"A snail? The old lady just warned me to be careful of the snail, so why would Jiang Ming have the shell of a snail inside his pocket?" Chen Ge was confused by this development, but he was certain that the old lady would not harm Jiang Ming.
Putting the shell carefully back into his pocket, Jiang Ming led Chen Ge out of the old lady's room by pulling his hand. The child led Chen Ge all over the rental apartment. They visited the rooftop, the storage room where the tenants kept their barrels of gas, and a toilet cubicle that was filled with trash. Whenever he came across a snail, Jiang Ming would be overjoyed.
Chen Ge had no idea why Jiang Ming was so adamant about searching for snails, but he saw how serious Jiang Ming was, and he did not have the heart to stop him. He accompanied Jiang Ming silently. They ran all over the apartment, but in total, they only found four snails. Jiang Ming placed all of them inside his own pocket, then he grabbed Chen Ge's hand and ran to the ground floor. As long as they did not make any sound, those strange neighbors would not come out. After being given a beating by the old lady, even Jiang Ming's father had disappeared from their view.
"Are you going home now?" Jiang Ming nodded happily. He led Chen Ge to the rental room with the wooden sign hanging by the door and reached out to pull on the string that was attached to the lamp. The lights inside the room flickered a few times, and then the door of the room was opened. A slender woman with pale 'skin' appeared behind the door.
Seeing Jiang Ming arrive home safely, she had a warm and kind smile on her face. But when she saw Chen Ge, a flash of panic crossed her eyes. She was probably afraid that a stranger had suddenly appeared on her doorstep. The woman used sign language to communicate with Chen Ge. From that, Chen Ge believed she was a deaf and mute person, too. Chen Ge was not familiar with sign language, so all he could do was to smile and ensure that he did not look threatening to the woman.
The house door slowly opened. Jiang Ming excited ran into the woman's embrace. He took out the snails one by one from his pocket like he was showing them off to the woman. The woman touched the boy's head with a kind smile on her face. She watched quietly as Jiang Ming ran through his findings happily.
This should be Jiang Ming's mother.
After entering the room, Chen Ge closed the door. Seeing the homely situation before him, Chen Ge felt himself being cordoned off from it. The woman's face was not different from a normal person's, but her body was covered with patches. Viewed from a distance, Jiang Ming's mother was like a rag doll. Of her entire body, only her hands that she needed to work and her face did not have cloth patches on them. The other parts of her body had been patched up by threads and scraps of fabric, and her skin was like a coat that had been patched up many times. Chen Ge could not even begin to fathom what the woman had been through to appear in this manner in Jiang Ming's memory.
The woman continued to sign, and she appeared to be complimenting Jiang Ming, but the happy atmosphere soon disappeared. The light by the door lit up again. The doll mother and young Jiang Ming turned to the door. Finally, it was Jiang Ming's mother who walked to the door and pulled the door open. The stinging smell of alcohol drifted into the room, and the ugly grimace of the drunkard monster appeared at the door.
The mud-like body slammed against the door. The arm that had the bottle attached to it pointed at Chen Ge while the monster glared viciously at the rag doll woman. The woman signed, but the drunkard had lost his patience a long time ago and pushed her angrily away.
Seeing the drunkard return home, Jiang Ming took out the snails from his pocket and jogged toward the drunkard. He held the snails in both hands and tried to show them to the drunkard, but before he could even extend his arms, the drunkard monster smacked Jiang Ming on his shoulder and knocked his own son off balance. The snails fell to the ground, and the drunkard monster stomped on them angrily until they disintegrated into dust. These were the snails that Jiang Ming had tried his best to find all over the apartment.
The drunkard monster stared at the shattered shell on the ground, and his face turned redder. The blood capillaries bulged on his face, and he became ever angrier. The anger needed to find a vent to unleash. He flipped over the small table in the living room. The glass cup was about to cut Jiang Ming, but thankfully, the rag doll woman ran to shield Jiang Ming from being injured. The scalding water splashed to the ground, and part of it splashed onto the drunkard monster. His face was burning red. He grabbed the rag doll woman by her hair and pressed her to the ground.
After the woman was slammed into the ground, her first reaction was to wave her hand at Jiang Ming for him go and hide inside another room. The drunkard monster dragged the woman by her doll legs, and the arm that had the alcohol bottle growing out of it slammed down on her repeatedly. The boy stood frozen in the corner of the living room that now looked like a scene from a battlefield. He had no idea where he had done wrong. The snails lay shattered on the ground, and his rag doll mother had her life beaten out of her. His shoulders were shaking from fear. He had no idea whom he could request help from. He looked at his own mother who was in pain; he wanted to help her, but he was powerless. He did not even know how to speak.
"Don't be afraid." Chen Ge patted Jiang Ming's shoulders that were shivering. "I will help you."
Chen Ge leaped into the air and kicked at the drunkard monster. After separating the monster from the rag doll woman, he waved the hammer and slammed it right onto the drunkard monster's shoulder.
The drunkard monster slammed into the door. Chen Ge did not give the monster the chance to counter and continued to press on with his aggression.
"Jiang Ming, look at this. He is not invincible. He is just a weak coward. There is no reason for you to be afraid of him!"
The drunkard monster's body was rapidly recovering. His arm grew to envelope the furniture inside the room, and the expression on his face was getting grimmer and grimmer.
"I will lure him into the next room. After he follows me, you have to run out of here as soon as possible!"
To give Jiang Ming and the rag doll woman more time to escape, Chen Ge could only attack the drunkard monster again and again. Every time he was knocked down, the drunkard monster would turn uglier and uglier. His body kept on expanding. His back was stuck to the wall, and his body slowly joined with the rest of the room. In Jiang Ming's memory, the keywords 'home' and 'father' were closely joined together, so Chen Ge was not surprised that something like this would happen. The only thing that worried him was that Jiang Ming and the rag doll woman had not escaped from the room.
Cracks appeared on the wall, and the ceiling started to peel down in great pieces. The ground was shaking. The light behind the door flickered several times before it suddenly went off. After the light blinked out, a horrible stench came from the ceiling of the room that was now submerged in darkness. The cracks on the ceiling were getting bigger and bigger. The drunkard monster's body was getting so large that his body was already touching the ceiling. At this moment, the roof of the room started to collapse.
The horrible stench pulled at his nostril like it was palpable. The thing that was crushing the room under its weight had decided to show itself!
Carrying a swirling exoskeletal shell, with a sticky body, a giant blood-red snail was crawling on the top of this home. An endless stream of negative emotions channeled into the drunkard monster's body. One of the smaller antennae of the giant snail peeled back a small opening to show a mouthful of countless teeth. A giant body reached out from inside the shell, and the blood red giant bit at Chen Ge.
A snail? Why would such a scary thing appear in Jiang Ming's dream?
Chen Ge retreated while he fended off the attack from the giant snail. After the latter showed itself, the world behind the door started to change. The walls of the apartment started to bleed, and the whole building shook like it might crumble at any moment.
"Go upstairs and find that old lady!" Chen Ge led Jiang Ming and the rag doll woman up the stairs. The neighbors who were no different from the monster started to become agitated with madness under the influence of the blood red snail. Initially, the feeling that this world gave Chen Ge was one of absurdity, like a picture that was randomly drawn by a very small child. But once the red snail appeared, the world became gorier and more chaotic, or in other words, it became more and more like an actual world behind the door. The trio went to the room where the old lady resided. Chen Ge knocked on the door heavily and repeatedly.
"Granny, I will take you and Jiang Ming away from this place! I already know how to escape!" The door opened soon after. The old lady stood at the door with the support of her cane. She saw the crazed neighbors and the blood red snail that was crawling this way.
"Your spirit is still lingering around, and that means there is something tying you to this world. You should not stay here; come away with us." Chen Ge had already made his decision as he took out the comic. The old lady hesitated. She opened her lips to say something, but Chen Ge could not hear her voice at all.
"I will take that as a yes." Chen Ge turned around to guard the old lady, Jiang Ming, and his mother behind him. He stared at the blood red snail that was slowly crawling toward them. "This snail is the real culprit that has literally crushed Jiang Ming's family under its weight. It is also the representation of all the negative emotions and misfortunes in Jiang Ming's mind. If I can destroy this thing, Jiang Ming might not be confused or scared by it anymore."
Pressing the play button on the recorder, Chen Ge called softly, "Xu Yin!"
Blood red trails started to expand with Chen Ge as the center. The blood red snail sensed the presence of a threat. All the crazed neighbors started to run to gather around it.
"Five Red Specters are enough to destroy this incomplete scenario, so the additional Red Specters can be used to help maintain the basic structure of this scenario."
Flipping through the comic, more and more blood trails appeared on the walls, ground, and ceiling around Chen Ge. They carried incredibly high hostility, and they spread to cover the entire scenario in record time. The blood red snail had stopped moving. It sensed a threat that it had not faced ever before, but Chen Ge's hand that was still flipping through the comic did not stop.
More and more blood vessels appeared. They seemed to pull a curtain over the world behind Jiang Ming's door. Finally, at a tipping point, the threshold was broken through, and the heavy scent of blood rushed forward like a wave of the blood ocean!
One red figure after another appeared beside Chen Ge. Their clothes were as red as blood. Without Chen Ge saying anything, the Red Specters were like sharks that sensed blood in the water. They jumped at the blood red snail. Being cornered by several Red Specters, the snail's hardy shell was broken, and then Chen Ge was given a view of something ghastly.
At the deepest part of the snail flesh, there was a baby face whose eyes were closed!
The face was similar to the face that he had seen inside the shadow's body in Li Wan City. It was how the ghost fetus looked when he was an infant!
"The ghost fetus?" The baby's eyes slowly opened, and pure evil was dancing in his eyes. A shrill laugh echoed throughout the world. The flesh of the giant red snail imploded. The baby's face dissolved into a puddle of dirty blood, and what remained of the giant snail was a wooden toy.
"Looks like the ghost fetus is not hiding inside Jiang Ming." Even though he had not found the ghost fetus, at least he had managed to decrease one possibility. Chen Ge walked to the carcass of the blood red snail and picked up the toy off the ground. He had impression of this toy. It was a gift that had been given to him by his father when he was young, but one day, it had suddenly disappeared. "Was it stolen by the shadow?"
After the snail exploded, the world behind Jiang Ming's door started to vibrate violently. The strange-looking neighbors started to disappear one after another, and the basis of this world was shaken to its core. Chen Ge had the other Red Specters temporarily stabilize this unravelling world while he walked to the old lady and Jiang Ming. "It is time to say goodbye to this pain. I will take you away from here."
Flipping open the comic, Chen Ge wanted to pull the old lady and Jiang Ming into it, but Jiang Ming held onto the hands of the rag doll woman and refused to let go. The woman that only existed in Jiang Ming's memory pushed Jiang Ming lightly but firmly away. She waved goodbye to Jiang Ming with a smile as her body became lighter and lighter until she completely disappeared.
"After we leave this place, I will take you to meet her in person. She must miss you greatly."
Closing the comic, Chen Ge led Jiang Ming by the hand and walked down to the ground floor accompanied by a few Red Specters. The world was crumbling, and they opened the locked steel door. When Chen Ge walked out of the door, Jiang Ming, who was lying in bed in real life, opened his eyes. He sat up in bed and saw Chen Ge, who was walking out from what appeared to be thin air. The door behind him collapsed completely. Chen Ge held the backpack with one hand and looked at Jiang Ming quietly. Jiang Ming, who sat in bed, did not make a sound. He did not cry or scream. He seemed to recognize Chen Ge.
"Just treat what happened earlier as a bad dream." After the words slipped from his lips, Chen Ge realized that Jiang Ming would not be able to hear him. He took out a pen and paper and wrote down the word 'mother'. "Sleep well tonight, and I will take you to find her tomorrow."
Just in case Jiang Ming was not old enough to recognize Chinese characters, Chen Ge made gesture while he wrote. After some time, it finally sank in for Jiang Ming, and for the first time, he had a genuine smile on his face.
"Have a good sleep, good night." Touching the boy's head, Chen Ge flipped through the comic and released the old lady. "Granny, can you hear me now?"
The old lady's eyes had been following Jiang Ming. Her body was almost transparent.
"There is a question that has been bugging me. Why would there be such a scary snail in the world behind Jiang Ming's door? Has he been traumatized by a snail before, or was he pranked with a snail by other kids when he was young?" Chen Ge had many speculations, but none of them sounded applicable in this situation.
"The snail was just a symbol of something else. It is not a real snail." There was a pain in the old lady's voice. "Jiang Ming's mother was born deaf and mute, and she was hated by her own family from a young age. After she reached the legal age, she was married off to Jiang Ming's father for the dowry. Her family never did care about her in the first place. Then Jiang Ming was born. Even though he was not born with muteness and deafness, he had problems with his hearing. The doctor suggested for him to get a cochlear implant, but even the cheapest option costs several dozen thousand RMB, and the more expensive one goes up into the millions.
"The doctor said that the earlier the operation, the better, but Jiang Ming's mother did not have that much money lying around. One should not even have hopes toward his father. Once Jiang Ming's father found out that Jiang Ming was hearing-impaired, his attitude toward the mother and son had a huge transformation. He even thought about abandoning Jiang Ming, but thankfully, Jiang Ming's mother stepped in every time.
"You saw what happened later. Jiang Ming's mother came to me to learn the art of horsetail embroidery. She wanted to collect money to do the cochlear operation for her son. However, the boy's father liked to drink and gamble. He would come back home and steal his wife's hard-earned money, and eventually, he openly asked the money from her. If she refused, he would beat her up until she surrendered.
"Jiang Ming grew up in this kind of environment. Perhaps he was too young to understand what a cochlear implant was, but he knew from his mother and the doctor that the implant looked like a snail, and he probably made the connection in his mind that the snails would represent a hope to gain hearing in his world. He tried his best to collect all the snails that he could find because he was desperate to hear from the others, but at the same time, it was also an undeniable fact that his family collapsed under the weight of that snail."
After hearing the old lady's story, Chen Ge finally understood the world in the boy's eyes. There was the cruel truth hidden behind the absurdity.
"Granny, do you know where the boy's parents currently live?"
"What do you plan to do?"
"I plan to teach the boy's father how to be a man, and I wish to help the boy's mother." Chen Ge took out the wallet from his pocket. "If the situation allows it, I also wish to help Jiang Ming gain the ability to hear."
"You wish to sponsor this boy's surgery?"
"What's wrong with that? I might not dress the part, but I am actually an entrepreneur."
Chen Ge then opened the backpack and slid the hammer inside it.