The monk told him to give his wife realgar wine to force the snake demoness to reveal her true form. When her last breath sputters in her lungs, she turns white but does not grow scales. He never finds the monk again.
Four years after their exile from each other, the Cowherd tells the Weaving Maid that they must let go. If a day in heaven is a year on earth he will be dead in two months. Their children have long outgrown the baskets he carried them with when he chased her across the sky. He has new aches and scars she does not know. When he turns to go, the bridge of magpies dip under his weight for the first time. For years after, the clouds she weaves hang low in the sky, the colour of a bruise.
The huli jng takes on an apprentice. At the end of her training the girl can transform herself into any creature she can imagine, summon an army from the mists, call down lightning from the heavens to strike her enemies down. But the fox never ever teaches her the arts of seduction, because the truth is, she has never known it.
The sword master demands the blacksmith forge him a blade powerful enough to destroy the mandate of heaven. Instead of a sword forged from lightning or human remains, he receives a dagger. For a year, the sword master puts down his sword and spends the mornings training to dash up the length of dais and plunge the dagger through the ribs of a man in a single sweep. In the afternoon, he learns to cook broiled fish. The cats in his neighbourhood grow plump. When he lies in bed he imagines the sensation of a thousand blades running through him. He wonders how the heroes of legend were able to – coldly, clinically – prepare themselves to die.
The butterfly dreams that it is a man dreaming that he is a butterfly. When it shudders awake, it huddles close to its mate.
Daji places her head on the block and waits for the executioner’s swing. She thinks of her time in the palace, how they had always said yes to her, even when her tails had fluffed from the cruelty of her orders. She will be remembered as the woman who brought down a dynasty, even though it is not her that they should be afraid of, but the cowardice of their own evil. Until they fear this, she will not be the last.
When the war ends, the maiden bids her troops goodbye. She stops by the tent of her commanding officer with a dry throat and restless fingers, wondering how to word her confession; but he is already in the arms of his lover, the one they say is so beautiful that the sight of her reflection is enough to have fish forget to breathe. She drops her gaze to stare at her calloused hands, her skin long baked brown from the sun. Her envy is a sword stabbed in her gut that shifts and turns. At night, she dreams of sparring with a white ape in the woods, of the days when happiness was a new blister earned and a new skill learnt, a time before she learnt the far more inconstant joy of the smile of a man.
The bone spirit rattles with every step she takes. All she has ever wanted was a body to clad herself in.
1. Madam White Snake
2. The Legend of the Cowherd and Weaving Girl
3. Huli jing = fox spirit, The Three Sui Quash the Demon’s Revolt
4. Legend of the Fish Intestine sword
5. Mixture of The Butterfly Lovers and Zhuangzi’s philosophy
6. Daji – the consort of the last emperor of the Shang Dynasty, who purportedly caused its downfall. Most stories have written that she is a fox spirit.
7. Sword of the Yue Maiden
8. Baigu jing – bone spirit from Journey to the West who wanted to eat Tang Sanzang’s flesh to gain immortality
Prompt: Write a series poem, with an overall title. Each section of the series should deal with the same subject, image or theme referred to in the series title.
#ProsePoetryBonus: Write your series as prose poems.
#NoNuggetsBonus: Chicken nuggets should not feature anywhere in your series.