“Black Taisui” by Oobmab

The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories, 
Oobmab, Arthur Meursault (trans),  Akira (trans) (Camphor Press, February 2020) The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories, Oobmab, Arthur Meursault (trans), Akira (trans) (Camphor Press, February 2020)

Residents of Qingdao or attentive followers of local news may have heard of the affair I wish to discuss. On the 14th of August 2013, during a routine fire-safety inspection, a worker from the residential committee of Shinan District’s University Road discovered a heavily decomposed corpse by a small building inside the courtyard of Number 5 Longkou Road.

 


An extract from The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories (Camphor Press, February 2020), a collection of four Chinese-language stories of Lovecraftian horror penned by a reclusive author writing under the pseudonym Oobmab, and translated into English by Arthur Meursault and Akira. The extract is from the start of the third short story, Black Taisui.

 

After receiving the report, the Jiangsu Road Police Station immediately dispatched a team to cordon off the area and launch a detailed investigation to gather evidence. The preliminary findings of the case were published in the local papers, which are not difficult to find. In sum, the deceased was Lao Mingchang, a sixty-nine-year-old resident of the house. The police found no traces of any break-in during their on-site inspection, nor was there evidence of stolen property, so the cause of death was initially determined to be natural. Yet those who have had the opportunity to read the investigation file in detail, or to visit Longkou Road and hear the local gossip, may uncover a few curious inconsistencies.

According to the investigation records, officers found the deceased in the living room on the ground floor, but the foul stench was strong enough to fill the entire building. The circumstances of the scene were perturbing; the corpse had almost completely decayed into a pool of dark mucus. Only by examining the bones could one discern a human figure. Common sense would dictate that such a level of decay could be possible only after several weeks or months, but when interviewed by the police, neighboring residents claimed they had spoken with Lao only a few days prior to the body’s discovery. An autopsy corroborated their testimony: there were no signs of larvae breeding within the corpse, indicating that the deceased’s actual time of death was much shorter than it appeared. The appraisal report emphasized that the atrocious condition of the body made inference of the exact cause of death impossible, and yet bones collected on-site exhibited no signs of external trauma, somewhat eliminating the possibility of violent death.

The forensics doctor also analyzed the mucus collected from the body and determined it to be a mixture of bodily fluids and putrefied organs. This was — unlike the soft dissolving of tissue commonly caused by bacteria — more akin to the result of some rapid chemical or biological process. The conclusions gave the authorities reason to suspect that the results may have been the symptoms of certain malignant diseases. A low-profile investigation of infectious diseases was conducted in the surrounding area, though a rigorous pathological examination determined that the phenomenon had not occurred as a result of any known pathogens—and the neighbors elucidated stranger phenomena than just the body. A mere two nights before the body was discovered, several residents reported hearing a shrill, oddly rhythmic whistle emanating from the building where Lao lived. Others spoke of an unsettling young man who Lao had developed a close relationship with several months previously, yet police were unable to find any footage of suspicious people moving around the compound on surveillance footage from the days preceding the event. Due to the lack of substantive clues or evidence, the police eventually tabled the evidence and sealed the file with a verdict of non-violent death.

Speaking frankly, the deceased was no more than a childless old eccentric who rarely spoke to his neighbors (most of whom dismissed the case as an unfortunate tragedy). According to the will found in the room, Lao’s collection of books, notes, and assorted documents were to be donated to his former work unit, the Shandong Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute. Any proceeds from sale of the remaining property were to be donated to various heritage conservation foundations. Since no legal heirs were forthcoming, the estate sale went relatively smoothly, and things ought to have ended there.

However, it arose that this case indirectly resulted in a series of second-order consequences. Lao Mingchang’s diaries and documents, for example, sparked considerable heated argument upon their arrival at the Shandong Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, although the pointless disputes never made it beyond a small circle of staff. In February 2014—four months after the bequeathed items had been transferred to the archaeological institute—a number of researchers from the institute returned to the former residence of the late Lao Mingchang, carefully inspected the entire house, and then removed several crates of documents. One month later, the Qingdao Municipal Public Security Bureau mobilized a police squad in a sudden raid on the area—mainly in the neighborhood of Signal Hill Park—but did not comment on the reasons or results of the exercise. At the beginning of April, the Housing and Construction Bureau of Shinan District conducted a comprehensive inspection of Lao’s former home and declared it a hazardous edifice, which revoked the transaction permit for the house, meaning it was no longer available for residence until proper repairs were undertaken.

The reader must make up his own mind as to the reality behind this sequence of events. As a participant who has cross-checked all available evidence and thoroughly analyzed the contents of the surviving documents, I will attempt to give a somewhat complete narrative of the whole affair, based on the protagonist’s first-hand diaries and documents, combined with my own circumstances and speculation.


John Ross is publisher at Camphor Press.