The clear sound of water dripping interrupted Xiao Xia’s dreams.
She woke up and had a moment of confusion. Where was this?
In a daze, she recalled that after the matter with the zombie, Wan Li insisted on her moving into Ruan Zhan’s ghost-warding fortress. At first she stubbornly refused. She wasn’t unafraid, but she was still peeved at Ruan Zhan. He hadn’t returned despite her being in danger. Although she knew this thought wasn’t reasonable, and also knew Ruan Zhan had no obligations to help her, she still couldn’t convince her heart. However, Wan Li ended up threatening to tie her up and drag her over if she didn’t comply. Only then did she reluctantly agree.
She wasn’t afraid of violence. She just couldn’t bear brushing Wan Li’s kind intentions aside. She didn’t want her stubbornness to cause others to worry.
But why was she in an unfamiliar place now? The walls were crude and made of clay and she was surrounded by simple furniture. Underneath her was a hard wooden bed and above was an old skylight.
The skylight’s glass was broken and covered in cobwebs. Gloomy rays of light scattered down, though it wasn’t clear whether it came from the sun or the moon. It speckled Xiao Xia’s face, making her shield her eyes, unable to adjust right away. The dripping water from the skylight happened to fall onto her hand.
She closed her eyes and let out a sigh.
Was this a dream or not? She was once again unable to tell. If this was a dream, why didn’t she wake up when she pinched her arm until it hurt? If this was the real world, why couldn’t she remember how she got here? A solo trip to a mountain village? An educational mission with the lawyer’s association? Why did she not have any impression?!
Another drop of water landed on her hand. She wiped it off restlessly, but felt the water had a strange odor and texture. She opened her eyes and took a look. There was nothing on the skylight, and the mark left on her hand had a deep color. She couldn’t see it clearly in the faint darkness.
“Could it be sewage water?” She spoke to herself.
“It’s blood.” A young and tender voice rang out in her ear, making her sit up in fright.
Outside the wooden fence-like door, a tiny silhouette stood. Upon closer look, it was a six or seven year old little boy. His overly long hair covered his eyes, obscuring his expression. His arms were raised up next to him, but it wasn’t clear what he was holding. Xiao Xia didn’t know how long he had been standing there. She felt it was like he had been there the whole time, just like this broken hut that suddenly appeared.
“Who are you? Where is this?” Having finally seen a person, Xiao Xia hurriedly questioned him.
The little boy didn’t speak and merely smiled. Xiao Xia saw his mouth was very large, giving his entire face a weird feel.
“Can you tell me?” She asked again. She was a little afraid, sensing that something was off about this place.
The little boy didn’t speak. He stretched his hand out and pointed behind Xiao Xia before turning and running without any sound of footsteps.
Xiao Xia’s hairs stood on end.
Was there something behind her? She had clearly been alone just now.
“Do you want to drink?” As though responding to her silent question, a voice suddenly asked behind her.
Xiao Xia whipped around. She saw a red-clothed ghost who had appeared at some point, hanging from the rafters under the skylight. She was swaying in the wind like a rag, face ashen without lips, revealing a mouthful of black teeth. In her right hand was a knife that was cutting her left wrist. Black, viscous liquid flowed down her withered fingers and dripped downwards.
“Have a drink!” She stretched her wrist out to Xiao Xia, the wound like a bloody maw. She smiled as she turned the rotted side to Xiao Xia, the stench of blood wafting over.
Was that what had dripped on her hand earlier?!
“Don’t want it?” The female ghost suddenly swooped down, scaring Xiao Xia into taking several steps back before turning and running.
Outside the door was a long, dark hallway, with closed doors on either side. The wood creaked underfoot as though it might collapse at any moment, making Xiao Xia uncertain which way she should run.
“It’s very tasty.” Not letting her hesitate, the arm that flowed with black blood silently stretched out next to her ear, offering “politely”. She could only pick a direction blindly and run off into the darkness.
At the end was a staircase that led downwards. With her mind set on escape, she rushed down without thinking.
One floor passed after another as though the stairs were endless. She could only keep running desperately. Several times, she saw the little boy who had appeared in front of the door earlier running towards her. His arms were still raised, but without waiting for her to say anything, he would rush past her. What was more frightening was the sudden sensation of something walking up and down. She wasn’t the only one on the stairs!
This feeling made her feel extremely uncertain. Therefore, when the little boy once again rushed past her, she desperately grabbed his arm.
However, his arm was pulled off by her. In her hand was a small weed.
While she was confused, the little boy got angry. “Give the arm to me!” He glared at Xiao Xia angrily, his large mouth like a gaping hole.
Xiao Xia hurriedly threw the weed in her hand at him in fright, but the little boy threw it to the floor. “It’s broken, I don’t want it anymore. I want yours!” He stepped forwards, two eyes that didn’t reflect the light staring angrily at Xiao Xia. “Otherwise, hand your body over!” He leapt forward another step as he spoke.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“No, give me!”
“I won’t!” Xiao Xia forcefully pushed the approaching little boy away and continued running. She never knew children could also be so scary.
“Give me give me give me!” Continuous screaming sounded from behind her, forcing her to continue running downwards without stopping. Suddenly, something flashed in front of her and she saw the hanged ghost on the stairwell, forcing her put on the brakes.
“Have a drink, it’s very tasty.” The female ghost stretched the hand with dark blood towards her, the wound like a smiling mouth.
“Give me your body!” The little boy had also caught up and gave her a forceful shove from behind.
To avoid them, Xiao Xia could only lean against the railings of the stairs. However, the building was too decrepit and the rotted wood gave way, causing her to plummet from the endless stairs!
Xiao Xia’s whole body seemed to have shattered. The pain made her suspect all her bones had broken and there were traces of blood on her palms. However, she was still in this strange place and didn’t have the feeling of waking up from a nightmare.
Was this not a dream at all? Would it never end?!
She looked around in terror and saw that she was in a shabby courtyard. In front of her was a dark, crooked building. It seemed to be the one with the endless stairs earlier. There was a stone mill in the center of the courtyard. A grey little mule whose head was blocked from view was lazily dragging the wheel slowly.
The sky was grey and the sun couldn’t be seen. There was also no wind, and the only sound was the creaking of the mill’s rotation. There was also the sound of hushed conversation that seemed both close yet distant!
Who was speaking?
Xiao Xia looked over and saw a row of stone benches behind her. There were several long-haired women in red sitting there. It was as if they were tourists who were here to see the little mule pulling the wheel. They pointed and watched curiously while chatting quietly and fervently, as though they hadn’t noticed Xiao Xia’s existence.
Xiao Xia only felt cold sweat flowing from her forehead. She didn’t dare make a sound. She knew she had gone from the frying pan into the fire. She had to get away from here, or she was dead for sure.
This was because none of those women had faces!
Apart from a blank slate covered by scattered hair, there was nothing else.