The play the drama club was going to perform was a very famous one: The Phantom of the Opera.
Nana was the female lead, Christine. The male lead, Raoul, was played by a rugged-looking male classmate with darker skin. Since Bao Da Tong said we would encounter big trouble, I struck even more closely to Nana. Of course, Bao Da Tong was always there as the third wheel as well.
Yet during this time, not the slightest thing happened and no one else drowned in the lake. The rehearsals went smoothly, and gradually, people dropped their vigilance. Humans, by nature, are forgetful beings. Once peace sets in, we often assume that the dangers have receded, oblivious to the malevolent entities lurking in the shadows, poised to emerge and jeopardize lives.
I was no exception. With numerous tasks to attend to before graduation, I could no longer personally accompany Nana on a daily basis. On occasion, Bao Da Tong would step in and accompany her in my place. Actually, I was a little worried and jealous. Bao Da Tong was popular with the ladies after all. However, I had faith in our relationship, and was truly too busy. Therefore, I had visibly less time for white-knighting.
One night I got back very late from the library. I was about to head into the dorm when someone called my name from the corner. It was Nana.
“What’s wrong? Why are you still out so late?” I was a little confused.
She didn’t speak, running over to hug my waist. She wouldn’t let go and her body trembled, as if very frightened.
I didn’t understand what was going on. I stroked her hair and said, “Tell me, what happened? Where did that scoundrel Bao Da Tong run off to. Didn’t he say he would help me accompany you? Did he ditch you to go pick up girls?”
Nana still didn’t speak. She merely shook her head and held me tight.
“Then you must be missing me, right?” I smiled, kissing her hair. I was very happy to see her so dependent on me. “Things will get better soon. I’ve really been too busy recently and ended up neglecting you. I’m sorry!”
“No.” She finally spoke, her voice like a mosquito’s.
“Then what is it? There there, maybe you should go back to your dorm first. It’s so late. I’m free tomorrow, so I’ll spend the whole day with you, ok?” I comforted her.
Little did I expect that my words would provoke a strong reaction from her. She suddenly released her grip on me and instead tightly held onto my hands, urgently saying, “No, I don’t want to go back. I want to live with you!”
“How will that do?” I was startled. “There are six other students in my room, as well as an extra Bao Da Tong. And I’m not able to get inside the female dorms either!”
“Let’s find a place off-campus. If not, a hotel would work too!” She insisted.
It was only then that I noticed her complexion was remarkably pale and haggard, which filled me with a wave of guilt. I thought that I had been neglecting her too much lately. However, I wasn’t in favor of living together. Although we had lived together for a while after she became my girlfriend, it became too expensive. Accessing the library also became inconvenient, so we moved back into the dorms. With graduation drawing near, her request seemed incredibly unreasonable. Yet, the way she uttered it out of the blue left me suspicious that something might really be amiss.
“Just what on earth happened?” I asked.
“Don’t ask, I can’t say! I can’t say. Just stay with me, leave this place with me!” She was extremely anxious. It even sent shivers down my spine, and despite my persistent questioning, she remained tight-lipped, insisting that we live off-campus somewhere.
I found myself unable to resist her relentless pleas, and that very evening, we made our way to a hotel and reserved a room. I soothed her to sleep, intending to find out what happened once her emotions had settled the following day. But that night she slept restlessly, plagued by constant nightmares. In her disturbed state, she mumbled incomprehensibly, repeatedly exclaiming, “I won’t go with you! Let me go! I don’t like you!”
When we got back to campus the next day, we heard that one of the girls in Nana’s dorm room had suddenly committed suicide by jumping off the building. The girl had struck the ground face first, and her facial features were no longer discernible when she was discovered. However, there was a distinct bruise in the shape of a handprint around her throat. It appeared as though she had been standing by the window, grabbed by something outside, and thrown off the building!
Now I started getting suspicious. I felt Nana must know something which was why she had fled. However, she still refused to say anything when I asked again. When I pressed her too much, she actually fainted. I understood that her refusal to speak was likely due to an intense internal aversion. Pushing her further might risk triggering a breakdown, so I hesitated to press her for answers.
Coincidentally, these days happened to be the anniversary of Ah Zhan’s father’s death. He would return home around this time each year without fail. However, this incident was too peculiar, so I felt compelled to seek out Ah Zhan. Unfortunately, he had already asked off and was preparing to leave.
“Can’t you leave a few days later?” I asked him.
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of my father’s passing. I must observe the three-day mourning period at the gravesite.” He said without even lifting an eyebrow.
“But I feel something will happen again.” I was a little anxious. “Think about it. Is someone who already passed away more important than the living?”
“The dead are more important.”
His answer angered me half to death, but he said, “Protect the one you wish to protect. Don’t bother with anything else.” Then, he left without looking back.
I could only go look for Bao Da Tong. Unexpectedly, he was looking for me as well. He had heard about the girl who jumped from the building and went to take a look. He sensed a malevolent aura from the girl’s body and concluded that it was not a suicide, but rather a result of being ensnared by some sinister entity.
I told him about Nana and he swore he remained by her side the whole time whenever I wasn’t there. He only left after escorting her back to her dorm. Based on her current condition, something must have happened inside her dorm room. She must have been threatened, or she wouldn’t be unwilling to speak despite being so scared. During that excursion in the mountains, Nana went through the same terrifying experience we did. Even though she wasn’t present for all of it, she would still be able to discern whether something was real or illusionary!
After discussing for a while, we decided that since Nana wouldn’t say anything, we would start with investigating the dorm room. With a girl having just killed herself, it would definitely be empty that night. Bao Da Tong would figure out how to sneak in and then get me inside via the window! Of course, everything would have to be kept secret from Nana.
Nana’s home was in the suburbs of the city. Although it was a little far, I still made an excuse to send her home before returning to campus by myself. Around the time for lights out, I waited behind the dorm for Bao Da Tong’s signal.
I crouched in the flowerbed waiting, but the signal never came. Right as I was beside myself with worry, there was a sudden feeling that gave me goosebumps all over. I wasn’t the only one in the flowerbed!
I looked around in shock. Apart from a cluster of holly bushes, there was nothing to be seen. However, the unsettling feeling confirmed I wasn’t the only one staring at the upper window of the dormitory!
Suppressing my pounding heart, I gripped a stone used to keep out weeds and slowly moved to the left. The feeling grew stronger with every step!
I pulled aside the bush! A dark shadow around half a foot long flashed by, passing underneath me. I instinctively threw the stone but the shadow leapt once again and avoided it. A pair of bean-sized green eyes glowed at me. There were two resentful croaks. It was actually a super large frog!
I collapsed to the floor and cursed quietly. At that moment, the window above opened, and a small mirror flashed towards the direction of the holly bushes under the moonlight. It was the signal that Bao Da Tong and I had agreed upon. Reacting swiftly, I moved to the base of the wall, grabbed the dangling rope, and began to climb upward.
I was someone who enjoyed sports. Having dabbled in various activities such as mountaineering, weightlifting, diving, and running, I had some experience in tasks like this. Thus, climbing the rope felt effortless. I easily climbed halfway into the air.
However, as I neared my destination and looked up, I noticed the rope wasn’t hanging from Nana’s window. This was to say the rope wasn’t thrown by Bao Da Tong. It looked like it was growing from a crack in the wall instead!
Around the crack was a dark stain. It is a common occurrence for walls to develop patches of discoloration or peeling paint due to weathering or other factors. These patches often create a stark contrast with the surrounding colors and, when seen from afar, can unintentionally form various shapes. That patch appeared to be just like that. Yet the shape was a little strange, like a person with arms extended. The rope seemed to be coming out from the hand.
Startled, I almost let go of the rope. I had already climbed four stories, and if I fell, I would be seriously injured if not dead. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t dare call for Bao Da Tong. Then, I suddenly felt the rope underneath me start moving. Something was climbing up after me!
When I looked down, I noticed that the rope was pulled taut for some reason. From my position, I could only see a bird’s-eye view of whatever was climbing up along the rope. Just the head, to be precise.
Through the dense black hair and narrow shoulders, I could discern a figure wearing a short-sleeved onesie. Bathed in the moonlight, their pale hands tightly gripped the rope, steadily pulling themselves upward, inch by inch. In a matter of moments, they had drawn close to me!
In a state of nervousness, I kicked forcefully against the wall, causing both the rope and myself to swing outward. Simultaneously, I used my other foot to hook onto the rope and vigorously shook it, hoping to dislodge the unknown entity. However, it clung stubbornly to the rope, refusing to let go no matter what.
Under the moonlight, it raised its head!
It was the mangled face of a woman. Her eyes were bloodshot, and there was a bruised handprint around her neck. Undoubtedly, it was the same girl who had jumped off the building!
“Let…me…up!” She said in a trembling voice, as if she was freezing. “I…don’t…want..to…go…down, I…want…to…go…up!”
Despite my courage, the scene filled me with fear. In an attempt to shake her off, I swung the rope even more vigorously. However, it seemed as though she was glued to the rope, refusing to be dislodged. She continued to climb relentlessly, and her icy-cold hand grabbed hold of my foot, causing me to be overcome with fright, immediately curling up in self-defense.
“Croak!” The cry of a frog sounded from below.
That frog had appeared once again, and had also climbed up the rope. It’s movements were agile and it reached the girl in a few hops, landing on her head!
Suspended in mid-air, I found myself confronted with an eerie human-shaped stain above me, gripping a rope that seemingly extended out of nowhere. Below my feet was the girl who had jumped off the building just yesterday, along with a peculiar frog. Two red and two green eyes stared at me relentlessly, leaving me with no escape route in sight. It seemed that jumping off the rope was the only option!
“There’s three!” A voice came from above.
At that point, my heart froze. All my attention had been focused below and I hadn’t expected the dark patch above to speak. My grip loosened and I almost fell. Although I managed to grab the rope again in time, I slid a foot lower, practically stepping on that girl’s head. At that distance, I could more clearly see that frog!
It was a toad! Although it looked no different from a normal toad, other than being a little larger, it weirdly had a small patch of hair growing on its head, parted to one side. It seemed exceptionally familiar, as if I had seen it somewhere before. Furthermore, its gaze was rather strange. For some reason, it made me recall the construction worker than drowned in the lake. Its gaze was filled with resentment towards me, as if it would only be satisfied at my quick demise.
“I can’t hold on any longer!” The patch above spoke and the rope started shaking.
I thought I was done for, about to splat onto the ground like a meat pancake. Therefore, I no longer cared as I cursed loudly, “You asshole Bao Da Tong! You tardy bastard, you’re gonna get this daddy killed!” His voice had just fallen when another rope dropped a meter away from me. The rope I was currently holding immediately slackened.
With no time to spare, in the moment when my grip weakened, I quickly leaped, pushing my feet against the wall and grabbing hold of the nearby rope. As soon as I grabbed hold, I felt a surge of heat coming from above. Instinctively, I dodged to the side, only to witness a small fireball hurtling downward, striking both the girl and the toad who had fallen. It also ignited the rope lying on the ground.
Amidst the blaze, those three things swiftly vanished with a woosh!
“Quick, get up here!” Bao Da Tong’s voice called softly.
I scrambled up in a few moves, and to my surprise, I saw a long-haired female ghost with heavy makeup standing by the window!
Without thinking, I swung my fist and struck the female ghost. She let out a cry of pain and immediately fell to the ground, but she continued to mutter through gritted teeth, “What the hell, why did you hit me?” However, the voice was Bao Da Tong’s.
I leapt over, pinning the female ghost down with my knee, “Tell me, what are Wang Ru’s measurements?” I was afraid of getting tricked by a shapeshifting evil spirit and insisted on confirming things. My question was an obscure one that evil spirits wouldn’t be interested in, but Bao Da Tong definitely would.
“85…61…89.” The female ghost said without hesitation.
I let him go, having verified he wasn’t a fake.
Bao Da Tong got up in a fit of rage and exclaimed, “Why did you hit me? Explain yourself clearly, or I won’t let this slide!” He whispered in a heated voice, sounding eerie in the darkness.
I knew I had made a mistake but wasn’t willing to admit it. I whispered back, “It’s your fault for dressing like a female ghost! So damn ugly!”
“Nonsense! If there really was something sinister, would it take the bait after realizing I was a guy? I worked so hard to change my aura, making myself more “feminine”. I even put on a wig, fake breasts, and makeup, only for you to still hit me! Just wait, I’m going to get you back when the sun rises!”
“Would I be scared of you?” I continued stubbornly. “You think a girl would sleep in such heavy makeup? Aren’t you just being obvious? Really, how dumb can you get?”
“Surnamed Wan, are you quite finished? You hit me, and then called me dumb and ugly. My temper is good, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover…shhhh…”
Halfway through, he suddenly made a shushing gesture and snuck to the door to listen.
At that moment, footsteps rang out in the hallway!