The village chief’s body was unexpectedly ‘whole’.
The so-called ‘whole’, meant that his death was different compared to Guo Jianping and Yang Cheng, and when the village chief had died, there weren’t rooms filled with the chopped carcass of snakes.
It seemed that he stopped breathing all of a sudden, and this type of death could lead others to guess that he had simply unexpectedly died. At that time, when the village chief’s wife had first found out the village chief wasn’t breathing anymore, she also thought that this was the case. But, before she could even react and cry, the village chief’s body began to decay at a speed visible to the naked eye, emitting out the stench of decay, with writhing maggots crawled through his rotten flesh and blood. When the village chief’s wife screamed, a long and thin red snake slowly crawled out of the village chief’s mouth.
After Song Gui remarked that ‘this body is still relatively intact’, He Mingde, who had covered his mouth and was about to vomit, said, “you’re calling this intact?”
Lu Chu and Li Jiapeng were equally uncomfortable.
Song Gui said, “at least he didn’t turn into a puddle of blood.”
Everybody fell silent, recalled how tragically Yang Cheng had died, and instantly, the mood turned heavier.
When the village chief’s wife saw Song Gui and the rest of them, she initially wanted to drive them out, but was stopped by Song Gui’s ‘if you don’t want more people to die, then cooperate’. At that time, Granny Wang’s words were still vivid in her mind, that deaths were inevitable, and that this village couldn’t escape this fate.
What if the next one was her……
Thus, despite being unwilling, she still chose to listen to Granny Wang, and let these people investigate. Only, when she thought about her dead husband, her tears continued to fall without stopping. Even though the both of them usually quarrelled or even fought directly because of all sorts of things, they had already spent a good half of their lives together. Later, when they became really old, and their children stopped caring about them, wouldn’t the both of them only have each other left as took care of one another? Then, the one who left first would go and enjoy a happy life, while the one left behind would continue to remember their years in nostalgia.
Despite the village chief’s body being unexpectedly ‘whole’, the few of them still didn’t know how to start checking the body, or, this severely decayed body didn’t have much clues.
Now, they could only look for clues in photographs.
The village chief’s body wasn’t moved, and the remains were given to his family. Soon, somebody carried a wooden coffin over, and placed the village chief’s body inside. According to local customs, after somebody died, they wouldn’t be buried yet, but placed in the main hall instead of the mourning hall. An empty coffin would go around the village, and three days later, they would be buried, and their memorial tablet will be placed in the hall for seven days. The dead were honoured, and most people would want him to be laid to rest.
Against the village chief’s wife’s angry eyes, Song Gui calmly took a photograph out and said, “my condolences, we’ll try out best to find the murderer out as soon as possible, no matter whether they’re ghost or human. In addition, excuse me, but have you seen the girl in the photo before?”
The village chief’s wife was unwilling, but still took the photo over to have a look, paused, then said, “this…… isn’t this Teacher Guo’s first wife, Lin Lin?”
This was in line with Lu Chu and Song Gui’s guess, and this had also the name of Guo Jianping’s ex-wife to them — Lin Lin.
Song Gui took out another picture, and asked, “what about this person?”
This time, the village chief’s wife thought for a long time, then looked at them suspiciously, “she’s also from our village, at that time, not long after Teacher Guo got married, and continued to teach in the village again, she’s also amongst one of those who was listening in class…… what, she took a photo with Teacher Guo too?”
Hearing this, Lu Chu fell into deep thought.
Song Gui raised his eyebrows, “where’s this girl now?”
The village chief’s wife took some time to remember, and said, “she moved out about twenty years ago, speaking of which, she’s also a distant relative of my husband……”
When she mentioned the village chief, she choked again, “what kind of disaster is this……”
Lu Chu and Song Gui looked at each other, then Lu Chu said, “Auntie, please don’t be sad, we’ll definitely give you an explanation. Could you tell us the name of this girl, and approximately when she moved out?”
The village chief’s wife said, “name…… I don’t remember her formal name, in this village, we call the younger generation by their nicknames more often, and I’m not an actual relative of hers, I just remember that she was probably called Cui Meier…… As for when she moved out, it was not long after Lin Lin ran away, and before Guo Jianping married Wei Rong.”
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“Thank you,” Song Gui said, “we’ll go to other places to investigate first, excuse us.”
The village chief’s wife didn’t say anything, wiped the corner of her eyes, went to the main hall, and knelt beside the coffin.
It was already late at night, and they returned to the Lu house. In order to prevent any accidents, they dispelled the idea of going out, and decided to wait till morning.
Everybody gather in the side room, and sat around the wooden table on the bed.
Song Gui asked, “everybody, what do you think?”
Lu Chu said, “there’s a problem with Guo Jianping.”
Qi Li gave Lu Chu a profound look, and said, “agreed.”
Li Jiapeng ruffled his own hair, and after messing it up, said, “I feel that my mental state is slightly abnormal now, not even mentioning what opinions I have, I only feel that I’m dreaming, and it’s a fucking dream that I can’t wake up from.”
“Ha—” He Mingde gave a long sigh, “I’m also a little confused, Brother Lu,1 兄弟. Way of referring to a man younger than yourself, similar to bro tell us what you think first?”
Lu Chu took out the two photos, organised his thoughts, and slowly said, “I found this photo in a book from the podium that Guo Jianping used to teach from. I’ve heard about this story from grandmother before you guys came, and heard that his first wife was really pretty, and although the man and the woman in the photograph aren’t engaging in any intimate action, but there’s some kind of vague ambiguous feeling; plus, the fact that the man carried around his photograph with a woman, sandwiched it in his mostly commonly used book, is a problem in itself. Thus, at that time, I was wondering if this was Guo Jianping’s first wife. Now, it seems that my guess was wrong, but I trust my instincts, and the ambiguous atmosphere these two have isn’t faked. Does this mean, that Guo Jianping actually isn’t like how he is in the rumours, deeply devoted to his first wife?”
Song Gui nodded, “I think so too.”
“Furthermore,” Lu Chu continued, “it would be reasonable if Wei Rong didn’t have much reaction when she saw ‘Cui Meier’s photograph, after all, they might not have met, but her reaction when she saw Lin Lin’s photograph wasn’t that right.”
“Not right?” Li Jiapeng said, “what’s wrong about it…… I remember she kept shouting because of it.”
“Totally wrong.” Lu Chu said, “in the version that we heard, ‘Lin Lin’ left the village twenty years ago, and apparently she ran away with a wealthy person, which was the reason Wei Rong could take her place. If that was the case, even if Wei Rong was crazy, when she saw the photograph, she should feel envy, or hate born out of it.”
Song Gui touched his chin, and continued with what Lu Chu said, “but she didn’t, although she was yelling, it wasn’t envy, and it was more like extreme fear and terror.”
“And perhaps, there might even be some unexplainable pity.” Lu Chu said indifferently.
“Pity?” He Mingde questioned, “why?”
“We don’t know for now.” Lu Chu shook his head, “the question is, what happened twenty years ago isn’t like what other people have told us. However, what the truth exactly is, and who are the ones that know this truth, is the thing that we need to worry about the most.”
Li Jiapeng collapsed onto the bed upon hearing him, covered his eyes with his hands, and his voice was muffled as he said, “now, I just want to go home.”
He Mingde kept quiet.
Song Gui said, “tomorrow, let’s go to Wei Rong’s place again. If it’s really impossible, we’ll catch someone in the village and ask. We’ll eventually be able to get something out of them.”
Lu Chu glanced at him, shook his head and said, “catching someone to ask is only something that we’ll do if there’s really no choice, after all, we don’t have that much time to persuade everybody to cooperate with us. Currently, who knows, the rest of the villagers might be avoiding us like the plague. Now, all we know, after Lin Lin ran away with a rich person, her family got scared and moved out of the village, and they’ll probably be hard to find. Wei Rong’s parents are dead, and the rest of her relatives only give her food every day, and maybe we can ask for some information. Actually, the thing I want to find out the most is, does anybody know where that ‘Cui Meier’ is now?”
He Mingde frowned, “she? I feel that it’s……”
“Why do you want to know?” Li Jiapeng questioned, “why do I think that information from Wei Rong’s place is more important?”
“Because I have a theory,” Lu Chu said, “remember that in the stories other people told us? After Guo Jianping and Wei Rong got married, their situation was still okay at first, but later, he started running into the city, then everybody started to spread the rumour that he went to see the ‘Lin Lin that ran away with a rich man but came back again’? According to the timeline, of when ‘Cui Meier’ moved out of the village and their group photograph, I suspect, if he went to see someone, the one he went to see might not be Lin Lin, but ‘Cui Meier’.”
Song Gui nodded, “you have a point, but we have no evidence yet.”
“That’s why I said it’s only a theory, everything still has to wait for tomorrow.”
Song Gui sighed, “then let’s stop first, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“I…… I still have something to say……” Li Jiapeng stammered out when he saw that they were going to disperse.
He Mingde said, “speak up.”
“I don’t dare to sleep alone.” Li Jiapeng was really scared, and he tugged at He Mingde’s clothes. His voice was a little shaky, “and I don’t dare to sleep with someone else in a room, what if…… I’m just saying what if, the one sleeping with me is a ‘ghost’……”
“So what do you want us to do?”
“Why not, the four of us and Lu Chu, sleep in a room together……” After saying that, he quickly added, “I’m fine with the floor!”
Song Gui thought for a moment and said, “I think it’s possible. Right now, we’re safer together, and according to my years of experience when watching horror movies, being alone is akin to an actor being kicked off a movie.”
Li Jiapeng gave a bitter smile, “can you stop talking about horror movies at this time, it’s not funny at all.”
So, all of them stayed in a room.
Lu Chu went to ask Granny Lu, and they had a single folding bed, which was the same height as the old sofa. With the bed and the sofa placed together, it would barely fit two adult men. The beds in the village were large, and this bed could fit three adult men. Thus, like this, nobody out of the five of them needed to sleep on the floor.
After some discussion, they finally decided that Song Gui, He Mingde, and Li Jiapeng would squeeze on the big bed, while Lu Chu and Qi Li would sleep on the sofa and single bed.