A feeling of suffocation gripped Tang Tian.
That wasn’t Wang Li! The figure appeared to possess a young man’s build, and his head was turned away as he looked out the window.
Suddenly, their eyes met through their reflections in the glass, and Tang Tian’s heart skipped a beat.
She closed her eyes instinctively—something about his gaze sent shivers down her spine, causing her hair to stand on end.
His eyes had seemed so dismal, so cold, as if she was looking at a dead person.
Tang Tian tried to slow down her breathing to calm her racing heart.
She remembered who it was.
Truth be told, it was not their first meeting.
The reason she agreed to such a ridiculous affair like a ghost marriage, realistic considerations aside, was nothing like the nonsense she had touted in that hospital ward about never having dated a man or wanting to get to know him better.
It was because, she had a nightmare on the 7th day after that man’s death.1
In the dream, she was underwater, facing upwards.
Above her, she saw a man floating spreadeagled as if about to give a macabre hug, the black suit he wore clinging to his slender body like vines.
The murky green waters made his skin look even paler, while his lifeless eyes stared right into hers.
The man’s body bobbed up and down along with the river tides, his stiff body giving the impression that he was dead—no, not an impression.
He was dead, alright.
At first, all she felt was fear, but this nightmarish scene lasted for quite some time in peaceful silence, with only the two of them staring at each other.
She eventually calmed herself down and studied him more closely.
If not for the dirty green waters that emphasised his ghastly white complexion, he was undoubtedly an attractive man.
The next day, after she woke up, she asked Wang Li for the photograph of that family’s son who had died young.
Upon seeing the black-and-white photo, she realised instantly that it was the same man from her nightmare.
Even though she had never met him before, she had dreamed about him.
Did he come to deliver some sort of message to me in my sleep? Or was it a mere coincidence?
Countless questions arose in her mind as this was the first time she had encountered any supernatural occurrence in her life.
However, as she thought about the limited time she had left to live, she decided that she might as well agree to this marriage and find out the truth for herself.
And now, here on this train, he had reappeared before her.
Is this a dream too? Why show up now, of all times? Surely, he can’t be here to check me out, right? She joked optimistically to herself to relieve some of her fear and tension.
Then, amidst the dead silence, she heard screeching sounds coming from the other end of the train coach.
It was as if something was being dragged across the ceiling.
Tang Tian opened her eyes slightly to peek at what was going on.
As the train rumbled on in the pitch-black tunnel, the dark window glass reflected the interior of the dimly-lit train coach.
Something—Tang Tian wasn’t sure how to describe it, perhaps someone—was hanging from the ceiling of the train coach like a giant spider, the joints on all four of its limbs twisted around in inhuman ways.
Its head was angled 90 degrees away from its neck, facing downwards, and its long, drooling tongue dangled in mid-air.
As it prowled forwards, passing over the other passengers, its tongue would sweep over their heads, seeming to harvest something, then retract swiftly to stuff them in its mouth.
All the passengers seemed to have fallen into a deep trance, as they were all frozen in their seats, seemingly oblivious to what was happening.
Tang Tian had no idea what that indescribable, petrifying thing was.
As it closed in on the distance between them, her heart lurched.
She couldn’t move a muscle, except for her eyes.
Instinctively, she held her breath and focused on the spot above her head, dreading what was about to happen.
Abruptly, the person—or rather, the not-a-person-at-all—next to her started to twitch and inched closer to her.
Tang Tian felt something stiff and piercing-cold creep up her thigh, and her fear spiked.
That “person” leaned closely against her, but had his head lifted upwards, looking directly at the monstrosity above.
Tang Tian noticed how the monster’s gaze, which was filled with greed and malice, darted between her and the figure next to her, as if it was scrutinising the both of them.
This has got to be a nightmare…Tang Tian repeatedly told herself silently and struggled to ease her rapid breathing.
She could still feel that some part of him was still touching her thigh, and her body heat was somehow being sucked away, as the piercing cold seeped into her bones and slowly spread across her body, as if trying to rob her life energy away.
The silent confrontation dragged on for what felt like an eternity.
Finally, the monster grew impatient and rolled its tongue away.
A whiff of rotten odours drifted past Tang Tian, then the tongue landed on a passenger behind her.
The unsettling crawling sounds began to fade into the distance as the thing moved away.
At this moment, a sudden roar echoed through the seemingly endless tunnel, and bright light filled the coach.
“You’re forbidden from feasting again!”
As she heard an abrupt high-pitched scream of a woman and agonised cry of a child, Tang Tian was jolted awake from the nightmare.
She panted heavily and pounded her chest with her fist, as if she just started breathing again after drowning.
Her terrified expression scared Wang Li, who was reading a newspaper.
Wang Li hurriedly patted her back, “What’s wrong? Did you have a nightmare?”
Tang Tian glanced at her surroundings.
Utility poles that stood upright outside blurred together as the train sped past.
The evening sun shone through the window, casting a warm, gentle glow.
The children behind were asking their parents for sweets.
A man in a business suit on the other side of the aisle was chattering loudly on his phone.
The same stench from the toilet still wafted through the air.
There was no sign of that disturbing monster and no trace… of that man.
Her frantically beating heart began to slow down.
Tang Tian gave a small smile to the woman next to her.
“Yeah… it’s fine.”
She took out a pack of tissue from her pocket and wiped away the cold sweat that gathered on her forehead.
Apart from her forehead, her entire back was also covered in cold sweat.
That nightmare had seemed way too realistic.
Even if she was completely conscious now, she still felt the lingering icy touch on her thigh, and her body was still rather stiff from the cold.
Perhaps it was because I slept too long in an awkward posture, Tang Tian comforted herself, but she immediately noticed something was amiss.
After exiting the tunnel, it was still bright outside, but everyone else looked more exhausted than ever.
Worrying that she had come to the wrong conclusion, Tang Tian rubbed her eyes and checked again.
They seemed to not notice, but the passengers across the aisle, both the children and the elderly, had a translucent ashy haze looming over their faces.
“You don’t look so well,” Wang Li said, half-jokingly.
“What were you dreaming about, that you seem so scared of?”
Tang Tian took a few moments to gather her thoughts, “Sister Wang2, have you heard of a certain monster?”
Tang Tian had done some research about ghost marriages prior to agreeing to it, so she knew a thing or two, but professional ghost matchmakers like Wang Li, who came in contact with the world of the dead more regularly, would be more knowledgeable about the supernatural.
As Tang Tian briefly described the monstrosity that she had just witnessed, Wang Li’s complexion turned paler and paler, revealing a flicker of fear.
In traditional Chinese culture, it is said that on the 7th day after one’s death, their soul comes back to pay a last visit to their home and family
She calls her Sister (姐) Wang as a way of addressing her in a more friendly way.
Not that they are related
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