Those Years I Employed Non-Humans as Actors - Chapter 1.1
“Mr. Zhong, over here!” A man dressed in formal attire waved to Zhong Jiudao upon seeing him.
Zhong Jiudao dragged his suitcase and stopped 1.5 meters away from the man, giving him a polite and distant nod. “I don’t see the villa.”
The man in the suit was the real estate agent Zhong Jiudao had contacted. He was looking to rent a Western-style villa with a bit of a history and had made an appointment to check out the place today.
“It’s close by, you only need to head northwest and walk for about two kilometers to reach the place,” said the agent.
Zhong Jiudao looked at his suitcase, and then at the road that had been in disrepair for who knew how long, feeling that a two kilometer walk might not be so easy.
“It’s fine, I have photos of the villa in my catalogue and I’ve also brought the contract with me. You can take a look at the photos, Mr. Zhong. If you’re satisfied with it, we can sign the contract right here,” the agent pressed. He was obviously unwilling to go to the villa.
Zhong Jiudao silently drew a pattern on the palm of his right hand with his left forefinger, and then raised his right hand and swiped down his palm on the space between the agent’s eyebrows.
The agent froze for a moment. Zhong Jiudao reached out his hand and told him, “Show me the photos.”
The agent started babbling, the truth uncontrollably spilling past his mouth, “Don’t look at them, everything’s been heavily photoshopped, it’s all false advertising. The villa has been empty for two or three years. No one’s bothered to clean it, so it’s full of dust and cobwebs now. I’ll show you the unedited photos.”
Zhong Jiudao took the phone the agent handed over to him. He flipped through the unedited photos and saw that overall, everything was still pretty much intact. Although it was built last century, the building materials and the architecture were good, so the villa was still standing strong after a hundred years. The current owner had also probably renovated it within the last few years. While still retaining the original charm of the villa, they had installed modern water and electrical facilities. It was especially apparent in the bathrooms and kitchen, where various amenities were well-integrated into the vintage interior design.
“The villa’s in good condition, it’ll look very nice after some cleaning. Why do you need to photoshop it?” Zhong Jiudao asked the agent.
“Who dares to go there! It’s a well-known haunted house! After the owner renovated it, accidents keep happening in that villa. Nobody wants to buy it, so it’s never been off of our company’s listing. When it was first assigned to me, I went inside to take a few photos and fell sick for several days after coming back!” Shocked by his own honesty, the agent slapped his hand across his own mouth.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?” Zhong Jiudao asked.
“If I said it up front, would you still dare to rent it? Even if you did, the market price for a haunted house is horrible. I offered you double the asking price set by the owner, if I told you about its condition, won’t I have to cut down the price?” Once again, the agent smacked himself on the mouth in shock. He felt as if he was being possessed—why did he just say all that?
“I recorded everything you said just now. I can report you to your company for attempting to scam a client.”
The agent hurriedly stopped Zhong Jiudao, “No, no, no! How about this, I’ll rent out the villa to you according to the lowest price set by the owner and cut the commission fee by 20%, okay?”
Zhong Jiudao looked at the agent.
“50% off the commission fee! Or, or I can find you a better house!” the agent anxiously offered.
“No need, this one’s pretty good. It’s spacious, has plenty of rooms, nice decor and a vintage look, and most importantly, the rent is cheap. There won’t be a more suitable place than this. I’ll sign the contract now,” Zhong Jiudao said.
The agent breathed a sigh of relief. He took out the contract from his briefcase, filled in the price, and asked Zhong Jiudao to sign on it.
Zhong Jiudao signed the contract and transferred the money. Following the minimum period stipulated by the owner of the villa, he agreed to rent it for one year.
What a weirdo—even after knowing that it was a haunted house, he still insisted on renting it.
“Mr. Zhong, there really is something wrong with this house, why do you still want to rent it?” the agent asked, feeling puzzled.
“I’m a director, I need a villa like this to film my movie.” Zhong Jiudao raised his hand and grasped the air in front of the agent’s eyes, as if collecting something.
He then told the man, “Learn to do things honestly from now on.”
After saying that, Zhong Jiudao effortlessly picked up his suitcase and steadily walked towards the haunted house. He was nearly 1.9 meters tall; with such a towering height, the 80-cm large suitcase he was carrying looked like an ordinary small-sized cabin luggage.
The agent watched over his departing figure. Once the man was out of sight, he finally muttered to himself, “What’s wrong with my mouth today? I actually blurted out all those things!”
Unlike the vexed agent, Zhong Jiudao was feeling quite happy at having rented a suitable place at such a low price.
During his last year of high school, instead of choosing the path his family had carefully prepared for him, Zhong Jiudao secretly took the yikao1艺考(yi kao), national arts examination for students who wish to pursue further education in art related fields behind everyone’s back and was successfully admitted into the filmmaking department of a well-known film school. His father was so furious he threatened to disown him and threw him out of the house.
For the first two years of his university life, Zhong Jiudao was prohibited from taking a single step into his family’s house. It wasn’t until his mother mediated between them that his father begrudgingly allowed him to return home each time Chinese New Year came. Nonetheless, his father still couldn’t accept his decision and was adamant on making him take the postgraduate degree in the field they had previously chosen for him after he graduated from film school.
However, Zhong Jiudao aspired to become a director. He wanted to present the stories in his vision on the big screen and was dead set on taking this path.
Because both father and son were equally stubborn, they could only settle on a ten-year agreement. Starting from his graduation, Zhong Jiudao was given ten years to freely work in the entertainment industry. If he failed to make an achievement within the deadline, he had to return home and work in the field arranged by his family.
His father told him not to expect any kind of assistance from his family and even explicitly forbid all his colleagues from investing in Zhong Jiudao’s projects.
Zhong Jiudao graduated from university this year, and the ten-year deadline had just begun. He was currently preparing to produce his debut film.
Unable to secure investments from his previous connections, Zhong Jiudao could only use the money he had earned from the various part-time and mysterious odd jobs he had done during his student days. Two million yuan might sound like a lot, but for a movie, this budget was unbelievably small. He had no choice other than to try his best to cut down the cost from various aspects.
Zhong Jiudao originally planned to rent this villa for only three months, but it was only available for long-term contract. The landlord required a minimum rental period of one year and did not accept monthly rentals. Fortunately, it turned out to be a haunted house. The rental fee was cut by more than half, which saved him a lot of money.
Zhong Jiudao carried the heavy suitcase throughout the two kilometer walk and finally arrived in front of the gate.
It was a detached garden villa with a very large yard and a tall private gate. The trees bountifully planted in the courtyard had grown into towering giants over the past century, surrounding the area with lush greenery and sheltering it from the sun, enveloping the villa in a pleasantly cool air while at the same time giving it a ghastly look.
Zhong Jiudao looked up and saw that the sun was sinking into the horizon. The dusk had come.
He took out the ring of keys the agent had given him and unlocked the dilapidated gate, pushing it open.
In the unedited photos shown by the agent, the courtyard was overgrown with weeds. Piles of fallen leaves blanketed the yard, and the thick ivy growing all over the outer walls of the villa made it appear very desolate.
But when he opened the gate, the sight that greeted him was a different one. There wasn’t a single fallen leaf lying on the yard, and the weeds in the garden had been pulled out and replaced by flowering shrubs.
Under the weak sunlight of the dusk, the blood-red stamens of the flowers swayed along to the breeze. If you looked closely, you would be able to see the face of a beautiful woman on the flowers, the stamens her blood-red lips.
The stone path lying before the gate was spotlessly clean, and at the other end of the road, the magnificent villa stood in all its majestic glory. Surrounded in the middle of countless dark red flowers, it looked like an entrance to another world.
Walking on the stone path imbued with a strong feel of history, Zhong Jiudao faced this strange scene with a slight smile on his face. “No need to spend money on cleaning service.”
As the last trace of sunlight slipped under the horizon, the villa surrounded by towering giant trees fell into darkness at rate faster than the outside world. Standing outside the building, Zhong Jiudao saw the flicker of candlelight from a window on the second floor.
If an ordinary person had seen this, they would’ve fled in fright right at this moment, but how could Zhong Jiudao be willing to abandon the villa he had finally managed to rent at a bargain? With his keys, he unlocked the big rusty padlock and opened the front door.