Ten minutes later, Jiang Hong was carrying a fake hand and looking at his roommate in disbelief.
“I’m Jin,” the roommate said.
“I’m Jiang Hong.” Jiang Hong pointed to the blue name tag on his bed, and the two of them were now considered acquainted.
“The previous batch of seniors who lived in this dorm were from the medical department,” Jin explained. “This is a model they used to practice acupuncture. Let me do it! You rest!”
“Let’s do it together.” Jiang Hong began to compete with him for the fake hand.
“I can handle it,” Jin emphasized repeatedly, “you rest.”
“No no no,” Jiang Hong said, “my mother said, cleaning is a friend’s duty…”
“My father said, heavy work should not be done by friends…”
Both wanted to build a good relationship with each other. Jiang Hong held tightly to the fake hand, and Jin finally had to give in and let him do some light work.
Jin was almost two meters tall, with a well-built body and just the right amount of muscle. He didn’t have the intimidating presence of a bulky muscle man, but had a strong masculine aura. He had slightly curly hair and a stubble on his face, but he gave off a gentle and reliable feeling.
Jiang Hong went to the bathroom to get some water and tried the water heater. The facilities in this dormitory were very nice, with air conditioning, fans, separate bathrooms, and separate wet and dry areas.
The dormitory was more than twice the size of the dormitory in Jiang Hong’s previous school, with each person having a separate desk and bed, instead of the bunk bed and desk layout. There was also a resting area and TV cabinet in the corner, but of course, the TV needed to be purchased separately.
It was surprising that the university was so rich. The living conditions for first-year students were excellent.
“Can we buy a washing machine?” Jiang Hong climbed up to remove the curtains and prepared to hand wash it.
“No,” Jin said, “there is no drainage hole, but there is a laundry room downstairs. Hey, be careful!”
Jiang Hong stood on the windowsill, and Jin immediately held his waist from behind, trying to half-hug him. Jiang Hong almost screamed. Two boys doing this was really weird, especially since they had only known each other for five minutes! It felt like they were acting in a romantic drama… and when Jin didn’t hold him, it was okay, but when he did, Jiang Hong felt itchy and slipped, and Jin ended up giving him a princess hug.
Jiang Hong: “………………”
The two of them looked at each other, and suddenly there was a cough at the door.
Jiang Hong and Jin turned their heads at the same time and saw a tall and thin fair-skinned young man with glasses. Thick bangs covered his eyebrows, and he was wearing a black shirt.
“Um.” The young man had no expression as he observed Jiang Hong being hugged and nestled in Jin’s arms.
Jiang Hong and Jin immediately separated, their expressions strange.
“Hi,” the young man said.
“Hi,” Jiang Hong said awkwardly.
The young man dragged his suitcase into the dormitory and picked up the fake hand that was placed on his bed. He looked at it and threw it onto an empty bed.
“Sorry,” Jiang Hong immediately apologized. “We are cleaning.”
The young man gestured that it was okay, blew the dust off the table, looked around, and noticed that the name tag on his bed was just hung up. It was the same color as Jiang Hong’s – blue with his name on it: Zhang Xiting.
Jiang Hong noticed the name tag on Jin’s bed, along with an absent roommate’s, had a red background. Why did they have to be different colors?
“I can help,” Zhang Xiting said. “What do you need to do?”
“Rest for a while,” Jin said. “Long-distance travel can be tiring.”
“You can help me remove the air filter,” Jiang Hong immediately said.
Zhang Xiting nodded, and then jumped onto the table and removed the air filter for cleaning.
Why were all these roommates so agile? Each one of them was like a skilled acrobat… Jiang Hong wondered.
After Zhang Xiting arrived, Jin and Jiang Hong were suddenly silent, and the atmosphere became awkward.
“You guys can continue doing what you’re doing.” Zhang Xiting glanced at Jiang Hong and Jin from his peripheral vision. “Don’t worry about me.”
Jiang Hong thought his words sounded strange.
“Um, I’m going downstairs to buy some detergent,” Jiang Hong said.
“Okay,” Jin said. “Do you need money? I have cash here.”
Jiang Hong waved his hand and quickly went downstairs.
In the dormitory, after Jiang Hong left, Zhang Xiting and Jin continued to clean in silence, the atmosphere carried a slight tension, as if two fierce beasts were thrown into the same cage.
“I’ll take the trash out,” Jin said. “Help me out.”
Zhang Xiting: “Do not bully the kid.”
Jin’s face instantly changed and he made a wild, animalistic growl, as if he wanted to come over and fight with Zhang Xiting.
“How was I bullying him?” Jin tried to restrain his anger.
“Just a reminder.” Zhang Xiting turned around to face Jin, pushed up his glasses, and looked at him. The two men sized each other up, before Jin left with a scoff.
Jin walked almost 500 meters before he found the designated trash dump. He met Jiang Hong, who had just returned from buying detergent.
On his way from the dormitory to the supermarket and back, Jiang Hong felt that the school was getting more and more weird, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was strange. Everything was so quiet and there were students on the way, but for some reason, it always felt off. He looked around and luckily saw Jin.
Jin was shirtless again. Presumably he often sunbathed and his skin had become a little tanned.
The two nodded silently and walked together.
“Where are you from?” Jin asked.
“Chongqing.” Jiang Hong said, “And you?”
“Nice place,” Jin said, “I’ve been there. My mother is Kashmiri (1), and I became a citizen with my father. My family settled in Tianshui, Gansu.”
“Ah,” Jiang Hong said. “Did you go to Chongqing for a show?”
“I went to see a performance,” Jin said. “My relatives perform in the circus.”
Jiang Hong nodded. Jin had a strong and tall build, but his face did not show any mixed-race features. Other than having hair that looked like it had been permed, his skin color and body type were that of a healthy Han Chinese male.
“Are you…” Jiang Hong began.
“You…” Jin said at the same time.
The two fell into an awkward silence. Jiang Hong said, “You go first.”
“You go first,” Jin quickly replied.
Jiang Hong scratched his head and couldn’t help saying, “Are you feeling a bit nervous?”
“Yes.” Jin’s expression was distorted by the sun.
Jiang Hong suddenly burst into laughter, and Jin laughed along with him. He understood what Jin meant.
“It’s my first time leaving home and interacting with people by myself,” Jin said. “I can’t help but feel… nervous.”
Jiang Hong burst into laughter, patting his sweaty shoulder, saying, “Me too. Well, I’ve always been a bit like that.”
Jin lightly patted Jiang Hong’s back. “I hardly have any friends at home.”
“Uh-uh.” Jiang Hong understood. This tall guy didn’t seem like he was very good at socializing.
“What about school?” Jiang Hong couldn’t help asking.
“My grandfather taught me how to read and write,” Jin said. “After he passed away in November last year, I signed up for this year’s college entrance exam and was accepted here.”
Jiang Hong nodded. “My condolences.”
“I was mentally prepared a long time ago. He died of old age; it’s nothing.” Jin said good-naturedly.
As he spoke, Jin casually picked up a butterfly from somewhere in midair. Jiang Hong only saw a flash before the butterfly was handed to him, fluttering its wings and flying into the blue sky as he opened his fingers.
“Death is only a transformation from a cocoon to a butterfly.” Jiang Hong remembered that saying.
“Yes.” Jin smiled, looking very handsome, and then he hooked his arm around Jiang Hong’s shoulder and walked back to the dormitory.
The dormitory was already much tidier. The floor had been washed quite clean in the short twenty minutes Jiang Hong was gone, revealing cool and clean tiles, and the air conditioning was also turned on.
Jiang Hong finished wiping all the desks and thought to himself that he finally got it done.
“He Jian didn’t come,” Zhang Xiting said while making the bed. “You don’t have to help him clean, let him do it himself.”
“I’m already cleaning anyway. It’s just a small matter.” Jiang Hong said, “Do you know Jin?”
When Jiang Hong turned around, he noticed that Jin and Zhang Xiting seemed to have been observing him all the time, and there was still some doubt in Zhang Xiting’s eyes.
Zhang Xiting replied, “No. I just saw his nameplate by the bed.”
Jiang Hong looked at the red nameplate and nodded. He made the bed and started putting things away. He saw that Jin’s desk had several translated novels and a Messi figurine from the Argentina team, while Zhang Xiting’s desk had a small laptop and a framed photo of him and a girl. Next to the photo frame, there was a small Hatsune Miku figurine.
Jiang Hong brought a Nintendo Switch console and a Bluetooth speaker to school. Hevplanned to buy a computer after the military training was over in a few days.
After hanging up the washed and dried curtains, the autumn sun shone brightly through the clean glass windows of the tidy male dormitory.
Jin changed into a pair of sports shorts. He propped up his legs on the bed rail to take a nap.
Zhang Xiting opened his computer and started playing games.
Jiang Hong noticed that Jin and Zhang Xiting hadn’t said a word to each other since he returned to the dormitory, and the atmosphere was a bit strange.
“What are you playing?” Jiang Hong leaned over, hoping that Zhang Xiting wouldn’t find him annoying.
“Dota,” Zhang Xiting answered. He didn’t seem to mind Jiang Hong’s presence. “Do you play?”
“I do, but I rarely play,” Jiang Hong said.
Jiang Hong pulled up a chair and sat down beside Zhang Xiting, watching him play. Zhang Xiting’s reactions were incredibly fast! He easily destroyed the enemy tower with just a few clicks, and his speed and technique were several times better than Jiang Hong’s.
“You’re so good!” Jiang Hong couldn’t help but praise him.
Zhang Xiting was even able to multitask, playing the game while explaining it to Jiang Hong without finding him annoying. Jiang Hong looked at the photo frame for a moment, and Zhang Xiting seemed to know what he wanted to ask. “My girlfriend.”
“She’s really beautiful,” Jiang Hong said.
The girl in the photo was fair-skinned and elegant.
There were also two baskets of Go (2) pieces and a folded chessboard on the desktop.
“Do you play Go?” Jiang Hong asked.
“Can you?” Zhang Xiting asked.
“I can play a little,” Jiang Hong said.
Zhang Xiting stopped playing the game and said, “Come on, let’s play a game.”
Jiang Hong hesitated. “I’m not very good at it…”
“You’ll be fine!” Zhang Xiting insisted.
Jiang Hong played Go with Zhang Xiting for an hour. Zhang Xiting’s skills were very advanced, but Jiang Hong still managed to win. He had learned from a good teacher when he was young. There was still a gap between him and a professional, however, he still held his own against Zhang Xiting, an amateur.
Zhang Xiting was impressed by Jiang Hong’s skills. “You’re so good?!”
“I learned when I was young…but I’m only half good. Compared to a professional, there’s still a gap. There’s always someone better,” Jiang Hong said modestly.
Zhang Xiting agreed, “You’re right, there’s always someone better.” He then sighed.
Jiang Hong noticed that Jin had woken up and was reading a book while lying in bed. He asked, “Jin, what are you reading?”
“Hamlet.” Jin raised the cover towards Jiang Hong.
Jiang Hong felt that there was some tension between his two roommates. In order to make them get along better, he suggested, “I’m hungry, shall we go out to eat?”
This proposal gave both of them a way out. Zhang Xiting closed his laptop, changed into a T-shirt, and Jin put on a shirt. The two sandwiched Jiang Hong in the middle and went downstairs to the cafeteria for dinner, getting along much better now.
This trip really tested Jiang Hong’s ability to create a lively atmosphere. Even though he was known as the king of icebreaking in high school, he felt powerless in the face of his two roommates who rarely spoke. He first chatted with Zhang Xiting, then turned to ask Jin, going back and forth between the two like a child caught in the middle of his parents’ broken relationship.
“Enough is enough! Why is everything so strange?!” Jiang Hong thought.
Finally, when they sat down for dinner, Jiang Hong received a WeChat message.
Lu Xiu: “Is everything okay?”
Jiang Hong: “It’s great. I met two new roommates who are easy to get along with. Senior, have you had dinner?”
Lu Xiu: “If you have any problems, let me know.”
Jiang Hong noticed that both Jin and Zhang Xiting were looking at him, so he shook his phone and said, “My senior is asking about me. Do you have a one-on-one mentor?”
“It’s a senior sister,” Zhang Xiting replied, “and she hasn’t started school yet.”
Jin said, “There did offer to find me a mentor, but I declined because I’m afraid of causing trouble for others.”
Both of them realized that the atmosphere was too tense, so Zhang Xiting finally asked, “What do you eat in your hometown?”
“There’s a lot of delicious food.” Jiang Hong finally picked up the conversation and started talking with the two about food. Jin also occasionally expressed some opinions. Both sides seemed to be trying to give Jiang Hong face while avoiding directly answering each other’s questions. After some back and forth, the atmosphere finally became less strange.
At night, there were more people in the school, with senior students returning in pairs or groups, either arm in arm or skateboarding past.
“I finally know why this school feels so strange to me!” Jiang Hong exclaimed.
Zhang Xiting remained silent.
Jiang Hong nervously said, “Haven’t you noticed? There are no animals in the school! No birds, no cats, not even insects!”
“Uh-huh…” Zhang Xiting replied.
Jin: “So what?”
Jiang Hong remembered the moment he arrived at school last night. As soon as he entered the campus area, the bird calls disappeared, and the sounds of cicadas and crickets were all gone, leaving only the sound of the wind.
“They probably sprayed insecticide,” Jiang Hong said.
But as long as there were people around, many lights were on in the dormitory building, and it looked quite lively. With roommates for company, Jiang Hong didn’t feel scared anymore.
Back in the dormitory, the three of them lay in bed. Jin muttered to himself, “Speaking of eerie things… The last time I was in the Taklamakan Desert, what I encountered was truly eerie.”
Zhang Xiting: “?”
Jiang Hong remained silent.
Jiang Hong was most afraid of supernatural events, but since it was something Jin himself had experienced rather than something he had heard, it should be less supernatural. So he gathered his courage and asked, “What happened?”
“I drove there myself to deliver food to my cousin,” Jin said. “Halfway through the drive, there was no moon or stars, and there was no road in the desert. A man stood on a sand dune, with a pale face, wearing a blue Zhongshan (3) suit, holding an old enamel basin in his hand…”
Oh my god! Goosebumps rose all over Jiang Hong’s back and arms.
“Probably a dried-up corpse,” Zhang Xiting said, “dried up in the desert…”
Jiang Hong thought, please stop talking! It’s so scary!
“I don’t know,” Jin said. “I thought he was asking me for water.”
“Probably died of thirst, and his ghost keeps asking passers-by for water,” Zhang Xiting said.
Zhang Xiting finally started talking to Jin, but it was in such a situation. Jiang Hong really wanted to beg them not to talk about it anymore, but the two new friends had just started chatting with each other, and it was not easy to interrupt them. Outside, it was pitch black, and the screens of their phones illuminated the room with white light.
Jin continued, “I drove the car over there. Can you guess what I saw?”
“What?” Zhang Xiting asked.
“His feet were buried in the sand, and there was nothing below his knees…”
Ah ah ah, can you please stop talking! Jiang Hong screamed in his heart.
“I’m from Huzhou. A long time ago, there was a traveler passing through our town who was killed for his money. His body was buried in the lotus field and fertilized. The lotus roots that grew out of it looked like hands and feet. When the lotus roots were cut open, they had a red core that looked like blood…”
Jiang Hong remained silent.
“Did his eyes turn into lotus seeds?” Jin asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it with my own eyes. Later, we found someone to catch the evil spirits and took care of all the grievances and hatreds in the lotus field…”
“Human hearts are even more vicious than demons…” Jin said.
Jiang Hong lay flat and put on his headphones, turning the volume up to the maximum.
Five minutes later, he was trembling and secretly took off one side of his headphones to see if they were done talking.
“With good conditions, some corpses can be preserved for thousands of years…” Jin said.
Jiang Hong put on his earphones at the speed of lightning, covering his ears decisively.
After some time passed in the darkness:
“Jiang Hong, Jiang Hong?”
Jiang Hong bounced up with his blanket and saw Zhang Xiting’s face illuminated by the pale light of his phone. Zhang Xiting said, “Are you okay?”
Jin and Zhang Xiting had stopped chatting at some point and were both looking at him. Zhang Xiting said, “You’re shaking quite hard.”
“I…” Jiang Hong said, “Are you guys finished talking? I was just listening to music. I’m scared!”
“Scared? What are you afraid of?” Jin asked.
“Ghosts!” Jiang Hong cried out in despair. “I’m scared of ghosts! The stories you guys told were really scary!”
A strange silence fell over the dorm room. After three whole seconds, Jin suddenly burst out laughing and Zhang Xiting shook his head. “You…you’re afraid of ghosts?!”
“Can we please stop talking about this?” Jiang Hong pleaded. “I’m really scared…”
His two roommates remained silent.
Zhang Xiting had initially thought Jiang Hong was just teasing them, but when he realized that this guy was really scared of supernatural events, he quickly changed his tone and said, “I’m sorry. We won’t talk about it anymore.”
Jin also apologized, “Sorry, sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Jiang Hong said. “I’ll just…put on my earphones.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Zhang Xiting and Jin expressed their sincere apologies.
All of his roommates had fallen asleep. Jiang Hong clutched his blanket as cold air from the air conditioner blew over him. Outside the dorm room window was pitch black, with only the sound of the wind in the mountains and no bird chirping. All the lights in the school had been turned off.
He was so scared… Jiang Hong continued to ruminate on the story of the dead person and the lotus root. The more he thought about it, the more he felt scared.
He looked at his phone and saw that Lu Xiu had sent him a message: “Are you asleep?”
Jiang Hong remembered that Lu Xiu had told him to contact him if he needed anything, but his roommates weren’t intentionally trying to bully him, so he didn’t mention it. He just said that everything was fine, except that it was too quiet in the school and he had read a scary ghost story before going to bed, so he was a little scared.
Lu Xiu: “……….”
Jiang Hong responded with a “face-palm” emoji and didn’t receive any more messages from Lu Xiu. Presumably, Lu Xiu thought he was weird.
Ah, it’s still so scary… Jiang Hong couldn’t fall asleep. He felt that there was an inexplicable gloominess in the school. He accidentally saw the prosthetic hand on the empty bed diagonally across from him that hadn’t been thrown away, which was even scarier!
“Are you okay?” Zhang Xiting whispered in the darkness.
Jiang Hong propped himself up with his blanket and crawled towards the foot of the bed, facing Zhang Xiting’s bed. The two beds were joined together at the foot.
“I’m…fine,” Jiang Hong said.
“Are you really scared of these things?” Zhang Xiting also sat up.
Jiang Hong took a picture of his own face with his phone, then took one of Zhang Xiting’s face, vigorously nodding. Zhang Xiting made a gesture and had him turn his sleeping direction around. He also moved his pillow over so that their heads could be close together.
Zhang Xiting lay on the bed, raised his hand, reached over the bed railing, and gently pressed his palm against Jiang Hong’s forehead. His palm was warm and large, and after Jiang Hong was touched on the forehead, he suddenly felt much better.
“Exercise more, and you’ll become braver,” Zhang Xiting said.
Jiang Hong thought to himself, forget it, I don’t want to exercise that kind of bravery.
“You’ll have to face it sooner or later,” Zhang Xiting said again.
“Stop talking,” Jiang Hong whispered, “I’ll get scared again.”
Zhang Xiting laughed to himself, finding Jiang Hong amusing.
Zhang Xiting was still messaging his girlfriend, and the light from his phone screen illuminated his face. Jiang Hong suddenly realized that his face was quite handsome without glasses. Everyone he had met in university had such high levels of attractiveness, including Lu Xiu, the head teacher, and even his two roommates, Jin and Zhang Xiting.
“How long have you two been together?” Jiang Hong whispered.
Zhang Xiting looked up, recalling their first meeting.
“Since sixth grade,” Zhang Xiting said.
“Wow, childhood sweethearts,” Jiang Hong said.
Zhang Xiting turned his head to look at Jiang Hong. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No,” Jiang Hong answered.
“I don’t believe you,” Zhang Xiting said.
“It’s true,” Jiang Hong said. “My mom wants me to focus on studying in university before I start dating. Do you know any girls you can introduce me to?”
“I only know my senior sister,” Zhang Xiting said.
“How is she?” Jiang Hong said. “I really like senior brothers and sisters; they take care of people so well!”
“She’s very gentle,” Zhang Xiting replied, “but you wouldn’t want to date her. She’s a snake demon. You can find someone else. You’re so handsome, as long as you want to date, you’ll find someone quickly.”
Jiang Hong quietly chuckled a few times, and when he heard Jin turning over, he stopped talking. He covered his head with the blanket for a while, feeling less nervous, then slowly put the blanket down and fell into a deep sleep.
At eleven-thirty, the door of the dormitory was pushed open and a dark figure walked in.
In the stillness, Jin and Zhang Xiting suddenly stopped breathing. They both opened their eyes but did not get up.
Only Jiang Hong was sleeping soundly, lying askew next to the pillow, with his feet wrapped in the blanket and breathing evenly.
The figure walked up to Jiang Hong, reached out and lightly pressed his forehead, then placed something next to his pillow.
After that, he left the dormitory like a gust of wind, gently closing the door without a sound.
Zhang Xiting sat up, looked at Jin, then looked outside the door. Jin got up, walked over, and locked the door. Everything returned to normal as they went back to sleep.
The next morning, Jiang Hong felt refreshed. He slept well all night. For some reason, this school was so peaceful at night, which made him sleep soundly. Perhaps it was because of the high oxygen level in the mountains.
Jiang Hong sat on the edge of the bed with messy hair and found something next to his pillow.
“Hmm?” Jiang Hong said, “What is this? It wasn’t here last night. Did it fall from the ceiling?”
It was a thin black piece slightly larger than a one-yuan coin, with a faint glow under the sunlight. At first, Jiang Hong thought it was the back of the wall covering, but when he looked up at the ceiling, it was intact.
He looked at it over and over again. There were even fine lines on it.
“Your friend brought it.” Jin was brushing his teeth, with a towel hanging around his neck.
Zhang Xiting went to the bathroom. Before leaving, he said, “Is it your senior brother?”
Jiang Hong held the black semicircular thin piece. “Did Lu Xiu come over in the middle of the night? I didn’t know.”
“You were sleeping,” Jin replied.
“You lack vigilance,” Zhang Xiting said while brushing his teeth at the sink.
“It’s okay,” Jin said again, “we’ve got your back.”
Jiang Hong: “???”
He messaged Lu Xiu and asked if he had come over last night. Lu Xiu simply replied with a “yeah.” When Jiang Hong asked what this thing was, Lu Xiu only replied with: “Protective charm.”
His senior brother was really kind, knowing that he was afraid of ghosts and giving him a protective charm.
Jiang Hong was touched and decided to cherish this strange thing and keep it in his wallet.
1. Kashmiri – the people, culture, language, and region of Kashmir, which is a region in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The region of Kashmir is known for its beautiful landscapes, including the Himalayan mountain range, as well as its rich cultural heritage, which includes traditional crafts such as weaving and woodcarving, and a unique cuisine.
2. Go – also known as Weiqi, Go is a two-player board game that originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago.
3. Zhongshan – a type of formal attire that originated in China during the early 20th century.