A Boundary that cannot be Crossed
“Haha, isn’t it here now?” The village chief broke free from the hands of his two sons, limping as he ran a few steps forward. His snow white hair was scattered in the wind, the corners of his mouth cracked outwards. He abruptly turned towards the crowd, his right hand pointing to the front as he madly roared, “This is what you all wanted! This is ‘Life Opera House’!”
After a moment of silence, one leg moved, followed by another, followed further by a rumble of footsteps.
“Don’t block the way!” The grand lottery winner who was running at the front waved his hand around.
Ning Ning and Ning Yu Ren frantically got out of the way. They were forced to the corner of the stage by the crowd that was on the fringe of madness, holding each other up as they watched the crowd run one by one towards the theater that was sited in the deep parts of the fog. With a creak, the sound of an opening door rang out, like a hungry beast opening its mouth.
The figures disappeared into that mouth one by one.
“Quickly, quickly.” The village chief was directing people at the entrance, he waved one of his hands with all his might, so excited that his face turned red. “All of you, go in! All of you, get in! You will know who to believe once you are inside, go in! There is wealth and power in there, as long as one family member enters, their descendants can all have endless benefits! Hold on…hold on!”
He reached out to block his younger son, he asked with an astonished and frantic expression, “What are you going in there for?”
His younger son was flushed, he was a little embarrassed. He glanced at the movie theater, then at the village chief, smiling in an attempt to please his father. “Dad, let me go in, no one in our family has gone in before… Let me go in, I’ll make you and Big Brother rich, alright?”
The village chief was about to say something when another figure rushed past him.
It was his elder son.
“Stop, come back!” The village chief frantically tried to pull him back, but he failed. His elder son disappeared into the fog, his younger son whom he had been holding back then took this chance to get out of his grasp and ran into the fog.
The situation had spiralled out of control.
Not only the outsiders, with the two of them leading the way, the villagers also rushed in.
The chance to change the fate of a person, a family, how many people could resist a temptation like that?
…Everyone remembered the benefits the movie theater could give them, but they didn’t remember the kind of price they had to pay…
“Come back! Quickly come back! You can’t go in there!” The village chief shouted alone at the entrance.
His voice carried into the fog, what answered him was a loud sound—the entrance had closed down.
“Ah…ah…” The village chief legs gave out and he knelt down on the ground, clawing his face with both his hands, picking and pulling at the wrinkles on his forehead and murmuring, “What have I done…”
Clop, clop, clop…
He turned his head and looked at the person that was standing beside him. He slowly looked up and mumbled, “Ning Qing…”
Ning Qing picked up the owner’s mask from the ground and said, “Beautifully done.”
Afterwards, Ning Qing started laughing, his laughter got louder and louder, it got more and more maniacal, “Hahahaha!!!”
His laughter stopped abruptly, he turned around.
Ning Yu Ren stood in front of Ning Ning reflexively. It didn’t matter that she suspected that the current Ning Ning was not her real daughter, but a certain audience member that had transmigrated into her daughter’s body through the movie theater.
Ning Qing walked towards the two of them. He stopped in front of them, reaching out with the mask in hand.
“What are you trying to do?” Ning Yu Ren asked cautiously.
“Do you know where this thing comes from?” Ning Qing waved the mask up and down, shaking off the rainwater. “It was originally a box, a box which held stuff…guess what it was meant to hold?”
Ning Yu Ren looked down at the mask, then looked up at him. “…Life Theater?”
“That’s right.” Ning Qing sighed deeply. “The owner from the past could bring the movie theater—in other words, the opera house—with him, it was because he had the box that held the opera house. Later on, the owner was murdered, the box was also torn apart, a portion of it was used as material for a mask, it was carved onto this mask.”
As he finished, he reached out with the mask again.
Not only did Ning Yu Ren not take the mask, she opened up her arms instead to protect Ning Ning who was behind her.
“How did you know all these?” Ning Ning questioned Ning Qing behind her.
He knew a bit too much.
What the village chief did not know, what Mama did not know, even the things a lot of masked people did not know, how did he know?
Ning Ning hesitated for a moment before she asked, “Are you really…grandfather?”
“Is it…really you?””
Both Ning Ning and Ning Qing looked over at the same time. Cui Hong Mei stood a short distance away, looking straight over at them.
The village that was originally bustling from the ancestor worship ceremony was now in silence. The banquet that was full of food and drinks was now just a table full of wine glasses, glasses upon glasses with no one drinking from them. The seats that were originally filled to its capacity, were now completely empty, not an audience member remained. The stage only had a few people left on it–Ning Ning, Ning Yu Ren, the village chief, Li Bo Yue, Wen Yu…
As well as Cui Hong Mei and Ning Qing.
They looked at each other gently, the young man with a head full of black hair laughed and called out, “Little Plum Blossom1.”
The old woman with wrinkles on her face and white hair was stunned, then could not help but run towards him.
Crossing the boundary that could not be crossed, the two of them hugged each other, white hair cuddling up with black hair.
Watching this scene, Ning Ning could not help but have doubts.
Was she overthinking it?
Maybe he was not something the movie theater made up but was her actual grandfather? After all, she might not recognise her grandfather, but her grandmother would recognise him, right?
The two of them hugged for a while. Cui Hong Mei raised her hand in an attempt to take off the mask on Ning Qing’s face, but Ning Qing held her wrist and gently shook his head.
“It’s time for me to go.” He said, then he stopped hugging her. “Go back, don’t follow me.”
“Where are you going?” Cui Hong Mei looked at the movie theater behind him. “That place? Is it as they say…there’s wealth and power in there?”
Ning Qing shook his head with a smile. “There are only four things in that place—happiness, sorrow, anger, joy.”
After he said that, he pushed Cui Hong Mei away, turned around and walked into the fog. His voice rang out from a distance, “Life Theater, is actually not a place to fulfill a person’s dream, it’s collecting masks… Every mask actually represents a person’s life, be it happiness, be it sorrow, be it anger, be it joy.”
His voice disappeared into the fog.
The owner’s mask which symbolised rage was left in Cui Hong Mei’s hands.
Cui Hong Mei hugged the mask and looked at it for a little while. She abruptly turned her head to look at Ning Yu Ren, screaming, “Why are you not going in?”
Ning Yu Ren was taken aback, “I…”
“As long as one family member enters, their descendants can have endless benefits!” Cui Hong Mei repeated the words of the village chief, her eyes burning. “I don’t know which of them are telling the truth, but since there’s a place which could change your father’s fate, which could change my fate, why wouldn’t you go?”
“…What do you want me to do?”
Cui Hong Mei was usually very greedy. At this moment there were a lot of things she wanted in her heart—cars, houses, an inexhaustible amount of money. But when she opened her mouth, only one thing came out of it, “…Bring your father back.”
Ning Yu Ren closed her eyes painfully. “…I can’t do that.”
“…Why?” Cui Hong Mei said in shock, “This is not even something that’s very difficult, you have done things that were even more difficult, you turned from a little brat into a movie empress, what else can you not do? You…”
Her expression slowly twisted with rage, she screamed, “You can go in for your own sake, you can’t go in for our sake? How can you be that cold-blooded and unfilial?! If you won’t go, I will!”
“You can’t go in without a ticket! You’ll just die!”
“Then give me your ticket!”
Ning Yu Ren looked at her with a complicated expression, then shook her head.
Seeing that she could not get a ticket from her, Cui Hong Mei turned to look at Ning Ning, “You… Give me your ticket! Don’t be as cold-blooded as your mother!”
Ning Yu Ren raised her arms to stop Cui Hong Mei, then looked back at Ning Ning and said, “What are you waiting for? Enter the movie theater. You can end this movie once you go in and return to your own body.”
Ning Ning looked at her with an equally complicated expression. The other was using this method to confirm whether the person in front of her was her real daughter, or if she was an audience member from the movie theater.
There were many things she wanted to say, but now was not the time to have a heart-to-heart talk. Ning Ning rushed off the stage and held Wen Yu up, then under the surprised and relieved look of Ning Yu Ren, she helped him into the fog.
To have a little girl help a tall man walk was something that should be very strenuous.
But Ning Ning did not feel that at all.
He was very light.
“…When did you wake up?” She asked.
His right arm was on her shoulder, but he had been trying his best not to be a burden, holding up his body with great difficulty as he walked step by step. Wen Yu said, “I woke up a while ago. Apologies, I don’t have much strength in my body, I couldn’t be of much help.”
“It’s fine.” Ning Ning said.
The white fog rolled past beside them like the milky way.
“…You have been going through life like this?” Wen Yu asked abruptly.
“You have always been turning into characters one after another in the movie theater. Why? Was it to…hone your acting skills?”
Ning Ning thought about it, “It was like that in the beginning.”
Ning Ning looked at him. Was it an illusion? He was looking at her with an indescribably gentle and intimate expression.
“Afterwards, I discovered that I didn’t transmigrate into a movie, I was transmigrating into a certain person’s life instead.” Ning Ning murmured, “What I had been facing were not actors, each one of them were actual people, sometimes…I don’t know how I should face them.”
“Was it you?” Wen Yu stared at her and asked, “Zhang Xin Ai—the Zhang Xin Ai who called me for help?”
Ning Ning hesitated for a moment before she nodded.
“Ning Ning.” Wen Yu started to laugh. “In 1997, that little Ning Ning who held on to me and made me save someone with her.”
Ning Ning nodded again.
“Yun Lin.” Wen Yu smiled even more deeply. “The Teacher Yun Lin who told me that she had amnesia.”
Ning Ning nodded again, then said impatiently, “That’s enough, it was all me.”
“Including the You Ling who acted in <<The Person within the Painting>>?”
“Then…” Wen Yu was suddenly a little nervous, he took a deep breath, then gently and very carefully called out, as if he was afraid that his voice would wake him up from a good dream. “Aunt Xiao Ning?”
1The mei in Cui Hong Mei shares a same word with plum blossom(mei flower) in Chinese.