Once Upon a Taiwan: Qishan Monsters


There’s probably a monster right beside you, but you’d never know it. Monsters slip in-between things, even in-between our world and the other place. That’s why you have to look in-between the things; then you might be able to see them. Where the crack of the door meets the wall, maybe. Or if you turn your head just so to bring your head into view of the space between those two chairs. Of course, because you can peer at them between things, that means they can peer at you, too. Their baleful, pale eyes reaching their gaze through the space in the wall…

There was a Helong watching in-between the blades of grass far away in the rice field below, but the uncle and his nephew didn’t see it.

The paddies in this part of Qishan were low depressions boxed-in by berms of earth and mud. That’s where the farmers could criss-cross and examine the fields below. Or, in this case, where Bohbo Chen was trying to teach little Xiao-Wei how to ride a bicycle.

“Ah, he’s fine!” Bohbo yelled back over his shoulder, “The berms will keep him straight! See? There’s nowhere else to go but straight… or down! Haha!” His laughter roared.

Xiao-Wei, hands gripped tight on the bicycle’s handlebars, found it hard to swallow, and also found it hard to look away in any direction but straight ahead. He had those training wheels for a few weeks now, but for some reason his uncle was convinced they should be taken off. His loud booming voice was convincing to others, too. But the few wobbly attempts to ride on the street always ended the same– in some, weird, almost-puddle of boy and bike. But for some reason, Xiao-Wei’s pleas, and soft-spoken voice, were unconvincing.

“You know how to do this?” Bohbo’s voice boomed, more declarative than inquisitive. “How many times do we have to take, ah? Once you learn this right, you never have to learn it again!”

Bohbo had been gripping the back of the bike seat as he said this, rocking the bike and Xiao-Wei in short back and forth moments. With a final “Hep!” Bohbo pushed forth with finality, providing Xiao-Wei his initial momentum.

Xiao-Wei took in a week’s worth of breath on that last push, and it took a long heartbeat for his legs to receive the message to Start Pedaling! And pedal he did. A weeks worth of effort!

“Eh!” Bohbo clapped his hands together. “See? How good! He’s doing it, eh?”

Xiao-Wei wanted to smile through the effort, he really did. But for some reason the signals of Pedal and Hold On and Involuntarily Smile all got crossed, and his arms started pumping slightly, in time with his legs. That, of course, made the front wheel wobble in time with his arms, and Xiao-Wei’s expression, and bike, fell.

The soft earth was easy on Xiao-Wei’s tiny frame, so Bohbo was right about that, but no one should probably tell him that. The nephew half-rolled, half-scrambled into the muddy rice paddy– frightened that he might be hurt, frightened that he might be damaging his bike, frightened that he was igniting anger in Bohbo, frightened that he was a disappointment and would never get anything right. But all of that changed when he came to an abrupt stop, right in front of the space in-between two blades of grass.

The Helong stared back at Xiao-Wei, who was several feet away, equally as transfixed at the strange creature before him. The sounds of Bohbo’s roar and his family’s cries where like distant, slow-motion ripples of time. Xiao-Wei was frozen, transfixed, staring.

The Helong licked its lips– the kind of licking when you suddenly realize your lips have gone dry– and gulped. Like a frog, the Helong’s eyes closed to help the gulp go down. Through the in-between, it considered the strange young boy that tumbled into its mud. The boy’s skin was smooth and olive-brown from the southern Taiwan sun. His cheeks were fat, although his body was anything but, and his hands seemed larger than they should be for such a lanky body. The Helong thought about what it would be like to touch the strange human’s skin. Was it dry, or slimy, like its own? It certainly was smooth. How hard would the Helong have to poke it with its nail before it broke and bled? It wondered if it could hold the boy’s head under water, to let the boy breathe in the dirty water of the river until he didn’t have to breathe air anymore.

Xiao-Wei was lifted by the straps of his tank by the might hand of Bohbo. With the other hand, Bohbo lifted high the bike. His gaze having suddenly been broken, Xiao-Wei was free to once again find his voice, and he let out a half-wail, half-scream. He choked back any full-on sobbing, of course, and scrambled to the top of the berm as quick as he could.

“Ah! Stop, stop stop!” Bohbo demanded. “This won’t do! Eh, maybe your head is too big, huh? Too big for your balance, hm? Well, you had a start, anyway. You just got to keep your head straight. Keep your head about you, that’s all. These berms are good for you, eh? You’ll just end up in the mud that’s all!”

Bohbo continued in his way of making all praise seem like belittling. But Xiao-Wei was panting, searching the field below for any sign of the wrinkled creature below. Of course, he couldn’t see the monster down below, the one that was still peering forth from the space between the grass, watching to see what the boy and the big man would do next.

“Eh?” Bohbo snorted. “Are your ears full of mud?” He boxed the boy against the head just to be sure.

Xiao-Wei finally looked up at his uncle, and that stupid loud, round face. He still didn’t hear what words were booming forth, always booming forth from those frog-like lips.

Balling his hand into a fist, Xiao-Wei let out his own booming yell. “Ahhh—AH!” He sent his fist flying, socking Bohbo in his big gut.

Bohbo bent over, which of course was out of surprise and not of any genuine pain or anything. “Eh?” was all he could say, as he watched Xiao-Wei running, nearly flying in his speed, off of the berm and away from the fields.