Arc Two: Wooden Boy
Wen Shi picked out the discernible words and read them aloud. After piecing the words together, they could just barely understand the contents of that loose piece of paper.
“So – so that boy is a puppet?” Xia Qiao asked.
“Mn.” Wen Shi didn’t bother looking up as he continued to flip through the latter few sheets of paper.
“No wonder he’s so scary.” Xia Qiao crossed his short arms and rubbed at his nonexistent goosebumps. The more he thought about it, the stronger his lingering fear grew. “Such a terrifying child, could the old man actually bear to raise him?”
“Don’t know.” Wen Shi said.
A beat later, he then remembered that normal people wouldn’t react so calmly. In an attempt to analyze the situation, he added, “The old man most likely became attached after taking care of him for a long time.”
“You can even become attached to that?” Xia Qiao pondered a bit and said, “The old man is a good person.”
“The things in these cages have been magnified and exaggerated. As for what that little demon actually looks like in reality, who knows.” Wen Shi said.
Xia Qiao finally somewhat understood. “All right then.”
Wen Shi was flipping through the sheets of paper when he suddenly sensed that there was someone watching him.
He paused in his movements and lifted his head, shooting a glance over at Xie Wen’s figure in the mirror. Since it was too indistinct, it was hard for Wen Shi to make out Xie Wen’s expression.
“Why’re you looking at me?” Wen Shi frowned in confusion.
Xie Wen was startled for a second before he said slowly, “Aren’t you a sensitive one. I wasn’t looking at you, I was looking at the papers in your hand. Did you find anything else?”
That tone of voice…
Was exactly like a supervisor’s.
Wen Shi remained silent as he withdrew his gaze and continued to identify the words on the paper.
A few moments later, Xie Wen said, “What’s written on the fourth line of the second page?”
Wen Shi pursed his lips and read out loud, “This puppet doesn’t recognize objects or people. It has likely been badly frightened, as it instantly shrank into a corner when I brought it back.”
“Oh.” Xie Wen spoke again, “What about the very last line?”
The doll expressionlessly shifted his line of sight down the paper. “However, when I… the words in the middle are blurry, I can’t read them – suddenly latched onto my clothing. In any case, it has nowhere else to go, so I might as well let it stay.”
Xie Wen nodded. “Then, the third page—”
“How about you look at it yourself.” At last, the doll lost his patience and pulled out the third piece of paper before slamming it onto the mirror with a plop.
That was quite the temper.
Right as Xie Wen was about to speak, the old-fashioned light bulb hanging in the storage room abruptly started to sway. The dim, gloomy circle of light shifted back and forth, making the entire room flicker with shadows.
They simultaneously hushed their voices.
Once no one was talking anymore, that sort of deathly silent feeling grew all the more obvious.
All of a sudden, Wen Shi realized that the creaking door had long since stopped shaking, and the remnants of the dolls going crazy outside had fallen utterly quiet at some unknown point in time.
He noticed an even smaller noise amidst the silence—it was a very faint slithering sound, as if something was crawling along the wall.
“What’s that?” Xia Qiao squeezed out a whisper from his throat, not daring to move at all.
Wen Shi: “Shh.”
He whipped his head around and stared at the pitch-black squares of the storage shelves behind him.
Various old, worn out junk items were piled there, covered with a thick layer of dust; just touching them slightly was enough to make them collapse. The swaying dusky yellow light illuminated the top of the cupboard, making a pale face flash in and out of existence next to the wall.
Xia Qiao clamped a hand over his mouth and barely managed to smother back his yell.
But Wen Shi actually clambered up to it. He picked up the pale face and said lowly, “A mask.”
It was a simplistic mask drawn by a child, with two jet-black holes for the eyes. The edges were already tattered, and it had been discarded for quite some time.
Xia Qiao exhaled in relief. However, that extremely soft crawling noise continued to vaguely persist.
When Wen Shi jumped back down, he bumped into something on the side, and several small objects dropped down, accompanied by the sound of glass beads tumbling. They rolled to a stop next to the mirror.
Wen Shi picked one up to inspect. He discovered that there was a black pupil in the glass bead, and that long eyelashes were also pasted to it.
That wasn’t a bead at all—it was an eye that had fallen out!
In an instant, the air practically froze over.
At almost the exact same moment, he and Xia Qiao looked up in the direction of where the beads had fallen from.
Only to see that, at some unknown point in time, a hole had been created in the double-layered wooden ceiling. In it crouched a face with its mouth split wide open; one of its eyes was a gaping dark cavity, while the other was opened extremely wide.
Immediately afterwards, cracks started to appear in the ceiling, spidering across the surface in a split second, as if it could no longer bear the weight of the things on top of it.
Without even needing to think about it, it was clear where those torn limbs and decapitated heads that had been outside the door currently were.
The necks of the heads stretched longer and longer, as more and more cracks appeared.
The moment the wooden ceiling completely collapsed, Wen Shi gave a harsh tug of his wrist, and the tightly locked door slammed open with a bang. He didn’t have time to say anything else before he kicked Xia Qiao out of the room, scooped up the mirror, and jumped downstairs.
Xia Qiao wanted to get up but couldn’t, and he rolled all the way down to the bottom of the staircase. As he collapsed, he asked, “Why are they even crazier today than yesterday!”
“That’s a useless question, it’s because I took that notebook!” Wen Shi said.
“Doesn’t it just contain the boy’s past? Does it warrant all this?” Crying aside, Xia Qiao’s little short legs whirred away awfully fast.
Wen Shi’s string wrapped around a group of dismembered limbs, tying them up like a crisscrossing net. They roiled and struggled in their binding, and it was truly a somewhat disgusting sight.
But even more things were crawling their way over from the slits in the windows, the ceiling, and the walls.
“These things can get in from anywhere, what to do, Wen-ge?”
What to do?
Distract the cage master, attack his vital point.
From reading through that notebook, it was clear that the vital point for this cage master was that sinister little boy.
As Wen Shi was dodging, he saw a figure flit by from behind the stairs. At once, Wen Shi grabbed the chair leg and slid himself over.
The little boy was in the middle of reaching for the sharp awl on the old-fashioned table, when Wen Shi leaped over! His original intention was to haul himself up using the corded rope around the boy’s neck, but instead, he accidentally latched onto the boy’s shirt.
The little boy’s shoulders were narrow, so when the collar of his shirt was yanked downwards, it revealed a large portion of his shoulders and back.
Immediately, Wen Shi spotted the marking over the left side of his chest. Sure enough, as the notebook had stated, he was a puppet.
But unexpectedly, that marking was extremely faint and practically unrecognizable. It was almost like… as the little boy grew older and began to increasingly resemble a human, that symbol would eventually disappear.
This kind of puppet existed?
Wen Shi was briefly startled.
His stunned state lasted for less than a second, but it gave the little boy the opportunity to scramble up and attack.
The instant Wen Shi guided his string into the symbol, the little boy’s awl had already pierced straight through the stuffed doll’s chest from the middle of its back.
Likewise, that same move could be used on someone who was possessing something else.
Wen Shi’s first reaction was: How utterly embarrassing, to fail such an easy task.
Then he felt a force collide into him, and his body emptied with it.
He blinked once, very lightly, and saw the doll that he was originally controlling collapse onto the floor, its glass bead-like eyes still open as it became a dead creature.
The sensation of separating oneself from a possessed object was very unpleasant, and it felt as if he had been smashed over the head by a rod.
Just as Wen Shi was physiologically dazed, he felt someone stretch their hand towards him and gently cover his eyes.
Perhaps it was an illusion, but he caught the elusive scent of a chilly winter’s frost and snow.
After that, his vision went dark.
That’s right, his vision went dark once again.
This was an extremely familiar process, so without even having to ask, Wen Shi knew that Xie Wen had yanked him into a different attachable object.
Not long after, the following scene appeared in the first floor bathroom—
A small, oval-shaped mirror was propped upright next to the sink, with Xie Wen’s figure inside. A square mirror was nailed to the wall, with Wen Shi’s figure inside.
A doll wearing a little pink dress kneeled in front of the mirrors, sobbing.
What did cowardly people fear the most? Being left on their own.
Before this, Xia Qiao could just bounce around behind Wen Shi; no matter where Xia Qiao lurked off to, someone was there to keep him company, so there was a limit to how scared he felt.
All the brave people had entered the mirrors, and their mobility was restricted, meaning the errand-running had fallen onto his shoulders instead. Running around this haunted house by himself… what was the point of even being alive anymore.
“How long has he been crying?” Wen Shi asked, his head aching.
“Probably since you were stabbed by a seven- or eight-year-old child and toppled over onto the ground.” Xie Wen said warmly, “I thought that he was weeping for your loss, but it looks like that wasn’t the case.”
Wen Shi scowled.
Wasn’t he quite the busybody? He just had to bring up someone’s humiliating incident and talk about it?
“What about me?” Xie Wen asked courteously.
Wen Shi pressed his lips together and had the very strong urge to curse him out. However, in the end, he selectively skirted around the question. “Where’s the boy?”
If he wasn’t remembering incorrectly, he had also pierced the little boy’s marking. Although he had been lenient and hadn’t stabbed the thread through completely, it should still be at least a little effective.
In his memory, the last thing he saw before closing his eyes was the little boy kneeling on the ground and passing out like all the life had been sucked out of him.
So what about now?
Xie Wen said, “The old man brought him into the bedroom to take care of him.”
Wen Shi asked another question. “What happened to those heads and limbs?”
Xie Wen: “They dispersed.”
Wen Shi gave an “en” and thought, That’s good then.
Originally, those torn limbs were desperately trying to kill them due to the cage master’s subconsciousness reacting to stress. At this moment, all of his attention was focused on the unconscious little boy, so he would naturally set aside the intruders.
But Wen Shi still didn’t really understand…
The old man picked up a child, that child was a puppet, the old man didn’t care about the puppet’s origin and raised it—then what? Why would this cage come into existence?
In this mortal world, he had died and revived, come and gone over ten times, yet there were still many things that he didn’t understand very well. For example, just what it was exactly this old man couldn’t let go of.
Maybe it was because he didn’t have a soul, or maybe it was because he had been a panguan for too many years, Wen Shi thought.
Without those dismembered limbs, the house’s gloomy, creepy aura lessened significantly, but the bathroom continued to be a very lively location.
As Xia Qiao cried and cried, he curled in on himself and shifted bit by bit until he was next to the wall.
“Why are you moving all the way over there?” Wen Shi asked.
“There has to be something behind my back.” Xia Qiao said, “Or else I keep feeling like there’s someone behind me.”
Wen Shi was speechless.
He contemplated briefly and said, “Since you’re moving anyway, why don’t you move a little farther.”
Xia Qiao didn’t understand. “Ah?”
“I want to check out what’s going on in the bedroom.” Wen Shi said, “Move this bedside mirror back to where it was before.”
Xia Qiao’s voice trembled. “Ah???”
Xie Wen seemed to agree. “When the old man comes out to change the towel and fetch things, seize the opportunity to go inside. You can just put the mirror next to the bed, that way we can keep an eye on both sides.”
Xia Qiao felt as if these two wanted him to die…
But he was powerless to resist.
Five minutes later, the bedroom door creaked, and the old man’s sluggish footsteps shuffled out towards the kitchen. Under the urging of the “devils,” Xia Qiao plucked up his skirt and grabbed the mirror before dashing tearfully into the bedroom.
He didn’t dare to stop at all. After propping the mirror on top of the nightstand, he instantly rolled off. Yes, he actually rolled…
Unfortunately, before he could roll over to the doorway, he heard the sound of the old man coming back. In a moment of desperation, he noticed that the antique wardrobe was slightly cracked open, so he slipped inside in a fit of panic.
The old man was carrying a white porcelain bowl, and he lightly stirred its contents with a soup spoon as he walked over to the bed.
He was focused entirely on the unconscious little boy and didn’t seem to notice that the bedside mirror had returned. Naturally, he didn’t notice Wen Shi’s figure in the mirror either.
At first, Wen Shi thought that the old man had brought over some medicine or food. After all, when an ordinary person encountered a fainting or ill child, that was definitely what their number one instinct would be.
But when the bowl was set down on the nightstand, he discovered that it actually contained incense ashes mixed with water.
He stared at the incense ashes and thought:
The old man finally can’t take it anymore and wants to finish off this unlucky child?