An adaptation of a Hmong Folklore
Warning: Mature Content and Strong Language
Once upon a time, there was a shapeshifter who fell in love with a young girl named Yer. He visited her often, but only in secret and at night. Yer lived with her strict brother and sister-in-law, on a secluded property embedded deep in the forest and far away from villages; they wanted privacy and more land to plant rice.
Seasons had passed, and Yer not only found herself falling more in love with the mysterious and handsome stranger she secretly met with, but her belly was also growing. One night, the shapeshifter met Yer at their usual well-hidden place and said, “It will be a long time till we can see each other again.”
“Why?” asked Yer, confused and upset. “Why are you leaving me?”
“It’s dangerous for me to be out here too long. I have to return home.”
“Why can’t I come with you?”
“Because we are not the same.”
She stared at his strong facial features, still confused. “What do you mean?”
Suddenly, the handsome stranger in front her transformed into a tiger, showing his golden coat and all his black stripes. His dark, beastly eyes peered into her soft, brown eyes, but she did not fear him. Deep down she knew there was something odd about him, and now she has seen his true form; a tiger, a shapeshifter.
He asked her, “Do you still want to be with me?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.
“When our children are big enough, they will lead you home to me.” He paused. “Or, when you have become like me, then you will find your way home to me.”
The possibility of Yer becoming a creature like him was surprising, but it didn’t scare her. “Where is home?”
“Deep in the depths of a cave, where no man has ever set foot in.”
His words lingered in Yer’s thoughts as the long months passed, and she did her best hiding her growing belly from her brother and sister-in-law. When the rice fields were ready to harvest, Yer was also due to give birth. She soon found herself a mother of two small, golden cubs and she often snuck away to feed them.
Yer worked harder and longer hours during the day than her brother and sister-in-law, insisting that she could carry all the rice harvest and supplies to the shed on her own. She’d always remind her brother and sister-in-law that they never needed to go into the shed for anything, always willing and able to fetch them anything they needed from it.
Curious and curiouser, Yer’s brother and sister-in-law decided to check the shed one morning while Yer was harvesting in the rice field. At first glance, the storage shelter appeared normal and fully stocked. The married couple were just about to step out of the shed when they heard faint cries coming from the attic, which startled them because the cries did not sound like children. After climbing up the steps to the small attic space, they discovered two little tigers laying on a mound of blankets and surrounded by baskets of rice grains; they were only the size of adult cats. The curious couple quickly realized that these cubs could very well be Yer’s children, and the horror that settled into their stomachs caused the couple to panic.
“All those early mornings that she was missing from her bed and we thought was hard at work,” said Yer’s sister-in-law, adding to her husband’s suspicions and making him angry. “She was a whore, and worst, she laid with a tiger.” Her words continued to fuel rage in her husband, but she continued to speak her terrible thoughts, “A shapeshifter; dangerous creatures.” She emphasized, “They are not human. I’ve only heard stories. Never thought I would ever witness the horror.” She couldn’t help herself, already feeling the judgement of others on their family. “Can you imagine what people will say? This is all because of your sister, that whore.”
Yer’s brother quietly made up his mind and then advised his wife, “Go and take Yer to harvest the field to feed the livestock. Take your time.”
She knew the reason why, but she had to ask anyway, “What will you do?”
He stared at the helpless little cubs, “We can’t bury them, she’ll find them.” He’s tone grew dark, “I’m going to cook them.”
Agreeing with her husband, she nodded to him and went on her way to distract Yer.
Yer and her sister-in-law were harvesting in the lush green vegetable field, Yer was working faster trying to get home to her children. Yearning to be with the handsome shapeshifter, Yer suddenly wondered out loud, “When will my sons grow to be the size of dogs and bring me to a faraway cave? When will my sons be the size of sheep and take me to the golden cave?”
Again, Yer’s sister-in-law couldn’t help herself and said, “My sons, my sons. They’re already in one pot.”
Yer turned around to face her sister-in-law, “What did you say?”
“I said, my sons, my sons, hurry up and harvest those vegetables.”
“Oh…” Yer went back to work. For some reason, she felt more alone than ever and hummed to herself, “In what season will my sons grow to be the size of dogs and bring me to a faraway cave? In what season will my sons be the size of sheep and take me to the golden cave?”
“My sons, my sons. They’re in one pot!”
Yer heard her sister-in-law clearly this time and was taken with the frightful thought that her children were gone. “Sister-in-law, you said one pot.” Yer felt herself becoming something different. “I will eat you.” She stretched her mouth open wide and her human teeth grew inches longer, sharp with fangs.
Filled with terror, Yer’s sister-in-law fled from the field and hurried home, screaming. Yer was fast behind her, taking a bite every chance that she got close to the screeching woman. Recognizing the screams of his wife, Yer’s brother dashed outside of their home with a sword in one hand. He saw his sister, Yer, becoming a tiger. By the time she reached their home, Yer was pouncing on four paws.
Yer’s brother shouted at her beastly form, “Yer!”
Even as a beast, Yer still recognized her own brother, so she halted at sight of him. She saw that he was welding the family sword at her while he quickly pulled his wife behind him; his crying unharmed wife.
Yer cried, “Where are my children?”
Her brother avoided the question and instead said, “Yer, if you’re long, you’ll be in three pieces. If short, you’ll be in two pieces.”
Furious, both siblings charged at one another; Yer roared with her set of fangs aimed at her brother’s head and he with the family sword swinging down on her. Yer’s brother ducked away from her large mouth, losing shreds of his sleeve in her teeth. With a mighty swing of the sword, Yer’s brother cut off Yer’s tail. As the furry tail landed on the ground, it transformed into a long piece of red sash that came from the long yards of red fabric tied around Yer’s waist.
To everyone’s amazement, Yer had become human again. Though Yer tried, she couldn’t transform into a beast anymore, clutching onto the severed sash and crying in agony for her loss.
Seeing that Yer was now human and it appeared that she would remain human, Yer’s brother left her alone without an ounce of guilt; thinking he did what was right for his family and mankind.
Yer continued to live alone and she never saw the shapeshifter again.
Art by Bao Xiong