New Year’s Tale

The Story of the Dragon Ghost


My story is totally out of time, since it is a tale from China and it is not Chinese New Year at all.

But it is so beautiful – and so visual – that I can’t resist sharing it –

and then seeing it staged, of course.

This story takes place in a village in China a few centuries ago.
Everything was almost going well and people thought they were happy.
Not quite happy, though, isn’t it, when everything is going well, we always find something wrong.

And then one day a dragon came and spread terror: women and children eaten, crops burned, houses trampled. They had to react – so they killed him.

The village celebrated its deliverance, the young heroes who had slain the dragon were carried in triumph, finally they were happy again.

But then.. he came back, the dragon, in an anger with no name: You killed me? Are you serious? Do you want to know what the revenge of a Dragon is?
Then you will know what it is to appease the Ghost of the Dragon.

Detail of Nine dragons – 1244

You can always try to kill a dragon ghost. You will be dead before he is.
It’s kind of like an idea, a ghost. That’s why I don’t worry about Altair anymore – the day I bend my knee, the idea will stay in the air like a ghost that will have to be fulfilled.

This is what the Dragon is asking for: every year the village will have to give him a child. This is called the price of blood. In exchange, the Dragon will let the village live in peace – happy. Almost.

Since he didn’t seem to be joking at all, and since he demonstrated the power of his anger by destroying absolutely everything within his reach, the villagers accepted the contract.
And then, every year, on New Year’s Day, they offered a child as a sacrifice.

Painting of the Ming Dynasty

To make the sacrifice fair among the villagers, they organized a draw among families with young children.
I spare you (it is a feast day) the tears, the cries of the mothers, the terrors of the children, year after year.

But one year, fate was atrocious. There was a young woman in the village, who was said to be as beautiful as she was sad, who had nothing left, her husband, her love, her life was dead, she was a widow. All that remained of her life and her great love was their only child, small and young, beautiful as the sun, luminous as all the stars in the sky, and whose laughter alone made the whole river laugh, and then she would start to sparkle and illuminate the banks, the river that laughed.

But that year, it was she, the Widow Teng, who pulled the stick that condemned her son.

He was going to die in four days.
She was so crushed by pain that she could no longer move.
She looked at the child, who was smiling at life, even though it was such a poor life, she lay down on her little mat and closed her eyes.

You know them, I think, those moments when you can no longer fight and when stopping becomes inevitable.
There would be no miracle.
There would be no heroes to save him, her little love boy.
She knew it was all over.

So she fell asleep.
She slept for three days. Three days, without seeing the sun or the night. Three lost days without her little boy of light.

And during those three days, she dreamed. She accompanied her son on the path of the dragon. She knew every bend in the path, every puddle on the road, every bush and every flower that all led to death.
She watched the dragon’s ghost for three days.

She saw him in panic when the wind blew down the tall trees above her cave. She saw him heal himself with his eyes closed when he scratched his paw on a sharp pebble in the stream.

Then, when she awoke on the eve of the sacrifice, a new force had entered her.
Her son celebrated with her and hugged her tightly: he had been afraid for Mom.
She cried a little – but she didn’t have much time to cry. She would cry afterwards.

She took a sheet bigger than her door, and a thin point.
She pricked her finger and bled until the sheet was all sticky with her blood, then she hung the sheet in front of her door.

She took as many baskets as she could and spent the rest of the day collecting bamboo. She piled them near her door.

And in the evening – the night the dragon came to collect the treasure of her life….
She heard him walking through the village. She recognized his terrible breath and the walls of her little house were already trembling.
So she left her little one who was already asleep and went out in front of her door.
The dragon was there, so much bigger, so much more powerful than in her dream.
It was three steps away.
She trembled: but she lit the fire under the bamboos she had gathered, and slipped inside, close to her son.

The bamboos exploded as they burned, with a thunderous sound that no one had ever heard before.
The dragon, surprised and panic-stricken by these infernal sounds, collided with the blood-soaked sheet and screamed!

He screamed! So loud that the whole village woke up.
What was he going to do?
They hated her, this woman who had wanted to save her son.
Because of her, they were all going to die.

She was ready, with him, if they were to die, it would be both of them.

When the day dawned, the village was empty – but empty as after a storm, everything was turned upside down.

Dragons should not be made fun of – let alone dragon ghosts.

This is not true.
When the day dawned, he found the beautiful young woman holding her son in her arms.

The dragon had been afraid and ran away like the last of the cowards, spilling everything in his path.
The dream had been true and the young woman had not followed her reason, but her heart held her little happiness in her arms.

Since then in China, on New Year’s Eve, all the houses are decked out in red papers and red lanterns and noisy firecrackers clacking until dawn: the dragon will not return.

Isn’t that a nice story?
Epic on top of that, and so, so easy to stage, in real, as in virtual reality.

Yes, I’ve changed the story a bit –

In some versions, the dragon comes from the sea and is killed by mistake, by a stunned fisherman.
Often, it is the Taoist priest who sadly goes down to the house of the Widow Teng, to tell her the horrible news, and all the villagers are heartbroken as they learn where his steps are leading him.
Sometimes the widow cannot sleep for three long days and then falls into a cataleptic sleep under the tender and attentive eye of her very young son.

All the old tales change clothes according to the storytellers, it is the custom of old times. Old tales have for them the great wisdom and benevolence of old stories that only need to be rejuvenated a little, from time to time, under skies other than their own and then other pens.

And now, let me wish you an Happy New Year, full of dreams to love & follow

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Featured Image : Plum tree flowers – traditional Chinese painting

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