When the Hanlin academician Shen Houyu of Zhudun was young, he was the classmate of a friend of mine by the name of Zhang. Once, Zhang was absent from class for several days running. On inquiring, Shen discovered that Zhang had contracted a severe case of influenza.
Shen thereupon decided to pay Zhang a courtesy call. On arriving at the Zhang residence, Shen quietly went in through the front gate and was about to enter the main hall when he saw a tall, thin man reading the horizontal tablet in the hall.
Shen suspected that this was no less than an intruder. Playfully, he untied his belt, crept up to the intruder and quickly bound his legs.
With a look of complete surprise the tall man swung around to face Shen. Shen promptly interrogated him regarding the nature of his business and his place of origin.
The tall man explained, "Mr. Zhang is about to die. As a courier of death from the underworld, it is my duty to ensure that the matter is first cleared with the gods of his ancestral hall. Only after this formality is completed can his departure from this world be ensured."
Shen knew that Zhang's widowed mother was still alive and that Zhang himself was as yet unmarried and therefore without an heir, and so he entreated the tall man to find some way of helping Zhang escape death. The tall man was greatly moved but explained that there was nothing he could do.
Shen continued his sincere entreaties until eventually the tall man admitted, "There is one possible option. Zhang is due to die at noon tomorrow. Before that time, five guardians of death will be sent here with me. They will enter through the willow tree just outside. Now, because ghosts in the nether world have long been starved of food and drink, once they indulge themselves they often forget their purpose.
"Tomorrow you should prepare a banquet for six people and wait outside the house. When you feel a gust of wind blow past, that will