What’s going on?
Qin Ye froze. As he returned to his home slowly, the crowd separated, making a path for him to enter. A middle-aged man in his forties was pacing about frantically in front of his house. As soon as the man noticed Qin Ye’s return, he immediately went forward and grabbed Qin Ye’s hand and sighed with resignation, “Little Qin… you’ve got to mentally prepare yourself.”
“What in the world is going on?”
The man grimaced as he continued to explain softly, “Earlier.. .your grandmother suddenly fainted and collapsed, and she’s no longer breathing…”
“That’s right, Little Qin, you’ve got to bring her to the hospital quickly! Let us know if you need money.” “Your grandmother is old, and you shouldn’t dally any longer. Hurry up! We’ve already dialed the emergency services on your behalf.”
Everyone along this street habitually kept their doors open and unlocked. This was vastly different from the coldness and distance between neighbours in the larger, more urbanized cities. Amidst all the care and concern showered upon him by his neighbours, Qin Ye’s eyes gleamed brightly as he dashed back into his home.
As soon as he opened the front door, he saw a gray-haired elderly lying on the bed with her arms folded primly. Qin Ye drew a deep breath. Trembling, he stretched out his hand to check for breath and pulse.
There isn’t any breathing!
He stood silently in front of the bed for almost two minutes, yet the old lady remained completely still. Then, he suddenly turned and walked back out of his house to address his neighbours once more, “Thank you, dear uncles and aunties. I’ve just fed some medicine to my grandmother. She’s fine now. It’s just a chronic problem that has been plaguing her. Now that she’s recovering, please excuse me as I attend to her. I’ll thank each of you properly tomorrow.”
As soon as he finished speaking, he shut the door once more, foreclosing any further discussion on the matter.
Leaning against the door, his head drooped low, and he lifted his hands weakly, almost as though he were going to cover his eyes. Finally, a chuckle escaped from his lips, cutting through the silence of his own room. The hands that were hovering over his eyes curled up tightly into fists.
Your time has finally come!
He dashed over to the bed once more and lifted his grandmother bunglingly. The elderly’s bones were light. Qin Ye looked about his home excitedly. Being in the funerary industry, there was simply no lack of coffins around the area. He immediately kicked open a coffin and shoved his grandmother in. Then, he picked up his tools like a well-oiled machine - nails between his lips and hammer in hand. Just as he was about to hammer down the lid on the coffin, the old granny in the coffin suddenly opened her eyes and stared straight back at Qin Ye soulfully.
Time appeared to freeze awkwardly right that moment.
“Pretty busy, huh?”
“Haha… not at all, not at all.” Qin Ye chuckled awkwardly as he retracted his hands, attempting feebly to conceal the tools of his trade.
“I recall that I was lying in bed earlier…”
“...the bed is too hard. I thought to shift you to a more comfortable place.”
“Don’t you think that the space here is too small?” The old granny sneered as she sat up with an erect posture. Speckled skin, dishevelled hair, replete with a face full of wrinkles. The old granny donned a black overcoat. She flicked her finger at Qin Ye casually, yet Qin Ye howled and immediately clutched at his forehead where she had struck as he crouched down in pain.
The old granny leisurely poured herself a cup of tea, took a sip of it and spat it out on the floor, “The tea in the mortal realm is still just as disgusting as ever.”
Then leave us!
How can you freeload off me like that? Doesn’t your conscience tug at your heartstrings a tiny bit?
“Grandmother...” Qin Ye moaned for several seconds, before finally standing up once more with a red and tender forehead. Gritting his teeth, he began to placate his grandmother with an artificial smile, “You...have you ‘gone down’ again?”
“Don’t call me grandmother. I can’t live up to such honorifics.” The old granny chuckled dryly as she looked at Qin Ye as though staring at a dead person, “Have you heard of a legend?”
“Legend has it that…a person who has consumed the taisui fungus, also known as the fungus of aeons can end up in two ways.”
“The first possibility is that he would transform into a monster completely devoid of all humanness. The second…” She tapped her ancient fingers on the table, “Is that he would live forever.”
She stretched her body and stared straight at Qin Ye once more. The wrinkles on her face appeared incomparably gloomy as she smiled genially, “You… have you heard of these things before?”
“No.” Qin Ye responded curtly and calmly.
After staring at each other for several more seconds, the old granny shifted her gaze and smiled grimly, “That’s strange, then… because your name isn’t in the Book of Life and Death. Furthermore, when I knocked on your door in the middle of the night a week ago, you could actually see me…”
Qin Ye plastered a look of utmost seriousness as he made up a bunch of tall tales, “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s just the result of the refraction of light. There’s a scientific basis for this. Canadian scientist Michael Paysinger has proven that exposing the temporal lobe of one’s brain to electromagnetic flux can increase a person’s propensity to report supernatural experiences… Furthermore, a toxicologist known as Albert Downey has hypothesized that protracted exposure to certain substances, such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, pesticides, etc, can produce an environment that is conducive for supernatural experiences…”
Before he could finish speaking, a muffled smack struck Qin Ye’s forehead once more, causing him to fly back two meters and crash into the bedframe.
“This old bag of bones hates smart-alecs the most.” The old granny took out a footlong pipe and lit it and puffed lightly. The surroundings were immediately filled with smoke, “Have you managed to find ‘it’?”
Grimacing, Qin Ye rubbed his back and stood up, “No.”
“That’s weird.” The granny tapped on the pipe as she added, “That doesn’t make any sense… it has to be in this county…”
Qin Ye glanced at the old granny’s expressions as he probed further, “Just what exactly is it? Shouldn’t you at least tell me that much?”
And you should leave as soon as you find it! Shouldn’t you limit the duration of your freeloading after all?
The old granny didn’t respond. Qin Ye swallowed his saliva, numbed his nerves and continued, “Even if you can’t tell me what it is, shouldn’t you at least tell me your name and why you’ve come to the mortal world? Look at the amount of Yin energy surrounding your body…”
He paused and blinked his eyes nervously.
If the amount of Yin energy surrounding his own body was likened to a bonfire, then the Yin energy emanating from this old granny could only be described as a beacon fire on the Great Wall of China!
The Yin energy was so strong that it was almost corporeal. Comparing himself with her was tantamount to comparing the light from a firefly and a moon that hung high in the sky. This was no longer an existence of a mere ghost - wasn’t this more akin to Yama on earth?
So....given your peerless existence, why do you have to freeload off me in my humble little shop here?! Might I therefore invite this majestic ghost pokemon to please return to your pokeball?
“Your Yin energy… suggests that your existence in Hell is more than that of an average Emissary of Hell, right?”
There was still no response.
The old granny squinted her eyes, as though pondering about the truths of life as she remained enveloped by the smoke from her pipe. Qin Ye attempted to probe even further, “It’s not as though I don’t welcome you here… after all, you’re considered a fellow sojourner from ‘down there’... However, there are expenditures required to live in the mortal realm. It’s those red-coloured notes on the table. Yet you’ve just showed up and lodged at my place without giving me a proper account... Don’t you think you should spare some thought for me and allow me to be mentally prepared at the very least?”
“I’ve already given you a week’s time to adjust, and you’ve still not gotten used to this arrangement?” The old granny finally set down her pipe and turned her wrinkled face towards Qin Ye.
Qin Ye shook his head adamantly.
“So, it’s like that…” The old granny sighed softly. With the hook of her finger, a black, ancient manuscript filled with Yin energy flew straight out of Qin Ye’s chest. The old granny flipped open the manuscript and opened a folding page at the front of the manuscript. The first page was Qin Ye’s picture.
However, this picture could hardly be considered a photograph at all. Rather...it was a black-and-white composite formed entirely out of black-and-white coloured energy!
There were a few lines written on the manuscript as well.
Name: Qin Ye (Nickname - Dogballs)
Place of Origin: Liu Er Mound Village, Gazi Gully, Tang An County, Qingguang City
Family Members: Grandfather (deceased), Parents (deceased)
Date of Birth: 1 October 1938
The old granny’s wrinkled hands paused slightly, and she stared at Qin Ye with a somewhat complicated gaze, “There’s nothing much you can hide from this old bag of bones… As long as you’ve once been born; as long as you’ve been a ‘human’, as long as you’re still living, then every single thing in your past is as clear as day to me.”
“To have kept such a cheerful and positive attitude despite having experienced decades of life on end… you’re not too shabby, not too shabby at all. I approve of you.”
Qin Ye dug his ears, “What are you talking about? I don’t really understand what you’re saying. It’s all so profound.”
The old granny ignored him and continued smoking her pipe, “Only a person who has experienced the vicissitudes of life would never lose himself among the tides of humanity, whether ugly or kind. This old bag of bones is well-assured in bestowing the seal of the Emissary of Hell upon you.”
“You should also know how important the status of an official is to you. The fact that you are neither considered the living nor the dead means you are an existence that is viewed with contempt by both sides.”
Several other words were imprinted on the manuscript just below his personal particulars.
Occupation: Probationary Emissary of Hell
Duration: 5 days, 13 hours, 27 minutes and 6 seconds
The old granny ran her finger gently across his picture and sighed softly, “I turned my heart to the bright moon, yet the moon only shines on the canal...”
Her dry, wrinkled hands rested on his picture and Qin Ye’s monochromatic picture quivered for a second. Before she could go on, she discovered yet another hand pressing on hers, almost as though filled with determination.
“Buddha has once said this - If I don’t enter Hell, who will?” Qin Ye’s expression was filled with resolution, almost akin to that of a revolutionary martyr, “Chief, you must learn to give newcomers a chance. Jobs are hard to come by these days, you know. Perhaps youngsters may complain and mumble and grumble, but it still doesn’t change the fact that their hearts are filled with an immeasurable desire for promotion and career progression.”
“What they really need are opportunities! Opportunities to show their abilities!”
The old granny’s lips twitched slightly, “A ‘youngster’ born of the year 1938… It looks like the vicissitudes of life hasn’t merely increased the thickness of your skin. I can also see an undeniable thirst to stay alive.”
She casually threw the manuscript back to Qin Ye, who immediately received it with gratitude and chuckled lightheartedly, “If there’s anything you require of me, please let me know.”
Qin Ye’s face instantly darkened.
The old granny raised an eyebrow curiously, “Mm?”
“I await your instructions.”
The old granny’s smile faded. She set her pipe gently on the table and paused for a long while before continuing, “I know you’ve got many questions, including why I’ve come looking for you in the middle of the night one week ago and why I’m here in the first place. However…”
She drew a deep breath, “Tomorrow at midnight, this old bag of bones will explain everything.”
Qin Ye contemplated for a moment, before probing further, “When the moon hangs high in the sky and the living are heavily in slumber?”
Inhale. Exhale. The old granny’s voice was once again filled with vigor, “Scram!!” It was a declaration that the discussion was over.
As Qin Ye slowly departed from the room, the old granny sighed as she watched his fading silhouette with an incomparably complex twinkle in her eyes. It wasn’t until the sound of showering could be heard that she solemnly pulled up the sleeve over her arm.
It was still her old speckled skin. However...from the left elbow up, her arm appeared somewhat transparent and ethereal. Furthermore, one could see that the bones and muscles were all glowing faintly with a mild golden hue!
The traces of golden light was a mark of the Bodhi. One could even vaguely make out several rootless golden lotuses slowly stirring and destroying its host from within. Innumerable tiny, faintly visible Sanskrit words flowed through her meridians. At the same time, the mark of the Bodhi caused the old granny immeasurable pain and suffering.
It had only been a few seconds, yet her forehead was already percolating with cold sweat.
“It’s not long now…”
She pulled up her sleeves yet even more as she gazed out the window into the distance, “The mortal realm has already discovered the upheaval in Hell… and I don’t have much time left either…”
“It’s a pity… this kid’s got a good heart, but he’s seen far too many things. He’s too cunning. He’s consumed the fungus of aeons… not only will he never die, he will never grow up either. He will live as though his age is forever locked in time. To live in such a cruel world with such an outrageous identity… Sigh, if it were possible, I would’ve liked to personally teach and guide him a little more. Unfortunately…”
She stood up slowly, and her white hair danced on its own without wind, “There’s no time left…”
“Where exactly is ‘it’? If I can’t find it, then everything is nothing more than empty talk… billions of evil ghosts are pouring into the mortal realm right now. The onset of these supernatural phenomena is merely a foreshadowing as to what is to come. This is just the prologue…”
I love the 'dogballs' nickname. Hah!