Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

NU WA'S WAYS (a Chinese legend)

When the world was very new, the goddess Nu Wa decided it should be beautiful and peaceful. And so she went to work, creating towering trees and blooming flowers, graceful birds, gentle animals, calm blue seas and majestic mountains. When Nu Wa had completed her work, she admired all she had created, and then she realized she wished to share this with someone.

Nu Wa knelt in the mud by the sea and began to sculpt.

She worked quickly, creating a figure that looked like her, except that she made it with legs, not a scaly serpent's tail like her own. When she saw how beautiful the figure was, she breathed life into it. So pleased was she with this creature, she soon made another, and another, men and women. And the world grew, and the people sang and danced, celebrating their world, giving thanks to Nu Wa, their creator.

But there were other gods in the world, and not all were so peace-loving. One day two of these gods engaged in an argument. Gong Gong was the god of water, and he claimed he was the most important god. Zhu Rong, god of fire, disagreed. "I am more important than you," Zhu Rong cried. Their argument grew louder and fiercer, and soon it turned into a fight. But they would not stop there. They both were strong and powerful, and the Earth trembled as their fury grew.

Before long, earthquakes erupted, tidal waves broke over the beaches and volcanoes exploded. When the gods saw that the world was unsettled, they took their fight to the heavens, which soon turned dark and wild. Thunder reverberated and lightning flashed, and the world shook so hard, the pillar that held heaven began to crumble.

The sky cracked open, and there was chaos everywhere. There were fires from Zhu Rong's rage, and there were floods from Gong Gong's wrath, and both gods sent angry creatures to bring more harm still. Monstrous dragons, snakes and huge flying birds filled the world, leaping out of the tear in the sky, speeding toward Earth.

The humans began to shake with fear. "Floods and fire may not destroy us," the people said, "but if they do not, the creatures will." So they prayed for help to Nu Wa, their goddess.

Nu Wa heard their prayers, and when she looked down, she saw her people drowning in the raging seas and rushing floods, fleeing from the wild fires and from attacking beasts.

"How can this happen to my people?" Nu Wa cried. "I cannot watch my people suffer. I must stop this war."

This was a long, long time ago, and the world was so new, Nu Wa understood that if she did not intervene, all she had created could be lost.

And so she closed her eyes and thought about the world she had made, and she remembered how she had created the best things. When she opened her eyes and saw the tear in the sky, she knew she must repair this first. Again she went to the world to find the tools that would mend.

She gathered stones of many colors. These she melted together in the wild fires, and with this molten mixture, she flew to the sky. She patched the hole there. The people cheered.

"Still, the pillar holding up the sky is crumbling," the people cried, and so Nu Wa searched for and found an enormous turtle, one such as those that existed long ago. "Help us," she said to the turtle, and of course the creature did, for this was Nu Wa. He swam deep down to the very bottom of the sea, and there he turned himself upside down. Now his four legs would hold up the sky.

The people breathed a sigh of relief, but only for a moment. The fierce creatures were loose still, and there would be no peace until they were destroyed.

Nu Wa watched the creatures swooping past, and with all her strength and concentration, she reached out and caught the largest dragon by its tail. She began to twirl it, faster and faster, and the other creatures stopped to stare in wonder.

"How is she so strong?" the creatures asked each other, for no one wished to test the goddess. "This is what a goddess can do," they muttered. "We cannot fight her." And so they slunk quietly back into their hiding places and never again disturbed the people.

Nu Wa looked around and smiled. "Now I will stop the fires," she said. She gathered thousands of reeds and burned them. With the ashes from her fire, she buried the raging fires all around her, and as the fires calmed, the rivers also stilled.

Zhu Rong and Gong Gong saw that Nu Wa and her powers of creation were stronger than either of them, and so their fight was settled.

With the world returned to its beauty and peace, the people rejoiced. Once again the goddess who had made them had given them new life, and no one has ever forgotten. No one can, for one trace of Nu Wa's handiwork remains. She did not notice, as she repaired the world, that the sky was slanted slightly to the northwest, and that is why, to this very day, the sun and moon and stars turn toward the west.

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