Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Mish Mashed Bear

Claudia stood outside the small store and chewed her lip nervously. Her mind was still reeling from her argument with Howard and she wondered if coming here had been the right decision. Howard already thought she was a superstitious hick. This might just reinforce his belief and drive the wedge between them, in even deeper.

"If only I could get a decent nights sleep. Then maybe I could think rationally."

Claudia felt the baby kick and patted her belly reassuringly. All this drama wasn't good for him and the dreams couldn't be helping. She wondered, not for the first time, if her unborn child experienced the same dreams.

Claudia shivered. The thought of the disturbing images that kept her from sleeping, invading her baby's mind, frightened her. The overpowering feeling pf danger permeated the pregnant woman's senses and she grasped the railing next to the store to steady herself.

Shaking from the feeling of dread she couldn't seem to escape, Claudia looked up and down the empty street. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was stalking her. Looking back to the store, Claudia made up her mind. If Howard didn't like it, she would deal with the fallout later. He wasn't the one that needed to get a good nights sleep. He wasn't the one that was carrying their child. Maybe he didn't understand her fears, but he should at least accept them and be willing to let her do what she needed to do, at least for her peace of mind.

Her decision made, Claudia pushed open the door to Lihua Designs and entered the small store. Instantly she felt a calmness surround her and she knew she had been right to come here.

The room was beautifully designed with a combination of Asian and Western furniture. The earthy colors reminded Claudia of her home in Louisiana, while the sound of water flowing surrounded the room. Claudia breathed in a cleansing breath as the negative energy she had been harboring, left her body. She half expected to hear the trill of birds singing and be serenaded by a chorus chipmunks and rabbits.

"May I help you?"

Claudia turned towards the voice. Even though the woman had come up behind her, she wasn't startled or alarmed at the unexpected intrusion. The woman was Chinese, though her apparel was western. She wore jeans that were ripped in the fashion so many wore these days, and a t-shirt that displayed the logo of a local rock band.

"I hope I didn't startle you. I am Lihua."

"Not at all," Claudia said. "In fact, quite the opposite. Everything in this store makes me feel at peace, including your voice. It's really quite soothing."

Having said that, Claudia felt uncomfortable and looked away from the woman, embarrassed by her thoughtlessness. She considered it rude when her husband's friends pointed out her southern accent, sometimes imitating her 'hillbilly' drawl when she attempted to converse with them. They thought they were being cute. Claudia just felt it emphasized their differences, as they were drawing a line.

Howard told her she was just being self conscious and that she should get over it. Easy for him to say. He was born in Ohio and didn't have an accent that prompted jokes about kissing cousins and inbred marriages.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."

The woman looked confused. "How could that be rude? The art of Feng Shui is to bring peace and harmony. You compliment me with what you say."

There was an awkward silence that followed and Claudia took a moment to look around the room some more. She was deep in thought, worried about what Howard would think, when she realized the woman was speaking.

“I’m sorry,” Claudia said, shaking her head, “what did you say?”

“I asked if you were here to get help with your nursery. I couldn’t help but notice your condition.”

Claudia blushed. “Yes, as a matter of fact I am. I…I,” Claudia’s voice choked up as the memory of the last few months pushed their way into her mind. Lihua took her hand and led her to the couch.

“You have been under a lot of stress,” Lihua said, understanding. “Pregnancy is hard, but there is something more bothering you. Your aura is dark. You are worried for your baby?”

“I’ve been having dreams. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s like something wants my baby. Something dark and evil. My husband thinks I am superstitious, but the feeling gets worse and worse everyday. I was reading about ways to protect my baby and I just felt that maybe Feng Shui…” Claudia’s voice trailed off. She was beginning to feel silly. She was sure Lihua was thinking she was mad.

“This darkness that you think is after your baby, can you describe it to me?”

“I’m sorry, now that I’ve said it out loud to someone other than  my husband, I can see how silly it does sound.”

“Please, I don’t think you are being silly? There are many spirits that would wish to harm a child. Do you have any impressions that have stayed with you when you wake from your dreams?”

“Just bits and pieces…red eyes…fangs.” Claudia shivered, as one image that was especially disturbing pushed its way into her memory. “Sharp, hungry teeth, only it was a woman’s face. Claws. And nine tails.”

“The Huli Jing. The fox spirit.”

“What does it want with me?” Claudia wrapped her arms around her body, protectively and glanced around the shop as though she expected the fox to leap out at her from behind one of the furnishings.

“I don’t know,” Lihua said thoughtfully. The Huli Jing is a shapeshifter, taking on the appearance of a woman in order to seduce men. This is a very evil spirit and loves eating human flesh. For some reason it is stalking you…perhaps it wants your child.” Lihua paused thoughtfully and then continued. “I’ve not heard of any legends where th Huli Jing has hunted pregnant women, but there is another legend.. We must work fast to protect your child. Mother!” Lihua looked towards the back room. “Mother, come quickly!”

An old woman shuffled into the room, a questioning look on her face.

“This woman is being stalked by the Huli Jing. You know what needs to be done.”

The old woman motioned for Claudia to come to her. Hesitating only a moment, she stepped towards the woman. Her eyes were grey, nearly white and she reached forward and touched Claudia’s belly. Sucking in her breath, she made a hissing sound and began to chant, words that Claudia did not understand. Then her eyes opened and she looked at Claudia. Her eyes seemed to look through her and into her soul.

“Can you help me,” Claudia asked.

The woman did not answer. Turning, she left the room. A few moments later she came out, carrying with her a stuffed animal that most closely resembled a bear. The animal, while having the head of a traditional teddy bear, had tusks coming out of its mouth and a body that looked distinctively like a lion. There were also scales on the ‘beast’, that appeared to be reptilian…perhaps a dragon, Claudia wondered.

“It is stuffed with owl feathers,” the woman said, handing it to Claudia.

“I don’t understand…”

“Keep this with you when you sleep,” Lihua explained. “It will protect your child. After she is born, you will need to keep it with the baby when she sleeps.

“What does the Huli Jing want with my baby?”

“To eat it…and you, I think.”

Claudia’s dreams were disturbing. She tossed and turned and when she woke up, she was covered in sweat. Howard wasn’t next to her. They had fought when she came home, carrying the stuffed charm the old witch had given her.

“I will not sleep with that thing in our bed,” he had fumed.

“Then sleep on the couch. Our baby needs to be protected.”

The fiery eyes of the Huli Jingi glowered at her from the dark and then vanished. Reaching for the mish mashed animal, she pulled it to her and curled into a fetal position. She didn’t think she would sleep again, but she did, tossing fitfully while icy fingers grazed at her belly.


“Please Howard, they will be here any moment. Can’t you do this for me?”

Howard sighed. “You are the one that feels the need to fill our home with superstitious nonsense. Why must I be here for this?”

“They need to see us both, so they can get a feel for what needs to be done. Feng Shui will help bring our home into harmony. To do that, they need to feel your aura.”

“My aura…Claudia, right now my aura is irritated, because I slept on the couch last night.”

“That was your choice, not mine! If you knew what I was seeing in my dreams, you would understand. Why must you dismiss everything I think, as superstitious?”

“Because it is.”

“Then why did you even marry me?”

The question hung heavy in the air. It was true, Howard had known how superstitious Claudia was when he met her. Despite that, he had fallen in love. When he had taken her away from all the hoodoo, hocus pocus, nonsense she had been surrounded with, he had thought she would outgrow it.  Instead, she was embracing superstition all the more.

“Because I love you,” he answered. Then sighing, he added, “Fine. If it makes you feel safer, then I will stop fighting you on this, but please don’t expect me to be happy about it. That…that thing, is just plain creepy.”

“I know,” Claudia agreed, looking at the bear, “but I do think it protected me last night.”
Claudia touched her stomach. The scratch marks she had found covering them this morning still burned. She hadn’t shown them to Howard. She knew what his response would be. He would be convinced that she had done it to herself, while tossing in her sleep. She was more afraid for her baby, now that she had physical evidence that something was stalking her. If not for the charm that Lihua had sent her home with, her baby might well be dead by now.


“You keep this over the entrance to your house.” The old woman gave Claudia a stern look, while she tacked the mirror over her door. It was called a Ba Gua mirror and the old woman had explained it would ward off evil from their home. It was the last protection they were placing on her, before leaving for the day. They had spent the last several days placing statues and plants around the home. Incense now burned in every room. The nursery wasn’t finished yet, but Lihua promised to return in the morning.

“It will be done before your child is born,” she promised.

Claudia considered telling her it wasn’t necessary. She seriously doubted she would allow her baby to sleep separate from her. There was too much danger with that. Her dreams were becoming worse with each passing day. The Huli Jing was becoming more and more overt in its attempts to claim her child. And not just her child, but it wanted to kill her too. She had spent the last several days reading everything she could about the Fox Spirit. She knew what it had in store for her, if given half the chance.

The old woman started to walk down the steps, then stopped and turned around, touching Claudia’s face. Fresh scratch marks covered her cheeks. Howard had thrown a fit when he saw them, demanding that she talk to a ‘professional’.

“Mother,” Lihua said, standing at the bottom of the steps, “it is getting late. I am sure Claudia and her husband would like some time together.”

“Take care,” the woman whispered. Grasping her hand, Lihua’s mother gave it a squeeze, placing a paper inside of it. “Take care,” she said again.

After they had left, Claudia looked at the paper. Scrawled across it were the words, THE HISTORY OF WICHCRAFT: Zhao Hede. Heading for her computer, Claudia discovered that Zhao Hede was a consort of Emperor Cheng, who died in 7 BC. It was believed that Zhao Hede may have killed him, as well as some of his other consorts who had given birth to sons. After the death of her husband, Zhao Hede, while stricken with grief, killed herself. Claudia found this interesting, but she didn’t see what this had to do with her and the Huli Jing. She determined that she would ask the woman about it the next morning.

“What the hell is this?” Howard held the mirror the old woman had tacked over the door in his hand.”

“It’s to ward off evil spirits. It will protect our baby.”

“It will tell the neighbors my wife is a superstitious freak!”

Claudia cringed at the name, freak and gave her husband a hurt look. “You promised to be supportive.”

“The support stops when the superstitious voo doo spills out onto the lawn. I won’t allow this.” He shook the mirror for emphasis and then tossed it into the trash, shattering the glass in the process.

That night, Claudia dreamed that the Huli Jing was standing over her, knife length, copper claws digging into her and tearing out her liver. The fox ate the organ and then reached into the dying woman and lifted the baby from her womb.

“My daughter and I are reunited, at last.” The Huli Jing spoke, but it was the voice of Lihua that came out. Behind her another woman spoke, her voice chanting words she couldn’t understand. The fox’s eyes shone red and she turned to vanquish the woman from the room. Then the bear rose up, its tusks growing in length. Rising above the Fox Spirit, it roared, before burying it’s tusks into the fox’s fiery fur.

Claudia woke screaming. The bear was sitting on her belly, its body as lifeless as it was when she went to sleep. Turning on all the lights, she sat down at her computer to do some more research. This time she dug a little deeper and discovered that there was a book about Zhao Hede. It was rare, but there was a store near by that boasted rare books. Perhaps she could find it there. She would check it out first thing in the morning, after Lihua and her mother came.


“Where is your mother at?” Claudia looked behind Lihua, before closing the door. The old woman had been with her every morning the entire week.

“She is feeling ill,” Lihua said. “She isn’t needed anyway. I just need to finish the nursery.”

“Do you think you will be alright by yourself for a little while? I have an errand to run.”

“I will be fine. Go. Don’t worry about me.”

A few minutes later, Claudia was walking into the bookstore,

“May I help you?” The man that stood in front of her was elderly. His eyes were full of life though and sparkled with youthful curiosity.

“I am looking for a book on Zhao Hede.  It is called, The Life, Death and Rebirth of an Empress.”

“Interesting request? May I ask why?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

The man chuckled, “You might be surprised. I do have it, but it is not for sale. You are welcome to look at it here, if you like.”

He led her to a backroom that was lined with bookshelves. Walking to one wall, he reached for a book, without even having to look for its location. “Lienu told me I might be expecting you.”

“Lihua’s mother? You know her?”

“She and I are old friends.” Handing Claudia the book, he turned and left the room. Claudia stared after him and then sat down in at a table and opened the book. The first page showed a picture of the Empress. Claudia gasped, seeing Lihua staring back at her.

The book told of a woman that had been jealous of her husband and his many consorts. She had wanted to provide him a male heir, but had only been able to produce a girl. One by one, she killed his other consorts and their male children, so that her daughter would be the only heir.

The Emperor had caught on to what she was doing and threatened to banish her from the palace. So she had poisoned him. Then, to avoid imprisonment, she had killed herself and her child. Before she had died though, she had vowed to come back one day, along with her child, and reclaim her throne.

“Am I supposed to believe that Lihua is Zhao Hede?”

“If you want to live, you should.” The old man sat down his cup of tea, his eyes meeting Claudia’s. “There is more to the story though. Have you ever heard of the Nu Gui?”

Claudia thought for a minute. She had been studying a lot about Chinese folklore lately. “Isn’t that the vengeful spirit of a woman that was wronged?”

“So you’re saying that Zhao Hede is a Nu Gui? But how was she wronged? She murdered innocent people and then took her own life.”

“That is the story.”

“The story is false?”

“The story is true, but Zhao Hede may not have been acting of her own volition. Even now she doesn’t know what motivates her. She believes it is her desire to be reunited with her child. But there is a darkness that consumes her, you’ve seen that darkness in your dreams, the Fox Spirit. It is consuming her, just as much as it is consuming you. And this isn’t the first time.”

“I don’t understand.”

Many, many years before Zhao Hede was born lived a woman named Daji. She was just as beautiful as Zhao Hede, maybe even more so and caught the attention of King Zhou. He indulged her every whim and her whims were cruel. She was possessed by the Huli Jing. Over the course of the King’s rule, Daji performed many atrocities. She murdered many innocent people. Eventually the King was overthrown and Daji was killed. But her spirit lived on, forever connected to the Huli Jing. I believe, although it isn’t the common belief, that she possessed the body of Zhao Hede and now possesses that of Lihua.’

“If this is so, why is her mother telling me about this now? And why is Lihua trying to help me?”

“Lihua is a conflicted being. There is the part of her that doesn’t wish to harm anyone, but that is a small part of her and the closer she comes to achieving Zhoa Hede’s goal, the farther she strays from who she is. Lienu has spent her life in fear of her daughter. Only the belief that her daughter would never find a child that contained her own baby’s life force has kept her from acting against her. Now, she believes her daughter intends to kill you and take your child. She wanted to warn you before now, but Lihua has never left her alone with you.”

“So she slipped me that note. But why wasn’t she with her daughter this morning?”

The man’s eyes looked troubled. “If Lienu wasn’t with her this morning, then my best guess is that Lihua knows that she tried to warn you. That means you are in more danger than ever.” Reaching into a drawer, he pulled out a charm. “Where this around your neck. It may offer some protection.”


Lihua was gone when Claudia returned home. The nursery was done, painted in soothing colors. Stuffed animals were scattered around the room and the crib placed away from the window.

Claudia considered telling Howard what she had learned at the bookstore, but she decided against it when she saw the smirk on his face. He had caught sight of the charm around her neck.

Getting ready for bed, Claudia picked up the mish mash bear. She had been sleeping with it every night, but her dreams were getting worse. Could the old man be right? Was Lihua making things worse and not better? Making up her mind, Claudia opened the closet door and put the bear inside, burying it beneath a pile of blankets.


Red eyes flashed at her through the dark. Fangs bit into her flesh. Something scraped against her belly. Claudia struggled in her bed, trying to fight off the evil spirit that wanted her child, but everywhere she turned, she found copper claws and a taunting laugh.

“My child, I have at last found my child,”

“She is mine!” Claudia reached out, determined to scratch out those red eyes.

“Claudia, Claudia, stop! It’s me. Claudia, stop!”

Next to her, the light came on. Howard was standing over her, scratch marks on his face.

“Oh my God, did I do that?”

“You were having another one of those nightmares.”

“I am so sorry,” Claudia cried. “They should be going away.”

“Well obviously not,” Howard said. Lifting the bear off her bed, he shook his head, “It’s no wonder. This thing gives me the heebie jeebies just looking at it.”

“What is that doing here,” Claudia asked.

“What do you mean? You sleep with the horrid thing every night.”

“I put it in the closet.” Claudia got up and ran across the room to the closet. Throwing the door open, she began searching through the pile of blankets on the floor. “I put it in here, right before I went to bed.”

“I don’t think so honey. It was on your bed when I came in.”

“I am not crazy! I know what I did.”

“Okay, okay,” Howard said. “Calm down. Here, I’ll put it in there myself.” He opened the door to put the bear inside, but Claudia stopped him.

“No, put it in the hall closet. I want it as far from me as possible.”

“Okay. That’s a far cry from earlier, when you kicked me out of bed in favor of this thing. Does that mean I am welcome to come to bed with you.”

“You were always welcome, silly.” Claudia climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. “But get rid of that thing, before you do.”


“It is time.” It was Lihua’s voice.

“Are you sure? I think she is becoming suspicious.” Howard’s voice. What was he doing with Lihua?

“That is why it is time. My mother tried to warn her, but it is too late. Even that charm she wears around her neck can’t stop me now.”

Claudia opened her eyes. She could hear them speaking, but they weren’t there. They were out in the hall.

“Howard,” she called. “What is going on?”

Howard didn’t answer her. Instead, she heard the bedroom door open. Instead of the shadowy figure of her husband, she saw the Huli Jing slowly stalking towards her.

“Howard!” Claudia pressed herself up against the headboard, willing herself to wake from the dream. This had to be a dream, right?

The Huli Jing continued towards her, its mouth pulled back in a grin, fangs gleaming in the moonlight.  “Howard!” Claudia screamed for her husband as loud as she could, but he didn’t answer.

The fox was nearly on her. Claudia rolled out the other side of the bed, and ran for the door. Her foot slipped. Her ankle twisting, Claudia fell to the ground, feeling the bone snap.

“Please, don’t hurt my baby.” She was looking up towards Lihua, who was now standing over her, no longer in the form of the Huli Jing

“My baby,” Lihua said. “Mine and my husband’s, Emperor Cheng.” She was indicating Howard.

“What? But that is Howard. He is my husband.”

“No, I think you are confused little one,” Lihua said.

Then from behind the Lihua another creature entered the room. The bear, with its patchwork of animal parts lunged towards the woman, seeming to grow in size the closer it got. Somewhere she heard the old woman’s voice as she chanted a spell that urged the creature on. Lihua screamed as the bear grabbed her from behind her his stuffed body pushing up to her.  She began to transform back into the Huli Jing, but the bear’s tusks tore open her throat before she could finish the transformation.

Claudia sat with Howard in the living room, waiting to be told that she could re-enter her bedroom. Howard was still numb from the events that had taken place in his home. The cruel things he had said to his wife echoed in his head as he watched Lihua being carried from their home. Lihua’s mother sat with them, whispering soothing words to Claudia. She had spoken to him too, explaining that none of this was his fault; he had been seduced by the Huli Jing. That didn’t change the fact that his wife had nearly been killed, his unborn child stolen from them.

The police hadn’t been called. As soon as Lihua’s body hit the floor the phone rang. It was the old woman telling them she was on her way with a friend. Howard didn’t know who the old man was, nor the two boys that came along, but they promised to set everything right. They removed the body and cleaned the room. In his head he could hear the old commercial where a woman asked a chines launderer how he got out stains and the answer, “Ancient Chinese Secret.” He wondered how they were going to get out that much blood.

Before leaving, the old woman tacked another mirror up over the door, and then gave Howard a stern look. “Leave it up.”

Word Count: 4,304

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