Painted skin: Meets a troubled woman who hiding a secret

A tale of Wang, a scholar who aids a young woman in distress, only to discover her dark secret. A blend of mysticism, moral lessons, and shocking revelations unfold.

In Taiyuan, there was a scholar with the surname Wang who, one morning while walking on the road, encountered a young woman carrying a bundle, hurrying alone and seemingly struggling with each step. Wang quickly ran a few steps to catch up with her, and found she was a beautiful girl around sixteen or seventeen years old, and he took a liking to her. Wang asked her, “Why are you walking alone on the road so early, before dawn?” The girl replied, “You are just a passerby and cannot share my worries, so why bother asking?” Wang said, “What worries do you have? Maybe I can help, and I won’t refuse to do so.” The girl, looking sad, said, “My parents, greedy for money, sold me to a wealthy family to be a concubine. The main wife of that family is extremely jealous and abuses me, scolding me in the morning and beating me at night. I can’t bear it anymore and want to escape far away.” Wang asked her, “Where do you plan to go?” The girl said, “I am a fugitive, I don’t have a definite destination.” Wang said, “My home is not far from here, please come and stay at my place.” The girl happily agreed. Wang carried her bundle for her and led her to his home. Upon seeing no one else in the house, she asked, “Why are there no servants in your house?” Wang replied, “This is my study.” The girl said, “This place is perfect. If you pity and want to let me live, please keep this a secret and don’t reveal it to anyone.” Wang promised her. That night, Wang shared the same bed with her. He hid her in a secret chamber, and for many days, no one else knew about it. Later, Wang slightly revealed this matter to his wife. Upon hearing this, his wife, Mrs. Chen, suspected that the girl was a concubine who had fled from a wealthy family, and advised Wang to send her away. However, Wang adamantly refused to listen.

One day, Wang happened to go to the market and met a Taoist priest. Upon seeing Wang, the priest was extremely shocked and asked, “Have you met someone recently?” Wang replied, “No.” The priest said, “You are enveloped in evil aura, how can you say no?” Wang firmly denied it. The priest sighed and walked away, saying, “It’s unbelievable! There are people who are oblivious to their impending doom!” Wang felt there was something unusual about his words and started to doubt the woman. But then he thought, she clearly appears as a beautiful young lady, how could she be a demon? He suspected the priest might be using the pretext of exorcising demons to make money. Shortly after, he arrived at the door of his study and found it locked from the inside. Suspicious, he climbed over a broken wall into the yard and saw the inner room door was also closed. He tiptoed to the window and peeped inside, only to see a hideous ghost with a pale face and sharp, saw-like teeth, laying out a human skin on the bed and painting it with colored brushes. After finishing, the ghost threw down the brush, lifted the human skin, and draped it over itself, transforming into a beautiful woman. Terrified by what he saw, Wang crawled out like an animal. He rushed to find the Taoist priest, but the priest was nowhere to be found. After searching everywhere, Wang finally met the priest in the outskirts. Kneeling before him, Wang begged for help. The priest said, “Let me drive it away. It’s not easy for such a creature to cultivate and almost ready to reincarnate as a human. I don’t have the heart to kill it.” He gave Wang a duster to hang at the bedroom door. When parting, the priest made an appointment to meet Wang later at the Qing Emperor Temple.

After returning home, Wang, too afraid to enter his study, slept in the inner room of his house and hung up the duster. At the first watch of the night, he suddenly heard a crackling noise outside the door. Terrified, Wang didn’t dare to peek and asked his wife to quietly take a look. She saw the woman approach, hesitate at the sight of the duster hanging at the door, grinding her teeth in anger, and it took her a long time to leave. However, she returned after a while, cursing loudly, “That Taoist priest thinks to scare me. I won’t give up so easily. Do they expect me to spit out the meat that’s already in my mouth?” Saying this, she tore the duster to pieces, broke down the bedroom door, and rushed in. The ghost climbed onto Wang’s bed, ripped open his chest and abdomen, and took out his heart before leaving. Wang’s wife screamed loudly. A maid, holding a candle, came to see, and found Wang dead, his abdomen a gory mess. Mrs. Chen, Wang’s wife, was so frightened that she didn’t dare to make a scene and could only weep silently.

The next morning, Mrs. Chen asked Wang’s younger brother, Erlang, to inform the Taoist priest. The priest, angered, said, “I pitied it before, but this evil ghost dared to be so audacious!” He immediately accompanied Erlang to Wang’s house. The woman was nowhere to be seen. The priest looked around and said, “Fortunately, it hasn’t gone far.” He then asked, “Who lives in the south courtyard?” Erlang replied, “It’s my house.” The priest said, “The ghost is in your house right now.” Erlang was astonished, thinking it couldn’t be true. The priest asked if an unknown person had visited recently. Erlang replied, “I went to Qing Emperor Temple early in the morning to find you, so I really don’t know. Let me go back home and ask.” After a while, he returned and said, “Indeed, there was someone. This morning an old lady came seeking employment as a servant, and my wife kept her. She’s still at our house.” The priest said, “That’s the one.” Everyone then went to Erlang’s house. The priest, holding a wooden sword, stood in the courtyard and shouted, “Wicked ghost, pay for my duster!” The old lady inside the house panicked and tried to run away when she came out. The priest chased her and struck her with the wooden sword. She fell, and her human skin cracked and fell to the ground, revealing her true demonic form. She lay on the ground wailing like a pig. The priest chopped off the demon’s head with the wooden sword, and its body turned into a thick smoke, gathering into a pile on the ground. The priest took out a gourd, uncorked it, and placed it in the middle of the smoke. There was a whooshing sound, like someone inhaling, and in an instant, the smoke was completely sucked into the gourd. The priest corked the gourd and put it in his bag. When everyone looked at the human skin on the ground, they saw it had eyebrows, eyes, hands, and feet, with nothing missing. The priest rolled up the skin like a scroll, making a rustling sound, and also put it in his bag. He then bid farewell to everyone and prepared to leave.

Mrs. Chen knelt in front of the door, crying and begging the Taoist priest to use a resurrection method to revive Wang. The priest expressed his inability to do so. Mrs. Chen, more grief-stricken, prostrated herself on the ground, refusing to get up. After pondering for a moment, the priest said, ‘My magic is limited, I really can’t bring the dead back to life. But I can direct you to someone who might be able to. Go and ask him; it might work.’ Mrs. Chen asked, ‘Who is it?’ The priest replied, ‘There is a madman in the market, often lying in filth. Try begging him. If he insults you in his madness, don’t get angry.’ Erlang also knew of this madman, so after saying goodbye to the priest, he and his sister-in-law went to find the madman. They saw a begging lunatic singing crazily on the road, with snot dragging three feet long and his body so filthy and smelly that it was unbearable to approach. Mrs. Chen knelt and moved towards him on her knees. The beggar laughed and asked, ‘Does the beauty love me?’ Mrs. Chen explained her situation. The beggar laughed again and said, ‘Anyone can be your husband, why bring him back to life?’ Still, Mrs. Chen kept pleading. The beggar said, ‘Strange! Asking me to bring back the dead. Am I the King of Hell?’ He then angrily hit Mrs. Chen with his begging stick, and she endured the pain. The crowd watching in the market grew dense like a wall. The beggar then coughed up phlegm and saliva, spat a handful of it, and held it to Mrs. Chen’s mouth, saying, ‘Eat it!’ Mrs. Chen’s face turned red, she was embarrassed, but remembering the priest’s instruction not to fear insult, she forced herself to swallow it, feeling the phlegm hard like cotton in her throat, making a ‘gurgling’ noise as it went down and stuck in her chest. The beggar laughed again, saying, ‘The beauty loves me!’ He then got up and walked away, ignoring Mrs. Chen. Mrs. Chen and Erlang followed him to the temple. They tried to approach and beg, but couldn’t find him. After searching everywhere without a trace, they returned home, both ashamed and angry.

Mrs. Chen, upon returning home, was not only grief-stricken by her husband’s tragic death but also regretted and felt humiliated for having licked someone else’s spit and phlegm. She wailed, wishing for her own immediate death. She wanted to clean Wang’s body and arrange his remains, but everyone in the family was too scared to approach. Mrs. Chen had to lift Wang’s corpse herself, arranging his intestines that had spilled out, crying bitterly as she did so. When she was exhausted from crying, she suddenly felt the urge to vomit, and the hard lump that had been in her chest surged up her throat. Before she could turn her head, it fell into Wang’s chest cavity. To her astonishment, it was a human heart, beating “thump thump” inside Wang’s chest and emitting smoke-like steam. Amazed, Mrs. Chen quickly pressed Wang’s chest together with both hands, trying to close it. As she loosened her grip slightly, she saw wisps of steam escaping from the seams, so she tore silk cloth and tightly wrapped Wang’s chest and abdomen. Touching his body again, she felt it gradually becoming warm, so she covered him with a cotton quilt. At midnight, she checked and found some breath in Wang’s nostrils. By dawn the next day, Wang miraculously came back to life. He only mentioned feeling as if in a haze, like in a dream, and had a slight pain in his stomach. The torn area had formed a scab as big as a copper coin, and after a while, Wang fully recovered.

The chronicler of strange tales says: People in this world are truly foolish! Clearly, it was a demon, yet he thought it was a beautiful woman. How foolish and deluded people are! Clearly, it was a warning, yet he took it for deception. Nevertheless, he lusted after another’s beauty and greedily pursued it, while his own wife ended up licking and swallowing someone else’s spit and phlegm, treating it as a delicacy. The good and evil deeds of people receive their due recompense according to the laws of nature, but only the stupid and dull-witted never come to understand this. How pitiable indeed!

《画皮》

太原王生,早行,遇一女郎,抱襆独奔,甚艰于步。急走趁之,乃二八姝丽,心相爱乐。问:“何夙夜踽踽独行?”女曰:“行道之人,不能解愁忧,何劳相问。”生曰:“卿何愁忧?或可效力,不辞也。”女黯然曰:“父母贪赂,鬻妾朱门。嫡妒甚,朝詈而夕楚辱之,所弗堪也,将远遁耳。”问:“何之?”曰:“在亡之人,乌有定所。”生言:“敝庐不远,即烦枉顾。”女喜,从之。生代携襆物,导与同归。女顾室无人,问:“君何无家口?”答云:“斋耳。”女曰:“此所良佳。如怜妾而活之,须秘密,勿泄。”生诺之。乃与寝合。使匿密室,过数日而人不知也。生微告妻。妻陈,疑为大家媵妾,劝遣之。生不听。

偶适市,遇一道士,顾生而愕。问:“何所遇?”答言:“无之。”道士曰:“君身邪气萦绕,何言无?”生又力白。道士乃去,曰:“惑哉!世固有死将临而不悟者!”生以其言异,颇疑女。转思明明丽人,何至为妖,意道士借魇禳以猎食者。无何,至斋门,门内杜,不得入。心疑所作,乃逾垝垣,则室门亦闭。蹑迹而窗窥之,见一狞鬼,面翠色,齿巉巉如锯,铺人皮于榻上,执采笔而绘之。已而掷笔,举皮,如振衣状,披于身,遂化为女子。睹此状,大惧,兽伏而出。急追道士,不知所往。遍迹之,遇于野,长跪乞救。道士曰:“请遣除之。此物亦良苦,甫能觅代者,予亦不忍伤其生。”乃以蝇拂授生,令挂寝门。临别,约会于青帝庙。

生归,不敢入斋,乃寝内室,悬拂焉。一更许,闻门外戢戢有声。自不敢窥也,使妻窥之。但见女子来,望拂子不敢进,立而切齿,良久乃去。少时,复来,骂曰:“道士吓我。终不然,宁入口而吐之耶!”取拂碎之,坏寝门而入。径登生床,裂生腹,掬生心而去。妻号。婢入烛之,生已死,腔血狼藉。陈骇涕不敢声。

明日,使弟二郎奔告道士。道士怒曰:“我固怜之,鬼子乃敢尔!”即从生弟来。女子已失所在。既而仰首四望,曰:“幸遁未远。”问:“南院谁家?”二郎曰:“小生所舍也。”道士曰:“现在君所。”二郎愕然,以为未有。道士问曰:“曾否有不识者一人来?”答曰:“仆早赴青帝庙,良不知。当归问之。”去,少顷而返,曰:“果有之。晨间一妪来,欲佣为仆家操作,室人止之,尚在也。”道士曰:“即是物矣。”遂与俱往。仗木剑,立庭心,呼曰:“孽魅!偿我拂子来!”妪在室,惶遽无色,出门欲遁。道士逐击之。妪仆,人皮划然而脱,化为厉鬼,卧嗥如猪。道士以木剑枭其首,身变作浓烟,匝地作堆。道士出一葫芦,拔其塞,置烟中,飗飗然如口吸气,瞬息烟尽。道士塞口入囊。共视人皮,眉目手足,无不备具。道士卷之,如卷画轴声,亦囊之,乃别欲去。

陈氏拜迎于门,哭求回生之法。道士谢不能。陈益悲,伏地不起。道士沉思曰:“我术浅,诚不能起死。我指一人,或能之,往求必合有效。”问:“何人?”曰:“市上有疯者,时卧粪土中。试叩而哀之。倘狂辱夫人,夫人勿怒也。”二郎亦习知之,乃别道士,与嫂俱往。见乞人颠歌道上,鼻涕三尺,秽不可近。陈膝行而前。乞人笑曰:“佳人爱我乎?”陈告之故。又大笑曰:“人尽夫也,活之何为?”陈固哀之。乃曰:“异哉!人死而乞活于我。我阎摩耶?”怒以杖击陈,陈忍痛受之。市人渐集如堵。乞人咯痰唾盈把,举向陈吻曰:“食之!”陈红涨于面,有难色,既思道士之嘱,遂强啖焉。觉入喉中,硬如团絮,格格而下,停结胸间。乞人大笑曰:“佳人爱我哉!”遂起,行已不顾。尾之,入于庙中。迫而求之,不知所在。前后冥搜,殊无端兆,惭恨而归。

既悼夫亡之惨,又悔食唾之羞,俯仰哀啼,但愿即死。方欲展血敛尸,家人伫望,无敢近者。陈抱尸收肠,且理且哭。哭极声嘶,顿欲呕,觉鬲中结物,突奔而出,不及回首,已落腔中。惊而视之,乃人心也,在腔中突突犹跃,热气腾蒸如烟然。大异之,急以两手合腔,极力抱挤,少懈,则气氤氲自缝中出,乃裂缯帛急束之。以手抚尸,渐温,覆以衾裯。中夜启视,有鼻息矣。天明,竟活。为言:“恍惚若梦,但觉腹隐痛耳。”视破处,痂结如钱,寻愈。

异史氏曰:愚哉世人!明明妖也,而以为美。迷哉愚人!明明忠也,而以为妄。然爱人之色而渔之,妻亦将食人之唾而甘之矣。天道好还,但愚而迷者不寤耳。可哀也夫!

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