During my junior year of college, I was given the opportunity to study Chinese for one year at one of the top universities in China, Xi’an Jiaotong University. It was a great opportunity for me because my minor in college is Chinese, so I figured it would be a great way to improve my spoken Chinese.
I began my language classes at the beginning of September, 2012. After a couple of weeks of studying, I really began to realize that in order to become a fluent Chinese speaker, I needed to make lots of Chinese friends. I made lots of friends, but I became particularly close to one girl named Ying Ying. We had a lot in common: movies, books, TV shows, and music artists; it was surprising how many similar interests we had.
However, the most notable interest that we both shared was a fascination with the supernatural. Ying Ying was a devout Buddhist, and she believed that she had a hypersensitivity to the spiritual. She claimed that the spirit that visited her the most was the spirit of her dead grandmother. Sometimes she would tell me that she couldn’t hang out because her dead grandmother told her that she needed to study; other times it was things like, “I can’t go out tonight, because my grandmother told me last night that if I go out tonight, I’ll die.” I didn’t really believe in any of that stuff- my interest in that sort of thing was just for fun, but Ying really believed in all of that.
I met Ying Ying at the beginning of October, 2012.
One day we were in a coffee shop discussing these types of things, and she brought up an old Chinese custom that was completely new to me. “Have you ever heard of the death marriage?” she asked.
“No, what’s that?”
“It’s an old Chinese custom. If a family had a son that died, before the son’s funeral, the parents would hold a wedding ceremony for their son, so that they would have a wife in the afterlife,” she told me
“Well that’s not so weird. Lots of cultures had women who volunteered to be killed for a dead man.” I mentioned Scandinavia and India, but apparently, this practice was a little different.
“These girls weren’t volunteers,” she explained. “The parents of the sons would often find dead girls, or even pay people to kill girls for their sons.”
“That’s freaky shit! Was this legal?” This freaked me out a little.
“Well it was… frowned upon, but it didn’t really become illegal until the end of the Tang Dynasty. There was an incident, right here in Xi’an.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“I shit you not,” she told me. She then started telling me the legend of how it became illegal. “During the Tang Dynasty, Xi’an was the capital. There was a girl living in the city named Huang Lei. Huang Lei was supposedly the most beautiful girl in Xi’an. At the same time, there was an army officer living in the city named Yang Sen. He was the son of a wealthy family, and he was one of the imperial army’s most promising officers. Well, one day, Yang Sen was out on patrol with his soldiers, when a snake spooked his horse. He was thrown from the horse, and he snapped his neck.”
“Wow that must have been embarrassing,” I mocked.
“Shut up! I’m not done. Anyways, he was a young man, and he was unmarried. Before his funeral his parents hired a witch named Nu Wu to kill a girl for her son to marry. The first girl that came to Nu Wu’s mind was Huang Lei.”
“Wait a sec, pause. The witch’s name was witch (in Chinese Nv3 Wu1 means witch)?” I was starting to think that this story was complete bullshit.
“This story is where we get our word for witch. Now shut the hell up and let me finish! Anyways, the witch brutally murdered Huang Lei, and sold her corpse to the family of Yang Sen. The family then held a death marriage ceremony and a funeral for both of them. One week later, the witch was found nailed to a wall in her home and her head was sitting in the window. Yang Sen’s parents were found dead the next day; they’d been killed in the same fashion. However, some of the servants said that they saw Yang Sen and Huang Lei, walking and holding hands, in the house the night before. Vengeful spirit rumors spread through the city like wildfire, so the emperor officially declared the practice to be illegal. Some people say that the spirits of this dead couple still wander the streets of Xi’an.”
For me, this was a fun story, but I figured that for Ying, this was the uncut version of the city’s history. “So, do you actually believe this story? I mean, you’re you and all.”
She looked at me with kind of “you dumb-ass” look on her face and said, “Of course I believe it! Vengeful spirits exist!”
I wasn’t really convinced so I just smiled agreeably and nodded my head. She had a right to believe what she wanted. Besides, the more adamant she was about her beliefs, the more interesting she would be to talk to.
A few days later, we decided to visit Chang An, the old part of Xi’an. Neither of us had ever been there before, so it would be something new for both of us. We visited the area around Da Yan Ta (Giant Wild Goose Pagoda). While we were walking, Ying stopped and was silent for a long time. She was looking straight ahead, but I couldn’t see anything. She was terrified of something, there was no mistaking it, but I had no idea what it was. She began to tremble; then she began to cry. By this point I was getting uncomfortable. “Ying, what’s wrong?” I asked.
She didn’t look at me. She just said “Can’t you see them?”
“See who, Ying?”
Without looking at me, she grabbed my face and pointed it straight ahead of us. That’s when I saw them; it was a man and a woman wearing Tang Dynasty Era clothing. They were looking straight at us, just… staring. The man was dressed like a soldier, he even had a sword. The longer I looked at them, the more I realized that there was something way off about these two, more than just the fact that they were dressed in traditional Chinese clothes. The man’s face was expressionless, but the woman’s face was horrible. There was an unmistakable fury in her face, and she was pointing at Ying. When she saw that I was staring at her, she drew the man’s sword from his sheath and pointed it directly at me.
That’s when Ying let go of my face and ran. She didn’t stop, and she didn’t look back. I turned back around, and I didn’t see anything. Well that was creepy as hell, I thought; then I turned around and ran after Ying.
That happened in early November, 2012.
The nightmares began about a week after that. At first they were just nightmares about the story that Ying told me. I didn’t really lose too much sleep over them, so I wasn’t too concerned. When I tried to ask Ying about what we saw or talk about the dreams I was having, she would just say, “Let’s not talk about that,” and she’d change the subject.
When December, 2012 came, the dreams became increasingly worse. There were several times when my roommate would wake me up in the middle of the night, complaining that I was screaming in my sleep. Every night, I had the same dream. I dreamed that the couple came into my dorm room, and the man nailed my roommate and me to the wall next to our beds. The woman would then take the sword out of his sheath, and stab us to death.
The night terrors began the first week of December, 2012.
I was having this dream every night. The worst part about these dreams was that I didn’t wake up right before the woman began stabbing me. I felt every bit of it, as if I were actually awake. It was excruciating, and it was happening to me every night.
Because of this damn dream, I was only sleeping about three or four hours per night. I was preparing for exams, so this was a really bad situation. After a couple of weeks with this sleep pattern, I think I started to hallucinate. I began seeing the couple in the corner of my eye, at the end of a large crowd, in shadows, and sometimes I’d even see my teachers as the woman. I decided that when Christmas break came, I was going back to the US. I hadn’t been planning on returning home until August, but I figured that a vacation would be healthy.
That’s when I found out that, in China, apparently they don’t have Christmas break. First semester in China lasted until January 1st, so I wasn’t getting a break until then. What was even worse was that I had exams the week of Christmas. On top of that, I was being tormented every night by the same night terror.
The dreams didn’t stop. My grades suffered, and so did my roommate’s. My exam scores were dangerously low, so I was in danger of losing my scholarship. This needed to stop. I met Ying one last time before she returned home for the break. I had to discuss this with her; maybe she could help me stop the dreams and the hallucinations. At first when I tried to talk to her about the dreams, as usual, she tried to change the subject, but this time I didn’t take no for an answer.
“Cao ni ma! Don’t you dare change the subject this time! I’m having night terrors every night; I can’t sleep! Hell, even my roommate can’t sleep! I almost completely failed all of my exams! Tell me what the hell is going on!” I demanded.
Ying hesitated; she kept looking to her left, next to our booth. A really fearful look began to emerge on her face. “They’re here right now,” she said. “They’re next to our booth. I’m not coming back to Xi’an. Classes ended yesterday, so I’m leaving tonight. I’ve been having the same dreams. I can’t take this anymore. I’m just so scared something’s going to happen. You should leave too.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I figured that extremely realistic night terrors were possible, and there was no way that these were actual ghosts. The ghosts I was seeing were just hallucinations. I was still in denial. “I don’t believe this. There’s no way that these are actual ghosts. I don’t believe in that bullshit. I’m not going to run away from an opportunity like this just because of a few bad dreams.”
Ying began crying. She was so horrified. She knew exactly what was going on. Now I realize that she was right. She grabbed my face and turned it to my right. That’s when I saw them. They were standing right at the end of my booth, looking down on us. Their eyes were black, and they were both speaking an older form of Chinese that I couldn’t understand.
I screamed and jerked free of Ying’s hands. Everyone in the coffee shop turned and looked at me like I was crazy; only now, I knew that I wasn’t crazy. Ghosts were real, and two of them were following us. Ying was right; I needed to get the hell out of China.
We left the coffee shop immediately. Ying went with me to my dorm to help me pack. We went to the airport together, and she helped me buy a ticket for the next flight to America. We waited together for a long time. She told me that she thought that they wouldn’t be able to follow us, because they were tied to Xi’an, but she wasn’t sure. I was hoping, praying, that she was right. My flight was first, so I left.
That was January 2nd, 2013.
When I returned to America, I called my friend and asked to stay at his place. I had the first good night’s sleep in what felt like years. I actually slept for 36 hours peacefully. The dreams had stopped.
I woke up on January 6th, 2013.
When I awoke, I turned on my friend’s computer and logged onto my QQ account (Chinese social networking site). I wanted to see if Ying had gotten home safely and had gotten any sleep.
“Hey is everything back to normal?” I asked. After several minutes, she sent me a link to an article in the Xi’an newspaper.
“You need to read this.”
I read the article. The article was about several murders in our university. The victims were her roommates and my roommate. I was mortified. I felt responsible. We should’ve warned them about our dreams. What was worse was that there were pictures of the killings. Our roommates were nailed to the walls next to their beds, and their insides had been ripped from their torsos. Above all of them, the Chinese characters “你在哪儿” were written in blood. In English this phrase means, “Where are you?”