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》:


🎨 《賣眼藥圖》佚名, the Southern Song Dynasty

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