Mildred Pringle bent her tiny earlobes to the windchimes singing sad Zen nothings in the Big Sly evening breeze. Across the compound Lee Chun sat in space tranquillity and gazed raptly at an inchworm making mountains and plains. . .First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is. Mildred thought this Donavan thought and started to tell Lee Chun but decided against it--Lee Chun was interested only in a state of non-thought. Lee Chun believed all books and music and records and documents to be nothing more than the mental excreta of diseased minds, foul minds eaten through with the cancer of knowledge. Lee Chun's dream was to find the pure bliss of total and abject ignorance, the achieve the Nirvana which could only come from severe dumbass.
Mildred was 16 years old. Both of her parents had died in a tragic accident before her birth. She had been removed from the airless womb of her mother in the fifth month of gestation and taken to term inside a glass vessel lined with living bovine tissue, her life sustained by oxygen and egg yolk injection.
The day she was removed from the glass womb she was taken to live in the Li Ching convent. Montana had been sold to the Chinese in the late twentieth century and the Orientals had poured into the Big Sky county like maggots on dead flesh. They settled in the mountains and valleys and alongside the meandering streams where red men and white men had once walked.
Across the compound, Lee Chun raised his arms and his blank face to the azure heavens and began his nightly chant:
"A dog steps not in its own shit for it is a dog. High falls break even men of good bones. God has no pencil sharpener. A book is a sandwich of shit. Wet bread makes soggy snacks. A lie is the truth turned inside out. Snakes have no feet for they cannot afford shoes. It is unwise to urinate into the wind. It is more unwise to urinate upon an officer of the law. The hard penis has no soul. Ignorance is not everything, it is all things."
As he finished his nightly chant Lee Chun arose and stood on one leg, bending the other back at the knee. He then extended his neck and made bobbing motions with his head. For the past nine years he had spent two hours each evening doing this. He believed the stork to be the most ignorant of all creatures and by such imitation he hoped to unlock the secret of their vast dumbass.
Mildred tired of watching the familiar antics of Lee Chun and ventured into the dark confines of the sleeping hall. The high-arched passage stood open at both ends and the winds smoothing down from the May mountainsides whistled through the stone cavern and sang sad and melancholy songs along the walls.
At night when the winds were heavy Mildred would lie on the coarse mat in her tiny cell and listen as the rushing air played symphonies along the hallways and passages. She lay on those nights with windsongs in her ears and her fingers between her slim thighs, dancing lightly across her warm and secret place. . .touching and probing and moving until her fingers were slick and little tingles played tag across her lower belly.
Li Ching had warned her of the devil who lived between her legs. Li Ching had told her the devil lived up past the curling hair and pouting lips, up in that tight and hot tunnel. Li Ching had warned her not to listen to the devil's call.
But Li Ching was dead now. She had shriveled up like old parchment gone yellow with age and died. Her toothless old mouth had sucked wind one final time, her old filmed eyes had rolled one final circuit deep within her blackened sockets and she had gone on around the bend. A great pile of timber had been stacked in the center of the courtyard and her corpse laid atop it. Fire had been touched to the kindling below.
Li Ching had climbed up into the delirious blue Big Sky, turning blue and smoky herself in those last moments of transition. She now lay as wise ashes across thousands of acres of mountain and valley, snowcap and timberline. Tiny animals walked among here spirit ashes and were touched by her, spreading her presence on to other places.
More than fifty young ladies lived at the Li Ching convent. They were overseen and taught by three ancient disciples of the late teacher, old, old women who came from the mother country to the new Chinese colony in America's Rocky Mountains.
In all her life at the convent Mildred had only one friend; because she has was the only tube child most of the other girls regarded her as a oddity. While the rest of them were orphans or deserted children, they had at least been born in normal biological fashion.
Sally had been her friend. Sally was the same age as Mildred and very near opposite in most ways: while Mildred was short and dark and withdrawn, Sally was tall and fair and very outgoing. Sally smiled all the time -- even, Mildred sometimes thought, when there was nothing to smile about.
Sometimes at night when the wind freshed down from the Bitterroots to the west and sang eerie songs in the dark cool corridors, Sally slipped into Mildred's tiny cell. Mildred had been frightened at first, afraid that Lee Chun or one of the other men who served as security would find Sally in her cell after lights out, which was strictly forbidden.
But after a while Mildred began to look forward to her friend's nocturnal visits. The would lie together on the lumpy straw mattress beneath the coarse blankets and hold one another tightly, whispering out all the dreams they wished for the future. Over the month these stolen hours slowly transformed from girlish hijinks into something far deeper.
Mildred almost died of shame the first time Sally kissed her. They were lying in the darkness clinging to one another and during a lull in the conversation Sally pulled her head forward and kissed Mildred on the lips.
"Don't do that, please!" Mildred whispered harshly, jerking her face away. "It's not right for girls to kiss each other like that!"
Sally signed and touched her friend's face.
"You are such a child sometimes, Millie," she said. "We have so very little here, who can say what's right and what's wrong?"
"It's not normal," Mildred whispered fiercely. She could feel her cheeks flaming in the darkness.
"What do we know about normal? We live here in a stone castle surrounded by old women with strange ways, is that normal? Don't tell me you don't lie in here when the wind sings and play with yourself. . . We all do."
Mildred felt as if she'd been caught. Her cheeks heated another few degrees.
"Well I don't!"
Sally laughed. "It doesn't matter, Millie. Everybody does it, there's nothing wrong with it. Lots of the girls do what I did to you, and more."
"What do you mean, 'more'?"
"You know, touch each other down there. And kiss it too."
"God, how disgusting! That's so nasty!"
"No it's not, it's cleaner than the inside of your mouth."
"Your mouth maybe!" Mildred replied. It was becoming clear to Mildred that Sally knew a lot about the subject. Maybe she was one who kissed girls there.
"I know what you're thinking," Sally laughed softly. "Yes, I've done it."
"I want you to go now and never come back," Mildred whispered, very close to tears. "Please, just go."
Sally threw her arms around Millie and squeezed her tightly. "Oh please don't send me away, you're all I've got in this terrible place," she sobbed hysterically.
"Hush, someone will hear us!" Millie cautioned. She cradled Sally's blond head in her arms. "I won't send you away, just please don't cry." Sally's tears had touched something within her that she couldn't define.
It was Millie who acted then, taking her friends tear-stained face between her palms and kissing her full lips. She felt Sally's lips part beneath the pressure of her own and she responded in kind, and exciting thrill surging through her body as Sally's warm, wet tongue slid into her mouth.
That night broke the ice. Over the coming weeks they went further and further, Mildred's resolution melting away under the hand and lips of her lover. Breast fondling followed the kissing and vaginal caresses followed that. And finally, when Sally slid down beneath the covers one singing night and trailed hot kissed across Millie's belly, Millie knew beyond a doubt that she was in love. When Sally's mouth covered her hot, wet sex and lingered there she knew she loved the fair-haired girl more than life itself. Without a second thought she reached out in the dark and drew Sally's slim hips toward her own face and drowned herself in the glorious funk of her lover.
Afterward, they made a pact: two years hence, when both were of legal age to leave the convent they would go away to some beautiful place and spend the rest of their lives together. They would find a nice little house in a neat neighborhood, they would fix it up with lacy curtains and a cat or two and live happily ever after.
But that was never to be. One awful morning Sally was found in her tiny room hanging from a short length of rope. Word spread quickly that she had killed herself in a fit of depression but Mildred knew better. She had seen the way Lee Chun had looked at her and Sally in the days just before the death.
Mildred was totally crushed. She withdrew further and further into her shell. With Sally gone her life ceased to have any meaning at all.
One night a few days later when the moon was full and the wind played symphonies down from the Bitterroots, Mildred gathered up her meager possessions and slipped away. Her beloved Sally was gone, but she knew in her heart that life had more to offer than what she had known during her long years behind the cold stone walls.
It was dangerous for a young girl alone in the wilds of Montana, Free China in the year 2021. Traveling was a dangerous proposition because of the bands of white "freedom fighters" who lived in the mountains and forests and raided Chinese towns and outposts at random, and because of the Chinese's' attempt to wipe out those responsible for the revolt.
The problem began in the late twentieth century when the United States had been forced because of severe economic depression to sell Montana and Idaho to the Chinese. The US government seized all the land from its rightful owners and paid only tiny restitution for it, a drop in the bucket compared to the $20 trillion received from the land-hungry Chinese.
Most of the displaced took what they could get and fled to other parts of the nation to start anew, but a few decided to stay and try to drive the Chinese off the land--which had, in many cases, been in their families since sturdy pioneers struggled their way west in the early 1800's and tamed the harsh land. These hardy men of German and Norwegian, Russian and English descent decided not to surrender their property without a fight.
Mildred had prepared as well as possible for her escape. She studied maps in the small convent library and saw that the shortest way out of the Chinese territory was to the southeast, toward what had once been Yellowstone National Park -- it was now a huge ravaged wasteland of strip mines and denuded forests. She knew the Chinese government required papers for any whites traveling within their territory and that passports and visas were requited by the United States before entry was allowed from either of the two Chinese colonies. She had neither, but if she could make it to the Wyoming border it wouldn't matter.
She planned to follow Highway 10 eastward toward Bozeman--now New Tsinglao--and then swing south along 191 to the Wyoming line. It was a distance of more than a hundred miles but it was the only hope she had.
Mildred was less than 10 miles into her journey with the band of freedom fighters found her.
"Well, what have we got here?" The voice boomed out of the darkness behind her, in the bushes where she had dived to avoid the approaching lights of a hover-truck. Her heart leaped up into her throat. A beam of light sprang out of the darkness and soaked her in its yellow glow.
"Why, it's a little white gal!"
She cringed there in the foliage as two large figures loomed into view. At first they appeared to be black men in the faint glow reflecting back from the flashlight one held, but then she saw traces of light around their mouths and eyes. There faces and hands were covered with a dark substance and their clothing was so dark as to be almost invisible even in the moon glow.
"Please, don't hurt me" she said, the words sticking in her throat. She had heard the Chinese speak of the white men who lived in the mountains and forest and of what they did to people, the rape and torture and murder. The Chinese said the white monsters showed no mercy and so they were punished in kind when captured; in some cases, subjected to the ancient Chines punishment of "death of a thousand cuts."
"She's a cute one," one of the men said, his voice strained. "I ain't seen one like her in some time."
"Forget it, Jinks," the taller of the two replied. "Haul your ass back and tell Marvis and the rest all is clear, they can move on up."
The other man hesitated. Even in the faint moon light Mildred could see the evil scowl on his blackened face. He shifted the rifle in his hands.
"Hell Max, let's screw her and cut her throat. Who'd ever know the difference?" he said.
The man called Max spat in disgust. "You're worse than a goddamn animal, Jinks. For God's sake, she's a white girl! I'd know the difference. Now move your ass and do as I told you!"
The man called Jinks slunk away into the dark, muttering under his breath. Mildred exhaled a long, audible sigh.
"Don't be afraid, girl, nobody's going to hurt you," the tall man said. "What's your name and what are you doing wandering around out here in the middle of the night?"
She told him her name and explained that she was running away. "You shouldn't do that, Millie, your folks are probably worried about you."
"I don't have any folks, I was running away from the Li Ching convent."
"Yeah, I've heard of that place," the man called Max said, nodding his head. "Bunch of Chinks bringing up white orphans, isn't it?"
"Where are you heading? Do you have any family anywhere?" The man turned off the flashlight and squatted down on the ground near her.
"I don't have any family far's I know. I thought I could get out of Free China, get across the border into Wyoming and I might go to some place like Los Angeles."
Max laughed softly. "Little girl, you wouldn't last five minutes in LA, if you ever got there. It's like a madhouse there now, riots and mobs running wild in the streets. They put it under martial law almost a month ago, but most of the soldiers have deserted and are running with the looters. The whole country's coming apart at the seams and now Washington is talking of selling Texas and Oklahoma to the Albanians. Haven't you heard about any of this?"
"We didn't get much news at the convent, they didn't allow radio and television and stuff like that," she said.
"Girl, you're really out of touch! There hasn't been in television for almost five years. . . The networks all went busted. The only radio now is a few hours of government propaganda a day, mainly trying to keep the people calm with a lot of horseshit. America's on her last legs, Millie.
"What am I going to do?" Millie asked. She knew that it was out of the question to return to Li Ching now, she would be severely punished. Maybe as bad as Sally was punished. She never believed for a moment that Sally had taken her own life, they had been much too happy for that to have happened.
"You can throw in with us, if you're willing to learn how to fight and run and hide in the woods. Think you could learn to kill Chinkies? You've been with them a long time."
Millie remembered Sally's smooth, slim neck twisted so horribly in the rope's grasp.
"I can learn," she answered. "I will learn." And with that, Millie became a member of the Max Gault Freedom Brigade.
Over the months Max became the father figure she had never known. At times she saw a look of yearning in his eyes and knew that he wanted her in the way a man wanted a woman, but she could never allow herself to answer that deep and meaningful look--to do so would have been far too close to incest in her mind, because of the way she felt for Max. He seemed to understand and always treated her respectfully, never forcing the issue.
Mildred spent almost five years living in the caves and secret encampments deep in the woods and she became a proficient guerrilla fighter during that time. The evil man Jinks was killed a few weeks after she joined the group and she was secretly happy -- the man always undressed her with his beady eyes and she feared being caught alone with him.
And then on the first of June in the year 2026, Millie's world once again came tumbling down. Their camp was discovered by a troop of Chinese regulars on a search-and-destroy mission and most of her friends were annihilated in the surprise ambush. She had seen her dear friend Max Gault go down fighting to his death under a swarm of screaming yellow men and she knew that it was only a matter of time until the Chinese found her hiding place in the cave. She had escaped there with a young man named Albert, a newcomer. She shivered in dread of what the enemy would do to her before merciful death came.
"They're going to find us and it won't take long," she said to the frightened young man hunkering beside her in the cool darkness of the cave. "I'm not going to let them take me."
"What do you mean?" Albert's voice quivers so with fear that he could hardly speak. "What are you going to do?"
"Kill myself. If you're wise you will too. You know what they do to prisoners."
"You're crazy as hell, I'm getting out of here that's what I'm going to do!" he cried. "I'll give up, maybe they let me live!"
"You're a damn fool and you'll be sorry," she said quietly. He grabbed his small satchel and dashed out of the cave, not even bothering to take his firearm.
He was sorry. Within a few short minutes she heard the screams begin. Just little cries at first, as they probably explained what he had in store and showed him their implements, told him what they were going to do to him. And then the air was filled with horrible screams as they put their sharp knives to work.
Mildred had seen the aftermath of their handiwork. The severed ears, noses, the pared eyelids and sexual organs. The bodies virtually skinned alive. They were experts at keeping a person alive for a long, long time under such torture.
And so with the horrible screams ringing in her ears she shoved the barrel of her pistol between her lips, lips that had never know a man's kiss. She tasted the oil and thought how lucky she was, much luckier than the young man outside dying in pieces. Her finger tightened on the trigger and the screaming stopped in mid-stride.
She died a 21-year-old virgin.