Netherworld Investigator

Chapter 2

Grandpa slowly entered the room, holding his hand behind him. He asked Officer Sun what we were talking about.

I tried my best using eye contact to warn Officer Sun not to say anything. But he completely ignored me, or perhaps didn’t understand me, so not only did he spell out all the details, he also blew everything out of proportion as he praised me.

“Old Song!” he began, “this grandson of yours sure takes after you! We wasted half a month’s time on this case and got nowhere — we searched through every inch of the crime scene and found no sign of a murder weapon. But this boy just looked at the crime scene photograph and solved the whole case! This boy’s got a bright future ahead of him. He shouldn’t be going to college after high school! College graduates are a dime a dozen, and most of them end up unemployed anyway. How about I write him a recommendation letter and let him enter the police academy straight after high school? Better not waste a talent, right, Old Song?”

“You are overestimating him,” said Grandpa with a cold voice while waving his hand at Officer Sun. “He must’ve read a few pages of the books passed down to us by our ancestors and thought himself a detective! But we have a strict rule in our family – never become an officer or a judge, and your life will be safe. I thank you for your praises, but I’ll never hand my grandson over to you!”

As he spoke his terrifying eyes swept over me, scaring me enough that I had to lower my head to avoid eye contact.

Officer Sun sighed.

“Oh, come on, old man!” said Officer Sun. “It’s the twenty-first century! Weren’t you sent to work in the stables for a while? Shouldn’t that be enough repentance for the Song family?”

He then turned to me and pressed his hands on my shoulders.

“Kiddo,” he said, looking straight into my eyes, “don’t you want to become a policeman when you grow up and hunt criminals down with me?”

I had an answer for him, but Grandpa was right there, so I just shook my head.

“Sun Laohu,” said Grandpa, “You will never understand the predicament that the Song family is in. My decisions regarding this matter will never change. All I want is for my descendants to live quiet, peaceful lives, safe from any calamities.”

Officer Sun was about to say something, but Grandpa raised his hand before a word came out of his mouth.

“It’s probably time for you to leave,” said Grandpa. “If you intrude upon our family matters any further than this, then I’m afraid you’re no longer welcome in this house!”

Officer Sun swallowed up all the words he was about to utter back into his throat and began packing up his briefcase.

“All right then, Old Song,” the officer relented. “I’ll be back for a visit the next time we hit a wall with a case.”

He then briskly left through the front door and drove away.

When Officer Sun left, the atmosphere in the living room grew tense. Grandpa sat down in the old carved wooden chair reserved for the head of the Song family, holding a teacup in his hand. I stood in front of him, dreading what was to come.

“My boy,” said Grandpa, “how much of those two books have you read?”

“A… All of them,” I answered.

In truth, not only had I finished reading the two books entirely, but I’d done so many times over because there wasn’t much else to read in the house. So whenever I had some free time on my hands, I would flip through those books, reading them over and over again. By then, I had read the books so often that the pages were quickly crumbling due to my handling.

Grandpa took a sip of tea, then suddenly recited, “The most severe punishment for a crime is the death sentence, but before sentencing someone to death, the most important thing is to find out the clues and facts of the case, and to find the clues and facts of the case, the most important thing is to rely on the proper means of inspection.”

I froze for a moment, but soon regained my composure.

“Whether a suspect will live or die,” I said, “whether a case is straightforward or complicated, whether injustices are prolonged or rectified, everything hangs upon the inspection of the dead body.”

He continued. “A fetus is like an autumnal dewdrop in the first month; it resembles a peach blossom in the second month…”

“Difference in gender can be identified in the third month;” I continued after him, “the whole body structure forms in the fourth; nerves and bones are formed in the fifth month; hairs grow in the sixth; the fetus is able to move right hand in the seventh month, if a boy, it is situated on the mother’s left; a fetus is able to move their left hand in the eighth month; if a girl, it is situated on the mother’s right.”

These were lines from the Collected Cases of Injustices Rectified. I knew Grandpa was testing me, and my performance did not fail to impress him. The teacup slipped through his fingers and crashed onto the floor.

“Have you memorized the entire book?” he asked, astonished.

“More or less…” I confessed.

“You are indeed a worthy member of the Song family!” exclaimed Grandpa while slowly shaking his head. Though the words implied a sense of pride, his expressions were more in line with pain and sadness.

I was shocked by this strange reaction. I thought he would explode in anger and give me a lengthy lecture, yet none of that happened. Looking back, I now realize that he must’ve felt a mixture of conflicting emotions that day. He must’ve felt pride and was glad that there would be a successor who would inherit all of Song family’s secret knowledge. But he was just as concerned that I might be destined to walk down a path full of danger and difficulties, a path he knew too well and tried so hard to protect me from.

“Fate is playing a cruel game with us!” said Grandpa. He then heaved a heavy sigh.

Without looking at me, he got up to his feet and walked slowly back to his study with his hands behind his back. I stood there, equally shocked and relieved. Was my ass safe from whooping after all?

Late after midnight on that very same day, Grandpa woke me up and told me to get dressed because we would be going somewhere. Still dazed from the sleep, I quickly grabbed a coat and rushed downstairs to the courtyard. Grandpa gave me a pickaxe and wordlessly walked out the gate. I had no choice but to follow him closely from behind.

The provincial town we lived in was not a big city at all. If you walked southward from the town, you would end up in a section of wilderness. It was a moonless night, even the stars were scarce in the sky. I trailed behind Grandpa as he walked into the isolated chestnut grove. All along the way the only sound I could hear was the crunching of dry leaves underneath our feet. As we got deeper into the woods, I could hear the strange cry of an unknown bird that sent shivers down my spine.

Soon, we were past the woods and reached a clearing. I accidentally tripped on something and almost fell. I looked at it and realized that I had tripped over a human bone! It had turned as black as charcoal, probably due to exposure to the elements for a long time.

Then I suddenly remembered how this place was the infamous mass grave. According to legends, during the Peasants Revolt at the end of the Ming Dynasty centuries ago, a rogue decided to conquer this area and became its leader. He slaughtered tons of people and threw all the bodies in a mass grave right in this spot. After some time, this place turned into an eerie and unlucky place where there were frequent reports of strange supernatural occurrences.

I saw a faint glow of green light in my surroundings as if there were spectres all around me.

I first thought they were fireflies, but then I realized that they couldn’t have been fireflies, because this mass grave was a barren ground where no plants or weeds grew. So what would fireflies be doing here? It was then that I was reminded of something called “Soul’s Light,” also known in other parts of the world as will-o’-the-wisp. In reality, it was a natural phenomenon caused by the phosphorus in the decaying corpses escaping into the air, reacting with the atmosphere and thus glowing faintly in a greenish light.

Even so, the knowledge I had of this natural phenomenon did nothing to lessen my fright when I witnessed it in real life for the first time.

I understood the scientific principles behind this phenomenon perfectly, but still, it was my first time witnessing it in real life so every hair on my body stood on end.

Just as my heart was thumping in my chest, I saw something move in the direction of the horizon. It stopped about ten meters away from me, and I could see its two green glowing eyes reflecting the light. I was scared stiff and let out a muffled cry.

Grandpa picked up a stone and hurled it towards that moving thing. That managed to scare it off, and I saw the thing run away before it disappeared into the darkness of the woods.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Grandpa. “It’s just a dog.”

“What are we doing here, Grandpa?” I asked, swallowing a lump in my throat while still trying to steady my racing thoughts.

“You’ll see.”

Grandpa led me to a pile of rocks, then nonchalantly pointed at it with a finger.

“Dig,” he ordered.

“Dig?” I asked in a shock. “B-But isn’t this… Someone’s grave?”

“What else could it be, my boy?”

“B-But isn’t grave robbing… Illegal?”

“I’m not telling you to rob the grave, my boy!” Grandpa replied. “I’m telling you to examine a body. Now stop dawdling and get to work! Dig!”

Reluctantly, I rolled up my sleeves, stooped down in front of the stone grave, and started digging. Since it was a stone grave, it took me a lot of effort and time to do it. You might think that a country boy who grew up in a small provincial town like me would be used to physical labour, but I regret to report that all my life I never lifted anything much heavier than a pen. This task soon proved to be too much for me, and my hands started to blister.

Grandpa made no move to help me, though. He stood towering over me, watching me dig the grave while smoking a cigarette. The cloud of smoke might’ve annoyed me under normal circumstances, but it was strangely reassuring then, knowing that I was not truly alone in the ghoulish forest. In fact, Grandpa’s second-hand smoke somehow lifted the oppressive, dark atmosphere of the dark forest.

I kept digging for who knows how long, but by then I was soaking with sweat. After a while, I could feel the blade of my pickaxe hitting something hard and brittle – human bone. I tossed the pickaxe aside and started lifting the stones with my hands one by one, until a pile of black decaying bones was revealed.

I looked at Grandpa, but he said nothing and kept on smoking his cigarette, so I proceeded to lay out the bones one by one according to human anatomy.

Although I’d never seen a real corpse before, I had read the Collected Cases of Injustices Rectified where there was a detailed chapter on the human skeletal system called “Bone Examination.” It took me no time at all to lay out all the bones as I knew exactly where each bone should be.

But just as I was done laying out the bones, I realized that something was horribly wrong!

Tip: You can use left, right, A and D keyboard keys to browse between chapters.