The afternoon sun was rather blinding. Even after the woman was rejected firmly by Chen Ge, she and the boy refused to leave.
“It is his wish to visit your Haunted House, and I promised that he could. Can you please show some kindness?” The woman pulled out a 100 note from her purse. “I promise you, it’ll be fine.”
Chen Ge did not accept the obvious bribe but asked confusedly, “Why do you insist on entering the Haunted House? The boy is at most eight years old—the environment inside the Haunted House is so complicated that I’m afraid it might scar him for life.”
The woman smiled helplessly but did not answer Chen Ge’s question. Instead, she turned around to rub the boy’s fluffy hair. “Fan Yu, shall we go play something else…”
Before she could finish, the boy slapped her hand away. The boy did not like physical contact, even from his family member. No matter how the woman tried to persuade him, the boy stood unmoving at the front of the Haunted House. Occasionally, he might raise his head, and Chen Ge could see fear, inferiority, and a trace of detachment in his eyes.
“Fan Yu?” Chen Ge’s attention had completely shifted to the boy. This was the first time he had come across such a curious child before. He squatted down to the boy’s level. “Can you please tell me why you want to visit the Haunted House? It is very dark inside the building, and there are scary things.”
The boy averted his eyes, but Chen Ge noticed his gaze kept wandering toward Chen Ge’s shadow. He still had not said a word.
The woman was probably afraid that Chen Ge might get offended, so she instantly jumped out to say, “Xiao Yu is different from most children—he doesn’t like to talk—so I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course.” Chen Ge realized these two were not going to move unless tossed out by the guards. He wasn’t so cruel as to do that to a woman and a child, so he relented. “How about this? I will let you enter the building for free, but you are only allowed to visit the outer perimeter, and I will be tagging along.”
“Sign the disclaimer agreements first, both adult and child. Please do not touch any of the props or run amok while you’re inside. Stay close behind me.” Chen Ge gave the two documents to the woman and the boy. Normally, he only needed the signature from the guardian, but to get as much information as he could from the boy, Chen Ge asked for the boy’s signature as well. After signing the agreement, Chen Ge led them into the Minghun scenario.
Chen Ge explained the story background to them. The trio stood at the entrance, which was decorated with white lantern. The woman was a bit nervous, observable from the way she gripped her purse. The boy had his head lowered, but it was unknown whether from fear or something else.
The dead trees swayed in the wind, and the paper money that littered the floor scrunched under their footsteps. Chen Ge pushed open the entrance to the Siheyuan and explained, “That is what the interior looks like. Remember not to go in. The park has strict rules that prevent children under the age of fourteen from experiencing the Haunted House.”
As he finished, the little boy, who had been extremely quiet, suddenly rushed into the Siheyuan before the two adults could even stop him.
“Fan Yu!” The woman ran after him alongside Chen Ge. The boy stopped at the old well inside the courtyard. He had half of his upper body leaning down the well as if he was looking for something.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” The woman apologized profusely to Chen Ge as she tried to yank the boy out from the well. However, the shy boy seemed to have changed into another person. He not only tried his best to swat the woman’s hands away, but in his desperation, his nails clawed her arms until they were bloodied. It appeared like he had gone berserk.
“The boy sure has some huge mood swings.” The well in the Siheyuan was just a prop; it was not even that deep, so Chen Ge was not worried for the child’s safety. He was, however, curious about why the boy was so interested in the well.
After three more minutes at the well, the boy released his grasp unwillingly, probably because he did not find what he was looking for. The boy was definitely different from most young boys—he was more excitable at places that were dark and sinister.
“Since you’re already inside, then I suppose a little tour won’t hurt.” Chen Ge’s attention was fully focused on the boy. Even among his peers, the boy was of a smaller stature. He had delicate features and large eyes that looked like pure ebony.
“The Minghun scenario is modelled after the traditional Siheyuan, and the East and West Houses are normally meant for the newer generations.” He pushed open the door to the East House, and a female ghost in bridal outfit floated out from behind the door without warning. The woman screamed from shock and staggered back hurriedly.
“Don’t worry, it’s just an actor.” Chen Ge stopped the bride and whispered, “Xu Wan, go take a break for now.”
“Boss, couldn’t you at least pretend that you’re scared. Such a buzzkill…” Xu Wan picked up the dress and stepped over the wooden threshold. The boy who was behind Chen Ge rushed forward to stand before Xu Wan and titled his head up to look closely at Xu Wan.
“Hmm? Boss, why did you let such a small boy in?” Xu Wan was surprised, but only Chen Ge realized how weird this was. The bridal outfit was red as blood, and Xu Wan was in her special make-up. She looked like a dead person. In such a circumstance, the boy did not feel fear but moved forward actively to Xu Wan to take a closer look.
“The kid seems to like me.” Xu Wan smiled at Chen Ge. It was not until Xu Wan left the scenario that the boy pulled his gaze back.
“I suppose that’s enough touring for one day. The rest of the place has similar décor, so shall we leave now?” Chen Ge and the woman moved toward the exit, but the boy stopped in the courtyard. He looked left and right as if looking for something.
“Fan Yu, it’s time to go!”
The boy ignored the woman. He moved back to the old well and continued his search.
“Isn’t the boy afraid?” Chen Ge did not rush them but started chatting with the woman. “Are you his mother?”
“No, I’m his aunt. I’m sorry for creating so much trouble. Xiao Yu is a bit different from boys his age. Ever since the accident with his parents several years ago, he has been like this. We’ve been to many doctors, but it was to no avail.”
“Psychological problems? If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to his parents?” Chen Ge asked cautiously.
“Xiao Yu’s parents were both teachers at Mu Yang High School. They disappeared one day and have not been found since. At the time, Xiao Yu was only five. I didn’t how to explain it to him, so I could only lie to him and say that his parents left for some place far away called heaven.”
“Mu Yang High School‽” Chen Ge tensed after hearing these four words.
“You’ve heard of it? There are plenty of rumors about that school. I advised Xiao Yu’s parents from the beginning to seek employment elsewhere, but they refused to listen to me.” The woman’s eyes started to redden from the memory. She stopped talking to Chen Ge and walked toward the boy. “Xiao Yu, it’s time to go home.”
The boy stayed stubbornly beside the well. This made Chen Ge even more curious. He squatted down beside the boy and asked, “Why do you keep looking inside the well? Is there some kind of monster living down there?”
Fan Yu shook his head. The boy seemed to have let his guard down, standing at the corner that was shaded from the sun.
“Then can you tell me why you don’t want to leave the well?”
The boy glanced at a spot behind Chen Ge before answering, “I’m looking for something.”
“What are you looking for?” Chen Ge was curious.
The boy looked down the dark well for a long time before answering, “Heaven.”