The ridge between hills was uninhabited at first. It was only when the rumours of a person having transformed into a deity spread out, did many Taoists who practice the way of cultivation move here one by one. It was how the place gained its name as ‘The Village of Immortals’.
Old Man Mo was the first few residents who settled down here. Adding the fact that he still had the hair of a crane and the face of a child at an old age, he earned a great reputation in the village. There were even many first-time visitors who would crouch at Old Man Mo’s door and spied on his secret ways of gaining immortality. Oddly enough, when everyone else pulled all sorts of tricks, he would only worship in front of his three statues made of china: the God of Fortune, the God of Prosperity, and the God of Longevity. He sat and prayed in front of them, day after day.
Some thought that Old Man Mo was too passive in doing things, so he wouldn’t win the gods’ favours. Out of the blue, on a stormy night, howling gales forced the windows open. A branch was blown into his house and swept away the three statues. They shattered into pieces, and the three paper strips which had been stowed away inside finally saw the light of day. He picked them up and read the three words carefully: ‘Thorns’, ‘Fur’ and ‘Nine blacks’.
Could it be that the three gods were moved by his sincerity, and gave him special advice? Old Man Mo was over the moon. After kowtowing to the shards for a few hundred times, he immediately went to collect the ingredients for making medicine to reach immortality according to the paper strips.
Thorns were the speciality of this hill. It was named after its viscous juice, and it could treat any disease. ‘Nine blacks’ was the umbrella term for all nine black herbs that were commonly used, all of which could be easily collected on the hill. Fur… Whose fur should it be? Fur from a beast? Feathers of a bird? The hint was too vague, it was hard to get it right. In that case, he might as well gather as many types of ‘fur’ as possible, and then decide what to do next.
In the span of merely seven days, the number of thorns, ‘nine-blacks’, fowls, and beasts among the hills dropped sharply.
Old Man Mo found forty nine small furnaces. A mixture of the thorns’ juice, ‘nine-blacks’ and one type of fur was allocated to each furnace. Day and night, the tiny furnaces simmered and boiled the medicine, yet in the end nothing special could be made.
Old Man Mo was racking his brain when his neighbours knocked on his door. ‘We know what the word “fur” alludes to, and we’ve come to tell you specially!’
As it turned out, the incident in which Old Man Mo was granted insight from the gods had long been discovered by the people who snooped around, and it spread like wildfire through the whole village. Everyone was abuzz over the news, discussing what exactly the word ‘fur’ was talking about…
Old Man Mo was overjoyed and ran to the door without the slightest hesitation. Unaware of their ulterior motive, one blow to his head with a stick sent him crashing down onto the ground…
‘With the hair of a crane and the face of a child, Old Man Mo’s literally a god himself. The word “fur” should be referring to his hair.’
‘Everyone in this village has put all sorts of fur into the furnace. Only except Old Man Mo’s hair.’
‘“Mo” and “hair” are homophones. Besides, there isn’t anyone whose surname is Mo apart from him.’
The villagers believed that the word ‘fur’ mentioned in the paper strip was referring to Old Man Mo. Even though the reason seemed far-fetched, they had already been obsessed with the idea of becoming immortal. They mustered up the courage by all means, and swung their blades at him. Old Man Mo didn’t resist. He could only think of the previous owner of the three statues, who was also beaten to death by him…
From then on, Old Man Mo disappeared from the surface of the earth.
Some villagers said that he had already achieved immortality.
After having heard of the news, more Taoists moved here, hoping to find the secrets of attaining immortality…