Prior to a shift in its economic structure, Dongye City was an industrial metropolis.
Back then, the city was built around its humongous factories. The closed communities surrounding each factory were relatively self-sufficient and isolated, with schools, hospitals, and shopping centers all located nearby. The larger communities even had their own public swimming pools and dairy farms.
At this time, over thirty years ago, the biggest and most important factory in Dongye City was the Tianhong Weapons Manufacturing Plant located in Xi District. The community around the factory provided absolutely everything for its workers, creating what seemed almost like a paradise for its residents.
In terms of educational facilities, the community had everything from a kindergarten to a high school, and in terms of entertainment, the denizens of the Tianhong district could want for nothing. The community even had a small amusement park for kids.
Now, the Tianhong plant had long since moved out of Dongye City. The factory and community buildings had since been replaced by towering skyscrapers. The only remnant of the old community from those days was that small amusement park that the kids of the Tianhong community had loved so dearly.
But some may have found that odd. The factory itself no longer existed. Why did the amusement park remain?
Simply put, there had been a time when it was irreplaceable. About a dozen years ago, other parks and playgrounds had cropped up around the city, but none could rival the appeal of the Tianhong amusement park. When the factory withdrew from the city, a real estate company gobbled up the newly vacated land in Xi District. The amusement park was one of the properties the company purchased, with the intent of turning it into a paid tourist attraction.
But things didn't go quite as planned. As the economy of Dongye City rapidly developed, new ventures—many backed by foreign investors—moved into the city. New businesses and developments sprang up everywhere, and soon enough two bigger, more alluring amusement parks had laid claim to Dongye City. The old Tianhong amusement park only remained in operation for three years after the factory's departure from the city.
The amusement park became defunct roughly ten years ago. Ever since then, it had existed in a state of limbo. No one was actively managing it, but due to various corporate disputes over the property, it couldn't be demolished.
Now, in present day Dongye, the dilapidated amusement park was nothing more than a joke. Many of the younger residents of Dongye City referred to it as the 'Graveyard of Youth'.
But recently, this 'Graveyard of Youth' had become a popular destination for young couples and photographers.
In the ever-changing landscape of Dongye City, the old amusement park had been engulfed by tall skyscrapers. For many people, the city was an inescapable prison of glossy office buildings everywhere they looked, so the ill-fitting aesthetic of this old, abandoned park was a welcome change in scenery for those who were bored with the cold, unfeeling cityscape they saw every day.
Late at night, the light from the surrounding office buildings illuminated only the outskirts of the old amusement park. The light of the city couldn't reach into the deeper parts of the deserted playground.
An old train from one of the attractions, swallowed up by overgrowth and practically falling apart, sat in this absolute darkness. Suddenly, a sharp gasp of breath burst out from the third car of the broken train. A hand shot up from inside, slapping the foggy, dirtied window. Its nails scraped down the glass, sending a piercing shrill through the night, a sound that could have made one's teeth ache.
In the daytime, this old train was an incredibly popular spot among teens and young adults who loved to strike sad, gloomy poses near the tracks and take photos that they would later upload to social media with pseudo-poetic captions about how misunderstood they were.
At night, the train was often a spot where young couples sought some… privacy.
Ten minutes after the gasp and the screech of fingernails on the train's yellowed windows, one of the crooked doors was thrown open with a clang. A plump woman wearing a white slip-on dress leapt out from within. She staggered forward a few steps, fished a lighter out of her pocket, and lit a long, slim cigarette.
Not long afterwards, a shirtless man hopped out as well. The two of them shared the cigarette, cuddling close and whispering to each other, occasionally letting out a burst of laughter.
After they'd smoked three cigarettes together, the woman straightened out her dress and seemed about ready to leave. The man, on the other hand, didn't seem to want the night to end just yet. He took her hand and pulled her close, snuggling and kissing her all over.
The woman giggled and returned the man's embrace. "Let's go somewhere else."
The man looked around. Besides the abandoned train carriages that offered some privacy, there was…
"Over there," he suggested, his eyes lighting up with mischief.
The woman looked to where he was pointing, and her eyebrows furrowed with concern. "I don't think so. Isn't that too dangerous?"
What the man was pointing at was the carriage of an old thrill ride that still dangled in midair, attached to the ride's ancient steel frame. The frame was at least three stories up from the ground, and there were no reinforcements whatsoever to support the carriages hanging from the frame. Just climbing up to the hanging carriage would have been terribly reckless.
"It's exciting because it's dangerous," the man insisted with a sultry grin. He wrapped an arm around the woman's shoulders and held her close. "Little Shan, wasn't it your idea to have a 'ride' on a different ride every time? You're not scared of heights, are you?"
The woman huffed. "Who's scared of heights?"
"Then let's go." The man was brimming with confidence, eager to show off his courage and masculinity in front of his girl. "Don't worry. As long as I'm with you, nothing bad will happen."
Soon enough, the couple had clambered up into the dangling carriage of the old ride. The ancient steel frame creaked and groaned under their weight, and the interior of the carriage looked as dangerous as the climb up had been. Inside the carriage, most of the support railings had cracked and broken apart. Three splintered pieces protruded from the frame of the carriage, like a set of sharp metal thorns.
The woman grabbed hold of one of the only rails that had yet to break. Her face had gone white as a sheet. "F… forget it, this thing is way too unstable. If we move around too much, it'll definitely fall."
The man gulped down a mouthful of spit. Fear had finally crept into his heart as well, but he was unwilling to admit it in front of the woman. He put on a brave front and said, "Don't be afraid. It's fine. We're not that high up, anyway. And we have the car to protect us. Even if we fall, we'll be totally fine."
He reached out to the woman then, intending to pull her back into his arms.
But at just that moment, the woman slipped and lost her footing, teetering off balance and tripping forward.
The hanging carriage was unstable to begin with. When the woman stumbled so suddenly, the carriage swayed heavily and lost its precarious balance. With a loud, foreboding creak, the carriage shifted and slipped directly off the frame.
For a split second, the man and woman met each other's gazes with horror. Before they could even react, their whole world shifted and turned upside down.
The carriage began to plummet, sending the couple inside shooting straight down to the ground three stories below.
Their piercing screams of terror were swallowed up by the swamp-like darkness of the abandoned park. The carriage tore through the air, gaining speed, until it crashed into the ground with a deafening thud. It rolled over and over, like a car that had spun wildly out of control and sped over the edge of a cliff.
Five minutes later, a bloody hand emerged from the mangled remains of the fallen carriage. The woman, whose face was caked with dirt and blood, crawled out whimpering. Her white dress was stained a dark red, and some of the rhinestones that studded her fingernails had been torn off. Her long hair, also dripping with blood, was draped messily over her heavily made-up face.
It was a horrifying sight, like that of a female ghost crawling out of a TV set.
Behind her, the man emitted an endless string of pained groans. When the woman struggled to her knees and turned around, the state of what she saw inside the carriage made her pupils shrink to pinpoints.
A long, thin spike was protruding from the man's abdomen!
The woman wanted to shout and scream, but she was too frightened to make a sound. The man could only stare at her in shock, whispering weakly, "Little Shan, help me… save me…"
With her eyes blank and vacant with terror, the woman shook her head woodenly. The motion sent blood trickling down her own forehead as she gasped, "No, no…"
The man let out a loud, pained breath as his face contorted with rage and loathing. "What the fuck are you doing just standing there? Call an ambulance, call a doctor, now!"
The woman suddenly stood up from the rocky, uneven ground. Her long, bloodstained dress fluttered in the cool night breeze.
"I can't save you," she whispered. As though in a trance, she took three steps backwards before she, suddenly, seemed to come to her senses with a jolt. She approached the carriage again, but only to pick up the cell phone that had fallen out of the carriage.
"You…" The man's eyes were already starting to lose their light as more and more blood gushed out of his wounds.
"Can't let anyone find out. Can't let anyone find out," the woman muttered again and again under her breath, shaking her head frantically as she backed away once more. "I'm sorry…"
"Stop! Stop right there!" the man howled, mustering up all his strength to summon his voice. He struggled as hard as he could, but there was nothing he could do as the woman turned and fled into the dark.
The next morning, a gruesome scene straight out of a horror movie awaited the first group of schoolchildren who came to the amusement park to play. The man lay on his side in a pile of debris, with a rusted iron spike sticking out of his abdomen. The grayish rubble around him was stained black and red with blood. His lifeless eyes were bulging out of his skull, his expression frozen in a mask of pain.
And his right hand was stretched out, as though to grasp at a thread of hope.
The golden light of the early morning sun spilled over his body, but he had long since ceased to breathe.
After the grisly sight was reported to the police, the Xi District precinct swiftly dispatched a criminal investigation team to cordon off the scene.
The first forensic investigators on the scene determined, using livor mortis and rigor mortis, that the man's time of death was between 11:30 and midnight on the previous night. The spike that had pierced the man's liver was determined to be the likely cause of death.
With a whole squadron of police cars gathered outside the amusement park, a crowd of curious onlookers had amassed just past the border of the police tape surrounding the scene. The incident had occurred during summer vacation, and though the amusement park was no longer operational, many children from the neighborhood still treated it as their personal playground and sanctuary.
The children in the crowd all strained and craned their necks, trying to get a look at what was happening beyond the tape. The ones with rich imaginations had already woven a frightful horror story in their minds, and the more daring ones were already conspiring to gather their friends and sneak in late at night to explore the place where the body had been found.
When the Serious Crimes Division arrived on the scene, they parked a ways away from the bulk of the Xi District police cars. Ming Shu stepped out from the passenger seat just in time to hear one excited boy say to his friends, "Do you guys know how the guy in there died? My big bro said to me, he was killed by a witch's poisoned needle! The needle was thiiiiiis long—it went all the way from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet!"
Silently, Ming Shu listened in.
"On the night of the full moon," the boy continued, speaking so excitedly that spittle was flying from his mouth, "the witch will appear again and use her needle to punish people who have done bad things! Do you guys wanna see the witch? My bro said he'll take me to see her, so I'll take you!"
The children gathered around this boy all seemed eager to sign up for the opportunity, wearing expressions of both fear and anticipation on their faces.
Ming Shu called out to the boy at that point, and the boy turned around and looked him up and down, as though sizing him up.
"Uncle, do you want to come with us to see the witch?" he asked.
One of his friends, a rotund little kid, leaned in and hissed, "No way! He's an adult, he's not one of us. He could tell on us!"
But a girl with braided pigtails argued, "Uncle is really good-looking, we should let him come with us!"
Ming Shu stooped down next to the crowd of kids. "You guys want to go exploring?"
The apparent leader seemed to think about something for a moment before he decided, "If you act as our bodyguard and don't snitch on us, I'll let you join us!"
"Bodyguard?" Ming Shu hummed and put on a feigned look of remorse. "But there's too many of you. I couldn't possibly protect you all."
The boy blinked at him with big, wide eyes. "But you're so tall."
"I hear witches just love to eat children," Ming Shu continued, deadpan. "Every night, they eat at least seven children in order to keep their youthful appearance. There just so happens to be seven of you, and I can only protect one of you at most."
At once, the color drained out of all the children's faces.
The girl with pigtails was the first to find her voice and ask, "Really? Is that the truth?"
"Of course it's the truth," Ming Shu said.
"Impossible!" the leader blurted out frantically. "Guys, don't listen to him! Witches don't eat children!"
Ming Shu shook his head. "Why would I lie to you? I can protect you, kiddo, but it just means I won't be able to protect your friends."
The children all looked at one another, exchanging worried and fearful looks for a while, before they scurried away.
Once they were gone, Ming Shu smiled and rose to his feet, approaching the police tape and slipping underneath.
Normally, this wasn't the sort of case the Serious Crimes Division would need to take on. The Xi District police were more than capable of handling it on their own. But Ming Shu had only recently returned to Dongye City, and he needed to reassert himself as Captain Ming of the Serious Crimes Division. As soon as he received word of the case, he had gathered his men and rushed to the scene.
The trace detection investigators were currently working on the scene, collecting blood samples and photographs of nearby footprints as evidence. Ming Shu wove through them to the body and squatted down next to it.
Immediately, his gaze traveled up the length of the steel frame.
"The victim fell from there," said Zhang Haiyu, Vice Captain of the Xi District squadron. He wiped away the sweat beading on his face and continued, "The carriage was full of blood. Looks like the victim managed to crawl out, approximately five meters, to his present location."
Ming Shu put on a pair of gloves and mused to himself, "What was he doing up there in the middle of the night?"
"Some vagrants spend the night here," Zhang Haiyu said. "But judging by the way this man is dressed, he probably wasn't homeless."
Ming Shu nodded his agreement. "Are there any surveillance cameras in the vicinity?"
Zhang Haiyu's brows furrowed with a faint frown. "This place was abandoned such a long time ago. There aren't any cameras in the park, only on the streets outside."
Ming Shu laid his fingers against the deceased man's throat, tracing a trail from there to the victim's lips. "Someone was with him when he fell. Most likely a woman."
Just a split second later, the trace detection team called out that two sets of tracks had been identified from the area surrounding the scene. One set belonged to the victim, and the other suggested the presence of a woman between 1.55 and 1.6 meters in height, weighing no more than 105 pounds.
Zhang Haiyu looked back at Ming Shu and flashed him a thumbs up. "Impressive, Captain Ming."
Ming Shu made his way to the fallen carriage, taking in the sight of the bloody mess within. His gaze landed on one of the seats.
That seat had been knocked askew, its iron frame and wooden panels crushed together and deformed. Ming Shu bent over the seat and carefully plucked one long, fine hair from a crack in the splintered wood.
He straightened as he stepped back from the carriage, lifting the hair to inspect it in the sunlight. The strand had been dyed a golden red color that had recently grown popular, and the hair follicle was attached—good enough for a DNA test.
"There are those who would do anything for love." Ming Shu sealed the hair inside an evidence bag and passed it over to a member of the trace detection team. "A simple hotel room isn't good enough for them. They have to throw caution to the wind and risk their lives at a place like this."
Zhang Haiyu was a detective with plenty of experience under his belt. It didn't take long for him to put two and two together and understand what had happened here last night.
But there was one thing he didn't understand. If these two had been a couple so madly in love with each other that they had to sneak off to such a wild place to have sex, why would the woman leave the man after they fell?
If they had gotten help in time, the man wouldn't have lost his life.
"Their relationship was a secret," Ming Shu posited. "It's possible they were married to other people. For whatever reason, they couldn't allow their affair to come to light. But there's no shortage of evidence here. This case won't be hard to solve. Did the deceased have any identification on him?"
"Here." Zhang Haiyu fetched an evidence bag that contained a gray wallet. "Zhang Sihao, twenty-four years old. But we still need to confirm his identity through the official channels. What's strange is we can't find his cell phone anywhere."
Ming Shu's eyebrows jumped up with surprise. After a moment's thought, he narrowed his eyes. "It was his lover. She must have taken it."
When the police arrived at Xiyue Hotel, Xu Linshan was in the process of sweeping up an ashtray that a guest had broken.
She was twenty-seven years old, born in a rural village outside the big city. Before she had even come of age, she came to Dongye City to find work. She had done a little of everything, from janitorial work to selling counterfeit alcohol to working the counter at a hair salon.
Three years ago, she married an honest and docile cab driver. Her life became more stable, she had a child, and she now held a steady job as a housekeeper at this hotel.
She had never received much of an education, and she was somewhat lacking in common sense as well. But she was pretty and vain, and she hated that her husband—although a decent man—was old and ugly and completely unsatisfactory in bed.
Six months ago, she had met Zhang Sihao, who worked at the same hotel as her. Sparks flew instantly, and they became embroiled in a passionate affair.
She and Zhang Sihao had similar backgrounds. They were both born in rural villages, and they had both left their homes in their teens. Zhang Sihao could drive, and he was a beast in bed. Compared to Xu Linshan's husband, he was countless times more attractive. But he was poor, and just like Xu Linshan, he was bad at saving money.
Xu Linshan had no respect for her husband, but she didn't necessarily respect Zhang Sihao, either. She had slept with plenty of rich men in the past, but they in turn didn't respect her.
If she'd had any other options, she wouldn't have married a bald, potbellied cab driver in the first place.
When Zhang Sihao began to pursue her, she was hesitant to accept his advances at first. But after thinking about it, she decided there was no harm in just sleeping with him a few times. Regardless of whether it worked out or not, she could always jump onto the next ship if a better prospect came into her life.
Xu Linshan had always known exactly what type of person she was: not a good wife and loving mother, but a lustful woman who sought the company of handsome men. But she wasn't prepared to give up the stability offered by her husband either. She would cheat, but she was determined not to be found out.
Zhang Sihao was the playful sort. Two months ago, he invited Xu Linshan out to the deserted amusement park for some 'midnight fun' for the first time. Xu Linshan got such a thrill out of that first time that she came up with the idea to 'ride' every attraction at the park.
Yesterday, it had been their eleventh 'ride'.
Xu Linshan's husband shared a cab with another driver, and he was often working late shifts. That gave Xu Linshan plenty of opportunities to meet with Zhang Sihao to deepen their clandestine affair.
But what happened last night… she never could have imagined something like that could occur.
She was just too unlucky.
Ever since the fall, her mind had been filled by a fog of panic and despair. The sight of Zhang Sihao bleeding from the abdomen and the memory of the gory look of pain that had contorted his face were branded onto the backs of Xu Linshan's eyelids. She couldn't get those images out of her mind, and she couldn't stop shivering whenever she thought of that moment in time.
I didn't do it on purpose. It wasn't my fault. I didn't choose not to save him. I didn't have a choice at all! I couldn't call an ambulance. If an ambulance came, everyone would find out. I have a husband, I have a child, I have a family. I couldn't let anyone find out!
She repeated these thoughts over and over again in her mind, desperately trying to convince herself they were true.
When the police arrived at the hotel with a warrant for her arrest, Xu Linshan's mind went blank with panic. She couldn't even begin to understand how she had been found out.
Xi District Precinct. Interrogation room.
Xu Linshan sat at the interrogation table. Laid out in front of her were the following items: her fallen strand of hair sealed in an evidence bag, photographs of her footprints at the scene of the accident, and the results of a blood test which identified traces of her blood on the premises.
And yet, Xu Linshan continued to adamantly deny she had been with the deceased Zhang Sihao last night.
"You people have made a mistake," she insisted. "Zhang Sihao and I are just coworkers. We've never even really talked to each other. I have a family, I have a one-year-old child at home. How could I possibly be out with some man in the middle of the night?"
"The surveillance cameras outside the amusement park caught it all. Last night at 9:03, you and Zhang Sihao entered the amusement park looking quite intimate with each other. Later on, at 11:12, you left alone and in a panic." Ming Shu leveled a long, steady gaze at her while he spun the laptop playing the relevant surveillance footage to face her. "With this footage and the evidence I've already presented to you, Mrs. Xu, you must realize your confession is not as important as you think."
All of this was new information to Xu Linshan. She had no idea about the prevalence of public surveillance cameras in bigger cities, and she couldn't have imagined that footprints or blood could reveal a person's identity. She had sincerely believed that as long as Zhang Sihao's cell phone was taken away before he could call for help, as long as no one arrived to witness her at the scene, she would be safe.
She picked at her nails anxiously, still thinking only of ways to cover up her affair.
"Your actions," Ming Shu continued, "led to the death of Zhang Sihao."
Xu Linshan's eyes flew open wide with shock. "What does that mean?! I didn't know he would be stabbed by those iron spikes!"
"So you admit you were inside the carriage with Zhang Sihao?" Zhang Haiyu demanded.
Xu Linshan shrank back and trembled. "I…"
"Would you like to have a look at Zhang Sihao's autopsy report?" Ming Shu slid a folder across the table and let it rest in front of Xu Linshan. He sat back, steepling his fingers. "He sustained numerous soft tissue contusions. Two of his ribs were broken. And he suffered internal bleeding. However, he didn't die on impact. If he had received medical attention in time, he would have survived."
Xu Linshan's eyes darted nervously back and forth, all over the place, and she started to grind her teeth.
"As for you," Ming Shu continued, leaning back in his seat. "It seems you sustained no injuries except the wound on your head. It looks like, when you fell, Zhang Sihao protected you."
Tears suddenly sprang into Xu Linshan's eyes. She began to weakly shake her head. "I didn't know. I didn't know he would die…"
"Really? Did you really not know his life was in peril? Did he not call out to you for help? Did he not beg you to call an ambulance? But you didn't help, did you? Not only that, you took his cell phone with you." Ming Shu's eyes grew colder with every word. "I assure you, Mrs. Xu, continuing to conceal the truth won't do you any good."
Although Xu Linshan had maintained a string of affairs with different men throughout the years, she had never faced this sort of interrogation before. She had never had any serious run-ins with the police. When Ming Shu laid out so much evidence against her and pressed for answers, she finally broke down and confessed, in a weak and trembling voice, to her affair with Zhang Sihao.
In the end, she looked up at Ming Shu with fearful, reddened eyes. "Will I… will I be sent to prison? It really wasn't me who killed him! I didn't kill anyone, it was all an accident…"
With her confession secured, the case could be considered closed. Ming Shu cast a cold gaze upon her and left the interrogation room without another word. Upon exiting, he encountered a balding, middle-aged man waiting in the hallway, his whole face wrinkled with worry.
This middle-aged man was none other than Xu Linshan's husband. He was very plain-looking, perhaps even slightly ugly. Ming Shu sized him up in an instant, then breathed a soft sigh. This was clearly a good, diligent man who earnestly worked to provide for his wife and child.
People often ridiculed those who were 'plain', but these people didn't realize that plainness and simplicity could very well be a form of happiness and good fortune. Xu Linshan, with her infidelity and her insatiable need to chase after alluring young men, had smashed that happiness to pieces.
This woman, both ignorant and cruel, was simply beyond redemption.
As the sounds of her sobbing bled out from inside the interrogation room, her husband's face crinkled even more with concern. He stopped a passing officer, pleading, "What's happening to Little Shan? Please, don't hurt her…"
Ming Shu frowned at the sorry state of the man. Just as he was preparing to take his leave, he suddenly heard a flurry of urgent footsteps rushing his way.
"Chief!" Fang Yuanhang shouted, barrelling down the hall towards him. "We got another call! Under the rubble where Zhang Sihao was found… they dug up another body!"