What was more, he was pacing back and forth through the woods below, searching and muttering. "Where could that son of a bitch be?" he seethed, passing by. After a few terrifying moments he turned and went back, dragging his staff at his side.
Bonze Dan gave a sigh of relief, happy to have escaped his opponent's deadly hands. But it all had a stranger aspect to it. That old monk just sat by someone else's door, alone and not at all friendly. It would have been nice to have some companionship, so why the anger? There must have been something to make him so territorial. And after getting rid of Bonze Dan, why on earth did he go out looking for him again, worrying so nervously that he might still be around? There must have been a reason for this; could he have been a common thief or burglar? It's hard to imagine anything in this town being worth stealing! Anyway, let's get back to Bonze Dan, high up in that tree. For just as he tried to close his eyes and drift off, the pangs of hunger again flashed in his stomach and his insides began to growl.
"This night's really something," he grumbled; "if I can tough it out til morning how will I ever find the strength to climb down from here? And if I can't move once I'm down and I meet that armed monk I'll have to give up my life to him. I've heard that fairies can eat pines and cypresses... why, I'll take a lesson from them and try it." He then reached for the soft ripe brown tendrils on an overhanging branch, grabbed a handful and tasted them. They repelled him at first but they were fresh smelling. So he tried a little and it primed his appetite. Then, not distinguishing between coarse or soft, tendrils or needles, green or brown, branches or bark he slashed away at the tree and stuffed his mouth voraciously, as if afraid to drop a morsel in his frenzy. Finally he came to feel full inside.
Suddenly a fresh breeze blew, and upon it he heard someone's bitter crying from afar. "Strange," he thought, "this isn't exactly a busy thoroughfare...wonder what it's all about?" Lending an ear he found the sobs rendingly sorrowful, like those of a young wife; they were coming from three or four cottages yonder. "Why," exclaimed Bonze Dan, "it must be some crime that outlaw monk has committed!" Just then so swept away was he with anger and indignation that he forgot his own problems. How could he bear such an injustice before his very eyes? So let's sneak up ever so cautiously behind him and join him in exploring where the sound was coming from; we might as well give it a try. Now, what do we see but Bonze Dan taking his sack and lashing it to the tree, tying up his waistband and preparing to leap. And down he comes through the parted branches, to land solidly on his feet unscathed. Then shaking with resolve he walks out of the forest and strides off along the path to town.
Nearing the very same cottage as before he stealthily tiptoed up to peek beneath the eaves and found no sign of activity. Then he walked a bit closer and still saw nothing of the old monk. He even climbed atop the roof and straddled it, looking far and wide but there was truly no trace of him. But when he listened he indeed heard the sound of crying from inside. Bonze Dan became suspicious and pushed against the two old white wooden doors, ever so lightly. Now, the old monk had propped the door closed with his staff but it hadn't been set securely. The doors hadn't opened when he first tried so he pushed again a bit harder. Monk Shi's weapon fell with a clatter and the left door flew open. Now, this house had two inner courtyards and a closet-like shed. Both sides of the first court were lined with stacks of building bricks and lumber, and a few coarse pieces of furniture could also be seen; at the center was a bare pathway. The second court served as an inner sanctum and a cooking stove was situated in the small room on the left side. Old Monk Shi, stripped bare above the waist, had been at the cooker stoking the fire with which he would boil his rice for supper. Having heard the doors burst open he ran out to see what was happening.
The events that followed came with indescribable speed. First of all, when Bonze Dan first came in he had stepped on that staff, bent down and picked it up. Knowing that someone was coming he hid behind the lumber pile. In the darkness Monk Shi didn't discern as carefully as he otherwise might have. Seeing the main door open he dashed outside for a look. Meanwhile Bonze Dan took advantage of the lamplight from the kitchen and stealthily advanced toward the inner court. Now, here he had to be really careful. But just then in the shadows an old woman spotted our man.
"Oh, no!" she cried out, "another bloody arhat! We're doomed, doomed!" Hearing this, Bonze Dan immediately sensed that strange things had been happening. But just as he was about to go forth and investigate, there came the creaking of the main gate's right door opening up, and in came Monk Shi in a fighting pose. Bonze Dan beat a hasty retreat back to the lumber pile where he again lay down in an attempt at concealment. As he watched, Monk Shi advanced into the courtyard and turned toward the outside, bellowing like a crazed beast: "Who's got the nerve to come in here?"
Having yelled himself hoarse he then went down on his hands and knees to search for his fallen staff. He never guessed it had been taken up by Bonze Dan, who with this weapon at hand was really emboldened. He waited until Monk Shi was just where he wanted him, on all fours fishing around in the dark shadows. Then up out of ambush he lept, the staff concealed behind him. Before the old man knew what was going on Bonze Dan whacked him on the crest of his skull with all his might, and he collapsed flat on the ground. Now he felt more fearless than ever and raising high the staff as a cudgel struck him yet again. Then he brought his right hand into play and drove home the stick yet again, with both arms and all of his might.
"Spare me, brother!" pleaded Monk Shi. Bonze Dan now knew that he held the upper hand. Clutching the staff in his left fist he held the old monk around the waist with his powerful right arm. Then he hoisted his hapless opponent high above his head and slammed him down upon the earthen courtyard floor. Why, that monk squealed just like a butchered pig! Bonze Dan stepped forward, lifted his right foot and set it squarely down on old Shi's chest.
"You thieving monk," he growled, brandishing a pair of enormous fists before his victim's face. Only then did Monk Shi realize that his attacker was that young bonze who had fallen into the river.
"My dear sir," he pleaded, "I've done wrong and I admit it, but please spare my life!"
"You thieving scoundrel," answered Bonze Dan. "I know you're notorious throughout the land as a fighter from the Shaolin Temple, but in fact you're a useless moron. Why, Shi Luohan means 'Stone Arhat' but even if you were an 'Iron Arhat' I'd be able to melt you down! You know, in front of the Yinghui Temple where I grew up there was a giant laundry stone and I pulverized it with just one of these fists. The first three times I bowed before your arrogance because I am after all a man of the cloth. But then you came searching for me in the woods, mumbling about what you intended to do with me. Come clean now and tell me quickly what you've done to make that woman cry! If you speak up quickly we can still talk, but if you hold back anything I won't be so kind. You'll have to experience the full fury of my fists, just like that laundry stone I smashed back home!" Then he cast down the staff, made a fist with his right hand and waited to strike.
That brigand monk was now terrifiied, unable to even breath freely with the victor's foot upon his chest.
"Oh Buddha, my Lord and Teacher," he pleaded with all of his remaining strength, "please let me get up and explain!"
"You thieving renegade priest, I guess you wouldn't dare run away if let up on you." But lifting his foot he suddenly heard a voice from the darkness of the nearby room.
"Kind Teacher, please avenge my poor family and don't let him up, whatever you do!" Bonze Dan recognized that voice as the one from shortly before, and when he firmly replaced his restraining foot and looked forward he saw an old white-haired woman, shoulders slumped and back bent with age, feeling her way into the darkened courtyard. Then facing him she repeatedly kowtowed and begged for revenge.
"You don't have to beg, Granny," he answered, "if there's a wrong to be righted speak right up and I'll be the judge!"
"This damned murderer took the lives of my daughter-in-law and grandson!"
Now, those words were all it took to stoke the flames of justice in Bonze Dan's breast; he stomped down heavily on his captives heart. The monk gave a cry and vomited forth fresh blood. Here's a poem:
Bonze Dan then removed his foot from his opponent's lifeless chest and went to help the old woman to her feet, asking her what had occured.
"Have a look in there, Teacher," she said, pointing toward the open room. Fearing that the monk was only faking he gave him yet another few punches and a kick, but he just lay there stretched out, unmoving and silent, and Bonze Dan finally felt at ease.
Walking into the room he took the lantern that was hanging on the wall and had a look around. In the flickering light he saw a pot steaming away at a rolling boil, and when he lifted the lid he saw that it was full of the rice that the renegade monk had been cooking.
"Let's have these two bowlfuls of rice," he told the woman; "then we'll get back to business." He took a wooden paddle hanging over the stove and was just getting a porcelain bowl and a pair of willow chopsticks when his attention was riveted fiercely upon the form of somebody asleep in the corner, causing him to gasp deeply. Going forward for a look, the lamp's light revealed the grisly sight of what appeared to be the naked body of a housewife streaked with crimson, dead in a pool of blood. The old woman managed to feel her way over, in tears.
"What relation is this young wife to you?" he asked. "How did she die?"
"It's a long story," said the woman, pulling up a little stool and asking Bonze Dan to take a seat. "Please be patient cause I'm old and it's going to take me awhile to tell you this."
"Don't mind me," he said, listening to her tale while shoveling the rice into his mouth. "Tell me everything and I'll listen, I promise." She then squatted down on the bottom beam of the doorway and told him the story from beginning to end, without interruption.
"My surname is Xing,and the dead woman is my daughter-in-law. My son Xing Xiao tills the fields of this here Luojia Manor for a living. Now, because of our greedy county magistrate the village chiefs were all ordered to muster our men into work gangs to gather cinnabar. You've probably heard that cinnabar comes from Chenzhou but actually it isn't even a product of Qianyang County. It's really found in an old wellshaft, the Old Duck Well to be exact, over in Yongzhou. The shaft is none too large or promising to look at but if you gather some dry wood down there and start up a blaze the bluish stones it's lined with burst open and cinnabar comes out of them. Our farmers all customarily earn a living at the trade during the slack times. The town office pays them in silver through their bosses and the magistrate gets the cinnabar. The money our men get is given to their wives to manage and to hand out to the old folks and kids. Only this time my daughter was five months pregnant so I fed two mouths and took care of the household, even though I'm over seventy. A month ago when my son Xiao was still home his wife had a sudden bellyache and there was no doctor around for the emergency. Just then that old wandering monk showed up begging at our door and my son tried to tell him we couldn't give him anything just then 'cause we had an ill woman in the house. But the monk asked what kind of illness it was and my boy unfortunately told him about his wife's being five months' pregnant and in danger of miscarriage, with pains in her belly. Then that vagrant introduced himself as Monk Shi, an Arhat who could not only read the sutras but knew a bit about medicine as well. He had a herbal formula and said that if she'd take it her pains would stop and she wouldn't lose the baby. Well, my boy was at his wits' end so there was nothing to do but let him lay open his bundle. Then when his herbal medicines were boiled and swallowed down, my daughter's pain stopped. That day we treated him to a regular monk's banquet but he didn't want any money and left without any more fuss. We only talked about what a good person he seemed to be. Then yesterday he came back to beg. My daughter-in-law told him her husband wasn't in and to come back some other day. But he wouldn't leave and he started flirting with her. She ignored him and closed the door in his face, but he sat in the doorway reciting a sutra and didn't budge, until late at night. Then, when I'd dozed off and she was in the courtyard braiding rope by lamplight he made his move. He snuck quietly in the door, and knowing there weren't any men around rushed into the house. 'Don't make a sound a sound or I'll kill you' I heard him say and then he took her by force and violated her, and that was only the beginning! Then he made her boil him up a pot of hot water, saying he wanted a bath, and my poor daughter-in-law couldn't do anything but obey him, and I was too terrified to even move or make a sound. And then he told her to pour half of the boiling water into a pail...why, that son of a bitch didn't want a bath...and he made her swallow a white pill that he'd taken out of his bag, saying it would make her birth easier, but after she'd swallowed it she felt some pains in her belly. Then he took out two new straw sandals and soaked them in the pot. Then he told her he wanted to borrow something from her to make an Elixer of Eternal Life. 'When it's finished, one sip and we'll all soar as Immortals' I remember him saying. 'What exactly do you want from me?' I remember my daughter asking him. 'I want your five-month-old fetus!' he told her, and just then my blood ran cold. My daughter-in-law was terrified and begged forgiveness from Heaven for whatever she might have done to have such a thing happen to her. Then that damned murderer took his hands to her pregnant body again and tore her clothes off until she was bare naked, and he tied her hands and feet and pressed down on the wrinkled skin of her big belly and then splashed that hot water on it, kneading and rubbing it until my poor girl was in horrible pain and cried out again, three times in a row, by then wailing like for the dead but he still wouldn't relent. Then he took his straw slippers from the boiling pot and rubbed and pressed her belly with them until the poor little body of my grandson fell out, and my daughter-in-law had a mighty hemmorhage and up and died. All the time I was still frozen in terror and hid in back, speechless. I heard him shout out in glee that it was a male fetus after all. Then he scooped out some rice from the sack and cooked it and ate and left. And then you arrived so suddenly just like the strong arm of God's justice, giving evil men their due!"
"Where's the fetus now?" asked Bonze Dan.
"I reckon he wrapped it in a small bundle," she answered. Now, while the old woman had continued on for such a long time Bonze Dan had been hungrily wolfing down several bowls of rice, emptying the pot to its bare metal bottom. Putting aside the chopsticks and bowl our monk now searched the kitchen counter for the little cloth bundle and sure enough, lifting the lid of a kettle for a look he found it, a cloth skirt wrapped up and containing a roundish bloody little fellow and his afterbirth inside of its folds, and also a small purse with more than ten lumps of undenominated silver. There was a small cloth sack containing two cassocks, one with a flame design and one plain and straight, as well as clothes covered with star patterns. And there was another sack brimming over with a few cupfuls of wild rice. "I don't know if that Elixer of Eternal Life formula is for real or not," he thought, "or how such a medicine would be taken. But if it could cause a wicked crime like this it should be banned forever!"
Chanting "Amitofo" he then handed the remains of the fetus to the old woman. Upon seeing it she burst into tears and began to cry her eyes out. Bonze Dan then opened the purse and selected a few larger pieces of silver to give her, more than five or six ounces in all.
"Take this to give your daughter-in-law and her boy a proper funeral," he said, keeping the remainder for himself.
Already the sky was slowly brightening when Bonze Dan walked out into the courtyard. The body of the old monk lay lifeless, yellowing in death. He first removed the dead man's slippers and placed them on his own bare feet. Then he hooked his bundle with that iron staff and lifted it ceremoniously, proclaiming to one and all that the thieving monk was dead and order had been restored, and that he was leaving.
"Not just yet!" Pleaded the old woman.
"Why not?" he asked, stomping his feet petulantly.
"Well, you've saved me from one terrible danger but now you're leaving me with two corpses. Do you mind telling me how I'm supposed to deal with them all by myself?"
"You're right!" he answered. "I'll carry the outlaw monk's body to the outskirts of town and dispose of it somehow." Then putting down the pole bundle and pole he seized the dead monk by the cassock with one hand, picked him up just like an ordinary rooster and carried him right out the gate and off into the forest. By now it was daylight and pretty soon Bonze Dan recognized the trunk of that pine tree where he'd rested the previous night. About to lay down the corpse at its roots and climb up to retrieve his sack he suddenly heard a loud voice in the distance.
"Hear ye, hear ye, a killer monk is on the loose and is burying his victim nearby!" someone seemed to be shouting. Then he caught sight of a patrol of villagers wearing backpacks and armed to their teeth with knives. They overtook him and shot right past like a flight of arrows, seemingly unseeing in their haste.
Unafraid and unruffled he laid out the corpse right there on the ground, climbed the tree and retrieved his sack. Suddenly the trunk of the tree and the body were surrounded by the armed villagers.
"I'm not a murderer," he shouted down, "but the killer of a thieving murderer! Please give me a break and let me come down to explain everything."
"Official search posse here, orders of the county magistrate!" Bonze Dan stiffened to attention. "We were gathering cinnabar over in Yongzhou until last night when we were called in and deputized. We've been up and out looking for you since before sunrise" one of them shouted up to him.
"Is there a man by the name of Xing Xiao among you?" asked Bonze Dan. "If so, I've got a message for him."
A short swarthy man came forward.
"I'm Xing Xiao, down here" he shouted up at our monk. Bonze Dan then pointed down at the corpse.
"Recognize this murdering monk? He was forever fated to be your blood enemy!"
Now Xing Xiao felt a thousand hammers pounding furiously at his heart and his face changed color.
"Explain what you mean by that!" he snarled, reaching up and clutching Bonze Dan's leg.
"It's like I said, but you still don't quite believe it. Your home isn't far, let's all go over for a look!"
Noting that Xing Xiao was indeed terrified they all agreed that a visit to his home would naturally make everything clear.
Thereupon they all fell in behind Bonze Dan on the road to the Xing family home. But although they were marching in step there were in fact threee very different streams of thought amongst them. Bonze Dan for one was secretly delighted at the prospect of vindication and praise in the eyes of others, just like the helmsman of a junk about to successfully make harbor against the wind, his judgement and skill confirmed before a fearful crew. The members of the posse were for the most part like the audience at a play, full of conflict and puzzlement at the course of the drama before them and entirely uncertain of its eventual outcome. Lastly, Xing Xiao was absolutely terrified of what news might be awaiting him. His thoughts were already like those of a police inspector at the scene of a crime, filled only with retribution and totally devoid of reward or leniency, every word fishing for some incriminating knowledge. In a manner of speaking, one who's stolen from another's pot would know if the wine were hot or not!
As it happened the old woman Xing had become terrified when Bonze Dan left her, but somehow she mustered the strength to go to the shops and find a bedsheet to place over her daughter-in-law's corpse. Then moving slowly out the front door she spotted two heads in the distance, Now, she couldn't yet make out the entire group coming over the horizon but the space of her mind became full of hope and fear, only dreaming that Bonze Dan might be returning with some plan of action for her. She'd never have dreamt that her own son would be returning as well! Unseen to her failing eyesight Xing Xiao was the first to approach.
"Hey Ma," he shouted, "what are you doing outside, waiting for somebody? Where's my wife? Isn't she keeping you company?"
Upon recognizing her boy the old woman grabbed him and burst into tears.
"If you'd just come back a day earlier my lovely daughter-in-law probably wouldn't have been murdered by that Monk or Arhat Shi or whatever he called himself!"
"What are you saying?" her son asked incredulously.
"She died so hard!" bawled the old mother.
Then just as Xing Xiao entered the room to view the scene the others noisely arrived, pushing and shoving curiously and crowding round the griefstricken mother and son. And they got a clear view of the husband lifting the sheet to view his wife's body, then retreating to the back room to pound his chest and wail in unrestrained grief. The village men of that posse were all shocked and filled with sympathy and asked Bonze Dan how it had all happened.
"Wait til Brother Xing gets hold of himself," he answered, "and we'll have his old mother tell you all just what she told me."
The bereaved husband himself then spoke through his tears.
"Reverend, my mother is old and weak. Why don't you explain everything for us?" Bonze Dan then told the first part of the story, from his falling into the river down to his slaying of the renegade monk, and then went on to relate in fine detail all that the old mother Xing had told him. All throughout his account bitter tears continued to flow down Xing Xiao's cheeks and all were angrily gnashing and grinding their teeth as they listened.
Next the old woman came forth to angrily accuse her son.
"It was all your fault, she tore into him, "you listened to that thieving murderer monk and went for his creepy line about that herbal medicine of his preventing her from losing the baby, and that led to him breaking in here and doing all this! Your wife's fate was joined to yours and you let her down, why, it's just like you killed her all by yourself!"
"Now, now mother," one of the villagers objected, "there's no point in saying that. Just be glad this fine preacher came along when he did to avenge the wrong, and that the killer's eyes have rightly been closed on this world. Right now with a body lying in the forest and one resting here it doesn't make any sense at all, what's done is done. If there's any rice in the house let's eat it and be on our way to the County Magistrate's so our monk can give a complete account of his actions. And then while the Magistrate sends an inspector to the scene we can can come back with a coffin and at the same time give the body a proper lying in to hide the crime from the public. We don't want to give rise to rumors and turn this place into a county fair!"
"I've heard that the Magistrate is a crooked official," laughed Bonze Dan, "but if I say something like that I might end up being buried as well!"
"We certainly couldn't have that!" said Xing Xiao. And so they struck a fire and began cooking some rice. Each took a portion of pickled vegetables and went out to wait for the rice, and when it was ready they all ate their full.
Then his old mother gave Xing Xiao the silver, explaining where it had come from, and the son in turn thanked Bonze Dan. Somebody then asked old mother Xing to come along on the journey. Xing Xiao asked his mother to climb onto a small goat-pulled cart he'd arranged for, locked the gate and got one of his close friends to help him push from behind, while Bonze Dan picked up his two bundles on the ends of that staff and all set off together for the seat of Qianyang County.
A short while after their arrival at the night court of the county hall the Magistrate made his appearance. The group presented the wrapped fetus in evidence and gave a clear accounting of this tragedy among the local folk. The Magistrate appointed a panel of enquiry and delivered some words on the case which were duly recorded, and despatched an assistant to inspect the scene of the crime. Down to the end there were no inconsistancies in the stories, and so his honor the Magistrate's verdict:
"Although the crimes of the itinerant monk Shi Toutuo were abominable he is now dead and there will be no further examination of his corpse. I command that a space be provided for burial. My office will provide assistance to Xing Xiao for a private funeral. Finally, it is determined that because the wandering monk Bonze Dan killed out of righteous indignation and anger he is not guilty. All others return to their homes, and if Bonze Dan should have any request while here in this county let him just speak up and it shall be granted." Click to Continue Back to Homepage Table of Contents