The Gradually Disappearing Man
Chen Shuang He suddenly shuddered as he looked at the man in front of him.
“Customer, please follow me.”
“…Hold on, you are not a customer.”
“Stowaway!! Hahaha, come quickly, everybody! Someone snuck in, someone finally snuck in!!”
Masked people swarmed over. The screen had a blood-coloured countdown timer. At the end of the countdown, a pair of eyes suddenly opened on the screen.
Like the headlights of a car suddenly lighting up in a dark night, two beams of white light shone on him, stinging Chen Shuang He’s eyes enough for him to close his eyes. Once he opened his eyes again, he had returned to the past.
“Is this a dream?” Chen Shuang He murmured as he slowly reached out a hand towards Shi Zhong Tang.
If it was a dream, his finger would pass through the mask in front of him, but it didn’t. His finger definitely touched the mask, a mildly warm yet cool feeling seeped into his finger.
Chen Shuang He immediately retracted his finger, looking at the other party with surprise and caution. “You’re real?”
A woman’s voice suddenly rang out behind him. Chen Shuang He abruptly turned his head around, a woman with long hair and a pale face was standing behind him, looking at him with a smile.
It was said that having fair skin would help make up for three flaws, but this woman was fair in a feeble way, a frail way, in such a way where she had no trace of vigour. She was like an outline of a person that was drawn on the wall with a pencil, if one were to casually erase her with an eraser, they would be able to easily erase her from the world.
“Mother…” Chen Shuang He murmured. He reached out to touch her face, his movement was so careful, he was afraid that his finger would pass through her face.
He touched it.
A pale, rough, dehydrated face.
“What’s wrong?” The woman in front of him—his mother, Chen Hui—asked with uncertainty, “Why are you crying?”
Chen Shuang He was stunned for a moment. He touched his cheek, it was wet with his tears.
“Poor child, it’s loneliness, right?” Chen Hui sighed. She hugged him and said, “Your father said he would bring us on a vacation today, but he went back on his word at the very last minute… Do you know why?”
She held Chen Shuang He’s hand as they walked downstairs. Even though it was a villa, the lighting was darker than a typical house. With one look at the surroundings, one could see that it was due to the fact that the curtains were all drawn. She brought Chen Shuang He to the sofa as they sat down together, then picked up a remote control and pointed it in front of her, pressing a button. The television turned on, Ning Yu Ren’s face appeared on the screen.
<<Sicilian Holiday>>, Ning Yu Ren and a foreign actor portrayed a foreign love story.
“It’s because of her.” Chen Hui stared at Ning Yu Ren as she talked to her son, “She has taken your father away again. Filming, filming, filming. After this one, there would still be the next one. With her around, your father will never return to our side.”
“Switch the television off.” Shi Zhong Tang told Chen Shuang He as he stood behind the sofa, “It’s enough to watch the television once in a while. Don’t indulge in it and treat the actress in the television as an imaginary enemy.”
Chen Shuang He glanced at him then asked, “Mother, is there someone else in the house today?”
“Who are you talking about?” Chen Hui turned back and took a look. Shi Zhong Tang was clearly standing in front of her, but she could not see him. She looked at her surroundings then smiled at Chen Shuang He. “There’s no one, don’t scare me. Alright, let’s watch the television together…what are you doing?”
The television was switched off. Chen Shuang He turned back and smiled at her. “Mother, since Father doesn’t want to go on vacation with you, I’ll go with you.”
Chen Hui cracked a smile. “But don’t you want to act?”
As a popular child star—furthermore, he was one of the rare ones whose looks did not deteriorate once he grew up, on the contrary, he was a child star who had grown better and better looking—the economy had been very good recently for Chen Shuang He. He had not even joined a film school officially, yet he had already taken on a few consecutive roles in a few shows. He had even accepted a role in a big time ancient film made up of veteran actors, acting as the young version of Qin Shi Huang1.
<<Qin Shi Huang>> was a film which held an extremely important place in Chen Shuang He’s life. Not only did it help in his transition from a child star to a bonafide actor, it also helped him forge friendships with the seniors he had acted with. His success in the future could not be had without the support of the seniors.
“…I don’t want to anymore.” Chen Shuang He held Chen Hui’s arm, gently leaning on her. “I’ll accompany you.”
Chen Hui had died on the day <<Qin Shi Huang>> finished shooting. She died by her lonesome on the sofa in the living room—without her husband, without her son—the only thing that accompanied her was the remote control in her hand and Ning Yu Ren in the television.
He did not want history to repeat itself.
“…But I don’t want to go out.” Chen Hui slowly turned her head and looked out of the window, her almost deathly still eyes had a trace of expectation. “What if your father comes back? There should be someone at home to wait for him.”
“…It’s because you have always been waiting for him that he doesn’t show up.” Chen Shuang He forcibly pulled her up from the sofa. “Let him wait for you once in a while!”
But even when she was on vacation, Chen Hui would still worry about the house. Going overseas would be out of the question. Even if they were going for a vacation domestically, she would not be willing to go anywhere slightly farther away, she would get fidgety after three days, urging Chen Shuang He to book return tickets.
This life persisted for half a year.
Then, Chen Hui fell ill.
“Go back. I want to go back.” She held onto Chen Shuang He’s hand while on the sickbed, unwilling to let go, using all her strength to urge him, “Quickly help me book return tickets.”
Chen Shuang He felt a wave of sadness. “There’s no one waiting for you at home, what are you going back for?”
It had been half a year. Director Chen had yet to give her a single call, she had been the one who called him, reporting her locations and her activities to him before he impatiently hung up on her.
“Do you know how to talk to women?” Shi Zhong Tang’s voice rang out behind him, he grinned cheekily. “Women are actually clear about everything in their hearts. She doesn’t need you to give her an explanation, all she needs is a little consolation.”
In this half a year, this man who claimed to be Shi Zhong Tang had been haunting him like a spirit. Chen Shuang He was used to him and had been treating him as if he were not there. As for the suggestions Shi Zhong Tang had been giving out in this half a year…due to the suspicion he had towards him and the theater, Chen Shuang He did not heed a single one.
“Why not…” Chen Shuang He told his mother who was lying on her sick bed, “Get divorced with Father.”
Chen Hui was startled for a moment, then she fell silent.
“Looks like she still has feelings for your father.” Shi Zhong Tang gave him another suggestion, “The reason a woman cannot forget their old flame is because they have yet to meet a new and better one… Before you persuade your mother to get a divorce, why not introduce her to a handsome man?”
“…Where’s the remote?” Chen Hui abruptly looked at her surroundings, her sight was fixed on the remote control on the table. “Give me the remote control.”
Chen Shuang He knew what she wanted to do. He did not want to hand the remote over to her, but she just rolled off her sick bed, crawling towards it. Having no choice, Chen Shuang He could only hand her the remote control.
Sure enough, she switched onto a channel which has Ning Yu Ren inside, then let out a long sigh. She laid sideways on the sickbed, looking at the other party in a daze. Her face that had been withering by the day contrasted with Ning Yu Ren’s beauty and charm.
“I’m so envious of her.” Chen Hui murmured.
“There’s nothing to be envious about.” Chen Shuang He said irritably, “She only dazzles on stage! She only has a junior high education, she is a single mother, the sole breadwinner for her family, there are still many more hardships that are unknown to outsiders!”
Chen Hui slowly turned her head and looked at him. “I’m willing to swap my life with hers.”
Chen Shuang He was dumbstruck.
“I’m willing to exchange my family background and education in exchange for her acting skills.” A line of tears streamed down the corner of Chen Hui’s eyes, wetting the pillow. “But even if I were to give all of these to her, I would not be able to swap my life with hers…it’s all up to you.”
“Up to me?” Chen Shuang He asked.
“Yes, it’s up to you.” Chen Hui reached out and touched his face, she said gently, “You’re different from me, you have acting skills. With regard to acting, you are a genius. So please, take it as your mother begging you, before I die…you have to make your father look us both straight in the eye.”
After going in a big circle, everything returned to the beginning in the end.
Previously, after Chen Hui died, Chen Shuang He vowed that he would definitely crush Ning Yu Ren with his acting skills so that Director Chen’s sight would return to him and his mother. Now, Chen Hui was still alive, but Chen Shuang He was back on his original path.
No, it didn’t count as the original path.
“What did you say?” Chen Shuang He held his phone and frowned, “I’ve been pushed back in line?”
“That’s right.” His manager laughed. “But it’s fine, if you can’t act in this movie, we can switch to something else. Autumn Entertainment is about to shoot an idol drama, <<You, My Childhood Sweetheart>>, the director thinks that your look is very suitable to be the male lead…”
<<You, My Childhood Sweetheart>>? He had never even heard of it, it was probably a bad show, or it was an ordinary idol drama that was forgotten by people once it ended, how could it compare to a classic like <<Qin Shi Huang>>? Chen Shuang He interrupted his manager, “Who is going to act as the young version of Qin Shi Huang in <<Qin Shi Huang>>?”
His manager fell silent for a moment before he said, “Qu Yan.”
Qu Yan? Who was that? Chen Shuang He thought for a long time but could not find this person from the deepest part of his memory. Was he an actor who had risen up while he was gone for half a year?
“…Actually, he was the person who had substituted for you, acting as the young version of Qin Shi Huang in the television version of <<Qin Shi Huang>>.” His manager explained, “He did quite well. Most importantly, the senior actors in the same show all liked him and recommended him for the movie version.”
Although Chen Shuang He felt that it was a pity, but this was an opportunity he had chosen to let go, he could not blame anyone. Thus, he said, “Then forget it. Help me keep a lookout for other opportunities. I heard that Director Shi has been making preparations for a gangster movie, help me inquire about the situation from the inside.”
He had acted in many movies and shows in his life, the roles that were worth acting were not many, the ones that would leave a deep impression on people were even more scarce. Good movies were always the ones you find, not the ones you seek. There were a few that he had to act in—number one was <<Qin Shi Huang>>, number two was <<Boundless Hell>>, number three was <<After Juliet’s Death>>.
<<Qin Shi Huang>> helped him shed the skin of a child star and established the foundations of his connections. <<Boundless Hell>> caused his talent to bloom, and become a genius acknowledged by the industry. <<After Juliet’s Death>> made everyone in the nation remember his name. This was the trilogy in Chen Shuang He’s life. One could say that without these three films, there would be no Chen Shuang He.
An actor’s accomplishment depended on the movie, a movie’s accomplishment also depended on the actor, they supplemented each other, neither could do without another.
But half a year later…
“What?” Chen Shuang He said angrily, “I’ve been pushed back in line again? What’s the reason?”
“There’s no helping it.” His manager said helplessly, “Qu Yan agreed to take this film.”
“But doesn’t Director Shi fancy me more?” Chen Shuang He said frantically.
“Director Shi does fancy you more…but the top brass of the company fancies Qu Yan.” His Manager started to advise him earnestly again, “This won’t do. We should just pick another movie, you shouldn’t be too picky. You have not acted in a single film in the past half a year, you can’t go on like this! You can’t continue to laze around like this!”
“Let me think about it…” Chen Shuang He replied with something perfunctory before hanging up.
The showerhead sprayed water continuously, the mirror in front of him was fogged up, one could only vaguely see the figure of a healthy youth. It was not like the pretty boy by the lakeside in Greek mythology, he looked like a hunter who was able to hunt tigers and leopards instead.
“I’m not being lazy.” Chen Shuang He let out a bitter laugh. “I was just…preparing for <<Boundless Hell.>>”
Half a year of effort was wasted, the lead actor was not him.
Even when he had wanted to lower himself and act in other roles that would be popular in the future, he would also be in low priority.
How could this be?
In the summer half a year later, Chen Shuang He walked alone in the streets. He did not wear sunglasses nor a facemask, but no one surrounded him, no one took out a pen and paper nor even undressed themselves to get him to sign on their bodies.
The pedestrians walked past him without a change in expression, no one had recognised him.
“Why?” Chen Shuang He could not help but murmur, “It has been but half a year…”
In that half a year, it was not that he did not act in anything, it was just that he could not land any good shows, any good roles. Why? He walked past the entrance of a movie theater. The entrance of the theater had a huge poster, on the poster were two big words <<Boundless Hell>>. A group of established actors along with a young face, it was the face of an extraordinarily handsome young man.
Chen Shuang He stopped in front of the poster, turning his head and staring at the young man.
A patron came out of the movie theater, they exclaimed when they walked past him. They stopped in their tracks and stared at him for a while, then said with a smile, “Bro, you kind of look like the male lead in that movie.”
Chen Shuang He smiled at him, his smile was extremely unsightly.
“Upon closer inspection.” That patron got closer, “It’s not just the demeanour, even your looks are similar. Haha, do you want to take part in an imitation show?”
“No.” Chen Shuang He walked past him in extreme embarrassment. He walked past flights and flights of posters. On them was a youth who had almost the same style, almost the same look as him, this youth named Qu Yan was silently replacing him.
Claiming the life that should have belonged to him.
The hot sun hung above his head, Chen Shuang He felt a spell of dizziness standing underneath it, he felt that he was out of breath and nauseous at the same time. He gave Director Chen a call.
After it rang a few times, the call connected.
“Father,” Chen Shuang He said, “Mother is critically ill.”
“Hmmm,” Director Chen asked calmly, “is there anything else?”
Chen Shuang He took a deep breath. “Are you not going to come back and visit her? She is holding on just to wait for your return.”
“I’m preparing for a new film.”
“<<After Juliet’s Death>> ah, have I not told you about it?” Director Chen thought for a moment before he laughed, “Oh, I think I really have not told you about it.”
He tightened his fist before loosening it again, Chen Shuang He asked, “Has the male lead been decided?”
“It has been decided.” Director Chen said, “Qu Yan.”
This name again! This man again…
“…Can you give me a chance?” Chen Shuang He acted calm as he said that, but two streams of tears were rolling down from his eyes. “Till now, I have not been able to act in a good show for Mother.”
The shot slowly pulled out. In the audience seat of Life Theater, Ning Ning watched the crying face on the screen.
The masked person beside her pinched on handfuls and handfuls of popcorn, their mouths could not eat, so they made a sound with their hands to express their happiness. The other masked people were also chatting away happily, treating the life that was being shown on screen as a comedy.
Ning Ning slowly looked down at the coat in her arms.
The coat belonged to Chen Shuang He, it was quite wet from being used to shelter her from the rain. She took out an odd-numbered designated ticket.
When one wanted to change the fate of another person, the movie theater would send them an odd-numbered designated ticket, to let them designate a certain character to transmigrate as.
“Ning Ning, you are a customer.” Ning Ning remembered what Shi Zhong Tang secretly told her before. He said, “You are different from the masked people, you can come in with the ticket at any time…you can choose to join any side.”
1Qin Shi Huang was the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China. Wiki Link