Proofreaders: Gwen, Hiro, and Red
Continuing our Halloween marathon! What's going to happen?! OAO
By the time the four of us make it back to our dorm, we’re not trying to be careful anymore like when we were sneaking out, instead we shoot straight for our individual beds like arrows, waking everyone else.
“What’s goin’ on?” Chief asks groggily.
But no one answers him. He turns around and curls back into his blankets, but I know there’ll be endless nagging and questions in the morning.
Screw it! Too tired to care. I swear climbing Taishan wasn’t even this taxing.
My blankets warm up and fatigue seeps into me. My eyelids drift down and finally shut.
In that hazy moment between light and deep sleep, my eyes crack open a tiny bit. The room is filled only with the sound of everyone’s low breathing and the only light source comes from the ventilation window above the dorm door. I can see a dim yellow bulb wavering outside from the top bunk. I quickly shut my eyes against the dry air until something sounds amid the tranquility.
Water? It’s the only thing that comes to mind.
Perhaps it’s a loose faucet in the washroom across the hall. But it sounds too close to be. Perhaps because it’s too quiet at nighttime. I’ve never heard such clear dripping of water before, as if it were right beside my ears.
The door opens.
I grumble and open my eyes. With the light from the hallway, I can faintly make out a black figure slowly pushing the door open. It might be my exhausted mind playing tricks on me but its movements are extremely delayed, and along with the creak of the door the whole thing drags out like a slow-mo scene from a movie.
Who is it? From the look of that skinny head, it’s probably Glooms. Why the heck is he so sneaky going for a piss? What a weirdo.
He steps in very slowly and delicately, making no noise other than the door’s creak. I can only see a dark figure moving slowly once the door closes again.
He’s walking so evenly…it’s almost like floating.
I let out a yawn. Just when I want to say something I notice he has stopped beside Kong Linglin’s bed and then he starts climbing up the bunk bed.
You idiot, your bed is over by the windows! Above Chief’s! Across from mine! For crying out loud.
I shrug and let fatigue take over.
The water goes lightly, drip-drop, through the whole night.
I wake up refreshed the next day. The others also seem better after a good night’s rest, laughing and joking around. Chief starts his lecture while preparing for his classes today. The four of us denies all charges of going out last night in unison, our alibi being that we went to the washroom together.
“Oh yeah, which one of you idiots slept in the bed above Eng last night?”
I leer at Glooms quietly making his bed. Our eyes meet and his brows scrunch together in confusion.
Wait, it wasn’t him?
“What? There was someone up there last night?” Kong Linglin bursts out laughing. “I wonder who’d want to sleep on bare planks.”
“It was you, idiot!”
The room is bustling and hustling with our taunts and teases.
We get tired after a while and start heading down to the cafeteria for food when Mu Mu noticed something.
“Hey, look,” he calls out, pointing to the wall near Kong Linglin’s bed. “Is that a leak?”
I follow in his finger’s direction and there is indeed a huge water stain on the wall his bed is pushed up against. The origin of the leak is behind the top bunk so it looks as if the water’s been leaking from the bed above. But that’s impossible－there’s nothing up there to leak.
“It’s probably a leak from next door, then.” Cubs touches the wall curiously, his fingers becoming covered with water droplets.
“Uh, hello? 309’s storage space. No one lives there. There’re only old beds and stuff.” Kong Linglin tears some toilet paper and wipes the wall－the paper is instantaneously dripping with water. “A pipe or two broke, probably. Let’s get the caretaker to take a look in the afternoon.”
“Calling Chief! We have an important mission for you!” I slap Wu Fan on the back and chuckle good-heartedly.
He doesn’t say anything; it’s his responsibility to take care of us anyway!
The morning drama wraps up soon after. We eat breakfast and the six of us freshmen head off to our individual classrooms.
Other than Wu Fan, the rest of us are all freshmen in the Engineering Physics Faculty but we have different majors, for example I’m majoring in Modern Physics while Mu Mu and Kong Linglin are majoring in Radiophysics so our classes are in different places.
I peer at Yuan Fei walking haughtily behind me. Why does it have to be him? Xu Ping is in Modern Physics, too, but he’s in section 2. Why do I have to be in the same class as this gorilla?
“Cubs!” I catch him before he heads upstairs to his Pharmaceutical Engineering classes. “Wait for me later. Let’s get lunch together.”
“Mmkay!” He answers cheerfully.
I suppose the reason why I’m so close with Cubs, other than the fact he’s super adorable, is because he never holds a grudge no matter how bad I treat him.
Lecture on Plasma Energy. The minutes tick by while I yawn uncontrollably to the teacher’s flat voice reciting the textbook for his dear life. I really try to pay attention at first for the teacher’s sake but soon I start nodding off.
The teacher probably couldn’t stand seeing half of the class dozing either so right when the bell rings he shoots out the door without another word. The next moment it’s as if the whole class wakes up and it becomes livelier than a summer carnival. Then the sound of things scattering onto the floor from the back of the room turns everyone’s attention.
I catch a glimpse of Yuan Fei gathering his books and stationery from the floor looking pale as a ghost before booking it out the room as if his life depends on it.
Diarrhea. My first guess.
“Hey, Xiao Yu, maybe you should go take a look at him. He didn’t look too well; is he sick?”
Within half a minute I’m surrounded by a bunch of girls urging me to skip class. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Next thing I know, I’m walking out of the room before the bell rings again.
I stroll to our dorm, whistling a joyful tune－like I give a damn about him. All the ‘bros before hoes’ and other bro-code shit don’t apply to us but since I have such a nice excuse to skip class I might as well pretend to care a little.
The door isn’t locked when I get back and Yuan Fei is actually sleeping away in his bed. He has the top bunk beside my bed; Mu Mu sleeps on the bottom. I take my shoes off and step on Mu Mu’s bed to get to him.
“You sick or somethin’?” I nudge him really hard a couple of times.
He rips his blankets off all of a sudden and what I see shocks me. His face is pale beyond description and his eyes are red as if he has been crying. His forehead is coated with sweat and his breaths are more like pants.
“Hey! Are you okay?” I’m not teasing anymore; he looks really bad.
He just glares at me, panting, but not saying a word. It seems as if he’s frightened, judging from his violently quivering hands.
“How’re you feelin’? Do you wanna see the nurse?” I swipe my hand across his forehead－holy shit, where was he when there was a drought?
“D-d-did, d-did you…” His voice is quivering more than his hands.
He shuts his mouth and dives back into his blankets.
I shake him, not giving up. “C’mon, what were you saying?”
“Nothing,” a muffled voice comes through the blankets.
“I’m gonna go if you don’t wanna tell me.” I exclaim and jump off the bed.
I’m putting on my shoes when I hear him toss around and pulls his blankets off but he hides once more when I stand up.
If you want me to stay that badly, just say so, geez.
Peering at the round lump on the bed, I heave a sigh. I guess I should stay, even if I don’t know what’s wrong, because he’s just like a terrified child right now, and you shouldn’t leave terrified children by themselves.
So I just jump on to Mu Mu’s bed and pop a CD in. I turn the volume down without much thought－this way I can still hear him if he needs something.
I glance at the bunk bed across from me. The stain is two-thirds the way down, soon it will reach Kong Linglin’s bed. I quickly get some paper and dab at it. The dry paper turns into a wet blob of gunk.
How is it leaking this much?
I search around for a place where the leak might come from, and I finally pinpoint the only possibility to be Room 309. There can’t be this much water unless it’s coming from next door.
I stop before Room 309 and jump up a couple of times to peek through the vents, but all I can see are wooden boards.
“Is anyone there? I’m your next door neighbour.” I don’t know why but I start knocking on the door and ask as if I’m expecting a reply.
Of course none came.
I chuckle at myself for being so silly before returning to 308. I put the music back on.
When I shut our room door, I think I hear a drop of water drop from afar.
Yuan Fei doesn’t stir for the longest time so my eyes start getting heavier and heavier out of boredom. I close the CD player and let the sleepiness take over me. I think the water’s still dripping in my hazy state.
Better get that damn tap fixed soon.
And I fall asleep.
Who knows after how long, the bed suddenly rocks violently. My eyes snap open in time to see Yuan Fei landing on the floor from his top bunk. The space between beds is obviously not big enough for such manoeuvres and before I know it he’s tripping hard over table legs and chair legs.
I jump up. “What the hell? Are you outta your mind?”
I do a double take when he looks up at me. His eyes are bloodshot, his gaze flickering nervously like a madman. He stares at me wildly, shakes my hand off and runs out the room without even putting some shoes on.
“Yuan Fei!” I dash out after him.
He races towards the stairwell as if his life depends on it. I’ve never seen him like this. All I can do is call his name while trying to catch up to him. Bewildered, he misses a step all of a sudden and starts falling down the staircase. I yelp and watch helplessly as he tumbles from the third floor to the next landing.
“Yuan Fei!” I hurry down the steps and help him up. “You okay, man? You hurt anywhere?”
It seems that the fall knocked some sense into him. He collapses against the wall, panting harshly, his pale lips trembling nonstop.
“Hey there,” I coax gently, “Can you tell me what happened just now?”
He weakly shakes his head and closes his eyes. I try to get him to stand up but I think he doesn’t even have enough energy to do that, so I bring his arm around my neck and haul him back to our room.
I’m not strong enough to get him into his bed so I just leave him on Mu Mu’s for now. The caretaker comes after hearing the racket earlier and asks me what happened. I laugh it off as an accident: Yuan Fei rolled out of the bed and fell, nothing else. I especially emphasized that it was not a fight.
The caretaker looks at him worriedly, which is only normal the way he looks now, and instructs me to take care of my roommate and remember to bring him to the infirmary when he comes to.
I take this chance to report the leak and stain to the caretaker. He opens Room 309 to investigate and I take a peek inside. There’s nothing inside but dust and more dust, nothing to cause a water leakage.
So where is the water coming from?
After the caretaker leaves, I grab a chair and plop down beside Yuan Fei, not taking any chances this time.
There it goes again.
I was just about to head across the hall to check when Yuan Fei suddenly jerks violently and opens his eyes wide as if he’s been electrocuted. I honestly just about jump out of my skin from him staring wide-eyed at nothing and shaking like a leaf like that－it’s as if he’s possessed.
“Okay, that’s it. We’re going to the doctor’s, now.”
With that said his gaze finally slowly fixes on to me and he stays quiet catching his breath.
“Yuan Fei,” I coax softly once more. He’s a bundle of nerves right now; I think if I so much as coughed he might just have a break down. “Let’s go see the doctor, okay?”
I use my sleeve and gently clean the cold sweat off of his face. He suddenly grabs on to my wrist and words finally start to form around those trembling lips.
“Okay, I won’t. You can keep holding my hand if it helps.”
He clings on to my right hand with two hands and I feel his trembling through the contact. I can’t help but tense up too. Soon I can’t tell whose sweat is whose.
The bell rings several times but I have no idea which block it is anymore. Slowly the pressure on my right hand lessens and I can tell from his breathing that he’s finally asleep. I keep my hand there despite my prickling numb arm and study his frowning face. It hits me that he’s really in trouble this time.
I start hearing more people around in the building so I guess it’s lunch break. Soon everyone arrives one by one. They all look surprised to see Yuan Fei holding my hand and sleeping in Mu Mu’s bed. Cubs was huffing and puffing about being ditched but when he saw Yuan Fei he quietly inquired about his condition.
Yuan Fei wakes up a bit past one in the afternoon and I take my arm back. The prickling sensation is so strong I can’t help but let out a yelp. He looks kind of guilty and his lips jerk a couple of times before muttering his thanks.
That’s it?! And to think I lent my arm for so long.
I don’t reply and push the lunchbox Chief got for him over. I dig into my portion even though it’s cold now out of hunger. He picks a bit here and there, cleans up his utensils and climbs back into his bed.
I curse him in my mind and then jog to the washroom to wash our lunchbox, humming.
I freeze for a moment, then reach out to turn the tap off. I survey the empty washroom; all the faucets are dry as a desert, not a drop of water in sight.
It’s so close but there’s nothing abnormal with any of these faucets.
I rush to the toilets. The main hatch is on but it’s dry everywhere else, no sign of leaking.
Whatever, not my problem. I roll my eyes.
After I finish, I huddle on Cubs’ bed and start chatting away with him quietly; Chief is doing Advanced Math; Xu Ping is taking a nap while Mu Mu is napping on Kong Linglin’s bed because his was being used by Yuan Fei; and Kong Linglin is writing to his family.
I glance at Yuan Fei’s bed since I can’t see him from the bottom bunk, but I guess he’s sleeping like a log judging from the lack of noise.
I guess he’s all right now?
Chief wakes us up one by one a bit before two-thirty. We freshen up and leave for afternoon classes. I purposely walk next to Yuan Fei while thinking to myself about how kind and saintly I am, but the damn monkey keeps his mouth shut. He doesn’t even react to my taunts. I have to say my self-esteem feels a little dejected and undignified from that.
Screw you, monkey!
I pick the farthest seat from him when I get to class. I don’t even know what I’m upset for, though.
Boring English lecture. The pretty English teacher spews a string of alien tongue with her angelic voice. Bored to tears, I start doodling on my English notebook waiting for the bell to go off.
After class, Yuan Fei, Cubs and I walk back to our room together but when we get there, Mu Mu and Xu Ping are both knocking at the door.
“What’s up? Forgot your keys?” I laugh.
“No, it’s locked from the inside.” Mu Mu says, panicking. “We’ve been knocking forever, but nothing.”
Other than a lock that all of us have the keys to, there’s a latch on the inside. Once it’s latched, unless the person inside lets you, there’s no way in. We even have a name for it: 308’s privacy insurance.
I knock a few times and put my ear against the door. Nothing. Sounds like no one’s in but then how could it be locked? Did the person pass out or something?
“Who is it? Wu Fan or Kong Linglin?”
“Not Chief. It should be Eng.” Mu Mu looks like he’s on pin and needles. “He said he felt dizzy and left right after class without even bringing his things. I rushed back after getting all his stuff but he’s not answering no matter how much we knock. Chief already went to get security to pry it open. I hope he didn’t faint in there.”
I pound on the door. “Kong Linglin! You in there? Yo! Talk to me!”
Getting no response, I place my ear on the door once again hoping to catch something, a moan, anything. I guess my expression got everyone to hold their breath and it becomes so quiet I can hear the sound of my own breathing.
Then, I hear the tiniest sound from behind the door.
I perk my ears and continue to listen. It’s really small but I’m sure it’s coming from our room. It’s the sound of a single droplet falling into a larger pool.
Did someone tip over a glass of water?
I get down straight on my knees and try to look through the door crack. But I can’t see anything, so I have to lie flat on the ground.
“Goddamn, Kong Linglin. You’re doing my laundry this week.” I curse lowly.
With my face right up against the floor, I can finally see the room but what I see scares me stiff.
Thick, thick red. Below Kong Linglin’s bed. Everywhere.
Red. Makes my blood curdle. Red. Like blood.
The soft sound makes me jump in my skin as the red on the floor quivers slightly. Then another.
I shoot up and backward but I hit the cold wall before I can even stand up straight.
“What’s wrong, Xiao Yu? What’s going on inside? What d’you see?”
What did I see?
Red. Ink? So thick, so red that it’s black. So much, so much, as if someone bled out.
What was it I saw?
What was it?
“Sunny, you okay?”
Cubs is alarmingly shaking me by the shoulders but nothing comes out of my mouth. I can only bore holes into that tightly shut door and tremble uncontrollably.
It’s not blood. It can’t be. It’s ink. It must be.
“Help! Someone!” Mu Mu screams.
I really scared them, huh. But I can’t just jump back up with a smile and act as if nothing happened. I’m dumbstruck, slumped on the floor.
Chief and two security guards come rushing over with a long wrench. One of them rams the door a couple of times before deciding to pry it open. By this time, the commotion here at 308 has attracted students from other rooms and soon the hallway’s filled with people pointing and whispering.
I sincerely hope Kong Linglin would walk out laughing when the door gets pried open. He’d slap me on my back and cackle: ‘I got you there, didn’t I?’ and then I would punch that sucker. I’d get made fun of by the guys for a long time and all my classmates would call me a chicken and people from other classes would point to me in the halls and say: ‘Hey, that’s the guy who got so scared he couldn’t stand! Xiao Yu!’ and then the story of my cowardice would become a classic story at our school, and then-
The door has been opened.
I watch the guards frozen in place. Then a terrified shriek from Mu Mu. Then screams from everyone who was curious enough to go forth. Everyone screaming and running for their lives.
Cubs doesn’t. He just holds on to my shoulder, shuddering. I pull him into my embrace but neither of us seems to stop shuddering.
Why…? I already got ready to be made fun of for the rest of my life. Why does reality have to be so harsh with me?__________________________________
ayszhang's comment: A passage has been left out due to its tense conflict with the rest of the story:
***“If someone had told me that that bell would be the prelude to this tragedy, I would have prayed for time to stop, I would be willing to listen to that boring lecture forever and doodle on my notebook, again and again.
At least then nothing would have happened.”
Dairytea's comment: Victim No.1!? Stay tuned tomorrow. DX
The Water Goes Drip-Drop - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.