That night in the tent, I slept soundly.
A long time ago, on my first night in a no man’s land, I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. I thought that I’d sleep well when I was tired, but in fact, the first night in the no man’s land was usually my last chance to get a good night’s sleep. So now that I had learned my lesson, I knew I had to sleep tonight with no distractions.
When I woke up the next day, I saw that Jin Wantang had two huge bags under his eyes. He was using a satellite phone and constantly flipping between the channels.
No one responded to him—which was a little ominous—so his expression started to turn grim.
We set off right away and finally reached the first herders’ station at four o’clock in the afternoon the next day—in fact, it was just an area where more than a dozen tents were set up. We abandoned the jeep and switched to horses. Mongolian horses were short and looked silly. My horse was called Meng He, which meant “eternal”. Meng He was apparently a blood colt. I heard that when the mother gave birth to the second foal ten days after giving birth to the first foal, this second foal was called a blood colt.
The station was full of old people, four or five of whom could speak broken Chinese. Some of the others could speak English and Russian. Every time I encountered this kind of situation, I always remembered how I failed the Spanish CET6 exam (1). Language wasn’t based on educational resources at all, but mainly on talent. That was why I didn’t get to go to Antoni Gaudí’s city in the end (2).
I heard from an old herdsman that all the tour guides had been busy recently because the number of tourists was more than ever before. He didn’t know why there were suddenly so many tourists, but there weren’t any guides currently available because of it. He couldn’t help us because he had to keep an eye on his sheep, but he was willing to give us his dog. It was more expensive than hiring a person, but the dog was better than people. It was called Bankhar, which meant “flat face”. If there was any danger, Bankhar could go to the nearest herders’ station and bring people to help us.
I looked at Jin Wantang and said, “Haven’t you been here before? In that case, you can be the guide and the dog can be responsible for saving lives. It’s perfect.”
Jin Wantang said that he hired a guide when he came here before. There was no difference between coming here once and coming here a hundred times. It was impossible to figure out which direction was north, but he could use the GPS to take us to the grove where he had found the body.
We had nothing to say all night. We rested at the herders’ station and then set off early the next day. At noon, four people and a dog arrived in the grove.
From a distance, this was an extremely ordinary and unremarkable small forest on the Mongolian grassland. It was the kind that often appeared suddenly, and each one was almost the exact same as the others. The appearance of this forest actually meant that we were at a higher altitude, and if we went further, the altitude would continue to increase until even mountains would start to appear.
These trees appearing on the endless grassland actually painted a vivid picture. We didn’t even have to dismount when we rode the horses in because the forest wasn’t dense, the shrubs inside were sparse, and the distance between the trees was very large.
I had been keeping an eye on Jin Wantang’s expression to see if he had really been here before. Even if people could hide it for a while, they wouldn’t be able to do it the whole time. But as I continued to look, I found that Jin Wantang had really been here before—he had the look of someone who was revisiting an old place.
The sunlight was dim in the woods and the temperature was low, which made the atmosphere very cold and gloomy. There was still a lot of stagnant water on the ground, just like a small haizi. The horses continued walking further in like they were wading through a swamp, but their reflections in the water were still very clear.
The hole Jin Wantang had dug at that time was still there, sitting on a piece of dry land with a lot of rubbish beside it. It must have been the things he had left behind at that time. To my surprise, this hole was much deeper than I had originally expected. It looked to be about four meters deep and six or seven meters wide, and there was a pool of stagnant water in it.
I squeezed Jin Wantang’s arm. He didn’t really have that much muscle and some of his muscles were actually kind of shriveled up. Sometimes if you knew a person’s muscle content, you could estimate how much strength they could use. Based on Jin Wantang’s physical strength, he probably wouldn’t even be able to get up out of bed after digging a hole for one day. He’d probably lose all the strength in his body and would barely feel better even after three days had passed. If he did this three more time and didn’t give himself nutrients during that time, he’d develop a fever. Plus, he also would’ve had to take enough protein every day or he’d quickly lose muscle mass.
Jin Wantang could never dig that deep, which meant that he had come here with other people. Maybe it was the guide he had hired, but I didn’t bother asking any questions.
At this time, Fatty came over and patted me, silently telling me to look to the side. I turned my head and saw Poker-Face looking at Bankhar. The dog was about ten meters away from us and constantly digging up the ground.
He wasn’t barking or anything, just focused on digging. Fatty and I looked at each other, grabbed the shovels from our bags, and rushed over to help the dog.
We were both quite strong, so it didn’t take long before the end of Fatty’s shovel hit something soft. It seemed to be a mass of cloth. After we cleared the soil away, we found that it was a person—no, it was actually a corpse.
It wasn’t a skeleton, but the body of a modern man who was still wearing a jacket. We wiped more of the soil off and saw that it was a middle-aged man in his sixties. There were already some signs that the body was starting to decay. As soon as the face appeared, Jin Wantang sat down on the ground hard.
We dragged the body out and saw that it was clinging to a ceramic jar with a strange expression on its face.
This was the kind of expression that meant the man didn’t realize he was going to die even right up until his death. He had clearly died instantly, so he didn’t even have time to change his expression. He almost looked like he was trying to say something.
After we dragged the body out, we found that something had been buried beneath it. We dug for about an hour and discovered three more bodies, all in the same state.
Each corpse had a lot of porcelain on them, and there were no obvious signs of trauma. Poker-Face even brushed his fingers over them but didn’t find any fatal fractures or injuries to their internal organs. I noticed that Jin Wantang’s face was pale, so I asked him what was wrong. He opened his mouth to speak but seemed to have trouble getting the words out.
“This—this—this is the sixteenth team,” he finally stammered out. “It’s Liuli Sun’s team. Why are they buried here?”
I forced the middle-aged man’s hands open, took the porcelain out, and gave it a hasty look. It was very strange at first glance, but my intuition and Jin Wantang’s previous brainwashing immediately made me realize that it was blue and white porcelain from the Song Dynasty.
I turned it over and looked at the signature, completely amazed.
Many scholars believed that blue and white porcelain started in the Southern Song Dynasty, but it was an unsolved mystery on whether there had been large-scale blue and white porcelain during that time period. At first glance, the jar in the corpse’s hand was blue and white porcelain, and the signature on the bottom contained the royal seal that should only be found on items from the world’s second most valuable tomb.
As Poker-Face picked up the corpse’s hand, I realized that all of the fingernails were cracked, and its fingers were covered in bloody wounds. Mud was embedded very deep under the nails.
“You two, give me some hints,” Jin Wantang said.
“They dug the holes themselves. They drilled into the soil like groundhogs and then suffocated to death inside.”
In other words, these people discovered the world’s second most valuable tomb and went in. But after coming out with the funerary objects, they came to this small forest, dug holes in the soil with their fingers, and buried themselves alive.
As I was thinking this, I noticed that Ping Lian (3) had started digging in another place twenty meters away.
This wasn’t a good sign.
As Fatty and I headed over, I couldn’t help thinking, don’t tell me there’s more.
By the time it started getting dark out, we had dug up twelve teams and thirty bodies, all in the same state. The ground was littered with all kinds of porcelain jars and plates that the corpses had been clutching in their hands.
From what we could gather from the documents in their clothes and Jin Wantang’s memory, we had a general idea of which rank these teams belonged to and what their origins were. Their causes of death were all the same: they suffocated to death in the soil.
Fatty looked at the porcelain on the ground and said to me, “Mr. Naïve, look at this porcelain. They’re all different in style, but they’re basically just large tableware items and wine vessels. Why does it seem like these people traveled through time and space, attended an ancient banquet, and then were killed after they came back?”
<Chapter 6><Table of Contents><Chapter 8>
(1) I was only finding that CET= College English Test. It’s a national English-as-a-foreign-language test in China. There are 2 levels: CET4 and CET6. Info here. China’s National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) has a foreign language test and students can choose from English, French, Japanese, Russian, German, and Spanish (though it seems like most pick English so maybe they just call the test CET in general).
(2) Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) was a Catalan architect. Most of his works are in Barcelona. Surprisingly enough, I’ve actually been there. Some of his works are trippy but pretty cool lol. More info on him here.
(3) Uh… yeah. So Wu Xie has decided Bankhar the dog is now “Ping Lian”, which means “flat face”. Don’t know why the author couldn’t just use the original name…
Forgot to mention yesterday, but Anna put “Wu Xie’s Private Notes” into a pdf for you last week (she’s an angel *sob*). Link is here if you want to download it.
6 thoughts on “Chapter 7 Ghost in the Woods”
Brother Xiaoman should be here as well!
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I know! Wu Xie never brings him along 😭
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I miss Xiaoman ge😭
I just checked Baidu and found we Chinese do not have a Spanish CET6 exam at all:( We only have Spanish 4 grade and 8 grade exams, which taken by sophomore and senior college kids majored in Spanish respectively.
Wu Xie, how can you fail an exam that does not even exist !!! (´⊙ω⊙`) (Actually I rechecked the author’s official WeChat account, he said later that this was a bug. He probably wanted to write something like DELE B2)
😂 NPSS just over here making up exams now. That’s pretty interesting though. I’m surprised Spanish isn’t on the CET6 but I guess there’s more of a need for Spanish speakers here than there 🤔