The paper man smiled at his daughter’s greeting, feeling as if his exhaustion was gone. Holding the little paper girl in his arms, the three of them went back into the house.
The little paper girl buried her face in her daddy’s neck. But in the moment when the door was closing, she suddenly raised her face and stared at Jiang Lan with her pitch-black eyes. Her smile was gone, replaced by gloomy malice.
But in this Village, nobody was supposed to see Jiang Lan.
Jiang Lan didn’t stop here. He went from door to door to look at every household.
The rain didn’t let up, seeming to last forever. But on this tired night, doors were opened quietly from time to time with paper men walking out. They all went silently to the most prominent house in this Village.
The village chief’s home.
Jiang Lan counted the number of people there. All the able-bodied men were there, except for the tall thin man. It looked like they were excluded by the whole Village.
With the walking stick in his hand, the village chief cautiously closed the door. Then he proceeded to declare a piece of shocking news.
“The work we have done only buys us two more days. The dykes will soon be breached again, and there is nothing we can do about it when that happens.”
Shocking and frightened looks started to appear on people’s faces.
Pointing his finger to the sky, the village chief continued.” This rain has lasted more than ten days. It is the anger of the rain god. We have to figure out a way to appease the rain god’s fury, to stop this rain. Otherwise, we don’t have long to live.”
Someone muttered.” Does this mean we will offer sacrifice to the rain god?”
The Village Chief’s flat face became wrinkled, but his eyes had a strange light shining.” Yes, we have to try it. It is our only hope.”
“But which family will provide the sacrifice?”
Someone asked a question, which seemed to frighten everyone. All the paper men kept their mouths shut while looking around nervously.
Jiang Lan’s calm face began to grow grim.
The Village Chief said.” Those who have a daughter, please raise their hands.”
No one responded to this request as those paper men kept looking around, checking each other.
They were very clear about what it meant to offer sacrifices to the rain god.
This Village had practiced human sacrifice a long time ago. Before the new nation’s founding, He Village would hold a spiritual ritual for the rain god before each rainy season, asking the rain god for good weather and a good harvest. Legends had it that the rain god likes beautiful girls. So each year, a pretty girl aged between eight and fifteen will be picked from the Village to be offered as a sacrifice to the rain god.
This practice had lasted many years, and those girls being offered as sacrifices had acquired a beautiful name, called sunny dolls.
Villagers believed that those girls being sacrificed would also become gods. As sunny dolls, they were the rain god’s trusted servants. So when the rainy season comes, villagers will hang the sunny dolls made of paper outside windows. In this way, the sunny dolls would hear their family’s prayers and petition the rain god on their behalf to stop raining and bring back sunny days.
Generations of people in the He Village had faiths in this legend. This practice continued until the new government, after the founding of Hua Nation, put a stop to this.
It had been many years since the last human sacrifice was thrown into the river.
The village chief suddenly decided to resume this practice, but nobody wanted to volunteer their daughters.
The times had changed, and people’s minds had changed with it. They had become more clear-headed and more selfish.
Some attendees were silent, some were hesitant, while others seemed to have made up their minds.
Looking around, the Village Chief pounded the ground again with his cane.” You don’t want to live? If we don’t offer sacrifice to the rain god, what can we do about the overflowing river and breached dyke? What about this year’s harvest?”
A tall man was the first to raise his hand. But he didn’t offer his daughter as a sacrifice but to put forward a cowardly suggestion.” How about we ask the Qin family to contribute. His daughter is around eight and pretty. The rain god must like her.”
Many attendees’ faces brightened up at this suggestion.
Those silent, hesitant paper men voiced their agreements.
With glows in their eyes, they even started to provide the reason for this suggestion.
“Yes, Qin’s daughter was the prettiest girl.”
“His daughter was adopted. I am sure he would have no problem adopting another girl as his daughter.”
“But Qin is educated and didn’t have faith in this sacrifice and is long against any form of superstitions. What if he objects to this suggestion?”
“We can deceive him and get him out of the Village. When the deed is done, we tell him the truth.”
“Yes, he has lived here for many years. It is about time he makes his contribution to this Village.”
All kinds of voices were merged together, like a man-eating creature. This creature opened its mouth with a stench coming out of it and said.” Now it is settled. Qin’s daughter will be sacrificed.”
And the fate of the Qin family was determined.
Outside, the rain kept pouring, and the sunny dolls outside the window were smiling, but blood was coming out of their eyes.
In this paper doll’s world, time went by fast. Very soon, it was the second day.
The men in the Village walked towards the dyke again in high spirits. Jiang Lan stood by the Qin family’s door, watching silently as the tall thin paper man walked out of his house with a shovel.
Now he knew what was going to happen.
These paper men’s faces now corresponded with the reality in his mind.
He Laoda, He Laoer, He Laosan…….
The living and the dead were all here.
After the tall thin man Qin Shuyi left home, they secretly went back and tied his wife and abducted his crying daughter.
They brought the girl to the Village Chief’s home, where the chief’s wife dressed her in red and green clothing and combed her hair in a new lotus hairstyle. After she finished applying makeup, she delivered her to He Laoda, urging him to hurry.” Now go.”
He Laoda grabbed the girl and walked towards the river bank.
Downstream from the newly-filled gaps, a makeshift altar had just been finished. The village Chief was now performing the role of a priest. Unmindful of his wet clothing, he knelt down and rose up alternately, sinking his shriveled body piously in the mud.
When the ceremony was done, He Laoer and He Laosan moved a boulder here. He Laowu, Laoliu tied the little girl to the heavy boulder. Finally, He Laoqi and He Laoba raised the boulder and the girl to the riverside, preparing to throw her into the raging river.
Without thinking, Jiang Lan took a step forward, only to hear a miserable cry coming from behind.
Qin Shuyi’s wife rushed here with faltering steps. She was covered in mud, and blood was dripping from her lips. She had freed herself by biting through the rope. Ignoring her pain, she rushed forward to hold the girl in her arms and accused them.” This is murder! She is only eight years old. You can’t treat her like that. She is only eight years old!”
The nearby paper men stared at her in silence and a state of indifference. The same looks of cruelty were on their faces.
He Laosi came to drag her away, but she refused to let go of her girl. As a final resort, He Laosi forced open her grasp, separating her from her girl.
Jiang Lan even heard the sound of bones breaking. He took a step forward, then halted, stopped at where he was.
This was just a reenactment of something that happened a long time ago. It was like he just chanced upon a cruel puppet show. There was nothing he could do to alter the course of history.
Finally, He Laoliu and He Laoqi threw the girl into the violent river without scruple.
The woman’s loud cry and curse could be heard clearly, even in the pouring rain.
Suddenly she broke free of He Laosi’s grip and plunged into the river while calling her daughter’s name.
In mid-air, she found her daughter’s hand. But the boulder was too big and heavy, and the currents were too violent. They locked in each other’s arms and vanished into the river.
Witnessing this, the villagers panicked.
“How can we explain this to Qin?”
“There is no need to tell him the truth. Simply tell him his wife and daughter fell into the river by accident.”
“Yes, he can adopt another daughter. But losing his wife is a different matter. Qin will kill us.”
After a brief discussion, they decided on the version of the story they were going to tell.
Jiang Lan looked at the raging river. Somewhere in the river, he saw He Laowu’s pale head, with his murky eyes bulging with horror. He opened his mouth as if calling for help, but no sound came out. A Palm-sized Sunny Doll stood on his forehead, and her eyes were fixed on Jiang Lan with a malicious smile on her mouth.
This time, Jiang Lan didn’t ignore her.
Standing by the river, he gazed at this little sunny doll.” So this is the reason you killed them all?”
The sunny doll opened her mouth, giggling. Her voice was a crisp, clear child voice but filled with profound malice.” They all deserve it.”
Unexpectedly, Jiang Lan nodded his agreement and said seriously.” Yes, I think they all deserve it.”
These villagers were all superstitious and selfish. While being unwilling to sacrifice their children, they were capable of throwing other people’s children into the river without a second thought.
They killed two people and their happy family.
And their laughable sacrifice ritual didn’t have any effect whatsoever.
The rain kept pouring, and the river finally overflowed the bank. The whole He Village was flooded. Some villagers were carried away by the flood, some of them died from the disease. He Village originally had around fifty families and a population of two hundred. Among them, only a hundred people survived the flood.
The Village Chief and He Laoba went missing in the flood, presumably dead.
He Laoer’s wife and son died from a disease brought by the flood. He Laosi was blinded by a falling branch. He Laowu was almost killed after being hit by a falling rock. He Laoliu was crippled by the collapsing house. He Laoqi had been suffering from an incurable wasting disease.
He Laosan wasn’t hurt physically. But he went mad, always shouting that a ghost was coming back for their lives.
This is what He Village got for their evil deed.
And it was not enough.
The sunny dolls pointed at Jiang Lan.” Not enough. There are two still alive.”
He Laosan and He Laoliu were still alive.