Chapter 2: Laughing Night Owl
Mu Yi was a very brave person. He had to be when he was traveling the world and sleeping in tombs and temples with his grandfather.
During the past two days, he had built doors with the wood he’d gathered. Mu Yi crept to the door and opened it slowly, peering into the corridor.
The light of the full moon streamed through the windows, illuminating the passageway.
There, he saw a tall silhouette standing in the moonlight.
His heart began to pound. Mu Yi couldn’t see the stranger’s face clearly and suddenly had and icy-cold feeling run down his spine which caused him to shiver.
As the stranger approached in the darkness, Mu Yi could smell a putrid stench assault his nostrils. He didn’t know what to think.
The following day, he awoke and found himself sprawled on the cold floor.
He scratched his sore head, trying to remember what had transpired the night before.
The stranger had moved so quickly, like a ghost. Mu Yi had encountered some quick people in the past but never anyone that fast. The awful smell that had trailed behind was that of a decaying body.
Mu Yi looked down the main hall, the god statue lay broken on the ground, without a head.
That must have been the loud sound that had woken him up.
Why would someone break a statue? Was the stolen head some kind of precious treasure? Why steal only the head? That horrible smell of death made the entire situation even more eerie.
This was the eighth day of his grandfather’s death and Mu Yi was planning to pay another visit to the old man’s grave.
Suddenly, his heartbeat quickened as a set of strange footprints caught his attention.
Mu Yi took a deep breath and tried not to think about it as he turned back.
To clear his mind, Mu Yi went down the mountain with an empty gigantic bag on his shoulders. After visiting the market, he returned back to the temple with a bag filled with supplies: yellow paper, brushes, a box full of top quality cinnabar, a bowl of black dog’s blood, a red string, one kilogram of sticky rice, seven bronze mirrors, and a dozen candles. He had used copper coins and temple bells as payment for his items while he was in the village. He had also purchased an old wooden sword.
Even though all of the items were old, Mu Yi was satisfied with his purchases. He had spent almost all his savings for the old peach wood sword, so he was almost out of money. Fortunately, in the last couple of days, he had bought some oil, salt, and noodles that would make sure he wouldn’t starve for the next few days.
Taoist priests were known as expert exorcists. During Mu Yi’s many years of traveling with his grandfather, he realized that the old man knew the craft extremely well. They often pretended to exorcise evil spirits and were very familiar with the process. Even though the two had never really exorcised evil spirits, they had become masters of pretending, even down to the serious expressions when pretending.
After what had happened last night, Mu Yi could only give it a try.
Mu Yi ate two bowls of his leftovers and began to work. He cleaned half of his remaining sticky rice and then spread the rest across the room. The main hall was left untouched.
He used the red string to attach the bells and then attached them to the windows and at the entrance. He also made sure to hang the bells throughout the room.
Next, Mu Yi also placed mirrors according to the shape of the Great Bear. He then angled the mirrors towards great hall. His work was precise, with seven mirrors each representing a star.
He then put candles in the main hall according to the Eight Trigrams and the Nine Halls Diagram. The light reflected by the seven mirrors met in the center.
After that, Mu Yi used black cloth to cover the mirrors. He did everything so that if anyone touched anything, the pieces of cloth would fall from the mirrors. This technique could be used only at a crucial moment, if the mirrors were to be uncovered too early, it wouldn’t work which filled Mu Yi’s heart fill with dread.
Finally, he also took half of the black dog’s blood, mixed it with the sticky rice and cinnabar, and stirred everything together to make ink.
The old man had taught him how to draw magic symbols. Mu Yi could also write well because his grandfather was very strict about his education. Because of that, calligraphy had become a part of Mu Yi’s daily life.
Since practice makes perfect, he made sure to practice every day. Mu Yi even practiced how to draw with his eyes closed allowing him to draw five and a half magic charms. The five charms he knew were: the inviting wealth charm, the body protection charm, the exorcism charm, the home-guarding charm, and the evil spirit slaying charm. The charm he only half knew was the five thunders charm.
After burning some incense, Mu Yi washed his hands and took a deep breath. He had done every task meticulously, but this time he felt an unusual sensation in his three energies: Jing, Qi, and Shen.
Mu Yi dipped his brush in the ink and began to draw in a vigorous calligraphic style. In a flash, magic symbols were drawn in front of him. When he finished his work, Mu Yi stared blankly at the charm.
It was a body protection charm. He’d drawn this charm many times before, even with his eyes closed. Even though he was experienced with this charm, he now had a strange feeling that something was different. Something about this charm looked more natural.
Mu Yi shook his head, cleared his mind and continued drawing. He drew three body protection charms, ten exorcism charms, and ten evil spirit slaying charms.
He wanted to draw more but he found that he was exhausted. Besides, if anything strange happened tonight, he’d need to preserve his energy.
Mu Yi didn’t know why but, drawing the other charms didn’t give him the same feeling as drawing the first one. Something about that first charm was different. Sadly, his grandfather was gone, so he had no one to ask.
Mu Yi thought for a while. He held the first charm close to his chest like precious treasure, and then placed the ten evil spirit slaying charms and the ten exorcism charms in small bags that hung from either side of his body. He then went into the main hall and finished the rest of his tasks before the evening.
After supper, a fully clothed Mu Yi laid down on top of his bed. He had cleverly placed his ax near his bed incase he needed to grab it quickly. His wooden sword was still in his scabbard. Exhausted from the day’s work, he closed his eyes and began to snore.
The sound of a laughing night owl rustled Mu Yi from his sleep. He crawled out of bed and looked out of the window. According to the position of the moon, he guessed that it was somewhere between 10 or 11 at night.
Even though pocket watches were popular, he couldn’t afford buy something so luxurious.
Mu Yi splashed some cold water on his face, grabbed his ax, and walked to the main hall. He strained his eyes to look deep into the hall. Something gave him an ominous feeling. Mu Yi walked to the corner near the entrance and crouched in the shadows by the door.
Time passed slowly. The night owl continued to make noise from a nearby tree. Was it a sign that something inauspicious was going to happen?
“Cling ling ling!”