Chinese Folktales

33. The Fox Hole

TO the west of Kiauchcu Bay there is a mountain village which is called Fox Hole. East of the village is a high rock and through that rock runs a cave as round as the full moon. The cave runs through the whole mountain like a tunnel, about half a mile long, and emerges on the far side. The old folk believe that a lot of foxes and weasels live in that cave. For that reason no one dare enter it and the village owes its name to the Cave.

One day two peasants from the district were walking to the city.

As they passed Fox Hole they pointed towards the entrance to the cave and one of them said in jest: ‘If someone lit a good fire here the foxes and weasels would all be burnt to death.’

The other, who was a farmer, burst into noisy laughter and said: ‘With the fire burning in front and the smoke coming out at the back, that would be real fun!’

As they were returning from the city the farmer suddenly burst into bitter tears. He referred to himself by his own name and a voice not his own issued from his lips: ‘l am your father. I lost my life in pitiful circumstances. Today is my chance to visit my home again.’ Then the voice called for the farmer’s mother, and when she came he took her by her hand and wept bitterly and talked to her about things that had happened earlier in his life. Then he said: ‘l am hungry. Have some wine and food served to me quickly! But it must be a chicken.’

The farmer’s mother really believed that this was the spirit of her husband because it spoke to her of things which no one else knew. so she too started to weep with emotion. But the farmer’s wife did not like the look of things and, as he insisted on having a chicken for his meal, she suspected that her husband might be possessed by a fox. She therefore told him curtly: ‘We have no wine in the house and the chickens are broody. I will cook you some gruel. After all, my dear father-in-law, you are a blessed spirit and it is your duty therefore to help us instead of running us into unnecessary expense.’

At this, angry words came from her husband’s lips: ‘That woman has no respect. That stuff you have fermenting in that large barrel—surely that is Wine? And you have a whole coop full of chickens. You feed them a bucket of grain every day. Why will you not a single one to please your deceased father?’

The mother could bear it no longer. She ordered her daughter-in-law to bring a chicken and wine and the possessed one began to eat and drink. But as he was eating his pointed lips twitched like those of a weasel and all those who saw it laughed surreptitiously. There was a lad in the neighbourhood who was tall and strong. He now picked up a knife and called out: ‘Are you not the old weasel? Are you not just pretending to be the deceased father? If you don’t speak the truth at once I will kill you.’

When he heard these words the farmer’s face was distorted with fear and alarm: ‘It true I am not his old father,’ he said, ‘but this man walked past our cave with a peasant today and said some wicked things, such as wanting to smoke out our whole tribe. That is why I have come to pay him back. And one of us has come with me and he now possesses the peasant. But since you have treated me to a meal I will now leave and collect my friend as well.’

With these words the farmer dropped on his bed and only slowly regained consciousness.

Much the same had happened at the peasant’s house. As he was about to lie down after supper his eyes suddenly went rigid and his mind was confused. He Was thrown to the ground, then he jumped up again and leapt up several feet in the air so that he struck his head on the beams. He then beat his breast and began to berate himself: ‘We have lived in this mountain cave since time immemorial, and you want to smoke us out!’ his voice Said. Then he leapt in the air again and no one could hold him. His parents began to say prayers and ordered incense to be burnt and wine to be brought for sacrifice. But there was no change until the peasant lad walked in with his knife. He spoke to him and said: ‘Those two were only joking. They never intended to smoke you out really. Now you have paid them back quite enough, your friend is waiting for you outside. Now hop it, or you shall have a taste of my knife!’

Then a timid voice came from the peasant’s throat: am just leaving, I am just leaving.’

From that time onwards the two were never troubled again.