Amazing Kids! Magazine

To a New Life

By Angela Zhu, age 15, Canada


Lei opened the door to the closet and there, sitting on the floor, was a locked chest. It was made of fine rosewood and engraved with intricate peach blossoms. A shiny lock shone in the dim moonlight.

There was no time to pick the lock. He quickly wrapped the chest with the blue cloth he had brought and slung it carefully over a shoulder. Lei’s heart raced. Yes! He had found it.

There was shuffling outside the thin wooden walls. Lei sucked in a shaky breath and waited. After a while, he carefully tiptoed around fancy tables and priceless porcelain. The chest was heavy with gold and silver.

He paused again. Whoever was outside was gone now.

Slowly making his way toward the door, he pressed an ear to the thin paper window. He gently eased the door open. On the narrow veranda, Lei walked briskly toward the exit. He had also taken a silver paperweight from the study. It would pay for a night at an inn close to the city gate.

He kept to the shadows of the large courtyard and continued to walk.

Lei fell asleep at the inn clutching the cloth bundle, dreaming of a house laden with precious stones.

The loud pattering of hooves and the squawking of chickens woke him up.

Stepping tentatively out of his room, Lei peeked outside. It was only a wrinkly farmer watering his horse. Mountains of straw and cages of chickens were in the farmer’s cart. What luck! After a brief chat with the innkeeper, it was confirmed that the farmer was also heading out of the city.

Lei ate a bland bun. When no one was watching, he climbed into the haystack on the farmer’s cart. Clutching his bundle, he hoped for the best.

The rich family hadn’t found out about the missing ingots yet. Humph, those stuck-up people probably had too much money to care about a mere trunk-load of gold. Lei had been born into poverty and destined to be a farmer. Life had been cruel and unfair. He frowned at the memory of the sun beating him down in the fields and the bitter taste of rice gruel. Farmer Boy Lei did not exist anymore. Things were about to change. He would sip exotic wines from gold flasks and taste delicate meats with ivory chopsticks.

The cart rattled along, the big wheels creaking. Lei was terrified and sore from the hard wooden planks of the cart. He guessed he was nearing the city gate by the chatter and morning bustle. People sold their wares in hearty voices. Hooves thundered past while the city soldiers shouted in commanding voices. The cart slowed to wait in the crowded line.

Lei could be discovered. All it took was a poke through the straw with a sharp spear, and he would be finished. He squeezed into a ball. It wasn’t too late yet. He could still leap out of the straw and run away.

But it wasn’t as if he could just go back to the house and return the chest. No, that would not do. There were a lot of people at the city gate. The soldiers wouldn’t be careful in their search. Or at least Lei hoped they wouldn’t.

His worn cotton shirt was sticky with sweat. He could hear the soldiers’ authoritative voices.

“What you got here?” one barked at the old farmer.

“Just my chickens and hay.”

“Nothing else? No one else?” another gruff voice said.

The farmer assured them he didn’t.

Lei held his breath and froze. He was a wooden doll. Would this be the end of him and his unlived dream? He was in a sea of anxiety, about to drown. Spears were shoved into the haystack. Lei cringed every time a blade came too close. Shoving his hands in his mouth to avoid screaming, he squeezed his eyes and prayed for his life.

Suddenly, a spear kissed the surface of his skin, tearing a hole through his flimsy jacket. He bit down hard on his fingers. Panic choked him. Lei’s forehead shone with sweat, and his hands were wet on the bundle.

The soldiers didn’t find him. Tears of joy rolled down his face. He thanked the gods for his life that was soon to be filled with riches.

The old cart rattled out of the city gate. Lei mopped his sweat with his sleeve, realizing just how hot it was. Just a little farther, and he could escape. He would stop at a nice inn first and eat well. Then he would go to the tailor for nice new clothes. Afterwards, Lei would buy a good plot of land and build a nice house. He grinned to himself. The heavy chest was filled with enough gold and silver to last him three lifetimes.

Lei peeked out through the darkness of the hay. The cart was moving slower now, and there were less people. Gripping the bundle, he tumbled out of the haystack and scrambled away.

He was on a dirt road that snaked around tall, leafy trees that canopied over his head. The day had warmed up quickly. How he longed for a cool, refreshing swig of rice wine and some meat. His throat was parched, and his tummy, hollow. How stupid of him to not save another bun.

Lei lost track of how long he had been walking when the tall wooden structure of an inn appeared. He dragged his tired body inside and plopped down at a seat. The waiter came with a white towel thrown over his shoulder.

“What can I get for you today?” he asked.

Lei ordered the expensive rice wine. Roasted duck, rare mushroom soup, steamed fish, tender bamboo shoots, mountain pheasant, and broiled pork were brought to the table. He ate happily, cherishing the taste of heavenly wine and fatty meats dripping with oil. He was floating on a cloud.

The food disappeared too soon, but Lei had never felt more satisfied. Risking his life had been worth it. His new life had already started. He would buy a horse from this inn and ride to the next city, where he would find a tailor. His mud-stained clothes had to go.

“Mister? The bill?” The waiter interrupted his thoughts.

“Right,” Lei said. He cheerfully took the chest out of his bundle. Taking the knife he kept for protection, Lei easily cut the lock. He lifted the lid to take an ingot out to pay—and was surprised to see the rolls of worthless bamboo scrolls.