Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
It was just after five on a wintry morning, and the sun had not yet risen. Gao Zhun exited the hotel and slowly made his way through the gloom, down the street winding through this debauched corner of town. It was not a long walk. Overhead, soft rain began to fall like fine drops of dew. Afraid that his clothes would get wet, he sought shelter under the eaves of a club with lowered shutters. Steeped in emptiness and boredom, he waited for the rain to stop.
His phone started ringing. He glanced at the screen, saw that it was Justin, and rejected the incoming call with a tap. He had lost track of just how many times the young man had tried to contact him today. A full page of unanswered calls flooded his screen as soon as he opened his call log, and he scrolled down the rows until he found his outgoing calls to Fang Chi. There were so many of them, as many as there were of Justin’s calls to him; all were equal in their wretchedness, and there was little difference in how pitiful they all seemed.
He tapped lightly on Fang Chi’s number – this was almost a habit by now – and felt his heart begin thumping against his chest at the first ring of the dial tone. Longing and panic churned within him; the more he dared to hope, the more terrified he became. Even the thought that Fang Chi might pick up his call scared him to the core, and he hung up as the dial tone sounded for the third time, unable to bear the torment any longer. But his phone soon started ringing once more, sending shudders of fright through his body. When he saw that it was yet another call from Justin, impatience flared in his gut and he answered his phone at last.
“Sir!” The young man’s voice quivered with the elation of one who had been bestowed with an unexpected honor. “Where are you? My friend brought me two cases of good wine from Chile. I’m near your place right n–”
“Haven’t we been through this before?” Gao Zhun cut him off without any sympathy, “Stop calling.”
After a moment of silence, Justin’s besotted plea came through the phone, “Sir… I really miss you…”
“Don’t. What happened between us was just a one-off,” Gao Zhun fired a single parting shot before hanging up. Then, turning off his phone, he breathed deeply as if he were suffocated by it all.
A man approached from afar; so empty was the dusky gray road under his feet that his solitary figure looked rather lonely. He, too, seemed like a pleasure-seeker on his way home after a wild night out. Despite how cold it was, he was clad in only a short-sleeved top, an old pair of jeans, and dirty sneakers. Rain scattered all over his uncovered head and beaded in the short fuzz of his buzzcut.
The man was too plain, too ordinary, and Gao Zhun spared him little more than a passing glance. But recognition struck the very instant before Gao Zhun looked away: he remembered that bent neck; he knew the shape of those arms – arms that had once trapped him tight, torn apart his clothes, ravaged his flesh, and beaten the breath out of him with savage blows… Panic consumed Gao Zhun at once; fearfully, he flattened himself against the shutters and turned his head away.
The man drew near, casting a brief predatory look at Gao Zhun as he passed before the club. Perhaps because of the darkness, however, he continued on his way. Gao Zhun trembled and clamped a hand over his own mouth. The next thing he knew, the man was back in front of the club and staring right through the veil of rain at his stranded form. “F***!” A sudden exclamation burst from the man as his face lit up with an emotion that could only be described as surprised delight. “I’ll be damned, isn’t this my long-lost darling?” he cried, turning around and heading right towards Gao Zhun.
Every last trace of color drained from Gao Zhun’s face; he remained frozen as the man approached, too witless to even think of running. The bastard had worn a cap that night, but this time his features were in plain view: he had a round face, a high nose bridge, and a pair of smiling eyes – all of which made him seem rather young and charmingly boyish. “I went back to that parking garage to try my luck at ambushing you again.” The man ducked under the eaves to stand face-to-face with Gao Zhun, looking rather rueful about their belated reunion. “Didn’t work though!”
“You… you’ve got the wrong person.” Gao Zhun turned and tried to leave. The man responded with a kick at the roller shutter. Bam – violent tremors rippled through the shutter and, pressed to the metallic surface, Gao Zhun’s entire body began shaking as well.
“I got it wrong?” Instead of showing some hint of guilt or shame for what he had done, the man declared with flagrant pride, “No way.” Hands tucked into his back pockets, he hunched over Gao Zhun like the scoundrel he was and sniffed behind Gao Zhun’s ear. “For such a fine, expensive piece of meat like you… a single bite is all it takes to remember you for life.”
Teeth chattered uncontrollably. Clenched fingers tightened to the point of drawing blood, yet Gao Zhun felt nothing. This was true terror in its purest form; not once had it ever occurred to Gao Zhun that he might meet this man again in his lifetime. His eyes prickled from the rain as the wind changed its direction, and he flooded his mind with thoughts of Fang Chi as if his life depended on it, clutching in anguish at the fantasy that his doctor would somehow save him from this hell.
“So, you’ve started cruising around?” The man pressed his heavy torso against Gao Zhun and rubbed the tip of his nose all over Gao Zhun’s face and neck like a creep. Gao Zhun recoiled from the touch, flailing with all his might as he desperately tried to escape. “How ’bout we have some fun together, you and I?” the man asked, his voice cracking with insuppressible urgency as cold, excited hands slipped out of his pockets and reached under Gao Zhun’s coat for the belt.
“N-no!” Tears threatened to fall from Gao Zhun’s eyes, but he struggled to hold back every drop. He would not crumble before this man, nor allow himself to become a sniveling mess at his feet. Fang Chi’s instructions came back to him clear as day – he needed to buy time and wait for the chance to flee. “No,” he whimpered, “not here…”
Charmed by such a display of weakness, the man relented just a little. He slammed his lower body against Gao Zhun twice, and the shutter screeched in protest at the violence of his lewd, brutal thrusts. “Let’s go to my place then?”
Gao Zhun refused to move. “Aren’t you afraid… that I might call the police?”
The man burst into laughter as if Gao Zhun had just said something hilarious. “What would you tell the cops? That you got f***ed by me even though you’re a grown-ass man? Then give your statement, have your photos taken, leave your prints, and let some geezer in a white coat throw you in bed so he can take a good look up your ass?” Mortification flashed in Gao Zhun’s face, leaving a streak of furious red across his cheeks, but he said nothing in reply. The man gave him a hard yank. “Hurry up before I lose my boner.”
Rain continued to fall as Gao Zhun was hauled down the street. At the intersection where the street met the main road, several idle cabs were parked waiting for business. Gao Zhun knew he had to get away; he could not get into any of them – he must not. With a sudden burst of strength, he pushed off his captor and bolted. But he never stood a chance against the man’s reflexes. In a single forward stride, the man caught his prey once more with a casual stretch of his arm. “What you runnin’ for?” With all the sickening sweetness of an old lover, the man hugged Gao Zhun to himself and crooned, “Trying to spice things up for me, hm?”
Fear and trepidation drove Gao Zhun to the brink of tears. As he was forced into a cab, shivering all over, the driver shot him an apathetic glance. There was no feeling in those eyes; doing business in the area over the years had worn away even his most basic sense of curiosity. Then the man was in the car as well, clinging tight to Gao Zhun while he fondled Gao Zhun’s face as if he were teasing a little girl. Desperate eyes peered into the rearview mirror, pleading for help, only to be met with the coldest indifference; the driver ignored Gao Zhun’s gaze and returned his focus to the road ahead.