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Nightmare from Bright Street

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It really was about time they all got together again, Zhang Feng thought as he placed the wine bottle he brought on the kitchen counter and went to look for a cup. They all had finished their studies some months ago and now had real adult jobs and adult lives, but somehow it all didn’t feel settled yet, as if life was waiting for something. So when A-Mei suggested they all come together for a movie night on Halloween, everyone had happily agreed. A-Cheng had offered his apartment, because it was the largest and had plenty of couches and a guest room to crash after, so that was decided quickly. He himself and Tao would bring alcohol and a movie and A-Mei promised some snacks. 

It was great, he mused as he filled the cup he found with something green from a glass pitcher and sauntered over to the sofa, to see all of them again. Even if they had stayed in contact via text messages and the occasional video chat, it wasn’t the same, and he was looking forward to hearing what his friends were up to nowadays. 

And, he also was very curious – because of the group A-Cheng had been the most secretive about his current job and life situation. He had told them some anecdotes every now and then, enough that they had found out he worked for some kind of government organisation, but what exactly he did there had been a topic for heated speculation in the group chat. A-Cheng had ignored their ranting every time, which only made them more intent on making him spill. (It still eluded Zhang Feng how someone as timid and scared as A-Cheng actually worked for the government, and apparently also went on secret missions, like a freaking special agent , Tao had laughed. Not that he didn’t think him a capable person, just not a very… adventurous one.) 

A-Cheng had also casually asked if his boyfriend could join them later that evening, which had thrown the three of them into another round of speculation, followed by their very emphatic agreement in the form of eggplant and droplet emojis. (For this, A-Cheng had compared them to a pack of hyenas and replied with some rows of rolling eyes, but he hadn’t taken their teasing to heart, he never did.)

With a sigh, Zhang Feng plopped down on the couch after depositing his drink on the low coffee table. A-Mei chose the same sofa, sinking down beside him, shuffling around until her feet dangled over the armrest.

“What are we watching?”, she asked with a glance at the stack of Blu Rays he and Tao had selected. 

“You decide,” he shrugged, “we brought a lot of classics, and one or two new ones, because we didn’t know which ones you guys have already seen, so just choose the one that sounds the most scary.” 

She laughed at that, then reached over to the pile. Examining every cover, she said without looking up, “You do realise that A-Cheng will die if I choose this one,” she waved a case with a particularly gory cover, “he almost had a heart attack last year when we watched The Hills Have Eyes.”

He chuckled at the memory. “Yeah, that’s the point,” he smirked, “you can’t tell me that you don’t find it hilarious when–”

“What’s hilarious?”, another voice interrupted as Changcheng scurried inside, balancing a giant tray with various bowls and plates, their promised snacks. Tao followed behind, carrying the pitcher with the green concoction and a stack of cups. 

“Just, err, a movie we saw together,” Zhang Feng lied with a glance towards A-Mei. Changcheng was a scaredy-cat, but there was no need in hurting his feelings by telling him so. A-Mei nodded more enthusiastically than necessary and gestured to the stack in front of her. 

“Speaking of movies, which one do you want to watch? They’re all pretty gory, I’m afraid,” she said to A-Cheng, almost apologetic, but he just shrugged. 

“I really don’t care, just choose one you like.” 

With a hum, A-Mei then pulled a Blu Ray from the pile and unfolded herself to put it in the player. With the lights turned off and A-Cheng’s ridiculously expensive entertainment system it really felt like sitting in a theater, and Zhang Feng felt a pleasant shudder of anticipation run down his spine as he reached for the chips. 

All things considered, Zhang Feng thought an hour later, it wasn’t the movie’s fault. It really was quite shocking, and A-Mei had been sufficiently spooked after one of the supporting characters had been chomped on by a monster, a very gory and bloody sight that had her hide behind a cushion. Tao had persevered a bit longer, until the main character’s best friend, in an act of self-sacrifice, charged at the attacking monster and got maimed in the process, when he caved as well and covered his face with his hands for a while. Zhang Feng, who had watched the movie once already and was thus less affected, had planned on silently amusing himself by watching the others’ horror. Yet that plan didn’t work out quite as well as he thought it would, because A-Cheng, of all people, didn’t bat an eye at the grisly scenes. The only reaction he showed was when the first character died, he then muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like not realistic and wrong angle . Since then, he had followed the plot in silence as one person after the other died in more and more bloody ways, just every now and then reaching for the snacks between them.

Zhang Feng watched, first in fascination, then in suspicion and finally with a sort of terror as A-Cheng, who a year ago had cried into his shirt because a scene was too scary, with a detached shrug towards the screen paused the movie, turned around to his friends and asked casually, “Can we pause here for a moment? I think the tall guy will die next, so it’s a good place to stop.” With that, he stood up, shook his legs a bit and went to the bathroom, leaving the lights turned off.

Zhang Feng turned to A-Mei, eyes wide. “Is… Did you see that too?”, he asked, incredulous. “Did he just…?”

“I think he did,” came the muffled reply from behind a cushion. 

Tao shook his head. “Is that the same guy that doesn’t go into haunted houses because they’re too scary?”

A-Mei groaned. “What on earth is happening at his job that this,” she gestured towards the paused screen, “doesn’t have any effect on him?”

The other two shared a look, shrugging slightly. Before any of them could add something, however, the sound of the front door opening startled them, followed by a dull thud as it closed behind the newcomer. 

All three of them turned to the living room door as it slowly opened, watching the man who stepped inside. He was tall, had short dark hair and equally dark brows that were knitted together in a scowl, completely dressed in black, a black scarf wrapped around his neck. His eyes were burning with intensity as he scanned the room, then nodded wordlessly towards them. Frozen, all they did was stare as Changcheng appeared at the man’s shoulder – and wrapped his arms around him, giving him a peck on the cheek.

“Welcome home,” he said with a smile, and Zhang Feng heard a quiet, strangely garbled sound from Tao’s direction. 

A-Cheng all but shoved the stranger into the living room, then stepped beside him, grinning widely. “Guys, this, um.. That’s Chu-ge, I mean, Chu Shuzhi, a, umm, a colleague of mine.” As the other raised an eyebrow at him, he added, his smile turning bashful, “And, umm, my boyfriend.”

Zhang Feng heard himself choke out a strangled Nice to meet you , while A-Mei just smiled weakly at the man. The stranger, no, Chu Shuzhi, sighed audibly as he turned to A-Cheng.

“I couldn’t stop them,” he said, and before anyone could ask what he meant by that, another face popped up behind them, then someone lightly shoved A-Cheng to the side to squeeze into the living room. The person looked almost younger than them, wearing a jeans overall and a loose t-shirt, his hair slightly dishevelled. He grinned widely at them, eyes shining, and Zhang Feng had the distinct impression that his canines were larger than normal. 

“Hi, I’m Da Qing,” he said to the room, “and that’s,” he tugged at someone, and the person holding his hand stumbled into view, long silver hair and a sinister aura, “is my boyfriend Ye Zun. We’re colleagues of Xiao Guo and wanted to visit him.” His smile didn’t waver as his boyfriend huffed, then murmured, “You said you didn’t believe he had friends.” At this, Zhang Feng had to suppress a snort. Ignoring them, Da Qing strode into the room and plopped onto a sofa, pulling the silver-haired man down next to him. 

Behind him, another person filed into the room, their steps almost inaudible. As the woman gracefully sat down on the sofa next to Tao, the man startled so badly he almost fell off, eliciting a giggle from A-Cheng. Zhang Feng almost joined in, when the lady, because it was a young woman with a brown bob and distractingly red lips, turned to look at him directly, and the laughter died in his throat as he could have sworn her eyes shone red for a second.

After all of them had squeezed onto the couches and nibbled on some snacks – A-Cheng’s colleagues had brought a whole food stall with them, it seemed –, with the movie playing, Zhang Feng subtly glanced around, examining the newcomers. A-Cheng had cuddled close to his boyfriend, ignoring the frown on his face and leaning his head on a black-clad shoulder. Da Qing was snuggled equally close to his own boyfriend, who looked as if he was designed to be the other’s polar opposite – where the young man looked reasonably nice and approachable, the other had a threatening air around him that made even looking at him feel uncomfortable. The woman next to Tao, who A-Cheng had introduced as Zhu Hong, looking as if she didn’t want to be here, had crushed Tao’s pitiful attempt at flirting with such a forceful stare that Zhang Feng and A-Mei, who had watched with interest, winced in sympathy. Tao had then retreated to his chips bowl, while Zhu Hong kept staring at the screen.

Zhang Feng had to suppress a light shiver. They all had a strangeness to them, he realised, an otherness that made him uneasy, nervous. If these were the people A-Cheng worked with, he thought, no wonder the movie didn’t affect him – his daily life had to be way more exciting.