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Published at 20th of July 2018 09:20:19 PM


Chapter 1

1


Bones (Vol 1)

The plane arrived in Lanzhou at about 7pm . A young woman raised the window shade and looked down at the mountains and gullies that went on endlessly .

After exiting the plane, Ji Tangtang boarded the airport shuttle . From her research, the ride into the city would take another half hour .

Sitting next to her was a tanned man . When the ticket seller came to collect payment, Ji Tangtang overheard their conversation with the man, and he spoke in the local dialect .

China was a big place and people spoke a different language in every town . It was well within reason that Ji Tangtang couldn’t understand them . She turned her head to the side, about to rest a bit, when the man asked her, “Is this your bag?”

Likely because he could tell she was from out of town, he spoke to her with rough Mandarin . Ji Tangtang looked to where he pointed . It was the backpack that she’d stuffed full—60 liters full . A camping groundsheet sat on the top, and a hiking pole hung off the side .

“Mm . ”

“You a backpacker?” the man asked with a laugh .

His laugh made Ji Tangtang feel a bit uncomfortable . She turned her head away and ignored him .

“Traveling by yourself?” he continued to ask .

“No . ” She gave a short reply and quickly closed her eyes .

The man didn’t speak again, but Ji Tangtang could still feel his eyes on her . Such an undisguised stare would make anyone uneasy . She didn’t open her eyes, but a frown appeared on her face .

Not too long after that, the bus came to a sudden stop . The ticket seller cleared his voice and announced, “We’ve arrived downtown . Move quickly if you’re getting off . ”

Ji Tangtang immediately stood up, and the man made space for her . He looked up, as if about to say something to her, but she ignored him . She grabbed her 60 liter bag and hopped off the bus .

A bearded man sitting behind them laughed . He gave the other man a pat on the back and said, “That kind’s not good for picking up . ”

“For real!” the man replied without much concern . After having a laugh, he stood up and grabbed his own bag from the luggage rack .


He glanced out the window and saw Ji Tangtang getting into a green taxi .

 

The taxi pulled up to the entrance of a hotel, The Guest’s Home . Ji Tangtang paid the driver and then walked inside and up to the reception desk .

A sunny-faced young man greeted her with a smile . “Hello, Miss . Do you have a reservation?”

Ji Tangtang shook her head and pulled out her ID and three 100 yuan bills . “Single room . ”

The young man accepted the money and then pushed one of the bills back to her . “Single rooms are only ¥188 . ”

Ji Tangtang smiled and responded, “Please book me a ticket to Xiahe for the morning . ”

He seemed a bit taken aback . His eyes swept over her backpack, and then he asked, “You’re going there… for leisure?”

“Mm . ”

“By yourself?” He was definitely surprised .

“Yes . ” Ji Tangtang wasn’t as wary as she’d previously been .

The young man didn’t say anything to that . He lowered his head and booked her room, and then he handed over her change and room card . “Third floor, 310 . ”

As Ji Tangtang put her change into her wallet, the young man hesitated, but finally called out, “Ms… Ji?”

“Yes?” Ji Tangtang looked up .


“If possible, it’s best to avoid traveling there alone . ” The young man seemed a bit nervous as he added, “It’s… a Tibetan region there . ”

“And? Are the Tibetans unfriendly?” Ji Tangtang asked with a smile .

“That’s not it . But… We have different customs, so it’s easy for conflict to arise . ”

He looked up and exchanged a glance with her . His face reddened a bit, and he quickly lowered his head again .

“Oh…” Ji Tangtang nodded . “I see . ”

She didn’t mention a change in her plans as she headed up with her backpack .

The young man watched as she left, and suddenly, a hand landed on his back . “Lin, what are you looking at?”

From just his voice, he knew it was Wang, who also worked at the reception desk . Lin glanced over towards where Ji Tangtang had disappeared . “That girl’s going to Xiahe tomorrow morning . Get a ticket for an early bus . ”

“By herself?” Wang asked with surprise . He couldn’t quite believe it as he asked again, “By herself?”

“Right?” Lin sighed .

“She’s courting death,” Wang scoffed . “Where’s she from?”

“Beijing . ”

“Instead of staying in her nice city, she’s going to that god-forsaken place? She thinks it’s still our land and that everyone’s content with their lot…” Wang muttered a bit and then leaned into Lin . “Hey, who was that girl before? Ling Xiaowan? Did they ever find her?”

Ling Xiaowan had made a reservation at the hotel last month . She reserved a room for her third day out of Lanzhou, having planned to spend just two days in Xiahe . But when the third day of her trip came, she didn’t arrive at the hotel . On the fourth and fifth days, there was still no sign of her person, though some of her luggage had arrived . At first, no one had thought much about it . But when her family called asking about her, they found out that she’d gone missing .

Later on, they found out that Ling Xiaowan had gotten off the bus on the way to Xiahe . She’d apparently met some other backpackers on the bus, and they’d decided to book their own car and check out some scenic spots . And that was the last they’d heard of her .

Lin had been working the reception desk for three years now, and he’d seen at least four or five instances of travelers going missing . It wasn’t so rare as to be surprising, but he felt a bit of sympathy for the girls . They were all quite young, but then they vanished, just like that .


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Ji Tangtang had a nice look to her . Lin thought she was quite amiable, and he didn’t want to send her into danger, however small the chance was .
 

Ji Tangtang walked into her room and put her card into the slot to turn on the electricity . She turned on the TV and flipped through all the channels, before finally settling on the music channel .

When her phone rang, she’d thought it was the TV at first . She was lying still on the bed, until she realized the sound continued repeating . She climbed over to grab the phone from her waist pack .

The caller ID lit up the screen: Ling Xiaowan’s family .

Ji Tangtang answered her phone and walked up to the TV to turn off the power .

On the other end of the phone, a timid voice sounded, “Ms Ji?”

“Mm . Mrs Ling, right?” The image of a haggard middle-aged woman flashed before Ji Tangtang’s eyes . “I’ve already arrived in Lanzhou, and I’ll be heading to Xiahe in the morning . ”

“Then… Thank you for your help, Ms Ji . ”

“Don’t mention it . ”

The woman seemed a bit embarrassed and unsure of what else to say, so Ji Tangtang spoke up, “If there’s nothing else, then goodbye . We’ll be in touch again . ”

She set down her phone . No longer interested in resting, Ji Tangtang opened her backpack and pulled out her laptop . She signed onto the hotel’s internet and typed a URL into the address bar .

The hotel internet was a bit slow . Ji Tangtang crossed her arms and rested them on the back of the chair . She watched as the webpage loaded . It was a forum post made by Ling Xiaowan’s university classmate, calling for help in finding the girl . The post revealed the following: Ling Xiaowan was 19 years old and a third-year student at Beifang University of Agriculture . She was a senior member of the school’s backpacking club, and several days prior, she had traveled to Gannan by herself, after which, contact with her was lost .

A picture of Ling Xiaowan was included in the post . She was very pretty, in a delicate way . Her hair was done in two braids and tied with candy-colored beads . It was rare for girls to put their hair in braids like that nowadays . Whether you want to admit it or not, it’s often seen as tacky . But it didn’t look tacky on Ling Xiaowan; rather, it looked quite cute .

Ji Tangtang sighed and extended her hand . She ran two fingers over Ling Xiaowan’s face on the screen, and she couldn’t help asking aloud, “Where are you?”


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Of course, the girl couldn’t answer her . A pair of bright and clear eyes stared back at Ji Tangtang, happy and cheerful .

 

She’d received more details on the incident from Ling Xiaowan’s family, provided by the Lanzhou police after their search: Ling Xiaowan was on a bus from Lanzhou to Xiahe . Partway through the journey, she and some backpackers she’d befriended got off the bus and made their way to Ganai in Luqu, where they checked into a youth hostel .

Ganai is a Tibetan settlement with less than 100 residents . It was originally just another ordinary little town, but then a foreign backpacker traveled through the area . Astounded by the surroundings, they returned home and wrote a travel blog about their time there . They posted this onto a popular travel forum, and then the little town became famous—of course, this was only among foreign backpackers and some adventurous people in China . For most travelers in China though, the attractiveness of this place fell very short when compared to the long-famed cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an .

Twenty minutes west of Ganai was the Gasamo Canyon . Most backpackers chose to hike through the canyon for a few hours and then return . In addition to canyon exploration, there were wetlands 30 kilometers away which gave a beautiful view of the Tibetan area .

Ling Xiaowan went missing while exploring the canyon . Theirs was a group of six . They walked a bit and took a break . Because Ganai was more than 3,000 meters above sea level, Ling Xiaoyan suffered from slight altitude sickness, and she took a longer rest than everyone else . The group continued ahead, expecting her to follow . When they didn’t see her, they decided to wait for her at the entrance to the canyon, but she didn’t show up . That’s when the group started to panic . They backtracked into the canyon, searching for her, but they couldn’t find her .

Gasamo Canyon…

Ji Tangtang whispered the name quietly . Then she typed into her Google search bar, ‘Gasamo Canyon’ . Then a space, and then she added, ‘disappearance’ .

And indeed, a bunch of entries popped up .

Ji Tangtang skimmed through them . Most of them didn’t have substantive content, but there was one blog that caught her attention .

“We headed out for Gasamo Canyon early in the morning . We’d prepared a lot of dry food, and just as we were heading out, Ah Kun, the owner of the hotel next door, called to us, ‘Be sure to head home early . If you get lost inside, no one will be able to find you!’ Haha! Did he think we were three-year-old kids?”

Ji Tangtang clicked onto the blog’s home page . The newest post was from 2006, which was several years ago . The blog looked abandoned, though there weren’t many posts anyway . Aside from the Gasamo Canyon entry, the other posts were about emotional troubles .

She pulled a notepad and pen out from her waist pack . On the first page, she wrote ‘Gasamo Canyon, Ah Kun’ .

After a moment, she underlined the name ‘Ah Kun’ . She drew an arrow to the name and added a label, ‘Hotel owner’ .

And then, she added a question mark to the end of the label .




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