Lt. Van Horn opened the front door and poked his head out. It had stopped raining and the sun was rising in the east. The overgrown road that ran by the house obviously didnâ€™t see much use. There were numerous scratch marks on the door, mostly about shoulder height. He went over to the fireplace to find a few old cold ashes that had obviously been there for a long time.
â€œDoes rice age faster in China?â€ Lt. Bean asked.
No one knew. To himself, Sgt. Emerson assumed it was the humidity. Lt. Johnson picked up the rifles as Lt. Bean peeked out the window.
â€œWe need to get to this town,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
Lt. Johnson walked around the back of the house to look at the barn. He found it was abandoned and hadnâ€™t been used in at least a few months. Some of the thatch of the roof was starting to cave in. There were no animals and it was very dusty and dirty. Lt. Bean followed him after a few moments and looked at place as well. It looked pretty much the same as it had the night before.
Lt. Van Loan called for everyone to get together and they met around the front of the house.
â€œWell, weâ€™re going to assume that, since the old lady left, that sheâ€™s with the Japs,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œSo â€¦ um â€¦ we canâ€™t stay here. Uh â€¦ we should â€¦ uh â€¦ we should â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œWe should head to that doctor,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œI donâ€™t know though. Iâ€™m not so sure about heading to that doctor because â€¦ I believe sheâ€™s with the Japs.â€
â€œBut heâ€™s still got a concussion and a bad knee,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œYes, weâ€™re not going to the Japs to treat his concussion,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œButâ”€â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œWhereâ€™s the nearest Chinese-controlled territory?â€ Sgt. Emerson asked Lt. Johnson.
â€œYeah, we need to get there,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œHow deep are we in â€¦â€ Lt. Bean said.
Lt. Johnson looked at the road and saw it didnâ€™t look like itâ€™d been used recently.
â€œI say we â€¦ uh â€¦ I say we head towards this town but stay off the road,â€ Lt. Bean said.
They followed the road for about a mile, before they spotted a Chinese town ahead. The thatch or wood houses were arranged in an orderly way though they were very primitive. There were no electric lines or any other real signs of technology in the village. The place had a scattering of small gardens and rice paddies were visible south of the village, usually with farmers working them. The smell of a tannery was strong but not overpowering, filling the place with a strange stink. Children tended to various livestock in open fields by the hill north of the town.
The shade of small trees, some of them already starting to bloom with yellow/green flowers, gave the place a quaint atmosphere. They could even hear the banging of metal upon metal coming from up ahead - the place probably still had a blacksmith. A creek ran through the village on the east side, crossing by a sturdy-looking bridge without railing or wall.
Everything seemed peaceful in the tiny town.
As they crept up on the town in the woods, they saw a young Chinese man cross the little bridge and head down the road in their general direction. He carried a fishing pole and wore a straw hat. The Americans hid in the forest as the young man passed and then followed him at a distance. He only walked about 300 yards from the village where he stopped at a good-sized pond. There, he started fishing.
Lt. Bean motioned for them to approach from two different directions but when they started to creep up on the man, they made a good deal of noise. He turned around and Lt. Bean rushed at the man who looked very surprised.
â€œDo you speak English, boy?â€ Lt. Bean said to him.
The man spoke very quickly in Chinese and smiled. They heard the word â€œAmericansâ€ amidst the gibberish. Lt. Bean motioned for him to come with him. Lt. Van Loan actually could understand most of what the man said.
â€œOh, Americans!â€ the young man said. â€œAmericans! You are here to save us from the filthy Japanese.â€
He seemed very happy to see them.
â€œWhat is he saying?â€ Lt. Bean asked.
â€œHe â€¦ recognizes that we are Americansâ”€â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
The Chinese man pointed at the bandage on Lt. Van Loan.
â€œCome see Doctor Wu,â€ the Chinese man said in his own language. â€œCome see Dr. Wu. Come!â€
â€œHeâ€™s motioning us to see Dr. Wu,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œAsk him if heâ€™s seen any Japanese soldiers,â€ Lt. Bean asked.
â€œHave you seen any Japanese soldiers?â€ Lt. Van Loan said in Chinese.
â€œOh no,â€ the Chinese man replied. â€œThere have been no Japanese soldiers here in years.â€
â€œSays they havenâ€™t been here in years,â€ Lt. Van Loan told the other officer. â€œHe seems to believe weâ€™re here to liberate them.â€
â€œI would say â€¦â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œWe need to see this Doctor,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œI would say we need to go to the Doctor,â€ Lt. Bean said.
They headed back to the town with the man.
â€œYouâ€™ve been hiding all night in the woods?â€ the man said to Lt. Van Loan in Chinese. â€œItâ€™s dangerous in the woods.â€
â€œWe hid in an old cabin with an old lady,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œYes, out by an old rice paddy about a mile that direction. Han Li.â€
â€œYes, that was her.â€
The Chinese man went pale, dropped his fishing pole, and ran away wailing, his arms in the air. Lt. Bean ran after the man and grabbed him, holding him as he tried to run away. Lt. Van Loan slowly hobbled over to the two. Both men tried to calm the Chinese man but he seemed desperate to get away from them and terrified out of his mind. The man was speaking very quickly and Lt. Van Loan had trouble understanding. From what he thought he could make out, Mrs. Han was the manâ€™s mother and he didnâ€™t like men around her. He might have been saying he was going to get a priest to marry all of them to the woman. He was unsure. The man spoke so quickly. Regardless, he relayed the information onto Lt. Bean.
â€œAsk him where heâ€™s trying to run to,â€ Lt. Bean said, still struggling to hold onto the man. â€œWhy is he trying to leave us?â€
â€œLetâ€™s let him go,â€ Lt. Van Loan said. â€œWeâ€™re not going to get anything out of him.â€
â€œWe need to figure out where this doctor is.â€
â€œLetâ€™s just ask somebody else?â€
â€œThe best thing we could doâ”€â€
â€œLet him go, sir.â€
Lt. Bean let the man go and he ran back to the town, wailing, his hands flailing above his head. He soon disappearing from view.
All five Americans walked into the town. They recognized the smell of the tannery to the south of the road and crossed the little bridge. People noticed them and started to come over to them. They heard the word â€œAmericanâ€ over and over and then heard the word â€œWuâ€ spoken several times. A few of them gestured for the men to come with them and they did, most of them hobbling or still badly injured.
The villagers took them to one of the nicer huts in the town, not far away was a ruined Taoist temple. They also passed a hut with a little sign that read â€œRice Wineâ€ above the door in Chinese. The doctorâ€™s house looked like it was more recently built than any of the other houses in the tiny village. It stood up off the ground and apparently had a wooden floor, walls, and roof. There were a few open windows and a door on the front of the longish building. Chinese characters were written above it that Lt. Van Loan recognized as reading â€œClinic.â€
A man came out of the building who was probably in his upper 30s. He was Chinese and had black hair and a mustache. He was a little taller than Lt. Bean but shorter than the other Americans. He wore simple clothing and seemed surprised to see the American soldiers.
â€œOh, you are Americans!â€ he said in English. â€œI am Dr. Wu Yong.â€
â€œAre you injured?â€ he asked.
â€œYouâ€™re the second person weâ€™ve met who speaks English,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
That seemed to surprise the man.
â€œYou â€¦ you â€¦ who else have you met?â€ he asked.
â€œMrs. Han,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œHan Li,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œYou must be mistaken,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œMrs. Han died in December.â€
â€œNo, we saw her just last night,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œShe hung herself in her house. There was not even a suicide note. It was very strange. You must have been mistaken.â€
â€œThereâ€™s no other Mrs. Han?â€
â€œNo, there are no other Hans. Her husband was a stonemason and he died about five years ago but she stayed on at her farm.â€
He pointed down the dirt road the way theyâ€™d come.
â€œAbout a mile out of town,â€ he said.
â€œBut thatâ€™s where we came from and â€¦ we stayed with her,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œI have a head injury,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œYou must be mistaken,â€ Mr. Wu said. â€œYou must be mistaken. You obviously have terrible injuries. Come inside. I will try to help you.â€
He spoke Chinese to the other villagers and they all seemed to be happy with what he said. Then he took them into his tiny clinic.
The building was divided into a small examination room and, through an open door, living quarters for Dr. Wu. The clinic had a metal examination table and cabinets and shelves filled with medical equipment. There was a large, electric light as well, though the Americans had not seen any kind of electric wires leading into the village. There were lanterns in the room and they saw a lot of his medical equipment was fairly out of date. Wide, open windows had sturdy, and open, shutters, letting a good deal of light into the room.
â€œIs there anything to worry about in the woods?â€ Lt. Johnson asked as Dr. Wu looked at their injuries and changed their dressings. â€œIt seemed Mrs. Han was very scared of being outside. Is there anything in the woods that we need to know about?â€
â€œThere have been some happenings recently,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œThey are attacking villagers. It could be anything really. Iâ€™m not sure what it is.â€
â€œYes. There have been killings. Many of the villagers have beenâ”€â€
â€œWhat day did Mrs. Han hang herself?â€ Lt. Van Loan suddenly said.
â€œShe hung herself in mid-December,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œI donâ€™t know why.â€
â€œThen who did â€¦ who did we spend the night with?â€ Lt. Johnson asked.
â€œIt must have been somebody impersonating Mrs. Han,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
Dr. Wu used what antiseptic he had to further treat the Americansâ€™ wounds and made a sling for Lt. Johnsonâ€™s sprained arm. He also talked to one of the locals to have a crutch made for Lt. Van Loan. He said he would have the headman of the village send someone to find people from the Chinese Army to help transport the Americans to safety. Lt. Johnson fiddled with another sling to carry his rifles but didnâ€™t have any luck. Sgt. Emerson helped him but didnâ€™t do much better.
â€œIâ€™m going to head out,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œEveryone, make sure you are very quiet in case someone comes by. Donâ€™t answer the door. I will go send someone to find the Chinese Army.â€
He left them, going to the headmanâ€™s house. He talked to the headman, Lam You, who was also chief constable for the village, asking the man to send someone. Lam You said he would do so. Then he returned to the clinic to find the soldiers making a simple sling or sack to hold Lt. Johnsonâ€™s rifles.
Dr. Wu made some tea for the men. When there was a knock at his clinic door, he told the Americans to stay quiet but it turned out to be one of the villagers, a man named Ping Feng. Dr. Wu never trusted the man as he seemed shifty and lazy.
â€œDr. Wu! Dr. Wu! I need to speak to you,â€ the man said. â€œSome of the villagers think the Americans should be housed in Ing Deliâ€™s house. That is a good place for them in case they come back, they can take the Americans instead of us. They can take the Americans. The Taking Time is coming, you know. So, I think itâ€™s a good idea. I think we should do that.â€
â€œI donâ€™ t know,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œI donâ€™t like this.â€
â€œI think itâ€™s a good idea.â€
He left the doctor who returned to the Americans.
Lt. Bean asked about local superstition involving putting rice out.
â€œI donâ€™t believe in that,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œYeah, me neither!â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œNot to put this the wrong way, but we donâ€™t really care so much about your beliefs so much as we care about what the other people believe,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œI donâ€™t keep track of those things,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œThere must be a perfectly good explanation.â€
Another knock came from his door. He found more villagers outside, including Lam You. The headman explained they were trying to make accommodations for the Americans and wanted to know if they would be in several different houses or if they wanted to be housed together. When Dr. Wu asked if they wanted to stay together, Lt. Bean told him they would. He related that information to the villagers and they spoke for some time before deciding to house them in the headmanâ€™s house, which would hold them all. Dr. Wu also asked the headman to keep an eye on Ping Feng as he feared the man might alert the Japanese. Dr. Wu got the consensus that a few villagers had no problem with the Americans being taken by the kidnappers but most thought it was awful.
By afternoon, the Americans were all moved to the headmanâ€™s house. The building was one of the nicest in the village and included a small cell in the basement where prisoners could be kept if need be. They were brought food and drink, mostly rice and fried meat and vegetables that were quite tasty.
Lt. Bean took some of the white rice and put it around the windows and doors of the small house. When he saw Lt. Van Loan watching him, he got aggravated.
â€œIt canâ€™t hurt, okay?â€ he said. â€œDonâ€™t you have anything better to do?â€
A young Chinese girl brought some flowers for the soldiers and other villagers came to the house. People were friendly though they all seemed a bit nervous. The soldiers realized if the Japanese caught the Americans in the village, they might burn the whole place to the ground. Lt. Van Loan tried to talk to some of the Chinese girls who came to the house but they laughed at his attempts at their language. He was apparently not making any sense but a few pointed to the bandages on his head and then patted his shoulder in sympathy.
Lt. Bean was of the opinion that at least one soldier should stay at the headmanâ€™s house with their items. When he realized the headmanâ€™s house was across the road from the Rice Wine house, he strictly forbid the men from excessively drinking as they were still in enemy territory. He then went looking for another translator besides Dr. Wu but the Chinese people of the village just smiled at him and spoke in their own language. He went looking for Dr. Wu.
Dr. Wu was hearing rumors from the villagers. Apparently, the American with the head injury spouted gibberish in Chinese that made little or no sense. Everyone felt sorry for him as he obviously was touched in the head.
Lt. Bean found him and asked him about the possibility of getting some kind of hand-to-hand weapons to save on ammunition. Though there was a local blacksmith, he did not specialize in weaponry. He also asked, again, about superstition in the village. He wanted to know what the story was about Mrs. Han, why someone would impersonate her, and why they would put rice in the windows. Dr. Wu did not know and so Lt. Bean asked him to ask the villagers about those things.
Dr. Wu asked around and what people were most concerned about were the kidnappings that occurred every month or so. No bodies were ever found though there were screams and scratch marks at night. Dr. Wu hypothesized it was some kind of animal. The other soldiers suggested Japanese but they were unsure why the Japanese would leave scratch marks in the huts they raided.
As he talked to the villagers, he learned a few other stories he had not heard before. He learned Mrs. Rao Ya, it was said, fought off one of the people who are kidnapping the villagers with only a broom about three months before. The horrible thing smashed through her wall and snatched up her child. Mrs. Rao grabbed up the only thing handy, a broomstick, and swatting the thing, whereupon it dropped the child. A second swat sent it fleeing into the darkness. Mr. Rao and her family had since left the village.
Some in the village claimed they have seen those who were taken in the night around the village - stalking the place. These were on the same nights as attacks and they were certain that some of their fellows were still alive.
One villager said he was walking back from the village in the wee morning hours when two men in rags came at him from the darkness. They had cowls or rags over their faces so he could not get a good look at them. They refused to talk to him but jumped at him and were about to tear him apart when he fainted. The last thing he remembered was hearing a cock crow somewhere in the village ahead. He awoke hours later, surprised to be alive.
Dr. Wu was also told that a phantom monk or priest had been seen in the Taoist Temple, according to some villagers. The man was only seen in the dusk or the early morning hours and seemed to be roaming around in the overgrown temple area though at least one older villager claimed he saw the man enter the temple. There was a powerful feeling in the village the temple was either bad luck, cursed, or haunted.
He related those stories to the Americans though he didnâ€™t believe them himself.
Lt. Johnson went to the blacksmith to try to have the man make him some kind of buckler or shield for his injured arm. The man didnâ€™t know what he was talking about, however.
Sgt. Emerson wandered around the village and found a generator behind the clinic. There was also a lean-to that proved to have several cans of petrol. He also found a few odd jobs around the busy to help the villagers. They seemed appreciative and surprised at the manâ€™s help. Lt. Ulrich went around the town to meet with the Chinese and try to help them as well.
Dr. Wu looked over their wounds again before nightfall.
They bedded down that night, the Americans in the headmanâ€™s house and Dr. Wu at his house after carefully locking the doors and windows. Not long after dark, screaming erupted from the village. Lt. Van Loan was up and heading for the door.
â€œDo not open that door!â€ Lt. Bean called. â€œDo not open that door!â€
â€œWe have to help this person,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œDo not open that door!â€ Lt. Bean said again.
They heard childrenâ€™s screams as well and Sgt. Emerson picked up the 30-cal and headed out. Lt. Van Loan limped out behind him. Lt. Johnson picked up the .22 rifle and headed out the door after them. Lt. Ulrich went out the door, pistol in hand. Lt. Bean was the last one out and very angry that his direct orders were disobeyed. He quickly passed Lt. Van Loan, who was hobbling slowly along.
The screams were coming from over by the clinic and Sgt. Emerson saw a thatch house across the road from the clinic had a large hole in the side of it. Womanâ€™s and childrenâ€™s screaming came from within. The front door was closed, however, so he headed for the hole in the side of the house. Lt. Johnson, not seeing the hole, ran to the front door of the hut while Lt. Ulrich followed Sgt. Emerson. Lt. Bean held back, watching everyone as Lt. Van Loan hobbled behind.
Lt. Johnson found the door barred and so shouldered it open with his good shoulder. Lt. Bean headed for the man.
Around the side of the house, Sgt. Emerson reached the hole and looked into the house where the screams continued. He stopped in shock and horror.
The scene was lit by a fallen candle laying on its side in a corner. A man lay on the dirt floor of the hut. Blood was pooling under him and had splattered on the walls around him. Another man was practically laying on top of him. A woman and two little girls were in one corner of the room and two other people, a young girl and another man, harassed them. The attackers appeared to be wearing civilian clothing that was partially in rags. Each of them had a piece of cloth or paper hanging down over their faces and their skin was greenish white. They had dead eyes and long claw-like fingernails.
Lt. Ulrich ran to the hole in the wall where Sgt. Emerson looked into a room in terror. He shined his flashlight into the room and saw the terrible people. He shot the man nearest to him in the right hand as he reached for one of the little girls. The bullet blew a hole right in the manâ€™s hand but he didnâ€™t see any blood.
Lt. Van Loan heard the gunshot and hobbled towards the house, pistol in the hand that held the crutch and a flashlight in the other. Lt. Bean also pulled his flashlight out and shined it towards the house. He looked towards Dr. Wuâ€™s house.
* * *
Dr. Wu had heard the screaming earlier but, knowing there was nothing he could do, huddled in his narrow bed, willing the night to be over. When he heard gunshots, he leapt from his bed and ran to the window, peeking out of the shutters. He saw flashlights and recognized the Americans. Then a flash of light struck him.
* * *
Lt. Bean shined his light at Doctor Wuâ€™s house and spotted someone peeking out through the slats in the shutters. He wondered why Dr. Wu hadnâ€™t come out to help. Dr. Wu opened the shutter and looked out, Lt. Bean motioning for him to come out but Dr. Wu just shook his head.
Inside the hut, Sgt. Emerson lowered the .30-caliber machinegun and fired a single shot, which almost knocked him over. The bullet went right through the left arm of the girl next to the man. She was also reaching for the woman and her children. The blast blew a large hole in the girlâ€™s arm but she didnâ€™t cry out or even fall. Near the front door Lt. Johnson lifted up the .22 rifle with one hand and fired it, hitting the young girl in the right leg.
The thing on the man lifted up, never bending itâ€™s legs and turned towards Sgt. Emerson, arms in front of him and pointing at the man. The other man turned with a little hop, arms out in front of him as well. The young Chinese girl of maybe 15 turned to Lt. Johnson. All three of them hopped towards the soldiers, arms held out in front of them stiffly.
The girl leapt into the air, seemed to float across the room and clawed Lt. Johnson in the face. The man fell backwards and crashed to the ground, unconscious with the girl practically on top of him. Lt. Bean was startled by the two crashing into the road. He felt lightheaded and then realized the girl was wearing an Imperial Japanese Army uniform.
â€œTheyâ€™re Japs!â€ he screamed.
In his house, Dr. Wu saw the terrible girl in the light from Lt. Beanâ€™s flashlight and couldnâ€™t believe it. She had large holes in her arm and her leg but wasnâ€™t bleeding. The man under her had a terrible wound on his face that, judging from the blood on the girlâ€™s hand, had been caused by her. He couldnâ€™t believe something like the girl could exist, not in a logical and orderly world. He pushed the thoughts aside, however, as a man was injured. He had to help.
Inside the other house, one of the men tried to bite Sgt. Emerson, never putting his arms down, while the other man clawed at Lt. Ulrich, the man barely ducking out of the way. Lt. Ulrich fired at the man in front of him again, the man not even trying to dodge out of the way. The blast struck the man in the chest but didnâ€™t seem to slow him.
Lt. Van Loan had been heading for the hole in the wall where other men were firing but then heard the scuffle around the corner at the front door. He changed direction and saw Lt. Johnson on the ground in front of the hut, the young girl over him. He wondered how the girl could even see with the piece of paper on its face. He noticed she had very long teeth. He shot the girl in the right foot, blowing a hole right through it. She didnâ€™t seem to notice.
* * *
Dr. Wu ran into the examination room, grabbed some gauze and tape, and ran to the door, flinging it open.
* * *
Lt. Bean shot at the horrible girl hopping at Lt. Johnson, shooting her in the chest. The bullet struck her right in the heart and he saw splatter behind her as it blasted right through but the girl didnâ€™t stop moving. The thing leapt at him.
â€œIt got Flats!â€ he screamed.
The young woman tore at his clothing with outstretched arm and he tried to push her away.
â€œHey!â€ he screamed. â€œIâ€™m a commanding officer here!â€
Inside the hut, Lt. Emerson leveled the machine gun at the manâ€™s head, backing away. He shot the man in the head, striking him just above the right eye and creasing his skull. The man only hesitated for a moment before he came hopping at him again. It tried to bite at him while the other man tore at Lt. Ulrichâ€™s clothing. Lt. Ulrich fired again blasted away at the thing once again, hitting the man in the stomach. It didnâ€™t seem to affect the man at all.
In front of the house, the girl was tearing at Lt. Bean. Lt. Van Loan fired another shot, blasting away at the girlâ€™s right ankle. With a sound like someone twisting celery, her ankle turned far too far to the right as the leg came down on the ground. It looked like she was walking on the side of her foot, now twisted impossibly. It didnâ€™t seem to bother her at all.
Dr. Wu ran across the road to Lt. Johnson, grabbing the man under the arms and dragging him back to the clinic, getting him just inside the door. Lt. Bean, meanwhile, dropped his pistol and pulled out his hunting knife, slashing ineffectually at the girl with it. A woman and two children burst out of the front of the hut and ran for Dr. Wuâ€™s house.
In the hut, Sgt. Emerson turned and fled, grabbing Lt. Ulrich by the arm as he passed.
â€œCâ€™mon, letâ€™s go!â€ he cried out.
The two hopping men fell upon Lt. Ulrich but he held them off as best he could.
In front of the house, the 15-year-old girl, who Lt. Bean still saw wearing a Japanese uniform, and screaming â€œI hate Americaâ€ and â€œAmerica must die!â€ and â€œAll hail Emperor Hirohito!â€ came at him again. She had been screaming such things since he had seen her, actually, now that he thought of it. It was a male voice coming out of her mouth though he had not really noticed it yet. She slashed at the man without effect.
Lt. Ulrich fled the two men, catching up with Sgt. Emerson. They saw Lt. Van Loan near the corner of the house and he looked over his shoulder and saw them and then slowly hobbled away, backing up. He fired at the girl again and shot her in the left knee. There was a terrible snap but the girlâ€™s leg didnâ€™t even bend. He thought that much damage to the knee should blow it out.
Dr. Wu pulled Lt. Johnson onto his examination table as the woman and children ran into the room and cowered in the corner. He quickly tended to the manâ€™s face as best he could, binding the terrible wound that had almost taken the manâ€™s nose off.
Outside, Lt. Bean slashed the girl across the neck, going for the jugular and cutting across her neck. He expected a lot of blood but there was only the barest of black ichor oozed out. It was like the girl was already dead and had been for a while. Then Sgt. Emerson ran around the side of the building and grabbed Lt. Van Loanâ€™s right arm. The sergeant started to help the lieutenant towards the open clinic door. They hobbled in a terrifying three-legged race towards safety.
The people hopped after Lt. Ulrich fairly slowly.
In front of the house, the girl slashed Lt. Bean in the chest, cutting the man badly. Then Lt. Ulrich came around the side of the building, backing and covering Sgt. Emerson and Lt. Van Loan as they hobbled towards the clinic.
* * *
Inside the clinic, Dr. Wu slapped Lt. Johnsonâ€™s face and took out smelling salts to try to awaken him. The man came to and saw a dark figure standing over him. The last thing he remembered was a little girl slashing his face, blood, and darkness. He screamed and shoved at the figure.
* * *
The others all heard screaming coming from inside the clinic.
Lt. Bean slashed at the girl again but only tore at her clothing. He backed away from her.
As one of the things leapt slowly after Lt. Ulrich, it didnâ€™t come back down. Instead it floated quickly across the intervening space, landing in front of the man and trying to bite him. It had covered the distance a man could run in a few seconds. The other thing continued hopping towards them.
Lt. Ulrich turned and ran away heading for the clinic in panic. The things could fly!
In the street, the girl slashed at Lt. Bean again but he ducked out of the way of the terrible blow. She had stopped spouting Japanese propaganda and her uniform had disappeared, much to his confusion.
* * *
â€œCalm down,â€ Dr. Wu said to the panicking lieutenant.
Lt. Johnson could heard people running into the room and the crying of children somewhere nearby. He didnâ€™t know what to do.
* * *
Lt. Bean turned and ran away from the horrible little girl, reaching the doorway just as Sgt. Emerson and Lt. Van Loan hobbled into the building.
Lt. Ulrich heard a sound as two of the thing landed just behind him. The little girl hopped towards him from his left and swung terrible claws at the man but he went low, hitting the ground and rolling before leaping to his feet to continue running. He ran right past Lt. Bean and fled into the building. Lt. Van Loan, near the door, almost closed it, but saw Lt. Bean was still outside.
Light began to fill the room as Dr. Wu lit a lantern, looking towards the open door in terror. Then Lt. Bean crashed into the building, slamming the door behind him and throwing the bolt.
â€œWhy did we get out in the first place!?!â€ he cried. â€œHuh!?! Huh!?!â€
Dr. Wu nodded at the man.
They heard the horrible things hopping outside and then heard scratching at the door and some kind of horrible sniffling and snuffling. It lasted for about 30 seconds before they heard the things hopping away once again. They recognized the sound as the same as they had heard the night before in the forest near Mrs. Hanâ€™s house.
Dr. Wu saw to Lt. Bean, who was the only other one of them injured. He was unable to help the man so Lt. Johnson tried to help him out and actually managed to bandage his commanding officer better than the Chinese doctor had. Dr. Wu was quite distracted though. Everything he believed had been repudiated with the terrors he had seen that night and he was unsure, now, what was really true and what was false.
â€œI need a cigarette,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œSomebody give me a cigarette.â€
Sgt. Emerson handed the man a smoke and lit it for him. Lt. Bean took a long drag but still felt shaky.
They heard the hopping again but it moved away and it was soon silent outside.
Dr. Wu talked to the woman named Bi Rufen. She was the wife of Loh Chao and the mother of Loh Zhu and Loh Jiayi. He learned from her three people smashed through the wall jumping at them. One of them flew across the room and knocked down her husband. The others came at her and she remembered seeing a lot of blood.
â€œWell, the girl was Ing Xia,â€ little Loh Chao said.
Dr. Wu recognized the name as a 15-year-old girl who had disappeared from the village some months before with her father Ing Deli, on one of the first nights of screams and blood.
â€œThat was one of the missing villagers,â€ he told the soldiers.
â€œWell, she ainâ€™t missing anymore,â€ Lt. Bean said, blowing cigarette smoke into the air.
â€œMaybe they started a cult?â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œSheâ€™s Japanese now!â€ Lt. Bean said.
Thinking about it, he wondered about her deep voice and the strange propaganda sheâ€™d been spouting which sounded remarkably like the things heâ€™d heard on the radio before the War.
â€œOne of them was a villager though,â€ Dr. Wu said again.
â€œWhatever they are, they donâ€™t go down,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œJapanese super soldiers!â€ Lt. Bean said.
Dr. Wu suddenly remembered he had a book of Chinese legends or fairy tales he thought he had been given in payment for some medical service. He told the others and they moved to his quarters. He quickly found the book and started looking through it. Lt. Van Loan tried to help, looking over the manâ€™s shoulder, but Dr. Wu turned the pages too quickly for him to keep up with his limited knowledge of Chinese.
â€œWatches,â€ Lt. Bean soon said.
â€œNobody goes out,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œDonâ€™t go out.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t gotta tell me twice,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œMaybe these people would benefit by knowing not to go outside, huh? Huh!?!â€
â€œI canâ€™t let anyone go outside,â€ Dr. Wu said again.
He finally found, after an hour of skimming through the book, what he wanted. The entry was listed as JiÄngshÄ«.
â€œEveryone!â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œEveryone! Come!â€
â€œYes, youâ€™ve figured something out, Doctor?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œAccording to this book, they are called the jiÄngshÄ« or stiff dead,â€ Dr. Wu read. â€œThey are, in essence, dead bodies, gripped in perpetual rigor mortis and unable to easily move, so they hop to their victims. They are fairly slow.
â€œThey are created by the supernatural arts, spirit possession of a dead body, a corpse that absorbs a sufficient amount of yang qi (essentially evil life force), a person sufficiently evil in life, a dead person who is not buried even after the funeral has been held and is then struck by a bolt of lightning, when the soul fails to leave the dead body, or someone injured by the jiÄngshÄ« might become one.â€
He looked at Lt. Johnson.
â€œWait wait wait wait, repeat that sentence,â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œSomeone injured by the jiÄngshÄ« might become one,â€ Dr. Wu said, still looking at Lt. Johnson.
â€œWeâ€™re putting him under watch,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œTie his hands.â€
â€œYou got hit too, right?â€ Dr. Wu said to Lt. Bean.
â€œYeah, you got hit too!â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œNah nah nah,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œIt was just a flesh wound.â€
â€œOkay, calm down, calm down,â€ Dr. Wu said. â€œRemember, this is just legends.â€
â€œFairy tales,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
â€œYeah yeah yeah, itâ€™s just legends!â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œThereâ€™s a perfectly good explanation,â€ Dr. Wu went on. â€œThey were probably pretending or â€¦ you know â€¦ using thisâ”€â€
â€œWith this legend, how do you dispose of them?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œIt is said a paper talisman with a specific prayer upon it allows one to control the jiÄngshÄ«,â€ Dr. Wu continued to read. â€œIf the paper is removed, the thing becomes free willed, though it is not terribly intelligent and merely wants to steal more qi to grow in power.â€
â€œSo, may or may not be a good thing to remember that,â€ Lt. Johnson said.
â€œThey are said to feed off the qi of a living person to become more powerful,â€ Dr. Wu continued reading. â€œThey have many weaknesses, including mirrors, items made from the wood of the peach tree - the broom - a roosterâ€™s call, jujube seeds - we actually have many jujube trees around - seven of which must be nailed into the acupuncture points on the back of the corpse, fire - which purifies, hooves of a black donkey, vinegar, bagua sign, the I Ching, Tong Shu, glutinous rice (sticky rice),â”€â€
â€œHa ha!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œSticky rice!â€
â€œâ”€adzuki beans, a hand bell, thread stained with black ink, blood of a black dog, a stonemasonâ€™s awl, any axe, or a broom. Ah - okay.
â€œThe jiÄngshÄ« cannot actually see, think, or speak, but locate their prey through their sense of smell or by detecting their breathing. Holding oneâ€™s breath may allow one to remain undetected by the jiÄngshÄ«.
â€œThe origins of the jiÄngshÄ« are also written here. Originally the stories came from â€˜transporting the corpse over a thousand li.â€™ If relatives of a deceased could not afford vehicles to have the dead personâ€™s body transported home for the funeral, they would hire a Taoist priest to conduct a ritual to reanimate the corpse and teach him how to hop their way home. The priests only transported the corpses by night and would ring bells to notify others as it is bad luck to see a jiÄngshÄ«.
â€œThe story is thought to originally come from the province of Xiangxi, where people had to travel far to find work. After they died, they were transported back to their hometown as it was thought the spirit would feel homesick buried away from home. The corpses would be arranged upright in single file and tied to long bamboo rods on the sides. Two men (one on the front and one on the back) would carry the rods on their shoulders and walk. The bamboo would flex up and down, making the corpses appear to be hopping in unison when viewed from a distance away.â€
â€œJesus,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
Lt. Bean started to silently pray.
Dr. Wu told Bi Rufen what heâ€™d learned. The children had fallen asleep. She seemed terrified by what he told her.
â€œWhat of my husband?â€ she asked. â€œWill he become one of those things?â€
â€œHonestly, itâ€™s just probably a superstition,â€ he told her.
She seemed terrified.
â€œThere has to be an explanation for this,â€ Dr. Wu said.
â€œThatâ€™s why you donâ€™t go out of your house, huh?â€ Lt. Bean said.
â€œI donâ€™t want to get clawed.â€
They cooked some sticky rice and the soldiers put it around the windows and doors of the house. Lt. Bean asked for a broom and the doctor gave it to him. Lt. Van Loan asked about mirrors but the only thing Dr. Wu had was a reflector that was behind the light in the clinic. They also remembered several mirrors in the headmanâ€™s house. Sgt. Emerson remembered the gasoline cans behind the clinic.
They set watches and people slept. Lt. Van Loan didnâ€™t think heâ€™d be able to sleep but he was soon snoozing in a corner. After Lt. Beanâ€™s watch, he found it impossible to sleep so he lay awake throughout the night.
* * *
The cock crowing woke them on the morning of April 20, 1942, which was clear and sunny. Lt. Bean was exhausted from staying up all night. Lt. Johnson retrieved his rifle from the hut across the street. The body of the man from the night before was gone. Lt. Van Loan suggested they return to the house of Mrs. Han.
â€œWhy go to a dead womanâ€™s house?â€ Dr. Wu asked.
â€œBecause she wasnâ€™t dead when we went there the other night,â€ Lt. Van Loan said.
The doctor rolled his eyes.
â€œAre you really going be skeptical after what you saw last night?â€ Lt. Van Loan asked.
â€œGive me your broom!â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œIâ€™m taking this with me! Whereâ€™s that peach tree?â€
They set out to arm themselves.
Lt. Van Loan cut one of the branches off the peach tree and spent the day trying to fashion it into an axe handle without luck. He settled for using it as a club. He tied some cloth onto the end and soaked it in gasoline for a makeshift torch.
Sgt. Emerson got one of the five-gallon petrol cans from behind Dr. Wuâ€™s house. He also returned to the headmanâ€™s house and recovered one of the little mirrors. He saw that the headman had picked up the large mirror in the house and carried it around. He made a makeshift torch from rags and gasoline.
Lt. Bean gathered two more brooms from various villagers. He found Dr. Wu later and asked about flammable liquid. He told him of the cans of petrol behind his house. There was some talk of alcohol but it wasnâ€™t thought to be flammable enough. Then Lt. Bean went to gather jujube stones. There were many around the village and Dr. Wu, when he learned the man had gotten several, pointed out that they had to be nailed into the acupuncture points on the thingâ€™s back. The lieutenant sharpened the ends of the three brooms he had acquired. He also got a small bag of rice. He suggested returning to Mrs. Hanâ€™s house and talked to them about following orders. Then he returned to the headmanâ€™s house to sleep.
Lt. Johnson made himself a club from the peach tree as well. Then he got a small bag of cooked rice. He also got the third mirror and tied it onto his sling on his left arm. He also made a torch out of his club with cloth and gasoline.
Dr. Wu told the villagers what heâ€™d learned. They wanted to dig up the cemetery and burn all of the bodies. He suggested sprinkling sticky rice on the graves and helped them with that. He asked a villager for an axe but the man was hesitant to give it up as he wanted it to defend his own family. He remembered he had a copy of the I Ching at his house so he retrieved it.
Dr. Wu went to the Rice Wine House for a little rice wine to calm his nerves during the day. While he was drinking, he remembered that vinegar was used in the tanning process so there was probably a good deal of it at the tannery.
He went to the tannery and talked to the workers there. He was able to get two 50-gallon barrels of vinegar brought back to his house. He told the workers that if anything happened to try to get to the clinic. He also told the residents of the remaining thatch houses they should all lodge at the tannery at night until the current crisis was over. A few of the villagers would be staying with him at the clinic as well.
Lt. Ulrich returned to the headmanâ€™s house and retrieved one of the small mirrors as well. He also went to the temple to look for a hand bell.
The temple was the largest structure in town and proved to be composed of a single, large room with doors in all four walls. It stood on a foundation of solid stone and was sturdily built of wood with several windows high up in the walls. The grounds around the building were overgrown and vines and other plants had started to overtake the building as well. Though falling into ruin, the original beauty of the structure was still evident.
The interior was impressive, though dirty. There were numerous large statues under the high, vaulted roof. Pillars were prevalent. There were numerous footprints throughout the dust, as though someone had been moving constantly through the temple, leading back and forth from all four doors and meandering around the statues.
He searched the place and found a cabinet near the center with two hand bells within. As he left, a few of the villagers noticed him and made signs to ward off evil. They ran away from the man.
At supper, an hour or so before dusk, Lt. Bean suggested going back to Mrs. Hanâ€™s house. Lt. Van Loan and Lt. Johnson were on board.
â€œSo, Danny,â€ Lt. Bean said. â€œWe could really use a man of your talents. Youâ€™re coming with us.â€
They divided up the items theyâ€™d gathered from the village that day, splitting the hand bells between them.
Lt. Ulrich and Dr. Wu both stayed at the clinic in the village while the rest of them went back to Mrs. Hanâ€™s house. The front door of the house was still open, just as they left it. Nothing had changed inside the hut. They looked in the barn but there was nothing there. Lt. Bean had not thought things through, thinking they could cook the rice heâ€™d brought once they arrived. Disappointed, he sprinkled a line of uncooked rice under the door and in the windows.
Night fell. Lt. Bean set watches.