The Escaped Ghost

In Juru County(句容), there was a constable named Yin Qian(殷乾), renowned in the county for his skill in catching thieves. Every night, he would often monitor the movements of thieves in secluded and desolate places.

One night, he went to a village and suddenly saw a person holding a rope rushing nervously past him from behind. Yin Qian thought to himself that this person must be a thief, so he followed closely behind. The person reached a house and jumped over the wall. Yin Qian thought it better to wait than to catch him immediately: if he caught the person, it might only lead to delivering him to the official authorities without any certainty of a reward. Waiting for him to come out and catching him red-handed would surely bring a significant advantage.

Before long, Yin Qian faintly heard the sound of a woman crying inside the house. Suspecting trouble, he jumped over the wall and saw a woman combing her hair in front of a mirror inside a room. There was a disheveled person with wild hair hanging from the ceiling, trying to strangle her with a rope. Yin Qian realized that it was a ghost trying to claim a substitute victim’s life. He shouted loudly, broke the window, and entered the room. Upon hearing Yin Qian’s shouts, the neighbors rushed in, and he explained everything he had seen to them. Inside the room, they indeed found the woman hanging from the beam, and they rescued her. The woman’s parents-in-law thanked Yin Qian profusely and treated him to food and drinks. After dinner, Yin Qian returned home by the same route, still before dawn.

As Yin Qian walked, he suddenly heard rustling sounds behind him. Turning back, he saw it was the same ghost who had earlier carried the rope. The ghost cursed Yin Qian, saying, ‘I intended to take that woman as a substitute; it’s none of your business. You’ve ruined my big plan!’ Saying this, the ghost extended its hands to fight Yin Qian. Yin Qian was always brave and fearless, so he fought back. He noticed that wherever his punches landed, it felt cold and had a foul smell.

As the sky gradually brightened, the ghost grew tired, while Yin Qian fought more valiantly, firmly holding onto the ghost. Some passersby saw Yin Qian embracing a piece of rotten wood, continuously cursing, and approached to see what he was doing. It was then that Yin Qian suddenly realized, as if waking from a dream, and released his grip, letting the rotten wood fall to the ground. Furious, Yin Qian said, ‘The ghost was attached to the rotten wood; I can’t let this piece of decay go unpunished,’ and he used an iron nail to fasten it to a courtyard pillar. Every night, cries of anguish echoed from the pillar, sounding incredibly sorrowful. After several nights, numerous ghosts came, some chatting with the ghost, some consoling it, and some pleading on its behalf to Yin Qian. The ghost’s voices sounded like the tones of children speaking, but Yin Qian ignored them all. One of the ghosts facing the pillar said, ‘Fortunately, the master used an iron nail on you; if it were a rope, your suffering would be far worse.’ Other ghosts quickly interjected, ‘Don’t say that, don’t say that! If this secret leaks, Yin Qian might learn the trick.’

The next day, following the ghost’s advice, Yin Qian replaced the iron nail with a rope. That night, the cries of the ghost were nowhere to be heard. By morning, upon inspection, the piece of rotten wood had completely disappeared.

Translated from 《釘鬼脫逃》in 《子不語》:

句容捕者殷乾,捕賊有名,每夜伺人于陰僻處。將往一村,有持繩索者貿貿然急奔,衝突其背,殷私憶此必盜也,尾之。至一家,則踰垣入矣。殷又私憶捕之不如伺之。捕之不過獻官,未必獲賞;伺其出而劫之,必得重利。
俄聞隱隱然有婦女哭聲,殷疑之,亦踰垣入。見一婦梳妝對鏡,梁上有蓬頭者以繩鉤之,殷知此乃縊死鬼求代耳,大呼破窗入。鄰佑驚集,殷具道所以,果見婦懸于梁,乃救起之。婦之公姑咸來致謝,具酒為款。散後,從原路歸,天猶未明。背簌簌有聲,回顧,則持繩鬼也。罵曰:「我自取婦,于汝何事?而破我法!」以雙手搏之。殷膽素壯,與之對搏,拳所著處冷且腥。天漸明,持繩者力漸憊,殷愈奮勇,抱持不釋。路有過者見殷抱一朽木,口喃喃大罵,上前諦視,殷恍如夢醒,而朽木亦墜地矣。殷怒曰:「鬼附此木,我不赦木!」取釘釘之庭柱,每夜聞哀泣聲,不勝痛楚。
過數夕,有來共語者、慰唁者、代乞恩者,啾啾然聲如小兒,殷皆不理。中有一鬼曰:「幸主人以釘釘汝,若以繩縛汝,則汝愈苦矣。」群鬼噪曰:「勿言,勿言,恐泄漏機關,被殷學乖。」次日,殷以繩易釘如其法。至夕,不聞鬼泣聲。明旦視朽木,竟遁去。

🎨《溪山風雨圖》王蒙

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