Today was yet another day of leading a befuddled existence in a drunken stupor.
Cui Hong Mei laid on her sofa, her fingertips pinching a stick of cigarette. She asked the young meat who was sitting beside her, “Why did you cut your hair?”
The young meat did not even look up as he continued to play ‘Honour of Kings’1. “Does it look good? This style has been trending recently.”
“Good my ass, it looks like a toilet cover.” Cui Hong Mei took out a few pieces of notes and threw them at him. “Quickly go fix it!”
“Okay, okay, okay.” The young meat put the notes in his pocket with one hand while he tapped on his phone repeatedly with the other. He grumbled, feeling unsatisfied, “Such an old-fashioned hairstyle, my friends laughed at me saying that I looked like someone from the seventies, I don’t even know what you like about it.”
Cui Hong Mei looked at him, she slowly blew out a puff of smoke.
Shallow, greedy, ignorant and incompetent.
If she were to try and point out something good about him, it would probably be that his side profile when he looked down looked extremely like Ning Qing.
With her true lover out of reach, she could at least keep someone who looked like him around her. She was already old, her memory was already beginning to deteriorate. If she didn’t do this, if she didn’t look at him, she was afraid that she would eventually forget what Ning Qing looked like.
But he was not him after all.
Cui Hong Mei sighed in her heart again. Just as she was about to put the cigarette between her fingers to her mouth, the sound of someone knocking on her door suddenly rang out—thump, thump, thump!
“Who is it?” Cui Hong Mei asked, but the only thing that answered her was a more frantic knocking.
Cui Hong Mei and the young meat exchanged a look, then she said, “Go take a look.”
“No, I’m not going.” The young meat immediately rejected her. He continued to hold the phone, the sound effects of a fierce battle rang out from the phone. “My next match has begun.”
What a useless person. Cui Hong Mei cursed in her heart, she went over to open the door herself.
Only a crack opened in the door before the other party squirmed in like an eel. He then immediately locked the door behind him and wiped the blood and sweat on his face, panting a little as he said to her, “Madam Cui, long time no see.”
“You, you…” Looking at the state he was in, Cui Hong Mei regretted opening the door. She scanned him for a moment before she cautiously asked, “Who are you?”
Wen Yu was stunned for a moment, then said with a bitter laugh, “I forgot, the two of us don’t know each other yet.”
“…” Cui Hong Mei’s eyes glistened more, what did he mean by ‘don’t know each other yet’? This fellow looked like he was putting on airs, but he was actually insane.
The knocking sounds were still ringing out repeatedly, it didn’t sound like a single person was knocking, it sounded like a few people were punching and kicking the door.
Wen Yu glanced back, then said to Cui Hong Mei, “There’s not much time, can I please borrow something from you?”
“I don’t have money!” Cui Hong Mei said reflexively.
“Please lend me the owner’s mask.” Wen Yu reached out and pressed on her shoulder.
Cui Hong Mei took two steps back from getting pushed by him. She twisted her shoulder free from his hands all of a sudden and quickly ran back to the door. She opened a crack in the door before she quickly closed it shut again, the knocking from outside stopped for a moment before it rang out again.
Cui Hong Mei Leaned on the door, her face turned a little pale, looking a little absent-minded. “There’s…no one outside.”
There was no one, but the knocking continued.
“Masked people,” Wen Yu said, “they are here to catch me.”
Masked people. Cui Hong Mei was taken aback. She had not heard of that phrase for a very very long time, when was the last time?
…It was the Ning Family Village ancestor worship ceremony.
Cui Hong Mei’s face darkened. “Why are they trying to catch you?”
“Because they don’t want me to save Ning Ning.” Wen Yu said seriously, “Because of the masked people, because of Life Theater, you have already lost a husband and a daughter. Do you want to lose the last of your loved ones too?”
“Ning Qing is my only loved one!” Cui Hong Mei said coldly. She turned her head abruptly to look at the young meat that was sneakily making a call, roaring, “No calling the police! Go and play your game!”
The young meat was so scared that his shoulder shrunk. He hung up the phone and went back to his room to play Honour of Kings.
“…Ning Yu Ren and Ning Ning are both my piggy banks, not my loved ones.” Cui Hong Mei took out a wooden box from her cabinet. She stuffed it into Wen Yu’s hands and said stiffly, “So go ahead if you want to save her, I will not be saving her.”
The box was opened. Fangs on all sides, ferocious and terrifying—the owner’s mask that had been sealed in the dust for a long time.
“Do you know how to use it?”
“I do.” Wen Yu said as he reached into the box to take the mask up. He took a deep breath and blew the dust off the owner’s mask.
Life Theater, its original name was Life Opera House.
It could grow or shrink. When it was small, it would be placed in a wooden box, the past owners would bring it along with them.
It was up until a certain owner’s death that the wooden box was split up into four pieces. The Ning Family village obtained one of the pieces, they created an elaborate owner mask out of it. Although a lot of its functions were lost, it at least had the most basic function—evocation, it was able to summon Life Theater from wherever it was located.
“The method to start it up is very simple, give it enough anger.” As Wen Yu finished speaking, he slowly put the mask on his face.
He didn’t know when it started, the people around him called him “Father” jokingly. They thought that the place he was most suited to be at was not the clinic, but a church.
He would ignore the enemy in front of him, he would not go up and kiss the lover in front of him either. He once had an ambiguous relationship with a woman, but in the end, the other party chose to back up, she said, “Sorry, I can’t be together with you. You make me feel…that I’m together with a statue of an angel in a church.”
Holy, cold, giving equal treatment to everyone.
…She was wrong. He was not an angel, he was but a mortal. If he loved a person deeply, he would still walk up and kiss the person. If he hated a person deeply, he would still rush up with rage and fists.
“You can hurt me, but you cannot hurt her…” The emotions that had welled up in his heart erupted like a volcano, shattering all the reservations and control he had. Wen Yu let out a long roar, “Big Brother!!!”
What responded to this roar was violent winds. With a whoosh, it blew opened all the windows, inexhaustible white fog rushed in.
Wen Yu who was wearing a mask looked over. All he saw was thick fog billowing outside the window, countless cars had stopped in a crooked manner on the road, countless pedestrians had screamed as they ran, countless windows were opened as heads peeked out of them.
“What happened? Why is there suddenly so much fog?”
“Look, what’s that?”
“Mama, the mask that uncle is wearing is so cute.”
The biggest difference between using the mask and using a movie ticket was that—for a short period of time, the boundary between the mortal realm and the movie theater would be extinguished.
Tonight, normal people could also see Life Theater, they could also see the figures in the thick fog.
After a slight shock, one of those figures walked out of the fog—Mr. Rabbit.
He walked up to a mother and daughter pair then bent down and smiled at the little girl. “Do you think the mask that Uncle is wearing is cute?”
The little girl hugged her mother’s leg, she nodded at him shyly.
“Do you want one?”
The little girl nodded again.
“Then come in.” Rabbit Mask suddenly grabbed the little girl’s hand. He laughed out loud as he ran towards the theater. “Uncle guarantees that after you go in, you would very quickly get an even cuter mask!”
“Wait! Where are you bringing my daughter?” The little girl’s mother chased after them frantically, the three of them rushed into the fog in a straight line. Amidst the vague fog, the sound of the doors opening rang out.
“Welcome!!” A dog mask jumped out in front of a couple, he saw that the two of them were holding movie tickets. “Are you going to the movies? I’ve already seen <<My Super Handsome Boyfriend>>? It’s not good at all. Why not come to our place? I guarantee…”
He started laughing, his laughter sounded even more suspicious amidst the fog. “What we’re screening now is definitely something you have never seen before. Come, come…”
Either by force or temptation, the masked people brought people to the movie theater one by one.
“You cannot go in!” Ning Ning shouted at the couple, but Shi Zhong Tang covered her mouth.
“Shhh.” He held her in his arms and shushed her quietly.
The hand that was pressing down on her slowly moved away, Ning Ning asked, “…Why are you doing this?”
“Compared to getting killed by masked people, isn’t it better to become one of us?” Shi Zhong Tang said with a trace of apologetic tone, “No matter how I thought about it, I could only think of such a compromise.”
“…” Ning Ning stared at him. Really?
“Really, I’ve tried my best.” Shi Zhong Tang sighed again. “I cannot stop everyone, I can’t watch them kill you, that’s even worse. This is the only way you can live. For them, after you become a masked person, you will have no reason to look for a doorman to guard yourself.”
…What he was saying sounded logical, but…
“…Then what are they doing?” Ning Ning looked at the masked people who were pulling customers in. “Don’t they just want me to become a masked person? Why are they dragging others in as well?”
“Because…isn’t it too lonely?”
“Not being able to be seen, not being able to be heard, relatives gradually getting old, gradually getting forgotten by our lover.”
Shi Zhong Tang laughed with a little desolation. “Just like how my movie screened twelve times, I fell in love with you twelve times, I lost you twelve times…Ning Ning, masked people are all very lonely, so…”
He slowly looked at his surroundings, the masked people around him who were trying their best to solicit customers, their happy laughter and cheerful voices masked the true expressions underneath their masks.
“…They won’t kill anyone anymore.” Shi Zhong Tang murmured, “If we were to kill, why not just turn everyone into masked people? Once that day arrives, there will be nothing to differentiate humans and masked people, time would also not be a barrier anymore…”
The more Ning Ning listened, the more her heart grew cold. She gazed at Shi Zhong Tang for half a moment before she suddenly let out a bitter laugh. “Someone else had also made the same speech…”
She Zhong Tang looked back with a smile, “Who was it?”
Ning Ning pursed her trembling lips, she said as she teared up abruptly. “The future…leader of the masked people.”
In the future, there was a lonely masked person.
No one knew what she had gone through, all they knew was that after <<Phantom of the Theater>> ended, she became the leader of the masked people.
Or maybe it could be said that the masked people acknowledged her philosophy. “We are not monsters, we are also humans. Humans get lonely, so we want to expand our group. Think of ways to turn everyone into a masked person. Once that day arrives, there will be nothing to differentiate humans and masked people, time would also not be a barrier anymore…”
A battle was fought, Earth fell to ruins.
Ning Ning didn’t want that kind of future, so she did not become the leader of the masked people.
But, the leader was still born.
1This is a popular mobile moba game in China. Wiki article