709 No Longer Alone 3 in 1
As permissible as CEO Bai tried to make himself out to be, when he heard the invitation extended by Chen Ge, even his face turned green. Chen Ge was never one for subtly and verbal confusion; he preferred to cut straight to the point.
If you think there is a problem with my Haunted House, at the very least, you will have to experience it once yourself first before you gain the right to give any criticism.
Naturally, CEO Bai would not agree to Chen Ge's proposition.
Are you kidding? Even professional Haunted House actors fainted after they went in for a visit. If I accept the invitation, won't that be an act of inviting death?
"I have something else important to attend to later in the afternoon, but if there is a chance in the future, I will definitely take you up on that offer." CEO Bai chuckled awkwardly. After rejecting Chen Ge, his presence was no longer as aggressive as before.
"That is really too bad. If you are coming in the future, you will need to inform me first. I will assign you a VIP service." Chen Ge's Haunted House VIP service was truly a unique experience. A single visitor entering the 3.5-star scenario, the exploration of Li Wan City with the company of nine other visitors who were played by the Haunted House workers.
"Let's not talk about that for now." CEO Bai felt like if he stayed on this topic any longer, the situation would only turn against him. He fished his phone out from his pocket and dialed a number. "Xiao Shuang, why don't you bring Changyin up here? It's going to be fine. Both Director Luo and Chen Ge are reasonable people; they will not do anything to you."
A few minutes later, the sound of footsteps came from outside the door. A pair of twins supported Lee Changyin as they entered Director Luo's office. Chen Ge had seen this group of people before; they were all employees from Nightmare Academy.
"This man looks rather familiar. If I am not mistaken, he has visited my Haunted House before." Chen Ge recognized Lee Changyin with just one glance. Lee Changyin did not dare to look straight at Chen Ge. With the accompaniment of the twins, he sat in the corner of the room.
"Changyin, tell Chen Ge what you saw inside the Haunted House." CEO Bai seemed to have regained control of the situation. Everyone in the room turned to look at Lee Changyin. His face was colored with panic. Once he was reminded of what happened that day, his body shook uncontrollably. Lifting his head, Lee Changyin sneaked a look at Chen Ge, and the fear at the bottom of his eyes was clear as day.
"It was him!" After exclaiming these three words that came out of nowhere, Lee Changyin's lips turned purple as he gasped hungrily for air. "Ghosts! There are ghosts inside the Haunted House! The place is haunted!"
"What is the meaning of this? Isn't it perfectly normal for a Haunted House to be haunted?" Chen Ge leaned against the sofa, and he sighed rather helplessly.
"But the place has actual ghosts! His Haunted House is actually haunted! The ghosts are all real! A living human would not have been able to create that kind of feeling!" Lee Changyin's mind slowly cleared, and his words gained a new kind of sharpness.
"Nightmare Academy might not be able to create that sensation, but it doesn't mean that other people cannot." Chen Ge was getting impatient. His tone did not get dyed with any disrespect, but his eyes that regarded Lee Changyin were how one would regard a piece of trash. "You should spend more time improving yourself instead of trying to bring other people down. Even if my Haunted House closes, the visitors will not go to your Haunted House."
"No! I can confirm that those things are not human beings! That is not an effect that is achievable by a living human!" Lee Changyin's eyes were red.
"I can understand what you're feeling. As a professional Haunted House actor, you wished to go to another Haunted House to create trouble, but in the end, you were the one who fainted. You've basically lost all of your pride, so that is why you have come up with this preposterous idea to try to salvage the little dignity that you have left." Chen Ge's analysis sounded logical and believable.
"I've been a Haunted House employee for five years, so I know more about Haunted Houses than you do. I understand very well where the ceiling of this industry lies…"
Lee Changyin wanted to say something else, but Chen Ge jumped in and cut him off. "Is five years really that long? My parents have started in the mobile Haunted House business a decade ago. I grew up holding the props of monsters and ghosts. When you are still naked, learning how to spell, I already knew how to set up a mannequin."
Chen Ge stood up. "I see no reason for the purpose of this meeting. The ceiling that you speak of is merely the ceiling in your worldview. In other words, that is your ceiling, not mine."
"There's no need to leave like that. Chen Ge, why don't you give me some face?" CEO Bai stood up directly. He felt like he had given Chen Ge plenty of face already. "Changyin is still young, and he doesn't know how to correctly phrase his words. How about this? Why don't you summon all the actors who were responsible for scaring him, and that should answer all the questions at once."
Chen Ge turned back to look at Director Luo. After exchanging a look, he stopped moving. "Changyin, you claim that my Haunted House has actual ghosts, then can you tell me in detail where you ran into this ghost and what kind of ghost it was?"
He walked toward Lee Changyin, narrowing his eyes. With every one of his steps, Lee Changyin would nudge one step backward until he was cornered behind the sofa.
"Are you that afraid of me? Is it because you think I am a ghost as well?" After completing so many Trial Missions given by the black phone, Chen Ge had cultivated a unique kind of presence around him.
"I cannot remember the other actors because my memory is a bit hazy, but there is a middle-aged man at the hotel that I remember very clearly! He is not a living person!" Lee Changyin hissed through his teeth. "Do you dare bring him here to face me in person?"
"At the hotel? A middle-aged man?" Chen Ge frowned. From the man's description, he seemed to be talking about Zhang Jingjiu. But the problem was… why would the man be so certain that Zhang Jingjiu was a ghost? As a newcomer, Zhang Jingjiu was sometimes scared by Chen Ge, so how did he manage to create the impression that he was a ghost?
What kind of conspiracy is this?
Chen Ge could not understand it.
"You don't have the guts, right? Because there is no such person at your Haunted House! Am I right‽" Lee Changyin yelled with fiery eyes. The man's brain had developed in a way that was different from normal people, and his way of thinking often leaned toward the extreme. "Don't think you can grab a random person to replace him; I have his picture here with me!"
With shaking hands, Lee Changyin took out his phone from his pocket. He clicked to the photo album where he pulled out a picture of Zhang Jingjiu. This picture had been taken by Lee Changyin when he was in the pregnant woman costume before he interacted with Zhang Jingjiu.
"Cat got your tongue? Why are you hesitating? This picture is very clear. I need you to bring this person here immediately!" Lee Changyin believed that he had come fully prepared. He was thankful that he had taken that picture beforehand. Unfortunately, he only had the picture of Zhang Jingjiu. After that, he ran in such a hurry that it did not even cross his mind to take pictures for evidence.
"You said yourself, you've worked at a Haunted House for five years already. You should know that it is against the rules to take pictures inside a Haunted House. I will keep this picture, and in a few days, I shall pay Nightmare Academy a person visit to ask for an explanation." Seeing the picture, Chen Ge felt relief instead.
"Don't try to change the subject!" Lee Changyin raised his voice, insisting on his view. He had to be correct.
"Wait here then." Chen Ge turned and left Director Luo's office. He went back to the Haunted House to get Zhang Jingjiu, who was still brushing up on his acting knowledge.
"Bring the bottle of make-up remover, we are going to meet an old friend." Chen Ge gave Zhang Jingjiu a summary on the way there, and the latter grasped everything almost instantly. Knocking on the door, Chen Ge brought Zhang Jingjiu into Director Luo's office, and when they stepped into it, the temperature in the room seemed to have dropped.
"This is the actor in the picture, Zhang Jingjiu." Everyone turned to Zhang Jingjiu, who had Chen Ge's make-up on. Even if they were standing inside a bright office, meeting his eyes was still a very scary experience.
"I'm so sorry for having scared you that day. I did not expect you to be so cowardly. I apologize deeply for it." Zhang Jingjiu walked toward Lee Changyin, but once the latter saw him approach, he screamed like a girl and jumped away.
"No! Stay away! This is it! He is a ghost! He really is a ghost!"
"Ignore him." Chen Ge passed the bottle of make-up remover to Zhang Jingjiu. "Remove your make-up now. Later, I will reapply it for you."
"Okay." And so, Zhang Jingjiu did what he was told. After removing the jacket, he immediately turned into a different person. There was nothing scary about him; he looked just like the office worker one would meet on a daily commute.
"Don't the actors at Nightmare Academy use make-up?" Zhang Jingjiu placed the bottle of make-up remover before the three workers from Nightmare Academy.
With the truth placed before their eyes, the pair of twins quickly stood up to apologize. "We are so sorry. Your Haunted House's make-up is truly amazing. We have acted too recklessly, we're so sorry."
"There's no need to apologize. I am sure there are plenty of things that we can learn from each other. I promise to pay Nightmare Academy a visit sooner or later."
The workers from Nightmare Academy could sense the anger radiating from Chen Ge. After they gave their profuse apology, they slipped away as fast as they could. CEO Bai appeared rather awkward and embarrassed sitting there, but he tried to maintain his composure.
"Xiao Chen, that's everything for now, so you can go back." Director Luo's face was filled with a satisfied smile. He seemed to have many things that he wished to 'discuss' with CEO Bai.
"Okay." Chen Ge knew that Director Luo was about to slaughter CEO Bai, but neither of them talked about it. On the way back, Chen Ge noticed that Zhang Jingjiu had his head lowered like there was something on his mind.
"Jingjiu, if you have anything on your mind, just say it. We've been through life and death together, so you can tell me anything." Chen Ge's voice was warm. He was able to give other people energy even if he did not intend to do so.
"Have I created a problem for you again? I feel so useless somehow. I am not good at scaring visitors and have lowered the overall standard of our Haunted House. This time, I've even created this huge issue for you." Zhang Jingjiu sounded bitter. "Ever since I was young, I've always been a problem for my family. Due to the issue with my mother, I directed all my dissatisfaction to my father, believing it to be his fault. But now, I see that it was merely a convenient way for me to shy away from the blame. In retrospect, I was being a very horrible person and son."
"For these past few days, I've been watching you inside the Haunted House. You have been studying very hard, but I feel like there is something holding you back. You give me the impression that you've trapped yourself inside a small cage."
Standing at the office building, Chen Ge looked out the window. His eyes scanned the entire theme park.
"Everyone has their moment of weakness and loss, but everyone has their own unique charm as well. Now, what you need to do is unlock the shackle in your heart and release your real self. When the time comes, you should return to Xin Hai to meet your father. Certain things are better not left unsaid. You'll feel much better later."
Chen Ge patted Zhang Jingjiu's shoulder. "Try to look up. The only employees that I can rely on are the few of you. In the future, I plan to have you open a branch for me in a different city, and then you'll be required to take control of many things."
"There is no need to thank me; I have a small number of employees, and I treat everyone as my family." Chen Ge led Zhang Jingjiu back to the Haunted House. He had Zhang Jingjiu return to his role as the hotel owner while he went back to the staff breakroom to find more information about Left Oculus. He planned to make his move that night.
"The time limit for School of Afterlife will end after tomorrow. Whether Zhang Ya awakens then or not, I will have to go take a look at this mission, or else all the previous missions will have been wasted." Chen Ge stared at his own shadow and dozed off. Then he picked up the calendar on the table. "Today is the 1st of June. The holiday season is coming, and the futuristic theme park is opening soon. I really don't have much time left."
Zhang Ya was hibernating, and Xu Yin was seriously injured; it would be very dangerous for him to challenge the four-star mission School of the Afterlife. Chen Ge understood all that, but he did not have a choice. If he gave up on the School of Afterlife, he had much to lose.
"I shall go take a look. Hopefully, I will return alive." His eyes went to the picture on the corner of his table, and Chen Ge shook his head lightly. It was a family photo. His parents stood in the middle—his mother appeared to be hugging something, his father pointed at the Haunted House behind him with a bright smile on his face, and Chen Ge stood alone to the side.
Narrowing his eyes, Chen Ge could see that his mother was hugging Director Luo's daughter, the spirit who was no different from a guardian angel.
"For some reason, it feels like I'm not their biological son." Chen Ge replaced the picture on the table, and he accidentally caught the sentence written on the back of the picture. '1st June, happy birthday, you little bugger.'
"The pair of parents who managed to make themselves disappear, now who is the real bugger?" Chen Ge sighed and rearranged his emotions to throw himself back into work.
During lunch, Chen Ge gave the four workers a break while he stayed behind to take up their responsibility. Half an hour later, four of them returned. They whispered among themselves like they were discussing something.
"All of you are late by a whole four minutes. There will be no next time, or I will dock your pay," Chen Ge warned them with a severe tone. Hearing that, they quickly ran back to their assigned posts.
"Looks like I will need to be more stringent with them normally." Chen Ge returned to the staff breakroom to arrange his information. Then, he came up with a list of all the employees that he could bring with him. The crew of the Left Oculus was a trial; the real test was the School of Afterlife.
After giving it some thought, Chen Ge came up with a more reasonable plan of action. When he exited the staff breakroom, the sun was already setting. The theme park closed at 6 pm. After sending away the last batch of visitors, Chen Ge closed the gates.
"Thank you for your hard work today, you can go home now." Chen Ge had something else to do, so he urged for his workers to leave.
"Boss, are you planning on going out again tonight?" Xiao Gu seemed to have read Chen Ge's mind.
"You're not going to understand even if I explain it to you. In any case, it is about work." Chen Ge hurried for them to leave. Scissors and Zhang Jingjiu did not think much about it. Xu Wan appeared like she wanted to say something, but she did not voice it.
The setting sun burnished the Ferris Wheel. The sound of laughter faded away, and Chen Ge stood at the entrance alone. He studied the theme park around him for a while before turning back to the Haunted House. "It's time to move after the sky has fully darkened."
Returning to the staff breakroom, Chen Ge lay in his bed. His eyes kept wandering to the picture on the table; this was the first birthday that he would spend without his parents.
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"Shall I go buy myself a cake? Nah, the money spent on the cake is enough for me to buy half a mannequin." Chen Ge patted his own face and stretched lazily before reaching under his bed. "Where is my backpack? Did the cat drag it away?"
Chen Ge looked below his bed; there was no backpack. Even Xiaoxiao and the white cat were missing.
"This cat has grown much smarter now! It sensed that I am about to bring it out with me, so it hid the backpack from me." Other than Chen Ge, only white cat and Xiaoxiao would enter the staff breakroom, so Chen Ge's suspicion landed on the cat immediately. Holding a pack of cat food, Chen Ge opened the door and ran all over the Haunted House's aboveground scenarios, but he failed to find the white cat.
"Has it run underground? It dares to go there alone when it's so easily scared?" Pushing open the iron gate that led underground, Chen Ge stepped into the tunnel that seemed to lead into the darkness. He only took a few steps when he sensed that something was wrong. The place was a bit too quiet.
"Xiaoxiao? Ol' Zhou?" He called a few workers' names, but there was no response. Chen Ge walked down the dim street alone. Dim, dark, depressing, and narrow, it was like the route that Chen Ge had chosen for his life. There was no light around him, and he strode into the darkness on his own.
He walked past the broken windows that provided glimpses of the different scary scenarios. Behind him was a world of darkness, and before him was an abyss of darkness.
Walking past the empty classrooms, Chen Ge finally stopped at first junction inside the Mu Yang High School scenario. He stood there alone, studying the split in the road. Just as he was deciding which turn to take, his phone suddenly vibrated.
Taking it out, he opened the message to take a look. It was a message from Tong Tong. "Boss, Happy Birthday!"
Before Chen Ge knew what was happening, the split that he was standing at was lit up by a host of spiritual fire. With a resounding boom, the bathroom door next to him was shoved open, and a group of student mannequins squeezed out holding a blackboard!
The blackboard of the sealed classroom had been taken off its hinges, and a picture had been drawn on it. It was a picture of a bunch of small figures dancing about. They had different expressions and postures, and standing in the middle of them was a man dragging an iron hammer.
Perhaps they had limited drawing skills—they were unable to fully represent the man in the middle. Instead, they wrote down many nouns around him, terms like sunny, righteous, kind, gentle, and all of them had arrows that pointed to the man in the middle. After they saw Chen Ge, they turned around at the same time, wishing to show him the other side of the blackboard.
They were unable to coordinate perfectly, so some of the mannequins had their arms and necks turned 180 degrees. They maintained this strange posture and showed him the other side of the blackboard which said—"Happy birthday!"
The two words were colored in with chalk. The students of Mu Yang High School smiled at him with their strange smiles. Some of them wanted to get close to Chen Ge, but others thought that the work was better appreciated from a distance, so they stayed put. Due to the difference in opinion, the group of mannequins soon collapsed on top of each other, but their intention and hard work was clearly understood.
A dry cough came from the left corridor. The ghost fire switched off in the other lanes, and only the ones in the left corridor remained. Harrowing singing came from deep inside the scenario. It was intermingled with scary laughter and the sound of static. The doctors from the underground morgue were slowly pushing out a trolley.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…"
The trolley was filled with birthday cards, all made from different materials. Some were made from patient's records, others were promotional flyers, and some were directly yanked out from clothes and bedsheets. Even though the materials were all different, most of the handwriting was the same. The Pen Spirit probably had helped most of them write their well wishes.
In the middle of the trolley sat an object about four tiers tall, constructed from models and clay. It looked like a cake.
The edges of the cakes were decorated with very unique icing. Only the extremely talented Yan Danian had the ability to make cake icing look like flowing blood.
"Chen Ge, happy birthday." The few doctors placed the trolley before Chen Ge. Yan Danian, Ol' Zhou, and the rest walked out from behind the trolley. Bai Qiulin had a recorder in his palm, and the bloodied tape inside was playing a soft, cheerful tune.
"You…" Chen Ge looked at all the 'people' before him.
"Shush, don't speak. Light the candles and make your wish." Wei Jiuqin waved behind him, and a white cat that was much larger than a normal cat walked out from the classroom, biting a backpack in its mouth. It returned the backpack to Chen Ge. Opening the backpack, he saw Xiaoxiao hugging a pack of candles that were wrapped in paper.
"So, you're here." Chen Ge picked Xiaoxiao out and placed her on his shoulder. Holding the few handmade candles in his hands, he said, "Who told you it is my birthday today?"
"It's the guys that you had us meet this morning. They said that it was a female employee who told them about it."
"Understood." Chen Ge nodded. He turned to the 'candles' in his palm. "Must I light them?"
"Of course, there is a ceremony to life. You light up the number of candles that correspond to your age, or your wish won't come true," Elder Wei said strictly. Chen Ge nodded. He took out the lighter from his backpack, lit up the candles one by one, and placed them on the model cake. The warm light chased away the cold. Ghosts were most afraid of light and fire, but none of them shied away.
"Boss, it's time to make your wish!"
"Make a wish! Make a wish!"
"What kind of wish do you think the boss will make?"
"Shush, if he tells us, the wish won't come true anymore."
He scanned the faces of his workers, and Chen Ge rubbed his eyes. He voiced his wish silently and then proceeded to blow out all the candles. The underground scenarios returned to darkness, but the silence was shattered. All the employees were gathered together; some were singing, and some were laughing, like a real family.
"Thank you." Standing in the dark, even though Chen Ge was the only living human in the Haunted House, he did not feel alone at all. Kindness and grace would never be vanquished by a scary exterior.
He saw in these 'people' sincerity that was not valued much by human beings these days, pride that made them stand tall, and kindness that was etched into their souls.
"It is my good fortune to have been able to encounter all of you."
The party continued into the night. It was not until midnight that Chen Ge realized that he had something important to do. He grabbed the backpack and shoved the white cat inside it before it realized what was happening. "Come, the night is only starting now. For the next phase, we're taking this outside!"
Walking out from the underground, Chen Ge carried the heavy backpack and returned to the staff breakroom.
When he opened the door, he was briefly stunned.
There was an actual cake left on his table, and next to it sat a greeting card and a key.
Chen Ge walked to pick up the card. It was written with Xu Wan's graceful handwriting. "Boss, I don't think I need this spare key because I trust that you will always be around. I shall hand this key back to you, and finally, I want to wish you a happy birthday! Remember to live every day with joy!"