Suddenly, A Fu remembered the proud young man who carried a three-foot blade many years ago. He turned his head slightly and said to her, “Demons are cunning and often separate their hearts from their bodies to achieve immortality. Therefore, when killing demons, one must destroy their hearts.”
“The heart!” A Fu pulled the black cat’s tail and turned around to run to the backyard.
“Nonsense! Of course, this old man knows that the heart is not in his body, but who knows where he hid his heart!” The black cat followed her and shouted, “You weak mortal, this place is dangerous, don’t run around!”
“I know where the heart is!” A Fu said, “There is a mountain spirit who beckons to people on the bridge but disappears when they pass by. I met him today. Zhang Luo Huai said he has pure flesh and blood, and he doesn’t inject poison when he bites people.”
The black cat was stunned. “Are you saying that the heart is in the mountain spirit’s body?”
“That’s right.” A Fu gritted her teeth and ran. “Zhang Luo Huai nurtures the heart with the pure flesh and blood of children. The mountain spirit scares people to let them know that the heart is in his body, but Zhang Luo Huai always finds out.”
“Why doesn’t the child just say it out loud? Be careful, this might be a trap!”
A Fu ran through the corridor and a ball rolled to her feet. She stopped and looked up. The child stood under the flower hall, looking at her quietly.
A Fu put down the puppy and walked towards the child. She crouched in front of the boy and asked softly, “Did you bite me before to let me move? Is that right?”
The boy nodded.
“You can’t speak?” she asked.
The boy opened his collar to show A Fu a scar on his neck, which looked like a twisting centipede. Zhang Luo Huai had cut his throat so he could no longer speak.
No one knew when he had been forced to leave his parents and hometown, and no one knew the fear and sadness he had experienced among the demons. She imagined him playing ball in the mountains, lonely and desperate, so many people passing him by, but no one able to take him home. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t even cry, because he was already dead, and the dead don’t cry.
A Fu covered her mouth and shed tears.
The black cat jumped onto the roof to observe the battle. Zhang Luo Huai manipulated the villagers to bite Fu Lan while he was suspended in mid-air, and the latter was dragged back to the ground and swallowed up by the crowd again. Fu Lan repeatedly broke through the encirclement, only to be dragged back in again. He was covered in blood, but still expressionless, as if he couldn’t feel the pain. The black cat urged, “Don’t waste time, hurry up!”
The boy took A Fu’s hand and placed it on his chest. His hand was cold, but his chest was hot, as if he was holding a ball of fire that throbbed inside him. He took a golden hairpin from A Fu’s hair and placed it in her palm. His black eyes looked at her quietly, as if giving her a wordless encouragement.
There was a barrier around his chest. The black cat jumped down and drew a talisman on the hairpin. The flowing light on the hairpin was so fine and dense that A Fu couldn’t see it clearly. She held the hairpin tightly, while the boy held her hand. The hairpin pierced through the chest with a crisp cracking sound, shattering the glass-like barrier. The sharp tip of the hairpin pierced into the heart.
Zhang Luo Huai’s body froze for a moment as he returned to his original form. He stared at them in horror, and the villagers who had been crawling around stopped moving. Fu Lan stood up from the crowd, covered in blood, and drew a line in the air with his index finger. A cold light flashed along the line. It sliced diagonally down, piercing through Zhang Luo Huai’s entire body. He screamed in agony as his body burst into a gushing fountain of blood, splitting neatly in half and falling to the ground. A rusty bell dropped from the sky and landed on his severed limbs.
A Fu hugged the boy tightly as he gradually turned into ashes, dissipating into the air. In the light of the sky, the ash glowed like flickering fireflies, and she seemed to see a peaceful smile on the boy’s face.
May the wind take him home and let his soul rest in peace.
She picked up the ball and asked the puppy to hold it, then led the puppy back to the courtyard. Fu Lan picked up the soul capturing bell and shook it. The villagers who were scattered all over the ground woke up, looking at each other in confusion.
“Why am I here? Where is this?”
“What’s going on…I can’t remember anything.”
“A Fu? Oh, right, today is A Fu’s wedding day. Didn’t we come to drink and celebrate?”
Fu Lan was covered in blood from being torn apart by the villagers, but he still had a calm expression, as if the blood flowing wasn’t his own. A Fu felt heartbroken looking at him. He was just a child, fighting recklessly with his own flesh and blood as his only shield. A Fu wiped his face clean with her sleeve, then held his left hand and the puppy’s right hand as they walked to the center of the messy courtyard.
“Listen up, my fellow villagers. From now on, Fu Lan is my son – Meng Fu Niang’s son – and the puppy’s older brother. Our family of four, counting in our cat, will not have a fifth person!” She smiled slightly, but her gaze was cold. “If anyone dares to be a matchmaker for me again, or scare my two sons, I will tear their stinky mouth apart!”
The audience was silent, and the villagers looked at each other in confusion.
Fu Lan was a little stunned as he looked up at A Fu. The brilliant sunlight enveloped her face, and her delicate eyebrows and eyes stretched out into a gentle smile.
“Son, let’s go home.”
Fu Lan was not sure how A Fu managed to fool the officials, but they came a few times and then disappeared. Later, Fu Lan overheard gossip from the aunts in the courtyard that the officials had dug up a skinned corpse from the Zhang family’s backyard, and the matter was suppressed. Matters involving demons were dealt with in this way during this era. Unless the immortals from the mountains came, they were either ignored or suppressed to avoid rumors and unrest.
Fortunately, due to the influence of the soul capturing bell, everyone forgot what happened in the mansion. When someone saw Fu Lan covered in blood, A Fu cried and said that the demon wanted to catch him as food, and the villagers didn’t suspect anything. After all, Fu Lan’s white and tender appearance did look delicious.
Fu Lan was covered in bruises and needed several days to recover. On the day he recovered, A Fu had everyone jump over the fire pit to ward off bad luck. She also wrapped a bowl of white rice in red cloth and held it above their heads, then dragged Fu Lan and the black cat to the Nüwa Temple to offer incense.
Following A Fu’s lead, the puppy imitated and respectfully bowed to the goddess, muttering, “Goddess, my father is bad. Please don’t let him come down to earth. Use thunder to strike his head.”
As soon as they returned home, it started snowing. Snowflakes fell from the sky like small feathers. Everyone sat under the wide eaves, and the puppy played in Fu Lan’s arms while A Fu held the black cat to warm her hands. The black cat growled, “Cats can be killed, but not humiliated!”
“We’ll have an extra serving of braised pork tonight,” A Fu said.
“Are your feet cold? I can keep you warm,” said the black cat.
A Fu laughed uncontrollably.
This woman had a beautiful appearance, and her eyes and eyebrows curved when she smiled. Suddenly, the black cat asked, “Wu Fang Mountain is not very far from here. Do you want me and the fool to take you to find him? If he doesn’t recognize you, the two of us will beat him up.”
A Fu was startled and smiled. “No need. Wu Fang Mountain is suspended in the air, and even if we go, we can’t get up there. Besides, you’re a demon. It wouldn’t be convenient for you to go there.”
“So you’ll just keep waiting for him like this?”
“Who told you I’m waiting for him?” A Fu pouted.
“Come on, you.” The black cat looked like he understood everything. “I’m not Fu Lan. How could I not see through it? If you’re not waiting, why bother staying here until now? What’s going on between you and that stinky Daoist?”
As snow fell softly, A Fu shook her head and sighed heavily. “What else could it be? An immortal came down from the mountain and killed a bunch of demons, and I became a lovestruck girl. In the spring breeze, it was all a dream. I was a stupid girl. He’s a bit like Fu Lan. They both don’t like to talk, like a muffled gourd. I’ve never seen such a handsome man. How does that saying go? A husband so beautiful he eclipses all others. There’s no one else like him in the world. When we just got married, I held his face and said, ‘Husband, why are you so handsome? This little wife can’t get enough of looking at you during the day and even wants to look at you at night. When I sleep at night, I can’t see you, so I have to go to my dreams to see you. Guess what he said?”
A Fu gave a slight smile, and before the black cat could respond, she answered her own question, “He said he has no fortunate events in his life, but the only fortunate thing is that his face is to the madam’s liking.”
“That doesn’t sound like someone who can’t speak,” the black cat said. “A fool wouldn’t be able to say something so sweet and sour, right, fool?”
Fu Lan was stunned and said, “I can learn.”
A Fu didn’t say anything, and the world was silent. There was only the sound of snowflakes falling on the corridor. Fu Lan looked up and saw A Fu’s fair profile in the daylight. In her misty eyes, there were emotions he couldn’t understand. It was only many years later that he knew it was deep nostalgia and sorrow.
The puppy climbed into her arms and hugged her, saying, “Mother, don’t be sad. We have our big brother and Lord Cat. It doesn’t matter if father doesn’t come down to earth.”
“You’re right!” A Fu took a deep breath and hugged Fu Lan and the puppy tightly. “Why bother thinking about him? This old lady still has to earn money to raise her son and feed her cat.”
She suddenly jumped into the snow barefoot, running like a madwoman. This woman was like that, gentle and graceful on the surface, but in fact, when she went crazy, she didn’t care about anything, and even demons and ghosts were afraid of her. She ran until her hair tie came undone, her black and shiny hair flying among the snowflakes. While running, she put her hand over her mouth and shouted towards the sky, with an imposing manner and an awe-inspiring presence.
“Don’t come back, you heartless man! This old lady can live on her own!”