Mask, Masked Person
What would happen?
Zhang Xin Ai remained silent for a moment before she abruptly took off for the entrance.
Her shoe fell off halfway through. Upon closer inspection however, it was not a shoe, it was her right leg that had fallen off. It had completely fallen off, there was no blood, only strips of black tape leaked out of the part it broke off. She dragged her broken leg as she stumbled, falling to the floor all of a sudden, because her other leg had broken off as well. As with the other leg, black tapes flowed out from the part it broke off from.
“Ah… Help me…” Zhang Xin Ai crawled with her two arms as long tapes dragged behind her. One by one, she crawled past the feet of the masked people before she finally reached the entrance of the theater. She cried out, “Shan Shui…”
Before she could finish, her mask fell off from her face.
A pair of black cloth shoes slowly walked over. Boss Qu bent down and picked up the fox mask.
Zhang Xin Ai was no longer on the floor, there was only a pile of black tapes spinning on the floor like a snake. They twisted and struggled a few times before it turned into ashes, black grains dissipating into the air.
Boss Qu held the mask and walked to the direction of the projector room. The masked people who had just been at odds with him actually put the chairs and stools down as they followed behind him.
They looked like a line of people at a funeral.
Ning Ning doubted and hesitated for a moment before following behind them.
The door to the projector room was open. She did not see any film reels nor videotapes inside. In that projector room of unknown age, there were only endless masks strewn messily on the floor, hung disorderly on the walls; male, female, old, young, crying, smiling, resenting, raging.
“Every masked person has a main character ticket that belongs to them,” Boss Qu slowly walked into the projector room as he told Ning Ning with his back to her, “if it’s used up, then the movie that belongs to them will stop screening prematurely and get sealed up, it will have to wait for the next available slot for it to air again. But, the number of new masked people who enter this place every year is so many, there are so many of them waiting for their story to get screened, when would there be another empty slot again?”
He hung the fox mask on the wall before he turned his head back and told Ning Ning, “You don’t want to become one of them right?”
Ning Ning was standing in the middle of a pile of masks, she had just realised what expression the masked people had when they looked at the projector room.
It was an expression of someone looking at a graveyard.
“Indeed, they are still alive.” Boss Qu gave the fox mask a knock, it gave off a crisp sound. He laughed coldly. “They could hear, they could see, they could think, they could feel the changes in time, but they could not speak. They could only wait silently…wait for the day they would become a masked person again.”
Being stared at by the masks that enveloped the interior of the room, being stared at by those pairs of eyes that were alive, Ning Ning seemingly could hear their silent cries, “Ah, help me…”
She suddenly felt cold and nauseous. Ning Ning could not help but cover her mouth before she turned around and ran. Behind her, Boss Qu’s cold expression turned gentle again, as if to say—go, fear this place, fear me, never return again.
“Huff, huff, huff…” She brushed past the masked people one by one, frantically running on the red carpet in the black passageway. Upon seeing a person leaning on the wall in front of her, she stopped in her tracks.
The entrance was right there, there was a crack in the doorway. A ray of light was shining through the crack, illuminating Shi Zhong Tang’s jade mask. The mask had a mild and soft halo of light on it, like sunlight which warmed the jade stone of the indigo mountain, causing thin curls of smoke to rise.1
He did not go into the projector room, he had been leaning on the wall quietly instead as he waited for her to come out.
“Life Theater gave us a chance to change the past, this is the price we pay.” Shi Zhong Tang laughed as he pressed down on his chest. “Our body had been taken away by the theater.”
Ning Ning looked at him as he approached her and brought her into his arms.
“The thing that is hugging you right now, is it actually flesh and blood? Or is it a reel of tape? A series of numbers? Or a ray of light from a projector? Actually, I’m not sure myself.” Shi Zhong Tang pressed her head onto his chest. Although he was laughing, his laughter had a trace of frailty. “Listen, is my heart still beating? Tell me, am I still alive?”
Ning Ning tried her best to place her ear as close to his chest as possible.
The theater was dead silent, his chest was dead silent.
“It is…” Ning Ning hugged him tightly, she said quietly, “You are still alive.”
“Ah, yes, I am still alive.” Shi Zhong Tang seemed to have believed her and cheered up. He rubbed her hair and closed his eyes, “I…want to live.”
The poster by the entrance swayed in the wind.
Title: <<Big Brother’s Lover>>
Starring: Zhang Xin Ai, Ning Ning
The movie had ended. What the poster looked like before was what the poster looked like now, there was not a trace of change. A few passersby chatted and laughed as they walked past. No one noticed the old poster on the wall, no one noticed the once popular actress on the poster. One of them tossed a beer can behind them, the can fell parabolically and rolled underneath the poster.
The discarded beer can, the discarded actress, both of them were submerged in the river of time as they were forgotten by everyone.
After returning from Life Theater, Ning Ning almost collapsed on the bed as she laid down. She was too tired—not physically tired, she was mentally drained. Acting in the same scene for three hundred and sixty-three times with no breaks in between, by the end, it was not acting anymore, it was torture instead…
She was probably woken up by hunger. She held her stomach that was having spasms as she opened the refrigerator. She took out a tomato and viciously took a bite out of it, the cold flesh went into her stomach. She shivered once then turned around and put the tomato in a sink, letting water run on it for a while so as to let its temperature return to normal before she ate it bite by bite.
As she was eating the tomato, she charged her phone and switched it on. She had long expected that she would have a ton of missed calls, but what she did not expect was that the one who called her the most was not her manager Li Bo Yue, but Chen Shuang He. That was strange, why was he looking for her? Was he still hung up over going over the script in a hotel room?
Just as she was making blind guesses, her phone rang.
It was Director Chen.
“Hello,” Ning Ning answered the call, “Director Chen.”
“How is the preparation going?” Director Chen went straight to the point.
Ning Ning swallowed the tomato flesh and answered, “It’s almost done.”
“Then come over.” Director Chen said, “I’m still waiting at the usual place.”
After she hung up, Ning Ning opened the refrigerator again. She placed two tomatoes in the sink and turned on the tap, eating the tomatoes bite by bite, finishing all three tomatoes one after another. She slowly breathed out and placed both her hands under the tap, her hands caught the water and splashed it on her face, then she stared at herself in the mirror. “We meet again, Zhang Xin Ai.”
Usual place, Director Chen’s house.
The same people were there—Director Chen, Li Shan Zhu and Chen Shuang He.
Compared to last time, Chen Shuang He looked at Ning Ning with an even colder expression this time. She didn’t know if it was because of the dozens of missed calls, or if it was because she had turned down his request to go over the script in a hotel room…
“Last time you two acted the scene of Little Ai seducing the younger brother in the atelier, let’s switch it up this time. Act out the scene of Little Ai seducing the older brother in the atelier.” Director Chen turned his head to look at Li Shan Zhu. “What do you think?”
“Let’s add a timeframe.” Li Shan Zhu crossed his arms, he looked at the two of them from behind his glasses. “The time is after the elder brother discovered that Little Ai had been seducing his younger brother.”
“That wouldn’t be considered as acting out an enticement scene then.” Director Chen laughed out then told the two of them, “A!”
It was like spring had come overnight, the snow on Chen Shuang He’s face melted as he smiled gently at Ning Ning. “You’re here, sit.”
She had Ning Ning sit down then turned his back to her to start making tea.
The tea was poured into a cup, his expression was extremely cold. He felt around his pocket with one hand then brought out something invisible. Once he showed the expression of satisfaction in getting vengeance when he poured it into the cup, everyone could tell that what he was holding was poison.
He restrained the hatred on his face before he turned around, smiling as he handed the cup to Ning Ning.
Ning Ning gulped down the cup of tea without realising (anything), Chen Shuang He who was in front of her asked coldly, “Does it hurt?”
Ning Ning was taken by surprise. She then realised that he had acted out putting poison in the tea while he had his back towards her, so she frowned and rolled off the sofa while holding her stomach.
Chen Shuang He laughed coldly as he looked at her. His eyebrows twitched all of a sudden, he watched as she scanned the surroundings before she crawled towards the desk. She could not get up as she was holding her stomach with one hand. She used her other hand to reach up with difficulty, feeling her way around the table to get a pen and paper. She laid the paper on the floor and got on top of it as she endured the pain and wrote quickly.
“What good would that do?” Chen Shuang He walked over. “Even if you were to write my name on a piece of paper, the police would not be able to see it…”
His voice stopped as he was surprised to see the contents on the piece of paper.
A suicide note.
The next line was: I’m sorry, I’m very tired. Goodbye world.
Not only was there no mention of his name, she was trying her best to make this murder look like a suicide.
Chen Shuang He’s shoulders undulated for a moment. He said in a cold muffled voice, “Don’t think that I can’t see through you, you’re just trying to make me let my guard down.”
The hand that Ning Ning used to hold the pen with was trembling continuously, her words were getting more and more illegible. She slowly turned her head to look at him as she cried with a smile, “I committed suicide, you won’t get into trouble with the police.”
Chen Shuang He was a little shocked. He clenched his fist tightly and said with a repressed tone, “You think that by doing this, I will forgive you?”
Ning Ning closed her eyes and cried silently.
Chen Shuang He’s shoulders undulated slightly. He looked away and paced about in the room impatiently, he did not dare to look her in the eye from the beginning till the end. He was afraid that if he were to take another look, he would have a change of heart.
“The wedding…is not cancelled.” Ning Ning’s voice suddenly rang out from behind him.
“I will not get married to you.” Chen Shuang He stopped in his tracks, saying coldly with his back towards her, “It doesn’t matter if you’re dying soon right now. Even if you were alive, I would not marry a loose woman like you, a woman who even laid her hands on her husband’s own brother!”
“I’m the opposite.” Ning Ning chuckled behind him. “Even if you were to die, I would still hold a wedding in Hawaii alone…a wedding with no groom.”
Chen Shuang He was stunned. He turned his head back impulsively. He saw that Ning Ning was lying on her side on the floor, her head was lying on the completed will, she seemed to be losing consciousness, she used the last of her strength to look at him, smile at him.
This was truly a selfish and sly woman. She knew that she was dead meat, so she tried her best to leave herself in his heart forever—as his beloved.
“…Enough!” Chen Shuang He rushed over and took something out of his pocket, he made the action of opening it then fed it to her. “Letting you die like this would be letting you off easy! Drink this…”
Ning Ning took a sip as instructed then turned around and spat it out.
“You…” Chen Shuang He furrowed his brows, he looked like he was getting angry.
“You’re not willing to feed it to me with your mouth.” Ning Ning laid in his arms frailly, she smiled bitterly at him. “You’re not willing to kiss me ever again, right?”
Chen Shuang He’s body froze.
“Then there is no meaning in me living.” Ning Ning took a gentle glance from his arms. She was actually glancing in Li Shan Zhu’s direction, her expression was lazy and charming, it looked a lot like a certain person in his memory. “I came for you, I changed for you, in the end, I died for you… From the beginning till the end, I’ve been yours.”
Li Shan Zhu stood up from the sofa abruptly.
It was a moment later before he sat back down. Director Chen asked from the side, “What’s the matter?”
“…Nothing.” Li Shan Zhu took off his glasses and covered his eyes with his hands.
Director Chen looked at him for a while before looking at Chen Shuang He suddenly and said, “That will do for today. Shuang He, send Ning Ning home.”
“Sure, Dad.” Chen Shuang He answered without an expression.
After the two of them left, Director Chen swirled the wine glass in his hand and smiled at Li Shan Zhu. “She reminds you of a certain person, am I right?”
Li Shan Zhu was hunched over, he covered his face with one hand without answering.
“Being able to make someone from a script come alive, being able to make someone from a memory come alive.” Director Chen took a sip of wine out of the glass. “After waiting for so long, it’s finally almost done.”
Li Shan Zhu put down his hand and looked at him from an awkward angle. “What you’re saying is…”
“She’s just a hair’s breadth away from my phantom.” Director Chen’s eyes sparkled, “The only thing that’s left is for her to use her life, her soul, her everything—to passionately love a man!”
1A line from the poem 锦瑟》also known as The Sad Zither