Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • He was one of the first writers I started to pay attention to when I joined Cowbird in the spring of 2012. He seemed like a Zen master in a banker's suit. In self-imposed exile in his home in a deserted village near Hong Kong, he wrote of myths and cruelty and altruism and madness. In the six months I knew him, his stories dwelled more on how the money economy had become an emperor without clothes.

    Wu Shaman was not his real name, which I never knew. In Chinese, Wu (巫) means "shaman," "spirit medium," "sorcerer," and "doctor." I could believe that. He seemed tuned in to life forces and capable of unifying the paradoxes of his nature. He was also deeply into astrology.

    In late summer of 2012 Wu Shaman wrote that he had suffered grave injuries due to a fall. I don't know if the 巫 in him was able to heal his wounds, but I believe he recovered. After that, he did not put out many stories. Today I learned that he had passed on several weeks ago, at home, wherever that was. He had long ago cleared out his cowbird account, so there are only a few stories around that even mention him; none that he wrote.

    Well, let's raise the dead. Even though his stories were long ago erased from cowbird, a few of them still sit in my mailbox . To memorialize this unique and talented person and fellow writer in this space, I am reprinting what I believe is his last story, The Sentinal, received November 19, 2012. Read it, if you will, and then perhaps decide to participate in keeping alive memories of our colleague.
  • The Sentinel.

    Wu Shaman, on
    November 19, 2012

    It was a night of coruscating skies; pitch black but with a gibbous moon and the irregular pinpricks of heavenly insight, in brightest sight. And Pluto, in whose Realm I’d dwelt, for God only knows how long, was moving forward to more favorable aspect, as if to herald some new dawn, its lifetime dance with Neptune – the mystic and dissolving force – coming gradually to a close.

    Between them they had crushed Saturn, the sign of structure where life seems real. Our daily habits, perhaps prayers; more though dusty, molded fears, collected, wrapped and buried deep throughout the years. Or some other manners long since worn, like an old shawl no longer worth my sense of warmth.

    But the Underworld has Sentinels: Pluto’s gates are well guarded. And there was one to pass this starry night. Shamanic in nature but with form, though with his mirror in the ‘real’ world: A joker in the pack. A strange man, knit from riddles, but few jokes. And with a peculiar and uneasy mind; a character’s portrayal Johnny Depp might more than feel inclined.

    I closed the taxi door and fumbled in the dark to find the ‘torch’ setting on my phone while the driver quickly turned about and with some haste drove back to town. There would be no fares for him on the way. Few live near the woods and seldom does anyone leave so late, except perhaps in an ambulance or with police aid.

    There was a cool breeze, clear skies, but a stranger rustling in the trees than might normally catch my mind. The night was magical, that was certain. But 'how' would only later be revealed.

    I walked down the steep, stone cobbles to the crossing bridge, a place where two paths met and to a sturdy stone structure – built by soldiers long ago – which spanned a large, deep pool where the river swelled upon its turn and in the daytime sun, refracting light, like some mythic place of heavenly rite.

    The little Chinese temple near the crossing, really no more of a shrine for the many nearby ‘stone pot’ graves of this nether world, had been newly ‘blessed’, perhaps by day-time walkers, with kumquats, nuts and sticks of incense; even a packet of Marlborough Lights. Village ghosts enjoy a smoke, just before they give a fright.

    But something else had caught my sight: A large and sturdy bamboo pole was leaning mysteriously on the bridge’s rails, more than five foot long and finely tooled. Much of the forest is bamboo, but of random diameter and not cured. This piece had been crafted. Straight as a die; and heavy. Good for a fight.

    The pole had probably been left by walkers, but it was odd to leave something so well made – certainly for a purpose, and I concluded it was there for me.

    The Ace of Wands, perhaps. Or something more?

    I took it in my right hand and began a journey taken nearly 400 times before. But despite the now relative familiarity there was always potential danger walking home at night. Sometimes a snake, strange frogs, swarms of bats – flying just close enough to your face until ultrasonic spared some damage – and large spiders, only found in Pluto's World, webs spanning the entire path, now out hunting. At least this uncommon Gift would be good for brushing them away. In the summer storms the winds can also blow you off your feet, or send a branch into your head. Not the easiest road to bed.

    Once out of the pool’s tree glade the concrete path has open area on either side. Mainly shrubs and overgrown grasses, waist-height, at least.

    A few nights earlier I’d heard something moving in the long grass as I walked past. Something big. A family of wild boar had come down from the hilltop scrub to settle for the winter in search of worms, roots and other subterranean treats. They were across the river to the right of the path, but made nightly visits to an open stretch of ground before the forest became thicker. I’d recently been seeing a female quite recently. Each time, sensing her presence, I would slow my pace, allowing her to run – like a bat out of Hell – either just in front of me or behind, across the path down to the river and into the trees beyond. If caught in her path, particularly now with three young shoats in tow, I’d be strawberry jam.

    But on the late evening of this waxing moon, as I started to walk, turning to the right away from the bridge – bamboo rod in hand – and in now entering an area where great care was required, my senses and attention were strangely piqued.

    There before me – on the path, and not distant – was a large alpha male. He was staring directly at me and began to snort and growl, bristlingly indignant and displaying large and deadly ascending fangs. And the beast was going nowhere; blocking my path.

    Time stopped and the night sky, the trees, the faintly gushing sound of the river – and all reality – disappeared.

    There were just his eyes. And mine.

    Back in the office there was a far greater challenge.

    Jeremy was a pale skinned, ginger-haired youth with a mild but menacing manner; as burlesque a character of any Tim Burton might devise. He had built a very successful firm, though in reality an extension of his own brain. There was no structure or procedure – only the Brain. Various things were ‘banned’. Concepts, comments, ideas, words – even my pen – to be exchanged for one ‘company approved’, or disregarded, even expunged, entirely. So one dealt carefully, as with the boar, showing respect but not yielding. After all, Jeremy was paying (and his doppelganger was not charging).

    Even in conversation, any word that Jeremy hadn’t heard he claimed was fictitious, and therefore banned. There were some, such as ‘pith’, he merely couldn’t bear to hear, as if they mounted some cunning plan upon his ears. The ‘Brain’ was not to be messed with, lest it implode. What remained was a linguistically asbestos mix of anesthetic junk. Aerodynamic corporate-speak, coma-inducing detritus handily employed by governments and corporations to send us into to dreamless sleep or catch us off our game, a prefabricated language designed to make one numb: ‘seamlessly’, ‘empowered’ ‘committed’, ‘flexible’, ‘highly professional’, or ‘enhanced’. Fangless vampires.

    This meaningless piece of drivel, for instance, would get an A+…

    “Our client is a top tier financial institution with a long history in Asia and an industry leading position in the region. Operating across a diverse range of markets and evolving operating models, the business is experiencing significant change and expansion creating the need for enhanced internal communications initiatives that will positively impact the overall implementation of our strategic vision going forward, putting us well ahead of the curve.”

    The boar stared and I stared, but as he snorted louder – a curious and beastly sound – I cautiously moved forward. He stayed his ground. The bamboo staff was now more tightly in my grip. Our energy had become one. A direct charge at such short distance would not gain the animal full speed, but it was clear that only standing firm and keenly jousting the weapon at the creature would have the slightest impact. I figured I could probably knock him off the path, leveraging his own weight. Though unlike chess, where one can think some moves ahead, I was unsure what might happen next. So I carried on forward. I was not going back. And the beast was in my path.

    I walked forward, now more boldly, but still slowly, and with the staff angled to fight.

    At last and with a grunting snarl, he moved with an awkward stubbornness into the thicket. But not running. He stayed in the long grass while I walked briskly into the dark forest.

    The Sentinel had let me pass.

    Now back in town, writing in the cool November sun, an ancient temple just in sight and surrounded by bustling streets and tall towers, it all seems like a dream. Perhaps it was. Jeremy is also gone, at least from my world. The laws of quantum physics dictate that we create our own domains. It seems they’re right.

    And so from Pluto’s kingdom I emerge, for the next drama.
  • Think about how this story works on different levels and then publish or sprout one of your own. Try to begin your story with his first line:

    It was a night of coruscating skies; pitch black but with a gibbous moon and the irregular pinpricks of heavenly insight, in brightest sight.

    Rest in Peace, Wu Shaman. You conquered some demons and helped us understand them.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.