Reborn as a Substitute Chapter 15

【Magic Flute】

Xie Xuanming tilted his head to look at the logo above, and the purple-green light glowed faintly from the bottom of the font, as psychedelic and mysterious as a cave opening.

A circle of lights in the same colour was also arranged by the bar’s front door, at first glance looking a bit like the gates of hell in the punk era.

Probably because of the ”Band Festival“, there were a lot of people at the Magic Flute Bar. The guard wearing ski goggles and dressed like a new age electrician didn’t look at Xie Xuanming carefully, only perfunctorily confirming that he was wearing an ”admission ticket” on his wrist and letting him in.

The Magic Flute was Xie Xuanming’s second bar and the atmosphere here was very different from the previous black bar.

Although the black bar also had a stage, alcohol and music, on the whole it still had a casual feel not dissimilar to any normal drinking place. The Magic Flute, on the other hand, put itself on a pedestal from the moment one entered through that magical door.

The Magic Flute Bar was on the ground floor. Following the stone steps, noisy sounds gushed out. Facing the stairs was a huge stage. The dance floor under the stage was a layer lower. Beautifully dressed men and women were talking and dancing in it. The tattoo stickers on their bodies glowed together with their bracelets, swaying in a dreamlike light. Xie Xuanming glanced at them hurriedly and found that most of the tattoos were in the shape of musical instruments.

The people in the Magic Flute were mainly dressed in bright colours, with their shiny gloss setting off Xie Xuanming’s black outfit that made him stand out in a different sense.

Many people noticed a romantic, calm young man at the door. He was like a bamboo sprouting in a tropical rainforest, out of place and full of attraction.

This peeping made Xie Xuanming frown. Unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with being in the centre of attention, he moved silently to the bar in the corner and settled on a high stool in the shadows.

Withdrawing from the centre of the picture did not stop people from being curious about him. As soon as Xie Xuanming sat down, a man in a dark green shirt moved closer and said with a smile that the milk beer(1) here was good and asked if he wanted to try one, his treat.

Although Xie Xuanming had never been to such a place, he could also perceive the hint in the words of the man in dark green.

He said bluntly: “I don’t like men.”

“Ah, so.” The man looked a little regretful; when he saw the young man sitting cautiously and coldly in the corner, his eyelashes drooping like inky butterflies, making one feel itchy, he could not resist approaching, wanting to squeeze him in his palm and play with him.

It was rare to meet such a fascinating prey. The man didn’t give up and wanted to say a few more words, but saw a grinning guy hug the young man.

“This kid is with me.” Xie Xuanming’s shoulders sank under someone’s weight and he was about to push away but with his peripheral sight saw Ji Sheng’s smiling eyes.

Ji Sheng was wearing a performance costume, his leather jacket hanging on his shoulders carelessly, revealing his collarbones when he moved. The muscles of his arms were smooth and flowing. He was wearing makeup, and the sequins at the corners of his eyes made the tear mole seem darker and brighter.

The man looked at Ji Sheng up and down: “He doesn’t like men.”

“I am not a man.” Ji Sheng raised his eyebrows and made a shocking comment, “Do I look so masculine?”

The effect of pretending to be a niche group was amazing. The man glanced at his thin shoulders and the Adam’s apple obscured by the choker, turned and left in disbelief.

“This kind of guys are often found in bars.” After sending the man away, Ji Sheng leaned to Xie Xuanming’s ear and said leisurely, “Like niupi candy(2). The usual methods don’t work, you have to use something ruthless…”

He glanced at Xie Xuanming with a smile, and added: “Of course, you’d better not use this little trick. This kind of place is not suitable for minors.”

Without a word, Xie Xuanming squeezed the wrist that was resting on his shoulder, the skin feeling soft and cold to the touch.

He pulled away from the patronising hug, raised his hand and showed Ji Sheng the bracelet to the effect of “you invited me.”

Ji Sheng misunderstood Xie Xuanming’s meaning, grabbed his wrist lightly and pulled the bracelet to his eyes.

The temperature of his palm was different from that of his skin. It was as hot and dry as the dance floor. The temperature transmitting from his palm burned Xie Xuanming to the point of goose bumps and tinted the tips of his ears slightly pink.

“I painted it.” Ji Sheng pointed at the fluorescent marker drawing on the rubber bracelet and said proudly, “Qingchu, two green mountains, the name of our band, isn’t it good?”(3) 

Before he could say anything, the dance floor suddenly darkened, and the lights behind it lit up to illuminate the stage hidden in the shadows.

The first band appeared under the lights, its bassist playing passionately, the vigorous sound overwhelming the noise.

In the chaos of light and shadow, Ji Sheng let out a “ho” and said with a smile: “It’s on, I have to rush backstage to get ready or I’ll get scolded again.”

He squeezed Xie Xuanming’s wrist and shook it twice like teasing a cat: “See you later, cheer for me.”

After that, he let go of Xie Xuanming, jumped into the dance floor like a fish into the water, and disappeared in the crowd.

Xie Xuanming rubbed the wrist Ji Sheng had been holding, still feeling the remaining warmth from his palm.

The bands changed one after another on the stage, and Xie Xuanming watched them seriously.

This type of band performance was very novel to him. The drums burst and the melody was passionate. Most of the original music was immature and unbalanced, but full of savage intensity. Even if you didn’t understand it, it could still make your heart beat hard.

Unfortunately, there were so many similar bands that Xie Xuanming looked at two or three of them and then moved on in disinterest.

He turned his head and squinted, looking at the menu hanging on the top of the bar, raised his hand and ordered a glass of milk beer.

After five or six minutes, the bartender pushed the milk beer in front of him. Xie Xuanming was going to take a sip and heard a deafening “boom” behind him.

The eruption of drums calmed down the noisy bar, and the people who were chatting and dancing stopped one after another, suddenly looking up at the stage.

The beer glass on the table shuddered; ignoring the overflowing foam, Xie Xuanming turned and locked his eyes on the pitch-black stage behind him.

There was a few seconds of silence, and the clean drumbeat sounded again, the rhythm cutting the ribbon to announce the beginning of the real show.

Lights went up; in the limelight the young man’s hair fluttered and dust swirled under the pounding of drumsticks.

When the melody was added, the song flourished in an instant, as if flesh and blood were added to a skeleton.

Amidst the passionate music, Ji Sheng pulled the mic closer and yelled:

Noisy streets, smelly corners

Filth and dirt, but the world is silent

Hidden desires that meet flesh and blood

Pure white powder of desire

His voice was slightly hoarse, dripping with the wretchedness of a quagmire and disdainful madness.

Like a dog covered in scars, its wounds mixed with mud and its fur constantly sticky with blood and dust.

But the stray dog was so free, so proud, as if it was walking on the top of the world and everyone but it were walking corpses,  insignificant people.

Ji Sheng sang carelessly, pronouncing the words extremely hard, emphasising the song with every drum beat tha plunged deeply into the listener’s heart.

Xie Xuanming stared at the stage in a daze, drumbeat and lyrics pounding into his brain, his heart thudding so hard that it made him slightly dizzy.

On the stage, Ji Sheng raised his eyes abruptly, his sharp gaze cutting through the chaos of lights and shining straight and clear.

He sang:

Build a temple of hope on the ruins

Ignite the glory of rebirth in the world

The glory sold for a bite of bread

Can bring hypocrisy to its doom

Stray dog carries rotting wounds

Chasing the sun of yesterday in the filth

The drums fell heavily, and the bass guitar and the keyboard came to a stop.

In silence, he gently dropped the drumsticks.

The song was over.

The audience on the dance floor was silent for a moment, and then their amazement and cheers surged instantly.

Before tonight, not many people had heard of the band Qingchu, but it was no surprise that after this performance, it would become a household name in the circle.

Xie Xuanming sat on the high stool, waiting for his sizzling blood to cool down little by little.

He gently called the bartender and asked, “Do you know whose song the Qingchu band has just performed?”

“Qingchu? It’s an original track… Wait, let me see the program…”

The bartender flipped through the papers and continued:

“This song is called ‘Stray Dog’.”

Stray dog, a dog wandering in the dark.

Xie Xuanming felt that his throat was dry and lowered his head to drink a large sip of beer.

The bartender wiped the glass beside him, shook his head and said with emotion: “It’s been a long time since I saw such a sensational band… hey!”

Before he finished the sentence, he was shocked to see that in front of him, the  boy that looked like a student cleared the beer glass to the bottom in two sips, jumped off the high stool and walked towards the door without turning his head.

Xie Xuanming stood in a cold wind at the door for a while.

He didn’t stop there intentionally, he’d just drunk too much, felt dizzy and walked out erratically.

Moreover, he had nowhere to go.

He has been homeless since birth, living a borrowed life in someone else’s delusion for more than a decade before eventually returning to the life of a stray.

Xie Xuanming bent over and clutched his stomach, hot and feeling his heart beating wildly.

The guard was attracted to watch the performance and there was no one at the door of the bar. Xie Xuanming simply squatted down, sullenly shrinking into a ball.

He thought he would get another rope tomorrow; if not, a knife was fine. In short, anything lethal would do… but…

Drunk, Xie Xuanming felt his mind was clearer than ever before.

He felt that he didn’t want to die so much.

Whether it was cowardice or enlightenment, Xie Xuanming’s teeth chattered, as every cell of his body, unwilling to give up, screamed unreasonably for him to struggle just a little more.

Saying, anyway, you’re already in the quagmire, it can’t be any worse.

Xie Xuanming was crouching by the wall thinking about life when the door behind him suddenly opened and several people carrying musical instruments came out noisily.

“Shall we run away early like this?”

“Okay, we got the money, we aren’t running away. I just can’t watch the manager’s eyes glow as if he wants to eat Xiao Sheng. For Xiao Sheng’s purity, we must run quickly!”

“Su Jing, fuck off. You don’t know who the guy was staring at. What’s the matter… eh? Minor?!”

Ji Sheng rushed out first, almost kicking the person squatting at the door. He leaned down in amazement and shook his hand in front of Xie Xuanming: “Why are you squatting here… Fuck, how many drinks did you have, your face is red like this?”

Ji Sheng’s fingers swayed in front of Xie Xuanming, creating seventeen or eighteen afterimages in a psychedelic manner.

Su Jing also leaned over, saw Ji Sheng pull an underage child and yelled: “Isn’t he the one who lent us the rope yesterday… What are you doing here, you’re a minor!?”

The words of the two of them swirled in Xie Xuanming’s ears, with “How many drinks did you have” in his left ear and “What are you doing here” in his right ear.

Xie Xuanming was groggy. He wanted to say that he was kidnapped here by their drummer to watch the show and he wanted to say that he only had one drink.

However, his thoughts were too chaotic; he tried to solve them for a long time and couldn’t separate the two problems.

So Xie Xuanming gave up, bowed his head and said nothing.

Su Jing and Ji Sheng looked at each other.

Su Jing questioned: “What did you do to this child?”

Ji Sheng was furious: “I did nothing! I can’t beat people up by beating drums on stage.”

Before the two of them were about to argue, Xie Xuanming, whose head was drooping, raised it, looking at Ji Sheng with very red, swollen eyes.

He reached out, grasped Ji Sheng’s hand seriously and firmly and indisputably bent his four fingers except for his index finger.

Facing the proudly standing finger, Xie Xuanming nodded in satisfaction and said:

“I am… 1.”

The author has something to say:

Ah, Xiao Xie, you are indeed (muttering)

1. Dairy drink containing alcohol with a very low alcohol content, milky white and slightly carbonated

2. Chewy flexible translucent snack covered in sesame seeds

3. Qingchu (青出) isn’t actually translated as ‘two green mountains’, ‘qing’ is green and ‘chu’ is out. But the character ‘chu’(出) consists of two 山, which is ‘mountain’

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