My Ghost Mom's Horror Book - Chapter 8
Ever since she was young, my sister couldn’t speak. I could still remember the year she left.
From then on, I would find myself thinking about her every day. My elder sister….
——Zhu Zheqin’s sister-drum(1)
- I did some research and 阿姐鼓 ((elder sister drum)), or just ((sister drum)) is actually a song. And there’s even a story behind it. The first two sentences are probably directly taken from that song. You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbILvtOBFrE. If this doesn’t work, just entering the Chinese title should help. I won’t explain the story behind the song since it can be considered a SPOILER. And I HATE spoilers.
My family lived in a very remote village. How remote? No roads, no phone, no cable TV, and no cell phone signal. Even the most essential thing like electricity was most often not available for days.
I was the only child left in my family now. But once there were two: a boy and a girl. That was to say, I once had an elder sister.
My sister was mute. She could only make some faint ‘ahh’ sounds. She was almost ten years older than me, and it could be said she was the one who raised me. Our age gap was so big because the children born later could not be saved. Some died before they even reached full term and were born, some were stillborn ‒ that was what my parents told me. However, someone once said to me secretly ‒ they couldn’t live because those children were all girls. I didn’t dare to think too much about the meaning behind this. After all, they were my biological parents and had given me everything they could.
My sister never went to school, even a single day, and didn’t know a word. When it was my turn, my parents sent me to school ‒ Primary school, Middle school, High school, and even University. And I studied this way till now, sophomore year of university. No matter how poor the conditions were at home, no matter how frugally my parents had to live, they never limited my expenses. I knew they had high hopes for me because I was their only son. I was also very grateful to them for that, and I was looking forward to making more money after graduation to repay them well. But in truth, the person I really wanted to repay was none other than my sister.
My sister had been missing for many years. Our parents said that she left home by herself. They said that she couldn’t stand the poverty in the family and wanted to live a better life in the outside world. When I was a child, I believed in them and hated her for it. As I grew older I began to doubt the authenticity of their statement. My sister was mute and illiterate, and she had never left her hometown. She was gentle and timid. How could she do such a thing?
However, whether I believe it or not, as the days passed by, I never heard back from my sister. I began to persuade myself to believe in my parents’ words. I believed that my sister had started her own family by now. She had her husband and children in a certain place, and she was living an ordinary and happy life.
During the summer vacation of my sophomore year, I returned to my hometown. This was my first time going back home after entering the university. I didn’t go home during the previous long holidays or even during the Chinese New Year. One of the reasons was that I had to work during the holidays to earn my living expenses, and the other was to save on travel expenses. My university was very far away from my hometown. It was very expensive to go back home. For me, it was not a small expense.
I traveled by bus and train and finally, after a few days, I saw the mountain where my home was. There were no roads leading inside, so I had to rely on my feet to reach home. This was not an arduous task for me since I was used to walking through mountain roads.
After I got out of the car and took a short break, I picked up my huge backpack and began the trek over the mountain. The desolate mountain was quiet, and only the sound of flying birds flapping their wings was heard. The backpack was heavy and my feet were not as fast as they used to be. By the time I had covered two-thirds of the distance, it was already dusk. It seemed that I would only reach home by night but fortunately, I brought along a flashlight.
It was said that dusk was the time when demons and ghosts roamed around. Under the dark sky, everything seemed to be covered in shadows. Even if a person was courageous, they would inevitably feel a little scared. As I walked through the dense pine forest, the dark pine branches obscured the sky making the surroundings dark and gloomy. I hummed a song under my breath to give myself courage.
On my way, a gust of wind suddenly blew and the pine forest rustled. Amidst the sound of the rustling pine trees and my out-of-tune singing, there was another low sound. It sounded like someone saying “ah”.
Although the voice was low, it made me pause. “Who?” I looked around, but I didn’t see anyone else. Although there were many pine trees, they were not thick enough to hide people.
Did I hear wrong? No, I did hear another person’s voice. Recalling the legends of mountain spirits and monsters that I had heard when I was a child, I dashed out of the pine forest in a hurry. As soon as I came out, there was a dull drum sound in the distance. But when I listened carefully, the drum sound disappeared again.
Not daring to stay here any longer, I picked up my pace and looked back at the dark pine forest. Inexplicably, I felt familiar with the voice I heard in the forest, but I couldn’t recall where I had heard it.
It became completely dark not long after leaving the pine forest, so I took out my flashlight. The mountain road was rugged and I walked with care alone in the dark, with only the dim light of the flashlight to guide me. The cool night breeze was interlaced with the aroma of wildflowers and grass. Combined with the faint smell of soil, it put me at ease.
As I was walking through the curved and twisted mountain path, a black creature flapped its wings and hit me, startling me. It fell onto the grass by the side of the road and soon flew away. I used the light from my flashlight to look at it. It should be a little bat. With a sigh of relief, just as I was about to continue on my way, I saw a man sitting on a big rock nearby from the corner of my eye. The man was sitting motionlessly with his back turned towards me and his head bowed.
I thought he looked a bit strange. It was not common to meet people on the road during nighttime in the mountains, but it was not that uncommon either. But what was he doing here sitting on the side of the road at night? Generally, when you meet someone like this, they would also be going the same way as you.
“Fellow villager, what are you doing sitting there? Is there anything I can do for you?” I shone my flashlight towards that side.
The man remained sitting still and did not reply. His blue coarse clothes were washed white with signs of being patched up here and there. He was very skinny. This figure, I seemed to have seen him before. I rummaged through my memory and discovered that the man’s right hand was familiar to me. He had six fingers. Six fingers? I couldn’t help blurting out, “Second Uncle Chen?”(2) Uncle Chen’s home was near mine. He was born with six fingers on his right hand. But, what was he doing here?
2. So normally in Chinese culture children are called according to the order of seniority. Like Second Uncle Chen was the second son born in the Chen household. I will call him Uncle Chen unless other numerically named Uncle Chen’s pop up.
“Second Uncle Chen, are you coming back late from work? Let’s go back together.” I said again.
Uncle Chen still didn’t move or talk, so I walked forward and approached him. I said, “Uncle Chen, I’m the boy from the Meng family. Do you remember me? I haven’t been back since last one or two years?” Just as I was about to pat his shoulder to grab his attention, the low voice I had heard in the pine forest rang out again. It was still a short syllable “ah.”
“Who? Who’s there?” I turned back in a hurry, and the flashlight swept around. On one side was the steep mountain wall, and on the other side was the grass, but there was nothing there.
What was going on? I couldn’t wrap my head around this. I turned around and looked to the side and said, “Uncle Che…” the words got stuck in my throat. I could no longer make any sounds. The big rock beside me was empty. Where was Uncle Chen? I looked around for a long time, but I couldn’t find him. A chill crept up my back, and I left the place hurriedly.
As I walked forward, I felt a sense of paranoia. I constantly felt as if someone was quietly following me. Even a slight breeze or the rustling of grass would frighten me. I was so tense all the way till home. It was only after finally arriving home that I was able to calm my nerves.
When I came back home, my father and mother saw my haggard and worn-out self. They were both surprised and happy. My mother even hugged me in tears. I looked at their grey hair and wrinkled face and felt a pang in my heart.
After dinner, I told my parents things about my school and started to feel sleepy. Before I went to bed, I pretended to ask my mother unintentionally, “Mom, how is Uncle Chen’s family?”
Mother was stunned but still replied, “Why did you ask this all of a sudden? He, alas…” She shook her head and sighed. She gave me some water to wash my face, and continued, “His life was also quite tough. Last year, when he went up the mountain to gather firewood, he somehow fell to the bottom of the cliff. By the time they found him, it was night time and he had already gone cold.”(aka dead)
After listening to my mother’s words, I felt a chill go down my spine. It seemed as if my body was not my own, floating and unable to touch the ground. I washed my face and feet in a daze and got ready to go to bed. My mother, as always, handed me the towels and gave me different slippers, and took me to the inner room to sleep with a kerosene lamp in her hand. She was nagging about my health and study and didn’t find anything unusual about me.
Lying in bed, my body felt very tired, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned, the husks in my pillow made noise as I moved around. I never believed in ghosts or gods to this day. I couldn’t believe what I had experienced today. Perhaps this quote was quite apt, ‘Blindly believing in science itself is an unscientific attitude’.
There were too many things that science couldn’t explain in this world: How long has the universe, the earth, and human beings existed? How long has science been developing? It was only the beginning. Even if we didn’t believe everything about ghosts and gods, we couldn’t simply reject everything either. Confused from thinking about all kinds of things, I finally fell asleep.
I had a strange dream in which I saw my long-lost sister.
In my dream, I floated up from my bed and floated in the air. I looked down at the bed where my body was sleeping soundly. I looked at myself for a while, and felt that my face looked strange and familiar at the same time, then gradually became unlike myself. I looked up, passed through the aged-yellow mosquito net, and floated out of the inner room.
The hall outside was empty, but the two doors were left open. I floated to the door, looked outside, and saw my sister. But her face was full of tears unlike in my memories.
“Sister, what’s the matter with you? Why are you crying? Are you coming back home at last?” I heard myself asking.
My sister was standing under the full moon and weeping. She raised her hand and pointed to a distant mountain. A dull beat of the drum could be heard coming from the other side of the mountain/From the other side of the mountain, a dull drumbeat could be heard.