Wang Chenghao’s face was whiter than a ghost. His lips trembled. His back was against the wall, and his forehead percolated with cold sweat.
Who’s… behind that door?
Who… scratches on the door… at 4 a.m.?
However, he neither opened his mouth nor asked aloud.
Sha… sssskkrkrrr… The sounds behind the door were getting louder and louder, almost as though something was about to burst through the door in the very next moment!
“Ahhhhhh!!!” Wang Chenghao couldn’t take it anymore. And since he dared not run back to his own room, he charged straight towards the first floor like a madman.
The first floor was enshrouded in pitch-black darkness.
“Innkeeper… innkeeper!!” He yelled at the top of his voice. He needed light! He needed sound! This damn haunted hotel was driving him crazy!
According to the national regulations, the innkeeper was obliged to remain on night watch at the concierge at all times. However, this was not the case.
“Where is he… where is he?!” Wang Chenghao was already on the verge of tears, yet he received no response whatsoever. The eerie silence was as chilling as an icy tomb. He was at his wits’ end, and he ran straight to the main entrance of the inn with the hope that he could get out once and for all. Unfortunately, he discovered to his dismay that the main entrance was already locked!
“Open up… open the door, please!!” He hammered on the main entrance desperately. Tears were already welling up in his eyes. However, after hammering the door two more times, he suddenly froze in place.
It wasn’t that he had calmed down. Rather, he had merely been momentarily petrified by what he saw. Then, his entire body quickly began to shiver far more vigorously than ever before. The hairs on the nape of his neck were even standing on end.
He could see from the reflection on the glass door… that the very same woman wearing a black dress… was now standing right behind him!
Her pale white face and bloodshot eyes stared straight at his back!
Just then, the lights suddenly came on. He was completely unprepared for this and screamed in terror!
“Ahhhhhhhh! Help!! There’s a ghost! There’s a ghost!!”
“Guest.” The old man’s figure slowly emerged from the shadows. His voice called out in the dark like a night owl hooting away. He was carrying a decades-old portable lamp, and the light from the lamp cast a gloomy, dim illumination on the old man’s face. Yet, this only served to frighten Wang Chenghao even more.
“You… do you want to go out?”
“I want to go! Turn on the lights! Let me leave, please!!” Wang Chenghao leaned weakly against the main entrance as he screamed at the top of his voice.
The old man remained silent.
After a long time, he finally responded, “Leave… and don’t ever come back again…”
The sound of jingling keys resounded in the darkness, prompting Wang Chenghao's desperate cry, “Old man, turn on the lights! Please turn on the lights first! I can’t take it anymore!”
“Is that so…” The old man’s voice grew hoarser, “Do you… really want me to switch it on?”
“Yes, yes! Please do it quickly!”
Three seconds later, the lights finally came on with a soft click of the switch. Wang Chenghao glanced about at his surroundings, his eyes rolled back, and he instantly passed out.
The walls around them had been splattered with blood all over!
It was unclear just when the now-dried up blood stains were first smeared all over the walls. Some of the stains were smeared in the shape of an ‘X’, while others spelt out illegible words. However this was not the most terrifying part. The most terrifying part was the fact that… there were several memorial tablets standing spookily on the shelf just behind the concierge!
Just then, a loud thud suddenly came from the second floor. It sounded as though someone had just kicked open a door.
The old man’s expressions darkened. He immediately sprinted towards the second floor, only to witness Qin Ye standing before the door that was just adjacent to the window. Qin Ye was just in the midst of retracting his foot.
“You!!” The old man screamed and attempted to grab at Qin Ye.
Strangely, the closer he got to Qin Ye, the paler his disposition got. Finally, almost as though his wrinkled skin had been torn asunder, the old man revealed a gnarly, vicious expression on his face.
But before he could get close enough, Qin Ye’s body suddenly erupted with far denser Yin energy! The old man was immediately blasted several meters back by Qin Ye’s explosive force!
“Is this really necessary?” Qin Ye furrowed his brows and shook his head as he peered into the room, completely casting a blind eye on the old man.
It was pitch black inside the room.
The curtains were drawn completely shut, yet there were four candles that prominently stood in the center of the room. In turn, these candles… were placed on top of a pitch-black coffin.
Meow! A black cat leapt out from behind the door. Qin Ye glanced at the door, only to notice that it had already been completely covered with scratch marks.
“Death comes to all things, no matter how their life has been. Don’t hold on to your lingering attachments.” Qin Ye sighed and withdrew his gaze. Then, he tugged at the old man’s clothes and dragged him back down to the first floor.
It was cold to the touch.
The old man emitted no body heat, and was… completely weightless.
Then, without holding back, Qin Ye stomped heavily on Wang Chenghao’s waist, jolting him straight back to his senses with a massive squeal of pain. Wang Chenghao sighed soullessly and turned around. Then, as soon as he witnessed the bizarre sight in front of his eyes, he almost passed out again.
“Open your eyes and take a good look.” Qin Ye swung his arm, tossing the old man towards the worn-out couch on the side, “This is your unfinished business. You should be the one to deal with it.”
“M-mine?” The sight of Qin Ye immediately set Wang Chenghao’s heart at ease. After all, Wang Chenghao saw Qin Ye as an existence akin to an omnipotent Doraemon.
“Introduce yourself.” Qin Ye ignored Wang Chenghao and lifted his chin towards the old man, “How long have you been dead? Why is your spirit still lingering around?”
“Him?! He’s not a living person?” Wang Chenghao almost jumped at the thought, only to find Qin Ye pushing back at him, keeping him on the couch. Then, Qin Ye gazed into his eyes, “Do you want to be part of my inner circle?”
Wang Chenghao was momentarily taken aback, before he nodded his head fervently.
“Then, get used to this.” Qin Ye turned back to the old man, “Talk. I don’t have much patience.”
“Sir, you’re… an Emissary of Hell?” the old man’s voice became light and drifty. Qin Ye glanced impatient at his watch, “There’s only thirty-five minutes remaining until the clock strikes five. When that time comes, I’ll send you on your way immediately. You best stick to the essentials.”
“Yes…” The old man drew a deep breath, before bowing to Qin Ye with a deep kowtow, “Lord Emissary of Hell… I’ve been disrespectful. Please forgive this ignorant one!”
“I… my name is Zhou Dongfang. I was forty-nine years old when I died. But the reason that my spirit is still lingering around isn’t to do with wealth or revenge! Sir, I’m certain you can verify this with your prescient investigations! This inn… has never harmed a person’s life before!”
Qin Ye responded with indifference, “Of course I can see that. If not for the fact that you’d warned us against staying here as soon as we’d entered earlier, I would have purged your soul there and then.”
“That said, I’m curious.” He leaned forward, “Why are you still lingering around? Your form… is so corporeal that even humans aren’t able to distinguish you from a normal human being. Are you… a household god?”
Qin Ye explained patiently, “Household gods aren’t the same as evil ghosts. They’re still catalyzed by a person’s obsessions at death, yet these obsessions have nothing to do with malicious intent. Rather, they tend to be related to their family instead. The heavens are merciful and decide to leave these spirits a lifeline so that they can continue to keep watch over their families, even after death. This is what a household god is.”
“Generally speaking, household gods would never harm anyone, and would instead do their utmost to preserve their family unit. To put it bluntly, these are earthbound spirits who only do good. On top of that, they’re blessed with the gift of retaining their pre-death prescience. In this regard, they’re a far cry away from the wandering spirits that can’t even utter a single word.”
Wang Chenghao nodded thoughtfully, before suddenly turning to look at Zhou Dongfang once more, “That’s not right! Even though he didn’t want to stay initially, he still compromised and let us stay in the end! This proves that he’s got a malicious heart! He’s not a good person!”
“It’s because he no longer has the patience to keep on waiting…” Qin Ye glanced back at the old man with a complicated gaze, “Why don’t you listen to his story first… This is your unfinished business after all…”
Zhou Dongfang gazed deeply into Wang Chenghao’s eyes as he finally began to speak, “I grew up here. My wife and I… have lived here in Strong County for decades now. I wasn’t young when I had my daughter."
“My daughter is called Zhou Fangrong…” His eyes appeared to gaze back in history, and a blissful smile crept up the corner of his lips, “She was beautiful - an embodiment of her name. She was the wallflower in both middle school and high school. Unfortunately, we were poor at that time, and we could barely afford to make ends meet. The national highway hadn’t been constructed back then, and our humble inn barely made enough for our subsistence at all…”
“After high school, my daughter changed a little bit. She began to be drawn to the prospects of living outside the county. That’s right… We understood her desires as well. After all, Strong County is far too small. A beautiful and sensible girl like her should go out and see the world, and not be cooped up here for her entire life just like her parents…”
He began to choke up, “But I’d never thought that… her departure back then also marked our final farewell!”
He painstakingly recounted his story through gritted teeth, and even Wang Chenghao could feel the boundless regret and heart-rending pain in the old man’s heart.
“Her first destination… was to look for work in the Eastsea Province.”
“Eastsea is a developed province, and expenditure there was naturally much higher. That said, Rongrong had never called to ask for money from home. In fact… she even began to remit money back home every month.”
“We were very pleased… Whenever we meet our friends, we would sing praises of her, telling of how sensible she is… Then, as time went on, the amount of money she remitted back only increased - from the hundreds, to the thousands, and then to the tens of thousands! Several tens of thousands!”
“We were incredibly happy at first… until one day…” His body trembled, and tears began streaming from his eyes, “I… my late wife and I will never forget that horrific day…”
“That day… we woke up to an appalling notice plastered in every important place in the county - Rongrong’s alma maters, the entrance to our neighbourhood, and even the largest market in the county!”
His body trembled like a fallen leaf amidst billowing winds as he gazed straight into Wang Chenghao’s eyes, “The notice reported that… Rongrong had seduced the CEO of a company and become his mistress! And in her avarice, she’d even demanded that he married her! Her demands were endless! Finally, the man was driven to his wits’ end, and he took her to court to settle things once and for all. In the end, the CEO’s company won the case, while my daughter was convicted of extortion by blackmail over an extended period of time!!!”
Wang Chenghao stood up abruptly and looked at the Zhou Dongfang with disbelief.
“Sit down.” Qin Ye ordered placidly, “Let him finish his story…”
“This is the crux of your unfinished business.”
Wang Chenghao’s lips were slightly agape. He shook his head slightly as he sat up with an incredulous expression. The old man continued to gaze straight into his eyes as he continued, “I don’t believe… I refuse to believe that my daughter would do such a thing! She’s so smart and beautiful! And she’s got so many suitors to boot! So, why would she possibly do something like this?!”
“But… the courts have given their verdict on the matter!”
“I nearly went mad at that time. I called her and gave her a good dressing down. Then, I demanded her return right away. However, she didn’t give me a firm response. Her mother… immediately collapsed with a heart attack, and was promptly conveyed to the hospital… Our daughter didn’t know about this, because I didn’t tell her!”
Zhou Dongfang’s tears continued to pour out, “I was afraid… I was afraid that if I’d put anymore pressure on her, she would do something stupid. Ever since she was young, I’d always known that she had the gift of the gab. At the same time, she was also incredibly sensitive at heart. So, I’d sold our family home behind her back, leaving only this little inn by the side of the street…”
“Regardless… I still believed in her! Even if she had in fact done everything she was accused of doing, I still firmly believed that she could change! But unfortunately, not a single other person in the county was willing to give her a second chance!”
He shut his eyes, and his body trembled vigorously, almost as though he were reliving the hellish memories once more, “‘Bitch’, ‘that whore raised by the Zhou family’, and ‘sluts who spread their legs for money’ - these were all comments that were already on the milder side of things. Even the men who had earlier proposed to her began to point at the inn and curse and condemn her!!”
“We didn’t dare to even leave the house. There was no way we could hold our heads up high any longer…” He pointed at his hair, “That was when my hair turned completely white as well. Her mother… also departed before me in the wake of the abusive comments…”
Zhou Dongfang shut his eyes, and his eyelids twitched slightly, “I… I’ve long since forgotten when exactly I’d departed from the mortal realm as well… My final wish was to protect this family of mine. Isn’t it often said that men are the pillars of support of the entire family? But I’ve done no good at that… Since I can’t protect them while I’m alive, then let me at least protect them in my death…”
Qin Ye sighed wistfully, before looking at the dark ceiling above, “Then… why are you still lingering around?”
Zhou Dongfang opened his eyes, looked at Qin Ye and smiled. His smile was laced with a trace of longing and satisfaction, “I haven’t heard from my daughter since then. I thought that there’s a possibility she might write back in future. So, if I remain here watchfully, I’ll be able to receive her letter as soon as it arrives…”
Wang Chenghao looked at Zhou Dongfang’s wrinkled face, and he felt a lump swell up in his throat.
“This inn is located just along the side of the road… So, if she comes back to visit one day, wouldn’t I be the first one to see her?”
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