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She looked out the train window, grateful for both the ‘soft’ seat and ‘soft’ bed she’d purchased before leaving Beijing. She could change her butt to take the other regular train seats, but it would take too long and where could she hide while she did?
But the ride from Beijing to Harbin was too much to bear. From there to Khabarovsk and finally Vanino, not much better but at least the Soviets were used to train travel and had a few more amenities. She could, at least, eat cheese here without being considered a western fool.
Ah, but this time she was a western fool. She’d spent the last seventy years as a middle-aged Frenchman, Yvonne Givet Salon Dupres, penis and all, and fought the last three wars as such before becoming an expatriate studying at the Institute of Zoology after the French gave Viet Nam over to the communists.
All things return, as must she to home now and again. The French missionaries and priests and colonialists left Msr. Dupres to the Chinese because of his unorthodox and completely uncivil ways. The Chinese kept him happy, clean, and comfortable for thirty-five years because he knew the ways of the West. They even gave him a position to keep him happy and safe, which was wonderful, Yu-Ping Chang thought, because with the advent of photography and then radio and that damned television machine she was no longer safe staying in one form with one face for several hundred years.
And now, with computers and satellites and who knows what else these damn nomads might dream up, she didn’t even feel safe in one body with the same face for a single lifetime.
But also now, with the opening of the communist lands to the West, the French and British and Israeli and Americans looked up Msr. Dupres to plumb his mind and call upon loyalties they insisted he must surely have.
Nomads. All of them. And fools. She grayed her temples and added some hairs to her face and they never knew, satisfied she aged well among the heathen Chinese.
The sun rose over the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. She wondered if they were older than she. They, she believed, were permanent. All mountains, she believed, were permanent. Many islands, but not all. Rivers were children who hadn’t made up their minds which way to the sea. Oceans. Now they were ancient, older than she and wiser. She’d been a fish once. But, oh, what a big fish she’d been. She doubted she’d ever spend her time as a creature of water again. Too cold. Even at the equator, for her liking. Too cold.
Everything else around her was a speck in the mirror of time. Even what others considered the most ancient of trees sprouted, grew, withered, and died before she took a breath. Anything living and breathing, walking, swimming, flying, or burrowing into the earth was a fleeting nomad, something around her so quickly she’d long ago lost the ability to recognize a face or hear a voice unique, one from another.
If it were not for people’s scents…
Something she promised herself to always be aware of…
From long, long ago.
She would take the train half way up the Amur River valley, then over to Vanino, and from there she would ride upon the sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, stopping in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and Ust-Kamchatsk and finally changing ships at sea to once again come landward at Anadyrsk, where her Soviet comrades would take her west to the foothills where the Gydan and Anadyr Mountains met, just north of the wild plains of the Anadyr River, to study the flora and fauna in the land of her off again on again home.
The hunger would come soon. It would come and in about five hundred years it would consume her and drive her mad until like some dumb beast she made her way crawling back to the cave where Tiger and Bear gave her birth.
She laughed. She transformed into a beast – albeit not a dumb one – once in order to get to her beloved whispering brainstone.
When was that?
She’d long stopped counting years. It made no sense.
Yet she remembered it all and her stomach roiled when she did. To die, to escape, to be released from this living death which impaled her on its smooth, stoney horns every thousand years, forcing her to return to the land of her birth?
She had been, what? eleven summers old when she found the Whispering stone and it first breathed its life on her? She stayed in that body thirty summers, a child’s body but with cat’s eyes, not realizing her youth and eyes as pieces of the Whisperer’s gifts, gifts she’d never thought to repay.
But they were fools back then. A child with cat’s eyes walking down from the mountains? A god, they called her. What else could she be?
A demon, the offspring of a demon and some unfortunate maid, Liu Tze Wan said when it became obvious she could not carry a child for him, when she no longer suited him.
So the nomads wasted the few spears and rocks and stones they had piercing and breaking her body, pummeling her tiny eleven year old frame until she no longer cried out her pain, not knowing although her eyes closed and she could no longer breathe she was conscious still, felt each bone-shattering blow, each tightly coiled fist, each fur covered boot splintering and resplintering her ribs, her hips, her jaw, her face, her skull, heard Liu Tze Wan call out to bring him her eyes to eat because her power lay there and now it would be his.
They didn’t know she felt the sharp-edge flint penetrating her skin, felt the frightened hands shake holding them, felt the shaking so great those hands couldn’t cut and instead gouged out the eyes which had warned them of ambushes in the reeds and hills and snow, the eyes which had seen from afar the deer and bear and mammoth, the eyes which had seen him with another lover and sought to tear out his own.
They shit and pissed on her then brought over their animals to do the same.
My how she frightened them.
But it didn’t matter. She could walk again in less than a year, her body grown stronger, grown taller, longer, with legs designed for running rapidly over snow and ice fields and tundra and swamp, feet that could splay to support her now considerable weight on any surface, lungs able to leech oxygen into her blood from even the highest mountain airs, and covered demon head to prehensile toes with a fur that shed water and cold like tears of ice from eyes able to see far further than she ever see before, eyes which would see Liu Tze Wan into the grave.
And all simply by her thoughts of what she would do when she found her people again.
But she didn’t know any of this until, rising, she went to the pond she could smell in the distance, a year’s thirst cracking the fibers of muscle lining her throat, and saw her reflection before she drank.
“It is true , ” she whispered, a taloned claw rising up and gently stroking her face, brushing itself tenderly through the thick, fine golden mane shaking like a faulty crown as she wept to see herself revealed in the water. “I am the Demon they thought me to be. ”
She looked into the water and the demon’s brow furrowed as it wiped chilly tears from its eyes. “I am not the demon they thought me to be? ”
She cowered at the water’s edge, tucking herself into a tiny quaking ball suddenly realizing what it was she saw. “Oh, great water demon, forgive me for seeing your grandeur and thinking it my own.”
But the demon didn’t kill her. When she looked up again it simply stared back at her from the ripples in the water there. “Demon?”
Its lips moved when she spoke. What could this be? was it possible that she…
But her hands looked normal, as did her longs legs and wide, long toed feet, their huge nails curving down and tearing into the moist earth by the water’s edge.
The demon inspected its hands and legs and feet even as Yu-Ping inspected her own.
She pointed at her reflection in the pond. “Demon?”
Then she laughed. The demon pulled away from the pond and held its belly as she rolled on the ground with laughter.
Of course her hands and feet and fur looked normal to her. She’d grown new eyes even as her body healed. Everything those eyes saw looked normal to her; they’d seen the subtle changes to her form each day so it never shocked her.
But it wasn’t until this day that she thought to speak. It wasn’t until this day that she’d had cause to hear her own voice, and now to hear little Yu-Ping Chang’s voice coming from the behemoth reflected in the water?
It was too good not to laugh.
It was sweeter than the cane her parents had traded for her younger brother when she was a child.
Wouldn’t it be funny and sweet, Liu Tze Wan hearing gentle, kind, loving Yu-Ping Chang’s voice whispering her love for him as she ate through his belly, tasted the sweet digestion of his last meal – His last meal! She laughed! Her little voice rifled from that demon’s mouth! – and spit and pissed his bowels out on his still living eyes?
Yes, that would be something to make the demon laugh. Really that would.
So she set out after Liu Tze Wan, delighting in using nostrils that would have made wolves jealous, eyes that would be the envy of sharp-eyed hawks, ears that heard conversations in the wind spoken by fools yet many days away.
She detected their spoor, followed their camp, walked through villages Liu Tze Wan had looted and destroyed, and both pitied and eaten those that remained. They had a year’s headstart but that didn’t matter. She knew they planned to go to Next Place, to Heaven, to follow the migrating herds before the Great Waters conquered the land again.
She knew and followed. By night, by day, by dusk, by dawn, it didn’t matter. How she delighted in this body the gods made for her. Even tiger and bear cowered before her, ran from her, cuffed their young to follow and flee when she broke into their dens and lairs.
She could have not thought this power possible in poor, little, Yu-Ping Chang.
But as the demon?
It took her two years and a day. Their spoor had been strong for almost a moon now and she came upon their fires not many days cold.
But she worried. What if Liu Tze Wan left them? Or if they tired of him and his ways as he tired of her?
It didn’t matter.
Many of them humiliated her, tore her eyes from her, pissed on her still warm flesh and led their animals to piss and shit on her, then left her so other animals could come by and do the samyye, or worse.
Since the pond she’d made it a point to kill every scavenging beast she found, holding them down while they still lived and lifting out their entrails one small piece at a time.
Perhaps Liu Tze Wan would share that same terror.
She would make it a point to look into his eyes.
And if not him, then those who worked with him and helped him when he decided her time had come.
Yes, that would do nicely.
Halfway between one moon and the next she smelt him walking away from the camp, his smell distinct and ripe and separate from the scents of his guards around him, the scent of his new bitch, his new slut, clinging to his thighs as he sought relief from too much wine in an abditory dungpit.
The demon laughed and tender Yu-Ping Chang’s voice came out. Did Liu Tze Wan think himself to special to shit and piss where others had?
All the better. She would have him all to herself when her moment of joy arrived.
Demon Yu-Ping Chang rested that day and covered the remaining distance under the stars, using the moonless night sky and her wonderful new eyes to give light to the path her nose told her Liu Tze Wan walked.
The night of her great joy she waited until the winds shifted. For a while the winds moved along the barren lands she’d walked towards Heaven and Yu-Ping Chang carefully moved with them, patient because so her plan demanded. The Demon Yu-Ping Chang walk with each sussuration of the grasses across the plain, staying in the wind’s bore, making sure her scent never entered the camp, waiting until the winds changed fully, until she knew the camp’s dogs and goats and men and aurochs couldn’t detect her scent.
She ranged across the tundra and ice until she found a salt pit near the Great Waters edge and bathed herself, removing any scent revealing where she’d been and covering herself in the winds coming from Heaven. She found dung thrown by the camp animals and covered herself, like a dog, so she could walk among the camp’s pack animals and take what she needed from them.
She moved through them undisturbed. Any animal carrying the scents of the men and women and children who’d harmed her she moved to the center of the herd then sliced their throats quickly, cleanly, and quietly, her razor sharp demon talons her only tool.
She fought back laughter. Wouldn’t they be surprised to see Yu-Ping Chang now?
She left enough animals standing so the guards would suspect nothing, would not see the slaughter in the center of the herd. She had to move quickly, though. Soon the dogs would scent out the escaping bowels of Yu-Ping Chang’s abbatoir and bloodlust would overcome them.
She flattened herself to the ground. Under the darkness of the not yet risen moon she climbed the mound behind which Liu Tze Wan privately relieved himself, and waited.
With the heavily lidded eye of the moon rising up from Heaven, she met him as she intended, after he had pleased himself yet again with another new bitch, after too much wine made his manhood forgetful and he’d beaten another woman-child because he could not produce children, after his own water pushed so strong within him he needed help to make it to his private dungpit to relieve himself.
His men held back a bit, affording him the privacy allowed no one else in the camp. He belched and sighed and farted as his water escaped him.
“Wan? ” she whispered, her petite, young, fragile and frail Yu-Ping Chang voice no different than the last time he had her.
His eyes barely opened as his waters splashed the ground around him.
“Wan, my love, can you hear me?”
“Wan, it is I, the child you said would be your queen.”
He vomited, but not out of fear. He always vomited when he drank too much. Wiping his mouth with one hand he pissed again. “Come back to haunt me, little bitch?”
She rose from the mound quietly, carefully, making sure none of his men heard and came up behind him, letting her breath warm the nape of his neck.
It always pleased him before.
“To haunt you? No, my lord, my Wan, great king. I have returned only to serve you in death as you begged me to serve you in life. I come to eat you and do to you with my tongue what so delighted you before. You still like that, don’t you, my lord?”
His smile broadened. “Even the ghosts fear and honor me , ” he grunted.
“Oh, yes. Yes, they do. Come, turn, bring yourself here and rejoice as this demon ghost sucks you in.”
Obediently Liu Tze Wan turned. Yu-Ping Chang kneeled but even so her head blanketed his naked chest. “Your eyes are closed, Lord Wan. Don’t you wish to see how a demon ghost drinks in your lust?”
He laughed. “Yes, that would be — ”
Yu-Ping Chang’s fangs tore through his thighs. He almost smiled as her tongue wrapped itself around his scrotum like a lariat, tightened, and pulled until his testicles popped.
His guards came. She rose with Liu Tze Wan’s limp body dangling from her mouth, a cat hurrying home with a little bird prize, and finished them before they raised their spears to her.
Liu Tze Wan dropped from her mouth onto his own private dungpile. She nudged him. He groaned.
“Not dead? Just asleep? Wake up, my lord. Wake up.”
Liu Tze Wan groaned again. His eyes fluttered. She slapped his face. “Wake up, pig-fool.”
His eyes opened and fixed upon her.
“Nothing to say, Lord Wan? Do you not remember little Yu-Ping Chang whom you loved?”
He shook his head, no.
“Nothing to say to someone who offered to carry your child?”
His lips parted and blood bubbled out.
She lifted him by his head, a great taloned paw on either side, and stood up quickly. “Talk to me, human-dog.”
He shook, his eyes fluttered again then opened and fixed on her. His breaths weakened.
“Ugh , ” she said. “I grow tired of these games. You will not talk? Then let me give you one last kiss before you die. ” She held his lips close to her own. Her demon tongue slapped his face and probed his throat, nose, and eyes. Then, before he breathed his last, she slowly squeezed his head, squeezing down and forward, until his brains shot through the roof of his mouth and into her own.
“A man you were not, but a leader you could have been. Now the best of you is in me. ” She dropped him onto his own filth then covered him with her own.
The next morning, while the camp still slept and before the animals called the coming of the sun, she devoured the rest. True, some hadn’t taken part in her debasement, in her slaughter, but she’d gone a long time without food to find Liu Tze Wan, and he’d often boasted of raiding other camps and taking spoils, so wasn’t this part of her prize?
She guessed from the smells and color of the sky she wasn’t more than six moons strong march from Next Place.
What was it the old ones, the seers and skywalkers said of Next Place? It would be Heaven? A place of great joy and plenty?
It couldn’t be Heaven. Heaven lay around her in the half-eaten bodies of those who thought her weak. This place, rigtht here, brought her great joy. And wasn’t her belly full? Wasn’t right here a place of plenty?
Perhaps she would go there.
Just to see if Next Place was everything the old ones and seers and skywalkers claimed it would be.
What else was a demon to do?
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