Sunday, November 19, 2006

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XVIII

After helping Xing Ren to the alcove off the kitchen where the children had slept and covering him with silk filled quilts, Ma Huang exited the kitchen and stood in the adjacent courtyard. It was late in the afternoon and dusk would come soon and quickly. Running swiftly in the direction of the Master’s quarters, she projected her Qi towards her goal; a crystal bowl that resided in the storage closet behind the altar. On a regular day at this time it was unlikely the Master would be in his sacred room, however, ”regular” seemed not to be a word that could be applied to current events. Pausing at the gate to the courtyard Ma Huang tried to ascertain if the Master was in his altar room, she could feel nothing; her inner sight seemed blinded. Jangled to bone she rushed forward. Could she see nothing because she was too fragmented? Or was there another reason? Just outside the heavy dragon door she quieted her breath, then pushed the door wide enough to permit her eye to peer in. The room seemed empty, opening the door a little more to permit her head she looked around. The Master was not there, the only movement, other than the beating of her heart and coursing blood, was the dust in the slant of the late sun. She glided across the carpet and in a blink had secured the crystal bowl, as she closed the door inside the room a wall hanging stirred, ever so slightly.

Clutching the bowl in both hands Ma Huang ran fast as fast through the compound. Courtyards flashed by her, windows, doors; monks barely noticed her, so swiftly she ran. The bowl was reassuringly real between her hands. Approximately the size of a human head it had been fashioned during the age of magic from a giant crystal which, it was rumored, had belonged to the Dragon Lord from Beneath the Sea. Ma Huang could not see that as she ran the bowl shimmered with greens and golds and left a small trail of purple clouds, which condensed, into silver dew. Out the gate and into the forest, running, running, that was all she had to do, she told herself; there was only running. Dodging through the trees she found the trail. An animal trail, it wiggled and twitched and ended where all the beasts wanted their search to end, at the spring. The water in this spring on this mountain bubbled up from deep within the earth; it filtered up through rock and crust to triumphantly burst forth in the midst of the quickly darkening forest.

Ma Huang settled herself by the spring to catch her breath and center her Qi. The sun had rolled over the horizon, this was Ma Huang’s favorite time of the day, though it wasn’t really day and it wasn’t really night. It was that irresistible moment of transition, of possibility. In the fading light, the colors of the forest seemed to greedily drink in what particles of light remained, sucking it from beyond the horizon until for a few brief moments they were giddily saturated; satiated with the Yang of the day. Qi restored, spirits raised by dusk and the delicious promise of night, Ma Huang dipped and rinsed the crystal bowl 9 times before filling it and setting back down the path to the Monastery.

The journey back to the kitchen was less rushed, but no less purposeful. Xing Ren lay in the alcove, sleeping heavily with a barely audible snore, as Ma Huang returned and lit three candles on the table. In the flickering light she squatted down on the dirt floor next to the place the children had last been on the Earthly plane. Holding the bowl between her hands she spoke into the water. She spoke everything she could remember about the children and when she got tired of talking she sang and when she got tired of singing, she whispered. She told of her first sight of them, of the sound of their footsteps following her back to the kitchen, of the soup they ate. She sang of the way Second Sister would play with her hair and look out the window when she thought no one was watching her. She sang of the time Little Fish had almost cut his finger chopping beets. Even as her voice grew tired she whispered of the space between the corner of Second Sister’s eye and her nose, her eyebrows, Little Fish’s slightly crooked left little finger. And when her voice needed to rest she hummed. Her back felt warm, she turned and saw Xing Ren had arisen and was standing behind her. He squatted and took the bowl, from his lips fell the story of his meeting with the Huangs and his first sight of Little Fish and Second Sister and all events that transpired. He told the bowl of the small rip in Little Fish’s tunic and the way Second Sister like to laugh before she sipped her tea. He talked and sang and whispered all he knew, all he remembered. When all was silent and the bowl was full, Ma Huang took the bowl from him and placed it in the place where they had last been.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XVII

Enboldened by the divination Ma Huang went straight to work in her kitchen, she couldn’t wait for Xing Ren to think of anything, much less decide on the best next step. Her first step was to get Xing Ren back into a stronger state, he seemed already exhausted; faculties depleted. Beef bones had been simmering on the back of her stove for three days, it hadn’t been easy to keep the fire going without Little Fish and Second Sister to watch it for her, but she had managed. With a large ladle Ma Huang dipped out a bowl full of broth, put in three dried mushrooms and leaving the bowl on the warm top of the stove she went outside to her small herb garden. “which ones, which ones” she muttered to herself, touching the leaves of the plants gently. Returning shortly to the kitchen she gently pressed the leaves she had chosen until their juices just began to ooze, then she swiftly chopped the herbs and put them in the bowl. From the cool corner of the kitchen she retrieved a spoonful of Miso, this she mixed thoroughly with a small amount of broth in a small bowl and added it to the larger bowl with the mushrooms and herbs, stirring it in using a figure eight shape. Finally from a small and ancient box she took a tiny piece of seaweed, this she powdered and sprinkled on the top of the soup. Ma Huang waited until the Miso had formed a cloud in the middle of the bowl then she brought it to Xing Ren where he sat slumped, head in hands. Placing the bowl in front of him with a spoon Ma Huang sat across from Xing Ren, saying nothing, because she didn’t want him to use his Qi in answering her; she gently wafted the scent in his direction with a great round lotus leaf.

As the first odor of soup penetrated his brain Xing Ren began to breathe more deeply, drawing air and odor deeper into his lungs. After several deep breaths he silently reached for the spoon and with slow deliberation fed himself, his blood, his Qi and his spirit.

When he finally raised his head to look at Ma Huang the sparkle had returned to his eyes and the warmth to his cheeks. “You need to tell me how it works” she told him.
“How what works?” he asked, although he knew perfectly well what she meant.
Ma Huang looked at him and waited.
“It starts with a chrystaline energy pattern that is specific to the person who wants to travel between the parts of the world that we see. That pattern is set up in a number of ways, I set of mine through intensive Ba Gua practice, Tibetans prefer a sitting meditation. Though that has it’s draw backs.”
“How is that? They seem to do quite well, I often see them flickering in and out from mountain top to mountain top. It looks like a miracle, like magic” Ma Huang poured tea as she spoke.
Xing Ren laughed “Everyone is so impressed by that, if they did it right and had a really good flexible pattern you wouldn’t see them at all! It’s real magic when you don’t see anything, that’s the miracle when there is nothing.”
“But then how would you know the difference between nothing happening and a miracle? If it all seems like nothing?”
“I digress” he sipped tea “My pattern, after years of practice, is pretty strong, that’s why I could take the children in with me when they were attacked by the bandits.”
Ma Huang nodded, although she had the ability to sense shifting Qi flows on the mountain and track individual Qi trails, she had never been initiated into the practice of Ba Gua or the spaces and places between and behind. She had been taught the consequences of taking a person unprepared into that place, just in case.
“How does it work, why did they get disappear back inside inbetween?”
“When they were in there with me their personal Qi got caught in the vibration of the pattern. If I had pulled them out sooner it would might have been extremely hard for their young bodies to recover and they may have been damaged irreparably. As it was the traces of their Qi patterns caught them and pulled them back, like droplets of water barely touching then moving into one bigger drop.”
“How can you pop in and out and stay for as long as you like?”
“It’s my Qi pattern, I’ve worked on it for decades. It is supple and serviceable, I can make it go anywhere.” Xing Ren suppressed a glow of pride, “I had very good teachers.”
Suddenly he drooped, so tired, more worn then ever. “I’ll just rest a bit” he explained, putting his head on crossed arms. There was more Ma Huang had to find out. She made soup again.
“Why can’t you just go in and get them back?” she asked a revived Xing Ren.
“they’ve been in there long enough that the Qi pattern in no longer enough mine.”
“Then why can’t they just come out?”
Xing Ren rubbed his forehead, not sure which of the unfortunate consequences he should tell her. He sighed.
“Because there is enough of my Qi pattern that they can’t manipulate it.”
Ma Huang saw something in his face that truly alarmed her “What are you not telling me? What else is there?”
“Well, you see this whole situation it is somewhat unprecedented, but from what I can tell they are dieing in there. They cannot properly manipulate the patterns and the patterns are not enough like them to provide a sustainable Qi source. And…”
He trailed off unwilling to tell more, Ma Huang just waited. “And having them in my Qi pattern is draining on my life force. It may well be we will both die, or if they die I have might have some small a chance of recovering.”
Ma Huang knew exactly what she had to do.