“If I want to be your father, will you obediently call me dad?” Jing Lin frowned and looked up as Cang Ji moved. He slowly exhaled, although his eyes were still icy and unapproachable.
“Instead of killing me, you went to great pains to guide me.” Cang Ji narrowed his eyes. “I thought about it, and I always feel as if you’re weighing me up for the purpose of buying and selling.”
“It’s not like I can sell you for much if we go by weight.” Jing Lin did not struggle. “You’ve more or less believed what Zui Shan Seng said.”
“That’s right. The more I think about it now, the more I’m afraid. I’m so afraid my heart is flustered and pounding. But.” Cang Ji paused for a moment, then smiled. “You are more scared than I am.”
Pressed against the wall, Jing Lin said nothing. Cang Ji used his thumbs to caress him between his wrists. He said, “I’ve never noticed that you get frightened the moment I go near you. You’re so frightened you tremble in fear.”
“I’m not.” Jing Lin’s forehead came into contact with the wall.
“What’s the cause for your weakness? Is it because of that word “love”, or is it because of me?” Cang Ji did not bite Jing Lin and simply held him captive. He was being more and more adept at this.
Cang Ji felt a certain part of his body swelled. This was not his fault. This was Jing Lin’s fault. It was because Jing Lin led him on, indulged him, and gazed at him with those seemingly emotionless eyes that Cang Ji had become even more insatiable.
How could he be so kind to a demon?
Jing Lin is doing this on intention.
It’s all Jing Lin’s fault.
“Is the copper bell real?” Cang Ji’s finger inched its way down along Jing Lin’s wrist bone. “Or have you been lying to me even before we left the mountain?”
“What I’ve said is the truth.” Jing Lin felt the forbidding aura of sharp teeth. However, this was not what he feared. What he dreaded was a Cang Ji smoldering with such passion.
“Oh, well.” Cang Ji suddenly released him and slid over to lean beside him. “… Just treat it as I’m amusing myself.”
“Zui Shan Seng said you have the power to devour heaven and deities, and you believed him.” Jing Lin hid his red wrists under his sleeves. “It’s so easy to coax a child.”
“I often feel like I’m different.” Cang Ji’s eyes followed Jing Lin. “Was I already a brocade carp when you raised me?”
After a period of silence, Jing Lin replied, “I don’t remember.”
Jing Lin looked out at the night sky. His mind was filled with a myriad of thoughts. To tell the truth, he no longer remembered. He still remembered the day he killed his father, but he had no memories of how he had come to live in seclusion in the mountains. It was as if Cang Ji was already in the jar the moment he woke up. They had spent so many days this way that they had worn down the desire to probe further.
Cang Ji looked at Jing Lin. The contours of Jing Lin’s face, while he was deep in thought, were distinct. The lantern outside the window cast a partial, hazy glow over him. He hid under the haze, as if he would have nowhere to flee to if he left this shelter. In Cang Ji’s eyes, Jing Lin’s charming skin was not as remarkable as those eyes. They made Cang Ji’s blood raged like the storm and kept his killing intent up. This complicated his behavior. When Cang Ji was still a fish, all he wanted was to devour Jing Lin. Yet, he now felt as if this notion was like both sugar and arsenic to him. Cang Ji could not get it at all.
This is all Jing Lin’s fault!
Cang Ji thought in irritation.
It’s all on him; it’s all him…
All of a sudden, Jing Lin turned his face. Cang Ji had moved in closer to him without him knowing. Both of them slid down to sit on the floor. The distance between them under the window was so, so close. Cang Ji did not know where he could put his eyes. He was too greedy. He wanted to stare into Jing Lin’s eyes, and yet he could not move his eyes away from Jing Lin’s lips.
Those lips were lustrous and moist. It added a touch of color to the scene. Cang Ji saw it parted slightly, and a nimble tongue flitted across those lips. He had been deceived… Jing Lin seemed to be leading him on. He felt dizzy. He was already within reach of him. It was the same recently. Jing Lin stuck close behind him and used his fingers to stroke his arms to guide him on how to face the enemy head-on. He was so close, so…
Cang Ji crashed right into Jing Lin’s arms. He leaned against Jing Lin’s shoulder and held on tightly to Jing Lin’s arm as if despondent. It was only then he realized that his entire body was in great pain.
Cang Ji’s eyelids were heavy. He said in a daze. “Don’t look at me…”
Cang Ji pressed Jing Lin’s back against the wall, with the back of Jing Lin’s neck against the window edge. The demon heavily draped himself over half Jing Lin’s body and buried his face into the side of Jing Lin’s neck. Tightening his hold on his arm, he trapped Jing Lin against the corner in a posture that would leave the latter with no room for discussion.
Jing Lin’s fingers nimbly dug into Cang Ji’s hair and stroked his head as if comforting him. He raised his head to gaze at the stars, flinching imperceptibly from Cang Ji’s scalding heat, yet tempted by Cang Ji’s burning intensity at the same time.
The little stone figure sat on the window edge and shook his legs as he gazed at the stars with Jing Lin.
Jing Lin whispered. “So warm.”
The little stone figure retracted its leg and touched Jing Lin’s forehead, then slid down the window edge to Cang Ji’s shoulder. It crept into the remaining small gap between them and curled up quietly.
It was as if Cang Ji was hugging a mass of cotton. He dominated it all and waited sleepily for his spiritual sea to be restored. However, he fell into a trance and heard the tinkling of the copper bell. He parted the thick clouds of fog, suspecting that the bell had come to get him to look at Gu Shen.
It was as he expected. When Cang Ji raised his head, he saw a young boy squatting opposite him. When the child saw him, he stood up and waved his hand at him, shouting, “Mother!”
“Mother my ass.” Cang Ji blurted out.
The young child dashed up to him barefooted, like a baby swallow seeking refuge in the forest. Cang Ji swung aside to dodge him. The child brushed past him and threw himself into the woman’s embrace.
The woman picked up the child in her sturdy arms and pulled off her towel to wipe off her sweat. She said, “Mother was delayed as Mother was helping others to grind soybeans.”1
“I have steamed the rice.” The child gave her a laugh.
“Let’s go. We’ll go home to try it out.” The woman passed by Cang Ji, staggering a little.
The child stepped on the stool to scoop rice for his mother. He said it was rice, but it was actually a water-based soup mixed with cornflour. The woman sat in the bamboo-fenced yard, took off her shoes and looked at the blisters on the soles of her feet. Her back was aching. She propped her forehead to rest for a while. The child brought her a bowl, and she ate it with two coarse steamed buns.
“Father is better today.” The child squatted in front of her and said, “He talked to me for a while during breakfast and taught me how to read a word.”
“What word did you learn?” The woman wiped her mouth.
“Chuan.” The child drew out the character for her on the ground, “Chuan—”
With her head against her child’s, the mother studied the word with him. But a moment later, the woman heard a loud crash indoors. She hurried in and saw a man sprawled on the ground, holding his arm as he climbed onto the bed.
“Get out.” The man’s ghastly face was ashamed and resentful. “I’ll do it myself.”
The woman rolled up her sleeves to grasp him. He did all he could to struggle. “I’ll do it myself, I’ll do it…”
The woman held him and dragged him onto the bed. On seeing the child watching by the side of the door, he flew into a rage. He shoved the woman and shouted, “Get out… Get out!”
The woman felt under the quilt. The man’s face was deathly pale. He curled up and held his head in shame and repeated, “Why won’t you let me die? It’s better for me to die.”
“Chuanzi.” The woman turned her back on her young child and said, “Go boil a basin of hot water and bring it to me.”
The child nodded and retreated. The man was still in the inner chamber repeating his words. The woman swiftly lifted the quilt, stripped the man’s pants, and removed the soiled part. She tugged at the man’s damp hair and said gently, “The physician said that you will be fine once you have taken enough medicine. How could you speak of death so easily? Chuanzi is still waiting for you to take him to school.”
Her gentle voice calmed the man. He was still looking vacant as if resigned to his fate. The woman wiped the sweat from his face, her not-very-graceful profile giving way to one with an unswerving determination. As she spoke, she patted the man on the back until he fell asleep. Only then did she wipe the filth clean with the hot water.
“Chuanzi.” The woman pulled out a few dirty copper pearls from her waistbelt. “Go to town and ask the physician over. Mother will wait for you at home. Be careful on the way. “
The child took the money and turned to run out the door. It was hot outside, and he was drenched in sweat. But he disregarded it all as he ran barefooted. He had yet to make it to town when he felt too tired and thirsty to continue, thus he wiped his sweat and kept on walking.
A Daoist priest with a goatee turned around the narrow and winding path, jingling his bell and chanting as he walked. The child was giddy from the scorching heat, and his throat was parched as he panted.
The Daoist priest untied his water bag2 and handed it to the child. He squatted down and asked in an affable tone, “Where are you going, little buddy?”
The child drank the water and replied gullibly. “Looking for the physician.”
“Oh, who has contracted an illness back home?”
“Father.” The child wiped away the never-ending sweat. His palm was wet and sticky. He said, “Father is ill.”
The Daoist priest sized him up, smiled and asked, “What illness? Perhaps I could take a look.”
“He can’t move.” The young one replied truthfully.
The Daoist priest put his hand on the child’s shoulder and beamed, “That’s easy. I can treat this sickness! Shall I carry you back?”
The Daoist priest carried the child home. Upon entering the courtyard, he glanced around for a moment before stepping in. He half bowed in deference and called out tentatively, “Is the master of the house here?”
There was no response from inside the house.
The child wanted to get down, but the Daoist priest did not release his grip on him. So, the child yelled, “Mother! The physician is here!”
The woman was away elsewhere. The Daoist priest entered the house. It was quiet inside. He rummaged around in the outer room as he coaxed the child, “Where is the money? Tell me. I’ll consider prescribing medicine.”
The Daoist priest’s grip on him was so tight that the child felt uncomfortable. Scared, he shook his head blankly.
The Daoist priest started to ransack the place even more hurriedly. He swept away the dishes on the table and even checked the corners of the cupboard and under the stove. At last, he entered the inner chamber. The man was resting with his eyes closed. At first, the Daoist priest did not dare to act rashly, so he went about his search quietly. The child started to struggle. He shouted, “No money! No money!”
The man on the bed woke up with a start. He pushed himself up and shouted at the Daoist priest, “Who are you?!”
The Daoist priest had rummaged his way to the wardrobe. He dug out the clothes and finally got his hands on a bag of copper pearls. He immediately tucked it into his bosom and turned to glare at the man. Even if the child did not know what the Daoist priest was going to do, he knew that his family was poor and that his mother had kept that money for his father’s treatment. So he punched and kicked the Daoist priest and yelled. “It’s not yours!”
The Daoist priest slapped him and hoisted him over the shoulder before making his way outside. Alarmed, the man propped himself and grabbed hold of the corner of the Daoist priest’s robe. With his lower body paralyzed, he could only keep a firm grip on the Daoist priest’s clothes as he was hauled off the bed.
“What are you doing? Return the child to me!” As he was being dragged along the floor, he said, “You can have the money, but not the child!”
The Daoist priest tried to pull his clothes back but failed. He lifted his foot to stomp on the man’s chest and cursed, “Screw you! You’re so fricking poor. Only the damn child is worth some money!”
The man’s expression had turned malevolent from the kicking. He tightened his grip and grabbed hold of the Daoist priest’s leg with one hand. Raising his voice, he shouted, “Su-niang! Su-niang!”
The child wailed as he pounded on the Daoist priest. “Father! Father!”
“Let go of me!” The Daoist priest stomped on the man so hard the latter spat out blood. “Are you releasing your hands or not? If you don’t, I’ll hit you even harder!”
The man held on the Daoist priest’s leg and coughed out the blood he could not swallow. He said, “Return the child to me! The child, give him back to me!”
On seeing this, the Daoist priest flipped the small table beside the bed and smashed it down on the man. Even badly battered, the man refused to loosen his grip. The Daoist priest picked up a broken jar and slashed away at the man’s fingers. “Release me! Fast!”
The man’s hands were a bloody mess. The Daoist priest kicked him away and stepped across the threshold with the child. The man pushed himself up in an attempt to chase after him and heard the returning woman bumping into the Daoist priest.
The child cried out, “Mother!”
The woman swung her hoe and charged. The Daoist priest had initially thought the woman in this house was weak and could be easily bullied. If she was petite, he could kidnap her along with the child. He had never expected her to be such a sturdy woman! He turned around and took to his heels. The child tore at his collar and rained kicks on him.
The woman chased after him as if her life depended on it, all the while calling out his name, “Chuanzi, Chuanzi!”
The Daoist priest had good running skills and gradually shook the woman off. He made his way into the thickly forested mountains and picked a bumpy road. One of the woman’s shoes fell off. She ran barefooted, stepping on the scattered rocks and branches until she stumbled and fell. The Daoist priest took the opportunity to make a swift getaway. As the figure of his mother receded into the distance, the child heard her let out a heart-wrenching cry.
The child trembled and sobbed as he watched the distance between them grew further and further apart.