13 Suffocating Nightmare
As I curled up in the bathtub, several broken memories flashed through my mind.
“Hey, why are you helping her? Haven’t you heard? She has a mental illness!”
“Ah? That can’t be, right? Look how pitiful she is. She fell over, but no one’s even going to help her…”
“Aiya, let’s go. Just mind your own business. I’m telling you, she has problems up there…”
I must have turned on the cold water, because I felt the piercing, chilly water fall from my head to my legs. I scoffed. In a shitty place like this, where you’re neither dead or alive, you could still feel cold?
When I exited the bathroom, You Ji looked at me uneasily. I smiled at her, letting her know that I was okay.
Instead of her usual snake look, You Ji was dressed in casual garb. She walked over to me and grabbed my hand. “I’ll find out what happened. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”
“I’m fine. By the way, did you find out what happened with Laurel?”
You Ji swallowed. “There’s been a bit of progress, but…”
“Just tell me.” I looked at her, a bit suspicious.
She sighed and then said, “Per Jie Pa’s suggestion, we found someone with a keen sense of smell to investigate, but the trail cut at the Northern District border. So, I suspect that Laurel is currently in the Northern District.”
I frowned. The Northern District is a different story from the Southern District. The layout of the Northern District is different from the other three districts, and those who resided there were people recognized by Mr Blond. Ordinarily, unless we’re summoned, outsiders can’t just casually enter the Northern District. And when we do travel there, it’s only to the hall in the district center. The Northern District is a place beyond our understanding.
“Should we ask to meet with Mr Blond about this?” You Ji asked, looking to me.
I shook my head. “He hasn’t been very happy with me lately. If this really involves someone from the Northern District, I can’t make an accusation so lightly. Let me think about it a bit.”
You Ji smiled. “Alright, then I’m going to see Jie Pa about what happened today. You and Nie Zun can discuss some more.” She squeezed my hand, and then she headed to the door.
Just before she left, she turned back and said, “Laurel once told me that the moment she saw you, she took you as her older sister because she really liked you. Don’t worry. We’ll definitely find her and bring her back.”
As You Ji walked out the door, I lied down in my bed and looked up at the ceiling. Nie Zun was calmer than one would expect. He remained silent as he leaned against the wall by the door. After staring at the ceiling awhile, I finally said, “Nie Zun, I couldn’t even save someone who was right in front of me.”
Since he didn’t respond even after several minutes, I lifted my head to look at him. He was looking at me, but since his bangs covered his face, I could only see one eye. It looked bright, and yet dark.
I shot him a smile. “Since you resonated with that cruel version of me, tell me, do you think it was her who gave me this uncaring attitude to not save someone in danger?”
“Not saving someone and being unable to save them aren’t the same thing,” he responded softly.
I stopped looking at him and lied back down. “Only someone incompetent would be so useless. Even if one had the desire to help, without any power to do so, they wouldn’t be any different to a person who ignored a plea for help.” As I listened to my own reasoning, I felt quite empty inside.
“You really are so fragile that you fall over from one hit. I can’t imagine a killer living within you.” Nie Zun gave his devilish smile.
I looked at him coldly. “Yeah. I don’t understand how a demon like that could live inside of me either.”
“Since that demon has already joined together with me now, just do a good job being a good person. Leave the sinister stuff for your other self and me.” For some reason, Nie Zun’s words gave me a very warm feeling. But still, I wasn’t going to respond gratefully to him.
Nie Zun suddenly changed the topic. “The Split Zone is very strange, and the blond man is very strange too. Haven’t you ever suspected him? Or has he just always seemed above suspicion to you?”
“It’s not that I’ve never thought to suspect him, I just don’t have the ability to suspect him.” I closed my eyes, and an overwhelming exhaustion overcame me. I knew that everything about the Split Zone was weird and nothing about it made sense. But I was just really tired, and I didn’t want to keep thinking about it.
After I rested for a bit, I opened my eyes and turned to Nie Zun. “Let’s make a trip to the Northern District. Secretly. Without letting Mr Blond know.”
“That doesn’t sound easy.”
“It’s fine. I know that it’s impossible for Mr Blond to monitor us constantly. He simply has a lot of informants. We just need to come up with a plan,” I insisted.
“Whatever you want. If you’re going, it’s not like I can stop from following.” Nie Zun’s demeanor was fully unconcerned, even now. After speaking, he raised his hand and pushed aside the bangs covering one of his eyes. When I saw the glove on his hand still covered with blood, I lowered my eyes.
Noticing my attention on his gloves, he said, “It’s fine. I can wash them.”
“Who’s concerned? Are you so eager for me to ruin your new pair of gloves?” I rolled my eyes at him.
He tilted his head and laughed. “(For them) To be ruined by you would have been my pleasure.” I really couldn’t get used to his oddly charming and ambiguous demeanor. I didn’t bother responding, and instead turned so that my back faced him.
Nie Zun’s voice drifted over to me. “It’s been tough on you these few days. Close your eyes and sleep a bit. When you wake up, we’ll have a meeting with Song Lu and the others about the Northern District.”
I closed my eyes. And then I had a dream.
The Split Zone is a strange space where our consciousness lives. When our consciousness dreams, it’s almost like dreaming within a dream. Dreams here are different. When we dream here, we’re aware that we’re dreaming, but before the dream ends, we’re unable to wake ourselves up. During the dream, it feels as if we’re watching a scene unfold from the sideline. We can only watch but not intervene.
I rarely dreamt, and when I did, I rarely dreamt of myself. My dreams were always of endless, boundless deserts, with no one to trouble me, with no worries. But this night, I dreamt of myself.
In my dream, I wore a high school uniform. I sat at a desk, reading a comic book. The place looked like the classroom from my last year of high school.
Suddenly, several girls scurried past me. And then a girl looked at my comic book. After a glance, she suddenly cried out, “Ah Shen! Why are you reading this kind of gory comic again?! Gosh, it’s so scary. Seriously, you have such particular tastes!” Although the girl seemed startled, she simply said a few sentences before leaving it alone. Then, I lifted my head and smiled at her. She walked to her seat behind me.
As she walked, she spoke to the person beside her. “Li Shen’s a girl, so why does she like reading those cruel and bloody comics?”
The girl beside her responded, “Aiya. A lot of people nowadays like comics like that. I also heard that some adults can only get ‘into it’ when they read strange things.”
“Aiya, stop talking about such disgusting things.”
As those girls chattered, I saw another pretty girl with curly hair walking towards me. She was suddenly at my side, and she snatched away my book. With a laugh, she said, “Ah Shen, you’re reading these comic books again? Why don’t you listen?”
When I saw the pretty, curly haired girl, I shot her a bright smile. “Pomelo, you’re making fun of me again.”
And then, the scene before me changed. The classroom I had just been sitting in disappeared. Now, Pomelo and I were sitting in a corner of the playground. Both of us were holding a bar of ice cream.
I turned to Pomelo and said, “Pomelo, I’ll tell you a secret, but you can’t tell anyone.”
“Okay.” Pomelo smiled and nodded.
“Actually… Something’s wrong with me here.” I pointed to my head.
Pomelo’s eyes shimmered like a pair of shining stars. “Oh? What’s wrong?”
After taking the last bite of the ice cream in my hand, I tossed the wrapper into the garbage can and pat my hands clean. “When I was little, I would often talk to myself and I had some signs of ADHD. After a few years, a strange illness befell me, so my parents took me in for a checkup. The doctor said that I was showing some signs of a mental illness.”
“Oh? But you look the same as everyone else.” Pomelo also finished her ice cream.
I smiled to her. “Well, I am pretty much like everyone else, because the illness is very mild. Even if I were to hurt someone, it would be myself and not others. Hey, I’ll show you the diagnostic report.”
I pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to the girl called Pomelo. I really wanted to stop myself, to open my mouth and warn me, but I couldn’t say a single word. Like someone who’d been poisoned, I tried to cry out, but I was rendered powerless.
When I recalled that I was dreaming, that I was watching a scene from high school unfolding, I gave up trying to shout and dejectedly closed my eyes. Just as the dream scene cut off, I suddenly heard Nie Zun’s voice. “Li Shen, wake up!”
I quickly woke up and saw Nie Zun looking down at me from beside the bed. His expression was complicated. I looked around me and realized that it was dark outside the window.
“It’s already night?”
“You slept for a long time.” When Nie Zun saw me sit up, he straightened his back and stuffed his hands back inside his coat pockets.
“Were you here the whole time?”
“Mmh.” Nie Zun nodded and then asked, “What did you dream about? You kept saying ‘Don’t, don’t.’”
I flinched as I recalled the conversation I had with Pomelo in my dream. I lowered my head and said, “It’s nothing. I just dreamt of my time in high school.”
Nie Zun looked at me thoughtfully. Then, he said, “I notified Song Lu and Yu Liang already, so we can discuss with them about the Northern District.”
“Okay.” I nodded.