Quality Checker: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria.
Do you believe that demons exist in this world?
Different people would provide entirely different answers when faced with this question. There are some who would firmly believe that without any doubt while some would scoff disdainfully. I know that some children would be freaked out by ghost stories to the extent that they would seek refuge under their blankets while shivering in fright. Some would laugh and brush it off, treating it as a topic of idle, bored conversation over a cup of tea.
Me? Truthfully, I have never once thought about this question for the past eighteen years and instead occupied myself with studies and examinations, wishing wholeheartedly to get into a university which could satisfy my family. In the end, who could have thought that of all of the things that could have happened, I royally screwed up the opportunity to get into the university of my dreams due to diarrhea during the entrance exam. Because of that, I was assigned to a remote, old, small town.
My name is Gu Yu and the story that I’m going to tell all of you begins from here.
From a moment ago, the woman walking next to me displayed an impatient look — the rollers on her luggage kept pressing down incessantly on my feet. Now, she had finally lost her patience and began to urge me, going as far as to use lively body language to express her discontent.
“Ah, sorry.” I dragged the luggage forward as fast as I could, making room for her. The woman then swiftly walked past me, without forgetting to turn around and roll her eyes at me. She seemed to have something urgent to attend to.
Yet, I still walked at a snail’s pace, the luggage behind me rolling with a dull sound. This couldn’t be helped because regardless of this train station or city outside, they were all completely unfamiliar to me. In the past eighteen years, I had never heard of this city before, let alone seen anything related to it.
After I showed the crumpled ticket in my grip to the ticket collector for a quick check, I walked out of the small, shabby train station. Before I could even move more than a few steps, a group of men and women holding signs of location names and old leather briefcases in hand surrounded me.
“Heading to Yan City? If it’s Yan City, step this way please!”
“Are you going to the city center?”
“Hey, handsome! Are you heading to Yan City University?”
“North Tong River! North Tong River!”
“Gu Yu! Hey, Gu Yu ah! Come over here!”
I rolled my eyes deep down internally. To be able to mix in someone’s name amidst all the shouting and making it sound like the name of a place could only be done by the loud-voiced Shi Yitong. I expended a great deal of effort to plow through the group of unlicensed drivers soliciting customers and narrowed my eyes to do my utmost to scan the crowd for him.
Shi Yitong was dressed in a verdant short-sleeved shirt, matched with black shorts, and a pair of scruffy-looking sandals which were about to turn into slippers. Jumping, he waved his hands about energetically from amongst the crowd.
“Did you come early?” Caught off guard, I broke into a small run to meet up with him.
“Nope. I went to eat just now. I just arrived and you’re already out.” Shi Yitong wiped the sweat from his face, stubbornly seizing the luggage handle from my grip to help me drag it.
I felt disinclined to determine whether he was speaking the truth or he was just being courteous. Instead, I fixed my gaze on his tanned skin, wondering to myself how many years had it been since we had last seen each other.
Shi Yitong was a classmate from half of my middle school years. Why did I say half? That was because he abruptly transferred schools during the second year, seemingly due to the fact that he had to move back to his hometown with his parents. Before he transferred schools, we were good friends and the two of us would frequently play soccer together during lesson intervals. After I graduated from middle school, I hadn’t been in contact with him since. It was only until after I graduated from high school that I, having no other choice but to attend a university in the remote Yan City since I failed the entrance exam, found out that the city was also Shi Yitong’s hometown. On top of that, he also got into the same university as me. Thus, the task of holding a welcoming reception naturally fell onto this childhood friend of mine.
Shi Yitong’s skin was as tan as ever, even darker than during middle school. I wasn’t sure whether he had gone through difficult times after he returned to his hometown. However, he did appear more sturdy than when he was younger and was slightly more handsome. The only thing that didn’t change was his habit of blabbering on and on incessantly.
“Seems like you did well during these two years! Looking so respectable! I could barely recognize you. Did you screw up your brain from all that studying?” laughed Shi Yitong as he smacked my shoulders. Before I could retort, the man relentlessly continued on.
“But it must be really tough on you. A Northerner like you suddenly running to a far-away small southside city to attend university, you must be having difficulty adjusting to the climate and weather right? I must say, downpours happen often in Yan City with rain all year round. Remember to buy an umbrella and carry it with you at all times once you reach the university. But, there are benefits as well. The air here is fantastic. Look at the sky, you don’t have such a clear blue sky up north right?” Speaking up to this point, Shi Yitong was suddenly hit by a sudden thought. “Hey, look at me! I almost forgot! Have you eaten lunch yet?”
At this point, I finally was able to interrupt with much difficulty, “Not yet…”
“It’s already 1 pm and you haven’t eaten anything yet?! Let’s go! There’s a place nearby that serves exceptionally delicious stir-fried rice noodles. I’ll bring you there to eat!”
With no explanation whatsoever, I was hauled by Shi Yitong to an unfamiliar corner of this strange city. On one hand, I had the urge to say, “Why don’t you let me drop off my luggage at the university first?”, yet on the other, I couldn’t find the heart to dampen his enthusiasm so I let him be.
Perhaps it was because of the differences in the climate between the North and the South, I could clearly feel that it was almost autumn back in my hometown, yet here it was still as hot and humid as summer. Outside the train station, either sides of the road were planted with tall, huge Paulownia trees. The streets were quiet and desolate. Occasionally, a couple of people riding bicycles would speed across the road. Even if there was a car passing by, it was still extremely quiet as though it had integrated with the city.
The school that we would be attending was called Yan City University. However, the full name for it was actually the Yan City Science and Technology Institution. Although it was supposed to be an average university, it could only at most be regarded as a low-tier university. My parents did not come to send me off to the university because they felt distressed and bitter towards their own son since they initially thought that I would be able to get into a top university. I, myself, wasn’t particularly upset over it since I had done my hardest to plow through for the past three years in high school. Besides, an incident such as having diarrhea during the examination wasn’t something that could be controlled.
After both Shi Yitong and I finished our stir-fried rice noodles, we decided to make a move to go check out the university. Yan City University was very close to the train station and wouldn’t require more than a twenty-minute walk by foot. As we walked, both of us once again started chatting.
“Gu Yu. Let me tell you this, don’t have high expectations of Yan City Uni. I heard that the conditions in this university aren’t that good. There’s no air conditioning in the dorms and there are no personal bathrooms either.”
“Really? I’m fine. As long as the dorm is decent enough for a person to stay, I don’t have many other demands.”
“Hey, you shouldn’t say that! You’ll suffer when summer comes along. You’ll have to fight for the toilet and the bathroom…Bleah! I get goosebumps just thinking about it! But the Northern region should be slightly better than the Southern region. You’re in Humanities right?
“Then you guys should be much better than us. Oh right, speaking of that, where are you staying tonight? Have you booked a hotel room yet?”