true!” he said to himself.) He set great significance to coincidences that were pointers to guide him along. His master was too good a chance to let go. The first year he did menial tasks at which his master observed that dust never left the ground while his broom made magical signs over and over again. He took it as a compliment. Next year he was given the task of carrying equipments and books, which the master needed for his practice. His master held every night of the new moon a coven to which each member came in masks and went through secret rites. While they made themselves merry the apprentice broke the cardinal rule of the house: he spied on them. He could not let go of his role model. As far as he could go he dogged his every move.

He put up with every insult and punishment in order to be close to his master. In the process he found how to beat him. (It did not come to him from books on magic that was strictly forbidden for him to look into.) It was dust that made his master most angry. He had a pathological hatred to dust, Ashu discovered. If salt in his rice made the master screw up his face the apprentice freely used salt in his main course and dessert as well. Of course he used the matter of dust to harass him. Every day. The master would sometimes in the middle of séance lose the thread of concentration when his eye caught dirt at some obscure corner or a cobweb making inroads along his parchments. He began to feel a certain thrill to see his master on such occasions and knew that he was gaining power on him. While the rest had their eyes closed, repeating usual spells to aid him in his foray into the spirit world he gloated that he rattled his master. By the third year the master began showing an erratic streak. He wanted to get rid of his apprentice but could not think of a way to break his oath. On one occasion the apprentice with tears in his eyes, over the mess he had made of his master’s library, said, ”I deserve nothing. Send me away,” After blubbering like a neurotic fish while he let froth from corner of his mouth, he would add,” I can only think of that oath by which you took me under your roof. The more I think of it, master it can only mean one thing. I deserve your utmost contempt.” The master tried to hit him till his hands hurt and soon he would get tired of it. The moment his master retreated he became normal. That froth was nothing; his tears were as sham as his sense of unworthiness. Since then so often the same drama was played in more or less over the same reason. By the third year Ashu knew that he was winning the war of nerves. When K’an P’i was at last hit by stroke Ashu put the next part of his plan. He wanted the spirit of the master for himself. He considered it a stroke of good fortune the day he came across his black book. The Book of Changes was the manual in Black Art: its pages were written in a script that only sorcerers could make sense. He could not have read it but he knew possessing the book made the succession of rights legitimate. He avidly held the book in his hands and savored the contents. On the flyleaf he could see a blob of man’s blood, ominous and also revolting, with five circles showing his level of proficiency: he was a left-handed fox-spirit! It was written in one character Kuo! Hsiangyuan stared at it till he thought he was staring at his own name. Kuo! Kuo meant far out. He was about to be like his master! ‘K’an P’I is dead! Long live K’an P’I,’ he mused, ‘a matter of days?’ A new zeal over came over him. Ashu spirited away the book with its case to another place where he knew he could get any time he needed it. The book was kept in a satchel fashioned out of skin that was shriveled and it didn’t arouse any curiosity. From the fact it was so cunningly hidden away in the most unlikely place gave him a clue. Among items that established a left handed fox-spirit it came only number two in importance. All he needed was to collect the last breath, Chi of his master. It is thus we leave for a moment Ashu the rat leaning over a dying man, to see what at that precise moment went on outside.

3.

Wang and Lung had come into the town and they flitted from one place to another watching how the townspeople got on with the New Year festivities. Wang had his constant companion, Jen (meaning benevolence) whom he let dangle from his waistband by means of a string. The insect was secure in a bamboo cage no bigger than the fist of a man. It was the handiwork of a Hei Miao boy who did the errands for the Noble House of Chu K‘wang. Cowry Shell was his name. As befitting his name he wore one cowry shell around his neck, which he said kept fox-spirits away. It was natural that he should ask Wang and Lung who were of his age, protect themselves as he did. The cowrie shells were special since each had a distinct star burst on the carapace. “Like glass splinters,” the boy said. He was sure a fox spirit could not look at it without hurting his eyes. The day he gave each one to prove his token of friendship he said as if to an imaginary fox-spirit , ”Here is splinter in your eye, Mr.fox!” They did not believe in fox-spirits keenly as much as Cowrie Shell did but friendship was different. So each had one too, to shoo fox-spirits away, in case.

In one corner of Street of Barbers they sought out their regular barber who trimmed their queue to a point as the current fashion dictated. He also massaged their necks, saying he would get rid of their negative energy. Just as well. They felt raring to go. After tossing two copper bits extra for his trouble Wang and Lung were all for checking out that quarter which was out of bounds for boys of their age. Street of Forbidden Joys written with two characters spoke volumes to whoever was into the secret world of black art. One represented Kuo to show the out of bounds or what was forbidden and the second character to represent Lu, which meant riches. Unknown was to all except to those initiated; it was where the left handed fox-spirit lived. The Tryst was definitely out of bounds for them.

On the last day of the year, That morning there were ricocheting projectiles of coolies who crisscrossed the lanes unloading their wares in front of various shops where customers milled around bleary eyed shop assistants. The shops had opened before dawn. The shops that sold firecrackers and paper-lanterns were busy already and the sweet shops had their orders full. The messengers took delivery of their consignments for their noble houses, feeling rather smug and proud of themselves. On the New Year the servants were all let off. Noble houses would have to do their own cooking and cleaning up. If they asked their cooks to chop a fowl and cook it for the table they did so at their own peril. It was as if they chopped the good fortune instead; that left the cooks and errand boys free to do what they will.

Wang and Lung had each from an open stall sugared watermelon slices to chomp and the rinds they threw with gusto past their shoulders. If some porter caught it in the eye the twins could shrug it off saying, ’worse luck for you.’ Similarly they jerked watermelon seeds at random and if it stuck onto any moving target they would immediately go to the victim to check how many did stick, ‘Three seeds neat in a row. Impossible.’ Before he could sweep it off his blouse Lung conferred a blessing unasked, “Fox- spirits will go past by you.”

Second time they played this prank was on the part of the town forbidden to them. The man by name Poyu, he was a jeweler,- and a man not to be trifled with, was being borne on an open chair by his servants in livery. He had many matters troubling his mind lately. Poyu winced while he searched for the term to express that terrible sensation which had lately gripped him and made him feel quite rotten. Had he a little quietness around him he would have found the term ‘mid-life crisis’ perfectly explained his state of mind. ‘Oh no!’ At that moment something wet and squishy wheezed from nowhere to land on his belly. Cold and clammy it felt. He knew it was a bad omen, whichever way he looked at it. His pink silk blouse was no longer clean! Three seeds leaving a trail of sugary syrup must have come from somewhere. He looked around in disgust. It was at that awful moment he saw two smirking faces. And their hands were wet which they with a devil-may-care attitude swiped against a passer-by. He did not know their names but their manners were familiar. He instantly recalled them. He was an unwilling recipient of a watermelon rind only last year from the same pair. There! They were out there large as life eager to renew their acquaintance. Once again!

Wang and Lung knew from that deep gasp where their seeds had fallen. They looked at the man in a sedan chair, intently staring at them. Next moment they heard him shout to his chair bearers, “Seize them!” Wang and Lung may have been careless in scattering their good cheer in all directions. But Wang could spot trouble miles away. He whisked Lung to follow suit as he did. They took to their heels. It did not help them but gave them a head start over the carriers who needed to set the chair down first, without upsetting their master. This grace period was hardly the concern of the twins at that moment when the rascally fellows gained momentum. The boys wove a carefully executed, intricate path through that sunless, seamy side of the town; the carriers ran well but seemed to lose steam considerably after leaving the master far behind. They slowed down to catch their breath. It was a mistake. Wang had in the meantime split with Lung. He vanished!

Where did Wang go?

He rushed headlong hardly caring where he went. Senseless of everything but his survival Wang charged up short flight of stairs in a couple of bounds and went straight in. It was to The Tryst Wang went. The House of Death. K’an P’i lay dying. Death rattle had just begun. Oblivious to those hiccups of a man’s life, which burst out as it were a footnote, Wang came charging in, his eyes noting a bony frame standing. Or was he crouching? Wang could not decide which. In that split second he charged into the room there were noises coming from two different sources: a howl growing from deep down the throat was plaintive. The other was an angry roar, he quickly decided in his mind without breaking his run. Next moment he hit.

Wang with his head bent forward connected with the left jaw of the one who crouched greedily over the supine figure. The impact threw the thin fellow backwards. And Wang fell along. It gave the dying a new lease of life: the body also slid along, while nearby a glass shattered. From a tangle of bodies Wang began extricating himself only to confront the dying. He was still whimpering. Wang positioned himself close to hear him. It was at that point the figure thrown backward from farther side found his feet. In one jump he was over Wang. “How dare you? Get away from there!” Wang did not hear him first since the dying man in his death throes was trying to speak. He instinctively got closer. Wang almost had his ear to his lips. The other fellow hollered, “Move, move! It is my place!” Wang ignored him second time. Wang felt pity for the dying man. His face was hovering over the tremulous face of death; the old man had a glazed look in his eyes as Wang would often recall, and at that moment he had to deal with one who was trying to wrench him forcibly by his neck. With a superhuman effort he threw away the fellow who fell a second time. His fall exposed a hot charcoal brazier. With a clang it spun along floor spewing hot coals. The fellow howled over the hot coals. Much more for that plaintive wail from the dead. It was so blood curdling!

Then a gasp: gasp of the dead: Ashu heard his master.

Wang still bent over the dead saw death in the face. He also saw the other fellow get up with a scream. (Why a scream, he could not tell.) Wang looked up to see the rage that darkened the other figure that was anything but a mourner. In fact he was threatening. More so as he saw a cricket materializing out of nowhere.

“Kuo!” Ashu shrieked. Instantly his mood swung to other extreme. He said it with glee. “It is the man’s chi.” “He is mine!” The man lunged forward to grab the cricket. Jen hopped willfully leading him a few turns.

“Says who?” For one who had been trained basic rules in martial arts at young age Wang could quickly find his feet. And he did. This time blocking the tormentor from his cricket. The young fellow of eighteen an ill-omened figure pallor of his skin heightened by prolonged life closeted in unhealthy surroundings and away from the sun, was in a temper; add to it a splotchy yellow face with purple welts around neck and forehead he looked repulsive. It was not disappointment but sheer hatred that made Ashu stand his ground. He stood there glaring at him. And the cricket. “He has the spirit of my master!” “No, he has not,” Wang snapped,” He is mine!” “Who are you? This is trespass.” Ashu said angrily. Wang did not reply. Instead he gingerly handled Jen who was flitting about its master, landing on his forefinger as if it was its customary perch, a fact that was not lost on his adversary. While Wang deposited him carefully in his cage and shut the lid, he heard footfalls along the staircase. “He didn’t then materialize out of nowhere?” Ashu croaked. In that case the interloper got his master’s chi direct! “I will not let you get away with this!” he threatened, “Kuo belongs to me. None else!” he spluttered, “That dead belongs to me!” “No,” replied Wang irritated, ”He now belongs to himself!” “His spirit I meant. It is mine!” Wang didn’t bother to answer what seemed so preposterous. “I said sorry. Didn’t I?” he asked. “You think saying sorry is enough? No, you cannot fool me,” he hollered. “Give me what belongs to me!” He added bristling with anger and Wang could see that his forefinger as it stabbed in air had an ugly wart. He was pointing to where the dead still lay. He was laid out unceremoniously in a tangle. “He belongs to me, do you hear?” “No!” Wang said angry now,” Do we have to go through with it all over again?” “His chi, it is mine!” the fellow was hopping mad. “That Kuo!” Ashu screamed, “ It is in you! It was meant for me!” It didn’t make sense.

” You cannot be me!” Wang said as the sound of steps came closer. “Why not?” “Because I can be two!” said Wang with a laugh which made his adversary shudder. At that point Lung came looking for Wang. “Oh you are there?” Lung said with his face brightening. “Oh you are there?” Wang replied and gave a quick wink. Lung caught on and he glanced at the stranger who seemed as if hit by an asteroid. “I have the chi!” “I have the chi!” repeated Lung catching on. (The identical twins were good at improvisation and to any line, which Wang threw in a charade Lung could come up pronto with a match.) The short dialogue was not lost on Ashu the rat. He looked at Wang and then at Lung to give a double take. The shock was so charged ten times his head must have swiveled back and forth involuntarily. At last Ashu gasped. It was obvious. He was witnessing the power of a left-handed fox-spirit!

‘It is the chi of K’an P’I!” Ashu moaned. It was uncanny. “You are indeed the left handed fox- spirit!” croaked he as he hit the floor directly.

“You came in time.” Wang said. “Those fellows just quit.” Lung whispered. Hand in hand they walked down the short flight of stairs on to the street.

“There is one dead in there.” Wang said pointing to the room they had just left. They paused briefly in front of the ornate doorway and peeped out from shadows. They also glanced behind. The gargoyle with spread wings plastered over the doorway was terrible. Wang could think of it somewhat calmly since he was out. All in one piece. He was certain that the house named The Tryst was the last place he would ever visit willingly.

The street was clear.

The morning sun was struggling to get a grip of the day while layers of mist still hung over the town. It was going to be a long, long day they decided. There were still a few who had not heard of Wang and Lung in Po-yen.

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(This excerpt is taken from The Fox-Spirit of the Tiger Caves, a novel set in China. The story is set in China during the Ming period. WANG and LUNG are identical twins. They are fifteen. Their father disappeared under mysterious circumstances some 6 years before. Through some mysterious encounters they realize their father is dead. In those days when sons were duty-bound to give their fathers a decent burial and put their spirits to rest WANG and LUNG are at a loss. The novel is about their search for the body of their father.
The twins always get in and out of  trouble. On New Year’s eve they got  into deep trouble. Their mother concerned for their safety entrusts them under the care of her brother,  a sea-captain. Captain ‘Curious’ Lee is at the moment on a delicate mission. Success of it could make or mar him. His superior has entrusted his pet a Pekinese dog with him. Mimi is in turn passed on to the twins and they also have a handler to keep Mimi under control. Their uncle’s ineptness is monumental and yet he seems to climb up with every disaster he lets loose. But the combination of his nephews and a temperamental dog under his watch  is an explosive mixture. No wonder his indigestion is raging and has a memory lapse. Instead of meeting the Admiral at an appointed island he disembarks at another island that doesn’t figure in any of their maps. The Gimi people who were found there are vacated and the captain is glad that he has added an island to the empire. He also is jubilant that he may yet get the coveted prize of the captaincy of The Phoenix.
B.)
Wang and Lung were happy by the time the island was emptied of people. Much was their delight since they had a tree house to spend the night. One of the seamen found a stray dog in one of the ravines and he felt pity for it. He brought the stray to the twins.
Wang thought the dog was a dead ringer for Mimi. “ Well, we will take over this mutt till we are united with Mimi.”
Wang assured Lung that he would take care. “No we will both take care of him.” Lung said. In the end they settled the matter and decided to take turns in looking after their new foundling. Ta Yi who came in caught on their excitement to say that a new island has  just been added to the empire.
“Man Lu is discovered by our captain!” “What is his idea?” Lung queried. “A ship-building yard for Imperial Navy!” Ta Yi was proud of his sea captain.
After he had left the boys attended to their new find. Their ragged mutt was squirming all the while as if it had lost its marbles. They took him and picked up stock of articles of use. In one of the huts there were various items, which indicated to them, as were for ceremonial purposes. Pots for ash stood cheek by jowl with pile of burnt barks; besides were twigs apparently chewed at ends to form some sort of brush. They searched curiously for body paint and they found it in one corner of the hut. There were small pots still holding cakes of colors. From close examination they realized were made from powdered minerals. There was a scrubber from leaves, which were pungent to smell. Noting the flecks of paint on those scrubbers they brightened up. They could give a new look to their new find.
“ What is good for the Gimi ought to be good for the mutt.” Wang averred. Laying out various pots of colors, ‘Naming ceremony must be observed properly,’ they concluded.
They tried colors one after other which seemed somewhat odd with their pet proving so fidgety and quarrelsome. Bored with coloring they scrubbed it away. Next it was a mud bath and after a prolonged and arduous ceremony fitfully interrupted by an unwilling mutt they proceeded to the next item.
“What shall we call it Wang?” “ Handsome?”
“No,” Lung winced, ”How unimaginative!” Wang came up with so many names, which would not do for Lung who thought it, were too masculine or harsh to the ears. Similarly Lung came up with his list of names a lost and found dog could live up to. No. No. Wang found them too sweet or feminine to be considered.
“Or ‘the other Mimi’ if this also is a girl?” Lung asked beginning to be annoyed. ‘A dog without a name is less than a dog.’ That much he knew. At home dogs were a forbidden item which elders had from the start struck from their list of pets. A cricket was O.K but not a dog.  So all their knowledge about a dog had come from Mimi. It was then natural they should show more decisiveness with the new find.
The dog also was their last chance to their inventiveness and to happiness. Naming ceremony must be got through. ‘We must!’ Each seemed to be convinced. To this end in view they quickly examined the dog.
“Ah a bitch like Mimi!” Lung felt as Columbus on the threshold of a New World.
“Same Pekinese breed. We are lucky!” Lung added, “See it round head, brother? And I invite your attention to its flat nose. What does it tell you?”
“ The other Mimi!” Wang had it in a flash. Lung knew that they had both settled on a name. “Now the dog can begin her life!” Lung was relieved.
Lung stood up facing his brother. Wang had not let go of the mutt who was punctuating the solemn ceremony with its howls, which could have taught a banshee a few useful pointers. “ We name you the other Mimi!” Wang declaimed and passed the dog to Lung reverentially. Lung received the dog and said, the other Mimi. So be it!” They said a prayer to Jade Emperor to make the other Mimi live to please him for thousand years. ”Banzai!” They said in unison. The naming ceremony was over.
It was left for the keepers to settle on some hard facts as to the kind of life style they intended for the other Mimi. ‘The pet should have a cushion to sleep on. Just as Mimi had one with the Admiral’s initials.” Wang said matter of factly. Lung vigorously agreed as to the justness of his proposal. Wang forthwith appropriated one cushion from Lung who was happy to sacrifice his comforts for the night.
That night they bade goodnight to their pet that was exhausted from her crying episode and slept.
Next day Wang and Lung found their uncle most voluble. They had come to know their uncle better and in their world of freshness and inexperience a failure always had a stigma attached to it. Wang was certain that he would impale himself on a sword than live with ignominy. Lung also was for death than dishonor. But the never-say-die attitude of their uncle had something of a plaice that had developed legs and was passing for an elephant. Who else could turn every blunder to make it look a win every time? Wang knew no one. Neither did Wang. They were growing up. They thought of failure in a new light.
Unknown to the children the sea captain as he lay in bed was chewing over the same topic. He had slept well and was content to let his thoughts for a walk before his body was asking for action. Between sleep and wakefulness came his best ideas. ‘ I had landed on Man Lu in stead of Sze Chiao. So what?’  He had thousands of ideas to make the new island redound to the glory of Imperial Navy! It is inevitable that the emperor would come to hear of his brilliant idea. No other way! He had discovered an island, which the empire had forgotten! It was right before the nose of the emperor, a lonely outpost which none could find use for. ‘My blunder!’ the sea captain exclaimed,’ Who notices it with such a strategic importance?’
Instantly he corrected himself. ‘Yes, after the way I put its strategic importance to it who dare think it is a mistake?’ Man Lu would change the whole mission in the way he gave his slant. All he needed was a hard sell. He could see how his admiral was all too human to fall for honor if he could put the matter in a right perspective. He was pleased.

After his tasks were completed Ta Yi returned. He made tea and took orders for the day from the captain who was enjoying every minute of that morning. The captain checked with him about his nephews. Everything was going in his way, he knew. At that lucid interval where sleep was completely rubbed out of his system by his personal trainer who massaged him, Ta Yi came in to announce his bath was drawn and his gown laid out.
It was an affable uncle who greeted his nephews. He was voluble indeed and hungry too. “We shall get on with our breakfast.” he said.
Wang held out his pet that was still encased in mud bath and a roll of cotton wound over it gave the look of mummy. The dog was whimpering but not to avail. At first the friendliness of their uncle took a nosedive to see the dog.
“See what we found in this island! A Pekinese!”
“The other Mimi!” Lung chimed in.
“Here take a fresh roll of bread you naughty girl,” Wang had a fresh roll from the basket on the table. “Isn’t it better that we eat first and feed our pet thereafter?’ ‘Curious’ Lee asked.
“She is so famished,” Lung said while laying out a plate of fish roes, which ‘Curious’ Lee was so fond of, “she will whet her appetite with some eggs.”
Wang was about to appropriate the whole plate which the captain somehow managed to prevent. “These fish eggs are worth its weight in gold,” the sea captain remarked.
“The other Mimi does not mind.”
Just as the captain settled himself to enjoy the sumptuous fare spread before him Wang and Lung had seized up the items their pet could relish. Wang was nimble sidestepping the captain who wanted to make his nephew remain seated; Lung successfully used that diversion to position the mutt to an advantage. Before his eyes plates were being passed on at rapidity and he let out a groan. It was no conjuror’s trick: some twenty of the three inch dishes laid out on the captain’s table quickly vanished while he realized his mistake. Those ten-inch plates that he had saved carried only oodles of noodles. “If Mimi can have 5 inch plates to eat from, the other Mimi can have these!” Lung asserted as only a dog lover can appreciate.
“Children, these are prepared for us with great care! We are obliged to show our appreciation to our cook!” While Captain Lee argued with Lung for some five-inch plates, which had assorted short-eats, Wang was busy removing the fish roes in three-inch plates with great finesse. If the Other Mimi relished it she didn’t show it. She was for having it all. Such was her appetite.
“Oh I am famished!” the captain declared somewhat mirthlessly at the end of an exercise that seemed more of a scrimmage; and salvaged whatever dishes he could find among the shambles. “It is dog’s life,” their uncle muttered and his appetite somehow was no better than the mess the dog had made of the finest tablecloth.
At the end of the meal the captain muttered a half full stomach with noodles was better than an empty stomach.
“You may make the most of this mutt!” the captain grumbled,” till Huan brings Mimi to us.”
The Other Mimi on a full stomach made him feel that the whole world was turned against him.
“Don’t make too much of this mutt!” Captain Lee said in irritation, ”Mimi is our concern!”
“Uncle,” Lung said,” you were wrong. The Other Mimi loves fish roes and could do with another helping!”  “Over!” Wang exclaimed waving a clean plate,” May be at lunch, uh uncle?”
‘Curious’ Lee slumped on his chair half hungry and morose.
“Cheer up girl!” Wang was now soothing her,” We shall save what we can from this naughty uncle. You shall never starve. That we promise!”
Lung urged,” Uncle, swear to us that she will have whatever she wants!” “Yes.” Muttered a gloomy captain, “On my starvation diet, yes.”

Trying to be pleasant the sea captain asked after a long silence, “What is your plan for the day?” “Today is the Makeover day?” Lung said. “ We dress the Other Mimi in a style which will make Mimi bark for envy!” Wang said decidedly,” A Plain look is passé.”
“We shall try a Nothing On, a new hair style a must for every Pekinese.” Lung too wanted to have a say.
“ Mimi comes first,” ‘Curious’ Lee said testily,” Don’t you make her grieve whatever you may do to this mutt.”
The captain was still peeved over an interrupted breakfast.
Two days later the captain was surprised to see a fleet bearing up on the island with Pilot Huan on the lead. From the Admiral’s pennant he realized that the Admiral himself was coming to him.
He asked Ta Yi in a whisper, ”Is Mimi well taken care of?” “As you said, Mimi is with Huan himself. Here he comes!”
As soon as the boat touched the pier, the pilot came running. Flustered, he reported that Admiral was behind him. “HewaitsimpatientCaptain!”he blurted in one breath.
Before the captain could digest it he shoveled the rest over, “Master, he has come unexpectedly, and he has to have a look at Mimi. ‘He says I miss the old girl!” “Go on,” said the captain controlling his ire and his near panic, ”Put Mimi on her cushion as she is used to, and present to the Admiral with the words, “Whatever Mimi needed, we provided for her. Banzai!’
Huan wanted to speak but words failed him. “Didn’t you understand what I just said?” He spluttered and said “Mimi! I lost her!” The captain was stunned, to say the least. He well knew how much the Admiral doted on his pet. In the midst of such a bonding between a master and his pet, his pet theories ‘Strategy of islands of Man Lu’ would come a poor second. He knew it only too well. It was too late.
The Admiral was waiting in his flagship Chinghai (meaning Blue Waters) like a deity unhappy with the devotions of the supplicant, coming to curse than bless. Having lost that single formula of invoking his good humor the captain knew he was in peril of damnation. The Admiral looked pinched with his white flowing beard all in a bellow.
“Where is Mimi?” he asked as if he was the god of Doom, ”What sort of welcome is this?’ Ashen faced the captain mechanically turned to the pilot who was waiting for his orders, and said, “Bring in Mimi!” Only then the full significance of his words hit him.
“ I lost Mimi!” the sea captain whispered.
4.
‘Curious’ Lee was stunned as well as crushed that the Admiralty revolved around Tao Teh-king; and among many homilies which he filled the Protocol of the Seas none filled him at the moment with bitterness as the line,” Who makes Mimi happy comes second to none.” He had carefully steered his career till now with this in view. For all his care his entire career now depended on a Pekinese.
The captain knew he was in a fix. Nevertheless years of service in the Imperial Navy had given him certain resilience to roll with the punches. He sensed a way out: a sliver of hope trickling before him.
But how could he wriggle out without producing Mimi, the offer of appeasement?
‘Curious’ Lee with a superhuman effort ignored the Admiral, and launched himself to narrate what he had discovered. He did not forget to preface his performance with the words, ‘ The Glory of the Admiral is a Meteor forever illumined!” Having quickly navigated through white waters of introduction he was onto the precipice of a subject proper, which somehow yawned more menacingly. Had he cared for a moment to look at the old man he would have had a glimpse of micro emotions of a face bellowing into macro emotions. Annoyance, anger and fury cannonaded into amazement on the admiral’s face, while his reasonable mind well tempered by his knowledge, as of one who had seen enough foibles of human race, melted as an icicle who went to peek inside a blast furnace. He looked at cherubic face of his captain prattling for the kingdom come and instead he felt he was looking at a prize booby. ‘Curious’ Lee in his freefall through his discourse was oblivious to all. He carried himself well on a roller coaster ride of special merits of his surprise find. He didn’t forget to fill the admiral with every positive use the Empire could benefit from it. This barrage weakened the Admiral and he would have pointed out to his negligence if he could. He thought he had a valid point to take him to task for landing on an island contrary to his express order. But the rapidity of ‘Curious’ Lee to careen through his ex tempore speech was not to be stayed. What heat, what passion made the words fly off like foam! Howsoever may be the capacity of his own lungs to have generated it he was after all human. He needed to take in fresh breath and at that point his superior deftly positioned himself to get his say, “I shall come to that but not now!” the Admiral said with finality. His eyes were blazing with disappointment. “What is holding up her?”
“Her?”
“Mimi, who else?” Admiral shrieked, “ He who lets down Mimi will be broken without mercy. Of course you have so far managed well.”
“Mimi comes first in my life!” declared ‘Curious’ Lee. Yes. The Admiral was somewhat relaxed but not entirely, ”If so, where is she?”
Before the captain could rush into another monologue the admiral forestalled it. “Yes, Captain it was all highly irregular.” Tao teh-king said, “Sometimes what I call a mistake is a bold plan whose time has not come. Your discovery must wait its time. Well, it was in a way full of initiative and guts.”
The captain felt he was light headed and out of danger. Almost.
At that moment Ta Yi came with Mimi. The Admiral with a cry of delight turned to his pet and wanted to take in his hands. All he saw was his Mimi was shorn of every hair; How dare anyone insult his pet thus? She looked worse than a plucked chicken, which had a certain dignity that it could be dressed for the table. In terms of utility what a bald Mimi could commend for? Nothing. ‘Curious’ Lee felt his head was reeling and heard muffled bells tolled somewhere. “It rings for a shattered career”, he couldn’t help thinking so. Ta Yi left the room discreetly while Captain Lee imagined he was impaled to one of the cabin walls by the sharp looks cast by his superior. He wished he were invisible.
The captain saw whom he could blame. “No, take it like a man!” he said to himself being prepared for the worst.
It was at this point the admiral said,” I send my trusted emissary with a message and what do you do?”
The captain felt faint. He wanted to speak but no words came.
“So I am Admiral Idiot First Class eh?”
Let us mercifully leave the captain in his unenviable state to see how the twins were coping with their loss.

Lung was downcast. “We found a lost dog. And we took care of it only to lose it in the end!” “It is the story of our life!” Wang added.
At that moment a beaming Huan passed them by.
The twins were wretched while the pilot was unusually ebullient, a mood which struck them as somewhat inappropriate. They had come to look Offcourse Huan by the same standards their uncle had laid. A failure. ‘Wasn’t he to be in charge of Mimi and what he did he do? Lost her.’
“Huan, what did you do with Mimi?” Wang asked still perplexed. “I cannot say, Master Lung” The pilot explained,” I only know that she made me lose sleep over her.” After thinking over he said emphatically,” She was present as large as life in my thoughts. She must have been real for all that agony I suffered.” “Where is she then?” “I dunno!” he answered,” the older man explained,” may be she just lost her outward shape. Or she is just hiding in the spirit world?”
“You think the Other Mimi is altogether different?” “I cannot say,” he said rolling his eyes heavenwards,” she has somehow taken care to rid me of every anxiety.” “I cannot say except all my problems are washed away!” Offcourse Huan said in a singsong fashion, which rather grated, on their ears.
There was silence after the pilot had left.
Wang observed, ”You needn’t count what he said. He cannot even tell us apart. Didn’t he?”
“May be we should explain the facts?” Lung wanted to know.
To whom?”
“The rightful owner. The admiral” Lung said.
“Can he make good of all our sacrifices? We lost sleep over his old girl. Didn’t we?” Wang was sorry.
“Who shall make good of all those hair styles we created exclusively for her?”
“The admiral cannot have come this far without being old and wise.” Lung interrupted,” So I shall have a word with him.”
It was thus Lung interrupted the admiral and the captain ‘with some true facts which you ought to know’ which he announced as he stepped in. The captain made good of this diversion and left.

Lung later met them all and said,“ We had it all sorted out!”  The captain wanted to know where he had been so long.  “Admiral realized in the end that he was rather hasty to call you names.”  The captain didn’t smile. He rather sunk into gloom.
“Uncle you owe us thanks!”
“What on earth for?”
“You can keep your captaincy.”
“It cannot be; Just now admiral has been talking of making me a deck hand.” “I talked him out of it.”
“Really?” Wang cut in. “He said it would give him pleasure to see the decks all spick and span.”    Lung added, ”Of course the old man said you would make a good mop. But then he said your brains are so dried out would spoil the paint job.” “You don’t say?” Wang was horrified while ‘Curious’ Lee sunk his head into hands and groaned.
“I told him that truth of our uncle being wedded to the Sea. It made the admiral laugh out so loud.
Even Mimi whelped as if she got the joke. The admiral was rather pleased at this point.” Lung began narrating what he just witnessed. “Uncle, hardly had the admiral mentioned your name, Mimi began barking as if a bee had got in her bonnet.”
“ Really?” Wang was shocked.
“ What will make you quiet, my pet? The old man asked to which I said,” Try some opium pills. She is hooked very much onto the stuff.”
At this point the captain got up too shocked beyond words. “You said it. Awful!” ‘Curious’ Lee shuddered. “I told the truth.” Lung declared. “We live in dangerous times. Never tell truth if you can help it!” Wang quipped.
“The admiral took me by my collar and threw out. As I was about to get up and go he kicked me mightily on my rear!” Lung said casually, “That somehow took the wind out of his sails.” “You know Wang, you got it all wrong,” Lung declared,” truth works like magic. The admiral ended by saying that ‘Curious’ Lee must be a man of great character to have taken responsibility for us.”
The captain still looked still sort of annoyed with them. It was a near thing, he ruefully murmured. “Uncle you want to hear a story?” “What kind of?” “A shaggy dog kind of?” Wang said as if Mimi didn’t exist at all.
He merely groaned.

Unknown to his nephews the captain had much to groan at that moment. What befell the Admiral’s pet was nothing compared to how he treated Admiral’s envoy back in Shanghai; much worse was his disposing of a crate entrusted under his care. He pleaded ignorance. What he knew for certain was that he was to be reduced on account of his ignorance, to eat as the admiral put it, ‘a humble pie stuffed with his brain, a pie nevertheless, which for want of sufficient fill shall come no bigger than a macaroon.’

benny

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