Chapter 30 – Pillar of Nature (10)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
Wang’s voice is actually quite pleasant, if she were still a human, she could become a singer or something. But she is a ghost now, so her voice has deteriorated, and she speaks with a feeble and airy tone that gives you goosebumps and sends shivers down your spine.
She suddenly speaks, which startles the crowd.
Shen’s students all stare at her, and since Wang is not used to her body, she has no choice but to stand within everyone’s eyesight.
Zhao rubs his hand to feel warmer, “you guys wait here, I will take a look.”
Zhao fearlessly enters the courtyard, and Shen follows without hesitation.
Due to the weather, the courtyard is waterlogged and rugged. Zhao slows down, and walks around. The black cat’s eyes sparkle like lanterns, and all of a sudden, it jumps out of Zhao’s arms and rushes forward to a corner. With its fat paws, the cat begins clawing a small mount on the ground.
Zhao kneels down, picks up the cat on the nape, and wipes its paws clean. He holds out a torch, and takes a closer look at the hole in the mud.
He sees something ivory white. Zhao takes out a small shovel from his bag, and starts digging with difficulty… until he sees a slightly flat forehead and half an eyehole. Zhao realises he dug up half a skull.
The silent Shen watches Zhao dig up the skull and begins looking around the courtyard: there are many similar mounts scattered across. There is probably a huge pile of skeletons buried underneath them.
Shen turns around and sees the frightened but curious students peeking in; he holds Zhao’s arm still and says, “bury it, don’t tell the others.”
Zhao buries the skull and stands up as if nothing happened; he invites the students and the others inside.
“It’s nothing, just a few broken pieces of bricks. Watch your step. Get inside and set up your tents, and remember to keep yourself warm.” Zhao puts away
the shovel, lights a cigarette, and watches the group get inside the hut one by one.
Wang still walks at the back. She stops next to Zhao, and whispers so only he can hear, “you saw it right? There is more than one layer.”
Zhao is getting a headache; he lowers his voice, “fuck me, I have never seen so many layers before. If we stay here will they complain to the authorities? Nothing we can do about that though, our cars can’t get up here, and there is nowhere else to stay. If we let the camp outside they will freeze to death.”
“It’s quite the taboo to stay here,” Wang hesitates, “I will tell them later, as long as we do the rituals, staying for one more night… shouldn’t be a problem.”
Zhao nods, and urges her, “be quick.”
Wang counts her steps as she walks outside. Then she walks backwards by two steps, turns around, and kneels on the ground. With her hands above her head, she bows down in worship towards the courtyard. The students peek curiously; Shen tells them to stay quiet and stand back… as he realises: Wang’s “fingers” are plastic, and her “hair” is made of nylon.
It seems that she isn’t a real person, but a plastic mannequin from a shopping mall.
Of course… our Professor Shen’s mind is too pure to think otherwise.
Zhao stands against the wall and watches Wang.
She kneels outside the door, lowers her voice and mutters some unknown dialect. The others don’t understand, and can’t even figure out how many syllables make a word. All they hear are notes flowing out of her mouth like water, echoing through the courtyard and seemingly awakening some ancient spirit; this causes a deep palpitation in everyone.
Every single person in the hut feels it, even Shen’s students. The youngsters can’t help but look down sombrely. Except Zhao, who’s still smoking; he stands by a corner blandly, without emotion.
“What’s that?” Zhu walks forward after Wang is done and softly asks.
“Ancestors’ spirits.” Wang stands up and rigidly wipes away dirt on her trousers, “I greeted them, so it should be fine now. Don’t crowd up in front of the door, get inside, everyone. Remember, don’t throw rubbish in the courtyard, say greetings when you leave and if you need to go to the toilet walk further away.”
The wind and snow are howling, nobody wants to go outside in the cold. But today they’ve experienced so many incredible incidents that they’re starting to get afraid of taboo. After hearing what Wang said, they hurry back into the hut with relief. It’s very shabby inside, but at least it shelters you from the wind.
When everyone is inside, Wang turns to Zhao and says softly, “Chief Zhao, you can “see” from birth, you’re born to be with things that people don’t believe in, you’re born to know the existence of spirits and deities. But whether you pass by shrines or temples you never show any respect. I heard that you entered the Jokhang Temple three times, where all worshippers dream to visit, and yet you saw the golden Buddha and only nodded but didn’t kneel. That’s inappropriate.”
Zhao flickers some ashes on to the window sill without a care, and smiles while noddding, “yea, too indecent; not worth learning from and not worth advocating. The constitution recognises religious freedom, so we must respect others’ religions…”
Wang gazes at him with her plastic eyes as if they were real, and lowers her voice even more, “there is always something you don’t know about in this world. Perhaps you’re very capable, but you’re just human, can you reign over the earth and sky, can you reign over destiny? You can’t be too arrogant, if you’re so crazed as to disregard the gods, karma will get to you one day.”
Zhao’s smile wears off a little. He looks at Wang and gently fixes up her messy clothes; he says coldly, “I have no guilt, no regrets, and no wishes to pray for. Whether it be gods or spirits, what gives them the right to judge me? They can be powerful and almighty on their own, but why should I care?”
Wang stares at him deeply, and sighs.
She extends her plastic hand, and gestures in the air, muttering something, and touches Zhao on the forehead with a finger.
“You’re a good person,” she says softly, “may Buddha have mercy, forgive you and protect you.”
Zhao doesn’t dodge, he even lowers his head so that she can reach it. After Wang finishes, he asks, “you were a good person when you were alive, did Buddha forgive you and protect you?”
Wang looks up; the stare from the rigid plastic eyes shows a hint of melancholy.
Zhao lifts her shoulders gently, “it’s cold outside, good lady, let’s get inside.”
In the hut, Zhu and Chu work efficiently, and they manage to set up a small cooking pot quickly. They pour snow water and start boiling, using the steam to heat up some beef sticks. Then, Zhu starts grilling the beef on the fire.
The students take out their notebook, and gather around Wang as she enters with sparkling eyes. A tall and slender boy says with a little hesitation, “would you mind if we asked about the customs of this small hut?”
He glances at Shen after saying this, and realises the teacher is frowning. He frantically adds, “sorry, I mean, only if it’s appropriate… if there is any taboo we don’t know about, please don’t get mad.”
Wang sits beside the stove, and says softly, “no problem.”
She hides her hands in her sleeves, and picks up a chocolate ball. It’s a small and beautifully wrapped treat. She really wants to try it, but she only fondles with it and stares.
The female class captain picks up another piece and hands it to Wang, “this is good, please try it.”
“I’m just looking, I can’t eat… sweet things.” She says softly, then pauses before she answers the students, “these mountain ranges have changed a lot throughout the years, and the people living down in the valley have also migrated and merged with other clans. It’s said that during the early times, a Kamba tribe used to live here. The Tibetan people have a tradition of sky
burial: after a person’s death, the corpse is handed to the Sky Burial Master for disintegration. He would chop up the body and oil it up for the birds to eat… if the corpse is not fully cleaned by birds, it’s considered very unlucky, so the job of the body-breaker is very important. This hut used to be that of the Sky Burial Master.”
“Although the Sky Burial Master is greatly respected in the clan, he touches dead corpses all the time, so people usually wouldn’t want close contact with him.”
Lin explains. As Guo listens, he thinks of someone else… the Ghost Slayer.
Isn’t he greatly respected but feared as well?
Besides Zhao, nobody dares to even talk to him; even ghosts and spirits avoid him, it’s as if… he would bring about some horrible misfortune.
“In the next centuries, many tribes have settled here, and inevitably, a few widespread conflicts broke out. Sometimes the tribes would go to war, and sometimes they would make relations by intermarriage, and their bloodlines begin mixing. Soon, quite a few other tribes started performing Sky Burials, only they had different customs compared to the Tibetans.”
Wang lectures like a history teacher: with a soft voice, and monotonously; it’s rather sleep-inducing. But Shen’s students are used to this discipline, they eagerly rub their hands together, and frantically jots notes.
Zhao gobbles some jerky, moves his sleeping bag next to Shen to get a nice view, and starts napping.