The next day right before noon, Xiao Xia once again stood outside Lu Yan’s door with packages of various sizes.
She had accidentally hurt Lil’ Tong the night before and still felt guilty. She really wanted to make it up to them. She knew Lu Yan worked in the morning and only got home around three. Therefore, she planned on playing with Lil’ Tong and eating lunch with him.
Lu Yan had said she would prepare food in advance before work. If Lil’ Tong got hungry, he would eat it himself.
This made Xiao Xia’s heart clench from pain. Lil’ Tong had to grow up too soon. He was only five! At his age, many children loved to play and weren’t willing to eat properly. Their parents would use all sorts of methods to coax them to eat. Yet Lil’ Tong couldn’t play with anyone his age, and had learn how to take care of himself.
Thinking of his situation, Xiao Xia had made up her mind to help the mother and son!
The moment she stepped into the old and dark three-storied building, she felt a chill sweep over her. It should have felt refreshing under the hot summer sun, but Xiao Xia felt the temperature difference was a little too great. Goosebumps rose along her arms and she involuntarily shivered.
Furthermore, the hallways were very dark.
Last time they had come, they assumed the dark was due to it being nighttime. Now that she was here during the bright sunny day, she realized that was how this place was. The windows by the stairs and corners were small to begin with, and there were many miscellaneous objects piled against them, blocking the light from outside. The white walls had turned dark and grey. Since there weren’t many inhabitants, the doors were shut tightly, making the long hallway seem disturbingly empty. Each step echoed, making it feel like a tunnel.
The sound of a door opening startled Xiao Xia. She had just reached the second floor so she casually looked towards the hallway. However, she didn’t see any doors opening. The end of the hallway was murky and obscure. She wanted to get out of there quickly but messed up in her haste. The bundle of things in her arms fell to the floor. The bag of fruits spilled and the contents rolled everywhere.
She hurriedly crouched down and started picking them up. One, two, three. Once she had packed up the food and toys before starting to pick up the fruit, she suddenly realized she had ended up in the middle of the hallway.
A strange noise rang out. It sounded like the rattling of a chain lock, and it sounded right by her ear. Xiao Xia stood up startled.
The hallway was still completely empty. The two dark doors were tightly shut, the chains around the doorknobs completely still. However, Xiao Xia inexplicably felt a chill, sensing that something inside was watching her!
She turned and fled in fright, ignoring the scattered fruit on the floor. However, she had just reached the landing of the third floor when she felt something trip her, causing her to stumble. A few of her bags dropped again.
She instinctively went to pick them up again. The moment she bent over, she saw a pair of eyes staring at her from the pile of junk in the corner!
Was something hiding in there?!
She suddenly felt a burst of courage in her terror. She shoved aside the pile of junk and saw a portrait of a smiling girl against the wall. On the uneven, oval face was a pair of black eyes without any whites or pupils!
So it was a painting! She let out a long breath, scolding herself for getting into her own head. She should find Lil’ Tong quickly!
She held her things tightly, steadied herself and turned onto the third floor. Behind her, the creaking and rattling noises started up again. They were regular, not too close yet not too far, making Xiao Xia feel something was following her the whole time. She couldn’t help but start running!
As she faced the door of Lu Yan’s apartment, cold sweat was already trickling down her back! She suddenly realized she had made a mistake. Lil’ Tong was so small and also wheelchair-bound. He definitely couldn’t open the door. She should have gotten the key from Lu Yan before coming here. But she had decided to drop by and was now unable to enter. Did she have to leave?
The piercing noise rang from behind her. Startled, she whirled around and saw Lil’ Tong in the wheelchair, one hand still on the door handle.
“Lil’…Lil’ Tong!” Xiao Xia cried out in surprise.
“I heard someone was outside.” Lil’ Tong smiled shyly. “Hello auntie. Please come in, auntie!”
A great weight seemed to have been lifted off her shoulders and she hurried inside. After dumping everything onto the table, she ran and tightly barred the door.
“Auntie, don’t lock the door.” Lil’ Tong’s small and tender hand pulled at her clothes. “I won’t be able to open the door for people like this.”
“Did someone else come visit?” Xiao Xia asked in confusion.
“I don’t know.” Lil’ Tong said innocently. “I kept hearing people running in the hallway and calling my name, telling me to come out to play. But when I open the door, there wasn’t anyone. Probably playing hide and seek! But mommy doesn’t let me go outside. I need to be obedient!”
Xiao Xia’s hairs stood on end.
Had someone come knocking on Lu Yan’s door? Why couldn’t Lil’ Tong see them? Was there something weird about this building?
“Auntie! Auntie!” Lil’ Tong pulled on her clothes again, interrupting her train of thought.
“Lil’ Tong, listen to me.” Xiao Xia crouched down and said seriously. “There are many bad people in this world. In the future, don’t open the door no matter what you hear. Apart from auntie, and of course your mommy too. Got it?”
“But…I wanna go play!”
“No buts. Lil’ Tong needs to be a good child.” Xiao Xia hurriedly held his frail shoulder. “If Lil’ Tong gets lonely, auntie promises to come play with you frequently, ok?”
“Alright, then Lil’ Tong will do it!” Lil’ Tong nodded happily.
Seeing how well behaved Lil’ Tong was, Xiao Xia reached out and stroked his face. However, she saw that Lil’ Tong’s expression had changed in an instant again. It was sinister and excited, like a beast that had caught its prey! She stepped back in fear, almost knocking the table over.
She shook her head and looked again. His expression hadn’t changed at all. It was still as innocent, harmless and adorable as before! She must have imagined it because she had been frightened by the weirdness from before! Luckily she hadn’t made a ruckus this time. She would feel even worse if she hurt him again.
“Auntie is fine, just a little dizzy.” Xiao Xia explained to Lil’ Tong who looked confused. “Look, auntie brought you many yummy and fun things. Hopefully they didn’t break. Come, let’s take a look.”
Because she wanted to protect Lil’ Tong, because she was now inside the sunny apartment and because the weird noises no longer rang out, Xiao Xia calmed down a little despite still feeling a little uneasy. She made a sumptuous meal for Lil’ Tong and then watched some anime with him for a while.
“Mommy’s about to come back soon. Let’s take a break?” Xiao Xia held Lil’ Tong and asked.
Lu Yan didn’t even have a television so she had brought her laptop. Seeing the meek Lil’ Tong a little reluctant yet too shy to argue, Xiao Xia’s heart softened and she opened up a program. “How about this. Let’s do some magic and then we’ll take a break, ok?”
Lil’ Tong nodded happily in agreement when he heard about the game.
The program could generate an image of what a person would look like after aging. It even allowed for various outfit changes. It just required a photo to be uploaded. A few days ago, Xiao Xia had jokingly used Bao Da Tong’s photo for some testing. Now, to entertain Lil’ Tong, she pulled up Bao Da Tong’s picture and made him look old. She even put a Daoist cap on him and added a mustache.
“Isn’t it fun?” Xiao Xia looked down and asked.
Lil’ Tong didn’t respond this time. He merely leaned in close to the laptop and looked at it very seriously.
His expression was too solemn, not something that should appear on a five year old. However, since Xiao Xia was holding him from behind, she didn’t notice anything. She just felt he was unusual silent.
“What? Can’t recognize him anymore, right?”
“I do! It’s Uncle Bao!” Lil’ Tong laughed, pointing at the screen.
“Pretty good. Lil’ Tong is really smart.”
“I can recognize him no matter what he turns into!” Lil’ Tong raised his head happily.
Time flew by quickly while they were playing the game. After Lu Yan came home, it was about time for XIao Xia to leave. However, she didn’t dare go downstairs by herself and asked Lu Yan to accompany her. The strange thing was that this time nothing weird happened. This made Xiao Xia start wondering whether what she had seen and heard were due to having yet to fully recover from her illness. Maybe what she had heard was something similar to tinnitus.
Outside the building, the bright sun swept away the gloom in Xiao Xia’s heart. She watched Lu Yan head back up and then looked around at her surroundings. She thought it might be best to help the mother and son move to a different house. As she was looking, a figure suddenly appeared in the corner of her eyes.
It was a young girl around five or six. She wore a very historical short-sleeved dress with flowery patterns. Her hair was long and it covered her whole face since her head was lowered. She sat alone underneath an old canopy used for parking, playing with some fruits in her hand.
For some reason, when Xiao Xia looked at her, she suddenly felt the sun was no longer was warm. At least that was the case when it shone upon the little girl. The fruits in her hand seemed to be the ones Xiao Xia had dropped on the second floor! At that moment, the little girl seemed to sense someone was watching her and slowly raised her head.
An oval face, beaming expression and a pair of large, round, dark eyes. Although the pair of eyes were beautiful, they were also abnormal. They had no whites or pupils, like two black stones inlaid upon a pale face!
Play with me!
A shrill voice was transmitted into Xiao Xia’s mind, giving her a huge fright. She instinctively ran backwards but a motorcycle happened to be passing behind. She wasn’t able to avoid it in time and was knocked to the floor.
The burning pain temporarily distracted her a little. By the time she snapped out of it and looked up, the little girl was already gone. Only a few pieces of fruit were left on the ground. She ignored her bleeding palms and knees, practically fleeing from the place!
Wan Li hadn’t gotten off work yet so only Ruan Zhan and Bao Da Tong were at the bar.
“Dear lord, did you get in a fight or what?” Bao Da Tong walked over and supported Xiao Xia. “Both knees are bleeding. Aiya, your palms are scraped too! Go, to the hospital.” He made a mountain out of a molehill, making Xiao Xia feel a little embarrassed.
“Just surface wounds. A little disinfectant will be fine. You’re yelling like I’m about to snuff it!” Xiao Xia handed him her laptop while hobbling to a seat at the bar.
Ruan Zhan was tidying things inside but didn’t even raise his head. It wasn’t clear what he was thinking about.
Xiao Xia was a little disappointed.
He had almost kissed her yesterday. Although she had fainted, she still remembered it very clearly. This made her feel rather confused. If he really had feelings for her, it made a lot of sense that he wanted to kiss her. They had been apart for a while after all. But when she found out he had given her and Bao Da Tong the place and moved to Wan Li’s haunted house, she felt he might not really have such strong feelings for her.
Or perhaps he had lost control for a moment and then regretted it afterwards. He probably moved out to avoid things getting awkward!
This made her a little angry. It felt like an insult. It’s fine if he didn’t like her, but was there a need to hide from her? Did he think she would drug and rape him? And now, despite her being injured, he didn’t even raise his head. He didn’t seem to care at all.
He didn’t love her! He ignored her!
Xiao Xia’s eyes brimmed with tears. Luckily, Bao Da Tong was clumsily disinfecting her wounds at that moment. The pain from her wounds made her cry out, saving her from having to hide her tears.
“Sorry, sorry!” Bao Da Tong hurriedly apologized. “I’m not used to taking care of girls.”
Nearby, there was a crash. A glass had fallen on the floor.
“I’ll go clean it up.” Still without raising his head, Ruan Zhan turned and went into the kitchen.
“You dummy, aren’t you supposed to be good at everything? You can’t even take care of a girl properly!” Xiao Xia took the opportunity to leap off the chair. “There’s a first aid kit in the bathroom. I’ll sort it out myself.” She ran up the stairs.
Bao Da Tong looked at the kitchen door and then at the stairs. After hesitating a moment, he finally still entered the kitchen. Inside, Ruan Zhan was rinsing his hand in the sink. A strand of blood was washed away from his palm by the clear water.
“You should just speak your mind. Why take it out on a glass? The glass broke and you ended up cutting your hand. So not worth it!” He lightly sighed.
Ruan Zhan spoke without turning his head. “Couldn’t you be more gentle?”
“Did your heart ache? Then why didn’t you help her yourself?” Bao Da Tong said, his tone a little provocative. “The two of you a really being difficult. One keeps hesitating, not daring to ask. The other clearly likes her to death but isn’t willing to speak up. I finally understand Wan Li’s struggle. It’s really hard to be caught in between the two of you.”
“Did you run over just to blab some nonsense?” Ruan Zhan still didn’t turn his head.
He had his difficulties. It was easy to give in to emotions. However, to fully be considerate of the other, he forcibly pulled away from what he couldn’t sever. Only he himself knew how hard it was. Wan Li was his friend and he could share his feelings with him. However, Bao Da Tong was just a temporary companion. He had no need to explain things to him.
“No, I just wanted to tell you.” Bao Da Tong took a few steps forward. “I’ve always been bad at resisting women. So…that…haha, you get it, right!?”
“You’re really confident. However, I don’t think it’s possible for Xiao Xia to fall in love with you.”
“Is that right?” Bao Da Tong raised his brows, his expression both wicked and innocent. “Are you so certain? I’m not afraid to tell you that Xiao Xia wants to learn magic. I’ve already accepted her as an apprentice in my dad’s stead. She’s no longer just your precious darling anymore. She’s also my junior apprentice. Fellow apprentices often…”
Before he finished speaking, a startled cry came from upstairs.
Bao Da Tong hadn’t moved yet when Ruan Zhan rushed up the stairs. He saw Xiao Xia sitting on the bed, the first aid kit still next to her. However, she was holding a newspaper, staring at the missing persons section.
Zhang Jia Lin. Five years old. Height: xx. Oval face, large eyes, missing since ten days ago. Please contact xxxxxx with any sightings.
Next to it was a picture of a little girl.
“What’s wrong?” Ruan Zhan leaned in and raised Xiao Xia’s chin.
Xiao Xia looked at him with an alarmed expression. His touch calmed her body’s trembling. “I just saw this girl earlier, but she vanished!”