“And that,” Niu said as he rolled up a scroll, “Is the story of how the Fourteenth Infallible Master wrestled an alligator into submission, convinced it to change its evil ways and lived to tell the tale.”
Ten year old Shing, the scrawny little scrapper who so rudely dropped his teacher earlier, wasted no time in voicing his displeasure. “I find it highly suspect that a human being would be able to wrestle an alligator into submission.”
“Shut up, dummy!” cried eight year old Yan. “Infallible Masters can do anything. Isn’t that right, teacher?”
“Oh, I don’t know if they’re able to do, ‘anything,’” Niu said. “But close to it.”
“Teacher,” Shing said. “You’re really going to contradict me in front of a girl?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Niu inquired.
“Because girls aren’t as smart as boys,” Shing said. “Ergo, Yan is not as smart as I am.”
“Am too!” Yan said just before sticking her tongue out at her adversary.
“I have a feeling that you are all very smart,” Niu said. “The Infallible Master has seen something special in all of you. He would not have put you on the path of a kung fu warrior if he had not.”
“See?” Yan said. The tongue came out again.
“Ungh,” Shing said. “I’m surrounded by fools.”
Niu sighed. “You are the second coming of Bohai.”
“What?” Shing asked.
“Nothing,” Niu said. “You just remind me of a strong willed child I knew as a boy.”
“Did he grow up to become a great man?” Shing asked.
“I’m not sure if the fates have made that determination yet,” Niu replied.
“Meh,” Yan said as she stuck her tongue out at the boy once more.
“Yan,” Niu said.
“Huh?” Yan asked.
“If the fates wanted your tongue out all the time, they would have made you without lips,” Niu said.
“Bah ha ha,” Shing said as he laughed and pointed at Yan. The little girl put her tongue away and pouted.
“Enough now,” Niu said. “Time for bed.”
“Just one more story?” Yan asked.
Niu yawned and stretched. “Had the fates wanted your teacher to read another story to you, they wouldn’t have allowed him to feel so sleepy. Come now. To bed.”
“All fifty of the little ones let out a collective, “Aww” of disappointment, then headed for their beds, which lined the walls of the dormitory.
Niu picked up a lit candle from a table and walked down an aisle between the beds, checking on each one of his charges along the way.
“Teacher?” Shing said.
“Yes?” Niu asked.
“Is Dragonhand real?” the little boy asked.
“Now why would you concern your tiny mind with that?” Niu asked.
“The Infallible Master told us that if we are not good we might end up like Dragonhand,” Shing said.
“Ahh,” Niu said. “Well, the Infallible Master used to tell my friends and I the same tale when we were little ones just like you.”
“Is it true?” the boy asked. “Is Dragonhand really a dead man who lives beyond the grave? Is he really as ugly as they say? Can he really learn everything you have ever learned by eating your brain?”
“I doubt it,” Niu said. “I assume that Dragonhand is just like the story with the Fourteenth Master and the alligator, a fable written by our ancestors to teach us a lesson.”
“But,” Shing said. “How do you know?”
“I don’t,” Niu replied. “But I think that if a living dead man as nasty as Dragonhand were real, the fates would have allowed him to cross our paths by now.”
“I guess,” Shing said.
Niu walked to the door. “Sleep well, children. There will be more stories tomorrow.”
The big man blew out the candle. Within seconds, a fireball tore through the left wall of the room, streaked through the open air of the dormitory, and exited out the right wall. Flames crackled their way up the sides of both walls.
The children jumped out of their beds. Niu ran to the hole in the left wall and observed his fellow clan members taking on the zombie horde.
“Children!” Niu said. “Quickly!”
Niu picked up Shing and threw him over his right shoulder, then tucked Yan under his left arm and rushed his students out of the dormitory and down the hall.
“What’s happening?!” one of the children cried.
“We run now,” Niu shouted. “We figure it out later.”
The group ran past the doors to the library. They hurried on, fast as they could until they reached the set of double-doors that led outside.
Bam…bam…bam…fists pounded on the doors.
“Children,” Niu said.
Crash! Undead hands broke holes in the doors and started feeling around for any bits of flesh they could find.
“Fall back!” Niu shouted. “To the library!”
The children were ahead of their teacher now. Niu heard the sounds of the doors splinter apart and the sounds of footsteps running behind him but he did not look back.
Niu made it to the library, ushered the children inside, then shut the door. He turned and faced the monsters, five in total He studied their gray, rancid faces. The beasts spread out and circled the big man.
“Apparently the fates have made me a liar,” Niu said.
“Yes,” one of the creatures said. “We do exist.”
Niu cracked the muscles in his neck then put up his fists. “Not for long.”
All five zombies pounced on the fatalist. He flexed his muscles and threw them off. Bash! He landed one punch after another, lumbering through the zombies like a runaway boulder.
Niu pinned one zombie to the ground and punched the beast’s face over and over again. “How…is…this…not…killing…you?”
A zombie jumped on Niu’s back and was about to take a bite when Niu rose to his feet, picked the creature off of him and tossed it away as if it were a bug.
“I’ve never wanted to do this,” Niu said as he held out his hands in the tiger claw pose, “But I see no other option.”
“Bahhh!” the big man shouted as he pushed his right tiger claw into a zombie’s chest and ripped out its blackened heart.
The zombie looked at the open wound, then looked up and smiled.
“Impossible,” Niu said.
Niu blocked punches and kicks as the pack attacked. He tiger clawed out more hearts, as well as lungs, livers and kidneys. Finally, he tiger clawed out a brain but its owner, despite a caved in skull, kept coming.
“Why would the fates punish me by pitting me against any enemy that cannot be defeated by the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw?” Niu said as he dropped the brain on the ground. “Fine, take me but please spare the young ones.”
The zombies lurched forward. Niu took one step and accidentally stepped on the brain. As he felt it smush under his foot, he saw the zombie it belonged to collapse.
“Ahh,” Niu said. “So the fates are not done with me yet.”
One…two…three…four…Niu tiger clawed out the remaining brains and smashed them. Oddly, he lost control of his senses as he picked one of the smushed brains up and stared at it as if he were mesmerized by it.
“Huh,” Niu said. “I always thought a brain would look disgusting…and it does…but…it also looks so…juicy and inviting.”
Niu licked his lips. “Perhaps a little taste wouldn’t hurt.”
Bam! The children pounded on the library door.
“Teacher!” Yan shouted. “Are you alive?”
Niu broke free of the trance and tossed the brain on the floor. “Right. I’m coming.”
More growls. More snarls. Ten more zombies entered the building and starting running down the hall. Niu entered the library and locked the door behind him.
“Come little ones,” Niu said. “I must show you a trick that Scholar Jing once showed me.”
Niu lead the children to the back of the library, where there was an old stone fireplace. He pulled on a candlestick, which acted as a switch, causing the fireplace to rumble and move to the left. Once the fireplace was out of the way, a long tunnel was revealed.
“This is not the first time our clan’s sanctuary has been invaded,” Niu said as he shooed the children into the tunnel.
Fists pounded on the library doors.
“Come,” Niu said as he waved each kid through. “Hurry.”
Outside in the hall, the zombies set torches to the doors. The wood caught on fire just as the undead warriors smashed their way into the library.
“But teacher,” Shing said. “What about you?”
“Shing,” Niu said to the little boy. “Yan,” to the little girl. “You are the teachers now. This tunnel heads north into the forest. A mile away there is a village. There are good people there who will look out for all of you until I come to collect you. Do you understand?”
“Yes teacher,” the little ones said as they nodded.
“Good,” Niu said. “Then go.”
The little boy and the little girl stepped into the tunnel. Niu reset the candle stick and the fireplace slid to the right just as the zombies broke through the doors.
“But teacher!” cried Yan.
“I said, ‘Go!’”
Ten zombified warriors shuffled into the room as the walls caught fire. They all fanned out in a circle around Niu.
“So,” Niu said as he cracked his knuckles. “I don’t suppose you are all here to listen to a story?”