Wang Li finally arrived, two hours later.
Upon seeing that Tang Tian was still alive, she let out a sigh of relief.
Nevertheless, when she learnt what Tang Tian was asking her to do, she refused, right off the bat.
No matter how Tang Tian tried to persuade her, Wang Li only shook her head.
“No, I can’t.
I do matchmaking for the dead, and only the dead.
You’re still alive! I cannot do something that would harm you.
Unlike those bottom-hill hicks, I’m not so bold nor so cold-blooded as to kill a living person for the dead.”
Tang Tian raised her eyes at the unfamiliar phrase.
“So, those ‘bottom-hill hicks’ could do something like that?”
A flicker of disgust flashed through Wang Li’s eyes as she frowned.
“As the old saying goes, those who live by dirty waters and barren mountains have vile and treacherous hearts.1 The village by the lower mountain ranges is a poor place, while the men are strong and ruthless.
These past few years, demand for ghost marriages has been growing tremendously, but there are only so many dead bodies available, and still fewer female corpses.
So, as the prices shot up, unscrupulous people would dig up and sell corpses from graves that were over decades old.
Those were called ‘dry bodies’.
There were also people who offered tens of thousands for ‘wet bodies’, also known as fresh corpses.”
Wang Li paused before continuing, “And that’s what the men of the village did.
They would kidnap women from other provinces and murder them so that their bodies could be used for ghost marriages.
A lucrative business with no need for capital.”
Tang Tian’s heart lurched.
“How has no one reported such things to the police? This is first-degree murder!”
Wang Li laughed dryly.
“Those are just rumours I heard from other people.
Anyway, I don’t do that kind of dirty work.
Not that I can proudly speak of my work in public, either.
When you’re in this industry, no one really cares about anyone else.”
Tang Tian did not respond to her words, but her dark eyes gazed straight at Wang Li.
For some reason, Wang Li felt rather intimidated under her stare, and she shifted uncomfortably backwards.
“What’s the point of telling you all of this, anyway? Don’t worry, I won’t harm you.
Just be patient and enjoy your stay here.
“Oh, by the way, I received a call from Boss Chen not long ago.
He said that tomorrow is the 49th day after the Young Master’s death, so everyone in the family will come here to burn joss money for him.2 He also intends to meet you.”
Wang Li got up after she finished speaking, not wanting to stay any longer in the same room as Tang Tian.
After Wang Li left, Tang Tian recalled her words while she laid down on the bed.
“Exhuming graves, kidnapping and murdering people… all for the sake of ghost marriages.
These people are really willing to do anything for money.”
Since her plan to complete the ghost marriage ceremony while she was alive had failed, she thought hard about what to do next.
Without realising it, her consciousness slowly drifted away.
Some time passed, until she was suddenly jolted awake by a deafening scream.
“No! We were just talking earlier tonight.
She left too soon…”
Tang Tian’s body felt completely stiff and cold to her, and she tried to move around, to no avail.
This time, she couldn’t even open her eyes.
She could hear the sounds of soft sobbing while another person was talking to someone by her bedside.
“She’s really not breathing.
Her body turned cold.”
“What a coincidence.
Boss Chen just got off his plane…”
Tang Tian was appalled.
I’m still conscious! I’m still alive!
She tried to muster all her strength, but it was as if her body was no longer hers—not a muscle moved, not even her eyelids, which stayed firmly shut.
Although she was unable to see what was going on, by listening to sounds of people moving around her, she knew they were putting a wedding dress over her unmoving body and covering her head with a cloth, handling her as if she were a doll.
Meanwhile, everything else seemed to be in place for her funeral—and her wedding.
Soon, traditional wedding chimes could be heard along with a loud cacophony of various other instruments, announcing the start of a seemingly auspicious event.
However, to Tang Tian, it all sounded mournful and tragic.
At the time, her mind was still filled with muddled thoughts. Am I really dead? But I’m still conscious of everything happening around me, unless… I’ve turned into a ghost.
“The auspicious time is now!” A loud, deep voice resonated through the air.
She felt someone help her get up, and she started moving forwards.
“Miss, this way, watch out for the raised panel.” Someone was speaking into her ear in a high-pitched voice that felt like a drill burrowing into her mind.
The sharp pain set alarm bells ringing, and Tang Tian inwardly froze as a pang of fear shot up her spine.
This is wrong.
If I was truly dead, how could my body be moving on its own?
Her body was advancing towards the exit, slowly but steadily.
Her eyelids still felt as heavy as ever, but she finally managed to open her eyes slightly.
Through the narrow slit, she could see that she was wearing traditional embroidered shoes, with only her toes brushing against the ground as she half-floated towards the door, surrounded by many shadowy figures.
There was a large funeral tent in the middle of the courtyard, with long white banners plastered to the sides, printed with the character “丧”3 A coffin could be seen in the centre, with offerings placed on the table at the front.
Dark, swirling smoke rose from the pile of burning joss money into the air, clouding the glass surface of the black-and-white photo that rested in the middle of the offerings table.
Tang Tian, in her bright crimson bridal dress, was led by the arm as she crossed over the raised wooden threshold of the door, seemingly accompanied by an entourage of people.
But if she looked closely, every single “person” that surrounded her was merely a human-sized paper doll.
Some of them had their cheeks painted with two large, crimson spots, matched with equally bright-red lips.
Some of them were about the size of children, and they scattered white paper flowers around as they ambled forward.
All of them were smiling widely, celebrating this wonderful event.
The red veil covered most of Tang Tian’s vision, except for the area around her feet.
She took a peek from under the veil and saw visible wafts of cold air swirling around their bodies, as if there was nothing but a block of ice underneath those paper skins.
Realisation hit her. This is the real ghost marriage.
This is a direct translation of an old Chinese saying.
Its source is unknown, though some say it originated from how bureaucrats in ancient times viewed poor civilians condescendingly.
It is Chinese tradition to conduct a ritual every 7 days for the recently deceased, beginning from the date of their passing, wherein symbolic offerings are burned for the dead.
Joss money or joss paper is also known as ‘money of the dead’, and it is believed that the dead are able to receive the items burned such that they enjoy material wealth and comfort in the afterlife.
Thus, joss money is money that the deceased would be able to use it in the Netherworld.
Specifically, the 49th day is when the last of the rituals will be conducted, and is the most important of all the rituals.
Sang (丧) is a symbolic word commonly displayed during funerals after the burial stage.
It literally means to mourn for the dead.
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