Winter crept in without warning, and when the first of snow fell, it went from water pebbles to weighted piles. And as the sound of plop-plopping snow hit their creaky roof, Sun Wukong wondered if he would ever know peace again. THE IMMORTAL’S SEVENTY TWO MOVES sat in his hands, the monkey’s eyes roaming unfamiliar word over word while his senior sisters tried to peek over their hole of a window, now boarded up by the Master.
“When’s Master coming back?” Xiao Wa asked.
“I dunno,” Xiao Hua said, “chief’s getting dinner. That just leaves you, me, and Wukong.”
A clump of snow fell through that leaking roof and landed on Wukong’s head. He cried out as the girls laughed. Shaking the snow off, Wukong closed the book, rolled to the side, and said, “Aren’t you cold, big sisters? You don’t have any fur…”
Xiao Hua: “Don’t call us ‘big sister’- I already told you, it’s weird.”
Xiao Wa: “Yeah, it’s weird!”
Then, bundling herself up in a wool cloak, Xiao Hua said, “We don’t have fur. That’s why we need all these clothes, Wukong!”
Xiao Wa grabbed one of the Master’s unused coats, and mimicking her older sister, tugged it across Wukong’s shoulders. “You wear one too! Master said you can’t get sick again!”
He didn’t like thinking about that. Setting the book down, Wukong adjusted the coat and stared through the hole in their ceiling- he supposed it wasn’t a huge problem. The great Immortal Puti could surely fix it with a wave of his hand. Master hadn’t taken him out to perform today on the grounds that it was too snowy and thus, bad for business. Instead, they were all to stay home and enjoy a warm fire.
“Wawa,” Xiao Hua said, “let’s go play.”
Xiao Wa turned to the monkey and gripped his fingers. “Wukong, play with us!”
“But I have to read-”
Xiao Hua: “You can’t read half of it anyway!”
Xiao Wa: “And Master’s not back!”
They stared up at him with toothy grins and pleading eyes. And concentration thoroughly broken, Wukong could only relent.
Puti’s three disciples spent the better part of the afternoon roaming in front of the tiny house. They pelted each other with snowballs and built frost men from thick white, wild laughter ringing through the wind. Under the sisters’ direction, Wukong pushed together another clump of snow and sculpted it to their desire: a chubby grandmother with a jovial nose.
And then, a foot came down, crushing it into bits, the grandmother’s pieces spraying all over the monkey’s face.
“Hey!” Xiao Hua cried, indignant as Xiao Wa hid behind her, “what gives!?”
The boy in front squashed the snow even more with his foot and grinned, front teeth missing. As far as Wukong could tell, the child was no older than ten, his nose splattered with freckles and a posse of four more little boys standing behind him, each wrapped in heavy dark wool.
“You don’t have to yell,” the boy said, “it was ugly anyway, just like you and your pet!”
“No it wasn’t!” Xiao Hua snapped, cheeks red, “leave us alone.”
“You leave us alone,” another child said, tugging on his hat, “this is our turf!”
Xiao Hua: “This is Master’s property!”
“My father said your Master’s a good for nothing carny anyway!”
Carny? The monkey had no idea what that was but before he could ask, Xiao Wa spoke.
“No, he’s not!” she cried.
With a grunt of rage, Xiao Hua rolled a pile of snow in her gloved hands and threw it at the bully’s face. He fell back and the others attacked, quick to fire snowball after snowball at the sisters, so outnumbered they could only fall back with each hit. Snapped out of silence by the sudden onslaught, Wukong threw himself between, pulling the girls into an awkward embrace as his back shielded them from the rapid snow bullets.
“You need your ape to save you?” the leader laughed, “that’s sadder than I thought!”
Xiao Hua: “Just shut your stupid mouth!”
“Shut your stupid mouth!”
Then the boys took to pelting them with jeers: “We thought your monkey could talk! Why doesn’t he talk? Come on, come on! Ooh ooh ah ah ooh ooh ah ah!”
And enough was enough. According to the Master, if they squabbled with every child that tried to heckle them, they would never get a show over with, but as far as Wukong was concerned, he was on holiday and there was no show to put on. He gathered a flurry of snow into his arms and- wham!- threw it straight at the leader’s face.
The boy fell with a thump, laughter twisting into a muffled yelp of pain as his body was all but flattened with white.
“Who’s next?” the demon growled.
And stunned by the fact that Puti’s monkey really could talk, the boys scattered in wild screams. One turned back and cried, “I’m telling! I’m telling father! You lot wait, just wait!”
Xiao Hua stuck out her tongue as the children retreated. Xiao Wa pointed at the boy on the ground, still buried in snow and twitching his limbs.
Xiao Wa: “Wukong… I think you killed him.”
The three exchanged stares before Xiao Hua’s eyes widened.
“We killed him!” she gasped, “Wawa, stop standing there, let’s go!”
Wukong was sure the boy wasn’t dead, though he was eager to finish the job, but the girls were pushing and pulling at him by then, their little group determined to disappear before a mob of angry parents arrived.
Puti returned at sunset, icicles dripping from his nose and a rack of lamb in his arms. The Master entered with a sneeze, eyed the hole in the roof, and said, “Wawa, Xiao Hua, get the big pot! We’re eating fine tonight!”
He handed Xiao Hua the lamb, shook off his coat, and dropped to his knees by the fire, bumping backs with Wukong as all four tried to maneuver in that cramped space.
“Master,” Wukong said, waving THE IMMORTAL’S SEVENTY-TWO TRANSFORMATIONS in front of Puti’s face, “I can’t read this passage. Can you demonstrate this transformation?”
Puti blinked, wiped his nose, and said, “Wukong, listen… uh, this is a very basic textbook and someone of my level shouldn’t be doing anything from it. Do you get it? That wouldn’t be fair to you as my student, would it? It’s something you have to overcome alone.”
“But Master, I really can’t read it.”
“Ah, just take a break, Wukong. I’ll teach you more words tomorrow.”
Xiao Wa: “Master, the pot’s ready!”
Puti beamed. “Great! Now let’s chop up some vegetables and get cooking- Wukong, you’ll love this. Ever had lamb before?”
“I’m not sure… but Master-”
“You’ll love it. Just sit here and mind the fire.” Puti hastily climbed to his feet and said, “And by the way, that rack didn’t come free. You’re performing for the butcher next week- it’s his wife’s birthday.”
And trusting that the Master had his best interests at heart, Wukong obeyed. While the others cooked, he turned towards that hole. Why hadn’t Puti fixed it with a wave of his hand? He supposed it was either because the task was too far below the Master or because he didn’t want others in the village to suspect he was more than mortal. And again, the monkey was in awe at how wise his Master was.
“Bastard!” a voice roared, accompanied by pounds against Puti’s door, “get out here!”
Huddled around their stew of lamb, Puti and his disciples turned towards the noise. The Master swallowed another bite of meat, held out a hand to keep the others at bay, and made his way towards the door. When he opened, a man and boy stood, both bundled with furs and wool to the brim, the child sporting a nasty pink mark on his nose.
Puti: “Can I help you?”
The man yanked him by the collar. “Look at my son! What kind of freak show are ya running here!? Look what your damned ape did to him!”
Xiao Hua and Xiao Wa looked down, all but burying their heads in their bowls as Wukong ladled more rice for the Master.
Puti: “Yeah, where’s your proof!?”
“His friends were all there- just ask those two girls of yours!”
“Oh, so it’s just ‘he said, I said’? I don’t consider that proof!”
Puti tilted his head and said, “Wukong, get over here!”
Unsure what to expect, the monkey complied, crawling over on all fours. The father looked like he wanted to decapitate him on the spot and the boy immediately hid behind the man’s leg.
“Did you attack this brat?” Master asked.
Xiao Wa and Xiao Hua shook their heads from behind. But lying to Puti seemed too great a wrongdoing, so he nodded. And then that furious father was upon him. Wukong fell over Puti, assaulted with kicks and the like, each smashing straight into his face. But he hardly felt a thing.
He had a hard head.
That man, however, did not have a hard foot. Cursing in pain, he tripped into the snow, taking his son down with him.
“What the hell!?” he cried, “what the hell is that thing!?”
“See that!” Puti was quick to say, “you attacked us first! It’s karma!”
“Karma!” the girls echoed.
And after letting out another string of curses directed at Puti and his monkey, the man stood and limped off, son clutching his left hand. The Master slammed the door shut behind them, turned to Wukong, and promptly smacked the demon over the head.
“Asshole, didn’t I tell you to stay out of trouble!?” he chided.
Puti smacked him again. “What if he comes back and burns our house down!? Then we’d all be homeless… again!”
“Wait, wait!” Xiao Hua said, hurrying to Wukong’s side with her sister, “Master, don’t hit him- it was our fault! You should punish all of us!”
Xiao Wa: “Yeah, all of us… wait, no-!”
At that, Wukong cut in and pled, “Master, hit me. I didn’t listen to you. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Puti sighed, scratched the back of his head, and said, “Ah… nevermind, it’s all over with. Come on, let’s get back to our lamb.”
The four reconvened in silence, eyeing their pieces of cooked lamb, the meat soaked in red and spice atop carrots and white lettuce. Puti grabbed the wooden spoon and stirred the pot.
“Best lamb I ever had,” he said, “anyway-”
The Master grinned. “What happened with that boy anyway? I never liked his old man. Like father, like son?”
Xiao Hua slurped her stew, burped, and said, “We went playing in the afternoon…”
The rest of their meal passed while the sky turned black outside, snow swirling past and fire crackling high, the sound of laughter pealing through that cracked roof, three mouths chuckling at once and one demon’s cackling mixing in.
It never snowed in Mount Huaguo. The first time he saw snow he had been determined to bring a sample back for the chimps of Flower Fruit Mountain, but it had melted in his hands. Wukong flipped on his back, the sound of snow heavy against his ears as it gathered atop their roof. His tail scraped the bars of the cage, the rest of him sunk in a scratchy blanket.
He looked to the side. Xiao Wa knelt a hair’s breadth away from the cage, a small candle in her hands. She was still glowing pink, likely from the stew they had at supper.
“Yeah?” he said.
“I got this for you,” she replied, setting the candle down, “so you can read your book.”
He watched the tiny flame flicker back and forth, a lump forming in his throat.
Xiao Wa: “You’re really smart. Me and Xiao Hua can’t read a word.”
Wukong felt for THE IMMORTAL’S SEVENTY-TWO TRANSFORMATIONS, that lump growing by the minute. He flipped it open and passed it through the bars.
“If Master didn’t teach you, then… I can,” he said, “but I don’t know that many words yet.”
“That’s alright,” Xiao Wa said, all but pressing her face at the book, “then I can teach Xiao Hua and we can surprise Master!”
He smiled, soft under candlelight. “Let’s do that.”
And she beamed and nodded, and thus, the night passed. And passed, and passed, until it was nothing more than a vague memory of a dream to the Great Sage Equaling Heaven.