...Somehow I became separated from my companions. I must have taken a wrong turn. I found myself alone in a deserted cobblestone alley. High above me blue sky provided a sense of normalcy. But the barren walls lining the alley gave me a chill. Where was I? What strange, empty place had I discovered?
At the end of the shadowed alley, I noticed a shaft of light coming from beyond a bend. I headed toward it, the sound of my footsteps echoing as if I were a horse picking my way through a canyon. No other sound reached my ears. No street noises. No birds singing. Maybe I was in a bad dream.
I reached the turn in the alley. Directly ahead, as if transplanted from a street in Singapore or Saigon, a tiny shop blocked the way. The sign over the door, painted in garish gold letters on a blood-red background, read "The Dragon Craft Shoppe." The words glittered in the light of a Victorian-style gaslight, hanging from a black metal chain beside the shop door. Cautiously, I made my way closer to the paned windows to see what might be on display.
Filmy rice paper in a variety of curious patterns lay neatly arranged, forming a foundation for the setting on the inside of the glass. A pagoda-shaped lamp cast its latticed light across the other items: a jade green carving of a palace dog, some strange stringed instrument, and (horrors!) the ugliest black dragon creation I had ever seen. As my eyes followed the dragon's tail, they stopped short at sight of the man.
He smiled. I felt a sick chill hit me in the stomach. I had expected the proprietor of this shop to be Chinese. But, the turban on the man's head reminded me of something from the Arabian Nights.
He pointed to the small placard on the door. It read "Open." So, gingerly, I turned the brass knob and entered the shop. The faint jingle of a little bell announced my presence. A sweet, smoky scent of sandalwood greeted my nostrils. I squinted my eyes. Inside, the shop was darker than the shadows in the alley.
"Welcome to The Dragon." The man's voice was melodious and friendly. "May I offer you a cup of tea?"
"What kind of shop is this?" I tried to sound as bright and cheerful as possible.
"We have every sort of craft for your pleasure, here. What might interest you?"
"Oh," I laughed, "I'm interested in everything. Show me what you have."
He pointed with his arm extended. "Over here, we have crafts for the musically inclined. Did you realize that when someone learns the craft of playing an instrument, such as the piano, that the gift doesn't reside in the brain, but rather the spinal cord? Yes, it is true. Memorizing a particular musical number is like making a tape recording...." He turned. "And, over here, you can find all sorts of textile craft supplies. Aren't these yarns beautiful?"
I had to admit, the balls of silken threads shimmered as if they were jewels. I noticed the variety of instruments for making lace, for knitting garments, for embroidery.
"And here, we have supplies for the crafts of the visual artist. We have inks and paints, canvas panels and watercolor papers, brushes, tools for the woodcarver and the sculptor, and books to teach the artist about light and shadow, colors, origami..." The strange man ushered me along the narrow aisles, indicating tools of the trade for every craft I could think of.
"...and here we find my favorite craft," he swept his arm with its billowy sleeve across a counter piled with colored papers, fabric, wooden dowels and more. "Here we make kites, like that dragon in the window."
"You have no end of crafts to choose from in your shop," I smiled, with a nod toward a part of the back wall draped in several layers of dark gauzey fabric. "Do you have more, there?"
Suddenly the man's eyes took on a sinister gleam, even while he kept smiling. "Now, that's a craft we should explore." With long fingers, he reached to pull aside the veils. "It's called...witchcraft!"
"Honey, you have to come here! You have to see this."
"Andrew! How many times must I tell you? I'm writing, and you're interrupting my train of thought! Please....Oh, what's the use? I cannot concentrate on crafting a story, when you insist on invading my mental territory!"
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