A Nether Wedding
By John Sheng
Zhang Mao was in a hurry to get a woman's corpse. As he had charged a deposit, he had to deliver the stuff within a few days. He had seen the 'stuff' in a hospital as the woman was being resuscitated in an intensive care ward. Although Ms Wang, her avaricious stepmother, had promised that she'd sell her body to him as soon as she breathed her last, he waited and waited but nothing came. It was almost as if the patient seemed to know something about it despite the fact that she was in a coma. Her stepmother went to the hospital on a daily basis, expecting her death, and the hospital had issued three critical condition notices. Still, she refused to die, her condition dragging. A few more days went past before she died, of heart failure. On hearing the news, Zhang Mao was so excited that he went riding his modified motor tricycle to the hospital to get the corpse. Ms Wang, however, had suddenly changed her mind, leaving him really worried. He pleaded with her every which way he could, telling her that the woman's body was meant to be married to the dead son, the only child, who had died in a car accident, of the Gu family. If her daughter was married to him, the wedding and the funeral ceremonies would be held together in a grand manner that her dead daughter deserved. Ms Wang remained unmoved. How could he possibly have her daughter for a few thousand yuan? It's pure hard work raising her to this age. Not only had she not received much of a bride price but, on the contrary, she had incurred tens of thousands of bucks in medications. Fortunately, she had met someone from a funeral-home company who promised to pay her twenty thousand yuan, which Ms Wang promptly agreed to, unless Zhang Mao made a better offer. If, however, Zhang had to pay a few more thousand yuan, he would end up with no profit to make as he had only just charged the 'Devil Matchmaker' 10,000 yuan.
Previously, Ms Wang had thought that she'd have to pay for the funerary costs for her dead daughter, not knowing that she could actually make a buck with her corpse. First, Ms Zhang made an offer of 5,000 yuan. Now, someone else offered 20,000, all for the purpose of having her as a bride in a nether wedding. The funeral-home company never made losses in running a thriving business of matchmaking partners in nether weddings. As soon as they found out in various hospitals, they would, before the patients even died, have a discussion with their family members about the funerary matters, providing services involving everything from grave-clothes, transportation and preservation of the dead bodies, cremation urns, wreaths and the holding of memorial meetings as well as cremation itself, at a high cost to their family members who, sunk in extreme sadness, were in no mood to negotiate a price. With the funeral-home company running a thriving business, the funeral parlours had no lack of corpses and their services in funeral matters would be resolved by the funeral-home company running busy from one end to another.
To his surprise, Zhang Mao, daily worrying about getting the corpse, had lost this windfall that was his to be had. Meanwhile, the devil woman matchmaker was pestering him with her demand as the corpse, son of the Gu family, would go rotting if not buried. Zhang got so desperate, unable to find an appropriate corpse in a hurry and unwilling to give up on this handy business, that he, under the cloak of a dark night, went body-snatching in a suburban graveyard. Gathering his tools together and on a night of high wind and black moon, he drove his motor vehicle to a graveyard, for the first time, despite the fact that he, of a dare devil character, had done deals in selling or buying corpses. Leaving his vehicle parked far away to avoid catching attention, he, with a gunnysack of tools, went by stealth to the yard, thinking to himself, "Woman, you have to thank me tonight for finding you. Don't scare me to death by playing any tricks. All I'm doing is matchmaking. It's better than if you lie underground alone. I don't even have the fortune of marrying one myself---." He walked, with his flashlight, till he bumped into a gravestone with a woman's photo. That was so exciting. It had never occurred to him that it would be so easy. When he took a look at the date, he found that the burial was only a month old. He began digging. When it got down to a meter or so deep, he saw the coffin. He jumped in and was about to open the lip when a noise rose around him. Seeing that things were getting out of hand, he broke into a run, only to be surrounded by the villagers, for, as he was digging by himself, a villager passing by was taken aback by his shadow, accompanied with the flickering of a light. That must be the ghosts at work, he thought, so he ran back to the village and called everyone out to have a good look. When the surrounding villagers found that he was committing a grave robbery, they gave him a sound beating, with their shovels and sticks, although no one knew that he was committing an act of body-snatching, assuming that he was only a petty thief intending to steal something worthy. It was not till Zhang Mao, beaten more dead than alive, promised he would never do it again that his life was spared.
Zhang Mao was quite exasperated, with money lost and no body snatched, on top of being broken-headed and bleeding. As soon as he arrived home, matchmaker Ms Wang came again to urge him for the delivery, saying to him: "You've only got three days left. If they have to bury their body, on the chosen date of the Qingming Festival, without the woman's corpse, you'd have to refund all the deposit."
"Rest assured, will you? You'll have the stuff within three days. Just give it a wait. I can guarantee that you have someone fresh and young, who has never suffered any illness,' said he.
"Also someone who died in a car accident? That's a perfect match. I hope this is for real, not like the flop last time."
"Of course not. It's just that I had a streak of bad luck, my money in hand flown away like a duck even when it was cooked. Fortunately, I've got a new source,' said he.
"You must have got access to another hospital. Which one is that? Why didn't you even let me know, keeping me worrying in the dark? Doesn't the saying go that once you get paid all your troubles go away?" said she.
"Stuff in the hospital isn't easy to come by as there are so many rushing for it. I've got someone else to secure it for me. It's a young woman, quite fresh stuff," said he.
"Hospitals are not what they were before. It's hard to see a doctor. Medications are expensive. When you give red packets, you have to offer a smile as well. Placentas are for sale, entrails are stolen in operations and corpses or babies are sold from time to time," the matchmaker said.
To make the delivery the next day, Zhang Mao had to do something that night. He knew that it was no small matter to kill someone as he would face execution if caught. What's more, it's not worth doing for a mere 5,000 yuan. Absolutely pointless in thrusting a knife into someone and coming out with it stained with blood. Still, it's nothing if he killed one of the whores who never went home all day long and got money out of men by deception. If he killed one, he would be doing good for the people. Turning the matter over in his mind, he could not come to a solution. Unwilling to give up on the deal, he decided to go out and have a look around. Who knows if he might not be able to bump into a corpse on the way? It would be best if it was a hit-and-run that involved a woman. He could finish her off even if she hadn't breathed her last. Then he would get the matchmaker to pick up the stuff. Thus thinking, he went to a nightclub. As soon as he went upstairs and sat down, a Xiaojie came over and accosted him.
"Big Brother, you look so lonely. I am Fengxia. Can I keep you company for a drink please?' As she said so, she sat down by him.
"All right then," he took a look at her, finding her quite pretty, and thought to himself. "She's asking for it."
"What would you like to have, Big Brother?" said she.
"Up to you," said he.
"Sounds great. I'll go and get it for you," said she, as she picked up the price list.
Zhang Mao began chatting with her and they hit it off quite well. Eventually, he said: "Can I take you out and go somewhere else for fun?"
"Really? I'm bored shitless all day here."
Fengxia asked for leave from her boss and went out with him on his motorbike. She had no idea where they were going. Before long, they arrived at a remote place. By now, she was finding it quite odd and wondering where he was going. He stopped his motorbike, turned towards her and said, in a hard voice: "Give me all your money."
"All right, all right. Here you are. Just don't harm me." She panicked as she, realising that this was an evildoer, produced her purse.
He took over the purse, had a quick look and said to her again: "Lie down."
She looked at him, without understanding him.
"Lie down quick, did you hear?" he ordered, viciously.
Fengxia didn't know what to do. Although she dealt with all kinds of men on a daily basis, she had never been threatened like this. She had to obey him, thinking to herself, "Such a rotten man, having no skills of making money but bullying a weak woman."
"Can you let me go now?" she said after they were finished.
"You come and spend the night with me. I'll let you go tomorrow," he ordered.
"You've taken my money and made love to me. What else do you want?" she got upset and was trying to break away.
Zhang Mao got desperate. He pressed her down on the ground, his hand tightening around her neck without letting go. She breathed her last after struggling for a few moments. Putting her on his motorbike in front of him, he drove it right home and stripped off all her clothes, wrapping her body up with a long cloth of cotton print before he went with her in his motor tricycle to deliver the body to Matchmaker Wang. Losing no time, Ms Wang went with Zhang Mao to the Gu family to deliver the body overnight.
One glance at the corpse assured the Gu family that the woman was pale-skinned and pretty. They accepted it with satisfaction.
"Did you come into its possession by legal means?' A member of the Gu family, slightly concerned, said.
The matchmaker promptly produced two certificates: a medical one certifying the death and the other, a letter of authority from the family of the deceased, and handed them over to the Gu family, some peace of mind to them, leaving them with a comforting thought that they were now able to complete the nether wedding despite the unfortunate fact that their son had died. The corpse now handed over, the matchmaker paid and left with Zhang Mao in an excited state of mind. The Gu family then proceeded to put the woman's body into the double coffin containing their son. The Gus burst into tears on seeing the pale-faced and pretty woman lying in state and their own son's body, looking like a newlywed couple sleeping together, and wondered what would have happened if their son had not had the car accident the other day and had somehow married the bride before they put the lid on the coffin, with reluctance, and went on to make the preparations for the combined wedding and burial. It's not till the morning of the Qingming Festival that a man and a woman, paid to wail at the funeral, bowed to heaven and earth and to their parents, reducing the Gus to tears. After the wedding, the flower fleet, arranged by the Gu family, led the way, followed by the blowers of the suona horns, the beaters of the waist drums and the performers walking on stilts, down a street lined with raised archways, streaming with words like 'In Deep Mourning' and 'A Harmonious Union Lasting a Hundred Years' amidst a loud noise of gongs and cymbals as well as firecrackers till they reached the graveyard. The wailers, in mourning apparel, were waiting for them there. By the time the coffin was put down in the grave, the men and women threw themselves on the ground, crying at the top of their voice, when the scene reached a climax, affecting everyone present.
Two months subsequently, the police, after repeated efforts, ended up cracking the murder case. With the clue provided by Zhang Mao, the police got in touch with the Gu family before they went to the graveyard and opened the coffin for evidence. It was finally verified that the woman's body inside the coffin was Jin Fengxia, 25, who had been murdered by Zhang Mao.