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East Asian Horror Thriller

China, 921 CE

Ju Fong had never encountered an item with such mysterious properties in her fifty-three years. No matter how many large vases of water she poured into the sealed container, the contents would never fill beyond half way. No liquid emptied from the coffer. Hours later, the laminated, oak interior would be as dry as a bone in the hot desert. Ju looked on with astonishment within her home laboratory. She had seen a variety of unexplained events in all of her years. Unexplained lights in the sky. Strange movements in the woods. The imprints of a large human-like creature in the mud. This item had been her first tangible proof of the unexplained. 

Ju thought about her incomprehensible container found in the woods as she had been investigating a local ghost sighting. An ornate, cubed box, the length of her forearm with a hinged lid that had been left wide open. The outside of the box held the writings of a language she could not understand. No matter how much she forced, the lid would not close upon itself. Ju assumed that being outdoors had jammed the mechanism. She decided to leave the lid alone for the moment as to not break it. Its insides wore polished wood with an internal indentation two finger widths below the top. Ju had been confused by the fact that the box held no rainwater upon its discovery. A recent heavy rain should have filled the box at least part of the way. This absence would continue to lay upon her curiosity and spark her innate need for answers. Ju had collected her find and took it home.

Over the weeks, she attempted to fill the box with all varieties of liquids. Yak milk, sea water and even urine. Each experiment resulted in the same results. Ju chose one last option. She raised a sharp kitchen knife to her forearm. Her skin opened up. Bright, red blood slowly dripped into the container. The moment the blood made contact, the box appeared to reverberate. Her eyes grew large at the reaction. She waited for the droplets to disappear as the other liquids had. Each red drop remained in place. Hours passed. Ju observed that the blood remained unchanged. She became confused how the blood didn’t change in color and consistency. These droplets remained as bright and rounded as if she had put them inside moments ago. Ju considered the gore-ish idea of adding more blood into the box.

The moral dilemma set in as she ate her rice and fish the next day. Causing repeated injuries to herself wouldn’t be efficient in filling the box. She thought of anything else that could work. Killing one of the local farm animals for her experiment might be an option, she considered. The idea of stealing from her community overwhelmed her sense of guilt. Ju considered setting a trap in the nearby treeline and quickly realized that she lacked the skill to do so. She went back to her investigation room. The blood droplets remained in perfect condition, as if frozen in time. Ju gently shook the box. The droplets jiggled in place, never moving as if rooted to the bottom.

The challenge tore through her usually peaceful sleep. This had been nothing she expected. The box offered no additional clues upon to discover. Ju decided that answers were more important than sleep. She took to the night air. Her neighbor’s farm stood within walking distance. Ju reached the fence line with a leather bag in hand. The cool air surrounded her. She could clearly smell the tended farm before her. Her need for blood brought herself over the wattle fencing. Her soft shoes kept silent as she crossed to the chicken coop. The evening insects warned her against making the decision. Find another way, the night told her. Ju told herself that there could be no other way.

She snagged the closest sleeping chicken into her bag. The frazzled bird fought with her, making panic caws as its talons tore against the inside of the bag. The other chickens became alarmed, cackling for the release of their kin. Ju sprinted to the fence line, holding the bag closed tight. Her heart beat with fear. The curious glow of lanterns took light inside Ah Lam’s home. Ju escaped over the fence and blended into the tall grass as her neighbor walked towards the distress. The muffled bird continued to move within her bag. Ju weaved her way through the grass towards a local cluster of tress all the while hoping that her neighbor wouldn’t pursue the mystery beyond the fence. Time crept among the cricket noises. Ju poked her head around a tree to see the lantern bob back towards its home. She breathed a sigh of relief. Then she remembered that the most difficult task still awaited her. Ju kept to the foliage along the road until she reached her own home. Being out in the evening would be hard enough to explain, let alone with a restless bag. She entered through her front door. Her heart continued to race. Ju understood the importance of finishing her crime.

The research room became illuminated by a simple lamp. Her bag continued to move with determination. Ju removed the scared chicken from the bag. The fowl began flapping its wings in revolt while loudly squawking. Furious shadows splattered on the walls of her room. Small feathers floated in the air. Ju bound its wings and feet. Another cloth bonded tightly over it’s face to reduce the unwanted noise. Ju secured the chicken’s neck and shoulders above the box. The moment hung in the air. She thought about what might happen one last time. The box would fill or drain. The innocence of a harmless creature would lose its life over a mystery.

Ju held the bird taught. She swiftly buried a long knife into its neck. The bird panicked. She held the restricted creature tighter. It’s muffled sounds shook her to her core. Blood sprayed downward into the wooden cube. Ju watched with locked interest as the box filled. The sacrifice slowed its movements as more of its life drained. The chicken stopped moving. Ju looked down. Lingering blood drops fell into the square pool of red liquid. The box held the blood as if within a clay pot, filling almost to the indentation mark. Ju experienced a surge of astonishment that quickly overrode the guilt that had plagued her since crossing beyond her neighbor’s fence.

She disposed of the chicken’s lifeless body deep in her garden. Ju came back to her wooden box as the beginnings of the new day crept over the dark night. The box remained full as when she left it. A small humming sound could be heard. She had the impression that the container felt warmer than before. This she concluded had been due to the warmth of the blood. She took the adrenaline rush as a means to clean up blood around the table, the chicken feathers and then herself. Time passed as her actions sank into her conscience. Exhaustion overtook her. She decided to lay down as the sun eased past the horizon.

A knock on her wooden door broke the sleep she took comfort in. She lumbered to the disturbance. The simple door swung open. Ah Lam bowed to her. Ju returned the courtesy. Her neighbor asked if she had been out researching anything unusual last night. Ju replied that she had been working in her research room after dinner and then went to bed. Ah Lam reported to her that someone had stolen a chicken from the coop. Ju brushed off the incident as a coyote or fox that made its way through the fence. Her neighbor took offense with this response. She explained that shoe prints were discovered in the dirt. Ju began to panic inside. Ah Lam indicated that the tracks came over the fence that would have been in the direction of this house. Ju reiterated that she had been home all night.

Ah Lam looked at the outside floorboards in frustration. Ju offered her grieving neighbor inside or into her backyard to see for herself that the missing chicken wasn’t on her property. Ah Lam sniffed the air to find any scent of a recent meal. She declined and thanked Ju for her time. The fatigued woman watched as her neighbor walked to the road with her head down. She closed the door. Ju realized that she wasn’t able to go back to sleep and considered attending to her research room to make use of the early morning.

The idea of entering the scene of her crime became too much. She chose to spend the morning taking care of her usual chores. The more she worked, the more she thought about the chicken’s death. Ju decided that continuing her research would honor the dead animal more than avoiding progress. She walked into the back room hidden behind a false wall.

Her mysterious container remained filled with fresh blood as if the liquid had been poured minutes ago. Ju considered that one more sacrifice would be enough to fill the box up to the indentation. The idea of killing another animal for her science experiment caused tears from her eyes. She decided that the only blood from this point would be her own, no matter how long that took.

Ju began bloodletting herself twice a day. She squeezed her skin to push every drop into the container. She fought through the discomfort for the end gains. Ju became obsessed with knowing what would happen when the cherry red level reached the indentation. There had been nothing to indicate that anything should happen. For a reason she couldn’t explain, a growing confidence told her that some result would. She watched as the visceral crept slowly closer to her goal.

The day arrived when her efforts made progress. Her blood nearly reached the indentation. Ju felt a warmth from the box. She began to believe that the box began to emit a soft humming sound. Fear and excitement backed her away from the ornate container.

She went to sleep that night anxious about the next day. Tomorrow would likely bring an end to her journey with the box she thought. Either nothing would happen and the box would be an oddity due to its inability to hold other liquids or events beyond her imagination would occur. Her dreams materialized, painted in red. Bright reds. The color of those first drops of blood that touch the outside world. Ju dreamed of burying a large, red acorn in a meadow of scarlet grasses under a rusty sun. She watched as her dream acorn quickly grew into a cerise, cork oak tree. Red leaves began to sprout as if the tree had been alive for decades. Ju watched in fascination as the tree uprooted itself and began walking as a sentient being. Its branches began to transform into red slithering, angry tentacles. A large, deformed reptile head grew out of the trunk. Ju watched in horror as the large tree-being sprinted upright towards the town center on a hundred legs.

Ju awoke in a broken sweat. Her heart pounded as she worked to acclimate herself in the darkness. She reminded herself that what she experienced had been a dream. She continued to remind herself that a box is not an acorn. Ju promised herself that once the box filled, she would dump out its contents far from her home and leave the box deep in the forest. This became a pleasant enough lie for her to gently fall back to sleep after her body calmed down.

She stood over the box on the research table. Ju had the distinct impression of the box looking back at her, as if the container non-verbally beckoned her to finish what had been begun. Her outer forearms were a patchwork of superficial cuts. Some would heal without incident and others looked to linger with white scarring. Her sharpened knife found an empty spot on her vulnerable skin. She drew the metal across. Fresh blood emerged. Ju squeezed her soft skin to corral the liquid into the container. She had the distinct impression somewhere in her mind of the box awaiting its meal, like a hungry dog awaiting a scrap of fish. Several drops broke free from her arm. They fell like obscene rain from her into the awaiting container. Ju watched as the indentation filled.

The box’s hinged lid swung over and sealed over the top on its own. Ju jumped backwards with widened eyes. She covered her mouth to quell an involuntary scream. An increasing humming began to resonate from the wooden container. She couldn’t conceive the possibility of what happened. The humming reverberated in her mind as if the vibrations were slowing becoming a conversation just out of her ability to hear. Ju became disoriented.

She backed out of the room, fearing the unexpected. A knock on the front door caused her to scream. Ju closed the secret entrance to her research room. She hurried to the visitor. The door opened a crack to reveal Ah Lam standing with concern at the scream. Ju explained that she had seen spider at the same time of the knock. Ah Lam apologized for the poor timing. She went on to further apologize for sounding accusatory at their last visit by saying dui bu qi. Ju accepted the apologies with her own bow. Ah Lam explained that the local magistrate caught and punished a local vagabond for the missing chicken. Ju felt the weight of additional guilt pile higher upon her shoulders. She thanked her neighbor for the update and offered a dinner invitation for later in the week. Ah Lam politely accepted the invitation. The women said farewells to each other. Ju’s head hung with despair.

Ju shut the door and stood in the empty house contemplating her role in the innocent person’s fate. The noise from the box radiated louder in the background. Ju went back to her secret room and picked up the box. The coffer weighed as if a thousand river stones had been collected inside. The container continued to hum in her hands. A definite hotness challenged her bare hands. Ju carried the box through her backyard, suffering through the heat as personal amends for her actions. She placed the receptacle on the ground in a small clearing. A gripping pull from an unknown place urged a burial to be rid of her conundrum.

Ju returned with her flat headed shovel. She dug through the dirt and her emotions, hoping to seal the box in the ground, alongside her raging guilt. The depth of the hole evolved in front of her. Sweat covered a fine sheen across her face. She felt an increasing relief to be rid of the container. Ju’s hands burned as she placed the box into a perfect square-shaped hole. She felt a growing frustration at having so many questions unanswered, fighting off a self-promise that she wouldn’t dig up the box another time. Dirt piled on top until the hollow became a patch of fresh soil. Ju moved a patch of local vegetation over the spot to further conceal its existence from her battered emotions.

Weeks passed without incident. Ju became more reclusive. Ah Lam commented on Ju’s self imposed isolation during their dinner. Ju explained the situation as being unimportant and changed the subject. The rest of the dinner held an uncomfortable residue with both women wishing to be somewhere else. Ju spent much of her time sitting in her bedroom unsure how to move on. Her dreams had been consistently splashed with the color red. Red trees, red water, red clouds. Ju felt the color red had become her blood soaked guilt.

The autumn air felt crisp as Ju walked to the spot where she had buried the box months ago. Her wraparound coat held off the ongoing chill. She looked upon the perfect square dirt patch that had been undisturbed for so long. A patchwork of small feathers, bone shards and fur lined the soil’s perimeter, leaving the earth pristine. Her eyes widened as her heart sunk. She shook her head in disbelief. Several, deep crimson stalks grew out of the ground. Their thick features appeared to gently pulsate. Juvenile, blood red branches reached for the sky from each one. Ju repeated the word bùshìde over and over to herself, not wanting to believe the impossibility of the situation. Thin, cherry red vines rested upon the top of the soil. She could see several crimson acorns beginning to bud off rose-colored branches. A slight humming emanated from the vegetation. A slender vine wrapped itself around her calf. The living, red rope pulled her to the ground as others began to secure her arms to the dirt. Ju screamed into the cool air. Her cries were attended to by the calls of Tibetan rosefinches among the trees. In the distance, Ah Lam looked up from her farm work towards the sounds of the screams. The distress ended abruptly. She continued with her chores. A thick vine wrapped itself deeper around Ju’s neck, tightening across her skin. Ju reached out for a miracle. The daylight began to flicker.

A passerby found a grouping of clothing scraps several months later. They had been discovered near a grouping of crimson red saplings growing within a dirt patch. The passerby had been so focused on the clothing of what he believed to belong to the local missing woman, that the odd foliage had been completely ignored. The village grieved together over what they assumed had been an animal attack. In the distant woods, a single red acorn fell from its branch. The square topped seed landed just outside the perimeter of the once dug hole and began to settle itself into the dirt.

August 28, 2021 03:14

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7 comments

Sachin Bhati
09:17 Sep 05, 2021

Great masterpiece....pls tell me the stories you write are royalty free or not?

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John C
13:44 Sep 05, 2021

Thank you for the compliment. My reader's entertainment is paramount. They are free as long as I receive credit for their content and am told the intent of sharing.

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R. E. Anderson
23:48 Sep 01, 2021

This story had me on the edge of my seat! I thought it was thought provoking and original. I liked the themes of desire and ambition, how they rule us, how they blind us. Sometimes we ignore RED flags. I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended, and then when I finally read the ending, I realized I was like Ju. You had given me all the signs, but I still didn’t believe it. Well done! Also, I liked the writing overall, but I feel that some of your word choice could be revised: “A gripping pull from an unknown place urged a burial to be rid of ...

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John C
12:00 Sep 03, 2021

Thank you so much for the observations. I appreciate any constructive feedback and will keep your suggestions close to heart. Please consider looking through my previous stories for fun, though I feel that they have been stepping stones to today's better writing.

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Rebecca Moatz
22:27 Sep 01, 2021

I am very impressed with the details of this story. It was very well thought out and really began to hold my interest when the protagonist's obsession overuled her values and self preservation.

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John C
12:01 Sep 03, 2021

Thank you for your feedback. Your support continues to inspire me to write more and better.

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Rebecca Moatz
00:45 Sep 04, 2021

You're welcome!

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