Amazing Kids! Magazine

How the Little Dipper Came to Be

By R. Kim, age 12, Hong Kong

 

As the sun’s blinding light slowly set over the rows of rice paddies, the life in Lan’s eyes began to dim as well. Her sickly, pale body seemed to be getting even more frail every time he checked on her.

“Don’t…don’t spend more money on me,” Lan gasped, her coarse voice barely louder than a whisper. “I’m beyond medical help now. Only, maybe the wu…”

With that, she closed her bloodshot eyes. Her raspy breathing was still audible but faint. Kang could see the lines of fatigue prominently woven throughout her forehead.

He desperately tried to reassure her.

“You still have a chance. You’ll get better,” he sighed. As soon as the words left his lips, the night’s tranquility was interrupted by a dog’s eerie howling.

If only this weren’t a white lie, he thought desperately.

As he hurried along the meandering path to the wu, Lan’s words replayed over and over in his head. “I’m beyond medical help now,” she had said. On impulse, he cocked his head upwards to the heavens. Amongst the cluster of pale stars, the Great Dipper constellation alone seemed to illuminate the night sky, its knowing silvery glow twinkling down back at Kang, as if giving him an astral wink. Kang shuddered and scurried on, determined to meet the wu before darkness descended.

When at last he reached the dowdy cavern, he set to work burning his offerings as he prayed to Xi Wangmu (the Queen Mother) and Yu Huang (the Jade Emperor). Just as he was uttering the last word, the mist obscuring his vision cleared, and the wu emerged. Kang took in a sharp breath.

“What do you seek?” she demanded.

A simple question, but Kang had a hard answer.

“Mighty seer,” he began. “My beloved sister is ill. I long to find a cure to her illness. However, what ails her is Pestilence.”

“The disease the Queen Mother set upon the world in her moment of anger is incurable by normal medical means. And as for your sister, she will die. I can foresee that much. Your efforts are fruitless. Leave,” the wu stated flatly, her face emotionless.

A black chasm opened before Kang. His heart felt like it was plummeting down to the clammy cave grounds. Humidity clung to him like a second skin. The flicker of hope that was once within him was draining out like a leaky faucet, drop by drop, when the wu said something that changed the turn of events.

“Unless—there is a way you could avoid her death. You know it; I know it; everyone knows it.”

Kang looked up from his misery.

“The Peaches of Immortality,” she recited, “have the ability to grant whoever consumes them immortality. Steal one, but at your own risk.”

She pointed with a long, bony finger north, to a majestic mountain aglow with a golden luster, reaching up to the heavens. “You’re fortunate, boy, for we’re standing under the shadow of the most sacred mountain of all, the Kunlun Mountain. It should only take you till early dawn to reach the top.”

The mist began to swirl again.

“The Great Dipper constellation is unexpectedly bright tonight,” the wu droned, then stepped into the void. The wu muttered, “Polite words open iron gates.”

His session with the wu was over.

A day’s worth of climbing felt like an eternity to Kang. All his instincts frantically urged him to turn back, go back to safety, but when he pictured Lan’s anguished face, he couldn’t bring himself to descend. So on and on he went, staggering up the mountain. When by dawn he finally reached the crest, he caught his breath in amazement. Despite the perspiration dripping off his face, he had to admit the view was absolutely magnificent, breathtaking—no—what was the word for it?—divine.

Kang had heard many rumors about Kunlun Mountain and its heavenly gardens, but none matched what he saw. The Kunlun Mountain summit was a vibrant treasure chest with scarlet- and coral-colored gem-like rocks and cliffs of jade and jasper, graced with exotic jeweled plants he had never seen before. Towering there, smack in the middle of the gardens, stood an exquisite tree of fairy gems with vivid hues of azure, iris, and cornflower blue luxuriously streaked throughout the tree. Kang’s gaze, though, was directed to a dappled patch of pastel pink orbs. He plodded in a daze towards the pink fruits, invisible threads tugging him along, totally unaware of the pair of vigilant eyes following his every move.

Coming closer to the luscious peaches, Kang realized they were not cerise but mauve, the size of a fire-bird’s egg, and veined with cords of ever-changing color. Just as he reached out to stroke one, a sharp voice like a knife sliced through the air. He spun around to see a set of eyes, as black as obsidian, looking fixedly back at him with murderous intent.

The Queen had been enjoying her chrysanthemum tea when she had spied something in the corner of her eye. Her tiger instincts perked up instantly, for she knew it was no bird that was in her garden. Intrigued, she stalked him from afar, her striped tail swinging side to side. The longer she watched him, the irater she got until her fury knew no bounds. Before she knew it, with claws extended, she launched into action.

If Kang had expected to see a Queen in freezing royal outrage, what he got was far worse. Instead of the mighty deity, he found himself face-to-face with the bared teeth of an enraged tiger, fur aflame. He realized he had never known true fear until he saw this majestic beast, growling and showing all of its razor-sharp teeth, her anger so great it seemed to be dripping off her. The garden that had once seemed so beautiful lost its color as Kang’s view became monochrome. Snapshots of his life sped before his eye. The village…farming…his family…Lan…Lan! He had to succeed for Lan’s sake. One word. Kang had the time to say one word before the tiger pounced. What word? What word could possibly alter his doom, Lan’s death? Polite words open iron gates, the wu had said. That was it! He had to say “Please!”

The tiger, frozen in place, seemed to reconsider. Her golden, fiery aura diminished just a notch. Kang let out a sigh of relief, his hazel eyes shining with purpose against the tiger’s jet-black ones. Time for him stood still. Meanwhile, the Queen Mother, poised to attack, had the uncomfortable thought that the young boy in front of her had seen into her immortal mind and realized her soft spot for courtesy. Her curiosity aroused and her anger abated, she decided to have mercy on him.

Kang continued staring pleadingly into her eyes as thoughts raced across his head. Had his “please” worked? Or was she planning to imprison him? Maybe toy with him, like a cat would a mouse? Then suddenly, his eyes widened in shock. The tiger was changing form, changing into—could it be? The Queen Mother of the West! No words could describe her beauty. Raven black hair, so black it looked blue, fell in cascades over her shoulders. Her almond eyes were still ebony-black but sparkled playfully like pools of spring water. Her timeless features were as delicate as if they had been carved from ivory. Ornate jewels dangled from her graceful neck. She wore a frosty white silken Chang’ao, with silver and copper specks woven throughout the garment, embroidered with lilac flowers. She radiated such feminine power that Kang kowtowed before the Queen.

With a flurry of shimmering sleeves, she gestured to a wooden bench bordering a jasper pool. Kang again felt himself tugged by invisible threads against his will to the bench, where the Queen motioned him to sit. She eyed him expectantly as she leaned over and issued a command: “Speak!”

For the second time, Kang told his story, staring at the ground as he spoke. Not once did the Queen’s expression change. She remained impassive as he spoke about his dying sister, the sleepless nights caring for her, his journey to the wu, and his desperation to obtain a peach; and when his story was over, Kang looked up once more. The Queen glanced at him, and with a silvery voice like the echoes of a clear fountain, she inquired, “And what disease troubles your sister?”

“Pestilence.”

The Queen mother gasped, her composure utterly changed. No longer did she look bold and self-reliant, but in fact, her face was racked with guilt.

“Pestilence. I do have a bad temper…When my rage cooled down, I really regretted that. You know what it is, right, boy? And how it came to be? Of course, you do. I will cure your beloved sister, but—as for you…” her voice trailed off. She turned to face him.

“My apologies. But no mortal should ever lay a foot on this mountain, much less see my true form, and live. Your sister will thrive, but I’m afraid you will remain here in the heavens. Forever.”

Before Kang could utter a reply, his figure started to melt as his life form dissipated into swirls of energy. Wispy, ribbon-like strands of soul floated up like smoke to the sky above. The constellations opened their arms to embrace him.

“Live forever in the stars,” the Queen said gently.

As the last of the smoke rose, Lan opened her eyes, the throbbing pain in her forehead suddenly gone.

“Kang!” she called as her life and spirit returned swiftly. The walls of the small hut echoed, but otherwise, there was silence. Leaping off her straw mattress, she searched the hut but to no avail. She dashed out of the hut and looked up to the clear morning sky. Twinkling back down at her was a pearly white star, a replica of the Great Dipper, mini-sized, pulsating shining light around its surroundings. A single beam shone down upon her face, its warmth seeping into every inch of her body.


wu: A Chinese oracle.

Xi Wangmu, the Queen Mother: A Chinese goddess known to have kindly intentions but a temper as well. When angered, turns into a tiger. She lives in the Kunlun Mountain and owns the Peaches of Immortality. She is also considered to be the mother of the Great Dipper constellation.

Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor: Represents the first and highest god in Chinese mythology.

Chang’ao: A long silken gown with a slit, worn in the olden days by noblewomen.

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