As the sky gradually darkened, the twilight sun crept through the diamond-shaped windows and onto A Fu’s knees. She heard faint sounds of people outside, the loud greetings of aunts and sisters-in-law, children crying, and the shadows of servants and maids passing by with their footsteps. She wanted to cry out for help, but she couldn’t move, not even bending her fingers. In the copper mirror, her reflection was blurry, like a female ghost.
There was no one else in the room but her, and the shadows of the dried flowers swayed on the table. It was quiet all around her, but suddenly a small bamboo ball rolled to her feet with a clatter. The ball was old and worn, as if it had been used for a long time, and the edges of the bamboo were frayed.
Where did this ball come from? A Fu felt a sense of confusion and turned her eyes to look around. The room was empty, except for her. But the ball was right at her feet; it couldn’t have appeared out of thin air. She couldn’t turn her head and her view was limited, so she could only see the dressing table in front of her and the incense table in front of that. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her and she looked into the copper mirror. As soon as she looked, her heart sank. Half of a blurry face appeared from under the gauze canopy near the bed, staring intently at her reflection in the mirror.
The face had vague features and a hazy expression, only its outline was discernible. A Fu felt it was somewhat eerie. After staring for a while, she realized that it was because the face was very low, close to the ground, as if someone was lying on the ground and peeking out from under the gauze to secretly watch her.
Even the bravest person would be afraid. A Fu’s back was cold and her heart was pounding. The face remained motionless, and A Fu decided not to look at it anymore. The more she looked, the more scared she became, so she closed her eyes and tried to calm her breathing. She could only hope that Fu Lan would discover something was wrong soon, but she also worried that the monster might have some tricks up its sleeve and was trying to deceive them, hoping to separate Fu Lan and the puppy to eat the puppy, and that was why it had gone to such lengths.
As she was lost in thought, a shadow suddenly covered her head, and everything went black before her eyes as if someone was standing in front of her. A Fu felt a chill run through her body. Slowly, she opened her eyes, not daring to look directly ahead. Instead, she lowered her eyelids and saw a pair of small feet standing in front of her. They were like a child’s. A Fu was startled, and slowly lifted her gaze to see a pale-faced child of seven or eight years old, looking at her with black eyes.
It turned out that the child was too short and was hiding behind the gauze, showing only his face. A Fu thought there was someone lying behind her. The vague appearance was due to the fact that the bronze mirror had not been polished for a long time. She was scared out of her wits and only then noticed that her own face was also blurry.
The child’s face was expressionless, and creepy to look at.
Could this be a ghost child? A Fu was scared.
The child looked at her for a while and suddenly took A Fu’s arm, rolled up her sleeve, and bit down hard. Blood spilled from the bite, causing A Fu intense pain. However, she could not struggle or speak, and could only endure the pain. She thought this was it, her luck had run out after she had encountered a bald-headed demon and a man-eating ghost child.
Footsteps sounded at the door. The child trembled, picked up his ball, and disappeared in an instant. A Fu’s hand fell back on her knee, and the wound on her arm burned. Zhang Luo Huai lifted the pearl curtain and came in, his face back to normal. He did not speak as he sniffed around and then smiled. “Did he come to see you?”
A Fu ignored him, cold-faced.
Zhang Luo Huai rolled up A Fu’s sleeve and saw a row of bite marks on her fair arm. He smiled. “This child is naughty and always running around. His flesh and blood are extremely pure, like your child, so there’s no need to worry. He bit you, but it’s not poisonous.” He let go of A Fu’s sleeve and rubbed her head. “Good wife, accept your fate. This old man is now wearing the skin of a mortal, and has shed his demon qi. Fu Lan is just a little boy who can’t sense this old man’s demon qi.”
A Fu glared at him hatefully.
Zhang Luo Huai ignored her and continued to smile. “Alright, alright, the auspicious time has come, and we should get married. You will be my concubine in a legitimate way, and the puppy will be my legitimate son. We will be a family and live well.”
Fu Lan led the puppy to stand under the stone lions at the entrance of Zhang Mansion, while the black cat lay on the pedestal. People were coming and going on the steps, and villagers from the fields came with their families to drink wedding wine. Fu Lan held the puppy, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his cuffs tied, looking like a timid country boy.
The puppy sucked on his fingers and looked up at Fu Lan. “Brother, where did our mother go?”
The black cat lazily stretched and said, “Fool, we should leave now. A Fu has found a good home after getting married and has a new place to live with the puppy. We should go.”
Fu Lan looked down and saw the small child snuggled up next to him. The puppy’s clear black eyes were watery with tears. Fu Lan bent down and picked up the puppy, stepping over the threshold. There were more than ten tables set up in the courtyard, and people were already seated. When the villagers saw them, they all covered their mouths and laughed, whispering to each other.
An old lady with a fan walked over and pulled Fu Lan to the table. “Fool, why did you bring your little brother here? It doesn’t matter. Since you’re here, take care of your little brother and don’t cause trouble for your godmother.”
The old lady sitting next to them laughed. “Puppy, does your mother not want you anymore? Come with me instead.”
The puppy turned his head and leaned against Fu Lan. “Brother, does mother not want me anymore?”
Fu Lan covered his ears and whispered, “Puppy, don’t listen, don’t look.”
“Will Brother leave? Will the black cat leave?” The child tightly clutched Fu Lan’s clothes.
The black cat licked his face with pity and whispered, “Alright, alright, the black cat won’t leave.”
Suddenly, music started playing, and the courtyard became chaotic with everyone laughing and talking. The groom led the bride out from the corner door, followed by servants and maidservants. The bride wore a golden headpiece with pearls, her eyes lowered. Her cheeks were pink and white, and at first glance, she looked like a goddess in a temple.
The puppy’s eyes lit up, and he shouted, “Mother!”
A Fu was startled and looked up. The puppy jumped out of Fu Lan’s arms and ran towards her clumsily. She wanted to shout, “Don’t come over, go back to Fu Lan’s side!” However, she heard the sound of a bronze bell in the noisy crowd, gently ringing out, and she blurted out against her will, “Puppy, come, this is your new father..”
The puppy was stunned and stood still, looking at the groom. “Father? But didn’t he become a god?”
“Son,” Zhang Luo Huai opened his arms. “Father is here. Come here, Father will hug you.”
“Father has come down to earth!” The puppy’s face broke into a big smile. He took a step forward, but suddenly hesitated and turned back to pull Fu Lan along. “Brother, let’s go to Father together.”
“Wait,” Zhang Luo Huai called to him. “Puppy, he is not your brother. He is a mongrel of unknown origin, and the Zhang family does not welcome such people at our door. You will live with your father and mother. As for this mongrel, he can go back to where he came from.”
The puppy was stunned.
Zhang Luo Huai said, “Let him go and come to me on your own.”
The villagers behind them came forward and pulled Fu Lan back. They whispered, “You fool, go home first. Don’t make trouble here. Your adoptive mother has finally found a good marriage. Don’t ruin it for her.”
Fu Lan stood still, just lowering his gaze and touching the puppy’s head. The small child stood on the ground, staring blankly at his mother and new father. His mother’s voice came from afar, urging him to come over quickly. All the villagers were urging him to let go of Fu Lan’s clothes.
“Go quickly, puppy.”
“Go quickly, your parents are waiting for you.”
The puppy hesitated and asked, “Can I only choose one between Father and Brother?”
“Yes.” Zhang Luo Huai smiled. “You can only choose one.”
The puppy clenched his fists. He suddenly moved, but did not rush towards A Fu and Zhang Luo Huai. Instead, he pounced into Fu Lan’s arms. He tightly hugged Fu Lan’s neck, his long and curled eyelashes fluttering with every blink, shedding tears the size of beans.
“I don’t want Father anymore, I want Brother!” The puppy cried. “Mother is bad. She wants Father and doesn’t want Brother, so I don’t want her either!”
Fu Lan quietly held him, the warmth from his small body was like a charcoal fire. This child was naturally bold and smiling. Even when caught by a demon, he dared to knock on the demon’s head as if it was a drum. He rarely cried, naturally carefree and fearless.
It turned out that he could be afraid, afraid of losing Fu Lan.
The black cat crouched on Fu Lan’s shoulder, leaned over, and rubbed away the puppy’s tears.
“Don’t cry.” Fu Lan tore off a piece of cloth from his chest and tied it over the puppy’s eyes, pressing the puppy’s face against his chest. “Close your eyes. Don’t look, don’t listen.”
The puppy obediently buried himself in Fu Lan’s chest.
Fu Lan stroked the puppy’s head and whispered, “Brother will take you and mother home!”
As soon as the words fell, his figure disappeared in an instant. Fu Lan appeared behind Zhang Luo Huai, drew out his hand, and with a swipe of his five fingers, Zhang Luo Huai’s body was torn apart. Black blood splattered like a fountain.
The black cat leaped onto A Fu’s head, and from somewhere, it took out a talisman and slapped it on her forehead. A Fu shook all over and finally regained her mobility.
A Fu moved her limbs with relief, but suddenly felt that something was wrong. The courtyard had become quiet, and there was no sound of birds or insects. It seemed that one could hear the sound of a falling needle. All the villagers stared at them, not because they were frightened by Fu Lan tearing apart Zhang Luo Huai, but because… they had been controlled by the Soul Capturing Bell.
Zhang Luo Huai’s shattered limbs wriggled and floated into the air, and then reassembled. His broken face grinned at Fu Lan. “Fu Lan, how did you know it was me?”
The black cat sneered. “Dead baldy, even with makeup on, you can’t hide the stench of your rotten skin. I knew who you were the moment you told the puppy to call you father!”
Fu Lan handed the puppy to A Fu, and with a flicker of his figure, he appeared in front of Zhang Luo Huai again and tore his almost assembled limbs into pieces with one swipe.
“I said you couldn’t kill me,” said Zhang Luo Huai. A copper bell appeared in the palm of his broken right hand. With a light shake, the villagers below suddenly trembled and, like madmen, twisted their hands and feet and rushed towards Fu Lan.
The villagers roared and clawed at Fu Lan, and some even climbed up the trees to reach for his feet. Seeing that they could not climb up, the villagers formed a human ladder and pulled Fu Lan down. In the blink of an eye, Fu Lan was swallowed up by the crowd. The black heads of people wriggled like cockroaches, and the villagers followed one after another. In less than a cup of tea’s time, they had piled up into a mountain of people.
At the same time, Zhang Luo Huai’s limbs and minced meat converged like a tide, revealing a sinister smile.
A Fu hid under the porch, feeling extremely anxious. “Why won’t this old ghost die!?”