Author: 梦溪石 / Meng Xi Shi
Translator: Kinky || https://kinkytranslations.com/
The car quickly set off. The leader of the tourist group began introducing attractions related to Changchun on the drive. Since Dong Zhi didn’t know much about the area, he listened intently as he found it interesting.
The team leader talked about how there’s a hanging kettle* in Changchun and one in Harbin, but the one in Harbin had no water. In the past, several tourists didn’t realize this and got on the wrong bus. As a result, they went all the way to Songfeng Mountain in Harbin and were dumbfounded when they saw there wasn’t a single drop of water. Everyone, including Dong Zhi, laughed when they heard this story.
*(吊水壶) refers to a scenic spot that mainly consists of caves, hanging waterfalls, volcanic wells, and other attractions. The one he’s referring to is most likely a small waterfall like this.
The team leader asked everyone to take turns sharing something interesting they had encountered on their travels. When Zhang Xing finished, she said to Dong Zhi. “Why don’t you tell a story?”
The team leader also noticed Dong Zhi and said with a smile, “Let the little handsome guy talk. It’s rare for a beauty like Zhang Xing to take the initiative to invite others. None of the handsome guys on our team had such an honor!”
Everyone turned their heads to look at Dong Zhi when they heard the team leader’s words. They had seen him when he first got into the car and thought he was particularly attractive. Now that he was sitting next to the beautiful Zhang Xing, they couldn’t help but compare. Those who like to joke around had already started heckling them. “Wow, a golden boy and a jade girl*.”
*(金童玉女啊) In Taoism refers to the virgins who serve immortals. It’s now used as a reference to innocent boys and girls.
Zhang Xing blushed slightly but did not refute them.
Dong Zhi wasn’t pretentious, so he shared a story about Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan, where there was a hotel called Jiuzhai Paradise. When he got off the plane, the hotel had sent a car to pick him up. The driver was a carefree man who liked to ask guests if they were going to heaven. The guest would get furious and immediately retort that they would send him to heaven.
The group was courteous and listened to him without interruption. After hearing his story, they all fell to the ground in laughter. Zhang Xing took advantage of the situation to ask. “Is Jiuzhai fun?”
Dong Zhi chuckled. “It is. You need to look at the lakes in Jiuzhai. The water there is like a living spirit. If you have the opportunity, you should really go see them.”
Zhang Xing felt a bit inspired and said playfully, “Then when I go, can I ask you to be my tour guide?”
Dong Zhi blankly blinked, pretending not to understand her insinuation. “I’ve already been there.”
Hearing his response, Zhang Xing felt disappointed, and all her courage suddenly disappeared, and she remained quiet for the rest of the ride. The trip was filled with laughter and chatter, and eventually they reached the northern slope of Changbai Mountain in half an hour.
When buying tickets, Dong Zhi took the opportunity to break away from the tourist group. Zhang Xing wanted him to stay, but he declined under the pretext that he wanted to find a quiet place to paint. This area had always been a popular tourist attraction, so even though it was off-season, it wasn’t as deserted as he imagined. Dong Zhi took a bus to Tianchi and painted there for two hours, then walked along the road in the opposite direction of where he came.
The mountains were cold, but the trees and plants had already started springing to life. He took a bus when he got here, and since he was in relatively good shape, he wanted to return on foot by going down. He walked for a while and eventually stopped to sketch and paint, realizing he had unknowingly walked out of the scenic area. When he turned around to look back, he found that he had gone too far.
While considering whether to turn around and go back the same way he came, he heard a “meow”. He turned around and saw a chubby yellow cat behind him, meowing as if it was calling him.
He was briefly stunned before he took a few steps closer towards the cat. It didn’t seem afraid of him as he remained motionless.
“Little guy, are you domesticated or wild? Are you lost?” Dong Zhi laughed. “I only have chocolates and water, but you can’t eat chocolates.”
Seemingly understanding him, the cat glanced at him, then got up and walked slowly away.
Dong Zhi found it very fun and couldn’t help but follow it, maintaining a short distance from it. After walking for almost half an hour, he faintly heard the sound of a waterfall up ahead and occasional sounds of voices. The cat seemed to be frightened by the noise as it jumped into the forest, disappearing in a flash.
Moving forward, the waterfall slowly unfolded into his sights until it made him involuntarily breathless. There were small groups of twos and threes that were busy taking pictures with their phones, and a few who just stood by to enjoy the scenery, like Dong Zhi.
*Older brother. Term used to address older males; generally use on those you’re close with (think senpai/oppa).
Returning to his senses, Dong Zhi looked up and saw Zhang Xing and the tour group. He walked over and greeted her. “We meet again.”
“Yeah, I didn’t see you at the lake just now, so I thought you fell behind!” Zhang Xing’s voice held excitement. “Why don’t we go together later?”
Dong Zhi showed her the sketch pad in his hand. “No, I need to find a place to sketch.”
Zhang Xing let out a sigh, showing a discouraged look. He pretended not to notice and took out two pieces of chocolate from his backpack and handed a piece to her. This made her regain her smile.
“Zhang Xing, would you like grilled fish?” A boy walked over, gave Zhang Xing a bag of grilled fish fillets, and sat down next to them. “What are you talking about that you look happy? Who’s this person you call brother?”
He was asking about Dong Zhi, but his gaze never left Zhang Xing. Zhang Xing became agitated and stuffed the grilled fish into Dong Zhi’s hand, said nothing, then got up and stomped away. The boy was uninterested in Dong Zhi, so he got up and chased after her. Dong Zhi looked at the grilled fish in his hand and hesitated whether to return it, but suddenly he saw the chubby cat had come back and was squatting on the stone in front of him, tilting its head while looking at him.
One person and one cat stared at each other, big eyes to small, when realization hit Dong Zhi as he offered the grilled fish in his hand. “Do you want this?”
The cat rolled its eyes, jumped down and rushed towards Dong Zhi, surprising him. Before he could react, the bag of grilled fish in his hand had been stolen. The cat immediately crossed the river and destroyed the bridge. It ran straight into the forest without ever turning around.
Seeing such a sight, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He rested for a while, then checked up on Zhang Xing, who was still talking with the boy. Their expressions looked fairly calm, so he guessed that they weren’t quarrelling. He didn’t bother them, so he picked up his bag and continued walking along the road.
He deliberately avoided tourists by following the instructions he bought when he was at the bottom of the mountain and taking the remote paths. These trail ways were rugged and steep, but they were still within the scenic area and met state regulations; however, most tourists avoided them because they were too strenuous. Dong Zhi walked around a pond and came out the other side to see a clear blue sky, white clouds, and snow-capped mountains in the distance. In awe, he found a place to sit down and started to paint.
While usually energetic, when painting, he would normally calm down. Once the brush started to move, he would lose all sense of time. This time it was no exception. When he had finished his first draft, he was awakened from his trance by the sound of thunder.
He looked up at the sky and saw it was covered by heavy dark clouds and distant thunder was rolling in. Occasionally, ferocious lightning would flash in between them as the clouds surged. The tranquil-like fairyland had suddenly changed.
Looking around, he found the sporadic tourists who had been here earlier were all gone. He hurriedly packed up and prepared to find a place to take shelter from the rain. It wasn’t odd to not run into anyone, as they probably had long left to avoid the rain, but he walked for quite some distance yet had not seen a single soul, and a weird feeling inside started growing stronger.
He abruptly stopped and stared at the stone in front of him, recalling that it was the stone he had been drawing just now, as there were traces on the grass of where he was sitting. He was perplexed at how he had walked in a complete circle to end up at the same spot again.
This time, to pay better attention, he took out a marker and drew a small mark on the stone before moving on. If memory served him correctly, he only needed to walk a short distance back before he reached the main road where there would be guide signs directing him to various scenic areas. He had walked for almost five minutes and finally saw the end of the grove. He accelerated his steps, rushing through the woods until he reached the end, seeing grassy cliffs in front of him and the lake and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Sure enough, he had returned once again to the stone. He stared at the mark he left on it, thinking about the old saying “ghost hitting the wall*” that old people in his hometown often said when he was young.
*(鬼打墙) Means when walking at night, you can’t tell the direction you’re going in and your perception is blurred, causing you to go around in circles. When you tell others about this experience, it’s difficult for them to understand, so it’s called “ghost hitting the wall” (as in a ghost is supposed to pass through walls but ended up hitting it).
If it hadn’t been for his encounter on the train before coming to Changchun, he would have been scared witless at this point. However, given his experience, he had fortified his mental tolerance and was able to withstand the fear.
The dark clouds began to increase abundantly, completely darkening the entire sky. The rolling thunder sounded as if someone was beating drums among the clouds, vowing to split open the snow-capped mountains. It was like hearing a battle between immortals fighting in the sky. The lightning and thunder clashed, affecting the mortals below who followed in their wake.
If this scene were to be posted online, some would joke and say someone was going through a tribulation*. Having lived for more than 20 years, Dong Zhi had never witnessed such dark clouds that rolled endlessly like a vast roaring sea of mountains.
*Referring to cultivation (Xianxia genre), where people can cultivate to become immortals/gods. Usually they must pass and survive a calamity, often times in the form of a storm with lightning and thunder, before they can ascend to godhood.
He collected his thoughts and turned around and looked back, seeing a person passing by not far away, who was walking in a hurry and didn’t seem to notice him. The figure’s appearance looked so familiar that Dong Zhi couldn’t help but blurt out. “Xu Jie?!”
His voice was loud, but Xu Wan didn’t seem to hear it. He didn’t see Tongtong with her as she was running alone, seemingly lost. He hesitated before catching up to her.
It stood to reason that Xu Wan, a woman, would not be as fast as him, and he should be able to catch up if he ran at full speed. Yet after chasing her for quite some time, he was unable to catch up as the distance between them remained relatively the same length. Even a fool at this point would realize something was wrong.
He halted his chase and watched as Xu Wan’s figure got further and further away, finally disappearing from sight. He turned around and tried to look for a way out of the woods. Since he had met a ghost hitting the wall, it seemed he was now stuck going in circles in some kind of maze. The forest wasn’t big, but no matter where he went, he couldn’t get out.
Anxiety started to rise. He remembered reading the news about two college students who came to explore Changbai Mountain and got trapped, so they had to call the police for help. He thought if he did the same it would be quite shameful, but given his predicament, it was better than being lost. Surprisingly, when he took out his phone, he was dumbfounded, seeing as there was no signal.
He clicked on the compass app. Though electronic compasses had greater deviation than mechanical ones, they were still somewhat useful. When he looked at the app, he saw that the needles were spinning frantically and felt his heart sinking.
Before his mood had completely sunk to the bottom of the earth, he heard someone scream.
The voice was familiar and sounded as if it was from a young girl. In contrast to the thunder, the scream refreshed him a bit, and he ran towards the sound without much thought. When he got closer and the voice got louder, his eyes lit up, as he found that he had actually exited the woods and came back to the waterfall he had passed by earlier.
He saw a man grabbing a girl by the hair and dragging her on the ground. The girl was struggling and crying desperately, but her opponent was too strong that she couldn’t escape. Her back was completely scratched up as it bore the full weight of her body as it was pulled across the bumpy stone-covered path, causing her to cry in agony.
The sight shocked Dong Zhi. He recognized the girl was Zhang Xing and the man was the young man who was trying to court her with grilled fish not long ago.
“Dong Ge! Help me! Help me!” Zhang Xing had caught sight of him and cried bitterly, begging for help.
The man who had gripped her hair remained unmoved, not bothering to turn back to look at Dong Zhi, as he was mechanically wandering aimlessly step by step.
Without a second thought, Dong Zhi sprinted over.