I did not know how long I was out before vaguely feeling someone touching my body, stimulating my chaotic mind and waking me up.
After opening my eyes, the first thing I saw was the half-moon in the sky glowing brightly, lighting up the treetops. Then I felt gentle hands lifting my head up, placing something soft behind my head.
In the darkness, I saw the side of her face. Currently, she had no idea I was conscious. After staring at me blankly for a while, she lowered her head and held me close to her.
Her embrace left me awestruck; my face was only inches away from her neck, basking in her gentleness, warmth, and sweetness. “Wu Yu, you won’t die, right? The ambulance is only twenty minutes away. Don’t die on me. I won’t… be able to take it.”
Although I felt pain all over my body, my heart surged with joy before I kissed her thin and silky clavicle on the spur of the moment.
Yet, I regretted it immediately, her thinking to myself what I had done.
Sensing that she had become frozen, I said her name, which surprised her. Then she let me go and exclaimed, “You’re awake!”
“You would’ve likely thought I’m dead if I didn’t wake up,” I said as I held her hand and stumbled on my feet.
She looked at me worriedly and explained, “You have a big bump behind your head and a wound that was bleeding!”
“I’m fine. Just had a fall.”
She held my arm with both hands while staring at me with her big eyes, saying nothing. Her usual air of arrogance was nowhere to be found. Instead, she seemed like a small, nervous animal. I let out a smile that I could not hide. She noticed it and said with a speechless look, “You’re still able to smile at a time like this? You must have knocked your wits out.”
“How did you find me?”
“Well, why did you leave so quickly? Did you want to be the hero? My car has a GPS. I came over when I saw that you had parked the car there for a long time without moving. Then when I called you at the foot of the mountain, you didn’t answer your phone. I felt that something was wrong and decided to come look for you. Good thing I found you.”
I looked at her legs covered in scratch wounds; there were even cuts on her arms. Yet, she did not seem to care about it. I cared.
I held one of her hands and caressed it with my fingers gently as I asked, “Are you not scared?”
She froze once more while looking at me with her sparkling eyes. “I didn’t have time to think about that,” she replied before withdrawing her hand and pretending as if nothing had occurred. “What happened to you up there?”
With her help, we walked back up the woods to find an expected result: the light, the people, and all of the birds had vanished without a trace.
I got her to call Shen Shiyan immediately before giving her an account of what I saw and everything that had happened.
While waiting for the police to come, the two of us sat against a large boulder surrounded by darkness. We only had an on-and-off and somewhat malfunctioning flashlight she brought.
“Was there anything special with the boy, Zhu Zihan?” she asked.
“I didn’t observe anything special about him.”
She furrowed her brows, thinking about something before she said, “There must be a reason.”
I raised my face toward the dark sky dotted with a smattering of stars and felt that the sky seemed particularly lonely tonight, prompting me to pull out a cigarette. As I was about to light it, I saw Tan Jiao’s eyes that were reflecting the orange light from the lighter fire. She looked at me intently. “You can’t stop smoking, can you?”
I took a draw from my lit cigarette and quipped, “Have you ever seen a laborer that doesn’t smoke?”
She let out a smile in response, a seemingly meaningful smile.
I took the cigarette out of my mouth and asked her if she wanted a go.
She shook her head. “I dislike women that smoke.”
“That’s good to hear.”
I noticed her hands subconsciously moving back and forth on the ground. Upon closer inspection, I found her pulling out weeds, kneading them in her hand before mashing the grass ball and throwing it away. I looked at her little actions and said, “Didn’t you say you’ll handle everything and crack the case? What’s detective Tan thinking about?”
She dusted her hands off and said, “Well, this man is not abducting the children for money. If he was, why didn’t he abduct children from wealthy families? Also, you observed that the children were not tortured, which means the perp is not doing this to fulfill a desire. If he’s schizophrenic and is just randomly abducting children, then why is he able to succeed every time without leaving a trace? Also, he seems to be following a certain pattern with his abductions. He is not selling the children to another person but keeping them here. So what do you think he’s up to?”
“If he’s clear-minded and he’s not doing it for money, power, or desires, then it must be love or hate.”
Shock briefly appeared on Tan Jiao’s face, seemingly not expecting such a response from me. “Yeah… what you said is possible. But, we could also do a more detailed analysis of his psyche through our observation of him so far. Hear me out. I have noticed that his victims are all from the same area. Even though there were children ages seven and eight, they looked like five or six year olds because of their small stature. As such, we can conclude that the targets he chooses look around the same age while having similar family backgrounds. Yet, after all that effort, he merely keeps them here. So it seems to me he’s keeping them… as companions.”
Our gaze met while our surroundings filled with chirps of crickets, and the flashes of police cars appeared at the foot of the hill.
“The information from the police details the man as a habitual thief that has received training with years of experience.”
Tan Jiao said, “Most of the thieves syndicates control have lost their families. Some were even orphans themselves.”
There was a brief pause between us before she said, “But what has he got to do with that ship? With what has happened to us?”
The image of that man controlling the birds and that twisted smile which seemed sad and joyous at the same time emerged in my mind. “Tan Jiao, when we were on that ship, did you see that person?”
Tan Jiao was somewhat taken aback. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Neither have I. I guess we can only discover the truth when we catch him.”
There are no obligations, but every bit of support helps, especially to help pay for editors and my bills.