♠ Scroll 13
I had been in the cave for more than a week, watching the valley, waiting, eating the little bit of food that I had brought in my backpack. From that height I could watch the sun setting gloriously as if parting from me for good. I couldn't help but wish that it would rest there on the horizon every evening instead of disappearing into the dusk. Because every night, once it was gone and the blackness came on, bizarre creatures that were invisible in daylight would appear. Some were woman-faced animals, others animal-faced women, on some occasions merrily laughing, on others sweetly soliciting me from the trees, waving willow branches and ribbons from the shadows as I watched in disbelief—my heart racing with fear and a strange desire to run to them.
It was on one such night, just days ago (although it seems forever) that I heard someone (or something) stalking behind me, which made me feel chilly. I looked back and could see only various shades of darkness hanging in the air. Then a movement, like a cloud passing the moon, and I found my own shadow was following me. I was scared because the moon was shining from behind, but there was no shadow in front of me—as though it had fled into the dark. I began to run for the moon but it fleeted away as if blown by a gale. The sky became utterly black as if covered by a thick blanket and the fingers of the tree branches slapped and scratched me as I ran. I'm not sure for how long I ran, or for how far, but suddenly I found myself huddled in the corner of the cave.
In fear I looked around but the place was empty without a shadow of the weird creatures who I imagined had been following. I lit a fire at the entrance of the cave, opened a small bottle of whiskey that I kept in a wooden box at the back of the cave, and just when I took a sip, a stream of light flooded into the cave and I was reminded of the thing I had been waiting for. A friend of mine had foretold of a night when people from the valley below would come into the mountains at night, collecting roots from a special bush that must be harvested only at night. As I watched from the cave, there was another light among the trees, and then an excited voice, "There! Dig them up!" I remembered my friend had told me about the effect of the roots that would work wonders on members of the opposite sex.
Apparently if the root is dried and ground to powder, then steeped in hot water under a full moon, it would be most effective. Add to the concoction a small dose of finely ground turquoise and pearl with a pinch of salt before drinking, and, with a sip, he or she would feel as if all of one's feeling towards members of the opposite sex were multiplied by 10,000. If one were attracted, one would feel attracted x 10,000, but if one were detested, one would be averted from the opposite-sex members x 10,000 times, which is a little exaggerated, I believe. But the other day I heard a funny story about the effect from a man who had sipped the concoction and woke up with his sweet dog in his arms.
It is also said that the effects of the concoction last only a short time, so he didn't pay much attention to his dog, who seemed to have fallen in love with him. But the dog followed the man like a shadow wherever he went and barked at any other females, of any species, like a mad and jealous spouse. The man was visibly disturbed by this, and decided to find the antidote for the nostrum and came to the village at the foot of my cave. With the help of the villagers he gathered the ingredients for the antidote: small black beetles which live in rotted tree trunks, dusty mushrooms, powdered granite and the bark of a bitter tree I had never seen before. All of this they gathered into bags, and ground, which he percolated. I also took a sip, hoping to avert the weird female creatures following me in the dark.
(Photo by James C Hopkins: Mongolian cave)