Happy 5th Year Anniversary! It is by far one of my favorite Matthia novels to date, so PLEASE check it out! This was a joint effort by everyone in ExR for our 5th Year Anniversary. Thank you, Addis, Rikko, Aphelios, Ceti, KarateChopMonkey, gaeatiamat, and Rara.
Chapter 13: The last grain of sand
Translated by Rara of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
At the age of twenty-five, only less than a year left. In less than a year, Fang Yuan would complete his short life’s mission and die.
No one knew what would happen by then, would he disappear immediately? Or would he pass away abruptly? Or would there be something in the sky waiting for him?
Fang Dong prayed and prayed for time to stop, yet Fang Yuan still lived and worked as usual, never showing any fear.
During this year, Fang Yuan took the Fang couple to do some notarization of gift deeds, mainly for the housing. He told Fang Dong in private, he did it in order to avoid inheritance issues, since they were not related by blood or adoption. But at the same time, he had to pay attention to the way and method, he couldn’t transfer all the properties and assets directly at once for fear of accidentally causing any other trouble.
Even though the Fang couple had provided him all those years, they were still reluctant to accept the gift. It was too precious and they felt like they had taken advantage of him.
Fang Yuan sat beside them and took his mother’s hand. He then talked about the old days back at the orphanage, how he looked forward to going to the park with them every Sunday, how other students were so envious of him…He told them: I’m not doing this to repay you or return favors, I’m not doing this to show anyone off/give you faces, I’m doing this because I love you guys so much.
Fang Dong couldn’t help but smile bitterly at this scene.
Fang Yuan will die, for a very unfathomable reason. Nonetheless, he treated the situation as something so mundane and normal. It just made him feel even worse.
Now even if Fang Dong closed his eyes, Fang Yuan’s appearance still appeared vividly deep in the darkness of his consciousness, his gentle and reserved smile, his habit of slightly tilted head and frowning while showing a confused face, like a robot who couldn’t understand human’s emotion language.
Sometimes, Fang Dong would feel that Fang Yuan was very cruel, perhaps it was the whole universe that is cruel.
He was just a normal man leading a normal life, and now he was put in front of this unbelievable tale.
Only three days away from his 26th birthday.
Fang Dong locked Fang Yuan in his own home and refused to let him leave. He ignored his work, if they needed food he would cook himself or order take out. E-devices were banned, and he insisted on being together all the time, including the toilet and bath.
Fang Yuan laughed in amusement, and Fang Dong was angry because of the laughter. He did it because he was really afraid, since there were less than three days left.
Fang Yuan’s long fingers traced over the books lined up on the shelf and pulled out a common popular novel “Come, I will show and let you experience yourself a little bit about the post-damage of time and space displacement phenomenon,” he turned to a certain page and handed the book to Fang Dong, “You’ve read this book, right? Now I’ve turned about 3/4 of the way through, take a look.”
Fang Dong took it and skimmed roughly: “I don’t think I’ve read this book ……”
“You have read it. Not only have you read it, back in college you also had an online debate because of the controversial content of this book. You wrote a book review in your personal blog, and as a result, a person came up and directly scolded you and the author…”
“Ah, come to think of it,” Fang Dong re-looked at the title and cover of the book, “but I really don’t remember the content is like this, it seems wrong …”
Fang Yuan said, “Have you ever encountered these phenomena – You read a today’s article, but you remember you have read it from a long time ago; you read a book, but what you see is so different from what others see, maybe the characters have the same names, but the inside story is so different that make you wonder whether you are sick in the head; Or even, you write a story yourself, the story flow so smoothly, you pen jot down so swiftly as if you personally watching the story rather than racking your brains to make up a paragraph. After a few months or years and then re-read it, you have no memory of that story and feel that you didn’t write it…”
Fang Dong asked, “Does it refer to the phenomenon you mentioned before? It is that… many stories are real, real events in other four-dimensional universes, only here in our place, these are perceived in the form of fiction literature…”
“Yeah. Take this novel for example. When you read it back then, and when another person reads it, the details you see are already different. Because of the time and space displacement, some people, things, and things on the other side of time and space have changed drastically, they may suffer calamities that should not have been there, or the whole story pattern has shifted, and people are thrown to other universes without knowing it… These are still considered minor changes, because they are limited to the fate of one or two people, like a few balloons popping, the others not being affected. But, Fang Dong, it’s different in your case. Without me, without the self-healing function of space-time, your universe would then be involved in the greatest destruction since the beginning of the displacement, this destruction is like the crack on ice, it’s much more destructive than the “balloons popping” example, it’s like the difference between a puncture wound from a sharp object and a puncture wound from a bullet. If space-time does not heal itself, and I do not act as a ‘zipper’ to close the cracks, eventually…”
Fang Dong interrupted him, “How terrible it would eventually be, I can’t imagine. One can’t imagine anything beyond perception. All I care about is… why do you have to die?”
“You’re mistaken about cause and effect again,” Fang Yuan said, “I’m not dying because there’s a rift to be fixed. I exist because there is a rift to be bridged. From the time I appeared until today, my existence is to fix the cracks, I am a derivative of the act of self-healing in space and time. And I will die because the mission is over and I naturally do not need to exist anymore. In the end, will the universe let me simply disintegrate and dissipate, or will there be a chain of contingencies waiting for me? That remains to be seen.”
“So what if… if I were to write about you?” Fang Dong suddenly had an idea, “If I were to write your story, write a world where you live in, where you yourself remain the same but with a complete life, will you be resurrected in that universe?”
Fang Yuan shook his head, “I don’t know. But I guess there are three results: one is that your story is not part of the real new universe, it is just a fictional story on paper or in a computer, a story without life; the other is that if there is really a universe suitable for my resurrection, then you will not be able to master what happens in that world, and you will not be able to shape the real me. Even if there were someone very much like me alive in your writing, it would only be something with an incomplete personality; the last possibility is that you have not only shaped a false, broken personality of me, but you have thus once again torn a small wound in space-time. And what may it lead to, I don’t know.”
As Fang Dong’s eyes lit up as if he was waiting for more confirmation, Fang Yuan shook his hand at him, “Don’t expect anything. I’m only certain about one thing, and that is you won’t be able to see me again regardless of what you do. You won’t be able to see me standing here talking to you. You can only see the Chinese characters written down by your own hand.”
Fang Dong did not retort, nor did he continue to ask questions. He had already made his decision secretly.
Nevertheless, he always held onto that one ray of hope, hoping that it was all Fang Yuan’s mental disorder speaking, hoping that nothing would happen after midnight of their twenty-sixth year.
On their birthday they had no cake or candles, and they didn’t ask their parents to join them.
Fang Dong cooked two bowls of noodles, and made them so thin and soft that they were hard to eat, which was funny because he was worried that Fang Yuan would choke to death on the food.
After dinner, Fang Dong asked Fang Yuan not to go anywhere, banned him from using electrical appliances, and banned him from opening doors and windows. Fang Yuan listened to him and stayed on the couch with him.
When it was almost twelve, Fang Dong asked, “Are you really not afraid?”
“If it means death or disappearance, I’m not afraid,” Fang Yuan’s voice was always firm and steady, which reminded Fang Dong of the robot again, “I’m not a normal life form, so I don’t have the natural fear of death in humans. But if you want to talk about regret and loss, I have that too.”
“What I regret is that I will never see you again.”
After hearing these words, Fang Dong was silent. They sat shoulder to shoulder as if they were children.
Fang Yuan turned to his side and kissed Fang Dong’s forehead. Fang Dong was not surprised, nor did he dodge it. He directly held Fang Yuan’s face, and for the first time, their lips were pressed together.
At that time, Fang Dong did not even realize the nature of this act. Everything just happened naturally.
Fang Yuan hugged him tightly, his fingers stroked through his hair, his lips traced to the corner of his forehead, and kissed his hairline again. Finally Fang Dong buried his face in Fang Yuan’s neck, like a small animal seeking warmth and safety. He only wanted to confirm the entity of the person in front of him, to touch his body heat, to be sure that he was still around and had not disappeared.
At that moment, Fang Dong thought that all the cryptic talk was just fantasy.
Fang Yuan was still here at this moment, and they were so close… Fang Yuan would never disappear, never.
The hands of the clock ticked by, the moment felt as if the hourglass was shattered into pieces, as the golden sand drifted through the clenched finger.
Fang Dong did not dare to look up. When he noticed the clock again, it was now 12:03 midnight. Fang Yuan had not disappeared, nor had he been injured by any sharp objects.
Fang Dong was so excited that he laughed out loud, he didn’t know what to say first, like how they just survived an apocalypse? Or should he seriously talk to Fang Yuan about psychiatric treatment?
Fang Yuan still held him tightly and watched him. But when he moved his body, Fang Yuan didn’t let go of his arm.
Fang Yuan’s expression was no longer vivid, he was as stiff as a statue. His eyes turned golden, with tiny shimmering in them, like microscopic sculptures in crystals. The shining grains of sand were sinking. From soft gold to golden brown, then to dull rust, and back to absolute black.
Tick-tock. The hour hand stops, the hourglass disappears.
As the body heat still remained on both of them, his body still remained soft for the time being. While Fang Yuan was still alive, he could not see Fang Dong’s tears.
There was no final goodbye. Fang Yuan would never wake up again.