To my ancestors,
I want to be honest. Now is the time to be honest. I never used to believe in ancestor spirits. You were something Mum used to talk about, sometimes. Me and Sally would just roll our eyes. Mum always wanted us to understand Chinese things. She wanted us to be both Chinese and British all rolled up into one. But me and Sally weren’t that interested.
I’m sorry for that. There were a lot of things I didn’t used to believe in. I never believed in jiang shi.
But, I’ve changed. I really have. I believe you are there are watching me. You are my ancestors and you want to help me.
I’ve laid out some offerings on the bed. I hope that they’re okay. I’m a bit limited in what I’ve got in here. The best thing I’m giving you is the kit-kat. It’s really hard not to eat it, so I think that you’ll like it.
I’ve only got one bottle of water left, so I’m going to have to leave my bedroom soon, and I promise that I’ll try get you some better offerings.
I’m safe in my bedroom. The door is locked. Every few hours, I’ll hear Mum or Dad or Sally shuffling past the door. That can be scary. The most worrying thing is that I find myself wanting to open the door and get it over with.
I’m very, sorry about laughing about you. I really believe in you. I believe that you will guide me to the afterlife.
If you can, I’d really like you to help Mum and Dad, and Sally. They’re jiang shi, just like everyone else in this rotten country, maybe in the whole world. I don’t know, the electricity went off a few days ago, no TV, no internet, no nothing.
All I do is watch the jiang shi outside. It’s a good name for them, jiang shi — rigid corpses. I saw a group tracking down a girl about my age, with their hopping shambling walk. They’re slow but there’s a lot of them. They chased her down the street and then another group of them came around the corner. There was nowhere for her to run. When they caught her they pressed their mouths to her and sucked the life right out of her. A few hours later I saw her moving; she was one of them.
I’ve seen Mum and Dad, too. Their skin is glazed over with white-green fur and their tongues are black and long and obscene. They aren’t my parents anymore. They’re things. I know that, but when I saw Mum with her outstretched arms I thought, just for a minute, that she wanted to hug me. Stupid thought.
When I go out, I hope that I don’t see Sally. She’s too young to be a jiang shi. I couldn’t bear to see her.
I don’t know why I’m using their names. They’re not my family anymore.
What I’m hoping is that you’ll help me when the jiang shi come for me. I think that some of you may have been priests or maybe warriors. Don’t let me become a thing like them. I’m not scared of death: I’m scared of becoming a jiang shi.
Honoured ancestral spirits, I pray that you will guide me. I’m sorry that I didn’t believe in you, before. I really believe in you now, with all my heart.
© Deborah Walker
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: http://deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com/