During his tenure as the magistrate of Liangdang County(兩當縣) in Shaanxi(陝西), Tu Chiwen(屠赤文) had a cook named Zhang(張某) under his command. Zhang, a powerful and hearty eater, possessed immense strength and a robust stature but lacked his left ear. Tu Chiwen inquired about the cause of his missing ear, and Zhang recounted his experience.
“I hail from Sichuan(四川), where my family for three generations lived off hunting. We owned an extraordinary book passed down through generations, teaching hunters a peculiar skill: by catching a breeze and sniffing it, one could discern the approach of any wild beast. I learned it when I was young.
Once, I was hunting in the Qionglai Mountains. There was a place in the mountains called the Yin-Yang Boundary(陰陽界). The Yang side was relatively flat and wide, while the Yin side was perilously steep and rarely visited. I had no luck hunting on the Yang side and decided to take provisions to the Yin side. After traveling over fifty miles, dusk had fallen, and I glimpsed a massive fire blazing on a mountain peak ten miles away. The flames soared high, illuminating the trees and valleys as if it were daytime. Then, an odd wind swept through. Uncertain about what lay ahead, I sniffed the breeze, but it was something not documented in the book. Fear gripped me, so I hurriedly climbed to the top of a tree to observe.
Before long, the fire drew nearer, and within it, I saw a towering stone stele. Carved on the top of the stele was the shape of a tiger, radiating a dazzling light akin to thousands of torches, illuminating the surroundings for miles. The stele slowly moved forward. As it reached the base of my tree, it suddenly rose three to four zhang high, as though it intended to devour me, nearly touching my body. I held my breath, motionless, and the stele slowly moved southwest.
Just as I thought I had escaped danger and planned to descend from the tree once the stele had moved far away, I saw countless enormous snakes covering the sky, some as thick as wagon wheels, others as wide as bushel baskets, swiftly approaching. I believed this would be the end for me, swallowed by these snakes, and my panic intensified. Unexpectedly, these snakes soared into the sky, straight towards the clouds. Being far from the tree, I crouched on the tree, completely unharmed. Only a small snake flew lower, brushing past my ear. Instantly, I felt excruciating pain, and when I touched it, my left ear was gone, blood streaming down. Meanwhile, the stele stood in front, stationary within the flames. Every snake that passed by the stele turned into an empty shell, falling to the ground as if countless white ribbons fluttered down. I could only hear the sound of these snakes being devoured. After a while, all the snakes vanished, and the stele moved away.
I stayed in the tree until the next day and then hurriedly sought my way back but ended up lost. It was then I encountered an old man. I told him about my experience. The old man said, ‘I am a mountain dweller here. What you saw yesterday was the King Yu Stele. When Great Yu was controlling the flood and arrived at the Qionglai Mountains, venomous snakes blocked his path. King Yu was furious and ordered the extermination of the snakes, erecting two stone steles to suppress the serpent horde. He instructed the two steles, ‘You shall become deities in the future, tasked with eradicating snakes for generations to protect the people.’ It has been four thousand years now, and indeed, the steles have become deities. There are two, one large and one small. You were fortunate to encounter the small stele, thus escaping death. If the large one had emerged, a great fire would have spread for five miles in all directions, turning the forests to ashes, and you would likely have perished. Both steles feed on snakes. Wherever they go, the snakes follow, ready to die, paying no attention to harming humans. Your ear was poisoned by the snake venom. Once in the Yang side, upon exposure to sunlight, you will perish.’ The old man then took out medicine from his belongings, treated my injury, and showed me the way back. Only then did I bid him farewell.”
Translated from 《禹王碑吞蛇》in 《子不語》: