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The Person Within the Painting

“Who are you exacting revenge on?” Ning Ning stared at him. “No matter if it’s Chen Jun Yan or Li Xiu Lan, they are dead…but we are still alive!”

“Ha!” Boss Qu let out a mocking laugh. He looked down at his hands. “Does this count as living?”

Ning Ning could not answer.

“…You don’t need to say anymore.” He slowly raised his head, his eyes were burning with the fires of vengeance. “They might be dead, but their descendants are still around. I will wait for their arrival, I will get my revenge! No one will stop me!”

“But…” Ning Ning reached out to him.

“You can’t stop me either!” Boss Qu shouted at her. He was the first to flinch after shouting at her, he said helplessly, “Sorry, Papa didn’t mean to scare you…”

“Papa…” Ning Ning took a step towards him.

He was the one who frantically took a step back instead, reaching his hands out to stop her. “Stay away, stay away…”

He calmed down after much difficulty. He looked up, then with the cold voice and attitude that he showed when they first met, like a weathered guardian lion1, like a skeleton leftover from a burning corpse, he told her coldly, “I am not your father. Patron, the movie has ended, you should go home.”

Afterwards, he would not respond no matter how hard Ning Ning cried or begged.

Ning Ning could only impatiently leave while crying. She suddenly turned back and looked at him after taking a few steps.

“Papa…I am not your real daughter.” She said tearfully while choking, “But I was once Qu Ning’er. I was your daughter. I truly…truly treated you as my father. Perhaps that world was fake, but my feelings were true!”

Boss Qu’s eyes twitched, but he remained silent.

“I… I don’t even know what I can do.” She looked down at her hands and laughed bitterly. “I’m clumsy, I’m not smart, I don’t know any important figures, I don’t have any skills…”

She slowly gripped her hands, her soft and weak fingers coming together to form a powerful fist.

“…But I still want to give it a shot.” She looked up at him, “I want to try to…save you and Shi Tou Ge.”

In the end, she looked at him deeply, wiped her tears and left alone.

It was not until her back view completely vanished that Boss Qu started to tremble. Suddenly, he shouted loudly, turned around and viciously hammered the entrance of Life Theater.

His fist was so heavy that it was enough to kill a person with a single punch.

But when he hammered the entrance of Life Theater, it was like hitting the surface of water. It only created a ripple. Once it dissipated, the surface of the water reverted to a state of calmness.

The only thing that was not calm, was the person.

Ning Ning was sitting in the taxi on the way home. She took out her mobile phone and stared at the screen for a long time, before sending Wen Yu a text on WeChat: [Can I ask you a personal question?]

She breathed out after she sent the question and held her mobile phone to her chest. It was getting late, she wondered if he would see the text. Even if he did, who knew if he would be willing to reply to it.

Wen Yu replied in the next second.

Wen Yu: [What is it?]

Ning Ning wrote and rewrote the next text a few times before finally sending: [Is your brother really dead?]

This time, Wen Yu did not reply even after a long while.

She decided to depend on herself. Once she arrived at home, Ning Ning switched on her computer and started to search frantically for any news of Shi Zhong Tang. It was strange. Although the news reported that he committed suicide, it did not state how he actually killed himself. Some articles stated that he died by breathing in gas, others stated that he committed suicide for love.

The public was divided as to whom the object for his love was. Some people suggested that it could be his partner for his final movie, You Ling.

You Ling…

Ning Ning clicked on the name.

A video of an interview of You Ling when she was young popped out. The interview took place after <<The Person Within the Painting>> had started screening. Ning Ning skipped most of the video before stopping at a particular question from the host.

The host asked with a smile, “<<The Person Within the Painting>> was a huge success, it was dubbed the best movie with dual female leads in ten years. Be it the ruthlessness of Yan Hong Xiu or the elegance of Princess Ling Shan, they were equally memorable.”

You Ling answered with a smile, “Thank you.”

Host, “People were calling you a vase before this movie, haha, actually there’s nothing bad about being a vase, at least you can make a living relying on your appearance. I, too, feel happy looking at you. Alright, let’s return to the main topic, could you tell us how you have your breakthrough in acting to portray a classic character like Princess Ling Shan?”

You Ling, “I actually don’t know either.”

Not only was the host shocked, Ning Ning was also shocked.

The footage was blurry as the video was very old, but the puzzled look on You Ling’s face could be seen clearly. She said, “Actually I had been acting as per usual, but I suddenly had a feeling…it was like, like a feeling of receiving assistance from God, so I managed to act well.”

Host, “Can you be a bit specific? For example, how did you act in the final death scene?”

“Just like that.” You Ling gesticulated, but her gestures were vague, when she was asked for details she would just laugh. “Ah, I don’t remember the specifics clearly.”

The bullet chat2 was accusing her of acting dumb, innocent and cute. Ning Ning on the other hand looked at her blankly as she was sweating cold bullets.

Memories were beautiful, like those with Papa. Memories were bitter, like those with Shi Zhong Tang. But sometimes memories could be chilling, like those of You Ling.

Her situation reminded Ning Ning of some people—authors, artists and other ordinary people in life—who were abruptly inspired. As if God was giving them a helping hand, being able to write or draw a masterpiece they usually wouldn’t be able to, being able to do something they would usually absolutely would not be able to.

Within these people, exactly how many of them broke through because of inspiration? How many of them broke through because of accumulated experience? And how many of them were like You Ling? The bystanders said that she did it, she also strongly believed that she did it herself, but her memory of the specifics were blurry at best. She could not give a clear explanation even after trying to find words to do so for a long time. Finally, she could only sum it up with—it was like God had assisted me.

“…Phew…” Ning Ning could not help but lean back onto her chair. Ring, ring. Her mobile phone suddenly started ringing. She frantically took it out to take a look at who was calling her this late into the night.

The name on the screen gave her a shock.

Wen Yu.

The phone continued to ring for four more times before Ning Ning answered.

“Hello.” She said.

Wen Estate, study room.

Rows of bookshelves stood up against the walls, like silent guards protecting scrolls upon scrolls of secrets.

“Sorry for troubling you so late into the night.” Wen Yu held his mobile phone while standing in front of a bookshelf, his other hand was holding a sketchbook.

“It’s fine, it’s fine.” Ning Ning laughed, then she carefully asked him, “Do you have any business with me?”

“I do.” Wen Yu looked down at the sketchbook in his hand, looking at what was on it. “Are you free tomorrow?”

The next day, the restaurant.

It was the restaurant they were familiar with. It was still the same pianist from the other day, he was still playing the song from the other day <<You Flow in My Memory Forever>>—<<River Flows in You>>.

“Sorry.” Ning Ning sat on the sofa chair, her body sank into the softness of the chair. “For being late.”

“It’s fine.” Wen Yu still had the air of a marble angel. Lofty, awe-inspiring and inviolable. “Would you like a drink?”

“Lemon water, thank you.” Ning Ning ordered something different from him this time.

A glass of lemon water and milk were served.

Ning Ning took a sip from her glass and asked, “Why did you ask to meet?”

A sketchbook was presented in front of her.

Upon taking a look at the familiar sketchbook, Ning Ning’s eyelids twitched. She looked up at him. “And this is?”

“The question from last night.” Wen Yu looked at her and said blandly, “Ask me again.”

Ning Ning stared at him silently for a long time.

“Did your brother really die?” In the end, Wen Yu repeated the question himself. “I did not answer you, because I suddenly realised that I am not able to give you a clear answer.”

His voice deepened as he closed his eyes, “…This is really strange. This is such an important matter. Why is my memory so hazy whenever I try to recall it?”

“Maybe it’s because you were still young.” Ning Ning told him.

“I can still remember the exam questions from the time I was in elementary school, there is no reason for me to forget such an important matter.” Wen Yu looked up at her.

Ning Ning choked. She spun the glass in her hands silently before suddenly asking, “What do you remember?”

“I remember that my brother committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in a sealed room. He was smiling when his body was discovered. The smile on his face was very weird, I had never seen him smile that way. It looked like another person, like a mask that was forcefully put on. I did not dwell on it too much at first.” Wen Yu suddenly opened the sketchbook and turned it over to show Ning Ning. “Until I discovered this.”

On the old sketchbook, there were a few yellowed papers. Wen Yu’s sketches of the crew of <<The Person Within the Painting>> were on them.

The drawing of Ning Ning had yet to take form, the wisteria flowers and the pillars beside her were all outlined, peeking out from behind the pillar was an indistinct mask—a suspicious smiling mask.

“Ning Ning, you once asked me.” Wen Yu stared at her from behind the sketchbook, probing at her eyes, probing at every change in her expression. “You asked me, if anyone weird appeared in the crew at that time.”

Ning Ning shifted her vision from the book onto his face.

They looked into each other’s eyes, Wen Yu asked in a deep voice, “…Do you know something?”

Not good…

Wen Yu, “Do you know who this masked person is?”

Stop it…

Wen Yu suddenly threw down the sketchbook and slammed the table with his white gloved hands. He leaned forward and gazed at her deeply while asking, “Where is this masked person now? How do I find him?”

Ning Ning stared at him blankly, because the way he was looking at her now was too cold.

Because the way he was looking at her now was too much like his brother.

People with such eyes would definitely search fervently for that place, that place would also take notice of them.

…Life Theater…

1Chinese or Imperial guardian lions are a traditional Chinese architectural ornament.

2Bullet Chatting refers to comments or an annotation floating over the video in certain way at a specific point of time of the video. For example,

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6 thoughts on “ITTMB 55”

  1. The Life Theatre is less of a boon to struggling actors and more of a hungry, metaphysical monster of a liminal space. Constantly seeking out new victims to take in and devour whole. :((

  2. I always wondered what would happen to the characters while Ning Ning was inside them. This chapter cleared that up.

    I think Wen Yu should team up with Ning Ning and try to free them. Ning Ning is almost out of chances. If she dies, no one can save SZT 🙁

  3. At this point I’m not even expecting a good ending. A HE more less.
    As I read on, the more I try not to be ‘feeling’ bc I can not handle a sad and tragic ending.

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