Most of my novels begin with a “What if?”, and City of Ghosts was no different. It was a dark and stormy day, hardly the best time to leave the comfort of my ship to explore a ghost city in China. I’d acquired a bad cold during the three-day cruise down the Yangtze River, and the last thing I wanted to do was wander around in the downpour, sniffling and sneezing, while other tourists jabbed me in the eye with their umbrellas.
However, I did want to write about China, a country I’d fallen madly in love with during that month in 2014, but I’d yet to have a single decent idea. So I joined the tour of Fengdu, the famous ghost city, despite my misgivings. There’s something spooky about exploring an abandoned city, and Fengdu, with its rusted cable cars and sinking pagoda, doesn’t disappoint.
This got me thinking…what if someone got trapped in the ghost city overnight? What if they wanted to get trapped there? Enter Jackson Stone, who decides to write a series of paranormal bestsellers so he can make enough money to leave his dead-end job. During Jackson’s adventures (of course he’s on a tour of China, much like I was when I invented him), he meets a medium named Kate, who helps him uncover the dark mystery behind the ghost city’s missing women.
Fengdu is a ghost city in the true sense of the word. The village was abandoned when the construction of the Three Gorges Dam dramatically raised the water levels.
According to legend, Fengdu got the name of “Ghost City” during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Two imperial officials, Yan Changsheng and Wang Fangping, came to Ming Mountain to practice Taoism, and in the process became immortals. The combination of their names, Yanwang, means King of Hell, and that was the beginning of the site’s focus on the underworld.
Many of the temples and shrines show paintings and sculptures of people being tortured for their sins. A lot of the statues are gruesome, depicting sinners getting their eyes plucked out, being flayed alive, or being boiled in oil.
According to Chinese beliefs, the dead must pass three tests before moving on to the next life. First, they must survive the ‘Bridge of Helplessness’. At the bridge, demons allow or forbid passage. Good souls are allowed to pass, while evil souls will be pushed to the water below. Performers dressed as demons momentarily stop tourists on the bridge, but finally allow them across. Just enough time for a photo op!
The dead then proceed to Ghost-Torturing Pass, where they present themselves for judgment before the King of Hell.
The third test is at the entrance to Tianzi Palace, where the dead must stand on a on stone on one foot for three minutes. According to legend, a virtuous person will be able to do it, while an evil person will fail and be condemned to hell. The stone is round and slippery with rain—it’s not easy! Apparently I’m going to hell.
Since Fengdu is now a popular attraction, it’s not as scary as you might think. Still, it was easy to imagine how spooky the place would be at night, once the tourists went home. Those statues looming out of the dark, that feeling that someone—or something—is watching you.
About The Author
J.H. Moncrieff writes psychological and supernatural suspense novels that let her readers safely explore the dark corners of the world. City of Ghosts, the first book in her GhostWriters series, won the 2018 Kindle Book Review Award for Best Horror/Suspense.
The latest book in the series, Forest of Ghosts, was inspired by her experiences in Romania, including the world’s most haunted forest.
To get free ebooks and a new spooky story every week, check out her Hidden Library.