In Hangzhou, there was an elderly man surnamed Qiu who was a cloth merchant. One day, Qiu went to collect debts and returned late. The inn was fully occupied, and ahead lay desolate areas with no place to stay. Qiu discussed with the innkeeper, who said, ‘Old friend, I wonder if you’re brave enough? I have a small building behind the back wall, but it’s been uninhabited for a long time. I fear it might be haunted, so I dare not offer it to you.’ Qiu replied, ‘I’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles in my life; what fear do I have of ghosts?’
The innkeeper then took a candle and led Qiu through the building to the back wall. There, they found an empty space, roughly four or five acres, with several small buildings neatly constructed along the wall. Qiu inspected one of the rooms and found it fully furnished with tables, chairs, beds, and curtains, which delighted him. After bidding farewell, the innkeeper left, and because of the heat, Qiu sat outside the door to settle his accounts.
That night, under the hazy moonlight, Qiu faintly sensed figures passing in front of him. Suspicious of thieves, he searched carefully. Suddenly, he saw shadowy figures flit by, twelve in quick succession, moving erratically like butterflies among flowers, without a pattern. Upon closer inspection, they were all beautiful women. Qiu remarked, ‘People fear ghosts because they are usually ugly and evil-looking. But now, since these ghosts are so alluring and enchanting, I’ll consider them as beautiful women.’ So, he sat upright, observing the ghostly figures to see what transformations would occur.
Before long, two ghosts squatted before him, one ghost climbed onto the shoulders of the other, nine more ghosts climbed up one after another, and finally, one ghost floated to the top, resembling a stacked pagoda as seen in a theater. After a while, the ghosts each took a large hoop and wore them around their necks, their hair let loose, and tongues extending over a foot long. Qiu chuckled and said, ‘When beautiful, excessively so, and when ugly, excessively so. This back and forth resembles the ways of the world. Let’s see how you end up!’
With that, the ghosts burst into laughter, reverting to their original forms and dispersing in a commotion.
Translated from 《鬼寶塔》 in 《子不語》: