In Shimen County(石門縣), Zhejiang Province(浙江), there was a local official named Li Nianxian(李念先), tasked with collecting rent in the villages. One evening, he arrived at a remote village but couldn’t find an inn. He noticed a dimly lit thatched cottage in the distance and decided to head in that direction. As he approached, he found a broken bamboo fence acting as a gate, and from within came moaning sounds.
Li Nianxian loudly announced himself, stating his purpose as a local official there to collect rent. Since he couldn’t return home that night, he requested shelter for the evening and urged the occupants to open the door promptly. However, no one responded from inside. Peering through the fence, Li Nianxian saw the interior cluttered with straw, and amidst it lay a person—thin-faced, pallid like gray paper, with a face five inches long and about three inches wide, barely clinging to life. The person moved slightly within the straw. Assessing the situation as a severe illness, Li Nianxian repeatedly called out from outside the fence, and finally, the sick person softly replied, ‘Please, open the door and come in yourself.’
Li Nianxian pushed the door open and the sick person explained that they had contracted a plague and were on the brink of death, with their entire family deceased. The voice was filled with despair. Despite the person’s reluctance, using his status as a local official, Li Nianxian insisted the person accompany him outside to buy alcohol. It was only when Li Nianxian promised to pay him two hundred coins that the sick person reluctantly got up, took the money, and went to purchase the alcohol.
Suddenly, the oil lamp in the wall niche went out. Exhausted, Li Nianxian lay down in the straw and fell asleep. Abruptly, he heard rustling in the straw as if someone was rising. Suspicious, he struck a flint and, in the firelight, saw a disheveled figure, even thinner than the sick person before, with a face about three inches wide, eyes closed, tears of blood streaming down—a visage resembling that of a zombie, standing upright in the straw. Li Nianxian spoke to the figure, but there was no response. Astonished, he continuously struck the flint, each time revealing the face of the zombie-like figure.
Terrified, Li Nianxian tried to escape, sitting on the straw and edging backward toward the door. But with each step he took, the zombie advanced. Increasingly frightened, he fled through the fence gate and ran, the zombie chasing behind, the straw on its feet making a swishing sound. Li Nianxian ran for about a mile until he reached an inn, screaming before collapsing. The pursuing zombie also collapsed.
The innkeeper revived Li Nianxian with ginger soup. After hearing his ordeal, the innkeeper realized that the village was plagued. The zombie chasing Li Nianxian was actually the sick person’s wife, who, though dead and unattended, was animated due to the influence of yang energy. The villagers went in search of the person who bought the alcohol and finally found him by the bridge. He lay there, holding the money, having traveled only about fifty steps from the inn.
Translated from 《石門屍怪》 in 《子不語》:
🎨 《菸雲生動》吳石仙 近代