The Tiny Big Houses – Part 1: A boy called Li

Music by Dante S. Ryu, 2016

Story by Christina Ryu, 2016

His name was Li, he was a boy and he was short. That’s what his mother always used to say to him, like a reminder about who he was. They lived in the mountains in a small cottage. They had some animals and were growing vegetables in the open area next to the house. The place wasn’t big because it was surrounded by those big solid mountains, big grey walls on each side protecting them from the wind and animal attacks. There was only one way out, a path through the forest. After walking for a while the path would separate in four different directions. One would take them deeper into the forest, another down the hill. The third to a special tree and the fourth would take them to a place where they could view the whole world. At least that’s what his mother used to tell him, that all they could see from that specific spot was the whole world, beyond what they could see was nothing. Li usually chose to take that path, he was fascinated by the view and he could sit there for hours and hours and just take in the world. There was something he was especially interested in; the tiny big houses in the village that he could see far down there. He called them the tiny big houses because even though they looked so tiny, his mother had told him that they were really big. It was hard for Li to understand, that something that tiny could be so big. Even though his mother had told him never to go near the village, not to choose the path down the hill, he had a secret desire to do so.

The life on the mountain was simple and based on certain routines. Everyday they gave food to the animals, collected the vegetables that were ready and gathered wood from the forest so they could make a fire at night. There was also a special duty that had become Li’s prior thing during the day. His mother used to go with him when he was younger, but now, he always went alone. Before the sun went down he walked through the forest, choosing the direction that would take him to an open area where there was only one tree, a big, special tree. It was the most beautiful tree to be seen. It was filled with roses, lilies, tulips, basically all the flowers you could imagine in different colors. He remembered being a kid, standing there, unable to move because of the beauty and the wonderful scent that came from the tree. His mother said it was magic and that it would protect them, but only if they protected the tree. They could not let anyone harm it. Not even the animals. That’s why they needed to go there every night to make sure to give water and to scare off any animals that might have climbed the tree or was getting too close. Because the animals could sense it too, the magic, they knew it was valuable.

Li was scared as a child, especially when he saw his mother almost transform when she faced the mountain lions, the big birds or the wolves. They were dangerous but she knew how to beat them. Just use the elements that were given to us, nothing more, nothing less. She used water sometimes, fire, the air or even dirt to keep the tree safe. She never failed. Well, except for that one time. They didn’t fail, but the mountain lion was not willing to go, he wanted his new territory to himself. He wanted the flowers-  he wanted the magic. It was a big male and when he moved they could see all the muscles in his body. The big mane surrounding it’s face was like a frame around a horrible picture. The eyes were black and evil. With a grin it showed big teeth in its mouth. Li didn’t want to fight it. He wanted to run. He couldn’t though – his mother would not allow it. So, they fought almost the whole night, both of them against the lion. His mother used everything she could, every element but still the lion wouldn’t leave. Li tried to help, even though he didn’t think he was strong enough. Then, he saw that his mother fell. She was hurt. At first a feeling of panic rushed through his body, a feeling telling him that it was all over. He saw his mother on the ground. Even though she was hurt she was trying to stand up. He saw the mountain lion walking towards the tree, its’ eyes focused on the bright flowers. Li knew he had to do something. He looked at the tree, stared at it, he was almost trying to send a message to it through his eyes. He didn’t know how it was possible, but the tree responded. He felt it in his whole body – he was a part of the tree in one way but still in his body that was now so much stronger. His mind was clear, his senses sharper. He wasn’t scared anymore and he did what he had seen his mother do for so many years but with bigger talent. The lion immediately got weaker by Li’s first strike and when he hit again and again the lion was about to give up. It went for a final attack that left Li with a scar, but it didn’t matter, Li was the winner. As soon as the lion had ripped his skin it fell down dead to the ground, like it had been poisoned. His mother looked at him, she didn’t say anything but her eyes spoke. Ever since that day she let him go by himself.

To cover the scar in his face his mother had ripped a piece of fabric from her long skirt and put it around his face so it covered his nose and his mouth. In the beginning he felt like it was hard to breathe with it, but he got used to it. Now it was a part of who he was – he was a boy called Li who was short with a scarf over his face. He also wore a big hat that he had found one day when he was out walking. It was stuck in a tree and he had to climb to get it. It was too big for him but he liked it and saw it as a gift from the trees. With the hat and the scarf it was hard to see his face, if you looked carefully you could see his eyes in the shadows. Li liked this, it made him feel in control, he could see the world but the world couldn’t see him. It also seemed to please his mother that he was covering his face like this, but he didn’t know why. Sometimes he got lost in thoughts about his mother. She was a bit of a mystery in many ways, she didn’t like to talk much, just do. She had taught him to stay focused, focused on his tasks not to get tricked into trouble. Observe and learn until you know your enemies every move, then attack.

His biggest mission was to protect the tree, never touch it, just protect. He had been tempted sometimes to do what the animals wanted to do, take the flowers. But he knew he shouldn’t, he knew the power was to big. Just that look at the tree had filled him with such strength when he really needed it. What would happen if he actually took a flower, one of the sources to that great power?

Every evening he did the same when he got there, he looked around to make sure no animals were close and then poured some water at the roots. Then he sat down and waited. Waited for the magic. Every night when the sun was gone and the stars started to shine, it happened. That’s what usually attracted the animals. The stars were beautiful, but it couldn’t be compared with what happened in the tree. From the roots it started to light up. Like veins it filled the whole tree and gave energy to every part. The flowers lightened one by one just like the stars but the color and the scent created an environment that was toxic in a good way. It was hard to stay focused – the tree was so enchanting. His mother had trained him well though. He knew not to get lost in the beauty but to stay in control.

This was the life of Li.

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