The Shapeshifting Ghost and the Flies

In Huizhou(徽州), there was a top scholar named Dai Youqi(戴有祺). He and his friends, having drunk too much, strolled outside the city to admire the moon, reaching the Hui Long Bridge(回龍橋). A person in blue, carrying an umbrella, approached from the west side. Upon seeing Dai, he hesitated to cross the bridge, appearing fearful. Suspecting him to be a thief, Dai stepped forward to interrogate him. The person in blue claimed, ‘I am an officer from the yamen, sent to apprehend someone.’ Dai countered, ‘You speak a big lie; it’s unheard of for city officers to venture outside and apprehend people. There’s no logic for officers from outside to enter the city to arrest individuals.’ Helpless, the person in blue knelt and confessed, ‘I am not human; I’m a ghost. I’ve been commanded by the underworld’s officials to enter the city and seize people.’ Dai asked, ‘Do you have a warrant?’ The blue ghost replied, ‘Yes.’ Dai glanced at it and saw his cousin’s name listed as the third person. Wanting to save his cousin’s life but also doubting the truth of the blue ghost’s words, he let him pass but stayed on the bridge, waiting.

At four in the morning, the blue ghost indeed returned. Dai asked, ‘Have you caught all the people?’ The blue ghost replied, ‘All captured.’ Dai inquired about the captured individuals’ whereabouts, and the blue ghost said, ‘They are on this umbrella I’m holding.’ Dai looked at the umbrella, seeing five flies tied with threads on it, emitting a buzzing sound. Dai laughed heartily, took the umbrella, and released the five flies. The blue ghost, fearful and anxious, staggered away.

As the day slowly brightened, Dai entered the city and went to his cousin’s house to inquire about the situation. The cousin’s family said, ‘Our master has been ill for a long time. Last night, at three in the morning, he passed away, briefly revived at four, and passed away again at dawn.’

In Jiangning County(江寧), there was a seven-year-old boy named Liu suffering from swollen testicles. Despite seeking medical help, no remedy proved effective. A neighbor, Mrs. Rao, often acted as a yamen officer for the underworld. When it was her turn for duty in the underworld, she slept separately from her husband, abstaining from food and drink, appearing almost like a mad person. Liu’s mother asked Mrs. Rao to inquire about her son’s fortune in the underworld. After three days, Mrs. Rao visited Liu’s house and said, ‘There’s no problem. Your son in his previous life had a liking for eating frogs, slaughtered far too many, hence in this life, groups of frogs seek revenge by biting him. However, these creatures are meant for human consumption. Insects and fishes are under the jurisdiction of the Eight Waxes God. You just need to go to General Liu Meng’s temple, burn incense, and pray for peace.’ Following her advice, Liu’s son recovered.

Once, Mrs. Rao slept for two days and nights, waking up sweating profusely and panting. Her sister-in-law asked why she was in such a state. Mrs. Rao said, ‘There’s a fierce and difficult woman in the neighborhood whom I couldn’t apprehend. Yama (the ruler of the underworld) sent me to capture her. Unexpectedly, even at the brink of death, she had great strength and struggled with me for a long time. Fortunately, I untied the cloth from my legs and bound her hands, finally leading her out.’ The sister-in-law asked, ‘Where have you placed the woman now?’ Mrs. Rao replied, ‘She’s on the wutong tree outside the window.’ The sister-in-law checked but saw nothing except a strand of hair tied to a fly on the tree. Amused, she took the fly and placed it in a sewing box.

Not long after, Mrs. Rao began shouting in bed, only regaining consciousness after a while, saying, ‘Sister-in-law, this joke is too cruel! The underworld officials blame me for not capturing that woman and punished me severely with thirty strikes, demanding me to capture her by a certain deadline. Quickly return the fly to me to avoid further punishment.’ Seeing the bruises on Mrs. Rao’s buttocks, the sister-in-law regretted her actions and returned the fly. Mrs. Rao took the fly, held it in her mouth, and fell asleep, appearing calm again. However, from that point on, Mrs. Rao refused to inquire about the fortunes of the living in the underworld.

Translated from 《鬼多變蒼蠅》 in 《子不語》:

徽州狀元戴有祺,與友夜醉,玩月出城,步回龍橋上。有藍衣人持傘從西鄉來,見戴公,慾前不前。疑為竊賊,直前擒問。曰:「我差役也,奉本官拘人。」戴曰:「汝太說謊。世上只有城裡差人向城外拘人者,斷無城外差人向城裡拘人之理!」藍衣者不得已,跪曰:「我非人,乃鬼也,奉陰官命,就城裡拘人是實。」問:「有牌票乎?」曰:「有。」取而視之,其第三名即戴之表兄某也。戴欲救表兄,心疑所言不實,乃放之行,而堅坐橋上待之。四鼓,藍衣者果至。戴問:「人可拘齊乎?」曰:「齊矣。」問:「何在?」曰:「在我所持傘上。」戴視之,有線縛五蒼蠅在焉,嘶嘶有聲。戴大笑,取而放之。其人惶急,踉蹌走去。天色漸明,戴入城,至表兄處探問。其家人云:「家主病久,三更已死,四更復活,天明則又死矣。」
江寧劉某,年七歲,腎囊紅腫,醫藥罔效。鄰有饒氏婦,當陰司差役之事,到期,便與夫異牀而寢,不飲不食,若癡迷者。劉母托往陰司一查。去三日,來報曰:「無妨也。二郎前世好食田雞,剝殺太多,故今世群雞來齧,相與報仇。然天生田雞,原係供人食者,蟲魚皆八蠟神所管,只須向劉猛將軍處燒香求禱,便可無恙。」如其言,子疾果痊。
一日者,饒氏睡兩日夜方醒;醒後滿身流汗,口呿喘不已。其嫂問故,曰:「鄰婦某氏,兇惡難捉,冥王差我拘拿。不料他臨時尚強有力,與我鬥多時。幸虧我解下纏足布捆縛其手,才得牽來。」嫂曰:「現在何處?」曰:「在窗外梧桐樹上。」嫂往觀之,見無別物,只頭髮拴一蒼蠅。嫂戲取蠅夾入針線箱中。未幾,聞饒氏在牀上有呼號聲,良久乃蘇,曰:「嫂為戲太虐!陰司因我拿某婦不到,重責三十板,勒限再拿。嫂速還我蒼蠅,為免再責。」嫂視其臀,果有杖痕,始大悔,取蒼蠅付之。饒氏取含口中睡去,遂亦平靜。自此,不肯替人間查陰司事矣。

🎨 唐寅

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