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“How the Goddess Came to Spring Flowering Alley” by Andrew Penn Romine

The food market at Hanging Cloud Gate was empty; the vendors had already scurried home ahead of the curfew drums. Not that there had been much to sell lately, not with the humans’ war driving all the farmers away. Chunyo’s hopes for a meal vanished with the vermillion rays of the setting sun. She didn’t like the way the night gathered between her protruding ribs. Or how the yellow clumps of fur shed from her tail like rice straw when she swung down from the eaves.

No dinner for this hungry Golden Fur. Chunyo’s belly grumbled. She imagined the taste of the mushy flesh of the overripe mango she and big sister Ata shared for breakfast yesterday.

Golden Willow Temple, a few rooftops away, was her last chance for a meal today. Still time before the White Mane apes from the Whispering Branch Society enforced the curfew in Spring Flowering Alley. Still time to find food before Half-Claw came looking for her.

Chunyo sprang across the rooftops thinking of her friend, the monk Peng. Frightful scars covered his face, but he always smiled when he saw her. Best of all, he didn’t mind sharing whatever he’d collected in his begging bowl that day, even if it was just a few wilted radishes.

The Golden Willow Temple was a rude hovel of loose brick, nearly lost in the press of its tenement neighbors, save for the temple signboard. The narrow doorway remained open, the friendly glow of lamplight burnishing the flaking gold paint of the wooden doors. Chunyo squealed with delight. She considered a back flip into the center of the shrine, plus a kowtow at the brightly painted statue of their goddess, Mukwan, where the monks burned incense in such quantities that it made her nose itch and her eyes water. She usually would not perform tricks for humans, but Peng and his brother monks had been so kind to her since they came as refugees to Yulung from the war. It was the only coin she had to repay their kindness.

A shadow at the door caught Chunyo by surprise, and a reedy, unfamiliar voice sent her scurrying under a discarded basket.

“Bah! I don’t understand the point of making donations here,” the voice complained in hushed tones. Through the fraying weave of the basket, Chunyo saw a man emerge from the door of the temple. His thin face was pinched, like he’d eaten bitter melon. He wore the blue robes of an official, with a tall, conical hat that forced him to stoop as he passed through the doorway. Untangling several twisted strings of coins that humans called cash, he spoke to another man who followed closely behind. The second fellow dressed in somewhat plainer clothes, but he walked with the short, precise stride of a human who still thought himself important.

“The goddess of this shrine hears our cries, eases our suffering. She has a special compassion for mothers-to-be,” said the other man, tucking the remaining coins into a brocade satchel.

“Yes, yes, so the monks, my sister, and my wife, full-with-child, all say,” the official snorted. “Even the gods extort us during this war!”

The argument went on as the two men strode down the street and out of sight. Shanguo was haunted by an uncountable number of gods both great and small, but only the humans seemed crazy enough to try and appease them all. Like most Gold Fur monkeys, Chunyo only bothered to pray to one of them–Hano the Lucky, Monkey King, Hero Equalling Heaven.

The last echoes of the temple’s reluctant patrons died away, and Chunyo crept toward the entrance. She stopped short of the doorway. Coiled on the ground was a leather cord tied end to end. Strung along it like cowry shells on an ogre’s necklace were red-yellow coins that glinted even more beautifully than the doors of the Golden Willow Temple.

A whole string of cash! Dropped by the humans in their hasty exit, no doubt. Chunyo glanced back down the street, but saw no sign of the humans’ return. She rubbed one of the coins between slender pink fingers, breathless. She’d scrounged a couple before, bent and forgotten in the mud of Yulung’s alleys. But never had she seen so many all at once.

From inside the temple came the soft voices of monks approaching. Chunyo stared at the string of coins, her heart pounding in her chest. Her mouth was dry. Dust and hunger clutched her belly like an insect with many legs.

I could buy a lot of suppers, she thought. No more begging for a long time.

It was not as if the money belonged to the Golden Willow Temple – the cash string lay abandoned in the street. Those rich lords could not possibly miss it. If Chunyo spent them carefully, no one, not even the White Manes, would be suspicious. The thick air began to throb with the commanding drums of the city watch. Curfew had begun.

Shadows approached the door, and Chunyo grabbed up the string of cash. She lurched under its weight, scrambling up the front of the temple and over the edge of the shallow roof. Panting against the rough, sloping tiles, she heard Peng’s delicate, almost feminine voice call out to the darkening street.

“Hello? Is there anyone there?” Her heart thudding in time to the curfew drums, Chunyo thought the monk might call her name. But after a moment, there was only the gentle thunk of the temple doors being shut against the coming night.

Chunyo looked up past the towering roof lines at a patch of fog-shrouded sky. A faint yellow star winked back, and Chunyo grinned at her good fortune. She was rich! Leaping joyously across the rooftops of Hanging Cloud Gate, she praised Lucky King Hano all the way back to the walls of Spring Flowering Alley.

***

Like clumsy ghosts, a pair of scowling White Manes lumbered near the sagging gate of Spring Flowering Alley. They rapped their massive knuckles against the cobbles, impatient in their search. Chunyo whispered a curse as they glared down the lane and scanned the surrounding rooftops, their dark faces painted with shadows.

Chunyo froze. She had wrapped the cash string in strips of discarded paper, but the slightest movement might jangle the coins. A familiar, fleshy musk floated up from the alley, and guttural ape speech echoed from below.

Another white ape emerged from the doorway to Chunyo’s house. He hulked over his companions, jabbing the night air with the glinting hook of a barbed fishing gaff.

Chunyo stifled a squawk and eased herself deeper into the shadows of the rooftop. The hand that grasped the hook was missing the last two fingers; a crease of puckered skin ran ragged through the meat of the paw all the way to the ape’s wrist. The thumb and remaining fingers were shriveled like dead vines.

Half-Claw.

The boss of the Whispering Branch Society gazed upward, his eyes like burning coals in the ashes of his gray face. His glare swept across Chunyo’s hiding place.

Oh please, Monkey King, she prayed. Don’t let him see me.

Moments passed, marked by the desperate pounding of Chunyo’s heart. She squeezed her eyes shut, red memories coiling against her eyelids. Even after a year, she could still see the violent churn of water clearly, hear the horn-bleat of the tortoise demon as it breached the surface of the canal where Half-Claw had cornered her. She remembered Half-Claw’s terrified howls when the demon had lunged from the water, its black beak snapping shut around his paw.

Half-Claw’s gaze lingered on the rooftops, his nostrils flared, sorting the thick monkey-scents of Spring Flowering Alley. Half-Claw’s nose wrinkled with disappointment, and he uttered an angry growl to his thugs.

“She’s not here,” he snarled at the other apes. “We’ll check the market again.”

They shambled down the alley and through the gate, locking it behind them. Chunyo finally dared to take a shallow breath–her chest burned like it had been scraped with a knife.

The grunts of the White Manes diminished, but Chunyo stayed hidden for a long time after.

***

Ata was sitting cross-legged on her sleeping pallet in the corner, a tattered linen blanket wrapped loosely about her square, black-furred shoulders. A few lonely coals glowed from a tin brazier, reflecting like dim pearls in the Gourd Throat ape’s deep-set eyes. Shadows lay deep across the broad planes of her face, but Chunyo saw the glistening tracks of tears staining her grey muzzle. The air was foul with Half-Claw’s reek.

“So you are back,” Ata grunted.

Chunyo bowed her head, reluctant to meet Ata dull gaze. “I’m sorry, big sister,” she replied, “I was looking for dinner, and–”

Ata flew up, her blanket fluttering behind her like great brown wings. She howled, her throat sac distended in fury. Chunyo curled into a ball as the large monkey thudded to the dirt beside her. Ata boxed Chunyo about the head and shoulders with squarish palms, but not hard. Still, Chunyo’s shame seared her cheeks, the tips of her ears.

Ata fell back, breathless with rage.

“Dinner? What does dinner matter now?”

A monkey in the next chamber thumped the wall and jabbered for quiet, and Ata swallowed her next rebuke. Her face grew sad as she tossed another coal on the brazier. Chunyo, too shamed to move, traced circles in the dirt where she lay. Not since the day Ata had rescued her from that sinking barge had Chunyo seen her adoptive sister so sad.

Ata retreated to her pallet and pulled the blanket tight. “You missed curfew again,” she sighed, “so Half-Claw invoked the Conscription Edict. He’s coming back in the morning.”

Chunyo sat upright, shame drowned by panic.

“Conscription? But he promised that would never happen to us!” The Duke’s Conscription Edict mandated a certain number of monkeys to the service of the city once a month. In times of peace, they would remove blockages in the sewers beneath the prison or sweep the courts of the noble estates. But now, with war burning in the jungles of the Five Kingdoms, they might be forced to dangle from warships to scrape sea-growth from their hulls, or worse, to work clearing battlefields of enemy traps. Chunyo had seen one of the survivors of such a duty begging in the marketplace, limbless and drooling. Such was the gift of a Thunder Dragon Fire Pot buried just beneath the black earth.

None of the Gourd Throats or Golden Furs, nor even the wise ourang, were immune to conscription duty after their first year of life. The White Manes and their Whispering Branch Society were in charge of the lottery, though, and they gladly accepted bribes to keep other apes off the rolls.

“He promised,” Chunyo repeated. Ata shook her head.

“Yes. But we all know what the word of a White Mane is worth. ‘How do you expect to find ivory in a dog’s mouth?’ He has never forgotten that day he chased you in the canals.”

Chunyo tugged at Ata’s blanket. “I’m so sorry. I was young and foolish, and I didn’t know his temper.”

“You are still young and foolish,” Ata replied, with a weary laugh. “I have been a friend to him this past year, but he’s finished with me now.”

Chunyo hugged Ata, her tiny golden arms disappearing into her sister’s coarse black fur. She listened to the heavy thud of the larger monkey’s heart and the groans of her empty stomach. Whatever awaited them in the jungle, they would face it together. Ata had worked hard to take care of them both, but most everything she earned at the docks went to feed Half-Claw. Chunyo had been lucky to befriend Peng and share in his food.

Doubly lucky. Especially tonight.

“Oh, Monkey King!” breathed Chunyo, suddenly remembering her good fortune.

Ata pulled back, noticing the bundle around Chunyo’s neck. “What’s this you’ve got?”

Chunyo backed away, unable to stop the grin that curled her lips. Ata regarded her with a cautious gaze.

“Monkey King has answered our prayers, big sister!” Chunyo tore the paper wrappings away, and pulled free the string of cash, dangling it so Ata could see. With a delicate chiming, the coins uncoiled like a burnished serpent. Even the weak glow of the brazier seemed to reach voraciously for the gleam of the precious metal.

Ata stared at Chunyo’s treasure in dull surprise, her throat sac fluttering.

“I can pay Half-Claw to forget us,” Chunyo said.

“Where did you get that?” Ata narrowed her eyes in suspicion. Chunyo handed her the coins so that she could feel their weight.

“Luck from the Monkey King when we need it most,” Chunyo beamed. Telling Ata the whole story would only upset her more.

Ata grunted. “Half-Claw wants to be rid of you. He would take the money and send you to the war just the same.”

Chunyo chewed her tail. Sister had a point. She thought of what the humans leaving the temple had said.

“I’ll ask the monks of the Golden Willow Temple what we should do. Their goddess is supposed to help those in trouble.”

She didn’t have to tell Peng where the cash string came from in the first place.

Ata breathed out slowly, stared at the coins. Then she quickly hid them in her mat, beneath piles of old straw.

“Safer to hide the money here. What do we need human monks for?”

Ata’s voice sounded raspy, like she was about to get angry again. Chunyo wondered what she had done wrong this time.

***

After Ata fell asleep, Chunyo crept out of Spring Flowering Alley by the back lanes near the canals where the Whispering Branch Society refused to patrol. She passed only a single pair of White Manes, and they reeked far too much of plum wine to notice her.

Golden Willow Temple was shut tight, the sheen of the golden door newly plastered over with sheets of rice paper. Writing marched across the paper like rows of soldiers drawn in red ink. Chunyo only knew a few characters taught to her by the monks and Ata, but the crimson warning was clear: the Temple was off-limits and swift punishment awaited those who broke the seal.

Chunyo scratched a greeting on the base of the door, her fingernails tracing familiar grooves. No one called to her from within the temple this time.

“Little monkey. The monks aren’t here.”

Chunyo jumped as a pile of refuse sat up and a wispy-haired beggar emerged from the tangle of rags and well-gnawed onion skins.

“Soldiers,” the beggar warned, his bloodshot eyes shifting up and down the street. “Arrested the lot of them for theft. They robbed some lord of a lot of copper.”

The words were like steel hands on Chunyo’s throat.

What have I done? she thought. Her earlier celebration filled her with shame.

“Are you a tasty little monkey?”

The beggar smacked his lips and lurched to his feet.

Chunyo scrambled up the worn bricks of the temple wall, her tail whipping just out of the hungry beggar’s reach. Safely on the roof, she remembered a window in the back, a small, high opening that allowed the incense the monks burned to reach Heaven. Some good it did them, she thought bitterly. She was relieved to find the shutter still propped open.

Dangling by her tail from the window frame above the darkened temple hall, she saw that it was indeed deserted. A wan light filtered past her, dimly revealing the rectangular altar and the seated figure of the Goddess below. Clouds of incense still lingered from the midnight prayers. The monks had not been gone long.

Chunyo dropped to the floor in front of the altar and glared fiercely at the Goddess. Mukwan seemed unconcerned with the problems of her city, sitting serenely among the slender red candles and offerings of bowls of fruit and flowers. One delicate white hand was raised in blessing and the other offered a shining gold willow branch. Peng had told her once that the Goddess was actually made of wood and plaster; the glinting gold and lustrous skin merely painted on.

“What are Big Sister and I going to do now?” she demanded of the Goddess, trying to ignore the shriveled mangoes heaped at Mukwan’s feet.

In the incense-clouded gloom, the Goddess seemed almost alive, and her benevolent eyes looked through Chunyo. Like she wasn’t even there.

A sudden rage crested in the monkey’s heart.

“What about me?” she accused Mukwan. “Peng says you’re a goddess of mercy, who eases our suffering. Monkeys suffer more than humans! Don’t we deserve some good fortune?”

Mukwan answered only with more silence. Chunyo’s fury grew white hot. How dare the Goddess ignore her! She threw herself against the altar, scattering candles and upending the bowls of fruit. Chunyo jumped onto the arm with the willow branch and shook. The Goddess trembled on her low dais amid a cloud of half-spent joss sticks. Screeching, Chunyo swung herself onto Mukwan’s face, her hind claws raking the placid white cheeks.

There was a sharp crack, and Chunyo and the Goddess collapsed to the floor in a heap of splintered wood and broken pottery. Chunyo lay still for a moment, gasping for breath as paint chips drifted in the air. The back of her head felt wet, and the reek of rotten mango filled her nose. The head of the Goddess had snapped off and rested against the ruin of her wooden body. The white face was marred by deep scratches; now the eyes seemed to look right at Chunyo.

“Please, Mukwan, help me and my big sister,” she sobbed, her anger shaming her to tears.

As she wept, Chunyo spotted the broken willow branch in the rubble. The gold paint gleamed like a lantern in the darkness.

***

Elephant Tree Hill was a narrow rise that overlooked the northern end of the main harbor of Yulung. Once, it had been covered by the massive broad-leafed trees for which it had been named, but now the hill was home to the governmental palaces. Squat buildings crowded on many terraces, like too many rotten teeth in the same mouth. Commanding a view of it all at the northern crown of the hill was the Duke’s Palace. It was said that somewhere behind the battlements a single Elephant Tree still grew. Chunyo’s ancestors had once made their homes in trees like those, but she had never seen one.

At the base of the hill, the massive stone walls of the Yulung jail loomed over the waterfront. The murky waters of the city’s canals ducked furtively in and out of the prison’s deep shadow. Chunyo knew their courses better than she wanted to admit. Many of the trash-choked channels flowed through Spring Flowering Alley, and made convenient, if unpleasant, escape routes when the White Manes chased her. The sewer grate she wanted stood half-submerged in the scum of the canal at the base of the prison walls.

The grate echoed with distant moans; the plaintive cries of prisoners locked deep within. Iron bands seemed wound about her chest, and she wanted to flee. Instead she looked at Mukwan’s golden willow branch that she’d carried with her, remembering the promise she had made to the Goddess – she would free Peng.

The sewers under the prison were made narrow so that no human could escape through them. Chunyo’s ancestors had been conscripted to build the channels long ago, but no one expected a Golden Fur to sneak back in. She squeezed through the metal bars into the drain and swam inside.

The pungent waste that clung to the bricks stung her eyes. Chunyo shuddered as the slime rose up to her neck. She kept the Goddess’ willow branch above the water and out of the sewage. Even in the gloom of the tunnel, its gold paint still shone like a lamp. She pulled herself along the wall slowly, trying to ignore the filth that gathered in her fur.

“Show me the way,” she prayed half-aloud, teeth chattering. She paddled down the main passage and then left, an abrupt detour that led her beneath a new cluster of cells. Amid the echoing cries, she heard a low familiar voice muttering a prayer to Mukwan. At last! Chunyo pulled herself under the fist-sized drain in the ceiling and looked up into the cell. She saw the back of a monk, robed in orange and white, sitting cross-legged and chanting prayers.

“Peng!” she cried through the hole. The monk looked around his cell, and finally to the floor and the face of the monkey folk pressed up against the iron grate.

“Sister Chunyo,” Peng answered as if he had expected her, his voice warm with affection. Tears sprang to Chunyo’s eyes, and she clutched the grate.

“Peng, I’m so sorry! It was me, all my fault. I took the coins!”

Peng looked down at her, and in the dim light of the cell, she saw his face cluttered with new bruises atop his old scars; a split lip crusted with blood. But his gaze was serene, far removed from concerns of his body.

“I’ll free you, brother,” she whispered. “I can pick the lock of your cell. Some of the drains are tight for humans, but there are other ways–”

The monk laughed.

“My dear child,” he said, “I cannot leave with you.”

“But why?” she asked.

“Mukwan has blessed me with time to meditate. I should heed her wishes.”

“But Peng, I need your help. Half-Claw is coming for me and Ata. Conscription.” Chunyo wished she had the strength of the White Manes so she could carry Peng away.

“You can hide in the temple,” he replied, the warmth in his voice giving way to hard concern.

“But what about you?” Chunyo cried.

Peng smiled. “Someone must suffer for the theft of the coins. They will merely imprison me.”

“But I have done wrong.”

“It is not unforgivable. Not if you honor the Goddess. Mukwan knows our true hearts.”

The clang of a door echoed down the hall and the torches guttered in a briny draft. Gruff human voices shouted and cursed, accompanied by a jangle of metal.

Peng cocked his head toward the sound. “The guards, with our morning meal,” he said. “The food, I’m afraid, pales to what I could beg!” He laughed at his joke and turned away.

“Wait!” she cried, and thrust the willow branch partway through the grate.

“I– broke the idol, but I think the Goddess wanted me to bring it to you,” she explained, her cheeks burning.

Peng gently pushed it back to Chunyo.

“It is yours to keep. Let Mukwan continue to guide you, Little Sister. We will see one another this turn of the Wheel or next. Go with my blessing and with hers. And go quickly before the guards find you here!”

With his gentle voice still in her ears, Chunyo eased back into the murky water. She wanted to cry, but the muffled steps of the prison guards drew nearer, so she swam away instead. Had Mukwan guided her all this way? Had it been she who gifted her with the cash string, and not the Monkey King at all?

A loud splash at the end of the tunnel interrupted her thoughts. Shadows darkened the sewer entrance. Chunyo sniffed the air. Even with the stench of the sewer crowding her nose, the musk was unmistakable.

White Manes.

She waded toward the entrance, careful not to splash. Chunyo felt a new resolve grow within. Half-Claw would not send her and Ata to the war. Somehow, she would prevent it.

“Little Golden Fur, come out,” came an all-too familiar snarl.

Who knew how many others were out there with Half-Claw? They would have to come in and get her, and none of the apes had ever dared enter the narrow tunnels.

“Chunyo, please!” Ata cried, and ten-thousand years of sadness echoed down the rotten brick walls of the drain. Why was she here?

“Don’t hurt her, Half-Claw!” Chunyo yelled.

“Why would I want to do that?” he laughed. “Especially since you’re coming out of that nasty hole?”

Chunyo wiped new tears with the back of her hand. She could escape through the tunnels, but she couldn’t abandon her big sister.

“All right.” She started swimming for the entrance. “But give me space.”

At the corroded gate, she fully expected rough ape paws, but Chunyo emerged unaccosted. Sunrise painted the flanks of Elephant Tree Hill a ruddy pink, but in the canal, night had not yet relinquished its hold. Half-Claw was planted on a thin ledge on the opposite bank, just a few feet away, his teeth bared in a triumphant smile. He held his fishing gaff in his good paw, and with his maimed one gripped the back of Ata’s neck. The poor Gourd Throat sat like a sack of rice at the White Mane’s feet, head hung low, throat sac fluttering. Cradled in her lap was the string of cash, copper shining with fragile light captured from the rising sun. They were alone.

Chunyo climbed up the protruding lip of the pipe, shaking the sewage from her fur. Ata crumpled at the white ape’s feet fanned her anger once again. Half-Claw’s shadow had darkened their lives for far too long.

“What do you want?” she demanded, surprised at the steel in her words.

Half-Claw laughed again, spit flying from his bared fangs. He nodded his head towards the copper heaped in Ata’s lap.

“She told me you robbed some monks. I thought you might get sneaky and hide the rest in the sewers. I see I was right.”

His brow furrowed and his greedy eyes moved to the branch that Chunyo still clutched tightly to her chest. The willow branch? But it was only a broken lump of painted wood…

“I tried to pay him, Chunyo, I’m sorry!” Ata wailed.

“I’ve been patient with the two of you. Give me the rest of your plunder, and I’ll keep you out of the jungle.” Malice danced in Half-Claw’s black eyes.

“I don’t believe you!”

Half-Claw shrugged. “One way or another, you’re giving me the treasure.”

Chunyo rubbed at the carved willow buds. The white ape would be furious when he realized the branch was merely gilded wood. Greed gleamed in his tiny eyes.

He wants it all for himself. That’s why there are no other apes here.

In front of her, ripples in the water caught Chunyo’s eye. Beneath the murky surface, she saw the speckled ridges of a massive shell easing past. Her heart hammered in her chest.

“Let’s have it, little monkey!” Half-Claw jabbed his hook at Ata again, “And maybe you can steal more for me later.”

Tears of anger stung like fire in Chunyo’s eyes. The White Mane had not seen what Chunyo glimpsed beneath the surface. More of your good fortune, holy Mukwan?

Half-Claw’s eyes remained locked on the Willow Branch. Chunyo’s answer.

“You want the gold, Half-Claw? Come and get it!”

Chunyo leapt from the pipe, aiming for the shallow whirlpools that marked the passage of the black tortoise demon. The surface of the water rose slowly to meet her, like in a dream.

Half-Claw bellowed with rage. He shoved Ata away and reached into empty air with his mangled hand, trying to catch Chunyo before she plunged into the water.

His reach was short, though, and Chunyo landed on top of the ebon shell of the tortoise demon instead. Only then did she toss the broken willow branch to the White Mane.

The demon flew up from the water in a violent surge of foam, throwing Chunyo from its back. She tumbled through the air like an acrobat, laughing at Half-Claw. He clutched the willow branch, fangs bared in triumphant glee, heedless of the danger.

Fire suddenly engulfed Chunyo’s tail, a searing pain that ignited her spine and shot through her limbs. The demon had her by the tail and there was a dull pop as it flung her away. Blind with pain, Chunyo splashed back into the cold, dark water. But the demon had another meal in mind.

Half-Claw roared in alarm, still clutching the willow branch in his maimed hand. This tortoise demon was larger than the one that took Half-Claw’s fingers a year ago, its spiny head easily the size of the ape’s broad shoulders. The great scissoring jaws closed around the Half-Claw’s outstretched arm. He bellowed, an inarticulate howl of denial and agony. But the tortoise demon was fast, and it vanished into the murk with its prize, leaving behind only echoes of Half-Claw’s shrieks.

As the turbulent water frothed into a red foam, Chunyo paddled to the bank. Darkness smeared her vision, and the chill embrace of the water clutched at her.

Large, black paws plucked her from the water. The comforting scent of Ata pushed the darkness back.

“Oh, Chunyo,” Ata sobbed wetly in her ear. “He’s gone! You did it!”

Chunyo shuddered and clutched at Big Sister. Thank the Monkey King.

No. Thanks to Mukwan. It was the goddess who had brought her luck this time.

“Oh no! Your tail!”

Ata gently cradled Chunyo with one hand and tore strips of cloth from her shift with the other. Blood oozed down Chunyo’s legs, pooling on the stone of the canal. All that remained of her tail was a red stump.

“We’re free, big sister. You’re free.” Pain lingered, though distant.

Ata held Chunyo close. “I will take you home. I have herbs that will help,” she promised.

Ata carried her through the narrow alleys toward Monkey Ward. Chunyo thought of the broken Goddess and the tumbled altar, of the willow branch she’d sacrificed to the tortoise demon. With no place to make offerings now, how would Mukwan receive prayers?

But then she realized. Half-Claw was gone, and the cash string still theirs. She would buy another altar, this one for Spring Flowering Alley, and burn pungent sticks of incense for Mukwan until the other monkeys and apes knew the humans’ goddess looked after them, too.

Perhaps that was what the Goddess wanted all along.


.

About the Author

Andrew Penn Romine lives in Los Angeles, where he works in the visual effects and animation industry and writes speculative fiction. His stories have also appeared in the anthologies Rigor Amortis and the upcoming Broken Time Blues (with nonfiction in Lightspeed Magazine). He’s a graduate of the 2010 Clarion West writers workshop and blogs at andrewpennromine.com.

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