48 Hours a Day - chapter-21
Bell’s English was excellent, probably because he was English.
The first thing they di upon their return from their expedition to the center of the island was to plant the seeds they collected in the vegetable garden. Zhang Heng went back and forth, eventually deciding on giving up on the idea of making a skirt. It was mostly because he still would not be able to cosplay as Monkey King without the staff.
In the end, Bell conjoined the two pieces of jaguar pelt into carpets. Not long after, the breeding garden was full of animals the explorer brought back from his hunts.
Mickey Mouse seemed slightly taken aback by the sudden increase of neighbors. Zhang Heng even found the dodo bird’s wife allowing the two people on the island to enjoy some eggs at last.
Finally, Zhang Heng had this feeling that he had conquered nature. He had eaten more than 20 varieties of vegetables, added two more seasonings to his pantry, owned a pond full of seafood, which he could take from whenever he liked and ate meat every day. Most importantly, he eventually found someone he could talk with.
That feeling was just like when Robinson met Friday.
Well… alright. From the student-teacher perspective, probably more like Friday.
For 4 hours every day, Zhang Heng would be learning English from Bell, which included listening, speaking, reading, and writing. On top of that, he continued his archery practices, although he’d already achieved his goal. Over the course of the year, it had now become a habit. The only thing was, that he no longer spent as much time on it as he used to. As an added bonus, Bell taught him some defensive moves.
His time on the island was coming to an end. On the 520th morning, a rescue vessel passing by spotted the signal fire by the beach and sent a lifeboat to the island. Before the boat could even reach the shore, a woman jumped off the vessel and came running towards the men in tears.
“My wife, Kaya!” The explorer dropped the homemade fishing rod in his hand and stood up abruptly.
The relieved couple embraced each other.
Bell then removed the blade he stowed across his waist and placed it in Zhang Heng’s hand.
“As per our agreement previously, this belongs to you now. I’ve been to many dangerous places all over the world… the polar regions, deserts, highlands… but this was the first time I’ve been marooned on a desert island. It has been an incredibly unforgettable and valuable experience. You are my forever friend. Of all our days here, it’s not just you who was the one learning. I’ve also learned a lot from you – I learned for the first time that there’s such a thing as grammar in the English language.”
“Let’s go, my friend. We should go home.”
Zhang Heng followed the Butre couple onto the lifeboat, surprised to see that there were reporters from several TV stations on board. Everyone roared into claps and applause the moment they caught a glimpse of the explorer who had returned safely.
On the ship, Zhang Heng took a long, hot bath and changed into clothes the sailors had provided. Finally, that feeling of returning to a civilized society dawned upon him. Instead of joining the celebration, however, Zhang Heng found himself a secluded and quiet corner on the ship that no one would take notice of. He was almost two hours away from leaving this virtual world.
It felt like the longest two hours of his life.
Zhang Heng was wondering what the return process was going to be like when suddenly, darkness enveloped everything around him, and a familiar voice spoke in his ear.
[Arrived at the return deadline. Task completion confirmed…]
[Beginner’s edition of Desert Island Survival successfully completed. The first round of the game is over. Returning to reality…]
When Zhang Heng’s vision had been restored, he found himself sitting by the bar holding the cup of water and lime he’d taken a sip from.
The first thing he did was to reach out and touch his face. That thick stubbled and coarse skin weathered by the wind, and the sun was gone.
The bartender lady, obviously considerate, took out a compact mirror from her purse and passed it to him.
With the help of the little mirror, Zhang Heng was able to confirm that he looked no different from when he first walked into the bar. He was still dressed in his sports attire and running shoes. His swiss army knife was still safely tucked away in his pocket.
“So, what was that? A strange dream?”
“No, you did disappear for two hours… not just from this building or this bar – you could not be found in every corner of this world.” The bartender took back her compact. “Now, you must have a lot of questions, but unfortunately, I cannot answer most of them. You will have to find that out for yourself in the game.”
Zhang Heng listened, speechless.
“What I can tell you is that this game takes place once every month. You can pick whatever time you like to come to the checkpoint and join the game. It won’t always be the Sex and the City bar, though. There is more than one checkpoint in every city. If you can’t find them, you can always give customer service a call and use the special login service after paying a sum. Failure to log in on time will result in your disqualification. Also, game participants, by default, must accept a strict non-disclosure agreement. You’re forbidden to disclose anything related to anyone other than the players and staff. Mm, I think that about sums up the basic restrictions. Don’t hold on to your fluke mind.”
The bartender rubbed her chin. “What else is there. Let me think… oh, other than log-ins, the game venues also provide other services. You can consult customer service for more details.”
Peeled off a sticky note and scribbling down some numbers, she continued, “This is the number. Don’t call for nothing because I am your customer service.”
“You have an awful lot of jobs.” Zhang Heng noted in surprise.
“It’s not like I have a choice. Houses in big cities are so expensive.” The bartender sighed. “Alright. Is there anything else?”
Zhang Heng searched his pocket and took out a furry item. “Tell me. The services you mentioned. Do they also include item identification?”
Everything from the game, not excluding even the beard and the scar on his shoulder, the collection of stoneware he made, and the knife that Bell gifted him, did not make it back with him to reality.
Everything had just been sitting quietly in his pocket
“Game item?” The bartender gasped. “It looks like you’ve got yourself quite the bounty this time. These kinds of things are very uncommon. Most people can’t even find one after several rounds of the game. I do provide an identification service here, but it’s going to cost you five game-points. Do you have it?”
“How do I pay?”
The bartender took out a tablet and after a few taps, brought up a payment interface. “Just enter your player ID number. No need to worry about other people using your number, though – you have to be present for the payment to be effective.”
Probably because he had seen too much since he set foot in the bar, Zhang Heng had already turned a little numb.
He had already memorized the set of numbers and quickly regurgitated them. After keying them in, the bartender slid on a pair of gloves before placing the rabbit’s foot into a small wooden box.
“This will take some time, about two to three days. I’ll text you when it’s done.”
Drawn to her movements, Zhang Heng had a sudden ominous feeling. “Wait. Now, why are you bring so careful?”
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