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xlwoo
September 15th, 2015, 01:49 PM
Chapter 23

Linda left the city as fast as possible. She was afraid that the mayor might regret letting her go and send his men to catch up with her and take her back. She knew for a fact that the head eunuch would be very happy if the mayor sent her back to him and for that matter the mayor would surely get a promotion.
She proceeded west, but did not know where she could hide herself. She just kept walking. She had changed her shoes twice. The Chinese shoes at that time were made of cloth, not leather. The sole of the shoe was thus made: many layers of cloth cut into the sole shape were sewed tightly together, about one centimeter thick; the tops were also made of cloth, only two layers, and then the top and the sole were sewed together. The shoe was thus finished. So it was easily worn out.
When she had stayed in the wonton shop, the wife had made her a new pair of shoes, which she was wearing now. She felt the paper money in her pocket and took out to have a look. At the time when she had accepted it, she had not looked at it. So she did not know how much money they had given her. Now she could deliberately check on the amount of the money. It was a hundred taels of silver, which would last her for a long time. She was grateful to the couple.
When she was passing another village, she saw a large house decorated with white lanterns and white paper streamers in front of the main door. The people coming and going were all dressed in white linen clothes. Loud crying was heard even in the street.
Linda knew that someone had died in the house. She also learned the custom that anyone coming to mourn the deceased would get a treat of a substantial meal. Generally the mourners were relatives, friends or at least acquaintances. No strangers would go in to pay the last esteem to the deceased. But the custom allowed a hungry person to go in and mourn for the deceased, and then he or she could have free lunch or supper, depending what time of the day it was.
Linda felt hungry now, but she was not bold enough to squeeze through the crowd of spectators into the house. Just then, a man came out to announce that they wanted to hire some women to help crying and mourning beside the coffin as the family members of the deceased were tired and needed some rest after the long-time wailing. It was also the tradition that when anyone came to pay his respect, there must be persons wailing beside the body. So when the family needed rest, they would hire women to do the job, because the female voice was shrill and loud.
“Let’s go in.” A woman beside Linda pushed Linda to go in with her. To have company would make her not look so awkward. So Linda led the way in, pushed by the woman from behind.
It was close to the dusk. Linda and the woman were given supper first and then asked to work the night shift. Linda and woman were led into the hall where the coffin was laid at the far end. Linda noticed that the end of the coffin was different in shape from that in America, which was octagon, while the two ends were different in size and shape in China. It was rectangular at the bigger end for the head and square at the smaller end for the feet. There was a table before the coffin with candles and incenses burning the whole night. That was why they needed people working night shift to take care of the burning candles so that they would not cause a fire as there were so many white paper decorations in the hall.
Linda and the woman sat on the side of the coffin. She did not know what to do as a hired wailer and so she just followed what the woman did. When a visitor came, the woman began to bewail and covered her eyes with a handkerchief as if she really shed tears. Linda followed suit. As soon as the visitor left, the woman stopped crying and took the handkerchief off her eyes, which were totally dry. Linda thought it ridiculous, but it was the tradition and she could not change the tradition, however ridiculous it was.
The visitors came less and less as the night went deep. It was now almost midnight. The night watchman struck three times. Other servants and maids had gone to sleep one hour earlier. Linda and the woman were left in the hall to look after the burning candles.
Linda could not stay awake any more. She would like to have a cup of hot coffee, but there was no coffee in the sixteen century in China. The woman sitting beside her was dozing off. Linda let her eyelids drop, too.
Linda had no idea how long she had dozed. She awakened when she heard a sudden noise. She opened her eyes to look what it was. To her panic she saw the lid of the coffin was being pushed up by degrees. At once she woke up the woman, who was still yawning.
Linda did not dare to speak. She thought that any sound might expedite the action of that thing. So she pointed to the coffin and signaled the woman to look that way.
The lid suddenly slipped onto the floor. The body in the coffin jumped out. It was stiff. The limbs could not move separately by themselves. Only the whole body could leap forward, rigidly.
“Let’s run.” The woman whispered. She was also afraid to speak aloud. She started to dash out of the hall, dragging Linda along by the hand. “That’s the mutation of the corpse.” She told Linda while gasping, “We call it vampire.”
“Will it suck our blood?” Linda asked, terrified. She had watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books about vampire. She had thought that vampires, werewolves, as well as witches, were all legends, no such things in the world. But now, she witnessed a vampire herself. Perhaps, these things did exist in the olden times. They were extinct now as dinosaurs were.
“Sure. If it doesn’t do us any harm, why should we run like mice before a cat?”
Linda looked back. The vampire leaped fast and was very close behind. They had to maneuver like rabbits, making a sudden turn to the right. The vampire was clumsy at changing directions. It sprang straight forward. When it found that it had lost its target in front, it halted all at once and made a maladroit turn toward them. It began to leap again, faster and faster. Therefore, they made the turns oftener to elude being caught.
In the movies she had seen in America, a silver wedge would have conquered a vampire. But she did not know what could vanquish a Chinese vampire.
“We can’t keep running like that. We must do something to stop it.” She said to the woman. Both were out of breath now. She said the words between gasps.
“We must get a broom to throw at it.” She replied.
“Where can we get a broom?” Linda wondered.
“I don’t know. We are not familiar with the surroundings.” The woman despaired.
They were then entering the back garden. There were big rocks here and there among the trees and lawns. Linda noticed that the vampire could not jump high. She pulled the woman toward behind a rock and stopped running while getting breath back. The vampire hit the rock and fell on the ground, but it jumped up on its feet and continued its chase.
Linda and the woman ran anew. Presently they reached a pond. Linda jumped into the water, pulling the woman into it. The woman could not swim. In ancient China, women were not permitted to learn to swim. However, Linda managed to make the woman’s head keep above water and drag her along in the water.
The vampire seemed not to know that there was water before it. It leaped into water, too. But it could not swim, nor could it jump up or forth in water. Since it could not move its limbs, it floated on the surface.
Linda reached the other side and drew the woman onto the dry ground. The woman did not faint, only wet and weary. They were safe now. They lay on the ground for a rest. After a while, they got up on their feet and turned their eyes to the pond. The vampire was floating there.
“We must find someone, better the butler, so that they can get that thing back into the coffin.” The woman said. So they went back into the hall to see anyone would be there. But they found none. Everyone was in sleep now. The day did not break yet.
Then they heard the gong was being struck four times. “Let’s go and find the night watchman.” The woman suggested. So they followed the sound of gong being hit and found the watchman. This watchman worked for the family and knew of course where to find the butler.
When informed of the accident, the butler had to report to the head of the family. Hearing it, almost all the family members got up. They all wanted to see the vampire. When the body was taken out of the water and onto the ground, it stayed still, no longer a vampire. The body was dried and the wet clothes on it were changed before it was put back into the coffin and the lid restored. More long nails were driven in to keep the lid firmly on the coffin so that such an accident would not happen again.
Everyone was disappointed that they missed the rare chance to see the vampire in action. But they forgot the fact that they would risk their lives to see a vampire.
Since everyone was up now, Linda and the woman were needed no more. They got paid and left. “Sorry.” The woman apologized to Linda, “I got you into this mess and almost lost our lives.”
“That’s okay since we are still alive.” Linda took leave of the woman and went her own way.