In days past there lived a mighty hunter, Hailibu. Like many great hunters, he sought game not merely to take a life but to feed himself and those in the area who could no longer hunt for themselves. And like many great hunters, he knew as well when not to take a life. In all the mountain and forest villages he passed, he was welcomed, for everyone knew him to be generous to a fault and a straight talker, a man who did, not one who just spoke of doing.
One day he was out hunting in the heart of the forest when he came upon a tree that grew on the peak of a steep hill. On one of the top branches of that tree, a little white snake was curled up, apparently very comfortably, and seemingly fast asleep.
Hailibu mused to himself how content that snake looked, as content as a human taking a nap on a hot day during a break in work.
He took a wide detour around the tree so as not to disturb the snake.
Suddenly he noticed a gray shadow in the sky. Down swooped a stork and immediately snatched the little snake up in its talons!
"Help! Save me!" cried the little white snake.
"Fear not, little friend!" replied Hailibu, who swiftly took out an arrow and aim it at the stork, which was rapidly ascending into the sky. Hailibu's arrow was likewise swift. It nicked the stork, which dropped the snake, and then flew beyond the treetops as fast as its wings could carry it.
Hailibu reached the spot where the snake had landed.
"You're safe now, little one," he said to the serpent as it looked up at him. "Go back home to your mother and father."
The snake nodded its head and slithered off.
The next day Hailibu found himself in the exact same area. There, underneath the tree upon which the little white snake had rested the day before, were now a whole host of snakes circling the little white snake. obviously guarding it. Hailibu found this strange and watched the snakes.
"My rescuer!" said the little white snake. "I was hoping you'd be here."
"Yes, well here I am . . . "
"You do not know this," continued the snake, "but I am the daughter of the Dragon King. He and my mother sent me back here today to see if you would return. They wish to thank you for saving my life yesterday. You are hereby invited to my home, the palace, to be exact, the gem storehouse of the palace!"
"I'd be honored."
"Once there, you will be rewarded. You will be offered anything in my father's gem storehouse. But listen carefully, hunter. Refuse whatever is in the storehouse. Instead, ask as a reward the gem my father always carries in his mouth!"
"Oh? May I ask why, Princess?"
"You are a hunter, are you not? Then you should be very interested in obtaining that gem. If you too carry that gem in your mouth, you shall be able to understand the language of every animal that crawls, walks, flies and swims!"
"Yes, marvelous it is; however, please listen carefully. Whatever knowledge you obtain by listening to what animals say, you must keep it all to yourself. You must never divulge the knowledge of this secret to anyone, for if you do, you shall die a horrible death. You will, starting from the head, slowly turn to stone."
"I understand," said Hailibu. "I'll be careful."
"Let's be off, then . . . "
The little white snake led Hailibu down into a steep valley; the farther they went, the colder he felt. Finally, they reached the storehouse, a nondescript building far away, inaccessible, from the world of most humans.
"We are here, Hailibu," said the little white snake. "Now we are to wait for my parents to arrive."
By and by the Dragon King and Queen themselves slithered up to the little white snake and Hailibu.
"You are the young man who saved our daughter!" said the Dragon King. "For that the Queen and I are very grateful! Come with me inside the storehouse here and feel free to select any jewel or gem that you like!"
"Please forgive me for being so bold, Your Majesty," replied Hailibu. "What I would really like, if you don't mind, is that gem that is in your mouth right now!"
"The gem in my mouth?"
"You are sure that is all you want?"
The Dragon King reluctantly spat the gem into the palm of Hailibu's hand. What could he do? He was supposed to reward Hailibu. Hailibu thanked the King and Queen and excused himself to return to the world of people. The little white snake accompanied him to the border between her world and ours.
"Remember, Hailibu," said the little snake, "you may instantly understand what any animal within earshot says. Not only that, you may use that information to help yourself. Just make sure you don't tell anyone else about it or the secret of the gem! Otherwise, the consequence will not be pretty!"
Hailibu nodded, said goodbye to the snake, put the gem in his mouth and headed out into the forest.
From that day on, hunting became a very leisurely activity for him. No more would he have to lie in wait; no more would he have to approach an animal in stealth; no more would he have climb any trees, scale any cliffs or ensconce himself in scratchy bushes. Instead, he listened in to animals wherever he went and simply took several steps in a particular direction to find his prey.
One day he was out in the forest when he heard the chatter from some birds overhead.
"Come on!" cried one bird to the others. "Let's hurry and make sure the rest of the flock get the message!"
"You're sure about this?" cried another. "It means we'll all have to find a new home, start new nests over and--"
"Of course I'm sure! When have I ever been wrong? I'm telling you the coming flood will send a small ocean of water crashing down from the mountain tomorrow! You want to wait and see? Hurry! This time tomorrow this whole valley will be underwater, and so will all the people living here! Come on . . . "
This put Hailibu in a fix. To tell what he had overheard from the birds would spell his doom; not to tell, just to wait and see if the bird had exaggerated and then discover it had not, would mean the destruction of everyone in the nearby village . . .
He took the gem from his mouth and put it in his pouch.
"Prepare to flee!" he cried out, walking through the village. "Tomorrow an ocean of flood water will be coming down!"
Washerwomen put down their laundry; farmers stopped plowing their fields; children quit their games and their mothers rushed to pick them up. All stared at Hailibu.
"Come on! Gather your belongings! Tomorrow this whole area'll be underwater!"
"And how do you know this, Hailibu?" asked an old man.
"Believe me--it will happen." He started to weep, something no one had ever seen him do, ever. "If I died before you right this minute, would you believe me then?"
Everyone stared at him. Had the great hunter suddenly lost his mind?
"Hailibu," said the old man, "everyone in this village has known you for a very long time. All of us have always known you to be straight up the line. What you're saying now, though, makes you sound like a crazy man. How is it you know all this is going to happen tomorrow? I mean, confound it, if you are telling me to flee my own village, my ancestral home, to leave my home with all my possessions, I'm going to need to know more. Don't the rest of you agree?"
All the villagers who had just gathered into a circle vigorously nodded their heads.
Hailibu opened the pouch and extracted the small gem. He held it up for all to see. He then told the villagers everything about the gem--how he had obtained it, what powers it gave him, how he had overheard the flock of birds, with one bird in particular, and what it had said.
He concluded by saying, "I'm about to leave you for the next world. Let my death be the final evidence . . . "
He then turned to stone, right before their astonished eyes.
Everyone then scurried back to their homes, wrapped their possessions in blankets or bags, gathered up their children and elders, rounded up their animals and fled the village and the valley as fast as their legs could move.
Fleeing the village, they became aware of the thick black clouds that had formed overhead.
Early the next morning, the village was already empty when the first raindrops fell. Soon torrents of rain came down, loosening the rocks on the mountain top. A huge amount of water gushed and roared down the mountain, along with it, boulders, smashing the village huts and inundating the whole area with water that nearly reached the treetops.
The rain and flooding had stopped. When it was finally safe to return to the area, the villagers came back to survey the damage. The rock that had been the mighty hunter Hailibu was located; it had been carried by the floodwater and deposited atop a hill.
There, on the hill, generations of people continued to pay homage to Hailibu, making the rock a holy site. To this day, Hailibu's rock is still there.
from Jia & Sun, Zhongguo minjian gushixuan, Vol. 1, pp. 202-204. (For full citation, see 7/22/07.)
For similar stories of individuals being turned into stone, see the stories for 6/22/07 and 2/13/08. Motifs: A974, "Rock from transformation of people to stone"; C961.2, "Transformation to stone for breaking tabu"; D231, "Man transformed to stone"; W28, "Self sacrifice."