A Choking Nightmare
Curled up in the bathtub, several broken memories flashed through my mind.
“Hey, why are you helping her? Haven’t you heard? She has schizophrenia!”
“Ah? That can’t be. She fell over, but no one’s even going to help her…”
“Aiya, let’s go. Just mind your own business. I’m telling you, she has problems up there…”
As if I’d turned on the cold water, I felt the piercing, chilly water fall from my head to my legs.
I scoffed. In a shitty place like this, where you’re neither dead or alive, you could still feel cold?
When I exited the bathroom, You Ji looked at me uneasily.
I smiled at her, letting her know that I was okay.
“I’ll find out what happened. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.” Instead of her usual snake look, You Ji was dressed in casual garb. She walked over to me and grabbed my hand.
“I’m fine. By the way, did you find out what happened with Laurel?”
You Ji swallowed. “There’s been a bit of progress, but…”
“Just tell me.” I looked at her with some suspicion.
She sighed and then said, “According to Jie Pa’s suggestion, we found someone with a keen sense of smell to investigate, but the trail cut at the Northside border. So, I suspect that Laurel is currently in Northside.”
I frowned. Northside was a different story from Southside. The layout of Northside was different from the other three districts, and those who resided there were people recognized by Mr Blond. Ordinarily, unless we were summoned, outsiders couldn’t just casually enter Northside. Moreover, when we did travel to Northside, it was only to the hall in the district center. Northside was a place beyond our understanding.
“Should we ask to meet with Mr Blond about this?” You Ji asked, looking to me.
I shook my head. “Mr Blond hasn’t been very happy with me lately. If this really involves someone from Northside, I can’t make an accusation so lightly. Let me think about it a bit.”
You Ji smiled. “Alright, then I’m going to see Jie Pa about what happened today. You and Nie Zun can discuss some more.”
She squeezed my hand, and then she headed to the door.
Just before she left, she turned back and said, “Laurel once told me that the moment she saw you, she took you as her older sister because she really liked you. Don’t worry. We’ll definitely find her and bring her back.”
As You Ji walked out the door, I laid down in my bed and looked up at the ceiling.
Nie Zun was, somewhat surprisingly, still calm. He remained silent as he leaned against the wall by the door.
After staring at the ceiling awhile, I finally said, “Nie Zun, I couldn’t even save someone who was right in front of me.”
Since he didn’t respond even after several minutes, I lifted my head to look at him.
He was looking at me, though his bangs covered his face so I could only see one eye.
It was bright, and yet dark.
I shot him a smile. “Since you resonated with that cruel version of me, tell me, do you think it was her who gave me this uncaring attitude of not saving someone in danger?”
“Not saving someone and being unable to save them aren’t the same thing,” he responded lightly.
I stopped looking at him and laid back down.
“Only someone incompetent would be so useless. Even if one had the desire to help, without any power to do so, they wouldn’t be any different to a person who ignored a plea for help.” As I listened to
my own reasoning, I felt quite empty inside.
“You really are so fragile that you fall over from one hit. I can’t imagine a killer living within you.” Nie Zun gave a smile.
I turned to glance at him coolly.
“Yeah. I don’t understand how a demon like that could live inside of me either.”
“Since that demon has already joined together with me now, just do a good job being a good person. Leave the sinister stuff for your other self and me.” For some reason, Nie Zun’s words gave me a very warm feeling.
But still, I wasn’t going to respond to him out of gratefulness.
Then, Nie Zun suddenly changed the topic. “The Split Zone is very strange, and the blond man is very strange. Haven’t you ever suspected him? Or has he just always seemed above suspicion to you?”
“It’s not that I’ve never thought to suspect him, I just don’t have the ability to suspect him.” I closed my eyes, and an overwhelming exhaustion overcame me. I knew that everything about the Split Zone was weird and nothing about it made sense. But I was just really tired, and I didn’t want to keep thinking about it.
After I rested for a bit, I opened my eyes and turned to Nie Zun. “Let’s make a trip to Northside. Secretly. Without letting Mr Blond know.”
“That doesn’t sound easy.”
“It’s fine. I know that Mr Blond can’t monitor us constantly. He simply has a lot of informants. But we just need to figure something out,” I insisted.
“Whatever you want. If you’re going, it’s not like I can stop from following.” Nie Zun’s demeanor was still entirely unconcerned. After he finished speaking, he raised his hand and pushed aside the bangs covering one of his eyes.
When I saw the glove on his hand still covered with blood, I lowered my eyes.
Noticing my attention on his gloves, he said, “It’s fine. I can wash them.”
“Who cares. Or did you want me to have ruined your new pair of gloves?” I rolled my eyes at him.
He tilted his head and laughed. “(For them) To be ruined by you would have been my pleasure.”
I really couldn’t get used to his oddly charming and ambiguous demeanor. I didn’t bother responding, and instead turned so that my back faced him.
Nie Zun’s voice drifted over to me. “It’s been tough on you these few days. Close your eyes and sleep a bit. When you wake up, we’ll have a meeting with Song Lu and the others about Northside.”
I closed my eyes.
And then I had a dream.
The Split Zone was a strange space where our consciousness lived. When our consciousness dreams, it’s almost like a dream within a dream. Dreams here were different.
When we dream here, we’re aware that we’re dreaming, but before the dream ends, we’re unable to wake ourselves up. During the dream, it feels as if we’re watching a scene unfold from the sideline. We can only watch and not intervene.
I rarely dreamt, and when I did, I rarely dreamt of myself. My dreams were always of endless, boundless deserts, with no one to trouble me, with no worries.
But this night, I dreamt of myself.
In my dream, I wore a high school uniform. I was sitting at a desk, reading a comic book. The place looked like the classroom from my last year of high school.
Suddenly, several girls scurried past me. And then a girl looked at my comic book. After a glance, she suddenly cried out, “Ah Zhen! Why are you reading this kind of gory comic again?! Gosh, it’s so scary. Seriously, you have such particular tastes!” Although the girl had seemed startled, she simply said a few sentences before leaving it alone. And then, I lifted my head and smiled at her. She walked to her seat behind me.
As she walked, she spoke to the person beside her. “Li Zhen’s a girl, so why does she like reading those cruel and bloody comics?”
The girl beside her responded, “Aiya. A lot of people nowadays like comics like that. I also heard that some adults can only get ‘into it’ when they read strange things.”
“Aiya, stop talking about such disgusting things.”
As those girls chattered, I saw another pretty girl with curly hair walking towards me.
She was suddenly at my side, and she snatched away my book. With a laugh, she said, “Ah Zhen, you’re reading these comic books again? Why don’t you listen?”
When I saw the pretty, curly haired girl, I shot her a bright smile. “Grapefruit, you’re making fun of me again.”
And then, the scene before me changed. The classroom I had just been sitting in disappeared. Now, Grapefruit and I were sitting in a corner of the playground. Both of us were holding a bar of ice cream.
I turned to Grapefruit and said, “Grapefruit, I’ll tell you a secret, but you can’t tell anyone.”
“Okay.” Grapefruit smiled and nodded.
“Actually… Something’s wrong with me here.” I pointed to my head.
Grapefruit’s eyes shimmered like a pair of shining stars. “Oh? What’s wrong?”
After taking the last bite of the ice cream in my hand, I tossed the wrapper into the garbage can and pat my hands clean. “When I was little, I would often talk to myself and I had some signs of ADHD. After a few years, I grew a strange illness, so my parents took me in for a checkup. The doctor said that I was showing some signs of schizophrenia.”
“Oh? But you look the same as everyone else.” Grapefruit also finished her ice cream.
I smiled to her. “Well, I am pretty much like everyone else, because the illness is very mild. Even if I were to hurt someone, it would be myself and not others. Hey, I’ll show you the diagnostic report.”
The me inside my dream pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to the girl named Grapefruit. I really wanted to stop her (“me”), to open my mouth and warn her, but I couldn’t say a single word. Like someone who’d been poisoned, I tried to cry out, but I was rendered powerless.
When I recalled that I was dreaming, that I was watching a scene from high school unfolding, I gave up trying to shout and dejectedly closed my eyes.
Just as the dream scene cut off, I suddenly heard Nie Zun’s voice. “Li Zhen, wake up!”
I quickly woke up and saw Nie Zun looking down at me from beside the bed. His expression was complicated.
I looked around me and realized that it was dark outside the window.
“It’s already night?”
“You slept for a long time.” When Nie Zun saw me sitting up, he straightened his back and stuffed his hands back inside his coat pockets.
“Were you here the whole time?”
“Mmh.” Nie Zun nodded and then added, “What did you dream about? You kept saying ‘Don’t, don’t.'”
I flinched as I recalled the conversation I had with Grapefruit in my dream.
I lowered my head and said, “It’s nothing. I just dreamt of my time in high school.”
Nie Zun looked at me thoughtfully. Then, he said, “I notified Song Lu and Yu Liang already, so we can discuss with them about Northside.”
“Okay.” I nodded.