The bus arrived, stopping at the village entrance.
The driver said that the village did not allow vehicles to enter, so they had to get off, and walk into the village’s ancestral hall.
The only girl within them asked the driver: “Why do we have to stay in the ancestral hall, is there no hotel?”
Driver: “Where would the hotel come from? In this rubbish place out of the way, having a place to stay is enough.”
The woman complained: “That’s not possible. A place like the ancestral hall, how can anyone stay there?”
Driver: “The ancestral hall carries the ancestors, are you scared of the ghost ancestors coming out to stuff you into the well of posterity?”
The woman retorted: “Those aren’t my ancestors, not my ancestors’ ghosts.”
Driver: “Then you can sleep in the vehicle for the night.”
The woman did not speak anymore, only grumbling a few sentences, only quieting when the man beside her pulled her hand a few times.
They have taboos here, vehicles were supposed to park outside, which indicated that the village was currently arranging a funeral. If the vehicle drive in, they were afraid that it could ferry away the souls of the deceased. The ancestral hall venerated the ancestors’ ghosts, the ancestors would protect their descendants.
Yet they were all outsiders, not villagers. A few remote villages spread rumours, that if outsiders spent the night in the ancestral hall, they would be carried away by the ancestors to fill the well, to bless the village with a thriving population.
Yet these were rumours that would only appear in mountain villages with low populations or where many white funerals were held, since this was a matter of murder, so no one would dare to take it seriously.
Fang Guo got down, pulling his luggage, subconsciously looking back at the man next to him, who remained standing beside him. Like a shadow, unspeaking, yet giving Fang Guo a sense of security.
The group of people thus advanced in silence, and the village was very quiet, without any sounds or lights.
Fang Guo was astonished in his mind, the sun had only just set, so it should not be time to turn in yet.
Ahead of him the trio were suspicious too, and one man amongst them thus asked the driver: “Could we spend a night in the vehicle instead? I find it very quiet here.”
The driver impatiently said: “Why so troublesome? Haven’t you come to this village before?”
That man said: “We did come before… didn’t spend the night.”
All around the village were mountains, with no connection to the outside world. Who knew how many dark things were hidden within, outsiders would not be the least bit aware. Maybe they even worshipped some evil deity.
The man had also come from a remote mountain village, and had a deep understanding of some backward notions of the villagers.
Let alone this particular village, which was suspicious even just by looking.
Not a single person in sight after so long, and the sun had just set. The village was also so quiet that not a single voice was heard, it was too strange.
The driver waved a hand and said: “I’ve made tens of trips to this village, and nothing has ever happened at night. As long as you all don’t run out of the ancestral hall for any minor reason it’s fine… and don’t come up with any pranks.”
Fang Guo also opened his mouth to ask the driver: “Did something happen in the village? It’s just after dark, but not a single sound is here.”
The driver said: “Probably a funeral.”
“Alright alright! If you’re not assured you can go back yourself to spend the night in the bus, if halfway back something took you away don’t come and blame me. So many complaints, I’m not listening.”
Seeing that the driver was really angry, Fang Guo and the others fell silent and said no more.
He and the man beside him walked shoulder to shoulder, falling to the back of the group.
Fang Guo softly spoke to the man: “I’m Fang Guo, what’s your name?”
The man did not speak, only quietly walking.
Fang Guo thought that he did not want to converse, since he appeared to be a quiet person. Touching his nose in resentment, he did not go up to talk again.
Walking in silence for ten or so minutes like this, the sky grew more and more dark, until finally not a single light could be seen. Yet the driver did not allow any of them to turn on a light, saying that it would attract some things.
The other man amongst the trio had an irascible temper, and already held a sour disposition towards the driver. Swearing as he turned on his cellphone to light up the way, and as the driver saw that he could not stop the other, gave a sigh of annoyance.
The driver said: “Tonight you all shouldn’t leave the ancestral hall, tomorrow when the sun rises, if we’re alright we can leave.”
Fang Guo gave a start, feeling that the driver was mysteriously chattering, as if knowing a secret.
Yet he could not leave the next morning either, he came here to participate in Wei Wei’s funeral. According to the date stated by the class monitor, he would probably have to stay for two or three days. However for such a strange village, he did not know if he could spend two or three days here.
For some unknown reason, at the moment the lights flickered on, Fang Guo glimpsed from the corner of his eyes a shadow flit by. It made a rustle, like a horde of mice rushing past.
Fang Guo shook his body with a start, and turned his head to look. He could not see anything, and the light had passed, leaving the alley entrance in darkness. Yet he always felt that there were several people standing there, watching them pass by in silence.
Fang Guo recovered himself, turning his head to see an old-fashioned building. The signboard above displayed four words: X Clan Ancestral Hall.
He could not see the character before ‘clan’, but it should be the village surname. Tying in Wei Wei’s surname, it should be Wei.
Wei Clan Ancestral Hall.
The doorway was absolutely empty, yet for halls like this one, there would usually be two stone lions stationed at the entrance. A small altar would also be established outside, to worship the Earth God. Yet none of these appeared, only two red lanterns.
Hanging by the door, shining red, as if dyed in blood.
This left Fang Guo with the impression that this was not an ancestral hall, but a hall filled with corpses.
The driver walked directly forward, pushing open the door to enter: “Come in.”
Fang Guo walked forward, and after he had stepped one leg over the threshold did he recall that usually, the ancestral hall would be an important place to the clan. In ancient times, even an accidental fire would shake up everyone up and down the clan, fearing that the descendants’ lack of filial piety had displeased the ancestors.
It was even more strictly forbidden for outsiders to enter, as it was feared that they would damage the ancestral hall.
How could the driver carelessly say that the ancestral hall was a place for outsiders to ask for lodging? Would the inhabitants of the village actually agree? For all mountain villages no matter in modern or ancient times, the places volunteered out for people to rest were… coffin homes1.
“Young man, what are you doing by the threshold? Come in quick.”
The woman amongst the trio called Fang Guo over.
Fang Guo recovered, ignoring the restlessness in his heart.
Turning his head to the man beside him he said: “Let’s go inside.”
As he spoke he walked in.
When he passed by the woman, that woman suddenly asked: “Were you talking to someone just now?”
Fang Guo did not understand: “Ah?”
The woman’s expression was somewhat awkward: “I didn’t mean… the entire way, I saw you talking to thin air a few times… I was thinking who are you talking to? You young people like to talk to oneself. Ha, talking to oneself.”
The woman did not consider other possibilities, only thinking that there was something wrong with Fang Guo’s head.
Fang Guo heard her, and suddenly looked behind himself.
He saw standing outside the door a black shadow, the face unable to be made out, like a lump of human-shaped mist.
He did not come in, just looking at him. He had followed them the whole way, just sitting beside him.
A ghost, had been following them the whole journey.
Fang Guo’s face went pale.