Chengdu Yongzhou


On January 20, 2019, during the Great Cold period, the sky in Chengdu was overcast but not rainy, a weather that the locals were already accustomed to.

That day, the night did not come.

It was already 7 PM, the time when darkness should have enveloped the world, but the sky remained the same as it was at 5 PM, gloomy with a hint of a fading color. This anomaly made the people of Chengdu feel uncomfortable and mentally exhausted, even losing their appetite for dinner.

I was eating non-spicy hot rice at the Northeastern cuisine restaurant I often went to, while scrolling through my phone. Experts said that the reason was unknown - the Earth was still moving along its predicted path, the surrounding cities had already entered the night, but the source of light had not been found yet. Some speculated that it was the work of ghosts and gods, but authoritative figures dismissed it as feudal superstition and fear-mongering. Others said it was due to the emission of photons by a group, based on probabilistic energy transitions, as small probabilities do not mean that something will not happen. Some even suggested that it might be related to nuclear radiation, or possibly involved extraterrestrials, parallel worlds, or unprecedented collective hallucinations of human beings...

I thought, hallucinations were not impossible, but it was probably not "unprecedented," considering that there were still so many people who believed in the existence of gods and were willing to kill or die for them.

That day, the night never came. The continuous daylight seemed to have taken away the sleep of many people. Even at 1 AM, there were still many people wandering the streets - much more than usual. I could understand this feeling, as if they were worried that if they fell asleep during such an abnormal event, they would never wake up again.

Most of the shops were closed, even the convenience stores that usually operated 24 hours a day had shut their doors. The snack stalls at the street corners, which usually stayed open until late at night, were nowhere to be found. It was as if suddenly everyone realized that making money was no longer important, or that no matter how hard they worked, they would never earn any money.

A girl, wearing a blue-green down jacket with a furry hat covering her head, sat motionless on a stone bench under a tree, staring at her feet. I stared at her for a while and guessed that she was probably a beauty, so I pretended to sit next to her with a concerned look and asked, "Are you okay?"

She seemed startled and turned her head to look at me, and I also realized that she was not particularly beautiful, just ordinary, like me.

"Who are you?" she asked me cautiously.

An English phrase floated through my mind - "a man who wants to know you" - and then it was translated into Chinese: "Someone who wants to get to know you."

"Approaching you?" she asked, removing the cautious tone from her voice.

"Yeah," I nodded.

"At a time like this?"

"At a time like this, we shouldn't be alone."

She forced a bitter smile, "Do you know? We don't have shadows."

Shadows are something that always accompanies us but is the least noticed. It has no color, just slightly darker than the surroundings, and has no emotions, just a fuzzy projection of our own form generated under a light source. I looked at my feet, then at the feet of others, the trees, and the trash cans, none of them had shadows. It seemed that all outdoor places suddenly had the same brightness. In that instant, I felt that the world had become distorted, everything looked like background images from period dramas, it was obviously unreal.

"It's probably a problem with the computer running this world," she said.

"I think I'm going crazy!" she suddenly became somewhat emotionally excited, "Everyone will eventually go crazy."

I didn't know where I found the courage, but I reached out my left hand and gently stroked her back, like soothing a frightened kitten.

"I'm scared," she said.

"I know," I looked into her eyes, "I am too."

An hour later, we made love at my place, and I also learned that her name was "Li Xia."


The night eventually disappeared, taking with it the other periods of time. Chengdu seemed to be trapped in the afternoon at 5 PM, unable to move. It no longer rained, unable to bring the dust in the air down to the ground. In less than a month, the entire city was shrouded in thick smog. Even though it was still winter, there was a hot and humid feeling in the air, seemingly originating from the unknown light sources. This heat mixed with the damp climate of Sichuan was cultivating mold in every corner of the city.

On the nineteenth day of that month, Li Xia said she wanted to leave Chengdu.

"This place is no longer suitable for human habitation, there will be no improvement," she said.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked her, not wanting her to leave.

"Go with me," she said, almost as a request, but also as a command.

"Where to?"

"Let's go to Chongqing, or Wuhan, or Shenzhen. We can't stay here."

"I can't leave," I said, not knowing any reasons. I had only moved to Chengdu less than a year ago, and it was not my hometown.

But she still asked, "Why?"

"I don't know," I told the truth, "but I should stay here." I realized that I should have said "we."

"There is no way out here, no future. You will die here." I knew she was begging me, we needed each other because we both knew we were lonely, unable to be understood by others, and unable to understand each other, we both admitted this.

"This thing happened here, maybe it conveys some important message. I have to stay here to find out the final answer."

"There is no answer! Don't you pretend not to know?"

I saw tears in her eyes.

"I have to stay," I said.

Li Xia left the next day and deleted all contact information with me, leaving only an email address.

Before leaving, she asked me, "We won't contact each other again, right?"

I didn't know how to answer, so when she walked into the elevator with her suitcase, I said the last words to her, "Goodbye."

Three months later, I saw her photo and name online. She became one of the four victims in a indiscriminate knife attack. She was dead.

During this time, Chengdu attracted many people. There were scientists and researchers who wanted to study, various believers with strange faiths, and tourists who simply wanted to witness the "miracle." Few people stayed, and at the same time, more people left, even swearing on social media that they would never return. The population of Chengdu was decreasing, and the city was becoming more and more deserted.

My landlord also moved to Shenzhen and said he would no longer collect rent from me until "this thing" was over, but he also said not to hold any hope.

"The world is not what we originally thought," he said when he left.

"Maybe the world has changed," I said.

"Maybe, maybe," he said, "it was better in the past, but we didn't realize it at the time."

"Only old people reminisce," I said with a bitter smile.

"I'm already over forty years old, and humanity has been around for a million years," he said.

"Has it?"

"Probably, more or less."

I never heard from him again.


The daylight never ended, and summer arrived. Chengdu, shrouded in smog, became a huge steamer, as if everything was being cooked.

On the day of the summer solstice, in the early morning, without any warning, the water, electricity, and gas suddenly went out, and they did not recover until the next afternoon.

The air conditioning stopped working, and I couldn't cook. The toilets without flushing emitted the smell of excrement and urine. The indoors, where I hadn't left for half a month, became an intolerable hell. I walked out of the door, walked down 24 flights of stairs, and found a group of people gathered on the street in the midst of the smog - a group of people who stayed in Chengdu for various reasons or came to Chengdu.

They surrounded a young man with long messy hair, discussing what to do, saying that they were finished.

"What's going on?" I said a little louder, hoping someone would answer.

Two people turned around and looked at me, and one of them said, "Chengdu is cut off from the world!"

Another person continued, "We can never leave here again."

The first person took over, "No matter which way we go, there is only wilderness, no end."

"It's like we've been thrown into another world."

"How did this happen?" Then I realized that I had asked a useless question.

Indeed, "I don't know," they both answered at the same time.

I had a driver's license, but I didn't have a car, and I felt that I had to see what the endless wilderness was like. I asked those two people, "Can you lend me your car? I want to see what's going on."

"No," one person said, "You should understand, after all, I don't know you."

"I don't have a car," the other person said.

This meant that I had to find someone else to help me, but I actually didn't like or even fear talking to others. I wanted a mask.

Suddenly, a wealthy-looking woman in her fifties patted my shoulder and said, "I'm also going, let's go together. I have a car."

I got in her car, and we slowly drove on the streets covered in thick smog, as if we were moving through an uncolored virtual world.

"In movies, when something like this happens, people would riot," she suddenly said.

"Life is not like a movie after all."

"Life is a movie, it's just that most of them are boring," she said.

"Then who is the audience? Do you believe in God?" I asked.

"I don't know, I don't care about it; I am my own audience, and of course, you are too, but only I can watch my performance in its entirety."

"What about when you sleep?"

She turned her head and looked at me, with a hint of disdain in her tone, "Young people should not play the devil's advocate."

"No, it's just a joke," I explained, but she ignored it. After a moment of silence, I broke the silence in the smog, "You're really different."

"Because you've met too few people," she looked at me again, this time for a longer time, "And you're a homebody, right?"

That wasn't a question, she already knew the answer. I nodded and realized that she couldn't see, so I said, "Yeah."

"That's good," she said, "We're all the same."

Then, somehow, she started telling me her own story.


In 1989, she grew up in a rural area of Sichuan and was brought to Guangzhou by the tide of the times to work and earn enough to eat. But at that time, there were far fewer job positions than the number of workers, and the bosses from Hong Kong and Taiwan were shrewd and cruel, making everyone work until late at night, seemingly trying to squeeze out all the value from these migrant workers with meager but relatively generous income.

She couldn't find a job, or maybe the man from the same county who brought her to Guangzhou didn't intend to find her a proper job in the first place. They persuaded her, made her hungry, and said that reform and opening up would soon turn her into a prostitute.

Her virginity was sold to a Hong Kong boss, who was very gentle and it wasn't very painful, but she couldn't understand what he was saying. It seemed like he was talking about opening more factories. She thought he was very powerful. She earned 100 yuan from that, a huge sum of money she had never had before, but the man who claimed to be her introducer said he wanted a cut and took away 40%, leaving her with 60 yuan. She was still satisfied.

That became her job, although she never earned 100 yuan again after that, but it was still more than what she could earn from working hard in a factory, and it was easier. But good times never last, in less than a year, it seemed that all the pretty girls who came to work had discovered this quick way to get rich, but there were not as many bosses. So they could only sell their bodies to other male workers at a low price.

In the following years, she saved some money, returned to her hometown, married a honest man, moved to Chengdu, started a small business, gradually lived a relatively affluent life, and had a daughter who was now studying in Beijing.

Two years ago, her husband died of stomach cancer. She said that suddenly she felt like she had lost the support of her life, and realized the love for her husband that she had thought she didn't have in the past busy life.

But her husband was already dead.

She began to search. At first, she didn't know what she was looking for, but later realized that she needed a sense of purpose, something she had never realized in her busy life for over forty years. She realized the emptiness and finally went to a cross church that a friend had repeatedly urged her to go to. She didn't go a second time because the government forcibly demolished the church and reportedly arrested some people. She didn't want to be involved in these things, and she didn't believe that these promises of gods or redemption could truly become her faith.

She started dating, something she had never done before. She used a mobile app to meet men or women who wanted to sleep with her. But she was already older, and she didn't have much success on the guarded and suspicious internet, nor did she have a satisfying sexual experience. When she was about to give up on casual sex and prepare to start learning English so that she could travel around the world after her daughter graduated, Chengdu lost its night.

"At first, it felt like my whole life had been denied," she said, and that she didn't know the reason, just a sense of betrayal that came inexplicably. The night never came, and she gave up her plan to learn English and travel. She stayed.

"Now we are in another world, how could we leave if we don't stay?" she said, "Only we can encounter something like this."


The cement road came to an abrupt end.

The world ahead seemed as if it had been brushed by a huge and rough wilderness brush, with stones of various sizes and occasional patches of wild grass.

"It seems to be true," she said, not appearing surprised.

"Should we continue walking?"

She started the car again, and we drove into the unknown territory in the midst of the bumps. But less than two minutes later, she had to step on the brakes again. After all, it was too bumpy, and her car was not suitable for off-roading.

We decided to walk, but it was no longer clear why we should continue. The scenery ahead was unchanging, and there was probably no target we were looking for, or maybe there was never a target to begin with, just like my previous life.

After half an hour, we got lost.

All directions looked the same, and the smoggy weather prevented us from determining the direction based on the position of the sun. After a moment of panic, we couldn't even remember which direction we had come from.

"We're screwed!" I realized, "Why did we walk in here in the first place!"

"We were walking out," she corrected me.

"Why are you correcting me in this situation?"

"In this situation, I am still me," she said, "I guess we should go this way." Seeing my confused expression, she added, "Trust a woman's intuition."

I chose to believe, as there was no better plan.

Clearly, her intuition was wrong.

We were completely lost.

"We'll rest here for a while," I sat on a relatively large rock, "Maybe the sun will come out tomorrow, and we can see Chengdu."

"The sun will never come out again," she said, "Don't you understand, this is not our world anymore, maybe there was never a sun to begin with."

"Maybe," I didn't know what to say.

There was no food, no water, no direction, and no hope. I basically guessed my own fate, realizing this, I felt a strange sense of relief, as if my story could finally have a decent ending.

In the eternal daylight, I started to move forward, not for progress, nor for a goal. I just wanted to continue walking and see what would happen.

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