Luo Yuan massaged his muscles before leaving the gym. They felt a little bit swollen. He looked at the time and realized it was about noon. He decided to have lunch before leisurely walking back home.
Zhao Yali had gone out early in the morning so he hadn’t gotten to see her. She must have gone to make arrangements for the funeral. As Chen Weiqiang wasn’t from the area and his parents had not arrived yet, it had fallen to Zhao Yali to handle all these things.
Luo Yuan’s phone rang. He saw it was one of his colleagues calling and picked it up.
“Hello, Luo yuan. Come here now. We are having a BBQ at Donghu Park. It’s Xie Chao’s treat. Lou Jieying is here too.” It was the company secretary, Wang Xiaguang. She had been hired at around the same time as Luo Yuan. She was a chaotic kind of person, and maybe that was why she got along well with everyone.
“I just had lunch, why didn’t you say so earlier?” Luo Yuan said with a grin. He really did not feel like going.
“No way, you have to come. We need somebody to pick up the check when we go to karaoke later,” Wang Xiaguang said somberly.
“Oh, it’s my wallet you miss having around. Okay, I’ll take a cab there now. You’re talking about the open-air BBQ area at Donghu Park, right?” Luo Yuan said. He realized that he may not get to see his colleagues again. He was going to resign soon after all.
“Yes, same place we used to go. Hurry up, or there won’t be anything left.”
Luo Yuan hung up the phone, got a taxi and headed directly to Donghu Park.
Donghu Park was a well-known scenic area in the Jiangnan Province. It was the best location for dates, and recreational and fun activities. It was amazing there every season. Spring, summer, autumn, winter; it was beautiful all year long and it attracted a lot of tourists. Due to the recent climate change, Lake Donghu had become even more limpid, looking like a sapphire dropped in the middle of the park. The water lilies in the lake flowered unusually as well, making the scenery breath-taking.
It was a Saturday, so Donghu Park was crowded with people. Couples could be seen everywhere on the meadow. Luo Yuan got out of the taxi and ran towards the open air BBQ area by the lakeside.
It didn’t take him long to find them.
Apparently they had just set up. Xie Chao was preparing the lamb, brushing oil skillfully on the pieces while chatting with Lou Jieying. Meanwhile, Wang Xiaguang was holding an eggplant, adding some pepper on it.
Lou Jieying was in charge of the company’s finances. She had fair skin, an oval-shaped face, and large eyes. She was one of the most beautiful women in the company. However, she was a bit arrogant. She had a good relationship with her female co-workers, but she was cold to all the men.
Luo Yuan did not hang out with her much, and he did not know how Xie Chao had managed to get her to join them.
“I should have come later. This is tempting me,” Luo Yuan said when as he walked up to them.
Wang Xiaguang had a plump face with high eyebrows. Her cheeks dimpled whenever she smiled, which made her look cute. Although he had not inquired about her family background, she had to be well off judging by her outfit. When she saw Luo Yuan, her slightly wrinkled eyebrows straightened and she grinned, “I didn’t invite you here. All I needed was your wallet.”
“That’s the reality of our money-hungry society. It’s so dark. I should eat more. Maybe I’ll stuff myself to death!”
Xie Chao and Luo Yuan both worked in the marketing department. Though he was familiar with the man, they were not that close. He greeted Xie Chao and Lou Jieying, and made some polite small talk before taking a chicken wing and putting it on the barbecue rack.
“Why didn’t you come to work yesterday?” Wang Xiaguang asked.
“It’s a long story. I almost died.” Luo Yuan sighed, thinking of what had happened the previous day.
“You’re lying.” Wang Xiaguang raised her eyebrows. She obviously did not believe him.
Luo Yuan was relatively close to her and they always had fun together. When he realized that she was oblivious to everything that had been going on, he wanted to warn her.
“Would you believe me if I said that I met a giant snake yesterday?”
“You mean in a dream, right? I’m not stupid,” Wang Xiaguang said sullenly. She knew that she was not that smart, but she didn’t like it when people made fun on her.
Luo Yuan opened his mouth slightly. He was speechless.
Xie Chao interrupted them, “Where did you see it?”
Luo Yuan spread some oil on his chicken wing before saying, “On Mount Zhu in Gaotang. My roommate had been missing, so I went to Mount Zhu with a few cops from Gaotang and we came across a giant snake.”
“How large was it?”
“About as thick as a bucket!” Luo Yuan said.
Xie Chao grinned. He did not look like he believed him either. “There’s been similar news all over the internet recently. Apparently plants and animals have been growing like crazy. Could it be that it was as thick as a human thigh, and not as thick as a bucket? You must have been mistaken.”
After Xie Chao had expressed his opinion, he turned to Lou Jieying and said, “Do you like it spicy?”
“Yes, but not too much,” Lou Jieying said, glancing at Luo Yuan.
Luo Yuan looked crestfallen. Maybe the fact that people were reading too much peculiar information on a daily basis made them disbelieving.
“Is it true?” Wang Xiaguang asked timidly. Girls usually tended to be afraid of snakes.
Luo Yuan patiently said, “Why would I lie? The situation may get worse. Look at the plants around here. They are being trimmed quite often. If you go to a more rural area, you won’t believe your eyes.”
“I believe you,” Luo Jieying said suddenly. She looked worried. She hesitated a little before adding, “I have an uncle who works for the police. A lot of beggars have been going missing lately. They get eaten by rats coming from the drains.”
Xie Chao was stunned. “Rats are eating humans?” he asked incredulously,
Lou Jieying did not answer. She seemed reluctant.
Luo Yuan wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand, he had finally confirmed his hypothesis. On the other, he was afraid what the future might hold.
Suddenly, someone screamed in terror in the distance. There was a big commotion. People were crying out and screaming, many of them running desperately in that direction.
“What’s happening?” Luo Yuan’s face darkened as he turned towards the lake. He saw the lake water billow near the shore and the deep red color of blood gush up to the surface.
A long line suddenly appeared on the surface of the lake, piercing it like a sharp sword. The water line moved fast, reaching the point where the water was blood red in just a few seconds.
Whirlpools kept forming on the water, one after the other. Each of them was about one meter wide and half a meter deep. Some collided with each other, either disappearing or forming a larger whirlpool.
The crowd ran around wildly for a while before it realized that the monster in the lake could not come out of water. Then everybody just stood there and watched. Some people were looking for the cause while more people started joining them after hearing the commotion.
The news were spreading fast.
A couple had died. They had been making out by the lakeside. It was too hot, so they had taken their shoes off and dipped their feet in the cool water. Nobody had noticed when exactly the ripples on the lake surface had first appeared.
A black peculiar fish had suddenly jumped out of the water and pulled the man under. As they had been hugging at the time, the woman was dragged under the surface too. The two of them had died together.
The cops came to the park quickly following the tragedy, and the site was soon closed off.
Some of the cops did not seem surprised. When they were told what had happened, they immediately contacted their superior.
“I think we can’t stay here any longer. Let’s go,” Lou Jieying said. Her palms were clenched and she looked very pale. The tragedy must have shocked her.
“Okay!” Xie Chao suddenly turned and asked Luo Yuan, “You were telling the truth about that snake?”
Luo Yuan nodded grimly before he said, “I’ve decided to quit. You should get ready too. Things might get worse than you can imagine.”
As they were walking out of the park, a few police cars pulled up. Donghu Park would need to close for a few days to ensure that all weird fish in the lake were killed.
They had reached the junction when Luo Yuan asked, “Are we still going to sing karaoke?”
“You guys go ahead. I’m no longer in the mood. I’ll just head home.” Lou Jieying said as she shook her head.
“I am not going either.” Xie Chao had lost his interest too when he saw that Lou Jieying would not be going.
“You said you’re going quit. Can I have your number?” Lou Jieying asked, looking at Luo Yuan.
Luo Yuan was slightly bewildered but quickly said, “Of course.”
“Keep in touch!” Luo Jieying beamed while she shook her smartphone. “I’m going home.”
“I’ll take you!” Xie Chao offered.
“No, it’s alright. I’ll just take a taxi,” Lou Jieying declined, shaking her head.
After they had exchanged numbers, Luo Yuan put his phone back in his pocket and looked at Wang Xiaguang who was still staring blankly into space. “Why are you still in shock? You’re not scared, are you?”
“What happened was awful! Why aren’t you reacting at all?” Wang Xiaguang said, looking at him oddly.
“Men tend to be braver,” Luo Yuan said lightly. Compared to what had happened the previous day, what had just happened felt like nothing. That’s why he wasn’t afraid.
“Xie Chao is not. I think he’s quite terrified.” Wang Xiaguang refuted.
“Are you looking for excuses?” Luo Yuan did not want to gossip, so he decided to switch the topic, “It seems that nobody wants to go. Are we still going?”
“Of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be going?” Wang Xiaguang said loudly.
“Just the two of us?” Luo Yuan was slightly confused.
“What, two people can’t sing together?” Wang Xiaguang retorted while she glared at him.
“Okay. You just have to make me spend money, don’t you?” Luo Yuan could not help but say.
The two of them talked while they walked toward the nearest KTV.
“You said you went to Mount Zhu yesterday. Did you find your roommate after all?” Wang Xiaguang asked curiously.
“He was dead. I’m not going to tell you how. It would give you nightmares,” Luo Yuan said with a sigh.
“Don’t tell me he had been swallowed by that snake!” Wang Xiaguang said while she widened her eyes.
“I didn’t say anything.” Luo Yuan said innocently.
“Your face did, though. If I have nightmares tonight, it’ll be your fault.” Wang Xiaguang scolded him.
“Reality is more dreadful. At least nightmares you can wake up from. I’ll give you a piece of advice. When you get back home, buy lots of food and groceries. The more, the better. I’m worried that things will get worse,” Luo Yuan said.
“Actually, my dad has already bought a lot. He’s even built a basement. At first I thought he was overreacting. After all, he does have a record. He spent a lot of money on building a ship with his friends prior to the prophecy of the world ending in 2012. That had made us all laugh for quite some time,” Wang Xiaguang murmured.
“If something really bad happened, you could come to my house.” Wang Xiaguang murmured, lowering her head as she blushed.
Luo Yuan was taken aback. He looked at Wang Xiaguang silently for a while before he said, “Thank you. If I need shelter, I will look for you.”
They remained silent the rest of the way, both deep in their own thoughts.