Fiction / April 2018 (Issue 39)

The Lover and the Conjurer

by Wong Kwok Kui

The Lover, who crossed the wilderness to seek love, to quench his lust, toiled without avail. Women turned their back against him the moment they saw his ugly face: flat nose, twisted lips, small eyes, short body. They cursed him in their mind: "Why does such a man live?"

One day, the poor man wanders through a market, and there he meets a man who can help him. He is a magician, The Conjurer, who offers his special service on high charges. After the price has been agreed, he takes The Lover to a graveyard in the middle of the night and exhumes three bodies which had just been buried the night before. He makes him choose one. The Lover has his eyes on a young girl with skin as white as ivory. The Conjurer asks him to think twice, but he repeats his decision without looking at the other two. Then they wait, till the clouds disperse so that the moonlight sheds on the face of the beautiful woman. The Conjurer takes from his bag a magnifying glass, makes The Lover hold it against the moon, so the ray sheds on her forehead. He then plays a tune, a tune so eerie that The Lover shivers at the thrill of the sinister music. The beauty rises slowly and crawls out from the tomb. The Lover, who cannot believe his eyes, takes her hand and starts to caress it. The Conjurer can see that though his reason is not convinced of the rightfulness of this act, he cannot peace his irresistible desire for her body.

The Conjurer says to him, "Kiss her! She's yours!"

The Lover moves forward slowly and kisses her cheek, and his lips are stuck with mud and impressed by the deadly coldness of the body. To his horror, the beauty's lips start to move, then with a sighing voice, says, "Who kissed me?" Her eyes remain closed as if she is having a dream.

The Conjurer tells the terrified Lover to answer her. The ugly man, trying to calm himself, whispers at the ear of the beauty, "The one who loves you!"

The beauty does not answer, and her eyes remain closed. She says then, "It's cold!" The Lover grabs her up, puts her on his shoulder and embarks on the journey home. The Conjurer takes the money from The Lover and disappears in the darkness of the night with a cunning smile on his face.

When The Lover is crossing the wilderness, carrying with him the half-conscious beauty, he tries to talk to her. But she never responds, and The Lover talks no more. Then, after a while, at the dead silence of the night, The Lover begins to hear sounds of murmuring coming from around him. He fears he is haunted by the ghost of the girl. Yet it is really the body who is talking. As The Lover realises this, he puts the girl down and listens to what she says. At first, it sounds only like incomprehensible fragments of a mad man. He listens more with greater attention, and it comes to him that she is, as if speaking from her dream, recounting her fore-life, piece by piece. She was a daughter of a poor peasant, and suffered from a chronic disease before she died. Throughout her mortal life, she had never known happiness. The Lover has great pity for her.

The morning comes, the sun rises, and they enter a thick wood. The dead begins now to give out sounds of groaning, as if she is suffering from a constant pain. The Lover lays her down again to look for the cause. Suddenly, sounds of enchanting drums come from the far end of the forest. They get louder and louder, beating straight into the heart of The agonizing Lover. A group of rhapsodies then appears, made up of drummers, instrumentalists, dancers and a clown. They dance around the dead and The Lover and sing thus to them,

Folly is the forbid Love,

drags the frozen from its womb,

consumed by the gaping eyes,

kissing icy flesh and bones;


Folly is the morbid Love,

props up the slumbering by its tone,

sieved through the tranquil hell,

singing to the eternal groan;


Folly is the morbid Love,

her tormentor she unknown,

transmigrates the dreamy realm,

peace be thou who yearns for home;



Time is our friend,

wherein dwell our little ones,

through whom her fate unfolds,

let them suck!

suck passionately hither ...

The Lover, hearing this, howls to the rhapsodies like a wild beast with great anger. He grabs the clown with his thick, hairy hand, forcing him to tell him the meaning of the song. The clown mocks him with his sticky tongue and struggles away. He then approaches the dead, pretending to be mourning for her: he spits on his hand and anoints her forehead with a stinking secrete, smells her, then covers his nose and declares in a sharp voice,

She stinks!

Flee, Flee!

he-he-ha ... yeow!

The rhapsodies flee with a hellish laughter and heart-wrenching drum.

The Lover, shivering in anger, flings his arms around the body. Then, calming himself down, he begins cleaning her face with a handkerchief. Soon an acute smell gets into his nose. It is the odour of rotting meat. He holds up the poor little hand of the groaning beauty, and, to his horror, he sees that it has become much bigger and out of proportion to the rest of her body. Her whole left arm has swollen to the same size of his own thick, hairy arm. He tries to press it with both of his hands to make it smaller, but then something even more horrible happens: dilute blood seeps through his fingers.

The Lover tries to solace her with gentle caresses. After a while, a tender smile appears on her face, gracefully, she smiles the first graceful smile ever in her life. But, this is not her smile in her life, a life she can feel, touch, see, in which she can love, and can assure herself that this very happiness is hers. What kind of life is it? Feelings are not hers, be it pleasure or pain. Her eyes remain closed, only thoughts come to her, and they come like mysterious strangers crushing the gate of her mind:

Where am I?

But I am dead!

Is it a dream?

But I am dead!

Heaven or Hell?

But I am dead!

Life again?

But I am dead!

Dead I am,

Elegy sung,

Soils fallen,

Heart with coagulated blood,


Blinding the apolline pierce,

So long,

so long,

Agonize me not the corporeal.

But her smile quickly submerges into violent attacks of extreme pain. The swelling has spread to the other parts of her body: two arms, extensive areas of her back and her two legs. Her ivory skin, characteristic to her immaculate beauty, is now gradually subsuming to the merciless encroachment of natural law. Patches of nebulous blackness begin to appear, now a deceptive grey that lures one to believe that they are only shadows shed by the leaves in the wood, now repulsively visible. No mortals can imagine what the pain is like, for the agony of decomposition is, to her condolence, the privilege of the deceased. Miraculously though, the loving beauty of her face remains: no swelling, no patches, the same angelic simplicity and peacefulness. Signs of violent agony can sometimes be seen by slight frownings, soothed away by gentle caresses, only to re-emerge as the attacks renew. That might be the mark of a consoling memory, a fore-life experience that the deliverance from life-long sufferings will come unfailingly at the end, amounting to a solemn pledge.

The Lover, trying to keep his composure, wraps up the body with white cloth with the hope of protecting the wounds, but it only can serve to contain the odour. As if hurrying for a rescue, he loads her on his shoulder, jumps up to his feet and starts running through the forest with a thought in his mind that he might somehow meet a physician at the end of it.

A strange noise comes. It comes step by step, getting louder, sounding like the percussion of metal, the death-march of a chained man. As he is running through the forest, rather than opening up, the canopies get thicker and thicker, blinding much of the early morning light. The frantic man, carrying on his shoulder a piece of flesh the smell of which is getting harder to endure, with his hands tainted by blood which he has no time to wipe away, makes a great effort to catch his breath and says to himself, "My good Lord! Have I been to hell!" The smell is now strong enough to catch the attention of a family of flies, loitering in mid-air, looking for chances to taste the body. He raises his hand to drive away the hateful creatures and sees at a distance silhouettes of two men appearing from behind the trees. The first man seems to be hobbling, moving slowly towards him, while the second is two feet behind the first. As they get closer, he can see that the hands and feet of the man in the front are chained, and the other is forcing him through like whipping an animal.

They are an exile and a guard, the latter escorting the condemned man to a distant desert land, where hell fires erupt from the crack of the earth. The exile has a long beard and thick moustache, so thick that his mouth cannot be seen. His eyes never focus, as if earthly matters do not interest him. The crime he has committed is that of desecrating a holy icon: he spat on it one day out of a certain unknown fury. He knows fully well what fate awaits him: an eternal torture, no life and death could be seen in his horizon.

As they come close to The Lover, the guard, stunned by the horrible sight, asks The Lover what is happening with the woman. The Lover makes up a story: she was his wife who died suddenly of a shock. Unable to sustain the pain of eternal departure, he sought help from The Conjurer, and he by his magic brought his beloved back to him. But the charlatan concealed an important fact from him: though brought back to life, her decomposition cannot be arrested by his magic.

The chained man, having heard this, sings thus in a cursing tune:

Gazing into the bottomless pit,


See you not an alien land,

But nullity;


Fixing your eyes above,

Bliss not,

Beyond that blue dwells nothing,

But nullity;


I am from down under,

Where there's no darkness to be seen,

Missioned here to trumpet truth,

For the kingdom will come,

Long not, hope not,

It cannot be seen,




It's the kingdom of nothingness …

The guard, hearing what he is singing, whips him with anger and fear to make him stop. He tells The Lover not to listen to him for he is a mad man not knowing what he is talking about. But the Lover is curious about what he has said as he has the feeling that he is responding to his story. So he inquires whether he knows of any cure to his wife's suffering. The man answers:

Beyond life and death,

There is a cure!

The Lover says, "You speak like a prophet, a mystic! I do not understand!"

The mad man falls silent for a minute. As the Lover waits, the guard begs him not to instigate him to further demonic talks. The mad man finally opens his mouth again.

"Go back to the Conjurer! Anoint the flesh with the blood of the one who loves her at his instruction. Drip dry all his blood, her suffering will cease."

The Lover, having heard this, cannot but be disappointed. How could he give up his own life for a dead woman whom he has known for just half a day, and who has never even talked to him? Sadly, he loads her on his shoulder again and goes back to his journey, not knowing what he should do.

After the Lover has travelled a few yards, the exile suddenly turns his head and shouts to him, "Remember! The kingdom will come!" The guard whips him and forces him back to his journey.

The forest ends, and comes a barren land. The ground is full of cracks, no plants, only bald dunes can be seen in the horizon. The merciless sun, now having climbed to a greater height, is giving out a hellish heat. Sweat, blood and an acute smell, all mixed up into a torrid carnival. Her groaning now grows louder, as violent attacks of extreme pain get more frequent. Her whole body is now wrapped up by white bandages except her face, yet blood seeps through the cloth and sends out an ever stronger smell. No one would now dare to unwrap the bandages, for the horrible sight inside is well imaginable: flesh loosening from the bones, extensive wounds open up, making the labouring worms crawling inside repulsively visible! Even her face is swollen, and her cheeks look like those of a plump woman, the skin as bright as the surface of a pumped up balloon. She has become another person entirely. Attacked by the stench, the heat and disillusionment, the Lover feels a growing dizziness while his eyesight becomes blurred. Reason is running away from him.

As he now approaches a hollow ground, tired, he unloads the body. Down on his knees, catching his breath, staring dully at it, he curses himself, "What wrong I have done!" But the curse fails to console him, as each of her groans seems like a accusation of his guilt, the unredeemable and most villainous sin of disturbing her slumber in the name of love, only ending in the dead suffering death again. The blood on his hand has dried, taints remain. He buries them in the flaccid clay. As if acting with great determination, he starts to scoop the soil with his bare hands. The soil is far from fine, rough pieces of granular sandstone is mixed in it. But that does not stop him. He sweats, ten fingers bleeding, and the hollow ground soon becomes a shallow tomb. Pretending to be deaf to her groans, he drags the body into it and pushes the soil back. The flesh stinks no more. Silenced! The last sludge of soil falls on her face, the ugly face of a monster! "Peace be thou!" he says to the dune. No matter how much pain she now feels, how repulsive the sight of her is, how loud she groans, what sinful thing the man has done, it can no longer be heard, seen, known. Things have returned to their original state, the dead returns to its death. Nothing has ever happened.

Getting up from the ground, languidly, he wipes off the mud from his face and body. The sun is over his head, and the piercing rays strike straight into his eyes. He dares not raise his head, for the sun seems too bright to him now. He covers his head with a white cloth and goes back to his journey.

"What should I do now?" he asks himself. The slackened man, after a whole night of labour, a sleepless dreamlike night, can now think no more. An emptiness has possessed his skull. Tired, he drags his feet to the journey to nowhere.

Hours have passed. The sun is now at his back. Feeling drunk, he feebly moves and refuses to tell himself the direction. A sudden agitation comes over him. He does not know its origin, but he feels possessed by a strong urge to roar only he is struck dumb.

His dizziness gets worse, sweat flowing from his forehead blurs his sight. At an unknown distance, he sees a group of men. It seems to be a caravan moving towards him. But he is not sure if they are moving or not, or whether they are a caravan. He rubs his eyes, and hears chants pertaining to certain types of holiness. He opens his eyes and assures himself that they are not a caravan: all of them are half-naked.

They are a group of pilgrims from the East. They never look or listen, but close their eyes in certain ecstasy, as if possessed by a transcendental pleasure—but prints of pain can be seen on their bodies: their backs are badly bruised. Those are marks of laceration. Some of them are already bleeding. They sing as they flog themselves along:

Khlishu! Khlishu!

Khrista Jesu!


Khlishu! Khlishu!

Khrista Jesu!

The flagellants come near to the Lover like apparitions. He wants to talk to them, so he raises his hand and opens his mouth to shout, but nothing comes out from his throat. He tries to grab them, but each time as he moves forward and is about to touch them, they move away so swiftly so that they always keep at a distance from him. The flagellants seem not to have seen him, nothing ever changes on his face—that same delirium of self-torment has almost attained a sculpture-like serenity. The Lover uses all his strength to go after them. He feels like he is being absorbed by a mysterious craving to seek redemption. Running after the phantoms, he shouts wildly at the top of his voice:

Divine ones I celebrate thee,

Show mercy to me, the humble sinner,

For pain be not his deliberation,

But love, the desire for love;

Mayhaps I have been fooled,

Learnt not the seducer's craft,

Mayhaps I charm not,

So to win women's repulsion,

Curse me then,

Curse the forsaken,

Curse the one who contracts the magician,

On whose art I bet my passion,

But show mercy to me,

Regard me thou merciful,

Regard my pleas,

For my fair innocent angel,

Give her peace.

As he finishes, he kneels down and weeps bitterly. But the pilgrims do not return to look. They just keep on singing:

Khlishu! Khlishu!

Khrista Jesu!

Soon the pilgrims disappear into the mist. The lonely man, now cannot control himself, covers his face and weeps with all his strength.


It is evening in the Conjurer's den. He is having his dinner. His servant, who is standing beside him, has a pale face and black eye sockets. His skin is bloodlessly ashen and his flesh is stiff and cold. But one can tell from his dress that he is a man of noble origin. No one knows who he is or where he comes from except the Conjurer himself.

There is a sudden sound of violent knocks on the door. The servant opens the door, as the alarmed Conjurer turns to look. A man comes in. It is the Lover with his monster angel. His eyes are red and his lips are dry. He is on the brink of exhaustion. The body he is holding in his arms is wrapped up from head to toe, even her face is now covered with blood-tainted cloth. One can hardly tell that it is a human body, for it is so disfigured that not an inch of it looks normal: tumours have spread to all parts of the body, the arms and legs are loosening from the trunk, which makes her look like a hastily assembled torso knit together from a dismembered corpse. The Conjurer covers his nose immediately, while his servant remains unmoved. The Lover, seeing the Conjurer, says solemnly in a low voice, "Save her! Anoint her with my blood!" The Conjurer is astonished and dumb-founded for a second, and then answers, "Why? She can't be saved. Dead is dead, my power cannot give life to a dead one."

"Then let her die! Don't leave her this way. Undo what you have done!"

The Conjurer, having heard this, answers timidly, "She has died once. No one in the world can die twice!"

The Lover then roars, "Go to hell!" He crashes into the Conjurers den and knocking things over like a wild beast. Blood and torn flesh splash all over the room. The Conjurer's servant, knocked down to the ground by the angry bull, lays numbly as if dead. But the Lover does not stop.

The Conjurer withdraws to another chamber and locks the door behind him. The Lover grows even angrier, turning everything in the den upside down, and crushing open the door with a single kick. He moves swiftly to the Conjurer, grabs his throat by his hairy hand as if he is going to kill him. The Conjurer gives in finally. He says, "Yes … I'll do it …"

The Conjurer takes them to a cell and prepares for the rites. He puts the body on a sacrificial altar, and makes the Lover sit in front of a golden tub. When everything is ready, he approaches the Lover, takes out a dagger, and cuts deep into both of his wrists. Blood spills out from the wounds fiercely into the golden tub. The Lover feels the coldness of the blade like a divine condolence, as his anger gradually subsides into anaesthesia. An expression of pain comes over his face, but is quickly replaced by a strange pleasure. He does not smile, but watches the dripping of his blood with saintly tranquillity. The Conjurer leaves him sitting there while he takes the tub to the altar and replaces it with another. Murmuring a magic spell, he pours the fresh red blood onto the dead body. The white clothes are slowly soaked with blood and it seeps into her flesh.

Drop by drop, the Lover blissfully watches his life drip away. Drop by drop, as if entering a sublime realm, his sight becomes blurred and a giddiness overcomes his head. Drop by drop, he slides futher down the tub and dies.


It is midnight. Wolves are howling at the full moon. The body of the Lover has laid there for hours, now stiff and cold. The Conjurer, waiting there to watch what will happen to the woman, falls asleep in his seat. The night is silent, only the sounds of the wolves can be heard. Then there is a slight sound of breathing, coming not from the Conjurer's seat, but from the sacrificial altar. The cloth covering the nose of the blood-soaked mummy moves regularly with her breath. Then her arms and legs begin to move too. She is struggling out from her cocoon. The blood has coagulated, so when her movement gets stronger, the cocoon begins to crack. An ivory-white hand with delicate skin emerges from the blood, tearing the cloth from her face. Now her face can be see, a miracle, her princess beauty now wholly restored. Not only the wounds of decomposition have disappeared, but her scars can no longer be traced either. Her whole body is now as white as snow. As if waking up from a long, deep slumber, she opens her eyes to see. The world now seems so strange to her, yet so familiar. Languidly, she sits up and tears away the blood-red clothes from her body and turns to survey room around her. Her eyes settle on the dead Lover. A strange magnetism comes over her cheek. She moves forward, caresses his cold face with her cold hand, and bends down to kiss his forehead. She stares at him for a second, turns around and leaves the cell.

The Conjurer wakes up. He looks at the altar and is alarmed to find only red clothes. He jumps up and rushes out from his den to search for her. No traces of her can be found in the streets. Finally, in the graveyard, he finds her sleeping peacefully in her own grave.

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