“Raise the soul!” The chief called sorrowfully. Several young men grunted as they lifted the coffin.
Ah Wang wore a bamboo hat and had a curved knife at his waist. He carried a chicken coop on his back, the chicken inside clucking restlessly. He knelt by the door, facing outwards. His wife, his brothers and their families knelt outside, facing towards the house.
“Begin the procession! Bear the soul outside!” Feeling the coffin passing over his head, Ah Wang prostrated himself, thinking that things were finally over!
There was a thump and Ah Wang felt something heavy striking his head, making him almost fall flat on the floor. The whispers of the villagers sounded in his ear, three parts startled and seven parts schadenfreude!
Normally, the coffin would pass over the filial son’s head without touching him. But the coffin bearers had felt the coffin suddenly sink downwards, unavoidable smashing onto Ah Wang’s head!
This was extremely inauspicious, but the immoral conduct of the three brothers made the villagers happy to see them get their retribution.
While Ah Wang was terrified, the coffin was carried outside. There would be a short rest and the coffin would be covered in red paper with a red rooster tied to it. Then, the bearers would depart and head straight to the cemetery behind the mountains.
Along the way, several elderly of the village performed peculiar dances, chanting vague ballads to send off the soul. They carried torches and the coffin followed behind the fire. Behind followed the elegy, flower wreath and people scattering ritual money for the dead. Ah Wang and his brothers stood at the end of the procession. From time to time, they turned and kowtowed to send off the spirit. They also offered the glutinous rice towards the coffin as part of the ceremony.
They had set off around dusk. With the group stopping and going, it was already evening by the time they arrived. The grave in the cemetery had already been dug by the villagers in advance. All that remained was for the deceased to be placed inside.
“Halt!” The chief had them put the coffin down and walked to the grave. He first put some ritual money inside, blessing the deceased to reincarnate to a wealthy life. Then he called Ah Wang to kowtow facing outwards and toss a handful of earth over his shoulders into the grave. Then, some earth was dug from the four corners of the grave and tossed inside before the coffin was finally lowered.
After Ah Wang tossed the earth in, he held an incense stick. At this moment, he felt some shame and guilt. He wanted to look upon his bullied and shunned dad once again, and look upon his simple, impoverished coffin. However, customs dictated it was time for him to leave. There was nothing else he could do.
He had to return home by himself first, and he wasn’t allowed to look back. He also couldn’t speak with anyone. After getting home, he had to insert the incense stick into the burner of the memorial shrine for the deceased. Only then was the funeral complete.
If he had asked for a Daoist to pacify the dead, there would be Daoists waiting at his house. They would carry little bells and fill the village with respectful incense. They would alleviate “disaster”, scatter crops, exorcise and drive away ghosts, blessing everyone with safety and the deceased family with prosperity.
But he hadn’t wanted to waste money so he didn’t invite anyone. Therefore, only an empty house awaited him at the village!
Night came swiftly in the mountains. When Ah Wang set off, there was still a little light in the sky. Now it was completely dark, and it had even gotten cloudy. There was no moon and the wind started blowing. The gusts swept against the back of his neck, as though someone were blowing cold air.
Can’t look back! Can’t look back!
Ah Wang told himself this. He stumbled along and increased his pace. He felt inexplicably uneasy and wanted to hurry home!
“Meow…” A cat cry sounded from nowhere in the quiet night, truly giving Ah Wang a fright!
That was no ordinary cat cry. It was so gloomy, so mournful, like the cry of a baby. It seemed to have especially come for him, warning him to be careful, reminding him his life was at an end. His hairs couldn’t help but stand on end.
It was the one that kept crying at the spirit resting place last night!
Ah Wang recognized this cat that had yet to show itself. He felt it was no longer watching him from afar, but rather perched on his shoulder, crying by his ear.
He suddenly halted and flicked his eyes left and right. He suddenly saw a pair of moss green glowing eyes watching him from the trees on the left!
In his shock, he almost dropped the things he was carrying.
“Don’t bother me!” He shouted loudly and started running towards the village. The mountain path was dark, with only the burning incense guiding his path. It made it seem even eerier, like a flame that was luring the soul to hell!
“Meow…” Before long, the pressing cat’s cry sounded once more. It was on his back!
Ah Wang grabbed at his back with one hand but felt nothing. Yet he felt a warmth on his back and a weight on his body as though he was carrying something. And the cat’s cry kept getting closer, pursuing him!
A protruding rock tripped him and the incense stick in his hand flew far away. The faint red light slowly extinguished in the darkness. Ah Wang couldn’t be bothered to go get it. He got up and desperately ran. At the same time, a strange itching sensation spread from his head and face. He subconsciously felt at it while running. What he felt was actually cat fur!
“Help!” He shouted, no longer caring about the rule of not looking back. He looked all over but truly didn’t see anything following him. There was only the terror that arose from the depths of his heart.
He cried and yelled as he scrambled back to his house. He shut the doors tightly and sat by the fire pit in the rear hall.
Did he lose it? He panted, the fire making him feel a little safer.
After a while, there was nothing! This made him sigh in relief.
Once again, the unseen cat returned to his side. It meowed, getting closer before entering the room through the wall, attaching itself onto Ah Wang’s back. It couldn’t be shaken off, like ants in bone!
Ah Wang leapt up in fear, grabbing a burning log from the fire pit and waving it around. He madly pursued the traceless cat cry that couldn’t be heard by others.
Not only did he fail to drive it away, he felt it growing clearer and clearer. Gradually, he even felt it was coming from his own stomach.
He tore open the blue buttoned gown and looked at the center of his chest. A small bump slowly grew, as though bitten by a poisonous insect. However, this bump didn’t turn red. Instead, it grew bigger and bigger!
Terrified, he pressed at it. His fingers sensed as if there were something alive inside. The moment he touched it, it moved to a different location.
He touched it again and it moved once more.
As he slapped faster and faster, the little bump moved faster and faster. In the end, he no longer had time to think as he continuously slapped and hit his own chest!
Another cat cry sounded from Ah Wang’s stomach, making him stop his movements and stand there in a daze.
The little cat laughed. Has anyone heard a cat laugh before? Yet Ah Wang clearly felt it was laughing! A sinister, smug and disdainful laugh!
There was a popping sound. While he stood stunned, the little bump on his chest grew to a certain extent before something burst out.
It was a blade of grass! More accurately, it was a plant that burrowed out from his chest!
The pain hit Ah Wang all at once! At this time, the cat stopped crying but he could feel its claws scratching at his heart! It scratched and scratched every which way, until everything was shredded!
Ah Wang was half-dead from the pain, but his mouth seemed to be sealed. He could only cry out in his throat. When he finally got his mouth open, he actually spit out a hairball!
He didn’t have time to be shocked. He felt his stomach being cut open! When he lowered his head, he saw that plant growing with bizarre speed, growing all over his chest.
Then, he could no longer hear anything as he fell forward. The red mist before his eyes scattered! Also, his dad was standing outside the door, his ashen, withered, twisted face streaming with ghostly tears.
When the villagers returned, they found a segment of incense on the floor a few feet away from the village entrance. It had long since been extinguished. They felt something was wrong! After hurrying inside, they saw Ah Wang’s house was pitch black and locked from the inside. No one answered the door despite their shouts!
With the approval of the village chief and Ah Wang’s wife, several young men broke down the wooden door. When everyone entered the rear hall, the horrifying sight would remain with several of them for a lifetime!
Ah Wang lay face up next to the fire pit. There was a trace of bitter smile on his face. His reddened eyes bulged outwards. A large hole had burst from the center of his chest. Within the mess of flesh and blood, his organs were scattered and his heart was held within his left hand!
Ah Wang’s wife fainted on the spot. The villagers were all alarmed, but their gazes swept towards Ah Mu and Ah Shui.
Which one of them would be next?
“Ah Mu….Ah Mu….”
An aged voice awoke Ah Mu from his dreams.
He bolted upright and nudged his wife. However, she was sleeping very soundly, without any hint of stirring!
“Ah Mu….Ah Mu…..”
It was dad’s voice!
Cold sweat trickled down Ah Mu’s back. Having seen the incense fail to make it to the shrine that day and his older brother’s bizarre death, he knew his dad still lingered here! He once again shook his wife fiercely but she seemed like a corpse and didn’t react. At this time, footsteps sounded against the wooden floor.
“Ah Mu….Ah Mu……”
He tumbled out of bed in fright. The footsteps grew closer and closer, towards the room he was in. He usually seemed fearless but he almost wet himself at this moment. In his panic, he hid under the bed!
The door creaked open and a pair of bare feet “walked” up to the bed.
Although they seemed to be walking and there was the “normal” sound of footsteps, the feet were actually three inches above the floor. On the bony ankle was a ring of deep teeth marks. Those were definitely his dad’s feet. Those ugly scars was where he got bitten protecting Ah Mu from a wild dog!
His dad had loved him so, but he actually….
His dad was probably here to throttle him!
He hid under the bed and didn’t dare to move. He hoped his dad’s spirit would leave after being unable to find him. However, the feet stood by the bed for a while before a head slowly descended.
Under the moonlight, Ah Mu recognized the face as his dad’s. However, it was already rotted. Because he had been overly malnourished, the newly rotted appearance already revealed the pale white bone beneath.
“Ah Mu….” He moved his lips as though smiling. “Cut open your stomach!”
Ah Mu almost fainted on the spot. He watched as a pair of withered hands stretched over!
“Dad, don’t! Ah Mu knows he his wrongs!” He cried and shouted.
“Cut open your stomach…Ah Mu…cut open your stomach!” The withered hand reached his throat!
“No!” He instinctively pushed the hand aside. Due to using too much force, he actually knocked it off the wrist. However, the hand still crawled forwards stubbornly.
“Hurry…cut open your stomach!” Ah Mu saw the hand crawling over. His tragic scream rang out along with the cry of a cat. That cat’s cry was so forceful and vicious, scaring his dad’s spirit into vanishing immediately. However, his call of “Ah Mu…” still lingered.
Seeing this, Ah Mu hurriedly crawled out from under the bed. He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and fell limply on the bed.
“Meow….” The cat cried out from somewhere again.
“I got it. You saved my life. I won’t mistreat you, ok. Come find me tomorrow, I’ll give you some fish!” Ah Mu spoked to the half-opened window.
He turned on the lights and looked at his watch. It was still midnight, but he didn’t dare sleep anymore. He worried over how he would last until the next morning.
Would his dad come back for him?? Perhaps he needed to make some offerings at the grave tomorrow to have his dad spare him. Perhaps he should move to his wife’s hometown? It would be great if the cat stayed. He didn’t realize cats were so effective in driving off spirits!
He had just thought this when the cat cried out again cooperatively. However, this time the cry was too close, making Ah Mu’s startled heart leap. Had the wild cat gotten in?
But he looked all over without seeing one.
“Meow…” The noise grew closer again, indicating the cat was right next to him, or perhaps on top of him!
At that instant, Ah Mu suddenly had the feeling….his dad had come to save him, and the one who wanted to harm him was this cat!
That was the flash of enlightenment people got prior to death, and that was also his final thought. His mouth became sealed and he fell limp from fear. Cold sweat flowed like rain as he watched his brother’s method of death happen to himself!
Ah Wang and Ah Mu’s deaths terrified the vicious and overbearing Ah Shui. He was the fiercest out of the brothers. While he didn’t run rampant through the village, he was still someone none of the villagers dared to provoke. However, they all decided this was a case of a vengeful spirit coming for his life. Seeing the people of his village looking at him coldly, he truly started getting frightened.
He had beaten his dad before!
After his second brother’s wife went crying to the chief to report the death, and he saw the state both his brothers died in he actually wet himself in fear.
The mountains would be safe. Ghosts couldn’t pass through tall mountains or deep rivers. He had to get far away from here during the day while ghosts couldn’t come out. Therefore, he had to leave immediately!
He didn’t bother with his crying wife and kids. He just said he would come fetch them someday before leaving with his valuables.
He hurriedly walked through the mountain forest for half the day. Around noon, he was almost too exhausted to keep walking. He found a shaded spot to rest, but the moment he sat down he heard a cat’s cry.
He often went hunting in the woods, and he had brought his hunting rifle. However, the cat’s cry actually startled him. This was because it sounded like the cat was right on his back, and the sound was very similar to a laugh.
Cats could laugh? No one knew what that sounded like, but he had this feeling! Also, he never thought he could become so terrified!
Ah Shui’s corpse was found by a young hunter several days later. He was in a more tragic state compared to his brothers. The fresh blood had attracted wild animals that had gnawed his corpse to the bone. However, his heart was still held in his left hand. None of the beasts were willing to eat it!
The villagers didn’t report the three deaths to the authorities. Their religion taught them to respect all living things. It wasn’t surprising that these unfilial children would suffer heaven’s punishment! Their deaths were completely expected, so much so that even their wives and children weren’t looking for legal justice. The village was also very remote, so the matter was left unsettled.
Many months had passed since then and nothing similar had occurred. The remote mountain area once again became tranquil. The secret deaths were swept away by the wind, day after day, into the depths of the forest!