Long, long ago, in a small village there lived a mother and her two sons. The father had died some twenty years before.
One day, a man delivered a letter to their home. The letter read: "Sons, I, your father, really need your help. I am the owner of a pharmacy in a town in Anhui Province. Business is really booming, but I need more help in the pharmacy, especially from people I can trust. Could you please come over and help me out behind the counter?"
Needless to say, the mother and sons were astounded.
"Mother, is possible Father is still alive?" asked the sons. "Every year, we visit the tomb and tidy it up. How could he still be alive?"
The mother didn't have an answer. After the three thought about it for a while, they came to the conclusion that someone was playing a cruel prank on them. By and by, they forgot about the matter.
Six months passed.
One day, a man from Anhui came to the house and presented the mother and sons with three hundred silver coins and yet another letter purported to be from the father.
"Sons," the letter read, "I waited and waited, and neither of you showed up. I am really desperate at this point, so I have entrusted a gentleman to deliver to you three hundred silver coins as a sign of good faith and as your first payment for wages. Please don't disappoint me! I am depending on you to come to Anhui to help me!"
"Mother," asked one of the sons, "how can you explain this now? We two kids were very small when Dad passed away. Is there any way possible that he could still be alive? Somebody is writing letters and signing them as our father, and now this person has delivered to us three hundred silver coins! Could he still be alive?"
"This has to be a joke!" said the mother. "When a person dies, that's it for that person's time on earth!"
The three then discussed the matter for what seemed like hours before the older brother said, "Mother, I have an idea. You still have some of Father's letters. Let's compare the penmanship in those letters to this letter that came with the silver coins. If our father really wrote this letter, the penmanship in this letter and the old letters should match!"
"Mother, Older Brother has a great idea!" cried the younger brother. "Let's do that!"
The mother agreed and fetched an old letter the father had written. The three compared the two letters.
The penmanship was a perfect match.
"Father . . . is still . . . alive . . ." said the older brother.
"I don't believe it," said the mother. "I remember things you don't, like his passing and burial. There's something really fishy about all this . . ."
The two brothers had already made up their minds to journey to Anhui and work with their father in the pharmacy. They began to argue that only one of them should go.
"I need to go! I'm the first-born son!" said the big brother.
"Excuse me but as the older brother you need to stay and look after our mother," the younger brother responded.
The mother observed this and knew it would be of no use trying to keep them both at home.
"You both can go if you must," she said. "After all, the letter requested the two of you to go. I shall be all right. I still can take good care of the home by myself. All of this is too extraordinary to make sense. So, all I ask of you before you leave is to take care and to be very wary in case some evil person is preparing to trick you!"
"Yes, Mother!" the two sons responded.
The next day they set off for their supposed father's town in Anhui. In those days, traveling was very difficult, and so it took the boys a month to reach the town. The evening they arrived, they passed by a Buddhist temple. They decided to ask the monk there if they could spend the night. The old monk inside welcomed them, showed them to their quarters for the night, and invited them to eat dinner with him.
They chatted during the meal and told the monk the purpose of their journey.
The monk became alarmed and said, "This all sounds very suspicious. I am certain a vampire is involved. If you go to the pharmacy unprepared, there's a huge chance neither of you will survive."
"What should we do, then?" asked one of the brothers.
"You should be all right there during the daylight hours," replied the monk. "If it's a vampire we're dealing with, he won't appear there in the daytime. It's way after dark that I am concerned about. You will be shown a bedroom in or near the pharmacy. You must not actually sleep there. I suggest you somehow get ahold of two fresh pigs that have been totally plucked of all their hairs. Some time before midnight, place the dead pigs under the blankets of the bed, dress them in your clothing, and then make sure you stay out of that bedroom for the rest of the night! If you find yourselves in danger, immediately return to this temple. I have methods of dealing with evil beings."
The brothers thanked the monk for his advice and help, spent the night in the temple, and early the next morning presented themselves at the pharmacy. They were welcomed by a senior employee.
"Is our father here?" one of the brothers asked.
"No, he isn't," replied the employee. "He doesn't really show up here in the day. He spends the day in his room in prayer and to study religious texts. You'll see him tonight. I've been instructed to see to all of your needs in his absence. I'll show you to your room, and you may let me and my assistant know whatever you need!"
Not present in the daytime . . . thought the brothers. To them, this confirmed what the old monk had said.
"Could we have your assistant go to the market for us and purchase two pig carcasses that have been totally plucked?" asked the older brother.
"Of course!" the senior employee replied. "It's as good as done. Now, allow me to show you your room."
The brothers were taken to a room in the same building. Before long, the junior assistant arrived with two pig carcasses. Once the assistant had left, the brothers placed the pigs under the blankets of the bed and dressed them in their clothes. They then bided their time until nightfall.
"It's time to leave," the older brother whispered to his younger brother.
They exited the bedroom and hid in a nearby closet. From time to time, they looked through the crack in the doorway to see if anything was going on in the bedroom. They weren't totally sure that their father was now a vampire, but they remained wary just in case.
Around midnight, they heard a strange wind sweep through the building and sensed how this wind blew into the closed bedroom. They tiptoed to the closed door and looked through the crack. They saw inside the bedroom a frightful-looking being with a wild shock of long, bushy hair and long, crooked fingernails. The figure picked up one of the dead pigs dressed in clothing and ripped its skin off. He next tried to unfurl the pig's skin and stick it to his own body, but it refused to stick since it was not the skin of his own son.
With great anger and frustration, the wicked being violently searched through the room before literally jumping out of the room and going on a frantic search for his sons.
The two brothers, however, were long gone, having fled for the temple.
"Master! Master!" they cried. "Save us!"
The old monk was still up and rushed out to receive them at the entrance to the temple.
"Quickly make your way to the main hall and hide in there!" he told them. "I'll handle the vampire."
The brothers did as they were told as the monk headed for the gate.
Soon enough, the flying vampire appeared at the gate.
"Noxious creature," said the monk, "you have no business here! Pretending to read the sutras in the day while committing evil at night, you are here to harm your own two sons! They're under my protection! Now cease whatever you are trying to do!"
The vampire leapt towards the monk, his claws extended. The monk calmly stood his ground and spat at the vampire. The evil creature instantly dropped to the ground and dissolved into a puddle of coagulated blood and hair.
The vampire was no more.
"Boys," said the monk, having reentered the temple, "the danger is over. The vampire has been neutralized. You are free to leave!"
The brothers profusely thanked the monk and then returned to the pharmacy, where they took over as the owners.
Zhongguo minjian gushi 中國民間故事 [Chinese folktales], Meng Zhongren, ed., Hanxin, 1994, pp. 140-146.
The traditional name for Chinese vampires is jiangshi [僵屍] ("stiffened corpse"). The original story states that the dead father had somehow become a vampire twenty years after his death and that he could appear in the visage of an old wealthy merchant. Thus, this vampire could also shapeshift. It also explained early on that his plan was to kill his sons, drink their blood, and attach their skin to his body. The story does not explain, however, why the vampire had targeted his own sons or how the he was able to amass the sizable funds to purchase a pharmacy and hire assistants since he would not be available during the day. (Regarding the former point, in traditonal belief, the walking dead, revenants, are considered by their very nature to be inimical to anything good or decent, so perhaps a vampire who would kill his own sons is not such a big stretch.) Finally, the tale does state that one of the pharmacy employees was in on the secret that the boss was a vampire.
In his Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, Wolfram Eberhard mentions that spittle is a potent apotropaic weapon to ward off evil.
Motifs: D42.2, "Spirit (vampire) takes the shape of man"; D1001, "Magic spittle"; D1381.2, "Saint's (monk's) spittle protects fugitive(s) from attack"; D1402.14.1, "Magic charmed spittle kills"; D2050, "Destructive magic powers"; E220, "Dead relative's malevolent return"; E251, "Vampire"; E251.1, "Vampire's power overcome"; E251.3, "Deeds of vampires"; E261.4, "Ghost (vampire) pursues men"; E443.2.4, "Ghost (vampire) laid by priest (monk)"; E541.2, "Ghost (vampire) eats living human beings"; E557, "Dead man (vampire) writes"; K500, "Escape by deception"; K525.1, "Substituted object (pigs) left in bed while intended victim(s) escape(s)."
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