I am new to this forum and would like to share one of my short novel here. I would love to hear any comments and thoughts (e.g., how the story flows, any better way to describe the atmosphere? and so on). Thanks!

The original link is http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~yuandong/novel_shiming_eng.pdf. I first wrote a Chinese version (I am a native Chinese speaker) and then translate it into English. I don't know whether or not posting the entire novel is appropriate at this forum. If not, please close this question.

Disclaimer: I am not a native English speaker.

The Duty

A young man was a postman in a mountainous village. He worked diligently and had the best reputation among comrades. As advertised on the flag he carried, once he received the package, he sent it to the destination always on time, no matter how rough and dangerous the journey would be. Every time people saw the flag, they raised the thumb and praised him for his hard work. Some parents even drew their children out of home, staring at his back view, and taught them, as grave as a judge, with complicated and abstract sentences. Children nodded, pretended to understand, sneaked back to home and continued playing.

Many years had passed. One early morning, the young man went out with a package in a blizzard, and didn't come back for nearly a week.

People started gossiping and rumors propagated: "He slipped at the dangerous pathway in the snowy mountain, fell into the valley and died of his duty.”

"What a pity! Such a good and young person died. A misfortune."

People felt sad and cursed the unfairness of the destiny. However, no one dared to search the valley, find his body and rest him with a decent funeral. That family, who had asked him for delivery on that day, just felt sorry for the loss of their property and remained silent to his missing.

Time passed and people forgot. Other affairs draw their attention away and the village came back normal. Occasionally, the bad weather reminds them of that young man, and the flag he once carried.

The young man remained alive. One day he came back to the village with his face disguised, his legs crippled and his voice hoarse. Being a stranger that no one can recognize, he asked the story of himself and got a variety of answers. Someone told the rumor and expressed the sadness; someone criticized his stubbornness and attributed the misfortune as his own fault; someone even laughed at him for his dumb mind. The young man fell unsatisfied with the answers. Finally, he chatted with the family asking for delivery that day, but received the following comment:

"He works on such a dangerous job and should be aware of the situation. We can do nothing but show my sympathy with regard to his death."

The young man was heart-wretched. On that day, he chose to trudge a dangerous shortcut in response to a crying plea from that family. He slipped, fell away from the pathway, broke his ribs and went unconscious in the wild-whirling snow. Fortunately, a girl saved him and accommodated him for recovery. His life remains, yet his legs were severely frostbite and crippled, impossible to fulfill his duty again.

He stayed on bed for several months, and recovered. He was depressed by the irreversible injury and thought about his future. He remembered being praised by the old, being the model of the young, being regarded as important and being respected as the best. He was motivated to work hard day and night, to run the risk spring and fall, by pleasing and compliment of the others.

"Now people in the village shall remember me and respect to my selfless sacrifice. They will definitely welcome their hero back and help me wholly-hearted."

He decided to return to the village and see how people would react to him.

The girl grinned for his innocence, and advised him to disguise. "You can hear the truth and act accordingly.” The young man agreed. He returned to the village with his lame legs, felt disappointed with people's thoughts and came back to the girl, with bitter and sorrow. He cried:

"They forgot my story and laughed at it! They said I am stubborn and dumb, and this was my own fault!"

He had several sleepless nights and suffered from an enormous agony. Accompanied with the girl, he complained:

"I am confused. I really don't understand where the suffering comes from. I am an adult, I am in my twenties, I understand the people, they shall forget. But...but why I am so depressed?"

The young man cannot tell. The girl smiled and said:

"You know, that's human's nature. Admire the good, despise the bad and forget the dead. That's ordinary. You feel disappointed just because you build yourself on the honor they give you. Gradually, you are driven by the external world without awareness, persuaded by others' words without persistence. You feel good because of their compliment; you never know what is important. Ten years have passed and you made all efforts to their desire and need. You serve them, they give you smile, and you lose yourself."

"Thank you. You enlightened me."

The young man deeply sighed, with bitter and sorrow. Thinking of his old days, he found nothing else but his work in mind: get up early, deliver and come back late at night. Over the ten years, he was sketchy in accounting and absent-minded in security. Living in a crappy house, he saved little money for himself.

Knowing he was poor, the girl didn't charge his stay. However, the young man is determined to leave. One sunny day he thanked the girl and chose to go. The girl asked him:

"What is your destination?"

"I have no choice.” he replied with a bitter smile, "I will come back to the village, and borrow some lands from relatives, and strive to survive. My honor has gone and never come back."

When he was about to leave, the girl returned him the flag, and the package he dropped on that day of blizzard. He saw it, shouted, grabbed it and disappeared at the end of the view. The girl regretted. She wept. She knew him so well.

"He has the obsession and determination that few of us have. Let him go."

Two months later, the girl visited the village and found his crappy house. The house was there, but the young man was gone. She found the family sending the final package, and they told her an astonishing story, with a pale face and an upset voice:

"The other day a shadow came to my relative's house and knocked at the door. It was twilight with dark and cloudy sky, and thrilling wind was blowing. My relative opened the door and saw a human-shaped figure. He held the package with his body full of injury and blood, too horrible to stare at. Believing it is a ghost rather than a human, my relative was extremely scared. She pushed the ghost out and slammed the door. When the darkness covered the ground and the night came, she opened the door again, and no one was there."

The family members were disturbed and the girl left without asking more details.

Somewhere in the village, she was surprised to see the sculpture and monument of the young man, with flowers, candles and objects used to rest the dead. She asked the people nearby. They told her the terrible story again, concluded that he died in pain and sorrow and his soul was not at rest. For the sake of peace and safety, the villagers hurried to gather a lot of money and made concerted efforts to build the sculpture and monument, all in one month. She nodded and read the epitaph that recorded the achievement of the dead. The handwriting was beautiful, the sentence was elaborate. Everything seemed perfect and well-designed.

But everything was faked.

Thinking of his destiny, sadness came from her heart.

"He died. Nothing left behind. All decorations are just useless junk."

She said. The twilight came. The sun was about to set. People relieved from their daily work and started to enjoy life. Boys were playing; girls were dancing, youngsters flirting with friends and elders talking about life.

All relaxed.

She turned back and stared at the sculpture of the young man. With the flag on the shoulder and the package below the armpit, his eye gazed afar and his face appeared solemn.

"The duty on you and you are in charge; the responsibility you undertake and you are not free. Day and night, your step is hasty; spring and fall, you enjoy no leisure. Finally you leave, with your mystery hidden in the history, and never be mentioned again."

"Is your entire life right? Or wrong?"

The girl was confused. But a spot of light suddenly came to her heart and subtly alleviated the sadness.

"At least, you fulfilled the goal and finished the journey, not because of the external world, not because of others' compliments, but just because of yourself, of your determination. "


  • Hi Yuandong! I'm afraid Writers.SE is not a forum, and posting whole stories for feedback isn't what we do here. We do have specific guidelines for when excerpts from your work are appropriate, but general feedback is something we explicitly do not do. Sorry to disappoint... Please don't take this as a slight against your work (Dale seems to have loved it; while I haven't even read it yet...). You can read more about what Writers.SE is and is not. – Standback Jul 7 '13 at 19:15
  • I think it's a good story. There are some other websites where you could post it and maybe get critiques. Try Google "writing critique." But I think it's a good story and I like the style of the writing. – Ethan May 17 '14 at 6:40

This is a beautiful, beautiful story. It reads like a fable. The atmosphere is wonderful just the way it is.

In many places, the phrasing is clearly not English. But even in those places, the meaning is clear, and the phrasing is beautiful, almost poetic.

  • Thank you very much for the comments! Really inspiring:) BTW. Can you give me some examples in which the phrasing is not English? Thanks again!! – Yuandong Jul 7 '13 at 3:41

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