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The Opera House within the Fog

“The fourth act?” The village chief laughed. “There has never been a fourth act.”

Was that really the case?

“Ever since I was born, the villagers have been acting in front of me,” Ning Qing said by Ning Ning’s ear, “they don’t really like me or respect me, it was all just a facade…”

After a pause, he let out a deep laughter. “They raised me up high, so that later on I will fall further down.”

The fourth act existed, it had always existed.

The three other acts were done on stage, but only the fourth act was done in reality. Day and night, acting continuously, the actors were the Ning family, it was everyone in the village.

But what was it for?

Creating such a tragicomedy onscreen was for the sake of gaining the pity and tears of the audience, but what good would it be for them to do such a thing?

“Can you imagine? Everything around me was fake. The grandmother who sent me food everyday, the playmates who grew up with me, the village chief who raised me in my father’s stead… All of them suddenly changed during the ancestor worship ceremony. They hit me, scolded me and humiliated me. They even justified it, they said that they had fed me and raised me, pretended to treat me well, just for the sake of feeling less guilt when they had to do me in at the end of it.” Ning Qing mocked himself. “So how can there not be a fourth act? This is the fourth act, the act the villagers put up in front of me.”

Or one could say, the act they put up in front of us.

Behind the mask, Ning Ning’s eyes scanned across every face which was filled with desire.

If it wasn’t because grandmother had brought Mama out of the village with her to remarry an outsider on a whim, they might have continued with act four—generations upon generations, repeating the same scenario, ending up with the same outcome.

“There wasn’t even enmity between us, why did they have to do that? Spending two decades, just for the sake of making fun of me? No, even if there were two people who were willing to spend that kind of time and effort, not everyone would be willing to do so, there must be some sort of reason for the villagers and outsiders to persevere.” Ning Qing laughed eerily. “After thinking about it thoroughly, there can only be one reason…”

It was deliberate.

They deliberately wanted to deal a blow to Ning Qing—to make him feel stupefied, to make him feel like his life was a joke, to make him fly into a rage.

The three-act performance of the ancestor worship ceremony was completely a smokescreen, it was for the sake of covering up the fourth act, covering up the real reason.

To offer the preposterous fourth act—to offer the protagonist whose life had been played with to Life Theater.

“What are you doing?” The former grand lottery winner shouted out. After a dreary thunder rumbled, it finally started to rain, he wiped off the rain from his face as he impatiently urged, “Begin quickly!”

Rain washed over Ning Ning’s body, washing over the darkness around her along with the white mask on her face.

“Don’t rush,” she said slowly, “decide now, which three of you will be going in later?”

The former grand lottery winner was surprised. He asked, “What do you mean three of us?”

“Life Theater will begin screening every day at exactly twelve at night. The film that will be screened is chosen at random, no one knows what movie will be screening tonight, all I know is…” Ning Ning looked around at the audience, “that only three among you could enter.”

The crowd immediately erupted in an uproar. The former grand lottery winner immediately rebuked, “Nonsense! How could only three enter?”

“Because from me, you could only get three tickets at most.” Her eyes from behind the mask shot a glance at the village chief. “Isn’t the ancestor worship ceremony every year for the sake of this? Torturing a person, it does not matter if they are surnamed Ning, as long as the person is in pain and despair, Life Theater would send that person three tickets in succession. And, only ones with a ticket could enter Life Theater.”

This was what Ning Ning understood from this ancestor worship ceremony.

Otherwise, why would this village torment a person like that? From the cautionary tale of Pei Xuan’s matter, Ning Ning’s first instinct was that they wanted to fish for tickets.

“There’s no such thing.” The village chief rebuked, he spoke firmly and righteously, “All of my ancestors have lived in this village, they had hosted the ancestor worship ceremony, I have never heard of what you just said. You just focus on opening the movie theater and let everyone  here enter.”

Ning Ning stared at him for a while.

That was strange, he didn’t look like he was lying.

“I have also never heard of what you said.” Ning Ning said slowly, she was equally firm and resolute, because she was not lying either, “You’ve seen the current situation. Using your method, there is not even a shadow of the movie theater, you can only use my method now.”

“How can you not know?” The village chief roared, then he was astonished, his voice weakened slightly, “How can you not know…”

Why would she know?

Ning Ning grew up outside the village, she had never acted in the fourth act.

What was used on Ning Qing could not be used on her, one could say that the situation had been completely reversed. The villagers were the ones who had acted for the Ning family in the past, now it was Ning Ning who was acting for them, to let them feel stupefied, to feel the pain and incandescent rage.

An angry man pushed the village chief to the ground. The bystanders hurried over and held him back. The man struggled as he roared, “Give me an explanation! Every year, you ask for money from me. Every year, I give you so much money. What did I get in the end?”

In the rain, the village chief sat on mud without saying a word.

“That’s right, give me an explanation.”

“I don’t want an explanation, where’s the ticket? Give me the ticket?”

“What kind of seniority do you have? Be it first come first serve or who has more seniority, it wouldn’t even be your turn.”

“Wait a minute. Everyone, wait a minute, we haven’t even seen the ticket, let’s not fight among ourselves! Be careful not to get tricked!”

“Speaking of which, who could prove that we can only enter with a ticket?”

“I can prove it.”

The chaos and noise suddenly stopped, the entire crowd looked over, their eyes fixed on Ning Yu  Ren.

“I can prove it.” Ning Yu Ren repeated herself, then slowly walked to Ning Ning’s side. She turned back and told the crowd, “Most of the people here might not know each other, but all of you know who I am.”

That was not a boast, she was just stating a fact.

As a generational movie empress—furthermore, she was the currently popular movie empress who had yet to retire from show business—she would be present at any place with a television. Even people who didn’t watch television would also hear about her from the people around them.

“I made my debut very late in my career, I also got popular very late in my career, but I was seemingly an overnight hit, don’t you all find it strange? How could anyone change so much in the span of one night?” Ning Yu Ren answered her own question, “Because like some of you here, like some of your elders, I have also been to Life Theater. Moreover, I have entered it more than once.”

Just as Ning Yu Ren had said, one could infer that among the people who had returned to the village from the outside world—some of them were getting on their years, some of them were still young—they might have actually been to Life Theater, but most of them probably had never been as the ancestor worship ceremony had not been held for a very long time. However, a certain direct relative of theirs might have been into the theater, which caused them to be affected by the legacy that was left behind.

“The reason the village chief didn’t pick me, the reason why I could not be the owner is also very simple.” Ning Yu Ren mocked herself. “You could get three tickets from Ning Ning, but as for me, you could probably only get one ticket…adding up to a total of four tickets. Although it cannot satisfy everyone, at least four of you can enter, right? We have tickets, we know where the movie theater is, we can bring you there.”

Ning Yu Ren spoke from personal experience. Some of the crowd believed it, some didn’t, however, there was also someone who impulsively said, “Why go through all that trouble? Do as I say, just kill her…”

“What if we kill her and the movie theater still doesn’t appear?”

“Whoever suggested it should do it. Anyway, I won’t be the one to do it, I don’t want to become a criminal and be on the run without going into the movie theater.”

“Why are you all looking at me? Don’t count on me to do it! You don’t want to become a fugitive, do you think I want to?”

If there were no other choice, someone would have taken the risk.

But now that there was a choice, furthermore, there were three choices—after all, there would be three tickets, wouldn’t there?

A ray of hope was in front of them, who amongst them would be willing to become a murderer under the watchful eyes of the crowd? Everyone would share the benefits, but the person alone would have to bear the consequences. Thus, before the ticket had even appeared, each of them had already started fighting among themselves as their faces started to flush warmly.

“Stop, everyone stop.” The village chief had been  seated on the ground, his two sons helped him up from each side. He stood up with difficulty and started reprimanding them, but not a single person was willing to listen to him. He turned around and told the locals, “Stop watching, quickly go and stop them.”

One of them took a few steps forward, but upon seeing that the people around them did not move, they retreated back.

“Village Chief, just forget it.” One of them spoke out of kindness, “They are the rich people of the village, why should we offend them?”

The village chief looked at them silently. Where did the unquestionable power his ancestors told him about come from? It came from the ancestor worship ceremony, it came from the Life Theater that would appear during the ancestor worship ceremony. However, when the theater didn’t appear, this power would also crumble.

The villagers looked at the old fogey with pity, one of them started speaking hesitantly, “Village Chief, both of us will definitely die in this village in our old age, but the others, they have children who want to leave the village, they want to carve a path for themselves outside, they can only rely on these rich people, right?”

They changed, they had changed. The village chief looked at them, feeling a wave of desolation and despair in his heart. He shook his head and said, “How can you believe her and not me? They are swindlers, both mother and daughter are swindlers. There is no fourth act at all, there is also no such thing as tickets—Ticket…”

A piece of ticket floated down in front of him.

His eyes followed the ticket to the ground. He watched it gently float to the ground, floating on a small puddle.

A thin yellow paper. On the left was a round stamp, within the stamp was the phrase ‘Admission Ticket’. On the right was a rectangular frame, within the frame was the phrase ‘Life Theater’.

The world fell silent in an instant, the sound of people, rain, they had all disappeared.

The village chief looked down and fixed his eyes on that ticket, murmuring, “Impossible, impossible…”

“Look,” a devil-like voice rang out behind him, it was Ning Ning, “that is a Life Theater ticket.”

He looked back. He glared at her and was about to rebuke her, but a person pounced him, then a second one, a third one…

“Don’t snatch! I got it first!”

“Hey, are we queuing up to buy buns? Why are you talking about first come first serve?”

“All of you get lost! The person who donates the most to this village every year is me. If there’s a ticket, it should belong to me!”

Seeing is believing.

No one even knew where the ticket came from.

But they knew one thing—the one person who was least likely to team up with Ning Ning to lie to them was the village chief.

So, on the matter of the ticket suddenly appearing in front of the village chief—the one who did not believe what Ning Ning said the most—they started to believe that it was most probably as Ning Ning had described: “Torturing a person, it does not matter if they are surnamed Ning, as long as the person is in pain and despair, Life Theater would send that person three tickets in succession.“

The people were crowding around the small puddle. Those who couldn’t get close to the puddle went up to the village chief, shaking his shoulders and shouting at him, wishing that he would immediately spit out the two remaining tickets.

“Ha, dog eats dog.” Ning Yu Ren laughed coldly as she watched the events unfold from afar. She turned and looked at Ning Ning, staring at her without blinking for a very long time before she said blandly, “You’re not Ning Ning, right? Who are you? …What’s going with you?”

Ning Ning did not know what Mama saw on her face.

She only felt that her face was very hot.

From when the villagers had begun to fight, her face started to feel hot.

…No, it was the mask that started to feel hot.

Ning Ning tore the mask off with one fell swoop. The part of her hand which had touched the mask felt like they were on fire, she loosened her grip from being burnt. The mask fell to the ground, rain was falling on top of it, turning to steam as they sizzled on contact. White smoke filled the air, it grew bigger and bigger, thicker and thicker, until it gradually became a white fog, enveloping everyone in the village.

“Everyone, look, what’s that?” Someone suddenly shouted.

The fog appeared too strangely, it was weird and enormous.

Within it, Ning Ning and Ning Yu Ren couldn’t help but hug each other tightly, both of their hearts were thumping. Hearing the shouts of that person, Ning Ning looked in the direction of the sound, but the fog was too thick, she could not see the person’s looks clearly at all. All she could see was within the extent of the white fog. One by one, the black shadows turned their head and looked in her direction.

They looked at what was behind her.

Ning Ning slowly looked back.

The fog of steam billowed, rolling in like clouds, the two lanterns in front of the entrance swayed to the right along with the thick fog. The lanterns illuminated a tall building, an old-fashioned movie theater.

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