For preview purposes only; final product may differ
Author: Xi Zi Xu
Translators: Golden Pavilion
A small mountain village sat hidden amidst the dense woods.
The only path leading up to it was a narrow one, and the recent rainfall muddying up the road only begged extra caution from its travellers.
Walking alongside Lin Qiushi on that path was a girl with features that suggested a mixed heritage. She had beautiful deep, large eyes, and her tall figure, which vaguely surpassed even his own in height, was clad in a dress which seemed oddly antiquated. Tears welling in her eyes, she sniffled. “Where on earth are we?”
“Where were you before this?” he asked.
“I was in the bathroom, at home.”
“I was walking through my house, in the hallway.”
Lin Qiushi looked up at the gloomy sky. “Did you open a door?”
The question seemed to light a bulb in the girl’s head. He caught a subtle change in her expression before hearing her answer, “I did.”
Lin Qiushi turned around to face her. “Me too.”
A breeze cut through the scene, causing the leaves to rustle where it passed, adding to the tranquillity of the atmosphere. Then, snowflakes descended from above as if urging them to hurry. They had to reach the village in the trees before nightfall.
Lin Qiushi got to know the girl’s name as they conversed; her surname was Ruan, Ruan Baijie, or purity as the characters signified. The name took him aback for about three seconds, but he mustered up an insincere compliment. “That’s a good name.”
The girl glared at him, her eyes still wet and teary. “Men are all liars.”
“I’ve read enough smut to know about your types!”
Hmm…Seems like the girl wasn’t the soft little thing he assumed her to be at first glance.
The two exchanged information as they walked forward. From that, they worked out that both of them had apparently popped up in the middle of nowhere upon opening a door; namely, the one in Ruan Baijie’s bathroom, and the one in Lin Qiushi’s hallway.
“It was a black metal door, completely undecorated.” Ruan Baijie’s voice was quiet. “I was confused, wondering where this door had suddenly come from, but I opened it without thinking…”
As soon as the door opened, she appeared out here in the wilderness.
“The door I opened was black and metal, too,” Lin Qiushi shared. Just then, a tall, shadowy figure emerged on the path some ways off. An adult male, judging from the stature.
“Hey, excuse me, sir!” Lin Qiushi called out to the man.
The man seemed to have heard him as his feet came to a pause.
Lin Qiushi hurried to catch up to the man and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, do you happen to know where we are?”
As soon as the man turned around, they were greeted by a hairy, bearded face. Coupled with his towering and burly physique, he looked just like a bear. “You new here?” he asked.
Lin Qiushi was perplexed. “What do you mean new here…”
Silent, the man glanced at him, then at the timid Ruan Baijie hiding behind him. “C’mon, I’ll explain the situation once we’re at the village.”
All in agreement, the three of them made for the village together.
It seemed they were dealing with the winter season here as night fell remarkably early. The setting sun was there in the sky one moment, and now there were only dark clouds and fluttering snowflakes the other.
While trying to get the man to talk to him, Lin Qiushi studied his surroundings. There were no other light sources around outside of the village. All he could see were trees, no other roads, no other signs of habitation. He took out a cigarette from his pocket and offered it to the man, but the latter waved his hand in refusal.
“What is this place, sir?” asked Lin Qiushi.
“Just call me Xiong Qi.”
Xiong… Bear, huh? Like man, like name, Lin Qiushi thought. He had more questions, but Xiong Qi stopped him with an open palm before he could ask. “Leave the questions for later. You’ll get your answers once we arrive at the village.”
“Oh, alright.” Lin Qiushi shrugged.
Thus the journey continued in silence. The three of them made their way through the path as quickly as possible and eventually made it to the front of the village before complete sundown.
Visibly relieved, Xiong Qi turned around to look at the darkness behind them. “It’s a good thing we made it. C’mon, let’s group up with the others first.”
“New here”, “the others”, Lin Qiushi zeroed in on a few keywords from the man. He had a bad feeling since popping up in this place, but that ominous sensation only grew heavier as time went on. Ruan Baijie seemed to have caught onto something, too. She stopped crying, her beautiful face as white as a sheet, and her eyes wide with dread.
Xiong Qi continued onwards, and soon they were brought to a three-storey building near the outskirts. When he knocked on the door, a young girl’s voice rang from the inside. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Xiong Qi.”
“Xiong-ge? Come in!” the girl ushered, “You’re the last one we’re waiting on.”
With a quiet creak, Xiong Qi opened the door, revealing the foyer and the spacious living room beyond it, where nine people sat around a fire, appearing to be in some sort of discussion.
“Newbies?” asked one of them when they saw Lin Qiushi and Ruan Baijie standing behind Xiong Qi.
“Newbies.” Xiong Qi headed inside with a leisurely gait and sat himself down before beckoning them. “Take a seat. Xiao-Ke, you do the introductions.”
Xiao-Ke, who had unlocked the door earlier, was a pretty, young girl, probably around fifteen or sixteen years old. “Please, sit down and I’ll give you a brief rundown on what’s happening.”
Exchanging glances, both Lin Qiushi and Ruan Baijie took a seat by the door.
“There's not much to say, really. We just have to stick around this village for a while and solve a few problems. That’s it.” Xiao-Ke did not seem that enthusiastic about explaining.
“What kind of problems?” Lin Qiushi asked.
“For now, we’re not sure either. We’ll have to ask the village head tomorrow… By the way, either of you materialist?”
Lin Qiushi raised his hand. “Me.”
“You’re gonna have to change your convictions, then.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m saying, supernatural things happen in this place.”
Everyone appeared indifferent to the newbies. Other than Xiao-Ke, none of them even made to say hello. Lin Qiushi was under the impression that they had been discussing with each other prior to their entry, but after sitting here for a while, he realised that none of them were saying anything at all. Some sat there in the living room, silent, staring dazedly at the fire in front of them, while others tapped away on their phones, playing games. There was no signal here, no way of contacting the outside world, but offline games still worked.
Lin Qiushi did a quick headcount. Including them, there were a total of thirteen people in the room, nine male and four female. From looks alone, most of them were on the younger side, and the oldest-looking one was likely not past forty.
As the firewood crackled, Ruan Baijie started to get sleepy after sitting for a while. Looking around, however, nobody appeared to have any intention of leaving, so she asked in a meek voice, “Ex… Excuse me, are there any rooms where we can rest? I’m kinda sleepy.”
Whether it was a mere misconception or otherwise, Lin Qiushi felt the air turn still the moment Ruan Baijie asked that question.
“Fine, it’s about time to get some shut-eye anyway.” Xiong Qi stood up. “Otherwise, we’ll just end up sleeping in the living room again. Let’s split up the rooms.” He turned to Lin Qiushi. “You can share one with her, and be careful at night. Best not to wander around…”
Ruan Baijie was taken aback. “Me and him? But…”
“Worried about modesty, are ya’? Well, you’ll learn that that doesn’t matter here after your first night. What’s modesty once you’re dead, eh?”
Ruan Baijie wanted to protest still, but she relented after seeing how strange the atmosphere in the room had become. Lin Qiushi could tell she was worried about sharing a room with him, so he reassured her. “Don’t worry, I won’t put a finger on you.”
There were a total of nine rooms split across the three floors of the building, but nobody seemed to have any thoughts about sleeping alone. At the very least, two of them occupied one room, and there were even rooms that housed three.
“C’mon, then,” Xiong Qi urged, “Let’s hit the hay.”
Lin Qiushi agreed.
Their room was on the second floor, just right of the hallway. There was a bed with a poster on the wall next to it.
There was no electricity here, so they had no choice but to light a lamp for lumination. The dim light from the lamp gave the room a vintage hue, and there was even a musty smell in the air.
Lin Qiushi had assumed that Ruan Baijie would show some disdain for the condition of the room. He did not expect her to take to it faster than he did. After a quick washing-up, she shuffled to the bed and went to sleep. On the other hand, he was the one sitting at the edge of the bed, feeling ill at ease.
“Go to sleep,” Ruan Baijie said, her voice muffled as her face was buried underneath the blanket, “aren’t you tired?”
“A little bit,” he confessed.
“I’m sure. Everything that happened today has been bizarre, to say the least. I even wondered whether you were all part of some TV crew shooting a prank, but when did pranks get this elaborate…”
Lin Qiushi took off his jacket and climbed under the covers, too. Even though they were sleeping in the same bed, they at least were using separate blankets for discretion’s sake. “It is pretty strange.”
“And those people… did you notice their eyes?”
“That's right, they're afraid… but what are they afraid of?” Ruan Baijie wondered.
Lin Qiushi gave the question some thought, but just as he was about to answer, he heard the steady breathing next to him. Looking over, he saw that Ruan Baijie had already fallen asleep. As he watched the ceiling above, he fell into contemplation in the gloomy lamplight.
He had to give it to her. He envied the fact that she could fall asleep at the drop of a hat despite the curious experience. Showing up in a strange place, meeting all sorts of strange people… As he let his mind wander, the sleepiness began seeping in, and at the shut of his eyes, he fell asleep.
Sometime later in the night, he stirred to the sounds of something knocking against another, similar to biting winds crashing against dilapidated windows, but the creaks were no less reminiscent of bare feet stepping over floorboards, overwhelming them with their weight. Lin Qiushi opened his eyes to discover the room plunged into a hazy darkness.
The snow had stopped falling, and the large moon now hung high in the sky. Cool light spilt into the room from the window, draping over the floor like fine chiffon. When Lin Qiushi’s gaze slowly moved to his side, his breathing was caught.
A woman with long, black hair that concealed her silhouette was sitting with her back to Lin Qiushi at the head of the bed. As if noticing him rousing from his sleep, her head began slowly turning around…
The scene before him was just like one of those horror flicks, and though he seized up for a while, he grit his teeth and braced himself to sit up, cursing, “Holy shit! Who the fuck are you? What are you doing in my room?!”
The woman paused, then he heard a voice say, “What are you yelling for? It’s me.”
It was Ruan Baijie’s voice. What a relief.
“What’re you doing sitting up there instead of sleeping this late at night?”
“Have you seen that well in front of the house? The one in the garden?”
“A well? What well?” He was just about to climb out of bed when he inadvertently glimpsed the space to his right, and his blood froze; Ruan Baijie hadn't moved at all. She was still sleeping next to him.
“That well, I’m telling you,” answered the woman, whose voice was practically indistinguishable from Ruan Baijie’s. “Let’s go and look at it together.”
When Lin Qiushi was mum, she pressed, “Why aren’t you saying anything?”
“I finally got ‘Outstanding Party Cadre’ last month.”
It was the woman’s turn to be speechless.
“I’m a staunch materialist… so, go scare someone else, will you?”
The woman had turned her head around to face him now, and through the moonlight, Lin Qiushi saw her face. What entered his vision was hard to describe in words. That face was morbidly pale and so swollen that her eyeballs were on the verge of squeezing out of their sockets. Her face looked unfamiliar, yet her voice was anything but. “Aren’t you afraid of me?”
Lin Qiushi was silent for about three seconds, then glanced down at his crotch. “Don’t do this to me. I’ve only brought one pair of trousers. Keep this up and I’m actually gonna piss myself.” He rubbed his face and reached out to nudge the woman sleeping next to him. “Hey, wake up!!!”
Ruan Baijie woke up groggily and rubbed her eyes. “What is it…?” When she opened her eyes, she too, saw the woman sitting there. “Who’s that? Lin Qiushi, you shameless bastard. What are you doing bringing a woman in here instead of sleeping at this hour? What about me doesn’t compare to her?”
Is that really what you want to get cross about? Lin Qiushi was flabbergasted.
It was only after her mumbled complaints that Ruan Baijie realised that something was off about this situation, and her pretty, dark eyes widened in shock. “How come her neck’s getting longer and longer…”
Looking back at the strange woman again, Lin Qiushi noticed that she had stood up from the bed, head tilted to one side, and her neck growing longer and longer like some sort of mutant tentacle. What they saw sent both of them into a frightened daze, but it was Lin Qiushi who snapped first. “Fuck, we gotta go. Now!” He grabbed Ruan Baijie by the wrist and ran for the door in a mad dash. To his surprise, it was the soft and weak Ruan Baijie who ended up running even faster than him, disappearing out the door like a gust of wind.
“Fucking slow down, will you—”
“Won’t I be fucking dead if I slow down?!”
The two of them scurried down to the first floor like a pair of rabbits, only breathing a sigh of relief when they made sure that that thing had not followed them. Ruan Baijie cried harder than a fire hydrant and ran faster than a dog. While Lin Qiushi was catching his breath, tears began to well in her eyes again, ready for round two.
“Alright alright, stop crying,” Lin Qiushi urged. “Simmer down or you’ll draw that thing over.”
“All you care about is her. What about my feelings?”
The disdainful grimace that appeared on Lin Qiushi’s face was fortunately enough to convince Ruan Baijie to hold her tears back. Sluggishly, she sat down on one of the stools on the first floor and dabbed at the teary corners of her eyes.
Currently, they had returned to the living room on the first floor that was somehow completely empty. Nobody came to check out the situation despite the commotion they had created. In fact, there was not a single sound throughout this place other than that of their breathing.
Lin Qiushi stood around for a while before muttering, “What’re we gonna do?” Neither he nor Ruan Baijie had any experience in these situations and had absolutely no clue what to do. They just hung around the living room like two wooden logs.
“Oh, look, it’s snowing,” Ruan Baijie remarked. She padded towards the door and looked out into the garden.
“It’s been snowing for a while now.” Lin Qiushi could see that a layer of snow had already piled up outside. He also saw the well that the ghost was speaking of earlier. Just as she had said, there was a well right out in the garden, and in an oddly obtrusive position to boot. It was located right in the centre, conveniently blocking the main entrance. Feng shui-wise, this was bad news.
“The mouth that makes a stone’s seat struggles to preach,” Ruan Baijie blurted. “What an ingenious place to put a well!” She smiled, her eyes curving into beautiful crescents.
“Huh? You know feng shui?” Lin Qiushi was caught by surprise.
“Family business, so I picked up a thing or two.” She looked askance at Lin Qiushi. “What do you do?”