The rain grew ever heavier. Bean-sized droplets landed on our faces. We were unable to keep our eyes open, and it even stung painfully!
We left in a panic, not knowing east from west, north from south. We just instinctively went the opposite direction from the pond. When there was no path, we would go through the undergrowth.
The sky was too dark. It wasn’t just the rain. It was as if there was a layer of mist rising from the trees. We couldn’t see each other’s faces clearly despite being a foot away. The storm blew against the trees, the swishing making it hard to hear our own footsteps.
We were going uphill and the road was slippery in the rain. People were constantly falling over. To avoid rolling down the mountain and to keep track of each other while blinded and deafened, Ah Zhan had us use a rope to form a chain. We would walk single-file and count off every now and then.
He was in the very front, using a branch to clear the way forward. I stood at the very back to prevent any accidents.
The final voice came from in front of me. It was Zhao Jiang. I could tell it was his voice. But how was he the last person? I was clearly the last one!
I was startled, but then comforted myself. “Someone must have miscounted due to their anxiety. It’ll be fine. As long as we aren’t missing anyone, it means everything is fine! It’ll get back to normal next time!”
Once again, the count ended before I spoke up!
Then again, and then again! Every time, the counting stopped when it reached Zhao Jiang!
I started panicking. I didn’t know what to do. Ah Zhan was in the very front and no one checked up on me. Was someone repeatedly messing up due to fear? Or was something within our group?
As I was hesitating, the counting started once again.
As the numbers started getting closer and seeing it about to end with Zhao Jiang again, I gritted my teeth. When “fifteen” came from the darkness, I immediately shouted “sixteen!”
I shouted rather loudly and it was especially obtrusive in the dark. I felt the rope in my hands tighten, almost causing me to fall. Then came several cries of “aiyo”. I was sure Ah Zhan heard my shout and suddenly stopped, causing the others walking forward to stumble!
“Wan Li, keep hold of the rope and don’t let go!” Ah Zhan called to me.
I loudly agreed and felt the rope swaying. Then, someone started speaking. I watched a figure edging over and knew it was Ah Zhan. We were so familiar with each other we could sense each other’s presence without interacting!
He walked over and touched my hand. “Fifteen! You are the fifteenth, there isn’t anyone extra! Stop messing around, you’re making it hard for everyone to walk!” He scolded me, seeming very irritated, before turning to leave.
I was about to explain when I suddenly felt something in my hand. It was that tiny bloodwood sword. Ah Zhan had clearly realized something was off but didn’t reveal it.
This made me calm down. I heard Ah Zhan counting off names as he walked back to the front. He paused at every name, as though verifying it.
The group started walking again and the counting off started. However, I was still the sixteenth person! I lacked confidence as I followed behind silently. I didn’t know when we would get out of this strange situation!
Once again, Zhao Jiang said “fifteen”. I suddenly wondered why Zhao Jiang didn’t feel it was strange when he called out fifteen. He clearly knew I was the last one!
I braced myself and walked forwards a few steps. The strange thing was, I couldn’t catch up despite being a meter away. He was still that skinny little figure walking unhurriedly in front of me!
I lost my temper, thinking that I would catch up no matter what that thing was. Therefore, I stubbornly pursued. It took ten minutes before I got close to his back!
Zhao Jiang had a backpack that jostled around on his shoulders as he walked. Since I couldn’t catch up to him, I stretched out and grabbed his backpack. Unexpectedly, it suddenly opened and something white shot out!
A naked infant was clinging onto the backpack, looking at me! He was completely pale and held something in his hand. Although he had the appearance of an infant, his gaze was calculating like an adult. Can you imagine it? An infant’s face with the eyes of an adult. It was especially cunning and sinister, and gave off a rather horrifying feeling. Furthermore, his eyes glowed green like those of a wild beast!
There was a crack. There hadn’t previously been any thunder or lightning, but the sky suddenly rang out accompanied by a flash of light. I clearly saw that the infant was holding a human finger. It was chewing on it with great gusto, using its toothless mouth. Its lips were covered in blood. That finger was clearly fresh!
My heart almost stopped in fear. I gripped the bloodwood sword and swung it at the infant’s eyes. I wasn’t being cruel. Those eyes truly creeped me out!
There was a tearing as the bloodwood sword cut across both its eyes. I felt as if the sword had dug into mud and was about to be stuck. I hurriedly pulled it back.
At that moment, its entire head seemed to be a tin can as the top portion lifted up and flipped open. A large swarm of ants and bugs welled up from within. Despite the darkness, I could clearly see the weird infant had no brain. Its head was a nest for bugs!
Before I could react, that weird infant let out a wail. It was especially clear in the rainy night, stunning everyone. Zhao Jiang had also turned around!
“You’re asking for death!” Zhao Jiang glared at me viciously and spoke. The voice was actually a woman’s and I watched as he turned into a skeleton. Pale light flashed within his eye sockets.
Its withered hand stabbed towards my eyes. I instinctively raised my hands and its claws touched the bloodwood sword. With a crack, the hand turned to dust.
It cried out tragically and immediately drifted off into the woods. The weird infant’s head which was half cut open swayed incessantly, as though it were nodding in greeting!
“What happened?” Ah Zhan was the first to run over.
“We’ve encountered…a ghost!” I finally managed to speak, hiding the bloodwood sword in my hand. I knew Ah Zhan’s secret couldn’t be revealed to the others.
“Who was that?” Someone asked.
“Zhao Jiang.” I had just spoken when someone responded to my words, startling me. Then, the pale, frail Zhao Jiang squeezed out from within the group. Only then did I realize that the “fifteenth” person hadn’t been Zhao Jiang. She had just taken his appearance!
“This forest is also weird. We must get out of here quickly!” Ah Zhan issued an order. “However, we won’t use the rope anymore. It’s better to go hand in hand. You mustn’t let go. If you do, you must stay in place without moving, and call me over to take a look!”
Everyone was currently terrified. As the only calm one, Ah Zhan became everyone’s backbone. They immediately followed his orders. He shone the flashlight on their faces as he personally linked their hands together. I was still in the very back. When Ah Zhan came over, I planned on giving the bloodwood sword back. However, he stuffed it in my hand. “You’ve offended them. You need it more!” He said.
We thus struggled onwards. What accompanied us wasn’t just the wind, rain and occasional thunder and lightning. There was always a woman’s sobs, an infant’s laughter and that woman speaking to herself. It drifted over every now and then from the surrounding woods!
“Oh, my son. What a vicious person. Your head’s been cut in two. Come, dearest, don’t be scared. Mommy will sew it up!”
The sound of sewing thread rang out. It sounded right by their ears, making them feel like touching their own faces to make sure the needle and thread wasn’t going through them!
“Mom, I’m hungry!” A male voice said.
The voice caused everyone to freeze, especially me. It was clearly an infant. It cried and laughed like one, but why was it an adult’s voice? No wonder it had the eyes of an adult. But this was too weird! Or was there another “person”!?
The woman’s infant started crying. “Mom has let you down, my dearest. Wuwu…I’ve let you go hungry! Wuwu…let’s go find some people to eat, ok?”
The infant started laughing, seeming very happy. The sound of gnawing on bone rang out in everyone’s ears at the same time!
It sounded like grinding on a rough metallic surface, like nails over stone, making people feel it was their own bones being gnawed on!
One of the girls finally couldn’t take it any longer. She screamed and let go of the other two students, covering her ears.
“Everyone get down!” Ruan Zhan suddenly cried out!
The frightened students hurriedly went prone. From the ground, I looked up and saw Ah Zhan standing there. He waved his hand in an inexperienced manner, drawing a seal in the air. There was a bang and a burst of sparks. A dark, twisted shadow was revealed in the light wearing red silk clothing. It cried and screamed as it fled!
It was the floating red clothing from the pool!
“Take a headcount!” Ah Zhan gave out orders once again. He confirmed it twice, yet still had to announce that one of the girls had gone missing!
At this time, the worst situation unfolded. Due to the extended period of time spent frightened in the dark, the students started causing a disturbance. They started having their own opinions and were no longer unified.
Some said that girl hadn’t listened and let go of them. It was her own fault and they couldn’t risk everyone else’s lives by trying to save her. Some said they couldn’t just abandon her, and no one should be left behind. Some wanted to stay and wait for dawn. Others wanted to leave as soon as possible. Some wanted to stay together while others said there was a better chance of surviving by splitting up!
Regardless, there were more who wanted to flee. Only Nana, Zhao Jiang and I were willing to listen to Ruan Zhan’s orders and try to save the girl. Ah Zhan didn’t comment and watched coldly as the group argued!
“Quiet down you guys! Arguing like this will only get us all killed!” I truly couldn’t stand it anymore and started yelling.
I don’t know if my angry appearance was too fierce or if my voice startled everyone. Regardless, everyone fell silent. Yet before I could speak again, the conversation between that woman and the weird infant could be heard from the trees.
“Oh son, don’t run around. Those bad people want to cut your head open again! Mommy doesn’t have needle and thread to sew it up anymore!”
“But mommy, it’s too cold here. Let me out!”
“Ah….” There was another cry. However, it didn’t come from the mother and son in the woods. It was one of the guys from our group!
He charged out as though he had seen something, running towards the voices in the woods. His cries dragged on, echoing, alternating between near and far. He ran a circle around in the woods before charging back out!
He yelled as he ran, running back towards us. Yet when he got back…his head was missing!