Chapter 6 – Teamwork

About half an hour later, CJ and I were walking back to Mrs. Yang’s house with the help of Xiao Lin. He said he was on his way to visit Mrs. Yang also, so it was on his way. When we arrived at Mrs. Yang’s doorstep, CJ knocked on the door lightly. Mrs. Yang came to the door seconds later.
“Oh! You’re finally back!” Mrs. Yang exclaimed. “We were so worried about you. Ah Xiang was out looking for you earlier, but he couldn’t find you. Where did you go?”
“We were just looking around town,” CJ said. “We didn’t realize we got lost. And then Xiao Lin found us and helped us back here.”
CJ stepped aside to make way for Xiao Lin.
“Xiao Lin!” Mrs. Yang said excitedly. “I haven’t seen you since last month. How have you been?”
“I’m good, Granny,” He said.
“Oh,” Mrs. Yang said. “Let’s all go inside.”
She opened the door wider to let us in. After she shut the door again, she led us toward the back of the house to where the others were having breakfast – at the same spot we had dinner last night.
Ting Wei jumped up from his seat and ran toward me.
“Shao Han!” He took my hands into his. “Where have you been? We were so worried for you.”
“Jia Le and I went outside to explore this place,” I said.
“You two are…” Mrs. Yang said, walking by and seeing us holding hands.
“They’re married, Granny,” CJ jumped in.
What?! I turned to look at him. But then things began to register in. I turned to Mrs. Yang again and smiled shyly at her, looking down on the ground afterward.
“Oh…” Mrs. Yang said, realizing it. “I should have known since he has been very caring towards you.”
Ting Wei looked stunned, but he led me back to the table anyway. Mrs. Yang let me sit next to him this time around and made everyone else move one space over. We ate breakfast in silence as Mrs. Yang chat away with Xiao Lin, catching up on the latest events. It seemed like only CJ paid any attention to their bizarre conversation – and actually joined in several times.
After breakfast, Jing Jing helped Mrs. Yang clear the table while Ting Wei grabbed my hand and CJ’s, dragging us to the front area of the house. Ah Xiang had already gone to the woods again, so there was no one around in front.
“What?” CJ asked, annoyed. “Let go already, you want to murder your bro-in-law?”
“What was that about me being married to Shao Han?” Ting Wei demanded.
“If I didn’t say that, would they let you off easily?” CJ asked back.
“What?” Ting Wei asked, confused.
“It’s ancient time,” I told him. “You can’t act so closed unless you’re married.”
“And those ancient serials you watched on TV are fake,” CJ continued. “This is the real ancient time. You can’t hold hands or be closed or whatever else unless you’re married. In fact, even if you’re married, you have to act appropriately in public. That means no holding hands, no wrapping your hands around her shoulders, and no kissing. Got it?”
“Stop it already,” Ting Wei said. “I thought you guys said we’re in this place where they shoot ancient films. Why are you still pulling this prank on me? What did you guys find out in town then? You contacted the police?”
“You need a reality check?” CJ asked. He stepped forward and pinched Ting Wei on the arm real fast. “There. It’s real.”
“Ow…” Ting Wei screamed. “What did you do that for?”
“Reality check,” CJ repeated.
“Come on,” Ting Wei said, feeling impatient. “I’m serious.”
“I’m serious too,” CJ said, still in a calm voice. “We checked that ‘town’ out already and it’s pretty much the same as here. I’m sorry to tell you, but your wish worked. We’re trapped here in ancient time until we can find our way back, which is zero to a billion.”
With that, CJ walked away from us and back into the kitchen area. We looked after him and then at each other.
“What really happened?” Ting Wei asked, looking at me with a concerned face.
“It’s like what he said,” I replied. “If you don’t believe me…”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” He said. “It’s just…”
“I know. I was going hysterical earlier too, but CJ’s right. We must remain calm and find a way out of this.”
“What happened between you and CJ? Why are you agreeing with him now?” He asked, still having a hold on my shoulders.
“In a time of such crisis, we must stick together,” I said. “Do you want us to fight and tear at each other at such a time?”
“That’s not all of it,” Ting Wei said. “It seems like something happened between you two since last night.”
“I took him in, remember? We’re related now. We have to try to get along,” I said.
“It’s not that,” He said.
“What do you want it to be then?” I asked.
“What are you two talking about now?” Roger’s voice boomed over us.
Ting Wei finally let go of my shoulders and turned around to face Roger.
“So…Mr. and Mrs. Lu, huh?” Roger said in a teasing voice.
“Knock it off already,” Ting Wei said. “It’s not funny.”
At that time, CJ came back with Jing Jing also. Mrs. Yang wasn’t behind them so I relaxed again.
“We’re not trying to be funny,” CJ said. “We’re trying to cover for you, remember?”
“That’s right,” Roger agreed. “At least until we get out of here. So…what did you two find out on your little journey?”
I turned to CJ. “You didn’t tell him?”
“Not with Mrs. Yang around,” CJ said.
“What?” Roger asked, looking from CJ to me.
“Tell him,” I told CJ.
“Yes, jie,” He said, smiling.
I gave him an annoyed look and secretly took his name off the mantel again in my mind.
I posted myself at the connecting door between the front of the house and the hallway leading into the kitchen on the look-out for Mrs. Yang and Xiao Lin as CJ began to explain to the other three all over again – in a clearer way.
“So that means we’re trapped here forever,” Jing Jing said after CJ’s done explaining.
“Not necessarily,” CJ said. “If we can find the reason why we’re here, we can find a way back.”
“We already know it’s through Ting Wei’s wish,” Jing Jing said. “But how can we undo it?”
I looked back at the others to see Ting Wei putting his hand on Jing Jing’s to reassure her. CJ must have seen me staring, so he cleared his throat loudly like a good little brother. Ting Wei finally remembered my presence and withdrew his hand from Jing Jing’s. I placed CJ’s name back on the mantel. He was playing his “little brother” role quite well. I should reward him.
“What do we do now?” Roger asked, his voice panicking.
“Hmm…” I heard CJ wondered out loud. “Did either of you remember if Ting Wei was holding something while he said those words?”
“Huh?” Roger asked, confused than ever.
“Are you suggesting it’s like in those movies where you have to have some kind of special token to possess those powers in sending someone to the past or future?” I asked, walking back to the table where the others were sitting at.
“Very clever, jie,” He said, his voice as teasing as ever. “We’re from the same family after all.” He smiled widely at me.
I took his name off the mantel again.
“Maybe…” I said, sitting down in between Ting Wei and CJ.
“Maybe what?” CJ asked.
“Maybe it works differently.  Maybe we should go back to that dark house and search it again. We might find a special hidden object that we haven’t found in last night’s darkness. Or even a port key or a pathway back to reality.”
“We are experiencing a dose of reality right now, jie,” CJ reminded me. “It’s just a different part of reality.”
I gave him a look before putting my hands on the table and leaning my chin on them, thinking.
“It’s haunted anyway,” Roger said.
“What?” I said, turning to him.
“The house,” Roger said.
“No way!” CJ and I shouted out at the same time.
Ting Wei and Roger turned to look at us.
“We’re related,” CJ said with a nervous smile.
“Yeah right you are,” Roger said.
When did Roger learn sarcasm?
“Maybe if we didn’t have that stupid conversation about both of your girlfriends, this wouldn’t have happened,” Roger mumbled out randomly.
What nonsense was he mumbling now? What?! Both girlfriends?! He was kidding, right?
“What?!” I said out loud. I turned to Roger, giving him the ultimate stare.
“Uh…” Roger stumbled, looking from Ting Wei to Jing Jing to CJ.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“He was just kidding, jie,” CJ said calmly. “Relax. We’re just bored.”
I smashed Roger’s name in half and stomped on CJ’s name mentally as I go back to thinking. I was not sure if I had imagined it or not, but I could see Roger sighing out from the corner of my eye and Ting Wei looking sideways at me with an odd expression on his face. I decided to ignore them since they had nothing to do except distract my concentration.
“Hey, Angela,” I heard CJ calling me.
Was he crazy to call my English at this time and place? But I realized he was using his sincere voice so I turned to him again.
“Want to go check it out?” CJ asked, looking at me.
“Check what out?” I asked.
“The haunted house. We might as well since we can’t seem to think of any other way.”
“Okay then.”
I stood up at that time and followed him to the door. Then I realized something. Where were the others? CJ seemed to notice my expression.
“Mrs. Yang just called them to the back again,” He explained.
“And she didn’t call us?” I raised an eyebrow.
“She saw you deep in thoughts and I said you’re just tired,” He said.
“Let’s go before they spot us again.”
He opened the door and we slipped out again. We walked toward the dark house and stopped in front of it. I couldn’t help feeling a chill running up my back. It was cold out, but the cloak had helped a lot. This type of chill was like fear of the unknown. Stop it, Zhang Shao Han, I scolded myself.
“Let’s go,” CJ said, reaching for the doorknob.
It was daytime now. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Before he could turn the knob, we heard someone calling us from behind. CJ let go of the doorknob and we turned around to see Xiao Lin walking toward us.
“Are you two crazy?!” Xiao Lin asked. “Come back here!”
He had stopped halfway to the house.
“Let’s go back,” CJ whispered to me. “It’s hopeless trying to fight with them.”
I nodded, following CJ and Xiao Lin back inside.
“You two know what you could be up against?” Xiao Lin continued as we passed through the door.
Yes, I thought. Probably a bunch of bugs and hays. And everybody in this town was a bunch of scaredy-cats. No, wait. I shouldn’t stomp on the people who fed me and provided me with shelter. I sat down at the table again next to CJ – without realizing it.
“Where did you two run to again?” Roger whispered to me. He leaned in on purpose so no one could hear us. “Did you plan to elope?”
I stared at him with murderous eyes and mentally stomped on his name plate so it broke into fours.
“I was kidding,” Roger said. “No need to give me those looks.”
Ting Wei walked into the room with Mrs. Yang and Jing Jing at that time.
“I was telling Ting Wei, Jing Jing, and Xiao Lin that you all should stay here within the next couple days since there’s going to be a storm hitting here soon,” Mrs. Yang began as she sat down at the table next to Roger. “It’s the last storm of the season. It’s not safe to travel in this weather, especially when you’re unfamiliar to this place and don’t know when it’s going to hit. You might not make it to the next town in time.”
I looked around at the others. Somehow, CJ had switched over and sat on the same wooden bench as me while leaving the bench on the right for Ting Wei and Jing Jing. That little traitor! Why did he do it? That was it, I would tell Mom and Dad to cut back on his allowance when we return home – if we ever get out of there that was. Just as I was pouting over that silently, I suddenly remembered CJ was not really my brother. It didn’t matter, I thought. He was supposed to help me here.
“Jie!” I heard CJ called me.
I looked at him and could see the others were staring at me also.
“Uh…” I uttered.
“We already agreed to stay here and help Granny Yang prepare for the storm,” CJ explained. “What do you think?”
“If everyone agrees, then I have no objections,” I said.
“We’re all good then,” CJ said.
So in the next few days, we prepared for the storm hit. The guys helped Ah Xiang check the house and patch some part of the house up again. We girls helped Mrs. Yang since she taught us how to preserve food and sew some clothes. Xiao Lin had gone back to his territory to prepare for the storm also since he had to take care of his family after all.
It was not that bad living in the town since the people there were really friendly and caring. We were like one big happy family here, except the five of us still wanted to go home where we actually belong.
Jing Jing adapted right in with the rest of the people since she was known to be quite old-fashioned and traditional – unlike the rest of us. She didn’t have to be taught of how to sew while I did poorly at first. But somehow I managed to do it correctly – after a few backstabs from CJ. I didn’t want to lose out to him since he was not doing badly himself either. He learned really fast with carpentry unlike Ting Wei and Roger who were still clueless about stuffs. I barely remembered Ah Xiang saying somewhere along the way that, “You siblings are really talented. Does it run in the family?” We smiled and nodded at that time, but then it made me wonder while I was stirring some ancient medicine in the clay pot for Mrs. Yang how come I never noticed how much CJ and I were alike before? Maybe that was why we saw each other as taboos?
“It’s burning!” I heard someone yelling out.
I looked at the stove again to see the water rising. Someone stepped in front of me to pull out some of the logs, decreasing the flame’s energy. When I finally checked in again, I could see CJ.
“What in the world are you doing?” He asked me, looking somewhat mad. “Daydreaming and cooking aren’t good combinations.”
“I’m not daydreaming,” I said. “I’m trying to figure out something. “
CJ looked around the kitchen area once before turning to me again.
“Tomorrow, everyone’s going to be gathered here. Mrs. Yang said the storm might hit soon so we shouldn’t scatter apart. The other residents are probably inside their houses also, so want to check out the haunted house again? We can’t go tonight ‘cause we’re still at a disadvantage with light and probably won’t find anything.”
“Why don’t you ask Ting Wei or Roger to go with you?” I asked, curious of his decision. Was he going to pull some prank on me inside the haunted house? Although I truly believed there were no such things as ghosts, but I knew very well CJ was capable of convincing me – with his own way of creating those ghosts.
“Roger’s a big chicken inside,” CJ said. “And Ting Wei is…uh… Let’s just say we’re the cleverest among the group, okay?”
Why did he change the subject so abruptly when he mentioned Ting Wei? I half wanted to pull on his ear and demand an explanation but decided against it since I could see Ah Xiang walking by. It would look too suspicious and we would need to explain why we ended up in that situation. It would go really well if I as much as muster something out like, “Uh, nothing. We were just arguing over the fact that he’s hiding stuffs from me. We’re trying to get out of this crazy town and he’s not helping either.” That would go well with Ah Xiang and the rest of the town too. NOT!
“Angela!” I heard CJ’s voice calling me again.
I was so used to communicating in ancient Chinese language that the sound of my English name sounded so foreign.
I snapped to alertness again, looking around for Ah Xiang.
“He left again,” CJ said.
“Oh,” I blurted out lamely.
“What’s with you lately?” CJ asked.
“Oh, let’s see, we’re trapped here. And I’m supposed to act normal?”
My sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed since CJ’s a sharp kid after all.
“Stop it with the hostility already,” CJ said. “We’re supposed to be on the same side, remember? At least until we get out of this mess.”
I turned to him. “If we’re on the same team, then why are you holding back information? You’re hiding things from me and expect me to trust you. How ironic is that?”
“Angela, I…” CJ said, his voice sounding somewhat timid.
CJ tongue-tied in front of me? Unbelievable. He was definitely hiding something from me. I was sure of it. Not the others, just me. If they were sharing the same secret, maybe I should ask them too? But now, I have to attack CJ while he was at his weakest. I didn’t care if the others found out later that I should use such low tactics to extract information.
“Well?” I asked firmly.
“It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, but…” He stopped, looking down at the ground and avoiding my eyes.
“What?” I asked “Tell me now or else!”
“What are you guys doing?” I heard a voice from across the room.
I turned to that direction to see Ting Wei, Jing Jing, and Roger walking in. When in the world did they get here? When I was busy trying to harass CJ with my murderous looks?
“Nothing,” CJ said quickly. “I was just…”
He didn’t finish his sentence, but stepped out from behind the stoves area and walked out of the room. I could see Ting Wei watching me closely with questioning eyes. I ignored him – in fact, all three of them – and went back to tending to the medicine. It just needed another hour then it was done.
© Tuesday, July 15th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 13th, 2010