Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Bright Moon" by Marilyn Peake (Short Story)

Genre:  Dark Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  In China, an infant faerie is found by a toddler. Delighted, his peasant farmer parents see this as an opportunity to raise a second child despite China’s one-child Planned Birth Policy. They name the baby Ming Yue, meaning "Bright Moon." She is precious and magical. As China begins its industrial revolution, waterways and rice paddies run red with pollution, farms become cancer villages, and the baby faerie struggles to survive.

The baby was cute. The Zhou family found her, naked and shivering, in a thicket of bushes next to the stream winding its way like a singing ribbon across their farm. That night, they named her Ming Yue, meaning “Bright Moon”, as the cool white illumination of a full moon rained down from the heavens and filled their home with light. Observing her bright blue eyes, they later nicknamed her “Ming”, meaning simply “shining, bright, clear”. At the time of her discovery, they assumed that she had been left by parents too afraid to transgress the one-child Planned Birth Policy.

Cheng-Gong, their toddler son, had been the first to find her. Wearing coveralls more stained with mud than their original beige dye, he had been digging in the soil for worms as his parents worked their tiny farm. Aware of both butterflies and faeries flitting to and fro upon the wind, his hearing and other senses keen and developing every day, he heard a baby’s cry and wandered off to find its source. Running as quickly as his little legs would carry him, he ignored his parents’ shouts warning him to stop and come back. Following after Cheng-Gong, they eventually came upon the tiny baby, kicking her legs and wailing within the deep grasses of the thicket.

Jia Li, the mother, picked up the fretting infant, cheeks red and slick with tears, and held her close. To her husband, Quon, she spoke furtively, “Someone left her, probably hoping we would find her. We should keep her. The government allows us only one child without penalties, but we didn’t have this baby ourselves. We should be allowed to keep her, don’t you think?”

As Quon smiled, the leathery, sun-baked skin of his thin cheeks and around his glittering black eyes gathered into wrinkles. “Yes, yes, we should keep her. Last night, I dreamed that a dragon had climbed down from the mountain caves above our farm, carrying a golden cup in its mouth. Then I woke. That must have been a message from the gods that this infant was on her way. She is a very special gift.”

For a moment, Jia Li’s wizened face softened and filled with a soft radiant glow. Then, remembering her responsibilities of motherhood, she realized the baby needed clothes soon and Cheng-Gong needed an introduction first. Kneeling down, Jia Li showed the infant, now happily cooing, to her son.

Cheng-Gong reached out a chubby little hand and patted the newcomer on her shiny golden head. “Momma, her hair is gold.”

Quon thought back to his dream of the dragon carrying a golden cup in its mouth. Jia Li wondered if there had been male visitors from abroad, perhaps Europe or the United States, within the past year. She tried to remember, wondering if the baby might be the result of an illicit union between a local Chinese woman and some blonde-haired man. So much the better if that were true, she decided, because it was less likely that the woman would ever try to reclaim her child, especially if she already had one, as the Chinese government would never allow two children without fines and other penalties. Briefly, she remembered a local man hung from a tree for failing to pay the fine after the birth of his second child, a fine as large as one year’s earnings; but she tossed the thought from her mind, feeling certain the child’s golden hair would somehow protect them.

After gazing into the dark glimmering eyes of her new brother, Ming Yue was carried into the small farmhouse of the Zhou family and swaddled in brightly colored, tattered blankets. That night, she drank sweetened goat’s milk, waved her arms and babbled incessantly while her older brother danced rings around her with entertaining antics.

As the full moon rose high in the sky, stars twinkled and winked and planets sparkled like diamonds, Mr. And Mrs. Zhou rose repeatedly from their dreams to feed their crying infant. The next day, Jia Li stayed inside the house with her children, too tired to handle the risk of being sighted by nosy neighbors or government authorities.

Three months after Ming Yue’s arrival, as his mother was changing his little sister’s clothes, Cheng-Gong pointed to her back. There sprouted tiny, sparkling, light blue feathers. Suddenly released from the confinement of the tiny undershirt, they fluttered and flapped, completely out of sync with each other. The baby giggled and smiled at her mother.

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