Class 2.3’s classroom was pitch-dark when seen from outside. To those not in the know, it might seem like evening self-study had already let out.
“What are they doing now?” He Zhao lagged behind, struck by a faintly foreboding premonition.
Xie Yu leaned against the door frame. With his eyes narrowed, he could just barely make out the classroom interior.
Wan Da heard footsteps, turned around, and yelled with surprised joy, “Great timing! We were about to start. Joining?”
He Zhao retreated two steps but Xie Yu pulled him back.
“Today we’re not telling stories,” Wan Da said. “We’re playing with the occult. Mad Dog just left, so we’re very safe.”
“Sit here, Zhao-ge. We saved a seat especially for you.” He Zhao was usually quite lively and Wan Da always roped him into things. “…It’s very thrilling.”
He Zhao internally said: Thrilling as shit. Day after day, they don’t study properly and keep getting up to these hijinks.
Wan Da felt that leaving Xie Yu standing alone wasn’t appropriate and asked, “Yu-ge, are you in?”
“He’s in,” He Zhao replied on Xie Yu’s behalf. Since he couldn’t avoid it, he’d drag as many people down with him as possible. “He’s in.”
In all, four people were playing.
The rest stood to the side and watched.
Xu Qingqing, the tomboy, was especially brave. She slapped her thigh and said she wanted to be the moderator. “Let me ask!”
As she finished speaking, she picked up the pencil.
Wan Da placed his hand over Xu Qingqing’s and didn’t object. “All right, you ask.”
He Zhao hadn’t intended to do anything, but Wan Da was eyeing him firmly. Clearly Wan Da couldn’t muster up enough courage to have Xie Yu’s hand placed on top of his, so he was pressing He Zhao to put his hand on next.
Xie Yu was too distant a person.
He hadn’t done anything to give others this feeling. Even if he was just lying there, quietly napping, he made people want to keep a respectful distance. In the whole class, only He Zhao talked and laughed with him and had managed to determinedly survive till now.
Xie Yu was the last of them.
He lifted his hand and placed it over He Zhao’s. It was a hot summer day, but Xie Yu’s fingertips felt cool against He Zhao’s hand.
This chill burned the back of his hand.
He Zhao couldn’t tell what exactly this feeling was, either. His thoughts took a strange turn. He had initially been worried about this damn game but suddenly he wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
“Close your eyes, close your eyes. Close your eyes first,” Wan Da said. “Don’t open your eyes or the ghost will take your soul when it comes.”
“If our eyes are closed, how will we see where it goes?!”
“That’s what the walkthrough says to do. Better believe it than not.”
“All right, I’m closing them, closing them. I’ll open them when it comes.”
Xie Yu didn’t quite believe in ghosts. One of his hands held He Zhao’s and the other supported his head as he turned to look at He Zhao.
This guy kept spouting off claims about not being scared and saying, ‘whoever’s scared is a dog,’ but his eyes were shut tighter than anyone else’s.
Before long, He Zhao couldn’t keep himself from asking: “Are we done?”
Xu Qingqing was still reciting the spell. “Past life, past life, I’m your reincarnation. If you want to link your fate with mine… don’t cut me off, how could it come so quickly?!”
He Zhao’s eyelashes were very long.
Xie Yu stared for a while.
Though it was dark in the classroom, Wan Da had turned on a flashlight and aimed it at the piece of paper on the desk, so some of the surroundings were lit up as well.
Half of He Zhao’s face was hidden by the night, the other half faintly illuminated by pale light.
The bridge of his nose was high, his features chiseled. A youthful energy radiated from his eyes, and when he wasn’t talking or laughing he gave off a strangely oppressive air. There were several piercings on He Zhao’s right ear and Xie Yu suddenly remembered the first time they met during summer vacation; he had been wearing two hoops in his ear, rebellious to the point of impropriety.
He Zhao kept his eyes shut and waited a while longer, then really couldn’t hold them shut any more. Wan Da had even put on background music, creepy and faint. Xu Qingqing, too, didn’t recite the spells properly and spoke them like she was possessed.
He felt that if he kept holding his eyes shut all the supernatural things would have a fine party all around him.
He suddenly opened his eyes and unexpectedly met Xie Yu’s.
The two looked at each other. “……”
Xu Qingqing finally finished reciting the spell. Before she asked the question, she reminded everyone again, “Don’t open your eyes. Your soul will be stolen.”
Xie Yu saw He Zhao staring frozen at him, and thought that this guy was again pretending to be calm while his heart was trembling. He gave a lukewarm smile and mouthed to He Zhao, It’s fake.
Xu Qingqing was usually boisterous, but in asking her question she revealed her young girl’s heart. After hesitating for a long time and trying to get everyone to cover their ears, she finally asked: “Does… he like me?”
“Who?” Wan Da jumped in at the first chance. “Name names. Who is this? Why didn’t I know about this? Which pile of cow dung has caught the attention of a flower from our Class 3?”
Xu Qingqing said, “Do you know how annoying you are? What the hell has it got to do with you?”
Wan Da: “Not possible. No movement in the entire year can escape my eyes.”
Xu Qingqing: “…Save it.”
Eventually the pencil landed on ‘No.’
He Zhao was internally panicking: “This thing really moves?!”
“Shh, don’t say that. It’s disrespectful to the pen spirit,”¹ Wan Da said.
He Zhao: “What happens if we don’t respect it?”
Wan Da hadn’t prepared a canned response but he heard Xie Yu say, tone decisive and brisk: “It’ll come find you at night.”
He Zhao didn’t have any questions, but Wan Da said it’d be disrespectful to invite the pen spirit then not ask anything. He Zhao thought a while then asked: “Is there anyone in the world more handsome than me?”
Xu Qingqing said, “Shameless.”
Wan Da said, “Really shameless.”
Xie Yu said, “Heh.”
“Big bro, your turn.” Wan Da winked at Xie Yu.
Xie Yu said, “I don’t have any questions, either.”
He Zhao said, “No can do. It’s disrespectful.”
Xie Yu: “……”
Zhou Dalei called Xie Yu. They had hardly spoken two sentences to each other but Zhou Dalei could tell that Boss Xie was in a good mood. “What happened to make you so happy?”
Xie Yu didn’t respond and asked back: “What about you? Since you called you’ve been in a happy daze.”
“That idiot, Da Mei, finally called!” Zhou Dalei said. “Relax, I scolded him on your behalf, too. This bastard’s really itching for it. Can’t not yell at him.”
Da Mei’s phone call had really been unexpected. It was an international phone call, but surprisingly no one worried about the cost. Lei’s mom and Aunt Mei both lined up to talk to Da Mei, but Zhou Dalei hogged the phone and didn’t let go even under pain of death. In the end, he leaned out the window with his butt sticking out, trying to escape the circling crowd of wolves and tigers looking to snatch away the phone. He had even been kicked twice in the butt by his mom and almost fell out of the fourth floor window.
Xie Yu imagined the scene. “That’s indeed your real mom.”
Dalei said, “Real mom. What mocking words.”
“Da Mei said he’s doing quite well over there and told us not to worry. He’s still a showoff, and said that although he’s not considered that good-looking here, everyone abroad thinks he’s drop-dead gorgeous. And that pot of flowers—that pot of damn flowers really is his precious treasure. He thinks about it all the time.”
“I told him that the court where we used to play basketball has been torn down. It was just a few scraps of cloth put together and calling it a court was a compliment. But there’s a new sports center in the area, and a new court! We’ve lived this long and finally got a new court! The new rubber smell in the hot sun, it makes me feel comfortable all over. When he gets back, let’s play basketball together again.”
Zhou Dalei ranted off a long spiel.
Xie Yu listened and occasionally put in a word or two.
“Boss Xie, are you going to sleep?”
“Nope. Keep talking.”
Zhou Dalei had called from the balcony. In the middle of the night, he was worried about waking his family. He clasped a cigarette between his fingers, the burning tip glowing in the night. He shook the cigarette ash loose and said, “What am I saying? Actually, I’m not that well off.”
Xie Yu didn’t say anything.
“Even though I seem to be talking so happily…” Zhou Dalei’s voice quieted down. Whether from smoking or something else, his voice got a little hoarse. “Forget it, never mind. What am I even saying?”
Zhou Dalei stood on the balcony and looked down. It was the same scene he had seen for more than a decade: messy telephone lines and a comforter someone had forgotten to take back in that had blown downstairs.
Looking further into the distance, there was a muddy basketball field that had once been fenced up with several lengths of torn cloth. Now it had become a public toilet. The toilet was built better than some of the residences. In a European-style, it’s several pointed roofs standing starkly against the skyline.
He was about to hang up when he heard Xie Yu say, “I’m upset, too. Every day all those dogshit things. People calling me Zhong family second young master, eldest young master, second young master. It’s like dumping shit straight in my brain.”
The twisting thoughts in Zhou Dalei’s heart were cursed away by Xie Yu, just like that.
He put out the cigarette, laughed, and cursed alongside him: “—young master. I just like to play basketball with my bros surrounded by ripped cloth. If you give me a different court to showcase my talents, the world will be less one NBA basketball star because of it. And this toilet. It’s really fucking ugly. One day, I’ll blow it up for you to see.”
The duo aired all the thoughts they had smothered in their hearts without holding anything back and felt much freer.
“I fought alongside an idiot today,” Xie Yu said with a smile. “My deskmate. You know him.”
Zhou Dalei asked, “How would I know your deskmate? We’re not even in the same city. Is he good-looking?”
Xie Yu said: “A handsome devil.”
Zhou Dalei thought about the handsome devils he had seen in his life. There weren’t that many. Aside from his own esteemed self, the remaining people worthy of this moniker consisted only of Xie Yu. He had completely forgotten about the incident in the police station that summer: him, squatting and holding his head, calling someone a handsome devil.
“Not possible. You’re pulling my leg, right?”
The two had been chatting for a while when Zhou Dalei suddenly went silent. He froze, then asked, “What’s that noise?”
“Boss Xie, what’s that noise coming from your end? Strange.”
Xie Yu heard it too: knocking that came out of nowhere. This time, it was especially close to his dorm room. He said offhand, “…Congrats. This is our dorm ghost.”
Zhou Dalei said, “There are ghosts in your dorm???”
“Pleasant surprise?” Xie Yu said. “Tell you about it later. The handsome devil’s probably trembling in his blanket right now and I’m going over there to enjoy watching it.”
Bi Xian, or ‘Pen spirit:’ A spirit-summoning game. A group of people (best to have 3) hold a pen perpendicular to a piece of paper on a flat surface. You must suspend your hand in the air – you’re not allowed to rest your elbow or wrist on the table. Hold the pen lightly and whisper (or mentally recite) the spell. When the pen starts moving, you can ask questions of the spirit.
Everyone has a different number of pen spirits. Sometimes they’ll fight over the pen. When the handwriting varies within a single game and the statements contradict, it’s probably because they’re fighting to say something.
- don’t ask how the pen spirit died! Never ask that!
- Best not to ask about desires and wishes like that.
- Best not to ask the pen spirit to be you friend or protect you.
If you can’t summon a pen spirit, it may be because:
- You’re not sincere.
- Your Yang energy is too strong.
- There are no pen spirits nearby or all of them are sick of you.