Renunciation in Retrospect

Qi Feng Wu
Years passed since Water Goddess Lang punished a village with a disastrous tsunami because a thief stole a precious ritual artifact that the goddess crafted. The coastal village, Hong Wei, was engulfed in saltwater, consuming most of the village’s resources. One of Lang’s most devoted disciples was a young boy named Fong. He linked his fishing fortunes to her, even though the village elders praised him instead.
Before sunrise, Fong sat in prayer to Lang seeking a safe and fortuitous journey. Every afternoon, he returned to the village with his canoe filled to the brim with tuna, carp, bass, and various other fish. Fong’s faith in the Goddess Lang was stronger than any fishing net. Although he could never see Lang, his instinct was to attribute his success to her and never to himself. “This ritual and my fishing luck may not have anything in common, but I want to keep going to continue being this lucky when fishing,” thought Fong. Yet, as he grew older, he found cracks in his fortress of faith.
Fong’s mother died bringing him into the world and his father mysteriously died before his birth. Unfortunately, Fong did not have any friends. His greatest fears or ambitions were unknown, along with the source of his fishing success. Despite Fong’s fishing fortune, he often got into fights after taking other childrens’ wooden toys. 
Fong wasn’t completely alone. His frail grandmother taught him every nook and cranny in the village. He grasped every aspect of his grandmother’s teachings, except compassion. From her porch, the young boy’s caretaker watched as Fong fought with other kids over little toys and turns on the wooden playground slide. After 14 years, sickness took its final toll on his grandmother. As she lay dying, she whispered, “Fong, you must not end up like my husband. Both of you were gifted by the sea. However, my husband caused the demise of both himself and our entire village. Please, Fong, do not let greed overcome you… the same way it did to my husband. I have an old … diary in the top drawer. Please read it.” She took out her hand and pointed to the drawer next to her bed. Then, she tried to caress Fong. Just as he reached back out to her, his grandmother’s hands dropped. Realizing she was gone, Fong sighed. As tears uncontrollably rolled down his cheeks. “The only person who cared for me…”, Fong lamented.
As sad as he was, Fong reached for the diary as if it could somehow grant him one more minute with his grandmother. With his last drop of strength, he stood up on shaky feet. Fong rummaged through the cabinet until he found a dusty, leather-covered notebook. Leather-worn and water torn, the diary’s musky smell infiltrated Fong’s weakened nose.
January 21st, 1754:
Clouds forming. From the Eastern coast of Hong Wei come traders. Wealthy, powerful people searching for goods. Spices and silk please them. Their currency means nothing to us, however the metals themselves do have value. So most merchants accept merchant coins. We attempt to learn their language and they try to learn ours.
February 2nd, 1754:
The elders and a couple of others have a good grasp of the English language. Because of that, the foreigners assumed only 3 or 4 people knew their language. I eavesdropped on a conversation between 2 men dressed in dark brown coats. They talked about a treasure deep in the mountains northeast from here. Hah, I’ll be taking that, thank you very much foreigners! 
There were 2 problems. I don’t know the exact location and even if I did, I don’t want the foreigners to be in my way. They said they were going to ask for a guide and as they left, I made sure to stay a few yards behind them. They talked to a doctor who knew the terrain well since he collected herbs. I listened; 1 day’s walk from the village and go under the arched willow tree that connects 2 mountains. 
The foreigners were going to take a day to prepare their supplies. I’ll be leaving right after I finish writing this.
February 3rd, 1754:
I found the cave. Inside was a withered statue of a fish. Tuna? Maybe. Waste of time. There was just one small ring on its left eyelid. No giant mountain of treasure. On the bottom of the statue, there were some really old characters which I can’t read. The only one I can, though, is mercy. Well, if the gods are merciful, I’ll be able to sell this for 4,000 pounds. And if I’m lucky, 5,000. Which I guess I might be. I’ll just make sure not to sell it to the people I eavesdropped on.
February 4th, 1754:
The rest of the journal was unreadable. It had somehow been drenched and black waves of ancient ink muddled the pages.
Fong sighed again, put the journal back in its place, and went to sleep thinking about his grandfather’s journal.
A few days after his grandmother passed, Fong walked through the market square and overheard various people talking about a fishing competition in a village to the south. The prize? A gold ring rumored to have been stolen from the gods. Piqued into pure excitement, Fong skipped and jogged and did pirouettes as he returned home. “A gold ring… If it’s really as rare as they say it is, I could sell it to the foreign merchant and I’d never have to fish another day of my life”, pondered he.
Clouds began to darken and drizzle slowly turned into downpour. People ran to take shelter under trees and bamboo doorways. The rain cascaded onto the earth, like a violent waterfall. Pitch-black clouds blocked the sun, and yet, Fong was alone in the rain, dancing, and fantasizing about what he would do with the enormous sum of money; “5,000 Pounds… I’ve heard stories about people buying rare artifacts for that much. With that much money, I could buy mountains and mountains of fish and never EVER have to work again.” A satisfying chill ran down his spine as his cheeks grew rosy. 
As he was being cradled to sleep by the explosively loud cracks of thunder and whips of lightning, Fong saw an intriguing vision; a large fish, one in the shape of a tuna, appeared. Its face was long and its lips were large and pompous. However, Fong’s attention was immediately drawn to the large gold ring attached to the fish’s left lower eyelid. Curious, the boy went up to the ring to feel it. Just as he felt the tip, the enormous fish swerved and swam back into the forever darkness. 
The day of the fishing competition arrived. Fong was calm, even when he saw his competitors having much better gear than he did. He knew his omen would be good. Fong told himself, “This will be my last hurdle until paradise.”
Boooonnnnggggggg. Boooooonnnnnggggg. Booooonnnngggggg.
The giant brass gong that hung in the market square rang three times, initiating the competition. Each competitor had exactly eight hours to catch the plumpest and girthiest fish.
A middle-aged man with a blue headband and white overalls sat on the dock next to Fong’s. While waiting for a bite, the young boy saw his competitor’s hook shake. As he turned his head back to focus on his own hook, which also got a bite, he heard the man yell, “Arg! It was a small guppy… time to throw it back into the water.” Fong jerked the fishing rod once and started reeling vigorously. The entire dock started shaking, and this time, it was the man who turned around.   
“The magnified strength of the fish isn’t helpful at all,” thought Fong as he gritted his teeth together while using the unified effort of his back and shoulders to reel. His arms started to feel sour, as well as his legs. The young boy was tempted to ask his competitor for help. “But wait, does that mean it would count as his fish?” he mumbled. 
Suddenly, Fong saw it; he saw the long head of the large, silver-skinned fish that he had been fighting. His cheeks turned rose from excitement and sweat started dripping down his body like rain. “Somethings wrong…” said he to himself. He could feel the rod slipping away from him. Out of nowhere, the fish swerved, showing its large, shiny body, and started diving back, without leaving a single ripple in the water.
Full of intuition, Fong wasted no time; he grabbed his fishing spear and dove into the water, following his fishing rod that was still attached to the fish’s upper lip. Fong saw that the fish was trying to go downward, so he knew he had to shoot the fish before did so. “It’s going too fast, I'm not sure I can hit it. Also, I need … Air… Air…” His mind was slowly turning blank, so Fong shot his shot. He heard a blurry thump and stopped moving. 
Fong swam a little to see if the fish had been hit.
No response. 
He knew he had won this battle, but the war was far from over. “My vision’s darkening and I feel… weak…” Fong tried to flutter kick his way up, but it was no use. The load he was carrying was far too heavy. “Looks like this is it. I’m going to drown”
Just as his eyes closed, he felt something grab onto his free arm and everything else was a blur.
Fong could not see, nor could he hear or feel reality. Yet, the image of the large carp with the ring under the eyelid manifested itself. “Please, return the ring to me. It was stolen…. Please Fong, I entrust you. Re - turn …”
A glimmer of light peaked through his loosely shut eyelids. Fong opened his eyes and looked around. He realized that he was on shore since the young man felt the ground underneath him shift as he moved his legs. Fong shuffled his limbs around a little more, only to realize that his left hand was grabbing onto a stick; it was his fishing rod. Although his mind was unconscious, his arm clung to the tool that molded Fong’s life.
He slowly tried to stand up, first by raising his torso, followed by his arms. In a sudden motion, Fong swung his arms forward and his whole body folded forward in a squatting position. Fong rubbed his eyes and followed the fishing rod’s line as it slithered into the mouth of a large tuna, almost half the size of his fishing kayak. 
Fong unhooked his prize and looked out into the distance. The sun was setting and it was almost time to weigh in his fish. He splashed some seawater onto the fish to clean the sand and seaweed off of it. Fong rolled the fishing line back onto its rod and attached it back onto his shoulder belt. He squatted down and lifted the fish by holding the large tuna underneath with both arms. It was the heaviest fish he had ever held. 
With a fish that was twice the size and triple the weight of the runner-up, Fong was hailed the winner. Feeling like a victor, he traded the fish for the ring in front of dozens of spectators. “I did this all by myself, and now I … ” he stopped in the middle of his thoughts. His brain dove back into the diary and his thoughts began to cloud up. “The thing in the diary… it was also stolen, but … Well it doesn’t matter anyway, it’s just a coincidence.”
Fong put the ring onto his index finger and waved everyone goodbye as he exited the village. It was a one-day journey back to his home and the sun was starting to set. Fong decided to get rest and pick up his journey tomorrow. He gathered some large leaves to sleep on and twigs to make a bonfire. During his sleep, Fong received another vision, but this time, he could not clearly see the body of the speaker. “Return the ring and forgiveness shall be bestowed upon your bloodline.” It was no longer the sweet and loving voice that Fong was used to. Instead, it was low, crisp, and harsh.
As Fong woke up to the chirping birds and crashing waves, he thought, “I was probably just tired. But now I should be feeling better.” After looking down and seeing his ring, Fong’s excitement rose dramatically and he started running on the trail back home. But after a mile or two, Fong’s excitement was slowly replaced by sweat and heavy panting.
After walking the rest of the way, the young boy saw the gates of the village. There were foreign ships anchored onto the coast since it was one of the days of the month where European traders came and bought spices and restocked supplies. 
At the village, Fong walked around looking for a merchant willing to buy his ring. A man with a gold monocle inspecting spices caught the young boy’s attention. Fong quickly walked up to him, greeted him in slow, broken English, and asked for his business. “Hm, Yes, allow me to have a look. … It sure looks like real gold and the blue sapphires engraved onto it are really beautiful details. I’ll give 65 hundred Pounds for this. What do you say, young lad?”
“65 and 100?? That’s only 165 Pounds, nothing compared to what I had dreamt of, ” thought he. “One - hun-dre-d-d Sixty F-Five??,” stuttered Fong in shock.
“No. 65 hundred.  6-5-0-0.” The merchant picked up a stick and sketched 6-5-0-0 onto the ground.
“He meant 6,500!” quietly exclaimed Fong as his eyes widened. “Ok. I’ll ta-ke it.”
When the English merchant started counting his coins, Fong took off the ring from his finger one last time. Fong placed it onto the merchant’s hand, but the ring suddenly started to fade in color; gold turned bronze and bronze turned gray. Gray turned black and black turned ash.
“What is the meaning of this?!?” The merchant snatched back the bag of coins in anger and smacked Fong in the head with it. “You’re a fraud, nothing but a little thief. I knew it. I knew that this lowly village couldn’t offer such valuable goods. You should watch yourself since I was kind enough to let you go without burning your little village. My colleagues wouldn’t have been so kind.” 
Fong lay on the ground, motionless; he was too stunned to cry and too scared to speak. Later that night, he walked back home with a purplish-red bruise near the side of his eye. As he slouched into his bed, Fong started crying, both in physical and mental pain. His grandmother was right. She always was and Fong knew it but never bothered to listen. 
He rubbed his eyes and looked at the desk where he read his grandfather’s journal. However, instead of a desk, he saw the large fish that had been appearing in dreams lately. Fong had to double-check and rub his eyes again. It was still there, and this time, there were two rings on the lower eyelid of its left eye. They were staring both into each other, one with fear and confusion, the other without emotion. 
“I am the goddess Lang. I appear in this form to move freely in the world of mortals. Your family has defied and stolen from me too many times and now, you shall pay the price.” Fong, too scared to face her head-on, hid under his bedsheets, but even then, he couldn’t escape his vision.
“However, because I’m merciful, I’ll allow you to choose your own fate: Life or Live. Choose now, or I shall decide for you.”
“L-live!” exclaimed Fong. “Please, I’m sorry I took your ring! I just wanted - ”
“You have chosen your punishment. May you find your future prosperous.”
Fong felt his hands sizzle. He looked down and saw his two hands merging into each other, like heated silver. The pain he felt during the process made him scream, but just as he did, Fong felt bubbles coming out of his mouth; he was underwater. He kicked as hard as he could to swim to the surface. 
His face plopped out of the water and he saw that he was near the shore where he always went fishing with his grandmother. The young boy flutter kicked towards land, while keeping his head up for air. He couldn’t use his hands, since he couldn’t feel them. On the beach, Fong tried to wipe the sand off his face, but nothing moved.
His arms were gone, reduced to dust.
Dejected and tired, Fong walked down the gravel road of the countryside back home. The road seemed to stretch out miles upon miles and he saw the mountains to be unforgiving in length. He squatted down occasionally to wipe the blood from his feet onto the grass.
As tears rolled down his face, Fong cried about how sorry he was, even though it was useless. He fell down, exasperated. His breathing grew heavier and heavier. Fong breathed until he could no longer. His grasp on life, loosened at first, had withered and Fong knew it was time to let go. He looked to the right; the sunset’s golden rays infused with the pink sky calmed him down. Fong heard some squawking up in a tree. Three fledglings flew out of a nearby nest, while the fourth one fell to the ground. It was clearly in anguish, but it didn’t die. Fong watched and felt the bird fight for its fleeting life. As the fledgling squealed one last time, so did Fong, “I was wrong.” They both closed their eyes together.

Qi Feng Wu, a junior in Raleigh, NC, began his writing journey in elementary school. Winning the Summer Sleuths 2016 Writing Contest ignited his passion. He has since excelled, securing awards like the Scholastic Art and Writing Award, Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition, and the National Writing Award (NCTE). Qi Feng is a Teen Ink platinum badge holder, with his poems earning Editor's Choice recognition. He maintains a contract with Musikproduktion Höflich in Munch, Germany. Writing is not just a hobby but his future career, serving as a means to express emotions, passion, and aspirations.

"Gold ring" by ST33VO is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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