He Zhuangsheng’s home was on the fourth floor. Three young men ran up the stairs and reached his home in a few seconds. Captain Cheng knocked on the metal door with an alert look. A woman in her fifties opened the outer metal door and asked them in a voice full of suspicion.” Who are you? Who are you looking for?”
Showing her his Police badge, Captain Cheng said.” Is He Zhuangsheng home? We need to ask him some questions.”
But the woman said something they didn’t expect.” He isn’t home yet. He must still be at He Laoer’s home helping out and entertaining guests. He won’t come home until very late tonight.”
Captain Cheng’s heart skipped a beat, and he exchanged a look with Jiang Lan.
Recalling the figure he saw entering Block 4, Jiang Lan was affirmative.” I am not mistaken. That man must be him.”
Captain Cheng’s eyebrow was almost tied to a knot. He said quickly.” My colleague has just seen him entering the building. We must find him quickly. Please call him now, asking him where he is.”
The woman looked very reluctant. But since the request was made by a Police officer, she returned to bring back her phone and call He Zhuangsheng.
The call was soon answered, but not by He Zhuangsheng’s voice. Only a vague sound of water dripping on the ground came through.
Tida, Tida,Tida….the regularity of the sound brought a strong sense of something terrible happening.
“Something happened.” Captain Cheng’s eyes darkened.
But he couldn’t imagine how something could happen in the short interval after He Zhuangsheng entered the building and before they showed up before his home.
The woman stared at them with a blank face, and a thought seemed to strike her. She shouted at the phone, but no one responded on the other end. After ten seconds, the call was cut off as if the murderer thought it was enough to declare He Zhuangsheng’s death.
Captain Cheng gritted his teeth.” I will bring my team back and start to search this building again! The murderer must be here!”
Jiang Lan didn’t respond to this. Instead, he walked over to the stair handrail and looked up to the ceiling.
The yellowish sound-activated light had turned on. Squinting his eyes, he couldn’t see the end of this stairway
He had a bad feeling about this building. From the moment he walked into this building, he felt he had walked into a cave with infinite darkness, and so far, he hadn’t found the master of this cave.
Captain Cheng ordered back all the officers and concentrated the Police force under his command. Those two officers sent to protect He Zhuangsheng also came back. They were both tall, muscular young men, but now they were walking back with the help of their colleagues.
There were no anxious looks on their face, which meant they were not hurt. But their current state indicated that something had happened.
One of them was massaging his temples.” We were keeping an eye on He Zhuangsheng until Lao Zhang and Wang Qing came to look for us.”
As far as they could recall, they had been keeping an eye on He Zhuangsheng, protecting him all along, until the moment an anxious Lao Zhang and Wang Qing came. At that moment, they felt as if they had just been forcibly woken from a dream and started to feel dizzy.
Gritting his teeth, Captain Cheng said.” He Zhuangsheng has already returned home around half-past eight, and I have made at least five calls to you.”
These two young officers also sensed something unusual. A blank look appeared on their face.
But they remembered clearly they had never let He Zhuangsheng out of their sight. One of them brought out his phone, only to see several missed calls from Captain Cheng.
He pocketed his phone and mumbled to himself.” This is unbelievable. He Zhuangsheng was always in our sight, and we didn’t hear the phone ring or vibrate while we were watching him.”
Jiang Lan said.” Perhaps someone created an illusion.”
Taking a deep breath, Captain Cheng said solemnly.” The priority is to find the missing person. We can discuss it later.” Then he directed them to start searching.
This building has seven floors, and each floor has five flats. Five officers plus Wang Qing and Jiang Lan should be adequate for this task.
After each person was assigned the floor and flats to search, they immediately went into action.
Jiang Lan wanted to take a look at the top of the building, so he and Wang Qing volunteered to search the seventh floor.
They started to run up the stairs. Jiang Lan halted his steps when he reached the fourth floor and whispered.” I smell blood.”
Then he took in more air to confirm it and asked Suan Ni in the backpack.” Do you smell it too?”
Suan Ni meowed. He was affirmative.
Jiang Lan’s eyebrows were tied to a knot. While continuing his climb, he pondered what kind of monster was behind all these.
He knew something unusual was afoot. But everything this mysterious being had done went beyond the confines of his knowledge about monsters. He raised his head to look up. Yellowish light illuminated the stairways. Flights of stairs circled upwards, as if without end.
Seeing the serious looks on his face, Wang Qing stammered.” Brother, Can you handle it?”
Jiang Lan shook his head.” Let’s take a look at the top floor. I have never seen something like this.”
If he was right, then this mysterious being was not in the same dimensions as them. That’s why he felt a strong sense of something unusual the moment he laid his eyes on this building.
But creating a parallel universe was not in the toolkit of many ancient high monsters. So what exactly was he facing here?
Why did this mysterious being hold such a grudge against the He family?
While thinking, they reached the seventh floor.
The seventh floor was properly maintained with spotless white paint walls and clean floors. A few indoor plants lined the corridor. Judging by the look of it, only one household occupied this floor.
Wang Qing knocked on the door of Room 701.
The person answering the door was a kind, old man. His white hairs were combed back. Dressed in a long sleeve shirt and suit pants, he looked like in his fifties if not for the deep wrinkles on his face. Raising hands to correct the position of his glasses, he asked.” How may I help you?”
Wang Qing showed him his Police badge and asked him if he had seen He Zhuangsheng tonight.
“He Laowu?”The old man opened the metal door.” Isn’t he in He Laoer’s home helping arrange things? He rarely visits me here.”
Then he pointed to the other flats on this floor.” I lived on this floor alone; there is no one else.”
Wang Qing asked him.” Were you also resettled here from the He Village?”
“Yes, It has been ten years.”
While they were talking, Jiang Lan looked behind the old man. The curtains were shut, and the room was dimly lit. But Jiang Lan could still see the neat living room and the paper dolls on a desk.
These paper dolls were the sunny dolls every household in this building hung outside their windows.
Some of them were half-finished, and the others were completed
Jiang Lan moved his eyes to the old man in front of him and asked a seemingly irrelevant question.” Those paper dolls hanging outside were all made by you?”
The old man shifted his attention to Jiang Lan. Glancing back at those paper dolls, he shook his head.” No, I think He Laosi made them. He knew how to make them. But your young men don’t have this skill. These are called sunny dolls. It is said they could ward off evil and help avoid bad luck. In the past, every household in the village had one hanging outside their window. After we were resettled here, these sunny dolls have gone out of fashion. Now it suddenly becomes popular. I used to make them in exchange for money. Now, I am too old for this trade.”
As he was talking, he raised his stiff hands to massage his back. His shirt sleeves were lifted following his movement, exposing a small area of skins on his forearms. Jiang Lan noticed this area of skin was covered with many small dark purple patches.
These patches were the marks of deceased people.
Jiang Lan calmly withdrew his eyes and asked casually.” Do you know why the eight cousins of the He family seem to have difficult relations? I asked a couple of residents here, but they were not willing to talk about it.”
The old man straightened up his back and smiled kindly, but Jiang Lan could sense some undertones hidden in this smile.” They don’t dare to talk about it.”
Wang Qing pressed him.” What do you mean? Why didn’t they dare? Is it because something happened in the village before you moved here?”
The old man shook his head.” If they are not willing to talk, it is not appropriate for this outsider who doesn’t have their family name to talk about it. If you want to know, you can start with the flood that happened twenty years ago.”
Then, he walked back and shut the door.
At that moment, when the door was almost closed, Jiang Lan saw his footsteps falter, but he immediately recovered his balance as if an outside force steadied him.
Then, the door was closed shut.
Wang Qing mumbled.” Do you feel there is something weird about the residents living here?”
They were coldly indifferent to each other. The newly deceased He Laoer and He Laosi were considered elders in their village. But when a funeral service was held, there were few young people among the mourners. Only people like He Laowu, who were also considered elders, offered to help. There was a conspicuous absence of sadness among the mourners during the funeral service, except for the close relatives. He Laowu even chose to get drunk on an occasion like this when he was supposed to mourn the passing of his cousin.
Jiang Lan said.” Could you tell Captain Cheng that He Laowu is most likely gone, and we can start by investigating a flood that happened twenty years ago in the He Village? I will stay here to look for further clues.”
Wang Qing felt strange.” There are more clues here?”
Jiang Lan smiled mysteriously and whispered to his ear.” That old man, he is not a living person.”
Wang Qing felt the goosebumps start to crawl all over his back.
He said in a trembling voice.” Brother, stop kidding with me.”
Jiang Lan smiled with two dimples appeared.” Ok, I am serious now. Now go tell what I just said to Captain Cheng.”
Wang Qing felt relieved that Jiang Lan was joking with him. But he still quickly left the seventh floor.
Jiang Lan turned to gaze at the door of Room 701. Now, he finally had an idea of where the gateway to that parallel universe was.