The title of this chapter is 空幻之屋, which I assumed is a reference to the official Chinese name for The Hollow by Agatha Christie. I have not read this novel before so I cannot say for certain that this is what the chapter title means, but based on my research, the two stories share one (minor) similar point. In addition, the literal translation of the title, “House of Illusions”, does not make much sense with the context.
Translated by: TaffyGirl13
Chapter 2: The Hollow
Indeed, there really was a house there, towering aloft the empty expanse of short weeds. There were no other homes to be seen.
It was a two-story foreign house. It was impossible to get a clear view of the exterior in the darkness, but every window on the two floors was lit with a dim yellow glow. They were similar to guidelights in the hazy darkness, pointing the lost people on their night trek to the right direction.
Thus, the fourteen people that had come from the train followed their sole light source. They crossed through the vacant grounds to arrive before the residence.
The front door was tightly shut and there was no doorbell. There was only an enormous brass knocker with a strange design carved on it, giving it a mysterious and ancient feel.
Everyone stood before the door and exchanged looks with each other. Then, one of the men walked up the steps and banged the brass knocker.
Thud, thud, thud.
The muffled sound of metal striking wood echoed through the night.
There was no response from the inside even after they waited for a few seconds.
He knocked another three times and waited a while longer. Still, no one answered the door.
“Could it be that no one is home?” He turned to look at the crowd behind him.
A woman said, “No way, the lights are still on. How could there be no one there?”
Yuan Meng Yu stood several steps away from the front door and raised her head up to take a look.
This residence had four windows on each level. Every window was shut and had thick white curtains drawn over them. While some light still penetrated through, it was impossible to peer in from the outside.
This house’s owner has very odd tastes. From a psychologist’s perspective, the firmly shut doors and windows in addition to the closed curtains means they are likely someone that actively seeks seclusion and has a low sense of security.
Because of her professional habits, Yuan Meng Yu couldn’t help but come to this conclusion. When she lifted her head to glance around, she inadvertently saw a silhouette seemingly sway behind one of the windows on the second floor.
The shadow was very thin with a light colour as it flashed for just a moment behind the curtain. However, she had undoubtedly seen it very clearly; there was no mistake, someone lived in this home.
At this point, a muscular man strode up to the first step and impatiently rammed the door in a rough manner while shouting, “Hey, is someone there? Hurry up and open the door!”
As he spoke, he even kicked the door a few times.
“Can’t you be more standard?” Someone stopped him. “We’re here to request for help, not to come rob the place.”
Midway through, the door unexpectedly opened slowly with a creak. Yet there was not a single person standing behind it.
A young and soft voice from a little girl chimed in, “Shūshu1 is so barbaric. Don’t forget to pay for the door you kicked down.”
The muscular man looked at the silent crowd and hurriedly explained, “I didn’t kick open the door, it-it opened on its own.”
“Trying to argue over your own wrongdoings? How terrible,” a woman sneered.
“Who’s arguing! That door really did open by itself. It didn’t open from my kick!” The muscular man grew agitated.
“Alright, alright, stop bickering. Who did what can be discussed later.” A young person walked over and said, “Since the door is open now, let’s go in first and check the situation.”
He pulled something out from his pocket and stuck his head in through the door to shout, “Sorry for the interruption. I am a police officer. May I inquire if anyone is home?”
There was no response in the house even after waiting a long while.
“Looks like the house’s owner went out. But how careless are they to have not turned off the lights?” A gentle woman’s voice commented.
No one is here? How is that possible? I clearly saw someone just now.
Yuan Meng Yu lifted her head to glance at the second-floor window. The shadow did not reappear.
Could it have been my imagination? She tiredly massaged her temples.
At this moment, everyone slowly entered the house under the young police officer’s lead.
The inside of the residence was very bright as all the lights were on. The first place they entered was a spacious living room. Despite its size, there was nothing in it – no furniture like sofas or cabinets, and no electronics like a TV or speaker either. The only item present was a long wooden table that was strikingly placed in the dead centre of the room. There were two rows of chairs neatly lined up on opposite sides of the table. Each chair was already pulled out, as though waiting to be sat on by guests.
After walking for so long, everyone was tired. The muscular man wearing a camouflage tank top strode over and plopped down onto the nearest chair without holding back. He placed his legs on the table and looked at the large-eyed, baby-faced person and said, “There isn’t anyone in this house. What do we do now, Mr. Officer?”
The young man’s left hand was currently cuffed together with the bald youngster’s right hand. How hardworking he is to have led the criminal along with him this entire time.
Yuan Meng Yu stood in the corner observing him. He glanced back at his partner and then said, “How about this? No one touch anything in this house; let’s look for a phone first. Once we find a phone, we can report to the police. When the house’s owner returns, we can apologise to them and explain the cause and the situation.”
Indeed, that was all they could do now. Even if they had the crime of breaking-and-entering hanging over their heads, they had to find a phone and request for help. Otherwise, they would end up being trapped in this desolate countryside for three days; they would either starve to death or be eaten by wild animals.
After a moment’s discussion, the baby-faced young man decided to hand the criminal over to his companion. He then brought two others to scour the entire house. The strange thing was, they could not find a telephone anywhere. For that matter, the house did not even any installation to allow communication with the outside.
As such, the idea of calling the police for help was naturally shattered.
“This house’s owner is really strange. Despite going out, they leave every room’s light turned on; inside a house so big, they don’t have a phone or TV. This place doesn’t even have cellphone signal. How do they normally contact others while at home?”
The woman wearing a fur coat surveyed the house while voicing the suspicions in her heart.
These questions were what everyone else wanted to ask as well, though no one knew the answers.
Gradually, everyone crowded around the long table to take a seat. There were only eight chairs.
The males acted as gentlemen and stood off to the side without taking a seat.
Originally, the eight spots were just the perfect number for the females and children. However, the muscular man had his butt stuck unmovingly to the chair without the faintest intention of standing.
Yuan Meng Yu did not say a word, only silently standing on the side.
At this moment, the woman in the fur coat chuckled and commented, “We’ve all been reduced to being stranded in a faraway place. Since we fell into this misfortune together today, why not share self-introductions? Getting to know each other would be good. I’ll start by saying that my name is Feng Jing Jing. I’m an expired mistress that was dumped by my man two weeks ago.”
Everyone stared at her blankly in astonishment after she said this.
She cast a coquettish look back and shrugged nonchalantly as she giggled, “We’re strangers that have come together by chance. After tonight, we might not meet each other again amidst the vast sea of people. Telling you guys doesn’t do any harm.”
Her candid attitude of not avoiding anything caused the muscular man in the camouflage tank top to laugh. He waved a hand and continued, “That’s right, we were just fated to meet each other this once. Now that we’re together, anything can be said; it’s not like anyone will remember afterwards. Heh, I’m Zhao Fei Peng, a hooligan specialising in debt collection for loan sharks.”
After this, he pointed his chin at the scholarly, young and inexperienced-looking boy. “Hey, what about you, boy?”
The bookish boy glanced around and stammered, “My-my name is Zhang Xiao Long. I just graduated from university this year and have not yet found a job.”
“Pfft, Zhang Xiao Long. You have a dragon2 in your name, but you act more like a bug.”
Zhao Fei Peng fearlessly mocked the other. Zhang Xiao Long’s face flushed, but he did not dispute it and only dropped his head in shame.
The short-haired girl with the guitar on her back could not watch any longer. She snorted and commented, “Hmph, you aren’t much better yourself. Your name is Fei Peng, but you act more like a coward that can’t fly3.”
“Damn brat, what did you say?!” Zhao Fei Peng slammed the table and stood.
“So noisy. Can’t you guys be quieter? My little sister has a bad heart and can’t bear any stimulation.”
At this moment, one of the twin sisters shot them a glare, causing Zhao Fei Peng to resentfully sit back down.
The short-haired woman dropped her guitar on the table and coolly stated with a gender-neutral voice, “I’m Zhou Yue, a nameless singer.”
Following her, the remaining people introduced themselves one after another.
The man with a camera suspended around his neck was Yan Kai, a photojournalist.
The twin sisters were called Shao Yue Hua and Shao Yue Ting.
The black-robed mysterious person that had sat next to Yuan Meng Yu on the train turned out to be a street fortune teller, a woman named Xue Qing.
The little girl wearing a red dress was Duo Duo, age twelve this year.
The kind woman that had voluntarily watched over Duo Duo the entire journey was Yang Wen Jie, a middle school teacher.
Finally, after Yuan Meng Yu finished introducing herself, their eyes all landed on the two young police officers standing on the side.
The big-eyed, baby-faced young man beamed brightly and scratched his head in embarrassment as he said, “I’m Ye Xiao. This is my partner, Su Mu.”
As he spoke, he turned his head to glance at Su Mu. However, the latter remained expressionless and did not speak as he lowered his head to cuff the criminal to the staircase.
“Mr. Officer, are we to wait for the house’s owner to return?” Yan Kai took off the camera from his neck and carefully placed it on the table. “What if they went on a trip?”
“No way, if they went on a trip, how could they have left all the house’s lights on?” Zhou Yue responded.
Feng Jing Jing grinned and said, “Maybe it was to keep thieves away. If the lights are on to pretend people are at home, thieves wouldn’t dare to enter.”
“Heh, keep thieves away? Didn’t we come here only because the lights were on?” Zhao Fei Peng turned to scan the surrounding and commented, “Though this house doesn’t seem to have anything stealable. There isn’t even anything resembling furniture.”
Feng Jing Jing glanced at him and chuckled, “What, don’t tell me you really were thinking of using this chance to walk off with another’s possessions? Don’t forget, we have two police officers here.”
As she spoke, she shot a flirtatious look at Ye Xiao. Before she could say anything teasing, Shao Yue Hua interjected, “My sister’s physical condition is poor, and the walk here just now was pretty intensive. I’m afraid she won’t be able to last. Are there any bedrooms here? I want her to lie down and rest in a bed.”
This question was directed towards Ye Xiao, as he had previously led others through the house and searched every room.
Ye Xiao perplexedly scratched his head. After all, this residence belonged to someone else; he had no rights to say anything. However, Shao Yue Ting’s pale complexion truly did make it appear like she was in poor condition. They would not be able to call an ambulance for the time being if she did collapse. After pondering this for a while, he finally answered with much difficulty.
“Honestly speaking, there are a total of eight rooms here. Every one of those is a bedroom,” he said. “You can bring your sister upstairs to lie down in one of them.”
As soon as he spoke, the female teacher, Yang Wen Jie hurriedly said, “I also want to have Duo Duo rest for a bit. She’s still young, and she has no family by her side. She’s so pitiful and needs someone taking proper care of her.”
Ye Xiao naturally could not reject this request. Thus, Shao Yue Hua brought her sister upstairs, while Yang Wen Jie brought Duo Duo. Together, they found two bedrooms to rest in.
Seven people remained at the table, staring at each other in silence for a while.
With complete disregard to those around her, Feng Jing Jing took off her fur jacket to reveal a purple low-cut T-shirt. She casually tidied her slightly messy, wavy hair and said, “So hungry, I haven’t even eaten dinner. Did anyone bring food?”
Food? They all stared at each other without uttering a word.
Now that they had found a shelter, the next thorny problem they had to tackle was food and drink.
There was no way to predict the future. If the house’s owner did not return soon and they were unable to find help, they might end up in dire straits with no food or water for three days.
However, a source of water could possibly be located inside the house. Worse case, they could drink the water from the pipes. But food…
Yuan Meng Yu silently assessed every person’s expressions. They had ambiguous looks hidden on their faces; perhaps some had brought food and water but would not present them to share.
That…is human nature.
She mockingly chuckled to herself.
At this moment, Zhao Fei Ping declared, “There must be food in the kitchen, right?”
“No, there isn’t a kitchen here,” Ye Xiao replied. “We checked just now; this place only has eight bedrooms and a living room.”
“There isn’t even a kitchen? How could there be such a weird home?” Zhou Yue furrowed her brows in disbelief. “Then what about a refrigerator? There should at least be a refrigerator, shouldn’t there?”
“I’m very sorry, but there isn’t a refrigerator either.” Ye Xiao shrugged and answered, “At least, I didn’t see one.”
“How is that possible…” Feng Jing Jing tilted her head and commented, “I really wonder if there is anyone living in this house?”
“If there wasn’t, how would the lights be on?” Yan Kai looked at her.
Thus, the questions returned to the starting point.
Everyone heaved a depressed sigh. At the moment, no one was willing to waste their thoughts on guessing if anyone lived here or what kind of person they were. Their biggest concerns were food, water, and how to survive.
“Wheel of Fortune, reversed,” a voice gloomily stated amidst the brief silence.
They glanced towards the direction of the noise to see the black-robed, mysterious woman spreading out cards on the table. Each card had a strange picture on it; some were bright, some were dark, some seemed like people, some seemed like demons.
“What’s that? Tarot cards?” Zhou Yue craned her neck to take a look.
Xue Qing did not pay her any mind. She sat cross-legged on the chair as fixed as a boulder and wordlessly used two thin fingers to hold up one of the cards. After peering at it intently for a beat, she quietly recited, “Wheel of Fortune, reversed. Meaning: unable to correct direction, obstructed plans, worsening situation, and an unceasing vicious circle.”
“Huh? What are you saying? A curse?” Feng Jing Jing looked at her in amusement.
Xue Wing did not speak again. Her body shrank backwards as she buried her face into the shadows of her clothes once more.
Seeing the lack of response, Feng Jing Jing rolled her eyes and turned away.
“How about this? I’ll go search nearby for any shops or other homes. If there are, I’ll buy some food and bring it back. While I’m at it, I’ll check to see if there are any telephones to borrow. Is anyone willing to go with me?”
It was Ye Xiao that proposed this question.
Zhao Feng Pei leapt up from his seat and excitedly replied, “I’ll go too! Like hell I want to continue waiting in this haunted place!”
He walked over to the front door as he spoke.
“Wait, I’ll go too.” Zhou Yue stood.
“No, you stay behind.” Ye Xiao smiled and tactfully turned her down. “I don’t have any intention of discriminating against gender, but it’s already midnight now. There aren’t even streetlamps outside; it’s very unsafe. It’s best for girls to stay here.”
As he spoke, his gaze swept across Zhang Xiao Long and Yan Kai.
Yan Kai glanced at Zhang Xiao Long, who remained quiet with his head bowed, and took the initiative to say, “I’ll go together with you guys.”
“Alright, then the three of us will go.”
Ye Xiao nodded, then turned to look at Su Mu. The two of them quietly exchanged a few words, then the three males left the front door and their figures assimilated into the dense night.
At the moment, it was 12:35 AM.
The domed sky above their heads was like a boundless, gigantic, pitch-black curtain that covered everything.
The temperature outside was very low; the cold winds blowing at them were almost stabbing.
Their surroundings were very still. It was not the type of peaceful stillness that a village at night would have, but rather a type of oppressive, deathly stillness.
This deathly stillness combined with the deathly darkness gave rise to an indescribable fear. This was because the stillness and darkness signified the unknown, and humans were naturally terrified of the unknown that was beyond control.
Ye Xiao turned on his cellphone’s light and walked at the very front alone. Yan Kai and Zhao Fei Peng followed behind.
Three dim lights flickered in the midnight. The road underneath them was comprised of sharp, broken rocks that one could slip on, making it difficult to walk. There was no knowing if there were any wild animals nearby, so each step filled them with panic.
“Say, where exactly are we right now?” Yan Kai asked in the darkness.
Zhao Fei Peng let out a string of dirty curses and replied, “In a god-forsaken, cursed place.”
Yan Kai chuckled bitterly and continued, “Don’t you guys think it’s weird, logically speaking? The train left from S-City headed southbound. It had only been going for a bit over two hours when our carriage split. How could we have ended up at this remote place where there isn’t even a single streetlamp?”
“Oh, I considered that question too.” Ye Xiao paused before continuing, “But there are so many strange points right now, and there isn’t any energy or time to spare on scrutinising every one of them. The most critical thing is to ensure everyone’s safety.”
While speaking, he suddenly heard Zhao Fei Peng shout back at them from where he had run ahead.
“Hey, you guys, look over there. Is there a ‘24’ written on that lit-up place?”
Ye Xiao and Yan Kai were momentarily stunned, then they quickly looked up in the direction being pointed at.
Indeed, there was a lit-up “24” sign not far ahead.
It was…a 24-hr convenience store!
Immediately, wild excitement surged through them.
“That’s awesome! There’s a convenience store here, we’re saved!” Zhao Fei Peng happily snapped his fingers.
However, from the distance, the convenience store looked somewhat strange. There was no store name, so it was not a common chain. There was only an odd symbol on the sign outside that they had never seen before; it had a pointed end, an olive-shaped body, and a semicircle on each side. It was a bit like…like something…
Ye Xiao could not think of the answer in that moment. As he was spacing out at the symbol, Yan Kai said, “Let’s go and quickly check out the convenience store. There must be a telephone inside; we can call the police!”
With this, the three of them simultaneously sped up.
That’s right, who cares what that symbol is right now? Being able to find a convenience store is good enough.
With their eyes set on the hope-giving symbol, the three jogged into the store.
Following the electronic ring, the glass doors automatically opened. Zhao Fei Peng charged in first. However, as he scanned left and right, he found that the store was vacant without a single person. There were no customers, and more importantly, there wasn’t even a staff at the register. Only rows of shelves peacefully stood there.
Flabbergasted, he turned to stare at Ye Xiao and Yan Kai.
“What’s going on, where’s the staff?”
The convenience store was not large; one could see the entire place with just a sweep of the eyes. Yan Kai searched around, but did not spot anything; there were no people, nor the telephone they wanted. There weren’t even anti-theft video cameras. However, there were items arranged on the shelves and in quite a large variety: bread, crackers, spring water, cold drinks in the refrigerators, and even fresh pork buns in the heated display case. Everything that should’ve been there was there, without a single thing missing.
What kind of situation is this? An empty store with no one looking over it?
Isn’t that a bit too outrageous?
“Don’t tell me the staff had to suddenly step out because of something unexpected?” Yan Kai guessed.
“Suddenly step out? Without even locking the store doors? Is the public security so good here that they don’t even need to close shop at night?”
Ye Xiao was not quite sure whether to laugh or cry as he stared at the empty register strangely. However, then he abruptly heard the rustling of a paper bag behind him.
When he looked back, he saw Zhao Fei Peng had actually gone ahead and grabbed a hotdog on the shelf to chew on.
“Oi, is there something wrong with you? Do you plan on dining and dashing?” Ye Xiao glared at him.
Zhao Fei Peng chuckled while casually opening a canned drink. As he sipped it, he said, “There isn’t anyone here anyways, so it should be fine if I grab something to eat. It’s no big deal, you can just leave some money on the counter later.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea.” Yan Kai considered this and said, “We can just grab some urgent items for now, then put money on the counter. What do you think?”
Ye Xiao helplessly frowned and compromised, “Alright, that’s all we can do at this point.”
They each went to different shelves to grab some food and drink to satisfy them, then left enough money on the counter before walking out of the eerie, “empty” store.
On the way back, the sky was still pitch-black, the night wind was still freezing, and the broken rocks below their feet were still hard to walk on. However, their moods had become much brighter. At least now they did not have to worry about starving to death. If they truly could not find help, worst case they could quietly wait for the next train to arrive.
With piles of food in their arms, they rushed back to the house. Zhao Fei Peng impatiently kicked the front door open and loudly exclaimed, “Guys, come here and take a look at what goodies we found!”
As soon as these words fell, he was left dumbstruck.
Ye Xiao and Yan Kai walked over from behind and stepped inside the house. The scene that appeared before them also made their eyes grow wide.
There were only three people left in the spacious and quiet living room.
Ma Hong Liang was still cuffed to the staircase railing, his head dropped down. Su Mu had his arms folded in front of his chest at his seat in the corner of the long table, his longer and slender legs crossed together as he coldly stared at them. Only Zhang Xiao Long sat across from him.
“What’s going on? Where are the others?”
Ye Xiao placed the food in his arms down on the table and looked towards Su Mu in confusion.
“They-they all went to hide in the rooms.” The person that replied was Zhang Xiao Long.
“Hide in the rooms? Why?” Ye Xiao blinked in bewilderment.
Su Mu met his gaze and flatly stated, “Because this place is haunted.”
1. Shūshu is a form of address for an uncle, or an older man that is not necessarily biologically related. ↑
2. The “Long” in his name literally means “dragon”. ↑
3. The “Fei Peng” in his name literally means “flying roc”. ↑