After taking a few deep breaths and splashing cold water on his face, Chen Ge finally calmed down.
"It's time to go."
Chen Ge retrieved the backpack that he had used last time and placed Zhang Ya's love letter, a power bank, and tool mallet into it. After the lesson from last time, he put the penknife directly in his pocket and the doll left behind by his parents inside his shirt pocket. He was bulging all over the place, but at least he felt safer.
After packing everything he needed, Chen Ge locked the Haunted House and rushed out of New Century Park. It was 12:15 am, so there was little traffic on the road. He waited for another ten minutes before he managed to hail a cab.
"Sir, please get me to Western Jiujiang's Private Academy. I'm in a hurry, so please drive faster."
"No problem, get in."
The driver was an easy-going middle-aged uncle, and the radio in the car was playing hit songs from the 90s. Chen Ge sat in the backseat and used this downtime to search for online information related to his current mission.
The first thing mentioned by the phone when he accepted the Bloody Heart Mission was Anderson's Red Dancing Shoes, so that was the first thing Chen Ge looked for on the internet. He managed to find the original source, and after skimming through it, Chen Ge felt rather petrified.
The original plot was not much different from the black phone's version. It described the story of a young girl who was gifted a pair of beautiful red dancing shoes. She loved them so much that she wore them everywhere, including to church, where she was cursed to dance forever. She was afraid, helpless, and exhausted. In the end, she begged the woodman to chop her legs off, and then came the most curious part of the fairy tale. After the legs were chopped off, they danced away into the forest still wearing the red dancing shoes.
Is this even a fairy tale?
It added to his nervousness since his mission was searching for Zhang Ya's red dancing shoes.
When I won the cursed love letter, the black phone did provide a brief description of Zhang Ya. She was wearing a bloodied school uniform and red dancing shoes at the time of her death, so could the fairy tale be real? The red dancing shoes couldn't be taken off after they were put on?
Chen Ge's skin crawled. Different from his previous missions, this time he was going face to face with a Red Specter, one that had a Bloody Heart Mission, something that could only be given by specters with heavy resentment.
Looks like the key to tonight's mission is the red dancing shoes.
Chen Ge read the fairy tale again for a few times; the main lesson to be learned here was to not be vain but be humble at all time.
Was there even a reason for the black phone to refer to this fairy tale at the start of the mission?
He could not figure out an answer, so he decided to focus his energy on searches related to Western Jiujiang's Private Academy. The school was closed after just two years of operation and had been abandoned since then. With regards to the reason for its closure, there were plenty of rumors online. Some said it had to do with lack of budget, whereas others complained about the high semester fees.
Chen Ge scrolled through all the information patiently, and Zhang Ya's name did not even appear once, like she had nothing to do with the school at all.
There has to be something more sinister about the closure than what's been speculated online!
Chen Ge looked at the streetlights out the window that seemed to be running backwards, and he squinted his eyes in thought.
Just what kind of ending could a girl experience to turn her into a Red Specter? Why would she harbor such deep resentment? What does all of that have to do with red dancing shoes?
While Chen Ge was deep in his thought, the volume of the radio picked up. He turned toward the source with shock and realized the driver uncle had been looking at him via the rear-view mirror.
"What's on your mind, young man? You have such a sad face." The driver was a quintessential chatterbox. He had attempted to start a conversation with Chen Ge when Chen Ge entered the car, but Chen Ge had ignored the man mostly because he was busy looking up information.
"So much has changed in my life recently that I'm struggling to get my head around it, feeling rather swamped at the moment." Chen Ge smiled politely as he put his phone away.
"Slow and steady wins the race. I'm sure everything will work out in the end. If you're that stressed, do what I do: play some disco music, and after a few shakes, you'll feel much better." The driver grooved along to the music.
At least the man is optimistic,
thought Chen Ge.
"By the way, why are you going to the Private Academy so late at night? That place is mostly abandoned, and it's not close to any residential area."
Chen Ge's lips fell open and eventually he answered, "Going on a date."
"A date? At this kind of ungodly hour?" The driver glanced back at Chen Ge.
"It's true. I don't know how to explain it; the girl is a bit hard to please and has some weird quirks." Chen Ge tried to normalize it as best as he could. After all, he had not been asked out on a date before, and being invited to one did make him feel quite good about himself.
"That's a good thing! What are you worried about, worried that she won't like you? Then again, what kind of person goes to a date dressed like you? Listen to me, even guys need to know how to dress these days. Look at that backpack, it goes against the rest of your outfit."
The floodgate of the driver's mouth had been opened, and Chen Ge did not even know how to respond. A normal person going on a date would have been happy and overjoyed, but his date was more like a coercion and a desperate move to save himself than an actual date.
"A gentleman mustn't be too forward, don't start the conversation with random topics like the weather, compliment her, and be a good listener. After all, the first impression is very important..." Listening to the driver's advice, Chen Ge had half a mind to play Wedding Dress on his phone so that everyone could have a little peace and quiet.
The taxi zoomed through the night. The cars on the road and the buildings beside it had gotten increasingly sparse; even the streetlights had started to disappear. The signs of civilization outside the window started to disappear, and the road was slowly swallowed up by the forest.
The driver glanced at the GPS and asked Chen Ge, "Are you sure you got the right address? Other than an abandoned school, there's nothing down the road."
"Yes, I'm sure, just drop me off near the school. How much?"
"19, do you mind paying me via WeChat? I just started my shift, and I don't have spare change on me."
As Chen Ge grabbed his phone out of his pocket, the penknife bounced out of it as well. The knife sat quietly on the cushion, causing the driver who spotted it to lean surreptitiously forward. The driver moved his hand to lower the volume of the radio. As he did so, he stealthily used his pinkie finger to press a button on the machine.
None of this escaped Chen Ge's eyes. However, there was nothing he could do but continue to smile. He believed the uncle had mistaken him for some kind of late-night burglar.
"Transaction successful." Chen Ge put away his phone and glanced at the driver seat. "Uncle, you're recording this to report to the police?"
The driver, who was in the middle of drinking from a bottle of water, coughed violently as he waved his hands about vehemently.
"I can understand why you're doing that but..." Chen Ge turned to look at the eerie outline of the school in the dark.
"...I'm really here for a date."