Quality Checker: Tezuka
First Published on Chaleuria.
Coffin? Shi Yitong and I both froze. Last night we were too worried about grandfather’s condition, so none of us paid any attention to the coffin. But now, thinking about it…
It didn’t. It really didn’t. It was extremely quiet the whole night. The coffin had been lying in the courtyard peacefully, and it didn’t make any sound.
“It didn’t…” I mumbled in reply.
“Then that’s it,” Mr. Wen narrowed his eyes and smiled. “I’ve already solved your worry perfectly.”
“What did you say?” Shi Yitong’s face was flushed with anger, and he was about to throw himself at Mr. Wen and start a vicious fight. But right at this moment, Shi Yitong’s grandmother tottered out of the room.
There were still tear stains on her face. The moment she saw Mr. Wen, she was completely shocked. Then she cried out, “Aiyo!”, as she trotted all the way before us. She stared at Mr. Wen, her lips trembling as if she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Mr. Wen… Are you really Mr. Wen?”
I was taken aback, but Shi Yitong was even more shocked than I was. He didn’t even know what emotions to express on his face.
“Grandma? Y-you, you know him?”
Shi Yitong’s grandmother did not answer, instead, her knees dropped unexpectedly as she tried to kneel in front of Mr. Wen. Luckily, Mr. Wen was able to catch her in time and pulled her to her feet.
“Please get up. I can’t accept this kneel from you.” Mr. Wen softly said.
Grandmother Shi was so excited that she could barely speak, and it took her quite a while to calm down. “Sir, why are you here? No, that’s not right. Could it be that you’re back?”
Mr. Wen smiled, “That’s right, I’m back.”
“Then, that person you were waiting for…”
“Don’t worry, I already found him.” Mr. Wen laughed.
After Grandmother Shi heard the reply, she heaved a breath of relief as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She said with relief, “So, that’s it, that’s it… Good, that’s good.”
Shi Yitong and I stared at Grandmother Shi and Mr. Wen in confusion as they talked. Even Shi Yitong’s anger just now was probably already flushed away, unable to make heads or tails of this situation.
“Grandma, do you know him?”
“What nonsense are you talking about?!” Grandmother Shi smacked Shi Yitong on the head, slightly irritated. “This is Wen Daren , the number one Heavenly Priest in Yan City. Hurry and greet Wen Daren!”
“Actually, I’ve stopped being addressed as Daren,” Mr. Wen said, still smiling. “I’m just an idle shopkeeper now, taking some requests occasionally and doing some humble responsibilities.”
Grandmother Shi laughed, but it was soon followed by a regretful sigh, “Since even you came, that means… his fate has really reached the end.”
Mr. Wen nodded. “Yes.”
Shi Yitong couldn’t stand it anymore, he shouted angrily, “Exactly what is going on?! What fate? What Daren! My grandfather has already passed away, yet no one is even telling me what’s going on?”
“Shi Yitong,” Mr. Wen turned around and looked at my friend. “Your name is Shi Yitong, right?”
Shi Yitong nodded blankly.
“Have you ever thought about why a coffin would make knocking sounds every time it’s about to be sold?”
“Umm…” Shi Yitong wasn’t sure why he was asking but still forced himself to answer, “Grandpa said it was because coffins chose people. Every coffin will choose the dead person that’s going to lie in it.”
“That’s right.” Mr. Wen said in a low voice as he walked to the center of the yard. The main culprit this time — that Chinese cedar nested coffin — was lying under the willow tree, with its cover wide open. It was the result of Shi Yitong and me moving it over with great effort, upon following Mr. Wen’s request.
Mr. Wen walked over to the side of the coffin and reached out his hand to touch the top grade lumber and the decorative wood carvings. “A coffin is the home for the body of the deceased. The moment that the funeral worker finishes making it, the coffin has already decided its owner. Poor people use thin paulownia planks for the coffin, peasants use China fir, and people in high positions and the wealthy use Chinese cedar… What kind of person lies in what kind of coffin, your grandfather must know this very well by heart. However, he still put in great effort and made this nested coffin with costly materials. Have you ever considered why?”
These light words from Mr. Wen actually made Shi Yitong’s eyes widen. He seemed to have understood something as he tightly bit his lip without saying a word.
“You grandfather probably never had the intention to sell this coffin in the first place.” Mr. Wen said softly as he gently ran his finger over the coffin cover.
Slightly surprised, I looked at Mr. Wen, “Are you saying that Shi Yitong’s grandpa… already knew he would die?”
Mr. Wen laughed, “No one in this world doesn’t know that they will die. All things have their zenith and their wane, and every creature will eventually die. This is the Will of Heaven, a fate which I can never control. As for the thing you saw that night… Gu Yu.”
“That thing is called a coffin ghost, a small parasitic demon living in coffins.” Mr. Wen explained, “They won’t hurt you, nor will they try to escape from the coffin. They’re the coffin’s spirits. When the soul of the deceased return to the Western Paradise, they will guard the corporeal body left by the dead in ‘this shore’ until it turns into dirt and dissipates. The knocking sound created by the coffin at midnight is neither some frightening sound nor an ominous omen. That’s the coffin ghosts’ lament.”
“La-lament?” I mumbled.
“Yes. That’s just their sigh, an elegy played for the people who are about to die.”
“Then… In that case, Shi Yitong’s grandfather reached the end of his fate, and it was a natural death?”
Mr. Wen gently nodded, “He was probably aware that his predestined lifespan has reached its end, and that’s why he said those words to you before he died.”
Words? I tried hard to recall what Grandfather Shi had said, and it soon came back to me.
“As leaf raced the wind…the f-fight has been sold..”
So that was it. That sentence was actually ‘As life reaches its end, the fate has been sealed.’
“If you have known about everything since long ago, then why did you still ask us to do those series of useless actions?” I couldn’t help but ask, “Why didn’t you just tell me from the beginning!?”
“Those actions were not useless,” Mr. Wen smiled as he looked at the coffin in the yard. “A coffin that has been stored in a dark, damp place for too long needs to be exposed to the scorching sun before being used. This is to prevent water accumulation or wood decay. The eight strong men that I asked you to find are the ‘Eight Immortals’, the coffin bearers. As for the two bells I gave you, those are necessary for calling back the soul of the deceased. Thus, no matter how far your friend’s grandfather has wandered off into ‘the other shore’, as long as he hears the sound of the bell, he will always know where his home is.”
 Daren – Title of respect toward superiors. The literal translation is Big Person.