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Wang Shixiu

In ancient China there was a popular sport similar to modern football called 'cuju'. Records of it go back more than two thousand years, becoming especially popular during the Song dynasty.

Wang Shixiu was a native of Luzhou. Courageous and strong, he could lift a stone mortar. His father and he were skilled at football. When his father was forty or so, he sank while crossing the Qiantang River. Eight or nine years later, Wang had occasion to visit Hunan and moored for the night in Dongting Lake.

   At that time a full moon was rising in the east, making the water as clear as white silk. Just as Wang was gazing into the distance, suddenly five people emerged from the middle of the lake carrying a great mat that they laid flat on the water surface, covering about half a mu. They set out numerous drinks and dishes and as the culinary utensils were struck they produced a noise, but the sound was soft and gentle, unlike pottery or porcelain. After that three of the people sat down on the mat, while the other two served drinks.

   Among those seated, one was dressed in yellow, the other two in white; they all wore black turbans on their heads, towering high and hanging down to the shoulders, the style extremely unusual, but in the hazy moonlight they couldn’t be completely made out. The attendants were both in drab clothes; one seemed to be a child, the other an old man. The person in yellow could be heard saying, “Tonight the moonlight is wonderful, just right for enjoying a drink.”

   One dressed in white said, “This evening’s scene is much like the time the Vastly Powerful King held a feast on Pear Blossom Island.”

   The three urged each other to sup, competing to down their drinks, but their voices were rather low, meaning they couldn’t be heard. The boatmen lay concealed, not daring to move or breathe. Wang carefully inspected the attendants, and the old man was just like his father; however, listening to his speech, it wasn’t his father’s voice. When the second watch was about to end, one of the men suddenly said, “We should make use of this bright moon and kick a ball around for fun.”

   Then they saw the boy sink into the water and bring out a sphere big enough to fill his grasp, which inside seemed to be full of quicksilver, both surface and interior being brightly lit. Those sitting down all rose. The one dressed in yellow called the old man to play together with them. They kicked the ball up over ten feet high and the light shone here and there, reflecting in people’s eyes.

   Presently a hollering rose up in the distance and the ball landed in the middle of the boat. Itching to show his skill, Wang smashed the ball as hard as he could and felt it was unusually light and soft. His fierce kick seemed to have burst the ball – it shot up eight or ten feet high and from its centre light was leaking out, shining down like a rainbow. Plummeting with a whoosh, like a sky-grazing comet, it dropped directly into the water, where it rolled around with a bubbling sound and was extinguished.

   Those on the mat were all furious, shouting, “What stranger is that, spoiling our happy mood?”

   The old man laughed, “Not bad, not bad! That’s my family’s ‘meteor kick’.”

   One in white was annoyed by his joke and raged, “Everybody’s upset – how come this old slave’s so happy? You and Little Crowskin bring that hooligan here at once; otherwise your shins will suffer a hammering!”

   Wang realised there was nowhere to run, so didn’t fear but grabbed a sword and stood in the middle of the boat. He soon saw the boy and the old man coming holding weapons. Wang looked carefully and it really was his father, so he swiftly called out, “Father! Your son’s here.”

   The old man was astounded and they looked at each other in utter misery. The boy promptly turned around to leave. The old man said, “Son, hide yourself, quick. If not, we’re both dead!”

   Before he had finished speaking, the three men had already climbed on the boat. Their faces were all pitch black and their eyes as big as pomegranates. They seized the old man, but Wang forcefully wrestled him back, rocking the boat and breaking its moorings. Wang severed an enemy arm with his sword and the one in yellow fled. One of those in white rushed at Wang; Wang sliced off his skull, which fell into the water with a splash. The hubbub all died down.

   Just as they were plotting a night crossing, at that moment they saw a huge mouth emerging from the water surface, as deep as a well. The lake water all around poured in with a crashing sound. Presently, it surged out in a spout and waves reared up sky-high, making all the boats rock. People on the lake were terrified. On the boat were two stone blocks, each weighing fifty kilograms. Wang lifted one up and threw it in, provoking a thunderous roar from the water and a gradual disappearance of the waves; he threw the other in and the disturbance entirely abated.

   Wang suspected his father was a ghost, but the old man said, “I never actually died. Nineteen people drowned in the river and all were eaten by those monsters. I was kept whole because I play football. Those creatures offended the Lord of the Qiantang River and so moved away to Dongting Lake. The three of them were fish spirits and what they were kicking was an air bladder.”

   Father and son got together happily and in the middle of the night they took up the oars and rowed off. At daybreak, they saw a fin in the boat about four or five feet in diameter, which they realised was the arm that had been chopped off in the night.

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