The Ambiguous Message
Luo Yuan stepped aside while Zhao Qiang and Captain Chen covered their noses and rummaged the stomach with a wooden stick. They had to to confirm the victims’ identities. After all, they were cops and were used to seeing corpses. Shortly afterwards, the support team arrived by following the opened path. They were shocked by the image of the giant snake, but quickly calmed down when they realized that it was already dead.
Wang Fei was the first one to be carried down the hill. Before he left, he looked at Luo Yuan from afar with a confused anguished expression.
There was nothing else for Luo Yuan to do.
Several people spoke in whispers with Captain Chen and Zhao Qiang for a while. Then they put on rubber gloves, stuffed the corpses into transparent plastic bags and carried them down the hill.
Huang Jiahui had been silent for quite some time. She looked absent-minded and kept her distance from Luo Yuan. Luo Yuan wanted to talk to her at first, but quickly gave up when he saw her mood.
The way back was quite smooth, without any unexpected dangers. When they reached the police station, Luo Yuan got out of the car and changed back into his own clothes. He exchanged phone numbers with Captain Chen and asked him to contact him when he identified the bodies. Then he left in a taxi.
When the taxi entered the city, Luo Yuan checked the time and realized it was not even 3 p.m. yet. He got off the taxi at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and walked inside the building.
Considering that he had been working for less than a year and that his salary was just enough to cover his basic needs, he did not have a lot of savings. However, he still had about two hundred thousand in his card after paying for his university tuition and living expenses. He had gotten that money by selling his house after his parents had been killed in an accident. He had not managed to get any compensation out of the offender.
There was an announcement stating that ICBC’s fixed deposit interest rate had increased, reaching 15%. Such a high interest rate had occurred only once before, during the economic turmoil of the 90s. Luo Yuan had studied economics, so he knew that such an occurrence was unusual.
He walked to the counter. He wanted to withdraw one hundred thousand, but he was only able to withdraw fifty thousand because he had not made an appointment. He took the money and walked out of the bank, using the ATM outside to withdrew another twenty thousand.
Carrying that huge amount of money, he called a transport company and rented a small truck. Then he drove directly to a supermarket and purchased whatever he could think of. Drinking water, instant noodles, cereal, clothes, canned food, cooking oil etc. He stopped only when the truck was completely full.
When his storage room was filled with food and groceries and more than half of his bedroom was occupied by bags of rice, he felt satisfied.
As the saying went: one will not panic while there are sufficient food supplies in the house. If the world was really about to end, he could still survive for a long period of time with that much food and drinking water, and an increased interest rate.
He turned on his computer. All the forums and news sites were mostly reporting about the rapid plant growth rate and animal mutations. Some villagers even claimed that people had been disappearing from their villages daily, spreading panic.
However, there was not much feedback on those posts. That might be because people felt numb after reading them, or because they did not believe them considering that they had not experienced anything like that before.
If it was the former, then Luo Yuan was one of them. After that incident with the snake, he did not feel like the same person anymore.
He started to search for news on the army, which usually went unnoticed, buried deep into the sea of news posts. He still managed to find some clues. The country’s military bases seemed to be very busy. The reporters kept using the words “training” and “transfer”.
Then he came across a 10 days-old news post from Brazil.
“Because of the climate change, exports of Brazilian wood have stopped!”
He was suddenly struck by a thought. As he continued to search for information about Brazil, he realized that it seemed to have disappeared from the news. There were no longer any news about the country, other than that piece of news that had been posted 10 days ago.
The larger part of the Amazon Rainforest, also known as the lung of the earth, was located in Brazil. Its tree cover rate was extremely high and could not even be compared to Mount Zhu, which was no more than 200m above sea level. The Amazon Rainforest was a haven for wildlife but a forbidden area for humans, because of the many strange and dangerous species living there.
Even a small hill like Mount Zhu had hid a giant snake. Considering that, things in Brazil had to be worse. No news from the country had to mean bad news.
Luo Yuan shuddered at the thought.
The sound of a door being unlocked came from outside, and Luo Yuan looked at the time. It was almost 5 p.m. It had to be Zhao Yali.
“Xiao Yuan, is Weiqiang back?”
Luo Yuan opened his door. Zhao Yali looked even more worried than she had this morning.
He didn’t know whether he should tell her. The news would devastate her. The two of them had been engaged. They had bought a house together that was currently being renovated and had planned on getting married on New Year’s. And now he had to tell her that he was dead, and that his body was beyond any recognition.
She would find out soon enough, but maybe he could postpone it for a little bit longer.
Luo Yuan hesitated before he said, “He should be home soon!”
Zhao Yali’s face turned slightly pale as she muttered to herself, “What is he up to? Why is he not returning my phone calls? That’s not like him.”
“Maybe he’s stumbled onto something!” Luo Yuan suggested.
“Do you think he’s having an affair?”
“He is not that kind of man. Don’t overthink it. Besides, doesn’t he spend all his salary on you? I’m going out for dinner,” Luo Yuan said, changing the topic.
“Let’s just eat together. I’ll cook!” Zhao Yali said politely. She felt better after talking with Luo Yuan.
“It’s alright, I shouldn’t always eat for free!” Luo Yuan said while he walked out. He felt uneasy. He did not want to keep lying to her.
The small restaurant was located at the entrance of the district. Luo Yuan was a frequent customer, so the boss was nice to him.
He had spent too much energy that day, so he ordered two extra dishes.
The phone rang when he was halfway through his meal.
Luo Yuan took it out and saw that it was Captain Chen. He could guess what it was about. He answered it.
From the other end, he heard Captain Chen’s deep voice say, “Xiao Luo, please brace yourself. I’ve got some bad news for you.” He paused, giving Luo Yuan some time to get ready, before he said, “We have the results. One of the bodies belongs to your brother-in-law. I’m sorry!”
Luo Yuan already knew this, so he wasn’t surprised. “Thank you, Captain Chen, I had actually already guessed it this afternoon. Have you contacted my sister?”
“I have already had someone from the other unit contact her. Considering the body is beyond recognition and has already began decaying, I suggest that the family cremates it right after seeing him for the last time,” said Captain Chen.
“Okay, I will talk to her,” said Luo Yuan.
“The dead don’t rise from the grave, Xiao Luo. You have my sincere condolences. Goodbye.”
Luo Yuan hang up. He remained silent for a while. Then he quickly paid the bill and headed back home.
As soon as he opened the security door, the strong smell of something burning hit his nose.
Luo Yuan ran shocked into the kitchen. He found Zhao Yali paralyzed on the floor, a spatula in her hand, while smoke billowed out from the wok on the gas stove, making it look like it was burning.
Luo Yuan quickly turned off the gas, filled a bowl with water and poured it on the wok.
The water evaporated quickly with a soft sound.
Then he looked at Zhao Yali. She seemed stupefied and had not moved at all, even when Luo Yuan had come in. She had to be in deep sorrow.
“Do you want to die? You almost burned the house down! What happened?” Luo Yuan scolded her. He knew it would be useless to try to comfort her.
Zhao Yali stared at Luo Yuan blankly before suddenly bursting into tears. She cried in agony, making his heart throb.
“It’s alright, it’s alright!” He squatted down and patted her on the shoulder. “It’s good to cry.”
Zhao Yali hugged him and cried even harder.
“Dead… He’s dead. Weiqiang is dead… He was still alive yesterday morning… And I yelled at him…It’s my fault, it’s all my fault.”
“No, it’s not. That’s life. It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gone to Gaotang,” Luo Yuan comforted her.