It was some time after dark when he started to hear the slow footsteps in the woods again, just like the first time they were there. He woke the others. The noise came closer and, once it reached the house, something sniffed around the walls of the house and scratched at the door. It was all too familiar. It crept around the house, apparently looking for a way in.
Lt. Johnson looked through the shutters and saw the thing outside. It was small but solid-looking, as if the thing were very muscular. It hopped around, arms outstretched, and sniffed around the house. He only saw the one.
â€œDo not open the door,â€ he said.
â€œI think we can take him,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œYeah,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
Lt. Bean looked around at them.
â€œDo you want to test out some of our anti-hopper devices since itâ€™s only one?â€ he said.
Sgt. Emerson rang the hand bell. The sounds from outside stopped and they could hear the thing hopping away. When he stopped ringing the bell, the thing came back to the house.
â€œWhat if it goes away and we put down the gasoline and it comes back?â€ Sgt. Emerson said. â€œThen lighting it on fire when it comes back.â€
â€œThat means opening the door,â€ Lt. Bean said.
They discussed it with suggestions of setting a trap with gasoline in the house. Lt. Bean suggested they ring the bell and see what happened. He wanted to open the door after ringing the bell to see if the thing continued to walk away. He thought they should set the thing on fire after that in the hopes of destroying it. Lt. Van Loan agreed, noting they needed to know how to kill the things, not just chase them away. Lt. Bean was in agreement.
Lt. Van Loan lit his torch. Lt. Bean suggested Lt. Johnson, still badly injured, ring the bell, while Sgt. Emerson douse the thing with gasoline. Then Lt. Van Loan would try to ignite the thing.
The prepared to open the door.
* * *
Back in the village, Lt. Ulrich and Dr. Wu were still awake at the clinic a couple of hours after dark when they heard the noise of the things returning. Peeking out of the shuttered windows proved there were at least a half dozen of the terrible things moving into the village. They stopped at the clinic and started sniffing at the walls and scratching at the door. As Mrs. Bi Rufen and her children started crying and wailing, Lt. Ulrich rang the hand bell. The noises outside stopped and Dr. Wu, still watching out the window, saw the thing jump up into the air and float away from the clinic.
â€œTheyâ€™re moving away,â€ he said.
Lt. Ulrich continued ringing the bell for several minutes. They could hear them moving around in the village after that but none of them came close to the clinic.
* * *
Lt. Johnson started ringing the hand bell and realized it would not be hard to track the things if they so wanted. The scratching and sniffing stopped and they heard it hop away. After a few moments, they flung open the door and saw the thing hopping away at a slow pace.
â€œStop ringing the bell,â€ Lt. Bean said.
When Lt. Johnson stopped ringing the bell, the thing stopped, hopped around, and started hopping back towards them. Lt. Johnson panicked and starting ringing the bell again. He and Lt. Van Loan noticed a look of pain cross the thingâ€™s face and it turned away.
â€œNo no no no! Wait!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWeâ€™ve got to douse it! Weâ€™ve got to douse it!â€
Lt. Johnson continued ringing the bell.
â€œGive me that damned bell!â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œNo!â€ Lt. Johnson cried out in terror.
â€œStop ringing it!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWeâ€™re trying to set it on fire! Stop ringing it!â€
Lt. Johnson didnâ€™t stop ringing until the thing was well on its way. When he stopped, the thing turned around again and came at the door. It didnâ€™t seemed to hop as fast as a man could run and they were confident they could outrun it.
Sgt. Emerson stepped out of the house with the gas can and tried to slosh the thing with gasoline but the stuff merely splashed on the ground nearby. Only a little bit got on the thing.
â€œTry again!â€ Lt. Bean said.
Sgt. Emerson splashed the thing in the chest and Lt. Johnson started ringing the bell.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to light him on fire first!â€ Lt. Bean said.
Lt. Van Loan swung his burning club at the thing but it had already turned around and he struck it in the back, scorching the thingâ€™s clothing but not lighting him on fire.
â€œStop ringing!â€ Lt. Bean said.
When Lt. Johnson stopped ringing, the thing spun around again. This time, they could see that the man had a greenish white face with long teeth and a mustache. Surprisingly, there was no paper attached to the thingâ€™s forehead like the others they had fought the night before. Sgt. Emerson stepped back into the house. The terrible thing hopped towards Lt. Van Loan and he simply held the burning torch in front of him. Just as the torch struck the thing, it slashed at Lt. Van Loan, who backed out of the way. The jiÄngshÄ« caught on fire.
Lt. Johnson started ringing the bell again and it turned and fled. It only burned for a few seconds until the fire went out. The thing appeared to have been burned but was still moving.
â€œStop ringing!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œStop ringing!â€
Lt. Johnson stopped ringing the bell and the thing came at the building again. Lt. Bean stepped forward with the broom and swung it at the thing, swinging high.
â€œRing the bell!â€ he screamed. â€œRing the bell!â€
The thing lunged at him as Lt. Johnson started ringing the bell again and a look of pain went across the jiÄngshÄ«â€™s face. Then it turned and started to hop slowly away again.
â€œPeach tree!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œPeach tree!â€
The thing continued to hop away.
â€œStop ringing!â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œRegroup!â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
They retreated back into the house, Lt. Johnson still ringing his bell. Lt. Bean barred the door and Lt. Johnson stopped ringing once Lt. Bean told he could. The thing returned to the house and began trying to get inside again.
â€œSo what is our new strategy, then?â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWeâ€™ve tried fire. That seemed mildly effective.â€
â€œWhat if we lock it in the house and light the house on fire?â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œWeâ€™d have to stay all night here,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œThen weâ€™d be outside,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œI guess we have the bell.â€
â€œCan we lock it in the barn?â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œI have a new idea,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWe know the bell works now, thatâ€™s the one thing we know for certain. So, letâ€™s all regroup with our people back in town. We can ring our bell the entire way there and â€¦ we try to figure out where these things are coming from. We go to the source.â€
â€œWhen we leave, we can lock him in the house,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œBut if weâ€™re leaving permanently, then thereâ€™s no point,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œI think we can destroy this one,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œWe have to prove that we can destroy them,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œThatâ€™s fair, but if we kill whateverâ€™s causing themâ”€â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œActually, I just want to get out of here,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œI say we stay in the house for the night,â€ Lt. Johnson said. â€œBecause it seems like weâ€™re safe here. It seems like weâ€™re safe in the house. Letâ€™s stay in the house for the night.â€
â€œWeâ€™re still trying to kill them,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWe have a failsafe.â€
Lt. Van Loan offered another option. Two nights before, he had left the rest of the parachute in Mrs. Hanâ€™s house and it was still there, tucked in the corner. He suggested soaking the silk from the parachute in gasoline and then wrapping it around the thing. Then they could set it on fire. When Lt. Bean asked how they would wrap him, he said they could use two people to quickly wrap the thing. Lt. Bean noted that since both Lt. Johnson and Lt. Van Loan were injured, the two guys would be himself and Sgt. Emerson.
Lt. Bean looked at Lt. Johnson.
â€œYou,â€ he said. â€œDonâ€™t get bell-happy. Weâ€™re trying to kill this thing without it killing us.â€
They soaked some silk from the parachute in the gasoline. Lt. Johnson started ringing the bell and they threw the door open. As the jiÄngshÄ« turned to flee, Lt. Bean and Sgt. Emerson ran out with the gasoline-soaked silk and tried to wrap the silk around the thing. Lt. Van Loan hobbled after them, lit torch again in hand. Sgt. Emerson got the silk over the thing while Lt. Bean failed to securely wrap it. When Lt. Johnson stopped ringing the bell, they ran away as the thing turned back towards them. As it started hopping back to him, the silk fell from the creature and landed on the ground behind it.
â€œRing the bell!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œRing the bell! Ring the bell!â€
Lt. Johnson started ringing the bell again. Lt. Van Loan swung the torch at the thing but struck it in the back again but the gasoline clinging to the manâ€™s clothing caught fire. The jiÄngshÄ« only burned for a few seconds, scorching the thingâ€™s skin and burning its clothing.
They discussed trying out something else but Lt. Bean wanted to try again. They set up to run the same routine again and this time, they partially draped the silk on the thing again. However, running back, they both slipped in the puddle of gasoline and mud from where the silk had fallen the first time. They pulled themselves up as Lt. Johnson rang the bell again. When he stopped ringing the bell, the jiÄngshÄ« started to hop back in their direction though it was further away from their first attempt. The silk seemed to be staying on the horrible thing this time. Lt. Van Loan moved forward to the puddle where theyâ€™d slipped and fallen.
The jiÄngshÄ« hopped again but this time it floated over to Lt. Van Loan and tried to scratch him as he shoved the torch into the thing.
â€œJiminy Christmas!â€ he screamed.
The jiÄngshÄ« and the gasoline on the ground under it ignited as Lt. Johnson started ringing the bell again. The thing turned and tried to hop away but soon stumbled and fell to the ground to lay stiff and still.
â€œDismember it!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œDismember it!â€
He ran out of the house and hacked at the horrible thing with his hunting knife. It took some time to remove its head, arms, and legs in a horrific display, but he did it.
â€œC.O.â€™s lost it,â€ Lt. Van Loan said to the others.
Now that the thing was dead, they looked over it more carefully. They saw the man had a scar on his left hand and wore a distinctive, tarnished wedding ring on his left ring finger. The stench of burnt, rotten meat was very strong.
â€œWhile youâ€™re cutting it off, get that ring,â€ Lt. Van Loan said to Lt. Bean.
The other man tried to pull the ring off the bloated, rotten finger but, in the end, had to cut off the finger altogether instead.
â€œHere you go,â€ Lt. Bean said.
He dropped the finger and ring into Lt. Van Loanâ€™s jacket pocket. Lt. Van Loan pulled the finger loose and dropped it, keeping the ring. Lt. Johnson ran out, still ringing the bell, and tried to pull them physically into the house.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWhy?â€
â€œThere could be more of them out here,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œYou have a bell. That works. Thatâ€™s all we needed to know. Weâ€™re good now.â€
â€œYeah, letâ€™s just go back to town,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œYeah,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œGimme that bell!â€
â€œNo!â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œIâ€™m your commanding officer!â€
â€œIâ€™m keeping the bell!â€
â€œIâ€™m your commanding officer!â€
â€œIâ€™m keeping the bell and I say stay here!â€
Lt. Bean drew his sidearm and worked the action on it.
â€œGive me the bell,â€ he said slowly. â€œI am your commanding officer.â€
Lt. Johnson looked at the man.
â€œWe donâ€™t have a problem, do we?â€ Lt. Bean said with wild eyes. â€œAll I want is the bell.â€
Lt. Johnson stood his ground.
â€œYou can stay in the house,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œWe need to get this information back to the others,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œBut weâ€™re taking the bell and getting back to our other soldier,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œHeâ€™s the one that decided to stay in townâ”€â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œLeave no man behind! Give me the bell.â€
â€œAll right, but Iâ€™m staying here.â€
â€œYou just said â€¦ no man behind â€¦â€ Lt. Van Loan muttered.
â€œLeave no unwilling man behind!â€ Lt. Bean corrected himself. â€œIf you want to stay here, thatâ€™s on you. You can have my broom.â€
â€œThe house apparently has been shown to be a safe structure, so I say we stay here for the night,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œThe bell has also been shown to drive them off,â€ Lt. Van Loan said. â€œAt least temporarily. We donâ€™t know if thereâ€™s any limit to it.â€
He looked at them.
â€œAlso, you did see that thing fly, right?â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m not mad â€¦â€
â€œWe donâ€™t talk about that!â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œOkay,â€ Lt. Van Loan said. â€œJust wanted to make sure.â€
Lt. Johnson went back into the house and barred the doors while the others headed back to the village, ringing the bell as they went. As they approached town, a mist started to come up from the ground around the creek. Lt. Bean started to ring the bell more frantically.
â€œItâ€™s just a mist,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
* * *
At the clinic, Dr. Wu and Lt. Ulrich heard the bell ringing from the side of the village. Then it began to ring more frantically.
â€œWhat are they doing?â€ Dr. Wu asked.
Lt. Ulrich cursed.
* * *
It was close to midnight as Lt. Bean, Lt. Van Loan, and Sgt. Emerson stood, watching the mist rising off the creek. They quickly decided to go to the tannery and made in that direction, leaving the road. Lt. Bean kept ringing the bell. Through the thickening mist, they saw several more jiÄngshÄ« hopping across the bridge. Lt. Bean and Lt. Van Loan saw a dark figure crawl out from under the bridge and rush for the tannery building, disappearing behind it. It wasnâ€™t hopping.
â€œWe should check that out,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œAs much as I really donâ€™t want do, I suppose we should,â€ Lt. Bean said.
He continued ringing the bell as the two of them crept around the side of the building. From there, they could see the jiÄngshÄ« moving towards the area where the cattle were kept, away from them. There was no sign of the dark figure.
They crossed to the far corner of the building and looked around it but there was no one in sight. There was a narrow place between the that building and the next. For someone to disappear around the side of the far building, they would have had to run probably faster than was possible for a man.
â€œIâ€™ll go between the buildings, since Iâ€™m a little slower,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œYou sure you want to leave the bell?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œYeah, Iâ€™ll be fine,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
Lt. Bean and Sgt. Emerson jogged towards the far end of the other building, the lieutenant ringing the bell. Lt. Van Loan drew his sidearm and headed for the narrow alley between the two buildings. As he turned the corner, he saw a man wearing ragged robes and a strange-looking hat. It looked like he had a small mustache and tiny beard. The man mumbled something under his breath in Chinese and moved his hands nervously. Lt. Van Loan tried to understand the words the man was saying but then realized it was not Chinese he was hearing.
â€œFreeze!â€ he said to the man. â€œWhat are you doing? Stop! Stop what youâ€™re doing!â€
Intense, wracking pain suddenly seized the American soldier. He noticed movement on his hand and when he looked, saw blisters forming on his hands and then bursting. His vision went red and he felt something warm, like tears only thicker, pouring down his face. The pain filled his entire body and he screamed as he fell to the ground.
A few dozen yards away, Lt. Bean and Sgt. Emerson turned and ran back to where theyâ€™d last seen Lt. Van Loan. They reached the alley between the buildings and found Lt. Van Loan on the ground in the fetal position, his body wracked in spasms as the blisters burst and blood poured from his eyes. His pistol lay on the ground next to him. He grunted in intense pain.
Sgt. Emerson picked up the man and they fled the place, crossing the bridge over the mist-covered creek as Lt. Bean continued to frantically ring the hand bell.
â€œBe careful of that mist,â€ he said.
They crossed the bridge without incident and ran for the clinic. They saw more jiÄngshÄ« in the village, hopping away.
* * *
Dr. Wu and Lt. Ulrich heard the ringing of a bell coming down the street. Dr. Wu, looking out through a crack in the shutters, called for Lt. Ulrich to open the door. When they got Lt. Van Loan into the building, they saw he had blisters all over his exposed skin and blood all over his face. Sgt. Emerson put the man on the table and Lt. Bean stopped ringing the bell.
Dr. Wu examined the man, who was struggling to look around. It looked like he had taken 2nd degree burns all over but there was no sign of tissue damage from a heat source. The blisters looked very painful and many of them had burst to discharge a clear fluid. As he worked, Lt. Bean related what happened to them at Mrs. Hanâ€™s house and the tannery. He also pulled the ring out of Lt. Van Loanâ€™s pocket and showed it to the doctor who recognized it as belonging to the former blacksmith of the village: Dou Renshu. The man died about six months ago, not long before the attacks had started. He was buried in the cemetery. Dr. Wu had helped prepare the body. Dou had been a dour man but he didnâ€™t think he was a bad person.
It was a quarter of an hour before the pain subsided in Lt. Van Loan enough to allow him to communicate once again with the others. He hurt all over but was able to see again and even think clearly. He mumbled about the man and his strangely moving hands.
â€œI donâ€™t know how he did it, but he did this to me,â€ he said.
â€œThe man with the hands did it to you, huh, boy?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œThe man with the hands.â€
â€œWe can eliminate anybody without hands.â€
Lt. Van Loan started to move his hands strangely. Lt. Bean asked Dr. Wu if the man had gone mad.
â€œHe did have a concussion,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œIt could be.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t imagine this!â€ Lt. Van Loan said. â€œI didnâ€™t imagine this. I didnâ€™t imagine this.â€
â€œWhat were you doing to get these burns?â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œNothing! He just â€¦ looked at me and mumbled some strange words â€¦ they sounded like Chinese but they werenâ€™t Chinese. And I just â€¦ I just â€¦ it just started happening!â€
â€œDo you remember any words that he was saying?â€
â€œWhat did he look like?â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œI-I donâ€™t know,â€ Lt. Van Loan said to Dr. Wu. â€œIt wasnâ€™t English or Chinese.â€
â€œWhat did he look like?â€ Sgt. Emerson said again.
Lt. Van Loan described the man heâ€™d seen. From that, Dr. Wu thought it sounded like a Taoist priest or monk.
â€œSomeone from the temple, maybe?â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œYou would know better than me,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™m thinking. Someone from the temple.â€
â€œWhy would he do this to me?â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t have the slightest idea.â€
â€œAll I did was tell him to stop.â€
â€œMaybe heâ€™s the one who raised the dead,â€ Lt. Emerson said.
â€œHeâ€™s got to have some connection to this,â€ Lt. Van Loan said. â€œItâ€™s got to be connected. Itâ€™s not coincidence.â€
â€œIâ€™m at a loss,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œI donâ€™t know why anyone would do this.â€
Lt. Van Loan leaned back on the examination table and closed his eyes.
They discussed what to do. Dr. Wu noted they had fire, vinegar, and bells and at least two of those things worked in driving off or killing the jiÄngshÄ«. Lt. Bean noted the fire was a lot of work. Sgt. Emerson suggested if they could lure them all into the same building and burn it down, that would probably work. Dr. Wu suggested they go to the temple.
â€œWell hell,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWhy not?â€
Lt. Van Loan said he would stay at the clinic and keep a bell with him to protect him. He drew his revolver from his belt, having dropped his semi-automatic pistol at the tannery. They also got the peach wood club from the man. The rest of them walked to the temple, Lt. Bean ringing the bell. They saw no sign of the jiÄngshÄ« on the way.
The temple was dark and dreary with many shadowy corners and dark recesses. Even the light of the lantern carried by Dr. Wu and the flashlights carried by the American soldiers was not enough to completely light the large building. The area in the center of the temple had several large statues while pillars made many hiding places for anything all around.
They intricately searched the place and Lt. Bean found a hidden level. He pulled the lever and heard a click that sounded like it came from one of the statues. When he inspected it, the statue pivoted to one side as if it didnâ€™t weigh anything. Beneath it was a steep, narrow stairwell leading down into the ground. He pointed the flashlight into the hole but the steps quickly curved out of sight.
â€œWhatâ€™s the call, gents?â€ he said after she showed the rest. â€œWe gonna do this?â€
The others just looked at him.
â€œI canâ€™t force any man to go down there,â€ he said.
They still just stared at the hole.
â€œLetâ€™s go,â€ he finally said.
He led the way down the narrow, terribly steep steps, still ringing the bell. The broom and the flashlight were both in his off hand.
I always knew it would end this way, he thought.
Dr. Wu followed after him, lantern in one hand and broom in the other. Sgt. Emerson was next, the .30-caliber thrown over his shoulder, his can of petrol in the other hand. A torch and a mirror were tucked in his belt. Lt. Ulrich brought up the rear, a mirror in his off hand and Lt. Van Loanâ€™s peach club in the other.
The stairs seemed to go down and down and down and down, finally opening into a tiny room at the bottom. Doors were on the walls to their right and left. Shelves and tiny tables crowded against each other, vying for space along the walls. They were covered with various books and scrolls. The place had a very human smell to it, the stink of someone living in their own filth was strong. A rotten smell competed with it.
Dr. Wu went to the nearest shelf and looked over some of the books and scrolls, which appeared to be various Taoist religious texts and papers all linked to the supernatural. He had never seen their like before.
â€œThereâ€™s someone living here,â€ Sgt. Emerson said when he found a pile of rotten cloth that formed a nest-like bed under one of the tables. â€œMaybe we could set a trap here.â€
Dr. Wu walked across the room and reached for the door to the left from the steps. As he did so, the other door was pushed open, scraping along the floor. A man stood there wearing ragged priestâ€™s robes and hat. He took a step into the room, stopping when he saw them. He looked very frightened. He had a small mustache and smaller beard. He pointed to the door Dr. Wu was about to open.
â€œItâ€™s there!â€ he whispered in Chinese. â€œItâ€™s in there! The one that started it all! Itâ€™s in there! It made me do its bidding! Please, help me! Please! Please!â€
â€œWe should all look behind this door,â€ Dr. Wu said.
He reached for the door.
â€œNo no no no!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œDo not open it! We are making a plan first!â€
â€œHe says thereâ€™s something behind this door,â€ Dr. Wu said.
The little priest blinked and muttered and wrung his hands in abject terror.
â€œLetâ€™s just throw a gas can thatâ€™s on fire in here and call it a day,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œWhat did he say?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œHe just said that something that started it all is behind this door,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œHow about you get the 30-cal ready and hand off that gas can,â€ Lt. Bean said to Sgt. Emerson. â€œGive the can to somebody else, maybe.â€
Sgt. Emerson set up the .30-caliber machinegun in the center of the room. Dr. Wu asked for the gas can and the man handed it to him.
â€œI have an idea,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œWhatâ€™s your idea, Doctor?â€ Lt. Bean asked. â€œWanna share?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to pour gas underneath the door,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œOpen the door, chuck the gas can, and then smash my lantern on it.â€
â€œHave you ever tried to pour gas under a closed door?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œHeâ€™s going to trail it,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œExplain this plan a little better so we donâ€™t all end up in flames,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œPour some gas through the crack,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œI like your plan except for the â€˜through the crack.â€™â€
â€œNo, just so nothing can come out.â€
â€œItâ€™s in there!â€ the little priest said in Chinese. â€œItâ€™s in there. Itâ€™s in there.â€
â€œI donâ€™t understand,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œNot under the door,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œCrack the door.â€
â€œOh, you mean open the door!â€
â€œSlowly crack the door open.â€
â€œYou realize whateverâ€™s in there can probably hear us,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
â€œMaybe it doesnâ€™t speak English,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œProbably,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œBut it probably still hears us,â€ Sgt. Emerson said.
The little priest muttered and wrung his hands. The soldiers realized if they started any kind of fire in the place, theyâ€™d have to flee quickly as it would eat the oxygen. Only the dead would be able to survive.
â€œBackup,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œBackup. Not main plan. Backup.â€
He thought a moment. Then he motioned to the others. They didnâ€™t know what he was trying to tell them.
â€œWho has the mirror?â€ he finally said. â€œWho has the mirror?â€
He put down the broom and took Sgt. Emersonâ€™s mirror.
â€œLetâ€™s put the gas down, in case we need to,â€ he said.
As Dr. Wu started to pour out the gas, he stopped him.
â€œNo no,â€ he said. â€œNot down down. In case we need to run, we light it and haul ass.â€
He gave a thumbs up to the rest. Dr. Wu took one of the parchments and rolled it up, putting it into the gas can. Then he looked at the door the priest had come in from. It was very dark and appeared to be a tunnel.
â€œWhere does that go?â€ he asked.
â€œIt goes to the woods,â€ the priest said. â€œIt goes to the woods. Itâ€™s how they go. Itâ€™s how they come. They come and they go.â€
â€œWe could go out the tunnel instead of the stairs. How far does it go?â€
â€œIt is some hundred meters long.â€
â€œWe could run that.â€
â€œItâ€™s better than up,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWe can close the door behind us.â€
Lt. Bean suggested moving Sgt. Emerson and Dr. Wu mentioned setting up the machinegun in the tunnel. Lt. Bean agreed and ordered the sergeant to set up in the tunnel. The man did so. Dr. Wu asked the priest to stand further back in the tunnel.
â€œI cannot,â€ the man said. â€œIt compels me. I have to stay. They tell me to stay. I have to stay. I canâ€™t. I canâ€™t. I canâ€™t. I canâ€™t.â€
â€œWhat is it?â€ Lt. Bean said to the man in English.
The priest looked at him in confusion.
â€œWhat is it!?!â€ he said to Dr. Wu. â€œWe need that information!â€
â€œWhat is behind the door?â€ Dr. Wu said to the little priest.
â€œJiÄngshÄ«,â€ the priest said. â€œThe jiÄngshÄ«.â€
â€œIt is dressed. He wears the clothes.â€
â€œIs he wearing robes?â€
â€œThe robes of the of the Qing Empire. The black and the hat. Itâ€™s awful!â€
â€œIt must be the priest that Lt. Van Loan said,â€ Dr. Wu said to Lt. Bean. â€œIt has to be.â€
â€œIs he a mortal man?â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œI doubt it.â€
â€œHeâ€™s a jiÄngshÄ«.â€
â€œApparently. The original jiÄngshÄ«.â€
â€œOkay. Well, weâ€™ve got a plan. Letâ€™s do it.â€
They again discussed what they would do. They ended up assigning Sgt. Emerson the gas can while Lt. Bean planned to man the machinegun. Dr. Wu borrowed one of the mirrors and held it up to the priestâ€™s face, who was still mumbling and wringing his hands. The priest didnâ€™t have any kind of reaction aside looking at it. He could see the manâ€™s reflection in the mirror. He offered the mirror back to Lt. Bean but the man waved him off, putting both hands on the weapon.
Dr. Wu went in to pour gasoline around the room for their inevitable fire. Lt. Bean told him to do it near the inner door, not the one they were near. He was standing near the center of the room pouring out the gasoline when the Chinese priest suddenly shouted out something, turned, and fled.
â€œCome in and kill everyone in the room!â€ he had shouted in Chinese.
The door opposite where Lt. Bean was set up was flung open as the jiÄngshÄ« within appeared in the doorway. The one in the lead wore a uniform, coat-like robes and round-top rimmed hat of a mandarin from the Quing Dynasty. The man had greenish-white skin, long sharp teeth, and long claw-like fingernails. A piece of paper hung his forehead.
Dr. Wu let out a shout.
â€œRun!â€ he yelled in English.
Lt. Ulrich stared at the terrible things in the doorway as Dr. Wu continued to pour gasoline onto the floor. Lt. Bean picked up the machinegun and turned it to face into the darkness away from the room. Sgt. Emerson, standing next to the door, slammed it shut and put his shoulder to it. Unfortunately, the door started to open. Lt. Ulrich ran to the door and tried to help keep it shut.
Dr. Wu tossed the can towards the middle of the room where it landed on its side. Gasoline continued to gurgle out of the can. He moved towards the door to the tunnel.
Lt. Bean fired a long burst from the machinegun down the tunnel. The muzzle flash blinded him so he didnâ€™t see if he hit anything. His ears started ringing from the sound of the blast. When the machinegun fire erupted, Sgt. Emerson was surprised he wasnâ€™t dead. The last time heâ€™d checked, the 30-caliber weapon was pointed at the door he was now helping hold closed.
Dr. Wu was also deafened by the machinegun fire. He ran back to the two soldiers holding the door shut, the gasoline smell starting to become almost overpowering. He tapped one of the soldiers on the shoulder and mouthed words for them to get out of the room.
Lt. Bean turned the machinegun around again, pointing it back into the room.
As Sgt. Emerson looked back towards where the machinegun was set up, he saw it pointing into the room, Lt. Bean behind it. He didnâ€™t understand how the lieutenant could miss the door, or himself, at that close of range, but shrugged. He ran towards the tunnel.
The door was shoved open, pushing Lt. Ulrich back. Four of the things hopped out of the room, the two in the front attacking Lt. Ulrich and Dr. Wu. One of the things bit Lt. Ulrich, tearing at his shoulder. The other one tried to bite Dr. Wu. Lt. Ulrich fled, running back towards the exit tunnel followed closely by Dr. Wu.
â€œRing the bell!â€ Sgt. Emerson cried.
Lt. Bean pulled the hand bell out of his belt and frantically rang it. The jiÄngshÄ« turned away from the sound and started to hop back towards the room theyâ€™d come from. Lt. Ulrich sprinted across the room and into the tunnel. He pointed towards the pool of gasoline.
â€œNot yet,â€ Dr. Wu said.
He waited by the side of the door for the other American soldier to get through as Lt. Bean stood up behind the machinegun, still ringing the bell. Sgt. Emerson ran out of the room and scooped up the machinegun as he ran by it, leaning down and putting his shoulder between the machinegun and the tripod. The hot barrel jacket pressed against his neck and he felt a terrible pain as he was burned by it.
Lt. Ulrich bypassed Sgt. Emerson and stepped on someone lying in the tunnel. He kept running.
Dr. Wu went through the door and flung the lantern into the room. Lt. Bean gasped. The lantern went over the still-widening pool of gasoline and crashed to the ground just by it, going out when it struck the ground. Pitch blackness filled the place. They heard the desperate and terrifying ringing of the bell.
Lt. Bean, fumbled for his flashlight as he rang the bell as hard as he could.
As Sgt. Emerson ran down the corridor, he fumbled with his gear, trying to find his flashlight. Lt. Ulrich also failed to find his flashlight as he continued to flee down the corridor.
Back at the door, Dr. Wu felt for the door, reaching into the room and pulling it closed. Lt. Bean heard a scraping noise really close to him and screamed and rang the bell faster as he continued trying to find his flashlight. He didnâ€™t find it but he did find his knife. He ignored it.
Sgt. Emerson slowed down and found his flashlight, turning it on. He could see Lt. Ulrichâ€™s back, further down the tunnel. The lieutenant picked up his speed now that he could see.
â€œLight it!â€ Lt. Bean screamed when he saw the glow of electric light some way away.
He was still ringing the bell desperately.
Dr. Wu saw the light as well, retreating down the corridor.
â€œWe have to light the gasoline!â€ he said. â€œThis is the only way to stop them! Come back! Come back!â€
â€œYou closed the door!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œOpen the door!â€
â€œHow are going to light it if you donâ€™t open the door!â€
â€œIâ€™ll open it when someone gets here!â€
Sgt. Emerson stopped, put his flashlight in his mouth, and throw his matches at the Chinaman. The flashlight stank of gasoline. The matches fell short of Dr. Wu, landing on the floor in front of him. As Sgt. Emerson turned back around, he saw a bullet-riddled body on the floor ahead of him in an ever-widening pool of blood.
Dr. Wu picked up the matches and pushed the door open. The stink of gasoline was almost overpowering. Lt. Bean backed up from the door.
â€œHold up,â€ Lt. Bean said.
Sgt. Emerson fled, running away and leaving the other two men in the ever-growing darkness.
* * *
Down the corridor, Lt. Ulrich finally found his flashlight but dropped it as he ran. There was a tinkle of broken glass and he kept running at a slower pace. It was so dark.
* * *
Dr. Wu backed up a little bit from the room.
â€œWhat if you hold the door with one hand, toss with the other, close?â€ Lt. Bean said.
It was getting darker.
* * *
When Sgt. Emerson caught up with Lt. Ulrich, the man was able to increase his pace once again to run as fast as possible for the exit to the horrible place. Sgt. Emerson kept up with him.
* * *
Lt. Bean searched for his flashlight as he continued to ring the bell. It got darker and darker.
â€œFind a light!â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œI canâ€™t see! Iâ€™ve got the door ready to go.â€
Lt. Bean finally found his flashlight but it wouldnâ€™t turn on. He wasnâ€™t sure if the bulb had gotten broken in all the confusion or the battery was not connected correctly but it was useless. The darkness was, by then, complete.
There was a scratching noise and a bit of light as Dr. Wu lit the match. As soon as Lt. Bean saw it, he stopped ringing the bell, turned, and ran away. In the same motion as he lit the match, Dr. Wu flung it into the room and pulled the door shut. There was a flash of light as the gasoline vapor in the room caught. The violent explosion ripped the door off its hinges and flung it, along with the lower arm and hand of Dr. Wu, down the corridor as it was ripped from of his body. He spun around and crashed to the floor, blood spewing from his arm. Though he technically survived the explosion, he never regained consciousness.
The door was flung down the corridor mostly intact, spinning, and struck Lt. Bean in the back, splitting him nearly in half from head to belly as it careened through him. His body fell to the floor very close to the monk heâ€™d killed earlier. The flames blasted the room and the tunnel.
* * *
Further down the corridor, there was a blast of pressurized air that nearly knocked Lt. Ulrich and Sgt. Emerson off their feet. They stumbled but didnâ€™t fall and then kept running. They soon reached the end of the tunnel which was covered in brush, sticks, and leaves, and made their way back to town.
* * *
Lt. Van Loan, dozing and still in pain in the clinic, felt the ground shake and heard a â€œthudâ€ from somewhere far away. Later, he saw light coming from outside and looked out the window to see the ruined temple burning.
* * *
Lt. Ulrich and Sgt. Emerson returned to the village. They saw more jiÄngshÄ« as they approached and they couldnâ€™t miss the burning temple. They avoided the jiÄngshÄ« as best they could and returned to the clinic. They found the door locked. Lt. Emerson went to the window and found it also locked. Then he banged on the door.
â€œWeâ€™re out here!â€ he called. â€œLet us in!â€
The ringing of a bell had started as soon as he started pounding. Then the door opened and Lt. Van Loan let them in.
â€œDid you see anything at the temple?â€ he asked.
â€œYeah, there were a bunch of jiÄngshÄ« in there so Lt. Bean and Dr. Wu set it on fire,â€ Sgt. Emerson said. â€œI donâ€™t know if they made it out.â€
â€œDid you see the man that burned me?â€
â€œThe guy in robes?â€
â€œWe saw a guy in robes. Lt. Bean shot him a bunch with the 30-cal. And kind of set him on fire, probably. Thereâ€™s still a bunch of jiÄngshÄ« in the forest.â€
â€œWell, they havenâ€™t bothered us here, so â€¦â€
â€œYeah, we should probably hole up here.â€
* * *
The temple burned to the ground by the morning of April 21. Lt. Johnson returned to the village before noon. It was a few more days before men of the Chinese Army arrived. They didnâ€™t see the jiÄngshÄ« in that time. The dour, angry men of the Chinese Army were not in uniforms but were heavily armed. None of them spoke English so Lt. Van Loan had the terrible chore of communicating with them as best he could.
The Americans were transported, over the following weeks, through Japanese-held China and then through Chinese lands to Chongqing, a trip of over a thousand miles. They had a few close calls with Japanese patrols. They were eventually shipped back to America, the four remaining men of the crew all making it home.
Back in the states, they received medical and psychological attention. They had already practiced what they planned to report and it included Lt. Bean dying in the crash in China. None of them related anything else that happened to them in the village or their encounter with the jiÄngshÄ«. They all got an increase in rank as reward for the job, as well as being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Lt. Van Loan continued on in the Army Air Force and continued to fly, being assigned to the Pacific Theater. He survived the war. Lt. Johnson had gotten a great appreciation for his hometown. He moved back home, abandoning his plans for travel, and always carried a bell after that. As soon as he was able, he got out of the Army Air Force and returned to Flats, Nebraska. He relished the quiet after that. Captain Ulrich managed to get out of the military, citing his neck injuries in the crash and getting a medical discharge. He returned home to Wisconsin. Sgt. Emerson remained in the military, fighting in and surviving World War II.
After the war, they heard, through newsreels and newspaper articles, about a tiny Chinese village called XÄ SÃ¬. The village was apparently wiped out by the Japanese at one point because everyone in the village was found missing after the war.