Chinese horror story E4: Icarus

  • “This was worse than a retched nightmare. It was the nightmare of real things, the fallen wonder of the world”

When Xu called, I was telling my son a bedtime story, Greek mythology. At the age of four, I still had to tell the story before he could fall asleep, and my wife said that on my night shift, my son would spend half the night before sleeping.

I didn’t hurry to answer the phone until I watched my son fall asleep. I called Xu and said, “What’s the hurry? Don’t you know what time it is?”

Xu didn’t say anything, asked me out to have a kebab for supper. Why suddenly so mysterious, it’s not like him. Xu is a veteran in the editorial office, supposedly my senior, but has been frustrated and worked for most of his life as a ordinary reporter until now. And I have become the director of the Ministry of Information.

Xu ordered a bottle of wine, and each of us filled a paper cup. So we sat under the arbor on the side of the street and drank it. “Something is going to happen,” Xu said, after two drinks.

I snickered. After all these years in the media, you are still so easily surprised. No wonder he couldn’t get promoted. But after a while, I couldn’t snickered any more.

He told me that next week our newspaper office would be taken over by the Propaganda Department of the CPC’s Committee of the city. The president had submitted his resignation report, which should be approved soon. The new president was the brother-in-law of the Propaganda Minister; young editors on the night shift don’t even bother to work today, all huddled together to discuss how to revolt… Xu said, conveniently filled a cup of wine.

I am a bit surprised. What’s happening? I was just on the night shift for half the month. How did we get taken over all of a sudden? In the future, will international news articles be taken to the Foreign Ministry for review like the Xinhua News Agency? The president will resign without telling everyone? Will a guy like me, who is not a member of the party and does not have a red background, be demoted to the mailroom?

“It’s hard to anticipate,” Xu had another drink, “I’m going to quit my job and do something on my own.”

No no, Xu, if you leave, I have no senior people then. The situation may not be as bad as you think, we are an old media. We have a reputation for half of China. We won’t turn into Xinwen Lianbo all of a sudden. You can rest assured that this department won’t go bad as long as I’m still on the job!

I clapped my chest to swear, Xu sighed. He nodded and shook his head again. The rest of the supper was left to the kebab, and no one spoke. I murmured in my mind, do I want to do something myself, if something happens…

I went home and said to my wife, she was angry. She complained that I was bewitched by Xu. “Our family can not compare with him.” Yes, after the marriage my wife had three miscarriages, the child is not born easily. In order to protect the pregnancy, she resigned after pregnancy. As a result, the child was four years old, she still did not find a job. The family rely on me alone, including the payment of the mortgage, the monthly income is basically no surplus. Even the baby’s milk powder is bought by the mother-in-law.

I promised my wife I wouldn’t quit. I wondered what to do with the Propaganda Minister and his brother-in-law.

Before I could meet the new president, something really happened. There were serious rear-end collisions with two trains, and several carriages fell off the bridge, causing heavy casualties. I didn’t leave work on the night of the accident. The next day was my annual break, and I swap it with others. I was worried that the newbies wouldn’t be able to cope with such a great deal of news.

I brought a couple of young reporters with me overnight. We were on the phone for dozens of hours. The entire editing room was like a boiling pot. Everyone’s face was red and sweaty.

‘Samos has a very beautiful island, called Icarus Island. The name comes from the Greek mythological character Icarus, the son of the craftsman Daedalus. The king locked them in the maze. His father made a pair of wings with wax for him, hoping he could fly out of the maze…’ I told my son the bedtime story in my mind.

I didn’t come home for five days. We made six full-page reports, severely holding accountable those baffling rescues. As ever, this was the most exhausting and empowering time for me. As a journalist, I knew my duty.

I lit a cigarette when I signed, savoring our achievements. Xu really shouldn’t leave. It’s only at this time that people like us can feel dignity, existence and value.

But an hour later, everything changed.

Newspapers that had just been delivered to the printing press were pulled back. The propaganda minister’s brother-in-law came to the newsroom late at night for the first time since he took office. And the report we worked hard on for five days was went into the bin because of his ban.

A dizzy, I helped the wall out of the room. Before I reached the toilet door, I fell on my back with a soft leg… only the body continued to sink, sinking, like falling into the sea, endless sinking.

When I woke up, I found myself in a hospital bed. I had tubes strapped to my arms and my wife dozed off on the couch beside me. Out of the door was crowded with running pulley stretchers and patients’ families screaming with their mouths open. Strange enough, I can hear no sound.

Everything in front of me was like a silent movie. It was all action, but there was no sound. What was that? Am I dreaming? I was trying to recall the last scene in my mind. The manuscript, the computer, the hallway, the brother-in-law’s face… suddenly a nausea, I picked at the edge of the bed and vomited wildly.

When I woke up again, the doctor handed me a diagnosis certificate. It said my name. The condition was “Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL),”. Deafness?! Isn’t this in a dream? Open up your voice and I want to hear you!

The doctor touched my shoulder and motioned for me to be quiet. He turned to take a whiteboard and wrote on it, “Be calm and steady in mind to help you recover,” adding that my condition was the result of intense emotional stimulation over a short period of time.

I can see my wife’s tears, but I can’t hear her cry.

I don’t know how many days of injections, this horror silent film did not change. I lay in the stretcher, kept moving between various check-up rooms, only to see the pale machines and walls, and the icy stainless steel supports.

The doctor stopped coming to see me, changed nurses, and began to teach me how to speak. Touch my neck with hands, feel the vibrations, adjust the volume, and then remember the strength of vocal cords to help me speak without being too loud or too small to be heard.

Before I was discharged from the hospital, Xu brought the news that I had been fired. It was said that the brother-in-law thought I was “no longer fit for work”. This was more irritant than the relegation to the mailroom that had been envisaged.

I suddenly found that everything in life has changed. A few days ago I was drinking with Xu, but in retrospect it seems like a long time ago.

The crisis ensued. My job was gone, my family’s sole source of income was cut off. Kindergarten tuition was due in a few months, bills for electricity, water, gas and Internet were flying in like snowflakes. My wife was crying every day, and even when I hid in the toilet, I could tell she was crying.

I feel terrible. I don’t know what to do.

After all these years in media, I found that I couldn’t do anything but write anymore. Writting. In order to live, for my children and my wife to live, I turned on the computer.

I tried my best to write, real stories popping up on paper. I taunted perverted censorship, attacked the existence of propaganda departments, and called attention to the survival of the media. I shut myself up at home, writing day and night, and finally finishing a book.

I thought I had built up enough contacts in the media over the years to publish the book successfully to pay for my children’s tuition once I got the royalties. But I did not expect that many emails sent, most have not replied. Only a few old acquaintances reply actually said: “Now the restrictions are very tight, such a book can not be published.”

I contact Xu on the Internet, would like to ask him for help. Though he has resigned, he should be able to request to more people with twice the length of his service as I have.

“No way, don’t think about writing those things again,” said the Xu. “I’ll go to you later, let’s have a drink again.”

I have not done anything wrong, although the censorship has been all along, but I absolutely do not write unconscionable words. I used to play a few tricks in order to live, but I would never do anything unprofessional, while Xu said that nowadays even silence is not enough. What they want is your active support and praise. This is shameless, is trampling on the dignity of the news.

Why don’t let me tell the truth? Why can’t I even listen! How many resumes were cast, no news at all, old acquaintances introduced the editorial work, the other side actually replied that “You are deaf. How can you apply?”

The greatest skill of this world is that there are so much kinds of ways to kill you.

I stumbled into the kitchen, felt out half a bottle of wine, gulped and drained; the contents of my chest were finally turned over, and before I could run to the toilet, I spat directly on the floor of the corridor.

My son took the story book of Greek mythology, shook my arm, and kept talking to me, but I couldn’t hear a word.

“Do you want to hear a story? Daddy will tell you. Don’t be afraid. Daddy’s all right. Let’s tell the story.”

Icarus flew and flew, he flew higher and nearer to the sun, his waxy wings melted and fell into the sea, dead…

My son was crying, swinging his tiny hands at me, and I tried to get up and pick him up, but he sprinted into the room and slammed the door shut. Even my son didn’t want me, because I was deaf? Why did they take everything from me just because I wanted to get out of the maze?

Xu came and I saw him. I saw his sad face, just as I was flying out of the balcony.

中文版:中国恐怖故事 E4: 伊卡洛斯