This is one of my short stories that won Honorable Mention in the 74th Annual Writer's Digest Writing competition. While Honorable Mention didn't bring me fame and fortune, I was actually surprised and pleased to have done that well... I proudly printed out the top 100 to find myself listed as having been judged in 48th place, which didnt seem like that great of a performance at the time, until I asked how many entries there had been. I was glad to take 48th out of over 10,000 entries!

All of my short stories (so far) feature a twist in the story at some point intended to switch your point of view... my intentions were to force the reader into a certain mental image of what was taking place, then basically blow it to smithereens in a sentence or two. Was I successful? Perhaps...  the reader will have to be the final judge of that.

The Chosen Ones

     The old man sat down in the chair and smiled at the young faces sitting there before him, waiting expectantly. “Does anyone here want to hear a story?” he asked.

     “Yes!” They all exclaimed excitedly.

     He laughed at their exuberance. “This is a story of my family, and of something that happened many, many years ago.” He settled himself in the chair, and began his tale.


     “Chen Li knew that the time had finally come, just as his ancestors had predicted. For many generations their family had been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility that required complete secrecy, or else all their efforts would be as if they were but a speck of dust in the midst of a whirlwind. From parent to child this secret had been passed; this burden… no, this privilege… for this was how Chen Li perceived it.

     His father had told him of their family secret when he was but a lad of fifteen, knowing that he was old enough to see the great responsibility that would fall upon his shoulders once he was the patriarch of the clan.

     They had still been in China then, long before his father had decided that the family’s fate had decreed that they should all leave the country where their ancestors had been born and had died for centuries. They left their homes and all that they knew… for this, the land of “opportunity”, as it was said to be.

     It was the opportunity for hard work, Chen Li had decided quite early on. He watched as many of his countrymen gave their lives to this new country, helping to build the Great Railroad, as it was called.

     Building a railroad was difficult work at best, but cutting the way through the mountains nearly proved to be an impossible task. The men of the Americas held a bias against Chen and his countrymen, using them for the work that they thought too dangerous to do themselves.

     The men from China would climb into immense baskets, which were then lowered over the side of the precipice. They would then cut away at the underside of the mountain, slowly cutting a way through the stone for the great steam engines of progress. The railroad made its way steadily from both the East and West coast, planning on meeting in the middle of the country. This would make it possible to speed up that transportation of both people and supplies in both directions.


     But this work was not for Chen. He had greater visions for his future than to die for the dreams of a few men that he had never met, and knew nothing of. He intended on setting up his own business near the seat of the great Gold Rush that was booming in California. He had watched as the men had rushed past, each of them eager to stake a claim; all of them certain that they would easily wrest a great fortune from the streams and the hills. Chen watched as many of these men came back, defeated and broken.

     Many of them had been beaten down by the hard work of digging and panning out the dirt, hoping for the glimpse of a few flakes of the precious metal. Others had found what they had gone looking for, only to have it cheated away from them by the high prices of the merchants that followed the mining camps or by the gamblers that came as well.

     And then there were the men that came back through the camp wrapped in tarps or sheets; shot or bludgeoned to death for the weight of the gold that they had found. These were the reasons that Chen had decided to earn his money the way that he intended; honestly and by the sweat of his brow. He saw that there was a need for his services and that he could make plenty of money through honest labor.

     To this end, he found a place on the river that had already been mined out. He bought this from the owner for a pittance, the man glad to be able to get a few dollars from what he considered to be no more than a worthless bit of land.

     “Strike it rich, Chinee-man!” he encouraged Chen. “I hope someone can get somethin’ outta that chunk of riverbottom, God knows I sure couldn’t!” He rode off upstream, hoping to find a place that someone hadn’t staked out already, starting over in his search for the ever elusive riches that he was sure were waiting for him somewhere.


     Chen went to work, quickly building a ramshackle building to house his business in, then throwing up five equally rickety huts; two rooms to each of them. He then bought a team of mules cheap; these coming with a wagon that had definitely seen much better days. He headed for San Francisco, where many of his countrymen had settled in to build a community of their own.

     Once there, he easily found several young men who would come to work for him, decent paying jobs being scarce in the area, the same bias against his race being present here as well. Loading their meager possessions into the back of the wagon, the men helped Chen fill the rest of the wagon with bags of lye, along with several heavy iron cauldrons that he had purchased for very little, since they were in little demand in the gold camps up north.


     Their journey back to the camp was uneventful; the cargo being unloaded into the rear of the largest building that Chen had built. Each of the men was then given a hut of his own, little more than a hovel, but to each of them it was as if they had been shown a castle and told that it was to be theirs. At least these were something that they could call their own, something that gave them a tenuous hold upon this country that was so new to all of them.

     As the sun rose the next morning, it shone down on Chen, already hard at work setting up his business. It was to be a laundry, to take in the dirty, filthy clothes of the miners as well as the merchants and other citizens of the camps thereabouts.

     The fires burned beneath the cauldrons, the water boiling to wash the clothes in; the fresh water of the river close at hand to rinse out the same. Lines were run between the trees to hang the dripping clothes on, and hot flatirons were used to press the attire of those whose tastes where a bit more “discriminating”, shall we say.

     It was only a short time before word got out of Chen’s new establishment. Since this was one of the few “accepted’ businesses that society had placed Chen and his countrymen in, it was only a short time before he was swamped with business. His rates were reasonable and his service quick and of high quality, and word of mouth quickly had people coming in from miles around.

     Best of all for Chen, he was managing to avoid the attention of the thieves and robbers that abounded around the camps. After all, what sort of money would a Chinaman that ran a laundry have, they figured? If they had only paid a bit more attention to the amount of business that he was doing, they might have had other thoughts in mind!

     Chen did not do as many of those had after they had begun to earn a bit of money. He still wore the same mended robes, the same tattered sandals. He kept a small iron-bound box hidden under his sleeping platform, and into this put a bit of the money that came through his place of business, the rest going into the local bank until such time as he needed it.

     One of the unexpected bonuses of his business became evident the first time that they changed the water in the immense cauldrons. As they tipped the vats over to drain the water out, Chen spied something glittering in the bottom. Scooping it up, he found nearly a full ounce of gold dust there! Evidently it sifted into the folds of the miner’s clothes, and then settled to the bottom of the vats as the material was being washed. This windfall was always divided equally amongst the workers, a welcome bonus for each of them!


     Something else now caught Chen’s eye… the large piles of lint that were beginning to pile up behind the laundry. The workers were reluctant to dump it into the river, knowing that it would just make a mess farther downstream, and so they hauled it to a ravine that lie behind the building.

     Chen nodded his head, for some reason smiling as he looked at the piles of lint that were accumulating there.

     He went to his father; the honored old man now having nothing to do but to sit in the sun and enjoy his son’s good fortune. Chen Li bowed as he approached him, his father nodding his head and removing his long-stemmed pipe from his mouth.

     “It is time.” The old man had never been one to waste words.

     “I go.” Chen had much the same traits as his father.


     And so it was that Chen Li now took up his pack and traveled once again to San Francisco, boarding a ship that was bound for his homeland. It was time to fulfill his destiny, and that of his family as well.

     It was a terrible journey; it seemed that Nature herself was intent on preventing him from succeeding in his quest. Storm after storm besieged the ship, several times nearly succeeding in swamping the craft beneath massive waves, the winds buffeting them unmercifully.

     But the men fought back as only those well versed in survival at sea could. They fastened down the hatches and furled the sails, the only men above deck those who were needed to steer the ship as she ran before the storm.


     It took nearly twice as long as it should have for him to finally reach the province of his ancestors, but reach it he did. Once there, he located his uncle Wu, his father’s oldest brother, and told him of his quest.

     Wu sat there, much as Chen’s father had, and nodded his head. He stood up and went into the other room, returning with a large woven basket, the top of it tightly covered. He handed it to Chen without a word and went back to where he had been sitting, continuing what he had been doing before his nephew had arrived… looking out over the hills that lie spread out below.

     Chen made his way back to the harbor, securing passage back to America with his parcel. Once again the storms sprang up, raging out at them, but now they served only to hasten his journey, the ship scudding along before the gale and reaching the safety of the bay well before schedule.

     He made his way back to the camp, greeting his father with a bow before going to his hut and securing the basket inside. Hastening out to the ravine, he plunged his hands into the lint and took up a double handful of it.

     Back inside, he carefully undid the lashing that held the lid on the basket, peering inside. He placed the lint into the basket and quickly put the lid back on, retying the lashings to hold it shut. Leaning down next to basket, he listened, and smiled as he heard faint scuffling noises inside. All was well, he thought.


     Early the next morning, he was frightened when he woke and turned to see the basket lying on its side, a gaping hole in it showing clearly where the creatures that had been inside it had made their escape. He hurried outside to find his father, hoping that he would have some advice as to what Chen should do.

     He found his father sitting in his usual spot, watching the sunrise as it colored the tops of the mountains to the east. “Father…” he began, but stopped as the old man raised his hand.

     “It is as it should be,” was all that he said before returning to his contemplation of the morning.


     Chen shook his head, still concerned over his apparent failure, but there was nothing more that he could accomplish there. He turned and made his way down towards the laundry. As he drew near, he could hear the workers inside laughing, and he wondered what it was that they were all so happy about.

     As he made his way inside, he was astonished to see the inhabitants of the basket swinging from beam to beam, chattering down at the workers below. “What…?” Chen Li stammered, the men all turning towards him.

     One of them, a man named Hui, laughed and pointed up towards the rafters. “They are the Chosen Ones, Chen, do you not recognize them from the ancient stories?”

     “I know who they are, Hui, I am the one that brought them here!” Chen Li exclaimed. “But what are they doing in here?”

     “They are helping.” Hui explained. “Look!” He pointed towards the vats of clothes.

     As he looked at the boiling cauldrons, he was amazed to see that they seemed to be stirring themselves! He stared first at the water, then up at the Chosen Ones who were sitting on the rafters watching him, then back down at the laundry again.

     Suddenly he heard the sound of the door opening behind him. He spun around to see one of the miners who regularly brought in clothes standing there, a large cloth bag of dirty clothes in his arms.

     “Monkey!” Chen exclaimed. “I mean Marty! What brings you in today?” He laughed nervously.

     “Same as always, I reckon.” Marty laughed. “Ain’t it the same every time that I come in?” He peered past Chen, looking into the laundry. “Li, what are them things up there in the roof?”

     “Things?” Chen played dumb. “What things, where?”

     Marty scoffed at the Chinaman. “Damnit, Li, are ya blind or what? Them dolls up there; why ya got them up in the rafters, for Pete’s sake?”

     Chen turned and nearly fainted dead away. As he looked up towards the beams where just a few moments ago the four Chosen Ones had been bounding about, he saw four rag dolls dangling from the supports.

     Looking closer, they appeared as if they had been made from a pair or two of socks; little eyes and mouths stitched onto their faces, their long tails hanging from their cloth behinds.

     “Um… ah…” he stammered, his mind racing. “Eh… they good luck charms, yeah, Chinese good luck!”

     Marty gave Chen a sideways glance, and then looked back up at the stuffed monkeys that sat in the rafters. “Whatever… if it works, let me know and I might just buy one of them offen ya!”

     Chen Li hastily took the bundle of dirty clothes from the man, hurrying him out the door as quickly as possible. He turned and looked back up at the rafters where the four Chosen Ones now scurried about chasing each other from beam to beam!


     Throughout the day, he watched the four. Each time that the door opened, they either continued to scamper about, that is, if the one who was entering was Chinese. But if it was anyone else, they would instantly assume the role of rag dolls, lounging wherever they happened to be at that moment.

     Finally the day was over, Chen nearly beside himself with all the stress of having the Chosen Ones loose in his laundry. As the sun dipped down below the mountaintops, the four scampered out through the vent at the end of the roof, Chen frantically running outside to see where they were going. He still felt that it was his failure that had allowed them to escape, for he had no way of knowing that this was how it was intended to be.

     The four headed across the open area between the laundry and the ravine, diving headfirst into the immense piles of lint that were piled within. They immediately began devouring the stuff as if it were the finest of delicacies, glutting themselves on the remnants.

     He could only look on and shake his head, certain that he would suffer for his failure in some manner, sooner or later. He failed to notice when his father came up alongside of him and joined him.

     His father stood there for a moment, a smile on his face as he watched the Chosen Ones in the ravine below. He reached up and laid his hand on Chen’s shoulder, startling him.

     “Father!” he exclaimed. “You should never do that!”

     His father motioned for Chen to follow him, making his way back up the hillside to where he usually sat. Sitting down where they could still watch the ravine, the two sat in companionable silence for a few moments before Chen’s father spoke.

     “It is done,” he said under his breath.

     “It is?” Chen questioned. “Are you sure of this?”

     His father nodded his head. “Unless we are needed once again, my son.” He waved his hand in the direction of the ravine. “We were to find a place where they might flourish once again, and raise their families. Have I ever told you the entire story of the Chosen Ones?” he asked.

     Chen shook his head. “No, only the story of our family responsibilities to them.

     “Then listen well, my son.” And he began.


     “Many centuries ago, the Chosen Ones were the favorites of the Master of All. They were his companions, and were by his side wherever he went upon this land. But there was one of them; Xiang was his name, who was not respectful of the Master. It was he who brought this time to an end.” He paused and looked over at Chen.

     “You know of the Gardens of Paradise that the Master keeps?”

     Chen nodded his head, for this was a tale that all Chinese children learn when they are very young.

     “It was within this garden that Xiang angered the Master. He disobeyed his wishes, and the Master cast out all of the Chosen Ones, changing their forms to that which you see before you now.” He tapped his pipe on the ground, knocking out the ashes from the bowl.

     “How did it get to where there are just these four left?” Chen asked.

     “After they were cast out of the Gardens, they were forced to eat of nothing save for the lint from the cloth about them, and a meager diet it was. Their fate began with the discovery of the silkworm, many years ago.” Chen’s father explained. “Silk has no such lint for them to dine upon, and as more and more of our people began to use this type of clothing, so did the Chosen Ones begin to die. These four were the last of them, put to sleep by the Master and entrusted to our family until such time as a place was found for them to live.”

     Chen and his father glanced down at the ravine, both of them knowing that their responsibilities had, indeed, been completed.

     And so it was that Chen Li and all of his descendants always had at least one of the Chosen Ones staying with them, and good fortune and prosperity followed them in their endeavors until the end of their days upon this Earth.


     But mankind was not so kind to the Chosen Ones. For a time, they did prosper. In the 1960’s, there were Chosen Ones in nearly every household across this nation. With the invention of the electric and gas clothes dryers, the race boomed, their sustenance being readily available in all of the middle and upper class homes of America.

    But once again, progress stepped in. With the invention of polyester and other manmade fabrics, lint once again began to come into short supply. At night, once the people in the house were asleep, gangs of these Chosen Ones would roam the back streets and alleyways, frequenting the dustbins and trash receptacles behind laundromats and apartment complexes, searching and fighting for their food.

     By day, they sat upon beds and couches, chairs and shelves, disguised in a form that had become known by most people as “sock monkeys”, their outward appearance that of a primate made from stockings, their button eyes carefully stitched on, often wearing a small cap as well.

     As food became more and more scarce, the race once again faced extinction due to the sudden boom of “dry cleaner” businesses, what lint there was contaminated with chemicals used in the process.

     Those left were soon forced to drastic measures. Daring raids were pulled upon clothes dryers, a random sock being stolen and ravenously devoured, hoping against hope that it would not be missed.

     Thin and lean, the few survivors still dwell in households across the world, venturing out after we are all asleep, winnowing through dustbins and trashcans in search of the life-giving lint that they need to survive.

     And who are we to begrudge them that occasional sock that always seems to come up missing from the dryer? For it is just natural for any race to adapt in order to survive. This has been proven time after time throughout the existence of this world that we live upon.”


     The old man stood up, for it was time for him to leave. He turned away from the children, and hesitated for a long moment before turning back around towards them. He stood there, a frown on his face as his brow wrinkled in thought… or was it wonder?


     “By the way… has anyone seen my jacket? I was sure that I left it on the back of the chair…”



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