Chapter 1: The Embroidered Shoe

It’s said that human beings would become shrewder with time; the same was true for antiques. They, too, would develop intelligence and become 'spirits' as time passed.

Jade bracelets, idols, swords, etc. to name a few.

If any of you have ever noticed strange things happening in your house, like weird movements in your living room or kitchen around midnight, it might be due to an antique you’ve collected!

People that were in this line of business called antiques that had become spirits 'otherworldly items'.

If placed in the hands of someone that didn't know how to handle them, these otherworldly items would frequently bring them misfortune, or even cause their death.

But, if used properly, they could completely change one's career and love life. For this reason, VIPs and people from influential families were greatly interested in otherworldly items.

If there were a demand, there would be a supply. As such, merchants of otherworldly items were born.

Our Zhang Family has been in this business for three generations.

According to the rumors, my grandfather once dug out the eye of a Kappa, selling it to Yuan Shikai[1]. Afterward, Yuan Shikai went from being a mere warlord to being an Emperor.

In the past, my father sold the treasured sword that Wu Zixu[2] had used to commit suicide to a certain cross-talk comedian with the surname Zhao. Later, this comedian immediately rose to popularity, becoming famous throughout the country and even making an appearance at the Spring Festival Evening Party.

During my generation, the market of otherworldly items grew substantially, and the fingers of both hands weren't enough to count the number of well-known celebrities I ended up meeting.

Now, I would like to tell you my story.

In the year 2000, I inherited my father's antique shop.

The front of the shop was rather small, located in the most unremarkable corner of the street.

Since things had just started and I didn't have much experience, the business didn't really bloom after the shop fell into my hands. There was a period where the money I was making wasn't even enough to fill my stomach.

The first time I came into contact with an otherworldly item was during this period.

That day, I was sitting in my small shop with wine and beef, gazing at the deserted main street. I was somewhat starting to enjoy this life.

Apart from the peculiar business my family engaged in, our shop also had a bizarre opening time. We’d do business only after the sun had set, and this custom had been going on for three generations. Because of this, our family was very well respected in this street full of antique shops as we’d never steal customers from others.

It was at this time that Li Mazi stealthily came over. He was holding something that was wrapped up in black cloth.

Li Mazi was a colleague, and his shop was located at the end of the street, on the west side.

"Hey, Little Brother Zhang, drinking wine?" After seeing me, Li Mazi relaxed, and he sat beside me with no trace of politeness.

In the past, my father had taught me how to discern a person's thoughts from their body language. Therefore, I could tell from Li Mazi's actions that he was in trouble. Otherwise, there would be no reason for him to have been anxious on the way over, and then suddenly relaxing after seeing me.

Although I had no other unique ability, I was able to play the part of a cool, calm, and collected expert.

I asked calmly, "Li Mazi, do you need something? If so, speak frankly."

Li Mazi became nervous once more. He quietly jogged toward the entrance and poked his head outside to take a look around. After making sure that no one was nearby, he closed the door while acting all mysterious.

Then, he placed the bundle wrapped in black cloth in front of me. "Little Brother Zhang, it seems that I got my hands on one of those otherworldly items."

An otherworldly item!

Those two words immediately aroused my interest. I gazed at the bundle with a serious expression and stretched out my hand, preparing to reveal the contents hidden within the black wrapping.

However, Li Mazi quickly stopped me. "Little Brother Zhang, this thing is evil, and it would be best not to touch it. Strange things started happening in my house once I received this thing..."

After hearing those words, I also became a little nervous. In our area, Li Mazi was known for his courage. If he was scared out of his wits, then this item was far from ordinary.

I said sternly, "Just what the hell happened at your place? Tell me the whole story."

Li Mazi sighed and started to narrate the story of the otherworldly item.

Li Mazi had the habit of bargain-hunting all year round and roaming throughout the country. He would stop whenever he saw a village and see if he could collect one or two valuable antiques.

This time, while returning from his hometown, he made a few deals along the way. Among the things he got was this otherworldly item, an embroidered shoe.

After glancing at the shoe, one could instantly tell that it had a history. The style of this shoe dated way back to the Qing Dynasty.

Since his shop had yet to open for business, Li Mazi decided to leave the embroidered shoe in his house temporarily.

However, strange things immediately started happening.

That same evening, when Li Mazi returned home after drinking with his buddies, he discovered that the embroidered shoe had disappeared. He turned the whole living room upside down, but he was still unable to find it.

Back then, he just thought that he’d drank too much and had forgotten where he’d placed the shoe. As such, he didn't pay it too much attention.

But, right after midnight, the sleepy Li Mazi felt as though someone was walking around in his living room. Therefore, he got up and went to check.

The light of the living room was off, and the cold moonlight illuminated the place through the window, giving it a dreary aura.

Thanks to the moonlight, he noticed a human figure in the living room. The figure was sweeping the floor, washing clothes, and doing the dishes.

Li Mazi stepped forward so that he could take a better look. In the next moment, he discovered that the figure was none other than his son. His son was staring without blinking and had an eerie expression on his face.

Li Mazi's wife had died long ago. As such, the father and son could only depend on each other. After seeing how sensible his son was being, Li Mazi was overjoyed and praised him.

However, his son acted as though he hadn't heard Li Mazi's compliment and just kept doing the dishes. The oblivious Li Mazi thought that his son was angry with him because he’d been drinking too much recently. Due to this, he didn't take it to heart and went back to sleep.

But, little did he expect that during the next few days, his son would continue to wake up at midnight like clockwork. Each night, he would sweep the floor and do the dishes.

Both the floors and the dishes were clean already, and yet, his son would keep sweeping and wiping!

Li Mazi found the whole thing very strange. As far as he remembered, his son hadn't ever suffered from somnambulism! As such, what was going on with him for the past few days? People would indeed sleepwalk, but he’d barely heard of someone sleepwalking every day!

Li Mazi finally took things seriously and carefully sized up his son. Then, he made a frightening discovery... he found that his son was wearing that embroidered shoe on his foot!

It was the same embroidered shoe that he’d brought back from the countryside a few days ago!

A boy wearing an embroidered shoe, strolling through the living room in the middle of the night, and doing strange things... Li Mazi's hair stood on end.

He immediately realized that there was something wrong with the embroidered shoe.

Therefore, the next day, he didn't hesitate and hurled the embroidered shoe to a faraway place.

However, the matter didn't end there. That same night, Li Mazi heard the voice of a woman coming from his son's room.

As such, he rushed into the room, making another frightening discovery. The embroidered shoe he’d thrown away earlier had come back and was once again on his son's foot.

At this time, his son was earnestly performing the <Agarwood Fan> play of the Yue opera with his thumb and forefinger touching, and the rest of his fingers extended[3].

His voice was the same as that of a woman’s.

After seeing Li Mazi, the boy curled up his lips and laughed weirdly.

Li Mazi turned pale with fright and immediately tried to wake up his son. After returning to his senses, the boy couldn't remember anything. He didn't even know where that embroidered shoe had come from.

Li Mazi was in a state of panic, and he decided to toss the embroidered shoe into the well outside.

However, the following night, Li Mazi felt as though he was suffocating and woke up. When he opened his eyes, he discovered that a dripping wet figure, his son, to be precise, was trying to choke him.

While trying to strangle him, he shouted, "Why?! Why did you drown me?!"

The strength behind the grip was tremendous, and definitely beyond what a young boy possessed.

If Li Mazi hadn't grabbed a nearby bottle of wine, breaking it on his son's head, he would have likely been strangled to death that very night.

After returning to his senses, Li Mazi noticed that his son was drenched. And, of course, that soaking wet embroidered shoe was also worn on his foot.

He immediately realized that his son had climbed down the well and retrieved the embroidered shoe...

However, the well was pretty deep, and there was nothing one could use as support. How did his son get down there? After thinking up to this point, Li Mazi shivered.

His son meant everything to him, and if something were to happen to him, Li Mazi's life would lose all meaning.

He was sure that everything that had happened was the doing of that embroidered shoe. As such, Li Mazi, who’d been reselling antiques for many years, started suspecting that it might be one of those rumored 'otherworldly items'. So, he quickly removed the shoe from his son's foot.

His son instantly woke up, and just like the last time, he had no memory of what had happened.

Li Mazi was terrified, and after consoling his son, he rushed to my place with the embroidered shoe.

As long as someone lived in this street filled with antique shops, they were aware that only our shop would deal with these kinds of unlucky items.

After hearing Li Mazi's story, I shivered inwardly.

Whenever I’d seen my father collecting otherworldly items in the past, something like this had never happened! The vast majority of these items would merely cause minor trouble in the master's house and misplace things. To subdue them, one would only need a small trick.

And yet, the item Li Mazi was talking about sounded like a rather dangerous one.

I was somewhat overwhelmed. I didn't expect that the first otherworldly item I’d come across would be this troublesome.

People in this line of business had three kinds of items they would not accept: items that could endanger one's life, items that could affect one's fate, and items that could absorb one's blood and essence. This was one of the basic rules, and also a way to ensure our safety.

Therefore, to avoid breaking the rules of the profession, it was best to determine how dangerous the otherworldly item was before collecting it.

Li Mazi gave a nod of understanding.

I smeared some quicklime on my hands, a trick to prevent bad luck from affecting you.

After opening the black wrapping, a drenched embroidered shoe appeared before my eyes.

One couldn't help but admit that the design on the embroidered shoe was exquisite and that the needlework was meticulous. The red design wasn't ruined even after so many years. On the contrary, it looked more vivid after getting soaked in water. Under the lamplight, it had a blood-red color.

I furrowed my brow and looked at Li Mazi, asking, "Why is there only one shoe? Where’s the other?"

Li Mazi replied, "There was only one!"

I gasped, and then quickly wrapped up the shoe again. "Take it away. It seems that someone wants to harm you. I can't help!"

3. Also known as orchid fingers, a gesture used in Chinese opera.


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