Arc Five: Grave of the Common Folk
Xia Qiao’s eyes rolled back as he immediately slumped against the door frame and began sliding down it.
That was exactly what Wen Shi saw upon looking behind himself. Lao Mao, the instigator of it all, closed the front door for Xia Qiao before he stood to the side with his round belly and a demurely lowered head. Staring closely at the floor tiles, he pretended to be oblivious to the world.
After some time, he probably noticed that Xia Qiao really was going to perish on the spot, and he added, “The names of the dead weren’t the only names on the grave.”
Xia Qiao processed that for a while and finally revived. He crawled up using the door frame as support before he grabbed onto Lao Mao and refused to let go.
“I was already a bit frightened when I saw her smile,” Xia Qiao whispered to Lao Mao, quivering.
Lao Mao thought a little. Then, he drew back the corners of his mouth and grinned at Xia Qiao, asking quietly, “Do you feel frightened when you see me smile?”
Xia Qiao nearly perished again.
Wen Shi fell silent for a moment before he turned his head towards Xie Wen and said in a low voice, “You…”
He originally wanted to say, “You sure raised a good bird,” but just as the words were about to leave his mouth, he realized the implications of such a statement and came to an abrupt halt. Not only that, Wen Shi was the one who actually raised that “good bird,” and he had also taught it how to rebel; it wasn’t similar to its true master at all.
After sweeping a glance at Lu Wenjuan in front of them, Xie Wen lowered his gaze to look at Wen Shi. As he walked forward alongside him, he asked, “What about me?”
“Don’t speak next to my ear.” Wen Shi kneaded his earlobe and followed Lu Wenjuan into the room on the right.
Perhaps he had kneaded it a little too forcefully. Illuminated by the white light of the room, the area underneath the edge of his earlobe was flushed with a faint red, creating a marked contrast to his chilly expression.
“Oh right, I haven’t asked yet. You—” Lu Wenjuan suddenly turned around, seemingly about to ask something. But before she could do so, she was distracted by the patch of red blooming next to Wen Shi’s ear. She pointed at the area extremely bluntly and said, “Why is it red right there?”
Wen Shi: “…”
How are you so skilled with words?
In his peripheral vision, he saw Xie Wen also glance over, and his gaze lingered for a second under Wen Shi’s ear.
Wen Shi forced out three words through his tightly pursed lips. “I rubbed it.”
“Oh, I see.” Lu Wenjuan nodded and proceeded to curve her eyes into another smile.
But Xie Wen’s gaze didn’t shift away immediately.
“What were you going to ask just now?” Wen Shi said abruptly to Lu Wenjuan.
“Hm?” When she smiled, both her eyes and mouth curved into slender crescent moons, making her seem beautiful and friendly.
Xia Qiao, who was dragged into the house by Lao Mao, slowly relaxed a bit because of this sight.
Lu Wenjuan looked at the two newcomers and called out warmly, “Come on in.”
Probably because of his young age, Xia Qiao appeared to be soft and harmless, so he was very well-liked by this sort of middle-aged demographic. Lu Wenjuan latched onto his hand and patted his head.
Even though she was answering Wen Shi’s question, her eyes were focused on Xia Qiao. “I just wanted to say that my personality can be somewhat rough and rash. I was too preoccupied with getting you all to come inside out of the rain, and I don’t even know how I should be addressing you.
“What’s your name?” Lu Wenjuan asked Xia Qiao, beaming.
Right as Xia Qiao was about to open his mouth, Xie Wen spoke. “He doesn’t have one.”
Xia Qiao: “?”
Lu Wenjuan was startled for several seconds. Then, she turned her head towards Xie Wen.
There was a courteous smile on Xie Wen’s face, and he didn’t seem to be joking in the slightest. As a result, Lu Wenjuan looked at Xia Qiao again and asked in puzzlement, “How do you not have a name at this age?”
Fortunately, Xia Qiao reacted swiftly. He remembered something that his grandpa had once told him: there were certain times when a name couldn’t be divulged carelessly. So he instantly piggybacked off of Xie Wen’s words and said, “I really don’t have one. Ever since I was young, my health has been poor, and my grandpa said that I wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of a name that was too grand. That’s why everyone just calls me by random nicknames.”
Lu Wenjuan could somewhat understand. “Our village also has a similar belief. The more unrefined someone’s name is, the easier it is to raise them.”
She hugged Xia Qiao teasingly and rocked him from side to side. “What’s your nickname then? Is it also something like Gou Sheng or Er Dan1?”
Xia Qiao’s face was starting to go green. He gritted his teeth and nodded. “Yes…”
This woman was quite strange. When she spoke, her tone and mannerisms were no different from anyone else’s, and she would even joke around. It was very easy for other people to lower their guard with her, as if she was simply an ordinary, amicable auntie-next-door.
After being rocked by her a few times, Xia Qiao completely forgot to be scared. His attention was focused fully on names like Gou Sheng and Er Dan.
Lu Wenjuan laughed out loud before she glanced over at Wen Shi and the others. “This kid is so interesting. What about you all? What are your names?”
Xie Wen remained exceedingly polite. “We don’t have names either.”
Lu Wenjuan: “…”
“It’s an inherited trait, we’re all in poor health.” Xie Wen gave several muffled coughs afterwards. His coughing was genuine and extremely realistic; even his complexion was flawlessly wan. Lu Wenjuan could only blink in shock as she watched.
He turned his head back once he was done coughing, his gently curled fingers still pressed against the tip of his nose.
Only then did Xia Qiao notice that Xie Wen’s black gloves had already vanished.
“Call us whatever you’d like,” Xie Wen said.
Lu Wenjuan said with difficulty, “Sure.”
The entire time Xie Wen was making up nonsense, Wen Shi was surveying the house.
This type of self-built house had a very simple layout. There were two rooms on the first floor, one on the left and one on the right, which was the room that Lu Wenjuan had brought them into. There was a sofa and a television inside of it, making it seem like a little living room.
She froze for a moment as she processed the fact that four grown adults didn’t have names. Then she warmed up again and pointed at the sofa. “It’s tiring to stand and talk, let’s all sit down. I was watching TV when you knocked on the door.”
As she spoke, she led them towards the sofa. Xia Qiao was thoroughly within her grasp, so he was the first to be hauled over.
On the verge of tears, he peered pitifully at his ge and Boss Xie.
Luckily, his ge was somewhat considerate and didn’t abandon him. Wen Shi very naturally followed them over and sat down on the sofa.
The seating in Lu Wenjuan’s home was quite rectangular. There were two armchairs and a longer sofa, all of which had backrests and armrests with defined edges and corners. Judging by looks alone, the seats didn’t seem to be particularly soft. Draped over the sofa was a layer of scarlet flannel embroidered in gathered tufts of patterns.
Xia Qiao touched the flannel as he sat down and discovered that it had a somewhat odd texture—it felt a bit brittle and hard. Rather than cloth, it seemed more like paper.
The model of the TV was a bit old-fashioned, and it was completely different from the one in the Shen villa. The background of the screen was white to the point of reflecting light, and the people on it had blurry and indistinct features, like silhouettes cut from paper. They wore big robes of varying shades as they performed an opera with voices that were reedy but loud.
Xia Qiao had made funeral arrangements for his grandpa before, so he could tell at once that the actors in this opera were precisely the ones invited to perform on funerary tent stages.
He subconsciously shot a glance at the remote on the coffee table, but he didn’t expect Lu Wenjuan’s eyesight to be astonishingly good. She promptly said, “Want to change the channel?”
Xia Qiao immediately withdrew his gaze and nodded, knowing he was in too deep to back out. His voice nearly cracked when he spoke. “Are there oth… ahem, other channels?”
Lu Wenjuan said, “Of course. Here, take this.”
She handed the remote to Xia Qiao without any hesitation and stood up. “It couldn’t have been an easy journey here, right? You all must be hungry, let me get you something to eat.”
Upon hearing that they might have to eat here as well, Xia Qiao was so “moved” that tears sprang into his eyes. “No need to be so polite, Auntie Lu. We’ll be leaving soon.”
“What do you mean?” Lu Wenjuan said, “You can’t leave, it’s raining.”
She looked at the window before she smiled at the group and said softly, “You can’t leave, just stay here for now. What a coincidence, tomorrow…”
She murmured the rest of the sentence too quietly for anyone to hear and left the room shortly after. As she left, she kindly… closed the door for them.
The moment the lock clicked, Xia Qiao began sliding down in his armchair. “Ge, did we enter another cage?”
“What else could this be?” Wen Shi said.
“Isn’t the probability of this way too high…” Xia Qiao couldn’t take it any longer, and he mumbled, “Are we being possessed by Conan2?”
“Possessed by who?” Wen Shi didn’t get it.
“Nothing, just a god of death.” Xia Qiao stopped messing around and asked instead, “Was it also like this for you all in the past?”
Wen Shi: “Like what?”
“Like… cages everywhere you go.”
Wen Shi furrowed his brows. “Of course not.”
Speaking of which, it really was strange. There were indeed many cages in this world, but it wasn’t plentiful to this extent. It was almost as if they could pick any location and be swept into a cage.
Moreover, there was something a bit off about the most recent two cages: they didn’t even have to go through the step of entering the cage core.
Once was acceptable, but twice was a bit too coincidental—it was as if the cage was rushing straight at them, rather than them seeking it out.
“Did you do something?” Wen Shi turned his head towards Xie Wen.
“Me?” Xia Qiao and Lao Mao were occupying both armchairs again. Xie Wen swept a look around before he finally sat down next to Wen Shi. “Why is this being blamed on me?”
“You were navigating,” Wen Shi said.
Xie Wen pointed at Lao Mao. “He was driving.”
Innocence was written across Lao Mao’s face. Wen Shi glanced at him and said to Xie Wen, “He listens to you.”
And there was the nail in the coffin for that accusation.
Xie Wen looked at him. A few seconds later, he averted his face and laughed in spite of himself.
That particular expression and movement of his were truly much too familiar; Wen Shi could envision it even with his eyes closed. It was something the other person did every time he found himself helpless against Wen Shi, and it was usually followed by a murmur along the lines of “how rude” or “how defiant.”
Wen Shi was happy when he heard those words as a child, because it represented a closeness and indulgence that other people didn’t have. But that eventually changed…
Those phrases seemed to take on another meaning altogether when he heard them again after he began harboring unspeakable thoughts. Every word felt like a reminder: don’t overstep your boundaries, don’t entertain foolish delusions.
Don’t entertain foolish delusions…
Upon seeing Xie Wen burst into laughter, Wen Shi started to regret his earlier comments a little, because it suddenly dawned on him that he had actually been fostering a certain hidden and undefined anticipation inside him for several days now. Unwittingly, he had been ensnared by that indescribable atmosphere, where it felt like the other person was actually aware of everything and would even reciprocate occasionally.
Neither of them mentioned anything, yet there was still a tacit mutual understanding between them.
But in the end, this was all something that couldn’t be grasped or seen, something that would burst with a single tap. With one sentence, Xie Wen could make him wake up to reality again.
Even without Xie Wen saying anything at all, Wen Shi had already almost woken up.
“Ge?” Xia Qiao called out to him abruptly.
Wen Shi made a noise in reply and glanced up at him.
“What’s the matter?” Xia Qiao asked tentatively.
“What do you mean?” Wen Shi frowned, uncomprehending.
Xia Qiao opened his mouth, but before he could answer, someone else responded for him—
Xie Wen’s low and deep voice sounded next to him. “He meant to ask: why are you suddenly unhappy.”
Wen Shi was caught off guard for a long moment before he turned his head and questioned, as if he hadn’t heard Xie Wen clearly, “What did you just say?”
“I said…” Xie Wen paused. “Why are you suddenly unhappy.”
Even the “he meant to ask” part had disappeared.
Something fluttered in Wen Shi’s chest. Quite a while passed before he finally said, “I’m not unhappy.”
But it would likely be very difficult for him to wake up in the immediate future.
- Essentially these names mean Leftover Dog Food and Silly Fool. This was a real naming convention in the past! ^
- He’s talking about the Japanese series “Detective Conan” here. In Chinese, they call the main character a ‘god of death’ because murder mysteries turn up everywhere he goes. ^