Soon enough, the day came for their poverty alleviation work in the countryside. Zhang Tianxing and Xiao Xiaoyu were on the same team. On Monday morning, they set off early to the Three Water Village.
Because the Three Water Village was remote and one stretch of road was reported to be poorly maintained, they were already on the road after daybreak. While Zhang Tianxing was driving the car, Xiao Xiaoyu was updating the progress of their trip in the group chat.
When Jiang Lan got up from the bed, Xiao Xiaoyu complained that the place was very remote. Their Navigation app was so unreliable that it pointed them to the wrong path. Finally, they found the right direction after circling around for a while. Now they should arrive by nine.
She took many pictures while traveling, taking care to snap a few shots of every intersection they passed and mark the right road on the photos for Jiang Lan’s reference on their next trip here.
From the photos she took, the area around the Three Water Village was a very desolate place. If not seen with their own eyes, they wouldn’t believe rough dirt roads still existed here in the modern age. On both sides of the dirt road were wooded hills without any trace of human activity.
Xue Meng was shocked:[ This is outrageous? I don’t know there are places like this in the Jiang City area. The road is not even paved.]
[Xiao Xiaoyu: That’s why we are here to help them. But the village we just passed after taking a wrong turn has a newly paved road. I think the Three Water Village will have a road like this soon.]
Xue Meng sent a despair emoji.
Xiao Xiaoyu said again in the group chat:[ Remember to bring water and food here. This place doesn’t even have a convenience store.]
When Jiang Lan came to the office, Xiao Xiaoyu again uploaded a photo, saying she had arrived in the Three Water Village. In the picture, there was a cluster of houses at the end of a small path. But the houses were not the kind of two-story houses common in the countryside nowadays, but the kind once prevalent in the eighties. These houses were old. Green moss covered every inch of the outer wall and the gaps between grey tiles. And overgrown weeds surrounded the houses.
Xue Meng came to Jiang Lan, mumbling.” Why do these houses seem spooky?”
Jiang Lan was speechless.” I think you have read too many ghost stories. Those poor villages all have houses like this. When Xiaoyu comes into the village, you will know.”
Xue Meng was a little relieved.” Ok.”
Xiao Xiaoyu remained silent in the group chat for a while. Perhaps she had already entered the village and was talking with the villagers.
So Jiang Lan put down his phone and focused on his work at hand.
Their office workload was light since the main focus this week was the poverty alleviation campaign. Jiang Lan finished off his work fairly quickly. After that, he checked his phone again and saw Xiao Xiaoyu had sent new messages in the group chat.
[Xiao Xiaoyu: @Xue Meng Looks like the scary tales you told us are completely false. We have already walked around this village. The village looks pretty normal, and the villagers are very friendly. They don’t appear to reject our presence here as expected. We plan to talk with villagers in the morning, getting to know their present difficulties and needs. At noon, we will work on Grandma Huang’s farmland.]
Even Zhang Tianxing, who had stayed silent in the group chat, sent a message:[ So far, this village seems normal.]
Xiao Xiaoyu uploaded a few close-up shots of this village. Perhaps because the sun was already high up in the sky, the photos appeared bright, and the feeling of gloom in her previous photos was gone. Now this village and the villagers seemed very normal.
Xue Meng took out his phone to delete those posts from his reading list. While doing this, he complained.” Why do these people like to make up fake ghost stories? These posts read like real events.”
“The ghosts and monsters in this world are not as numerous as you imagined.” Jiang Lan said.” Most ordinary people will never meet them in their lifetime.”
Xue Meng touched his chin. What Jiang Lan said even made him feel a sense of superiority.” Now I have met them twice. I am God’s chosen one!”
The tense, spooky atmosphere caused by those ghost stories visibly relaxed. Xue Meng now had nothing better to do and began to consider the snacks he would bring on the trip tomorrow.
Xiao Xiaoyu had to work in the farmland on the first day there. Now it looked like their works there mainly consisted of manual labors. He had to bring some food along, in case the food in the village didn’t agree with him.
Their Monday passed uneventfully.
Zhang Tianxing and Xiao Xiaoyu had been busy the whole day. Their work proceeded smoothly but was very exhausting. They labored in the farmland until six in the afternoon.
She was so tired that texting seemed too much of an effort for her. So she switched to voice chat.
Hearing her tired voice, Xue Meng was surprised.” What did you do today? Working in the farmland has worn you out like this?”
Xiao Xiaoyu almost broke into shouts after hearing his voice. She moved her phone away from her lips:” You will know the workload when you try it yourself.”
“And we have some bad luck. When we returned from the field, we heard there was an old man who had just passed away. The whole village will prepare the funeral for him, and we have to lend a hand.” Xiao Xiaoyu complained.” No wonder our assignment includes educating villagers. These villagers are very superstitious. A mere funeral has so many procedures, and they have many superstitious rules to adhere to.
She didn’t have much strength left to carry on talking.” You will know how it is when you are here tomorrow.”
Xue Meng said feebly.” How come your arrival coincides with a death in the village?”
Xiao Xiaoyu rolled her eyes, not understanding why he was superstitious despite his party’s atheist education.” Most of the villagers are old people, isn’t it natural that they are more likely to die?”
Xue Meng thought her explanation made sense. They had spent a whole day there uneventfully. This must be a pure coincidence.
In the ensuing chat, Xiao Xiaoyu described this village and their first day’s work in detail, then ended their talk.
While packing his suitcase, Jiang Lan sent a message to Ying Qiao, asking him to take care of Suan Ni and Jiao Tu during his poverty alleviation work in the village.
He anticipated the heavy workload in the village and thought it was inconvenient to bring them along. But he was worried that if he just left them home without any adult supervision, they would just play games all day long, without eating and sleeping.
So he had to ask someone to keep an eye on them.
Jiang Lan originally intended to ask Zhang Tianxing. But judging by Xiao Xiaoyu’s tired voice, he assumed Zhang Tianxing wasn’t in better shape, so he had to ask someone else.
Ying Qiao was his only option.
At first, Ying Qiao was delighted to receive Jiang Lan’s message. Putting his younger brothers in his care could only mean Jiang Lan’s total trust in him.
But when he just replied, “Ok,” Jiang Lan immediately had a follow-up question:[ Can I have your home address? I will send them there. I have to leave at five tomorrow morning.]
He paused when he was just about to share his location. Suddenly it occurred to him that he lived in a villa located in an affluent district. None of the houses here had a price tag below ten million yuan.
And he couldn’t think of a single reason how an ordinary snake monster, who just makes three thousand a month, could afford to live here.
Looking at his big villa, Ying Qiao didn’t know what to do for the first time.
He didn’t dare to let Jiang Lan come cover. Instead, he replied:[ You have no car. Let me pick them up after I finish my work. Tomorrow you have to get up early. Now you should get all the rest you can.]
Jiang Lan agreed. Since they have grown quite intimate, Jiang Lan accepted his arrangement without hesitation:[ Good, please call me when you are here.]
After taking care of the Little Monster, Ying Qiao immediately called Cheng Hua.” Find me an apartment I can move into right away.”
You had been living in this villa for many years, why the sudden change?
“This villa suits you just fine. Plus it is really difficult to sort out your collections if you move again.”
As a dragon who loves to collect gems, Ying Qiao’s gem collections took up the whole basement and the third floor. When he moved to this villa, the moving and sorting of his gems took an entire month to complete.
The memory of this painful month was still fresh in Cheng Hua’s mind.
“I am not looking for a villa.”
Ying Qiao wanted to say he was looking for an ordinary house. But he had no idea what kind of house fit an ordinary monster. So he just explained.” Jiang Lan’s brothers are going to live with me temporarily. This villa is too much.”
Cheng Hua instantly understood Ying Qiao’s request. He needed an ordinary dwelling to maintain his cover.
” When do you need it?”
“Tonight.” Ying Qiao said.” No later than ten.”
You had better kill me right now.
“I will try my best.” Cheng Hua cursed under his breath.
At this time, all the real estate agencies had already closed. So Cheng Hua had to try his luck with his friends.
After he hung up the phone, Ying Qiao paced in his bedroom, feeling he shouldn’t leave everything to Cheng Hua. So he went upstairs to pack a suitcase of clothing, the kind you couldn’t easily guess the price and brands, in case he might leave traces that would expose him.
When Cheng Hua called to inform him that he had found the apartment, it was already half-past eight.
Ying Qiao brought his clothing and drove away.
The apartment was in a newly built apartment complex in Hanyang District. Ying Qiao went upstairs and was satisfied with what he saw. The apartment was small, well-furnished. But it didn’t look like someone was living here.
Cheng Hua brought some daily necessities, and Ying Qiao hung the clothing in the closet, striving to create the appearance of a real home.
After they were done, it was already half-past nine.
Ying Qiao called Jiang Lan, telling him he had got off work and was on the way. After that, he hurried downstairs to his car.
Ying Qiao didn’t have time to tidy himself up before he went out again. Cheng Hua looked at his untidy hair and rumpled clothing and sighed, thinking to himself that he had finally met his match in Jiang Lan.
He never thought he would see his boss end up like this.
Suddenly he felt terrific, taking great delight at his boss’s miserable condition.
When Ying Qiao arrived at Jiang Lan’s apartment complex, he checked his appearance in the rearview mirror. Looking at his untidy hair, he realized he didn’t have time to tidy himself up after arranging the apartment.
Now his jacket was rumpled. Shining leather shoes were coated with a layer of dust. His hair was untidy. Ying Qiao sniffed his jacket. A smell of sweat assaulted his senses.
He stopped before the gate of this apartment complex with a blank face until Jiang Lan sent a message asking if he was here. Then he dragged his feet, slowly walking into the apartment complex.
Ying Qiao didn’t remember being this miserable before. As a well-groomed dragon, he had never allowed himself to be untidy and sweaty like this before, especially before the Little Monster.
While walking, he was worried that the Little Monster might catch a whiff of his sweat.