After they had breakfast, Ficks suggested that they tidy up the yard together, and Dong Zheng agreed.
Yesterday’s heart-to-heart wasn’t completely useless. At least the distance between them had narrowed significantly, and the sense of alienation was gone.
Dong Zheng followed Ficks to the yard. They each took up gardening tools and began to dig out stubborn weeds. Dong Zheng was working diligently when he suddenly heard the squeal of a car break, quickly followed by a muffled crash.
By the time he looked up, the poor passerby was already knocked to the side and the black car that had caused the accident was already racing away.
Taken aback, Dong Zheng immediately pushed the door to the yard and ran over. There was blood all over the ground, and the man who laid there was motionless.
He was very calm, but he still had to maintain character. He told Ficks, who had followed close on his heels, “Call the ambulance!”
Ficks stepped over the blood on the ground and went to see the man’s situation. He touched the side of the man’s neck but didn’t feel a pulse. He shook his head and told Dong Zheng, “It takes nearly an hour for the ambulance to get here. He’s already beyond hope.”
Ficks was stained with the dead person’s blood, and apart from the slight sadness on his face, he didn’t look disturbed at all. Even Dong Zheng, who’d experienced moments of life and death in the box, couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable after seeing such a miserable corpse. So, how could it be that Ficks was so calm?
Dong Zheng was silent for a moment, knowing that what he said was reasonable. “Then call the police over.”
“Mmn.” Ficks turned and headed back toward the yard. “When the others come out to look, they’ll call the police.”
Dong Zheng looked at the poor cannon fodder on the ground and tried to maintain his image of a stupid and priviledged man. “Why? There’s no one out now. It might be a long time before others will see him.”
“I don’t like dealing with the police.” Ficks stood at the door. He turned to him and said, “Let’s go. It’s time to prepare lunch.”
This seemed to be just a small episode. Someone dying from a car accident no longer made any waves in the town of Wisteria. The serial murders had already exhausted all of their energy. Why would they care about a mere accident?
However, a theory soon spread.
Dong Zheng found this out when he was chatting with Mrs. Mead. He would go out everyday to inquire about things while Ficks was sleeping. After all, if he’d listened to Ficks and stayed inside, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.
Mrs. Mead often took care of the plants in her garden. Today, she could barely stand the recent thick and oppressive atmosphere in the town. She wanted to find someone to chat with. Dong Zheng seized on this and tried to gain as much information as possible.
“Do spirits really exist?” Dong Zheng asked, pretending to be surprised.
“Be quiet.” Mrs. Mead widened her eyes and made a gesture for silence. She looked around, saw that there was no else around, and lowered her voice. “Little George was definitely murdered. This used to be a quiet and peaceful town, but after his death, these terrible things are happening one after another. Even the police couldn’t handle it. It must be George’s ghost at work. A ghost with a grievance is the most terrifying thing.”
“If you say so…since George is a ghost, do you think he has a specific goal in killing all these people?”
Mrs. Mead said, “I don’t know. Anyway, I heard Mrs. Ford talking loudly in the garden about George being an illegitimate child. Maybe, George accidentally heard about it….Ah, don’t tell anyone about this, even though everyone in town basically knew about it already.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t talk nonsense,” Dong Zheng promised. He frowned and thought for a moment. “Is there another child in Mr. Ferdinand’s family?”
“When he went on a long voyage, he picked up an adopted son named Mons. Since he’d been unable to beget a son, he decided to train Mons as his heir. But at the age of 40, he got lucky and his lover gave birth to little George. This was why he loved the child so much,” Mrs. Mead whispered. “These are things the whole town knew about already, and I’m just sharing with you.”
Dong Zheng nodded and said, “If that’s the case, has no one doubted Mons?”
Mrs. Mead laughed and said, “These are things that police have to consider. All we can do is try our best to save our lives. But if it really is a ghost…we’ll just have to be resigned.”
Dong Zheng returned home and looked outside the courtyard. The body on the road was gone, leaving only a horrible pool of blood. He looked around and saw no traces of police activities. As a result, he had no choice but to put away the doubts in his heart and go back inside the house.
Ficks was already awake. He was sitting in the living room, smoking in a daze. He stared at the bare outlines of the rectangular picture frames on the wall and seemed to have fallen into a decadent contemplation as he smoked.
It was probably once a photo of him with someone.
Dong Zheng speculated that she was probably a woman. After several days of observing Ficks, he determined that this man was a slovenly man. Like many other similar middle-aged men, Ficks wore the same clothes for a week without changing, and he normally wouldn’t casually clean the rubbish that had been gathering on the table.
The original decoration and layout of the room was very particular and very lively. Whether it was the traces of the many photograph frames on the wall, the style and placement of the furniture, or the vases gathering dust in the corners, they showed that an attentive and lively person once lived with him.
Was it a wife?
Ficks heard Dong Zheng return and turned to look at him, “Didn’t I tell you to not to go outside?”
“It’s too boring at home. I took a walk in the yard and went to say a few sentences to the lady next door.” Dong Zheng wasn’t nervous. As long as he pretended that everything was normal, nothing would happen.
Ficks saw this but didn’t say anything. Dong Zheng took off his coat and hung it on the coat rack. He looked out the window and asked, “The police hadn’t come over, but I noticed that the person’s body was gone.”
Ficks laughed. He held the cigarette up to his mouth and sucked in a deep breath. When Dong Zheng was beginning to think that he wouldn’t answer, he whispered, “Who knows? Maybe someone stole it.”
Two more days passed.
Every night, Dong Zheng would listen to the sounds of Ficks leaving the house. The man would set out in the wee hours of the morning and would not return until dawn.
During this time, another person died.
So far, including the missing people, there were 7 victims. The whole town was panicked. Three families directly moved away, including the informative Mrs. Mead. Because her house couldn’t be sold, it remained empty.
Since realizing that jumping through plot points in the story may result in traps, Dong Zheng had stopped doing so. Anyway, he wasn’t in a hurry. The spare time spent in this box was convenient for training his ability in his kernel world. If he got bored…it was clear that someone else was even more bored.
These days, Cui Zuojing spent most of his time in the prisoner space, and he wasn’t pleased. However, he had already agreed to let Dong Zheng pass the instance without help. Moreover, he didn’t have a reasonable identity in the box, and if he rushed out and was seen by others, his presence wouldn’t be easy to explain.
Therefore, Cui Zuojing could only come out while Ficks was sleeping or out of the house. Dong Zheng took out a set of poker cards from a small drawer under the coffee table in the living room, and they sat on the bed with the door locked and the curtains pulled, playing for hours.
Cui Zuojing was still keen on using his skills for sleight of hand against Dong Zheng. He’d long forgotten about the last time Dong Zheng had caught him cheating while they were in Doll’s House. Dong Zheng didn’t say anything and merely continued to play. However, he wasn’t unskilled now as he’d once been in Doll’s House.
At that time, he’d relied on previous experience and simple probability calculations to play blackjack. But now, he had his kernel.
After learning that Cui Zuojin wanted to play blackjack, Dong Zheng tried to write a program in the kernel to determine whether he should continue to draw cards based on the face value of existing cards. After several experiments, he discovered that the accuracy was much better than he’d thought possible.
After playing like this for a day, Cui Zuojing realized that even if he used sleight of hands, he sometimes wouldn’t be able to beat Dong Zheng at all. He soon became bored. He threw away the cards in his hands and spread out on the bed, one foot propped up and shaking. He drawled, “I’m so bored.”
“If you’re bored, we could play something else.” Dong Zheng put down his card. “You can still be bored with a big person like me?”
“It’s because you’re boring.” Cui Zuojing sighed. “What’s fun about you?”
Dong Zheng suggested, “We can take this opportunity to cultivate our feelings.”
Cui Zuojing immediately looked at him, his eyes wary. He hugged Dong Zheng’s pillow and said, “I warn you not to have other ideas. You said that you wanted to pursue me, but I haven’t accounted with you yet for keeping me in the prisoner space for so long.”
“These are all force majeure.” Dong Zheng also lay down. The bed in the second bedroom was just a single bed. Since Cui Zuojing was now all grown up, Dong Zheng ended up having to squeeze tightly against him. They were arm to arm next to each other, and each could feel the other’s temperature. “If you don’t want to play, let’s chat.”
“What do you want to talk about?” Cui Zuojing shifted uncomfortably. Ever since Dong Zheng said those things to him, whenever he saw Dong Zheng, he always had a strange, inexplicable feeling in his heart. It was as if something was being suppressed hard. It could neither go up nor go down, making him feel uncomfortably stifled.
Intuition told him that if he really got his emotions back, things might go in a direction he wouldn’t be able to predict.
But, Cui Zuojing couldn’t deny that whenever he was with Dong Zheng, his mood was rarely bad.
Just like now. Although he was bored, he was just bored. If it was someone else who had tied him to his side, he might have been annoyed enough to beat the other person up already.
“Let’s talk about things in the real world,” Dong Zheng said. He turned his head to look at Cui Zuojing, whose profile was sharper than when they first met. “I want to know more about you.”
“The real world…” Cui Zuojing smiled. “If you look at it seriously, I would be a most ordinary person in the real world.”
“You already know how I came here, right? When I was sixteen, I was asked to go home early from self-study to celebrate my birthday. The result was that I caught a murderer’s eyes. Before that, to my teachers and parents, I was a good boy with good grades who would one day be admitted to a good college and go to live in the big city.”
“After I returned from the Pure White Realm, everyone in my family knew what had happened to me and chose to believe me instead of making me see a psychiatrist.”
“Since then, I basically stayed home. The frozen time had indeed brought me a great deal of trouble, but if I really, truly wanted to socialize with people, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem. To be frank…it may be that my mentality has changed a little.”
“The experience in the Pure White Realm made ordinary life seem completely uninteresting. I watched my parents work day after day, and my sister went from junior high school to university. It was very tedious.”
Cui Zuojing paused. He looked at Dong Zheng and said something he’d never told another living person, “Instead of becoming one of many ordinary people, living and working in the city, I probably…like it here better.”
“You like adventures. I’ve seen this early on.” Dong Zheng asked softly, “That’s why you chose to come back, didn’t you?”
“I like this world. Unfortunately, it’s controlled by that vicious woman.” Cui Zuojing raised his left hand and spread open his fingers, as if he could see something through his spread fingers other than the ceiling.
“In those eight years, I was unable to re-integrate back into the real world. Every night, I dreamed of the people I’d met, of the trains passing through the platforms, and of all the impossible possibilities that exist here. And, of course, these fantastical boxes.”
“Since then, I understood that sooner or later, I would come back. I would come back and save it with my own two hands. It’s not the end.”