The Final Boundary
Boss Qu looked in the direction she was looking.
Previously, all he cared about was to chase after Chen Shuang He. It was not until his eyes left Chen Shuang He that he realised that there were so many people at the entrance, so many parents.
There was a person repeatedly shouting their child’s name at the entrance, some opened a bottle of mineral water, poured it over their heads, then ignored the people around them stopping them as they rushed in.
“Ning Ning!” Ning Yu Ren struggled in Director Chen’s arms. “Let go of me! I want to save Ning Ning!”
“Wait for the firefighters to get here!” Director Chen would not let go. “You are a national-treasure-level actress, you cannot take such a risk! You have to stay here!”
Ning Yu Ren could not break free, she looked back and shouted at him defeatedly, “Aren’t you worried at all? Your son is in there too!”
Director Chen was shocked for a moment, then shrugged. He started laughing in a carefree manner, as if he was saying: I’m a national-treasure-level director, how can I risk my life just for a puny Chen Shuang He?
“…And why should I take the risk?” Boss Qu told himself, “All of them are other people’s children. What have their deaths got to do with me? Inside…there’s no daughter of mine anyway…”
He turned around and chased after Chen Shuang He. He only took two steps before abruptly turning around and rushing into the door.
The heat wave that hit him in the face made him take a few steps back. Most of the people had already escaped, but there were still a number of people in the theater. Coughing sound, crying sound, pleading sound, Boss Qu went looking towards the sounds of the cries of one of the children. He lifted the girl off the ground, her face was already black from the smoke. Boss Qu rubbed her face, but he could not clean it off, thus he asked frantically, “Are you Ning Ning?”
The girl was scared stiff from what was happening right in front of her eyes. There was clearly no one in front of her, but what had picked her up from the floor? It had even rubbed her face.
“Wa—” The girl pursed her lips then cried out loud, “Mama!!”
Boss Qu swore under his breath. He put her down and walked away a few steps before turning back and lifting her up. He quickly walked to the entrance and casually tossed her out of the door.
The girl was thrown on the floor, the fat woman who had been clinging on to Chen Shuang He rushed over. She hugged the girl and cried, “Xiao Lin! Xiao Lin! It’s good that you are fine… Ah!”
Another girl was thrown out of the theater, the girl just happened to fall on top of her.
Afterwards, people were tossed out consecutively, yet no one could clearly see who had rescued them, they could not even see the black marks left on the floor, the remains of burnt tapes.
“Cough, cough.” Boss Qu coughed loudly. He had already forgotten how many times he had re-entered the theater. Damn it, where exactly is Ning Ning? He scooped up another girl with one arm. He used another hand to cover her face with a wet cloth then walked towards a seat not far from him. Beneath the chair was an intermittent coughing, the voice was very delicate, it was most probably a child.
Before he could arrive, a hand pulled the child out from under the seat and put them in their arms.
It was Shi Zhong Tang, he was also rescuing them.
Boss Qu stared at the girl in his arms and asked, “Is that Ning Ning?”
The girl had already half-fainted. Shi Zhong Tang turned her face around and took a look, then let her continue to rest on his chest. He turned around and told Boss Qu, “No.”
Boss Qu was extremely disappointed. After he sent the person in his arms out, he looked down at his right hand. Three of his fingers were missing, there was only unburnt tape remaining, falling from his hand, section by section.
“What exactly am I doing?” He murmured, “My hands…are clearly not meant for things like this…”
Boss Qu turned his head. He saw Ning Yu Ren rushed to his side and lifted up the girl he had just rescued, then cried, “No, not Ning Ning…”
She looked around in a daze. There were already quite a number of people who had been rescued, but Ning Ning was not one of them.
Ning Yu Ren used the back of her hand to wipe her tears, then slowly got up and walked towards the entrance. Before she could get there however, Director Chen held her back.
“Let go!” Ning Yu Ren screamed, “Don’t mention anything about national treasure or movies to me! I just want my daughter! I would rather die with her in there!”
Director Chen knew that he would not be able to persuade her, he simply did not say a word and held onto her tightly.
“…I hate you.” Ning Yu Ren could not break free. Slowly, she turned her head and looked at him with eyes filled with hatred. “If Ning Ning were to die, I will never act in your movies again, you’ll never see me again, I’ll not help you bear the consequences of the shameful deeds you did, I hate you, I will hate you for all eternity!”
I will hate you for all eternity!
This hatred will never cease!
“No, I don’t hate you.” Ning Yu Ren suddenly murmured again. She looked down and sobbed. “If only I did not bring her here to watch this play, if only I did not let go of her hand…Ah!! I hate it so much!! Why, why can I not even protect my own daughter?!!”
Boss Qu stared at Ning Yu Ren for a moment. He seemed to have thought something through all of a sudden. He let out a desolate laughter before turning around and walking into the theater.
“Where are you going?” Shi Zhong Tang shouted from behind, “The firefighters are almost here!”
He was too late. The back view of Boss Qu had already disappeared into the sea of flames, Shi Zhong Tang sighed helplessly. Just as he was about to go in after him, the voice of a teenage girl suddenly rang out behind him, “Mama!”
He looked back and saw a teenage Ning Ning rush into Ning Yu Ren’s arms.
“Ning Ning.” Ning Yu Ren knelt on the floor, tears were streaming down her face ceaselessly as she hugged the other. It was only a while later that she looked up to the middle-aged man in front of her. “Thank you! Thank you so much! I only have this daughter, she is my life!”
“No need, no need.” The middle-aged man frantically waved his hands. Beside him stood a fat woman who was holding the girl named Xiao Lin, smiling at Ning Yu Ren. “Disasters bring people together. My child was also rescued by someone else, there are so many good people in this world… Ah, the firefighters are here!”
The crowd quickly gave way, the firefighters rushed in one after another.
Not long after, the remaining people had been rescued. Besides the one person who had died on the spot, the three others who had been heavily injured were sent to the hospital with their loved ones accompanying them. Shi Zhong Tang, on the other hand, walked to the entrance, because he knew that there was one person who was definitely impossible to rescue.
The movie theater that was previously so majestic and splendorous was now just a pitch black room, a wreckage.
Shi Zhong Tang found a bundle of tapes in the midst of this wreckage.
The tapes were close to being completely burnt up, a snow white mask quietly laid among the black ashes, the mask had a few cracks from being burnt.
“I could not find her.” Boss Qu’s voice suddenly rang out behind the mask, sounding quite frail.
“She’s fine now,” Shi Zhong Tang slowly bent down, “someone had saved her.”
Boss Qu breathed a sigh of relief, then he chuckled. “Why did no one save Ning’er? Is it really true that good things happen to those who do good things and bad things happen to evil doers?”
Shi Zhong Tang fell silent, he did not know how to answer him.
“Shi Zhong Tang,” Boss Qu also fell silent for a moment, then he said dully, “congratulations, I’m about to die, your wish can come true now.”
Shi Zhong Tang was taken aback, he laughed bitterly. “I only wanted you to lose, I didn’t want you to die.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Boss Qu said, “I’ll make my will here. I’ll leave Ning Ning to you, you have to treat her well, tell her… Forget it, you don’t have to tell her anything.”
“We’ve already reached this juncture in time.” Shi Zhong Tang urged, “What do you want me to convey?”
The mask did not make any sound for a long time. Just as Shi Zhong Tang thought the other had died, he slowly said, “…There’s a shop that sells masks across the theater, go there and buy one, then tell her…”
His voice was getting quieter and quieter, smaller and smaller, Shi Zhong Tang could only hear clearly by bending down to the ground, putting his ear up to the mask.
“Alright,” Boss Qu said, “leave, I don’t want a fellow like you to see me off.”
Shi Zhong Tang got up as he laughed bitterly. Just as he took a few steps, a voice rang out behind him, “Hold on.”
He looked back and looked at the mask on the floor.
Smoke rose from the mask, Boss Qu’s voice was lighter and further away than the smoke, he said, “If I were to choose again, I would not have chosen to be the doorman. That way, there might have been a way to save Ning’er… You should be careful too. I don’t know why, but sometimes Life Theater would mislead us, make us take… the path that goes against… our true wish…”
Within Life Theater.
Ning Ning was arguing with the man. Or more accurately, she was arguing with herself, the man did not pay her any heed at all. Ning Ning’s mouth was almost dry from talking. Just as she was about to give up, the man suddenly said, “Congratulations, you passed the first test.”
Ning Ning was stunned, “What did I do? Or what did I say? How did I pass the test?”
“The first test,” the man corrected, “you have satisfied the prerequisite of being the owner—you have to be a living person.”
Ning Ning furrowed her brows, she did not understand what he said. “I have been alive all this while.”
The man laughed, he did not explain anything to her, he said instead, “Next is the second test, also the most important test—I want a new doorman.”
A new doorman.
“Then…what about the old doorman?” Ning Ning asked.
The man asked as he laughed, “What do you think?”
Ning Ning stared at the darkness within the screen for half an instant, before abruptly taking out her phone and walking towards the entrance as she made a call.
The phone rang for a very long time before it finally connected.
“Why is it so noisy over your side?” Ning Ning frowned. “What happened?”
The noise of people, police cars, ambulances—Chen Shuang He’s voice was mixed into this noise, it was hard to make out what he was saying. He said, “The theater just caught fire.”
“Caught fire? Are you alright?” Ning Ning asked anxiously, “Was anyone hurt?”
Chen Shuang He hesitated for a moment, “Most of the people are fine, a few people are not…”
Ning Ning stopped in her tracks, she looked at the man in front of her.
Under the setting sun, a blood red sun, Shi Zhong Tang slowly walked over from across the street. After standing still in front of her, he took out a mask from behind him and handed it over to her.
Ning Ning looked down at the mask.
It was a cheap, ten-dollar-a-piece, spotless snow white mask.
“We won.” Shi Zhong Tang said, “As punishment, he turned into this.”
Ning Ning hung up on the call. She slowly reached out and grabbed the mask.
“He was very angry,” Shi Zhong Tang continued to report what Boss Qu said, “he said that the next time he turns back into a masked person, he would definitely not be soft again. If the two of us were to stop him again, he would kill both of us as well.”
Ning Ning was shocked. “He really said that?”
“Yes.” After Shi Zhong Tang finished speaking, he could not help but add a few words, “Maybe he was just saying it…”
The both of them fell silent for a moment. Shi Zhong Tang was the one who broke the silence at last, “Let’s go, we should go to the projector room…let’s hang him up together.”
Without allowing any explanation, he held Ning Ning’s hand all the way to the projector room. They found a space amidst the wall full of masks, he then let Ning Ning hang up the mask herself.
Ning Ning had her back to Shi Zhong Tang, he could not see her expression at this moment.
“He’s still alive, right?” Ning Ning asked.
“That’s right.” Shi Zhong Tang lied, “He can see you, hear you, he just can’t speak.”
“Then can I come here frequently in the future to talk to him?” As Ning Ning finished speaking, she dropped her shoulders dejectedly. “Oh, I forgot. I don’t have any more tickets… Can you talk to him often for me?”
“Alright.” Shi Zhong Tang hugged her from behind. “I will come frequently to accompany him, I’ll tell more jokes to this old man.”
The two of them cuddled up with each other until Ning Ning’s body gradually transformed, gradually turning from Zhao Yu Fen’s body to her original body.
“I’m much better now.” Ning Ning sniffled and said, “Let’s go out.”
The two of them walked out of the projector room, Ning Ning looked at the scenery in front of her and was astonished.
The audience seats were deserted, popcorn boxes and the burnt out sparklers were scattered on the floor, there were still a few colourful balloons floating in the air. Everything was there, except for one thing…
“Where are the masked people?” Ning Ning turned her head to look at Shi Zhong Tang.
“They should have all left,” Shi Zhong Tang said blandly, “there is no more Doorman after all.”
Ning Ning was shocked, she walked out of the entrance of the theater frantically. The rain had stopped, there were already pedestrians walking on the streets, they seemed to be returning from supper. Some pedestrians walked in front of Ning Ning as they talked and laughed, one of them turned their head and looked at Ning Ning, their face was covered by a crying mask.
Ning Ning took a step back in shock, she bumped into a firm chest.
She looked at and saw Shi Zhong Tang who was also wearing a mask, looking down at her and smiling. “There is no one who could stop us anymore.”
The crying mask in front of her took a glance at them before quickly turning their head back and following the pedestrians. Ning Ning watched them from the back, they most probably didn’t know that there was one more person beside them at all.
Under the moonlight, the crowd of the laughing people, the shadows that were swaying on the ground…in their wake, there was an extra shadow. It signified one thing.
Between Life Theater and reality, the final boundary had disappeared.