A Recollection of the Beginning of the Time of Trouble During the Rise of the Jiang Shi and the Struggle for Cathay

When reports of the monsters first began to surface, many dismissed the sightings as the maniacal ravings of those under the hypnotic inducement of the all too prevalent opium poppy. Indeed, their stories became so well-known as to be featured by the highly esteemed Broomhall in his periodical, National Righteousness, as evidence of the need for our glorious homeland, our Mother England, to end her participation in the sad opium trade. It was a few short years ago that Broomhall formed and became secretary of the Christian Union for the Severance of the British Empire with the Opium Traffic and lobbied the British Parliament to stop the opium trade. Broomhall and his fellow worthy, James Laidlaw Maxwell, also appealed to the London Missionary Conference to condemn the continuation of the trade. But when I heard the stories, I knew the truth of the matter. As despicable as the effects are of the hated hop, I knew that the horrid beings that the victim’s described were not phantasms of a drug-clouded mind, but were rather the accurate portrayal of the beast, poor Victor’s beast. And now, if the reports were to be believed, there were more of them and their legion was growing in my beloved China. China was dear to me, as it had been my childhood home as I had traveled there during my youth with my now deceased missionary parents before returning to England for my formal education. Before their deaths it had often been presumed, no understood, that one day I should return to China to seek my fortune. It was when I had returned to England for my studies that I had met the then esteemed doctor and his theories, and witnessed firsthand the results of his madness, the dark paths that his relentless pursuit of knowledge had led him to, poor Victor. Never in my wildest imaginings had I dreamed that my encounters with the mad doctor, and my childhood in China would converge as they did now. Yes, I would be returning to China, not to seek my fortune, but rather to save its populace from the barbary that would come from the now spreading pestilence.

Given my own distaste for the dreadful poppy and its many forms of distillation, it is somewhat ironic that in order to make my way back to the orient post haste, I was forced to find transportation on one of the many opium clippers plying the seas with the trade of its abhorrent cargo. Soon afterwards I found myself walking along Suzhou Creek, following its familiar bends and turns to arrive at 188 Jessfield Road and St. John’s College. Nearly a decade old, the Americans have done quite an excellent job at introducing the study of western science and natural philosophy to the Chinese, even though these Americans employ the radical method of instruction of the Chinese in the Chinese language rather than our own superior English. Still, those American Rebels cannot be faulted for their efforts, and I do suppose that we English must concede that while they are not being instructed in the proper manner, with proper King’s English, there may be some small merit, at least in the beginning of study, of instructing one’s pupils in a language which they can understand. Upon my arrival, I made my way to the offices of President Pott. Francis Pott, intelligent and good man that he is, when he heard of the reason for my hasty return to Shanghai, he immediately sent for the good Bishops, Boone and Schereschewsky, so that I would only have to recount my story once rather than thrice.

So the four of us sat, gathered around the fireplace in Pott’s office, and I told them of my suspicions of the cause of the reports of the sightings. Being learned men, at first they scoffed at my proposal that Victor’s monster was behind the sightings, as most Americans and English knew the monster had been left stranded at the Arctic Circle. While it had been most evilly endowed with unnatural strength and stamina, few believed that it would survive in the extremes of the Circle long. Even if the creature had survived, they conceded, how was it possible that it could have made its way to China, they asked almost rhetorically, not expecting the well-reasoned and foregone logical conclusion which I gave to them.

“My dear Gentlemen, as you all should well remember, according to Walton’s letters, the creature was left stranded on an ice floe as they left the Circle and headed south, sometime in the years 1816 to 1817. Many succeeding adventurers and explorers carried on with Walton’s dream to navigate and chart the Circle, including Sir John Franklin’s many attempts to chart the Northwest Passage. As you know, Franklin’s 1845 Northwest Passage expedition became lost and both England and America sent many expeditions to the Circle to look for evidence of Franklin and his crew. One of these ships, the HMS Enterprise, made two voyages to the Arctic, the first in 1848 to 1849, the second from 1850 to 1854, before she was given to the Board of Trade of the Privy Council and brought here, to China, to facilitate the Opium Trade, just a few short years ago, when the sightings of the monsters began.”

My fellow scholars were silent. Bishop Boone slowly shook his head as he gave voice to the fears within us all, “This means that Victor’s monster survived the Circle almost forty years; if your theory is correct. Does this mean that there is some new madman that has adopted and sheltered the creature, studying it and is now creating more, and if so, how, by what means, and more important still, how can we destroy a creature capable of surviving an environment as harsh as the Circle with no means of clothing, shelter or other necessary sustenance?”

Bishop Schereschewsky lifted his head and gravely looked at each of us before voicing his opinion, “In working with the Chinese, both at the Church of our Savior, Hongkew, and here at the college, I have encountered many Chinese who speak of the Jiang Shi, a dreadful creature, a corpse that can be reanimated to life when the soul fails to leave the body, usually due to improper death, suicide, or improper interment of the corpse which results in it being struck by lightning prior to burial. These foul creatures are also created when a person injured by a Jiang Shi, survives the injury, but is somehow infected by contact with the creature’s vile fluids, this person will eventually become a Jiang Shi over time. As we all know, Victor participated in unholy rights, which included a dreadful ritual during an electrical storm, which caused the creature to become animated. If the creature has made its way here, it simply has to wound its victims but not kill them, and eventually there will be more like itself, it is creating more of its own kind.”

“My thoughts and fears exactly Bishop,” I said in sad agreement.

President Pott shook his head as well, still in disbelief. “According to his letters, Walton said that the monster vowed to destroy itself.”

I looked at the men grimly as I replied. “Perhaps it could not find a way to destroy itself, and, over time, changed its mind. Perhaps, over time, it has decided to return to humanity, and, if it cannot make humanity accept it in its state, has decided to make mankind over in its own monstrous image. The beast must be stopped!”

“How?” the three men asked in unison.

“I am not certain, but I am in agreement with the Bishop Schereschewsky as to the creation of these vile creatures, as I remember hearing stories about the mythical Jiang Shi from my childhood here in China, as well as recalling Victor’s own ramblings about his study of esoteric oriental teachings. I believe that since the Chinese have lore that speaks of similar creatures as the monster, and since their lore recalls a way of creation of these creatures that is similar to Victor’s, perhaps in their language there are also stories of how these monsters can be combated, held at bay, and ultimately destroyed. That is why I have returned here, to the college, to the one institution in all of China that has sought to learn from its students about their culture, histories and traditions while imparting some western knowledge in the process.”

“You have chosen wisely, and the college will be at your disposal in your quest to find the monster and its minions and destroy them before their number grows too large”, President Pott enthusiastically exclaimed as he extended his hand to mine to signify and seal our agreement of purpose. The Bishops also extended their hands and exclaimed that the church as well would support me in this noble endeavor. The four of us stood together and looked at one another, as we each solemnly repeated the motto of the school, “Light and Truth”, before beginning to walk out of the President’s office. Pott slowed down as we exited the door to call over his secretary, instructing him that I was to be an extended guest of the college and every courtesy, convenience and assistance should be given to me and my requests. I followed Pott’s secretary, Frederick Graves, as he escorted me to the chambers reserved for guests of the college and was instructed that dinner would begin promptly at 6p.m. that evening.

So, all of the events during my first day back in Shanghai, led me to believe that the day was an apparently auspicious beginning to my undertaking. That first night as I retired to my chambers after my meal, and readied myself for sleep, I haughtily, and rather naively, imagined that my quest would be a dangerous, yet simple and straightforward one. I would speak with the students and enquire as to the Chinese history and traditions surrounding the Jiang Shi, from their creation to their destruction. Once I was armed with this knowledge, it would be a simple matter of procuring the correct items for containment and destruction of said Jiang Shi, perhaps training a few like-minded individuals to accompany me to speed up the process, and we would go out into all of China searching for the dreaded beasts, armed with science and all her accoutrements and blessed by the church, we would locate and destroy them, one by one, until there were no more. “For light and truth,” I remember murmuring to myself as I drifted off to sleep.

As the succeeding days turned into weeks, I learned that there was nothing simple and straightforward concerning the stories of the creation and destruction of the Jiang Shi. I spoke with many students. While many agreed with Bishop Schereschewsky, that Jiang Shi were created when an unburied corpse was struck by lightning, or someone died by their own hand or one was created when surviving an attack by a Jiang Shi were they had contact with the creature’s fluids, still others believed that use of the black arts, or the mere act of a pregnant black cat jumping across the dead body before it was buried were enough to turn corpses into Jiang Shi. The students could not even agree as to the appearance of the Jiang Shi. Some students advised that it was hard to tell a Jiang Shi from a live human being if they had only been recently deceased before becoming reanimated while others argued that Jiang Shi were obvious from their greenish-white rotting flesh, to their means of traveling by hopping rather than walking. There was much disagreement as to the means of effectively combating the Jiang Shi as well. Some of the students claimed that the advance of a Jiang Shi could be stopped simply by holding up a mirror so that the Jiang Shi would see its own reflection. Since the wood and branches of the peach tree were considered the essence of the Wu Xing, or “five elements”, swords and daggers fashioned from the peach tree were considered good to bind or destroy Jiang Shi and other creatures of evil. Still others claimed that they could be dissolved in the blood of a black dog, or vinegar, destroyed by a raging fire, dispelled by the call of the rooster or the sound of a ringing bell, bound with string stained with black ink, or destroyed by contact with sticky rice, the hooves of a black donkey, an axe blade, Azuki Beans, or Jujube seeds.

When I felt that I had enough knowledge, I made a list of the items I would need to destroy the monsters, which then numbered in the hundreds if not thousands due to the passage of time. Being sympathetic to my fellow creatures, I left off the hooves of a black donkey and the blood of black dogs, but asked for all of the other items that I had been told would destroy the creatures. I gave my list to Graves and spent my remaining time in the church. I kept vigil at the altar while I waited for the required items to be gathered and brought to me. Before leaving for the church, I had addressed the 39 students of the college and asked for volunteers to join me in my quest to rid China and the world of these vile beings, but when the day came for me to leave and begin my search, only two students came forward to join me, the brave Lao Dan and fearless Li Zhuanxu.

The entire student body, President Pott, his secretary, Graves, and the two Bishops all gathered that morning to wish us well on our undertaking. We were well provisioned as we left that morning, and just a few steps into our journey, the sky darkened and it began to rain.

We began our search in the opium dens of Shanghai, since this was the location of the first reports of the sightings of the creatures. These dreadful places lined both sides of the docks from whence the evil trade and its cargo spread. Upon arrival we discovered that most of that portion of the city had been destroyed by a great fire some months ago. Had the problem already been resolved by the apparent hand of God himself we wondered, and had all of them already perished? I found myself feeling sad, all of the worry, the dread, the work, the preparation and anticipation, had it all been for nothing I wondered to myself.

We spent several days investigating the English and American International Settlement, and the French Concession of the City, as well as the walled city itself, and all to no avail. Despite whatever criteria we used, we could find no Jiang Shi in all of Shanghai. Dan and Zhuanxu were just as dejected at our failure as I was. Could I have been wrong, I wondered to myself. Perhaps the monster did not come here after all, and perhaps what had been supposed to be the mad hallucinations of drug addicts had been just that. Admitting defeat, we turned back from our quest, and made our way along the Suzhou back to St. John’s College.

“If there had been a real invasion of Jiang Shi, we were prepared,” Dan exclaimed to Zhuanxu, who nodded enthusiastically as he replied, “Yes, there is no shame in being prepared, just because the battle did not come to us, we were prepared should it have come, therefore we have no shame!” I wish I could have been as philosophical as the two students, but I felt nothing but shame, as we approached the holdings of the school that lay shrouded in mist and the darkening gloam. How was I going to explain this to the President and the Two Bishops?

I followed closely behind the two boys as we entered the grounds, as the details of buildings and landscaping became blurred by the increasing fog that rolled in from the Suzhou. The boys hurried in through the doors and down the cavernous main corridor that led to the hall, as it was close to the time for dinner to be served. No sort of bad news or failure can seemingly deter a growing boy’s appetite for long. As for myself, I was anything but hungry, as I bowed my head, concentrating on my steps, and I hurried on to my chambers, not looking up, and determined to not set foot outside my bedroom door until the morning. Perhaps after a restful sleep I could come up with some sort of explanation. I bolted my door behind me, determined to not be disturbed, and I threw myself upon the bed, too emotionally out of sorts to even contemplate undressing or even crawling under the covers.

I drifted off to sleep, I do not know for how long of a span of time I slept, but I was awakened to the sound of a persistent thudding on my chamber door. I remember groaning to myself. So, they have heard and have come to hear my side of the story, I thought to myself. Perhaps if I am very quiet they will go away, thinking me still asleep, and will then think to wait to question me in the morning, I thought to myself, but the thudding continued. With a sad but resigned sigh I pulled myself up and off the bed and went and unfastened the door.

I will never forget the sight of the horror before me, President Pott, hopping up and down against the threshold of the door as he tumbled into my room in a sightless daze, the stench of his now rotting flesh assaulting my nose. Several students were close behind him, all hopping forward, with their arms outstretched, their lips pulled back in nightmarish grimaces. I felt my stomach harden into a cold, hard pit as I realized that in our absence, the school had somehow succumbed to the Jiang Shi even while the rest of Shanghai had seemingly been spared or they had somehow been eradicated from every part of Shanghai while those at the school had become infected. I could not understand how this could be, but I did not have time to think through what events must have taken place for such a reality to exist, I had to defend myself.

I grabbed my discarded pack with its provisions from the floor, and hastily withdrew the bottle of vinegar and hurled it towards the students that began to pour into my chambers; the liquid made a loud hiss as it escaped the bottle’s opening and landed on the Jiang Shi and they began to melt. I unsheathed my peach wood sword, and thrust its sharpened end into Potts’s chest and quickly withdrew it as he withered into dust.

I threw handfuls of sticky rice, jujube seeds and Azuki beans at the other infected students that I encountered as I searched all of the rooms, corridors and chambers in the school for Dan and Zhuanxu. I found them in the dining hall, slumped over their dinner, their bodies lifeless and drained of all qi. I could see no visible mark on them, so I wasn’t certain if it was possible that they might reanimate and become Jiang Shi also, so I stabbed their corpses with the peach wood sword as I had done to Pott, and I began to make my way to the church to find the bishops. Believing that I had vanquished all of the afflicted in the school, I strode outside the college’s doors and into the night, taking no care to disguise my advancement towards the church, intent on my search. If I had been less focused on this objective I would have at least smelled it or heard its approach before I felt the cold bite of teeth loose in their sockets upon my shoulder and felt my own blood course from the wound. I rolled and stabbed in the general direction from which the attack had come and met the resistance of empty air. The creature was gone. I heard its high, wicked laugh pierce the darkness as it fled. I hurried into the church only to find it empty with no sign of the bishops.

Wearily I sank to the floor in front of the altar. The realization of what had happened began to sink in to me. I had been bitten, a flesh wound, I would survive. I would survive and become one of them, I would become Jiang Shi. In all of my study with the students about the Jiang Shi, I had neglected to ask how long it takes for the transformation to occur, so I do not know how long the process will take.

For a while I pondered continuing to search for more Jiang Shi and destroying what I can of them before their corruption overtakes my soul and turns me to their foul deeds, but then I realized that I might full well be the only human who knows what happened here, and if this evil is left unchecked to grow, what fate awaits all of humanity.

So here I sit in front of the altar and have written an account, as best I can remember, of what deeds led to this day. Now that I have left behind my testimony, my warning to my fellow man, of what awaits those who succumb to these walking undead, I shall leave these pages here to warn all who would find and read them. In the sack, my bag of tricks, I have nothing left but the thread that was stained with black ink, and will do what is necessary to prevent myself from spreading this affliction.

This true testimony and firsthand account of the rise of the Jiang Shi is given by my hand, Ernest De Lacey, with the hopes that it serve as a fair and just warning and is profitable to induce and incite the preparation for the battle of the land of Cathay and beyond.

Ernest de lacey

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