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》:



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