By the time Dong Linhai heard Victor’s roar, it was already too late. After shouting and ripping the thing off his back, he saw what it looked like.
The creature looked like it’d just crawled out of a sea of blood. The body was swollen and bloated, like a broken sack full of things. The flesh of its face was turned up and its features barely looked human. Wrapped around the face was long hair that was messy and dirty.
It was crouching on the ground like a frog, opening its ugly mouth toward Dong Linhai and making an indescribable voice from its throat.
Dong Linhai was terrified by this scene. It was completely beyond his psychological tolerance. He stumbled back two steps, almost unable to hold on to You Yuetong in his arms.
The place on his back where it had been lying on was extremely itchy and eventually grew into a burning pain. Dong Linhai couldn’t help but reach back to touch it. But, with a light touch, a large piece of flesh fell directly from him.
He very clearly felt the pain of the cold wind blowing over his exposed spine.
Dong Linhai screamed in horror. He tried to cover the wound on his back, only for more flesh to fall off in succession.
Something moved behind him in an instant, and You Yuetong raised her head to look. The girl’s eyes were black holes that oozed blood. A deep cut stretched from her left ear across her entire face to her right ear.
She wrapped her arms tightly around Dong Linhai’s neck, and black blood poured from the corners of lips that smiled at him with three missing teeth.
“Hee hee hee hee…”
As Dong Linhai screamed and threw away the devil in his arms, a giant pair of heavy wings suddenly appeared in front of him! The creature growled.
A silver-white light flashed, and the ghouls howled and the little devil screeched. The skeleton hands that had drilled out of the ground to grab onto Dong Linhai’s legs and feet shattered. The filthy bones shrieked and melted into a dense liquid that seeped into the ground.
Dong Linhai knelt on the ground. The skin behind his back was all gone, and black blood flowed from his wounded body. From the gaping hole on his back, the white bone of his spine that was connected to his ribs could be seen, looking like some unknown multi-legged creature. It slightly moved with every gasp that the teenager made.
As his life slipped away, Dong Linhai’s vision grew faint. In front of him was a giant white tiger. The tiger’s ears trembled gently, and it slowly walked to him. It lowered it’s head, and the pink of its nose brushed against the teen’s lowered head.
“Wake up soon,” it said.
Dong Linhai suddenly opened his eyes.
He was still in the same forest, and the light of a cabin was clearly visible in front of him. The pale, jade-like girl still sat in his arms. She reached out and touched his face with a small, worried hand.
“Brother, what’s wrong with you?”
Dong Linhai glanced around in panic. But, there was no longer the feeling of being peeped in the mist, and the ghost shadow that seemed to be everywhere had disappeared.
Everything just now was an illusion?
Victor stood at his feet, looking up at the teen with some effort, and asked, “The fog is strange here. Did you also fall into the illusion?”
Dong Linhai nodded, still afraid of dying. He had come to a complete halt, and the weight of the girl in his arms reminded him uncontrollably of the little bloody devil.
He looked at You Yuetong’s pure eyes and turned his head away stiffly, trying to suppress the urge to throw her away and other criminal thoughts.
No, those were just illusions. You can’t think like that, it’s disgusting. Dong Linhai, how can you be so disgusting?
How many people could really bear it when the evil that exists deep in his heart was swept away and displayed in front of him?
But in any case, now Dong Linhai stopped the more unbearable thoughts. He took a deep breath and forced himself not to think about all the horrors in the illusion. Instead, he focused on looking at the lights of the hut in front and on Victor’s slowly swaying his tail. Then, he frowned.
Victor urged, “Go, go to the house in front of you. The fragment should be there, and you can relax a lot once you have the ticket.”
Dong Linhai stood there without moving.
He stared at the white cat and suddenly said, “Uncle, didn’t you say before we came in that if it wasn’t the most critical situation, you wouldn’t give me any extra assistance?”
The white cat stopped suddenly.
“You’re not Victor. Who the hell are you?” Dong Linhai stepped back in vigilance.
“Victor” squatted quietly in front of him with his tail circled behind him. Under Dong Linhai’s watchful vigilance, his amber eyes turned into jewel-like green, his mouth stretched open, revealing a crescent-like smile and jagged teeth, and his pure white hair turned gray and black.
“Which way are you going?” it asked.
The body of the British short-tailed cat gradually disappeared, but the cat continued to stare at Dong Linhai. Those green eyes finally disappeared, and only a curved smile was left in the air.
“I’m not Alice.” Dong Linhai was completely calm. He raised his hand and shattered the last smile like stirring a calm lake.
“I know where I am going.”
Then, everything around him seemed to shatter.
The light of the cabin not far away became brighter and brighter, and finally filled Dong Linhai’s entire field of vision.
Dong Linhai opened his eyes again.
The flame of the kerosene lamp on the table flickered in the lampshade. It was obviously the warm light of the cabin that he’d just seen in the illusion. Victor squatted on the table, licking and combing his hair, and You Yuetong was sitting beside him, playing with a pair of plush gloves.
This house was a wooden hut that looked similar to the outside. The walls and roof were made of logs of similar thickness. There was a window in the living room and it was covered to keep out the wind. Even the table and chairs were wooden.
Many embroidered blankets hung on the walls, their pattern seeming to contain some kind of secret. An old-fashioned gramophone stood in the corner. A beige lace tablecloth covered a round table and in the middle was a high-neck bottle with a few flowers inserted. The name of flowers were unknown but dew clung to the life-like petals.
The fireplace was burning quietly and, from time to time, gave a crackle or two.
A woman in a black dress came over and placed a tray with four cups of hot tea on the table. She had a deer’s head with two tiny horns, but her exquisite figure belonged to that of a young girl.
“Wake up? Just in time to taste my new pansy tea.” Miss Deer sat down. She wore a short black shawl with pleats and thin long gloves, as if she’d just walked out from an old photo of the Republic of China period.
Dong Linhai was completely at a loss. He looked at Victor. The white cat was trying to test the temperature of the water with his paws. When he was aware of the teen’s doubts, he said, “You were trapped in an illusion created by the lingering spirits outside. So, I brought you and Tongtong inside.”
Dong Linhai suddenly realized that Victor’s attitude was now familiar to him, and he finally let go of the wariness in his heart. “Eh? Is it only me who fell for the trick?”
“Tongtong was too young, and she didn’t have so much dirt and fear in her heart, and they didn’t work for me.” Victor’s tongue couldn’t accept the hot water, so he finally gave up and jumped onto Dong Linhai’s knees.
Miss Deer smiled softly. “Since you could free yourself from the illusion of the bound earth spirits, it can be regarded as you passing my first test.”
Miss Deer said, “Didn’t you come to this world to get a piece of fragment? I do have something you might use here, but I don’t want to give it to you so easily.”
Hearing that the treasure was here, Dong Linhai’s eyes lit up and he asked, “Then what’s the next test?”
“Did you just want to take things away?” Miss Deer’s smile was still gentle, but Dong Linhai heard the sadness in her voice.
The teen rubbed his hair in embarrassment and explained, “It’s mainly because our time is urgent. This box will be closed in less than three hours.”
“No, the time here is much slower than outside. You can stay with me for a while.” Miss Deer took a cup of tea, blew on the light-colored petals that stretched out on the water, and said softly, “Tell me a story. If I like it, I will give you something and send you out.”
Tell a story?
Dong Linhai thought that the so-called test might be for him to do something that was difficult to accomplish, or to experience the same danger from earlier, but…tell a story?
Was it so simple?
“Is it okay to tell a story?”
Miss Deer thought for a while. “I want a story about animals, tears, deception, love, and hope.”
Dong Linhai, who’d been considering Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: ………..
Might as well let him do something else! How could he tell such a story!
“I’ll do it,” Victor said suddenly. “I still remember a story like this that I once read to my three daughters.”
Although he knew that Victor was once a man, this was the first time Dong Linhai heard him talking about himself.
Victor must be almost thirty or forty years old.
Victor found a comfortable position to sit down and pondered slightly. His thoughts crossed the long river of time, back to that peaceful rainy night twenty years ago.
He’d just finished his busy day and returned home from the hospital. He was sitting by the bedside of his five-year-old daughter, holding up the book he’d bought from the old market, and reading the story for the first time to the sound of rain falling through the window.
“On the distant Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, there was a group of Tibetan antelopes. There was a lot of moss growing on the plateau. These mosses would become very chewy moss stems after sun exposure, so they use the time required to chew a moss stem as a kind of timer.”
“In a certain ethnic group, there was a small Tibetan antelope named Pudawa…”
At the same time, in the Labyrinth of Time.
Lin Hangzhi breathlessly came out of a secret door. He looked at the pale blue ticket in his hand and almost burst into tears of excitement. The ghosts knew what he had just experienced!
With the ticket in hand, the ultimate task now was to ensure his own safety, and then collect a few more fragments to successfully complete the box!
Thinking of this, Lin Hangzhi felt very relieved. The 29-year-old young doctor was preparing to go around to see if he could find another door when he saw a young woman coming out of the corner in front.
Her long straight black hair was scattered behind her, and her body was clean and tidy as if he was not in a box at all.
The passing girl also saw Lin Hangzhi, this man with a youthful looking face.
And the ticket he didn’t have time to put away.