Far outside the sanctuary’s walls, Junjie stood near a cliff and practiced his anti-stress moves. The Soaring Eagle. The Perplexed Dove. The Wounded Butterfly. They were more or less the same as they all required him to close his eyes and slowly wave his arms up and down while maintaining his balance on a short, stubby tree stump.
The trick was that he had to stand one one foot the entire time. Thus, the handsome hero was given quite a start when the master’s voice came out of nowhere.
“Whoa, whoa…whoa!” Junjie cried as he tumbled backward and fell into the grass. He looked up to find a transparent apparition that sure looked a lot like…
“Infallible Master!” Junjie shouted as he stood up.
“Yes?” the apparition replied.
Timidly, Junjie pressed his hand through the apparition’s form and marveled as it passed right through.
Junjie’s lips quivered. His hand shook. “Oh master! You’re dead!”
“What?” the master asked. “No. I’m just practicing the art of astral projection.”
“Astral…what-jection?” Junjie asked.
“Astral projection,” the master repeated. “The ability to separate body from spirit so that both may exist on the same plane.”
“Is that even possible?” Junjie asked.
“Obviously,” the master said. “Though it is a feat that has taken me a thousand years to achieve. It is the most complex skill that a kung fu master can acquire. I only figured it out recently.”
“So, if your spirit is here, where is your body now?” Junjie asked.
“Back meditating in my room,” the master replied. “Though it has been known to get up and do things without me. It could be making breakfast for all I know. One time I caught it dancing.”
The master looked down at his student’s hand. It was still lodged in the stomach area of the master’s spirit.
“My son,” the master said. “If you intend to keep your hand there much longer you will have to make me dinner.”
“Oh,” Junjie said as he pulled his hand back. “I’m sorry.”
The master stepped towards the cliff. “Beautiful day.”
“Yes,” Junjie replied. “I practice here most mornings. Here, I can enjoy the peace, the quiet, the cool air…”
“…the interesting scenery,” the master said as he pointed his translucent finger toward Mei-Ling, who was practicing her moves by the banks of the river below, unaware that she was being watched.
“What?” Junjie asked. “Who? Her? I didn’t even notice she was there.”
“Come now, my son,” the master said. “As Guowei, the Seventh Infallible Master used to say, ‘He who spreads bullshit to a shitter of bulls is bound to get shit on his face.’”
“How can one be a shitter of bulls?” Junjie asked.
“I have no idea,” the master said. “The Seventh Infallible Master was a big fan of the opium so I doubt he knew either, but the point is, stop lying. There is no need to and it does not befit you.”
Junjie sighed. “I love her so, master.”
“Hmm,” the master grunted. “And does she feel the same way about you?”
“I hope so,” Junjie said. “Though I don’t know, really. We’ve had some talks. Well, I talked. She listened and made various faces of an inconclusive nature.”
“Ah,” the master said. “Women were a puzzlement a thousand years ago and little has changed since. There can be no doubt that they will always be a mystery.”
“A beautiful mystery,” Junjie said.
“And unfortunately, if you are to be the Twentieth Master, Mei-Ling shall have to remain a mystery that you will never solve.”
Junjie looked sullen. “I figured as much.”
“My son,” the master said. “I would never stand in the way of the happiness of my students. If she loves you, and you her, and if a life together is what you both desire, then I bid you both to go into the world and start a family of your very own.”
“That is a nice thought,” Junjie said.
“But whether you are a master or a disciple, the path of kung fu is a lonely one,” the master said. “It requires your complete and undivided attention. Love your fellow students. Love your family. But romantic love has no place within our sanctuary’s walls. It is a dangerous distraction that could get you or another disciple killed.”
“I know,” Junjie said. “And I have no idea what to do.”
“Extending your life indefinitely while serving as the Twentieth Master of the Clan of the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw is a rare opportunity,” the master said.
“It is,” Junjie replied.
“But,” the master said. “Loving someone who loves you back is just as rare. She may even bring you more happiness than the Staff of Ages could. I would not know. It has been over a thousand and seventy years since I’ve known the love of a woman.”
Junjie choked back a cough. “A thousand and…”
“Yeah,” the master said. “You won’t be getting boom boom anytime soon if you become the next master so keep that in mind. No one told me that before I signed up for the job, let me tell you.”
“But master,” Junjie said. “The Staff chose me.”
“It did,” the master said. “But you must also choose it.”
“What happens if someone rejects the staff’s power?” Junjie asked.
“Honestly?” the master asked as he stroked his beard. “I don’t know. No one has ever done it before.”
“I have a lot to think about,” Junjie said.
“Indeed,” the master replied. “And not much time within which to do your thinking. My body grows weaker and I fear the Staff will allow me to expire soon. I would like to know that the Twentieth Master is in place before I make my way to Diyu.”
“This is all so much,” Junjie said.
“Well,” the master said. “My advice would be that you talk to Mei-Ling…as much as you can. You wouldn’t want to give up the chance at being a kung fu master for a woman who doesn’t love you…but you also wouldn’t want to take on this life changing role without knowing how the woman you love feels about you.”
“Do you know if she loves me?” Junjie asked.
“Ha,” the master said. “I may be the master of the greatest of all kung fu clans, but I will never be a master when it comes to the female mind. Talk to her, my son. Reveal the mystery of her heart and make a decision.”
“What if I make the wrong one?” Junjie asked.
“Then you will fall on your face and live with the consequences forever,” the master said.
“Huh,” Junjie said. “I was hoping for a better response.”
“Welcome to adulthood,” the master said.
The master’s ghostly form disappeared and left Junjie to observe the woman he loved all by himself.
“What am I going to do?” Junjie asked himself.
Poof! The master’s apparition appeared again.
Junjie’s frightened scream was mildly reminiscent of a woman. “Ack!”
“But seriously,” the master said. “Make a decision before tomorrow morning because the clock is ticking.”
Poof. The master’s spirit disappeared. Junjie waited a full minute before deciding he was all alone.
“Oh Mei-Ling,” Junjie said as he observed Mei-Ling practice her stances. “How I wonder what you think of me.”
Poof! The master was back and this time, he scared Junjie so much that the young man had to clutch his heart and breathe deeply just to slow it down.
“Master!” Junjie said. “You have to stop doing that!”
“Oh sorry,” the master said. “I thought this was the kitchen.”