A Thousand Years with a Bad Roommate

Dragon and Serpent (2012, Conté, pastel and watercolor on paper, 63″ x 18″)

When St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland, the Biblical Serpent came with the monks to Norway. He found a dragon’s lair that suited him perfectly. Problem was, the dragon was living there.

The dragon’s name was Wu Wei, and originally he was from China. And like all dragons, he was very fond of noodles. However, it takes a lot of noodles to fill up a dragon and the villagers can only be so busy making noodles, so within China, each dragon takes a lot of territory. That was not a problem for the older dragons, but the younger generation had to leave and find their own territory.

Within China, dragons were prized for their wisdom. However, in western Europe, no one could understand them because they only spoke Mandarin. So a lot of hot shots were dispatched to go kill the dragons. It didn’t take long before word got out, stay away from France. And Wales too while you’re at it. That is how Wu Wei wound up in a cavern under the mountains in western Norway, in a godforsaken land where they knew nothing about noodles.

Food became a bit of an issue. At first when Wu Wei got hungry, he would just take to the air and fly around until he saw one of the innumerable little families of sheep that graze all over the country. That worked while it was warm and green. When the winter came, the sheep stayed inside the stalls, and the only bodies he saw out walking were humans.

He didn’t like the taste of humans, at least not raw, but he was cold and his hunger regularly got the best of him. A fisherman alone in a skiff – Wu Wei would swoop down and snatch him up. A girl on the road to market. He picked off the lone ones and the stragglers. It was best not to be seen. He kept his fire-breathing antics to an absolute minimum. He was hunting, so to speak, on eggshells.

The evenings were hard. He was living but as far as he knew he was the only dragon in all of Norway and he had no one to talk to. He would frankly prefer to be enjoying the company of people than eating them, but he didn’t spend enough time with anyone to learn their language. He remembered the stories of the Yellow Emperor, to whom the dragons taught medicine. He remembered the Court and the privileged life all dragons lived back in China. The banquets. Long-life noodles, with lovely sauces. Never had to spit out wool or clothing from your food. Never had to freeze in a dark cave. He used to listen to the other dragons tell stories from their history long before humans, when the reptiles ruled the earth. That was interesting. That was stimulation. In the cave, alone and cold, he was depressed all the time, and he slept, and he wished he were not alone.

And then one day, he awoke to find the Serpent in his lair rearranging the furniture. Sheep hides he had used to cushion himself from the bare rock, thrown willy-nilly out into the snow. A rain barrel Wu Wei had stolen from a neighboring farm, tipped on its side and now water running into the cave. Total pandemonium.

“Out,” the Serpent hissed. “You have to get out.”
“Why?” Wu Wei was confused. Just because the water was overturned?

“Because,” the Serpent explained as though to someone very stupid, “I’m moving in.”

And so began the battle that was still going on a thousand years later. Wu Wei had no place to go, and the Serpent was intent on throwing him out. All day they wrestled. The dragon tried fire but the Serpent could not be burned. The Serpent tried poison but in a thousand years he never landed a successful bite. Wu Wei now had a companion and constant stimulation, but it had not made him any the less lonely. Frankly, he had to be vigilant at all times, and he never got enough sleep anymore.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” the Serpent would hiss, wrapping his coils around Wu Wei and squeezing. “For your crimes, you will spend all eternity in the bowels of Hell, suffering torments by demons.”

“And how is that any different from this?” replied Wu Wei.

The stress and the sleeplessness wore him down. He was afraid to leave the cave for fear he wouldn’t be able to fight his way back in. So the two of them, locked in struggle, lived on rats and the rainwater that seeped into the cave. If Wu Wei had been depressed before, he was doubly so now, because he was stuck and didn’t know how to solve his problem. If he found another cave, what was to stop the Serpent from taking that one over too?

“You,” the Serpent hissed, “With your stupid memories of China. You’ll never get back to China. You’ll never see another dragon again. You’ll never eat another noodle again. You’ve lived too long, you useless piece of crap. Die, why don’t you, and let the righteous inherit the earth.”

“And you’re the righteous?”

“Of course,” the Serpent replied. “Because I’m right.”

The dragon asked, “Don’t you ever doubt yourself? Don’t you ever think there might be other ways of looking at things?”

“Of course not,” said the Serpent, “Because then I wouldn’t be righteous.”

And just then, Wu Wei smelled the noodles.

– – – – –

Sven Wang was an engineer working for COEX in Bergen. He lived in a comfortable house with his Norwegian wife Kari, his daughter Asa, and his mother, whom everyone called Popo. Sven worked long hours but like most Norwegians, he loved to get away on the weekends into the mountains.

“On the way,” Sven said, “We’ll stop off and get some pizza, and when we get to the mountains we can have a picnic.” But Popo had already cooked. She had made char siu, stir-fried sui choy, and last but not least, long life noodles in hot sauce, and already she had a stack of big plastic tubs full of the food.

“Oh no!” Sven cried with dismay. “Can’t we have food normal Norwegians eat, like pizza?” Sven always wanted to do the most Norwegian thing.

His wife Kari said, “But I love your mother’s cooking! Thank you, Popo, we will bring chopsticks and paper plates.”

And so it came to pass that the Wang family was sitting on a blanket within smelling distance from Wu Wei’s cave, a thousand years after the Serpent had moved in.

Wu Wei had disentangled himself from the Serpent and was out of the cave before he knew what he was doing. When they saw the dragon swoop down from the air, the entire Wang family started up in alarm. Sven look around for a weapon but found he had nothing on him but his chopsticks and his smart phone, and there was no app for this. He took off his shoe and stood ready to throw it.

Suddenly it occurred to Popo: the dragon had come for the noodles. She went back to the blanket and held up the plastic tub. “Don’t eat my family,” she said in Cantonese, and then when she remembered that dragons lived with the Emperor, she said it again in Mandarin. “Look, long-life noodles in lovely hot sauce.”

At hearing Chinese, Wu Wei remembered his manners. He pulled up from his dive and landed as delicately as he could, then bowed before the old woman. He said, “You must forgive me. I have been living by my wits for too long. Please, I need all the noodles, but the rest of you, come and join me and share the rest of the meal.”

He sucked up all the noodles from the plastic container with a single slurp, and sat down on a corner of the blanket and tried to be polite. He wished there were more noodles but was glad for the treat. He said, “I’d like to give you something in return, but I don’t know what to do.”

Asa jumped up and exclaimed, “Daddy take his picture! I want to show it to all the kids!” So Sven said, “Perhaps what we will take from you is your picture.” Wu Wei knew nothing about cameras and had no idea what the man was talking about, but Sven maneuvered to where he could get nice lighting, and took a video of the dragon with his smart phone.

In this video, Sven interviewed Wu Wei, using his mother as interpreter. He asked the dragon to tell the story of his life. Wu Wei said, “I have been locked in a struggle with evil incarnate for a thousand years. I don’t know how to get rid of him. But a good meal would help. I like noodles. And I don’t think this good lady could get me enough noodles on her own. She needs help.”

In no time at all, the dragon had hit YouTube and the video went viral. It had received over three million hits in the first 24 hours.

When the Americans heard that “evil incarnate” lived in a cavern under a mountain in Norway, the CIA dispatched a squadron of surveillance drones to investigate. However, when they learned that “evil incarnate” was a righteous Christian, they sent a unit from Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) to Norway to eliminate the dragon.

Soon the two-line Norwegian highways were crawling with Hummers exceeding the fartgrense and there was no rest for the wicked.

Wu Wei couldn’t get back into his cave. The Serpent had narrowed the entrance so only a snake could pass through. The dragon’s bulky wings made him too big to squeeze through the boulders. Bombers combed the sky, looking for him. And the family was gone, back to their home in Bergen. He didn’t even know their name. And even if he could find them, one family could never get him enough noodles. Even if they adopted him.

“Oh, for my home!” Wu Wei cried, and decided he had nothing to lose. He took to the sky, south and east, towards China and the Emperor and all those banquets.

On the steppes of Mongolia, a Kazakh was hunting wolves with his eagle. From a high plateau, he waited until he saw the pack below. Then he took the hood off his eagle’s head and let it loose. The eagle soared in mid-air, spotted the wolf, and dived down to get it.

From where he flew in the distance, Wu Wei saw the dragon appear as a spot in the sky, and then it swooped down and picked off the eagle just before it grabbed the wolf. He gasped at the beauty of this dragon, and her speed and skill.

He was in love.

She climbed with her prize up, up into the sky, and Wu Wei followed her.

Below on the steppes, clumps of yurts indicated villages here and there. Kerchiefed women hung noodles to dry on wooden racks, as they had for hundreds of years. Wu Wei did not realize it, but he had found the last of old China, where the air was still clean and the noodles had no preservatives. He did not know he was flying over a dragon paradise.

Her cavern in the side of a cliff was scarcely big enough for two. He did not ask her for a bite of the eagle. He was shy. Wu Wei asked her, “What is your name?” and waited for the answer.

“Precious Jade,” she said, and he admired her beautiful green scales, then averted his eyes so as not to stare. She was so pretty.

Jade liked that he was shy. “Are there any other caves in the area?” he asked. She smiled and said, “There is one in the next mountain. But you can visit when you like.”

Wu Wei went off to find his new cave. For the first time he could remember in more than a thousand years, he was happy.

Shelah Horvitz