The Laughing Ghost
translated by George Souliť
Siu Long-mountain was one of the
most celebrated students of the district
of Perfect-flowers. Having mastered
the mysterious theories of the ancient
Classics, he took a fancy in the researches
of the Taoist magicians, whose temples
may be found in the smallest villages of
the Empire. He soon discovered that, for
the greater number, they were impostors;
and, being proud of his newly acquired
science, he concluded that none of them
possessed any occult power.
When he came to this somewhat hasty
conclusion, he was seated alone in his
library; the night was already advancing;
a small oil lamp hardly illuminated his
books on the table he was sitting at.
"Yes, there is no doubt; nothing exists
outside the material appearances. There
is nothing occult in the world, and nothing
can come out of nothingness."
As he was saying these words half aloud,
he was startled by an unearthly laugh which
seemed to come from behind his back. He
turned quickly round; but nothing was to
His heart beating, he was listening intently;
the laugh came from another
part of the room.
Long-mountain was brave, but as people
are brave who have only met the ordinary
dangers of civilised life, such as barking
dogs, insulting coolies, or angry dealers
presenting a long-deferred bill. He tried
in vain to believe it was only a joke imposed
on him by some friend; nothing could
prevail upon his growing terror.
Straining his eyes, he looked at the part
of the room the laugh seemed to come
from. At first he could not see anything,
but by degrees he perceived a black shadow
moving in a corner, then a strange form
with a horse's head and a man's body, all
covered with long black hair; the teeth
were big and sharp as so many mountain-peaks.
The eyes of this dreadful creature
began shining so much that the whole room
was illuminated. Then it began moving
towards the man.
This was too much; the student screamed
like a dying donkey, and, bursting the door
open, he ran out into the courtyard.
From an open door in the western pavilion
a ray of light crossed the darkness; four
or five men were playing cards, drinking,
and swearing. Long-mountain ran into
their room, and, panting, explained his
The men, being drunk, wanted to see the
Thing; holding lanterns and lamps, they
accompanied their visitor back to his
studio. When they passed the doorway,
Long-mountain screamed again; the Thing
was still there. He would have run away
had not the men, laughing and jesting,
shown him what the Ghost in reality was—a
long dress hung in a corner to a big hook,
on which sat a black cat mewing desperately.
When the men closed the door and left
him alone, the student was deeply ashamed
of his terror; shaken by his emotion, he
went to bed and tried to sleep. Sleep would
not come; his nervousness seemed to increase.
Starting at the smallest noise, he
remained a long time wide awake; then he
In the silence one only heard the cries
of the night-birds and the buzzing of the
autumn's insects; the lamp was out, but
a brilliant moon began to pour its silver
light through the window.
The door suddenly creaked; Long-mountain
awoke and sat up on his bed; the door
slowly opened, and the same Thing he had
seen and heard entered the room and advanced
towards the bed, while the same
unearthly laugh came from the long and
unshapely head; the flaming eyes were
fixed on the student.
When the Thing was near the bed, Long-mountain
fell heavily and did not move
The Ghost stopped, put his hand on the
breast of the man, remained in that position
a moment, then went quickly and silently
out of the room.
A man was standing outside.
"What did he say?" asked he.
"Be quiet!" said the Ghost, taking off
his horse's head and discovering a man's very
serious face. "The joke was good. But we
have done it too well. I think he is dead of
terror; we had better be as silent as a
tomb about all this. The magistrate would
never believe in a joke; we would be held
responsible for this death and pay a heavy