"What are you doing standing outside? Why don't you come in?" After seeing Chen Ge, the fatigue on his father's face depleted slightly as the man forced himself to show his son a smile. "Also, how did you end up at your teacher's house last night? Do you know how much trouble you might cause her?"
The familiar nagging came, but the man did not complain to Chen Ge about how difficult and tiring his job was, and he did not use that as an excuse to demand that Chen Ge do something for him. "Come on in then. It is great that you are home tonight. I will go and prepare dinner for you guys now. Come on."
"I cannot go into our house." Chen Ge stood at where he was. The previous night, he had inspected parts of the eastern side and western side of Li Wan City. With two more days, he would have completely searched the entirety of Li Wan City.
"What's wrong?" The man obviously did not expect Chen Ge to refuse to go into the house even when they were already literally standing right before the doorstep already. He stopped moving and turned toward his son. "This is our home. It is the place that will give you comfort and rest when you are feeling down or tired. Why do you refuse to come home? Is there anything that you are afraid of? If there is, please tell me."
Indeed, in Chen Ge's mind, his home was a place of warmth and comfort, but that was not the case in Yu Jian's mind. Once he stepped into the home, the night would fall, and the sun would only rise after he left the home. Chen Ge honestly had no idea why Yu Jian would have this kind of impression of his family and home. Even though he did not have a father, he had a mother that loved him aplenty.
Seeing Chen Ge standing on the spot and refusing to budge, the man sighed and relented. He was in no position to force his son to do things that he did not want to. "At least come back in to have some bites after I am done preparing dinner."
He let out a light sigh and walked into the kitchen. Soon, there came the sound of plates falling and shattering from inside the house. It sounded like Chen Ge's father had tripped and fallen. Chen Ge's body instinctually rushed into the room, and he ran to his father's side. The latter was leaning against the wall with his hands over his stomach and shattered pieces of china around him. "The medicine, the medicine is in the outer pocket of the jacket."
Chen Ge followed the instructions and jogged to find his father's jacket. In the pocket, Chen Ge found a small medicine bottle. The label had been torn off, so he could not tell what kind of medicine it was.
"I will prepare the dinner. You should go and get some rest." Chen Ge picked the man up from the ground. Luo Ruoyu leaned against the kitchen door to look into the room. Her eyes were filled concern. After dinner was ready, Chen Ge sent Luo Ruoyu back to her own room. After he tucked her in, he returned to the kitchen to pour two glasses of warm water and headed into his father's bedroom. Closing the door behind him, Chen Ge placed the water glasses on the bedside table and moved a chair to take a seat next to his father in bed.
He gripped his father's hand and looked at the tired and weak man who was wrapped up underneath the blanket. In his mind, his father was a mysterious, funny, knowledgeable, and interesting person who had the ability to solve any problem that came his way. His wide back had always stood before little Chen Ge, helping him block the wind and the sun. He had never imagined that he would one day be in this position, sitting by the bedside of his ailing father. The pain from his stomach caused Chen Ge's father to curl up in a fetal position. He arched his back and turned away from Chen Ge as if he was unwilling to let his son see him in this state.
"It has been almost twenty years already, we never had the chance to have a talk like this before. Life has been pushing me forward, and honestly, I have gotten used to the high pace. Before the day you guys left, I didn't realize that the independence that I knew was merely an independence in terms of a survival skill." Chen Ge had many things to say, things that he would have trouble sharing with others that were not those who were closest to him.
"What are you talking about?" The man's face was pale. He leaned against the pillow and hesitated for a long time. It appeared like he had something to tell Chen Ge, but in the end, he decided against it. "Who did you learn to cook with? Was it someone at school? That person is a good teacher. The dinner that you prepared was delicious."
"Perhaps it was from the good cooking genes that I have inherited." Chen Ge passed the warm water to his father. "What was the medicine that you took earlier?"
"It is just some medicine for the stomach. It is no big deal."
"If you are ill, you'd better focus on curing it. You know that you can let go of the responsibility you have toward the family temporarily. I will help you take care of Ruoyu."
The man before him was a figment of Chen Ge's imagination. In a way, Chen Ge was calmly having a conversation with his own 'father' in a very unique way. The two had a very long chat and unraveled the misunderstanding that could have existed between them. Chen Ge was most worried about the man's physical body. He hoped that he would have an early rest, but the man stubbornly requested for Chen Ge to stay by his side and kept on impressing on him the responsibility of becoming the head of the family. The man was like a broken record, and the thing that he repeated the most was 'take care of yourself and your little sister.'
When the sun was rising, the storm stopped. Chen Ge once again walked to the door. However, before he could step out, there came another sound from his father's bedroom. He quickly ran over to check on his father. He saw the man sitting by the bed all dressed up with one hand on his stomach and the other rummaging through the drawer as if looking for something.
"You should skip work today if you are not feeling well." Chen Ge helped him find the medicine. Looking at the black threads on the back of his father's arms, Chen Ge was sure that that was not some kind of normal illness but a curse. The ghost fetus and Yu Jian were cursing Chen Ge's memory. They were behind Chen Ge's father's weakening by the day. Chen Ge had seen through their plan. They were coming after the people that cared about Chen Ge. They wanted Chen Ge to experience the same despair as they did, watching the people that he loved leave him one by one.
Flipping through the comic, Chen Ge tried the call the many names, and a thin blood vessel appeared on the comic. "I still need more time."
After ensuring that his father would take a day off work, Chen Ge grabbed his backpack and headed to school. When he passed through the school gates, he did not feel anything was particularly out of place. It felt like any other day.
When he came to the class, many students were already there. Some had their books open before them to prepare for the upcoming classes. Some were memorizing vocabulary. Others were hurrying to borrow homework from their friends to copy. Chen Ge walked to his seat. He glanced to his side. Du Ming had his head lowered while he was busy correcting something. His table that was next to Chen Ge was neatly stacked with the homework from many different subjects.
Even though Du Ming had not spoken a word to Chen Ge, the message that he was trying to send was obvious-If you need to borrow anything, just take it.
Compared to Du Ming, who was still a child, Chen Ge was practically a demon fox with thousands of years in training already. He knew that Du Ming had been paying attention to him. What has happened to this kid? Why did he suddenly decide to stop talking to me? Could he be the source of all the rumors that have been flying all over the school?
In his own memory, even though Du Ming could be categorized as a selfish person, he would never go around and spread rumors. The boy had no interest in the rumor mill. After all, he would rather spend the time studying. The boy might run his mouth occasionally, but his results always placed him in the top ten students in the school. He spent very little time on entertainment and was a model of self discipline. Chen Ge did not reach over to grab any of Du Ming's homework. Instead, he took out the English textbook and started to work on the homework himself.
"I should start with the multiple choice questions. If only the Pen Spirit was here with me right now." The third period that afternoon would be the English class. When Zhang Ya entered the classroom, many students started whispering to each other. The rumors and ad hominen did not disrupt Zhang Ya's teaching condition. She led the class like normal. During the fourth period, Chen Ge was surprisingly paying attention in class when he suddenly received a call.
The call came from his father's colleague. The man said that his father had suddenly fainted at work and was being sent to the hospital. He told Chen Ge to hurry and get there as well. As the eldest son of the family, he felt that responsibility. After explaining the situation to the teacher briefly, he left the school in a hurry and rushed toward the hospital in Li Wan City. Pushing open the door to the sickroom, Chen Ge's father was still unconscious. "Doctor, what is wrong with my father? Why did he suddenly faint?"
"We are conducting the examination now. Please calm down. We need you to go and wait outside, or you might disrupt the patient's recovery." Chen Ge was chased out of the room by the doctor. He sat on the bench outside the hospital room, patiently waiting. Ten minutes later, he heard more footsteps from the corridor.
"Chen Ge, what did the doctor say?" Zhang Ya had hurried to the hospital. She knew about Chen Ge's family condition and was Chen Ge's class teacher. She felt that it was her responsibility to be there for him at this difficult time in his life.
Seeing Zhang Ya in person, Chen Ge felt slightly more comforted. "They are still conducting the examination, but I suspect with the town hospital's medical standard, even if they can discern the illness that he is suffering from, they are incapable of curing him."
Looking through the sickroom window, Chen Ge saw the black threads that had increased on the back of his father's hands. The black spots that represented the curse had spread all over his father's body.
"If you need any help from me, just tell me." Zhang Ya handed the lunch box over to Chen Ge. "I do not have any classes this afternoon. You should go back to school. I will wait here for you. If anything happens, I will call you at the first moment."
"No, I don't think I will leave this place. I have a bad feeling about this." Both Zhang Ya and Chen Ge skipped school that afternoon. It was when the sun had almost set that Chen Ge's father regained his consciousness, but his condition was very bad.
"Leave the family chores to me. You should focus on treating your sickness." Chen Ge called the red high heels' name in his heart, but he got no response. However, the page on the comic where the red high heels was hiding had a thin blood line that surfaced on it. The employees were close to breaking through their shackles. Chen Ge held his father's hand. Not many people would be able to share what he was feeling at that moment.
When all the Red Specters could break through the barrier, this world would shatter. He would return to the real world, but at the same time, he would lose everything that he had experienced in this made-up dream world.
Chen Ge returned home when the sky was already dark. He just got into the staircase when he heard the sound of Luo Ruoyu running to open the door. No matter how tired, how low one was feeling, when one got home to a warm light, and someone to open the door, that was a kind of simple happiness that many people would forget to appreciate.
"Big... big brother..."
"Daddy will stay outside for a few days, and he temporarily will not be home. I will cook dinner for you, okay?"
Luo Ruoyu had no idea what being hospitalized meant; she was just happy to see Chen Ge. Entering the house, Chen Ge prepared the dinner and served it on the dining table, but Luo Ruoyu did not move to take a bite.
"What's wrong? Do you have no appetite?"
"Where... where is daddy?" Luo Ruoyu hugged the bowl. She wanted to wait for their father to come home before they started dinner.
"He has to stay at the hospital because he is sick. He will be back in a few days." Chen Ge sat on the other side of the table. The room that was normally so cramped felt so empty and hollow that night. Chen Ge was sitting at the spot where his father usually sat. Perhaps when he was not home, this was how his father and Luo Ruoyu spent their nights together.
"But daddy..." Luo Ruoyu hugged the bowl and continued to stare at Chen Ge. She kept repeating the same words, and tears were threatening to flow out of her eyes. Chen Ge knew that a conventional explanation was not going to work. Chen Ge called his father on his cellphone and then placed the phone next to Luo Ruoyu's ears.
After hearing her father's voice, a smile immediately lit up the girl's face. Chen Ge placed the phone on the table, and Luo Ruoyu finally started to have her dinner. Hearing the occasional hacking that came from the phone, Chen Ge found himself unable to move his chopsticks. He looked at Luo Ruoyu silently and the rather hollow home that they were sitting in.
The owner of this house is my father. If he leaves one day, I will take over everything and look after it for him. Now that I think about it, this old house is not that different from the haunted house.
At that moment, Chen Ge finally understand the meaning of Luo Ruoyu's presence in the world behind this door. Luo Ruoyu was the first Specter that had appeared to accompany Chen Ge in his mind. This little sister represented the family other than his own biological father, and she also represented the employees that could not be wiped away from Chen Ge's mind.
I swear I will not crumble so easily in protection of this family.
After putting Luo Ruoyu to bed that night, Chen Ge stayed inside the house. Once he pushed open the door, the next day would arrive. To delay the time as much as he could, he did not go anywhere. The blood vessels in the comic continued to increase in number, and the rain outside the window continued to become heavier and heavier.
Once dawn arrived, Chen Ge carried his backpack and went to school. He noticed quite visibly that people had started to toss strange looks at him. He did not mind these things. Attacks based on rumors and empty words would not affect his emotional level and mental stability.
When he arrived at the classroom, Chen Ge found Du Ming in a worse state compared to the previous day. There were black rings under his eyes, his lips were chapped, and he did everything he could to avoid meeting Chen Ge's eyes. Chen Ge still did not borrow Du Ming's homework to copy. He knew that Du Ming was hiding something in his heart.
During the lunch break, Chen Ge tried to talk to Du Ming, but the latter was acting very strangely. It appeared like he needed to make some kind of deep determination before he could even talk to Chen Ge.
"Did something happen to you?" Chen Ge did not think Du Ming would go around spreading those nasty rumors, but he had a feeling that Du Ming knew something about it. During the lunch break, Chen Ge first went to the hospital to buy some food for his father, and then he bought two packets of lunch and took them home for Luo Ruoyu. He could not step into the house, so he handed the lunch to Luo Ruoyu at the door. The brother and sister sat in the stairwell. As they had their lunch, Chen Ge told Luo Ruoyu stories.
After the many interactions, Chen Ge confirmed that Luo Ruoyu's presence was a representation of the workers at his haunted house. Initially, she was only willing to stay inside the house and would never step out of it. But with Chen Ge's aid and persuasion, she had started to open herself up to the outside world and enjoyed the air outside the house. After ensuring that Luo Ruoyu had finished her lunch, Chen Ge returned to school. He sent some messages to Zhang Ya. They always had something to talk about, and they would never run out of topics.
When he reached home that night, Chen Ge decided to teach Luo Ruoyu how to do some housework and teach her some simple life skills. Things that were like second nature for a normal person proved to be extremely difficult for Luo Ruoyu. She had trouble controlling her body, and she had a very hard time understanding simple language. One had to repeat things many times for her to get it. Chen Ge tried to educate her for a very long time, but the results were less than favorable. Even so, Chen Ge still lavished her with praise.
The night turned into day, and day into night. The days passed in a blur. Chen Ge had never once closed his eyes. His mental state had reached an extreme. On the ninth morning after Chen Ge entered this world behind the door, the comic in his backpack finally a few pages that were completely dyed red, and he finally could gain contact with his employees.
"The final showdown should happen anytime now."
Carrying the backpack, he pushed open the door of his family home. The gray clouds pressed low in the sky like they were trying to suffocate the people in the world. Not only the people at the school, even the neighbors had started to give Chen Ge and Luo Ruoyu strange looks. The rumors had spread that far. When he went to school, the first class of the day was English. Chen Ge was ready for it.
For the past few days, Du Ming did not utter a single word to him. The usual chatterbox had become so unusually quiet. He stopped communicating not to only Chen Ge but also everyone else around him. His face blanched day after day like he was suffering from some illness. His results were affected. The small quiz that they had yesterday sent his placement back ten spots.
"Do you need any help?" After these nine days, Chen Ge had practically turned the whole of Li Wan City upside down. Even though he still had not found Yu Jian, through different clues and ideas, he had a general idea where Yu Jian was hiding. The competition started the moment he stepped through the door. Leaning on the table, Du Ming's long sleeves accidentally scooted up his arms to reveal the bruises underneath them. He looked even more tired than Chen Ge.
"Your family beat you? Simply because you scored worse in the test yesterday?" Chen Ge's voice was small, but Du Ming heard him clearly. The latter's hands clenched together before they slowly loosened. The boy ignored Chen Ge and buried his face into the textbook. The class started, but halfway through the first class, Chen Ge and the rest of the class heard the sound of an argument coming from the corridor. The sound came from the teacher's lounge. Instead of calling it an argument, it was more like the one-sided venting of a woman.
When he heard that voice, Du Ming's face paled even further. The boy looked like he was in physical pain. There was some self-recrimination, some embarrassment, but more than that, there was an emotion that was hard to pinpoint.
They waited until the class was over. Chen Ge immediately grabbed his backpack and prepared to leave, but as he got up from his seat, Du Ming suddenly reached out to grab at his elbow. "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry." After saying that, Du Ming let go of his elbow. By then, Chen Ge had a brief idea of what had happened. He took a deep breath and ran out of the classroom. The door to the teacher's lounge was locked. Chen Ge pushed away the group of students who had gathered around the window, and he looked in through the window.
Four parents were surrounding a female teacher and scolding her rapidly and relentlessly. Their spit flew everywhere, and their faces were twisted in disgust and anger. Mr. Si tried his best to mediate and promise to the best he could by the parents. The argument in the teacher's lounge went through the roof. The students outside the office treated this like some kind of concert. They were having the time of their lives. Some even cheered the parents on. Only Chen Ge stared at the female teacher quietly.
The questioning that came from nowhere, the sin that was pinned on her for no reason, and the rumors that became more and more ridiculous by the hours. Chen Ge felt the urge to blast into the room with Doctor Skull-cracker's hammer and smash everything into pieces, but he did not do that. He asked himself, what would he do if this happened to him in real life? What would a boy at his age do when he experienced such a thing in his life? What could he do at this very moment? In reality, he could not do anything. He could only stand outside and watch because anything too obvious would only make a bad situation worse.
"Was Yu Jian feeling this helpless before? Being possessed by the ghost fetus, he was much stronger than me. He could have easily killed everyone in the room, but he did not do that. The ghost fetus would have continued to urge him to do so, to turn him into a demon who hated everything, but he went against the ghost fetus' wishes. This should be when the separation between Yu Jian and the ghost fetus reached its limit."
More and more students gathered outside the teacher's lounge, and finally, the teacher inside relented. The office door was pushed open. The person who led the heckling bunch of hens was a middle-aged woman. She looked very stern, and her face was still covered in anger. When she first stepped out of the teacher's lounge, her eyes seemed to zero in on Chen Ge, and her anger reached to the top of her head immediately. She was about to unload on Chen Ge when the female teacher whom they had been giving a dressing down earlier stepped forward to stand between the woman and Chen Ge.
"Whatever you have against me as a teacher has nothing to do with the innocent student." The female teacher did not say anything else, but her countenance was firm. She was unwilling to move even one step, completely different from how gentle she was normally. The woman called her something very nasty that would have gotten this book banned if it was written down before being pulled away by the other parents. They left the school compound with Mr. Si bowing and apologizing profusely to them.
"Go back to your classes now. There is nothing to see already." The female teacher urged the students to leave. Then she glanced at Chen Ge and whispered in the gentlest tone she could manage, "You should also return to class."
"I'll talk to you in the afternoon." That was all Chen Ge said. After the crowd dispersed, he walked away from the female teacher. He returned to the classroom and saw that Du Ming was leaning on the table, pretending to be asleep.
"Du Ming, why did your mother come to school today?"
Du Ming did not say anything in response. All Chen Ge heard was heavy breathing.
"She seemed to have misplaced all the wrongdoing and fault on Miss Zhang, but I am the one who was behind all those things." Chen Ge tightened the grip around the pen that he was holding, and his voice was getting louder and louder. "It was me who affected your studies, it was me who borrowed your homework, and it was me who interrupted you during your studying to chat every single day. The whole classroom would be able to be my witness, but they were all pointing their fingers at Miss Zhang. Why? Why did they do that when I am the one who made all the mistakes?"
"Stop! That's enough!" Du Ming finally shouted back at him. He was highly agitated. He seemed to be in a tenser situation than Chen Ge.
Seeing Du Ming in that state, Chen Ge did not wish to push him any further. He left the boy with one last statement. "The two of us are the recluses of the class. Neither of us has a friend. The only person that we can share our story with is each other. In a way, you are actually my only friend."
Hearing Chen Ge say that, Du Ming's breathing became very agitated like he was suffering from asthma. He appeared to be in great pain.