Striving for ScienceChapters List
Chapter 15: My Surname isn't Zhang Anymore
"Wuming City might be an obscure little town, but it has a pathway connecting the realms of the living and the dead. Every seven days, a vehicle that can cross yin and yang would appear at midnight. It used to be horse-drawn carriages, but in keeping with the times, they have switched to buses," Grandpa Zhang sat beneath the bus sign. "Some people with weak fates might, at certain times, catch sight of this vehicle or even accidentally board it. That's why stories of the last bus ride are circulating in some cities."
On the deserted streets without people or smoke, Shen Changan put a coat on Grandpa Zhang and took out a mosquito repellent bottle to spray fiercely in all directions while wondering, it is already autumn, how are the mosquitoes still so rampant?
"What are you doing?" Grandpa Zhang asked, his face contorted from the strong scent of the repellent. "When the bus arrives, don't get on it, and if someone signals you, don't respond to it."
"What happens if I respond?"
"If you respond, you'll have to burn paper money for them, or they'll come to find you in your dreams. It's a ghost's method of scamming. Their tactics don't break any rules, and the only way for the victim to get rid of them is to burn paper money for them." Grandpa Zhang glanced at Shen Changan, "But you don't need to worry about this; the ghosts who dare to scam all have clever brains and won't bother someone like you."
Shen Changan raised his eyebrows. As someone who respects the elderly and loves children, why should even ghosts look down on him?
"It's five minutes away." Grandpa Zhang checked his watch. It was an unknown brand, but it gleamed brightly under the lamplight, as if its entire body was inlaid with diamonds.
"Do you like it?" Noticing Shen Changan's gaze, Grandpa Zhang straightened the coat Shen Changan had put on him, with the air of a superior being, "A businessman gave it to me a few months ago, it's worth about a hundred million or so. I have many more at home, I'll bring you a few pieces to wear and play with later."
Has Grandpa Zhang's little hobby of boasting expanded from ancient herbal medicines to diamond watches?
"How can I accept such an expensive watch from you? I'll just admire it a bit more to broaden my horizons." Shen Changan reached out to straighten the coat that had become rumpled on Grandpa Zhang's back, and sprayed some mosquito repellent on Grandpa Zhang's ankle.
"Are you not concerned about the Ghostly Bus at all?" Grandpa Zhang, seeing Shen Changan's nonchalance, suddenly lost much of his sense of accomplishment.
"W-what's wrong?" Shen Changan shook the mosquito repellent bottle, "That ghost thing, it couldn't be that we sprayed mosquito repellent that it won't come, right?"
Grandpa Zhang: "..."
As time ticked away, with only thirty seconds remaining until midnight, Grandpa Zhang stared at the rising night fog at the end of the road with a solemn expression. "No matter what you see later, don't be afraid. I dare to bring you to see these things because I can ensure you'll leave unscathed."
Shen Changan had never believed in the supernatural, but Grandpa Zhang's seriousness was making him doubt. Could there truly be things he couldn't see in this world?
Gazing at the thick mist at the end of the road, Shen Changan couldn't help but become more serious.
Ten seconds passed.
Thirty seconds passed.
And then, one minute passed, but there was nothing at the end of the road.
The entire street was dead silent, only a rat quickly ran into the sewer from across the street, making a squeaking sound.
The atmosphere became somewhat awkward. Shen Changan started to consider how to help Grandpa Zhang save face and avoid too much embarrassment. "Maybe the vehicle broke down and needed some repairs, so it's running late?"
Grandpa Zhang looked at Shen Changan, then back to the end of the road, with a sullen face and said nothing.
The Ghostly Bus could never be late; he had spent over a year in Wuming City, and when he occasionally caught evil spirits but was too lazy to lead them to their afterlives, he would bring them here to throw them into the Ghostly Bus, letting the Yin Realm handle them itself.
In over a year, the ghost vehicle had never been late or left early, so why did it have a problem tonight?
"I'll bring you to other places." Grandpa Zhang said grimly, not believing that all the ghosts had vanished tonight.
"Or maybe we can come again tomorrow night, it's so late now..." Shen Changan pushed the tandem bicycle next to him over, "Staying up late isn't good for the body."
"I'll be in poor health tonight if I don't let you see any ghosts and get angry," Grandpa Zhang sat on the bicycle and patted Shen Changan's back, "Let's go."
Shen Changan felt extraordinarily spirited tonight, as if he could walk dozens of kilometers without a problem. Carrying Grandpa Zhang, he pedaled the bicycle so fast that someone unfamiliar might think it was an electric bike.
"Follow the navigation." Although it was a tandem bicycle pedaled by the two of them, Grandpa Zhang sat in the back without moving his feet at all, and his phone emitted a mechanical, emotionless voice guiding the route.
"Grandpa Zhang, I think it's scarier to hear that kind of voice in the middle of the night on these deserted streets than seeing ghosts," Shen Changan panted as he pedaled. "Can we switch to a different navigation system?"
"As long as the words are pronounced clearly, what do you need emotion for?" Grandpa Zhang patted his shoulder, "Let's go."
Passing through a dilapidated street, low buildings and garbage were visible everywhere, and a foul smell would occasionally drift from garbage cans on the roadside. A few stray cats sensed people passing by and let out wary meows.
"Grandpa Zhang, are you taking me to see ghosts, or are we scavenging a trash mountain?" Shen Changan steadied the bicycle as they stopped outside an abandoned construction site, where broken stones were everywhere. Seeing this, he very naturally took Grandpa Zhang's arm to support him.
"What are you doing?" Grandpa Zhang looked at the hand supporting him with discomfort, "Walk properly, I don't need your support."
"I'm not supporting you, I'm just scared - what if something really comes out, with you old folk beside me, you could still protect me, right?" In Shen Changan's view, old people were like children and sometimes needed to be humored and cared for.
Grandpa Zhang's lips twitched, and he looked at the arm that was firmly holding his own. In the end, he didn't push Shen Changan away.
The light was dim on this side of the abandoned construction site. There were some makeshift shacks, but because they hadn't been inhabited for too long, they had fallen into disrepair over time, with some collapsing and others leaning precariously, casting a gloomy shadow.
Suddenly, a night owl screeched, and a few rats started squeaking.
Shen Changan turned on the flashlight on his phone and illuminated the path ahead. The surroundings were overgrown with tall weeds, giving the impression that even without ghosts, it was a rather eerie place.
As he was thinking this, he saw Grandpa Zhang take out several yellow talismans from his pocket and toss them into the air. The talismans burst into flames instantly.
Shen Changan heard Grandpa Zhang chanting some incantations, although... he didn't understand a single word.
After the incantation, a strong wind arose, as if countless things were about to crawl out from the darkness. His coat flapped loudly in the wind, and Shen Changan shrank his neck, watching as the yellow talismans slowly turned to ashes in the air, holding his breath.
With Grandpa Zhang's stern command, all the insects chirping in the surroundings fell silent.
Shen Changan widened his eyes, peering into the dark corners around them wondering what kinds of things might be hiding in these dark places?
Time seemed to freeze at that moment. Shen Changan watched as the wind gradually subsided, and a frog croaked as it hopped over his foot.
The frog hopped in place as if mocking the two bored humans.
After the wind completely died down, Shen Changan turned his head to look around, too embarrassed to ask Grandpa Zhang where the ghost was. Grandpa Zhang unbelievingly took out a talisman from his pocket, but this time not even the wind came.
All there could be was endless, immense awkwardness.
The air was filled with the smell of burnt talismans. Shen Changan looked up at the night sky, where stars were twinkling - it was quite beautiful.
"Let's forget it," Grandpa Zhang said, pulling out the last talisman from his pocket. From a few steps away, he looked at Shen Changan as though he was seeing a rare, peculiar creature.
"Don't call me Grandpa Zhang anymore. From now on, my name isn't Zhang; it's Wang." Grandpa Zhang's face was filled with a sense of desolation as he gazed into the distance. "I'm no longer worthy of the surname Zhang."
"Don't be too upset. Maybe the ghosts just happened to take the night off today, or they had other matters to attend to, so they didn't have time to meet us." Shen Changan held onto Grandpa Zhang. "Let's go back and get some sleep tonight. I'll accompany you to search for ghosts another night."
Grandpa Zhang: "..."
They pedaled through the old alley once more, passing by the bus stop where Grandpa Zhang had mistakenly thought the "Ghostly Bus" would appear. Shen Changan increased his cycling speed, fearing that Grandpa Zhang would recall the embarrassing incident.
A few hundred meters ahead, a black car approached from the opposite direction. There was no designated bicycle lane on this road, so Shen Changan could only move aside.
However, the car suddenly came to a stop as it passed by him.
Shen Changan curiously looked at the car. The window rolled down, revealing a familiar handsome face.
"Mr. Dao Nian?" Shen Changan was surprised. "It's so late; what are you doing here?"
Dao Nian glanced at Grandpa Zhang behind him and replied, "Working."
Working late despite having mobility issues; everyone's life is challenging. Shen Changan noticed a hint of curiosity in Dao Nian's raised eyebrow and guessed that he wanted to know why he and Grandpa Zhang were here. So he explained, "I'm out with Grandpa Zhang to..."
It wouldn't be easy to explain to Dao Nian that he was accompanying Grandpa Zhang in search of ghosts, so Shen Changan let his words dance on the tip of his tongue. "....I came out to accompany Grandpa Zhang for a walk."
Dao Nian nodded, and he raised his eyes to give Grandpa Zhang a thorough look, as if at this moment, he was willing to regard Grandpa Zhang with a proper gaze. "It's late; you should head back early."
"Of course, you should get some rest too." Shen Changan waved energetically at him with a cheerful smile and then pedaled his bicycle vigorously, racing away.
Dao Nian watched Shen Changan's lively figure riding his bicycle into the distance, his dark and profound eyes as calm as a tranquil sea.
As the chilly wind blew, Grandpa Zhang slowly walked out of the dejection of not being able to let Shen Changan see any ghosts. He looked back, was that man in the luxury car just now a friend of this brat?
What did Shen Changan call him just now?
Grandpa Zhang shook his head, for the first time beginning to doubt his life. Could it be that not only had his techniques failed, but his brain was no longer working well either?
"Sir." Liu Mao said, "Mr. Shen doesn't believe in ghosts and spirits, so why is he with a Taoist priest?"
Dao Nian closed his eyes and said nothing.
Ahead of the car, a thick fog rose. Within the dense mist, it seemed that something was neatly arranged, awaiting the inspection of some important figure.
The street in the middle was so spotlessly clean that not even a single leaf could be found.
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