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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #6 of 12

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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.


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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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