In the third month after confirming their relationship, Cui Zuojing moved in with Dong Zheng.
His rental apartment really was a little too far away. If he moved in together with Dong Zheng, not only would they be able to commute together everyday, but he also wouldn’t have to pay a 3,000 monthly rent. As such, his living conditions improved exponentially. Even though they were already a couple, Cui Zuojing didn’t want to take advantage so he insisted on bearing the water, electricity, and property expenses.
Of course, the property fee for Dong Zheng’s community wasn’t cheap, but compared with the rent, it was still much cheaper.
Time passed like this, day by day.
Work, eat, sleep, hold hands, hug, kiss…Like most people, life was quite mundane. But it was this ordinary warmth that made them both extremely happy.
At half past one in the evening, Dong Zheng had just finished washing up, while Cui Zuojing was leaning on the bedside looking at a book. He was not used to wearing pajamas so he wasn’t wearing any. The warm yellow light of the reading lamp spilled over his shoulders and followed the lines of his body downward into the areas hidden under the comforter.
Dong Zheng opened the comforter and slipped into bed. He glanced at the name of the book. It was the first in the series of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.
“Is it good?” Although he had long heard of this name, Dong Zheng had never read it.
Cui Zuojing didn’t raise his head. “It’s good, especially the first and second books. It’s a masterpiece. I’ve already read all four books.”
Dong Zheng pressed a kiss to the corner of Cui Zuojing’s lips. The young man turned his head, and they exchanged a kiss.
Afterward, Dong Zheng didn’t bother him any more. He took his tablet and handled emails from work.
Cui Zuojing had already fully remembered the content of the book, but every time he read it again, the poetry-like language and the dreamy and cold writing style would always gave him new surprises and feelings—
“You’ve been chosen to return to Hyperion as one of the Shrike pilgrims,” the voice continued to say.
If the exiled managed to occupy Hyperion, then we must eliminate their spies. No matter what the price, we must seal the time mount and the overlord’s fate in one go.
[Can you see this sentence?]
Cui Zuojing was shocked. He was certain that it wasn’t because he wasn’t seeing correctly, and that, indeed, some gray text had emerged between the paragraphs!
That strong sense of unreality struck again, and he subconsciously squeezed the pages of the book with his hands and quickly browsed down–
At that moment, the Consul suddenly realized that he was the only sentimental lifeform on this unnamed planet.
[You have been in a dream for a long time]
The Consul remembered the unforgettable pleasure of hunting, as well as the deep-rooted comfort of time spent alone: Solitude. It stemmed from having endured countless pains and nightmares on Hyperion.
[Please wake up quickly]
The mysterious Shrike would permit pilgrims from the outside world to set off on a cruise ship to the barren land awashed by wind and rain, and to land on the gloomy graves at the northern foot of the mountains. It had been a long time since anyone had returned there.
[Time is almost running out.]
It defied the law of everything, and only communicated by means of carnage. Although the cabin was warm, the Consul couldn’t help but tremble.
The stormy night passed, and dawn was on the verge of breaking, but what came sooner than dawn was the precursor of another storm.
[Please, wake up quickly]
Cui Zuojing’s fingers touched the words that shouldn’t appear in disbelief. He grabbed Dong Zheng’s arm and said, “Take a look at this!”
“What is it?” Dong Zheng asked, slightly taken aback. He leaned over to look at the place where Cui Zuojing was pointing, and he also saw those lines of imploring words.
“What is this?”
“I don’t know. I bought this book when I was in college, but I’ve never seen this before. How could such a weird thing appear so suddenly?”
Dong Zheng turned the first few pages and read all the words starting with the phrase “Hey.” he didn’t understand what was going on. Was this a deliberate prank? But since Cui Zuojing moved in with him, these items hadn’t been touched by anyone.
Dong Zheng couldn’t come up with an explanation for it either. He frowned and could only say, “Don’t think about it. Maybe it was someone’s prank.”
“Could this prank be from you? That would really surprise me.” Cui Zuojing also didn’t have the heart to continue reading. He closed the book and placed it on the bedside table with great preoccupation. He sat down and couldn’t help but recall those words. He said softly, “It’s strange. I often feel that everything around me seems like it shouldn’t exist.”
Dong Zheng also became serious, because he also felt the same way. “When did this start?”
“When I was 16. It was worse back then.”
Both of them became silent. After a while, Cui Zuojing said, “Do you think…does the jar with the brain genuinely exist?”
It was an interesting hypothesis, the idea that you had been operated on by an evil scientist, and your brain was immersed in a petri dish, connected with electrodes. Your various senses and thoughts were generated by a computer, so that your “feelings” were nothing but inputted codes.
So how do people guarantee that they truly weren’t in such a predicament? No one had yet been able to provide a convincing answer.
“Or…Inception(1). Maybe, I’m a dream invader, lost in my own dreamland?”
Dong Zheng said, “It might also possibly be Truman’s World(2). But I don’t think this question has an answer. Just like, if you’re reading a book, how do you know that those people you’re reading about aren’t actually reading about you?”
Cui Zuojing fell into deep thoughts. Dong Zheng smiled and rubbed his hair. He said, “Don’t think about it so much. Whether it’s true or not, as long as I’m happy, it wouldn’t be considered as having failed to live up to my life.”
“Indeed.” Cui Zuijing sighed. “I’m already very happy now, so why speak about it. It’s better not to care about it so much.”
Dong Zheng laid down flat and turned off the reading lights. The bedroom plunged into darkness. He reached out and held Cui Zuojing’s hand, whispering, “It doesn’t matter. No matter what, I’ll be with you.”
“Go to the art exhibition? Not going.” After hearing this additional plan, Dong Linhai subconsciously refused.
Dong Yi raised his eyes to look at him. “This charity exhibition asks me to bring a family member. Since your brother has to work, I can only take you.”
“What’s the point of me going to an art exhibition? I don’t have any artistic talents, and I can’t understand anything.” Dong Linhai may be pouting, but he wasn’t the kind of kid who only knew how to mess around and be outrageously disobedient. Finally, he relented and said, “Okay.”
So a month after the college entrance examination ended, Dong Linhai followed his parents to a charity art exhibition. The charity dinner was as boring as the ones he’d experienced before, and he sneaked away after the opening greetings ended.
Dong Linhai walked along the gallery, and soon the voices in the banquet hall gradually faded. His father might spend a lot of money to buy a completely incomprehensible painting, but he didn’t care how his father spent his money. Whatever he spent was for the sake of charity, anyway.
Dong Linhai stopped. He didn’t know where he was now. Large and small paintings hung on both sides of the long corridor. They were different from the delicate, abstract, and postmodern paintings in the exhibition hall. The color contrasts of these paintings were intense, and the visual effect was very strong.
In the dim bedroom, a little girl was crying and tightly holding on to her little bear; on a vast snowfield, twin towers rose far from a distance with a huge spider web hanging in the center, looking like a fantastical relic; a cruise ship broken down by numerous tentacles; a demon god climbing out of the ground with wings stretched wide, covering the sky; a circus performing a grotesque show; red and black trains leaving platforms built on giant branches and leaves…These magnificent scenes that had no hands in reality and seemed full of fantasy were on exhibition before Dong Linhai.
Dong Linhai was deeply fascinated. He carefully studied each painting, and everything on it was so familiar to him, as if he’d seen these scenes with his own eyes.
But he was pretty sure that this was the first time he actually saw these paintings.
“Sorry, Mister, these are not for sale. The exhibition hall is on the other side.” The girl’s voice came from the other side of the gallery. Dong Linhai turned his head to see a girl with loose, curly hair. She was about his age, and her facial features were exquisite like a doll. Although the apron she was wearing was covered in paint, there were no traces of paints on her fingers.
“Did you paint all of these?” Dong Linhai asked. He glanced at the train leaving the tree platform again, and that strong sense of familiarity reappeared, along with a subtle sense of unreality.
Wang Que smiled with embarrassment. “Yes, these paintings aren’t very good.”
“No, I like them very much.” Dong Linhai stepped back to admire them. Suddenly, he saw a painting in the corner.
The painting was hidden in the shadows in a corner where the light couldn’t reach. It was a blue room, and it was completely empty. The moment he saw that painting, Dong Linhai felt a sudden pain in his chest. He hissed quietly and raised his hand to cover his heart, as if he’d been stabbed with a knife. Every time he thought of it, he felt the pain of it.
He forcibly averted his gaze and looked at Wang Que again. He asked, “Can I ask what inspired you to paint these?”
Wang Que said, “Every time I lift a brush, blurry pictures would often appear in my mind, and so I just painted them.”
“Are they really not for sale?” Dong Linhai asked again, not willing to give up. “The price is negotiable.”
Wang Que hesitated. As someone from an ordinary family background, she had to spend a lot of money to study art. At the same time, she was also a college student and didn’t want to have financial issues. Although she liked each of these paintings, if they could be handed over to someone who also liked them, she would be very happy. “Which one do you want?”
Dong Linhai thought for a moment and pointed to the train painting. “Is this okay?”
Wang Que nodded. “Yes.”
Dong Linhai didn’t know how much a normal painting would be priced, but he thought that since those abstract works in the hall cost tens of thousands of dollars, he should just set a price similar to them. He threw out a price, “How about eight thousand?”
Wang Que was taken aback by this number and hurriedly waved her hand, saying, “No need. That’s too high.”
“Although I don’t know much about art, in my heart, it’s worth that much money.” Dong Linhai was certain he didn’t lowball the price. But just to be rest assured, he immediately took out his cell phone so he could transfer the money to Wang Que right away. “Yes, I don’t know what your name is.”
“My name is Wang Que, Que like sparrow.” Wang Que didn’t expect that she would meet a nouveau riche young master here, and that he would make up his mind to pay so much. To be honest, she was more excited that someone appreciated her work, rather than that he was willing to pay such a huge sum of money.
Wang Que carefully removed the painting from the wall and handed it to Dong Linhai, who took it in hand to look at it more carefully.
The black and red train was departing from the platform at the top of the giant tree to an unknown destination. Who was sitting in that train, and what kind of story did they have?
(1) Inception — A science fiction film about a professional thief who steals information by infiltrating people’s subconscious through a dreamworld.
(2) Truman World — the author is probably referring to the movie The Truman Show, about a man who, unbeknownst to him, grew up in a TV set in a show about him.