In China, bloodsuckers are both plentiful and petrifying, but few are feared as greatly as the ching shih...
After another back-breaking day planting rice in the water-logged paddy fields near his village, the young peasant boy was looking forward to returning home, where he would stand before the fire until he felt warm and dry again. Cheered by these thoughts, he failed to notice at first that he was not alone as he walked away from the fields and on towards his village.
Just a little way behind him, a strange luminous orb, roughly the same size as his own head, was floating above the ground, but not in a passive, directionless manner. Had anyone been watching, they would have seen that this odd sphere was purposefully following the boy, drawing ever nearer, and glowing ever brighter, casting an eerie, unholy light upon his back.
Call it instinct, a sixth sense, or whatever you will, but suddenly the boy ‘felt’ that something evil was approaching. In panic he whirled around - and then he saw it!
Instinctively, he pulled back, gasping in terror as the mysterious sphere, now floating directly before him, rapidly expanded until it matched him in size. And as he gazed at it, almost mesmerised by its weird, uncanny light, the sphere took form and shape, metamorphosing into what the boy would have discounted as a horrific creature of nightmare – had he not been wide awake.
The sphere was now a grotesque humanoid figure, its tall thin body as shrivelled as an animate corpse, and covered in long green fur imbued with the lurid flickering pallor of decay and death. Thick strands of lifeless hair fell down upon its shoulders, and a wispy straggling beard hung from its chin. But all that the boy saw were its eyes – blazing like twin coals of hellfire.
He knew only too well the identity of this monstrous entity – like every child, he had been warned many times that such demons lay in wait beyond the safety of his village’s perimeter – but he had prayed that he would never encounter one. It was a ching shih – the deadliest form of Chinese vampire. And despite its emaciated appearance, it was also the strongest.
Sure of its power over the boy, the vile creature grinned malevolently, revealing an array of small but razor-sharp teeth that would soon pierce the boy’s body to drain it of blood, but first he needed to be killed. And so the ching shih opened its mouth wide, sucking in a deep intake of air. Moments later, it would blow it back out, directly into the boy’s face, to suffocate him with its toxic, foetid breath.
But in those few moments, a voice spoke to the boy deep inside his mind – the voice of his mother, urging him to flee back to the paddy fields, flee and never look behind him, not even for an instant, until he had reached them.
Immediately, the boy turned and raced away, so rapidly that the ching shih was startled, not expecting his sudden burst of activity. But then it began to chase after him, and as the boy ran on, he could hear the pounding of the ching shih’s feet close behind, and feel the heat of its foul breath upon the back of his neck.
The paddy fields lay just ahead, separated from him only by a stream, and as the boy’s pace slackened, exhausted from his headlong flight, he heard his mother’s voice again, telling him to leap over the stream into the fields. And then he remembered – like all Chinese vampires, the ching shih cannot cross running water. Summoning up his last atom of strength, the boy leapt, half-stumbling from weariness, but somehow he succeeded in clearing the stream, almost as if his mother had been there beside him, lifting him over its flowing water.
Standing partly submerged in the paddy fields, only then did the boy finally look back, and there stood the ching shih, on the stream’s far side, unable to cross, its eyes phosphorescent with malice. It opened its mouth, letting forth a deafening roar of impotent rage, then its form shivered and diminished, transforming once more into a glowing sphere that bobbed in the air before the stream but dared not float above it.
Suddenly, the sphere moved back, and sped swiftly away, soon vanishing into the distance. Only then, very cautiously, did the boy set off for home again, but keeping the stream beside him, not recrossing it until he saw his village’s friendly welcoming lights - very different indeed from the loathsome orb of evil that had so nearly claimed him as its latest victim.
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from Creatures of Shadow and Night, a book-in-progress written by me and illustrated by fantasy artist Andy Paciorek.