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Jian Hua’s eyes fell on the huge poster at the entrance of the cinema’s ticket office.
It was a desolate image with a large group of crows in the poster background, while a handsome man dressed in armour was looking up at the sky. His murderous eyes formed a perfect fusion with the fierce font.
He wanted to look at it longer, but the cinema’s staff were replacing it with a new poster for a movie that would be released tomorrow. As the stand holding it shook and suddenly fell, the man with the resolute posture in the poster also looked like he was suddenly collapsing.
Jian Hua slowly turned his head. Behind him, a young girl softly begged the staff to have the poster.
Jian Hua subconsciously reached into his pocket, but remembered that he had quit smoking two weeks ago. Now there were no cigarettes in his pocket, only a small can of chewing gum. He used to thumb to open the lid and under the warm lights, his fingers appeared exceptionally slender and elegant.
Jian Hua was a stuntman. A stuntman did particularly difficult or risky work, but their name wasn’t known to the audience. Jian Hua had no ambition compared to his abilities, but trouble still found his door as rumours spread about him. This caused him to lose his job and he couldn’t mix in the circle of stuntmen anymore.
He spent six months at home, until Jian Hua unexpectedly received a phone call this morning. It was from the agent of the emperor of movies, actor Li Fei. The actor wanted to sign with him. Jian Hua would be his exclusive stuntman and would receive favourable treatment.
Jian Hua made no oral promises, but his heart was shaken. He had seen Li Fei before and he worked in the movie of the poster that he came to see today . His conscience said that Li Fei was a good person, but-
Jian Hua was stuck in his thoughts and didn’t notice that the elevator was late to arrive.
He was a young and handsome man wearing casual brand name clothing. His long legs were wrapped in a pair of jeans and he carelessly chewed gum, while the warm yellow light turned his lips an ambiguous orange.
He was handsome like a movie star, so the two female students waiting for the elevator whispered to each other with bright eyes.
The cinema’s elevator could accommodate 10 people. Jian Hua had watched all the credits before leaving, so the people watching the movie with him were gone. The screen above the ticket bar showed that the current time was 22:44, and the waiting area was empty.
Ding. The elevator slowly opened.
Jian Hua followed a couple still excitedly discussing the story into the elevator, with the two female students behind him. The elevator was filled with the strong aroma of a hot pot store from the floor below the cinema. Jian Hua’s brows wrinkled as his stomach protested the strong scent.
He became easily hungry after quitting smoking, so the fresh spicy flavour stimulated his taste buds. Jian Hua glanced at the hot pot restaurant ad that was posted in the elevator while mindlessly chewing his gum, when the entire elevator suddenly swayed.
The unprepared female students were scared and cried out. Jian Hua subconsciously attached himself to the elevator wall, while his arm reached out to maintain balance. However, he couldn’t judge the situation any further as the elevator’s swaying quickly disappeared, with only the screams lingering, as if nothing happened.
The five people in the elevator looked at each other, and then the flashing digital keypad.
“-The first floor.” A mechanical electronic voice was heard from the speaker, followed by the elevator doors smoothly opening.
The young couple were relieved, with the man muttering, “This broken elevator, there should be maintenance on it. Fortunately, there wasn’t an accident.”
The two female students still looked scared, because the shaking just then had been too violent. They had fallen against the elevator wall. Fortunately, there weren’t too many people in the elevator or else falling on unfamiliar people would’ve been embarrassing!
Jian Hua wasn’t scared, but who would be happy to encounter such a thing? Jian Hua’s eyebrows narrowed together as he stepped out of the elevator. He looked around the mall’s first floor, ready to find a help desk to talk about the elevator problem. Due to the risk in his own job, Jian Hua was more sensitive about such matters and wanted to emphasize to the shopping mall to pay attention.
Jian Hua didn’t move far from the elevator before he sensed something strange. 10:30 was the mall’s closing time, so some counters were covered with a thick layer of cloth and some areas had their lights turned off. The usually bustling place during the day was now deserted, but today seemed a bit strange. The place was completely empty.
There were no security guards patrolling, no cleaning staff and no salespeople doing their final business at the counter. There were open bottles of perfume on the counter, cleaning tools scattered on the ground. The shopping mall’s air conditioning was turned off, but a cold wind blew in from somewhere, making the lobby cold.
The couple pulled out their mobile phones and tried a taxi service app.
The two female students headed straight to a KFC in the mall. The fast food restaurant had a sliding door connected to the mall and when they entered, they cried out loudly for a waiter. There was no one in the fast food restaurant and through the glass, he could see the two girls wandering around blankly.
Jian Hua’s sense of foreboding became heavier and he quickly walked towards the door. The cold fall night blew in his face and Jian Hua’s body stiffened as he stood in the plaza outside the mall.
Under the neon lights, the bustling city that should be busy was still. Cars had stopped on the road, but there was no congestion. They were scattered across the viaducts and secondary roads. The dark night sky and the bleak silent streets, the city suddenly seemed to become a photo with no life.
Where had all the people gone?
Jian Hua felt his cheek muscles twitch. The gum was still in his mouth but he couldn’t taste it as a huge sense of absurdity engulfed him.
“What is this? There is no signal and even the Internet isn’t… eh?”
The couple followed him out of the mall and received the same shock. Their horrified eyes were wide open as they looked at the road in the distance. Their bodies involuntarily trembled as they huddled together and stammered.
“What is up with the people?”
“Is this a prank? Or maybe a variety show?”
The man barely calmed his mind and loudly said, “It is too boring, and it is late at night!”
The woman hurriedly pulled his arm and complained, “You should pay attention to what you are saying. This might be a live broadcast! Pay attention to what you will seem like on TV.”
Jian Hua hadn’t heard of any major program recently that would close off a few roads near the shopping district. In addition, if there was a large name guest on the show, wouldn’t there be many people passing by?
Jian Hua stepped back and ran into the mall. He rushed into the elevator and the moment the doors closed, he hard his rapid heartbeat and heavy breathing.
“Ding. Welcome to the sixth floor, Huan Yu Cinemas.” The warm yellow light shone on Jian Hua. It was much brighter and warmer than the first floor of the mall, but the bitter chill in Jian Hua’s heart spread.
The poster and brackets were on the ground but the staff replacing it and the fan wanting the poster were all gone. There was the sweet smell of popcorn in the cinema’s ticket area, but the ticket salesman playing on his phone was gone, like he had never existed.
Jian Hua frowned irritable as he couldn’t find any cigarettes in his pocket, then his ears faintly heard the panicked shouting of the two female students and the couple downstairs.
“Anyone? Is there anybody here?”
Jian Hua stepped on the edge of the poster, paused slowly and looked down at the young general in the poster.
The title of ‘Crow’ stood out sharply and seemed to poke the audience’s attention. The general looked resolute in broken armour as he stood in a barren desert. The poster also had a prominent line: starring actor Li Fei.
Jian Hua didn’t pick up the poster. Instead, he threw his chewing gum into the trash, once again stepped into the elevator and looked at the rolling electronic screen, where the current time was still 22:44.
The other four people were still shouting uselessly as Jian Hua left the mall.
He entered his car in the parking lot and calmly left, driving a Mercedes Benz through a quiet city. His speed gradually increased as he bypassed the stopped cars on the road with nobody in them.
Sweat dripped from the palms of his hand, sticking to the steering wheel. Jian Hua’s heart sank as he changed the radio in the car. All stations only played a static sound and the on board system showed that time had stopped at 22:44 and didn’t change.
He took out his phone and dialled the numbers in his address book one by one, but none of them connected successfully.
There was a harsh sound as he pressed heavily on the brakes. Jian Hua leaned back in his seat, dropping his phone in the car box and pressing his right hand to his forehead in an attempt to hold back his anxiety.
This was really terrible! A ghost hit the wall when he entered the elevator, and the whole city disappeared.
Jian Hua restored his hair, started his car again and smoothly headed back home.
He pressed the button for the gate at his building, then left the car downstairs. Normally, his neighbour would still be watching TV at this time and his upstairs neighbour’s dog would bark several times. However, now there were no movements at all.
Jian Hua didn’t remove his coat. He just fell onto the living sofa and groped for the remote control to turn on the TV.
There were images, but each image was static.
The hosts giving the evening news, characters from a family drama, commercials, they were all stopped. Switching the channels was like watching a slide show. He never imagined that ordinary things like a stopped image would be so scary.
Jian Hua endured the urge to throw the remote control. If this was a nightmare, it was too realistic.
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