By MJL Evans
“If you can use it, there will be no difference between day and night.” – Unknown
Seagulls shrieked. The evening breeze carried the scent of salt and seaweed from the nearby harbor. Merchants packed up their wares and the dusty streets stank of fish and rotting vegetables. The sun set quickly, casting the city into a shadowy maze of forbidden corridors and secret store entrances. I arrived at my destination before dark and knocked upon the door. A man in oriental dress guided me inside. Oscar Wilde once described such places as “dens of horror.”
For a pocketful of coins, he showed me to a private area behind a rice paper screen. I removed my shoes and left them at the entrance alongside dozens of other pairs. Oil lamps and candles painted the walls with flickering forms. Sighs resonated from dark corners. Finely detailed wooden artifacts and exotic fabrics framed the chamber.
An elderly woman in a dark robe hobbled towards me, delivering a pair of silk slippers and a silver decanter. My toes nestled into the soft fabric and I took a mouthful. Potent sweetness of Sydenham’s Laudanum made my tongue recoil at the underlying bitterness as my throat turned to fire. When the effect seized hold, my entire body felt flaccid and I sank into an ocean of smooth slippery pillows and soft rugs.
A girl with painted red lips presented me with a pipe and I ensnared a lungful of smoke. My senses became engrossed as luminous candles danced and flickered to the echo of a mandolin from afar. This was the point of euphoric illusion that artists, writers, and seekers of the extraordinary spoke of. My mind floated in a warm comfortable bath of surrealism feasting upon cocaine pastilles, absinthe and imported tobacco.
Colors materialized in the air and nonsensical flashes of my life sprang from the walls. A chasm opened up from the far corner of the room and out sprang a dragon with gleaming red scales and scorching breath. It bowed before me and offered me a place upon its back. It was a guide through the realm of my subconscious. I wanted to understand the significance the Red Dragon had in my mother’s life. She frequented the dens long before I was born and wrote of her experiences. After she died, I read her journals; at that moment I knew I would have to experience Red Dragon first hand. I felt kinship to her now. I knew the alluring magnificence and why she had been drawn to it.