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True Story
6,000 Steps to Paradise (5)

29 November 2006

1, A Stone Ladder
2, A Beautiful Bride
3, A Forbidden Love
4, A Life in the Wilderness

5, A House on the Hilltop

The family of six, led by 20-year old Guijiang with a toddler on his back, carrying whatever they had scavenged in the water drenched field, jagged their way up along the trials between ragged rocks. Eventually they arrived near the hilltop at a cave hollowed out of a cliff face, which had a small level patch before the entrance and the patch gradually opened up to a tilting strata stretching to the gorge.

Though surviving at something close to a stone-age condition, at least they had been kept save from lightening, thunder and excessive summer rains. They felt lucky. Yet little they had realised that thunderstorm and flood were not the biggest threats to their mountain existence. A far more deadly presence was walking towards them, literally.

One night, Xu started up to the sound of growl that was intimidating and awe-inspiring. Opened her eyes, she saw magnified shadows animating on rocky surfaces, and the stones, in the wavering flames all seemed to come alive, with alien whispers booming and echoing here and there.

The fear took hold of her heart. She checked the children who were all in deep sleep, and looked for Guojiang, seeing him sit at the entrance feeding dry branches to an open fire.

The growl arose again, and the whole ground groaned in the impact.

"What is this?" Xu was alarmed.

"Tiger," Guojiang returned, trying to be as calm as he could manage.

But Xu clearly sensed the danger in his voice. "Will it come over?"

Guojiang hesitated a little, and said, "Let’s hope it won’t."

That sounded bad enough to Xu.

Moments later, the ground bulked in the roar. Apparently the beast had drawn much closer to the cavern.

Xu was shaking to the soul and looked Guojiang in horror. Grabbing a chopper, Guojiang headed straight out of the cavern.

Outside was a shadowy expanse, wild and loud. Ragged edges of precipices appeared indistinctively in the distant moonlight, and nearby beneath the jetting crag before the cave, the abbey was in uproar with echoes of the tiger’s howl.

Xu rushed to the children. Some of them were woken up by the hellish night wailing, sobbing and shivering. Cuddling them in her arms, she tried her best to pull herself together. It was a long night, but finally she heard the roaring sound trailed off, and saw the silvery light of dawn emitted in through a crack in the rock running at an angle.

Though still tense with lingering fear, she made for the entrance where her man stood up squarely against a purple sky. Seeing her came, Guojiang gave her a relaxed smile, but he was actually bathed in cold sweat all over.

The family decided to build a dwelling at the top of the hill where they would not be haunted by beasts. And Guojiang wanted a proper house made of bricks and tiles, because that was where Xu and her kids used to live in the village.

It took the family whole year to carry clay soil from the lap of the mountain to the top where Guojiang set a brickkiln. And it took them another year to produce the materials enough to build a house.

Two years later on the utterly desolated hilltop where probably no man had ever set a foot on previously, a brick and tile house emerged, along with vegetable gardens and children’s playground. The big woods in a short distance provided resources to the family, from edible herbs, games, firewood to a bee farm. Once in a while, Guojiang went down to market fairs trading honey for daily necessaries, piglets and cashes. Before long, on their dinner table fish and games were no longer the only delicacy to serve; they got pork dishes. And they were able to send older children to boarding schools in the town, while kept new babies well fed at home.

One morning, Xu got up at dawn as usual and found Guojiang had already left home for market. Opened the door and windows, she let in a fresh breeze. Then, she got the breakfast ready for the children, cleaned the house, swept the yard, watered the vegetables, and fed the pigs. When the first slice of sunlight touched down to earth, she told the older kids to mind the younger ones and, carrying an empty basket on back, set off to the woods. Since Guojiang wouldn’t be able to return home until nightfall, she had to start early to collect enough herbs to feed the whole family on her own.

Soon she reached the other end of the woods, but her basket was just half full. Her eyes were dazzled in the sun, and she saw the hills were shrouded in ruddy aura. Reckoning that she still had a bit time to spare before she needed to hurry back to make lunch, she picked her way down through narrow winding trials among the rocks to another woods.

By the time she re-emerged with full basket of herbs to ascend the steep hillside, the mountain sky was blocked by the clouds, and light drizzles enshrouded the landscape. Under the full load of the basket Xu bumbled her way up. Then she slipped. And she fell …

6, Six Thousand Steps

Pre Spokeswoman of Confucius
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