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Rong Is Wright

If he could just find the words, he could save an entire world...

By Eric WolfPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 7 min read
Rong Is Wright
Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

“I haven’t written a word in two years,” said Audley Ruan. To the cafe’s server, he ordered,“Chicken salad on rye, and a cup of chai,” before he pivoted back to face his mysterious companion. “Writer’s block, I can handle, but this—”

“Is obliteration.” The stranger seemed to note his distress without feeling any emotion of her own. Rong was the name she had applied to herself; she would provide him with no surname — if he blew this oportunity, he would not, he sensed, be granted a second audience, with her. “You say you were born in Canada?” She opened her overstuffed notebook. She could have been thirty, or sixty; he couldn’t tell.

“That’s correct.” Audley rubbed his hands together; the city — no, his city, not hers (she was not even Canadian) — had turned cold, or maybe it was a chill he felt owing to her presence? “Vancouver is my home —"

“No, your true home is in there.” She tapped his forehead with one index finger and allowed herself a small smile. “This city is merely your location. Your work is of considerable importance to you, yes?” Her tone of voice made it sound more like Your WORK. She meant his book-in-progress, of course, not his day job. She was deeming it to hold a significance almost as great as the one its author had assigned to it. Audley found this unsettling, and yet, heartwarming.

Rong had a point; he was more “at home” devising his imaginary heroes and their foes, envisioning the cataclysmic battles they fought in their fantastic worlds unlike this one, than he was as a glorified corporate asset. He knew he presented the opposite visual to her, with his thinning hair, designer eyeglasses, a wiry build enhanced only slightly by weekly gym attendance; he was not the stuff that mythic heroes and villains found imposing. His success coach was another story —

Framed by curtains of shimmering midnight hair, her blue eyes appraised him, as if he were no more than an item in a shop, to be assessed, and then bought. Audley Ruan was no gangling youth. He was forty-three, with a wife, two teen daughters in secondary school, a job in digital marketing, a house. He was not a neophyte, and yet, her regal disdain struck him as condescending. He was a client — which made her, in his judgment, an employee.

“I’m thinking of calling it The First,” he explained, in a hastening rush of words, as his excitement overtook him, “because, well, obviously, it would be the first book in a series, but see, the hero of the story — I think you’re going to like this — the hero is none other than Pangu, the First Man.”

“Creation myth is a powerful source of inspiration,” Rong noted. “You must feel a strong connection, back to the Middle Kingdom. To our ancestors.” It was important to her, his connection back to her nation, from which two of his ancestors had emigrated to North America. At least she did not express a disdain for his given name, which was English. He did not feel it needed a defense, in any case; "New World, new ideas," that whole deal.

Speaking of new ideas: Audley nodded, eager to expand upon his premise. “When this world of ours becomes — I don’t know, engulfed in darkness, and calamity — that’s when this ordinary, human protagonist learns that she must summon Pangu, from the cosmic egg that was his origin. How she does that, I haven’t quite worked out yet, but that will come to me. I just can’t seem to get started on it. The villain is my original invention, not from a Chinese myth. Your ad in the E-forum intrigued me... do you think you can help me hammer this thing into shape, uh, Miss Rong?”

^ ^ ^ ^

“Such is my objective,” was all she would say. She sipped her tea, refraining from further commentary until Audley inquired about her consultation fee, which was considerable, though she promised that it would pay for itself, literally so. In the event that he was able to produce his masterpiece in toto, she promised to refund his fee, which amazed him to the point of forgetting to ask, how she could possibly earn her living, that way. Under milder circumstances, it should have warned him that something was askew.

Just as Rome was not built in a proverbial day, Audley did not achieve his literary triumph in that same interval, despite most concerted efforts by his enigmatic “employee” to help him along. His day job took up his weekdays; on Saturdays and Sundays, he devoted time to his wife, Claudia, and their two girls, fourteen-year-old Becca and thirteen-year-old Jade. He worked on The First, at first, at night; lying in bed, he scribbled perhaps a page or two of useful material, consulting his notes for important details, as Claudia read herself to sleep beside him. He enjoyed the process, in the beginning; he laid out the premise — a world under existential threat — with stirring power, so he believed. Pangu remained out of sight of the main characters; Audley made a brief mention, in a one-page preface, of the origin myth, then moved the book’s action to the present era.

Rong’s efforts paid off handsomely, at least at first. At her Gastown studio, she advised almost a dozen struggling writers, on meditative techniques to clear a pathway to their creative goals, one night a week. Claudia drove him there on his initial night, making sure to meet “the other woman”, but she came away impressed with Rong’s professionalism and severity of purpose. After eight of these weekly meetings, Rong declared her students ready to conquer worlds

Except that Audley failed to rouse his inner Genghis Khan. He couldn’t name a worthy earthshaking menace to save a life, fictional or otherwise. The project, in due course, began to eat away at his general powers of concentration. He found himself adrift, more and more, during work meetings with colleagues, while he helped Becca and Jade with their homework assignments, even during his regular date with Claudia each Thursday night, when they would strive to keep their romance aglow.

Tensions accumulated in the Ruan household. Audley was experiencing insomnia; it did nothing to improve his temperament. Every morning, he was irritable with fatigue, glassy-eyed with numbed detachment each night. His appetite went into decline. He lost interest in rooting for the Canucks, their valiant hometown team, with his oldest friend, Marc, whom he had known since they were roughly the same ages his daughters had since reached. Soon, he was the proud, unenviable possessor of an ulcer.

The night of his forty-fourth birthday crystallized the problem, at least, for his wife. “You’ve got to call that woman back,” Claudia insisted. “Get your money back, Aud. She hasn’t helped you at all.”

“You don’t get it,” Audley insisted. “She said she would refund my money, only if I finished the book.” It wasn't a matter of money; he wouldn't have consulted with Rong if he couldn't have afforded her, but more a case of —

Claudia would not be dissuaded from her course. “This book is about to finish you. Call her, my love. I think I've been more than patient, don't you?”

^ ^ ^ ^

Audley complied. To his eventual surprise, Rong agreed to pay a call on him at his home. Claudia welcomed the mystery woman into their kitchen, offering a cup of hot tea. “I can’t go on like this,” he confessed, his cheeks flushed — an indicator of the shame he felt, the helplessness. “I’m thinking maybe I don’t have it in me to make this project work. Guess no refund is coming —”

Rong drained her cup and pushed it aside. “To the penny. It will come, sir; indeed, it must come. You have a responsibility, to salvage this situation for the sake of every life your antagonist threatens. Pangu must emerge from the egg, to fight for civilization itself.”

Claudia almost choked on her own last mouthful of tea. “Miss Rong, every day, my husband is suffering, we’re suffering with him, and for what? It’s just a book. What in the world do you mean? Getting his hopes up like this.”

Rong rose from her seat with such force that Claudia gasped. “You mock what he has accomplished, because you do not understand its scope — the power of it. Each creative work is more than a view of this universe… It creates one of its own — a singularity, peopled by innocents, whom he placed in jeopardy, when he failed to complete the act of creation.”

Audley started to object, to remind Rong that she was only a guest in his home — but he was having trouble seeing the woman’s face. Her hands spaced apart, Above the table, she averted her eyes from a vaporous image of an astonishing sight: of a city — Vancouver — in flames, and a leering face of inhuman callous satisfaction viewing the tumult below. The vision was of dazzling luminosity!

“How — how did you do that?” Audley cried, shielding his eyes.

Rong insisted, with reduced vehemence, “Do not concern yourself with that” — and she “deleted” the eye-watering visual phenomenon with a hand-wave. “They need you, Audley. They need you to finish the book." As soon as he found it safe to gaze at her, Audley sought to make eye contact with his wife; Claudia looked as bedazzled as he felt. Rong nodded, with a surprising softness. "Mine is a far greater mission, you see, than simply earning a profit. This is why I refund completed efforts."

Audley wiped his forehead. Claudia was smiling at him. What else could he do but what he needed to do? He nodded at Rong and sat down at his chair. “Tell you what, Claud, better make me a fresh pot of tea. With caffeine, this time. It looks as though I’ve got to save the world, and that’s thirsty work.”

© Eric Wolf 2021.


About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail:

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