Excerpt: Chapter 14, "Ice and Tears"
Sitting up now from his cruel dream, the poet-minister Chang Chiu-ling cradled his head and tried to recall winter days in Ch'angan.
Snow. What did it feel like? It was as if he had never actually seen or touched it. With all his strength, he tried to imagine walking in the snow on a frozen winter night in a park in the city. He put a cold white moon in the sky to help his imagination,
and concentrated mightily. He was able to recall perfectly the way snow creaked underfoot when the air was especially bitter. But when he reached his hand down to touch the snow, it was... warm. Disgusted, as if he had put his fingers on a piece of excrement,
he gave it up, fell back down on the mat and let his mind drift into the shifting chaos of images fed by the one thousand chattering, clicking, rustling, screeching noises of the tropical night. The fever was on him and had been for days. Until it passed,
there would be little rest. He shivered, he sweated, his teeth rattled. Reaching out in the dark, he found the gourd, raised his head enough to take a long drink of the fiery, bitter liquor in it, and let his head fall again.
made no effort to control the weird, obscene, ridiculous, frightening pictures that bloomed in his mind like diseased flowers. Do what you will, he challenged them. I don't care anymore. Come and get me. He let great, hairy insect legs caress his face, opened
his mouth and let green, poisonous juice from their bodies pour in. Huge pink spotted frogs copulated in profusion, with smiling, smirking faces, singing in high girlish voices, while centipedes with wicked spiked legs walked delicately up his nose and into
his ears. Eat my brain, he said to them, laughing. Eat my tongue. He stretched his jaws wide to receive them. Crawl up into my head and pick my skull clean. Eat. They were all eating now. The frogs, the centipedes, the hairy black insects with dry, rustling
wings. That was the jungle. Everything eating everything else, all the time. It was all he could hear everywhere around him. The chewing and munching of mouths, teeth, mandibles, slippery wet lips. But his laughing stopped now. He was afraid, and the tears
flowed from his burning eyes. No, please, he begged. No, no, no. But it was too late; he knew what was coming, and he knew he would be powerless to stop it.