The Tiger and the Water Dragon
Dedicated to Pooka, who was swallowed by a dragon and lived to tell the tale!
Mama told me that if I was bad, a Tiger would come and eat me. Tigers roam the countryside listening for crying babies. If I wasn't quiet, he'd pounce on me and eat me in one swallow -- gulp! So I didn't cry. But then Grandma told me if I was naughty, something that didn't need to hear me cry would come after me and swallow me.
In the Chinese Zodiac, there are twelve animals: Mouse, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, and Pig. Depending on what year you're born, that animal determines your personality and fortunes. In addition, there are the five elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. It's like two interlocking wheels. You can be born in the year of the Wood Mouse, or the Metal Tiger, for instance. I was born last year, so I'm a Water Horse.
Grandma told me that of all the animals in the horoscope, only the Dragon is a fantasy animal, meaning it's not found in normal nature. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- that's the animal that listens for things normal animals cannot hear. The Dragon can hear when you are being naughty. It doesn't bother with crying babies or children who fight. They go after the really bad ones -- they think the ones with the blackest hearts and who are really naughty are the tastiest. There are five types of Dragons, and the one that matched my Horoscope element would come after me. So I had to fear the Water Dragon.
The other Dragons might try to take a taste of me if I'm naughty, but my Water element would make me indigestible -- water will put out a fire, rust metal, soak up earth, and rot wood. So it's only the Water Dragon I have to watch out for.
It's not that I'm bad all the time, but sometimes I guess I have a bad thought or two. Like when my older sister (who is an Earth Rabbit) tells me I can't touch something because I'm a baby. I used to cry and cry, but Mama would warn me about the baby-eating Tiger. So I'd think about the bookcase falling over and crushing my sister. I didn't mean for her to die, but she really hurt me. I wanted to hurt her back.
Or another time, I pushed her and she fell down the stairs. No one knew I had done it, because I'm a baby and I have just been learning to walk. Stumbling is normal for babies. My sister didn't even know. So I pushed her again.
When I was put down to sleep, it suddenly started raining. It rained and thundered and flashes of lightning lit up the sky. Grandma told me the demons in the sky were beating their drums and hitting rocks together to make fires and lights. Their actions shook the rain out of the clouds. It seemed more like they had garden hoses with the taps open full!
I didn't cry of course, since the Tiger would come for me. But I stood up at the side of the crib and watched the light and rain and listened to the thunder. I knew it wasn't just the demons or the Tiger, though. I was worried about the Dragon.
I had been bad, but I had been keeping very quiet about it. Even Grandma hadn't realized I had been bad. Maybe with the storm, the Dragon wouldn't hear me.
But I watched the window and I saw him. Not clearly, you know, but when the lightning flashed, I saw him. He had green skin and big white teeth. I thought I saw he had shiny purple spines, like the skin on the tail of a mermaid, all shimmery. Even though it was wet out, the Dragon looked dry. He must have been the Water Dragon! No other creature could stay dry on such a rainy night as this.
I hid my eyes with my hands, hoping if I didn't see him, he wouldn't see me.
But even if he couldn't see me, he could hear me. I felt him knock me down and swallow my feet. I yelled, and thought I saw the shadow of the Tiger at the next lightning strike. I cried anyway, but soon it hurt my ears because I was inside the Dragon.
I had never been so angry. I knew I was naughty, but my sister was naughty first! Why wasn't the Earth Dragon swallowing her instead? Not only that, the Water Dragon wasn't as big as I imagined him to be. It was all tight and cramped in there and I didn't like it. I couldn't move, but I found I could roll around. I felt him fall over and when he was forced onto his back, I felt the bump bump bump of his spine. I rocked back and forth to let him know I was really, really mad!
Soon, he didn't bump around. He seemed to be swishing around, like he was in a bathtub or in a swimming pool. I could make him spin faster.
I took a big breath and cried. I didn't want to be inside the Dragon! I cried and yelled loudly, pushing my weight around, trying to get him to throw me up!
I felt something push the Dragon from the outside. I could feel the pressure of something hitting the Dragon, and I could hear a roar! Oh my, it was the Tiger! He heard me crying, and he was trying to eat me, but I'm in the Dragon!
I kept on crying, and suddenly there was a hole by my shoulder and I could stick out my arm! The Tiger was tearing at the Dragon -- if I cried more, he'e attack the Dragon more! Soon there were holes near my feet and I could kick!
The Dragon fought back, but I was pushing him from the inside, and the Tiger's claws were slashing at him. There was a hole right by my forehead and I could rotate my head a bit to look out. The Tiger looked terrible, the Dragon must have been slashing and biting him back, too. I yelled out again and the Tiger took another swing, since he could hear me louder through that hole. I tried pushing my head out, and I kept yelling till it was big enough to push my head through!
I was swimming in water outside my house. The rain must have come and flooded everything. The Dragon was getting weaker, and not moving very much. I could hear him panting as he let me take over the swimming. Now I was swimming to get away from the Tiger! I could feel him snapping at my feet and at the Dragon's tail.
I was getting tired. I kept swimming and swimming, trying to get away. I swam in circles which confused the Tiger so he couldn't catch me. But I was so tired, I was afraid the Tiger would soon catch me because I was to tired to keep swimming and the Dragon had stopped trying to swim, too.
Oh no, the Tiger had the Dragon by the tail! He was pulling me closer to him, laughing loudly at his triumph! I tried not to cry, but I couldn't help it. It seemed to make the Tiger hungrier. I could hear his jaws snapping as he chewed up the Dragon's tail.
I tried swimming again, which slowed him down ... but not much. I would soon be in the belly of the Tiger, who was much bigger than the Dragon. And I was too tired to be mad enough to make him roll around like I made the Dragon. I would never see Mama or Grandma or my sister again. I tried not to cry.
I heard Grandma calling to me, but I couldn't go to her. I really wanted to see her, I tried to put my hands up toward her voice.
Then something strange happened! I felt Grandma's hands pull at my hands, and I was being pulled out of the water! I was so surprised that I laughed! Hearing me laugh, the Tiger let go of the Dragon's tail in surprise. Suddenly, Grandma was pulling me onto a boat!
I was saved! I wasn't going to be eaten by the Tiger! And the Dragon was exhausted, he didn't cause any trouble at all when Grandma pulled his skin off of me and put him back in the water. As I held on to her, I saw the Dragon recover and slowly swim away. I saw his shiny purple spine break the surface of the water as he swam away. The sun was rising and his back sparkled.
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