Arc Three: Wangquan Road
Xia Qiao discovered that his Wen-ge was a very straightforward person.
The only thing was that he was a little too straightforward. Right after Xia Qiao said that he knew the way, Wen Shi started walking towards the door.
“Wait wait wait!” Xia Qiao rushed into his bedroom and swiftly changed into a hoodie before he picked up one that was a bigger size to give to Wen Shi. “The temperature’s dropping today. When I went to water the tree earlier, it was pretty cold. You can wear this.”
Wen Shi glanced at it and said, “No need.”
His skin was pale, and he was wearing a light gray short-sleeved shirt. He often liked to roll his right sleeve up to his shoulder for no particular reason, revealing the extremely good-looking line of his arm.
It did indeed make him appear quite handsome, but…
“Do you really not feel cold?” Xia Qiao asked earnestly.
“No, I’m hot.” Wen Shi crushed the empty soda can in his hand and tossed it into the trash. Then he went to the fridge and pulled out a carton of chilled boxed milk. As he tore it open, he asked, “Are you going to leave or not?”
Xia Qiao could tell: Wen Shi truly was very parched.
“Let’s go, let’s go.” Xia Qiao tossed the sweatshirt onto the sofa, picked up his phone, and left the house.
The weather wasn’t actually all that nice. It was overcast and gloomy, and dark clouds had already begun to gather in the distance. It looked like it was going to rain.
Wen Shi narrowed his eyes and peered in the direction of the clouds. “How long will it take to walk over there?”
“Walk???” Xia Qiao was given a scare, and he hastily lifted his phone. “We don’t need to, I called a car. The driver is already on the way over.”
Another piece of knowledge outside of the scope of his experience. Wen Shi didn’t reveal anything on his face, pretending to accept it well.
On the other hand, Xia Qiao was extremely conscientious and offered up his phone to Wen Shi—
Wen Shi saw a map on the screen, with a little car shifting along the map at the speed of a turtle. However, after the car scooted a tiny distance, it stopped in its tracks.
Just as Wen Shi was feeling puzzled, a notification popped up on the screen, saying that the ride had ended.
Originally, Xia Qiao wanted to let this master experience the convenience of modern society, but he didn’t expect for this to happen.
Wen Shi pointed at the notification and said, “What’s this mean?”
Xia Qiao: “…It means that they canceled on us.
“Isn’t this driver way too unreliable! Canceling at the drop of a hat.” Xia Qiao grumbled. “Wen-ge, wait a second, I’ll request another one.”
Who would’ve thought that this driver would be even faster to act. A moment after the ride was accepted, it was terminated.
Xia Qiao: “???”
He requested four rides in a row, and they all ended up being canceled. Then he was unable to call a new car for a long period of time.
“Unbelievable.” Xia Qiao held his phone with both hands, utterly baffled. “What’s going on today? Was it advised not to go outside?”
As the dark clouds rolled closer and closer, little droplets of rain started to leak down, and their ride request was finally accepted.
This time, the driver didn’t cancel on them again, and the car wasn’t too far away either. Soon enough, the car stopped in front of Minghua District’s main entrance.
Wen Shi threw the empty box of milk into the trash can before he bent over and slipped into the backseat of the car.
The driver was a middle-aged woman with a round face. She looked quite easygoing and friendly, and there was a mole on her cheek. She glanced at Wen Shi through the rearview mirror and said teasingly, “Huh, as expected, your body is good when it’s young. Wearing short sleeves in this weather, hm?”
Wen Shi couldn’t be considered to have a good temper, nor did he like paying attention to strangers. Whenever he met this type of person who acted familiar from the get-go, he would always let their words go in one ear and out the other.
Xia Qiao was aware of Wen Shi’s nature, so he was afraid of an awkward silence. He was about to respond to the driver when he heard Wen Shi reply, “It’s not that cold.”
Instantly, Xia Qiao was a bit shocked.
“What is it?” From his peripheral vision, Wen Shi spotted the stupefied look on Xia Qiao’s face.
“Nothing.” Xia Qiao averted his widened eyes and whispered, “I was just a little surprised. I thought you would ignore her.”
Wen Shi shot a look at him. A beat later, he answered, “Familiar face.”
The round-faced driver heard that and promptly started laughing. “Are you talking about me? I have a common face, so a lot of people say I look quite familiar.”
Dark raindrops flecked Wen Shi’s gray T-shirt. She spotted them and asked, “Are you two brothers? Do you not bring an umbrella with you when you’re going outside on a rainy day? This rain is definitely going to be coming down harder and harder.”
Xia Qiao said, feeling wronged, “When we left, it wasn’t raining yet.”
“You came out so early to wait?”
“Ai, let’s not talk about that. Our luck isn’t good today, we called four cars, but they all ended up canceling on us.” Xia Qiao complained.
“Oh.” The driver understood now. “In that case, it really wasn’t because your luck was bad. Lately, nobody wants to accept trips headed in that direction.”
“That area is cursed.”
Wen Shi was originally staring out the window, but upon hearing that, he turned his gaze back.
“Cursed? What do you mean?” Xia Qiao asked.
“Have you not checked the local forums recently?”
Wen Shi looked at Xia Qiao. Xia Qiao wore an ashamed expression. “Eh… I don’t look at it often.”
The driver chuckled and helped him out. “That’s fair, not many people follow local news. Since driving is too boring, we have nothing better to do than listen to the radio, which is why we know a bit more than others.”
She didn’t keep them in suspense. Taking advantage of the empty road, she began explaining to Wen Shi and Xia Qiao, “Near Xiping Gallery, there’s an unavoidable road called Wangquan Road. A non-local property developer visited once and saw that it was a decent area, so they wanted to create a wealthy neighborhood in the middle of the city named Wangquan Estates.”
“Oh, I know about that. I’ve passed by it before, the houses are quite beautiful, except nobody really lives there. It’s pretty similar to our Minghua District.” Xia Qiao said.
“Well, it’s a little different.” The driver smiled and said, “Minghua District’s problem is related to the planning of the surrounding land, but Wangquan Estates’ issue is that no one wants to live there. All you have to do is ask the older folk in Ningzhou, and they’ll tell you that the houses over there aren’t good.”
“So I’ve heard.” Understanding seemed to dawn on Xia Qiao.
Meanwhile, Wen Shi was somewhat confused. “Why aren’t they good?”
Before Xia Qiao could speak, the driver grinned. “Handsome, you must not be from around here, huh? In our Ningzhou dialect, wang is pronounced the same as huang.”
Wang and huang?
Then wouldn’t Wangquan Road1 be…?
Wen Shi: “…”
He was silent for a moment before he said, “The person who came up with that name is a gem.”
The driver laughed uproariously. “There’s something that’s even more of a gem coming up. The area over there is pretty nice, and there’s even a subway station nearby. Some venture capital providers just don’t believe in superstition, so they insisted on trying to give that place some life. They set up quite a variety of pedestrian streets and foreign stores, but eventually, because business was too bad, they all ended up petering out. Then, a few years ago, another money squandering fool came along and built an all-in-one shopping mall there, the kind with food, drinks, and a movie theater. Guess what it was called?”
Wen Shi: “What?”
The driver: “Wangquan Ruins.”
Wen Shi: “…”
An extremely rare and precious gem, and a fairly grand one at that.
“Did it end up becoming lively?” he asked.
“No.” The driver sighed. “The project was off and on, and they only officially completed construction and opened for business at the beginning of this year. At first, people went to check it out, but the number of visitors decreased later on. That area is particularly prone to the supernatural, there’s always someone saying they saw something they shouldn’t have seen.”
“That shopping mall still hasn’t closed yet?” Xia Qiao asked.
“Nope, the rent is low over there, and the items being sold aren’t expensive. There are a few handmade artisan shops in the mall that are very hard to find otherwise these days, so there’s still some customers.”
“It doesn’t seem to mean much when you listen to me talk about it, but to tell the truth, people feel a little fearful driving past the area.” The driver said, “Just yesterday, someone in our WeChat group was given a scare over there and described it in a pretty incredible way, which is why nobody really wants to head in that direction today.”
“No wonder.” Xia Qiao thought a bit and said, “In that case, you’re quite brave.”
The driver said helplessly, “Ah, it’s because I’m used to it. I live near there, so I’m coming and going all the time. I can’t just refuse to take on work because of a trivial matter like that.”
“I’m not allowed to park inside, so I’ll let you guys out over here.” The round-faced driver stopped the car next to the intersection. Seeing the heavy downpour outside, she handed Wen Shi an umbrella. “You’ll have to walk a short distance, so you can have this umbrella.”
Xia Qiao looked at Wen Shi silently. “Er, how could we? We’ll make it there if we run a little.”
“Just take it.” The driver smiled and said, “No need to be polite, I have a ton of umbrellas here.”
“There’s really no need.” Xia Qiao still felt bad taking someone else’s things.
In the middle of his refusal, a slender and pale hand reached out, calmly accepting the umbrella.
“Thank you.” Wen Shi said.
“Ai, that’s how it should be!” The driver chuckled.
Wen Shi got out of the car first and opened the umbrella before he urged, “Hurry up.”
Only then did Xia Qiao hastily follow him out.
It was raining very heavily, and fog rose from the ground. The car turned the corner and swiftly disappeared into the mist.
Wen Shi withdrew his gaze and asked Xia Qiao, “Where’s Xiping Gallery?”
Xia Qiao checked the map on his phone and pointed ahead to the right. “We go in through this path. It’s the shop with the traditional-looking storefront.”
Wangquan Road’s style had bled over into this street, and nearly all the buildings were constructed with Western design. Among them, Xie Wen’s Xiping Gallery seemed especially unusual, and it was instantly obvious which store it was.
Right before they went in, Xia Qiao asked tentatively, “Wen-ge, when we see him, what are you planning on saying?”
They couldn’t possibly say, “Excuse me, when are you going to fork over the money to rent our room,” right?
That seemed to be a bit rude and awkward.
But if they didn’t say that, then what should they say? All they had ever done was enter a cage with Xie Wen before; it would be too much to say they were strangers, but they weren’t all that close either.
Xia Qiao didn’t feel too reassured about Wen Shi. He had this feeling that with Wen Shi’s temperament, the chance of him immediately blurting out “I’m hungry” wasn’t zero.
How terrifying would that be.
As expected, Wen Shi said, “Didn’t think about it, we’ll see what happens.”
Xia Qiao felt very panicked.
Xiping Gallery was decorated like an antique curio store, but the only items in the shop were puppets. Western-style, Chinese-style, shadow, wooden, ceramic—there was a full collection of every kind, neatly filling up quite a few cabinets.
A short, middle-aged person with their hair in a topknot sat behind the sales counter, dozing off. Their face was quite androgynous, and it was hard to tell if they were an uncle or an auntie.
Two young women with charming, delicate appearances sat to the side, cracking melon seeds as they chatted with each other.
When Wen Shi entered the store, both young women looked over at the same time and said in unison, “Hey, someone alive.”
Xia Qiao was so scared that he backed out of the shop on the spot, and the two girls started giggling.
“Lao Mao, we have customers,” the two girls called.
The middle-aged person with a topknot woke with a start and glanced over, yawning. When he saw Wen Shi, he was slightly stunned.
Wen Shi closed the umbrella and shook off the water outside. He said, “Is this Xie Wen’s store?”
At that, Lao Mao snapped out of it and nodded. “Ah, yes, it is.”
“Where is he?” Wen Shi surveyed the shop.
“He’s… not here.” Lao Mao stammered.
Wen Shi stared at him. “Then where is he?”
“He’s busy.” Lao Mao said.
Wen Shi furrowed his brows. “He clearly told me three days ago that he had some business to take care of in his shop for the next few days, so he had to rush back to oversee it.”
Lao Mao: “…”
Lao Mao: “He… went to oversee it outside.”
It was obvious that this person wasn’t good at lying. Every time he said something, his mung bean-like eyes would peek toward the little door in the corner of the store.
Even a blind person would be able to tell.
Wen Shi placed the umbrella in the stand near the entrance before he started walking straight towards that little door.
“Hey, that’s the bathroom.” Lao Mao said hurriedly.
“Oh, allow me to use it, thanks.” Wen Shi said.
Just as he reached the door, Wen Shi heard muffled coughs come from inside. A second later, the door swung open from inside, revealing Xie Wen’s wan face.
That clearly wasn’t a bathroom. Instead, it looked more like a back room to rest in. Wen Shi could faintly smell the light scent of incense wafting out from inside, and it seemed as if there was something boiling in the room, as it was extremely warm.
Xie Wen came out and pushed the door mostly shut with a flip of his hand.
He appeared to feel somewhat cold. Though he was huddled inside such a hot room, he was still dressed meticulously in long sleeves and trousers, tightly wrapped up.
“How come you’re so fierce even when you’re looking for someone?” Xie Wen asked, coughing a few more times.
“Then why are you hiding?” Wen Shi shot a glance at the stuttering Lao Mao before he frowned and said, perplexed, “It’s not like I’m here to collect debt.”
“I wasn’t hiding from you. It’s just that it’s been too cold lately, and I didn’t want to go outside, which is why I instructed them to say that I’m not here regardless of who’s asking.” Xie Wen turned his head to the side and coughed again.
Only then did Wen Shi realize that Xie Wen was wearing gloves on both hands, the kind made of thin, black silk. They covered his hands all the way up to his wrists, and a sliver of the skin there was only visible when he moved. It appeared even more pale in contrast to the gloves.
“It’s not like I’m a fortune teller, how could I have known that you would come.” Xie Wen leaned against the door frame and asked, “Did you need something?”
Perhaps because they were standing close to each other, even though Wen Shi hadn’t closed his eyes or caught sight of Xie Wen’s soul, he could still sense the unceasing surge of malevolent energy in Xie Wen’s body.
With a cold expression, he licked his lips swiftly before he turned and jerked his chin towards Xia Qiao. “He’s here to buy a doll.”
Xia Qiao: “???”
Blankly, Xia Qiao nodded and said, “Uh-huh, I want to buy a doll.”
“While we’re here, I wanted to ask if you’re still renting the room or not.” Wen Shi spoke again. “If not, we’re going to list it again.”
Xie Wen lowered his eyes; it was unclear what he was thinking. He was silent for a moment before he finally nodded. “I’ll rent it. How about Saturday, the day after tomorrow. Can you two make some time then?”
Wen Shi calculated in his head. It was just two days, so it could still be considered fairly quick. As a result, he looked at Xia Qiao.
Xia Qiao thought, Now you come to ask me, as if I’m in any position to decide. He put on a bold face and nodded. “Mn, we’re free.”
Wen Shi licked his lips again and thought that there was probably something wrong with his brain. Why else would he have made this trip over.
His original intention was to come and negotiate, to seek out this sumptuous feast in front of him. But there were way more people in the store than he had expected, so it was inconvenient for him to talk about it.
Consequently, he kneaded his knuckles and swiveled around. “That’s all, we’re leaving.”
Xia Qiao picked up the umbrella from the stand before he remembered… What happened to buying the doll? Can you show some respect for your excuse.
Right as he was getting ready to leave as well, the twin girls suddenly pointed at the umbrella. “Where did you get this from?”
“Oh.” Xia Qiao said, “Someone gave it to us, what’s the matter?”
One of the girls said, “There’s always been a rumor around these parts.”
Xia Qiao: “What rumor?”
“It’s said that when you head in this direction on a rainy day, you’ll encounter a very strange driver, one that has a round face and is unusually friendly. Then just before you get out of the car, the driver will give you an umbrella.”
The young woman’s voice was light and breezy, making Xia Qiao’s hair stand on end.
“And then what?”
“If you don’t accept the umbrella, you’ll catch a cold for two days, but then you’ll be fine.” The girl said, “If you accept the umbrella… you’ll go to meet her.”
Xia Qiao: “…”
By the time Wen Shi walked over, he saw Xia Qiao standing with his back pressed against the door, his soul already half-gone. Wen Shi irritably grabbed the umbrella and was about to walk outside when Xie Wen’s voice abruptly sounded from beside him.
His hand, covered in the glove, touched Wen Shi very softly, just a light tap before immediately drawing back. “Are you busy?”
Wen Shi turned to look at him.
“How about you eat something here and then go? I’ll walk you out later.”
- Wangquan Road = 望泉路 (literally, gazing at the springs). But 望 is pronounced the same as 黄 in the dialect, meaning Wangquan Road becomes Huangquan Road – and Huangquan (黄泉) is a name for the underworld (Yellow Springs) in Chinese. I couldn’t think of a witty equivalent in English so I just took the lazy way out and left it as Wangquan lol ^