Size / / /

Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #6 of 12

ox icon

In the Year of the Ox, Ting-An decided to plow his fields and sow them with animals instead of plants. He bought the animal seeds from an old monk who appeared, coincidentally enough, the same day that Ting-An got his brilliant idea.

The price for the seeds? Ting-An's wife. Ting-An considered it a bargain, however, and even the old monk wore an irritated expression as he hobbled off with her.

But without his wife, Ting-An had no one to help him till the ground. He approached the ox—who had always been a better listener than his wife, and was quite a bit stronger, too—and said, "If you help me till the soil and plant these seeds, I will make you king over all the creatures that grow in my fields." The ox agreed.

The harsh winter had turned the ground as hard as stone. Ting-An and the ox worked themselves for hours in the morning and hours in the afternoon and even more hours at night. They grew lean from their labors, but soon the ground was ready to be sown.

In the first row, Ting-An planted porcupines, because he thought they were ugly and he always forgot to water the first row anyway. In the second row, he dropped fat brown pellets that he hoped would grow into succulent pigs. In subsequent rows he planted geese, horses, deer, chickens, oxen, and wolves.

He was a little unsure about the wolves. He suspected his wife would have talked him out of those, if she had still been there. But Ting-An had always like the look of wolves—imagined himself one at heart—and saw no harm in it.

Ting-An and the ox continued to work. They covered the seeds and watered them, even on the hottest of days. Soon, the animals began to sprout.

The oxen grew fast and strong. The pigs and geese grew fat, the deer and horses graceful, and the chickens loud. The wolves and porcupines didn't seem to grow at all.

Every few hours, the ox walked up and down the rows of his soon-to-be subjects and delivered speeches about hard work and loyalty. He was a charismatic creature, and his words were heartfelt. The animals grew faster and stronger and promised him their fealty.

And then, just as most of the animals began falling from their stalks, the wolves burst from the ground, fully formed, and began to kill the others.

Ting-An watched from the safety of the house, stricken with fear. The ox, however, would not stand by and watch his people slaughtered. He rushed into the fray, goring wolves with his horns and crushing their skulls with his mighty hooves, and when he died, hours later, it was in the brave defense of his people.

At dawn, the surviving wolves loped off into the woods, smiling and fat, and Ting-An was left with a row of half-dead porcupines to show for his work.

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 Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.
Current Issue
24 Feb 2020

tight braids coiled into isles and continents against our scalps
By: Mayra Paris
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Mayra Paris's “New York, 2009.”
This Mind and Body Cyborg as a queer figure raises its head in Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s 2019 epistolary novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, as two Cyborg bodies shed their previous subjectivities in order to find a queer understanding of one another.
Carl just said ‘if the skull wants to break out, it will have to come to me for the key’, which makes me think that Carl doesn’t really understand how breaking out of a place works.
Wednesday: The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman 
Friday: Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren 
Issue 17 Feb 2020
By: Priya Sridhar
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: E. F. Schraeder
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 10 Feb 2020
By: Shannon Sanders
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Issue 3 Feb 2020
By: Ada Hoffmann
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: S.R. Tombran
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 27 Jan 2020
By: Weston Richey
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 20 Jan 2020
By: Justin C. Key
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessica P. Wick
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 13 Jan 2020
By: Julianna Baggott
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Terese Mason Pierre
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Terese Mason Pierre
Issue 6 Jan 2020
By: Mitchell Shanklin
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 23 Dec 2019
By: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 16 Dec 2019
By: Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liu Chengyu
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 9 Dec 2019
By: SL Harris
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessy Randall
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Load More
%d bloggers like this: