“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

Hopelessly Blind, by Zhou Kai

Zhou Kai was born in 1990 in Leshan, Sichuan province, and works in TV. In 2012, he sent a story to Ou Ning, the founder and editor of the magazine Chutzpah. Ou Ning immediately published it, describing Zhou as a most exciting and talented new writer. Ou Ning has written an appreciation of Zhou Kai especially for Paper Republic:

When I first read 《阴阳人甲乙卷》/"Yin-Yang People: A Tale in Two Parts", a short story sent to me by Zhou Kai which had been rejected by several other magazines, I was struck by this young writer’s intelligence. The story had an extraordinary boldness and showed a maturity far beyond his years... Soon afterwards, Zhou Kai started writing his first novel. When he sent me the first chapter (《盲无正》/ "Hopelessly Blind"), I saw a dramatic change in his style. This is a surreal fable, set in no particular time or place; Blind Village is a wild place, a village of illusion, whose inhabitants are alive merely in the simple biological sense. The village elders are blind, their progeny have gradually evolved to see the light, but all are plunged into total darkness for a period when the sun disappears. This story is about the extraordinary things they do to survive. With no cultural trappings or references, it appears to hark back to primeval humanity. As such, I see it as a deeply philosophical story, highly experimental in the current literary climate of China..." (translation: Nicky Harman)

This story first appeared in Chutzpah (《天南》) magazine and is reproduced by kind permission of Ou Ning

Zhou Kai The last blind man in Blind Village had disappeared. That day and night Bright and Shiny lay in bed eagerly awaiting the dawn. A commotion was filtering in from outside, but Bright didn’t want to break the silence for fear of being punished, so he stayed in bed. Shiny peeked through the crack in the doorframe. He saw raised torches and candles floating through the air like fireflies, the faint lights boring little holes into the darkness. Shiny thought he heard people talking, but when he pricked his ears to listen he only heard the expansion and contraction of the alveoli in his lungs. Suddenly a dog started to bark, and then others joined in. The people clapped their hands over their mouths, as though to prove that the sound wasn’t coming from them. Shiny’s big toes dug against the stone floor as more torches and candles appeared. Even a bunch of dried leaves and twigs was set afire, and the flames leapt about like a dancing girl trying to seduce a sleeping sun. Seeing this ball of fire, Shiny thought of his father Omen, the blind man: “That old bastard has no trouble sleeping.” Bright also thought of Omen, and an old idiom came to his head: “Happy as a fish in water.” Bright didn’t dare move. He thought he might be dreaming and if he moved about like Shiny, his soul wouldn’t be able to come back to his body. He had often dreamt of this scene, but those dreams were always silent, and now there were branches crackling and dogs barking. He listened for Omen’s snores. He’d been woken by the noise many times before, and always wanted to leap up and kill Omen in his sleep. But this time he didn’t hear any snoring. Shiny came back to bed. The two brothers slept with their backs to each other. Shiny felt Bright trembling. “Let’s go take a look.”

Omen had disappeared! The last blind man in Blind Village had disappeared. Shiny asked Bright, “Should we go tell the people outside?” Bright overturned the rice basket, thinking of something Omen had said last night. Omen had had a lot to drink and Bright had helped him sit down on the threshing grounds. Omen crossed his legs and watched the sun drop behind the mountains. He asked, “What am I facing?” Bright said, “You can see the three-foot city wall, looking about half as tall as the mountain.” Omen asked, “Is the path up the mountain still there?” Bright said, “No one’s taken that path for a long time. It’s overgrown with vines.” Omen told him to go get the firewood axe. Bright paid him no mind and just took him back to his room. Now Bright looked for the axe in the basket, and as he expected, it wasn’t there. At the same time, Shiny remembered something Omen had said last night. As he downed a cup of liquor, causing Shiny to pinch his nostrils shut at the foul odor emanating up from his belly, Omen had said that Bright had stolen his shoes. Shiny’s heart skipped a beat. He was the one who’d been rummaging around, but he hadn’t dared steal the shoes. He’d never thought that a pair of shoes would be hidden in Omen’s closet. Now Shiny opened the closet again, letting his candle illuminate its messy contents. All that was left were some old clothes, and as he expected, the shoes weren’t there. It didn’t occur to Shiny or Bright to tell the other what he was thinking. They heard a knock on the door. Bright answered sleepily, “It’s still dark out.” Shiny heard Rich’s voice and went to open the door.

Rich asked if Omen was in his room. All at once Bright said “yes” and Shiny said “no.” So Rich threw back his head and shouted, “Omen’s disappeared!” People swarmed into the room with their lit torches. Bright was afraid the house would catch on fire, and asked some of them to put their torches out. Face after face went dark, and then a voice like an earthworm burrowing out of mud asked, “You two didn’t hear a thing?” Bright said, “My dad might be blind, but he’s memorized everything in the house.” Bright tapped his head with his index finger, though no one could see the gesture. “He always walks on tiptoe and he can come up right behind you and still catch you by surprise.” Everyone felt a light touch on the shoulder, and a dozen eyes in the room shone with alarm, then darkened again. Suddenly everything was very quiet and a dozen breaths hung in the air. Shiny sighed, “What could my dad have to do with any of this?” By ‘this,’ he meant the fact that the sun hadn’t risen. Rich said again, “We all know it’s not going to get light. How come you two were still sleeping?” Bright yawned. “It’s nice to sleep when it’s dark out,” he said. This provoked fury from the others. “Omen’s blind, so he made everyone else blind too!” “Where did Omen go?” “He pulled down the sun as a joke on us!” Shiny felt a rush of excitement. No one ever paid attention to his family, but now they were treating his father like a minor god. Rich struck a match and lit a cigarette, and the end flickered with his breath: “Where would he go?” Bright thought that these were two questions that should be considered separately: that Omen had disappeared, and the sky was still dark; or put differently, where had Omen gone, and why hadn’t the sun come up. But the more he thought about it, the more confused he felt, and it seemed they were one and the same question. Who had made Omen blind, so that now no one could see?

Rich thought it must be that the clouds were too thick, and with a single gust of wind the sun would reappear. He calmly ate lunch and took a nap. When he woke, he opened his eyes and rubbed them. He saw shadows and realized that light was coming in. In his excitement, he ran outside barefoot and looked up. The moon and stars were like shards of shattered plates and as he stared at them he felt that the sky had somehow gone wrong. Rich wasn’t the only one looking at the sky. A lot of people were gazing up, heads cocked sideways, staring for so long that they felt like their heads had flown up among the stars. When at last they looked down and gave their necks a rest, they saw Bright and Shiny leisurely moonbathing on rattan chairs. Rich emerged from his house with a gong and rang it so loudly that everyone jumped. At the village crossroads, Rich set down an enormous metal basin that he had taken from Bright and Shiny’s house. Bright and Shiny both blushed. Omen was blind, so they had to help him bathe, Shiny in the front and Bright in the back, the three of them sitting together in the huge basin. Rich pointed to the basin: “This is the sun!” Rich realized that some people were looking at Shiny and Bright, and others couldn’t turn their heads after staring at the sky for so long, so only one or two people were listening. He raised his voice and said again, “This, this is the sun!” Rich ordered a few men to cut down an old tree, which they cut into four posts and erected at the eastern edge of the village. Then he told the weaver Little Ox to make the strongest bamboo mat he could with a strap attached to each corner, which they stretched between the tops of the four posts Then he went from door to door commandeering candles, boiled down the wax, poured it into the metal basin, twisted the wicks together into a single wick as thick as an arm and as tall as a person, and stuck it into the middle of the wax. The villagers hoisted the basin onto the bamboo mat, and when Rich lit it, everyone felt as though they were seeing the sun.

The canola flowers bloomed for three days then withered, even the bees died colliding into walls. The villagers knew they could no longer plant crops. The rice stored up in the granaries was gradually eaten and a few people thought of trying to escape. Blind Village had four roads, one in each direction. To the east was the mountain, which was covered with clouds and although it was said there was a road, it was overgrown. To the west was the river, which had no boats or bridges and waves that surged to the sky. To the south was a marsh. Only Longevity had ever gone to the north, and he had taken sixty blind men with him. He said they had walked for nine days and each day there had been more and more birds, until the ninth day he’d had woken up and realized he was floating in the air, birdcalls piercing his eardrums. Taking his life in his hands, he ran across the backs of the birds until he stepped on thin air and fell back to earth. He said, “That was the Village of the Birds, where legend has it that the birds stripped the earth bare and started to kill each other off, but they still kept multiplying.” He said, “Those other sixty blind men weren’t as fortunate as me.”

So the people gave up on the idea of escape. They stared at the candle in the basin, eaten bit by bit by the flame. Rich asked Longevity, “Are we just waiting to starve to death?” Longevity told him, “A hundred years ago, I was the first person in Blind Village to see light. It wasn’t that the sun didn’t exist, it was that no one had seen it before. Omen hasn’t seen it. He’s still blind, assuming he’s still alive.” Longevity stroked his beard. The back of his hand was pitted with scars from birds’ beaks. “Can the blind farm crops? Of course not.” Rich stood up anxiously, seeing a halo of smoke around Longevity’s head. He wished Longevity would just continue his story. Longevity said he was hungry and didn’t have the energy to continue. Rich thought to himself that Longevity wasn’t worthy of his name. He told Longevity to wait for him and he would come back with some bread. Rich walked faster and faster, and he saw that the basin was also enveloped in smoke, just like Longevity’s head.

After Omen disappeared, Longevity was the oldest man left in Blind Village. It was he who had brought the village light. Longevity always said that he was the first man in Blind Village gain sight. Omen had disagreed. Omen’s father had said that Longevity’s mother was a beautiful woman. Omen had asked: How can a blind man tell who’s beautiful? Omen’s father answered back, What do you think? Omen thought for a moment, then said, Of course, you can feel it. When Longevity’s mother walks by, I know it’s Longevity’s mother and not someone else’s mother. Omen’s father had asked, What does it feel like? Omen said, It’s like a ray of light. His father leaned close to Omen’s ear, said, So you understand. Omen told Shiny and Bright that the first person in Blind Village to have sight was Longevity’s mother. But they had never seen her, and so they thought that Longevity was the first.

Longevity had brought sight to the village, and Omen had taken it away. Now even Shiny and Bright believed that. They were faint from hunger. Fortunately, they had hidden two candles from Rich, and now they lit them to search for food in the house. Bright cursed Omen: “That damn thief, he took all the food with him.” Bright said, “Do you remember how Omen loved to eat beans soaked in that basin?” Shiny thought back to how Omen would throw a bean into the basin with a plop, then scoop it out and pop it into his mouth. Then he would scoop another bean out and pop it into his mouth. Shiny clapped a hand to his head. One bean had become two beans. Bright said, “Sometimes Omen would get obsessed with that plopping sound. No one would be talking, but the room would be full of that sound.”

Rich brought back some bread, but Longevity wouldn’t talk. Rich hesitated about giving the bread to him, worrying he might choke to death on it. He waited for Longevity to start talking again. If he was willing to say anything at all, the bread would be his. Longevity felt his bones, which had all come from his mother. He thought of her, and how there were more and more sighted children like him in Blind Village. His mother had disappeared too, but she wasn’t like Omen who’d run away. They’d looked everywhere for traces of his mother, and finally found some footprints in the mountains. But the mountains were tall and enveloped in clouds, and the first sighted children hadn’t dared go any farther. Longevity, though, said his mother had headed north, and had told the sixty blind men that the reason she hadn’t come back was that she had found a road out of Blind Village. So that year Longevity had led the sixty blind men on the journey north. Now, in the smoke encircling his head, he saw his mother. He wanted to tell Rich, but Rich was fading away, and didn’t heed his calls.

After Longevity died, people considered the question, if Blind Village had only one sighted person, what would the light matter to him? After Longevity died, dealing with his funeral was an issue. Some people said to cremate him, since what the village lacked most was fire. Some said to bury him, but as they were digging the grave, someone struck his own toe with a shovel and Rich told them to stop. Scorpion suggested that they boil the body and eat it, but nobody ever listened to him. Finally they decided to throw the body in the water. Four men picked up the corpse and threw him into the river. Longevity shouted: Plop!

Plop. Bright and Shiny were eating beans when Bright heard Omen’s voice in his ear. Longevity knew what light was, because his mother could see. Bright rushed to find a candle, but it had been burned all the way down. Shiny said, “We need a candle. We should go find Rich, although he only gives candles to women.” Shiny thought to tell him that he had just heard Omen’s voice, but when he opened his mouth he just said foolishly, “But the candlewax was all melted into the basin.” Shiny said, “Little Ox’s wife got a candle from Rich, but when I asked him, all I got was a slap upside the head.” Bright asked, “Does Little Ox’s wife need candles so that Little Ox can weave more bamboo mats?” Shiny didn’t answer. Bright thought to himself, the weather’s turning cold, who’s going to buy a bamboo mat? Bright heard Omen’s voice again, and he started humming deep in his chest to cover up the voice. He pulled a bundle of leaves out of the jar and lit it. He and his brother looked at each other as though they were strangers.

Not long after Longevity died, Little Ox’s wife and the one they called Scorpion followed. Little Ox rolled his wife’s corpse up in a mat and buried her hastily. Little Ox asked Rich to help, saying that one man couldn’t tie it tight enough and he needed Rich to hold the rope. Shiny stood not far away, but neither of them noticed. Shiny borrowed a candle so he could watch Rich’s face. Rich was very calm, as though nothing had happened. After Scorpion died, his bald head began to shine faintly. At first the light was weak, but it got stronger and stronger until it was painfully bright. Scorpion had starved to death, and there wasn’t a drop of fat left on his body. Someone explained that he was like a stone and some stones shone at night. Rich stood up and said, “We can’t waste the light. Scorpion wouldn’t want us to.” So he sawed Scorpion’s head off and threw the body in the river. The candle in the enormous basin was blown out, and Scorpion’s head was put up on it. The light was a bit stronger, but the people of Blind Village felt a chill go up their spines, as the light seemed to be coming from his eyes.

One day, Blind Village was buffeted by a great wind that came from the north. Roof tiles fell to the ground, but the people weren’t concerned. It was the kind of weather that didn’t bring rain, and they had more than enough tiles. Only Peanut was depressed, and that was because his dog had run off. The wind had picked up at night, and the next morning the dog had burst outside and hadn’t come back for several days. Peanut was the only hunter in Blind Village. He hunted in the farming offseason, both for fun and for the oil and meat. His dog was his helper, and he said that it had once killed a wolf, though who knew if that was true. Log, who each day squatted by the village entrance, was the first to see Peanut’s dog come back. Only Log still believed that one day the sun would rise again, and he was certain that it would be tomorrow or the next day. When Peanut’s dog came back, everyone panicked because the dog carried a dead bird in his mouth. When they saw the bird, they thought of the scars on the backs of Longevity’s hands, and they thought of how he had taken those sixty blind men into the Village of the Birds. If the wind blew a bird into the village, let alone many birds, those voracious creatures would know that humans still lived in the village. Rich cut the bird up into pieces, and hung its head, body, wings, and feet at the crossroads. But some were still afraid and wanted to cover the entire village with a net. Rich thought that was too much trouble, and moreover, how would they find a big enough net? Shiny went to see the bird. He didn’t feel afraid. He wanted to see what a bird that came from outside Blind Village looked like. Its feathers and wings and beak were all ordinary, the same as those of the birds that used to live in the village. But Shiny still felt that it somehow wasn’t the same, just as he felt Omen and Longevity’s mother weren’t the same.

The people’s terror at the bird’s appearance slowly dissipated, and as the weather gradually grew warmer, it seemed as though the sun was rising inside their bodies. Some people worried whether their bodies would get used to such weather, like they had gotten used to the dark. It was also Log who first noticed that Scorpion’s head had turned around. When it had first been put in the basin, the eyes had faced east, and now they faced south. Before Shiny began to talk about the weather getting warmer, no one had wanted to tell anyone else about the changes in their bodies, but as soon as Shiny spoke, they connected the changes with Scorpion’s head. Log agreed: “Yes, it’s warmer because Scorpion’s head is facing south, and I saw it first.” But Rich poured cold water on his smugness: “You were also the first one to see the bird in the dog’s mouth.” The wind blew in birds, and it also blew Scorpion’s head askew. The villagers were afraid, and then they felt very warm. This was this strange wind indeed!

The people’s attention had shifted from where the sun might rise to Scorpion’s head. They envied Scorpion for being able to play such a role after death. All that was left of his face were bones and skin, and they couldn’t tell if his expression was one of horror or peace. They stared at him for a while, then silently went home, closed their doors, and ladled cool water over their heads. They couldn’t quite say how they had changed after seeing Scorpion’s face. It was like a tree staring at another tree, or a stone staring at another stone.

Little Ox found Shiny and told him, “Up to the day she died, my wife was never hungry. But I’ve been so hungry I dig up withered tree roots and boil wild plants.” Bright waved him off with a bamboo pole. Shiny said, “Are you pretending not to know what went on between your wife and Rich?” Little Ox said, “Rich doesn’t have enough food either, how could he have been feeding my wife?” Bright knew that since nobody could see each other, such talk was pretty brazen. Little Ox said, “My wife was just eating some kind of beans.” In the dark, Bright delivered a vicious kick to Shiny’s backside, but perhaps it landed on Little Ox’s backside. If the secret of the beans had gotten to Little Ox, he’d have already spread it to the entire village. Sure enough, though three people had already starved to death in Blind Village, as soon as the plop of beans sounded from all the corners of the village, people heard the sweet gospel of a savior. During this time, Rich kept his ears open, trying to figure out which house the sound was coming from. After not too long, he found himself hauling out the corpses of two people who died with distended bellies. Things got even harder for Bright and Shiny. No one thanked them, but instead blamed them for not sharing the magical beans earlier, to save the lives of those who’d starved to death and been thrown in the river.

After he’d eaten, Log had more energy to go out and wait for the sun. Without sunrise or sunset, he used the most traditional method to determine the time—he found a piece of rattan, counted to thirty-six hundred over the course of each hour and tied a knot. Rich thought that it wasn’t good enough to have Log keep track of time that way, so he made an hourglass for him. Thus Log controlled time in Blind Village. While he waited for the sun to rise, he would look at Scorpion’s head and ask himself how such a hideous face could take the place of the sun. Sometimes he would fall into a trance staring at the head, like a tree staring at another tree, or a stone staring at another stone. That face belonged to someone aside from Scorpion—who was it? As Log considered this question, he lost track of time, and the people, who discovered they were getting less and less sleep, scolded him. Log said, “Look at Scorpion’s face.” The people looked as though they had been hit by something. Log continued, “I feel like I’ve seen it before.” Someone laughed and said, “How could you not know Scorpion?” Log said, “I don’t mean Scorpion.” Bright knew who the face looked like, but he heard the others laughing and said nothing. It was Rich who said, “It looks like Longevity. It really looks like him!” Longevity’s face hung there in the air, his head emitting light, illuminating Blind Village. But the more people tried to remember Longevity’s face, the more fuzzy it became. Longevity was old when he died, and his bones had jutted out through his drooping skin, and Scorpion’s head was like that too now. For some reason, when Rich finished speaking, every single person touched his or her own face, feeling their own skulls through the thin or fleshy contours. Leaves began to sprout on the tree branches, the tree roots reached further into the ground, the very same ground. Scorpion’s head was like Longevity’s head, and like . . . They went back to their houses, closed their doors, and ladled cool water over their heads.

There were two secrets in Blind Village, one was about age, and one was about mothers. The middle-aged villagers didn’t remember their own ages. They had played in the mud together, developed breasts at the same time, or grown hair and beards together, and gotten wrinkles together. Some had had children, and others hadn’t, since after all the men in Blind Village outnumbered the women. Bright had once had a wife, who was Peanut’s younger sister. In Blind Village, the first sighted generation’s earliest impression of girls was still from touch. When the boys’ Adam’s apples appeared, the older generation blindfolded them. The girls stood up, and the boys felt them with both hands and chose a wife. If two boys chose the same girl, the girl would pick between them. There were eighteen boys and twelve girls in that generation. Scorpion and Bright both stopped in front of Peanut’s little sister, and Shiny and Little Ox both stopped in front of the girl who would later become Little Ox’s wife. Peanut’s sister chose Bright, and Scorpion erupted in anger. Little Ox’s wife chose Little Ox, and so Shiny had never tasted the flavor of a woman’s body. Peanut’s sister became pregnant, and as she carried her belly through the village, those wizened old blind men would hear her slow footsteps and praise her to high heaven. Bright felt that Omen and Shiny’s attitudes were strange in contrast. Omen was oddly cold, and Shiny was oddly solicitous. Bright started to build a house for himself and Peanut’s sister to live in. When it was time to put up the roof, Peanut took Bright hunting on the mountain. Bright had never been on the mountain and he wanted to please his brother-in-law. Peanut carried a rifle and Bright carried a sack as they climbed. Hunting on the mountain wasn’t as easy as one might imagine, and they ended up going home exhausted and empty-handed. When Bright opened the door to his room, his wife wasn’t there. Peanut called to her. Shiny told them that she had drowned herself in the well. Omen repeated the terrible adage: “When a child is born, a woman throws herself down a well.” Peanut pointed the gun at Omen’s head. Omen stood up as though nothing were wrong and walked lightly into his room to lie down. Not long after, they heard him snoring. Peanut remembered the first time he had been hunting, when Longevity had given him the gun and taught him how to use it. In his excitement, he had run to the mountain and saw a rabbit by his feet nibbling on grass. The rabbit kept nibbling even as he aimed his rifle at it, and Peanut had stopped, astonished. Peanut lowered the gun and walked out the door, and behind him he heard Bright bellow in rage. It was the only time he could remember hearing Bright yell like that. The words Omen had repeated was Blind Village’s other secret, a secret about the mother of Shiny and Bright, about the mother of Peanut and his sister, about Rich’s mother, Scorpion’s mother, Log’s mother, Little Ox’s mother . . . and Longevity.

Peanut remembered how, before his father had died, he’d asked for a lock of his daughter’s hair. He’d held it in his hand until his body had grown stiff. Rich remembered how his father had lied to him, saying he’d grown from a tree limb. Every day Scorpion’s father would go to the well for a pot of water and drink an entire ladleful right there. Then he’d stick his face into the water until Scorpion worried he would drown in it. Log’s father was as honest and dull as he was. Once he’d asked Log if he could see a woman’s face in the well, and Log told him that he only saw a man’s face, a face that looked just like his own. Little Ox’s father was one of the blind men who’d gone with Longevity to the Village of the Birds to do battle, and before he’d left, he’d filled a bottle with well water. They knew all their mothers had chosen the same death—throwing themselves into the well—and they still used the well water for drinking, cooking, watering the vegetable gardens. Their mothers’ blood flowed in their bodies, and their mothers’ bones had become water, circulating through their bodies, evaporating into the air. Every inch of the village carried traces of their mothers. None of them had ever seen his mother, but each could feel her hand stroking his face, her long hair dancing in the breeze that blew through the village. The word “mother” was erased from the vocabulary of an entire generation, but before this, had they never asked why there were blind fathers but no blind mothers? Why had the mothers disappeared? Why were they all born at the same time, to grow up, and grow old, together? And why had they all been born with sight? One day, they finally started to ask these questions. But then they thought of their fathers, and out of respect for them they didn’t press further. Except for Shiny and Bright, whose father had disappeared.

Bright began investigating, starting with Peanut’s gun. People sat under Scorpion’s head talking about their dreams and experiences, and they reached the consensus that people can have real experiences in dreams, experiences that they can’t have in the real world. Humans lived in the real world and they lived in dreams too. The villagers also talked about words, and though none of them could read, they had to admit that before Blind Village had become Blind Village, a certain set of words had created another world for their ancestors. They couldn’t read the words but they could dream, and dreams and words were very much alike. They were both a combination of memory and prophesy, sometimes right and sometimes mistaken. They also talked about the darkness, as dreams came from the body’s darkness, and words came from the heart’s darkness. Then they spoke of their own experiences, but only timidly. They felt that their ancestors were the same way when they were reading those words, that although the memories they had of various experiences seemed very concrete, in reality they were quite vague. They thought that there must be another pair of ears, another mouth, another pair of eyes, another nose to recall and describe the sounds, speech, colors, and tastes of another time. Lastly they talked about spirits, turning one by one to look up at Scorpion. Peanut said, “I once encountered a spirit. It was like the feeling in the air after a piece of paper has been burned. You can tell easily if there’s burned paper in the air, but you have no way of proving it. Spirits are like that. I was in a mountain cave when I felt the spirit’s presence. It talked and moved and breathed. I was terrified and curled up in a corner, but it didn’t seem to occupy physical space. There’s no way to describe it, it’s just there at your shoulder, no matter where you try to hide. So I loaded my gun and cocked it. I didn’t know where to aim but I pulled the trigger anyway. Then I ran out of the cave into the rain.”

For a long time, no one said anything. Bright had been wandering nearby, listening in on the conversation, and he said, “Bullshit, you were probably dreaming.” Shiny was surprised. He’d never thought of that. Log looked disappointed: “Let’s take a break.” The group broke up. Shiny realized that Bright had disappeared. Bright was walking behind Peanut, and he asked him, “Does he think that spirit was your little sister?” Bright walked ahead, leaving Scorpion’s head farther and farther behind, the light growing dimmer and dimmer. Bright asked Peanut, “Do you have a grudge against Omen or against Shiny or against yourself?” Peanut closed his door. Bright waited, then knocked lightly: “Load a gun, cock it, aim it, and pull the trigger—how could a blind man do all that?” Peanut opened the door. Bright asked, “Where did the gun come from?”

Peanut said, “I don’t blame him at all.” Bright thought that he was talking about Omen or Shiny or himself. Peanut said, “He hadn’t touched a woman for years. He told me, the river is flowing past our ears and beans are bursting open in the water. Afterwards, I understood he was talking about my sister bleeding from between her legs, her body exploding. For so many nights, he kept his ear pressed against my sister’s door; his ears were his eyes, eyes that could see through doors and walls. He asked me, Does your sister look like your mother? That fool, when had I ever seen my mother? He agreed with a grunt, and said, Yes, they look like one another.” Peanut suddenly looked at Bright. “He and my sister were two different people.” He started to break down. “My sister and I were one. He and I were one. But he and my sister were two totally different people. And because of that, I can’t blame him.” Bright told Peanut to hand over the gun so he could look at it. Peanut kept talking about his father’s and sister’s deaths. He talked and wept, and for a moment Bright thought it was his dog speaking. Bright said, “Goddamn it, when you’re hunting you don’t go on like this about the animals you kill! Now get that gun and let me try it out.”

When he and Peanut had gone to the mountain to hunt, he’d carried this gun. Now, as he held the gun again, he was reminded, like Peanut, of his brief time with his wife. She’d been crazy even before she’d jumped in the well. Shiny had seen her in the courtyard shouting and running, and Omen had heard a muffled sound, a sound with which he was too familiar. Bright had seen a flash of light and sat by the well, and after a while a face had appeared in the well—Longevity!

Bright asked Peanut, “Can you fire this gun with your eyes closed?” Peanut didn’t answer. Bright lifted the gun and said, “It’s dark now, and I’m going to close my eyes and I won’t be able to see anything. When the wind passes through the room and hits the wall, the wall doesn’t move, only that bamboo hat hanging there sways a bit. The wind continues on and I can tell exactly where it exits through the open window.” Peanut was still deciding what to say. He was trying to figure out why his father and his sister were two different people, while he and his sister were one person, and he and his father were one person. He heard the gun go off. Bright said, “The bullet followed the wind and broke your window.” Bang! Peanut’s dog yelped and writhed on the floor. Peanut pushed Bright out the door.

After that, Peanut became a loner. He buried his dog, then a few days later dug him up and threw him in the river, thinking he should enjoy the same treatment as Longevity. A few people saw Peanut standing in his doorway aiming his gun at Scorpion’s head, and although he wasn’t very good with guns, they still worried and went to tell Rich. Rich dropped in to talk with Peanut. The door was locked and when he broke it open, he discovered that Peanut and the gun had both disappeared.

When Bright came out of Peanut’s room, he walked through the village with his eyes closed. He knew Blind Village well enough not to trip over rocks, and to be able to tell which direction he was facing. But he hadn’t gone very far before he couldn’t take it anymore. He opened his eyes. When he closed his eyes, the whole world seemed to press down on him, the air pressed down on him, pressed him into a flat disk, into a speck of dust, and he felt he was walking into a kind of endlessness. The moonlight entwined with the light coming from Scorpion’s head, like a sweater knitted by a mother’s hand and draped over Blind Village as it cried like a child until silence soothed it like a pair of hands. He couldn’t help but feel a great respect for Omen.

As Shiny walked home after hearing Peanut’s story about his sister’s spirit, Bright was nowhere to be seen. He wanted someone to keep him company, but everyone seemed to have fallen into a dream, like they’d talked about. Then Shiny realized that maybe it was he himself who had fallen into a dream. It occurred to him that he might be trapped in someone else’s dream, and he felt so light he thought he might be floating. He said, “Fuck, if whoever’s dreaming wakes up, I’ll disappear just like Omen! I’ll bet he was just in somebody else’s dream.” He was eager to get home, and picked up his pace. Someone touched him on the shoulder, but he didn’t turn around. He felt another light touch, and he began to run. After what felt like a long time, he stood in front of his house. Shaking, he opened the door and jumped into bed, and soon he was fast asleep.

Log shouted for him to wake up. Shiny was thrilled to still be alive. He saw Bright in the living room and grumbled to him, “Where did you go off to?” Bright said, “I went to see Peanut.” Shiny thought to himself, so Bright’s curious about Peanut’s story too. He said, “So what was it that Peanut saw?” Bright said, “Himself.” Shiny thought of the situation the night before and realized that Bright had hit the nail on the head. He felt ashamed. Bright said, “Do you remember what Omen’s father asked him about Longevity’s mother?” Shiny couldn’t remember it. Bright said, “Omen’s father asked him, could he tell that Longevity’s mother was beautiful, and Omen said that he could. His father asked him how, and he answered, Longevity’s mother is like a ray of light.” Shiny said, “Omen was blind, he was just saying that.” Bright said, “You’ve seen Peanut’s gun.” He didn’t wait for Shiny’s answer and continued, “Where did he get it from?” Shiny suddenly understood. Bright said, “He got it from Longevity. And where did Longevity get the gun?” Shiny asked in a small voice, “From his mother?” Bright said, “Last night I went to Longevity’s house.” Shiny said, “You went because of the gun, not because of Peanut’s story.” Bright said, “I tried closing my eyes and holding the gun. Peanut was going on and on about the relationship between his father and his sister. He never realized I was trying out his gun with my eyes closed.” Shiny thought, Bright wouldn’t shoot Peanut, would he? Bright said, “I shot his dog and he threw me out of his house.” After a long while, Bright asked, “Where did the gun come from?”

Shiny decided to go ask Peanut himself. He walked to Peanut’s house and saw him there holding the gun and aiming it at something. He followed the line of the barrel and jumped in fright. Peanut was aiming at Scorpion’s head. Shiny ran frantically to Rich’s house to tell him, and he also ran and told Bright. Bright didn’t believe that Peanut would shoot Scorpion’s head. Shiny asked him why, and he said he wasn’t sure. It was after that that Peanut and the gun disappeared.

When the sighted children were born in Blind Village, there were eighteen boys and twelve girls in total. Now three people—Longevity, then Scorpion and Little Ox’s wife—had starved, two had died with swollen bellies, and Peanut had vanished. Before the string of disappearances that followed, the villagers lived quite happily. The sun had stopped rising, but Rich lit an enormous candle; the food ran out, but Omen bequeathed the magic beans to fill the villagers’ stomachs; Scorpion died, but his head had taken the place of the sun. When the wind blew Scorpion’s head askew, the village was no longer cold, and each night Log hit a gong at moonrise and the people knew it was time to go to bed. The one thing that bothered them was that they had lost their seasons. But when they thought about it, there was no need to plant crops, so what difference would a change of seasons make? Bright figured out that Peanut’s gun had come from Longevity, and Longevity had gotten it from his mother, but there the thread broke, as though Longevity’s mother herself had snipped it. Shiny found a new way to masturbate, sticking himself in the water as he soaked beans and letting the waves from their little explosions get him off.

One night Log dreamt of the sun. He became a tree, a blade of grass, a flower, and the sun squatted beside him, wanting him to talk about the days he’d spent in darkness. If Log were a tree, then he would hear the leaves on his body curling up, and if he were a blade of grass, he would slowly wither. If he were a flower, he might be more restrained and just let his face droop. He thought, the sun is squatting next to me and it seems like it’s been there for years and I’ve already told it the story many times. When he opened his eyes to see what the sun looked like, he thought, it’s probably green, or pink, or maybe gray. But none of that seemed right, and he started to cry, sobbing himself awake. He climbed out of bed, wanting to go look. Of course, Log wasn’t going to find his sun, and he felt like a jilted lover. Outside, he heard a frightful beating of wings, and without stopping to look up, he started to run. When the villagers got up in the morning, Log described what had happened the night before. First he told them about his dream, which no one wanted to hear about, and then he said, “The birds came again.” The middle-aged parents and their children started a search, and they found feathers. The person who had suggested before that the village put up a big net whispered to himself, but Rich pretended not to hear. That day, Rich made the announcement that he was going to organizing a bird-capturing brigade that would head out to the Village of the Birds. He cast his eye over the sparse crowd. “The brigade will have six men and one woman.”

The first man that Rich enlisted had a limp; a lame man would help unite the troops. The second man was good at telling which plants were edible, since they wouldn’t have a source of water on the road. The third man was the one who’d wanted Blind Village to make a big bird net, and Rich planned to get rid of him along the way. The fourth man was Shiny, and he explained to Shiny why he needed to choose a woman to come along. The woman he chose was Log’s wife, since she was strong and stout. The fifth man came to see him, and that was Log. Along with Rich, that was just the right number.

Shiny urged Bright to come with him, not only because Log’s wife would be there, but also because they might encounter Peanut along the way. Bright cursed at him and called him a maggot. Shiny spat on the floor and punched him, saying, “We’re going to the Village of the Birds, you’re really going to call me a maggot?” The two were still fighting when Rich came to the door with Log’s son in his arms. He pulled the two brothers apart. Rich wanted Bright to look after Log’s son. Shiny told Rich he was crazy, that Bright had heartlessly killed Peanut’s dog and he might just as heartlessly throw the child in the river. Log’s son wanted to take up the job of sounding the night gong, so he wouldn’t have to stay with the dog-killing bastard. Bright didn’t want to take care of the child, but the child was completely silent, and he thought that if none of brigade members came back, the child might turn into a mute. So he decided to take him in.

Before the brigade set out, two things happened in Blind Village. The first was that Rich made Little Ox and the third man who had joined the army weave an enormous net. It wasn’t to cover Blind Village; Rich wanted to take it along to catch birds. Little Ox and the third man spent three days weaving a crude net, which according to them could hold all the people in the village. Rich slid the net into a tube like a gun barrel so that when he pushed the piston forward, the net would shoot out. The second thing was that the village lost another woman and two children. Her husband explained that she had been afraid that Rich would force her to go to the Village of the Birds and so she had run away with her two children. Bright asked, “Did you see which direction she went in?” Her husband answered, “She left while I was sleeping.”

When the brigade set out, Scorpion’s head emitted its brightest light yet, and Rich took this as a good omen. He looked at the pitiful few villagers being left behind and said, “We’re heading off to the Village of the Birds. Longevity took sixty blind men with him, and only he came back. We are six men and one woman, together seven people, and how many birds are there? We should have asked Longevity, but sadly he’s dead now, and anyway, he probably wouldn’t know for sure. We’re leaving and Log is coming with us, so no one will ring the night gong. Sleep as much as you like, one night, one day, ten days, a year, two years, longer. We’re leaving, because Blind Village has no sun and it’s the birds that have blocked it out. We’re leaving, with the hope that Scorpion will bless and protect us, and Omen and Longevity will bless and protect us too.”

If Shiny hadn’t heard the bit about Omen, he would have abandoned the whole thing. He looked for Bright in the crowd, though he knew he hadn’t come. Still he thought, no matter what, we’re brothers!

LOG’S SON WAS called Happy. Happy was Scorpion’s friend, since in Blind Village, only the children could understand what Scorpion said. Scorpion called the breeze a wind-inch, and called a hat a sky-covering. When the wind blew his hat askew, he would say: the wind-inch uncovered the sky. Scorpion called walking drawing, and so he would say: Omen drew to the mountains. Scorpion called the sun a light-spring, saying light flowed from it like water. Happy looked at the sun, and it did seem to be a spring from which light flowed, tugging at his body like water. Scorpion had turned to stone from hunger, and Happy had watched him get sawed in two. Now his head hung over Blind Village, sending out rays of light. Happy thought to himself, Scorpion has found a new way of talking. He saw his father as Scorpion’s greatest enemy, since everyone said that Log was trying to wake the sun. If the sun rose again in the east, Scorpion wouldn’t talk anymore. When Log left and hugged his son as if he couldn’t bear to part with him, Happy hoped he would never come back. Best would be if the birds ate him up. Bright didn’t know about Happy and Scorpion’s friendship. He just thought Happy was unlucky, because if Happy had been able to choose when he was born, he could have been born when it was already dark, and that way he wouldn’t have seen the sun and would never have known what light was. He thought that Happy didn’t like to talk because of the disaster that had befallen the village or because Log had left him. But the real reason was that Happy only wanted to talk to Scorpion. Silently, he listened to Bright talk, all the while hearing Scorpion tell stories in his head.

According to Scorpion, Blind Village had undergone eight periods of darkness. The first time was because the mountain had kept growing higher. The villagers tried to carry rocks down from the top, but they hadn’t been able to keep up with its growth, so they’d finally moved the whole village to the top of the mountain. The second time was because an earthquake had turned the mountain’s whole topography upside down and the river water had put out the sun. The whole earth had shook, not just lamps or tables, and in a twinkling, the mountain became a valley. The villagers who survived used a huge bow to shoot out a rocket to relight the sun. The third time the darkness came about because the sun had sex with the moon, and then with the other stars and planets of all shapes and sizes, and it had ejaculated all its brightness onto their bodies. The fourth time was because the sun had lost its way in the forest and wandered into a cave. The villagers had used a floating lamp to lead the sun back out. The fifth time was the longest, and it was also during that time that blind people had begun appearing in Blind Village. The sun was split into two halves by a bolt of daytime lightning, so the villagers put a magnet in the spot where the sun usually was, and after a few years, it finally healed back together. When the sixth period of darkness came, the first generation of blind villagers had long since died, and the people had begun to record the movements of the sun and the farming seasons, and the frequency and positions of their sexual practices, and what kinds of plants were edible, and how people got along with each other, and what kind of woman could change a man’s body, and the births of leaders, and those leaders’ rights and wrongs. . . . They wrote their symbols thickly on the clouds, turning the sky black, and it was only after the leaders washed the clouds clean that the sun had been able to show itself again. Many years passed between the sixth and seventh periods of darkness, but their causes were very similar. The sixth time gave rise to more blind people, who unfortunately passed the trait on to their children, and by the seventh time, everyone in the village was blind. During this time when no one could see, which lasted till the arrival of Longevity’s mother and Longevity’s birth, the villagers realized that the sun had been gone for a long time. But it was only temporary, and no one knew the reason for this eighth period of darkness.

Scorpion said to Happy, “Log is my brother.”

Happy nodded.

Scorpion said, “During the third period of darkness, Blind Village practiced cannibalism. When all of the grain had been eaten, the strong survived and the weak died in bed. The living flayed the corpses and hung the flesh on the walls to dry. Those who dealt with the dead were honored and in that way they survived for quite a while. Some people heard their stomachs and intestines and anuses breathing. They heard the sound of chattering and scratching, and they were convinced that the dead lived on inside their bodies. Some of them were happy for that, the relatives and spouses of the dead. But even more people wanted to end the custom because it went against the laws of nature. And soon the third period of darkness ended.”

Happy asked Scorpion if that was why he believed Log was his brother.

Scorpion continued, “Between the third and fourth period of darkness, the villagers of Blind Village wanted to stockpile sunlight to keep the darkness from coming back. They left a jug out in the sun in a field, but when they came back and opened it up, the inside was still pitch black. Sunlight isn’t like rain. It can’t be kept in a jug. When you touch a rock that’s been out in the sun, you’ll get burnt, and that’s the way you can feel the sun. What your eyes see and what your hands touch are two forms of sunlight. Of course there’s a third form of sunlight, and a fourth form, and when people perceive any of these forms, they’re perceiving light.”

Scorpion said, “Dewdrops store up light, and in their combination of water and sunlight, the whole world is hidden. So people, my ancestors, used lotus leaves to gather dew and tipped the drops into jugs.” Back then, Scorpion believed that this dew could be put to miraculous use in the darkness. “For example,” he said, “a seed feeds on sunlight, sprouts, then produces countless new seeds. A bean put under the sun will swell and burst open. When the fourth period of darkness came, the people took out the dew that they had kept for so long, threw beans in and quietly listened to them bursting.”

Scorpion said: “What I want to say is that Log and I, and Bright, Shiny, Rich, Little Ox…we all burst open like that, when we were close, and that popping sound was like one bean becoming two beans, three beans, four beans.”

After Shiny left, Bright went several times to Longevity’s old house. It still bore traces of Longevity’s life, as if he had only left temporarily, gone with Rich on his expedition to the Village of the Birds. Since Longevity’s birth coincided with the end of the last period of darkness, Bright wanted to know whether before Longevity died, he’d known about the secret of the beans. If he’d known, why, in his last moments, hadn’t he eaten the beans to save his life? Perhaps he’d known that the end of the world was coming, and he’d refused food as a way to preserve the dignity of light. If he hadn’t known, then the secret of the beans was likely known only to the blind, and Longevity and the others who came after him would have to return to the era of slash-and-burn cultivation. In Longevity’s room, a penis hung from the ceiling. People had ridiculed him for that, but they had only laughed and nothing more. When Bright saw it, it looked to him like a stone that had experienced many periods of darkness. It had been worn smooth by time and gleamed like a pearl. It was twice as long as an ordinary man’s; penetrating a woman was like a sword being inserted into a dagger’s sheath. As he looked at it, Bright heard a woman’s moans and a newborn infant’s cries. His heart quivered, and he felt a certain part of his body relax.

The people left in Blind Village suffered through the endless days in collective loneliness. When the slightest breeze blew, they would call out to waken their neighbors, then not say another word. This seemed to go on for an eternity. They had already said all there was to say; anything else, they could say later. Wives who had lost their husbands opened their doors wide to any man who came by. After a few minutes of passion, they would part, and not acknowledge each other again.

It was during this period of silence that Happy opened his mouth. He asked Bright, “Why did Omen give you that name?”

Bright told him the story of the mothers of the village and the penis in Longevity’s room. So Happy told him what Scorpion had said, how his relationship with the other men was like one bean to another. Bright told Happy to repeat what he had just said. Happy repeated the popping noise Scorpion had made. Of course he didn’t say much, he was still just a child, and his story had no structure. He said that Log had stolen time from the others, who would get old a bit faster while Log believed he would get younger the longer he lived, and from that he hoped he would get to see the sun rise again. Happy also said that Scorpion could stand a chopstick up in water, say a few magical words and the chopstick would seem like it was stuck in sand. Happy had decided that Log had lied about the bird. He was afraid that people would forget him, so he had invented the story about Scorpion’s head turning and other lies like it. Bright said, “But people found feathers, and Scorpion’s head did bring heat to the village after the great wind.” Happy said, “Maybe the feathers were left there long ago, and the light let out by Scorpion’s head also burns in your body.” Bright didn’t believe what Happy said, he was just a child, a child who had grown up with Scorpion.

Bright asked Happy, “How did you hear what Scorpion said?”

Happy answered that Scorpion said strange things, and since no one paid attention, he invented a way of communicating with nature. Like the earthworm, for example. First it stretches its head out, then with its clammy body it burrows a hole through the mud, and Scorpion would burrow into the earth along with it. Along the way he would encounter other insects like crickets, and grass and tree roots, and bits of ceramic, and as he was going along behind the earthworm, he would start to talk with it about its daily life. The earthworm would answer as it led him farther down, where they’d find corpses buried in their graves. Or take the river. It’s flowed past so many places encountering storms, hail, flowing mud and rocks, drought, no matter where it flows. Scorpion would become a drop of its water. Scorpion could turn into anything. The language he and Scorpion spoke, Happy explained, was determined by the land, was a way of communicating with nature too. Though Scorpion was dead, he still lived through the language of nature.

Happy made Bright close his eyes and experience the light like he did. Bright closed his eyes, and at first he couldn’t see a thing. Fearful images of Omen and others like him floated through his head: walking through the darkness, the air pressing down on him, pressing him into a flat disk, into a speck of dust. Happy said, “Your heart is hanging down all the way to your butt, and it’s spreading out on the ground.” Bright began to hear a muffled sound, the sound of blood rushing through his ears. Happy wanted him to open his pores so that Scorpion’s light could enter his body. Bright jerked and then smacked Happy in the head, wanting to hide because thousands of birds were coming to attack him and he could find nowhere to hide himself and so he dug his fingernails into his own face and tore at himself and the world exploded.

AFTER LITTLE OX made the enormous net for the bird-capturing brigade, he stopped working. He felt as though he’d done enough work for a lifetime. He and the wife of the third man in the brigade had sex. He circled the village once and came back to her place, and saw another man asleep in her bed. He kept walking. Scorpion’s light came from all sides, and he realized that the ground was covered with shadows. He tried to lose them by running, leaping, rolling about, but they just stuck closer. One shadow stood up from the ground, then another, surrounding him. A monster stood before him. He brandished his two fists to ward it off, and then struck it hard, then did the same again a hundred times. At last he gave up. This was probably the initial stage of the darkness. The monster filled the universe, or maybe it was just as big as his pupil. That is to say, all he could see was its leg, a tail, a breast. Little Ox secretly asked himself, who is this monster? At first he thought of Omen. Omen hadn’t really disappeared, he’d just been drifting around Blind Village, and when someone forgot about him, he would suddenly appear before him. Then Little Ox thought about his wife, and he thought about her because he felt the same kind of weariness he felt after making love, and as he thought about her his penis grew hard.

It was Happy who realized that Little Ox had gone blind. Happy said, Scorpion’s light is broken somewhere. He went looking for the place where the light had broken, and he saw Little Ox masturbating and surrounded by semen. He was on the verge of death. Happy heard Little Ox saying something, and he sat down next to him, and the semen soaked into his underwear. Little Ox stopped for a moment. He realized that a boy was sitting next to him, and he asked him, “Do you see the monster?” Then he said, “You don’t see it.” Then he said, “The monster hid itself near me for a long time, then suddenly appeared before me. If you’d ever slept with a woman you’d know that when a cock enters a pussy, it gets buried deep in there, and right now I'm that cock.” Happy felt something in his throat and he stood up to leave. Little Ox said, “Go get Bright, I want to talk to him.”

Happy went and found Bright. Bright was busy drawing a map on the ground. At the top was a horizontal line that divided the whole area into two parts. One part had a triangle and the other was empty. Everything below the triangle was divided into thirty parts, eighteen of which were squares and twelve of which were circles. Below that were dots, like the footprints of ants. Happy tapped Bright on the back and said, “Little Ox wants to talk to you.” Bright hugged Happy and started to walk toward the river. He thought, Little Ox’s really looking for Shiny, but Shiny and Rich set out on their expedition. At the riverbank Bright said, “The secrets of Blind Village are about to be revealed. Maybe Longevity’s been eaten by the fish, but he’s inside the fish bellies, so he’s still in the river.” Happy thought to himself, before the darkness came, only Scorpion was weird. Now, everyone in Blind Village was weird. Happy said again, “Little Ox wants to talk to you. He’s gone blind.”

LITTLE OX SAID, “From today forward, the real darkness has come. When it first appears, you think it’s a house, a mountain, a piece of land. But it isn’t, it’s everything, it starts from an idea in your head, then moves to your ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, then spreads to your limbs, and at that point, it isn’t that the darkness is surrounding you, you are surrounding the darkness.” The sperm that had spurted out in the darkness was crawling on the ground. Bright asked Happy what he saw and Happy said, “The sperm is eating up the light.” Little Ox said, “People live on energy, and this energy talked to me and it said it wanted to be somewhere else. Come listen to my heart, it’s beating very fast, but you’ll still worry that in another minute it will turn into a stagnant pool of water. Energy needs to be released from the body. My eyes are blocked, my ears are blocked, my mouth is blocked, so I’ve been masturbating nonstop. Like the flames in an oven—we haven’t seen that for a long time, but you can still remember—the firewood wants the flames to burn hotter and hotter, and it won’t think about the fact that it’s being turned into ash at that very moment. Right now, I’m a piece of wet firewood, and the fire will go out. Before the next flame comes, it can only hide in a dark corner, laughed at by ashes. That was the difference between Omen and the other sixty blind men. Bright, I really want to be one of those sixty blind men.” The first thought that Bright had was that this idea of Little Ox’s was even more amusing than his masturbation. Little Ox said, “Before I turn to ash, I want to tell you something. If only Shiny were here too.”

Little Ox had used the tip of a needle to tease his wife’s clitoris, like poking at a snail. He saw on her wide, flushed face both orgasm and agony. The needle poked and her head reared back, revealing her white neck where breath made its way through the tightly stretched skin. The needle poked and her stomach, completely empty, twitched. The needled poked, and she let out a small sound, a sound that carried a trace of blood. A snail was pulled alive from its shell. It was a pleasure brought from revenge or from evil, like the excitement a child feels at the sound of a shattering jug. “I had two things I could do. One was to make a rope and strangle her, the other was to let her soul escape in that one strike.”

Bright didn’t interrupt Little Ox’s ravings. He pushed Happy toward the door. Then he tried to find the physical strength in Little Ox’s body, the strength that could explain such urges and evil. But Little Ox hadn’t told Bright his final thought, that Bright would continue to live until the monster came and found him.

Little Ox continued, “The revenge I mentioned, it was revenge against myself. It had nothing to do with Rich, and nothing to with Shiny. Shiny said to her, Lie down in my heart and it will be your world. Rich said to her, On your body is my shadow. What Shiny said was just empty talk, but Rich was different. He had inherited a leader’s charm from his ancestors, and even though Blind Village was in chaos, you had to admit that Rich was the thread running through the whole village. Rich wasn’t spouting nonsense just to please her. Every time he climbed into her bed he would repeat what he said, and after a while it was as though he was fucking himself when he fucked her.”

Then Little Ox spoke no more.

Before they held Little Ox’s funeral, Bright and Happy paid a call at each home in Blind Village. Bright said that at the funeral he would reveal Blind Village’s secrets. Everyone answered politely that they would attend. When the day of the funeral arrived, very few people came. The attendees closed their eyes one by one, which wasn’t part of the funeral rites. While he was paying visits, Bright had seen that a lot of people were closing their eyes, but not like Happy when he used his body to listen to Scorpion’s voice. When he touched their bodies, even their pores were closed. Bright thought of the five preceding periods of darkness, when the blind had searched for the sun together. That darkness had been on the surface, the world had been saving up its color, and the blind who relied on their other senses to tell each other apart had concentrated their attention on each other. After the sixth period of darkness started, people had more abstract experiences, outside of what could be seen and heard. History was molded out of these experiences, and it was both collective and individual. So when the darkness came, they could still distinguish themselves from others, and they could learn how to exist in the dark just like in the light. This history and experience accumulated, proving that one’s existence was not dependent on one’s surroundings. Bright worried about Shiny, those seven people were just six men and one woman, and the sixty blind men that Longevity had led were reduced to ten, five, or even fewer. At the funeral, Bright saw Longevity, Scorpion, Peanut, and Omen. They all possessed the kind of wisdom that could severe the umbilical cord between people. Then an idea that was even funnier than Little Ox’s masturbation came back into Bright’s head.

He said: “The darkness isn’t surrounding him. He’s surrounding the darkness.”

FIRST WAS LONGEVITY’S mother. Three people at the funeral saw her, and all of their accounts of her conflicted. The first person said, “Longevity’s mother lives in a pit, and if you squeeze down into it, you’ll hear the ghosts howling. Her body is inlaid across the side of the pit, like a vine twining around a tree.” The second one said, “She’s grown a tail, and she uses it to sweep her own footprints away.” The third one said, “Peanut’s gun came from Longevity’s mother, and when she would take aim at her prey, she would keep one eye open and one eye closed.” Bright instead recalled what his father had said: “Omen’s father said, Longevity’s mother was a beautiful woman. Omen asked, How can a blind man tell who’s beautiful? Omen’s father asked back, What do you think? Omen thought for a while, then said, Yes, you can feel it. When Longevity’s mother passes by, I know it’s Longevity’s mother, and not someone else’s mother. Omen’s father asked, What does it feel like? Omen said, It’s like a ray of light. Omen’s father leaned close to Omen’s ear and said, So you understand.” After the four spoke, there was a burst of contention at the funeral. Where did she come from? There were two explanations. One was that in the seventh period of darkness, one family could still see, and when the darkness ended, they blindfolded themselves and lived like the other blind people, and Longevity’s mother was a descendent of that family. The second explanation was that Longevity’s mother wasn’t a woman of Blind Village. She came from the earth, the river, or maybe even from the sky. In someone’s mind an image of the blue sky appeared, and it turned into a drop of water that fell on the village, and that became Longevity’s mother.

“She’s a vine, she’s grown a tail, she’s the light, he grabbed a gun, she doesn’t know where she’s from and doesn’t know where to go. She probably doesn’t exist.”

The sparse crowd was quiet for a while, then started to argue again. No one had any proof, they could only wave their arms and shout: “She was Longevity’s mother! She was Longevity’s mother! She was Longevity’s mother!”

Happy thought, if the light people had seen before wasn’t important and if Longevity’s mother hadn’t existed, why did it matter if she had seen the light? Of course, all of this came from what Scorpion had told him.

THEN THEY STARTED to talk about Longevity’s penis, and some people covered their faces and left. Longevity’s penis hung there, like a stone that had undergone several periods of darkness. The wind blew through the room, and the penis swayed over Longevity’s head. Every day he endured this humiliation. Who had chopped off his penis?

Bright said, “When Peanut’s sister died, Omen said over and over: ‘When a child is born, a woman jumps down a well.’ This was the curse of Blind Village. During periods of light, the blind used their other senses as their eyes, cutting wood and carrying water as usual, using their sense of touch to recognize each other. When Longevity described the light to them, it was as though they were listening to a story from their next incarnation. Longevity said that the color of the grass was like a stone dropped into the water, the color of the clouds was like sinking barefoot into thin mud, and the mountain was a fist beating against a chest. He said that people were the most wonderful thing, and it would be best if everyone could see.

The men gathered together and deliberated. It wouldn’t be good if they let the light come in now.

Scorpion’s penis was extraordinarily large and when it entered a woman’s vagina, for a split second the woman would experience light, seen through a gash torn open in their bodies. The women told the men that that light lit up their bellies. A year later, child after child had come into the world, and all of the women in Blind Village threw themselves into the well, and on that very day Rich’s father cut off Scorpion’s penis. Or maybe each man took a turn with the knife.”

The people left at the funeral looked at each other sadly, and after a while, they left one by one. They went back home and shut their doors tight, and poured ladles of cool water over their heads.

Happy said, “Recently Scorpion’s light has been making a staticky sound.”

Bright said, “Little Ox’s sperm dripped on the ground and they’re burrowing into in the soil. They’ll go down the winding paths, those light-gobbling sperm, and finally they’ll make it to where they belong.”

Then Bright told Happy his funny thought. He was going to leave this place.

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