1 The Boy with No Palm Prints (Part 1)
Nie Zun’s POV
“Nie Zun, why do you like wearing gloves so much? Come, have a drink!”
Feng Yan walked over with a few of his friends in tow, tossing me a can of beer. I caught it with a swift swipe. Lowering my gaze to the black gloves I’d started wearing in recent years, I laughed and pulled open the tab, gulping it down with a single draught.
Feng Yan quirked an eyebrow at my lack of response, but did not probe any further. After three continuous cans of beer, he got up to dispose of them one by one and asked, “Where are you going after this? Why don’t we head off together?”
I flashed a smile that did not reach my eyes. “It’s okay thanks, I’ll pass. I have something on, so I’m going to have to head off first.”
After saying that I hopped up, walked over to the rubbish bin and threw away the can of half-finished beer along with my empty can from earlier.
I could hear the hushed whispers of his friends from behind me, “Why do you even care about him, Feng Yan? Look at how he wears those gloves all year round. I’ve heard he keeps his distance from others, has no friends and even visits a private psych clinic all the time!”
Feng Yan replied in an equally quiet voice, “Stop spouting nonsense. I think he’s pretty alright.”
Oh? … Am I pretty alright?
I lifted my gaze towards the sky above me and glanced down again to check the time on my phone. There’s still half an hour to go before my doctor arrives, what should I do before then?
As expected, I going to relive those memories again, aren’t I?
I dropped my head and let out a bitter laugh, but I couldn’t stop the memories from flooding into my mind.
It was three months after my thirteenth birthday, and Mum was packing up in preparation for us to move again; the fifth time since celebrating my birthday.
“Mum, why are we moving again?” I watched her.
She turned around and returned my gaze tenderly. Her eyes held a glimmer of an undecipherable emotion, the strands of hair by her ears fell messily as she reached out and patted my head. “Be good, Zun’er. It’s nothing; we’re just moving because you’re due to start middle school soon.”
I blinked. “In that case, I don’t want to be separated from Xuan’er. I still want to share a room with her.”
My Mum’s smile was as gentle as the softest spring breeze when she nodded. “Sure.”
“Zun’er, you’re thirteen now, how are you still so clingy?” Xuan’er ran over when I made my request and crouched down beside me, giving my head a few pats as she teased. “You can sleep in the same room as me, but only if you don’t wet the bed!”
My face flushed red, pouting as I retorted, “I don’t wet my bed! Mum, Xuan’er is bullying me!”
“Ow! Xuan’er, you hit me…” I held my head with my hands and glanced up at her pitifully.
It didn’t actually hurt much, but Xuan’er just swung her high ponytail and rubbed my head dotingly anyway. “Who told you to stop calling me ‘jiejie’? If you won’t even call your blood sister that then you’re pretty much asking for a beating, aren’t you?”
I muttered under my breath, “Why must I call you ‘jiejie’ when you’re only five years older…”
Knock, knock, knock!
Knock, knock, knock!
“Open the door! That monster in your family… Return my husband to me!” There was another rush of knocking at the door, followed by a woman’s cry.
I recognized the voice. It was our neighbour, Zhang ahyi’s voice. She was usually so kind, but why was she this fierce today?
Just as Mum walked up to open the door, Xuan’er subconsciously pulled me behind her. Looking up, her back was all I could see. At thirteen, though, my height was average.
When I saw Zhang ahyi, the expression on her face was distorted. Her hair was in a mess, her eyes were swollen… it looked like like she had been weeping for a long time. The moment the door was cracked open, she rushed in and pushed my Mum aside, her eyes darted around in search for something before finally locking onto me.
The moment she saw me her gaze turned vicious. I was taken aback.
“You demon child! Return my husband to me! Freak! You’re a freak!”
Zhang ahyi charged towards me as she spoke and grabbed my collar. Xuan’er pushed her aside with all her might when she realised what was happening. “What are you doing?! Let go of my brother!”
I was scared stiff. I could see my Mum walking over with an imploring look, her eyes welling up with tears, “Zhang jiejie, this has nothing to do with Zun’er. We’ll be moving away today. I’ve heard about Li da-ge and I understand that you’re upset, but you can’t blame Zun’er for it.”
When Zhang ahyi heard her words, she flung me aside and I dropped to the ground with a thump. Amidst the chaos, Xuan’er rushed towards me and engulfed me in a hug.
Zhang ahyi slapped my Mum. “Stop pretending! I’ve heard it all! This child doesn’t have any palm prints on his left hand! He’s destined to curse whoever he touches; anyone who comes into contact with his hand will die! My husband gave him a piece of candy, then got into accident the very next day! He’s still in the hospital as we speak––who am I to blame but this demon child!?”
“I won’t allow you to bully my Mum!”
I struggled against Xuan’er and shoved her aside. Hurrying towards Zhang ahyi with outstretched arms, I pushed her with full strength.
Zhang ahyi was already trembling with rage and with my forceful push she staggered backwards. I watched as her feet tripped over a small bench on the floor and the back of her head collided with the corner of our table.
Zhang ahyi fell, her swollen eyes rolled over and in that instant she let out a cry––
Then, she stopped moving.
My eyes widened at the scene before me. Xuan’er rushed over to me and hugged me with her trembling figure, her eyes were filled with panic while she stared at Zhang ahyi.
Mum’s hair had became even more disheveled than before. Her eyes were laced with fear but she said nothing. She moved slowly forward and gave Zhang ahyi a few light shakes.
“Ah!” Xuan’er cried out when she saw blood spilling uncontrollably out from the back of Zhang ahyi’s head.
I didn’t breathe a word. I just stared dumbly at the motionless Zhang ahyi. on the ground.
Mum turned back immediately and said to Xuan’er, “Quick, call the ambulance!”
Xuan’er nodded frantically, then lowered her head towards me. “Zun’er, don’t be scared. Jiejie’s going to make a phone call. Be good and stay here.” She squeezed my shoulders, then she wiped the stray tears from her face before rushing out the other room.
Mum looked around, clearly clueless where to start. In the end, she wiped both hands on her clothes before walking to my side. She crouched down and met my eyes softly, but firmly, “Zun’er. Mum was the one who pushed Zhang ahyi, got it? Don’t forget that. That’s the truth, no matter who asks.” Mum held onto my hand securely with both of hers.
I couldn’t help asking her in a soft whisper, “Mum, why is there always someone saying I’m a freak…?”
A look of worry hung on Mum’s haggard face, but her hands remained tightly clasped around mine, “You are not a freak. They’re just superstitious, trying to blame all their misfortunes on you.”
I dropped my head. “But I heard your conversation with Dad on the phone a few days ago… Grandpa said it before he died: once I turned thirteen, I’m not allowed let anyone touch my hand. If… If I’m not a freak, why can’t I let others touch my hand…”
Mum seemed agitated all of a sudden, her eyes glistened with tears and her grasp on mine tightened. “What are you talk about? You heard it wrong, Zun’er. Look at me, hasn’t Mum been holding your hand all this time? It’s only because you have weak immunity, that’s why Mum is afraid you might come into contact with germs and bacteria.”
But… I turned my head slightly towards the unconscious Zhang ahyi….
How many times has it been…
How many times has someone fallen in front of me…
Watching the ghastly sight on the floor, I didn’t feel much fear for the scarlet, fresh blood. I couldn’t explain it either; it was like I couldn’t comprehend the true meaning behind all the blood that had spilled.
“Alright, be good, Zun’er. Someone from the hospital will be here to save Zhang ahyi soon. Go back to the room and get Xuan’er jiejie to accompany you, Mum will take care of everything, alright?”
I nodded and Mum seemed to exhale a sigh of relief. She pulled my hand along and guided me back into the room.
Xuan’er had just finished her phone call when she saw Mum steer me into the room. She got up promptly and held onto my other hand.
“Xuan’er, stay in the room with Zun’er. Don’t come out of the room even when the people arrive. I will accompany the paramedics to the hospital and I’ll give you both a call if anything happens.” Mum said to Xuan’er.
Xuan’er nodded, her high ponytail bobbing with it, and her eyes no longer held the look of trepidation they did before; she was composed. “Don’t worry, Mum. I’ll stay home and take good care of Zun’er.”
Mum nodded then promptly shut the door to the bedroom. As I watched the room door close, my head fell forward once more.
“Don’t be afraid, Zun’er. Mum and I are still here.” Xuan’er squatted, her pair of wide, bright eyes gleaming as she looked at me.
“Xuan’er… Am I really a monster? Like the monsters that Ultraman fight against in those animations? …. Would I evolve one day too…” I pursed my lips, thinking back to the several times we had moved in the past few months. There was always someone who would come to the door, calling me a monster. It’s so upsetting…
Xuan’er giggled. Her eyes were always full of optimism and shone with the radiancy of the sun. “Zun’er is not a monster, and he wouldn’t evolve either.
“Come on, I’ll cuddle you into an afternoon nap.” Xuan’er tugged me along towards the bed.
Just like that, I forgot about my troubles and followed Xuan’er happily. “Oh… I’m already thirteen but Xuan’er still wants to cuddle me to sleep.” The words slipped from my lips.
“Ow! Xuan’er, you hit me again…”
When the phone rang I was still in the midst of my slumber. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I could see Xuan’er through the blur, the phone in hand with fear written all over her face.
“Xuan’er, what happened?” Rolling over, I jumped down from the bed.
Xuan’er was stunned for a long while before she eventually slammed the phone down and took my hand. “Quick, Zun’er, we need to go. Dad’s here to pick us up.”
“Really? Dad!” I exclaimed. My Dad was working in another city and hadn’t returned home for a long time. Hence, without second thought, without even realizing that Xuan’er hadn’t taken any of our belongings with us, I sprinted with her out of our home.
Xuan’er locked the door in haste, then pulled me down the stairs.
“Xuan’er, slow down… But, where’s Dad?”
My home was on the seventh floor and there wasn’t any elevator. By the time we reached the bottom of the steps, I was already beginning to pant.
Xuan’er didn’t turn back, she just pulled me along out of the apartment building. It was only when we were outside that I realized the skies had already darkened. I tilted my head towards the pitch-black sky but couldn’t find the moon.
“Stop! That’s the kid! That’s him! Quick, grab him!” From behind us, there was an uproar.
I twisted my head around while gasping for air. To my surprise, I saw the mayor of our town along with a few others running out of an alleyway, and it looked like they were heading right towards us.
“Xuan’er, that’s Mayor shushu…”
“Stop talking, Zun’er. Hurry, run! Follow me!” Xuan’er seemed on edge; she actually turned around and shouted at me.
I was shocked, not understanding why we had to run. The night was too dark for much visibility––I looked back to see Mayor shushu’s face and could hardly see his eyes. It was all I could do to sprint as fast as possible with Xuan’er, who brought me out of the neighborhood and into the streets of town.
“Xuan’er, I—I’m so… tired.” I was gasping for air.
Xuan’er was panting as well when we rounded the corner. She looked around our surrounding.
Behind the corner of the street came the voice of Mayor shushu and his companions who were about to catch up.
Xuan’er was panicking, but after she turned around and took a quick look, her high ponytail swung again and she said to me, “Zun’er, go towards the road junction and turn right there. After that, just run along the next street. Dad will pick you up but he might not be there yet, so just run as hard as you can. The road is straight, you’ll definitely meet him at some point. Listen to me, no matter what happens, don’t look back. Just keep running, you understand?!”
I was suddenly hit with an intense wave of terror.
Still, I had always listened to Xuan’er since I was young, and hearing her speaking this firmly, I dared only to nod.
“Quick, run!” Xuan’er pushed me forward and without thinking much about anything else, I ran.
From behind me, I could hear Xuan’er, “Zun’er, you’re the most obedient, right? You must not look back or else Xuan’er jiejie will ignore you from now on!”
I wanted to cry but I had no idea why. I just kept running with all my might. Xuan’er had always stayed true to her words; last year, she said that she would make me a slingshot, and she did.
When I finally reached the straight road, all I could see was darkness; there wasn’t many streetlights in this town.
I was so exhausted.
I stopped. It was dark behind me and just ahead, in the midst of the darkness, there was a chugging noise. I rubbed my eyes, and saw a motorcyclist zooming in my direction.
Wow, a motorcycle. Could it be Dad?
“Dad!” Even though I hadn’t seen the motorcyclist’s face, even though there was no way I could recognize my Dad right away after two years of not seeing each other, I still waved my arms happily and watched as the motorcycle got nearer.
I widened my eyes in shock, in disbelief at what happened right in front of my eyes.
He was not far away from me when the motorcyclist suddenly swerved. The motorcycle veered right into a sidewalk along the edge of the road.
It all happened so fast, the sudden swerve, and I watched as the man on the motorcycle flew out of his seat.
My hands flew up to cover my mouth.