Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
(This chapter is just earlier chapters repeated. You can skip it if you want.)
It began with the group of kids coming back with the cows, each carrying a large piece of ice with a hole in the middle, tied with a straw rope as they walked and ate. They stopped in front of the barn and waited for the oldest kid with the cows to bring them in. The oldest child just pushed open the fence, and stood still.
The other children also stopped chattering and stared blankly ahead.
Lu Rong was a little nervous, he was leaning on the hay, and in a panic he tried to sit up with his arms, but the soft hay wasn’t easy to grab, so he fell down and rolled around on the ground. He hurriedly got up, stood up straight and stared at the group of children, his hands clutching his pants leg.
In the quiet, the oldest child, eight or nine years old, was the first to come to his senses and asked Lu Rong, “Why are you in the barn? Where’s the man who was carrying you?”
He spoke in a dialect Lu Rong didn’t understand very well, he only got the word ‘barn’, then timidly whispered, “I’ll leave in a bit.”
“Didn’t we just see that man by the river? He walked alone.” Some other children nearby told the older kid.
“Yeah, yeah, I saw him too! He was walking alone towards the highway, probably going down the mountain.”
“Why didn’t he take this baby with him? He just left him in the barn?”
The group of children shouted, all crowding forward, leaning over the wooden fence to see Lu Rong, even the cows were pushed aside.
Lu Rong didn’t know what they were talking about, so he quietly took a step backwards, but he tripped over a pile of straw and fell back down again.
The woolen hat slipped onto his face, he hurriedly pushed it up and put it back on. The two pom poms tied to the top of the hat were loose, hanging in his face and blocking his eyes, so he plucked the pom poms to adjust their position.
The group of children seemed to see something funny, all laughing loudly, staring at him for a while.
Lu Rong, surrounded by such a crowd and not knowing what they were laughing at, panicked and tried to find a place to hide. But there was only this pile of hay in the barn, so he could only sit rigidly, and his eyes began to redden.
The big kid with the cows yelled at them, as if to tell them to be quiet, and everyone quieted down.
He lowered his head again and asked again in less-than-standard Mandarin.
“Why are you sitting in the barn? Did the man who was carrying you just now put you here? Where did he go?”
This time Lu Rong understood.
He didn’t want to answer, but he was afraid of being blocked by these people, so he whispered back, “He’s gone. I came in by myself.”
The group of children looked at each other, but the older child gave a few instructions, and two of them ran away quickly and brought an adult over in a few minutes.
Lu Rong was still sitting on the hay, looking down at his feet and resting his hands on his knees. He heard an adult’s voice asking questions, but he didn’t need to answer, the children were scrambling to answer instead.
Someone came in, and a pair of black and blue cotton shoes stopped in front of him.
“Kid, it’s cold for you to sit here, let’s go back to the fire.” The man reached out to take him, “Look at these gloves, they’re wet. Take them off.”
Lu Rong’s gloves were removed and his hand was held. He felt the warmth of the dry roughness, but he still tried desperately to pull his hand back and curl it into his sleeve again.
“This little hand of yours has become a lump of ice, let’s go back to the fire.” He didn’t look up, only heard the man’s soft voice, like the old grandfather in the kindergarten security booth.
“He can’t understand, you have to speak Mandarin!” The group of kids were yelling again, “Grandpa Cai, you have to speak Mandarin!”
“Grandpa Cai can’t speak Mandarin, hahahahahaha!”
Grandpa Cai, squatting in front of Lu Rong, turned his head and said with a smile, “Grandpa Cai is the village chief, how could I not be able to speak Mandarin? Last time I went to a meeting in the village, a few people from the big city came, and I spoke Mandarin.”
“Don’t believe it!” The children jumped and laughed, “Let’s hear you say something, do you know Pinyin? How many Pinyin letters do you know?”
“Grandpa Cai, do you know what aoe is?”
As they were talking, a few more adults arrived in front of the barn and stood outside to speak with Grandpa Cai.
“It’s a sin! It’s cold, and he left the child in the cattle pen! If no one found him, it’s hard to say whether something would’ve gone wrong tonight.”
“Where did this child come from?”
“He was brought by Gao Chenggang and was intended to be sold to Wang Cuihua.”
“Which Gao Chenggang?”
“The relatives of Gao’s house in Zengjia Village, said to have moved to Guizhou in the early years, and now they are engaged in child trafficking.”
“Still doing that, huh? Didn’t they say they were caught?”
“Not caught, but ran away. His brother was arrested.”
“So what do we do now? Wang Cuihua definitely doesn’t want him and Gao Chenggang ran away again.”
Lu Rong knew they were talking about him, and just looked down at his shoes, rubbing his feet gently, trying to get the mud off the edge of his boots. The hand that had just tried to hold him reached out again, holding one of his feet while the other hand took the hay and wiped off the mud chunks on it.
“Kid, you and Grandpa Cai go back first. We’ll talk about what to do tomorrow, it’s getting dark.” The adult outside the wooden fence said to Lu Rong.
The children chattered again, “Speak Mandarin, he doesn’t understand!”
The adult changed to broken Mandarin, “Child, you and Grandpa Cai go back first, it’s going to be dark.”
The children began to imitate their accent and giggle.
Lu Rong heard them laughing every now and then, so he was less nervous than he had been at first, and peeked up to see the man cleaning his shoes in front of him.
Grandpa Cai was cleaning his shoes when he said, “Child, let’s go back to the fire. Tomorrow Grandpa Cai will send you down the mountain.”
“Child, go back to the fire, tomorrow Grandpa Cai will send you down the mountain.” The children followed suit again.
In the dim light, Grandpa Cai’s every wrinkle was kind and soft, and Lu Rong looked at him, then turned his head to look at the dark sky and the cold snow. After a moment of hesitation, when the crowd thought they would have to persuade for a while, they saw the child peek out and put his two small arms very gently around Grandpa Cai’s neck.
Grandpa Cai seemed to be stunned, but he immediately reacted, with eyebrows raised in a smile, held Lu Rong in his arms and stood up. “Go go go, all go home, so none of your noses freeze off, otherwise we’d have to check each of them and not know whose is whose.”
The children gathered around Grandpa Cai and followed him to his home, while reaching out to secretly touch Lu Rong’s feet.
They laughed excitedly whenever Lu Rong looked up from around Grandpa Cai’s neck at them.
Lu Rong was carried into a courtyard where Grandpa Cai drove all the children home and closed the gate.
Once inside, he was placed on a bench by a fire, and Grandpa Cai said, “Sit down, good boy, while I make a fire for you.”
Lu Rong sat still on the bench and watched Grandpa Cai take a long bamboo tube and blow it into the fire.
Grandpa Cai took off his scarf and gloves, brought him hot water to wash his face and hands, and finally used a large wooden basin to soak his feet in.
“It’s hot, so your little feet won’t freeze.” Grandpa Cai said.
The hot water was very comfortable, and Lu Rong soaked for a while before he felt his feet grew back onto his body, and started gently moving his big toes inside.
Grandpa Cai squatted next to him, smiling, reached in and poked his big toe, saying, “Giggle bug.”
The two little fat feet immediately folded up and a few toes curled up shyly, Grandpa Cai stroked his head and said, “Soak well, I’ll get you something to eat.”
Lu Rong nodded gently, put his hands on his knees and continued to soak his feet, waiting for Grandpa Cai to go out to the kitchen next door before rolling his eyes and looking around.
Grandpa Cai soon brought over a bowl of noodles and put it on the square table. Then he went to the bedroom, opened the large standing cabinet and took out a brand new towel.
He used scissors to cut the towel apart, wiped Lu Rong’s feet clean, and then wrapped both feet in the towel like small dumplings.
Then put on a pair of very large cotton shoes, while Lu Rong’s snow boots were drying next to the fire.
He picked up Lu Rong, placed him at the square table, and asked him, “Do you want Grandpa to feed you?”
Lu Rong stared at the steaming bowl of noodles with two fried eggs lying on top, swallowed and shook his head.
Grandpa Cai handed him the chopsticks and said, “Then eat while it’s hot.”
The bench was so high that Lu Rong sat on it with his legs dangling in the air. But the square table was much higher than the bench, and he had to poke his head in to see the noodles in the bowl.
He raised his hand and unskillfully used his chopsticks to pick up the noodles, but after a few tries, he failed to pick up the noodles and looked at Grandpa Cai with some apprehension. He wasn’t very good at using chopsticks, and usually used a fork to roll the noodles up and put them into his mouth when he ate them at home.
Grandpa Cai didn’t say anything, took over the bowl and chopsticks to feed him, so Lu Rong also no longer insisted on doing it himself, and began to eat noodles in large bites.
“Good boy, what’s your name? Do you remember your family? Do you know the names of your parents at home?” Grandpa Cai asked in dialect, and when Lu Rong didn’t answer, he asked again in broken Mandarin.
Lu Rong suddenly stopped eating noodles and looked sideways at the bench without speaking.
His long eyelashes hung low, falling in a row of shadows along the bottom of his eyes.
“Grandpa won’t ask, eat first, eat first.” Grandpa Cai said repeatedly, picking up another piece of fried egg and feeding it to Lu Rong’s mouth.
Lu Rong swallowed the egg in his mouth before he whispered, “My name is Lu Rong, Rong from ‘fluffy’, I am four years old and I am in the middle class in kindergarten.”
His voice got smaller and smaller, and finally only his mouth was wriggling. Grandpa Cai heard the first half of the sentence and knew that his name was Lu Rong and he was four years old.
When he had eaten, Grandpa Cai carried Lu Rong to the fire again and uncovered the pillowcase that had been hiked on the long coffee table to reveal a television underneath.
“…Secretary Shen said that developing the tourism resources of Longquan Mountain is the top priority of the current work…” The TV was in black and white, very small, and Lu Rong’s eyes were drawn to the voice as he saw Grandpa Cai twisting the knob next to him, clicking and changing the channel.
“…The natural and human landscapes of Longquan Mountain are intertwined…”
Grandpa Cai changed three channels with pictures, all of them were the same news, as he said to himself, “All local channels again, where are all the usual cartoons?”
He continued to change the channel, the rest were all static, and when he turned his head, he saw Lu Rong rubbing his eyes and yawning, so he turned off the TV and went to hug him, “Rong Rong, go to sleep.”
Lu Rong was already very tired, and when Grandpa Cai put him to bed and undressed him, he habitually wanted to lean on Grandpa Cai’s shoulder and close his eyes to sleep, but just before he leaned on it, he remembered that this was not Wang Tu, so he raised his head again and tried to keep his eyes open.
Grandpa Cai stripped him down to his underwear and tucked his soft little body under the warm blanket and tucked in the corners.
Lu Rong fell asleep almost next to the pillow, and in a haze he heard Grandpa Cai saying, “Sleep well, Grandpa will take you down to the police station tomorrow to find your parents.”
He finished another short speech, and as he paused, he realized that the scene around him had changed without him realizing it.
In the distance, the mounds of earth have disappeared, turning into a green meadow, with swarms of fireflies flying above. The gnarled and gloomy woods beside him had become a running stream. The moonlight was no longer cold, only soft and peaceful, and the ubiquitous sense of depression and terror disappeared instantly.
Lu Rong saw Shen Jize and stopped talking, so he stopped laughing and looked around, and also perceived the change in the place. He smelled that the fishy odor that was ever-present in the air had disappeared, and Uncle White’s gentle scent covered the area again.
“Look, there, see, it’s the light mass, the light mass we can exit from!.” Shen Jize pointed not far away and shouted.
Silver-white light masses appeared some time ago, hanging on the lawn not far away, and those converging points of light were like gentle floating stars.
“Go, go! Let’s get out!” Shen Jize took Lu Rong and ran towards the cluster of light.
When Shen Jize opened his eyes, he wasn’t surprised to find himself still lying in bed with a towel quilt comfortably on his body.
There were crickets chirping outside the window, and the electric fan at the end of the bed buzzed and rotated its head. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and what he had just experienced seemed like a dream.
He slowly turned his head and met the eyes of Lu Rong beside him.
Lu Rong was lying on his side, wide-eyed and awake, and moved toward him, wrapping his arms around his neck.
“Rong Rong,” Shen Jize called in a low voice, rubbing his back.
“Did you… just wake up… or?” He asked tentatively.
Lu Rong rested his head on the nest of his shoulder and looked at the jade pendant hanging around his neck.
The jade pendant was very thin, carved with a green leaf, looking crisp and green, and Lu Rong couldn’t help but take a bite in his mouth, sip it before replying in a jarring voice, “Deer Warrior… paper men.”
So it really wasn’t a dream, Shen Jize breathed a sigh of relief, but couldn’t really tell what he was feeling.
“Don’t lick it, there are germs.” He glanced down at Lu Rong in his arms, reached out and cupped his chin and took the jade pendant out of his mouth, “Why are you shoving everything into your mouth?”
“I’m just tasting it, I’m not going to eat it.” Lu Rong said.
“You can’t even taste it, not this one.”
Shen Jize tucked the jade pendant into his shirt and asked, “Do you think we should tell the adults about this?”
He sounded hesitant, because he didn’t think the adults would believe it.
His parents were both university professors, staunch materialists who could make perfect scientific explanations for anything treacherous.
Shen Jize knew that if his parents knew about it, they would think it was either a fabrication or a dream, or something wrong with their brains. Even with Lu Rong’s testimony, it would still be labelled as a joint effort to make up lies.
But it was understandable, if one didn’t experience it by themselves, they wouldn’t believe it when told about it.
When Lu Rong heard this, he suddenly looked up from his arms and asked nervously, with his hair in a mess, “Are you going to tell anyone?”
Shen Jize didn’t notice the abnormality in his tone and replied, “I’m not too sure, but what if I don’t tell the adults and get dragged in?”
Lu Rong let go of the hand around his neck and sat up from the bed, twisting his back toward him in an obvious refusal.
“Don’t you want to tell the adults?” He poked Lu Rong’s waist, which was so fleshy that it bounced back when he poked it, and he couldn’t resist poking it again, but Lu Rong twisted his body but still couldn’t avoid it, so he turned around with a pout and pushed his fingers away.
Shen Jize propped his head on his elbows, “But if we don’t tell the adults, what if something like tonight happens again?”
He really didn’t want to sleep well in bed and then be caught by the paper men. This kind of horrible experience was enough once, and he really didn’t want to experience it again.
Lu Rong said with an unhappy face, “Don’t tell the adults! I will protect you, don’t be afraid.”
“What am I afraid of? I’m not afraid at all.” Shen Jize straightened his upper body sensitively, “Who said I’m afraid? I’m being cautious.”
Lu Rong looked at him, his gaze was dark, and his big eyes looked like they had a lot to say.
Shen Jize suddenly felt a little weak and said in a roundabout way, “Why don’t we just reveal a little to Grandpa without saying anything specific. We’ll just say that we had a dream and see what Grandpa says.”
Lu Rong struggled for a moment and reluctantly said, “Well… okay, let’s just say it was a dream.”
The two of them talked and discussed for a while, the sky also turned light as a fish belly, and in the end, they didn’t sleep enough, and unknowingly fell asleep.
When they woke up at dawn, Shen Jize dragged Lu Rong to Grandpa Cai and covered up what happened last night.
“You two had the same dream?” Grandpa Cai was washing the mushrooms and stopped his hand movement at the words.
“Yes, I had a terrible dream and woke up and told Rong Rong about it, and he had the same dream as me.” Shen Jize said.
Lu Rong looked at his feet and nodded haphazardly.
“What kind of dream was it?” Grandpa Cai asked blankly.
Shen Jize, “There were demons in it, and I don’t even know if it was a dream or not, but I also ran into Rong Rong.”
Grandpa Cai looked at the two boys’ expressions for a while, then lowered his head for a moment and said, “I’ll take you both to the temple after dinner and let the master exorcise you.”
MonkeyNote: Yeah, I don’t get why this chapter is earlier chapters repeated. Just roll with it.