Hazy Moon member Ralph Shikan Levinson recently published his first novel, a Chan-themed adventure story for children. In “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World,” 11-year-old Aidan Alvarado receives the key to his grandfather’s wondrous study and a student membership in the League of Dream Detectives. On his first adventure, Aidan discovers a magical world of Ancient Chinese wisdom, history and legend as he meets sages, a shape-shifting water spirit dragon, a greedy General, a ferocious bird as large as a jet fighter and China’s only woman emperor. Read an excerpt from “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World” below.
When his grandfather paused again, Aidan thought it was his chance to ask more about his birthday gift and the league of dream detectives.
“Tell me about the league of—”
Dr. Prosperowitz interrupted him.
“I’m going on a trip. Think about the vase. We’ll talk after I get back.”
Aidan knew he wouldn’t get more out of his grandfather. His grandfather liked him to figure things out for himself. Aidan hugged his grandfather
and told him to have a good trip.
“Aidan, remember, dreams can come true, and true things can become dreams. You know, like in the song, ‘Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.’ Enjoy the study. Come by any time while I’m gone. Just remember: If things get weird, don’t panic. Go with it. Just remember to breathe! Take a slow, deep breath. I love you.”
“Love you, Grandpa.”
As he walked home, Aidan was lost in thought. Had the vase really been glowing? What could that be about? Aidan thought about how awesome it would be to figure out all the answers to those questions before his grandfather returned.
If things get weird, don’t panic? What did that mean? Aidan had no idea what that was about, but he decided to ignore it. That was just the kind of
thing his grandfather liked to say.
Aidan was so busy trying to work out how he might solve the mystery of the vase that he only realized later that he didn’t even ask his grandfather where he was going on his trip or when exactly he’d be back.
That night Aidan had a dream.
He was in a cave. He thought he was alone when he suddenly heard a soft, raspy voice behind him.
“I dreamed I was a butterfly.”
Aidan turned and saw an old man with leathery skin, wispy long white hair, and a white beard and mustache. The old man was sitting cross-legged on a rock. At first Aidan thought it was his grandfather sitting there, maybe playing some sort of trick on him, but he quickly saw that the man in the cave was much older than his grandfather, and more importantly, he was Chinese.
The old man was painting a picture of a butterfly on a scroll that rested on his lap. When he finished the painting, the butterfly flew off the paper and flitted around Aidan. Aidan watched the butterfly continue its journey out of the cave into a lush meadow carpeted with colorful flowers, where it joined hundreds of other butterflies fluttering here and there, feasting on the sweet nectar the flowers provided.
When Aidan turned back to look at the old man, he was gone, but the scroll was still there on the rock where the old man had been sitting. Aidan picked it up, expecting to see more pictures of butterflies. He was surprised to see a picture of the old man instead. He was even more surprised when the painted old man on the scroll started to move his arms in slow, sweeping gestures, the frayed sleeves of his dirty white robe gracefully opening like wings, as he spoke in a soft, whispered mumble.
“People said I was a wise old man, a sage. Then one night I dreamed I was a butterfly. I flew here and there among the flowers of the mountains and valleys.”
The old man flapped his arms, his wide sleeves spreading out, and flew off the page, still looking like an old man, but no larger than a butterfly. “I was free and without cares. It was so glorious, so wonderful to be a butterfly!”
The old man landed back on the scroll, once again becoming a flat moving painting. He crossed his arms over his chest, as if hugging himself in delight.
“Ah, but then I woke up, and I was once again an old sage, creaky bones and all.”
The old man on the scroll yawned and stretched as if he had just woken up.
Then he raised his eyebrows and gasped, exclaiming, “So tell me: how do I know I am not a butterfly dreaming I am an old sage?”
Aidan started to answer. Of course you know when you are awake. Everybody does. But the old sage on the scroll held up his hand to stop Aidan.
“Don’t be so quick tell me what you think you know.”
Then the old sage added what sounded to Aidan like “Den East is sick. You must help her.”
“Who is Den East? How can I help anyone who’s sick? I’m not a doctor.”
Aidan thought that must be pretty obvious, so maybe the old man was starting to lose it. He did look very old and he wasn’t making much sense.
“You must help Den East. She is key. See you later, Butterfly.”
Aidan woke up. Butterfly? Den East? The key to what? Were these some kinds of clues? Did they have anything to do with the mystery of why the vase was glowing?
Aidan suddenly found himself sitting in front of Wise-and-Able in his small room, this time without the other two men.
“Welcome, young Butterfly. Do you want to ask me something?”
“This whole dream thing is totally crazy!” Aidan blurted out. “These aren’t like normal dreams at all. I guess I’m asking, what’s a dream and what’s real? I don’t think I know anymore!”
“In our tradition of the Way of Wisdom we say that all things you can touch, or see, or hear, all things that happen in space and time, are like a dream. They are from your mind. That is something like the story of the butterfly and the old sage, of course. The sage dreamed he was a butterfly, but when he woke up he wondered: Was he a butterfly dreaming he was a sage? You might say there is no need to wonder! No need at all! After all, sleeping, not sleeping, what difference does it make?”
Aidan was upset. “Then nothing is real? It’s all a dream? Everything? Even when I think I’m awake?”
“Butterfly, your mind is real. In the Chinese language heart and mind are the same word. Caring and kindness are real. You can care and love and be
kind in a dream. Ask yourself: Don’t you always seem to be awake and aware in what you call your ‘normal’ dreams? Aren’t you aware right now?”
“Sure,” Aidan agreed. “I’m aware, but am I dreaming? Am I awake? Is it real?”
“What does it really mean to be awake? You are truly awake when you are not distracted. Sleeping, not sleeping, either way, wherever and whenever
and whoever you are, just pay attention. Be aware. Don’t be ruled by greed, fear, or anger. See your mind, your heart in everything. That, my good friend, is our teaching of the Way of Wisdom.”
Wise-and-Able rang a little bell and bowed from the waist, his palms pressed together. Aidan stood up and then bowed to the ground like he did before Emperor Wu. Wise-and-Able laughed. “Ah, my good friend, you are learning our ways. I accept that bow.”
Aidan was proud that he was learning their ways. He was proud that Wise-and-Able said so.
As he stood up to leave the room, Wise-and-Able called out to him, “Did you like meeting my friends on the mountain path and at the beach? How about that puking trick? Works every time.”
Aidan had to laugh out loud. This crafty old Wise-and-Able knew more than he was letting on.