Exams will always be a weapon that tortures students’ minds and bodies. I struggled against the tumultuous sea of exams for quite a while until I finally made my way to the peaceful shore. After my last exam, I walked out of the exam room and let out a long and relaxed sigh. Then I got a call from Zhong Yuan.
Zhong Yuan said, “How were your exams?”
I told him, “The physics exam didn’t go great. I’m probably not getting the scholarship.”
Zhong Yuan replied, “It’s better that way.”
What. I should have guessed that he’d take joy in my misfortune. I held myself back. Then I said, “I probably won’t be able to change majors now either.” The school had a rule that, if you wanted to change majors, you had to maintain a top-ten position in your original major. My grades wouldn’t be good enough.
Zhong Yuan was quiet for a moment, finally saying, “That’s a shame.”
Although my exams would not be a source of joy, the days to come were enough to bring me happiness. Because summer break was finally here.
The first order of business for summer break was the practical training project, the one with Lu Zijian. This was truly a rare occasion. Lu Zijian, here I come!
The topic Lu Zijian organised was investigating the water pollution control process in an ecological region, Lake Baiyangdian,1 which happened to be located in his hometown. He didn’t live there now, but his family did have an old house over by the lake. For the duration of our project, we’d be staying there.
I didn’t know too much about Lake Baiyangdian other than it being a freshwater lake and having lotuses. And there was a lot of anti-Japan guerilla activity there during the War Of Resistance.2
Of course, the place itself wasn’t of importance. What was important was that it was where Lu Zijian grew up!
The lake wasn’t too far from B City, and it was easy to access by car. We took the 2pm bus to Lake Baiyangdian and arrived a bit after 4. Lu Zijian’s dad came to pick us up in a small van. He was tall and formidable looking, essentially a middle-aged version of Lu Zijian. Where they differed though, was that his dad was very good at engaging in conversations. He was nice and enthusiastic and kept the mood lively. On the twenty or so minute drive back to the house, he treated us like family. We found out that Lu Zijian’s dad had opened a few specialty restaurants in the city and business was pretty good. The family all lived in the city too, so he’d made this trip back especially to take care of us.
Additionally, Mr Lu brought along one of the top chefs at one of his restaurants. That evening, we had an amazing Baiyangdian meal. Both our bodies and spirits were filled to contentment.
Mr Lu had business to attend to, so he ended up leaving. But fortunately, he left behind the chef…
Everyone had spent nearly half the day traveling to get here. After we ate our fill and had some drink, no one was in the right mind to do anything else, so we all headed to bed early. There were four rooms total in the house, two large ones and two smaller ones. The chef took one of the smaller rooms, leaving the other empty. It worked out that the boys could take one of the larger rooms and the girls could take the other. When Lu Zijian’s parents found out we’d be staying in the house, they prepared two large beds, each enough for several people to sleep on. On top of the soft beds were bamboo mats, so lying on the bed was soft but cool. It was so comfortable.
The four of us girls lied on the bed and chat a little bit. Boss, Miss Fourth and I were rather tired, but Lil’ Second was curiously alert and spirited. She kept chirping on about ‘Lu Zijian and Zhong Yuan sharing a bed’ and other such comments. Because of her, when I fell asleep, I even ended up dreaming about Lu Zijian and Zhong Yuan tightly hugging each other as they slept. I suddenly broke out in a cold sweat.
I slept awhile more but was forced awake in the early morning when I had to go pee. I really didn’t want to get out of bed, but it wasn’t good to hold it for too long. In a sleepy daze, I climbed out of bed and made my way to the bathroom, which was in the courtyard. A half moon hung illuminated in the sky, but it was a bit hazy, just like my awareness.
I returned to bed after using the bathroom and immediately fell into a slumber. I could almost hear a fuzzy voice call to me, “Blockhead!” but it must have been my imagination, the deeply-inlaid fear for someone that was buried in my subconscious. I just ignored it. I reached around carelessly, trying to find a blanket, as the summer mornings were still a bit chilly. I couldn’t sleep comfortably because of the cold. But I couldn’t find the blanket. There was clearly a blanket last night. Did that rotten Lil’ Second kick it to the floor?
I had to wake myself a bit more. Just as I started to open up my eyes, someone suddenly pulled me into their arms and wrapped their limbs around me. A leg sat right on top of my waist, as if I were a pillow.
The embrace started to warm my body and my sleepiness returned. I didn’t care if it was Lil’ Second or Miss Fourth, and I just fell back asleep.
The next morning, I was woken by a soft chatter.
There was a faucet in the courtyard that currently carried along the sound of running water. Someone must be washing up.
Just then, someone asked, “Are the two of them still asleep?” The voice sounded a bit rough; it must have been the chef.
Someone replied, “Who knows. They must still be lingering in bed.” She laughed mischievously. That voice was clearly Lil’ Second’s.
Someone else said, “Please. Even if they had the desire, would they have the guts?” It was Miss Fourth.
“Hey, you guys, did you see something you shouldn’t have last night?” Boss.
A male voice, as wretched as Lil’ Second’s, replied, “No, no. We all just slept honestly.”
I couldn’t make sense of their words, but my half-asleep self was quickly jolted awake by a different discovery.
The girls were all outside. So then… Which holy being was wrapped around me like an octopus right now? I-it… It wasn’t a ghost, right…?
Calm down. Don’t be afraid. Usually, ghosts only scared people; they didn’t eat them. I restrained my fear and comforted myself as I looked down at the hand on my waist. It was very pale, with smooth skin and slender fingers. The fingernails were very pretty. This ghost had quite a nice looking hand. But it looked rather familiar.
My eyes traveled up from this beautiful hand, past the arm and the shoulder… An ominous feeling filled me.
And then I was met with a familiar face.
Zhong Yuan stared at me with dark, bright eyes and a sinister smile on his lips.