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"Splash!"

The sound of flowing water in the bathroom went on for over forty minutes, followed by a ten-minute-or-so quietness, then the door creaked open and out came Xiaozhai, steam rising off her body.

Probably because of the hot water, her cheeks and neck had turned pink, as though a white porcelain vase was tinted with a smear of rouge.

"Hiss!"



Seeing her coming out, Xiao Qing automatically slithered to the side. Gu Yu was reading. He looked up and rose from his seat. "Are you done? I'll go take a shower, then."

"The shower head is a bit loose. Don't twist it too hard," she reminded him.

"Ok."

He replied and walked into the bathroom with a bag.

Generally speaking, if a guy was spending more than forty minutes in the shower alone, he was either a cross-dresser or gay. Gu Yu, needless to say, was your average straight man. He finished his shower, washed his face, and brushed his teeth in thirty minutes.

Growing up sleeping on a brick bed, he was not in the habit of wearing pajamas, but went to bed in tank top and underpants. However, that outfit would look inappropriate in front of his female companion today, so he put on a pair of long johns and a short-sleeved T-shirt instead.

Xiaozhai scanned him up and down when he walked out wearing those, then chuckled without making any comment. They needed to rise early the next morning and neither was in the mood for a chat. They went to their separate beds soon after that.

"Click!"

The light was off and darkness set in. The room seemed to be shrinking and expanding infinitely at the same time, wrapping the two inside.

"Good night!"

"Good night!"

"Hiss!"

Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai slept in the same bed separated by a bowl of water. These two, however, shared a room with a snake coiling up between their beds. [1]

The following morning.

Zhao Jiu showed up very early, knocking at their door. The two did not think it mattered too much and joined the team.

Tianmen Town was about 2.5-3 km from the west entrance. Those travelling with light baggage could well walk the distance. However, these were backpackers. With all their tents and sleeping bags, a vehicle was necessary.

Inside a minibus, Gu Yu and Xiaozhai took their seats next to the door. The other passengers, three women and six men, were all from Shu Zhou, each with a successful career and a heart for adventure. The atmosphere was quite lively with all the tittering and giggling.

"Are you tourists or hikers?" One of the girls asked.

"A bit of both. We are amateurs, just here to have some fun," smiled Gu Yu.

"Well, I sort of guessed it since you didn't bring a tent. Tianzhu Mountain is famous among hikers, especially the East Pass track. A lot of people come here every year," said the girl.

"The East Pass is closed now and the east entrance is deserted. That's why they all choose to enter from there, no tickets needed," added a guy.

Gu Yu was taken by surprise at this. "Then, why are you…"

"Oh, we didn't buy a ticket last time and thought we should do it properly this year," explained that guy.

"Is that so…"

The corner of Gu Yu's mouth twitched; he kept his opinion to himself.

"Damn!"

Right then, another guy who was playing with his phone suddenly shouted, probably excited over a news notification. "They've just determined that case to be homicide. Like we need them to tell us that?! Can it be anything other than a homicide? The police are so incompetent!"

"It's been twenty days, isn't it? I heard they still have no clue at all?" Someone else chimed in at once.

"I've always found it strange. A big shot like that died and there's no uproar? That's just fishy!"

Everyone was eager to get a word in. The discussion roused Gu Yu's curiosity and he asked, "What homicide?"

"It happened some time ago. Four developers died during a demolition job."

"Three! Three developers died, the fourth one was a forklift driver."

"I heard they took apart a Taoist temple and an old priest died. Tsk, tsk…"

Zhao Jiu interjected at this point. "You know what, one of my colleagues has a friend in the police force who was on duty that day. According to him, the body was so mangled that it did not look like something a man could do," he gestured with an exaggerated face. "I heard that the heart was gone and there was a big hole in the chest, like it was carved out by a claw…"

"Oh come on! Have you been playing Resident Evil or something?"

"Exactly, zombies are not our local specialty."

Zhao Jiu's theory got sneered at by the others, who found it ridiculous. Gu Yu and Xiaozhai, on the other hand, exchanged a look and saw the surprise and doubt in each other's eyes.

They knew about this incident, but had no idea what was behind it. Zhao Jiu did not seem the bragging type. If what he said turned out to be true, then they would have a serious problem.

Shu Zhou, Xiahe Village.

Xiahe Village was under the jurisdiction of Luobi County, about 100 km away from Tuling County. This village was even more poverty-stricken and had only a measly population. A hundred or so households were scattered deep in interwoven alleys, as if confined in little squares. A single county road that was barely wide enough passed outside the village.

Night had set in. In a convenience store by the county road, Liu Changhe had just seen his mahjong buddies off.

It was the only convenience store in the village, which he had ran for over a decade. Recently, two automatic mahjong tables were added to the store and he had been playing deep into the night every single day. After bolting the door, he picked up the broom and started sweeping the floor, ready to go to bed.

"Bang bang bang!"

Right then, someone hammered at the door.

"Who is is?" He asked.

"I want to buy a bottle of water."

'Huh?'

Liu Changhe hesitated. The voice was unfamiliar and sounded a bit coarse. He walked to the door, holding the broomstick. A shadow was standing outside. He could barely make out the form of a young man through the frosted glass.

He was a very cautious man. "What water do you want? I'll hand it to you through the small window."

"..."

The man went silent for a few seconds before replying, "I need five bottles of water and five loaves of bread. Please bag them."

For no obvious reason, Liu Changhe instinctively felt uncomfortable. He bagged the things swiftly and thrusted them through the window. "Here, that's 25 yuan."

"Swish!"

The bag was drawn out instantly, replaced by a ghostly pale hand holding two notes.

He accidentally touched the fingers and shuddered, for they were icy cold. He grew even more terrified and gave back the change in a hurry, then snapped the window closed.

Faint footsteps came from outside, which soon disappeared. The person seemed to have left.

Staying in the room alone, Liu Changhe felt the whole thing was giving him the creeps. He grabbed his phone, "Hello? Xiao Bo, do you think you can… nothing, I'm just bored and want to talk to you."

"F**k, I'm in bed already. Move your ass over here if you want to talk!" Xiao Bo hung up.

"..."

He wavered. After quite a while, he ground his teeth and made up his mind. Carrying a flashlight, he walked out.

Nights in rural areas were always pitch-black. He walked into an alley, the dim torch lighting his way. Over twenty households were located in this alley and a grove grew on its other end. Beyond that was the wild land.

Xiao Bo lived in the deepest corner of the alley. Liu Changhe fumbled his way to the courtyard and accidentally flashed the torch across the perimeter of the grove, revealing two figures standing upright.

One of them reminded him of the customer earlier. He suddenly turned his head around. "Who's there?"

"Ah!"

Liu Changhe shuddered with terror. The man had a ghostly pale face, which looked gruesome and creepy. The other figure was wrapped in black cloth with its face hidden away.

Seeing it was Liu Changhe, the man frowned, the look on his face vaguely laced with killing intent.

"..."

Time seemed to have stopped. He dared not even move his little finger, as if waiting for a verdict. That man remained silent for a while and turned back his head, still motionless, then disappeared into the woods.

"Ha… ha…"

Panting, Liu Changhe started banging on the door.

"What the hell, you really have come! What's the matter with you today?" Xiao Bo came out with a coat hanging over his shoulders, complaining all the way.

Liu Changhe could not bring himself to banter with him after narrowly escaping death. "I, I think I just saw a f**king ghost!"

[1] TL/N: Liang Zhu (梁祝), or The Butterfly lovers, is a Chinese legend of a tragic love story (star-crossed-lover type of tragedy). ED/N: Think Romeo and Juliet.

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