The Strange Butterfly

In the capital, there was a man named Ye(葉某), who was very close to Wang Si(王四) from Yizhou(易州). On the seventh day of the seventh month, it was Wang Si’s sixtieth birthday. Ye rode a donkey to wish him well. When he reached Fangshan County(房山), it was already dark. Suddenly, a tall man on horseback approached him and asked where he was headed. Ye truthfully told him his destination. The man was delighted and said, ‘Wang Si is my cousin; I am also heading there. Why don’t we go together?’ Delighted, Ye agreed and traveled with him.

On the way, Ye noticed the man always walked lightly behind him. Despite repeatedly asking him to walk ahead, the man verbally agreed but always ended up behind him. Suspecting he had encountered a bandit, Ye frequently looked back. Because it was dark, Ye couldn’t discern the man’s face. Suddenly, thunder and lightning began, and by the flashes, Ye saw the man hanging upside down from his horse, walking with his feet in the air. Thunderclaps followed him, but he retaliated with black gas, extending a tongue over ten feet long, red as cinnabar. Alarmed and scared, Ye had no choice but to endure and hurried to Wang Si’s house.

When Wang Si met Ye and the man, he prepared wine to entertain them. During the banquet, Ye asked Wang Si about the man’s relation to him. Wang Si said, ‘He is my cousin Zhang, a silversmith who lives in the city’s rope-making alley.’ It was then that Ye somewhat relaxed, thinking what he saw on the road might have been his own illusion.

After the meal, Ye prepared to sleep. Due to lingering fear, he refused to share a room with the man. However, the man insisted. Ye had no choice but to find a robust servant to keep him company for courage. That night, Ye couldn’t sleep, but the servant fell asleep on the bed. At three in the morning, the oil lamp in the room suddenly extinguished. The man got up from the bed, extended a red tongue, and instantly illuminated the room. The man smelled around Ye’s bed curtain, drooling incessantly, then grabbed the servant, chewed him up, leaving bones scattered all over.

Ye was a believer in the God of Guan Di(關帝). Witnessing this scene, he hastily shouted, ‘Great Demon Subduer(伏魔大帝), where are you?’ Suddenly, the sound of bells and drums resounded, and Guan Di descended with a large sword in hand, aiming at the man with a strike. The man transformed into a giant butterfly, as big as a cartwheel, spreading its wings to block Guan Di’s sword. After a brief struggle, there was a loud crack, and both the butterfly and Guan Di disappeared.

Ye fainted in fear and remained unconscious until noon. Wang Si entered and revived him. Ye recounted everything he saw the previous night, noting the large amount of blood on the ground. Zhang and the servant were missing from the bed. However, the horse ridden by the man was still in the stable. Wang Si immediately sent someone to investigate Zhang’s whereabouts at the rope-making alley and found Zhang working with silver at the furnace, unaware of any trip to Yizhou for celebrations.

Original text in 《蝴蝶怪》from 《子不語》:

京師葉某,與易州王四相善。王以七月七日為六旬壽期,葉騎驢往祝。過房山,天將暮矣。一偉丈夫躍馬至,問:「將何往?」葉告以故。丈夫喜曰:「王四,吾中表也。吾將往祝,盍同行乎?」葉大喜,與之偕行。丈夫屢躡其背,葉固讓前行,偽許,而仍落後。葉疑為盜,屢回顧之。時天已黑,不甚辨其狀貌,但見電光所燭,丈夫懸首馬下,以兩腳踏空而行。一路雷與之俱。丈夫口吐黑氣,與雷相觸,舌長丈餘,色如硃砂。葉大駭,卒無奈何,且隱忍之,疾驅至王四家。王出與相見,懽然置酒。葉私問:「與路上丈夫何親?」曰:「此吾中表張某也,現居京師繩匠衚衕,以熔銀為業。」葉稍自安,且疑路上所見眼花耳。酒畢,葉就寢,心悸,不肯與同宿。丈夫固要之,不得已,請一蒼頭伴焉。葉徹夜不寐,而蒼頭酣寢矣。三鼓燈滅,丈夫起坐,復吐其舌,一室光明。以鼻嗅葉之帳,涎流不已。伸兩手,持蒼頭啖之,骨星星墜地。葉素奉關神,急呼曰:「伏魔大帝何在?」忽訇然有鐘鼓聲,關帝持巨刃排梁而下,直擊此怪。怪化一蝴蝶,大如車輪,張翅拒刃。盤旋片時,又霹靂一震,蝴蝶與關神俱無所見。葉昏暈仆地,日午不起。王四啟門視之,具道所以。地有鮮血數斗,牀上失一張某與一蒼頭矣。所騎馬宛然在廄。急遣人至繩匠衚衕蹤跡張某,張方踞爐燒銀,並無往易州祝壽之事。

🎨 《賣眼藥圖》佚名, the Southern Song Dynasty

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