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An Opium Dream

by Santa Louise Anderson


My Chinese cook saw a ghost. His name (the Chinaman's) was Hang Gong Wah, and this may have had something to do with his visions of the night when deep sleep had fallen upon men. However, I tried to persuade him that he had been dreaming, for he was too valuable a servant to lose without a demur.

"No dleam," he answered sadly, "goost come; no like." My logic was of no avail. He went, and I drowned my sorrow in the excitement of training another Celestial to do my bidding.

Yee Hop did not "sabe" so much as Hang Gong Wah, but he was anxious to learn "Melican ways," and expressed his entire approval of the room I assigned him by an exhaustive grin. Ten days passed uneventfully, and I felt that the ghost had indeed been a figment of the heathen brain. But one day Yee Hop came to me with his hat and a bundle containing his "little all," and some other things, as I afterwards discovered, that had struck his fancy, such as odd spoons and a napkin ring or two.

"I go," was his laconic exordium.

"What is the matter, Hop!" I asked, a little crestfallen, for I had done everything in reason to make him contented with his work.

"I no sleep. Debbla come."

"Devil come!" I repeated, interested in this new phase of the story. "What does he do!"

"Oh, debbla come down stairs weely early morning; set table; go way; no one see."

"Well," I said, taking a pleasant view of the situation, "why not let him help you if he likes to!"

Hop seemed amused at this companionable aspect of the great unknown power, but evidently could not bring himself to enter into partnership, for even useful purposes with the "debbla." So Yee Hop, too, went his way.

I fell to wondering if the creatures did not really see or hear something strange. I resolved to test it for myself in the haunted apartment. When the room had been thoroughly scrubbed and aired, I had a bed-lounge carried there, and the rest of the family being well out of the way, I slipped in and locked the door, prepared to experiment with the powers of darkness.

Looking around, before extinguishing my light, I spied an opium pipe.

The mystery was explained. No wonder the "debbla" had been a nocturnal visitor in the apartment.

Beside the lamp was a small thick bottle almost full of the divine papaver juice.

Here was a rare opportunity to try the dream-giving power of the wonderful drug, and no one would be the wiser. Having watched the modus manipulandi during visits to San Francisco Chinatown, I was at no loss in the preparation.

I moved a little table close to the lounge, and lay down in my long white wrapper, preferring a pillow to the block of wood usually made to serve that purpose by connoisseurs in their symposia. I rolled up a little ball of the waxy narcotic, melting it in the lamp, and working it on the rim of the pipe until it was of the proper consistency. The odor emitted was not unlike that of fresh chocolate caramels. Then I held my pipe in the flame, puffed three or four whiffs of whitish smoke, and the bowl was empty.

Six or eight pipes are required to produce much effect on even a novice. After each one I stopped to take cognizance of my sensations. There was nothing peculiar until I had finished the seventh pipe, when a kind of languor began to creep over my limbs, the striking of the clock above stairs seemed far off, and the noises of the street came as from a partial vacuum.

Then followed a delicious sense of lightness. I seemed made of air, and though my eyes were shut I saw everything with remarkable clearness. Now for DeQuincean dreams of paradise, I thought, as I still rolled and smoked the rapture-giving pellets.

I do not know how long a time passed before the pipe fell from my grasp. I arose slowly from the lounge, up, up, up, with the light, easy motions of a swimmer. The roof offered no resistance. I passed through it out into the moonlight. A eucalyptus tree was in bloom by the front gate, and I paused on my upward way to look at the blossoms, circling round and round the tree as I did so, rejoicing in my new freedom of motion and admiring the curves I made and my flowing drapery of white.

A light south wind was blowing as I floated easily toward the north. The aurora shot lines of greenish red almost to the zenith, and towards this directed my course.

"Now," I thought exultingly, "is the time to clear up the mystery of the North Pole."

Here was the chance to win immortal glory, to demonstrate beyond a doubt the existence of the classic landmark -- a woman, too, to achieve it! The sex should be vindicated. Dim visions of the establishment of a female seminary on the very summit of the Pole began to shape themselves in my brain as I sped on at an increasing rate. I recognized the ice fields where Dr. Kane had reaped immortality; where Sir John Franklin suffered and died; then floated over regions upon which, I felt certain, no human eye had ever gazed.

In the center of a vast sea of ice stood a slender column which a huge polar bear was making abortive efforts to climb. The column was topped by a globe of ice, reflecting, in dazzling rays, the retreating sun of an arctic winter and the efforts of the undiscouraged bear.

I knew I beheld the Pole, and my emotions overcame me. Like the lachrymose hero of Macedonia, I wept, while my heart beat fast as does a pendulum when the bob is taken off.

My sensations, up to this time, had been exquisitely delightful. The Aurora Borealis seemed a great drop curtain which might at any moment rise to reveal new wonders. To survey the situation better I seated myself upon the ice ball. For the first time I appeared to have weight, for the Pole vibrated up and down like an old-fashioned churn-dasher. I slid off the glassy surface of the ball and began a headlong descent. The bear made a frantic clutch for me as I passed him, whether to lend a helping hand or with an eye to dinner I had not time to determine.

For a breathless time I went down, down. Suddenly I felt myself hurried toward the torrid zone by some malignant power whose delight it seemed to hold me suspended over craters of howling volcanoes, letting me fall slowly till I almost touched the boiling cauldron, then whirling me off to fresh tortures.

I neared the steaming jungles of the Amazon, on the sides of whose mighty current lay boundless forests, silent except for the hissing of reptiles or the cry of some solitary bird. Along the vast swamps on the margins lay huge alligators waiting for their prey. I shuddered with terror. Fear seemed to make me subject to gravitation. I fell headlong, grasping at ropes that dangled before me, which, when I had almost touched them, broke like ropes of sand and vanished. With a heavy thud I struck the ground, where I remained motionless for fear the alligators would hear me.

Now and then there was a sluggish movement in the water as of some heavy body turning on its side.

I could not move hand or foot without coming in contact with the slimy writhings of reptiles. They began to creep over me. They wound about legs and body and twined in my hair, "hissing but stingless." One tightened his folds around my neck and strangled me.

Then I found myself pacing the burning sand of the Sahara Desert. The Day of judgment had come and gone, and my doom was to wander there forever alone.

Waves of heat rose from the sand till it seemed an ocean ready to burst into flame. Not even a lion roared to break this silence of eternity.

A strange feeling commenced in my head. Putting up my hand I discovered that I could not reach my ears, although I stood on tiptoe. My cheeks were tremendous and knocked against my shoulders. I staggered, for my head threatened to pull me over. Finally I fell forward, my feet in the air, not unlike a huge potato with a fork stuck in it handlewise. And still it grew.

It was like a world itself, for it soon filled the desert. The moon looked disturbed, and moved unsteadily in her orbit. The planets, as one by one they rose, seemed troubled and uncertain; then the sun himself reeled, for my head had grown out beyond the orbits of Venus and Mars, and the Earth clinging to it was no larger than a barnacle on a ship's keel.

Suddenly there was a terrific crash. I found myself lying on the sofa with my head hanging over the side and my neck nearly broken.

I felt dizzy, but I managed to crawl up-stairs to my room. It was almost midnight.

It might be said that I had seen the "debbla," also.



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