“Something precious? Let me think.” Er Dan scratched his head.
Just when Er Dan was about to say something, Li Mazi became anxious and interrupted Er Dan, “Their family is very poor. What kind of good items could they have? Cousin, if you say something wrong, it may worsen my uncle’s condition.” Li Mazi seemed intent on preventing Er Dan from telling me something.
Er Dan was really naïve, and he immediately stopped talking as requested.
There was clearly something strange here. Otherwise, why would Li Mazi become tense all of a sudden?
If Li Mazi wanted to conceal things from me, I wouldn’t let him off. I wanted to know what he was hiding.
“Oh well... Forget it, then. Li Mazi, shouldn’t we take care of our stomachs first?” I decided to change the topic, and eating breakfast was a great excuse. We had driven through the night to visit this village, and we hadn’t eaten anything. Moreover, we had walked on a muddy path since early this morning. My stomach was growling.
Once breakfast was mentioned, Li Mazi’s stomach also started to protest. He asked Er Dan to prepare some food for us. But when the food was served, it was really hard to swallow. The porridge had a dark color, and it didn’t even look edible. The pickles were old. I didn’t know how long they had kept them, but they exuded a faint stench.
I didn’t feel adventurous enough to eat the pickles, so I simply drank the porridge.
Li Mazi’s second uncle arrived while we were eating. His sanity seemed to have returned, and he looked like a completely different man.
He ate porridge as he chatted with us. At this moment, he didn’t look as if he were suffering from some mental disease.
I took the chance to observe him carefully, and I found that something was off. His pair of plastic boots had been stained with mud. As it had rained heavily the day before, it wasn’t strange for his boots to have mud on them, but the color of the mud was different when compared to the stains on our shoes. It was a yellowish-brown color!
If I wasn’t mistaken, only by walking around the cemetery would one get such stains on their shoes.
Most of the time, coffins were made of wood. After years of being buried, the wooden materials would gradually decompose and enrich the soil; the soil color in such areas was usually darker than in other places. So, the mud smeared on his boots was most likely from a cemetery. It proved that he had gone there to eat soil and mud at night. Such being the case, the search would have to begin at that cemetery!
After Li Mazi had finished his breakfast, I told him I wanted to go out to check the area.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Take me to the cemetery.”
Li Mazi was shocked after he heard the word ‘cemetery.’ He asked me with a puzzled face, “Why would you need to go to the cemetery?”
I didn’t have the mood to babble with him. “Just take me there. You’ll see.”
As we walked on the muddy road, Li Mazi told me, “It’s not good to go to the cemetery in the morning. We should wait until noon.”
I simply ignored him. I wasn’t the old Zhang Jiulin anymore. Would I be afraid of ghosts?
Soon after, Li Mazi brought me to the cemetery of Huanghuai Village. In the countryside, people would normally bury their dead in the same area. That was why the graves were relatively close to each other. However, I had to say that this cemetery wasn’t that different from a mass grave. Many graves didn’t even have a tombstone, and grass grew everywhere, giving the whole place a disorderly look. I wanted to walk further for a better view, but Li Mazi stopped me.
“Little Brother Zhang, I should tell you in advance. This place is very strange and dangerous. I won’t be able to explain the situation to my sister-in-law if something bad happens to you. We should wait until noon and return to take a look when there’s plenty of sunlight!” Li Mazi said as if he were afraid of this place from the bottom of his heart.
Just from the graveyard’s overall appearance, I guessed that something really bad had happened here in the past. Li Mazi would not be this afraid if it were otherwise. He had been working with me for years, so he was used to this stuff. The only explanation was that this place had somehow traumatized Li Mazi when he was younger. His terror was evident when we reached the cemetery.
I had a strange personality. If someone told me that I shouldn’t go to a place, I would dash there straight away, especially when that person was Li Mazi. Since he had lied to me during the trip, I didn’t want to listen to him.
Since he couldn’t stop me, he could only muster his courage and follow me.
I kept my head low while we walked. Li Mazi was surprised, so he asked me, “What are you doing?”
I told him about my findings this morning. “I’m looking for your uncle’s footprints.”
It was fortunate that it had rained heavily the day before. This kind of mud would become really sticky with rainwater, and anyone passing through would leave deep footprints. There was also the fact that no one would visit this graveyard in the middle of the night, given how scary it was.
Therefore, we would only find footprints of Li Mazi’s uncle from the previous night. Once we found his traces, we would know where he had gone to eat soil!
I found many footprints after searching for a while; they all belonged to Li Mazi’s second uncle. I followed the trail while Li Mazi followed close behind me, almost scared out of his wits. He muttered some sort of warning, but I didn’t catch it. Soon enough, we reached the final footprint.
This place had a lone grave, hidden in high grass. I had to use my hands to part the grass screen so that we would have a better view. We saw a tombstone once the grass was out of the way; it was completely covered in green moss, and it seemed quite old.
However, the words carved on the tombstone were well-preserved.
The deceased was a person called Niohuru. Except for the name, the tombstone had nothing else. According to common practice, there should be more information carved on the tombstone—for example, the date of death, age, and the name of their family members.
This tombstone only had a simple name. It seemed like he had been buried in a hurry!
We could see there was a portion of soil that had been dug up right under the tombstone. It should be the place Li Mazi’s uncle ate soil from, night after night.
“Li Mazi, give me a hand. We need to unearth this grave,” I said.
Li Mazi’s face immediately turned green after he heard me, and his body shivered visibly. “Little Brother Zhang, you’re kidding, right?”
The ultimate taboo was to dig up someone’s grave. Let alone other matters, if the family of the deceased found out about this, Li Mazi would surely be beaten to death or crippled.
He didn’t have the guts to do it. Moreover, there were no tools he could use.
“Are you going to dig or not? If not, we can leave. But if I do leave, it means I will wash my hands of this case and no longer care about your second uncle.” I threatened him as I turned around, pretending to leave.
Li Mazi was anxious and didn’t want me to leave.
He hastily grabbed me, gritting his teeth. “All right, all right. I’ll dig the grave, but you have to stay and keep watch. We have to run immediately if someone comes.”
I smiled and gave him an encouraging nod.
Actually, I just wanted to tease Li Mazi since he had lied to me, hiding some information.
After he saw me nodding, Li Mazi mustered his courage to walk to the tombstone. I enjoyed watching him act as if he had been forced to eat some poop.
“Little Brother Zhang, could there be another solution? Do I really have to dig up this grave to save my uncle?” Li Mazi almost began to sob. I could clearly sense his fear.
By then, I knew it was enough of a scare. It wouldn’t be good to push things too far.
I went straight to the point. “All right, shouldn’t you be telling me the truth by now? Spit it out, what’s the item your uncle took?”
“I’m sure he hasn’t picked up anything. You have to believe me!” said Li Mazi with a righteous tone.
“If that’s the case, you should dig that grave! Or else, you’ll have to prepare your uncle’s funeral.” I sighed.
Li Mazi was anxious. He knew he couldn’t hide it anymore. He had to tell me the truth.Previous Chapter Next Chapter