Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
A train bound for spring.
Even the destination was fitting: Changchun*.
*The name of the city means “long spring”.
Sitting by the aisle, Dong Zhi felt that he must’ve been braindead for choosing a hard seat* on the train for a trip that lasted 32 hours. As it was almost midnight, it was dark outside with no scenery to see. He didn’t know when he fell asleep, but he suddenly woke up feeling the urge to pee. He was about to go to the restroom when a man with a slightly hunched back and gray hair walked past him. The person entered the restroom, immediately locking the door.
*Type of seat installed on passenger trains on China’s railway lines. They have the lowest comfort but the cheapest fare. This is what they look like.
Being lazy, Dong Zhi didn’t bother walking any further towards the restroom. He sat still, waiting for the other party to come out, while he played on his phone, bored.
Before he left, he expected that the internet on the train would be overused, overloading the system, so he specifically bought an 8G data package. As he entered the game, someone on the world chat called out, wanting to form a team. He immediately joined, and when he finished the match, half an hour had already passed.
The restroom door was still closed.
During the gap between playing his game, he didn’t forget to look up a few times. The person who entered before him hasn’t left since he went in. Dong Zhi wasn’t sure what that person was doing inside, so he stayed to watch for half an hour.
He decided to knock on the door. Not only did he want to use the toilet, he was also afraid that something might have happened to the old man inside. Despite knocking a few times, no one answered.
‘Did he faint in there?’ Dong Zhi thought as if he had a bad premonition.
It just so happened that a train attendant who was on night patrol passed by. He quickly stopped the other party and explained the situation. The attendant frowned and started knocking on the door, calling to the person.
Unable to hold it in any longer, Dong Zhi trotted all the way to the restroom on the other end of the train carriage. By the time he got back, the attendant was still knocking on the door. He realized that something was wrong.
Judging from the situation, if the person inside wasn’t unconscious or deaf, he should have been able to hear the ruckus. The attendant also had similar thoughts and immediately used her walkie-talkie to call another attendant over, who brought the key to open the door.
There weren’t many people in the carriage this late at night. Most were either asleep in their seats, while some played cards in groups of twos and threes. Some, who were extremely bored, came over to watch the commotion.
When the door finally opened, the onlookers were all stunned. There was no one there!
The attendant’s first thought was that Dong Zhi was lying, but she couldn’t help feeling that something was off. If no one had really entered, why was the door locked? The train was running at a high speed, and it was unlikely that anyone would jump from it. Even if someone did, it was impossible as the restroom window was locked!
Dong Zhi affirmed, “I saw that man go in with my own eyes!”
The attendant wondered, “Could it be that he came out and you didn’t catch it?”
But that still didn’t explain how the door was locked.
Everyone shared confused looks as the attendant muttered, trying to find a reasonable answer. “Maybe the lock was broken!”
Dong Zhi subconsciously looked behind his seat. There weren’t many people in this train section, and the lights were dim. Some were sleeping, some were playing cards, and some were watching movies with headphones on, but none of them looked like the old man they had seen.
Was it because the light was too dark that he couldn’t see clearly? Or perhaps the other person had gone to a different train section? This event was too strange.
Dong Zhi returned to his seat and kept looking in the direction of the restroom from time to time. As time passed, several passengers had gone in and out of it as usual.
There was no one in his neighboring seat, and the passenger on the opposite side had gotten off at the previous stop. There were a few scattered young people who wanted to play fight the landlord*. They happened to see that his area had many empty seats, so they came over and asked if they could use them and invited him to play with them.
*One of the most popular card games in China.
Dong Zhi was usually a lively person, but after witnessing the scene just now, he had a strange feeling in his heart. He wanted to contemplate by himself, so he politely declined. He picked up the school bag that was lying on the seat next to him and put it on the ground, generously vacating the space.
The group of young people came over, bringing cards and snacks. They all quickly became acquainted. Dong Zhi learned that they were students who gathered together on a pleasure trip as they were nearing graduation.
“I thought you were younger than us!” A tall and handsome boy showed a look of surprise when he heard that Dong Zhi had already been in the work force for several years.
The contours of Dong Zhi’s face were soft, and his hair was supple. This kind of appearance was very versatile. He would look small when he’s young and remain that way even when he gets older. The highlight was his skin, which was even fairer than that of a girl’s.
Dong Zhi was used to this, so he had long become numb to it. He simply smiled and didn’t refute any words. The scene of the old man walking past him subconsciously appeared in his mind.
How could someone just disappear out of thin air? Was there some kind of alternative-dimensional passage in the toilet that no one could see?
He kept thinking about it, little by little, until his head started nodding off unconsciously. The girl playing cards beside him saw this and hurriedly shushed, causing everyone’s laughter to suddenly become quieter.
The sleeper tilted his head, leaning it against the train’s window. His eyelashes cast shallow shadows on his eyes and his eyebrows curled even when his eyes were closed, as if he was laughing.
Unfortunately, this tranquility did not last long. The train passed an uneven track, and the slightly loud vibration caused the back of his head to hit the edge of the window. With a groan, he rubbed his head and woke up, still half-asleep, giving off a dazed and innocent look.
The girl who was sitting on the opposite side of him saw this and thought it was cute and funny. She couldn’t help but laugh. The cards in her hand fell to the ground, and one slipped under Dong Zhi’s foot.
He bent over to pick it up, and when he flipped the card over, he saw it was the “joker”.
Suddenly, struck by inspiration, he returned the card, took out a pen and paper from his backpack, and started to walk around with them in hand.
“What are you sketching?” The boy sitting near him asked when he looked at the paper.
“Water ghost*.” He didn’t raise his head as he answered; the tip of his pen was still flying quickly.
*Clarity: The card that Dong Zhi picked up is the joker is also referred to as “ghost” so that’s why he suddenly got the inspiration.
A monster on all fours with a hideous face slowly appeared on the paper. He wasn’t just showing off his skills on a whim. Before he embarked on this journey, his job was as a game artist. This job was even more difficult than being a game programmer. After working for three years, the colleagues in his department slowly left, one by one, and eventually even the main artist deserted, resulting in the ambitious Dong Zhi being promoted to his position to replace him.
However, this promotion wasn’t because of luck or skills. It was all due to the project manager of their department being a particularly difficult person. They were working on a mobile game related to ancient Chinese mythology, and he wanted them to add cute elements to it. When the art prints came out, the project manager instantly disliked them, saying they weren’t classical enough.
After multiple iterations, the artists who had to work overtime for several months in a row wanted to pull out their hair. They were almost driven so crazy by him that they switched jobs. Now, even Dong Zhi couldn’t stand it anymore. When the other party asked him to change the manuscript for the nth time, he threw the pen at the fat manager’s face and promptly resigned.
Despite resigning, he still had a few drafts that needed to be handed over. One was a “water ghost” that was a copy of the mini boss at the beginning of the game.
Recalling this, Dong Zhi’s mood improved, and he hummed a little song. The boy nearby became interested and asked: “Is this called a water ghost?”
“The official name is Water Monkey1.” Dong Zhi explained. “It’s specially designed to pull people into the water while they are swimming and take their place. It is a bit like the kappa2 in Japanese legend.”
1(水猴子) Legendary creature that lives in a water and looks like an ape. In folklore, they’re commonly known as water ghosts/water lion ghost/water corpses. See the lore in my Kinky Thoughts.
2An amphibious demon (yokai) found in Japanese folklore. They are depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle-like carapace on their back.
He used his pen to carefully outline the eyes of the water monkey. With these gloomy eyes added, the overall appearance of the monster immediately appeared.The train shuttled quickly, and the changes in light and shadow brought from outside the window were reflected on his drawing. That added an extra eeriness to the drawing.
“This doesn’t seem right.” The boy said suddenly.
Dong Zhi doubted: ‘What could be wrong with it?’
The boy stretched out his hand, pointed to the monkey’s head, and said: “The top part of the head should be dug out. It should still be empty.”
Dong Zhi was perplexed. He asked casually, “Why is it empty?”
“Because it hasn’t sucked a brain yet. Only by sucking someone’s brain can he take on a more human-like look. Otherwise, how can he be a substitute for a human?”
Hearing the boy’s explanation gave Dong Zhi goosebumps. He turned his head to look up at the boy. The boy was grinning at him, showing off a row of pearly white teeth that gave him an indescribable weirdness.
“Don’t you think so?” Seeing that Dong Zhi didn’t answer, the boy leaned over and asked again.
Somehow, Dong Zhi suddenly noticed that there was a thin red line on the boy’s forehead that extended from one side to the other. It was as if his head had undergone suture surgery. His mouth suddenly became dry, and his hands and feet went numb.
When the boy was about to come closer, Dong Zhi pushed him away coldly and jumped away. He suddenly opened his eyes!
Dong Zhi stared at the few young people who were still playing cards in front of him, speechless. The group was also taken aback by his suddenly jolting awake.
One of the boys who looked like the one he talked to in his dream asked: “Are you alright?”
Dong Zhi stared at his forehead. There were a few pimples but no red lines. He then looked at the water monkey he painted before he fell asleep. It was staring back at him with wide open eyes.
“It’s a bit stuffy here. I’ll go walk for a bit.” Dong Zhi was unsettled. He quickly stuffed the pen and paper into his backpack, made a casual excuse, picked up his backpack, and got up. The boy quickly made way for him as everyone looked at his hurried back, feeling confused.
Dong Zhi told himself not to think too much, but he couldn’t help feeling there was an evil feeling on this train. After passing through two train sections, he finally found a carriage that was more crowded. When he saw a vacant seat, he walked over.
“Hello, is anyone sitting here?”
The bearded man who was playing a game quickly raised his head and glanced at him, and said: “No, feel free!”
The man was five big and three rough*. His masculinity was overflowing and his sense of security for Dong Zhi arose spontaneously.
*(五大三粗) Idiom describing a person who is tall and stout with a burly body.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Dong Zhi saw that the man was playing the exact same game he was working on before his resignation. The game was called <The Great Wasteland> and the setting was in the <Classic of Mountains and Seas*> where it integrated gods, Buddhas, and demons into the world. The game quickly became popular after it launched, occupying the top of the game leaderboard.
*Compilation of mythic geography and beasts. It’s largely a famous geographical and cultural account of pre-Qin China as well as a collection of Chinese mythology.
The game revenue determined the bonuses of the department’s employees. Therefore, for the past three years, despite the exhausting work, his salary and benefits weren’t bad. He made enough to feed an entire family and even had enough left over to put away. If it wasn’t for this, he wouldn’t have been able to put up with the aberration of the project manager. Let alone surviving for three years, he would have abandoned ship in less than one.
“This lineup can’t beat Zhurong*. You have to replace the summoner!” Dong Zhi couldn’t help but suggested.
*Sometimes referred to as Madam Zhurong, is a fictional character from the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. She claims descent from the Chinese fire deity Zhurong, from whom she acquired her name. Zhurong is the only woman in the novel who participates in fighting and battles against Shu forces alongside her husband.
The man was scolded severely by the people in his team because they lost the team battle. He was angered hearing Dong Zhi’s words, so he sniped, “You do it then!”
Dong Zhi gladly welcomed his challenge. He took the man’s phone and started to change the equipment and summoning beasts. He then formed a team and entered the dungeon. His movements were proficient and fluent, making him look like an otaku* with no social life.
*A person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.
The man was in awe. “Big bro, which district are you in? Can you let me hug your thigh*?”
*(抱大腿) Means someone is trying to curry favor with someone else.
Dong Zhi didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “We’re in the same district, so you can add me as a friend.”
After some idle talk, Dong Zhi learned that the other man’s name was He Yu, and that he too was heading to Changchun, but for a business trip.
He Yu complained, “They’re making me travel thousands of miles and didn’t even bother getting a plane ticket. The least they could do was get something better than a train ticket for a hard seat!”
Dong Zhi was speechless: ‘What kind of company could be so cheap?!’
“Your leader should be in this carriage, right? Be careful or he might overhear you.”
He Yu rolled his eyes. “It’s fine. He’s on the soft sleeper*!”
*Main class of the Z-series express trains that are more expensive than hard sleepers but are generally more comfortable and have more room.
Dong Zhi couldn’t help but sympathize with him. This company seemed to be even worse than his department.
“Dong Zhi is a very interesting name.” He Yu said, “Is your surname really Dong? Is there really such a surname like that?”
Dong Zhi smiled and said: “Of course. I’m named Dong Zhi1 because of my surname. It’s easy to remember. I also happened to be born on the day of the winter solstice2. Isn’t that a coincidence?”
1His name, translated, is Winter [Dong] (冬) Solstice [Zhi] (至).
2Shortest day of the year.
He Yu raised his head and gave him a meaningful look, then nodded. “How coincidental.”
After chatting and playing games for a while, the lingering fear he had gradually disappeared. Dong Zhi remembered that he hadn’t finished his sketch yet and took it out of his backpack.
When He Yu saw the painting, he let out a sigh. “Your artwork is similar to the style of <The Great Wasteland>!”
Dong Zhi continued drawing as he painted the nails on the water monkey and replied without raising his head. “Yes, I’m the artist for it. My public screen name is Dong Dong Qiang.”
He Yu’s mouth dropped, looking quite incredulous. Only after Dong Zhi showed him all the drawings with his signature on them that he had stored on his phone did He Yu finally believe him.
“Great God, please let me worship you!” He hugged Dong Zhi abruptly. “Oh my god, I’m touching a living god!
A man who was dozing on the opposite side of them woke up and gave them a look as if saying “It turns out to be a pair of gays.”
Dong Zhi thought it was hilarious and wanted to push He Yu away, but he had hugged him so tightly that the push barely made him budge.
He Yu looked happy. “God treats me well. Although there is a stingy and mean leader, he has given me the opportunity to meet a great God!”
He hurriedly took out a pen and paper from the schoolbag next to him and said with starry eyes, “Great God, can I get you sign a few times for me?”
Dong Zhi: “How many times?”
He Yu: “Can I have one signature per page?”
Dong Zhi: …
He looked at the blank notebook that had at least a thousand pages, quietly signed five times, then closed it and handed it back.
He Yu began to elaborate on his admiration for the Dong Zhi. “I like the heroines you draw, especially the immortal*. That little lolita is so cute. Fans of the game even made a fan video. Have you seen it? The background music they used…”
*(仙) Xian is used to describe an immortal but can also be referred to as a fairy or other mythical being (see Wikipedia).
Dong Zhi was happy. It wasn’t like he didn’t know <The Great Wasteland> was popular. He just didn’t expect he would be sought after by its fans. In addition to feeling embarrassed, he also felt relieved that the overtime he had put in the past few years had not been in vain.
After finishing up the draft for the water monkey and instructing He Yu on a few game strategies, Dong Zhi said, “I’m a little hungry. I think I’ll go to the dining car. Do you also want something to eat?”
He Yu was very attentive to his idol: “I’ll go buy it!”
Seeing that he hadn’t finished his PvP* match, Dong Zhi refused: “It’s okay. I also want to go for a walk. Just finish this team battle, or you’ll be scolded by your teammates again.”
*Player vs player.
He Yu thought about it and replied, “Please God, help me out and buy me some instant noodles. I’ll transfer money to you through mobile later.”
Dong Zhi laughed and said, “Alright, let me add you*.”
*Clarity: I think he means like adding him as a friend on WeChat or QQ or whatever app that’s popular in China nowadays.
He Yu’s eyes lit up. “Then can you also sign the instant noodle packaging?”
Dong Zhi: …
After getting away from the autograph fanatic, he walked towards the dining car. Along the way, he saw a few passengers who, like him, couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night and were strolling around. There were others who were dozing off in their seats or watching movies. Most of the lights in the carriage were turned off as the remaining ones cast dim shadows as he moved forward. They disappeared and reappeared from time to time under the looming lights.
The train shook slightly, causing Dong Zhi to slow down and support himself on the wall. Suddenly, he saw his shadow raise its left hand and waved at him as if to say hello.
The start of a new project! I am a big fan of this author’s work. This is a supernatural modern danmei that deals with ghost/demon busting (I think). It involves a lot of Chinese mythological things, so there’s a lore glossary as a reference that I’ll add to as I translate. I’m not fully sure what it’s all about yet as I’m reading it as I translate, but you can read the summary on the project page to get an idea.
Note: <Bu Tian Gang> is also known as <The Incident Book of the Relevant Department for Subduing and Eliminating Demons>. This is also the name of the department that Dong Zhi eventually joins. I have decided to translate it as The Department of Exorcism to make it more succinct.
I strongly recommend you read the author’s other works. My favorites are: The Fourteenth Year of Chenghua and Peerless. I also heard good things about Thousand Autumns and Estranged, but I haven’t had the chance to read them yet.
As this project is a lot harder to translate, and my main focus is still on Your Rival in Love Gets Prettier Every Day, releases will probably be once or twice a week, at least until I finish with YRILGPED.
Water Monkey Lore:
[Water Monkeys usually live in the water, and sometimes go ashore, and are more common in wild water sources such as mountain ponds and reservoirs. Water monkeys are dependent on water and lose their limbs within ten minutes of being out of water. In the water, the water monkey’s strength is several times stronger than that of humans, so once they pull you in, it becomes life-threatening. According to legend, water monkeys have a huge and mysterious power in the water. They can dig through different ponds and rivers underwater. They catch drowning people and drag them to the bottom. Some say they like to drink human blood and eat human fingernails and eyeballs.]