“THE OPIUM DEN”

The first news that Michael and Jacob had of the dragon of Chinatown was provided by an acquaintance of them called Clive. Clive frequented Chinatown because of a bad addiction he had: he was an opium smoker. That addiction would end up driving him crazy and leading him to be enslaved by an ant colony from Prospect Park. However, in 1937, he was still not crazy, so when he told Michael and Jacob about the dragon, they believed him. According to Clive, the dragon was hidden in the basement of an opium den called “Yinglong”. Clive said he had heard its grunts and grinding of teeth, and sometimes he saw tongues of fire escape under the door that gave access to the basement. Once, he was smoking next to the basement door when the Chinese in charge opened it, and then he could see it: a huge bug-eyed dragon with horrible jaws and more than eight yards long. When he asked the Chinese, he was told that there was nothing to worry about and, laughing, they added that it was the den’s pet.

Michael and Jacob consulted with the authorities, who informed them that pets more than six yards long spitting tongues of fire were strictly forbidden. So, as two public-spirited citizens, they informed the authorities of what they had learned… but the authorities turned the tables on them. Consequently, they left the City Hall with the express commission to kill the damn dragon. Jacob had argued that killing dragons was not a matter of their competence and that the city council should employ Saint George’s services instead of theirs. To which the city council responded by giving him a spear and a shield.

With the possible exception of the apartment of their neighbor Mrs. Kafka Needleman (who had the sacred and laudable mission to give shelter to all the vagabond cats of the city), Michael and Jacob didn’t know in all of New York a kind of place with a more rarefied atmosphere than that which existed in the opium dens of Chinatown. As soon as they crossed the threshold illuminated by red lanterns of the “Yinglong” den, a gust of stale air made Jacob dizzy and, as they went deeper into the den, he felt worse and ended up collapsing on a fat guy who lay on a bunk facing the wall. Hidden in a sack, Jacob was carrying the weapons he had been given at the City Hall to kill the dragon. And when falling, he accidentally poke the man in the butt with the spear. That generated a commotion that Michael took advantage of to slip stealthily to the back of the den where, according to Clive, the basement door was located.

This part of the place was very poorly lit and, to get to the door, Michael had to walk over seven or eight people who slept soundly on mats. He bent down to look through the keyhole and, in the pale brightness of a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, saw something that sent a shiver down his spine. Clive was right! A gigantic serpentine creature more than six yards long was there (lying, like almost everyone in that den) staring at him with bulging eyes and jaws wide open.

Soon after, Michael and Jacob were lying on one of six bunk beds aligned on both sides of the aisle. They were pretending to give puffs to long, thick green pipes while discussing the steps to follow. Jacob advocated a flight at full speed. Michael, on the other hand, wanted to penetrate the cave of the dragon, kill it with the spear and save the maiden.

“Are you smoking that crap?! (Jacob said) What maiden do you speak of?”

“This is how it’s told in the legend of Saint George.”

Noticing that Michael had glassy eyes, Jacob pushed his friend’s pipe away with a slap.

“Stop smoking! You are not Saint George!”

“But I would like to be.”

“The opium has gone to your head!”

Suddenly, Michael snatched the spear and the shield and made his way to the back of the den where the opium smokers lay half fainted on mats. Then he got a running start and, rushing over the opium smokers who didn’t even complain about the stomps, attacked the basement door, knocking it down. Without hesitation, he began to pierce frenetically with the spear over and over and over again the horrid giant head of the dragon.

When, minutes later, the infuriated managers of the den appeared, the dragon’s head was already unrecognizable.., just like Michael’s face shortly after, before he realized he had destroyed an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship: the good fortune dragon that every Chinese “tong” took to dance through the streets of Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

This is a non-profit blog whose purpose is to raise funds for children in need. So if you want to make a donation in exchange for this story, click on this link to UNICEF. I really appreciate it!

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