Chen Ge crawled out of the tunnel and looked around. There were no windows in the room, and not far from the mouth of the tunnel were a few livestock that had just died.
"She used animal blood? This can trick the baleful Specter?" Chen Ge muttered to himself.
Hearing the faded sound of a baby crying, he followed the voice and went up to the second floor. The room felt obviously feminine. There was simple furniture in the room. Different from other village homes, there was not a coffin but a wooden bed.
Pulling the heavy curtain back, there were several bamboo baskets placed next to each other on the wooden bed, and each baby's lips were covered with a piece of grass. The grass seemed to have some sort of tranquilizing effect. Even though the babies were taken away from their parents, they did not cry that heavily.
"The reason the Zhu woman takes the babies away every time is to save them?" Chen Ge found a notebook underneath the pillow. He flipped it open and realized it recorded a list of names and address. The author of this notebook was probably barely literate, so most of the pages were represented by symbols.
"The Zhu woman outside looks to be in her thirties or forties, but this book is already yellowed; this should be from many years ago." Chen Ge read through the book, but he could not understand the content. It looked like Chinese, but Chen Ge could not recognize the characters. "The addresses are fuzzy. I can recognize a few of the names. Could they be the children that were rescued?"
"You're right. These are all the children that I've managed to smuggle out." An old lady's voice suddenly came out from behind him. Chen Ge turned with his finger on the recorder. "I should be the one that's afraid, or do you think this old lady that has one foot in the grave can still harm you?"
The old lady's speech was off, probably because she had no teeth. Chen Ge walked deeper into the room with the recorder. In a small room, he found a seriously hunchbacked old lady with wrinkled face. She was leaning against the wooden bed. Both of her legs and one arm had severely atrophied, and she could only barely move her head and the remaining arm.
"Madam, you are?" The woman looked so old that Chen Ge felt the need to show her respect. The senior looked at Chen Ge and smiled. "I'm someone who is favored by the Specters."
Hearing that, Chen Ge's mind woke up. He could not have been more familiar with that term!
"You have this sense of familiarity about you. You have interacted with them before, yes?" The 'them' on the old lady's lips naturally referred to the baleful Specters.
"You're right. I've not only interacted with them; I've built them a home to give them a place to live."
"Then, you're much stronger than I am." The old lady tried her best to express her goodwill. "Come, take a seat. I didn't hear the door open, so you must have entered from the tunnel connected to the ancestral hall. I believe you're here to smuggle the babies away while the ceremony is ongoing?"
"Yes, that is the plan." Chen Ge did not get close to the old lady, but he did move his finger away from the recorder.
"It is as I thought; those who are favored by the Specters have something approved by the Specters." The woman's voice was flat but comforting.
"Something approved by the Specters?"
"Yes." The old woman nodded with difficulty. With Chen Ge pressing her, she told Chen Ge what really happened that year. It was similar to what Ah Qing had said, the only difference being the baleful Specter was not completely inhumane. She still had some humanity left. The old woman had once told the woman 'three times', so she promised to do three things for her that were not out of bounds.
She was also showed some kindness to the old lady, like she would never enter the old lady's home, and whenever a Specter in the village tried to harm the old lady, she would consume them.
"She massacred the village, and all the sinners were killed. I can understand why she did that. In fact, I agreed with her actions, but what happened next unsettled me." The old lady's physical condition was weak. She needed to rest after speaking for some time. "A red door suddenly appeared at the family home that she stayed in, and only she can open the door. She planned to leave the village and let go of her resentment after massacring the village. She planned to enter the door before leaving the village, and that was when the problem started.
"When she exited the door, resentment consumed her, and her eyes were filled with venom; she had morphed into a different person. I don't know what happened behind the door, but I could see that she was filled with hatred. She planned to trap the future generations of sinners here and force them to live their lives as monsters. Her mind became so twisted that those who looked normal became sinners in her eyes."
There was deep pain in the old lady's voice. "I have no power to stop her; the only thing I can do is use my own method to save some innocent children when she was in a rage. Like what you saw today, every year, she will awaken to enter the world behind the door. If the children were placed somewhere else, she will definitely kill them, so the only safe refuge for these innocent lives is my home. After surviving tonight, once she exits the door, she will go back to sleep."
The old lady did not know what was behind the door; all she knew was that the ghost would enter the door every year around this time.
"Then why didn't you escape, leave the village altogether?" Chen Ge asked.
"Those who drank the well water will never escape; she haunts us forever. That is the reason I only save newborns."
"Forever? But around one and a half decades ago, some villagers managed to escape, and nothing happened to them." Chen Ge was referring to Jiang Ling's father and the rest.
"That was an accident. Around one and a half decades ago, she entered the door, but that night, she did not return. The villagers lived the whole month in fear. When they found out she still hadn't returned, some thought she had died behind the door.
"At the time, two voices appeared within the village: one was to stay inside the mountain, and the other was to use this opportunity to escape. In the end, those with minor deformities chose to escape. On the third day of their escape, she returned.
"I begged her to let them go. I used two favors in exchange for twenty years of safety for them."
The old lady started to cough violently. Chen Ge did not dare press her anymore; he had found out enough from the senior.
"Madam, please take a good rest. I'm not going to disturb you anymore. I'll only take one of the babies; that is a promise I made with one of the villagers." Chen Ge turned to find Ah Qing's boy.
However, he only took several steps before the old lady spoke again. "Actually, there's another reason why I called for you."
"Is it related to the female ghost?" Chen Ge had found the baby with the coin around his neck. He looked so cute.
The old lady shook her head. She kept her gaze on Chen Ge's face. "Did you discover that your body temperature is dropping?"