When the drop of blood landed in the weak fire, it burst in a strong flash of green light, allowing us to see the balloon clearly!
It was a human-shaped balloon. It was life-sized with four limbs and facial features. Due to it being filled with air, the limbs were amusingly stiff and the features were distorted. The nose was flat and the mouth was cracked. It seemed to be bending over and grinning foolishly at us!
Its lips were a little withered, revealing rows of teeth. The smile looked sluggish yet malicious. Furthermore…it had no eyeballs. The eyes were empty pits which was where the blood was dripping from!
“If the balloon has holes, how is it still filled with air?” A leisurely voice asked. It wasn’t clear who was speaking and whether the voice was male or female. It suddenly sounded by our ears like a sigh.
That’s right. How could a balloon with holes be filled with air and float? Almost everyone involuntarily pondered over her question….
Silence. Several seconds of absolute silence!
Suddenly, one of the girls screamed. She was so scared she covered her head and sprawled onto the floor. One of her trembling hands pointed towards the floating balloon that had a red thread attached to it.
She figured out where the balloon had come from! It should be said that everyone had recognized this balloon at that moment!
A succession of screams rang out. Then, with a loud bang, the balloon burst. It crashed to the ground accompanied by the sound of leaking air.
The people on the ground scrambled for cover. The carefully maintained protective circle was scattered.
The situation was too weird. I slowly walked over and looked down at the popped “balloon”.
It was a person. It was the student who had run back towards the pool in panic. Every part of him had somehow been eaten except for his intact skin. The skin had then been filled with ghostly air and used as a balloon!
Gloomy, disdainful, evil laughter rang out…
“Oh my son, you’ve finally eaten your fill!” She counted with a drawn out voice. “The first one was eaten until even the bones were gone.”
As she spoke, a string of objects were thrown into the circle, scaring the group into scattering once more. Using the flashlight, I saw it was a set of teeth along with a Tibetan ornament. It was the first girl who had been taken. She always liked those sort of things.
“The second wasn’t tasty. Only wanted his head. The third was really delicious except his skin! But…who’s next?!”
That’s right. Who would be next?
This thought filled our minds like a knife hanging above our necks. It made us remain in place, not daring to move. We didn’t know what to do apart from breathe anxiously!
“I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” One of the tensed nerves finally snapped. A girl completely lost her reason due to fear. Crying and screaming, she left the group and barged into the dark woods!
I urgently tried to run after her but realized Nana was holding my arm tightly and refusing to let go. She was unable to stand straight due to fear. The other students were the same. I wasn’t able to leave at all. I couldn’t leave them behind! Although Ah Zhan’s words had been cold, they weren’t without reason. We couldn’t save everyone. We could only save as many as possible.
Thinking of this, I managed to coax the terrified students into gathering again. There were only fifteen of us to begin with. Three had died, one had run off and Ah Zhan had left. Now there were only ten.
The fire in the middle had extinguished. After gathering everyone, I braced myself and moved the headless corpse, the human skin and the set of teeth to one side. It wasn’t respectful to leave them lying around and they were truly a gruesome sight.
While I was doing this, Nana refused to move a single step away from me. She kept hold of my clothes and refused to let go. She must have been terrified and felt safer since I was calmer in comparison!
The girl who had run off never returned. I was afraid she might be blown up into a skin balloon as well and released above our heads. Weak minds wouldn’t be able to take that sort of mental blow a second time. People would probably go insane. Luckily, it didn’t happen again. Perhaps there was no one around to eat the prey since the weird infant had gone after Ah Zhan!
However, we had been sitting for less than five minutes when the woman started singing again. She was only singing a single line: Who’s next?
“Get closer to the middle. Grab hold of each other. Don’t look up or run, no matter what!” I ordered.
The students were currently docile lambs. They followed my directions mechanically. Perhaps they would have followed anyone’s instructions at this moment. The singing stopped.
The forest was very humid after the rain. After sitting for a while, we felt the dampness chill our bones. Along with the deathly silence and the ever-present fear, we were all shivering.
I couldn’t help but look up. The moon had appeared after the rain, but the light was pale white. It made the woods appear even more weird and sinister. However, we were now able to see a little clearer.
I used the opportunity to observe the surroundings but didn’t see anything. Within the dark trees was only more darkness and trees. Yet there was a spot of white light nearby. I strained my eyes yet couldn’t see it clearly. I could only tell it was a strange bit of white hanging on a branch.
I thought about it and felt I had to figure out the situation. Therefore, I pulled out a pair of binoculars from my backpack and looked in that direction.
The image in the lens was blurry. As I adjusted the focus, I glanced from tree to tree without finding that thing. Right as I thought I had been mistaken, that white clump suddenly appeared!
It was a woman’s face, scarily pale. It didn’t seem like a corpse, more like a Japanese Geisha. It was exquisite yet eerie. The area around the eyes was dark and the lips were blood red. Something was hanging by the corner of the mouth that looked like a piece of meat!
I was stunned. I didn’t move the binoculars and remained staring at her. Due to my hands trembling, the line of sight shifted. Yet she seemed to know I was watching her and tilted her head, allowing our gazes to meet.
She smiled. The white skin on her face fell off in pieces. The red lips moved, forming the words “who’s next?”
I was startled and hurriedly threw aside the binoculars. It was as if she had touched them before. Then I felt something was off. I had seen her lips move, but why did the voice seem to be coming from next to me?!
Nana started shivering in my arms, making me realize the voice had truly come from beside us!
Everyone had their heads lowered. That voice was muffled and it wasn’t possible to tell whether the speaker was male or female. It also wasn’t clear which direction it had come from, but I could tell the voice was coming from one of us.
Had someone gone insane? Were they subconsciously repeating the words due to fear?
“Who’s speaking?” I cried out, but my voice trembled.
No one answered! However, the question was repeated over and over again!
“Who is speaking? I won’t be polite anymore if you don’t answer me!” My loud voice suppressed my fear.
Still, no one answered. No one even looked up!
I felt more and more that something wasn’t right. I hurriedly grabbed Nana and took a huge step backwards. “Raise your heads. All of you!”
There was no cry of insects or the rustle of wind through the leaves. Apart from Nana and I, there was even no sound of breathing.
“Are you sure?” That woman’s voice suddenly sounded out. This time, it was somewhere close behind me.
It took all my willpower not to look back. I held Nana tightly and prevented her from looking back either. I merely stared at the students in front of us.
Slowly, they raised their heads!
I immediately knew we were in trouble. Not a single student could be saved!
Something was wrong with all of them. Their expressions were the same: rigid and sluggish. They stared with the whites of their eyes that shone under the moonlight. This made me realize that they weren’t dead, but merely controlled. They had lost control of their own bodies!
A gust of wind swept up. The students were like dried leaves as they stood up with the wind. They slowly approached Nana and I, and leapt over as if planning to skin us!
“Run!” I merely said one word before grabbing Nana and running.
However, I remembered Ah Zhan’s words and decided not to leave the circle. I knew that she was trying to make us run outside so we wouldn’t have any protection!
We ran and dodged inside the circle. Those students spread out to surround us. Luckily they weren’t nimble while being controlled. Therefore, we were able to avoid being caught despite being surrounded by danger! I also had the bloodwood sword. Although it was small and unable to harm those students’ physical bodies, it still made them pause whenever I swung it wildly at them. We were able to gain some time like this!
Under the moonlight, many figures scurried around. Nana’s screams and that woman’s malicious laughter intertwined. This made me recall the time Ah Zhan and I encountered those little ghosts who wanted to play hide and seek. My fear lessened somewhat and I started getting angry. Why was this daddy always so unfortunate! I kept encountering weird things that wanted to play hide and seek or tag!
My mind cleared up due to the anger. As I ran, I wondered why things turned out this way. The students were clearly bewitched. I could see their shadows so they definitely hadn’t died. Seeing that they could bend and twist at will, they also weren’t zombies. Why had they become this way? How did they get enchanted? Why were Nana and I fine?
That female ghost hadn’t been able to enter the circle of talismans. She could at most use her sorcery to send in a skin balloon. How was she controlling these people?
Furthermore, I felt something wasn’t right as I ran. I couldn’t figure out what it was right away and it was merely a feeling. Only when I narrowly avoided three attacks that were fiercer than the others and recognized the person that was stronger than the rest did I figure out what was going on!
He had no shadow!
Furthermore, his left hand was missing the index finger!
I immediately understood everything!
When Zhao Jiang jumped into the water to save Nana, he had probably died. He was a poor swimmer and his frail body could not have safely rescued Nana without any protection!
That was why the weird infant had appeared in his backpack. That was why he had been the fifteenth person. That was why the weird infant was eating a finger. That was why the other students had silently been bewitched!
Nana avoided harm because she stuck close to me while I held the bloodwood sword. Or perhaps because Zhao Jiang had a crush on her.
Nana screamed once again. One of the students had almost grabbed hold of her hair. I desperately pulled her towards me and the two of us fell to the floor!
“Get up!” I scrambled and pulled her up. “Persist a little longer. Daybreak is coming!”
“You won’t be able to get away!” That female ghost also noticed the brightening sky and started shrieking madly.
We suffered as the demonic cry echoed in our heads. However, we had no way of blocking our ears. Our hearts were about to split from the discomfort. At this moment, a clump of black fog started permeating the area, gradually preventing us from seeing the ground.
I knew that this was that thing’s final strike!