Chinese Folktales

27. The Spirit of the Horse Mountain

THERE is a village at the foot of the Horse Mountain. In that village there dwelt a peasant Who made his living by selling grain. Every five days he would go to the small market town east of the village. This market was about a mile away and separated from the village by a rocky ridge. One day he was returning from the market slightly drunk. He was on his mule and had just reached the rocky ridge when suddenly by a stream he caught sight of a monster. Its huge face was blue and its eyes started from its head like those of a crab. They flashed with an angry gleam. Its big mouth ran from one ear to the other and looked like a dish full of blood. In it was a thick tangle of teeth two or three inches long. It was lurking by the stream, where it had just stooped to drink. The peasant could clearly hear the water slurp down its throat.

He had a terrible fright. Fortunately, the monster had not yet seen him. Quickly he decided to take the round-about way past the northern slope of the rock. This was a flat path but somewhat longer. It was taken by the villagers whenever they had wheelbarrows to push. The peasant goaded on his mule and galloped as fast as he could.

Just as he was turning the corner he suddenly heard a voice calling out behind him: ‘Neighbour, wait for me ‘ He turned and saw his neighbour’s son. He stopped and waited.

The young neighbour said: ‘Old Li is seriously ill. He will not last much longer. His son asked me to go to the market and order a coffin. I am just on my way back.’ The peasant knew that old Li had been sick for a long time and so he believed him.

The neighbour continued ‘Surely you always take the shortest route over the mountain—why are you taking this roundabout route today?’

The peasant was ill a t ease: ‘l wanted to over the mountain today, but then I saw an ugly and terrifying monster, so this roundabout route is not too long.’

The neighbour said: ‘Hearing you speak like that I am beginning to feel afraid myself, walking home on my own. Won’t you let me sit on your mule behind you?’

The peasant consented and the neighbour mounted the mule behind him.

After a few steps he resumed: ‘What did that monster look like that you saw? Tell me about it!’

The peasant said: ‘l am still too upset. I will tell you everything when we’ve reached home.’

‘If you do not want to speak,’ the other replied, ‘why don’t you turn and lock at me and tell me if I look like that monster?’

The peasant said: ‘You should not make such wicked jokes! A man is not a devil.’

But the other insisted: ‘Just take a look at me!’ With these words he gripped his arm hard. The peasant turned his head and looked at him, and true enough there was the monster he had seen by the stream. In his fright he fell off the mule and remained lying on the spot unconscious.

The mule knew its way and got back home. The people in the village suspected the worst and went out along different paths to look for him. They found him at the foot of the rocky slope and carried him home. It was midnight before he recovered consciousness and could tell them what had happened to him.