Chapter 97 – Losing His Mind
Darkness, boundless darkness, as if immersed in the universe. That ultimate darkness began to devour the light, swallow hope, and consume vitality. The sense of space gradually faded, almost suffocating, yet seemingly vast and boundless. Even time loses its meaning, a second’s pause and a century’s length seem indistinguishable.
Silence, an extreme and oppressive silence. Holding one’s breath, not a single sound in the ears. Even the sound of air flowing seems to disappear. Amidst the profound silence, there was a faint, flowing water sound, prompting wide-eyed attention in an attempt to capture a trace of vitality. Only later did one realize it was the sound of one’s own blood flowing as if experiencing auditory hallucinations. The boundary between reality and illusion began to blur.
Exhausted, Renly started searching for the slightest sound, amplifying even the sound of fingertips rubbing together to the extreme.
Why is he here? Who is he really? Is he Renly, Paul, or perhaps a nonexistent soul? What is he doing now? What is he pursuing? Should he seek survival? And how should he survive? Should he just give up, considering he has already died once, and he holds no fear for another death? No, he should continue to live because his wife Linda and son Shane are waiting for him at home. He doesn’t want to die; he’s only twenty-seven, and his life has just begun. He doesn’t want to die!
The phone, yes, his phone!
The flame of hope flickered weakly as he began searching for any trace of his phone in his pocket. However, his pockets were empty. His jacket? Where is his jacket? But today, he’s wearing a T-shirt, not a jacket. Oh, the back pocket of his pants, no, still nothing.
“Bang! Bang!” His emotions easily got out of control, as they violently smashed onto the wooden board. A pain came from his slightly swollen fist, but his muscles were already almost numb. So, he was just indifferently smashing down, without any care.
Why did he fall into such a predicament? How did he push himself into this kind of situation?
Iraq, yes, Iraq. The damn real estate bubble made them lose everything, and there was only… seven hundred dollars left in the bank account. Ha, damn seven hundred dollars, he couldn’t even afford a steak, let alone a mortgage.
Because of this financial crisis, he and Linda had been arguing for almost thirteen months. All the love, all the sweetness, all the happiness was shattered in the face of the survival crisis, and every day was an ordeal.
They used to enjoy beautiful moments, crazy love in college, the honeymoon phase of their marriage. They built their happy home with their own hands. But overnight, it all plummeted down to the bottom, a huge drop that left both of them at a loss. He even lost his job, adding insult to injury.
When did the arguments start? He couldn’t remember. At first, it might have been trivial things—milk not put in the refrigerator, leaving the kitchen without turning off the lights, forgetting to bring in the shopping bag left in the car… But later, the arguments spiraled out of control. They began to curse each other, blame each other, resent each other, becoming strangers to each other.
Their lives were falling apart. Iraq was his only choice. If he refused, by the latest next summer, and at the earliest by the end of this year, the bank would take away their house—the house he and Linda built as their home. He didn’t have much choice, did he?
Moreover, Iraq didn’t seem like a bad choice at that time – generous rewards, high compensation, and as a non-combatant, there was no expectation of being attacked by the Iraqi side. In case of accidents, not only would the company reimburse him, but the government would also not stand idly by. He even joked with Linda at the time, “Why not sacrifice myself there? That way, our family would have a way out of our mortgage.”
Foolish, truly foolish!
Did he never think about the dangers of Iraq? No, he did, but he selectively ignored them! He never learned his lesson.
He wanted to go home. Right now, all he wanted was to go home. He missed Linda’s smile, Shane’s mischief, God, he even missed the freezing winters in Hastings. But now he was trapped in this small box, a box so small that he couldn’t even stretch his limbs, waiting for death quietly, waiting for oxygen to be depleted, and then all vitality to be cruelly severed.
How ridiculous, isn’t it? Even more ridiculous is that he can’t muster the strength to cry now, he just wants to laugh. His lips faintly lifted, then drooped down weakly. Despair began to gnaw at his heart.
He was truly a coward, a coward who was afraid of death, not offering even a decent struggle to survive. He surrendered, not waiting for Iraq’s execution, not waiting for nature to swallow him up, just lying here giving up and waiting to die. He was a disgrace, a joke. Did he still want to challenge acting? Did he still want to pursue his dreams? Did he still want to become an outstanding actor? This was the most absurd joke since the 21st century began.
Elizabeth and George were right. He has no talent, no ability whatsoever. The dream of acting was nothing more than a fleeting and unrealistic fantasy. He dreamed of dazzling the audience with his performance like those top actors, of traversing his own path in the world of acting like those artists, and of having his own place alongside those names that went down in history. But all of this was just his inner pride and stubbornness at play, just the discontent and anger from his previous life wreaking havoc.
He, he is a mediocrity without any acting talent, not even a “Shang Zhongyong”* because Zhongyong had at least once shone brightly like a shooting star. But he is just an ordinary person with no accomplishments. This was true in his previous life, and it remained true in this one, even with the rebirth. He still ended up as a failure.
He is like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, tirelessly trying to push a giant stone to the mountaintop. However, because the stone was too heavy, it would roll down the mountain before reaching the summit, and all his previous efforts would be in vain. So, he repeated this endless task, slowly consuming his life in this futile and hopeless labour.
This is the punishment of the gods.
He believed he was chasing his dreams, thinking he was pushing a massive stone forward. Once successful, he would forge glory, denying the gods. Each day of struggle felt so fulfilling and exhilarating to him. However, in reality, it was an extremely foolish and repetitive action. Despite hitting his head and bleeding, he refused to give up. He tried a thousand times but couldn’t break free, ultimately spending his entire life stuck on this perpetually impossible slope.
This is the source of his faith but also the origin of his misery.
So, should he just give up? Or has he already given up? Has he abandoned his dreams and the struggle? Living two lives, has he still ended up with the same fate—lying quietly, waiting for death, unable to do anything, or has he tried to do anything at all?
No, he won’t surrender! He refuses to surrender! Regardless of the outcome, even if he has to die again, he will fight to the end. He won’t accept his fate, and he won’t give up.
Calm down, he has to calm down.
He has no tools now, so he can only rely on his own hands—wait, also his feet. A flash of insight crossed his mind; he is wearing sneakers today, and there are shoelaces on his shoes. If he could find a gap, and extend the shoelace, could he not send out a distress signal? Perhaps it would be too weak, too inconspicuous, but this is at least a glimmer of hope for him!
So, he began to calm down, his attention highly focused. All the chaotic thoughts were pushed aside. With both hands slowly exploring the wall, he tried to find the seam of the coffin and its lid. In the darkness and silence, his sense of touch became sensitive, as if he could vividly feel every silk-like sensation. It was as if he was a snake slithering through a swamp, using its body to feel every inch of the land, patiently waiting for the opportunity for a deadly strike.
His fingertips touched that nearly invisible seam. He quickly stuffed the excess fabric around it as a marker, then started to take off his shoes.
After trying to remove the right shoe, he realized that his entire body was confined in a limited space, and he couldn’t reach the things at the bottom of his feet. What a brain short-circuit moment! Fortunately, there was still his left foot.
His left foot was raised parallelly. Then, both hands grabbed the trouser leg, attempting to pull it up. Before his fingertips could touch it, the knee hit the wall. There was at least half a palm’s distance between the fingertips, hands, and the tips of the feet—at least, he couldn’t be completely sure in the darkness and could only rely on instinct to feel his way.
Gritting his teeth, he stiffly began to reach down, with shoulders against the wall, and his head pressed against the wall, waves of pain raged while he was almost suffocating but he remained resolute. The right hand diligently explored downward, bit by bit, and a bit more. His veins were on the verge of bursting, and every muscle in his body was stretched to the extreme… He reached it, finally reached it. The right hand grabbed the trousers of his left leg and slowly pulled it up. His neck and knees were about to break; it felt like with a little more force, his throat would snap, and he would die. Every cell in his body was moaning in pain, but he still didn’t give up. His eyes were bloodshot, as he continued to persist.
The heel, the shoe, the ankle… his fingertips were stretched to the extreme, to the point of almost cramping, unable to exert force at all. So, he was relying on weak strength and the coordination of his feet, attempting to take off the shoe without clumsily dropping it.
“Phew,” he finally took off the shoe, and hooked it with his fingertips! But at this moment, his index finger was twisted due to cramping, unable to straighten, presenting a bizarre angle. He didn’t care, not at all. He hooked the shoe and quickly untied the shoelaces, then swiftly found the seam marked earlier.
He needed to open the gap a bit more, then again a bit more, so that the shoelaces could be pulled through!
His eyes filled with red threads shone in the darkness, looking like they completely lost their rationality. They contained a surging killing intent while falling into madness, and in the end, going astray.
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