art by Ron Sanders
Xuan the Tiger
by J Kyle Turner
Winter came to the mountains, and Xuan walked home through the snow.
Her family lived in a yurt on the northern slopes of Changbai, nestled in the shelter of an overhang. Her father was a fisherman, and spent the winter next to holes carved in the icy river. Her mother was her mother. Xuan loved them both.
And Xuan loved the snow. When she was younger she would hold her breath and step quietly, making as little noise as possible. That was snow to her. Like the sky seeing how little noise it could make.
She walked home beneath eagles perched high on their rocks. She stood behind an evergreen and watched boars dig through the ice with their noses, searching for walnuts. And when she was nearly home, she came face to face with the tiger.
It had a broad face with a white muzzle and heavy front paws. Its winter coat had come in, and the long hair made its stripes indistinct. Xuan saw the fence between them, but not before the pain gripped her chest and her legs gave out beneath her.
The tiger watched, but didn't growl. It sat apart from the others, in its own enclosure. Xuan thought it looked very sad.