The Love of Life

75. The Marksman


A wide forehead topped by a few strands of hair was set above a pair of popping eyes that never seemed to look straight ahead. His nose was hooked. His mouth turned down, and never seemed to close over his crooked, uneven teeth. He was short and viciously daring. Everybody knew that this was Li Futs’ai of Paoshan.

Li Futs’ai was sinister and sensuous. He was the cruelest man around. He came from a rich family that lived near the river. For protection from floods and from the dampness of the river, thick bamboo groves were planted all around their house. The bamboo attracted birds, which made their nests in the branches.

Guns had already been introduced into China from the West by Li Futs’ai’s time. An expert marksman even as a boy, he loved the bamboo groves around his house, because they provided so many targets for him to shoot.

“I got another one!” he shouted gleefully, clapping his hands as another nest tumbled to the ground.

When he grew up, shooting was his favorite entertainment. When he was 50, he still enjoyed shooting. There was no counting the number of birds that had died before his barrel.

But one morning, his family found him jumping around in front of the window. He seemed to be doing some strange sort of dance, because he kept thrashing the air around his head with his arms. He was whining, “Stop pecking me!”

Then he seemed to be protecting his neck, then his shoulders, his arms, his back, his thighs, and finally he was down to his ankles. All this time he kept jumping around like an ant on a hot wok, whining, “Stop pecking me!”

But nobody could see anything pecking him. Then he started shouting “Birds! Birds! Birds!” The expression on his face reminded his family of a mouse when it sees a cat. But they certainly couldn’t see any birds.

“I’m a goner!” Li shouted. His arms and legs were twitching. Even though his sons tried, they couldn’t straighten them out. He kept working his neck like a large bird flying through the air.

His family could only cry and watch this expert marksman twist and writhe in his death agonies.

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