After Wang Qing left, Jiang Lan walked around in the stairway; then he knocked on Room 701’s door again.
The old gentleman answered the door again. His back was straight like a spear. His clear eyes seemed to have seen the vicissitudes of life. He said in a calm deep voice, which was seasoned by the passage of time.” Young man, It’s you again. How may I help you?”
Jiang Lan’s gaze stayed on him and pointed to his exposed skin. He asked a straight question.” How long have you been dead? Do you know you are dead now?”
The old gentleman followed his finger to look at the dark purple patches on his skin. A momentary look of confusion in his eyes was instantly replaced by a look of knowing.
He rolled down his sleeves and covered those patches. He recalled.” A month maybe?”
Then, a blank look appeared on his face. It took him a while to focus.” That day I had a heart attack. I had a heart condition for a long time. But that day, I didn’t have time to take medicine and passed out. When I woke up, I was like this.”
It was just an ordinary day when he had a heart attack. He fell on the way to retrieve his medicine. He didn’t know how long he had been lying on the floor. But when he woke up, he felt something different about himself. But he didn’t pay it much mind. He still chose to stay here day in and day out, waiting to witness those vicious men meet bad ends.
Now they just kept coming to bad ends.
The old gentleman smiled.
Jiang Lan watched the looks on his face.” You shouldn’t stay here. After a man dies, there is a place he is supposed to go.”
The old gentleman didn’t object to this.” When the time comes, I will leave.”
Jiang Lan shook his head.” And you shouldn’t take advantage of that thing to help you seek revenge. I supposed that thing has helped you kill He Laoer and He Laosi? Now it is He Laowu’s turn. I have to warn you that when this thing is filled with bloodlust, you wouldn’t be able to control it.”
The old gentleman lowered his head, and Jiang Lan couldn’t see the look on his face. He shook his head.” I don’t know what kind of master you are. But there is no one else. I am responsible for their deaths, and they deserve it.”
As this old gentleman was talking with Jiang Lan, his facial expression remained calm. Judging by the way he spoke and behaved, he was a well-mannered man. Even though he knew he was dead, he still chose to abide by the living’s standard.
But when he said,” They deserve it,” he gritted his teeth and squeezed those words out with intense hatred and regrets.
When Jiang Lan first saw him, he couldn’t pick up the air of death from his body. If not for the purple patches he involuntarily exposed, he looked almost like a living person. But now, he was shrouded in the air of death, giving off an intense rotting stench.
This well-mannered old gentleman gradually took on the look of a vicious, hellish ghost.
With widened dark eyes, he repeated in a hoarse voice.” They deserve it.”
Jiang Pan put a hand on his shoulder and looked through him to the inside of the room. In the darkness, countless hostile eyes were watching him. These were the sunny dolls placed on the desk.
Jiang Lan took a step forward, but the old gentleman blocked him with his body. Now his face was covered by the air of death. His clear, shining eyes turned murky. But he still straightened up his back.” I killed them, but they should have been dead a long time ago. I don’t regret what I have done. If the master decided to bring justice to them on behalf of Heaven, just act now.”
His failing and decaying body blocked the doorway, but one of his arms behind his back waved to the room.
Then, those hostile sunny dolls in the darkness moved back.
Filled with malice, a pair of eyes deep in the darkness remained fixed on Jiang Lan.
Jiang Lan pointed to somewhere in the darkness.” Are you protecting them?”
The old gentleman didn’t move and said.” I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“When you were alive, you didn’t kill them. I don’t believe death will compel you to act.”
Jiang Lan signed and took a step back, indicating he didn’t mean harm. He said seriously.” I am not a master who would root out evil and eradicate ghosts. I am not your enemy. I am just tasked with finding out the truth about this case by the Police.”
The old gentleman seemed to react to the word “truth” by turning his eyeballs slowly.
“May I talk to it?”
The old gentleman watched him, then slowly shook his head. He was still guarded. “There is no one else here.”
Jiang Lan signed again. He pointed to several points on the old gentleman’s body.” Your body is now on the verge of decaying. Even that thing couldn’t bring you back to life. Have you stopped to consider when your body rotted away, and your soul evaporated? What could that thing do for you?”
If he was still unclear what that thing was before, he knew it once the old gentleman opened the door again.
He saw a small shrine in the corner of the living room.
But this shrine was not dedicated to any well-known deity but a girl aged around eight. This girl had a round face, dark eyes, and dimples in the corner of her mouth. If not for her lotus-shaped hairstyle and the broom in her hands, she looked just like an ordinary small girl.
But her dress meant she was unusual.
This old gentleman installed a shrine at his home, dedicated to the sunny dolls. But this sunny doll was not a young woman as legends had it, but a small girl around eight years old.
Jiang Lan recalled a file he had read.
Almost every villager living in the He Village had the same family name He. The only exception was a household of outsiders, and their family name was Qin.
The male head of the household was called Qin Shuyi. He was a member of Sent-Down youthurban young people sent to live and work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. After being sent to the He Village, a rural backwater, he fell in love with his wife and married her there. His parents were long gone, so he settled down in the He Village after getting married. He took up a teaching position in the village elementary school while helping his wife tend a small patch of farmland belonging to his wife’s family.
Their life together was pleasant and harmonious enough. The only regret was that they didn’t have a child. When they turned forty, they picked up an infant girl abandoned by the riverside and decided to raise her as their own.
They loved her and doted on her. But then catastrophe struck. In 1999, Jiang City was devastated by a flood. A downpouring continued for almost a month. Qin Shuyi’s wife and daughter lost their lives in that flood.
Jiang Lan calculated the timeline and concluded that when Qin Shuyi’s daughter died, she was around eight years old.
This old gentleman was Qin Shuyi, and the girl in the shrine must be his deceased daughter.
The only missing part was how the Sunny Doll was related to his daughter.
Jiang Lan’s words seemed to have an effect on the old gentleman. Hesitating a little, he said in a coarse voice.” Can you guarantee you wouldn’t hurt her? She has nothing to do with any of these affairs.”
Facing the vicious eyes in the darkness, he stressed.” I am working for the Government. If it didn’t commit any crimes, I wouldn’t hurt it.”
Qin Shuyi had a hesitant look on his face, but his body seemed no longer to insist on blocking the door.
Jiang Lan took a step forward, and Qin took a step back involuntarily. Now the deadlock was finally broken. Qin Shuyi turned and led him inside.
He called someone in a soft voice.” Nan Nan?”
As a response, a sound came from the bedroom.
Qin Shuyi said.” She is in the bedroom.”
Following him, Jiang Lan walked over to the bedroom. Halting his steps briefly, he walked inside with smooth footsteps.
Suddenly the world brightened up. There was an overcast sky above him and muddy soil under his feet. Between the sky and ground, a downpouring seemed to last forever.
Crossing a door, he had walked into another world.
Jiang Lan didn’t stop his footsteps as if he was prepared for this. Hearing the sound of people from a distance, he turned to walk in that direction.
A cluster of houses came into view. These houses were crudely built. A person leaned out of the windows with anxious looks on her flat two-dimensional face.” When will the rain stop?”
This woman had her looks and shut the windows with a worried look. A sunny doll hanging from the window gently swayed in the breeze.
Jiang Lan looked at it. The Sunny Doll smiled at him as if teasing him as if trying to provoke him.
Jiang Lan chose to ignore it and continued his walk.
This was a small village with around 40-50 households. Sunny dolls were hung from every window. Even with a wall between them, Jiang Lan could hear their worries and complaints. He learned a lot from these complaints.
This paper doll world was the He Village, and the time was around May or June. Just when the rice started to grow, endless down pouring began. This downpouring had lasted for half a month, and the water level of the nearby river had kept rising. It was near impossible to pump the water out of the rice paddy. If this rain didn’t let up, the rice in the field would be ruined.
For these farmers, growing rice was their only livelihood. If the rice was ruined, then they were hopeless.
That’s why every household hung a sunny doll outside, to wish for an early end to this rain.
But Heaven didn’t grant their wishes. Jiang Lan saw a tall paper man running near, and he tumbled down and got up again. Disregarding his wound, he again ran around the Village, shouting.” The dyke will be breached; the river will overflow the bank!”
Those closed doors were almost opened simultaneously with paper people, large or small, pouring out of the houses. Oblivious to their wet clothing, they had very animated expressions on their two-dimensional faces, the anxious and fearful looks only the living people had.
Under the pouring rain, all the people gathered in an empty slot. An old village chief stepped forward with his walking stick. Pounding the ground with his cane, he shouted.” All the men now go to the dyke with their tools.”
Then a group of paper men came back to their homes to fetch their tools and followed their chief to the dyke.
Jiang Lan saw a tall thin paper man in the crowd. Unlike other paper men, his back was straight even with the weight of his tool.
These men spent a day and a night to fill the gaps on the dyke…….finally, the near collapsed dykes were strengthened, and the gaps were filled.
Their flat paper bodies were covered with mud and rainwater. But they didn’t collapse. Instead, they dragged their tired bodies home.
Jiang Lan followed that tall thin paper man to his home.
His home was on the outer edge of the Village. Compared with nearby houses, his house was a little far from the Village, alone on the outer edge.
Soon, a woman and her daughter appeared to break this sense of loneliness. They opened the door and welcomed the paper man home with happy smiles.
The little paper girl had a round face and big eyes. Seeing her daddy come home, she looked delighted and called him with a clear child voice.” Papa.”
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