A Dream of Dead Mansions

A Chinese Hallowe’en Story.

Jia Baoyu could hear some distant sound in his half-wakeful state, but not tell where it was coming from or who was making it. It sounded like a cross between six dozen crickets being fried in a wok and twenty screeching alley cats. It sounded like Xifeng scolding the servants. The noise was beginning to drag Baoyu out of semi-consciousness, and it was then that he noticed the bed. The soft, silk sheets seemed to have become all gritty during the night as if the had been sprinkled with sand. Baoyu suddenly sat up.

He was no longer in the room in which he had gone to sleep the night before. He thought, for a moment, that Xiren and Qingwen might have carried him out into the garden as a joke, but he was sitting in the middle of a blasted, barren wasteland. Above him, blood-red clouds whipped through the sky and the wind carried a stench that was almost as terrible as a public toilet in Beijing.

When Baoyu stood up, he saw that he was on an island around which was a broad sea of churning lava. When he looked more closely, he could see faces seething and raging in the ocean of molten rock. It horrified and fascinated him. From the island there led a causeway and since there was nothing to keep him in that place, Baoyu began to follow it. The way was straight and seemed to stretch on forever, disappearing into a strangely dark horizon.

Baoyu rested several times along the way and wondered whether there was an end to the path or whether he would eventual die of starvation, his spirit left to wander in this desolate place for all eternity. Perhaps Lin Daiyu or Xue Baochai might spare him a thought in their prayers. As Baoyu walked, he noticed that the day did not change. The sky was without a sun and the light came from everywhere.

Just as the sun would have been setting, he found that a huge gateway appeared out of the black mists into which the causeway had seemed to vanish. He could see a pair of tall bronze gates on either side of which were two curiously animated towers. It was only when Baoyu got much closer that he could see they were covered in spikes and on each spike was impaled some wriggling, writhing, rotting corpse. Down the stones ran a stream of rancid blood which, when it hit the lava, threw up clouds of noxious black steam. In front of the gate was a much small archway on the lintel of which were carved the words Lasciate ogni etc. although they meant nothing to him. As he passed beneath the arch, the gates slowly rumbled open, the metal ringing as if to announce his arrival.

So massive were the gates that Baoyu still had a long walk to get past them and when they eventually closed, he felt the ground shake and heard a metallic boom. He turned but could see nothing. The light had been snuffed out, although he could still see himself. He looked around. There seemed to be no way to tell what was forwards or what was backwards; no way to tell whether any way was right, or all ways were wrong. Even up and down seemed to lose all meaning. Perhaps Baoyu was moving or perhaps they came to him.

Suddenly he found himself in a room. Above Baoyu sat three men, Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus, the Judges of the Dead. Before them sat a large book with a heavy gold cover.

“Name?” said Rhadamanthus.

“Jia Baoyu,” squeaked Baoyu trying to sound brave and manly, but he was suddenly trembling in terror.

Aeacus turned the pages of the book. “Jia Baoyu,” he said to his fellow judges. “He wants to be a girl. Is this true?”


“We shall give you what you desire,” said Minos. “You shall be a girl. You’ll have to shave your legs…”

“…which shall be long and sexy…” intoned Rhadamanthus.

“…and wax your bikini line…” said Aeacus.

“You shall have big boobs…” continued Minos.

“…to which men will talk…” added Rhadamanthus.

“But I don’t like men,” protested Baoyu who had never, for a moment, considered shaving, waxing, or the consequences of big breasts.

“For speaking back to the judges…” said Aeacus.

“…you shall be a double-D cup…”

“…and a nymphomaniac.” Rhadamanthus banged his gavel. It rang the knell of doom.

Baoyu started to open his mouth, but some great force plucked him out of the courtroom. He woke up with a start and found himself in his bed, sending Xiren and Qingwen, who had been sleeping either side of him, tumbling onto the floor. As they stood up, grumbling, Baoyu started to tell them about his dream.

“I know you’ve always been self-conscious about them,” said Xiren sym­path­et­ic­al­ly, “but you’re just going to have to accept that you’re a double-D cup.”

Baoyu looked down. “Noooo!” he cried when he saw what the plastic surgeon had done.

Xiren and Qingwen looked at each other and started to giggle. “April Fool!” they chanted.

Baoyu looked puzzled until they explained that that was Hallowe’en – with Chinese characteristics.


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