The wriggling vines crawled over like snakes, wrapping around Xiao Xia’s body. The leaves on the vines were covered in eyes….
Another dream, wake up!
Xiao Xia realized this in her sleep. Like Wan Li said, her mind was too susceptible to being influenced.
However, this time her mind listened to her and the nightmare was ended successfully. She raised her head and looked at the window half-covered by curtains. The sky outside told her it was the middle of the night.
She recalled the matter of her case again. She wasn’t a workaholic obsessed with her job. Things were just too weird.
The police had come to the same conclusion for Zhang Mou’s death: drug overdose. The mess around his corpse was completely caused by himself while under the influence. The dug out eyeball was the same.
However, they didn’t mention that plant!
It was impossible to have overlooked it. The appearance of a strange plant indoors should have attracted attention. The investigators would definitely not have ignored it. Why was it not mentioned in the report?
Unless…it had crawled off by itself!
This thought gave Xiao Xia goosebumps. This was scarier than the nightmare. No, more like disgusting. Who would have thought a plant could wriggle like a snake? She had seen it herself, though she had doubted her eyes. However, she couldn’t help but recall that scene!
The two cases she was responsible for had both ended suddenly due to the death of the accused. Although the police report said it was just a coincidence, she had experienced too many supernatural things to accept this explanation.
This couldn’t have something to do with her, right? She had been responsible for other cases in addition to these two. There had been a total of four, around one a week on average. This was what made it hard for her to bear. She hadn’t known that there were so many relatives who ended up falling out with each other!
Of the other two cases, one agreed to mediate and the relationship between the two generations seemed to be thawing. This made Xiao Xia feel the law and herself had been successful. The lawsuit had started for the other case, and was awaiting the court’s decision.
If all her cases would turn out weird, why were those two cases fine? Maybe it only happened to cases where there was no mediation? But the accused of the case that was brought to court had the vilest conduct. Yet he was still completely fine as of now. How could that be explained?!
Ghosts afraid of truly evil people?! No, it definitely wasn’t that!
The only explanation was that Guan Zheng had come along with her on the two cases where something happened!
Lawsuits were really just a struggle for benefits. Cases involving disputes over money were even more obvious. The accused in such cases mostly felt they could ignore the law, and there was a higher possibility of a fight breaking out. Therefore, Guan Zheng didn’t want to let Xiao Xia work by herself. However, since he was rather busy, the male intern had helped her with two of her other cases.
Could the cases with weird conclusions be due to Guan Zheng’s involvement?
This thought revolved around her mind, but she kept refuting it. Guan Zheng was indeed a little prejudiced, believing that lawbreakers should be punished. He wasn’t willing to give them a chance to repent. He was this way towards others, but would treat himself just as strictly. This might be due to his many years of working on pro-bono cases, but he wasn’t a bad person.
Wang Hua and Zhang Mou’s seemingly ordinary deaths concealed some unusual circumstances. Guan Zheng was just a normal person, and couldn’t do such mysterious things.
However…what was up with that plant? It was unfortunate she had been terrified back then, and didn’t get a good look. Otherwise, she could have investigated it.
Xiao Xia sat and thought for a while, growing more and more frightened. She decided to distract herself, and forced herself to keep sleeping.
The next day was the weekend. She had arranged for a trip to the forest park with Wan Li. Although she didn’t get her wish of having Ruan Zhan come along, she still decided to go. Her work had been too stressful recently.
“Are your driving skills up to par?” She roasted Wan Li.
Wan Li’s salary was rather high. He worked both at the clinic and at the university. He even published some papers every now and then. However, he liked travelling too much, and used pretty much all of his money doing so. Buying that haunted house last time also used up all his savings. Therefore, he didn’t have his own car. They had borrowed Ruan Zhan’s car for the trip.
“Don’t underestimate me. I just don’t have money lying around to buy a car. I’ve driven Ah Zhan’s car several times on solo outings. I won’t even flinch at harder roads, let alone….” He suddenly slammed on the breaks, startling Xiao Xia.
“What happened?” Luckily they had left the city already, or there would definitely have been an accident.
Wan Li indicated outside the window. He parked the car to the side, opened the door and jumped out.
Xiao Xia looked and saw him running towards an old couple. It was Wang Hua’s parents. They were carrying a large amount of offerings to the dead, walking slowly and seeming exhausted.
Xiao Xia also got off the car.
The Wang couple had come to commemorate the fifth week of Wang Hua’s passing. However, the public cemetery where he was buried had been newly constructed. Transportation had yet to be established. Normally, people took taxis or drove their own car. The old couple wanted to save money so they took the bus to the closest stop before taking a taxi the rest of the way. This time they hadn’t been as fortunate. All the taxis had refused to take them upon hearing their destination.
Wan Li and Xiao Xia immediately decided to give them a ride to the cemetery and then back to the bus stop before resuming their own trip.
The cemetery wasn’t small but the left side had yet to be opened up. Only the right side had rows of white gravestones. On either side were small bushes that looked like holly. The cement in front of the graves was still fresh. It was early in the morning. A cleaning worker was driving an electric vehicle between the gravestones, doing the cleaning.
Three graves down from Wang Hua’s was a large family paying their respects, blocking the path. Xiao Xia’s group had to slowly squeeze past them. Xiao Xia happened to look up and see the cleaner jumping off the car as though having noticed something. He grabbed at the bushes beside the gravestone and pulled out several strands of weeds. He threw it in the trash can behind the electric vehicle.
The cleaner had moved quickly so Xiao Xia hadn’t seen clearly. However, she felt that the weed was the same type as the plant she had seen beside Zhang Mou that day.
“Wait!” She inadvertently shouted, making to run after him. However, she had forgotten she was in the middle of a crowd and holding a large amount of offerings in her hand. She almost tripped and fell onto the gravestone next to her. Luckily, Wan Li was quick and caught her around the waist, saving her from smashing her head against the stone.
After hurriedly apologizing to the glaring mourners, Xiao Xia noticed the cleaner had already driven off. She figured she must have been mistaken. Even if there was something wrong with that strange plant, it wouldn’t be growing here. The deceased had already been cremated and the gravestone was surrounded by cement. Could a plant have such strong vitality?! Absolutely not!
“What’s wrong?” Wan Li asked in concern.
Xiao Xia shook her head. She did her best to suppress the inexplicable unease she felt. However, it still welled up in waves. It still remained in her mind even a week later.
Had it been the same plant? If it was, how could it have survived being burned and then covered in cement? Was it a demonic object? Was there a secret behind this?
With the strong doubts in her mind, she finally made a trip to Zhang Mou’s grave a week later. Once no one was around, she secretly dug around the sides of the tombstone. Short pine trees were planted on either side and they had been watered in the morning, the smell of mud mixing with the smell of the aroma of the tree. Xiao Xia practically buried her head into the thicket. What she saw made her heart trembled.
A strange “weed” was growing from the gaps next to the gravestone. It was still a sprout, but it had already grown its oval leaves.
Xiao Xia’s heart beat violently, as though she were getting close to some secret. There was some excitement mixed within her unease. She put on the gloves she had prepared in advance, stretched out her hand and suddenly pulled the weed out!
She moment she touched it, she felt that strange plant move. It seemed to bite her hand, making her relax her grip in shock and throw it to the floor. She watched as it wilted at an abnormal rate!
She crouched, before finally picking up its remains after bracing herself. This time it didn’t move, silently allowing her to put it into a clean paper bag.
After getting home, she started looking into various articles and pictures on the internet. One article attracted her attention…the poppy, originating from Asia Minor, India and Iran. It was cultivated in small quantities within China as a medical plant. The poppy was a biennial herbaceous plant within its family. Its stem was light green and its leaves were oval, growing along the stem. It bloomed in the summer, with one flower per branch. The flowers were large and vivid, blooming upwards in red, purple and white colors. The flowers wilted early, forming into buds containing many tiny seeds. Chinese medicine used these pods, known as “poppy pods” or “imperial rice pods”. These were harvested in the summer, and removed from the stem and deseeded. After drying, it can be cooked in vinegar or honey-roasted and eaten. The seeds contained fifty percent oil, which could be extracted.
Poppy pods taste bitter and were poisonous. It contained morphine, cocaine, nicotine. Poppies contain over thirty types of alkaloids and can be used as pain relief, cough suppressant and antidiarrheal. It can be used for treating emissions caused by weak kidneys. The fruit of the poppy contains nectar which becomes opium after drying. It contains 10% morphine and alkaloid, allowing it to suppress muscle spasms, especially that of the heart. It can be used for angina and clogged arteries, but prolonged use may easily result in addiction and toxic buildup, seriously damaging the body. Those suffering from this are often called “opium ghouls”. Serious cases may result in death due to asphyxiation.
Therefore, China has strict controls on the growth of poppies. It is prohibited outside of medical studies. Planting seeds or saplings for personal use is illegal and will be prosecuted.
After turning off the computer, Xiao Xia’s mind didn’t clear up. Instead, it grew even more chaotic. If the strange plant was indeed a poppy, assuming she wasn’t mistaken, it would explain why the two people without any history of taking drugs would die from drug overdose.
What made her more confused was how it managed to accomplish this. Drugs are produced through processing and purification. Eating the plant by itself wouldn’t be deadly. Furthermore, how did the poppy get there? Why did it move like a living thing? What secrets were involved here?
Thinking of this, Xiao Xia hurried over to the law firm.
Only around 10% of the office’s building had been sold. There were tenants on the first seven floors, but the floors above those were empty. There wasn’t a single person, making it seem even more eerie after sunset. Xiao Xia pressed the button for the fifteenth floor, standing a little uneasily in the elevator.
She had encountered ghosts in elevators before. Therefore, she always got creeped out when she was in an elevator by herself for an extended period of time. Wan Li called it claustrophobia. She didn’t understand these psychology terms. She just wanted to get to the top floor quickly, deeply afraid of seeing something in the reflective surfaces of the elevator walls.
With a ding, the elevator arrived. She hurriedly stepped out with her head lowered. The doors slowly closed behind her.
She habitually took a left turn but felt a dark shadow streaking by in front of her, startling her. She raised her head and was shocked to find this wasn’t the fifteenth floor. It was the thirteenth!
It was the dark, empty thirteenth floor!