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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #2 of 12

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In the Year of the Rooster, Chen dreamed of a giant rooster with a beak as hard as stone and eyes the size of the moon at night. His nightmare bird pecked its way across the countryside destroying houses, uprooting trees, and killing the animals too slow to run from its massive clawed feet. And each night—for Chen had this very same dream nine evenings in a row—he awoke clutching his ears to shield himself from the creature's sky-splitting crow.

Chen was convinced these dreams were a portent sent by the gods, and that he was supposed to warn everyone of their impending doom. He took his message to the village wisewoman, who laughed at him. He went next to the nearby town and spoke with the magistrate, who nearly had him thrown in jail. The monks on the hill listened, but did nothing, as was their way.

And every time Chen slept, in his bed or under the trees, the nightmare came and ravaged his sleep. Always, he woke with his hands pressed hard against his ears.

At first, Chen was frightened of the roosters in his neighbors' yards. He ran and hid when one got loose and the neighbors found him two days later at the top of a tree. But soon, Chen's fear became hate. He carried a small silver-tipped axe wherever he went and began wandering the land, slaughtering every rooster he could find. He chopped off their heads and wore a string of dried rooster feet around his neck.

Eventually, Chen came to a temple in the middle of a vast field. A monk beckoned him closer and bade him enter. Although Chen thought only to stop for water, he did as the monk requested. Finally, he thought, someone will listen to the warning the gods have sent.

Chen walked through gilt halls strewn with hardened kernels of corn. Torches flickered along the wall, illuminating ancient drawings of men and roosters living together in harmony. What was this place? Why hadn't he found it sooner?

Though blood still dripped from his silver-tipped axe—it had dripped for months now—Chen proceeded deeper into the temple. At last, he came to a beautiful dark-haired woman wearing a flowing red robe. She sat on a golden throne carved like a rooster about to crow, its glorious comb reaching up towards the heavens. Chen stood before her.

"I have dreamed of a giant rooster," he said. "It will come and destroy us all."

The woman nodded. "The dream was indeed a portent," she said, "and the Great Rooster will soon descend upon us to wreak his vengeance. Your war against his people has doomed us all. The gods sent you a warning that you did not heed."

Chen opened his mouth to say something, anything, but it was too late. Behind the priestess, the golden rooster had opened its stone-hard beak and begun to crow.


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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