Being stared by Chen Ge for a long time, the man tightened the collar of his jacket and coughed lightly. "Do we know each other?"
His voice was clear and full of stories like he had witnessed many things in his life and had already seen through the vicissitudes of life.
Chen Ge did not expect the man to suddenly speak. He paused for a beat before answering the man's question. "You look very much similar to a friend of mine. The presence is almost the same. Have we met somewhere before?"
The man turned his head away. There was a trace of tiredness in his eyes. "You've probably got the wrong person."
"Impossible, I'm sure I've met you somewhere before. Are you sure we haven't met before?"
This was Chen Ge's first meeting with the man; he said these things only because he wanted to chat further with the man to obtain more valuable information. The man was silent for quite some time. He looked at Chen Ge, and after another bout of hesitation, he raised his hand to remove the mask from his face.
He had a tall nose. His skin was pale and lips purple. After the man took off the mask, he coughed heavily. "You've got the wrong person; I'm not the person you're looking for."
Then, he put the mask back on. There was a pool of indescribable emotions in his eyes when he added, "That is because I have no friends."
The man was not afraid of Chen Ge. He was a passenger who had gotten on the bus, and he was still breathing. He did not know what was hiding inside Chen Ge's shadow. Perhaps in his eyes, Chen Ge was no different from the other passengers. Chen Ge wanted to get to the bottom of the events in Eastern Jiujiang and also wanted to bring all the ghosts on the hearse back to his Haunted House. However, out of his expectations, there were two living passengers on the bus that night.
He did not want to expose his secret, so he did not do anything that was too out of line in front of the two living passengers. Therefore, he had a change of plan. He was going to keep a good profile. After they arrived at Li Wan City and the two surviving passengers got off the bus, then he was going to have a good chat with the other passengers. He sat in his seat obediently. Chen Ge moved his eyes away from the man and looked out the window.
The rain fell on the glass. The buildings on the sides were already blurred beyond recognition. They were surrounded by darkness. The bus that they were on was like a small island floating on a piece of dark sea.
The car suddenly became very quiet. The man realized that Chen Ge had stopped talking after he conversed with him, and he thought that he had misspoken and offended Chen Ge. He placed both of his hands on his knees and suddenly asked Chen Ge in a whisper, "Did you take this bus to find that friend of yours?"
Chen Ge's eyes started to focus. The expression on his face started to change like the man had guessed the secret hiding in his heart. There was some uncertainty, some pain, and some self-blame. Nodding slowly, Chen Ge turned to look at the man next to him. "How did you know that?"
"All the passengers on this bus have their own story and secret, or else we would not have purposely taken this bus after midnight."
"Listening to your tone, it sounds like this is not the first time you have taken this bus." Chen Ge's lips moved to reveal a smile that was similar to the one that he had when he got on the bus. However, there was a deep pain in his eyes, and those who saw it would feel sorry for him.
"I took this bus on Route 104 to go to work every day for almost twenty years." The man talked very slowly like he had not spoken to someone for a very long time and needed time to get used to using his voice. "At the time, the unit that I worked at was rather busy, and there were not enough people to go around. I always had to work late, so I would always take the last bus home. Initially, I quite liked taking the last bus. There would not be too many people, so it was very quiet. But after some time, looking at the darkened buildings by the roadside, the loneliness within my heart started to grow."
"Unit? What was your occupation in the past?"
"I was a doctor, a doctor at the burn unit." The man stressed the term 'burn unit'. A ripple crossed his eyes like he was reminded of something.
"Burn unit?" Chen Ge had only interacted with psychologists in the past, so he was not familiar with the burn unit.
"Surgery, skin transplantation, recovery, those are our job," the man said in a casual tone, but Chen Ge could hear the heaviness behind his words. The man also noticed the extreme pain in Chen Ge's eyes. He seemed to see his own shadow reflected in Chen Ge, and he subconsciously treated Chen Ge as a kindred spirit.
After that brief conversation, the two became quiet again. After some time, Chen Ge opened his lips to ask, "Since you're taking this bus, are you also looking for someone?"
The man nodded slightly, and his gloved hands fell on the scarf.
Finding the opening and asked in a nonchalant manner, "Was it your wife who knitted you this scarf?"
Hearing that, the man halted for a moment. He moved his hand away from the scarf before slowly shaking his head.
"It's not from your wife?" The reality was not as Chen Ge expected. Now he was curious. "Do you mind telling me your story?"
The rain increased in intensity and fell on the window, creating a crescendo. The man was silent before removing his mask to take a deep breath. "The patients at a burn unit are different from other units. They lack skin, a face, and even the shape of a normal human being. When I was doing my residency, I really thought I'd entered hell. However, I slowly got used to the horror, the stench, and the decay.
"At the time, I really thought that I'd become desensitized to everything, and when I faced the patients, I would not get too emotional.
"That was true until I was thirty and ran into a patient who was fourteen. She was still a child, and her back had been severely scalded. I used half an hour before I could separate her clothes from her skin. The girl was very quiet, and she did not make any noise or even cry.
"To prevent possible complications to her growing brain, I did not apply full sedation. When I was operating on her back, the girl just opened her eyes and looked at me. Her back and her face were like two extremes. I consoled her just like how I consoled my other patients.
"After dealing with all the wounds, I went in search for the adult who brought her to the hospital. There were some follow-up details that I needed to tell them, but after some asking around, I realized that it was the neighbor who brought her to the hospital. The wounds on her body were not because of an accident; it was her parents who did that to her.
"I called the police."
When the man spoke, he would cough occasionally. His physical condition was ailing.
"The girl's father had serious violent tendencies. Her mother was a deaf and mute; she could barely take care of herself. The police detained her mother for a month. In the end, it was her mother who went to the police station to beg for mercy. After all, the whole family depended on her father for survival.
"During the period of her recovery, I accompanied her daily. The child was like a wild flower blooming by the roadside. Being by her side, I, someone who had gotten used to the ugliness of the world, felt a sense of happiness and joy.
"About two months after her discharge from the hospital, I received a phone call from an unknown number. It was her voice on the other end. Unable to withstand her father's actions after he got drunk, she decided to run away from home. I took her in, hiding that fact from the police and her family.
"I know that it was wrong of me to do so, but I couldn't imagine what would happen to her if I sent her back."
At this point, the man paused. Seeing that the expression on Chen Ge's face did not change, he continued. "When she was twenty, she confessed to me. At the time, I was thirty-six. We skipped the romance; we did not register at the necessary department. We held a small wedding, for just the two of us.
"The five years that followed was the happiest period of my life, but the pressure that came was immeasurable.
"When I was forty-one, her parents found her. Humiliation, beating, and scolding came. They created chaos at her school and at my hospital. Life suddenly changed. Rumors are a very scary thing. I was able to withstand it, but she gave up.
"When I took the last bus home that day, I called her several times, but no one answered. I reached home and opened the door; the dishes that she had cooked were laid out on the table. Beside them was a long letter that she had written for me. In the end, I found her inside the bathroom. Her body was soaked inside the water, and she was already gone."
The man's face was startlingly white, and the coughing became more severe. Chen Ge reached out to pat him on his back.
"Thank you." The man did not put the mask back on. The tiredness in his eyes could not be hidden anymore. "Actually, all the passengers on this bus have their own stories. In the morning, everyone is busy, so the stories are well-hidden amid the hustle and bustle. At night, these helpless, pained, and despairing people take this bus to head to the last stop."
From the way that the man told the story, he did not seem to realize that the other passengers were ghosts, or perhaps he already knew that but treated them as people.
"Do you know anything else?"
"I know too much. Like that mute next to us. I've met him before." There was a pity in the man's voice. "He is mentally challenged and doesn't know how to speak. He was a worker at a supermarket. He often gets bullied by others but smiles back at them, thinking they're saying good things about him."
"Then why would he get on this bus? An innocent person wouldn't get involved with these negative things." Chen Ge was confused.
"He's going to the last stop to find his daughter." The man did not have the heart to continue anymore. "Due to a certain reason, someone reached out to a gang of ruffians to bully his daughter. They scorched her palms with cigarettes and pulled out her hair, and the camera even caught them doing worse thing to the girl. The girl did not tell her father because she did not want to worry him. However, in the end, the pressure was too much for the girl to bear, and she ended her life."
"School bullying?" Chen Ge's eyes darkened. These things really did happen; he had personally witnessed it before. "Did he call the police? How did the police handle this?"
The man next to them was mentally challenged, and his limbs were uncoordinated. He would even trip on himself when he was just out walking. Someone needed to help him fight for justice.
"Call the police?" The man smiled darkly. "The man who is mentally-challenged, the mute, the man who has trouble even walking, knocked out the bunch of the ruffians and the culprit and dragged them to an abandoned building in Eastern Jiujiang. Then, he doused the place with fuel and burned them all in a large fire."
"He's not physically capable, and he's mentally challenged. How did he manage to do all that?"
"The police had the same question, so even today, the case is still open. The murderer has not been found." The doctor and Chen Ge turned to look at the man at the same time. He sensed their eyes on him, and the man turned around to smile blankly at them.
"Using violence to stop violence, it will only lead to more problems. The heart that is already broken from pain will have trouble resisting the pressure that comes after taking revenge. He might go from one extreme to another." Chen Ge could not judge the father's actions. If he put himself in the father's shoes, he could not guarantee what he might do.
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I think it's quite fair. Let's not talk about him anymore. I've seen more serious cases on this bus compared to him" the doctor said. "There was one night when it was raining heavily. After I got on the bus, I saw a young man in a well-made suit get on. He looked so energetic and bright. He stood out easily from the rest of the passengers, but underneath that surface hid a very broken mind."
"What is the story about him?"
"The young man was once a wedding host. He was very popular, and he had hosted several hundred weddings even though he had only worked in the field for a few years. Finally, it was his turn to get married. He dressed up nicely to welcome the bride, but they got into a car accident on their way back from the wedding.
"The bride died on the spot. Even though he survived, his face was ruined. The company politely requested him to quit. After that, he changed field to become a funeral designer. When his service was needed, he would help people design the funeral, and when he was free, he would look over the graveyard.
"That's quite normal, but in our conversation, he accidentally revealed some information. When the night was quiet and there was no one around, he would help the dead bodies connect the dots and help them with Minghun, and of course, he would be the host."
The story told by the man was rather scary. "He came on the bus to find his wife, and then he prepared to finish the wedding that he was owed."
After hearing the story of the doctor from the burn unit, the mentally-challenged father, and the wedding host, Chen Ge realized the bus on Route 104 was different from what he had imagined. The bus seemed to have become a route for the living humans in Jiujiang to use to enter the darker side of the city. People from all walks of life used it to find their last hope.
Chen Ge did not know how to tell the doctor from the burn unit that while everyone treated this bus as their last hope, they were destined to fail. This was because the last stop of this bus was made from the deepest pain and despair.
Chen Ge even suspected that the culprit in Eastern Jiujiang made this bus to collect despair and various negative emotions.
The ghost stories society created so many ghost stories to collect despair and negative emotions; the thing behind the door needs stuff like this. Other than that, only those living with extreme pain and despair can become vessels for ghosts.
There were humans and ghosts on the last bus. They sped toward the last station with the last piece of hope, but the world that welcomed them would be one of endless despair.
I cannot allow this to continue anymore. Looks like I'll need to drive this bus away. Perhaps I can use this to open a new path that leads directly to the Haunted House.
The strange living passengers on the bus reminded Chen Ge of the game that he had played at Fan Chong's home. Inside the game, other than Red Specters and other ghosts, there were many crazed murderers. Chen Ge now suspected that these murderers had once been living passengers on this very bus heading down Route 104.
The whole town will be filled with baleful spirits and crazed murderers. The culprit in Eastern Jiujiang is much crazier than the ghost stories society.