A Chinese (Boy) Ghost Story1
Because the person who answered Madam Qin’s call was Wen Yu, the person who entered the crime scene was also Wen Yu. Ning Ning was just accompanying outside, so her testimony was done very quickly.
She went home and rested for the night. The next day, she went to the set to finish filming the rest of the show. As she was sitting down while getting her makeup taken off, a WeChat notification suddenly went off. Ning Ning picked up her phone and took a look, it was a message from Wen Yu. There was a link in it, tapping on it opened a video of an interview.
Cui Hong Mei was taking an interview.
“When all of you look at Ning Ning, you can only see the brilliance on the outside. Let me tell you, that’s all but the packaging her management company gave her. What she’s like in reality, only I—her grandmother—knows.” In front of the camera, Cui Hong Mei held a cigarette in her hand, the right corner of her mouth was curled upwards, showing a sarcastic ridicule from her bones.
Ning Ning furrowed her brows.
Was history about to repeat itself? She thought.
Mama had also experienced something similar. While her career was on the up and up, Cui Hong Mei abruptly accepted an interview from a television station. In that interview, she lambasted her with all her might, saying that Ning Yu Ren was ungrateful and unfilial, that she was a cold and ruthless person.
The unfilial tag was then attached to Ning Yu Ren just like that, it created a huge impact on her career. It took the joint effort of her company and Director Chen to expose evidence of Cui Hong Mei’s excessive gambling, borrowing money along with having sugar babies, proving that the person in the wrong was not Ning Yu Ren, that Cui Hong Mei who had thrown the words ‘cold and ruthless’ was the true bloodsucker.
“But no matter how bad she is, she is still stronger than her mother.” Just as Ning Ning thought that she was about to meet the same fate as her mother, Cui Hong Mei suddenly switched her tone around, she started to lambaste Ning Yu Ren, “Ning Yu Ren is the one who is inhumane.”
The corner of the host’s mouth twitched, he wished he could sing “Don’t mention the past anymore, there are already a lot of storms in life”2. He forced a laughter. “We can talk about Ning Yu Ren later, let’s return to the main topic for today—Ning Ning!”
“Ning Ning?” Cui Hong Mei spat out a mouthful of smoke at the host, it suffocated the host to the point where he couldn’t stop coughing. She slowly turned her head to look at the screen and said, “Come to think of it, isn’t there a very popular topic recently? Invisible people.”
Ning Ning was taken aback. Strange, how did that topic come up?
“Recently, on Weibo, Baidu Post Bar and WeChat Moments3, aren’t there a lot of people talking about this? They say that there seems to be an invisible person around them.” The smile on Cui Hong Mei’s face was a little weird. “You all can ask Ning Ning about this, she had already encountered such a thing in the year o’twelve.”
The year o’twelve? Did she mean 2012? That was strange. What was she talking about? Why do I not have any recollection?
“Is what she’s saying true, Big Sis Ning?”
Ning Ning looked over and saw that the makeup artist was looking right at her, her eyes had a strange sparkle. “Actually, I also think that there is an extra person around me recently…I don’t know if it’s a misconception.”
“There’s no misconception,” Ning Ning looked behind her, “he’s right behind you.”
The makeup artist looked back frantically. Behind her was an empty space, not a single soul to be seen, she was so surprised that she broke out in cold sweat.
She looked back and saw that Ning Ning was laughing as she said, “I was just joking.”
The makeup breathed out a sigh of relief with some helplessness and grievances, she dragged out her voice, “Big Sis Ning…”
“My bad, my bad.” Ning Ning put her hands together, her vision shifted past her shoulder. “Ah, takeout is here.”
That was the snack that Ning Ning had ordered for the crew members, there were iced drinks and desserts. Everyone came over to grab a set, people would always accept gifts graciously, so naturally, everyone greeted her with a smile.
Only one person did not smile.
“Big Sis Ning, you’re leaving?” The makeup artist asked while biting a spoon and holding a slice of strawberry cake.
“Yes, I have matters to attend to, bye bye.” Ning Ning nodded at her, her vision swept past the unsmiling man standing behind the makeup artist. He was wearing a dog mask, forever stuck on his face. The mask covered all his emotions, no matter if he laughed or cried, no outsider would be able to see it.
“…Big Sis Ning.” The makeup artist seemed like she might have noticed where Ning Ning was looking at, or maybe she just wanted a peace of mind. She quietly got closer to Ning Ning, her eyes shifted from left to right, her vision gravitated to her back repeatedly. “Behind me…is there really no one…or anything weird?”
The dog mask looked up in response to her words, walking towards her but was stopped by Shi Zhong Tang who was pressing on his shoulder halfway.
“She’s not the only one that’s like this,” Shi Zhong Tang told him, “most of the people are like her. Although they had already discovered that there is an extra person around them, they still wish that it was a misconception, that the other party doesn’t exist.”
Although his face could not be seen behind the mask, Ning Ning seemed to be able to hear tiny whimpers, like a puppy that had been abandoned.
“…Please tell her,” the dog mask looked at Ning Ning, “say that I’m not around.”
“…There’s nothing.” Ning Ning told the makeup artist, “There’s nothing behind you at all.”
The makeup artist let out a long sigh of relief, a relaxed smile appeared on her face. The dog mask finally saw her smiling face. He drooped his shoulders, turned around and left, his back view looked like a dog that had been chased out of the house.
Ning Ning walked out of the set behind him. Along the way, she asked Shi Zhong Tang quietly, “Where is he going?”
“Where else?” Shi Zhong Tang looked at his back from a distance and said blandly, “If the world has no place for us, masked people can only return to one place.”
The phone rang abruptly, Ning Ning answered it, “Hello?”
“I just sent something to you, did you look at it?” Wen Yu’s voice rang out from the phone.
Ning Ning, “I watched it.”
After a small instant of silence, Wen Yu asked, “Was what your grandmother said true? Have you really met…an invisible person before?”
“…No, I haven’t.” Ning Ning thought for a moment, she decided to be honest with him. “In 2012, I was still a student, leading a life that was no different from the classmates around me. I ate the same thing they did, I watched the same movies they did, I had the same hairstyles they had.”
To put it plainly, she just followed along blindly and did not have much of a personality.
There were people like that all over the world, having one more or one less of her wouldn’t have made a difference.
“There was nothing special about me.” Ning Ning concluded, “I had also never encountered anything special.”
Indeed. At least in 2012, she was ordinary, had nothing special about her, never stepped into the theater, never seen a single masked person.
“Is that so…” Wen Yu pondered for a moment before he suddenly asked, “Are you free tonight?”
“What’s the matter?”
“Let’s watch a movie together.”
“What movie? Where are we watching it?”
The entrance of Life Theater, two lanterns hung by the sides, the handwriting of the poster on the wall was mottled. Wen Yu was standing by the entrance, his phone was placed on his ear as he told Ning Ning, “Life Theater.”
Eleven thirty at night, a Buick commercial vehicle was parked at the entrance of the theater. Ning Ning who could finally afford a car and stop taking taxis stepped out. She looked around her surroundings then walked up to Wen Yu.
“You’re here.” Wen Yu said as he took out two tickets and handed it to her.
She looked down at the Life Theater tickets in his hands. Ning Ning slowly looked up at him with a complicated expression. “Where did you get these tickets?”
“My patients gave them to me.” Wen Yu answered, “One of them is from Madam Qin, the other is from a person from your line of work. It was so coincidental, both of them said that there was an invisible person around them.”
Then they were both driven mad to the point where they received Life Theater tickets?
“These two people clearly don’t know each other, but they both mentioned the same location.” Wen Yu turned his head around and looked in the direction of the Theater, “The old theater at 35 Rouge Street.”
Ning Ning looked to where he was looking. The theater was also screening a new movie tonight, the poster with mottled handwriting was pasted by the entrance. Huh? Was she seeing things? The face on the poster, why did it look so familiar…
Ning Ning could not help but walk over and stare at the poster in front of her.
Title: A Chinese (Boy) Ghost Story
Starring: Ning Qing
The content of the poster were very lively.
A group of people were doing Nuo dance4 on a wooden stage.
They were all wearing masks and white clothes, looking like ghosts and humans at the same time as they circled around a man and girl in the centre of the stage.
Ning Ning stared hard at the girl in the poster, “Come here.”
Wen Yu walked up to her side.
“Look at this.” Ning Ning pointed at the girl at the centre of the stage that was being surrounded by masked people, she asked, “Does this person look like me?”
Wen Yu looked in the direction of the poster, then used a complicated expression to look at her.
“And Ning Qing…I say, why is that name so familiar?” Ning Ning stared at the man that was also surrounded on stage as she murmured, “Isn’t that my grandfather?”
Nuo dance? Grandfather? Her teenage self?
“Ah, I remember now.” It looked like a lightbulb lit up above Ning Ning’s head, “It was the incident in 2012…”
“2012?” Wen Yu was quite sensitive to this number.
“Yes.” Ning Ning answered, “In 2012, grandmother brought my mother and I to visit grandfather’s grave in the countryside. The village was doing the nuo dance at that point of time…that type of nuo dance was a specialty of that place, only the locals knew how to do it. It was also passed down from generations to generations, they were only willing to teach it to locals. Later on, their youngsters all left the village to work in other counties, they had no one to pass the nuo dance down to, it was eventually lost in time…”
As she spoke, she fell silent.
“Let’s go.” Wen Yu broke the silence. “Let’s go in and see what’s going on.”
“…I’ll just go in alone.” Ning Ning reached out to take the ticket out of his hand. “Come to think of it, this is my family’s personal matter.”
Wen Yu avoided her hand, then smiled at her as he shook his head.
“I’m the one who brought the tickets.” He was stubborn for once. “Either we go in together, or I go in alone.”
Letting him go alone? That put Ning Ning even less at ease.
“Alright then.” After thinking about it for a moment, she said helplessly, “Let’s go in together.”
Wen Yu gave her one of the tickets, then he turned his body sideways and gestured with his hand, “Ladies first.”
Ning Ning walked in front, he walked at the back, the two of them entered the theater together. In that moment, Ning Ning looked back. As she expected, she saw a shocked expression on his face—he looked like her in the beginning.
But even she was not shocked to this extent. He had such a dumbfounded expression, like he had watched something appear out of thin air, just like her first time transmigrating into a movie…
“Ha, the honest man was not honest, looks like the two of us seemed to have been made a fool by him.” Shi Zhong Tang laughed by Ning Ning’s side, then he walked up to Wen Yu.
The two brothers were within striking distance of each other, Shi Zhong Tang leaned forward with his face that had a jade mask on, asking as he looked Wen Yu in the eyes, “Little brother, can you really see me?”
1The direct translation of the title is “The ghost of a beautiful boy”(倩男幽魂), but it is a direct reference to the movie “A Chinese Ghost Story“(倩女幽魂) which actually directly translates to “The ghost of a beautiful girl”, the author changed the word girl to boy, that’s the reason for the awkward translation.
2This is actually lyrics from a song name Bygone Love.
3Moments is a function of the smartphone app WeChat, launched on 19 April 2012 in the WeChat version 4.0. It serves new social-networking functions for Wechat users. The Chinese translation of Moment is known as “Friends’ circle”, which means users can share and get access to accepted WeChat friends’ information, creating an intimate and private communicating circle within the users’ choice of close friends. Wiki article
4Nuo dancing, one of the most ancient arts and a necessary element in Nuo opera, has existed in Nanfeng, Jiangxi for over 2000 years. The movements of Nanfeng Nuo dancing are simple but powerful, retaining their ancient characters. Nanfeng Nuo dancing was even regarded as “The Active fossil of Chinese dancing Art”. Wiki article