The people in the rental house did not notice that Chen Ge's shadow started to slowly change its shape after consuming the blood stains on the mud statuette. It appeared like a young woman who was turning lightly in her sleep.
"You guys should get a good rest. I will see you tomorrow." Chen Ge took a look at the clock on the wall. It was already 2 am. After he left Wu Jinpeng's rental house, Chen Ge did not return to New Century Park but got into a cab to head to the old city. The weak light from the streetlamps filtered through the taxi window and fell on his body. Chen Ge watched as the quiet city went by and pulled his collar tighter to his body.
The old city at night was very different from how it looked in the day. The government did not spend money to fix most of the broken streetlamps, so the roads were dark and dim. The place was as quiet and as dark as a ghost town. As Jiujiang continued to grow, more and more people moved away from the old city to seek a new fortune at the newer part of the town.
Passing through the dark streets, Chen Ge took only about ten minutes to find Wu Jinpeng's previous rental home. The place was about two streets away from where Fan Yu once lived. But the condition here was much worse and the stench in the air was also much thicker.
"How did they manage to stay here for so long? Or is it only me who can smell the horrible stench?" Chen Ge thought back to the morning when he had gone to find Jiang Ming's mother at that area of the city. Both the ladies from the neighborhood committee and Jiang Ming's mother did not comment on the strange smell in the air. As Chen Ge was reminded of it, he realized that it was strange indeed. He wondered if that meant they had gotten used to it or something else completely. Walking through the alley, Chen Ge finally reached his destination. Chen Ge held the rusted banister of an old staircase to get up to the second floor of one of the buildings. He looked around him. He was not at the oldest and most dilapidated part of the old city.
"Room 204, Room 204... Found it, this one." Chen Ge stopped his footsteps. Before him was a wooden door that was painted red. A rusted iron chain was tied around the doorknob. "After Wu Jinpeng's family moved away, has no one rented this room?"
Flipping through the comic, Chen Ge summoned out Men Nan. "Brother Nan, I need your help. I need you to go into this room and scout out the place for me, but be careful of the room next door. Do not go in there no matter what."
Room 205, which was the innermost room on the second floor, was the room that Wu Kun said was haunted. It was also the tenant of that room who had given Wu Jinpeng the altar and the mud statuette, masquerading them as a blessing and gift. For the sake of security, Chen Ge only told Men Nan to enter Room 204. If he came back with nothing, then he would summon a few more Red Specters, and they would barge into Room 205 together. Droplets of fresh blood slid through the wooden gap. Men Nan reappeared one minute later after he slipped into the room. "Everything in the room looks normal. There is nothing that appears out of place, but it feels strangely uncomfortable staying inside the room even though I cannot give you an exact reason why."
"Then, I need you to take Xu Yin along with this pair of red high heels into Room 205."
The three Red Specters entered Room 205. Several seconds later, a strange sound came out from inside the room. It sounded like a knife piercing balloons that were filled with water. And then Chen Ge heard bones being dislocated and shirts being torn. "What is going on?"
Blood vessels crawled on the door, and a thick stench of blood started to spread all over the place. From that, Chen Ge knew for sure that Men Nan's group had run into something behind the door. He wasted no time to summon Xiao Bu and the red raincoat from the comic. On this side, it was hell on earth, but suddenly, the light on the corridor about five to six meters away was switched on, and a man's annoyed grumbling and footsteps could be heard. Just as the man was about to arrive, the door of Room 205 before Chen Ge was suddenly pushed open from the inside.
"Chen Ge, quick come in and take a look!"
Darting into the room, Chen Ge held his nostrils out of habit. There was a heavy stink collecting inside the room. He closed the door behind him as light as he could and then used Yin Yang Vision to study the apartment. The place was not big. It was only about thirty cubic meters in size. There were many faded newspaper cuttings on the wall, and dust had settled on every surface. It appeared like the place had been deserted for a long time.
"Did you guys fight something earlier? Did anyone get injured or hurt?" Chen Ge was both curious and concerned.
"It was not a thing that we fought; it was a curse." Men Nan pulled down the newspaper cuttings that were stuck to the wall. Behind the newspaper cuttings, torn out hair and patches of black blood were clumped together on the walls. They looked like an eerie piece of art.
"These are the curse?"
"Yes, the hair pieces and the blood came from different people. When we first got in, the black threads of curse started intertwining and spread all over the room. If you had entered carelessly, you would have been cursed without even knowing it." Men Nan signaled for Chen Ge to retreat. He did not want the man to stay too close to the walls.
"Is the curse here similar to the curse in Li Wan City?"
"They are two different kinds of curses." Only Men Nan, who was holding the pair of red high heels and reached Chen Ge's knees, was answering his question seriously. "Based on what this big sister told me, the curse in the room was merely a byproduct of another curse when it was being processed and completed."
"In other words, someone once used this room to create a very scary curse when they were living here?"
"You could see it that way, yes. After all, the curse formed from the negative emotions that lingered in this place are a mere taste of the actual curse. They were only a very small and insignificant part of the actual and original curse." Men Nan nodded. He had this kind of serious and cautious personality.
"A very small and insignificant part of the curse is already powerful enough to distort the room to such a dangerous state, so how scary is the actual curse itself? How dangerous will it be?"
"It is unimaginable. At least this big sister said she has not encountered such a powerful and scary curse before." Men Nan raised the pair of red high heels toward Chen Ge. "Can you please take her away from me? I am not really afraid of her, but it feels rather awkward for me to carry her around by her shoes."
Chen Ge ignored Men Nan's request and continued with his questioning. "Is it possible for any of you to tell what the original curse is about based on what's currently in the room? Can you tell me who the original curse is meant for?"
"We cannot tell who the target of the curse is, but we managed to wrangle some information from the wall. This curse is made up from nine distinct parts." Men Nan tore down all the newspaper cuttings from the innermost wall of the room. The wall that was covered in torn out hair and blood stains carved out the shape of a small figure. There were many statements written within the shadow of the figure with untidy handwriting.
'What is a human being?'
'What constitutes a human being? What are they made up from?'
'A pair of eyes that can see the world, a pair of ears that can hear the world, a mouth that can communicate the world, a body that can host the soul...'
'Human beings also need memories, layers of their past.'
'What is light?'
'Warmth, yes, human bodies give off heat and warmth.'
'They also say human beings should have love, but what is love?'
'I seem to be missing something very important. Think. What does he have that I don't?'
The rows of statements cut up the small figure neatly into nine pieces, and each piece was painted a different color.
"The painting itself is the curse?" Chen Ge was rather confounded by this discovery.
"Instead of calling it a curse, it is more accurate to refer to it as the tenant's Dream Whisperings. These were the things that he was thinking about the most when he was working on the curse," Men Nan said. "This curse gave us a very strange feeling. It is like underneath the heavy coat of death, there hides a young sapling that is growing amid the darkness."
"The nine parts should correspond to the nine children. So, it is most likely that it was the ghost fetus who left behind this curse. This means that he has once stayed in the old city."
Those were all the clues they could find in the room. Chen Ge summoned back the few Red Specters and walked out from the apartment.
"Something horrible will happen should someone accidentally walk into this place." Chen Ge locked the door securely. He planned to return when he had more time on his hands to give this place a good 'cleaning'.
"Sounds like someone was coming out from this room earlier. Since he is still awake, I might as well use this opportunity to ask him some questions." Chen Ge walked to the other end of the second floor. This room was different from the other room. The door had an additional anti-theft steel door on top of the normal wooden door. This set itself apart from the other tenants.
"Is anyone home?" Chen Ge knocked on the door lightly.
Moments later, the agitated voice of a middle-aged man echoed out from inside the room. "Stop f*cking knocking on the door!"
The wooden door inside the rental house was pulled open. An unkempt, middle-aged man who was radiating an uncomfortable smell of sweat stood at the door. "Was it you who created such a loud commotion outside the door earlier? Did you just move here? Why aren't you in bed when it is already so late at night. If you continue to make such a big ruckus, I am going to call the cops on you!"
"There is no need to trouble the police for such a small thing. I just wish to ask you a few questions." Chen Ge smiled very politely. "Of course, I do not expect you to help me for no reason. If you can answer my questions nicely, I will give you one hundred RMB for each question that you have answered."
"Are you sleep walking, or is this some kind of prank? You came to my door at two thirty in the early morning to give me a quiz?" The middle-aged man looked around cautiously like a possibility just dawned on him. "There is a camera hidden somewhere, isn't there? Where's the camera crew?"
"First, who is the landlord of this building?"
"I am the landlord of this place. What's the problem? Are you here to rent a room? Then I have to ask you to leave. I will not rent to troublemaker like you." As unsightly as the middle-aged man was, the way he looked at Chen Ge was still filled with derision and condescension.
"Second, have you rented out Room 205 at the end of this corridor to someone recently?" Chen Ge did not want to waste time on nonsense with the man. If not for his generosity, he would have barged into the room, released the Red Specters, and slammed the exit shut already.
"Room 205 has been rented out since about six years ago. The tenant sends me money every year punctually. The man does not stay here often, but he asks that I keep the room available for him. Since he is paying me money, I don't see the harm in following his instructions." The middle-aged man scratched at his hair that was clumped together from a lacking of washing.
"You have not rented it to anyone else during this past six years?"
"No, the tenant always gives me the money about six months before the deadline every year, and he often slips me extra, paying me more than the required rental. Why would I chase away such a good tenant?"
"What does that tenant look like? Do you know what kind of career he is in?" Chen Ge had a feeling that this tenant was the ghost fetus that he was looking for.
"Why should I tell you about that private information? Who are you? Are you a police officer? Why do you think I will leak my tenant's valuable information to you?" The middle-aged man crossed his arms.
"If you tell me the specifics about the man's appearance and what he does for a living, I will give you another five hundred RMB."
"He is a student. He first moved here about five years ago. I believe it was because he got into a serious argument with his family, and he had run away from home. At the time, he had just gotten into secondary school, and he did not have much money on him." The middle-aged man exposed the details of the tenant of Room 205. "He did not stand out in terms of appearance. He had long hair and a weak constitution. I could hear him very often, and he had the tendency to mumble in his sleep."
"Is that all you can give me? That is a bit too general. Kids like that litter the street. How do you expect me to go and find him?" Chen Ge did not hold out much hope based on the clues that had been given him by the middle-aged man.
"You want to go and find him?" The middle-aged man gave Chen Ge a once-over and then extended his index finger. "Give me another one thousand RMB, and I will tell you a way that you will be able to find him."
"No problem, you have a deal."
"After he ran away from home, his mother came here to look for him. At the time, he was not home, so his mother came to talk to me instead. She left me with a message for the boy. When he came back, I was to inform him that his mother had come, and she wanted him to go to the Eastern Jiujiang's Huai Ai Hospital to find her. She seemed to be the head nurse for that hospital." The middle-aged man was not as sleepy as when Chen Ge first knocked on his door. Even though it was fast approaching 3 am, at the thought that he was about to get at least two thousand RMB from answering a few easy questions, his eyes were practically glowing.
"This information is very valuable. Of course, that is if you are not lying to me." Chen Ge pulled open the zipper of his backpack.
"Why would I lie to you? Now stop wasting my time and give me the money. Don't think you can cheat me. I have been counting. I have answered more than enough of your questions to earn at least two thousand RMB!" The middle-aged man saw Chen Ge open his backpack, so his greedy gaze involuntarily wandered to look inside it. He noticed the bulging backpack had a human spine lying inside it.
Rubbing his eyes, the middle-aged man glanced deeper into the backpack. Other than the real human spine, there was a pair of bloody red high heels inside the backpack!
A madman? Pervert? Murderer? Serial Killer?
Cold sweat covered and slid down the middle-aged man's face. Without even realizing it, he took a cautionary step backward.
"My phone is running out of power, so I can't do a bank transfer. Why don't you open the door. I will hand you the cash instead." Chen Ge leaned closer to the steel door, and his lips were slowly curling upward. "You just need to open a small gap for my hand to squeeze through..."
"There is no need. That is unnecessary. I... I only answered a few questions. Why should I expect to be paid for that?" The middle-aged man took another step back. "I have already shared everything that I know. I do not know any more than that. The kid has not been back here for a long time. I believe he will not return any time soon. So, you'd better go look for him somewhere else."
"Okay. You are probably right about that." Chen Ge nodded. With a sense of responsibility weighing him down, he turned to ask the landlord again, "Do you really not want the money?"
"No, no, I really don't!" The middle-aged man waved his hands repeatedly and then quickly slammed the wooden door shut.
"Looks like there are still good people in this world." Chen Ge carried his backpack and walked down the stairs. "I have not heard of this Huai Ai Hospital before. It should be a private hospital. I'll go and visit the place tomorrow."
Stretching his back lazily, Chen Ge left the old city without turning back. "When the sun rises, I'll only have five nights left."
When Chen Ge returned to his own haunted house's staff breakroom, the sun was already rising. He had just crawled into bed when he received a message from Lee Zheng on the phone that he had just plunged into the socket to charge.
"This is an emergency! Reply to me if you see this message!"
"Chen Ge, call me immediately when you see this message!"
There were many similar messages. Chen Ge could hear the urgency in the messages, so he quickly called Lee Zheng's number. The phone rang only once before it was picked up. Lee Zheng's voice came from the other side of the line. "Chen Ge, are you alright?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Chen Ge was as confused as he could be.
"Yesterday, we closed in on the location of Jia Ming's group, and the capture operation was scheduled to be done at night. The boy's father, Zhen Chun, was killed by the suspect Bei Ye, while the boy's mother, Yu Wangqing, is in ICU due to serious injuries. The suspect, Bei Ye, was shot and died on the spot. However, both Jia Ming and the boy were not at the crime scene. We have blocked all the roads, but no one has seen any sign of them."
"How did Jia Ming manage to escape with a child?"
"From the very beginning, Jia Ming planned to use Bei Ye and the boy's parents as bait. He purposely exposed himself, and when we were busy with his partners, he used the opening to escape. He used his partners' life to buy time for himself. The man is so awful. How can a man be so heartless?"
"He is no longer a normal man, but Inspector Lee, why are you telling me all this?" Lee Zheng normally would not reveal this inside information to a member of the public. Since he had chosen to share the information with Chen Ge, it could only mean that what happened next would be related to Chen Ge.
"Jia Ming's group did not leave Jiujiang because they were looking for something. For now, we do not know what that is, but we found a lot of information that's related to you at their hiding place. I suspect that their next target might be you!"
"They are trying to come for me? Then that... is really so scary." Chen Ge almost let slip the words... 'would be perfect'.