Impostor Ghost Demands Offerings

A soldier in the imperial guard, fond of riding and hunting, once chased a wild rabbit and galloped to Dongzhimen Gate(东直门). By ill luck, he collided with an old man drawing water from a well, causing the old man to fall into the well. Terrified, the soldier hastily fled back home.

That night, the soldier saw the old man from the well entering his house, accusing him: ‘Though you didn’t intend harm, you didn’t rescue me when I fell into the well. If you had called for help, I might have survived. How could you abandon me and run home?’ The soldier had no reply. The old man continued to cause havoc, breaking things and causing disturbances. The soldier’s entire family knelt and begged the ghost, promising to prepare offerings and sacrifices immediately.

The ghost said, ‘Those are useless. If you want my peace, carve a wooden tablet with my name, offer pig trotters daily, and treat it with the same reverence as ancestors.’ Following the ghost’s instructions brought peace to their home.

From then on, whenever the soldier passed Dongzhimen, he would take a detour, avoiding the well. Once, while escorting the emperor on a tour and passing Dongzhimen, the soldier tried to avoid the area. His superior reprimanded, ‘If the Emperor asks where you went, what should I tell him? Besides, it’s broad daylight, with thousands of people and carriages. Why fear ghosts?’

Helpless, the soldier had to pass by the well.

Suddenly, he saw the old man waiting by the well, who rushed towards him, grabbed his clothes, and scolded: ‘Finally, I found you. You rode over me two years ago and didn’t help. Why were you so heartless?’ The old man scolded and hit the soldier.

Trembling, the soldier pleaded, ‘I can’t escape my guilt, but you’ve been receiving offerings in my home for three years and forgave me. Why go back on your word?’

Enraged, the old man exclaimed, ‘I didn’t die, I don’t need your offerings! Though the horse forced me into the well, someone passing by heard my cries and pulled me out. Why suspect me of being a ghost?’

Shocked, the soldier immediately brought the old man home and showed him the tablet, which didn’t bear the old man’s name. Furious, the old man threw the tablet outside, scattering the offerings on the table. The soldier’s family, bewildered, didn’t understand what was happening.

Suddenly, laughter echoed from above, and the impostor ghost disappeared.

Original text from 《鬼冒名索祭》in 《子不语》:

某侍卫好驰射,逐兔东直门。有翁蹲而汲水,马逸不止,挤翁于井。某大惧,急奔归家。是夜,即见此翁排闼入,骂云:「尔虽无心杀我,然见我落井,唤人救我,尚有活理,何乃忍心潜逃,竟归家耶?」某无以答。翁即毁器坏户,作祟不已。举家跪求,为设斋醮。鬼曰:「无益也。欲我安宁,须刻木为主,写我姓名于上,每日以豚蹄享我,当作祖宗待我,方饶汝。」如其言,祟为之止。自此,过东直门,必纡道而避此井。

后扈从圣驾,当过东直门,仍欲纡道走。其总管斥之曰:「倘上问汝何在,将何词以对?况青天白日,千乘马骑,何畏鬼耶?」某不得已,仍过井所,则见老翁宛然立井边,奔前牵衣骂曰:「我今日寻著汝矣!汝前年马冲我而不救,何忍心耶?」且詈且殴之。某惊遽哀恳曰:「我罪何辞,但翁已在我家受祭数年,曾面许宽我,何以又改前言?」翁更怒曰:「吾未死,何需汝祭?我虽为马所冲,失脚落井,后有过者闻我呼救,登时曳出。尔何得疑我为鬼?」某大骇,即拉翁同至其家,共观木主所书者,非其姓名。翁攘臂骂,取木主掷之,撒所供物于地。举家惶愕,不解其故,闻空中有声大笑而去。

🎨 《村醫圖》李唐, in the Southern Song Dynasty

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