Ning Ning usually woke up very early, but today she found out that someone was even earlier than her.
It was not only one person.
“What are all of you doing?” She asked when she saw that a crowd had gathered in the courtyard.
The crowd of people looked at her without saying anything with weird expressions.
Ning Ning locked eyes with them for a while then slowly turned her head. She realised that they were not looking at her, but at Wen Yu who was behind her.
Wen Yu ran over and hugged Ning Ning, then he looked down ahead of him, his vision going through the columns of legs, landing on the Socialite who was lying behind those legs, her face was covered with a red cloth? It was, in fact, not a red cloth, it was blood.
The doctor came, the police came, the reporters came. After a rowdy day passed by, the Director hammered the table and said, “We are about to start filming, why did such a thing happen!”
The Socialite died, the theater was sealed because of it. The cast and crew living in the theater were forced to move out, no one knew when they could move back in and restate it back into a filming location.
Chen Guan Chao looked awful. He leaned on the wall and lowered his head to smoke a cigarette. He suddenly looked up with a chilling expression. “This is not entirely a bad thing.”
The Director stared at him blankly. “In what sense?”
“You connect this incident with <<Phantom of the Opera>>.” Chen Guan Chao said blandly, “In <<Phantom of the Opera>>, the original lead female singer was almost smashed to death, it caused the appearance of the Phantom…isn’t that the same situation as what we are facing now?”
The Director looked at him in an extremely unfamiliar way. He finally said after a long time,” …She was your girlfriend, aren’t you even a little sad that this happened to her?”
“Of course I’m sad.” Chen Guan Chao said this, but his expression was very calm. “But what is most important now is <<Phantom of the Theater>>, my movie!”
Thus, during the period in which the theater was locked down, the popularity of <<Phantom of the Theater>> did not go down but actually went up instead. The newspapers continuously published news of the cast trying to hire a new supporting female role and of the bizarre murder at the same time. The major newspapers restrained themselves on what they published, the smaller newspapers on the other hand were fearless and wrote about anything and everything.
This news made Ning Ning who would be acting as the Phantom into a hot topic among people.
Especially when her poor relationship with the victim was dug out.
“A murderous actor? Interesting, let’s watch the movie when it gets released.” Was what a lot of people were saying and thinking, which was good for the movie, but what good did it do for Ning Ning?
People conformed to the majority’s view, a lot of things that were not true became true as more people said it. Could it be that after the movie was done, she would have to live the rest of her life with the title of murderer?
“Why did you do this?” Ning Ning trapped the origin of the rumours on a wall, she viciously hit his face with a newspaper.
Chen Guan Chao’s face was red from the beating but he was not angry. In fact, he turned around and smiled at her.
“You’ve changed.” He said while smiling, “The child named Wen Yu has changed you. You no longer have spirituality, you conform to people, completely unlike the Phantom!”
Ning Ning was stunned, she suddenly understood and looked at him inconceivably, “You…hoped that I would hate you?”
“Of course.” She had thought that she was thinking too much, in the end he actually answered seriously, “Not only do I hope that you would hate me, but also that you would hate Mu Rong, hate the Director, hate everyone here… like how you were back then. After all that is how the Phantom should be, am I wrong?”
“…Just for that?” Ning Ning felt that this person was unreasonable. “You did this just to make me return to sleeping in a coffin, eating cold meals, taking cold showers?”
Chen Guan Chao suddenly reached out and touched her face. His expression was so gentle, it even had a trace of zealotry, but these gentleness and zealotry were not for her, they were for the other person in her body.
“I know you feel very troubled by what the Director said. You don’t want to be a specialised actor, portraying a specific type of character all your life.” He said in a soft voice, like he was soothing a lover, “But a lot of people had acted as countless types of characters in their lives yet in the end they would not even have a (single) memorable character. But you are different. You can let people remember you…Use your hatred, use your phantom!”
Ning Ning pushed Chen Guan Chao away with both hands, they took a couple of steps back at the same time.
“It’s not like I have to act in this movie.” Ning Ning said, “If you cross the line, we could just go our separate ways.”
When she decided to stay in this movie, to take care of Wen Yu until he grew up safely, her choices had changed a lot. She could try her luck with another cast and crew, she could even look for a proper job, working from 9 to 5 everyday, making use of her free time to train herself, acting as the people around her, experiencing everyone’s “first love”.
“…You need money to raise a child right?” Chen Guan Chao shouted from behind her.
Ning Ning who was about to leave through the door stopped in her tracks.
“Not to mention that even if you leave now, the rumours outside will not stop.” Chen Guan Chao told her, “Why not stay here? Stay here and finish the movie. I will give you enough money to raise a child.”
Ning Ning slowly turned back. Chen Guan Chao was smiling behind her, a devilish smile borne by a person who was willing to sell his soul to the Devil for the sake of creating the movie he envisioned, for the sake of creating a character he had in mind.
“Don’t waste your effort doing something you are not good at, acting as something you are not good at.” Chen Guan Chao reached out a hand towards her with a complicated voice, as deceptive as his ancestor had been, “Devote your hate to my Phantom, to my movie.”
Ning Ning looked at him with a complicated expression for a long time. She did not immediately agree or disagree, she only left him with a sentence, “Let me consider it for a while.” Then she closed the door and left.
Chen Guan Chao tsk-ed in the room. He lowered his head and put a cigarette in his mouth. When he looked up, there was a person in front of him.
“Ah!” Chen Guan Chao was so scared by his sudden appearance he dropped his cigarette. “You scared me, why are you here?”
Wen Yu stood in front of him and looked at Chen Guan Chao from head to toe with his pitch black eyes. Wen Yu’s fair and delicate right hand was holding a piece of paper that was folded in half, it seemed to be a drawing.
Chen Guan Chao looked at his hand, “You have something you want to show me?”
Chen Guan Chao reached out to take the piece of paper, but Wen Yu hid the drawing behind him. His tiny eyebrows furrowed, he hesitated before he finally softly shook his head, then quickly turned around and ran out of the room.
“Weird kid.” Chen Guan Chao mumbled behind him, then locked the door to the room.
As the theater was still under lockdown, they were temporarily staying in a hotel beside it. Besides the cast and crew, there were also other hotel guests walking around. Wen Yu bumped into someone as he was turning a corner. He looked up at the person’s face and immediately wanted to run away, but the other party held his shoulder and stopped him.
“Wen Yu.” The Skinny Man looked at the drawing in Wen Yu’s hand, then looked up at the direction where Chen Guan Chao was at. “Did you let him see the drawing?”
Wen Yu softly shook his head.
“Did you let Wen Xiao Ning see?” The Skinny Man asked.
Wen Yu also shook his head.
The Skinny Man started to smile. “Then do you want me to show it to her?”
Wen Yu froze, then slowly and staunchly shook his head.
“Good boy.” The Skinny Man touched Wen Yu’s head, then took the drawing from Wen Yu’s hand and put it into his own pocket. He firmly held Wen Yu’s hand and said, “Come, follow me.”
“Hold it!” A female voice rang out from behind them. Ning Ning ran over and seized Wen Yu. “I have been looking for you for so long, what are you doing here?”
Ning Ning looked at the Skinny Man as if he was a child trafficker. The Skinny Man looked at her stupidly, then looked down at Wen Yu, “Make your choice. Follow her or me.”
Ning Ning looked in surprise as Wen Yu struggled to get free from her and ran towards the Skinny Man.
“Wen Yu.” Ning Ning grabbed him. “Where are you going?”
Wen Yu looked back at her with a very pitiful look, his tiny fingers curled up like the paw of a small animal grasping on her sleeve. After grasping it for a while, he forcefully tossed it aside.
Wen Yu looked down and took a couple of steps back towards the Skinny Man, his hands fumbling about his body, a voice rang out behind him, “Here.”
Wen Yu looked back, then slowly took the paper and pen from the Skinny Man. He scribbled a sentence on it and showed it to Ning Ning: ‘You are too poor, I don’t want you anymore.’
Ning Ning was a little stumped. She squatted in front of Wen Yu to see him eye to eye and seriously said, “I will work hard to earn money.”
Wen Yu continued writing: ‘You have no place to live in.’
“You can sleep in my arms.” Ning Ning opened her arms. “I am your bed and blanket.”
Wen Yu’s hands trembled very fiercely, his words were getting more and more illegible: ‘Your temper is absolutely terrible! I hate you!’
“I will change.” Ning Ning smiled at him gently. “I will become a very good person for your sake, I will become a person you like.”
Wen Yu stared at her blankly for a moment. He suddenly threw the pen and paper away and pushed Ning Ning with both hands. He continued to push and push, as if he wanted to push her out of his world, push her out of the place they were at then.
Ning Ning lost her focus and stumbled, she fell to the floor. Wen Yu turned around and ran towards the Skinny Man. He looked at Ning Ning for one last time before leaving out of the door while holding the Skinny Man’s hand.
“Wen Yu! Wen Yu!” Ning Ning shouted a few times from behind him. Wen Yu did not stop. Ning Ning was dumbstruck for a while. Following behind them, Cook Chen pulled her back after a few steps and told her in a low voice, “Isn’t this good? Let the little monster leave, everyone is afraid of him.”
Ning Ning struggled free and continued to walk forward. Someone pulled her back again after she had taken a few steps, she looked back and asked with a weird expression, “Ning Yu Ren, I cannot convince anyone else, but the three of us stay in the same room, shouldn’t you know very well what kind of person he is?”
Ning Yu Ren fell silent for a while before raising her head and said, “It’s because the three of us live in the same room that I’m telling you…just let him go.”
Ning Ning was stunned. “What do you mean?”
“That night…the night before that tragedy befell Mu Rong, I saw Wen Yu went out.” Ning Yu Ren told her in an extremely soft whisper, “He definitely did not go to the toilet, because he was away for too long. I have not told anyone else about this, I was afraid that it might bring trouble to both of you, but…Cook Chen is right. Let him go. Everyone is afraid of him, I am also afraid of him.”
Upon saying that she suddenly stared at Ning Ning, “How about you? Aren’t you even a little afraid?”
“Why would I be afraid of him?” Ning Ning laughed bitterly, “Looking at him reminds me of myself.”
The pain of getting wrapped up in rumours, the pain of being discriminated against by people, the pain of being unable to share his troubles, the pain of self-loathing, the pain of almost becoming a real monster…she understood them.
So she got free of Ning Yu Ren’s grasp once again and walked towards the two people. She shouted en Yu’s name in the beginning, but she eventually stopped, following behind them quietly like an old dog that had been abandoned by its little master but could not bear to leave him.
Winter had long come. Snow had continuously been falling, covering the streets in a layer of white. There were few people on the streets. As they walked, the street was eventually left with the Skinny Man, Wen Yu and Ning Ning. The three of them made crunching sounds as they walked on the snow-covered ground.
A cold wind blew, Ning Ning suddenly covered her mouth and coughed violently.
In front of her, Wen Yu’s footsteps came to a momentary pause, before he continued to walk.
“I don’t believe what they say.” Ning Ning shouted from behind them, “You are not a monster!”
Wen Yu’s footsteps slowed down slightly.
“So you don’t have to worry, nor be sad.” Ning Ning continued, “No matter how the world changes, at least I will stand by your side.”
After that delay, Wen Yu suddenly picked up the pace in an attempt to lose her, tossing Ning Ning’s voice far behind.
“Wen Yu! Little Wen Yu! Wen Yu little baby!” As she changed the way she addressed him, her voice became more humble, at the end she was almost begging him, “Come home with me!”
Wen Yu’s back view was indifferent, but if you looked from the front, you would have realised that he was bawling his eyes out.
Ning Ning was also crying. While she was crying, a piece of paper fell from the Skinny Man’s pocket. It twirled in the wind, and slapped her in the face with a loud smack.
That was a good slap. She thought, the world was always like this, just when she thought she had finally gained something, it would give her a loud slap.
She cried in the snow, then turned around and stumbled towards the direction of the hotel. She had no napkins on her, so she used the piece of paper in her hand to wipe her tears. It wasn’t enough so she opened the piece of paper with the intention of using the other side. “Eh?” Her eyes stared at the image, unmoving.
At this point, two people ran towards her. One of them was Chen Guan Chao, the other was Ning Yu Ren.
“Are you alright?” Chen Guan Chao ran over as fast as lightning, as if he had found a lost treasure. He looked at Ning Ning from head to toe a few times and breathed a sigh of relief after he confirmed that she was fine. “It’s good that you’re fine, that was too dangerous.”
“What happened?” Ning Ning looked at him with doubt.
“The police have found a witness.” Ning Yu Ren said. At the night of the incident, there was a man who scaled the wall and snuck into the courtyard. As of now he is suspected to be the real murderer.”
“The police sketch has been released, but it was only the back view. They asked if we had seen this person.” Chen Guan Chao handed the piece of paper over, “Look at who the person is.”
Ning Ning took the piece of paper from Chen Guan Chao. The drawing depicted a tall and skinny shadow climbing over the wall of the courtyard under the moonlight.
With one look, she quickly opened the other piece of paper in her hand. The paper with her tears and mucus on it had Wen Yu’s drawing. There was an overweight man in a chef’s outfit, his upper body was in a wok, his lower body was on the ground. Behind him stood a tall and skinny silhouette with both arms in a pushing motion.
When the two pieces of drawings were put together, when the two extremely similar silhouettes were put together, Ning Ning finally understood a lot of things.
She understood why the Language Teacher wanted her to look at the drawing.
She understood why the Language Teacher died after looking at the drawing.
She understood why the Skinny Man was so adamant in trying to take Wen Yu off her hands.
She understood why Wen Yu tried so hard to push her away.
The poster at the entrance of the theater appeared in her mind.
On the poster was a pitch black swamp, Wen Yu was standing in the middle of it. There were a lot of people around him, but all of them (just) watched as he sunk. He also did not ask for any help, silently and willingly letting himself sink.
An abandoned child—at the last moment, he could have asked for help, but in the end he gave up on himself for the sake of letting another person live.
“Wen Yu!” Ning Ning abruptly turned around. She faced the wind and snow, shedding tears, running towards the direction they two of them had left for..