The Man Chased by Nightmares
By WANG Ju
It is unfortunate for a man with a desire to leave the land of his people with a long history.
All dreams originated from a sudden enlightenment under a spider web.
That spider web, huge beyond description, was hanging from the eaves of a low level family house, and covered the whole window. An overbearing red spider was taking slow but triumphant strolls on the web. It was covered by burr-like hair all over. Very scary. Nobody knew for sure exactly when this spider web was set up there. It seemed to have always been there. Sometimes the big red spider was lying on its belly in the middle of the web, showing off its authority and power; sometimes it went into hiding, waiting for prey to come into the web.
One free-flying butterfly bumped into the spider web by accident. Its big and beautiful wings were tightly stuck by the spider web. As it tried to break free, it was tied and held more tightly by the web. The wings that were stuck on the web could not flap any more. It struggled several times but failed, and finally had to give up without any strength left to fight. At this moment, that red spider would come out at a slow pace, roll over the butterfly on the web, and wrapped up the butterfly over and over again with the silk web it produced until that beautiful butterfly turned into a mummy.
Right at that time, you were sitting under the spider web and witnessing that dismal happening.
The next day, that butterfly disappeared completely while the spider web was still hanging over there without any damage.
You were just a child then, with ragged clothes, skinny and bony, but with a pair of dreamy big eyes. You were stunned, looking in horror at the spider web. As a breeze came over, the spider web, moving gently over your head, covered the whole sky. The sun was floating in the middle of the web and making the spider web crystal clear, half reality and half illusion, and piercing lights were running along the radiating web silk.
This spider web, as if through the decades of time, had always been hanging over your head and making you feel uneasy. Each time when the inconspicuous but pervasive floating silk touched your face, you would feel its existence. When you wanted to get rid of the web stuck on you but could not find it, it seemed not to exist. But you could truly feel it was sticking on you and there was one tiny spider moving here and there on your back. That made you worried and angry. Finally, one day you could not endure it. You were waving sticks in the air. Ever since then, a series of nightmares started to sneak into your sleep. In dreams, that red spider was chasing you. You were running in a desert like an ant, but the huge red spider was like a tank raising dust; you tried to escape by hiding but no sooner had you hid under a giant rock, without even time to take a breath, than that red spider popped its head out from the top of the rock. You continued to try to escape and hid into an old but resplendent and magnificent palace where spider webs were hanging everywhere. Wherever you tried to hide, that red spider could eventually find you. Though exhausted, you still had to run to escape. While running, you felt that a huge shadow was cast over you. You looked back, finding the horrible red spider rushing at you. You shouted in horror…woke up from the nightmare, you were drenched with sweat.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Your wife was awakened by your screams. She turned on the table lamp, brought herself up on her elbow, and looked down at you with concern.
“I had a nightmare.”
You sat up, and wiped the cold sweat on your forehead.
“What did you dream of?”
“One giant red spider…”
You described the dream scenes to your wife.
“You must have offended something.”
“These days, I always feel like a spider web is hanging over my head. So I stirred the air with a stick…”
“Why did you do that? You were being meddlesome by doing so.”
“I was feeling uneasy.”
“Everyone feels uneasy, but everyone can tolerate it.”
“I have tolerated it for years, and I cannot tolerate it any more.”
“This is why you have a difficult time.”
You lay down again without any words.
Your wife jumped out of bed and brought a kitchen knife.
“What are you doing with that?”
“Putting it under your pillow to drive away evil spirits.”
However, nightmares woke you up over and over again from your sleep.
“No. It’s impossible to escape our doom.” Your wife murmured, tightly grabbing your arm with fears, and leaning her pale cold face to your shoulder.
Childhood memories always flashed before your eyes. Like a collector, you would like to pick up the broken pieces of the old days from the time past to keep in the museum of your memory, and take it out now and then to caress and enjoy.
Not knowing why, you always remembered that poor frog. Stripped of its skin, it was jumping in the street like a naked blood-red heart. That skin, however, had been stuck on your neighbour to cure his boils. That was a poor and foolish time, and a crazy time as well. The loudspeaker was shouting all the time. The frog was jumping in the street. The landlord of the village with a high paper hat was suffering public criticism in the street. Just as you showed sympathy to the frog, your young mind also cast sympathetic eyes on the landlord. The aged landlord, unable to endure the endless tortures, hanged himself on the dried big tree in the middle of the village. Passing by the big tree on your way to school the next morning, you saw the skeleton-like body hanging there like a dried eggplant dangling in the wind. The landlord’s action “against the people” caused the loudspeaker to shout for several days.
Several years later, one summer noon, you were alone, reading in a country office. Cicadas were singing endlessly in trees, and sunbeams were flowing lazily outside the window. Suddenly, you heard gentle jumps in the quiet corridor. Looking back to the door, you found a frog crouching at the door, staring at you attentively with eyes blinking. You felt surprised. You could not figure it out how it had come along the long corridor to find your door and jump in. You wondered it was not an ordinary frog, but an elf that was full of wisdom and could communicate with human beings. Both of you looked into each other’s eyes. From its eyes, you felt a cry for help. With your soul, you started a dialogue with it.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’ve lost my way home. My kids are waiting for me to go back.”
“Where is your home?”
“Near the pond.”
There was a pond not far away behind your office, which was a paradise for frogs.
“All right. I’ll take you back home.”
You picked up that frog and took it back to the pond. Some kids were playing in the pond, with mud covering their bodies. Your six-year-old daughter was chasing after butterflies among the flowers.
For no reason, you could not settle down after you went back to office. Once again, you recalled the skinned frog and web-stuck butterfly from your childhood. You still felt sad about their miserable lives.
Noises came in from the kids at the pond. You were listening closely and did not know what happened. Soon the kids’ shouts faded away and disappeared at the corner of the streets far away. Everything was quiet at the pond. Your daughter came back to you out of breath. She was crying “Papa, Papa” while running. She held something in her hands when she appeared at the door.
“What are you holding?”
Your daughter rushed to you, and slowly opened her tender fingers. There was a tiny frog crouching in her palm!
“Where did you get it? Take it back quickly!”
“Papa, it’s an orphan. I want to adopt it.”
“How do you know it’s an orphan?”
“Just now that group of kids beat its mum to death.”
“Near the pond.”
Your daughter took you to the pond. The frog, which you took home in your own hands, was lying on its back in the sandy soil, with red ants climbing all over its white belly.