Thursday, May 5, 2011

Adept Do Chen

I meditated in the main yard under the plum tree, my eyes closed, listening to the approach of White Hare, the only one of my father's servants I'd kept after his death. The servant's footsteps rustled on the rice paper.

I gripped my left wrist with my right hand and bowed to White Hare. My eyes remained closed. His shenyi robe rustled and I knew he bowed deeper than my own. "I asked not to be disturbed."

"The ice has arrived."

"Leave it, like usual, in the outside yard." I waited, soaking the Sea Breath deep into my lungs, purging my annoyance at White Hare. He hadn't moved. My eyes flicked open. "What is wrong?"

"The one delivering the ice is not the usual man," White Hare said. "I thought you'd want to deal with him."

"You are right." I rose, my hands clasped in front of me, smoothly rising from my crossed-legs position, feeling a slight ache from this morning's tumbling.

The wagon-driver wore simple cotton and bowed when I passed the screen wall, I did not return the honor and the man's eyes widened. "Where is the usual man?"

"Sorry, Adept Do Chen. He is sick. I --"

"I left strict instructions."

"He is bedridden, he couldn't deliver."

"No ice is better than betrayal."

The driver retreated several steps, his shoulders slouching, his hands twitching at his side. "I'm only doing what I was asked to do."

"Unload the ice, and be gone."

The driver lifted the silk wrapped ice from the back of the wagon and moved to enter the secondary gate.

"Where are you going?"

"You'll want the ice in the main house."

"No. Leave the ice on the ground. The normal driver next time, or heads roll."

"Y... yes, my adept."

White Hare stood outside the secondary gate. A smirk touching the edge of his cheeks. "You are dismissed," I said. "Leave the house for a few hours."

"Yes, master."

I moved the ice into the main house, settling on the floor beside the paper screen. An image of a sinuous dragon was etched on the paper and backlit by the sun. I nodded, remembering my father's spirit. I could see him in the strokes of his art.

I cut the block into long rectangles and opened the icebox inserting the ice around Liu's head. The lips had turned blue, frost coating them in thin tendrils trailing towards the stump of Liu's neck resting on the ice. My father's killer's eyes moved slowly. The cold keeping him alive, keeping him slow.


  1. Oh, not what I was expecting at all. Great ending. I couldn't work out why he was so upset that the ice man had changed, then I got to the ending. Nicely done.

    Helen from

  2. @Helen, Thanks; I'm not a huge fan myself of twist-endings, but I think this ending satisfied me not because I felt like I was hiding information (hopefully it didn't come across that way) but because it allows the character of Do to expand and become more nuanced.

  3. No ice is better thn betrayal - zing, that was a peach of a line. Nicely done all round

    Marc Nash

  4. I'm also not a fan of twist endings, but this wasn't the typical jarring of the wholly unexpected, but seamless and satisfying. Also, all of it had a weird other-ness that I loved. Well done.

  5. First paragraph totally earns the world. Something about the mentioning of the White Hare so close to meditation beneath a tree avoided pseudo-Asian cheese in favor of earnestness.

  6. Brrrr! And in more ways than one! I have no problem with twist endings, especially when the twist makes clear the rest of the story like this one did.

  7. Fantastic ending! It explains all the upset over the change in the ice delivery man.

  8. @Marc, Thanks.

    @Rebecca, I'm fascinated by otherness and I'm glad I managed to capture a little smidge of it for you here ;)

    @JohnW, interesting; I'll be thinking about that beginning because I did want to catch earnestness, so I want to understand that better.

    @FAR, even more ways... I'm in Sweden this week and we had snow on the ground on Tuesday morning.

    @Sonia, Do was getting a little suspicious there wasn't he. ;)

  9. That last line really made what was going on sink in. Nice job.

  10. God, and I thought I had to deal with awkward customers when I worked in a coffee house! Good sense of pacing in this one - it's all very measured and calm, which works well with the idea of the ice.

  11. Nice one. =)

    I expected the ice man to be some kind of assassin... A good twist is not the one you see coming, but not the one that comes out of nowhere either. This feels like an appropriate punishment for the story world, considered, calm and patient.

    A clever transposition of the idea of cryogenics into a fantasy setting too. =)

  12. Wow! Creepy and you capture abruptness of character and story-telling! Beautifully told and with a short, sharp, surprising end.

  13. @Lara, it's nice when you can find one of those last lines with a little bit of zing.

    @Icy, us customers are very bizarre (especially me right now; when I enter the shots and try my heavily accented swedish on them, they must cringe.)

    @John, I like that you were looking at the ice man as an assassin, because in some ways I see Do as the assassin.

    @Deb, Thanks, it was a fun tale to tell.

  14. The killer's eyes moving slowly in the ice box is chilling (forgive the pun) and packs a punch right at the end. It contrasts with the meditative calmness of the start. I rather enjoyed this, although not sure about significance of the normal ice man in the story, other than he knew about the head.

  15. That's one interesting world to explore. I hope you'll consider explaining his father's story in the future.

    I agree with Icy, the story's pacing goes very well with the slowness you evoke in the ending.

  16. Hi there Aidan --

    I really liked your measured pace and evocation of the characters and environment: they felt of their time, place and culture. Those dragon wrappers on the ice, very neat. I now want to buy ice that way ;)

    Nice macabre twist. I did lose my way a little working out who the guy was that he had 'in the freezer', but still nicely done.