Seeing that face, Gu Yu felt a chill creeping up his spine, cracking all the way to the back of his head. Instinct told him to run away at once, but before he had time to react, the old man’s face changed back, becoming swarthy, old and plain again.
He froze on the spot, not sure whether he had been seeing things, or the dim light had obscured his vision.
The old man coughed in his husky voice, which sounded as normal as any human being’s. He then said, "Young man, I’m going home now. Remember to meet me here tomorrow!"
With that, he wandered off in his drunk and swaying gait.
The rain hadn’t stopped, but was not as heavy now. Gu Yu watched the stooping figure disappear into the darkness, forgetting to hold up the umbrella in his hand. He then suddenly came to himself and immediately left that place.
Not a single soul was on the street apart from himself. He ran all the way back to the motel along the half-lit road. By the time he got back, he was almost soaking wet.
The female owner was still in front of the television. Seeing he was back, she only gave him a glance. Gu Yu, on the other hand, was feeling much reassured now, as if the existence of living people in this little motel had made it the safest place on earth.
He was about to go upstairs when he paused and asked, "Sister, may I ask you about something?"
"What is it?"
"Do you know the beekeeper, Old Li?"
"Yeah, what about him?" The woman was still speaking in that rigid tone.
Gu Yu hesitated and did not know how to proceed.
The woman suddenly went on, "He died a few days ago. What about him?"
"Dead?" He shuddered.
"That's right, he even had a funeral," she was very certain.
Almost in an instant, Gu Yu felt his throat hurt with a burning sensation. An indescribable pressure emerged from somewhere at the same time, pressing against his chest.
He let out a few shallow breaths and dared not think further. The only thing he could say was, "Sister, could you get me a ride now? Any vehicle will do. I need to go back to Bai Town."
"Now?" The woman asked incredulously.
"Yes, that's right. Now!"
"At this hour of the night? There’s no car…"
"Is 400 yuan enough?" He took out all his cash and smacked a wad of bills on the counter.
The woman hesitated at the sight of the money and said reluctantly, "I’ll try. You go pack your stuff first."
"Great. Please hurry up!"
After those words, he stomped up the stairs and returned to his room, packing his backpack in a flurry.
The quiet and gloomy room looked the same as before. The window glass was still blurry. A motorbike drove past the motel outside, its headlight flashing briefly across the window before it was gone.
As the engine’s sound faded away, the room felt darker than ever.
‘The woman said he was dead, then what did I see back there? Who did I see this afternoon? Even if he was a ghost, how could he walk around in broad daylight? Wait, that's not important. I need to leave here first!’
He wrapped up the medicine materials with layers of packages as various ideas wandered through his mind. Just as he finished packing, slow and heavy footsteps came from the silent hallway, as if someone was stamping on wooden boards. Moreover, each time the foot was lifted or set down, it gave off a sticky and strenuous sound.
Gu Yu turned around abruptly. As the sound closed in, he could smell something weird in the air. He had always had a sensitive nose, which was now only making his fear worse.
The reason being, he could detect a stench of rotten flesh from that smell in the air.
He was puffing and panting now.
His heart was thumping wildly as he fluttered around but failed to find anything that could be used as a weapon. There wasn’t even a chair in the room.
Just then, the footsteps stopped outside his door and a husky voice said with a laughter, "Young man, didn’t you want to see my honey? Why are you leaving now?"
"What, what on earth are you?"
Normal people would have fainted in terror by now. Gu Yu managed to maintain his composure and slided the window open quietly as he asked the question.
"I’m Old Li. We saw each other in the restaurant just then."
"I heard you had something coming up and was leaving in a hurry, so I’ve brought you the honey. My honey is excellent. The others collect theirs every day, but I only do so once a week. My bees are of very good species as well…"
The thing was talking in an unhurried tone, as if the person inside were already a prey in its grasp. Gu Yu made no response, only moving slowly towards the window.
"Young man, why don’t you come out here… fine… since you’re not opening up, I’ll bring the honey to you."
The words were hardly out of its mouth when a sticky liquid started gurgling in from the crack under the door. It was a mixture of red, white, and yellow substances, which had an intense stench.
Gu Yu felt his stomach churning and covered his mouth hastily. What he was witnessing reminded him of a man being tossed into a meat grinder, his bones, minced flesh, and internal organs flowing out all at once mixed with blood.
If he had fantasized about confronting the thing before, this scene was completely beyond his comprehension. He stepped onto the table right away and, with another stride, he was by the window.
The motel was a two-story building, which was neither too tall nor too low. He took a glimpse outside but could not distinguish between the puddles and the solid ground. However, there was no time to think it through. He swung himself out of the window and jumped down.
He bent his legs slightly and leaned his body forward. As he was hitting the ground, he used the momentum and rolled over, then stood up at once.
Conversations from a TV program could still be heard from the ground floor. He did not stop to talk to the female owner, but ran towards the main street without turning his head around.
"Anybody there? Anyone? Anyone at all?"
Gu Yu shouted at the top of his voice, which sounded incredibly loud in the dark night. A few lights were still lit along the street, but no one seemed to be inside. Everything was dead silent.
After running for a little while, he found that restaurant ahead of him on the left. He quickened his steps, feeling a bit hopeful now.
When he got to the door, Gu Yu turned his head in a hurry to look inside. Through the plastic door curtain, he could see the owner couple sit side by side behind the count, beckoning at him in a unified rhythm.
The corners of their mouths had split open, forming the same creepy smile the old man had shown.
His heart almost stopped at this sight and he was instantly drained of all his strength. He almost collapsed to the ground and stumbled backwards. He could not stand it anymore as he cried out. If he guessed it right, he was the only living person in this town...
Gu Yu was utterly confused. What the hell was going on?! Wudao River had turned into a ghost town for no reason and was haunting him alone? Had he chosen to go back to Shengtian, probably none of these would have happened.
What should he do now?
He could not fight back and had no way to escape. He was cornered.
In that instant, emotions like regret, fluster, confusion, and even anger filled his mind, but he had not once considered giving up.
Gu Yu did not know his way around here, so he chose to run along the street. He did not let his guard down for even a second, for he had a distinctive feeling that the rotten stench was following him at an unhurried pace. Together with it was that husky laughter.
"Hehe, young man, you run really fast. I’m an old man and my legs don’t work that well. Have some pity on me… or not. My home is right ahead. I have plenty of good honey there..."
The voice spoke as if it was teasing a rat, full of chilly and dark enjoyment.
With those words, Gu Yu felt the street narrowing down and the buildings on either side vanished all of a sudden. Dark shadows appeared in the front, which was a number of rolling hills.
It was still raining. He felt colder than ever and his legs were getting heavier. Gu Yu was rattled and finally fell to the ground with a thump.
"Shit! The hell with it!"
After falling down, Gu Yu was not despairing—a sense of aggressiveness was forced out of him instead.
He smacked the ground hard and stood up at once. Looking around, he found himself on a muddy dirty road extending all the way from the east. On the west side were the low hills, heavily vegetated with dark woods. The branches rustled and swayed in the rain, reminding one of a mountain swarming with ghosts and monsters.
"I need to find, find something…"
Gu Yu was very anxious, but the anxiety had only made him calmer. The place was so dark that he took out his cell phone, trying to use the light to find some weapon.
He accidentally glanced at the screen and paused. A tiny green sign was beaming on the top of it, reminding him of an unread message.
He suddenly felt all this extremely ridiculous, for the appearance of this green sign did not make sense at all. Holding back his fear and ignoring that voice, he opened the message and found out it was from Xiaozhai. The content was empty, though. Above it was the chat log from before.
The time he received that message was displayed as 9:20 pm and it was 11 o’clock now.
‘Wait a minute!’
Gu Yu’s eyes flickered as numerous thoughts flew across his mind, being quickly formed into shape and sorted out.
After he’d finished chatting with Xiaozhai, he happened to check the time, which was 9:05 pm at that time. He then started meditation, sensing the agitated spiritual essence and hearing the weird tidal sound. Later he was hungry for no reason and went out to the restaurant, where he met Old Li.
About 15 minutes passed from the end of their chat to his meditation.
That was to say, when his meditation started, Xiaozhai’s message arrived almost at the same time… However, why didn’t he hear it then and only noticed it now? Why didn’t it have any content? He analyzed it quickly and realized something. The truth was almost there.
"Hehe, why did you stop running? That’s right, we’re here at my house. I’ll treat you well. Don’t worry, you’ll become good honey yourself."
The voice went on as it got closer, soon at his face.
Gu Yu pursed his lips and almost threw up again.
The thing in front of him was nothing close to a human being. It looked like an almost-burnt-up candle, resembling a product of wicks, wax and oil being grinded to a mush then coagulated together.
It did not have a mouth, but was enunciating every word:
Gu Yu interrupted before it finished sentence, "I know what you are."
That thing used a different tone for the first time, seemingly surprised.
"You’re neither Old Li, nor a ghost. This is not a hill and not your home, either. I’m still in Wudao River, which has not turned into a ghost town. Everything here…"
All those unreasonable things could be explained now. His eyes were bright and clear now and the fear was gone. He smiled, "None of these is real."
With that, the space around him contorted and gradually blurred, eventually fading away.
Gu Yu opened his eyes and found himself still in the quiet little room with the dim light. It was wet and windy outside. Raindrops were crackling against the glass, the TV was off and his cell phone was blinking with incoming messages on the bed.
He let out a long breath. Cold sweat had covered his forehead.