Li Bai was walking through a dense woodland which hid the sun with its canopy of leaves. Here and there, shafts of sunlight pierced the gloom, to look like towering columns of burnished bronze. Piles of lush leaves of the broad leaf red pine cover the forest floor, the air was filled with insects and birds flitting willy-nilly amongst the trees, each one adding to the cacophony of sound. He had been in the forest for four days and still it stretched on with no end in sight. The forest had an enchanted, eerie look, exaggerated by the shimmering heat. Along with the humidity, the uphill climb made breathing difficult. Upon gaining the top he paused for a rest and taking out his magic bottle he took a drink.
There were wolves baying in the distance, their howling began the day before, and now they seemed to be getting closer.
Li Bai sat musing for a while. When a feeling that he had been sitting here before, thinking the same thoughts, came over him. Shaking his head and pushing the illusory feeling away he clambered down the other side of the hill, where there was a shallow, but wide stream, crossing it and taking a few paces up the embankment, he felt something brush against his leg. Looking down, Li Bai saw a long, thin black and white snake slither into the under bush. Feeling no pain and unable to see any fang marks on his leg. His thoughts were, ‘I must have disturbed it.’ So Li Bai kept on walking. After ten minutes or so, he felt pains in the stomach and chest.
Up ahead he could see what looked like a small hut, made of mud and stone, with a reed roof, which under normal circumstances he would bypass, but now his thoughts were to seek assistance. By the time he reached the hut, he was feeling dizzy and weak in his arms and legs. He was barely able to knock on the door. A wizen old man, dressed in a loose tunic made of hemp, opened the door and knew, just by looking, that something was wrong. Helping Li Bai into the hut, he lay him on a straw mat. ‘My name is Ji Deshang. How can I be of service?’ He asked.
Lai Bai told him about the incident with the snake.
‘What did the snake look like?’ queried Ji
‘About five foot long, with black eyes, small head, thin body and black and white banding.’ answered Li Bai. Who by now was losing his voice and had trouble breathing.
There was not a lot of daylight getting into the hut, so the old man went to light a candle, when the stars from the magic bottle began to glow, filling the room with light. The bat and fenghuang also appeared inside the hut, whilst the dragon stayed outside. After his initial surprise, Ji took it as an everyday occurrence. Saying, ‘He has been bitten by a banded krait. I have some herbs at hand, but I need some fresh han lian cao leaves.’
Whereupon, the fenghuang said, ‘I know where they grow. I will go and fetch some.’ With that, it flew off.
Ji was busy mixing herbs when the bat went outside to talk with the dragon. ‘What happens if he dies.’ he asked.
‘We throw the magic bottle into the Yangtze, the river will wash away the magic, and we are free.’
‘Not good on our part, we were supposed to protect him, and we let a simple thing like a snake bite harm him. The three-star gods won’t be pleased.’ replied the bat.
‘Then we have to hope he doesn’t die.’ said the dragon. ‘You are the good luck bringer, if you are worried, go and sit beside him.’
‘You are the one that can control time, take us back to just before the snake bites him.’ retorted the bat.
Just then, the fenghuang returned with the fresh leaves and gave them to Ji. Who proceeded to make a decoction with the different herbs and the han lian cao leaves, which he gave to Li Bai and told him to drink it. After drinking, Li Bai lay back relaxed and closed his eyes.
Ji told the fenghuang, dragon and bat, ‘All we can do now is wait and watch, to make sure there are no adverse effects. I will give him the decoction every hour for the first four hours. Then he can sleep, resting overnight. It will take twenty-four hours before we know for certain that he has fully recovered from the venoms poisoning.
When Ji had finished giving Li Bai the other four doses of medication, the fenghuang told Ji to rest and said, ‘The bat and I will watch over the patient, while you get some sleep.’ To which Ji agreed.
Next morning Li Bai was very much recovered and he and Ji sat talking.
‘How are you feeling?’ asked Ji
‘Fine, but I had strange dreams. I have a recollection of lying on a purple cloud drifting peacefully through the sky, which was filled with the moon and stars on one side, with different creatures of the oceans swimming to and fro. On the other side was the rising sun, with clear blue sky and animals of the land wandering peacefully around. There were people of all creeds gathered on both sides of the sky, playing different musical instruments. Then the dream changed to where the gods were sitting on clouds. Above the gods, the skies were golden, but below them were thunderclouds and the gods were manipulating strings with puppets attached, and the puppets were of mankind, dancing to the tune that a host of demons were playing. Then I woke up.’
‘It was probably the effects of the venom playing tricks with your mind and dreams are the way the mind handles such hallucinations.’ said Ji
Li Bai nodded his head.
Ji reached out and picked up a small packet that he had wrapped up and handed it to Li Bai saying ‘There are enough herbs in there for four more doses of medication in case you have a relapse, I do not think you will, but you may need them somewhere along your travels for infected insect bites, or wounds or other infections.’
Li Bai thanked him and put them into his nangbao. Then he and Ji sat talking, each telling the other about their lives. When Li Bai told him of the magic bottle, Ji said, ‘Looks like the gods have taken an interest in you.’
‘Why would the gods be interested in me?’ smiled Li Bai
‘Same reason they gave you the bottle.’ answered Ji.
Morning passed into afternoon and Li Bai was feeling fit enough to resume his journey. So thanking Ji for all he had done, Li Bai took his leave, not before leaving some cash where Ji would find it. Then he headed for the road and kept walking until he came to the forest’s edge.
Taking out his magic bottle of V.I.P Jiu 8, he took a drink and said, ‘What have I learned today.’ “Memories are prone to being dimmed by time, therefore we must be careful not to trip over past transgressions.’ Taking out pen and paper, he began to write.
Memories are reflections
That we choose to recall
But the mirror of time
Can distort them all