Combustion from alcohol and gas would have a quiet flame. Only when the fuel was of wooden material that it would have this crackling and popping sound.
"Hello? How can I help you?" Ten seconds later, Chen Ge realized that there was still no one speaking, so he tossed out this question as a probe. A bottle fell to the ground, and it sounded like its content splashed out and caused the fire to burn even stronger.
"Hello! Is anyone there?" The phone was answered, so this meant that someone had to be near the phone. "Is this a fire? Are you okay? Please tell me your location immediately!"
Chen Ge was getting nervous, and he screamed loudly. The fire was still burning, and then a different voice cut through the roaring flame.
"Can I talk to you for a moment?" The man's voice was nice but rather hoarse.
"Sure, since I have nothing to do at the moment anyway." Chen Ge had been afraid that the other party would refuse to communicate. As long as there was communication, he could get useful information. "Then what do you want to talk about?"
After a long time, his reply came. "I don't know."
The person spoke slowly like he was constantly thinking. Chen Ge could hear the tremor in the person's voice. He was unstable. Chen Ge did not dare to randomly run his mouth lest he provoked the man.
"Shall we talk about something happy?"
"There are many happy things. Everyone is happy, and I know I should be happy, but for some reason, I am unable to be happy."
"Just relax, then how about we share some of our best memories?"
"Memories?" The man went silent again, but the sound of fire burning became clearer and clearer. "When I was young, my parents kept arguing for the sake of living."
When he heard that, Chen Ge knew that something was wrong. This was not a happy memory-he wanted to interrupt the man, but the man on the other end of the phone did not appear like he was going to stop.
"My mother was very strict with me because she wanted the best for her son. I've always been an obedient child. A bit shy and didn't like to talk. When I was at primary school, I was quite good at my studies, but unfortunately, throughout the six years, I only got three good student award.
"During secondary school, my English was very bad, and my result was average. During the third year, my mother found me an English tutor for one-on-one tuition. I had to attend classes after school until 9.30 pm. When I reached home, it would be around 10 pm.
"The tutor was a very good teacher. I got ninety-five marks on my English, but I did not get similarly good results for Math and Chinese, the subjects that I was supposed to be good at. However, overall my result was still at the front of the class. If I remember correctly, the total mark was about 560 marks or so. With that result, I could apply for all the high school other than Si Yi High.
"Actually, I really don't understand why we need to label children. Si Yi High was the best high school, and I was missing the mark by twenty plus marks. If I wanted to enter Si Yi High, I had to fork out tuition, which was 18,000 RMB.
"The monthly salary of my parents was four thousand RMB. To give me a better head start, they scrounged up this money to send me to Si Yi High.
"Should I be thankful?
"I don't know. Perhaps it was the sense of guilt, but I worked so hard for the first three months I entered the school. I was afraid of being exposed, afraid of other people finding out that I didn't get in there with my own results but because of money.
"Actually, other people might not even have cared about that, but perhaps I'm just someone who is naturally prideful or perhaps I don't want to be the same as them. For the first exam, my results were higher than average, and I was happy. I worked even harder. But for my middle year exam, my result slid down to lower average.
"I couldn't find the reason. Perhaps it was my method of studying or perhaps I just wasn't putting in enough effort. What else could I do but push forward?
"When the result for the last exam came out, my result dropped even further to the bottom of the class. A good student became the worst student-the identity had changed, but the mind needed a time to get used to the situation. When my mind also adapted to this change, then I'd change from a normal student to a bad student.
"I'm a strange fella, the type that has a strong sense of pride and arrogance. When we were called to pick the stream that we wanted to focus on, I had a crush. It was something that is difficult to explain, but I felt happy whenever I saw her.
"She was the good student type and also very hardworking. She would show up for class early in the morning. The key to our classroom was with the monitor, so I woke up early every morning just so I could arrive at school before the monitor and jumped into the room through the classroom window to help her open the door.
"There were many similar things. When she went to the canteen to buy lunch in the afternoon, I would take my English textbook and study it while leaning against the corridor. I wanted to see her, to see her walk back from the canteen to the classroom.
"Actually, it's quite embarrassing because even though I studied the textbook for the whole semester, in the English exam, I only scored in the thirties. The exam results became worse and worse. I was constantly one of the worst ten students in the class. During the third year, when all the students gave it their all and fought like there was no return, my interest was reading and writing.
"I read all type of books, not related to school. Web novels, magazines, sci-fi novels, and thrillers both locally and overseas. After reading so much, a world would be constructed in my mind, a world that was my own. That was also the first time that I opened a writer's account for myself online and started to try to write some things.
"There was still over one hundred days to the high school exam, but even the friends that stayed at the internet café started to retreat to focus on their study. However, all that I focused on was my story and my writing.
"During one of the school assemblies, the headmaster was standing on stage. I stared at him and thought about the books that I liked, the authors that I admired. I wanted to be like them, to construct a world that many people would appreciate.
"The exam was over, and there were two ways to understand this.
"One was exam was over, and the other was my life was over.
"I scored just enough for vocational school. Compared to those who wanted to give the exam another go, I decided to grasp this last chance to confess my love. But until today, I did not say it because that day I saw the girl whom I liked got together with the monitor.
"I went to cut my hair until I was bald. As the only student from Si Yi High to go to a vocational school, I had to have my own style, walk my own path. I planned to cut myself off from my former classmates, probably because the greater the pride, the more one dislikes pity from others.
"Even if I was a bad student, I was a bad student with a dream. After I got to the school, writing became my life. I planned to write an epic that combined all the elements of the great writing that had come before me. I had read many books, so I knew a bit of everything. I put the manuscript that I wrote on the internet.
"That was when I received my first contract. My work was more than 300,000 words, but no one was reading it. Then, I tried to give them my other stories, but they were all rejected. During the latter half of the third year, some of the students started to focus on moving to actual university or studying to become teachers. I went to someplace far away from home to start my internship.
"The factory where my father worked closed down. The old CEO was sent into jail for ten years due to illegal activities, so only my mother's salary was keeping the family afloat. She earned less than two thousand a month.
"For the internship, I chose the place furthest from home because the salary was the highest, and it was close to the ocean. About thirty-three people from our school chose to have their internship at this company. Since it was a frontline worker and it was factory work, there was constant interaction with gas and copper sludge. One month later, only sixteen people remained.
"Due to professional reasons, I was moved to another department. The work wasn't easy, but it was still acceptable. Slowly, I got used to the lifestyle. The leader thought that even though this child did not like to speak, he was honest and serious, so my internship ended sooner than others, and I became an official worker.
"I worked eight hours daily with one day of rest every week. After I got used to this, I started to ask myself, am I going to work like this forever? How can I have no dreams for myself?
"I started to write again. After an eight-hour shift, I would write four thousand words a night, without any readers or any support. Even those comments mocking me wouldn't total up to four thousand words. If I didn't write, nothing would change. Writing was tiring, but I liked to write.
"Perhaps the gods had mercy for the hardworking. There were few readers, but the crush I had from high school suddenly contacted me through internet. Way back when I was at university, I heard from another friend that she had broken up with the monitor; however, I had been too focused on writing to care about it.
"Then, we started to reconnect. During the annual break, I went to visit her and her university. Vocational school and university were not that different, or at least I did not think it was that different. However, when she continued to study for her masters and doctorate, then I thought the difference was quite huge.
"I forgot what I said on the day of confession. I couldn't even remember the date, but the conclusion was that we were not compatible. I couldn't say that I was disappointed.
"I threw myself back into work and writing. Finally, the book was contracted. There were still no readers, and I got just over six hundred for my writing every month. Six hundred of that was from constant writing instead of popularity.
"Then, I searched for my book online and found it on many aggregator websites. I was so pissed. I begged and reported. I tried my best to find the people who stole my writing. The website had a forum for readers, and it was even more lively than the official forum. After I friended the person online, I told him to remove my book immediately, or I would have to resort to legal actions.
"He ignored me.
"I found other aggregator sites and realized that the uploader used the same account, so I tried to reason with him. He still ignored me. Finally, for the first time in my life, someone as prideful as I am begged him.
"I was the official writer, but I had to beg this aggregator. I told him that I didn't even demand that he removed the book-I just asked that he did not update the same time as I did. Could he please wait for three days after I uploaded the official version? If he could not do three days, could he give me one day? I was pleading with him.
"I even started a thread on the forum, telling them that I only earned six hundred per month, and if people really liked the writing, I'd hope for them to support the real author. The replies said that I was manipulating their feeling, calling me names. A real author would not have cared about these things, no wonder I was not popular.
"The person who opened the aggregator did not reply to me, and I did not reply to the readers. I exited the web browser and started writing my four thousand words for the day.
"Every day, four thousand words, and I had to update daily to gain the reward money of six hundred-that six hundred was all the reward that I got for my hard work.
"After a week, when I was working, there was a malfunction at work. I broke the middle finger of my right hand. The bone snapped, and only two layers of skin were connecting the finger.
"The accident happened at 2 pm, and I left the hospital at 8 pm. I returned to bedroom. I opened the computer and continued typing with nine fingers. Daily four thousand words, only by updating daily would I be able to earn six hundred this month.
"Halfway through the chapter, with only three thousand words written, I suddenly collapsed. I collapsed onto the keyboard and cried like a dog. What was I doing?
"Then holiday came. I returned home. The girl asked me out for dinner, and after dinner, we went for a movie. The movie was a love story. The male character gave up his life for the female character, but the female character still ended up with the second male character. I seemed to see myself on screen, and I gave up everything.
"I placed the present that I had specially picked up for the night on the bridge and I squatted by the road until midnight. The people who passed by must have thought that I was very weird. I got home. The next day, I flew to Zhu Hai.
"Work, writing... I cannot honestly tell you what was keeping me alive back then. I started to write a new book, and another half a year had passed. Like what I said earlier, God has mercy on the hardworking, and I had the best period of my life.
"I ran into a female reader who was five years younger than me. At the time, she was still studying while I was working, and the distance between us was half of China.
"When I went to meet her for the first time, a tornado came, and the plane couldn't fly. Coincidentally, before this tornado left, another tornado was coming. I sincerely couldn't believe my luck.
"At the time, she told me, if I couldn't make it that day, then it meant that we could not be together. And then, a miracle happened. There was a short period between the two tornadoes when the plane was allowed to fly.
"That was my first real romance. Everything that we did was my first. My first time holding someone's hand, first time going on a date, first time going to theme park, first time walking past a Haunted House, first time taking the subway together, first time kissing...
"I did not worry her too much and hid my many weaknesses away from her like the finger that I had lost, my education background, and the book that was not as good as I made it out to be.
"I had many things that I wanted to tell her, and we matched each other. I was very happy when I was around her.
"Then I wrote a supernatural web novel, and it became surprisingly popular. Heaven was finally smiling at me. The days were glowing-the sweetness had arrived after years of bitterness. My dream was about to come true.
"I could see the bad student standing at the assembly looking at the people on stage, he walked out from the memory to thank me.
"Thank you for not giving up. Finally, you are standing alongside those authors that you admired.
"This was the happiest moment of my life, but the happiest moments are always the shortest.
"Every year, the website had a competition to pick the best newcomer. With my result, I thought my place was guaranteed, but I ran into a cheater.
"With a landslide victory I won the award, but I had to spend around 400,000 RMB to win it. Around 100,000 RMB was from donations from fans, but the remaining came from my own wallet. I sold my own house for this.
"I've figured everything out before I made that decision. If my book was reported, I would go find the cheater, kill him, and then light a fire and burn everything up including myself.
"Thankfully, the book was not banned. However, after winning the award, I suddenly felt that my world had darkened. It was supposed to be a celebratory event, but I couldn't smile.
"Everyone was happy, so I tried my best to smile. My dream came true, but I felt like something was lacking.
"When I communicated with people, I would see their mouths widening, and I would fall into them like they were black holes. I stayed with people that I loved, but they would reject my concern and feelings.
"Something must be wrong."
The sound of fire grew, and something like a dresser was knocked over. The man's voice went further away from the phone, and the last thing that Chen Ge heard was. "This fire sure is bright..."