They were back in Secretary Huang’s home again. Xue Meng and Jiang Lan sat in the living room. Secretary Huang’s wife, who had remained in the back, again brought them two bowls of tea. Secretary Huang sat opposite them, smoking a water pipe. The smoke shrouded him, concealing the looks on his face.

Because of Jiang Lan’s calm looks, Xue Meng also calmed down. Touching the protective talisman in his pocket, Xue Meng didn’t drink the tea. Instead, he tried to strike a conversation with Secretary Huang with a smile.” You came back so soon.”

Secretary Huang briefly paused his smoking.” You are guests traveling a long way here. I can’t just leave you here, so I hurried back.”

“Oh, We shouldn’t be counted as guests. It’s our job here to help you.” Xue Meng’s warm feeling for this man was now gone, and he just said some empty pleasantries. It was easy to feel a sense of closeness towards an elderly man with an honest face. Xue Meng was no exception.

But after he saw the nasty look flashed across his face in the woods, Xue Meng began to grow guarded around him.

At first glance, this village was very ordinary. But just as Jiang Lan said, the more he thought about what he saw here, the more he felt something was wrong with this village. Thinking back on what Xiao Xiaoyu and Zhang Tianxing said yesterday, he didn’t know whether they were totally fooled by the villagers or he and Jiang Lan were unlucky to discover this.

Secretary Huang again drew long and hard on his water pipe, then he put down his pipe and rose.” They are back.”

Distant voices came from outside. Jiang Lan and Xue Meng walked out to see villagers coming back in small groups. The sadness on their faces was now gone, replaced with cheerful looks. Perhaps because they wore sad faces most of the time, the sadness still lingered on their faces when they were smiling, making them look bizarre.

Xue Meng silently moved to Jiang Lan’s back and tried to maintain a natural look when talking with Secretary Huang.” Why do they appear so happy? Something good happened?”

Secretary Huang squinted his eyes and smiled.” This is our custom. Funeral services held for elderly people who died after the age of sixty are considered a happy occasion because for their families, a burden is finally lifted. That’s why we will celebrate after the funeral.”

He turned to look at them.” There will be a banquet afterwards. And you two are invited to attend this banquet. It is rare for this village to be lively.”

He just said openly that elderly men after the age of sixty are burdens and their deaths are cause for celebration.”

Xue Meng found this incredible, but he forced a smile.” Our jobs here aren’t done yet and we need to report to our superiors our work here.”

Secretary Huang waved his hands, dismissing him.” This is simple; I will gather all the men here and women will start to prepare the banquet. You need to get the business done first.”

Then he called. And the scattering villagers began to gather around him, looking at them with cheerful looks.

Seeing this, Xue Meng looked at Jiang Lan, who nodded to him.” Let’s get the job done first.”

Xue Meng then organized his thoughts and spoke to the villagers, encouraging them to find jobs away from their village. While he was talking, Jiang Lan distributed employment preference questionnaires to every villager.

Some villagers here were illiterate. So Jiang Lan had to ask them the questions and fill out the questionnaires for those illiterate villagers.

Even if the illiterate villagers were not many, filling out these questionnaires was tedious work.

Jiang Lan asked a question, and someone answered him. This went back and forth for almost an hour before they could gather up the filled-out questionnaires.

At this time, women had already started cooking, and the aroma filled the air.

Xue Meng and Jiang Lan browsed through the questionnaires and found to their surprise that everyone checked the “no” box next to the question” Are you willing to work away from home?”

In normal circumstances, since they are charged with motivating the villagers to work away from home, they should persuade them that doing so was in their best interest. But now they knew this village wasn’t normal. Licking his parched lips, Xue Meng whispered.” Should we continue?”

Jiang Lan shook his head and then indicated him to read the basic personal info at the head of all the questionnaires.” None of the villagers is above the age of sixty and most of them are between the ages of thirty and fifty-five.”

Secretary Huang, who was supposed to be more than fifty, turned out to be forty-eight. The youngest among these villagers was twenty-six, but he was dim-witted.

This fact reminded Xue Meng of what Secretary Huang said.” The death of an old man after sixty is considered a happy occasion.” His face turned pale, and he tried to shut off the mind to the question of where those old men after sixty ended up.

Jiang Lan patted his shoulder, comforting him.” Don’t worry, we will be fine.”

Xue Meng swallowed hard and nodded. He sorted these questionnaires and put them in his bag with forced calm.

When they were done, the village banquet was about to begin. Four round banquet tables were moved to an empty slot in front of Secretary Huang’s house, and those cooking women started to bring the dishes to the table.

Judging by the depth of the poverty in this village, they assumed the banquet would be a meager one.

But to their amazement, the banquet was very bountiful with pork, beef, chicken, duck served. Soft-shelled turtle and sea shrimps were also on the menu. Secretary Huang even brought out two bottles of Maotai[1]TL’s note: The most expensive Chinese distilled liquor. A bottle cost around $200-500 or more depending on the production year

Xue Meng and Jiang Lan weren’t drinkers, so they couldn’t tell if the liquors were genuine. But the banquets before them contrasted sharply with the poverty of this village.

They were seated at the same table with Secretary Huang. Xue Meng sat close to Jiang Lan. Acting like a frightened quail, he didn’t even dare to touch the chopsticks.

Except for Secretary Huang, the rest of the diners at this table were middle-aged men. The seating arrangements were totally different from other villages, where the seating was arranged according to seniority and age.

Someone toasted Jiang Lan. But he refused the drink on the grounds that he had to drive after the banquet.

The villagers didn’t insist. Instead, they left them alone and began to enjoy the meal. Two men even talked loudly about which woman in the village they would spend the night with.

Hearing this talk, Jiang Lan guessed that the men in this village could choose any woman in the village at will. They had no concept of a normal marriage, treating the women in the village as public properties.

What’s more, they were openly talking about this within the earshot of Jiang Lan and Xue Meng, as if they no longer regarded them as outsiders. This attitude was totally different from the way they treated them in the morning, friendly but reserved.

Jiang Lan appeared calm, and Xue Meng acted as if he didn’t hear it. Pretending to check the time, he took out his phone, only to see red exclamation marks following each message he sent to the group chat.

And the signal strength indicator bars were empty.

He didn’t know when his phone lost the signal.

He turned on the vibrate mode and pocketed his phone.

The man sitting next to him turned to look at him with a broad smile on his face.


This banquet lasted for almost an hour. During which time, Xue Meng had a hard time maintaining his calm, and Jiang Lan gestured to him to have a little food.

When the banquet ended, Xue Meng said they had better return since it was already very late.

Secretary Huang had drunk a lot during the banquet. Hearing this, he offered to see them off with smiles all over his face.

Nervous Xue Meng took a breath of relief, and then he got tensed up again, feeling they shouldn’t be able to get away this easily.

Now it was just half-past five in the afternoon, but the sky had already turned dark. When they walked to the village entrance, they saw some light mist floating in the woods.

Xue Meng got in the car and turned the key, but the engine failed to start.

Even though he felt a chill of fear, he wasn’t surprised. When he was about to get out of the car to find the problem, Jiang Lan said.” We have got a flat tyre.”

Exchanging a look, they both knew who had tampered with their car.

Looking at the villagers who hadn’t walked far from them, Xue Meng cursed under his breath.” Our phones have lost signal. What should we do? Those villagers definitely wouldn’t help us leave this place.”

The Three Water Village was too remote, and the road leaving here was too circuitous. Without the help of a navigation app, they couldn’t find the way out of here, even in broad daylight.

Gritting his teeth, Xue Meng took out his two protective talismans and gave one to Jiang Lan. Then he searched through his car and found a small knife and a wrench.” At the worst, we have to fight them to death. This place is so spooky, maybe we can turn into ghosts to seek vengeance after our death.”

This greatly amused Jiang Lan. Returning the protective talisman to him, Jiang Lan asked him to hide the knife and wrench under his clothing, gesturing to him to follow him.” Rest easy. If we can enter this place, we can also walk out of this place.”

Xue Meng looked at his thin body. Jiang Lan was very tall but wasn’t very muscular. But the villagers who shared the same table with them were all burly farmers.

“There are too many of them. Don’t try to be brave. We can escape to the woods. After Xiao Xiaoyu and Zhang Tianxing found out we are missing, they will call the Police and look for us.”

The more he talked about this, the more he was convinced they could actually pull this off. Now he was much calmer.

Jiang Lan turned to look at him.” Those villagers wouldn’t harm us. But we have to look out for something else.”

He said to Xue Meng.” I am sure I can handle the situation here. But you have to follow my instructions.”

Hearing the mention of “Something else,” Xue Meng’s lip trembled. But he still nodded obediently. Perhaps because he was very nervous at this point, he became very chatty.” Do you know what we are facing here?”

Jiang Lan shook his head.” I don’t know.”

Looking around at the thickening mist, he said.” We will know after nightfall.”

Nothing was hiding in the village. If he was right, that thing only came out at night, and most probably, that thing’s appearance was triggered by some events. He wasn’t sure what would prompt this thing’s appearance. But he guessed the death in the village might trigger it.

Otherwise, Zhang Tianxing and Xiao Xiaoyu would have run into this thing yesterday.

Xue Meng wasn’t sure about it.

Perhaps Xue Meng’s scared look reminded him of something, Jiang Lan added.” This night, if you saw me turn into something else, don’t scream and don’t be afraid, understand?”

The looks on Xue Meng’s face became even more scared:……

What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t we belong to the same species? 


1 TL’s note: The most expensive Chinese distilled liquor. A bottle cost around $200-500 or more depending on the production year

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