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Chapter 21

Plague Doctor
     Chapter 21: The soft and hoarse voice

    Larbre Studio  Larbre Studio

    Doo… Doo... KACHA!

    The phone call connected.

    Gu Jun's brows furrowed as his heart skipped a beat. From the other end, all he heard was the buzzing of static probably due to the weak signal. His eyes darted around, observing the alley. As his ears stuck to the phone's receiver, his mouth remained sealed. He had no intentions of speaking, he only wanted to find out if there were any inhabitants left in Gurong Village.

    The recipient of the call also remained silent. The buzzing noises slowly heightened.

    As the noise grew more substantial, the frenzy that rumbled within Gu Jun's heart overwhelmed him.

    Who? Who was at the other end of the call!?

    As much as he wished to scream the question, he suppressed it with all his might. He even held back his breath for fear that his voice would be revealed. The moment his voice was known, horrors may descend upon him.

    

    "..." Despite the pressure on his mind gradually ballooning, Gu Jun did not hang up. Instead, he tried his utmost best to understand the low buzzing.

    Is this a language? Is this the same thing I heard at the Longkan Seafloor Volcanic Belt?

    No, no… This is the sound from the constant rubbing and squeezing of the throat.

    Something is there. It's trying to speak to me...

    Gu Jun tried to listen clearly, but the surrounding environment was noisy. The passing motorcycles, residents talking, and songs playing in the store hindered his hearing. These sounds mixed together and covered the strange voice. While walking towards the depths of the alley, he glued his ears to the phone.

    Shask. Shask.

    As noise reduces, the strange voice on the other side of the phone got more prominent.

    When Gu Jun arrived at a secluded garbage collection spot at the end of the alley, he could hear it clearly. In an undertone, the voice murmured, "Save me…"

    5

    The hoarse whisper on the other end of the phone said these exact words "Save me."

    That was a human's voice. While it was low, hoarse, and trembling, he could distinctly hear the emotions. The fear was unmistakable.

    As though the dam was released, words flooded out, "I'm… not dead... I'm not part…. I don't have it… the thing... in the banyan tree... Let me out… AHH! I… I don't want to die… Save, save me...:"

    The immense pain and suffering pierced Gu Jun's heart repeatedly and balled up suffocatingly.

    He could tell that this person was a villager of Gurong Village. For now, he hadn't died, but he could also not leave the village. The disease had infected him and caused malformations which restricted him from leaving the premises of the town.

    A few days ago, Gu Jun was still plagued by a terminal illness. He knew too well the pain of despair caused by helplessness in the face of death.

    3

    "Save me, please I'm begging you… save me…" the grief-stricken voice continued to wail.

    Gu Jun's hands tightened around the phone. A surprising scene surfaced in his mind. In the first lesson of his freshman year, he, together with his entire class, had taken the Hippocratic Oath. He vowed indifferently. To him, this was just a fake pointless ritual.

    "I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings."

    "I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."

    Darkness loomed over Gu Jun. As a medical slave, it was his natural calling to save people. Yet now, he found himself helpless. He could not save the director of Gurong Village. He could not save the boy who attempted to climb the tree. Now, he could not save this man on the phone.

    "Within the banyan tree…" The voice spoke in an increasing pained and hoarse tone. "That thing… don't… never…"

    6

    Suddenly, the call was cut.

    Doo…. Doo… Doo...

    Gu Jun looked down at the phone and took a deep breath. Softly, he swore, "I'm sorry if I can, I want to save you. But now, I don't have that ability. I haven't..." He looked up at the warm evening sky and heaved a long sigh. With this long breath, a part of his heart became more firm.

    2

    That is what he wanted to do; to be a real doctor; to save people.

    He didn't have enormous admirable and honourable reasons. He just felt that he needed to do it.

    4

    Gu Jun stood still for a while, sorting out his chaotic and messy mood while silently pulling out this new SIM card.

    What's in the banyan tree? He began to think about what the dying villager just said.

    What was inside? Is the source of the malformation in that big banyan tree?

    The snaking large tree branches, the craggy tree bark, the dangling creepers, and the malformed limbs.

    The various visions he had seen looped unceasingly within his mind. Suddenly, a realisation struck him. The malformed limbs on the cadavers looked very much like the banyan tree's branches.

    But then again, how did a tree become the source of disease?

    1

    As the thoughts brewed in his mind, he turned and walked back.

    The sky had dimmed a few tones as cold breezes caressed all who were outside. Suddenly, anxiety struck Gu Jun's mind. His eyes darted around his surroundings. This area was called "Fortune Alley". There were no tall skyscrapers; only antique classical style buildings. Between them were narrow pavements sandwiched by old shop signs, the remnants of a gradually vanishing tradition.

    Owed to the plethora of traditional cuisine available here, Gu Jun had come here often In the past. Eastern University students were also a common sight here.

    While this area was hectic and cluttered, Gu Jun knew every turn and street.

    Yet, as he walked on the battered cement pavement, there was an ominous sense of distant hostility closing onto him.

    Plop, plop. Plop. Water droplets landed and echoed through the alley.

    While the clouds were gathering in the sky, there was no rain.

    Plop, plop, plop.

    Quickly, Gu Jun whipped his head back and glared cautiously into the narrow aged alley behind him.

    There was nothing. Only the lights of the old signages sway in the light breeze "Suave Hair Barber, Professional Haircut", "Yonglong Hotel", "Printing Services".

    "It's that man that was stalking me." Gu Jun was absolutely sure that man was following him from a distance! Various options immediately played out in his mind. Withdrawing his glance, he turned around. To his surprise, he saw that man with a flat-head stood right in front of him; a mere 5 steps away.

    What do I do? Pretending to walk without knowing anything? Turning and walking away nonchalantly?

    Gu Jun took a deep breath and calmed himself.

    He noticed that the flat-head man's eyes were looking at him without bothering to hide the dark and hostile intentions.

    Gu Jun immediately understood. He knew that I'd found out about his stalking activities. As such, he had chosen to appear like this.

    In an instant, Gu Jun decided to be preemptive. Pretending to be just an ordinary person going about everyday things, he asked frivolously and loudly, "Old man, who are you? I seem to have seen you a few times recently. Why do you keep staring at me? What are you looking at?"

    "Mr. Gu." The flat-head man smiled eerily, the corner of his mouth opened like a puppet's mouth that was ripped open. "Give me the thing, and you will be fine."

    4

    Gu Jun was unfazed. In his mind, he scurried for a solution to this scenario. Li Yuerui's phone was in the inner pocket of his jacket.

    Looks like he was really looking for it.