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Specters of the Night

5

Chapter 5: The Paper Figurine

4

 

 

Looking at the business card in my hand, I couldn’t help but feel I had met a lunatic. Who, at his age, would still be making business cards as a joke?

 

It was clear he was angling for money, albeit in a more eccentric way.

 

"Didn’t you just say I could only wait to die? Why do you need my phone number then?"

 

"I’ve never seen a Yin Bait before. I’m curious and want to learn more. It’ll give me experience for future encounters."

 

"You’re treating me like a guinea pig!"

 

"Not exactly. Think about it. If you run into a minor ghost, I can help you get rid of it. Maybe you’ll live longer. It's a good deal."

 

I was about to retort when the door opened again. Aiden emerged, looking pale and holding a paper figurine. The sight triggered a memory of the dream I had last night, where Aiden had appeared just like this.

 

"What's wrong?" I asked

 

He shook his head. "Nothing."

 

"Then why are you holding that thing?"

 

Aiden hesitated before explaining.

 

"Madam Kira said that paper figurines are traditionally burned when someone is buried. Nowadays, with fire bans in many places, people leave them at gravesides to decay naturally. Over time, these figures can absorb some ghostly energy."

 

He stopped mid-sentence, looking uneasy.

 

"Go on," I urged.

 

"Typically, this isn’t an issue. When someone with strong yang energy encounters them, the ghost energy dissipates. But..."

 

"But what?" I snapped.

 

"Madam Kira said you have too much ghost energy, which attracts spirits. Those paper figures in the mountains sensed this and targeted us. They wanted us to guide them to their masters in the underworld."

 

Dylan, who had been listening, nodded solemnly.

 

"Yes, if you weren’t lucky, that car would’ve taken you straight to the road to hell."

 

Aiden nodded, looking at me with a mix of guilt and concern. I realized he was worried I’d blame myself for everything. It was similar to what Dylan had implied before: this was all happening because of me.

 

I had my suspicions but wasn’t sure until now. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t know how to explain this to Aiden without making him feel guilty. Thinking this way, I felt a sense of relief. My anger dissipated. It was better for me to be the cause than to let Aiden, with his perfect family, bear this burden.

 

Aiden thought I was still angry. He quickly pulled me back.

 

"Don't get me wrong. I half-believe this stuff anyway. Regardless, you’re still my brother."

 

I smiled

 

"So, what are you going to do with that paper figurine?"

 

Aiden told me that Madam Kira had instructed him to take the paper figurine to the site of our car accident and burn it. She also insisted he go alone, explicitly stating I shouldn’t follow.

 

“What about me? Didn’t I encounter the ghost too?”

 

Dylan chimed in, “Whether you burn it or not doesn’t matter. You’ll still run into ghosts. If you follow him, you might drag him down.”

 

Aiden glared at Dylan. “Why do you care about our business? What does it matter to you if he’s a burden or not?”

 

I intervened, “Okay, calm down. He’s just being honest. We don’t understand this stuff, so let’s do what Madam Kira says.”

 

“I’ll take you back first, then I’ll deal with this thing. If I don’t burn it, I’ll be worried.”

 

I nodded, agreeing silently. There was no need to go back inside to face Aiden’s mother or Madam Kira, who clearly didn’t want to see me. I waved to Dylan as we left, ignoring his reminders to call him.

 

Once in the car, Aiden threw the paper figurine onto the back seat. The eerie atmosphere was reminiscent of our last ghostly encounter. Sensing our discomfort, Aiden stopped the car, retrieved the figurine, and placed it in the trunk.

 

We drove in silence Though Aiden tried to hide it, I knew he felt guilty. After a while, I decided it was best to distance myself from him to prevent any further incidents.

 

“Aiden, just take me to the company. I won’t bother Madam Kira anymore. I need to explain my absence to my boss.”

 

I worked at a passenger station, and with several employees having recently retired, we were short-staffed. My sudden leave of absence must have caused a lot of trouble.

 

“Sure, but remember, if you need help, call me. My dad has connections and can assist you.”

 

I thanked him, got out of the car, and watched him drive away before heading into the office. I was nervous about facing my boss, knowing I couldn’t tell him about the supernatural occurrences. Instead, I decided to use the car accident as an excuse.

 

Inside, the station was bustling, though it wasn’t as crowded as during the peak student travel times. I made my way to the office, rehearsing my explanation. Just as I was about to enter, I ran into George, a senior employee in my department. He greeted me with a smile.

 

“Xiao Tan, you’re back already? Discharged so soon?”

 

I was taken aback. I hadn’t told anyone at work about my hospitalization. “How did you know I was in the hospital?” I asked.

 

Geoirge chuckled. “The boss knew. He planned to visit, but we’ve all been swamped. We were going to come in a day or two. It’s good to see you’re alright. Nothing serious, I hope?”

 

I forced a smile. "It's okay, just a few scrapes."

 

I didn’t want to elaborate. If they really wanted to visit, they would’ve found the time. I didn’t interact much with my colleagues outside of work, so their absence didn’t bother me. Aiden often said I wasn’t sociable enough, which explained my limited circle of friends.

 

However, George’s comments did relieve some of my anxiety. Knowing my boss was aware of my situation meant I didn’t need to concoct any stories.

 

After a few perfunctory words, I excused myself and headed straight to the boss’s office. I knocked, and he responded from inside. Entering, I saw him buried in paperwork, looking worn out. When he saw me, he set his documents aside and managed a tired smile.

 

"Xiao Tan, you're here? Discharged already? I’ve been swamped and was planning to visit you in a day or two."

 

His words echoed George’s, clearly just polite phrases.

 

“I’m fine now. I came to apologize for missing work.”

 

“It’s okay. I was going to give you a few more days off, but since you seem well, it's not necessary.”

 

“I didn’t receive any notice about the leave…”

 

He sighed. “Xiao Tan, you know we’re short-staffed, and it’s been challenging. Sometimes things slip through the cracks. But if you're well, rest today and come in tomorrow.”

 

His mention of employee issues felt like a veiled criticism of my absence. Despite my anger, I couldn’t show it. “Understood. I’ll be here tomorrow.”

 

“Good. Rest well tonight.”

 

After I left the office, George called out to me. Annoyed, I turned to face him.

 

“Xiao Tan, I almost forgot. This is the financial report you prepared before your leave. I’ve added my part. Review it tonight and submit it to the boss tomorrow.”

 

I agreed, taking the report without much enthusiasm.

 

As we walked downstairs together, the noise of the bus station hit us. The ticketing and boarding area was bustling with people.

 

We immediately noticed a commotion. A group of drunk men were arguing loudly in the waiting room. Their shouting drew a crowd of curious onlookers.

 

One man stood out. He was shirtless, his face flushed from alcohol. What caught my attention, though, was the small girl clinging to his back. She couldn’t have been more than three years old. Her skin was a sickly gray, and she clung to him with unnaturally tight grip.

 

The man seemed oblivious to the girl’s presence, despite his vigorous movements. As if sensing my gaze, the girl turned her head slowly. Her face was pale, her eyes dark and hollow. She locked eyes with me and smiled grimly.

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