Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chapter 8: Huli Jing

The school is literally around the corner from Amelia's house, but her mother insisted she rent a limo to take her to the prom.

She hadn't had much chance to talk to Byron since she asked him to be her date for this event, and as she rides alone to the school, she can't help but wonder if he even remembers.

Byron did show up, and they danced and laughed, but any attempts Amelia made at flirtation were shrugged off. When Byron escorts her home, she considers one final attempt at sparking a romance, perhaps kissing him the way Thierry had kissed her the other day, but her courage fails her and she just thanks him for his company and gives him a friendly hug goodnight.

Hawke watches Li Feng playing tag alone in the yard. Imaginary friends are normal, he tells himself, but his daughter hasn't yet made any real friends at school, and her belief that Zhenzhen was sent by Sun to watch over her is more than a little disturbing.

Hawke calls her over. "You should try to make friends at school," he advises, "Real friends."

"Zhenzhen is my real friend," Li Feng protests.

Hawke sighs, not sure how much pressure he should put on her, if any.

Sometimes he stays up late, hoping to catch her ghost. She touches him, but there's nothing there.

"It's not real," he tells himself, "You're not here, and this is just an illusion. I have to let it go." He closes his eyes and releases the ghost from his embrace. When he opens his eyes, she's gone. He doesn't feel any better.

"Tell me about how you met my mother," Amelia asks of her father.

"Well, I'd known her since we were kids. We went to school together," Emilio says, hoping that's enough and he doesn't have to get any deeper into it than that.

"So you dated in high school?" Amelia carries on with the questioning.

"Have you talked to your mother about this?" Emilio tries to fend off the interrogation. Having Meadow standing right behind him doesn't make this conversation any easier.

"I want to talk to you about it," Amelia insists, "I'm having trouble deciding if I like a boy, and if a boy likes me, and I want to know how it was with you. How do you know when you are in love? How did you end up with mother, and how did it end?"

"Your mother and I aren't the best example to look to," Emilio says, "We weren't actually ever in love."

"So, what were you, then? A one night stand?" Amelia looks appalled.

"No!" Emilio protests, though it's not far from the truth, "It's more complicated than that. We were friends for a long time. Did your mother ever tell you about your aunt Phoenix?"

Amelia nods, "Uncle Hawke talks about her, he named Li Feng after her."

"Phoenix was my girlfriend. We were going to be married. Then she disappeared," Emilio says. Just saying her name hurts, the pain of losing his first love has never gone away, not even after falling in love with Meadow. "What happened between your mother and I..." Emilio can't find the words to explain, not having ever really understood himself what that brief affair was about.

"I think I understand," Amelia says, "You were lonely."

"I guess that's it," Emilio says, "I don't regret it, not for a second. We had you."

"We haven't tossed the ball in awhile," Emilio says, leading her out into the yard, hoping to avoid more uncomfortable conversation.

As she leaves his house, Amelia turns back to see her father playing with his son William in the yard. She vaguely remembers him playing with her like that, a long time ago, it seems. There were many times in her childhood that she wished her parents were together, but as she's grown older she's seen how little they have in common, and she's not surprised to learn that they never were in love.

"Zhenzhen needs a potion to make her visible. Daddy doesn't believe she's real because he can't see her. So can you make her a potion, Amelia?"

Whenever Amelia feels bad for herself because her father isn't around much, Li Feng is a reminder that it could be much worse. At least her father is alive and tries to see her when he can.

"Okay, I'll make Zhenzhen a potion," Amelia indulges in her cousin's fantasy. "I need you to collect two dandelions and one blue rock for the formula."
 Li Feng consults with her imaginary friend, and then rushes outside to gather the ingredients. While Li Feng is busy, Amelia fills one of her chemistry kit's beakers with root beer, and when she returns with her flowers and pebbles, Amelia solemnly drops them into the mix and hands it to her young cousin.

"Have fun, you two," Amelia says cheerily as she heads upstairs to do her homework.

"Can they see you now?' Li Feng asks after Zhenzhen quaffs the potion.

"I think so. Let's play tag."

It isn't until bedtime that Li Feng realizes she needs accommodations for her friend now that she's become fully visible and can't just transform into a doll at night.

"Daddy, Zhenzhen needs a bed,"she informs her father, "Amelia gave us a potion to make her real."

Hawke sees the green-haired little girl that Li Feng is calling Zhenzhen, but he's not ready to believe that yet. "Who are your parents, sweetheart?" he asks.

"I don't have parents," the little girl says, "I belong to Li Feng."

"Li, go downstairs and play. I'm going to talk to your friend."

Hawke turns to the girl, "I need to know who your parents are. You can spend the night with Li Feng, but only if you have permission from your parents."

"Hawke," the child says his name, her child's voice carrying the authority of an adult, "I understand this is difficult for you, but I am no mere child. I was sent to watch over Sun Young, and I failed in my task. I can never retain my true form again until I make up for my failure by protecting Sun's daughter."

"What kind of sick joke is this?" Hawke demands, "Who would put a child up to this?"

"It's not a joke, Hawke," the little girl says, "I am the spirit that resided in the doll. I am Zhenzhen."

"This is absurd," Hawke sighs.

Zhenzhen stares at him for a moment, and then speaks to him about some intimate details about himself and Sun, something only he and Sun would ever know, words that should never come out of the mouth of a child. Hawke gapes in horror. "I am no mere child, Hawke, and I am no mere mortal."

"You don't talk to my daughter like that..."

"Of course not. She's a child; she doesn't need me to prove who I am. She simply believes, as a child does."

Hawke, still not quite believing, sends Zhenzhen down to Li Feng, and questions Amelia about the potion she gave them. Amelia tells him about her trick, pretending root beer was a potion she made. "You didn't see her drink it?" Hawke asks. Amelia shakes her head, saying she gave Li Feng the beaker and went to do her homework.

"I feel like an idiot asking you this," Hawke says, visiting Ho Sung to find out what he knows about Sun's doll.

"We haven't had any missing children reports," Ho says, thinking like a cop now that he's joined the force, "I can check with the stations in nearby cities to see if anyone is missing a green-haired child."

"She said she's a a spirit that lived in the doll. That she was sent to protect Sun, and now to protect Li Feng," Hawke says, "It's creepy if it's true, and even creepier if someone coached her to say that."

"Our grandmother gave that doll to Sun before she died," Ho muses, "She used to tell us stories about Huli Jing. Fox spirits. They can take human form. Usually female."

"You think Zhenzhen is a fox spirit?" Hawke asks.

"If it is, be careful. They're tricksters."

"How was the prom?" Thierry asks, sitting beside her.

"Why didn't you go yourself?"

"Because you went with Byron. I didn't want to go with anyone else, and I didn't want to see you with him."

"Now you're making me feel bad."

"Tell me you didn't kiss him, that will make up for the horrible loss of missing my prom," Thierry says.

Amelia leans close to him, "You're still the only one."

"Can we keep it that way?"

Her crush on Byron is stupid and pointless. If he felt anything for her, he would have responded to her by now. If she could just get past it, she could give her whole heart to Thierry.

"Are you asking me to go steady?" she asks, running her fingers through his hair.

"I'll be asking for a lot more than that, Aimee," he says, "But I have to start somewhere."

Thornton's party guests come from the top echelon of Brooklyn Heights society. And now Eleanor moves casually among them.

"Thank you for coming," Thornton greets her, "You look lovely."

Eleanor kisses him lightly, "I would never miss your party."

"You should be the hostess, not a guest," he answers.

Thornton surprises her with a tight squeeze. He usually keeps his public displays of affection to a minimum. "I'm tired of these people," he says, "Let's go upstairs."

Eleanor laughs, "Blow off your own party?"

"They can chatter on without me. I want to be with you. Now."

Eleanor doesn't need to be persuaded.

"How much longer?" he asks, "How long before I can have you in my bed every night?"

"Patience, lover," Eleanor whispers, "It won't be much longer."

Challenge Notes:
I made a conscious decision to not use screenshots of Zhenzhen in living doll form. To my mind, what Li Feng was seeing is the human form that eventually became visible to everyone else, not that creepy teletubby thing. (Which reminded me vaguely of the 'imaginary friend' character in Carlton Mellick's 'The Haunted Vagina', especially in the description of its walk."
Yeah, not a fan of the IF, here.


  1. The potion scene was SO AWESOME and I laughed SO HARD inside. =D

    Great explanation.

    My own Nero creeped me out to the extreme.

  2. I love the way you're handling ZhenZhen <3 And she's soooo adorable! Hawke keeps breaking my heart. But his conversation with Zhen Zhen was hilarious.

    Amelia and Emilio was sad, but at least he was honest. And at least she understood. I suppose growing up with Li Feng in the household sort of made her look on the bright side, right?

    ... Seriously though. Am I the only one who REALLY wants to know what intimate details Zhen Zhen told Hawke? >: D

  3. Becky, you stole the words right out of my mouth! Hah. I think some things are better left up to the imagination.

    Zhenzhen's eyes are so bright! I'm curious... did she come looking like that or did you tweak her a bit? Either way, I like her. She's different.

    I agree with you about the IFs. I don't know if I'll ever bother with them personally. They creep me out (majorly). But I like how you played it, not showing the mutant doll thing. Great job.

  4. Goodness. I didn't think it was possible, but Thornton has really grown on me. I love the way you have developed his character and the persistence he has when it comes to getting what he wants.

    Also, I love Zhen Zhen. I kind of hope she is a fox spirit and is a "trickster." I always love the deliciously morally ambiguous characters. : )

  5. I like the way you kept Zhenzhen invisible before she became real, I'm also intrigued by the idea of trickster fox spirits.

  6. Thanks so much, guys!
    I did tweak Zhenzhen's features a little, trying to make her a little more Asian looking, but the eye color is what she came with. They are very bright.

    I'm a big fan of trickster gods/spirits/characters. :D And it's fun when I can use my Folkloric Knowledge Powers for something.

  7. Fox spirit? I love the connection, even if accidental, to Phoenix/Fox =)

    I, also, love your handling of the IF. Cleverly done!!

  8. You know, I didn't even think about that Fox while writing this. The fox spirit is common to Asian lore. In Chinese it's Huli Jing, and in Japanese its Kitsune. They mostly take the form of seductive young women and feed off male energy. They are said to be pure yin, and require the male yang for sustenance.
    There's a great book Called 'The Fox Woman' by Kij Johnson that is about a Japanese Kitsune who falls in love with a man. I highly recommend it.

  9. Interesting twist on the IF. After playing one myself I find them extremely creepy so I just delete them when they come in the mail. Lol.

  10. Thanks, Jessica. I also find them creepy. I was using a mod to decrease the chance of getting them, so Li Feng's doll was the first one I got, and I decided to use it for this story. But I also usually just delete them when I get them.

  11. OH my god, I know i said I wouldn't comment on ancient posts, but I just had to say that you're so right about the creepy friend's walk in the Haunted Vagina. Eww, Now I can't unsee it, lmao. Frickin' squick :X

    1. LOL, the first thing I thought of when I saw the first videos of the IF's walk was, OMG, it's the Haunted Vagina friend. And I have never gotten past that image. It is squick, isn't it?

    2. It will definitely be hard for me to ever play an IF again, haha