Your attention is diverted from the pleasures of the Midway and the curiosities within the colossal 13-in-1 by the pressure of a long fingered and lily-white hand on your elbow. You turn and see a woman staring at you. Her hair is raven black, and she possesses all the fragile beauty of a fine porcelain doll. Lazily, she hands you a gold-dusted, sun-yellow chrysanthemum. She tosses her head towards a small indigo and crimson striped tent that stands just off of the Midway and gestures for you to come closer. Her scent is bewitching, almost intoxicating: a sensual incense of crushed mums, red ginger, and pulsing musk. You are overcome with a surge of desire, and like a silent siren, she compels you to follow.
As you approach the tent, you see that softly glowing lanterns illuminate a gilded wooden sign that reads, "Chrysanthemum Moon". The tent is unlike any other that you have seen in the Carnaval: it is tiny, small enough to hold one or two bodies in comfort, and as you pass through the entryway, you see nothing at all within the space save for a framed piece of ragged parchment that reads,
"Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, turned to new thoughts. Presently she cast a drug into the wine whereof they drank, a drug to lull all pain and anger, and bring forgetfulness of every sorrow. Whoso should drink a draught thereof, when it is mingled in the bowl, on that day he would let no tear fall down his cheeks, not though his mother and his father died, not though men slew his brother or dear son with the sword before his face, and his own eyes beheld it."
As your eyes pass over the black ink, the ground before you abruptly opens like a hideous yawning mouth, revealing a pitch black stairwell that leads directly underground. Turning back to find your guide, you realize that she has vanished.
Still clutching the golden chrysanthemum, you descend into the earth on well-worn steps of grey clay. The only light comes from the bottom of the stairs: a guttering oil lamp that stands as a sentinel before a heavy wooden door. You push it open, and move into a vast, dimly lit room. The ceiling is low and intimate, the walls are terraced with wooden berths and riddled with shadowy alcoves, and the air is thick with leaden brown opium smoke that hangs thickly over a seductive mixture of red musk, body-warmed perfume, and hypnotic Eastern flowers. Ornate braziers of burning charcoal are filled with smoldering poppy tar that punctuates the gloom with bursts of strange, surreal flames.
As your eyes adjust, you see that among the thick, plush cushions and elaborate brocade blankets strewn across the floor, bodies writhe. Some lie in hebetudinous repose, heads thrown back in quiet delirium, others sit transfixed like crouching beasts. Flashes of fire burst in tiny circles of bloody light as metal pipes are lit. Sluggish, slurring voices coalesce into a hypnotic susurration. Your mind becomes unfocused, your thoughts abstracted. The scents, the sounds, and the darkness envelop you, and you find yourself falling — falling endlessly into a dream within a thousand dreams.