Arc Four: Shop Sanmi
On Sunday afternoon, Yunjin Street wasn’t as busy as it normally was, but because a new subway station was being built at the intersection, the traffic was still quite obstructed. Horns beeped everywhere, and it was extremely irritating to listen to.
Zhou Xu had just finished making up classes at school. He didn’t want to go home yet, so he decided to wander around Yunjin Street with his group of delinquent buddies.
The others were animatedly discussing where to go, but he wasn’t really in the mood to join them. Swinging his earphone cord, he kicked at the rocks on the ground as he walked.
His dispirited state had persisted for a few days now, ever since he came out from the cage. This was why having too good of a memory was also a disadvantage. After experiencing something exciting, he couldn’t seem to muster up the energy for anything once he returned to his dull daily life.
Even though he had only ever entered one cage, he already felt a little addicted. Unfortunately, nobody was going to bring him along a second time, because his mom wouldn’t allow it.
There were so many branches and lines in the Zhang clan; which family’s child didn’t have some special assignments? He was the only one who had to learn about the most ordinary things all day long, surrounded by a bunch of ordinary people. On top of that, he always had to take extra lessons on the weekend.
He obviously knew a lot, but he usually wasn’t able to talk about any of it, since he would easily be considered crazy if he did. With his loudmouth personality, this was really stifling him to death.
Whenever he remembered that, he blamed Zhang Biling all the more.
“Hey!” His friends suddenly pushed Zhou Xu and burst into laughter after they finished scaring him. “Whatcha thinking about, Great Immortal.”
“Fuck, don’t crowd around me, it’s so hot,” Zhou Xu said.
He was the type who loved showing off. When he truly couldn’t help himself, he would pretend to be profound and reveal some tidbits related to array-casting or divination. Sometimes, he would also transform a few ancient or modern panguan rumors into ghost stories and treat them like nonsensical, exaggerated topics of conversation.
On one hand, his friends greatly enjoyed listening to him. On the other hand, they felt like he was a bit mystical and peculiar, so they gave him the nickname “Great Immortal.”
“Hello? Great Immortal, were you not listening to us earlier?” Sun Siqi said. He had relatively the closest relationship with Zhou Xu.
“What were you guys talking about?” Zhou Xu asked.
Sun Siqi: “Lao Lu said that a new immersive escape room place opened up in Wanda Tower. We wanted to go check it out, what are your thoughts?”
Zhou Xu: “Sure.”
Actually, he wasn’t particularly interested, but whatever. As long as he didn’t have to go home, anywhere was fine.
“Hey, this is perfect!” Lao Lu handed him his phone. “They have quite a few themes, so I checked the reviews, and I think that these are the best. Isn’t your sixth sense super sharp? Come on, lift your divine hand up high and blindly pick the most stimulating one for us.”
Lao Lu had the photos pulled up on his phone. He had screenshotted the rooms that he was interested in, and he wanted Zhou Xu to select one based on the photos.
Zhou Xu flipped casually through them a few times before he chose the last room. “This one.”
Lao Lu took the phone back. “Damn! You’re really funny. The pictures before that were the ones I screenshotted from the escape room website, but you just had to pick the one from an escape room that isn’t even open.”
Zhou Xu frowned. “How was I supposed to know? If it isn’t open, why the hell did you include the photo?”
Lao Lu: “I was just searching it up. When I saw that the store information was still online for some reason, I took a screenshot of it. But, you don’t know? You actually don’t know this store?”
Zhou Xu glanced at his phone again. Two large words were written on the photo. “Shop Sanmi… what’s up with this place?”
Evidently, Sun Siqi had heard of this place before too, and he explained, “This store was originally in that underground complex in front of Wanda. Some girls from our class were talking about it, and they made it seem pretty spooky. I remember that a few of them even wanted to try it out, but later, something happened in the store and it closed.”
Zhou Xu: “What happened?”
Sun Siqi thought a bit. “I think it was the employees. One of them became mentally unstable, and another one eventually jumped off a building.”
Feeling pensive, Zhou Xu inexplicably connected the situation back to a cage.
Lao Lu kept goading him from the side. “Aren’t you the Great Immortal? You don’t even know this?”
Zhou Xu said irritably, “Get lost.”
Sun Siqi acted as a mediator. “You know, if he didn’t know all this and still randomly chose that photo, that means he really is pretty spiritual. It’s true that this is the most stimulating one.”
The others started laughing and echoing their agreement.
In the middle of their ruckus, two men passed by them on the other side of the street. Zhou Xu glanced in their direction before he said, without even bothering to look back, “Wait a sec, I’m going across the street for a moment.”
“Why are you going over there?” Lao Lu and the rest asked.
“Family members.” Already on his way across the street, Zhou Xu pointed at the two men.
Considering how he frequently encountered so-called “family members” while they were out and about, this was no surprise to the others. They turned around and continued discussing the themed escape rooms.
“Da Dong!” As if he had appeared completely out of nowhere, Zhou Xu bounded over to the two men. He first greeted the smaller, darker-skinned man before he called out to the broader, square-faced man. “Haozi1–ge!”
Both of their faces crumpled in dismay when they saw him, like they were seeing a ghost in broad daylight.
Da Dong’s real name was Zhang Xiaodong, whereas Haozi’s was Zhang Hao. They were both Zhang family juniors in their early twenties. One specialized in puppetry, the other in array-casting, but their skill levels were just so-so, which was why they had to partner together for patrol duty.
Any of the Zhang family juniors who patrolled regularly and knew Zhou Xu all wished they could walk around with their faces covered, because they would often run right into Zhou Xu on the streets. Then, the bratty kid would clamor to join them and try to make them bring him into a cage.
Who would be able to put up with that.
“Xiao Xu ah.” Da Dong forced a smile. “Er, you don’t have class today?”
“It just finished, so we came over here to wander around.” Zhou Xu asked, “Are you guys on patrol duty? Take me along!”
We’d have to be crazy to take you with us.
Da Dong said hastily, “Today’s no good. Really, Lan-jie assigned us a task, we have to be on watch these next few days.”
As soon as Lan-jie was mentioned, Zhou Xu grew even more excited. “My aunt?! What task?”
“It’s not a cage.” Da Dong said vaguely, “Just keeping an eye on someone.”
After being smacked in the face by that trail-tracking talisman at home, Zhang Yalin immediately called the Great Lady Zhang to let her know. Upon learning that the trail-tracking talisman was useless, she stopped trying to be tactful about it and bluntly decided to tell the Zhang family juniors on patrol duty to monitor the Shen villa.
So long as Shen Qiao’s two disciples left the house, the juniors were to follow them and see what they were up to. If there was coincidentally a small cage along the way, the juniors were supposed to come up with a way to bring the two of them into the cage and observe them.
Da Dong and Haozi had just made their way over from the Shen home, so they truly were quite pressed for time right now.
The moment Zhou Xu heard that they weren’t going into a cage, he said, disappointed, “Oh, you’re keeping an eye on someone? How about—”
He turned his head and glanced across the street. That pack of scoundrels was gone, and only the eternal nice guy, Sun Siqi, was still waiting there. He contemplated a little and was about to say “never mind then” when he felt a gust of wind sweep by his ear.
He whipped back around, but Da Dong and Haozi had already fled like wisps of smoke. Haozi waved at him from afar and said, “Next time, we’ll definitely take you along next time!”
Oh, fuck off!
Zhou Xu thought, Since when do you guys ever not say ‘next time’! And then what?!
He furiously crossed the street again and instantly asked Sun Siqi, “Is there an explosive on my face?”
Sun Siqi: “?”
“Every single one of them runs away the instant they see me.” Zhou Xu grumbled and swore for a while before he asked, “Where’s everyone else?”
Sun Siqi pointed towards Wanda. “They went over first.”
They were just as bad.
Zhou Xu sulked for no good reason. When they were almost at Wanda, he abruptly changed his mind. “I’m not going anymore, you can go ahead.”
Sun Siqi: “What are you gonna do?”
Zhou Xu pulled out his phone and searched up the location of “Shop Sanmi.” “I’m going to take a look at that closed store.”
His intuition told him that there was a cage there; he just didn’t know if it had been undone yet. Originally, he wanted to let Da Dong and Haozi know, but now he was pissed, so they could feel free to get lost—he would go by himself.
Sun Siqi was baffled by his unique and bizarre train of thought. “You wanna go to Shop Sanmi? Why do you suddenly want to go there? It’s closed already, what’s there to see?”
Zhou Xu: “The door.”
Sun Siqi: “…”
Zhou Xu was always someone who did his own thing. Following his navigation, he started walking towards the underground complex.
Sun Siqi hesitated for a while. Finally, he texted Lao Lu and the rest on WeChat before he followed Zhou Xu down the stairs.
An extremely large underground shopping mall used to be here. It sold fake designer clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories, and there was also a supermarket.
But this underground complex was always accumulating water, and every so often, it would have to be closed in order to drain and clean up the water. The supermarket didn’t last for very long before it shut down, and the underground shopping mall also emptied out entirely. The shops closed, and the stalls were removed.
Just like that, such an enormous place turned into an abandoned, empty space.
Because of its eerie dampness, some weird genius decided that the ambience was fitting and bought the entire domain for the sake of opening an immersive horror escape room.
Altogether, this escape room only had one story, and its name was identical to the store’s: Shop Sanmi.
Consequently, whenever “Shop Sanmi” was mentioned later on, it became both a reference to the name of the store as well as this underground area as a whole.
Piles of undisposed trash sat on either side of the staircase. Some grass was even growing in the corner.
Unexpectedly, there were still traces of the rain that had fallen a few days ago. The water trickled down the steps and formed a little puddle at the base of the staircase. Periodically, there was the sound of water dripping, and it reverberated hollowly through the entire underground space.
The moment Zhou Xu went down there, he was aware of how dim and gloomy it was, as if it was an entirely different world from the surface level.
He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Even though there clearly wasn’t any wind, goosebumps erupted all over his skin.
“Does no one walk through this underground complex?” Zhou Xu said.
“Through this underground complex?”
His question echoed faintly three times.
Zhou Xu: “…”
Sun Siqi: “Ever since Shop Sanmi closed—oh, that’s not right. Ever since it opened, nobody really comes down here anymore.”
“Comes down here anymore.”
Zhou Xu had already lost the willpower to speak. The atmosphere was way too fucking good in this place. He actually felt quite timid inside, but he desperately needed to save face, so he forced himself to turn the corner and head further into the complex.
The signal was bad down here, and the arrow on his navigation map was starting to spin around wildly. Gripping his phone, Zhou Xu relied on the bit of light coming from his screen to help himself keep up appearances.
The passageway wrapped around the outside of that shop. Blown-up posters were pasted on the walls, extending from one end of the corridor to the other. There wasn’t anything excessively bloody on the posters—only eyes, peering out from a crack in a cabinet, from under a bed, from over the top of a bathroom stall, from behind some curtains, from within a mirror… all the sorts of places that caused one’s imagination to go wild.
When you walked through the passageway, it felt as if those eyes on the posters were glued to you, staring silently at your back.
This is way too fucking much.
Though Zhou Xu swore internally, what came out of his mouth was: “This isn’t so bad.”
Sun Siqi chuckled dryly and praised, “You’re really brave.”
Zhou Xu: “Of course.”
“Earlier you said that this place was pretty spooky. What’s spooky about it?” Zhou Xu lowered his voice to lessen the echoing.
“The escape room contained a lot of props and decor gathered from all over the country. Allegedly, every single one was haunted before,” Sun Siqi said.
Zhou Xu: “…”
How much of a dumbass did this store owner have to be in order to do such a stupid thing?
At last, there was a gap in the posters. A door frame was set into the wall there, with a yellowing plastic curtain hung in front of it.
“Once you go inside, that’s the store.” Sun Siqi said.
Zhou Xu nonchalantly drew in a breath of air before he pushed aside the curtain and went in.
Sure enough, “Shop Sanmi” was written in large letters right across from him.
Zhou Xu originally thought that he was going to see a locked glass door and unused objects piled all over the store, everything covered in a layer of dust. Unexpectedly, the glass door was there, but it wasn’t locked…
It was wide open.
It wasn’t pitch-black in the store either. Instead, a few small, feeble lights were turned on, and a girl with long hair sat behind the counter. There was something very strange about her: her face was already turned in Zhou Xu’s direction, but her eyes lagged half a beat behind.
Once her gaze slowly shifted over to Zhou Xu and Sun Siqi, her lips pulled back in a grin. She said, “Are you here for the escape room?”
Sun Siqi immediately felt like he was about to pee his pants.
“Didn’t you say they were closed?” Zhou Xu said.
“Uh-huh.” Sun Siqi’s voice was shaking.
“Closed? Us?” The girl’s eyes were extremely dark. She stared at them as she said, “We aren’t, who said that we’re closed? Let me ask if the escape room is ready yet. You guys can sit down first.”
Zhou Xu’s mind was utterly blank. After she told them to sit, he and Sun Siqi really did end up sitting down on the sofa.
The girl picked up a walkie-talkie and asked, “Xiao Hua, Xiao Hua, is the room ready?”
The walkie-talkie crackled for a while before an empty male voice sounded from the other end. “Almost, tell them to wait for a moment, until the customers before them are finished.”
As soon as Zhou Xu heard that there were customers ahead of them, he felt a bit more reassured.
“Do you think they opened up again?” he asked in a whisper.
Quite some time passed before Sun Siqi forced out, “Maybe.”
But it doesn’t matter if they’re open or not, I still don’t really wanna play. Sun Siqi thought.
In fact, Zhou Xu was thinking the same exact thing, but he didn’t know how to bring it up without making a fool out of himself.
The girl set down the walkie-talkie, picked up a bag from the table, and started chewing on whatever was inside the bag. It was very white, and it contained brittle bones. The girl’s lips were bright red, and one of her deathly pale cheeks bulged outward as she crunched away.
Sun Siqi’s soul had already left him, and he said in a small voice, “It looks like she’s eating a finger.”
Zhou Xu: “…that’s pickled chicken feet.”
Sun Siqi: “I don’t think chicken feet are that big.”
Zhou Xu: “Stop talking!”
The girl spat out a bone. Suddenly, she seemed to remember something, and she said to Zhou Xu, “Oh, our escape room requires eight people to start. There’s not enough people currently, so you’ll have to wait a little longer.”
Zhou Xu thought, That’s fantastic! I was just waiting for this way out.
“Not enough people?!” Zhou Xu did his best to hide his delight. Pretending to look regretful, he said, “Never mind then, we’ll go check out another store. If we wait, we definitely won’t be able to gather enough—”
Before he could finish saying “people,” someone brushed aside the plastic door curtain.
A modified doorbell jingled behind the counter. The girl smiled and said, “Hey, you two are so lucky, didn’t some more customers just come in?”
Our luck is poisonous. What dumbass walked in here now?
While swearing in his mind, Zhou Xu turned his head…
Fuck, Xie Wen!
Along with that Lao Mao guy from his shop.
Xie Wen was also a bit surprised when he saw the situation inside. He lifted an eyebrow and surveyed his surroundings before his gaze finally settled on Zhou Xu. “What are you doing here?”
Zhou Xu: “…we came to play.”
“Aren’t you good at picking places to play.” As Xie Wen said that, his phone suddenly vibrated. Lowering his eyes, he stopped paying attention to Zhou Xu and unlocked his phone screen.
First he opened Da Zhao’s message, which only contained one word: Boss?
Xie Wen: “?”
It was only when he switched back to the main interface that he realized Xiao Zhao had texted him an hour ago, saying that Wen Shi and Xia Qiao were going to leave the house, but the twins weren’t allowed to follow them.
Apart from that, Xia Qiao had also messaged him forty minutes earlier: Boss Xie, we just passed by Xiping Gallery. The store’s closed, didn’t you go back there?
Xie Wen pondered a little before he responded to Xia Qiao: I just saw this. I went to the supermarket with Lao Mao to buy a few things.
He hadn’t told Wen Shi about the search for his soul, because if he did, he would become too involved… and it would be even harder for him to leave.
After Xie Wen replied back, he asked Xia Qiao: Why did you and your brother come out as well?
When Xia Qiao received that message, he was in the middle of walking towards Yunjin Street with Wen Shi. He looked at the little paper bird leading the way in front of them and thought: Now that’s really a long story.
Initially, Wen Shi wanted to leave the house because there were two girls in it who kept staring fixedly at him.
As a result, he went out to the backyard, picked up the kitten that was curled inside a box for three days, and put it into his pocket so that only its head was showing. Then, he tossed an “I’m busy” behind him and left.
Fortunately, Xia Qiao was a fast runner and managed to catch up to him. Otherwise, this ancestor might’ve gotten lost in the modern-day city without anything to help him.
Their first stop was the hospital. Once they learned that Lao Song was already discharged, they wandered over to Wangquan Ruins instead.
In the daytime, Wangquan Ruins wasn’t that sinister or dark. Although it was still covered in dust, at least it felt a little more alive. As always, Ms. Xu sat in the corner, working on her sewing machine, and there were actually two customers eating inside the rice noodle restaurant, despite it being past lunch.
Across from them, the wholesale stationery store was open once more after being closed for a long period of time, and Lao Song sat behind the checkout counter. His complexion wasn’t particularly good, as his face was still somewhat bloated, but his hair and clothes were neat and tidy. He didn’t look as crushed as he had inside the cage.
Xia Qiao stood next to the rice noodle restaurant and watched as Wen Shi walked over to the wall next to the stationery store. He took out the kitten from his pocket and set it down on the ground before he crossed his arms and leaned against the wall to wait.
The kitten stumbled and rolled into the stationery store. Soon after, it started crying out thinly.
Lao Song, who was checking his accounting books, raised his head and pushed back his chair as he started searching the area around him. A moment later, he fished out the kitten from underneath a shelf of goods.
He was very familiar with Wangquan Ruins; he knew the owners of every store, as well as the pets they raised, if any. This kitten was most likely a stray that had barged into his store for some unknown reason…
Perhaps, it was destiny.
Lao Song had never taken care of something so small before, and he was a bit flustered holding it. He swiveled around twice before he found an empty box, which he padded with bubble wrap. Then, he placed the cat in the box and put it right next to his desk.
After that, he ran hurriedly over to Ms. Xu’s. Raising his voice, he asked, “Ms. Xu, haven’t you taken care of cats before? For a kitten this big, can you only feed it milk?”
Ms. Xu nodded. “Ah. What cat? Did some store’s female cat give birth, and they gave you one?”
Lao Song scratched his head. “I found it.”
Ms. Xu: “Are you going to keep it?”
Lao Song: “Yes.”
Xia Qiao saw his ge straighten up from the wall. Wen Shi tugged his collar away from his neck a few times to let some air flow through before he started walking back towards Xia Qiao.
As he passed him, he patted Xia Qiao without stopping and stepped onto the escalator. “Let’s go.”
Originally, everything was supposed to wrap up here. Xia Qiao wanted to drag Wen Shi over to the neighboring specialty store to buy a phone, but right as they got downstairs, the paper bird that Wen Shi had released a while ago at the hospital returned with traces of Wen Shi’s soul.
Consequently, they followed the paper bird all the way over to Yunjin Street, walked down a staircase that hadn’t been used in a very long time, and entered an underground passageway.
Once again, Xia Qiao obediently offered his phone to his ge and said, “Ge, Boss Xie asked us what we’re doing outside.”
Wen Shi swept a glance at the screen and happened to spot the text that Xie Wen had sent over earlier. Thus, he copied the message without making any modifications. “Just tell him we came out to buy a few things.”
Xia Qiao: “…”
He should’ve learned from the last time they went to Xiping Gallery that his ge was really quite negligent when it came to making up excuses.
But it made sense when he thought about it; they couldn’t just casually tell other people that they were looking for Wen Shi’s soul. So Xia Qiao did as he was told and typed back: We also came out to buy a few things.
In order to make it seem more truthful, Little Student Qiao also added: We’re in the electronics shopping district. I’m showing my ge some phones.
Soon after, Xie Wen replied. Xia Qiao respectfully pulled up the message and showed it to Wen Shi again, but all it said was: Okay, see you two tonight.
Zhou Xu sat frozen in Shop Sanmi like a wooden club and watched as Xie Wen calmly exchanged texts with someone. While he felt his heart seize, he tried to find an opportunity to speak.
Once Xie Wen was done sending his text, he put away his phone and politely asked the girl behind the counter, “How does one enter the room?”
The girl was still gnawing and crunching away on that ghastly white thing. She spat out another bone and said, “Eight people go in together. There are four of you right now, so you have to wait a little more. You can go in once there are enough people.”
Zhou Xu took the chance to say, “Who the hell knows how long we’ll have to wait. Forget it, we’ll just—”
Before the words “leave first” could come out of his mouth, the doorbell jingled again.
Someone pushed aside the plastic curtain for the third time. Xie Wen and Lao Mao, who were supposed to be at the supermarket, turned their heads and came face-to-face with Wen Shi and Xia Qiao, who were supposed to be looking at phones.
The supermarket shoppers: “…”
The phone purchasers: “…”
The cashier girl counted diligently, “We’re still short two people.”
As soon as she said that, there was another jingle, and the plastic curtain was lifted for the fourth time.
Zhou Xu was already numb.
With nothing left to live for, he looked over and saw the two people who came in after Wen Shi—one was dark-skinned, the other had a square face. They were precisely none other than the two Zhang family juniors who had been entrusted with a task by Zhang Lan and had shaken off Zhou Xu on the street earlier: Da Dong and Haozi.
Fate—it was truly too wonderful for words.
- Haozi literally means mouse/rat ^