The Farmer, the Demon, and the Canyon of the Four Winds

There have been many futile attempts to document the origins of the Coronavirus. There have been stories created of how the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan. That it was released intentionally or unintentionally by either the Chinese government or the government of the United States. Stories of how the virus originated by a man or woman eating a bat that possessed the virus. And there have been many more attempts that were equally as misguided and ill-informed. But we residents of the Hubei Province in the People’s Republic of China know the truth of the origin of the Covid-19 virus and , as negotiated for protection, a small fee and eternal anonymity, are happy to now tell the true but still unofficial story of the origin and spread of the world-altering pandemic known as Coronavirus or Covid-19.

Far to the north in the Huangpi District lived a simple farmer named Chang Tianhe. Now Chang had never married as the fates had not been so kind to the good-natured farmer, but he had never given up hope of female companionship. As the winters progressed, however, hope of a wife and children were soon relegated into the back of his mind while the work of running a farm occupied all his thoughts.

During the summer and fall of 2019, a great drought had swept through the farmlands of the Huangpi District and many farmers in that area were suffering with less than adequate crops. In addition, a combination of civil unrest and economic instability threatened the peace of all consumer goods. Chang’s farm in particular was under performing so severely that Chang had considered a visit to the Minister of agriculture so he could receive a letter of recommendation to pursue an agricultural loan from the department of business and finance. Chang realized that his chances were slim to none as many of the larger farms would have already pursued the mountain of paperwork required to begin such a process. And so, Chang began to consider other avenues, such as selling his farm or committing government sanctioned suicide.

One afternoon while Chang was out in the fields and approaching the boundary line between his farm and his immediate neighbor Quan Po, he noticed Mr. Po leaning against the boundary line fence with a stalk of wheat in his mouth, glancing up at the clouds.

“Ah, Mr. Tianhe,” said Mr. Po, “I would comment on this fine day, but considering our current economic distress, I daresay the sky could be dropping peaches and I would scarce be content.”

Chang leaned against the other side of the boundary line fence, facing toward his fields. “A most desperate time indeed, Mr. Po. If one were not wise, one might descend into despair or consider other drastic, and one might say, final solutions. But being the stalwart man that you are, Mr. Po, one would be mistaken to consider yourself falling into such a state.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Po, “but I am also only a man and subject to such distress. Why, just this fine day, my wife suggested that I climb the nearby Mountain to consult with the wise woman. But I cannot bring myself to do it. I fear for my heart, Mr. Tianhe.”

Change considered this. “Yes. One’s health must come before all else. Well, good day, Mr. Po.”

“Good day, Mr. Tianhe.”

The following day, Chang conscripted his young cousin, Li, to take over duties on the farm while Chang himself set out on the day’s journey to consult with the wise woman. After a day of rough travel, Chang finally crested the side of the mountain and appeared before the creaking shack of the wise woman. Legend said that she had existed before the village had been awarded citizenship within the municipality of Wuhan. In fact, legend said that she was a direct descendant of the demolished Qing dynasty, left in Wuhan for exile.

Before Chang’s fist could reach the splintered door, a harsh, old voice cried out from the other side. “Chang Tianhe, you may enter.”

Chang was not surprised. He removed his peasant cap and entered the darkness. At first, he could only make out a darkened mound seated before an unlit fireplace. But as his eyes adjusted, he could eventually determine a grizzled lady buried under a mound of cloth.

She motioned to the seat next to her. “Come, you haven’t all day. Your journey awaits.”

“My journey?” Chang asked as he took the proffered seat.

The old witch cackled. “Well, you didn’t think the heavens would open to release a treasure of rain just for stomping up this mountain top, did you? No. If you want to save your farm and the farms of those around you and maybe fill that ache in your heart, you must accomplish three quests to appease the spirits of your ancestors, the spirit of the one held captive and the fallen warriors. Only then can rain again be released by the clouds.”

“The ache in my…”

The old woman waved a withered hand. “Never mind that. First the quests to appease the ancestors and the fallen spirits. If you succeed, we will discuss the ache. But if you fail, a misfortune will befall you and all people that will make the drought seem very small in comparison. Now, in order to appease the ancestors of Huangpi District who have grown callous…you must travel to the Canyon of the Four Winds and build a cairn raising forty feet. On top of this cairn, you must burn the heart of the woods that rest at the foot of the canyon. Burning the heart of the woods will allow the ancestors to weep and release the callousness that has grown in their hearts. Only then will they allow you a drop of liquid from the vial of eternal damnations.”

Chang nodded but didn’t dare say a word.

The wise woman nodded to herself and continued. “To free the one held captive, you must travel to the land under this mountain where a cruel dwarf king has been holding the daughter of the water demon for three millennium. You must offer the dwarf king a drop of liquid from the vial of eternal damnations in order to end his cruel reign and set the water demon’s daughter free. But be warned, the dwarf king will never take a sip of the vial of eternal damnations willingly. He must be tricked.”

“Then, to appease the fallen warriors who have been holding back the rain in revenge for the injustice done to them by the water demon in the Great Battle of the Burning Dragon and the Whispering Willow, where the water demon betrayed the brave warriors of the Qing dynasty by clouding their eyes and blinding their hearts so that they were overcome, you must sacrifice the daughter of the water demon, ending her life and achieving revenge for the fallen warriors.”

“But I am a simple farmer. I cannot kill, even the daughter of a water demon…”

“If you desire an end to this drought, you must.”

Chang squared his shoulders. “Then if that is what I must do, that I will do.”

The woman pointed to the door. “Then go…to the Canyon of the Four Winds. But remember this, if you fail to appease the fallen warrior, not only will the drought continue, but a much worse curse will befall you and the world. For the warriors have been boiling in their anger and plan on releasing a havoc into the world if their blood thirst is not avenged.”

Chang nodded and left without saying another word.

The journey to the Canyon of the Four Winds was uneventful. Every schoolboy knew of the Canyon yet none dared disturb its peace as a giant was rumored to sleep there, buried just a few feet under the stream that ran the length of the canyon. When Chang arrived in the canyon, he found a vast forest littering the floor of the canyon and completely hiding the stream. And although he searched (quietly for fear of waking the sleeping giant) he could not locate the heart of the woods.

As night descended, Chang sat down in the middle of a dry creek bed and began to weep silently. A noise like a gigantic heartbeat interrupted his sorrow. Cautiously, he peered through the silent, dark woods and there, he caught a flash of light.

Quickly, Chang raised himself to his feet and followed the consistent flashing of light until he reached the spot where the sound and the flash converged. There, just below the surface of the earth, a light emitted, flashing with a pulse. Steadily, Chang raised his pickax and brought it down in the middle of the pulsating light.

A horrendously loud scream mixed with a sudden earthquake knocked Chang to his feet. However, he fought his way back up and brought the pickax down again and again until a black liquid flowed from the earth. Clearing a hole in the earth, around the black liquid, Chang unearthed a pulsing, light-emitting heart. He smiled to himself and glanced around for stones to make a cairn. After a lengthy search, Chang located enough stones, climbed the structure and set the heart ablaze.

As soon as the heart caught fire, the rushing of many winds flowed into the canyon, nearly knocking Chang from the top of the cairn. When he reached the bottom the cairn, there, before him, lay a small glass vial with a single drop of liquid inside. Thanking his ancestors, Chang snatched up the vial and hurried back to the mountain.

The mountain stood silently before Chang, however and refused to release its secrets to him. Undaunted, Chang began to pace around the foot of the mountain, crying out to his ancestors and any wandering spirits for assistance.

At the foot of a massive waterfall, his cries were answered by a smooth voice, emanating from the water. “Chang Tianhe, why do you cry out so?”

“I cry out,” said Chang, “because I desire entrance to this mountain.”

“What would you do if you gained entrance to this mountain, Chang Tianhe?”

“Why, I would give a drop of the liquid of eternal damnations to the dwarf king that reigned under this mountain.”

“And what would you hope to gain from doing that, Chang Tianhe?”

“In giving a drop of liquid from the vial of eternal damnations to the dwarf king, I would hope to set free the daughter of the water demon.”

“I will help you, Chang Tianhe, for a price,” said the voice. “Once you get the dwarf king to drink the drop and after you release the prisoner, bring her to me first. After that, you may do as you wish.”

“I will do that,” Chang promised. But in his heart he told himself, “I will release the prisoner but I will sacrifice her to appease the fallen warriors. Only after that will I bring her body back here, for I know this is the water demon.”

A great rending filled the sky as the water demon spoke. “I am opening a cave to the right of my waters. Once inside, you have only to travel a short distance before you behold the land of the dwarf king. Now, do you have a plan to convince the dwarf king to drink the drop?”

“I…no,” said Chang. “I was going to wait until I got inside the mountain before planning that course.”

“A poor plan indeed,” said the water demon. “Know that the dwarf king is very fond of the tears of certain monsters of the depths. However the monsters have grown extremely scarce over time and the tears are not so easily gained. If you claim that you have brought a tear as payment to witness his great kingdom, you may stroke his ego as well as his appetite.”

“Indeed,” said Chang. “That is an excellent plan.”

“But remember,” warned the water demon, “bring the captive here first before doing anything with her. If you do, I will greatly reward you. But if you fail or betray me, you will damn the entire world.”

“Of course,” replied Chang.

Crossing the pool of water, he found the cave just as the water demon had revealed. Entering, and climbing through a number of caverns, Chang found himself in the presence of the dwarf king. Now the dwarf king was small in stature but large in opulence. All of his dishes, furniture and surroundings were forged of the finest gold. Food overflowed on his banquet tables and the finest wine ran freely down a trough in the middle of the banquet table. The dwarf king himself was seated on a mighty silver and gold throne in the middle of the hall. And seated at the opposite end of the table was a shrouded woman in a solid brass cage. Chang could not make out her features as the entire cage was clothed in shadow.

“So, to what do I owe this intrusion, Chang Tianhe?” The dwarf king asked.

Chang bowed low. “Oh, mighty dwarf king. A thousand times will I thank you for allowing a lowly farmer such as myself into your presence. Mighty is your fame and well known are your exploits throughout the entire district.”

The dwarf king raised his goblet and took a massive drink. “Of course they are. Why, every citizen of Wuhan is familiar with the mighty dwarf king, are they not?”

Of course, your majesty,” replied Chang. “And as renown as your fame has become, even more renown has become the tale of your quest to drink the tear of the mighty monster of the depths. I remember as a school boy the tale of your travels through the seven seas of the world in your quest and your exploits have remained with me until this very day.”

The dwarf king rubbed the whiskers on his small chin. “So you know of my quest to consume the tears, do you? And who really told you of this quest, Chang Tianhe? Was it the water demon perhaps? He is a wily beast if ever there was one.”

“I know of no water demon,” Chang lied. “But I do remember of the tale of your travels throughout the great oceans. Could you please regale me with one tale from that quest?”

The dwarf king smiled. “As you are a guest in my domain, how could I refuse? But come, my cup is empty. Let me fill one for you and one for me in the stream of the endless draught whilst I entertain and beguile with the recitation of my exploits.”

Chang brandished the vial. “But why drink from your stream when I have brought a gift?”

The dwarf king’s eyes narrowed as he considered the vial. “And what is it that you have there, mortal?”

Chang gently shook the vial so that the single drop splashed back and forth. “Why, I asked myself why the dwarf king would allow me to enter his domain without a proper gift. And then a thought occurred to me: what if I brought the dwarf king the one object that he’s always hungered for?”

The dwarf king licked his lips.

“So, I traveled the seven seas myself and just when I was about to give up my quest, I happened upon a dying monster of the depths. Before he could release his spirit, I stole a single tear and placed it within this vial.”

The dwarf king leaned forward. “You did?”

“Of course. Why, there was no other way to offer myself into your majesty’s audience any other way, or so I reasoned. So, your majesty, the dwarf king, may I present you with this offering of a single tear drop for your pleasure?”

The dwarf king leapt from his throne and quickly snatched up the vial. Before saying another word, he threw off the lid and slid the drop down his throat.

The dwarf king smiled to himself but his smile quickly turned sour. “This isn’t the tear of a monster of the depths! It’s my undoing.” And then he fell like stone to the ground.

Before the dwarf king had hit the floor, Chang was across the great hall and approached the cage. But when he reached the cage, the shadows fell off and the captive lifted her head. Chang was immediately stricken.

The daughter of the water demon was the loveliest woman that Chang had ever laid eyes upon. Her long black hair glistened like eternal moonlight. Her white cheeks shone like a sliver of the moon plucked from the sky and placed in an alabaster vase. Her lips were as red as blood and her eyes shone bright as obsidian.

Chang immediately set her free, but he was broken with doubt. He loved the daughter of the water demon. How could he sacrifice her to appease the fallen warriors? And how could he return her to the cruel water demon?

So, instead of either, Chang grabbed the daughter of the water demon by the wrist and returned her to his farm. Reaching the farm in the dead of night, Chang led the daughter of the water demon into his humble house and sat her on a bench while he busily fed logs into the fireplace.

“I am sorry for bringing you all the way to my house. I hope you like it here. But you see, I am in love with you. I could not bring myself to sacrifice you. And I could not return you to your father, the water demon for I wanted you for myself. I am willing to risk whatever curse the fallen warriors or the water demon lay on my head if only to spend one moment in your presence.”

Carefully, the daughter of the water demon raised herself from the bench and, leaning down, grabbed Chang’s face between two sculpted palms. “No, Chang, you do not understand. Neither the fallen warriors nor my father will curse you. I am the curse.”

And the daughter of the water demon dissolved into a fine mist, which entered through Chang’s nose and open mouth. Soon, Chang would collapse into his own bed, overcome with a fever and dry cough. Then, when the daughter of the water demon finally entered his lungs, she would rest there, inhibiting his breathing and wait for the next carrier to come along.

Chang would pass on a piece of the daughter of the water demon to Mr. Po when the other farmer came around to inquire as to Chang’s well being. Chang would also pass on a piece of the daughter of the water demon to Li, his young cousin. And those two men, in turn, would pass on a piece of the daughter of the water demon to everyone they came in contact with until the very earth was overrun and every lung has tasted of the presence of the daughter of the water demon.

And that is what happened.

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