A short-haired woman in white was sitting at the desk with her back facing him.
It was midnight, and the moon shone with a wispy light. The woman’s hands were on the table, and she was motionless.
There was no light or sound.
The night just seemed so still.
Lin Sheng was lying in bed, peering at the woman by the table from under his quilt.
He began to wonder as he remembered that he had gone to bed at 9.30 p.m. Now, judging from the darkness outside, it was 4.00 a.m. at most.
When he woke up in his bedroom, the woman was already there at his desk.
Where did the woman come from?
Lin Sheng squinted, but he had -5D shortsightedness and could only make out that she was a young woman in a white dress.
The weird thing was, he had no idea where the woman in white had come from. His mother never wore white, and his elder sister never did too. His sister was always in a uniform, plus she had gone to college far away from home.
It was terrifyingly quiet.
Lin Sheng’s brows were knitted together. He blinked to clear his vision, wanting to know who the woman was.
However, it was too dark; there was not much he could see.
What made it more terrifying was the fact that he could not move his body right then.
In a trance, he seemed to hear someone talking. The voice was coming from right behind him by the bedside. It was out of his field of vision.
The voice was very close, as though the person was staring at him while talking to his back.
He seemed to be able to sense that there were two people. Pairs of strange and cold eyes were staring at him as the indistinct chattering continued. Goosebumps formed all over his skin.
Then, there was a clicking sound like someone had opened the door and walked in.
Suddenly, all the other sounds went dead. Lin Sheng snapped out of his trance only to find that the woman in white at the desk was getting to her feet slowly and quietly. But her back was still facing him.
Her long white sleeves were loose and empty like a long skirt, while the movements of her body were stiff and unnatural like a robot’s.
“I…” Lin Sheng wanted to say something, but he was horrified to find that he could not even make a sound.
He was trembling like he had a cramp. All his muscles tensed up, and his teeth chattered. Cold sweat drenched his undershirt.
Tack, tack, tack, tack.
Again, footsteps were heard at the doorway. The entity that made those footsteps walked right up to the tail end of the bed and stopped.
Lin Sheng was terrified. He tried to pull himself under the quilt and relax his body so that he could lie as flat as possible on the bed. That way, no one would know he was there.
He thought that as long as he lay flat, whoever it was may believe that it was just a thick quilt on the bed.
Yet, he could not even move a muscle. His legs and back were experiencing a horrible cramp—it was so bad that he had to use all his might to overcome the trembling and pain.
Tack, tack, tack…
The footsteps were approaching the head of his bed.
Lin Sheng’s heart was in his mouth. He tried to close his eyes so that he would not see what was coming, but the inexplicable sense of horror made even blinking impossible.
Suddenly, a pair of cold hands slipped under the quilt and grabbed his feet.
“Aah!” Lin Sheng screamed and bounced up from his bed. He was doused in sweat. His face was pale, and his bloodshot eyes were wide open.
“Huff, huff, huff, huff…”
He gasped with his head lowered, drawing as much fresh air into his lungs as possible.
“I… I had the same dream again.” He bent his leg and reached out to touch the spot where the pair of cold hands had grabbed him earlier.
There was nothing there, as usual. There was no scar, and Lin Sheng felt no pain.
Despite that, the feeling was so vivid and real.
The sun had risen; it was now morning.
Lin Sheng climbed out of bed when someone knocked on the door.
“Why were you screaming earlier?” The worried voice of his elder sister traveled from behind the door.
With both hands, Lin Sheng rubbed his forehead, which had a copious amount of sweat. He took a deep breath. “I’m fine. Just had a nightmare.”
“You’d better be. Did anything happen in school? You’ve been very jumpy recently,” said his elder sister.
“I’m fine, really. Just had a nightmare,” Lin Sheng replied after a pause.
“Breakfast is ready. Get yourself out of bed and drink some warm milk, you’ll feel better,” his elder sister urged with concern before she walked away.
Lin Sheng sat by the bed, the dream still lingering in his head.
It was not his first encounter with that dream. He had been getting the same dream for three consecutive days. Each time, the dream would end with him not being able to move and someone grabbing his feet.
He subconsciously reached down to touch his feet, then he got up. He went to his desk and pulled the curtains open.
The blazing sun suddenly lit up the bedroom; he could even see the dust particles that were floating in the air.
Lin Sheng was an ordinary high school student. After spending three years in Hui An High School, he was about to take the college entrance exam.
His dad ran a grocery store, and his mom was a kindergarten teacher. Their combined annual income was no more than ¥100,000.
His elder sister was still in college, which was a distance away from home. She had returned home for a short stay and would go back to college in a few days. So, he was alone at home most of the time.
Lin Sheng opened the door and remained silent. Outside was a clean corridor filled with sunlight.
He heard the clinking of dishes; his elder sister was cleaning up in the kitchen.
Lin Sheng entered the kitchen, picked up a glass of warm milk from the countertop, and gulped it down at once.
His elder sister, Lin Xiao never liked to dress up. She was always in a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans—not the tight-fitting type but the loose-fitting ones.
The only things that were unique about her were her grace and poise, as well as her dark hair that cascaded down to her waist.
Lin Sheng put down the glass, grabbed a piece of hot bread, and nibbled it.
“Dad and Mom aren’t home today. I’ll take care of your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I’m leaving tomorrow. You have to take care of yourself and not make me worry about you.”
His elder sister turned and took off her apron before she sat on a high stool by the countertop. She was also holding a glass of milk in her hand, and she took a sip as she babbled on.
“Mhm.” Lin Sheng did not know what to say.
“Do you have enough pocket money? I’ve been doing some part-time work, and I earned quite a bit during the holidays. Let me know if you need any money.” Lin Xiao was always worried about this and that; it was in her blood.
“I have enough,” Lin Sheng said.
Lin Xiao thought for a moment. “What specialty products do you like? There’s a trade fair near my college. I’ve been there. They feature Kongxi specialties, and it’s said that they make fine porcelain dolls. I could post you one if you’d like. Many of my classmates like it.”
Lin Xiao started to babble again.
Lin Sheng listened to her silently. It was only ten minutes later that he obligingly responded, “There’s nothing that I want.”
“Okay, but don’t always lock yourself in your room. Get out there and meet people. No girl likes a nerd.” Lin Xiao sounded helpless. Like her best friends in her dorm, she was family-oriented, and her boring younger brother was her biggest concern. Whenever his best friend’s elder brother—who was dull and unmarried at forty—came to mind, she would feel a sense of urgency.
“I got it.” But, Lin Sheng had always been that way.
There was silence for a while as the two just bowed their heads and ate their breakfast. They quickly polished off all the slices of bread on the plate and the milk in the glasses.
His elder sister put her hand down and looked up at Lin Sheng. “Sheng Sheng, I work during my free time in college, and I have enough money. If you’re ever in need, call me.”
“Got it.” Lin Sheng bowed his head.
“Sheng Sheng.” Lin Xiao suddenly reached out and pressed her hand on Lin Sheng’s left shoulder. “Sheng Sheng” was Lin Sheng’s nickname at home, and only those who were closest to him called him that.
“You’re a man now. Please help Dad and Mom when I’m not around. They’re having problems of their own. A child has gone missing from the kindergarten where mom works in, and the child’s from mom’s class. So, she has to deal with the problem. Although mom’s fine, she has to bear some of the responsibility; her pay’s been cut.”
Lin Sheng nodded. “Don’t worry about me, Sis. I’m fine.”
“But why do you look so ill?” Lin Xiao was worried.
“Really?” Lin Sheng was stunned.
“Go see for yourself in the mirror.” Lin Xiao released his shoulder helplessly.
Lin Sheng hurriedly left the kitchen and went into the bathroom.
He saw his face in the mirror as soon as he looked up. It was pale, and his lips were gray.
“Did you have insomnia last night? Why don’t you go and sleep again?” Lin Xiao was heard saying outside the bathroom.
Lin Sheng touched his lips; they were dry and starting to peel.
“I-I just had a nightmare last night. I’ll be fine after a while.” Lin Sheng played down her concern because he did not want his family to worry about him even though the nightmare seemed real.
“Fine then. I’ve got stuff to do so I’m leaving now. When you get back from school, reheat the food. Don’t worry about me. Dad and Mom will be at Grandpa’s place today. That means you’ll be alone. Don’t forget the key when you go out.”
“Got it,” Lin Sheng calmly responded. He then heard the sound of the door closing, and the house returned to silence.
Lin Sheng stood in front of the mirror alone, looking at his face. He suddenly had a gut feeling that his nightmare would not simply go away. “I hope it’s just an ordinary dream.”
Lin Sheng exited the bathroom and walked into the living room, where there were two ¥100 bills on a long wooden table. The green bills changed colors and had different lusters depending on the viewing angle.
Lin Sheng reached out and took the money without a word. He would have to live on this money for the next two months.
Previously, his pocket money was ¥100 a month with school-provided meals. Now, it was ¥200 for two months. That was ¥25 a week, and slightly over ¥3 a day.
“With only ¥3 a day, I must live frugally.” Lin Sheng got to his feet and entered his room.
He then changed into his school uniform. On the left chest of his blue-and-white uniform was a school badge with a rooster pattern and the word “Hui An.”
Lin Sheng packed his school bag, changed into a pair of color-matching blue-and-white sneakers, and hurried out the door.
He walked out of the housing area, passing by some vegetable sellers before hopping on an old bus at the bus stop next to the neighborhood’s gate.
The bus rocked all the way for more than ten minutes. He finally reached his destination, squeezed himself out of the crowded bus, and ran straight into school. The school bell rang as soon as he stepped into his classroom.