Halfling: Prologue–Dream, Chapter One–Encounter

I was in the University library, but a cloud of thick fog swirled about from floor to ceiling like the backdrop to some gothic music video from the eighties.  That’s how I knew this had to be a dream.

I glided through the mist, browsing the bookshelves until I spotted a book on the top shelf.  The cover was white, and a silhouette of a fox was drawn on the spine.  But as the angels had unfairly decided not to grant me the tall gene—maybe they’d gotten up on the wrong side of the cloud the morning I’d been created—the book was way out of reach, even on tip-toes.

I tried for it anyway.

A hand shot out to grab it, and I looked behind me.  The stranger seemed somehow familiar, but I knew for a fact I’d never seen him in my life.  He silently handed me the book, smiled, and gave a curt nod before turning to walk away.

“Wait!”

He turned back towards me at the sound of my call.  Darkness enshrouded him, shielding his features.  But I knew by his mere presence, in the way he stood, that he was a man of confidence, of boldness.

“You’re the one, aren’t you?” I asked uncertainly.  “My soul mate.”

He nodded.

“What’s your name?” I continued to question, a little more daringly this time.

He shook his head, but finally spoke for the first time.  His voice was a rich, melodic tenor.  “I can’t tell you yet.”

And he walked away, this time for real, leaving me to wonder when I’d finally be able to see his face.

 

Chapter One—Encounter

My head was spinning when my alarm went off at six o’clock.  Mornings were usually my favorite time of the day, but not this morning.  I felt like I was suffering from a hangover, not that I’d actually experienced one.

For a full five minutes, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, studying myself.  What I saw was entirely disappointing.  It was true that I was always plagued with the misfortune of only standing five feet, two inches tall and being far too skinny, but at least my facial features were presentable.  People never called me beautiful or pretty, but they always said I was cute, sweet, or innocent.  At least that was something.

Although I never had considered myself a beauty either, I usually looked better than what was facing me in the mirror.  There were bags under my almond-shaped, dark brown eyes, and my long black hair usually did not look so very tousled.  It would take me forever to comb out the tangles.   I jerked open the bathroom cabinet and with a scowl, pulled out my toothbrush.

I knew I should not have stayed up so late, but last night was one of those rare moments when my head suddenly teemed with inspiration.  I just had to stay up to write three chapters of my ongoing fantasy story.

I probably wouldn’t be so grumpy now if I hadn’t had that dream just before waking up.  It had been such a vivid dream—the library, the man who handed me the book.  But it reminded me that I was still single, and that made me grouchy.

It was too bad I hadn’t seen my dream guy’s face.  I wished I could just take a glimpse at the face of my soul mate.

Since I had been little, I had hoped to find my soul mate before I outgrew my teenage years.

But the years passed, and soon my eighteenth birthday had come and gone.  And still…my personal knight hadn’t arrived, but I continued to believe in fairy tales although all my friends scoffed at my childhood ideals.

I simply told them my knight was just stuck in traffic, since logically, in the present day, he drove a car, not a horse.

And then I continued to wait, fully confident that he would come within the two years I had left.

But when I passed my twenty-first birthday, I realized this knight of mine had some serious problems with tardiness.  Either that, or he had a car accident on his way over and would never make it to my side because he’d already died.  In which case, I would die an old cat lady.

At least I still had my passion for writing, even though I was a “closet writer,” an author masquerading as a pre-med student at the University of California, San Diego.

That thought only made me grouchier.

As I pulled on my jeans and a fresh, white blouse, I reflected on the other discontentment of my life.   I hated my major, and one day, I would probably be like the majority of working adults who had no job satisfaction.  The truth was…I absolutely, positively did not want to be a doctor.  Studying for biology exams took away from my time for writing.  But like all good Asian children who wanted to please their parents, I agreed to take the science route instead of the humanities route.

However, if it had been up to me, I would have become an author, spinning stories of romance, adventure, and fantasy.  Only my best friend, Liana, knew that I wrote in my spare time.  If my parents ever found out, they’d probably disown me, so my writing had to stay a secret for now.  Hence the term “closet writer.”

Liana was always telling me to change my major.  “I don’t know how you’ve managed to pass your classes,” she continuously lectured.  “You write more than you study for your science classes.”

It was true.  I was not exactly the stereotypically smart Asian who excelled in science and math classes, although I wasn’t dumb either.  I got straight B’s, but by Asian standards, that was like failing.  I did get an A once in college….but that was in the only English class I took to fulfill a general education requirement.

Sometimes, I wished life would become a fairy tale.  Then I’d have everything I wanted, including a boyfriend and a career I loved.

As usual, I arrived in class fifteen minutes before it actually started.  How anyone could take Metabolic Biochemistry at 7:30 in the morning, I would never know, and yet, there I was, hoping that I’d be able to focus on memorizing the complexes of the electron transport chain as the professor lectured.

My bio buddy, Holly, plunked down sleepily into the seat next to mine. She was one of those blonde girls who didn’t fit any of the jokes about ditzy blondes.  She was really smart when it came to anything bio.  Holly was a straight A student—one of those crazy ones who was a professor’s teaching assistant, took four upper division bio classes in one quarter, and survived on two hours of sleep per night and five cups of coffee.

“I almost missed the bus,” she told me.

I glanced at her sympathetically.  It was a pain living in La Jolla without a car because the public transportation sucked.  The bus was either late or early, never on time.

“Slept at four last night,” she groaned.  “Quick, talk to me so I won’t fall asleep.”

I was not a very good conversationalist, especially not at seven in the morning, but Holly really looked like her eyes were about to close.

“Well…what are you doing for the rest of the day?” I asked.

She snorted, and I realized that was a stupid question to ask the Queen of Studyholics.  “Class, library, class, TA meeting, library, dinner, class, home, study.”

I laughed at her disgruntled expression.

“What about you?” she asked.

I thought about it for a second.  I had planned on going home right after class, since this was my only class for the day, but I didn’t want to sound lazy.  “Library,” I said decidedly.  I would probably follow through with it too, considering finals were just around the corner.

The professor had just begun the lecture, so our conversation was cut short.

I really tried to pay attention to the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain.  Really, I did.  But my mind couldn’t help but drift back into writer mode.  It seemed the ideas for my story had not ended last night.

The current story I was writing was based on the yaojing of Asian legends.  The yaojing were shapeshifter animals that morphed into humans, and the most famous of these animals was the fox, or more specifically, the white fox.  According to legend, foxes could transform themselves into beautiful seductresses with only one thing on their mind: sex.  They needed sex from men as a form of life energy or they would die.  A white fox yaojing, called a hulijing in Chinese, was always considered to be evil, seducing innocent, young men into falling madly in lust with her.

I always thought those legends were very sexist.  It seemed to me just another lame excuse for men to blame women for their own mistakes in history.  To me, it seemed more likely for a white fox to be male, seducing an innocent young maiden.  I mean, one only had to look at present day society to count the number of date rapes that occurred every year.

But the legend was still very interesting, and I had developed what I thought to be a neat little twist.  What if the hulijing actually fell in love with the man she seduced and decided to reform from her evil ways?

That was the basis for my story.  The setting took place in the modern world, and the main character was a white fox who fell in love with a young man.  The couple was soon married, and they believed they would have a happily ever after ending.  However, bad news arrived for the poor white fox after she bore her husband their first son.

Because the white fox had committed deceitful crimes and tricked so many people in her past, she had bad karma, and the god of the mythological world had decided that she could not simply live a peaceful life with her husband without atonement.  Her punishment was to leave her husband and child and to accomplish nine good deeds, in which she would grow a new tail for each deed.  She would not be allowed to see her husband or child until the nine deeds were accomplished, nor would she be allowed to tell her husband why she had to leave him.  Only when she finished the final ninth task would she be permitted to return to her family.  And if her husband ever found out about her mission, she would never be allowed to return.

Heartbroken, the white fox left her family in the middle of the night, and her husband, thinking his wife had abandoned him, grew bitter and tormented.  His son reminded him of his wife, and he often mistreated his son because of this.

But the son never blamed his father because he also had a secret.  Because he was half fox, he had mystical powers.  One of his abilities was that his mind was psychically linked to his mother’s, so although they could not see each other, they could communicate with each other.  He knew of his mother’s mission, and by his twentieth birthday, he knew it wouldn’t be long before his mother could return home as she had already accomplished her seventh good deed.

However, unforeseen complications occurred when he made an enemy who discovered his secret.

And that was how far I had gotten in my story.  As the professor lectured, I was trying to figure out who the son’s enemy might be.  Obviously the son would be in college, so maybe he was in a sports team, and his enemy was another guy on the team who was always trying to compete with him.

I scribbled the idea down in the margin of my notebook.  It didn’t seem like the perfect idea, but at least it was a start.

Then I heard Holly slam her notebook shut and squish it into her backpack.  I looked up to see the rest of the class zipping up their bags and standing up to leave.

Muttering a curse, I realized I had daydreamed my way through an entire lecture on the Krebs cycle.  A lecture I needed to hear.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever memorize all of that,” Holly moaned from beside me.  “I’m gonna fail the final.”

If she didn’t have confidence in her study abilities, I didn’t stand a chance on my final.  I groaned.  It was library time for me.  No more daydreaming about white foxes and fairy tales.

I went straight to the seventh floor of the library.  It might not have been the wisest decision, considering it contained the literature section and might be a distraction with all those yummy stories to devour.  But it was the quietest floor, and I had my secret study spot next to the corner window, where I could see people waiting for the shuttle and day dream about where they might be headed if I needed a break from glycolysis and the Krebs cycle.

For two hours, I did a good job of concentrating on nothing but biology, which was a great accomplishment, considering that it was early June, the sun was shining, and the beach was only two miles away.

At the end of two hours, I decided to reward myself with a break from all things bio.  I flipped through the pages of my notebook until I came to the section where I had written down part of my white fox story.  It might have sounded odd that I kept my story in the same notebook where I wrote down my bio lecture notes, but it was convenient.  Any time I got bored with lecture, I could flip to the last section of my notebook during class and continue with my story.

It also might have seemed weird that I chose to handwrite my story instead of typing it on my laptop, but that was just pure preference.  For some reason, I always felt more connected to my story if I wrote it with a pen; it was as though my ideas were clearer if I could feel the words being written instead of mechanically typing them.

I flipped to the page where I had left off last night, the part where my main character, Todd, the son of the white fox, was about to meet an enemy who had stumbled across his mother’s secret.  But somehow, the idea I had during biochem did not seem exactly right.

I sighed, realizing that writer’s block had descended upon me.  I decided to fix up what I had already written by adding a bit more description about my characters, mainly Todd.  I needed to research what a half-fox, half-human looked like according to legend.

Deciding to take advantage of my surroundings, I quickly packed away my things and went to browse through the library in search of books on Chinese legends.  After looking through the library catalog on a computer, I wrote a few numbers of interesting books and headed over to find them.

I browsed the shelves for one book in particular, called Mythological Creatures of Asian Legends.  It seemed a bit difficult to find, but then, at the corner of my eye, I caught the title.

And then I groaned.

It was on one of the top shelves, and this was one of those moments when I cursed my midget-sized legs.  I stood on my tiptoes and reached for it.  But before I could even attempt to touch it with the tips of my fingernails, a masculine hand grabbed it for me and put it right into my hand.

I blinked, too stunned to move.  This was exactly like my dream.  My heart fluttered as I realized that as soon as I turned, I would finally come face to face with my soul mate.

I turned to the left.

And saw him.  A tall, trim guy with tousled brown locks and deep, sleepy eyes that made him look slightly like a laid-back surfer dude.  If it wasn’t for those glasses and the pile of textbooks in his arms, defining him as the studious type, he could have passed as a beach bum.  He certainly dressed casually, with a Hawaiian shirt and faded jeans.

He was walking away already, straight for one of the desks to study.  I gasped as I realized that I knew him.  He was my old lab partner, and I remembered him as being the friendliest guy I had ever met.  We had eaten lunch together several times, but after that quarter had ended, we lost touch.  But during those lunches, we’d gotten to know each other quite well.

He had the funniest name, and he hated it.  Izotz Darryl Pyrrhus.  He told me later that his parents were obligated to name him after his grandfather, Izotz.  But his parents knew that it was a funny name, so they gave him a normal middle name so he could avoid getting picked on at school.  So he went by his middle name, Darryl.

And he was my soul mate.  He had to be.  My dream had reenacted itself exactly in real life.  I had to take this opportunity to become reacquainted with Darryl.

I was about to chase after him when I heard a gruff voice behind me.  “Hey little girl.  You’re being a bit rude, don’t you think?”

Whirling myself around, I came face to face with a very intimidating man.  I practically had to lift my eyes to the ceiling because he was so tall.

But the thing that screamed out the most was his hair.  It was bleached pure white and set into spikes.  He looked like one of those scary punk rockers, dressed in a black tee, leather jacket, and jeans.  He couldn’t be that much older than me, yet for some reason it seemed like he was…it might have been the arrogance reflected in his face.  He stood like a man of authority, and pure condescension was reflected in those dark blue eyes, all focused directly at me.  Under that gaze, I felt like a student being given a dressing down for falling asleep in class.

I forced my brain to rewind and play over again what the man had just said to me, and then I frowned.  Why did he think I was being rude?  And did he just call me a little girl?

It was best to just get out of the way of people like him.  If I didn’t bother him, he wouldn’t bother me.  Besides, I was in a hurry to talk to Darryl again.

Without responding to the man, I fled.  That guy was creeping me out with his intense staring.

I walked over to the table where Darryl was sitting.  “Hi Darryl.”

He looked up, his eyes widening with pleasant surprise.  I wondered why he looked so surprised.  After all, he had just helped me get a book off the shelf.  I guessed that he probably hadn’t seen my face.

“Wow, long time no see, lab buddy.  I’m surprised you even remember me.  This campus is just way too over-populated, and it’s hard to stay in touch with people.”

A guy glared at us in annoyance.  “Shh!”

Darryl glanced apologetically in his direction.  “Sorry,” he whispered.  Then he turned back to me.  “It’s almost lunch time.  How ‘bout we get out of here and catch up over lunch?”

I smiled and nodded, hoping I didn’t look too eager.  “Let me just check this out first.”  I waved the book in my hand.

We ventured out of the library, discussing possible food choices.  “Off campus or on?” I asked.

“I have class at two,” he said regretfully.

“No problem.  Campus has a lot of good food choices.”

“Which campus are you from?  ‘Good’ is not how I would describe the food here.  More like over-priced.”

I laughed.  It was true what he said.  I would much rather bring food from home than eat at the cafeterias and eateries on campus.  They hitched up the prices just because they knew most students were too busy to go off campus to eat.  But I didn’t mind just this once as long as I got to eat with Darryl.

We settled on the Panda Express in the food court.  Fake Asian food would never compare with the authentic stuff my mom made, but at least it was one of the healthier options around campus.

We ate and talked and laughed as if we had never lost touch with each other for the past one and a half years.  I silently vowed that I would not let it happen again.  But one thing nagged my mind…did Darryl have a girlfriend?

There was only one way to find out.  But I had to do it subtly.

But he spoke first.  “So, what are your plans for the weekend?”

“Well, finals are coming up, so I’ll probably be studying.”

“True, true.”  He looked distracted.  “So nothing fun?  No plans with the boyfriend?”

And I thought I had no talent for subtlety.  But the question made my heart race.  I masked my face with indifference.  “Don’t have a boyfriend.  I’m too busy studying all the time, so I never have the chance to meet guys at parties the way my roommates do.”

He chuckled.  “I know exactly what you mean.  We bio majors have no time to breathe.  One of my roommates is an art major, and last quarter, his final was to splatter some paint on a white paper.  Literally.  He took his hands, dumped them in cans of paint and had the paint drip from his fingertips onto the canvas.  Meanwhile, I was stuck memorizing all the names and structures of amino acids as well as writing a fifteen page lab report.”

I winced.  “Ouch.  So I guess you’re stuck studying this weekend too.”

He nodded sadly.  “No freedom at all until summer.  But listen, if you’re staying down here for the summer, we should hang out.  I’m only taking two easy classes to fulfill my leftover GEs.  All my roommates will be gone, and most of my friends too.  You can come over to my place, and we’ll make dinner and watch a movie.”

My heart beat faster.  That had to be an open invitation right there.  But then I remembered that my parents wanted me back home for the summer.  “I don’t know if I’ll be here, but if I am, we’ll definitely hang out.”

“You have a Facebook right?  I’ll add you.” He stood up reluctantly.  “Anyway, I have to get going to class.”

We parted ways, and I felt the happiest I had ever been in the three years I had been stuck in college.  It looked like my life finally had the potential of becoming a fairy tale.

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