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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #11 of 12

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In the Year of the Horse, Anshi carved a miniature stallion for his son Ryo. He painted its tiny hooves black and cut off a lock of his own hair to fashion its mane and tail. For eyes, always the trickiest, Anshi embedded two perfect apple seeds.

Ryo took the wooden horse, hugged it to his small chest, and ran off to play behind the house. When night came, Anshi's wife called their son to dinner, but the boy didn't come. Anshi searched everywhere, but instead of Ryo, they found only hoofprints the size of fingernails in the moist earth. Anshi tried to follow them, but the trail ended at the edge of the forest.

While his wife cried, Anshi set to work on another horse. He took great care to carve its legs strong and swift, its neck curved and noble. He used another clump of his own hair for its mane and tail, and found two more apple seeds for eyes. Anshi took his creation into the yard and stared at it in his hand, waiting for something to happen.

And soon, something did. The little mare shook her head like a child shaking off sleep, and pranced on his palm with her painted hooves. Her apple-seed eyes held a question, and Anshi nodded.

The smell of hay filled his head. In the space of a hoofbeat, he had shrunk to the horse's size and now sat upon her smooth wooden back. Grass surrounded them like a green field of wheat. Anshi stroked the mare's neck and said, "Take me to my son."

He felt the horse's wooden muscles bunch just before it sprang into a gallop across the lawn. The night air raked Anshi's face like soft claws. He clung to the horse's mane—to a tuft of his own hair—and hunkered low. When they reached the edge of the forest, the mare jumped. His mind erupted with the scent of apples, and then they were in a vast golden meadow filled with horses and people of all sorts. A village.

A man approached Anshi. "Father," he said, "it's me, Ryo!" Anshi wanted to protest—his Ryo was but six years old—but the man hugged him, and Anshi recognized his son. He had grown strong and tall, with eyes like his mother's.

"Ryo," Anshi said, his voice thick, "your mother is worried. You must come back with me."

"I have a life here now, father," Ryo said. "A wife and three children of my own."

Anshi's heart faltered, but he saw the joy in his son's eyes and could not weep. All children grow up faster than their parents expect.

Anshi pulled out his knife and set to work immediately, fashioning four new miniature horses for his son's new family. He wiped the unborn tears from his eyes and said, "I hope you'll visit often."


Jenn Reese photo


Jenn Reese has published stories in cool places like Polyphony 4, Flytrap, Strange Horizons, and various anthologies. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she practices martial arts, plays strategy games, and laments the loss of Buffy. You can follow her adventures at her website. To contact her, send her email at jenn@sff.net. Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.
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